WAPO Op-Ed TRANSCRIPT: 5/20/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Satya Rhodes-Conway, William Hazeltine, Mario Ramirez

  BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 1,217 of the Trump administration, 167 days until the Presidential Election.

For starters here tonight some quotes from the President today. We`ll get into the most of these in detail in just a bit. He said today looking back on how he responded to this epidemic he would have done nothing differently. He said we`ve done "amazingly well." "If you look at the death relatively speaking we`re at the lowest level along with Germany."

When reminded that per capita figures differ he said this.  "When you see a per capita, there`s many per capitas. It`s like per capita relative to what? But you can look about just about any category and we`re really at the top."

The President does have a point there. We lead the world in both total cases and death toll. This was the day Donald Trump has been laser focused on, and that is because it`s the day all 50 states now have reopened to some degree or another, even if that means only certain areas or businesses can begin to get back to normal after a two-month lockdown that brought the nation and its economy to a standstill.

Keep in mind a lot of states still have not met the government benchmark for reopening. And keep in mind that at least 23 states have now reported increases in this disease just this week. That`s almost half the nation.

For his part the Vice President, the head of the now silent coronavirus task force, was in Orlando for lunch today, no masks, no problem, as he joined the governor and other customers and traveling staff. The President was back at the White House meeting with the governors of Arkansas and Kansas. As we quoted a moment ago, taking up the administration`s success in this pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you have done differently facing this crisis?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Well, nothing. If you take New York and New Jersey, which were very hard hit, we were very, very low. And in terms of morbidity and in terms of -- you look at the death relatively speaking, we`re at the lowest level along with Germany. And I think that`s a great -- that`s a great honor. And that`s including New York and New Jersey, which have had a very high number.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: According to Johns Hopkins, Germany`s death toll is 8,144 people. Total population in Germany of just over 80 million.

Tonight the death toll in the United States stands at 93,740. As we continue to try to illustrate that number, assuming capacity of 155 souls on board, our death toll is the equivalent of killing all the passengers on board 605 Boeing 737s. Put another way, a plane crash a day for the last 605 days. At its current rate the national death toll would exceed 100,000 within the next several days.

Tonight The New York Times, quoting a new Columbia University research study that says if the U.S. had imposed social distancing measures just a week earlier in March, roughly 36,000 fewer Americans would have died in this pandemic. And the outbreak we remind you is far from over.

World Health Organization says just today over 100,000 new cases were reported in these last 24 hours, making it the most yet in a single day since the discovery of the virus.

Parts of the U.S., as you know, have been open for weeks but it wasn`t until today that the centers for disease control quietly rolled out its long-awaited, long-promised more detailed guidelines for schools, restaurants, and mass transit systems. There were reports the CDC`s original guidelines were shelved by the Trump White House and reports of tension between the CDC and the administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Kaitlan?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard yesterday at the Republican lunch that you were complaining about the CDC and the delayed rollout of testing. Do you think that --

TRUMP: No, I wasn`t complaining -- I don`t know who gave you that. That`s fake news.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Robert Redfield is doing a good job leading the CDC?

TRUMP: Yeah, I do. I do.  It`s fake news. At the beginning -- and I didn`t put CDC. CDC has been there long before the Trump administration came in. But they had a test that was -- something happened to it. It was soiled. It was soiled and/or foiled. But it was a problem. A short-term problem. I`m not blaming CDC for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The President went on to again claim the United States is way ahead of everybody else when it comes to testing. But the COVID tracking project reports just over 12 million people have been tested in the U.S. That`s roughly 3.8% of our national population. That has medical experts still worried about the pace of reopening and the likelihood of a second wave. Americans themselves are worried as well. A new A.P. poll finds that 83% of respondents say they fear lifting restrictions will lead to a rise in infections. One scientist shared his concerns earlier on this network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE, DEAN FOR THE NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE: We`ve seen this virus enough to know that it`s not like you`re going to see kind of a linear gradual increase in the number of cases so you have a heads-up. What happens is there`s a lag, there`s nothing, there`s nothing, there`s nothing, there`s nothing, all of a sudden six weeks after opening up the economy you`re going to see a dramatic increase. We have the potential increase right now by the fall of having six or seven or eight cities that look like New York or look like Queens, New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And tonight we got one more sign of pandemic precautions beginning to ease. NCAA Division 1 Council has voted to allow athletes in football, men`s basketball, women`s basketball to resume voluntary on- campus workouts starting June 1.

Meanwhile, the President also spent today engaged in a sort of political competition. He was busy lashing out at officials in swing states of Michigan and Nevada over efforts to expand voting by mail.

Today Trump wrote, "Michigan sends absentee ballots to 7.7 million people ahead of primaries and the general election. This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State. I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this voter fraud path."

Trump had to correct that post. It was applications for ballots. Not ballots. He was wrong as well about anything illegal about it. And his attack came on the eve of his trip to Michigan to tour a Ford factory where they make ventilators. It also came during a time of record flooding in portions of Michigan, which we will report on later in this broadcast. Late today he seemed to back down off his threats to withhold federal funds while still making those unproven allegations about voting by mail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Mail-in ballots there`s a lot of illegality. They send in ballots that -- they harvest ballots. You know all about harvesting. And they do lots of bad things. Ideally people go out and they vote. Now, if you need a mail-in ballot, if you need a specific, like as an example I`m in the White House and I have to send a ballot to Florida. That makes sense. So if you need it tore some reason or if somebody`s not well that`s one thing. But when you send out 7.7 million mail-in ballots there`s forgeries --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What funding, sir, are you considering withdrawing from Michigan?

TRUMP: We`ll let you know if it`s necessary. You`ll be finding out. They`ll be finding out very soon if it`s necessary. I don`t think it`s going to be necessary. We`re going to help Michigan. Michigan is a great state. I think we`re going to do very well in Michigan. I guess we just got a poll that`s very good right here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: One more thing we learned from the President today was about the drug he has been claiming incorrectly can help prevent the coronavirus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you finish the hydroxychloroquine?

TRUMP: I think the regimen finishes in a day or two, yes. But I think it`s in two days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: On that note here for our lead-off discussion on a Wednesday night Tamara Keith, White House Correspondent for NPR. Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for the Washington Post, also Moderator of Washington Week on PBS. And Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist, also with the Washington Post.

Tamara, not just because we are over indexed on the Washington Post tonight, I would like to begin with, you, with I know what is an NPR/PBS/Marist poll out tonight. And in plain English it says 65% of us think this is going to be our life for the next six-plus months. I don`t know how to ask this. How about lawmakers not named Donald Trump? Is this sinking in more widely than would be believed?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly if you look at our poll or any number of other polls, people are concerned. And people are concerned about a second wave. About 75% of people in our poll are concerned there will be a second wave. And if you dig in deeper into the numbers in our poll, you find there are partisan differences, that Democrats and Independents are more concerned than Republicans. Democrats and Independents think that this new normal is going to last longer than Republicans think. And also that African-Americans, gen x-ers and college- educated women are more concerned than some other demographics.

WILLIAMS: And Robert Costa, in the midst of a pandemic we had something familiar today that you and I have talked about on this broadcast so many times, the airing of grievances. The President straight up saying voting by mail is corrupt. The President`s trying somehow to equate our death rate with that of Germany. It certainly shows a disconnect with the public conversation, does it not?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It also shows, Brian, it reveals his campaign strategy. Talking to White House officials and allies of the President tonight, it`s evident that this airing of grievances on one level is just that, an airing of the President`s own thoughts, his frustrations. But you also see in the way he`s talking about Democrats, Vice President Biden and in particular the ongoing congressional talks. This is a President who`s now picking his political targets even though there was a bipartisan consensus on the previous rounds of congressional deals. Now you see the President drawing a line, saying he won`t give money to blue states if it`s not done in the way he wants. You see him continuing to look at democratic governors as his foil.

This is a President in campaign mode, meeting behind the scenes this week with advisers planning to move ahead with his convention, asking about when can I do rally? That`s his mindset at this moment, even as it just seems like grievances at the time.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, I`m looking at my notes from the President`s remarks in the cabinet room today. Talking about Michigan, he was asked about the flooding. He said, "I`m going to Michigan in the not so distant future." Then he was reminded that`s tomorrow. He said, "I`ll be there tomorrow. I guess it`s tomorrow." Eugene, we`ve confirmed he`s going there tomorrow. After threatening the state with the withholding of federal funds, do you think anyone has become perhaps desensitized, Eugene?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I think everybody`s becoming desensitized. I mean, look at what the President`s been throwing against the wall the last few days. You know, it`s the imaginary voter fraud and this scandal, Obamagate that nobody can quite define. We know something bad was done, we just can`t quite tell you what it was, but we know it was bad.

The joys and wonders of hydroxychloroquine, which is not a thing. None of these things is actually a real thing. What he`s serving up is what the Brits would call a dog`s breakfast, a very messy melange of dubious odds and ends. And I think it reflects a kind of panic. He`s in campaign mode, as Bob Costa said. But he`s in full-out campaign mode knowing that he`s in trouble in this re-election effort.

The new Quinnipiac Poll that just came out has him trailing Joe Biden nationally by 11 points. And of course we all know we should look at the state polls and the national polls at this stage don`t necessarily mean a lot, don`t put a lot of faith in them. But if the gap is actually 11 points that`s a done deal. I mean, you can`t win, you just can`t win if you lose nationally by 11 points. So this is an exercise in just throwing a lot of stuff against the wall and hoping that something sticks.

WILLIAMS: Well, Eugene, let me go one deeper with you on the poll numbers you just referenced. If you brought in a campaign pro, a pro from Dover could come in and say, you know, these numbers have a little empathy adjustability to them, if we soften and warm up the message and/or control the messenger, we can probably work on these numbers. That would be said, I guess, in normal times and in a normal White House environment, Gene?

ROBINSON: That`s absolutely right. And there are a lot of things that a normal president seeking re-election would be doing at this time to try to make up that ground. And one thing he would be doing is reaching out, trying to expand his coalition, trying to expand beyond his base and attract the votes of independents, of the sort of Obama-Trump voters. He`d be trying to make sure he keeps them.

The President is doing none of that. He`s doing no sort of outreach that would bring more voters to his side. He`s just solidifying his relationship with his base. And his base is big, but it`s not big enough. It`s just not big enough to win the election. And if that`s all he does, I don`t see how he wins.

WILLIAMS: So Tamara, Eugene has nicely raised the hood on the re-election campaign. Let`s work on the engine. Tell us about your new reporting on what this mid-pandemic virtual campaign season is going to look like for each campaign as far as you`ve gathered?

KEITH:  Right. So my colleague Asma Khalid and I have been reporting we spent a week fully immersed in these virtual campaigns and they are very different. And they have a very different theory of the case about how to win. And as Eugene said, the Trump campaign is really all about the base. They`ve built this ecosystem for Trump supporters that, you know, doesn`t replicate completely the rally experience but it certainly gives supporters a place to go. They have this new app that sucks you in and is gamified and really, as one consultant described it, if you keep them outraged you keep them engaged.

And a lot of what the Trump messaging is about is keeping his base riled up so that they`ll go vote for him. And also trying to find people who look like his base, act like his base, but maybe didn`t vote last time, to get them to vote again.

The Biden campaign is sort of casting a wider net, trying to find new voters, trying to find those people in the suburbs who vote ford Trump last time but are maybe frustrated or scared about the coronavirus now and might be willing to flip back to the Democratic side.

And you know, the Trump campaign, as they`ve said, they have a death star. The Biden campaign is saying, well, we`re the rebel alliance. And yes, we`re smaller, we don`t have the sophisticated digital presence that the Trump campaign has. But they`re trying to find the flaw in the death star.

WILLIAMS: All right, Robert Costa, from Star Wars to the State Department. The Secretary of State today was asked about the ousting of the inspector general. I`ll play for you and our audience his answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I recommended to the President that Steve Linick be terminated. I frankly should have done it some time ago. Let`s be clear. There are claims that this was for retaliation for some investigation that the inspector general`s office here was engaged in. That`s patently false. I have no sense of what investigations were taking place inside the inspector general`s office. Couldn`t possibly have retaliated for all the things. I`ve seen the various stories that someone was walking my dog to sell arms to my dry cleaner. I mean, it`s all just crazy. It`s all crazy stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, Nicolle Wallace after hearing that comment said flat out today he`s not telling the truth because he was shared some of the questions they were looking into at the State Department as part of the I.G.`s investigation. My question to you, does Secretary of State Pompeo survive this knowing the Trump crowd and their M.O. as you do?

COSTA: Well, he`s trying to survive right now at the State Department without the I.G. who was investigating him over his shoulder. But you still have a country that has a congressional branch, a legislative branch that has oversight powers. But across the Trump administration this State Department case is not an isolated one. They are removing I.G. after I.G. And they`re defying Congress at every turn.

And just to be clear, when the Secretary of State says that this is all crazy, it`s been well documented by my newspaper and others that he`s been having many dinners paid for in part, if not in full by the State Department that include many people who his critics have said could be his donors in the future if he mounts a presidential run, his allies. This is someone who is under intense scrutiny for defying Congress in this investigation in terms of selling arms to the Saudi Arabian government, the kingdom over there. All this deserves to be aired. But the question now is without an I.G. who`s holding him accountable? That comes down to the press and to Congress at this point because you don`t have a fully functioning I.G. inside of the State Department.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks tonight to Tamara Keith, to Robert Costa, and the pride of the University of Michigan, Eugene Robinson. Greatly appreciated, gang. Thanks.

Coming up for us, the Wisconsin mayor who called lifting stay-at-home orders outrageous and irresponsible. How her college town is now fighting a pandemic.

And later, out of the frying pan into the battle to save America`s beloved restaurants. Chef and TV host Andrew Zimmern will join us. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting under way for a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: Today, the State of Wisconsin reported its highest total of newly confirmed coronavirus cases in a single day`s time. This comes, you recall, just days after the Supreme Court there sided with Republicans, removed the governor`s stay-at-home order last week. The decision led to scenes like the one we broadcast that night of people inside reopened bars and taverns.  Some counties and cities in the state chose to keep the order in place while others implemented their own rules and regs.

For more we are happy to welcome to the broadcast the Democratic Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, Satya Rhodes-Conway.

Mayor, I`ve had the great pleasure of visiting your city, and I think it`s probably about as nice a place as we have in the United States. It`s a lot of things. It`s a college town. It`s a place where people love their bars and taverns and public gatherings. So what is a mayor in Wisconsin in 2020 to do in the middle of a pandemic?

SATYA RHODES-CONWAY, (D) MADISON, WISCONSIN: Well, Brian, we`re trying to do our absolute best to keep everyone safe, to follow the science, to listen to our medical professionals, and to reopen our economy in a really prudent and measured way that follows the data.

WILLIAMS: And what does that mean, and what kind of behavior are you seeing? If you and I took a walk through the center of the city tomorrow, for starters what percentage of the population would we see wearing masks and keeping their distance?

RHODES-CONWAY: I think people have been doing a really good job of keeping their distance. People have been staying home for the most part unless they`re essential workers. I don`t think enough people are wearing masks yet. That`s something we`re working on here to get the word out that I will wear a mask for you and I hope that you will wear a mask for me to keep everybody safe.

WILLIAMS: I mentioned it`s a college town. And the college, the university is going to go to something they`re calling phased reopening. However you phase, it I`m pretty sure kids end up in dorm rooms and I`m pretty sure this virus loves a place like a dorm room as it would look upon a petri dish. How do you police that? Because of course then there are the potential ancillary exposures that all those students could potentially spread and take home with them?

RHODES-CONWAY: We`re going to have to be really careful. We`ve been working closely with the chancellor and the folks at U.W. to make sure that we`re planning together. I have a lot of confidence in their plans, and I know they will not reopen and have too many people on campus sooner than it`s safe to do so. But I am obviously worried about a second spike in the fall and, you know, related to not just students coming back but any number of things.

And I just think again we`re going to have to follow the data and we`re going to have to make sure that we are as careful as possible and keep containing this thing. We`ve done a really good job at flattening our curve so far in Madison, but we have to keep that up.

WILLIAMS: You can be a mayor for many, many years in this country, day in, day out, not come across decisions of life and death the way our mayors have been thrust into in this pandemic. Do you have time to stop, think, pause and reflect on the nature of when you got into the mayoring business, when you first ran there was no way to foresee something like this?

RHODES-CONWAY: No, not at all. It`s really intense and I think it just reinforces for me how much cities are on the front line of this pandemic and how critical it is that our cities but also our towns and villages all across Wisconsin and across this country get the support that they need from Congress to really continue to combat this disease and take care of our communities.

WILLIAMS: Fixing to talk about your dairy farmers in an upcoming segment. Mayor, thank you for joining us tonight. Satya Rhodes-Conway, Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin.

Coming up for us, while we all wait for a breakthrough in the treatment of COVID-19, one doctor urges caution on seemingly promising developments that woof that we`ve been reporting on. He`ll explain why for himself when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: We have seen and indeed reported on the promising news in recent days on a coronavirus vaccine. These developments and treatments that have been in the news for the past few days. But one of our next guest`s points out in a "Washington Post" op-ed we`re not getting the complete picture.

Dr. William Hazeltine writes, "Private companies, governments, and research institutes are holding news conferences to report potential breakthroughs that cannot be verified. The results are always favorable, but the full data on which the announcements are based are not immediately available for critical review. This is publication by press release and it`s damaging trust in the fundamental methods of science and medicine at a time when we need it most."

For more we indeed welcome to the broadcast the aforementioned Dr. William Hazeltine. He`s a former professor up at Harvard Med and the founder of the University`s Cancer and HIV/AIDS Research Departments. He now serves as chair and president of the Access Health International think tank. And we welcome back to our broadcast Dr. Mario Ramirez. He`s an E.R. doc currently treating COVID-19 patients. Also former acting director for the White House Office of Pandemic and Emerging Threats, helping lead the Obama White House Ebola Response.

Doctors, welcome to you both. Dr. Hazeltine, I`ll begin with you. Is your worry that breathless reporting and the absence of asking questions breeds false hope?

DR. WILLIAM HAZELTINE, FMR. PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: It`s false hope and it`s also breaking trust. We have a president who said very repeatedly and importantly trust but verify. The public wants to trust science. It wants to trust medicine.

And the only way to do that is to have all of the data presented. If you make a statement, you want to make sure that it`s verifiable. For example, if I`m the CFO of a company and I say I`ve had a great quarter, you need to see the books. You just wouldn`t believe that. Especially if the stock went shooting up 20, 30 percent on that announcement. You`d want to see the numbers.

Science is transparent. Transparency is the bedrock of science and medical progress. If you make an unsupported statement, you say yes, things are great, and it`s vague and not specific, what is a doctor to do? Are we to believe it? Are we to get our hopes up?

And the same thing is true with drugs. And it`s not only companies that do this. We`re seeing it being done by other organizations as well. So I think it`s an erosion.

Often they say this is done because it`s an emergency. Well, because it`s an emergency, because this requires trust we have to be especially careful. I`m not saying get the data out slowly. Get it out as quickly as you can. But get it out in a way everybody can evaluate it.

WILLIAMS: Indeed Dr. Ramirez, the desire for good news is human nature, but in this realm talk about the public pressure to push to good news.

MARIO RAMIREZ, WORKED ON EBOLA RESPONSE FOR OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Sure, Brian. I mean, I think what we have is a situation where we have many scientists saying that a vaccine is 12 to 18 months away in the very best scenario. But then, you know, just a few hours later we often see other folks from the political leadership saying we have operation warp speed, for instance, and that a vaccine is only six months away.

And so if you`re the public, you know, what you`re hearing are very mixed messages and I think we see that with some of these wild fluctuations in stock price and other expectations about what`s actually happening. And to speak to dr. Haseltine`s point, I think that really erodes the public trust and it makes it very difficult to know what`s actually happening and what sort of progress we`re making.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Hazeltine, there an old New York Haberdasher who used to make radio ads that ended with an educated consumer is our best customer. It always struck me that that had application across society and not just in men`s suits.

So with that in mind, what would your advice be to the news media to smarten up our coverage and to consumers, customers, all the viewers watching tonight, all of whom share a desire to get a vaccine done and out to the public and get beyond this thing?

HAZELTINE: You`ve asked a very good question. And one thing about science that makes it difficult is the answers, the true answers are not a matter of majority opinion. I`ll give you one example. Years ago I predicted AIDS would be a big problem, at a time when nobody believed it. In fact, "Discover" magazine did a look back and said 19 out of 20 people we interviewed said it wasn`t going to be a problem. One of them, happened to be me, said it would be. We went with the 19. And it turns out it was a big problem.

It`s a hard problem. And I sympathize with the media because you`ll hear many voices. The only thing I can say is go back to Ronald Reagan. Trust but verify. If you don`t have the data, if you hear a press release, either from the NIH, from very respected people, or from a CEO who`s hoping to increase the value of his company, claiming it is an emergency so he`s got to get the data out, be skeptical and make sure that the data can be analyzed.

WILLIAMS: And Dr. Ramirez, from your health care perch if the White House had come to you and asked you about, quote, reopening, all 50 states in some form or fashion as of tonight what would your advice have been?

RAMIREZ: Well, Brian, you know, I think the data is very mixed. You know, as of this afternoon there are still 18 states in the union where case counts have gone up by over 10 percent over the last seven days. There are clearly areas in this country that are not meeting the White House`s coronavirus guidelines for opening.

But the other thing I think is important to note is the CDC actually released the 60-page document yesterday that very specifically illuminates how we should be measuring case counts and other things across the different categories.

One of the things that has been so difficult with this situation is that all of the states are measuring their data differently. You know, when it comes to case counts, for instance, some states are reporting only PCR confirmed cases. Other states are including antibody tests in that data as well.

And so you`re really not getting an apples to apples comparison across states. And so the data is very muddled and very mixed. I think in some areas there`s clearly not enough evidence for us to be moving forward. Even though the overall national case count is declining.

WILLIAMS: And Dr. Ramirez, indeed just tonight going by the NBC News count we have new cases up in 23 of our 50 states. We started the week with cases up in 17. We`re now up to 23. That should get everybody`s attention.

Our great thanks to these two physicians, Dr. Mario Ramirez and Dr. William Haseltine, who gets a big shout out as well for bringing along a beautiful Saturn 5 model behind him.

Coming up tonight, time to ask an uncomfortable question. What percentage of the restaurants that we all love will survive and still be around at the end of this pandemic? And what do we do about that? We`ll talk about that and other things with the writer, chef, and TV host Andrew Zimmern after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT: Restaurants are going to be busy, I understand, doing my reconnaissance. But we`re also going to be busy following and making sure people follow the protocols there. That will give your consumers more confidence going in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: That`s Ned Lamont, the governor of Connecticut. That state today became the latest state to let restaurants reopen, though they won`t look or seem anything like the past. And by that I mean a few months ago. While some states are allowing restaurants to reopen with limited capacity, it may not be enough. A lot of establishments have already decided to close up and shut their doors forever.

This week leaders of the industry were at the White House to plead for help from the federal government. And on this topic for this conversation we`re so pleased to have Andrew Zimmern with us. He`s a writer, chef, and host of MSNBC`s "What`s Eating America."

Andrew, I`m so tempted to start off with a question about numbers. If you`re really lucky, you have a favorite restaurant. And if you`re really, really lucky, you and your family have several. The Saturday night places, the Sunday dinner places, the lunch anytime places. What percentage of the restaurants we love are going to survive this?

ANDREW ZIMMERN, MSNBC "WHAT`S EATING AMERICA": My fear, Brian, is that without the proper backstopping from the federal government and at the state level, without working hand in hand with municipal governments, we could be looking at an extinction event of between 80 percent at the worst case scenario, 60 percent at the best.

If we get the payroll protection plan, if we get that extended to 24 weeks as the independent restaurant coalition called for at the meeting with President Trump on Monday and we get representative Earl Blumenauer`s restaurant stabilization plan to a successful vote on the floor and get the backstopping that we need then I think we might be able to save about 60 percent to 70 percent of restaurants.

Right now we`re looking at an eight-week band-aid for an 18-month problem. It`s just not going to work.

WILLIAMS: You mentioned the White House event, as did we. I know you had colleagues there. Did they hear anything that they can take to the bank in lieu of actual money to take to the bank I guess?

ZIMMERN: Yes. We actually heard the President of the United States, the Treasury Secretary, the Vice President commit to helping restaurants and to do so in a public forum. We heard what was near full acceptance of fully investigating an extension to 24 weeks of what was an eight-week plan with the PPP. We`re not asking for more money. What we`re asking for is a greater timeline to spend the loans that have been given. You can`t give someone a loan to operate their business and do it at a time when the state, the restaurant is in has mandated that their doors are shut. It simply doesn`t work.

And then the other thing we were able to do is we`re able bring up this restaurant stabilization project, which I think is the key to anything. It`s one thing to get restaurants open. We have to keep them open as they ramp up from 25 to 50 to 75 to 100 percent of capacity. Restaurants are opening in what is going to be, depending on definition, an awful recession or a depression. It`s going to be a long time before consumer confidence is there for restaurants.

And while restaurants may look differently to the consumer over the next couple years as this happens, we need to backstop these important viable businesses that are the cultural backbone of our country, employ very special populations of workers.

Remember, restaurants, the only industry bigger than restaurants is the defense department. It`s a trillion-dollar industry, the independent restaurant group. Trillion-dollar industry with 11 million employees. And we lead month after month in the unemployment numbers.

This is an industry that has to be addressed. No industry deserves it more. And yet we seem to be left at the back door when it comes to the real kind of aid that will help us systemically to reopen and stay open.

WILLIAMS: I`m so glad to hear from you, though the expression you used early on, extinction event, boy, does that get your attention. And let`s hope for our friends in the restaurant business the opposite of that and something closer to survival. Andrew Zimmern, we`ll see you on TV. Thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Coming up for us --

ZIMMERN: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: -- on top of the catastrophe of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, now a catastrophe on top of that for thousands of Americans tonight in the impact zone. We mentioned the story earlier. We`ll have a complete report for you in our next segment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: During this next item please keep in mind that the state of Michigan, part of the central economic beating heart of our country, has like all of us been dealing with a pandemic. In central Michigan today those stay-at-home orders were abruptly upended when people were suddenly ordered to do the opposite, get out of their homes instead. That`s because some big water was on the way.

Heavy rain caused two dams to fail, giving way to catastrophic flooding downstream. Over 10,000 Michiganders are left trying to figure out how to evacuate and remain safe during a pandemic. NBC News correspondent Kathy Park has our report from Michigan tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATHY PARK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The water came, fast and furious. A pair of dams in central Michigan failing, sending water gushing into homes and businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s the craziest thing I`ve ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Massive amount of debris.

PARK: Reducing much of this dam to rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never felt in my life that the dam would break.

PARK: The flooding catastrophic. The governor declaring a state of emergency.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: It`s hard to believe that we`re in the midst of a 100-year crisis, a global pandemic, and that we`re also dealing with a flooding event that looks to be the worst in 500 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Evacuate the area.

PARK: It`s a crisis within a crisis. People are still under stay-at-home orders for coronavirus but 10,000 were ordered to evacuate. Daniele Hammond grabbed her pets and rushed to this school turned shelter.

DANIELE HAMMOND (ph), MICHIGAN RESIDENT: We`re still under stay home stay safe. If I stayed home i wouldn`t be safe. I`m not safe anywhere right now.

BECKY PINKY (ph), MICHIGAN RESIDENT: I`m not sure what we`re going to do.

PARK: Betty Pinky (ph) left too. Flood waters forcing her out of this senior living center.

PINKY (ph): The dining room and the kitchen are totally flooded.

PARK: The river here cresting at more than 35 feet. A historic high.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is downtown Sanford.

PARK: Entire towns already submerged. Now concerns for Dow Chemical`s pain plant, which sits on the river banks. The safety of these dams has long been under scrutiny. Federal regulators rated both dams as high hazards in 2018, meaning loss of human life is likely if the dam fails.

Tonight no deaths or serious injuries have been reported, but this community remains on edge, grappling with dual disasters.

(on camera): Today`s flooding broke a 34-year record. Parts of midland are completely submerged. Experts say that this was so destructive the geography of the area could be permanently reshaped.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: Kathy Park with that report from Michigan. Our thanks. And coming up, the world comes up with coronavirus workaround solutions, some of them good, some not so much.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight is about this coronavirus. It doesn`t wake up in the morning and read the coverage about our national reopening. In fact, it doesn`t wake up at all because it never sleeps. That`s the problem. It behaves the same way all the time. It`s voracious and predatory. And in the worst case as almost 100,000 American families will tell you, it`s fatal.

And at the same time while it has shut down a wide swath of American life, some will tell you the American way of life is in danger as a result.

To that end tonight a brief look at some of the solutions people are developing with the goal of getting people back out there. In the maybe not so much category. There`s this idea. Imagine a quiet but perhaps slightly echoey dinner inside your own glass dome. Your own cone of silence.

There`s the restaurant in Ocean City, Maryland that has rolled out social distancing tables. Yes, they look a lot like inner tubes and have all the ambience of a shopping cart festival. And it just becomes a noisy mess of unmasked people talking even louder over the noise.

From Germany because it`s just so hard to figure out the right distance for your social distancing, how about a pool noodle hat with your Al Fresco cocktail? Sure it looks good. But it`s cumbersome and certainly frowned upon at all fire pit gatherings. How about a great idea, you may ask? We have one of those. This one is from a mall in Thailand. Hands-free elevators. You press a pedal for up or down elevator and then once you get inside you use a pedal to select your floor.

While in bigger buildings those pedals may look a lot like the pipe organ at Yankee Stadium, it`s innovation nonetheless. It works. It will help prepare us for what could be kind of a hands-free future going forward.

That is our broadcast on a Wednesday night. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, thank you for being here with us. 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