Russian Bounty intel TRANSCRIPT: 7/2/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Steve Liesman, Regina Romero, Brenda Bethune, Eugene Robinson

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again. I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams, who will be back here on Monday.

It is day 1,260 of the Trump administration, 124 days until the Presidential Election. And this nation is heading into the big holiday weekend with a coronavirus case record now climbing.

Today more than 56,000 new infections have been reported. That is yet another record.

The New York Times describes the pandemic situation over the past month as having spiraled out of control. It`s so serious that today the Governor of Texas did a controversial 180. He declared that wearing a mask in the lone star state is now mandatory in Texas.

Today we learned that Trump campaign surrogate and former Presidential Candidate Herman Cain seen here, attending the Trump rally in Tulsa less than two weeks ago, he`s been hospitalized with COVID-19.

And new tonight, the Washington Post reports that Vice President Pence`s trip to Arizona this week had to be postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday after several secret service agents either tested positive for coronavirus or had shown symptoms of being infected.

We`re going to speak to one of the reporters from this breaking story just ahead. But despite all of this, President Trump, who is about to headline a July 4th event at Mount Rushmore, where the governor has specifically said social distancing will not be required, continues to put forward a very different reality across this country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The crisis is being handled. Something to think about, China was way early, and they`re getting under control just now. And Europe was way early, and they`re getting under control. We are likewise getting under control. Some areas that were very hard-hit are now doing very well. Some were doing very well, and we thought they may be gone, and they flare up, and we`re putting out the fires. But other places were long before us, and they`re now -- it`s life. It`s got a life. And we`re putting out that life because that`s a bad life that we`re talking about. Now we`re opening it up, and it`s opening up far faster than anybody thought even possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: I`m not going to use profanity on this show, so let me say that that is nowhere near the assessment of the nation`s leading infectious disease expert, who happens to serve on the administration`s coronavirus task force.

Days after Dr. Anthony Fauci said the United States may soon see as many as 100,000 new cases a day -- remember, we had 56,000 today, he offered yet another stark warning in an interview today with BBC Radio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: In an attempt to so-call reopen or open the government and get it back to some form of normality, we`re seeing very disturbing spikes in different individual states.

What we`ve seen over the last several days is a spike in cases that are well beyond the worst spikes that we`ve seen. That is not good news. We`ve got to get that under control, or we risk an even greater outbreak in the United States. We never got things down to baseline where so many countries in Europe and the U.K. and other countries did. They closed down to the tune of about 97% lockdown. In the United States, even in the most strict lockdown, only about 50% of the country locked down. That allowed the perpetuation of the outbreak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. That`s Fauci. Another task force member, the point person on testing, seemed to break with Trump`s optimistic view of the pandemic as well at a hearing today with the House Coronavirus Subcommittee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Will it disappear miraculously?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT HEALTH SECRETARY: We will only gain control over COVID-19 by disciplined public health measures and eventually a vaccine.

REP. ANDY KIM (D-NJ): I often hear and have heard my colleagues here say this last time around that the increase is the positive cases is due to increased testing. Does that account for the increase that we`re seeing in those states?

GIROIR: We do believe this is a real increase in cases because of the percent positivity are going up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: At least 39 states are now dealing with escalating cases, and Florida and Texas are once again coronavirus epicenters. With hospitalizations in Texas now well past 7,000. Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who for weeks has strongly opposed efforts to require masks, changed course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): COVID-19 is not going away. In fact, it`s getting worse. Today I am issuing a face covering requirement for all counties with more than 20 COVID cases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Then there`s Florida, which set a new record with more than 10,000 cases in a single day. Another task force member, Dr. Deborah Birx, is now pleading with people there to take precautions and to get tested.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: If you`ve participated in a large gathering in the last four weeks, we ask all of you to come forward and be tested because the level of asymptomatic spread. So we`re asking for everyone under 40 that if you were in a gathering, please go and get tested. Please wear a mask. Please do all of the hygiene issues. And please stay away from those who have comorbidities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Nearly 130,000 Americans have lost their life to this virus, and it`s not over. It`s not close to over. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there will likely be, "between 140,000 and 160,000 total reported COVID-19 deaths by July 25th. That`s three weeks from now.

As we mentioned, in the thick of this crisis, the President travels to South Dakota tomorrow for an Independence Day celebration at Mt. Rushmore. About 7,500 people have expressed an interest in being there. Medical experts and some local officials worry that that event could lead to an outbreak of COVID infections. South Dakota`s governor says there won`t be any social distancing, and mask wearing will be up to the attendees.

While there, the President is likely to continue talking up the economy as he did today. The Labor Department this morning said that nearly 5 million Americans returned to work last month as the unemployment rate fell to 11.1%. That data was compiled before the recent spike in cases and before states began to stop or scale back reopening plans.

And another 1.4 million Americans did file first-time unemployment claims last week. That`s the 15th straight week that initial jobless claims remained above 1 million. And all -- with all of this, the White House still has not laid to rest the questions about allegations that Russia offered payments to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill American and coalition troops.

The nation`s top intelligence officials were on Capitol Hill today to brief the so-called Gang of Eight. That is the eight members of the House and the Senate. The leaders of both the House and the Senate, both parties, plus the leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, that`s the Gang of Eight.

Trump has said that he wasn`t briefed about the allegations because the intelligence wasn`t verified. His former national security adviser says he doesn`t buy that explanation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER TRUMP NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think he`s trying to avoid responsibility. The President has trouble owning decisions. So when a decision gets made that doesn`t go quite the way people hope, suddenly it wasn`t his decision. It`s hard for me to believe that somebody didn`t tell him about it. The biggest problem is not what is said in or not said in the oral briefs. It`s that I didn`t see in 17 months any evidence the President read the PDB itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, two Pulitzer Prize winners from the Washington Post, Ashley Parker, White House Reporter for the Washington Post. Carol Leonnig, Investigative Reporter for the Washington Post. Carol is also the co-author along with her post colleague Phil Rucker of the best-selling book, A Very Stable Genius, and with us, Dr. Vin Gupta, he`s an E.R. doctor specializing in all kinds of illnesses but he`s also an Affiliate Assistant Professor with the University of Washington`s Department of Health Metric Sciences and he`s a pulmonologist, so he knows a lot about these things.

Vin, I`m sort of fascinated because the President put out there that other places were ahead of this and as a result, they`re doing better. But in fact when you look at the measurements that are put out and anybody can Google this and find this graphs of seven-day rolling averages, you can adjust it for when we started and when our first case was and who was ahead of us. There`s no metric that looks like America -- that America is doing better than anybody else except kind of maybe Brazil.

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Ali. You know, I think the most important metric, Ali, is what are the number of tests per confirmed case. That is the metric that we rarely talk about. The President never wants to talk about it for good reason because we don`t perform well on that metric. We do 14 tests per confirmed case meaning we don`t have to look very far. It`s just 14 individuals, you find a confirmed case.

Countries that have gotten this right -- Taiwan, South Carolina, New Zealand, you know what they test? They test anywhere up to 70 people from confirmed case to 270 in the case of New Zealand per confirmed case. That`s when you know you have adequate testing, that it`s widely distributed, that there`s no restrictions on somebody like me, an ICU doc that`s caring for these patients, to have to be symptomatic -- I have to be symptomatic before my respiratory therapist has to be symptomatic before they can test. In New Zealand, that`s not the case. So we still have narrow testing, very narrow testing, very narrow testing.

When we talk about now schools opening up, when we talk about universities opening up, we have to think about testing. Now universities and schools are thinking about, well, let`s do a thermal scan. Then we`re good to go. That`s wrong. We need our mayors and our county officials to say without on-site testing, up to a weekly cadence, we cannot open universities and school districts safely. And because we don`t have widespread testing, people are looking for off-ramps and they`re looking in the wrong direction.

VELSHI: Ashley Parker, it`s kind of fascinating because the President continues to deliver metrics that don`t sort of tell us the real story. And the best he can seem to do is not be directly at odds with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx and others on the coronavirus task force. But he`s not really -- there`s no part of the catastrophe that we`re all facing that the White House has a meaningful plan for.

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, you`ll also notice that the President is barely talking about the coronavirus anymore, right? He stopped attending those briefings. Those briefings have been cut back significantly even from the people who are now doing them, and the President, as we saw today, would rather Trumpet bits of good news on the economy when he`s able to do so.

But the challenge there is public health experts even in his own administration have both publicly and privately articulated is that for the economy to truly reopen, the President has -- and the administration have to come up with an all-of-government plan to borrow their -- there`s a whole of government plan that involves ample testing, ample PPE, contact tracing and get the virus under control. And until he does that, he may get some good jobs reports here and there, but the economy cannot open. It certainly cannot safely reopen, and the thing he cares most about, that is he reacting to all the time, his election chances in November are also imperiled until he gets this virus under control.

VELSHI: And what is that doing, Carol, because the President has said in the last few days that he`s got internal polling that`s very different from the polling that anybody will see on fake news that shows him in a very strong position. But there`s a lot of discussion about what is going through the President`s mind, how this is affecting his thinking because apparently the internal polling he`s seeing isn`t good.

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: No. In fact, you know, he`s been really furious according to great reporting by my colleagues at the Washington Post, furious, in fact questioning whether or not this polling is accurate, why he has to pay for polling that is so off the charts and unfair. He doesn`t think it could be possibly true.

In fairness to him, however, I`d say that, you know, as his campaign manager wrote recently, Brad Parscale, President Bush`s numbers weren`t too good right around the re-elect, right before, and he was able to squeak through and win and win quite handily. So there`s that.

But I would say that the most important thing to remember about Donald Trump is perception is so more important than reality, and for him the perception of how he`s doing, the perception of him feeling confident is much more important than these boring details of governing and actually doing what Ashley is describing, that all-of-government approach. That`s nuts and bolts, not of interest to him, and it`s certainly not sort of prime time the way he wants to project that confidence, that control, that dominance. He`s much more likely to talk about his dominance over protesters pulling down statues.

VELSHI: Yeah, part of the issue here, of course, are the secret service members and the fact that Herman Cain, who was at his Tulsa rally, has contracted coronavirus. He`s been hospitalized. We don`t know whether he got it at that rally or not, but the fact is the President continues to not just like Ashley says, not want to talk about it and ignore it, but sort of fly in the face of it. So he`s off to Mt. Rushmore. We know there are secret service agents who were preparing for the Arizona trip that are either tested positive or displayed symptoms of coronavirus. What do we know about this? You`ve been covering this tonight.

LEONNIG: So we were able to confirm today -- my colleague Josh Dawsey and I -- that multiple agents, up to eight to ten agents when were preparing for the advance for the Vice President`s trip to Arizona. At first he was going to go to Yuma and Tucson. Then because of the spike of COVID, he changed it to Phoenix, a less large event. But even despite those changes, the secret service sort of pleaded with Pence`s office to put off the trip for a day because they did not have well enough agents to be on-site to work with him. So that`s what happened. They put off the trip, and it was because agents and others preparing for the advance were not well. They brought in relievers, pinch-hitters, and you`ve got to wonder about those agents who are driving from wherever, Texas and other places to get to South Dakota. Are they going to turn up sick too? It`s not easy for people to leave their home, make all these advance plans, sit in indoor rooms with multiple strangers to secure these sites, and they`re doing it because the President and the Vice President want them to.

VELSHI: Dr. Gupta, we`ve got -- again, in the absence of a national strategy about this or even national direction about a mask because the President doesn`t want to wear one in public. He said he wore one the other day, and it made him look like the lone ranger, so that was OK. But we`ve got all sorts of inconsistencies across the country. In Texas we`ve got the governor doing 180 and saying everybody got to wear a mask. In South Carolina, the governor know they`ve got increase cases there, the governor saying we can`t enforce how people wear masks so we`re just not going to do it.

In South Dakota, you`ve got a governor saying that we`re about to celebrate the fourth of July and America`s independence and freedom, and so we want that celebration to look like that and hence there will not even be a call for social distancing let alone masks. But if you have a mask or you can pick one up there, we`ll let you wear it. How does this make sense to a public health official like you?

GUPTA: It doesn`t make sense, Ali. It makes you wonder what happened to any shred of common humanity. When is enough enough? When is there empathy? Just listening to Carol speak about the secret service agents, the pinch- hitters having to come in, when -- where`s the empathy? Where is the common humanity to brace our political divides? When is it OK to lose an election for the greater good? It makes no sense. The South Dakota governor is saying, we`re going to go ahead with a rally in an outdoor environment with no social distancing, no masking. It`s essentially presumably just to create favor with the President because that`s what the President wants to hear.

Governor DeSantis is all been given up any imprimatur of effective leadership in Florida. He`s acting irresponsibly. He deployed the National Guard in Florida to quell protests, but he has not done so to bolster ICU capabilities and hospital capabilities statewide. That should tell you where his priorities lie.

Common sense things are not being done in Florida. Governor Abbott decided to do a mask order that he should have done weeks ago. Now he`s saying he`s doing it just to save face presumably. These are -- this is ineffectual leadership. This is failed leadership. And, Ali, that`s the simplest explanation of why you`re seeing different approaches that are less effective versus approaches that have been more effective. Like Governor Murphy, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, you know what? Indoor dining is not going to be OK because we have evidence that`s the type of super spreader event we have to avoid.

VELSHI: Yeah.

GUPTA: So there`s great examples of leadership and there`s very poor examples of leadership.

VELSHI: Ashley Parker, the President`s been busy on social media today. Here`s a couple of examples of what he has tweeted out. Mail-in ballots will lead to massive electoral fraud and a rigged 2020 election. Another one says, if I didn`t demand the National Guard troops go into Minneapolis after watching how poorly the Liberal Democrat government handling things, you wouldn`t have a Minneapolis now.

Another one says the last thing we will be doing is defunding or eliminating our many and various police departments or putting an end to our great Second Amendment. He`s focused on something. It`s not the coronavirus, but he`s focused on something.

PARKER: He sure is. The President in 2016 ran as a law and order candidate, and that was effective for him. He`s clearly trying to do that again. We`ve been told by people close to him that he said that he thinks the public will ultimately reward him for cracking down on what he views as lawlessness in the streets, for cracking down on the people who are protesting monuments and statues named after confederate generals. But the President`s gut is often rate. But the thing that`s missing here is the country in the wake of George Floyd`s death has shifted so quickly, if you look at public opinion polling, on these issues, on what they believe about systematic racism, on what they believe about policing and police brutality, and what they believe about these monuments and these statues. And this is an instance where the President`s tough law and order approach seems very out of line with what the country wants, not just on racial justice but what they want on coronavirus. And what they want they have told people overwhelmingly in polls is they want a President who is focused on the coronavirus, who is putting safety before reopening the country, who is pushing for modeling good behavior like masks and social distancing and other mitigation techniques. So this is this rare moment where the President`s gut is out of lockstep not just with Democrats but even with a large number of his own party.

VELSHI: Thank you to the three of you, Ashley Parker, Carol Leonnig, and Dr. Vin Gupta. We appreciate you kicking us off on a Thursday night.

Coming up, more on the mixed messages tucked inside those big numbers from the Labor Department this morning.

And later, he writes it on this Independence Day, American exceptionalism is being seen in a new and shameful light. Eugene Robinson on his theory that the country might have been better off with no president at all. The 11th Hour just getting started on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: This morning the President wasted no time heading to the cameras to tout the record jobs gain in June.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There`s not been anything like this, record-setting, shattering all expectations. Our economy is roaring back. It`s coming back extremely strong. These are all historic numbers. A record never had a number like that. An all-time high, think of that, that`s the largest increase in the history of our country, that`s a tremendous number, a phenomenal number. So these are numbers that are not numbers that other presidents would have. This has been a tremendous success. We`ve done an incredible job. We`ve done a historic thing the likes of which nobody has ever seen before in my opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Donald Trump got to use all the superlatives today talking about the job number, but it`s important to look deeper into those numbers. CNBC points out one big contributor to the decline in the jobless rate was those returning to work from temporary layoffs. This comes as a new report from the Congressional Budget Office that says, the unemployment rate is expected to stay above pre-pandemic levels through the end of 2030.

With us for more, we welcome to the broadcast Steve Liesman, Senior Economic Reporter with our sister network CNBC and an old friend of mine.

Steve, great to see you. Thank you for being with us. I mean, it kind of was humorous listening to the President, as I said use all the superlatives because there`s a big piece of context here. These are jobs in many cases that people were not working at as opposed to the creation of new jobs.

STEVE LIESMAN, CNBC SENIOR ECONOMIC REPORTER: Yeah. These aren`t jobs created, and what the President is missing there is the historic job losses that happened just a couple months ago that were multiples of the jobs that had been brought back.

In fact, Ali, I think the best way to think about this is it was really a bittersweet number. The President was right. It was several times -- it was just about double the expectation, 4.8 million. It was indeed a record. But let`s just do the math. We`ve lost 22 million jobs since the coronavirus hit the U.S. economy.

We brought back 7.5 million, so everybody can do the math at home. That`s 14.5 million jobs still not returned. We brought back about a third. It`s a bit quicker, but the other bittersweet part about this thing, Ali, is that with these renewed shutdowns, you could have two things going on. You could have businesses that have shut down and won`t reopen now because of these new infections. But you could have businesses that didn`t even close before because those places were not affected by the virus, and those workers unfortunately could join the ranks of the unemployed.

VELSHI: Let`s talk about the more important thing that people like you and I think about, and that is structurally what has happened to the job market. How much has been destroyed that won`t come back when we return to some version of normal? The congressional budget office talks about not getting back to these particularly low unemployment rates that we were at before coronavirus until 2030. That seems uniquely pessimistic. A lot of people are talking about two to three to four years. What does that lock like, long-term return to normal?

LIESMAN: You know, the best forecasts I`ve seen have been like two or three years. I think that the CBO is extremely pessimistic in that regard. But what we`re looking for, Ali, is something that economists are now calling scarring. In other words, we had a lot of people go on temporary layoff. A lot will come back. But for some of these places, the business may not be there anymore. The job may not be there anymore. On the plus side, there may be new jobs if people continue to get more stuff online rather than in retail stores. But some of those retail stores, they may never reopen. Some of the restaurants, they can`t survive at 50% capacity until we go back to 100%. So there`s going to be scarring in the economy, the extent of which I think the CBO may be too pessimistic. But the idea we`re going back to the way it was a couple months ago in short order is almost certainly too optimistic.

VELSHI: Steve, I know it`s something you think about a lot because I know you guys talk about it a lot at CNBC. How do you reconcile the record stock market performance? We`re in very strong territory. If a Martian popped into earth and looked at the stock market, they`d say all our problems are over.

LIESMAN: Well, it`s something that, you know, if I had another eyebrow, I`d raise them up. If I could raise them higher than my forehead, I would do that too. It`s a curious thing to watch. There`s an awful lot of liquidity from the Federal Reserve in the system. Interest rates are very low. If you`re looking to have a return on your money, you can`t do it in the treasury market. You`ve got to go into stocks. I think that`s one thing. I think there`s a belief among some -- among many investors right now that the economy will return to something normal in short order, in a six-month or one-year time frame. So I think those two things kind of combine.

The other thing, Ali, is if you look, certain stocks have done very well and pushed up these indices. But some of the stocks in some of the industries that we`ve been talking about have not done well and have not come back. So the market is correctly, I think, discounting that and this changed economy that we`re going to have, for example, with the airlines. So it is curious to watch this market think that things are going to get better as quickly as they are. I think the market`s a little bit optimistic when it comes to discounting the uncertainty of this virus. As, you know, Ali, the fed has been all over this idea saying, wait a second. We don`t know if this thing is going to come back. And I think they`ve been proven right on that score.

VELSHI: Steve, it`s a pleasure to talk to you here on MSNBC. As you know, I rely very heavily on your analysis. Steve Liesman from CNBC, thank you.

LIESMAN: Thanks.

VELSHI: And a quick program, you know, tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern I`ll be hosting MSNBC live and I`ll interview Trump Economic Adviser Peter Navarro to get some answers on what the White House`s economic strategy is for this ongoing pandemic.

Still coming up for us tonight, what it`s like for the mayors of two cities 2,000 miles apart both dealing with a coronavirus surge? That`s next when The 11th Hour continues.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. TYLER SOUTHWELL, PROTECTAZ FOUNDER: We don`t have enough staff to staff our ICUs. We`re about to completely max out our hospital capacity.

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VELSHI: In many parts of the country tonight the situation is dire as we head into the long holiday weekend. There`s word tonight that University of Southern California is reverseing its decision to hold classes on campus this fall. Instead, students will continue learning online.

Arizona saw a drop from yesterday`s record-breaking highs, yet added another 3,300 new positive COVID cases today. The Pima County health director warned the NBC Tucson affiliate that hospitals are now running low on ICU beds.

In South Carolina, where cases also continue to climb, popular vacation spots will be open for business this weekend. Tonight in Myrtle Beach a face mask mandate goes into effect, but travelers have been packing that town since mid-May.

In fact, Virginia`s health director says about 100 teens from Washington, D.C. tested positive for coronavirus following a visit to Myrtle Beach.

Let`s begin with Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. Mayor Romero, thank you for joining us. We were speaking to health officials in your state last night, and they talked about the fact that you are having to exercise these triage decisions in emergency rooms about who gets an ICU bed because you`re getting up that close to capacity.

MAYOR REGINA ROMERO (D-AZ), TUCSON: Yes. We`re very concerned here in Tucson, in Pima County where Tucson sits, a region of a million people. We find ourselves with five to 10 ICU beds per day. It fluctuates, but it is very concerning. It`s a crisis, and this crisis is directly related to the governor reopening the state, rushing to reopen the state. It`s very concerning.

VELSHI: I want to bring in Mayor Brenda Bethune now. She is the mayor of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, somebody I`ve talked to several times, usually because of hurricanes. Mayor, good to talk to you. You`ve got a situation on your hands. You`ve got a whole bunch of people, some who are there already, some who have been coming, and your governor has actually refused to have a statewide mandate. So you have a bunch of patchwork mandates across your state.

MAYOR BRENDA BETHUNE (D-SC), MYRTLE BEACH: We do and, you know, the good thing is our attorney general last week gave us the authority to issue face mask mandates on our own. And so we have seen a lot of municipalities take that step.

VELSHI: What are you doing to deal with the potential of a coronavirus outbreak? You guys had it under control actually for a while, while the hotels were closed. And then you started to see your numbers go up as soon as they were opened.

BETHUNE: Exactly. And today city council did vote for the face mask order, and education is the key. I`m a firm believer that places don`t spread this virus, that people do. So just being vigilant about wearing the face masks and following social distancing and all the safety precautions is so crucial right now, especially as we hit our peak tourist season.

VELSHI: Mayor Romero, what is it that you could use from your governor right now because, again, inconsistent messaging across the state. But you are in a situation that we faced in the northeast a few months ago where you are going to -- people who have nothing to do with coronavirus are going to find themselves maybe not getting themselves treated as an emergency room or getting that ICU bed as urgently as they need because of this.

ROMERO: Well, unfortunately here in Arizona, it`s a microcosm of what is happening with the Trump administration, right? That there`s a refusal to recognize the problem, that there`s no clear direction. And so as a consequence, we have a patchwork of solutions throughout the state of Arizona.

Unfortunately Governor Ducey had tied our hands and preempted cities, counties from doing anything that he would do in his executive orders. Most recently he untied our hands and really let us pass mandatory mask ordinances. More than 15 cities throughout the state moved on that mandatory mask ordinance.

What we need from Governor Ducey now is that he institute a statewide mandatory mask ordinance because the crisis is happening throughout our state. We are seeing 3,300 cases in one day, 4,800 cases the previous day. This is about saving lives, and the one step that Governor Ducey can take is instituting a mandatory mask ordinance statewide.

VELSHI: And Mayor Bethune, you don`t -- you`re not calling for a statewide mask order in your state. Your governor, as I said, refused to do that anyway. But you don`t think that would help?

BETHUNE: I`m not saying that it won`t help, but my position is I have to worry about my own city. And Myrtle Beach is a very popular vacation destination. We have people from all over the world who come here. So my position is I want to do all I can to protect our business community, our residents, and our visitors who come here so they can go home safely.

VELSHI: I mean that`s aspirational, and I share your hope that that happens. But do you think enough is happening? I was looking at your list of rules for who doesn`t have to wear a mask, and it seems like all sorts of people don`t need to wear a mask. If you`re exercising outside, if you`re on a beach. It doesn`t seem particularly rigid, and to your point, unlike Mayor Romero of Tucson, you are going to see an influx of people from all over this country in the next couple of days. You probably already have.

BETHUNE: Yes, we have. And we do believe that that is why our cases have spiked, especially in the past three to four weeks. And the mandate that was issued today will help. We believe that it will help. And the beach is a wide open space. Our lifeguards and our beach patrol are doing a great job of making sure that people follow the rules, that everything is spaced out.

So the beach itself is not a problem. It`s the masses of people who are coming here, and we just need people to take personal responsibility. That`s what this is all about. And the virus is going to be here for a long time, and we all have to live differently. And unfortunately this is something that we have to get used to right now.

VELSHI: Mayors, thank you very much for joining us. Regina Romero is the mayor of Tucson, Arizona. And Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Mayor Brenda Bethune.

Coming up, the president`s opponent takes on Donald Trump`s latest victory lap, asking does this feel like mission accomplished? The latest on the 2020 race when "The 11th Hour" continues.

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JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Trump want to declare his health crisis over and unemployment solved. Unfortunately he`s deadly wrong on both fronts. We`ve already had more than 128,000 dead, and the number keeps climbing. That`s a direct consequence of Donald Trump`s bungled leadership and the total mismanagement of this crisis from the start.

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VELSHI: Joe Biden also said today Trump spiked the ball on the economy and doesn`t realize he`s not even on the 50 yard line. In a new op-ed, our next guest writes about this pandemic. As we prepare to celebrate Independence Day, we are forced to see the concept of American exceptionalism in a new and shameful light. In confronting this global menace, the United States is not first and best. We are much closer to last and worst. History will place the blame for this catastrophe scarily on one ignorant, incompetent, selfish man, President Trump.

Back with us tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post." Eugene it`s entirely possible for those who subscribe to the idea of American exceptionalism, it was always possible there were moments where America might not take the lead. What we didn`t think is we`d be fooling everybody into thinking we are. What you`re hearing from Donald Trump when it was dealing with international trade, when it comes to the coronavirus, when it comes to the social justice issues, he represents it as if we`re doing really well and everything`s fine.

Just today he was doing the same thing with coronavirus. He used remarkable superlatives about the economy. So he`s not even addressing the idea that American exceptionalism has slipped away from us. He`s just pretending it hasn`t.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes. He`s trying to fool everybody, Ali. I`m not sure how many people he`s actually fooling. But he`s certainly making the attempt, and so there was an interesting moment today when he talked about the economic numbers. At one point he said, these are numbers, you know, real numbers as opposed to the sort of made-up numbers, one presumes, that he always gives out because he makes this stuff up.

And I think, you know, most people who are open to figuring that out have figured that out, and the people who are not open to figuring out that President Trump does not tell the truth all the time will never figure it out. So that`s kind of where we are.

What just struck me was how historically poorly we are performing against this deadly pandemic. It`s not the America I thought I knew. It`s not a country that can do. It turns out that we can`t do. We can`t do nearly as well as --

VELSHI: But it`s a joint effort, Eugene.

ROBISON:-- a whole lot of other countries that we think --

VELSHI: The not doing has been a group effort, and that`s kind of fascinating to me, the degree to which so many governors and so many people have taken a political position on this, including the no masks and no social distancing. Why is the nation so in thrall or at least some of the nation continue to be so in thrall to Donald Trump, who is threatening, as you write in your column, something that is central to how so many Americans of any political stripe view -- had viewed this nation?

ROBINSON: Well, there are two reasons, I think. One is just simple fear, right? A fear of the tweet. And so if you`re a Republican officeholder and you want to continue being a Republican officeholder, you know, you are endangered if you anger the president because he has substantial control over the Republican base, and you don`t want that.

The other reason is that there are people and officials who want to believe in him, who want to believe in his version of reality, in his MAGA version of where the country ought to be headed and how it ought to get there.

And, you know, yes, there`s an attractiveness to rebellion here in the United States. I mean we don`t like being told what to do and how to do it, and you got to wear masks, and you got to do that. But that`s what leadership is for. This is a -- this is a situation that calls for sane, responsible leadership, and we`re simply not getting it at the federal level. And if we were getting it from the White House, I really believe it would make a huge difference.

VELSHI: Eugene, we had several months to see how the president did or didn`t handle the coronavirus until we got into the issues of social justice. And he`s arguably fared worse on that front than he did on the pandemic.

ROBINSON: Yes, he has. He`s decided to take the side of dead confederate generals. And, again, that wasn`t the winning side in 1865. It`s not the winning side in 2020. But there`s a part of him, I guess, that really believes what he`s trying to say, and most of him is trying to appeal to his base. I think he misreads his base. He thinks -- he talks about the silent majority. I think he`s thinking of the Republican base in, like, 1968 when it was a much whiter country. This was a much more openly racist country than it is today.

And I think it`s a gross misreading, and I think the polls indicate that. You`ve seen what`s happened to his approval ratings.

VELSHI: Eugene, it is always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you, my friend. Eugene Robinson.

Coming up, a story about justice and long overdue freedom as we head into this independence day weekend when "The 11th Hour" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: WNBA star Maya Moore put her career on hold last year to push for the release of a man who spent his entire adult life behind bars for a crime he said he did not commit. Tonight that man is free. NBC News correspondent Blayne Alexander has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLAYNE ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A tearful reunion years in the making. After 23 years in a Missouri State Prison, Jonathan Irons finally free. Embraced by his unlikely hero, basketball superstar Maya Moore.

JONATHAN IRONS, MISSOURI PRISON: I`m so grateful.

ALEXANDER: A four-time WNBA champion, Maya took a break in her prime in large part to help Irons, who says he was wrongly convicted. We spoke to Maya last fall. Was it hard to walk away?

MAYA MOORE, WNBA SUPERSTAR: It`s hard, but when your convictions are moving you to a place that you know is right and you`re moving into something that`s really meaningful, it makes it a little less hard.

ALEXANDER: Irons was arrested in 1997 at age 16, given a 50-year sentence for a non-fatal shooting. Maya fought for him, launching a petition in his name and a foundation around criminal justice reform. In March, a judge vacated his conviction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This conviction is to be vacated.

ALEXANDER: The current prosecutor declined a retrial, today citing issues with the case, including fingerprints at the scene that did not match Irons`. Irons` record now wiped clean.

IRONS: I`m absolutely elated and thankful.

MOORE: In that moment, I really felt like I could rest.

ALEXANDER: Last year we met Irons in prison.

(On camera): What would it mean to you to finally walk out?

IRONS: It`s like I could finally -- I can finally live my life. I want to help other people.

ALEXANDER (voice-over): Now at age 40, he finally gets his chance. Blayne Alexander, NBC News, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Coming up, remembering a TV news legend who was once a familiar face around these parts when "The 11th Hour" continues.

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VELSHI: Last thing before we go tonight is a look back at the life and career of a broadcast legend. Hugh Downs died today at his home in Scottsdale, Arizona, according to his family. Downs joined NBC News in Chicago after serving in the Army and soon became a familiar face in households across the country when he joined the "Today" show. He had that perfect mix of likability and authority that kept him behind the "Today" show anchor desk for nine years.

During his Emmy award-winning career, he reported on some of the most consequential moments in the 20th century in America including the assassinations of both President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For much of his career, Downs worked alongside another broadcast legend, Barbara Walters. The two first met when Walters was his producer and the pair went on to host 20/20 for ABC News. He stayed in that role for 20 years before retiring in 1999. Hugh Downs was 99 years old.

That is our broadcast for tonight and for this week. Have a happy fourth of July. Brian Williams will be right back here on Monday. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.

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