COVID-19 TRANSCRIPT: 4/6/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Anne Rimoin, Cory Deburghgraeve, Cordelia Lynch, Ted Widmer

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: A beacon of light on a clear night over empty city streets in New York. And with that, good evening once again as we start a new week. This was day 1,173 of the Trump administration, 211 days remain until our Presidential election.

And in case you missed today`s White House coronavirus task force briefing, it`s a bit difficult to know where to begin. But for starters, there`s been another perfect call. The President says a conference call that Mike Pence had with all 50 governors was perfect. It`s a title he previously reserved only for his call with the Ukrainian president. And as phone calls go, it`s a lofty goal to achieve.

The President reports there wasn`t a negative person on the call, and that just might be because governors have come to fear criticism of the President could mean that ventilators won`t be on the way. They were so positive, the President said to reporters, I just wish the politicians would say to you what they say to us.

About Mike Pence, Trump said today, I put him there. I thought he`d do well. He said supplies are being delivered on big planes. They`re very big, very powerful. He said he`ll probably be tested for coronavirus quite a few times because the system of testing is now so quick and so easy, because it is at the White House.

He said a month ago that anybody who wants a test can get a test. Remember that appearance at the CDC? Well, it wasn`t true then, and it`s not true tonight. He indicated today that`s a state matter. He said today reporters should begin their questions to him with, Congratulations, great job. He said he can see light at the end of the tunnel, and he views this current mitigation period as finite. He said today, let`s get it done.

He told Americans to stay inside, but when reminded that eight states have no similar recommendation, he said he has a moral and constitutional problem enforcing that kind of thing. The White House now says we should consolidate our visits to the grocery store and pharmacy to once every two weeks.

Now, in the real world, we passed a bad benchmark today when the death toll surpassed 10,000. We still don`t know how many Americans have the virus, but confirmed cases now surpassed 364,000. The number of confirmed cases around the globe now over 1.3 million. One of those cases is British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tested positive for the virus 12 days ago now, and he is now in intensive care. He was hospitalized there earlier today. Trump today talked about what he`s done to help Johnson.

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DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I`ve asked two of the leading companies -- these are brilliant company companies, Ebola, AIDS, others, they`ve come with solutions and just have done incredible jobs. And I`ve asked them to contact London immediately. We`ve contacted all of Boris` doctors, and we`ll see what is going to take place.

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WILLIAMS: As we mentioned here in the United States, over 10,000 souls have now been lost to this virus. The Surgeon General, Dr. Jerome Adams, predicted this week would be, "our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, the hardest week of our lives."

Tonight Trump offered a more optimistic assessment.

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TRUMP: The next week, week and a half, is going to be a big surge, the professionals tell us, and I think we`re in good shape. We`re bringing a lot of different resources to the various locations, especially where the surge is looking like it`s going to take place. Let`s get our country open as soon as we can. I think it`s going to be sooner than people think.

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WILLIAMS: The noted infectious disease expert Dr. Tony Fauci had a much more cautious view of what it will take to get back to our lives as we knew it.

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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When we say getting back to normal, we mean something very different from what we`re going through right now. Because right now we are in a very intense mitigation. If you want to get to pre-coronavirus, you know, that might not ever happen in the sense of the fact that the threat is there. But I believe with the therapies that will be coming online and with the fact that I feel confident that over a period of time we will get a good vaccine, that we will never have to get back to where we are right back now. So if that means getting back to normal, then we`ll get back to normal.

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WILLIAMS: The States of New York and New Jersey are still being hit the hardest by this pandemic. There are also significant clusters now in Michigan, California, Louisiana, Massachusetts for starters. In New York, the crisis remains severe with over 130,000 cases, the most of any state. Today Governor Cuomo announced schools and nonessential businesses will remain closed through the 29th of this month, but he also offered this glimmer of hope.

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DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: The number of people we lost, the number of New Yorkers, 4,758, which is up from 159, but which is effectively flat for two days. While none of this is good news, the flattening, possible flattening of the curve is better than the increases that we have seen. The ICU admissions are down, and the daily intubations are down. Those are all good signs. And, again, would suggest a possible flattening of the curve.

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WILLIAMS: And across the river, Phil Murphy, the Governor of New Jersey, said he was seeing a similar trend.

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GOVERNOR PHIL MURPHY, (D) NEW JERSEY: Since yesterday, we have received another 3,663 positive test results. That brings the statewide total to 41,090. We fully expect these numbers to rise to the levels they are rising to, and we expect them to go higher. However, what we are seeing in real time and over the past week is a decline in the growth rate of new cases from 24% day over day on March 30th to roughly 12% today. This means that our efforts to flatten the curve are starting, and I say starting, to pay off.

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WILLIAMS: Now, hospitals in both states are getting more relief. Tonight the White House signed off on allowing that huge navy hospital ship Comfort to accept coronavirus patients.

Cases in other U.S. cities are expected to peak in the middle of this month. Tonight a curfew got under way at 9:00 p.m. in Boston, remains in effect now until the 4th of May. Then there`s the new report from the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services concerning the White House response to this virus. An examination of more than 300 hospitals in late March found their ability to respond has been hampered by severe shortages of protective gear, staff, and testing. That backs up a lot of what we`ve heard from medical staff and the nation`s governors as recently as tonight. But it contrasts with the President`s boasts about the federal government response under him. Here is what happened when he was asked today about this report.

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TRUMP: We are doing an incredible job on testing. We are doing a better job than anybody in the world right now. Hospitals can do their own testing also. States can do their own testing. States are supposed to be doing testing. Hospitals are supposed to be doing testing. Do you understand that? We`re the federal government. Listen, we`re the federal government. We`re not supposed to stand on street corners doing testing.

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WILLIAMS: Tonight before we get to our leadoff discussion, we want to get more on perhaps the most prominent coronavirus patient anywhere in the world tonight in intensive care. Boris Johnson of the U.K. Our Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel has the latest. Richard, what do we know about his condition, and who`s running the country?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: So British officials say that he was admitted to this intensive care unit earlier today. A surprise announcement. They had been just hours earlier assuring the public, assuring reporters that he was OK, but not giving a great deal of detail.

Then the announcement that he had been moved to an ICU, that he arrived conscious, that he was not on a ventilator, and that he was still partially running the country but that he had critically deputized his foreign secretary to take responsibility, "where necessary." And one would assume that when you`re in an ICU that would count as one of those times that is necessary. And we know the foreign secretary is going to be leading the coronavirus effort and is going to be chairing those meetings at least for the foreseeable future. So 10 Downing Street wanted to make sure that it was not an abdication that he`s not quitting his office, but that this was a temporary deputizing where necessary and that he`s not on a ventilator for now.

WILLIAMS: Richard, if Boris Johnson was not a full-on coronavirus denier, he was by any standard a minimizer. And is it accepted knowledge there that the U.K., among nations, moved late on this?

ENGEL: He certainly was a minimizer. He was slow to act in this country. This country has been a lot slower to impose some of the social distancing and some of the closures than France or Italy and Spain in particular. And there is this famous video -- infamous video in which Boris Johnson, even after the outbreak had begun, said that he went to a hospital, met people he thought were coronavirus victims, was shaking hands and said, and you`ll be pleased to know I will continue to shake hands. So he took that stance early on that he wasn`t going to let this get in his way despite some of the own social distancing advice that experts were going to put out.

He also said that shops should stay open up until the last minute and only changed course after some of the experts warned that there could be a massive death toll in this country unless he changed course and ultimately did. And now he is in the hospital. So there is a cruel irony to this, and some people say that he should have acted sooner, that this country needed to act sooner. And unlike other European countries which may be at the peak or seeing their numbers plateau or go down, experts here worry that the U.S. -- that the U.K, like the U.S., still has the worst to come coming in the next couple of weeks.

WILLIAMS: Just after 4:00 a.m. in London, our thanks to Richard Engel for answering the bell. You take care of yourself.

Here for our leadoff discussion on this consequential Monday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-Winning White House reporter for The Washington Post, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Post and Moderator of Washington Week on PBS. And Dr. Anne Rimoin, Professor of Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Infectious Diseases of the Geffen School of Medicine. She`s also running the UCLA Center for Global and Immigrant Health where she specializes in emerging infectious diseases, something she started as a peace corps volunteer in Africa.

And, Doc, I`d like to begin with you. We are clinging to bits of good news, clinging almost to rumors and reports that the curve in certain hot spots is flattening. Where do you think we`ll be in a week? What markers do you use to tell you where we are in this thing?

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, UCLA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR: Well, this is a question of where do we stand right now with the data that we have? And one of the problems is, is we still don`t have great data based on testing, which would give us a denominator. What we have are numbers of deaths and the rates of infection of people who are getting tested. And so what we can say is over the last couple of days, as Governor Cuomo said, we`ve seen deaths start to plateau a little bit here. And that is a good sign. At least that`s comparing apples to apples. That`s comparing number of people who came in, number of people who have died today versus yesterday versus the day before. But we don`t know how many people are dying over how many people are infected. And that`s the real question here. We just don`t have this information. The testing is still not sufficient. And I know that there are now many, many tests that are out there, but the fact of the matter is most people are struggling to get these tests, and the hospitals, because of the delay in getting results from testing, are really crippling, the system is crippled by the ability to triage people. And the PPE is being used on people who need to be -- who you`re not sure if they have COVID or not. So really we are still hindered by testing to really understand where we are on the curve.

WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, is it possible that of all the death and despair around him, that perhaps Boris Johnson has personalized this illness for his friend Donald Trump?

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That`s a great question, and that`s something we`ve been trying to figure out, just how the President more broadly is handling his own personal concerns and fears. You know, this President, before coronavirus, was a germaphobe.

People originally thought he wouldn`t be able to run for office because he wouldn`t be able to handle shaking hands with other people. And there`s mixed signs out of the White House. On the one hand he`s been tested a number of times. He said he`ll be tested going forward as you mentioned. The people who now come in close contact with him are tested. And there`s other moments where he exhibits very poor social distancing at those daily news conferences. He has sort of even on the day when the message from the White House was everyone, the guidance is to wear a mask. He sort of vainly said he couldn`t imagine himself wearing a mask behind the resolute desk.

So to get to your question and talking to people, some people said that, yes, this is the sort of thing that maybe drives it a bit more home for the President because you know Boris Johnson is getting the absolute best care. He`s not like an individual in the U.S. who is having trouble -- or around the trouble, having trouble getting testing, having trouble getting an ICU bed. He`s getting the best care and he`s still in the ICU.  And then I`ve talked to people who say they think the President will find a way to say, well, Johnson used to be a smoker. He`s not quite like me. So I think it remains to be seen yet. Today`s news he mentioned it a lot so you can tell it hit him, but just which side of the ledger he comes down on.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, we have watched this President, especially this past weekend, advocate for a certain medication. At one point says he just thinks people should take it and that he might prophylactically, people who are not symptomatic, don`t have a confirmed case. It is called, as everyone knows by now, hydroxychloroquine. Your colleagues at The Washington Post have done some explosive, disturbing reporting on what brought this medication into the President`s thoughts. Can you share that with our audience?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: My colleagues and I reported tonight and The New York Times had a sharp report as well about the President`s interest in a drug that has not yet been approved for use with COVID-19, hydroxychloroquine. And it`s an antimalarial drug. Many doctors in places like in New York`s hot spots because of the situation, the wartime conditions, many of them have describe them over the phone to me today, are giving it to patients who are suffering, believing it is helping them to deal with the virus. But because it`s not yet approved by the food and drug administration, there are tensions inside of the task force, inside of this administration about whether advocating for it makes sense, whether it`s really the right political choice and ethical choice for President Trump to make.

President Trump has told his friends and his advisers he`s optimistic about it and that it could be helpful. But Anthony Fauci, Dr. Fauci has not embraced the President`s position on this. And you see the President turning to people who are outside of the government, people who have appeared on Fox News, doctors who are reputable within their field, who are friends with Laura Ingraham, the Fox New Commentator and Host. On Friday of last week she brought two of these doctors to meet with President Trump along with the FDA commissioner. This is the situation inside of the White House. The President hearing from Rudy Giuliani, from doctors in New York, from friends, from television personalities. That`s all the input he has at this moment.

WILLIAMS: Anne, if I had to take your comments from tonight and put them in a time capsule to be opened five years from tonight, I need a prediction. What do you think changes for good for the foreseeable future about our society, about interpersonal relations after we have broken the back of this particular illness?

RIMOIN: I think the people will take this idea that we need to prevent pandemics before we start much more seriously. This is something that has been an existential threat to so many and something that has just been the idea of a movie or some horror film that this could actually happen. And here we are. I think we`re all coming to terms with the fact that we have not been prepared for a major catastrophic event that affects everybody in this nation.

And so I think that we will hopefully -- my hope is that we will be taking this as a lesson and learning from it and making sure that we have all of the things in place that I think many of us thought we had under control. I think that we`ll make sure that we`ll have testing, you know, that we`ll have funding for diagnostics and therapeutics and good surveillance systems, which are the backbone of all of this work that we need to do. I think that five years from now we`re going to be talking about this event the way we talked about 9/11 five years later. We understood that we had organizations not talking to each other and understood the importance of leadership and the importance of national strategy and the role that every single institution and agency needs to play in preventing pandemics before they start.

WILLIAMS: Ashley Parker, this came up today. The captain of the carrier Theodore Roosevelt, who has been relieved of his duty, was called stupid in front of his crew by the guy who`s acting navy secretary. Someone put the captain`s personnel file on the President`s desk. Donald Trump has read into it and found that this man has led an otherwise absolutely exemplary navy career. Does this follow an arc of Trump`s behavior?

PARKER: In many ways, yes. I think if you watched the press conference, you saw all of Trump`s predilections on display. He did not like the letter that the captain sent. He called it weak, and he was very insistent upon that, that it was weak. That was the word he said repeatedly. But this is a President who likes generals, who likes the military, who likes men who are strong and, to be clear, men and women serve in the military, but he generally surrounding himself with the men of the military who are strong and serve in uniform. And that was the other part that he stressed with this captain, that he sort of liked his credentials. The President is a credentialist.

And so you saw him sort of torn up there. The acting secretary of the navy in one news cycle has just, you know, later in the day came out and apologized for the remarks he made on that ship that were also leaked. And so I think we`re going to see the President grappling with this because, again, he doesn`t like weakness, but he does like strong military credentials, and he seemed incline, if we`re reading the Tea Leaves of what he said publicly today, to give this captain a second chance. But we don`t know for sure yet.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, Anne Rimoin for joining us. And Richard Engel before that.

And coming up, he volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs on the planet right now. He`s with us tonight to give a firsthand account of life on the front lines against this illness.

And later, the President angrily dismisses an internal government report on supply shortages. John Heilemann on the political storm surrounding him and this crisis as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way this Monday night.

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WILLIAMS: They are the front line of this war zone, the medical professionals working tirelessly to keep this nation alive. A Chicago anesthesiologist, Dr. Cory Deburghgraeve described it as being basically right next to the nuclear reactor. He`s 33, working 14 hours a day, 6 nights a week. He put it this way to The Washington Post. "I could be the last person some of these patients ever see or the last voice they hear. A lot of people will never come off the ventilator. I force myself to think about that for a few seconds each time I walk into the ICU to do an intubation."

To talk more about this, Dr. Cory Deburghgraeve is with us, anesthesiologist at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Doc, the decision you make to go into this battle the same as is made on the fly by police officers, firefighters, military encountering active shooters, fires, or enemies of this country, they look to their right and left. Sometimes they see older folks with dependents and they figure if not me, who? Tell me about the normal process. Your job, as you point out, you`re the last person people see. Ideally you hope to be the first person they see when they come out of it.

DR. CORY DEBURGHGRAEVE, UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS HOSPITAL ANESTHESIOLOGIST: Yeah, Brian, that`s right. Thanks for having me on. So generally as an anesthesiologist, I`m used to taking care of patients in the operating room where they`re prepared for their surgery and they kind of have an idea of what the expectations are. But since the pandemic has begun, I`ve really kind of changed my mentality on this, and patients have different expectations. So sometimes they come in days or even hours earlier with a slight cough, and then I get a page overnight that the patient needs to be intubated. So I, you know, go up to the room. I put on my protective gear. I go in to evaluate the patient. Unfortunately they don`t have family or visitors with them, so I try to be, you know, additionally compassionate and try to take my time, but oftentimes I don`t have the time because, you know, their situation is so urgent.

WILLIAMS: What aren`t we getting about this illness?

DEBURGHGRAEVE: Yeah. So I think the initial reporting or the initial kind of what people were talking about at the time was that this really affects older people, people with chronic medical issues. And at the time that probably was more of the case. But lately what I`ve been seeing and I think what`s being reported now is people of all different age groups, people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, people without many medical problems are being affected. And I`ve had to intubate some younger people who you wouldn`t think of this with people. So it`s really something that people think they`re safe because they`re young and healthy, but they`re playing Russian roulette if they don`t really take the recommendations for social distancing seriously.

WILLIAMS: Do you get scared?

DEBURGHGRAEVE: Yeah. It`s one of those things that I don`t often think about it with myself. I mean I have asthma, so I have a respecter to make me worried. But I go to work every day. And I walk into the hospital thinking what`s my day going to be like? How are the patients that I intubated yesterday doing? And I really try not to think of myself too much in this situation and really just try to focus on the work I have ahead of me. But, you know, here and there my family checks in on me. My co-workers check in on me to see how I`m feeling, and I`m very vigilant about picking up on any symptoms if I develop. But so far, so good.

WILLIAMS: The piece you wrote blew us away. Too many of your patients these days don`t get to thank you. I know our audience won`t get to thank you, so I`ll do so on behalf of all. Thank you very much for your work. Thank you for writing about it, talking about it, and coming on the broadcast with us tonight.

DEBURGHGRAEVE: Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us when we continue, why did it take so long for this White House to come up with a battle plan for this illness, when we continue.

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WILLIAMS: An in-depth report from "The Washington Post," sources revealing the Trump administration first learned about the virus outbreak in China January 3rd. They report it this way. "It took 70 days from that initial notification for Trump to treat the coronavirus not as a distant threat or harmless flu strain well under control, but as a lethal force that had outflanked America`s defenses and was poised to kill tens of thousands of citizens."

Let`s talk about it with our guest tonight, John Heilemann, national affairs analyst, co-host of "The Circus" on "Showtime", editor-in-chief of "The Recount". John, I`m going to begin with a piece of work that was just handed to me by the essential Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times". Here`s the headline. It`s a bad one for the White House. Trade adviser warned White House in January the risks of a pandemic. Forgive me these two quotes. Top White House adviser starkly warned Trump administration officials that the coronavirus crisis could cost the United States trillions of dollars and put millions of Americans at risk of illness or death.

This is Peter Navarro we`re talking about. "The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine could leave Americans defenseless. In the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak, this lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans."

John, since that`s what we`re looking at tonight, a full-blown pandemic, talk about this daily dynamic we see in the Briefing Room. Is it all an effort by Trump to make sure that Donald Trump doesn`t own what comes next?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think that`s exactly what it is, Brian. And I think, you know, there are two things that are worth noting here. One is, you know, as has been the case throughout the now three-plus years of the Trump administration, we see extraordinary reporting coming out of the nation`s best newspapers. You cited both "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" that are already doing short-term instant histories of what happened and holding the president accountable as he stands up every day in those briefings and says, no one could have seen this coming. It was not on anyone`s radar screen. How could you have imagined a pandemic of this kind?

Well, it turns out you could have seen it coming if you`d been listening to your own intelligence officers starting in early January. And more potent, I think, this "New York Times" story because Peter Navarro is someone the president does listen to, someone who has the president`s ear, and yet a few weeks after those first reports from the intelligence community in early January according to "The Washington Post", you have this top-level White House adviser, someone very close to the president signaling just how serious this could be and the president apparently ignoring him in late January, where remember some of the things he was saying publicly in late January, playing down the crisis, the potential crisis, calling this the flu, saying it would disappear miraculously within a few days while hearing these kinds of comments from people like Peter Navarro.

So I think, Brian, as he talks every day, whether it`s in terms of how he characterizes the past, in terms of how he downplays still the severity of what`s going on, and as he tries to shift blame as much as possible to the governors of the states where this pandemic is hitting most hard on a routine basis, you see the president trying to rewrite history, try to evade responsibility for tens of thousands of deaths that in fact are on his shoulders, and to try to escape blame as he looks towards reelection in November.

WILLIAMS: John, at the intersection of politics and this virus, because everything intersects with this virus now, we had Trump talking to Biden by phone today. The president came away saying he`s a nice guy. I`ve always thought he was a nice guy. And please tell our audience normally you and I would be on the air on a night like this previewing tomorrow`s primary in Wisconsin.

HEILEMANN: Yes.

WILLIAMS: What on earth were they thinking having a live vote according to some as you look at this? What on earth is going to happen in Wisconsin?

HEILEMANN: Well, it`s a very good question, Brian. And over the course of this news-packed day while we were all paying attention primarily to coronavirus news, a rather extraordinary thing was playing out both in the state of Wisconsin and in the United States Supreme Court, where the governor, Tony Evers, after having told his voters that he did not have the power to delay the election on Tuesday, tried to issue an order delaying the election. He was shot down both by the state`s legislature and then by the courts in Wisconsin. So they basically forced his hand. He said, look, we can`t have this election tomorrow in a safe way. We need to delay it.

The Republicans who control the legislature and the courts in Wisconsin said, no, we`re going to have this election tomorrow. And then on top of that, adding insult to injury, the United States Supreme Court in a five- to-four vote shot down Democrats` efforts to extend the window by which voters could vote absentee in the state of Wisconsin. And so, you had a one-two punch here by a conservative supreme court of the -- at the federal level, the United States Supreme Court, and in the state conservatives, basically saying to voters, we don`t care whether it`s safe for you to vote or not. You have to make a choice here.

Your -- if you want to exercise your franchise, you`re going to have to take -- you`re going to have to risk your health. And that is -- it is an incredible foreshadowing of what we`re going to see in the next few months, Brian. There is no more important fight than the fight that`s going to be fought over the next few months over vote by mail across the country. Donald Trump has said he is against it. Republicans, by and large, are against it. It is essential for us to have it, especially as -- if we have a resurgence of corona -- of COVID-19 in the fall. And yet we see this is the kind of thing that could happen in state after state.

Wisconsin, a crucial battleground state where we are seeing an effort to disenfranchise -- a successful effort that will disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters in this election and that is -- provides a preview of what we could be looking at a few months from now with much greater potential consequences.

WILLIAMS: It will take voters to push for it times 50 states. John Heilemann, always a valued member of our kitchen cabinet. Thanks for having us in tonight. Appreciate it.

HEILEMANN: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us this evening, witness to history. An international journalist gets a remarkable look at the devastating toll of coronavirus right here in our backyard, including the gruesome question, what to do with the dead, when we come back.

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WILLIAMS: This took our breath away today when "The New York Times" reported that New York City officials are making contingency plans for temporary graves in case coronavirus deaths exceed the space in hospital morgues. They`re not at that point yet, but the number of deaths are rapidly growing.

Sky News U.S. Correspondent Cordelia Lynch is the American-based correspondent for Sky, which is headquartered in the U.K. She`s been covering this story for the audience back home, and she spoke to a team working in the morgue at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. They`re working seven days a week in the midst of a pandemic with a sensitive task that simply didn`t exist a few weeks ago, finding ways for families to somehow say goodbye to the deceased.

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LISA KILFEATHER, ADMINISTRATIVE COORDINATOR, NORTHWELL HEALTH: This time it was a FaceTime, so I did first let her see me, explain, you know, what she`s going to see, asking her if it`s OK that she`s -- you know, are you able to see this, you know, because we couldn`t keep it the way we normally do as far as, you know, having sheets and it was a body bag, and you`re seeing her face. So that was difficult.

CORDELIA LYNCH, SKY NEWS U.S. CORRESPONDENT: It must be very surreal and distressing for a family to have to look at their loved one on FaceTime.

KILFEATHER: I`m not going to lie. I cried.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Cordelia Lynch, U.S correspondent for Sky News, has been kind enough to join us tonight.

Cordelia, we keep saying some version of this. Grocers could have never guessed they would be heroic in this. They would be considered essential members of our society, nor could the people working in this hospital know they were going to have quite this sensitive a role.

LYNCH: Absolutely, Brian. And you heard there from Lisa Kilfeather, a woman who normally looks after the administrative side of the work there in the morgue. And yet because they are so tragically overrun with bodies at the moment, she is being drafted into to try and help move them. It is physical work. It is emotionally very demanding work. They are, as you say, working seven days a week. She hasn`t seen her daughter for three weeks. Such is the risk of possible infection. They were a very tight-knit team and that is no surprise because of the nature of the work that they have to do, Brian.

But they were concerned, too, about the very small percentage of COVID-19 victims that are going through autopsies because this is a system simply overrun. A lot of the other hospitals in New York City that we`ve spoken to just don`t have the capacity to deal with the dead. That`s why, of course, we`re seeing so many of those makeshift morgues outside hospitals, a sad symbol now of this COVID-19 outbreak. There at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, they have expanded. They have now three sites in which to try and place the bodies. But they still don`t know whether days and weeks ahead might take them.

WILLIAMS: We ran part of your work that we`re showing on the screen last night, what you did from the emergency room, and I suppose it`s -- maybe it`s trite, maybe it`s accurate to say that sometimes the best mirror of what`s happening here is from someone who is covering it for a different audience, seeing how the Sky viewers in the U.K. and elsewhere around the world are seeing us was very revealing.

LYNCH: Yes, you`re absolutely right. I mean, for me, I was stunned quite frankly when we walked inside of that trauma center. We saw the pace, the extent of the work, the starkness of the suffering. It was a room just packed with people struggling to breathe. I can still remember the clink of the oxygen tanks that they were ferrying back and forth to get into that very busy room. I can hear the whir of the machines as well. I can see still in my head those doctors and nurses rushing between the corridors. It was such a kinetic situation. You had a triage center outside where patients could go initially. Very swiftly they were being moved on inside, and then many transferred to the ICU. 80 percent of patients in that ICU are COVID-19 patients. They`re overwhelmed.

WILLIAMS: We`ll continue to try to air your work. We thank you for coming on and talking about it. Cordelia Lynch with Sky News, thank you.

Coming up for us, a new president facing a life-or-death crisis while leading a thoroughly divided nation, and it`s not the crisis we are living right now. More on that when we come back.

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WILLIAMS: As awful as these days are, we are hardly witnessing the first time the U.S. has dealt with crisis and societal division at the same time. In his new book called "Lincoln on the Verge", the author, Ted Widmer, explores the days leading up to Abraham Lincoln`s inauguration. With the Civil War looming, that president was seeking ways to unify our country.

We`re happy to be joined by the author tonight, Ted Widmer. The book, again, "Lincoln on the Verge". Ted has written widely about our country and our presidents, including, if I`m allowed, a personal favorite, a dandy biography of Martin Van Buren that`s on my shelf. He also happens to be a distinguished lecturer at the city, University of New York.

So, Ted, as your book arrives, as it will in our household, for a distraction-hungry audience right now of readers, what -- give us the viewer`s guide to what`s in it that we could learn in the age of Trump.

TED WIDMER, AUTHOR, "LINCOLN ON THE VERGE": Well, Lincoln was a much weaker president-elect than we usually remember him. He`d only won a little under 40 percent of the vote. A lot of people were unhappy he`d been elected. He had to take a 2,000-mile train trip through a very divided country to even get to Washington. And in the last day of the trip, he was nearly assassinated in Baltimore. So, he had his hands full, and he had to tell a story about America and bring people back together, which he did. And I argue that it was something of a miracle that he even made it to Washington in the first place.

WILLIAMS: So when you meet people and they know you by name or reputation, know you to be a historian, when they ask you, as I`m sure many ultimately do, have -- has it ever felt this bad before, have we ever been as divided as we feel right now, what`s your answer?

WIDMER: Only once in 1860 and `61, and it`s something of a comfort to study that period because we got out of it, and Lincoln was a big reason we did get out of it. He spoke honestly about the difficult truths of his country. He spoke to both parts of a very divided country equally. He said, you are as good as we are to the other side, and he slowly brought people together. Even on this 13-day train trip under very difficult traveling conditions, he spoke beautifully to a divided country. And so I find great hope in reading what he said back then.

WILLIAMS: I know this is a parlor game among some in the history field, but I love asking the question anyway. What if we hadn`t had him?

WIDMER: I don`t think we would have survived that crisis. I think he was the right man at the right moment. There were already contingency plans for a northern capital in Philadelphia if he didn`t make it to Washington. If he hadn`t made it to Washington, the Border States probably wouldn`t have stayed in the union. So, he was a miracle for us at that time, and it`s hard to imagine what would have happened if he wasn`t there.

WILLIAMS: We should remind folks to support their favorite booksellers provided they`re still in business and making a living during this crisis. And with that, our thanks to Ted Widmer. The book once again, "Lincoln on the Verge". Ted, thank you very much for making us a part of your at least abbreviated by the coronavirus book tour.

And coming up, one of the few benefits of what we`re living through right now.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, while I hope and trust you have already binged both "Mad Men" and "The Sopranos" long ago, I don`t have to remind you about those, do I? And while you may be sick of the inside of your home or apartment by now, it appears the earth is trying to thank us for what we`re doing or not doing because we are not out and about and living our lives and commuting in trains and planes and automobiles, it turns out it actually shows.

First of all, there`s the visual. In Paris, no construction, no tourists, no buzz. In Madrid, the normal traffic and the effect it has on their air is no more as the skies above that great Spanish city have now cleared. And most fascinating of all, and it`ll be this, I quote, "Around the world, seismologists are observing a lot less ambient, seismic noise, meaning the vibrations generated by cars, trains, buses and people going about their daily lives. And in the absence of that noise, earth`s upper crust is moving just a little less."

In fact, the scientists say the closest thing to right now in their business is Christmas Day every year when most people keep quiet and are indoors. The upside is they say they can tell we are following the rules right now. One seismologist put it this way. "You feel like you`re alone at home, but we can tell you that everyone is home. Everyone is doing the same. Everyone is respecting the rules." How about that?

That is our broadcast for this Monday night as we start a new week indoors. 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