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

New jobless claims TRANSCRIPT: 4/2/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams:

Guests: Vin Gupta, Ron Klain, Austan Goolsbee, Karen Mills

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well good evening once again. Day 1,169 of the Trump administration, 215 days to go now until the Presidential election.

Today`s White House briefing featured a large cast of characters, at times the President and Vice President apparently feeling that social distancing is something for them to recommend if not follow themselves. When the Vice President is talking, it sure sounds like he`s in charge. We heard Jared Kushner talk today. Sounded briefly like he`s in charge. Ditto the admiral we heard from today talking about the supply chain and sounding in charge.

A number of the daily speakers make it a point to reference data, perhaps because it is a huge problem right now. We still have no idea how many Americans are walking around with this virus.

The biggest message from the President today, the states should be handling this, as he put it speaking on behalf of the federal government, we`re a backup. He says the states should have had more equipment and PPE already on hand. He said they should have been on the open markets just buying before the pandemic. And he repeated for good measure, nobody had even heard of something like this.

Today, he took a shot at saying out loud what he wants the truth to be going forward. Today he said the federal government acted early, which is not true. They did not. Here we are widely considered to be months behind, and we just became the first nation on the planet to mark 1,000 deaths in one 24-hour period.

Today the number of known cases around the globe went past 1 million, 243,000 of those here in the United States where, again, because of testing, we don`t have reliable numbers. Over 5,800 souls have died. In the past 24 hours, 29,000 new cases and over 1,000 new deaths.

As for the economic toll, today we learned that last week, 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits. A total of 9.9 million people are out of work right now. The number of people out of work is now a number greater than the individual populations of over 40 states. The White House today tried to reassure Americans that relief checks are indeed on the way.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: This money does people no good if it shows up in four months, and we will deliver on that promise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So quickly is a matter of weeks, then perhaps not months?

MNUCHIN: Quickly is a matter of weeks and not months.


WILLIAMS: As we`re seeing images of Americans waiting in lines at food banks. By the way, Jeff Bezos today gave $100 million to struggling food banks around the country. There is no question that for millions of our fellow citizens, two weeks is too long. And people without direct deposit will have to wait as long as -- are you ready for this, five months to get their checks.

Today at the White House, we also heard a warning from Dr. Deborah Birx, who earlier this week revealed sobering data about the virus and its deadly potential. This afternoon she sounded the alarm about the effort to contain this outbreak.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: I know you`ve seen the slope in the United States versus the slope in Italy, and we have to change that slope. We have to change the log rhythmic curve that we`re on. We see country after country having done that. What it means in the United States is not everyone is doing it. So we`re only as strong as every community, every county, every state, every American following the guidelines. This is really a call to action.


WILLIAMS: Not everyone is doing it because a ton of states out there still don`t have stay-at-home measures. Amid the surge in cases, state and local officials are struggling to try to help hospitals dealing with those severe shortages of equipment and PPE. States are bidding against each other and competing with the feds out there on the open market.

This morning the President posted this about state officials who say they`re not getting enough help from the federal government. "Some have insatiable appetites and are never satisfied. The complainers should have been stocked up and ready long before this crisis hit."

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose state has nearly 100,000 cases, the most in the nation, today made plain just how dire things are.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): If a person comes in and needs a ventilator and you don`t have a ventilator, the person dies. That`s the blunt equation here. And right now we have a burn rate that would suggest we have about six days in the stockpile.


WILLIAMS: Later this afternoon at the White House, Trump pointed to his efforts to respond to the crisis while also seeming to blame governors for not being prepared.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I directed Secretary Azar and Acting Secretary Wolf to use any and all available authority under the Defense Production Act to ensure that domestic manufacturers have the supplies they need to produce ventilators for patients with severe cases of C-O-V-I-D-19. On top of the 3,000 beds we`re already providing to the Javits Center, the Department of Defense is adding another 48 ICU beds.

Governor Cuomo has asked that this facility go, and it`s a big, beautiful facility, it be converted to a COVID hospital. We had two other facilities that were likewise asking for it, and that would be in Louisiana and also in Dallas, and we`ll be doing those. I think the federal government has not only acted early but acted quickly, professionally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happens, though, when states are bidding against each other on those markets?

TRUMP: Well, they have that, and they have to work that out. What they should do is they should have -- long before this pandemic arrived, they should have been on the open market just buying. There was no competition. You could have made a great price. The states have to stock up. It`s like one of those things. They waited. They didn`t want to spend the money because they thought this would never happen.


WILLIAMS: That`s how that went down, and we mentioned this earlier. Rare sighting for the press corps in the West Wing. First time we saw Trump`s Senior Adviser and Son-in-Law Jared Kushner at the daily briefing. Tonight The New York Times reports that some administration officials say his work with the Task Force has added confusion to the response. Today he spoke about his assignment as laid out by his father-in-law.


JARED KUSHNER, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The President wanted to make sure that we had the best people doing the best jobs and making sure that we had the right people focused on all of the things that needed to happen to make sure that we can deliver in these unusual times for the American people. The President also instructed me to make sure that I break down every barrier needed to make sure that the teams can succeed.


WILLIAMS: The President was asked about what other measures the U.S. might take in the future to keep the virus from spreading in the U.S., like more extensive bans on people flying into this country.


TRUMP: We have more bans than anybody. We had bans were bans weren`t fashionable if you remember, right at the beginning of this administration. It was for different reasons. But we`ve had bans long before people thought of bans. When I did China, it had never been done before. I was the first one to do it. Remember that. It had never -- according to what I read in all the papers, this had never been done. This is a terrible thing to do. And four weeks later, they were all saying we`re lucky we did it.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today announced a new select committee with subpoena power to scrutinize the response to this pandemic and the administration`s management of this new gigantic $2 trillion economic rescue package. Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina will be its chairman. This afternoon, Trump had this response to the speaker`s move.


TRUMP: It`s not any time for witch hunts. It`s time to get this enemy defeated. Conducting these partisan investigations in the middle of a pandemic is a really big waste of vital resources, time, attention, and we want to fight for American lives, not waste time and build up my poll numbers because that`s all they`re doing.


WILLIAMS: Meantime, the navy captain who sounded the alarm about the spread of COVID-19 on board his carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt has been relieved of his command. We`ll have a discussion on this story a bit later on, on the broadcast.

The Pentagon also confirming tonight that as death tolls skyrocket, FEMA has requested 100,000 body bags. It`s a very real problem in cities like New York that they`re being forced to confront.


ANNE THOMSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Behind me is the site that some Park Avenue residents are waking up to this morning. Let me describe it to you. There is, at the end, a tented walkway that comes out of the back of Lenox Hill Hospital, and it goes to this refrigeration truck. That truck is a temporary morgue. And just a few minutes ago, we were listening to the generator hum here just off of Park Avenue as it waits for the bodies of COVID-19 patients to come.


WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff discussion group on a Thursday night. Sam Stein, Politics Editor for The Daily Beast, Dr. Vin Gupta, he specializes in treating respiratory illnesses like COVID-19. He`s also an affiliate Assistant Professor at the University of Washington`s Department of Health Metric Sciences. Also with us, Shannon Pettypiece, Veteran Journalist, Senior White House Reporter for us at NBC News Digital.

Doctor, I`d like to begin with you. I`ve covered my fair share of hurricanes over the years. We`re always driving in as others are driving out, and there comes a moment where the emergency operations director says to everybody, if you didn`t get out, there is now no more time for that. Stay in place. Batten down. Is that where we are with this pandemic? Can any effected change now affect the outcome other than some kind of strictly enforced, laugh-minute social distancing?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Brian. A national lockdown was needed two months ago. Certainly now it would be playing catchup. So the answer to your question is absolutely. We need to stop with the mixed messages, with the non-evidence-based lack of definitive consistent messaging that we keep getting from the White House, whether it`s now we need the general public potentially to fashion their own masks to protect themselves when they shouldn`t be going out and sheltering in place, to maybe we should use hydroxychloroquine on patients with COVID-19 in the absence of evidence.

The only thing that we know works to stop and mitigate this disaster is a national lockdown. It`s worked here in Seattle, we think. There`s compelling evidence nationwide that fevers are actually declining from some of the technology that we`re seeing going live. So let`s double down on the evidence, what we know works, and stop doing things that we don`t have any evidence to support.

WILLIAMS: I`m glad you raised the subject of masks. We had the President kind of riffing on masks for the last two days, telling us from his standpoint that maybe some scarves are better. And then just this evening, the mayors of our two biggest cities, New York and L.A., are telling people if you go outside, put something on your face. Yet silence, crickets from the official part of the government that would lay out such a thing, and citizens have been asking for weeks, should we wear these things or not?

GUPTA: There is no compelling evidence one way or the other that putting a face mask fashioned at home is going to protect you. Some evidence suggests maybe it does. Other evidence out of China, it doesn`t. No conclusive evidence. And so if people want to make their own face mask at home, by all means. No one`s going to stop you. But here`s the concern. Is this going to be an off-ramp for let`s not consume precious PPE that you`re highlighting the desperate need in urban areas like New York City for health care workers? What we don`t want is mixed messaging causing people to purchase surgical masks, other PPE. So if we can restrict that to homemade masks, fantastic. Do I think that`s in practice going to happen? Who knows? And this is so confusing. And the message has changed every three days. We need consistency and evidence-based policies now, a national lockdown.

WILLIAMS: Shannon Pettypiece, you heard the doctor. We see you in the daily briefings on live coverage. Is there anyone who is willing to admit that a national audience, just to the conversation we were just having, is getting inconsistent, misleading information and often, again today, straight-up misinformation from that podium?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS.COM SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I mean you could see the inconsistencies as Dr. Gupta is talking about in this briefing today. It was 2 hours and 20 minutes of inconsistencies, and at times the people on the stage there, on the dais contradicting each other. Take the issue of face masks. You had the President, when we asked him about this almost every day this week, is there going to be a recommendation on face masks, and, you know, the President recommending people wear a scarf and saying that in some ways, a scarf could be better than a surgical mask because it is thicker. I mean maybe the doctor can address that, but I don`t see, you know, doctors wearing scarves in the operating room. So I`m going to think maybe a surgical mask is a bit better.

But they don`t want people going out and buying surgical masks, so the President is talking about scarves. But a moment later, you had Dr. Birx almost contradict that by saying that, you know, a real cautionary message saying, we don`t want to give people a false sent of security. We don`t want them to think because they have a mask or a scarf on, they can now go out to a restaurant or hang out with their friends. So just in a breath you have them contradicting each other.

Jared Kushner you had come up to the stage and talk about this data- oriented process they have for allocating resources, yet at the same time talking about an anecdote from this week where instead of using data, it was a call from one of the President`s friends in New York that caused him to distribute a large bulk of N-95 masks to a New York City hospital, though a phone call from a President`s friend gets you masks doesn`t necessarily sound like this thorough data-driven approach he spent much time talking about.

It`s very confusing and it`s confusing for us sitting in the room. It`s confusing for me sitting there, and I`ve sat through every one of these this week. So I can empathize with everyone at home who is confused and not to mention scared at this point.

WILLIAMS: Sam, let`s talk about Jared for a second. He said today this crisis has been revealing to him in terms of which elected officials are good managers. I, for one, am happy to have his sound judgment at work here, and I know I speak for you, correct?

SAM STEIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that comment was revealing in its own right. Yeah, this is a spotlight put on everyone in an executive role and clearly to his point, some are passing it and some are failing it. I just don`t know that he`s self-aware that he may have been talking about his own father-in-law in this instance.

Look, in terms of Jared Kushner`s involvement, I`m not opposed to bringing in someone like him to help organize cross-government response, but someone like that should have been brought in probably a month ago. Remember Ron Klain -- and I`m not comparing Jared Kushner. Ron Klain was criticized when he was brought on board as Ebola czar because he didn`t have experience as an infectious disease doctor for instance, but what was needed in that moment, what was needed that moment is someone who understood how government works. I think Jared might actually know that.

The problem Jared having is that some of the stuff he said today was nonsensical, for instance talking about the national stockpile by saying it wasn`t really meant to go to the states in need. It was meant for the use of the federal government. Well, I can`t really contemplate a scenario in which you use the national stockpile`s ventilators for some sort of broad federal use but not state by state use. It doesn`t make much sense. So he`s playing catchup, and this brings us to the larger point, which I think is the underlying issue which has colored basically the entirety of the administration`s response. One, they`re playing catchup. And two, they`re only thinking one day or one news cycle ahead. The stuff they should have been doing a month ago they`re just getting around to, and the results are cataclysmic.

WILLIAMS: And Sam, all available evidence is the President comes offstage as he would put it. He talked about the viewing audience today, talked about his Facebook audience yesterday, and he`s fine with how things have gone.

I probably dropped out in my question to Sam. Hey, Doc, I have a rather ghoulish question that I must ask you. We`re looking at -- we`re asking experts like you for things like peak dates. We know they`re coming. Reference my first question. Are we looking at too will the peak date for known cases be different than the peak date for deaths in this country?

GUPTA: I think it`s such a good question, and what we do know is -- I`m going to cite the intel that we already have, and that intel suggests that the peak dates are going to be a spike in deaths by April 15th, and that`s when the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics. We know that that`s going to occur. And that`s going been corroborated by other evidence out of Harvard. So we already have great intel. There`s already great evidence. There`s already great modeling. So we should be prepared for it to the extent we can. Unfortunately we`re playing catchup. It`s the same thing we say every single day. We`re playing catchup ha here. So why are we doing off-ramps on PPE? It doesn`t make any sense. We should be encouraging a national lockdown, saving PPE, not looking for ways in which people are may now going to feel like they need to get their own surgical mask. So the reckoning is going to come in a few weeks for all forecasting models that we have out there.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, thank you for bravely continuing in the dark. Doctor, Shannon, Sam, provided everybody can still hear me, thank you all for starting us off on this Thursday night.

Coming up for us, we have some of the best minds on both health care and the economy. First up, the person Joe Biden told us he would choose to lead his coronavirus task force if he were President.

And later, they are the business and employment backbone of our country, and right now they`re struggling to survive themselves. What has been done, what needs to be done to help this nation`s small businesses as The 11th Hour just getting under way this Thursday night.


WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, the White House Ebola response coordinator during the Obama administration, was Joe Biden`s choice when I asked him a few days back who he would want to lead the coronavirus response. So who better to talk to about what we`re witnessing right now? Ron Klain, Veteran of the White House, is these days informally advising the Biden campaign. He`s also the co-host of a new podcast about the coronavirus called Epidemic. Ron, on the off notion that you would be named tonight, right now, special master in charge of this. And I mentioned at the top it`s quite confusing to name just one person who`s in charge of this effort, what would you insist be done right now?

RON KLAIN, OVERSAW EBOLA RESPONSE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, thanks, Brian. And, look, I think the most important thing is for one person to be put in charge. I mean we`re on our fourth coronavirus coordinator in the past five weeks in the Trump administration. First Secretary Azar, then Vice President Pence, then Dr. Debbie Birx, and it appears today now Jared Kushner`s in charge. So you can`t run something like this with a constant change of leadership at the top. And, you know, I think it`s less about who it is and more than just saying this person is going to be in charge. They`re going to drive the train.

Once someone`s in charge, the thing they need to focus first and foremost on is fixing the supply chain. We cannot have 50 states competing against one another for masks, for face shields, for ventilators. We need someone in charge at the White House working with the manufacturers. We need the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act with a very simple mandate. Make what we need. Send it to where it`s needed. And that`s not happening right now. As a result we`re seeing these horrible shortages. We`re seeing all these sights of doctors wearing trash bags. We had our first death of an E.R. doctor yesterday, Brian. Sadly it`s going to be the first of many more if we don`t get these doctors and nurses protected. That should be priority number one of someone at the White House.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I fear you`re right about that. I want to play for you a moment from today`s briefing. We`ll talk about it on the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just today Georgia`s governor finally issued a stay- at-home order saying that individuals could have been infected people before they ever felt bad, but we didn`t know that until the last 24 hours. Is that ignorance, gross incompetence?

TRUMP: He`s a good governor. Brian Kemp, he`s a good governor, and he has to make his own decision on that.


WILLIAMS: So, Ron, that raises a host of questions. Number one, how does the governor of the State of Georgia not know about asymptomatic victims of this virus? Number two, no national standard to stay indoors. All of these states that have yet to do are outliers. The virus doesn`t respect state lines. Number three, no national standard on things like masks.

KLAIN: Yeah. All three true. Let`s start with number one, Brian. What`s especially shocking about what Governor Kemp said yesterday when he said this, was that he made this statement about not knowing about asymptomatic transmission. 6.5 miles from the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control, the world`s leading epidemic experts. So the idea that the Governor of Georgia didn`t know that the people in Atlanta`s CDC had concluded this in January about asymptomatic transmission is quite a real stunning statement and inexcusable.

Now, look, you`re right. What we really need is clear and crisper messaging from CDC and some empowered messaging from CDC on things like, should everyone in the country be staying at home? Answer, yes, we all should be except for essential workers who are doing the essential tasks. And should we have a national standard on face masks and other things like that? Obviously there are huge gaps here, and even this is leading to uncertain in the public like Dr. Gupta discussed in your first segment. And more importantly it`s leading to real uncertainty about what state and local government should do. That lack of clarity is a real problem in a response where what the President`s basically said is, governors, you`re in charge. And they need direction on what they should be doing when they`re put in charge.

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, thank you for always answering the bell when we call, and please look forward to many more as we`re going to need to talk to you throughout this thing. Our thanks to Ron Klain for joining us against tonight.

Coming up, for the millions of newly unemployed Americans, relief checks may still be weeks away. But those small business loans said to be available tomorrow, getting one may be challenging. Some advice from two former Obama administration economists when we come right back.



MNUCHIN: I believe we just put up the federal register with the new guidelines for lenders. I`ve been assured that the banks will be in the process starting tomorrow.


WILLIAMS: There`s a big problem with Secretary Mnuchin`s assertion about the small business lending program launching tomorrow. None of the participating banks interviewed by CNBC were sure they`d be ready for it. The biggest one, JPMorgan Chase told its customers that it, quote, will most likely not be able to start accepting applications on Friday.

For more, we have two distinguish guest with us tonight. We welcome to the broadcast Karen Mills. She served as the Head of the Small Business Administration during President Obama`s first term. She is these days senior fellow at the Harvard Business School. And back with us tonight, Austan Goolsbee, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Obama, a professor of Economics at a small institution in the middle of the country called the University of Chicago.

Austan, it`s great to see you again. Thank you for coming back.


WILLIAMS: We learned today from the "Associated Press" half of U.S. workers have either lost jobs or income because of this. But this question has us at a crux. Was this too big to be administered?


GOOLSBEE: It certainly seems like it`s too big.

WILLIAMS: Sorry, Austan first. So this is always hard on satellites with long delays. Austan, and then we`ll get to Karen.

GOOLSBEE: OK. I mean, the first thing is this number of the unemployment claims this morning, just pause for a second. It was stunning. It was unbelievably awful. It is by a factor of 10, the biggest job loss in the history of the United States before the coronavirus.

So the pressure is on. We have to get money out the door. We have to get money to the small businesses to prevent them from liquidating and turning this temporary shock into something more permanent. And by all the accounts, we could be in for weeks of red tape and finger-pointing where the banks say the Treasury didn`t give them what they needed, the Treasury says it was the SBA`s fault, and the SBA says the Treasury is bigfooting them out of the problem.

WILLIAMS: And Karen, this is where you come in. I`m guessing you`re going to say it is as important to get this SBA money out so that people remain employees of something as it is the direct aid to employees.

MILLS: Well, this is a really big day for small business owners because as you just noted, half the people who work in this country own or work for a small business. So that is one of the things that is behind these really big unemployment numbers that we`re talking about. And now we`ve got this huge fire hydrant of money sitting at, you know, SBA and Treasury, and the question is whether it`s actually hooked up to any hose that can get it out to the small business owners.

I`ve been talking to the banks all day like you have, and they aren`t quite ready because the guidance only came out a couple of hours ago. So they are going to try their very best. They have a lot of small business customers. But small business customers only have a few weeks of cash. So the next four or five days, they are pivotal. If we can start getting cash flowing into their hands, then they can pay their people and take them back on the payroll, and they can survive.

And what Austan and I know from 2009 when we faced not even this bigger crisis in small business but a pretty big one, if you lose your small businesses, it`s very hard to restart them. So we`ve got to get liquidity into their hands. The program is good. It`s designed to, you know, have fewer barriers. But the mechanism is not built for this.

And I think, you know, we could have a very bumpy ride. If we have too bumpy ride, it`s going to cost us millions of small businesses. They`re just not going to be there for the recovery.

WILLIAMS: Austan, to your point, what has happened to us is extraordinary. The greatest economy in the world has gone into a kind of power save mode. A dual question from you. Is there floor yet to come? Is there more that could be idled as we ride this out, and when does the damage begin to be permanent?

GOOLSBEE: Both of those are critically important. Look, I think realistically there`s still another shoe to drop. With this 6.6 million people filing for unemployment insurance, that`s an underestimate because, a, more businesses have shut down, and, b, in many of the states, so many people filed for unemployment that they couldn`t process them all. So next week is likely to be another unbelievable week. So this couldn`t be more important.

Now, I will give the administration credit where credit is due. I think on the $1,200 payments to adults, the treasury is out doing the best work that they possibly can to get the money out the door as quickly as possible. And they should be applauded for that. But this small business component, what Karen just told you, is 100 percent true.

If you can`t get the money to the small businesses, the 360-some billion that we passed to save small business, if you can`t get that out the door in a timely manner, they`re going to have to shut the doors and liquidate. And if they do that, you are well on your way to turning this into a depression, not just a deep recession.

WILLIAMS: Oh, man. Well, I asked the question after all. Hey, Karen, unless people have fabulous wealth, a lot of the people watching tonight are scared. You know the small business community so well. Can you reassure the folks watching that their employers want to remain their employers because they want to remain in business and come back from this and make money, and so hopefully interests will converge?

MILLS: You know, small businesses think of their employees as family, and I talked to a small business owner. They had people working for them for, you know, 30 years, 40 years, and they had to put them on unemployment. So if we can get this money deployed quickly, then eight weeks of it will go to be loans that are forgiven. They`ll be grants if you bring your employees back.

And one of the things I really urge Treasury to do now is get that money out not just through banks, but let`s use some of the FinTech, some of the technology companies that have come on the scene. I`m thinking Square and Stripe and QuickBooks. They know where small businesses are. They talk to them. Some of them have 10 million small businesses that they can verify their payments, and we are not using them at the moment because we`re just using the banks. And I think we need to use every channel at our disposal.

And the other thing is some of the most vulnerable small businesses are the ones that Square, for instance, takes care of. They, on average, only borrow (ph) about $6,000. Well, the banks don`t service them. So we need to use all of our channels. And if we do, you know, small business owners are resilient. But this is as tough as it gets. So they can hang on for a while.

But I`m told that come May 1st, that is a day of reckoning. They`ve paid their April 1st bills and they have a few weeks of cash left. If we can get money to them, then that might be good. But April -- if we don`t by May 1, you know, we could really start losing a lot of businesses. And as Austan says, it`s really hard to get them back.

WILLIAMS: It`s been sobering though great to have both of your voices tonight. And if you would, we`d like to have you both back on perhaps when the next tranche of government money comes out. To Karen Mills, to Austan Goolsbee, thank you so much for joining us.

And coming up, the story out of the U.S. Navy that got so much attention. Former captain of an aircraft carrier demoted for something he did.



THOMAS MODLY, ACTING NAVY SECRETARY: At no time did the C.O. (ph) relay the various levels of alarm that, I, along with the rest of the world learned from his letter when it was published by the C.O.`s (ph) hometown newspaper two days later.


WILLIAMS: The Navy is defending its decision to punish a Navy captain over a memo detailing his concerns about the spread of COVID-19 on board the aircraft carrier he commanded. In his letter, the Captain Brett Crozier wrote, "If required the USS Theodore Roosevelt would embark all assigned sailors, set sail, and be ready to fight and beat any adversary that dares challenge the U.S. or our allies. However, we are not at war, and therefore cannot allow a single sailor to perish as a result of this pandemic unnecessarily".

We`ve been able to reach by telephone tonight Retired Four-Star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, a decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and a former battlefield commander in the Persian Gulf. He has moved entire armies around the world in his time. General, let`s put it this way. Being carrier captain with just 11 carriers in the Navy is one of the most awesome jobs in all of the Armed Forces.

5,000 souls who report to you beneath five acres of deck. A couple air squadrons on board that could knock off a small country or two. And yet the only firing I have witnessed in all of this pandemic response is this guy, the captain of this carrier.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST (via telephone): Well, it was a terrible decision. There are two aspects of this, Brian. One is relieving the captain when he was speaking truth to power. It`s going to turn out there were several 100 sailors testing positive for this virus. Had he not pulled into Guam, had he not tried to disperse the crew, it would have gone possibly to the entire crew. Maybe 10 percent, 20 percent of them trying to hospitalize them aboard a carrier, which is obviously not doable.

And here`s the guy in command, you know, Brett Crozier, F/A-18 Hornet pilot, master`s degree, 28 years in the Navy, Naval academy. He`s the one who`d had this situation in his eyesight. So, the fact that this Acting Secretary of the Navy fired him was sheerly the embarrassment of it leaking to a newspaper.

The second piece of it, Brian, it seems to me is this Navy commander was saying, you people aren`t moving fast enough. I`m in Guam. I want these sailors off the ship. And for whatever reason, they weren`t doing it. It clearly was not a matter of national security. The Chinese know where our carriers are home ported. You can get commercial overhead satellite photography. So this is a bad day for the Navy and a terrible signal to the fleet.

WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about your branch of the military and establish that no one joins the military for the luxury digs you get. But also establish that on board an Abrams tank, on board a Bradley fighting vehicle, in most barracks, the confines are tight. This virus loves that environment to grow and prosper. Do you think the Armed Forces are taking every precaution tonight because we can`t do much without them around the world? We need them healthy.

MCCAFFREY: Well, I think it`s decentralized. So a lot of them are doing it the right way. The Navy and probably the Air Force are under more strategic pressure than the Army and the Marine Corps. The Navy has got these carriers, and by the way, there are nuclear boomer submarines at sea right now. And if those sailors weren`t quarantined for 14 days, they may have this virus aboard 90-day patrol missions for our nuclear deterrent force or down in Air Force ICBM silos up in the northern part of the country.

So, we`re going to have to take it more seriously. We`re going to have to respond to protect our most precious asset, our people. The Navy has got to think through this and -- because I`m sure now it`s aboard many of the ships at sea unless they were quarantined before they deployed, which this ship wasn`t. So it`s a problem. They`ve got to face up to it rationally and allow the commanding officers to make decisions on what they`re seeing in their own command.

WILLIAMS: Retired General Barry McCaffrey, always a pleasure. Thank you for getting back to us tonight. We appreciate it.

And coming up for us, some of the personal stories from the nurses and doctors on the front lines of this war.


WILLIAMS: I can`t believe we have to say this, but it`s true. No matter what you hear in the daily blizzard of numbers from the President and Vice President in that briefing room about all they`re doing and all the equipment they`re shipping, frontline doctors and nurses have been working under brutal conditions. The risks of both burnout and illness are running hot.

NBC News Correspondent Stephanie Gosk has our report on them tonight.


STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mt. Sinai emergency room in New York City. Dr. Matthew Bye (ph) begins his shift.

DR. MATTHEW BYE, NEW YORK CITY: You can see all the rooms are filled. Usually, these halls are very neat and empty. Now you can see there`s patients everywhere because of this. It makes it very hard to work.

GOSK (voice-over): Concerned for his family`s safety, Bye no longer lives at home. He doesn`t know for how long.


GOSK (voice-over): Scheena Tannis, a critical care nurse in Brooklyn chronicles her grueling today.

TANNIS: It`s 11:15 and I`m still in the room with the patients, doing dialysis and managing drips, managing the ventilator. It`s not easy. GOSK (voice-over): The health care workers in coronavirus hot spots are exhausted. Hundreds are sick themselves. And while there are concerns about protective gear and lifesaving equipment, another shortage looms. The staff themselves.

TIFFANY BUSBY, NEW JERSEY CRITICAL CARE NURSE: We were short-staffed today. Every single manager, every manager from our unit came in, and they chipped in, and they did everything they could.

GOSK (voice-over): Tens of thousands are volunteering, answering a call to help in New York. Like 32-year-old nurse Jessica Fink from New Mexico, who just started working at a New York ICU.

JESSICA FINK, VOLUNTEER NURSE: I have specifically pulmonary critical care experience. So, you know, if anybody should be helping, it should definitely be me.

GOSK (voice-over): For the nurses and doctors who get sick, a desire to get back on the job with possible immunity.

DR. PRAKASH GATTA, GENERAL HOSPITAL SURGEON, MULTICARE TACOMA: You`ll feel like you`re invincible because you can deal with this crisis without anybody having to worry. No matter what happens, we never work from home. This hospital, this profession, we`re in a league of our own.

GOSK (voice-over): But also human. At the end of the day, there is little left to give.

TANNIS: It`s 12:19, and I just parked my car coming home from the shift. My face is breaking out from the mask. I look like I`ve aged 20 years in two weeks. This is too much. I don`t know how much longer I could do this.

GOSK (voice-over): Health experts say the height of the pandemic is yet to hit. The call for reinforcements may get louder. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, New York.


WILLIAMS: The kind of story we hope the White House is able to watch.

Coming up, some much needed good news to end our broadcast when we come back.


WILLIAMS: A few last things before we go tonight. And this told us a lot. The folks at Google say web searches for good news, any good news, are at an all-time high since they started keeping records of such things 16 long years ago in 2004. And with that in mind, we offer you this.


(Cheers and Applause)


WILLIAMS: That`s pretty great. In the city of New York, firefighters with the FDNY saluting medical professionals at the city`s various hospitals. They call New York City firefighters the bravest and for good reason. Yet clearly, they feels need to salute the bravery on display every day among doctors and nurses and P.A.s and orderlies and food service workers and management and other staff. By the way, the FDNY between fires and EMS is now down 17 percent of its workforce.

Finally, we have all by now heard the stories of the anguish of the final moments. Among its other horrors, this virus robs its victims of their loved ones. For hospital patients especially, COVID-19 means dying alone. Desperate loved ones are pleading with hospital personnel when they know the end is near to put a phone up to the patient`s ear or let them see the patient via FaceTime or Zoom.

Too many doctors and nurses have been forced to generously use their own devices, often on their last bit of electrical charge. Well, a new GoFundMe account formed by a woman in California is meant to raise money to buy tablets for this very purpose as long as we`re dealing with this, for when electronics are the only way remaining to say good bye.

And so that is our broadcast on 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