IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, August 13, 2020

Guests: Joe Neguse, Mara Gay, Michael Steele


Trump accuses Joe Biden of playing politics in COVID-19 after weeks of politicizing pandemic. Trump is echoing a bogus conspiracy theory on the eligibility of Senator Kamala Harris as Joe Biden's pick. Joe Biden is pushing for a national face mask mandate saying health experts tell him it could save 40,000 lives over the next three months. Senator Kamala Harris hits Trump on readiness to vaccinate the nation once it is available. Trump admits that cutting funding for the Postal Service would hurt mail balloting in November. Trump dodges a question on whether he regrets all the lying he has done.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, THE LAST WORD HOST: Like the tip of the iceberg, all I can do is beg people listening to this discussion to get their hands on this book somehow. "Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents" by Isabel Wilkerson. Isabel, a friend of mine told me today he is reading it for the second time and he's only owned it for two weeks.

Isabel Wilkerson gets tonight's last word once again. Thank you, Isabel. Really appreciate it.


O'DONNEL: Thank you. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. And it's a busy one day, 1,302 of the Trump administration, 82 days to go until our presidential election.

Today we saw in real time the president admit out loud and in public with cameras rolling that under funding the post office would prevent mail-in voting. It was at least clarifying.

Also, birtherism is back promoted by the man who first raised it about his predecessor. He happens to be the president now, today he promoted the same thing.

And we got a sense of what a Trump-Biden debate might sound like in an election sure to be defined by the debate over this pandemic. The afternoon started, in fact, with the former vice president calling for a nationwide mask mandate.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Every single American should be wearing a mask when they're outside for the next three months at a minimum. Every governor should mandate, every governor should mandate mandatory mask wearing. The estimates by the experts are will save over 40,000 lives in the next three months. It's not about your rights, it's about your responsibilities.


WILLIAMS: Biden spoke after he and his newly minted running mate met with the team of health experts they've been advising with during the campaign about coronavirus. This evening during whatever it is we are calling his daily briefing room appearances, Donald Trump fired back.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today we saw Joe Biden continue to politicize a pandemic, he wants the president of the United States with the mere stroke of a pen to order over 300 million American citizens to wear a mask for a minimum of three straight months. If the president has the unilateral power to order every single citizen to cover their face in nearly all instances, what are the powers does he have. Joe Biden has been playing politics from the sidelines. He wants to shut down our economy, close our schools, and grind society to a halt. And he wants it done by a federal decree.


WILLIAMS: It went on about like that. Biden actually called on individual state governors to issue these mandates saying health experts tell him it could save 40,000 lives over the next three months time.

As of tonight, a reminder, over 5.2 million COVID cases confirmed in our country. The virus has now taken from us 168,000 lives. But a New York Times' analysis of government data concluded today, the actual death toll, at least 200,000 in reality.

Tonight, California has become the first state in the union to have over 600,000 cases. None of that was mentioned at the president's briefing tonight. And two members of his task force who were nowhere to be seen at the briefing are sounding the alarm about what could happen if Americans don't follow recommendations and refuse to wear masks.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: This could be the worst fall from a public health perspective we've ever had.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: So, unless we all pull together to get that down and we don't have disparities in some states are doing this and some states are doing that. We're going to continue to have this up and down. So that's the thing that I'm concerned about because I believe we can, we have it within our power to be able to get that down. Bottom line is, I'm not pleased with how things are going.


WILLIAMS: Then there is the governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, an ardent Trump supporter, ally in the effort to reopen schools no questions asked. He is much more upbeat, and today, in fact, repeated a rather startling analogy from one of his state's education officials.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Martin County Superintendent Laurie Gaylord told me today that she viewed reopening her schools as a mission akin to a Navy SEAL operation. Just as the SEALs surmounted obstacles to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, so too with the Martin County school system find a way to provide parents with a meaningful choice of in-person instruction or continue distance learning.


WILLIAMS: On our economic front, the number of Americans who filed unemployment claims last week fell below one million for the first time since March. The total number of people who have lost work since the pandemic started remains high. It's now over 56 million people.

As for those stalled relief bill negotiations, both Houses of Congress have now left Washington. They need their rest after all. This is their break that runs through Labor Day. That means don't expect a deal until probably September.

One of the sticking points is election aid for states and emergency funding for the U.S. Postal Service. And this morning, the president ramped up his unfounded attacks in his battle against mail-in voting. Here's what he told Fox Business this morning about why he's against more funding for the post office.


TRUMP: They want $25 billion, billion for the post office. Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots. Now in the meantime, they aren't getting there -- by the way, those are just two items. But if they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting because they're not equipped to have it.


WILLIAMS: Hours later, Trump was asked about that comment.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said that you do not want to fund the U.S. Postal Service because Democrats are trying to expand voting by mail. So I've got two questions for you. One, are you threatening to veto any legislation that includes funding for the Post Office?

TRUMP: No, not at all. No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you would sign something that doesn't (INAUDIBLE) funding?

TRUMP: It's a separate thing. I would do it. But what are the reasons the post office needs that much money is to have all of these millions of ballots coming in from nowhere and nobody knows from where.


WILLIAMS: Tonight, there is also new reporting from the Washington Post and we quote, the Republican National Committee and conservative groups are pursuing an unprecedented effort to limit expansion of mail balloting before the November election, spending tens of millions of dollars on lawsuits and advertising aimed at restricting who receives ballots and who remains on the voter rolls. The RNC and Trump campaign advisers are now mapping out their post-election strategy, including how to challenge mail ballots without postmarks, as they anticipate weeks-long legal fights in an array of states.

To our viewers, you've been warned.

And an oddly related matter tonight, the Palm Beach Post is reporting Trump and his wife have once again requested their own mail-in ballots for the upcoming Florida primary.

In the middle of all that happened today, a diplomatic development, President Trump said Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to normalize relations. One part of the agreement still remains a little vague, calls for Israel to suspend their plans to declare sovereignty over parts of the Palestinian territories and to expand relationships with other countries in the Middle East. Israel already has agreements with Egypt and Jordan.

This afternoon, Trump's national security adviser suggested the president should be rewarded, honored for brokering this deal.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: He's brought peace to the Middle East, at least peace between the UAE and Israel. It wouldn't surprise me, it'll take some time in this environment, but it wouldn't surprise me if the president is eventually nominated for a Nobel Prize for the -- this today's work is an example of why he would be rightly considered and should be a frontrunner for the Nobel Peace Prize.


WILLIAMS: You got to aim high but first things first, we have a pandemic and a flat lining economy which brings us to our lead-off discussion on a Thursday night. Two of the best White House reporters on the beat, both happened to be with the Associated Press, Jill Colvin and Jonathan Lemire. Also back with us, Dr. Vin Gupta, an ER doc specializing in COVID types of illnesses. He's an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington Department of Health Metrics Sciences. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Jill Colvin, sadly, I want to begin with birtherism. It is a big giant, loud distraction. It is also so insidious and so hurtful.

Tonight, I asked Neal Katyal for comment, the veteran constitutional lawyer who has argued, of course, dozens of cases before the Supreme Court, and he writes this. "There are hard questions in constitutional law, this is not one of them. The idea that Senator Harris is ineligible to serve is, to use the technical legal term, half-witted and crazy. Article II of the Constitution sets out all the requirements to be president. You must be 35-years-old, resident of the country for the last 14 years, and a natural-born citizen. Senator Harris was born in Oakland, which President Trump should know is in California, our 31st state. I defended in the pages of the Harvard Law Review, Ted Cruz' eligibility to serve back in 2016, and this one is even nuttier. Any president who floats such nonsense betrays his oath of office."

So, an unambiguous opinion from Mr. Katyal. Jill, is this an indicator that the White House has no other game, no other lines of attack perhaps?

Well, the White House and the president's campaign have really struggled over the last 48 hours to respond to the Harris pick as Jonathan and I reported yesterday. The president was really hoping that Joe Biden would pick one of the other frontrunners thinking that he might have a better case to make against them that they may make easier for his campaign to try to portray Joe Biden as a radical and out of touch with the country, which is this argument they've been trying to make that isn't really sticking because of the fact that Biden as well as Harris really had been running and ran in the primaries, (INAUDIBLE) moderates in that election.

And so you've seen them struggle. You've seen really contradictory messages coming from the president's campaign. At one point, you know, repeatedly describing her as the most radical person who's ever appeared on a presidential ticket. And another breath saying that the pick has disappointed liberals who now are (INAUDIBLE) to turnout.

And what you have the president here doing is really repeating the playbook that helped catapult him to the national stage which is this birtherism campaign that he launched against President Obama years before he considered his own political career. And that took him years and years to finally denounce in the 2016 campaign and to say denounce. I mean, it was a walk back but a very reluctant one.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, Biden says the wearing of masks nationwide, and this is an accepted projection would save 40,000 lives. So 40,000 souls who are walking among us now would lose their lives if we didn't do this. The president says Biden is trying to control Americans. Did Biden just force the president to talk about his own lack of action on this front?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": It seems that way, Brian. I mean, certainly what the former vice president today said in Delaware and backed up by his new running mate, Senator Harris, is something that medical experts have said for months now, that after that initial couple of weeks where there is some confusion about the utility of mask wearing, it's the medical conditions, pretty unanimous that it is helpful in protecting other people. It's been almost seen as a sign of good citizenship where you're looking out for your fellow man and woman.

And the president, as we know, was very, very, very, very, very slow to adopt that. That he spoke out against masks, he told aides privately that he didn't like how he looked in them, that he thought it made him look weak. It made it seem like he was too consumed with the public health part of this crisis when he wanted to be focusing on reopening the economy. It was a big deal when he finally wore a mask a month or so back. I was part of that trip when he went to Walter Reed Medical Center.

He's worn one of the few times since but -- and it certainly has in his rhetoric had talked them up more saying encouraged Americans to wear them but certainly he was still inconsistent. What we saw today was his sort of reflexive instinct to disagree, to attack when Joe Biden floated that the governors should -- across the country should mandate mask wearing. The president suddenly pushed back on that thinking that was an overreach. And it made him -- in some ways Biden pushed him into a corner where the president was -- the progress he had made on masks suddenly Donald Trump was fighting against it again which can be very politically damaging as we see the virus surge throughout the country.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, we probably missed our chance to ask people politely to wear them the minute they became politicized in red states and blue. I am guessing you've seen on your end of this the evidence that they work.

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Brian, I'm in green scrubs right now because I just got off an ICU shift caring for these patients, talking to their families, and it's never been clear to me that there is such a gap between who leads us and who's actually experiencing and leading on this pandemic. Clinicians, respiratory therapists, nurses, elected officials who are following the evidence, you know, there is no debate and no one cares about the politics if they have a loved one that they can only FaceTime in an intensive care unit with COVID-19 or who they've had to say goodbye to whether that loved one comatose on a ventilator medically induced or otherwise. That's the reality and there's no good outcomes here, Brian.

The president can politicize this all he wants, we can go back and forth on the same debates but there's no great outcome even if you come out of an ICU. You come out of seeing me every day, you go to a nursing home where caregivers are strained, where people are coming off the ventilator for 45 to 60 days and they never have the same quality of life. Again, this affects 20-year-olds all the way up to 85-year-olds. This can affect us all and there's -- what we need, frankly, are leaders who understand this, who've lived it, who've been affected by it, so they don't so readily politicize it.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Gupta, I want to play for you what many people regarded on this same front and having to do with your life's work and the shift you just came off. What many people regarded as the quote of the day today, this came from Kamala Harris, we'll get your reaction on the other side.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESUMPTIVE VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I think it's important that the American people looking at the election coming up ask the current occupant of the White House, when am I going to get vaccinated. When am I actually going to get vaccinated? Because there may be some grand gestures offered by the current president about a vaccine but it really don't matter until you can answer the question, when am I going to get vaccinated.


WILLIAMS: Doc, I imagine you join a whole lot of other people in believing that's a really decent question.

GUPTA: That's a really good question. You know, my fear is that the president would say November 2nd or, hey, October 1st, and put out a vaccine -- pressure the FDA to put out a vaccine that just hasn't met the quality and safety standards that we demand a vaccine to meet so that people are not lulled into a false sense of security. The question -- the concern I have is when are we going to get a safe vaccine into people's arms. What's that going to look like and when? Not just when are we going to get the vaccine or what type of vaccine is it, and can we rely on it for safety purposes. Because I'll tell you right now, Brian, given the Russian news and everything else has been out there regarding the vaccine timeline, people are more skeptical of a vaccine candidate, whatever gets approved now than they've ever been.

So we need to be careful here. We need to have external review of any vaccine that gets pushed out there to make sure it's safe and effective.

WILLIAMS: That is the grave, grave danger. Jill Colvin taking a swing into pure politics, what's the risk of the president casting doubt about the integrity of the election, about the integrity of all the votes cast?

COLVIN: People firstly, a president of the United States trying to delegitimize a presidential election is a stunning fact in itself and what it says about, you know, the integrity of American democracy, the message that it sends across the world. But we've also seen the president do not just now in seeding doubt about the election but actively it seems like he's claimed today on Fox News actively trying to damage the Postal Service to cut off funding. So that in a way he's sort of making his warnings reality if it turns out that a lot of people decide to vote by mail and those ballots aren't counted because he has cut back that money. He's created this reality that he's warned about. And that is a tremendously complicated and difficult question of what that means on Election Day as the president, as his campaign right now and for the last couple of months has been working to set up these legal challenges in all of these states. They're preparing for what will happen the day after the election if there are a number of close elections.

And what he's also doing here is, is if it turns out that the president is ahead the day after the election he could be, you know, sowing doubt on his own victory. You've also seen a situation here where Republicans because they're listening to the president's words are far more reluctant to register to vote by mail. And you could see a situation where he's actually dampening the turnout of his own supporters because of his rhetoric.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan Lemire, we probably should have had cameras today on the front steps of the Capitol to get them leaving town or better yet, as they were boarding their flights at national airports to ask them if they had any comment to any of this. Have you heard a whisper?

LEMIRE: Not a one, Brian. These were not exactly profiles encourage here from the Republicans in the Senate or in the Congress. Surely there have been some Democrats who have not been shy about sharing their displeasure with the president's rhetoric. This is dangerous they say. This is -- first of all, undermining a great American institution, the Post Office, that doesn't just deal with the mail-in voting. It deals in everything from birthday cards to necessary medications are shipped by the mail, and we're seeing delays already ripple across the country from these initial so-called reforms the Trump administration is putting in.

And, of course, there is great concern about what this means this November. And we have not heard Republicans yet really criticize this, we couldn't -- didn't see Republicans at all on Capitol Hill today really as we now wait weeks more before a potential coronavirus relief package to put aid in the hands of Americans who really need it.

What the president is doing now as Jill just said, he is sowing doubt on what's coming. You know, this is a president who is losing in the polls, who right now seems to be embracing a strategy of making it harder to vote, thinking that that perhaps would be his best path to pull off another unlikely November victory.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Jonathan Lemire, to Jill Colvin, Dr. Vin Gupta, our big three for starting off our coverage tonight. Greatly appreciate it.

By the way and before I forget, last night, here we twice referenced Dr. Scott Atlas, the president's newest addition to his coronavirus team as a Fox News contributor. In fact, there he is now, Dr. Atlas is not a paid contributor to Fox News nor for the record and to be fair is he an infectious disease expert. He does not treat coronavirus patients. He is a board certified specialist in diagnostic radiology, the science surrounding MRIs. And he did serve as head of the Neuroradiology Department at Stanford University.

Like the president he now serves, he has given voice to some controversial views on the pandemic during frequent appearances on Fox News. He's made a dozen of those since April. Here are excerpts from a few of those.


DR. SCOTT ATLAS, SENIOR FELLOW, HOOVER INSTITUTION: This bizarre sort of notion that it's stop COVID-19 at all costs. The story really is the cost of the policy here because it's destructive, it's harmful. The cure is bigger than the disease at this point.

It doesn't matter if children get the disease, they don't get sick from this. And the data shows that they do not significantly transmit to adults. This is a level of hysteria like this is something I feel like I'm living in a Kafka novel here.

I mean, I get thousands of emails a week from all over the world from professors, teachers, mothers in the United States and elsewhere, they are stunned that we are willing to just simply destroy our children out of some bizarre notion that is completely contrary to the science.


WILLIAMS: And that is Dr. Scott Atlas, the newly minted member of the White House coronavirus team.

A break for us. Coming up, a new twist to the Watergate adage follow the money. The president says maybe he'll stop the money going to the Postal Service so they can't process votes by mail. We'll ask one outraged member of Congress, is there anything Congress can do other than watch with the rest of us to what's happening to our post office.

And later, a man who gave 37 years to his country needs some help during quarantine. He's not getting it.

The 11th Hour just getting underway on a busy Thursday night in August.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you doing as president to make sure there is a free and fair election?

TRUMP: So, everyone talks about Russia, Russia, Russia, they talk about China, China. They talk about all of these different countries that come in and run our elections which is false. These countries can grab those ballots or print forgeries of those ballots, and they would go out and they would have a field day.


WILLIAMS: It's not the Russians, it's the post office. The president's been on a tear lately spreading false information about the possibility for mail-in vote fraud despite assurances from the Postal Service. He's questioned their ability to handle the volume of a mail-in vote during a pandemic.

Recent changes imposed by our new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump mega donor with no prior Postal Service experience have reportedly caused mail delays with the aim of casting doubt on mail-in balloting. Vice News just today reporting the post office has now deactivated some mail sorting machines in critical hub locations which may also lead to backlogs.

Here to talk about it tonight, Congressman Joe Neguse, Democrat of Colorado. He's one of 85 members of Congress who signed a letter to the Postmaster General demanding answers. He also introduced the legislation in late March to fund the Postal Service the money it needs during this pandemic.

Congressman, along these lines I'm going to play for you a part of a conversation I have with a friend of mine today. This was in the 3:00 hour Eastern Time. This is retired U.S. Army General Russle Honore. I asked him from his home in quarantine in Louisiana what he made of this post office dust-up.


LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA COMMANDER: You know, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines around the world rely on the post office. As a veteran, I rely on the post office. My SCRIPT are not showing up all the time. I had to call this morning, it's not here. I'm going to have to go get some medicine at the Walgreens this afternoon because the SCRIPT is not delivered on time, and they use the post office.

I have the option to drive to the store. What about my battle buddies who don't have that option, to have no one to take him to the store when their meds don't show up? This has to stop.


WILLIAMS: Congressman, if that doesn't break your heart, your heart needs to be fixed. Here's a guy who gave 37 years to our country. That means we owe him exactly everything. He's an old man now trying to do everything right, trying to stay alive.

So what answer do you have for him? What answer do you have for everyone watching tonight who feels completely helpless that this is happening to their post office?

REP. JOE NEGUSE (D-CO): Well, it's good to be with you, Brian. And you said it best -- I mean, I share the general's outrage and I couldn't agree with him more. It's infuriating, it's unconscionable what is happening with respect to the Postal Service and what this president is doing to undermine the Postal Service. And it's important for us to take a step back and recognize just how unprecedented what -- in terms of what today's developments entailed.

I mean, the president openly admitted that he is sabotaging intentionally the Postal Service to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote by mail in the middle of a pandemic. It's not just nonsensical, it is dangerous. And I do believe that Congress has a muscular role to play in ultimately ensuring that we don't let this continue.

As you said, I introduced a bill back in March of this year to provide a $25 billion emergency appropriation to the Postal Service which was consistent by the way with the requests that we received from the Board of Governors of the Postal Service which every member of that board has been appointed by President Trump. That request has garnered the support of many of my colleagues in the House of Representatives. As you know, it passed the House many months ago as part of the Heroes Act. Unfortunately, the Senate has refused to take any action. And, you know, it's -- it is, as I said, unconscionable.

I don't think we should assume, though, that our institutions are impervious to public opinion. And my hope is that folks will make their voices heard in the coming days in terms of describing their outrage with respect to what's happening at the postal service to their elected members of Congress and their respective senators.

I mean, we're hearing from constituents every day, Brian, with stories so similar to the generals, veterans, folks who are disabled, people relying on the mail for medication, small businesses who rely on the U.S. mail, it just the end of the day is something that I don't think we should tolerate as Americans.

And I'm hopeful that Congress, as I said, will play a more muscular role in the coming days and weeks and I do think there are a number of options available to us to ultimately prevent this president from undermining The Postal Service in the way that he is doing today.

WILLIAMS: I can give you 60 seconds to go into an option that's available. I hear your plead for people to speak up, nor is it your fault or you're doing that you're on break now through Labor Day, but what can you do?

NEGUSE: Well, there are a couple of options. Right, Brian? First and foremost, I think that the Congress can play a muscular role with respect to oversight. The government oversight and reform committee has jurisdiction over the Postal Service Chairman -- Chairwoman Maloney has invited the Postmaster General to testify before Congress, I believe that we should issue a subpoena to compel his appearance before Congress so that he can be made to answer to the American people for the gross incompetence at the Postal Service under his watch.

In addition, I think the house should consider its potential litigation options. And by the way, I think that state Attorney General's also have a role to play with respect to potential litigation, given the administration's actions in terms of undermining the Postal Service and I believe that they would have standing to do so.

So I think there are a number of tools available or to us as Congress and I'm certainly going to be imploring my colleagues in the House to take the measures that I described.

WILLIAMS: All right, well, you call out a number of people and entities. Let's see if they're listening up. Congressman Joe Neguse, the great state of Colorado. Thank you, Congressman, for making time for us tonight.

Coming up for us. The President accuses his opponent of playing politics with this virus while planning his largest campaign event. You guessed it from the White House lawn. Reaction to that and more when we continue.


WILLIAMS: Despite over 168,000 coronavirus deaths over 5 million of us infected, Politico reports the White House is feeling confident about their virus response quote, inside the White House, Trump's top political aides are increasingly assured about their response, feeling like they're finally getting a handle on how to fight the disease.

Back with us tonight are two friends of this broadcast for good reason. Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times Editorial Board, former New York City Hall Bureau Chief for the Journal. Importantly, she also happens to be a COVID-19 survivor and Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC, former lieutenant governor of the great state of Maryland. These days, the host of the Michael Steele Podcast.

Good evening friends to you both more. Mara, I'd like to begin with you. I was standing there when Russel Honore rolled in New Orleans to save that city from Katrina and to a lesser extent from 43. I have known and admired him in the years since, I don't know much, but he shouldn't have to drive to Walgreens to get his VA meds.

We owe him that much after 37 years service to this country. So it's with General Honore in mind with the urgency of a post office under attack, and 1,000 people dying a day that I asked you to critique the rollout of this Democratic ticket and the cause that is ahead of them.

MAYA GAY, NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD: Well, I guess I just want to speak a little bit more broadly. I think it's incumbent not just on the Democrat --

WILLIAMS: Well, that was a hell of a build up for Michael Steele to answer the question I asked Mara. Until we get Mara back, Michael.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN: Yes, so I guess to continue in that vein from a broader perspective, you know, this idea that, you know, they're now happy and settled with the idea that they're getting it right. Six months into this says so much that up to the American people about just how much is wrong and the fact that you still have the president in these briefings insisting on pushing out narratives that are not reflective of reality nor truth.

And I think that from for many people that I've talked to Brian, and I'm sure it's true for people that you've talked to, they're just tired of it. They're exhausted by it. And I think in large measure, have tuned it out. You know, I think they just kind of say it is what it is. We've heard that right. And they are finding relief. And they're finding information from those who can help them get through this thing. Whether it's the doctors and health professionals that are on our network, people in their community, they've just stopped relying on this president to give them what they need to survive this thing.

So that is now the new backdrop, I think setting up this fall's election, in terms of the rollout to saw from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, that showed stature, determination, focus, discipline and message and giving the American people a sense that we have a strategy and that we're going to walk you through over the next few months leading to this election, and then you'll be better empowered to judge what type of leadership you want come January next year.

WILLIAMS: I'm happy to report that Mara Gay has now survived COVID-19 and a Skype lost connection. She lived to tell the tale. Mara, please have added if you have any distant memory of the question I asked.

GAY: Sure. Yes, sorry about that. I just wanted to add as well, that we shouldn't give up on the role of Congress here. Brian, I saw you going hard after them just a minute ago. They really need to not let up the pressure on the administration, just to be doing everything that can be done, you know, for COVID. And for people who are really suffering.

I think civil society in the coming months is going to play an extraordinary role in making sure that Americans are able to vote in the same way that the Rockefeller Foundation and others have stepped up and taken up some of the slack on coronavirus. And you know, it shouldn't be necessary, but this is an all hands on deck situation.

WILLIAMS: And the urgency people feel all over this country. Both of our guests have agreed to stay with us. We'll fit in this break and coming up, as we mentioned the top of the broadcast. Hey birtherism is back. Same guy who was pushing the theory last time. Only difference really is, he's now the president. We'll talk about it after this.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you definitively say whether or not Kamala Harris is eligible (INAUDIBLE) the legal requirements to run as vice president?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So as you heard -- I heard that today that she doesn't meet the requirements. And by the way, the lawyer that wrote that piece is a very highly qualified, very talented lawyer. I have no idea that's right. I would have thought -- I would have assumed the Democrats would have checked that out before she gets chosen to run for vice president but that's a very serious you're saying that they say that she doesn't qualify because you wasn't born in this country.


WILLIAMS: And that right there is how it works and with that birtherism is back. Back with us for round two, Mara Gay and Michael Steele.

Mara, let's fill in the lines. The President was corrected on that last line. No, she was born in this country. She's as American as any one of the three of us. She was born in Oakland, California, but that's how insidious things work. That's how it gets in the bloodstream. And Mara, here we are, again.

GAY: Yes. So, first of all, as you said, Senator Harris was born in California. She is a natural born citizen. She is eligible to serve under Article II of the Constitution as well as the 14th amendment. And then, you know, talking about what the real issue is here, which is, as you said, the birtherism the other ring of fellow American, it's ugly, it's desperate.

I'm not so sure it's going to work this time when you have so many millions of Americans out of work, sick, suffering, afraid. And estimates are over 200,000 deaths so far in this country, too many of which were preventable, from this deadly pandemic. And a president that until recently has refused to do so much is wear a mask, been golfing while Americans are dying.

I think that's what people are going to remember at the polls. But I don't want to be dismissive of this notion that birtherism and racism are at the heart of this kind of old American politics that the President is playing with. That's really just a distraction.

This is all he has to offer the American people. And I think if you're the Democrats, you need to offer them much more than that. And already we've seen that from this ticket, and it's just -- it's really embarrassing and it's shameful. A sad day.

WILLIAMS: Michael, let's be clear. A couple people get assessed on that goal. The President tried to shoot it to the net just now the reporter who teed up the question as she did, the lawyer guy who wrote the op-ed column for what remains of Newsweek to get it out in the bloodstream and then cause a debate about a non-question, a question that's been established, as Mara said, and answered, does this mean to you that they've got no other game?

Michael, now you're muted.

STEELE: No, I'm here. I'm here. I'm here.

WILLIAMS: You're back. You're back. OK.

STEELE: I would say -- I was saying as Mara was talking, I was sitting here biting my lip because there's so much bile from this. We should all be disgusted by the unmitigated racism ignorant stupidity to sit there and pretend Oh, I just heard this. Oh, yes, that this is a great lawyer. Yes, a good lawyer.

This is the kind of stuff that this campaign, this country, this time cannot tolerate. America, I've talked to you about being punked. If you're going to get pumped on this, then you deserve what you get, and it says a hell of a lot more about you than it does Donald Trump.

So this to stop this right now, let's not give it one more moment of credence, err, or viability. Leave it alone, not another story should be written about it, kill it, where it is.

WILLIAMS: I know a closing note to end on when I hear one with thanks to our two friends Mara Gay and Michael Steele. As we said another eventful Thursday night here we are in the middle of summer 2020. Thank you both.

A break for us when we come back. Something else that happened in that Briefing Room earlier today.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back, as I mentioned before the break something very unusual happened in the White House Briefing Room today during again, whatever we're calling the President's daily appearance in that briefing room. And this is aside from the president reviving birtherism as we watch today.

President as you know is well known for making false or misleading claims. So today, he was presented with a very blunt question from a reporter in the White House Briefing Room. So blunt, we didn't at first know what we were seeing or hearing in real time, so blunt, the President asked that it be repeated right before he bailed on it and the reporter either way, here's the moment.


TRUMP: Please.

S.V. DATE: Mr. President, between three and a half years, you regretted all, all the lying you've done to the American people?

TRUMP: All the what?

DATE: All the lying. All the dishonesties.

TRUMP: That who has done it?

DATE: You have done. Tens of thousands --

TRUMP: Go ahead, please. Please.


WILLIAMS: That's about how that went. The President was then in a hurry to call on another reporter that was Huffington Post reporter S V. Date, questioning the president today. He said later, he's been waiting to ask that question for a long time.

Another break for us. Coming up, when we talk about the U.S. mail, asked a veteran what the mail meant to them while they were deployed. Ask a veteran if their medications are arriving on time these days. We'll talk about all of it when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight, everything about this year is unusual. Everything about this era we're living in is unusual, but it's our job to push through it and say the important things out loud, like the fact that the President of the United States is threatening, weakening, diminishing, slowing down and underfunding the post office.

You heard retired General Russel Honore said to me earlier, our veterans and active duty military have an especially personal and visceral connection to the post office. And for good reason. A friend of mine who's a marine veteran of the Vietnam War said to me tonight, mail call was better than chow hall. As he put it, you can't get mom's chocolate chip cookies via text or e-mail.

And so be exactly because of that. The folks at the organization called VoteVets have chosen this moment to speak up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After five draft deferments, and faked bone spur excuses, Donald Trump has finally gone to war with the U.S. Postal Service. Yes, the post office, the one that American troops have relied on for over 200 years to bring news from home and deliver our absentee ballot safely back home. And when our service was through to deliver life saving prescriptions on time from the VA today and every single work day 330,000 veterans are do a prescription drug delivery by the U.S. Postal Service.

And today tens of thousands aren't getting their prescriptions because Donald Trump declared war on the mail, firing workers disrupting deliveries, defunding operations. The thing is, this is just a warm up for the fall, Donald Trump plans to disrupt absentee ballots and vote by mail for millions of Americans in the middle of a pandemic he failed to control because Donald Trump knows if a mail delivers ballots to America's veterans will deliver a message right back, you lose.


WILLIAMS: There you have it. This now affects everyone especially our veterans and active duty military, but everyone let's see now how everyone reacts when the mail doesn't come on time, when medicine doesn't arrive and this time, sooner or later when it gets serious, that is where we are

That is where we are on this midsummer Thursday night in the year 2020. And that is our broadcast for this evening. It comes with our appreciation for spending some of your time with us here tonight. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


Content and programming copyright 2020 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content.