Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 10/16/20

Guest: Ashish Jha

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Stay with MSNBC tonight for a fantastic new documentary called "The Way I See It," which offers an amazing inside look at Pete Souza's time as the White House photographer for both Presidents Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan. And that's going to air tonight at 10:00 p.m. right after, of course, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW which begins right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Well put. I was about to tell people that exact same thing, that even as they start to watch my show right now, they have to plan to be here for the next hour as well.

HAYES: Exactly.

MADDOW: Have a great weekend, my friend.

HAYES: You too.

MADDOW: Great to see you. Thank you.

As Chris mentioned, one thing to plan on tonight is that there is something totally cool and different happening after this hour. It's 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight here on MSNBC. The documentary is called "The Way I See It."

It does revolve around Pete Souza who was the White House photographer for the whole eight years of the Obama administration. He was also White House photographer in the Reagan administration, which are two very different administrations, and it's fascinating that those are his bookends in the White House.

It's really, really good. It's going to air commercial-free on MSNBC tonight right here at the top of the hour starting at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right after I'm done. You should plan to watch that.

If you watch it, you will like it, and you will thank me for telling you it's good. It really is.

So, I also want to tell you tonight about something that everybody, including me, has been getting wrong about the bizarro world dueling town halls we had last night between President Trump and Vice President Biden.

Last night as you know, was supposed to be the second presidential debate, but president Trump bailed on the debate, and then the two candidates instead had these twin town halls on competing networks at the same time. It was a very weird thing.

But I am here to tell you that contrary to popular belief, contrary to my previous understanding of this type of American history, it turns out this weird thing that happened last night was not unprecedented. There is nothing new under the sun as it turns out.

So check this out. I'm not sure anybody else has picked this up, but the parallel is super weird. It was 1968. Former Vice President Richard Nixon, a Republican running for president against Democrat Hubert Humphrey. They're heading into what would have been the debate season in that presidential contest.

But Nixon bailed. He bailed on the debates. Nixon had two feelings that drove that strategy.

First, he thought he was going to win. He thought he was ahead of Hubert Humphrey and so, you know, don't rock the boat. He'd end up winning the presidency. Don't introduce any variable that might change things.

And Nixon also, of course, had bad feelings about presidential debates. The time he had previously run for president in 1960 against JFK, you will recall that JFK just shellacked Nixon in the first presidential debate. Nixon never recovered from that. He ended up losing to JFK, so Nixon wasn't a big fan of debates in the first place.

So, 1968 rolls around. Nixon is taking his second shot at the White House. He's ahead of Humphrey, and he weasels out of debating. He wouldn't do it. There were no Nixon/Humphrey debates in 1968, and Humphrey gave him a really hard time about it. But Nixon said no.

And instead on what was literally the eve of the 1968 election, the Election Day in 1968 was November 5th. The night before, the night of November 4th, Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon held dueling head-to-head telethons on two different TV networks. I kid you not.

Humphrey, the Democrat, was on ABC from 8:30 to 10:30 that night. And Nixon, the Republican, was on NBC from 9:00 to 11:00 that night. I mean come on! Seriously?

I mean, last night, we had the Democrat on ABC and the Republican on NBC, and they overlapped for all but a half hour. It was the exact same thing on election eve in 1968, down to the same two networks hosting the candidate of each of those parties.

And what Nixon and Humphrey did in `68, these telethons, they weren't exactly what we call a town hall, but it was pretty darn close. Voters at home phoned in their questions live. The candidates answered the questions on camera. And just like we saw last night, the two candidates were on TV taking these questions from voters at the same time but on separate networks.

"The L.A. Times" wrote about it at the time because both of the telethons physically happened in L.A. where there were TV studios. "The L.A. Times" wrote about it, quote, the television tube will reign supreme on election eve as the place where the action is. The only problem is that to remain completely plugged in, you will need at least two sets, two TV sets side by side.

Humphrey's campaign told the paper: We'll have the opportunity to stage a do-it-yourself debate by having the viewers switch from one channel to another to make comparisons.

Yes, that was -- it was as ridiculous an idea then as it is now for all the obvious reasons. But it turns -- I don't know if I feel better or worse about this. It turns out, we as a country didn't invent that ridiculousness just for last night. Anytime you think something is unprecedented in politics, it turns out somebody else had some version of the same bad idea years before.

In the Trump era, it's often something that turns out to -- it often turns out to have something to do with Richard Nixon. Funny that.

Here's my favorite part about it, though. The guy who Nixon got to produce his dueling telethon against Hubert Humphrey in 1968 was a man named Roger Ailes, the same Roger Ailes who would go on to found the Fox News Channel and build that right-wing media juggernaut in his own image.

God bless NBC News presidential historian Michael Beschloss, who helped us track down tape of this thing. The Roger Ailes produced Nixon telethon the night before the `68 election, it started with the actor and comedian Jackie Gleason, Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners, telling everybody they needed to vote for Nixon. He said, I think we'll all feel a lot safer with him in the White House.

Ailes brought on a famous University of Oklahoma football coach, Bud Wilkinson, to kind of emcee the whole thing. That was for Nixon to attract conservative-minded white male voters, Heartland voters. Not to put too fine a point on the male voters Nixon was after but look at who Roger Ailes and Richard Nixon had answering the phones at their telethon.

If you’re sitting at home called in to Nixon's town hall telethon thing, they assured you that your call would be answered by one of these several dozen pretty ladies, who they brought on to answer the phones. I kid you not, they called the women answering the phones "Nixonaires." they were actually airline stewardesses who they brought in to answer the phones for the Nixon telethon because they were pretty and wanted them on TV, thinking that would be an extra incentive for men to call in.

And, you know, they gave him only the softest softball questions that they rewrote offstage after voters called in with them, and they had this handpicked studio audience that responded to every answer of Nixon like it was the most brilliant thing they'd ever heard.

Meanwhile, Hubert Humphrey's event was kind of a sprawling, loose format, hip thing that was peppered with celebrities like Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. These telethons were kind of like the town halls that we had last night, kind of not.

But I find it -- I find this amazing. I'm here to tell you that 52 years ago in 1968, we as a country previously tried this bizarre idea of a debate happening on two different channels. Candidates holding dueling simultaneous network TV appearances instead of a debate after the Republican refused to show up for the debate.

I thought what happened last night was unprecedented. I was wrong. There is actually new under the sun.

That said, at least this one wasn't literally held on Election Eve. We've still got 2 1/2 weeks to go.

After twice in his NBC town hall last night saying this outrageous lie about wearing masks that help slow the spread of COVID, the president last night basically argued that wearing a mask is what gives you COVID, which is insane. After he made that claim during his town hall twice last night, the president today did two rallies in Florida, one outdoors and one indoors with lots of senior citizens. At both of them masks were few and far between.

In the words of one NBC reporter covering these events today, the crowds were packed in like sardines.

As to whether there's going to be another presidential debate next week, I -- I honestly don't think that we know. I think the common wisdom right now is that we will have the third debate even though the second debate didn't happen. I think the campaigns both say as of now that they want to do it. Trump is behind in the polls right now. That gives him and his campaign an extra incentive to want to do a debate even if he was too afraid to do the second one.

Biden appears to have had better ratings for his head-to-head town hall last night than Trump had for his, which is another reason why Trump might have an incentive to want the third debate, to want to get onstage with Biden since apparently Biden drives more interest now, more eyeballs.

But, you know, I think it should not go unnoticed that one of the things the president made news about last night, one of the things the president copped to last night under sharp questioning from Savannah Guthrie is that he wouldn't say whether or not he actually took a COVID test before the first debate, that first debate that he did have with vice president Biden two weeks ago, right before the president was diagnosed with COVID and had to be hospitalized.

The president told Savannah Guthrie last night that he didn't recall whether he took a COVID test before the debate. Savannah said to him, did you test the day of the debate? The president said, I don't know. I don't even remember.

And Savannah said, okay. And you don't know if you took a test the day of the debate? And the president said, possibly I did. Possibly I didn't.

Okay. That was a strange exchange. Like how do you not remember that? But also, there's something really wrong with that. It was a rule from the Commission on Presidential Debates that the candidates had to get tested on the day of the debate. Trump is basically saying that he didn't. Possibly I did, possibly I didn't.

And then three days later he's in the hospital. This matters in terms of the debates. I mean if that's how he's going to treat both the rules of the debate and the health and life of his opponent on the stage, then maybe there shouldn't be a third debate. I mean, would you want to get into a closed and stand next to him onstage if he's been lying and breaking the rules not just about like overtalking the moderator and his opponent, but he's been lying and breaking the rules about his COVID testing?

He admitted last night that he didn't follow the rules when it came to COVID testing for the first debate. Should there be a third debate, then? I don't know. We'll see.

The next debate is supposed to be Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee. It's supposed to be moderated by NBC`s Kristen Welker.

Nicolle Wallace and Joy Reid and I will get ourselves tested and wear masks and cover the heck out of it if it happens, but count me as agnostic as to whether it's going to happen at all.

First of all, Biden is up in the national polls and in enough swing states to have a clear lead at this point. He doesn't need to have a debate.

Even if Trump does want to do the third debate because he's losing this election and he wants something that might change the course of it, frankly, Biden would be within his rights to bail on debate number three, right? Trump bailed on debate number two.

And since then, Trump has now said, yeah, he, well, maybe actually might have broken the rules about COVID at the first debate, the rules that were designed to keep both candidates and their family members and their staff safe. So we will see.

I mean, if I were -- I'm not a politician. I've never advised a politician, and I never should. But I think there's a good case to make that the Biden campaign ought to say no to a third debate even if the president decides he's going to say yes to the third one. I don't know.

That said, if the president does get through all this with or without the debates, if the president gets through all this and gets himself re-elected to a second term, we do today have a pretty good bead on what he'll be impeached for in his second term.

This photo today surfaced on Facebook. The president holding up in the Oval Office "The New York Post" cover about Rudy Giuliani shopping a new alleged scandal against Joe Biden. Biden's secret emails.

CNN reports today that the White House has confirmed the authenticity of this image. One of the first people in the world to share that image on social media was a guy who just had his U.S. visa revoked after the intelligence community concluded he's part of a Russian intelligence operation to make false allegations against Biden to try to sway the election.

The FBI warned Congress about that guy working as part of a Russian intelligence operation against Biden back in the spring. "The Washington Post" was first to report that U.S. intelligence agencies in fact discovered in recent months that Rudy Giuliani was being used by Russian intelligence to convey back to the U.S. these false allegations against Joe Biden as this year's effort by Russia to mess with our election to benefit Donald Trump.

Crucially, "The Post" also reports that the intelligence community warned the Trump White House. "The Post" and "The New York Times" both reporting that Trump's national security adviser personally warned the president that the stuff Giuliani was bringing back from overseas about Joe Biden was Russian intelligence-provided information. This was a Russian intelligence operation and not real stuff, and they should steer clear. The intelligence community warned the Trump White House, and apparently according to "The Post" and "The Times," the national security adviser warned the president personally out loud that what Giuliani was bringing home about Biden was a Russian op.

Despite those warnings, the president, regardless, is promoting it. Promoting it online, promoting it on the campaign trail, posing with the headline about the bogus story in the Oval Office after he was warned that what Giuliani is doing with that story and all the other stuff related to it is a Russian intelligence operation designed to mess with Joe Biden's campaign.

So, you know, in 2016, Russia messed with the Democratic Party and the Democratic candidate and messed with American voters to try to get Trump elected. Trump welcomed the help. He excused it. He benefited from it. He tried to get more of it, and then he won the presidency and spent the past -- you know, the four years since kissing Russia's butt and letting them do whatever they wanted.

But this time, the president has been told, hey, Rudy Giuliani is being used as a delivery boy for the Russian intelligence services trying to help you win again. And with that overt knowledge and with those overt warnings, the president this time is undoubtedly and unequivocally a witting participant in what Russia is doing. NBC News, CNN, and the "Associated Press" all now reporting that this junk about Biden that Giuliani got printed in "The New York Post," the president has been promoting, it's all now under investigation as potentially part of a hostile foreign influence operation illegally targeting our election right now in 2020.

So, you know, second verse same as the first, only this time the collusion with the hostile foreign power is just out loud in the open since he thinks no one will do anything about it.

With a Republican-controlled Senate, with Republican Senator Mitch McConnell in control of the Senate, the president has been able to be perfectly confident that nothing would happen, that there would be no consequences, no matter what he did.

But about that Republican control of the Senate, at FiveThirtyEight, the polling analysis group founded by Nate Silver. The FiveThirtyEight forecast right now says the chances the Democrats are about to take control of the Senate is roughly 70-30. They put it at 72-28.

At "The Economist", their forecast for Senate control has it a little higher for Democrats. They say it's 75-25 that the Democrats end up taking control of the Senate.

"The Cook Political Reporter" doesn't put a number on it per se, but the way they are saying it now is, quote, Democrats are now the clear favorite to flip control of the Senate.

That might mean something very different for this presidency in his second term if he does get re-elected. I mean, polls right now look like Biden's going to win. But if Trump wins and Democrats control the House and the Senate?

If you want to see what the fight for Senate control looks like up close and personal, this is the headline about it in "The Denver Post", about the chances that incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner holds on to his seat. You see the headline there, with Gardner trailing Hickenlooper, national Republican groups scale back spending in Colorado.

The headline understates it a little bit. Look at the lead here. Face with a consistent stream of polls showing U.S. Senator Cory Gardner heading for a loss next month, national Republican groups are spending far less in Colorado than in other battleground states.

David Flaherty, a Republican pollster in Colorado, is predicting historic losses for his party on November 3rd. He tells "The Post," quote, there is no reason for either side to put another dime into this state. It's over, he said.

It is undeniable. The train wreck and implosion of the president will bring a historic number of other Republican candidates down, and if you don't believe that, then you have your head in the sand.

On this Colorado Senate race specifically, put it in context here. The part of the national Republican Party that tries to elect Republicans into the Senate and to keep them in those seats once they've got them is called the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the NRSC. Cory Gardner, the incumbent Republican senator from Colorado, used to run the NRSC until two years ago.

But "The Post" is reporting today that while that committee is spending a ton of money to save other Republican senators, $1.7 million, $2.2 million, $3.2 million, and other Republican Senate incumbents trying to hold on to their seats around the country, in Colorado, where Cory Gardner is, they have coughed up less than $150,000 total in the first half of October for Cory Gardner, apparently because they think this seat is a lost cause in Colorado.

And there's support for that on the other side as well. The PAC that's associated with the Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, today they announced they are pulling their money out of Colorado as well because they don't think that Democrat John Hickenlooper needs any more help when it comes to beating Cory Gardner. They think that Hickenlooper has it in hand.

That PAC saying today, quote, we are pulling our $1.2 million Colorado TV ad buy and moving it elsewhere. Quote, we believe Hickenlooper is in good shape.

As "The Denver Post" notes today, Senator Cory Gardner has not led in a single public poll taken in this race. The four polls taken this month in that Colorado Senate race all show John Hickenlooper, the Democratic challenger, leading by an average of ten points.

So that's Colorado right now where it looks like Republicans are saying good-bye to a Senate seat in that state. That's Colorado.

This was Iowa last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBATE MODERATOR: My question is a simple question. Theresa Greenfield. You answer first. What's the break even price for a bushel of corn in Iowa this week?

THERESA GREENFIELD (D), IOWA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, a bushel of corn is going for about $3.68 today, $3.69. And break even really just depends on the amount of debt someone has.

I suspect there's farmers that are breaking even at that price. However, if their yields are down 50 percent, that's certainly not going to cover it for them. I'll tell you we've had low commodity prices for too long. They've been going out of business prices.

DEBATE MODERATOR: Senator, break even price for soybeans for an Iowa farmer to produce.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): Yes, certainly. I would like to go back to previous statement. Certainly, with what we have done on trade, we have seen significant strides forward. So, the USMCA is a great example of that.

DEBATE MODERATOR: Well, thank you very much. I might have missed it, but I don't think you answered my question. What's the break even price for soybeans in Iowa? You grew up on a farm. You should know this.

ERNST: I think you had asked about corn and it depends on did.

DEBATE MODERATOR: I asked her corn.

ERNST: It depends on what the inputs are but probably about 5.50.

DEBATE MODERATOR: You're a couple dollars off because it's 10.05 but we'll move on to something else.

ERNST: I don't think Ms. Greenfield answered either.

DEBATE MODERATOR: She actually did. We asked for the price of soybeans from you, Senator. You want to take another crack at it?

ERNST: No, thank you. You said could the break even for corn is 10.50? I don't think that's correct.

DEBATE MODERATOR: Right, that would have been for beans. Ron's question was soybeans.

ERNST: Or maybe I'm not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Joni Ernst is the incumbent Republican senator in Iowa. She is not doing great in her battle for re-election for increasingly obvious reasons.

Her Democratic challenger, who aced that debate question that appeared to flummox Senator Ernst, her Democratic challenger, her name is Theresa Greenfield. As you can see here, she's doing a bang-up job with fundraising against Joni Ernst in Iowa.

But look at the Iowa polling right now as well. Republican Senator Joni Ernst looks in recent polling like she is on track to lose her seat to Democrat Theresa Greenfield in Iowa.

Look at Arizona as well. In Arizona, the Democratic candidate in that Senate race is Mark Kelly. And, again, this is a funding race. Mark Kelly outraising appointed incumbent Republican senator there, Martha McSally by quite a bit. But recent polls in Arizona just show an increasingly yawning gap there with Martha McSally, again, even though she's the incumbent, looking like she's going to lose that seat to Democrat Mark Kelly in Arizona.

Even in closer races or races where the Republican incumbent still has a polling advantage, we are seeing really huge fund-raising numbers for the Democratic challengers to Republican senators. Right now, in North Carolina, Democrat Cal Cunningham is running narrowly ahead of incumbent Republican Senator Thom Tillis.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has been publicly hysterical over how much his Democratic opponent Jaime Harrison has outraised him in terms of fundraising. Harrison is running a very good point in a red state. That polling has pinged back and forth between a Graham lead and a few different polls that have showed Graham and Harrison in a tie.

Up in Maine, where the Democratic Party is now making signs that say Trump- Collins. The Democratic Party is making those signs. Susan Collins is facing a very strong challenge from Sara Gideon. This is the recent polling on that Senate race in Maine. It looks like Susan Collins is going to lose to Democrat Sara Gideon there. I mean, at least according to current polling. Still time to go, of course.

Senate races in Georgia. Interestingly in Georgia, there are two Senate races in Georgia up at the same time this year. We just had a little breaking news on something appearing to go very wrong in one of those Georgia Senate races for one of the Republican incumbents.

We're going to have that for you next. We need to take the commercial break to turn around a piece of sound that you are going to want to hear. But that may be very important in terms of that Georgia race, which is already on the bubble for the Republicans.

I mean even the Senate race in Kentucky where Mitch McConnell himself is having to defend his seat against Democratic combat veteran Amy McGrath, even seats like that are places where McGrath is doing fantastic in terms of fundraising and where Democrats are looking at the possibility of trying to pull off a surprise there, even in red states. I mean, Democrats are dumping new resources into Senate races in places like Kansas and Alaska, not to mention MJ Hegar's race against John Cornyn in Texas and Steve Bullock's race against the incumbent Republican Steve Daines in Montana.

I mean, the places where Democrats are on offense now are in red states. At least what used to seem like red states where Republicans would usually assume that their Senate seats are safe no matter who's on the ballot. I mean, I don't know what's going to happen in the presidential election, and neither do you. But I never thought that Democrats would be playing this hard for Senate control while an incumbent Republican president was up for re-election.

Like I said, there's nothing new under the sun. I know anything can happen. But with 18 days left, things seem increasingly possible for the Democrats. Like I said, we've got some breaking news on something going very wrong for one of the Republican incumbents in a Georgia Senate race. We've got that for you next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: A bit of breaking political news to get to tonight that's a little bit gross. It involves a sitting U.S. senator, Republican senator, and I'm going to show you what happened here in just a second. But I will tell you upfront what it is going to remind you of.

This very much feels like a terrible second act from another weird racist campaign incident that happened back in 2006. That year, Virginia Republican Senator George Allen was running for re-election. He was at a campaign event, and he spotted a young Indian-American man in the audience.

And you will remember this. This is how Senator Allen reacted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE ALLEN (R-VA), THEN-U.S. SENATOR: This fellow here over here with the yellow shoot, Macaca, or whatever his name is, he's with my opponent. He's following us around everywhere. It's just great.

We're going to places all over Virginia, and he's having it on film, and it's great to have you here. You show it to your opponent because he's never been there and probably will never come. So, it's good for you.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

Living inside the beltway or his opponent right now is with a bunch of Hollywood movie moguls. We care about fact, not fiction.

So welcome. Let's give a welcome to Macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Let's give a welcome to here to Macaca, you know, whatever his name is. Macaca, welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.

Senator George Allen, then a Republican incumbent, soon to lose his seat in the Senate after unabashedly using a weird racial slur to attack a volunteer for his opponent's campaign.

The Macaca welcome to America statement went viral. November that year, 2006, Senator Allen lost his seat. Democratic challenger Jim Webb took it from him.

But now tonight, in what really does sort of feel like an act two of that, we are learning about comments from a current sitting Republican senator who's running for re-election right now in Georgia. This happened earlier today.

It's Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue, and this happened at one of president Trump's campaign rallies in Georgia.

Here's how Senator David Perdue tried to warm up the crowd by mocking the name of Senator Kamala Harris.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): Kah-ma-la or Kah-mah-la, or Kamala-mala-mala, I don't know, whatever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Kamala-mala-mala or whatever.

Jon Ossoff is the Democrat who is running against David Perdue. I should mention he's running neck and neck against David Perdue in Georgia. The Ossoff campaign has provided reporters with those remarks tonight from Senator Perdue.

Senator Perdue serves in the United States Senate with Kamala Harris. He knows what her name is. He knows that it's not Kamala-mala-mala or any other iterations that he tried on there with that smirk.

Senator Perdue has tried to come up with some kind of explanation for what he was doing there. His staff has now issued a statement. It says, quote, Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris` name and he didn't mean anything by it. He was making an argument against the radical socialist agenda that she and her endorsed candidate Jon Ossoff are pushing.

Obviously, that's not an apology. It doesn't make much sense. As I mentioned, Senator Perdue has served in the Senate with Senator Harris not just for a minute but for over three years now. So, there's no reason to think he actually has trouble pronouncing her name but doing it for racist effect before a braying almost all-white crowd must be fun for him.

The latest polling again in David Perdue's effort to hold on to his Senate seat shows him locked neck and neck in a battle with Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff. This presumably will not help for Senator Perdue.

More ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Take a look at this. This is the front page of the "Kansas City Star" today: Bursting at the seams. Kansas City hospitals turn away ambulances. Kansas City reporting that eight metro hospitals and emergency departments were so overwhelmed by patients this week that they turned away new patients. They turned away ambulances trying to drop patients off because they were so overwhelmed with COVID patients, they couldn't take anyone else in. That's Kansas City.

This was the somewhat terrifying front page today of "The New York Times." U.S. virus cases climb toward third peak. The whole front page, middle column showing how we are now crashing into a third peak of COVID infections all over the country.

Here's "The Washington Post" front page today, above the fold, next to the presidential town halls last night. Biggest spike in virus cases across U.S. since August. You see right below that headline in all caps, daily infections back above 60,000.

And I know "The Times" and the post are basically America's -- two of America's national newspapers now, but look at local papers, right? You can pick almost anywhere in the country right now. Just pick a state.

Look, look at Texas. Here's "The El Paso Times" today. We're slipping. City at virus high. That's in El Paso right now.

Look at the "Austin American Statesman". Virus hospitalizations rising again.

Look at Tennessee. Here's the "Chattanooga Times Free Press". World communities face COVID-19 spikes. That's not a story about something that happened nationally. That's local.

Rural counties surrounding Chattanooga are experiencing their own spikes in COVID-19 cases.

Look at the front page of "The Detroit News". Michigan sees record amount of new coronavirus cases.

And in Ohio, "The Dayton Daily News", officials say we are trending in the wrong direction. Ohio tops its daily case record.

All across the country we are seeing new surges and hospitals being strained. It's not a Midwest story or an East Coast story or a Southern state story. It's all over.

In Indiana, the state facing a critical ICU bed shortage three weeks after Indiana's Republican governor d most restrictions designed to slow the spread of the virus.

In the state of Wisconsin, hospitals across the state at or near capacity with intensive care units in some hospitals reporting being more than 90 percent full. They've opened an army field hospital in Wisconsin now.

In North Dakota, doctors are pleading for officials to promote masks as North Dakota hospitals top out in terms of their capacity.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock has put out a nationwide request for nurses to please come to Montana to help deal with the dramatic increase in COVID cases there and the staffing shortages that are making it hard to get people the care they need.

Over 40 states reporting a rise in new cases right now, it's everywhere. This week we hit 8 million cases in the U.S., but the peaks, the new peaks that we're reaching and the hospitalization records that we're reaching are all over the country.

I mean, yesterday, the country reported over 65,000 new cases, right? We are clearly headed in the wrong direction. And this isn't a one-day event or a coincidence, right?

All those papers that I just showed you sharing the unfortunate similarity of front-page terrifying headlines about how the virus is playing out locally, I mean, this is, this is a regular thing now. Yeah, today's headlines were really bad on COVID.

Here was yesterday, front page of the Albuquerque Journal in New Mexico. New Mexico daily virus total blows past record, right?

That was yesterday. Today's no better. New Mexico's virus spread on fire. That's two subsequent days in the Albuquerque paper.

In Idaho, "The Times News" yesterday, Twin Falls sets a new record for COVID cases. Situation is getting worse. Community needs to slow spread. That's yesterday. Look at the front page today. Alarming rise in COVID cases.

Look at Wyoming. Here's the Thursday front page of the "Casper Star- Tribune," in bold, all caps, spanning the whole front page -- Tip of the iceberg. Wyoming medical center opens surge unit to handle spike. Hospital unit declares code orange. That's yesterday. Wyoming's situation looks no better today.

Here's "The Wyoming Tribune Eagle" today. COVID cases confirmed in Wyoming since March top 7,000. That headline -- see how they've overlaid the new cases graph over the map of the state there in Wyoming? That's their new cases graph. It looks like the near side of the Matterhorn.

Here's Thursday's front page of the "Chippewa Herald" in Wisconsin. Wisconsin experiencing one of the worst COVID surges in the country right now. Simply cannot keep up. Look at the paper's front page today. State sets another record.

Joining us now is Dr. Ashish Jha. He is the dean at Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, we've asked you back a number of times to help keep these things in context. Thanks for being here.

I spent a long time today going through local papers around the country trying to get a different type of national snapshot about what's happening, and I ended up much more troubled than I did just by looking at the national news.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yeah, good evening, Rachel. Thanks for having me on.

I am troubled as well. You know, in April/May, it was basically the Northeast, some parts of the Midwest. Over the summer, it was the Southwest, the South.

Right now, it's pretty much all of the country with certain areas certainly worse than others, but pretty much everybody is getting worse.

This is not where we want to be in October. We have a lot of fall and winter still ahead of us.

MADDOW: When you look at such disparate types of states, and I mean that in terms of density of population. I mean that in terms of demographics, in terms of age ranges of people. When you look at such disparate states, you look at like, you know, Montana and Wisconsin, both having terrible experiences right now, and North Dakota having terrible experiences right now.

You start to see these numbers going up all over the country, the states do feel like they're very disparate, like even though we talked about the sort of Sun Belt surge earlier in the year, and, of course, we had the Northeast surge at the outset, and we saw the Deep South surge in between those two. This really does feel like it's -- it's everywhere. It's not everywhere in the country. It's 40 states out of 50, but it doesn't feel like there's any rhyme or reason that explains, A, one thing linking the states that are having trouble versus those that aren't.

JHA: Yes, it is everywhere, and there are two parts of it that are troubling. I mean, one is you have many of the states you mentioned, the Dakotas and Montana and Wyoming, they started seeing their surge kind of late August, early September, Wisconsin also. And now, what we're seeing is two months of sustained increases and really out of control pandemics.

In places like Massachusetts, even New York, Michigan, they have done a better job of keeping things under control, and they're just starting to take off. And this is a virus that once it gets momentum and you start seeing a lot of spread in the community, it's really hard to slow it down. It's almost like you've got to think of it as a freight train. When it starts slow, that's when you want to stop it.

Once it has momentum, we're in trouble. It has momentum in many parts of the country, in the Dakotas, Montana, et cetera, like it's basically a wildfire. In a lot of other states, we can really still stop it, but we've got to get serious about doing that.

MADDOW: Dr. Jha, we have seen a few troubling developments in terms of national policy and the approach of the federal government to the pandemic. I am -- it's not getting a lot of attention, but I'm very troubled by the president several times in one day yesterday telling people that 85 percent of people who wear masks get COVID, which is not at all true. He is completely misstating actually a very simple study that was talking about something entirely different.

But in conveying that message, the president is essentially telling people, you'll get COVID if you wear a mask, which is completely backwards. I'm also very troubled about the president not being willing to answer questions, direct questions about whether or not he supports this crazy idea of herd immunity, which you've talked about before on this show, this idea that untrammeled spread might somehow be good for the country rather than something that might lead to millions of deaths.

I don't have hope that the federal response is going to get better. I'm worried that in fact it's going to make it considerably worse.

Do you feel like our experience thus far tells us that smart governors and even smart mayors can lead in a way that is consequential even in the face of really, really bad and counterproductive federal leadership?

JHA: Yeah, so poor federal leadership has been a hallmark of this pandemic really from day one. We really are at a point where, again, what the president is saying about masks is -- is unbelievable to me. Savannah Guthrie last night, I think, confronted him, said we could prevent half of all deaths that were projected to happen over the next few months if you'd just tell everybody to wear a mask, and the president wouldn't do it. So that's where we are.

What I worry about on the state level -- so, so far, we have seen a lot of states, governor Cuomo and Governor Baker and Governor Whitmer and others do a good job of leading over the summer and beginning of this fall. There's a lot of pandemic fatigue setting in, and I worry that a lot of governors are not taking this as seriously as they need to. So I want to see those governors lead, but I am worried that we may, they are acting slower than I would like for them to.

MADDOW: Dr. Ashish Jha, dean at Brown University School of Public Health, Dr. Jha, thank you for being here. I really appreciate it.

JHA: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: When it comes to this White House and this presidency, we quickly developed a new sort of motto, at least a new sort of guiding principle for figuring out what's actually happening in the administration, which is to watch what they do, not what they say.

That said, today a federal judge in Washington, D.C. set a very unusual, very interesting deadline for the president to explain whether he, in fact, means what he says in a binding legal way. This is something that I think is about to become a gigantic accountability car crash for the president.

We'll have that story for you next.

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MADDOW: Every president, including this one, enjoys very broad powers to declassify pretty much whatever he or she sees fit. That's sort of one of the perks of being president. It's a dangerous perk for national security if it's mishandled but presidents clearly have that power to say what's classified and what's not.

So, even though this president's twitter feed is a mine field of nonsense, disinformation, misspellings, and covfefe, when President Trump, in fact, tweeted last week that he had authorized the total declassification of all documents related to the Russia investigation, no redactions, media organizations decided to that I can that seriously and take it to court. These are outlets that were seeking, for example, the full totally unredacted Mueller report, and they told the judge hearing their case that the judge should please, by all means, take the president at his word and declassify the full report. No redactions.

Well, the Justice Department responded to that in court earlier this week by essential I telling the judge, don't, no, don't do that, the president didn't really mean what he said. The Justice Department lawyers they checked with the White House counsel's office and the lawyers there told them that the president's online statements about declassification weren't real. They weren't meant to be taken seriously at all. They said in a filing with the court that those were just, quote, ambiguous tweets.

But this is fascinating. This has now gone off the rails for them because at a hearing today, the judge in this case said at the hearing that he wanted to know why he should believe the word of White House lawyers who said ignore the president, he doesn't really mean what he said. He wanted to know why he should take those lawyers' word for it over the words of the president himself who said in no uncertain terms he wanted total declassification, no redactions.

The judge reminded lawyers in the case, today, quote, it's not the White House that declassifies information, it's the president. And so the judge says he wants to find out. Does President Trump really mean what he says? In this case, did he really mean what he said when he said online that he wanted total declassification of all documents related to the Russia investigation, no redactions?

He wants to know, from the president. The judge ordered the Justice Department by noon on Tuesday to file a declaration by the president or an individual who has conferred directly with the president as to whether President Trump really meant what he said, whether he really wanted all Russia redactions declassified, including the full Mueller report.

The judge today said he wants to know so he can make a decision on whether more of the Mueller report should be released before the election, which is kind of amazing. I mean, what are the odds President Trump will tell a federal judge in a binding legal document, yeah, no, don't believe me, I just made that up, I didn't mean it.

Alternatively, what are the odds the president will say, yeah, I totally meant it, declassify everything, zero redactions right now before the election.

We're going to find out in four days, Tuesday, one way or the other. Absolutely amazing.

Watch this.

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MADDOW: It's Friday night, it's been a very long week. You have earned something nice. We have something nice for you.

Look at this, former President Barack Obama tweeting this tonight, quote, Pete Souza was always there to document every moment of my presidency from high stakes meetings with world leaders to quiet mornings reading briefing memos. President Obama calling Pete Souza's documentary "The Way I See It", quote, one to watch and a reminder to get registered and make a plan to vote.

With that, I will now shut up so you can actually watch this new documentary about Pete Souza and his time in the White House. It's called "The Way I See It," we're showing it right now here on MSNBC, commercial free. You deserve it. Happy Friday.

Watch this.