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Coronavirus pandemic TRANSCRIPT: 3/12/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Willaims

Guests: Alan Blinder, Susan Page, Peter Baker, Irwin Redlener

  LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts  now.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, a nation unsettled over drastic measures  and financial fallout amid a crisis of leadership and a lack of faith in  the ability of anyone to reverse its course, the worst day at the markets  since 1987. A crushing blow to Americans` retirement savings while  questions linger over the lag in testing.

Plus, a member of Canada`s first family tests positive for the virus.  Disneyland will shut its doors for the first time in two decades. The  college basketball tradition of March Madness called off. Major League  Baseball and the NHL postponing their seasons.

And Congress works to find a way to stem the economic pain and sustain the  many people who fear lost income, while presidential candidates offer their  vision. How will the virus impact voting? "The 11th Hour" gets under way on  this Thursday night.

Good evening once again tonight from our NBC News headquarters in Chicago.  I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams. It`s day 1,148 of the Trump  administration, 236 days to go until the 2020 presidential election.

As this country now grapples with the concerns over coronavirus, there are  many more stark signs of the outbreak`s deepening impact. Wall Street  witnessed yet another meltdown, the worst day there since 1987. Despite the  Federal Reserve promising to inject at least $1.5 trillion worth of money  into the financial system, the Dow sank 10 percent.

For the second time this week, the rapid stock sell-off triggered a halt in  trading. Yet even as today`s markets were in free fall, the President was  sounding optimistic about the financial future.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a lot of things that  we`re working on with the financial markets, and it`s going to work out  fine.

You have to remember the stock market as an example is still much higher  than when I got here. And it`s taken a big hit. But it`s going to all  bounce back, and it`s going to bounce back very big at the right time.


VELSHI: Going to bounce back very big at the right time.

Tonight Trump`s former director of the National Economic Council offered up  his assessment.


GARY COHN, FORMER DIR. NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: We are in a recession  right now. We are having negative growth right now. And the market is  pricing in that uncertainty. The good news is we did start from a very  strong position just three weeks ago.


VELSHI: Efforts in Congress to ease the vast economic impact of the  coronavirus continue. Tonight, House Democrats said they are close to a  deal with the Trump administration on an emergency aid package for those  affected by the outbreak.

Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have been negotiating all  day. We know of at least eight phone calls between them today alone.  Tonight, Pelosi says they hope to reach a final agreement tomorrow.

In a letter to Democrats tonight, the speaker said the bill would provide  free testing for those in need, emergency leave, and two weeks of paid sick  leave, enhanced unemployment insurance and food programs, and more money  for Medicaid.

In the meantime, the number of U.S. coronavirus cases in this country  continues to climb. There are well over 1,600 confirmed cases here now, and  at least 41 deaths.

And the number of closures and cancellations across the nation is also  quickly rising. Disneyland Universal, MSNBC`s parent company are shutting  down theme parks. College basketball`s March Madness is canceled. Pro  Hacky`s season is suspended until further notice. And the MLB is delaying  the start of the baseball season.

And just a short time ago, news that Canadian Prime Minister Justin  Trudeau`s wife has tested positive for the new coronavirus. Trudeau who  spoke with President Trump today about the outbreak is now under self- quarantine as his wife recovers.

Now, during last night`s primetime address Trump rolled out a travel ban  from Europe scheduled to take effect in just over 24 hours.

Tonight, "The Washington Post" reports the President realized today that  his speech last night did little to calm fears about coronavirus, "Trump,  who believed that by giving the speech he would appear in command and that  his remarks would reassure financial markets and the country, was in an  unusually foul mood and sounded at times apoplectic on Thursday as he  watched stocks tumble and digested widespread criticism of his speech."

Today at the White House, Trump defended his decision while also seeming to  open the door to limits on travel within the U.S.


TRUMP: A lot of people went from China into Europe. And Europe suffered  tremendously. You see what`s going on. And so I just wanted that to stop as  it pertains to the United States, and that`s what we`ve done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering travel restrictions within the  United States like to Washington State or California?

TRUMP: We haven`t discussed that yet. Is it a possibility, yes, f somebody  gets a little out of control, if their eerie get to high.

And I don`t want people dying. That`s what I`m all about.

VELSHI: Now one of the main obstacles to fighting the outbreak in the  United States continues to be a lack of testing. Today Dr. Anthony Fauci,  the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  was very candid when he spoke to Congress about the testing shortage.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS  DISEASES: The system does not -- is not really geared to what we need right  now, what you are asking for. That is a failing.


FAUCI: It is a failing. Let`s admit it. The idea of anybody getting it  easily the way people in other countries are doing it, we`re not set up for  that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we`re not.


VELSHI: Now down the street at the White House, the President had a very  different take on testing.


TRUMP: Well they have a million tests now. We`re going to have -- over the  next few days, we`re going to have 4 million tests. And frankly the testing  has been going very smooth.

Millions are being produced. There`s a brand-new thing that just happened,  but millions are being produced.


VELSHI: Today, even some Republican lawmakers were fact-checking the  President.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): That`s obviously the goal is to be able to get  testing for everybody who wants testing to be able to get it and to be able  to get it in multiple locations, but that`s not accurate right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should he stop saying that?

LANKFORD: Yes. People should not say if you want a test, you can go get a  test right now.


VELSHI: Now amid all of this, it appears Donald Trump has had another close  brush with coronavirus. The press secretary for the Brazilian president,  who reportedly has now tested positive for the virus, dined with the  President in Mar-a-Lago this past weekend. Senator Lindsey Graham was there  too. His office has announced he`s in self-quarantine.

Today the White House issued a statement that said in part, both the  President and Vice President had almost no interactions with the individual  who tested positive and do not require being tested at this time. And today  Trump seemed unworried.


TRUMP: We did nothing very unusual. We sat next to each other for a period  of time, had a great conversation. Let`s put it this way. I`m not  concerned.


VELSHI: All right. Our leadoff discussion will begin in just a moment, but  first I`m joined by Alan Blinder, professor of Economics and Public Affairs  at Princeton and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve, who served on  President Bill Clinton`s Council of Economic Advisers.

Alan, it`s a rare occasion to talk to you, but this is a serious one. Here  is the issue, the Fed cut interest rates last week. Today it introduced  money into the financial system, but we`re not solving for a financial  problem right now.

ALAN BLINDER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY, ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS PROFESSOR:  That`s exactly right. Now, if you think back to 2008 or back to 1998, we  had a financial problem on our hands, and certainly in 2008, that financial  problem was having dire effects on the real economy. This is not like that  at all. This is the -- this is going the other direction. We have terrible  things going on in the real economy, and the financial markets are reacting  to that.

And they know, as you know, that the Fed can`t do anything about that,  about what`s going on with the virus, about what`s going on in the short  term with the real economy. That`s -- people that are worried about  liquidity here and there, the Fed can fix that and will. It may take a lot  of money, but the Fed knows how to do that. But that`s really not even  secondary to describe. It`s tertiary at best.

VELSHI: So there is a role perhaps at some point as this crisis spreads for  the Federal Reserve, but right now it does appear that they`re trying to  solve a problem they can`t solve, and we`ve got futures tomorrow morning  looking like another bad day. I mean these are times that, Alan, we have  not seen for a long time, even before your time in the Clinton  administration, these kind of heavy losses on a sustained basis.

BLINDER: No, absolutely. Well, we`ve seen these in the 2008-`09 crisis for  reasons that were horrible and complicated but kind of understandable. But  this is a beast of a completely different nature.

And what you`ve seen when the Fed cut interest rates and what you`ve seen  with its liquidity announcements, today the markets look at that, you know,  they may get happy for 10 minutes then they realize this is not going to  really solve the problem or even -- never mind solve. This is not going to  seriously ameliorate the problem.

VELSHI: Alan, thank you for your time as always. Alan Blinder joining us  from Princeton.

Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, my colleague Stephanie  Ruhle, a veteran of the investment banking and business world, the host of  the 9:00 a.m. hour here on MSNBC, NBC senior business -- and NBC Senior  Business Correspondent, Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief for "USA Today"  and Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times."

Susan, let met start with you. The President really thought about 24 hours  ago, it seemed, that he was going to deliver a speech and a speech from the  White House, from the Oval Office is a serious matter and it would calm  markets. Through the course of his speech we already saw futures dropping.  The investors around the world, people who have choices about what they`re  doing with their money, do not think the White House has a firm hand on the  tiller right now.

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, that`s right. And this  is the kind of address we`ve seen presidents previously make at times of  crisis or turmoil, after the Oklahoma city bombing or after the 9/11  attacks, we`ve seen presidents very effectively use an Oval Office address  to the nation to keep people calm, to provide a sense that they`re in  charge, that there`s a path ahead.

But those are reassurances that President Trump did not manage to convey  last night. And instead I think raised more questions than he answered. And  I`ve got to say of the six presidents I`ve covered, I`ve never seen a  president read a speech off a teleprompter and immediately have to have  aides come out and offer factual corrections to what he said. That really  does raise questions about what`s happening at the White House and the  competency of the leadership there.

VELSHI: Peter, you and Maggie Haberman have filed a story this evening in  which you talk about the fact that what it seems the world and certainly  Americans wanted or needed or continued to need from the White House is  some degree of direction, some unified roadmap to follow forward. And in  the absence of that, people are making their own rules, whether those be  investors or governors or mayors or school districts or sports  organizations.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes,  it`s rather striking. The President of course has been pretty assertive on  the issue of closing borders, right? There`s an area he`s familiar with.  It`s an area that`s sort of dominated in some ways his three years in  office. He`s restricted travel from China, from Iran, and now as of  tomorrow night, from Europe.

But the area he has not really asserted himself and provided direction to  the country is inside our borders. What do we do with schools? What do we  do with universities? Broadway, Disney World, the NHL, the MLB, all of  these guys are making their decisions on their own without the guidance of  the commander in chief from Washington.

It took Andrew Fauci -- Anthony Fauci, sorry, the scientist you just showed  on air, to say yesterday at a congressional hearing, yes, maybe the NBA  should think about suspending games. We shouldn`t have these large  gatherings. And within 24 hours of him saying that, you saw all of the  professional sports essentially react in a very strong way.

The President himself didn`t say that last night. He didn`t give any  direction on what he thinks people should do beyond washing their hands and  keeping vulnerable populations, you know, isolated. So I think that`s an  unusual situation.

Maybe he will turn that around. He`s talking about a national emergency.  He`s talking about using emergency powers. But so far he`s left it to the  country to decide for itself. And the result is much of American life has  been closed down.

VELSHI: Stephanie Ruhle, you and I have many times said that the stock  market is not a proxy for the economy because of the number of people who  are not invested in it. But when you see 20 percent, 25 percent losses on  the stock market over a two-week period or three-week period, it becomes a  bit of a proxy for the fear that the world is fearing. Sure, about half of  Americans are invested in the stock market in one way or the other, but  lots of Americans work for public companies and at this point this feels  like the slow, grinding shutdown of an economy that is really making people  fear for their futures.

STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It does, and I mean  I`m in agreement with former Economic Adviser to the President Gary Cohn.  We`re absolutely slipping into a recession.

But I want to give you a sliver -- you know, a bit of a silver lining here.  What we have seen in the last 24 hours is a really scary tipping point.  Peter just went through whether you`re talking MLB, NHL, the NBA, the  school, the college and university closings across the board. What has  happened, as we more from corporate America, less from the government, are  truly getting our heads around assessing and addressing the risk of corona,  everyday Americans are now having to change how we live our lives in order  to address this. And at least in the short term, we are going to self- quarantine. We are going to hunker down.

And when we do that, we`re not spending. And when we`re not spending, we`re  not contributing to the economy, and that turns markets in the red.

Now, the sooner we do that and that has become today for more and more  Americans, the sooner we get to the other side, and that is the bright  spot. So as Alan Blinder said, this is very different from 2008 where you  had a disastrous underlying economy. That`s not where we are today. We`re  facing a disastrous, natural disaster that was not done by bad risk-taking  from banks or bad decisions from executives in the auto industry.

And the sooner we get to the other side of this mountain where China has  started to get and South Korea has started to get and maybe Italy soon,  we`re actually going to get back to normalcy. So as scary as it is -- and  you`re absolutely right. It`s like a falling knife, market right now. The  fact that at least we`re tackling it, there`s a lot o sophisticated  investors out there that are saying, you know what, we`re taking our  medicine and after this we`re going to get better.

VELSHI: Susan, there is a consequence to the President continuing to talk  about how it`s the media that is providing a narrative that is not honest  about this. And the President`s got a lot of supporters in right-wing media  who are doing this.

You`ve done a poll. There was a USA Today/Ipsos poll in which you polled  people who identified as Republicans and Democrats about a basic thing like  washing their hands to prevent coronavirus. The result was actually  different depending on your political party.

PAGE: You know, I was looking at the cross tabs on the question of are you  washing your hands more often because I thought men and women would be  different on that by the way. No offense to men. And I found a small gap on  gender, but a huge gap on partisanship. By more than -- by double digits,  Democrats were more likely to be washing their hands more often than  Republicans.

And I don`t know exactly why that`s the case but I think it may be the  effect of the President`s bully pulpit, that Republicans trust him when he  tells people it`s not so serious, we`re going to get better, it`s being  overblown. They believe it, and they don`t take these common sense measures  like wash your hands. Democrats don`t believe the President. They believe  Tony Fauci and public health officials that say wash your hands as much as  you can. And so they`re taking heed of that.

That just shows you perhaps in a small and quirky way kind of the power  that the President has to lead on an issue like this or to make things more  difficult for the country.

RUHLE: I don`t know, but Ali, I would say, how humiliating for the  President. Who does he want the approval of more than anything? The CEO  set, the most powerful man in America. And what do they do? Ignoring what  he is saying, calling the coronavirus a hoax, trying to downplay it. And on  the other side, they are taking extreme borderline, draconian measures to  address it.

So one could say, yes, the President looks so powerful among his Republican  base, but that`s not actually who he seeks, who he desperately seeks the  approval from, and that`s the most powerful CEOs out there. And they  certainly don`t agree with him.

VELSHI: Peter Baker, whom I know to be a hand washer, Peter, the President  has directed Jared Kushner to take some sort of leadership role in this.  But ultimately as you heard Alan Blinder say moments ago, this is not a  financial crisis. This is a public health issue.

The administration -- or at least Donald Trump and it seems Jared Kushner  according to reporting shares this view, that this is actually a public  psychology issue as opposed to an actual public health crisis.

BAKER: Well, look, of course, it could be both, right? I mean, there`s no  question that many pandemics psychology public mood plays a role. We are  having the first pandemic really of the social media era, right?

It was 2009 we had the H1N1 virus, but we didn`t have the prevalence that  we do today of Twitter and Facebook, and they didn`t play such a large role  in our life, in which all the information that we`re getting these days  doesn`t just come from television. It doesn`t just come from the President  of the United States. It comes from our friends and our neighbors and our  colleagues, all of whom are scared. And this fear has no doubt caused a  greater reaction than might have been seen in history`s other pandemics.

Now, the question is what the President does in that kind of climate. Does  he reassure the country, or does he look like he`s out of touch? And  there`s a fine balance between being confident and projecting optimism, and  looking like you`re not taking it seriously enough. And for the President  right now, a lot of his critics think he looks like he hasn`t been taking  it serious enough.

Jared Kushner is part of the debate in this White House and there are  people like that, who think like the President, that really there has been  an overreaction, that it is about politics, that it`s in fact the media or  the Democrats trying to damage him.

And then there`s another set in the White House, the public health oriented  people who are worried and think that the government should be doing more.  So we`ll see how that debate plays out in the days to come.

VELSHI: Thank you for the three of for helping us out to kick off this  discussion, my partner Stephanie Ruhle, Susan Page, Peter Baker and of  course Alan Blinder.

Coming up, health care workers are sounding the alarms about a potential  shortage of critical medical supplies, basics like surgical masks and beds.  An update on hospital preparations just ahead.

And later, schools are being shut down in states where primaries are  supposed to take place just days from now. So now what? "The 11th Hour"  just getting started on a Thursday night.



BIDEN: The coronavirus does not have a political affiliation, will affect  Republicans, Independents, and Democrats alike. It will not discriminate  based on national origin, race, gender or zip code. It will touch people in  positions of power as well as the most vulnerable in our society.


VELSHI: "The New York Times" is reporting that hospitals in the United  States are growing anxious as coronavirus continues to spread. "The Times"  reports, "With the bow wave of coronavirus infections still to come,  hospitals across the country are trying to prepare for a flood of  critically ill patient who will strain their capacities like nothing they  have seen in at least a generation. Even when some time to prepare,  administrators fear they will not be ready."

Back with us again tonight, Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrics physician and  clinical professor with the School of Public Health at Columbia University.  He`s also the director of Columbia`s National Center for Disaster  Preparedness with an expertise in pandemic influenza. He`s now part of the  Biden campaign special coronavirus committee.

Irwin, good to see you again.


VELSHI: Thank you. Unfortunately every time you and I talk, bad things are  happening.


VELSHI: A lot of people have probably seen this in the media or on social  media --


VELSHI: -- this curve of demand for health care services, and it can go one  of two ways. It can spike and exceed our capacity to provide people with  the necessary care, or something can happen that is called flattening the  curve. In other words, the same number of people might get infected but it  will happen in a way that we can management. Tell me the markers.

REDLENER: Over a longer period of time, right. So, you know, this is the  third wave of very serious concerns about what the government is doing and  not doing. And starting with, of course, with the -- all these failures  that continue, by the way, with our ability to test for the coronavirus.  That was one.

And the second thing is the messaging issues, which I would like to come  back to. But in terms of the hospital issues, you know, let`s take a couple  numbers for a minute, Ali. So we`re dealing with -- we currently have  between 90,000 and 100,000 intensive care beds in the entire United States,  and they`re almost all full all the time.

If we had a kind of a moderate to severe peak of coronavirus infections  around the country, we might need double, double that number of intensive  care beds with everything that goes with it, including mechanical  ventilators, staffing properly these beds and these units, and we are  extremely far from being remotely close to real preparedness for any of  this deluge that could be a reality. And actually in a matter of a few  weeks given the rate of replication and spread of the virus. We only have  to look at Italy to see what a worst case scenario is.

And a few weeks ago they were in not much different a situation than we`re  in right now. So, we have a lot to worry about and not much done to this  point.

VELSHI: Tell me what it looks like. In other words, if we exceed our  capacity, if we have 100,000 beds and we need 150,000 or 200,000 --


VELSHI: -- what does that look like versus doing it in a more orderly  fashion because not everybody dies from this.


VELSHI: You know, we`re very familiar with the flu, so we know when --


VELSHI: -- you`re supposed to go to a doctor and when you`re not. but we  don`t know with this. So there are a whole bunch of people who won`t be  sick, who may be using medical care, but maybe we want that so they don`t  infect people who could die.

REDLENER: Yes. And well, we`re going to have a lot of people who are sick  but with pretty mild or moderate symptoms. There`s no question about that.  But whatever sort of modeling assumptions you make, there are going to be a  lot more people who are going to need hospital beds and intensive care unit  beds and, you know, ventilators sort of thing.

And the problem with that is, first of all, we`re not prepared for even  that. But the second part of this equation that we haven`t been talking  about enough is it that it also crowds out our ability to take care of  regular people without coronavirus, who have had a stroke or a heart attack  or some trauma where they need hospital care, and we`re not going to have  the room to handle the surge of coronavirus patients in addition to the  normal surge of everyday living that has kept our hospital beds completely  full.

VELSHI: Right. So if you have some other underlying illness, you want to be  able to know that you can get treatment for that and this will occupy those  beds.

REDLENER: Of course. Exactly. So this is what we`re facing is really a kind  of coming winter here, or however that, you know, "Game of Thrones"  expression was, but we`re heading there almost inevitably to some sort of  significant surge in demand on hospitals. And we haven`t put enough money  or time into thinking about how we`re going to deal with this.

And after all, there`s no local community, big city, small city, medium  size city that has the capacity to expand in the way that I`m talking about  without a significant amount of federal assistance. And it`s not  forthcoming, and it`s kind of the next rung of incompetencies that we`re  seeing from the federal government, which is a failure to really help the  local communities get ready for what`s undoubtedly going to be a major  surge in demand on our hospitals.

VELSHI: So, Irwin, this is your specialty. As you know, mine is economics  and I look at this market. The worst day in my career that I`ve ever  covered in terms of a market loss, and yet I was talking to Alan Blinder a  few minutes ago --


VELSHI: -- former Fed official and he said, this isn`t a financial problem.  This is not actually a problem that is solved in the financial markets.


VELSHI: It`s solved -- you hinted at this, it solved by messaging that  we`re in command here. Earlier on Lawrence`s show, Sarah Nelson, the flight  attendant, described how flight attendants are trained to keep passengers  calm. The messaging is crucial here. The psychology is important in  addition to public health.

REDLENER: It is. So Ali, so here`s the thing about that. So, for many weeks  I was saying as much as I could, we have to find that sweet spot between  complacency and panic, and especially we have to see that coming from the  President, which of course we see zero evidence of. But even I was saying,  yes, we can`t panic people, and we should not be panicking people. But in a  certain way I would like to panic our hospital systems and the people that  support those systems. They need to be up and running full speed ahead.

Now, I should also note that the public is actually is actually doing very,  very well. They`re complying with a lot of the regular hygiene rules that  we`re imposing. It`s really -- it`s been amazing. People are accepting this  without panic. But I just want to rev up our other entities that involve  the care of actual patients.

The other thing I would say is that I`m very concerned about the lack of  leadership from the White House about this fact, which is that we`re  leaving the governors and mayors up to their own devices and imaginations  to say, oh, we`re going to stop anything over 250 people at a major event.  Other cities will say 500. There`s zero scientific evidence for any of  these arbitrary numbers, and it`s pretty desperate at this point, and they  have to get their act together.

VELSHI: But absent leadership, we`re all making our own decisions, right?  That`s why some people are selling their stocks, because they don`t know  what right looks like. Irwin, thank you again.

REDLENER: Sure. Sure, Ali.

VELSHI: I know you`re on our air a lot, and we rely on you Dr. Irwin  Redlener. Thank you.


VELSHI: Coming up, the roadblocks getting in the way of testing those who  need it.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS  DISEASE: Testing now is not going to tell you how many cases you`re going  to have. What will tell you -- what you`re going to have will be how you  respond to it with containment and mitigation. The idea of anybody getting  it easily the way people in other country are doing it, we`re not set up  for that. Do I think we should be? Yes, but we`re not.


VELSHI: According to the CDC, only 11,000 coronavirus tests have been  conducted so far. Prompting fears of the U.S. healthcare system could soon  become overwhelmed. Our next guest has this reporting tonight, "Many  private laboratories in the United States still aren`t able to conduct  their own tests, in part because of a demanding government approval  process. The delays have prolonged waiting times to diagnose infected  patients while the virus has spread further".

Joining us for more, NBC News National Reporter Suzy Khimm. Suzy, officials  first heard about this in December. By January, coronavirus was actually a  thing. By February, it was full blown in China and in almost the middle of  March, you and I are discussing why we don`t have enough testing capability  in America. It is inconceivable that we`re even having this conversation.

SUZY KHIMM, NATIONAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS: We are weeks and weeks, if not  months, behind where we should be right now. And basically what`s happening  as you`re seeing is that both public and private laboratories are racing to  catch up.

Unfortunately, there have been many roadblocks along the way, some of which  have been lifted, and some of which still exist. And I think that`s why you  are still hearing and seeing complaints from ordinary people who might be  feeling sick, who might believe that they might have the virus from doctors  who have expressed frustration that they haven`t been able to get enough  patients tested. So while there has been progress made, there still is a  lot of work to do here. And the governance slow response to this and the  missteps they`ve made along the way haven`t been helping.

VELSHI: Suzy, what`s the solution? Is it the CDC sending out more test  kits? Is it hospitals? Is it lowering the threshold for which you can get  tested? Is it private labs, which you`ve written about? What does success  look like here?

KHIMM: So there are a number of different obstacles that are holding up  testing right now. So in recent -- in the last week, you`ve seen two major  testing companies LabCorp And Quest which many Americans may be familiar  with from their doctor`s office. They have started broad scale commercial  testing that you should be able to get many medical providers offices, but  they can`t just turn a switch and start testing it at absolute maximum  capacity overnight. They need equipment, they need staff, they need time to  ramp up.

Quest told us that it would take up to six weeks for them to be able to do  tens of thousands of tests a week. So that`s one problem. Another problem  is just lack of basic lab materials and personal protective equipment for  the lab technicians doing the test. I spoke with one major provider,  medical provider that runs 26 sites across the country, and they say that  they are basically had a lot of trouble finding basically equipment just to  protect their lab staff to do enough tests in their facilities.

So there are many different obstacles that are still in place even after  the government has changed some of its policies and finally did let private  labs begin to develop their own tests. But that only happened at the very  end of February and now we`re in middle of March, and it`s clear that this  is still a major problem in terms of access to testing.

VELSHI: Suzy, thank you for your reporting on this. We appreciate it, Suzy  Khimm.

Coming up, in the midst of a global pandemic, how do you hold a primary?  More on that when the 11th hour continues.



GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D), ILLINOIS: The election will proceed forward on  Tuesday. I`m encouraging all local election authorities to expand the hours  of early voting every day until Election Day.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: There`s ample opportunity to kind of spread  this out as far as the number of people who are, you know, in line at one  time. So we do not anticipate any major problems on Election Day on  Tuesday.


VELSHI: While schools and businesses across the country are closing their  doors because of coronavirus concerns, state officials say they`re moving  ahead with Tuesday`s Democratic primaries. Polls in Arizona, Florida,  Illinois and Ohio are still scheduled to be open. Officials there urged  residents to opt for early voting or mailing ballots, to lower the number  of people gathered in one place on Election Day. Illinois and Ohio are  scrambling to move polling places away from vulnerable senior centers. As  for the two leading Democratic candidates, both have canceled their  campaign events ahead of the primaries.

For more, we welcome to the broadcast Mary Ann Ahern, Political Reporter  with NBC Chicago, channel 5. And back with us again, Charlotte Alter, a  National Correspondent for TIME and author of the new book, "The Ones We`ve  Been Waiting For: How A New Generation Of Leaders Will Transform America".  Charlotte, you`ve been reporting on the changes to the campaign. And  listen, people are going to have to think about this more holistically  because we don`t know how long this goes on for, but certainly in the  coming week, there had been major changes to the way the campaigns and the  candidates are approaching the voting.

CHARLOTTE ALTER, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Yes. Sanders and Biden have  both canceled major rallies. You`ve -- we`re already seeing both candidates  begin to do some kind of like elbow bumping instead of instead of hand  shaking.

But listen, both top Democratic candidates at this point are exactly in the  vulnerable range and they`re constantly, you know, under typical campaign  circumstances, they`re constantly surrounded by people, they`re constantly  shaking hands, they`re constantly in big crowds. Exactly what doctors are  now telling people is, you know, the most dangerous type of situation for  contracting coronavirus. So, both campaigns have, you know, taken a step  back from those types of events, and I think that they`re both being very  careful about how they proceed forward.

VELSHI: Mary Ann, I live in New York City, we`re actually relatively good  at ignoring each other even in large crowds, but not in Chicago. Chicago  has -- we`ve canceled the St. Patrick`s Day Parade.


VELSHI: Joe Biden was going to be here on Friday for an event. It`s a  different place.

AHERN: It is a different place and no one throws a Chicago St. Patrick`s  Day party.

VELSHI: Right.

AHERN: And it is amazing, the marching the politicians that going up and  even given a hug and a kiss.


AHERN: And they won`t be able to do that this time. In Chicago, there`s  going to be a fantastic party, there would have been on Friday night. 1,200  people at the Irish fellowship party that Joe Biden wanted to just swing  right through it.

VELSHI: Right.

AHERN: Instead, there`ll be a virtual Town Hall tomorrow afternoon from  Chicago.


AHERN: For the residents of Chicago

VELSHI: Charlotte, this is what the campaigns are doing. The states and the  Democratic Party hosting these primaries, they`ve got to give some thought  to how this all goes on. People are wondering like you go into a place, you  keep on pressing a button on a machine or they -- do they have ways to  think about -- they want to reduce the flow through these places. But  that`s against every fiber in an election organizers body to reduce flow or  cut back on crowds. They want as many people out there as you can get.

ALTER: Exactly. They`re in a really tough situation. I mean, how do you  drive people to the polls when we`re in this situation where you don`t want  people to be congregating in large crowds? I do know that there are some  polling places that are taking extra precautions around wiping down pens  that they give people to fill out their ballots, making sure all the  surfaces are sanitized.

But I certainly think that there`s going to be a significant drop in  turnout. Not -- you know, not just because of the crowds because -- but  also just because some of the locations that polling has been happening in  are these schools that have been shut down, so they need to move it to  someplace else. And whenever you move a polling location, you get some drop  box -- 

VELSHI: It gets complicated, right, you got drop box.


VELSHI: People don`t know that it move, they lose energy to do that.

ALTER: Exactly. And you know, I also think it`s important to remember, two  of the states that vote on Tuesday are Arizona and Florida and those are  two states with very high pop -- high aging populations. And so, you know,  people who would be really, really vulnerable happen to be in the states  that are voting on Tuesday.

AHERN: The Chicago Board of Elections still is trying to locate more than  90 polling locations that they have to move. Here we are.

VELSHI: They were like senior`s places or schools.

AHERN: Senior homes, right.


AHERN: And so now they`re still scrambling to find those. So you show up on  Tuesday to vote and your polling place is not there. It is definitely going  to be chaotic.

VELSHI: You actually sent us a picture. Your daughter was at a target in  the area. Was it around Chicago?

AHERN: Tonight, this afternoon.

VELSHI: Look at this. Look at this picture. It looks like a target that  hasn`t opened for business yet.

AHERN: Yes, and there she was. My daughter Coady (ph), new mom, goes to buy  new cleaning materials. Make sure her blazes nice and clean.


AHERN: Nothing left. Nothing left on the shelves.

VELSHI: That`s incredible. Charlotte, do you have a sense if everybody`s  got to follow the same rules? Does it hurt anybody?

ALTER: I think both campaigns are taking this really seriously. I do think  that just given the generational breakdown, we`ve been seeing in some of  the polling numbers. Sanders is doing much better with younger voters and  also much better with sort of -- he`s got a super committed extremely  enthusiastic base. So it could be that this results in a sort of  inadvertent boost for him just because maybe younger voters might be less  scared to show up. And, you know, his hardcore fans wouldn`t necessarily be  deterred.

But I know that the Sanders campaign is taking this really seriously. And I  don`t think that they take any joy in that. I think that they -- that both  campaigns want their candidates to be safe and also want the voters to be  safe.


ALTER: So, you know, it`s certainly going to be unpredictable and chaotic.

AHERN: Local campaigns even have done the same.

VELSHI: I was going to say. There`s down ballot races here. In a place like  Illinois, that`s a big deal.

AHERN: Right. And they have said, OK, on election night, we will not be  throwing our usual campaign parties, as well as of course, Biden and  Sanders are doing the same. We`re going to see empty rooms of people  celebrating which is just -- it`s unbelievable.

VELSHI: Well for us reporters, it`s hard to get our head around, right?  We`re going to have to -- 


VELSHI: -- we`re all going to have to adjust. I mean, we judge things by  the crowd and the frenzy and the energy in the room and that`s -- 

AHERN: Right. And we`re not going to see the knocking on the doors on these  final days. In Chicago, they have what`s called palm cards. The ward boss  gives out the list. OK, here`s who you go in and you vote for.


AHERN: And it literally is the size of your palm. I already received one in  the mail this time because they`re -- m not sure they`re going to be at the  polling places. They want to make sure you`ve got it.


AHERN: They want that list out there. But instead, perhaps not as many  germs if it`s mailed to you instead.

VELSHI: That is amazing. Good to see you. Thank you for joining us.

AHERN: Thank you.

VELSHI: Mary Ann Ahern and Charlotte Alter. Thank you for joining us,  Charlotte, we appreciate it -- Charlotte, thank you.

ALTER: Thanks for having me.

VELSHI: Coming up, how an anxious nation craves credible leadership during  times of crisis, when "The 11th hour" continues.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the most aggressive  and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in history.


VELSHI: "Washington Post" reports last night`s Oval Office address from the  President, "reflected not only his handling of the coronavirus crisis but  in some ways much of his presidency. It was riddled with errors,  nationalistic and xenophobic in tone, limited in its empathy, and boastful  of both his own decisions and the supremacy of the nation he leads".

Back with us tonight, Presidential Historian and Pulitzer Prize Winning  Biographer Jon Meacham, his newest work, which is available now is "The  Hope Of Glory: Reflections On The Last Words Of Jesus From The Cross". Jon,  you know, it`s not hard to find people who have no interest in the federal  government who don`t think they rely on it, who don`t trust the federal  government increasingly more and more, and yet, a point Rachel made  earlier, it is the organization, it is the institution on which we are  relying for guidance right now, and you don`t realize it`s not there until  you don`t get the guidance you`re looking for.

JON MEACHAM, MSNBC ANALYST: Exactly. It`s the basic social contract that  we`ve had really from the beginning. We had huge debates in the 1780s and  1790s, through the Civil War about the relative role of the federal  government. But since 1933, we`ve had a basic sense in this country that  the federal government had a genuine and ambient role to play in our lives.

And even the most conservative among this have accepted the notion that an  institution like the federal government needs to be competent, it needs to  be well funded in order to respond to crises of fundamental order. And  that`s what this is. This is a crisis of order. It`s not quite existential,  but it`s certainly a lot closer to existential than any of us want it to  be.

VELSHI: But you bring an interesting point up because even if you are for  limited government, even if you believe in small government, there are  basic things that we believe the federal government does that we would not  do better on our own. And this is one of those things, because in the  absence of cogent leadership and this people are making their own  decisions, governors and mayors and businesses are making their own  decisions about how they`re going to deal with this.

MEACHAM: It goes back to the preamble of the Constitution. This is  basically about public safety. That phrase doesn`t appear. But the preamble  Gouverneur Morris peg leg, founder, wrote it, saying that this is about the  general welfare. And if this doesn`t fall under the general welfare clause,  if public health doesn`t fall under that original phrase, then nothing  does.

VELSHI: What`s the sense of the attack on government that we`ve seen for  some decades now, but it has intensified in the last couple of years where  we talk about the deep state? We have built a situation for ourselves in  which many Americans, maybe many millions of Americans have deliberately  learned to distrust government.

MEACHAM: Yes. This is a long-term trend. 1965 marked the high-water mark in  our polling history. Something like 77 percent of Americans trusted the  federal government in 1965 to do the right thing some or most of the time.  That`s crashed by more than 60 points.

And part of what`s happening here is President Trump, without making this a  partisan issue, is this is an observation, it`s a clinical observation.  President Trump is reaping what he has sowed. He has sowed distrust, he has  sowed tribalism and a sense that he is the only person that his followers  can believe. We know that not to be the case. The simple workings of reason  tell us that that is an outlandish claim.

And one of the fascinating things that`s going to unfold here -- I don`t  think I`ve ever seen a presidential campaign turn as quickly as this one  has in the past -- call it10 days but -- 


MEACHAM: -- certainly the past 72 hours. You had a -- you had the  challenger today appearing more presidential, more reassuring than the  incumbent. And what that is, again, it`s not a partisan point. It`s a  historical point, because what Americans want is a president who at least  will do as little harm as possible, right? I mean, that`s a very  conservative idea. We just don`t want him making things worse.

And right now, I think a lot of Americans believe that the incumbent  president is in fact making things worse, and they`re hungry for  leadership, whether it`s elective or appointive. We just want the facts. As  Governor Michael Dukakis put it unsuccessfully in 1988 running against  George Bush, this is not about ideology, it`s about competence. The country  disagreed then. I think in this case, we would certainly agree with the  Dukakis principle.

VELSHI: Is it your sense of the feedback the White House has received in  the last 24 hours will change anything?

MEACHAM: I think it`s -- the President has been impervious to changing data  and circumstance.


MEACHAM: Right? So he does what he wants to do. And whenever he gets into a  corner, he just keeps going, in the sense of whatever it would -- he go --  he carries on as he set out. He showed no capacity to learn or change. And  that`s one of the tragedies of the era.

VELSHI: Jon, in the last 10 days or so, you are the first person to invoke  Gouverneur Morris. So I appreciate that. Jon Meacham, thank you for your  time.

That is our broadcast for tonight. Good night from our NBC News Bureau in  Chicago.


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