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Trump TRANSCRIPT: 3/25/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Michael Osterholm, John Barry, Robert Reich, Nikki Fried

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Remains a remarkable sight. A desolate Times  Square in an increasingly desolate city of New York.

Well, good evening to you once again. Day 1,161 of the Trump  administration, 223 days until our presidential election. And this marks  two weeks, 14 days since the World Health Organization declared the  coronavirus a global pandemic.

And we have now a suggested name for this thing we`re all living under,  especially the 170 million give or take of us who are under some form of  house arrest.  People have floated out the term, the great adaptation. And  we should all hope that`s all it is, by the way. And not a reformation of  our country or our lives long term or the U.S. economy.

Washington Post put up some drones and sent out some cameras today to  record just how desolate it is out there in the cities and municipalities  that have shut down and chased the people inside. It`s historic. It has  changed our country. It`s taken people from us. And sadly, it will take  more. And it`s been ravaging different countries on its way here, 467,000  confirmed cases around the world now.

The number of dead in Spain has now surpassed the death toll in China. As  Great Britain remains in limited lockdown, we learned today Prince Charles  has the virus. Mild symptoms. He`s self-isolating.

In this country our President used today`s White House briefing to accuse  journalists sitting before him of writing fake news. He went after our  allies. He relitigated his case against NATO. He still says he wants to get  people out and about starting Easter Sunday or before, as he added today.

Even though such decisions would be made by governors and mayors and not  made by him, he`s still talking about being able to clear large sections of  the country to go out and about again. Many smart professionals fear that  is a suicide mission. No matter that the President thinks packed churches  on Easter Sunday would be a beautiful thing.

In the real world our country has now passed 65,000 cases, up roughly  10,000 since we last spoke here. The number of dead Americans is inching  toward 1,000. Washington Post says this was the deadliest 24 hours thus  far. For contrast here`s a little bit of that briefing at the White House.


TRUMP: So important. Social distancing, such an important phrase. And we do  it right now. The more lives we can save and the sooner we can eventually  get people back to work as we fight to protect American lives we`re also  protecting American livelihoods. We want to get everybody back working.  Together this $2.2 trillion legislative package is bigger than anything. I  believe ever passed in Congress. It`s hard not to be happy with the job  we`re doing.

I`m not going to do anything rash or hastily. I don`t do that. By Easter  we`ll have a recommendation and maybe before Easter, and at the end of the  15th day or even during the 15th day I think we`ll have some kind of a  recommendation. But our country wants to get back to work.

The longer we stay out the harder it is to bring this incredible -- we were  having the most successful years that we`ve ever had in the history of our  country.


WILLIAMS: And of course experts have pointed out this virus does not report  to any calendar. At the Pentagon the surgeon general for the Joint Chiefs  of Staff sounded much more cautious about this Easter deadline.


BRIGADER GENERAL PAUL FRIEDRICHS, JOINT STAFF SURGEON, JOINT CHIEFS OF  STAFF: I just got an update on modeling factors from a three-week  perspective based on the planning factors that we have. We think that we`re  going to continue to see this, no surprise, continue to grow.


WILLIAMS: We also learned that this may just be the first round in the  battle with this virus. Here is what Dr. Tony Fauci said during today`s  White House briefing. Notably, this was after the President had exited the  room.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND  INFECTIOUS DISEASES: What we`re starting to see now in the southern  hemisphere, in southern Africa and in the southern hemisphere countries, is  that we`re having cases that are appearing as they go into their winter  season. And if in fact they have a substantial outbreak, it will be  inevitable that we need to be prepared that we`ll get a cycle around. It  totally emphasizes the need to do what we`re doing in developing a vaccine,  testing it quickly, and trying to get it ready so that we`ll have a vaccine  available for that next cycle.


WILLIAMS: And by the way, NBC News count has 18 states and now the District  of Columbia now with some form or fashion of restrictions on movement or  large gatherings. And today it was clear some local officials are in no  hurry to roll those back.


GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE, (R) OHIO: This thing is not going to even peak, we  don`t think until May 1. So I don`t want to mislead anybody. This is not  going to occur overnight.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT, (D) CHICAGO: If we see gatherings, we will shut them  down. Period. This is not just another day. And no day will be just another  day until we`re on the other side of this virus.


WILLIAMS: And we`ve been hearing a lot from the President lately about the  swift improvement in coronavirus testing in our country compared to, say,  South Korea where they were fast to deploy testing, unlike us. Well, today  the President was once again boasting about the testing efforts.


TRUMP: I`m going to say it again. We tested far more than anybody else. We  did in eight days more than South Korea did, in eight weeks. That`s a big  number.


WILLIAMS: Remember, we lost about eight weeks in this fight by not testing.  And both USA Today and NPR are debunking the President`s last claim there.  Our population is six times that of South Korea. They tested a much larger  proportion of their population.

There was also this from our President late this afternoon, "The LameStream  Media is the dominant force in trying to keep me to keep our country closed  as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election  success." As you might imagine, he was asked about that at today`s  briefing. Here`s how he responded.


TRUMP: The media would like to see me do poorly in the election. I think  there are certain people that would like it not to open so quickly. I think  there are certain people that would like it to do financially poorly  because they think that would be very good as far as defeating me at the  polls. And I don`t know if that`s so, but I do think it`s so that a lot of  -- that there are people in your profession that would like that to happen.  I think it`s very clear they would love to see me for whatever reason,  because we`ve done one hell of a job. Nobody`s done the job that we`ve  done.


WILLIAMS: And at long last the U.S. Senate appears to have agreed on a  bill, $2 trillion give or take. Those checks that have been promised to  Americans are part of this. But if you don`t have direct deposit, could be  a month from now by mail. Despite the bipartisan efforts, members of both  parties concede it is far from a perfect solution.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MAJORITY LEADER: The Senate is going  to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package  today. Struggling Americans are going to go to their mailboxes and find  four-figure checks to help with their bills. Why? Because the Senate  stepped up.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK MINORITY LEADER: Like all compromises  this bill is far from perfect. But we believe the legislation has improved  sufficiently to warrant its quick consideration and passage. Because many  Democrats and Republicans were willing to do the serious and hard work, the  bill is much better than when we started.


WILLIAMS: In the meantime, a man who is in the teeth of this crisis,  Governor Andrew Cuomo, says this bill doesn`t do nearly enough to help his  State of New York, which now has over half the total number of coronavirus  cases in our country.


GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: New York City only gets $1.3 billion  from this package. That is a drop in the bucket as to need. I spoke to our  house delegation, congressional delegation, this morning, I said to them  this doesn`t do it. You know, I understand the Senate theory and the  Republican theory. But we need the House to make adjustments.


WILLIAMS: Speaking of that, this now has to go over to the House. But  Speaker Pelosi is urging her members, members of her caucus to vote in  favor of what she acknowledged is an imperfect bill.


NANCY PELOSI, HOUSE SPEAKER: I agree with him. The governors need more  money. We had $200 billion in our package. They had $150. But neither of  those figures is enough to go forward. We do have to do more. But that  would be no reason to stop this step that we are taking.


WILLIAMS: Here for our lead-off discussion on a Wednesday night, three  terrific journalists. Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the  New York Times. Kimberly Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR,  Boston`s NPR News station. And Robert Costa, national Political Reporter  for the Washington Post, moderator of Washington Week on PBS.

Kim, I`d like to begin with you, just with a point of reference. It was two  weeks ago today/tonight, one of those you may remember where you were  moments when the NBA season was canceled and we learned that Tom Hanks and  Rita Wilson had the virus. That hit a lot of Americans. It put a real spin  on this. In these two weeks look at how partisan the argument over a  pandemic has become. Is this, Kim, just a preview?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think so. I think  we will continue to see where the fault lines lie despite the really urgent  need for relief. I mean, keep in mind a lot of people are calling this a  stimulus bill or relief bill. This is really an emergency disaster sort of  bill. This is trying to get money primarily to hospitals and other medical  professionals to get the supplies that they need. It`s to get money in the  hands of Americans who are starting to lose their jobs by the millions.  That`s the numbers we`re expecting to hear from tomorrow`s numbers. And  really try to keep people from going under. But we`re seeing, first it`s  starting with issues like abortion and now it`s going down to issues like  who should get unemployment. How much should be given? That are really  holding up this bill and preventing it from being the sort of fast relief  that it`s meant to be.

Already lawmakers are acknowledging that they have to start drafting the  next, the fourth and the fifth coronavirus-related bill to give the kind of  support that Americans need, that companies need, that employers need, that  everyone needs. And politics were a factor in it the entire way.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, I noted you tweeted out a quote from the President`s  news briefing today. I`m not going to do anything rash or hasty, I don`t do  that. Let me ask you, though, is he viewing this rise in case numbers along  with the economy, the Dow, unemployment stats coming out tomorrow, do you  think those all go into the same hopper as he views this crisis?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well,  clearly in the last few days he`s put a little more emphasis on the  economic toll here. Last week of course he told us that the economy didn`t  matter. We would put it back together once this was over, saving lives was  his only real priority.

This week he`s saying look, we have to have a larger perspective on this  that keeping everything closed for a long time can have deleterious effects  for the economy too that might be worse than the total from the  coronavirus. Of course most public health experts are saying the opposite  that he`s being too hasty at this point, he is being rash by suggesting  this can be wrapped up by Easter in effect.

My guess is that the numbers keep going the way that the public health  experts expect them to go that will look a lot harder once Easter comes  around. Really we`re seeing a death toll that is exponentially larger than  it is today come early April. I think that choice for the President about  trying to reopen things will be very difficult. You saw today that a number  of governors and other municipalities around the country basically are  rejecting the President`s timeline because they themselves are already  extending the closure of schools and other orders beyond that April 12th  date.

Maryland, led by a Republican Governor, Larry Hogan, extended the closure  of schools beyond the April 12th date. They`re not expecting this to reopen  by Easter. And neither of course is anybody in New York or California. He`s  put himself in that position where he will have to reconcile his own  rhetoric with the reality. In a week or two we`ll see where that stands.

WILLIAMS: Robert, I truly hate the fact that we are talking about partisan  politics during a pandemic at the top of our broadcast, but this is the  life we`ve chosen and this is the world as we look out upon it in  Washington. Polling out today. Are you concerned about coronavirus outbreak  in your area? These numbers have been on the move, Robert. But at the end  bringing us to real time, 87% of Democrats, 51% of Republicans saying yes,  indeed they are. That`s still, Robert, a huge gulf.

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: On the phone  today with numerous governors it was clear to me talking to Governor Hogan,  talking to governor Whitmer of Michigan that they are looking at this in a  non-partisan way. Many Republican and Democratic governors. They have  health concerns in their states when they make decisions about closures.  They`re trying to work with the federal government. So many of them are  pulling some punches about President Trump as they look to acquire supplies  like ventilators and masks.

At the same time President Trump is part of this roaring debate inside of  the White House to build on Peter`s point about trying to get the economy  restarted by Easter Sunday, by mid-April. But he`s being told by many  Republicans to be careful about that because you don`t know about the  consequences. But the President is so eager to get this done. And he`s  getting encouragement.

Based in my reporting, Governor DeSantis of Florida and allies of President  Trump like Governor Reeves of Mississippi, these conservative Republicans  are saying to him we need to get our economy restarted and they`re telling  people inside the White House they need to get this economy restarted. So  as much as governors in many of these embattled states are striking a non- partisan cautious tone, there are other governors out there, many on the  Republican side, who are more in the President`s camp of being raring to  go.

WILLIAMS: We should reference on the left side of the screen of course  we`re showing live the well of the Senate. These senators, let`s go ahead  and predict. Will probably never have a vote allocating more money from the  U.S. treasury than the vote they are taking tonight.

Kim Atkins, let me give you a theoretical. Member of Congress, House or  Senate, from a bright Red State reacting to this virus, which of course  knows no distinction between red states or blue. Some of them are hearing a  vastly different picture from back home than they`re hearing from the White  House briefing room?

ATKINS: They are. And although we have seen the impact of this virus so far  really impacting bigger cities in terms of things like numbers of cases or  even numbers of deaths. It tends to be higher in more densely populated  cities. It`s also hitting port cities on the coast harder economically  right now than others. But this is going to spread. It`s beginning to hit  industries like farming, agriculture, very soon because we`re not by any  indication at the peak of this. This isn`t plateauing yet. It`s only going  up. It`s going to hit just about every industry. It`s going to hit the  heartland and it`s really not going to map whether a state is red or blue.  It will all feel the impact of covid-19.

So the fact that they will have to move expeditiously to get this passed,  try to get past the politics of this, and really be responsive. I`ve  already heard from people on the ground who contact me. They`re very happy  with the way their local and state officials have been responding to this  because they have acted more quickly. They have been urging greater action  from Washington. It`s Washington that looks like it`s moving slowly, and  that needs to catch up.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, the President now resorting to telling the country  that he`s doing a great job. The quote from the briefing, "It`s hard not to  be happy with the job we`re doing. That I can tell you." Sensitive about  this plot because it runs counter to what the other side is pointing out. I  want to run an ad that the Trump campaign is trying to get off the air, an  attack ad currently airing in four battleground states.


TRUMP: The coronavirus.

This is the new hoax.

We have it totally under control. It`s one person coming in from China.

One day it`s like a miracle, it will disappear.

When you have 15 people and within a couple of days is going to be down to  close to zero. We really think we`ve done a great job in keeping it down to  a minimum.

I like this stuff. I really get it. People are surprised that I understand  it.

No, I don`t take responsibility at all.


WILLIAMS: Peter, the President has tried, it but it`s hard to say you  didn`t say something when we can hear it.

BAKER: Yeah, most of those things of course were the tone he took before  about a week and a half ago when he started to treat it more seriously.  He`s pivoted back again these last few days and compared it once again to  the regular flu and suggested in fact that it`s running its course faster  than anybody would have thought.

They`re trying to keep that ad off the air, part of that one specific quote  about the hoax, the argument is that he wasn`t calling the coronavirus  itself a hoax. He was calling -- he was comparing the democratic and media  criticism of it to what he calls the Ukraine hoax or the Mueller hoax.

Fox News for instance decided to keep that off the air as a result. And  some of the fact-checking organizations have said that that has been used  misleadingly at times by his critics. But the rest of those quotes are all  pretty accurate and pretty much indicative of the attitude he exhibited for  the first number of weeks of this crisis. And it took the market crash and  pretty dire numbers and projections to kind of turn that around about a  week and a half ago, two weeks ago. He`s going to have to explain himself  and defend himself. This is going to be an important part of the  conversation later this year when we get back to the campaign for whether  he gets a second term or not.

WILLIAMS: Just saw the members of the U.S. Senate in the well, some of them  practicing social distancing better than others.

Robert Costa, I need a straight up prediction from you along with any of  the granularity you`ve picked up in your reporting. What`s the chance that  this is the last time they vote on a massive dollar amount in what Kim  correctly says is a rescue bill?

COSTA: Well, Brian, just a few moments ago Leader McConnell announced that  this would be the last vote in the Senate until late April. So there will  not be a vote on another rescue package, another phase of this until then.  They are going to try to stay away from the capital. And go back to their  states as this entire national crisis unfolds.

But when you talk to people inside the White House and close to the  Treasury Secretary, they believe if the economy is not reopened by late  April, by early May, there`s going to almost certainly need to be another  round as Kim said so well, another round of fiscal stimulus. The question  for many in the White House is that what are their options on the table at  this point? The federal reserve putting -- injecting 4 trillion into this  process. Congress injecting its own 2 trillion in. So you have, as Larry  Kudlow said, about a $6 trillion rescue package altogether, both monetary  and financial from Congress. And so what are the options moving forward?  Are you going to go into negative interest rates? It`s hard to see what  that path would look like.

WILLIAMS: Three terrific journalists. And we can now see three people with  a terrific sense of interior design. Peter Baker, Kimberly Atkins, Robert  Costa. Three friends of this broadcast. Thanks, guys, for coming on  tonight.

And coming up for us, the President says we don`t have to test every state  in what he calls the Middle West for this virus before sending people back  to work. Infectious disease experts say it`s not at all that simple.

And later on, a campaign built on a surging U.S. economy braces for some  big bad numbers that are coming out just hours from now. Former Labor  Secretary Robert Reich will be with us on what to expect as THE 11TH HOUR  is just getting under way on this Wednesday night.


WILLIAMS:  As you know, not everyone agrees with the President`s push to  reopen at least parts of the economy by Easter Sunday or even, as he puts  it, reopening large sections of the country. Funny thing about this virus,  as we`ve said, it doesn`t respect state lines or calendars.

Here`s what Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had to say about relaxing  social distancing measures in order to help the economy.


BILL GATES, MICROSOFT CO-FOUNDER: There really is no middle ground. And  it`s very tough to say to people hey, keep going to restaurants, you know,  go buy new houses, ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner, just you  know, we want you to keep spending because there`s some -- maybe a  politician who thinks GDP growth is what really counts. It`s very  irresponsible for somebody to suggest we can have the best of both worlds.


WILLIAMS: We`re very happy to have back with us Dr. Michael Osterholm,  Professor and Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and  Policy at the University of Minnesota. Also happens to be co-author of the  recent book Deadliest Enemy: Our War against Killer Germs, which he somehow  knew how to write before this pandemic arrived.

Doc, you and I spoke just seems like it was a couple years ago. It was St.  Patrick`s Day. During our coverage of Super Tuesday edition 3. You said you  estimated we`d still be at this, dealing with it by autumn. Have you seen  anything, heard anything to change that prognostication?

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY,  UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: I have not. At the time I mentioned to you that  while a number of people in Washington were treating this like a  Washington, D.C. blizzard, a couple of days and we`d be out of it. And I  said at the time this was going to be basically a coronavirus winter, we  were just in the first weeks of the season, nothing has changed at all.  What happened is the enormity of just how big the problem is now makes  people really find it difficult to understand how it could get worse. But  it`s going to, and it will continue for the weeks and months ahead.

WILLIAMS: I promise to never drag you into politics or try to convert you  into being a politician. But coming off what you just said, what you hear  the President talk about getting us out and about, filling the churches on  Easter Sunday morning, what does that do to you?

OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, let me put it into context. I`ve been in the  public health business for 45 years. I`ve served roles in the last five  presidential administrations. I served two democratic governors, two  republican governors, and one independent governor here in Minnesota. And  no one can tell you my partisan politics. So please take this comment as  such. 

But right now we don`t have a strategic national plan for this. The  administration has failed to deliver anything to us that would give us a  road map of where we`re at, where we`re going. And we need that desperately  because we are not going to get out of this anytime soon. And one of the  things that we`ve learned about viruses, they cannot be convinced to do  something different by rhetoric. They will do what they want to do by  Mother Nature`s hand. We have got to understand that now.

WILLIAMS: I want to play you a quick interview with an E.R. Doc, Elmhurst  Hospital, Elmhurst Queens, a place I hasten to add that pulled up a  refrigeration truck today to serve as their temporary morgue.


DR. COLLEEN SMITH, EAST ELMHURST, NY EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Today is  kind of getting worse and worse. We had to get a refrigerated truck to  store the bodies of patients who are dying. We are right now scrambling to  try to get a few additional ventilators.


WILLIAMS: Doctor, how far above capacity are our hospitals going to be  running and when?

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY,  UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, first of all, I wrote a piece back in 2005  that talked about our lack of preparedness for a pandemic and I wish it  were 2005 again because we were much better prepared back then than we are  now. We have basically gnawed our healthcare system down to the bone. There  is no resiliency. On a given day, 95 percent of the beds are already  filled. We have no excess capacity for ventilators.

I think one of the greatest tragedies is going to be many of our healthcare  workers are going to suffer this infection and some die because of  acquiring it at work because we don`t have the protective equipment to  protect them. And so I think this situation is playing out in New York is  obviously a very, very dramatic picture. And it will play out in other  places around the country. And I think we have to understand that the  healthcare system, as we know it, will be overwhelmed. There will never be  another normal time. It will be a new normal. And we will understand what  it meant to overwhelm a healthcare system, unlike anything that`s ever  happened before.

WILLIAMS: Wow, that gets our attention. We`re going to ask to talk to you  again if you`d be so kind to join us from the Twin Cities. Doctor, thank  you very much --

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: -- on this day when we learned Atlanta and Detroit are already  out of ICU beds.

Coming up for us, perhaps you`ve heard of the Spanish Flu of 1918. Well,  for starters, it wasn`t Spanish at all. There`s a whole lot more to know  about it that might help during these times. The man who wrote the book is  standing by.



GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS, (D) LOUISIANA: This is real. And our state and  everyone in it needs to take it very seriously. Our ventilator capacity is  far from OK in Louisiana. The problem isn`t just that the cases are growing  every day. It is that they`re growing rapidly every day. If our growth  continues, we could potentially run out of vents in the New Orleans area in  the first week in April.


WILLIAMS: One asterisk, remember they celebrated Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras  as usual, outdoors and together. But now there are dire warnings out of the  state of Louisiana as the governor tries to convince people to stay  indoors. Want to show you Bourbon Street in the quarter today. A lone  public servant, a letter carrier, making his rounds. The governor said  yesterday Louisiana leads the world in new cases, 65 souls have already  died there.

Our next guest who lives in New Orleans recently wrote a "New York Times"  op-ed warning that the single most important lesson of the 1918 influenza  was tell the truth.

With us for more tonight veteran journalist, John Barry. He`s the author of  the best-selling book, "The Great Influenza, The Story of the Deadliest  Pandemic in History". John, while grateful that we grabbed one of the last  vacations apparently in America, I have to give your book credit for  ruining mine because it`s all I read while I was away.

Having said that, please give us a brief update on the city you and I both  love, and that`s New Orleans.

JOHN BARRY, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT INFLUENZA": Well, the governor`s comments  pretty much carried all you need to know. And it`s a dire situation,  extremely rapid growth in cases. I live in the French Quarter. It`s empty.  Testing is not available. The same thing that`s happening in New York.  We`re just a little bit behind that pace, I`d say, unfortunately. Hopefully  something good will happen. We did institute -- go ahead.

WILLIAMS: I was just going to make a point, there`s a ton of Catholics down  there, a ton of Catholics in Philadelphia, where the archdiocese in Philly  canceled Easter services as of today already for Easter Sunday. I further  thought of your book and the story you tell. Perhaps you can tell the 60- second version here about the parade in Philadelphia vis-a-vis what we now  define as social distancing.

BARRY: In Philadelphia, they had a liberty long parade to raise -- to sell  war bonds. The medical community virtually universally advised canceling  the parade. They didn`t. And roughly 48 hours after the parade, the average  incubation period for influenza, you know, hundreds of thousands of people  in the street, and the disease just exploded and the city had ended up one  of the worst cities in the country, possibly in the world, in terms of  death toll. That`s the story in short.

WILLIAMS: I -- my heart broke last night in light of having just read your  book when I read of the first three cases on the aircraft carrier, Theodore  Roosevelt, aka the Big Stick. If a virus itself could design a petri dish,  it would be a city of 5,000 people all together, as close quarters as you  can imagine, with only the flight deck and the tower for fresh air. And as  you point out so vividly, 1918, it was all about these burgeoning military  bases and barracks and that`s how it got across the ocean to Europe.

BARRY: It would have gotten there anyway. But the training camps in the  U.S. in the spring were infested with influenza. Tens of thousands of  troops made the voyage across, and that helped deliver it to Europe. As I  say, it would have gotten there anyway a little bit more slowly.

WILLIAMS: And just a point I made a minute earlier. The Spanish Flu by my  reading of your book wasn`t Spanish at all. Spain didn`t have any curbs on  their reporting during the war. They wrote about it. So they got tagged  with that to this day.

BARRY: Exactly right. The other countries at war censored their press.  Spain did not. And the result is, as you say, it`s known as Spanish Flu.  There are various theories as to where the virus entered the human  population jumping from an animal. Spain is not even on the list as a  possibility. We definitely know it didn`t start in Spain. Could have  started in the United States. I think most likely China. May have been  Vietnam. May even have been France. But not Spain.

WILLIAMS: Potential readers should know the book is not a rom-com. It is  nonetheless fascinating and couldn`t be more timely. Its author, John  Barry, nice enough to join us from his beloved French Quarter in the  beloved city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Thank you so much.

And coming up for us, as one business magazine put it, the weekly job  numbers out tomorrow will be shockingly bad. We`ll talk to a former  secretary of labor about what`s coming.


WILLIAMS: Just hours from now, really, before the stock market opens in the  morning, we`re going to get our first look at unemployment numbers. There  will be no way to sugarcoat these. The job losses are expected to be  record-breaking. CNBC reporting this. This sudden unprecedented spike,  whether it`s 2 million as expected by Barclays or Citigroup`s 4 million  projection is signaling, the unemployment rate will also lead from  February`s half-century low, 3.5 percent to estimates that go as high as 10  percent. Sadly, we might still just be getting started.

For more, we welcome to the broadcast Robert Reich, former secretary of  labor under President Clinton, professor of Public Policy at the University  of California, Berkeley. And the author of the brand new book, "The System,  Who Rigged It, How We Fix It". More on that in a moment.

Mr. Secretary, what do you think is going to come out tomorrow? How deep a  hole are we in?

ROBERT REICH, FORMER LABOR SECRETARY: Brian, we`re in a very deep hole. And  I would expect that at least 2 million new claims for unemployment  insurance last week. Now, that`s just last week. That is a -- if it`s  anything close to that, that is a record. We`ve never seen that kind of a  spike in unemployment claims before. And let me remind you, the people who  are filing for unemployment claims, most of them think that they are  eligible. That is a small fraction of the number of people who are actually  unemployed.

WILLIAMS: No one is tipping. No one needs dry cleaning. No one`s eating in  a restaurant. Very few people are flying. It`s just a hell of a thing to  just make inactive such a huge component of our economy. Since we`ve just  passed this $2 trillion thing, it looks like it`s making its way slowly to  the president`s desk for signature, can we afford what it`s going to cost  us not to make people whole but to help our citizens who are out of work  because of this?

REICH: Absolutely. I mean, if we can pass a $2 trillion tax cut in December  of 2017 for mostly corporations and the very wealthy, we can certainly  afford nearly $2 trillion to help people survive.

Brian, I wouldn`t call this a stimulus bill. This is a survival bill. And  it`s a survival bill for, really, tens of millions of Americans who will be  out of work and must be out of work in order to protect themselves and  protect the public.

WILLIAMS: While you`ve been talking, we`ve been showing in Tribeca, New  York storefronts, high-end stores getting boarded up. Some of them painted  fashionably but looking for all the world like they`re preparing for a  hurricane. It looks like the French Quarter prior to a hurricane. And I  suppose it is a storm they are getting ready for.

I -- what does this do? Let`s talk about your book for one second. To the  rigged system, does this cripple it? Idle it? Add to it? Or can we start  from something closer to scratch?

REICH: Well, we`re going to have to start from scratch. We are starting  from scratch. I think the most important thing is to keep people safe and  keep people at home and make sure that if people are at home, they have  enough money to tie them over. This is not a time to bail out big  corporations, quite frankly. The bill that is emerging from the Senate  provides $500 billion for big companies. I -- call me old-fashioned, but I  think we ought to spend every single dime on people and making sure that  people are healthy, that they have access to medication if they need it,  and to -- certainly to hospitals, making sure that the hospitals and  hospital staffs have everything they need. And most importantly, that  people have the income support they need to tie them over. Again, this is a  matter of survival.

WILLIAMS: I`m not saying any employees are -- have it more dire than others  or any are more valuable than others. But why does the president always  mention the cruise ship industry of all the industries suffering right now?  It occurs to me, so many of them sail under flags, not this country, and  that`s usually about avoiding taxes in this country.

REICH: That`s exactly right. Those cruise ships are floating tax havens.  They pay -- the cruise ship industry pays about one -- about eight tenths  of 1 percent taxes. It is the lowest tax of any industry that can call  itself, even halfway call itself, American. They don`t need and shouldn`t  get a tax break. They have collateral. That`s called the ships. It`s like  the airline industry. They have collateral called airplanes.

These people and these corporations are not going to go under because they  can get low-interest loans that are going to keep them going. And if worse  comes to worst, there is chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, which is  designed specifically to allow companies to reorganize their debts under  bankruptcy. So, that 500 billion that`s going to big corporations, I  frankly don`t understand. I think it`s put in there to appease a lot of the  -- again, the big power interests, that`s what my book is about, in the  system.

But we do need desperately to get money to small businesses and also  particularly to individuals. And we`re talking about an unprecedented  number of people who are staying home. It is in the national interest for  people to stay home. I understand there are a number of Republican senators  who are worried about too generous unemployment benefits in this bill  coming out of the Senate. Well, that`s absolutely ridiculous. We have a  public interest in making sure that people are home and are safe.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Secretary, thank you. The book is called "The System, Who  Rigged It, How We Fix It". Robert Reich, our guest tonight.

Coming up when we continue, the governor of Florida refuses to order a  stay-at-home order. Not everyone in the state of Florida government agrees.  That would include our next guest when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day,  I`m not going to let it stop me from partying (INAUDIBLE) having a good  time. Whatever happens happen. With the bars being closed, you know, we`ll  find alternative.


WILLIAMS: That poor guy, that interview aired all over the world. He is now  home after spring break in Florida. And in a long Instagram post, he wrote  the following, "Life is precious. Don`t be arrogant and think you`re  invincible like myself."

Florida`s governor, meanwhile, standing by his decision not to issue a  stay-at-home order calling it "inappropriate". With us tonight is one state  official who disagrees. Nikki Fried is commissioner of Agriculture and  Consumer Services in Florida, was the only Democrat to win her state in  2018.

Commissioner, I have to say a lot of people have been surprised given the  levels of poverty, especially working poor in Florida, given the levels of  old folks in Florida, that the state hasn`t been more aggressive. What do  you fear is coming your way?

NIKKI FRIED (D-FL), COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE: You know, let me start off  by saying that, you know, these are unprecedented times that we`re all  dealing with and the governor`s had to make a lot of tough decisions. But  the data that we`re seeing is that we`re only a week behind California and  we can`t afford to be like New York and, god forbid, Italy.

You know, our population, our senior population is very similar to that of  Italy. So we have about 21 percent of our senior citizens that could  jeopardize being sick and being ill. And, you know, I can do the math just  like anybody else. You know, if we hospitalize over 400,000 of our  Floridians, we have only about 40,000 beds here in the state of Florida. So  if we don`t stop the curve now and we don`t take drastic measures now,  we`re putting not only our economy at risk but also lives of so many of our  Floridians.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I was going to say where could those ventilators come from?  They can`t come from New York, a city in the teeth of this crisis.

I want to play for you the governor`s comments from earlier today. To be  fair, we`ll talk about them on the other side.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA: There are certain parts of the state where  you have more sporadic cases. And to issue -- to order someone not to be  able to earn a paycheck when them going to work is not going to have any  effect on what we`re doing with the virus, you know, that is something that  I think is inappropriate.

You look at California. They were ordered not to go to work. And so you  look, they`re out on, you know, partying or at beaches and stuff. You  probably are less dangerous just driving your car going to the office than  being with crowds of hundreds of people. So you`ve just got to think it  through.


WILLIAMS: Commissioner, I don`t know how many Californians are out partying  tonight. But what`s your reaction to those comments specifically? 

FRIED: You know, what we`re seeing is a piecemeal approach here in the  state of Florida. You`ve had a lot of our county and city commissioners  that are stepping up to the plate, doing responsible actions by closing  down their cities and their communities. We`re seeing a lot of our  businesses doing the same thing and taking a responsible measured approach.  And the confusion is rampant across our state.

We have a lot of our small businesses and individuals that are anxious,  they don`t know what`s coming, they keep getting different reports that  this is closing and that`s closing and non-essential businesses, what does  that mean. And with this piecemeal approach, not only is it not going to  flatten our curve but it`s just making people even more anxious and nervous  about this.

And look, this is not a radical approach. You know, we are seeing governors  all across the country both Republican and Democrat doing this. This is the  time to put state before our party and to make sure that we`re doing what`s  best for the citizens of our state. And the fact that, you know, we`re now  hearing, you know, messages from other parts of our country that we`re  seeing they`re thinking of the spread of their virus is coming from people  that were traveling here to the state of Florida, that we don`t have time  to waste. You know, we have lives on risk here. And we need the governor to  change course, to be bold and to do what is necessary to save the lives of  our citizens.

Look, I don`t want to be in a situation where we`re having to tell  grandchildren, I`m sorry, grandma is not coming home because we have to  give her ventilator to somebody else that`s half her age. That`s a horrible  conversation that we should not be having in America. And, you know, I need  our governor to change courses to protect the lives of our citizens.

WILLIAMS: Governor hereby is invited any night on this broadcast that he  would like to speak with us. We`d love to have him. Our thanks to  Commissioner Nikki Fried of the state of Florida. Thank you so much.

And that`s going to do it for our broadcast tonight. On behalf of all my  colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night from our temporary field  headquarters. Our coverage continues, of course, after a short break.


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