IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

2020 election TRANSCRIPT: 4/1/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Robert Gallo, John Thompson, Hansi Wo Lang


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: A barren Times Square in the city of New York under a state of emergency. A lone police car sitting between two city blocks.

Well, good evening once again. Day 1,168 of the Trump administration leaving us 216 days to go until the Presidential election.

And we`ll start this way. Perhaps it is not said often enough. The last role Donald Trump inhabited before becoming our president was host of a reality show produced and aired by the entertainment division of our parent network over 14 seasons. As a television veteran he is forever talking about casting, specifically central casting, which he repeated as recently as this afternoon.

People tuning in to today`s White House coronavirus briefing would be forgiven for thinking to Trump acting as casting director had assembled on either side of him, social distancing notwithstanding, all the most serious-looking people he could find in the federal government. The attorney general, actual generals and admirals, the defense secretary. And out of nowhere they briefed the public today about drug interdiction including false stats on the border wall and the situation in Iran.

The President said all we`ve gotten from the Middle East is death. He went on to give a brief lesson in the 1917 flu pandemic which was in 1918 and took a swing at John Kerry along the way. And then this happened.


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Did you know I was number one on Facebook? I just found out I`m number one on Facebook. I thought that was very nice.


WILLIAMS: Later, on the actual subject of coronavirus, the President said, as he does every day in some form, nobody`s ever seen anything like this.

He went on to confirm the White House is considering restricting air and rail travel in this country. He said he`d be perfectly willing to talk to Joe Biden by phone about the fight against the virus.

This was another record day in our country. Just today more than 25,000 new cases approaching 1,000 new deaths in the space of one day. And so tonight the United States now has over 211,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Over 4,700 deaths.

Also as of today more than 280 million Americans are living under some form of stay-at-home order. Since we have no idea how many people have the virus itself? After Tuesday`s dire prediction that as many as 240,000 American lives could be lost to the coronavirus, the President -- the Vice President rather offered this disturbing analogy today.


MIKE PENCE, (R) UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT: They call it modeling, Wolf, where they look at what`s happened around the world. We think Italy may be the most comparable area to the United States at this point.


WILLIAMS: According to the latest estimates Italy, which is of course a much smaller country, has seen over 13,000 coronavirus deaths thus far. Here in the United States New York City remains the epicenter of the outbreak with over 47,000 confirmed cases. Another 278 deaths were reported in New York City over just the past 24 hours, bringing the total again in the city alone to 1,374. And Governor Andrew Cuomo warns there are still several dark weeks ahead.


GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: What we`re looking at now is the apex, top of the curve, roughly at the end of April, which means another month of this.


WILLIAMS: It was another rough day for the financial markets. The Dow closed down more than 900 points on fears the economy could be shut down longer than people first expected. Tomorrow we get to see initial unemployment claims from last week. CNBC reporting economists have been ramping up their projections. "They range to as high as 9 million, but many are between 4 million to 5 million. That follows the record 3.3 million claims filed the week earlier."

But again today the President was sounding optimistic.


TRUMP: I do think once we get rid of the virus I think we`re going to have a boom economy. I think it`s going to go up rather quickly. Maybe very quickly. And maybe slowly. But it`s going to go up. And it will all come back. And I think it`s actually going to come back stronger than what it was because of the stimulus.


WILLIAMS: With an estimated 80% of us living under some sort of stay-at- home order today Florida finally came along. After weeks of resistance and criticism and while presiding over a huge population of seniors, Governor DeSantis issued the order.


GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, (D) FLORIDA: The President just the other day announced they`re going to do a 30-day extension for the current guidelines. And although the guidelines don`t call for any new actions beyond what was there previously, in Florida we did the 15 days to stop the spread. I mean, I think it`s clear that that represents effectively a national pause.


WILLIAMS: We also found out today the Trump administration has decided against reopening Obamacare marketplaces to new customers despite the pandemic, despite the need for available health care. The President was asked about that today and quickly handed the question over to his vice President.


TRUMP: They took that up under the task force. And maybe Mike, you want to say a few words about it?

PENCE: Well, thank you, Mr. President. And what I can tell you is that the President has made a priority from the outset of our task force work to make sure every American knows that they can have the coronavirus and they don`t have to worry about the cost.


WILLIAMS: That`s about as detailed as the answer got. Meanwhile, there`s new uncertainty tonight over a new wave of emergency relief for struggling Americans in the midst of all this.

Robert Costa of the Washington Post, who joins us in just a moment, has this exclusive reporting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is telling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to stand down. And Congress is already talking about investigation of how the U.S. got its response to this pandemic so wrong, so behind the 8 ball.

NBC News has learned there are informal discussions under way about the creation of a 9/11-style commission to look at what happened, to come up with a plan to handle any future pandemics. Here`s how the President addressed the country`s preparedness during this evening`s coronavirus briefing.


TRUMP: We`re building thousands of ventilators right now. Now it takes a period of time to build them. And again, nobody could have known a thing like this could happen. We`re building thousands. We will fairly soon be at a point where we will have far more than we can use even after we stockpile for some future catastrophe which we hope doesn`t happen.


WILLIAMS: To put the current crisis in perspective, more Americans have already died from coronavirus than were killed on 9/11. Peter Baker of the New York Times, who also joins us in a moment, writes today, "Under the best-case scenario Mr. Trump will see more Americans die than Presidents Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard M. Nixon saw die in the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. The lowest estimate would claim nearly as many Americans as World War I under President Woodrow Wilson and 14 times as many Americans as Iraq and Afghanistan together under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama."

To all of that here`s how New York`s Governor is advising Americans to look toward the future.


CUOMO: We`re never going to be the same again. We`re not going to forget what happened here. The fear that we have, the anxiety that we have, that`s not just going to go away. When do we get back to normal? I don`t think we get back to normal. I think we get back or we get to a new normal.


WILLIAMS: From Governor Cuomo let`s get to our lead-off discussion here on a Wednesday night. Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the New York Times. Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor over at Politico. And Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the Washington Post and Moderator of Washington Week on PBS.

Peter, since you were last quoted, I`m going to ask you first. Does the President seem closer to getting the gravity of this closer to the realization that he`s got to own this at some point?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I think he is. I think that doesn`t mean he`s suddenly a different person. You played some of the sort of offbeat comments he made today about his popularity on Facebook. He`s still going to go after his enemies. He`s still going to quarrel with reporters.

But he does seem to be trying to come to grips with the enormity of the challenge and the scale of the disease and death that awaits this country on his watch. You`re no longer hearing him compare this to an ordinary flu. You`re no longer going to say this is miraculously going to go away, just be patient. He is going to continue to try to tell the country that this will pass at some point and the country will come back stronger than it had before. That`s his nature. He said himself he`s a cheerleader.

But he said something yesterday that we hadn`t heard him say before, which is that Americans should prepare for a very rough time. And he had not done that before, where he tried to prepare Americans for what was ahead in the same way Andrew Cuomo has done, other governors have done in these last few weeks. The President was taking a starker view and a starker presentation of these really daunting, staggering figures the medical experts have provided us.

WILLIAMS: Anita Kumar, can DeSantis of Florida keep saying I was waiting for the feds to give the order, keep ignoring what`s been going on in the other states with other governors, or is he going to be forced to own whatever the consequences are in the sunshine state?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think all the governors have to put that -- take that responsibility. And part of the reason is that the President has said repeatedly that he is not going to issue an order for the whole nation. So governors are asking him to act. They have been wanting him to do that. But in the absence of that they`re each taking their own path forward. I mean, that`s really been one of the biggest disagreements between the President and the governors. They`re asking him to do more, both with what should be done across the nation in terms of shelter at home. But they`re also asking him for more equipment. And they`re very frustrated on both of those levels.

And so you`ve seen a lot of governors say, well we have to do this ourselves. We have to work together and take that on because we`re not getting what we want from the federal government and from President Trump.

Now, the President and Vice President are going to continue to have these regular calls. They have at least a weekly call with all the governors. And so they`re going to continue to try to coordinate. But they`re really at this back and forth impasse almost where the governors are asking for things that they feel like they`re not getting.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, people are hunkering down. People lucky enough to get out to the store and survive it are washing down the goods they buy when they get back to their kitchen ideally. Give us a window into your reporting. Give us a window into Mitch McConnell`s thinking right about now?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: In a phone interview today, I spoke to Leader McConnell at length about how he sees upcoming congressional negotiations. Every American knows that the congress passed a $2.2 trillion bill, an economic rescue package last week. The President signed it into law. The question is what`s next?

Speaker Pelosi has begun to outline some of her own ideas, things she would like to see included in the next round of negotiations. She`s talked about direct mail voting. She`s talked about reducing state and local tax caps. She`s looking at an array of initiatives.

In my interview today it became clear that Leader McConnell wants to take a bit of a pause on those kinds of discussions at this point as phase 3 is implemented. And he said to me that he believes Speaker Pelosi should stand down on her wish list, her agenda items at this moment, he could envision in the coming weeks, maybe in late April, early May, some bipartisan congressional discussions but at this point he was non-committal on something like infrastructure, which Speaker Pelosi has been pushing. He thinks the Congress is already spending too much money. So what we`re really looking at big picture is Congress and Capitol Hill at a standstill as the country faces an economic travesty on many fronts.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, who`s going to tell the President that Barack Obama and a slew of celebrities have more likes than he does on Facebook? But more seriously, having decorated the stage today with decorated men standing shoulder to shoulder, what in the President feels the need to interrupt even the two topics they put before coronavirus today with something about his standing on Facebook?

BAKER: Look, we`ve seen the President now for two or three weeks come out every day almost and conduct his own television show in effect. It goes on for 45 minutes, goes on for an hour. Last night it went on for two hours and 11 minutes, his longest appearance in public of his presidency. And he is dominating that stage. This is where he feels comfortable. Not with the facts, not with the obviously daunting prospects of what`s happening in front of him, but getting out in front and talking with the country, talking -- you know, jousting with reporters, getting his point of view across. He has talked several times about how his ratings are so high. You know, you point out correctly that his most recent experience prior to politics was in show business and he has never stopped thinking about that. He told aides early on in his presidency to think of every day as another half hour show in effect. How are they going to program that show?

And so each day here you`ve seen these last few days as he has programmed the show to come out with certain announcements, certain initiatives he could talk about certain information to disclose. And then he spices it up with these, you know, long Q&A sessions that end up becoming often pretty feisty, pretty hot and pretty, you know, I think in his view entertaining and engaging.

WILLIAMS: Anita, remembering the mounting death toll around us in our country, are there any new faces around him, any new voices advising him?

KUMAR: Well, he has the same group that he`s had, obviously the public health officials. You know, in the last couple weeks, and he has the task force of course. In the last couple weeks we know that his son-in-law Jared Kushner has taken a much greater role, as he does on, you know, a variety of issues.

And I think the biggest thing that he`s really doing right now is something that we see him do often. We`ve seen him do it for three years now on a variety of issues, which is he`s really listening to business leaders. He`s talking to business leaders. He`s calling them. He`s both getting advice from his friends who are in the business. But he`s also calling leaders of big companies to ask what they can do and can you get on board. He does that in a way that we haven`t seen in recent history. He tends to sometimes forgo the aides that he does have around him and go outside of the White House and go outside of the administration to ask those in business what they think he should be doing. It`s something he feels comfortable doing from his background, not the television background obviously but his other background which is in the real estate field and this business that he`s run, the Trump organization. So some of these people are his friends, people that he`s known for quite some time. And those are the people that he feels comfortable getting other advice from.

He does often stop in to the coronavirus task force briefings and then after the briefings every single day the Vice President gives him a briefing about what has happened in that meeting. So he`s kind of getting into this routine, as Peter mentioned. He also very much likes coming out and talking after this briefing he`s had is over, telling us what he`s heard and thought for the day.

COSTA: Brian?

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, finally, go ahead, go ahead Robert.

COSTA: I had two interesting conversations, just to build on Anita`s reporting. One was Senator Harris, on the VP list for many Democrats. She told me she`s very disappointed that President Trump has been so confusing in her eyes with the kind of information he provides to the public on the timeline. And that`s a refrain I`ve heard from Democratic governors and some Republican governors like Larry Hogan of Maryland. Regardless of the people around him in the White House, it`s really the governors and public officials he`s interacting with. And I feel like on the timeline he`s been confusing.

But I did speak to DeWine, Governor of Ohio. And he said the one thing he does like about President Trump at this moment is because he`s this outsider who doesn`t really follow the bureaucratic lines he`s able to get the President on the phone in almost a moment and try to make his own case for certain action to be taken at the federal level. So a lot of fierce criticism for the President`s handling, though there are some Republican governors and a few Democrats who have spoken that the President has given them access.

WILLIAMS: And of course the President expressing surprise this week upon hearing that the governors and states are often bidding in competition against each other for something all of our doctors and nurses need.

To Peter Baker, Anita Kumar, Robert Costa, our thanks for starting us off so well on this Wednesday night. Coming up for us, months into this crisis now, still so many questions about the coronavirus. One of the scientists who helped reveal the virus linked to aids may have some answers for us tonight.

And later, it took a few weeks, but more red state governors are now issuing orders to try to save lives. But a slew of them have not yet. An update on the political ramifications of a health crisis as The 11th Hour is just getting under way on this Wednesday night.



DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: A significant number of individuals that are infected actually remain asymptomatic. That may be as many as 25%. We have asymptomatic transmitters and we have individuals who are transmitting 48 hours before they become symptomatic.


WILLIAMS: It`s been almost a month since the public had heard from the head of the CDC, but earlier this week that man, Dr. Robert Redfield told NPR`s Atlanta Station that one out of every four Americans may now be infected with coronavirus. Of course again, we`ll repeat this every night if we have to, we have no way of knowing because of testing.

Somewhat unbelievably, the Governor of Georgia, home of two of the top five-ranking counties for highest per capita cases in our country won`t sign the stay-at-home order until tomorrow. He says he just learned that those with no symptoms can spread the coronavirus. Today he called that a revelation.

With us tonight, Dr. Robert Gallo, Director and Co-founder of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He`s the co-founder of the Global Virus Network. He himself has discovered five human viruses, most notably one of the distinguished scientists who discovered HIV as the root illness behind AIDS.

Doctor, you`ll forgive me for making sure we repeat. We have no idea how many people have coronavirus in our country presently and are so far behind the testing 8 ball we are likely never to know. But having said that, what do you make of how the fight is going thus far?

DR. ROBERT GALLO, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND INSTITUTE OF HUMAN VIROLOGY: Well, certainly the point you just made about not knowing the number of infections as well as you would want to know is a problem. And I think that is a problem that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. People are working on it. Dr. Redfield, Bob Redfield who you just quoted, I used to work with him. Director of the Institute, we co-founded the Institute of Human Virology at the School of Medicine University of Maryland Baltimore 22 years ago together. He came out of Walter Reed and out of the army, I came out of NIH, Cancer Institute.

So we made the blood test for HIV. I know what it takes to make a blood test. I think there are -- I don`t want to be critical of anyone. I wasn`t in their shoes. But it was evident from China before 2020. And by the way, it`s important to follow in a pandemic to be connected and linked to other nations. I mean a pandemic means all. And there was a Chinese scientist who predicted the coronavirus respiratory epidemic coming from bats over a year ago that would come in the following year. He actually predicted it in a scientific publication.

If we knew the seriousness of the disease in China, if we had close connections to China, you could count on their science getting better and better. It is extremely good right now. Then you know the thing is really spreading and it was common. So diagnostics are key. And an antibody test is important. Yes, the test for the virus itself, the RNA test that we`re doing now is of course important, but this is not like HIV. It doesn`t stay around in your blood. So you`re going to become test negative. But what will become positive are antibodies. We do need an antibody test. I`ve heard that some don`t think it`s so important. But I think it`s actually vital. And it is also useful to know if certain antibodies that we make will protect against a reinfection, whether it`s of value.

But certainly for diagnostics we need much more testing going on. We need to know the reality of how many people are infected by wide-scale testing. So I`m absolutely firm about a strong need for much more diagnostic testing. And we could get help when we don`t have the test.

You said I`m involved with the global virus network. It`s something I think is desperately needed by the world. We have 53 senators. In 33 countries of high, high-quality virologists connected. I don`t think anybody would disagree with this.  And we learned from each other by weekly calls, not just in the United States. I`ve learned a lot from things in the other countries that were experiencing this epidemic.

For example, in collaborative studies with Italian scientists we know there`s major mutations in the mechanism that this coronavirus uses to reproduce itself, to copy itself. It`s an RNA virus. They mutate like HIV, like polio, like influenza. They`re all RNA but containing viruses. They tend to mutate a lot.

We know in Italy that there`s been mutations of the very mechanism, the protein, the mechanism by which it copies itself, it reproduces itself. And much more mutation has occurred in the virus in Italy compared to what we saw in China. And I can tell you we`re seeing even further mutations in the United States. The virus is isolated here. We have the most in the world right now of isolates that have been examine and sequences that are in the data base show that we`re having viruses mutate a lot. Now, does that mean that they`re causing greater lethality, greater mortality? We can`t say that. The correlation hasn`t been done yet. But it could mean greater resistance to this or that drug. Let me carry that point maybe a little long.

WILLIAMS: That`s all right, Dr. Gallo. What we`re going to do is say please come back on with a similar update. That covered everything I was actually going to ask. And to Dr. Robert Gallo and all his past experience in one person -- sure, sure, go ahead.

GALLO: OK. Because I think this will be important. I think within the global virus network right now, and we`ll be coming out with this more publicly very soon, in a report that Dr. Kumikov - Chumikov (ph), pardon me, at the FDA virologist, we think there is something that could really help right now with a vaccine that is a not specific vaccine for this virus but it`s available now that will have -- could very well have and I believe will, a major effect for the world. And you`ll hear about this very soon. Perhaps the next time we talk.

WILLIAMS: OK. You`ll please let us know. We`ll talk about it next time you come on. Thank you for ending on that hopeful note, Dr. Robert Gallo.

Coming up, hundreds of millions of Americans are now told to stay home. That`s having a big impact on the Presidential election upcoming. An update on that part of the story when we come back.



WILLIAMS: Can you really envision every prominent Democrat in this country from all 50 states inside a hot arena 104 days from now?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s hard to envision that. Again, we should listen to the scientists.


WILLIAMS: Remember, both the Democratic and Republican national conventions are just two notable large gatherings on people`s radar as we look ahead to summer. Here was Dr. Anthony FaucI on this topic earlier today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have political conventions over the summer. Are things like that possible or safe without a vaccine or treatment in place?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Yes, I think if we get to the part of the curve that Dr. Birx showed yesterday when it goes down to essentially no new cases, no deaths at a period of time, I think it makes sense that you`re going to have to relax social distancing.


WILLIAMS: So with us again tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Columnist for "The Washington Post" and Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, former Lieutenant Governor of the great state of Maryland. These days, the host of the "Michael Steele Podcast." And Mr. Chairman, I`d like to begin with you, and I`m not hating on anybody or anything, but we spend millions of dollars every four years to cover these conventions and then we commission stories while we`re there on the terrible ratings and why people aren`t watching conventions anymore. Other than a pep rally or coronation, what would happen if we didn`t have any conventions this summer?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Probably not much. I think the world would go on, as it should. And I think the parties would adapt. Clearly, the nomination process is the key moment, which usually occurs on the Wednesday night. And then of course the nominees` acceptance speech the day before. On everything else, it`s really kind of filler, if you will. And I think that the critical thing that Joe Biden touches on, what he does not envision, is at least the Democratic Party taking a step that would, even to Dr. Fauci`s point, put people in the position of jeopardizing their health.

I still think there will be a great deal of concern as you get into the late spring, early summer about just what the impact of this virus is going to be, not just for that moment but then, you know, scientists and doctors are talking about this thing sort of dipping and then coming back. So does that type of a gathering with 15,000, 20,000 people in an arena stir that pot again? So I think there`s a lot to consider here before you just say out of hand, we can go back and gather in large quantities in an enclosed environment.

WILLIAMS: And Eugene, again, I`m not hating on anybody or anything, but should Wisconsin really be having a primary in a few days? And are all 50 states any closer to guaranteeing that people don`t have to show up in groups in a place and go vote?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, take the first question first. I mean, Wisconsin`s going to be a -- it looks like a pretty dangerous experiment at this point. Can you -- you know, is it too soon to try to hold a traditional primary is the question. And my guess is it sure seems to assume to me, I mean, other states have postponed their primaries into late May or June. Boy, it seems awfully early to try to do this. And we`ll just have to see if they`re able to bring it off.

You`ll have to socially distance people who want to do same-day voting. You`ll presumably have to do as much voting in advance or by mail as possible. And we`ll see. But I don`t -- it doesn`t look like the best idea to me. It looks like a bad idea to me.

And you know, are all 50 states -- I think all 50 states have to deal with this crisis that we`re living through now. But they also have to look to the election that`s, by the way, important for everybody to get started now figuring out how we`re going to safely and legitimately elect a president in November in a way that everyone sees as legitimate and in a way that is medically safe at a time in November when, yes indeed, the virus could be coming back.

WILLIAMS: Michael, let me play this for you. This is the Governor of Florida on his now ended come on down here and have fun for spring break policy. We`ll talk about it on the other side.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: The spring breakers were here, Sean. At that time, the CDC guidance was you could have groups of 250 people. So when they`re showing the things for the one day in Clearwater, that was the guidance. When it changes to 10, you know, I banned all groups of 10 or more.


WILLIAMS: Mr. Chairman, can he really hide behind the guidance from the feds and the White House on this?

STEELE: No. Not when you look at what his fellow governors were doing, what was happening not just in New York, in Washington state and California, but in states like Maryland and North Carolina and South Carolina and certainly as we see now in Louisiana. You know, this wasn`t something that just popped up in the last, you know, week after, you know, he decides to start moving in the appropriate direction.

The Governor was stubborn. And he was stubborn for whatever reason he was stubborn. And he put people at risk. And I think you`ve got to own that. And I think that`s something that the rest of the 49 states looking at his rhetoric and his behavior on this draw that conclusion. So, look, he`s done the right thing now. There`s more -- I think there`s still some of like, you know, churches are considered essential businesses.

And yes, I understand that. But again, you know, if the requirement is gatherings of no more than 10, I don`t know how you do that. So, you know, let`s stop playing the game and let`s stop trying to appease whatever bogeyman you think you need to appease out there and think about the Floridians whose lives and health are at risk and act accordingly.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Eugene, do you think Donald Trump`s attitude toward what he has to come around to owning is changing as we watch? And I`ve got to include all the comments he`s made over the past 48 hours as well.

ROBINSON: Look, I`ve given up trying to read his mind, his mood, his tone. Those I really don`t care about at this point. It`s his actions and the policies. The policies this past week since Sunday really have been better than the policies that he pursued before.

Most of what he says since Sunday has been better than all of what he said before. And so let`s just take it from that point. I don`t know what he really thinks deep down about the virus, but he`s doing some things that are at least positive now. He needs to do a lot more.

STEELE: Hey, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Eugene Robinson, dressed formally for weeknight cable, while Michael Steele just keeps getting more and more casual at home. Gentlemen, thank you for having us in. Good to see you both.

Coming up for us after this break, in our nation consumed by health worries, some Americans may forget to get counted on this census day 2020. And if you`re not at home tonight, where do you say you live?


WILLIAMS: Every 10 years, the U.S. attempts to count every person and note where they are living. As of today, April 1st, officially census day. But with our country in the grips of a pandemic, census field operations are suspended until April 15th, and even then they will likely get extended from there. People can still respond online, by mail or by telephone. The question is will they?

For more I`m joined by Hansi Lo Wang, NB -- NPR -- sorry, I`m used to saying NBC so often -- NPR National Correspondent who reports on the people, power and money behind the 2020 census. And John Thompson, a statistician who served as Director of the Census Bureau from 2013 to 2017. John, I`d like to begin with you. What`s the short version of how you`re going to find people who are right now displaced, canvassers who shouldn`t yet be outdoors, and folks inside who shouldn`t be opening the door?

JOHN THOMPSON, FMR. CENSUS DIRECTOR: Well, right now the big focus for the Census Bureau is on self-response. And you can respond by the internet, you can respond by paper, and you can also respond by telephone. And the rules that the Census Bureau goes by are that you should be counted at the place where you usually live if you are temporarily away. And so, for example, for college students they should be counted where they live at college before they were displaced.

WILLIAMS: Wow. There`s a lot to go over here. Hansi, talk about the challenges, the very unique challenges of the to 2020 census vis-a-vis your reporting for NPR.

HANSI LO WANG, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, this was going to be a very challenging count because it always is very hard to get a complete count of every person living in the country. Especially to get a complete count of communities of color, immigrants, other historically undercounted groups. And so, to have a pandemic that has now postponed field operations until April 15th for now, that exacerbates existing challenges the Census Bureau`s been trying to deal with.

So there`s a big question right now of how the Census Bureau will count, for example, the people experiencing homelessness, folks who are living in Puerto Rico as well as other places that are experiencing or -- recovering from natural disasters. These are all groups that were supposed to be counted right around this time with field operations that have now been postponed.

WILLIAMS: So John, as someone put it to me tonight, here`s the question. Should people who are displaced -- and I got your point on college students -- treat this as a virtual April 1, 2020, where they would be in normal times? Where their mail arrives? Where they come home from work?

THOMPSON: That`s exactly right. That`s where they should be counted. Where they usually live and stay most of the time, even if they`re temporarily displaced for some reason, including the COVID virus.

WILLIAMS: And John, for people who perhaps just today missed paying their first rent check, missed a mortgage payment, have missed a deadline because of what`s happening in our country, give me the short speech on why it`s so important and how much is riding in American life on everyone filling this out in such -- in some form or fashion.

THOMPSON: Certainly. The census is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. It`s in the constitution. It`s used to reapportion the House of Representatives. It`s used to draw up fair voting districts, both congressional and state and local. And it`s also used to allocate over $1.5 trillion per year in federal funding.

WILLIAMS: Hansi --

THOMPSON: So it`s very important to get your fair share.

WILLIAMS: Forgive me. Communications are at a premium these days, as you know. Hansi, tell folks what happens -- I guess they have a 15-day window now, and what happens if they don`t reply and the cascading burden on canvassers?

LO WANG: They actually have a longer window than that. The Census Bureau has extended the end of counting to August 15th. So it`s collecting responses between now and all the way through August 15th. Today is not a deadline. It`s not like tax day. Census day is not a deadline. You can continue responding to the 2020 census if your household has not.

And the thing to keep in mind here is that during this public health crisis, if you do not -- if your household does not respond to the 2020 census that puts the burden on the Census Bureau to possibly have to find a census worker to go visit your home to do an in-person interview because the constitution calls for a count of every person living in the country. So having a self-response rate right now around 30 percent is not going to be enough. The Census Bureau is trying to get to 100 percent as much as possible and it might have to use workers to do that, go door knocking. And that`s a big question right now, whether that can actually happen. When that will happen and what risks that might pose during this pandemic.

WILLIAMS: All right. So to all our fellow earnest deadline-minded citizens, go ahead and treat tonight like the deadline even though you have until August. Pretend you don`t know that. Hansi Lo Wang, thank you, John Thompson, gentlemen, thank you both for coming on. An important topic. We wanted to give it some air time on this April 1st.

Coming up, to mask or not to mask? So far that depends largely on how you feel, where you live, who you believe.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don`t see where it hurts. I think frankly if people wanted to do it, we don`t want to do anything that`s going to take masks -- you`re talking about a tremendous amount of masks when you do that. We don`t want to take them away from our medical professionals. But I certainly don`t see it hurting.

But what I do see people doing now is using scarfs. And I think in a certain way, depending on the fabric, I think in a certain way a scarf is better. It`s actually better.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight. The President has given his blessing apparently to accessorizing with scarves. Make no mistake. There`s been a big uptick in the number of people on the streets and in the stores every day wearing masks of some kind. And let`s not forget the government`s early guidance on wearing masks is as it is tonight, that we didn`t all need them, that wearing a medical mask, you heard the President say, it meant depriving a health care professional of a mask.

Well, some folks aren`t waiting for a potential CDC rule change. And this handy guide popped up today. There are a number of these now on social media, videos like it. And in the course of about 20 seconds, it shows you how to make a mask with a handkerchief and two hair bands.

And today the Czech Republic got into the game. Their health ministry, justifiably proud of how they have flattened the curve, put out this very blunt video saying they`ve controlled the coronavirus by making facial coverings mandatory.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone who has to leave their house has to wear a face mask. Everyone.

I know. They maybe told you that masks wouldn`t protect you. But there are studies proving that even a homemade mask can be partially protective. Partially. Any protection is essential today. But now the more important thing.

Masks fundamentally prevent the transmission from you to others by sneezing, coughing, but also breathing. And many people are the most contagious before they start showing symptoms. So when we both have a face mask, I protect you, you protect me, and we are both safe.

VOJTECH PETRACEK, PRESIDENT OF THE CZECH TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY: Based on recent data we know that population-wide use of masks is essential for suppression of the outbreak.


WILLIAMS: So you heard the man, that closing word from the health minister`s office in the Czech Republic.

That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night. Our coverage continues at the top of the hour. 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