Meet the Press - June 28, 2020

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: The coronavirus surge.

LINA HIDALGO:

We find ourselves careening towards a catastrophic and unsustainable situation.

CHUCK TODD:

Half the states seeing a steep rise in infections.

WILL HUMBLE:

The time for prevention methods was months ago. Now, I mean, the wheels are coming off.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI:

We might feel like we're done with COVID-19, but COVID-19 isn't done with us.

CHUCK TODD:

States slowing re-openings, as younger Americans drive the surge.

KERRY SANDERS:

Are you concerned about coronavirus, really?

BEACH-GOER:

Not not not anymore. I'm really not.

CHUCK TODD:

Vice President Pence spins the administration's record --

VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:

We have made some truly remarkable progress. We slowed the spread, flattened the curve, we saved lives.

CHUCK TODD:

-- while Anthony Fauci offers a warning to the young.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

If you get infected you will infect someone else who clearly will infect someone else.

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Plus, John Bolton speaks out about President Trump.

JOHN BOLTON:

There really isn't any guiding principle that I was able to discern, other than what's good for Donald trump's re-election. It's a close race to see who could see through him the clearest and try to manipulate him.

CHUCK TODD:

And the president strikes back:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Everyone thought he was crazy because all he wants to do is bomb people.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning, my one-on-one with John Bolton.

JOHN BOLTON:

I believe America can recover from one term of Donald Trump. I believe that very very strongly. I am more worried about a second term.

CHUCK TODD:

Also, Mississippi lawmakers take steps to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, the last of the southern states to do so. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Eddie Glaude, Jr., of Princeton University, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt and Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network. 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. Throughout his presidency, there have been countless ‘this-is-it moments’ that opponents of President Trump felt sure would puncture his standing with voters: Charlottesville, immigrant children in cages, impeachment, just to name three. But nothing seemed to move Mr. Trump's approval ratings much one way or the other. Now, however, the president is facing a crisis he has been unable to tweet, bluster or bluff his way out of. COVID-19, and the death toll and economic dislocation that come with it, is there for all of us to see. Every American is aware of it. Every American is affected by it. Every American has an opinion about it. The past week felt more like April, with states and then the whole country setting records for new cases. Cities shutting down and renewed fears that hospitals would soon run out of ICU beds. Through it all, President Trump has been in denial, and the United States has become the object of avoidance, ridicule and even pity around the world. At home, Covid has given Republicans a permission slip to criticize or ignore the president and provided space for former administration officials, like John Bolton, whom I'll interview in a moment, to criticize a president of their own party. Ultimately, as the number of cases goes up, Mr. Trump's political standing goes down, making him now the most endangered incumbent since George H.W. Bush lost in 1992.

LINA HIDALGO:

We find ourselves careening toward a catastrophic and unsustainable situation.

CHUCK TODD:

Texas and Florida, praised by President Trump for being among the first to reopen, are now backtracking, abruptly setting new restrictions on bars, restaurants and beaches.

GOV. RON DESANTIS:

There was widespread noncompliance, and that led to, led to issues.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT:

If you do need to get out, please wear a mask.

CHUCK TODD:

On Saturday, the U.S. set a record for new cases. In 25 states, cases have increased by 25% or more over the last two weeks, in 9 states, cases are up more than 100%.

WILL HUMBLE:

The time for prevention measures was a month ago. Now, I mean, the wheels are coming off.

CHUCK TODD:

But on Friday, at the first coronavirus task force briefing in two months, the Vice President appeared to deny that reality.

VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:

We have made truly remarkable progress in moving our nation forward.

CHUCK TODD:

The nation's top infectious disease expert Dr. Fauci says current efforts to test sick people, isolate them and trace their contacts are “not working."

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

If we don't extinguish the outbreak, sooner or later even ones that are doing well are going to be vulnerable to the spread.

CHUCK TODD:

For months, the president has minimized the virus.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We have it totally under control. It's one person coming in from China. Looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer it miraculously goes away. This is going to be gone. It's going to go. It's going to leave. It's going to be gone. This is going to go away without a vaccine.

CHUCK TODD:

Six months into the pandemic in the U.S. - that message largely dismissing the virus hasn't changed.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We are doing so well after the plague. It is going away.

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

This is a localized situation.

VICE PRES. PENCE:

We slowed the spread, we flattened the curve, we saved lives.

CHUCK TODD:

But the curve hasn't been flattened. The virus isn't going away. And the issues that plagued early testing efforts remain.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I said to my people, slow the testing down please!

REPORTER:

But did you ask to slow it down?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

If it did slow down, frankly I think we’re way ahead of ourselves if you want to know the truth. We’ve done too good a job. Because every time we go up, with 25 million tests you’re going to find more people.

CHUCK TODD:

Some Republicans would like to see President Trump stop politicizing mask-wearing.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Until we find a vaccine, these are really important. This is not as complicated as a ventilator.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar. Secretary Azar, welcome to Meet the Press. And let me start with just a simple first question, why are we failing in the fight against COVID-19 when so much of the rest of the world seems to be succeeding right now?

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

Well, Chuck, let's talk about what we know which is that we're seeing surging in cases in counties especially in the southern parts of the United States. We've gotten reports from our governors that the majority of the positive cases we're seeing are age 35 and under. A large number of those are going to be asymptomatic. We've got -- our fatality rates and our hospitalization rates are the lowest they've been in two months. But this is a very serious situation. What are we doing about it? We're surging in working with our local authorities in states. This is a county by county issue. So getting in there and getting to the bottom of why we're seeing cases surging. And then in addition to the traditional contact tracing, what we're doing now is we've got to test entire communities, find all positive cases. Because this is a very different virus with this asymptomatic spreading. Get every positive case, get those people isolated. We've got hospital capacity in all of these areas. We have personal protective equipment and we're going to be there to back them up. We now have treatments, we've got steroids, Remdesivir, convalescent plasma. And I encourage your listeners, if you've had COVID, call your blood bank, American Red Cross, and please donate plasma to increase our supplies. So we've got the tools to do this. We just did this in the last couple of weeks in North Carolina. But the window is closing. We have to act and people as individuals have to act responsibly. We need to social distance. We need to wear our face coverings if we're in settings where we can't social distance, particularly in these hot zones.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you this, did we blow it during the first shut down? The first shut down was designed, I thought, to do three things, get our testing capacity up, provide some relief for hospitals and make sure we have hospitalization capacity up. And one of the big things was contact tracing. And so it seems pretty obvious what happened here, if you just, just looking back at a laymen, you guys put out guidelines in April about what it would take for a state to open up. No state followed those guidelines under -- at all. Some states followed, followed them okay. Pretty closely or came close. But a lot of the states in the south didn't do it at all. And a bunch of them don't have contact tracers. Isn't that why we're here?

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

So Chuck, this isn't about reopening or not reopening. We've got many communities and states that are just as reopened as these southern states but aren't experiencing this. We've got to get to the bottom of why we're seeing these cases surge in this area. But at its core, we all own, as individuals, our individual behavior to make sure that we are practicing appropriate social distancing and wearing facial covering when we're not able to. And practicing good personal hygiene. And especially protecting our most vulnerable citizens. But, you know, Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci talked about this at a press briefing on Friday, that one of the bedeviling things about this virus is the asymptomatic spread of it which means the traditional contact tracing of public health that our local authorities are so used to is a necessary but not sufficient protection.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

We've got to do that. But it can't just be sitting in a public health office making phone calls. We've got to get into the community. We've got to get dust on the boots. We've got to find the people and test entire communities to get our positive cases. That's the type of action we've seen in North Carolina and that's what we need in these other local communities.

CHUCK TODD:

But Mr. Secretary, I still don't understand why we don't have enough contact tracers. This -- the head of the CDC said we have less than 100,000 nationwide. We should have 300,000 some experts have thought. And again, we've been at this five months now. Why don't we have enough physical contact tracers in these southern states?

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

Well, Chuck, these states have to build up their contact tracers. But they've also just got to build up getting into the states, getting out into these counties, into these local communities. This is a very community based effort at this point. So we've surged people into every one of these states. We're working with them on the ground. But it's about getting out, working with NGOs, working with community, trusted community leaders, getting testing done, getting people isolated. But it's important to remember we now have many more tools than we had months ago to deal with this. We have therapeutics. We're on the road to vaccines. We have personal protective equipment. And again, I'd say any hospital, nursing home that needs anything be sure your governor's office knows. We'll get that into FEMA and we'll make sure we're there to support you.

CHUCK TODD:

I asked the governor of Arkansas, Republican Asa Hutchinson, if his job would be made easier to get his community, get his state to wear masks if the president -- he doesn't have to wear one. If he would just say it. Just tweet it. Here was his response to me, sir.

[BEGIN TAPE]

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

A consistent national message supporting the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing is very important to making sure everybody understands the importance of it. Nothing beats leadership.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Secretary, multiple times with me in our seven minutes so far that we've talked you've brought up masks, you've brought up social distancing. But without the president of the United States doing this, how is half the country going to listen? Have you directly asked the president to please ask the country to wear a mask?

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

So I'm the president's secretary of health. I'm telling you, practice social distancing. Where you can't appropriately social distance, we encourage you to wear a facial covering. The vice president of the United States on Friday stood on stage, walked up on stage wearing a mask even though he doesn't need to in the sense that everybody around him is tested, he's in a bubble. The president, we know, is a very unique circumstance as leader of the free world. He's tested constantly and those around him are tested constantly and they're kept at a distance even with that. But we're all saying this. The president's guidelines for reopening, the president's guidelines, his guidelines have said from day one, practice social distancing. If you can't, wear face coverings. Practice appropriate personal hygiene. And always please consider your individual circumstances and those of your household members. Protect the most vulnerable, those over 80, those over 65 with three or more of the serious comorbid conditions. These are the people we have to ring-fence and protect right now.

CHUCK TODD:

It’s a do -- but what you just articulated, Mr. Secretary, is a ‘do as I say, not as I do’. The president of the United States holding indoor rallies, twice in the last ten days. Once in a state that is seeing a potential of an out of control spread in Arizona. He doesn't talk about wearing a mask. And you avoided my question about whether you've asked the president to at least ask the country to wear a mask. Just because you put guidelines under his name, when he doesn't do it, his people don't listen.

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

Well, Chuck, I'm not going to talk about politics. But we've seen mass gatherings over the last several weeks with people, rightly, expressing first amendment and political views. And this is appropriate. But my message is one of public health which is if you're going to participate in any type of large gathering I encourage you: consider your individual circumstance. Consider the circumstance of those you live with. And take appropriate precautions that are appropriate to yourself and your community.

CHUCK TODD:

Secretary Azar, I have to leave it there. Appreciate you coming on and sharing the administration's perspective.

SEC. ALEX AZAR:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

During the first peak of the COVID crisis, Andrew Cuomo was one of the faces of the response, giving daily televised press briefings as New York became the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. Now, cases and deaths are way down in New York. And instead of New Yorkers being quarantined when they travel to states like Florida, it's New York that is doing the quarantining of out of state visitors from places like Florida. And joining me now is the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. Governor, I want to start with what we just heard from Secretary Azar. And that is sort of, it seems as if he believes this is on the states, that our contact tracing problem in the South is on the states. Was this second surge, in your opinion, preventable?

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

Yeah. Good to be with you, Chuck. First, I don't think this is a second surge. We're worried about a second wave. I think we're still in the first wave. And this is a continuation of the first wave. And it was a failed effort to stop the first wave in the country. And as you pointed out, New York is in a totally different place. Look, if you listen to what the secretary said, if you listen to what the president says, what they said at the White House briefing, they're saying what they said three months ago. They're basically in denial about the problem. They don't want to tell the American people the truth. And they don't want to have any federal response except supporting the states --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO

-- supporting the states. So I heard that and I understood where they were. I didn't need to torture the rhetoric. I knew what they were saying, "You're on your own." You know? And it's not a good feeling, but it's sort of liberating. So in New York we just handled it totally differently, Chuck. We handled it on our own, communication clear, as you mentioned, every day. And then we came up with a plan and did the testing and did the isolation. And that makes a difference.

CHUCK TODD:

You followed the set of guidelines I pointed out. I remember this distinctly. Only one time did we hear the White House ever talk about the gate, infamous gating criteria, and then I think that phrase disappeared. You created, sort of, you used that guidance, you guys created your own. But in all honesty, how hard is it going to be to stop another resurgence in your state if the rest of the country is struggling the way it's struggling?

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

Well, that's our problem. Look, the CDC guidelines, first of all, were just guidelines. They were very vague. I don't even know what they meant. The trajectory has to be coming down. We put in place our own metrics where we, we used science. And we wouldn't open any region unless they hit certain metrics. And then we have a phased reopening that we're in the midst of. But you look at the number of hospital beds, you actually have the testing up. We do more testing than any state in the United States, Chuck. We do more testing per capita than any country on the globe. The testing is the key. You do the isolation. You have enough PPE, enough ICU beds. And then you -- from the testing, you have a rate of transmission that you can monitor, and you proceed through the phases if you hit that rate of transmission. This is a virus. It doesn't respond to politics. You can't tweet at it. You have to treat it. And we never did that. Now, my fear is, we had today five deaths. Now, we offer thoughts and prayers to every death in our state, but five deaths is the lowest number we have had since this started, Chuck. We are on the exact opposite end. We have less than 800 people in hospitals -- lowest number basically since we started. How does that number go up? Two ways. Lack of compliance. And I'm diligent about staying after New Yorkers and local governments that have to police it. And second, I'm now afraid of the spread coming from other states because we are one country and people travel. And I'm afraid the infection rate in the other states will come back to New York and raise that rate again.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, if Governor DeSantis calls you up this afternoon, Governor Abbott calls you up this afternoon, of Texas and Florida, and they say, "All right, let's set the politics aside. I know, you know, we mouthed off at you a little bit. What's your recommendation? How, what should we do here?" What would you tell them?

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

I'll tell you, I don't wait for them to call. This is New York. We're proactive. My team has called their teams. And said, "Look, can we help?" When we were in trouble, Chuck, we had states all across the nation who came to help us. We had 30,000 volunteers from across the United States who came to help us. So I called those states. I said, "Any way we can help? We've gone through it. We have the equipment. We have the staff. We have the testing protocols. We have the testing software. We have the tracing program. Can we help? Anything you need? Ventilators, et cetera." And that's the right thing to do from a community point of view and a citizenry point of view. It's also, there's a parochial interest which is if these states keep going up, we're going to have a national crisis like we have never seen. They said this was the way to help the economy by reopening. It's been the exact opposite. Every time the virus goes up, the stock market goes down. And if those, if those states continue to increase, you'll see it go all across the nation. You'll see New York on the rise again. And you'll see the other states starting to go up even more.

CHUCK TODD:

Has this -- you have not released a school opening plan. I know you have some recommendations out. But I'm curious now, because this is my fear, is that this new, this new surge or spike that we're seeing in the South is now going to delay every school district's plans for creating maybe a dual hybrid system of some in-person, some remote, universities. Are you now thinking that maybe we might not see, everything goes remote now in the fall given we're living with this virus until there's a vaccine?

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

Well, first, on the first, your first point, yes, I agree with that. You know, everybody talked about the economic consequence and the president said we should reopen and that's going to help the economy. It turned out to be exactly wrong. But there's also a social consequence. Children have missed schools. Children have missed the interaction with other children. That's part of the socialization process. We're preparing to open schools. We have plans to open schools. But look, Chuck, I'll be honest with you, it's two months away. Anything can happen in two months. You look back two months and you see how many things have changed. I want to see what the infection rate is and what the disease is doing before we pull the trigger and make the decision. We're looking at this Kawasaki-like syndrome that now is an inflammatory syndrome that affects children who were previously infected with COVID. I mean, this is complicated. So let's get the facts and we'll make the decision when we have to. But we're prepared. But if this continues across the country, you're right, Chuck, kids are going to be home for a long time.

CHUCK TODD:

And final question, we talked about this, about nursing homes before. And you've taken some heat on the directive, and you've said you were following a national directive. But let’s -- let me ask it again similarly, at this point, do you think these senior centers are safe? Period.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

Yeah. Look, there's – I’ve taken political heat, okay? There are facts and there’s politics. There's no doubt in nursing homes all across this nation, that's where we saw most of the deaths, not most, but almost 50 percent of the deaths, senior citizens in congregate settings. And it's becoming more and more clear that the infection in the nursing homes came from the staff that got infected and brought it in. But in New York, we're number 46 in the nation in terms of percentage of deaths at nursing homes, compared to the total percentage. By The New York Times, we are number 46. So, it's been unfortunate in every state, we have to do more, we have to figure it out, but if they want to point fingers, not at New York. We’re number 46, you have 45 other states to point fingers at first.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. Are these safe? Are these facilities safe in your mind right now?

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

They are as safe, they are as safe -- well in this state, we're testing every week every nursing home employee, right?

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

So you could argue that they are safer than a senior citizen at home, who is receiving care at home. The safest environment -- my mother -- stay home, don't see anyone. If you are at home and you have an aide coming in, that aide is not tested. In a nursing home, the staff is being tested once a week, and seniors do have to be careful, wherever they are.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Cuomo, I'd love to keep going, but I am out of time. I appreciate you coming on, sharing your perspective with us. And stay safe out there.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

Thanks, you too.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, my interview with President Trump's former national security advisor, John Bolton.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It's been only five days since John Bolton's book, “The Room Where It Happened”, hit bookstores. In that time, President Trump has called his former national security advisor "a fool," "crazy," and "someone who just wanted to drop bombs on everyone." Bolton has dropped some verbal bombs of his own, saying, "Mr. Trump is easily duped by our adversaries," "is unfit for office," and, "has used his power as president for personal gain." Well, joining me now is the author of said book, John Bolton. Ambassador Bolton, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

JOHN BOLTON:

Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, before we get to the substance of your book, I want to get to what we've just learned over the last 48 hours. There's some reporting this weekend that an arm -- reported by the New York Times, that an arm of Russian military intelligence has secretly been paying bounties to Taliban-linked militias to kill American and other coalition forces in Afghanistan. There's a lot we don't know. The U.S. government has not confirmed or denied the intelligence report. They have only simply denied that the president was informed in March of this. I'm just curious of your initial reaction to this report, ambassador.

JOHN BOLTON:

Well it’s, as you say, there's a lot we don't know. So we should be cautious. But from what we do know from the president's own tweets this morning, to me it looks like just another day at the office in the Trump White House. I've never recalled a circumstance where the president himself goes out of his way to say he wasn't briefed on something. We may be in the, you know, what the definition of “is” is here. When you say "briefed," does that mean he's never been told of anything about it? We don't know the quality of the intelligence or the extent of it. If it does go back to March, that raises other questions. And the key point is if there's any accuracy to it, if the Russians have actually been paying to see Americans killed, that is a very, very serious matter.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just curious. If there was an intelligence assessment like this, can you imagine a scenario where it is withheld from the president? I mean, that part of this just seems extraordinarily hard to believe, is it not for you?

JOHN BOLTON:

Well, again, it depends on what the level of confidence in the intelligence is. I tried during my tenure at the White House to read as much intelligence as I could. That doesn't mean I passed all of it on to Trump or to others. I think it's just important to understand there needs to be a filter for any president, maybe particularly for this president. So there's obviously more to this story, but it is pretty remarkable the president's going out of his way to say he hasn't heard anything about it. One asks, "Why would he do something like that?" I think the answer may be precisely because active Russian aggression like that against American service members is a very, very serious matter. And nothing's been done about it, if it's true, for these past four or five months. So it may look like he was negligent. But, of course, he can disown everything if nobody ever told him about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. Do you think that part of the -- that the president is afraid to make Putin mad because maybe Putin did help him win the election and he doesn't want to make him mad for 2020?

JOHN BOLTON:

Honestly, I don't think there's evidence for that. And I think it's a mistake on the one hand to say the Russia collusion theory was true, which some opponents of Trump still can't let go of --

CHUCK TODD:

I'm not saying collusion.

JOHN BOLTON:

-- versus Trump himself --

CHUCK TODD:

But, Ambassador, I'm not saying collusion on this --

JOHN BOLTON:

-- hang on. Hang on. Hang on. Hang on. Versus the Donald Trump approach, which is, "The Russians didn't do anything at all in the election." I think it's clear from all the data, and it's been discussed publicly. Of course the Russians tried to interfere in the 2016 election. And they're going to try and do it again this year, as will the Chinese and maybe the Iranians and the North Koreans. That's why during the Trump administration, whether the president was fully cognizant of it or not, the agencies and departments charged with trying to prevent that worked very hard to increase our defenses. So why is the president so defensive about Putin? I don't -- as I said, I don't read anything into it necessarily. If I had evidence, I would reveal it. I just don't know what to say other than he likes dealing with strong authoritarian figures.

CHUCK TODD:

You've made it clear that you think the president's unfit for office. Do you think a second term of Donald Trump is an existential threat to the country?

JOHN BOLTON:

I'm very worried about it. Look, I think damage has been done in the first term. I lay it out in the book as I see it. But I believe America can recover from one term of Donald Trump. I believe that very, very strongly. I'm more worried about a second term. And it's not just decisions in the national security space. I'm worried about the corruption of the civil discourse in this country by a president who says the sorts of things that you quoted at the outset of our discussion. I think it degrades the body politic. There are plenty of other people doing the same thing. Don't get me wrong. But I just think it's unpresidential to behave that way. And that will have serious consequences.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you briefly about the impeachment and your decision not to testify. This week, The New Yorker profiled Fiona Hill, who was the National Security Council's Russia director during most of your tenure, who did testify during the House impeachment investigation. And there was this anecdote in there, ambassador. "After Hill's testimony, Bolton asked Sarah Tinsley, a longtime aide, to relay a personal message: 'You did the right thing.'" If it was the right thing for Fiona Hill, sir, why wasn't it the right thing for you?

JOHN BOLTON:

Because I was in a very different circumstance. You know, my deputy, Charlie Kupperman, was subpoenaed by the House. He was directed by the White House not to testify. He went to court. You know, you got the one branch, the legislative branch, saying, "Do one thing," the executive branch saying another. He went to the judicial branch to get an answer, and the House of Representatives withdrew their subpoena. Look, I've written in the book, I think the House advocates of impeachment committed impeachment malpractice. I think they played right into Donald Trump's strategy and lost a real opportunity by creating a partisan issue when they might have gotten some Republicans who could have helped out. And by the end of the process, I think everybody, including on the Republican side, believed that there was a quid pro quo in Ukraine. But the House effort didn't take into account the possibility that the White House would argue successfully that even if it were true, it didn't rise to the level of an impeachable offense. I think there was another way to do this. We saw it in Watergate where there was bipartisan cooperation. You know, if I were, if I were one of those who had advocated impeachment in the House, I'd be looking for other people to blame at the moment, too.

CHUCK TODD:

Final question is, you made the case that a second term of Donald Trump will be really damaging. You have said though that you cannot support a Joe Biden candidacy. What is worse in your mind: A second Trump term or a first term of Joe Biden?

JOHN BOLTON:

You know, it's a comparison of apples and oranges. I'm very unhappy. And I don't think I'm untypical of a lot of conservative Republicans who really wish there was a conservative Republican on the ballot. Some will vote for Joe Biden. I respect that. I'm not going to do that. I'm going to write in the name of a conservative Republican. I think others will probably just not vote at the presidential level at all. It's not an easy choice. It's not a happy choice. And I wish there were an alternative. Maybe one will come. I don't see it. But that's where we are at the moment.

CHUCK TODD:

And you have said that you really want to focus on helping Republicans keep the Senate. George Will, who I know you're very familiar with, has argued that Senate Republicans have enabled Donald Trump too much and they are part of the problem. What do you say to his critique?

JOHN BOLTON:

Well, I have enormous respect for George Will and have over the years. Look, this is part of, I think, the damage to the political system that Donald Trump has done, that everything has been torqued around Donald Trump personally. I think politics is about philosophy. And that's why I think ultimately it is critical for the republic that Republicans keep the majority in the Senate, whether Trump wins or loses.

CHUCK TODD:

Ambassador Bolton, I have to leave it there. I appreciate you coming on, sharing your perspective. Your book has made quite the splash, and I have a feeling it may linger for some time. So good luck out there.

JOHN BOLTON:

Well, thanks very much.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, the polling, all the polling has gotten much worse for President Trump. Is he able to change the direction of this race? Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is with us from their remote locations: Eddie Glaude, Jr., Princeton University and author of the new book “James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own;” NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt; and Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network. Well, I want to begin with an answer that has made the rounds in the political world. And it was an answer the president gave to a simple question Sean Hannity asked him, which is, "What's your agenda for a second term?" Here it is, Hugh Hewitt.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEAN HANNITY:

What are your top-priority items for a second term?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, one of the things that will be really great. You know, the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience, I’ve always said that. But the word experience has a very important word, it’s a very important meaning. I never did this before. I never slept over in Washington. I was in Washington, I think, 17 times all of a sudden, I'm the president of the United States. You know the story. I'm riding down Pennsylvania Avenue with our first lady, and I say, "This is great." But I didn't know very many people in Washington. It wasn't my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now, I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes like, you know, an idiot like Bolton. All he wanted to do was drop bombs on everybody.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh Hewitt, was that Roger Mudd/Ted Kennedy redux?

HUGH HEWITT:

No, that was a Clayton Kershaw windup. And I think the president did not throw the pitch, which is, "We're going to get back to 3.5% unemployment in January. We're going to get to a 355-ship Navy. I've got two Supreme Court Justices, 53 appeals court judges, 143 district court judges. We're going to have the economic blue collar boom back." I mean, you've got to deliver on the pitch. But, no, I didn't think it was a Roger Mudd moment at all.

CHUCK TODD:

Kasie Hunt, we have started this week for the first time public on-the-record criticism of the president's political messaging, John Thune probably the most prominent. Is this the beginning of a crack, at least in a rhetorical split, between Senate Republicans and the White House?

KASIE HUNT:

Well, Chuck, we've asked ourselves that over and over and over again, and it never has been. But on the other hand, the president previously was winning. He had Republican support behind him. And the theory was that the Republican base was going to get them across the finish line and therefore bring Senate Republicans along. And this pandemic I think has really shattered that theory of the case, as we have seen this president's numbers sink in a substantial way. And I don't think you can disconnect that from the rhetoric that we're hearing from Senate Republicans. As you pointed out, this isn't a situation where the only Americans who are following politics are the ones who are the most invested, the most partisan. The coronavirus has affected and touched every single American household. The numbers of Americans who know someone who has died from coronavirus are terribly high. And they're much higher among households of color, who are also newly reengaged in the wake of George Floyd's death. And if you are someone who is relying on the president's coattails to get you across the finish line in November, this is a very, very difficult place to be. Now, I think the sense is going to be, especially for, you know, many voters who have been turned -- tuned into this all the way along, that it is far too little too late for these Republicans to break with the president at this stage, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Eddie, why do you believe the -- it's been the virus that has produced the first cracks in that floor of support? I mean, one of the things we've noticed is for the first time instead of, you know, sitting at that 44/45 mark stubbornly, right, no matter what happened, this is the first time you're starting to see, and it's slow, but you're starting to see cracks. And he went down a couple of floors. He's more like in the 40/41 range. Why the virus -- how did the virus make this happen while none of those other stories did?

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

Well, in some ways, Chuck, the virus isn't partisan. It doesn't care about politics, to my mind. And what it has done, in some ways it has created a kind of continuity, a kind of similarity across our differences. We're all vulnerable. Some are more vulnerable than others, but we're all vulnerable to this. We're all having to deal with the fact that some of us have lost loved ones and we can't send them home, we can't attend their funerals, we can't celebrate their lives like we wanted to, like we would ordinarily do. So I think at the end of the day, I think everyday, ordinary people, Chuck, around the country want a response from the federal government to a pandemic that has disrupted everything in our lives. And I think the administration has failed. And it has failed not only Democrats, it's failed Republicans, independents. It's failed all of Americans.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, how would you advise the president to turn this around? I mean, it does look like at this point they've made the decision the federal government isn't going to own the response. I mean, Secretary Azar kept bringing it back to the states, back to the states. I understand that's a federalism response, but it's not working.

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, yesterday 500 Americans died, Chuck. And in Germany, 680 Germans died. The United States' death toll has dropped dramatically from May, when it was 2,700. And in between, it's been a month and three days since George Floyd was murdered. In between, we had millions of Americans express their anger at overzealous policing and at the unnecessary use of violence, often lethal, against African Americans. And that was an event in the story of this virus. There's another event in the story of the virus. There's a ventilator supply now of 50,000 that the president got done. There is a lot more social distancing and a lot of older Americans are intuitively staying away. And the sharp rise in cases is among younger Americans. So what I think the president has to do, look, Joe Biden is very confident. He's measuring the drapes in the White House basement already. He thinks he's got this in the bag. The president needs to, as I said in the first segment, go back to his numbers and say, "Hey America. Who's going to get us back to where we were in January: Joe Biden in the basement or Donald Trump?" And I think he's got to do that in one-on-one interviews with as many people, including you and people who might be very tough on him in conversations, every day a one-on-one interview like he did in 2016.

CHUCK TODD:

Kasie, do Senate Republicans want the federal government to take more responsibility for this response?

KASIE HUNT:

Yes. Yes. Absolutely yes. I mean, this has been an unmitigated disaster from the perspective of many of them. And, I'm sorry, but this picture that Hugh is painting of, you know, Americans looking at, you know, the world the way it was in January and definitely deciding here in June that President Trump is the one to fix the problems that frankly cascaded on his watch seems to me to be something certainly that when I talk to Senate Republicans behind closed doors they don't buy.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I'm going to pause the conversation here, but I promise everybody's got another shot at this in a moment. When we come back, just how far behind the world is the United States combating the coronavirus? That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Let's take a look at how the United States is doing compared with other countries in controlling the coronavirus. At 107 cases per one million people, the United States has one of the highest infection rates in the world. Brazil's is higher, with a seven-day average of about 163 new infections per one million. Russia and India are also in double digits per one million people. And, of course, we can't be sure how accurate the reporting is in all cases. At the other end of the data, Germany and Italy have made large strides in containing the virus. Both were above 60 new infections per million people at one point and are now in the single digits. And, as we pass the six-month mark of the virus in these countries, the date of first infection does not seem to be playing into infection rates either. The United States had its earliest recorded COVID-19 case back on January 21st, with all of the other countries except Brazil following just a week or so later. And it should be noted, the United States is not only the wealthiest nation. We also have the highest health care spending of any of these nations. President Trump argues the numbers are only rising because the United States is testing more. But the data suggests that other factors are driving this increase. For instance, the United States' positive test rate is six percentage points. That is higher than all of the other countries except India. Compared with Germany at .9% and Italy, where the percentage of positive cases is much lower, lower than 1% actually, one thing of the struggling countries that all of them have in common is leaders, like President Trump and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, who have played down the threat of the virus. Of course, no one leader is entirely responsible for infection rates. But as the pandemic continues, the politics and the data seem to carry a warning that the voices at the top matter and they may matter a lot. When we come back, the growing debate over taking down monuments.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is back. And, Kasie Hunt, I'm going to start by giving a little hat tip to the First Read team. We've put together sort of -- we're here at the halfway mark of this calendar year, and these are the notable, important news events of the first six months of this year. And it’s -- it starts with the killing of Soleimani. I'm sure many Americans, many viewers probably forgot that was the beginning of this year. Remember the Iowa caucuses broke down. We didn't know who the winner there was for a while. There was a point Joe Biden was in fifth place. We could go on and on and on. And of course, at some point, the virus becomes a dominant feature of this timeline. But, Kasie Hunt, in going through this exercise, when I hear people say, "Oh, geez. There's still a long time to go," I look at this list and think, "Boy, a lot of things have happened and nothing has changed the trajectory of this for Donald Trump."

KASIE HUNT:

Chuck, I do think that, while on the one hand, it's easy to look at that list and think, "Man, what are we going to add to it between now and November?" -- there are many possibilities that I think a lot of us don't even want to contemplate. On the other hand, we also know, and history teaches us, that heading into any election, this is often the period of time that sets things not necessarily in stone but on a pretty firm trajectory that is very difficult to reorient. If you remember back to when Barack Obama was running against Mitt Romney, they defined him in this spring and summer period and they just couldn't come back in the fall. And that's the big risk here for President Trump, that this time of year is going to cement what he is able to do or not do in the fall. And I think, of course, the challenge for Joe Biden's campaign is avoiding complacency under these circumstances. And I do think that they are remembering back to what happened to Hillary Clinton. And I think that complacency is not as big of a risk for him because of what happened there.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh Hewitt, if there was a message of the week from the administration, it was that they wanted to show that there was a concerted effort here, that they were on the side of protecting statues, the administration. You had the Barr letter. You had Wolf's letter to social media platforms. You had the president's letter to Chicago. Do you think an old style law-and-order type of messaging really is the right messaging right now?

HUGH HEWITT:

I heard a different message, Chuck. I think there's a consensus that the statues of the Confederacy have got to come down. The bases that are named for treasonous people have to be renamed. I think the John Stennis carrier has to be renamed. He was a stone-cold racist like Woodrow Wilson. I think there's a consensus on that. There's also a consensus that they have to be changed by lawful methods, not by mob violence. I thought Tom Cotton's speech on the floor of the Senate talking about mob violence and Lincoln's speech at the Lyceum was very well received. I do believe what Kasie just said, complacency on the Democratic side is their biggest danger. The Democrats have gone hard left, hard left. And the phantom of Joe Biden on the top of that is not going to cover over the AOC and the Squad's effect on the party.

CHUCK TODD:

Eddie Glaude, your school, Princeton, is dropping Wilson's name. That's something I know you write about in your book. It looks like Mississippi is on its way to dropping the Confederate emblem that was in their state flag, being the final Southern state to do this. What does this mean for us in the story of America?

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

Well, I think that we're in a moment of reckoning. I don't think what brother Hugh just laid out in terms of the fear of the radical left is what's going to drive us. It's really about our story. Who do we take ourselves to be? Look, Mississippi put the stars and bars in its flag in 1894. And now, the president of the SEC told them, "We don’t, we might not have championship events in your state if you continue to embrace the Confederacy." So there, there's big business that's bringing pressure to bear and there's everyday, ordinary people who say, "What are you commending to us when you celebrate these sorts of folk who held the view that African Americans were inferior?" So in some ways, Chuck, and I argue this in the book, we're at, we’re at an inflection point. We're trying to imagine ourselves differently. That's not just going to take the form of symbols. It's going to take the form of policy. We need to put the two together, I think, in a very clear and concise way.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. Very quickly, what -- the Woodrow, Woodrow Wilson's place in history now, Eddie, what should it, what should it be?

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

Well, it should be, very quick, it should be just the facts. We should tell the truth about who he is and who he was, right? Tell the truth about his achievements and tell the truth about his faults and failures. That's what we need to do, and we need to give an interpretation of his presidency that actually reveals how flawed we are and how we're always on the road, not necessarily to a more perfect union, but to a more just society. So we need to commend the values that we uphold and cherish as we tell the story of the people who’ve made us who we are.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, before I say goodbye this morning, I want to take note that this is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues this year. The world of baseball is launching a Tip Your Hat campaign to bring recognition to those who played in the Negro Leagues, when African Americans were banned from organized baseball. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama have all taped tributes, which will be released tomorrow on their social media platforms. So in honor of this anniversary, I am happy to tip my Homestead Grays hat, the team that played right in Washington, D.C., in honor of the Negro Leagues. Happy anniversary. That's all for today. Thank you for watching, and we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.