Meet the Press - March 29, 2020

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Overworked, overrun and overwhelmed.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

This is truly an unprecedented situation.

CHUCK TODD:

The country in a desperate fight against the coronavirus.

DR. ARABIA MOLLETTE

It's like we're in a war zone with very limited resources.

CHUCK TODD:

A New York City hospital described as apocalyptic.

DR. COLLEEN SMITH:

All the patients in this room, all the feet that you see, they all have COVID.

CHUCK TODD:

More hot spots developing, from Los Angeles --

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI:

What we see in New York City, it's coming here.

CHUCK TODD:

-- to Louisiana.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS:

All you have to do to save lives is stay home.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus, as the economy shuts down.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This could create a much bigger problem than the problem you start off with.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump first says he wants the country to reopen for business on Easter.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I think it will be a beautiful time.

CHUCK TODD:

Scientists -- and Joe Biden-- push back:

JOE BIDEN:

It's a false choice to make saying that you either open the economy or everything goes to hell.

CHUCK TODD:

But then Mr. Trump floats declaring a quarantine --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I am now considering a quarantine - because it's such a hot area - of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

CHUCK TODD:

-- before backing down. My guests this morning: Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana and Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Also, first-time unemployment claims hit an all-time record.

JAY POWELL:

We may well be in a recession.

And Congress passes the biggest rescue package ever. How many more bailouts will we need? This morning I'll have an exclusive interview with former Vice President Joe Biden. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Andrea Mitchell, Eugene Robinson, Carol Lee, and Hugh Hewitt. Welcome to Sunday, and a special edition of Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. As you can see, once again we look a little different this week. This morning, and for the foreseeable future, I'll be anchoring "Meet the Press" from my home office, as we here at NBC News practice social distancing. Two images illustrate the week we’ve just been through. These are nurses in hard-hit New York City wearing -- yes -- garbage bags because personal protective gear is unavailable. And this graph illustrates the almost incomprehensible rise in first-time unemployment claims to a record 3.3 million. On a week when the United States passed 120-thousand cases of Covid-19 and two-thousand deaths, when we appeared to pass China and then Italy for the most cases in the world. President Trump offered Americans mixed messages. Early in the week, the president said he'd like America to be open again for business by Easter, that the cure he said -- shutting down the economy -- could be worse than the disease. Mr. Trump seemed eager to play the role of optimist in chief, leaving it to scientists, governors and local officials to own the hard news about disease spread, shutdowns and forced lifestyle changes. But by the end of the week, Mr. Trump's tone had noticeably changed. Yesterday, he even floated the idea of quarantining the New York City region to prevent the spread of the virus, before eventually backing down. Tuesday marks the end of President Trump's 15-day coronavirus guidelines. Will he tighten them? Loosen them? Extend them? We shall see. It's helpful to keep in mind what Dr. Anthony Fauci said last week: "You don't make the timeline. The virus makes the timeline:"

DR. ARABIA MOLLETTE:

It's like a war zone. We're in a war with very limited resources.

CHUCK TODD:

A nation in crisis.

DR. COLLEEN SMITH:

All the patients in this room, all the feet that you see, they all have COVID.

CHUCK TODD:

Doctors, nurses and first responders are pleading for protective equipment.

DR. DARIEN SUTTON-RAMSEY:

It feels like I'm fighting a fire with blindfolds on.

NEW YORK NURSE:

We're running out of supplies, we're running out of IV pumps, we're running out of ventilators.

DR. DANIELA LAMAS:

I'm worried that my patients will die alone without the people that they love next to them.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, President Trump signed a 2 trillion dollar economic relief package - and, after weeks of mixed messages, used his power under the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to manufacture ventilators. But just 24 hours earlier.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes, they’ll have two ventilators. And now, all of a sudden, they’re saying, can we order 30,000 ventilators?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO:

With all due respect to him, he’s not looking at the facts.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump has attacked many of the governors who are pleading for his administration's help.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I say Mike, don't call the governor of Washington, you're wasting your time with him. Don't call the woman in Michigan. It doesn't make any difference what happens.

CHUCK TODD:

More than 228 million people in 27 states are now living under shelter in place orders. But earlier this week - the president floated a rosy timeline.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I think Easter Sunday and you will have packed churches all over our country, I think it would be a beautiful time.

CHUCK TODD:

Before governors of both parties pushed back.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

Of course I want the economy back. But you know what I want more, Lester? I want them alive.

GOV KRISTI NOEM:

I do not think South Dakota will be back to normal for many months.

GOV ERIC HOLCOMB:

I will be listening to doctors, physicians, scientists.

CHUCK TODD:

And the president backed off his timeline. On Saturday – he floated a 3-state quarantine --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Some people would like to see New York quarantined because it's a hot spot.

CHUCK TODD:

-- before retreating again hours later. As the virus continues to spread - the president is already declaring victory.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The federal government’s done a hell of a job.

CHUCK TODD:

And arguing --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This was something that nobody has ever thought could happen to this country.

CHUCK TODD:

But many experts did - and told the president so. In a National Security Council "pandemic playbook" - which the administration was briefed on in 2017. In a series of HHS simulation exercises called "Crimson Contagion" conducted in 2019, which found the administration was not ready for the outbreak of a respiratory virus. And in intelligence agency warnings in January and February -- while President Trump and aides played down the threat, failing to ramp up testing until the virus had spread.

BILL HEMMER:

Did the CDC screw up or did you screw up? Or --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No, I -- we did not screw up --

BILL HEMMER:

Or where did this go wrong?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

-- and I don’t think CDC screwed up either. Nobody ever expected a thing like this.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the response coordinator for the White House coronavirus taskforce. It's Dr. Deborah Birx. Dr. Birx, welcome to Meet the Press. We'll try to close the gap on a bit of our --

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

-- satellite delay and start with the first question this way. It took from February 29th to March 17th to get to 100 deaths. It took another nine days to get to 1,000 deaths. Sadly, it took 72 hours to get to 2,000 deaths. Dr. Birx, where are we today and where is this headed in the next few weeks?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

Well, this is the way pandemics work. And that's why we all are deeply concerned and why we've been raising the alert in all metro areas and in all states. No state, no metro area will be spared. And the sooner we react and the sooner the states and the metro areas react and ensure that they've put in full mitigation, at the same time understanding exactly what their hospitals need, then we'll be able to move forward together and protect the most Americans. There's a new website up. It comes from Chris Murray out in Washington State. It's on the IME website, IMHE website. It predicts and looks at this -- built as an infectious disease model.

CHUCK TODD:

I would love to take a look at that. What part of this model, what is it telling you? And what does this mean? I mean, what is it that you've learned from that model that tells us -- you just said no metro area's spared. So that does tell me that this idea of creating a county-by-county, low-, medium-, high-risk advisory level by the middle of the week, is that something that's not going to happen?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

No, I think those two pieces come together. There's two pieces that we absolutely need. And I think you've had many experts talking about this. One of them is ensuring that we have full capacity for full diagnosis. And so that is still going on, and we do have enough tests for that. The other piece of this is surveillance. So we're looking across the United States for counties that do have lower case numbers right now to see what we can do right now in order to really put into place full surveillance, full contact tracing, and full diagnostic capacity to ensure that cases are found and we contact trace while the metros and other areas go through clearly important mitigation efforts to spare as many American lives as possible.

CHUCK TODD:

What are you seeing in New York that raises alarm bells to you when this does -- when suddenly Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago start to see the same incoming to their ICU units that the New York area is seeing now?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

Well, we're studying New York very carefully. We're studying the hospital needs, how to do better testing, how to keep less sick people away from the hospital and being tested elsewhere, looking at admissions, looking at how to keep those hospitals stocked. It's not enough for us to get materials to warehouses. We have to be working with the state and local governments comprehensively to ensure that equipment and supplies are getting to each hospital. Hospitals are so busy taking care of the people who are ill. They can't be spending time doing inventory. And so we need to help and support that.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that appears to actually be a problem. And, look, I'm curious. What role do you play in deciding where spare ventilators go versus the role FEMA plays? And the reason I ask that is there seems to be some confusion. Governors are complaining that they find themselves either bidding against other states or the federal government when it comes to different equipment issues. So is the federal government going to take over all procurement and disbursement of medical equipment or not?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

I think at this moment we're asking every single governor and every single mayor to prepare like New York is preparing now. Know where every hospital is, public, private. Know where every one of your surgical centers are. That's where your anesthesia ventilators are. Know how to change those anesthesia ventilators up to supportive ventilators to take care of people. Know where every piece of equipment is in the state. Know how to move that around the state based on need. The one thing that we can do as Americans is we know how to innovate. So it's not just what you have inside your doors today. It's how you can surge and move things around. We know this epidemic moves in waves. Each city will have its own epidemic curve. And so we can move between states, we can move within states to meet the needs of everyone.

CHUCK TODD:

You sort of overlooked the question though about: Is the federal government going to take over at least the procurement and the distribution of things going forward? I understand what you're saying states and mayors need to do right now in case they don't have this from the government. But who should be trying to acquire new equipment: states or the federal government?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

Well, I think the federal government right now is working very hard on looking at where all the ventilators are and where production can be. But we need states at the same time to look where all of their ventilators are, including outpatient surgical centers, which is a really important place to be looking because you get staff plus ventilator. They have also the clearly -- the cardiac monitoring, they’ll be able to monitor oxygen levels. All of that can come into the hospitals to care for patients. So both of those pieces need to come together. The government looking to increase procurements and states looking for every single option that they have.

CHUCK TODD:

New York City. If you could quarantine the tri-state area, and there's a lot of legal hurdles to that. If you could, do you think it would be the best way to slow this virus down?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

Well, we looked at what New York State and what the mayor and governor did over the last ten days. When those alerts went out of the increased number of infections, a lot of people who could leave New York left New York. And so we immediately saw cases rising out on Long Island and cases rising in southern Florida. What we're trying to say to everyone is when this virus comes to your metro area, please stay in your metro area where your care can be provided because it's spreading virus more quickly around the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Should we be shutting down domestic air travel? I understand you need to move airplanes for supplies, for people in necessary environments. But should there be some domestic air travel shutdown? I mean, it does seem odd that New York City airports are wide open for people to leave.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

The amazing thing to me, and what has been so heartening to me -- and when I work on epidemics around the globe, it's seeing communities come together. And communities have self-quarantined and self-isolated themselves. The amount of air travel in and out of New York we believe is down by 90%, metro down by more than 90%. So people are using common sense to protect others. We also have to be able to move doctors and nurses around the United States. They're part of our surge capacity. You can see many have come forward as volunteers. And we need to be able to get them places.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to announce the new guidelines -- given everything you've just said, given that no metro area is going to be spared at this point right now, that's your concern. Should we assume these 15-day guidelines are going to get extended another 15 days, through the end of April? What's realistic, Dr. Birx?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

What I wanted to be very clear on is every metro area should assume that they could have an outbreak equivalent to New York and do everything right now to prevent it. If they mitigate now before they start seeing cases in the emergency room and in the hospital, once you see those, the virus has been spreading for days to weeks. So this is really my call on every mayor to prepare now.

CHUCK TODD:

So it sounds like these guidelines are going to be extended at least another couple of weeks. Is that fair -- as Americans are watching, should they be prepared to be hunkering down for the rest of April?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

My job today is to put all the data together, the integrated data of testing, case reporting, the global situation, and prepare the best briefing I can for the president and vice president so they have all the data to make the decision that's best for the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

So what is your recommendation? What recommendation are you going to be giving to them? Or are you not sharing that with us?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

I'm going to share it with the president and vice president first.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Dr. Birx, I will leave it there. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And we all want to defeat this thing as soon as possible. So thanks for your service.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now are governors of two states that have seen an alarming rise in COVID-19 cases. Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan and Governor John Bel Edwards of Louisiana. Governors, welcome to both of you. Governor Edwards, I solemnly want to start with you. Sadly, you had to report that you had a staffer die from coronavirus last night. I just figured I'd, I’d let you, let you say a quick word about that.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS:

Well, thank you. April was a tremendous asset to Louisiana. She was a valuable member of our team, someone that I was actually personally friends with and had gone to church with. And she died last evening about 6 o’clock. And, and this should be a reminder to everyone just how serious, how deadly COVID-19 is. And we need to do everything that we can to minimize the spread, slow the spread. Stay home, slow the spread and save lives. And, and, you know, that's my message to the people of Louisiana today.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Whitmer, let me start with you. Tell me the situation in Detroit specifically right now and where Michigan is today.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER:

Our numbers are climbing exponentially. We knew it was a matter of time, not if COVID-19 would come to Michigan. We took aggressive measures. We've been on the front end of aggressive measures that states have been taking, but we see this astronomical rise. We've got hospitals that are already at capacity. We're running out of PPE as well. I'm grateful we got a shipment from FEMA yesterday for 112,000 N95 masks, but, you know, we're going to be in dire straits again in a matter of days. And so we're keeping up the pressure and working 24/7 at the state level. And grateful that there are people who are doing that at the federal level as well. But this is not something that we should be fighting each other on. It should be everyone fighting COVID-19. Everyone versus COVID-19.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Edwards, give me the situation in New Orleans, and, and in particular, I think a lot of folks are concerned about your -- some of the rural communities of, of Louisiana. How quickly do you fear that your system could get overwhelmed?

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS:

Well, we have the coronavirus now in cases in 56 of our 64 parishes. So while the hot spot is down around New Orleans, it is statewide. We know that if we don't flatten the curve, we're on a trajectory currently to exceed our capacity in the New Orleans area for ventilators by about April the 4th, and all beds available in hospitals by about April the 10th. So we're doing everything we can to surge capacity. It is very difficult. We did get some PPE yesterday, like Governor Whitmer said. We've already allocated about 100,000 masks just yesterday to the hospitals. Ventilators are the short-term really big pressing issue that we're trying to solve for -- very difficult because every state is looking for these. There are only so many to be had. And so we're trying to get the, the public to slow the spread by following the mitigation measures while we ramp up our medical capacity. This is a very challenging public health emergency.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Edwards, did what Dr. Birx said about the ventilator situation in particular, basically saying she's urging governors and mayors, do your own inventory, basically find anything you can, it seemed to be a subtle message that the federal government's struggling too.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS:

Well, that's – well, that’s true. Everybody's struggling to get these items, but that really isn't anything new. We've been doing that for many days here in Louisiana. We're inventorying all of our health care clinics in various settings to find any breathing device that can be used as a ventilator, perhaps it has to be retrofitted or modified in some way. We have EMT-type ventilators that really aren't designed to be used in hospitals, but they can be if necessary. We're also trying to see if there's certain ventilators that might be able to service more than one patient at a time, depending upon their acuity level. We're doing everything that we can, but we've actually only been able to procure 192 ventilators over the last several weeks when we've had about 12,000 on order.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Whitmer, you seemed to imply late in the week that you thought the federal government or perhaps President Trump was punishing Michigan and your attempts to procure different medical items. Do you have any -- do you still believe that is happening? Or, or do you believe that you were mistaken?

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER:

No, you know -- here's what I said, what we are doing is placing all of these orders. We are contracting. We are trying to procure this in addition to the help we need from the federal government. And like Massachusetts, like New York, like California, like places all across the country, we're bidding against one another. J.B. Pritzker from Illinois observed that same thing. And then we get a notice that it's going, being directed to the federal government. And I think that's a frustration point that is not unique to Michigan. But it is certainly a part of the issue that we're all confronting. There's not enough ventilators. We need thousands of ventilators in Michigan. There is not enough N95 masks. We've got nurses who are wearing the same mask from the minute they show up for their long shift to the end of that shift. You know, we've got to slow the spread. And that's why the stay at home orders, asking people to do their part -- people need to understand the seriousness of this issue. It's a novel virus with no cure, no vaccine, highly contagious and deadly. No one's immune from this thing. No generation is. And that's why staying home and keeping this virus from being transmitted from person to person is really the best tool we have. But we've got to keep working to get all of these other pieces of equipment. And when we're bidding against one another, it's creating a lot of frustration and, and concern. And that's exactly what I was trying to convey, and the same thing that's been conveyed by others on both sides of the aisle.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Whitmer, I'm just curious, the president seemed to direct Vice President Pence to not call you, not talk to you. But Vice President Pence is talking to you. Is your relationship with the vice president a good working relationship? And do you -- are you going to attempt to heal your relationship with the president?

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER:

I think everyone at the federal level and the state level, the states across the country are working 24/7. This is a challenge. This is a moment where the enemy is COVID-19. It's not one another. And that's why I'm grateful for the partnership that we've gotten. I've talked to the vice president a number of times. We're working with everyone from the White House on down through FEMA, DHS, the Army Corps of Engineers because it's got to be all hands on deck. We are not one another's enemies. The enemy is the virus. And it is spreading. And it is taking American lives. And that's precisely why we governors are, are banding together where we can to try to make sure that we are organized, we are learning best practices from one another, we're sharing information and we're protecting the people of our states.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Whitmer of Michigan, Governor Edwards of Louisiana, and again, our condolences for your staffer, April Dunn, there, Governor Edwards. Good luck. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And as you guys said, we're all in this together, thanks very much. When we come back --

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS:

Thank you, Chuck. I appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

-- I'm going to talk to the likely Democratic nominee for president, former Vice President Joe Biden. And as we go to break, here's a map tracking the worldwide spread from the early outbreak of the coronavirus to where we are today. It's a nice interactive map. Take a look.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Just consider all that's happened since the last time we had former Vice President Joe Biden on Meet the Press, back way back on March 1st. Biden dominated the Super Tuesday primaries and beyond. He won 17 states and basically wrapped up the Democratic nomination. More than 2,000 Americans though have died from the Coronavirus. 3.3 million people filed for first-time unemployment claims. And the government just had to pass a $2 trillion plus rescue package. But throughout the Coronavirus pandemic Biden has struggled to make his voice heard. And he joins me now from his home studio in Wilmington, Delaware. Mr. Vice President from home studio to home studio. Welcome to one of the more odder appearances I think these days of Meet the Press.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

Agree.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks for coming on.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with a simple question here. Let's set aside President Trump's rhetoric. Is there an action he has not taken that you would be taking right now if you were president?

JOE BIDEN:

Yeah, I'd be doing two things at least. One, I would make sure that he uses the Defense Production Act, not only to deal with the issue of whether or not there are ventilators but I would do the same thing for mask and gowns and masks and all -- and shields. All the things that our first responders and our doctors and nurses need. Why are we waiting? We know they're needed. They're going to be increasingly needed. You just heard the president spokesperson talk about the increasing need. And so I would be moving rapidly. I'd also be talking about what the next stage of the funding we're going to need. We've gone through three stages. That's not going to be enough to get us all the way through this. There's a number of things I'd be doing, Chuck, that are not being done right now.

CHUCK TODD:

It's interesting, one of the things that you have said, the scientists you've spoken to have indicated that realistically we're looking at June at the earliest to even think about opening back up. That's a stark difference than the warnings we're getting. You're certainly hearing -- scientists will say that, an occasional governor will say that. Dr. Fauci might say that. But you don't hear a consistent message nationally. How would you convey that to the American people, basically telling them another 60 days of home confinement? That's a lot to ask of the American public.

JOE BIDEN:

Well, look, the American public is really strong and tough. The first thing we should do is listen to the scientists. Secondly, we should tell them the truth, the unvarnished truth. The American people have never shied away from being able to deal with the truth. The worst thing you can do is raise false expectations and then watch them get dashed. Then they begin to lose confidence in their leadership. So we should just tell the truth as best we know it. As best the scientists know it. We should let them speak. And we should be doing all in our power right now to deal with being able to confine the spread of this disease. For example, we need significantly more testing kits across America. They should be -- we should be rushing the supply of those all over the country. It's gotten better. It's gotten better. But look at what's happening here. You have nurses showing up wearing garbage bags as -- over their bodies as protection. I mean, we need to get them the help they need right away. And we know there's going to be more need for not just ventilators but ICU units. There's going to be more need for beds, et cetera. We should be telling the American people the truth. They're strong. They'll get through it. They've never let their country down, never, ever, ever.

CHUCK TODD:

This is a tough time for you. You've been around government a long time. And you know there's a fine line between constructive criticism and backseat driving that can be disruptive. What do you believe that line is for you when it comes to critiquing President Trump right now?

JOE BIDEN:

I think the line for me is, again, to tell the truth. For example, I didn't believe it to be criticism, just a straightforward response. I argued several weeks ago we should be using the Defense Production Act. It was there. I've been arguing for it for some time. If I see something that's not happening I think it's my obligation to step up and say, "This is what we should be doing." Rather than -- look, the Coronavirus is not the president's fault. But the slow response, the failure to get going right away, the inability to do the things that needed to be done quickly, they are things that are -- they can't continue. We're going to go through another phase of this. And we have to be ahead of the curve, not behind the curve like we were last time.

CHUCK TODD:

Your campaign put out -- in a critique of President Trump and says, "If he doesn't do these things he could cost lives." Do you think there’s already -- do you think there is blood on the president's hands considering the slow response? Or is that too harsh of a criticism?

JOE BIDEN:

I think that's a little too harsh. I think what's happening is that failure to, as I watched a prelim to your show where someone said, made the phrase, used the phrase that the president just thinks out loud. He should stop thinking out loud and start thinking deeply. He should start listening to the scientists before he speaks. He should listen to the health experts. He should listen to his economists. He should, for example, the United States Congress passed a significant piece of legislation to help deal with the incredible financial crunch that's going to affect working families and all families, the whole economy. So we should be right now thinking about how do we get those small business loans out the door? Because right now you’re not -- that's not the strong point of banks, focusing on getting small business loans out. That's for most of the employees. You should be focusing on making sure we're in a situation where we're able to see to it that unemployment benefits can get to people. What's the IRS doing to get those $1,200 checks to people, et cetera? That's where the focus should be. And it should be laser-focus.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you lift sanctions on Iran temporarily during this pandemic?

JOE BIDEN:

I don't have enough information about the situation in Iran right now. And I”m not sure there’s any evidence that -- there's a lot of speculation from my foreign policy team that they're in real trouble and they're lying. But I would need more information to make that judgment. I don't have the national security --

CHUCK TODD:

A couple of things --

JOE BIDEN:

-- information available.

CHUCK TODD:

-- a couple things about the campaign itself. Number one, do you think we have to conduct an all-mail ballot election come the fall given the likelihood this comes back in the fall?

JOE BIDEN:

We may get there, Chuck. I don't want to go that far ahead. But that is possible. I think we should be looking to all-mail ballots across the board to begin with because it's an easier way for people to vote. But whether or not that's required across the board in all 50 states and territories, I'm not sure yet. I think we can make that. But we should be beginning to plan that in each of our states. I think you have -- anyway, there's some legislation in the Senate that suggests that. I think it's worth looking at quickly.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a point where Bernie Sanders is no longer playing a productive role in this Democratic primary?

JOE BIDEN:

Well, look, Bernie Sanders has poured his heart and soul into this campaign. He has moved the ball along on a number of issues that relate to what government's responsibilities are. And I think it's up to Bernie to make the judgment whether or not he should stay in the race or not stay in the race. That's not my judgment to make for him. But I think he's had a real impact. He's brought a lot of people into the process that weren't in it before. And so I think it's a tough decision for Bernie to make.

CHUCK TODD:

You had said you hope to improve your job rating -- your rating of the president. What do you make of the fact that the president's job rating has bumped up during this crisis?

JOE BIDEN:

Well, I think, you know, I think that's a typical American response. In every single crisis we've had that I've been around going back to Jimmy Carter and the hostages, all the way through to this moment, president's ratings have always gone up in a crisis. But you know that old expression, the proof of the, you know, is going to be in pudding. What's it going to look like? I hope we're in a situation going into the fall where this is under control, where we've done all the right things and things are beginning to move. And the president is listening to the scientists, as I said, and stopping the personal attacks on, on people who disagree with him. Let's get away from the childishness of this and focus on the problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you feel a little bit frustrated and powerless right now?

JOE BIDEN:

No, you know, it's interesting. I, you know, we have a makeshift studio here in my basement. I guess like you're doing it now as well. But the point is that I was surprised to find out just the events we did this past week, I mean beginning last Monday, over 20 million people have viewed them and listened.

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

JOE BIDEN

So I guess it's just a different way of learning how to try to communicate with people, what you're concerned about and what you would do if you were in the situation, the present situation.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

JOE BIDEN:

There's some frustrations.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Vice President, from your home studio I can imagine, especially somebody who loves to hug his grandkids, I'm sure that's very frustrating as well. Mr. Vice President --

JOE BIDEN:

Well, grandkids still come over --

CHUCK TODD:

-- stay healthy, stay safe.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

-- and stand outside the house and wave.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you. Yeah.

FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Nice. Excellent to hear. Thank you. When we come back, a week of mixed messages from President Trump. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is with us from some secure and healthy undisclosed locations. Well, some of them are disclosed. NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson, NBC News correspondent Carol Lee and Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network. Andrea Mitchell, let me start with you. Here's what I learned, I think, from, from Dr. Birx. Number one, things are going to get worse in every metro area in the country, so hunker down. Number two, "I'm not prepared to tell you my recommendations yet," but, but clearly new recommendations are coming. And number three, go find as many ventilators as you can because we're struggling. Andrea, what did you hear?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly, exactly that. First of all, her recommendations, clearly, and Dr. Fauci's, are going to be you can't do this county by county approach. You can't end this, mitigate this by ending it on Tuesday after the 15 days. It has to be extended. Whether the president goes along with that remains to be seen. He did back down after a full day of confusion yesterday on whether or not he could have an enforced quarantine around the tri-state area around New York. And it was only after Governor Cuomo went on TV and said that this would be the federal government declaring war against the states, that he finally backed down and we saw Vice President Pence rushing into the White House unexpectedly, not scheduled, last night. And then, of course, the CDC put out what it is empowered to do, which is an emergency health declaration, but a travel warning, not a, not a firm order. That said, I also think that what we're going to see is a reluctance to take, to have FEMA take control. You twice asked Dr. Birx whether or not the government should be doing this and rationalizing it. We're reading about huge conflicts between the CDC and FEMA. It's still not being communicated well. And someone has to take charge and distribute it so that you don't have a Florida governor like Ron DeSantis, who's an ally of the president and whose phone call with him probably yesterday precipitated that emergency quarantine speculation, "Stop the New Yorkers from coming here," when it was this governor who let the beaches be filled with spring breakers. Individual governors seem to have better access.

CHUCK TODD:

Carol Lee, it does seem as if the quarantine back and forth yesterday and this issue about who takes the lead on finding ventilators, this is -- this, this, whatever you want to call it, it's a choke point, whatever it is between the states and the feds, we’ve got to -- we haven't unclogged that choke point yet.

CAROL LEE:

No, and it was clear, Chuck, from your interview with Dr. Birx that they don't have an answer to this problem yet. And you've heard from a number of governors. Governor Whitmer just said to you and Governor Cuomo has been saying this every day, that, you know, they need, they want the federal government to step in to somehow kind of regulate this process because they're all competing against each other and it's causing a lot of problems. And you've, you’ve seen Governor Cuomo specifically say that if that doesn't happen, then maybe states will try to come together and figure out their own way to alleviate this problem. But there is, you know, an ask for help from the federal government. And we could wind up seeing this being the issue, like the ventilators were in the past week, where the president finally moved on that. This could wind up being the thing that in this coming week that he finally moves on.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. Gene Robinson, you want to chime in?

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, I --

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah.

HUGH HEWITT:

Go ahead.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Chuck, it seems to me that, you know, what Vice President Pence, and Dr. Birx, and Dr. Fauci, and the task force is doing, the federal task force, is vitally important. It's, it’s been a little bumpy getting, really taking off. But the states really need what the task force is doing. On the other hand, what the president is doing seems to me to be increasingly irrelevant and, and counterproductive. I mean, these sort of pronouncements that are then taken back or they just fall away. So whether he wants to open everything up again or not on Tuesday is kind of irrelevant. The governors aren't going to do that. And, and I think, I think Americans realize, they have by now a pretty deep understanding of what's going on, and what's at stake, and what they should do. And I don't think anybody is raring to get out there again on, on Wednesday.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh Hewitt, this is the time when I think someone like you or others would be saying, "You know, the president needs to go get a retired general." Remember General Honoré, Russel Honoré? He ran down in the Gulf area. It feels like there needs to be a take-charge personality here when it comes to this procurement issue.

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, I think the take-charge personality, Chuck, is in fact the president. I'm very impressed with the president. Eugene isn't. I'm very impressed with Andrew Cuomo. I'm very impressed with Gavin Newsom. I'm very impressed with Mike DeWine. The people I'm not impressed with I'm not going to spend time slamming. I'm impressed with people who are exhibiting strong leadership. They're not always going to be right, but I also like the fact -- the person I'm most impressed with, most Americans won't have heard it: Benny Gantz. He is the Israeli political leader who stepped back and laid down his ambitions to serve the common good in Israel and join Benjamin Netanyahu in a government. I think that's the moment we're in, where people have to lay aside their partisan differences and work. And I must say Vice President Biden really impressed me by modeling the best answer most people can give: "I don't have the information to answer the question you asked, Chuck." I thought, "Way to go, Mr. Vice President." If you get asked a question, don't, don’t shoot from the hip. I think most people need to hear that message.

CHUCK TODD:

Carol Lee?

CAROL LEE:

Well, Chuck, one of the things that we've seen talking to administration officials and other people around the president is that they're really worried that this push for him to open the economy up again is going to totally backfire on him, backfire on the country. It'll backfire on him politically. And then -- and the other thing that they want to do, and we should keep an eye on this because his 15-day deadline is coming up and there's people around the president who are really urging him not to set another sort of deadline like that. He mentioned Easter. You saw them try to walk that back, the Vice President and others saying that's aspirational. And now, you know, he has to either say, "We're extending these measures that he had put in place 15 days ago," "We're modifying them." But whatever he does, his advisors do not want him to set another date.

CHUCK TODD:

I'll tell you, the straightest talk you could give to Americans is probably not to set a date because all of us then would tell you what that means, that we're going to be here awhile. Anyway, but I have to take a break. When we come back, Democrats and Republicans are actually experiencing the coronavirus outbreak right now differently and how that plays a role in how they judge the government's response. Stick around.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Believe it or not, even the coronavirus has a political component. And as COVID-19 hits some places harder than others, the current spikes in densely populated urban centers on the coasts mean it is now hitting blue areas a lot harder than red ones.As of Friday, 77% of confirmed cases were in counties that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. 19% were in counties that voted for President Trump. 4% are unclear. Put it another way, 81% of Clinton counties had at least one case, while only 50% of Trump counties did. Those are wide discrepancies in firsthand experience. And that's showing up in polling data. A survey by Dynata, a leading survey insights company, finds 65% of Democrats believe the federal government is doing too little to protect life during this pandemic, compared with only 24% of Republicans who feel the same way. Of course, Democrats are always a bit more critical of President Trump. But it will be interesting to see how these numbers shift as the virus inevitably moves inland to counties that did vote for Mr. Trump, places that are even less equipped to handle a pandemic. When we come back, how COVID-19 may already be affecting President Trump's political fortunes.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. It has been interesting to watch this campaign, sort of, go on hiatus. You heard the vice president there talk about the improving poll numbers for President Trump. Hugh Hewitt, the Fox poll is a lot like a lot of the other polls I've seen this week, where you see two things happening at the same time. The president's numbers going up. Highest job approval -- he tied the highest job approval rating he's ever had in that Fox poll at 48%. But trails Biden by nine points in the head-to-head in that one. Who should feel better about which poll number, Hugh Hewitt: Joe Biden or Donald Trump?

HUGH HEWITT:

I think President Trump will look at the Washington Post poll this morning and be very, very happy. But I also don't think anyone should focus on the polls. It's going to change so dramatically. America has a hell of a kick, Chuck. You know that. It's like Eric Lidell in the Chariots of Fire movie. We're just gearing up. And if the country does what I think I see it doing, this army of responders, this surge of helpfulness, I think that the president will benefit from that because the country is coming together to fight this invisible enemy.

CHUCK TODD:

Gene Robinson?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, I want to agree with Hugh Hewitt. I do think the country is gearing up in a very important way. You know, the old Bible verse, "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." I think we must realize that there is a joyful morning on the other side of this. And I think that the country, once it gets in gear, I think will, hopefully, do better than it now looks to contain this epidemic.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrea?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Yeah. And, Chuck, I think that that is true, that the president is benefiting -- for all the twists and turns and what may seem like he's thinking out loud too much. He is doing things like going to the ship yesterday. And that was a totally unnecessary photo op, but he has that power of incumbency. And I think that people need that reassurance. And people are seeing it, and I think it's going to continue to rise. It is frustrating for Joe Biden because coming from his basement is a lot harder to do.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Carol Lee, Jimmy Carter ran a Rose Garden strategy, it was known at the time. William McKinley ran a front porch strategy back in 1896. Well, Joe Biden is like the McKinley campaign in '96, Donald Trump like Carter here. Everybody running their own front porch campaign with the rest of the public watching.

CAROL LEE:

Yeah. I mean, Chuck, the part of the president's problem though is that his whole campaign argument, that the economy was humming -- was doing really well, just evaporated almost overnight. And I spoke with people around the president this past week who said that it's almost as if the first three years just don't even matter. Everything that happened then just won't matter because it all comes down to how he responds to this. And one of the challenges that they're having right now is you have a president who hasn't really figured out what kind of leader he wants to be. Does he want to be the wartime president, or does he want to be Donald Trump? We saw a lot of Donald Trump in the last couple days in terms of his combativeness, and pushing back, and saying things that weren't necessarily true. And where he goes from there, whether they can pull him back and try to get him to do what they would like him to do, which is to be more presidential, will really hinge on how this plays out for him politically.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh Hewitt, what is the bigger danger there: the president picking silly fights with governors that look off key, or the president not feeding his base the sort of pugilistic nature that they've grown to love? Right? I get in the president's head that's what he's concerned about.

HUGH HEWITT:

The biggest danger is not to take the danger as seriously as he appears to be taking it, not to step back from the podium, go out there every night. Of course, Vice President Pence is a great balance, but he has to continue to be the very strong presence in the press room that he's been because America at this time, as after 9/11, as after Pearl Harbor, this is an existential crisis for the world. We have to lead not just America, the world. I think his biggest danger is stepping back. He's got to lean into it, and he's been doing that, and I'm happy about it.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. Gene Robinson, very quickly.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

This time, I'm going to disagree with my friend Hugh. I think the president does need to step back from the podium. I think his appearances should be less frequent, and briefer, and less rambling. Let the scientists do it every day. Let Vice President Pence do it. The president doesn't need to do that every day.

CHUCK TODD:

You guys were a terrific panel. I have to stop you, but you guys were as well behaved as you can be on these remote settings. Thank you very much. Thank you for your patience, guys, and for the social distancing. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching out there. I hope you're staying healthy. I hope you're practicing this social distancing. We're all going to get through this, the sooner the better, right? We're going to leave you with the new nightly light show at the Empire State Building. It's designed to lift the spirits of people sheltering in place. We will be back next week, no matter where we have to come from. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.