ER Doctor TRANSCRIPT: 3/20/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell

Ron Klain, Vin Gupta, Lori Lightfoot, Adam Smith, Rob Davidson, Richard Painter




RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Before we go tonight, I want to tell you about a 

member of the MSNBC family who died yesterday of coronavirus. The thing you 

should know about Larry – about Larry Edgeworth is that he was a hoot. He 

was a ton of fun, and he was really good at his job. He spent 25 years at 

NBC News.


It was always a really good sign if you got sent into the field or to a 

remote location somewhere and Larry was on the team. He was just super 

charismatic, very talented, very respected by his co-workers. He is 

survived by his wife and his two sons, mourned by all of us who are lucky 

enough to work with him. That will do it for us tonight. See you again on 



ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: We`re all thinking about Larry. Thank you, Rachel. 

Restrictions are dramatically ramping up amid the growing coronavirus 

pandemic. Illinois is the latest state to join California by –




VELSHI: Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has ordered the state`s 13 million 

residents to stay at home for non-essential activity. I`m going to be 

speaking very shortly with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot about the new 

measures that that state is taking.


New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued an executive order virtually 

shutting down his state, requiring 100 percent of New York`s non-essential 

workers to stay home. He called it the most drastic action they could take.


This afternoon, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the 

number of coronavirus cases in the city had climbed to 5,151. That`s nearly 

a third of all the cases in the U.S. so far. Tonight, President Trump has 

approved a major disaster declaration for the state of New York. In 

Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has ordered all restaurants and bars to 



Public health officials are warning that this virtual shutdown of our 

regular lives is going to last a while, likely at least several weeks. 

Tonight, we learned that a member of the office of the vice president has 

tested positive for coronavirus. Neither President Trump nor Vice President 

Pence had any close contact with the individual, according to the White 



That news comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to 

rise as more people are tested. At this hour, there are now 18,332 reported 

cases of coronavirus, 237 reported deaths. School superintendents, 

governors and business owner have taken it upon themselves to shut down 

much of American life without getting clear guidance from the president.


At today`s coronavirus press briefing, President Trump was pressed by NBC`s 

Peter Alexander on inaccurate statements that Trump made that a drug used 

to treat malaria was going to be available almost immediately to combat 

coronavirus. The president suggested that it already had been FDA-approved 

to do so. Today, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation`s top infectious disease 

expert, said the president is wrong.




JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS JOURNALIST: Dr. Fauci, if I could – Dr. Fauci, it 

was explained yesterday that there has been some promise with 

hydroxychloroquine, this potential therapy for people who are infected with 

coronavirus. Is there any evidence to suggest that, as with malaria, it 

might be used as a prophylaxis against COVID-19?



DISEASES: The answer is no. The evidence that you`re talking about, John, 

is anecdotal evidence.




VELSHI: The answer is no and the evidence is anecdotal. But the president 

said it would work. Dr. Fauci also seemed to be on a different page than 

Trump when it came to the problems around testing. And of course, as is so 

often the case with this president, the press conference devolved into a 

series of personal attacks as the president made the briefing more about 

him than about the crisis.





Americans who were scared, though? I guess nearly 200 dead, 14,000 who are 

sick, millions, as you witnessed, who are scared right now. What do you to 

Americans who are watching you right now who are scared?



reporter. That`s what I say. I think that`s a very nasty question, and I 

think it`s a very bad signal that you`re putting out to the American 





VELSHI: All right. In another exchange with PBS`s Yamiche Alcindor, who you 

see often on the show, the president said that he hadn`t heard about 

Americans with symptoms of coronavirus not being able to get tested despite 

the widespread reporting on that very issue.





American who needs a test get a test and be able to get a test? And why not 

have medical equipment being shipped right now to hospitals who need it –


TRUMP: We`re hearing very positive things about testing. And just so you 

understand, we don`t want every American to go out and get a test –


ALCINDOR: People need test.


TRUMP: Three hundred and fifty million people. We don`t want that. We want 

people that have a problem.


ALCINDOR: There are Americans though who say that they have symptoms and 

they can`t get tested. What do you say to the Americans –


TRUMP: I`m not hearing it.




VELSHI: Leading off our discussion tonight, Ron Klain, former senior aide 

to Vice President Joe Biden and President Obama. He served as the Ebola 

czar during the Obama presidency. Also joining us is Dr. Vin Gupta, 

pulmonologist and global health policy expert. He is an affiliate assistant 

professor at University of Washington Medical Center. And Dr. Irwin 

Redlener is the director of National Center for Disaster Preparedness at 

Columbia University. He is an MSNBC public health analyst.


Gentlemen, thank you for being with us. Irwin, let me just start with you. 

There is nobody in America who doesn`t know that there are people who 

either want to – need to be tested or whose doctors want them to be tested 

who are not able to get tested. That is just – I don`t know what kind of 

language we can use to describe that, but it`s untrue. For the president to 

say he didn`t know that is worrisome at this point in the crisis.



dropping press conference that we have to experience far too often. I think 

it is beyond preposterous. It`s hard to know how to describe this.


But I can tell you, I speak to emergency medicine doctors every single day, 

and they are absolutely panicked about the lack of testing. They can`t get 

the test results back fast enough when they do get tests. And now, they are 

in the process of worrying about the fact that they`re going to be running 

out of all the protective equipment they need to keep themselves safe.


The level of crisis in this country is accelerating by the day without any 

doubt and it`s so unhelpful for the president to be at the podium, the 

national podium, saying things that are blatantly untrue. I just don`t even 

understand it. And especially, Dr. Fauci come up, you know, seconds after 

the president finishes speaking and contradicting him.


Something is terribly disconnected. I am just very worried about it. This 

communication problem is overwhelming our ability to have confidence in 

public officials. I have never seen anything like this.


VELSHI: Ron – it`s remarkable, Ron, because Fauci two times had to come 

out and say, which must be a very uncomfortable position in front of the 

president, that something the president said as fact is simply not fact. 

There are a whole bunch of things that Fauci wasn`t there to correct what 

the president said.


I have to remind people, when we were covering Ebola, there was a sense of 

organization and sort of a nation behind this whole thing. I remember that 

one particular shot of a nurse in Texas getting on a plane to get treatment 

and there were – all the networks were on it. We were watching this 

person. We were sort of all in it together.


You just heard Rachel Maddow say that at this point, it might be a 

disservice to cover Donald Trump`s press conferences about this because 

there`s so much mistruth coming out of them.


RON KLAIN, EBOLA CZAR, OBAMA PRESIDENCY: Yes. I`ll leave the decision on 

coverage to the journalist and the First Amendment. What I will say is that 

Americans shouldn`t listen to what he`s saying. And at this point in time, 

it doesn`t matter what he`s saying. The only thing that we should look at 

is what is happening.


His words will not save anyone. But the question is: Is he taking necessary 

actions? And they`re still behind on testing, even though they have known 

for three months we need to fix the testing problem. It`s still not fixed. 

We`re still way behind other countries on that. There is no excuse for 



We`re behind on getting hospital beds at place. Governor Cuomo last two 

weeks ago ordered the corps of engineers to start to build hospitals in New 

York. Nothing is happening on that.


We`re behind on getting the kind of gear for our medical workers that Dr. 

Redlener talked about a second ago. Again, the president has the authority 

under the Defense Production Act to order industrial facilities to produce 

these goods. He hasn`t issued that order.


At this point in time, I don`t think anyone should care one whit what 

Donald Trump says to the podium. The question is what is getting done, and 

the things that need to get done are not getting done.


VELSHI: Vin Gupta, give us your assessment. You work in the field. We have 

two different issues going on. We got medical professionals and public 

health officials who are telling us that there is a problem with the 

testing, with the equipment, with the treatment.


And then we`ve got sort of now secondary problems that are starting to 

develop because of our medical system. We talked about flattening the 

curve. Until we flatten that curve, we are going to start bumping up 

against capacity for medical treatment, the type that you offer on a 

regular basis.



think we need to move towards a national lockdown and approach where one 

state does this but there is no consistency across state lines is causing 

confusion for all of us in public health. How can you actually have an 

effective response akin to what they did in Wuhan if we don`t do it as a 



We can`t overcompensate on the West Coast or in the Midwest, states that 

don`t do what they should be doing, social distancing and compelling people 

to stay home. That`s where we are now. We know what works. We should be 

doing it.


If we don`t do it, we`re going to continue to see the problems that we`re 

already seeing in ICUs, like the one I`m staffing tonight. We`re seeing 

that we don`t have the personal protective wear that nurses and doctors 

need to stay safe.


We all want to care for our patients. All my colleagues, we all want to do 

what`s best for our patients. We also want to come home and not expose our 

families. And so the more and more we have this approach where some states 

do one thing, another state does another thing, we`re just creating this 

constant crisis that`s not going to go away.


We need unanimity, a national lockdown, so that we can focus on things that 

really matter now. ICU surge capacity, building out more beds, as Ron just 

said, getting the Army Corps of Engineers to build more ICU beds. That is 

what they`re good at. I`m a former military reservist. I know what the 

military can do when it comes to putting up a triage hospital in no matter 

of time. That is what they are capable of doing. We need to activate that 



VELSHI: Irwin, let us talk about that.




VELSHI: You and I have been having this conversation for a few weeks now, 

the idea that there are certain institutions in this country. Put aside 

President Trump on whether you should or shouldn`t be listening to them 

because unfortunately a lot of people do and they conduct activities based 

on what he says.




VELSHI: But put that aside for a second. There is the Army Corps of 

Engineers, there`s the National Guard, there`s the Department of Veteran 

Affairs which actually has pretty good capacity. What has to happen now? 

What`s the next step so that we do not bump up – I can`t overestimate what 

you first told me and the country has heard a lot about, is that if we bump 

up against that capacity of our health care system, that`s not just about 

people who get coronavirus, that`s everybody else in the country who 

consumes health care on a daily basis.


REDLENER: Right. A friend of mine called me about two hours ago. He is a 

physician. He has a patient on Long Island with appendicitis, and he can`t 

find a surgeon to take care of his patient. And I`m telling you, this is 

what we`ve been talking about exactly on that the – we`re so far behind. 

We were behind in the testing and OK, we`re trying to deal with that.


But now we`re behind in all the things that Dr. Gupta and all of us have 

been talking about. We don`t have enough supplies. Here is the issue now, 

too. The hospital beds that need to be built also need to be staffed and 

they need to be supplied. And where are we going to get these doctors from? 

I heard some governors calling for volunteers, retired physicians coming to 

help out.


Those are the specific doctors who are going to be at risk. They are older. 

They have pre-existing medical conditions. Can we morally put doctors or 

nurses who are at high risk and put them into situations to work for COVID-

19? Patients, I don`t think so. The other thing to note is that, yes, we`re 

talking about doctors and nurses, but hospitals need everybody. The team is 

registrars, the dieticians, the respiratory therapists –


VELSHI: Right.


REDLENER: – as well as the medical staff. We don`t have those people right 

now. We haven`t given them the medical supplies that they need. We`ve put 

ourselves in a really big jam. I want to – if I can just talk for one 

minute about what we need to do given those restrictions. We now need to 

find people.


For example, we have a whole – we have 10,000 or so international medical 

graduates. These are people who went through medical school in some other 

country. They got their training. They went to practice. They legally can`t 

practice in the U.S. until they`ve done another residency right here. I 

think we should eliminate those restrictions, for example.


Second of all, there are some lower level medical practitioners that may 

be, say, nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, we should upgrade 

them so they can step in and really help directly. There are things that 

can be done and we`re not doing any of it. It`s – I`m basically speechless 

except I can`t be speechless on your show.


So this is what we`re dealing with, a problem that we`ve known about for 

many, many weeks and the level of inactivity that is jaw-dropping, as I 

said at the beginning of this.


VELSHI: And Ron, we have known about this and administration has known 

about it. In fact, The New York Times is – I`m sorry, The Washington Post 

was reporting on U.S. intelligence agencies, issuing ominous classified 

warnings in January and then February again about the global danger posed 

by coronavirus, while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat 

and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the 

pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.


But, Ron, we don`t even need to look at that kind of information. How long 

was it? It was two weeks ago – maybe a week ago when the president was 

saying, I don`t want those people getting off the cruise ship because it`s 

going to increase our numbers, it`s going to double our numbers. Is it the 

messaging or is there a real decision-making problem in this 



KLAIN: Well, it`s both. The decision-making has been badly flawed. I think 

there are a number of warnings in January, warnings privately and warnings 

publicly. I mean, I myself wrote a big piece in The Washington Post in 

January saying that this was coming and laid out the steps that need to be 



There were no shortages of warnings. But there was a decision by the 

president, a delivered decision to downplay it, to sideline public 

officials who said, hey, this is dangerous. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, one of 

the senior officials at the Centers for Disease Control, said publicly it 

is coming here, it is inevitable. After that, she basically disappeared 

from public appearances of the coronavirus task force.


So this was a deliberate decision to try to reassure the American people by 

offering them false statements about the dangers that we face in the hope 

that somehow we wouldn`t notice or if we didn`t get ready, it wouldn`t 

come. That obviously was a deliberate decision by the Trump administration 

that we`re all paying the price for right now.


VELSHI: Dr. Gupta, you`re on the frontline here. You are the people who are 

crying out for the things that you mentioned that we need the supplies, the 

staffing, the Army Corps of Engineers, more hospital spaces. If someone is 

listening to you, a decision-maker in public health policy right now or in 

the administration or on the coronavirus task force, what`s your message to 



GUPTA: I think we need to activate the U.S. military. We need – every 

state needs to activate their national guard. We need to increase ICU surge 

capacity immediately. This is the issue now. There is such an over emphasis 

on testing. Testing is important but we are so consumed by it that we`re 

not focussing enough on the lack of ventilators. Now, we are focused a 

little bit more on it.


But right now, any day now, any day now, we could be facing Italy across 

the country. We faced it to a certain extent here in Seattle already. As 

Dr. Redlener said, we don`t have enough health care work force capacity at 

baseline, much less ICU nurses and doctors.


Now, we`re talking about not enough beds. We need to focus on ICU 

capabilities now. If you`re a public health leader or a decision-maker, let 

us focus – also in addition to testing, let`s focus on what we can do to 

build up more ICU capability.


VELSHI: I know you`re going back to work, so we appreciate – sorry. Irwin, 

go ahead.


GUPTA: Yes. I just want to say this. One of the amazing things here is that 

there are some incredibly dedicated and talented people at Health and Human 

Services. There are two assistant secretaries at HHS and a guy named Robert 

Kadlec who works as assistant secretary for Preparedness Response.


They are extremely talented people that should have been let loose a long 

time ago. They knew what had to be done. I don`t know where they got 

constraints from. I`m only assuming it must have been the White House that 

didn`t want to sound the alarm just like Ron was saying. It is an 

inexplicable failure of leadership that has put America in its gravest 

danger since 1918 and really concerning.


VELSHI: I wish we were talking about this in the past tense, Irwin, but 

that failure continues today. Dr. Irwin Redlener, Dr. Vin Gupta who is 

going back to work right now, and Ron Klain, thank you for starting us off 



Coming up next, one in five Americans are under orders to stay home. 

Illinois is the latest state trying to flatten the curve. Chicago Mayor 

Lori Lightfoot joins us right now – right after this. And later, if you`re 

out of work because of the pandemic, what is the federal government doing 

to help you?




VELSHI: We have breaking news. President Trump has approved the disaster 

declaration for New York that will allow the federal government to provide 

more resources and relief to fight the coronavirus pandemic. The aid for 

New York comes as over 70 million Americans find themselves under 

instructions to stay at home.


California`s governor, Gavin Newsom, issued the stay-at-home order last 

night, effectively shutting down the most populous state in the country. In 

making his decision, Governor Newsom showed a model that suggested that 56 

percent of Californians – that`s more than 25 million people – could be 

infected over eight weeks without extreme social distancing.


Today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide stay-at-home 

executive order, demanding all non-essential businesses to close by 8:00 

p.m. on Sunday. New York City has over 5,100 cases of coronavirus. That is 

over one-third of the national total.


Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker is joining California and New York to issue 

a stay-at-home order for the 13 million citizens of Illinois. That order is 

expected to begin at 5:00 p.m. tomorrow, 5:00 p.m. Saturday and continue 

through April the 7th.


Joining me now is Mayor Lori Lightfoot of Chicago. Mayor, thank you for 

joining me. This is a difficult matter at the best of times. But in a city 

like Chicago or a city like New York where people exist by being around 

each other and interacting with each other on a constant basis many more 

times a day that any of us realized until this started to happen, how do 

you manage that?


How do you manage that with emergency services? How do you manage it with 

police? How do you determine what essential services are and what there 

not? Who has to stay home and what happens if they don`t?


MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL): Well, we`ve been working and going in this 

direction now for about a week to 10 days. For us, we have been looking and 

guided by the science and the data that our public health officials had 

been generating, the data analysis.


And we knew that if we didn`t do something fairly dramatic like countries 

like Japan or Singapore or South Korea, then we are going to see an upward 

ark of this virus with no end. And all of us have been talking about 

flattening the curve, bending the curve.




LIGHTFOOT: The bottom line is you got to contain the spread.


VELSHI: Mayor, you mentioned Japan and South Korea and Singapore. The 

distinction there is that you did not have local authorities and state 

authorities sort of having ongoing disagreements with federal authorities. 

This does continue to be an issue because we`re not getting consistent 

messages across the country and at different levels of government. How do 

you manage that with people in Chicago? 


LIGHTFOOT: Well, look, I think we learned early on in the ark of this virus 

coming to the United States that candidly we wouldn`t get a lot of help 

from the federal government. And if we waited for them for direction, I 

don`t even know where we would be.


So we knew in Chicago that we have to take matters into our own hands. 

Luckily, we have a governor who understands that we have to be guided by 

the data and science. So we`ve been working hand and glove not only with 

the state but also our county officials. Public health seamlessly working 

together to craft a set of strategies and closures that we knew are going 

to be important to protect the public.


So we started by shutting down large scale events, then we closed bars and 

restaurants, then we went to groups of 50, and we were just looking at the 

data science and really looking at the ark of this virus and knew that we 

had to take another big dramatic step.


The truth is in Chicago, over the course of this last week, because of the 

measures we had already taken, this order that was entered today is not 

such a huge step forward, but we knew it was important not only for Chicago 

but the metropolitan area and the entire state, that we were all on the 

same page.


I agree with one of your prior participants who said this patchwork across 

the United States isn`t really tenable. But when the federal government is 

not leading and we`re not getting the kind of support that we need –




LIGHTFOOT: – we got to do it at the state and local level.


VELSHI: We`re grateful for leaders like you at the state and local level 

who are doing the things that necessary to keep us safe. Chicago Mayor Lori 

Lightfoot, thank you for taking time out of your schedule. We know it`s 

particularly busy to talk with us.


LIGHTFOOT: Thank you.


VELSHI: Coming up next, the leadership crisis coming from the White House. 

Why the president continues to drag his feet on invoking power that he 

could use to help hospitals in crisis. Congressman Adam Smith, the chairman 

of the House Armed Services Committee, joins me next.




VELSHI: If you`re not feeling it already, you are someone you know may soon 

feel the massive economic and health impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

So, today, the Senate sped up negotiations over a third stimulus package of 

at least a trillion dollars. 


The centerpiece of the Republican proposal is a direct payment of up to 

$1,200 per person for those who make up to $75,000 a year. Those making 

more than $99,000 would not receive any money. For those who make less than 

$2,500 a year, the payment can be as low as $600. 


The proposal also includes relief for small businesses and the airline 

industry. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Republican proposal is “not 

at all pro-worker and puts corporations ahead of working people. As 

written, it is a non-starter.” 


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said tonight there are many issues to 

negotiate, but he hopes to reach a deal as early as tomorrow. Meanwhile, 

hospitals across the country, as we have discussed this evening, are facing 

severe shortages of essential medical equipment. 


For at least a week, Democrats and some Republicans had been urging 

President Trump to invoke the Defense Production Act. This Act gives 

President Trump the power to direct U.S. manufacturers to make equipment 

such as ventilators, masks, gowns, gloves, swabs. You`ve heard about this. 

You all know about it from the movies and we`re reading about it. It`s what 

we do in wartimes. 


President Trump has resisted saying, invoking the Act will be a “worst-case 

scenario.” How bad does he want this to get? Today, President Trump 

announced that he was, after all, using the special powers granted by the 

Act. He said that after Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Donald 

Trump over the phone to use that Act. 


The spokesperson for Schumer says, “The President yelled to someone in his 

office to do it now.” But later, Donald Trump gave conflicting answers 

about whether the Act was actually in effect and he could not name 

companies that he was asking to make ventilators or masks. 


Joining me now, Congressman Adam Smith. He`s a Democrat from Washington and 

the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. 


Congressman, first of all, your constituency is one that has been uniquely 

hard hit by coronavirus. Can you tell us what`s going on where you are? 


REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Certainly. We were hit first and had the largest 

number of, certainly, fatalities and cases. And our health care system is 

really being pushed to the brink. We have heard today that more help is on 

the way in terms of personal protective gear. People are trying to make 

more ventilators. Basically ramp up the production of the things that we 

need. There are creative solutions about where to house people, not trying 

to get access to some hotels, working with the hotel companies, working 

with the Department of Defense to get their hospital ship up here. So we`re 



We got hit first, and we`re preparing as best as we can. But this is what`s 

coming to much of the rest of the country, and we need a national effort 

now. It is exactly like World War II in terms of the need to–




SMITH: –massively ramp up production of key gear, so we can deal with 



VELSHI: But it would be remarkable. This will - this illness and infection 

will do what it does. It would be remarkable for us to lose lives because 

we don`t have enough ventilators, because we don`t have enough masks, 

because we don`t have enough protective equipment. And yet, we are hearing 

- you heard it earlier in this show. We hear it from everyone in the 

profession and public health officials. That`s actually a fact. 


And for the president to suggest - in fact, he suggested this yesterday 

when he was asked about why governors are being pressed to do this rather 

than the federal government. Listen to what he said. 





to be doing a lot of this work and they are doing a lot of this work. The 

federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of 

items and then shipping. You know, we`re not a shipping clerk. 




SMITH: Yes. He`s wrong about that. 


VELSHI: “The federal government is not supposed to be out here buying vast 

amounts of items and then shipping. You know we`re not a shipping clerk.” I 

mean, it`s flippant and does not seem to be sort of cognizant of what`s 

going on. 


SMITH: Well, as the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I can 

tell you that the Department of Defense ships things better than anybody in 

the world, with all due respect to FedEx and UPS. So we do know how to 

handle those logistics. 


Look, a big part of the problem here, and I talk on a fairly regular basis 

with several members of the task force working on the coronavirus response 

from the federal government, and they are much more proactive on this than 

the President sounds. I mean, I don`t know why he would say that. I could 

speculate, but I`d rather not. 


But I know we just got off a conference call with Dr. Kadlec at HHS. They 

are invoking - or - I don`t know if they are invoking this Act, but they`re 

putting pressure on private companies to massively ramp up production. What 

needs to happen from the federal government, though, production is one 

thing, distribution is the key–




SMITH: –because what we`re falling into right now is, even as production 

increases, it becomes a fight, state-to-state. I mean, desperate 

constituencies trying to protect their people. You`ve got New York and 

Washington, Washington and Illinois, California and Nevada fighting over 

who gets how many masks. 


The federal government needs to do a conditions-based assessment and have 

better control of where that crucial equipment goes. No one can organize 

this like the federal government. And the President is still holding back 

from that commitment. I think he needs to step forward and be assertive 

about the federal government role. 


I mean, to begin with, I`m very pleased to hear that New York got their 

disaster declaration, our governor here in the State of Washington has made 

that request. We need that request approved as soon as possible. 


VELSHI: Yes. Yes. He called your governor a snake. 


SMITH: Yes. 


VELSHI: Economic projections - let`s just talk about that. “Washington 

Post” reported that JPMorgan Chase has estimated that the United States 

economy could shrink by 14 percent between April and June. That would be 

the biggest contraction in the post World War II era. Goldman Sachs has 

estimated that 2.25 million people filed for unemployment this week. That`s 

a ten-fold increase from a week ago and the largest number ever recorded. 


Congressman, we have a whole lot of inequality and disparity in our nation. 

And sometimes when asked to fix those things, people say it`s too hard, it 

takes too much money. Now we`re about to embark on things that are really 

hard and are going to cost a lot of money. It doesn`t seem - I think we`ve 

got to put sort of the least among us in the forefront. 


SMITH: Absolutely. But two things about that. First of all, the only thing 

that`s going to begin to slow that and begin to get us going in the right 

direction is to deal with the health care crisis in front of us and that 

means testing. That`s the only way we can do this. 


Wide, massive increases in testing all across this country, so you can 

figure out who is at risk of spreading this disease and you can figure out 

who isn`t. And then you can isolate the people who are at risk and let 

everybody else go back to work, go back to school, get back to work. But 

absent massive testing, you will never know that. That`s the other big 

production that we need to ramp up. And we need to ramp up with tests that 

take less than two or three days. 


China has developed a test. They get back in four to five hours. So they 

check just about - well, not quite everybody, but they isolate people. They 

check them. That`s what we`ve got to do in this country. So that`s number 

one. Now, no matter what we do, we are headed for a massive - we`re already 

in the middle of a massive economic slowdown and we have got to help the 

people who are most on the edge. 




SMITH: If you`ve got money, you know, you can afford to not have anything 

coming in for a month or two. But so much of our population can`t. They 

can`t go a week or two–


VELSHI: That`s right. 


SMITH: –without a paycheck. We`ve got to fill that void. 


VELSHI: Congressman, thank you for your time tonight. And we wish you 

continued recovery in King County and in Washington State. Congressman Adam 



SMITH: Thank you. 


VELSHI: Up next, the heroes on the front lines, the doctors, the nurses of 

America. After this break, we`re going to talk to an ER doctor who`s taking 

his night off to tell the country what needs to happen now to save the 

greatest number of lives.




VELSHI: Hospitals in the United States are preparing for a possibly 

overwhelming number of coronavirus patients in the coming weeks as the 

cases continue to rise. But doctors, nurses and health care workers are 

confronting a dire shortage of basic things like masks, surgical gowns, and 

eye gear to protect them from the virus. 


Yesterday President Trump said there was no immediate plan to address 

medical equipment shortages by activating the Defense Production Act. 

Today, the President said this. 




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: –nature of ventilators, Mr. President? 




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just said that you haven`t had to require 

companies to up their production of medical supplies. But you said last 

night you invoked the–


TRUMP: But I didn`t say–






TRUMP: Yes. 






TRUMP: When we need something–




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: –require them for–


TRUMP: When we need something - because of the Act, when we need something, 

we order something. 




VELSHI: Joining us now is Dr. Rob Davidson. He`s an emergency medicine 

physician in Michigan. He`s the Executive Director of the Committee to 

Protect Medicare. 


Dr. Davidson, thank you for being with us. What is it? Which one is it? Is 

the government invoking its ability to get the manufacturer of these things 

or are they not? Because it does - the messages are entirely clear from 

everyone in the medical and public health community, with whom I`ve spoken 

to in the last few days, there are about to be critical shortages. 


ROB DAVIDSON, ER PHYSICIAN: Yes. And we`re in full preparation mode for 

what is to come over the next several weeks. And in our hospital and 

hospitals across our system in West Michigan, we`re conserving masks. We`re 

using the same mask for an entire shift and storing it in a paper bag and 

sterilizing our hands as we put the mask on and take the mask off, as we go 

into every room. 


We understand that with the influx of patients that we are anticipating, 

these supplies will run out at some point. So I don`t know what they`re 

doing behind the scenes, but certainly the mixed messages from the 

President - or if he`s declaring that no one has told him that it`s a 

problem or doctors aren`t saying that to him - if he`s watching right now, 

there is a doctor here, and I am representing many doctors across this 

country. We need their help. We need leadership in this respect. 


VELSHI: Dr. Davidson, let`s just play this out for a second. Let`s say I`m 

not believing any of this hype. Right? Somehow I`m consuming the 

information the President is putting out there that anybody who needs a 

test can get tested. There`s no shortages. We don`t need to invoke these 

kinds of things. 


And all of a sudden, I`m a man of a certain age, I get a heart attack, or 

something else happens, or my appendix needs treatment, and I call 911, and 

I go to a hospital, and I find out that there are beds that are problematic 

or you`ve been using the same mask all day, or the red cross says they 

might be two weeks away from running out of blood. This is not just about 

coronavirus. This is about our entire medical system. 


DAVIDSON: Absolutely. I mean, our committee of doctors, the Committee to 

Protect Medicare is advocating for affordable health care. Before this 

started - after we eventually see our way through this - but this is what I 

tell people who try to say, well, I won`t be affected or I have such a low 

likelihood of being affected myself.


A, we see young healthy people on ventilators already with this crisis, but 

if our hospitals are overwhelmed with patients with coronavirus, what 

happens - that`s what I`m concerned about. I`ve been serving in my 

community for over 20 - for nearly 20 years. And I`ve kind of taken a 

pledge to serve those folks. And we have to make tough decisions from time 

to time. 


I don`t want those decisions to be tough because my government has let me 

down and not gotten us the equipment we needed. If he thinks that anyone 

who wants a test can get a test, I can tell you, I`ve worked the last three 

nights, and just a few nights ago, on one particular shift, I saw a handful 

of patients, each one of them should have had a test if they were 

available, but we are rationing tests because they just aren`t there. We`re 

saving them for the sickest patients. 


VELSHI: So, Dr. Davidson–


DAVIDSON: So we`re sending people home and telling them - yes. 


VELSHI: I don`t mean to interrupt you, but–




VELSHI: –let`s just be clear about this. In fact, let me - I`m going to 

ask my control room to just play a shortened version of an answer, a 

conversation between our PBS colleague, Yamiche Alcindor, and the President 

about the availability to testing. Let`s listen to this. 





Americans that say–


TRUMP: It just is embarrassing. 


ALCINDOR: –that they have symptoms and they can`t get tested. 


TRUMP: Yes. Well, I think–


ALCINDOR: What do you say to the Americans who are saying they have the–


TRUMP: I`m not - I`m not hearing it. 




VELSHI: I`m not hearing it. Dr. Davidson, is that a possibility? I mean, 

I`m not in the business of accusing the President of lying if I don`t know 

otherwise. I don`t imagine how any American has heard that there aren`t 

shortages of tests for people who may need them. 


DAVIDSON: Right. If he`s not hearing it, he`s not listening, because we`ve 

been crying out as a chorus of doctors and nurses and folks in health care 

across this country. And I will tell you, there is a shortage. We are 

rationing. In the United States of America, we are rationing these tests. 


Our first case in this country was the same day as the first case in South 

Korea. And they were testing 10,000 a day from a week after that. And we`re 

still struggling in my state and I know in states across this country. 


But in my hospital, again, a handful of people, five people I saw in the 

night shift, and not one of them could get a test because, frankly, we just 

(inaudible) we don`t have the ability to do that. This is coming down from 

the state. They have limited supplies. I understand why the state is doing 

this. But for the President to suggest that, again, I guess I wouldn`t be 

in the business of calling him a liar, but he`s obviously not listening to 

the people on the front lines. 


VELSHI: Dr. Davidson, let`s talk about remedies for this. We have heard all 

sorts of things. There are people who are asking for the National Guard, 

for the Army Corps of Engineers, for emergency hospitals to be built, for 

the Defense Act to be invoked so that manufacturing companies can be caused 

to make some of these things. Others are calling for a shutdown, a near 

total shutdown. 


Now, there are very many people who are already worried about the economic 

situation, saying what would happen if you shut the country down for a 

month. Tell me what you think should be done. 


DAVIDSON: Yes. Our organization today came out very strongly, and we are 

supporting a national - essentially a national shutdown. And I think this 

has to be for a defined period of time, but this has to be in conjunction 

with massive testing. We all hear about the surge, and what we know, we can 

handle the number of patients we may get eventually over a period of maybe 

four months, six months. We can`t handle that same number of patients in 

the span of a month or two months. 


And so if we can dedicate ourselves to truly having essentially a shutdown, 

where people are having extreme measures of social distancing, combined 

with a massive number of tests being done on the well and the unwell so we 

can truly identify where these hot spots are, we can then start resuming 

business in certain parts of the country and certain communities and do it 

safely while we`re monitoring. 


This lack of testing has put us behind, but the lack of decisive leadership 

in this respect is putting us behind the eight ball even further. This is 

all we want right now is a national approach to this national problem. The 

virus just doesn`t care if it goes across the Illinois border from Indiana 

into Illinois. If Illinois is shutting down but Indiana is not, those 

people in Illinois aren`t protected. 




DAVIDSON: My governor in Michigan is protecting us, but we need this across 

all 50 states.


VELSHI: Dr. Rob Davidson, thank you for joining me, sir, and thank you for 

all you`re doing on the front lines of this pandemic. 


Up next, major ethical questions swirling around several senators who had 

large stock sales before the coronavirus panic hit the markets. There are 

calls for investigations and resignations. More ahead. 




VELSHI: Tonight, four senators are trying to explain their decisions to 

sell millions of dollars in stocks before concern over coronavirus caused 

the markets to tank. 


“ProPublica” reports that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard 

Burr sold up to $1.7 million of his holdings, including in hotel chains, on 

February the 13th. That was a week before the market plunge. Senate aides 

tell NBC News that Burr`s committee had received a number of briefings and 

intelligence report in January and February that included non-public 

information about the virus. 


Burr responded today, saying he “relied solely on public news reports, not 

insider information,” but called on the Senate Ethics Committee to 

investigate his sales. Calls are now growing for Burr`s resignation, but 

also the resignation of Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler, who by 

the way would know about this because her husband is the Chairman of the 

New York Stock Exchange. 


Federal disclosure forms obtained by “The Daily Beast” revealed that 

Loeffler sold up to $3.1 million in stock - sitting down for this? - while 

purchasing stock in a teleconferencing company. The trades began on January 

the 24th, quote, “the very day that her committee, the Senate Health 

Committee, hosted a private all-senators briefing from administration 

officials.” End quote. 


Loeffler tweeted, quote, “Investment decisions are made by multiple third-

party advisors without my or my husband`s knowledge or involvement.” She 

also starts off by saying “This is a ridiculous and baseless attack.” 


Republican Senator Jim Inhofe said he had no involvement in the trades that 

dumped $400,000 in stock in late January. And Democratic Senator Dianne 

Feinstein said that her assets are in a blind trust and that the sale of 

millions` worth in stock in a biotech company were made by her husband. 


There`s a lot to unpack here. Joining me now is the guy to help us unpack 

it, Richard Painter. He`s the Chief White House Ethics Lawyer, was under 

President George W. Bush. 


There are a whole load of problems here, Richard, the first of which is 

that there is a law in place that actually says that when members of 

Congress sell a stock, all they have to do is report it, I think, within 30 

days. It`s called the STOCK Act. So the rules that apply to guys like you 

and me don`t even apply to members of the Senate, but there`s an ethical 

problem if they had inside information and traded on it.



trading. The insider trading laws do apply to the members of the House and 

Senate. So if they have possession of non-public information that a 

reasonable investor would consider important in making an investment 

decision and they got that information from the government, for example, in 

a classified briefing, and they trade on that information, that is 

criminal. They go to jail for that just like everybody else. 


They aren`t subject to the conflict of interest statutes that a lot of 

executive branch officials are, which is why they have the stock to begin 

with. They really shouldn`t have these stocks in individual companies, as 

they`re regulating those companies. 


But put that issue aside. It is a crime if these members of the House and 

Senate get classified briefings, confidential information, and they go 

trade on that information, and they could go to jail for that. Now, you`d 

have to prove, of course, that they knew that information that (inaudible) 

made the decision. Yes. 




VELSHI: Yes. Some of these look more interesting than others. I will say 

the Dianne Feinstein thing struck me as interesting because she calls it a 

blind trust. Now, we`ve all been confused by the concept of a blind trust 

because Donald Trump immediately after he got - won the Presidency, he told 

us all he was putting his (inaudible) a blind trust. And it absolutely 

wasn`t a blind trust. So there`s a distinction if you really have a blind 

trust, meaning you have zero to do with it, zero input, zero contact versus 

your husband did it or someone else did it. 


PAINTER: Well, yes. It`s not really a blind trust if the husband is making 

the trades. Now, that one I believe is one biotech company, and there might 

have been a reason to sell that company that had obviously nothing to do 

with this information. We`ll find out. 


I have to say that somebody who sells hotel stocks or someone who buys a 

video conferencing company, that sounds a little bit more suspicious, I`ve 

got to say. And we`re going to have to find out what these senators knew 

that was non-public information and whether that information was used for 

the trades. But this looks horrible. 


Let`s think about what`s really going on. We have a crisis in this country. 

We were caught unprepared. Now we`re going to have a lot of people die. Our 

economy is going to go in the tank. A lot of people are going to be 

suffering, losing their jobs. We could have a 20 percent unemployment rate. 


And what`s going on? We have a whole bunch of senators who are bailing out 

of the stock market at the high before it crashes. It looks horrible 

whether or not something illegal actually happened. We`re all in this 

together. We shouldn`t be trying to profit at each other`s expense. 


VELSHI: Richard, it`s almost quaint, you and me talking about what looks 

unethical or doesn`t look right at this point after the last three-and-a-

half years. But you know what? Someone`s got to keep saying it. And we 

appreciate that you continue to do so. Richard Painter, thank you for 

joining us tonight. 


And that is tonight`s “Last Word.” I`m Ali Velshi. I`m going to see you 

tomorrow morning, as usual, from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. right here on MSNBC. 

But in these extraordinary times, as Richard says, I will also see you at 

8:00 to 10:00 p.m. tomorrow night. 


“The 11th Hour with Brian Williams” begins now.




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