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Pentagon official TRANSCRIPT: 6/16/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Robert Gates, Jeanne Marrazzo

TOM PEREZ, DNC CHAIRMAN: Always a pleasure.

HAYES: That is "ALL IN" this evening.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Appreciate it.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

This was the front page of "The Tulsa World" newspaper today. You see the main headline there. "Trump in Tulsa."

Now, the president coming to do a big rally event in Tulsa is the main headline. But then look at column one, the other main news of the day in the "Tulsa World." New cases surpassed peak. Tulsa County seven-day rolling average more than doubles the peak that was hit in April.

And you can see the lead of that story there right there above the fold, COVID-19 in Tulsa County is surging well beyond its original April peak. Disappointing those who hoped the disease might stay at least somewhat under wraps during the summer heat like the flu or common cold. Tulsa County seven-day rolling average of cases has now more than doubled the peak that Tulsa hit in April. The county also just reported the most new cases on a single day yet. Again, that`s the front page of the "Tulsa World" in Tulsa, Oklahoma today.

Now, Vice President Mike Pence recently said that the Trump campaign picked Tulsa for the president`s big re-election rally this week specifically because they`ve done such a great job flattening the curve and stopping the virus there. That`s not at all true. The virus is actually off to the races there. And it is the worst it has ever been throughout the duration of the epidemic, both in Oklahoma broadly and in Tulsa specifically. We will have more on that coming up.

But the president announced the Tulsa campaign rally right after he moved the Republican convention out of Charlotte, North Carolina this year. Because he didn`t want to do anything at the Republican convention to mitigate the threat of coronavirus and so North Carolina basically said no thanks then.

Well, in Charlotte, North Carolina, here`s the front page today of their local paper. "Charlotte News Observer", quote, Governor Cooper asked Pence for help with testing. And, again, you can see the lead there above the fold. Governor Roy Cooper says he`s spoken with Vice President Mike Pence about the state`s climbing coronavirus infections and the need for testing. The governor says the state is monitoring hospital capacity as new infections in North Carolina have hit record numbers in the past few days, as have hospitalizations in North Carolina.

On that front page, you can also see the other major headline above the fold, page A1 is about how the state`s nursing homes are unable to contain the coronavirus at this point.

The president has also reportedly decided to do another campaign event in Alabama some time soon. Well, here`s the front page of "The Montgomery Advertiser" today, virus infections rise among Alabama prison staff.

Here`s the lead coronavirus story at Alabama live right now. Hospitals in several Alabama cities now seeing all-time highs in coronavirus patients. Quote: The number of COVID-19 patients and hospitals in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Montgomery and Decatur has hit all-time highs this month, filling beds and taxing staff as the state struggles with a wave of new cases. That`s Alabama.

Here`s the front page at "The Arizona Republic" tonight. Arizona reports record-high new COVID cases. And then here`s their big front page feature story today. Headline: I am taken aback: here`s why Arizona`s COVID-19 trajectory is concerning.

Here`s the lead of that story where you can see they got the quote from that headline. From the perspective of Arizona emergency room physician Dr. Murtaza Akhter, the COVID pandemic here could be even worse than the state`s numbers are showing. Dr. Akhter says, quote, I am taken aback. I walked into the hospital today and I was like, oh, my God.

Dr. Akhter who works at Florence Hospital and Valleywise Health Medical Center in Phoenix says, quote, we are getting all sorts of patients who look quite sick. The paper continues: Trend lines are moving up in Arizona. Total hospitalizations have doubled since April. The number of new daily cases reported by the state have reached record levels.

Dr. Akhter says, quote: It`s very important for the people to know that whatever your politics may be, whatever your family members may be doing, whatever you want to do for fun, there really is a huge pandemic. It is important to distance even if you aren`t sick.

In Arizona`s second largest city in Tucson, as of yesterday morning, the Tucson medical center had just one remaining bed available in its ICU. One ICU left. Tucson Medical Center spokeswoman Julia Strange writing in an email to the "Arizona Republic", quote, we have been very constrained within our ICU because of the recent spike in COVID-19 cases.

"The Republic" then reprints these graphs from the COVID tracking project showing the kind of company that Arizona is in right now. Take a close look at that. What that is, you see the headline there, "Daily Positives," that`s the graph of daily numbers of positive cases in Texas and Arizona and North Carolina and South Carolina. Look at how steeply those numbers are rising.

This also from the COVID tracking project is the graph of hospitalizations in those states. Again, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina. That`s bad.

In Texas, they have just set five consecutive days of record hospitalizations. And this is the front page of "The Texas Tribune" right now. Texas` Republican Governor Greg Abbott assuring Texans that there are plenty of beds, plenty of hospital beds to go around. Never mind the five straight days of ever-increasing record numbers. Fill em up, they can take way more.

So it`s OK if the daily number of new infections keeps hitting new records as well. Let`s just see how high we can go. You see the secondary headline on the front page there, which is a little discordant with that message from the governor. Secondary headline on the front page of "The Texas Tribune" tonight is this: Texas Governor Greg Abbott blames people in their 20s for the latest increase in coronavirus.

That`s kind of a hard sell, right, to pick somebody to blame if you are simultaneously denying that the huge increase in coronavirus transmission and in your state are a problem, right? Because you`ve got plenty of hospital beds to fill up with sick and dying Texans. We can take them all. Make more.

Some Texas cities and communities want to put in place new mitigation measures to try to slow down the spread in Texas. But the governor made clear today he will block any Texas cities and towns and counties from doing that, because, again, his approach is fill em up. There`s lots of room for people to die here, lots of beds to fill up with sick and dying people. We`ve got plenty of room.

The vice president today wrote an op-ed in which he said that the state of the U.S. coronavirus epidemic is, in his words, quote, cause for celebration. Cause for celebration. He said, thanks to the leadership of President Trump, we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.

I just want to put something on the screen here if you`re, like, doing the dishes and not watching what I`m doing, you might want to look at this for a second. Up in the upper left-hand corner, you have these graphs?

That`s Italy, how they have dealt with their epidemic. In the upper right- hand corner there, that`s Spain. That`s how they`ve dealt with their epidemic. In the lower left-hand corner, that`s France. That`s the shape of their epidemic over time.

Now, let`s put us up there. Let`s put the United States up there for comparison sake. Yeah, that`s us. That`s what the U.S. government is calling cause for celebration. Closing in on 117,000 Americans dead and we appear to be doing something you might reasonably call peak plateauing.

I mean, all these other western industrialized countries, all these allies of ours that got hit hard and early like we did, they did actually succeed in bringing their numbers basically back down to their baseline or close to it. But us? No way. We are just plotting along, steady as she goes with the biggest epidemic on earth, the deadliest one already, and we are just holding forth now at 20,000-plus cases a day. More than 20 cases seeing daily increases in their number of cases this week.

"The New York Times" reporting that Vice President Pence told governors on a call yesterday that they should stress in their public remarks that the reason it might look like case numbers are getting worse in lots of states is just because over additional testing. Not because we`ve got any problem with a persistent and even growing epidemic.

That advice from the vice president is not borne out by what`s actually happening with the numbers in the states where case numbers are outpacing the rate of case -- the rate of testing and where the percentage of positive test results is going up in multiple states. Vice President Pence also apparently told the governors that they should play up what a success reopening has been, which sounds like an awesome thing to want to be able to say until you look at the front pages of local newspapers around the country.

I mean, here`s "The Miami Herald" front page today. Miami and Miami Beach mayor sound alarm on COVID-19 increase. Miami is one of the places nationwide that is now considering stopping or rolling back reopening efforts because of exploding case numbers. And record hospitalization numbers.

Miami`s considering that. Nashville`s considering that. Utah, Oregon and counting. We went through all of that national discussion about reopening. Well, we`re now entering into the part of the botched re-openings that`s going to lead to a big national discussion about re-closings.

Unless, of course, you are buying what the White House is selling. Vice President Pence in his op-ed today saying any panic over a so-called second wave is, quote, overblown.

Tonight, we`re going to speak with the top infectious disease doctor at the University of Alabama, which is treating a record number of coronavirus patients as of today, along with many other health facilities in her state. She may actually agree with Vice President Pence on that -- that second wave idea, at least in this one specific sense. Her name is Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, and she announced in a public update for the University of Alabama yesterday.

Quote, it is a real increase in the cases we are finding. People ask about a second wave. I`ve been saying we never stopped having a first wave. She says, quote: I think we now have just widespread sustained community spread. There`s so much infection out there, you could go anywhere and potentially be exposed. It`s been an unfortunate series of days of record setting.

I`ll be speaking with that infectious doctor from the University of Alabama later on this hour. But the White House says it`s all over. The White House says it`s cause for celebration, that we have won, this thing is done, let`s pile 19,000 people into an indoor arena in Tulsa for the largest indoor congregate event in the western hemisphere since the onset of this global pandemic, and we`ll do it in the country that has the worst epidemic on earth in a place that has widespread community transmission with no relief in sight.

I mean, let me just say one other thing about this, about the White House saying there is cause for celebration in the American coronavirus disaster. I mean, it turns your stomach in one direction, to look at, you know, 117,000 Americans dead and say that`s good news, cause for celebration. But there`s something even more disturbing about the White House telling us that there`s cause for celebration when you look at not just where we`ve been but where we are going.

You might have seen yesterday that forecasters at the University of Washington have updated their projection for the course of the U.S. epidemic. This is the data group whose models the White House used to promote and cite all the time at the White House when their model was -- this model from the University of Washington was based on the premise, the expectation that we were going to have a competent response as a country.

So their initial projections, which were modeled internationally on successful things that other competent governments did to contain this thing, their initial projections from the university of Washington looked pretty rosy from the White House`s perspective in terms of how things were going to go out, in terms of how many Americans were going to die.

But those premises, those expectations were wrong. We didn`t respond in a coherent and effective way as a country. Given how we have actually responded as a country, they`ve had to revise their model, they`ve had to revise their projections, and their new forecast from the University of Washington is that over 200,000 Americans will be killed by this thing by the time September is over.

And let me just put that in perspective, right, in terms of the White House saying -- the vice president saying our coronavirus epidemic as of today is cause for celebration. Let me put that in perspective this way. As a country, it took us this long to get from our first case on January 21st to 100,000 dead Americans on May 28th. It took us 129 days for this -- for this thing to kill 100,000 Americans.

This new forecast from the University of Washington is that our next 100,000 dead will take even less time. That it will take 127 days for the coronavirus body count to climb from 100,000 to 200,000 dead Americans. The pace is holding steady, maybe even picking up just a little bit. This is what the White House today calls cause for celebration.

And it`s not like this is a tragedy that is unfolding separate and apart from the federal government, right? The parts of the response for which the government has direct responsibility continue to be the deadliest and worst handled aspects of this American disaster. I mean, "The Wall Street Journal" reporting today that among the 116,000-plus American deaths it now looks like over 50,000 of though deaths can be attributed to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, 50,000 Americans dead in those facilities. It just rocks you to your core.

Well, in terms of responsibility for that, the federal government regular gates nursing homes in this country directly, but the federal government`s response to this problem where 50,000 Americans have been killed already continues -- I mean, it continues to be basically nonexistent. The Trump administration, who heads CMS, who heads the part of the federal government that regulates nursing homes, yesterday did a photo-op event with the president at the White House where she said that American nursing homes by and large have done great.

Yeah, nothing to worry about -- other than 50,000 people dead in those facilities. This comes as ABC News today obtains a recording of a call between FEMA and nursing homes in which a FEMA official starts apologizing for FEMA and the federal government sending American nursing homes expired, broken and inappropriate gear.

FEMA now apologizing to nursing homes for sending them junk they can`t use. This is something we`ve been hearing from nursing homes who have been puzzling through what to do with the fact -- look at her hands. Look at the arms.

Nursing homes have been puzzling through what to do with the fact that they may not, you know, have access to testing, they may not have gotten any help with their staffing needs or infection prevention protocols, but the federal government has found time to send them random crap like these poncho thingies that don`t have holes to stick your arms through. Look at that.

FEMA now apologizing, but that`s what the federal government has done for nursing homes. The federal government, the White House also took it upon itself to issue that executive order mandating that meat processing plants stay open. Even as local health authorities wanted to shut them down. Because meat processing plants all over the country were turning out to be super spreader facilities where thousands of people were getting infected with the virus.

Well, amid lots of chess pounding from the administration and claims from big meat processing companies about how that presidential order to stay open was a necessary move to keep American dinner tables and American grills supplied with adequate supplies of meat, well, today, "The New York Times" reports that actually what the meat companies did during that time when president Trump ordered them all to be open despite what local authorities might want, what American meat companies did during that time is that in April they exported more American pork to China than they had ever exported before. It was a record.

The president intervened to keep these plants open, creating known huge clusters of infection where hundreds and then thousands of people got coronavirus, all so China could receive record U.S. meat exports. And American towns and cities and counties where these plants are where these huge locusts of infection were forced to stay open, they can pay the price in terms of having hundreds and thousands of infections in their communities.

We are a poorly-run country right now. And this is a bad time for it. We are a poorly run country right now.

And among other things, we have the body count to show for it. And that is one thing when we are the deadliest country in the world right now with this incredibly botched response to this epidemic, right? The largest case count in the world, the largest body count in the world, and another 85,000 of us slated to die over the next four months at the same torrential pace that we have been dying over these last four months.

But, you know, it`s one thing to think about that domestically in terms of how poorly run we are right now, how incapable we are of pursuing even our own interests and saving our own lives because of how badly run our government is at a time that we need government.

But we`re not alone in the world. And the world and its threats and challenges are not taking a time-out for this mess. And us being very poorly run right now has consequences for that stuff, too.

I mean, stuff is happening. Stuff is in motion. Today on the disputed border between India and China, in the Himalayan Mountains, a long- simmering dispute erupted between Indian and Chinese soldiers which reportedly resulted in 20 Indian soldiers being killed. This is the deadliest violence on that part of the border since the `70s. And, of course, India and China are both nuclear powers and both pretty ascendant and pretty aggressive right now, eager to show their strength.

How about an international standoff between nuclear-armed India and China? The United States in a good position to delicately handle what needs to happen in terms of that kind of a standoff?

Today, you might have woken up to headlines like this one about North Korea, quote, blowing up a joint liaison office, dramatically raising tensions with South Korea. If you`re like me, seeing that headline, you might not have realized at first that that headline is meant in a literal sense.

This isn`t a proverbial thing. This isn`t North Korea blowing up in some diplomatic furfural (ph) like it`s always having with South Korea. This was literally North Korea blowing the thing up, bombing it, bombing this joint liaison office. It`s a sort of de facto embassy used in the border region between South Korea and North Korea.

North Korea dropped a bomb on it and blew it up today. That will probably resolve well. What could possibly go wrong? The president has incredible faith, though, in the sobriety and wisdom of the North Korean leadership.

At the end of his new book "Exercise of Power," former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has this sort of dark but also sort of hopeful take on how President Trump has talked about leaders like North Korea`s Kim Jong-un since he has been president.

Gates says this, he says, quote: Americans, I think, understand the value of allies and how they are a unique asset for the United States, especially compared to both China and Russia, none of which have any.

He says, quote: I believe most Americans want us for our country to stand for something beyond just our military strength and economic success. A lot of people are uncomfortable, he says, with an American president cozying up to autocratic foreign leaders, full of praise for how wonderful they are, and siding with them on issues while deriding government institutions. We must work with these leaders but we don`t need to say we love them.

That`s from Robert Gates` new book "Exercise of Power".

Russia this week sentenced an American named Paul Whelan to 16 years hard labor for allegedly spying against the Russian government. Whelan proclaims his innocence. He has asked out loud and signs he`s held up during his trial, he`s asked specifically for President Trump to speak out forcefully and clearly to get Russia to release him.

We shall see.

A couple of weeks ago we learned from the Russian government that President Trump had taken a call with President Vladimir Putin. We tend to usually learn these things from the Russian side. That call happened on the day that Vladimir Putin announced he would generously give the Russian people the opportunity to vote on whether or not he should have 16 more years in power as Russia`s leader.

Putin has already been in power for 20 years. Now he`s changing the Russian constitutional framework to let him go for 36 years in power, which is a heck of a presidential term. So, the day that he announces that he`s going to do that, he has a call with President Trump. There`s no record, at least from the White House side, that our president expressed any objections or concerns about that in their call.

What the Kremlin says they discussed in that call is the idea of letting Russia back into the G7. Russia was kicked out of what used to be the G8 for invading a neighboring country and taking over part of it for itself. They`re still in that status so there is no clear reason why they should get the reward of getting back into the G7, but they want it and President Trump did start reiterating publicly that he want it is to happen.

The other G7 countries, including the U.K. and Canada, promptly said they would veto any such thing. And then in fairly quick order, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she wouldn`t interested in coming to the G7 in the U.S. in person this year, the G7 meeting that the U.S. is supposed to host this year was quickly just scuttled altogether.

So, there will be no G7 meeting this year hosted by the United States, not even on Zoom. They`re just not doing it. President Trump wants Russia in there. And Russia`s not going to get in there and there`s not going to be any G7.

I will also just mention that President Trump has unilaterally announced within the last week that he`s taking thousands of U.S. troops out of Germany, another inexplicable gift to Russia which wants that very badly. A gift to Russia that was apparently announced by president Trump without any consultation, not only with Germany or our other allies, but it was apparently announced by President Trump without him consulting anyone in the pentagon or in the U.S. State Department. He just announced he`s going to do it. Thousands of U.S. troops pulled out of Germany.

This comes as the president`s loyalist attorney general has moved to drop charges against Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn for pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with the Russian government about sanctions against them for them interfering in the 2016 election. It comes as the president appears to be publicly promising a pardon or some other kind of intervention to save from prison one of his campaign advisers who was convicted of multiple felonies in conjunction with his efforts to help with the dissemination of the information that Russia stole in that election to try to influence the outcome.

House Democrats announced today they will take whistle-blower testimony text week from a federal prosecutor who quit that case after the attorney general intervened to try to lighten that sentence for the Trump adviser convicted in conjunction with the Russia investigation.

We are not a well-run country right now. In our disastrous and still cratering relationships with our allies, in our submarining of international institutions that we not only helped set up but that we have bolstered for decades because they`re in our own interests as well as in the interest of world peace and stability, in our inexplicable and troubling relationships with our supposed adversaries, in our basic adherence to the things like the appearance of impartial rule of law, which is fundamental to our basic self-worth as a civilization, in our botched, incoherent, fatally mismanagement response to the largest and deadliest public health disaster in a century, we are poorly run. It`s bad.

And of all people, Robert Gates` new book makes the case that actually it`s really bad. That as he says, quote, despite our braggadocio, the overall trend for us in the global arena has been negative. He says, quote, how did our country go so quickly from unique global power to a country that is widely perceived as no longer willing to bear the costs or accept the responsibility of global leadership and is no longer even capable of governing itself effectively?

Yeah, how -- how did we do that so quickly?

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates joins us live, next.



BARACK OBAMA, THEN-U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: At a time when we face unprecedented transition amidst two wars, I`ve asked Secretary Robert Gates to continue as secretary of defense, and I`m pleased that he`s accepted. Two years ago, he took over the Pentagon at a difficult time. He restored accountability. He won the confidence of military commanders and the trust of our brave men and women in uniform as well as their families.

ROBERT GATES, THEN-DEFENSE SECRETARY: I`m deeply honored that the president-elect has asked me to continue as secretary of defense. Mindful that we are engaged in two wars and face other serious challenges at home and around the world, and with a profound sense of personal responsibility to and for our men and women in uniform and their families, I must do my duty as they do theirs. How could I do otherwise?


MADDOW: That is tape from our country, from our nation`s capital, from not that long ago, just over a decade ago, but in our current times, doesn`t that feel like that`s being broadcast from a different planet, right?

December 2008, President-elect Barack Obama, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, the actively serving defense secretary under outgoing Republican President George W. Bush being tapped to stay in the job.

It was the first time in American history that a new president had kept on the defense secretary from a predecessor of a different party.

Robert Gates has had more than 50 years as a public servant in this country in the national security field. He served eight presidents during his career, including secretary of defense to two. He served under four different presidents in National Security Council roles. He was director of the CIA.

Public servants like that who spend a career developing expertise and how the government works, who think of themselves as serving the office of the presidency as much as person who happens to be holding it, those kind of people are completely absent from the upper levels of the current administration. Some have tried to work for this president. It hasn`t worked well for them.

So when you pick up Robert Gates` new book which is called "Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes and a New Path Forward in a Post-Cold War World", about his time serving all those presidents and what he has learned about the nature of American power, it can feel a little bit like Robert Gates is beaming in not just from another time but from another planet, and I mean that in the best possible way because our planet right now is troubled.

Joining us now for the interview, I`m honored to say, is former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. His new book as I mentioned is called "Exercise of Power."

Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for taking time to be here tonight. It`s an honor to have you.

GATES: Thanks for inviting me, Rachel.

MADDOW: You have a -- you sort of mock yourself a little bit in the book for being a glass half empty kind of guy, for being a doom and -- a doom and gloom sayer. But the book, as constructive as it is, does take a pretty dark role of America`s situation in the world. You essentially say that for 25 years, things have not been going our way and that there are serious signs of decline in terms of our influence in the world.

What do you think are the most important ones?

GATES: I think two things have happened that are major in terms of the way the rest of the world perceives us. The first was our economic crisis in 2008/2009, which led the rest of the world to wonder whether our economic model actually worked and whether American capitalism was the path to follow.

And then what we`ve seen over the past number of years, which is the complete paralysis of our political system, our inability to address any of the major problems facing our country, whether it`s infrastructure or immigration or race or a host of other issues. And so, you have the perception that both the economic and the political model are not working very well. And the rest of the world has noticed this, and, frankly, our adversaries, our rivals, in particular China, are taking advantage of that.

I would say that another piece of it obviously is the fact that the country has been at war for nearly 20 years. And -- and it has exhausted the patience of the American people with an international leadership role because it`s been conflated with being the world policeman.

So if we are going to try and be the -- and must be -- have a leadership role internationally, it has to be in a different framework.

MADDOW: One of the hallmarks of your time as secretary of defense was how outspoken you were about the -- I don`t want to say overuse of the U.S. military, but essentially starting to look at the use of military force as a first resort rather than a last resort. And you were very outspoken in your time as defense secretary and also in the book about the need to build up and resource and use other forms of American power. That the use of force should always be last and we should sharpen and build all of our other ways that we can preserve our influence.

I`ve always thought that was a very interesting role that you played as sort of a public intellectual and practitioner on that, and I`m curious because of that what you think about this strange new wrinkle that we`ve just had in terms of the use of the American military, where the president has talked about using active-duty U.S. troops in American streets.

I know you`ve been critical of what happened in Lafayette Square, but I wonder if you can talk about why that`s -- why that`s problematic, why it troubles you, why you see that would be -- why you think that would be a mistake?

GATES: Well, first of all, I think it`s important to understand the difference between the National Guard and the regular Army. Regular Army, the 82nd Airborne, the 10th Mountain Division, these troops are trained primarily to do one thing, and that is to kill our enemies, I mean, just to state it at bluntly as it needs to be stated.

The National Guard, on the other hand, are people from the community. You saw some of the interviews of D.C. guardsmen expressing their concerns about what had happened with the use of their units in the -- at Lafayette Square and so on. But those National Guard troops take off those uniforms the next day and go to work in those towns, in those cities where they -- where they come from, and they`re trained in crowd control and they`re -- and they have great relationships often with law enforcement.

And so, I think one of the reasons you saw the strong reaction of many of the former military leaders was -- was the notion of using the Insurrection Act which allows the president to use regular military forces domestically, was -- it involved the use of the regular army in -- in domestic affairs and it -- and it compromised -- it had the danger of compromising the apolitical nature of our armed forces.

You know, our armed forces, Rachel, are about the only institution left in the United States that have the respect of nearly all Americans. And our current and former leaders very concerned about compromising that. And so, that`s why I think you got the strong reaction that you did from people like Admiral Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, another former chairman and so on.

MADDOW: One of the things that you write about eloquently in the book is the utility, the short term and long-term utility of having good communication skills as a country, about being able to tell our own story, about being able to sort of participate in ideological combat, trying to win the argument around the world, particularly against rising authoritarianism. And you write with some regret about how some of those skills, some of the ways we do that as a country have been defunded and weakened over time.

Because of that, I wanted to ask you about this recent controversy, very recent controversy involving Voice of America. Voice of America is an interesting part of the U.S. sort of quiver in -- in that regard. They are independently -- editorially independent, but they`re obviously part of the U.S. government.

We`ve had a president install someone who is perceived as a real ideological loyalist there. And we`ve just had the director and the assistant director resign suddenly and they`re apparently not being replaced, at least not yet.

Are you worried about VOA? Are you worried about those types of capacities of the U.S. government during the Trump presidency?

GATES: I`m worried that our entire strategic communications capability has been dramatically weakened since the end of the Cold War. You know, in the late 1990s because of budgetary and other reasons, the U.S. Congress eliminated the United States Information Agency. This was an agency under Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower, under leaders like Edward R. Murrow and Charlie Wick in the Reagan administration had enormous influence and enormous reach around the world. And one of the reasons that VOA was so important was that people around the world, in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union when they could get VOA believed it gave them an honest, objective view of what was going on in the world.

The VOA also would record what was going on in the United States. And the truth is most presidents really got annoyed by what VOA said about what was going on in the United States because it was often very revealing about -- and very honest about problems we had here internally.

But it had a great deal of credibility around the world. And there were other radios and originally operated by C.I. like raid Radio Free Liberty - - Radio for Europe, Radio Liberty and others. All of those have basically been dismantled.

And so, when you have a country like China that has a global communication strategy and they`ve invested billions and billions of dollars in it, in acquiring networks and broadcasting to every country in the world and -- and owning networks in various countries and so on, we don`t have anything comparable to that today. And in this rivalry we`re going to have -- we have with China going forward, we`re going to need these kinds of tools, because if we`re lucky and we`re smart, we can avoid a military conflict with China, but that means that the -- that the rivalry will take place using the nonmilitary instruments of power, and strategic communications is one of the most important.

The Chinese have enormous assets in taking this on. We`re very limited at this point. And that`s why these controversies but also the lack of funding and, frankly, the lack of imagination and aggressiveness in using our strategic communications capabilities is so bothersome to me.

I mean, why haven`t we been more aggressive in telling the Iranian people about the corruption of their leadership? Why haven`t we -- why haven`t we told the Russians -- you know, the Russians interfere with our politics all the time and try to divide us? And so, why aren`t we going into the Russians, getting past their firewalls and talking about the corruption of Putin and his henchmen?

We just don`t do that kind of thing. And, frankly, it`s going to be very necessary going forward in the world. And we`re at a disadvantage because we`ve -- we`ve basically eliminated or reduced dramatically the funding for almost all these nonmilitary instruments of power. That`s really what the book is about.

MADDOW: And you speak from the -- it is what the book`s about and you speak about it from an incredibly authoritative position having been secretary of defense to two different presidents, talking about the erosion of nonmilitary forms of power. It`s just a unique and really public spirited perspective that I`m grateful to hear more about.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, thank you so much for taking time to be here.

Again, the book is called "Exercise of Power: American Failures, Successes, and a New Path Forward in the Post-Cold War World".

Good luck with it, sir. Thanks again for being here. Come back any time.

GATES: Thank you very much.

MADDOW: All right. Much more to get to tonight. Stay with us.


MADDOW: A little breaking news for you from Montgomery, Alabama.

I`m just going to read to you directly from this story in "The Montgomery Advertiser" that was just posted. The headline: Montgomery City Council votes down mask ordinance sends doctors out in disgust.

Jackson Hospital, which is in Montgomery, Alabama, Jackson Hospital pulmonologist William Saliski cleared his throat as he started describing the dire situation created by the coronavirus pandemic in Montgomery to its city council before they voted tonight on a mandatory mask ordnance. He said, quote, it`s been a long day. I apologize. He said, quote: The units are full with critically ill COVID patients. About 90 percent of them are black.

He said: Hospitals are able to manage for now but it is not sustainable. He said, quote, this mask slows that down, 95 percent protection from something as easy as cloth. If this continues the way it`s going, we will be overrun.

More doctors followed him to the microphone describing the dead being carried out within 30 minutes of each other, and doctors being disturbed when people on the street asked them if the media is lying about the pandemic as part of a political ploy.

After they spoke and before the council voted on a proposal to mandate mask-wearing in public in Montgomery, one Councilman Brantley Lyons questioned whether mask wearing and six-foot distancing really helps. They do, the doctors replied. Lyons was unmoved.

From the crowd, doctors called for him to visit the hospital sometime. Instead, the council killed the ordinance after it failed to pass in a 4-4 tie, mostly along racial lines.

A trio of doctors who had waited hours to speak got up and left the chamber in disgust. Unbelievable, Dr. Saliski said. William Boyd, one of the several people who spoke in favorable of the ordinance, said he has lost six family members to COVID-19. Boyd said before the vote, quote, the question on the table is whether black lives matter.

That`s just happened tonight in Montgomery, Alabama.

We`ve got more ahead. Stay with us.



DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: I think that we now just have widespread sustained community spread. There`s so much infection out there, you could go anywhere and be potentially exposed. People asked about a second wave here and I`ve been saying, we never stopped having a first wave.


MADDOW: That is Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, who is the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama, at Birmingham, the hospital there set a record this week for coronavirus cases, which is part of what appears to be a wide surge in Alabama now.

Dr. Marrazzo joins us live now from Alabama.

Doctor, I really appreciate you taking the time. Thanks for being here.

MARRAZZO: Happy to be here, Rachel. Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: When you talk about widespread, sustained community spread, what should we understand from that? What I take from that is that the rise we`re seeing in Alabama case numbers shouldn`t be seen as an artifact of increased testing or something, that there is a real rise, and that it can`t be assigned to any -- any one specific problem.

MARRAZZO: Yeah, exactly. A lot of times people make the case that the increased effort to test people is what`s explaining the increased rate of detection. That can be true and almost certainly contributing. But there are a couple of other metrics that`s really important to follow.

And one of the things I talked about yesterday that we`re looking very carefully at is the average positivity over the course of the last week or the last two weeks. If you look at the average percent positive tests in the state of Alabama over the last two weeks, it`s been about 8 percent. You can contrast that to some place that is well past the peak of their epidemic like Seattle, where it`s now below 2 percent.

In the last seven days, that percent prevalence or that percent positive rate is now up to 14.5 percent. So, yes, we`re testing more, but we`re also detecting more.

The other thing that`s important to know is that for the last week, pretty much every county in the state has reported new cases every day, which tells you something about how diffuse the infection is in the community. Very much so.

MADDOW: How are Alabama hospitals doing in the face of this? I know that it`s not uniformly happening the same in every corner of the state and Alabama is a big place. But you spoke with the Montgomery mayor who raised the alarm about hospital capacity in his state. I know that your facility and UAB having its own strains right now.

How do you think hospitals in the state are coping?

MARRAZZO: I think the hospitals in Montgomery are really being challenged right now. Their ICUs are considerably smaller than the ICUs we have here at UAB. They`re being very much maxed out. Their ventilators are being maxed out, even -- equally important, their staff.

So, I think people aren`t paying attention to the much that health care workforce is not an exhaustive supply. People can ship ventilators in, you can try to ship people, in, but the people who are working really, really hard to care for these patients are facing serious exhaustion, no to mention the psychological stress of seeing patients die, and having to deal with all the concerns about getting infected.

Here in Birmingham, we`re actually doing fine. We`ve actually had a very steady census of people with COVID-19 between 40 and 65 since March. It feels like Groundhog Day here. You get up and you see the same thing.

I couldn`t be surprised if we see an increase if this trend continues and we start to see people being transferred from other parts of the state where they can`t be adequately cared for this in those hospitals that we`re talking about.

MADDOW: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, we`ve been watching Alabama as closely as we can from here. We want to stay on the story.

Please come back. We would like to be apprised about how things go. Good luck to you and your staff.

MARRAZZO: Thanks very much.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: One last bit of breaking news before we go. "Politico" has reported that senior pentagon official Elaine McCusker is resigning from the department. You see the headline there, Pentagon official who questioned Ukraine aid freeze resigns.

McCusker is a career civil servant. She saw her nomination for a Senate- confirmed position at the Pentagon withdrawn by the White House in March after emails she sent related to the Ukraine fiasco, emails she sent questioning the legality of holding up military aid to Ukraine became public as part of President Trump`s impeachment trial. You might remember she sent the e-mail that said to the Trump White House official, quote, you can`t be serious, I am speechless.

That scuttled her nomination for a higher ranking job. Now, tonight, she has resigned. Her resignation is effective ten days from now. We don`t know what is behind this, but we will try to figure it out.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.

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