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Transcript: The 11th Hour, 1/7/22

Guests: Franco Ordonez, Cynthia Alksne, Murtaza Akhter, Tim Miller, Don Calloway, Douglas Brinkley


NPR: Jan. 6 committee eyeing interview with former VP Pence. Omicron variant driving sharp rise in new COVID cases. SCOTUS hears challenges to Biden vaccine mandates. Biden questioned about COVID surge in U.S. Deadly crackdown on protest in Kazakhstan.


JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC HOST: That is tonight`s "LAST WORD." And before we go tonight, I have a message to someone who`s watching right now. We have the picture, that is my husband, Nick. And it is our fifth wedding anniversary today. ANQ (ph). Happy Anniversary Magoo. Thank you so much for watching. 11TH HOUR starts now.

ALICIA MENENDEZ, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, I`m Alicia Menendez, day 353 of the Biden administration. We`re now learning just how serious the January 6 committee is about speaking with former Vice President Mike Pence about what happened on the day Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

NBC News has confirmed an NPR report that the committee could ask Pence to appear voluntarily. The panel`s Chairman Bennie Thompson told NPR, "I think you could expect that before the months out." Tonight, one member of the committee explained why Pence`s information is critical for their inquiry.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA JAN. 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: He would have I think, very undoubtedly relevant testimony for us about that pressure campaign, no one would be in a better position really to speak to it. And he would, all of the efforts to get him to violate his constitutional duty to count the votes and instead reject votes without basis as the chairman indicated, we intend to extend that invitation fairly soon. So, let`s hope that he`s willing to do the right thing.


MENENDEZ: Chairman Thompson says they are also focusing more intensely on the role some members of Congress played ahead of January 6.


REP. BENNIE THOMPSON, (D) MISSISSIPPI JAN.6 SELECT COMMITTEE CHAIR: We have information that members hosted, people who came to Washington on that day in our office. We have information that before the actual certification, people came earlier, were given to us in the Capitol. We have pictures of members taken pitches with people who came to the rally. There`s a smaller subset of members that have been identified, who probably did more to encourage the stock to steal part of coming to Washington that we will continue to work on.


MENENDEZ: Meanwhile, Omicron driven COVID cases soaring at a relentless pace. CDC data shows we`re now seeing an average of over 600,000 new cases a day, the most at any point in the pandemic. According to the New York Times, COVID hospitalizations have increased more than 50% over the last two weeks, although at a slower rate than the rise in new cases.

This all comes as the Supreme Court for challenges one of the Biden administration`s main pandemic fighting strategies, vaccine mandates for companies with more than 100 employees and for some health care workers, Republican led states have largely objected to those mandates. Earlier today, the courts conservative majority appeared skeptical of the need for vaccine requirements, or the liberals pointed out the ongoing public health crisis.


JUSTICE BREYER: Are you still really asking this court now, today to issue a stay. There three quarters of a million new cases yesterday. The hospitals are today, yesterday, full almost to the point of the maximum they`ve ever been in this disease.

JUSTICE THOMAS: Is a vaccine the only way to treat COVID?

SOLICITOR GENERAL ELIZABETH PRELOGAR: It is certainly the single most effective way to target all of the hazards OSHA identified.


MENENDEZ: Late today the White House announced it has finalized the first contracts related to the 500 million free at home COVID test, the President Biden promised would be available by mail.

This morning, the President was asked if he thought COVID would become a permanent part of our lives.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: I don`t think COVID is here to stay that having COVID in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay but COVID as we`re dealing with it now is not here to stay. We have so many more tools we`re developing and continuing to develop that will keep contain COVID. We`re going to be able to control this. The new normal is not going to be what it is now. It`s going to be better.


MENENDEZ: The President and First Lady Jill Biden spent part of the day in Colorado, getting a first-hand look at the damage from last week`s devastating wildfire near Denver. This was also the day Speaker Pelosi announced that Biden`s first State of the Union Address to Congress will be on March 1. It has not been that late since 1934.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Friday night, Franco Ordonez, White House Correspondent for NPR, Cynthia Alksne, former Federal Prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and Dr. Murtaza Akhter, Emergency Physician at the University of Arizona, College of Medicine, Phoenix. He also works in emergency rooms in Pennsylvania, as well as in Florida. It is good to see you all.


Franco, I want to start with January 6, if the Committee is nearly ready to ask Pence to come in, and they are signaling coming public hearings, can we then conclude that they are even more committed to getting this inquiry done as soon as possible?

FRANCO ORDONEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT NPR: Yeah, I think that is a very fair assumption. I mean, Mike Pence, I mean, it`s not like you can get much higher up the food chain than the former Vice President. He`s obviously got a lot of critical information that the committee, that the panel wants to know, Adam Schiff was just there talking about some of the behind the scenes knowledge that Vice President, former Vice President Pence would have that the panel obviously wants to know, also up hence to talk about, you know, those critical few hours when the attack was going on, in what Trump was actually doing, what type of communication. There may have been happening between him and the president and/or his staff and the White House staff.

I do think there is a sense of caution, though. Pence is obviously someone with some great political ambitions. He is acting as a presidential candidate traveling over across the country to battleground states, New Hampshire, Iowa. So, I do think there is a little bit of wait and see of how much Pence will actually participate and contribute. Because he does not want to turn off Trump`s supporters entirely. That said, many people feel that he already has done that. And he might as well defend the Constitution and do what he did on January 6 of last year, again. So, we`ll see.

MENENDEZ: Cynthia, as a former prosecutor, what is the fact that the committee is interested in Pence tell you about where they are right now?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it tells me that they`re zeroing in on the coup itself and not just focusing on the entrance into the Capitol. I mean, here they are poised to probably subpoena Jordan, Perry, Navarro, looking, you know, pretty hard at Giuliani, I mean, some of these other people, and now they`re going to talk to Pence. They have been very polite about first asking, and then later doing the subpoena, I would find it hard to believe, they actually subpoena Pence because of his stature as a vice president. But certainly, the other Congress, people who participated in this coup attempt should be subpoenaed and should be subpoenaed pretty soon.

MENENDEZ: Did you find it interesting, Cynthia, because I found it interesting that when Congressman Thompson was talking about members of Congress who may or may not have participated, he seemed to be tearing them. He seemed to be saying there were people who were giving tours, there were people who were taking pictures. But there were people who did more than that.

ALKSNE: Right, somebody gave tours to the point where, Senator -- I mean, Congressman Clyburn, private office was known. So, there were definitely different levels of tours. You know, what it`s like in Congress, you know, somebody`s knocking on the door, and people are taking pictures. And then there`s tours and by low level staffers, and then there`s tours by congress people, and then there`s people participating in the actual coup attempt. And, you know, this week on MSNBC, in a great interview by Ari Melber, Peter Navarro basically admitted the whole thing, he said, we had a whole system. We had about 100 members who were participating, and they all were going to agree on how we were going to fight back and not certify this election and try to throw it to the states. And then eventually, back to the House of Representatives. He called it the Green Bay sweep.

So, we basically know the outlines of the coup, and it`s just up to this committee to get the information out, because apparently, the Justice Department is waiting for them to do it first.

MENENDEZ: Well, to that point about information, Cynthia, here`s January 6, committee member Adam Kinzinger earlier today.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R) ILLINOIS: Either the president probably in his best-case scenario was totally incompetent, totally indecisive, and absolutely abdicated his responsibility to defend the Constitution or then this is where we can get more information. You know, he was part of this, part of understanding what was going to happen. That`s why the days leading up to January six, in terms of him specifically, what did he know? Who did he talk to, are so important. So that`s what we`re going to get down to is, what did he know and I think that could be really the defining moment between is what he did criminal or is it just terribly incompetent?

MENENDEZ: Cynthia, either way, not exactly a flattering portrait of the former president. What is this committee need in terms of information to make any sort of criminal referral?


ALKSNE: They need to know about his conversations with the other people in that war room at the hotel, the Willard Hotel. They need to know what was - - what exactly was he doing about pressuring Pence to abdicate his responsibilities and refuse to take the electors. They need to know exactly what was he thinking when he was calling down and demanding more votes in Georgia, it`s not -- the temptation is to focus only on the January 6, but that`s not really it. It`s the whole umbrella of activities. It`s the pressure on Arizona, the pressure in Pennsylvania, the pressure in Michigan, the pressure in Georgia, and what was happening with the electors. That`s why it`s so important to have a grand jury investigation on everything to bring it in, so that all of the information comes together. And we can really determine whether or not there was a conspiracy that overthrow and overturn this election. And the only way we`re going to know that is if we have a full grand jury at the high levels, not the low levels, not the halfwits who came into the Congress with, you know, Nordic hats on and weird makeup. What`s important is not those people. What`s important is the plan to refuse the will of the voters of the United States of America for the first time in the history of the country, or at least since Abraham Lincoln`s. And that`s what we have to get at.

MENENDEZ: Dr. Akhter, turning to the pandemic, what are you seeing right now in your hospitals in terms of treating COVID patients?

DR. MURTAZA AKHTER, UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA, COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, unfortunately, it`s actually worse than I`ve ever seen it, the ERs are busting at the seams. We`ve literally got people standing outside waiting to get into the waiting room. Forget an emergency department, we`ve been practicing basically waiting room medicine because we can`t get a better number of department itself. I`ve never seen it like this. And we`ve been dealing with this pandemic for a couple of years now. The amount of patients coming in is more than ever seen in the emergency department.

Now, people are talking about how Omicron is milder and it does seem to be anecdotally as well, obviously, the big data more important than any anecdotal experience. Well, when you have this many people getting sick, when you have this many people getting infected, if it`s slightly milder, it`s still going to cause a ton of hospitalizations because almost everyone is getting infected. It really seems to be a huge scorch. We can barely fit patients even in the waiting room, forget the ER, I`ve never seen it like this.

MENENDEZ: Franco, what have you been hearing from the White House about the current surgeon cases?

ORDONEZ: Well, they`re obviously concerned about the surgeon cases. At the same time, they`re trying to say that they have a handle on it. But as a doctor says, I mean, so many people are feeling this. They are concerned. The president likes to say that they have all the tools to control this. They are pushing the 35 million unvaccinated Americans to get their shots. And he`s saying that things are not like they were back in 2020. You know, a lot of people are feeling like it`s Deja vu as they`re racing around, trying to get tests, trying to get to testing sites, waiting in line for testing sites, as the doctor said, they`re seeing hospitals strained. But the President says that things are much, much better than they were. But it is hard to feel that when feels things do not feel normal at all. They feel very strange. They feel very dangerous.

My kids are not in school right now. They are learning virtually. I`m very hopeful that next week, they will be back in school. But I think that is kind of the reality of the situation right now. In the Briefing Room, the White House is getting questions about whether they lost control of this virus. So, they got a lot of work to do.

MENENDEZ: You know, Cynthia, it strikes me that the employer vaccine mandates are a key part of the administration strategy in fighting this pandemic, your takeaways from the Supreme Court`s arguments on vaccine requirements?

ALKSNE: Well, first of all know that to get into the Supreme Court, you have to pass a test, a COVID test. And very few people are allowed in and then everybody has to wear a mask, and the justices, most of them were wearing a mask. And they have a set of workplace rules that protect themselves from COVID that they apparently do not think American workers deserve as well.

I mean, what happened today was that the OSHA regulation, which OSHA is charged by Congress to protect people, workers and their health and safety from hazards. And OSHA tried to do that. And with the help of the Biden ministration, who`s, of course, the duly elected government, and with the support of the Supreme Court precedent, so we had these three prongs supporting this mandate. But the Supreme Court -- here`s my lecture, elections have consequences again, the conservative have members of the Supreme Court had a different agenda and that is an agenda dismantle the administrative power and regulations and the administrative state.


And so, it looks like they`re going to overturn this vaccine requirement. And I find it tragic because I know many people will die. And I would defer to your doctors on that. But it does seem that the politics carried the day. The problem, of course, the bigger problem, in addition to the tragedy of all the deaths that will come is that it`s hurts the credibility of the court. The more political they become the fewer people trust them to be political. And it`s a cycle that we can`t seem to stop. And I don`t know how we`re going to stop it. But one way we`re going to have to -- the only thing I can say is we need justices that don`t exercise their political views and instead just follow the law.

MENENDEZ: Dr. Cynthia, wanted to defer to you, what do you make of the battle over mandates, especially now in the midst of the staggering rise in infections?

AKHTER: Well, the science of it is that vaccines clearly work. I`m obviously not a SCOTUS expert. I mentioned earlier and maybe it`s not politically correct to say, but it seems like administration`s for decades, have had carte blanche to invade other countries bomb other countries, and children die from bombings and the Supreme Court doesn`t get involved in that. And yet, when it comes a vaccine that can help save so many lives, the Supreme Court is involved.

Now, again, I`m not a legal expert at vaccine mandates are apparently different from explosives and other countries. But I am a physician, and I can say this. Wars and bombs kill people, science and vaccines save people. It`s simple as that. And hundreds of years from now, when people will look back, they won`t think about oh, what SCOTUS acting constitutionally, they`ll look at us as a country that was OK. Going to foreign wars without any decree from Congress, but not OK saving American lives with something as simple as a vaccine. That`s what people will say hundreds of years from now. And that`s what I can say as a physician.

MENENDEZ: Franco Ordonez, Cynthia Alksne, Dr. Akhter, thank you all.

Coming up, some very high-profile Democrats trying to sway Joe Manchin to help change Senate rules for voting rights. Is it going to work? I will ask Don Callaway and Tim Miller. And later, one day later, can one speech make a difference? I`m going to ask historian, Douglas Brinkley, if blasting Trump for trying to overturn the election can reset the Biden administration before the midterms. THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on a Friday night.



MENENDEZ: Democrats are apparently trying a new tactic to get Joe Manchin to sign on to possible Senate rule changes in order to get essential voting rights legislation passed. They reportedly listed the likes of Bill Clinton and Oprah to try to convince him. The most productive discussions are said to be between Manchin and fellow centrist Democrats. Some of whom only recently changed their minds on filibuster reform.

From Politico, Senator Tim Kaine, like into the effort to his 27-hour drive to Washington earlier this week for a snowstorm devastated I-95. Snow progress toward a goal like my commute.

With us tonight, Don Calloway, Democratic Strategist and Founder of the National Voter Protection Action Fund, and Tim Miller, Contributor to the Bulwark and the former Communications Director for Jeb Bush. It is good to see you both,

Tim, I remember less than a month ago, Joe Manchin was complaining about the public pressure campaign around Build Back Better. One, is any of this going to work? And two, a question I often ask myself, if Oprah can do it, who can?

TIM MILLER, THE BULWARK CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, Oprah can`t hurt, I guess, right? Look, I think the question of Manchin is this, the Democrats, you know, have to come up with something that Manchin can take back to his own voters in West Virginia and sell to them, feel good about selling to them. I don`t know that Oprah has it, right? And so, does that mean, you know, some sort of trade? Can he bring over a Republican or do and say, hey, we did a compromise. They wanted to push me to, you know, the extremes, and I`m coming back with some sensible, they kind of give him something that he can sell in a state that voted 70% for Donald Trump. The other thing I have here is that all this pressure shouldn`t be on Joe Manchin. You know, the Republicans cannot continue to get left off the hook and the Democrats got to put pressure on Republicans. There`s a very small window here from now until November, where there is at least a modicum of normalcy in the Republican Senate caucus. There are a lot of extremists. There are a lot of folks who`ve gone along with Trump. But there were seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump.

There`s another handful that are retiring, who are kind of the old guard your traditional Republican types. Once those folks are gone, they`re going to be replaced with crazy maggots. And so, the Democrats should also be saying, what can we sell to them? Is there a way we can fix the (inaudible) act and make a couple of changes, you know, bring back the old Civil Rights Act, we can get Mitt Romney. Maybe that`s a pipe dream, that there needs to be attract be on this as well, instead of having all your chips in the basket of a guy that represents a very, very red state.

MENENDEZ: Don, I would welcome you to also weigh in on Tim`s analysis there, but also talk about some misconceptions around voting that surfaced in a focus group discussion, the New York Times conducted with Republican voters, one of those voters said, "The right to vote thing. I`ve never been turned down to vote, just show up and go vote. But this whole mail-in ballot thing, I think that should end right away. I mean, isn`t that part of the problem down that some voters do have no issue voting? Well, other voters have to jump through innumerable hoops and wait in line?

DON CALLOWAY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yeah, that`s absolutely the problem. I mean, voting access is not equal, and frankly, has never been equal across this country. When you look at long lines, when you look at voting not happening on Saturday, it happens in the middle of workday. All of these things for a lot of Americans are tantamount to a poll tax. And that is what the idea of ballot box expansion is all about the idea of trying to get at, though the person who gave that quote to the New York Times unfortunately embarrassed himself or herself, was probably a do generally say dumb stuff like that. But it`s -- this is just someone who generally clearly doesn`t understand the idea of a robust voting rights platform.

But I would also say I -- unfortunately, I don`t think that I don`t think this is a circumstance where Oprah, Barack Obama are going to get the job done. That`s simply not who Joe Manchin responds to. I know I switched up topics there. But I agree with Tim, that there`s 99 other senators who need to be pressured to make this thing come home for Joe Biden in his agenda.


MENENDEZ: I invited you to switch topics and to your point it was indeed a dude who offered that quote.

Tim, the Times also did a focus group with Democratic voters. And when asked, how would you characterize the health of our democracy, they said things like in the ICU, it`s a pandemic, and it`s in critical condition, poisoned. Are these voters more in touch with the urgency of the moment, then Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema?

MILLER: I think they`re really in touch with the moment. You know, I think that they are right. I think the problem is, if you have, you know, I`ll put Sinema in a different category because she represents a purple state. I don`t really think she has any good political excuse on this front. I think if you`re looking at Manchin, rather than psychoanalyze him, the question is in a state that voted 70% for Donald Trump, there is no, or that group policy does not have any urgency of at the end of democracy. You know, that group probably once a Maga, there`s only a majority, you know, support in West Virginia for a MAGA autocracy right now. So, you know, that`s why Democratic voters are concerned, and they rightly should be. And so, the question is, how can the responsible people, it`s not fair that this has to fall on Democrats, the Democrats have been responsible once, but that`s the reality right now.

So, the response will be we`ll come up with a pragmatic solution that can bring Manchin on board, maybe bring some of these Republicans on board. And then pressure and attack like Joe Biden did yesterday, the ones who are putting our democracy in threat, that is the path forward here, you know, rather than just, you know, sort of hoping for the perfect and wagging your finger at (inaudible), if he doesn`t come along, that`s not going to solve what is an urgent crisis.

MENENDEZ: Don, I have about a minute left, set the stakes for us. If Democrats understanding that majority of Republicans are not going to come to the table on this, if they can`t get any major voting rights reform passed, what happens?

CALLOWAY: Then we have a cacophony and a complete mixed-up situation in terms of actual state voting procedures going into these midterms. We have a patchwork of state voting laws that are going to lead to absolute chaos, going into this November`s midterms, and even the primaries that lead into the midterms, where you have had multiple I think 31, or 32 states pass voter suppression laws, making it more difficult for people to vote where there`s no clarity whatsoever about that procedure, procedurally, and even without the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, or the other Voting Rights Act that were out there throughout last year, there`s no excuse for Joe Manchin or other members of Congress to not look, take a hard look at The Freedom to Vote Act, which brings uniformity to those. So, you`ve got to get that done in the first quarter of 2022 to bring some uniformity to what will be a chaotic election season in 2022 without it.

MENENDEZ: Don and Tim are staying with me. Coming up, the latest example yet of who`s really calling the shots at the GOP, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.




SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: The way I phrase things yesterday, it was sloppy, and it was frankly dumb. And -

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX HOST: I don`t buy that. Whoa, whoa, whoa, I don`t buy that. Look, I`ve known you a long time since before you went to the Senate, your Supreme Court contender. You take words as seriously as any man who`s ever served in the Senate. And every word you repeated that phrase, I do not believe that you use that accidentally, it just don`t.

CRUZ: So, Tucker, as a result of my sloppy phrasing, it`s caused a lot of people to misunderstand what I meant.


MENENDEZ: Senator Ted Cruz`s attempt to walk back his calling January 6, a "violent terrorist attack did not go well."

New York Magazine mocked him for begging Tucker Carlson`s forgiveness. Rolling Stone said the Texas Senator had reached a new level of pathetic. And the Washington Post characterize the exchanges, Ted Cruz kisses Tucker Carlson speech, exposing the far rights ugly underbelly.

Still with us, Don Calloway and Tim Miller.

Don, what Tucker is upset about is Cruz undermining the false narrative that those who attacked our capital were heroes and patriots, which is critical to their continuing to pretend that January 6 was not an assault on our democracy. So, we talk a lot here about what it will take to break through that echo chamber, what is that exchange tell you about just how hard that`s going to be?

CALLOWAY: No, I don`t really know how much it tells me about how hard it`s going to be. My major concern from that is that, you know, these folks say one thing in the media, and they do another thing on the Senate floor. And we`ve come to expect that now out of many politicians, because the media on both sides is largely talking to, you know, their gathered teams, so to speak. What it tells me mostly, and I don`t know that I`ve developed a macro theory here, but mostly what it tells me is that Ted Cruz is a coward. There`s no further doubt about that. This is a guy who let the former president called his dad a part of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He let the former president call his wife -- call his wife unattractive and still remained one who was loyalty and OBC and to the former president. And this is a really bad part of the heinous trifecta, which proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Rafael Cruz is fundamentally a coward and probably unfit to serve in all.

MENENDEZ: Tim, I don`t want to rob you of an opportunity to talk about Senator Cruz. But I do want to ask you about President Biden, his speech yesterday, you know, he has mostly ignored his predecessor, but yesterday on the anniversary of January 6, president laid blame for the insurrection at Donald Trump`s feet. The New York Times describe the overall aggressive posture of the speech as a shift in the administration`s approach. I want to know, do you agree? And if it is, will it make a difference?

MILLER: Yeah, this probably better. I don`t talk too much about Ted Cruz. It`s a family program. And that was a humiliating appearance last night, and I think that he might have liked it a little too much. So, we`ll just leave that there. Joe -- as far as Joe Biden is concerned, I do think it was a slight pivot. And I think it was a good pivot because this is the deal, for one year, Joe Biden has been so prudent and so reserved when it comes to the former president, a former president that tried to stay in power against the will of the people and stick them out against him when at the Capitol. And Joe Biden has done everything he can to issue an olive branch to the right, working with him on immigration, working with him on the COVID Relief Bill. He`s got no credit from the from a lot of the folks in the mainstream press. He`s gotten zero negative credit on the right that they still call them divisive and, you know, it hasn`t worked politically. So, I think Joe Biden tried to live up to the promise of his campaign and unite the country. I think he`s going to still try to do that. But he`s also got to, you know, call out the Republican Party for what it is and call out Donald Trump for what it is.


And you can`t let big moments like this go by. And I was happy that he spoke very clearly about just the unconscionable and undemocratic behavior of Trump and his enablers yesterday, and I hope that, you know, he doesn`t obsess about Trump, you know, obsessed about the past administration, he`s got to focus on making lives better for people. But at the same time, from time to time, I hope he continues to remind people just how dangerous the other side is, at this point.

MENENDEZ: Right. His decision to never say his name seemed like an effort to sidestep that obsession. I want you to take a listen to a portion of the President taking aim at Trump`s culpability.


BIDEN: And here`s the truth, the former President of United States of America has created and spread a web of lies about the 2020 election. He`s done so because he values power over principle. Because he sees his own interest is more important than his country`s interest and America`s interest. And because his bruised ego matters more to him than our democracy or our Constitution. He can`t accept he lost.


MENENDEZ: Don, the choice to do this, is it an implicit acknowledgement that Trump isn`t going away?

CALLOWAY: Yeah, I`ve very much so. And I think that we all know that. And I think that Joe Biden had to use yesterday`s anniversary as a platform to be the voice of reason in the room, and to remind people that he was brought to the presidency to speak about stability, restore order, and a big part of doing that is just calling lies, lies. And, you know, the fundamental thing is that the folks who are continuing to push the big lie, are not doing it, to analyze the 2020 election. They`re doing it to sow seeds of doubt, and discord for the 2022 midterms and more importantly, the 2024 presidential election. It`s important for Joe Biden to do what he did yesterday, which is to begin to reclaim the narrative, to begin to re- inform everybody at the start of the new year, and at the one-year anniversary of him taking office, that this was a lie. And we as people have good sense and more importantly, good faith, know the fundamental difference between the lie and the truth, you have to start by shaming the devil and calling him a liar when you have the opportunity to do so.

MENENDEZ: Don, before we go, I`d be remiss if I did not acknowledge that today a big loss for the civil rights community.

CALLOWAY: Yeah, today we lost the great professor Lani Guinier, first woman of color to achieve tenure at the Harvard Law School. But far more importantly than that, a champion among voting rights thought. She was the first person to say that the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1964-`65, did not go far enough that one man, one vote still left us vulnerable to trampling of the rights of minority communities, not just racial minorities, but any type of minority communities all across the country.

Lani Guinier was an absolute champion of civil rights, of voting rights, and will never forget that the Wall Street Journal called her a "queen" and President Clinton very cowardly pulled her nomination for being Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights in 1993. But she nonetheless reigned as a champion, as an author, as a scholar, and fundamentally as a thinker who push this country forward in terms of fundamental civil rights. She was a giant among the intellectual community, and it`s a massive loss not only for Harvard, but for all people of good faith around the country.

MENENDEZ: An incredible legacy indeed. Don Calloway, Tim Miller, thank you both.

Coming up, Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley, and whether we witnessed a pivotal moment this week for the Biden administration when THE 11TH HOUR continues.




BIDEN: We begun to change the trajectory, change the trajectory of our economy to finally make it work for working people be concerned about Omicron but don`t be alarmed. So, there`s no excuse. No excuse for anyone being unvaccinated.

REPORTER: Do you hold former President Trump personally responsible?

BIDEN: For the first time in our history, a president had not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. I will defend this nation, not allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy.


MENENDEZ: Yesterday`s speech set the tone of the new year for President Biden. Susan Glasser writes this in the New Yorker, "it was a powerful speech and angry speech. A necessary speech. It was also a speech the Biden wanted very much not to deliver. Because doing so meant acknowledging that although Trump may be out of office, Trump and Trumpism have not been banished, but live on as the dominating unpleasant reality of American political life. Whether or not Biden uses Trump`s name, it is hanging over his presidency."

With us tonight, Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley, he`s also a professor of history at Rice University. His most recent book is American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race.

Douglas, was yesterday`s speech, a reset for this administration?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Without question, I will stand in the breach that`s going to be remembered. That`s the best speech Joe Biden has given us president. He showed a kind of fury and a passion and a love for country. In that speech, he connected a different point. So, mentioning Omaha Beach, or Seneca Falls and Selma, and he made it clear that Trump ism is a threat. He mentioned his predecessor 16 times not by name, but it was implicit that Donald Trump is a dark force going across the land, and he is going to stand in that breach and fight it off, even if it makes him a one term president. I think that`s the kind of gut that people need to see about Joe Biden that he`s not going to be intimidated by ex-President Trump or his supporters.

MENENDEZ: Douglas, here`s Eugene Robinson, his column in the Washington Post, "To survive in today`s Republican Party, officials and candidates cannot afford to anger Trump and to avoid Trump`s wrath. They cannot forcefully reject his lies about the election purportedly having been stolen. Biden has to lead the fight for truth and democracy. Losing is not an option."

Douglas, is there a historical comparison here to a president who is overseeing a crisis like a pandemic, while also confronting a persistent figure like Trump and his followers?

BRINKLEY: Well, you know, with the pandemic, you know, Woodrow Wilson had to grapple with that while we were going into a World War I and send soldiers abroad and Wilson didn`t want to call the Spanish influenza pandemic. And you see the difficult to Trump. And I mean, Biden has because how does Joe Biden get ahead of COVID. I mean everybody`s angry. Flights are being canceled, people aren`t sure whether their kids going virtual or they`re in class. And did I get my booster? Is there another booster? It is so confusing out there. So, you see Joe Biden that low in the polls right now, but it doesn`t mean that he -- people really dislike him.


I think there has been a calming effect of Biden in the White House. And I think his greatest asset in history is I`m not Donald Trump. What is Donald Trump? Donald Trump is a Benedict Arnold figure. Donald Trump is Joe McCarthy. You know, Donald Trump is Aaron Burr, or Lyndon LaRouche. And so, Biden has an opening here to say I am the custodian of American democracy, our institutions, the Constitution, and not be so worried about getting every little deal done on Capitol Hill. But as assume a mega leadership, Biden that he is actually the defender of all that we hold so near and dear.

MENENDEZ: I don`t have to tell you, not all Americans, many Americans don`t see the attack on January 6, as significant. What is the risk if Americans become more desensitized to what happened on that day?

BRINKLEY: I think a whole generation of younger people don`t remember what American democracy is. I mean, we can look at these Norman Rockwell paintings of, you know, the four freedoms or listen to speeches about it. I`m afraid we`re a generation race with iPhones and the Internet where conspiracy theories abound, where misinformation is the stock in trade. This makes it a particularly difficult time to be Joe Biden. But he has to rise to the occasion. He potentially is going to be a very historic president, but I think he wanted to come into office as the good guy, the genial good guy, I like Ike. I like Joe. He didn`t -- he wanted to be like Gerald Ford, after Watergate and Vietnam, Ford wrote his memoir, and it`s called a time to heal, and Biden was going to heal the country, and he had reason to believe we might be able to heal in 2021.

After all, Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham on and on denounced Trump on January 6, but alas, a dictatorial authoritarian bent of Trump is kicked in, as you mentioned, Alicia, nobody would -- in the Republican Party wants to square off with Trump, I see that all the time in American history. It`s what dictators or authoritarian figures do all over you, you cross me one senior off my list, and Trump has done that quite effectively. So, it puts the Republican Party and from a historical point of view into the trenches with a nefarious figure like Trump, it`s not going to look good in the long run of American history because I believe we`ll get through this kind of wave of nativism and becoming a kingdom of fear and get back to being the United States that has that they can do ism of the moonshot.

MENENDEZ: We can only hope. Douglas Brinkley, thank you.

Coming up, new reporting from our own Richard Engel on the chaotic situation in Kazakhstan. And why Russia is getting involved when THE 11TH HOUR continues.



MENENDEZ: Protests in Kazakhstan have escalated this week, with 10s of 1000s of people taking to the streets. Many have been killed, and thousands have been arrested. The unrest began after a huge spike in fuel prices. NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel has more.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Facing mass protests sweeping the country. Tonight, Kazakhstan`s government escalated a deadly crackdown against protesters, giving security forces orders to shoot to kill. Clashes began this weekend after the government lifted fuel subsidies and gas prices nearly doubled.

The protests quickly spread with government buildings occupied and some burned. The Interior Ministry reports at least 26 what it calls on terrorists and 18 security officers have been killed, 3000 arrested. It`s the biggest challenge to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev`s autocratic rule.

In a televised address, the President called those protesting his rule, terrorist. Those who don`t surrender will be eliminated, he said. He`s not working alone. Russia sent in several 1000 troops to back-up the government with many more possibly on their way. They come at the request of the Kazakh government, which says Russia`s presence is only temporary. Russia has expanded presence in Kazakhstan comes as the U.S. in talks on Monday will try to pressure Russia to pull back nearly 100,000 troops from the border with nearby Ukraine.

ENGEL (on camera): Tonight, violence has died down some in Almaty, Kazakhstan`s biggest city. Government forces have retaken the airport and restored some internet service. Richard Engel, NBC News, London.


MENENDEZ: Coming up, a look back at the life of a truly groundbreaking Hollywood legend when THE 11TH HOUR continuous.



MENENDEZ: The Last Thing Before We Go tonight, we mark the passing of Academy Award winning actor and Hollywood legend Sidney Poitier. In a statement today, President Biden called him a once in a generation actor, an advocate whose work carried so much dignity, power and grace that it changed the world on an off the big screen. NBC`s Joe Fryer takes a look back at the long career and lasting impact of the great Sidney Poitier.


SIDNEY POITIER, ACTOR: They call me Mr. Tibbs.

JOE FRYER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Sidney Poitier played characters who jumped off the screen, opposite Rod Steiger in the Heat of the Night.

ROD STEIGER, ACTOR: Now, when did you earn it?

POITIER: I`m a police officer, a man.

FRYER: And in the Lilies of the Field is handyman Homer Smith.

POITIER: Lot`s of luck, mother. I ain`t building no chapeau.


FRYER: The role that won him the first ever Lead Actor Oscar for an African American.

POITIER: It is a long journey to this moment.

FRYER: Raised in the Bahamas, he`d moved to Harlem as a teenager and endured the usual hardscrabble climb to an actor`s life. Then came no way out the groundbreaking 1950 Joseph Mankiewicz film about racism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You watch yourself black boy, watch how you talk to me.

POITIER: Just shut up.

FRYER: Poitier played a doctor. In a performance so powerful, the film was credited with ending British colonial rule in the Bahamas. In the intense 22-year-old performer Hollywood had its first African American screen star.


POITIER: Go ahead and say it.

FRYER: A first he would later point out that was too long in coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we are 40 million Americans, we certainly ought to have more than one movie star.

POITIER: Maybe I`ll get down on my blackness.

FRYER: But he wasn`t just a movie star. He was the embodiment of a proud and dignified black point of view and the American conversation about race that accelerated along with the civil rights movement. In 67, he reached Hollywood`s mountain top, its top earning leading man as Virgil Tibbs, righteous enough to slap in return the white politician, slapped him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a time when I could have had you shot.

FRYER: And guess who`s coming to dinner is Dr. John Prentice, half of an interracial couple telling his disapproving father times have changed.

POITIER: I`m his son, I love him. But you think of yourself as a colored man. I think of myself as a man.


MENENDEZ: Poitier would later receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute and a Special Academy Award in 2002. He was even awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2009 by President Obama, who said the actor not only entertained but enlightened, revealing the power of the silver screen to bring us closer together. Sidney Poitier leaves us at the age of 94.

That is our broadcast for this Friday night. Our thanks to you for being with us. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.