BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again, day 1,174 of the Trump administration, 210 days remain until our presidential election. And the President made clear today voting by mail in his view is dangerous, terrible, and corrupt. And he last voted by mail in 2018, but we`re getting ahead of ourselves. We`ll have more on that later.
About today`s White House briefing, the President said all of that stuff he was saying a few weeks back about coronavirus, the cases will go to zero, it will disappear, we`re totally prepared, democratic hoax, comparing it to the flu, saying in the warmth of April it will miraculously go away, all of that was because he regards himself as a cheerleader for our country.
Today about his team, he said, we`ve done a great job, not a good job, but a great job. He said today maybe we are getting to the top of the curve. He also kind of claimed credit for curing a woman of the coronavirus. He said she`s a Democrat, African-American, with a beautiful manner of speaking. She appeared on Fox News last night to say she took the hydroxychloroquine on the President`s recommendation, and it was like a miracle. He didn`t stop there on that front. He is selling hydroxychloroquine hard. He said it again today. I say try it. You`re not going to die from this pill. The side effects, he said, are from the antibiotic, the Zithromax Z-Pak. He repeated, I really think it`s a great thing to try.
Today the President went after the World Health Organization, and to be clear this is a Fox News hobby horse even though on February 10th he said they were doing a fantastic job. The thought here is to blame the WHO for downplaying the risk from China. It also lets the President continue to say largely unchallenged that he closed our borders to China even though about 400,000 people continued to fly here and that he closed our borders to Europe, which was never true.
Back here in the real world, New York City reached peak Hellscape today, averaging one death every two minutes. Over 800 new deaths, over 5,800 new cases just today.
Nationwide, the death toll is pushing 13,000. There are some encouraging signs. China has ended its lockdown of Wuhan, the city where the virus that has shaken the planet was first discovered. For the people there, it means daylight after 76 days inside and the slow push to get life back to normal starting tomorrow their time. The rest of the world is still grappling with the pandemic. More than 1.4 million people are infected across the globe.
Tonight British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care. His government says he has not been put on a ventilator. At the White House, the President seemed to be trying to prepare the country for increasingly difficult days to come.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: This will be a very painful week, and next week, at least part of next week. This is a monster we`re fighting. But signs are that our strategy is totally working. We`re looking to have far fewer deaths than originally thought, and I think we`re heading in that direction.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President also said he was concerned about the number of African-Americans who are now dying from COVID-19, saying he didn`t like it. New York and New Jersey both reported their highest one-day toll in virus-related deaths today. But New York`s governor also found reason for optimism.
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GOVERNOR ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: The total number of newly hospitalized is up from yesterday, but when you look at the three-day averaging of these numbers, the three-day average is down, which is good news. We are reaching a plateau in the total number of hospitalizations, and you can see the growth, and you see it starting to flatten. Again, this is a projection. It still depends on what we do, and what we do will affect those numbers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Across the river on the Jersey side, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy extended that state`s public health emergency by 30 days, closing state parks, keeping schools shuttered in an effort to further social distancing, something he says seems to be working. Officials in two other hot spots, Louisiana and Detroit, say they`re also beginning to see the impact of keeping people off the streets.
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GOVERNOR JOHN BEL EDWARDS, (D) LOUISIANA: We`re seeing early signs that the mitigation efforts are starting to pay off. We are seeing early signs that the curve is starting to flatten.
MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN, (D) DETROIT, MI: This is the first glimmer of light we have seen from the data since this pandemic started. The storm`s not over, but for the first time we can see we can beat this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Even Disney is looking ahead, saying theme park visitors may encounter temperature checks on that day when the parks reopen. Meanwhile, there are more questions about what the President knew in the early days of this pandemic.
Today he was asked about The New York Times report. We talked about it on our broadcast last night, on memos written by his then trade adviser Peter Navarro back in January, warning about, almost predicting the potentially devastating impact of the coronavirus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did you see them, and how does these memos sort of square with what you`ve often said, that nobody could have predicted this? It sounds like he was predicting it.
TRUMP: I haven`t seen him, but I heard he wrote some memos talking about pandemic. I didn`t see them. I didn`t look for them either. I asked about it just a little while ago because I read something about a memo. I said, did you do a memo? I didn`t look for it. I didn`t see it. He said, yes, I talked about the possibility of a pandemic. Nobody said it`s going to happen. But, you know, there is a possibility. There always has been a possibility.
I obviously was concerned about it because I closed down our country to China, which was heavily infected. I then closed it down to Europe. But I`m not going to go out and start screaming this could happen, this could happen. So, again, as President, I think a President has to be a cheerleader for their country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Also of note today, more staff shake-ups in the West Wing. The President removed the inspector general who would have led the committee overseeing the $2 trillion coronavirus package. The acting navy secretary resigned today days after relieving a respected navy aircraft carrier captain of his duties. Yesterday Thomas Modly suggested Captain Brett Crozier had been stupid and naive when he voiced concern over the spread of the virus on the Teddy Roosevelt and for his crew.
And Trump has yet another new press secretary though you`d be forgiven if you didn`t know the departing press secretary. Most Americans could not identify her from a photo. Stephanie Grisham served as press secretary for nine months without ever giving a press briefing. As for her replacement, what we know so far is she is on message when it comes to Trump`s handling of the coronavirus. The woman on the right in this video is a now-fired Fox News Anchor. The woman on the left, who you`ll hear defending Trump, she would be the new press secretary.
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PRESS SECRETARY STEPHANIE GRISHAM, LEAVING THE WEST WING: This President will always put America first. He will always protect American citizens. We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here. We will not see terrorism come here. And isn`t that refreshing when contrasting it with the awful presidency of President Obama?
The President`s taking control, making sure we`re safe from the coronavirus, and he`s doing everything right. This President has this under control, and America will see that just like with every single international incident. He knows what he`s doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Good point to begin our leadoff discussion here on a Tuesday night with Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post. Also happens to be co-author with his Post colleague Carol Leonnig of the best-selling book, A Very Stable Genius, Shannon Pettypiece, Veteran Journalist, Senior White House Reporter for us at NBC News Digital, and Dr. Amesh Adalja. He`s an expert in emergency medicine, infectious diseases, also a Senior Scholar with the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health.
Good evening and welcome to you all. Shannon, I`d like to begin with you. Should we be concerned that the President says he never saw the memo warning of a potential pandemic up to and including as of today since it had been written about in The New York Times last night?
SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC NEWS.COM SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, this is what we know about this memo from Peter Navarro. Peter Navarro sends around a lot of memos, and at this point the feeling inside the West Wing prior to this, so in January when this memo was written, was that this was just another Peter Navarro memo. He comes with a lot of ideas that people in the West Wing characterize as hair brained ideas. He is often predicting tragedy. These are the words of people in the West Wing who we spoke to.
And this was sort of written off just as another one of Peter Navarro`s, you know, concerns or some people would describe them as conspiracy theories. And he wasn`t really a voice that was being listened to in the West Wing. Well, this is the one time he was, you know, kind of right on target. But I will say he wasn`t the only one in the administration who was sounding the alarms on this when they saw an entire city of millions of people in China locked down. You didn`t necessarily have to be, you know, a public health expert to understand that maybe there was something going on there. I mean there have been reports by my colleagues and others about, you know, reports coming out of the army, reports coming out of the intelligence community, that all predicted that this is something really serious that could be coming to the U.S.
And we`ve asked the President about those before, and he`s, you know, continued to say that either he wasn`t aware of them or, as we heard today, that he was aware of them and that is why he, you know, supposedly locked down China even though of course it wasn`t a lockdown because there were tens of thousands of people who traveled from China to the U.S. But, you know, he has continued to sort of write off the potential for these early warning signs. But I do think when we step back even further once this is all over, we will find a number of additional steps in addition to the ones we already know about where people within the administration were attempting to sound the alarm back in January, even as far back as late December.
WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, I believe we have a portion of today`s briefing where the President went after the World Health Organization. It`s all kind of enmeshed with China. It`s all enmeshed with politics. And we`ll play a bit of that and talk about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: World Health, very China centric as I say. Very - Basically everything was very positive for China. Don`t close your borders, they told me that -- I mean they strongly recommended. They`re not telling me, but they strongly recommended that we not close our borders. That would have been a disaster. That would have been a total disaster. And literally they called every shot wrong. For years we funded them, and it`s probably spending at least $58 million a year, but it`s much more than that because then we fund some of the work they do, which is some good work. But we`re going to look at it now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So I was off by three hours, Phil. He first went after the WHO at the briefing. He then phoned into Hannity tonight three hours later to go after the WHO again, tell the nice folks watching what is at work here.
PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, at work here, Brian, is a President who is under siege because he didn`t take coronavirus seriously enough at the outset, and he is now casting for blame. We`ve seen the last couple of weeks him try to target specific governors for their failures in leadership according to him. And then today we saw him introduce this idea that the World Health Organization was to blame because they were not tough enough on China at the outset, did not declare it a pandemic early enough. This is all according to the President`s assessment.
And, you know, it fits a pattern in this presidency where this President has so little regard for faith in international institutions. We`ve seen him go after NATO, for example. We`ve seen him try to tear apart alliances and multilateral trade deals. And here again we see him going after another global institution, the World Health Organization. And I imagine this is going to continue because it`s an easy way for him to message to his base, to his political supporters, to say don`t fault me. Fault these other guys.
WILLIAMS: Hey, Doctor, the President continues to push this malaria medicine, couldn`t have been more direct today. He said people should just take it. What do you say, and can you fill our audience in on something we`re hearing more about? It`s these antibody test.
DR. AMESH ADALJA, BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: Sure. When it comes to hydroxychloroquine, everybody shouldn`t just take it. This is a drug that needs to be studied in a randomized controlled trial to know whether or not it works, who it works on, what the dose is, what the side effect profile is. It`s true this is a drug that`s approved and have been given to lots of patients with lupus. And there`s a derivative that`s use for malaria. But we want to make sure we`re using it correctly. And it does have been retroactivity. And I`ve prescribed it to patients that are hospitalized with pneumonia with coronavirus. But I`m not giving it to every patient and I`m doing it according to a protocol. At the same time, I really want a randomized controlled trial to help us. So I don`t think it`s the right thing to tell people to go out and get it and create an increased demand for something that isn`t quite proven. It should be given in a controlled setting.
Antibody tests are a really important tool that we will have start to come online in many different places around the country. What that will do is tell us if someone has been exposed to this virus. Maybe they had mild illnesses, maybe they didn`t have any symptoms at all. And that will help us understand where this has spread and some of those people will likely be immune from infection, meaning that they can go about their lives. They can be the ones that are working again. They can help bring the economy back to life. So it`s really important that we get antibody tests out there because it is a way forward into the next phase of this pandemic response.
WILLIAMS: Shannon Pettypiece, we mentioned the new faces in the West Wing, starting with the new chief of staff and now a new press secretary very familiar with frequent CNN viewers. She made her bones on that network during the last Presidential election cycle defending all things Trump- related.
PETTYPIECE: Yeah. And a lot of these moves, even though we`re in the middle of this incredible pandemic, are related to the re-election campaign, bringing in Mark Meadows. He is someone who is politically savvy, who is seasoned defending the President on TV, was a move for the re-election. And now the new Press Secretary, Kayleigh McEnany is very well known on Fox News and conservative TV. She was a CNN contributor. She`s very skilled at defending the President on television, and she knows the type of messaging that the campaign is working for and can be a real conduit between the White House and the campaign.
There`s other people in the administration now who have been acting as a link between the White House and the campaign. Jared Kushner talks regularly with Brad Parscale, the campaign manager. Hope Hicks has been brought back into the White House. She of course was on the 2016 campaign and is really familiar with how the campaign operates.
You know, but Kayleigh, I think, is really the most recently and obviously the person who has been the most directly involved with the campaign who is now in the White House and can start sort of coordinating and building those bridges between the re-elect and what`s happening, the message coming out of the White House and the President. So even amid all of this, there is still going to be an election in November, and everyone in the White House is still aware of that. And while so much of the administration is obviously focused on responding to this, they`re certainly still, as always, one eye on November.
WILLIAMS: And, Phil Rucker, that newspaper you work for is reporting that these two elements I just mentioned, new chief of staff, new press secretary, are related.
RUCKER: Yeah, they certainly are, Brian, because the -- you know, Mark Meadows came in as the chief of staff looking to really jump-start the campaign operation inside the West Wing heading into the general election, and he brought in Kayleigh McEnany as the press secretary as Shannon was just pointing out. Our understanding, our reporting today, is that Kayleigh McEnany`s main job is to be to go on television to defend the President, not necessarily dealing hour to hour, day to day with reporters. Meadows has bolstered the press staff in other areas including bringing on Alyssa Farah, a highly regarded press operative over at the Pentagon to come to the West Wing and deal in a more behind the scenes role.
But this is all about image, and that`s first and foremost the President`s priority, especially in an election year, to have defenders on TV, to have people pushing his messages and his defenses to the public as often as possible.
WILLIAMS: Doctor, let`s talk about a problem that came up at the briefing room today. Dr. Fauci spoke emotionally on the topic of the disproportionate death toll among black and brown Americans. In some population centers, Chicago, Louisiana, you see a coordinate of the American population, 30%, 20% of the local population but accounting for 60% to 70% of the losses. Dr. Fauci just remedially mentioned heart disease, hypertension, diabetes as problems we need as a society to go after long after this is done.
ADALJA: Yeah. So this is something that we`ve seen in African-American communities, that there are more co-morbid conditions, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, just like Dr. Fauci said. And we know that that tracks with severity of infection with coronavirus. So it just so happens that these two epidemics are intersecting. One of these chronic diseases and the one of coronavirus. That`s really what`s driving likely the higher mortality rates, the higher severity rates in African-Americans. And I think this is something that`s long been overlooked but it does play a role in the pandemic, and I think it is something we need to study. We need to understand what the risk factors are and we need to try and be more aggressive with those patients that have co-morbid conditions when we`re treating them for coronavirus.
WILLIAMS: Dr. Amesh Adalja, thank you so much as we thank Phil Rucker, Shannon Pettypiece for starting us off on this Tuesday night.
Coming up for us, our government is about to hand out trillions of dollars. The question is who will be on duty to make sure they get that right?
And later, was it good-old American democracy in action that we saw today in Wisconsin, or was it indeed a national disgrace? We will ask a prominent national Democrat as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way this Tuesday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: IGs stand for unvarnished truth, reporting the facts, crunching the numbers, right, the rule of law and compliance. That`s what they do for a living, and it just rubs Trump the wrong way that someone is going to get the truth out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Today the President ousted the leader of a committee of inspectors general that was tasked with overseeing the so far $2 trillion in coronavirus spending. Glenn Fine was the Acting Inspector General of the Defense Department. Trump named the current inspector general of the EPA to temporarily take over Fine`s Pentagon duties.
The New York Times reports Fine was known for his independence and says the move is, "the latest step in an abruptly unfolding White House power play over semi-independent inspectors general across the government."
For more, we welcome to the broadcast Neil Barofsky. He was the Inspector General in charge of oversight for TARP, which if I recall was a chunk of money as well. The government relief bill signed into law by George W. Bush during the `08 financial crisis. Neil also happens to be the author of Bailout: An inside Account of how Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street.
Neil, how do you possibly get your arms around an amount of money this vast? How can you possibly count on all of it getting to the right people and recipients, and in your line of work do you write down, as much as I hate to say it, a certain percentage of this that is assumed to be ill- gotten gains for somebody?
NEIL BAROFSKY, FORMER TARP SPECIAL INSPECTOR GENERAL: You know, I think that as a general rule of thumb in government programs, that a good 10%, there`s a good chance it`s going to get lost to fraud. And when you have a program of this size and this scope, where the money is being rushed out at such an incredible volume with, you know, relatively few oversight or anti- fraud provisions, you really don`t run a high risk of hitting that number. And here that number, when you`re talking about not a couple hundred million dollars program or what I had, a few hundred billion program, but a multi-trillion dollar program, it`s a potentially terrifying amount to keep your eyes on as a watchdog even if the best of circumstances. And these are not the best of circumstances as you were just discussing.
WILLIAMS: In your view, given your resume and expertise, would an amount any less than this prop up the U.S. economy, get the U.S. economy back up and running again?
BAROFSKY: No. I mean I think you look at what`s going on right now, and you look at the unemployment numbers, which are just staggering, eye-popping. And you look at what`s happening to small businesses, and it`s not even looking at the numbers, right, the hard cold numbers. It`s just the anecdotes. Who doesn`t have a family member or a friend or a colleague who is out of work, people who have never been unemployed in their entire lives? And it`s just going to take the mother of all fire hoses to try to put out this fire and try to keep people able to feed their kids and maintain a life. And so I don`t think the number is too small -- or too big in any means. If anything, the question is, is it big enough given how long we`re going to be dislocated? And the fact that we`re going to lose a chunk of it to fraud, you know, as a former federal prosecutor inspector general that makes me a little nauseous, a little sick. But it`s going to be a necessary part of this program. But that doesn`t mean you give up, and that`s where oversight comes in, is to try to limit the amount of fraud, limit the amount of waste, limit the amount that goes to corrupt purposes, illegitimate purposes, and that`s where, you know, having a strong inspector general and strong oversight becomes so important.
WILLIAMS: And let me ask the other side of the equation. Amid the fear of people getting rich off of this, there`s the need, the need that triggered this in the first place. The people you just mentioned who need this money yesterday, do IGs also look over the process of outgoing?
BAROFSKY: Yes. I mean I think that`s a really important part of it, is that you want to make sure as an inspector general, and you want to provide advice, and you want to provide transparency over the process, the decisions that are being made, to make sure that they`re being made about who gets money and who doesn`t get money, that it`s done on an objective criteria without political influence, without it because a company has a stronger lobbyist or plays golf with a relative in the administration or something like that. And that`s where oversight becomes more important to put on guardrails because all this money that is channeling out of the government with ferocious speed is you try to put some guard on it so that most of it at least gets to the right place to fulfill the policy goals. And here the policy goals that we`ve been told was pretty simple, keep people at work, keep people employed.
But I will tell you when you have a bill like this, which puts so much discretion in the hands of the treasury secretary, if you don`t have that, it`s not going to get there. A lot of it`s going to get siphoned off, and it`s going to be a scandal, and just such a waste of treasure. So we really need to make sure that strong watchdogs are in place and that they`re protected and that they can do their job and tell the truth without fear of being tossed out for doing so.
WILLIAMS: A waste of treasure. We`ll remember those words. Neil Barofsky, thank you for your time tonight. Thank you for having us into your home. We appreciate both.
Coming up for us, determined Wisconsin voters braving long lines to carry out their democratic duties. Senator Amy Klobuchar calls it outrageous what happened today. We`ll talk to her next when we continue.
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CLAIRE MCCASKILL, (D) FORMER U.S. SENATOR MISSOURI: I hope it makes the people of Wisconsin very angry because they have the right to be damn mad about what they`re having to go through today. And it is partisan BS.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Claire McCaskill from today. Keep in mind Wisconsin voters who stood for hours in long lines to cast their ballots today during a pandemic, by the way, won`t have their votes counted until April 13th. Former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder posted this photo on social media today saying, "This is irresponsible. It is shameful. We have to do better for our November election."
For more, we`re happy to be joined by the senior senator from the state of Minnesota, Democrat Amy Klobuchar. And, senator, we`ll get to Wisconsin, your neighbor to the east, in one moment. I am duty-bound to ask you, having had a brush-up in person with coronavirus, how is your husband? How is your family and household?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) MINNESOTA: Oh, he`s doing so much better, Brian. He`s home, and he`s happy, and he`s still recovering from pneumonia. But he was in the hospital five days, and I think we learned that -- how hard this is and for so many people that have it, worse, because you can`t even be with the one you love. You can`t hold their hand. You can`t hug the people who took care of them. And it is a brutal thing. You know the stories of so many people dying alone, and we just can`t have this be the new normal. And that`s why I`m so devoted to making sure, I heard earlier on your show, those tests get out there. That`s going to help our healthcare workers so much.
The idea that we can find out if there`s people that have had it in the past and if they have immunities. And in the case of my husband, the one saving grace here is he wants to give his blood to help other people. So that`s where he is right now, and thank you for asking.
WILLIAMS: Thank you. No matter what we hear from the White House every day, we continue to remind our viewers we have no earthly idea how many people are walking around our country with this virus. We have tested 0.6 percent of our population thus far.
Now, let`s turn to your neighbor to the east, the state of Wisconsin, what we witnessed there today. A good percentage of the population looking at that would immediately think, well, there`s always voting by mail. Let me play for you the president`s comments on that topic. We`ll talk about it on the other side.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody`s living room signing ballots all over the place. No. I think that mail-in voting is a terrible thing. I think if you vote, you should go. And even the concept of early voting is not the greatest because a lot of things happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The president voted by mail in 2018, and I believe has already registered to vote absentee in this coming election from his Florida residence to the White House. Senator, what`s wrong with what he`s saying there, and are you aware of these discrepancies, the fraud, thousands of people gathering to fill out phony ballots?
KLOBUCHAR: No. There`s no proof of that at all. And I just keep thinking of that president in his nice quarters in the White House, being able to request his mail-in ballot, absentee though it may be, and just mail in his ballot while those people in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin are standing in line with their umbrellas, standing there too close under our guidelines, many of them, simply because they want to vote. That is just wrong, Brian, and this could have been resolved.
The Republican legislature refused to extend the time for the election. Then the Supreme Court, with the Republican-appointed judges in Wisconsin, wouldn`t allow an extension by the governor of the election. Then the U.S. Supreme Court wouldn`t even allow the mail-in ballots to be sent in a week later. And you think about that as Justice Ginsburg said so well in the dissent. You know, when people are lined up and the polls close, you let the people that were lined up vote. Well, you should let the people that requested their mail-in ballots vote.
And that`s why the answer to this is we cannot allow this travesty to happen in November. I`m leading the bill with my friend Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon that says very clearly everyone should have the right to vote from home, to mail in their ballots. We should also, because we know a lot of people are still going to vote in the polls across this country, every state in the country should have them open 20 days before so that you don`t have people in line. You have less people congregating on the same day. And then, yes, we should train poll workers, a new generation of poll workers, who hopefully by then we will know who will not be vulnerable to this disease. There are so many things we can do, and we must do them now.
WILLIAMS: In the 45 seconds we have left, isn`t this 50 separate state decisions because after all, we have 50 state elections?
KLOBUCHAR: It is, but there`s two answers to that. One, let`s get the money out. We got a first step to help those individual states. But since this is a national election and a national disaster, we should at least have some emergency rules in place across the country through the Congress to allow people to vote. And that`s what we`re trying to do as well as get more funding. And by the way, there are plenty of Republican secretaries of state across this country that want to do the right thing and agree that we should get the funding out.
WILLIAMS: Senior senator from the great state of Minnesota, daughter of the Iron Range, Amy Klobuchar, thank you very much, senator, for coming on with us tonight.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Brian. It was great to be on. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, we`ll ask a Wisconsin voter what he made of today and, more specifically, why he fears it`s what our future looks like. That when we come back.
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ROBIN VOS, (R) WISCONSIN STATE ASSEMBLY SPEAKER: They gave us the PPE. It`s mandatory to wear it. So we are here today making sure that we do everything safely. It made no sense to cancel the election and just push it off to a future date. You are incredibly safe to go out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So what if you have to talk about an election while wearing personal protective gear? The Republican speaker of Wisconsin`s state assembly wore that hard-to-come-by personal protective equipment today while at an election site.
Our resident Wisconsinite Charlie Sykes writes this. "What`s happening in Wisconsin is a dry run for what`s coming for the rest of the country in November. Elections roiled in partisan rancor, dysfunction, voter suppression, and questionable legitimacy."
Here for more tonight, two of our returning veterans, the aforementioned Charlie Sykes, founder and editor at large of "The Bulwark" and the author of "How The Right Lost Its Mind", and Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for "The Washington Post."
Charlie, walk us through your fear that this is all of our futures.
CHARLIE SYKES, "THE BULWARK" FOUNDER AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Well, first of all, that video you had of Robin Vos, he is the known legislative leader of Republicans in the state of Wisconsin. I`ve known him for years. But that video is an instant classic where he`s standing there in all the protective gear saying there`s nothing to worry about. It`s perfectly safe. This is George Orwell meets animal house, meets the onion. And I`m not sure that he conveyed the message that he had here.
Look, what we`re seeing here is the partisan divide. If anybody thought that there was going to be this moment, this kumbaya moment where Republicans and Democrats would say, this is a serious problem, we absolutely have to protect our democracy. We must protect the integrity of the vote in the midst of a pandemic, if you thought there was going to be a coming together, I think Wisconsin is a rude awakening because the Republicans have drawn a line in the sand and I think you`re going to see that on a national basis. You hear it from Donald Trump and that they are not open to the possibility of making it easier to vote other than in person and the mail-in voting.
I mean, look, in Wisconsin, think about what happened here. We have a city, our biggest city, Milwaukee, has 300,000 registered voters. It normally has 180 polling places. Today, it had just five. Green Bay, Wisconsin, had only two polling places. More than 100 municipalities couldn`t find enough poll workers to even open the ballots, and yet you saw these scenes of Wisconsinites, of Americans who were forced to choose between doing their civic duty, participating in their democracy, or protecting their health. It`s -- it really is a dystopic moment, and I hope people understand what the implications would be if in fact this took place during a presidential election.
WILLIAMS: It`s almost a page from the old Deep South voter suppression manual.
Hey, Eugene, the president saying today that his denial and diminishment of coronavirus was cheerleading because that`s the role he needs to be in as president. I`m reminded that, Eugene, the comptroller in New York, Scott Stringer said in an interview yesterday, having lost his mother to coronavirus, Trump has my mother`s blood on his hands.
EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: Yes. Well, you know, and the president today also viciously attacked the World Health Organization for, I guess, not making him pay enough attention to the pandemic that they warned about. I mean, this is -- these briefings are becoming more and more disturbing. Some days it seems they`re being scripted by Orwell, some days by Monty Python.
But there`s kind of a lather, rinse, repeat rhythm that we`re getting into. So the president makes up all these bunch of fabrications for his base. It`s all the World Health Organization`s fault. Mail-in voting is full of fraud. All these things that he`s just making up for his base, that have no basis in fact. And then we spend the next 22 hours, you know, giving people the actual information and explaining why everything the president said was wrong. And then the cycle starts again. It`s got into the sort of disturbing rhythm that is not helping anything, and it is not informing people in the way that it should be. It`s kind of disturbing as to what we ought to do about it.
WILLIAMS: Charlie Sykes, having seen the video of the Republican leader in PPE with the Kevin Bacon role of everyone remain calm, I feel less bad asking you a nakedly political question. What does coronavirus, god forbid, do to the Trump base?
SYKES: Well, we don`t know yet. I mean, so far, there`s all of this denial. And you have a certain segment of the Trump base that is now, you hear this on Fox News, that`s denying the actual severity and questioning the death toll. There`s always an alternative reality.
But, now, we`re only at the beginning of this. You kind of wonder what will the Trump base -- how will they react if in fact the economy stays where it is? What happens as the lies and the incompetence adds up? You know, because I had to stay up late to do your show, I`m starting to rewatch HBO "Chernobyl". People ought to go back and watch "Chernobyl" because there`s a great quote near the end where the lead scientist says, every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. And sooner or later, that debt is paid. And we`re going to pay that debt, and I think that even the Trump base is going to see that we pay that debt.
ROBINSON: And, Brian --
WILLIAMS: Let`s be honest. The three of us are old enough to have been around for "Chernobyl" season one. Eugene, go ahead.
ROBINSON: No. I was going to say that debt is paid as this epidemic, this pandemic, reaches other communities in the country as well. And, you know, like there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no blinkered members of the Trump base who have this happening to their family and their town. And I think -- so I agree with Charlie that it`s very early to make -- draw some sort of conclusions about how the pandemic response is playing with the Trump base.
WILLIAMS: Two friends of this broadcast from way back, both at home tonight. Someday we`ll be reunited with Charlie Sykes, Eugene Robinson. Gentlemen, thank you as always.
And coming up, a look from outside the coronavirus hot spots. What it looks like in places of rural America.
WILLIAMS: Well, we`ve been talking about it, and we have all been warned this would be perhaps the toughest week yet of this pandemic. Indeed, places that weren`t previously hard-hit are quickly seeing their own hospitals fill up with these cases from coronavirus. Places like New York get most of the attention. After all, as we said, the fatality rate in New York today was one death every two minutes. But then you hear what we`re going to play for you now. It`s a warning, and it`s chilling. This is a doctor in Alabama, and she`s sounding the alarm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. MAUREEN MUECKE, BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA: This is Dr. Maureen Muecke. I just finished a 24-hour shift in rural Alabama. I was there last Friday and we had no COVID-19 patients in another rural Alabama hospital, and we had none in the community actually. Yesterday, I admitted one that I think is going to be positive for COVID-19. That`ll make two at that hospital. And last Wednesday when I was at another hospital, we had two COVID-19 patients there with more on the way and one that we tested that was a healthcare worker.
The virus is now there. It`s infiltrated the rural community. This is real. This is very nerve-racking and scary for the staff. We have limited staff in these rural areas. Most of the rural hospitals don`t have an ICU. They do not have a ventilator. And if they do have a ventilator, which will breathe for the patient, we don`t have the staff to man the ventilators or the ICU to keep the ventilated patient in the ICU. So these patients would have to be transferred either by ground ambulance two hours away to a major hospital or LifeFlight can come and get them.
But what`s happening is it`s tying up our E.R. staff. The E.R. doctor would have to intubate the patient and then they`d have to be stabilized on the ventilator and somebody would have to stay with the patient, if not one or two of our staff to stay with the patient while they`re being ventilated until the ambulance or the LifeFlight comes to get them.
This can be a serious problem with the volume that we`re seeing. And if it continues to increase, it`s going to overwhelm our small hospitals with minimal staff and minimal resources. It also is going to be a problem because we have sick patients still coming to the E.R. for other reasons, and we have limited beds and limited staff to take care of those patients. This could become very serious here in a short amount of time, and I`m hoping that this can be better contained and people will take this seriously and hopefully we can do our best to keep everybody safe and healthy and minimize the admissions.
But right now, I can already see there`s going to be possibly a serious problem in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Please note it is just getting started there. We join you in expressing our admiration and thanks to Dr. Maureen Muecke, practicing medicine in rural Alabama south of Birmingham.
We are back with a final note after this.
WILLIAMS: The music of a great American songwriter, the essential John Prine, who died tonight of the coronavirus after bravely fighting cancer for years. If you don`t know his work, start with Sam Stone, Six O`clock News, then get to his masterpiece that we just played a bit of, Hello In There. The great John Prine dead tonight at the age of 73.
Officially, the last thing before we go tonight is to be fair a topic I chose because it gets us out of here for just a moment, lifts us out of this world and forces us to focus on something else. In this case, tonight`s so-called pink moon, the largest of the four supermoons we`re going to see this coming year. Here are pictures in order from tonight in Paris at Notre Dame, London, Rome, Venice, not the one in California, Buenos Aires, Warsaw, Beijing, Dubai, and Moscow. Oh, and D.C. and New York.
And perhaps if there`s no cloud cover where you live, you took a shot of it too. The pink moon is not pink for the record. Native Americans named it for a flower that comes up this time of year. The next supermoon will be May 7th, and there will be a blue moon in October, which won`t be blue but we`ll cover that then. It`s many moons from now.
And a preview of a big show come mid-April, and I`ll remind you when we get closer to the time. Jupiter, Saturn, the Mars, and the moon are going to be all aligned in the sky. They will all be bright and beautiful just when we need something bright and beautiful.
So that is our broadcast for this Tuesday night. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night from our temporary field headquarters.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END