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COVID-19 TRANSCRIPT: 5/21/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Michael OsterHolm, Donna Edwards, Elias Weiss Friedman

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 1,218 of the Trump administration. 166 days to go until the Presidential Election.

The pandemic has now claimed over 95,000 American lives. And as we continue our effort to illustrate what a death toll of 95,000 looks like, it`s the equivalent of losing everyone onboard 613 Boeing 737 passenger jets. Put another way, the equivalent of the crash of a 737 with 155 souls onboard every day for 613 days.

And among the many ways life has changed for all of us over these past nine weeks, there`s continuing controversy now over what many Americans are now wearing to try to keep this virus at bay.

Tonight, the photo the President did not want the world to see has surfaced. Trump was photographed apparently unknowingly during his behind- the-scenes tour at Ford Motor today in Michigan.

The White House, of course, recommended face coverings for the rest of us over two months ago now. That`s when the President told us he couldn`t see himself wearing one while greeting, "presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings and queens at the resolute desk in the Oval Office."

And here`s the President`s explanation when asked why he went without the mask for the entirety of his tour at the Ford plant, defying both company policy and Michigan law.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did wear -- I had one on before. I wore one in this back area, but I didn`t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it. But, no, I had it in the back area. I did put a mask on. I did. I had goggles and a mask right back the

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would you not be wearing it --

TRUMP: And here`s another one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would you not be wearing it here, sir?

TRUMP: Because in this area -- Not necessary here. Everybody`s been tested and I`ve been tested. In fact, I was tested this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the executives were wearing them.

TRUMP: Well, that`s their choice. I was given a choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the example it sets for other Americans seeing you wearing a mask?

TRUMP: I think it sets an example both ways.


WILLIAMS: Once Trump left, Ford Motor issued this statement. "Executive Chairman, Bill Ford encouraged President Trump to wear a mask when he arrived. He wore a mask during a private viewing of three Ford GTs from over the years. The President later removed the mask for the remainder of the visit."

Michigan, by the way, has well north of 53,000 coronavirus cases. That number still rising. Not long ago, Rachel Maddow asked Michigan`s Governor about Trump`s casual approach to wearing a mask.


GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): It`s really important that anyone with a platform has a responsibility to make sure that they model precisely what we`re asking everyone else to do. This is about public health, not one person`s or another. This is about all of us, and anyone in a position of power and responsibility I hope emulates and does precisely what they`re asking everyone else to do.


WILLIAMS: While it is true of whatever he does or says or anywhere he goes, there were plenty of political undertones to Trump`s Michigan trip today. Before visiting the Ford plant, the President held a roundtable with local African American leaders, covered quite a few topics.


TRUMP: People from Detroit and friends from the area have said it`s incredible, the job that we`ve done. We`ve made a lot of governors look very good. I just got off the phone with CDC, and I talked about churches. I said I want the churches to open, and the people want the churches to open. And I think you`ll have something come down very soon from CDC. We want to get our churches back. You have a lot of unfortunately in this case Democrat governors. I think they think it`s good politics to keep it closed, but what are they doing? They`re hurting themselves. I think they look at it as a possible November question. It`s not a November question. It happens to be very bad for them.


WILLIAMS: The speech Trump later gave at the Ford plant, complete with attacks on Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, sounded to a lot of folks like a campaign speech. And while in Michigan, a key swing state, let`s not forget, he continued his unfounded attacks on voting by mail.


TRUMP: What we want is we want good, straight, honest voting, OK? Honest voting. And by the way, if that could be honest, which obviously it can`t be. You get a ballot, you`re sitting in your bedroom signing it, who knows who`s signing it? Who knows that it ever gets to your house? Who knows that they don`t pirate? You know, they pirate these applications. They print new voting forms, and then they send them around. People sign them, or one person signs them with different pens and a different signature every time. It`s obviously there`s going to be fraud. We`re not babies. There`s tremendous fraud.


WILLIAMS: Tonight, Politico reports one of Trump`s election fraud conspiracy theories as collapsed. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced it found no widespread voter fraud in the 2018 races for Senate and governor there. Trump had complained loudly about fraud and theft and democratic-rich Broward and Palm Beach counties. None was found.

The economic fallout from this pandemic virus continues to be devastating as more Americans continue to lose their jobs. Finding work is nearly impossible for so many. 2.4 million more workers filed for unemployment last week. That means more than 38 million Americans have lost their jobs that we know of over the past nine weeks. There`s deepening concern about whether there will be another relief package and what it will contain. Well, today Trump said there`s much more the government can do to help.


TRUMP: The country`s going to be in a very good place, very good place. There`s a lot of ammunition left in the country in terms of the fed and the treasury and all the people that are working on it. We have a lot of ammunition left, unlimited ammunition if we need it. But we won`t need it.


WILLIAMS: Earlier on this network, however, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, the Democrat who represents the area in Michigan that the President visited today, spoke eloquently about the new reality for so many Americans.


REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): I still have friends dying. I have a memorial, drop-by memorial when I`m through with this interview, and I have a funeral tomorrow. My friends are still dying, and people are scared. They`re worried about -- they don`t want to get COVID. It`s still real. It`s still out there. But then they`re also worried about their job. They`re worried about how they`re going to put food on the table. Can they pay their rent and mortgage? How are they going to take care of their kids? This is a real fear that working men and women across the country are feeling.


WILLIAMS: One more thing from the President. As he left the White House for Andrews Air Force Base and ultimately for Michigan this morning, he offered an update on his own efforts to avoid catching COVID-19. See if you can follow this. He is talking about testing and his own test results.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, how long do you expect to take hydroxychloroquine?

TRUMP: I think it`s another day. I had a two-week regimen of hydroxychloroquine, and I`ve taken it, I think, just about two weeks. I think it`s another day. And I`m still here. I`m still here. And I tested very positively in another sense.


TRUMP: Yeah. I tested positively toward negative, right? No, I tested perfectly this morning, meaning I tested negative. But that`s a way of saying it, positively toward the negative.


WILLIAMS: Hope that was clear. Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press. Annie Karni, White House Correspondent for the New York Times. And John Heilemann, National Affairs Analyst for us, co-host of The Circus on Showtime. It`s not on near enough. And Editor in Chief of the Recount.

Good evening and welcome to all of you. Annie Karni, I`d like to begin with you. A prominent doctor from G.W. Hospital was on television tonight saying straight-up the President is costing lives with this mask business because his followers follow him. This photo that we aired, as our parents would say, is only a big deal because he made it a big deal. Do you think this photo represents the kind of thing that will have an effect on his behavior going forward, or does he double down?

ANNIE KARNI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": This is the image that he has been eager for us not to see. It`s not what he wants to project. To him, it`s scary, and it`s about alarmists, about the disease -- about the virus. It just connotes -- it doesn`t connote strength. So this is not the image he wants to project. It`s not the image he wants to campaign on. It`s why he didn`t wear it in public today.

I think that he will continue to not wear a mask in public. He has made it very clear that he doesn`t think it`s necessary. As I`ve said before on this program, people who have been wearing masks in the West Wing have been dismissed as alarmist and Pence and the President have made it clear that they don`t want to do it.

The statement from Ford, I thought, was really interesting. I think they were learning from the experience the Mayo Clinic had when there was blowback on the Mayo Clinic for allowing Vice President Mike Pence to tour there disregarding their own guidelines and not wearing a mask. Ford kind of got ahead of that, putting out a statement saying, we told the President to wear a mask, and he did what he did.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, the threats against the State of Michigan preceded his visit. Perhaps thinking better of it, perhaps realizing it was a bad optic, perhaps realizing 10 Michiganders are on the run and in shelters because of high water, and then this to put a period at the end of the trip, or in other words, was it just 24 hours in the life of this White House?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, certainly it was a trip that was designed to highlight the production of ventilators, these lifesaving medical devices. This Ford plant had switched over to build them. It should have been billed as an American success story. But as so often with this President, it was overshadowed by politics of the moment, the politics of his own creation. The day before as noted, he threatened to withhold federal funding over the state`s efforts to widen the ability to vote, to mail-in vote during this pandemic. The President again over and over suggested without evidence, said that it would lead to widespread voter fraud. He did back off that. He backed off the threat of funding. But the attacks remained. He took some broadsides against Democratic governors today while delivering what was more or less a campaign speech at that Ford plant, one of them of course being Governor Whitmer, the popular governor there in Michigan.

Michigan, as you note, is a key battleground state, the one that he won by only 11,000 or so votes last time around. And it should be said, his campaign advisers are very pessimistic about Michigan, particularly even among the trio of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan. Michigan, they`ve always felt, would be the hardest to keep in his column and particularly of late. He`s down there in their internal polling quite big, and they`re all but ready to write it off.

And of course the mask thing did dominate the day. The President -- that image did come out. Certainly there`s a lot of anger in the White House that it did, but he chose to refuse to wear it, at least in the public setting, despite the Michigan`s attorney general noting that it was against the law in Michigan. And that if the President were to follow through, if he weren`t to wear a mask in the public space in that facility like he was supposed to, she would consider banning him from returning to the state for any indoor building, indoor space. We`ll see, of course, if she follows through on that, but it`s certainly not going to reduce the tensions between the White House and Lansing.

WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, your choice of describing what happened in Michigan last time around. You could say it wasn`t easy to lose it, but Hillary Clinton managed to. You could say it wasn`t easy to win it, but Donald Trump managed to. But I think you`ll agree you can say it`s probably a bad look during a flood disaster and a pandemic to threaten federal funds from Michigan.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah. Brian, you`re working the understatement thing tonight, huh? Yeah, not a good look. Not the optimum look. You know, the President -- Lemire just said something which I think may be just overstates the case a little bit in the sense I don`t think the President`s team is yet ready to throw in the towel on Michigan, not because they don`t understand the kind of trouble the President`s in there, but because their number to pass the 270 electoral votes are very few and very slender. If you take Michigan out of that calculation, it becomes very hard, not impossible, but very hard for President Trump to get to 270. So they are in a bad -- in a world of hurt there. The President`s not great at science. He`s not really great at math, but he knows enough, I think, at this point to recognize that it`s a bad look, as you just put it, but also just arithmetically stupid to get into a persistent tangle with a governor who`s got an approval rating close to 70% in the state, Governor Whitmer, and when you are right now sitting in the low 40s, high 30s in the state and getting beaten consistently in battleground state polling in that state, again a state you kind of have to win.

So I think that the reality that the President got his arms a little bit around the reality here and tried to take his foot off the accelerator and keep himself from driving completely off the cliff. But it is the case right now that Joe Biden is a good candidate for Michigan. And the President`s on the air right now with some advertising in a bunch of markets that he should already have sewn up if he`s going to win in Michigan. So it`s a dire picture there, and they are backpedaling furiously to try to figure out a way to undo some of the damage that`s been done over these past few months.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Annie Karni, I know you`ve been doing some reporting. What`s the GOP convention going to look like, do we think?

KARNI: It`s a big TBD. The public line on it is, it`s full steam ahead. They sent out the invites to donors on Monday saying it`s August 24th through 27th in Charlotte as planned. But behind the scenes, there`s growing realizations that there need to be contingency plans despite contracts being signed, that there needs to be something scaled back.

Unlike the democratic convention where they`re considering a virtual convention. Ronna McDaniel has said publicly that the rules of the RNC don`t allow her to hold a full virtual convention. So there has to be some in-person element, but there are some talks behind the scenes about maybe a scaled back version of that.

One thing surprising in that report you just showed is that President Trump himself has mused why can`t we just hold this thing in a ballroom in Florida where the state is closer to opening up? Why can`t we just move it there? It`s unlikely to move from Charlotte unless the mayor and the governor agree, but it`s kind of counter to what you`d think Trump would want, a huge show. He`s kind of said like, let`s just do it in a state that I need and like and move on.

WILLIAMS: Imagine that. Hey, Jonathan Lemire, we`ve got -- we`re bumping right up against 40 million unemployed, again that we know of, people who have filed as a result of losing their job. I saw the banner behind the President today in Michigan. This is going to make a transition to greatness more difficult, is it not?

LEMIRE: Brian, my own personal transition to greatness is certainly a work in progress. And what we`re seeing here from the President`s team is the same. This is -- it`s an odd catch phrase and they have a lot of work to do. They`re focusing, as we`ve noted before, on the economy. The American death toll is over 90,000. It`s going to eclipse 100,000 likely next week. But that is -- They`ve shifted away from the public health aspect of this crisis and focused instead on the economy. They`ve seen the numbers. There are more job, another terrible jobs number today. They know that they are - - they need the economy to bounce back.

And the President in a way is trying to take a new tack here by reverting to an old tack, once again portraying himself as the outsider, which is what he so effectively did in 2016, tapping into that anti-government populist energy that he was able to carry four years ago and defeat Hillary Clinton. That`s sort of an inherently hard case to make when you are of course the incumbent President. But they feel like they can do it. And we`re seeing him rebel against frankly federal health guidelines, including taking an antimalarial drug that was not recommended by his own White House medical team. You are seeing him, of course, fight with these governors. You are seeing him shift blame elsewhere. You`re seeing him support -- and he did again today -- the protests from Americans who are agitating for the economy to reopen quickly. He sees a link between his voters and those who want to go back to work.

We`ll see if it`s effective. The Biden camp, for its part, says, look, you own this. You can`t play the outsider here. And, in fact, if you want to, you can because right now, what this moment, this crisis calls for is management, experience, government experience. Joe Biden, for once, sort of embracing the insider title.

WILLIAMS: Hey, John Heilemann, I know you`re not a doctor or a scientist that I know of, but this is more of a consumer question because I noticed today the CDC kind of quietly and casually changed the guidelines for how the virus is transmitted on surfaces. They`re now saying, "Coronavirus does not spread easily by touching surfaces or objects, but it still may be possible." John, we`ve become a Clorox wipe nation because of CDC recommendations, and now look at what`s happening. People are wondering if this new CDC recommendation is on the up and up. Is there a gloved thumb on the scale, and doesn`t that sum up what we`re living in right now where the CDC, by some, has been cast a little bit as the enemy of a robust economy?

HEILEMANN: Yeah. Brian, I think, you know, you`re right. Not only am I not a scientist, but I`m not also someone who covers the CDC. So I`ll say this, that my journalistic spidey sense with respect to this story and with respect to another story that broke today related to some questions about whether some of the statistics that we`ve heard about testing might be a little bit hinky. There`s a lot of smoke, I think, over at CDC right now that people who do cover that agency, I think, are I`m sure burrowing in in a hard way right now to try to find out about what kinds of political pressure the CDC is coming up against.

And to your earlier point, it all fits into a comfortable matrix for Donald Trump. This matrix that you refers to and Lemire alluded to, which is that he`s very comfortable in a place where he can say, you pointy headed liberals, you scientists, uptight Democrats, you`re trying to hold the country back, screw you. We`re going to do what we need to do. I`m going to open it up.

And I have to say, although everyone in our circle wants to be on the side of science, and we should be on the side of science. There is some -- but the President often finds this weird political power in the simplicity. I`m for opening up, and you`re for -- I`m for opening up but, and it`s in that but that the right thinking scientifically based caution that all of us and many people in the democratic column exercise. Trump sees that as weakness and is going to pound and pound on it. And the CDC becomes part of that because they are pointy headed liberals and bureaucrats that are on the side of caution. There`s a dynamic here that Trump is very comfortable with and that he`s won with in the past, and you can sort of see where this is going. And I think Democrats got to be careful with it.

WILLIAMS: We greatly appreciate our big three starting us off on a Thursday night. To Jonathan Lemire, Annie Karni, our thanks. To John Heilemann, got to say, strong candle game tonight. Strong decorative pineapple and the rare Wu-Tang orchid makes an appearance. Thank you, all of you, for all of it.

HEILEMANN: Just for you, Brian. Just for you.

WILLIAMS: Coming up for us, our next guess says, he scared most about a big drop in COVID cases over the summer because of what fall may bring.

And later, an update on quarantine companion adoptions from the founder of Instagram`s favorite dog site, who just happens to have a new companion himself. The 11th Hour as our nation prepares for a solemn holiday weekend just getting under way on this Thursday night.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you concerned about a potential second wave of this virus?

TRUMP: People say that`s a very distinct possibility. It`s standard, and we`re going to put out the fires. We`re not going to close the country. We`re going to put out the fires. There could be -- whether it`s an ember or a flame, we`re going to put it out, but we`re not closing our country.


WILLIAMS: A second wave is standard, the President says, coronavirus hot spots are emerging all around the country as all 50 states have at least partially reopened. This week we`ve seen a rise in cases in 23 of our 50 states.

The Washington Post reports that experts are warning of a second wave, especially in the American south. Dr. Fauci told The Post he has, "No doubt there will be new waves of cases," saying, "At any given time, it`s some place or another as long as that`s the case, there`s a risk of resurgence."

Back again with us tonight, we`re so happy to have Dr. Michael Osterholm. He`s a Professor and the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Also happens to be co- author of the book, Deadliest Enemy: Our War against Killer Germs.

Dr. Osterholm, I`d like to begin with you with the subject that got me all hopped up with Mr. Heilemann when the CDC suddenly in the middle of a pandemic says that it does not spread easily by touching surfaces, though that may be possible. We`re in a position tonight where American families who have been super cautious, using wipes, using gloves, are probably now going to exhibit more common sense than the CDC in changing these standards on the fly during a pandemic. Your reaction.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, first of all, let me just be really clear. I was born and raised in rural Iowa, and I`ve never been afraid to break a few eggs to make a truth omelet. And all I can tell you is the CDC is at the timing the truth. The science has caught up with us now, and it`s very clear that the air -- the air that we breathe is the primary way in which we`re being infected. So I applaud the CDC for this. They`re not trying to coat over something. And it`s important that people understand it`s what you`re breathing. It`s not what you`re touching that is making the difference. So I think they`re 100% right, and I think the CDC is frankly doing a great job.

You asked John just now about are they in fact clouded. I wish people could see what the CDC are doing right now. They have hundreds of people in the field helping the state health departments in ways that are absolutely immeasurable. They are putting out good information. They are not on the stage in Washington, D.C., I agree, and that`s a shame. But as somebody totally independent of the CDC, I can tell you we`re very, very fortunate to have those professionals doing what they`re doing right now, and they`re doing a hell of a job.

WILLIAMS: Well, in this case I`m so happy to stand corrected. Let me double down on it for all the families watching who just today used Clorox wipes on whatever groceries that entered their house, have wiped down surfaces. Are you saying -- and this is the tougher part, that some of that has become unnecessarily rigorous?

OSTERHOLM: Well, let me just say hand washing is important, and I would continue to emphasize that. As somebody that deals with a lot of infectious diseases, I can tell you it is next to sacredness. So keep washing your hands. But we`ve created this fear among surfaces and environments, and if you look at the media and you watch all these people in white suits, hosing down streets with disinfectants, people wiping things off, those have been totally needless. They do not protect us against this virus. As we get further into this battle, we`ve got to know the facts about what does protect us. So when you`re in a crowd with people and you`re sharing their air, that`s a problem. But if you`re getting a package delivered to your door or you`re somehow coming to a doorknob, that`s not the way you`re getting this. And the CDC has appropriately updated the scientific information to reflect that. We`ve been saying that, as you may know, on this show for the better part of several months that we put far too much emphasis on this part of the problem and not enough on what really is the problem. It`s the air we breathe.

WILLIAMS: Now, let me talk to you about a summer dip in cases, which you`ve actually been fearing. Andy Slavitt, who worked in the Obama administration, a former guest on this show, has just written, we`re not having the summer lull in the U.S. We`re not exploding but the death rate isn`t materially dropping This is not what between waves is supposed to be like. Do you concur?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CTR. FOR INFECTIOUS RESEARCH AND POLICY, UNIV. OF MINNESOTA: Actually, I don`t. We are still in the first wave. What we`ve been seeing are what I would call minor bumps, ups and downs in this first wave. They often, as a wave, will last several months at length. We`ve surely intercepted some of those cases in this way by flattening the curve.

But, you know, I will wait and reserve the period of June, July, and see if cases drop at that point. If they don`t, then in fact I think the people who said, well, this is just continuing to right, that would make me feel much better, not because I want anyone to become infected, but what scares me is what we`ve seen with influenza pandemics where, in fact, after three months or so of transmission, it kind of goes quiet for several months, and then all of a sudden the big peak occurs many times higher and much, much more widespread than even we would have with this first wave, this cumulative set of waves.

So I think it`s just too early yet. I said to you for several weeks now we`re still in the second inning of a nine-inning game. People say how long is this inning going to last? I`ll know that this inning is over when we get another month or two and see where the cases are at. I think we could still easily see that lull and we could still see a big peak in the fall.

WILLIAMS: University of Minnesota continues to be so fortunate to have you. We hope you`ll continue to accept our invitation to come on the broadcast.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: We note and stand corrected by your endorsement of the CDC practices. Our friend Dr. Michael Osterholm has been our guest tonight.

Coming up for us.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you, Brian.

WILLIAMS: What`s behind the president`s continued attacks against mail-in voting? We`ll ask a former member of Congress about that when we come back.



GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: Here`s what I can tell you, that they have got a phenomenal group of people to vet, and there are a lot of phenomenal women leaders across this country who would make a great running mate for Joe Biden. And no matter who it is, I am going to be a strong ally.


WILLIAMS: The president has taken particular interest in attacking Michigan`s democratic governor, who just happens to be a potential running mate in 2020 for Joe Biden. Most recently, Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funding to her battleground state over false claims regarding vote-by-mail ballots being sent out. Earlier today he attacked those same methods again.


TRUMP: Voting by mail is wrought with fraud and abuse. You get a ballot, you`re sitting in your bedroom signing it. Who knows who`s signing it? Who knows that it ever gets to your house? They pirate these applications. They print new voting forms, and then they send them around. People sign them, or one person signs them with different pens. Obviously there`s going to be fraud. We`re not babies.


WILLIAMS: With us for more thankfully, Donna Edwards, former democratic member of Congress from the great state of Maryland. She is the woman shaking her head, and she is these days a "Washington Post" columnist.

Congresswoman, before we even start, I`m going to play part of Attorney General Nessel. This is the attorney general from Michigan. What you`re about to hear may explain why Trump, since we`ve been on the air, has tweeted about the wacky do-nothing A.G. in Michigan. Let`s hear her out. We`ll talk about it on the other side.


DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: I hope that the voters of Michigan will remember this back -- when November comes, that he didn`t care enough about their safety. He didn`t care about their welfare. He didn`t respect them enough just to engage in the very simple task, the painless task, the easy task of wearing a mask when he was provided one. And so I hope that we`ll have a new president soon enough who does respect people more than this president does.


WILLIAMS: So, Donna Edwards, we have that. We have the mask-wearing issue. We also have this vote-by-mail issue, which I think is a meatier use of our time. Is the worry that vote by mail somehow favors Democrats, or is the effort to try to froth up public questions about the legitimacy of a vote- by-mail result?

DONNA EDWARDS (D), FORMER REPRESENTATIVE OF MARYLAND: It`s all of that and none of it, none one single thing, is true. In fact, there was a study that was done, I think out of Stanford University, that showed that there was a neutral effect politically in terms of the partisan leanings of people who vote by mail. So there was none of that. There`s no such thing as voter fraud when it comes to vote by mail or when it comes to voting. It really just doesn`t happen very often. It`s negligible.

And so Donald Trump is like stirring up all of these things. Part of it is, you know, while he`s stirring up confusion about vote by mail and about voting, he and his campaign and the Republican Party are eagerly trying to get their people to vote by mail.

At the same time, you know, he attacks governors. They`re attacking in the courts and trying to get people confused so that it will, in fact, suppress the vote. So let`s be really clear. There is -- voter fraud doesn`t happen with vote by mail. I voted by mail this morning at my dining room table. I signed my name and said if I, you know, was cheating on this, I could face a fine or two years in prison.

I stuck it in the mail. It had postage paid. It was easy. It was quick. And I am protected from coronavirus because I don`t have to show up at the polls. People should feel comfortable and confident in voting by mail.

WILLIAMS: Here`s what Amy Walter has written. Trump`s attacks on vote by mail aren`t meant to dissuade people from voting. In fact, his campaign and other Republicans are actively engaged in vote by mail organizing. It`s about sowing down about legitimacy of certain types of voters. Rural voters by mail, OK. Urban equal illegitimate.

And isn`t it further true that in the seat that went to the Republicans in California, that was a heavy vote-by-mail district, and the most egregious case of ballot fraud in recent memory was the case out of North Carolina where the Republican won?

EDWARDS: Exactly. That is exactly right, and that`s what I meant, Brian, by saying that, you know, there`s really a neutral effect when it comes to vote by mail. Republicans win with vote by mail. Democrats win with vote by mail.

The question I think for all of us is whether people are going to feel safe and secure in their ballot that, you know, they receive an absentee ballot. They`re able to vote by mail. They can drop it in a drop box, and that where there are places where people want to show up at the polls, that they can do that safely and securely.

And I think frankly that congress can do an awful lot more still in the next several weeks to ensure that we have a safe and secure election and that the United States Postal Service and those postal workers have the ability to deliver those ballots safely.

WILLIAMS: Donna Edwards, who today just -- just today in fact swore that she was indeed Donna Edwards on her vote-by-mail ballot. Congresswoman, always a pleasure. Thank you very much for coming on if you are who you say you are.

Coming up for us --

EDWARDS: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: -- the need for companionship and compassion during a pandemic and how some people have found a way to satisfy both. That would be the answer right there.


WILLIAMS: So especially on a night like this with all the news we cover around here night after night, we can afford, we figure, to spend a few minutes on this next topic, and that`s the role of dogs during a pandemic.

We ask a lot of them on top of their usual job, which as they see it is to love us forever. One bright spot of stay-at-home orders has been the exodus of animals from shelters. Here was that shelter in Florida celebrating that they had emptied all the cages. People are seeking out companionship. More and more dogs are now finding their forever home.

For more, we are happy to welcome to the broadcast Elias Weiss Friedman. Dog fans know him, especially on social media, as the Dogist, he photographer, chronicler and author behind the online home for all things dog.

We also note he is not alone for tonight`s interview, and thus, by way of welcoming you on the broadcast, start with your personal journey and what brought that new companion into your life. Please introduce him or her.

ELIAS WEISS FRIEDMAN, PHOTOGRAPHER AND AUTHOR: Hi, Brian. This is Elsa, my new dog. And, you know, I`ve photographed about 40,000 dogs over the last six years for the Dogist, and Elsa just sort of took my heart. And, you know, basically we ended up in quarantine like everyone else and kind of wondering what to do. And we decided, you know, with the team, like, why don`t we just foster a dog. And, you know, I didn`t have access to dogs for the first time, so I thought it was a great idea.

So we contacted some shelters in the area. I`m in Massachusetts right now. And Sandy Claws reached out to us and they said that they had Elsa available. So Elsa appeared within a few days to our door, little angel, and she started, you know, campaigning for our hearts. And, you know, I`ve had her for five weeks now, and I -- you know, I can`t imagine life without her at this point. So I made it official.

WILLIAMS: I understand that. Elsa appears to be a very good dog who has taken an early liking to you. Are we at all worried that we`re going to have a nation of bummed-out dogs who thought life was always going to feature one or more parents at the dining room table talking to humans on a computer, and suddenly someday, some of them are going to have to leave the house and go to work?

FRIEDMAN: Right. I know. They`re having a great time. And, you know, it`s interesting, you know, the whole pandemic has been good for rescuing because, you know, it`s brought so much attention to dog rescue and fostering. And, yes, the shelters have been cleared out, but a lot of -- there`s so many new applications that people have mailed in, and it`s just like a -- it`s a great thing, and more people are paying attention to social media and all the causes and donations. So in a way, in a weird way, you know, dogs are in a way benefiting from COVID.

WILLIAMS: Well, I`m here to tell you, you may have saved Elsa`s life. She will repay it for the rest of her life. And remember her job, as she sees it day to day, is to love you forever. Our thanks for introducing Elsa, very good dog. To everyone watching, we are big fans. Elias Weiss Friedman, the Dogist. This also means we`ll hear from the cat community again. Thank you very much for coming on. Best of luck to you guys. I envy you.

Coming up, the businesses that are now doing well, and here`s a hint. None of them are your favorite local stores. We`ll have that story when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Job losses in the United States are now bumping up against 40 million. Two more million Americans applying for benefits just in the space of last week. Among the hardest hit by the coronavirus, small businesses who are struggling to stay afloat while the big players in retail, as you`re about to see, are making money hand over fist in this pandemic. We get our report tonight from the NBC News senior business correspondent Stephanie Ruhle.


STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katherine Nguyen owns three toy stores in Chicago. Only three of her 12 employees are working.

KATHERINE NGUYEN, TOY STORE OWNER: I just love my business so much, and I want to do this forever. Not knowing how I`m going to be able to sustain the business keeps me up at night.

RUHLE: Her sales now limited to curbside have plummeted 80 percent.

NGUYEN: Big online retailers like Amazon and large e-commerce sites are going to really pretty much take a lot of the revenue.

RUHLE: Many small brick and mortar stores are competing with the convenience and safety of shopping from home. This year, Amazon raked in more than $75 billion through March, a 26 percent jump compared to last year. Walmart`s online sales skyrocketed 74 percent.

While fewer people are headed to stores, those who do are buying more, driving up in-store sales at big-box retailers. Walmart and Target made a combined $10 billion more than they did in the first three months of last year, both online and in-store while a recent survey shows the majority of small businesses saw revenue drop more than 75 percent. Many are flocking to big retailers deemed essential.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We got spaghetti sauce, milk, bread.

RUHLE: In addition to toilet paper, water, food, and medication, many also sell toys, beauty products, jewelry, and sports equipment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re absolutely coming for badminton like rackets.

BRIAN FARIAS, FARIAS SURF SPORT: The gray area of what`s essential and not essential is very blurred.

RUHLE: Brian Farias is Jersey shore`s surf shop is just a few miles from those big retailers.

FARIAS: We provide service you can`t get there and that`s why we`ve survived for 50 years.

RUHLE (on camera): For small businesses, if they don`t reopen, what could happen?

FARIAS: It`s going to be really sad. You know, you`re going to be going to dinners at chain restaurants. You`re going to be shopping at the Walmarts and Costcos permanently and not shopping at your momma pop shops.

RUHLE: Small businesses trying to hold on, hoping to come out on the other side. Stephanie Ruhle, NBC News.


WILLIAMS: Really important message right there.

Coming up for us, it`s a story the president likes to tell despite the best work of one expert turning up zero evidence that it ever happened.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, it was something the president said yesterday and then again today. And as you watch, remember this. No one can figure out what event he`s talking about.


TRUMP: I was honored as the Man of the Year in Michigan at a big event. The Man of the Year. They named me Man of the Year in Michigan.


WILLIAMS: The old man of the year award from Michigan. It`s a triggering event. Every time the President mentions it, but for one man in particular. Trump fact checker Daniel Dale. Dale wrote of the yesterday mention by the president, "This is at least the sixth time Trump has claimed to have gotten the Michigan man of the year award he never got." Then today Daniel Dale wrote in exasperation, "Trump begins his speech at a Ford plant in Michigan by repeating his lie that they named me man of the year in Michigan." And in deed Trump has mentioned his man of the year award in Michigan quite a lot.


TRUMP: I was man of the year in Michigan a number of years ago. I was the man of the year. For whatever reason, they named me man of the year in Michigan. I said, how come? I didn`t even understand it myself. So I love Michigan, and I was the man of the year or something. I was the man of the year by, I think, somebody, whoever. It was the man of the year in Michigan. He said, you`re still the man of the year. Thank you. Who said that? Man of the year in Michigan. That was a great honor for me. Man of the year in Michigan. Can you believe it?


WILLIAMS: A former congressman from Michigan, David Trott, thinks he may know what this mythic event was that Trump keeps talking about. He thinks it might be a Lincoln Day dinner that Congressman Trott organized for Republicans Oakland County Michigan back in 2013. There, Trott said, Trump gave a rambling address, resembling the one he says he did, and Trott gave him a framed copy of Lincoln`s Gettysburg Address and other gifts.

But Trott did not give him any man of the year award nor did anyone else.

So, we`ll put at this way. If anyone has seen a trophy or an engraved, maybe silver man of the year bowl or even a photo of the man of the year event in Michigan, please come forward. For starters, contact Daniel Dale.

That, for us, is our broadcast on a Thursday night. Thank you for being here with us. And on behalf of all of our 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