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Meet the Press – May 30, 2021



CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, Republicans block the January 6th commission.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

Donald Trump’s big lie has now fully enveloped the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

Only six Republicans vote for an independent panel to investigate the assault on the Capitol.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI:

It doesn’t look like we’re going to have the opportunity to get the answers that way.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

I think the basic goal of our Democratic friends is to keep relitigating in public what happened back on January 6th.

CHUCK TODD:

What this vote says about our democracy. I’ll talk to former Republican Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, who spent the week unsuccessfully lobbying Republican senators, and Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. Plus: the Wuhan lab mystery.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

We cannot exclude the possibility of some kind of lab accident.

CHUCK TODD:

Growing concerns that the coronavirus leaked from that lab in Wuhan, China, prompt President Biden to order a new U.S. intelligence investigation.

ANDY SLAVITT:

We need to get to the bottom of this, whatever the answer may be.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

What he announced yesterday is too little too late.

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: former Deputy National Security Advisor Matthew Pottinger and Dr. Peter Hotez of Baylor University. And the anniversaries of two racially charged events: the murder of George Floyd —

CHANTING:

Say his name. George Floyd.

CHUCK TODD:

— and the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. How the Floyd case and its aftermath may have helped a nation acknowledge what happened in Tulsa 100 years ago. Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett, former Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, Ayesha Rascoe, White House correspondent for NPR, and former White House political director for President George W. Bush, Sara Fagen. 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:

And a good Sunday morning. And I hope you’re enjoying this Memorial Day weekend, wherever you are. And you may actually be somewhere other than your house. If Friday’s Senate vote on an independent conviction to investigate January 6th was a stress test for our democracy, well, then sadly, our democracy failed, and failed big-time. Republicans managed to block the commission, even with 54 senators voting for it. It was still six votes short of the 60 needed to defeat a Republican-led filibuster. Not surprisingly, Democrats condemned the Republicans for their nearly unanimous opposition.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

Shame on the Republican Party for trying to sweep the horrors of that day under the rug because they’re afraid of Donald Trump.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Also not surprisingly, the Republicans voted down the commission after their leader, Mitch McConnell came out publicly against it.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

There’s no new fact about that day we need the Democrats’ extraneous commission to uncover.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

McConnell’s been honest publicly and made it plain that he believes the more attention and sunlight cast on January 6th, the worse it will be politically for Republican candidates in 2022, pure and simple. That’s why he’s against it, period. So on a Memorial Day weekend when we honor men and women who gave their lives defending our democracy, this Congress has chosen not to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the worst attack on our Capitol, the citadel of this democracy, since the war of 1812. Among those disappointed by this vote was Barbara Comstock. She’s a former Republican Congresswoman from Northern Virginia. She was shepherding a group that was lobbying for this panel. The group included the mother and girlfriend of Brian Sicknick, the Capitol police officer who died as a result of the January 6th assault, and two other officers. Barbara Comstock joins me now. Barbara, welcome back to Meet the Press. Let me start with — I want to put up the statement that Gladys Sicknick put out before you guys started your meetings on Capitol Hill, and she said, “I suggest that all congressmen and senators who are against this bill visit my son’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery, and while there, think about what their hurtful decisions will do to those officers who will be there for them going forward.” She said this Wednesday. You had 36 hours trying to convince these skeptical, Republican senators to do this. Why didn’t this message convince more to support this commission?

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

Well, thank you, Todd, for showing that statement, and Mrs. Sicknick had such grace and quiet courage and spoke very directly to these members. And I do think, because of what she did, and Brian’s partner, Sandra, and also Officer Fanone and Officer Dunn that we will have a thorough investigation. I would have preferred that that be an independent, outside investigation that was nonpartisan. I think that would remove it from the political sphere and allow Republicans and Democrats to return to working on the issues that they all say they want to work on. But I think now, it’ll be an investigation in Congress. And one thing that did happen from our meetings this week is Lindsey Graham did promise to advocate that Officer Fanone and Officer Dunn and others who were on the front lines fighting in what was a medieval battle — a lot of people still don’t realize how violent that was. That Officer Fanone was tased 12 times at the back of his neck, that he has traumatic brain injuries and that he almost died that day. He suffered a heart attack, and people are still talking about these were like tourists. We need to have that full story out. It’s going to get out one way or the other. And I think because of the courage of Mrs. Sicknick, and the sadness that she’s going to have over this Memorial Day weekend, as will all of the Sicknick family. But I think their courage will prevail, and that we will get to the truth.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I want to put up a screen here of all the senators you did meet with — that you had a chance to meet with — and five of this group did vote for the commission, of your meetings. But a majority that you met with did not. So — and I look at certain people here. Let’s go to James Lankford. This is somebody — I think you and I both know him well. I have no doubt he’s somebody torn on this. Roy Blunt is another one that you would think is torn on this. But they’re very — they’re very loyal to Mitch McConnell. Tell me about those conversations. Bring me in the room.

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

Well, certainly all of the senators, you know — many of them did acknowledge that what many Republicans have not acknowledged, which is that this was a violent, you know, assault on the Capitol that could never happen again, and that it does need to be thoroughly investigated. They didn’t seem to think that this was the answer. And that’s why I say, you know, this will still be investigated because subpoenas will get the facts. We’ll find out who organized that mob, how it was orchestrated, who directed them down to the Capitol to assault the Capitol. So, and we also — you know, you did show who, who we met with and who voted for it. Senator Sasse also had communicated with us, and he also supported it, as is — did Senator Toomey, who we met with, indicated he would have supported it had he been present. So I am still optimistic that we will, I know we will — the truth will come out. You know from, you know, decades past that I have worked on investigations, and when people try and hold these things back, it always comes out in the end. That’s why I think both for the country, as well as for Republicans, it would be better to do it sooner rather than later. And I know we can get those subpoenas out, whether it’s by partisan means — I hope Nancy Pelosi, if she sets up a commission, that it will be exactly like the one that was designed. That it’s five Democrats, five Republicans, that they share power, and that they get the people who care about this. Certainly the 35 House Republicans that voted for an investigation would be a good place to start, to get five Republicans who will, who will work on this —

CHUCK TODD:

Let me —

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

— and get to the answers that are often — our officers are hurting right now. People need to know that those Capitol officers that they walk by every day. They want a commission. They are hurting. They are leaving in droves. They’re leaving faster than they can be replaced. —

CHUCK TODD:

I want to play something —

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

— And this just has to be addressed.

CHUCK TODD:

I’m curious, I want to play something that Bill Cassidy said, because I thought it was — he put together what I thought could have been an effective argument to convince skeptical Republicans to vote for the commission. Here was his rationale.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. BILL CASSIDY:

Ask the American people. Are they more likely to trust an independent commission not composed of members of Congress, or are they more likely to trust one handpicked by Speaker Pelosi? Pretty clear who they would most trust, and I think this is as much as anything about building trust with the American people.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

You and I both know — I could picture Mitch McConnell, in another world, making the case for this commission using Bill Cassidy’s argument.

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

Well, that was exactly the argument that we were making to the senators, and Senator Cassidy is exactly right, and he was so gracious in meeting with the family, and he even indicated, you know, how close his family was to Capitol police officers and how his daughter had been close to them since she grew up in this area. So we were — he makes the best case, and I talked to one of the 35, you know, I’ve talked to a number that 35 in the House who voted for it, and that’s exactly the argument that those who voted for it made to their constituents, some of whom aren’t happy that they’re doing this. But that’s the whole point, it would be non-partisan. But it’s this protection, I think — I understand Republicans want to get away from Donald Trump, I mean, if Donald Trump disappeared tomorrow, I don’t think you’d have many Republicans in the search party. Maybe a few prosecutors, but not Republicans. So they want to get away from him. But the problem is, he’s not going to go away. But this is not about Democrats or Republicans; it’s about the country, and it’s about getting to the truth, and it’s about protecting the Capitol, the people who work there, and also making sure this never happens again. And that’s what the family so eloquently communicated, and I think, obviously, Senator Cassidy captured that well.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, Barbara Comstock, Chuck Schumer has promised one more vote on this commission, at least. Do you think you’ll get a face-to-face between the Sicknick family members and Mitch McConnell?

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

Well, Senator McConnell’s office had offered to have a meeting with the staff. It was late in the day, it had been a long day for the family. And at that point, given they’d indicated where the vote was going to be, that was passed on. But we would be happy to meet with any of the other senators to discuss really why Senator Cassidy is right. Senator Romney, you know, discussed that in the same way, as did Lisa Murkowski made — she was our last meeting of the day. And she was so gracious and kind to the family. And really apologizing to Mrs. Sicknick that she should even have to be there on this painful Memorial Day weekend when her son lies at Arlington National Cemetery, as she pointed out, because he fought so well. Officer Fanone said to many of the senators, he said, “We were so good at our job that day, I don’t think a lot of you realize what danger you were in. What could have happened from this mob that was saying, ‘Hang Mike Pence.'” And I think Officer Fanone is exactly right, which — and he will be heard in public, and should be, as should so many of the other officers who were on the frontline.

CHUCK TODD:

Barbara Comstock, a former member of Congress from Northern Virginia, thank you for coming on and sharing your experiences this week —

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

— with the family members and the —

BARBARA COMSTOCK:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

–officers. So joining me now is Democratic Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. He’s a former Army Ranger. He helped protect many of his fellow members of Congress on that frightful day on January 6th. He, of course, became an impeachment manager as well. Congressman Crow, welcome to Meet the Press. So I guess the question now is where do we go now? Where does this go next? And do — would you like to see Speaker Pelosi, if this is now a House-driven investigation, essentially follow the parameters of the commission that they wanted to develop to try to give as much credibility as you can to this investigation?

REP. JASON CROW:

Well, good morning, Chuck. Thanks for having me on. I mean, the question, first, is one of timing, right? So if Mitch McConnell has said that we are going to take another vote on this, I think the question for Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer is, you know, do we believe him that this will be a vote in good faith? You know, we had 54 votes on Friday. We think there were a couple more people that would have voted for it had they been present. So the question is, can we get those three or four additional votes, or are we just delaying the inevitable? And that is, are going to have to take up a select committee on the House side or some kind of House and Senate combined committee and do this ourselves? So I don’t know. I can’t read their minds at this point. But this has to get done. I am sick of playing the game of whack-a-mole with GOP members in the Congress. You know, every time we, you know, address one of their concerns, another one pops up. It’s like playing whack-a-mole at Chuck E. Cheese growing up. We just can’t continue to do that forever. We need to get answers. There’s an urgency to this. Let’s not forget that this is not a process in the integrity of history, although that is important. We have a growing violent extremism movement, movement in the United States. We have the spreading of the big lie that’s being used to further voter suppression laws around the country, and a growing number of Republicans are actually starting to believe more and more the big lie and undermine the legitimacy of the Biden presidency. So this is a problem that is prescient, it’s growing, and we have to address it with some timeliness.

CHUCK TODD:

Now you sound like somebody like me who’s got a little bit of hope that maybe, hey, there’s going to be one more vote for this commission, and maybe after they go home, maybe some, there’s a couple more minds that will change. But let’s assume that doesn’t happen. Is there any other alternative, a presidential commission from Joe Biden, a joint task force of the FBI? Is there any other method you would, you would suggest before going the select committee in Congress?

REP. JASON CROW:

Well, I think what’s really important is that we have some sort of bipartisan commission here. You know, we have to make sure we’re doing this in a way that helps re-inspire trust and confidence of the American people in our institutions. And we have to have subpoena power, and we have to get the information that you can’t get to, necessarily, with other investigations. I mean, there’s a GAO investigation going on right now that I actually asked for as a member of the House.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

REP. JASON CROW:

There are IG investigations that are going on right now. But what we really need to know is what was Donald Trump doing in the hours before the riot, during the riot? What was he talking to or telling his advisors? What happened with that discussion with Kevin McCarthy? Those are things that I think uniquely we can get through only through a bipartisan commission or a select committee with subpoena power that would be very, very hard for another government entity or agency to get to.

CHUCK TODD:

I’m sure you’ve had some constituents say this to you which is, if you can’t have a bipartisan agreement on something like this that normally would be above politics, think 9/11, think the Iraq Study Group. We could go through many instances of traumatic events in this country where bipartisanship eventually was used to get to the bottom of things, if you can’t do it for this, does this mean bipartisanship is really dead on any issue?

REP. JASON CROW:

Well, I share that question. I really do, Chuck. I mean, listen, I was there on January 6th. You know that. I made the call to my wife, I told her I loved her, I didn’t know whether I would be able to make it out of that chamber like dozens of other members, like journalists, like police officers that were there. Over 140 were beaten. One was killed. One later took his life. It was a terrible, brutal, and violent day. And let’s not forget, you know, the hours and the days after that attack, the way that my GOP colleagues were asked — were, you know, they were — way they were talking, the way they were acting. I remember actually very specifically, hours after we had retaken the Capitol and gone in and re-certified the election, Kevin McCarthy gets up on the House floor. And we were all sitting there on the House floor. There was still the smell of tear gas and broken glass all over. And he gave this speech about how people held the breach against the mob, and made sure that the House chamber hadn’t been taken. He actually called me out by name, and several other members. And then you fast-forward a couple of months. And it really wasn’t a big deal, it’s all about politics. You know, I am an optimist by nature, I think just like you, Chuck. But that’s being strained right now because, you know, the impact of fear, the fear of Donald Trump, and the impact of power, the desire for power, by certain elements in the GOP, is overriding, you know, that patriotism, that desire to do what’s necessary for the good of the country. And it’s, frankly, very depressing.

CHUCK TODD:

Jason Crow, an Army Ranger veteran himself on this Memorial Day weekend. Thanks for coming on and sharing your perspective with us, sir. I appreciate it.

REP. JASON CROW:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, on this Memorial Day weekend, if Congress can’t even agree on an independent January 6th commission, what can it agree on? Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, the panel is with us. It’s NBC News White House correspondent, Geoff Bennett; Former Obama deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter; Ayesha Rascoe, White House correspondent for NPR; and former White House political director for George W. Bush, Sara Fagen. Sara, I want to start with you, I want to put up two quotes here and try to have you explain why one is winning out over the other. First, Mitch McConnell from Thursday morning.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

If we set up this commission, I think the basic goal of our Democratic friends is to keep re-litigating in public what happened back on January 6th, rather than getting to a quick solution through arrests of those who did it and security adjustments to make sure it never happens again.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

And here’s Lisa Murkowski.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI:

We just can’t pretend that nothing bad happened or that people just got too excitable. Something bad happened. And it’s important to lay that out.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Is the answer simply politics?

SARA FAGEN:

Well, look, I think all things being equal, we should have this style of a commission. I think many people would agree with that, they certainly would agree with it privately. I think, however, you know, what the leader indicated in his quote there, was, in fact, that there’s no trust by Republicans that this commission would be anything other than a political weapon used to defeat Republicans in elections. And so Republicans find themselves in a difficult situation, at least politically, which is to say, you know, if you go forward with this commission, all you’re doing is setting yourselves up for months of conversation about Donald Trump, which as Barbara Comstock just indicated, they want to go away. And likely the timing of that would be used in the worst possible way, months before the election. Look, I remember, I was in the White House during the 9/11 commission. And even though that was truly a bipartisan effort, there were moments of partisanship. And the timing of it was sometimes conducted in a way, you know, to conduct politics as much as finding out the facts. And Republicans now just don’t believe that this will be anything other than politics.

CHUCK TODD:

Stephanie Cutter, it, I mean, however you want to look at it, it sounds like they’re afraid of the outcome. That that’s what it is. They’re afraid of what is going to be found out.

STEPHANIE CUTTER:

Well, they’re afraid of the truth. But you know who else they’re afraid — what else they’re also afraid of? They’re afraid of Trump. This is more about their politics with Trump than it is their politics with Democrats. Trump doesn’t want this commission because the truth will come out and there will be complicity all over the White House and all over Congress for what happened on that day for the insurrectionists. And when that happens, Trump, you know, Trump will be volatile, as he usually is. Trump will impede their ability politically to take back the House and the Senate. Trump is a factor here, and we need to acknowledge that.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Geoff Bennett, there were 11 senators who didn’t vote on this. And I want to put them up of the 11 because we have an idea, two of the 11 missing voters were Democrats. I think we know how they’d go. Pat Toomey indicated how he would go. Now, Richard Burr, who voted to convict the president for his — former president for his actions on January 6th, actually said he would not vote for this commission. But you look at folks like Roy Blunt, Mike Brown, Mike Rounds, without Mitch McConnell demanding a vote, a ‘no’ on this, does this commission go forward?

GEOFF BENNETT:

That’s the question I have. I mean, you have Chuck Schumer saying that he’s going to bring this up for a vote sometime in the, in the near future. But it doesn’t appear what would be different between now and then. Even if you have Kyrsten Sinema and Patty Murray and Pat Toomey and a couple of other Republicans, that still doesn’t get you to the 60 that you need. And to your earlier question about is this all about politics, I think the answer there, Chuck, is yes. Republican lawmakers have been surprisingly frank about their political aversion to this commission. Think back to the, the second impeachment of Donald Trump. You had Republican lawmakers at the time saying, “You know what, we don’t need a second impeachment. These questions are better investigated by a bipartisan commission.” Democrats on the House gave Republicans everything they wanted in these negotiations. And in the Senate, it couldn’t even pass a test vote. Mitch McConnell, the day after Donald Trump said he did not support a commission, Mitch McConnell said, “You know what, I don’t support it either.” And he began lobbying his members to object to it. So, and John Thune has said clearly that he doesn’t want voters in the midterm elections to be thinking about Donald Trump and what happened on January 6th. So to your, to your question, is it all about politics, yes, the question is, there’s a short-term solution, but does that really meet the needs of Republicans? Because if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi comes up with a Democratic-led commission, you know, she has control of the subpoenas, she has control of the timing. And it could really raise the political potency of whatever this commission finds.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, I don’t understand the rationale that somehow if this commission doesn’t exist, that somehow people are going to stop talking about January 6th. Ayesha, I want to put up a quote here from Tim Kaine because it takes us to sort of the next, perhaps, avenue of where this story is heading. And he said this, “If you can’t get a Republican to support a nonpartisan analysis of why the Capitol was attacked the first time since the War of 1812, then what are you holding out hope for?” Meaning this is about the filibuster, this is about 50 votes, this is about the idea if you can’t get bipartisanship here, where are you going to get it?

AYESHA RASCOE:

Well, and that’s really the question. I mean, there’s a question of how sustainable is this, right, to have the, to have a situation where the, the, you can’t even get Republicans and Democrats on the same page about an attack on the Capitol, on the seat of government. And that, and you have people saying, “Look, this is not sustainable.” But you have Republicans who are saying, “This is about making sure that Trump, that we’re not talking about Trump and January 6th.” Of course, the problem with that is Trump is talking about what happened in the election. He’s not letting it go, and he’s still leading the Republican Party. So you still are going to have, regardless of whether they have this bipartisan commission, you are going to have talk about this. And Republicans aren’t going to be able to escape it.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Sara Fagen, I guess that’s the question, you know, you’ve rightly said many Republicans want to put Trump in the rearview mirror. But Trump’s almost, in some ways, looks to be more empowered by the fact that Republicans are going along with his demands.

SARA FAGEN:

Well, I think, to some degree, perhaps, that’s true. But I think, you know, the notion that you’re going to do a commission with live televised hearings, you know, weeks or days before elections is probably what gives people pause. And I think for something like this to pass, there would be, need to be a lot of things worked out from committee members, to chairman, to staff, to timing. And I doubt seriously Democrats would go along with that. I’m not certain though I agree that this commission not coming together means that other legislation can’t get done. I think we’re at a very partisan time in our political history. And anything getting done is difficult. But this is arguably among the most political things that will come up, just given the nature of it, given the personalities involved that I don’t think this means an infrastructure deal can’t get done.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, well–

SARA FAGEN:

Or certainly not criminal justice reform.

CHUCK TODD:

We will see if those are prescient remarks on that one. Look, I’m going to hit the pause button here. When we come back, why more people are saying China needs to be more transparent about the origins of the Covid pandemic. That’s next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Did the Coronavirus leak from the Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China? The WHO has dismissed the idea. For months, most scientists scoffed at it. And for many, the lab leak idea got tangled up in politics and conflated with the idea that the Chinese deliberately released the coronavirus into the world. There’s no evidence for that. But while the jump from an animal to humans remains the most accepted theory, a growing number of scientists are increasingly open to the lab leak possibility. One reason: last week we learned that three Chinese researchers working at the Wuhan lab became so ill with flu-like symptoms in November of 2019 that they had to be hospitalized. That’s just when experts believe the virus itself began to spread in Wuhan. Now President Biden, who himself never dismissed the lab leak theory, has ordered the United States intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of this virus. Well, joining me now is Matthew Pottinger who was the deputy national security advisor under President Trump. He was an early critic of China’s handling of this pandemic. And he joins me now. Mr. Pottinger, welcome to Meet the Press. And I want to start, actually, with something that the Secretary of State said to me a couple weeks ago when I asked him a very point-blank question of whether China knows the answer already. Here’s what he said to me.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEC. ANTONY BLINKEN:

Here’s what I think China knows: I think China knows that in the early stages of Covid, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to, in real-time, give access to international experts, in real-time, to share information, in real-time, to provide real transparency.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

So I start with that premise here. There’s certainly, I think, now a collective agreement that China has not told the full story. What information in the next 90 days do you expect our intelligence community to be able to surface that will give us a better understanding of what happened?

MATTHEW POTTINGER:

Hey, Chuck, it’s great to be with you. And Secretary Blinken’s certainly, certainly right in that. You asked earlier in the show, what is an area where we can finally have some bipartisan consensus, and this is actually one of them. We had an amendment that was passed, that was put forward by Senator Gillibrand and Senator Marshall calling for an in-depth inquiry into the origins of this. And then, of course, President Biden had his bombshell statement calling on the intelligence community to do a 90-day review to try to come up with a definitive answer about this. I think there’s a lot that can be learned in 90 days. It’s conceivable that we’ll have an answer. And even if we come up short with a definitive answer, what we’re going to have is a foundation for additional revelations to come out from scientists around the world who are now going to be emboldened because they know that this is a priority of the United States. Scientists who previously were frightened of being canceled, you know, by the Twitter mob, are going to contribute to this endeavor.

CHUCK TODD:

What insights into the origins of the virus — look, you were — early on, you were one of the — you were the first person, I think, to wear a mask inside the, in the Oval Office. Early on, you were hearing about this in December. What do you feel like you know about the origins that you think need to be — threads that need to be pulled?

MATTHEW POTTINGER:

Well, you know, first of all, we have to agree that it’s absolutely essential to find out what the origin of this thing is. It’s essential for us to head off the next pandemic, it’s essential for us to better understand the variants of the current pandemic that are emerging. And this virus could mutate in ways that undermine our miraculous vaccines. And it also opens up, really, an overdue conversation about how to govern really cutting-edge but risky genetic research, including gain of function research, and, and the like, you know, synthetic biology. So I think that there’s actually an enormous amount that, that could come out. What we know right now is that both of these hypotheses that President Biden spoke of are valid. It could have emerged from a laboratory; it could have emerged from nature. Both of those are valid. Neither of them is supported by concrete evidence. But there’s a growing amount of circumstantial evidence, in particular supporting the idea that this may have leaked from a laboratory.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, The Washington Post indicated over the weekend that there is unexamined intelligence that folks are going to be going through which, of course, leads to the question of what happened in 2020? Did, did in some ways, the sort of irrational attacks on China, did that slow down efforts of the intelligence community to actually do some fact-finding?

MATTHEW POTTINGER:

Well, look, I think what slowed down efforts more than anything else were the early statements that were published by a few scientists dismissing the idea that it could have come out of a lab. And in fact, caricaturing people who thought that it might have come out of a lab. I think that — there was no credible evidence to support that —

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think your former boss’ statements contributed to that a little bit?

MATTHEW POTTINGER:

Well, you know, there are political mistakes that lead to, to, you know, trouble in government. And then there are institutional shortcomings. I think that this is more of an institutional shortcoming where the intelligence community, in truth, had really, had really looked to the CDC to have the lead, to be the lead agency to monitor for, for outbreaks and the like. There’s a lot of work that I think the intelligence community needs to do to build up its capacity to monitor these sorts of threats. And by the way, if this investigation expands not only to encompass the intelligence community but really our national labs like Lawrence Livermore, and also to rely on our allies, third countries like France. Remember, France built the Wuhan Institute of Virology. I’m very eager to know what the French would be able to share in terms of insights and cooperation.

CHUCK TODD:

I’m curious, do you think we can — if we have to go to China to get the facts that we need, and you need cooperation of the Chinese government, and they’ve decided to cover this up for whatever reason — maybe they don’t want to admit to their people they knew about it sooner, right? There’s all sorts of reasons they did this. Can we ever actually get a definitive answer?

MATTHEW POTTINGER:

I think we can. It might take more than 90 days, but look, if this thing came out of a lab, there are people in China who probably know that. We know that there are a lot of scientists in China — China has incredible and ethical scientists, many of whom in the early stages of the pandemic, came out to say they suspected this was a lab leak. Even the Wuhan Institute of Virology had first said, or first thought, “Was this a leak from my lab?” So those people have been systematically silenced by their government. Now that the world knows how important this is to the United States. The United States, when we lead, the world follows. That might also provide moral courage to many of these ethical scientists in China, for whom I think this is, this is weighing on their consciences. I think that we’re going to see more information come out as a result of this inquiry.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let’s hope it doesn’t take as long as it did with the Soviet Union and Chernobyl. But anyway, Matthew Pottinger, the former deputy National Security advisor, thank you for coming on and sharing your perspective with us, I appreciate it.

MATTHEW POTTINGER:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, we want to get a scientific perspective on this debate as well. So joining me now is Dr. Peter Hotez. He’s of course, he’s the director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and really one of the nation’s leading experts on all things of infectious diseases. Dr. Hotez, welcome back to Meet the Press. So let me start with this: how important is it to know the origin of Covid?

DR. PETER HOTEZ:

It’s absolutely essential, Chuck, and here’s the reason why. This is now our third major coronavirus epidemic, slash, pandemic of the 21st century. We had the original SARS in 2002, 2003 that arose out of Southern China, affected Toronto, Ontario. Then we had Middle East Respiratory Syndrome come out in 2012 and caused a terrible epidemic in South Korea in 2015. This is the third one, and nature’s already telling — Mother Nature’s telling us what’s going to happen. There’s going to be Covid-26 and Covid-32 unless we fully understand the origins of Covid-19. And this is absolutely critical and what’s needed, and, you know, what I’m concerned about is I think the intelligence community has been all over this for the last year and a half. It’s not like they’ve not made efforts. I think we’ve — I’m personally of the opinion that we’ve pushed intelligence about as far as we can. What we need to do is we need to do an outbreak investigation. We need a team of scientists, of epidemiologists, virologists, bat ecologists in Hubei province for a six to — six-month, year-long period and fully unravel the origins of Covid-19. That includes collecting virus samples and blood samples from domestic livestock, from bats, from laboratory animals. It means doing the same for people living in the endemic area. Remember, there’s some indications that this may have actually started in Hubei province as early as the summer of 2019. And the South China Morning Post reported that the first known case was in November. So there’s a lot going for natural origins. But it also means interviewing the scientists too and looking at lab notebooks. We have to do this. It’s not only in the national interest of China and the United States, it’s in our global interest.

CHUCK TODD:

Can it be done without China’s cooperation? I guess that’s the — I mean, is this one of those things we are stuck having to figure out how to get — just to get the epidemiologists in country to do these things? Can this be done without China’s cooperation?

DR. PETER HOTEZ:

Yeah, I don’t see how. I think we have to really put a lot of pressure on China, including possible sanctions, to allow a team of outstanding epidemiologists and virologists in China with unfettered access to animals, to people, to samples, to the lab. And it’s not going to be quick. It’s going to take a long time. And by the way, it’s in China’s own national interest to do this because two — now two of the major coronavirus pandemics have come out of China. And if you’ve ever been to that part of China, we did a lot of work in China in the 1990s, you know, it’s this vast mixing bowl, in Hubei province, north of Dongting Lake, this vast mixing bowl of goats and pigs and ducks and chickens and a high-population density. That’s why all the influenza viruses often arise out of China as well. And so we’ve got to figure this out.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there — is there any way to scientifically prove that this occurred naturally without going to China? Because they’ve yet to — it seems like it hasn’t been replicated yet with bats. Explain that.

DR. PETER HOTEZ:

Well, I think that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to — that’s why I’m talking about full access. I think, you know, really a detailed analysis of bat populations, all of the possible reservoir animals and people. And without that, it’s going to be really hard to sort this out. It could be that some of the Chinese scientists are already doing this. I haven’t seen a lot published coming out of China about that. But this is — we know how to do this. And we’re able to unravel it for other major pandemics. So we could do this for Covid-19. We have the tools.

CHUCK TODD:

Dr. Peter Hotez, really appreciate you coming on and sharing your expertise with us to break down this story. Thank you, sir. Up next, we’re going to look back at something 100 years ago tomorrow, to one of the darkest moments in American history, and one of the least known as well.

[BEGIN TAPE]

VIOLA FLETCHER:

I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home. I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. That was 107-year-old Viola Fletcher testifying before Congress about the Tulsa massacre. It was 100 years ago tomorrow that mobs of whites rampaged through the Black Greenwood neighborhood of the city of Tulsa. When the shooting and looting by whites was over, hundreds of African Americans were dead, and some 35 blocks of the neighborhood was torched, including the thriving business district known as the Black Wall Street. Our own Trymaine Lee is in Tulsa for us this morning. And Trymaine, sadly, for many Americans, they’re learning about this incident for the very first time.

TRYMAINE LEE:

That’s right, Chuck. History during the best of times is messy and complicated. Then you add in the kind of violence that we experienced here in the Greenwood neighborhood 100 years ago, and it’s even more so. And that’s part of the issue here is that for so long, this history has been buried, intentionally so. The government and the powers that be were all complicit in burying this story. Evidence was disappearing from the police department; newspaper stories were mysteriously evaporating from city libraries. This was simply pushed under the rug. But no more. The Black community here had long been raising their voices. And now finally, maybe, they’re being heard, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

And Trymaine, it is amazing to me, 83 percent of Oklahomans said they’ve never been taught about this. This is in the state of Oklahoma, let alone nationally.

TRYMAINE LEE:

Think about that, 83%. And what happens is often we want to take the Black history and silo it off. But when you don’t engage with Black history, the Black experience as part of the whole American experience, then you’re leaving a gaping hole in our history as Americans. And so the fact that 83 percent of Oklahoma has never heard this story, imagine what that number looks like nationwide. And that is a terrible shame and a stain on the history, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Anyway, Trymaine Lee who’s in Tulsa for all the events, plus you’re debuting your own documentary. Trymaine, thanks very much. And in fact, you can watch Trymaine’s documentary, Blood on Black Wall Street tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. And then any time you want on our streaming service, Peacock. When we come back, race in America, then and now.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is back with us. President Biden will mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre with a visit to the city on Tuesday. And as Trymaine Lee and I just discussed, it was only recently that many of us even heard of the Tulsa Massacre. Certainly, I don’t remember being taught it in school. I learned it later. One reason we did though hear of it, may be because of the trauma of George Floyd’s murder one year ago and the reexamination of America’s troubled racial history that it sparked. You know, Geoff Bennett, in my home state of Florida, we weren’t taught about Ax Handle Sunday, which was a massacre of African Americans in the city of Jacksonville. Eighty-three percent of Oklahomans. Do you think without George Floyd these commemorations this weekend are as big as they are?

GEOFF BENNETT:

You know, I think that’s a fair assessment. I think the graphic nature of that video that captured George Floyd’s killing, it happening during a pandemic where people were isolated and really had nowhere else to avert their attention, it really opened people’s eyes not only to that injustice but to other forms of injustice as well. And I think you rightly point out, Chuck, it wasn’t just Tulsa. There were other race massacres as well in Louisiana, Wilmington, North Carolina. There was Rosewood as well. And there are layers to this injustice. Miss Viola Fletcher, who we heard from earlier in the broadcast, is 107 years old. She testified when she was here before Congress, and I had to chance meet her, that because of the massacre her family had to move, she never completed school beyond the fourth grade. She never as a result of that made a lot of money. The most she’s ever done is be a housekeeper. And to this day, she still has trouble supporting herself financially. She’s 107 years old. The Centennial Commission in Tulsa has raised $30 million, and not a single penny has been given to the three known survivors, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Ayesha, I want to put something Jelani Cobb wrote that I thought was pretty poignant. He said this, “These two Memorial Days point inescapably not only to those who have died on battlefields abroad but to the theatres of conflict at home and the freighted politics of race, grief, and culpability.” You know, how can we continue, frankly? I mean, I think that this has been a moment where we’re opening the eyes of more Americans on our history. Can we have more of this?

AYESHA RASCOE:

Well, I think when you talk about what happened with George Floyd, the murder of George Floyd, and the response to that, and then you look at what happened in Tulsa, the survivors of Tulsa are now over 100 years old. It’s been 100 years, and there still has not really been justice. They’re still fighting for justice. They’re still looking for reparations. And not only did you have the violence of that, what happened in 1921, but you had all of the state violence that happened afterwards where they weren’t allowed to get loans, they weren’t allowed to rebuild. And this was not an isolated incident. And while you might not have had mass violence on this scale, you had so many things happening to Black people in this country. And so, that’s part of what was sparked last year with the murder of George Floyd, that there have been all of these instances, that there has been all of this violence. And there still has been no real justice. And so I think that’s why you see people looking for and asking for answers. And this has to be talked about, if you’re going to have anything happen in this country that changes it. And I will point out on Memorial Day that you’ve had Black people fighting for this country from the beginning and coming home and being lynched in their uniforms, being tortured and attacked in their uniforms. Black people have fought for this country.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Sara Fagen, you talked about, you actually were trying to talk a little more optimistically about bipartisanship earlier. Police reform might be the one place. You know, is this going to be the place where Republicans join Democrats on something when it comes to racial injustice?

SARA FAGEN:

I think that they can definitely get something done, and they need to get something done. I think one of the positive outcomes of the George Floyd tragedy was I think for a lot of white people in this country for the first time they realized that a majority, perhaps a very strong majority of Black men, you know, feel uncomfortable in the presence of police. And I think that cuts across, you know, income, education level. And, you know, that’s a pretty rude awakening for people, to sort of step back and say, “Wow, I didn’t know that. And yes, there are things that need to get done.” At the same time, I think it’s important to acknowledge the vast majority of police officers in this country get up every day and do a very fine job and certainly are not racist. And I think what happens so much in politics is that we overcorrect. And so, while police reform is needed and it’s important, I think it can get passed, you know, I think we’ve seen the Defund Police movement go too far. We’ve seen crime rise. We’ve seen homicides rise. And that disproportionately hurts Black Americans.

CHUCK TODD:

Stephanie Cutter, I know that the president met with the Floyd family. I want to put up some — I want to play some sound here of what George Floyd’s brother said because I had not heard this metaphor before, but I thought it was pretty powerful. Take a listen.

[TAPE BEGINS]

PHILONISE FLOYD:

If you can make federal laws to protect the bird, which is the bald eagle, you can make federal laws to protect people of color.

[TAPE ENDS]

CHUCK TODD:

Stephanie, this is, this is something I think President Biden wants to be a legacy.

STEPHANIE CUTTER:

Absolutely. And I think George Floyd’s brother right there summed it up. Like, why can’t we do this? And, you know, I agree with most everything that’s been said on this program about race relations and the awakening that’s happened since George Floyd’s death. But let’s not forget, even just this year, a thousand people have lost their lives because of police violence. So, this is not a new problem. This problem is not going to go away overnight. You know, I think overcorrecting on this issue is certainly in the eyes of the beholder. And for African American men across this country, why not overcorrect this so that they feel safe, so they can live in this country without fear of their own police officers, who are supposed to be protecting them, actually taking their lives?

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I think a lot of people would like to see what overcorrecting looks like first before we get upset about it. Anyway, look, tremendous panel. Thank you all today. And thank you all for watching. I hope you can enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day weekend. We’ll be back next week. Because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press.

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