Meet the Press - May 10, 2020

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Health and the economy. President Trump pivots from fighting the virus --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This country can't stay closed in lock down for years.

CHUCK TODD:

-- to promoting the economy, even trying to shut down the coronavirus task force, before backing off.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

It's very respected and people said we should keep it going, so we'll keep it going. I had no idea how popular the task force is until actually yesterday.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump questioning science --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I feel about vaccines like I feel about tests. This is going to go away without a vaccine.

CHUCK TODD:

-- and insisting it's time to get back to normal as the economy suffers.

BUSINESS OWNER:

We can't stop working. We can't stop living.

CHUCK TODD:

But at what cost?

TOM FRIEDEN:

If it really picks up it's very hard to stop again.

CHUCK TODD:

Why conquering the virus versus getting people back to work is a false choice. Plus: Three top health officials now in some form of quarantine after possible exposure inside the White House. My guests this morning: infectious disease specialists Michael Osterholm and Jeffrey Shaman and Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Also --

LESTER HOLT:

Historic unemployment disaster.

CHUCK TODD:

-- as unemployment hits numbers not seen since the Great Depression.

CAFE OWNER:

I mean, I'm going to go homeless if I don't open my business back up.

BARBOR:

I'm not trying to be a scofflaw. I'm trying to make a living.

CHUCK TODD:

My conversation this morning with billionaire businessman and philanthropist Robert F. Smith on making sure no one is left out of recovery efforts.

ROBERT SMITH:

We have to reinvest so that when we come out of the back end of this pandemic, we're actually in a much better position

CHUCK TODD:

And, the latest on the Michael Flynn and Tara Reade stories. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press and our continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning, and a Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. President Trump is making it clear that he's moving away from fighting the coronavirus to cheerleading an economic recovery. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump announced he was winding down the White House task force, then a day later undid the undoing, while continuing to urge the reopening of the country in defiance even of his own task force reopening guidelines. The president also chose to not wear a mask at a mask-producing factory because, the AP reported, he believes it would send the message that he is more concerned with health than with the economy. Meanwhile, three top health officials have begun a partial or full self-quarantine after two people working in the White House became infected, indicating just how hard it is to keep the virus out of even the most tested and secure workplaces in the country. All this on a week when the confirmed number of cases in the United States passed 1.3 million and the death toll is approaching 80,000 now. It is not partisan to say the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been both confused and confusing, and it raises troubling questions: What's the plan for testing and contact tracing, or does the government think that's just too hard to do without a breakthrough? What's the plan for maintaining social distancing as states reopen? What's the plan for making people feel confident about returning to work when even the White House can't keep the virus out? And what's the plan for treating this pandemic as our greatest national crisis since the Second World War? In other words: What's the plan?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The people want to come back. I think everybody in this room realizes we have to come back.

CHUCK TODD:

Facing a pandemic that shows no signs of containment, the president is making it clear he is not willing to wait for a national decline in cases or deaths, instead pushing states to reopen now.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

There'll be more death, but the virus will pass. I used to say 65,000 -- and now I'm saying 80 or 90, and it goes up. We may be talking about 95,000 people, ultimately. We may be talking about something more than that.

CHUCK TODD:

The White House is sidelining scientists, delaying the CDC’s attempts at issuing detailed guidelines, reportedly out of fear they were too stringent.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I respect the governors, and I’ve given them great discretion. I've given the leeway to the governors.

REPORTER:

Do you find the CDC protocols to be an impediment to opening up the country?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Which protocols?

REPORTER:

The recommended guidelines that have been, that have been --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

No, because I’m relying on the governors.

CHUCK TODD:

The administration distanced itself from a draft federal government report predicting an uptick in new coronavirus cases and 3,000 deaths a day by June 1st. And the president announced the White House task force was off --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're now looking at a little bit of a different form

CHUCK TODD:

-- before declaring it on again, after public pushback.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're keeping the task force for a period of time.

CHUCK TODD:

And Mr. Trump is dismissing the consensus of public health experts that widespread testing is a necessary step to reopening businesses safely.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

In some ways, by doing all of this testing, we make ourselves look bad.

CHUCK TODD:

Repeating his claim that the virus will disappear on its own.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I feel about vaccines like I feel about tests. This is going to go away without a vaccine.

CHUCK TODD:

The president's skepticism of public health guidance is now being echoed by many of the governors who support him.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

These models have been so wrong from day one.

GOV. PETE RICKETTS:

Those models keep changing so really they’re not very good.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Because we did so much more testing, we have more cases.

GOV. KIM REYNOLDS

We were going to the hotspot and we were testing, so of course our positive cases are going to increase.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We have to be warriors, we can't keep our country closed down for years.

GOV. BILL LEE:

We can’t keep our economy shut down forever.

CHUCK TODD:

But 68% of Americans continue to say they are more concerned that state governments will lift restrictions too quickly than that they may take too long. Still, with the unemployment rate now 14.7%, pressure is growing and the president is accusing Democrats of slowing reopening to damage him politically.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

They think they’re doing it because it'll hurt me the longer it takes, it will hurt me in the election, the longer it takes to open up.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now are two infectious disease experts: Michael Osterholm from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University's Jeffrey Shaman. Gentlemen, welcome to Meet the Press. Dr. Osterholm, let me start with you. Simple question: Are we ready to reopen the economy?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Well, first of all, let me just say that it’s – when we say what we mean by opening the economy, that's really unclear. We have to, we can’t stay locked down for 18 months, but at the same time when you have cases increasing, deaths increasing, healthcare workers without adequate protective equipment, and we’re suddenly going back to what was once our normal lives, that's not a safe place to be. We can’t do that and not expect to see a major increase in cases.

CHUCK TODD:

Jeffrey Shaman, have we squandered the eight weeks in lockdown, in that -- are we either rushing the reopening, in that we don’t have the testing and tracing program in place yet, or have we just squandered the eight weeks?

JEFFREY SHAMAN:

We have not used the eight weeks as well as we could have, unfortunately. It would have been benefited enormously from consistent messaging and a concerted, consolidated plan of attack for actually aggressively and proactively dealing with this virus. At this point, however, we do have to pick ourselves up where we are, and we need to start taking those measures. We need to look at some of the countries that have been very successful in quashing this virus down. In particular, I would point to Korea, South Korea, and Germany, and maybe even New Zealand and Taiwan. These are countries in particular when the cases of Germany and South Korea that had enormous outbreaks, they flattened them, they crushed them down, and they did this because they tested so aggressively, and they used contact tracing and they were able to quarantine people who were becoming infectious before they actually spread to other people. It’s a very powerful measure. It requires real investment, but we already have models that show that it can work. And once you’ve done that, then you’re in this position of strength where reopening the economy is not going to lead necessarily to the rebound in cases that I’m expecting given this patchwork response we have right now, and the reopenings taking place in some states.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Osterholm, is there -- it seems as if the federal government is sitting, waiting for a testing breakthrough before beginning, waiting to see if there could be a faster testing program before they commit to essentially a national testing program. You are going to hear a guest in a minute say that. We’ve heard Dr. Birx say this. I think we all want a tech breakthrough. What do you do before then?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Well, we have to understand that we're riding this tiger; we are not directing it. This virus is going to do what it's going to do. What we can do is only nibble at the edges. And I think it’s not a good message to send to the public that we can control this virus in a meaningful way. And what I mean by that, even though, as Jeffrey just said, some countries have been able to suppress this somewhat, Korea’s now got a major outbreak problem occurring. Germany's had an increase in cases. What we have to tell people honestly, what they want to hear, they don't want it sugarcoated and they do not want it coated in fear. But somewhere between now and tomorrow, next year, we're going to see 60-70% of Americans ultimately infected with this virus. What we have to do is figure out how not just to die with the virus, but also how to live with it. And we're not having that discussion. As Lewis Carroll once said, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." And right now, that's where we are at. And we can’t give people a false sense of security that we're going to do more than we can, but we also have to figure out how to live with this virus. And that's what we're not doing.

CHUCK TODD:

Jeffrey Shaman, one of the reasons why, you hear, you heard it in our opening piece there. There are a lot of people that don’t -- a lot of these governors are feeling as if the models let them down for some reason. You know, they were looking at them for, maybe they were reading them for a specific that a model wasn’t intended to give them, but no matter what, there has been some skepticism about the various models out there. First of all, what do the models show is going to happen by the end of the month due to this reopening? And, and, and what are the -- how do you know if a model is reliable?

JEFFREY SHAMAN:

Those are really important questions. So firstly, the models cannot forecast things. They’re not prognostic in that way. And so what, what is the point of running them into the future then? Well, we have to do that because we want to get a sense of what may happen in the future. And the projections that we make with these models have to have baked into them on top of a lot of other uncertainties scenarios as to what we’re going to do. So if a number of states -- now it’s in the 30s -- are going to reopen, we don't know what the impact of those loosening restrictions really is going to be. Governors can open and say, "Businesses are open," but it doesn't mean that all restaurants and businesses will open, and it also doesn't mean that the public will actually frequent those businesses. As you quoted, 68% of the public is really concerned about this virus and considers that a greater priority than the economy. So many people actually won’t go out and use them to the degree they did pre-pandemic. As a result of all these uncertainties, it's very difficult to know what's going to happen, how that’s actually going to affect the transmission dynamics of the virus, whether it's going to accelerate and rebound and at what time scales. That said, in a lot of the states in which they are loosening restrictions, they are barely hanging on. And in some of them, they already have growth of the virus taking place. One would imagine that any loosening of restrictions there is only going to accelerate the growth of the virus. For the projections that we see, you are going to see a range of outcomes. And they have, as I said, all this uncertainty in them. And they are going to change as we come to realize that, "Well, we actually did this and not this in terms of social distancing, and it has these consequences upon the infection." What I think we are probably going to see over the coming weeks towards the end of the month is we are just going to start to see a growth in cases. It's not going to happen over the next week or two. It's going to come in with a lag because there are lags in the system. And that is that the people who get infected today, we don’t see them as confirmed cases for another couple weeks. And that built-in delay means that any changes that we do to social distancing because of reopening, we are not going to realize for a couple weeks until we're already into some period of growth.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael Osterholm, I want you to respond to something the president said on the whole concept of testing. Let me play it again for the audience and get you to respond on the other side. Here’s what he said earlier this week.

(TAPE BEGINS)

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This is why the whole concept of tests aren't necessarily great. The tests are perfect, but something could happen between a test where it's good and then something happens and all of a sudden -- she was tested very recently and tested negative. And then today, I guess, for some reason, she tested positive.

(TAPE ENDS)

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Michael Osterholm, the president seemed to indicate that that was somehow a failure. But if you are doing a testing and contact tracing program, it sounds like what the White House is doing is a success story, no?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Well, it is to the extent that they’re finding these cases. I think the point that I want to come back to though, Chuck, this virus is going to keep transmitting whether or not whatever we do. We can nibble it at the edges. In some cases, like New York and other cities did, you can surely shave off the top of that peak. But let's just remember, this virus is on its own. In 1918 when influenza virus occurred, we had these big peaks in the spring in several selected cities in this country, and then it just went away for four months and came back with a vengeance. You know, I worry right now more than anything if this virus suddenly starts to disappear. Because in fact, what that may tell us is we are going to act like an influenza pandemic. And come later summer, early fall, we could have a peak that could make everything else that we've done so far look mild. Contact tracing and testing are important, but they won't stop that. That's what we need to start planning for. What are the different scenarios that are going to get us from 5-15% of the U.S. population, as it is currently have been infected, to what it will be 60 or 70%? We do not have a plan for that. That's what we need a plan for.

CHUCK TODD:

What is the likelihood, Michael Osterholm, that this testing situation can get ramped up without a tech breakthrough? I mean, is this something that if we just -- you know, sort of a trench warfare? Is it something we can do as a country?

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

You know, it’s not. And it’s, and it’s one that, again, we're going to be putting a report out next week that will really go into detail. Just look at one thing. We’ve all been talking about reagents. Do you know that we are running all the test equipment right now 24/7 in ways it’s never been meant to be run? Imagine if you had a brand new car that could go 100 miles an hour and you ran it nonstop for six weeks, 24 hours a day. At the end of that time, it probably wouldn’t work very well. Well, we're seeing the testing equipment right now beginning to break down in ways that we still can't do testing in the future. So testing is an important issue. But the infrastructure is just not there. You know, we can’t do it. And so what we have to do, again, is have that plan. What are we going to do for testing? What are we going to do to bring the economy back? What are we going to do to deal with health care workers and their protection? What are we going to do with too many people in the hospital such that beds are no longer available? That’s what we need a plan for, and we don’t have it. I can’t say that enough times. We keep nibbling at the edges about whether a few people in the White House are infected or not. We need a plan.

CHUCK TODD:

It’s how we ended our opening monologue: What’s the plan? Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University, thank you for getting us started with your expertise in this. Much appreciated.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM:

Thank you. Thank you.

JEFFREY SHAMAN:

Thank you for having us.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now from Maryville, Tennessee is Senator Lamar Alexander. He's chair of the Senate Health and Education Committee where Dr. Fauci will be testifying on Tuesday. Senator Alexander, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Thank you, Chuck. Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning. You've been a big proponent of this initiative over at NIH which you've compared to the show Shark Tank. Essentially to develop a rapid screening test that can be a game changer that will allow us to do rapid testing and quarantining of folks. Be able to really ramp up a testing and contact tracing program. Dr. Birx, on this program, has said, "Our solution to testing has to be a breakthrough." You are hoping for a technological breakthrough. Dr. Birx is hoping for a technological breakthrough. So are the rest of us. What do we do in between? What do we do right now?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, here's what Tennessee is doing and the country's doing. We have -- you know, Senator Schumer was nice enough to quote half of what I said at our hearing last week on testing. I said, "What we're doing is impressive." He left that out. "But not nearly enough." Here's what the governor is doing today. He's testing prisoners in every prison, every nursing home, drive-through testing on the weekends. Go to the local public health department, you get a free test. His motto is, "If in doubt get a test." And so as a result, Tennessee has tested more than most states. So at about 3.6% of the population. He hopes to be at 7% by the end of May.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, that is what every state needs. And I guess the question I have is are you concerned that we have not ramped up testing and contact tracing in this eight-week period as high as we needed to in order to reopen?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, what we've done is very impressive. I mean, according to Johns Hopkins, the United States has tested more than eight million people. That's twice as many as any country. More per capita than almost all countries including South Korea. It's enough to do what we need to do today to reopen. But it's not enough, for example, when 35,000 kids and faculty show up on the University of Tennessee campus in August. That's why we need what Dr. Birx called, what Francis Collins is working on, a breakthrough. For example, you might be able to put a lollipop in your mouth with a swab, take a picture of it with your cellphone. If it lights up you're positive. Or you send that swab to a laboratory that's not too far away. And they use what they call gene sequencing machines which are already there. They can do tens of thousands of tests very quickly.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you do -- let me ask you this philosophically about businesses, you can open an economy but you can't force the return of demand. So whether you're an airline or you're a restaurant, we know demand is going to be down. And at the same time, their demand is down through no fault of their own. How do you rescue those businesses? And how do you rescue those employees?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Number one, vaccine. And the administration has an amazingly ambitious goal of 100 million vaccines by September and 300 by December. I've no idea if we can reach that. Number two is treatments. (inaudible) But between now and then, testing. If you take a test and you know that you don't have COVID-19 and you know that everybody around you took a test that same day, you're going to have enough confidence to go back to work and back to school.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you concerned that the White House doesn't see the testing issue as important as you and others do?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

I talked with almost everybody on the task force. I talked with the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who helped negotiate the -- what we call the Shark Tank where you throw all these early concept ideas in with Francis Collins who heads the National Institutes of Health. I think we're all pushing for as many tests as fast as we can get them. Track one is to accelerate the technologies we already have. But if you want the lollipop that will give you an instant test you're going to need a new technology. And that's what Dr. Collins’ Shark Tank is all about.

CHUCK TODD:

Final question, are you disappointed that the president decided to go ahead with the Obamacare lawsuit? There was a window where he could have pulled -- the Justice Department could have pulled out of it. They didn't. He wanted to continue forward. If you undo Obamacare, what's the plan to replace it?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, the answer to your question is yes. I thought the Justice Department argument was really flimsy. What they're arguing is that when we voted to get rid of the individual mandate we voted to get rid of Obamacare. I don't know one single senator that thought that.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Senator Lamar Alexander, I'm going to have to leave it there. But actually before I let you go, you do have a mask that will, for long-time Alexander watchers, will be kind of fitting. Show it to us.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Here it is. And I wear it.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say, there should be no other mask any member of the Alexander family should be wearing as well. Senator Alexander, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir. And we'll look forward to seeing your committee hearing with Dr. Fauci on Tuesday.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Thank you, Chuck

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, that devastating jobs report and how one man is trying to make sure that help gets to people who need it the most.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. As devastating as the jobs numbers were on Friday, they were even worse for some. Unemployment among African-Americans, 16.7%. 2 and a half points higher than among whites. And Latino unemployment was even higher. That comes after small businesses, especially those in communities of color, were largely shut out of the government's Paycheck Protection Program or PPP, as it's known. Well, enter billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Robert F. Smith, who is taking steps to make sure that minority-owned businesses get their fair share of funds in phase two of the PPP program. And Robert F. Smith joins me this morning. Mr. Smith, thank you for coming on. Let me just start with --

ROBERT F. SMITH:

Morning, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

-- this observation and get your big picture take. When you look at what this pandemic has done, has it -- in some ways, it's been an MRI on inequality. Whether it's on health outcomes for communities of color or now we're seeing the economic impact. It's communities of color that are going to get -- that are getting hit first. Knowing that going forward, what does our rescue plan need to look like as far as you're concerned?

ROBERT F. SMITH:

Sure. And Chuck, thank you for having me on the program this morning. You know, as a good friend of mine has said, the pandemic on top of a series of epidemics. And I think the important thing that we have to do is continue to rally as Americans to come with real, lasting, scalable solutions to enable the communities that are getting hit first, hardest and probably will take the longest to recover with solutions that will enable their communities to thrive again. We were coming into a period of time, quite frankly, in America where we were actually getting some economic activity back in these communities. So I'm thinking and working with a number of folks in Washington, with community leaders, with fintech companies, including one that we own, to enable these banks to really drive some economic, economic opportunity back in these communities.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you think, frankly, that Washington failed to understand about how -- frankly, how small businesses, particularly in communities of color, what do they fail to understand about their banking relationships where this money just didn't get to them?

ROBERT F. SMITH:

Well, what's interesting, I wouldn't necessarily say it's a failure to understand. The fact is we just had an erosion of the -- what I term as the capillary banking system in America. You know, many of these small communities, urban, rural aren't being banked by the larger institutions. And what actually gets to these small businesses are these community developments, financial institutions, minority development institutions, depository institutions, these we call them CDFIs and MDIs. And these are the capillary banking systems that actually get to these customers, these small businesses. And they didn't have access going into this program, the PPP program, to the SBA in many cases. But I will say that through, frankly, leadership in Washington, you know, we've had people like Ivanka Trump and Secretary Mnuchin who have been very engaged in this process with me and a number of community leaders to build out and rebuild and fortify some of the infrastructure for the CDFIs and MDIs so they now in the second wave have had access to the PPP funding. And hopefully if we get this right, which we're all determined to --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

ROBERT F. SMITH

-- we will relieve permanent infrastructure for these institutions -- now have the capacity to drive regenerative capital back into those communities.

CHUCK TODD:

Go even bigger picture for me, in the rescue plan that Congress put out there the first time, that essentially put $6 trillion in play, $4 trillion in the credit markets with the fed, $2 trillion in actual cash. And yet now it looks like they underestimated the total calamity here. Do you see the next round being more like the first? Or do you think it needs to be reimagined?

ROBERT F. SMITH:

I think it needs to be reimagined. We have to take this opportunity to reinvest in our business infrastructure, in the small, the medium businesses, in our banking infrastructure and what I call these capillary banking systems so that we can actually emerge out of this even stronger. You know, we have to invest. I'm in the world of software, as you know.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ROBERT F. SMITH:

We have to invest in technology and software so that the banking systems are -- these capillary banking systems are more efficient. They have more access to capital. They have more transparency. They actually then can engage with these businesses that are in the communities that are, frankly, under-banked. And in many cases, not banked at all. 94% of African-American businesses, for instance, are sole proprietorships. 70% are under-banked or they're no banks. We have banking deserts in these communities. And so we would be remiss if we didn't take a significant portion of capital to reinvest in the infrastructure, delivering capital back into those businesses. And frankly, reinvest in those businesses and give them technology and capabilities so there's more transparency, visibility and giving their businesses an opportunity to grow, scale and to operate more efficiently. So it is our opportunity, even though we're in a challenging time and my heart goes out to many families who have lost people. And fact of the matter is, our first responders, a lot of them are coming from our communities. We have to reinvest so that we come out of the back end of this pandemic we're actually in a much better position. I don't want to see us going back to the same position where we were where we have under-banked and these banking deserts in these communities.

CHUCK TODD:

We are at the one, basically about the one-year anniversary, when you were the commencement speaker at Morehouse. And you took care of the entire graduating class' student loans. Took care of their debt. Basically an attempt to try to deal with some of these generational inequalities. And I can't help but -- in those same communities, what do you tell those young African-American men who see what happened to that young man who was killed just going out for a jog? It certainly shines an uncomfortable light on those inequalities again.

ROBERT F. SMITH:

In exactly the same, the same state, exactly. What I tell them is, "Look, we have been in this country, as a community, over 400 plus years." I had the great fortune through a lot of help and people in my life to be able to provide a liberation to another 400 families in that context. But I tell them, "Look, you know, focus on building systems that are scalable that bring your capacity as a human spirit into our governments, into our justice system, into our world of technology. Frankly, into our economic fabric of America. You know, we all -- there are so many unfortunate events we have to, what I call -- beat down the hate. Bringing, frankly, love and systems that actually help people understand that we are all humans, we're in this together. We've got to actually fight to ensure that our country continues to strive and accelerate.” So that's the message I tell them. I want them to focus on education, focus on STEM, focus on doing the things that are the right elements around human rights and injustice in the country that we live in. And I hope that that message resonates with them. And I, frankly, hopefully have given them an opportunity to do it without the burden of debt that gives them a chance to now --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ROBERT F. SMITH:

-- best express their best selves in the work that they do.

CHUCK TODD:

Robert Smith, thanks for coming on Meet the Press, sharing your views on how we can move forward after this pandemic is behind us. Much appreciated, thank you, sir.

ROBERT SMITH:

Thank you for inviting me. All the best.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back --

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. BARACK OBAMA

It has been an absolute chaotic disaster when that mindset -- of 'what's in it for me' and 'to heck with everybody else' -- when that mindset is operationalized in our government.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Former President Obama's harsh words for President Trump's handling of the coronavirus. The panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, the panel is with us from their remote locations. NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the new book, “The World: A Brief Introduction." Just a little quick pamphlet there. And Wall Street Journal columnist, Peggy Noonan. It's quite the ambition there, Richard. The world, a small focus for one book. But let me start, Kristen Welker, with you. There's a report this morning that staffers in the White House are a bit rattled, two positive tests in the last week. Suddenly, a sobering reminder that the virus is still even inside their house.

KRISTEN WELKER:

That's right, Chuck. This is the week that everything changed at the White House. This is the week that they went from fighting an invisible enemy, as the president has dubbed it, to an enemy that landed squarely on the steps of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And so, there's a lot of discussion about how many more officials may need to be in quarantine. Of course, we saw that the head of FDA, as well as the CDC, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is going to be quarantining in a measured form. But really, it put on display this sharp disconnect, Chuck. The fact that the White House is essentially urging the country to reopen, cities and states, and yet, those same cities and states do not have the same level of testing that exists at the White House. We know the administration is ramping up testing, eight million tests so far. They want to try to double that by the end of May. But not clear what the plan is moving forward, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Peggy Noonan, that’s, it feels like -- that was what I took away from all of our interviews so far this morning which was, you know, nobody is saying you can't reopen. You just have to have a plan to do it and there's just a lot of frustration that there isn't one.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah. I think there's a lot of frustration that there is not really a clear national plan. As for state plans, their criteria for opening in some cases seem a little complex, a little provisional and dependent on testing and tracing and such. Turning out very well. It seemed to me, Chuck, your whole theme on this show has been what is the plan?

CHUCK TODD:

Right

PEGGY NOONAN:

I think we're realizing we don't have one. And it's going to bubble up from regionally. Probably not nationally. But I thought the most interesting thing said this morning that sums up the moment we're in, was from one of your doctors at the beginning who said, "Where are we? We must learn how to live with this virus." There was a sense from him as he spoke, I kind of thought, "Yeah, he's saying we're going to have to muddle through." I think maybe one of the ways that would be most helpful to muddle through at this point as citizens and states take on a lot of responsibility is just to understand this is a dual crisis. It's not only an illness. It is an economic crisis that's going to demand creativity and ingenuity from all of us.

CHUCK TODD:

Richard Haass, given your expertise, I want to ask, I want to look at this from a global perspective here. Because the other part of this is, this is odd. The United States is the infected country. It's the country that others around the world don't want to emulate right now. We're not the country that's leading the response to the pandemic or it doesn't feel this way. What does that mean to you going forward? And how concerning is that to you?

RICHARD HAASS:

Well, you're right, Chuck. We're not leading by example. And we're not leading full stop. This comes against the backdrop where this administration has largely abdicated the U.S. role of leadership in the world, pulling out of all sorts of agreements. We didn't even participate in the Europe-led effort to come up with a vaccine. And people ought to be worried. Think about the situation right now. You've got all the traditional problems, a rising China, an angry Russia, North Korea, Iran with their nuclear ambitions. Then you've got all the global issues including the pandemic. But also climate change, terrorism, problems in cyber space. All this at a time the United States is diminished and we are distracted. And that's a really toxic groove for the future of the world. And what we've learned from this crisis, if things badly in the world, we are not immune. They go badly for us as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Kristen Welker.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, Chuck, we know against that backdrop, the president's key focus right now is not just on the medical crisis, but on trying to restart the economy. And it's not clear what the plan is there. We know that his administration officials have shown him numbers that really rattled him. An unemployment rate even greater than what we see right now. We're told that the worst-case scenario was topping 30%. So there's a lot of discussion right now within the White House about what to do, how to move forward. But we know that some of the things under consideration, delaying tax day, for example, a moratorium on new regulations. But no decisions yet, Chuck. And a sharp divide in Congress between Democrats and Republicans about what, if any, next steps need to be taken. Republicans say, "Look, we've already passed $30 trillion in stimulus." But Democrats say, "State and local governments need even more."

CHUCK TODD:

Peggy Noonan, this feels like this is really going to divide the Republican Party on the issue of spending. Because you do have some, sort of, the more populist members, people like Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio who do think you do need more federal spending. But then you've got, sort of, the more traditionalist who believe that no, no, no, no let's focus on the debt. Let's focus on the debt. That could hinder the recovery.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I think what we're seeing now, if we see this in the Republican Party, as I suspect we will, between, say, Josh Hawley and Marco who say, "Look, this is a crisis. We must spend as wisely as we can but as much as we need to," versus others who will say, "Look, almost ancient conservative principles involve controlling the power of government. It's intrusion, it's expense, it’s cost." Sure, that will be fought out somewhat. But I gotta tell you, that argument has been fought out since -- it's almost part of what produced Donald Trump, who really said to his audiences in 2016, "Hey, I'm not going to touch government spending. I'm not going to bother these entitlements." I think the base of the party would support an attitude of, throw whatever against the wall. You have to. See what sticks. We are in a historic crisis. If going against our traditional views will help dig us out, go against them. Dig us out.

CHUCK TODD:

Richard Haass, I want to get your reaction. The secretary of state walked back one of the most -- roughest charges that the U.S. government has been making about the virus against the Chinese. Let me play for you, first, the accusation, then the secretary's walk back.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SECY. MIKE POMPEO:

The Chinese government hasn't permitted American scientists to go into China, to go into not only the Wuhan lab, but wherever it needs to go to learn about this virus, to learn about its origins. We don't have certainty. And there is significant evidence that this came from the laboratory. Those statements can both be true.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

I'm of two minds on this, Richard Haass, if this is true should we be shouting it from the rooftops, go to the UN, present the evidence and go from there? Or is this going to be something that we're going to regret because it creates basically a cold war over this virus for the globe to deal with?

RICHARD HAASS:

Chuck, Chinese performance has been bad whether this came out of a lab or not. They covered up, they allowed people to leave Wuhan and we're all paying a price for it. What started in Wuhan, didn't stay there. So that's a fact, again whether they're covering up the fact it came out of a lab. We don't have information supporting that. The secretary of state got forward on his skis and that's always a mistake. People say in war, truth is the first casualty. We ought to husband the truth carefully. The larger issue though is, look, the United States and China are the two most powerful countries of this era, the two most influential. Our relationship will go a long ways towards defining the character of this era of history. The challenge for us is going to be push back against China where we can, criticize them on their pandemic, criticize them on human rights, push back at what they're doing in the South China Sea. But we still need to protect and preserve areas of potential cooperation on climate change or, say, on dealing with the North Korean nuclear challenge. That's going to be a hard piece of foreign policy to get right, but that's the challenge.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I'm going to pause the conversation there. Just an excellent group dynamic. Much appreciated. When we come back, how President Trump's slipping poll numbers may be hurting the Republican's chances of holding the Senate. That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, data download time. And with election day less than six months away, it is a good time to remember that control of the United States Senate is also in play, along with the White House. And the last eight weeks have shown promising signs for Democrats who hope to flip control of the chamber. In early February, The Cook Political Report listed three Republican held seats as tossups. Seen her in gold. Arizona's Martha McSally, Colorado's Cory Gardner and Maine's Susan Collins. And three more lean Republican, those in pink. The open seat in Kansas left by the departing Pat Roberts, plus North Carolina's Thom Tillis and Georgia's Kelly Loeffler. But by the end of April, there were four in each category with Steve Daines of Montana and Iowa's Joni Ernst now in the lean column. And North Carolina shifting to the tossup column. Let's look at a few of them for which we do have some polling data. In Arizona, McSally has faced a tough race from the beginning against Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut and the husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. It's still a tossup but the Real Clear Politics polling average shows McSally down eight points. It's been a while since we've seen any poll showing McSally ahead. Then there's Thom Tillis in North Carolina who is in the lean GOP category. By the end of April it became a tossup race. And polling shows us why, because Tillis essentially is tied with the Democratic nominee, Cal Cunningham. And then there's Montana where Steve Daines was in the solid GOP category. That is until Steve Bullock, the current governor, decided to run. And now Cook has placed the race to lean GOP. In fact, Bullock was up seven points in a recent Montana State University/University of Denver poll indicating the race is likely a tossup already as well. Remember, if Joe Biden wins in November, Democrats will need to flip four Republican-held seats assuming Democrat Doug Jones loses in Alabama, and three if he somehow holds on. Right now, polls show most Americans disapprove of President Trump's handling of the Coronavirus crisis. And these trends suggest that down-ballot Republicans are being pulled down by the president's performance as well. When we come back, Tara Reade, Michael Flynn and what President Trump says he's learned from Nixon and Watergate.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES.DONALD TRUMP:

I learned a lot by watching Richard Nixon. Of course, there was one difference. One big difference. Number one, he may have been guilty. And number two, he had tapes all over the place. I wasn't guilty. I did nothing wrong. And there are no tapes.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. That was President Trump on Friday on Fox and Friends embracing the comparison with Richard Nixon as he gloated about the Michael Flynn news and denied involvement with Russia to tip the 2016 election. The panel is back. Kristen Welker, the president is obsessed with undoing the Mueller Report. He just tweeted some 40 plus times this morning it seems like mostly about Michael Flynn.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Forty plus times about Michael Flynn just this morning, Chuck. It underscores the fact that this is an issue that looms large for President Trump. It does come after he was gloating after the attorney general recommended that a judge drop the charges against Michael Flynn. It is worth noting that ultimately it's going to be up to that judge whether he actually decides to move forward with that. But it's opened the Justice Department up to all sorts of criticism yet again that the attorney general may be working hand in hand with President Trump. Something that Bill Barr has denied. But, Chuck, here's what I think the critical issue is, the president is still very focused on this. And yet, his aides and allies say ultimately on election day he's going to be judged on one issue and one issue alone, his response to the Coronavirus crisis, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You brought up Bill Barr. Peggy Noonan, I want you to listen to this Bill Barr answer to a question about what will history say about this. Wait until you hear this answer. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

QUESTION:

When history looks back on this decision, how do you think it will be written?

ATTORNEY GENERAL BILL BARR:

Well, history's written by the winners. So it largely depends on who's writing the history.

[END TAPE] *

CHUCK TODD:

I was struck, Peggy, by the cynicism of the answer. It's a correct answer. But he's the attorney general. He didn't make the case that he was upholding the rule of law. He was almost admitting that, yeah, this is a political job.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Well, my read on it was it was a more resigned and world-weary sort of look. We all know the facts on this. I assume that Barr thinks he did the right thing. I mean, my read on this whole thing is that a fellow, General Flynn, who was early on new at a job, rather hapless, perhaps out of his depth, made a terrible mistake. He told a lie. An overexcited government agency or parts of a government agency essentially pushed him around after that. It became a mess. My feeling is, you know, this absorbed a lot of people, was very interesting for a long time. But we are in another point in history, baby. We've got a pandemic and an economic collapse. So whatever on that. Can I say something about Trump? He compared himself this week to Nixon. Last week it was Lincoln. I just sense there, 40 tweets today. He kind of, I think, knows the fact that the original sin of his handling of the pandemic was the failure of testing. The laxness. The lack of focus, the lack of being able to make this work. I think he knows it'll haunt him politically. And I think it will haunt the national experience for some time as we try to deal with this thing. So I think he's deflecting a bit.

CHUCK TODD:

Hey, Richard Haass, how does this look to the rest of the world?

RICHARD HAASS:

Some of the most important things in diplomacy, Chuck, are not what people work for the state department do. It's the example we set, whether it's the vibrance and creativity of our economy, the functioning of our political system, our ability to correct mistakes. So the rest of the world looks at this and they shake their head and they go, "This is not the United States we thought we knew." And this has real implications. Not only does this weaken would-be Democrats in the world, again, we're hurting because of democracy, but increasingly other countries are saying, "We're not going to put our eggs in America's basket. We've done that now for 3/4 of a century. We've been well-served by our closeness to the United States." But increasingly, countries are going to go their own way. And that, to me, makes for a more dangerous world because we need collective answers to some of these challenges like disease or like climate. And if people start taking matters into their own hands, this will be a world of much more proliferation, much more violence. A lot of what we've taken for granted over the last, what, decades, I'm afraid now that's been put at risk.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, unfortunately we ran out of time to talk about the world of Biden. That's part of Joe Biden's problem these days. When he does get talked about, it's only about one story, the Tara Reade thing. That hasn't gone well for him. But he's still leading in the polls. But we will get to that topic hopefully again throughout the week. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching, thank you for trusting us. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. Remember to call or Zoom your mother. And we'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

*EDITORS NOTE: We inadvertently and inaccurately cut short a video clip of an interview with AG Barr before offering commentary and analysis. The remaining clip included important remarks from the attorney general that we missed and we regret the error.