WHO TRANSCRIPT: 4/15/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Stephen Sample, Daniel Doctoroff

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The red heartbeat of New York flashing out over a population sheltered indoors.

Good evening once again. Day 1,182 of the Trump administration, 202 days remain until our presidential election.

At the White House today nothing but rosy scenarios in the Rose Garden. The President says, "A lot of good things are happening." He is determined to start opening the country again. Today he said 20 states are doing better, then he increased the number on the fly to 29. That of course is well over half the states in our country.

He said, "We`re a country that`s getting better." And he is going to clear some states to open, as he continues to call it, before May 1st. Where the states are concerned, he said, "We have the right to do whatever we want."

In other news, and we`ll have more on this in a moment, he says he doesn`t know anything about his name needing to appear on those IRS checks that are going out. And he slipped a bit of news into today`s briefing. The U.S. is about to send ventilators to Russia. As we let all that settle in, let`s check back in with the real world, shall we?

This was the deadliest day thus far for this epidemic in the U.S., with 2,492 new deaths, 2,492. Tonight more than 32,000 Americans have lost their lives. And despite the self-congratulations at the White House, we have crossed an important milestone. We`ve now tested 1% of our U.S. population.

Another way of putting this is if we start testing a million Americans a day for the next year we would then know with something closer to certainty how many Americans have this virus. Worldwide cases now closing in on 2 million. Tonight we have breaking news of the grisly and sad variety as well. It`s from the New York area. The New York Times reporting that police in the small town of Andover, New Jersey "discovered 17 bodies piled inside a nursing home in a small morgue intended to hold no more than four people." This is a nursing home where several previous deaths had been linked to coronavirus.

Today the President spent a lot of his briefing blaming Senate Democrats for the vacancies in his administration. Positions he says are critical to combating the spread of the virus. He urged the Senate to adjourn so he can use recess appointments to install nominees, a move that would no doubt provoke a confrontation with Congress, which is out of town until May 4th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Many, many positions that are unstaffed because we can`t get the approvals. The Democrats are holding us up. We can`t get approval. We`ve gotten judges because we go through the process. The Senate should either fulfill its duty and vote on my nominees or it should formally adjourn so that I can make recess appointments. We have a tremendous number of people that have to come into government and now more so than ever before because of the virus and the problem. We have to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Aside from the obvious constitutional issues, the Senate is controlled by the Republican Party. Tonight Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also issued a statement reiterating nominees will need consent from Democrats. Trump also previewed his effort to issue guidelines for governors to reopen their economies, and he seemed to imply that the U.S. was so flush with medical supplies we can now start sending them abroad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We`ll also be speaking to America`s governors tomorrow, and then we`ll be announcing exactly what`s happening. You already know we`ll be opening up states, some states much sooner than others. We think some of the states can actually open up before the deadline of May 1st. Governors are looking forward, they`re champing at the bit to get going. We`re going to be helping other nations. We`re going to be helping Italy, Spain, France, other nations. And we`re going to be helping them strongly. I think Russia is going to need ventilators. Having a hard time in Moscow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So there that was. While Trump announced that the U.S. had passed the peak on new cases, Dr. Deborah Birx was more cautious in her assessment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We`ve seen declines in cases across the country. We are remaining concerned and we`ve been having discussions with Rhode Island. Rhode Island and providence are in a unique situation. First they had increasing cases from the New York City area. And now they have new increasing cases from the Boston area. We see as a country we`re improving. We see as metro areas we`re improving. We see as communities, as counties and as states we`re improving. But that also still requires everyone to continue to social distance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Today Michigan`s governor was the target of demonstrators who rallied at the state capitol protesting Governor Whitmer`s stay-at-home orders. We`ll have more on that later in the broadcast.

Protesters in Kentucky also gathered at that state capitol to object to their governor`s emergency measures.

Meanwhile, the virus has spread into more of rural America. There are concerns that few communities will be able to handle a possible onslaught of cases on the local level.

One of the other consequences of this, the rising cases at meat processing plants. Smithfield, leading U.S. pork processor, says employees at their facilities in Wisconsin, Missouri, and South Dakota have tested positive. That has raised concerns about the meat supply. Today the Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, tried to reassure the public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SONNY PERDUE, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE:  There`s been a lot happening this week. COVID-19 is impacting food processing facilities, as you know. For Americans who may be worried about access to good food because of this. I want to assure you that the American food supply is strong, resilient, and safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, millions of out of work Americans are in desperate need of help and that number is expected to grow by about another 5 million when the new unemployment numbers come out tomorrow. That would bring our total now to a number north of 22 million. That would be more people than live in the State of Florida. Relief checks will soon be in the mail for those without direct deposit capability. And they will all have the President`s name written on the checks. He was asked about that unprecedented move today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you have your name added to these coronavirus relief checks?

TRUMP: Well, I don`t know too much about it, but I understand my name is there. I don`t know where they`re going, how they`re going. I do understand it`s not delaying anything. And I`m satisfied with that. I don`t imagine it`s a big deal. I`m sure people will be very happy to get a big fat beautiful check and my name is on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Help for small businesses also in peril. The Washington Post reporting the small business administration was expected to run out of funds by day`s end. Then there`s this graph from the New York Times, a stark visualization of what`s happening to the nation`s retail and food sales. It`s worse than any previous recession levels. Even as some Republicans are pressing the President to get the economy reopened now, it seems business leaders disagree.

The President spoke with CEOs this afternoon. People familiar with the call telling the Wall Street Journal, "banking and financial services executives said the administration need to dramatically increase the availability of coronavirus testing before the public would be confident enough to return to work, eat at restaurants or shop in retail establishments."

Here`s how the President responded today.  All right. We don`t have that. But let`s get on to our lead-off discussion on a Wednesday night. Sam Stein, Politics Editor for the Daily Beast. Anita Kumar, White House Correspondent and Associate Editor at Politico. And we welcome to the broadcast Dr. Stephen Sample. He is an E.R. Doc at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in Jasper, Indiana.

Anita, I`d like to begin with you. Which President Trump showed up today, the defensive and angry President, the President eager to reopen American business, was he at all apologetic about these last two days` appearances from the Rose Garden? Any letup in his insistence?

ANITA KUMAR, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, like with any appearance of President Trump you get a little bit of everything, right? But he did sort of pull back from the threats he put on governors earlier this week. He was telling them that he has the authority to do whatever he wants and he`s going to force them to open. You had a lot of legal scholars wondering what he was talking about and a lot of states pushing back. A lot of governors who were saying, they`re going to go their own way. They`re not going to do what he says.

And so you saw him these last couple days really push back -- pull back and just say, well, I`m authorizing them to do this.  And I`m hoping they`ll do this and we`re going to work on them -- work on a plan with them but not sort of pushing them. So he`s going to have this conversation with governors tomorrow. I think he`s going to hear from a lot of Democrats who are going to say we`re going our own way. We`re not ready to open up. He`s going to hear that from some Republicans as well. And he`s got to deal with that. I think some of his aides and advisers were telling him that he doesn`t have authority here to push them to do something.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, you`re in a mostly rural area. May you never see what the nation`s urban area hospitals have seen in this, but based on what you`ve seen so far, based on what you`re perhaps expecting, how would you counsel this President and the people around him?

DR. STEPHEN SAMPLE, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN JASPER, INDIANA: Thanks, Brian, for having me on. So that`s a big question for a small-town E.R. doctor in Southern Indiana. My counsel always comes back to the same sort of principles. Listen to the scientists. They have our best interests at heart. There`s no politics involved in pure science. And I would ask him to surround himself with people who have not only our best interests as a people but his best interests at heart.

There`s a lot of bad stuff going on right now. And there`s a lot of hurting people right here in my town. And I am full of opinions but my opinions really don`t mean a lot when it comes down to the politics of this. I just want him to listen to the scientists. There`s so much noise. There`s so much noise going on around this right now. And we just need to save as many lives as we can. And I think the scientists are going to tell us how to do that. The politicians are going to tell us how to come out of hiding. But he just has to listen.

WILLIAMS: And Sam Stein, on that exact point and somewhat in keeping with the President`s attacks on science and institutions, you have new reporting on this new kind of bubbling up protest movement on the political right that is anti-science and scientist, anti-physician, in some cases we`re hearing publicly attacks on Dr. Fauci and people questioning his wisdom.

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICS EDITOR: Oh, yeah. There`s a whole movement on the right that`s emerging right now, that you`re seeing in state capitols that`s basically questioning the use efficacy and constitutionality of some of these public health provisions. They`re demonstrating in public, which itself is a risky proposition. And they`re trying to gin up political support to go after predominantly though not exclusively democratic governors in red states for clamping down on people going out of their homes, businesses, social gatherings. It`s been fed by Trump loyalists. Rick Grenell, who is now the DNI, sort of gave a wink and a nod to it. But you`re also now seeing it among Republican lawmakers too. Just this evening Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana was on Fox saying that he felt it was time to simply reopen the economy, even knowing his words that more people would get infected with COVID-19. He thought it was a price worth paying at this juncture.

So what you`re starting to see from my reporting at least is a shift in the political foundations here where conservatives and Trumpites basically have said enough is enough and we are ready to get on with this, consequences be damned.

WILLIAMS: Well, as long as everyone`s willing to live with the consequences of their words and actions. Hey, Anita, assuming the answer is not the witness protection program, where is the Secretary of Health and Human Services?

KUMAR: That`s a good question. We see him sometimes. But we don`t see him some other times. The President has not been pleased with his performance. But you know, it goes back and forth. There are a lot of people that have different opinions on that. And sometimes they`re happy with him, sometimes they aren`t. Remember back up six weeks ago when the President put the Vice President in charge of the coronavirus task force people thought that was sort of pushing him aside, and now Politico is reporting tonight that an old campaign of President Trump`s, Michael Caputo, is coming to be a spokesperson at the Health and Human Services department even though the secretary doesn`t really want him there. So the President really feels like there needs to be some other publicity over there at HHS.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Doctor, I`m about to drag you into politics again, but at least it`s the intersection of politics and medicine. Is it really a good time during a pandemic to sow doubt, diminish and defund the World Health Organization?

SAMPLE: No. It`s awful. I`ve been screaming at this for the last two days. The World Health Organization is so vitally important to the world`s response to these pandemics. We don`t have a corollary that expands worldwide. We have our CDC in the states. But I was talking earlier to a friend and we decided that defunding the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic is about like me refusing emergency trauma care to a teenager in a car crash because the police officer told me that he was texting and driving. So we`ve still got to take care of what`s going on now. Did they screw up? Hello, man, I don`t know. I`m a redneck E.R. Doctor from Southern Indiana. But I will tell you this. We need them. Right? They`re going to keep us safe. These viruses are coming from tropical areas, from East Asia. And we`ve got to see them coming. And if we don`t have them on board I don`t know how we`ll do it.

WILLIAMS: Let me ask you an Indiana-centric question. Roger Penske says there are 230,000 seats at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Obviously this year`s 500 is not going to be held and is going to be floated, when do you think that day will come when 230,000 race fans can sit alongside each other?

SAMPLE: It may be sooner than we want it to be. But I think realistically, Brian, I think we`re looking at a vaccine. I think that certainly the economy is going to start opening up in stages over the next couple, few months. But until we are fully vaccinated or we reach herd immunity, packing 230,000 people into an area seems pretty dangerous to me.

Because we have to remember, and I don`t think we`re talking about it enough from a medical standpoint, right? So we talk about the spike in the curve and flattening the curve. And in Indiana we may be flattening the curve right now. But the area underneath the curve, which represents the number of infected, that is going to stay the same. So all of the stuff that we`re doing right this second is to free up medical capacity so that we don`t lose patients that we don`t have to lose.

Unfortunately, some people are going to get this disease and they`re going to die despite everything that we do for them. But the people who are going to die because we can`t care for them is the big deal. And that`s what we`re trying to prevent. So if we flow open widely too soon, we`re going to have a secondary rural rush that`s going to be really challenging.

Right now we`ve been very protected by our geography. There are only 50,000 people in my entire county. But when everybody goes back to work and goes back to the cities, we`ve got a lot of industry here. They`re going to bring it back home. So when New York is cooling down, Jasper, Indiana may be ramping up.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Sam Stein, as we look at the President going after the WHO, the President telling the American people this is going to be all about your governor, is it dishonest to sum it up in any way but this is the assigning of blame past and future tense?

STEIN: No. Throughout this whole ordeal Trump has demanded full credit and rated himself a 10 out of 10 and then basically passed all the responsibility to other people when it comes to casting blame. So no, that`s not a dishonest way of looking at it.

I will just say one thing that I picked up in some of my reporting is that Trump is becoming more and more confronted with the fact, the very real fact that his arsenal here is quite limited. He can`t in fact legally order governors to reopen their states. He does in fact have to rely on Congressional Democrats to pass the type of stimulative policies that he wants. He does in fact need to lean on the Fed Chairman who he has mocked and ridiculed publicly for years to help him maintain a monetary policy that can keep this economy afloat.

So what he`s basically done in order to sustain this is he`s relied a lot on pomp and ceremony. I mean the news conferences for one thing. But all these boasts are quite another. And at some point it begins to catch up.

And let me just add one thing on what the Doctor said, which is this is the problem within having a national standard here, is that if one state opens up and people from a different state pour in for their social events or their businesses that are reopen and go back to their home state, you have a real public health emergency on your hands that requires states to actually collaborate and work together. And I think without national guidance from Trump we`re going to have a really bad public health situation linger much further than it needs to.

WILLIAMS: Like 230,000 paying seats at the Indy 500.

STEIN: Right.

WILLIAMS: With thanks to Sam Stein, Anita Kumar, Dr. Stephen Sample, I greatly appreciate the three of you starting off our Wednesday night effort.

Coming up for us, our next guest helped New York City recover after 9/11. He will share his advice on how the city needs to heal from something very different this time around.

And later another big day of endorsements for Joe Biden including a few big names who have only worked for Republicans in all their time in politics. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way on this Wednesday night.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, (D) NEW YORK: I want to get people back to work. Of course, I want to get kids back to school. But I think it`s going to take months to go through that whole sequence, and the last thing we should do is gather, you know, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 people in one place. We shouldn`t do that until we`re really sure we`re out of this crisis. So I think it could take quite a while.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Our next guest was there after 9/11 and helped the city rebound after that catastrophe. Today in the New York Times, he offered this. "The thing that has always made New York unique is that it`s a city of immigrants who have believed that life here was going to be better for themselves and their families. It is that collective optimism and resourcefulness that has enabled New York to overcome many crises."

For more we`re happy to welcome to this broadcast Dan Doctoroff. He`s the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, which aims to use technology to improve life in American cities. Happens to be the former President of Bloomberg L.P. but notably was Deputy Mayor of New York City from `02 through `08.

And Dan, in thinking a lot about this, a lot of differences obviously between these two crises. The similarity is, the striking one, New York bears the brunt of a national tragedy in both cases. After 9/11 you moved to do a lot of things. Decentralize the financial business out and away from New York and Wall Street. What`s the equivalent as you see it this time around?

DANIEL DOCTOROFF, FORMER NEW YORK CITY DEPUTY MAYOR: You know, I think before you even get to that, the question is what do we do in the short term? And one of the foundations of New York`s recovery after 9/11 was the fact that before 9/11 crime had come down substantially. That was really kind of what was the predicate for the recovery that followed?

In this case the real question is how are people going to feel about cities, about being in close quarters in urban environments? And we`re going to have to re-establish confidence in city life. And I think what that means is New York is going to have to establish itself as the leader in global public health. And that is preparedness, it`s hygiene, it is connectedness among people, it`s using technology to trace and to do other things that are now possible. And once we can establish that, then I think the foundation will be built, and then we can start thinking about, what are the industries that New York will rely on? What are the approaches? How can we use technology to actually create competitive advantage?

I mean, the thing you always have to remember is cities are competitive means and it`s important to build off your strengths and insulate your weaknesses in the context of your competition with other cities.

WILLIAMS: When will you know it`s safe to go back? What are you looking for that will signal to you it`s OK to return in a cautious manner to businesses? And what percentage of all the businesses in all five boroughs makes it through the other side?

DOCTOROFF: I don`t think we know the answer to that yet. I think one of the things we`ve learned through the crises that New York has faced is that at the depth of the crises, crisis, which we`re certainly at now, as is the case with 9/11, with Hurricane Sandy, with the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, at the very depth of the crisis you`re in a fog and you don`t really know what`s going to happen. We need to give it more time.

Now, in terms of what will be the signals that the city is safe, I think everyone is coming around to the view as Mayor de Blasio said before that this is going to be a relatively long recovery, it will happen in stages. Certain kinds of workers will be able to go back to work first. But I think what`s really interesting is the model that we used after 9/11, sort of the growth model, that we figured that growing the city in terms of jobs, in terms of visitors, in terms of residents which would pay for the social services that New Yorkers demand isn`t going to work exactly the same way. And now what we have to do is create growth that`s truly inclusive, growth that responds to the crisis we`re not talking about right now, which is climate change and growth that`s resilient, particularly from a public health perspective. It`s a new approach that candidly no city has ever actually truly tackled.

WILLIAMS: Well, don`t go far. Certainly from the conversation we have to have coming up here in the next couple of months. I`m sitting here thinking about the prescription for post-9/11. What did all of it have in common? Bringing people together. So you`re right, we need a new model.

Dan Doctoroff, a pleasure to have you on tonight. We enjoyed your writing in the New York Times.

And coming up for us as we continue, the audience the President`s really trying to reach at these daily briefings. We`ll talk about it with two of our favorites, a top political veteran and a Pulitzer prize-winning columnist, when we come back.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ll be opening up states, some states much sooner than others. We think some of the states can actually open up before the deadline of May 1st. And I think that will be a very exciting time indeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Like it or not, here it comes. And now to the question of what happens if in the next two weeks as Trump wants, some state governors opt to let their people start making their way out, making their way back to work and school, while most Americans by percentage of population remain indoors and away from other people. Will such a move shake the people`s faith in that benchmark aspect of what we expect from our presidents, to keep us all safe, to protect the American people?

To talk about it back with us again tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "Washington Post" and Steve Schmidt, a veteran political strategist who led John McCain`s 2012 campaign and has since left the Republican Party. He recently worked as an adviser to Howard Schultz, but both men are MSNBC political analysts.

Steve Schmidt, I`m going to start with you. Will history if not his base judge Donald Trump harshly if indeed he jeopardizes the health of us Americans during a pandemic?

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Brian, he`s already earned history`s harshest judgment with the most inept response to a major crisis by a president of the United States in American history. This is an epic American crisis. It`s a historic crisis. It`s the greatest public health crisis the country`s faced in 100 years in a complicated interconnected global economy. The cessation of American life in the third decade of the 21st century. The shuttering of business, of sport, of small business, the economic devastation, the tens of thousands of deaths that will be on the hands of Donald Trump because of his indecision, because of the delays, because of the absurdity of the denial that this was happening.

We saw the lost opportunities in February to abate this crisis. None of it was taken. So, whatever comes next, Donald Trump has already earned the condemnation of history. He`s already caused mass economic devastation. The question now is by forcing premature openings, by gaslighting the country, by continuing to deliver inaccurate and imprecise information, is he going to prolong the misery, is he going to prolong the economic devastation, guaranteeing that we have a second wave and the time that we have to all be locked down extends much further than it otherwise would have been, which is the case we face as a country already.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, something he enjoys is upending the traditional role of the job. And think about this. Traditionally, the role of president right about now in this would be to say it`s working, great job, keep it up, take care of each other, we`ll stay safe, we`ll get out the other end of this. Right now, he`s saying, you know what, I think it`s OK, it`s OK to come out, the water`s fine.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: Yes, he`s terrible at being president. He`s no good at this. And it`s a tragedy to have Donald Trump as president in this moment of crisis. As Steve said, this is a historic crisis. The unemployment is nearing depression-era levels. The economy`s in an induced coma. Nearly 2,500 Americans died from COVID-19 just today. And the deaths sadly are a lagging indicator. They haven`t reached their peak perhaps.

So, it`s a terrible moment for Donald Trump to be president. Yet he is. I am just hopeful that if any governors are foolish enough to prematurely try to open up in the absence of testing, which is the -- was the original standard of the Trump response and continues to be the great failing of the Trump administration`s response, no testing. If any government -- governors are foolish enough to try to open up, I`m hopeful that citizens of those states will be more sensible and will realize that it is too soon, and that even if they haven`t had a big problem yet, they`re inviting a big problem by opening up in the absence of nationwide surveillance testing.

WILLIAMS: Let`s pause right here. Lucky for us both of our guests are at home and have no other plans. And so they have agreed to stay for more.

When we come back, another huge endorsement in what`s been a very productive 72 hours for Joe Biden.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have seen the importance of having a leader that we can count on in a crisis. It`s not Donald Trump. It is Joe Biden.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: If he asks you to be his running mate, would you say yes?

WARREN: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So that was some news right there. And today indeed marked three days in a row of big endorsements for Joe Biden after Senator Sanders and President Obama pledged their support. Elizabeth Warren just today. And there was this from a group of conservatives who don`t hold back when it comes to criticizing the current president. They collectively call themselves the Lincoln Project. It includes frequent guests on this broadcast, including but not limited to Rick Wilson and Steve Schmidt.

They write, "Publicly supporting a Democratic nominee for president is a first for all of us. We are in extraordinary times, and we have chosen to put country over party, and former vice president Joe Biden is the candidate who we believe will do the same."

Still with us, Eugene Robinson and the aforementioned Steve Schmidt. Steve, you know, it`s one thing for Bernie and Obama and Warren to endorse their fellow Democrat. Trenches are one thing. They`re being good Democrats. Speaking of trenches, you guys made your bones attacking and trying to defeat, in many cases, successfully Democrats. You are trench fighters. It must have taken a lot to migrate from where you were to where you are tonight.

SCHMIDT: I think a lot happened, Brian. It didn`t take a lot. I think it was obvious. And I think we all feel called to support the vice president because the Republican Party that we all belonged to, that we fought for, is dead. It`s a remnant of the past. It`s not coming back. It`s been utterly corrupted by Donald Trump and Trumpism. And that`s too bad, bad for the country.

But, the larger point is we`re in the middle of the defining event of American life in our lifetimes. There`s been no event more epic than this. Not the 9/11 attacks, not the great recession in 2009. Nothing. It will take an act of monumental leadership to pull this country back together, to unite it, to heal it, and to lead a recovery that will be as difficult to come out of as was the great depression with similar economic rates, similar jobless numbers, waves of bankruptcies and devastation that will result from the coronavirus epidemic.

This is also a global phenomenon. The entire world is experiencing this together in an interconnected world. And we see a rescission of American leadership. The United States looks like a laughing stock on the world stage. The response from the federal government makes the country look weak and backwards. We see what played out aboard a forward-deployed nuclear aircraft carrier, the disgrace of the secretary of the Navy, the constant politicization of the military, the attacks on our central institutions, the authoritarian fetish that we`ve seen play out with this administration from the beginning, and the abject incompetence and the misinformation in the handling of this crisis. So it`s an urgent moment in American life. And what we say in the op-ed, it`s the most significant election the country has faced since 1864, which essentially decided whether we were to be a country at all or not.

I think the stakes are that high, and I think a coalition of decent people in this country, who are sick of the division, the dishonesty, the incompetence, the malfeasance, the narcissism and the selfishness and the unfitness by the president of the United States in small moments, in big moments, and now in this epic moment of crisis, that we can do better, and Joe Biden is the guy to do it.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, 202 nights from tonight, the three of us are going to be somewhere talking about election returns. We will know by then at least who Joe Biden has chosen to run with. We now know it could be Elizabeth Warren. He`s said it will be a woman. Stacey Abrams is straight up running for the job. Where`s your money these days?

ROBINSON: My early money and my money still has been on Kamala Harris. I think she -- she`s my front-runner for the vice presidential nomination. But he has an array of perfectly well-qualified potential vice presidential picks. And there`s kind of an embarrassment of riches there for him to choose from.

Just two quick thoughts though. Number one, I really never thought I`d live to see the day, the one day where Elizabeth Warren and Steve Schmidt endorse the same politician for president. I never thought I would live to see that day. And the second thought is, you know, you heard everything Steve said. Government matters. Politics and government really matter. And we`re seeing every day the consequences of an election, the consequences of the 2016 election. We see this administration bungling its way through this unparalleled crisis, and we`ve got to fix this. We`ve got to fix this in November. This is the election where we`ve all got to vote.

WILLIAMS: As my mother used to say, signs and wonders. Eugene Robinson, Steve Schmidt. Gentlemen, always terrific to have you. Thank you very much for hanging out with us tonight.

Coming up for us, they`re the first people called before doctors and nurses can begin to treat the patient. Too often they are the most at risk. A look at how they`re doing when we come back.

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WILLIAMS: This important reminder tonight. Even before our doctors and nurses come into initial contact with COVID patients at the hospital, in most cases, a paramedic has to bring them there.

Right now, EMS is handling a staggering call volume at great risk to themselves and their own families and their work is emotionally devastating. Their story tonight, from NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk.

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STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind every wailing siren, an EMS team rushing to save a life.

AARON HALL, NEW ORLEANS EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES: We`re going to say New Orleans as a first respondent, it`s probably one of the toughest things me and my colleagues are doing right now in our lives.

ANTHONY ALMOJERA, FDNY PARAMEDIC: This Sunday, I did 12 cardiac arrest in a 16-hour tour.

JENNIFER BLADEN, ACADIAN AMBULANCE SERVICE: For this particular disaster, there`s no appreciable end in sight. When`s it going to end? When`s it going to be over?

GOSK: In the last several weeks, these emergency responders, used to trauma, used to danger, admit there`s no way to get used to this.

JOSHUA RODRIGUEZ, FDNY PARAMEDIC: I have to sit there and explain to them that, you know, they need to say what they have to say to their family member because I don`t know if this patient`s going to come back from the hospital.

RICH STRAUB, EMPRESS EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES: You`re waking up and knowing that you`re coming to work to deal with death all day.

172 over 96.

GOSK: Rich Straub is a paramedic in Westchester, New York, where they have been battling COVID cases since February.

STRAUB: It`s dangerous following us home. It`s being brought home to our families. We have some providers that are sleeping in their cars, staying in hotels.

LISSA PEREZ, UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES: I have not hugged my daughter since this began. She said to me at the onset, mom, I`ve got asthma, and if I catch this, this is going to kill me.

GOSK: They are often watching their colleagues get sick. The New York City Paramedics Union especially hard hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have two members who are intubated. We have about seven or eight members who are in the ICU.

GOSK: Michigan EMT Kayla Capler`s partner is in the hospital.

KAYLA CAPLER, MEDSTAR AMBULANCE: It`s a different level of stress knowing that someone that you work with every single day is now fighting for their lives.

RODRIGUEZ: It`s taking a huge toll. But we`re getting through. And we will still be here. We will always keep coming back.

GOSK: The sirens, the sound of a crisis. And the strength of their commitment. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: And one point of personal privilege. All of the brave and selfless paramedics you just heard from in that report are paid career professionals. Please spare a thought as well for the volunteer first aid squads all across this country who leave their homes and lives and jobs when the 911 call comes in and then return home to their families after treating and transporting patients to the hospital.

Another break. Coming up for us, the grown adults who say they are being treated like babies by being forced to stay at home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight. Having received their orders from headquarters, protesters, most of them self-identified Trump supporters, descended on the Michigan state house today. It doesn`t matter that their state is in the midst of a state of emergency. The protest, dubbed "Operation Gridlock", was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund, a DeVos family-linked conservative group.

There were chants of, lock her up, in this case, referring to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The anti- Whitmer effort has been receiving air support from Fox News in prime time. Tucker Carlson this week accused her of auditioning for the Biden V.P. job. As the name of the protest implies, the protest was designed to cause traffic jams. And they succeeded. Those stuck in traffic included hospital workers trying to get to work in a hard- hit state in the middle of a pandemic. And for one of them, it just proved too much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES SMITH, HEALTH CARE WORKER: People. I have something to say. I work for Sparrow Hospital. How can I do my job if you all idiots are blocking up the way to get to the hospital? There are people dying every minute. And you guys, Trump supporters, want to block up everything and don`t care about nobody else. What if it was your mother? What if it was your father? What if your infant son or daughter gets sick? Because you decide to go around and open up the windows so your kids and your family members can hang their window -- heads out the window to support something that you have no business to do?

This is ridiculous. It is unfair for the people that have to go to work every single day, especially in the hospital, to do their job. If you all don`t take your asses home, this is what I`m mad about. All you all want to sit down there and pump your horn, hang out the window, throw your flag out. Because you all don`t like what somebody told you all to do? You all some idiots. Total idiots. I can`t do my job. I can`t help anybody because you all decided to block up every entrance way to get to the hospital.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: A Michigan health care worker who had had enough, caught in a protest designed to stop traffic. That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night. Please stay well. Take care of each other out there. 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