CHUCK TODD:This Sunday, Biden's big win.
JOE BIDEN: Thank you, thank you, thank you!!
CHUCK TODD:Joe Biden gets the landslide victory he needed in South Carolina.
JOE BIDEN:If Democrats want a nominee who's a Democrat, a proud Democrat, an Obama-Biden Democrat, join us.
CHUCK TODD:Bernie Sanders finishes a distant second.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:There are a lot of states in this country. Nobody wins them all.
CHUCK TODD:While Warren, Buttigieg and Klobuchar trail badly and Steyer drops out. Can Biden's South Carolina success pull voters from Bloomberg and slow Sanders heading into Super Tuesday? This morning I'll talk to former Vice President Biden and to Pete Buttigieg of Indiana. Plus: the coronavirus; the Dow falling.
LESTER HOLT:Breaking news tonight, the stock market closing the week in freefall.
CHUCK TODD:Fears escalating.
ANTHONY FAUCI: Because it's very clear, if we have a global pandemic no country is going to be without impact.
CHUCK TODD:President Trump insisting there's little to worry about --
PRES. DONALD TRUMP: My administration has taken the most aggressive action in modern history to confront the spread of this disease.
CHUCK TODD:-- as he and his allies blame the media for frayed nerves.
MICK MULVANEY:They think this will bring down the president. That's what this is all about.
CHUCK TODD:Vice President Pence leading the government's response...
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:We’re going to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear.
CHUCK TODD:This morning, my sit-down with the vice president and I'll talk to virus hunter and NBC News medical contributor Dr. Joseph Fair. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, Eddie Glaude, Jr., of Princeton University, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Welcome to Sunday, and a special edition of Meet the Press.
ANNOUNCER:From NBC News headquarters in New York, the longest-running show in television history, this is a special edition of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.
CHUCK TODD:Good Sunday morning from our election headquarters right here at Rockefeller Center in New York City. We have so much to talk about. Yesterday, the South Carolina primary, our look ahead to Super Tuesday, and of course the growing fears over the coronavirus, which has now claimed its first victim in the United States. So let's get right to it. We're going to start with presidential politics. While he's not yet the comeback kid, Joe Biden got the win he so desperately needed yesterday. Biden's South Carolina firewall held and then some. With almost all the votes counted, Joe Biden lapped the field with 48% of the vote, winning every single county in the state, crushing Bernie Sanders by more than a two-to-one margin, with everyone else trailing badly. Biden's big win helped him close the delegate gap considerably with Sanders. With six South Carolina delegates still to be allocated, it's very close.
JOE BIDEN:Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead. Now, thanks to all of you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we just won and we've won big because of you.
CHUCK TODD:Despite Biden's big night, the confetti could stop for him on Super Tuesday as Sanders is much better organized and positioned to take a potentially commanding delegate lead.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:The people of this country, on Super Tuesday and after, are going to support our campaign because we are more than a campaign. We are a movement.
CHUCK TODD:Fourteen states, plus American Samoa and Democrats abroad, will be voting on Tuesday, with 1,357 pledged delegates at stake or 34% of the entire total available. It is a national primary day, folks. Biden still needs lower tiered candidates to drop out, as Tom Steyer did last night. And we'll have much more on the race in a moment. The other big story, of course, is the coronavirus. Yesterday, we learned of the first death of someone in the United States as a result of the outbreak. This person had no known travel exposure. I spoke with Vice President Mike Pence, who's leading the government's response effort, and you'll see that interview later in the show. But we're going to begin with the Democratic race and the big shake-up here. Perhaps no one had more riding on South Carolina or has more riding on Super Tuesday than Joe Biden. And the former vice president joins me now from a Super Tuesday state, Montgomery, Alabama. Vice President Biden, welcome back to Meet the Press.
JOE BIDEN:Thanks, Chuck, for having me. I appreciate it.
CHUCK TODD:Well, let's start with your big win last night. How do you ensure that what happens in South Carolina doesn't stay in South Carolina?
JOE BIDEN:I keep talking about the same things I've talked about, Chuck, about how we have to restore the soul of this country. Bring back -- look, it's not about organizing the Democratic Party; it's about giving confidence to the American people that we can get the things done which I believe we can get done. They're not looking for a revolution; they're looking for results. They're looking for change. They're looking for movement forward. And so I think -- and I'm going to continue to talk about the things that I've been talking about including -- look, this is not just about wealth; this is about work being rewarded. So, all the things that I've talked about in the past, I'm going to continue to talk about and I feel good about it.
CHUCK TODD:When we last spoke, about two weeks ago, there was a concern among many of your supporters that -- where was the urgency, where was the fire. You certainly showed it this last week. You showed the urgency. You showed the fire. How do you reassure those supporters that you will sustain this?
JOE BIDEN:Just watch me. Just watch. A lot of supporters stepped up the last 24 hours. We raised over $5 million last night. We've raised a considerable amount of money this month. Things are beginning to move, all online. And --
CHUCK TODD:$5 million last night?
JOE BIDEN:So it feels good, Chuck. I mean --
CHUCK TODD:By the way, $5 million last night?
JOE BIDEN:Yes. Well, in the last 24 hours.
CHUCK TODD:That's quite the haul.
CHUCK TODD:The last 24 hours? Okay.J
OE BIDEN:Well, it's online and, you know, things are moving. Look, we got outspent 40 to one in South Carolina, 40 to one, and we won every single county. And we've now won more actual votes overall since this began, since the whole process began, than Bernie has won. And so, look, we're feeling good. And again, I take nothing for granted. I'm not going to be a pundit and say where I'm going to win and how I'm going to win, but if we win it's going to be because of the message we have and because we're going to get something done.
CHUCK TODD:Last night, you were trying to make this a two-person race. You essentially said you're either going to win big or lose big. And so do you believe --
CHUCK TODD:-- Bernie Sanders would lead the Democratic Party to a big loss?
JOE BIDEN:I do. I think Bernie Sanders's position on a number of the issues, even in the Democratic Party, are going to be very -- are very controversial. The idea that you're going to find $60 billion and not going to raise -- trillion dollars, I should say, and not going to have to raise taxes on middle-class people, the idea that, you know, we're talking about immigration. I mean, if Bernie had voted for the -- if we had passed the immigration bill that I voted for, and Teddy Kennedy and the others voted for, about ten years ago, we'd already have six million people who were undocumented, American citizens. I mean, so there's a lot of talk. We're getting down now where everybody's going to look at Bernie's record as closely as they've looked at mine over the last five months and I think they're going to see some stark differences in where we stand.
CHUCK TODD:On Wednesday morning, if you are behind by a big chunk of delegates, it may be because of Michael Bloomberg. Do you have a message to Michael Bloomberg?
JOE BIDEN:No, I'm not presuming to send anybody a message. As I've said before, I respect the people running. They're going to make their own decisions and we'll see what happens. But there's a long way to go.
CHUCK TODD:Are you concerned, though, that Michael Bloomberg and your candidacy, you're appealing to the same group of voters, the same sort of moderate, centrist, pragmatists, whatever you want to call that group of voters? And, you know, you split -- , you know, the combined number may be greater than Sanders, but Sanders may win these primaries because of that split?
JOE BIDEN: Well, it may. Look, Chuck, I'm not being facetious here. We've had this discussion before in kind. I'm not a pundit. Look, all I know is why I think we should -- why I should be the nominee, why I think we have such an enormous opportunity, and why I think people are not -- they’re not looking for revolution, they're looking for results. They want to make sure their work gets rewarded. They want to make sure they have access to healthcare, not a pie in the sky notion, that I can get it done, we can get it done immediately, they can be covered quickly. They want to make sure that they are in a position where their kids have access to an education. They want to make sure that we do something about climate change. And, you know, that's an international, as well as national, responsibility. And they're the things that have been in my wheelhouse my whole career and I think I'm ready, ready to get done.
CHUCK TODD:There's no doubt Jim Clyburn's endorsement was a big deal to your candidacy. The exit poll indicated it was a big deal. And he's got a lot of things to say about your campaign. And I'm sure you've heard about this, but this is what he said yesterday."I did not feel free to speak out about it or to even deal with it inside because I had not committed to his candidacy. I have now. I'm all in. And I'm not going to sit idly by and watch people mishandle this campaign." Do you accept his critique that you've had people running your campaign that have mishandled this campaign?
JOE BIDEN:No, well, I accept the critique that we have to do a lot better. I accept the critique that we -- that this is a matter of addition, not subtraction. I think the people running the top of the campaign are doing a great job. And inside each state we've had, there are different qualities and capabilities of people and we just keep -- this is a matter of addition. As we move on, every primary, every caucus, we're attracting more people of talent to join us. So, but I'm ready and wide open to accept the criticism of people like Jim Clyburn, as I have with others. And we have to get better. Including criticisms of me and how I can get better.
CHUCK TODD: One of those issues has to do with organization in the Super Tuesday states, particularly out west, specifically California. One visit isn't going to fix your problems out there. I know you're going out there, I think, on Monday evening and spending there on Tuesday. What is a good night for you in California?
JOE BIDEN: Again, I'm not going to speculate what's good and bad, but I am -- look, we have had limited funds to begin with, number one. Number two, the first two caucus and primary did hurt the campaign in terms of whether or not people thought that we were likely to win. And that did have some impact. And look, I haven't had the kind of money that Bernie's been working on for a long, long time here. And he's done a great job of it. I haven't had that kind of staff. I have a significant number of endorsements and quality people, from the mayor of Los Angeles, to Barbara Boxer, to people like Dianne Feinstein, and serious, serious people in the state. But that's not enough. It's hard to put people on the ground when you haven't had the tens of millions of dollars that other people have had.
CHUCK TODD: Do you think you can win this primary before the convention? Or do you think --J
OE BIDEN: I know I can.
CHUCK TODD: -- it's inevitable that -- it’s inevitable though that you and Sanders may have to work this out at the convention?
JOE BIDEN: I think I can win it before the convention, but again, I’m not -- look, all I know is I think we're moving into constituencies that are constituencies, when they hear me, they've always been mine. Diverse communities; white, working class folks; people -- African Americans and Hispanics; people in the middle class; women in the suburbs, they're places I've always been very strong my whole career. One of the reasons why I was asked to join the ticket with Barack Obama in 2008. That hadn’t changed. I think people know me. And it's a matter of my being able to get organizational structures on the ground in big states. And it looks good some places and it looks tougher others.
CHUCK TODD:All right. Well, we will find out Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. In the meantime --
JOE BIDEN:We sure will.
CHUCK TODD:-- Mr. Vice President, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, and be safe there on the campaign trail, sir.
JOE BIDEN:Thanks, Chuck.
CHUCK TODD: And joining me now from Americus, Georgia, is former South Bend mayor, and presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg. Mayor Pete, welcome back to Meet the Press.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Thank you. Good to be back with you.
CHUCK TODD: So let’s -- I assume you don't want to sugar coat things. You spent the second or third most amount of time in South Carolina. You put every effort that you could into this state. It's not like you glossed over it. I assume you're disappointed in your finish. Where does this -- where do you think your campaign stands now?
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, you know, every day I get up and look at how we can do our part to make sure we defeat Donald Trump, and that continues to be my focus. We knew South Carolina was going to be a challenging state. We competed hard there, but nothing can take away from Vice President Biden's commanding victory, and I congratulate him on that. I think the most important thing right now is to look at what we can do to make sure that we put forward a campaign that is going to end the Trump presidency because everywhere I go, Americans are focused on ensuring that we not only get better policies, that we turn the page on all of the things that this president is doing and has done to our country, to our democracy, but also that we turn the page on the tone in our politics and that we move on from this divisive and toxic season in American public life. And that continues to be my focus, as it has every day since the campaign began.
CHUCK TODD: You know, the Venn diagram of presidential messaging, of what you just said right now, and Vice President Biden's victory speech last night, there would have been a lot of overlap there. Joe Biden makes almost the same case you're making now of what the nominee of the Democrats needs to be, the focus on Donald Trump. At what point do you have to look at that and say, "Huh, we both have the same message. He's winning"?
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, there's certainly that overlap there. We also, obviously, represent a different style and approach in many ways. But what I'll say is that call to decency, I think, is something that is very strong in our party right now. And it's what we need in our country right now. We cannot go on like this with a politics of being at each other's throats. And part of how I believe our campaign has been able to beat the odds and defy all of the expectations is that our message of belonging is one that has resonated across the country and that is reaching people in so many different ways.
CHUCK TODD: You had said that you thought voters of color were giving you a second look. The exit poll shows, shows a pretty tough number here, 3 percent of the African American vote according to these exit polls here. This is after a second look. The nominee of the Democratic Party has to be able to win -- has to be able to have a strong coalition of African American voters, Latino voters. This has been a struggle for you both in Nevada and South Carolina.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, again, there's no question that the Vice President had a commanding lead with black voters in South Carolina. And that bar of earning the trust of voters of color right now, that bar is high for a reason, especially when you're talking about black voters in the south. That is a hard-won vote that was brought about -- often that access was brought about within living memory. I understand why that bar is so high. I'm humbled by the challenge and have continued to focus on making sure I present not just our policy ideas, but what this campaign is about in a way that can reach out to black voters and to voters across the board.
CHUCK TODD:You ran for DNC chair a couple of years ago. Had you succeeded, you'd be the chair of the Democratic Party right now. What do you believe Chairman Buttigieg would be saying to candidate Buttigieg in this situation? You have said Bernie Sanders is a very polarizing figure. You think that is not the direction the party ought to go. At what point would Chairman Buttigieg say to candidate Buttigieg, "Do what's best for the party"?
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, look, every day I'm getting up, looking at how we can do what's best for the party. It's why we got into this race in the first place, the belief that a different kind of message and a different kind of messenger could rally people together, could forge new alliances, could help us reach out in the very places where we have the best messaging, yet found ourselves defeated by President Trump in 2016 and cannot let that happen again. And every day we're in this campaign is a day that we've reached the conclusion that pushing forward is the best thing that we can do for the country and for the party.
CHUCK TODD: How should we judge success for you on Tuesday? Your campaign hasn't pointed to a state you're going to win. You've talked about it being a delegate strategy, and that is what it's about. It's about getting delegates. But tell me where you're going to get these delegates.
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, we believe that there are places from coast to coast, in districts across different states, where our message is resonating particularly well. We'll be looking at the math as we continue to push and make the most of the resources that we have. And I think what matters most right now is calling Americans to that vision of what it could be like in this country if we could turn the page on the toxic and divided character of our politics right now. Look, there is already an American majority that agrees with us, that agrees with our party on the need to raise wages and empower workers and do something about climate and act on gun violence. You wouldn't always know it from looking at the outcomes in Washington, but right now the American people are already with us. What's going to be needed is a message, a messenger, and the leadership to make sure that those priorities are met. And I find that true in the reddest of states and on the coast as well.CHUCK TODD:Is there a result on Super Tuesday for you that would change your outlook on your campaign? You know, if you don't keep up the delegates --
PETE BUTTIGIEG: Every single day, yes, we do a lot of math on this campaign. And so we'll be assessing at every turn not only what the right answer is for the campaign, but making sure that every step we take is in the best interest of the party and that goal of making sure we defeat Donald Trump because our country can't take four more years of this.
CHUCK TODD: All right. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, in Americus, Georgia. I know you're going to be spending the morning with the Carters. So, thanks for coming on and sharing your views and be safe on the campaign trail. When we come back, Joe Biden has about 48 hours to make this a one-on-one race with Bernie Sanders. Can he do it? The panel is next. And later, how prepared is the Trump administration to deal with the coronavirus? My interview with Vice President Mike Pence.
CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. Panelists here. Eddie Glaude Jr., of Princeton University. Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan. NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker. And former White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs. Welcome, Sir. Been a long time with you, Mr. Gibbs.
ROBERT GIBBS: Thank you.
CHUCK TODD: We got a couple Super Tuesday polls. I'm going to throw it out there. We're looking ahead. Super Tuesday. I've got North Carolina and Texas, probably as good of bellwethers as you can have on the future of both Sanders and Biden. Here in North Carolina it's Sanders with a two point lead, basically margin of error. Look at the Bloomberg number though. So add up Bloomberg and Biden, that's an interesting number there. Among African Americans here, this was done before South Carolina obviously in the middle of a debate, so only 36% right now there for Biden. That number could grow. Shows you growth potential there. Let's look at Texas. Bernie Sanders, a bigger lead here, double digit lead, thanks mostly, look at, mostly to the Latino support that Sanders is getting here, 46%. And this is what's interesting here, Eddie Glaude Jr., is that we may be seeing the Democratic Party basically split right in half with two different coalitions. Bernie Sanders leading a liberal Latino coalition, Joe Biden leading a moderate African American coalition.
EDDIE GLAUBE JR.: Yeah, that is so fascinating for me, mind-blowing actually. And in some ways I would have never imagined, although I understand the data, that African Americans would in some ways be the firewall for the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. To me, that is just stunning news. But let's be clear. I think we're in the South. South Carolina's a unique space. So to think about the African American vote as kind of monolithic in that way, I think we need to be careful there, particularly as we move out of a particular side of the South. But let's be clear here too, Latino voters, that time bomb that everyone thought was about to explode has exploded. We're going to see them having an impact on the election cycle --
CHUCK TODD:The West versus the South.
EDDIE GLAUBE JR.: Exactly.
CHUCK TODD: And it's gonna clash right in Texas, Peggy.
PEGGY NOONAN: Whoo.
CHUCK TODD: Yeah.
PEGGY NOONAN: It-- it's-- it's interesting to say the least. I also thought the truest words Joe Biden said when he made his victory speech last night were to Jim Clyburn, when he said essentially thank you for saving me. He did. And not only, so not only were --
CHUCK TODD: Clyburn didn't just say, "You're welcome." He also said, "And I've got some things to say."
PEGGY NOONAN: Yeah. That was very clear. So not only is that, he says, "Did we see a firewall saving a moderate Democrat?" But we saw, I think, a leader is the wrong word. But there's a sense in America sometimes that establishments and authorities are losing their clout. But Jim Clyburn came forward the other day and he said, "I'm going to tell you what I want you to do." And people listened, considered, and did it. We saw in the exit polls, half the people leaving --
CHUCK TODD:It mattered, yeah --
PEGGY NOONAN: -- said, "I listened."
CHUCK TODD: It mattered.
PEGGY NOONAN: Kind of touching in a way.
KRISTEN WELKER: And more than half the people said that they wanted to keep Obama's policies in tact. So at least in some places this is still Obama's Democratic Party. The question is does that hold in North Carolina? And what, if any, bounce is Biden going to get in places like North Carolina and Texas? But of course the unknown also is early voting. You have folks who've already gone out and cast their ballots before South Carolina weighed in.
CHUCK TODD: Texas and California, the two biggest ones there. All right, Robert, has Biden dealt himself back -- he wants to say this is a two-person race. I think he could sweep the South. I mean, it's possible. North Carolina will be the toughest one.
ROBERT GIBBS: Well, I think you look at the numbers you just showed and you've got Bloomberg at 15%, right at that viability line. And so does last night's win and that momentum push a couple of points up for Vice President Biden and push Bloomberg down a couple of points? And so do you force that one-on-one contest through viability. I think Joe Biden's strategy has to be to survive the big states of California and Texas and wake up Wednesday morning as the sole competitor to Bernie Sanders.
CHUCK TODD: Can we flip the script here and talk about Bernie?
EDDIE GLAUBE JR.: Yeah.
CHUCK TODD: You know, Eddie, the Bernie South Carolina result has to be really disappointing to Sanders. They did put some effort into here. It looks like they've made no progress to win over African American voters from four years ago. It doesn't look like they've made much.
EDDIE GLAUBE JR.: Right. Look, we can't underestimate Clyburn's endorsement in South Carolina. That's the first thing. But the second thing is that I believe that South Carolina provided the best litmus test for the Sander's claim that they were going to expand the electorate. It's a Saturday vote.
CHUCK TODD: No excuse yet.
EDDIE GLAUBE JR.: So it's a Saturday vote. They've been on the ground. So what I was looking for was to see how young African Americans voted, how young college students voted. I wanted to see the numbers.
CHUCK TODD: He didn't win young African Americans.
EDDIE GLAUBE JR.: Exactly. So again, we might have to kind of attribute it to the uniqueness of the South Carolina electorate, but Sanders and his campaign, they have to be concerned. I was not expecting this margin. I said explicitly, "It's not going to be 15, 16%.” There just --
CHUCK TODD: You're right, it wasn't 15 or 16%.
EDDIE GLAUBE JR.: So we have to really test the claim: Will the Sanders campaign actually, you know, make good on its claim that they're going to expand the electorate.
CHUCK TODD: Peggy, I want to put up two pieces of writing. You're the best writer here. There are two pieces of writing, I want you to react to it. One is sort of making the anti-Sanders argument, one makes the pro-Sanders argument. Here's The Economist. "If Mr. Sanders becomes the Democratic nominee America will have to choose in November between a corrupt, divisive right-wing populist who scorns the rule of law and the Constitution and a sanctimonious, divisive left-wing populist who blames a cabal of billionaires and business for everything that is wrong with the world. "Wake up, America." These are the Brits telling us at The Economist. Now here's Jamelle Bouie in the New York Times. "At the end of the day Sanders is the only candidate who can plausibly unite the anti-Trump majority of the electorate. With his forceful attacks on corruption and bigotry he can speak directly to the concerns about Trump's character and personality that have alienated moderate suburban whites and helped give Democrats the House of Representatives." Both of these things rung true to me.
PEGGY NOONAN: Oh, isn't that interesting.
CHUCK TODD: In a weird way, both rang true to me.
PEGGY NOONAN: Yeah. Well, look, we're in an unprecedented time. A great political party, the Democratic Party, feels that it is making some fateful decisions here between, "Are we going to acknowledge that we are interested in a socialist or social Democrat future? Or are we going to stay kind of where we have been for the past 20 or 30 years?" It's a big decision. It does have to do with left and right and with interesting coalitions. It is interesting to look at Bernie, however. I saw his speech last night after Biden won. Bernie does not do happy warrior. He doesn't come forward and says, "We're going to fight. We're going to do all that stuff." I mentioned this to a young journalist. I said, "He doesn't do happy warrior." He said, "You know, Boomers like happy warriors." He's not going for Boomers."
CHUCK TODD: I was just going to say, this is I think the Barack Obama issue with Sanders, is that he doesn't like the tone, even though he's impressed with the movement. Is that a fair --
ROBERT GIBBS: That's a good question. I mean, look-- and you always see Bernie describe it as a movement. I think one of the things that was written there though and I think when we peel back some of the results in South Carolina, it was a big suburban vote yesterday, particularly in the Charleston area. And what does that mean going forward? Again, is South Carolina unique? Is it because of the relationship that it has with Vice President Biden? Or does it tell us something going forward. It will be interesting to see, I don't know that we'll know for a while.
CHUCK TODD: Turnout. It was good, not great.
KRISTEN WELKER: Good, not great. It was better than 2016. Not as strong as 2008. I did talk to Democrats though who said, look, they are encouraged by the turnout. Big question though for candidates like Buttigieg. What's the path. He couldn't name one state, Chuck, on Super Tuesday that he thinks he's going to win or even do well in --
CHUCK TODD: If I had more time I was going to ask specific congressional districts --
KRISTEN WELKER: Right.
CHUCK TODD: -- as well. But they're not naming any of those either.
KRISTEN WELKER: Not naming names.
CHUCK TODD: All right. When we come back:
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: It's very important that the American people know that the risk of infection to people in this country remains low.
CHUCK TODD: The Coronavirus and my interview with Vice President Mike Pence. That's next.
CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. The World Health Organization has raised its risk assessment of coronavirus to "very high" as the number of cases continue to grow, now to more than 86,000 confirmed cases around the world. Nearly 3,000 people have died - mostly in mainland China and now the first American on U.S. soil: a man in his 50s in Washington state who had underlying health conditions. Uncertainty is already taking a toll on the economy. The Dow had its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis, plummeting 12 percent for the week. This weekend -- the president blamed Democrats and the media for exaggerating the threat. At one point calling the virus “their new hoax” at a rally on Friday night. On Saturday, he tried to explain what he meant.
PRES. DONALD TRUMP: Hoax referring to the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody because we have done such a good job. The hoax is on them.
CHUCK TODD:I sat down with Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the administration's response effort, and began by asking him about the American who died.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:Well, it's a tragic loss, and the man passed away. He was an individual we believe in his late 50s that, that also had some other high risk factors, but it doesn't take away from the tragedy. The encouraging news is that, of the now 22 Americans, including the man who sadly lost his life, the majority of them are recovering well. There are four that remain in serious condition. And so we, we have, we have this man's family in our hearts, and we'll, we’ll keep all of those that are, that are dealing with and working to recover in our prayers.
CHUCK TODD:Do we have any, any information yet of how this gentleman contracted the virus?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:We are working it. The process, Chuck, is that state and local officials are in the lead, but in instances involving the coronavirus or any infectious disease, we have CDC on the ground immediately to assist and support. And they're working to identify it. But I think it's, I think it’s very important that the American people know that the risk of infection to people in this country remains low. And that is a result--
CHUCK TODD: You keep saying it remains low, and that's, that’s good news now.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:It is.
CHUCK TODD: But the virus is here now.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: It is.
CHUCK TODD: Do you have this confidence that this is not going to continue to grow?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: Well, there will be more cases. There's no question. But it's not my confidence. It is the confidence of all of our health experts who are widely regarded as the best in the world that it's important that people in this country understand that while there are 46 Americans that we brought home from China and 22 Americans, now sadly with one loss of life, that the vast majority of, of those people and the vast majority of any American that would contract a coronavirus will, will be treated, they will recover--
CHUCK TODD:I understand. In fairness, one out of 22 is scary, okay? That, that’s --
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: I understand.
CHUCK TODD: That's not reassuring. It's reassuring that so few have gotten it. It's scary that in the very few cases we've had, we already have a death.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: Well, but, but -- let's be clear on this point. What our health experts have told me, since I was asked by the president to lead this effort this week is that, if President Trump had not made the decision to suspend all travel from China into the United States and establish a quarantine effort for people returning to the United States, we'd be in a very different place.
CHUCK TODD: Many companies have decided to pause travel, even some domestically, cancel some public events. Is this something you would discourage or encourage?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:Well, I, I think we've got to follow the facts on this. And again, I want to, I want to say--
CHUCK TODD:Because some schools are being closed. In fact, one in Washington state, they're closing for a day to scrub it.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: And those, look, those are decisions, I was a governor of the State of Indiana. Those are decisions that governors, in consultation with local health officials, will make as they deem that necessary. But other than in areas where there are individuals that have been infected with the coronavirus, people need to understand that for the average American, the risk does remain low. We're ready.
CHUCK TODD: So you’re -- you would discourage corporate America not to --
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: We are going to continue to lean into this effort to protect the American people.
CHUCK TODD: -- not to over -- you’re saying you think some of these companies perhaps are overreacting?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: Not, not necessarily. I would defer, whether it's foreign travel for those companies and their employees or gatherings in various places around this country. Look, it's a good time to use common sense this time of the year, even if the coronavirus wasn't a reality. But I think that -- what the president has told us to do on the taskforce, what he did when he initiated the suspension of all travel from China, the quarantining effort is, we're leaning into this effort. It's all hands on deck, because our effort here is to do everything possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the United States --
CHUCK TODD:So this is better safe than sorry? --
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:-- to mitigate it --
CHUCK TODD:So if a school superintendent says—
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: -- out of an abundance of caution.
CHUCK TODD:-- you know what we should shut down the school system for a week, you’re not going to question that?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:I think the president would respect any decisions that are made at the state and local level but again, I think it’s important that –
CHUCK TODD:You guys seem to be encouraged –
MIKE PENCE:-- people follow the facts.
CHUCK TODD:You seem to be, I guess, nervous – or at least the president seems to be nervous that this is going to slow down economic activity unnecessarily. Is that your concern here?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:Well look, the president’s concern is the health and safety of the American people. I mean, the fundamentals of this economy are strong. We just saw some new numbers come out in housing and consumer confidence and business optimism. Unemployment is at a 50-year low. More Americans working than ever before. The fundamentals in this economy are strong and as the president said yesterday, we’re going to focus on the health of the American people and this economy will -- and particularly the stock market that saw some downturns this week, it will come back. But our focus is going to remain on the health and well-being of the American people.
CHUCK TODD:You've gone out of your way since you've been appointed to this to say -- to try to keep this from getting politicized. You have made every effort, every statement. But I want to play for you what some of your allies have said about the coronavirus. Here's -- including the president's son and the RNC chair. Take a listen, sir.
RUSH LIMBAUGH:The coronavirus is being weaponized, as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump.
RONNA MCDANIEL: Democrats are using this for their political gain to try and stoke fear in the American people, which is shameful, wrong, and I think un-American.
DONALD TRUMP JR.:For them to try to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people so that they could end Donald Trump's streak of winning is a new level of sickness.
CHUCK TODD:None of this seems to match the facts. What facts are there that Democrats are doing this?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:Well --
CHUCK TODD: Seems like people are asking questions, and they're concerned about the virus. This, this implies some sort of political motivation, which is kind of gross.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: Well, I will tell you, there's been a lot of irresponsible rhetoric among Democrats and commentators --
CHUCK TODD: Who? Who is this?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: -- on the left.
CHUCK TODD: Name some names, sir.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: Well --
CHUCK TODD: Because this is just -- it just feels like gas-lighting. Please name some names. I’m -- we're all big -- we're all big people here. Name some names.
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: There was a column in the New York Times by a prominent liberal journalist that said, "We should rename it the Trump virus." --
CHUCK TODD: Okay, that is -- does that apply, does that apply to all people --2
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: -- so that the president would be blamed. Chuck, --
CHUCK TODD:Does this apply --
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: -- this virus began in China. The president took --CHUCK TODD:Why take this -- here’s what I want to ask you -- VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE:Chuck --
CHUCK TODD:This doesn't help. This does not help us no?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: This is decisive action to protect the American people. And when you see voices on our side pushing back on outrageous and irresponsible rhetoric on the other side, I think that's important.
CHUCK TODD: Do you think this rhetoric from your side helps?
VICE PRES. MIKE PENCE: I, I never begrudge people responding to unwarranted, unjustified attacks. But I promise you, we're going to continue to focus on the mission the president's given this taskforce and given this government. And that is, we're going to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear. And the American people, the American people can be confident that we're going to continue to work this issue. We're going to work with leaders in both parties in Congress to make sure that not only our federal agencies have all the resources they need, but our state and local governments, healthcare providers have the resources and the support to provide the care that every American would want. Remember, Chuck, this is about the lives of the American people.
CHUCK TODD: And you can see my full interview with Vice President Pence on our website, Meet the Press.com. When we come back: How big a threat is the coronavirus here in the United States? I'm going to talk to a man who's made a career out of studying and, yes, hunting viruses. That's next.
CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. My next guest has an unusual job, hunting viruses. He's chased Ebola in Africa. And now his focus is the coronavirus and the danger it poses as it spreads around the world. And NBC News medical contributor, Dr. Joseph Fair joins me now. Dr. Fair, welcome to Meet the Press.
JOSEPH FAIR: Thank you for having me.
CHUCK TODD: You were just telling me earlier, you've spent a lot of time in the lab where they discovered this virus in that province in China. Simple question: How concerned should Americans be right now?
JOSEPH FAIR :Right now with the data we have, and I emphasize the data that we have, just because we haven't rolled out broad testing yet, nationally yet. Your average individual American doesn't need to be that concerned right now of catching this virus. However, community-based transmission in one state means that there is probably community-based transmission in other states. Once we roll out that testing and lower the criteria for being tested for COVID-19, we're probably going to see a lot more cases than we thought were here previously.
CHUCK TODD: I was just going to say, there's a report this morning already. Washington state, where we've had the first death with no apparent connection to anybody that's been traveling, they think it's possible there have been hundreds of cases that were missed. Is this most likely the scenario here that maybe has played out on the West Coast, that it may have gotten here before we knew it?
JOSEPH FAIR: It's difficult to say numbers, but yes, definitely, it probably was here before we knew it just because we had a very strict testing criteria, that you had to have had documented travel to China or one of the areas where community-based transmission had occurred. Usually every time we look for a virus we can find it somewhere. And so having found that one case indicates probably that there are others in the community that have the virus as well that may be asymptomatic. They may be in the lower risk group, where they wouldn't show the symptoms. And at that point in time they didn't yet meet the CDC testing criteria, which has now been lowered. So a lot more people can get tested now.
CHUCK TODD: Tell me what you -- what pieces of information you'd like to know now that would make you feel more confident to know where we're headed, where this virus is headed.
JOSEPH FAIR: Really it all comes down to the diagnostics. We need to start testing anyone that is, you know, negative for flu and negative for your average common cold coronavirus. And so once we get that diagnostic testing up and running nationally we get a lot more major cities et cetera tested. I think we are going to see more cases. And that will give us a much better indication of where we have community-based transmission and how many actual cases we have in the country.
CHUCK TODD: We were talking earlier and I was asking you the likelihood that this was one of these issues that, one of these viruses that will go dormant in the summer and then come back in the fall, that's what happened with the Spanish flu. You weren't ready to make any of those assumptions yet. Explain.
JOSEPH FAIR: This is a new virus to science. It's not a new virus, it's a new virus to science. We weren't familiar with this virus before. We do have cold and flu seasons, which do tend to diminish in the summer months. We don't yet know if this is going to be the case because you can still get a flu in the summer and you can still get a cold in the summer. So it is likely that, you know, cases might dip during those summer months. But it is likely also that it'll stick around for quite some time because we're not going to have a vaccine, presumptively, we won't have a vaccine before the end of summer. So we could see a dramatic rise again in the cold and flu season that precedes this one.
CHUCK TODD: Speak to school superintendents, to people that, you know, have to decide, "Do I have a basketball game tonight at the high school." You know, when should you make those calls? How should you -- you know, what would be your advice to these leaders who have to make this decision?
JOSEPH FAIR: Right now, and again I emphasize right now because this could change quickly and I'll go back to diagnostics. If we have diagnosed community-based transmission in an area where your school is or you're the superintendent of a school where you have a documented case of COVID-19, then that's the time you want to start thinking about canceling mass gathering events, such as basketball games and actually even closing schools, right? Japan has just closed all their schools for one month, at least. And so those are the times. It all depends on that first diagnosis and the data that we have. And we try to make these decisions based on data, not just because someone has a cough or a sneeze, because we are in the midst of cold and flu season. And it might just be that.
CHUCK TODD: Dr. Fair, we've got a long way to go. But I appreciate you helping us out in understanding this a little bit better today with a little bit of scientific expertise. So thank you.
JOSEPH FAIR: Absolutely. Thank you.
CHUCK TODD:When we come back, President Trump is suggesting the coronavirus is not a serious threat to the public. But he does seem to believe it's a threat to his reelection. End Game is next.
CHUCK TODD: Back now with End Game and the president's, I guess, uneven week of trying to get his arms around the coronavirus. Peggy, you wrote a pretty rough column, a pretty tough column on him.
PEGGY NOONAN: Yeah, I think so. And I think where we are at this point is it seems to me that the president, in terms of his first three, 3 1/2 years, he has been astoundingly lucky. And lucky is a good thing, but he's been lucky in that various physical natural disasters haven't happened, international crisis. We couple that with the fact that managerially, this administration, this White House, has tended to be shambolic. We're on our fifth head of Homeland Security, jobs not filled, jobs temporarily filled. It's always seemed shambolic. You put those things together, if luck holds, this will all turn out okay. If luck does not hold, this is going to be a managerial crisis and we'll see how it goes for the White House.
CHUCK TODD: Walk us through this week. It does feel as if, they, it’s sort of, they're realizing, "Oh, my God, this is a serious problem."
KRISTEN WELKER: That's exactly what's happening.
CHUCK TODD: But it seems like it took the death to really sober them up.
KRISTEN WELKER: It did. And you had mixed messaging throughout the week, right, because you had health officials who came out in the beginning of the week and said, "This is significant. We should brace for coronavirus to come here." The president tried to downplay it. He didn't want this to become the crisis that it's now becoming. The death sobered them up. He had that press conference yesterday. He's had two now in the briefing room. Rare, to say the least. And a couple of things happened. One, Chuck, he did try to strike a more disciplined tone in talking about all of this. He tried to walk back his comments from the night before in which he referred to the Democrats' response to this as a hoax. A lot of Republicans were deeply concerned by that type of language because they say this is life and death. This is different, as Peggy points out.
CHUCK TODD: Robert, I was thinking about your first crisis was the oil spill, you guys. And I remember the first, I'd say, couple of weeks, you guys struggled.
ROBERT GIBBS: Yeah, no doubt.
CHUCK TODD: When you're beginning in one of these crises, it's never easy.
ROBERT GIBBS: Well, because all of a sudden everybody catches up to it at a point in which it seems a little chaotic. Look, I hope they use that briefing room more, right, because this is a public health crisis, not a PR crisis. The American people need information. They need an administration that is staffed with professionals that are transparent about what the American people need to know and what they need to do. Put the doctors in the forefront. Stop making predictions and over deliver.
CHUCK TODD: Look, Eddie, the president, we know what his instincts are -- you know what his instincts are. I have a hundred Ebola tweets and I just want to put them up because this is what happened in 2014 when we had the last major public health crisis. He was the one stirring the pot and stirring up the fear and telling people, "Oh, my God, it's all over Africa. Shut down the flights." So we know he's just uncomfortable handling moments like this.
EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.: Right. And we know he doesn't have the capacity or the competence to handle such moments. That's a harsh judgment to make --
CHUCK TODD:We don't know that yet, but we're going to hope --
EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.: No, I am --
CHUCK TODD: I think a lot of us hope that on this one it's wrong, that you're wrong on that.
EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.: Look, I want this administration to succeed on this for a variety -- for obvious reasons. But the evidence is in. We're not just talking about a credibility crisis. We're talking about a competency crisis. And we've all been asking this question. Will they be ready and prepared to deal with a genuine, genuine threat, a genuine crisis in the country? And it makes sense to me that we're doubtful. Let me just say this too. This proves the argument that there's a role for government. We've seen over and over again an attack on big government, that it has no usefulness, it's not efficient, da-da-da. We see the purpose of government now and I think folks need to make that argument.
CHUCK TODD: Well, it's interesting. This is a case where you need government to work.
PEGGY NOONAN: You certainly do. This is a public health challenge or a public health real crisis. You need your public institutions to come forward competently and not panic anybody, but also not say there's no problem. You need, it's very hard in life, as we all know, public life and private life, to strike a balance, but in a crisis you've got to hit that place.
CHUCK TODD:The thing that this president is going to hate is that there's going to be, as this virus moves across the country, every day there's going to be another state gets its first instance. That's something that they’re not going -- he doesn't handle well.
KRISTEN WELKER:It's moving so quickly, Chuck. This is undoubtedly, I think, his greatest leadership test to date. And you sort of saw that dichotomy on display yesterday. He was in the briefing room. Then you had the President Trump who went to CPAC and you saw his sort of natural instincts kick in a little bit more. He stepped away from using the type of language that it's a hoax. But the other piece of this, Chuck, is the economy. Of course the health crisis comes first, okay, but there's also this issue about the economy. People watch what happened to the stock market this week. That's his signature argument for re-election. So behind the scenes, he's quite concerned by this. You saw it play out a little bit on Twitter, but his officials are trying to tamp down his concern. They're saying, "Wait until summer. It's going to rebound." But question mark about that.
CHUCK TODD:Ironically, Robert, there was actually -- I hate to be crass about this, but there was an opportunity after the debate. The Democratic debate was just food fight. The president could have put Dr. Fauci front and center, walked away, and as Jim Cramer said to me, market probably recovers on Friday.
ROBERT GIBBS:Well, and I think you've got to have the doctors in the forefront. They're the experts. They’re the ones that are going to -- and Dr. Fauci does this really well. He walks people through what's going to happen in a calm, easy voice and you understand that if we see more cases, they understand that's what was supposed to happen and you feel more confident in the response. That's what they have to get to.
CHUCK TODD:All right. Thank you, guys. And before we go, a quick programming note. NBC News will provide complete coverage of Super Tuesday voting. I'll be joined by my colleagues, Lester Holt, Savannah Guthrie, and Andrea Mitchell for complete, and I mean complete, coverage. 8:00 Eastern, we're going. 8:00 Eastern, 8:00 Pacific, six hours, don't miss it. We'll see you Tuesday night. That's all we have. Thank you for watching. We'll be back next week, because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.