Spike in Houston TRANSCRIPT: 7/8/20, All In w/ Chris Hayes

Guests: Kathy Hoffman, Trevor Potter, Bernie Sanders

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: And that does it for me. Do not go anywhere because you know what`s coming next, "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes.

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CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on ALL IN. A desperate president threatens to defund schools as the White House override CDC guideline for reopening. Tonight, Donald Trump`s election year plan to send your kids back into schools at any cost.

Then, flashbacks of New York. New reporting on the rapidly growing number of Houston residents dying at home. Plus, bullying, intimidation, and retaliation. Why this star impeachment witness says he was forced out of government and why Republicans are now concerned Trump`s war on absentee ballots will backfire on them. When ALL IN starts right now.

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HAYES: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. Countries all over the world have successfully reopened in their schools. Denmark was the first country in Europe to do so reopening all their primary schools all the way back on April 20th. In Wuhan, the first epicenter of the virus, schools started reopening at the end of April. In Singapore, schools reopened in the beginning of June and they have even restarted some extracurricular activities.

Now, of course, this hasn`t all gone smoothly everywhere. Reopening is hard. There have been plenty of places where the virus flared up and they had to close schools again. But these countries who`ve struggled with the Coronavirus proved it is possible and we all desperately need American schools to reopen.

Pediatricians, parents, educators, basically anyone who deals with kids, they all agree it should be a priority at every level of government and for all of American society to get full time in-person school open again in the fall. But right now, that is looking unlikely because we have the worst Coronavirus response in the world.

That has not stopped the president. He is now trying to reopen schools the exact same way he tried to reopen the economy despite the fact that his push to reopen the economy created the disastrous and catastrophic conditions we are in now, which is what makes the school problems so difficult to solve.

Remember what everyone said when we were locked down on the show night after night after night? We needed to use that time to suppress the virus and put infrastructure in place, testing, and tracing, PPE, and all sorts of stuff to keep it from coming back. We did none of those things.

And then the CDC issued guidelines to the States about how to reopen safely and slowly but the president pushed states to ignore those guidelines, which many of them did, and they reopened too early. And now, now, what do we have? We have a curve that looks like this.

Unlike anywhere else in the world, the virus is on a huge upward spike in this country. We are setting records with a number of cases nearly every day. There are massive outbreaks in Arizona, and Florida, and Texas, and South Carolina, and Alabama. New cases are increasing in 38 U.S. states and territories.

We`ve already seen more cases and more deaths than anywhere else in the world. All the while, the President has been focused on one thing, his reelection. And his reelection, he thinks depends on economic growth, and getting back to normal.

And so, the president and his administration, and the Republicans who will go along with everything he does are out pushing the message so hard that things are good, and we`re moving in the right direction. But it is so preposterous that even Trump T.V. is not buying it.

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HOGAN GIDLEY, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, TRUMP 2020 CAMPAIGN: Are you better off now than you were before? And the answer, undoubtedly, is yes. And that --

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BRIAN KILMEADE, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: But with the pandemic now, the -- you know, that the growth is not there. You know, the unemployment still 11 percent. So, you can`t really say you`re better off than you were three years ago because at the very least the pandemic. So you can`t really say that, right?

GIDLEY: No, absolutely. Of course, you can`t say that.

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HAYES: God bless you, Brian Kilmeade. You can`t -- I mean, there`s 130,000 people dead and millions unemployed and they can`t -- I mean the country is a burning garbage fire, so I think it`s a little hard to sell that message, right?

Instead of dealing with the virus and the public health crisis, the president pushed everyone to reopen to get the economy restarted, right, so that the jobs could come back and he could get his growth and he could be reelected. And now here we are. And he is doing the same thing with schools right now.

There is a number of long list of problems that have to be solved in order to open school safely. The President isn`t capable of solving them. He just wants to open so that people can go back to work, and so things can be normal, so he can get reelected. Earlier this week, he tweeted in all caps, "schools must open in the fall." He threatened to cut off funding if they do not reopen.

Today, once again, he said he disagrees with the CDC guidelines this time for the schools. He said he will be meeting with them. Now, we can only assume to push the CDC to change their actual scientific guidelines. Here`s how Vice President Mike Pence, the head of the Coronavirus Task Force defended that today.

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MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: I think what you will see in the coming days what you heard from Dr. Redfield yesterday at the summit and again today is very consistent with the President`s objective and the concerns that he`s raised. We don`t want the guidance from CDC to be a reason why schools don`t open.

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HAYES: So if I got that, right, we don`t want the guidance from the nation`s top health protection agency about how to stay safe in a pandemic to be the reason why we don`t send our kids to school while we are suffering from the worst outbreak in the world, so the President will tell them to change the guidance.

And again, it`s not the first time he did that, just like he did back in April and May when the CDC released reopening guidance he did not like, just like he pressured governors to ignore that guidance, given by his own administration to reopen, just like he pushed the CDC to edit their guidance for reopening churches. And now he`s not happy with CDC guidance on school. So what do you think is going to happen?

Look, the last person in the world you can trust right now with the safety of your kids is Donald Trump. Not only because he`s willing to change or ignore scientific guidelines about how to keep Americans safe, or because he`s threatening to cut off funds for schools when what they need is a massive amount of money to afford all the changes needed to make it safe to bring back students. But also because the best-laid plans are not going to survive first contact with an outbreak.

This is the fundamental problem for everything right now from elementary school to the MBA. Other countries suppress the virus and have kept it suppressed. We never did that. And now we`re trying to figure out how to live in a burning building, as opposed to putting the fire out. It`s not going to work.

So let`s say you have a plan in place in your local school district to have in person instruction with safety measures like masks and social distancing, what happens if there is an uncontained outbreak? What would you do if you were running the school say in Arizona, which is leading the country in cases per capita right now?

Well, Kathy Hoffman actually has that job. She`s the State Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Arizona Department of Education, and she joins me now. It`s great to have you superintended. I want to read part of a statement you issued today and just get you to sort of elaborate on it.

You said, "Today`s discussion at the White House Summit on safely reopening America`s schools did not reflect the magnitude or severity of Arizona`s growing public health crisis. I welcome more aggressive actions from Governor Ducey as the governor of Arizona and our public health officials to help mitigate the virus` spread." What are you -- what are you saying there?

KATHY HOFFMAN, STATE SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION, ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION: Well, as you mentioned, Arizona has one of the -- if not the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the country. It was only a week ago that we had nearly 5,000 new cases of COVID in one day, on the day that Vice President Pence came here and said that he was sending an additional 500 doctors to help Arizona.

So we are dealing with a crisis, a public health crisis here in Arizona. We recently announced the delay of in-person instruction, pushed it back to August 17th so we will be starting the school year with distance and online learning.

And frankly, President Trump and his administration is out of touch with reality that if they think we can -- that we must open schools under these circumstances, they are putting educators and our students lives at risk.

HAYES: So, I want you to take me through your thinking on this because you`re one of those people that has to figure out how to solve this Rubik`s Cube which is very difficult. The American pediatric Association says we need to get school -- kids back in an in-person school. I think parents want to see that happen. We think transmission risk among children is lower than adults considerably, though the data is a little unclear. There`s the risk to the adults in the building. How are you thinking about what it would look like to safely reopen schools in your state given all those factors?

HOFFMAN: Well, first, I want to say I shared that goal. I`m a former speech therapist, I`ve worked in special education. I want nothing more than for our students to be back in the classroom where we know they receive so many services and academic supports, social emotional support. So that is 100 percent our goal is to get our students back into the classroom, but we must do so safely.

And in Arizona, it`s not even -- we don`t even have -- our bars, our gyms are closed. So how can we say that our schools can reopen when as a community, we are having to close businesses and we`re going in the wrong direction with again, we`re facing record numbers of hospitalizations, record numbers of people on ventilators. We should not be putting our teachers, our cafeteria workers, our bus drivers` lives at risk. When we are in the middle of this pandemic.

HAYES: How do you think about what would be necessary? So there`s two problems it seems to me right. So, the problem that I just said before they were trying to figure out how to live in the burning building, right? Like Arizona setting record cases, it`s very hard to see how you pull this off. In states where the virus is suppressed, if you were -- if you had your job, and Arizona wasn`t in the midst of an outbreak, how much more do you need in terms of money and resources and support, logistical capacity, and technical expertise to pull this off if you`re in a state that had a very, very low case count?

HOFFMAN: Well, we have been planning for every scenario. So we put together a task force for reopening schools. We aligned our guidance with the CDC, with our public health officials, and thinking about what was needed. And in terms of resources, what`s still needed is Arizona is facing one of the biggest digital divide issues in the country we need.

Our schools or districts are buying thousands upon thousands of laptops, hotspots. They`re trying to get internet to their families as quickly as possible. Also thinking about staffing so that we can decrease classroom sizes. Arizona has a teacher shortage like many other states, and we are going to need more people trained and technology trained.

I`ve heard from districts that they are hiring more HR directors because they`re having to also think about if a staff or a student test positive thinking about the HR components of that. And then, as far as other staffing positions, if we want to -- in any place where we want to decrease the number of people in an area, whether it`s a school bus or a classroom, we just need more resources to have the facilities and the tools that we need to make that possible.

HAYES: If you -- if you hear from the President United States who tweets in all caps, the schools must open or we`re going to cut off federal funding. Betsy DeVos, making noises about that. Or the governor says to you, and I know you`re independent -- you`re elected independently for the governor in the state like you must do it. It just -- it must be done. Like what is your reaction to that?

HOFFMAN: Again, they are out of touch with reality. President Trump, Secretary DeVos, they are -- it`s just not reality here in Arizona, the magnitude and the severity of the outbreak here. I am very fortunate that I have been working collaboratively with our governor. This has been a bipartisan effort. We have set politics aside in Arizona to lead the state forward.

He announced the decision to delay the in-person instruction, which is a political risk for him, frankly, because as a Republican-elected governor, he is putting politics aside to do what`s best, which is putting the safety and wellness of our school communities first. And I know that`s been a tough position for him to be in.

HAYES: Superintendent Kathy Hoffman, who is the elected state superintendent for the schools in Arizona who has a very, very, very difficult job on her hands right now. And I really appreciate you taking a little bit of time to talk to us tonight.

HOFFMAN: Thank you, Chris.

HAYES: I`m joined now by Benjy Sarlin, my friend and colleague who`s the policy editor for NBC News, who has been covering the nationwide struggle to reopen schools this fall. And Benjy, you and I have been corresponding on this because I`ve been so invested in this topic, and you`ve been doing a lot of reporting.

Before this week, when the President sort of started issuing these decrees, what was your reporting finding about the lack of direction, the confusion, the difficulty of these thousands of different districts trying to come up with a plan?

BENJY SARLIN, NBC NEWS POLICY EDITOR: Well, last month, I was talking to a lot of different groups about this. I was talking to school administrators, teachers, parents, but also economists, even, you know, political strategists about where they saw this issue heading. And pretty much everyone would tell you there was a looming crisis, which is that one way or another, we were going to have to figure out how to reopen schools.

The early plans that were coming out based on CDC guidance, you know, the one that was coming out of the Trump administration, were mostly resulting in schools warning parents, hey, we might have you in only part of the time. Your kids might still be, you know, working remotely some of the time, and that this was going to have spillover effects in an incredible amount of ways in terms of childcare, in terms of the impact on inequality, in terms of race, gender, you go down the list, right.

So we`ve known there`s been this looming crisis. But we haven`t known what the White House`s plan is exactly. So to name one issue, Kathy Hoffman who you had earlier was mentioning funding, resources. You know, schools are trying to figure out what are they going to get in terms of things like PPE, in terms of the equipment to refit their schools, in terms of testing in terms of you go down the list, right, in terms of new staff and retaining their current staff amid a budget crisis, you know, in all 50 states.

And meanwhile, we don`t know what the White House`s position is on the next round of Coronavirus relief, which is probably not going to pass till late July to name one example. And meanwhile, those CDC guidelines that they were looking at, we were suddenly told today are no longer operative. They`re just being thrown out after the president tweeted against them. And now there`s widespread confusion about what`s going to replace them.

Again, we know that the president says the CDC guidelines are bad. We have no idea what`s coming next. And meanwhile, this comes just as many school districts including some of the largest in the country, like New York, like Fairfax County, Virginia, are just starting to announce their plans.

You know, they`ve been working on this for weeks for months, and all of a sudden, they`re being thrown this massive curveball. So the lack of oversight on this is really just coming to catch up.

HAYES: Tens of thousands of professionals working day and night through the summer to try to come up with some workable plan, and now it`s like essentially scrapped. And it also occurred to me watching all this unfold that the worst thing in some ways for the -- if what you want is in-person instruction as many places as possible this fall, the worst thing for the politics of that is for the President to do what he did today.

Because there are -- a lot of people are going to say, if the President is overriding CDC guideline, like it`s going to freak people out. It`s going to freak out teachers, it`s going to freak out professionals, it`s going to freak out educators, it`s going to freak out a lot of parents who are concerned understandably about safety.

SARLIN: Yes, Chris, this is a big part of it, because some of this is figuring out the science, right. And there`s currently a public health debate about how best to reopen schools. It`s a nuanced debate. It`s very complicated. There`s a lot of damage to school closures. We have to take that very seriously.

But there`s also a messaging component here and a diplomatic, right. Whatever plan you come up with, you then have to convince parents that it`s OK for them to send their kids to school. You have to convince the teachers and the teachers union sometimes that it`s OK for them to send their staff. You know, you have to go down the list here and bring in all these different actors and stakeholders.

Now, if you have President Trump who`s already a very divisive partisan figure on something that was not a particularly partisan issue just a week ago, that already injects a certain level of, you know, divisiveness and he did -- he did, you know, this to this. But then you add to the fact that he`s just cannonballing in and erasing the script, yes, that scares people.

HAYES: There`s also -- I mean, you just -- the public health part of this is the sort of core of it, and part of it the maddening thing is we just don`t have total knowledge, right? So I saw this headline about how -- in science the other day about how Sweden just didn`t really study their schools, even though they stayed open through the pandemic.

There have been some studies to suggest that transmission is lower, they`re not huge sites of super spreading. But at the same time, we`ve seen some clusters in places in Israel. We just had this Christian camp in southwest Missouri that opened, had to close one of its locations when it had 82 people testing positive of COVID-19.

So even if you open up schools, and it`s not creating tremendous havoc, if you get a cluster in the school, you`re going to have to turn -- you know, you`re going to have to shut that down. The uncertainty here from a public health perspective sort of weighs over all this and makes it that much harder.

SARLIN: Absolutely. It`s uncertainty for both the kids, the parents, and the staff. You know, one thing I heard after the American Academy of Pediatrics and other public health experts started saying, hey, good news. It looks like kids might not be as risk, maybe we could pull off this school thing, was I heard from teachers who were saying, well, where are we in this conversation? We`re glad that kids are safe, but we don`t have as clear science as what happens to us.

So, you had for example, in Fairfax County, just to show how difficult this is. This is a county that Betsy DeVos singled out for criticism for their school reopening plan. They said they might only have two is a week of in class instruction. The local unions are saying even that is too risky because they want to know more about the science of adult transmission. And they`re saying until there`s a vaccine, until there`s treatment, they want to know more about what they`re doing to protect their staff.

So, you have to bring in everyone and make them feel safe for this to work. If anyone panics, it can throw the whole thing out of whack.

HAYES: And there`s also -- I mean, there`s a real chance here of just solving the problem in a half best way for all stakeholders such that it`s just an omni directional disaster. So that like parents are hosed because the kids are half in school and half out. Because they`re half in and half out, teachers are still exposed to possible spread, you still have outbreaks in schools, they have to get closed down for a month here and there. Like you can come up with this kind of half low where you end up with just every stakeholder in a terrible position. I fear we`re hurtling towards that.

SARLIN: Right? I mean, the one thing everyone agrees is that we do desperately need kids in school full time as soon as possible, because of all those knock-over effects. I mean, this is just something that would boost the economy, it would deal with all sorts of social stresses and pressures just on a personal level. We all would love to be able to deposit our kids somewhere and feel like they`re safe for the day.

But yes, you have to actually do the work to have it happen. And right now, there`s a lot of doubt among all the stakeholders involved about whether that`s happening.

HAYES: Yes, one way to think of it might be that it`s a test you can`t pay another person to take for you. Benjy Sarlin who has been doing great reporting on this, thank you so much.

SARLIN: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: Next up, new reporting from ProPublica and NBC News the outbreak in Houston could be even worse than we know. The growing number of people dying at home after this.

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HAYES: On this day in which the U.S. once again set a record for new cases, the situation in the state of Texas is looking really bad. The state reported more than 10,000 new COVID cases yesterday, a record-breaking surge. It rivals New York at its peak, although of course, Texas has more people.

Texas also recorded a single-day record of deaths. That`s very worrying because it means that trend is moving in the wrong direction. There are a record number of COVID patients in the state`s hospitals more than 9,000. Perhaps the most worrying is what`s happening in Houston right now.

According to a new report from NBC News and ProPublica, a rapidly growing number of Houston area residents are dying at home. An increasing number of these at home deaths have been confirmed to be the result of COVID-19. Now, this uptick in the number of people dying before they can even reach a hospital in Houston is particularly concerning because it is precisely what was happening here in New York City at the COVID peak in March and April.

It`s basically a warning sign that things are really out of control. NBC News reporter Priscilla Thompson has been in Houston documenting the situation there for the past four months, and she joins me now.

And, Priscilla, I wonder if you could just give us a kind of sense from all the interviews you`ve been doing, the morale there, the feeling in the city of Houston about where things are right now.

I think we do not have audio for Priscilla. Can we try to get that sorted out? What we`re going to do is we`re going to try to sort that out and we`re going to take a quick break. When we come back, hopefully, we can get Priscilla Thompson from Houston, back up. Don`t go anywhere.

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HAYES: All right, we`re back with NBC News Reporter Priscilla Thompson, who I mentioned has been in Houston documenting the situation there for the past four months. And she joins me now and I can hear audio.

Priscilla, give us a sense of what you`ve been hearing from folks in that city as this outbreak has been spiking.

PRISCILLA THOMPSON, NBC NEWS REPORTER: Well, Chris a very concerning situation here in Houston and in Texas overall. You mentioned some of those numbers. Today was the deadliest day from the Coronavirus here in the state with nearly 100 people dying as a result of that.

And this is what we`ve been seeing sort of developing over the past couple of weeks as we`re seeing those record-breaking high, numbers in terms of people testing positive for the virus and you know, that is straining the hospital systems here in the Texas Medical Center here in Houston.

Hospital`s base ICU capacity already at 100 percent capacity. They are now entering those surge plans which are at about nine percent capacity. So there`s still some room there, but it`s really unclear at this point how quickly those numbers are going to continue to climb.

You know, we learned that in Austin, Texas -- this isn`t something that`s just happening here in Houston, in Austin, they are actually preparing the convention center to be used as a field hospital there as this virus sort of barrels towards a peak here in Texas.

And the other piece of this, aside from the hospitalizations, is the testing. Texas has consistently ranked in the lower percentiles when it comes to per capita testing, a very large state here. And, you know, I spent the day at a testing site where people camped out at 11:00 the night before in order to get in line to get a test at one of the free community sites here in Houston. And by the time that testing site opened at 9:00 a.m., it was already at capacity and police had to begin turning people away.

And, you know, I have to tell you it was quite a site to see parents in the cars with their children sleeping as they were waiting to get through that line in order to get a test. And that is something that I actually have experienced firsthand here whenever I needed to get a test and sat on hold with hours with the Texas state and local sites trying to get through to get an appointment, ended up going to one of the no appointment required testing sites, only to, as many others were, be turned away because it had already reached capacity.

And I finally found a clinic that was able to test me. I waited in line for around two hours. But it took two weeks for me to get those results. And, so, not only is there the issue around testing and making sure there is enough of it, but now these labs are experiencing a huge lag in the turn around time to get those results. And so it is unclear if officials are even getting a true sense of how widespread and how quickly this virus is spreading.

And, you know, you mentioned that reporting from my colleague, Mike Hickenbaugh (ph) and Charles Ornstein (ph) from ProPublica looking at looking at where they basically combed data from the fire department here and found that there is a spike in the number of cases they`re seeing where they`re going to residences and people have passed away from COVID-19.

And many officials and doctors that have I spoken to here have commented on that as well that as people hear these numbers coming out, and hear what it`s like to wait in line for testing, that`s having a trickle down effect where people don`t necessarily want to go wait in line for a test and don`t want to go to the hospital. They`re not sure that they are going to be able to get a bed there, so they try to stay home and sort of wait it out and care for themselves. And by the time they`re calling for help, it is far too late.

And, you know, one of the most poignant things that I have seen this week was the headline from the Houston Chronicle on Sunday, which simply said: how did we get here? Just a few weeks ago, the White House was praising Texas for its handling of the Coronavirus and how it was beginning to reopen.

But the problem is the amount of positive cases here in Texas never actually went down before the state began reopening. And, so, now you are hearing from businesses who are saying -- business owners saying we don`t know what to do. We want to keep people safe, but, you know, the law right now, the executive order says that we can remain open at 50 percent capacity or at some level.

And so I think you`re really feeling a sense of confusion. And one thing I have heard from so many people is asking for more leadership on this issue, Chris.

HAYES: Yeah. It is a really, really scary situation and scary picture you painted there. And there is a real question about what is going to turn this around. I really appreciate you sticking with us, Priscilla, and for all your great reporting. Thank you so much.

THOMPSON: Thanks, Chris.

HAYES: Back in our nation`s capital, the Senate is in recess. It will not be back until July 20. And when they come back, they will be up against a deadline for a bunch of things, the $600 additional unemployment benefit, which has been crucial for families amidst this, will run out at the end of July. So they have 10 days to get that figured out.

Also, the 120 day federal eviction moratorium, which could lead to a surge in evictions across the country.

The Washington Post reports that at one Texas hearing, a renter told a judge that he had been furloughed, but she had three kids and nowhere to go. The judge replied, quote, I have heard almost 60 cases so far and this is everybody`s problem. She approved the eviction.

If you think things are bad right now with daily records for new cases, tens of millions of people out of work, it is going to be way worse a month from now unless congress acts. And right now, this has basically been a one party push. Back in May, you might remember, Democrats in the House passed a multi-trillion dollar bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said was dead on arrival in his Senate.

Now, negotiations are beginning to happen. And here to talk about the stakes and what the Senate should be doing, Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont. Senator Bernie Sanders, it`s good to have you.

Let`s start with where things are right now. I mean, it really has seemed like a kind of one party operation. You have got Democrats that you caucus with in the Senate, Democrats in the House who passed that bill, saying we need to do more. We`re not out of the woods yet. Things are bad.

And Republicans, when there was that initial goods job number saying, oh, we think we might be good. We think we might be good. I feel like they`re coming back from that now. How do you see the state of things right now?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I) VERMONT: Well, I mean, the Republicans may try to ignore the horrific reality that is facing tens of millions of Americans today, Chris. But you know what? They`re also smart politicians and they understand they cannot tell the American people that there is no urgent need in this country when, as you reporter just indicated, we`re looking at millions of people being evicted from their homes. We`re looking at people by the millions who have lost their health insurance, 30 million people have lost their jobs.

So Republicans in their heart of hearts may not want to do anything, but they do want to get re-elected to the House and Senate. They`re going to have to act.

And our job is to put as much pressure as we can on them to start addressing the awful needs of the American people right now.

HAYES: One key element it strikes me, and people have written about this, is the duration of whatever you`re able to pass. And I agree with you. I think it`s pretty clear they can`t just say we`re not going to do anything, but there is a real concern that they pass something and then that`s it, no more particularly should Joe Biden get elected president, and if they were to keep the Senate that the next Democratic president would be basically out of luck.

Is there talk among your caucus and among Democrats of some kind of permanent structures in place until the crisis is over in this legislation?

SANDERS: Absolutely.

Look, the idea that extended unemployment and the $600 addition is going to run out at the end of this month when so many of our people desperately need that is unthinkable. Our position has got to be that we will protect the American people economically in my view, that means providing another check. It should be $2,000 every single month per person until the crisis is over. It should be, and there is a lot of sentiment for this, guaranteeing health care to all people during the course of this crisis without out-of-pocket expenses. It certainly means extending that unemployment benefit. And in my view we should pass the paycheck protection act to make sure the workers continue to get their paychecks.

HAYES: Do you think -- Mitch McConnell has sort of set a strange bar here. From the beginning, his negotiating position seems to be on this liability protection. This is the thing he seems laser focused on, some kind of protection in legislation to protect employers or maybe school districts or others from being sued if they bring people back to work and they get COVID. What do you think of that? What is the state of discussion about that among Democrats?

SANDERS: You know, you stop and you think how ironic, how crazy this is. You have got a president of the United States, go back to work. This pandemic is really insignificant. It`s not going to hurt you. And then if somebody goes back to work because an employer does not provide the safety protection that worker needs, you can`t sue that employer for allowing people to die or become unnecessarily sick.

So obviously we know that McConnell and his Republican friends are worried about employers. Our job is to worry about workers. And our job is to pass in this unprecedented moment the kinds of protections that the working class, the middle class, low-income people need right now.

HAYES: Final question for you, senator. I know today there were these sort of working groups, policy committees that some folks from your presidential campaign staff had been engaged in with the Biden staff. They announced some of the results of that.

I saw a poll today I thought was very interesting that showed I think it was 87 percent of Sanders supporters supporting Joe Biden, only 4 percent supporting Trump, and basically the picture it painted, and this is across the various candidates who were in that very crowded primary field, was a very unified Democratic Party, a very unified electorate in defeating Trump. Is that your sense of where things are right now?

SANDERS: Absolutely.

Look, I think every person who voted for me, and I think for the other Democratic candidates, fully understands that Donald Trump is the most dangerous president, if not in the modern history of our country, than in the overall history of our country, and that it is absolutely imperative that we come together and defeat him, and defeat him badly.

I was glad to work with the vice president in forming six separate task forces which had some of the most knowledgeable people in the country coming together to deal with education and climate change and health care and economy and criminal justice and immigration reform. And these folks, needless to say, people who represented the progressive movement and a different perspective on things than did Biden`s people.

But there was serious discussion, and I think a real honest effort, to come up with a compromise. And I think the compromise that they came up with, if implemented, will make Biden the most progressive president since FDR.

It did not happen -- needless to say, everything that I wanted did not, everything that Biden wanted, but there is no question that on some of the major issues facing this country, if that agenda is implemented, life will improve for tens and tens of millions of working people. It will improve for our environment and for climate change, criminal justice and for the needs of low income people.

HAYES: Senator Bernie Sanders there in Burlington, Vermont. Great -- a pleasure to have you tonight. Thank you very much.

SANDERS: Thank you very much, Chris.

Still ahead, why Republicans are worried the president`s fear mongering about mail-in ballots could backfire on them. That reporting coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: Even though it feels like a lifetime ago, it was just December when President Donald Trump was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of congress. And some of the most damning testimony came from this guy, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, who oversaw Ukraine policy on the National Security Council.

His family immigrated from the former Soviet Union when he was a child. He joined the military where he received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq. And until earlier this year, he was an active duty service member working in the White House.

On the National Security Council, he watched what the Trump administration, what the president, was doing in Ukraine with alarm, and he took action. He did everything right. He reported his concerns to the right people. He never crossed the chain of command. He only spoke publicly when subpoenaed by congress.

And what Lieutenant Colonel Vindman said about the president was utterly damning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. COL. ALEXANDER VINDMAN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCILMEMBER: Chairman, as I said in my statement, it was inappropriate, it was improper for the president to request -- to demand an investigation into a political opponent, especially a foreign power, where there is at best dubious belief that this could be a completely impartial investigation, and that this would have significant implications if it became public knowledge and it would be perceived as a partisan play, it would undermine our Ukraine policy, and it would undermine our national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Question of course what would happen to him after he testified? Would he face recriminations? He even testified about his future during the impeachment hearings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You realize when you came forward out of sense of duty that you were putting yourself in direct opposition to the most powerful person in the world. Do you realize that, sir?

VINDMAN: I knew I was assuming a lot of risk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And why do you have confidence that you can do that and tell your dad not to worry?

VINDMAN: Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I have served and defended, that all of my brothers have served and here, right matters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir. I yield back.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Well, guess what happened after that? Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was removed from his White House job, along with his identical twin who also worked in the NCS and whose only mistake apparently was looking like his brother. They were escorted from the building.

And now today Lieutenant Colonel Vindman announced he`s retiring from the army, citing bullying, intimidation and retaliation by President Trump. His lawyer released a statement saying it has been made clear that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will be forever limited.

CNN reports Vindman was told by senior army officials he would no longer be deployable in his area of expertise, which includes Ukraine. He speaks the language fluently. In one case, a senior officer quipped about sending him to man a radar station in Alaska. Haha.

This kind of retaliation is flatly in violation of what should be Department of Defense policy. It shouldn`t happen. Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is also an army combat veteran and a Purple Heart recipient, is now promising to block the promotions of 1,100 members of the armed forces until the Secretary of Defense confirms in writing he played no role in blocking Vindman`s promotion.

It was only eight months ago Lieutenant Colonel Vindman was standing in front of congress reassuring his father that everything would be all right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VINDMAN: I am sitting here today in the U.S. capital talking to our elected professionals as proof you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family.

Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re calling it Operation Incinerator. A local group, unhappy with the secretary of state`s decision to send absentee ballot applications to voters without them having to request the ballots. The group invited people who felt that the SOS was overstepping their boundaries, to bring their application to the Deltaplex (ph) near Walker to burn them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: That was the scene in Michigan last month where local conservative activists took to heart the president`s declaration of war on absentee voting. Donald Trump`s ongoing attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the election in the midst of the pandemic by lying about mail-in voting, are not only disgusting and anti-democratic, also really politically stupid, because they could also have the effect of convincing Republicans, members of his own party, members of his own base, not to use mail-in voting, which turns out to be a pretty useful thing to have in the midst of a pandemic.

The Washington Post reports Campaigns around the country are hearing from more and more Republican voters who say they do not trust absentee ballots.

One Republican strategist telling the Post I don`t won`t -- I will not vote by mail to become a political statement, but it may be too late.

Joining me now is someone who has been a Republican election lawyer for years, who is also concerned about the war the president`s waging on absentee balloting, Trevor Potter, former head of the Federal Election Commission, the president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan non- profit working to increase unrestricted access to voting.

Trevor, it is great to have you.

I want to start with an op-ed you wrote on Foxnews.com taking issue with a lot of sort of fear mongering the president and his Attorney General William Barr have done about mail-in voting. You say that Trump and Barr make baseless and harmful claims about mail-in ballot fraud. Why did you feel it was necessary to speak out on this?

TREVOR POTTER, FORMER CHAIR OF THE FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION: Well, I had just seen the attorney general`s comments saying that he thought absentee balloting would lead to fraud, to vast conspiracy of foreign agents counterfeiting ballots, that it would mean that there would be no secret ballots because the people who open the envelops would know who had voted and how, and none of that is true. So, found it bizarre as someone who has been involved, as John McCain`s lawyer for his presidential campaign back now a while ago.

The Republican Party has always had strong absentee ballot programs. They`ve spent a lot of money encouraging Republican voters to vote absentee. As you probably read, the president and vice president, many members of the cabinet, have all voted absentee this year.

So this sudden attack on absentee balloting really doesn`t make any sense.

HAYES: It`s not just that it -- I think it`s -- you and I both object to it on sort of basic democratic principle grounds, right. I mean, there`s a pandemic, people should have access to vote safely as possible, but in the narrowly tactical sense of the best interests of the Republican Party and the Trump campaign, I mean, you`ve got this situation in Iowa where the Iowa secretary of state was going to do this universal absentee application, like we`ve seen in the state of Ohio and Michigan and other states. The Republicans freaked out, said he couldn`t do it, and so now what`s happening it looks like is the Democratic counties that control state board of elections, are going to -- they`re going to do it and the Republican counties aren`t. And now you have managed to get yourself in a situation where your voters are going to have a harder time voting for you.

POTTER: Well, it really, as you point out, doesn`t make political sense, particularly because Trump is -- part of his base is older Americans who tend to favor him in most of the polls, and that`s a group that is being advised to be particularly careful in the time of a pandemic. So the right message is that every American ought to have a chance to vote safely, and if they choose to vote at home they should find it easy to do so.

What they`re hearing out of the White House is it`s fraudulent, it`s dangerous, don`t do it. And I think it is entirely possible that that means it boomerangs on the Republican Party.

I saw today that the Republican National Committee is sending out messaging saying voting absentee is safe and secure, please do it, signed by President Trump`s daughter-in-law. So they have a mixed message here, but it`s a serious problem, because you have as you pointed out Republican legislators who are trying to prevent secretaries of state, many of whom are Republican, from sending out absentee ballot applications and from encouraging people to vote absentee. That`s a problem for the whole country, because we want to have an election where people are comfortable voting and have the option to vote absentee if that`s going to be best for them.

HAYES: There`s also this deeper legitimacy problem, it`s something we`ve discussed along the show, and as someone who is a Republican, has been a Republican election lawyer, I`m just curious your perspective on this at a sort of fundamental level if the most powerful person in the country, the person with the biggest bully pulpit, is saying this is fraudulent -- before it even starts, these are illegitimate, what threat that poses to the basic kind of shared sense of Democratic legitimacy.

POTTER: I think it`s a very dangerous message. And you asked earlier why I chose to write about this and specifically on Fox, because I`m trying to reach an audience of people who need to understand that this is not the way we should be behaving in an election year in the middle of the pandemic.

And I think it is dangerous to have the attorney general suggesting, without any proof at all, that he has evidence that absentee ballot fraud will occur and foreigners will be involved in doing it.

As I explained in the article, there really isn`t a way for a foreign country to go out and manufacture tens of thousands of ballots and have them voted, because the ballots have to have the signatures of voters on them, and that is checked by the election officials before they open the ballots and then put the seal of confidential envelope in the pile of votes.

But what it does is make voters nervous about the legitimacy of the election, specifically I think Republican voters who are listening to the president and thinking well maybe somethings wrong.

HAYES: Trevor Potter, who has been a Republican election lawyer for years, it is great to talk to you tonight. Thank you very much.

POTTER: Thank you, Chris.

HAYES: That is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

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