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Roger Stone's Prison Sentence TRANSCRIPT: 7/10/20, MSNBC Live

Guests: Steve Adler, Donna Shalala, Lanhee Rich Lowry, Chen, Philip Rucker,Betsy Woodruff Swan

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: That is roughly 6 percent jump from this time last year, making chocolate the most popular candy in that time.

Now, during times like this, maybe, it`s just whatever works for anyone.

That does it for me, have an excellent weekend. My colleague, Steve Kornacki, picks up next.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: And good evening from New York. I`m Steve Kornacki.

And with coronavirus cases rising across the country amid surges in hotspots throughout the south and west, officials in some of the hardest hit states are sounding the alarm. More than 3.1 million Americans have now been infected with the virus. 60,000 additional positive cases were recorded just yesterday, as the most in a single day so far.

And that rise in new cases has driven in large part by what`s happening in state like Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, Texas, which set a single day record in deaths, hospitalization and the percentage of tests coming back positive on Thursday. And with Governor Greg Abbott warning that next week`s numbers will be worse.

Officials in Houston warned that their hospitals are becoming overwhelmed and facing a potential repeat of what happened in New York back March and April.

Arizona, meanwhile, reported 4,200 additional cases. This is the sixth consecutive day that the state has reported more than 3,000 new cases.

And Florida recorded more than 11,000 new cases today. That is the second highest daily increase they have yet seen. They also recorded a record number of new hospitalizations, 435 of those.

President Trump was in Florida today, for a briefing on drug trafficking and for a close door fundraiser. He had no coronavirus specific events and made no public mention of Florida`s spike in cases.

Yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said that areas like New York, have seen improvement, but the situation nationally is not great.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But as a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don`t think you can say we are doing great. I mean, we are just not.

KORNACKI: And Fauci attributed the surge in case in states like Arizona and Florida to reopening too quickly.

The Washington Post reports that in those states along with California and Texas, hospitals are adding new intensive care unit beds and special air flow system to threat the growing demand as virus hospitalization set records almost daily.

And in the interview this evening, with Telemundo`s Jose Diaz-Balart, President Trump was asked about the current situation nationally.


JOSE DIAZ-BALART, TELEMUNDO ANCHOR: Is United States losing the war with COVID?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, we are winning the war. And we have areas that flared up and they`re going to be fine over a period of time. But flared up in areas where they thought it was ending, and that would be Florida, Texas and a couple of other places. And they`re going to have it under control very quickly.


KORNACKI: And I`m joined now by MSNBC Correspondent Joe Fryer in Los Angeles and MSNBC Reporter Vaughn Hillyard, who is in Tempe, Arizona. Welcome to both of you.

Vaughn, let me start with you. Just reading through some of the statistics from Arizona, from other states, the situation on the ground there in terms of this being a state that had a lot open recently, what is open in Arizona right now? What is the trajectory on that? What`s the expectation for what the next few days hold there?

VAUGHN HILLYARD, MSNBC POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, it`s a struggle to listen to the president suggest that it`s going to be under control quickly here because it`s been out of control for than two months. And there, have only been small measures, I think small steps you could say that have been taken at the statewide level here to really get a grip on the spread.

You`re still seeing record numbers of hospitalization and ICU beds in use. You continue to see a testing system that is overwhelmed, a demand for tests that cannot meet the state`s own capacity here right now.

You know, the governor, it was last night, held a press conference and there was a lot of anticipation of whether he was going to announce a new stay-at-home order or the closure of indoor dining services and malls. But, ultimately, he made only one move, and that was to require restaurant to not have more than 50 percent occupancy in their restaurants.

There`s a lot of pushback, mayors saying that they wanted to have the right as a locality to close down certain businesses. They want a statewide ordinance.

And I`ll leave you with one other critic of the governor, or I should say a parent critic. He was on a tweet late last night, when he was former Governor Jan Brewer, the Republican Governor here from Arizona. She posted a meme from a Breaking Bad episode, and said that, quote, you learn not to take half measures, it was saying, the moral of the story is I choose the half measure when I should have gone all the way. I`ll never make that mistake again.

One could lead that possibly the suggestion that Governor Ducey is continuing to take these small measures and hopes to get this under control, but right now there is serious question as to whether it`s working.

KORNACKI: All right. And from Arizona let`s to go next toward California, Joe Fryer is there. Joe, you know, California, largest state in the country. I remember back in March and April looking at the statistics of where this was really taking hold. And California, especially relative to its size, wasn`t up there at the beginning, but that seems to be changing now.

JOE FRYER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, really, as the economy started to reopen in California in June, we did start to see the cases rise and the hospitalizations follow. And now, more recently, one of the concerns has seen the increase in the number of deaths. There had been a couple of days this week where more than 100 deaths per day were reported. So that is one concern.

But that`s not the only thing that raising concerns, not just here in California but across the country. We`ve been taking a look at the shortage of PPE, personal protective equipment. We talk so much about it in March and April in New York area. Now, we`ve check with some of hospitals here in Southern California. The big hospitals tell us they think their supplies are sufficient.

Worries are about many other places around the country that are like nursing homes, rural hospitals, home healthcare workers, school nurses that are getting ready to go back to class in the coming weeks and doctors` offices and specialists that were closed during the pandemic and trying to open and reopen right now, saying they`re having a hard time getting their hands on masks, gloves, gowns, things like that. The supplies are low, the prices are high.

There have been some calls for the president to invoke the Defense Protection Act to try an increase the supply protective gear. But right now, Steve, no plan for that to happen.

KORNACKI: OK, Joe Fryer, Vaughn Hillyard, thank you both for joining us. And as we mention, Texas another state hit especially hard by the pandemic as it continues to see a spike in new cases. The positivity rate, the rate of all test taken, that come back positive now over 15 percent in the Lone Star State, Texas, also seeing a big surge in hospitalizations, 371 percent increase in the past month.

And I am joined now by the mayor of Austin, Texas, Steve Adler. Your honor, thank you for joining us.

I want to understand the situation in your city. You have five stages of alert here, stage five being the most severe. As I understand that you`re in stage four right now. Are you close to any decision to move to stage five? What would it take for that to happen?

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D-TX), AUSTIN: Well, I`ll tell you, we`re on the line right now, real precariously poised. We said that there would be a window in which we could move to stage five with triggers. We`ve already hit the lower end of that range.

I had to go to my community two weeks ago and say that if we couldn`t change this trajectory, when we hit the low end of that range, we were going to have to take some pretty drastic reactions, perhaps a return to a shelter-in-place.

The community was able to change their trajectory a little bit here, it looks like, over the last two and half weeks. But we are just on the edge and we are in danger of overwhelming our ICUs.

We thought it would be physical spaces, but now we are finding that so many of the healthcare workers in our hospitals are becoming infected themselves. So our staffing levels are being changed. We`re getting calls now from the valley in Texas to see if we can take patients that they don`t have place for their ICUs.

We are on the edge right now in Austin.

KORNACKI: Yes. I`m curious on that question of the ICU`s in particular, hospitalizations, in general, we see these numbers getting very high. Can you give us some specifics there, just in terms of capacity, hospitals, ICUs, where you are right now? And also, how many of those -- are those primarily coronavirus cases or are there other folks who just in the hospital for other reasons? What -- do you have a sense, what percentage of it roughly would be coronavirus.

ADLER: Well, in our city, for planning purposes, recognizing that there`s an ongoing need for ICU beds for those people that have heart attacks or in car accidents. We`re assuming and planning for about a 60/40 ratio. So, 60 percent of the beds we are trying to keep open for COVID patients. And then we were just screaming with doubling every seven to nine days and the number of people we had in our ICU`s.

Again, in this last two and a half weeks, behavior changes, we are just now beginning to see perhaps a leveling off of our ICU admissions, still too early to tell. I`m still having my community, by their behaviors, go beyond what the orders are that are in place because we need to see that happening, so, again, just on the edge.

But part of it depends on are our healthcare workers going to be able to stay healthy and are we going to be ask to take folks from other places in the state that are right now are getting hit harder than we are.

KORNACKI: There`s also this, the -- in your city, the city council in Austin approving fines up to $2,000 for those who do not wear masks. You have a mask ordinance in place there. Can you talk a little bit about, first of all, how compliance has been with the mask ordinance?

But, secondly, you have the option of fining them. Do you expect this to be happening? Do you expect there to be significant enforcement of this, a large number of fines being given out here?

ADLER: So the truth is, from the very beginning going back to March, there are not enough police officers or code enforcement agents to actually make something like this work by enforcing, by giving out tickets. It has to be something that the community wants to do. It has to be a generally accepted culture of caution.

And that`s been the problem. When the governor took away from us our mandated mask ordinance, it sent a message to the community that maybe it wasn`t important anymore. People watching the president lead with the belief that masks are not effective or that the virus is going away. So the message that you send is oftentimes more important than anything else to get a community united.

So, yes, we increased the fine to $2,000 as a statement for just how important this is and, frankly, it is an enforceable tool that`s available to us. But the hope is that we don`t have to enforce it that way. And the hope is, is that people will in fact get the message that this is serious. We have a lot more people that are wearing masks today than were wearing mask three weeks ago.

And we can see that impact in our numbers, in our admissions and in our new cases. There is no question but that masking has a very real impact. You just have to look at the numbers.

KORNACKI: Yes, and I think that`s the other question. To what is activity like, just in general, outside of people`s homes in Austin, Texas right now? You`re not in this stage five yet right now. Are people generally behaving though as if you are? Are they generally staying home? Are you seeing a lot of activity outside? Are you seeing a fair amount of business activity? What is it like just as people absorb the reality of the spread of this?

ADLER: I think that people are reacting in advance of where the government is and where our state is with respect to the orders that they bring. And that would make sense because they`re watching what it is that`s happening around them and they`re reacting to it.

So, yes, right now we have people that are -- more and more people in our community are not going to restaurants regardless of what the occupancy level is. More and more people are staying away from groups even if they have the allowance. You know, we`re telling people the safest place people could be right now is at home and more and more people are staying at home. And that`s what`s changing our numbers.

KORNACKI: All right, Mayor Steve Adler, Austin, Texas. Thank you for joining us. I appreciate that.

ADLER: Thank you.

KORNACKI: I`m bringing in now Dr. John Torres, MSNBC Medical Correspondent. Doctor, thank you for joining us.

I want to start with some good news here because we don`t get enough of that when it comes to coronavirus, but there`s this today from Gilead, they make remdesivir. Remember, we talk about remdesivir a couple of month ago, a treatment for folks significantly sick with it. Gilead Science is announced that their antiviral drug reduced the risk of death to severely sick coronavirus patients by 62 percent. That`s nearly 2/3 compared with standard care alone. That sounds significant and sounds very helpful to making you talk about the reality of it.

DR. JOHN TORRES, MSNBC MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Steve, you`re right. It sounds significant and it is significant. But the one of the thing you do after remember this, this is their finding. This still needs to be peer reviewed and other studies to follow up just to make sure.

But what they`re saying is, in their findings, it did cut down the chance of dying for those people that severely ill. And this is important because up until now, dexamethasone is the only medicine we`ve had that actually cut`s a chance of dying from coronavirus.

So now, you have two medicines, one of them remdesivir, is an antiviral. So this is the one that actually attacking the virus, trying to get the virus out of your body, but that virus leaves behind immune system issues. That`s a cytokine storm. That`s where dexamethasone comes in. And it helps reduce deaths because of that cytokine storm.

And so this is essentially a one-two punch we`re seeing right now, which is important because it`s giving doctors more tools. It doesn`t work for everybody and it does not work across the board, but for those who do does work for, this is very important, and it`s just give me as more tools we can use for more patients and we`ll keep adding to those as time goes on, Steve.

KORNACKI: And that seems like a key point as we talk about these surges, these massive surges in cases were seeing now some indication in states that the death rate is starting to tick up as well. I`m going to put a comparison up on the screen here between Florida and New York. Florida and New York are comparably-sized state in population, Florida a little bigger. And we`re talking about this giant surge in cases in Florida right now. The deaths are going up there at about 60 deaths a day in Florida right now. Let`s look at its peak in New York, the number of deaths a day was about 800.

And I think that`s a key question here as these surges in cases play out and the death rate goes up, are there enough treatments, are there enough best practices in place right now, that even with a huge surge in cases, as bad as the deaths are, they are not going to get as bad as they did in New York in March and April or could it get up there?

TORRES: And, Steve, the honesty of the situation is there are never going to be enough treatments at this point, just four or five months into the pandemic. This is a new virus, we`re learning more about it as every day goes on. But important thing is that we have learned over this four months and things like, simple things like putting patients on ventilators.

As doctors, we used to put them on almost a knee-jerk reaction, if their oxygen got low enough, they go on a ventilator. Now, we found out with coronavirus we don`t want to do that. We want to let them breathe on their own even with low oxygen levels, which is counterintuitive for any doctor you talk to. But this seems be working for them.

And then we have these medicines. Again, we talked about dexamethasone, they`ve been using that for weeks. Now, the remdesivir, they`ll start using that as well for this type of situation. And so, we have a better understanding of how to take care of them with supportive care. We have a better understanding of the drugs we can use to take care of them.

On top of that, what we`re seeing a surge in cases now, which is different than what we saw in New York. In New York it tended to be more the elderly population, which are more at risk. Here it is more of the younger population which aren`t quite as at risk from complications. But we do know that deaths lag the cases. So as cases go up within a few weeks, the deaths are going to follow.

And, hopefully, based on our treatment and our understanding of the disease, and the cases we are seeing right now, those deaths won`t get to the level. And I`m pretty optimistic they are at that stage right now, Steve.

KORNACKI: All right, Dr. John Torres, always good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

And coming up, the debate over schools, whether to reopen, when to reopen, how to reopen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I`m confident if you can do Home Depot, if you can do Walmart, if you can do these things, we absolutely can do the schools.

CHRISTINE ESPOSITO: If teachers get sick, what`s the policy? If someone in their family is sick, what`s the policy? You know, those things make all of it confusing.


KORNACKI: Plus, why the president has called off a campaign rally that had been scheduled for this weekend . And polls showing him significantly behind and in a far worse situation than he ever faced in 2016. Could he still win? And if so, how?

We have got much more to get to. Stay with us.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now it`s time to be open. It`s time to stay open. And we will put out the fires as they come up. But we have to open our schools. It`s so important to open our schools.

We have to get our schools open and stop this political nonsense. And it`s only political nonsense. It`s politics.

We want to get the kids back to school. They want to be back in school. It`s very bad for them not to be in school.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

President Trump`s aggressive push to reopen schools has sparked a debate on what is the safest way to do that. He has threatened to withdraw federal funding from schools that keep children home.

And since the pandemic began, most schools in all 50 states have closed and tried to finish up the academic year with kids learning remotely from their homes.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which has urged schools to reopen, issued this statement today -- quote -- "Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue reopening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers, and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it."

Now school superintendents are left to assess a sensible path forward, taking into account millions of children, parents, teachers, and staff.

And for more, I`m joined by Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Democrat from Florida and former secretary of Health and Human Services, and Lanhee Chen, fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Thank you both for joining us.

It`s interesting. I`m just reading up on this, looking around. I see experts with different advice on this. So it seems there`s -- you want expert input here. But, ultimately, this is a public policy choice that elected officials, school superintendents, the like, are going to have to make.

So, if we go from the starting point that everyone would like to see schools reopen, would like to see all students back in, the question becomes, what is the standard that should be applied here for making that decision?

And let me just get you both to weigh in on that.

Congresswoman, I will start with you.


First of all, the president of the United States doesn`t have the authority to order the school systems in the United States to open up. The Constitution is very clear. Education is a state function.

And the states have allocated it for the most part to school districts. He doesn`t have the authority to cut off the money. And, by the way, that money he`s talking about is about 9 percent of the school budgets. That`s what the feds provide. That 9 percent is for low-income schools, schools that have large numbers of minorities, and for special education.

That`s the last thing we want to do. Of course, we want to open the schools safely. And I would leave it to the local school boards to work it out. We have some very good guidance, but we can`t open up in places that are still at great risk.

Florida has not hit this coronavirus with a hammer. And it`s -- at the moment, we`re -- the virus is out of control. It`s hard to open schools under those circumstances.

And let me give you one more fact. There`s a study out today from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that says that one-quarter of all the teachers are in the high-risk category, which means they have underlying health conditions. That`s about the same percentage, by the way, in the work force, so I`m not surprised.

Higher education, it`s probably a higher number. So, those teachers will really be at risk, unless we do this very carefully. And there`s lots of good advice. The CDC has good advice. The NEA and the AFT have an excellent white paper.

And I know that the school districts of this country and the parents are going to be very careful about when they open and how they open.

KORNACKI: So, Lanhee, let me get you in on this.

What do you think the standard should be here? What would you say? The school boards across the country, school officials across the country looking at this, how do you think they should be approaching it?

LANHEE CHEN, FORMER POLICY DIRECTOR, MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Look, Steve, this is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution, because what we see is that the virus is in various states in various parts of the country.

But I think the presumption for most school districts does have to be, what can we do to ensure that there are a maximum number of school days when children and school kids are receiving instruction in person?

What we do know about this virus -- and this is perhaps one of the few glimmers of good news -- is that it is far less harmful, at least the data suggests so far, to children than, for example, influenza. So we know, based on CDC data, that a school-aged child is seven times more likely to die because of influenza than because of COVID-19.

So, I think that`s an important data point to begin with. Second of all, what we also know is that there are ways to blend online education with in- person education to make this work.

Now, I think the presumption needs to be, again, let`s do all we can to maximize that in-classroom time, because, at the end of the day, there are grave public health risks as well to kids not being in school. Those range from social isolation to potential morbidity because of things like sedentary behavior.

So, there`s all sorts of reasons why the American Academy of Pediatrics, who you noted earlier, is, in fact, in favor of trying to get schools reopened as safely as possible.

And then the last thing I would just say is, there are absolutely risk factors for teachers and administrators. And that`s why some of these blended learning models could work, because what you could see, for example, are the higher-risk teachers engaging in online education, while the lower-risk teachers are in person.

But note that kids are actually relatively poor carriers of this virus. At least, the information we have so far suggests that, in fact, kids don`t necessarily transmit this to adults. They don`t necessarily transmit it to each other. So I think it`s important for us to take all those facts into account as we consider how to reopen safely.

KORNACKI: Let me just read from that, what the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a couple of weeks ago.

They said, the goal here should be to get every student in the country, every kid in the country back into school for in-person learning.

They said: "The importance of in-person learning is well-documented. There is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits, as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation."

Congresswoman, it does seem -- they raise the topic there of the possibility at least of other health implications. We talk all about COVID, but of keeping kids away from school, American Academy of Pediatrics says, wait a minute, there could be dire consequences there too.

How do you balance those two?

SHALALA: Well, that`s exactly what the schools are going to have to balance. And there`s no question that there are emotional issues here.

It`s not just COVID. And, by the way, this blending of the school year, that is, some people are going to do it online or some of the classes are going to be online, we have to be careful about that. Any parent that needs to go to work, particularly if they`re a low-income parent ,wants to know how long their kids are going to be in school, so that this is a trick key business that has to be left to educators and public health officials.

We have got to get politics out of this. We all want the kids to be back in school, particularly the younger children. Maybe the older children can learn online, but the younger children.

But we also have to worry about the safety of the staff at the same time. So, I don`t think there`s huge disagreement. We have got to get the politicians out of the way, and let the educators figure this out, so that we protect our children.

Just think about a school that you went to, high traffic, small rooms, people clustered together. These are big challenges for our schools. I wish they had more outdoor areas to teach in. That would be helpful as part of the overall strategy.

But I want to leave this to the educators and to the public health leaders in their communities, and get out of the way. But we also have to take very much into account what the needs of the parents are too.

And parents are going to be very wary, unless these are pretty detailed proposals, they know their children are going to be safe.

KORNACKI: Let me leave the politicians in there for one more second, because that there is one other area of this I want to address, Lanhee.

And that is, that`s the money. There was an article in "The New York Times" looking at the costs that can go into if you want to reopen schools, have some best practices in place. Maybe you need to repurpose facilities. Maybe you need to hire monitors. There`s talks of having temperature check stations.

The cost can get up there really fast. Is that something -- when you look at these cash-strapped school districts all around the country, is that something the federal government should be looking at, providing some support there?

CHEN: Yes.

And I think, in the next round of coronavirus relief, I imagine this will be one of those topics of conversation, which is how we can support school districts that are trying to reopen around the country.

But, look, part of the problem, Steve, I think, also is that, when you try and follow -- we have had a conversation for the last couple days about this guidance from the CDC. And I think some of that CDC guidance, frankly, is outdated.

And I think some of that is going to drive schools trying to reopen in a way that is probably more costly than it needs to be. So it`s a combination of factors. Yes, we ought to get as much assistance as we can to school districts that want to open, but also recognize too there may be ways to economize and still open safely.

KORNACKI: All right, Lanhee Chen and Congresswoman Donna Shalala.


KORNACKI: So, I apologize. We are fresh out of time on that one.

But I really, really enjoyed the discussion. I appreciate you both being part of it.

And up next, we have got a presidential race that looked like one thing a couple months ago. It looks very different right now. There are two reasons why this presidential race has changed so much, just when you look at the numbers.

I`m going to take you through what those numbers say and why right after this.


KORNACKI: You know, there are two topics that have really dominated the public conversation for the last couple months, and we have got new polling on what the country thinks of how the president has handled both of them.

This is from our friends at ABC News. There is the coronavirus. This is the president`s response to COVID-19. Now, ABC News has been tracking this. They have been doing a monthly poll on this. Of course, it`s been a few months now.

Let me show you, though. There have been some significant changes in the last month, from June until right now. So let`s break this down by party and take you through it.

Among Democrats here who approve, this is Democrats who approve of the president`s performance on coronavirus, no surprise here, very minimal, single digits. It`s actually up a statistically insignificant 1.6 to 7. That`s not where the action is in this poll.

How about independents, giant group of voters right there, independents? And there you see some significant movement. A month ago, over 40 percent of independents said they approved of how the president had been handling COVID-19. Now it is down to 33 percent, an eight-point drop there.

Here`s another surprise. How about this? Among the president`s fellow Republicans, it was 90 percent who said they approved of his handling of the coronavirus a month ago. That is still -- that is still high, obviously, 78 percent, but that`s a 12-point drop there from 90 to 78.

So, what does movement like that add up to? Overall, last month, just over 41 -- just over 40 percent of voters approved of how the president was handling the coronavirus. And now it is 33 percent, a 33 percent approval rating for the president on the most pressing crisis in the country right now.

And then, say, there are two topics that have dominated the public square. The coronavirus is one. The other is race relations. So, again, from the same poll, there`s a strong disapproval of the president`s handling of race relations.

Take you through it this way. Among African-Americans, 92 percent say they disapprove of how the president`s handled race relations, among Hispanic voters, 83 percent. Among white voters, 57 percent disapprove of how the president is handling race relations.

Remember, the president, among white voters in the 2016 election, won solidly, now a solid majority disapproving of how he`s handling race relations. Again, overall, that means that two-thirds, two out of every three voters in this country right now say they disapprove of how the president is handling race relations.

So, the coronavirus, race relations, these two topics have dominated the conversation. The president has very, very poor numbers on these questions.

What does that add up to? This is the current state of the presidential race. This is the RealClearPolitics polling average. You see it right there, an advantage of nearly nine points for Joe Biden over Donald Trump. If you went back -- look, if you went back to 2016, you did not see Hillary Clinton in the polling average having this size of a lead over Donald Trump for as long as Joe Biden`s had it.

If you went back to 2012, 2008, 2004, 2000, those elections were closer at this point than this one is. So this is a significant lead right now for Joe Biden. You can see what`s behind it. It`s the president`s performance on the two topics that have generated the most conversation in this country for the last couple months.

And the question there is, those two topics, especially the coronavirus, do not seem likely to lose momentum in the next few months. So can the president turn around how people think, how people view his performance on those issues?

And if he can`t, is this going to change at all? Could this get worse for him? We will see.

Up next: President Trump heading to Florida, but he cancels plans for a rally in New Hampshire. And new reporting suggests he is -- quote -- "shell-shocked" by the multiple crises he has faced.

We will be right back.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

Eager to get his campaign back on track, President Trump traveled to Florida today for an in-person fund-raiser. And, as we have mentioned, Florida just reported its highest increase in hospitalizations in a single day. And Miami-Dade County is seeing a 33 percent increase in coronavirus tests that come back positive.

The escalating crisis there is complicating plans for the Republican Convention in Jacksonville this August and could jeopardize Trump`s chances in the state come November.

Also, it comes as the Trump campaign today postponed a rally that had been scheduled for tomorrow in New Hampshire, citing the tropical storm that is hitting the East Coast.

And according to "The New York Times" -- quote -- "The canceled rally marked the third time in less than a month that Mr. Trump`s reelection campaign has failed to relaunch as planned."

And following the low turnout at Trump`s Tulsa rally -- quote -- "Campaign officials were conceding that they could be embarrassed a second time if it turned out the Trump supporters were too anxious about gathering in a crowded public place."

Even -- quote -- "the state`s Republican governor, Chris Sununu, had said he would not be attending, citing safety concerns."

And now new reporting suggests that the recent spate of bad news for the Trump campaign is taking a toll on the president. Aides reportedly fear that his -- quote -- "sullen demeanor" could backfire politically.

That is coming up next.


KORNACKI: Welcome back.

A new report suggests that, behind closed doors, the president is lamenting his current political standing. According to "The Washington Post," people who`ve spoken to Trump are -- quote -- "describing him as shell-shocked and sullen. The president has cast himself in the starring role of the blameless victim of a deadly pandemic, of a stolen economy, of deep-seated racial unrest, all of which happened to him, rather than the country."

As we just showed you, the polling for President Trump is dire right now, especially on the topic most on the minds of Americans, the coronavirus. Now, there is still time for the president to turn things around. But is there a way for him to do it?

According to that same report, he thinks there is -- quote -- "and is telling advisers that he is certain the virus will go away by October. Then, he adds in these tellings, the economy will rebound overnight, and he will win a second term."

And I`m joined now by a co-author of that report, Philip Rucker, White House bureau chief for "The Washington Post," Heather McGhee, co-chair of the Color of Change board of directors and an MSNBC political contributor, and Rich Lowry, the editor of "National Review."

Thanks to all of you for being with us.

Well, Phil, we`re quoting from your story, so let me start with you.

Sort of two different moods being conveyed there about the president, one very concerned about his current political standing, but, two, confident that he will yet turn this around.

Now, I`m curious. In 2016, during that campaign, Trump`s political obituary was written multiple times. He ended up winning the presidency. Is his mood, would you say, is his sense of confidence now similar to then? Or is he in a different and more concerned place?

PHILIP RUCKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, he`s confident, in that he thinks that the virus is going to go away and he thinks that there`s going to be sort of a solution, a cure, as he puts it, by the fall.

And that is, of course, inconsistent with the reality presented by a lot of the scientists working in the administration. But his advisers are very much trying to help recreate the atmosphere around him in 2016, trying to get him into a more disciplined state of mind.

That has, of course, proven to be challenging throughout this presidency, because it`s a president who -- who is not known for his discipline. But they feel like they have enough time to try to reverse the trajectory of this race, but they do acknowledge privately that there are troubles right now.

KORNACKI: So, Heather, let me ask you.

The president sees a path here that involves a change in the course of the coronavirus. Let`s put it that way. Obviously, we have spent the first part of this show looking at the current situation.

Can you see a scenario where, a few months from now, the country feels differently about the president`s leadership on coronavirus, about the trajectory of the virus, and it changes the politics of this race in a way that would give him a shot at reelection?

HEATHER MCGHEE, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I think anything is possible in politics.

But I also think that the underlying assessment that the American people have made in this test of leadership has broken faith with many crucial blocs of the American electorate.

I think that the economy is not going to snap back into place. We saw that, once we had any kind of interruption, it was clear that it was built on a house of cards. There was a ton of corporate debt, a ton of household debt. A third of Americans missed their housing payments on July 1.

It was really supported with extraordinary measures, trillions of dollars, in financial support from the federal government. And still one out of every four Americans filed for unemployment insurance. And that`s not to mention the millions of workers who are left out of that system and who are forced to go to work and get sick.

And so we fundamentally don`t have a sound foundation. And the fact that Mitch McConnell has continued to block any progress on a second recovery bill that has languished for six weeks after coming out of the House means, there`s no -- for me, as an economic policy person, I don`t see a way forward that has Americans feeling more economically confident, no matter what phase we might be in the actual pandemic.

KORNACKI: You know, Rich, we hear the president talking about -- very optimistically about the coronavirus, talking about how we`re winning, in his words, talking about the need to reopen, the need to get back to life.

We mentioned there`s this canceled rally in New Hampshire this weekend. They say it`s the weather. There was Tulsa, where the arena -- there were lots of empty seats in the arena there.

I`m curious. Do you think the president, politically, needs to change his message on the coronavirus, needs to change the way he talks about it?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes, I think it was a mistake right at the beginning for him to minimize it, and it`s a mistake to minimize it now.

And, clearly, Steve, they were counting on us being over the worst. And, actually, it seemed as though we were over the worst. And even a lot of experts says, we`d get a break with seasonality and the warmer weather. That`s turned out to be the opposite of the truth. And we have had more cases than ever.

So, I would expect this race, just natural forces of political gravity tighten in the fall, and for the president to have a puncher`s chance. But he now needs breaks. He needs things to go his right way -- the right way. He needs this current outbreak to recede or certainly not to be -- to drive the kind of fatalities we saw in the Northeast earlier this spring.

And he needs the economy not to be all the way back, but the clear trajectory to be towards a rebound. I think that puts him in contention. And -- but then he`s still going to need Joe Biden to stumble.

KORNACKI: So, that`s the other question there, Phil.

If there isn`t an almost miraculous turnaround in the trajectory of the coronavirus, like you`re suggesting that the president`s talking about that, where it just kind of goes away in the fall, is there any talk of how else to approach this campaign, how to approach this campaign if the reality from here to Election Day is going to be more cases, potentially an uptick in the fall, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of more deaths, as horrible as that sounds?

Is there conversation around the president, maybe conversation including the president, about how to run a political campaign in an atmosphere like that?

RUCKER: Well, certainly, they`re going to have to grapple with whatever`s happening with the virus out in the country.

Talking to Trump`s advisers the last few days, they`re hopeful that they can have some sustained efforts to define Joe Biden in a more negative light. However, they have been trying to do that for many, many months now. And it has not worked, according to virtually all of the public polls we see that show Biden leading Trump.

There are the fall -- I`m sorry -- there are the August conventions about a month from now that both parties are going to have. And that`s obviously an opportunity for both candidates to frame a message heading into the general election in the fall.

But Donald Trump is the president, and he`s going to have to grapple with the crises that come at him. And that`s not something that he and his political team are going to be able to choreograph, necessarily. They`re going to have to be reacting to that. And it may not always work in his favor.

KORNACKI: I am getting some breaking news right here, and I will share it with everybody. I was just handed this.

NBC News has now confirmed that President Trump has called Roger Stone and told him that he will commute his sentence.

Now, Roger Stone had been scheduled to begin serving a prison term next week. He had been seeking to have that delayed until September. But it had been scheduled to begin next week. Stone had been convicted a little over a year ago -- almost a year-and-a-half ago, I should say, on seven counts of obstruction, witness tampering, and making false statements to Congress.

But, again, NBC News now reporting that the president has called Roger Stone and has told him that he will commute that sentence.

I believe we have Betsy -- Betsy Woodruff Swan with us right now, who has been following and covering this extensively.

Betsy, thank you for joining us.

And, again, the news here, I want to be clear, commutation, as opposed to pardon. There`s been a lot of talk that this might be a presidential pardon. This will be a commutation, apparently. What`s the difference between those two?


A pardon totally wipes the slate clean, and it removes a guilty verdict. It would basically make it so that Roger Stone had never been convicted in the first place.

A commutation, meanwhile, either removes or lessens the punishment someone would face for being convicted, but it leaves that guilty conviction still on the person`s record.

In this case, Trump is going to be commuting Roger Stone`s sentence. Now, it`s possible in the future that he could also pardon him, removing that guilty conviction from his record as well. Trump has pardoned multiple people who have already served either time in prison or have paid fines because of crimes they have committed.

The pardon is still something that`s on the table. What Trump is -- what Trump is doing now is basically making it so that Roger Stone will not be spending time in prison. This is something the president had alluded to before. He tweeted suggesting that Roger would not end up spending any time incarcerated.

And it`s something that many of Roger`s close allies have been lobbying the White House about furiously ever since -- ever since Roger Stone, of course, first found himself in the crosshairs of the Justice Department because he was convicted of lying to House -- congressional investigators who were scrutinizing his connection to Russia`s interference with the 2016 election.

Stone was not convicted for anything that happened during the 2016 campaign cycle. And there haven`t been any allegations from the Justice Department that he participated in any coordination with the Russians.

Rather, what he was convicted of was lying to the investigators who were trying to get to the bottom of this story, as well as tampering with someone who those investigators wanted to use as a witness for their own congressional Russia probe.

KORNACKI: And, Betsy, just to understand the process behind this, the thinking that`s going into this from the White House`s perspective, to go with the commutation, rather than a pardon, is your sense that that is because they believe they would like to see Roger Stone have a chance to actually win an appeal, and get these charges taken down altogether?

Or is this more on the political end, where there is a sense that, in an election year, going with a commutation, as opposed to a full pardon, that there might be a political difference there?

WOODRUFF SWAN: My understanding is that the legal process is finished for Stone.

I don`t believe that there`s a whole lot more he would be able to do. What I can tell you is that there was internal debate among senior White House staff regarding whether or not to encourage the president either to give Stone a full pardon, or simply to give him a commutation.

And the people arguing in favor of giving him a commutation argued, well, perhaps this will have a little bit less of a political sting than pardoning him would have.

However, the pro-pardon camp said, it`s not going to matter. Any sort of leniency that we grant to Roger Stone is going to be something of a big political mess. So, we might as well go all the way.

Those were sort of the two schools of thought that existed in the White House. Clearly, at this point, the argument for commutation has won out. It`s possible that there may be legal remedies still available to Roger that I just don`t have at the tip of my tongue.

But, basically, what this means is that the president is granting Stone this leniency. He`s granting him this clemency. And he`s not going to have to worry about going to prison.

KORNACKI: I believe we have Cynthia Alksne, one of our legal contributors, with us as well.

And, Cynthia, maybe I will ask you to pick up that question right there. If this is what`s going to happen here, if Roger Stone is going to have his sentence commuted by the president, does he have any potential legal recourse remaining to get this -- to get the actual conviction removed from his record?

Or is it going to eventually be, he would require a presidential pardon for that to happen?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the question is, does he really care?

I mean, Roger Stone takes such great pride in being a dirty trickster. And I`m not sure he cares about his conviction, the truth of the matter is, as long as he doesn`t have to go to jail. He can continue to appeal and make those attempts.

But this is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Lots of people are arguing, well, maybe, we need to use this as part of an obstruction prosecution against the president. And this is exhibit A, especially given his statements today that he -- the reason why he thinks the president is going to do it is because, basically, he had goods on the president and kept silent.

So, perhaps down the road, there`s a prosecution that`s an obstruction prosecution by a different White House, but -- and Justice Department, but it seems unlikely to me. But that`s obviously possible.

KORNACKI: And, Betsy, very quickly here -- we have got under a minute -- but just the relationship between the president and Roger Stone.

Obviously, this is somebody who has been very close to him for years. Can you just talk a little bit about that?

WOODRUFF SWAN: Stone and President Trump have gone back for decades, knowing each other when they were both something of gadflies in New York City`s small and close-knit Republican circles.

My understanding, I`m not aware of any active connection or communication between the two men since Stone found himself in DOJ`s crosshairs. But he`s clearly someone who the president is deeply aware of, who the president knows quite well...


WOODRUFF SWAN: ... and who the president saw as a valuable adviser.


And just to get this across to folks too, we now have received word from the White House. The White House has put out a statement confirming that the sentence has been commuted.

So, the president, according our reporting, has personally informed Roger Stone of that. And now the White House has put out a statement saying it has been done.

I want to thank Betsy Woodruff Swan, Cynthia Alksne, Philip Rucker, Heather McGhee, Rich Lowry.

Appreciate you all being with us. That is going to do it for us.

But don`t go anywhere. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" is up next.