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Transcript: Mayor de Blasio Appears Live on MSNBC's Morning Joe

March 16, 2020

Mika Brzezinski: With us we have White House reporter for the Associated Press, Jonathan Lemire; Washington anchor for BBC World News America, Katty Kay; and professor at Princeton University, Eddie Glaude Jr. Joining the conversation, the host of MSNBC’s PoliticsNation and President of the National Action Network. Reverend Al Sharpton and the Mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio.

Joe Scarborough: I got to say, Reverend Al's show yesterday was really great –

Brzezinski: Amazing.

Scarborough: It's always great, but man, he spoke truth to power yesterday, Mika.

Brzezinski: Mr. Mayor, I'd like to start with you. As Joe pointed out, we've all been pointing out, we're behind the eight ball on testing. Are we looking at the science, just listening to the data and understanding how this virus spreads and surges and spikes, especially in congested areas? Are we going to be in the same situation as it pertains to separate medical facilities to treat these cases? Are we going to have clusters of people exposing health care workers across the country because there aren't military hospitals being set up?

Mayor Bill de Blasio: Mika, that's what I fear. I mean, right now we need a national solution. This should be a reality where the United States is put on a war footing, where the federal government mobilizes all the resources necessary, and it begins with testing. I agree with you – testing to make sure health care workers are safe, to focus on our most vulnerable individuals, to make sure we can protect them. Ultimately, I'd love to see a broader testing approach as was done in South Korea as a strategic tool to help eventually end this epidemic. But right now, here's what I'm most concerned about, exactly where you were going, the hospitals. We're going to have to set up emergency ICUs in hospitals, not only all over New York City, all over America. We're going to need the United States military to come in with their substantial logistical and medical capacity. We're going to need the supply chain nationalized in some form. Right now, there's no effort to make sure that ventilators, surgical masks, even down to hand sanitizer – all of these products should be put on a 24/7 production cycle. Whatever factories anywhere can make them, should be cranking them out. They should be distributed according to federal priority as you would in a war.

Brzezinski: I know there's some effort with ventilators, although the White House will not release – and top health officials will not release numbers. That worries me at this point since we're getting such mixed messages and mixed information during these daily briefings, but we have been talking about separate medical units for weeks and weeks and weeks, and let's just be clear here. This is not being done right now. So, as these numbers spike, we're going to have this virus spread across the medical community. There's no way to contain it inside a hospital, is there?

Mayor: And Mika – no, it's very dangerous and in fact the thing we have to make sure is that our health care workers are safe so that they can take care of anyone else obviously –

Brzezinski: Well, they’re not.

Mayor: And we're going to lose – look, some health care workers will be infected. We've got to quickly make sure they're treated and they can come back into action. But here's what we should be saying right now about exactly what you're talking about – the ventilators. We need real numbers, testing capacity, real numbers. And then how about the fact that the United States – to the best of my knowledge, the United States military right now is still engaged in building those border walls. Take them off that and put them on coronavirus for God's sakes. Anything that is optional right now should be canceled and there should be a full national mobilization to protect people. If we don't have those medical facilities, if we don't have those ventilators and those supplies, you're going to be losing thousands and thousands of lives that could have been saved.

Scarborough: So Mr. Mayor, you decided, yesterday, to close down New York City schools. You tried to keep them up and as long as you could, why did you make the final decision that you made?

Mayor:  Yeah. Joe, it’s sheer – continuing to analyze with our health officials the trajectory of this disease and the role that social interaction plays into the disease. We also needed to figure out if there was some way to come up with alternatives for our kids to give them some kind of distance learning to make sure that those kids, particularly of health care workers, transit workers and first responders, that if they needed a physical location, we could set up something. We did all that. Later last night – I spoke to Dr. Fauci last night and said, what do you think is the next most important thing to do after closing schools? He said, it's the bars, the restaurants, the cafes, get them to a take-out and pick-up basis. We ordered that last night. We're going to have to do a lot more to try and constantly reduce the spread while simultaneously building up that medical and logistical capacity real quick. You know, again, we've got a few weeks to get on a full war footing or we are just going to have our hospitals in a situation where they can't save lives that could have been saved otherwise.

Reverend Al Sharpton: You know, one of the things, Joe, I think – and adding to what the Mayor said is there must be a coordinated effort with those stakeholders in the communities around the country. One of the things I think that I commend Mayor de Blasio on is as he dealt with the social reality that in many cities, including New York, we're still dealing with the tale of two cities. So, when you are dealing with testing and you're dealing with how we're going to remedy situations, that's much different in underserved communities and others, which is why you need the military intervention to equalize how the testing is going to be and how those stakeholders in the community can work along to make sure that happens. And I think Mr. Mayor, you and I talked right before you made the announcement, about your convening community leaders and others so we make sure that those that are outside of where there are a lot of health facilities that hospitals can be served because we don't know whether there's a low count in some areas or not because they are not where it's easy for them to get to be counted.

Mayor: Look, the tests are only available for the privileged and let's face it, that's health care in America right now, right? You have some emergency – a surgery you need, you're going to get the red carpet if you happen to have money, and a lot of other people wait a long, long time. Well, the same with the testing. Clearly right now the testing is not being distributed sufficiently according to pure medical priority and there's nowhere near the supply. So of course privileged people are going to have first dibs in a lot of cases. You're exactly right. The more you create a massive testing supply, the more you bring in the military and other forces that create that equalization, the better off we are in actually living up to our values and ensuring everyone is saved across the board regardless of ZIP code.

Reverend Sharpton: Quick follow-up, that also works in how you close the schools, which is one of the reasons some of us were reluctant to see you do it because in some areas schools are child care, schools are the free breakfast and the free lunch, and there are other calculations to what is going to happen now to the children. I'm concerned that they go to school, but I'm also concerned now – are they going to be in the streets? What's going to happen with police and young youth interaction? All of these things must be considered and factored in.

Mayor: Rev. I'd say as for most kids in our city schools, that's a million-plus kids, the two meals a day were crucial. The safe, positive environment was crucial. That's why I was exceedingly hesitant to close and now at least I know we have some alternatives for them now, but it's still – we have to be clear that closing schools, you put a lot of teenagers, particularly, out there without the kind of supervision you'd like. Maybe in this case we're going to see more and more of their parents and other older adults home because there's less and less work. So that might balance –

Reverend Sharpton: Those can be home.

Mayor: Right, no, and a lot of people have no choice but to work. But unfortunately workplaces are obviously reducing all the time. But yeah, we've got to be clear that every action, equal and opposite reaction. You close schools, there's a whole lot of other things you have to account for. We're providing meals all week at the schools, pick up meals, breakfast and lunch. We're going to have to create feeding stations of some kind going forward of different types. We're doing home deliveries for seniors, we're closing down senior center programming, but we're using senior centers as kitchens, in effect, dispensaries to get meals out to seniors at their home. There's a lot of pieces we’re going to have to alter. And look, the Great Depression and the New Deal are very instructive here. I don't – I'm not saying bread lines, but let's be clear. We're getting close to a reality where the government has to ensure that the food supply, that it is not only available but it is equitably distributed. We're going to have to get into a heavy intervention in people's economic lives because a whole lot of people are losing their livelihood by the hour and they need a continuity of economic support or their families are going to start to collapse in other ways too.

Jonathan Lemire: Two questions. First on the schools – and I'm a New York City public school parent, you said they're close through at least April 20th –

Mayor: Correct.

Lemire: But you left open the possibility of potentially being closed until the end school year, even the end of the calendar year. Why that extreme, which seems out of step for what other cities across the country are doing?

Mayor: We're looking at the trajectory right now, Jonathan, and look, I would love nothing more than to reopen on April 20 which is right after our spring break, but I fear that this crisis is going to start to crescendo through April, May before it ever gets better. So the classic, it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I think that's a hard atmosphere to reopen schools and if we are lucky, if we do – if all things break in our favor, it's possible, but I wanted to get people acclimated to a reality, that this is very well going to take us through the school year and maybe beyond because it's not just the sheer track of the diseases, all the other dislocation we’re going to have to deal with.

Lemire: And a second question, you also announced restaurants and bars are going to be closing –

Mayor: Except for takeout and pickup.

Lemire: Sure, over the weekend it was clear from Instagram and others that New Yorkers were not social distancing in a lot of these places, but what sort of steps can you do to provide relief to those business owners, particularly, just as an example for bars, St. Patrick's Day is tomorrow. They're going to be closed. A lot of places really bank on that day to carry a lot of profits going forward. How can you help them out?

Reverend Sharpton: And workers.

Mayor: Of course. This is what I'm saying – the city's doing – we're getting grants and loans and things for small businesses, but that's a small piece. This is where we need a massive federal relief program. The stimulus bill, which we pray will be voted on today, is a helpful step. It's nowhere near what is needed. I've talked to Senator Schumer about this, who's very public about the fact that it needs to be another stimulus immediately after. And again, let's use the New Deal – the one crisis that actually is going to mirror, I mean we have the historical playbook and if you want to know what this whole thing's going to play out as, it's going to be one part, the Great Recession we all went through a few years ago. It's going to be one part, the Great Depression, it’s going to be one part, the 1918 flu epidemic. Those are the three models we can use to tell us what to do and it's going to take massive direct relief to Americans right down to the fact that if you – we have to replace paychecks. We are going to have to recreate economic capacity because people are going to be without. If you don't have money, you can't pay the rent, you can't buy food, you can't buy medicine.

So we have to understand this is a pure war footing, right down to rationing if you need it, but anything short of national leadership – and forget the president, very bluntly, because he obviously does not know how to do this. He should empower the Anthony Faucis of the world and the military leadership, who do know how to do things, to take over the situation and create a national model where all resources are distributed to where the need is greatest. Our brothers and sisters in Washington State, they're going through the hardest problem in many ways. They should get all the ventilators and material they need, but no one's creating in Washington that kind of prioritization of resources, nor are they guaranteeing the resources are produced so that they are readily available to be distributed where the need is greatest.

Scarborough: Well, you know, Eddie –

Brzezinski: Very well put.

Scarborough: – and the thing to always remember is we don't know what the future is going to look like and we don't know – this could be like past pandemics. It could be like the Great Recession, but it's the actions that we take to determine how things are going to end up. I always kept a sign up at my congressional office, the best way to predict the future is to shape the future. And we just have to be aggressive enough not only in New York City but across the country. And Eddie, I just wonder how we can be that aggressive to make sure, as Dr. Fauci said, the greatest thing that they could ever say of us is that we overreacted because that means that we took the steps necessary to avoid this looking like 1918, 1919. But how do we do that when you have a president who constantly says this is going to magically go away, it's just going to pass right through, there's nothing to worry about, we're in complete control.

Professor Eddie Glaude Jr.: Joe, that's a very difficult question, but I think it involves a couple of things. One, we need to place Donald Trump aside for the moment, we need to put our partisanship aside for the moment and politics aside for the moment, and begin to think about the national [inaudible] and the health of the country itself, and begin to engage in a kind of intelligent response [inaudible] –

Scarborough: But you, Eddie, you saw those pictures from Disney World last night. People were crammed in the Disney World last night. People were crammed into bars. A lot of those people – a lot of my friends emailing me that support Donald Trump saying, you media people are still overblowing it. I'm still seeing tweets by national figures who are trying to kiss up to Donald Trump saying, come on, this is no worse than the common cold, more people have died from the flu than have died from this. Donald Trump is still sending out the dog whistles, I guess you would call it, that this is all a plot to take him down.

Professor Glaude Jr.: You know, and I get this on my Twitter feed all the time, that whenever we talk of liken this to Hurricane Katrina and its threat to the presidency, that we want people to die in order to get Trump out of office and the like. Look, we have to figure out a way to inundate the American public with the information we need in order to understand the level of seriousness of the crisis we have. It seems to me that mainstream media, cable networks, we need to just simply have ticker tapes underneath, giving us the relevant information every five minutes on the hour. We need to have updates with regards to the crisis.

But I do want to say this, that in the middle of this moment, the contradictions of American society, Mayor, the folks who are living in the most precarious circumstances, the underbelly of America, will be revealed. And it seems to me in this moment we have to talk about health care infrastructure and the like but how do we emphasize the most vulnerable in this moment? I'm thinking about contract workers. I'm thinking about the service economy, which who will be affected – the workers in the service economy will be affected by your order yesterday. I'm thinking about folks in the gig economy. I'm thinking about folks in the shadows, all of the homeless people around New York City. How do you emphasize, how do we respond to them?

Mayor: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in that moment in history, created something literally unheard of – the federal government funded work directly, right. You had millions of people who got a job because the federal government created whole new types of work, creating national parks, roads, bridges, whatever it was. That had never been done, not even close. A year or two earlier, it was unheard of, it was radical, it was even unthinkable. That kind of audacity is needed here. But the problem is with the virus, it's not like you can create work and congregate people. So, it's bluntly about money. It is about putting money in people's hands to keep the economy solvent, to keep people's lives together. So, those gig workers who are more and more of our economy, they need direct relief. There's nothing wrong with it. They need a check from the federal government to keep them going or else you're going to see a new kind of dislocation. It is going to be very much about the tale of two cities to begin with if we don't get it right, but even a lot of folks who at this moment will consider themselves middle class or working class or stable, their lives are going to collapse if there's not money flowing directly into their hands. And the only place that can come from is the federal government. That's the only place that has the capacity or else you're going to see this – if they don't have money, they won't be able pay the rent, they won't be able to afford the food to the extent the food is even flowing where it needs to be, they won't be able to afford it. They won't be able to afford medicine. So, let's remember, you could take this virus and then amplify a health care crisis if people can't get to the other health care they need. There’s plenty of other conditions and challenges that people have with their health right now. If they can't get basic medicines, you're talking about a much greater health care crisis. If we don't put money in people's hands, we're going to literally undermine the very fabric of this society.

Brzezinski: Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you very much.

Mayor: Thank you.

Brzezinski: We hope to have you back on soon to keep us posted on what's going on.

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