Trump's disinfectant remarks TRANSCRIPT: 4/24/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Irwin Redlener, Irwin Redlener, Douglas Brinkley

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BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: The Empire State Building towering over a grateful city of New York tonight, displaying the colors of the FDNY and New York City EMS.

Good evening on this day 1,191 of the Trump administration, 193 days remaining until our presidential election.

The President started today`s White House briefing touting his administration`s success in the fight against the coronavirus. One of the first things he said was the whole world is watching.  And let`s stop right there because he`s right but maybe not in the way he meant it. Because by tonight, much of the world had caught up with the fact that just yesterday, he said this from the podium in the White House.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous -- whether it`s ultraviolet or just very powerful light, and I think you said that hasn`t been checked, but you`re going to check it. And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you`re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We`ll get to the right folks who could.

TRUMP: Right. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute.  One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So, that, you`re going to have to use medical doctors with. But it sounds interesting to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Those words about inserting UV light into the human body, about injecting disinfectant into the human body established a new benchmark of sorts in the history of public utterances by our President in that house. And consider for a moment the fact that we are in the midst of a pandemic with over 50,000 dead

His words were greeted with revulsion and downright anger on the part of health care professionals. His words caused a spike in calls to poison control.  And to a lesser degree, launched a thousand jokes and memes that continue tonight.  And it`s clear this one will stay with him forever.

So perhaps because the whole world is watching, when Mike Pence was done after delivering the day`s coronavirus pep rally, the President abruptly left the briefing room. Briefing over after a tidy 21 minutes or so

Back on the ground and in the real world we inhabit, this was a terrible day because the death toll passed north of 50,000 in our country, 51,523 to be exact. People who were all alive three months ago. Should things continue as this pace, in just a few days more, more Americans will have died from coronavirus over a span of nine weeks than died in the Vietnam War over a span of 12 years.

This afternoon in the Oval Office after he dragged a sharpie across a nearly $500 billion relief package, the President was asked about the devastating toll this virus has taken.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you take any responsibility for these 50,000 deaths that have happened in this country?

TRUMP: I think we`ve done a great job. Minimal numbers. We`re going to be 100,000 people, and we`re going to be hopefully far below that. If we didn`t take quick action, you could have lost many millions of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: As we mentioned earlier, today`s White House pandemic briefing, the 46th such briefing in this crisis, was the President`s shortest to date.

And Axios tonight is reporting that Trump is planning to cut the daily briefings. "A number of Trump`s most trusted advisers -- both inside and outside the White House, have urged him to stop doing marathon televised briefings. They`ve told him he`s overexposed and these appearances are part of the reason polls aren`t looking good for him right now against Joe Biden."

Axios adds that conversations about this were under way at the White House before yesterday`s briefing. That`s the one where Trump seemed to suggest injecting household disinfectants and inserting ultraviolet light into COVID patients.

Today with the, Don`t Try This At Home warnings from disinfectant manufacturers, state and federal health officials piling up, the President was trying to tell us we saw something different. He tried to say he wasn`t being serious.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Could you clarify your comments about injections of disinfectant?  They`re quite provocative.

TRUMP: No. I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen. I was asking a sarcastic and a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. But it does kill it, and it would kill it on the hands, and that would make things much better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Pandemic Task Force Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, who you saw earlier listening to her boss offer potentially life-threatening suggestions, was more forgiving today during an interview on Fox News.

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DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: When he gets new information, he likes to talk that through out loud and really have that dialogue. And so that`s what dialogue he was having. I think he just saw the information at the time, immediately before the press conference, and he was still digesting that information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: NBC News among those reporting Trump`s comments about sunlight and disinfectants stunned his close aides, catching them off guard. Our colleague Carol Lee is part of the team that`s been working on this story.

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CAROL LEE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Aides in the White House who just started texting each other, saying where did he get this from? Where is this coming from? And they were trying to figure it out. What we learned is that before the briefing, there was a meeting in the Oval Office where some of this was discussed, where the idea of heat and humidity and disinfectants being effective on surfaces and that the virus doesn`t live as long in heat or humidity and those types of things. That had been discussed in the Oval Office. There was some discussion about how different ailments can be treated with radiation. And what aides said is that the President seemed to just conflate all of this and ad-lib at the podium.

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WILLIAMS: This all comes to the fore as one of Trump`s other questionable potential cures is taking a big hit publicly. He has touted this anti- malaria, anti-lupus drug hydroxychloroquine as a game-changer for COVID patients. But the FDA is now warning against its widespread use without strict medical supervision in a hospital setting. Over the past several weeks, states have built up stockpiles of this drug despite cautions from medical experts that more research is needed.

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TRUMP: We have purchased and we have stockpiled 29 million pills of the hydroxychloroquine, 29 million. A lot of drugstores have them by prescription. Our national stockpile is now equipped with nearly 30 million hydroxychloroquine pills. We`re distributing them by the millions.

Over the last seven days, my administration has deployed roughly 28 million doses of hydroxychloroquine from our national stockpile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, after weeks in lockdown and a day after we learned we have 26 million out of work and filing for unemployment, Georgia is one of a handful of states that today started allowing some businesses to reopen, barbershops, nail salons, gyms, tattoo parlors opened their doors even as Georgia reported now nearly 900 deaths from coronavirus.

Iowa, which is also seeing increases in its virus caseload, is planning to begin reopening its economy on Monday.

And finally there`s this. Mike Pence with Geraldo Rivera.

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GERALDO RIVERA: Do you think, am I going to be on my boat and fishing in early June, Mr. Vice President?

MIKE PENCE: I think honestly, if you look at the trends today, uh, that I think by Memorial Day weekend, we will largely have this coronavirus epidemic behind us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Let`s remember that quote and tuck it away. And here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night after another consequential week in America, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post. Moderator of Washington Week on PBS. Annie Karni, White House Reporter with the New York Times. And Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press.

Jonathan, I`d like to begin with you. Having written about this briefing we witnessed today that sure was abrupt. Suddenly it was over the longest among them.  We looked it up, ran 2:24 minutes at their height. That is well into Tarantino territory. And while sub Irishman, it would get Scorsese`s attention. Could it turn out that live television coverage might have been the disinfectant for this kind of briefing?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": This was a short film compared to the longest ones he`s done, the ones you just cited, Brian. This has been in the works for a while. As Axios first reported it and we have as well and added some details to it. A number of his advisers both inside and outside the building have been asking him to sort of curtail these, suggesting to him he shouldn`t be out there every day. That he should reserve his appearances for big moments when there`s major news to announce or perhaps some really good announcements to make as opposed to just being out there day after day.

Now, the President of course has been very reluctant to give up this stage. It`s the closest thing he has right now to a rally. It is something that he enjoys, the jousting with reporters. He believes it plays well with his base when he`s out there fighting with his reporters. He wants to deliver an optimistic view, a rosy take on the situation and the federal government`s handling of this pandemic, and he`s reluctant to give it up.

But there`s a real sense growing among his team in the West Wing and in the campaign that this is hurting him. They have seen his numbers slip in a number of battleground states. Michigan in particular. It is now - He is well down there. Some advisers are privately conceding it might be out of reach soon

They`re worried about these briefings` impact on nervous senior citizens both in the upper Midwest, places like Wisconsin, but also Florida. People who are the most vulnerable population to this pandemic who are concerned at the President`s performance at these briefings.

And then in the last 24 hours, the President started to listen. After a day`s worth of frankly being pummeled by bad headlines after his comments yesterday about the disinfectants. There was also a bit of a kerfuffle in the briefing room. A White House staffer tried to get CNN to give up their seat to move further back in the briefing room.  The reporters involved in this potential switch refused.  And let`s point out it`s the White House Correspondents Association that`s in charge of that room. They set the seating plan, not the White House.

And after 21 minutes, the President stalked off. Now, as we should note as a final thing, the President won`t change his mind. He has not officially signed up on a plan to give up doing these daily briefings. But there`s at least in consideration is going to be meetings about it over the weekend and it should be noted at least for now there is not a briefing on his schedule for tomorrow.

WILLIAMS: Operative term, Annie Karni, at least for now, first of all, point of order, kudos to Kaitlan Collins for standing her ground and doing so well this week under withering fire to boot. Annie, your piece late this week painted a portrait of a brooding, television-obsessed president, up until all hours of the night, for whom these briefings were a rally-like release of energy. What is it going to be like without regular appearances and/or how long does this new rule stand?

ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. Our piece that ran in today`s paper kind of portrayed Trump as following the same kind of schedule he has been for years now, watching TV four hours in the morning, not getting to the oval till sometimes close to noon, peppering aides like Mark Meadows with calls at 3:19 in the morning.

He kind of likes to test out new aides and see if they can keep up with his nocturnal habits. If he cancels the briefing and follows through with this, they have something that pulled him out of the real funk aides described mid-March as kind of his lowest point mood-wise. And the briefings energized him and brought him back to life, the jousting, everything that people criticize, he loves that part.

If these briefings go away and he concedes to let them go, which by the way I`ve heard that he hasn`t necessarily agreed to it yet. So a big caveat about end of briefings. We`ll see him, and we`ll hear him.

Mike Pence, the Vice President, has been traveling again already. The President could start traveling again if they`re trying to portray the country as soon ready to reopen after Memorial Day. We -- there is, I think, very low chance that the President will simply recede into the background and let other administration officials be the face for him. If it`s not the briefing, he`ll find another way. He will be talking to us and making statements that aides have to walk back. That`s almost a guarantee.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, I`m quite certain Annie is right. And we started the broadcast with the President`s quote from early on in the briefing. The whole world is watching. This is where it refers to your beat. The whole world also includes Republicans with their names on ballots in November. What are they making of all this?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They are watching, and they`re seeing different clues. In conversations with top republicans over the last 24 hours. They don`t see the President retreating at all. And they see the President more emboldened than ever. Though he did not take questions today, they do not see him as a President who is somehow walking away from hydroxychloroquine as a treatment he`s advocating. He, in fact, put the FDA commissioner, Stephen Hahn, alongside him at the White House lectern this afternoon.

And then you also see the President clashing with medical experts in his ranks all week, and it was from Dr. Bright to Dr. Redfield at the CDC. You see this administration creating tension step after step of this pandemic with the top experts in the administration. Republicans see it all, and they are fine if he backs away from the briefing.

But you look at the confusion in the Republican Party, particularly with the Georgia Governor, Brian Kemp. So many of these Republican governors think they`re following the President`s lead, but then that`s always a tricky path for Republicans to follow. They want to be in his good graces politically, but they also see him breaking away almost instantly on a whim if he sees that the Georgia governor in this instance was not doing something that was politically popular.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, a question on the very point Robert just made. The White House bangs the drum for the states to start reopening one at a time and their pace, and the first one to stick his neck out, the President makes it clear he`s not happy with him. What`s going on there?

I thought it was me. Turns out no one in the audience can hear Jonathan Lemire. Apologies for that.

Annie Karni, let`s talk about something else that has your byline on it for your newspaper, and that is West Point commencement. A thousand cadets give or take. Because it`s happening on every campus, they`ve all scattered back home presumably around the country prior to getting their commissions. The President has made it clear he would very much like to give the commencement at West Point. That will mean gathering up 1,000 newly minted second lieutenants and having them commingle for the sake of that commencement ceremony.

KARNI: Yes. We can add West Point to the list of people and institutions that have been surprised to hear their name spoken from the White House briefing room by the President in the past few weeks. He announced that he was going to give the commencement speech at West Point last Friday. That was news to West Point. He had long been the planned speaker for the May commencement that had been rescheduled, but West Point didn`t have an alternative plan finalized yet. And they had been in talks with the President. The White House had made clear to west point that he was still interested in doing this. This is -- he`s spoken at all the military academies except for West Point. This is sort of the crowning thing, a great optic for a re-election year. The President really didn`t want to give this up.

But he kind of blurted it out in response to a question about the Vice President giving the commencement speech at the Air Force Academy. And never one to be upstaged, the President had to say that he too was giving an important commencement speech this year.  And that scrambled West Point to have to -- didn`t realize it was final, and that made it final. So like the businesses and chief executives who learned they were on the task force when they heard the President say their names, West Point also was taken by surprise.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, back to the conversation we had about the Governor of Georgia. Is there a non-barbershop, non-tattoo parlor, actual moving forward strategy for returning the country during a moving and changeable pandemic?

COSTA: So many small businesses are pressuring elected leaders in both parties to reopen. But here`s a key issue that keeps coming up in my reporting. The issue of liability. And you see the top business groups in the country are privately telling the White House tonight, we need to have some kind of liability protection. You want us to go back to work and open our barbershops and open our restaurants. We can`t be sued time and again by our customers. So the White House is working on some kind of protection plan from lawsuits, but that`s going to be difficult to get done through executive order, and it`s going to be difficult to get through Congress. But those are some of the entanglements that businesses are encountering as they look to try to follow the President`s direction to reopen.

Now even conservative groups are saying it`s not maybe safe for many businesses to come back if they`re only going to get sued.

WILLIAMS: And, Jonathan Lemire, I`m told we can hear you now. The problem is I can give you only 30 seconds of audio brilliance to add on whatever you were able to add on to the Brian Kemp kerfuffle in Georgia.

LEMIRE: It`s a good thing I work for a wire service, Brian. I can be brief and speedy. Yes, I mean, it`s mixed signals from the President here. You know, he and the Vice President have both spoken to the governor earlier in the week and had given their support for the plan to reopen. It was only after Dr. Birx and the health officials met with him, discussed this. They were able to convey their misgivings to the President that he did a quick about-face. And suddenly from the White House podium, before calling back the governor. Governor Kemp expected the President to speak to him again. He didn`t. He went to the podium. He said he was opposed to this plan, and it`s left a lot, not just Governor Kemp but a lot of Republican governors across the country confused and concerned about what will happen going forward when it`s their turn for their states to try to reopen.

WILLIAMS: Our great thanks on a Friday night to Robert Costa, Annie Karni, and Jonathan Lemire with audio, an interesting choice of a wall hanging.

Coming up as we approach our first break on a Friday night, are UV light and disinfectants to fight this virus just the tip of the iceberg? Our next guest warns of deadly ignorance on full display these days.

And later, is Election Day in November really up for grabs? We`ll leave the question at that as The 11th Hour is just getting under way on a Friday night.

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TRUMP: The FDA approved the first at-home COVID-19 test kit. They`ve been approving not only this, but they`ve been approving many things that are a pace that`s never happened before and they`re being very safe about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Something the FDA is not approving, medications the President and his allies on the right touted as potential game-changers. Today the FDA in fact warned, as we said, against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat this coronavirus outside of a hospital or clinic.

The agency citing reports of serious heart rhythm problems in COVID-19 patients. That is the medication about which the President famously said, take it.

Back with us again tonight, Dr. Irwin Redlener, Pediatrics Physician, Clinical Professor with the School of Public Health at Columbia University. Also happens to be Director of Columbia`s National Center for Disaster Preparedness with an expertise in pandemic influenza.

Doctor, I have to read you this from The Financial Times tonight. Epidemiologists say that if the U.S. shutdown had taken place two weeks earlier, 90% of the deaths would have been prevented.  Under the headline The U.S. is failing the test of the century.

All I know is we came out of yesterday`s live coverage of the disinfectant and UV light briefing. You were our first guest and reacted in real time as if to say, now we`re in the realm of the dangerous.

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, EXPERT ON PANDEMIC INFLUENZA: Brian, I lost your question there. Sorry.

WILLIAMS: Oh, I was just asking you to expand upon your comments yesterday after the briefing that we were in the realm of the dangerous.

REDLENER: Yes, sure. It is extraordinary actually, Brian, that we are dealing with an increasing amount of dangerous misinformation that`s being put out from the White House. It started with the hydroxychloroquine myth that somehow that would be the panacea to the point where the government actually bought almost 30 million doses of this drug, which turns out to be not only not useful but potentially lethal for people that do take it when they`re really sick.

Yesterday`s performance at the White House was something for the books really. You know, we saw an incoherent presentation with slides that were really unmanageable, a presentation given by a researcher at the Department of Homeland Security with no medical backup, no medical background whatsoever.

And then we heard the President go through a list of things that might be useful, in his words, for treating the COVID-19 virus. The problem is that they were talking about isopropyl alcohol, which is rubbing alcohol. They were talking about bleach, and they were talking about the use of in-body ultraviolet treatments. And it was absolutely stunning. And I know that virtually everyone I`ve spoken to, many people in the medical community, were jaw-dropping, you know, across the country. It was an extraordinary thing to hear.

And then he turned and unfortunately had to ask Dr. Birx what she thought about this. And, you know, watching her facial expression, I`m sure she was thinking, I wish I was somewhere else. But it was a very difficult night for science and medical evidence. It was an extraordinary display of ignorance by someone who works in the administration and unfortunately by the President himself. I just think it`s worth reissuing the warning that not one single piece of advice given by the President last night about ingesting rubbing alcohol or bleach or somehow getting UV light into your body should be followed. This is not a political statement. It`s a statement of deep medical concern that some people might in fact take the President seriously, and we hope that they don`t, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Stunning that it needs to be said on a news broadcast in the year 2020, but you`re absolutely right.

Let`s talk about Dr. Birx, army veteran, career public servant, scientist, doctor. She took a pass on questioning Georgia`s loosening of restrictions. She took a pass on stopping the President mid-comment yesterday, and was downright apologetic on his behalf on Fox News today. Do folks like you looking at a doctor like that figure she is still more valuable on the inside for what she stops from happening?

REDLENER: Yes. So, you know, Brian, I`ve gone through stages of grief here, first feeling like sorry for her because she was in that position of being questioned on something absolutely preposterous by the President. But now hearing all these other issues where she`s been apologetic on behalf of the President`s absolute nonsense. And I`m wondering what she`s doing in that position at this moment. If she`s not serving as a backstop, as a neutralizer to nonsensical announcements by the President, what good is she doing the American public?

Yes, she`s been a public servant.  And yes she`s had a pretty good career. But now she`s really in some ways degenerating into a different kind of relationship with the White House.

I don`t understand why she would even stay in government. And she knows full well, by the way, that what the President was saying was ridiculous, yet she`s there. It`s really hard to know what to make of that, and I don`t know how long she`s going to last, because either she`s got to keep projects for the president or refute him and then her job`s going to be in jeopardy. She`s in a tough position, as is Dr. Fauci, by the way.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, I guess the good news coming out of this week is you can fly to Atlanta for a haircut, a massage, a workout, and a tattoo. The bad news, however, is this. Tell us how long you think we`re going to be at this.

REDLENER: By the way, I could personally use all those services, but I`m not flying to Georgia. And I think this is a big macro problem that we`re dealing with now, which is that the rush to get back to normal or back to work at least is completely understandable. And I know many people are out of jobs and terrified about how they`re going to pay their rent and so on. But we -- it is way, way too early to allow businesses to reopen. We`re missing too many elements in what would keep people safe.

First of all, we don`t have enough testing being done. Second of all, we don`t have clear enough rules for how businesses should operate. And third of all, we don`t have the ability to do the contact tracing that we must have in case somebody gets sick or has a positive test and we have to go find out who they`ve been in contact with. We`re way underready, not ready to be going back to work at all right now. It`s going to be unfortunately quite a long time before we are, Brian.

WILLIAMS: When we`re back to normal and you decide to go in and get inked up, please let us know so we can send a camera crew. Dr. Irwin Redlener, thank you for always answering the bell and answering our questions.

Another break for us --

REDLENER: Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: -- and coming up, from science to straight-up quackery in the midst of a pandemic. Two seasoned presidential observers assess another extraordinary week in this unprecedented national crisis.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you say affirmatively that whenever the president says something, we can trust it to be real?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he`s not joking, of course.

TRUMP: He is the founder of ISIS. He`s the founder of ISIS.

So I said the founder of ISIS. Obviously, I`m being sarcastic. WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks. And I say it in a joking manner at a speech, joking. I don`t know about WikiLeaks. Don`t worry about that baby. I love babies. So, I love babies. I hear that baby crying, I like it. Actually, I was only kidding. You can get the baby out of here.

He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same. I`m kidding, you don`t understand sarcasm.

I am the chosen one. It was sarcasm. It was joking. We were all smiling. And I haven`t touched my face in weeks, in weeks. I miss it. Well, I was kidding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Trump administration officials spend a good deal of their time treading lightly around the boss. They`re often forced to react in real time when he goes off script, putting them in the position to clean up, to either refute his misinformation or attempt to defend it. Former special presidential envoy Brett McGurk described his time in the White House this way.

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BRETT MCGURK, FORMER SPECIAL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY: When you`re in the high- level decision-making circles, there`s something called the effectiveness trap when you have a leader like President Trump. To be effective, you need to be in the room and in the circle. But in order to be in the room and in the circle, you somehow sometimes need to muzzle your recommendations, live to fight another day. This is a term that came out of the Vietnam experience, and I just -- I really feel for the Faucis and the Dr. Birxes. We need them on the wall right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Back with us again tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for "The Washington Post." And we`re so happy to have Doug Brinkley back with us, presidential historian and author. And for your quarantine reading list, his latest book, and I have them all, "American Moonshot, John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race" has just been released in paperback.

Gentlemen, good evening to you both. And Doug, I have to begin with you because in the last segment, we just heard a Columbia physician say to our audience, absent politics do not follow the advice the president gave. The past 24 hours, we have heard grown-ups say, pay no attention to what the president said. Is there any parallel in any of your reading and writing about American history?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Nothing like Trump`s cavernous stupidity. He`s done it a lot since the COVID-19 crisis has erupted. But the idea of telling people to inject or use, you know, disinfectants and take them and having Lysol company have to come out and say, please don`t do that, and doctors all over the country today are having to kind of do a cleanup for Trump`s foolish remark.

It wasn`t sarcasm. It was ignorance. He takes information from somebody, distills it, misstates it, and then goes on television, and it`s really almost unwatchable, his performances in the White House press briefings. But, yet, he has purse strings and power, so people have to tune into them. It`s unfortunate that we just can`t listen to some of the governors talk about what they`re doing in their states and not always have to be doing Donald Trump cleanup work.

WILLIAMS: Oh, it is interesting. The governors have become what they were intended to be and that is governors, local leaders leading their states.

Eugene, about the particular hell and the unique conundrum of people, especially the grown-ups around the president, you and I talked about this a lot with the likes of General Mattis. Talk about what they`re up against now.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, they`re up against the unique danger and specter of Donald Trump. I mean, we`ve never had -- as Doug said, there`s never been a president like this. He is headstrong. He is irrational. He is impervious to new information often when he decides he knows something, even if he doesn`t know it. He has decided he knows it, therefore that`s the way it has to be, and that`s the way everybody has to pretend it has to be.

Yesterday was just a disaster. It was horrifying to listen to him recommend injecting disinfectants and talking about some method of getting ultraviolet light inside your body. You know, if there is one sort of potential bright spot in what was otherwise a really bleak week, it is that today, he did not take questions at his briefing, and maybe the experience of becoming the object of worldwide ridicule and derision because of the remark yesterday has soured him on the idea of coming out every day and taking two hours` worth of questions. And if that`s the case, then that`s something at least to take away from this week.

WILLIAMS: Doug Brinkley, we`ve elected, what, 11 generals over the years to be our president. We`ve had some characters with some pretty hard bark on them. And while empathy is something in your hardwiring or not, you`re born with it or you don`t have it, we`ve had some folks fake it pretty good. Talk about the lack of empathy at these public briefings.

BRINKLEY: Well, that`s been, I think, the worst part of them. I`ve yet to see Donald Trump really open up his heart to people that are dying. I mean, as you said at the top of the broadcast, Brian, we`re approaching Vietnam War numbers of American dead. You know, where 58,000 died in Vietnam. Pretty soon it could be Korean War and Vietnam combined, and this president doesn`t seem to have an open heart. He hasn`t really gone somewhere to try to talk to the doctors and nurses in any way.

I mean, ex-President Bill Clinton sent pizzas to a hospital in Westchester. There just hasn`t been a human touch to this president. He keeps feeling angry that his stock market went down, and he`s trying to figure out how this will work for him in 2020. But being empathetic is important for presidents. We saw with Bill Clinton in the Oklahoma City moment or George W. Bush with the bullhorn after 9/11. We just don`t get that from this president. He`s too self-involved.

WILLIAMS: Indeed we just saw the headline, Susan Glasser`s latest piece of work from "The New Yorker". And, indeed, we have elected 12 generals in our history as a nation. We`re going to take a break here. Both of our guests have agreed to stick around.

And coming up on the other side, Trump`s latest attack against an American institution, another one, when we come back.

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TRUMP: The Postal Service is a joke because they`re handing out packages for Amazon and other internet companies, and every time they bring a package, they lose money on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: President Trump threatened today to block coronavirus funding for the Postal Service. Our mail carriers, just a reminder here, are some of the hardest working essential employees out there. They are quite literally these days risking their lives every day to deliver what is, remember, essential items to millions of Americans trying to stay at home.

There`s also this. Over 100,000 of our Postal Service workers are U.S. veterans. During a virtual fundraiser, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden offered his theory. "Imagine threatening not to fund the post office. Now, what in God`s name is that about? Other than trying to let the word out that he`s going to do all he can to make it very hard for people to vote."

A lot to talk about here, and we will do so now with Eugene Robinson and Doug Brinkley. Gene, it used to be you could go out to Vegas and bet on who was going to win the presidential election, not if there was going to be one. And, by the way, there isn`t a Vegas right now, but their mayor is making sure to fix that in a hurry. What`s your prognostication on what this election is going to look like? And we won`t hold you to it.

ROBINSON: Well, there`s going to be an election on Election Day. It`s set by law, and it`s going to happen. And it`s -- you know, what it looks like will depend on what happens in 50 statehouses and the district of Columbia, basically, and how election officials in the 50 states and the district decide to reimagine, basically, election procedures to allow people to vote. That will involve in-person voting that we`re used to. That will involve a lot of mail-in voting.

And between now and then, there will be a big political fight, and it will be largely along partisan lines, and it will be messy. But we`re going to have an election.

WILLIAMS: Doug Brinkley, at our house, we have left a note out on the door thanking the U.S. Postal Service, leaving treats out like Santa`s coming, thanking the FedEx drivers, the UPS drivers, all the people who are out because and so that we can be inside. Imagine in your lifetime, a president saying the U.S. Postal Service is a joke.

BRINKLEY: It`s impossible to imagine that he would do such a thing. You know, Benjamin Franklin was the first postmaster general in 1775, the Second Continental Congress. This is part of the DNA in America, the Postal Service. During the Great Depression and World War II, FDR built post offices, issued stamps to keep morale up. These are proud American public servants, our U.S. postal delivery people and also the ones that work in the stations. All this is about is Donald Trump does not want mail-in vote.

And I think Congress has to move on this right now because mailing right now your vote in, Oregon`s been doing it for a while. So we can look at how they do it. But it`s safe. It`s convenient. Why this November 3rd, if there`s a second wave of COVID-19, why in the world would we want senior citizens, people in nursing homes, you know, assisted living, waiting in long lines like we saw in the Wisconsin Democratic primary and putting their health at risk when they could do a simple mail-in vote, which creates a paper trail and it`s much less fraud than what we`ve been doing the last few elections.

So, I hope Congress moves on pushing forward and act right now bipartisan to allow mail-in ballots this November.

WILLIAMS: It`s a lot to take in. It`s a lot to think about. Our thanks to two great writers at the end of a long week for talking us through it. Eugene Robinson, Doug Brinkley, gentlemen, thank you both for being here with us.

Coming up, it`s going to be billions more on its way to American small businesses, but will it be enough? More on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: The great former Senator Everett Dirksen famously said, and I believe he said it to Johnny Carson, a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, sooner or later you`re talking about real money.

Well, the president officially signed the $484 billion relief package into law today, which means on Monday, small businesses will have another opportunity to apply for loans in this Paycheck Protection Program. But there`s already concern, real concern, that this new money will run out again. This is important stuff. And tonight our NBC News senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Takeout and delivery have replaced what is usually the busiest time of year at this Skrimp Shack in Virginia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s keeping us afloat. But as we go through this a little bit further, if we continue on the same path, I don`t see us being able to sustain.

RUHLE: Ricky and Rhonda Atkins` (ph) loan application didn`t make it through last time. Now, they`re banking on the second round of the Paycheck Protection Program.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It would make a huge difference in terms of the survival of our restaurant.

RUHLE: Today, an additional $310 billion was pumped into the fund. But there`s concern that new money may be quickly tapped out because of the volume of applications left over from the first round. Some banks have no plans to accept new applications.

TODD MCCRACKEN, NATIONAL SMALL BUSINESS ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: Every minute, a small business is closing, and this is not enough. It`s going to help, but, no, it`s not enough.

RUHLE: After growing backlash, many businesses that received multi-million dollar loans are returning them, putting hundreds of millions back in the pot.

SETH HARRIS, FORMER DEPUTY SECRETARY OF LABOR: They may have done the wrong thing, but they didn`t do anything legal. It`s government`s job to make sure that businesses can`t get access to money they shouldn`t have access to.

RUHLE: The SBA is now encouraging publicly traded companies to return the money they`ve received through the program, and this time around, businesses have to prove they can`t get other funding. Hedge funds and private equity firms are no longer eligible. And the government is allocating $60 billion to smaller lenders, hoping they reach the smallest businesses like Lynnis Donnelly`s (ph) boutique, a Florida community bank approved her loan.

LYNNIS DONNELLY, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: It is my hope that all the businesses, big and small, will be able to get the funding that they truly need in order to survive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: As we said, important stuff and our thanks to Stephanie Ruhle.

Coming up, the acts of kindness that just feels so much bigger these days.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Let`s try to end the week with some uplift. There was the letter a Kansas farmer sent to New York Governor Cuomo this week. It starts out saying, I sincerely doubt you will ever read this letter, noting how busy the governor is. But he goes on to say he and his wife are in their 70s. They`re hunkered down in Kansas. His wife has one lung, but he sent the governor an N95 mask to give to a doctor or a nurse in New York.

Farmer says he had five of them, needs four for his immediate family, but wanted to give away what he didn`t need. And then there`s this, and this matters right now. A band called Granny & The Boys playing a little Stevie on the front porch of a house in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington. So at this point, we`ll wish you a good safe weekend. Get out of the way as we thank you for watching this week. And now Granny & The Boys will play us off the air. Good night.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END