Meet the Press - May 17, 2020

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the president and the pushback. On a vaccine.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We'd love to see if we could do it prior to the end of the year.

TOM FRIEDEN:

We can't count on it. We don't know if it will be one year, two years or many years.

CHUCK TODD:

On restarting the economy.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back.

ANTHONY FAUCI:

I feel if that occurs there is a real risk you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control.

CHUCK TODD:

On preparedness.

RICK BRIGHT:

Without better planning 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

He's nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person.

CHUCK TODD:

And now this from former President Obama.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:

This pandemic has fully finally torn back the curtain on the idea that the so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing.

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: Defense Production Act coordinator, Peter Navarro and Dr. Tom Inglesby of Johns Hopkins University. Plus, partisan pandemic. Anti-shutdown demonstrations across the country.

DEMONSTRATOR:

Freedom!

CHUCK TODD:

While in Wisconsin, the state's conservative Supreme Court overturns the Democratic governor's stay-at-home order.

WISCONSIN RESIDENT:

I don't think the risk presents any higher than me going to a grocery store.

CHUCK TODD:

Also, all those conspiracy claims.

PATTY MARTIN:

There's another agenda. It's not just the virus.

CHUCK TODD:

How and why so many baseless conspiracy ideas are spreading during this crisis. I'll talk to NBC News National Security Analyst Clint Watts. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Peter Alexander, White House correspondent for NBC News, Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for Politico and Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour. 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. With the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases approaching one and a half million and the death toll now nearly 90-thousand, with anti-shutdown protesters in the streets and with others using the crisis to peddle conspiracies, it can seem as if we are a hopelessly divided nation. We see it in Washington, in the disconnect between Anthony Fauci, warning Congress against a too rapid a re-opening of the country and a president who has called Fauci's position on reopening schools unacceptable. We see it in Wisconsin, where the state Supreme Court backed the Republican legislature and struck-down a Democratic governor's stay-at-home order. And we see it in our split-screen nation, with some people partying like it's 2019 while neighboring states and even neighboring counties remain essentially on lockdown. Of course, even before the coronavirus hit, political division was our pre-existing condition. And all this makes it easy to forget how much, most of us, are actually pulling in one direction to get us through the worst health and now economic crisis in a century. Like the health care workers risking their lives in hospitals, like the grocery clerks working low-wage jobs to make ends meet and help us put food on the table, like the police and millions of others who can't work from home to do their jobs. So maybe this is a good moment to remind ourselves of all those acts of kindness, selflessness and heroism that do pull us together, even as protesters, partisans and some high profile politicians exploit the situation to try to pull us apart.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back.

CHUCK TODD:

As most states move to partially reopen, the gap is widening between the president's rhetoric, and the guidance of many of his top public health experts. President Trump claims --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

There may be one exception. But all throughout the country, the numbers are coming down rapidly.

CHUCK TODD:

In fact, the rate of new reported cases is decreasing in 19 states, remains steady in 21, and is increasing in 10. The CDC director tweeted Friday night that the agency's models "all forecast an increase in deaths in the coming weeks", with the death toll exceeding 100-thousand deaths by June 1st. Then there's testing.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Florida, many other states have so much testing. The testers are waiting for people to show up, it's great.

CHUCK TODD:

But last week - Harvard University researchers found only nine states had met the testing levels needed to safely reopen. And on a vaccine --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We'd love to see if we could do it prior to the end of the year.

CHUCK TODD:

But many scientists - including the president's ousted former top vaccine official - say that is overly optimistic.

RICK BRIGHT:

I still think 12 to 18 months is an aggressive schedule and I think it’s going to take longer than that.

CHUCK TODD:

And on what to expect from the virus.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

At some point, it'll go away. It may flare up, and it may not flare up.

ANTHONY FAUCI:

When you talk about will this virus just disappear, and as I've said publicly many times, that is just not going to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

The tensions between the president and the public health officials were on display this week as the CDC released a watered down six-page decision tree for reopening the country, while the rest of its proposal remained under review at the White House. And Mr. Trump criticized his top infectious disease expert, Dr. Fauci - after his warnings about reopening prematurely.

ANTHONY FAUCI:

There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you might not be able to control.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Look, he wants to play all sides of the equation. I was surprised by his answer, actually, because, you know, it’s just -- to me, it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.

CHUCK TODD:

And the president is playing up the political divide, as partisan fights break out over when and how to reopen. In Pennsylvania --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

You have areas of Pennsylvania that are barely affected, and they want to keep them closed. You can't do that.

PROTESTOR:

There's another agenda. It's not just the virus. There's no way it's just this virus

CHUCK TODD:

In Wisconsin, where the conservative-majority state Supreme Court this week overturned the Democratic governor’s stay-at-home order. President Trump called that a "win."

WISCONSIN RESIDENT:

I want my freedom. basically I don't think I should be under house arrest

CHUCK TODD:

And in Michigan - where the Republican-controlled legislature is suing the state's Democratic governor.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER:

When people are showing up with guns, when people are showing up with things like, you know, confederate flags, it tells you that this really isn't about the lockdown.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Dr. Tom Inglesby. He's the director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Inglesby, welcome back to Meet the Press. And I want to put up on screen a breakdown of the curves, a regional breakdown. Because I'm curious to see how this impacts sort of how we should view where this virus is right now. There's clearly, not only a flattening, but a bending of the curve downward in the Northeast. But in the South and the West, it's a plateau. And the Midwest it's just starting, we hope, to plateau because the curve was actually continued on an upward trajectory for most of the week. Looking at it that way, what does that tell you where we are when it comes to this virus?

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

Well, I think overall the good news for the country is that the overall top line numbers are trending down on average over the country. But you really have to look at the state level and the regional level to understand where your own state or your own county lies in the whole story. As you said earlier, there are some states that are still having increasing daily numbers of cases. Some states that are flat, some states that are going down. So really you need to know the story. You need to ask questions in your own state about how things are going. And some of the questions that are most important are, are hospitalizations still going up, are, are ventilators still in short supply or do we have many of them in case there's a new flare? Those kinds of questions are really important for people in states to be asking about their own situation.

CHUCK TODD:

And I know when we were talking earlier this weekend you wanted to put an emphasis of concern on how this is spreading in rural America. I want to put up a map up here. And in this map, I want to -- the counties that are in yellow are counties that just in the last week have seen a, a spike in cases. And just about all of these counties are populations less than 50,000. What is the status of -- how concerned are you about the ICU bed situation in these rural counties? Because the numbers may not look that bad when you look at them from 30,000 feet. But an individual county of less than 50,000, 20 cases, 20 hospitalizations could become a huge deal.

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

Yeah, I think the local details are going to matter a lot. And as you can see in the map, the spread has been from big cities, especially in the Northeast. And then moving towards counties that are further away from cities. Either ones with small towns or rural counties. And even if numbers are small in those places they have to be very vigilant because they may not have a hospital that's in close reach or ventilators in nearby areas. And they may have to go quite a distance to get the care they might need if they get sick from COVID. So those are important places to watch. And for states to be vigilant about.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you tell -- we've gotten quite a few emails from viewers who say -- and I've had plenty of conversations with folks who say, "Hey, you know what, our area's just fine. And I don't understand why all these lockdowns -- and boy, they did all these lockdowns in that state. And our state's the same way without all the lockdowns. Were they really all necessary?" What do you say to that viewer who they look in their own neighborhood essentially and think, "I just don't see it."

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

Yeah. Well, I think lockdowns were necessary. They actually have changed the course of the epidemic in the United States. We have the largest epidemic in the world. Five times as many cases as any other country in the world. And you can see over time that the curve is moving in the right direction. And it is now appropriate for states to be thinking about how to very carefully reopen and do it as safely as possible. But, yes, I think we needed to get control of this epidemic in the country. And now reset. And now places where there is very little disease, those are the places where it's going to be safest to gradually reopen.

CHUCK TODD:

Give us a sense of what you think the next three months are going to look like with this virus. We keep talking about what the fall might look like. But given what we've seen -- what you've studied around the world in various climates, what do you -- and seeing what our reopening status is essentially going to be. Right? Where it looks like about half the country is going to stick with some, some social distancing guidelines. What do you expect the summer to look like?

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

Well, it's difficult to predict. The future really is in our hands. It depends on how people in individual states react to the situation. If people continue to be very careful about physical distancing, wearing cloth masks when outside, avoiding gatherings, I think -- I'm hopeful that states will be able to control their outbreaks. We also need to have very strong contact tracing efforts around the country. That's what countries around the world have used with a lot of success. So if you get a case, you investigate it quickly, you make sure all those contacts are safely quarantined. And we keep control that way. I think -- we shouldn't think of this as kind of starting and stopping and this is over. This is a longer-term --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

DR.TOM INGLESBY

-- process. And we're all in it together. And our actions are going to matter. I think, you know, the models in this country, the leading models predict that there may be as many as 110,000 people who have died by this disease a month from now. Those are models. It's possible for us to do better than models. It's also possible for us to do worse depending on what people decide to do, their own actions.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you say -- what do you take away from a situation in Georgia where they were one of the first states to try to reopen. There was a lot of doom and gloom predictions. And so far things have gone okay.

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

Yeah, Georgia has been about the same as it was before the lockdown ended. My understanding is that many people in Georgia are cautiously and carefully moving back towards reopening. So I don't think people should see the reopening process in Georgia as everything happened at once and everything restarted in the same way. It seems like there's a lot of caution by individuals around the state. But that being said, it does -- it's a good beginning in the fact that it hasn't gotten worse. It does take time for us to see the change that might occur following changes in policy because it takes a while for people to become sick after getting infected. And it could take even longer for them to be hospitalized. So I think it's too soon for us to say in any state how things are going. We need to see a couple more weeks.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

But it's good news that things have not gone in the wrong direction.

CHUCK TODD:

And very quickly, very quickly on a vaccine, we hear this 12 to 18 month timeline. Is that timeline too optimistic? We know the president wants it sooner. And you know, why wouldn't he? Why wouldn't anybody want it sooner? Is the 12 to 18 month timeline realistic or not?

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

Well, coming into this year I would have said it was completely unrealistic. And I still think there -- it is far from a sure thing. But given that there are now 110 vaccine projects going on around the world that all the major vaccine companies in the world are working on this in some way.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

And given that Tony Fauci and Moncef Slaoui are now leading figures in the U.S. in this project and they both believe it's possible, I think it is possible. But everything would have to break in the right way. And there are many ways that it might not work. So I don't think we should bank on it. But we should hold out some level of hope that if everything goes in the right direction we could possibly see vaccine by the end of the year.

CHUCK TODD:

Wow, that's for sure the hope being that, hey, we've got the smartest minds in the world all focused on one problem, gosh darn it, let's see if we get that solution very quickly. Dr. Inglesby of Johns Hopkins, thanks for coming on and getting us started this morning.

DR. TOM INGLESBY:

Thanks so much, Chuck. Appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Peter Navarro, he's the director of trade and manufacturing policy inside the White House. But in this crisis, he's also the National Defense Production Act Policy coordinator. Mr. Navarro, welcome back to Meet the Press. And I want to start--

PETER NAVARRO:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

--with your current job as Defense Production Act coordinator. I'm sure you've seen the letter a handful of Democratic senators have written. And they're frustrated that it hasn't been invoked enough. They say that the authority has been used too sparingly to, to basically even out the market when it comes to PPE and testing kits and testing supplies. What do you say to their concerns?

PETER NAVARRO:

They're dead wrong. Let me give you a couple of examples, one of the most successful uses of the Defense Production Act was to get General Motors working with a small company called Ventec to make ventilators. We had a serious crisis back at the time. This was a miracle. And in some sense, a microcosm, Chuck, for the future. What we had was General Motors in 17 days working with this small company, stood up a ventilator factory, and within three days with the help of UPS we were able to deliver ventilators to hospitals in Gary, Chicago. Now beneath the surface of that, using the DPA, the real story is GM went in, used 3D imaging to replicate a factory in Seattle. It was small, it was only cranking out 25 ventilators. More importantly, Chuck, 700 pieces go into that ventilator. And GM was able to use its manufacturing platform to go out to its supply chain to replicate virtually all of those here on domestic soil. So using the DPA, we were able to move in incredible speed, innovative and bring ventilator production right here to domestic soil. That, for me, is a microcosm of what we're doing. Honeywell, we opened two factories, one in Arizona and one in Rhode Island. That was done using the DPA in five weeks as opposed to nine months. So we're using the DPA whenever we need to, and we're using it quite effectively.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you're making a strong case for how the DPA can be effective. And what these senators are asking is use it more. Use it more to ramp up the issue, for instance, the issue of testing kits, but more importantly the supplies it takes to process those tests is still something we lag behind on. What's wrong with using DPA to surge those supplies?

PETER NAVARRO:

These senators are looking in the rearview mirror. We had the same discussion six weeks ago about ventilators. They were saying the exact same thing. And what we did with ventilators was basically get a situation now where by June, we're going to have over 100,000 of them. We're going to have more ventilators than America ever needs. And we're going to be able to export those ventilators, make that an export industry. Jobs here, exports there. And we're going to be able to give ventilators to our allies that can't afford them. So same thing’s happening with testings as we speak. Every week, it ramps up. It's kind of like computer chips where the speed doubles every certain amount. Same thing’s happened with testing. So these Democratic senators ought to get out more often and see what the Trump administration is doing.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to go back, though, to the issue of testing and test kits. You're making a lot of promises here. At what point will every business leader in America know they have access to as many test kits as they need to reopen their facilities?

PETER NAVARRO:

Admiral Giroir has said it quite clearly that everybody who needs a test now can get a test. We continue to ramp up our production --

CHUCK TODD:

When do we get beyond that?

PETER NAVARRO:

My, my -- I'm not here to make promises to you, Chuck. I'm here to tell you as the coordinator of the supply chains that we are rapidly ramping up testing just like we did with ventilators. We're ramping up surgical gowns, we're ramping up masks. And this strategic national stockpile 2.0, I think it might be worth talking just a little bit about. It's smarter because we're using information technology.

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PETER NAVARRO:

It's bigger in a really smart way because not only are we going to fill FEMA warehouses with a lot more PPE and medicines, we're also going to use distribution centers like Owens and Minor, which the president visited last week in Pennsylvania, to have them hold additional inventory. Hospitals, point of care, are going to hold additional inventories. And most important, Chuck, in terms of this -- buy American, build American -- as we locate the domestic supply chain here, our factories are going to be able to hold reserve capacity which allows us to surge to additional demand. So my job is to make sure people of America have enough of what they need going forward. And I'm confident that we are moving beautifully in that direction under the leadership of President Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I saw -- I know you want to talk about the strategic national stockpile. But I've got to ask you this question, you did a pandemic exercise. And you went through these plans in '18 and '19. Do you have a good explanation for why the after action reports weren't followed in time to have our stockpiles prepared for this pandemic?

PETER NAVARRO:

I'm not looking in the rearview mirror right now, Chuck. And this president's just looking straight ahead towards what's going to be a really strong future. The fact of the matter is that we were able to get through the Chinese winter here of the pandemic with what we had. It was a threadbare FEMA stockpile that was left to us by the previous administration. The one that we're going to have going into the fall is not that. It's going to be, as I said, smarter, bigger, far more resilient. That's what I'm doing, Chuck. My focus here -- I came here to kind of work on trade policy issues. And somehow I became part quartermaster and supply clerk. But it's been a beautiful thing working with private industry to see how innovative the companies of America can be and how the manufacturing platforms of this country, if we just give them some lift, how they can really develop like the GM example I told you about earlier.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you quickly about the CDC and ask you whether the president has confidence in the CDC. It does seem as if the initial guidelines, they didn't want them put out. They put down very limited guidelines with more detailed ones coming later. CDC hasn't been able to give a briefing now in over a month. Does the president have confidence in the CDC as our lead, as our lead on this pandemic?

PETER NAVARRO:

Well, I'd say two things about that. First of all, you should ask the president that question, not me. But early on in this crisis, the CDC which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing. Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back. But going forward with these guidelines, the important thing to understand here for the American people is this, opening up this economy is not a question of lives versus jobs. The fact of the matter is and what President Trump realized early on is that if you lock people down, you may save lives directly from the “China Virus”. But you indirectly, you're going to kill a lot more people. And why do I say that? We know statistically based on our experience with the China trade shock in the 2000s that unemployment creates more suicides, depression and drug abuse. But we also know this in this crisis, as we've basically locked down our hospitals for everything but COVID, women haven't been getting mammograms or cervical examinations for cancer. We haven't been able to do other procedures for the heart or the kidneys. And that's going to kill people as well. So if you contrast like this complete lock down where some of the people in the medical community want to just run and hide until the virus is extinguished, that's going to not only take a huge toll on the American economy it's going to kill many more people than the virus, the “China Virus” ever would.

CHUCK TODD:

I've got to ask you this question about the president. On one hand he says he wants to leave these decisions up to governors. But it does seem as if -- if he doesn't like the decision of a governor, particularly if they're in the Midwest, he expresses his view. How does that help the governor be able to make their own decisions?

PETER NAVARRO:

Look, I report directly to the president. I'm one of the top five advisors on policy. I let the president speak for himself. That's all I can say. I do think that what we're seeing here across this country in terms of different responses, that it is very useful to leverage local control. But on the other hand, I'm a Californian. And when I see the mayor of Los Angeles want to lock down that city through the end of July, I've just got to have to scratch my head. I think that California -- that's the only way I see California ever becoming a red state. Because my folks back in Orange County are not going to put up with that kind of nonsense. And it is nonsense.

CHUCK TODD:

Peter Navarro, the Defense Production coordinator and advisor on trade and manufacturing policy as well, thanks for coming on and sharing the administration's views. I appreciate it.

PETER NAVARRO:

Great to talk with you today, sir.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, another result of the Coronavirus pandemic, conspiracy theories.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PROTESTOR:

I don't even know if I really believe in it, to tell you the truth. I think there's something going on. But I don't think that all this illness is related to the virus.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

The belief in conspiracies that has thrived along with the virus. That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Viruses breed more than disease. They breed belief in conspiracies as well. We saw that in the open-up-the-country protests this week across the country.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PROTESTOR:

I don't believe that this was a health issue to begin with.

PROTESTOR:

Anybody who has a decent thought process can see that there's more going on than the virus.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

In the past three months, there's been a spike in belief in conspiracies, virtually all of them without factual basis, which makes them impossible to disprove. And that's the point. Joining me now is NBC News National Security Analyst Clint Watts, who specializes in tracking how conspiracies form and spread. He's a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and the Alliance for Securing Democracy. Clint, it's good to see you, good to see that you're safe. Let me start with this. You have a way of mapping these conspiracies out and how they catch on. And you describe it this way: "How to build a disinformation bonfire." And in this case, like a bonfire, the first thing you need is a spark. And the spark being a theory is put online. In this case, why are these sparks so potent this time?

CLINT WATTS:

When we are scared, Chuck, in the time of a pandemic, when we're not really sure what to believe, we're fearful both for our life and our health and that of our families, we tend to take in information we might not otherwise consider. When you see these sparks thrown out there, there is a demand signal as well for it. People want to know, "Are they safe? Can I trust this information?" And then people that have, you know, different agendas, maybe it's anti-vaxx, maybe it is reopening the country, maybe it's a conspiracy by elites. If you throw those all sparks out there at the same time, it can start that fire of disinformation.

CHUCK TODD:

Clint, what's amazing about this spark, and we're trying to be careful here not to give more attention to it. But there's this book and this movie that circulated online. And while a bunch of tech companies got rid of it, the book itself is, you know, number one Amazon bestseller, number three New York Times. Both are putting it on the nonfiction category.

CLINT WATTS:

Chuck, this is a super organized effort. You've got multiplatform, multimedia. You've got people who know how to push this stuff in the social media environment. You have people who know to make a very high-production video that's very engaging. It makes you want to start to engage in these conspiracies. And then you've got all the so-called background. This is that book. This is many, many websites that are out there that are talking about health or health risk relating to vaccines. When you put all of this together, it's hard not to encounter the information. And the more you see something, the more you'll tend to believe it. Or even if you know it's false, you'll start to consider it.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let's go back to the bonfire. So the spark, this theory, this book, this movie. Then you get the kindling. And that is all of a sudden you have a whole bunch of fringe groups pick up on the spark.

CLINT WATTS:

Chuck, what's amazing in this time of the pandemic is how many conspiracies -- we were talking about 5G three weeks ago. We're talking about essentially an elite organized, corrupt, big pharma vaccine conspiracy this time, is it touches on many audiences. That kindling is when many fringe or alternative media sites pick up and astroturf this content. They repeat it over and over and over again, and then try and amplify it in social media. That creates that kindling that starts that fire, which elevates it not only on social media but up to the mainstream media where people have to start to address it.

CHUCK TODD:

And four years ago, this disinformation campaign started internationally, and then domestic actors picked it up. It appears this is just the opposite this time, right? This is -- we're doing this to ourselves, but the international folks are goosing it a little bit, aren't they?

CLINT WATTS:

Chuck, when I talked to you three years ago about disinformation coming from Russia, it was something that they had to push along. They had to pick and grab certain things in the U.S., but they also made their own conspiracies to push. That's no longer the case. Right now, whether it's Russia, Iran, China, or any other U.S. adversary, there's plenty of U.S.-made disinformation which they can pick and choose, amplify, and send back into the U.S. audience's face, seeking to divide us, seeking to erode trust in institutions, seeking to erode trust in our health care system, which is something that's essential at this point.

CHUCK TODD:

And then of course that leads to number three in your disinformation bonfire ingredients here, the gasoline. Social media becomes the gasoline. And it's on social media, you say, that suddenly you get trust -- people who appear to be trusted verifiers like celebrities.

CLINT WATTS:

Chuck, if you can get your kindling to boil over into that bonfire sort of stage, what you see is a celebrity or an expert, even if they're refuting a conspiracy, can elevate it so that there are more eyeballs on it. If you get just a select group, maybe three to five social media influencers who have an outsize reach in terms of audience, they can bring these conspiracies up to a level that's almost unmanageable. You can't even put the fire out at that point.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let's talk about two aspects of this though that are a challenge here. One is, a lot of people are going to criticize us for covering this, because they're going to argue that we're amplifying or bringing attention to these conspiracies. What do you say to that?

CLINT WATTS:

If you don't address the conspiracy and it continues, if there's no rebuttal, people tend to believe things that have no rebuttal. If you don't rebut it, then, that conspiracy continues to spread. At the same point, if you actually go and challenge that conspiracy, sometimes it can draw more attention to it, it can draw more evaluation. It's a delicate balance in the media and with the social media companies about how to police this sort of information. I think the key things to look at is: Where is this outlet? Who is producing this information? How are they making their money? Or is this for an ideological cause? And the second is the experts. Why are they experts in this field, and should you trust them?

CHUCK TODD:

What do you do if you're Amazon? This was self-published on Amazon. This is why it's, you know, gotten now the imprimatur of saying it's a New York Times bestseller, which in and of itself gives it legitimacy.

CLINT WATTS:

What's remarkable is the problem that was Facebook, Twitter, YouTube trying to police what is disinformation or misinformation has now spread to products. In the health space, we have to determine how do we police this sort of information.

CHUCK TODD:

Clint Watts, this is a difficult subject, but we thought it was one that's more important to bring some sunlight to. Thanks for coming on and sharing your expertise with us.

CLINT WATTS:

Thanks for having me, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back, former President Obama takes on President Trump's handling of the pandemic. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is with us from their remote-ish locations. Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS NewsHour. Peter Alexander, White House correspondent for us here at NBC News. And Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for Politico and co-author of Politico's Playbook. Well, Peter, I assumed I would have been starting with a tweet from the president this morning responding to President Obama. That hasn't happened yet, but let's play a little bit of President Obama not so subtly taking a dig at the pandemic response from national leadership.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:

More than anything, this pandemic has fully finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they're doing. A lot of them aren't even pretending to be in charge. If the world's going to get better, it's going to be up to you.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Peter, I assume this becomes something that's a bit of a, a bit of an attention seeker for the president today?

PETER ALEXANDER:

Well, we've seen it over the course of the last several days from President Trump attacking his predecessor, Barack Obama, what he calls “Obamagate.” This weekend, he's at Camp David, meeting with some of his conservative allies. A White House official telling me it's certain that their desire, so far fruitless, to try to show evidence that President Obama committed a crime. The president was asked that very question, President Trump this week. The president couldn't identify what crime he's accusing President Obama of, but I'm told by this official that it's certain they'll be discussing that topic there. But what this really sort of underscores is the break in what was that sort of presidential tradition, where there wasn't any criticism sort of back and forth. We've seen it. Last night, you saw Barack Obama speaking at a commencement address to Americans, sort of one vision of leadership versus what we've seen from President Trump in recent days. They each offered one word, I guess, that they punctuated this week from President Trump, who's trying to knock out Joe Biden at the same time as he knocks on Barack Obama. He said, "Obamagate." From Barack Obama, he said, "Vote," Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Yamiche Alcindor, look. Former President Obama, you know, he's careful with his words. That's a written speech. That's a vetted speech. He made this decision to engage. It is going to spark a political back-and-forth.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

It is, but I think what we see now is President Obama really getting into general election territory and starting to gear up the might of the Obama name. He is ready for this fight. He was at first caught really on a private call talking to staffers, and he was trying to get them excited about Joe Biden, saying that President Trump's response to the coronavirus was a chaotic disaster. That was, of course, President Obama's direct words. So what you see there is President Obama coming to the defense of his vice president and coming to his own defense without actually directly talking about this conspiracy theory that President Trump is now talking about, which is whether or not President Trump broke some, or President Obama broke some sort of law. I think what you see though this week is President Trump really leaning in on his 2016 instincts. He's back where he was in 2016, which is that he's going on the offensive with Obama. He's also in some ways leaning and not listening to the scientists, saying, "Hey, you really need to slow down and be cautious about reopening." This week, he said, I think it was the line of the week, "Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back." He could have said, "Test or no test, we're back." He could have said, "Scientists or no scientists, we're back." The clear sign there is that we're back in his mind.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Anna Palmer, I want to play -- and speaking of the president, you know, he continues to believe that if we overfocus on the health issues, we're, we’re going to do worse economic damage. Take a listen to how he portrayed the death toll earlier this week.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I've lost friends. Many of us have lost friends. We read about that and we see that, and that's what the news covers. But a very, very -- that's a very small percentage. It's a very, very small percentage. I say it all the time. It's a tiny percentage. The vast majority, many people don't even know they have it.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Anna Palmer, among congressional Republicans, how much do they sort of lean toward that view of sort of this balance between health security and economic security?

ANNA PALMER:

I think there's the issue of this president has never been very good with empathy. And certainly as a country, when that death toll is rising, you know, almost 90,000 and clearly it looks like there's going to be tens of thousands more deaths on the horizon, that Republicans are concerned. But they have not broken with this president on this issue or on very few others. I do think, to your point earlier about Obamagate and how the president is really trying to rally his troops, making this a campaign issue, you have seen a little bit of space between where congressional Republicans are, where Mitch McConnell is, where even his allies like Senator Lindsey Graham, saying, you know, "You should be careful what you wish for if you really want me to bring former President Barack Obama up to the Hill to actually testify."

CHUCK TODD:

Anna Palmer, I want to stick with Congress here for a second. Jay Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, seemed to make it clear this week that he wants to see Congress to act. And I'm curious. What mattered more to Mitch McConnell: Jay Powell's comments or Nancy Pelosi's ability to pass her $3 trillion package?

ANNA PALMER:

I mean, Congress is nowhere on a package. The Republicans and Democrats haven't even started talking. If you speak to Republicans behind the scenes, they are projecting another bill won't even be really seriously looked at for several weeks. And on a more aggressive timeline, potentially try to pass it before the July 4th recess. But really right now, you're not seeing Mitch McConnell having any sense of urgency to take up a package, whether or not Jay Powell is urging them to say, "We need more action soon."

CHUCK TODD:

Peter Alexander, I want to read for you here very quickly a Mitt Romney tweet about the late night announcement on Friday night that the president planned to fire, planned to fire another inspector general, Steve Linick, this one at the State Department. Said Mitt Romney, "The firings of multiple inspectors general is unprecedented. Doing so without good cause chills the independence essential to their purpose. It is a threat to accountable democracy and a fissure in the constitutional balance of power." What I found interesting about this story is that, Peter, the White House went on the record to say, "It wasn’t the president that made -- the president made this decision after it was requested by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo."

PETER ALEXANDER:

Yeah, Chuck. You're exactly right.

CHUCK TODD:

What is that about?

PETER ALEXANDER:

It's not just Mitt Romney, by the way. Chuck Grassley among those also critical of this decision. The third time in six weeks on a Friday night that the president has ousted one of the independent watchdogs, these inspector generals here. But it was striking that they would say Pompeo recommended this and that Obama, excuse me, President Trump followed suit there given the fact that there's reporting from Democratic aides that Pompeo is being investigated by the State Department inspector general for basically having a political appointee do some tasks on his behalf. This was odd. I asked a White House official, and they said, "This is not the way I would have put it." Back to you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Very interesting there, Peter Alexander. All right. When we come back, how the economic fallout of COVID-19 can also spread like a virus. But as we go to break, it is graduation season. Virtual graduation season that is. And we have highlights from a graduation week like no other.

[BEGIN TAPE]

OPRAH WINFREY:

What will your essential service be? What really matters to you?

TOM HANKS:

You had to be good Americans, good Americans who made the sacrifices that have saved lives.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

Having you come at this moment to help America move through this very difficult time is really extraordinary.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA:

Leave behind all the old ways of thinking that divide us: sexism, racial prejudice, status, greed. Set the world on a different path.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. The economic toll of COVID-19 becomes more apparent with each new set of job and sales figures. But the pain is not spread evenly across the economy, at least not yet. The month of April saw 20.5 million jobs lost across the U.S. economy, with many sectors losing millions. Manufacturing lost 1.3 million. Retail, 2.1 million. 2.5 million from education and health services. But the biggest decline, not surprisingly, was from leisure and hospitality. A whopping 7.7 million jobs lost, 38% of all job losses in April alone. But even among leisure and hospitality jobs, the losses are not evenly spread, as we see in an analysis from Emsi, a labor market analytics firm. For instance, the performing arts and sports cut 217,000 jobs last month. Hotels and accommodations lost about 839,000 positions. Amusements and gaming lost a million jobs. And then the hardest hit of all, food services, everything from full-service restaurants to bars and caterers, lost 5.5 million jobs. Hotels, restaurants, gambling, casinos. You look at those categories, and you see how a city like Las Vegas can be facing an economic catastrophe in this pandemic. 30% of their workforce is unemployed right now in Nevada alone, folks. In addition, the distress can spread to related sectors, much like a virus. Retail lost 71,000 positions because of the job losses in leisure and hospitality. Finance and insurance lost 109,000 jobs. Manufacturing lost 184,000. And real estate, that's sales, rental, and leasing, lost more than 400,000. So when you add in all of the secondary impacts from leisure and hospitality, that initial 7.7 million jobs lost in the sector grows markedly. As many as 10.1 million jobs were lost in April just because of ties to leisure and hospitality. Folks, these are scary times. And just because you have a job now doesn't mean your industry is immune to similar ripple effects, no matter how essential you think your job is. As the old adage goes, it's a recession when your neighbor loses his job. It's a depression when you lose your own. When we come back, what's behind President Trump's strategy in going after President Obama?

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. As we teased out earlier, Obama v. Trump, what is it about at this point? And, Yamiche, it comes at an awkward time for the Biden campaign. Because on one hand, they want Obama. The imprimatur of Obama is why he's the nominee. But Biden has his own challenges here. Here's how the New York Times put it this week. "Mr. Biden's inability to influence the political or policy debate about the coronavirus and the nation's economic collapse has worried some Democratic allies, donors, and former Obama administration officials who want Mr. Biden to be more visible. He rarely goes on offense against Mr. Trump in ways that have lasting impact." I mean, in some ways it's Obama that did the tough work this weekend --

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

-- Yamiche.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

That's right. And there are, of course, limits to what Joe Biden can do from his basement, when we see the president now traveling to key states like Arizona and Pennsylvania. I've been talking to officials on the Biden campaign, and they say they think that he's reaching the people that he needs to reach from his basement. They feel like their numbers are strong. But there is this question of whether or not he should be doing more. They say that this election -- Biden officials say that this election is going to be about President Trump's handling of the coronavirus. And on that note, Joe Biden has been pretty critical of the way that President Trump has handled the virus. I think that's why you see President Trump moving towards this idea that he wants to go back to talking about the economy because that's what he hoped to run on. Peter Navarro, I think there was an interesting moment there where you were pushing him on the national stockpile and he didn't want to really come to the defense of the president. Instead, he said, "I don't want to look in the rear view mirror." That could be a problem for the Trump administration going forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Anna Palmer, it is sort of odd to see Biden have so little apparent interaction with the congressional Democratic leadership right now.

ANNA PALMER:

Absolutely. I mean, I think one of the struggles that the Biden campaign is having right now is one that Democrats have all the time. President Trump soaks up all of the oxygen. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of alignment or coordination among, you know, Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying, "Look to Joe Biden and his plan on this." She's leading, you know, completely on her own. I think the other real question is: When is he going to have a breakout moment, and can he do it from his basement? There's so much, you know, kind of effort and reporting on who's going to be his VP. But is that going to give him a bump? I think that is something that Democrats are super nervous about. A lot of operatives I'm talking to are saying, "When is he going to kind of have that moment?" And without the campaign and being out there, is Obama going to be kind of his really rallying cry? I think that's a big issue for them.

CHUCK TODD:

And, Peter Alexander, you know, one thing about President Trump, some people overread what he does as strategy. But I think some people underlook some of his moves about strategy. He seems to be wanting to make Obama as polarizing as he possibly can. He clearly seems to be nervous that Obama could be an effective surrogate for Biden.

PETER ALEXANDER:

Yeah, Chuck, I think you're exactly right. I mean,former President Barack Obama remains the most popular political figure in the country right now, and it's obvious. You can read right into it. White House officials will tell you as much. The president's trying to chip away at that popularity, try to make the former president a polarizing figure here. But his obsession with Barack Obama dates back to the origins of his getting into politics, right, with birtherism back in 2011, accusing Obama of "tapping my wires" even after he became president. He's at it again right now. The hope for the president, the thinking is that he needs to pivot to the election right now. Jared Kushner, when I was speaking to officials behind closed doors, I said, "Who is the most powerful person in the White House besides the president?" They laughed and said, "Of course it's Jared Kushner," whose focus hasn't just been the economy but also the political campaign that's ahead for this president. They recognize that Barack Obama is also in some ways on the ticket alongside Joe Biden.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Peter though, every time he's picked a fight with Obama, Obama's one of the few that seem to regularly, at least even in Trump's own mind, get the best of him. Because he's actually retreated at times from Obama fights.

PETER ALEXANDER:

Yeah, no. I think that's right. I think that's right as well. We've seen that again. Here, the president, though, leaning in on this occasion. As someone said as it relates to what the president calls "Obamagate," they said, "This is not about changing votes. It's about motivating our voters." The president's focused on his base --

CHUCK TODD:

Interesting.

PETER ALEXANDER:

-- with this new commentary.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. That is all we have for today. Thank you, panel. Thank you for watching. Thank you for trusting us. We leave you this morning with the choir from last night's graduation, the Graduate Together event. It's an amazing, amazing moment. And we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.