BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: We start again with an image barren Times Square in New York.
Good evening, once again. This was 1,162 of the Trump administration, leaving 222 days to go until our next presidential election. It`s been 15 days now since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic.
And tonight our country, sad to say, leads the world but in an awful way. We have now surpassed China. We now have the greatest number of confirmed coronavirus cases on earth.
The President today said the fact that we have passed China is a, "tribute to our testing." He wants to clear whole regions of the country still to get back out, get to work pretty quickly, he said today. He added, the process has to start pretty soon.
Please note we are nowhere near the projected peak of this illness, and our trend line is heading straight up. The President blew through a ton of impressive-sounding numbers of masks and gloves and ventilators on order and being shipped. Some of the numbers were the same as yesterday. None of them with any bearing seemingly on the desperation we are hearing and seeing from urban hospitals, especially as the death toll soars.
Remember, please, we have no idea how many Americans have the virus. Of those tested, over 82,000 Americans have been infected. Over 1,100 have now died.
There are no upwards of half a million cases around the globe. Today on the day we learned more than 3 million people have filed for unemployment, the White House revealed its new plan to try to reopen our country while also trying to contain the pandemic.
In a teleconference with the nation`s governors, Trump said he`s looking into easing up on social distancing and other mitigation efforts. He`s also calling for splitting the U.S. into high, low, and medium risk areas county by county as a way to potentially allow some people to go back to work.
The President and Vice President talked about it during today`s briefing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to be talking about dates. We`re going to be talking with a lot of great professionals. But this is a country that was built on getting it done, and our people want to go back to work. We`ve got to start the process pretty soon. So we`ll be talking to you a little bit more about that next week.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ll be presenting this weekend, the President, a range of recommendations and additional guidance for going forward. The President`s made it clear that in his words, he wants to open the country up. But we`re going to do that responsibly. And as the President told the governors today, we`ll do that based on the data.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Now, the Trump administration`s 15 days to slow the spread program comes to an end early next week. But, remember, this virus doesn`t obey a calendar. It doesn`t recognize state or county lines. The White House coronavirus coordinator, Dr. Deborah Brix, says officials are concerned about the increasing number of cases around Detroit and Chicago. She sounded a note of caution about the President`s plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: These are dialogues that the federal government has to have with state and local governments because state and local governments make those decisions, and that`s what`s been inspirational to me of seeing how much the governors understand where they are in their epidemic and what they will need to do in the future. Part of this will be the need to have highly responsible behavior between counties, and I think the American people can understand that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Mike Pence also announced 552,000 tests have been completed across our country. But a reminder, in a nation of 327 million people, that`s roughly 0.17% of all Americans. Meanwhile, more is being uncovered about the government`s initial response to this outbreak. Politico reporting the White House failed to follow the national Security Council`s nearly 70-page playbook on fighting pandemics. ProPublica is reporting on internal emails that reveal confusion at the CDC, delaying efforts to stop the spread of this thing in the early months of this year. President Trump`s own comments about readiness early on offered no few specifics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We pretty much shut it down coming in from China. We can`t have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus.
We`re prepared, and we`re doing a great job with it, and it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.
This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. All you had to do is look at other countries. I`ve always viewed it as very serious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, tonight in an interview with Fox News, the President criticized governors who have criticized his administration`s response to this outbreak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We have people like Governor Inslee. He should be doing more. He shouldn`t be relying on the federal governor. Governor Inslee, that`s the State of Washington. He was a failed presidential candidate and, you know, he`s always complaining. And your governor of Michigan, I mean she`s not stepping up. I don`t know if she knows what`s going on, but all she does is sit there and blame the federal government. Some of these governors, you know, they take, take, take, and then they complain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The New York Times reports the White House`s ongoing personnel dramas, the high turnover rate, the dizzying array of acting department heads also hampered the administration`s response. As we mentioned, this morning came the concrete evidence of the massive impact this epidemic is having on our economy.
Labor Department reporting nearly 3.3 million Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits for the week ending 21 march. This New York Times chart also shows it topping claims in the `08 recession by a huge margin. Today`s number shattered the record for initial claims. In a rare television interview, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Jerome Powell talked about what this could mean.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We may well be in a recession. Again, I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession. This isn`t -- There`s nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy. Quite the contrary. The economy performed very well right through February. We`ve got a 50-year low in unemployment for the last couple of years. So we start in a very strong position. This isn`t something that`s wrong with the economy. This is a situation where people are being asked to step back from economic activity, close their businesses, stay home from work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So that right there, the view from Washington. For those outside the beltway in America, the situation is very much an emergency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR KRISTI NOEM, (R) SOUTH DAKOTA: I do not think South Dakota will be back to normal for many months, many months. This is a long-term situation we have in front of us today. Literally our economic activity in this state has dropped to almost nothing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The House is expected to take up the Senate-approved $2 trillion, with a t, $2 trillion emergency relief package tomorrow, but not by a voice vote as they had planned. We are learning late tonight that lawmakers are scrambling, if you can believe it, to get back to Washington by tomorrow morning in the middle of a global pandemic because one Republican Congressman, Thomas Massie of Kentucky, is expected to demand an in-person vote. If approved, relief checks for most Americans should be in the mail in a matter of weeks. House Speaker expects the measure to ultimately pass without much opposition.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Right now we have the legislation that will come to the floor tomorrow. I anticipate, I feel certain that we will have a strong bipartisan vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you anticipate having unanimous support from your Democrats tomorrow on this bill?
PELOSI: Yes. Well, let me say this. I`m not asking -- we will have a victory tomorrow for America`s workers. If somebody has a different point of view, they can put it in the record. But we`re not worried about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: On that mark, let`s bring in our guests for our discussion on a Thursday night. Sam Stein, Politics Editor for The Daily Beast. Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor over at Politico. And Lanhee Chen back with us as well, Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, former Policy Director for the Romney/Ryan campaign effort, and notably a former senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Anita, I`d like to begin with you and the President`s interview with Sean Hannity on Fox tonight. Personal attacks on Joe Biden, personal attacks on various governors, describing the governors as wanting to take, take, take. He`s trying to upend the relationship between the feds and the states clearly. Is this a pandemic or politics he`s talking about, or is this a new hybrid, the politics of a pandemic?
ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "POLITICO": I`d say it`s probably the latter. Remember the President earlier today talked to the nation`s governors, and he was really disappointed to hear them push back and not go along with his plan to start reopening parts of the country. He sent them a letter earlier, as you mentioned, saying that they should sort of decide for themselves which counties could be opened up and which couldn`t. And so, you know, he got a lot of pushback. What the governors asked him for was more equipment. They said they`re not ready for that, to open up things yet. And so he`s feeling the heat from the governors and local officials as well who are telling him this isn`t the right course of action.
WILLIAMS: Lanhee Chen, let`s talk about this notion that the President is going to identify, using data, large portions of our country to loosen up social distancing rules, let people get back, and let people get back out to work again. Imagine the southern border of Kansas with Oklahoma. Parts of Oklahoma open. This presupposes people aren`t going to travel back and forth, and let`s remember the rate of multiplication on this virus. I looked back a week ago tonight. We came to the sad milestone of 8,000 known cases. Tonight we`re north of 80,000.
LANHEE CHEN, FORMER SENIOR HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, Brian, I think the plan would work if you could hermetically seal one county from another, and we know that`s not possible. We know there`s a lot of mobility here in the United States. We know that there`s mobility even within regions. To give you an example, here in Santa Clara County where I sit, we have over 500 cases. I can drive 15 minutes north into San Mateo county, where they have hundreds of cases less than we do here in this county. So would the two counties qualify for different classifications under the President`s scheme.
So I think, you know, these sorts of questions are ones they`re going to have to work out if they`re really serious about trying to tier different counties so that you`d have some going back to economic activity and others.
And I just point this, if you look at the challenges faced by places like Singapore and Hong Kong right now, those places have previously contained COVID-19 quite well, but now they`re experiencing travel back into those countries and back into those places, creating additional cases and additional problems. So we`ve really got to do this restart the right way and not in a haphazard manner.
WILLIAMS: Sam Stein, I just want to remind our viewers and you what two of the President`s chief financial types said to try to calm the waters just as this coronavirus was starting to rage. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The virus is not going to sink the American economy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Sam, is it too early to say that we`re looking at something closer to a reformation of the American economy when this is all cleared?
SAM STEIN, POLITICAL EDITOR, "THE DAILY BEAST": No, not at all. Not in the slightest. I mean the bill that`s about to be passed in the House has been described in varying forms as a stimulus bill. It`s nothing like that. It`s an economic replacement bill. The federal government is essentially swooping in and playing the role of employer for vast swaths of the country who are now finding themselves unemployed. How you get back to a more functioning, normal economy after that is unclear to me, and perhaps experts can look at it. But it`s not just, you know, restarting businesses that have been shuttered. It`s also convincing people who have legitimate public health concerns about re-entering the workforce too soon that she should in fact re-enter the workforce.
It was weird to hear the President say that American workers want to get back to work. Yes, to a degree they would like the paycheck and the comfort and security that comes with it. But the people who I talk to on a day-to- day basis are petrified that getting back to work means submitting themselves to climates that could result in infection. So this is not a situation where you can easily see Easter or even a month from now or two months from now where we suddenly flip a switch and we go back to where we were. This is going to take drastic almost herculean tasks at re- engineering the American economy, and I don`t even think we`ll get back to normal even with those efforts.
WILLIAMS: Anita Kumar, one of the fascinating subplots from today was the questioning of the President about cruise lines, most of whom sail under foreign flags registered overseas. As a tax dodge, some of them now figuring out how they can love America and register here to take advantage of this of the goodies in the bill. You have reported on the President`s quote that was painful dealing with the Democrats on this relief bill. Why would he say a thing like that?
KUMAR: He always says a thing like that. You know, but he had his secretary -- his treasury secretary over there on Capitol Hill sort of living over there for a couple days, a few days, negotiating. And, you know, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker famously said a couple days ago that she hadn`t talked to the President. There was no need to do that.
You know, Secretary Mnuchin really took the, you know -- really took the responsibility on behalf of the President to negotiate. There are things in this bill that he does not like. There are things that he does like. But he knows, as he`s been saying, that he wants the country to open up. He wants the economy to get back as soon as possible. There`s already talk that there needs to be another bill, the next -- the fourth bill actually, the fourth recovery bill, that this just isn`t enough. So he`s going to be pushing for that. He wants more, not less. And so at the end of the day, he said let`s go ahead and go for this because he wants it to be, you know, a boost to the economy to get things going.
WILLIAMS: So, Lanhee Chen, there`s the reporting out there that they ignored the NSC playbook. And the President again today and again tonight was blaming a broken system they inherited. How does that absolve him and his people of delay and denial, which is really beyond debate?
CHEN: Well, ultimately when the story of the coronavirus response is written, when we look at this episode of history, I think it will become clear how much of this was about the machinery that pre-existed the administration and how much was about this administration`s response. What we do know is that there was a period of time when the President had put the shutdown in place in terms of allowing people to come in from China, and the coronavirus really exploding in terms of number of cases and deaths here in the U.S. We`re going to carefully examine that period of time to determine, for example, why more was not done to procure the necessary technology around testing. Why there was not a greater effort made to surge into the ability to contact trace in more areas or at least in hard-hit areas.
And so I think there will be all sorts of questions that will be asked about that period of time. So the notion that somehow, you know, we`ll look at the previous administrations and say he was left in a difficult position, it may be the case that there were things that weren`t fully done. But I`m pretty sure when we look at all of this, there will also be steps that this administration probably could have and should have taken during that time but which were not. But we`ll see once this is all over.
WILLIAMS: Sam Stein, talk about something else that has come home to roost, the number of times you will see the word "acting" in government titles from department secretaries on down through the sub-secretary, deputy secretary level and the deficit of genuine expertise and rigor in hiring.
STEIN: This has been the common problem throughout the course of the trump administration. It usually manifests itself in moments of crisis, in which we are now in one obviously. But I do think ultimately you can`t blame the deputies and the sub-deputies or the lack of them for what`s going on right now. This is a directive set at the top, and while we may indeed have to wait until after this is over to assess some of the choices that were made, I don`t really think we have to assess all the choices in the future. We can talk about them now.
The President`s refusal, for instance to use federal authorities to up the supply chain is one that he`s making with White House advisers who are not deputies or acting. They are close confidants of his. That`s a practical decision that he`s making in real time that`s having an impact on the ground. So, yes, I do think having, you know, more seasoned personnel in there would obviously benefit the President in this case. Certainly having more respect for science, upping the budgets of the CDC and NIH, which they have done in Congress, but the President`s proposed covenant, all that stuff would help. In the end, though, this is the President`s government, and he has acted in a way that has led to the type of effort the government has put forward to date, and I don`t think it`s been a particularly great effort to be honest.
WILLIAMS: Our thanks to three friends of our broadcast. Like everyone else, agreeing to join us by Skype from home during this period. To Sam Stein, Anita Kumar, Lanhee Chen, our thanks for coming on with us.
And coming up for us, the White House coronavirus response coordinator sees no evidence of a medical equipment shortage. Health care workers tell a very different story on the ground.
And later, nurses and docs are not alone in this battle on the front lines. The longtime leader of the NYPD on the challenges our other first responders are facing as The 11th Hour is just getting started on this Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Those entering the State of Texas through an airport either in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut will be subject to a mandatory self-quarantine for 14 days. This executive order that applies to the tri-state area around metro New York also applies to the city of New Orleans and people flying from the city of New Orleans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: While some governors impose statewide, stay at home orders to curtail this virus, others, like the governor of Texas you saw there, are aiming their actions against other states. Worth noting, Texas has over 1,400 cases, 18 deaths thus far. While there`s no statewide stay at home order issued there.
Back with us tonight is Dr. Kavita Patel, she served as Senior Aide to Valerie Jarrett in the Obama White House advising on health reform, financial regulatory reform, economic recovery issues. Also happens to be a clinical physician and among our medical contributors.
Doctor, as I keep trying to point out, not trying to be a smart aleck about it, this virus, as no one needs to remind you, doesn`t respect two things - - a calendar or borders of any kind. So it`s not going to be held back if you restrict air travel. People can drive across the border into your state.
DR. KAVITA PATEL, FORMER AIDE TO VALERIE JARRETT IN THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Right, absolutely, Brian. And I come from the great State of Texas, and I`ve got to tell you, it would have been a better use of the governor`s time to actually put into place a statewide stay-at-home measure. That will have far more effect than any sort of arcane quarantine for air travel. So you`re absolutely right, and that`s -- by the way, that`s why the President`s kind of plan to try to prioritize or de-risk certain parts of the country, it just doesn`t make any sense, and it`s going to result in more people getting sick, not less.
WILLIAMS: I want to play two moments from today for you, one in the White House briefing room, the other on Sean Hannity tonight. We`ll talk about both on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIRX: To make the implication that when they need a hospital bed, it`s not going to be there or when they need that ventilator, it`s not going to be there. We don`t have an evidence of that right now.
TRUMP: New York is a bigger deal, but it`s going to go also. But I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they`re going to be. I don`t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So, Doctor, I need you to react to this. Two different people, a doctor and a guy who happens to be the President of the United States, expressing doubt about what we`re reporting as reality right now and/or how bad this may become.
PATEL: Yeah. And, Brian, sometimes it`s hard to tell the President forgets that he`s not a doctor. So I do think Dr. Birx is trying to be a diplomat. She`s trying to actually, you know, do what she can. However, here are the facts. I`ve spent a lot of time talking to my former med school friends and colleagues who are in New York. They are desperate. They`re turning regular hospital beds and makeshift spaces into ICU beds. So they are full. And beyond that, they themselves are getting infected and suffering from this.
So one in eight New Yorkers who has the disease is getting hospitalized, and many of those people need to be intubated immediately. So this is not a matter of, well, the data just doesn`t tell us. Actually the data is telling us that some aggressive measures have at least potentially slowed this down. But we`re talking, Brian, about slowing this down with still a significant number of cases that need ventilators, hospital beds, and then as you and I have spoken about before, staff to actually manage those patients. And that`s where we`re breaking at the seams in New York City.
WILLIAMS: I want to play one more thing for you, and that`s the mayor of New Orleans. As you probably know, the State of Louisiana leads all jurisdictions in the world for the rate of new cases being reported. But they went ahead with fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras this year. Here`s the mayor on that decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL (D-LA): The federal government did not issue any red flags, and therefore we moved forward. We rely on the facts to make decisions for the people that we serve. Given no red flags, we moved forward. In hindsight, if we were given clear direction, we would not have had Mardi Gras. And I would have been the leader to cancel.
WILLIAMS: Now, again, I don`t mean to be smart-alecky, but if you`re a virus, you want to attend Mardi Gras. That is just a petri dish, a sea of people having a great time but doing it in very, very close quarters. And if anything, the custom is to take beads off of you and throw them down to members of the crowd. There you see some still pictures of an average year. I guess we`ll be doing a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, but we just interviewed the Governor of New Jersey. He said he had his first meetings about this virus in January. What did he know that other officials, including but not limited to the White House, didn`t know to send out signals?
PATEL: Brian, this wasn`t some case of proprietary or secret information. I mean we had data coming out of China. We had reports that were from the ground coming out of China, telling all of us that this was coming. So there is no need to try to think about what we needed from the federal response.
Sure, it would have been nice if we had actually had, much like we did in the Obama administration, a coordinated, advanced effort. But let`s be honest. There were a lot of people in Louisiana, just like there were in Seattle, just like there were in New York who had predicted that this could come, and we knew that this could be devastating.
So it`s really hard, especially when I`ve got colleagues who are really, truly battling on the frontlines without any armor, and they have failed, the leaders in these cities and some of the states have failed their constituents, and it`s something I hope they hold people accountable for in the next election to be honest.
WILLIAMS: Dr. Kavita Patel, thank you for answering the bill one more time and joining us on our broadcast.
Tonight, coming up for us, in some in so many cases, our first responders are the first to go down. In New York, you can imagine every call to 911 brings its own dangers.
Former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton standing by to talk about it with us.
WILLIAMS: As we always do around here, we ask, remember, please, our first responders, especially in New York City, the current epicenter of this virus. Tonight, the NYPD announced its first death by coronavirus. A gentleman named Dennis Dickson, a custodial assistant with the department for 14 years.
NBC News reporting tonight 351 members of the NYPD have by now tested positive for coronavirus. About one in 10 New York City police officers home sick right now, over 10 percent of the fire department. Yesterday set a record for EMS calls in the city, way more than even 911.
Today, the FDNY commissioner, Dan Nigro, said 170 of his members have tested positive for coronavirus. We are happy to have back with us again tonight Bill Bratton, former commissioner of the NYPD, veteran of the Boston Police Department, former chief of police in L.A. among our senior law enforcement analysts.
Commissioner, how do you prioritize? You can`t -- as no one needs to remind you, you can`t answer every call. If you send two police officers out on an apartment noise complaint, if the wrong person opens that door, if that person is infected, you`re going to have two officers go down.
BILL BRATTON, MSNBC SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: You may have more than two depending on the nature of the call. The department right now -- the good news is that 911 calls are down about 25 percent from what they were last year. But the makeup of those calls has changed dramatically. Many of them are for the assistance of ambulances, for example.
So, a good news also is that crime, which had been increasing at a significant rate the first two months of this year, is also down fairly dramatically over the last several weeks. So, the department is heading into uncharted waters. It`s heading into a paradigm of issues that it`s never experienced all at the same time. Fortunately, the leadership team at the NYPD is experienced. They`ve been through quite a bit. Many of them have been through Sandy, the hurricane, and even went through 9/11 so that -- there`s experience there. The problem is going to be rapidly the decline in the number of officers available to handle the situations here in New York City.
WILLIAMS: Let me ask you about smaller departments. Let me ask you about rural departments out in vast stretches of New Mexico, Nevada, sheriff`s deputies responsible, some of them, for hundreds of square miles. How possibly are they going to be able to stay healthy, stay on the job while people are still getting customer service, i.e., a house call when they call 911?
BRATTON: With extraordinary difficulty, and the reality is that the response to those calls is going to become less frequent and unfortunately less effective. We are heading into uncharted waters that -- and despite what the president has been saying, New York City is an example of what may, in fact, happen to the rest of the country.
What we`re seeing over the last several days is an acceleration of the problem. Those 10 percent of the NYPD`s uniformed workforce are out sick. Tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday, it will be up to 15, maybe 20 percent because it`s growing that rapidly.
So, moving forward, we`re going to have to really try to work much more in a coordinated fashion. Fortunately, law enforcement is sharing ideas across the country. I monitor a lot of that activity. The Police Executive Research Forum puts up a site every day with chief of police are reporting on things they`re encountering and how they`re dealing with them. But they`re trying to all learn from each other, large departments from small, small from large. Reflective of the fact that we are literally all in this together.
The good news is for the American public that we`re all in it together in public safety, agency service workers, health and hospital workers all moving toward the problem, not running away from it.
WILLIAMS: And I know for a fact we already have first responders who, and you can understand this, don`t want to go home. Police officers coming off a shift where they`ve made six apartment visits, firefighters coming off a 24 in a busy house where they`ve gone into three, four private dwellings on false alarm calls. That`s tough because this is one of those contact illnesses. You bring home every person you had contact with during your workday.
BRATTON: That`s correct. You`ve begun to see in New York, for example, Four Seasons Hotels reported yesterday was offering free of charge rooms to medical personnel who want to do exactly what you just described, that they don`t want to be too far from the hospital, and at the same time, they don`t want to take the risk of taking home to their family the virus.
I think you`re going to just see some expansion of that being offered to public safety officers also. That happened during the events of 9/11. A number of the apartment buildings and hotels in the vicinity of Wall Street offered up their facilities free of charge to law enforcement personnel. Then it was not so much a concern about taking something home with them. It was really the idea of being needed constantly at the site. Now, the risk of taking something home with them is on every officer`s mind, every civilian`s mind, every firefighter`s mind, and you cannot blame them. You cannot blame them.
WILLIAMS: We greatly appreciate you spending a few minutes with us and welcoming us by extension into your home. Former New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, always a pleasure. Thank you very much.
And coming up, we`ll see if a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist can make sense of what we`re seeing each and every afternoon out of the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The incredible naval hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, which is incredible actually when you see it inside, will be under way to New York City on Saturday. I think I`m going to go out and I`ll kiss it goodbye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: This weekend`s trip could be the president`s first in over two weeks, and when he moves around anywhere, let`s remember it brings exposure risks for him and others, whether it`s sharing the air onboard the helicopter or confined quarters on the plane. The fact that two secret service agents have to sit with each other in the front seats and in the back of all the motorcade vehicles, and they have to stay close to him, of course, while protecting him.
With his rallies canceled, he has replaced them, in effect, with these daily briefings, where on a daily basis, he tries to rewrite what we`ve already heard him say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the moment that you thought, we got to move on this?
TRUMP: Well, I think when I started seeing and reading about China and seeing what was going on in China.
It`s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It`s going to be just fine.
Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there words about a pandemic at this point?
TRUMP: No, not at all. Nobody could have ever seen something like this coming. We have it totally under control.
It`s lucky that you have this group here right now for this problem, or you wouldn`t even have a country left.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you trust that we`re going to know everything we need to know from China?
TRUMP: I do, I do. I have a great relationship with President Xi. We`ve done one hell of a job. Nobody`s done the job that we`ve done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: It`s withering. And with us for more on all of this is our friend Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post".
Eugene, I`m so glad you were at my side for some of those moments because we have each other to remind us we saw that. It happened. These are --
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We do.
WILLIAMS: -- active measures designed to try to change what you and I and the rest of the people in this country saw and heard in real time.
ROBINSON: You know, since this isn`t the first time that President Trump has tried to rewrite the past, it may in some ways be the most consequential time he has tried to do that. He is trying to pretend that he saw this coming, that he prepared for it, that he was on top of it from the beginning, none of which is remotely true.
He decided early on that this was nothing. This was a common cold as one right-wing commentator said, and that`s the way he treated it. That was his attitude, and everything he says in his daily rallies -- and you are absolutely right, that`s what these appearances are. They`re a daily continuing Trump rally. But nothing he says can change those facts, Brian.
WILLIAMS: Speaking of facts, tonight with Mr. Hannity in addition to attacking Joe Biden, a couple of governors saying they just take, take, take, he talked about the 1917 Spanish Flu. Who`s going to tell him it started in Kansas, and it was 1918?
ROBINSON: Well, maybe we can tell him that, and I doubt he will listen. President Trump famously knows what he knows even when he doesn`t know it, even when it isn`t true. And so when he gets it in his head that it started in Spain in 1917 or whatever it is he thinks, that`s what he continues to think. And he seems oddly and potentially disastrously impervious to new information, to facts, to correcting the sort of ideas and prejudices that he`s had all along. That`s one of his central flaws, I think, as a president.
And as I said, it`s really consequential now because there`s not a lot of room for error in this pandemic. There`s not a lot of room for these kinds of fundamental misunderstandings.
WILLIAMS: Eugene, your latest effort asks the question, how are we going to have an election with this going on. I think this is one of the central questions of this time. We`re going to turn around. It`s going to be November. I think this requires all 50 secretaries of state on a video conference with -- find some adults in Washington to preserve the way of voting in a crisis.
ROBINSON: Absolutely. First of all, we are going to have an election in November, and it`s going to be on top of us before we realize it. We -- you know, right now, we`re all socially distanced and we`re immersed in the crisis of this pandemic, but meanwhile there`s a whole process that still has to happen. There are still primaries that have to happen. Even if Senator Sanders were to drop out of the presidential race tomorrow, there`s still primaries that have to happen. There are down-ballot races (INAUDIBLE) have to be picked and there are state party conventions that somehow has to happen.
And then there are the national conventions and they`re not scheduled until the summer, in July and August, and maybe we`ll all feel better by then. But I question whether we`re all going to feel well enough to go down onto a convention floor, the floor of a national party convention. You`ve been there, Brian. You know what it`s like. It`s like being in a petri dish, a giant petri dish, and -- where people are all over top of each other and hugging and squeezing past. It`s just -- it`s -- that`s going to be difficult. And then we`ll get to November, and we have to have a way that we can have a legitimate, fair election at a time when we may, again, be socially distanced because it may be a time the virus may be increasing again.
WILLIAMS: Party conventions make Mardi Gras look like a children`s birthday party. Our friend Eugene Robinson, our thanks. Eugene, by the way, has read all the books on those shelves that house his Pulitzer Prize. Great having you. Thank you. Good to see you again.
Coming up for us, if you`re wondering what to expect here, there are answers overseas.
WILLIAMS: I want to show you tomorrow morning`s newspaper front pages. They are incredible. We continue to try to bring you the news we`ve seen come through our own newsroom, whether it`s local or national or, tonight, international. As we`ve reported, the U.S. has now surpassed Italy and China in total cases. Italy is praying for the curve to flatten as they deal with a staggering death toll and swamped hospitals.
Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel has spoken with a doctor in the fight in Italy on what we should prepare for.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It seems the whole world is afraid of getting sick. And for many in Italy, it`s more than just fear. Nearly 700 more deaths today. The total number of infected is about as high as China reported at its peak.
I spoke to the head of an ICU, who says with 20 percent of his doctors out sick and new cases flooding in, the only way to stay afloat is to abandon existing protocols.
What advice would you give to American doctors?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot face an unconventional scenario with routine tools. You have to re-imagine, to reshape the hospital, the daily practice, the protocols, and to be very flexible and to have a scalable strategy.
ENGEL: Spain isn`t far behind Italy, and the U.S. is catching up. Richard Engel, NBC News, London.
WILLIAMS: Coming up for us here, signs of the apocalypse along with fresh evidence that the human spirit will endure.
WILLIAMS: Hey, there`s the last thing before we go tonight. For generations in our country, they have been a dependable gold beacon in the night. When you`re driving down the highway and you`re hungry and you see those words "Waffle House," that unfussy, instantly recognizable black lettering on a gold field, you know in that instant at least you`re going to eat well.
From Pennsylvania down to Florida, Western Missouri down to Texas, there are almost 2,000 of them with only good things on the menu. Always the last place to close, the first place to open in a natural disaster. This virus has proven too much, and they`ve been forced to close hundreds of their locations. When they`re all back open, that`s when we will know we`re all going to be OK.
These photos out of Tulsa are another sign that we are not yet OK. American airlines well on its way to grounding half their fleet. Planes that were packed with happy people in the air a month ago empty and silent for now, as are our baseball stadiums, empty cathedrals of sports on what was supposed to be an opening day. And finally, a new daily tradition. In Downtown Atlanta where all those in high-rise quarantine have taken to their apartment balconies every evening and at the appointed time, they show their thanks to the medical staff at the two nearby hospitals, the first responders, the grocers, and all those on the frontlines in Atlanta, and it`s a beautiful sound.
A nice note to end our broadcast on for this Thursday night. On behalf of all of our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night from our temporary field headquarters.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END