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Meet the Press - October 04, 2020

Kelly O'Donnell, Jason Miller, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, Peter Hart, Nicole McCleskey, Jennifer Palmieri, Rich Lowry, Jeh Johnson, Peggy Noonan

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: The president's health. The White House calls the president’s condition "very concerning," contradicting his doctors' upbeat public assessment.

DR. SEAN CONLEY:

This morning, the president is doing very well.

CHUCK TODD:

The White House scrambling last night to get on the same page.

MARK MEADOWS:

He made unbelievable improvements from yesterday morning when I know a number of us , the doctor and I were, were very concerned.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump releasing a video from Walter Reed Hospital last night.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I came here, wasn't feeling so well. i feel much better now. We're working hard to get me all the way back. I have to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

The virus now spreading among those who attended White House events. How serious is the president's condition? Can we trust anything from the White House? My guests this morning: Senior Adviser to the Trump campaign Jason Miller and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia of Boston University. Plus: Debate fallout.

JOE BIDEN:

Vote now.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Are you going to pack the court?

JOE BIDEN:

Make sure you let people know your senator.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

He’s not going to answer the question.

JOE BIDEN:

I’m not going to answer that question because --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Why wouldn’t you answer that question?

JOE BIDEN:

Will you shut up, man?

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump's relentless hectoring of Joe Biden.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

You graduated the lowest or almost the lowest in your class. Don't ever use the word smart with me.

CHUCK TODD:

Results in a lost opportunity to make up ground.

VOTER:

Self- centered.

VOTER:

Imbalance.

VOTER:

Corrupt.

CHUCK TODD:

-- and a big shift towards Biden in our new NBC News - Wall Street Journal poll. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, Rich Lowry, Editor of National Review and former Obama White House Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. If there is any good to come from the terribly unsettling news that the President of the United States has been infected and hospitalized with the coronavirus, it is this: Perhaps Americans who have flouted medical advice to social distance and wear masks will now take this disease more seriously. This is happening just as the country is experiencing a rise in cases, amid fears that colder weather will lead to yet another deadly wave of the pandemic. Yesterday, the White House initially offered a far less upbeat report on Mr. Trump's condition than his doctors did, creating public confusion and further doubts about whether we can trust what the administration ever tells us. There are many questions still to be answered: Can and should Vice President Pence campaign while Mr. Trump is hospitalized? Will there be more presidential debates? And if so, will they be in person? And could Senate Republican plans for Amy Coney Barrett's fast-track confirmation get derailed? The news came after a debate performance that was roundly criticized for the president's behavior. Our new NBC News - Wall Street Journal poll shows a dramatic change in an election that had been free of dramatic changes until now. Joe Biden leads Mr. Trump among registered voters by a shocking 14 points, 53 to 39 percent, under 40, by far his biggest lead in our poll so far. Just two weeks ago Biden's lead was just eight points, 51 to 43. A word of caution: Our pollsters point out that this poll was taken right after a consequential and unsettling event -- that debate. Translation: these numbers could be quite volatile. So we’re going to wait to see if this Biden surge is a short-term thing or part of a trend. We have the news covered from all angles, and we begin with our own Kelly O'Donnell at Walter Reed Medical Center. We have the news covered from all angles and we begin with our own Kelly O’Donnell at Walter Reed Medical Center. So Kelly, what is the latest on the president's condition? And I guess I have to qualify it, and who's telling us the latest on the president's condition?

KELLY O'DONNELL:

Well, good morning, Chuck. The president's physician has given us the most recent snapshot, saying that the president is making progress, but making clear he still faces serious risk. Now, the issue of transparency with the president's health is critical. And what we've had so far has been conflicting, contradictory information, even corrections coming from the White House one example, on Friday when we first learned of the diagnosis, the official line from the White House was "mild symptoms." Now, we know from the chief of staff that at that same time, the president's doctors were worried and they were particularly concerned about a rapid drop of his oxygen level. Still, the president's physician is not saying publicly if he ever received supplemental oxygen. And yet, put out a memo that said, "The president no longer has a fever and is off supplemental oxygen." So there's been this kind of confusion about who is providing information and how clear that information is. We also know the president doesn't want to leave the messaging to others. Not his doctors, not his chief of staff, not the White House staff. So he put out a four minute video that we know was recorded inside the hospital, in part of the presidential suite, which includes office space for the president, in addition to the medical treatment like Remdesivir, which he is getting over a course of several days. And in that, he talked about his own condition, acknowledged that there are still difficult days ahead when his condition will need to be monitored carefully. But also talked about wanting to get back on the campaign trail. It's so clear that the most watched patient in the world wants to have some control over the message and how the public receives his condition. Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:

Kelly O’Donnell getting us started right outside Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Kelly, thanks very much. Those mixed messages that we heard yesterday, unfortunately, were not surprising, given this White House's history of being less than candid with the public.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I came here. Wasn't feeling so well. I feel much better now.

CHUCK TODD;

President Trump - now hospitalized at Walter Reed.

DR. BRIAN GARIBALDI:

About 48 hours ago, the president received a special antibody therapy. Yesterday evening he received his first dose of IV Remdesivir.

CHUCK TODD:

Yesterday the White House and his doctors offered contradictory updates, his doctors evading key questions about the president's condition.

REPORTER:

He has not received any supplemental oxygen?

DR. SEAN CONLEY:

He is not on oxygen right now, that's right.

REPORTER:

You keep saying right now. But should we read into the fact that he had been previously?

DR. SEAN CONLEY:

Yesterday and today he was not on oxygen.

CHUCK TODD:

That's not true, according to the New York Times, which reported the president received supplemental oxygen on Friday at the White House. His chief of staff contradicted doctors on Fox News.

MARK MEADOWS:

Yesterday morning we were real concerned with that. He had a fever, and his oxygen level had dropped rapidly.

CHUCK TODD:

The White House also created confusion on the timeline.

DR. SEAN CONLEY:

Just 72 hours into the diagnosis now.

CHUCK TODD:

The president's doctor was forced to release a statement clarifying Mr. Trump was first diagnosed on Thursday, not on Wednesday as he said. President Trump is part of a growing cluster of cases including: Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, senior aide Hope Hicks, and Campaign Manager Bill Stepien, all who traveled with him to campaign events or in recent days.

REPORTER:

Is there any clarity on how he became infected?

DR. SEAN CONLEY:

I’m not going to go into that. As far as his care, that is irrelevant.

REPORTER:

Or when he became infected?

DR. SEAN CONLEY:

We won't go into that.

CHUCK TODD:

In addition to Trump and the First Lady - at least five guests at the Rose Garden rollout of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, former counselor Kellyanne Conway, Notre Dame president Reverend John Jenkins, Senators Mike Lee and Thom Tillis and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who himself was hospitalized yesterday. On Tuesday - the president flew to the Cleveland debate with an entourage. His family entered the hall wearing masks but quickly took them off as the president minimized mask-wearing.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

When needed I wear masks. I don't wear masks like him every time you see him he's got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away and he shows up with the biggest mask I've ever seen.

CHUCK TODD:

On Thursday, the president attended a multimillion-dollar fundraiser at his New Jersey golf club even after the White House had learned of Hicks's positive diagnosis before he took off.

KAYLEIGH McENANY:

It was deemed safe for the president to go. He socially distanced, it was an outdoor event and it was deemed safe.

CHUCK TODD:

Already on the campaign trail - Biden, who says he had two negative tests on Friday, is suspending negative TV advertising for now, but sending a pointed message.

JOE BIDEN:

It's not going away automatically, we have to do our part to be responsible, it means following the science. It means having masking mandates nationwide.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Trump campaign senior adviser, Jason Miller. Jason Miller, welcome back to Meet The Press. We should note: the White House would not provide a doctor or a senior White House official to offer an update on President Trump's condition. So, Jason, I hope that you are prepared to do that. So let me start with this. Have you spoken to the president in the last 24 hours? And if so, what is his condition?

JASON MILLER:

I have, Chuck. And good morning and thank you for having me on. I spoke with the president yesterday afternoon and he's in very good spirits. Both Bill Stepien, the campaign manager, and I spent about a half-hour on the phone with the president and going through all the updates on what's going on with the campaign. And really the president said a couple of things. Number one: that he's going to defeat this virus, that as a nation we're going to defeat this virus, and our campaign is going to defeat this virus. And once he gets out of the hospital, he's ready to get back to the campaign trail. And he sounded pretty energetic. But he said something else that I thought was important, too, Chuck. And that was to be careful. And that was to remind folks to wash their hands, use hand sanitizer, make sure that if you can't socially distance to wear a mask. And I thought that was a pretty important message to send and a reminder to the rest of the country.

CHUCK TODD:

I wonder if you could help us sort out a bit of the timeline. And I know that some of this is fast, but can you say for certain when the president started feeling ill? Was it Tuesday? Was it Wednesday? Was it Thursday?

JASON MILLER:

So I can't speak to that, Chuck. What I can speak to is what we've seen from the reports — that the president did receive his positive test on Thursday evening. That's what I know for sure. And obviously, I saw the report from Dr. Conley and from Dr. Dooley yesterday in front of Walter Reed Hospital. And again, having spoken directly with the president, him saying that he felt very well and he was very animated in our half-hour-long conversation and ready to get back out to the campaign trail. So I think that they're doing the smart thing here. They're taking this very serious. He's the president of the United States. And when you think about the West Wing, really the West Wing operates to support the president of the United States. And so by having him at Walter Reed, I think that's smart. I think that's a good, cautionary move since he is the president. And again, we've got to get him healthy and get the rest of the country healthy and defeat this virus.

CHUCK TODD:

If he was diagnosed with this virus on Thursday and he's hospitalized less than 24 hours later, that doesn't happen with most Covid patients. How much of this is precaution and how much of this is, he's having a tougher bout than most people?

JASON MILLER:

Well, I think they're taking a very precautionary move on this. Again, I can't speak to the exact symptoms or exactly what transpired on Friday just because I'm not part of White House operations and I'm not part of the White House medical unit, but I do think that it was smart that they moved him to Walter Reed Hospital because, again, he's the president of the United States. And even though we have a very strong structure that's built around the president -- Vice President Pence is ready to help out whenever need be -- the good thing is that President Trump has been able to be in control and be in charge the entire time. And again, going back to my conversation with him yesterday, number one, he expressed thanks and gratitude to everyone there at Walter Reed. He was very appreciative for the folks who showed up outside to cheer him on. But again, it's that spirit that we’re going to -- we have to go take this head on. And that's one of the things, Chuck, is that as president of the United States -- look, he could have stayed upstairs at the White House the entire time but that wouldn't have been the responsible thing to do if the doctor recommendation was to go to Walter Reed. And so you can’t -- whether it's upstairs or whether it's down in the basement, you've got to take this seriously and I think they're doing the smart thing.

CHUCK TODD:

We're trying to figure out though is -- who should we take seriously here -- the president's doctor or the president's chief of staff? Mark Meadows indicated that his vital signs weren't very good on Friday, that he ended up having to be on oxygen. The doctor said something else, and you're saying something else. You're sort of painting a picture that things weren't that serious on Friday. Mark Meadows did. You understand why there's so much --

JASON MILLER:

Well that's --

CHUCK TODD:

-- confusion about the president's condition right now?

JASON MILLER:

Well, and Chuck, I don't think I'm painting any sort of picture with regard to Friday because, again, I'm not part of the White House medical unit. I can't speak to Friday. What I can speak to is having spoken with the president directly, at length, yesterday, on Saturday, getting an update on his condition, how he's feeling, how he's looking forward to getting back out. He's excited that we came up with our Operation MAGA to get all of the vice president and the first family and people all around the country out there, and that he looks forward to getting back out. So that's what I can speak to. And I also, like many Americans, I saw the press conference yesterday with Dr. Conley and Dr. Dooley, updating us to the president's condition. So that's what I can speak to. Friday, I can't. But the good thing is is the president's feeling better and he's anxious to get back out there.

CHUCK TODD:

Can you explain why the president did not quarantine the second he heard about the Hope Hicks diagnosis and why you guys went on for a fundraiser in New Jersey Thursday night? Clearly, that was against CDC guidelines.

JASON MILLER:

Well, it's important to keep in mind that anybody around the president is tested. And not only tested for Covid with the rapid test, but they’re also -- they have their temperature checked. At any of these events, folks are kept back from him by six feet. That's the update from the fundraiser that they had. So people aren't getting that close to the president. But again, the president did not have a positive test yet. And so as soon as he did have a positive test and, of course, went to a different level of protocol and they took the precautionary measure to take him to Walter Reed and now he's doing much better. And that's the important thing.

CHUCK TODD:

So what you're saying is the White House does not follow CDC guidelines? Because the CDC guidelines would have meant, no, he would have, he would have quarantined. Somebody who's as close of an aide as Hope Hicks testing positive, he should be quarantining. That's the CDC guideline. But it sounds like what you're saying is the White House does not abide by CDC guidelines?

JASON MILLER:

What I'm saying is I'll let the White House -- both the White House operations and the White House medical unit -- speak to the exact particulars. But what I know is that anyone who's around the president is tested, that they’re, they have their temperature taken, that they’re, they keep back. At least, I mean, I'm never within six feet of the president even when I'm around him. So they take a lot of seriousness --

CHUCK TODD:

Are you upset, by the way?

JASON MILLER:

-- in these precautionary measures and --

CHUCK TODD:

Are you upset that you were exposed in a way, that maybe it was lax protocols? I've talked to other people, by the way, close, close to this White House, who are not happy about the lack of information and are not happy that basically what was told to be, what was told to them was a safe place turned out not to be.

JASON MILLER:

No, not at all because I know that every time that I'm around the president that I have a test taken, that everybody around me has a test taken, that they do our temperature check. We take this very seriously. I always keep at least six feet away from the president and we keep a certain level of distance. And so I feel like the White House does a very good job of protecting folks and going above and beyond. But here's the important thing, Chuck. There's a lot about this virus that we don't know. President Trump is arguably the single-most protected person on the entire planet and yet he got Covid. So there's a lot about this we don't know, but what we can't do is just stay, whether it's upstairs at a place or downstairs in our basement. We have to take this virus head on, Chuck. We have to go, as we've seen from President Trump, in developing these therapeutics and getting to the vaccine, getting the ventilators, we have to take this head on. We can't stay in our basement or shut down the economy indefinitely. That’s -- we just, we have to take it head on and I think that's the moment of what President Trump is doing right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, I'm curious, is the campaign -- are you guys going to change protocols? You hold a lot of -- you encourage people not to socially distance. You have events with no masks. I mean, we saw the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court roll-out on Saturday. It turned out it might end up being a super-spreader event. Is the campaign going to change its protocols? Are you going to insist on mask wearing? Does the campaign regret that its own staffers and family didn't wear masks during the debate?

JASON MILLER:

Well, I'll go back to what I said earlier, is that anyone around the president is always tested, not just with the Abbott, the Abbott rapid test, but also with the temperature check. But at all of our events, we do temperature checks, we pass out masks, we pass out hand sanitizer. We encourage people to wear them. I think everybody, if they can't social distance -- just like President Trump told me yesterday, Chuck. He said, "Jason, I want you to make sure that you tell people two things. We're going to defeat this virus and then also, be careful. If you can't socially distance, wear a mask, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer." These are the message coming from President Trump and he wants to make sure that everybody knows that.

CHUCK TODD:

I saw that Vice President Pence is going to have a full campaign schedule this week. Why do you believe that that's prudent with the president currently hospitalized with the virus, that for continuity of government reasons, should the vice president be traveling? Shouldn't he be mitigating risk of getting this virus? Shouldn't you guys be asking for a remote debate, for instance? I mean, wouldn't that be what's best interest of continuity of government for the United States of America?

JASON MILLER:

No. We're in a campaign. We have a month to go. We see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris out there campaigning -- certainly, they're not asking for a remote debate. Vice President Pence, following the debate for the vice presidential candidates on Wednesday, he'll be hitting the trail, be in Arizona, probably be in Nevada. He'll be back here in D.C. And he's going to have a very full, aggressive schedule, as will the first family, Don, Eric, Ivanka. And then we have a number of our supporters, our coalitions, Black Voices for Trump, Latinos for Trump, Women for Trump. The whole Operation MAGA will be deploying everyone --

CHUCK TODD:

So you have no concerns --

JASON MILLER:

-- the vice president and his -- I have no concerns at all. The vice president takes very serious all of these measures. Anyone around the vice president is tested. People are kept very safe. And again, we can't hide from this virus forever, Chuck. We have to take it head on. We have to reopen our economy. And we've got to develop this vaccine and defeat the virus.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, are those Trump family members going to be campaigning before their 14-day quarantine?

JASON MILLER:

Well, we'll initially start with virtual events. In fact, I believe we're going to have a couple of the family members tomorrow night, on Monday. We're going to have a big virtual event, kind of our first virtual rally. So make sure folks are going to the website and checking out when that's going to be coming on board. And then as soon as they're able to get back out there in person, we're going to do so, but I expect us to have upwards of 50 folks all around the country, flooding the zone in the battleground states later this week, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Trump campaign senior adviser, Jason Miller, with an update on the president's condition and on the status of the campaign. Jason Miller, thank you for coming on and sharing your perspective.

JASON MILLER:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is infectious disease physician at the Boston University School of Medicine, it's Dr. Nahid Bhadelia. Dr. Bhadelia, welcome back to Meet the Press. I can't shake this fact, Dr. Bhadelia. The president gets diagnosed with the virus and, within 24 hours, is hospitalized. That is not the experience of most Covid patients.

DR. NAHID BHADELIA:

Good morning, Chuck. Yes, the president currently is one of 30,000 Americans who are hospitalized, which really is raising the point that none of us are immune to this and it's not some silver bullet it’s just is only testing or only medications but really the whole measure of mitigation steps that are required. Everybody's course in Covid is different. And it's really hard for me to comment not knowing his own case because he is high-risk for the reasons that others have talked about, with his age, with the fact that he's a male, you know, with his obesity. But it is, it is a bit, generally, the course that we see is that it is from five to seven days after symptom onset is when you generally have a median of when people develop respiratory symptoms, might see a drop in oxygen. His course may have been faster, or they may have moved him. It seems like there was an event on Friday. Clearly, there was some event on Friday that led to a decompensation with this fever, you know, potentially that he needed the supplemental oxygen that drove them to take him to the hospital. So, it may have been a combination of the fact that he's the president, the fact that moving him to the hospital gives him chances to give him more therapeutics. And potentially, that he's either having a longer course or potentially he may have had symptoms longer and may not have realized that he's had symptoms because they were vague and, you know, may just have been fatigue.

CHUCK TODD:

What should we be on the lookout for when we do get briefings from the president's physicians that, while, you know, they may present something that seems very anodyne, but actually will be very telling? What are some of the things you'll be looking for in some of these updates to tell you more about his condition?

DR. NAHID BHADELIA:

Yeah, thanks so much, Chuck. The big things that we look for in Covid patients is, you know, it's a one-two punch. When first the virus sort of does the damage that it's going to do, and then it revs up the immune system. And what happens in this setting is that you have a maladaptive immune system that then starts attacking your own body. And so what we're currently look at is he received two medication. One that's under compassionate use and the antiviral Remdesivir that is meant to bring the viral load down. So, they're looking to make sure that they've brought the virus down enough in his body that he doesn't have that harmful immune response. And the kind of things they will do is they'll follow him clinically. They're probably already doing imaging, if not, if have not done that already, to look to make sure that the lung, the lung disease that he may have from this hasn't progressed. They'll look to see if his body is responding with high inflammatory markers. And so the thing that I'd be looking for is that if he receives Dexamethasone, the steroids that we've been talking about, that's a sign that they're worried that his immune system is not revving up. So, they'll be looking at that, the inflammatory markers and, of course, how he's doing clinically.

CHUCK TODD:

I hope you heard in our previous interview how often Jason Miller said, "Well, we're tested all the time. They test all the time." Should this puncture the myth finally that testing isn’t -- just saying you've conducted tests doesn't replace the mask?

DR. NAHID BHADELIA:

Yeah. Chuck, testing is a pillar of part of the way that we respond to this, as you and I've previously talked about. But it in itself, no one thing is a silver bullet. And, you know, what the testing in this scenario did is it did help them pick up people earlier. However, it didn’t - all it does is it's a diagnostic. You need to follow it up by, you know, having all those additional measures. That if someone does turn out to be positive, the others who may have been exposed to that person don't get sick. When you put that mask on, you know, when you keep that distance, it reduces the chance that if you have a test that came back negative because someone was early in their disease or because it was a false negative, that you don't have this type of scenario where, you know, people get exposed and it becomes a bigger cluster. So one thing I'll say is the thing that, you know, may have hurt in this situation is that dose of virus that you get exposed to may decide your severity. And not wearing a mask exposes you to a larger dose of the virus.

CHUCK TODD:

Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, from Boston University, really always appreciate having your perspective and expertise on the show, so thank you.

DR. NAHID BHADELIA:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, those contradictory reports from the administration on the president's condition. Can we trust what we hear from the White House?

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, the panel is with us: former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, and Jennifer Palmieri, communications director of Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Welcome to all of you. Peggy Noonan, I didn't know if we needed more for this campaign to deal with after that debate. Every time you think, “Can you stack one more event on this election year?” And yet, here we are. The president is in the hospital with the virus. What -- where are we?

PEGGY NOONAN:

We are in uncharted waters. We've been there more often, I think, in the past few years than we have been before that. Look, the president is hospitalized. We cannot be certain what his exact condition is because we cannot be fully confident of the information given us to, given us by various White House sources. And also, there's an impression that not everybody in the White House themselves has any sense of what's going on. It seems to me, one of the most interesting things the doctor who just appeared in interview with you said, Chuck, is that it takes about five to 10 days for this illness to fully present itself, for the dimensions of the severity to become clear. So it seems to me this is a delicate time. The White House should be trying to make sure -- just forget perceptions, in a realistic way, that it's not all ad hoc and shambolic in that hospital. That, in fact, the appropriate strategic and military and national security and diplomatic lines are up. On top of that, let me just say quickly, I really think this is a very important time for the American government to assert its own presence, to be in Washington, to show we have a fully functioning, fully ordered government. I do not think Mike Pence should be out there on the campaign trail. He's the vice president of the United States. In a crisis, he should be in Washington. I think the Cabinet members and head of agencies should. So I just think the grownups here have to step forward and assert themselves in some new way.

CHUCK TODD:

Jeh Johnson, how much of a national security risk situation are we in right now?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, Chuck, I'm going to give you an answer a little bit different than what you probably asked. The number one national security threat right now, obviously, is Covid. And the president, the most protected man in America, who reportedly is a germaphobe, if he can get it, no one is safe. We're seeing a resurgence in the country right now in various parts of the country. And so what happened to President Trump should be a vivid example of the danger we face right now. We've been letting down our guard. We've been getting sloppy. And Americans need to know, this little 10-cent device here actually does save lives. And this is now not a time to be, to be sloppy. Now, I am also concerned in this environment, with the president having Covid, of frankly, misinformation hysteria. I believe that too is a national security threat. We know that there are foreign actors out there trying to meddle in our democracy right now, who may be, as we speak, peddling misinformation to try to exploit the anxiety that Americans are feeling in this situation. So those are the two national security concerns that I really have in the moment. We can talk about whether the vice president should be quarantining or not, I believe he should. But those are the current threats as I see them.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich Lowry, you heard Jason Miller there. He is full speed ahead. They want to say this campaign is full speed ahead. And they want to present a, "Hey, nothing to see here. Yeah, the president's in the hospital, but hey, everything's fine." Are they handling this right?

RICH LOWRY:

I think it's a lot to ask to just give up weeks of a campaign, when there are only, you know, four weeks or so left. And, you know, it's really hard, Chuck. There are so many unknowns to tell how this is going to bounce politically. At the very least, they're losing days at a time when they don't have days to lose. And it puts greater emphasis on Covid, which has been one of the biggest vulnerabilities for the president during this entire campaign. All that said, at this point in 2016, Access Hollywood hadn't even happened yet. So there's still time for other October surprises.

CHUCK TODD:

Jennifer Palmieri, I was interested to see the Biden campaign, one of the -- they decided they're pulling negative ads right now. And you could say, "Okay, that's appropriate." It's not like the other side's doing the same thing. It does seem as if the Biden folks have a challenge here on how to navigate these next few days.

JENNIFER PALMIERI:

Well, you have to be thoughtful about it. And I think that they've shown they've done that. I think the American -- you know, the American people want to see, “Oh, okay. He took his negative ads down. He understands that this is not a normal time in politics.” He says he's praying for the president. He's expressing a lot of empathy for the president and his family. But at the same time, you're holding the administration accountable. I know that the Biden campaign thinks that the voters that are open to them view almost everything through the lens of Covid. It is affecting their lives in dramatic and profound ways. It's affecting the economy in dramatic and profound ways. And, you know, they're not going to stop arguing that the president's administration has mishandled this. And then the other big argument they have against the Trump administration is chaos -- chaos and recklessness. And you saw chaos on display in the debate. I know that's what the Biden campaign thought was to their benefit. I'm sure it wasn't really fun for Joe Biden to go through, but that, for the voters to see that kind of chaos on the stage hurt Trump. Your numbers reflect that. And then recklessness. You know, the week ends with, after having the president given this diagnosis, a lot of senior White House officials getting this diagnosis, following the, you know, unsafe event in the Rose Garden last weekend. So, you know, it is still early. It is only October 4th, and -- but this is not a great start for October.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich Lowry, do the Republicans on the Senate side -- there's talk that they still want to get through with the Amy Coney Barrett situation. Are they at a point where it'll look like they're trying too hard to get her confirmed? You know, Covid, Covid cases be darned?

RICH LOWRY:

They're trying very hard to get her confirmed, Chuck. You know, I'd just be shocked if they put this off. I think it would have to get much more dire than it is now. And the fact is, all year long, the Judiciary Committee has held these hybrid type hearings, where you have some person, some people in person and others remote. So I'd imagine you'd see some version of that. But, but there is an extreme commitment to get this done.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I'm going to pause the conversation there. All of you I know have a lot to say about the debate. I've got an interesting little debate package for you guys to take a look at and then you'll have a lot to talk about. That event we thought was going to be what we'd all be talking about today. But we did bring some voters together to see what they thought of the debate. And that's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. As we mentioned earlier, President Trump missed an opportunity at Tuesday's debate to change the trajectory of this race. Our NBC News Wall Street Journal poll found that, by a two to one margin, registered voters say Joe Biden did a better job in the debate than President Trump. At the same time, our pollsters, Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Nicole McCleskey, conducted two Zoom focus groups. Eight men in one, ten women in the other, to hear directly from voters about how they viewed the debate. Take a look.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JOE BIDEN:

I beat Bernie Sanders.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Not by much.

JOE BIDEN:

I beat him a whole hell of a lot. I mean --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Not so much.

JOE BIDEN:

-- I'm here standing, facing you, old buddy --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Pocahontas would've left two days earlier. You would've lost every primary.

NICOLE McCLESKEY:

What one word or short phrase describes your reaction to the debate?

VOTERS:

Disparaging. Debacle. Insulting. Juvenile. Crazy. Unfortunate. Disappointing. Lack of vision.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Why won't you answer that question? You want to put a lot of new Supreme Court justices, radical left --

JOE BIDEN:

Will you shut up, man?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Listen, who is on your list, Joe?

PETER HART:

Looking at this debate, what's the takeaway that comes out of this?

LAUREN M.:

Embarrassing is an accurate description.

SHA L.I:

It sends a message that in this country, we don't know how to have a conversation.

KATHRYN E.:

I was really disappointed for both candidates and for both parties.

NATE H.:

It painted a picture that we are unwilling to reach across the aisle and find commonality.

JANE J.:

I want to hear what the candidates have to say. And I didn't hear that.

JIM C.:

Trump didn't want to focus on truths or answering questions.

JORDAN V.:

Both candidates were just trying to take shots at each other.

VOTERS:

Impulsive. Corrupt. Showoff. Self-centered. Egomaniac. Unethical. Incompetent. Stable. It isn't consistent. Experienced. Good enough. Integrity.

PETER HART:

What was the high point for you of anything that Donald Trump said?

TYLER J.:

That Donald Trump will point out, "Well, why not? Why didn't you do that when you were in office for 46 years? You had your chance."

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

In 47 months, I've done more than you've done in 47 years, Joe.

PETER HART:

What's his biggest failure as president?

ALEX C.:

I don't feel like we're hearing the truth out of our president's mouth more times than not.

ANNA D.:

Creating this culture and this atmosphere of division.

NICOLE McCLESKEY:

Was there a positive moment or a high point for Joe Biden?

GINA G.:

But I did like it that he was talking direct, trying to talk directly to us.

JOE BIDEN:

The American people should know speak. You should go out and vote.

PETER HART:

What most irritates you about Joe Biden?

NATALIE B.:

He loses his temper sometimes fairly easily.

ALEX C.:

Well, he's just had a long time in Congress and hasn't seemed to have gotten over the hump.

NICOLE McCLESKEY:

What one word would you use to describe this presidential election?

VOTERS:

Unprecedented. Insane. Crucial. Unsettling. Contentious.

PETER HART:

What is this election about?

ALEX C.:

I think inaction and derisive versus decisive.

RASHETTE W.:

We need a good leader and I don't think we have a good leader right now.

JORDAN V.:

This election is about racial injustices, coronavirus and where is America going from here.

ANNA D.:

You want to make your vote count, but both options, neither of them look especially great.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

And Peter and Nicole both join me now. Welcome to both of you. So let me start with this to the both of you. Peter, I'll start with you, which is what should we as viewers and as the audience right now take away from this?

PETER HART:

Well, obviously, people were unhappy. And what they take away is that Joe Biden was good enough, and Donald Trump made people feel uneasy. And that's really what it was about, as much as anything else. This is about getting things right in America, getting things back on track.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Nicole, it didn't seem like anybody was reassured by either candidate at the debate, even if they were certainly thrown off, perhaps, by what the President did.

NICOLE MCCLESKEY:

What was surprising to me in this debate was the extent to which people were disappointed in both candidates. If they were looking for leadership, for any kind of assurance, for any direction for the country, they didn't get it from either one. And that was one of the things coming out of the focus group that was pretty surprising to me. That while the focus has been largely on the president's performance, I think people were disappointed a little bit in Joe Biden as well.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, we did so much qualitative and quantitative work this week with both of your firms, both doing regular polling and these focus groups. So we did these word clouds. We asked our polling respondents to just give us a word or phrase about the debate. And here was, Peter, the Biden word cloud of people that thought Biden did better. And what was interesting is how much it's about Trump. "Trump avoided questions.” “Trump unprofessional." It actually doesn't have a lot on Biden himself.

PETER HART:

Well, exactly. This election is about Donald Trump. It's an up or down. And when the President gets Covid, what it says to everybody, nobody's safe. This election is really coming back around to the basics. And the basics are how do we get the country back on track.

CHUCK TODD:

Nicole, let me put up the Trump word cloud. These are the folks that thought Trump did better. And what you see here, the thing that jumps out the most is even though they thought Trump did better, I don't think they thought that it was a good debate. They said, "The moderator was unfair.” “Biden avoided question.” “Biden lies." Again, what was interesting is the Trump word cloud is more about Biden.

NICOLE McCLESKEY:

Well, it is interesting. And I think what people are saying is they didn't hear much about Joe Biden has to offer. There were a lot of unanswered questions going into this debate about Joe Biden. Who is he? What does he represent? What direction will he take the country? And those questions weren't answered in this debate.

CHUCK TODD:

Nicole, should we have more debates? Do you think these folks want to see more of this?

NICOLE McCLESKEY:

I don't think they want to see more of this, but I absolutely think they want to see more debates because I think there were unmet expectations and a lot of unanswered questions from this debate.

CHUCK TODD:

So Peter, what should the campaigns take away from these focus groups? If you had both candidates watch these, what would be the lesson that you would want to hear both candidates take away from it?

PETER HART:

Talk to our problems. Talk to us. People want to get calm and reassurance. But at the same time, they don't want to be complacent. They want to look ahead to where we are going. Talk to the American voter.

CHUCK TODD:

How should we, how should we assume the electorate is going to respond to what we're currently dealing with right now with the president hospitalized? Does that take away from the impression that the debate left on these voters?

NICOLE McCLESKEY:

I think the debate left an impression, but I think what has happened over the last week has been deeply unsettling. So, I think voters will be, you know, looking for some reassurance in the next debate, they will - I can't imagine how they will react to these unprecedented circumstances. I think they will want some reassurance. They need some reassurance. And that's what they'll be looking at going forward and how it's handled I think it is largely dependent on how the President responds.

CHUCK TODD:

Peter Hart, Nicole McCleskey, it was really great to watch you guys work and see how, even in the world of Zoom, how we can get a lot of animation out of folks so people can see what real people are reacting to this election, just not what people like us think. Anyway, thank you both for your work.

NICOLE McCLESKEY:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, the expanding Senate map that has Democrats feeling increasingly optimistic. Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time and a quick check in on the Senate battleground map with a month to go before Election Day. Back in January, our friends at The Cook Political Report designated four states as true toss-ups, three held currently by Republicans and one held by a Democrat, Doug Jones of Alabama. But like everything else in our lives, a lot has changed since the start of this year. Today, the landscape is worse for Republicans. Now, there are seven toss-up races in seats currently held by Republican incumbents. And only Doug Jones remains that vulnerable on the Democratic side of the aisle. And we're now also keeping an eye on some Republican held seats in places like Alaska, Iowa, South Carolina, the other Georgia seat, even Kansas, all of which could be vulnerable in a major Democratic sweep. Then there's Michigan, one of the other few places where a Democrat is up for reelection and could be in a competitive race. Remember, Democrats need a net gain of three seats to take control of the Senate, if Joe Biden wins the presidency. So we shall see. When we come back, how the voters we least expected to help Joe Biden are now the ones helping him the most. That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Let me let you guys take a shot at what happened with this debate. Jennifer Palmieri, why did this debate end up looking like it had the impact it had on Joe Biden? I mean, it's clearly got a bump.

JENNIFER PALMIERI:

Well, I think that, I mean, Trump was just so unappealing. And I don't think that Donald Trump went into that debate thinking, "I'm going to be disruptive and chaotic and interrupt Biden constantly because that's going to help me." I think he just wanted to try to get in the way of Biden being able to deliver a clear message. I mean, Biden took opportunities when he had them to speak directly to the camera. You know, one woman in the focus group said that that was important to her. And I know, you know, he was able to get some good points off, but I think that Trump understood that debate was to give Biden an opportunity to make points that his -- you know, why the debates favor the Democrats I think when you're up against Trump is because it's so hard to control the narrative outside the debate, right? So it gives you a shot to do that. I mean, I think people hated to see the chaos and the disruptiveness that Trump did. So Biden got a bump out of it. But he didn’t get the chance to -- but I think what Trump was really trying to do was just stop Biden from having a clear shot at, like, a lot of --

CHUCK TODD:

You know --

JENNIFER PALMIERI:

-- his message getting through.

CHUCK TODD:

-- Peggy, that version of Donald Trump is somebody that many of us see every day, many of us have to deal with every day. And so, I think a lot of us weren't sure that this was going to have the impact it had. But boy, it clearly had an impact on people. Maybe it was because it was 90 minutes unfiltered.

PEGGY NOONAN:

That's it. It was 90 minutes straight of what normally you get for eight or ten minutes every other day. So it was an undiluted shot of Donald Trump. I've got to tell you, Chuck, I felt, you know, in your montage of the people who'd been in the focus group coming up with one word to describe the debate, as I watched, I thought, "The American people are so much more eloquent than their own political leaders." And they really do deserve more than that big, messy thing. The president was belligerent to the point of nuttiness. I thought Mr. Biden did not distinguish himself in a different way. He was not forthcoming about various big issues. The filibuster, packing the Court, et cetera. Something that's disturbing, I'll leave it here, that may be the last presidential debate we see in this cycle. The next will simply not happen. So it will be delible memory.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. Rich Lowry, it was interesting, Rick Santorum said that if he were a candidate this year on the ballot, he'd have been very upset at the president's performance. You were pretty critical of his performance too on Tuesday night when we were on the air together. But do you think this had an impact down the ballot?

RICH LOWRY:

We'll see. We'll see how long lasting this effect is. But, you know, there was a strategy here. He thought he'd go in and steamroll Joe Biden and make Biden crack in a way that would really hurt him. And Biden wasn't great. As Peggy said, he was evasive on key things. But he didn't buckle. So all you're left with was this over the top belligerency of the president, which didn't go over well with people. And ideally, as the president, you'd want a second bite of the apple. But as Peggy also says, maybe that's not going to be forthcoming.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, Jeh Johnson, look, we've got a lot of unknowns here with the president's health. But do you think one more debate will be useful to either side?

JEH JOHNSON:

Well, the president's health aside, I do think more debates would be useful. I believe that it's entirely possible to have a virtual, remote debate. You know, we've been doing this now on TV on shows like this for seven months. And one of the key advantages of a format like this is only one person gets to talk at a time because there's a mute button. And so it can be done.

CHUCK TODD:

You just thought I muted you just now there, right? And how easily we could've gone back and forth. But I guess to follow up, Jen, if you're the Biden campaign, do you want another debate like that? And if you end up with another one, should Biden change his tactics?

JENNIFER PALMIERI:

I think, you know, I think Democrats should have debates because it is the opportunity to talk directly to the American people that the Democratic nominee does not get when you're going up against Donald Trump. So they should want that. Also, Biden has to be the one that's upholding norms. He's got to run the whole race. He can't look like, you know, he's scared to debate Trump. So I think that they should want to do it. Look it worked for them, right? I think the Biden campaign thinks this worked. There was chaos on one side and stability on the other. And I think Biden could do even better delivering message the next time if he has an opportunity to debate. But they still think this works.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just going to show one example from our poll that to me tells you the story of how Biden has expanded his lead. Look, he went to 14 points. Rich Lowry, you brought up the fact that we're not even at the anniversary yet of Access Hollywood. It's an important point. At that point in time, we had a ten point flash poll. So this may be just a moment in time. But Peggy Noonan, I've got to just show you this one example here. It's support among those 65+. In 2016, Donald Trump won voters over the age of 65 by eight points, 53-45. In our poll here, Joe Biden is leading among this group by a whopping 62-35, a 27 point margin. His favorable ratings among older voters of that, you know, we talk all this about Latino voters and young voters and African Americans. And Joe Biden's path to the White House might be just older white folks.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes, absolutely. Let me say very quickly, there's a word called decorum. I believe the elderly people of America in 2016, the country in trouble, perfect storm, they took a chance on this person who seemed to have an unsure sense of dignity. But they took a chance. "Maybe we need somebody different." I think they've seen him for four years and they're remembering decorum matters. They've also seen the entire nation become sick and they don't like it.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. I think it's the two C words, Covid and civility that have been the key to moving those voters. Terrific panel. Thank you. What a quartet. And that's all for today. Thank all of you. I thank you all for watching. All of here at Meet the Press with President Trump, the First Lady and all Americans that have been impacted by the coronavirus a speedy and full recovery. And we'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.