CDC TRANSCRIPT: 5/21/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Ron Klain, Rob Davidson, Kamala Harris, John Ratcliffe, Jennifer Palmieri, William Haseltine, Keir Simmons, Adrian Hill

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

How -- how old do you have to be to get that reference because that show, "Batman" hasn`t been on for a very long time.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": You know, the "Batman" reference lives forever. It`s eternal.

O`DONNELL: Yes. I`m just thinking today`s college kids, they might not.

So, Rachel, tonight is short list night on MSNBC. You had Gretchen Whitmer in the last hour and did what you could on the vice-presidential question and I have Senator Kamala Harris is going to join me in this hour. We all know that they are on the short list for vice president because Joe Biden made it easy. He told us it`s going to be a woman. I`m not sure what there is to -- what truth is there to try to pull here.

Oh, am I losing? Are you losing my sound?

MADDOW: I can`t hear you anymore.

O`DONNELL: Yes, that`s the signal for Rachel can`t hear me.

All right. Well, I can continue to monologue but don`t cut her off like that. Let`s -- I mean. Let me and the audience kind of gradually withdraw from the Rachel moment control room, even when the sound goes down. We like seeing her and kind of saying good-bye, even if she can`t hear us. We`ll get it right the next time.

As the United States tonight approaches 100,000 deaths from coronavirus, a new Columbia University study, which Rachel was just talking about at the end of her hour asks and answers the great what-if of the coronavirus pandemic.

As of tonight, the United States now has 1,581,622 confirmed cases of coronavirus and this country has suffered at least 93,003 deaths from coronavirus. And those numbers would be much, much higher if the governor of California had not been the first to shut down most activity in his state followed very quickly by governors all across the country.

What if the shutdowns happened earlier and what if the president of the United States guided those shut downs? What if the president of the United States urged people in all 50 states to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel sooner? The answers to those questions appear in a new Columbia University study entitled differential effects of intervention timing on COVID-19 spread in the United States.

The study shows that the statewide shutdowns slowed the spread of the coronavirus and it shows that if a nationwide shut down was imposed on March 8th, 36,000 lives would have been saved, 36,000 lives. The only person in government who could have urged a nationwide shutdown was the president of the United States.

If the president of the United States did that on March 8th, he could have saved 36,000 lives. What the president did on March 8th instead was play golf. The president`s official schedule shows on March 8th at 8:41 a.m. the president goes from Mar-a-Lago to Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida.

There he is on the golf course that day, March 8th with Washington Nationals pitcher Patrick Corbin. That`s what he did on March 8th. That is the typical picture of obliviousness that the Trump presidency will be remembered for. That`s what the commander-in-chief was doing on the day he could have, could have saved 36,000 lives if he had paid attention to what some people in his administration said was coming with the coronavirus.

The next day, Donald Trump proudly tweeted on March 9th nothing is shut down. There was plenty of public advice being given that the country needed to at least begin to shut down at the beginning of March to save lives. There was enough of that being said including on this network that the president was publicly defiant about shutting down, as he still is, as he is today, as we approach 100,000 deaths.

The president`s full tweet on March 9th made light of the coronavirus in comparison to the common flu and said nothing is shut down. Life and the economy go on. At this moment, there are 546 confirmed cases with 22 deaths. Think about that!

And public health officials were thinking about that and they knew that those numbers were dramatically under stated at the time because of the lack of testing and they knew those numbers would skyrocket and they knew the only way to stop the spread was to close down the country. The Columbia study shows that if the country had effectively shut down on March 8th, that by May 3rd, we would have 29,410 deaths instead of the number we did have on May 3rd, which is 65,307 confirmed deaths from coronavirus.

There are many reasons Donald Trump has never said and done the right thing about coronavirus but the most important reason may be his limited attention span. The president was briefed on the coronavirus repeatedly in January, including by his secretary of health and human services. Warnings about the coronavirus were also included in the presidents` daily brief, which is the intelligence community`s daily assessment of worldwide threats to the United States and other issues worthy of the most serious presidential attention.

Julian Barns and Adam Goldman have delivered a report in the "New York Times" today about the challenge of intelligence officials trying to brief the president saying, Donald Trump is, quote, particularly difficult to brief on critical national security matters, according to interviews with ten current and former intelligence officials familiar with his intelligence briefings. The president veers off on tangents and getting him back on topic is difficult they said. He has a short attention span and rarely, if ever, reads intelligence reports, relying instead on conservative media and friends for information. He`s ashamed to interrupt intelligence officers and rift based on tips or gossip he hears from the former casino magnate Steve Wynn or retired golfer Gary Player or Christopher Ruddy, the conservative media executive.

Mr. Trump rarely absorbs information that he disagrees with, or that runs counter to his world view, the official said. Briefing him has been so great a challenge compared with his predecessors that the intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.

Outside consultants? You mean psychiatrists for the answer to -- of how do you talk to a person like this?

Donald Trump made a campaign trip to Michigan today thinly disguised as a presidential trip to visit a Ford factory that has been repurposed to manufacture ventilators. When the president spoke to the news media there, he was, of course, asked about not wearing a mask. And the president said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I did wear -- I had one on before. I wore one in this back area, but I didn`t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it. I had it in the back area. I did.

I was given a choice and I had one on in an area where they preferred it, so I put it on and it was very nice, very nice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: It looked very nice. That`s what he`s concerned about. That`s what he`s worried about as we approach 100,000 deaths. How does his mask look? It looked very nice.

It looked so nice Donald Trump was afraid that any of us or any of you would see what he looks like in a mask but thanks to NBC News, we now have a tweeted photo of Donald Trump wearing that mask at the Ford factory today. And we leave it to you to judge if it looks very nice.

One reason the Trump administration and Donald Trump personally are so corrupt is that Donald Trump doesn`t actually know what corruption is. He often does not know that he is crossing the line of corruption and he is now publicly reveling in his corruption of the scientific work done by the Centers of Disease Control, a once esteemed research and public health institution in this country whose credibility suffers daily under the thumb of Donald Trump.

The president proudly proclaimed today he is ordering, ordering the CDC to say that it`s perfectly okay for everyone to go back to church. At the end of March, you will recall Donald Trump said that he wanted packed churches that was his phrase, packed churches on Easter Sunday. And if that had happened, thousands of those people and those packed churches on Easter Sunday would be dead today.

And now, Donald Trump really wants to fill those churches again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We`re going to open our churches again. I think CDC is going to put something out very soon. Spoke to them today. I think they are going to put something out soon. We`ve got to open our churches. People want to go in.

I said, you better put it out and they`re doing it, and they`re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We got to get our churches open.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, Ron Klain, former senior aide to President Obama and Vice President Biden. He served as the Ebola czar during the Obama administration.

And Dr. Rob Davidson is with us. He`s an emergency medicine physician. He`s director of the committee to protect Medicare. Dr. Davidson joins us from Michigan.

Ron Klain, I want to start with what we heard Donald Trump trying to get back people into churches but he`s saying he`s telling the CDC what to say about churches and he`s telling the CDC you better get it out.

RON KLAIN, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION EBOLA CZAR: Yes, I mean, the Centers for Disease Control before this began was the world`s most pristine public health agency. People from around the world sought the CDC`s advice and guidance how to handle epidemics in their country. Of course, Americans always saw how to handle epidemics and infectious disease outbreaks, not the public health challenges in our country.

And now, what the president has said that he`s going to corrupt that institution like he`s corrupted every other. Today`s statement by the president was more obvious, Lawrence, but it wasn`t the first. We know that this current situation began back in February when Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the senior person at CDC in charge of respiratory diseases, spoke publicly about how the country was going to be disrupted by this virus, and the president called and said she should be fired and silenced, and we`ve heard very little from her and the CDC and public ever since.

So the president has tried to silence the CDC. He`s trying to corrupt the CDC. What he`s tried all along is not to let science guide the response and we`re all paying the price for that.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Davidson, Donald Trump said today that the reason he doesn`t have to wear a mask, even though he was wearing a mask some of the time he was at that Ford plant, but the reason he justifies for not wearing a mask is that he gets tested a lot, and so what he`s saying is if you get tested a lot, you don`t have to take the same precautions that people who do not get tested.

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, E.R. PHYSICIAN: Well, he may be at lower risk than other people, although he`s in contact with a lot of individuals and the test they are using at the White House, the rapid test that uses a dry method study out of NYU last week said there may be 48 percent false negative. So, the president may be harboring the virus and not know it.

But more important than that is that he has the attention of millions of Americans, both people who support him ardently, no matter what he does and others are causal passersby and when they see the leader of the country not wearing a mask, it gives them license to say -- well, I don`t have to wear a mask when I go to the grocery store and pharmacy, I don`t have to protect my fellow citizens because the president doesn`t have to do that. It`s about leadership and speaking with one voice and he`s failing us yet again in that.

O`DONNELL: All right. Control room. Let`s get the picture of him with the mask on up again since he hasn`t been wearing masks, it`s good for America to see this example.

And Ron Klain, as we look at the mask, we should include the fact that the Ford company told the president`s team that you are required to wear masks there. They said they, of course, wouldn`t force the president to wear a mask but at least, and I guess we`ll call this progress in Trump world, at least the president, as we see in that picture compiled with Ford`s policy while he was actually meeting with the Ford people and discussing what was happening there at the plant. So there is that.

Let`s listen to what the governor of Michigan just told Rachel Maddow about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: All of the Ford executives wore the masks. All of the employees were wearing masks. All of the press were, and it`s really important that anyone with a platform has a responsibility to make sure that they model precisely what we`re asking everyone else to do.

This is about public health, not one person`s or another. This is about all of us, and anyone in a position of power and responsibility, I hope emulates and does precisely what they are asking everyone else to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: So, Ron, there`s a piece of progress there in that the president did at least wear a mask but this really was a campaign trip. This was non- essential travel to that Ford plant.

KLAIN: Well, there`s a piece of progress, Lawrence, but, of course, it`s ironic because what the president said was I didn`t intend to have you see me in a mask, I intended to have you not see me in a mask, I thought he was hiding it, which is, of course, as Governor Whitmer suggested, exactly backwards.

I mean, look, you begin the program by citing the fact that 36,000 Americans died because the president froze and didn`t act quickly on shutting things down. But the question now is, how many Americans will die now because the president continues to flaunt the idea that we should be wearing masks, not to protect ourselves but to protect others? This is a public health matter, just like drunk driving is a public health matter. We shouldn`t drive drunk because it makes us safer but more importantly, it makes other people on the road safer.

We should wear masks for the same reason, to protect others. When the president makes fun of this requirement, makes fun of this, he`s telling people it`s not important and a lot of -- you know, the death toll continue to mount as a result.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Davidson, you joined us on many nights when it seemed Michigan was being overwhelmed. What is the situation in Michigan today? What`s happened to the curve there? What -- what is happening?

How much caution still remains among the people of Michigan? We know there`s some protesters. But what`s the general level of caution there?

DAVIDSON: I think we`re being extremely cautious but you played a clip of our governor. We`re extremely proud of her leadership. He`s modeled exemplary leadership in this crisis. The only reason we`re able to start coming out of the shutdown.

Still in west Michigan where I practice, some cases are starting to creep up a little bit. And, you know, we talked about hydroxychloroquine this week with the president. We`ve talked about masks, but his greatest failure to date is a lack of adequate testing so we can test, trace and isolate and truly, safely open this economy and get Americans back to work for a lasting way.

And the more we don`t talk about that, I`d say is a pretty good day in the news cycle for Donald Trump so we just need to keep pressing him. We`re getting about a third of the tests we need every day in this country, we need the president to use the Defense Production Act and get us the tests, so we can do the job we need to do.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Rob Davidson, thank you very much for bringing us back to where we should be on this subject. Really appreciate it.

Ron Klain, thank you for helping us start off tonight. Appreciate that.

And when we come back, Senator Kamala Harris is going to us. Let control room, put up that photograph of Donald Trump wearing his mask today, because the country should see that very good example of his as much as possible, not because he doesn`t want us to see it but because it is actually a good example.

Kamala Harris warned Donald Trump in very strong language, though, that he is on the verge of committing a federal crime on another front. You`ll hear that warning directly from Senator Harris next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: After Donald Trump threatened to withhold federal funding for Michigan after vote -- over voting by mail, Senator Kamala Harris said this in an interview with Joy Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): Mr. President, it is a federal crime to withhold money from states with the purpose of interfering with people`s right to vote. So you may want to talk with your lawyer Bill Barr about that, and that would be my advice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat from California, a member of the Judiciary Committee and Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

And I just want to reemphasize that point that you made so strongly. This is in effect what the president got impeached for, isn`t it?

HARRIS: Well, it is yet again at least an attempt at committing a crime by Donald Trump. In terms of the fact that it is a crime, it`s literally a crime, it`s a violation of the United States Code to withhold money from the states in a way that would interfere with people`s ability to vote.

So, yes, but then we also know that the president doesn`t seem to be burdened by the laws or following the laws. So, this is nothing -- this is nothing new, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Senator, I want to turn to the new economic numbers that came out today, a new record filing for unemployment benefits, but the unemployment benefits do not cover everyone who is suffering in this situation.

HARRIS: Right.

O`DONNELL: I want to listen to Stacey Barlow-Hill who is a small business owner in Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh. Let`s listen to her.

HARRIS: Uh-huh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STACEY BARLOW-HILL, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: I`ve worked so hard to build and to create a reputable entity is just falling apart before me, and that`s really hard. It`s really hard to watch that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Senator, Donald Trump and the Republicans seem to think --

HARRIS: Yes.

O`DONNELL: -- that small business owners like her can just magically recreate their business after zero revenue for all this time and no ability to pay their staff.

HARRIS: Yes. It`s tragic, Lawrence.

You know, today, the jobs numbers came out, of course. We`re looking at almost 40 million Americans who are now over the course -- within the last 100 days have become unemployed before those -- before the pandemic. We knew that less than half of American families could afford a $400 unexpected expense.

People are hurting. I speak all the time about the fact that, recently, we`ve learned that one in five mothers with a child under the age of 12 reports their children being hungry.

And then when it relates to small businesses, we, in the Congress, fought for small business relief, but it was deeply flawed. What ended up happening is the Paycheck Protection Program ended up going to publicly traded companies and what ended up also happening is that 90 percent of minority and women-owned businesses did not get relief from the Paycheck Protection Program.

Which is why together with Ayanna Pressley, the congresswoman from Massachusetts, I have proposed the Saving Our Street Act, which would be about saving the business down the street, the bodega, the hair salon, the barber shop, and florist, and ensuring that they -- any employer who has 10 or fewer employees has dedicated resources through the federal relief package and in particular $125 billion that would go to those small businesses so we can make sure that we keep them alive.

They are part of the lifeblood of our communities and as so many of us know, these are -- these are the local restaurant. These are the folks who know us. These are the folks when we walk in, they know our children and they ask how our day or week has been, and we`ve got to keep them alive. We`ve got to keep them floating and getting through this pandemic, which was not of their making.

O`DONNELL: And, of course, when the Republicans tried to define small business in their legislation to help so-called small businesses, they defined it as a business with 500 or less employees.

HARRIS: Yes, right.

O`DONNELL: That`s not what we think of as small business. Your number ten and those small double-digit numbers, those little businesses like that didn`t have the powerful lawyers and accountants who could immediately secure that money for them. So by the time they got near the paperwork, it was all gone to those big companies.

HARRIS: You`re exactly right, Lawrence. And, in fact, so many of them and in particular, you know, these small businesses, women-owned, minority- owned, small community businesses that many of them don`t have a line of credit or they bank with the community bank.

And so, they`re not the ones affiliated with the big bank and some powerful banker who calls them up and says, hey, Bob, you know, this money is about to come down, let me start getting your paperwork in order.

I have a constituent who has a beauty salon who told us, look, they want me to fill out all this information about my vendors. Well, I get my products at the beauty supply store, right? And she`s -- she`s part of the community. She`s an important business in the community and she is exactly the kind of business that we need to keep active and allow them to get through this crisis.

So part of my bill with Ayanna Pressley says that this money cannot -- the $125 billion, is not going to be able to be available to publicly traded companies, to hedge funds and things of that nature. We really need to save our small businesses.

So, it`s 20 employees and under. If they are -- and fewer. If they are disadvantaged communities, otherwise, it`s ten employees or fewer.

But they really are the lifeblood. They are the family restaurants. They are the folks who are -- you know, when you walk in and say, hey, can you sponsor the Little League team, they`re there.

They`re the ones who when there`s a moment of need for charity from businesses in the community, they`re the first in line to help. And so, we need to help them.

O`DONNELL: What -- what should the Democrats` plan B going forward? This pandemic is going to be with us for a while. Obviously, if it`s a new administration inaugurated in January, there will have to be a new plan in 2021.

What do you think that plan should look like next year?

HARRIS: Well, we`re not going to have a vaccine by November and probably not by January. So part of the plan has to be to do a full analysis. What - - there`s been an abject failure of this administration to do it, a national analysis where are the needs and where are the resources?

We -- part of what we`ve been proposing is that we need to start collecting the data as a national priority and then know where we need to send the resources, limited as they always are, so that we can head off what might otherwise become a spark or a cluster in terms of a public health problem.

Because the vaccine, Lawrence, when it is first discovered and tested and peer-reviewed, we`re not going to be in mass production. And so, there will not be enough of the vaccine to administer to 330 million people on day one. So, I want to make sure and I know we want to make sure that on day one when the vaccine is created and produced, that it is distributed based on need.

We need to build back up our economy and that`s paying attention to our small businesses like I said.

The educational piece is profound. It`s estimated up to 10 million children in America do not have access to broadband, much less have access to a laptop. So in these months when schools have been closed, we have whole populations of children who have not received the benefit of an education or are going to be sorely behind unless we have serious intervention to help them catch up. That also means, of course, supporting our teachers.

So, there is a lot of work that needs to be done around our children, and then we have to talk about mental health and what we need to do to address that and, of course, priority number one aside from public health is building back up our economy.

O`DONNELL: Senator Harris, please stay with us over this break. I want to ask you about an important matter --

HARRIS: Sure.

O`DONNELL: -- in your Intelligence Committee jurisdiction. The Senate confirmed for the first time ever --

HARRIS: Yes.

O`DONNELL: -- a partisan director of national intelligence.

We`ll be right back with that after this break.

HARRIS: Yes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We now have our first sharply partisan Director of National Intelligence. Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe was confirmed by the Senate today on a party-line vote of 49 to 44, the first time the Director of National Intelligence was not approved unanimously or with an overwhelming bipartisan vote.

The position of Director of National intelligence was created after 9/11 in a reorganization of the intelligence community, and the Director has always attracted bipartisan support. Here is Senator Kamala Harris at John Ratcliffe`s confirmation hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Do you believe that President Trump has accurately conveyed the severity of the threat of COVID-19 to the American people?

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE (R-TX): Are you saying presently?

HARRIS: We are in the midst of the pandemic presently, correct.

RATCLIFFE: Right. So repeat the question because I guess I`m misunderstanding, I`m sorry.

HARRIS: Has he accurately conveyed the severity of COVID-19 to the American people?

RATCLIFFE: I believe so.

HARRIS: You do?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Senator Harris, it didn`t sound like such a difficult question. It didn`t sound like a question that needed to be repeated and clarified, but there we are.

HARRIS: Indeed. Lawrence, I strongly believe that he was appointed, he was nominated, and sadly ultimately confirmed because not of his qualifications or his experience or any dedication he has served to the work of national security, but because he has proved himself a dedicated soldier for Donald Trump`s political agenda.

And when we are in the midst of a global pandemic, which has presented a national crisis for America, when we know that the intelligence community attempted to brief the President on these issues, but we know he is - he has apparently very short attention span, when we know that we are still in the midst of all of the concerns that we should have about our standing in the world in terms of our national security threats against the homeland hotspots around the world, we need a Director of National Intelligence who will speak truth even if it will be difficult for the President to hear, and certainly, even if it will be difficult for that DNI to speak the truth.

And I don`t have any confidence in Mr. Ratcliffe`s ability to do that. And so, that puts a lot of us in a position of great concern, because after all, at least for now, Donald Trump is still the Commander in Chief, and has to make - and is appointed with making decisions that relate to our national security. But, if we don`t have people speaking truth to him or being more preoccupied with his political fortunes rather than nation security, we`re all at risk.

O`DONNELL: I think it`s fair to say we know Donald Trump is either likely or very possibly going to ask the Director of National Intelligence to do things that the Director should not do.

And I want to ask you, just in your experience as a prosecutor and as a Senate investigator, do you get the sense that in this administration where they`re firing every Inspector General who asks an uncomfortable question that people like Mike Pompeo and possibly the new Director, do they - do you think they have the feeling that they will not ever be investigated for what goes on, that if there is a new administration sworn in January, that there won`t be any investigation at all about what happened there in the last year or few years?

HARRIS: Lawrence, to be honest with you, I can`t even go there. I`m just too busy looking at what`s happening today and concerned about what is going to happen literally tomorrow. These are folks who have an enormous responsibility that is - that comes with a duty to put country first, and to put loyalty to the American people first, to put the issue of national security first before any political agenda.

But there are countless members of the administration that have failed to do that. And again, we should all be concerned because it is about national security. Think about a pandemic as an example of a threat to national security, because it is.

And the President of the United States was briefed on this issue, but yet told the American people it was a hoax, dragged his feet, lied or misrepresented the seriousness of it by my count at least 44 times on camera, and that`s where we are today.

Like, yes, let`s get through this election as quickly as possible and say good-bye to Donald Trump. But right now, we`ve got days and weeks and months ahead that require people in these positions to understand their ethical, their moral, their legal responsibility to the American people in our security.

O`DONNELL: Senator Kamala Harris, thank you very much for joining us once again tonight. We really appreciate it.

HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you, Lawrence. Take care.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. And when we come back, a new Fox Poll, a Fox Poll released tonight shows what every other poll shows, Donald Trump is in very big trouble and Joe Biden has the lead well outside the margin of error.

Eugene Robinson, Jennifer Palmieri join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: A new Fox poll released tonight finds Joe Biden has an 8-point lead over Donald Trump, 48 to 40. That`s outside the margin of error. Donald Trump`s latest strategy is to target President Barack Obama`s strategy, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson says is not a good idea.

Eugene Robinson writes, I`m not going out on a limb by positing that there is a unique and enduring bond between African American voters and the first African American President. When Trumps yells "Obamagate!," he`s strengthening that bond, not weakening it, and motivating black voters to turn out in the fall for Obama`s loyal wingman, Biden.

Joining our discussion now, Eugene Robinson, Associate Editor and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post; he`s an MSNBC political analyst. And Jennifer Palmieri as well, she`s a former White House Communications Director for President Obama and former Communication Director for Hillary Clinton`s Presidential campaign.

And Gene, let me start with the point that you make in your column, which is to bring Barack Obama into this campaign only helps Joe Biden.

EUGENE ROBINSON, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It really does. And one thing that Democrats need to do is boost turnout of this election and they need - and African American turnout in 2016.

Now, we all know that Donald Trump won basically by 80,000 votes. He won the Electoral College by 80,000 in Wisconsin and Michigan and in Philadelphia. And if you had - if black turnout had been at Barack Obama levels in 2016 in Milwaukee and Detroit, and it had increased just a bit in Philadelphia, we`d be talking about Hillary Clinton`s reelection, rather than - and Donald Trump would just be a Twitter troll that nobody paid much attention to.

So I think it is a dubious strategy at best to go after Barack Obama, who by the way is not just popular among African Americans, he`s probably the most admired human being in this country next to Michelle Obama. So, I think it`s a losing strategy, but they`re throwing stuff against the wall and trying to see what sticks, and I don`t think this is going to stick.

O`DONNELL: Jennifer Palmieri, as the veteran of a Presidential campaign here, the only one among us, we defer to you on some of these questions. What does - what Gene just said, how do you think that impacts the Biden Vice Presidential selection process? Does it enhance the chances that he would want Senator Kamala Harris, who was just with us, or Stacey Abrams to strengthen that appeal to the black vote?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It`s hard to know. I can argue, I can`t predict, but I could argue both ways why they may - why they might do that.

You could have an African American woman on the ticket, it`s historic, it energizes African American voters. Gene is definitely right that the only times Obama we got - we did well in midterm elections when Obama was President was when the Republicans would go after Obama. That was the only thing that would help get African American turnouts higher than it would normally be in midterm levels.

And so, to go after - I don`t think it`s a thought-out strategy. Sometimes I think we give Trump too much credit for having been - just because it`s his - what he does is wacky doesn`t mean that there is a strategy behind it.

And I think that Obama, it angered him that Obama criticized his COVID response and Trump lashed out. I don`t think it`s a thoughtful thing. But ultimately, when we get to November, I think what`s going to really matter to voters is, what`s the state of the virus and what`s the state of the economy.

And that poll that you pointed to, Lawrence, is important but also there`s a Quinnipiac poll this week that showed Biden beating Trump by pretty big margins on who you trust more to handle the virus, and doing better than Trump on who you trust to manage the economy.

And that means independents are going Biden`s way on those two points, on the economy and managing the virus, and that`s the kind of thing that lasts. I don`t know if Obamagate would be around in November, but those two issues will.

O`DONNELL: Yes, and Eugene, that Quinnipiac poll as I recall had Joe Biden about 18 points ahead of Donald Trump on handling the coronavirus.

But Barack Obama is going to come back into this campaign. He has said he`s going to be campaigning for Joe Biden as hard as he can and whatever methods are allowed during this pandemic.

And so Donald Trump - I completely agree with Jennifer that Donald Trump`s hatreds are impulsive. And even if he was told it`s a bad idea to talk about Barack Obama, he will because he can`t control those impulses and there are going to be more Obama speeches that will be very provocative to Donald Trump.

ROBINSON: There absolutely will be. And apparently in his meeting with Republicans, earlier this week, President Trump said keep the pedal to the metal on Obamagate. So I think it`s - I wouldn`t say strategy, because Jennifer is right, he doesn`t (inaudible) I mean come on.

But let`s say its part tactic maybe and also just part visceral reaction. Obama is inside his head. He can`t stand the fact, I think, frankly that a black man had a successful eight-year Presidency, respected and admired around the world and won the Nobel Prize, and he gets laughed at and ridiculed and is presiding over an unmitigated disaster. I think that drives Donald Trump crazy. And so, every time Obama comes out, I think it will drive him a little crazier.

O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, Jennifer Palmieri, thank you both for joining us. Go ahead.

PALMIERI: He has this (inaudible) I mean Obama has held it back thus far, but you`re right, Lawrence, when he`s on the campaign trail, he will not.

O`DONNELL: Jennifer Palmieri, Gene Robinson, thank you both for joining us. We really appreciate it.

And when we come back, we will have a last word tonight about the newest glint of hope, and it is just that, a glint of hope for a coronavirus vaccine. And this one could be the very first vaccine to reach the market. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We close tonight with a new glint of hope about a vaccine for coronavirus. This report unfortunately must begin with a footnote about the corruption of the Trump administration, which has decided to fund the foreign pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca with $1 billion for the company`s vaccine development project with Oxford University in England.

We have no idea who in the Trump administration or the Trump family has profited by the increase in AstraZeneca`s stock price after $1 billion in funding was announced today. But the scientists working on a vaccine at Oxford University are not corrupt.

They have licensed their scientific research to AstraZeneca, which is a British and Swedish company, which makes sense for the Oxford researchers, because if they develop a successful vaccine, they will not be able to get it distributed around the world without the kind of distribution network that pharmaceutical companies have.

And before we turn to the hopeful side of tonight`s vaccine story, let`s listen carefully to former Harvard Medical School Professor William Hazeltine`s cautions about the scientific challenges in finding a coronavirus vaccine.

WILLIAM HASELTINE, FORMER PROFESSOR, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: In my view, the question isn`t when we`re going to have a vaccine. It`s, if we`re going to have a vaccine. Nobody has ever made, as far as I can tell - and I`m asking everybody and I can`t remember a vaccine that stops a virus that infects you through your nose. We don`t have cold virus vaccines. So that is a real question that remains an open question.

O`DONNELL: NBC News Senior International Correspondent Keir Simmons spoke with Adrian Hill, one of the researchers working on that vaccine at Oxford University.

KEIR SIMMONS, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Hey there, Lawrence, good evening. There is a lot of good news here, and the researchers at Oxford University that I have been speaking to, really excited tonight because you just have to look at the numbers, $1 billion invested, 1 billion doses of vaccine according to AstraZeneca by the end of 2021.

That`s if this vaccine turns out to actually work. And I think what you`re going to see, what NBC News understands is that there`s going to be an expansion of these human trials very soon so that thousands of people will test this vaccine.

That`s for two reasons. One, of course, to see if it works. And the other to see if there are adverse side effects that would make it actually dangerous to roll out across large populations. Millions of people in the U.S. are looking to see if this vaccine might work. The researchers say that they think they could have results by the end of the year, even perhaps in months. Listen to how excited they are about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADRIAN HILL, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD, DIRECTOR, JENNER INSTITUTE: Within a week of signing the deal, they have a contract for $1 billion worth of vaccine. So I guess if you had said that to me months ago that all of that would happen in a month, I would have thought that was wild and fantastic. So, we`re thrilled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMMONS: There are a lot of scientists who are warning about the dangers of moving too fast with this vaccine research. President Trump of course talking about going at warp speed; that really worries a lot of people. And this vaccine from Oxford University when it was tested in monkeys, albeit a small group, they did find that it prevented the virus from getting into those monkeys` lungs, but not that it stopped them getting infected.

And another danger, of course, is that when you give a vaccine like this to large numbers of people, maybe billions of people, any adverse side effects will come out. What`s interesting is that the researchers themselves say that the worry that people will relax and not take the precautions that they should be in relation to coronavirus, because they think a vaccine is coming, that people shouldn`t do that, that they should wait even just for a short time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: There`s a reasonable chance, no certainty, that a vaccine will be available later this year. It might be as soon as September. It might be later and that it`s really worthwhile not going and getting infected or putting yourself at risk of dying or transmitting to other people, when it`s only another few months.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SIMMONS: Another issue which amazingly is already appearing is what you could call a kind of geopolitical battle for vaccines with countries like the U.S., Western Europe, China dominating demand.

There is a push to make sure that any vaccine gets spread around because, of course, this virus is spread around the world and infections move so quickly. You really will need to tackle it everywhere, amazing though that that conversation is already happening before we even know whether we`ve got a vaccine that works. There may never be a vaccine that works. This science is becoming so political even before the science is done. Lawrence?

O`DONNELL: NBC`S Keir Simmons in London. Thank you, Keir. That is tonight`s last word. "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.

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