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COVID-19 response TRANSCRIPT: 5/14/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Ron Klain, Tim Miller, Michelle De La Isla

  BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 1,211 of this Trump administration. 173 days to go until the Presidential Election.

The President wondered aloud in his public remarks today about whether or not coronavirus testing is overrated. He said it could be overrated. He followed that up with, maybe it is overrated. Today he took his message about reopening the economy to Pennsylvania, where he toured a company that made face masks and other PPE equipment while pointedly not wearing a mask himself. Trump`s been pressuring the Governor of Pennsylvania, a Democrat, to move faster to lift restrictions.

Tonight we`re learning that New York`s governor has extended the stay-at- home orders for some areas until June 13th. That directive has been lifted for other parts of the state, however.

Latest unemployment figures in our country show over 36 million people are now out of work since the shutdown started about mid-March.

As of our air time tonight, the death toll in our country is 86,676. The President spent much of his time in Pennsylvania talking up his administration`s efforts to respond to the pandemic, particularly when it comes to that subject of testing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`ve been doing testing at a level that nobody`s ever done it before. We have the best testing in the world. It could be that testing`s frankly overrated. Maybe it is overrated. But whatever they start yelling, we want more, we want more, you know, they always say we want more, we want more because they don`t want to give you credit. Don`t forget, we have more cases than anybody in the world. But why? Because we do more testing. When you test, you have a case. When you test, you find something is wrong with people. If we don`t do any testing, we would have very few cases.


WILLIAMS: Just a point of order here, so far, just over 10 million Americans have been tested. A little more than 3% of the population though as you heard, the President has started to point out routinely the only reason we have so many cases is because we do so much testing.

Just hours before Trump made those remarks, Dr. Rick Bright, the government scientist who used to be in charge of developing vaccines for diseases like COVID-19, gave Congress a damning and no holds barred assessment of the White House handling of the pandemic. Dr. Bright says we are running out of time to contain this. He is the first federal health official to publicly criticize the Trump administration on this issue. His testimony comes at a critical point for the administration, just as it`s trying to encourage the public to resume life as it was before the outbreak.


RICK BRIGHT, OUSTED HHS VACCINE EXPERT: We need a national testing strategy. The virus is here. It`s everywhere. We need to be able to find it, isolate it, and stop it. There is no master coordinated plan on how to respond to this outbreak. We don`t have a strategy or plan in place that identifies each of those critical components, and we don`t have a designated agency that is sourcing those critical components. I`ll never forget the emails I received from Mike Bowen indicating that we are -- our mask supply or N95 respirator supply, was decimated. And he said, we`re in deep shit. The world is. And we need to act. And I pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS. I got no response.

REPRESENTATIVE ELIOT ENGEL, (D) NEW YORK: When would you bet that we would time and we would have a vaccine?

BRIGHT: A lot of optimism is swirling around a 12 to 18-month time frame if everything goes perfectly. We`ve never seen everything go perfectly.


WILLIAMS: Dr. Bright has filed a formal whistle-blower complaint alleging he was ousted, reassigned to another government job in retaliation specifically for speaking out and refusing to buckle to political pressure. The White House had this reaction to Dr. Bright`s testimony.


TRUMP: He`s nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person. I watched him, and he looks like an angry, disgruntled employee who frankly, according to some people, didn`t do a very good job.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY:  Everything he`s complaining about was achieved. Everything he talked about was done. Oh, and by the way, whose job was it to actually lead the development of vaccines? Dr. Bright. So while we`re launching Operation Warp Speed, he`s not showing up for work to be part of that.


WILLIAMS: Any questions about whether or not Health Secretary Azar is on board were answered with that today. As the hearing was unfolding a little more than an hour after Bright said the White House had no plan for the pandemic, we heard this from the White House Press Secretary.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just wanted to outline our pandemic preparedness. The Obama/Biden plan that has been referenced was insufficient, wasn`t going to work. So what our administration did under the leadership of President Trump was do an entire 1018 pandemic preparedness report. Beyond that we did a hold exercise on pandemic preparedness in August of last year and had an entire after-action report together. We`ll have a full update tomorrow for you guys at the briefing line by line of how prepared we were for this pandemic.


WILLIAMS: Also today the Centers for Disease Control finally posted its guidance for reopening communities across our country and schools and workplaces. After several A.P. reports surfaced about how the White House shelved an earlier draft and ordered the agency to revise it.

Politico reporting the new recommendations, quote, which appear to be watered down from previously leaked versions, provide brief checklists meant to help key businesses and others operating in public reopen safely.

There are also developments in the federal investigation into whether or not U.S. senators who received briefings just as the coronavirus was hitting the U.S. in turn used that information to dump stocks to stem their own financial losses.

North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr says he will step down as Senate Intelligence Committee Chair one day after federal agents seized his cell phone as part of an inquiry into stock trades he made at the beginning of the outbreak. This afternoon Burr explained why he decided to step aside.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC): This is a distraction to the hard work of the committee and the members, and I think the security of the country is too important to have a distraction.


WILLIAMS: California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein says the FBI asked her questions about her stock trades, which she says were made by her husband. Georgia Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler`s office now says that she has sent her information and documents to the FBI and Justice Department.

And this also caught our attention. The Washington Post reporting tonight federal records show that the government has paid at least $970,000 to the Trump organization since the President took office. That number would include payments for more than 1,600 nightly room rentals at Trump`s hotels and clubs.

Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent with The New York Times. Jill Colvin, White House Reporter for the Associated Press, who was traveling with the President today.

Also joining us, Ron Klain, Political Veteran of the White House and Congress, now informally advising the Biden effort. He oversaw the response to the Ebola outbreak during the Obama administration. He happens to be co- host of a new podcast about this coronavirus called appropriately Epidemic.

Good evening and welcome to you all. Jill Colvin, because you cover this beat day to day, had you heard of this pandemic plan before the Press Secretary held up a binder prior to departure from the south lawn today?

JILL COLVIN, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATE PRESS": No. This is certainly not something that we have heard this White House stress in any of its briefings. Look, we spent how many hours with the coronavirus task force day after day, the President giving those briefings, hearing from Dr. Birx, hearing from Dr. Fauci. And if they may have mentioned it in passing, they certainly did not spend any time outlining their plan. And what we heard today was really the first administration official talking about their concern about how slowly this administration responded to the threat. You know, it took months for the President to use the Defense Production Act, to ramp up production of things like N95 masks. There`s still hospitals and doctors who say they don`t have enough supplies. There are now concerns about testing supplies, states not having enough swabs to be able to complete these tests, these ongoing issues where if the administration had prepared earlier and ramped up production earlier, you may be having fewer challenges now.

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, you heard the Press Secretary. It was your plan that was insufficient.

RON KLAIN, OVERSAW EBOLA RESPONSE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, you know, it`s a funny thing. As Jill said, for a long time the position of the Trump administration was that no one could have seen this coming, and we didn`t leave a plan. And now apparently they read our plan and thought our plan was insufficient, and they wrote their own plan.

If what we`re seeing now is the product of their plan, then their plan was the worst plan in the history of the world. I can`t -- did their plan say, don`t ramp up testing in January and February? Did their plan say have the President go out and say it`s going to go away like a miracle, that shining light in the body will make it go away? So I don`t really understand how what we`re seeing now reflects a plan unless the plan has been this from the start. As Donald Trump said today, if we test less, we`ll find fewer cases. Maybe their plan has just been deny and delay all along. That probably would be a very thin binder if that`s what the plan was.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, you also cover this beat, and while it`s not dispositive, it does stand to reason had there been a plan, seems to me they would have mentioned to, to Jill`s point, a time or two. Do you think whatever this thing is tomorrow is an attempt at a pivot to run on a plan?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, it`s a striking conflict of messages, of course, as Ron mentioned. The message up until now was who could have ever predicted this would have happened. Nobody ever saw this coming. When we opened the cupboard, we discovered it was empty. The Obama people hadn`t left us any medical equipment. The testing system that they left us behind was broken. We were surprised when we discovered that, and so we`re just trying to catch up from, you know, square one.

Today`s message is, no, we knew this was coming. We did a plan. We`re all ready, and it seems in very conflict of course to the message for the last 2 1/2 months or so.

Now, this exercise they did last year, we have written about this. This is something we have written about. The question is of course why had they -- given that they did this plan last year or the year before -- I can`t remember the exact date -- that they were not in fact prepared or seemingly not prepared when this happened. It took weeks for the administration, typically the White House, to understand and grasp the level of threat and take the kind of steps that we`ve now taken in order to flatten the curve.

There have been studies -- one study showed had the administration but in place some of these lockdown restrictions just even a couple weeks earlier, that the death rate would have been 90% less than it was and has been now. So being prepared actually is really important. This is a completely contradictory message to the one that they`ve been presenting up until now.

WILLIAMS: Jill Colvin, a distinction we often make among journalists, which is actually important. There are two types of Presidential travel, official trips and campaign trips. And it matters greatly because of who pays for that travel, taxpayers or the campaign. Today`s visit to Pennsylvania was billed as official business, yet people couldn`t help but notice Joe Biden was referred to in the President`s remarks. People couldn`t help but notice the rally-style walk-off music. You tell us what did it feel like, a mixture of both?

COLVIN: Look, this is a President who has long intertwined campaigning and official travel. It`s not unusual for him to blend the two. But it`s especially notable right now. We are at a period of time where the President cannot be holding rallies. He can`t be doing political travel. But what he is doing right now is ramping up these official visits. He spent time today in Allentown, Pennsylvania. This is an area of a crucial battleground state that is going to be so important to him come 2020. And as we drove into that factory area in the motorcade today, there were crowds, thousands -- at least hundreds of people lining the streets, chanting four more years with campaign signs. The President did a brief tour of the distribution factory -- or distribution center, and then as we walked into the area where he delivered remarks, they were playing his campaign rally list. So we heard some Elton John. We walked in, they were playing Macho Man. Over the soundtrack, he walked into the song he typically walks into when he does his rallies.

And then he did of course talked about the coronavirus response. He talked about what that distribution center is producing. He had some workers come up and speak. So there certainly was a strong element of response and government action, but it had all of the trappings of the campaign rallies that Trump cannot be holding right now.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, for a young man you`ve covered a number of Presidents, and you`ve seen a thing or two over the years. You saw how something like Oklahoma City changed Bill Clinton. You obviously saw how 9/11 and going to war left 43 a different man, Newtown and Barack Obama. The question is has this crisis changed this man in your view?

BAKER: Well, each of those examples that you`ve just raised were moments when Presidents reached out and surpassed partisan politics in order to try to be national leaders, right? George W. Bush wasn`t up there on that wrecked fire truck at ground zero talking only to Republicans, you know. Barack Obama wasn`t talking to Democrats when he was tearing up in the briefing room over those children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

They recognized those moments were where you put politics aside and you try to reach out beyond that. And you try to channel the nation`s grief. You try to channel the emotions that the public is feeling and try to rally them to some larger unified cause. This is a President obviously who hasn`t chosen that path. He`s not known for empathy. That hasn`t been his particular political asset. He prefers to be in a fight. A fight is when he`s most comfortable and most confident as a political actor on a stage. It`s hard to be in a fight with a virus. It`s not an ideology. It`s not a political party, and it doesn`t respond to your Twitter messages. So he`s been struggling to communicate to the public his sense of direction for the country, veering back and forth between reading words that have been written for him, talking about unity and mourning the deaths, and then moments later riffing off on sleepy Joe and so forth.

Now it`s hard for any President six months before an election facing a crisis to be a candidate and a president at the same time. But it`s really hard, I think, to draw that line at a moment when the country is suffering so many fatalities every day still. 3 million people now have put in for unemployment. A series of crises we haven`t seen in our lifetime all at the same time, finding balance between party politics and national leadership is a challenge.

WILLIAMS: Finally, Ron Klain, all those of us in the cheap seats have to go on is reading the scorecards. And over time we read Secretary Azar is out of favor, he`s back in favor. Secretary Azar shaved his beard. Well, today it was very clear that Dr. Bright was a triggering element to this White House, to hear the President open up on him and to hear Secretary Azar open up on him the way he did. You know and have worked with Dr. Bright. For people who are trying to look at his testimony and interpret it because it`s scary stuff, in your view, what should they know?

KLAIN: Well, they should know that Rick Bright is a career official in the federal government. He served in both Democratic and Republican administrations. I have no idea who he voted for President for in 2012 or 2016 or who he`ll vote for in 2020. But what I know is that he cares about vaccines and protecting the American people. That was his job. And he says he was removed from his job because he raised objections to the administration`s slow response.

What`s interesting today is that the White House again used its usual kind of, you know, running array of excuses. First President Trump said he made no sense at all that Dr. Bright sounded like a disgruntled angry man. And then Secretary Azar turned around and said everything he said we should do, we did. So I`m not which one of the two defenses the White House is running, either that Dr. Bright is wrong in his attack or that in fact Dr. Bright`s criticisms were met.

The bottom line is the American people can see that we weren`t prepared for this. The American people can see we didn`t have the equipment we needed, that we went on all these crazy detours, a month talking about hydroxy as a solution. Now all of a sudden the White House has forgotten about.

And so, you know, Dr. Bright is a scientist. You heard his scientific opinion before the House today. It should be weighed with all the other scientific experts that we -- by the way, we`re hearing less from Dr. Fauci no longer at the White House podium. Dr. Birx is no longer at the White House podium nearly as much. Do you know, obviously science is being silenced here. And I`m glad it had a chance to speak up before the House today.

WILLIAMS: Much obliged to our big three on a Thursday night. To Peter Baker, Jill Colvin, Ron Klain, our thanks for helping start us off.

Coming up as we approach our first break, a doctor who has treated COVID-19 patients reacting to today`s more startling moments of testimony.

And later, it`s the President`s new favorite topic. He calls it the greatest hoax in history. But if you have no idea what any of it means or what he`s talking about, you`re not alone. We have someone who can explain it all as best he can. The 11th Hour just getting under way on this Thursday night.



BRIGHT: Initially our nation was not as prepared as we should have been, as we could have been. Some scientists raised early warning signals that were overlooked, and pages from our pandemic playbook were ignored by some in leadership.


WILLIAMS: A bit more there from the whistle-blower, Dr. Rick Bright, during his testimony on the Hill today. Dr. Bright, who is a vaccine specialist, warned lawmakers there`s currently no national strategy to manufacture and distribute a vaccine.


BRIGHT: The scenario this fall or winter, maybe even early next spring when a vaccine becomes available, there`s no one company that can produce enough for our country or for the world. It`s going to be limited supplies. We need to have a strategy and plan in place now to make sure we can not only fill that vaccine, make it, distribute it, but administer in a fair and equitable plan.

MR. PALLONE, NEW JERSEY: And that`s not the case at this point?

BRIGHT: We don`t have that yet, and it is a significant concern.


WILLIAMS: Let`s get the report from the trenches tonight. Dr. Vin Gupta is back with us. He`s an E.R. doc specializing in exactly these kinds of illnesses, also an Affiliate Assistant Professor with the University of Washington`s Department of Health Metrics Sciences.

Well, Dr. Gupta, how does it leave you feeling when you hear that testimony, when you hear those warnings and rather dire potential predictions about our near future?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It leaves me feeling angry, angry for my colleagues in public health on the front lines. When I hear Dr. Bright talking about PPE being perhaps 30% effective because we didn`t have quality control measures in place and, by the way, we had to source it from China and other overseas countries. And who knows if they were actually effective in protecting my nurses, respiratory therapists, other docs on the front lines. That was angry. That made me angry.

The vaccine piece should make every American angry because basically what Dr. Bright was saying was we didn`t even have the ability to test samples, those initial samples the Who and other countries were providing, data that could have driven early vaccine design and then subsequently phase one studies. We were two to three months behind per his telling. There`s no reason for that.

I think also what was striking was what the GOP congressmen were doing every single time they were given time to ask a question, they talked about hydroxychloroquine. They didn`t talk about testing. They didn`t talk about anything else. They talked about hydroxychloroquine. It was embarrassing to the intelligence of all of us that they talked about a drug that has been debunked, is known to potentially cause more side effects than any benefit, and that`s what they were trying to talk about to try to score points I don`t know with whom, but perhaps the President. But it was really embarrassing to the intelligence of all of us.

WILLIAMS: The President continues to push it after his notable quote from the White House briefing room. I say take it, he said weeks ago. I thought of you today because you`re the one I always ask about efficacy and accuracy of testing, and I know that the FDA did something very unusual late today. They issued an advisory about possible accuracy concerns with the Abbott test.

Now, we know the Abbott test by name because the President has pushed the Abbott test. He`s had it there as a prop in the Rose Garden almost like telemarketing. It`s the test they use at the White House for press corps, staff, president, vice president. This has got to be concerning to you as you and I have talked about false positive and false negative rates.

GUPTA: Deeply concerning, Brian. This is -- the fact that the President keeps going to this test, he promoted it just two days ago at his White House press briefer, literally two days ago. So first he needs to get new aides to brief him because he`s not getting the best available science and data, making him look bad for no reason. This test is effectively useless. New York University actually did a test and said they would not put it in their hospital because it`s producing so many false negatives.

The Abbott ID now test came to great fanfare two months ago is effectively not usable anymore per these studies. The President should stop messaging on it. And this comes to the larger question about the FDA. The FDA has now issued a mea culpa on anti-testing. They said, we made a mistake, guys. We put 100 tests out on the market. Now we`re having to do a re-review and see what works, what doesn`t. Same thing with the Abbott ID now. We have to credit them. They`ve been trying to be active. But now the price of speed is quality, and that`s what`s happening here.

WILLIAMS: Looked at one way, your job is so basic, to save human lives. Looked at other way, you couldn`t be in a more complex line of work these days. We certainly appreciate having your experience and viewpoint. With us, Dr. Vin Gupta, our guest again this evening. Thank you.

Coming up, the President`s latest conspiracy theory explained and fact- checked as best our guest can when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What crime exactly are you accusing President Obama of committing, and do you believe the Justice Department should prosecute him?

TRUMP: Obamagate. It`s been going on for a long time. It`s been going on from before I even got elected, and it`s a disgrace that it happened. And if you look at what`s gone on and if you look at now all of this information that`s being released, and from what I understand, that`s only the beginning.

Some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again. And you`ll be seeing what`s going on over the next -- over the coming weeks, and I wish you`d write honestly about it. But unfortunately you choose not to do so. Yes, Jon, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is the crime exactly that you`re accusing him of?

TRUMP: You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody.


WILLIAMS: As he said, you`ll be seeing what`s going on. The president is going big on a new conspiracy theory ahead of the election, something he called Obamagate, which Rick Wilson immediately branded a slogan in search of a scandal.

Susan Glasser writes in "The New Yorker," if you don`t get it, that doesn`t matter. You`re not supposed to. It`s a slogan, a rallying cry. Details are all but irrelevant.

Trump has accused the former president of a crime, but he hasn`t explained what exactly the crime is. Today on social media, he demanded Senator Lindsey Graham launch a Senate investigation and call Obama to testify. It wasn`t exactly well received.

Graham told POLITICO, quote, I don`t think now`s the time for me to do that. I don`t know if that`s even possible. I understand President Trump`s frustration, but be careful what you wish for.

So to this end, we welcome to the broadcast Tim Miller. He`s a contributor at The Bulwark, a former comms director for Jeb Bush and a former top adviser to the anti-Trump PAC, our principles.

Tim, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you. In lay terms, what is this? What is the president talking about?

TIM MILLER, FMR. COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR TO JEB BUSH: Hey, Brian. Thanks for having me. I hope your viewers have a nice PD Scotch with them because this is kind of complicated to understand. Obviously the president as he showed there doesn`t even understand what it is.

But the thing is, there is a conservative media ecosystem that is very dedicated to trying to explain this, quote, unquote, scandal and more damningly, the Department of Justice is looking into this scandal. So our tax dollars are being paid to look into this conspiracy theory.

So in short, there are two parts to it. One is pre-2016 election. This is the really wacko part, trying to convince Americans that actually the Russians did not interfere in the election on behalf of Donald Trump, but there was an international deep state coup and an inside job at the DNC that was overseen by President Obama and others to frame Russia and frame Donald Trump in an attempt to hurt Trump in the election.

The problem with that part of the conspiracy theory is, you know, Donald Trump won the election, and they didn`t do anything or release anything about, you know, the Russian interference before the election in a way that could have damaged him.

So that part is so far out there that even many in the conservative media won`t buy on with it. And so the second part of the scandal, quote, unquote, scandal is what happened after the election. And that is this claim that the deep state basically tried to undermine President Trump, you know, Judge Jeanine has gone so far to call it a coup by, you know, creating a lot of false investigations about the Russian interference into the election in an attempt to get President Trump impeached and removed, and that`s based on some very, very dodgy information indeed.

But the most alarming part of it is this little drip, drip, drip of information that`s coming out is coming from the Trump director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, who has had no experience for this job, was a Twitter troll mostly before this, and now, you know, he`s releasing little nuggets of information to give, you know, the right-wing media enough to make it seem like there`s a scandal here when there`s not.

And, you know, I think that is why we need to look at this seriously even though the claims are ridiculous.

WILLIAMS: So that last part is otherwise known as -- I`m sitting here without a scotch and listening and hanging on every word. The latter half of your explanation has to do with this word non-lone ranger related, unmasking.


WILLIAMS: On that part, regarding General Flynn and the entire issue, how far from procedure was the way Flynn was handled? How far from procedure is the DNI trickling this stuff out from the files?

MILLER: Yes. I mean, look, I think that there is -- you know, in any good conspiracy theory, there`s always an element of truth, you know, Brian. And I think there is probably some fair criticisms of how the FBI in particular handled the Flynn case.

That being said, what the president and what his enablers are trying to do is extrapolate that into something much, much larger that the president himself said was a scandal larger than Watergate. What it really was, was kind of an overaggressive FBI in dealing with Flynn.

Now, the problem with this is that Flynn could have avoided this trap or this coup attempt by simply telling the truth to federal officials when they asked him about his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

And so, you know, while the FBI might have acted a little bit out of, you know, what is appropriate -- and I defer to kind of experts on just how far -- the unmasking was totally standard. You know, if you are department of - - you have to put yourself in the Obama national security shoes. The Russians had just interfered in our election in an overwhelming and historic way.

And then, you know, they get this report that someone is calling the Russian ambassador and telling them to chill out, to not overreact. Everything is going to be okay once we get in there. It`s extremely relevant to find out who was having that conversation with the Russian ambassador right after this attack on our country.

So, you know, this unmasking is just a totally phony scandal where they`re looking for something that sounds bad in order to create trouble for the Democrats. And just to your last point, it is totally inappropriate what Richard Grenell is doing right now by releasing these names and trying to mislead the public about what has happened and trying to basically fabricate a crime against the last president. It`s something that should be, you know, wall-to-wall news, what President Trump and what Grenell are doing here.

WILLIAMS: Tim, will you come back on as we need to expand our conspiracy glossary?

MILLER: Yes. We might need to do a whole show on it, Brian, but I`ll do my best.

WILLIAMS: Your lips to our senior vice president`s ears. Tim Miller, our guest tonight. Thank you so very much for coming on and explaining all that you did in usable English.

Coming up for us, Topeka, Kansas. The streets are about to get a little busier. The mayor of that great Midwestern city is joining us tonight, talking about the coming but careful steps toward reopening when we come right back.



MAYOR MICHELLE DE LA ISLA (D), TOPEKA, KANSAS: We are back at our story time, and I have found yet again one of the other books that I used to read to my kids that I absolutely adore, and it`s called "You Are Special." The thing that matters the most is to remember that you`re absolutely loved every day and that you matter. And if you haven`t heard this today, I want you to hear that you matter to me.


WILLIAMS: That is the Kansas version of New York Mayor Fiorello Laguardia reading the funny papers over the radio during a newspaper strike. That`s the mayor of Topeka, Kansas. She`s been going online to read to city kids while the schools have been closed.

Her state was expected to move into phase two of its gradual reopening plan, opening some bars and night clubs at maybe 50 percent capacity this coming Monday, coming up after this weekend. But the governor has decided to pull back, move slower, while the virus continues to spread.

For more, we are so happy to welcome to the broadcast Michelle De La Isla, mayor of Topeka, Kansas. And, mayor, thank you for coming on. How hard-hit was Topeka? How did folks take the idea of shutting down? And how are they reacting to gradual reopening?

DE LA ISLA: Well, as you can imagine, nobody in the community was excited to hear that we were going to just pause our economy and have people stay at home. It was -- but I think that when we made the decision initially, people were expecting that it was going to happen. We didn`t have any cases, but one of my mentors, Mayor Garcetti was telling me if it feels good, it`s too late. And Dr. Pezzino and the incident command team agreed it was time for us to shut down.

I think as time has passed, people are growing restless, and it`s expected. People are tired of being at home and people are just ready to be out. So right now we`re feeling that push-pull of individuals understanding that there`s a virus but at the same time wanting to go back to work and feel like they have something else to do rather than just being home.

WILLIAMS: Mayor, I know you`ve gone big on drive-through testing, and indeed for folks across the country, it`s just been the most available, most convenient form of testing. The president has long said if you need a test, you can get one. It wasn`t true months ago. It`s not true sadly in our country tonight. Is it more true if I lived in Topeka?

DE LA ISLA: You know, when this whole situation started in Kansas, we had a hard time. And if you look at the number of testings that we`ve been doing, for a while there our governor had to get very creative to allow us an opportunity to get testing.

Starting next week in Shawnee County, you will start seeing an additional drive-through testing facility happening in one of our local high schools. And our hospitals also are working on getting the reagents. So in Topeka and Shawnee County, you will see a little more ability to get testing.

WILLIAMS: What data will you go on? How will you know if, when we get more into this relaxation and you`ve got a tavern on a Friday night with 25 or 50 people in it, how will you know it was too much, too soon, we need to pull back, and do you dread that moment should it ever have to come?

DE LA ISLA: So the conversations that we`re having with our incident command team, incident commander Nichols and Dr. Pezzino, and Linda Ochs, we were all having the conversation of we don`t want to have to pull back. We`re being very measured in our approach. We`re following data. The governor has three basic benchmarks. Those are making sure that for 14 days we don`t see an increase in disease spread, that our hospital bed availability is not really taxed, and most importantly, that we`re seeing a decline in mortality as we try to consider moving from one phase to the other.

In Shawnee County, we`re extremely fortunate because we`re part of the Bloomberg-Harvard cohort, so we`re also getting information directly from Johns Hopkins and from Harvard University. And we`re also adding what is our capacity for public health? You know, are we going to be able to do as much contact tracing as we need? Are we communicating with people?

So our markers are a little bit more than those three that the governor has imposed. We have decided to stick with right now following the governors. We were going to go into phase two, but we were not looking at increasing the number from 10. So hopefully we won`t have to say that was too much. We care about our citizens, and we want to make sure that everything we decide is based on data.

WILLIAMS: It`s a point I try to make here every night. Our governors and mayors are being forced into life-and-death decisions that they could not have anticipated, and I imagine that includes you.

Our thanks to Michelle De La Isla, the mayor of the great town Topeka, Kansas, for joining us on our broadcast tonight. Good luck to you in the future stages of this, mayor.

Coming up for us, encouraging news about a coronavirus treatment that comes from coronavirus survivors when we continue.


WILLIAMS: I need your attention here for a moment. We have an inside look tonight at a comprehensive new study on the use of this convalescent plasma to treat coronavirus. Plasma from those people who have had the virus and lived to tell about it.

Researchers found that using the plasma appears to be safe. One patient tells NBC News she thinks the treatment changed the course of her illness for the better. We get our report on this tonight from NBC News correspondent Cynthia McFadden.


CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight a first look at a promising new report drawn from a nationwide team of more than 5,000 doctors from over 2,000 hospitals and labs, looking at an experimental therapy called convalescent plasma. Transfusing the antibody-rich blood from someone who recovered into a current patient.

(on camera): How encouraged are you by this, Dr. Joyner?

MICHAEL JOYNER, MAYO CLINIC: We`re very encouraged that the treatment is safe. That was really the first hurdle for us.

MCFADDEN (voice-over): Dr. Michael Joyner is one of the heads of that research consortium, racing to provide data about the safety and effectiveness of the treatment, looking at half of the 10,000 patients nationwide who have now received it. Claudia Garcenot was one of them.

CLAUDIA GARCENOT, CHIEF NURSING OFFICER: I`m the chief nursing officer, vice president for nursing at Mt. Sinai Brooklyn.

MCFADDEN: A chest X-ray revealed pneumonia in both lungs. Diagnosed with COVID-19, she went home to wait it out. But she kept getting sicker. Her daughter drove her to Mt. Sinai in Manhattan, the good-bye painful.

GARCENOT: Looking at her and thinking to myself, is this the last time I`m going to see her?

MCFADDEN: Three days later, she was worse. Her son called with that experimental treatment option.

GARCENOT: Mom, great news. They think you can have the plasma. I was like, do you think I should do that? It`s like a transfusion. I`m not sure.

MCFADDEN: But worried she`d be put on a ventilator, she agreed.

GARCENOT: I really wasn`t a nurse at that moment. I was really a frightened, sick patient who was worrying about surviving.

MCFADDEN: Dr. Joyner says the hard data about the effectiveness of the treatment is yet to come. How soon will they have it?

JOYNER: As fast as we can. Our data minding and analytics team is working on the data we have currently.

MCFADDEN: But Claudia Garcenot says there is no doubt in her mind. Just over 24 hours after she received the plasma --

GARCENOT: I remember taking that first deep breath. I felt like I had oxygen. I felt like I won the lottery.

MCFADDEN (on camera): It really sounds like almost a miracle.

GARCENOT: Exactly. Of course immediately I called my son, and I said to him, I think that plasma did it.

MCFADDEN: Promising results for a nation in need. Cynthia McFadden, NBC News.


WILLIAMS: Look, we`ll take the good news these days.

Coming up, today this country lost one of its very best. I`m going to tell you his life story when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, our country lost a genuine hero today, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, and I`d like you to hear his story. He was a young man who on his worst day performed at his very best and because of Ronald Shurer, there are men who are alive today who are home tonight in fact with their families.

Ron Shurer was born in Alaska at a parent stationed in the air force. He joined the army, became a Green Beret special forces medic and was deployed to Afghanistan where on April 6th of `08, he entered into a hellacious fire fight, quickly became pinned down on a mountainside, under fire from sniper rifles, machine guns, and RPGs.

He withstood and survived hours of withering fire. He took a round to the helmet and one to the arm, and he killed several enemy himself. Then his men started to get hit. While exposed to enemy fire, he made his way to four separate men, treated their wounds, some of them life-threatening.

Then when it came time to get the wounded men off the mountain, to quote from his Medal of Honor citation, Staff Sergeant Shurer began to evacuate the wounded, carrying them and lowering them down the sheer mountainside. While moving down the mountain, he used his own body to shield the wounded from enemy fire.

And when they were heloed out, he rejoined the fight. As a result of his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor at the White House October of 2018. Upon leaving the U.S. Army, Ron Shurer joined the U.S. Secret service.

I guess they figured he was a better than average marksman. He was assigned to the heavily armed counterassault team out of D.C. His death leaves behind a wife and two sons. Ron Shurer was just 41 years old when he died today after a long battle with lung cancer. His death leaves 69 living Medal of Honor recipients in our country.

That is our broadcast for this Thursday night. We thank you for being here with us. On behalf of all 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