Easter weekend TRANSCRIPT: 4/10/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Laurie Garrett, Zach Armstrong, John Hickenlooper, Betsey Stevenson, Jared Bernstein, Michael Stelmaszek

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Behold the Edgewood Congregational Church in Cranston, Rhode Island, "Services cancelled. God is making house calls." This is from Athens, Tennessee. "Folks, it`s okay if the church is empty on Easter, the tomb was empty, too." Not a bad point.

And this is the Journey of the Faith Church in Windsor Mill, Maryland. "Jesus rode an ass into Jerusalem. Keep yours at home." Truer words. Happy Easter everyone. It`s still Easter with everything else. Stay inside. That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday. Now, it`s time for "The Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. You have a safe weekend and I`ll see you on Monday.

And tonight, the stark difference between how some red and blue states are handling the coronavirus pandemic and why some states are far more successful at flattening the curve.

Plus, listen to this quote. Trump is treating life-saving medical equipment as emoluments he can dole our as favors to loyalists. That`s from a scathing editorial in the "Denver Post" accusing the president of playing politics amid a national health crisis.

We`ll talk with former Colorado governor and current senate candidate John Hickenlooper about the controversy that could hurt his state`s ability to keep its residents alive.

And at the end of tonight`s show, this is an extremely difficult time but the social distancing measures that we`re following are working. An important message about sacrifices that we`re making in tonight`s "Last Word."

But we begin tonight with the numbers. The number of deaths linked to the coronavirus worldwide has now passed 100,000. As of tonight, there are now nearly 1.7 million reported cases of coronavirus around the globe.

Here in the United States, we`re coming up on the half a million mark for known infections at 18,638 reported deaths from coronavirus in the United States.

In New York, where I am, the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, hundreds of new deaths are still being reported daily and now, there are sobering new images that show the depths of the tragedy that New York City is facing.

Trenches are being dug on Hart Island in the Bronx. Now, these trenches are being used as mass grave sites to alleviate overwhelmed morgues around the city. It`s unclear if these burials include those who have died from coronavirus or if they are people who have passed away before the pandemic and are being moved to create space for the newly dead.

Despite this horrific development there is cause for some hope in New York State, however trepidatious we might be to use the word hope at this time.

Today, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that for the first time, the number of coronavirus patients being treated in intensive care units across the state fell by 17 people from the day before. Now that might seem like a small number, 17.

But just a week ago, the number of ICU patients was growing by more than 300 a day. It`s a remarkable achievement in a short period of time and it`s an indication that the social distancing guidelines that most states have put in place are working.

But just when the social distancing guidelines seem to be working in certain areas of the country, the president of the United States is pushing to end those guidelines and re-open the country despite pleas from medical professionals to stay the course.

This weekend, Easter Sunday will mark the deadline that the president had originally wanted to re-open schools, businesses and public places. Trump has now pushed that deadline back to May 1st, but health officials and his own government agencies are warning that ending these orders too soon could spell disaster.

"The New York Times" reports new federal projections show a spike in infections if shelter in place orders are lifted at 30 days. "If the administration lifts the 30-day stay-at-home orders, the death toll is estimated to reach 200,000 even if schools remain closed until summer, 25 percent of the country continues to work from home and some social distancing continues."

Here is what President Trump said today about his plan for when the country will re-open.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to get it open as soon as we can. We have to get our country open, Jeff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say, sir, what metrics you will use to make the decision?

TRUMP: The metrics right here. That`s my metrics. That`s all I can do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now we try not to play a lot of recording from the president on this show, but we needed to highlight the preposterousness of that sentiment. For starters, the president has little power to re-open anything. The White House cannot unilaterally re-open the country.

Though the CDC issues federal guidance, it`s state officials who put the force of law behind those suggestions. More over, the president can use actual metric not just the ones in his head when pushing for the country to open back up. Metrics like the ones Governor Andrew Cuomo has laid out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The key to re-opening is going to be testing. I`ve said that from day one. It`s not going to be a light switch where you flip this economy like you flip a light switch. And it`s going to be reliant on testing -- testing of antibodies, testing for diagnostic results, and testing on a scale that we have not done before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now, President Trump claimed today that he would listen to his advisors if they said it was necessary for the country to remain closed beyond May 1st, but it`s hard to take the president seriously on that point when he`s saying demonstrably untrue things about the effectiveness of stay-at-home orders like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You know what? Staying at home leads to death, also. And it`s very traumatic for this country. But staying at home, if you look at numbers, that leads to a different kind of death perhaps but it leads to death, also.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: So let`s make this point clear. We should be listening to the medical experts and the government officials who are listening to the medical experts. If the president wants to start taking this seriously and listen to the professionals around him, that`s great.

But until then, we shouldn`t take his words at face value and we should acknowledge the potential danger that his words pose. Now, fortunately, there are some voices in the federal government to whom we can listen, whom we can trust like Dr. Anthony Fauci who would become the scientific voice of reason during the White House press briefings.

Dr. Fauci has repeatedly urged Americans that now is not the time to stop the social distancing and for now, it seems that the state officials in charge for the most part agree with him. Dr. Fauci did provide a little light at the end of the tunnel moment for us today when he said this to Brian Williams.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I would hope that by November we would have things under such control that we can have a real degree of normality. That`s my interest and my job as a public health person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: As much as the president complains about social distancing and stay-at-home orders, it is important to remember that we are not just following these guidelines for our own health, but for the health of others.

Like Jessica Vlaming, a physician`s assistant at Ruth University Medical Center in Chicago. Jessica is on the front lines fighting coronavirus every day and she recorded this video diary about the importance of remaining at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA VLAMING, PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT, RUTH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: We know that social distancing is starting to have an effect and it is starting to work. We look at the doubling time of new cases and the deaths and this doubling time is increasing, which is good, but that is a reflection of the past one to three weeks of how we`ve been acting as a community.

So, please don`t let this progress set you back and give you a false sense of security because we need social distancing and isolation to continue and it takes everyone to participate and everyone to do their part otherwise it does not work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Leading off our discussion tonight, Dr. Irwin Redlener. He is the director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness in Columbia University. He is an MSNBC public health analyst, and Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter covering global pandemics. She`s a former senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and both of these two are people to whom we have been turning for the last few months to get a good understanding of what is going on.

Irwin, let me just start with you. Where are we in this process? It looks like the stay at home is working, but every opportunity the president gets, he looks ready to turn those things around. So, where do you think we are?

IRWIN REDLENER, MSNBC PUBLIC HEALTH ANALYST: Well, where we are is I think it`s -- it was actually good, of course, to see the data that Cuomo and others presented that looks like things may be leveling off, but really it`s only been a few days.

We have no idea of how long it`s going to take the system to really show results that we are actually, you know, turning around the curve and we`re slowing down and we`re having less deaths and less ICU admissions, et cetera.

That may be, but I`ll tell you something, the president needs to be very, very careful, Ali, about over promising the American public about whenever it is that we`re going to decide to reverse some of the restrictions, which we all want to do. Everybody wants to get back to work and back to their routine.

But if you over promise and then we see a second surge and a second wave, which I think is almost inevitable at this point, not only are people going to lose even more confidence than they`ve already lost than the president, but it also represent a danger of people feeling like they can suddenly be not worried about that contracting this virus, which is still going to be around.

I mean, that`s one of the reasons that we`re going to see resurgence. And if we get a resurgence after being, in a sense, promised by the president that everything is fine, we can go back to business as usual even we go there gradually, that`s going to have an economic repercussion as well that I shudder to think of what`s that going to do to our sense of confidence in the economy.

So, the president really needs to be very, very careful and I`m very worried about, you know, what`s in here as these criteria for beginning to loosen the restrictions. We are going to need data and we`re going to need a lot of it and that data is going to come from a lot of testing and it`s going to come from a renewed interest in tracing contacts of people that may have been affected.

So, a lot of work to be done. Hopefully, it will happen quickly, but we have a lot of work to do before we can say now is the time to start letting people go into society again.

VELSHI: And Laurie, you know, you and I have been talking about this for a while with Irwin, with other public health experts, all of whom, I mean, there are certainly variations amongst experts on what, you know, re- entering or re-opening America looks like. But that`s not really the nuance that is reflected in what the president has to say.

It seems that there is a real fight in the White House amongst those who think that the economic damage that is -- gets done by continuing to stay at home is politically very dangerous for the president and he doesn`t want to head toward a November election with people still sitting at home.

LAURIE GARRETT, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING REPORTER: We definitely have that tension between ongoing balancing money versus jobs, versus stopping this epidemic. I think we fortunately don`t have to make it up out of whole cloth. We can look and see what other countries that are ahead of us on the curve of this epidemic have done.

And we can see that in China they`ve issued two kinds of tests. Every single person has to get two different tests in order to get a card on their or an app on their phone that signals that they`re certified okay and they can travel and leave Wuhan.

One of them is an antibody test and one of them is a PCR test. So, one is measuring the presence or absence of virus and the other is measuring whether or not the person ever was infected. No, we don`t have either of those tests, routinely available right now.

And it`s inconceivable that we could in the next 20 days have 360 million antibody tests and 360 million PCR virus tests and the capacity and a system set up such as the scale of what`s going on right now in China so that we can test everybody and say you, you can go back to school. You, you can go back to work. You, you need to go into quarantine.

We don`t have that. So in 20 days, you know, we`re going to suddenly tell everybody go back to work? Go back to the streets? The other thing is that I`m sure Irwin would back me up on this 100 percent. The weather is going to get better and better every single day going forward now.

And everybody, you know, cabin fever is tolerable when you look outside the window and it`s gross out there and it`s cold and it`s yucky. But the tulips are coming up. The forsythia is blooming. And it`s going to get harder and harder and harder to get people to stay inside as they look out the window and it`s gorgeous.

And it`s, you know, if we don`t have a 100 percent commitment coming down from government, clear message, there is going to be people scattering out to see the flowers, to take a roam, have a quick walk.

VELSHI: Yes. I`m going to grow a full a head of hair before we get a free - - before we get a clear message from the government, I think. Irwin, let`s just talk about this. At some point, we`ll have a vaccine and that will be terrific.

REDELENER: Yes.

VELSHI: But the fact is, at this point, it does not look practical that we`re able to test everybody for coronavirus. We have some people who are presumed to have it and if they isolate themselves or are treated for it, many of them, most of them get better -- unfortunately some die.

Now, at some point we`ve got these tests that Laurie is talking about. Is it practical that at some point we are able to test 100 percent of the population for either the PCR or the antibodies to be able to determine who is safe to go back to work, and if we had all those met metrics, could we then actually have a serious discussion about how we get back to work in America?

REDLENER: Well, we certainly would be a hell of a lot closer to being able to make that determination. I completely agree with Laurie that we`re so far behind in terms of both kinds of testing and we will need both kinds of testing.

I`m sorry to say to that, those tests that may be negative, you know, today, may not be negative in a week or two. We`re going to have to figure out systems for tracking people with symptoms, retesting them, if necessary.

There`s not going to be any single passport that`s going to say I`m completely fine going forward forever. That`s just not going to be happening. And, you know, for people that are in charge of workplaces or schools, they`re going to need a lot of guidance and direction and protocols for how we`re going to manage a return that is going to happen eventually. But thinking about this in the next 30 or even 60 days in my mind is not likely going to happen at all.

VELSHI: Thank you to both of you, Dr. Irwin Redlener and Laurie Garrett. Thanks for joining us. Coming up, thanks to the video diaries from the E.R. and interviews with doctors and nurses. We`ve got a clearer picture of what our health care heroes are facing at work, but we don`t always see the enormous sacrifices that they are making at home.

Coming up next, we`re going to talk to an E.R. doctor in Kentucky who is taking extraordinary steps to keep his family safe as he exposes himself to the virus every single day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Now, a glimmer of good news from Kentucky where the state`s patient zero has made a full recovery, but as NBC`s Miguel Almaguer reports, it was not an easy road.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the state of Kentucky, Julia Donohue was the first known coronavirus patient.

JULIA DONOHUE, FORMER CORONAVIRUS PATIENT: I`d be gasping for air and it felt like I was suffocating.

ALMAGUER (voice-over): Donohue spent nine days on a ventilator and almost didn`t make it to her 28th birthday.

DONOHUE: Nobody is safe from the virus. You don`t know how it`s going to affect you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Kentucky started social distancing on March 7th. Today, Kentucky Democratic Governor Andy Beshear announced a new order heading into the Easter weekend. If a person goes to a mass gathering this weekend, that person`s license plate will be recorded and the information will be given to local health departments.

Local health officials will then go to that person`s door with a 14-day self-quarantine notice. Joining me now is Dr. Zach Armstrong, he`s an emergency room doctor at the University of Louisville Jewish hospital.

Dr. Armstrong, thank you for being with us. You are -- let`s first talk about you. You`re going in dealing with the emergency patients every day. How is that going?

ZACH ARMSTRONG, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Thankfully, in Kentucky it`s going rather well. Beshear has put a lot of things in place that have kept our cases and our case load lower so far in Kentucky and we have not seen the number that a lot of other places have seen so far.

So, I think we are best case scenario at the moment and I don`t know if there is a best case everywhere, but I think I`m thankful for what we have at the moment.

VELSHI: Talk to me about what you`re doing. You have you have a family and you are, in theory, exposed to people with coronavirus every day. How are you living? How are you dealing with that?

ARMSTRONG: Well, for us, you know, the decision was kind of difficult. I`m currently in a trailer on the street outside of our house. I`m going to be exposed to coronavirus every time I go to work. That`s a given. I can do what I can to protect myself and thankfully I`m in a health care system that`s doing very well managing PPE and taking care of its employees and physicians.

And so I don`t worry about that so much, but it`s not -- the risk isn`t zero and, you know, people are dying from this of all ages and it was just a much more -- better option for us for me to kind of eliminate myself as a variable for my family.

If I`m not there, they don`t really have on exposure and hopefully they can ride it out safely and I hope it`s that way, too, but, you know, at least if I can take that variable away from them, then I`m happy to do that.

VELSHI: I want to just sort of compare Kentucky to Tennessee. There are 36 cases of coronavirus per thousand people in Kentucky. There are 72 cases per thousand people in Tennessee.

The number of deaths is about the same at this point but according to a "Buzzfeed" article, "The peak in Kentucky is now projected to be at mid- May, roughly a month after Tennessee`s and that`s a sign that the state took more effective measures to flatten the curve and spread out serious hospitalizations."

The title on that article, "The National Coronavirus Experiment is Playing Out in Kentucky and Tennessee." The implication is that Kentucky from a policy -- from a public health policy standpoint is being more effective. Do you share that view?

ARMSTRONG: I think it has -- I think the measures put in place by our state government have been effective. I really, you know, I`m not -- I don`t have access to all the numbers. It`s not what I do. I`m working more on a patient to patient basis.

But at least in what I`m seeing day to day in the emergency department, I think it`s been effective. We`re having cases, everywhere is, but we haven`t seen a huge influx in what we have at the moment. Hopefully it stays that way.

Hopefully it`s a much more gradual appearance of these cases because that does make it easier to manage and allows our hospital system to kind of absorb that and have the resources necessary to take care of those patients.

You know, it`s that big surge that we all fear, you know, that storm that`s coming. And from at least in my experience, I think Kentucky has done a very good job of trying to minimize that. So, that`s firsthand from what I`m seeing.

VELSHI: Well, from the projections, the storm is still coming. You look like you`re about a month away from it. We wish you well. Must be difficult for you to maintain that separation from your family when you really -- I think at the end of the day, just want to see them and hug them.

But thank you for all you`re doing. You represent a group of people who are keeping us all safe and healthy across this country. Dr. Zach Armstrong is an emergency room doctor at the University of Louisville Jewish hospital.

Coming up, Donald Trump is playing political games with lives. Those are the words of the editorial board at the "Denver Post" after the Trump administration stepped in to take an order of 500 ventilators that the state of Colorado had ordered from a private company.

Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper who is now a Democratic Senate candidate -- John Hickenlooper -- will join us next on that.

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VELSHI: Now to a state that`s been called an emerging hotspot, Colorado. The NBC station in Denver reported the story of Dr. Anna Zimmerman, a neonatologist whose job is treating young children. And then her four-year- old son contracted coronavirus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Sneezing turned into a fever. Fever became trouble breathing. Lincoln spent seven days at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children. The same hospital where his mom works and where his mom says he tested positive for COVID-19.

ANNA ZIMMERMANN, NEONATOLOGIST: And so I went from I`m a mom, I`m a pediatrician, I`m not worried about my son at all to, oh my gosh, he is getting worse every hour and I`m watching him get worse every hour and how far down the line are we going to go, and being really, really scared.

VELSHI: OK. Rashad Lincoln (ph) back at home now. He`s recovered. But this is a reminder that the virus doesn`t discriminate by age. Tonight, Colorado has 6,510 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and officials predict that the virus is not going to peak in the state until May.

In an effort to prepare for those projections, Colorado`s Democratic Governor Jared Polis wanted more ventilators in his state. And because Donald Trump has told the states to essentially fend for themselves, the Governor Polis arranged to purchase 500 ventilators from a private company. Then the Trump administration blocked the order. FEMA took the ventilators for itself. Governor Polis described the infuriating situation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JARED POLIS (D-CO): Either be in or out, folks. That`s kind of my message. Either you`re buying them and you`re providing to the states and you`re letting us know what we`re going to get them and when we`re going to get them or stay out and let us buy them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: On Wednesday, President Trump announced the federal government would be sending 100 ventilators to Colorado at the request of Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who is a vulnerable incumbent who`s up for reelection in November.

Now, Colorado is still 400 ventilators short of the original order. "The Denver Post"" made the ventilator debacle the subject of a scathing editorial, writing, quote, "President Donald Trump is treating life-saving medical equipment as emoluments that he can dole out as favors to loyalists. It`s the worst imaginable form of corruption, playing political games with lives. For the good of this nation during what should be a time of unity, he must stop. We find it hard to believe decisions are being made on such a morally bankrupt basis, but Trump is doing this nation no favors by giving us the impression that politics will drive his administration`s response to a virus that has already killed thousands of Americans and will kill thousands more."

Joining us now, the Former Democratic Governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper. He was a presidential candidate, and he is running for the U.S. Senate against Cory Gardner.

Governor, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us. This story is kind of hard to believe because it was hard to believe for most Americans when they would listen to those press briefings with the President who said basically everybody is in it for themselves, Jared Kushner said we have a stockpile and the states have to deal with their own stuff. So Colorado took the President at face value and ordered its own ventilators.

FMR. GOV. JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D) COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE: Yes. Well, it`s hard to imagine that this is the reality that we face. And I give Governor Polis a lot of credit. And obviously, Colorado is grateful for the 100 ventilators we got, but what is the process by which you get measured?

When I was Governor, we had - the federal government was careful and made sure that that population and infection rates and overall need would be the criteria by which necessary supplies that you don`t have enough of, that`s how they would be circulated and distributed. That`s obviously not happening if you`re using them as political favors.

VELSHI: Governor, talk to me about how you think this went down. Because Governor Polis orders these through a private company, FEMA then takes the order for itself, and then apparently, Cory Gardner has made a request for some, and the President now, as a courtesy to Cory Gardner, lets this go.

That`s the thing that`s got "The Denver Post" hot under the collar. The editorial went out of its way to not be broadly critical of the Trump administration`s handling of this, but highly specifically, of what they are calling an emolument, a favor, to Senator Cory Gardner.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, they were outraged, and they weren`t the only ones. I mean, I probably had more people talk to me in the last 24 hours about this one issue than anything I`ve heard certainly in this entire crisis. I mean, the very fact that people`s lives are at stake where doctors - you just saw a doctor having to worry about her own child - and people are uncertain if we`ll have enough ventilators. We know we don`t have enough face masks. Where is all the PPE that people have every right to expect?

We`re not - as government, we are not delivering, and I think at the end it`s reflecting very well upon governors - Governor Polis, Governor Inslee in Washington, Governor Cuomo in New York. All these governors are stepping up and making the hard decisions, going out into open markets and trying not to compete with each other.

Governor Newsom is trying to create a consortium. I mean, that`s what the federal government (inaudible) - organize this in a systematic way so it`s distributed fairly, the ventilators are distributed, the face masks, all this infrastructure necessary for a medical response, make sure it`s fair to every state.

VELSHI: I want to ask you about what "The Denver Post" continued reporting on. "Colorado has successfully pushed back its expected peak in coronavirus cases until at least next month, an important shift to give health officials and hospitals more time to prepare for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients, a top state public health official said." This is outside of the editorial. This is separate reporting.

Tell me what the situation is in the state because you do have a lot of cases.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, we do have a lot of cases. And again, I think Governor Polis took early action. Mayor Hancock in Denver also took strong early action. And that kind of leadership taking this seriously right from the beginning is what Colorado needed and I think it`s what the country needs. I think we are clearly flattening the peak, and we`re going to have - because of that, we`re not going to have as much pressure at one time on our hospitals.

I mean, that`s - that`s the worst nightmare if you talk to any doctor or the executives of any hospital that they end up with people in critical condition and no place to put them, no intensive care units with enough beds to service everyone who`s needed, and then you have to decide who gets care and who doesn`t - the worst situation for any medical professional.

VELSHI: What do you think of the federal government`s response with respect to Colorado? The Governor has taken swift action in Colorado, and that does seem to be helping. But Colorado is a test case for what the President said, that states should handle their own matters when it comes to stockpiles and emergency management. That`s not the understanding that most American citizens had about the way things go, but we`re learning that that`s what the President thinks should happen. This is an instance where that hasn`t worked exactly.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, this is not the first time that the President has said one thing and then 24 hours or 48 hours later has completely reversed himself, which in a time of crisis is one of the worst things you can do because people need to - they have to have confidence and trust in their leadership, they have to know what they`re hearing is fact-based and they can rely on it.

I don`t want to keep litigating this issue about the ventilators. We are grateful we`ve got the 100 ventilators. I know Governor Polis will do everything possible to make sure we get the ventilators we need in time to - so that they can be useful.

But we also should be looking at why we still don`t have testing capacity. I mean, at some point, we`re going to want to transition back into an economy that`s going to grow again, and if people don`t have confidence that - where if they`re going into a retail store or a coffee shop or whatever, if they don`t know that they`re safe going out, they`re not going to go out. And - but certainly not go out in numbers.

We don`t even have a fraction of the testing capacity we need to begin moving back into a transition back into an economy. I think that - I mean, all of these things - it`s the face masks. How do we have food workers make sure they`ve got face masks so they can handle food safely. All these things are not getting the attention they need.

VELSHI: Senator - Governor, good to see you. Democratic Senate candidate, John Hickenlooper, Former Governor of Colorado. Thank you for joining us tonight.

HICKENLOOPER: Thanks so much.

VELSHI: Coming up, the economic crisis, which is now being talked about in terms of a depression rather than a recession. What might federal help start to do and how much will go toward helping regular people, many of whom are out of work dealing with the bills that are piling up? That`s next.

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VELSHI: The economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic is growing as the shutdown of the country goes on. Nearly 17 million Americans filed for unemployment in just the last three weeks. But that might not be the full picture, as economist Betsey Stevenson points out, 6 million to 7 million unemployment insurance initial claims per week might be telling us that that`s the system`s capacity to process claims per week, not how many people are trying.

Many people are now turning to food banks. This stunning photo is of 10,000 people waiting at a food bank in San Antonio. A food bank worker in New York says these lines are different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD SLIZESKI, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF BROOKLYN: There`s people coming who`ve never come to a food pantry in their lives. That`s a big difference. And for some people to realize that that`s their need, it`s a tough thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining us now is Betsey Stevenson who served as a member of the President`s Council of Economic Advisors and as the Chief Economist at the Department of Labor in the Obama administration, as well as Jared Bernstein, Former Chief Economist and Former Economic Policy Advisor to Vice President Biden He`s a CNBC contributor.

Betsey, I want to start with you because your comments about the 6-million- plus people who filed for first-time unemployment benefits roughly two weeks in a row does draw one to wonder. It`s like, it`s kind of interesting how the numbers were almost exactly the same. People have reported difficulty in being able to file for their unemployment benefits. So you`re thinking there might be a backlog, there might just be more people who haven`t been able to do it.

BETSEY STEVENSON, FORMER MEMBER, PRESIDENT`S COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC: Well, these are just extraordinary numbers that we`re seeing every week. Just not that long ago, a month ago, they were trying to process 200,000 claims a week, and now we`re asking, at really the same people, the same computer systems to process, 6 million to 7 million claims a week, I mean, it`s actually extraordinary that they`re doing that many, and it wouldn`t surprise me at all if that`s just the maximum capacity.

What that means is even though the economy has been shut in a lot of states for several weeks now, we`re going to see people continuing to apply for unemployment insurance as we work through that backlog.

VELSHI: So, Jared, people think that maybe 10 percent of the working population is out of work right now. I`ve heard some estimates that it`s 13 percent, I`ve heard estimates from the St. Louis Fed that it could go up to 32 percent. We talk about 6 million people a week.

What that does is it takes away the reality of the story that there were 40 million Americans who were food insecure before this thing started. And then you see those lines, and you realize there are people who never thought they`d be at a food bank, who`ve never been to a food bank, but for whom this may be their reality as they wait while the government processes a $1,200 check for them or while their unemployment payment gets processed.

JARED BERNSTEIN, FORMER CHIEF ECONOMIST TO VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: You`re raising a really important point, which is the economic fragility of so many families in this nation before the virus hit. We know from lots of research that families in the bottom half of the income scale have very little, even zero or negative amount of savings, meaning they`re indebted. And these are folks who typically don`t receive paid leave. So if they`re laid off or furloughed, they don`t get a paycheck. And that is a stark difference in the curt economy between people who are still drawing paychecks and people who aren`t.

And it doesn`t surprise me, I hate to say, when hearing the numbers that you and Betsey were just reflecting on, to see these kinds of food banks when you recognize just how uninsulated so many American families are from this kind of probation a couple of weeks away from real concerns about meeting basic needs, putting food on the table, avoiding eviction.

VELSHI: Betsey, I want to ask you because you were a chief economist at the Department of Labor. I want to quote from "The Washington Post" in which it says, "In recent days, Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia, who has expressed concern about unemployment insurance being too generous, has used his department`s authority over new laws enacted by Congress to limit who qualifies for joblessness assistance and to make it easier for small businesses not to pay family leave benefits. The new rules make it more difficult for gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers to get benefits while making it easier for some companies to avoid paying their workers coronavirus-related sick and family leave."

It does underscore the fact that the United States is distinct amongst developed nations in not actually having adequate preparation for things like this. It is harder to get benefits as American worker than it is in most western countries.

STEVENSON: Well, we seem to be trying on the one hand to bolster our safety net. That`s what Congress did with the CARES Act. They tried to expand the amount of unemployment insurance that was available to expand it to a wider group of people. And then you have the Department of Labor trying to undo some of the bill that the President of the United States just signed into law.

So we do have a weak safety net. That weak safety net is difficult for us in this situation. It`s worth thinking about the fact that where did unemployment insurance come from. It came out of the Great Depression where we knew we needed a better system to support people.

And I think there will be real questions about what kind of safety net do we really need in the United States as we come out of this pandemic.

VELSHI: Jared, there is an interesting experiment going on with the airlines right now, and we`re not sure where this is going to go. I want to read you from CNBC. It says, "Treasury guidelines states the department said it may demand warrants, options, preferred stock or securities in exchange for the grants that are going to airlines. Industry members, unions and others have argued that if the Treasury Department is too aggressive in its demands, such as by insisting on large equity stakes, it could deter airlines from taking the grants altogether."

The experiment was to give the airlines money that was to pay their staff, to keep their staff on payroll. End of story. Those were grants, very similar to the small business loans that are going out.

Now, Mnuchin is talking about transferring that to an equity or an ownership stake, which is an interesting discussion for us to have another time as to whether that`s valid, but what is at stake is the deal to keep these airline employees paid.

BERNSTEIN: Yes. Well, by the way, that`s what we did when you talk about taking a stake in the companies. That`s what we did with the auto companies, and that worked out well. Look, the airlines need help if they`re going to avoid bankruptcy. And by the way, just to be clear, many of the airlines we know and fly today and who are highly profitable have been through bankruptcy numerous times before. So it doesn`t scare me when they talk about that.

Look, what I`d say to the airlines if any of them are listening, to those executives, if you don`t want to hold the American taxpayer harmless while we provide you with grants so that you can survive this, then go ahead and shop elsewhere. I`m not at all moved by their threats that if the government doesn`t help them, they`ll look for help elsewhere. That`s kind of a deal of a quid pro quo. We help you, you help us. There`s no reason for there not to be the kind of conditionality on these grants or loans, or for that matter, any of the other policies that are helping businesses right now.

VELSHI: Thanks to both of you, Betsey Stevenson and Jared Bernstein, for joining us tonight.

If you`re worried about your finances these days, tomorrow morning on my show, I`ll be talking to Suze Orman, personal finance guru. She`s going to join us with her advice on what people can do to weather the economic crisis. So I`ll be talking to her at 9 o`clock a.m. tomorrow.

Coming up, if you`re feeling down about a holiday weekend spent in isolation, we`ve got something to show you that might make you feel a little better and prouder about what you and all of us are doing in this extraordinary time. That`s next in tonight`s Last Word.

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VELSHI: The City of Detroit has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Today, Detroit City residents account for over 25 percent of the 1,281 reported coronavirus deaths in Michigan. But Detroit may be turning a corner in its battle against the coronavirus.

According to the Mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, the coronavirus is, quote, "starting to weaken in the Motor City."

Here`s Mayor Duggan this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN (D-MI): We`re seeing the beginning of a glimmer of light. The trends that we`re seeing, it`s not because the doctors and the nurses do anything different. They`ve been doing a phenomenal job from day one. The reason this is flattening out is because of you. The people of this city have been honoring social distancing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: A local ad agency in Detroit recognized the importance of practicing social distancing. So it made a video to tell the story that the people of Detroit and, frankly, the people across the country making tough sacrifices in this pandemic needed to hear and probably still need to hear, perhaps more than ever right now when many Americans would be celebrating Passover and Easter with their family and friends or just outside enjoying the arrival of spring.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): It feels unnatural to not be in motion, for the city built on four wheels to stand still. But these vacant streets, empty stadiums are not signs of our retreat, but of our resolve. This is not us sitting out the fight. This is us winning it. Our fist doesn`t need to move to have strength.

If he were alive today, even Henry himself would have put it in park. So take this isolation as a sign of our togetherness, as we take care of ourselves and the ones close, because although it`s time for America`s motor to stop, we`re coming back with all eight cylinders. Because here, we don`t stop in the name of fear. Here, we stop in the name of love.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Joining us now is the writer of that ad, the Executive Creative Director at Doner Detroit Advertising, Michael Stelmaszek. Michael, that is some remarkable writing in there. But before we get to the way you put this together - I mean, it`s so Detroit, and it`s so specific to Detroit, your musical allusions and the automobile allusions and the manufacturing work, and yet it is a universal message. It`s not just sort of interesting to those of us who don`t live in Detroit. I can`t imagine anybody in the world not appreciating the way you put that together. How did you conceive of this? Because the way you`re thinking about it, I think, is cathartic for the rest of us.

MICHAEL STELMASZEK, EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, DONER DETROIT ADVERTISING & WRITER, "WHEN THE MOTOR STOPS": Well, first of all, thank you very much for the kind words. But the real inspiration for the piece came from wanting to help. It`s an instinct that I`m sure so many of us have these days, of wanting to do something.

And a young man, a really smart guy in our strategic planning department named Alex Demuth reached out to a few of us, and he said, look, we`re an advertising agency, we don`t have manufacturing capability. We can`t make ventilators, we`re not going to make a million masks a month like others. But we have creativity. We have tremendous production resources. So he called our Director of Content Zeke Anders and myself, and he said, let`s see what we can do.

VELSHI: And I think that`s the part that resonates with the rest of us because what`s going on out there is - it does feel like a war. It does feel like battle. People are actually dying. It is changing our lives. And yet, there are some people, our frontline workers, our EMTs, our police, our doctors, our nurses, our essential workers who are still out there risking their lives, but there are many of us whose job it is to stay home and not doing so may risk our lives and the lives of our fellow country people.

STELMASZEK: You`re right. And I think some of that is that the solution is kind of counterintuitive. Right? Like I said, we all want to jump in and help. We want to take action. We want to band together with others and come together and solve this thing and get out and do what needs to be done. But what needs to be done right now is stay apart from people, stay in our homes. And so, by reframing that, repositioning that as not sitting out the fight but winning it is not resigning ourselves to anything but a sign of our resolve.

And also from the Detroit standpoint, I think while the global messages are good, something of, by, and for Detroit, hopefully it`s hitting home a little bit better.

VELSHI: A city that has known adversity before and will overcome it again. This is not us sitting out the fight. This is us winning it.

Michael Stelmaszek, thank you for joining us. That is tonight`s "Last Word". I`m Ali Velshi. I`ll see you back here tomorrow morning on "Velshi" with a special guest, Suze Orman.

And another programming note, Sunday night, Richard Engel explores the lasting impact of the coronavirus pandemic, "On Assignment: Pandemic" airs Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC.

"The 11th Hour with Brian Williams" begins now.

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