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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 5/3/21

Guests: Ashley Parker, A.B. Stoddard, Melissa Murray, Michael Steele, Cornell Belcher, Michael Osterholm


WAPO reports that accepting Trump`s election falsehood is the new GOP loyalty test. Representative Liz Cheney slams former President Donald Trump for election attacks. Axios reports that GOP wants Cheney out of House leadership. Donald Trump tries to brand Biden 2020 election win as "The Big Lie." Senate Dems agonize over voting rights strategy. GOP pushing voting restrictions nationwide. Bill and Melinda Gates have announced their divorce after 27 years of marriage.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: But tonight, the Carter Center released this photograph of the visit to Democratic presidents who won Georgia`s electoral votes.

That is tonight`s last word. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again as we start a new week. Day 104 of the Biden administration.

Today a major step forward, a post pandemic recovery on the horizon. And having to do with this news and its impact, we have a live picture of Times Square for you tonight. Nothing normal about it. And it hasn`t looked normal, of course in over a year.

But now, New York along with New Jersey and Connecticut will lift most of the COVID restriction starting May 19. That`s a potential turnaround for a tri state region that was at one point, of course, the epicenter for the virus in our country. And this comes just as we are getting new reports that the FDA is preparing to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15 year olds by early next week.

Yet, the news tonight also includes rapidly developing variants and continuing vaccine hesitancy among a large block of adults in our country. All of that has experts now doubting that the U.S. will ever truly reach herd immunity, that brass ring we`ve all been told about. Well, this afternoon, the President appeared to have a much more positive outlook.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you believe the U.S. will reach herd immunity?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think by the end of the summer, we`ll be in a very different position than we are now.


WILLIAMS: Much more on all of that just ahead.

Meanwhile, the former president today launched a grenade into the battle for control of the Republican Party. Ever since he lost, Trump, of course, has been pushing the big lie that he won. This morning, he took that to a new level with this statement, "The fraudulent presidential election of 2020 will be from this day forth known as the big lie." See what he did there?

Liz Cheney, a Republican who is a member of the leadership in the House and who is a favorite target of Trump posted this shortly after Trump said that, "The 2020 presidential election was not stolen. Anyone who claims it was is spreading the big lie, turning their back on the rule of law and poisoning our democratic system."

Hours later, Trump attacked Cheney and another statement calling her a, "Big Shot warmonger" and claiming, "She`ll never run in a Wyoming election again."

Cheney voted to impeach Trump you`ll recall after the January 6 riot and beat back in an effort to take away her House leadership post that has not stopped her from criticizing Trump. And NBC News has indeed confirmed a report of comments she made today during a conference held in Sea Island, Georgia, "We can`t embrace the notion the election is stolen. It`s a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy. We can`t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump`s big lie. It`s a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed."

Well, tonight, Axios reporting House Republicans are moving closer to ousting Cheney from leadership. She`s in the number three position currently, replacing her with another woman from the House ranks.

"Washington Post" writes that those Republicans who won`t spread the false claim of a stolen election find themselves increasingly out in the cold. Ashley Parker who`s standing by to join us in just a moment his coauthor of a piece that points out, "six months after Trump lost to Biden, rejection of the 2020 election results dubbed the big lie by many Democrats has increasingly become an unofficial litmus test for acceptance in the Republican Party."

Just this weekend, Senator Mitt Romney who voted to convict Trump of inciting an insurrection, Mitt Romney, who was the Republican nominee less than a decade ago, got this reception back home at the Utah Republican Party convention.


SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R) UTAH: You might call me an old fashioned Republican. I am. I`ve neem in our party -- oh, yes, you can boo all you want, but I`ve been a Republican all my life. Now, you know me as a person who says what he thinks, and I don`t hide the fact that I wasn`t a fan of our last president`s character issues. And I`m also no fan --

Aren`t you embarrassed?


WILLIAMS: Today Trump praised Romney`s hecklers staying on brand and call the senator, a "stone cold loser."

While all of this was unfolding, President Biden was on the road trying to sell his infrastructure and jobs plan to voters. The President has his sights still set on getting Republican support on Congress if he can, but the party`s leader in the Senate says, that`s looking less and less likely.


BIDEN: I think there`s overwhelming bipartisan support for this. You look at the polling data, Republican voters overwhelmingly supported. Now I just got to get some of my Republican colleagues to support it.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: I don`t think there`ll be any Republican support. Not zero for the $4.1 trillion grab bag, which has infrastructure in it but a whole lot of other stuff.


WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Monday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize Winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post," A.B. Stoddard, veteran Washington journalist, Associate Editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics, and Professor Melissa Murray of NYU law school. She was a law clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the federal bench prior to her nomination to the Supreme Court. Good evening, and welcome to you all.

Ashley, I`d like to begin with you and your Sunday piece specifically just contains some remarkable reporting. And this remarkable quote contained there in, "Debra Ell, a Republican organizer in Michigan and fervent supporter of former President Donald Trump says she has good reason to believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen. I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong. And so, we`ve learned to trust when he says something that he`s not just going to spew something out there that`s wrong and not verified."

Ashley, that goes a long way toward explaining the new CNN poll, 70 percent of Republicans surveyed believe the election was stolen, it goes a long way of explaining how deep the belief runs.

ASHLEY PARKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST" WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: That`s exactly right. And one of the things we set to document in this weekend story was that this isn`t just a question and it`s sort of a field deep test that`s roiling Republican lawmakers in Washington, who the truth is generally no better. And when they refuse that the election results, that`s more an indication of their unwillingness to take on former President Trump and they kind of like to avoid the question.

But when you go out across the country and you look down at lower levels of the Republican Party, so you know, state party chairman, state party executive directors, grassroots activists like Debra Ell, who I interviewed, a lot of them really do believe what Donald Trump has falsely and baselessly been claiming and what he is now today trying to rebrand as his own big lie and pick that back from Democrats.

And so, if you are someone who truly believes everything that Donald Trump says and truly believes what is a lie is not factually correct that the election is stolen, then some of that be -- then you can understand at least where that behavior comes from, trying to cast out people in the Republican Party who do accept the election results and it is really roiling the party, and is going to prove or could prove at least play a decisive not just in how the primaries work if it moves the party further to the fringe. But then a potential backlash and downside for Republicans in the general election where a lot of the voters you need to win in a general election to win statewide, moderate voters, Independents, suburban women don`t like this, don`t like the big lie and will likely punish the party who is continuing to perpetuate it.

WILLIAMS: A great point. Before we get to matters of the law, to A.B., let`s talk about Congresswoman Cheney, and let`s do that by first airing this. This is a snippet from a spot put together by the Republican Accountability Project.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing is going to stop Liz Cheney from telling the truth.

REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R) WYOMING: That we will not forget what happened on January 6.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truth about the election results.

CHENEY: The election wasn`t stolen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The truth about the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

CHENEY: President Trump claimed four months of the election was stolen and then apparently set about to do everything he could to steal it himself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But snowflake Republicans in Congress can`t handle the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can`t handle the truth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it exposes their lies to the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump won this election.

REP. MATT GAETZ, (R) FLORIDA: The vote was polluted by illegal ballots.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE, (R) GEORGIA: This election is stolen. The evidence is overwhelming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Republican, Democrat or Independent. If you stand for the truth, stand with Liz.


WILLIAMS: So, A.B., that`s some damning stuff, not even counting the cameo by Jack Nicholson. There is reporting out there that this attempt to strip Congresswoman Cheney of her number three leadership role. Again, it is a straight up hit job by Kevin McCarthy who`s trying to protect his friendship and relationship with Donald Trump and his ability to visit Mar- a-Lago. What say you on the subject?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL POLITICS ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST: Right. I thought it was interesting today that former Congressman Carlos Curbelo of Florida said on to Kasie Hunt that there are Republicans in the House Conference who supported her last time and will again, and urge her in private to continue to speak the truth. And so, you know, she has this good standing.

The problem is the last challenge by Matt Gaetz and others to Liz Cheney. She did enjoy the support of Kevin McCarthy, and she does it now. And he`s too happy to make that clear.

I was surprised to learn that it had gotten this bad. And in talking to a few Republicans, I learned that it is going to be the end of her leadership role if she can`t convince enough people to, again, end secret ballot back or one who endorsed or voted for her last time and will again.

Said look, she`s -- I mean, she`s in essence we know from that "New York Times" piece by Robert Draper, she`s basically saying, bring it. She`s taking every opportunity to tell the truth. She smacked down what Trump said this morning, an hour later on Twitter. And she`s really not shy about speaking about this.

And so, the people that supported her last time and like this member who will support her again, still think she needs to stop taking every opportunity to be on a separate page from the conference. It`s a leadership position, everyone`s supposed to be singing from the same page. Kevin McCarthy is now no longer supportive of her.

And the one phrase I thought was so interesting was, she`s chosen to put herself in the crosshairs and dare her opponents to shoot, and sooner or later, somebody will. So, whether or not she can get to that overwhelming number, we know that`s not true. If she manages with these secret normal Republicans who know the truth and want her to hold on to actually survive another secret ballot for her position, maybe it`s a possibility, but it`s increasingly looking as if it`s not.

WILLIAMS: Other way of saying, she persisted, I guess.

Hey, Professor Murray, let`s talk about this meaningless recount of the already recounted votes in Maricopa County out in Arizona. And on the legal front, tell our audience, please, about the danger of this kind of thing multiplying, about the danger of local movements to perhaps have parties and not counties supervise the count.

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU LAW PROFESSOR: Yes, it`s a very disturbing trend, Brian, and one that`s worth watching. Again, this all stems from the big lie that Ashley talked about in her reporting. And I think one of the things that we`re seeing here is sort of part of a bigger legislative move. We`ve seen around the country that these Republican controlled legislature are passing more and more restrictive voting laws. This is part of it, I`m part of the voting. Restrictions are not just limiting 24 hour voting or drive thru voting, but also imposing the requirement of partisan poll watchers at the poll.

And some have argued that this could be both a deterrent and even a possible intimidation factor for minority voters. So that too, is concerning.

But I think bottom what all of this underscores, and this is sort of a slant on something that Ashley just said, is that in some of these states, the districts are drawn in such a way that for many cases, many candidates will have their most significant challenge in the primary, a partisan primary. And that means that the base of the party really does have the opportunity to dictate legislative activity once the candidate has been installed as the actual representative or Congress person in that case. And so, I think we`re seeing a real push from the base to dictate some of these policies. And it really is, again, animated from this big lie.

WILLIAMS: Ashley, think of what it is we`re talking about here. Let`s call it a battle in the Republican Party and nothing approaching a full on civil war because we haven`t seen the other side kind of coalesce. What, if any effect, does any of this have on the agenda of the sitting President?

PARKER: Well, one thing President Biden has been quite good at starting in the campaign is not to elevate Donald Trump when he was president now that he`s a former president, any of these baseless conspiracy theories not responding to tweets, and he has been successful in doing that. But one challenge for him is when you have a portion of the country who, if you believe, President Trump -- former President Trump`s big lie, believes that President Biden is not really the president. Is there illegitimately, right?

That makes even, you know, we met earlier in your program where we showed that clip of Biden redefining bipartisanship and saying it`s winning over voters out in the country, well, it`s a lot more difficult or a bit more of a leap to win over a voter who doesn`t believe you deserve to be president because they believe a false and baseless lie, that you somehow stole the election. So, does it affect his agenda day to day? Not really, his team is pretty good at blocking out the noise. But on a cosmic existential level, it`s something in the water that is definitely problematic for him.

WILLIAMS: A.B., the caucus of Cheney, Romney and Kinzinger could fit comfortably in a Volkswagen for their caucus meeting. So let`s just established these are modest beginnings. Is there the time or the appetite for a wing to develop of Republicans that is not based on fealty to the big lie?

STODDARD: I just think Brian, looking at the last few days the results in Texas six, the special election there where Adam Kinzinger`s backed, entered it Michael Woods did terribly and Trumpkin candidates rose to the top for the top two candidates in that rank choice election.

You look at what happened to Mitt Romney. I mean, people no longer, even if they don`t agree with him, find that they can respectfully vote against him at the party conference without booing him, a former governor, a sitting senator, and the former party`s nominee. You look at what`s going on with Liz Cheney, who is not picking a fight over policy, which many people did, or several people did the last few years with Donald Trump and they were eviscerated for it, whether it`s free trade or, you know, entitlement reform or deficit spending or eminent domain, she`s actually acknowledging reality and she`s going to lose her position, and ultimately, probably her congressional seat because of it.

And you`re right, who else who voted against Donald Trump, who voted to impeach him is speaking out? Only Congressman Kinzinger in the House. So the other eight have been encouraged to stay quiet, and try to keep getting enough campaign dollars to hold their seats. There is no new GOP, there is no hope for that. And the writing`s on the wall.

Liz Cheney is literally willing to go down for her principal, she knows there is no political path in this party for her.


Counselor, I`d like to give you the last word, you know the expression you can`t fight City Hall. What about a state House? These measures that are straight up voter suppression that are being signed into law by governors, what legal recourse do people outside of these states possibly have?

MURRAY: Well, right now, the Supreme Court has a case before it that may be really determinative in whether these laws can be challenged going forward. This is a case out of Arizona, it challenges two particular Arizona laws, one that prohibits ballot harvesting, and another that deals with mail-in- ballots.

But again, if the court decides that these measures can be limited, and the legal recourse that individuals have for challenging these measures, they will be obviously have implications for other kinds of voting laws and voter suppression laws going forward. So, I think we have to wait and see until the end of this term. But certainly what the court does in these two combined cases out of Arizona will be a strong signal about whether or not these laws can be successfully challenged going forward.

WILLIAMS: Great thanks to our first three guests of the new week, Ashley Parker, A.B. Stoddard, and Professor Melissa Murray. We greatly appreciate your contributions tonight and always.

Coming up for us. Hear us out here, could our stainless Chaney actually make her stronger against the forces behind the big lie? We`ll talk to two political pros about that question, including a former chairman of the old Republican Party.

And later, there`s big news on the coronavirus front. Have we reached the light at the end of the tunnel in parts of this country? One of the nation`s top infectious disease experts standing by to talk to us about it. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Monday night.


WILLIAMS: So, if you`re just catching up, former President Trump wants Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming to lose her job next year after she voted to impeach him back in January. Cheney could also face another effort to oust her from the leadership pose. She`s in number three in the House in the Republican side.

Our friend Jonathan Allen points this out tonight, "As the daughter of a former vice president and an active tormentor of Trump, she would be no less interesting to the public were she to be sacked. That is, any attempt to strike her down might only make her more powerful."

Back with us tonight to talk about all of it, Cornell Belcher, Democratic pollster, have worked on both of President Obama`s campaigns and on a number of House and Senate Democratic campaigns and Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee in the old days, former Lieutenant Governor of the great state of Maryland. This days he`s the host of the "Michael Steele" podcast.

Gentlemen, good evening, and welcome to you both.

Mr. Chairman, is this a page from the well-worn hymnal of liberal fever dreams that you could make Liz Cheney a martyr that it would backfire and make her politically more powerful if you try to topple her from a leadership post?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN: Yes, I think so. I mean, is that even so much of the machinations, Brian, and the politics behind those machinations is that for someone like Liz Cheney, because it`s no secret in this country, Liz Cheney is a bona fide conservative. She is legitimate, she is from good conservative pedigree, if you will. So there`s no concern or question about where she is on a number of big conservative issues that are important to those of us in the movement.

However, what distinguishes her from this crop of political people, is the fact that she`s a leader. And she is a reflection of that brand of leadership that a lot of them Americans know should exist that goes beyond partisanship. And so, the fact that she`s taken the stance that she has as actually put her in an interesting position to hold some power, if you will to use that term, if she happens to get ousted. And can be a bigger pain in the you know what to a lot of these folks who think that, oh, we`ll just get rid of her and she`ll just go away.

What I know about Liz Cheney, she ain`t going away quietly. And I think she`s already shown that. And you know, it`s something that A.B. Stoddard said I think is very important and very powerful in this moment, that as A.B. noted, there is no political pathway forward for her as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives in the leadership of this particular caucus.

And you know what, Liz, that`s OK. Because a lot of us out here, we got you back. And a lot of Americans got you back, and we see why they`re coming after you. It`s not because you`re less conservative, it`s because you won`t cozy up to Trump. And everyone knows what that means. And everyone knows why they`re doing it.

So, I think she`s going to come out OK. I hate seeing her go through this, but she has a lot of friends around this country, and a lot of friends still within the party who I think she can come to rely on should stupid prevail and McCarthy does the inevitable and that watch her get sacked.

WILLIAMS: Wow. Interesting stuff there. To our viewers, underscoring, this is the former chairman of the Republican Party bringing it this evening. Which brings us to Cornell.

Cornell, I brought something for you. This is Michael Gerson, famously 43`s former speech writer in "The Washington Post" today, "Nothing about this is normal. The GOP is increasingly defined not by its shared beliefs, but by its shared delusions. To be a loyal Republican, one must either be a sucker or a liar. And because this defining falsehood is so obviously and laughably false, we can safely assume that most Republican leaders who embrace it fall into the second category. Knowingly repeating a lie and active immorality is now the evidence of Republican fidelity."

Cornell, there`s a lot there. I have a dual question for you. Do you think the GOP in our lifetime will be reality based, again? And what kind of challenges there for the Democrats earnest as they always are to be fighting an enemy that adheres to no rules with nothing to lose?

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: You know, Brian, those are really good questions. And I want to be optimistic like my friend, the chairman is, you know, that Liz Cheney might, in fact, the end up being Churchill, you know, vanish, but then come back triumphantly. But I just don`t see it in -- I just don`t see it because she`s not a Democrat.

And the chairman is right, she`s a bona fide conservative. The problem is with Trump`s Party, which he is not as a bona fide tribalist, she`s not a bona fide nativism. And so, when you strip back the big lie, what`s the big lie about? The big lie is about sort of protecting their tribal warrior.

So, I don`t think in the -- that that Liz Cheney is going to be -- she`s going to be Churchillian here in sort of this this comeback, because in the Republican Party, because this is not longer the Republican Party that that is rip that Liz Cheney, or even Bush, or Chairman Steele, or even Ronald Reagan, Brian, wouldn`t be able to win a primary in this Republican -- this party Ronald Reagan, who lost his campaign in 1979, talking about America, sometimes wrong, but never mean. And you have a Republican Party today that is -- that revels in being wrong and is excited about being wrong and as mean as often as they possibly can be. So, I am worried about that in the direction that are going.

But also, more importantly for the country is this, what are the things, what are the policies that they`re trying to put in place? And what are the policies that are trying to, in fact, get in the way and be a hurdle to because of -- this because of this tribalism? So, you know, Liz Cheney and other Republicans, they can`t pass the threshold, that threshold is to leech on and perpetuate the big lie, which is about, again, protecting a tribal strong man and a changing America.

WILLIAMS: Both of these gentlemen are going to stay with us. We`re going to fit in a break.

Coming up when our conversation continues, the uphill battle that Democrats face within their own party when it comes to expanding voting rights. We`ll talk about the debate between reaching for the stars and just reaching for consensus.


WILLIAMS: While states like Georgia and Florida passed strict new voting regulations, Republicans in the Senate are blocking a bill to expand voting rights. Politico reports at this way, quote, Democrats are preparing to kick off a sensitive internal debate over the issue this month, but no Republicans support it. Senator Joe Manchin hasn`t signed on and at least a half dozen Democrats have issues with the bill.

Our guests remain with us Cornell Belcher and Michael Steele.

Cornell, at a later date, somebody can explain to me how a senator from West Virginia who people call a dyno Democrat and name only is suddenly the second most powerful person in Washington. Again, conversation for another time. You do hear a lot of mainstream Democrats on voter suppression, say don`t reach for the stars reach consensus. Give us a clean bill to clean up voting rights.

On that front, the Democrats who are watching the Republicans do this. Just think they`re watching a suicide mission. Your life`s work is polling. Do you think there`s any chance the Republicans are poll driven on some of this stuff and they`re going to put lay down their bet on that Because of that,

BELCHER: Brian, they`re driven they`re driven by the results of elections. And this sort of carries over from the last story we just talked about here. Republicans can`t be for expanding voting rights. Republicans can`t be for making it easier for every American adult. But there`s a fundamental value here and you ask Americans should or should it be easier to vote or harder to vote? And overwhelmingly, Americans think it should be easier to vote.

But you see, these voting laws, you know, these what some have called Jim Crow 2.0 voting laws being enacted, and state after state. Guess what, because again, the big lie and I said this months ago, when the big lies sort of surface, that in the end, this is going to be justification for them, putting up hurdles to people voting, and by people, I mean, people of color, right? So you have states like Georgia, that are increasingly competitive because of the growth of the black vote. And you see that growing to -- the black and brown vote growing through the Sunbelt.

So no, Republicans can`t possibly be for expanding voting rights and letting everyone vote if they are in fact going to be the tribal party. So it`s a full cyclical problem for the Republican Party. They`re double down on tribalism, and that they double down on tribalism, they have to sort of block the vote and make it harder for people of color to vote.

But the future belongs to a party that can be bigger, not smaller. Right. If you look in a crystal ball here, you understand that the future does not belong to the narrowing coalition of voters that surrounds around Donald Trump, they`re going to have to get bigger or Chairman Steele going to have to come a Democrat.

WILLIAMS: Well, Chairman Steele, since your name was invoked. Here`s my second question a row for you Chairman Steele that deals with the chance of backfiring. All these state provisions that governors are signing, what`s the chance you and I`ve talked about this before that it`s going to backfire on the voters the Republicans want?

STEELE: I still think the chances very high. You know, Brian, I`m drawn to a quote that actually applies to the last segment, where a member of the caucus and talking about Liz Cheney said does, quote, does Cheney stubborn insistence to stick with her convictions? Rub some of us wrong? Yes.

And as I look, talk about this issue, just take out everything and put in voting. Does voting equity, does voting opportunity? Does voting freedom, rub us wrong? Yes. And that`s where the party is. And it`s so unfortunate, because they can actually be a leader in this space. They can actually, you know, carve up some new ground here for Americans to access the ballot box.

But they have bought into this narrative that Cornell referenced, you know, this big line narrative in such a way that they`re stuck. And with the leadership that`s currently in place, which again, is why Liz Cheney stands out, she`s standing on principle, she`s called the thing what it is, and that is a lie, and that there was no fraud in the 2020 election, and that anyone who perpetuate that is a liar, and a fraud.

And so instead of leaning into leadership, they`re leaning back into Trump. And so voters will have a chance as they get ready for 2022. And they`re standing in those lines, and they don`t have access to the ballots the way they did in 2020. And they can`t get to the poll, or they`re being penalized or their behavior criminalized. They`ll know exactly who brought all of that to them. And the question they then will have to ask themselves, is that who you vote for?

WILLIAMS: Well put again, and Cornell, I know you caught this, Michael coming on my show reading quotes. Usually the anchors job but he`s got a podcast now. So he`s all he`s all anchory (ph). Unbelievable. Thank goodness for all friends.

BELCHER: He`s going to invite on podcast.

WILLIAMS: Love you both. Cornell Belcher, Michael Steele, I`m going to come on your podcast and read quotes. Gentlemen, thank you both. We`ll do this again.

Coming up for us after a break. We usually ask our next guest what inning we`re in when it comes to the virus, but what inning will we be stuck in if we`re just not the type of country that`s willing to do the work to get to herd immunity.


WILLIAMS: As we mentioned with vaccinations down variants spreading, there`s now widespread consensus that achieving herd immunity is unlikely for us. And editorial cartoon by the artist Bill Bramball lays it out pretty well. We`ll give you just a minute to take it in here. Suffice to say, herd immunity. The messages may be an impossibly long slog for our society.

New York Times was a bit more serious. Putting it this way, quote scientists and public health experts are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.

So, back with us tonight, Michael Osterholm. He is a professor and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota. He was also a COVID advisor in the Biden transition team. Thank you very much for coming on.

What would life be like with herd immunity? And is it your determination that we`re going to miss that brass ring as a society?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA THE CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY: Well, first of all, herd immunity has actually come to me in a lot of things to a lot of different people. And I think if you lined up any 10 different people in this business, they`d have 10 different definitions.

But the bottom line is what it means is that when you have enough protection in the community, in other words, immune rods that go into that virus reactor immune people that you start to shut down the transmission, you just can`t -- there`s nobody to transmit it to. And that has always been a theoretical value that says at this point 85, 90 percent of the population is immune. Then basically you won`t see transmission.

Now that varies with is each infectious agent. I`ve worked up major media epidemics in a state like Minnesota where we had 92 percent of the population immune against measles, but it was so infectious, it still hit that 6 to 8 percent that otherwise were connected by neighborhoods or social groups, et cetera.

What we`re at right now with this virus is a situation where we don`t need to hit herd immunity to have a major impact. The last 100 days has been nothing short of a modern medical miracle. I was on that Biden Harris transition team advisory board. And we used to debate was it even possible to get 100 million doses of vaccine out in the first 100 days of the administration? Well, they got 220 million doses out in that time. And I think that has had a tremendous impact and taking off the table, a major surge of cases in this country.

So, the bottom line is we won`t get to herd immunity. We have too many people that aren`t getting vaccinated. The vaccines are not 100 percent effective. The variants are now more infectious than the previous ones were. But we don`t have to get to herd immunity to get to a new sense of a new normal.

WILLIAMS: In our house, we`re excited for as close to a normal Jersey Shore summer as can be had in 2021. Even the president says we`ll be in a different place by summer, but then comes fall and tell our viewers what it is about autumn. That scares everybody like you in the infectious disease business.

OSTERHOLM: Well, I have to even add an addendum to that, Brian, there are at least 10 phase right now in this country that have immunization levels that are low enough that they would have been similar to what Michigan had when their big surge started and took off.

We still have a lot of work to do in this country. There are states right now that are not anywhere close to what the national averages in terms of people vaccinated. And so there still are pockets out there, as you`re witnessing right now in the state of Oregon, where we can still see flare ups occur. But we`re not going to see as another India surge, like flare or one that we saw in January.

So I think we still want to be very careful, we still have a lot of work to do. But if you`re among vaccinated people, party hard, party hard, you know, invite people over to your house, do family related things, but get vaccinated. if there was ever a time to want to incentivize people to get vaccinated, it`s now, because if you do, you can basically protect yourself and have all the kind of socialization that you want to do.

But if you`re not vaccinated, and you`re out in bars, and so forth, know that you still have a challenge. I`ve just got done dealing with two cases in the last day, individuals, young, healthy adults who were in bars who are now in the intensive care units here in Minnesota with COVID. Get vaccinated.

WILLIAMS: Wow, that`s a personal bit of news that in fact puts names and faces to this story which is part of what is needed for months. Michael Osterholm, thank you so much for always taking --

OSTERHOLM: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: -- of questions. We appreciate you coming on. Another break for us. Coming up, the news that shocked the world of business and beyond earlier today.


WILLIAMS: Bill and Melinda Gates made an unexpected announcement on Twitter today they are ending their marriage after 27 years. As a couple they are known for their joint Foundation, their fortune, of course, and for their pledge to give it all away which they have been busy doing most recently funding huge parts of the Coronavirus fight. NBC News correspondent Kate Snow has more on today`s news.


KATE SNOW, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They`ve been a power couple for decades, their global work carrying the stamp of their union. They fought poverty, disease and inequity together as a team with their Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

BILL GATES, AMERICAN BUSINESS MAGNATE: It`s fun work that we`ve dedicated ourselves to.

SNOW: But late today the stunning news, the couple who`d been married 27 years announcing in identical posts on Twitter, after a great deal of thought and work on our relationship we`ve made the decision to end our marriage. The two say they will continue their work together at the foundation. But quote, we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives.

Bill Gates announced last year he would focus on philanthropy stepping down from Microsoft`s board. Two years ago, Melinda Gates wrote a book about gender equality.

MELINDA GATES, AMERICAN PHILANTHROPIST: The hardest pieces for me to write were the most private parts of the book, moments in our marriage where I was asking Bill for more equality.

SNOW: And back in January on today, she joked about how she and Bill were splitting cooking chores during the pandemic.

M. GATES: People could set the table and both people can do the microwaving and the cleaning up. And so we`re trying to again continue to role model that in our house for our children.

SNOW: With three children now in their teens and early 20s. The Gates asked for space and privacy for their family as we begin to navigate this new life.

(on camera): There will certainly be a lot of questions about the wealth that this couple has accrued. What I can tell you is Bill Gates became a billionaire at the age of 31. Forbes recently estimated his worth at $124 billion. Brian, the couple has made it clear that they`re going to continue with their philanthropy. They`ve just recently given over a billion dollars to fighting the global pandemic. Brian.


WILLIAMS: Kate Snow, thank you for that report for us tonight.

Coming up for us. They aren`t always right, but they are always concerned for the health of Americans. So why are Fox viewers now being told to ignore the CDC?


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight is something we call all you need to know in truth, I came up with it about three hours ago, mostly because we were struck by the comments today, out loud and in public by two national figures in the Republican Party proving once again, he will say anything at all. First up here is Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: My view is our colleagues on the other side of the aisle just can`t resist stretching out the pandemic using it as a rationale for additional spending far beyond what is best for the country.


WILLIMAS: Guy`s got a point there if there`s one thing we know about President Joe Biden, it`s all about his effort to stretch out and not eradicate this pandemic. So that may be all you need to know about Mitch McConnell.

Here now is all you need to know about the insurrection curious Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Cotton has some of that rootin` tootin` I know you are but what am I say whatever you want attitude like your bow Burt`s, your Taylor Greene`s, your Hawley`s, your Cruz`s, like those last two guys, though Cotton desperately wants to be president.

And he`s a smart guy. Make no mistake. Harvard undergrad, Harvard Law School which means he`s over educated for the character he plays on TV and in the Senate and back home in Arkansas. Here`s his latest bit of work telling Fox viewers to ignore the CDC.


SEN. TIM COTTON (R-AR): The CDC is a thoroughly politicized agency. Most Americans disregard their advice on things like steaks and hamburgers and beers. Increasingly they should disregard their advice when it comes to school reopening schools need to be open.


WILLIAMS: A couple people out there not us, we`re quick to snarkily point out today. It`s not an accident that Tom Cotton state of Arkansas is third in the nation in terms of obesity and a tight race with Mississippi and West Virginia for the top spot when they have leaders like Tom Cotton representing Arkansas in the U.S. Senate.

So to review, the Democrats are stretching out the pandemic and please ignore the CDC that is in order all you need to know about Mitch McConnell and Tom Cotton.

That is also our broadcast for this Monday night, as we begin the adventure of a new week together with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.