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Transcript: The 11th Hour, 12/15/21

Guests: Peter Baker, Philip Rucker, Barbara McQuade, Nahid Bhadelia, Matthew Dowd, David Plouffe


Biden visit Kentucky to assess tornado damage. Biden promises federal aid for tornado victims. Omicron variant spreads to at least 36 states. White House rules out new lockdowns. Justice department to decide on charges for Mark Meadows. Hopes dim for "Build Back Better" vote by Christmas. NFL & NBA superstars sidelined by COVID-19.



STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, I`m Stephanie Ruhle. Day 330 of the Biden administration, where the fate of Mark Meadows, Donald Trump`s last White House Chief of Staff is now up to the Biden Justice Department which will decide whether to prosecute the former congressman on criminal charges of contempt. Earlier today the President was asked about Meadows.


KRISTINE WELKER: What is your reaction to Congress holding Meadows in contempt?

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: I don`t know enough -- just what I`ve seen, I have not spoken to anyone. It seems to me he`s worthy of being held in contempt.


RUHLE: And tonight, there`s new information about who might have been behind those text messages that Meadows turned over to the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. Those texts were made public ahead of this week`s votes to hold Meadows in contempt.

Today, Trump loyalists and Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan confirmed he personally sent a message to Meadows, the day before the Capitol riot that appears to detail how the White House might try to stop the certification of Joe Biden`s election win.

The Ohio Congressman is one of six House Republicans that The New York Times says played an outsized role in trying to keep Donald Trump in power by spreading conspiracy theories and pressuring the Justice Department.

Meanwhile, Politico reports, the January 6 panel is weighing whether Trump himself violated obstruction Law Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney raised that very possibility when she said this.


REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R) WYOMING VICE CHAIR, JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE: Did Donald Trump through action or inaction corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress` official proceedings to count electoral votes?


RUHLE: And tonight, another committee member was asked if a criminal referral for Trump was a possibility?


REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY, (D) JANUARY 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: We will go wherever we need to get the information that we need in order to understand what happened in the run up to January 6, and what happened on January 6, to make sure that no one feels like they`re above the law, and that we never have this happen again. We will follow the fax to whomever they leave.


RUHLE: Also today, the man who actually did win the 2020 election, spent much of his afternoon in the State of Kentucky offering hope and comfort to victims of last weekend`s devastating storms. More than 30 tornadoes hit Kentucky and seven other states over the weekend, killing dozens and dozens of people. This afternoon, Biden promised to send whatever is needed to help those very communities rebuild.


BIDEN: The government`s going to cover 100% of the cost, 100% of the cost for the first 30 days for all the emergency work from clearing everything to every single cost. The federal government`s going to take care of.


RUHLE: And tonight, we are tracking more severe weather moving through the central part of this country. There are reports of widespread damage and power outages in parts of Kansas, Iowa and Minnesota.

And tomorrow, the President will sign the bill raising the debt ceiling. Congress passed a measure just a day before the deadline to avoid default. He`s also expected to sign a new defense bill that increases the Pentagon`s budget. I`m going to say this again, increases the Pentagon`s budget by $24 billion more than Biden even requested.

The White House also keeping a very close watch on the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. It has now been detected in least three dozen states. Today Dr. Anthony Fauci had some reassuring words about existing vaccines and the protection they provide against this variant.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Our booster vaccine regimens work against Omicron at this point, there is no need for a variant specific booster. If you are unvaccinated, you are very vulnerable not only to the existing Delta surge that we are experiencing, but also to Omicron.


RUHLE: A reminder, get vax and get your booster. White House officials also said at this point, there`s no reason to reintroduce lockdowns and that schools and businesses will remain open. We`ll have much more on this new variant later in the hour.

But with that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night, Phil Rucker, a Pulitzer Prize Winning Senior Washington Correspondent for The Washington Post. Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times. And Barbara McQuade, Veteran Federal Prosecutor and former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She worked with the Department of Justice during the Biden transition. And she`s a professor at the University of Michigan`s Law School.

Peter, I`ve got to start with you because your colleagues at the New York Times write this, about efforts by Mark Meadows and Republican House members to keep Trump in the White House, "The group settled on a strategy that would become a blueprint for Mr. Trump`s supporters in Congress, hammer home the idea that the election was tainted, announced legal actions being taken by the campaign and bolster the case with allegations of fraud."


Peter, I want you to talk to us about how they hope to do that, how unprecedented it is, and how the White House Chief of Staff was involved in all of this, because despite the fact that Joe Biden won the election and is in office, those efforts were successful. They`re continuing these nonsense voter fraud claims, and the last people they found to actually try to vote twice were three people out of the villages in Florida and they were Trump supporters?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Steph you`re exactly right. This was unprecedented. We`ve never seen anything like this in American history where you had a sitting president knighted states basically tried to overturn the will of the voters based on specious and completely unfounded allegations. And the story that Katie Benner, my colleague and other colleagues in New York Times have written here, it fills out this picture a little bit more. We knew, for instance, that the President was pressuring the Justice Department. Katie has written about this before, to simply declare that there was corruption. In fact, the notes taken by Rich Donoghue, he was Senior Justice Department official said, just say it was corrupt and leave the rest of the Republican congressman and me. Well, these are the Republican congressmen that were writing about tonight, led by Jim Jordan, including five of the other members of the Freedom Caucus who have been President Trump`s sort of foot soldiers and his most partisan of efforts. And this of course, being a partisan effort to try to find a way to overturn the will of the voters.

What they`re trying to do, there was find a pretext, find some way that they could justify declining to accept electors from states that Biden was won, that Trump was trying to claim that he had won. This obviously ultimately culminated on January 6, with the effort to push the Vice President of United States Mike Pence into denying the acceptance of some of these electors. He refused to do it, saying he didn`t have that constitutional power, no matter what Donald Trump said.

So, the story I think, helps fill out the picture with Mark Meadows being inside the White House of former Freedom House Freedom Caucus, Founder and Chairman helping to coordinate the effort with these members of Congress to find a way to keep Donald Trump in power, even though the voters have decided to throw them out.

RUHLE: Phil, let`s say we get every single name from these text messages. Let`s say it is humiliating, let`s say it`s embarrassing. We had four years of embarrassing unethical conduct from Trump and his administration. And with the exception of him not winning the last election, they face no consequences. What of all the names come out? Will it make an actual difference?

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Stephanie, it makes a difference for history, and it makes a difference for truth, and for Americans understanding of what factually actually happened in reality here in Washington on January 6. But politically speaking, I can`t imagine it will make much of a difference. For most of these House members. Remember, many of them are elected in very heavily Republican leaning congressional districts, meaning in general elections facing up off against Democratic opponents. They`re almost certain to win, no matter what kind of baggage they`re clinging on to on election day.

And in a Republican primary, when polling tells us that a majority of Republican voters believe the election was rigged and believe Biden is an illegitimate president, in a Republican primary environment, these text messages and some of the communications and the efforts that these House members were making behind the scenes to try to rig the election at the end to send electors back to the States could actually help them with some Republican primary voters. That certainly will help endear them to former President Trump. And so politically speaking, I don`t think they will pay a consequence.

RUHLE: Hold on, it could help them because for a guy like Jim Jordan, who is a hardcore homeboy to former President Trump, this shows that he stood by him no matter what it could help him in his next election?

RUCKER: You know, loyalty, fealty to former President Trump is the currency in the Republican party today. And so, if you`re a Republican member of Congress, and you`re trying to win re-election, and you`re trying to fend off any kind of potential primary challenge in the Republican primaries next year, standing with Trump is the way to win.

RUHLE: Loyalty to the guy that lost, that math is too complicated for a simple girl like me.

Barbara, talked to us about how the DOJ going after Mark Meadows is different than Steve Bannon, because Bannon appears to show no signs of fear, when he walks into the courthouse, he uses it as a press conference.

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Right. I think Mark Meadows will be a very different character in all of that. I think Steve Bannon relishes the role of the martyr. I think Mark Meadows wants to have life after Trump and so he may approach this very differently. But I think in some ways the decision is a little more difficult for the Justice Department when it comes to Mark Meadows about charging him criminally. And that`s because he was part of the Trump`s inner circle and so there is some argument that there is some residual executive privilege that belongs to Donald Trump.


But it`s a loser of an argument. And here`s why, President Biden is the one as the current president who holds executive privilege, and he`s waived it. And you also have to at least show up and respond to questions when you are subpoenaed by Congress, you can`t just completely disengage and blow off all of their questions. So, for that reason, I think the Justice firm will be well within its rights to file criminal charges here, although I think if what they really want his testimony, they might be better served by filing a civil action, which coerces compliance for every day that Mark Meadows would not be complying with that subpoena. He`d sit in jail, but he would hold the figurative key to his release in his own pocket, because anytime he wants to testify, he could do that, and get out of jail. So, I think they`ve got some decisions to make about the strategy of getting him to testify, because I think they`re willing to give up the testimony of Bannon to make an example of him in hopes of deterrence of others. But with Meadows, it appears that he really has a lot of important information that they`re going to want to get.

RUHLE: Peter, this investigation is hugely important in terms of the preservation of our democracy, but it is now going to be pushed into 2022, the year of the midterms, what does that do politically for Biden?

BAKER: Well, obviously, this creates a different political scenario that people had imagined, right, the original idea was to get this investigation done by early enough in the year that it wouldn`t necessarily be front and center in the fall campaign, that was actually in the interest of the Republicans, because they thought that they didn`t want, that`s one of these they oppose the original plan for a bipartisan, independent commission. But now because of the dilatory, you know, delaying actions, they almost seems it encouraged the idea that we`re going to push this into the fall and make it more of a campaign topic.

Now, that may or may not help the Democrats. Democrats have learned I think, in this off year election in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere, that focusing on Trump isn`t necessarily a winning strategy, even in states that don`t particularly like Trump, because in fact, voters want to hear about other subjects. So, it may or may not factor into the voting on November of 2022.

The worry for Democrats is that this gets pushed beyond that election, because they do fear that they`re going to lose control the House, maybe the Senate, if they do lose the control of the House, this commission presumably goes away. And we don`t get a final report that would tell us what really happened on that day and when the day is leading up to it.

RUHLE: Phil, do what you do best. Take us inside, what clues are you seeing about Trump himself in the committee`s evidence? And what are you hearing about his current relationship with Mark Meadows? Because it was Meadows, who gave all this information? What was it 90,000 pages?

RUCKER: Yeah, that`s right Steph. I`ll start with a relationship with Meadows, my colleagues, Josh Dossey and Ashley Parker and Jackie Alemany have a great piece out tonight on this very topic, and they report that Trump has been irate with Mark Meadows over his book that`s coming out in part because Meadows reveals a lot of sensitive personal information about the former president in the book, including a description of his physical ailment when he was hospitalized with the coronavirus of how sort of he looked in the face, how he how weak he appeared when he was lying in bed, and that infuriated former President Trump according to their reporting, but the relationship has also been I see of course, because of Meadows` in and out cooperation with this committee. All of those text messages are not things that Trump wanted to land in the committee`s hands. So even though Meadows has been held in contempt of Congress, he was participating or cooperating rather, to some degree to a greater degree than Trump wants any of his advisors or allies to cooperate.

RUHLE: Barb, one of Trump`s signature moves, he doesn`t use email. He doesn`t use text messages. Tony Soprano style, he lets other people do the dirty work, given that how hard would it be to really tie Trump to what the committee is investigating?

MCQUADE: Yeah, it`s a great tactic, because it does keep his fingerprints off of things. Nonetheless, it doesn`t make it impossible to prosecute him. You know, the more evidence that keeps coming out in recent days, is sounding very loudly to me, like what is known as a cline conspiracy, that is a conspiracy to obstruct the proper functioning of government. And all of these people who are involved in this plan, the plan that you described at the beginning of the segment, could be responsible for that even those who did not themselves commit an overt act if you were part of the agreement. And so, what they would need is people on the inside to testify about the role of Donald Trump in that conspiracy. And once you start charging people, there are some who would decide they`d rather plead guilty and cooperate than face a long prison sentence. So, if there is a path to finding evidence against Donald Trump, if There is evidence of his commission of a crime.


RUHLE: All right, gang, I know you just helped me a lot. You made us smarter on so many things. But before I let you go, Peter, you said something that I want to follow up on, you talked about the New Jersey election, the Virginia election, people aren`t interested in what Donald Trump did, or voting for or against him. They will vote on what affects them, not offends them. That`s the economy. And Joe Biden has a lot of good economic data on his side. We`re clearly in an economic recovery. GDP is strong, jobs are strong. But there`s recent polling out that shows 72% of Americans think the government is not doing enough to tamp down inflation. Given the situation Biden finds himself in, how can they change this messaging? Because the data is there for a strong economy, but the feeling from the American people isn`t?

BAKER: Yeah, no, that`s right. One of the things that you have to do to change the perception is to do something about inflation. I mean, as long as you`re seeing the equation that a high of the last three years, people are going to focus on that, the gas prices are up, grocery prices are up, a lot of different, you know, consumer prices heading into the holiday season, when people are spending a lot of money on gifts. That`s all up and they`re noticing in their pocketbook.

And you`re right. There are lots of good economic indicators, joblessness is at a very low place right now, jobless claims are at the lowest they`ve been in 50 years. And economic growth is steamy. So, the question really is, you know, will 2022 see a turnaround on inflation, will this sort of post COVID if it`s not really post COVID, but post, you know, lockdown phase of COVID begin to stabilize the economy in a way that inflation starts to come down and the wage increases that we`ve seen are felt by a lot of people in their pocketbooks. That will make the biggest difference.

Messaging, obviously Biden needs to get out there and talk more about the positives of the economy. People don`t hear it. One thing President Trump did really well with sell the economy even beyond what the numbers said. He got a lot of people to believe the economy was really, really good, even beyond the good that it really was. And that`s something that Biden hasn`t shown an ability to do so far.

RUHLE: And got the reverse. Trump sold a superstar economy that wasn`t superstar and Biden hasn`t sold a strong one yet. Barbara, Peter, Phil, thank you so much for being our leadoff guest tonight. Phil Rucker, Peter Baker, Barbara McQuade.

Coming up next, it has been -- it is beginning to feel a lot like the COVID of one year ago. We`ve got a doctor standing by to ask about today`s troubling headlines a year after the first vaccine.

And later, the delays and divisions on Capitol Hill threatening the President`s agenda. THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on this Wednesday night.




DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Early data suggests that Omicron is more transmissible than Delta, with a doubling time of about two days. Given the increase in transmissibility, this also means continuing to be vigilant about masking in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high community transmission. And as of now, this represents about 90% of all counties in the United States.


RUHLE: Hospitals in this country are still overwhelmed by Delta COVID cases. But tonight, there are troubling signs abroad. The U.K. today recorded its highest daily number of cases since the pandemic started. Officials there say Omicron is now the most significant threat yet to public health.

I want to welcome Dr. Nahid Bhadelia to the program, an infectious disease physician and the Founding Director of Boston University`s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Policy and Research.

Dr. Bhadelia, thank you for staying up late with us. It`s a really important night. We keep hearing about this new variant spreading across the country and the world. But shouldn`t we be focused on cases or hospitalizations?

DR. NAHID BHADELIA, INFECTIOUS DISEASES PHYSICIAN: Yes, Stephanie, I think both of them matter. And here`s why, I think that you have to look at it from two different frames of reference, right? If you look at it from an individual`s frame of reference, if you`re somebody who`s watching the show, and you are healthy, and you know and not somebody who`s elderly and not immunocompromised, and you`ve already been boosted, you`ve already gotten your two vaccines, data shows that you really well protected against severe disease even with Omicron, right.

And so, you`re probably wondering, well, if that`s the case, and I`m hearing that why should I worry about all the information that`s going on with Omicron? Well, because when you shift the frame of reference, and you look at it from a population perspective, because Omicron is so much more transmissible, that means the sheer number of more people that it might actually, in fact, you`re looking at not just people who are boosted and healthy who might get the mild infections as breakthroughs. But it may also infect people who are unvaccinated. And we currently have 40%, you know, only 61% of America is fully vaccinated. So, the rest of the folks still are vulnerable to potentially getting this infection and ending up at a hospital.

And there are also a subgroup of people who are vaccinated, who might be high risk, right? They haven`t been able to mount the same kind of response. And so, you again, you are this person who has tripled boosted, you`re thinking, well, why should that matter to me because, Stephanie, it`s always the numbers that get us because of the sheer number of possible cases, which is what U.K. is seeing, you`re likely to see more hospitalizations which will overwhelm the health care system, which of course, affects all of us because it`s in our communities.

RUHLE: But if you put high risk vaccinated individuals aside, and you say the overwhelming risk is for those who are unvaccinated, they`re unvaccinated by choice. That`s where we are in this pandemic. A year ago, I wasn`t willing to celebrate Christmas or travel because I didn`t want to get my unvaccinated parents sick. That`s not the case now. So, for people who have done all the things right, why can`t they go back and live their normal lives. Those who are unvaccinated are choosing to roll the dice with their lives?

BHADELIA: Because we don`t actually decide who we might end up passing on the infection to, particularly with a highly transmissible infection, right? And in fact, two steps down that road if the hospitals like I said are overwhelmed, right? Think of Omicron is basically throwing lighter fluid on the surge that was already Delta that`s going on. And if that`s the case, then every new vaccine vaccinated person, every booster, every mask, every rapid test is another way of tamping down that fire and so we`re all doing our bit to basically keep the pandemic you know, from becoming so overwhelmed that the health care systems again, get overwhelmed. So that that`s sort of the -- that`s the concern from a public health perspective.

RUHLE: Except, we`re all not doing our bit many, many people still choose to be unvaccinated and we`re always looking for ways to motivate people to get the vaccine.


I want to share this with you, it was shared by a doctor on Twitter, the left side or the lungs or the vaccinated person with COVID. The right side, an unvaccinated person with COVID. I mean, vastly different. Do we need to show more images like this to convince the staunchly unvaccinated? Are they so dug in? Do they believe so deeply that COVID isn`t real? They wouldn`t even believe these images are real and they`re going to keep on trucking?

BHADELIA: I really hope not, because, Stephanie, they are at the highest risk, right? And that group that`s unvaccinated right now, Omicron carries the highest amount of risk. And, you know, my good friend Dr. Vin Gupta shows those kinds of X-rays and I`ll add my little tidbit as an infectious diseases physician, what this virus does is doesn`t just infect your body, it just makes your immune system, ravage your own body. And so all that you`re seeing in those lungs is the damage that the virus does. And then also the damage that your own immune system ends up doing. Because it`s so wrapped up and out of control out of control because of what this virus is doing. That should be reason enough.

These should be reason enough that people are ending up in the ICU requiring oxygen, really literally saying I cannot breathe. If that`s not enough, if your hospital and being overwhelmed is not enough, do it from your family members, because you cannot control who you may pass on that infection to.

RUHLE: Given how hyper transmissible this variant is, how effective are indoor masks?

BHADELIA: I think good quality mask. And we`ve been saying this from the beginning are always a better bet, right? And we`ve seen that over and over again, during the course of this pandemic, I can tell you that I would be I would, at this point getting on a flight, I would choose a KN95 or an N95 particularly if I`m going to stay indoors in a large group for, you know, for a long period of time, in travel people whose vaccination status, I don`t know.

And so, I think good quality masks help, ventilation, you know, adding ventilation is another layer that you can sort of help decreasing the number of people in -- and that`s why you might be seeing the large indoor events or potentially being now rescheduled that large indoor gatherings may also pose that increased risk of transmission. And the last bit is testing I mean rapid tests this is their goal is that if you can catch enough people who might be positive, you will reduce the number of people who are transmitted in a gathering to other people.

RUHLE: Should we be cancelling or scaling back indoor parties? We know the White House is.

BHADELIA: Yeah, I think family gatherings, right, particularly if you are - - if you`re a group of a family who`s vaccinated, who`s boosted, you are taking care as you travel to wear a mask so that, you know, you`re keeping yourself safe. And you`re using those rapid tests. I think it`s much -- we`re in a better place this year than we were last year in terms of making sure that we ensure family gathering, small gatherings like that are safer.

I think that what`s more uncontrollable is large, large venues with hundreds of people whose vaccination status, you don`t know and you`re not using those rapid test and there may not be good ventilation, those in my humble opinion, we may just want to avoid during this winter surge and then reassess as the cases start coming down again.

RUHLE: Public health messages and guidelines should be a lot more universal than they are. We know communications and misinformation is a problem right now. But when you look at things like in the state of California, if I went to a theme park, I need to be masked up. If I went to that same company, that same theme park in Florida, I wouldn`t need to take those precautions. How challenging is that that the messaging and the rules change from state to state, especially at a time when people are frustrated and fed up?

BHADELIA: I think it`s really frustrating. I think it`s what confusing is confuses the public, right? I mean, we`re all trying to do the right thing. And when you see the self, the same evidence being taken and sort of instituted in different way in different states, it just downplays the threat of the virus, you know, people may look at it and say, well, why would this state not take care to sort of put on these non-pharmaceutical interventions in place?

Not only that, but I think that you know, there are nuances, right? I mean, you want to -- what may work in a very isolated place, but no COVID transmission may be different in a dense city. And that`s why CDC has tried to sort of assess for those differences between communities. But right now, as you heard Dr. Walensky say 90% of our communities are showing high transmission, so we really should have better standardization of what we`re recommending and what states are recommending, within their borders.

RUHLE: Better standardization, that would be fantastic. Public health and preserving our democracy, two things that should not be political. But alas, that is where we are. Welcome to 2021 try to do better next year. Dr Nahid Bhadelia, you definitely made us smarter tonight. So, thank you.


Coming up, what to watch for next in the intensifying investigation into the January 6 insurrection when THE 11TH HOUR continues. Don`t go anywhere.



STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: In the months ahead, we`re going to see this clinic in patriotism and principle by Liz Cheney, but also by Jamie Raskin, by Chairman Thompson and the others that this committee as it`s functioning in its in its early days is going to get to the bottom and lay this all out for the American people.


RUHLE: Some of what we heard from former Republican Strategist Steve Schmidt, after the House voted to hold Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress. Well, a Bloomberg op-ed today described the January 6 committee rising to twin challenges, "The select committee finally struck a better balance between fighting to compel cooperation and telling a public story about what Trump and his allies did to subvert the election and why it was so important."

For more we`re joined by David Plouffe, former Obama Campaign Manager and Senior Adviser to the President, and Matthew Dowd, former George W. Bush Strategist and Founder of Country Over Party.

To my friend, Matthew, to you first, getting to the bottom of what happened on the sixth should be hugely important to every second American but how do you balance that with the fact that many, many Americans do not know or even care who Mark Meadows is? People are living their lives. They`re concerned about their school crime money. They`re not actually thinking about the preservation of our democracy, despite how important as it is, how do you get people to care?


MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST TO BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Well, I mean, I actually think the steps that have been made gone forward in the last three or four days have been -- have been advanced that greatly. I mean, in the preservation of a democracy, there`s things that come before the preservation of democracy, which all of us talking right now are very concerned about. And the first step is, what is the truth and what is a common set of facts. If you don`t have a common set of facts, and you don`t have the truth, then you really don`t have a democracy, democracy is broken, you can`t even get to the common good, which is the basis of democracy.

And so, I think those steps towards it, but I think we`re in a difficult time. And we all have to ask, every one of us has to ask ourselves the questions, whether it`s people in the media, whatever it is, is, are we focusing enough in a direct clear way on what is imperiled in our country today and what it means to Americans?

The theory of democracy isn`t the way to talk about this. The idea of democracy as a broad principle, it is the practicality of democracy that has to be discussed. And I would put the pressure and the onus on candidates across the country. And I know they have many consultants that want to run them on many different things. And they hear a lot of different things from voters in this. But sometime a leader`s responsibility is to lead voters to where we are and where we have the difficulty that exists in the country today. And so, all of us have asked to have to ask the question is, are we focusing on it enough? Which I don`t think we are as a whole? And are we focusing on in a way that people can understand, oh, what does that mean to my life, if we do fundamentally lose our democracy, and we don`t get to the truth.

RUHLE: But David, here`s the problem with this idea of a common set of facts. The truth matters, but only if you hear it. And millions of Americans are either tuned out completely, or they`re tuned in to something like Fox News that`s not sharing any of these actual facts.

DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Right, Stephanie, but that`s -- the fact is we probably got 25% to 30% of the country. It`s almost like there`s a Chinese censorship wall around them, and they`re going to be hard to penetrate. But I think for the other 70%, and that`s what you need, you need to coalition to save democracy here. This is not so much about Democrats and Republicans anymore, about tax rates or health care expansion. It`s about, are you for pro-democracy, or do you want to turn this into an autocracy?

And I do agree with Matthew, the last few days are really important. So, the facts are what matters here getting to the facts, because by the way, if the people who organize this coup and violence on the Capitol, aren`t held to account, we`re going to have another one, and that one will be successful. But there`s also got to be the stage management. So, Liz Cheney, reading those texts was dramatic. I think that got a lot of attention, both in the news media, people shared it on social media. I think as we get into next year, they`ve got to think about doing more in prime time. I think about the Sunday between the championship games in the NFL and the Super Bowl, doing something Sunday night, like, you`ve got to reach people, so you`re not going to reach everybody, but you need to reach everybody you can. And so, there`s a theatricality to this, that secondary to the facts, but I think you really have to think about how are we reaching everybody possible, and that is, you know, reading text, it`s infographics. It`s getting cooperation for witnesses that people might not expect and stringing this all together. But the most important thing is people have to understand how close it came to happening once and then it can happen again, because I think there`s a lot of people who think, well, Trump lost, and we`re OK now. And, of course, the forces are being gathered in state capitol all over the country to mount another coup.

RUHLE: It hasn`t stopped. How important, Matthew, is Liz Cheney to this investigation. She continues to hold this very unflattering mirror up to her own party. I mean, she is truly putting country over Party right now?

DOWD: I think she`s incredibly important. And I think any voice that comes from the tribe that is doing this, which is the Republican Party, any voice that comes from that tribe that speaks truth to power in this has it lands with incredible, great weight in this, and I think the way she`s conducted herself in the course of this committee, she should be given tremendous plot. It`s I`ve criticized her in the past on many different things, in the lead up, I`ve criticized her in the president, and then the President not doing enough on voting rights, if she really cares about this, but her weight in this moment, because she comes from that tribe that`s in the middle of this and she`s fighting that tribe with her words and her actions in this. She is, she`s one of the stand up for democracy. There`s many people trying to do that in the course of this. There`s businesses that are normally aligned themselves with Republicans that are trying to stand up. And so, all of us responsibility I think is to give them support, is to give them welcome build the tent as big as possible.


And we may have disagreements on many different things. But we can all agree with what David just said, is that there is a pro-democracy movement in this country and how important it is for the world. And we have to open up that tent and make the table big enough for people to sit at and have their voice said, even if we made disagree with them on `22 other issues.

RUHLE: Well, you got to build that bigger tent louder and bigger every day. Because what`s happening quietly from state to state as more and more restrictive voter laws are being put in place while people aren`t paying attention.

Matthew, David, don`t go anywhere. I need you to stick around for our next segment. Because when we come back, why Senate Democrats are preparing to miss their Christmas deadline to pass the President`s social spending plan and what they`re up to next. We`ll dig into that when THE 11TH HOUR continues.



SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK MAJORITY LEADER: This week, Democrats also continue working on getting the Senate into a position where we can vote on the President`s Build Back Better legislation. We`re also continuing to hold conversations as Senate Democrats on the urgent work of advancing the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.


RUHLE: The Majority Leader`s hopes of a pre-Christmas vote on the Build Back Better Act appear to have been dashed. There is no path forward for the bill without support from West Virginia`s Joe Manchin. Sources telling NBC talks between Biden and Manchin have been going "very poorly and they`re far apart on an agreement." Instead, Democrats are shifting their focus to voting rights.

Still with us to discuss, David Plouffe and Matthew Dowd. David, with Build Back Better at least temporarily on the backburner, that means today, the final expanded child tax credit payments have gone out, given how much more expensive things are across the country, gas, groceries, essential goods and that about 60 million kids across this country, their families have been receiving 430 bucks a month on average, that money goes away in January without the expanded Child Tax Credit. Do they need to do something else, carve it out the Build Back Better to ensure that those families still get that money?


PLOUFFE: Stephanie, I think so. Yes, I mean, the worst thing would be a jeopardizes the entire package, but I think so and Build Back Better has to pass. I mean, honestly, if it doesn`t, maybe it`s going to take into January, February. I think a lot of the people who helped elect Democrats getting the Senate and presidency are rightfully going to be really, really unhappy. And good luck with great turnout. But most importantly, it`s important for the country.

But voting rights is essential, like we can build bridges, and we can provide childcare and elder care. But if that`s an autocracy kind of what`s the point? So, we have to make it yes, a lot of the voting rights legislation is going to remove the barriers. The most important thing, though, is to erect safeguards, so that Republican state legislators in 2024, can`t decide no matter what happens in the voting in their state, to give the election of Donald Trump a Republican nominee.

That is where we are. If that doesn`t happen, I think you short American democracy, which is a remarkable thing to say, but that`s where we are. So, they`re right to focus on this Sinema and Manchin, have every permission structure now to say, I did not want to do a carve out on the filibuster for this. But it`s clear the Republicans are intent on another coup. And so, I have to do this. And we just had a carve out for the debt limit. So, I think there`s every reason in the world now where the two of them can say, we are going to protect democracy. But that doesn`t mean that Build Back Better doesn`t get done. It`s just the order may change.

RUHLE: Matthew, do you agree? Is it time to make voting rights the number one priority?

DOWD: I think the time to make voting rights, the number one priority was January 7 in the course of this. I think this has been my criticism and I`m so -- I`m very happy Joe Biden`s president and not the former guy as president of the United States. But I have to remind people that we have drifted worse than we`d been in the day after election day in 2020. We`re in a worse place we are today, even though Joe Biden got elected in where we are in what`s being pushed, because it fundamentally was not about Donald Trump. It`s fundamentally about where we are as a country. And I think Joe Biden`s overall message which we should rehash again, which is this is a fight for the soul of America.

My thinking is that anytime you talk about any issue, it ought to be related to democracy and voting rights. When we talk about why we`re stuck on Build Back Better, and why we can`t get it done and why your tax credits are expiring, and why you`re not going to get childcare and why you`re not going to get health insurance. And why all of that, it`s directly related to the flaws and the failings of democracy that exists today. And why is, that because of the attacks on democracy and state after state after state. And so, if voters are unhappy, and they want that, we need to -- the administration in my view, needs to connect all of the issues they talk about, including build back better to voting rights and democracy and fault the Republicans every time they can keep reminding people, this is why they`re attacking democracy, because they don`t want you to get your child tax credit. This is why they`re attacking democracy, because they don`t want you to have childcare. This is why -- and they have to, we have to relate it all to that singular issue, that that singular issue that builds a building block towards it.

RUHLE: All right, David, I want to ask you about something that gets a lot of people across this country with no political affiliations, pretty angry, essentially angry about not liking the way lawmakers operate. And I want to play this from Nancy Pelosi earlier today, in response to a report from some about some -- about some members of Congress and Capitol Hill staff having violated the Stock Act. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should members of Congress and their spouses be banned from trading individual stocks while serving in Congress?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA HOUSE SPEAKER: No, I don`t -- no to this. Second one, is this is a free market and people -- we have a free-market economy that should be able to participate in that.

RUHLE: A free market economy, if you work at an investment bank, if you work at an asset manager, you can`t simply invest in anything you want. And lawmakers actually impact policy and policies impact the way businesses operate. What`s your take on Nancy Pelosi saying it`s a free economy, members of Congress and their spouses can trade whatever they want?

PLOUFFE: Well, I hope she gets a redo. So, you know, in the executive branch, obviously, if you`re a political appointee, you`re not allowed to own individual stocks while you`re serving there.

And by the way, what Kevin McCarthy should do, he probably won`t, but what he should do is go out tomorrow and say we retake the house. We`re going to ban staff and members from individual stock trades. So yes, I think -- and there`s enough evidence now, not just this year, this last incident, Stephanie, but over a number of years, we had major scandals with two Republican senators just heading into 2020. So, you know, trading on inside information around the pandemic. So, yeah, I think the cleanest thing to do it, I think that`ll be important.


I think Democrats are going to have a lot of accomplishments to run on. But you always want to be looking forward to say, OK, how can we improve our pitch to the American people? And, you know, having a better argument around ethics, particularly given those Republican senators that I mentioned, I think would be very smart. So, I assume she`s going to get a lot of pressure from her members to revisit that answer. Not all of them by the way, but enough of them, that perhaps she revisits that. I hope she does.

RUHLE: A lot of pressure from voters. David Plouffe, Matthew Dowd, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I appreciate it.

Coming up, what we are hearing from the NFL after new COVID outbreaks sideline dozens of players when THE 11TH HOUR continues. Don`t go away, we`ve got more to cover.


RUHLE: The surge of COVID cases is hitting professional sports teams hard. Dozens of NFL and NBA players and coaches have been sidelined by the virus. NBC News Correspondent Sam Brock has our report tonight.


SAM BROCK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Watching for some of pro sports biggest toss, the COVID hits keep on coming. Odell Beckham Jr., scoring on Monday night, then landing on the COVID reserve list along with eight other LA Rams players.

SEAN MCVAY, LOS ANGELES RAMS HEAD COACH: This has definitely been the most uniquely challenging situation we built with COVID.

BROCK: The NFL just set a record with 37 positive cases on Monday, 14 members of the Cleveland Browns now when COVID protocols, plus head coach Kevin Stefanski testing positive for the second consecutive season.

KEVIN STEFANSKI, CLEVELAND BROWNS HEAD COACH: Our full expectation is to get out there with our guys Saturday and go find a way.

BROCK: In the NBA, superstars (inaudible) and James Harden also out. The COVID complications despite sky high vaccination rates in both leagues. Nearly 95% of the NFL players and 97% of NBA players and staff are fully vaccinated and it comes in the midst of successful seasons with fans back in the stance.


MIKE FLORIO, NBC NEWS PRO FOOTBALL TALK: Well, they don`t want to postpone games this year. They`ve made that very clear. Last year, it was easy to move games around because you didn`t have fans that were a factor.

BROCK: Though last night, the NBA his Brooklyn Nets really didn`t take the court due to lack of available healthy players.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can`t wait for the rest of the guys get back; we miss them.

BROCK (on camera): NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about working with the Players Association on significant changes to protocol that appears to be a work in progress. The NFL also says there are no conversations going on about changing the status of any games.


RUHLE: Sam Brock, thank you. Coming up, we`re going to meet some of the youngest warriors in the battle against COVID.


RUHLE: You know, I wasn`t going to leave tonight before getting a little Jersey in nearly one in five children ages five to 11 across the United States have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine. Many families hopeful the shot will bring relief during a stressful pandemic that`s included remote learning and time away from family and friends. I recently visited with a bunch of kids in New Jersey for a discussion on what the pandemic and the vaccine has been like for them.


RUHLE: What do you miss from before COVID, Chloe?

CHLOE: I missed like we could go out one, we don`t have to worry about like what`s happening or our surroundings.

RUHLE: What do you miss?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I miss going on cruises.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I miss going to the trampoline place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I miss like going -- like to my grandma and grandpa`s house because I don`t really get to see them.

RUHLE: What do you miss?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I miss visiting my cousins in India. That`s what I miss the most.

RUHLE: Does it frustrate you that more people aren`t getting the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, because like a lot of people are dying and it`s making the COVID rate go up again. And I`ve heard things that they might like shut down schools and put people on remote again. And I don`t want that to happen because during COVID it was really hard because I was on remote all year. And when I finally came back to school, like everything was different.


RUHLE: You can see much more of our discussion on my show at 9 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning right here on MSNBC. And for now, that is it for our broadcasts on this Wednesday night, with our thanks for being with us.

On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good evening.