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NYPD TRANSCRIPT: 3/26/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Lanhee Chen, Kavita Patel, Eugene Robinson

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


WILLIAMS: Well, tonight in an interview with Fox News, the President  criticized governors who have criticized his administration`s response to  this outbreak.


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.


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.


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.


WILLIAMS: So that right there, the view from Washington. For those outside  the beltway in America, the situation is very much an emergency.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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 --


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