NYC Subway to close TRANSCRIPT: 4/30/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Ron Klain, Steven Fulop

  BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again. Day 1,197 of the Trump administration. 187 days to go until our presidential election.

The daily White House coronavirus task force press conference seems to have temporarily gone away, but the President has found a way each day thus far to talk about the coronavirus, as he did today at two different events. First hosting the New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy in the Oval Office and at an event concerning senior citizens later in the East Room.

With the death toll over 62,000 Americans, the President today suggested when looked at another way, it`s not so bad. "Our death totals, our numbers per million people, are really very, very strong." He said, "We`re the leader of the world." We`re really the leader in this case, the leader of the world, and we`ve done better. If you look at our deaths, if you look at mortality rates, if you look at the things.

About our current situation in this pandemic, he said, "This is what it is. It`s this period of time." The Trump administration`s coronavirus efforts continue to get positive reviews from Trump himself. "I have to say it because the news is so fake and so corrupt. We did a spectacular job."

The President said today he has solved the problem with the food supply chain. He further said, "The testing and the masks and all of the things, we`ve solved every problem."

Beyond his recent effort to deflect as much of the blame to China as often as possible, today he went as far as to indicate he has a high degree of confidence this started in the Wuhan virology lab. And today he continued to make it about his own politics. He said again, "China doesn`t want to see me elected." And he added this, "I don`t want to cast any dispersions. I just will tell you that China would like to see sleepy Joe Biden."

In the real world we occupy tonight, the U.S. death toll continues to rise. As of air time this evening, there is the number. It stands at just under 63,000. At the start of this month, there were over 4,700 deaths. One more sign of these very difficult times, now more than 30 million Americans are out of a job. The numbers of people who are now turning to food banks to feed themselves and their families is staggering.

Today one of Trump`s senior economic advisers told Americans to be ready for depression-era levels of unemployment by June. We`re talking about between 16% and 20%. Trump had hoped to make a booming economy the keystone of his re-election campaign. Today he faced questions about the growing number of people without a paycheck.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM ACOSTA: What is your plan to get the country out of this ditch?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think we`re going to have a great third quarter. I view what we have now as obviously a period of -- here we are. It is what it is. I`ll tell you, Jim --

ACOSTA: Are you seeing these massive lines for food?

TRUMP:  Let me just tell you. We started off with empty cupboards. The last administration left us nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Trump was also asked for his thoughts on how voters should think about his administration`s response to the pandemic when they go to the polls in November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it fair for the voters to take into consideration your handling of the pandemic when they assess whether to re-elect you in the fall?

TRUMP: Sure. I think they do. I think they have to do a number of things. They do have to do that. And not me. I think our whole group has been spectacular.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The President said today, "We`re being generous with people who lost their jobs." And as he seeks to turn the nation`s attention to reopening, he is pushing his health care officials to quickly ramp up development of a vaccine. There`s been no official public announcement of what`s being called operation warp speed. It`s been reported that the goal is to have 300 million doses of vaccine available by January.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vaccine operation, warp speed, who`s in charge of that? And are you overpromising when you say you`re going to have 300 million doses of vaccine in eight months?

TRUMP: No, I`m not overpromising. Whatever the maximum is, whatever you can humanly do, we`re going to have. You know who is in charge of it honestly? I am. I`ll tell you, I`m really in charge of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Federal guidelines recommending social distancing will expire less than an hour from now. Tomorrow more states will begin the process of loosening those stay-at-home restrictions while allowing some businesses to reopen even amid the continuing rise in COVID cases and the lack of testing nationwide. Yet many hard-hit states are wrestling with how to return to some semblance of normal while safeguarding public health.

In Michigan, protesters, some carrying firearms, gathered at the statehouse in Lansing as lawmakers weighed whether to extend the state of emergency.

Tonight the Governor went ahead, extended it by a month, 28 days after lawmakers refused.

In California, images of people at Orange County beaches this weekend in defiance of a stay-at-home order pushed that state`s governor to announce a temporary hard close.

In New York City, amid concerns about growing homelessness population, the spread of the virus, that`s led state officials to suspend overnight subway service between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. every night for cleaning and disinfecting starting next week. And of course the unfortunate truth is cleaning makes us all feel better, but a surface is clean until the first person who comes along and touches it.

Meanwhile, the Vice President was at a GM plant in his home State of Indiana today notably wearing a mask two days after coming under heavy fire for not wearing one at the Mayo Clinic of all places despite their stated policy calling for masks.

Back in Washington, the President was asked if he plans to wear one during an upcoming trip to Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I`ve got to look and see where I am. Here`s a place that we all feel very comfortable. Everybody`s spread out. It`s a very big room. But as far as where I`m going in Arizona, I`m going to have to look at the climate. I would have no problem wearing a mask. We have millions of masks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, two of the very best The Washington Post has to offer. Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize- Winning White House Reporter, and Robert Costa, National Political Reporter. He`s also the Moderator of Washington Week on PBS. Also joining us tonight, Ron Klain, a Political Veteran now informally advising the Biden campaign. Notably he oversaw the response to the Ebola outbreak during the Obama presidency. He is these days co-host of a new podcast about this coronavirus outbreak called Epidemic.

Good evening and welcome to you all. Ashley, tonight I was reminded it was a week ago today the President, though reminding us he`s not a doctor, floating out the suggestion of the injection of disinfectants, the insertion perhaps of U.V. light into the human body. There was much press coverage as he planned to back away from these coronavirus briefings though as we noted at the top, the top of the broadcast full of just today`s quotes. He`s still making daily media appearances, still dealing with the give and take with reporters. So what has changed in the intervening week?

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that`s exactly right. I mean he has not -- what has changed is he has not been going out for those formal briefings as frequently in the White House briefing room, right? They canceled them over the weekend, and the part that they were sort of most concerned about was that give and take with reporters where he would go off script. Oftentimes he would go out. He would read a script. The script would have a little bit of sympathy for the victims, and it was then in those back and forth where aides felt he stayed too long. He seemed to make himself small and petty by feuding with the media, offering gripes and grievances and so forth.

And so there originally was a plan that they want him still out in front of the media but maybe in a more controlled setting and trying to move the emphasis away from public health, where even Republican lawmakers were telling us we don`t want him weighing in on public health. We want to leave that to the professionals like Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci and talking about the economy.

One final point is today when I was watching was the most striking. He was at that event, as you mentioned, for senior citizens. He sort of went through the ceremony of that, and then he turned out. He looked at the media, and he notably and pointedly said, I`ll take questions on this and just about any other topic, and that`s exactly what happened. So today very much did feel like those previous briefings, but they have sort of in the margins, for at least the past four days or so, reined him in slightly.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, the news coverage has for good reason concentrated on the pandemic and things like the death toll, the spread of cases, testing. But in your reporting, do you agree that it seems like we are getting the first indications people realizing deep in their bones just how serious, how dire, how grim this economic situation is about to become?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: In conversations with governors who are on the front lines, whether it`s Governor Pritzker of Illinois, Governor Hogan of Maryland, and others, and governor Whitmer of Michigan, you see them under intense pressure from the business community, from their own constituents to open their economies in their states. But they`re dealing with a situation where you just can`t, as Dr. Fauci says, flick the switch of the light because you may even have tests like they have in Maryland.

Governor Hogan got 500,000 from South Korea. But he hasn`t been able to use all of them yet because they don`t have the supplies that go along with the tests. The swabs that you need to make tests effective. And you see in state after state testing challenges. And even when they get to the threshold when it comes to testing, many businesses feel like they`re in the open, open to lawsuits if they don`t have some kind of liability protection. Then workers on the other side say they need to be able to file a lawsuit in they`re in unsafe work conditions. All of these issues in 50 states not worked out. Details are hovering over every governor, every CEO at this moment. It`s not something that`s just coming together in a seamless way despite what the White House is saying.

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, you`re here as something of an expert witness. At the start of this month, we exceeded the death toll on 9/11. At the start of this week, we exceeded the death toll in the Vietnam War. What examples of leadership would you urgently like to see right about now?

RON KLAIN, OVERSAW EBOLA RESPONSE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I mean, I think the first point, Brian, is that the President and his aides need to stop saying it`s over, we`re past the worst of it, and deny that we`re still in a grave situation. 2,000 Americans are going to die in the next 24 hours from COVID, and 2,000 more in the 24 hours after that. We`re still really at a crisis level of this situation.

And, you know, these health issues and these economic issues are closely tied together. The reason we`re looking at depression-like economics is while Donald Trump or governors can open up businesses, they can`t make consumers show up. And they`re not going to show up if they don`t feel they`re safe. So the problem remains testing. The President`s behind. He still hasn`t really done anything to speed that up. The governors have been left on their own.

As Robert says, even the governors that are having success like Governor Hogan in Maryland are having problems with the kinds of supplies the federal government should be providing. I mean unless Donald Trump fixes the public health problem, the economic problem is going to continue to get worse. They`re inextricably intertwined.

WILLIAMS: Ashley, we`ve learned the President is planning to go out to Arizona. Confines of the trip TBD. We now know that he`s going to ring in the start of the month of May up at Camp David. Talk us through what you think the months of May and June might look like with this rolling crisis underneath this White House.

PARKER: That`s a great question, and the President has been very eager to get back out on the road. He`s eager to return to doing rallies. That`s why, as we talked about before, his briefings in some ways had taken on the tone and the energy of his rallies, which was problematic. It`s very different when you`re in an arena with tens of thousands of screaming mega fans who are hard core supporters versus when you`re in that White House briefing room supposing to be imparting public health information responsibly to the public.

But the point remains the President wants to get out on the road. I think in some ways it`s important to look and White House aides said as much to what the Vice President has been doing. When the Vice President first started traveling about two weeks ago now, they pointed to him and said, that will be the model they will look at to see how you can do it with responsible social distancing. Of course there were some hiccups, notably him not wearing a mask at the Mayo Clinic.

But I think the President may follow his lead. And, again, a lot of these early stops will be, they hope, with more of an economic focus. So going out and seeing a company making the PPE and the masks that first responders need. But in general the President wants to be out on the road as much as possible, and in some ways, his aides want him out on the road as much possible as long as he can do it in a way that`s safe and doesn`t bring in a whole new wave of criticism.

WILLIAMS: Back on the ground, Robert Costa, let`s circle back around to points you and Ron made about, say, Governor Hogan, State of Maryland, who you talked to today. This is one guy, one state out of 50. But these 50 men and women, who I think in polling have grown in the esteem in all of their states, they indeed in local news terms have become the local crisis managers where we all live. This era of Trump has put a lot on these governors, Bob.

COSTA: That`s very true, Brian. And what`s really revealing in my reporting is the conversation I had on background with a United States senator who was complaining somewhat in jest but not really, that the U.S. Senate, which has provided trillions in funding along with the House of Representatives, doesn`t get enough credit in their view. They see the governors going up in polling, and you see this frustration among many lawmakers. It`s the governors who are now leading, but the governors are in sometimes historic situations, challenges. You look at Governor Hogan, a revealing conversation today with The Washington Post. He had to use his own national guard because he felt his supplies, his testing, could be in jeopardy from his own federal government and that those tests from South Korea are now at a, "undisclosed location" as he tries to protect Maryland.

When you step back and you think about that statement from a sitting governor, a Republican talking about a Republican administration, worried that his tests could be seized, that is something that shows you why governors are catching people`s attention. It`s not just because of TV appearances. It`s because of the nature of the challenge they are confronting.

WILLIAMS: Incredible stuff when you think about it. Hey, Ron, was it inevitable that as we sit here tonight, this seems, for all the world like our country is dealing with a red virus and a blue virus and not a single virus?

KLAIN: Brian, obviously it is a divided country, and that`s the way we were at the beginning of this. President Trump had a choice about whether or not he was going to use this crisis to bring the country closer together or further divide it apart. And he stood in the East Room today and said that if he provided help, the states with Democratic governors, they`d have to give him something for that.

And so far from using this crises a chance to bring us together, far from reminding people that`s are the United States. He`s basically said every state is on its own. Every state will have its own rules. As Robert alluded to, every governor, they`re using their own national guard to protect their supplies from the federal government. I mean none of this in that respect was inevitable. Donald Trump didn`t create the virus, but the politics that have ensued from this, the division, the fact that every state feels like they need to be protecting their supplies with armed guards, that is a product of a failure of federal leadership and of bringing divisive politics to handling what should be a unifying national crisis.

WILLIAMS: Indeed I`m looking at my notes from this afternoon`s event in the East Room. The Republican states are in strong shape. Another direct quote, Republican states are doing very well. And if he should have to bail out, as he put it, the "blue states," we`ll have to get something for it.

All the time we have with our thanks to Ashley Parker, Robert Costa, Ron Klain for joining us and starting us off on a Thursday night.

Coming up for us, what`s that saying? If you want something done right, do it yourself? We`ll talk to one big-city mayor talking about coronavirus and taking testing into his own hands.

And later, this is America, really. The alarming scene inside Michigan`s capitol building today when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Today Dr. Fauci addressed reports that the administration is fast-tracking this vaccine production with a so-called program called warp speed. Fauci said it was within the realm of possibility to have hundreds of millions of doses ready by January. He explained what that process would look like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We`re in the early phases of a trial phase one. When you go into the next phase, we`re going to -- safely and carefully but as quickly as we possibly can try and get an answer as to whether it works and is safe. And if so, we`re going to start ramping up production with the companies involved. And do you that at risk. In other words, you don`t wait until you get an answer before you start manufacturing. You at risk, proactively start making it, assuming it`s going to work. And if it does, then you can scale up and hopefully get to that timeline.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Ramping up testing is, of course, another key step in reopening parts of our country. All 10 million people in L.A. County are now going to have a chance to get tested. And just today we found out New Jersey`s second largest city is dramatically expanding testing.

Jersey City announced beginning Monday, all residents with or without symptoms can get a coronavirus test free of charge. For more, we welcome back to the broadcast Dr. Vin Gupta, an E.R. doc specializing in these kinds of illnesses. Also an affiliate assistant professor with the University of Washington, Department of Health Metric Sciences.

And we welcome to the broadcast, the mayor of Jersey City, New Jersey, Steven Fulop.

And Mayor, first question first. Everyone wants to know where did you get your hands on this many tests?

MAYOR STEVEN FULOP (D-NJ), JERSEY CITY: Well, we`ve contracts directly with a company called BioReference, the same company that the state in Jersey uses and we just went direct to the company. We have a contract with them to do several thousand per week, and we`re expanding that next week to do asymptomatic residents and we`re going to be looking to do antibody as well.

WILLIAMS: Mayor, what will this do for you? What will -- obviously you`ll put a lot of people`s minds at ease, let`s hope. But what will you learn, what will you do with the data?

FULOP: Yeah. So we`re going to start with directly inviting anybody who thinks that they need to be tested or wants to be tested the opportunity to be tested. We think it`s important to reopening our economy. So whether you`re a small business that may have some employees that don`t have health insurance or you`re in a vulnerable population in a senior building or in a nursing home, to help us identify clusters earlier. So the more proactive we can be in working hand in hand with the community, the more likely we can have somewhat of a safe environment to reopen the economy.

WILLIAMS: And, Dr. Gupta, over to you. We`re told that testing is the key to everything, but let`s talk about that. What`s the false positive or negative rate in the testing as of right now? And when you go for the antibody testing, same question.

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: So lots there, Brian. Let me try to parse it out. When it comes to the swab test, the test is a PCR test. It says, is there active infection? Can you detect the COVID-19 virus in your nose, for example, in your saliva? We`re worried now.

I was just actually in the hospital last night, in the ICU on a shift. And I had a patient that we tested that was negative and then positive and then negative and then positive. And this is with the nasal test. And so there are concerns. The avid I.D. now test that President Trumpetted with such fanfare about a month ago as our panacea for testing. We`re worried now that maybe the sensitivity of that test, the false negative rate of that test, so that it gives a negative result but you actually have the infection we think, maybe now it`s around 80%.

So there are challenges here because testing is tough. Testing development is tough. The antibody test, lots of problems, even more problems whether or not you have the actual infection with the swab. The antibody test has tons of problems. We think it`s giving false positive to -- so you have a positive test, but you actually don`t have an antibody. That`s a false positive. That is the main challenge with a lot of the tests that are online right now.

The studies out of Stanford and other scientists have produced that have had these high prevalence rates of COVID-19 infection because people have these antibodies, we`re worried that those tests are fundamentally flawed. So there`s a lot of quality issues that we`re trying to iterate on now.

WILLIAMS: Wow, that`s a lot to think about as you said. Mr. Mayor, I had this conversation with Governor Newsom of California this week. He`s presiding over a state built around going outside. And while we don`t associate Jersey City with that so much, the forecast for this weekend appears mostly sunny and warm. You`re dealing with human nature. You`re dealing with a densely packed population and cabin fever. You also try to take very good care of your first responders. So how do you enforce the human nature that we`re going to see on display this coming weekend?

FULOP: Yeah, I mean the reality is that today people are just more aware than they were six, seven weeks ago. So social distancing is not a stranger to anybody at this point, and we just need to trust our residents that they`re going to make smart choices. And so we`re gradually opening more and more things in Jersey City, and hopefully the state does the same. But I think we`re at a stage where absent a vaccine, there`s not going to be a significant change for the long term. So we need to allow things to go back to somewhat normal by trusting our residents to make responsible choices.

WILLIAMS: And bingo, Dr. Gupta, last question to you. He just mentioned vaccine. I was reminded this week mumps took four years. How high are your hopes that by Christmastime or New Year`s, we`re going to be talking about hundreds of millions of doses?

GUPTA: Brian, I`m hopeful Dr. Fauci is right. I bet Dr. Fauci is hopeful that he`s right. We`re all hopeful. Having said that, it took 30 years to develop the vaccine that protects us against chickenpox. Vaccine development is complicated. There`s a lot of phases as you mentioned earlier. So I don`t think we can build a strategy now thinking we`re going to have a magic bullet in the future in six months. We have to focus on the here and the now. There`s a therapeutic like remdesivir. There`s a vaccine that Dr. Fauci is referencing, fantastic. But that can`t impact our short- term thinking. Even if we start opening things up, some governors are, masks. We need to think about a proactive, top of mind infection control at the top of mind even as we normalize things.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Gupta, thank you for coming back on the broadcast. Mayor, thanks for coming on and talking about your great town, and good luck with the testing effort you announced just today.

Coming up for us, Howell Raines explains why he says we`re watching nothing short of the collapse of White House leadership in the modern era.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I don`t think anybody can feel any worse than I do about all of the death and destruction that`s so needless.

Nobody has spent more time late in the evening thinking about what`s happened to this country in a short period of time. But at the same time, we have to get our country open again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And as we speak, dozens of states are mapping out their individual reopening plans, some faster than others. Georgia, Texas moving quickly, yet neither state has met the 14-day decline in coronavirus cases that`s recommended by Donald Trump`s government.

At the top of the hour, their stay-at-home orders will officially be lifted.

Back with us again tonight, the veteran journalist and author Howell Raines, one of our MSNBC contributors, happens to be former executive editor of "The New York Times".

And Howell, I`d like to begin with a dramatic reading with something our mutual friend Peter Baker has written tonight, a reminder that great writing still resides in your old shop, and I quote. "Empathy has never been considered one of Mr. Trump`s political assets. He views public displays of sadness as weakness and has made a point of stressing resolve even at the risk of overlooking the deep pain afflicting so much of the country. His favorite words in televised appearances of recent weeks are "powerful" and "strong." He talks of incredible days ahead without dwelling on the miserable days of now. He plans fire works while Americans plan funerals".

Howell Raines, over to you.

HOWELL RAINES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Peter has, as usual, given us a message from the center of this White House that is essential reading. As Americans, Brian, we`re not used to dreading the future, nor are we used to fearing our President. But the fact is that we are living through now a failure of presidential leadership so epic, so sweeping, that historians and political professionals will be studying it for decades.

The brightest spot that I see is that the polls that have come to the fore in the last week show that the American people have figured it out. They understand the incapacity of this man, and they understand, as Peter Baker pointed out, that he`s not going to change.

Now, "The Washington Post" did a really good survey of those polls, and they predict -- they didn`t predict, but they showed that the electorate is on track to possibly giving Mr. Trump`s opponent an electoral count of 352, which would be a huge landslide. And I think a justified repudiation of what we are being forced to live through. And, indeed, a reality that will force thousands of us not to see the end of this year. And I have to believe there`s a cumulative impact that`s taking root now even among Trump constituencies in states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where I spend part of the year and where Trump is really in a slide.

And the insult factor I`m talking about is epitomized, I think, by Jared Kushner`s remark yesterday that he and the President are living a great American success story. this is a young man so callow and so lacking in competence for his job that he would not have gotten even a junior position in the Reagan White House or the Clinton White House or the Obama White House. And yet we know from good reporting in both "The Post" and "The Times" that he is, in fact, the de facto chief of staff and probably the greatest influence on health policy that`s affecting our lives next to the President, probably outranking even Dr. Fauci.

So this to me, this is a metric of where we are with this presidency. But I think last week and the rambling about disinfectants and this rash of polls that have sent President Trump into a raging tailspin have marked a turning point. I would be very surprised if this presidency can get back on track.

WILLIAMS: That is exactly why we wanted to hear from you tonight, Howell Raines. Thank you very much, as always, when you join our broadcast.

Coming up for us, more on how much this pandemic has changed the political landscape of our country and for this President.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TRUMP: It could have been stopped right where it came from, China.

And I started calling it the Chinese virus.

And I mean it. That`s where it came from.

It could have been stopped in China before it started, and it wasn`t.

Was it a mistake that got out of control, or was it done deliberately?

We`re doing very serious investigations as you probably know.

Because, it could have been stopped at the point of origin.

But China is not to be congratulated for what happened just so you understand it.

They should have stopped it at the source. They didn`t do that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: That last one was from today. "The New York Times" indeed reporting today the Trump officials are pressing the intelligence community indeed to more firmly link the coronavirus with the lab in Wuhan, China.

Trump did that one better, indicating to a reporter today that he has high confidence that the virus indeed started in the lab.

Two of our favorites are back with us tonight. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post." and John Heilemann, national affairs analyst, co-host of "The Circus" on Showtime and editor- in-chief over at "The Recount."

Hey, John, so the President is going deeper and deeper on making sure everyone knows this was a Chinese problem, could have been stopped there. Every day he mentions 184 countries lest someone think it`s just us suffering through this. Today he called the reaction spectacular. For what audience, because so many millions are in their homes watching all of this, living their local reality, not because they`ve been ordered to, but because they don`t want to get this.

JOHN HEILMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Right, Brian. I mean, look, I think I`ve said to you before on this show in the last month or so that, you know, this period of this month, this year, you know, for Trump has been marked in kind of two phases. We had the phase of downplaying the pandemic, and then we have the phase of blame-shifting. And President Trump has had a lot of targets in blame. But the one he has come back to more relentlessly and more repeatedly than any others -- again, there have been governors that have been thrown in this mix. The WHO has been in this mix, a variety of people in the mix, but always China.

And, you know, look, it`s the case, President Trump has seen political mileage in attacking China from the time he became president. It`s been one of his favorite targets. It is among populous conservatives, a kind of bogey that on the economic front, on the military front, it`s an easy go-to villain for Donald Trump. And in this case let`s be clear. I mean the Chinese behavior on this has not been stellar, has not been perfect by any means.

And so, there`s something there in the sense that there is stuff that -- the Chinese are culpable in various ways, but it is clearly just one of many efforts that Trump is trying to seize on to so that when we come to that day in November when these judgments are rendered on his presidency, that he will have hopefully in his mind shifted enough of this blame elsewhere, and particularly to mainland China that he might be able to pull off re-election.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Eugene, whenever the Defense Production Act comes up, the President volunteers that he hasn`t had to use it much because he`s only had to talk about it and that is a hammer in and of itself. You`ve been writing this week about selective use of the Defense Production Act in one aspect of our economy.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. He`s used the Defense Production Act with lightning speed on the meatpacking industry. Meatpacking plants across the country became sort of little Petri dishes of COVID infection, and that has a lot to do with the way those plants work. It`s hard to do the social distancing. It`s hard to -- it`s just hard to control, and it got out of control, and some plants had to shut down because they were becoming focal points of infection for entire communities, as happened in Waterloo, Iowa. Our colleague Rachel Maddow has done spectacular and shocking reporting on the situation in Waterloo, Iowa.

And so the President, seeing plants close down, immediately invoked the defense Production Act and is ordering that meatpacking plants stay open, which puts the workers in those plants, who are low-income workers, a lot of them black and brown, a lot of them immigrants, which puts them in danger and gives them this existential choice between losing their jobs or going to work in a situation that they consider unsafe and that is unsafe.

And it`s just appalling, but it`s characteristic of this plutocrat-friendly administration that these would be the workers that suffer the hammer blow of the Defense Production Act.

WILLIAMS: Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us over this break.

And when we come back, what to make of today`s heavily-armed criticism of Michigan`s lifesaving restrictions in a state with 41,000 coronavirus cases.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: That`s people in all, many of them well armed, protesting inside the Michigan State Capitol today. Some of them pushed their way inside in opposition to the state`s stay-at-home orders. There was the scene. A lot of them got in the face of law enforcement while pointedly not wearing masks. One Michigan legislator reported some of her colleagues were wearing bulletproof vests to do their jobs. These were the guys up in the gallery.

Still with us, Eugene Robinson, John Heilemann.

Eugene, a reminder, that state has 41,000 coronavirus cases. Our friend Steve Schmidt said that that scene today made our nation look like a basket case. When did we become, Gene, the country where if you can possibly bring your AR-15 to a protest, please do, and by the way, we`re allowing guns into such a thing?

ROBINSON: A very good question. When it happened, I`ll have to look back and figure out the date, but it happened and it`s shocking. These are shocking scenes when you bring AR-15s to a protest, that`s not a protest. That`s a terroristic threat. That`s an attempt to intimidate the state legislature and the governor, and it`s -- that`s not the way our democracy is supposed to work.

We should remember that the governor of Michigan, the target of a lot of these protests, is quite popular in the state. Her handling the crisis, which is a real crisis in Michigan, has been popular with Michiganders. So this is a minority, but these are shocking scenes, and what must they look like from the vantage point of Europe or the vantage point of Iran or China, they we must not look like the America we thought we do.

WILLIAMS: As the President himself said just days ago, the whole world is watching. John, Gene raises a great point. Governor Whitmer`s way above water, 63% approve of her handling of this thus far. As I lamented to Ron Klain tonight, we have seemingly a red virus in this country and a blue virus. Yet if you`re governor of a purple state with competing interests, God help you.

HEILEMANN: Yes, I heard you say that thing to Ron earlier, Brian. And of course I knew exactly what you meant metaphorically. I mean we have contending realities here. Of course the virus knows no politics. The virus doesn`t care whether you`re Republican or Democrat and strikes on both sides equally. But it`s certainly true there have been different reactions in red and blue America, and that there have been, it is also the case that if you have measured out, it`s not like red America hasn`t had cases of coronavirus, but the epicenters, you know, in California and Michigan and New York obviously, Washington state, these are by and large Democratic strongholds.

I think, you know, the most amazing thing about this, all the things Gene said I think are right, and it`s really unnerving to see firearms brandished in that way. And obviously to hear the state legislators felt they had to wear bulletproof vests to go to work is kind of chilling and horrifying. But it`s also the fact that the President of the United States is in so many ways lives off of division, lives off of stirring up anger and resentment, lives off of kind of consequence-free stoking of grievance.

This Michigan was one of those states that the President encourages. Liberate Michigan. You wonder why those people are there, many of them in maga hats. They`re there because the guy who they worship, often in a cult- like way, has told them that their state is somehow occupied by a dictatorial force. That`s what "liberate Michigan" means. And Governor Whitmer is happy with her 63% approval rating, and she obviously is governing that state by the views of two-thirds of the voters really well. But President Trump still has a lot of power in that state, and you could see it on display today.

WILLIAMS: Two friends of our broadcast, Eugene Robinson, John Heilemann, who we note has raised his fruit bowl game in real time. Appreciate it, buddy.

A quick programming note for everyone watching. Tomorrow on this very network, 6:00 a.m., Joe Biden will join "Morning Joe" for an exclusive interview. He`s going to respond for the first time to that allegation of sexual assault against him. Again, it`s an exclusive interview, "Morning Joe" tomorrow, 6:00 a.m. on this network.

Now, coming up for us after a final break, we check in on a couple we have come to know during quarantine.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Who`s a good girl? Last thing before we go tonight, we clearly all need a break, and that`s where Andrew Cotter comes in. He`s the BBC play-by-play announcer who currently has no sports to announce. But thankfully he has two fantastic labs named Mabel and Olive. And so we pick up the play-by-play on a walk to the pond.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREW COTTER, SPORTS COMMENTATOR, BBC: To the closing moments of this contest to see who can disgrace themselves more on a walk. Olive dominating early on, eating three kilos of grass and upsetting a small child. But Mabel finishing to strongly here, taking herself off to stand in this feted pond just to please herself. it`s not even that warm today. Just standing, letting all the unpleasantness soak in. And this might well have shaken Olive, wondering now if she needs to go back and roll in that very pool. a squirrel in the trees which got her shouted at a few moments ago.

But she might have to try something because Mabel is piling on the pressure here, doing nothing at all, and that`s the beauty of it. Come on, out you get. Here we are, no recognition, no recall whatsoever. A stare that says, I`m doing what I want, and I have zero respect for you.

I think there might be a move by Olive, a response to this effort by the youngster. Yes, there it is, joining her rival. Again, absolutely no purpose to it. Not fetching anything, just wandering around, synchronized spin, a nice touch. Now, both of them wondering how to finish this off. No point in shaking yesterday. You`re still in the water.

So there`s the hop, beautifully done. And there we are, shaking all over my jeans, even Olive enjoyed that one. She knows that she can still take it by shaking over the furniture back at home. The tail wag of apology, doesn`t even mean it. A stare at the trees and think about getting a cat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: Our thanks again to the pride of Scotland, Andrew Cotter, and of course to the great Olive and Mabel for the break we needed tonight.

And with that, that is our broadcast for a Thursday evening. 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