Trump WH predicts TRANSCRIPT: 3/31/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Anne Rimoin, Joe Biden, James Stavridis

 

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The pulsating red light on top the Empire State Building, a beacon above the city as unmistakable these days as the state of emergency on the city streets below, as the nation`s largest city has been silenced, except for the near constant wail of sirens, taking patients to city hospitals.

Good evening, day 1100 67 of this Trump administration, 217 days to go until the presidential election. If you have not yet experienced hard times in your life or in the community where you live, it became increasingly clear today that this country is indeed headed for very hard times.

The United States set a new single day record for coronavirus deaths today. And one prominent White House Correspondent came away from the Long White House briefing tonight saying the President seems scared. Inside and indeed the President darker in tone and demeanor, warned a surge is coming. He said the next two weeks will be very tough. He called the coronavirus a plague.  He went on to assign blame, however, give voice to his own victimization and attempted to change recent history.

For starters, he said, for whatever reason, New York got off to a late start then added about New York and with a straight face. You`ve seen what happens when you get off to a late start. About ventilators, he said his team has done a great job. He said, some people frankly think they need them and they don`t need them.

He relitigated his impeachment at today`s coronavirus briefing called it a hoax a couple more times, complained about Comey and McCabe again. He indicated if he downplayed the virus early on, it`s because he wants to give people hope. "I knew it could be horrible. And I knew it could be maybe good. Nobody knew it was so contagious."

And about the rolling crisis that New York is living with. He said, New York has a lot of ventilators. He said with some people no matter what you do, it`s never enough. And about New York`s Governor Andrew Cuomo, he said, "I got him a lot of things. He had paid dirt." And estimated 80% of us are living under some form of stay-at-home order, still not the State of Florida. The major news out of today`s briefing in the West Wing was that we`re looking at the potential for close to a quarter of a million deaths. Here is what Dr. Birx says the latest data is showing her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Through their detailed studies and showing us what social distancing would do, what people -- what would happen if people stayed home? What would happen if people were careful every day to wash their hands and worry about touching their faces? That what an extraordinary thing this could be if every American followed these. And it takes us to that stippled mountain, that`s much lower, a hill actually, down to 100,000 to 200,000 deaths. There`s no magic bullet. There`s no magic vaccine or therapy. It`s just behaviors, each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Indeed, tonight, we are north of 186,000 cases, with nearly 4000 lives now lost, the death toll now exceeds that of China. Dr. Birx did note that she and Dr. Fauci have started to see some positive effects of social distancing. They also said that those numbers were based on data from the hardest hit locations and they hope to reduce the number of deaths even so Dr. Fauci was brutally honest when asked about the implications of their projections.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Deaths always lag. So you will be seeing deaths at a time when as an epidemic, we`re doing really, really well, because the deaths will lag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Fauci, should Americans be prepared for the likelihood that there will be 100,000 Americans who die from this virus?

FAUCI: The answer is yes, we need as sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it. Is it going to be that much? I hope not. And I think the more we push on the mitigation, the less likelihood it would be that number but as being realistic, we need to prepare ourselves that is a possibility that is what we will research.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Short period of time for that to happen but can the country handle that in such a short period of time within a couple of months, 50,000 a month?

FAUCI: You know, it will be difficult. I mean no one is denying the fact that we are going through a very, very difficult time right now. I mean we`re seeing what`s happening in New York, that is really, really tough. And if you extrapolate that to the nation, that will be really tough, but that`s what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Now, for his part and this gets to the tone and demeanor change, Trump warned that the next two weeks would be tough, but he then veered off into other topics, including what sounded like a bit of revisionist history.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I mean I`ve had many friends, business people, people with great actually common sense. They said, what are we right at that? A lot of people have said, a lot of people have thought about it. Write it out, don`t do anything, just write it out and think of it as the flu. But it`s not the flu. It`s vicious. For whatever reason, New York got off to a very late start. And you see what happens when you get off to a late start. New Jersey got off to -- and I think both governors are doing an excellent job, but they got off to a very late start

I want to give people in this country hope. I think it`s very important.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know it was going to be this severe when you were saying this was under control --

TRUMP: I knew it could be. I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible and I knew it could be maybe good.

As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks as we approach that really important day when we`re going to see things get better all of a sudden. And it`s going to be like a burst of light, I really think and I hope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Just one point for the record here, New Jersey`s first task force meeting on the coronavirus happened to be on Super Bowl Sunday this past winter. Now, you may recall this President has publicly downplayed the pandemic a number of times earlier this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It`s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It`s going to be just fine. We`re finding very little problem, very little problem. Now, you treat this like a flu. When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As we mentioned this afternoon at the White House, he also managed to work in his impeachment and the Russia investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I mean I got impeached. I think, you know, I certainly devoted a little time to thinking about it, right? So but think of it. It was a hoax. It was a total hoax. Did it divert my attention? I think I`m getting a- pluses for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment, OK? It was a hoax. And it was a phony deal, and it turned out. All you have to do is look today at the FBI reports. Take a look at what the FBI did. Take a look at the people. Take a look at Comey`s report, 78 pages of total kill. Take a look at that. Take a look at the report on McCabe. Just read it, and you`ll see how horrible it was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Once again, remember, please, this was a coronavirus briefing where he then addressed the issue of shortages of critical medical equipment like ventilators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We`re giving massive amounts of medical equipment and supplies to the 50 states. We also are holding back quite a bit. We have almost 10,000 ventilators that we have ready to go. We have to hold them back because the surge is coming, and it`s coming pretty strong. And we`re holding them because we`re going to need them over the next couple of weeks as this surge goes on. You see the chart. We haven`t hit the top yet, and we have to be able to move them immediately. And we can`t take them because it`s going to be very hard to do that -- we can`t take them to places that aren`t needing them. Plus we have requests for ventilators in hospitals and in states and cities that don`t need them in our opinion. They don`t need them. They won`t need them at the top. So we`re holding it back for flexibility. We actually just took 600, and we sent them to different locations today. But we have close to 10,000, and we`ll be able to get them -- and we`re all set to March. We have the National Guards and we have FEMA.  And we`re all set to move them to the places. Know what the hottest --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a ventilator shortage right now?

TRUMP: In some areas we might, but we`ve done a great job with ventilators, and we`re having them made. Unbelievable, we have now 11 companies making ventilators. Now they`ll be starting to arrive in the next week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And of course all this while, out in America, governors across our country say they are still not getting the medical equipment they need from our federal government. An exasperated Governor Cuomo today took aim at the hurdles that states have to navigate just to get ventilators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: So you have 50 states competing to buy the same item. We all wind up bidding up each other and competing against each other. It`s like being on Ebay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator. I mean how inefficient, and then FEMA gets involved, and FEMA starts bidding. And now FEMA is bidding on top of the 50. So FEMA is driving up the price. What sense does this make?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: When reporters raised it, this all seemed to be news to the President. He had this response to governor Cuomo`s concerns today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The problem is with some people, no matter what you give, it`s never enough. Look, I got him ships. I got him hospitals. I got him a lot of things that he never thought -- he hit pay dirt, OK? And I`ve been very generous on ventilators.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: On that note, joining us for our leadoff discussion on a Tuesday night, Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, also co-author along with his Post colleague Carol Leonnig of the best- selling book, A Very Stable Genius. Kim Atkins, Senior Washington Correspondent for WBUR, Boston`s NPR News Station. And Dr. Anne Rimoin, Professor of Epidemiology at the UCLA`s Fielding School of Public Health and Infectious Disease Division of the Geffen School of Medicine. She also runs the UCLA Center for Global and Immigrant Health, where she specializes in emerging infectious diseases.

Kimberly, I`d like to begin with you. I counted, oh, about a half a dozen times the President stepped up because where the conversation was going, he needed credit, credit that he shut down travel from China -- not entirely true -- that he closed the borders -- not true -- that he shut down travel from Europe. Again, not true. The somber tone he showed at the start of the briefing was erased by lines like "Cuomo hit pay dirt" and a line I still don`t understand about "either the coronavirus or the coverage or the equipment, they just can`t get enough of it." Talk about the performance you witnessed along with us today.

KIMBERLY ATKINS, WBUR SENIOR NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean that`s just the tip of the iceberg in both the inaccuracies and the deflection that the President displayed today. The time line was wrong in terms of when the coronavirus became known to be in the United States and the actions of the federal government. But I found it very striking that these -- not so much that the President would make statements like this because we have seen him do this for weeks, but that he would do so on the day that his experts, Dr. Fauci in particular, really gave a new and very dire prediction about where we are going.

I, in my long career as a journalist, cannot remember sitting and listening to an official say that the nation needs to brace for hundreds of thousands of deaths and that that is the best-case scenario. It was such a somber and striking thing to hear and then to have the President, as you said, started out with a somber tone but to then go back to his regular comfortable places of railing against the past impeachment hearings and against Democrats who are out to get him at a time where that must have been a really striking thing for Americans to hear, for Americans to try to wrap their heads around, particularly at a time where people are already losing people across the country to the coronavirus. Friends of mine are already victims of this. So it was just a striking time for that tone to be taken by the President.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, indeed this is a guy who just days ago was talking about a kind of reopening date of Easter Sunday, talking about what a beautiful date it was and how beautiful it would be if churches were packed all across the country. Today a reconfiguring of his view of this ending. It will end like a burst of light when everything gets better all of the sudden. You touch on this dynamic in your book. Do you want to be the last guy to talk to him because your argument`s going to carry the day?

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Certainly, Brian. But it seems that people were talking to him for months now, and he hasn`t gotten the message until now. Remember, it`s only been two weeks since President Trump really took seriously the crisis on his hands, on our hands as Americans, the beginning of that 15-day guidelines. And he was talking all the way up until the end of last week about reopening the economy, sending people back to work to their offices, opening restaurants again by Easter, which is April 12th, less than two weeks from now.

Today was a very different picture, a grim picture painted by the President. He talked in almost apocalyptic tones about what could have happened, what the worst-case scenario for America would be, 2.2 million deaths, were we not to do social distancing, were we not to shut down the schools. But of course we`ve done that, and the best-case scenario now is 100,000 to 240,000 lives lost.

And one other thing that`s worth noting from that press conference performance today, there were moments when the President seemed like he was talking to himself, when he said, no, this isn`t like the flu. It`s much more vicious. Well, it`s the President who last week and many, many times earlier this year likened this to the flu and said more people died from the seasonal flu than the coronavirus. More people die in car crashes than from the coronavirus. But clearly he`s taken in what the scientists are telling him, and he had a different thing to say today.

WILLIAMS: Anne Rimoin, so here we are on a Tuesday night preparing members of our audience for the figure we saw on the screen today at the briefing. That is 240,000 deaths at the high-end range of this estimate. And I ask you again, do we have any idea how many cases of this we have in our country right now?

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, UCLA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR: Right now we have no idea where we sit on this curve because of the failure to get testing out widespread to the vast majority of the country. Testing is still difficult for people who are sick to get. They have to still meet criteria, and people are also not going to the E.R. if they feel sick. So access is also going to dictate how many tests we actually are rolling out right now.

We`ve been thinking about how many people are out there? How many people might be sick? We just don`t know. And even when we get testing up and running, it`s only going to tell us what`s happened about 10 to 14 days before. Remember Dr. Fauci says this over and over again. The testing tells us where we were two weeks ago.

But I think there were some other important things that we had to -- that we heard today in this press briefing. Dr. Birx said, I`m going to paraphrase right here, that basically this number, this 100,000 to 240,000 deaths is based on people doing what they`re supposed to do, social distancing, making sure that they stay at home, employing all of the methods that we know, and also predicated on the assumption -- and these models are all based on assumptions, things we think are going to happen -- that all states are going to come to their senses and shut down activity and put people in a stay-at-home position. And that`s not happened yet.

I saw Chris Murray, who came up with these models, on TV just a little while ago, actually on MSNBC. And he laid out the case very clearly. He said, listen, every day matters, and everything everybody does matters. And the sooner that states take this seriously and they shut down movement in populations and employ social distancing and get really serious about this, we will be able to cut these numbers. But if we don`t, those numbers have a chance of going further up and up. You know, the rise is exponential, and we are at a point where we will -- where we can make a difference. And if we don`t take action now, we could be seeing numbers that are much worse than what we heard today.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Kim, the President seemed like this was news to him that states were competitively bidding against each other like Ebay. He also quickly indicated the states in effect should be happy they`re getting what they need. How do you think the Republican Governor of the bay State of Massachusetts would feel about that?

ATKINS: Yeah, it was 11 days ago that he said -- Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts, said that he told the President this very thing on the phone. So clearly this is not news for the President. Just think about that. It`s been more than two -- almost two weeks now that governors have been bidding against each other. It`s a crucial problem.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, the states were not slow to respond according to Andrew Cuomo of New York tonight. The states were not slow to respond. The federal government was absent. It did appear, Phil, like the President is trying to make this the new narrative that the states, some of them, especially New York and New Jersey, were slow.

RUCKER: Well, we`ve seen this for the last several weeks, Brian, where the President`s trying to in effect rewrite history, to make people forget the way he handled this threat as it first emerged and focus on what he`s been doing in just the last few days. But Governor Cuomo has been reacting as he can as a governor, but he`s not the President of the United States. He`s not the person getting information and data and science from around the world, seeing these trends emerging and making decisions about the country and what all Americans should be doing.

And so Cuomo has clearly been taking a leadership role the last few weeks in New York as these harrowing deaths are taking place there. And it`s actually gotten under the President`s skin, the attention that Cuomo has received, his very high approval rating, and it might be one explanation for why the President took a swipe at him in the news conference tonight.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, gang, for inviting us and by extension all our viewers into your homes. Philip Rucker, Kimberly Atkins, Anne Rimoin, we appreciate it as always.

Coming up for us, on this Tuesday evening, our interview with the former Vice President and current Democratic Front-Runner for President, Joe Biden. We`ll talk about Trump and Bernie and potential vice presidential picks.

And later, a U.S. Navy captain sounds the alarm. Beneath five acres of flight deck, he`s got dozens of sick among his crew of 5,000 as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on this Tuesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Former Vice President Joe Biden has been just that, former for the last three years after eight years in the White House, 36 years in the Senate. He`s now under a stay-at-home order just like an estimated 80% of the rest of us. His Presidential campaign, like much of the American economy has become a work-from-home operation. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Joe Biden from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: Questions on coronavirus first, who would you appoint to run a potential Biden administration effort on this? And do you think we need a 50-state stay-at-home plan, or do you agree on this one point with the President that not all states, not all parts of the country are equal?

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I`d appoint -- where the President has the power under the Defense Production Act, he talks about being or. I would find someone in the administration who was either a former general or someone who was used to organizing massive efforts to be in charge. If I were doing it all over again like we did, I`d go to Phil Brake (ph), I like Ron Klain to do it. But the point is, you have to have one person in charge, and you have to use the Defense Production Act across the board.

The President has the authority not only to deal with ventilators, but for example we have a great shortage of masks across the country, a great shortage of testing. And he should be invoking that act at home, insisting that you have companies that he picks them and says, this is what we`re working on. This is what you`re going to be producing, masks, tests, gowns. The gowns are made of paper. They`re badly needed across the board for nurses and docs. And the section in that act if he invokes it at home, that section 102 that says if, in fact, the company that you move into the position of producing that material begins to price gouge, there`s criminal penalties available. I`d have my attorney general looking very closely to make sure they did not take advantage of the opportunity to produce these very badly needed items that and there`s about 17 --

WILLIAMS: What about staying at home in all 50 states?

BIDEN: Well, I think -- I`d listen to the scientists about that. I think it`s a wiser thing to have stay away -- stay-at-home orders, but I`d listen to my scientists. I`d listen to the Fauci`s of the world and a half a dozen scientists that are in fact telling me, meeting with me on the phone every morning. But it seems to me that it`s inevitable that you`re going to have this go further and further. But, again, we got to get back, Brian, as you know, to three things. You`ve got to be able to have the tests available to determine who has the virus. You`ve got to be able to follow those who are tested positive in the sense of finding out who they were in contact. You can find the way back and quarantine those who have come in contact with them. And you also have to be able to follow up with how you provide the first responders with all they need.

WILLIAMS: Yesterday according to The New York Post, during a six-hour period, New York was seeing a death every 2.9 minutes. What`s been your contact with Governor Cuomo?

BIDEN: Well, I was on the phone with Governor Cuomo today, and I speak with him not infrequently. And he`s very concerned that they haven`t even reached the apex yet. And, again, it gets down to testing, availability of the material from ventilators to masks to gowns to protect the first responders, the doctors and the nurses, as well as hospital beds, which now are being made available. And so, you know, there`s a great, great urgency, a great urgency, and there`s been some very dire predictions of total number of deaths overall. You know, we found out about this virus the same day South Korea found out about the virus. We suggested, a number of us that the President begin to move. He didn`t see any urgency. We`re behind the eight ball, but not now. We have to go faster, not slower.

WILLIAMS: Here`s one of the ways this coronavirus impacts on politics. Can you really envision every prominent Democrat in this country from all 50 states inside a hot arena 104 days from now?

BIDEN: It`s hard to envision that. Again, we should listen to the scientists. And, you know, one of the reasons why the democratic convention was going to be held early was the Olympics were coming after the Republican convention. There is more time now. I think we`re going to, again, we ought to be able, we were able to do it in the middle of the Civil War all the way through to World War II, have Democratic and Republican conventions and primaries and elections and still have public safety. And we`re able to do both. But the fact is it may have to be different. Maybe my guess is there are going to be a great deal more absentee balloting we used to call it, but paper ballots that have to be -- that people will choose to use rather than show up and have social distancing.

But who knows? By the time we get into July, September -- you know, July, to begin with, but June, July, August, September, what it`s going to look like. We`ll have to listen to the scientists. But there`s no rationale for eliminating or delaying the election. It may be virtual.

WILLIAMS: God forbid, we`re still dealing with this in November. God forbid, we`re dealing with some kind of a regional or climate rebound of this in November. Do you think it`s incumbent upon the secretaries of state in all 50 states to ensure this is the one election with secure remote voting possibility?

BIDEN: Yes. I think they should be doing that now. I think they should be doing that now, planning on it. I notice, you know, the House talked about some of this, and the president said, well, if we did what the House wanted, we`d ensure no Republican ever get elected. That`s ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.

And so this is about making sure that we`re able to conduct our democracy while we`re dealing with a pandemic. We can do both. It may mean a difference in the way we do it. It may mean that social distancing doesn`t get it done. It may mean that you have a circumstance where you have drive- in voting, literally you pull up and you vote. There`s a lot of ways to do it, but we should be talking about it now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: We`ll take a break in our conversation right here. And then coming up, we`ll ask the former vice president about White House crisis management during this pandemic. That and more when we come right back.

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WILLIAMS: Welcome back. Joe Biden`s been critical of the Trump administration`s response to this coronavirus since January. It`s been two long months now, and so today, we asked him to assess the president`s performance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Mr. Vice President, what is President Trump`s level of culpability? What`s his level of responsibility, say, toward the illness and fatalities we`re witnessing every few minutes these days?

BIDEN: I`d put it slightly differently. What is his responsibility, and what -- if there was, you know, allocating responsibility is, you know, his -- I`ll let history do that. But it`s clear that a lot of people, not just me, but a lot of people talked about it, saw this coming all the way back in January.

On January the 17th, I think, I wrote an article for one of the major press outlets saying that we had to begin to act now. We knew what was happening in China, we talked -- guys like me -- I`m not the only one, others talked about the need to employ the Defense Authorization Legislation Act, to be able to move. I think the president and his team have been very slow to move. Like, for example, I read today in the press and heard yesterday him telling governors that this is the first time he heard about shortage of testing.

Well, I don`t know where he has been. He`s out every single day standing in front of the public. I can`t fathom it. Everyone from the Republican -- the former attorney general, Republican governor of Ohio, the Democratic governor of the state of Montana, and in between, Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland all said, whoa, whoa, wait, that`s not true. I don`t know the exact quote, but, no, you have heard of it. You have to move rapidly. I don`t know what is holding him up. And moving on -- look, those gowns of those nurses and doctors, they`re made of paper. They`re made of paper. They`re hard to make. They`re hard to get hold off.

Those plastic shields they wear, you know, around their faces when they`re working. Their ability to have the gloves and the masks. I mean, that`s all within our capacity to get. We need it now. Now, now, now. You remember the president promised not long ago that there`d be in the CVC parking lots and Walgreen parking lots and I forget the other one he mentioned, there would be testing sites that were all set up in those parking lots that would be ready to go, and they`d be done in the hundreds, et cetera.

There`s four, F-O-U-R, four. What`s going on? Who`s in charge? This is not rocket science. It is consequential, incredibly consequential. But there are certain things that could be done now, should have been done a week ago, three weeks ago, a month ago. The test for me is, what does he do from this point on? And he has significant responsibility. Put somebody in charge. This is a war. You need a general. Put somebody in charge every single day that`s accountable. Let people know exactly what`s happening. Tell them the truth. They can handle it.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Vice President, a number of Americans, some of them prominent in the public eye, have said they would find it calming and perhaps reassuring to hear from our past presidents in the modern era. Paraphrasing the president, he has not reached out to our past presidents because he would do so if he thought he could learn something. About the guy you worked with, do you think it`s time for Americans to hear in a more public setting from Barack Obama?

BIDEN: I think that it would be wise if the president -- if Trump called President Obama. I`m going to say something that sounds self-serving, but I think we handled the last pandemic very well. We handled the last economic crisis very well in an organizational structure, how we did it, what we did, who we put in charge, how it got done, where there was no waste of time and money.

And -- but, you know, I`m not sure that he`s likely to do that in light of the fact he was briefed extensively and his team was briefed extensively when we left office, warning about a pandemic, warning about what has to happen, warning about what needs to be done now, then to deal with what is likely to come. And by the way, once we get through this, it`s not going to be end of it. There are going to be other pandemics. We can learn from this so we`re prepared when others occur so we don`t have to be in this problem. I don`t get a sense that the president wants to hear from anybody. It`s all about like asking governors to thank him for what he`s doing as president. Come on. What is this all about?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So we`ll hold right there. We have a bit more of our conversation still ahead, specifically about potential vice presidential selections.

But just ahead for us, the alarm within the U.S. Navy as service members in tight quarters are getting sick. We`ll talk to a retired four-star admiral when we come back.

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WILLIAMS: The captain of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier with 100 diagnosed coronavirus cases onboard pleading for help from the Pentagon. In a letter obtained by the "San Francisco Chronicle", Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt said the spread is ongoing and accelerating. The warship currently docked in Guam. The captain wants quarantine rooms onshore for his entire crew as soon as possible.

He wrote, "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset, our sailors."

We are happy to have back with us tonight Admiral James Stavridis. He`s a 30-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, retired with four stars on his shoulders, former head of the U.S. Southern Command, former supreme allied commander of NATO. His most recent book is "Sailing True North, Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character".

Admiral, they call this character the big stick for Teddy Roosevelt himself, approximately five acres of flight deck, approximately 5,000 souls onboard. They`ve been called, as no one needs to tell you, floating cities. The Navy gave us the term hot racking. That means when you crawl into a bunk that`s still warm from the shift before you and the shift before that and so on. To put it mildly, these are cramped quarters. Imagine what this virus could do below deck.

ADMIRAL JAMES STAVRIDIS, U.S. NAVY RETIRED: Indeed, Brian. For your listeners, I would suggest think about your kitchen at home, like a typical suburban kitchen, except in that kitchen about 15 sailors live. They`re in bunk beds, two and three-deckers, and they share a common commode, a head as we call it. They`re in the ultimate close quarters.

Brian, we call that a berthing compartment because each of those individual bunks is a berth. But you can think of that in another way to make a terrible pun as a birthing compartment, as in it is a compartment, a space, a living area that is giving birth to coronavirus. So, there`s no way to do social distancing on an aircraft carrier. This commanding officer made the absolute right decision. He sailed true north, told his chain of command that he had to have help, and offloaded. The plan is to offload 90 percent of that crew so that the remaining 10 percent can operate and safeguard the nuclear reactor, make sure those aircraft, the bombs, the missiles, the explosives are preserved and taken care of and disinfect the entire ship, then bring the crew back aboard. It`s an incredibly complex maneuver. We`ve never done anything like it in the Navy.

And, Brian, I`ll close by saying the bad news is, this won`t be the last time we end up doing this because, again and again, the tightness of these quarters is going to cause this kind of flare-up in these warships.

WILLIAMS: Well, that was my next question to you. How do we deal with this, god forbid, times 50 or 100 vessels? Sooner or later, this is going to degrade our kinetic potential as warships, correct?

STAVRIDIS: Absolutely. And let`s take it to another level and say, what if this had been a ballistic missile submarine carrying nuclear warheads for our strategic deterrent? What if it had been a missile silo in North Dakota, very close quarters? What if it had been the crew of a B-2 strategic bomber loaded with nuclear weapons?

So, this underlines for us, Brian, a point about this virus response we should bear in mind, and we`re all in the military, everyone wants to be part of responding to this and helping the civilian population. But the first thing the military has to do is stay healthy because our national security depends on a healthy force that can go forward. So, the military is going to have to balance its support. And just over the weekend, we saw the beautiful hospital ships Comfort and Mercy pulling into New York and Los Angeles. There`ll be more of that, but your military is going to have to be able to make sure it can deploy forward as well. It`s going to be challenging times.

WILLIAMS: This is why you were the one guy we wanted to hear out on this topic tonight. Admiral James Stavridis, thank you for welcoming us to your home. Appreciate you being aboard with us.

And coming up for us, Bernie Sanders says he still has a narrow path to the nomination. We`ll play for you what Joe Biden had to say about that. One last piece of our interview with the former vice president when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: We will never ever forget the year 2020 for so many reasons. With the country now in the grips of this pandemic, it`s important to remember we were also in the thick of the 2020 presidential campaign. Before all this, remember it was the topic receiving heavy coverage on this network. Now most of that has gone away.

Last night, Bernie Sanders was still sounding hopeful about winning the Democratic nomination despite Joe Biden`s substantial delegate lead. Well, today, I asked the former vice president about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Hey, Mr. Vice President, Bernie Sanders says he has a narrow path to the nomination. Do you share that view, and is he costing anything day to day staying in this race?

BIDEN: Well, look, Bernie has a lot of very, very strong and ardent followers, and I think that it`s a hard decision. I`m not going to tell him whether he has to stay in or get out. That`s his decision. But I feel confident about being the nominee. I don`t see much is going to be able to change that. And, obviously, I`ve talked -- we`ve been talking to Bernie`s people. I have respect for him, and I think there ought to be a way we could accommodate his concerns on other matters in terms of everything from people being engaged in his organization. I think there`s a lot of things that could be done, but that`s a decision for Bernie to make.

WILLIAMS: If you are indeed the nominee, can you share with us at least how many names are on your potential grab-bag list for vice president and if any of the figures who have emerged from this coronavirus crisis, thinking specifically of, say, the governor of Michigan, if any of those figures have lengthened the list?

BIDEN: She hasn`t lengthened the list. She made the list in my mind two months ago. But there is probably going to be a list. I`m in the process, Brian, and will have it by mid-April, putting together an organization that will run the background checks because they`re going to have to be started whether or not Bernie is still in the race by sometime the second -- first second -- the second or third week in April. And there will probably be -- I`ve thought a lot about who some of the women who I would -- that I believe are ready to be president, and I think I could work with and would be willing to work with me. It`s going to be somewhere between six and 10 of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Talking to us from his home in Wilmington, the final portion of our conversation with Joe Biden from earlier today.

Final break, and then coming up, some measure of where we are as a country tonight.

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WILLIAMS: Last things before we go tonight, starting with environmental news, you know from Los Angeles to New York and all points in between, there have been a number of reports backed up by visuals and readings and satellite imagery that the air over our country is substantially cleaner with so many of us off the roads.

And on this, of all days, the Trump administration weakened fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, a big victory for the petroleum industry. This will immediately be challenged in court and by states like California. It would roll back the standards put in place by, you guessed it, the Obama administration.

An op-ed in "The New York Times" entitled "It`s Time to Make Your Own Face Mask" is picking up on a big question across our country. The president kindly said today the administration would have no problem with it if people all started wearing masks. More than once today, perhaps fearing we would all ask for masks, the president reminded us we can accessorize with scarfs. There has been no CDC ruling on whether we should all wear them or not as many people are already choosing to do out there.

And finally, a big measure of where we are tonight from Susan Glasser of "The New Yorker" and she writes just this. "Today is the last day of March. Donald Trump now says if our nation comes out of it with 200,000 fatalities, it will have been a better outcome. Imagine his March 1st self saying that."

And that is our broadcast on this Tuesday night. On behalf of all of my 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