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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, August 14, 2020

Guests: Susan Page, Ron Klain; Angela Lang, Paul Gronke, Mario Ramirez, Doris Kearns Goodwin


Dozens of Postal Service mailboxes were removed across the U.S. as Trump ramps up attacks on mail-in voting. Trump congratulates again a Republican congressional candidate with a history of promoting fake and aggressively loopy QAnon conspiracy theories. The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Postal Service warns 46 states that voters could be disenfranchised by delayed mail-in ballots. A new documentary called "Dress Rehearsal" looks at the events leading up to that election. Fewer COVID-19 cases are likely to be found with less testing being done as CDC predicts nearly 200,000 deaths by early September. Trump says elderly will likely get COVID-19 vaccine first while volunteers agree to be exposed to the virus.


SARU JAYARAMAN, PRESIDENT, ONE FAIR WAGE: And she lost her unemployment insurance for not being willing to take that job. So, now this is not just a matter of justice, it's a matter of survival.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Yes. We need to continue this conversation. Saru, thank you for joining me. Saru Jayaraman is the president of One Fair Wage. She is the director of the Food and Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

And that is tonight's last word. I'll see you tomorrow morning and every weekday morning. I'm sorry, weekend morning starting at 8 a.m. Eastern. We got a great show coming up for you this weekend. I hope you'll join us.

The 11th Hour with Brian Williams begins now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again as another Friday night is upon us. Day 1,303 of the Trump administration, 81 days to go until our presidential election.

Today, the nation was warned about a new potential threat to the election but not from any kind of foreign interference though it's there. This comes from the U.S. Postal Service which right on time after efforts to weaken it is now warning states there may not be enough time for the ballots to be requested, completed, and returned before November 3rd. That's the hoped for outcome when you set out to cripple the post office.

NBC News has confirmed states from coast to coast have received warning letters from the post office general counsel. Washington Post reporting the letters were sent to at least 46 states. That's a lot.

This as Trump ramps up his effort to cast doubt on the integrity and legitimacy of mail-in voting which he falsely and repeatedly claims is rife with fraud while refusing to approve the emergency funding that the post office needs. Those extra funds are part of that relief bill Congress and the White House can't agree on. Congress skip town for 26 days summer break because they need their rest.

Today, Trump was asked what would convince him to release the funds.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the Democrats were to give you some of what you want, would you be willing to accept the $25 billion for the Postal Service, including the $3.5 billion --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's what we want. And so what I want is what the American people want. I've directed the secretary of the Treasury to get ready and send direct payments, 3,400 for a family of four to all Americans. Democrats are holding this -- I'm just waiting for the Democrats to approve it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why not just sit down with Democrats personally and cut a deal?

TRUMP: Because they want $1 trillion to go to their friends doing a bad job running certain cities and states that are doing very badly.


WILLIAMS: And it went on like that. Trump and his newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump mega donor with no prior experience appear to be trying to retro fit the post office and what critics suspect is more like an effort two win Trump the election during a pandemic NBC News has obtained an internal U.S. Postal Service document revealing plans nothing short of removing 671 high volume mail processing machines from postal facilities around our country. The agency told NBC News in a statement these are part of normal business adjustments.

We also learned that DeJoy has written a memo to post office staff admitting that recent cutbacks and restructuring has resulted in, quote, unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels. Although, he has said the agency will be able to handle the demand of the balance and the election. Tonight, NBC News reporting the Postal Service inspector general is quote now reviewing DeJoy's policies as well as whether he violated any federal ethics rules. But don't forget, in previous cases, Trump has merely fired the inspectors general.

And in a big reversal tonight, the agency is halting plans to remove more of these, those blue mailbox collection boxes that we've all grown up with from locations around the country until Election Day after they already removed a good number of mail collection boxes across our country. Democrats, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer put out a joint statement earlier today calling the president's handling of the post office an abuse of power. They're demanding information from the postmaster general. The problem is joint statements in plain English aren't going to cut it with 81 days to go before an election and Congress on a summer vacation.

Here is what Congressman Jim Clyburn and Senator Joe Manchin, both Democrats, said earlier on this network


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): If they allow this to happen from the top-down, from Washington down to where this election and basically the people believe and lose confidence and faith, and you don't have a support of the public. I guarantee we'll lose our Postal Service as we as we know it, and I'm not going to let that happen.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): Forget about political products, let's think about preserving this democracy. It's the best thing going on (INAUDIBLE) but like every other big government, every other good government all the way back Rome, this too can fall.


WILLIAMS: The Associated Press reporting Republican Senator Mitt Romney also warned that attacking mail voting threatens our democracy. And there was this from the new Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESUMPTIVE VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Why don't they want us to vote? Why are they creating obstacles to us voting? Well, the answer is because when we vote, things change. When we vote, things get better. When we vote, we address the disparities we have been talking about.


WILLIAMS: Today, the Democratic ticket signed the official documents needed to get them on the ballots in all 50 states. There's a new NPR/PBS/NewsHour Marist Poll out has Biden 11 points ahead of Trump and it's a national poll, mind you. Democratic convention virtually kicks off on Monday but in the midst of a pandemic, as we've been saying, it's going to look a whole lot more like a Zoom meeting.

A new CDC projection notes that by September the fifth, there could be, quote, 180,000 to 200,000 total COVID-19 deaths. Tonight, over 169,000 of our fellow citizens have died. Confirmed infections now top 5.3 million.

There was no official pandemic briefing today. Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx was dispatched far from the White House talking to officials in Nebraska about containing the virus there while the president is now getting advice from a doctor he has seen on TV.

There is also news tonight about the attorney general's ongoing investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation and the Muller report. And the first legal development in the inquiry, a former FBI lawyer has agreed to plead guilty to falsifying a document it was a form investigators used in 2017. Seeking renewed court permission for a secret wiretap of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

And one other notable moment today, Trump was asked about his recent decision to congratulate Marjorie Taylor Greene, she's the Republican congressional candidate in Georgia with a history of promoting fake and aggressively loopy QAnon conspiracy theories and making racist and anti-Semitic remarks.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You congratulated Marjorie Taylor Greene in a tweet. You called her our Republican star. Greene has been a proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory. As you said it's something that should be -- would be worth listening to. Do you agree with her on that?

TRUMP: Well, she's done very well in the election. She won by a lot. She was very popular. She comes from a great state, and she had a tremendous victory. So absolutely, I did congratulate her.

Please, go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- QAnon and you said you embrace that conspiracy theory. Do you agree with her on that? That was the question.

TRUMP: Go ahead again.


WILLIAMS: Here for our lead-off discussion on a busy Friday night at the end of a busy week. Susan Page, veteran journalist, best-selling author, USA Today Washington bureau chief, Annie Karni, White House reporter with The New York Times, and Ron Klain, political veteran of the White House and Congress, now informally advising the Biden campaign these days notably. He oversaw the response to the Ebola outbreak during the Obama administration. Notably as well, he's the co-host of a podcast called Epidemic about the coronavirus.

Well, good evening and welcome to you all. Susan, on your list of possible things that could happen in the year 2020, where was the possibility of blue mailboxes disappearing from the countryside and getting loaded on flatbed trucks?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: You know, I thought we were past being shocked but the weaponization of the U.S. Postal Service for partisan gain is something that is just, it's just astounding. It's a fundamental government service. This is not only undermining efforts for mail-in voting during a pandemic, it means that veterans aren't getting their prescriptions in time. It means that all kinds of mail services are being disrupted and it's just quite a terrible.

WILLIAMS: And Susan, to your point that this is -- veterans' prescriptions for starters that aren't coming on time, is this the test of whether or not we have become sheep because it strikes me on this one, we could hear from the American public writ large.

PAGE: Or maybe from Republican officeholders but all we have -- I was trying to check this evening before coming in here, Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, they expressed concern and alarm. Roy Blunt, and that's it. That's all the Republicans I could find expressing concern. And this is the destruction of the U.S. Postal Service and the undermining of faith in our presidential election is something that's not just going to bother Democrats after Election Day. This is something for Republicans and every one of us to be worried about.

WILLIAMS: Indeed. Annie Karni, what is the chance the president is laying the groundwork for a broad kind of conspiracy theory to cover up a potential loss.

ANNIE KARNI, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, he's not -- he's pretty open about what he's doing. He's -- he, you know, it's getting to be a trite phrase. He says the quiet part loud. He said today that he wants to hold up funding for the Postal Service the Democrats are demanding because if they get that money, they be able to do the mail-in voting that he doesn't want to be done. Case closed.

He's -- this is kind of -- he's been claiming with no evidence that mail-in voting is rife with fraud. But this is kind of a piece of what he's been doing to undermine faith in institutions from the beginning, from talking about a deep state, from promoting conspiracy theories. I mean, it's sort of related to promoting birtherism that he did with Obama to what he's doing with Kamala Harris now. This is someone who promotes conspiracy theories that undermine faith and trust in institutions, and this could serve him now to his purpose of undermining this election.

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, it's time for tough love. Schumer and Pelosi put out a joint statement, that kind of thing that last worked in about the mid '80s. There is no one in the Trump White House saying, oh my God, I just heard Schumer and Pelosi put out a joint statement. Question to you, Ron is, what can the Democrats do. Can the Democrats whip up public support and just possibly save the post office?

RON KLAIN, OVERSAW EBOLA RESPONSE UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Brian, I think they can. I mean, I think it's not just the joint statement that the speaker and the leader put out but it's Democrats all over the country at all levels of government, making very strong statements and pointing out what Susan noted. I mean, it's both democracy on the line. It's both the legitimacy of our elections on the line. And then a lot of people's day to day livelihoods, veterans and their medicines as Susan said but also small businesses which transact their business via mail, contractors who get paid via the mail. I mean, you know, Donald Trump has proven that he cannot manage a pandemic, now he can't even manage the mail.

The post office has a 91 percent approval rate in this country. If you destroy the post office, you're wrecking democracy, cross wrecking our economy, that's all going to wash up on President Trump's desk that can have devastating political consequences for him.

WILLIAMS: Susan Page, of all the political tickets you and I have seen and covered in our time, talk about how you viewed this ticket now and this rollout distanced and silent and strange as it had to be.

PAGE: You know, I thought it worked out very well for the Democrats. You saw, number one, Biden campaign pretty disciplined that didn't leak in advance. The choice of Kamala Harris both made a lot of electoral sense. She's been vetted, she's run statewide in California, she's had her presidential bid of her own. But it also reflected kind of a value that contrasts with Vice President Biden with President Trump and that is the ability to get past a slight. Because we know we could see on his face that night of that debate how hurt and angry Joe Biden was by Kamala Harris's attack on his history on racial issues including school busing in the 70s. And he got past that to choose her as his running mate and put her on a track for future national office. That is, I think not something we would have seen President Trump do with someone who didn't embarrass him in that way.

WILLIAMS: Annie Karni, here's my second exasperated open-ended question for you, yesterday, birtherism came back and it landed in the White House briefing room. Today, the president took a pass on any criticism and indeed endorsed the QAnon candidate who is probably destined for a seat in the U.S. Congress from that conservative district in Georgia. Does anybody care?

KARNI: I mean, I think it's -- I think it was notable that he is given the opportunity to disavow her comments about QAnon. He was asked two questions by Jill Colvin from (INAUDIBLE) not just as he support her candidacy but does he agree with the comments, and he did not disavow those comments. He did not distance himself from it.

The Republican Party is going to have to face having a someone who believes in these QAnon conspiracy theories serving in elected office in Congress, and so far we have not seen them distancing themselves. Kevin McCarthy and Donald Trump both endorsed her, this candidate. It if she is likely to pose this question of how do they deal with this when there is one of these QAnon conspiracy theorists among them in Congress?

WILLIAMS: Ron Klain, people are genuinely worried about the election. They're scared for their post office. Let me ask you about some possibilities. We continue to see people on floaty on social media floating the idea of the FedExes of the world. The UPS is in the world using their extraordinary network and lift capacity helping out in this case. I'm considering it may be an in-kind contribution to their country. What is the chance that the political parties, local governments, municipalities are going to have to hand out masks and tell people we have no other choice but to man and woman up and go vote in person and pay the consequences since you are our resident expert on this pandemic?

RON KLAIN, "EPIDEMIC" PODCAST CO-HOST: Look, Brian, first of all, sadly, in many states, a minority of states but a number of states, it's very, very hard to vote by mail. So we -- some people are going to have to go vote at the polls. Now, we can make it safer by having more early voting so there's less lines at the polls or fewer people around, but in-person voting is going to be part of this election. And we need to do what we can to make that as safe as possible.

The Brennan Center this week put out a report on how we can make it safer for people to vote in person. There's the real cost for younger people to replace older co-workers so the polls can be staffed and polls can be opened. This week, Dodger Stadium agreed to be a polling place, a safe polling place in partnership with LeBron James. So there are things we can do to make in person voting safer.

The best thing though where it's possible to vote by mail is for people to request their ballots early and cast them early. The sooner you get your ballot, the sooner you put it in the mail, Trump's monkeying around with the mail service level less impact with you, the more likely your vote is to count. And that's a message we are sending out, Democrats are sending out, the Biden campaign sending out. Get your ballot early, cast it early, and make sure it counts.

WILLIAMS: It's enough to make you wonder what we'll be discussing say a week from tonight or as early as Monday night on this broadcast. To our friends, Susan Page, Annie Karni, Ron Klain, thanks for staying up late with us at the end of a long work week. We greatly appreciate it.

Coming up for us, what's really at stake as the president kneecaps the post office to, quote, his predecessor today.

And later, it's a risk even greater than in-person voting. Would you volunteer together get the coronavirus on purpose if it helps save lives? You may be surprised to learn how many people around the world have thus far said yes.

All of it as the 11th Hour just getting underway on this August Friday night.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, what we've seen in a way that is unique to modern political history is a president who is explicit in trying to discourage people from voting, right? I think the Republicans view has been, it's all fair game as long as it helps us gain power. What we've never seen before is a president say, I'm going to try to actively kneecap the Postal Service to encourage voting and I will be explicit about the reason I'm doing it.


OBAMA: That's sort of unheard of, right?


WILLIAMS: As the coronavirus spreads across our country, voters who don't get mail-in ballots will have to decide whether or not to head out for in-person voting at the polls. You might remember scenes that we showed you from Wisconsin, this was back -- way back in early April, long lines to vote just as the country was coming to grips with a pandemic.

Now, a new documentary called "Dress Rehearsal" looks at the events leading up to that election.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) in the mail for absentee ballot, it never came. Me and my sisters never came. By the ballot not coming, I just felt like that was a way of them like, oh, they didn't get their absentee ballot, they're not going to go vote. So I had to go to the polls.

But I really -- like I matter.


WILLIAMS: Please note, it is called "Dress Rehearsal" for a reason. For more, we welcome to the broadcast, Angela Lang, she's executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities in Wisconsin. And Paul Gronke, a professor in political science at Reed College up in Portland, Oregon, also happens to be the founder and director of the school's Early Voting Information Center which looks for non-partisan evidence-based solutions to administering elections. Imagine that. Thank you both for coming on.

Angela, first to you, remind our audience please what problems they had with mail-in voting in Wisconsin. Also, if you recall, remind us -- I think the official phrase is duh, they had an outbreak of coronavirus after the in-person election and what, 70 people got sick in Wisconsin?

ANGELA LANG, BLACK LEADERS ORGANIZING FOR COMMUNITIES: Yes. I mean, definitely, we had a lot of issues that I think everybody has seen and heard and expressed. And people seeing the viral pictures about the elderly standing in line. There are folks that actually requested absentee ballots, some of which are on our team that never actually got them. So they did everything right but yet still, we're faced with that decision of do I stay safe or do I risk my health and make sure that my voice is heard.

And ideally, in a robust democracy, that is not something that we should ever have to be faced with. And, you know, I have been very adamant that in a democracy where we should have safe and fair and free elections. Even if one person gets sick, that is one to many. And we know that it's a way to really weaponize a global pandemic as another form of voter suppression.

WILLIAMS: So, Professor, you're just a guy sitting at home watching a broadcast like this one perhaps and you hear the president talk about how rife with fraud mail-in voting is, how we'll be the laughingstock of the world because of voter fraud. What's the truth where you're concerned?

PAUL GRONKE, REED COLLEGE POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR: Well, Brian, you know, I'm out here on the West Coast so usually I wake up in the morning and hope that that hasn't happened again because it usually ruins my week. Many in our community, scholars, other advocates like the National Vote at Home Institute have been trying to counter messaging. Brian, actually, this most recent -- then there haven't been many Republican voices, but a couple of weeks ago when Trump again launched a missive and unfortunately followed by the attorney general spouting misinformation about mail-in voting, a number of Republican secretaries of state, for example, Republicans from Utah, they all vote by mail, pointed out that actually Republicans have benefited from voting by mail and absentee voting for 25 years.

It's very odd world we're in right now. You know, I'm not sure how the rank and file GOP which is really well-organized around absentee balloting thinks about what the president is doing.

WILLIAMS: And Angela, on the ground in Wisconsin, how many folks are you hearing from in advance, 81 days to go, who already are worried about casting an in-person vote. And recalling the standard yet just -- you just laid out, if so much as one person gets sick, it's a failure.

LANG: Yes. We've definitely had to overcome some challenges from the April 7th election. There are some folks that we know some parents of our lead ambassadors, for example, who did everything right as I mentioned and never got their ballot and had to be persuaded to try again this next presidential cycle. You know, I think it's very easy for folks to say, you know, why should I continue this process if it didn't work in April. And so, we're doing everything that we can to make sure that people feel comfortable and restore their faith in the process essentially of how they need to vote in November.

And even in the days leading up to it, GUTV is no longer two or three days before an election, but really making sure that we're getting out the information. And I think really, you know, what we're hearing today out of the administration, all you really need to do is be able to watch the film "Dress Rehearsal" that you showed a clip of about how exactly wrong this is to really try to get the Postal Service.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Angela, real quick, where can people see the documentary?

LANG: Yes. So, Crooked Media will actually be helping broadcast it. It will be premiering on the last day of the convention. So we're really excited to really talk about and tell this story of what happened in April. It really helped me see this as a dress rehearsal and as a dry run for the November election. A lot of us, myself included, have to find ways to vote that are probably different from what we're normally used to.

And I think this really does a really good job of really outlining the challenges that organizers had to really deal with and understand and really what we have ahead of us. But we were successful in April and we're hoping to magnify our efforts tenfold as we head into the November election.

WILLIAMS: Professor, I know Governor Murphy in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the union assured everyone today they will be receiving ballots by mail. But as we look at the broader 50 states, especially states that don't have an Angela to help organize, does this just kind of fall along blue and red state lines.

GRONKE: Well, not completely, Brian. Kentucky, for example, just announced some changes. I believe they're sending absentee ballot applications to every voter. I think that's a mid-range solution that strikes me as quite reasonable that you allow anyone with a fear of COVID to use that as an excuse, don't require someone to provide, you know, a doctor's permission slip. Local election officials don't want to be determining health situations. This is the issue in Texas right now that they're fighting over.

So let's get absentee ballot applications out to everyone in those states that have the capacity. You could mail ballots to everyone, we need to be a little bit concerned, some of these states may not be able to handle a capacity of 80 or 90 percent vote by mail. Wisconsin was at 50 percent, and as Angela pointed out, faced some difficulties. We want to avoid that again.

So it's not just red and blue. As I said, Brian, I think a lot of Republican campaign operatives over the years have worked with absentee balloting. This strikes me as very unusual, the rhetoric out here.

WILLIAMS: I guess only peer pressure would force them to change their ways and there's a lot of that going around these days.

To our friends, Angela Lang --

GRONKE: Yes, I hope so.

WILLIAMS: -- Professor Paul Gronke, thank you both for having us in on a Friday night. And thanks for coming on to talk about this topic.

Coming up for us. Despite being months into a pandemic, we still don't have the testing we need we still don't have the national plan we need. Will ask an ER doctor who treats COVID patients what can be done about it.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As the administration used exhausted all of the executive authority, look, if you look under DPAs president touted today's use it so much. Has the administration actually exhausted it to get more supplies like reagents and tips and other testing supplies to the labs? Is that true? Everything's been done?

DR. BRETT GIROIR; PRESIDENT TRUMP TESTING CZAR: I'm going to say definitively yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you say enough has been done, enough has been done to make sure that everyone who needs a test gets a test and the same country?

GIROIR: Everything that can possibly be done has been done.


WILLIAMS: That was the White House Coronavirus Testing czar. He was quick to defend the administration's strategy despite a drop in testing since the end of July. So to that end with us again tonight is Dr. Mario Ramirez. He's an ER doc currently treating COVID-19 patients also he's the former Acting Director of the White House Office of Pandemic and Emerging Threats. And in that job, he helped lead the Obama White House Ebola response.

So doctor, you heard the admiral. You and I both know no doubt of cases where people are yet unable to get tested. Do you believe what the admiral said there? Do you think he believes it?

MARIO RAMIREZ, FMR. ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF PANDEMIC AND EMERGING THREATS: Hello Brian. You know, in a way, I feel, you know, a little sorry for Dr. Giroir. I mean he's in really tough spot. You know, he's forced to go out there support a policy that I think most Americans can quickly realize, you know, it's not factually accurate.

You know, and it's infuriating for me as a as a health care provider. It's, you know, infuriating as a taxpaying citizen, that this is the best that, you know, we've been able to achieve in this situation.

You know, I think what Dr. Giroir missed in there is that, while it's true that the President may have expended all of his existing authorities under the DPAs. The role or the work of governance on behalf of the President and the Congress is to create existing or create more authority, you know, when the situation demands it, and that's where this response has failed. This is truly the best that we can do. And this is what we ended up with. I think any American should be upset about that.

WILLIAMS: I know it's occurred to you, we are the first American generation to have reason to doubt what the CDC tells us to doubt, numbers and advice from the Centers for Disease Control. And I note, their estimate today is 189,000 dead I the next three weeks. I further know we lost 1,208 and eight souls just today. In your view, is there anything we can do? Or are we just forced to watch it happen?

RAMIREZ: Well, no, Brian, I mean, I think there's absolutely more that we can do. You know, I think that we need to be demanding more from our government. You know, one of the things that I think came out of Admiral Giroir statement yesterday with this was, you know, this is as far as we're going to go, there's not going to be more testing and so we need to just sort of accept that we can accept and, you know, in some ways the new doctor that the White House has pulled onto the Coronavirus Task Force, you know, is pushing this idea of herd immunity.

But I think we have to push back against that. You know, we have to demand our government increase testing. And we have to increase the amount of (INAUDIBLE) for providers out there. And we have to give sound advice. And we have to empower the CDC with a voice that actually is guided by scientific reason and leaders who can support what it is that they're saying so that people know what to do.

WILLIAMS: President talked today about what happens when a vaccine comes out. I want to play it for you. We'll discuss on the other side.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once the vaccine is ready, who should get first?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will rely on the doctors to tell me that. I would say probably the elderly, I would say nursing homes. A lot of people said would you take it I said, I'll take it if they want to. I'll go first or last. I'll do whatever they want me to do.


WILLIAMS: So Doc, I'm sure there are protocols for this kind of thing. And a lot of it depends on how many initial doses are available, but what do you think should happen?

RAMIREZ: Well, it's the worked out actually pretty methodically right now, Brian, you know, and this is -- the scenario that I'm really glad that the government has been really active in. So a few weeks ago, the NIH director and the CDC director jointly established a new group under the National Academies of Medicine, this is going to issue some formal recommendations by Labor Day.

And then those recommendations will go to the CDC, and out of those two groups will come for more recommendations about how this vaccine should be prioritized to different groups. And I think it's great that this work is going on now.

What I think that those groups will find is that some of these vaccine candidates work better in certain populations, some older, some younger. And I think we need to sort of amplify the recommendations that come out of those groups so that folks have a very clear and early understanding of how this is going to work. So that everybody feels like there's equity for everyone involved.

WILLIAMS: I think you just broke up broke a big story, the notion that something is being carried out methodically in the midst of this pandemic, in the 2020s that we are all experiencing together, doctor. Thank you Dr. Mario Ramirez returning to the broadcast. Appreciate it greatly.

Coming up for us. Nothing's normal in 2020. That's why we turn to historians to ask just how far from normal we have deviated and if we're still OK, one of the greats Doris Kearns Goodwin, standing by to talk with us.



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA): Joe Biden had the audacity to choose a black woman to be his running mate. How incredible is that? And what a statement about Joe Biden.


WILLIAMS: Joe Biden indeed made history this week choosing Kamala Harris as his running mate. The Democratic Convention will make history too as a Zoom meeting. We are after all, nearing 170,000 souls lost averaging as we said about 1,000 a day in recent days. 1,200 just today, another first, as his predecessor put it today, our presidents trying to kneecap the post office of all things.

Back with us tonight. Doris Kearns Goodwin, presidential historian and author. She's written bestsellers about both Roosevelt's about the Kennedys, LBJ and Lincoln, her latest work, which should be mandatory reading for everyone from the West Wing to your local PTA right about now is called "Leadership in Turbulent Times."

Doris, my friend, here's the question, what do you make at this ticket? Especially at this moment of time, and what do you think history will look back and make of it?

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, you know, I think there's no time that's as disruptive as this in modern memory, other than the Great Depression and World War II and the parallel with the Great Depression is that had been going on since 1929 with the crash, and President Hoover was unwilling to use federal authority. He thought it belonged to the states the local area and private charity.

So by 1933 when Roosevelt came in the stock markets at 25 percent unemployment, the financial system has collapsed. People are out of their homes. And starving people are wandering the streets. But you get a leader who comes in who takes responsibility, and mobilizes all the resources.

The new resources, as was just said, cause an emergency session of Congress and gets bipartisan support. And then he keeps that Congress in session for the famous hundred days for all sorts of legislation for putting people to public works for unemployment relief for eventually Social Security. And that's the difference because there's that absence of leadership today, not only an absence of leadership, but a direct polarization that's infiltrated every part of our response to the crisis with whether you're wearing a mask.

A friend of mine has a mother who's 80 years old, and she just refuses to wear a mask and why because she said she'll look like a Democrat. Reopenings of schools all have a partisan flavor. And at a time of a crisis like this, you to pull together as a nation, you have to use every resource you have to work together and that's what worked in the Great Depression. It's what worked in World War II.

I mean, I think about the sacrifice that FDR was willing to put on ask for the people in World War II so that the homefront would support the warfront. So you needed rationing, so there'd be equitable distribution of supplies. Of course, there were black markets, but most people accepted that you'd have to have stamps, to get food to get clothing, people accepted that you could only if you are not a central driver have five gallons of gas a week, which meant that that whole independence that people used to have driving their car was last but they somehow go on buses, and they walk a lot more.

They even accepted with much dismay that they could only have one cup of coffee a day, because they felt they were part of the common effort. And it's that that's missing today. And that's what it's so heartbreaking as a historian because you know, once you have that, we were able to win that war. We went from being 18th and military production, 18th in power and military power to becoming this juggernaut that produced a plane every four minutes a tank, every seven minutes to ship every day lengthen to our allies all around the world, formed a partnership with the business community that was simply amazing. And we can do it but we can only do it with that kind of leadership and the people responding collectively and we don't have that right now.

WILLIAMS: Doris, given your exposure to LBJ, given what you've written about LBJ, when you hear this President say I've done the most for black America more than any other president, with the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln, what's the 62nd version if you had FaceTime with him, what you would teach Donald Trump about Lyndon Baines Johnson.

GOODWIN: Well, I'd teach him number one that whatever he was trying to do, he was able to get that Congress by calling it into session by talking to those guys day after day to get a bipartisan reaction so that they were able to pass the Civil Rights Act that legally desegregates this out of voting rights act that finally provided that precious right to vote. Because of the demonstrations that we saw recently with John Lewis there was that outside movement that connected to the inside power.

And then even then Lyndon Johnson knew that he had only taken a few steps. And he called for structural changes in the whole system of justice and that Howard University speech, and so he was moving if that war hadn't come. It's a sad, heartbreaking thing to think where would we have gone from here, but to equate what President Trump has done with LBJ -- besting LBJ, and maybe only Lincoln, presidents don't get to decide these things. History decides. They can make many powers as their president, but they can't put themselves in a ranking until the generations afterwards decide. And I don't think that that's the way it's going to be decided.

WILLIAMS: Well, there's good reason that job falls to the likes of Doris Kearns Goodwin, our guest tonight, all time friend to this broadcast. Doris, great to see you. Thank you very much for spending a few minutes at the end of this.

GOODWIN: Thank you for having me. So glad to be with you.

WILLIAMS: Long week, what a pleasure. Pleasure is ours. Coming up, the considerable risk some are taking so the rest of us can go back to normal life. That sacrifice more on that when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Welcome back. We've been talking a lot about vaccines. And as some of these vaccine developers enter late stage trials, thousands of people are actually volunteering to be exposed to the virus to test how effective the vaccines really are. There's a reason such things are called human challenge trials. It's obviously both a brave and risky move that has health experts divided on the ethics of it and how to test experimental vaccines. NBC News correspondent Raf Sanchez has our report from Oxford, England tonight.


RAF SANCHEZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 30,000 people worldwide have agreed to what many would consider unthinkable to be deliberately infected with coronavirus. Their aim is to help speed up research into a vaccine.

18-year-old Alistair from the UK is one of them.

(on camera): Are the benefits of being part of an experiment like this worth the risk?

ALASTAIR FRASER-URQUHART, VACCINE TRIAL VOLUNTEER: There are risks and everyone is worried. But I don't think that those risks and that worry is something that is going to stop me because I know what I'm doing. I know why I'm doing.

SANCEHZ (voice-over): More than 160 COVID vaccines are in development, but only a handful are in phase three ready for large scale testing.

Russia this week approved a vaccine. But without going through Phase III tests standard in the West.

Scientists usually only know if a vaccine works by waiting for volunteers to catch the virus naturally that can take months, even years. But there's another more controversial path, human challenge trials where scientists infect volunteers with the virus on purpose. Results can be faster, but the stakes are high.

(on camera): None of the research labs racing for a COVID vaccine have started human challenge trials yet, but scientists here at Oxford who have one of the most advanced programs in the world, say such trials could play a crucial role in speeding up the process. Others however, warn that such experiments are neither safe nor necessary.

JEFFREY KAHN, JOHNS HOPKINS BERMAN INSTITUTE OF BIOTHICS: Desperate times may lead us to think about cutting corners. But there are reasons that human challenge trials have been set up in the way that under normal circumstances they're carried out, which means we have to have either a rescue therapy, or it's a known to be a self-limiting illness, or disease.

SANCHEZ: Volunteers like Alistair are part of the one day sooner a campaign backed by Nobel laureates and world leading scientists their messages clear. If a vaccine can be found even one day sooner, it would save thousands of lives.

For Alistair's family fear and hope.

ANDREW FRASER- URQUHART: (INAUDIBLE) if anything goes wrong will regret it to my dying day. But the end of the day, I believe that feelings have to be tempered with facts and with evidence. And I think the risk is vanishingly small.

SANCHEZ: Scientists are divided over how to trial a coronavirus vaccine. But one thing is not in question. This pandemic only ends when they succeed. Raf Sanchez, NBC News, Oxford.


WILLIAMS: And coming up for us speaking of the pandemic, football seasons right around the corner, except in those places where they're not going to be playing football this season. That story after this.


WILLIAMS: On this last night of the week the last thing before we go tonight, the arrival of football season is always a dicey time for us Giants fans, but I digress. This year, it's the debate over safety and this one isn't theoretical. It's easy to comprehend where it comes to football.

Imagine a sport where plays are called in a huddle of large humans breathing hard. Imagine you're a down lineman and your job quite literally is to get into somebody face on virtually every down, say nothing of the sheer size of the traveling rosters, the trainers and coaches, the refs, the food service workers.

Lately, Trump and Pence have gone out of their way to become big football fans insisting that the game must be played college and pro and just like school reopenings they figured the safety thing will kind of sort itself out. Well, there's a new political ad that begs to differ.


TRUMP: This is the new hoax. The 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat. One day it's like a miracle disappear. The hope is that by July the country's really rock again.

Slow the testing down please. And because we do more tests, we have more cases. It is what it is a pandemic which is disappearing, it's going to disappear.


WILLIAMS: There you have it, the political group called Midas Touch to play us off the air for this Friday night and for this week. That is indeed our broadcast for this evening with our thanks for spending some time with us. Have a good weekend on behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.


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