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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, September 17, 2020

Guests: Apoorva Mandavilli, Gary Peters, Thomas Ahart


"The New York Times" is reporting that the administration put out last month what they said were new CDC guidelines on coronavirus testing, but it turns out those guidelines were not actually written by the CDC. Interview with Senator Gary Peters of Michigan. MSNBC's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" on this Thursday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I don't know whether I would rather sell beer at that game or where I would like to be the ref.


HAYES: I'm going to take him on this, and we're going to do this. It's like -- you know, it will be like our version of VE Day, right? Like everyone wants it to be something like, we did it, we're done, like that's going to be it. Me and Anthony Fauci playing basketball

MADDOW: I am telling you right now, Chris, whether or not I am the ref of that game, you have to let him win. If I am the ref of that game, I will ensure that you to let him win.


MADDOW: We'll do it. I'm telling you right now, we will throw it.

Well done, my friend. Thank you.

And thanks to you at home for joining us at this hour.

You know, today started off kind of as a normal news day but it has churned up tonight into a real cascade of breaking news. We're going to get to a whole bunch of it tonight.

I will also give you a little preview tonight of a major story that we are finishing up the reporting on now that we are going to break on tomorrow night's show, which is to my mind kind of a big deal. We'll give you a little preview of that tonight. We will break that story fully tomorrow.

But there's a lot to get to tonight. A lot has developed just in the past few hours. Let us start with this kick in the teeth that just broke at "The New York Times" tonight.

You see the headline there. CDC testing guidance was published against scientists' objections. This is a scoop tonight from "Times" reporter Apoorva Mandavilli, but frankly I think it's something that we all worried might be coming when we saw this happen a couple weeks ago.

This was the "A.P." headline at the time. U.S. health officials quietly modify COVID testing guidelines, sparking a wave of confusion and bewildering experts. That's not a good headline during a global pandemic, right? This was late last month, about three weeks ago, after the president had started saying that he wanted there to be less coronavirus testing because if we had less testing, it would look like we have less cases.

It was -- it was after he brought on this radiologist with no infectious disease expertise to take over the coronavirus task force at the White House. This is the guy who had been arguing on the Fox News Channel for months that really COVID's not so bad, that it's actually good if more people get it, the more the better, and we really shouldn't worry about testing people so much because who cares how many people get it.

I mean, in any context, it would be weird in a middle of a gigantic, out of control epidemic for the CDC to take an unexplained U-turn, and all of a sudden stop recommending that people exposed to COVID get tested, right? That was always going to stand out as a weird thing for the CDC to have done.

But in an environment where the president is publicly embracing crazier and crazier ideas, including about testing, and where he's brought on this new Rasputin who says, among other things, that COVID's good, infect everyone, stop the testing, in that environment with that going on at the White House, it was particularly worrying, it seemed particularly ominous for the CDC to have quietly put out these inexplicable new recommendations that not so many people should get tested.

So, that's what I mean when I say a lot of us I think worried this might be coming. But now, we've got the dirt. Now we've got the story, thanks to this new reporting from "The New York Times." Now we know that it was just as bad as we worried it might be.

Here's the reporting from "The Times" tonight. Quote: A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control last month about who should be tested for coronavirus was not written by CDC scientists and was posted to the agency's website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by "The Times."

"The Times" reports that it wasn't the CDC but rather other Trump administration officials who rewrote the existing testing guidelines and then they, quote, dropped the new recommendations into the CDC's public website, flouting the agency's strict scientific review process. Quote, that was a doc that came from the top down, from the HHS and the task force, said a federal official with knowledge of the matter, referring to the White House task force on COVID.

"The Times" further reporting tonight, quote, CDC staff scientists' objections to the document went unheard. A senior CDC official told the scientists, quote, we do not have the ability to make substantial edits according to an email obtained by "The Times". The testing guidance was then quietly published on the agency website on August 24th.

We do not have the ability to make substantial edits. We, the scientists of the CDC, are not being allowed to make changes to this document or to, in fact, write this document. Trump administration has written testing guidelines and they're just putting our name on it. In other words, they used the credibility and the authority of the CDC, right, but they posted their own made-up stuff under the name, on the letterhead, on the website of the CDC, but these aren't actually guidelines devised by CDC scientists or science. These guidelines did not go through the rigorous scientific review process that makes CDC guidance authoritative and trustworthy in the first place. But still, they put the CDC's name on it, and CDC scientists are being told in a document obtained by "The Times" that their objections to this guidance don't matter. The guidance is going out under their name anyway, because the White House and the Trump administration say so.

And this is probably the part where the CDC director is supposed to resign either in protest of this happening or in shame for having allowed this to happen to his agency under his watch. Either's fine, but this is probably the part where he resigns. At least that's how it works in the movies.

As to why this is coming out now, well, I mean the obvious reason is that "The Times" got these documents now and good on them and congratulations on this scoop. We're going to speak with the reporter in just a moment who broke the story tonight.

But it seems like from this reporting that apparently this may, in part, be happening specifically now, specifically tonight, because there are sources who have knowledge of what's going on here who seem to be trying to give us all a heads-up, not just about the fact that this has already happened and that the testing guidelines rolled out under the CDC's name last week were bogus -- excuse me -- last month were bogus. Apparently, sources are trying to give us a heads-up that not only did this just happen last month, but apparently, it's about to happen again. Specifically, it's about to happen tomorrow.

Quote: A new version of the testing guidance expected to be posted Friday, aka, tomorrow, has also not been cleared by the CDC's usual internal review for scientific documents and is being revised by officials at health and human services according to a federal official who was not authorized to speak to reporters about the matter. So this happened a few weeks ago. The CDC essentially was hijacked, right?

Testing recommendations that didn't actually come from them and that their scientists objected to were put out under the CDC's name. Now we know that's happened, and now we are forewarned that it's apparently about to happen again tomorrow, that they're about to put out some new version of their testing guidelines that again aren't CDC guidelines. They're Trump administration guidelines that they're going to put out under the CDC's name again. And we have now been forewarned.

And, you know, part of this is -- and I say this sort of with an eye and with my mind on the good people of the CDC and the good people of America's public health infrastructure and agencies, and what this says about you. I mean, some of what this is, is a testament to how good you are, right? It's a testament to how much the CDC has become the international gold standard for public health guidance, right?

If you're a bad actor and you want to wrap yourself up in someone else's reputation in this field, if you want to assume the imprimatur as your own, right, of the agency and the entity and the letterhead that stands for excellence in this field, right? If you are a bad actor who wanted to wrap yourself up in glory, it is the CDC's glory that you would choose to steal, because they are the international gold standard for what authoritative true, science-based public health guidance is supposed to be.

And so, the Trump administration has moved to steal that authority and put out their own junk under the CDC's name because they know that when we, the American people and people around the world see the CDC's name on it, it will mean something to us, and we will follow it, we will be inclined to follow it because we know the CDC is sound.

But the fact that they have now successfully stolen it and they have put out non-CDC bogus guidance under the CDC's name also means that's that over now, right, in terms of that reputation. Apparently under this CDC director, he has allowed the scientific integrity of that storied, important, historically unparalleled agency to be compromised. Right now, if it's got the CDC's name on it, you can apparently no longer count on that to be CDC-quality science, because sometimes it's just non-scientific junk shoveled straight from the White House for political reasons.

I mean it takes decades, it takes generations, it takes innumerable MDs, PhDs, and every other kind of doctorate there is, and it takes the experience of navigating huge global crises to build the kind of reputation and experience and authority and gravitas and credibility that the U.S. government used to lead the world in on stuff like this. It takes forever to build that.

It turns out it takes less than one term of one president to eat it, to destroy it. How are we going to get that back?

Joining us now is Apoorva Mandavilli. She's "The New York Times" reporter who broke the story tonight.

Ms. Mandavilli, thank you so much for joining us on short notice and congratulations on this scoop.

APOORVA MANDAVILLI, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks for having me. It's my pleasure.

MADDOW: So I want to ask you about -- I want to ask you about sort of what the CDC is trying to tell us here. One of the things I found so fascinating in your reporting tonight is your sources telling you that we sort of all should have known, that there were tells, that there were visible things, that there were mistakes in that testing guidance that anybody from the CDC, anybody familiar with the CDC's work would have -- should have realized and would have realized marked this as not a genuine article, something that wasn't really a CDC product.

Can you describe what that meant to hear that from your sources and whether you recognize those tells now when you look at that guidance that was put out in the CDC's name?

MANDAVILLI: Well, there were things about that CDC report, Rachel, that I think were obvious to people in the know, to people who work closely with the CDC like doctors at the American Medical Association, doctors at the Infectious Disease Society of America, that this did not come from the CDC and there were a lot of public health experts who immediately questioned these statements and said, this doesn't sound like the CDC. This is completely contradictory to everything we've heard them say so far.

And that's on the macro scale, on the very sort of big picture scale, they knew this guidance didn't make sense with everything else the CDC had done and said. But on the smaller scale, just at a sentence level, these scientists are so upset at their work being misrepresented in this way and about science being misrepresented in this way.

I'll give you one example. In the document, it makes many references to testing for COVID. Well, you don't test for the disease. You test for the presence of the virus. You test for SARS-COV-2 as the virus is called.

It turns out apparently that the other organizations involved, HHS, the White House, don't like that term, and so they just say testing for COVID. Well, the CDC scientists would never be that imprecise. They know that and it just kills them inside that all of these documents are out there, that this particular document has gotten so much attention and it is not their work, and it's being misrepresented and also that they are getting blamed for it.

I think one of the reasons that they reached out to me this particular moment in time is because they've seen that this document has huge impact on public health. They are worried for what it means for the public and also I think they really want some change. They want Congress to pay attention. They want somebody to take action and to stop the political interference, if you will.

MADDOW: It's fascinating. It's helpful actually that they've identified to you and you've now publish what we can all recognize as sort of a fingerprint, right? If you see somebody write things, if you see something under the CDC's name that's written in a specific scientifically imprecise and sort of inaccurate way, that's a tell, that's a fingerprint you can look for to know this isn't something that was written by CDC scientists.

In terms of the kinds of warnings that you're getting and the kinds of upset you're hearing from your sources, I am also struck that your reporting that another piece of guidance is due tomorrow and you write that this is something that has also not gone through the sort of processes that something would normally go through at the CDC to meet their scientific standards. Do you know if the guidance that's due out tomorrow will also be put out under the CDC's name, and do you know anything substantively about what it will say?

MANDAVILLI: I believe the plan is that it will go under the CDC's website. At least it was the plan before the -- I will tell you that my sources actually learned about this new guidance from the media. They did not know that it was being worked on because they were not asked to work on it, so they had no idea that it was being done.

Apparently, some people in the CDC may have been involved, but then it has gone to the HHS, and to the task force for comment, and there's a good chance that as was done with the version that's up on the website now. It will be heavily revised, heavily modified until it's unrecognizable to whoever did write it.

MADDOW: Wow. One of the ways that people resist this kind of thing, particularly in the scientific world, is just by letting people know that it's coming, and then it's up to, I think, public outcry to try to re-establish the scientific integrity and the wall that are supposed to protect that. You have gone very far in your reporting toward helping us, the public, understand what's happening here. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

MANDAVILLI: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: Apoorva Mandavilli is a science and global health reporter at "The Times", and she's the sole reporter in the top byline on this scoop tonight from "The New York Times." Really important stuff.

As I mentioned at the top of the hour, this has been a day and particularly an afternoon and evening of a ton of breaking news also on the COVID crisis, you should know that today, yet another senior Trump administration official has sort of flipped, has come out publicly to say that as a senior staffer in the Trump/Pence administration, she wants us all to know that she has seen it from the inside. She has seen what they are doing and how they behave, and it's worse than you think.

Yet another senior Trump staffer advising the public that based on what she's seen, even loyal Republicans should vote this president out of office. This is -- this is like nothing we've ever seen in any other administration. I mean, there's been some dissenters or like people have written critical books here and there for other presidents, even for other bad presidents, but with these guys, it's just a tide that will not stop.

I mean, the number of people who have done this now from this administration is absolutely unprecedented, and the rank of people and the types of jobs that people had before they come out and say, run for the hills, this is terrible, it's -- there's nothing like it.

I mean, his national security adviser, his defense secretary. We recently saw similar almost panicked warnings from the top counterterrorism official at the Department of Homeland Security and from the chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security.

Well, now once again, it is a senior national security person. This time it's the top homeland security adviser to Vice President Pence. Her name is Olivia Troye. Importantly, she was also Vice President Pence's lead staffer on the coronavirus crisis.

He, of course, is the head of the White House coronavirus task force. Olivia Troye says as his top adviser on this issue, she says that she's the person who organized and participated in every meeting of the White House coronavirus task force, which means she has been there for all of it. She is in a position to know of what she speaks and of what she is warning us all about. Watch this.


OLIVIA TROYE, ADVISOR TO THE VP FOR HOMELAND SECURITY, COUNTERTERRORISM: I'm Olivia Troye. He was homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Pence and served as Vice President Pence's lead staff member on the COVID 19 response. I've been on the COVID task force from day one.

The virus was very unpredictable. There were a lot of unknowns. But towards the middle of February, we knew it wasn't a matter of if COVID would become a big pandemic here in the United States, it was a matter of when.

But the president didn't want to hear that because his biggest concern was that we were in an election year and how is this going to affect what he considered to be his record of success? It was shocking to see the president saying that the virus was a hoax, saying that everything's okay when we know that it's not.

The truth is he doesn't actually care about anyone else but himself.

He made a statement once that was very striking. I never forgot it because it pretty much defined who he was. When we were in a task force meeting, the president said, maybe this COVID thing is a good thing. I don't like shaking hands with people. I don't have to shake hands with these disgusting people.

Those disgusting people are the same people that he claims to care about. These are the people still going to his rallies today who have complete faith in who he is.

If the president had taken this virus seriously or if he had actually made an effort to tell how serious it was, he would have slowed the virus spread, he would have saved lives.

It was the opportunity and honor of a lifetime to be able to serve in the White House. I put my heart and soul into this role every single day. But at some point, I would come home at night, I would look myself in the mirror and say, are you really making a difference? Does it matter because no matter how hard you work and what you do, the president is going to do something that is detrimental to keeping Americans safe, which is why you signed up for this role?

It was awful. It was terrifying. I have been a Republican for my entire life. I am a McCain Republican. I am a Bush Republican, and I am voting for Joe Biden because I truly believe we are at a time of constitutional crisis. At this point, it's country over party.


MADDOW: That's Olivia Troye, the top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. That's a testimonial that she did for Republican voters against Trump.

That was just released today, and that is a new allegation we have not heard before about the president. Ms. Troye's claim here, she says the president expressed basically happiness about the coronavirus epidemic because it means he no longer has to shake hands anymore with, quote, disgusting people.

Again, Olivia Troye is the person who organized and participated in every White House Coronavirus Task Force meeting as the top COVID adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.

Olivia Troye also told "The Washington Post" tonight in an interview that she helped Vice President Mike Pence in the writing of this op-ed by the vice president this summer. You might remember this. It ran in "The Wall Street Journal."

You see the headline there. There isn't a coronavirus second wave. This was also the op-ed where the vice president said that, you know, the U.S. approach has been a huge success, and it's going away he bragged in that op-ed, look, we're down to 20,000 cases a day. It's going away, and it won't come back.

Of course, now, it's September and we're still sitting here at a stock still 40,000 cases a day, and that piece from Mike Pence seems absolutely as bananas now as it did then. But it's one thing for a jerk like me to look at that op-ed when it came out this summer and to feel that way now about what the vice president wrote there this summer.

But now to have his top adviser on coronavirus telling "The Washington Post" tonight that she actually helped write that op-ed, she helped write that nonsense and she can tell us that, yes, that's trash, I mean that's -- that's something else. But that's what just happened.

Quote: Troye said she was asked by senior Pence aides to help on an op-ed for "The Wall Street Journal" that minimized the fears for a second coronavirus wave and touted the administration's work on the virus as a success story. Quote, it was ludicrous, she said of the piece, which ran in June. Again, Troye says she helped write that piece, but her assessment of it, quote, it was ludicrous.

And she says that as a lifelong Republican and a Trump White House official, someone who was right there in the middle of all of the coronavirus response at the White House, she's now saying, run. I need you to know how bad it is. She says she will be voting for Joe Biden in November.

It has just been -- it has been a crazy day. Apparently also, something to keep in mind and to watch for, the chief of staff to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is also about to come out and join one of these groups of former Trump officials who are giving these kinds of warnings. Like I said, it has been -- it has been a nuts day.

And more news for you. Since we have -- well, a federal judge tonight has just issued a ruling that has just been handed to me, this ruling, requiring the U.S. Postal Service to undo all of the things they have done over the course of the summer to slow down the mail. We had known this was coming because the judge gave what's called a bench ruling, meaning he over -- he oversaw and listened to a hearing, and then he ruled from the bench, and we had heard some devastating quotes from his bench ruling we had been awaiting his actual written order, which is a devastating and comprehensive ruling and order to the post office to immediately reverse the changes that Trump postmaster general Louis DeJoy has instituted to slow down the mail ahead of the election.

That is just breaking right now. We just got the order. More on that next right after the break. I have to read it now.


MADDOW: It was August 18th when the national uproar over the Trump administration monkey wrenching the freaking fail, monkey wrenching the post office got to such a high level that the postmaster general appointed by President Trump announced that he would suspend the changes that he had instituted that had slowed down the mail. He said he would stop things like, you know, taking mailboxes off all the street corners.

But that same day, 14 states led by Washington state filed a lawsuit essentially saying, well, okay, we hear that you're going to rescind these changes, but we're here to ensure that you put your money where your mouth is. These 14 states took the postmaster general to court in order to legally ensure that he actually would reverse the changes that he'd instituted to slow down the mail.

Well, it's good that they did if you're worried about the mail because since that announcement from the postmaster general that he was going to reverse all of these changes, we have seen plenty of evidence that the mail has continued to be slow and specifically that it has been even worse in places that are likely to be hotly contested in this November's election. We're going to have more on that with a senator who uncovered that in just a moment.

But today, there was drama in a federal courthouse in Washington state because today a federal judge held a 2 1/2-hour hearing on the merits of this case against the postmaster general from these 14 state. He oversaw the hearing and then he ruled right then and there from the bench, and we have been trying all day to get a transcript of what he said from the bench. We haven't gotten it yet.

But thankfully, there were reporters monitoring the hearing, including reporters from "The Washington Post," so we did get some quotes, which was our first alert that this was going to be sort of a red-hot decision. For example, quote from the judge, the states have demonstrated that the defendants are involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service. They have also demonstrated that this attack on the postal service is likely to irreparably harm the states' ability to administer the 2020 general election.

The judge said that the mail delivery backlogs caused by these changes, quote, likely will slow down delivery of ballots both to the voters and back to the states this fall. The judge said, quote, this creates a substantial possibility that many voters will be disenfranchised and the states may not be able to effectively, timely, accurately determine election outcomes.

So when he's saying stuff like that from the bench, we knew this ruling was going to be a big deal well, now just tonight, just as we've gotten on the air, the judge has issued his written ruling, and so now we can see what he is directing the post office to do and the whole ruling is kind of red hot, but here's the part where he tells the post office what they have to now do.

Quote, accordingly, it is hereby ordered that plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction is granted. The U.S. Postal Service defendants and all their respective officers, agents, servants, employees and persons in participation with them are hereby enjoined, meaning prohibited, from the following until the court resolves the merits of this case.

Quote: Continued implementation or enforcement of policy changes announced in July 2020 that have slowed mail delivery, including instructing mail carriers to leave behind mail for processing or delivery at a later date. Requiring mail carriers or delivery trucks to leave at set times regardless of whether the mail is actually ready and prohibiting or unreasonably restricting return trips to distribution centers if necessary to complete timely mail delivery.

The Postal Service is now also prohibited from deviating from the postal service's long-standing policy of treating election mail in accordance with first class mail delivery standards regardless of whether or not it is sent as first class mail. They're also enjoined from taking any actions in violation of the commitments made by Postmaster Louis DeJoy on August 18th such as removal or decommissioning of any mail sorting machines, reducing hours at post offices, or closing mail processing facilities.

They're also enjoined from implementing or enforcing any change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis absent a duly issued advisory opinion of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

The judge then goes on to say that -- and this is -- this is interesting. Goes on to say if any postal facility has trouble processing election mail due to any of these changes that DeJoy has made, due to the equipment that was moved or any of the rest of it, he says the equipment is to be replaced by this judge's order.

If any facility has requested that machinery be replaced in their facilities, that request must be presented to the court, meaning to this judge, and he will make sure it is handled. The court will determine those requests.

So, again, this is a federal judge in Washington state tonight issuing a nationwide injunction against the Postal Service to go back to the way they were doing things before Postmaster General Louis DeJoy monkey wrenched the whole Postal Service ahead of our big vote by mail election, apparently on orders from the White House.

The senator who has been leading the investigation into what's been going on at the post office joins us next. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Plaintiffs allege these changes were made for political reasons a few months before a presidential election and in the middle of a global pandemic with no analysis on how they would affect voters or people relying on delivery of time critical times. Plaintiffs allege while the removal of sorting machines is taking place across the country, the removals would particularly affect sorting capacity in states where recent presidential elections have been particularly close.

That is part of the ruling tonight from a federal judge in Washington state ordering a national injunction, telling the U.S. postal service they must reverse the changes that have been made this summer under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that have slowed down and otherwise screwed up the mail this summer ahead of what is expected to be the largest vote-by-mail election ever in the history of this country.

That description from the judge also happens to line up perfectly with a report released this week by Senator Gary Peters of Michigan. It's a report that he titled "failure to deliver," which outlines the nationwide slowdown, the nationwide impact of the changes that DeJoy has instituted and specifically the fact that the worst slowdowns appear to be in some parts of the country where the election is expected to be closest.

Senator Peters now joins us live.

Sir, thank you so much for joining us on short notice. It's been sort of a fast-moving news day. I appreciate you making time for us.

SEN. GARY PETERS (D-MI): Well, great to be with you. Thank you.

MADDOW: Let me first just get your top-line reaction to this nationwide injunction from a federal judge who took on this -- has been hearing this case from 14 states, telling the postal service they need to reverse these changes immediately.

PETERS: Well, I applaud the decision. I think it's a very good decision. It was clear from the report that we put out this week that there was definitely problems with the delivery of mail, that on-time delivery was down dramatically in fact when you look at when those procedures went in place, during the five weeks following that, we found that roughly 350 million pieces of first class mail were delayed. You saw significant drops of on-time delivery.

It's what I was hearing from the men and women who work every day, our mail carriers, our letter carriers, our postal workers, who were saying they were putting policies in place that was slowing down the delivery of mail and something that they take great pride in and were concerned. And we looked at the data, and the data was very clear there was definitely a slowdown. And we still haven't seen a complete recovery despite some statements made by the postal service that they suspended this.

We have to be vigilant we have to keep an eye on it. I think the judge's ruling is very helpful to make sure what Postmaster General DeJoy said was going to happen will actually happen.

MADDOW: And, Senator Peters, I was struck by the parallel in this case and in the judge's ruling about it tonight, not just that the slowdown -- that these changes have effectuated a slowdown as you described, 350 million pieces of first class mail slowed down by these processes. I was also struck by your finding that it seemed to be worse in specific areas and in areas that seemed particularly worrying given what's coming up in terms of the November election.

Your report found that on-time rates fell more than 20 points in northern Ohio, nearly 20 points, 19 points in Detroit, 18 points in central Pennsylvania. Is that just coincidence that these areas that seemed to be the hardest hit, a lot of them are areas that are really the bull's-eye in terms of where this election is going to be contested, or did you find any other reason that might explain that?

PETERS: I don't think -- I don't have a reason, and we were asking that question right from the get-go as I was hearing -- I heard from thousands of people all across Michigan who were saying that they're seeing delays in mail that they'd never experienced before. So I thought it was important to know was this widespread, was it all over the state of Michigan, was it all over the country? Was is selected areas?

As you know, Michigan, we are -- we are one of the battleground states both for the presidential race as well as my race for the U.S. Senate this is going to be a very high-profile place. And what we found is that the delays in delivery in Michigan were primarily in the greater Detroit area you didn't see the same kind of delays out state in fact, during the height of it, roughly only 60 percent of mail was being delivered on time. That means half of the mail was delayed.

What we're still trying to find out and we haven't been able to get this information from the postal service is how long were those delays. Certainly I've been hearing from people here in Michigan, they were many days and I'm concerned not just about the election, as important as that is. Mail is critical, and you know, think of prescription drugs, people who rely on having drugs delivered to them on time.

I heard from a mother whose daughter needed medicine to deal with her epileptic seizures and expected to get the mail in three days, it didn't come, it didn't come. It was nine days before it was delivered. Her daughter became fearful that she wouldn't have the medicine she started to reduce her dosage and ended up suffering a seizure and was hospitalized.


PETERS: On-time delivery of mail is absolutely critical for people in Michigan and across the country. This is simply unacceptable to have these policies put in place by the postmaster general, and he has not provided any data to us or analysis that went into making these changes. And the broader question is why would you make these kinds of changes when we're in the middle of a pandemic, when mail delivery is absolutely critical for folks.

This is not the time to be making these changes, particularly without having analysis to kind of anticipate as to what the impact would be.

MADDOW: U.S. Senator Gary Peters of the great state of Michigan -- sir, thank you for helping us understand what you and your committee were able to find on this but I will say the more granular you get in terms of these individual stories, the more enraging this story is. It's enraging in terms of good government but enraging all the more when you think about the impact on individual people.

Sir, thanks for helping us understand. Thanks for your work on this.

PETERS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.

MADDOW: All right much more ahead. Very, very busy news night and only getting more busy with each passing minute. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Tonight's breaking news from "The New York Times" that the Trump administration published guidance on coronavirus testing last month as if those guidelines were from the CDC, even though the CDC didn't write those guidelines and their scientists actually objected to them, that news from "The New York Times" tonight comes on the heels last night of Michael Caputo leaving the top spokesman job at the Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. Caputo has no health background whatsoever. He was a Trump campaign aide.

But once the Trump White House installed him at HHS, Mr. Caputo reportedly demanded all sorts of changes to the CDC's scientific output, including their previously sacrosanct weekly scientific reports. Mr. Caputo reportedly delayed the publication of CDC guidance about the risk of COVID in schools and school-like environments because of the risk that might undermine the president's messaging that all schools should be opened regardless of the coronavirus crisis.

Well, Mr. Caputo is now gone with him gone, I guess, that means there's nobody standing in the way of CDC reports like this one, which has finally just come out. It's a study of whether COVID can spread among kids in child care environments and in schools and according to this brand-new released study from the CDC, school-aged kids cannot only spread the virus between each other in the classroom, they're also then very capable of taking the virus home with them, taking the virus out of the classroom to infect other people in their homes, including the adults at home, even if they are asymptomatic when they bring the virus from the classroom back to where they live.

And what that data means, the reason that study is so important, is that the decision to reopen schools in this country for in-person learning, I mean it's a front and center consideration for when if comes to preventing community transmission in any community. And on that point, there was a sort of dramatic standoff that started last week in the great state of Iowa. That state's Republican governor, Kim Reynolds, has ordered -- she has directed that all counties must resume in-person learning as long as they meet a set of criteria that she has announced.

Well, in Iowa, the Des Moines public school district said that they were not comfortable with that. They would essentially defy the governor's order that Des Moines was not in good enough shape, not in good enough position in terms of the pandemic that they'd be safe holding in-person school despite the governor's order.

Well, that was the case as of last week. This week the school district voted to keep going with that same decision to effectively defy the governor and stick with remote learning instead despite her insistence that kids go to in-person class.

This fight over Iowa schools opening, it's not a problem that started in Iowa with Governor Reynolds -- I mean, this is what happens when leaders all the way up to the president himself bang the drums for schools to reopen and for kids to take off their masks while you're at it, right? Promising that it will all just go away.

The governor of Iowa has been sort of following the president's lead on issues like this, but the Des Moines Public School district is responsible for the kids in Des Moines Public Schools and so far, they say they are not doing it.

Joining us now is Thomas Ahart. He's the superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools.

Mr. Ahart, it's a real pleasure to have you with us tonight. Thanks for your service in the schools and thanks for being here.


MADDOW: So I've tried to put this in a little bit of a national context, but I'm sure that distorts it a little bit from the statewide perspective. Can you just in your own words explain a little bit of the decision-making that you and your colleagues have made about what you decided to do heart and the conflict this sets up with your governor?

AHART: Yes. We had put a return to learn plan together early this summer announced it to our community on July 1st. And at that time we were closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation in Polk county where most of Des Moines public schools resides and we were trying to take our best guess as to what the conditions would be when we started school.

Conditions over the summer continued to worsen, and in fact at the time of school starting, we were one of the two or three top hot spots in the country. Near that time, we decided to attempt to buy some time, so we delayed the start of the school year until September 8th and we filed for a waiver with the State Department to allow us to operate in a virtual manner for two weeks and hope that things would improve. That has not happened.

We filed for an injunction in Polk County District Court in an effort to allow us to be held harmless while we operated virtually until such time as we thought it was safe to return students and staff into schools safely.

MADDOW: The governor has set some thresholds that she thinks are the right tripwires for whether or not schools should be held in person and for other coronavirus restrictions, and they're not in line with the sorts of thresholds that we've heard from, for example, from WHO or from other governors who have tried to set these sort of numerical thresholds. She set what seemed to be very high numerical thresholds for when a community should essentially be deemed safe to further open up.

Has that been a part of point of contention here? Have you been able to engage with the governor on that, as to why you don't feel it safe to have in-person schooling, but she's nevertheless said you should?

AHART: We have engaged with the governor and her representatives on a number of occasions going back to early July. We don't have an understanding of why the metrics that the state is putting forth are set where they are. What we have been studying and learning from well reputed consultants tells us a different story, so we desperately want to be in compliance with the state.

But at the top of our priority list is ensuring that we're keeping our students and our staff and their families safe, and what we do in Des Moines because of our size has a broad-ranging impact in the entire Des Moines metro area and we feel a special responsibility in that regard as well.

MADDOW: I know this is such a fraught, personal, serious thing for every family I mean even if you don't have kids, your friends who have kids and your friends who are kids, this is the most important thing in the world right now, and the mass dislocation and the uncertainty and the -- just the unknown and the scariness and the various competing stakeholders and everything, this is just an incredibly difficult decision.

I just have to ask, being sort of at the tip of the spear here as the superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools, having this tough decision to make and having this confrontation over what you think is right -- how's it been?

AHART: Well, you know, it's -- I think our community has shown tremendous grace, and our staff has been remarkably flexible and adaptive. We've had a fantastic start to the year, and while none of us would hope to have all of our students in a virtual environment, I think we're executing that real well.

But the pressure is certainly mounting, you know. There's -- we're the only district in the state that has remained all virtual without a waiver. Certainly, that's not where we want to be, out of compliance with state law, and we continue to look for opportunities to find enough flexibility such that we feel confident that we are doing our due diligence in protecting the safety of our students and our staff while also being in compliance with state law.

At this particular juncture, it looks like we're at a -- we continue to be at a cross roads, but we'll continue to reach out and look for opportunities to partner with the state and find a way through this

MADDOW: Thomas Ahart, the superintendent of Des Moines public schools in Iowa, again, thank you for your service I know this is a really hard place to be. Good luck to you and keep us apprised. I know it's an ongoing situation. Keep us apprised, sir.

AHART: Yes. Will do. Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: We opened the show tonight with news from "The New York Times" about the administration putting out last month what they said were new CDC guidelines on coronavirus testing. Turns out those guidelines were not actually written by the CDC. The administration wrote them themselves and put them out under the CDC's name despite objections from the CDC that they did not agree with them and that they were bad science.

It's great scoop tonight from "The Times" and a terrible development in terms of how this administration is shredding the credibility of our public health agencies at the time we need them most.

Well, tomorrow night, we are going to have a special report here on this show about something else that has gone very, very wrong with public health agencies in this country and the administration. It's something that is previously unreported. We're finishing the reporting on it tonight. We will have it for you tomorrow night. I hope you will be there for that.

But that's going to do it for us. Until then, we'll see you again then.


Good evening, Lawrence.


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