Meet the Press - July 12, 2020

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Surges, shortages and schools.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB:

We don't have a national plan. We don't have a national strategy.

CHUCK TODD:

Covid-19 cases exploding, with shortages of beds --

DOCTOR:

Frankly, we're running out of room.

CHUCK TODD:

-- equipment and tests.

WOMAN:

I was told I'd get my test back in seven to 14 days.

CHUCK TODD:

A surge driven largely by states reopening too early and by foolish behavior.

DR. JOSEPH VARON:

War number one is the COVID virus. War number-two is stupidity.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump still denying the crisis --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We'll put out the fires as they come out. We'll call them embers or fires, or whatever you call them.

CHUCK TODD:

-- despite the reality on the ground.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

This virus, to our dismay, is spectacularly efficient in transmitting from person to person.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus: Back to school. The administration pushing for schools to reopen quickly.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We are very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.

VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:

We don't want the guidance from the CDC to be a reason why schools don't open.

CHUCK TODD:

As educators say safety, not speed, is what matters.

CHRISTINE ESPOSITO:

If teachers get sick, what's the policy? If someone in their family gets sick, what's the policy?

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: assistant Health Secretary Brett Giroir and Miami-Dade School Superintendent, Alberto Carvalho. Also: Trump versus Mueller:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Roger Stone was treated horribly.

CHUCK TODD:

A rare public rebuke: Robert Mueller denounces President Trump's commuting of Roger Stone's prison sentence. And preparing for a possible post-Trump GOP. I'll talk to Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, who's already considering a 2024 presidential run. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, syndicated columnist George Will and Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for Politico. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history. This is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. For a country that celebrates American exceptionalism, the United States finds itself in an exceptionally bad place today. The calendar says July 12th but it feels more like April 12th when it comes to battling this virus, even if President Trump did finally wear a mask in public late yesterday. Once again, cases are surging: the ten worst days for new cases nationwide have occurred over the past 11 days. Once again we're facing shortages of protective gear, of tests, and of ICU beds for Covid-19 patients. And once again we're left to wonder: How did we get here, again? Is it because of a president who remains in denial about the disaster unfolding on his watch? Is it because states chose not to listen to health experts and reopened too soon? Or is it because of scenes like this: too many Americans being foolish, deciding they were immune, or that the experts were wrong or that they had a right not to wear a mask? Or is it all of the above? Now President Trump is urging schools to reopen with weakened safety protocols, and pointing to Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden as examples of countries that have reopened schools safely. That on a day this week when those countries had about a thousand new cases,combined. On that same day, the United States had roughly 60,000 new cases. Whatever confluence of factors led us to this moment, President Trump is insisting we're winning a war we're clearly losing and risking his own Katrina moment, when voters lose faith in a president’s ability to lead.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I've never been against masks but I do believe they have a time and a place.

CHUCK TODD:

The president, wearing a mask in public for the first time at Walter Reed on Saturday, faces a leadership crisis of his own making -- with new U.S. cases spiking to more 71,000 on Friday and daily death tolls in Arizona, South Carolina and Texas up by more than 100% in the past month.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT:

The worst is yet to come as we work our way through that massive increase in people testing positive.

CHUCK TODD:Mr. Trump is at odds with his top infectious disease expert, on the trajectory of the virus --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

The current state is really not good. We are still knee deep in the first wave of this.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes

CHUCK TODD:

On the federal response.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

As a country, when you compare us to other countries, I don’t think you can say we’re doing great. I mean, we’re just not.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

Is the United States losing the war against COVID?’

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No we're winning the war and we have areas that flamed up and they're going to be fine over a period of time

CHUCK TODD:

And on the death rate.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Our mortality rate is right now at a level that people don't talk about but it's down tenfold, tenfold.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

It’s a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death.

CHUCK TODD:

And President Trump is threatening to make the already difficult debate over school reopenings his latest front in the culture wars. After the CDC published new guidelines, Mr. Trump called them "very tough and expensive." Within hours --

VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:

The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough. And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.

CHUCK TODD:

The president warned: "May cut off funding if not open!" - pointing to Democratic governors.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

They don’t want to open because they think it will help them on November 3rd. I think it’s going to hurt them on November 3rd. Open your schools.

RANDI WEINGARTEN:

I don't see how we do anything but remote education if the federal government doesn't step in.

CHUCK TODD:

Now - with less than four months until the presidential election, Mr. Trump finds himself under siege: the two conservative justices he appointed joined a Supreme Court majority to dismiss his claim to “absolute immunity” from investigators seeking his tax returns.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This is a political witch hunt the likes of which nobody's ever seen before.

CHUCK TODD:

A tell-all book by his niece hits bookstores this week.

REPORTER:

Any reaction to Mary Trump's book sir?

CHUCK TODD:

And many Republicans worry his political standing will hurt the party down the ballot in November. Late on Friday, perhaps looking to his post-presidency, Mr. Trump commuted the sentence of his longtime friend and campaign adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction all to protect the president.

ROGER STONE:

The President has saved my life. And he's given me the opportunity to fight for vindication

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is the assistant secretary of health and a member of the president's Coronavirus Task Force, Admiral Brett Giroir. Admiral Giroir, welcome back to Meet the Press. And I want to start with something that my colleague Jose Diaz-Balart asked the president. He asked him, "It looks like we're losing this war." The president says we're winning. But honestly, Admiral, it does look like we're right back to where we were in April, which to a lot of laypeople looks like we are losing this battle with the virus. What do you say?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

So thank you for having me on. We're definitely not losing the battle, but we are certainly in the midst of it. I think as you know, the numbers of cases have gone up recently, particularly over the last month. We have several hot spots. Some good news is that our positivity rate is leveling off. We have about 63,000 people in the hospital. That's a lot more than 40,000, a lot less than 85,000. And we do have a lot more tools in our toolbox right now to combat this. But I don't want to underestimate the seriousness of this right now. It's all hands on deck. We have people in the field assisting, essentially, every county, every hot spot. So we are in the midst of this, and we're taking it very seriously.

CHUCK TODD:

Here's what I don't understand though. In March and April, it was understandable that we didn't have enough PPE. In March and April, it was understandable we were still trying to ramp up testing. In March and April, it was understandable that it might take a few days to get results. We didn't have contact tracers. The whole point of the April shutdown was to get PPE and an inventory so that we wouldn't run out, have testing so that it was reliable and fast. We don’t have any -- we are running into the same problems that we were talking about in April now in Arizona, in Texas, in Florida. Why?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

Well, that's really not true. If you look at the data, and we follow the data every single day, over 75% of the hospitals have at least 15 days of PPE and supply, and less than 2% have under three days in supply. The PPE situation is in a much, much, much better place. And in fact, we are really ready to attack this. I'm not saying that there's not a shortage at one hospital or there's a maldistribution. But overall, we have lots of PPE. In terms of testing, we did over 800,000 tests on Friday. We've tripled, quadrupled the number of tests we have. We have over 2,000 retail sites, 1,300 federally qualified health centers there, and we're surging testing in basically every specific county that's having a problem. So it is not true that we're the same where we are in March or April. We are much better --

CHUCK TODD:

But --

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

-- prepared, we have much more tools, and we're attacking it aggressively.

CHUCK TODD:

But, Admiral, the testing situation, yes, we're getting more tests, but we're not getting the results fast enough. Takes five, six, sometimes seven days in some of these --

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

Again --

CHUCK TODD:

-- hot spots. So you can't do contact tracing under that circumstance.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

Again, you've really got to look at the data, okay? You're looking at the data on half the testing, which is the large commercial labs. The other half of the testing is point-of-care testing or within hospital systems. Point-of-care testing gets you a result in 15 minutes, and the hospitals are usually providing it in 24-36 hours. On the big commercial labs, if you're hospitalized, you get it in 24-36 hours. But you are right. We need to decrease the time to turn around those results, and we have a number of efforts. Number one, we're starting to work with them on pooling. We expect to see that very soon. And, number two, the big surge is because we're testing everyone in nursing homes. That's a really, really good thing. But that's millions of tests per month to protect our elderly. And we're going to fix that problem, and you'll hear more this week about us putting point-of-care testing in nursing homes. So we're aggressively attacking this. Every night, I get a report by state --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR

-- what is the turnaround time, what is the delay. And actually, in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, the turnaround time has improved over the last 30 days. It has been going up. So we follow these data, and I look at that every single night and morning. It's the first thing I do when I get up, last thing I do before I go to bed.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to get you to respond to something Dr. Michael Osterholm said to me on Friday. Take a listen, sir.

[BEGIN TAPE]

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

The way we're going to end up, I think, maximizing on our overall safety, our health, and our economy is getting it shut down once and for all, coming back slowly and gradually, much like New York is doing and the rest of the world, and then living with it until we get a vaccine.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Is there any -- he's basically advocating in order to get control of this, we've got to shut down right. We didn't shut down correctly the first time. Do you concur with that opinion, that we didn't get this right the first time?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

I think Mike's a really smart guy. And I listen to a lot of things he says. I read his newsletter. We're going to have him very involved. But I don't think we need to shut down, at least in most places around the country. Our models really show that if you close down bars where there's a lot of transmission, if you decrease restaurant capacity to about 50%, that you really strictly physically distance and really, everybody, if you're out in public, we have to have about 95% mask wearing or face coverings. If we do just those simple things, we can bring that R value, that transmissibility value down to below one, which means it goes away. So I think we need to be very selective. Sure, if we shut everything down again, that would do it, but we don't need to. And, remember, there's a tremendous health cost to shutting down. Mental, emotional, substance use, but also no cancer screenings, no vaccines, all those other things. So let's do what we know really works. Like I said, avoid bars because they really do spread. Restaurant capacity down 50%. Hand hygiene. And please wear a mask in public. That is really, really, really important. We've got to have 90 or 95% adherence to that, and we could achieve the same results.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I want to follow up on the mask thing. A mask ordinance was not something that anybody on the federal level was talking about a lot in March and April. And, of course, the president himself has been, has been at times acting like almost an opponent to mask wearing. How much did that set us back, our -- this political debate about mask wearing over that three-month period?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

Well, I think the public health people have been very, very clear that mask wearing is very -- is essential. It's very important, that we can really decrease the transmission. You may not protect yourself, but you really protect everyone else. And the surgeon general says it very well. "COVID stops with me." If you want it to stop with you, wear a mask. And we really want to emphasize that. And particularly with some new data that there might be a small amount of aerosol transmission, particularly in very closed spaces with poor ventilation, mask wearing is really important. So we've been very, very clear about that. Combined with the testing that we have right now to tell us exactly when a hot spot is starting. And our commercial labs have done a great job in doing that, doing about half our testing. Combining with that, we have a really good signal radar to know where to surge in, combined with the techniques that we have. And, again, we're sending out COVID response assistance teams. We sent it out to 10 different locations last week. We're going to do another nine. That's 19 major metroplexes. You know, we know what to do with this, but we've got to have people on board doing it.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

And if you do get sick, the good news is we know how to treat you better on the ventilator. We have dexamethasone, remdesivir. The mortality rate is going very, very much down. But all this, look, I'm not trying to paint a rosy picture. But we are definitely in a better spot than we were in March and April, but we have to take this incredibly seriously. And I think everyone in the country is doing that.

CHUCK TODD:

Admiral, I understand that you believe, and I'm sure on logistics, that we are in a better place, that we have some of these things, that we've streamlined this process. But results, sir. Look at Europe and look at us. Why do we have such a different and poorer outcome than Europe?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

Well, first of all, if you look at much of Europe right now, you're seeing some resurgence in cases. So I think the book is still out on that. This virus is not done with humanity yet. Probably only 10% at most of people have had it, so there are a lot of susceptible people. What we really have to do, and we have to be absolutely disciplined about that, is we have to do the kinds of mitigation techniques that we've been talking about. On the testing side, we have good early signals now. We know that an increase in positivity heralds the rest down the line. An increase in positivity will mean an increase in infections about a week later, which'll mean emergency room hospitalization and unfortunately deaths. When we see that, you have to be absolutely rigorous and disciplined about those measures. If we do that, we can turn that around. And, again, early signs in almost every county right now, we have had an upsurge in cases. Early signs are that that's starting to level off, but we've got to keep the foot on the gas because we have a long way to go before this is over.

CHUCK TODD:

And the final question I have for you is whether, whether -- on this task force whether public health guidance is being sort of massaged a little bit. This was from the Washington Post about Anthony Fauci. It says, "Dr. Fauci has argued that parts of the country experiencing surges should shut down. 'But there is no buy-in for that,' said an official with direct knowledge of the conversation who spoke on a condition of anonymity." Are there some ideas that you can't propose because the president will never accept them?

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

I want to just put this to rest. There is complete open, honest discussion within the task force. Task force meets three to four times a week. The vice president calls me regularly. Dr. Birx is not one to hold her tongue. Believe me, if there's a public health opinion that needs to be said, that needs to be it. And I respect Dr. Fauci a lot, but Dr. Fauci is not 100% right and he also doesn't necessarily, and he admits that, have the whole national interest in mind. He looks at it from a very narrow public health point of view. But let me just say there is absolutely open discourse. I feel absolutely free saying anything to the vice president within those rooms. The vice president, I know, briefs the president on a daily basis. So nobody feels like anything is held back. We all take this as a serious crisis. It's got to be science driving the policy. And that's the way it is.

CHUCK TODD:

Admiral Giroir, I'm going to have to leave it there. I appreciate you coming on and sharing the administration's perspective, sir. Thank you.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

There are few issues amid this pandemic that are of greater concern to parents than getting their children back to school but also doing it safely. President Trump is threatening to cut off federal funding for states that don't move as fast as he'd like. But many educators worry that the administration is putting speed ahead of safety. Well, joining me now is Alberto Carvalho. He is the superintendent of the Miami-Dade public schools district in Florida. It's the fourth largest in the country. Full disclosure, it was my public school system that I grew up with. Mr. Carvalho, welcome to Meet the Press. Let me just ask a straightforward question the president implied. Do you find the CDC guidelines for reopening schools too strict and too expensive?

ALBERTO CARVALHO:

Number one, good morning, Chuck. Thank you so much for the invitation. Look, we've gone through the CDC guidelines. They have informed our reopening plan right here in Miami-Dade in collaboration with guidance from the local and the state health departments. There are some provisions in the recommendations from the CDC that, yes, may be costly. But obviously we take them very seriously. You know, the issue of social distancing in any one school in Miami-Dade or Broward or Palm Beach or other districts may be difficult to achieve. But there are mitigation strategies that you can take in lieu of the six-feet of distancing like the wearing of masks, which will be a mandatory element when we do reopen, like the use of nontraditional spaces, like cafeterias or media centers or gymnasiums. So we are looking carefully at the CDC guidelines. We are consulting with the health department. And I think we came up with a reopening plan that, quite frankly, lifts the best possible practices for implementation with aggressive mitigation strategies when those practices are impossible to implement in Miami-Dade.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious, where are you getting the money for this?

ALBERTO CARVALHO:

Well, you know, the federal government, you know, during its first stimulus package under the CARES Act has appropriated about $900 million for the state of Florida. The governor controls about $137 million. And then the rest of the allocation comes directly to school districts. So we received a significant early investment. But that's not going to be sufficient. I mean, obviously it is clear, on the basis of economic conditions that I think will trail the current health crisis, that much more will need to be earmarked. Just as a measure of comparison, during the last Great Recession of 2008, '09, in excess of $13 billion dollars had already been -- I’m sorry, in excess of $113 billion had already been invested nationally to protect K-12 institutions. At this point, only about $15 billion. So I think that for the purchase of PPEs, additional disinfection cycles, the electrostatic disinfection of schools, alteration of schedules, may need more bus routes to achieve greater social distancing between the riders, more than likely we will need additional resources earmarked specifically for local governments and school systems.

CHUCK TODD:

You have a hybrid approach. You want to give parents a choice. Quite a few school districts are offering this. You can go full online if you want or some form of a partial in-person until you’re able to -- until Miami is able to get phase three in the reopening process. I'm curious, have you thought about bringing elementary school students back five days a week but middle school and high school holding off? Some of the scientific data -- are your health advisors saying that that might be a compromise in order to get younger kids who don't appear to spread the virus as much in there every day, but older kids maybe not?

ALBERTO CARVALHO:

Sure, Chuck. Number one, our reopening plan has been, from the very beginning, informed by health experts. Individuals who have distinguished themselves in the area of medicine and public health. And our plan, as we modify, will continue to be informed by those same individuals. In fact, this Tuesday we're bringing them back to reexamine our plan in collaboration with the county mayor to make sure that we have not only a unified voice but unified set of data and gating criteria that we shall monitor for the appropriate evolution in terms of reopening our school system. But what you just said is absolutely right. So our plan relies on a five-day-a-week schooling experience in-person across all of Miami-Dade in addition to, based on parents' option, a “my school online” which is a synchronist remote teaching and learning opportunity for parents. And then the possibility of hybrid models that rely on the alternate cohort of students spending part of the time in school and then part of the time at home on the basis of utilization or capacity limitations in schools. One of the elements that we keep looking at is exactly that, younger children, perhaps students with disabilities, to a certain extent English language learners, you know, some of those that by virtue of age but also by virtue of the greatest possibility for learning loss since last fall need to reengage quickly in the best possible way of teaching which is face to face with a caring, professional teacher.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, Mr. Superintendent, extracurricular activities, I'm thinking football, marching band, things like that. Is that likely out for the early part of the fall for sure?

ALBERTO CARVALHO: :

We are now in conversations with the state's athletic commission to make decisions about everyone's sport. Certainly it's easier to envision tennis being practiced in a safe way than it is wrestling or football. But we are probably progressively be opening sometime in later July some training camps with extreme social distance as an opportunity for kids to begin to reengage. Look, the last thing I'd like to say is this, we're going to obviously do our very best in our community, considering where health data currently is. A positivity rate of 29.1 percent. A month ago it was at 6 percent. Our start of the school year is six weeks from now. It is quite possible if the social behavior and the restrictions in place, if people wear masks, if people exercise social distancing that conditions may be appropriate and healthy for students to return to the very best model of teaching and learning which is in-person. But we need the community's collaboration, we need the science to drive the practice rather than politics influencing what is legitimately a community concern.

CHUCK TODD:

Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent -- the long-time superintendent of Miami-Dade public schools, fourth largest school district in the country. Thanks for coming on and sharing --

ALBERTO CARVALHO:

Thank you.

Chuck Todd:

-- your perspective about my old haunts as well. Thank you, sir.

ALBERTO CARVALHO:

And still the best.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, one of the few, one of the few Republicans who's been willing to criticize President Trump's handling of the Coronavirus. I'm going to talk to Maryland governor, Larry Hogan.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It's always risky to predict November election outcomes in July, but right now, President Trump is in trouble. And were he to lose, he'd likely take the Republican Senate down with him, giving Democrats full control of Washington. A lot of Republican lawmakers who have kept some distance from Mr. Trump are now starting to look ahead to a post-Trump GOP if one exists. Among them is Maryland's governor, Larry Hogan, who has been sharply critical of the president's handling of the coronavirus and is thinking seriously, perhaps, about running for the highest office in the land in 2024. And he's also written a new book, which future presidential candidates tend to do. It's called “Still Standing: Surviving Cancer, Riots, a Global Pandemic and the Toxic Politics that Divide America.” And Larry Hogan joins me now. And Governor Hogan, just in your subtitle there, it's a reminder, you've had a very, very busy tenure as governor of Maryland. But let me start with the, the crisis at hand right now, and that's the virus, but specifically, let's talk about schools. You have a lot more say than most governors do over your schools. Where, where are we headed? Could you open schools up five days a week in person if you wanted to?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, we could if we wanted to but look, we’re -- I think everybody would like to get our kids back to school as quickly as we can, but we also want to do it and make sure that our kids are going to be as safe as possible. So, we're not going to be rushed into this. From the beginning of this crisis, we've always been working very closely with our doctors, our scientists and our epidemiologists to make sure that we're doing the things that make the most sense. And our state superintendent of schools, we'll be sitting down this week to get a report from her. She's been meeting with all of the local jurisdictions and with all of the top health professionals, getting all the stakeholders' input. And we're going to come up with a plan that is probably going to be a hybrid that talks about how we're going to provide the best education we can for our kids and do it in a safe way.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about the bigger picture here at 30,000 feet. You're on these weekly phone calls with the task force because they supposedly are, have these open lines with all of the governors. We hear about this from the vice president a lot. But results are just that. Why are we in a worse position than Europe, from your perspective?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, it's a great question. First of all, yes, we’re on, we are now doing weekly calls. It started out, I think, a couple of times a week. And I'll give the administration credit for this: they've done an excellent job of communicating with all of the governors from the beginning of the crisis. Almost all of the nation's governors are on these video conference calls with -- sometimes the president, but typically the vice president runs these calls with the coronavirus task force, many of the Cabinet members, and they try to keep us up to date. I think they've made some progress in a number of areas with respect to now getting PPE out to some of the states and working together with us. But there's no question that mistakes were made, that we should have had a national testing strategy, that we should have been on top of this, that we should have had a much more clear national strategy and been communicating much earlier on in the process. And I think governors had to step up and be on the front lines, but we had 50 different states with 50 different strategies, and some did better than others.

CHUCK TODD:

Is this ultimately, I mean, you're talking about your communication, lines of communications are open and things like that. So essentially, this is a leadership problem. Does this come from the president? Is it the president's leadership that has led us down this, this path?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, look, I, I don't want to spend a lot of time just criticizing in the middle of the crisis because I don't like to Monday morning quarterback. But I haven't been afraid, obviously, to speak up when I thought something was wrong or when I thought that they were off on the wrong direction. And I'll continue to do so. You know, I lead the nation's governors, and on every single week's call, I usually raise issues of concern on behalf of my colleagues, on my -- on behalf of my staff and on behalf of my colleagues across the country on both sides of the aisle. There's no question that things could have been done better from the beginning of this crisis, and look, but there -- right now, it doesn't do any good. We've got to deal with the situation at hand, and we've all got to do the best job we can because this thing is out of control. It's by no means behind us, and we're all in it together and we've got to work together at the federal, state and local level.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to talk a little politics with you. What do you make of the future of the Republican party after this election if the president wins a second term? Is there room in this Republican party for you if the president wins a second term?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, look, I think regardless of what happens in November, there are an awful lot of people in America that are completely frustrated with politics today and the divisiveness and dysfunction in Washington. And I think the Republican party, but quite frankly, both parties, are going to be reexamining about what the future looks like. I'm a lifelong Republican who has not been afraid to stand up and disagree with the president on any number of issues. I don't know what the future holds in November, but I know that the Republican party is going to be looking at what happens after President Trump and whether that's in four months or in four years. And I think they're going to be looking to, “How do we go about becoming a bigger tent party?” How do we -- you know, in Maryland, I'm in the bluest state in America and just was reelected overwhelmingly in 2018 by reaching out, by trying to find that middle ground where people can stand together and by avoiding divisive rhetoric and winning suburban women, winning over Democrats and Independents and winning with minority votes. And I think that's something the Republican party's going to have to look to. We're going to have to find a way to appeal to more people and have a bigger tent.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think this Roger Stone commutation is one of those things that just sets the party back a little bit on things like believing in the rule of law and sort of, having some sort of -- you know, where it looks like there's a double standard -- if you're close to the president, you get a break, if you're not, you go to jail?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, there's no question that's the appearance, and it's a problem. And, look, Roger Stone has, is convicted of seven felonies. Look, the president does have the right by law to take the action he took. That doesn't mean he should have. And we've got a guy who's convicted of seven felonies a couple months before an election. For the president to take this action, it's certainly going to hurt politically.

CHUCK TODD:

You said four years ago, you wrote in your father for president. You didn't vote for President Trump, but you didn't vote for Hillary Clinton either. Can you imagine pulling the lever for Joe Biden?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

You know, I feel I'm in the same kind of position I was four years ago. Right now, luckily as chairman of the National Governors Association I get to avoid a little politics for a little while because I represent Democratic and Republican governors together and don't have to get too actively involved in the political games. But I'll have to make that decision between now and November. I'm in the same position a lot of people in America are, I think, really frustrated that this is the best we can come up with on both sides of the aisle. It's a difficult choice. I think most people would like to see something different, and maybe we'll figure that out in 2024.

CHUCK TODD:

Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland. And your new book is out. I appreciate you coming on and sharing your views with us this morning, sir, and stay safe.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, Robert Mueller denounces President Trump's commuting of Roger Stone's prison sentence. And he's not alone. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel joins us from their remote locations, syndicated columnist George Will, NBC News White House correspondent, Kristen Welker and Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for Politico, a great trio this morning. Welcome to all. Kristen Welker, I want to start with Robert Mueller's op-ed pushing back on the president's decision to commute Roger Stone's sentence. Under the headline “Roger Stone remains a Convicted Felon and Rightly So” he writes, "He lied about the identity of his intermediary to Wikileaks, he lied about the existence of written communications with his intermediary. He lied by denying he had communicated with the Trump campaign about the timing of Wikileaks releases. He in fact, updated senior campaign officials repeatedly about Wikileaks. And he tampered with a witness, imploring him to stonewall Congress." And you're reporting, Kristen Welker, that the president is basically alone apparently in that West Wing in being in favor of this decision. Did he really push back on every single advisor on this?

KRISTEN WELKER:

It seems as though he pushed back on most advisors, Chuck. According to conversations with multiple officials he was counseled against this move by some of his top aides, including by the attorney general. And yet President Trump moved forward with this decision. And look, his aides, Chuck, were saying to them, "This could be politically risky. This could ultimately cost you. Your base supports you because they wanted you to build the law and drain the swamp." And this winds up looking like a very swampy move, as one aide said to me. President Trump right now trailing in the polls to Joe Biden. And a lot of aids are concerned that he's not going to be able to afford these types of missteps, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Anna Palmer, your ear to the ground on Capitol Hill is second to none. Mitt Romney speaking out, not a surprise. Pat Toomey, while I'm not surprised, he's somebody that is very careful when he comes out and criticizes this president. But he also seems to speak for that in-between, the never-Trumper world and the devotees. He seems to speak for them on this one. How big is that caucus in the Senate of Pat Toomey and Mitt Romney?

ANNA PALMER:

I think it's a pretty lonely circle in terms of the number of Republican senators who are willing to actually step forward and speak out. I think what Pat Toomey channeled was a little bit of what you hear behind the scenes with Senate Republicans, what they won't say publicly but they do say privately is this is not helpful for November. Their own reelections, I think they are gravely concerned with what the president is doing on this and several other issues. But they just don't seem to have the ability or the wherewithal to publicly condemn this president. You saw Lindsay Graham one of his big boosters come out and defend the president here. I don't expect you're going to see a number of other Republicans want to take questions about this when they come back in a week or so or be willingly to publicly state that they feel like the president was wrong.

CHUCK TODD:

George Will, there's a lot of even Richard Nixon didn't do this writing this morning.

GEORGE WILL:

Well, Nixon didn't because in this case Mr. Trump is pardoning someone who is involved in an episode involving the president. And who is involved to protect the president. And that's not speculation because Mr. Stone bragged that, “I will not” -- listen to the language, "I will not roll over on the president." That's gangster talk. It's mob talk. Now there comes a point, Chuck, in the downward spiral of our country at this point where worse is better. That is if you have a sort of gangster regime, that ought to be made really clear. And I think this does make that really clear with the kind of language they're using. Mr. Trump will not be hurt by this among those who are the only people he cares about which are his base. Mr. Trump ran for president promising to overturn and smash and pulverize the norms that govern American politics. So chalk up the Stone commutation to keeping another promise.

CHUCK TODD:

Kristen Welker, to me what's even more stunning and potentially tone deaf about this decision was the timing of it. Doing it on Friday, it, it, never mind the president's entire day on Friday seemed tone deaf. He goes to the hottest spots of hot spots of the virus, Miami-Dade County not to talk about the virus but to talk about Venezuelan politics. Then he has a fundraiser in Tampa. Then he commutes Roger Stone. Meanwhile, we have a virus, I mean, that to me is what makes this potentially so lethal to the president. A year ago he might have gotten away with this more than he is now. I think a lot of people are wondering, "What are you focused on here?"

KRISTEN WELKER:

And remember, Chuck, when you think about the timing. It also came in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on his financial forms which was broadly seen as a defeat. So you have a number of his close allies saying it looks like he was trying to turn the page on that Supreme Court decision by putting the focus on this decision to commute the sentence of Roger Stone. And you're right, Chuck, it did come on Friday when the president was in Florida, one of the hot spots, not talking about the virus. Instead focusing on a key voting group. And it underscores what a lot of his officials are concerned is his inability to focus on what so many Americans are focused on right now which is the virus and deep concerns that it could ultimately wind up costing him. Not with his base necessarily, Chuck but with moderate Republicans, with Independents, with undecided voters.

CHUCK TODD:

Anna Palmer, do Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill understand what the president is doing politically right now?

ANNA PALMER:

No. I really think that there is frustration among a lot of Republicans. And you really started to see for the first time, you know, if you look back over the past four years, Senate Republicans have largely been in lockstep. This is the party of Trump. But they are more and more worried as November gets closer of what their own elections -- you've started to see people like Senator Roy Blunt, John Thune and others kind of raise a little bit of alarm that what the president is doing is not helpful when it comes to their own reelection which is what they're always, kind of, most concerned about.

CHUCK TODD:

And George, I want to quote, close with this because here's what Max Boot wrote. And I'd love for you to respond. Max Boot who nobody would mistake for a liberal. I think he's someone like yourself, a conservative who just can't stomach President Trump. And he writes this, "Three months I proclaimed Donald Trump the worst president ever. Oh how innocent I was. Back then I thought he was barely edging James Buchanan in the annals of presidential ineptitude. But now with the commutation of Roger Stone's well-deserved prison sentence and so many other vial acts he has disgraced the nation's highest office as no previous occupant has come close to doing." Is James Buchanan getting a reprieve because he was only inept and not inept and corrupt?

GEORGE WILL:

I think Buchanan's third on the list of worst presidents. But above him is the fierce competition between Donald Trump and Andrew Johnson. Andrew Johnson who became president when Lincoln was shot tried to reverse or minimize the consequences of the Civil War. He was a Klan supporting man who supported only preserving the union, not getting rid of what made the south distinctive at that time which was slavery. Mr. Trump's damage is aesthetic. I say aesthetics matter. It's to the tone of the country. It's to what is considered acceptable. It's to whether we have, indeed, norms at all anymore. And that is where the Stone commutation comes in. Because it looks like a redundant demonstration on the part of the president that he simply doesn't care. He likes to smash up the crockery. And we're running out of crockery right now.

CHUCK TODD:

I know what we'd all think if we saw an Erdogan do something like this, a Putin or a Bolsonaro, that's for sure. All right, guys, when we come back President Trump's style of communicating in 280 characters or less. Wait until you see this latest trend. Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data download time. President Trump is the second president of the Twitter era. But he's really the first to use it as his main messaging tool. And since Mr. Trump took office, the monthly number of his posts has simply skyrocketed. We looked at the first six months of each year. In 2017, he tweeted and retweeted an average of 164 times a month. We thought that was a lot. From January to June in 2018, the figure grew to 243 times per month. The first six months of 2019, it was up to 441 times a month. And ready for this? From January to June of this year, a whopping 986 tweets and retweets a month. That is a 500% increase in average monthly tweets in the first part of each year. But there's a downside to all of this tweeting too, and the president knows it. The most recent poll on President Trump's use of Twitter found 63% of those surveyed believe he tweets too frequently. And only 20% believe the president tweeted the right amount -- think of that as sort of the core social media base. So as election day gets closer, President Trump is using Twitter to keep his base energized. But it also reminds a lot of Independent voters and soft Republicans about what they don't like about his style. When we come back, has President Trump hit a Katrina moment? Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The other thing we have been watching is an amazing amount of polling coming out showing President Trump in a rough place, in a place that seems as if he can't climb out of. And George Will, in 1980, the Iran hostage crisis, I feel like we're watching a similar thing with the virus. At first, there was a rally around Carter, and then obviously, the failed attempt at rescue and then just over time, he'd lose faith. And the public sort of lost faith in his ability to lead. I'm wondering, is this the -- are we going to look back in December and say, "Yeah, that's the moment we hit. And we hit that in July with this virus"?

GEORGE WILL:

This is like Katrina, only worse. In the Katrina moment, people looked at Mr. Bush's response and said, "The Bush administration isn't behaving as well as we think it could." The Katrina moment, it was national. This is international. The pandemic has struck the entire planet. And so we have international metrics of how other nations are doing with this. And it doesn't look that good. The man who came in and said, "I'm going to make America great again," is presiding over an America that is largely around the world pitied today. In April 1970, Richard Nixon went on national television and said, "We must invade Cambodia to clean up the sanctuaries of the North Vietnamese, otherwise we will look like a pitiful, helpless giant." I'm afraid for a great many people around the world, the United States floundering in its attempt to deal with this virus, looks like a pitiful, helpless giant.

CHUCK TODD:

Anna Palmer, we're seeing Senate polls that are just -- we're seeing Democrats competitive in places that they didn't think they'd be competitive at this point in time. I'm thinking Kansas, maybe even South Carolina, maybe even Kentucky, although that may be more of a money play than it is an actual electoral play. How dire do Senate Republicans see their chances at holding the Senate right now?

ANNA PALMER:

I think they still feel there's a chance. I mean, they certainly are going to fight tooth and nail to keep it and to keep that stronghold in a lot of those areas, those states that, you know, six months ago we would never be talking about -- Kansas, for example -- I don't think in a real way. I think the real question is going to be can Democrats actually capitalize on this? There's a lot of fear to kind of be counting their chickens before they're hatched. And that there’s, you know, Trump is kind of this unicorn that won last time four years ago when no one thought he was going to. So, to me, the big thing for Senate Republicans is just blocking and tackling. I think you're going to see more distance by some of these more kind of traditional Republicans trying to say, "I'm the leader, whether or not the president is leading on the pandemic. I, as your senator, am leading." We're going to see this on the coronavirus package at the end of the month, for sure.

CHUCK TODD:

And Kristen Welker, the president -- we can't tell -- does he, does he believe he's as behind as the public polls show? Or are people feeding him a false notion of security here?

KRISTEN WELKER:

Oh, I think that a number of his campaign aides, for sure, are trying to bolster his confidence in this moment. But when you talk to those who are close to him, they will say, "Look, it's still way too early to tell what's going to happen." Think back to 2016 when he weathered a number of storms between now and election day. At the same time, there is broad concern that the president's really failing when it comes to his messaging and strategy, that he's failing to land a punch on Joe Biden. He's calling him “Sleepy Joe.” He's trying to cast him as a criminal when he just commuted a real criminal and that the public's just not buying it at this point. They want the president to make this more of a contrast between his record and Joe Biden's record. And listen, Chuck, Democrats say Joe Biden seems to be hitting his stride. He just gave that speech on the economy this week, talked about how he's going to bring back manufacturing jobs. Even Steve Bannon said, "Hey, it seems like he's taking a page out of our playbook from 2016." So I think what you are going to see is a lot of pressure on President Trump to change his messaging and to try to put the focus on Biden and his record, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

I think the remarkable thing just now there Kristen Welker, is I think you made the second reference on our entire show to Joe Biden. We're four months away, the general election, we're weeks away, it just shows you that's the biggest problem the president has is this looks like a referendum on his leadership right now, unless he can figure out something else. And the virus may be figuring it out for him. Thank you, guys. What a terrific panel. And that's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. Thank you for tuning in and trusting us. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.