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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 1/21/2021

Guest: Jen Golbeck, Howell Raines

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: At the end of this first full day of work for the Biden-Harris administration, what`s next? What`s next here on MSNBC is the 11th Hour with Brian Williams.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. This was day two of the Biden administration. And now comes the hard part and there`s no practice round.

President Biden`s first full day at the helm comes exactly one year, one year after our country recorded its first coronavirus case. We are now well over 24 million cases 410,000 dead. That is because of a toxic year of malpractice and malfeasance.

Today, Biden signed a string of executive orders rolled out a national strategy to combat the pandemic, while delivering an honest and forthright warning that more tough times are ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: Let me be very clear, things are going to continue to get worse before they get better. The death toll will likely top 500,000 next month for the past year, we couldn`t rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination we needed. And we have seen the tragic cost of that failure. Our national strategy is comprehensive. It`s based on science, not politics. It`s based on truth, not denial and its detail. Our national plan launches a full-scale wartime effort to address the supply shortages by ramping up production and protective equipment, syringes, needles, you name it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The new president`s plan involves invoking the Defense Production Act, increasing state aid, a comprehensive vaccination campaign including rolling out FEMA, expanding testing and treatment and requiring masks on public transportation including aircraft. Reopening more schools and businesses also a key part of the plan which makes the vaccine component all the more important, communities across our country experiencing vaccine shortages including New York City, which is due to run out of vaccine by tomorrow.

Biden has pledged his administration will vaccinate 100 million people in his first 100 days. So far the CDC says the Trump effort resulted in about 17 million injections so far.

Today, Amazon offered to help with the vaccine distribution effort. A big development today was seeing Dr. Anthony Fauci at the White House briefing, 80 years of age, a national treasure recipient of the Medal of Freedom and now finally able to speak freely to the press and the American people. Today he was asked about getting vaccines to as many Americans as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We certainly are not starting from scratch. We are continuing but you`re going to see a real ramping up of it. The goal that was set by the president of getting 100 million people vaccinated in the first 100 days is quite a reasonable goal. If we get 70 to 85% of the country vaccinated, let`s say by the end of the summer, middle of the summer, I believe by the time we get to the fall, we will be approaching a degree of normality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Fauci also spoke about his time working with the Trump White House crowd and his concerns about the sidelining of science and the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAUCI: It`s very clear that there were things that were said be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that, that really was an uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact. You didn`t feel that you could actually say something, and there wouldn`t be any repercussions about it. The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is, and know that`s it, let the science speak. It is somewhat of a liberating feeling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Amid all of this, we have no health secretary to replace the outgoing Trump supplicant, Biden`s nominee Xavier Becerra has yet to be confirmed. President`s cabinet so far has only one confirmed member. In fact, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, she may soon be joined by Retired Army General Lloyd Austin as defense secretary, full Senate expected to vote on his nomination tomorrow. Now that Congress has given him the waiver, he needed to run the Pentagon as a civilian.

Meanwhile, Biden has decided to stick with Trump appointee Chris Wray as FBI director. The agency is currently knee deep and investigating the Capitol Hill riot as well as being subjected themselves to a review of intelligence procedures ahead of that insurrection.

Trump still facing a second Senate impeachment trial for inciting that attack. Mitch McConnell today offered Majority Leader Schumer a proposal to start the trial in February giving him more time to confirm Biden nominees, giving Trump more time to prepare his defense.

Speaker Pelosi still hasn`t sent the article of impeachment over to the Senate side of the Capitol and is giving no clues about a timeline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I`m not going to be telling you when it is going.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you at all concerned about moving forward with impeachment trial could undercut that message and alienate Republican supporters of the president?

PELOSI: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why.

PELOSI: No, I`m not worried about that. Just because he`s now gone, thank God that we -- you don`t say to a president, do whatever you want in the last months of your administration. You`re going to get a jet -- get out of jail card free. Because people think we should make nice, nice and forget that people died here on January 6.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The big news for Trump today a lawyer has been found who is willing to defend him at the trial. South Carolina attorney Butch Bowers will take the Trump impeachment case on recommended by Trump buddy Lindsey Graham.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Thursday night. John Heilemann, author, journalist, our National Affairs Analyst, co-host of the Circus on Showtime Executive Editor over at the Recount, Julie Pace, Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, and Dr. Vin Gupta, back with us, critical care doctor specializing in these types of diseases, an Affiliate Assistant Professor at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Julie, I`d like to begin with you and your beats in a city that cuts everything, and everyone down to size, is there a barely perceptible, but growing realization that Biden`s plan, this wartime effort may in fact be what we need?

JULIE PACE, AP ASSOCIATED PRESS WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Well, I think it`s certainly what a lot of Americans have been waiting for, which is a national plan and national strategy. I think that the reality is that what he`s rolling out here is what public health officials have been recommending for months. And the challenge he has is that he has to make up so much ground. The fact that this plan is only being implemented now has left us in this situation where there is such a scattershot approach and response. There is such confusion among a lot of Americans about what exactly they should be doing, especially as they hear things about new variants as they wonder when they`re going to get the vaccine. So yes, I think very much this is the plan that the country has been waiting for. But big challenges await this president as he tries to implement that plan and get a lot of Americans to get on board with it.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Doctor, I assume you applaud the fact that someone is now running this, I assume you applauded just the mere sight of Dr. Fauci being able to speak freely from the West Wing of the White House today. If your cell phone rang tonight, it was Joe Biden at the other end asking you, Doctor, what`s the clear and present danger? What`s the most urgent need where you are? What would you tell the president?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, Brian. Yes, everything you just said, and there`s hope. But what people, all your viewers need to know out there is we`re still in the midst of the worst part of this pandemic. And vaccination wall is giving us that medium term hope. It`s not going to get us out of the thick of it right now. So, there`s two things right now I would tell the president. Number one, I would tell him to start messaging very clearly to the American people about monoclonal antibody therapy. I`ll do it right now. But for all those out there that meet one of a certain set of the following criteria they`ve tested, if you`ve tested positive for the virus, if you`ve had mild to moderate symptoms in the last 10 days, if you`re between say, 12 and 18 years of age, and you weigh at least 88 pounds, and you might have a risk factor for a bad outcome, you have a preexisting condition, or say you`re on the older end of that spectrum 55 and older, for example, go to COVID.infusioncenter.org. There, you can look up places that might have availability of these monoclonal antibodies that say President Trump, for example received.

We think if you get it early, and he meets some of those criteria, it could save you from seeing me and my colleagues in the ICU. And why is that important, Brian, 4.4 -- 4400 people died just yesterday on Inauguration Day from this virus, we need to be talking about diminishing transmission, mitigating loss of life as we`re ramping up vaccination.

Lastly, say teachers should be vaccinated before they go into in-person instruction. We do not need another variable here to increase case transmission rates and hospitalizations.

WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, let me pick up on our last conversation on this broadcast where you and I agree that the looting of the Capitol was one of those rare events that looms larger in its importance with the days that go by the more we learn is the Trump handling or more appropriately mishandling of coronavirus, the same thing?

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don`t know, Brian about that. I mean, I think look, I there`s no question that as the Biden team comes in and discovers just how much malfeasance, misfeasance, malpractice, and brings to light by kind of by necessity as they start to kind of figure out what they`re working with. And they had such a hard time in the transition, getting transparency about what they were going to be working with on all fronts, but in this one in particular, they`re kind of, you know, we`re learning exactly how bad the situation was inside. So I think in that sense, yes. I mean, there`s no doubt that, that we learn more, and what we blurred is more damning.

So in that sense, yes, I think I agree with you. I think, though, the place where I think it`s not quite the same is that, you know, Joe Biden has been very clearly and very rightly sort of made this his responsibility now going forward. And I think the one thing that I would say about this first full day in office was it reflected something that Jen Psaki said yesterday, which was, you know, Joe Biden, you know, wakes up in the morning thinking about how to deal with coronavirus. He goes to sleep at night thinking about it. And I think that`s not just it`s mostly because it`s the most severe crisis, the most immediate crisis facing the country.

But also I think that the Vice President, given the way he -- now president, sorry, can use those titles, the way that he ran last year and given the scale of the problem, he knows that getting on top of this virus is the main thing on which he`s going to be judged. If they can get this right, he`s going to have an extraordinarily large amount of political capital to work with going forward, it`s going to reignite the economy and address one of the other big crisis he`s talked about. So, they`re focused on it as central and because they`re making it so central to their focus going forward we`re going to very quickly move away. I think from, you know, it`ll be important to history how badly the Trump administration screwed this up. But the Biden team is putting themselves on the line here and they`re going to be where we`re now focused and where the country is now focus is, OK, buddy, you said you could do a better job. Let`s see it.

WILLIAMS: And Julie, Mitch McConnell, the old campaigner, has rolled the dice in one way of viewing it, saying, hey, let`s put off this impeachment trial for let`s call it two weeks, we`ll confirm more of your cabinet selections. Coming off my question to John, two weeks also gives us a lot more knowledge and evidence as to what went into the incitement of the riot on the Hill. AirGO, the trial of the former president in the Senate, where, I`ll just throw this in, by the way, Joe Biden needs 10 Republicans to cross over to give him $1.9 trillion in his signature package.

PACE: Absolutely. I think that McConnell is rolling the dice here a bit. There are a lot of different ways that this can cut. On the one hand, it is true, you know, the Senate is not great at doing multiple things at once. And Biden does need to get his cabinet confirmed. So, this would clear some space for that to happen. At the same time, we are deep in these investigations and the President`s role. What happened with he and his allies in the lead up to that riot is very central to some of these investigations.

There are of course, political factors here. You know, McConnell has been sending some mixed messages himself about how he might vote leaving open the possibility that he could vote to convict but certainly not a confirming that that`s where he`s headed. And you can definitely be assured that in these next two weeks, he`s going to be taking the temperature of his caucus trying to figure out where these Republicans are not just on this issue, but on what they feel this vote means for their party going forward. They face an incredibly uncertain future as the GOP.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, with these new strains on their way here with an increased rate of contagiousness, 50 to 70%. It just sounds unbelievably scary. A question we get all the time, for people who`ve had their first shot, for people the lucky few who have had their second, what does that buy you? Do you live any differently, should anything about your life and the way you are in circulation or not or go about your life change?

GUPTA: Well, first, Brian, it should buy you reassurance that these vaccines are safe and effective and they are going to keep you out of the ICU, they will save your life. So that`s the bit -- that`s the reassurance of knowing that is vital. What I`ll say is it doesn`t mean, you shouldn`t - - that you can`t do start not wearing a mask in public or go on leisure, travel or not wash your hands diligently for socially -- or stop socially distancing. All those things still apply, Brian, because we do not yet know with confidence if vaccines prevent transmission of this virus, we do know they`ll keep you out of the ICU. That`s why everybody who`s washing this should get it. But we don`t know that critical question. And that`s why we`re still saying please be vigilant until we`ve reached herd immunity as defined by Dr. Fauci and others.

WILLIAMS: John Heilemann, even though we`re only in our second day of White House press briefings at the able hand of Jen Psaki, someone who is known to many of us, your folks over at the Recount have already received, they`ve heard enough to be able to compare and contrast Biden era briefings and Trump era briefings. We`ll look at the compilation they`ve put together discuss it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, FORMER TRUMP PRESS SECRETARY: Some members of the media were engaged in deliberately false reporting.

JEN PSAKI, BIDEN WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There will be times when we see things differently in this room.

SPICER: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration period.

PSAKI: That`s OK. That`s part of our democracy.

SPICER: That`s what you guys should be writing and covering.

PSAKI: The importance of bringing truth and transparency back to the briefing room.

SPICER: I will see on Monday.

PSAKI: Let`s do this again tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Jen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Jen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So, John, what`s the takeaway here? Do we just reset the way back machine to normal and put all campuses on true north and pretend abnormal isn`t out there pay no worship to the garish sun?

HEILEMANN: No, I think actually the opposite, Brian, that thinks part of the reason why we wanted to do that piece of video why we`ll continue to do it, I think it`s right when people say that your Donald Trump is no longer the president of United States and we should not be paying attention to him, not pay attention to him at all, because he still is a factor in American life. But he`s the amount of coverage job that Donald Trump gets now as a private citizen, should be dialed way, way down.

That`s right and proper, I think it`s important for the sake of exactly for the sake of reestablishing and reminding people about what normal should look like, about what administration that it behaves in a way that`s proper in a way that`s responsible, the way that`s responsive, to remind them that there was this other thing, don`t let it get sucked down the memory hole. That`s why we`re going to keep making videos like this, the Recount, where we will remind people when we see the Biden ministration doing its job the way that it should. And trust me when the Biden ministration doesn`t do its job, we`re going to call that out too. But when it`s doing its job the way it should, we want to remind people about what it was like four years ago, when Sean Spicer gave that press conference and set so much the tone for everything else that we would see going forward.

It`s -- never forget is a good phrase to be applied to a lot of things in life. And I don`t think it will be helpful to our country to forget some of the worst trespasses of the Trump era. And I don`t think it would be -- I think it`s also good for us to point out places where the Biden administration is trying to make things right.

WILLIAMS: Of course, no credit for the Shakespeare quote as if that happens on cable all the time. John Heilemann, Julie Pace, Dr. Vin Gupta, three friends of this broadcast, thank you, great to see you. Appreciate you coming on.

Coming up for us, tough times for QAnon. Sure, as they see it, celebrities continue to molest children, drink their blood but the purge, the coup, the storm scheduled for yesterday, never arrived, where does that leave Q and the Proud Boys, the whole gang now? We`ll ask our two various serious experts on the topic.

And later, what to do with a president who incited insurrection? Try him or pardon him? We`ll ask two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists to weigh in all of it as the 11th Hour on this Thursday night is just getting underway.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: We are being led to believe that QAnon followers are in disarray after Biden was inaugurated after all in the storm never came, the coup they predicted yesterday never got here, no mass arrests. In fact, one of our next guests Ben Collins writes this, while Biden took the oath a top post on QAnon forum read, I don`t think this is supposed to happen and wondered how long does it take the feds to run up the stairs and arrest him."

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports the Proud Boys have started mocking one Donald Trump, "members of the group have started calling Mr. Trump a shill and extraordinarily weak according to messages review by the Times."

It`s a lot to talk about. We have two experts with us to do that Jen Golbeck, she`s an expert in malicious online behavior. She`s also an author, a professor at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, and the aforementioned Ben Collins of NBC News, who watches the darkest ends of the internet for us, while we`re glad that is not us.

Ben, I`d like to start with you. First of all, is there a typical QAnon believer? Do they tend to be all in? Or is there an all la carte approach where you just believe John F. Kennedy Jr. is alive or you just believe democratic celebrities are molesting children while making pizza? Who is the stereotypical believer?

BEN COLLINS, NBC NEWS REPORTER COVERING QANON: Well, there`s all manner of QAnon believer and I guess the scary part is over the last few weeks, there are a bunch of new ones. You know, they were QAnon text messages over the last two to three weeks. They were chained messages, they were sent around all throughout the country, and through Facebook messenger to and, you know, they said that exactly what you just outlined that Inauguration Day wasn`t really inauguration day that Donald Trump was going to seize power. And all these democrats that were at the inauguration weren`t really at the inauguration. They were all about to be rounded up. So that`s, that`s the scary thing here is that this was reaching random people throughout the country. It wasn`t just your standard pro-Trump fan, who is so into this and really, really hates Hillary Clinton. It was reaching yoga moms and religious groups. It was reaching random people who had really no self- identification with QAnon. But it got to them over the last few weeks. Thankfully, now, since nothing happened. There`s really no wiggle room for those new supporters.

WILLIAMS: And, Professor, is that pandemic related has the pandemic and everyone being within their own lives and existences and selves. Some people order stuff on Instagram they live to regret, has this effect of the pandemic pushed people into conspiracy theories more than normal?

JEN GOLBECK, EXPERT IN MALICIOUS ONLINE BEHAVIOR: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, one, a lot of us just have more time on our hands to spend poking around in the internet, and, you know, playing these kind of mind games, which are really at the heart of a lot of the QAnon stuff. But also, if you look at conspiracy theories more broadly, people tend to buy into them, especially when there`s fear, there`s insecurity, there`s a lot of uncertainty in their lives. And you know if you can say anything about COVID, it`s that it`s created that situation for a lot of us. So psychologically it`s made lots of people ripe for buying into all sorts of conspiracy theories.

QAnon was kind of prepped and out there and ready to be bought into. So I think that`s why, you know, as we said, you`ve seen a lot of people, even in the last couple months really jump on the Q train, even though it`s something that`s been going on since 2017.

WILLIAMS: And Professor, you must, in your line of work have the equivalent of a degree in psychiatry by now, it is tempting to say that people on the Q train are on the train to crazy town, but what is the advice about how to approach people in your life, who are either the all in or a la carte believers, people who may seem on the level, but the more you talk, the more you realize, oh.

GOLBECK: You know, it`s tempting to want to shame them, especially after yesterday, when there was this big build up, there is going to be the storm and nothing happened, right? Like, I get the shot and afraid of the moment. And, you know, you can have that private feeling, I guess. But we don`t want to have all of those people who are out there believing in QAnon, and it`s a lot of 56% of all Republicans, but into some part of the queue conspiracy. We don`t want them all out there in conspiracy land. We want to bring them back to be productive members of our political discussion. And to do that they need an off ramp from this kind of irrational space where they`ve been buying in.

We as liberals can`t do that. The media can`t do that. Because the heart of this conspiracy is that the media and liberals can`t be trusted. They need people that they can trust, to help bring them back to a space without making them feel bad. That may be their family members. But it also I think, is going to fall on conservatives. And the danger if they don`t do that is that someone is going to, and what we`re starting to see is some of these white supremacist groups that weren`t necessarily buying into Q that were part of the Trump coalition, are coming on to the Q message boards, like on telegram and saying, hey, if you`re really frustrated, and you`re mad about this, come talk to us because we`re mad about the same things. So that off ramp is being offered by white supremacists. I think mainstream conservatives who didn`t buy into any of this have to very quickly step off and offer another option for the cue people to come join, be productive, and focus on issues that they care about without shaming them for, you know, buying into this conspiracy theory.

WILLIAMS: As if that`s not scary enough. Ben, what happens with the social media purchase, what happens when you funnel the activity by throwing it off of other platforms? It doesn`t go away.

COLLINS: Yeah, that`s the worry. And that`s what Jen was talking about. You know, there`s a term that white supremacists use for these people who`ve just been banned from Parler. They call them Parler refugees, and they`ve been explicitly targeting these people, you know, these 70,000 QAnon accounts that didn`t have anywhere else to go.

And, you know, in moments like this QAnon supporters, they might stop believing in parts of the conspiracy theory, and that`s great news. But they don`t go and instantly go sit down and read the Sunday New York Times and just start ingesting good information. They go to the closest thing that they had before, that sort of confirms their priors, you know, they still have this cast of characters, they have a cinematic universe of bad guys, Hillary Clinton, and John Podesta, all these other people, but they think, again, eat children.

So they don`t -- they`re not going to go read normal news, they`re going to go to the closest thing. In white supremacists are glad to, you know, keep those fantasies up for them as long as they sort of hop into their cause. So they will take in those Parler refugees. It will single them out, they`ll bring them into, you know, from those large groups they have, they`ll talk to them in private messages, and they will try to radicalize them. They will try to turn them into, you know, white supremacist terrorists. That`s the point what they`re doing right now.

So again, you know, just like, John, was saying, I think, you know, it`s very easy to laugh at these people over the last few days. And you should, I mean, it`s -- they are, what happened is very funny. But also, it`s very sad. You know, a lot of these people had a horrific year, and they turned to answers that were ridiculous to us but to them made a lot of sense. And if we can provide them the sort of grace that they cannot provide us, you know, it`ll be better off (inaudible).

WILLIAMS: Well, thank you, both of you for that. I`ve never heard a better explanation. And you both dwell in a dark world. But we sure appreciate you explaining that, from time to time to us and our audience. Professor Jen Golbeck and Ben Collins, thank you both.

Coming up for us, Biden calls the challenges before him a time for testing. But one of our next guest says it`s a moment for us optimism. Some of us, in fact are old enough to remember optimism. We`ll discuss after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Folks, just the time of testing. We face an attack on a democracy and untruth a raging virus, growing an equity, sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America`s role in the world. Any one of these will be enough to challenge us in profound ways. But the fact is, we face them all at once presenting this nation with one of the greatest responsibilities we`ve had.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: No president since FDR has taken overpower at a time when America has been so low. We`re in the midst of the largest mass casualty event of the modern era. We could have as the president warned us today, half a million dead by February. Our economy is crippled, our politics are broken. And he wanted the job.

We thought this was a good night to talk to two of the most heavily decorated journalists we know. Howell Raines is back with us, the veteran author and journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner. He`s the former executive editor of the New York Times. And Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post. Gentlemen, good evening to you both.

Howell, I get to talk to Eugene all the time. I haven`t talked to you in months. I hope the New Year finds you well. I want to show you the cover of Time Magazine. And yes, in doing so I realized that more people just now see it, then we`ll buy it at the Kroger tomorrow. But it says day one, the Oval Office like the capital has been tagged and defiled and loaded. How did they get it about right?

HOWELL RAINES, FMR. EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF THE NEW YORK TIMES: They did what an eloquent picture. Congratulations to Time. As you just said, as the President just said, and as Rahm Emanuel said today, no president in our memory has come in with this agenda of difficulty.

And I was so pleased to hear Dr. Fauci use the word liberated yesterday when I was listening to him. Because I think it captures something of the national mood. I`ve been a professional watcher of politics for over 50 years. And no event that I ever witnessed brought me the feeling of relief that I felt in seeing this man take office and this other man leave the Capitol.

Now as to the agenda of problems, I think Joe Biden is the man for this moment, for several reasons. One, he has a Roosevelt in temperament. And he got, as you said, a Roosevelt in agenda of difficulties. And also after 36 years in the Senate, and eight years as Vice President, he`s got the best political chops in Washington. He is not to be underestimated. And I just think it`s going to be really interesting to watch him push his agenda. And also, I think he`s too smart to get caught in the game of punishing Trump.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, there was a measurable decrease in anxiety levels across the country. But take us into the future, make the case for how the Biden administration can impeach and chew gum at the same time, which is, by the way, what they would be asking of the U.S. Senate, especially if they accept this bargain from Mitch McConnell, put it off for two weeks, we`ll get some of your people confirmed, then we`ll take it under consideration.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, and look, I think the Biden White House has to go about the business of saving the country, about the business of dealing with the COVID pandemic and getting vaccines into arms and dealing with the economy and they have to go by the business.

I think the U.S. Senate does have to take up the impeachment trial, and I look on agnostic as to whether they do it immediately, or they do it in two weeks, or they do it in a month or whatever. But I just believe there does have to be accountability. He can`t have, you know, president who tries to cling to power by assembling a mob in the Capitol and sending it off to sack the Capitol building and, you know, five people die and the entire Congress lives are endangered in that way. There has to be accountability for that.

WILLIAMS: Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stick with us. I`m going to sneak a break in now. That way we can continue our conversation at our leisure on the other side where important questions remain for both.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The President bears responsibility for Wednesday`s attack on Congress by mob riders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: McConnell has said that President -- former President Trump and other important people provoke those folks to come to the Capitol. Do you believe that President -- former President Trump provoke?

MCCARTHY: I don`t believe he provoked if you listened to what he said at the rally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Reversed himself over the course of seven days. What a change of heart from the House Minority Leader on Joe Biden`s first full day as President. Luckily still with us Howell Raines, Eugene Robinson.

Eugene, there is now officially nothing. The likes of Graham and McCarthy aren`t willing to say to support the home team, which still to my lights is the Trump team. My fellow in New Jersey and former Secretary Donovan famously said who do I see to get my reputation back? Gentlemen like that are not so encumbered. They don`t seem to care. What`s that about? Is it kind of a just simply a political nihilism?

ROBINSON: Well, I guess for Kevin McCarthy, who`s trying to leave the Republican caucus in the House, he has a lot of trumpets, basically, that`s the bulk of his caucus is a bunch of trumpets, true believers, and he`s got to sort of straddle between them. And the establishment Republican Party, which is trying to get rid of the of the Trump influence that sees this as an opportunity.

I think Mitch McConnell is also walking that line. McConnell was a better politician than Kevin McCarthy. But, you know, McConnell, sees what`s happening to the party, he sees what happened to the party under Donald Trump.

You know, he used to be majority leader and now he`s minority leader and he`s hopping mad about what happened on January 6 at the Capitol, and I think he would be happy to take this occasion if he could to read the party once and for all, or at least to the extent possible, so you know, you`re going to see him try to walk this fine line and somehow keep their party together.

WILLIAMS: Howell, there was a fever dream among Democrats that people like the Lincoln project, and Republicans against Trump would have kind of a Yalta Conference. The modern-day political equivalent of going through a dumpster behind KFC and looking at the wreckage and the detritus of what used to be the Republican Party and may be having a hand in assembling and drafting a new Republican Party. Clearly ain`t going to happen.

So what is the Republican Party thesis going forward? What`s its brand? Is it just a disparate collection of views around a broken idea?

RAINES: It`s a party in advanced decay. And I think one of the things that we need to look to measure that is, the polls tell us that at least 50 percent of the American people no longer believe in political reality as we have defined it in this country. That means if you address them, it would be like saying to someone who just told you, I don`t believe in algebra, that we need to have a conversation about mathematics.

So I think that pathology has to play out your previous guests suggested maybe other conservatives, moderates family members in their party, and bring them back into across this reality chiasm. But Gene is right also to direct our eyes toward Mitch McConnell in this moment, because that decay in the Republican Party is so illustrated in the Senate.

This is not the Senate that once had Republican lions, like AB Dirksen and Bob Dole and John McCain. This is a Senate of a fraternity of ambitious brats, like Hawley and Cruz, and Tom Cotton. So, and that brings us back to McConnell. And he rises to the level of statesmanship of a former Kentucky senator who was a great advocate of bipartisanship, John Sherman Cooper, who worked with both JFK and LBJ. And in one of his terms as senator voted with the other party 50 percent of the time, even though he was a Republican.

Does Mitch McConnell have the stuff of statesmanship in him? I don`t think so. Frankly, I haven`t seen it yet. But if the party is going to reclaim something like its historic role, I think McConnell is the man to watch.

WILLIAMS: Because we are all of a certain age, I`ll tell -- I`ll accept your names and raise you three more. Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, Mac Mathias. I don`t ever think we will see their like, as long as we`re alive to draw a breath again. It`s just not that party. It`s not that country and Howell to your point, it sure isn`t that senate.

This is why we invited these gentlemen tonight because of this conversation, though. Why the times never tried to hire Robinson is beyond me. Howell Raines formerly of the New York Times, Eugene Robinson, who remains with the Washington Post Pulitzer Prize recipients all, thank you. Thank you. We`ll do this again.

Coming up, the new and worrisome strain of coronavirus. They tell us could be dominating here just weeks from now.

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WILLIAMS: If you watch the briefing, then you know Dr. Fauci today said the existing vaccines can fight the ability of the virus to mutate once the vaccines get out there and do their job. He also said the vaccine formulas can be tweaked along the way to react to these new strains. So that`s hopeful.

However, tonight our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel lays out why these new strains are cause for so much concern.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In London, COVID deaths have risen to nearly twice last year`s peak, largely because of that new, more contagious strain of the virus. The CDC estimates could be dominant in the US in March.

It`s not the only strain, a South African variant may have evolved to infect people more than once.

DR. RICHARD LESSELLS, SOUTH AFRICA INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: This virus can spread a bit more efficiently from person to person

ENGEL: Dr. Richard Lessells discovered the South African variant.

LESSELLS: We worried that this variant may be able to escape the some of the natural immunity that elicited by infection with the virus, that is it`s possible that this variant is able to reinfect people.

ENGEL (on camera): What about the vaccines, the vaccines we have now? Can they stop the South African variant?

LESSELLS: So, we don`t know yet. And that`s really one of the critical questions that we`re now addressing.

ENGEL: While the data is still coming in a new study yet to be peer reviewed, reports the South African variants ability to evade antibodies may make current vaccines less effective.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Richard Engel for that report from London tonight. Coming up for us the briefest reminder of where we`ve been to get to where we are tonight.

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WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight is about where we`ve been. Let`s talk about what happened four years ago today, the comic initial appearance by Sean Spicer in the briefing room, a press secretary in the headlights and a now famous cheap suit.

First time we ever learned that Trump`s people were in fact willing to say whatever he wanted them to say. Then came Trump`s obscene appearance at CIA headquarters, bragging about crowd size in front of the wall that honors the dead.

But of course, there was something else that day something historic. The Women`s March, the day humanity decided to push back half a million peaceful people in Washington, huge crowds in cities and towns across our country and around the world for that matter.

And on that day, a song emerged co-written by a survivor of sexual abuse. It was rehearsed on Skype across the country mostly among complete strangers, then shared with DC area acapella groups. They sang it when they all got together for the first time at the March. It had the added power of being starkly beautiful as we get to hear again tonight.

How about that, the song is called Quiet. The last four years have been anything but, but fast forward to four years later, Joe Biden inaugurated after his twice impeached predecessor fled town in disgrace. And just this moment from today, for example, the first woman vice president swore in the first woman Director of National Intelligence, evidence of change that is the opposite of quiet.

That is our broadcast on this Thursday night with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all the men and women at the networks have NBC News, good night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END