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Coronavirus fears TRANSCRIPT: 2/27/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Nancy Cook, Philip Rucker, Andy Shain

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Dr. Lance Dodes gets tonight`s last word.  Thank you, Dr. Dodes, for joining us once again.  Really appreciate it.

DODES:  Sure.

O`DONNELL: That is "Tonight`s Last Word." "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, the Trump administration`s response to coronavirus is under the microscope. Under pressure from falling financial markets, the White House clamps down on communications and reshuffles the leadership roles. This, as we could be less than 48 hours away from a dramatic shift in the Democratic presidential race. Could South Carolina be powerful enough to rocket Joe Biden back to the top? And what does it mean for Michael Bloomberg?

Plus Bernie Sanders is moving on to Super Tuesday and on to a rival`s home turf as prominent Democrats float a convention fight with his supporters as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on this Thursday night.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams. Day 1,134 of the Trump administration. Exactly 250 days to go until the 2020 presidential election.

Tonight the spread of the coronavirus is taking a further toll on global markets while adding to the pressure on President Trump. Today the Dow saw its biggest one-day point decline in history, plunging more than 1,000 points. And tonight there are indications of potentially more losses to come.

The number of reported virus cases worldwide meanwhile continues to climb. It is now at more than 82,000. And while the majority of cases are in China, "The New York Times" reports that coronavirus has now been detected in at least 48 different countries with case numbers rising rapidly in Italy, Iran, and South Korea.

Today the Centers for Disease Control expanded federal guidelines to include people with symptoms who have recently traveled to those countries as well as to China and to Japan. And Japan has decided to shut down all schools for about a month. This, in an effort to help contain its coronavirus outbreak.

As for the United States, "The New York Times" reports there are now 60 known cases. One is in Northern California, and it is being closely watched. This appears to be the first case involving a patient who had not recently traveled outside of the country and who was not in contact with someone who did.

The Trump administration continues to hear criticism over its response to the virus. Last night the President declared that Vice President Mike Pence would take charge of the coronavirus task force. Tonight, Trump was back in front of the cameras himself.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We have a situation with the virus. We`ve done a great job. The press won`t give us credit for it.

I think it`s an incredible achievement that our country has done.

We`re giving whatever other countries need. We`re helping them. But we have to run our country too. A lot of people say, why isn`t he in China? Well, you know, China has to want that. And other places have to -- but they`re running it, and they`re working very hard, I will tell you, and we`re in very constant communication.

If we were doing a bad job, we should also be criticized, but we have done an incredible job. We`re going to continue. It`s going to disappear one day. It could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We`ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.


KORNACKI: "The Washington Post" Philip Rucker, who joins us in a moment, is reporting on the challenges this potential health emergency poses for this President and his administration, "Trump finds himself grappling with a crisis for which his record suggests he is particularly ill suited to respond. At a time when expertise is paramount, Trump has hollowed out the government agencies responsible for the tasks at hand."

"The Post" also broke the story now confirmed by several outlets of a new whistleblower complaint. According to reports, the Department of Health and Human Services sent more than a dozen workers to greet Americans evacuated from the center of the outbreak in China and that they were there without proper training or infection control protection.

The federal employees were, "sent to March Air Force base in Riverside County, California, and Travis Air Force base in Solano County, California."

It is reported the aforementioned California patient who mysteriously contracted the virus is from Solano County.

During a hearing on Capitol Hill today, Health Secretary Alex Azar was asked about the whistleblower`s allegation.


REP. JIMMY GOMEZ (D-CA): To your knowledge, were any of the ACF employees exposed to high risk evacuees from China?

ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: They should never been without appropriate PPE.

GOMEZ: What`s PPE?

AZAR: That`s Personal Protective Equipment.

GOMEZ: Are you aware -- it is my understanding that, you know, there was a team as you just confirmed that was sent to the March and Travis Air Force bases, and there was a lot of -- it was kind of chaotic on the ground. To your knowledge, were protocols followed at all times?

AZAR: I would not accept your proposition that chaotic at all times. I would want to get a report from my team. I`m not aware of any violation of quarantine or isolation protocols.


KORNACKI: Back at HHS headquarters today, Vice President Pence headed up his first coronavirus task force meeting. Shortly before that session, "The New York Times" reported that senior administration officials will now have to check with Pence before they can make public statements about the epidemic.

Pence has also named AIDS/HIV expert Ambassador Debbie Birks, who is also a physician, to the White House`s coronavirus response coordinator. She joins the Vice President and Health Secretary Azar on the front lines of the administration`s response to the virus.

Today lawmakers seemed a bit confused over exactly who is now calling the shots.


REP. VERN BUCHANAN (R-FL): With the leadership going forward and Vice President Pence, what`s the interface going to be with yourself, Mr. Secretary, between the two of you? Who`s going to do what and how do you see that working in terms of the task force?

AZAR: Yes. So it will be very -- a lot of continuity with what we`ve been doing. I will remain the chairman of the task force, the interagency task force.


KORNACKI: And then we heard this from the Vice President.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m leading the task force. We`ll continue to rely on the Secretary`s role as chairman of the task force and the leader of Health and Human Services. But we`ve known each other for many years and worked together very closely over the years, and the President has every confidence in the Secretary as I do.


KORNACKI: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post" and co-author along with his "Post" colleague Carol Leonnig of "The New York Times" best best-selling book "A Very Stable Genius," Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for POLITICO, and Stephanie Ruhle, a veteran of the investment banking and business world, also the host of the 9:00 a.m. here on MSNBC and an NBC Senior Business Correspondent. Thank you all for joining us.

Nancy Cook, let me begin and you and put up for folks the headline of your latest article at POLITICO, Trump`s coronavirus conflict: science versus politics. You are looking at what is taking place behind the scenes as the administration and this President seek to formulate a public response to this outbreak and potentially here the consequences, of course, we`ve been discussing. What is happening behind the scenes in this administration?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, what`s been happening behind the scenes for the last few weeks has been a ton of infighting at a time when the outbreak is just getting worse and spreading across countries. So we had what we saw yesterday, which is basically a change in the leadership at the White House as to who is actually running point on the coronavirus.

There`s been a lot of infighting behind the scenes with Secretary Azar. He hasn`t necessarily been getting along with folks in the White House. The President has been dissatisfied with the leadership, and that`s why he appointed Pence to lead the effort last night at that press conference.

And then the other thing that we`ve seen is we`ve seen the President really try to downplay the concerns about coronavirus and say maybe it would dissipate by the spring. Maybe it won`t even come here. But meanwhile career and scientific professionals, some of whom were behind Trump at the podium last night, have contradicted that and said that it`s inevitable that the virus will come here, and it`s something that Americans need to be prepared for.

KORNACKI: Stephanie, we -- talking about the concerns obviously over what scale this coronavirus might have here in the united states, how this could spread here potentially, all of those fears, the administration`s response there, there`s also the question -- we mentioned this too -- of what is happening on Wall Street this week. The Dow is plummeting on a daily basis right now. Record losses in one day today. There`s the question of how long this is going to last on Wall Street and what the economic ramifications could be there.

STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It`s all about uncertainty. The most valuable commodity that exists, whether you`re a parent, a CEO, or an investor, is information. Investors are risk managers, so they need to take all of the information available to them, assess that risk, and make a decision.

You don`t just make money in the stock market if things are going well. You could actually make a ton of money when things are going poorly. Where you cannot make money is if you have no idea what`s going on, and that is the situation we`re in.

Everything you just said, everything that we`re hearing about this, even the fact that now officials cannot share -- give accurate updates without getting approval from Mike Pence. So if you`re an investor and you need to figure out what`s actually happening in the world, remember, this isn`t -- it`s a doomsday scenario and we know this is turning into a pandemic. These investors need to understand companies. Companies need to be doing business, and if it`s a supply chain issue, if it`s a personnel issue, or if it`s the fact with all of the precautionary measures individuals are taking, we`re not spending money.

Remember, it`s consumers that have been driving the growth in this economy.  Consumers aren`t going to be spending money at a time like this. So from Wall Street`s perspective, they`re saying, I got to hit pause.

KORNACKI: So it sound that it is Wall Street trying to figure out what the rest of us are.

RUHLE: Correct.

KORNACKI: What the scope of this is going to be.

RUHLE: And it`s really important because people keep saying Wall Street must know something we don`t know. No. Wall Street doesn`t know. That`s why you`re seeing so many investors sell and say let`s wait this one out.

KORNACKI: Philip Rucker, presidential historian Jon Meacham was on our air earlier talking about this in broader terms. Let me play a little bit of what he had to say.


JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is a matter of life and death. This is as core an issue as you can get. I always thought a great crisis of trust would be over a foreign policy crisis, would be over the President saying something that he knew not to be true. This is even more elemental to some extent.


KORNACKI: You know, Philip, this is talked about from administration to administration, the idea of the unexpected, unforeseen crisis that ends up taking center stage, ends up testing the President, ends up testing the administration in ways nobody was expecting. Again, obviously we don`t know what the scope of this is or isn`t going to be. But is the White House -- are folks around the White House and inside of it thinking of this in those terms at all?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: They are beginning to -- Steve, there`s a heightened sense of concern within the President`s circle about the coronavirus situation, about this perhaps worsening into a pandemic, about the economy remaining shaky, jittery. The market`s continuing to decline as Stephanie was just alluding to, and what that may portend for this President.

And there`s a realization too that Trump is not a great fit for this moment. This is a moment that of course requires leaders to present honest, factual information, to rely on the scientific experts in the government to provide clear instructions to the American people. And what you have in President Trump is a leader who is prone to hyperbole, who doesn`t always tell the truth, who likes to be a salesman and exaggerate and can sometimes be emotional and personal in his responses when calmness is really the order of the day.

So it`s sort of a wait and see moment in the White House. There`s an attempt to get things under control here with Vice President Pence taking charge. But a lot of concern that this could go off the rails very quickly.

KORNACKI: Well, Nancy, that gets to another question. We heard, we just played before this in the intro to this discussion, comments from the President again today. Is that going to be a consistent presence here, public comments from the President? Is there a plan to have him talk less about this going forward? How much are we going to be hearing from him?

COOK: Well, I think that the White House doesn`t really have any control over how often the President speaks. And you have to remember tomorrow he is going to South Carolina for a rally. So he`ll have, you know, a huge platform there and an hour and a half potentially to talk and deliver his messages.

But I think what we heard from the President today at an event at the White House was a sense of grievance that he wasn`t getting enough credit for the coronavirus. And that really contradicted what the White House wanted him to do with that press conference on Wednesday night. They wanted him to try to calm people down, you know, display a presidential leadership, you know. And then today he was talking really just about how coronavirus is being perceived throughout the media coverage, how it`s reflecting on him, and not really about the larger question of the welfare of the American people, how the stock market is going to react, what`s going to happen with the economy. It`s all through the lens of himself.

KORNACKI: And Phil, you`ve also written about recent personnel changes, the evolution of personnel in this administration, how that could come into play here. Tell bus that.

RUCKER: Yes. Well, Steve, for the last three years the President has been waging a war, in effect on science and on experts in the government. He`s tried to discredit what he has termed the deep state, which of course applies to the national security and intelligence realms but also the scientific realms, those government bureaucratic experts in our government who he now has to rely upon for information and for leadership at this moment.

They have tried to cut the budgets of the CDC and other areas. They`ve tried to suppress some of this expertise, and now that needs to come into the fore, and there`s a real scramble underway in the government to try to fill some of those vacancies and to bring that expertise to the forefront.

KORNACKI: Stephanie, we were talking about this, Wall Street as much wondering as the rest of us where this is all going. Is there anything the administration, is there anything the President can do if tomorrow they don`t want to see the Dow plunge another 1,000 points?

RUHLE: Well, that`s the thing. This is very difficult for the President because it`s not like he can say, we`re going to go with corporate tax cuts, reminding corporate America, hey, don`t forget, this is a time of deregulation, or to pressure the Fed to cut rates. We may see the Fed cut rates. But if they`re cutting rates at this time, it`s because they need to.

The truth is today a lot of investors are griping that it`s unfortunate that last year when the Fed didn`t need to cut rates they did. The Fed`s job is not to tinker with interest rates to keep the markets going or to guide things along. The Fed is there to use the tools of rising and cutting rates in times of an emergency. And right now that is what we`re potentially facing.

So Wall Street is looking to see what the Fed does. But this will be a very frustrating time for the President because if we do face a human toll, if companies actually have poor economic numbers because of this, he can`t do anything about it.

KORNACKI: All right, Stephanie Ruhle, Nancy Cook, Philip Rucker, thank you all for being with us.

And coming up, South Carolina voters, they have the potential to shake up the Democratic presidential race. I`m going to head over to the big board to explain because we`ve got some brand-new and dramatic numbers today.

Also a critical part of preventing a coronavirus outbreak, it is detection. We`re going to ask a former secretary of Health and Human Services if this country`s public health infrastructure is ready. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Thursday night.



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I never golfed till I was 41 years old, and I got my index down to six-seven. Then I ran for president. Don`t run for president. Don`t run for president unless you own a golf course and you can spend half your life there, OK?


KORNACKI: That was Joe Biden tonight in Conway, South Carolina, the home of Coastal Carolina University, go Chanticleers. Joe Biden there.

If he looks like he`s in a good mood, he may have reason to be because we`ve seen a bunch of polls come out in South Carolina in the last day or two. Let me show you what they`re pointing to. This is the average of everything we have seen right now. Joe Biden in the average of polls in South Carolina is suddenly up double digits over Bernie Sanders.

And why that is so significant, because, sure, a couple months ago, a month ago, it would have been no surprise to have Joe Biden up double digits in South Carolina. It was supposed to be his firewall state. But then Biden went and lost the first three states. He came in fourth place in Iowa. He came in fifth place in New Hampshire with just eight percent. And he came in a very, very distant second place in Nevada. Basically lost two to one to Bernie Sanders out there.

And yet despite all that, since Nevada, Joe Biden is up 11 points in the average in South Carolina. Sanders basically flat. No other movement. An 11-point gain all of a sudden for the guy who lost the first three contests, who didn`t even come close in the first three contests.

It looks like something very interesting is happening there in South Carolina. It may be that that Nevada victory for Bernie Sanders, it created a new level of focus, a new intensity of focus on the prospect of him being the Democratic nominee, of the questions that have been raised by some of his critics, by Democratic establishment, he might call, the questions that have been raised about his electability. Has that given voters in South Carolina sudden pause over Bernie Sanders and has it sent them toward Joe Biden.

By the way, Biden getting that endorsement from Jim Clyburn, that might not have heard either.  But Biden now up double digits in the average in Nevada, an 11-point gain.

By the way one of the polls that came out today we can show you the breakdown here. The critical question in South Carolina, of course, it is black voters. You see among white voters, Biden leading Sanders. Look at this among African-American voters in one of the polls that came out today, this is from Monmouth, Biden up here at 45 percent, Sanders not even in second place.

Tom Steyer, who of course spending a fortune on television ads in South Carolina, he`s actually in second place with black voters in this poll. And there is Sanders at 13 percent, basically losing by three to one to Joe Biden.

The hope of the sanders campaign -- remember, about 60 percent, 60 percent of the electorate in South Carolina we think will be African-American on Saturday. The hope of the Sanders campaign was they could get close to even with Joe bidden among black voters.

In Nevada last weekend, there were some black voters out there. The margin in the exit poll was 38 to 28. Biden got 38, Sanders got 28. Ten-point margin.

The Sanders campaign was hoping maybe to keep it somewhere around there or tighter. If instead, if it`s something like this, if it`s anything like this on Saturday, you are looking at a Joe Biden landslide. If it`s worse than this, you`re looking at a really big Joe Biden landslide.

By the way in 2016, the black vote in South Carolina in the Clinton/Sanders primary, it was 86 percent for Clinton, 14 percent for Bernie Sanders. That was what he got four years ago.

I was looking, he got 14 percent then. He`s at 13 percent with black voters in this poll.

We will see what Saturday brings if this polls are all right.

What we`re seeing right now and for more, we welcome in Andy Shain, the Columbia Bureau Chief for the "Post and Courier." That`s Charleston, South Carolina`s daily newspaper. He is on the ground in the state that has all the world`s attention right now.

Andy, thank you for joining us. Let me start with you. I mean, the numbers on this board are telling me there has been sudden and dramatic movement to Joe Biden. Does that hold out in what you`re seeing on the ground there?

ANDY SHAIN, THE POST AND COURIER COLUMBIA, SC BEREAU CHIEF: You know, very much so. I mean Joe Biden has been leading in the polls here for the past year. Even before when he got in the race in 2019, he was the leader in the poll when he was not even officially a candidate.

So it`s been really no surprise that he certainly has solidified that lead in the past few days as voters are finally beginning to decide who they`re going to, you know, cast their ballot for on Saturday. I think a lot of them know that Joe is the name brand. He is somebody that they know. And in the end if they have doubts about anybody else, you tend to go with what you know.

KORNACKI: That`s the question too when you say if they have doubts about anybody else because what we`re used to seeing in these presidential primaries in the past is if a candidate starts winning those early states, that candidate kind of gets some momentum. There`s a bandwagon effect. You start seeing their support growing everywhere else. And you had Sanders win Nevada, win New Hampshire, didn`t win the delegates in Iowa but won the popular vote. They`re saying they won the first three.

And yet to look at these polls, doesn`t look like there`s really been any growth for Sanders in South Carolina since Nevada. Does that reflect what you`re talking about? Is there doubt among voters there?

SHAIN: There is. I mean I think what it is to a certain extent is that a lot of voters in South Carolina don`t care what happened so much in Iowa and New Hampshire. They make up their own minds. They feel like they have their own issues that they want to contend with at this point.

So, you know, I think for the most part here in South Carolina, there are a lot of independent thinkers. Obviously we`re the first state that`s seceded from the union during the Civil War. You know, it`s where we kind of want to make our own decisions and I think that`s what you`re seeing here.  And that the idea that Joe Biden has been the favorite candidate, you know, as I said, for the past 12 months and it`s continued.

Yes, the gap closed at one point, but I think the second-place finish in Nevada. I think his decent showing, you know, at the debate, getting Jim Clyburn`s endorsement, you know, has just helped all around, just helped solidify and put him back in the numbers that we were really seeing him for much of last year, those double-digit leads.

KORNACKI: Let me ask you about one other name here. we`re talking so much about Biden and about Sanders. By the way, third place here in South Carolina, Tom Steyer sitting at 14 percent in the average of all polls. We know he has spent a fortune on television advertising there.

We saw him doing the same thing in Nevada. We saw him flood the airwaves with ads there. Didn`t end up translating into a ton of support. He tried it in New Hampshire. He tried it in Iowa. He doesn`t have a lot so far to show for all the money he spent. When you look at Steyer sitting at 14 percent here, do you expect that to hold up on Saturday or is that sort of paper-thin support?

SHAIN: It`s hard to say. He is such, you know, an unknown. He`s such a wild card in this race. As you say, he`s blanketed the state with ads. We get -- my home gets mailers every day. My daughter, who is not voting age, can recite his ads because he`s so frequent on Facebook and on YouTube. It`s amazing what he has done and what he has spent here.

And if he were to finish third, I`d have to think that`s a pretty big disappointment considering that he`s basically made this the one state he`s really invested in and really want to thinks he could launch himself further into Super Tuesday and the rest of the campaign.

KORNACKI: All right. Andy Shain, if you want to know anything about the South Carolina primary, he is the guy to ask. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate that.

And coming up, more on the new whistleblower making headlines, we`re going to ask the former secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, about the controversy around coronavirus in that agency when "The 11th Hour" continues.


KORNACKI: There are new details tonight about the latest reported coronavirus case out of California. UC Davis Medical Center says the CDC initially declined to test the patient after arriving on February 19th. According to a memo sent to staff, the patient, quote, did not fit the existing CDC criteria for coronavirus. The person eventually was tested on February 23rd. Results then came back on the 26th. That was a full week after the patient had first been admitted to the hospital.

"The New York Times" reports the criteria then for coronavirus testing included travel to China or contact with someone known to be infected. Those guidelines have now been expanded to include more people. At this point, the source of this particular patient`s infection is unknown, meaning the virus may still be spreading throughout the community.

Joining me now, Kathleen Sebelius, the former Governor of Kansas, and most important for our conversation tonight, the former Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Obama. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate you being here.

I was looking back at your tenure at HHS and realized you walked into that job in 2009 just as the swine flu epidemic was taking hold. And I was going back and looking at this, you know, a decade later there was lots of speculation then about how bad the swine flu could become. It was not a good thing. It didn`t get as bad as some of the most dire predictions. I wonder, does the swine flu offer any useful parallels to what we`re going through right now?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FMR. SECRETARY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: Well, I think it does, Steve. I -- you`re right, I basically had a pandemic in my welcome wagon when I got to HHS. And what we had to do very quickly, the presidency was very young. President Obama had been sworn in January. I was the last cabinet member in April to be sworn in. So the entire administration was brand-new. And suffice it to say no one had ever dealt with a pandemic before, and it was a pandemic in North America.

So, the disease started in Mexico but spread quickly into the United States and to Canada. So the three, Canadian health minister, American health minister, which was me at the time, and the Mexican health minister worked very closely from day one, and they was really put in place immediately by President Obama and all of government response. The Secretary of Homeland Security, my friend and former Governor Janet Napolitano was there from January on. She was my partner in this effort.

So the two of us led the government response, but the Department of Labor was involved. The Department of Education was involved. And certainly the scientists kind of led the way. President Obama insisted that we be guided by the science.

The scary thing about H1N1 initially was it had a lot of the same features. It was a new virus, which means nobody had ever seen it. So no human being, either in America or anyplace else, had immunity to this virus. It also had a different profile. The people who were dying were not typically flu victims who are older and often have compromised immune systems.

The people who were dying with H1N1 were younger, and children had died. So that was very frightening to a lot of people, and we had no vaccine. So a lot of parallels to today where it spread quickly. I looked at some numbers. When I came into the job, there were 100 known cases in the United States and one death, who was a child who had traveled to the United States from Mexico where the disease began.

By November, we had millions of confirmed cases throughout the United States, and luckily we had a vaccine. But it moved very, very quickly through the country and through the protocols.

KORNACKI: Well, that`s the question too. Some -- A virus of this nature, how containable is it? I mean, we see these stories of the -- it seems pretty extreme measures that were taken in China to try to contain it. Japan, they`re closing down schools for a month. I saw there was some talk about whether the Olympics should be canceled or postponed or moved. Once you get people in a country with it, how containable is it?

SEBELIUS: Well, it sounds like it`s pretty difficult to contain again until you have a vaccine. The problem is that it seems very easily transmittable. I heard Tony Fauci last night talk about the fact that it`s very efficient, meaning that one person can give it to a lot of others. And people don`t immediately present with symptoms. So you can have the virus, give it to other people, and be diagnosed weeks later with the virus. That`s a dangerous situation.

The other thing that I`ve heard that`s very alarming is that with a typical flu -- and the President seemed shock by the flu numbers, but public health officials have known for decades that the flu is a very serious disease every year, which is why we encourage people to get flu shots. 36,000 to 40,000 Americans die every year. But typically older and already compromised people are dying. This viral infection, this coronavirus seems to be significantly more lethal than the flu. The flu has a death rate of about 0.01 percent of the people who actually get the flu, confirm with the flu, end up dying. That`s a lot of people.

This profile is emerging at about a 2 percent death rate, which is almost 20 times what the average flu death is. So it is alarming. And I think anybody who suggests that it is over in the United States or this will not present in the United States is really not looking at the evidence.

KORNACKI: Those are some pretty chilling statistics there. Kathleen Sebelius, the former Secretary of Heath and Human Services. Thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.


KORNACKI: And coming up, obviously it is all about the delegates for Democrats in South Carolina, at least officially. Momentum might have some factor here as well. Two veteran political reporters are going to help break down all the math when "The 11th Hour" continues.



MIKE BLOOMBERG, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`d love it. I`m going to stay right until the bitter end as long as I have a chance. If Bernie Sanders were to get a majority, then of course not. If it`s just a plurality, that`s -- you`re got to be in it to win it.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bernie had a big hand in writing these rules. I didn`t write them. I don`t see how come you get to change it just because he now thinks there`s an advantage to him.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s rules in the convention. He may be the nominee. There`s rules about how that works from ballot to ballot to ballot, and we have to follow the rules. That`s why you set out rules. You can`t change the rules in the middle of a game.


KORNACKI: Talk of a contested convention is making some Democratic Party members uneasy. "The New York Times" reporting tonight, "Dozens of interviews with Democratic establishment leaders this week show that they are not just worried about Mr. Sanders` candidacy but are also willing to risk intraparty damage to stop his nomination at the national convention in July if they get the chance".

Here with us, Beth Fouhy, NBC News Senior Politics Editor and Basil Smikle, former Executive Director of the New York State Democratic Party and a Democratic Strategist. Thanks to both of you for being with us. Beth, there`s the extreme scenario here for the Democrats who are nervous about Sanders where they find some way to thwart him at the last minute at the convention. But let`s talk about the more immediate one.

Democrats who have been sounding the alarm for the last number of weeks saying Bernie Sanders in their view would not be a strong general election candidate. They don`t want him nominated. We just showed the numbers a few minutes ago. In South Carolina, since that Nevada result came in over the weekend, Biden is up. Biden is up big. Are Democrats who are sounding the alarm about Sanders getting Democratic voters to pump the brakes here?

BETH FOUHY, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR, NBC NEWS: Yes. We`ll know in a couple of days when South Carolina casts its votes. But of course, you know, Biden has been favored to win in South Carolina for long time. There was some question if he didn`t do well in the first three contests whether his lead there would evaporate. It doesn`t look like it has. We`ll wait and see for sure on Saturday night. But the question is whether that`s going to take him anywhere after that, whether it gives him the kind of bounce he needs to really catch up and get the momentum he needs to catch Bernie Sanders` level of momentum.

We`re going into Super Tuesday. Of course, Bernie Sanders is expected to do very well in California, which has, you know, the lion`s share of the delegates on that day. But there`s a whole lot of other big states also voting that day.

Now, Biden, if he does well in South Carolina, that may portend a good night for him in southern states, other southern states like North Carolina or Alabama or Texas perhaps. But then you`ve got the California result for Sanders, and then you`re moving into a very unknown sort of realm for Biden where he doesn`t have a lot of money. He doesn`t have a big organization, both of which Sanders does have. So competing that way, Sanders is still ahead.

KORNACKI: The other interesting thing, Basil, on Sanders is you have folks out there saying, you know, to Democratic voters, he`s going to be a disaster as the general election candidate. Don`t nominate him. You won`t beat Trump. But the polling, I saw more state polls today, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, if you just did a blind test of the Democrats versus Trump in the head to heads and say pick which one is Sanders, you wouldn`t be able to because it looks like all of the others, he doesn`t stand out in the polls as uniquely unelectable.

BASIL SMIKLE, FMR. EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, N.Y. STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Yes. I mean, it`s -- what`s interesting to me is, you know, if I looked at the results of the 2016 primary, he won in a lot of areas that Trump won, because there`s a strange of their narrative that is very similar. System is rigged. You know, the elites don`t support you.

So there`s a lot of -- I would argue that there`s a lot of support for him in areas that maybe some might think there isn`t. But I assume that there is because of the threat of that narrative. But I think what folks are looking at are those down ballot races. We`ve spent so much money and so much time not just flipping congressional seats but state legislatures. New York in particular where I was the E.D.

And so,  you have a lot of folks looking at that and saying, well, even if he does very well in a primary and could beat Donald Trump in a general election, what does it matter if all the policies he wants to implement, there are no Democrats in Congress to help him do that? And so, I think there`s this real sort of challenge that Democrats are faced with, which is do we go against momentum and enthusiasm even if there`s detriment down- ballot, or do we just ride with him and hope for the best?

KORNACKI: The other thing, Basil, that we`ve seen in South Carolina in the recent past is it sort of set the tone for how the black vote is going to go particularly in the south but we`ve seen it sort of -- Obama won the black vote big in South Carolina and every other state. You know, Clinton in 2016, same story.

Looking at that polling out today that suggests the black vote in -- late here in South Carolina is moving back perhaps decisively to Biden, that becomes significant. Beth was mentioning some of these other southern states. I saw a poll in Florida today that actually had Biden up big there.

SMIKLE: Right. And what I`m looking for -- because if you look at the Jim Clyburn endorsement, what`s interesting about that endorsement is a friend of mine said it`s a history lesson. It`s -- I know Biden because I was there with Biden. We had these fights and battles together. But if you`re a young voter, this is what Biden did in his past to give you the opportunities that you have today.

If that is a narrative that actually works in his -- and could bring young voters along, then I think that Biden bounce can be significant in other states. If it`s not and we`re seeing a generational breakdown even within the African-American vote where younger voters are still sort of trending Sanders and Warren, then I think there`s some trouble for him in the subsequent states. Sanders does very well among Latino voters, so that bodes well in California and Texas and so on.

But if there`s that generational divide, I still think it`s going to go much further. I don`t know that Biden`s bounce actually gives him -- he doesn`t get to close the deal in South Carolina.

KORNACKI: Right. Yes. If half the people age-wise aren`t with you, it gets difficult. Beth and Basil are sticking around.

And coming up, an exclusive new clip from Kasie Hunt`s interview with Michael Bloomberg.



KASIE HUNT, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Would you vote for Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump?

BLOOMBERG: Well, I`ve criticized the party loyalty where they say you have to vote for the candidate. Everybody gets on board (ph). Of course, I`ll vote for him and they don`t really mean it. In this case, the alternative to the Democratic candidates, even Bernie Sanders, is so bad. I`ve said that I will vote for the Democratic candidate even if it`s Bernie Sanders.

Now, I`m a little bit --

HUNT: It sounds like you might have to hold your nose and do it.

BLOOMBERG: No, it turns out -- well, I might have to vote for him, but the other day his staff for reasons beyond me said we don`t want Bloomberg`s help. So I guess I`m off the hook there.


KORNACKI: That was from Kasie Hunt`s exclusive interview with Michael Bloomberg in Houston. You can watch the rest tomorrow on "Morning Joe."

And meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders won`t be in South Carolina for Saturday`s primary. He is taking his campaign to Elizabeth Warren`s turf in Massachusetts. Sanders has events in Springfield tomorrow on and Boston on Saturday. And Warren, for her part, isn`t saying if her home state could make or break her campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Six days, Massachusetts is going to vote. Is it a must- win for, you Massachusetts?

WARREN: I`m out here fighting for every vote.


KORNACKI: And still with us, Beth Fouhy, and Basil Smikle. Beth, let`s talk about Michael Bloomberg. The premise of his campaign, his very late starting campaign seemed to be offering an insurance policy to Democrats who didn`t want Sanders and didn`t want Warren as the nominee. And it was basically if they get hot in the early states and Joe Biden collapses and there`s nothing standing between them and the nomination, here`s Michael Bloomberg coming in on Super Tuesday.

But if we`re looking at a scenario where on Saturday night these polls prove to be correct and Joe Biden gets a big win out of South Carolina, where does Michael Bloomberg go from there? What`s the justification from there? Is he then getting in the way of a candidate like Biden beating Sanders or Warren -- Sanders really?

FOUHY: But he`s been campaigning hard in all the Super Tuesday states as you know. He skipped the first four contests. He`s really been going hard and deep on the Super Tuesday states. So he`s actually built up probably a lot of early vote in California and other places where there is early votes. So I don`t think specifically the South Carolina outcome is going to have the massive effect on Bloomberg per se.

What`s had the effect on Bloomberg is two pretty bad debate performances where despite all the money that he spent on advertising, I think we`re up to $400 million now, very slick ads, very good ads. When people -- when voters got a measure of him, the man, as opposed to what they saw on TV ads, he didn`t come up quite to what they expected. He didn`t seem to be up for the task. We`ve definitely seen in polling that he`s taken a hit since then.

So, look, he`s got all the money that one could possibly have. He could -- $200 million more could make a big difference to keep him in this race going forward. What I was saying before, since Biden is really has been struggling with fund-raising, Bloomberg, he can still make a plausible case and he`s got the money to do that. So I think no matter what he keeps going.

KORNACKI: Still there. Basil, what about Warren? So Sanders is in Massachusetts. It looks like he`d like to win Massachusetts and basically leave Warren with no choice but to get out of the race. Klobuchar, by the way, Minnesota also is going to vote on Super Tuesday. So you`ve got these two candidates with their home states voting. For both them, is that the ball game? Do they have to win their home states to have a justification to continue?

SMIKLE: It`s hard not to win your home state, particularly in this cycle because you`ve got Sanders surging. You`ve got Biden maybe doing a lot better than he had been and getting a significant bump. I think people are getting used to the idea of potentially supporting Mike Bloomberg, but they don`t want to made some -- may not want to have to go down that route, so they put a lot of their attention in the Joe Biden.

So, I don`t want to say it`s a must-win, but it`s a pretty hard case to be made if they don`t win their home states. And I would also say this. I would think at some point if it`s not President Obama, somebody`s going to have to have a conversation with these folks and say, you got to take a step back. Donors, union leaders, whatever the case.

KORNACKI: The clock is ticking, though, Beth, right? Because after next Tuesday, all these delegates are just off the board and claimed.

FOUHY: Right. And it`s really hard to see how very many of them keep going. I mean, the money is just going to dry up. We`re moving on to some more big states to come to vote, Florida, Georgia. If you don`t do well in your home state particularly and if you don`t do well in South Carolina, it looks like they`re all kind of writing it off except for Biden and a little bit Sanders and Tom Steyer.

You really have no place to go with no money to make your case. So, I think it will become evident to many of them that it`s kind of time to wind it up. So perhaps there will be one or maybe two sort of moderates left to campaign against Bernie Sanders.

KORNACKI: All right. Beth Fouhy, Basil Smikle, thank you both for joining us.

And coming up, President Obama has not endorsed any candidate for President. We were just talking about that. We`re going to explain why some people out there -- a lot of people out there may think the opposite is true when "The 11th Hour" continues.



SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I said is what Barack Obama said in terms of Cuba. That was Barack Obama. I talked to Barack Obama.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Excuse me. By the way, I called to make sure I was prepared to -- I never say minding my private conversation but --


KORNACKI: And the last thing before we go tonight, former President Barack Obama is officially neutral in the 2020 Democratic race. But if you`re somehow under the impression that he has weighed in, you`re not alone. A new poll from Morning Consult finds that three in five potential Democratic primary voters believe that the 44th President has endorsed a Democratic candidate to take on Donald Trump. Maybe that`s because of all of these.


BLOOMBERG: I`m Mike Bloomberg.

WARREN: I`m Elizabeth Warren.


ALL: I approve this message.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an extraordinary man with an extraordinary career in public service.

She`s a janitor`s daughter who has become one of the country`s fiercest advocates for the middle class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama worked together.

OBAMA: Fired up.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Fired up.

OBAMA: Ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKERS (in unison): Ready to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need something different to beat Trump. Tom Steyer can bring it.

OBAMA: He`s been a leader throughout the country for the past 12 years, Mr. Michael Bloomberg.

Joe`s candid, honest counsel made me a better president. Elizabeth understands what I strongly believe.

The best part is he`s nowhere closed to finished.


KORNACKI: So that Morning Consult poll, it went on to ask which candidates those voters who thought that Obama had weighed in -- which candidates they thought he was supporting. And on that question, it is neck and neck between Bloomberg and Biden. 26 percent to 25 percent. Another 10 percent thought that Obama had endorsed Bernie Sanders. 5 percent said that he was with Elizabeth Warren. 2 percent said that Barack Obama was with Pete Buttigieg, this despite what this viral video from the recount calls Pete- Obama voice.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The way we do every other election, by giving it to the person who got the most votes. That`s the fact.

OBAMA: That`s the fact.

BUTTIGIEG: Brings us together.

OBAMA: Because this country --

BUTTIGIEG: Now, this country was built. There`s a movement reaching into to church basements --

OBAMA: And church basements.

BUTTIGIEG: -- in barber shops --

OBAMA: And in our schools.

BUTTIGIEG: -- in the universities and union halls.


OBAMA: Shine as a beacon to the world.

BUTTIGIEG: Shines as a beacon around the world once more. This is our chance to change.

OBAMA: And this is our chance to answer that call.


KORNACKI: That is our broadcast for tonight. Brian will be back tomorrow. Thank you for being with us and good night from NBC News headquarters in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END