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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 1/21/2021

Guest: Ron Klain, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Hakeem Jeffries

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, we are going inside the Biden agenda with White House chief of staff Ron Klain, and the next secretary of transportation, Pete Buttigieg. We`ll also be joined by members of Congress to consider the Biden agenda`s reception legislatively in Congress.

If you`re having a liberating feeling right now, you`re not the only one. Here is what Dr. Anthony Fauci said today after his first meeting with the 46th president of the United States of America, Joe Biden. And Dr. Fauci`s friend Ron Klain who will be our first guest tonight and who worked with Dr. Fauci when the Obama-Biden administration met the challenge of the Ebola virus.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, BIDEN`S CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER ON COVID-19: You know, actually, I mean obviously I don`t want to be going back, you know, over history. But 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 uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact.

I can tell you I take no pleasure at all in being a situation contradicting the president. So, it was really something that you didn`t feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn`t be any repercussions about it.

The idea 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.


O`DONNELL: On his first full day in office, President Biden signed ten more executive orders. Today`s orders were aimed at the coronavirus pandemic mandating masks on public transportation and directing federal agencies to use more time powers to require companies to produce N-95 masks, swabs and other urgently needed equipment for COVID testing and for administering vaccines.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our national strategy is comprehensive. It`s based on science, not politics. It`s based on truth, not denial. And it`s detailed.

You can review this entire plan -- this entire plan by going to It is so detailed. It is over 198 pages and complete detail what we`re going to do.

Our plan starts with mounting an aggressive, safe and effective vaccination campaign to meet our goal of administering 100 million shots in our first 100 days in office. We`re on day one.


O`DONNELL: You will not be able to step into an airport or get on an airplane without wearing a mask. We will discuss those aspects of the Biden plan with Pete Buttigieg tonight who completed his confirmation hearing this morning to be the next secretary of transportation.

Pete Buttigieg will join us later in the hour.

The Biden plan has many facets, but the easiest way to measure its success will be the number of people vaccinated.


BIDEN: This will be one of the greatest operational challenges our nation has ever undertaken. And I`m committed to getting it done. We`re committed to getting it done.

And I explained -- as I explained last week, we`ll move heaven and earth to get more people vaccinated for free and create more places for them to get vaccinated to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in people`s arms and to increase vaccine supply and get it out the door as fast as possible.


O`DONNELL: Today, President Biden said this about the vaccination program that he inherited.


BIDEN: While the vaccines provide so much hope, the rollout has been a dismal failure thus far. So I understand the despair and frustration of so many Americans and how they`re feeling.


O`DONNELL: Joe Biden is the most experienced person ever to take over the office of president, a senator of 36 years working with 7 presidents of both parties before becoming vice president for 8 years. With him for most of that preparation period for the presidency was Ron Klain who has more relevant experience including White House experience than any previous White House chief of staff. Ron Klain worked on Joe Biden`s first presidential campaign in 1998. After the failure of that campaign no one expected Joe Biden to try again.

In the 1990s, Joe Biden started working with presidents who were younger than he is and it seemed his time for the presidency had passed.

Full disclosure, I worked for Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan while Ron Klain was working for Senator Biden.

There was a lot of teamwork between the senator of New York and from Delaware especially when it came to the Supreme Court nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Senator Moynihan was Justice Ginsburg`s guide through the Senate, literally bringing her from door-to-door to visit senators before her confirmation hearing which was chaired by Joe Biden.

By that time, Ron Klain was working in the White House Counsel`s Office in charge of Supreme Court nominations. Ruth Bader Ginsburg handled her confirmation hearing perfectly and I know was grateful to have Ron Klain by her side every step of the way. My only contribution to the confirmation process was to give Justice Ginsburg my sofa in my office at Senate Finance Committee during breaks from her testimony in the Senate Judiciary Committee. So, yes, I am about to interview a friend.

I feel the way Tim Russert felt when he was hosting "Meet the Press" so brilliantly for 16 years when he had to introduce Senator Moynihan or New York`s Governor Mario Cuomo because before my time in the Senate, Tim Russert served as Senator Moynihan`s chief of staff. And Tim Russert served on the staff of Governor Mario Cuomo.

And Tim was always able to conduct a fair interview with his former boss and dear friend. And he always disclosed before those interviews his previous service with Governor Cuomo and Senator Moynihan on "Meet the Press."

And so, as you in this audience begin this journey with the Biden-Harris administration, I offer you one point on the compass that I know to be true of the two people working in the White House now who have been waiting for this day since 1998. President Biden said it yesterday when he said, quote, my whole soul is in it. We will all have our disagreements with President Biden, and we`ll have our disagreements with Ron Klain, policy disagreements, strategy disagreements.

But the words I will never doubt about Joe Biden and his friend and partner Ron Klain are my whole soul is in it.

And joining us now is White House chief of staff Ron Klain for his first interview from the White House.

Ron, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Lawrence, thank you for having me. And thank you for that use of that sofa back in 1993.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, it was close by. It was the easiest place to do it.

Ron, I want to go to something that Dr. Robert Redfield said today, the previous director of the CDC. He`s disappointed with the language coming out of the White House now about the work that was done there. He said: I`m glad we gave him -- meaning Joe Biden -- a foundation to build on. Last week, we had two days when we vaccinated 1 million people a day. We laid a foundation for vaccine administration.

I find it unfortunate when some people suggest that the vaccine program 1 million a day is somehow a disaster. But it will be a model when the Biden administration does it.

Ron, Dr. Redfield said that you should be thankful for the work that they did.

KLAIN: Look, Lawrence, I`ll be honest I`m thankful for some of the work they did. Thankful for the work more importantly that the scientists, the researchers, the people who participate in clinical trials, all the work they did that made it possible to have this vaccine.

But let`s be clear about two things. With regard to getting people vaccinated, the Trump administration had the vaccine for 40 days and got about 11 million people vaccinated. About a quarter million people a day. That`s nowhere near where we need to be. That was their record.

More broadly, Dr. Redfield and his team were in charge of this response for almost a year and 400,000 Americans died. We`ve had over the course of this past year 4 percent of the world`s population, 20 percent of the world`s deaths from COVID.

So we don`t need to relitigate the past anymore. It`s time to get started with the kind of response. Most fundamentally, I say, Lawrence, what I think agree, I think what the Trump administration would agree is they would not have a federally-led response. They really dump this problem on state and local governments.

We saw from the president of the United States today was his willingness to take responsibility, take ownership of the response, put out a 200-page national comprehensive strategy to get us on the right track to beat this virus.

O`DONNELL: I noticed today Dr. Fauci at the press conference was invited to share your rhetoric and to share Joe Biden`s rhetoric and say that the work done prior to now was a disaster. He didn`t do that. Dr. Fauci does not use the same language in talking about what`s been done up until now.

Is your rhetoric in conflict to actually what Dr. Fauci has accomplished himself?

KLAIN: Look, I think Dr. Fauci has done a magnificent job at every step of the way. He`s been right. His advice was often ignored.

Most importantly, we know he went months without seeing the president of the United States. His advice was especially ignored during that period of time.

Dr. Fauci is a doctor. He`s a scientist. He`s the best we have in the country. He`s not a politician and he doesn`t want to get involved in political disputes between administrations.

What you heard today, Lawrence, most importantly was Dr. Fauci at that podium telling it like it was with no handlers, with no one editing his remarks, with no one denying him access to the press. He`s going to speak truthfully about the science, about the state of the disease.

That`s what President Biden wants him to do, to tell the truth, tell the American people where we are in this fight, where we have to go, what has to be done.

O`DONNELL: Ron, the president talked about the 198-page report that you`ve prepared for him. I`ve got mine right here. He told us all to look it up and get it. Of course, I printed mine.

Ron, what I can`t find in here is what you were just referring to, which is how do I go -- how does anyone go and get their vaccine?

There is no 800 number in here. There is no central single website to go to guide you to the vaccine where you live.

And so, we are left now still with 50 different state approaches and then many different county approaches within the states.

KLAIN: Yeah.

O`DONNELL: And I know very few people tonight, Ron, who know where to go or how to check or who to call to find where the vaccine is.

KLAIN: Lawrence, that`s a great point, and we`re going to try to build that national resource, that one national clearinghouse. Right now, we`re inheriting a strategy that relied on 50 different approaches and many county approaches. What we`re doing is taking over and making it a federally led effort.

That still means people are going to get their shots where they live. But it means we`re going to add things that didn`t happen before -- 100 federal vaccination centers opened around the country by the end of next month. Mobile vaccination centers so we can get to people in rural areas and urban areas. We`re going to make it possible for people to get their shots from commercial pharmacies so that people can go get their shots where they get a flu shot or other vaccination.

So our first initiative, Lawrence, is really to speed up the pace of which these shots are being administered, the locations where you can get them. I agree, though, there`s no question. It needs to be easier and more transparent for people to figure out how to get their shot and when to get their shot.

O`DONNELL: Ron, President Biden got his shot on December 21st. Has he had his second shot yet?

KLAIN: He had his first and second shot publicly administered to build more support, more confidence in the vaccine.

O`DONNELL: There is some doubt out there now about the second shot. On page 40 of your 198-page report, you say this about the second shot. The administration will end the policy of holding back significant number of doses that will accelerate supply available now to the American public to continue ensuring second dose availability on the timeline recommended by the FDA.

The administration will hold back a smaller reserve and will closely monitor development, production and release of vaccines to use the Defense Production Act as needed to ensure adequate supply.

That seems to be the spot in these 198 pages where people are supposed to find their confidence that the second dose will be there.

If I was waiting for my second dose right now, Ron, I don`t find the specificity in there I`d hope to see.

KLAIN: Lawrence, I disagree with that. I think what you see in that report is our commitment to make sure that the supply will be adequate so that people who got their first shot will get their second shot. Look, because the previous administration fell so far behind on giving first shots, frankly, it`s sad. We don`t need as many second shots this month as we should. And so we have more vaccine to get people their first shots this month. And as production ramps up, we`ll be giving people their second shots when they need them in February, March and so on.

We`ve got a very carefully coordinated program with the vaccine manufacturers to increase production and to stay on track to get everyone the first shots and then the second shots when they need them.

And, Lawrence, it`s more complicated than that and I should say it in a way that`s reassuring to people. One of the orders the president signed today is to use the Defense Production Act to ramp up production of a very specific kind of syringe that allows us now to get six doses of the vaccine out of a vial instead of five. And that DPA authority and getting those syringes made actually increases our supply effectively 20 percent as soon as those syringes are available.

O`DONNELL: On page 46 of the report, you seem to achieve something that Republicans have refused to do legislatively and the previous administration refused to do. And that is funding to help the localities, cities, counties that are trying to administer this that have absolutely zero budget for this. And it looks like you`re using Medicaid funding to do that. It says you`re going to use the federal Medicaid assistance percentage method to do it, which means you will not need a legislative appropriation of money to do this. This will automatically come out of Medicaid funds.

KLAIN: That`s right, Lawrence. And, first of all, some money to do this was passed by Congress in that bill that happened right before Christmas, that passed the Congress right before Christmas, was signed ultimately by President Trump. And we think we have enough funds to get going on this program.

We`re going to need more help from Congress. You heard the president of the United States when he was president-elect last week stand up and address the country in prime time and make the case for what we call the American rescue package. A big part of that package is funding the next steps we`ll need to pay for more vaccine rollouts after the first few months, to pay for more help for the states, to reach the hard to reach people.

So we`ve got some funds to get us through this month, next month into March, but we need action by Congress now in the next few weeks to make sure we`re funding the rest of the vaccine rollout through the spring and on into the summer.

O`DONNELL: Ron, I have a lot more I want to get to. On the other side of the vaccine coin, there is the economics and what the vaccine means for the future of the economy. We`re going to squeeze in a commercial break here. Please come back with us. I hope it`s not too cold out there on the White House lawn.

We`ll be right back with Ron Klain.



BIDEN: The more people we vaccinate and the faster we do it, the sooner we can put this pandemic behind us and the sooner we can build our economy back and build it back better, and get back to our lives and to our loved ones. We can do this. We can do this if we stand together as fellow Americans and as the United States of America.


O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, White House chief of staff, is back with us.

And, Ron, you do have a COVID relief bill that is urgent business for you to get people across that bridge from here to the space Joe Biden was just talking about when there`s a vaccine that has been distributed in such a way that some level of normalcy can return to the economy. What is the speed you`re required to get this relief passed in order for it to be effective? You`re talking about $1,400 in additional relief for Americans and other provisions that have a time urgency to them.

KLAIN: Yeah. Well, Lawrence, we want the Congress to act as quickly as it can. It is a big package. We have a big problem.

We have millions of Americans who are out of work. We have millions of Americans in food lines. We have millions of Americans who can`t take time off of work even though they`re sick because they don`t have paid leave so they`re bringing the disease into the workplace.

And, of course, as you said, we need those survival checks for people. We need to fund the rest of the COVID response.

So, we like Congress to act as quickly as possible. We understand Congress is going to hold hearings. They`re going to look at this. They`re going to make up their own minds. That`s the way the process should work.

But we certainly want Congress to move urgently on the American rescue package the then president-elect announced last week, that he talked about today from the White House. We`re pressing Congress to move forward.

O`DONNELL: You`re going to have work with Chuck Schumer on how to schedule confirmations of your cabinet and other nominees, an impeachment trial in the Senate and this relief legislation which is very time urgent.

How are you going to put that together?

KLAIN: Well, you know I think Senator Schumer has made it clear he`s going to make sure the Senate does all of its business. That`s its constitutional obligations under impeachment, constitutional obligations to consent and national obligation to respond to the COVID crisis. My guess is that this legislation will start in the House, where they`re not similarly burdened, move there first and then work its way over to the Senate. There`s a lot of work to be done here.

I`m convinced, though, that Congress can in both chambers work on this package, move it forward quickly enough so we have no lapse in the response so we can get people the urgent, urgent help they need.

O`DONNELL: The Biden administration is now populated by the key players other than Barack Obama in the Iran nuclear deal. You have John Kerry working on climate issues. You have Wendy Sherman back as an under- secretary of state in the State Department and Joe Biden himself heavily involved in this.

What is your timetable for reintroducing the Iran nuclear deal to the United States participation?

KLAIN: Well, you know, as our Secretary of State designate Tony Blinken testified before Congress last week as part of his confirmation hearings, he said we consult with our allies, we consult with people on the Hill, we`ll consult with Israelis, with others before we make a final decision how to proceed with reengaging with Iran, reengaging around this -- the nuclear challenge. He also made it quite clear that President Biden is not going to allow Iran to acquire nuclear capabilities, but we`re going to be consulting widely before we move forward on that.

O`DONNELL: The -- to have John Kerry back in the administration after having been secretary of state and being the key negotiator of the Iran deal suggests he`s going to be able to have something to say about this advice for Tony Blinken as things go along. It`s very unusual to have a former secretary of state like that in an administration with a new secretary of state working on something he already did.

How are those jurisdictions going to be sorted out to everyone`s satisfaction?

KLAIN: You know, Lawrence, Secretary of State Kerry came back to on a very specific assignment, to be the first ever presidential envoy on climate change, working closely with Gina McCarthy here at the White House, who`s running our domestic climate change strategy. You know, President Biden ran on addressing four great crises, COVID, the economy, systemic racism and the climate crisis. And we`re grateful that Secretary Kerry`s agreed to come back and to take on the international side of that climate crisis. He`ll be working towards our participation in a global effort.

It started yesterday with President Biden putting us back in the Paris accords. Secretary Kerry will be leading our effort to take that work forward and to help fight climate change around the world with U.S. leadership.

O`DONNELL: The tariff regime that`s in place with China was not legislated as tariffs usually are. It was put in place by a president who said this is national security issue, these tariffs. They have hurt farmers. You`re currently running inheriting a subsidy program for farmers to pay for what they`re losing through the tariff system that`s been imposed on China.

Joe Biden has the executive power to remove that tariff structure and end those subsidies. What is the future of that arrangement? Of basically making Americans pay more for Chinese goods through tariffs and then having the treasury compensate directly farmers for what they`re losing in soybean sales?

KLAIN: Well, again, as Secretary Tony Blinken said to the Foreign Relations Committee last week, we think some of the things President Trump did to get tougher on China were overdue in terms of the mindset. A lot of the specifics the Trump administration used we don`t think were that effective. We`re looking at measures how to best protect American manufacturing, American production, how to take on some of the Chinese unfair trade practices.

We`re going to be looking at all those measures going forward. We think it`s very important that the U.S. recognize, both cooperation and competition with China as a reality and that we get a little tougher with China than we have been in the past.

O`DONNELL: Health care has been a top priority, legislative issue for the past two Democratic presidents. Bill Clinton began his presidency with an attempt to health care reform that failed. The Obama presidency actually finally succeeded with one. And now the Biden presidency is there largely because of a promise to make Obamacare into something stronger, to make it into an Obama-Biden care.

What`s the legislative timetable for that? Is that a 50-vote strategy through reconciliation in the Senate and the House for example?

KLAIN: Lawrence, I`m not going to get in to our strategy on that yet. You know, we`re focused right now first and foremost on these immediate crises. And, you know, part of our nation`s number one health care problem right now is that people are dying from COVID. And so that`s our immediate health care challenge to deal with the pandemic, to make sure, for example, that the vaccine is free, to make sure that people can get the testing that they need to see if they have the virus.

So we`re going to tackle that first and then I think there`ll be time for broader more systemic changes to health care later on.

O`DONNELL: White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain, thank you for joining us tonight. Ron, one more thing before you go. How does it feel? You`re at the end of your first full day as White House chief of staff, how does it feel?

KLAIN: Well, Lawrence, I`ll be honest -- I am dead tired. That`s absolutely true, but I`m so excited.

It`s amazing for us to be here and have the chance. The first two days, the president signed a number of executive orders to get us going on climate change, on COVID, on the economy, on tackling racism. We`ve made progress already. We`re seeing cabinet officials confirmed.

It`s just a very, very exciting time. I`m just so honored and thrilled to be part of what Joe Biden has led us to and be part of this effort going forward.

O`DONNELL: We all wish you as much rest as you can get. Thank you very much for joining us, Ron. Really appreciate it.

KLAIN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Up next, the masterful performance of Mayor Pete Buttigieg in his Senate confirmation hearing this morning. The next transportation secretary will join us next.



SEN. ROGER WICKER (R-MS): You were on "The Tonight Show" last night with Jimmy Fallon.


WICKER: And you`re on "The Morning Joe Show" this morning. In terms of a thrilling experience how does being before this committee today compare to those?

BUTTIGIEG: I would characterize this as a unique experience, Chairman.


O`DONNELL: It didn`t get much more difficult than that for President Biden`s nominee for Transportation Secretary in his confirmation hearing this morning.

Here`s what the outgoing chairman Republican Senator Roger Wicker said about the nominee.


WICKER: Mayor Buttigieg has impressive credentials which demonstrate his intellect and commitment to serving our nation.


O`DONNELL: There are only two kinds of nominees who get treated like that in confirmation hearings. Senators and people who are smarter than senators. Pete Buttigieg is not a senator. Every Republican senator including extremists like Marsha Blackburn treated our next secretary of transportation with respect and friendliness except, of course, Senator Cruz who did not dare challenge Pete Buttigieg on any policy issues. But he did reach for his rhetorical specialty, that tone of voice that only to him expresses a sense of superiority over the person he is speaking to.

When I worked in the Senate. I used to schedule confirmation hearings in the Finance Committee and manage all of the staff work for those hearings. I`ve seen more senate confirmation hearings than I could ever count.

And what I saw this morning was Pete Buttigieg delivering a master class in how you handle your senate confirmation hearing. Any kids out there who want to grow up to be secretary of transportation or secretary of anything, just watch how Mayor Pete did it today.

But always remember it`s what he did before today that made it so easy -- homework.

Joining our discussion now, Pete Buttigieg, President Biden`s designee for transportation secretary.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight at the end of this long day with your confirmation hearing. And you might not believe this, but maybe your husband and I were the only people who did this, I watched every word of your confirmation hearing from start to finish. It`s what I do.

BUTTIGIEG: Thanks for following along.

O`DONNELL: And I have to say one of the things that was demonstrated is really what a solid choice you are for this because of your background. You made a point I hadn`t thought of, which is that you come from the kind of bottom end of the user system of federal transportation policy.

As a mayor you`re down there at the bottom of this chain that flows through funding chains and things flow through the federal government through state house, through governors into localities.

And that`s what everyone in Washington is always wondering about is they want to know how do we get that pavement actually on the ground, and where does it go? And that`s a unique experience you`re bringing to this.

BUTTIGIEG: You know, that is a big part of what I hope to bring into the department. You know, when you`re a mayor you`ve had that experience of, you know, hoping to get a call returned by the Department of Transportation.

The experience of trying to compete for limited funding that the DOT is making available, dealing with the regulatory framework that the federal government has.

Remember, you know, the federal government doesn`t just regulate companies. It regulates cities and states and communities. And my hope is that having that perspective will help me make sure that the department is user- friendly the many communities that we really need to make sure that we`re supporting with the historic opportunity that I believe is in front of us right now to make a generational level investment in the infrastructure of this country.

You know, at the end of the day those dollars can be authorized in Washington, decisions can be made in Washington, but everything depends on whether they can be effectively delivered and deployed in communities across the country.

O`DONNELL: I want to go to a safety issue that no previous secretary of transportation has ever had to deal with. The president talked about it today, and that is masks in public transportation, intra-state transportation, every airport, every airplane. How are you going to enforce that? What`s the mechanism in place that`s ready to go for that?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes. The DOT has always been about safety whether we`re talking about the FAA and air travel in this country or any of the other kind of dimensions of the department. Usually when we think about safety and transportation, of course, we`re thinking about preventing crashes. And that continues to be the core mission of the department.

But now we`ve been reminded of a whole other element of traveler and worker safety and transportation. That`s preventing the spread of the virus. It`s why the president acted right away with an executive order that`s laying out the need for mask mandates, to use those federal authorities, whether we`re talking about airports, airplanes, intercity buses, trains. Essentially wherever there`s a federal responsibility to keep passengers and workers safe.

That extends to doing something about keeping them safe from COVID. We`re going to be -- if confirmed I`ll have a chance to join a department that is already getting to work on implementing and executing those orders because there`s no time to lose. The authorities are there. We`ve got to make sure that they`re used in the right way to keep Americans safe.

And in the end, you know, we all want to see a return to normal. Part of what it`s going to take to build back a transportation and travel industry that`s really been decimated by this virus is for there to be a perception and a reality that any traveler is safe, which of course, means making sure those safety measures are in place.

O`DONNELL: You talked about something today that I`ve heard others struggle trying to phrase correctly what you call transportation equity. And it`s the concept of we might need different things for different people.

And somebody, you know, who has $150,000 Mercedes and pulls out of the driveway just cares about what`s going on in the pavement in his community. The person who might come to clean that person`s home has to care about the bus system, might have to care about the rail system and other ways of getting to that same place that wealth allows you to just drive to and from.

How do you take that into account in real policy terms?

BUTTIGIEG: That`s right. Transportation equity means making sure that we have policies that serve everybody whether you own a vehicle or not, whether you live in an area that has historically been well-served with a lot of transit routes or well-funded infrastructure or not.

And we know, for example, when it comes to racial justice in this country, this is one of the biggest things that I think is at stake in transportation policy. So many neighborhoods often black neighborhoods, one of two things happen -- either they didn`t get transportation resources at all or neglected, had transit deserts meaning that residents were cut off from opportunity.

Or the opposite happened -- investment happened but it happened in the worst way like in the form of a highway going right through a neighborhood. And again, often this was in predominantly black and brown neighborhoods that didn`t have the political power to resist some of what was going on or to weigh in to shape it.

This is something we have a historic opportunity to do something about because I think we`re going to be positioned to make historic investments. And so listening is going to be so important. Listening to local leaders, engaging with state and local and, by the way, territorial and tribal citizens and governments that have so much at stake.

And that`s part of what I`m really excited to do in the department.

O`DONNELL: I don`t know if you maybe -- I think you`re too humble to have picked up the dynamic in the room today. But you had a lot of people who were basically supplicants to you today. They know you`re going to be the treasury (SIC) secretary. They know you`re going to have a hand in funding and projects that can affect their lives. That`s why you were getting all those invitations.

Senator Wicker wants you to come to Mississippi, wants to show you some projects down there. Senator Sinema wants you to come up to Arizona, see the interstate project she wants to work on. And Markey of course needs you to come up to the Cape Cod Canal to see the Sagamore Bridge and the Bourne Bridge that need to be replaced.

You`ve got a lot of invitations and that is, of course, because they recognize they`re going to have to come to you when those big packages are being put together involving financing of those kinds of projects.

How do you sort them out? How do you look at a project and say this one has value, this one does not measure up to the value of the other one?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we`ve got to make sure that we are transparent about the criteria especially as grant programs are developed. And those criteria have to include a lot of things.

It`s making sure that it leads to the main economic and other policy priorities that the president`s put forward. You know we just spoke about equity. Clearly that`s going to be an important consideration.

Climate is a huge consideration because, you know, some transportation projects show more promise than others in helping the U.S. lead the world on dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. Remember the transportation sector right now is the largest sector in the U.S. contributing to those CO2 emissions.

So, you know, I`m looking forward to work -- I`m looking forward to the trips for sure. I`ve been invited everywhere from the Gulf Coast to Alaska and I`ll certainly be here to do that. But also to working with these senators to make sure that we`re meeting those policy goals with all of those projects that we`re contemplating.

O`DONNELL: My favorite invitation was Senator Young inviting you to Indiana where, of course, you live but everyone got the joke.

Next secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it. Please come back whenever you can.

BUTTIGIEG: I`d love to. Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And up next the Biden agenda in Congress. How will the house, how will the senate take on the Biden legislative agenda and manage a senate impeachment trial?



JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Is unemployment insurance only an issue that Democrats in the country want? Do only Democrats want their kids to go back to schools? Do only Democrats want vaccines to be distributed across the country?

That`s -- we feel that that package -- he feels that package is designed for bipartisan support. I think if you talk to Democrats or Republicans on the Hill, which I know many of you do, they will say they`re not looking for something symbolic. They`re looking for engagement. They`re looking to have a conversation. They`re looking to have a dialogue. And that`s exactly what he`s going to do.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She`s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Also with us Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York. He is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the House leadership.

Congressman Jeffries. let me begin with you tonight, because Ron Klain just said he`s hoping and expecting that the House of Representatives will move on the COVID relief bill first because it`s able to do so without the burden of either Senate confirmations of cabinet members or a Senate impeachment trial.

Is the House ready to go first on the COVID relief bill?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Well, good to be with you, Lawrence. And good to see you, Amy. You did a great job yesterday at the inauguration.


JEFFRIES: I think from our perspective, you know, the COVID-19 pandemic is not a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. It`s an American problem. And we need to deal with it with the fierce urgency of now.

And so the House is prepared to act immediately to do three things. Crush the virus by ensuring that we ramp up testing, tracing, treatment and, of course, vaccinations; providing direct assistance to every day Americans who are struggling, increasing direct payments, survival checks to $2,000 and provide assistance for housing, food insecurity as well as unemployment.

And of course lay the foundation to super charge our economy so we can create prosperity in every single zip code. So we`re prepared to act and excited to partner with the new administration and with the Senate Democratic majority.

O`DONNELL: Senator Klobuchar, I know when I was working there one of the constant conversations is the White House doesn`t understand what we`re going through. You have a White House that understands. You have a veteran senator who`s now become president. You have Ron Klain who worked in the senate.

You have people who understand exactly what you`re going to have do to juggle confirmations -- all of these important confirmations, a senate impeachment trial and the legislative agenda of the Biden administration beginning with COVID relief.

How would you suggest tracking those three things at the same time?

KLOBUCHAR: American people right now are juggling everything. And we should be able to do the same thing in the Senate. And when I think about working with the Biden administration I first think I just saw Jen on TV actually answering questions. We haven`t had that for four years.

I just saw your program in which you had a thoughtful discussion with future Secretary Buttigieg as well as with Ron Klain about what we need to do. And I figure if Mitch McConnell really wants to work with us and he is negotiating with Senator Schumer through the last few days, we can do this.

We can do confirmation hearing and get these nominees through. We`ve got I think -- I`m hoping we get two more done tomorrow. We can do an impeachment hearing in the afternoons. And we can pass legislation at night.

American people are doing it. They`re balancing their laptops on their desks and their toddlers on their knees. Their first graders are learning to mute button just to learn to read, and this is not the time to mess around with politics as usual.

I know that Leader Schumer feels that way. We just got our three new senators sworn in yesterday. And we are ready to go.

O`DONNELL: Congressman Jefferies, what beyond the COVID relief bill -- what else is on the House legislative agenda that you believe needs to go early?

I`m not sure we have Congressman Jefferies video -- or audio anymore.

Senator Klobuchar, let me go back to you -- let me go back on the same question. The challenge with an agenda is always timing. And it is a detailed process trying to figure out exactly how to lay that out, especially in the first year.

The first 18 months are the most valuable time of any presidency. That`s where all the big accomplishments usually occur. What do you believe after COVID relief should be the legislative priorities of the Biden administration?

KLOBUCHAR: Well, let me make clear that COVID relief and the pandemic package we have to get through to get the vaccines are distributed, expanding production -- has to go hand in hand with economic relief for the American people.

And President Biden has laid out very clearly what he would like to do with direct help for people as well as helping -- continuing to help struggling small businesses.

But then there are other priorities. Immigration reform, Lawrence, ripe for work. We actually had a bipartisan agreement on a major piece of immigration reform with DACA, the dreamers and with the temporary workers that were here.

And we had a bunch of Republicans on that. And we were gut punched by the Trump administration. Those Republicans are still interested in working with us on immigration reform. I would put that high on the list.

Infrastructure, something that Joe Biden loves. That`s something that has tended to have bipartisan support. Moving forward on climate change, something our world cannot wait for.

So all of these things are things we must do, and the American people have been waiting too long.

O`DONNELL: Congressman Jefferies, immigration reform is a major promise of the Biden administration. It`s January 21st now -- on what date can people expect to see the House moving immigration reform?

JEFFRIES: Well, the legislation`s going to be carried by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez of California. We`re excited that she`ll be leading the effort in the House. It will be, of course, before the judiciary committee.

Chairman Nadler has made clear that immigration reform will be a high priority amongst many other bills that we`re going to have to move forward in the area of racial and social justice, for instance, the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act as well as the John Robert Lewis Voting Rights Act so we can finally end the era of voter suppression.

There`s a lot of work to do because the Trump administration has done so much damage to the fabric of America, and we are ready to move forward.

O`DONNELL: Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thank you very much for joining us at the end of this first full day of the Biden/Harris administration. We really appreciate it.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Lawrence.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. Thank you.

Up next, a very special LAST WORD about the people who have now gone to work for President Joe Biden.



PSAKI: He`s also eager to get to work. He was asking questions about policy and COVID and what`s next. And so, you know, that also reflects his desire to roll up his sleeves and get going.


O`DONNELL: It was fun to hear the White House press secretary quoting the president yesterday afternoon in the Oval Office saying, "what`s next"? Because -- this --


MARTIN SHEEN, ACTOR: This is landing (ph). What`s next?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Thomas and majority leader had asked for a conference in --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At 7:00 you have --


O`DONNELL: What`s next? Is the last line Aaron Sorkin gave the president in the first fictional day of the Bartlett presidency depicted in the Emmy- winning series, "The West Wing", which is now bingeable on HBO Max, which I know many of you have been doing over the last four years.

This week, "West Wing" Emmy-winning actor Richard Schiff directed my attention to this video posted on Twitter which Richard and other "West Wing" cast members just love.


O`DONNELL: Ah, the music gets me every time. The new cast of the new real West Wing welcomed to their new jobs by the brilliant Snuffy Walden`s Emmy- winning music is our LAST WORD 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."