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Trump downplays risk TRANSCRIPT: 2/28/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Ron Klain, Laurie Garrett, Gene Sperling, Raja Krishnamoorthi


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: MSNBC will be live from South Carolina all day long tomorrow for the South Carolina primary. Polls open at 7:00 a.m. local time starting at 6:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow night. I will be here alongside Brian Williams and Nicole Wallace and a cast of thousands as we await those all-important results.

First in the south, last early voting state before Super Tuesday. It`s going to be a very big night. Again, special coverage begins at 6:00 p.m. Eastern and goes into the wee hours. I will see you right back here tomorrow night. That does it for us for now. See you again then. Now it`s time for "The Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Hard to get my head around it, Rachel. You`re talking about another case, a third case now of no known origin for coronavirus in Oregon. Meanwhile, the president in South Carolina tonight saying this is the new hoax, calling media reporting and talking about politicizing of coronavirus. It`s a bit mind boggling.

MADDOW: We`ve got cases of unknown origin in two states now in three different locations, and this is something that transmission, I mean, each infected patient on average appears to be infecting two to three other people.

VELSHI: Correct.

MADDOW: This is something that is going to grow very fast, very quickly and this president being in denial about it is just --

VELSHI: Yes, it is.

MADDOW: -- an unimaginable nightmare.

VELSHI: It`s a disservice. When people need to know what the truth is and we need to give it to them and being told it`s a hoax is not helping us. Rachel, we will see you tomorrow. We`re going to be both spending a lot of time on T.V. tomorrow covering --

MADDOW: It`s true.

VELSHI: -- South Carolina. Have a good night.

MADDOW: Thanks Ali.

VELSHI: Coronavirus, as Rachel said, spreading around the world and in this country just tonight as Rachel commented on, officials in Oregon, reporting a case of coronavirus that is of unknown origin. This is important.

This is now the third coronavirus case in the United States of people who have not traveled or knowingly interacted with anyone who had traveled to high a risk area.

Now, officials say the Oregon case is somebody who`s a resident of Washington County who experienced symptoms on February 19th. It was Friday. He was tested today. Hours after a laboratory received a new test kit from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is also an important point I`m going to talk about.

Today, we learned about the second case of coronavirus that doesn`t have a known cause. That was in Santa Clara County in California. The "Washington Post" reports the second case is a 65-year-old resident who has no known history of travel to countries hit hard by the outbreak.

The second case in Santa Clara County is about 90 miles from Sacramento where the first patient infected with no known cause is hospitalized. That`s nine miles from the Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

That`s important because Travis was one of two bases in California where infected Americans are under quarantine right now. It`s also where a whistleblower says the Department of Health and Human Services sent about 13 workers who had flown with the first Americans, evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus.

Today, the World Health Organization raised the global risk of the coronavirus to its highest level warning countries, "Wake up. Get ready. You have a duty to your citizens, you have a duty to the world to be ready."

So right now, your health and economic well-being is on the line. And you need a government. We all need a government that we can trust that will keep you and your family as safe as possible. We need a president who follows the advice of medical experts and science-based facts.

But so far, the Trump administration is facing a crisis of confidence and competence in its response to this deadly virus. This week, President Trump repeatedly downplayed the risk. He contradicted his health officials and provided misleading or false statements about this growing health crisis.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re ordering a lot of different elements of medical --

It`s going to disappear. One day, it`s like a miracle, it will disappear.

You know, I don`t think it`s inevitable. I don`t think it`s inevitable. Is this just like flu? Hey, did you get the flu shot?

When it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that`s true.

As the heat comes in, typically that will go away.


VELSHI: And after the man in charge of the coronavirus responds, Vice President Mike Pence argued that the administration will, "tune out the politics." This is what the president told his supporters tonight in South Carolina.


TRUMP: The Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. And this is their new hoax.


VELSHI: This is their new hoax. With all of this information, let`s actually get to the truth of what we know right now about coronavirus in the United States.

There are now at least 63 cases in the United States -- possible that there are other cases that have not yet been detected largely because of this testing issue.

NBC News reports, "Some states received test kits that were inconclusive or only partially accurate. Other states said they were hamstrung by testing criteria so narrow, it limited who they could screen for the new coronavirus."

The CDC says it`s making the necessary changes to make test kits more widely available. Meanwhile, NBC is reporting the Trump administration has called off a major summit of Asian leaders next month in Las Vegas because of coronavirus.

NBC News Josh Letterman and Carol Lee report that planning for the special summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, was "abruptly halted on Friday just as President Donald Trump said he was considering expanding his travel ban to cover countries that had a disproportionately high number of coronavirus cases.

All right, joining me now is Ron Klain. This is the man -- you`ve seen him many times on this show, but not for this reason. He was put in charge of the federal government`s response to the Ebola virus by President Obama in 2014. Also joining us someone we`re all getting to know fairly well, Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter covering global pandemics.

Ron, I wish I knew where to start on this thing but I think the most important thing is that Americans, everybody in the world really wants their government to give them guidance on these things because half of this is science and half of it is psychology and behavior and whether you can trust that your government is in charge of stuff.

We had two problems on that front. One is we have lots of reasons not to trust Donald Trump -- think Sharpeegate or the 15,000 other lies that he`s told -- and we have real reasons to wonder whether Mike Pence is the guy who should be in charge of this given that he has spoken and written about needle exchanges, not preventing infections and smoking not killing you.

RON KLAIN, EBOLA CZAR, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Yes, I mean, Ali, I wish I could come up with a line better than your point. That it`s a crisis of both confidence and competence. On the confidence side, anyone at this point in time who believes what Donald Trump says kind of gets what they deserve at this stage in the game, but the problem is that the administration has silenced the people we can trust.

Dr. Tony Fauci, the world`s leading infectious disease doctor who served seven presidents, Democratic and Republican, has been gagged by this administration. We`re used to seeing him upfront in this kind of situation. He`s been told he can`t go on T.V. unless Mike Pence approves it. Same thing for other leaders of CDC.

So, we can`t trust our president and the people we can trust aren`t being allowed to tell us the truth. And then on competence, you talked about this testing problem. We have had two months` notice that we would face this moment.

Why didn`t the administration accelerate the production of test kits? Why didn`t distribute them more quickly? Why wasn`t the president`s task force focused on this as task number one? So I think we have both problems in terms of how we communicate and what`s being done.

VELSHI: Laurie, let`s listen to what Health and Human Services Secretary Azar said a little while ago about these test kits.


ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We`ll very soon through the FDA, be rolling out streamlined guidance that will allow private labs to be able to create their own test based on essentially the recipe that the CDC has used in their test kit.


VELSHI: Give us some context here. What`s he talking about?

LAURIE GARRETT, FORMER SENIOR FELLOW GLOBAL HEALTH, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, the problem is we don`t have a standard and we would like to have everybody getting tested by the exact same standards so that we can compare and we know and we think we have accurate information.

At the moment, only about 450 people have been tested nationwide at all. Today, the mayor of New York held a press conference to denounce federal policies saying we have the confidence in the city of New York and in our health department to execute testing ourselves. Why do we have to wait a week to get answers?

VELSHI: Right. The case in one of the -- case number two, I believe, or case number one in California, northern California. That was one of the problems that they had to get clearance from the CDC to undertake certain testing.

GARRETT: Well, and its worse than just, you know, do you manage to quickly test the identified suspected case? What we should be doing right now is using the test to do some serious surveillance to figure out, are we really missing a lot of cases?

If I were able to wave a magic wand, I would say let`s go into every single pneumonia intensive care unit around the country and test to make sure the cause of their pneumonia is not this coronavirus.

VELSHI: Ron, it`s kind of interesting because I work in the news and I work every day so I don`t really know where the politicization of this has come from or where the accusation is coming from a politicization, but Mick Mulvaney, who I`ll remind people, continues to be the president`s acting chief of staff, said this about what the media`s role is in this today.


MICK MULVANEY, ACTING CHIEF OF STAFF: The reason you`re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president. That`s what this is all about. I got a note today from a reporter saying, what are you going to do today to calm the markets? I`m like, really what I might do today to calm the markets is tell the people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours.


VELSHI: What do you think of that, Ron?

KLAIN: I think it`s horrible. Look, one reason why this disease spread so quickly in China was that the truth was suppressed and there wasn`t free flow of information and there wasn`t accurate information. And one of the benefits of the First Amendment and our media in this country is that they`re free to tell us what`s going on.

Now, President Trump`s strategy for the past two months has been to tweet out happy thoughts about it almost every other day. The virus won`t be bad here. It`s not really going to come here. I`ve got the border sealed, all kinds of other things.

And those tweets didn`t impress a virus and they aren`t going to save the American people. So what we need is accurate and truthful information through the news media from respected public health officials who communicate with us on a timely basis about what needs to be done, what is being done, what isn`t being done, not a bunch of political attacks for people telling the truth.

VELSHI: Laurie, I know some of the people you know, public health experts, epidemiologists, people who deal in infectious diseases, they actually tend as a group not to be particularly alarmists, right. They tend to be very fact-based, they look for trends, they try and find solutions.

So, in fact, I think that sometimes it`s us as journalists sort of saying, hey, tell us what`s really going on because we want to know how serious this is. Have you seen evidence of alarming behavior on the part of journalists?

GARRETT: No. I mean, no. Certainly, there are "journalists" out there that are tweeting or instagraming lies, mistruths, half truths.

VELSHI: Right. And that`s why we should remind people, that`s often the case with health issues, right.


VELSHI: There`s way more bad information on the internet than good information about health issues.

GARRETT: Yes, and there are a lot of people who are without any substance fixated on the idea that this was all a biological weapon and depending on who they are and what their political slant is, it originated in a lab in X location run by Y agency or what have you.

But I think I want to balance off something that Ron said that I think is very important. Right now, the president and this administration has the opportunity to get in front of the problem. And to be in front of it, in a way that shows the American people, you know, we`re there for you.

Failure to get in front has a price to pay. Xi Jinping is going to go a long time trying to restore faith in the Chinese people for not only himself, but the Communist Party. The leadership in Iran is going to be in very deep trouble for a very long time. The head of their whole effort, you know, collapsed, and is hospitalized --

VELSHI: Yes. Right after a press conference.

GARRETT: Right, during the press conference. And he`s hospitalized with the virus. The head of the South Korean effort turns out to be a member of the cult, the religious cult from which it all grew, and he`s lost all credibility and another person in the leadership there has committed suicide.

You know, if you want your nation and your leadership to be looked on, not by history, but two weeks from now in a positive light, you need to demonstrate that you take it seriously and you want to get in front of the virus.

VELSHI: Ron, the president, we heard him say earlier sort of minimizing the whole thing, Rush Limbaugh the other day said this was just a common cold and then he switched his criticism to saying that this is actually people who are trying to bring down the president, which is what we heard from Mick Mulvaney.

The president says it`s going to go away like a miracle. I think to Laurie`s point, there`s a real cost right now not just to the government`s credibility, the administration`s credibility, but there is as you know from Ebola, there`s a potential public health cost to people thinking things are myths that are not.

KLAIN: No question about it. And I also think that the president`s happy talk and effort to dismiss this has probably slowed the tempo of government action and response to it. You know, President Obama when I worked for him on Ebola response, he made it a priority and told us to take extra precautions, to work extra fast.

And when you have President Trump saying basically this isn`t a big deal, it`s just flu, a miracle will disappear it, that doesn`t make the federal government work faster. That doesn`t really -- that`s not the kind of pressure you want on the system to have the test kits move faster, the FDA move faster, the HHS move faster.

He is exerting the opposite pressure. Anyone who brings him bad news is dispatched. They took Dr. Nancy Messonnier, one of the world`s leading experts on infectious diseases and sidelined her because they told her -- because she told the truth. That`s not helping people. It`s not saving lives.

VELSHI: Ron, thank you, as always. Laurie Garrett, thank you as well for joining us tonight. Laurie is going to be with me again early tomorrow morning to discuss the latest developments on this.

Coming up, the worst week on Wall Street since the financial crisis is finally over. The coronavirus precipitated some big drops and that is ongoing. One of the president`s top economists will join us next to talk about what that could mean for the economy.


VELSHI: Breaking news, we got a new case of coronavirus of unknown origin in Oregon. This is the third coronavirus case of unknown origin in the United States. Fears about the economic impact of coronavirus, as you know, sent stocks plunging for the seventh straight day, making this the worst week for U.S. stock market since the 2008 financial crisis.

Since Monday, the Dow has fallen more than 3,500 points. That is the largest weekly point loss in history. The Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, all drop more than 10 percent from the recent highs. The loss is totaling $3.6 trillion.

Now, in an effort to calm market anxieties, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said today, "The coronavirus poses evolving risks to economic activity. We will use our tools and act as appropriate to support the economy."

That came out late this afternoon. It didn`t have the entirely desired effect on markets, but it did help turn things around and we ended up not having nearly as bad a day as we otherwise would have. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, however, tried to down downplay the economic news.


LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: So far, the numbers coming in on the economy have actually been quite good including today. Business investment was up. Personal income and spending, consumer spending is up, confidence is up, all these Federal Reserve surveys are not showing supply chain breakdowns.


VELSHI: None of those surveys were taken in the days since we`ve understood this to be a major concern and the truth is there were several supply chain breakdowns. We`ve heard that directly from companies that manufacture in China or use parts that come from China.

That`s why Kudlow`s words did virtually nothing to alleviate concerns over supply shortages and various products -- various product in medicines.

In fact, according to CNBC, the FDA, a government agency, reported its first shortage of a drug because of coronavirus related to a manufacturing site impacted by the outbreak in -- are you sitting down for this -- China where a lot of our drugs comes from, where a lot of our stuff comes from, where a lot of our electronics come from.

Drugstores like CVS and Walgreens are warning of shortages of hand sanitizer, cleaning products. Everybody already knows, masks are not available and retail analyst predict that production bottlenecks could cause some bare shelves at retailers like Target and Wal-Mart by mid-April.

Joining me now is Gene Sperling, former director of the National Economic Council for Presidents Obama and Clinton. Gene, good to see you. It`s a bit of a problem because we actually live in an information world so we know that what Larry Kudlow is saying and what other government officials are saying is actually not true. There are supply chain breakdowns. There are shortages of things and people are worried.

GENE SPERLING, FORMER EXONOMIC ADVISOR, PRESIDENTS CLINTON & OBAMA: You know, absolutely. I mean, take three areas. One, travel -- you know, it started with don`t fly to China. Now, people are not flying to other countries and now you`re hearing more and more businesses say, you know, don`t even fly domestically if possible.

Secondly, as you said, on the supply side, on the supply chain, you know, when we had SARS, China was like 4 percent of global trade activity. Now, it`s 17 percent. The supply chains in our world right now are very intricate and more manufacturers as you know, Ali, rely on just in high manufacturing.

And we also know that their inventory levels are lower than ever. They`re kind of in contractionary levels. So, this is not a good time to have supply chain problems like this and it absolutely could hurt manufacturing more that`s already been damaged so much by the U.S.-China trade war.

But then, the third issue is what`s been holding up our economy then. It`s been a strong consumer.

VELSHI: Right.

SPERLING: A consumer that`s been resilient. And so this is what`s so terribly off about the approach of Larry Kudlow and Mulvaney and Trump. Is that if you want to give reassurance and confidence, do it by as you say, competence, professionalism, getting the test kits, preparing.

And then secondly, credibility is precious in a crisis. Credibility is a terrible thing to waste in a crisis. And at this point, having Larry Kudlow go our and say buy the dip.

You know, when markets are crashing, having Mulvaney tell parents who are worried sick about what`s going to happen to their kids. It`s all political or the president saying a hoax. It`s damaging from a public health view, but it`s also damaging from any sense of credibility that the U.S. government may need in the future to be reassuring when it is appropriate.

VELSHI: So you`ve been in office actually at the White House when there had been crises that people worry about. And you`ve got to think about the messaging and listen, when President Obama was in office after -- in the recession, I remember being critical at times of an administration that was overly optimistic about things that maybe they should have been less optimistic about.

But what do you believe Americans need to be worried about? Is it the stock market which Donald Trump carries on about all the time? The bottom line is the stock market. In fact, I want to just put up a chart of the Dow going back to 1929 or something, in the depression.

Stock market tends to go up over time. It tends to recover. It recovered from the recession. It recovered from 9/11 within a month. What`s the real worry here? Is it the lifestyle change we`re going to have?

Is it consumers who decide I`m not going to the movies, I`m not going to the ballpark, I`m not going to the casino, I`m not going on a trip. They don`t spend their money. They stay home. What`s the thing that you`re most worried about when it comes to the economy?

SPERLING: So, what I would say is exactly what you said, which is the stock market is not being irrational. They have very little information because we have so little testing here.

VELSHI: Right.

SPERLING: And so they, just like all of us, don`t really know what the impact is going to be on the average American and the average American`s life. And the thing I would explain to people is that normally in a crisis like an earthquake, economists think, yes, growth goes down one quarter, but it rebounds when you rebuild.

That even happened in SARS. Growth went down in the second quarter of 2003 and it rebuilds. But if you have a sustained lack of inactivity, you know, just a simple example. If you cancel your spring vacation, you`re probably not taking two vacations in the summer.

VELSHI: Right.

SPERLING: That`s activity that`s lost. So I think anybody out there who is in the old mode of projection that we`ll have a recession in the first quarter or downturn, but it will come back easy in the second or third quarter is kidding themselves both because there is no evidence this is going away that quickly.

And second, a lot of that consumer activity, 70 percent of that driving GDP in the U.S., the thing we`ve been counting on, some of that will go away and it will not necessarily rebound later. And that I think has markets worried not about spin, not about politics, but actual economic demand and consumer activity.

VELSHI: So let me ask you this. I don`t have too much time left, but I want to ask you about the things that the government can do, the things that you would have done or you would have talked to your presidents that you worked for in times like this? Are we talking about tax cuts? Are we talking about the Fed cutting interest rates? I know that`s not something the president is supposed to tell Fed to due this president doesn`t seem to have any problems with that.


VELSHI: But what do you think makes sense?

SPERLING: You know, when you look at the things we`ve talked about, whether you are close to school and goes on travel, it`s not very clear the Fed cutting rates. Even if they should do it, it will have this big effect.

I think what I would be doing is I would be spending dramatically on the things we need to prepare. That`s the (inaudible). It will give a little economic stimulus, but you`re doing it just to stimulate the economy.

You`re doing it to get test kits, to do whatever is necessary to help people stay home if they need, help people go to work. That kind of all-out mobilization, many war-like mobilization would give people confidence.

It would help us contain it and yes, it might give us a little bit of an economic bounce, a little bit of stimulus. That I think is the win-win situation.

VELSHI: Gene, good to see you as always. Thank you for joining me. Gene Sperling was an economic advisor and chairman of the National Economic Council for Presidents Obama and for President Clinton.

It was a whirlwind of a final day of campaigning in South Carolina ahead of tomorrow`s primary. The big question now is how much will a win in South Carolina reverberate on Super Tuesday? That`s up next.


VELSHI: The 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls have been crisscrossing South Carolina all week. Today, they made their final case to voters who hit the polls tomorrow. And while some were taking last minute shots at one and other - candidates that is, they all had one common target.


JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, here`s the deal. It`s not sufficient that Donald Trump be defeated. We have to elect a Democratic Senate.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My name is Elizabeth Warren and I`m the woman who`s going to beat Donald Trump.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need a majority big enough not just to put an end to this presidency, but to put Trumpism into the history books where it belongs and move forward.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you get working people involved, then you get young people involved, we`re going to have the largest voter turnout in the history of this country in November, which is what we need to defeat Trump.

TOM STEYER (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the last thing I want to say is this. We need to beat Trump. We need to pull the Democratic Party together.


VELSHI: Now the polls show Joe Biden winning the state up in one recent poll by 20 points over Bernie Sanders. The support is likely going to be boosted after earning the influential endorsement of South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn on Wednesday. It`s going to be a much needed victory for Biden, who`s looking to jumpstart his campaign, heading into Super Tuesday. He`s had some rough times in Iowa, New Hampshire and Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, some other candidates are already looking beyond South Carolina. Michael Bloomberg, who, by the way, is not on the ballot in South Carolina by choice, and Senator Amy Klobuchar, both spent the day making their case to voters in Super Tuesday states.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not going to be able to out divide the divider in chief. But I promise you this, I will beat him in a big way.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can turn the page on a dangerous and ugly chapter in our country`s proud history. And we can write down the two most important words that need to be written about the Trump administration. You know what they are?

(CROWD: "You`re Fired")

BLOOMBERG: The end. But you`re fired, would work fine.


VELSHI: Joining us now Eugene Robinson. He`s an Associate Editor and Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for "The Washington Post" and he`s an MSNBC Political Analyst; Zerlina Maxwell is the Senior Director of Progressive Programming at SiriusXM Radio and an MSNBC Political Analyst.

Eugene is in Charleston, South Carolina tonight, but I didn`t know this. Eugene, you and I`ve been talking for years. I didn`t know you`re from South Carolina.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I am. I`m born and raised in Orangeburg, South Carolina, but 60-70 miles Northwest of Charleston. I know Charleston well. My mother`s family was originally from Charleston. So it`s like coming home.

VELSHI: What do you make of what this is going to look like on Saturday?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, everybody I`ve talked to agrees with the polls that it`s very likely going to be a victory for Joe Biden. There`s some question as to what the margin will be. But, I`m sure the Biden campaign, especially at this point in the campaign, will say a win is a win.

I think they`d be very, very happy if it were a double-digit win. They`re looking for a springboard into Super Tuesday. It`s a campaign that frankly, doesn`t have - it`s not up on the air with television ads in the Super Tuesday states as they don`t have the money. And there`s not time between now and Super Tuesday to get the money and the ads together and the ad time.

But like he`d get a whole lot of free media, if he really can have a whopping good victory here in South Carolina and that could give a boost to this campaign - a real boost.

VELSHI: And in fact, Zerlina, in a number of large Super Tuesday states, which is going to be on Tuesday, a few days from now. Bernie Sanders is ahead of Joe Biden and one of the - some of the thinking, as Eugene points out, is that if he wins handily in South Carolina, the coverage of that, the momentum of that could put him up in front of Biden in some of the Super Tuesday states.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I do think that Joe Biden coming off of a big win in South Carolina could use the momentum in some of the Super Tuesday states. So I think Eugene is absolutely correct that some of it will just be free press for Joe Biden and headlines that he desperately needs, because he hasn`t gotten them to this point.

But I do think that, one of the things I`m looking towards is not just what happens with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders coming out of South Carolina, but also what happens to these other candidates that aren`t getting mentioned this week, like a Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, or as much, because they aren`t registering with black voters. And, Eugene and other analysts have been saying this entire time, we cannot count anyone out until black people have had a chance to weigh in.

And so, I think, after Saturday, and after Tuesday, when more diverse states are able to cast their ballots and weigh in here, I think the whole field is going to be shaken up a bit. And that actually made put Joe Biden in a stronger position, because their argument all along has been, we have a strong presence and a strong support in the base of the Democratic Party, and we`re going to see if that is borne out true tomorrow

VELSHI: Well, Eugene, let`s talk about black voters in South Carolina. It is the most diverse state that we will have a primary or caucus in so far, maybe 60 percent or upwards of 60 percent of the Democratic primary voters are going to be African-American.

I want to show two examples of polling prior to the South Carolina primaries in 2008 and 2016. In 2008, the final polling showed Obama up by 12 percent, and the final result was that he was up by 29 percent. In 2016, the final polling had Clinton up by 28 percent. And the net result was 48 percent. So it was up by a lot. And a lot of the thinking is actually older black voters who are uniquely committed to the primary process in South Carolina.

ROBINSON: They are. Older black voters vote. I mean, they just vote, especially black women. But black men as well here, they are going to reliably turn out. Those numbers also suggest that there might be a certain - and this could be good for Biden - a certain pile on effect at the last minute.

A candidate who`s taken a lead and around whom a sort of a certain consensus seems to be developing may, in fact, sort of really benefit, the other others may pile on toward the end. That`s one possible hypothesis from those examples you gave if that is the case, Biden is ahead, if he gets that sort of pile on at the end. And you know, a lot of people I talked to in my highly unscientific survey of just wandering, I`m talking to people in my hometown, but I was hearing Biden, Biden, Biden,

VELSHI: Interesting. Zerlina I was reading a great piece that was put up by "The Root" tonight, evaluating the plans that these candidates have for African-American economic empowerment. Some of them are very cool. They got names to them. Pete Buttigieg has a name, Bloomberg has a name, others are very detailed.

"The Root" gave Elizabeth Warren the highest marks for a detailed plan for economic empowerment. And, I guess, this is always interesting, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and others don`t have as much detail that specifically toward African-Americans, but it`s a deals with inequality which is a topic with many of our African-Americans be familiar. Give me a sense of, of that particular aspect of this campaign. Major candidates have specific plans for black economic empowerment.

MAXWELL: Well, one of the things I think is critically important in this cycle is that the work and the activism of "Black Lives Matter" has borne out and now we`re talking about racial justice as a central issue.

I mean, we`re talking about reparations in a Democratic presidential debate. That is an important moment and an important step forward in making sure that the Democratic Party is centering perspectives and lived experiences that are not a white people. I mean, that is a really important moment. It`s a demographic shift in the country.

But in terms of the base of the Democratic Party and Elizabeth Warren`s platform, the reason why she`s scoring so high, the reason why she can have all of those details is because she is actually listening to black women. She has hired a bunch of "Black Lives Matter" movement folks.

She has endorsements from one of the co-founders of "Black Lives Matter," Alicia Garza. She also has the endorsement of black women for an organization led by Angela Peoples and founded by Angela Peoples that does work on the ground in communities.

And so I feel like what`s happening here is, you have a two-way street. She`s listening to these black woman, and then she`s implementing or including their ideas in her policy plans. And I hope that more candidates do that.

VELSHI: Alicia Garza was talking to me the day that she endorsed Elizabeth Warren and said that, she deems her to have the best plan for actual shifts in power or the empowerment of African-Americans through her policies. Very interesting conversation.

Thanks to both of you, Eugene Robinson, good to see you back home; and Zerlina, thank you for joining us again tonight.

Coming up today, Donald Trump nominated conservative Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe to be the next permanent Director of National Intelligence after bipartisan opposition to Congressman Ratcliffe scuttled his nomination for the same job last year. We`ll telling you why. That`s next.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to tell you, if we`re doing a remake of Perry Mason, the man I get - there`s nobody in Hollywood like this, John Ratcliffe, right? Stand up, John. So - such a great lawyer. Incredible guy, incredible talent, but just a great lawyer that we appreciate. He gets on that screen and everyone says, I agree. The other side folds up so fast. We`ll probably be using a lot of you in the next year.


VELSHI: So here`s the thing, the other side didn`t fold so fast the last time John Ratcliffe got up. That was, obviously, Donald Trump earlier this month, thanking Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe for his support during the impeachment trial.

It appears Trump does plan to use a lot of Ratcliffe, announcing today that he will nominate Ratcliffe for Director of National Intelligence. Now, Ratcliffe`s name sounds familiar. It`s because Trump did this again. He did this before. He was nominated by Trump for the same job last July and that nomination was pulled in early August, because there was not enough support in the Senate among Republicans over concerns over Ratcliffe`s credentials.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to the nomination in a statement saying, quote, "Congressman Ratcliffe has shown an unacceptable embrace of conspiracy theories and a clear disrespect and distrust of our law enforcement and intelligence patriots that disqualify him from leading America`s intelligence community. We call upon the Senate to remember that they take an oath to protect America, not the President and vote against this nomination."

Joining me now, Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi. He`s a Democrat from Illinois and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence with John Ratcliffe. Congressman, good to see you again.

This one`s tricky, just put aside John Ratcliffe for a second. There`s a guy - he`s a guy who`s going to have trouble getting confirmed. There are Republicans who have serious concerns - and we can talk in a minute about what the reasons for those people concerns are.

However, he`s actually going to have trouble getting confirmed, the President`s other guy who we put into place, Richard Grenell is also widely thought to be not qualified to be the Director of National Intelligence. But he can only keep the job until March 11th, unless Ratcliffe doesn`t get nominated anytime soon, in which case Grenell can stay on the job. So there`s some trickery involved here.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Right, right. It`s something called the Federal Vacancies Act, and perhaps your audience already knows about it. But basically this act enables Grenell to stay for as long as the nomination is pending. And then if it fails for another 210 days, so practically another seven months after that, and then the President could nominate another person.

VELSHI: Who also might fail--

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And the reason.

VELSHI: --in succeeding--


VELSHI: So in other words, this is what the President does. He got a lot of acting people and he likes them that way.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Right. Exactly. He does and, and Mr. Grenell in particular is considered to be a political hack. And the reason why people are so upset about Mr. Grenell, in part, is that he is basically going to be administering a loyalty test to all the people in the intelligence community whom the President suspects as being part of the Deep State.

And this review is going to basically happen during the pendency of this nomination of Mr. Ratcliffe, and maybe beyond, and grave damage could be done, not only to the intelligence community, but our national security in the meantime.

VELSHI: Right. And here`s the issue. And I want to remind people about the history behind the Director of National Intelligence and the intelligence problems that contributed to 9/11. Right. There was - there`s some thinking--


VELSHI: --and you know, one doesn`t always want to Monday morning quarterback. But there`s some thinking that if all our intelligence organizations didn`t share their information properly, we might have been able to prevent 9/11.

The Director of National Intelligence is the person who`s supposed to do that. They should be the best informed smartest, most qualified person in this country.


VELSHI: And that does not seem to be a priority to this President.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: No. And this kind of takes us to a pivot point right now, which is, is the intelligence community going to be led by someone who lives in the world of truth? Or is it going to be someone who lives in the world of propaganda. And in the world of propaganda, truth tellers are silenced, and political loyalties are rewarded.

But we know what that world looks like. We don`t have to look further than China and the coronavirus.

VELSHI: Right.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: China is a world of propaganda. They silence their critics, they silence the truth tellers, and now they helped spawn a global pandemic that`s going to kill a lot of people unfortunately, and hurt a lot of Americans too.

VELSHI: So this is why this is a consequence of flying a little under the radar, but I think this is of remarkable importance. So I`m glad you joined me tonight to talk about it Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi--


VELSHI: --thank you as always.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. Thanks.

VELSHI: Coming up, this key primary state is on the front lines of climate change. Residents are right now facing billions of dollars of climate change related costs as a result, that`s after the break.


VELSHI: Earlier this week, the Democratic presidential candidates had a debate in South Carolina and the topic of climate change hardly came up. Now that`s surprising on a number of levels, not least of which that Democratic voters care a lot about the climate crisis.

According to a recent poll conducted by Yale and George Mason University, 83% of Democrats and 53% of independents say global warming should be a very high or high priority for the President and Congress.

And when asked them to choose their most important issue when voting for a candidate, global warming is the #1 most important issue for liberal Democrats and #5 among moderate and conservative Democrats.

But the absence of climate change debate questions was especially surprising, because the city they were in Charleston, is right now facing a grave threat from flooding and rising sea levels.

MSNBC Correspondent Cal Perry is in Charleston tonight with a story. Cal, last time - as you know, last time I was in Charleston was when Hurricane Florence hit, and Charleston floods fast, it floods often.

CAL PERRY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, the local paper here was talking about that debate, saying, if we`re not going to have a conversation about climate change here, and now, when are we going to have that conversation? This is a city that lives on average about five feet above sea level, some of it is below sea level.

So the conversation about climate change is not a theoretical conversation. It`s not something that people are worried about in the future. The effects of climate change are being felt right now.


PERRY (voice-over): Ecology Professor Phil Dustin has been coming to Fort Johnson Park for more than 40 years, watching as Charleston Harbor turns this hardwood forests into a beach.

PHILLIP DUSTIN, PROFESSOR, COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON: This tells us that the city is going to go into water sooner than later. This This tells us that if we really value this city, we ought to start thinking about what parts of the city are we going to retreat. It tells us that you`re not going to stop climate change, you`re not going to stop sea level rise.

PERRY (voice-over): Well, name storms like Hugo and Matthew have left their mark on this city, the reality is, it no longer takes a major storm to flood Charleston. The city flooded 79 times last year, sometimes on sunny days. The city is sinking as the sea rises.

And so Bernie Mansheim is literally lifting his house eight feet off the ground. An incredibly expensive project to be sure, for him, this is the only way to stay in his house.

BERNARD MANSHEIM, CHARLESTON HOMEOWNER: We`ve been here almost 10 years. And when we`ve had these consecutive hurricanes that flooded our house, as it did all up and down the street, it occurred to us that this one in the 1,000-year flood is happening every year, and we`ve got to figure out something.

PERRY (voice-over): Not everyone has the means to do something so drastic. Ana Zimmerman is one of the first of all, and undoubtedly be a growing group of climate refugees. Her house flooded twice in two years.

ANA ZIMMERMAN, CHARLESTON RESIDENT: I really had to leave, because it was so traumatic for our child. The first time you don`t realize how traumatic it`s going to be trying to rebuild and deal with insurance and arguing with, did you have this, you not have this - in 2017, I was never going to do this again.

PERRY (voice-over): The mayor campaigned on combating climate change and now the city is spending $65 million to raise it sea wall, just one project of many the mayor tells us he believes some $2 billion are needed to protect his city.

JOHN TECKLENBURG, MAYOR OF CHARLESTON: I would like for Charleston to be available for citizens to enjoy for generations to come, another 350 years. If we don`t protect ourselves now, it`s coming, and it will be - could be a demise or existential threat to our city if we don`t protect ourselves from water and manage water better.

PERRY (voice-over): Which makes it all the more remarkable it didn`t come up at this week`s Democratic debate. Confusing to many students who attended this climate change event held near the College of Charleston campus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s frankly offensive that they didn`t speak about it at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s ridiculous. Honestly, especially it being in South Carolina and it`s such a big issue here and all along the coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like it`s one of the major problems, because what`s going to happen. We`re not going to be here, it gets bad.


PERRY: The economic effects of this are, of course, profound, just the effects on the housing market. So many people on those outer islands and people who live along the water here can no longer insure their house, they can no longer get flood insurance.

And when you talk to those kids at that College of Charleston, a lot of them will say to you, I`m worried if I buy a house, it`s not going to make it to the end of that 30-year mortgage. That before the end of that 30-year mortgage happens, I`m going to become a climate refugee, Ali.

VELSHI: Cal, when our grandchildren say, "Why didn`t you guys cover the climate in 2020 when you had a chance to press the candidates?" At least you`ll be able to sleep well at night and say, you actually did. You`ve been going around the country and talking about these issues. It does surprise me a little bit that it doesn`t come up a little more often in these conversations with the candidates.

PERRY: It needs to. It really needs to, because I have to tell you, as I go around the country, and you`re very kind to do this, and the show has been incredibly supportive of this. Young people around this country will tell you this is the singular issue for them. People are afraid to have kids, they`re afraid of the future. And when you come to a city like Charleston, and on a sunny day the water is coming out of that street, you understand why.

VELSHI: Cal, good to see you. As always, thank you for joining me. Cal Perry in Charleston. He will continue to cover the climate for us here on MSNBC. That is tonight`s "Last Word." I`m Ali Velshi. I`m going to see you back here at 8:00 am tomorrow morning. But right now "The 11th Hour" begins.