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Coronavirus response TRANSCRIPT: 3/31/20, MSNBC Live: Decision 2020

Guests: Ted Lieu, Leana Wen, Michael Osterholm, Phil Murphy

  DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES:  -- in a perfect world, it would have been nice to know what was going on there. We didn`t. But I believe, Jim, that we acted very, very early on that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We adequate testing (INAUDIBLE).

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We would have known the testing. We inherited an obsolete test.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Can I speak to that too as well? President made reference to the fact, January 31, he suspended all travel from China. Shortly thereafter, we issued strong travel advisories for the sections of Italy implicated and sections of South Korea, and we reached agreements with those countries to screen all passengers from all airports coming into the United States of America.

The president`s initial efforts were designed at preventing the coronavirus from coming into the United States. And what our experts have told us again and again at the coronavirus task force is that those actions bought us a significant amount of time on this curve to respond with the kind of mitigation efforts, standing up resources, testing and supplies that are in effect. But we went from a prevention strategy, the president acted on before the month of January was over, to a mitigation strategy, which continues to this day.

And if I can also say, just to every American, all the questions about resources are very important and I can assure you that the president and our task force are preoccupied with these issues and working with governors hour by hour to meet those needs. But if Americans will put into practice these guidelines for another 30 days, they`ll do their part to lower the curve and save lives, most importantly, and limit the burden the on our hospitals and our healthcare system in the country significantly.

And so, make no mistake about it, while we`re going to work our hearts out, leave no stone unturned, to find the resources, the masks, the ventilators that we need, and we are going to meet that moment with the full energy of the American economy and the whole of the American government, the American people have a role to play in preserving that medical capacity in a way that will ensure that people that are caught up in the coronavirus, particularly those that are vulnerable to the most serious outcomes, which are seniors with serious underlying health conditions, or anyone with an immunodeficiency, have the resources to support and the healthcare that every American family would want their loved one to have.

TRUMP:  I do believe we were very early but I also think that we were very smart because we stopped China. We had never done that before. You know, we had never closed our boarders before, as I read. I don`t know, maybe that`s not right. And Dr. Fauci had also said that was a -- I think it was maybe the biggest moment, because we were stopping the source, we were stopping the infection.

But we also stopped Europe very shortly thereafter. That was a big decision. That was not an easy decision either. I stopped them a long time before people started stopping anyone. So we stopped China, we stopped Europe. We stopped all of Europe. And then ultimately, we stopped U.K., Ireland.

Yes? In the back, very back, please.

REPORTER:  Mr. President, going back to hydroxychloroquine, how many clinical trial tests, numerically, would you like to see before you put a stamp on approval on it, because there are clinical trials taking place around the world right now?

TRUMP:  Sure, please.

REPORTER:  Is there a number, how many cases would you like to see?

FAUCI:  That is an FDA decision, and it really depends on a variety of factors. But I would like to see a clinical trial that has a comparison to something that is comparable to what it means without the drug.

I mean, I keep saying it, I say it all the time and I`ll say it again, it`s a control trial that compares it to something meaningful. When that --

REPORTER:  -- trials that you`re watching, taking place around the world right now?

FAUCI:  Well, there are a number of trials going on, not only in the United States, but also in other parts of the world. You know, right now, it`s too early to make any determination. But I just want to get back to what I say all the time, the definitive way that you get an answer is by doing a randomized control clinical trial.

TRUMP:  Yes, please, go ahead. You`re talking about the chloroquine? Is that what you`re talking. It`s the specifically the last question. Yes. There are trials going on, but there are also trials going on, we`re trying them on people that are now sick, that`s a very important trial.

REPORTER:  The cocktail (ph) is being experimented with around the world. So my question was really like are there some specific --

TRUMP:  We`re watching whatever happens around the world. We`re watching those trials very closely, yes.

REPORTER:  Mr. President, (INAUDIBLE) -- Mitch McConnell, yes. He said that impeachment diverted the attention of the government. Do you think that in any way -- this was happening and building at the same time. Did it divert your attention or your team`s attention or the vice president`s attention?

TRUMP:  Well, I don`t think I did. I think I handled it very well, but I guess it probably did. I mean, I got impeached, I think. I certainly devoted a little time to thinking about it, right? So think of it, it was a hoax, it was total hoax. And when you think that I got impeached only because they had a majority in the House, they didn`t get one Republican vote. 196 to nothing, not one Republican, I don`t think it`s ever happened, the Republicans stuck together and they stuck together in the Senate, 52 to a half, a half.

So, you know, when you say that, yes, I think it took a lot of -- I see them going and saying about speed, well, they probably illegally impeached me in the sense that if you look at the FBI today, with what happened, the horrible things, nobody cares about that now, because all they care about is the virus, and that`s okay with me, but you look at the report that came out with I.G. Horowitz, it`s disgraceful what went on. It`s disgraceful. It`s a total disgrace. They got caught in the act. But you know what, we won`t talk about that now.

Did it divert my attention? I think I`m getting A-pluses for the way I handled myself during a phony impeachment, okay? It was a hoax. But certainly, I guess I thought of it and I think I probably acted -- I don`t think I would have done any better had I not been impeached, okay? And I think that`s a great tribute to something, maybe it`s a tribute to me, but I don`t think I would have acted any differently or I don`t think I would have acted any faster.

But the Democrats, their whole life, their whole being, their whole existence was to try and get me out of office any way they can. Even if it was a phony deal, and it was a phony deal, and I turned out. And all you have to do is look today at the FBI reports, take a look at what the FBI did. Take a look at the people, take a look at Comey`s reports, 78 pages of total kill. Take a look at that, take a look at the report on McCabe, just read it and you`ll see how horrible it was. And you know what? I don`t think this country is going to take it, you want to know the truth.

REPORTER:  What guidance are you offering to Florida when it comes to the two Holland American cruise ships that are seeking to dock here?

TRUMP:  Yes, well, I`ll be speaking -- in fact, he has a call into me, we`ll be talking to -- we`ll be speaking to the governor and we`ll be speaking to him soon.

But there`s a case, we have two ships, there are people that are sick on the ship and we don`t want to be, like, they going to be ghost ships. People turn those ships away. There was a ship, as you know, in a certain part of Asia and from port to port, nobody would take it. But in the meantime, you have people that are dying on the ship or at least very sick, but they`re dying on the ship. So, I`m going -- I`m going to -- you know, I`m going to do what`s right, not only for us, but for humanity. I mean, these are two big ships and they have a lot of very sick people. And I`ll be speaking to -- I`ll be speaking to the governor.

Let`s -- just a couple of more back there?

Yes, go ahead, please.

REPORTER:  Thank you very much. I was hoping --

TRUMP:  You ever run out of questions? It`s unbelievable. You go through the room -- but I have nothing else to do. So, if you want to -- I mean, if you want, should we keep it going, John? I think so.

REPORTER:  Can clarify something for me, please? Andrew Cuomo today said that the system that you have where governors are trying to get ventilators is like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator, plus FEMA. And then you just said tonight --

TRUMP:  He was complaining?

REPORTER:  Well, he said --

TRUMP:  Say it. What did he say exactly?

REPORTER:  He said that when you have states competing for ventilators and medical care it`s like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on the ventilator.

TRUMP:  Well, he shouldn`t be complaining because we gave him a lot of ventilators. And if you take look at the charts now -- but I wish he got going a little bit sooner. But we gave him a lot of ventilators. And you know what, he has a lot of ventilators. The problem is with some people, no matter what you give, it`s never enough. It`s never enough. Like they`ll say, how`s Trump doing, and you`re a Democrat, some of them said really good. I`ll tell you, Gavin Newsom from California, who is doing a good job, by the way, and others said really good. But, generally, your natural reflex, how is Trump doing, you ask that question to a Democrat, well -- we don`t like it. Really, you don`t like it? We`re getting very high marks. But I`m not doing this for marks, I`m doing this to save lives.

When John saw the numbers and when Jim saw those numbers, they`re shocking numbers, you`re talking about deaths. Even at the low end, you were shocked when you see 100,000, 120,000 and 200,000 people over potentially a very short period of time. I want to save lives, I`m not doing this for any other reason, I want to save lives. But the governor of New York has gotten, I think, maybe, probably gotten more than anybody, he`s gotten four hospitals, he`s gotten four medical tents, he`s gotten a ship, the likes of which nobody has ever seen before, other than Los Angeles, which has the twin. I mean, we`ve done a lot.

But many ventilators were sent to New York. And Mayor de Blasio, I`m getting along with the Mayor de Blasio great, and I think he`s very happy with the job we`re doing too. We`re sending a lot of -- actually, Mayor de Blasio wanted people. And we`re sending medical people, you know? A lot of people, a lot of the states aren`t having a problem with ventilators, they are having a problem getting medical people. And we`re sending a lot of people in, military, very talented people.

Go ahead, and then I`ll do you second.

REPORTER:  Your response to that question earlier was that they shouldn`t be doing that, they need something, we`ll -- if they need them --

TRUMP:  They shouldn`t be doing what?

REPORTER:  The governors shouldn`t be competing with each other.

TRUMP:  No, they shouldn`t be competing and they should call us. No, I don`t want them to compete because all they`re going to drive up the price. I don`t want them to compete. They should be calling us and we can work it so they get the ventilators and they get shipped directly. If they`re competing, if they are calling, even if there are only two of them calling, they`re just going to drive up the price, because as nice as some of the people that do ventilators, they do want to make money, okay?

Now, you know, New York had a chance to buy 16,000 ventilators, I guess they didn`t take that option. That was in 2016. And that`s a hard option to take, because it`s a lot of money and who would ever think you need 16,000 ventilators, who would ever think it? But this is a very unique time and -- in life. And I think I`m dealing with New York and we`re having a very good relationship and you see what just happened in Central Park with the tents. I mean, we`re having a really good relationship.

Go ahead, you can get one and then we`ll go to you.

REPORTER:  Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned Gavin Newsom and the job that he`s doing. I`m interested in what you think California has done to contribute to the suppression of that curve --

TRUMP:  Well, they`ve done a good job, California. Now, let`s see what happens because we could have a spike, doctors, I mean, you don`t know. They could have a spike where all of a sudden it spikes upward. We had a couple, like Louisiana, I think they`re doing a really good job, but they had nothing.

Now, they had Mardi Gras and then all of a sudden after Mardi Gras, which tells you about distancing, I guess, I mean, it`s an example of what could happen, but they were, like, flawless, I was always surprised. I was looking at Louisiana and I understand that state, I love that state, and I`m saying, they`re in great shape. Then they have Mardi Gras, it was a big success, tremendous success, and then all of a sudden it went like a rocket ship. So that tells you about distancing.


REPORTER:  Are you concerned though about the homeless population in California, because I know California officials think that it could spread like wildfire obviously or --

TRUMP:  Say it again louder.

REPORTER:  There`s a homelessness crisis in California. They are concerned it could spread like wildfire in that community. So is there anything the administration --

TRUMP:  Well, they are looking at that very strongly and I know that it bothers Gavin. I don`t know if it bothers Nancy Pelosi. But she`s got it in her district at a very high level. They have to be careful. They have a very big homeless population in an area, which just a few years ago, didn`t have anybody in those areas. And they are living in the streets. And they are -- I know that some people in California are working on that very hard.

REPORTER:  Mr. President, you spoke several times with Prime Minister Trudeau and President Macron. And at the end of last week, President Macron talked about an important initiative that you and him would launch. Any news on that?

TRUMP:  We`re talking about something that will be very positive for the world if we do it. We`ll see if we do it or not. I don`t want to talk about it. It`s a private thing. But it will become public if we decide to do it, but positive. Our relationship with the president, our relationship with France, is, you know, I think extraordinary, very good, probably as good as it`s ever been.

REPORTER:  Mr. President, back to your comments about what could have happened and actions that you took, is there any fairness of the criticism that you may have lulled Americans into a false sense of security when you were saying things like, it`s going to go away and that sort of thing?

TRUMP:  Well, it is. Jim, it`s going away. It`s going to go away hopefully at the end of the month. And if not, hopefully, it will be soon after that.

REPORTER:  Hasn`t your thinking on this evolved? You are taking it more seriously now?

TRUMP:  I think from the beginning, my attitude was that we have to give this country -- I know how bad it is. All you have to do is look at what was going on in China. It was devastation, and when you look at the numbers from China, those initial numbers coming out from China.

But, you know, I read an article today, which was very interesting, they say, we wish President Trump would give more bad news, give bad news. I`m not about bad news. I want to give people hope. I want to give people a feeling that we all have a chance. I mean, when you saw the numbers and when John and all of you saw those numbers and you`re saying, 120,000 people, you mean that`s good? Dead people within a short period of time, I want to give people a feeling of hope.

I could be very negative. I could say, wait a minute, those numbers are terrible, this is going to be horrible -- this is a horrible thing. Hey, Jim --

REPORTER:  -- last month, and said, okay, let`s go to the beach, let`s go to the airport, let`s go down to Mardi Gras.

TRUMP:  Well, there were a lot of people that could have said that. We didn`t say that. Fortunately, I didn`t say that. And that was an alternative. We talked about it. That was always an alternative. That`s what I said, let it rip, let it ride. Do nothing. And we could have had 2.2 million dead people, more than that, because I didn`t do that. And we did catch it early and we stopped China really early and we stopped Europe really early, because I saw what was happening.

What happened is, I stopped Italy, because Italy was really heavily infected. We started off with certain parts of Italy, then all of Italy, then we saw Spain, then I said, stop Europe, let`s stop Europe, we have to stop them from coming here. Europe, I love Europe, but they were having problems.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  We have been listening to President Trump and members of the coronavirus task force briefing in quite a presentation at the White House. I am Ari Melber anchoring our special coverage.

Let me tell you exactly what we`re going to do now. I`ll be joined momentarily by our expert guests for a fact check. I will tell you exactly what the factual highlights are from the briefing and let you know that if further news facts or medical information is revealed, we are monitoring that briefing and we will bring you highlights.

We cut off the president because we have gotten a great deal of information as well as other statements and we`re going to go through it for you.

This was a harrowing presentation, the White House revealing for the first time in detail medical projections that up to 80,000 Americans will die, according to these White House projections, of coronavirus and related predicaments by the beginning of August.

With that sobering news, I want to bring in our expert panel. California Congressman Ted Liue, Michael Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and public health professional at George Washington University, and with a look at how all of this is playing out both in the government and the politics, Michael Steele, former Lieutenant Governor and former RNC chair.

Great experts, I could start anywhere. Congressman, given how much we just heard from a Republican White House, I go to you as a Democratic member of Congress. Your response to what we heard and specifically these absolutely sober and tragic projections of lives to be lost ahead.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA):  All right. Thank you, Ari, for your question. It was a very sober presentation. And let me first start by saying, I want President Trump to succeed in stopping the spread of this virus, because the lives of my elderly parents, of my family, of my constituents and millions of Americans are at stake. And that`s why we all have to work together.

At the same time, it`s clear that the three bipartisan laws we`ve passed in Congress are not enough, because this crisis is not ending in a few weeks. This is going to be months to potentially over a year. We`re going to have to do another law, another stimulus package, because people`s behavior has already changed in trying to not get this virus so our economy is going to continue to be affected when governments are lifting its restrictions. And that`s why we`re working on a fourth round of stimulus right now.

MELBER:  Understood. Dr. Osterholm, take a listen to Dr. Fauci today putting the grim numbers in context by underscoring why this is exactly the time not to let up. Take a listen.


FAUCI:  We`re going to continue to see things go up. We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working. Now is the time whenever you`re having an effect, not to take your foot off the accelerator and on the brake, but to just press it down on the accelerator, and that`s what I hope and I know that we can do over the next 30 days.


MELBER:  Dr. Osterholm?

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA:  Well, you know, I think we`re playing this like we are declaring the winner after one inning of a nine-inning game, when, in fact, it`s about the nine-inning game. This virus will continue to spread throughout the United States and for that matter around the rest of the world, until more than half or 60 percent are infected, or we have a vaccine that can allow us to get protection that way.

And so these early numbers are just that, they`re the first inning. And I think the media, as well as the fact that, in our federal government, we don`t have an intermediate or long-term plan to say, how are we going to get through the summer, how are we going to get through into the fall, we very well can expect more big peaks to occur in places like New York City, even after this one has so-called flattened.

And so I`m very concerned about that, because that`s where, in fact, the greatest mortality may occur, is not in the next 60 days, but in the next six to 12 months.

And I don`t see us planning for that at all right now. And that, to me, is a key, key missing part of this lack of a national plan.

MELBER:  Dr. Wen, you see these numbers presented.

There were charts. There was high and low end. Everyone understands what an estimate or projection means. But do you see the United States government, which has its reasons for trying to both warn and to some degree get people serious, but, also, they`re not trying to put out a number that`s double or triple the possibility.

Do you see this new 83,000 death toll by August as a bit of a floor, rather than a ceiling?


I think it is the most optimistic estimate that we can be presenting. And even that is extremely sobering.

I agree, actually, with what Dr. Osterholm was saying, that we don`t have a medium- or long-term plan, or even the acknowledgement that we are here for the long haul.

I mean, we need to be addressing the short-term urgent challenges, to be sure. And getting supplies to front-line workers, getting our hospital capacity up to par, we have to do that. But what comes next? What comes with the next outbreak?

We are in mile one of a marathon. And we`re not even prepared for the second mile, much less for what`s ahead. And we really have to get testing up and running too, or else I don`t know how much faith we could have in these numbers and what they`re telling us now, much less what they might -- what they might portend for the future.

MELBER:  Understood.

Michael Steele, the president has been fact-checked and criticized by many experts, including, to be clear, medical and nonpartisan experts, for the statements he`s made and the misinformation he`s put out.

At the same time, our job here is to follow what happens each day.


MELBER:  And what happened just now, for folks who saw part of that briefing -- and I`m going to play a brief clip -- was, to some degree, however short-lived it may be, a different message and substance, arguably, from the president. Take a listen.


TRUMP:  This is going to be a rough two-week period. As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks, as we approach that -- that really important day when we`re going to see things get better all of a sudden.

And it`s going to be like a burst of light, I really think and I hope. Our strength will be tested, and our endurance will be tried. But America will answer with love and courage.


MELBER:  Michael, does that strike you as different? Does it matter?

STEELE:  A, it does matter.

B, it is different only to the extent that it is scripted, because then what you see after he comes off the paper is where it becomes unnerving again.

So, to the president`s last point before we were able to come on, where he was talking about being hopeful, that statement is a hopeful statement. Do you know why? Because there`s hope in being honest.

So just tell me what we`re up against, because once I know what I`m up against, then I can -- I can latch on to that hope.

The president thinks by just saying, oh, we`re all going to be back in church on Easter Sunday, or this is all going to go away in a few months -- and could you imagine if it was really two million, we`re just telling you it`s just going to be 100,000, that the -- collectively, we get home from that, Ari.

And that`s not how hope works. Hope works from an honest place, when our leaders come to us and speak with us with honesty, as the president did in that -- in that little bit of that moment.

But then it all becomes unnerved when he gets up there and he starts riffing, and thinking and telling us how he really feels about this stuff. And that`s when the hope begins to dissipate into consternation, frustration, and all those other feelings that people have.

MELBER:  Yes, frustrations as a nation.

I mean, Congressman Lieu, I want to play another piece of the president here, to Michael`s point, because these briefings are a grim daily presentation to the nation.

And because of the presence of Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx and others, they always have some useful information, because of the -- on some nights, the president -- the president`s contributions and others, they can turn into a much more freewheeling piece of politics or misinformation.

The president today, for example, bringing up his views on impeachment, which really is not where anyone`s head is at.

So, Congressman Lieu, take a listen to the president here doing the negative side, which is when he gets into just defending the government, rather than giving people the medical information they need.


TRUMP:  The question is, what would have happened if we did nothing? Because there was a group that said, let`s just ride it out. Let`s ride it out. What would have happened?

And that number comes in at 1.5 to 1.6 million people, up to 2.2 and even beyond. So that`s 2.2 million people would have died if we did nothing, we just carried on our life.

Now, I don`t think that would have been possible because you would have had people dying all over the place. This would not have been a normal life. How many people have even seen anybody die? You would have seen people dying on airplanes. You would have been seeing people dying in hotel lobbies. You would have seen death all over.


MELBER:  Congressman?

LIEU:  Thank you, Ari.

I have no idea what Donald Trump was talking about. No rational person would say, do nothing. In fact, everybody else was saying do a lot more than you already are doing.

And I do agree that the job of the president is to give hope, but it`s not to give false hope. And what ended up happening is, in the early stages of this crisis, the president kept saying things that were false and misleading.

And it led a lot of people go and not social distance. It led a lot of people to take actions they shouldn`t have. And without testing, it allowed this virus to continue to spread across America.

And now we have the most number of cases in the world. We have more people that died now from this virus than 9/11. And we can`t just look at this and say, let`s just keep giving people hope. We have to give them the truth.

And one other thing I want to add is, when you look at these press conferences, if you were watching MSNBC, today would not have been surprising. If you watch FOX News, today`s press conference may have been surprising to you, because networks like FOX just kept giving false information and misleading information to many Americans.

And they really should apologize for what they did.

MELBER:  Well, I think you speak to, Congressman, the role of perception and information in this.

Dr. Osterholm, that does seem different. In other words, if Americans want to hold vastly different views of the world, even counterfactual, there are a whole range of topics where that may not hurt anyone, in -- at least in the short run.

Here, to the congressman`s point, there were people who very recently, eight days ago, 12 days ago, were using their platforms to say, put the economy first or get back out there or minimizing.

Doctor, how important is it that everyone in the world, really, however you get your information, get on the same page about the precautions we can take? And do you think that will make a difference over whether this is, for the U.S., 83,000 deaths, or 100,000, or 200,000?

OSTERHOLM:  Well, again, I come back to the point we`re in this for the long haul.

This is not going to be a one inning game. And so one of the challenges we`re going to have is, how do we keep people basically keeping the country running, and, at the same time, as this virus begins to escalate again, just as we`re beginning to see in Asia, how are we going to put the pedal to the metal again? What are we going to do?

We can`t just shelter in place for 18 or 20 months until we get a vaccine. That`s part of a long-term plan is, every time we let up on the suppression, we`re going to see more cases. And that`s where, if you look at these models -- I mean, I appreciate very much the expertise of the modelers who have brought this particular model to the attention of the American public, the group at the University of Washington, the group at Harvard, the group at Imperial College.

I jokingly say, as many of my colleagues do, all models are wrong, but some provide you useful information. And I think that one of the things we`re all realizing is, here, we`re going to have to have a plan that says, OK, we get through the next six weeks, then what happens when we start to let back up, so we can get some kind of economy going again that just give us the basic essential services?

We`re going to see more cases again. And I think we`re not counting on that. That`s what`s going to be really important.

MELBER:  Right. And that goes to the road ahead.

Dr. Osterholm and Congressman Lieu joining us both on a very busy night for both of you, I appreciate it.

Michael Steele and Dr. Wen, stay with me. I have one more book of business. This is something we wanted to give you another view on. We went through the briefing and the fact-checking.

You also have the president basically completely changing gears about reopening the country by Easter, a move that was welcomed by many. It also reveals it was more than just dire projections that prompted his retreat.

Look at this reporting. NBC News and "The New York Times" originally reporting political advisers described for Trump polling showing voters overwhelmingly wanted to keep containment measures in place over sending people back to work, especially -- quote -- "prematurely."

The data reportedly upended Trump`s assumptions about the politics here. Campaign officials also arguing a spike in deaths could be even more politically damaging in November than the current economic downturn.

I bring in back Michael Steele on the politics and Dr. Wen on the facts, although the both are related here, Michael.

What do you think of this reporting, which suggests -- yes, all politicians have politics somewhere in the orbit -- but this is multiple outlets reporting that it was the politics partly on the president`s mind?

STEELE:  Oh, absolutely. It`s good politics from the very beginning.

And when you start to look at how the president framed this, the narrative around this, it was based on and amplified by FOX News what they thought their base supporters out there were thinking and feeling about this.

And then that script flipped. Their folks started seeing people affected by this virus around them, and it began to touch them personally. And the attitude out there in that -- in that viewership land, if you will, started to change.

Now you see the reporting reflecting that on FOX News, and "The New York Times," "Washington Post" who had been sort of, through their op-eds and opinion places, been saying, look, hey, this is a real problem. You can`t open this up because these -- this is the science, this is the math.

Juxtapose that with the politics, and then you begin to see how this narrative makes November that much more problematic, and why you see folks looking at, when Biden put out those videos of him sounding and looking presidential on this issue, how that began to eat into this, because people saw him as taking it more seriously politically than the president did.

MELBER:  I`m told we have to fit in a break. We have been going strong here half past the hour.

Michael Steele and Dr. Wen, thanks to both of you.

I want to tell you, in today`s briefing, both Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci highlighted the rise in cases in the Northeast, the region still projected to be weeks away from the apex of the pandemic. You can see that in some of these new projections.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is here in the center of the action, and joins me live next.



GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY):  The number of cases still going up.

We`re all in search of the apex and the other side of the mountain. But we are still headed up -- headed up the mountain.


MELBER:  You`re listening there to a little bit of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo discussing this rising surge of coronavirus cases. That`s in New York, an epicenter for the country.

New cases of virus, though, are spiking elsewhere. The New York metro area is the homestretch here. You just see it. It is the epicenter. It is the home base. You see that in that dramatic "New York Times" breakdown of the whole country and the red beating in New York.

Cuomo estimating that the region won`t hit its apex for potentially three more weeks. The effort continues to try to keep up with all the pressing emergency demands.

As promised, we now go to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. His state has almost 19,000 cases, 267 deaths.

We heard from the president today. I have questions about the federal updates that I will get to you.

But let`s begin with, what are you seeing in your state? What do people need to know?

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ):  Good to be with you.

Listen, the most important thing they need to know is to stay at home. We need everybody literally to stay at home. This is a two-front war. On the one hand, we have got to break the back of this virus, smash that curve as low as we can.

And that`s a job for all nine million of us. Stay at home. Only go out if you have to.

On the other hand, we`re aggressively building out our health care capacity, beds, personal protective equipment, ventilators, expanding our health care work force. They are the heroes right now. Those are the two fronts we`re fighting, and we`re in it every minute of every day.

MELBER:  We told viewers we would keep an eye on this ongoing White House press briefing. And we`re not going back into it.

But since we went off it, the president went back to some of the somber remarks he`s made, likening the death toll to what you would face in a world war. There are all sorts of comparisons, people talking about a death count that`s rising above the hit we took on 9/11 as a country, obviously different, in that it was murder and terrorism, but in the total count.

When you see these numbers, Governor, of a projected 83,000 or more Americans dying, what do you liken it to? What are you thinking? What are you telling your constituents?

MURPHY:  Well, so it is a war.

And, by the way, no American state knows the tragedy and the loss of 9/11 more than New Jersey and New York. Clearly, this is a war. That`s what we have been telling our folks from moment one.

And the way you win wars is not by panicking, and it certainly isn`t by business as usual. It`s being smart, aggressive, proactive. We have been at this in New Jersey since January. We formed our whole-of-government task force on February 2.

You win a war by working your tail off, by having courage, by not turning against each other ever, but uniting as one family. And that`s what it`s going to take to win this war.

MELBER:  Understood.

There`s been a lot of discussion about governors like yourself being on this front line, and then how you deal with the federal government. There is sound -- it`s interesting. You experienced this, but a lot of us don`t get to see behind the curtain, so to speak.

Here was the president speaking to a governor, I believe Governor Bullock, in this -- in one of these discussions on these calls. Take a listen.

Let me -- let me read a little bit to you. We`re making do, as I`m sure you are.


MELBER:  But Governor Bullock, literally -- he basically says to the president: "Look, there`s a private market. It`s telling us that we basically need to get more test kits. We`re not getting enough."

And he`s sort of pressing the president. He says: "Look, OK, we have got good tests, but we don`t have enough of them."

It`s almost -- quote -- "instantaneous testing. But I haven`t heard about this being a problem," the then president replies. "I haven`t heard about it being a problem."

Pardon my brief transcript reading skills, but the gist of it there is the tension we`re seeing. Have you seen that? Do you give the president any improvement grade, or are you still concerned, as Governor Bullock was, according to this call transcript we got, that the president`s not doing enough, not taking certain aspects of this serious?

MURPHY:  Listen, I only know what I see. And I will leave history to the historians.

I know that we were on this early. Listen, in a perfect world, on testing, you would have access to universal testing, as did South Korea. We knew up front we didn`t have the federal materiel to do that.

So we have tested symptomatic folks only from day one. And that`s what we`re going to continue to do as we expand our testing.

The fact of the matter is, this is the federal administration. This is our president at this moment in time. And we have to find common ground.

I was just on the phone with Admiral Giroir talking about the need for more PPE, the need for more ventilators.

We have to do -- we`re all in this together. We need the federal administration, they need us, there`s no other way around that.

MELBER:  And final question, sir, something in the weeds, but so important, your counterpart in New York, Governor Cuomo, has bluntly challenged the way business as usual is working, where needed items -- I`m looking here at a list regarding the price of ventilators, have gotten into a kind of capitalist shell game with folks bidding against each other.

With all of the other sacrifice going on, do you believe it`s time to come up with an emergency mechanism where people aren`t making money or profiteering off that, as long as it`s an emergency supply?

MURPHY:  Yes, amen. There`s -- as I said the other day in one of our press conferences, there`s a special place in hell for somebody trying to take advantage of this moment in time. We are where we are, we`re all in this together. Let`s pull all the levers we can, working together and get out of this.

This is a war. It is nothing less than that. We have to behave as if it is a war and if we do, we will win it.

MELBER:  Well, Governor, you`ve said many key things here, I hope folks are listening and we know from all the folks we`ve talked to, whether it`s government officials or first responders, when someone from your neck of the woods says, this is the medical equivalent of a 9/11 and everyone needs to treat it that way, that means a lot, because we know what your communities have been through.

Governor Phil Murphy, thank you, sir.

MURPHY:  Amen. Thank you.

MELBER:  Thank you. I really appreciate it.

I`m going to tell viewers, we have something very special here coming up directly after this break, and it involved something you heard, potentially, five years ago, so important now.

Bill Gates delivered this warning.


BILL GATES, MICROSOFT FOUNDER:  We need to get going because time is not on our side. In fact, if there`s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic is that it can serve as an early warning, a wakeup call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.


MELBER:  How do you get ready for the next epidemic? And what did Bill Gates privately tell Donald Trump about how to get ready? We have that special reporting right after the break.


MELBER:  Now to our special report tonight.

The coronavirus pandemic is upending our lives in ways many people could not have imagined. Work and socializing confined to homes. Schools obviously closed. Most long-term plans canceled. And while some in the federal government seem caught off-guard, this very problem is something some leaders did warn about.

One of the world`s most accomplished innovators took to a public stage five years ago, warning about pandemics. It all sounds quite prescient now to hear Bill Gates` advice then.


GATES:  If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it`s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. We`ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents but we`ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We`re not ready for the next epidemic.


MELBER:  That was 2015. Gates going public with the evidence showing the U.S. was not ready for this kind of pandemic.

So, as part of our ongoing special coverage, right now, we turn to our report on these warnings, what they reveal about the U.S. response today and more critically, how they can inform our approach in the future and potentially save lives.

You know, of all the experts out there in areas ranging from medicine to disaster prep, Bill Gates excelled in computer innovation, which requires original thinking, business, which excels on ruthless execution and then his current chapter, public health philanthropy, where Gates takes on all kinds of medical challenges around the world with both his skills and his money.

Gates became the richest person in the world by leading a tech revolution and he became increasingly famous as a nerd with a can-do spirit. Here he was on David Letterman back in 1995, sporting a hard hat and lab coat.


DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE NIGHT TV HOST:  What are the things that you`ve designed for the house that really you`re very excited about?

GATES:  Well, I`ve got a trampoline room that I can go and use.

LETTERMAN:  A trampoline room?

GATES:  That`s right.

LETTERMAN:  This is like an actual trampoline or like a computer?

GATES:  Non-virtual.


MELBER:  Trampolines are not the item many billionaires brag about buying, but Gates isn`t the typical billionaire and he`s different in ways that are especially relevant now.

Take his intellectual hunger. The young entrepreneur once recounted how he vacationed only about once a year and used that time to dig into obscure academic research.


REPORTER:  Like most of us, Bill says that he escapes the office about once a year. But that`s where the similarities end.

GATES:  I spend at least a week a year where I go off and just read people`s PhD theses and new things going on in the field.


MELBER:  You got to read those. This is one reason that Gates has seen around so many corners. He reads ahead into the research, to see where things might go. And now that he did philanthropy full time, he`s been deploying his money to press challenges that some governments don`t get around to tackling.

The Gates Foundation presents ideas, papers and money, as you have probably seen, to governments around the world. And Gates has had his own run-ins with Donald Trump. At one foundation meeting, Gates recounted a classic story where Trump was attending a horse show in Florida. Gates` daughter was there, too.

And she noticed that Trump took an extra car ride to leave the area so he could make one of his special helicopter entrances at the event. This is footage MSNBC`s Chris Hayes first reported.


GATES:  Twenty minutes later, he flew in in a helicopter to the same place, so, clearly, he had been driven away and he wanted to make a grand entrance in a helicopter.


MELBER:  Now, whatever Gates thought of Donald Trump`s attempts to impress, Bill Gates still took the opportunities, controversial or not, to advocate pandemic policy with Donald Trump.

Here they were at Trump Tower right after Trump`s election in December 2016.

Gates explaining he was pushing science and health policies at that very meeting.


GATES:  I saw him in Trump Tower and I said, hey, science and innovation is a great thing. You should be the leader who drives innovation. And that conversation was about a broad set of things, in energy, in health, in education.


MELBER:  People have all kinds of ideas. Few get a private audience with the president. And while Bill Gates is not telling everyone I told you so, the evidence shows that in many ways he did.

Listen to Gate`s prescient warnings from 2015.


GATES:  We need to get going, because time is not on our side. In fact, if there is one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic, it`s that it can serve as an early warning, a wakeup call to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.


MELBER:  It was time to get ready. Many governments didn`t listen or didn`t want to spend the money. Gates specifically outlining the type of potential virus that would be most infectious.

Notice how it eerily predicts parts of COVID transmission.


GATES:  You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they`re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN:  You yourself can be carrying it and you might not know it. It would be the worst thing in the world is to go to church to worship and to next to someone and infect them.


MELBER:  That was crucial knowledge. Regardless of the saying that you may have heard, knowledge actually is not always power. It really depends on what people do with knowledge.

Gates took his knowledge and went back to meet with Donald Trump again, in 2018. He advocated the Trump administration get serious and back a universal flu vaccine. He tried to prod the president with a kind of flattery, saying a universal flu vaccine could be kicked off and energized by you, Mr. President. What a great legacy.

Now, Gates later said Trump sounded interested but there wasn`t much progress. We can tell you by September of last year, Trump signed an executive order that created a flu vaccine task force head by someone already on the job, Health Secretary Azar, and that effort didn`t come with any legislation, let alone any new money to prepare for pandemics.

Now, Gates also says Trump offered him a possible role as a science adviser, something Gates declined, in favor of just offering the science advice publicly and privately we`re telling you about. Now, the government can take it or leave it. This is Gates` exact role today.

And he`s speaking out again now with advice for anyone who is listening, including rebutting some of the newest claims by President Trump.


GATES:  It`s very irresponsible for somebody to suggest we can have the best of both worlds. What we need is the extreme shutdown to -- so that in six to ten weeks, if things go well, then you can start opening back up.

It`s very tough to say to people, hey, keep going to restaurants, you know, go buy new houses. Ignore that pile of bodies over in the corner, just we want you to keep spending, because there`s some -- maybe a politician who thinks GDP growth is what really counts.


MELBER:  That was a stark way to put it. He was staying as the body count rose. But before videos and pictures like this went virile, the footage of a human wreckage of virus in America, a country that has so many but has reduced to scenes like this.

Now, since Gates` expertise stands at the intersection of innovation business and public health, it`s worth nothing that he`s one of the business titans emphasizing that while the economic toll is severe, that comes second to the challenge that cannot be reversed -- this virus continuing to kill so many people.


GATES:  It is really tragic that the economic effects of this are very dramatic. I mean, nothing like this has ever happened to the economy in our lifetimes. But money, that`s more of a reversible thing than bringing people back to life.


MELBER:  Yes. You know, that is a fundamental piece of wisdom from a very rich man. Your life is worth more than all the money in the world.

It echoes something that many already have admired about Bill Gates, that he embodies success without flaunting it. As the great Andre Benjamin once put it, Bill Gates don`t dangle diamonds in the face of peasants when he`s microsoftening the place. Consider your surroundings or you live without a trace.

The point is, real strength doesn`t need to flaunt itself. And considering your surrounding is crucial for staying alive. That applies to staying safe right now, as well as for preparing for next pandemic. As Gates explained back in 2015, as he would later try to warn President Trump, the medical science shows a path for what we all need to do. And with that in mind, tonight Bill Gates gets the final word.


GATES:  The problem was, we didn`t have a system at all. In fact, there`s some pretty obvious key missing pieces. We didn`t have a group of epidemiologists ready to go.

A large epidemic would require us to have hundreds of thousands of workers. The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola. It didn`t get into many urban areas, and that was just luck. The next time we might not be so lucky. It would spread throughout the world very, very quickly.

If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.



MELBER:  Coverage you can always find me online @AriMelber on social media. But we want to tell you one more thing. Tonight, join Savannah Guthrie, Hoda and the NBC News team for a live primetime special on this unfolding virus pandemic. We have a team of correspondents globally, real time information and we`ll be tackling your questions about the virus, 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight.

Thank you for being with us.