Steve Schmidt TRANSCRIPT: 5/11/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Renato Mariotti, Tom Steyer, Nicholas Kristof

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber.

Tonight, the Trump White House is tightening up some policies to guard against coronavirus, now that the virus is hitting the Trump White House itself. We have that story.

Later tonight, I want you to know, Steve Schmidt will be here on Donald Trump`s troubling conflicting messages.

Also returning to the show, former presidential candidate Tom Steyer tonight. The liberal businessman will weigh in on how to safely restart this economy.

And then something we really rarely say on the evening news, former President Obama hitting Donald Trump`s leadership, the famously careful and basically widely respectful elder statesman. Everyone knows Barack Obama does not go tweeting or talking about Donald Trump that much.

In fact, they will go months where we have no Obama news whatsoever. Well, tonight`s news is the president, the former president, has a report card for Donald Trump in this crisis. And he`s also speaking out on something we have covered a lot on this show, the credible and documented evidence that this Justice Department under Donald Trump is undermining the rule of law, Barack Obama weighing in on that as well.

So we`re going to get into all of that tonight. There`s a lot to start this week.

So, where do you begin?

Well, our top story is a White House now dealing with its own coronavirus outbreak. That`s not something that anyone feels good about. Like every other case we cover, this is tough stuff and sad and scary when it gets near anyone.

But, obviously, when you are dealing with government, rather than just other random citizens, there`s an extra layer to all of this. And there is confusion, evolution, adjustment and even cries of hypocrisy swirling around the way this White House is dealing with coronavirus in its midst.

Two staffers testing positive, including a top aide to Vice President Pence. So how does the White House deal? Well, this is a test of where rubber meets the road, because while many states and organizations have been following these CDC rules for months -- you may live in an area where you need to wear a mask to go anywhere -- only now, today, are we seeing the Trump White House issue formal tighter policies requiring people to wear masks in the West Wing, now, all of a sudden.

And we also saw today more White House staffers entering work with masks on.

And let me be clear. As a factual matter, this new rule is not being led from the top. In fact, Donald Trump just was in the Rose Garden late today defending his ongoing decisions not to wear masks at any point in time, not in a high-risk area, not anywhere.

Now, this is an issue we also saw crop up as recently as this weekend, on Saturday, where you can see here people seated reasonably close, indoors, people in the at-risk population, the elderly, and nobody appearing to wear a mask during this national security meeting with the president and the Joint Chiefs.

A Trump senior aide coming out and saying it is -- quote -- "scary" to work in this White House under these conditions.

We should note that reporting shows there are extra resources to the White House that enable contact tracing and a type of daily testing which most people in the country don`t have.

The newest claim, though, from the president came in today`s late afternoon press conference. And let me tell you first, it`s false. So, before we even air a small portion of it, I want you to have the facts.

Number one, many other countries were hit by this virus before the United States, giving this nation more time to adjust and prepare. Fact number two you need to know -- and you may have heard about it -- medical experts were warning back in the early days of January and February about key ways to prepare, as well as the import of testing.

If you watch the news, you have heard all about testing. The Trump administration initially largely ignored some of those things at the top.

And then, three, United States still lags in testing per citizen. That`s the standard measure when you compare countries. So, if you look at the list tonight, you have Denmark actually leading the world in testing, then Italy, which was hit hard and early, followed by New Zealand, Germany, Canada, our neighbors to the north with universal health care.

And then, thanks partly to a recent increase, the United States is sixth in testing. And while six is not last, it is far from first. And many people, as I`m sure you know, still cannot get tests on demand, depending on their situation.

So, now I will give you a brief context. The president made two big false claims today. We`re going to show one of them. First, I will just paraphrase. He said, in general, that he thinks the United States leads in testing. And then, second, as you`re about to see, he also wrongly claimed that, basically, tests are available on demand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as Americans getting a test, they should all be able to get a test right now. They should be able to get a test. That`s the problem with a question like that.

We go through a whole announcement saying we`re number one in the world by far, by a factor of two and even three and four, depending on where you`re looking, and I get a question, when will everybody be able to get tested?

If somebody wants to be tested right now, they will be able to be tested.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That is false for the reasons we just showed, not number one and not available testing on demand everywhere, although it has, as we have noted improved, which is a good, small thing.

Meanwhile, moving forward, you have other evidence coming to the fore that you need to consider. Reopening without enough testing has proven dangerous. There`s a model here for COVID death rates that would predict up to or over 137,000 deaths by August.

That`s something to consider as America figures out what to do next.

We turn, as always, for starters, to our experts, former Obama White House health policy director Dr. Kavita Patel, Pulitzer Prize-winning "New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof, and Eugene Robinson, a Pulitzer Prize- winning columnist for "The Washington Post."

Good evening, all.

Dr. Patel, I tried to present this as factually as possible, so people can understand the context, and to the extent that the U.S. is top 10, number six, if it breaks into top five, great, but it doesn`t mean testing has been completely solved.

Your context on that part of the debate tonight for us?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, that`s absolutely correct, Ari.

And just a couple more statistics. We`re doing about 300,000 tests a day. That is definitely an improvement. But all you have to do is look at kind of our -- quote -- "positive rates" in regions such as Washington, D.C., where are you still have about a 20 percent positive rate, which means that we`re just not testing enough.

And so we`re doing better, but we`re certainly far from kind of calling it a success.

MELBER: Nick?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": So, it`s true that the U.S. has had less mortality per million than some European countries, than Italy or Britain or France or Belgium, for example.

But those countries in Europe that went through a really tough period with COVID then went -- started going down the curve. And this -- what is most troubling about the U.S. is that we are stuck in something of a plateau, when overall cases are still going down slowly. But that`s really just driven by the tristate area here in the Northeast.

And outside those states, the cases are still going up, which portends mortality in those areas going up down the road. And so I think I find that particularly troubling, that we can`t manage as well as so many other countries did, to actually tackle this and bring cases down.

MELBER: Right.

KRISTOF: And that`s going to portend difficulty in the other 47 states.

MELBER: Yes.

And that goes to what we do as an attempted fact-based democracy, Gene. You and Nick were both here at the table when we were covering all of these legal scandals. We actually have one of them with Mike Flynn later in the show.

But for a few months there, at the height of the Mueller fever, it kind of felt like America was going through law school together. And we were talking about what those things meant. And in our best days, we were wrestling with things where MAGA Trump supporters were saying, well, here`s the deal with how to handle grand jury material. And other people were saying that.

And then people would ask me, as a legal reporter, what`s the truth? And on the best days, there was a learning curve to that. Obviously, I know, I think everyone knows what`s harder than law school, Dr. Patel?

(LAUGHTER)

PATEL: My mother will tell you it`s medical school, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: It is definitely medical school.

In law school, you can still -- Gene, you can argue your way around certain points. Medical school is way harder.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

MELBER: So, even if you take the president`s misinformation out of the picture, walk us through what is important and the points raised by the two other panelists here, that we have to be really thoughtful about what the data means, what regional New York data means, compared to other places, where it`s going back up.

How do we do this as safely as possible, going through this health crisis?

ROBINSON: Yes, Ari, we`re all not just going to medical school now. We`re all becoming epidemiologists.

And so first I need to point out another big lie that the president told today. He said that, in terms of deaths per capita, the United States and Germany were the great stars and were doing better than anybody else.

It is true that Germany is doing very well in terms of death per capita, but the United States is not doing particularly well. And that is not as badly as Spain or Italy, but not doing very well in terms of -- compared with a lot of other countries.

And so, Yes -- and I think Nick really hit it. We have yet to really, as a nation, get our arms around this pandemic, and get it under control. And it starts with mistakes that were made very early on that have compounded over time.

In fact, the original sin was the lack of testing at the beginning. And so when the president says, well, we now have more testing per capita than South Korea, well, that may be true right now, but it would have -- it would have meant something had we done the testing at the same time South Korea did.

The first cases arose in the United States and South Korea on the same day. And South Korea jumped on the pandemic with widespread surveillance testing, contact tracing, and managed to squelch the epidemic in South Korea.

We did not do any of that. And so now we`re just now ramping up testing, after the cat is already out of the bag. And it`s a much different situation.

MELBER: Yes.

And, Doctor, let me play a nurse that we have got some reporting from who actually contracted and went through this. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYN VIRAY, NURSE, MOUNT SINAI: It was like a war zone coming into the ICU. It was nothing I have ever seen in my nursing career.

It`s been a very -- it`s been a very difficult experience. I have been a nurse for years. I have never experienced anything like this.

When is this going to end? When is it going to get a little bit better? We don`t have those answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Doctor, how important is it, as we go on, and we hear people trying to say, we have rounded some sort of corner? And, in some places, we have. We just discussed that.

But everyone who is close to this, doctors like yourself who know what it means, nurses on the front lines, patients and patients` families who`ve been through it say, do not mess around with this. If you`re lucky enough to be in a place that can experiment with a partial reopening, do it as safely as possible, with distance and a mask and still risk assessments.

There seems to be, if I may, a tendency to go all or nothing, which is maybe in our American roots, because we have that plucky spirit sometimes. But it`s sort of like we have got to live in the gray of even in a place that says yes, like New York, by Friday, they`re going to partially reopen, but that doesn`t mean live like the old days.

PATEL: Right, absolutely.

Ari, I really get sad when I think about people putting health vs. anything, the economy, reopening. There is a way to do this. And, unfortunately, we just haven`t had the leadership to guide us where we can, as you mentioned, try to do, with data, with science, safe reopenings.

And that means having well-ventilated environments, social distancing when you`re in with other people, wearing non-medical masks. I think the White House should be sending a signal, including our country`s leader, to wear a mask when in the presence of others.

And, unfortunately, we have just been behind the game. So watching that video just reminds me about conversations my colleagues and I have where we`re incredibly saddened to see that the country feels like it`s a choice.

MELBER: Right.

PATEL: It`s not a choice.

MELBER: No.

PATEL: It doesn`t have to be one vs. the other. There is a third way.

MELBER: Exactly.

And that goes -- again, we`re seeing this throughout the country. We`re endeavoring to show people what we learn as we go and try to inform

Nick Kristof, beyond all your other accolades, I happen know from your career that you have a ton of frequent flyer miles, am I right?

(LAUGHTER)

KRISTOF: You are right.

MELBER: Because this guy goes all over the place, all over the world.

So I`m going to you, both given your knowledge as a journalist, but also as a flyer, because United had told people -- and, again, we`re not singling one airline here, but it`s just as an example -- that they were going to leave middle seats empty, that people obviously for various reasons are flying.

But take a look at this. Again, from social media, we got this photo. You can see, yes, some people are wearing their masks, which is good. But the middle seats turned out to be full. The whole area is full, which means obviously you`re not distancing while you`re on that flight, Nick.

KRISTOF: Right.

MELBER: What do you think about this part of life, where it`s going to take both individual responsibility, good that people are wearing their masks, but also corporations and other entities, or maybe need to be better regulated, to say, what does it look like the social distance in a closed cabin like that?

KRISTOF: So I think this reflects a fundamental misapprehension on the part of the White House about how to revive the economy.

I think President Trump is, for good reasons, troubled about the state of the economy and thinks the way you deal with it is ,you send everybody back to work, you get the planes flying again.

And, no, in fact, the way you save the economy is you save lives. You fight the virus. You mentioned Denmark at the opening of the show. Well, Denmark is actually opening up today. But it did that because, as you noted, it had twice as many tests per capita as the U.S., so they know where their hot spots are.

They had only half as many fatalities per capita. Hawaii is in great shape to open up to some degree because they controlled the virus. And the idea that you can open up, while allowing the virus in 47 states to be actually increasing, is -- as Dr. Patel noted, it`s a false choice and it`s a mistaken strategy, I believe.

MELBER: And I give Gene the last word with a ray of at least enlightenment, hope, which is that, for all the polarization around a million issues, we have the headline on our screen, and I think we have been reporting it on MSNBC, there`s still a strong majority of people that have taken in all of this information, all this fear.

And we know fear can kind of sometimes -- kind of freeze your brain up. And people are listening to the Dr. Patels of the world more than others. And they still are saying they are very wary of reopening too soon in a way that`s not safe, Gene.

ROBINSON: Yes. And that`s exactly right, Ari.

You know, in my experience, people are being quite rational about the way they`re approaching this, by what they`re willing to do and what they`re not willing to do.

So, look, look at that shot of that crowded airliner. How many people want to take that flight? There`s some who would be comfortable doing that, I think, but my guess is that the majority of Americans would not be comfortable right now taking that flight, given what we know about the virus, given the extent of our knowledge.

And my guess is that not enough would be willing to take the flight to really sustain that airline over time. And so that`s why it`s a mistake to try to open too far too fast, because you`re not going to get the results that you want. You`re going to have to do it step by step, and you`re going to have to build people`s confidence with information, and with good, solid information. But let`s make intelligence decisions.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Yes, you said it, Gene, too far, too fast, which I didn`t know we were going to land on a Grateful Dead reference here to make us think about reopening policy, but Shakedown Street maybe had too much, too fast.

(LAUGHTER)

MELBER: And sometimes, whether it`s drinking, or anything else you partake in, or just this policy, we all need to slow down, which I think was the theme here.

And also, Dr. Patel, can we just give a shout-out to your mom and tell her she`s right about the med school thing?

PATEL: Oh, yes. She will love that.

Thank you. Thanks Ari. You made her year.

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Shout-out to the Patels.

I do think we can we can work through these things, as you all each have done tonight, which is rationally, piece by piece. And, hopefully, we leave -- it`s a scary time, but, hopefully, we leave with a little more information.

Dr. Patel, Nick Kristof, Gene Robinson, thanks to each of you.

As I mentioned here at the top of the show, we have so much in tonight`s broadcast because there`s so much happening.

New calls for Attorney General Barr to resign, and not just from his critics, but from a bipartisan group of 2,000 DOJ veterans. We have a former federal prosecutor, Renato Mariotti, a friend of THE BEAT, on tonight. He signed a petition. He will explain why.

Also tonight, billionaire and former presidential candidate Tom Steyer is back. And he`s going to talk economy, something he knows intimately.

Later tonight, an update on a story that we have been reporting on all last week, new video evidence emerging from that shooting in Georgia.

And President Obama weighing in on Donald Trump`s virus response. These are leaked remarks from a call. Very interesting that it`s now making news. We`re going to get into all of that.

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Nearly 2,000 former Justice Department officials are publicly and formally calling on Attorney General Barr to resign, to get out of office, for putting Donald Trump`s personal political interest over the rule of law.

This is a group of officials from both parties. These are career lawyers who basically served at the highest levels in Republican and Democratic administrations.

All this amidst the controversy over the Michael Flynn case. The DOJ making the unprecedented move to drop that case even after Mr. Flynn pled guilty in that case that grew out of the Mueller investigation.

The letter calls for resignation, citing Barr`s -- quote -- "repeated assaults on the rule of law in doing Trump`s personal bidding."

Meanwhile, a former DOJ prosecutor who resigned in protest over what happened here in the Roger Stone case as well speaking out for the very first time, writing that Barr`s DOJ is now -- quote -- "infected by politics, doing lasting damage to the institution` and calling out Bill Barr`s -- quote -- "unmistakable message to DOJ officials. If Trump demands it, we will throw you under the bus."

Many also asking for the judge in charge of this Flynn case to -- quote -- "take a long hard look at the Trump administration`s explanation and the evidence."

So think about it. What you have right here is something beyond good-faith disagreement about how to handle a case, which does happen. What you have here is over 1,000 people ,with all the requisite experience in both parties, saying, this is well over the line even during the public health crisis and pandemic.

And amidst all that, you also have President Obama saying this:

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our basic understanding of rule of law is at risk.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Renato Mariotti is a former federal prosecutor. He signed the letter calling on Attorney General Barr to resign -- you see him there -- among the alumni.

And eagle-eyed BEAT viewers will remember Renato has provided legal analysis for us back in the days of the open Mueller probe.

Good to see you again, sir.

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Absolutely. Glad to be back on.

MELBER: Why did you sign this letter?

MARIOTTI: I`m really concerned that, at this point, we have a Justice Department that treats the president`s friends differently than other defendants.

It`s very common, Ari, for the FBI to actually trick people into lying to them in certain instances. Courts have said that`s OK. And on a regular basis, there are very aggressive law enforcement tactics that have been upheld by courts. There are literally hundreds of defendants in that situation.

And who gets picked out for special treatment? Michael Flynn. And I -- from what I see, the Justice Department brief reads like something a defense attorney would file on behalf of a client that would be unsuccessful.

And really...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Let`s get into the context, because there`s so much going on.

Like the prosecutor you are, you dive deep into the details of the underlying case. But, big picture -- again, there`s a lot going on. We did cover this last week, but people are living through this public health crisis.

At the highest level, when you were a prosecutor, did you ever secure a high-profile guilty verdict, in this case a confession, he pled guilty, and then go back a year later and reverse it?

MARIOTTI: Never heard of such a thing happening, never.

MELBER: So that`s -- both in your career, and you have never heard of it elsewhere?

MARIOTTI: Correct.

MELBER: Right.

MARIOTTI: In fact, in similar cases, Dennis Hastert, for example. Never happened.

MELBER: Yes.

So this is -- I mean, just at the broadest level, before we get to the details of the case, this is something that never happens, that`s only done when Mueller is off the job. It`s only done under the -- sort of the shroud of this understandably consuming other topic that the country is going through.

For fairness, let me play you what Attorney General Barr is saying about it, about defending what everyone knows factually is a very unusual move. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: People sometimes plead to things that turned out not to be crimes. And the Department of Justice is not persuaded that this was material to any legitimate counterintelligence investigation.

So it was not a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Your response?

MARIOTTI: It clearly was material.

In fact, not only did the Justice Department argue that it was material up until recently, but, of course, the judge found that it was material at the time that he accepted the plea. On multiple occasions, the judge made that finding.

And, of course, Barr`s own words, the words of the Justice Department, were quoting an official who has now come forward and said that her words had been twisted by the Justice Department.

MELBER: Yes, you`re referring to Mary McCord.

I thought that was a rather extraordinary statement she issued in an article I believe was published in "The Times." That`s also something you don`t usually see. I mean, any one of these things would be a huge deal, and, frankly, if you want to look at the level of attention in Washington and elsewhere, would be gobbling up way more attention if this we`re in the middle of the Mueller probe, right?

There`s a lot of other fish to fry. What do you think is the solution here? And what do you think when Bill Barr says, well, history is written by the victors, and he basically seems to be taking a bow about sort of the realpolitik, his view of the role he plays?

MARIOTTI: Well, there`s going to need to be some very difficult questioning by the judge.

But separate and apart from that, we need congressional oversight, regardless of whether or not Barr agrees to cooperate. I know Trump only wants oversight by Republicans, but the House needs to conduct oversight now.

And if and when there`s a change in this upcoming election, the new administration needs to overhaul and have some reform at the Justice Department, because it surely is needed at this point.

MELBER: Renato Mariotti, thank you. And good to see you, as mentioned.

We have a 30-second break. And when we come back, former presidential candidate Tom Steyer on the economy -- in just 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We will revive our economy. And we will transition into greatness. We`re going into the third quarter, and we`re going to do well.

In the fourth quarter, we`re going to do very good. And next year, I think we`re going to have one of the best years we`ve ever had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Donald Trump predicting a potential greatness with the economy.

Of course, everyone knows that the pandemic and related problems now have 33 million Americans newly unemployed, the worst since the Great Depression. The Treasury secretary, meanwhile, says it will get worse before it gets better.

Some estimates show unemployment rates could hit 25 percent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE HARLEY, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: The people who have small businesses are not rich. This hits hard. We don`t know how long it`s going to take us to recover.

TONY LOEFFLER, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: We have not received any support from any of the CARES Act or the PPP loans as of yet. So we feel like we`re forced somewhat to reopen to kind of generate sales and income and money.

But we`re doing it with all the precautions that we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Plans to reopen starting to take shape in some larger places, including, as mentioned tonight, in New York later this week, in California as well.

Governor Cuomo announcing that it will be Upstate New York that could be ready to open on Friday, New York City not meeting all the criteria. California has what is called phase two of its four-stage plan, loosening restrictions, allowing lower-risk businesses, which include car dealerships, bookstores, and florists, to reopen, as long as they follow certain rules.

Now, early action did help California avoid the death toll that New York has suffered, something we have been covering. And there`s growing concern among researchers that certain populous states, including California, may not be ready to reopen. Cases and deaths do remain relatively flat, though, in areas like L.A. County.

Joining us now, billionaire philanthropist and a former presidential candidate Tom Steyer. He`s the co-chair of California`s Economic Recovery Council. He`s deeply involved in all these issues.

Good to see you, sir.

TOM STEYER, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ari, nice to see you, too.

MELBER: Given that you`re working directly on this, and many will remember you, of course, from running for president, what grade do you give the president`s approach to this? And what are the modifications or rules that are essential in places like you`re what you`re working on in California to do it right?

STEYER: Well, Ari, to a very large extent, the president has let governors make the basic decisions here.

And what we have seen is that Governor Newsom was very early and very decisive in closing down California to protect Californians` lives. And he`s been successful in that. I think everybody can recognize that.

And now we`re moved into a phased reopening of the California economy, which you referred to earlier, which involves specific sectors of the economy, with protocols, with rules of the road, to protect working people and to protect consumers, because, I mean, I -- it is -- this is a very, very difficult situation.

And you were talk -- there was that small business owner talking about the need to get revenues. And that`s true. But it`s also true that, for people to succeed, for that business owner to succeed, his workers need to feel safe on the job, and his customers need to feel safe shopping in a store.

So it`s important -- it`s really important to do what Governor Newsom said, which is to put health first, to make sure we`re safeguarding lives, so that we can safeguard livelihoods, so that people are safe and feel safe so the economy can reopen successfully.

MELBER: Take a listen to Steve Mnuchin, who has been making the rounds.

Here he was with Chris Wallace yesterday, or Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: The reported numbers are probably going to get worse before they get better. But that`s why we`re focused on rebuilding this economy.

We will have a better third quarter. We will have a better fourth quarter. And next year is going to be a great year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Is that something that can be asserted at this point? Or does it actually depend on everything that you do?

STEYER: Well, there`s -- let me say this. To have a better quarter than the worst quarter in history is a pretty fair guess.

MELBER: OK.

STEYER: But I think, Ari, it`s really important to remember there are a lot of things that I don`t know, that Steve Mnuchin doesn`t know, and, with all due respect, that you don`t know.

And we don`t know when there is going to be cheap, quick, ubiquitous testing. We don`t know when there`s going to be a therapeutic response that is demonstrable and makes people feel comfortable. We don`t know when there`s going to be a vaccine.

So I think it`s really important to do what Governor Newsom is talking about, which is to put health first, to make sure we preserve lives, that people feel comfortable, so that, as we reopen, people feel comfortable doing it, and we don`t have a reconfiguration of this pandemic.

MELBER: Right.

STEYER: And I think the governor deserves a lot of credit for doing it that way, just as he deserves a lot of credit for shutting us down early.

MELBER: Yes.

One thing that separates you from a lot of your contemporaries in your bracket is that you have done a lot of work and a lot of advocacy around meeting -- trying to meet and address inequality in our entire system.

And this is a time where, as you well know and I think our viewers understand, we are seeing, through COVID, the exposure, the revelation of how unequal the system already is.

Take just one example I know you`re familiar with -- you have worked on these issues -- institutional racism, "The L.A. Times" notes, inequality fuelling the higher minority death rate from this virus.

"People who live in these areas with high poverty rates, four times as many deaths due to the coronavirus." Black and Latino individuals in California 18 to 64 dying more frequently of COVID than white or Asian counterparts.

Given your work on this, and that your campaign also talked a lot about this, here you are on a -- as a part of a team in a driver`s seat.

What specifically can you do to address this in California?

STEYER: Well, Ari, I think the point you`re making is absolutely true, which is that this COVID pandemic is revealing racism, is revealing injustice across our society.

And it`s -- you know, the mission statement of our task force is not to go back to January of 2020, but, as we move forward, to create a more just, more sustainable, more forward-thinking California, with a particular eye to the communities, black and brown communities, that have borne the brunt of this pandemic.

It starts in the very short term making sure that there is testing in the communities where people are more likely to be infected and more likely to die. And that`s something that has to be deliberately done, knowing how this is turning out.

But I think, in addition, as we move forward into the intermediate term and into the longer term, that we make sure that as we respond, rebuild employment, rebuild schools, that we do it in a way that takes into account the injustice that we started with before this pandemic began.

MELBER: Yes, which is very something.

(CROSSTALK)

STEYER: We`re going to create a better California. That`s the goal. Take the crisis, suffer...

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: And I would love to stay in touch.

I know we`re on a slight -- we`re on the slight Skype delay, but I want to keep updated on that because we cover a lot of those stories. I`d love to have you and the members of that commission back on to make sure we`re keeping tabs of that.

I have one lighter thing before we go. Do you have a second?

STEYER: Absolutely, Ari.

MELBER: This is our -- this is -- because you have been on the program before. We get more than one area of expertise from you.

This is our first interview since you left the campaign. I bet you can guess what here on THE BEAT we need to ask you about. You have some guess, some idea.

STEYER: You going for it? No, I know. Go for it.

MELBER: Cue it up.

During your campaign, when you were down South at the end of the campaign, Tom Steyer, you got a lot of notice for your appearance with Juvenile, if you remember this. Do you remember this?

STEYER: Of course I do.

MELBER: And you were out having fun. And we loved it.

Some people were giving you a hard time. We loved it. I just wanted to make sure we get this on the record.

What did you learn on the campaign trail? How much fun were you having there at the end? What was going through your mind?

STEYER: Well, Ari, that campaign was a chance for me to meet people across the United States and to stand up for my (AUDIO GAP) that isn`t a big part of American politics a lot of the time?

I like to work for the things I believe in, and I love to have fun. And I can do both of those on the campaign (AUDIO GAP). As hard as this is going to be, I want people to remember, we`re going to make it better and we`re going to succeed.

MELBER: Yes.

STEYER: We`re going to turn it around. It`s going to be better, and we are going to have fun doing it.

MELBER: I love it. I love it. I love the spirit. We`re going through these tough times, so it`s a reminder, A, of how different it was.

That was not that long ago. And people were out dancing. Someday, if we do this, right, we will be out dancing again. And because it`s THE BEAT, we just -- we wanted to live that memory with you, sir.

STEYER: So it was the musical beat in this case, Ari, that you`re referring to.

MELBER: Bingo. Bingo, bango.

Tom Steyer, thank you for capturing all of the serious stuff, as well as a little fun, and reminiscing on the campaign. And we`d love to have you back, as mentioned Tom Steyer, doing this work in California.

When we come back, I want everybody to understand what comes next.

Steve Schmidt on the confusion inside the White House dealing with this outbreak.

And, later, we`re going to show you exactly what Barack Obama is saying about Donald Trump`s COVID response.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: On testing.

The outbreak now spreading it two people inside, of course, his own West Wing. And reporting shows that most White House officials are going to be asked to wear masks. The directive will not apply to the president, a seeming example of a kind of high-handedness or exception to the rules that as characterized much of the response.

And for that, we turn to MSNBC contributor Steve Schmidt, knowing politics inside and out. He`s worked on campaigns and the Bush White House.

Good to have you back, sir.

STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Good to be with you, Ari.

MELBER: Let`s start right here, given your history and your work with regard to leadership in government. What does it mean to you when the president moves to change these rules again when the virus actually hits the West Wing, and they still don`t apply to certain people at the top?

SCHMIDT: Well, he`s shown a terrible example to the country.

One of the most important qualities of leadership in a moment of crisis like this is the ability to talk honestly, directly, clearly, so people understand what is the situation.

So, right now, the country in many ways is opening back up, but it`s not opening back up because the coronavirus, COVID-19, is diminishing, because there`s less cases or there`s less death. It`s opening up because Donald Trump thinks it`s politically expedient for it to be opened back up and to get the economy moving.

And no doubt there are millions of Americans who need to get back to work, who want to get out of their houses. But this has nothing to do with the public health advice that the president has consistently ignored since the beginning of this event.

So, it`s just one more example in Donald Trump`s profound mismanagement, his ineptitude and incompetence responding to what is an epic crisis in the history of the United States.

And what will always be true, Ari, is this. This didn`t have to happen. It didn`t have to be the case that we will lose by August, according to the model, 137,000 Americans, most likely more. We didn`t have to have a shattered economy. We don`t see this in other places around the world.

And we saw at his news conference today, on top of the overt racism at the CBS White House correspondent, we just saw more delusion, more happy talk, more fantasy, more dangerous fantasy that, in the end, will get people in this country killed.

MELBER: Steve...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHMIDT: We have seen a president who was just completely overmatched by events from beginning to end.

MELBER: You mentioned that exchange and your view of it.

For viewers to understand, I will play that. This was a back-and-forth about China, among other things, and the claims on testing from today. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEIJIA JIANG, CBS NEWS: You have said many times that the U.S. is doing far better than any other country when it comes to testing.

TRUMP: Yes.

JIANG: Why does that matter? Why is this a global competition to you, if, every day, Americans are still losing their lives, and we`re still seeing more cases every day?

TRUMP: Well, they`re losing their lives everywhere in the world.

And maybe that`s a question you should ask China. Don`t ask me. Ask China that question, OK?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And it led to a rather tense back-and-forth. You wanted to weigh in on that?

SCHMIDT: Well, it just demonstrates once again his manifest fitness.

We see his bullying. We see his nastiness. We see the racism there.

And the question was an important one. The fact of the matter is this. The United States is the epicenter of the COVID-19 virus, period. The United States is the place in the world where you are most likely to die of COVID- 19.

And if you do have COVID-19 equally between this country and another country, you`re more likely to die from it in the United States. There was a columnist who pointed out that, at the height of World War II, we lived in a country that turned out eight combat aircraft an hour, and now we can`t make balk masks and PPE.

Our health care responders, first responders, are underequipped. This has been a national disgrace. And there has never been a moment, not under a Democratic president, not under a Republican president, in our lifetimes or in the last 75 years where the United States has appeared more weak to the rest of the world than it does now.

We look weak and pitiful. We look like a basket case on the world stage, with our dishonest, delusional, divisive president, who just is not equipped at a moral level, at a mental level, at an intellectual level to be able to lead the country through this.

And so we`re less than 200 days away from an election that`s just profoundly important, because he demonstrated yet again today that he has exactly zero capacity to lead this country out of this.

And it is delusional, B.S. happy talk in the extremis when Steve Mnuchin or Donald Trump say, everything`s going to be fine by the third and fourth quarter, and we will be booming next year.

We`re going to see unemployment rates in the United States north of 20 percent, maybe as high as 30 percent. We will see all the societal pathologies that accompany that. We`re likely to see political instability.

We have millions of people who can`t feed their families. We`re facing an economic catastrophe in this country. The programs that were passed are not working for the people, the small business men and women, the people that need the help.

MELBER: Right.

SCHMIDT: And we will find out how everybody gamed the system and how corrupted it all was when we see who got the money.

MELBER: Oh, yes.

SCHMIDT: But, for now, at every conceivable level, we have a president that has failed, failed in his duty.

He`s failed the country. He`s failed to protect the country. And the man who said he would make America great again has made America poorer, has divided the country. And his legacy will be one of mass suffering and death that didn`t have to occur and the economic collapse to follow that.

MELBER: You lay it out there really vividly, Steve.

Before I lose you, I wanted you to weigh in on something that I told viewers earlier tonight is rare. You know it and I know it, as students of this.

Barack Obama leaves a wide, wide lane for Donald Trump. He just doesn`t see it as his role, as the predecessor president, to weigh in on everything, even though we know where they disagree.

But take a listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: It would have been bad even with the best of governments.

It has been an absolute chaotic disaster, when that mind-set of, what`s in it for me and to heck with everybody else, when that mind-set is operationalized in our government.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: That is new leaked audio to Yahoo News from a call the president was on.

I just have about 30 seconds, Steve, but your reaction to that rare rebuke spilling into public by former President Obama?

SCHMIDT: Well, I think he was generous, if anything, in his comments.

Look, the disaster of the response is hard to articulate. It`s an epic disaster that Donald Trump has brought to this country. It`s one of the great crises in the history of the country.

And the truth of the matter is this. If Barack Obama was the president of the United States, this would not have happened. We would have had competent, professional people. We would have done what we needed to do early.

What would have happened is what happened during the Ebola crisis. We would have had someone like Ron Klain in charge of it, not the confederacy of dunces that we see running around the West Wing.

We waited for months. We see the blame-China campaign starting, but it is the ineptitude and incompetence of Donald Trump, period, full stop, that is responsible for the catastrophe in this country.

And no amount of gaslighting, delusion, fantasy happy talk changes that reality on a day-to-day basis, as we will recover from this over a period of years, years, because of the two months where Donald Trump was on a revenge mission, hate-tweeting, and paying attention to all manner of stupidity, everything except his essential duties, which were to protect the American people.

And he has failed his duty in a way that no president in the history of the American republic ever has, period.

MELBER: Period.

Longtime Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, thank you for your clarity and your time tonight, sir.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: An update to a story we have been reporting on for you now.

The Georgia attorney general`s office calling on the federal Justice Department to conduct an investigation of the overall handling of the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery.

The police and initial DA refused to make arrests or bring charges, despite a lot of video evidence that has now led to charges. The feds are considering also whether federal hate crime statutes may be implicated.

And the two men accused in the death claim that they fired in self-defense.

That`s a new development in the story that we told you we would stay on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Will we ever see Donald Trump`s taxes?

Well, tomorrow, the Supreme Court hears arguments about whether he will be forced to release them. And we`re doing special coverage.

You can tune in tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern for all the highlights and a live discussion I`m doing with former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal.

Go to YouTube.com/MSNBC. In fact, you can go there now, YouTube.com/MSNBC, and set a reminder. It`ll be like THE BEAT, live TV, but on YouTube. Tune in.

And I will see you tomorrow night.

Keep it right here on MSNBC.

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