606,500+ coronavirus cases TRANSCRIPT: 4/14/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Anne Rimoin, Robert Gibbs, David Plouffe, Jon Meacham

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Putting aside the death toll where Donald Trump is concern. Things are looking pretty good out there. All of his statements today adhered to his hard and fast rules of phraseology. When feeling victimized, he says, nobody thought it was possible. Virtually anything he`s promising in the future is in a very short period of time. And when he wants credit for something, it`s something the likes of which nobody`s ever seen.

There was a lot of that today, and along the way he pretty much blamed the World Health Organization for what`s happened to us after, of course, praising their work early on in this crisis before it became his crisis.

Today was mostly about this grand reopening he`s planning. He says it`s going to happen in some places very, very shortly. And he did that one better, promising it almost immediately. He says he`s going to authorize each governor to open their individual states. Of course, that`s not a thing. They`re already governors.

The President said our country is like a puzzle made up of beautiful pieces. He said today, we`ll open it up in beautiful little pieces. About knowing who is sick and who is well before everyone streams back into work, he said the individual governors have testing and companies can do testing. He said it will be a very beautiful process. When a reporter quoted Dr. Fauci as saying we didn`t have enough testing yet, the President shot back, I don`t know what he said, nobody knows. On Democratic governors, he said, I think they like me.

Outside the Rose Garden in the real world, the death toll in our country today is nearing 30,000 souls. We`ve not yet tested a full 1% of our citizens. We already know of more than 600,000 confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, New York City today revised its death toll to include an additional 3,700 people presumed to have died from the virus, which means the city alone has now passed 10,000 deaths. And New York State now has more than 200,000 cases, about a third of the entire U.S. As the number of worldwide infections approaches 2 million and as the International Monetary Fund is warning us the global economy will this year likely suffer the worst crisis since the great depression of the 1930s, the President decided this was as good a time as any to punish, to threaten the World Health Organization for its handling of the virus.

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DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Today I`m instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization`s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus. The WHO`s attack on travel restrictions put political correctness above lifesaving measures and defended the actions of the Chinese government, even praising China for its so-called transparency. It would have been so easy to be truthful, and so much death has been caused by their mistakes.

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WILLIAMS: This was the same President who posted this back in February. "The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries, CDC, and World Health have been working hard and very smart."

In recent weeks, Trump has hinted he`s eager to reopen at last parts of our country as soon as he possibly can despite the risks that are obvious to us all. Tonight The Washington Post reports one team of government officials that`s being led by FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control has come up with a public health strategy that`s part of a larger White House plan to get people back to work. The document, "has been discussed at the White House, including by members of the coronavirus task force. President Trump wants a final plan on reopening the country ready within days so he can issue suggestions for some states to reopen May 1."

Several of the nation`s governors have said they plan to lift their state`s restrictions when they feel it`s safe to do so. That`s the job of a governor. Trump has incorrectly insisted that he had, "total authority" to order those restrictions lifted. Today he laid out his strategy for reopening our country.

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TRUMP: I will be speaking to all 50 governors very shortly, and I will then be authorizing each individual governor of each individual state to implement a reopening and a very powerful reopening plan of their state in a time and of a manner as most appropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What if they don`t listen to you or take your advice or obey you? Will you consider taking away their federal funding?

TRUMP: I don`t want to say that. They`ll listen. They`ll be fine. I think we`re going to have a good relationship. They need the federal government not only for funding, and I`m not saying take it away. But they need it for advice. They`ll need maybe equipment that we have.

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WILLIAMS: In a new interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Anthony Fauci made it clear that we are, "not there yet when it comes to potentially reopening the country on the President`s timeline." Tonight on this network, Fauci was asked what needs to be in place before stay-at-home rules are relaxed.

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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You`ve got to be able to identify, isolate, get out of circulation, and do adequate and appropriate contact tracing as new cases arise. If you start pulling back on mitigation, physical separations, there will be infections. The real proof of the pudding of the success of this re-entry is how quickly and effectively you identify them, you get them out of circulation, you give them care where needed, and you do contact tracing so that you don`t have a beginning of a peak.

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WILLIAMS: Now, as for coronavirus testing, we still have no way of reliably answering the basic question of who has the virus and who might have immunity?  Tonight Politico reporting the number of coronavirus tests analyzed each day by commercial labs in our country plummeted by more than 30% over the past week even though new infections are still rising in a lot of places. At the White House, Trump appeared to signal that the issue would not be an obstacle to his goal of getting the economy up and running.

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TRUMP: Individual states where the governors will be held accountable, if they need things, we`ll help them get those things, but we want them to do their testing. We want them, because they`re equipped to do testing. We`ve created incredible tests. We`ve done more testing than anybody`s ever done in the world.

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WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Tuesday night, Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post. He`s also the co- author along with his Post colleague Carol Leonnig of the best-selling book, A Very Stable Genius. Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, who was in the Rose Garden for today`s coronavirus briefing. And Dr. Anne Rimoin, Professor of Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Infectious Disease Division of the Geffen School of Medicine. She also runs the UCLA Center for Global and Immigrant Health where she specializes in emerging infectious diseases, started her life`s work as a peace corps volunteer in Africa.

Good evening and welcome to you all. And Phil, to begin with you, so much of the President`s deflection and defense mechanisms were in full view today and yesterday. Putting this crisis on the World Health Organization, which is a novel idea, and affixing his own name apparently to the checks going out to Americans to be seen as part of the relief of a crisis he doesn`t own.

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yeah. That`s a good way to frame it there, Brian. Look, the President has been trying for the last several weeks now to get out from under this crisis, to deflect blame wherever he could. He blamed the governors for a while. Now he`s blaming the World Health Organization, an institution he has sort of instinctually inclined to dislike because of his distaste for international organizations. But he`s faulting the WHO and suspending U.S. funding for that organization at a critical time for World Health. We`re in the middle of a pandemic and now the United States is not going to help the organization helping to manage that pandemic.

This issue with the checks is notable because the President has wanted to take personal and political credit for the things that the federal government has been doing to help the country. He sees himself -- wants to cast himself rather as a patron for all of those who are impacted by this pandemic. And he, according to my colleague, Lisa Rein, who was the first to report this story, has asked the Treasury Department to order his signature be affixed to the bottom of all of the paper checks that are going to be going out from the IRS. That is the first time that that has happened in history. It is really not normal. Typically the checks are signed by a civil servant and will be signed by a civil servant, but people receiving them will see President Donald J. Trump on the memo side to the left-hand bottom of the check.

WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin, I watched you today during the briefing. You gave nothing away as much as I strained to figure out the story watching your reaction to it in real time. Our friend Katy Tur did the math after yesterday`s two-hour briefing and decided there were 93 deaths just in the course of the time it took to hold yesterday`s White House briefing. Today during a fit of anger, a bitter exchange with a reporter, the President threatened to leave. What does that reveal about how he sees himself, this event as a daily event?

JILL COLVIN, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, you see the President especially over the last two days now being extremely defensive. Of course his reaction comes in the wake of a number of stories over the weekend really doing deep dives into the failures of this administration to adequately prepare for this crisis. The A.P., The Times, a number of news outlets, The Washington Post, of course, have all kind of floated this idea of what the President could have known and when, steps that could have been taken to prepare like placing bulk shipments for PPE, the personal protective gear for nurses and doctors, you know, making sure that ventilators were available, and the President is very defensive, claiming that he has done all of these things and that we should all therefore be grateful to him for what he has done so far. You`ve seen him blow up at the press yesterday and today. We saw him leave that press briefing yesterday with that incredibly unusual, bizarre, sort of video that CNN tag lined propaganda, basically a campaign ad starting off his briefing yesterday. So it`s been very tense.

WILLIAMS: Anne Rimoin, do you see any miscalculation in the President`s framing of this? Americans who are home, none of us are doing so because we actively want to be a part of a shutdown of our lives and jobs where we normally work. Everyone`s home because they`re scared to death of getting this. Talk about motivation to get back out there, temptation to get back out there, and the only thing that would be worse, a false start.

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, UCLA SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH EPIDEMIOLOGY PROFESSOR: Brian, I think you`re absolutely right. We cannot be basing our decisions of how we will be able to get to the next step of reopening our country on opinion. It needs to be based on data. It needs to be based on research. It needs to be based on science. Everything that we`re doing and everything that we`ve done so far, all the sacrifices that everybody has made to be able to flatten the curve, to slow the spread of the virus, will be for nothing if we open up too quickly. Everybody has -- as you`ve just said, nobody is staying home because they would prefer to be home as opposed to working, as opposed to going out and doing the things that we normally need to do. We`re all feeling this pain.

So I think that it is very premature to be thinking about how we`re going to open up. I think the focus -- I would like to see the focus, instead of the talk of, you know, what the recent discussions have been, I would love to see discussions about how we`re going to be ramping up testing. I think these are very important things. And explaining to the general public as well that when we`re talking about testing, we`re talking about testing for active infection, but these antibody tests that people are discussing with great interest, the antibody tests just tell you if you have antibody. It`s not necessarily certain that that`s going to tell you that you have immunity and that we really need to understand how many people have had this, if people have immunity, and how long that immunity may last so that we don`t let people start circulating and just without this kind of information and potentially putting people at great risk. So, you know, I agree with you entirely, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin, if we can agree that most of this President`s utterances both in person in the media and social media during normal times are in service to potential re-election efforts, do you think the Democrats coalescing so clearly, visibly, verbally and early is having any effect on the President`s attitude these days?

COLVIN: You know, we`ve heard a lot from sources over the last couple of months now talking about how they were really pleased about the fact that former Vice President Biden didn`t really seem to be, you know, puncturing the public sphere very much. They felt like the President was up there every day doing his briefings at the podium. The whole world was looking at him, what the White House was doing in response to the crisis, and in effect people started paying a lot less attention to Joe Biden.

We`ve seen over the last couple of days, especially with the endorsement today by the former President, that really changing. You know, Biden has now become kind of a more central figure in a lot of stories. He`s been actively responding to the President. He`s, you know, set up his home studio in his basement like the rest of us, and, you know, is out there trying to fight back. And I think you`ll start to see as Democrats stand behind Joe Biden as potentially, you know, he begins to stand up there and speak as the representative of the Democratic Party, then potentially you`ll start seeing stories framed more of a Trump versus Biden dynamic.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, let`s be honest about what we`re seeing. The President is trying to get as much of this off of him and onto an organization like the WHO, on to governors potentially, as he possibly can. Talk about the risk and reward if that`s your strategy to pin this on others while the base is paying attention.

RUCKER: Yeah, well, absolutely it`s the strategy, Brian. And my reporting along with Ashley Parker and Bob Costa today inside the White House is that the President is fixated on this May 1st time frame of starting to reopen the country. Many states returning to business as usual starting May 1st. But there is an effort, a scramble inside the White House right now to try to create political cover for the President, to try to create public buy- in, to get these business executives. You saw today at the briefing at the White House, the President spent five or ten minutes reading the list of names of companies and CEOs who are going to be consulted about this economic plan. The point there is to create political cover for the President so that if things go awry, if we have a second resurgence, if, three, four months from now the assessment of the officials and the experts is that it was far too soon to get back to work that it`s the President alone that takes the fall. But he can say, look, all these CEOs, all these other people told me it was a good idea to get back to work. And so they`re creating that cover at this hour.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Anne, when I`m not watching and listening to you guys, I`m watching television myself all day and all night and listening to all the others. And you hear two things that I`m hoping you can sort out for all of us news consumers, and that is first you can`t go back to work and school and society without testing. But also you hear you can`t go back to work and school and society without vaccine.

RIMOIN: Well, the testing -- testing and reopening are, they come together here. We need to be able to know where we are on the curve. We`re going to need to know who is infected and who isn`t. Everybody should be able to have access to this. Both active infection, whether it is symptomatic or asymptomatic, so people aren`t spreading it unwittingly to other people. And then also these antibody tests that we`ve been discussing, so that people can understand have they had this and do they have some piece of immunity? This is the first thing. We must be able to have all of these things in place before we can reopen. And so I think that in general all of these issues together mean we cannot open without data. We need data. That`s the main piece here.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, Jill Colvin, Anne Rimoin, a great pleasure to have all three of our returning veterans on with us on a Tuesday night.

Coming up for us, Trump may be eager to reopen the American economy, but the American people, are they on the same page as the President?

Later, everyone knew it was coming. The question was when. The answer came today when Barack Obama endorsed Joe Biden. Tonight we`re joined by two former top aides to the former president as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Tuesday night.

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TRUMP: There are numerous states that are in great shape right now. They`re viewing the rest of the country like we don`t even believe this is happening. We have a lot of those states. They`re set to open practically now. I mean they would be open now. We`re going to let them open sooner than the date. We`re going to pick a date. We`re going to get a date that`s good, but it`s going to be very, very soon. Sooner than the end of the month.

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WILLIAMS: Despite the President`s egg eagerness to reopen parts of our economy as soon as possible, experts warn of course that starting too early could fuel a resurgence of this illness. A new online survey from USA today finds two out of every three Americans fully 69% support a national lockdown with exceptions for essential services through the end of the month at least.

Back with us again tonight, two people who served in the Obama administration during times of crisis. David Plouffe, former Obama Campaign Manager and Senior Adviser to the former President. His latest book is, A Citizen`s Guide to Beating Donald Trump. Also with us, Robert Gibbs, former Obama Campaign Senior Adviser and White House Press Secretary under President Obama.

Gentlemen, good evening and welcome to you both. Robert, first of all, your crowd stands accused of pretty much emptying the cupboard of both ventilators and all the ammunition for the military on your way out the door. I presume you have a basement full of both listening to the President. So address that and also address how this daily performance we are seeing is going to be judged against any standard you wish. Start with crisis communications.

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think in terms of crisis communication, I mean you`ve seen somebody who now walks up every day and wants all of the credit for anything that goes particularly well and none of the responsibility for anything that goes wrong. I mean he even blamed testing on Obama before we even knew this was a virus to test for. So, you know, I think the President has watched his approval ratings upended a bit on this. And I think what`s really remarkable, you know, a very closely divided country. When you ask people should this President have been doing more in those 70 days before he declared an emergency, and you get 70% of the people who believe he should have done more, in a nation so evenly divided, those numbers are amazingly stark right now.

WILLIAMS: David Plouffe, talk about the President`s effort to get his name on the checks going out to Americans who have been idled by a pandemic.

DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, it`s a scandal. It`s an outrage, that there`d be a delay of even an hour, a much less days. So he can put his name on the check. It`s dumb, secondly, because people would rather have jobs in our businesses opening and getting this check in the first place. And it`s not like somebody in Wisconsin is going to say, you know what, I was going to vote for Joe Biden, but now I`m going to vote for Donald Trump because his name`s on the check.

But the more I think about it, Brian, in the last couple hours, I think this is all by design for Trump. I think it`s less about his name on the check and thinking that`s going to accrue political benefit, then, you know, it`s a sideshow, and he`d rather us be talking about that. Then the fact that there`s 10s of thousands of people going to die in this country, and economy that`s going to be lucky to be in a severe recession if not a depression, because he acted too slowly. So I think again, he`s a carnival barker extraordinaire. And my suspicion is that there`s some of that at play here.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Gibbs there`s a lot of video out there of this President on this topic. The more painful stuff to watch is early on. Join me in watching this. We`ll talk about it on the other side.

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JOE KERNEN, CNBC HOST: Have you been briefed by the CDC -

TRUMP: I have.

KERNEN: -- the words about a pandemic at this point?

TRUMP: No, not at all. And we have a totally under control. It`s one person coming in from China. And we have it under control. It`s going to be just fine.

KERNEN: OK. President Xi, there`s just some talk in China that maybe the transparency isn`t everything that it`s going to be. Do you trust that we`re going to know everything we need to know from China?

TRUMP:  I do. I do have a great relationship with President Xi. We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made.

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WILLIAMS: January 22nd, Joe Kernen in Davos with the President. Robert, is every day`s briefing, an attempt to forget about all of the video that exists in our archives.

GIBBS: It`s all in the video. It`s all of the memos that were circulating in the White House. It`s all of the phone calls from the National Security Council to others. It`s all of the information in the emails that we saw over the weekend from the doctors. I mean, this is a great project and rewriting history. And as David said, he wants to get in fights with reporters. He wants to get in fights with other people, so that he can do his best to wash off that story that I think is going to stick with him well through the end of his term and into this election. And I think is very much going to decide whether or not the American people want to put Donald Trump back in charge. I just don`t think that you can spend two hours every day and somehow watch wash, you know, months and months of not getting ready for what we knew was coming. We knew it was coming from China, the Chinese told us. And what the Chinese didn`t tell us our intelligence people were picking up.

WILLIAMS: David, I`m looking at one of the quotes from the briefing today. Last thing he said before turning and going into the White House talking about all 50 governors, if they don`t do a good job, we`ll come down on them hard. So that`s deflection number one, potentially, you already talked about the World Health Organization. He`s trying to get them to own this.

PLOUFFE: Right. But listen, the American people I don`t think are looking at the WHO. They`re looking at the first two letters in that acronym, WH, the White House. OK. And ultimately, you can see that what concerns me most about Trump actually just saying something. I think he`s convinced himself He didn`t say these things back in January or February. You know, he`s created a no new reality in his head. And so at the end of the day blaming governors, trying to suggest if we open prematurely, he did it in alignment with businesses.

Listen, Trump, you know, these are the lonely times for a president, all the decisions come to you. And he`s made just about all of them wrong. And I think this election increasingly is going to be about maybe entirely about by the time we get to the fall, who do you trust to dig us out from this mess? To prepare for another pandemic. We may still be in pandemic circumstances to dig out from an economic disaster that`s going to take years, not the immediate turnaround Trump`s talking about, and I think that sets up very well for Joe Biden, given his background. But yeah, Trump is, you know, you asked Robert about right crisis management. I mean, they`re going to teach for decades, whether it`s crisis management, strong executive leadership, truthfulness, he`s failed on every score.

And again, you look at these South Korea numbers, it did not have to be like this United States of America, and he bears the central responsibility for that. And that`s going to, you know, dog and not just this year, it`s going to dog our country most importantly. But that`s going to be the history books with Trump, which is he misplayed this in every way you could. He was dishonest about it. He blamed people. And I think that`s going to be ultimately on his, you know, political, you know, tombstone.

WILLIAMS: The upside of being forced indoors is both of these gentlemen are staying with us. And when we come back, we`ll talk about their former boss and what he said about Joe Biden today, calling him the leader our country needs in one of our darkest times.

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BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If there`s one thing we`ve learned as a country from moments of great crisis, it`s that the spirit of looking out for one another can`t be restricted to our homes or our workplaces or our neighborhoods or our houses of worship. It also has to be reflected in our national government. The kind of leadership that`s guided by knowledge and experience, honesty and humility, empathy and grace. That kind of leadership doesn`t just belong in our state capitols and mayors` offices. It belongs in the White House, and that`s why I`m so proud to endorse Joe Biden for president of the United States.

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WILLIAMS: It briefly felt like the past today to a lot of Democrats who were happy to see that guy with 203 days to go until our next presidential election. Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times" gave us this headline today, "Hello, what`s this? The Democrats aren`t in disarray?" He writes, "It may have taken a once-in-a-century pandemic but the Democrats are not in disarray. Not since `04 has the Democratic Party rallied behind its nominee this early."

Back with us are messieurs, David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs. So, Robert, the deed is done. Either speak from wild speculation or personal knowledge. I`d prefer the latter. How much are we going to see of Barack Obama now knowing that he hasn`t wanted to give Trump a target, but Trump`s got a pandemic these days?

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I still think it`s important that President Obama pick his spots and do this in the right way. And my guess is that you will not see him out there every day. That`s not the point of this. You`ll see him later in a more targeted fashion, I think.

I was struck today by the former president`s tone and starting off the video endorsing his former vice president and just reaching out to those that have been affected by this pandemic. And I think it is a tone that has been missing inside of our national dialogue and our national government, and I think it will go a long way toward giving Joe Biden the boost throughout this time period building up to the general election.

WILLIAMS: David Plouffe, James Carville, who loves a good quote and loves a good overstatement, said on this broadcast a few weeks back, Joe Biden can win in effect by doing nothing but being Joe Biden. Do you subscribe at all to the theory that during this time by not being ubiquitous, by not being overblown, that`s the path for Joe Biden?

PLOUFFE: Well, he doesn`t have responsibility directly in this crisis like a president or a governor does. So he`s not going to be, you know, I think as newsworthy day to day. That being said, you know, the video today is already, I think, north of 10 million views with the former president. They`ve put out some really great content. Joe Biden`s doing a lot of interviews.

So, I think he`s getting out there as he can. But because the party`s unified, we`ve now got a little more time than we thought we might to plan for the general election, and that`s doubly important because you don`t know what type of election it`s going to be. So the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign have to plan for an election where there`s rallies eventually or maybe not, where there`s door-knocking eventually or maybe not. Where there`s in-person phone banks or maybe not. So you have to plan for two or three different types of elections.

But I think the endorsement today -- listen, I always think about endorsements. Is a voter going to do something different because of an endorsement? Is a swing voter in Wisconsin now going to vote for Joe Biden who wasn`t or someone who was not going to register going to register? Barack Obama will be helpful on the margins. But because the central issue in this election now is, who do you trust to dig us out from a crisis, Barack Obama can attest like nobody in the world can attest to Joe Biden`s qualities, leading the Recovery Act, the work he did on H1N1 and the Ebola virus. So, I think Barack Obama`s close working relationship with Joe Biden was already always going to be important pre-pandemic.

It`s hard to describe how important it is now because he can say, I saw this guy in a situation room, and you can contrast that with the way Trump`s mishandled this. So -- but I agree with Robert. I think quality is more important than quantity. But just as the Biden campaign is going to have to figure out what -- Joe Biden can`t be out there as much as we like to do, then you`re going to have think about how to fully leverage Barack Obama in a more digital and virtual way. Now, that`s more natural to him so I think that can play to some of his strengths.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, thanks for staying up with us and thanks for having us both in. We really appreciate it. David Plouffe, Robert Gibbs, thank you very much.

Coming up for us, having total authority is not something an American president has ever claimed before and for good reason. We`ll ask a Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian just how concerning it is to him.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have the ultimate authority. When somebody`s the president of the United States, the authority is total. The governors will be very, very respectful of the presidency. Again, this isn`t me. This is the presidency. The presidency has such a great importance in terms of what we`re doing. And you can talk about constitution. You can talk about federalism. You can talk about whatever you want.

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WILLIAMS: Neal Katyal, the former U.S. acting solicitor general before the Supreme Court, now a law professor at Georgetown, offered this advice in "The New York Times," and we quote. "Instead of making foolish constitutional claims, President Trump should use an awesome power his predecessors have wielded, the pulpit. If he has a good idea, offer it up to the states, sell it to the public. Don`t hide behind pretensions of raw authority."

We`re happy to be joined once again tonight by presidential historian, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, Jon Meacham. His latest work is now available. It is called "The Hope of Glory, Reflections on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross".

Jon, I don`t know much, but I know the framers weren`t big on total authority.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: You know plenty, and more than the 45th president apparently, so you`re way ahead of the game here, although that`s damning with faint praise, so I withdraw that.

Look, we have a balance of powers. We have a separation of powers. One of the fundamental insights of the American founding was that we were sinful and flawed and fallible, and so we needed to separate power so that we wouldn`t run in the wrong direction, which would be our human tendency. So, there`s that element. The president`s just wrong about total authority.

But the thing that`s worrying me more and more as this goes on is his capacity to careen from one vision of power to the other. So, when it`s convenient, he claims total authority, right? When it`s not convenient, when he`s actually on the hook for something, well, it`s all up to the states. You know, suddenly he`s an articles of confederation guy. And what we`re seeing here is a temperamental problem with the president that is having real-world effects. His temperament is now fundamentally a national security issue because the thing that he should have significant authority over is on launching a marshal plan for testing. Because anyone you talk to, as you know, says that if we cannot test, we cannot reopen safely. That is something the federal government could do.

Franklin Roosevelt did it in December of 1941. He just decided to make up a number of aircraft production and said, we`re going to make 50,000 planes or whatever it was. And someone -- Harry Hopkins asked him later, Mr. President, how did you come up with that number? He said, I don`t know. I just made it up. It sounded good. But it was a big number. And that`s what -- I don`t want to say it puzzles me exactly but it worries me that we`re in this crisis. There is a significant role for the federal government, and instead of taking that responsibility and that authority and using it to a good end, we have a president who bounces around from these extremes of -- extreme views of his own position.

WILLIAMS: What about taking blame?

MEACHAM: Oh, well, that would be a short conversation, won`t it? It`s not in his DNA. He simply can`t do it. And, you know, Franklin Roosevelt, who was on his way -- the funeral train was going this time 75 years ago from Warm Springs. FDR said we have to have a spirit of bold, persistent experimentation. We try a method, and if it fails, admit it frankly and then try something else. But above all, try something. And I think that when leaders fail to admit they`re wrong, they miss an enormous opportunity to build credibility with the public because we know that this is a human institution. We know that people make mistakes.

Just tell us and then convince us that you`ve learned from it. We are here. You and I are talking tonight because John Kennedy could do that. After the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961, he reaches out to Dwight Eisenhower. They had no relationship. It was frosty as it could be. Reaches out to him, asks him to come over to Camp David. They meet. They have a conversation. Kennedy learned from that. And cut to October 1962, what Arthur Schlesinger called the most dangerous moment in human history, and Kennedy had learned the lessons and we came through the missile crisis not least because Kennedy had self-evidently been learning and had been willing to admit when he was wrong.

WILLIAMS: And that, ladies and gentlemen in the audience, is why we invite our friend Jon Meacham on our broadcast from time to time, and after a couple of days like those we have seen. Jon, thank you, friend, as always.

When we continue here tonight, as we`ve said many times this hour, testing is everything. Testing is also tough to get still and still largely dependent on where you live and how much money you make. A look at that fraught issue when we come back.

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WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about testing. California`s governor Gavin Newsom provided a framework for reopening his state of 30 million people. Part of that plan calls for wider testing capacity, as all of our guests have said tonight. CDC director has already said very aggressive contact tracing will also be needed to return to some semblance of normal. But how would all or any of this work? We`ve not yet tested 1 percent of our people. And add in the cost just today of good intentions. The new drive-through testing in Brooklyn, New York, where very few people drive cars.

NBC News Correspondent Stephanie Gosk has more on the problem of testing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some health experts say we need millions of tests a week. Some say millions a day before enough data is collected to begin letting people back out. But as some lines for drive-through testing just get longer, there is agreement on one thing. The country is not testing nearly enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to develop that widespread testing capacity.

GOSK: According to the COVID Tracking Project, roughly 150,000 people are tested every day.

DR. TOM INGELSBY, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY DIRECTOR: Widespread diagnostics are the key, so let`s keep pushing that forward to the point where anyone who can get -- needs to get a test in the country can get it that same day.

GOSK: So what is standing in the way? Supply shortages, including the testing kits and nasal swabs, infrastructure shortages, not enough machines and labs to run the tests. And there aren`t enough people from those who administer the tests to those who process them.

Right now, there are an untold number of Americans suffering from COVID- like symptoms who simply can`t get tested. Sometimes it takes money. Suzy Farrell (ph) struggled for days to get a test. In the end, a relative loaned her $225 to go to a private clinic.

SUZY FARRELL, PATIENT: As soon as the doctor called and said, hey, I have a patient, she`s got all the symptoms, we need to get her tested, I should have been tested.

GOSK: Widespread testing is just part of the equation. Getting a handle on transmission requires knowing who has it and who they exposed. Those at risk, including anyone who came within roughly six feet of someone with COVID-19, would have to self-isolate for 14 days. Massachusetts is hiring 1,000 contact tracers as part of a new program.

DR. JOIA MUKHERJEE, PARTNERS IN HEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: What we want to do on the offensive is find, find, find. Even if people aren`t very sick, find them so that they don`t infect their family members or their other close contacts.

GOSK: But health departments don`t have the staff needed to handle programs on this scale.

INGELSBY: We need something in the order of 100,000 people working on this effort in the coming year.

GOSK: Apple and Google announced new technology that could help. Phones ping other phones around them with their location. People who contract the virus report their diagnosis to the app, and anyone who came close to them is notified. But that raises another concern, privacy.

And finally, the problem of enforcement.

Is there a sense that people have enough social responsibility to self- isolate without being compelled to self-isolate?

INGELSBY: We believe that that is the case in this country, that most people -- the vast majority of people would willingly isolate themselves.

GOSK: All of this while the world awaits a vaccine and faces the reality that even with one, our lives will never be the same. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: And coming up for us, learning something about courage from those who faced a tougher journey than any of us and lived to tell about it.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, it must have been something in the water back then. Perhaps it`s because they just don`t scare easily. But happily the news has been full of stories of those over 90, in some cases people over 100 who have either survived the coronavirus or even better, avoided it at all costs and have now, in keeping with their generation, turned their attention to others, like Tom Moore of the U.K. He`s 99. He`s a World War II veteran, and he has raised to date over $5 million for Britain`s national health service by challenging himself to walk 100 lengths of his backyard, which measures 82 feet long.

He plans to reach the milestone of 100 laps before his 100th birthday later this month. He`s been averaging 10 laps a day to keep the pace. This means, in effect, fellow citizens are betting on Tom Moore by donating their money. Like them, our money is on Tom Moore.

Then there`s Bob Dole, who is 96 years old. A long time ago in the far away mountains of Italy while rescuing a brother, he was hit by German machine gun fire so withering it all but severed his arm. With the help of his family, his town in Kansas, his doctors, and his incredible will, he rebuilt himself and then rose to the heights of American political life and society.

And he wrote this today. "Seventy-five years ago today, I was wounded in the hills of Italy, and I thought my life was over. Thanks to the skills of great doctors and nurses, the love of my family, and the support of my friends, I learned that my life was just beginning. I`ve seen a lot of history in the last 75 years, and I have been fortunate to play a small role in writing some of it, but I`ve never seen anything like what our country is going through today. A few years back, I said I was the most optimistic man in America. I still am. I am confident that, thanks to the skills of great doctors and nurses, the love of our families, and the support of our friends, our nation will persevere, and we will come out stronger and more united than ever."

To Bob Dole, the thanks of a grateful nation during a tough time for this nation. For us, that`s our broadcast on a Tuesday 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