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Transcript: The 11th Hour, 12/22/21

Guests: Yamiche Alcindor, Carol Leonnig, Melissa Murray, Aileen Marty, Eugene Robinson, Bill Kristol

Summary

Omicron variant is now detected in every U.S. state. CDC: Omicron now is 90% of cases in many parts of U.S. Biden defends White House handling of COVID testing. FDA clears first pill to treat COVID-10. House Majority Whip Clyburn tests positive for COVID. Biden tests negative after COVID exposure. Biden extends student loan payment pause until May.

Transcript

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Thank you very much to Gloria O`Connell and her son Thomas. They get tonight`s "LAST WORD." THE 11TH HOUR starts now.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again, I`m Ali Velshi, day 337 of the Biden administration. And tonight, Omicron is now present in all 50 states, the variant making a rapid advance across the nation in about three weeks. The CDC has said Omicron is now the dominant variant in the United States. Today, new CDC data revealed what so many parts of the country are up against.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: In some areas of the country, Omicron has increased even further, accounting for an estimated 90% of cases in the eastern Atlantic states, parts of the Midwest, South and northern Pacific states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: The spread of this highly transmissible variant means demand for tests, whether they`re done in a lab or at home are skyrocketing. NBC News reports that Amazon, Walgreen, and CVS are now all restricting the number of test kits that each customer can buy. Tonight, during an interview with ABC News, President Biden was asked about the testing shortages, and he defended the administration`s response to this latest surge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: I don`t think it`s a failure. I think it`s - - you could argue that we should have known A year ago, six months ago, two months ago, a month ago, I`ve ordered half a billion of the pills, 500 million pills. Excuse me, 500 million test kits that are going to be available to be sent to every home in America if anybody wants it. You know nothing has been good enough. But look, we are. When last Christmas we`re in a situation where we had significantly fewer vaccinated -- people vaccinated, emergency rooms were filled. You had serious backups in hospitals that were causing great difficulties. We`re in a situation now where we have 200 million people fully vaccinated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Now those 500 million test kits that Biden referred to are supposed to go out next month. Meanwhile, there`s new hope in the form of a pill that`s meant to head off the worst effects of the virus. The FDA today authorized Pfizer`s antiviral drug Paxlovid. It`s the first pill that can be taken at home to fight COVID. The federal government is ordered enough to cover 10 million people, the first pills could be available within the next week.

Also, scientists here in the United States are paying close attention to two important new developments involving Omicron. In South Africa, the huge wave of cases now seems to be subsiding. And officials in the U.K. say Omicron infections appear to be less severe. We have a doctor standing by to take our questions on the variant. She`ll be along later in the hour. But amid all this, our elected officials have not escaped coming into contact with COVID. Tonight, we learned a member of the House leadership, Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina has tested positive but is asymptomatic.

Clyburn is 81 years old. He`s received two vaccines and a booster. The White House says the President has again tested negative after his exposure to a staffer who tested positive earlier this week. And today officials revealed that Vice President Harris has also been in contact with a different staff member who also tested positive. Harris has since tested negative.

Also, tonight the White House is taking steps to extend one COVID relief measure, extending the pause on student loan payments until May 1. That suspension had been set to expire on January the 31st.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A number of people, millions of people across the country are still struggling with the ongoing threat of the pandemic. Many of them are student loan borrowers. This is something the President`s thought a lot about over the last several days in coordination and of course conjunction in discussions with the Vice President and it led to the decision to extend until May.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: On Capitol Hill, the January 6 committee now wants information from yet another House lawmaker. Today, the panel invited Ohio Republican and Trump supporter Jim Jordan to voluntarily appear for an interview. He is now the second House member to receive such a letter after Trump ally Scott Perry of Pennsylvania who rejected the panel`s request.

The Committee`s letter to Jordan cites a number of topics for discussion, including this, "We understand that you had at least one and possibly multiple communications with the President on January 6, we would like to discuss each such communication with you in detail."

Back in July, Congressman Jordan was asked about his conversations with Trump on the day of the Capitol riot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On January 6, did you speak with him before, during or after the Capitol was attacked?

REP. JIM JORDAN, (R) OHIO: I have to go -- I spoke with him that day after, I think after, I don`t know if I spoke with him in the morning or not, I just don`t know. I`d have to go back and -- I mean, I don`t know that -- when those conversations happen but what I know is I spoken all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[23:05:12]

VELSHI: OK, well, Jordan says tonight that he will review the committee`s letter.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has denied Michael Flynn`s request for a temporary restraining order to block subpoenas from the January 6 Committee for him.

And on another note, a member of the extremist group, the Proud Boys, today pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge stemming from the insurrection, he has agreed to cooperate with the government.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night, Yamiche Alcindor, White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and the moderator of Washington Week, also on PBS. Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize winning Investigative Reporter with The Washington Post, co-author with Philip Rucker of The New York Times Bestseller, I Alone Can Fix It. And Professor Melissa Murray of NYU Law school. She was a law clerk for Sonia Sotomayor on the federal bench before her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Good evening to all of you, thank you for being with us.

Yamiche, let me start with you. We saw the President`s reaction to being asked about testing and the availability of test kits. You also asked him about that. I think it was yesterday that there is some sense of the White House is pushing back on the idea that they should have been better prepared for this need for more testing, something we`ve been talking about for close to two years now.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, PBS NEWSHOUR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That`s right. And what we see from President Biden is this sort of admission, I think, in talking to David Muir, that he said, I wish I would have known two months ago to order 500 million at home test.

Now, a lot of experts have been saying there are going to be variants, there`s going to be Omicron, maybe there`s going to be of odd, maybe there`s something coming after that. So that testing is key. And I`ve heard from a lot of people who say the U.S. has never really ramped up testing, to the way that we should be doing it. That being said, I also as you, as you said, press the president on the basic idea that there are a lot of Americans who are standing in line right before Christmas and wondering, why is it taking so long? Why is it taking so long to ramp up testing? And again, the President told me two days ago that the President is -- that he essentially would not have been able to see this coming in that Omicron move faster than the White House.

Of course, that being said, the White House has said they`re doing everything they can to ramp up. But there are going to be critics, especially everyday Americans who are just sort of frustrated and scared of the president telling people not to panic. But I think the more people get sick, and the more people know people who are getting sick, just sort of feels like this is a pandemic that`s closing in on almost all Americans.

VELSHI: Carol, let me ask you about the January 6 committee asking for an interview with Jim Jordan, of course, we played that recording of when he didn`t seem really sure about when during the -- that momentous day, January 6, he had talked to the President. And various times he said various things up. What`s the point here with this committee? They`re asking people to come voluntarily and talk to them, their own members, believe it or not, and they`re saying no, why not skip right to a subpoena?

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: You know, I think it`s because as you certainly know, the committee hasn`t done this every other tick of the clock. Congressional committees don`t typically call for their own members to give testimony. It`s pretty unusual. And it`s also legally sort of dubious or questionable ground. It`s not yet been trod very heavily. This idea that you could subpoena a member of Congress. Members of Congress have enormous legal protection under the speech or Debate Clause. And no doubt subpoenaing is a fight, a legal fight that might stall getting actual answers. Members of Congress may be some of the hardest people to get before the committee.

And I do want to stress however, it`s pretty interesting that the committee, you know, in the days, walking up to the winter holiday and to Christmas, when most people are sort of taking it easy and thinking about where they`re going to, you know, meet their family and loved ones, what they`re going to cook for Christmas dinner. This committee is going hard at members of its own body and asking them, pointed questions.

Jim Jordan`s questions are, as you rightly point out about those communications with Donald Trump. First, Jim Jordan said that he had talked to Donald Trump multiple times on January 6, that was in an interview back in the summer. And then later he said he couldn`t really remember if it was multiple times or what they discussed. And later, he said that he could remember talking to him at least once, but he wasn`t sure exactly the details of it.

VELSHI: Let me ask you, Melissa, in this business of whether Congress can compel other members of Congress to testify, or hold them to subpoenas, obviously, if they can`t, or whatever is determined that they can`t do, the Justice Department generally can do and there`s a little bit of a tension between what Congress -- what some people want out of this committee and what some people want out of the Justice Department? In one case, one of the criminal referrals for Steve Bannon resulted in an arrest warrant, there`s one now for Mark Meadows that`s waiting for action from the Department of Justice. What do you think the Justice Department`s role should be in all of this?

[23:10:10]

MELISSA MURRAY, NYU LAW PROFESSOR: It`s hard to say, Ali. I mean, what we have here, as Carol suggests, is an unprecedented situation where this committee, which is an unusual committee to begin with, is not only going on trying to find and get evidence from individuals from outside of its body, but also from within. And of course, they`ve made clear not only in their efforts to get the testimony of Scott Perry, but now in their efforts to get the testimony of Jim Jordan, that they`re willing to keep going and to look further into their own body. And that can only mean that they probably expect that they will get some cooperation from the Biden Department of Justice, because it`s very unlikely that either of these two members of Congress are going to comply with these requests. So, there will likely be a subpoena that comes after this. And then when that subpoena is stonewalled, there will likely be a request to the Department of Justice. And I imagine they expect that they will get some movement from the department there. Whether that`s the role of the Department of Justice, I think these are unusual times. And of course, we`ve seen a Department of Justice, taking great steps to distance itself from the Trump Department of Justice and perhaps restore confidence in the idea of this as a more independent administrative body going forward.

VELSHI: Let me ask you, Yamiche, the President came out and talked about the economy and how the economy is doing. It sounds like it may be a shift in messaging, the White House obviously has problems around messaging around the Build Back Better bill and getting that done, because of because of Joe Manchin, is there a shift to talk about the economy, which a lot of observers are looking at and saying there`s actually some good stuff to trumpet?

ALCINDOR: Well, the White House would say, in the White House official that I talk to you say the President has still been focused very much on the economy. But you can definitely tell that the President wants to talk about what`s going well, especially at the end of the year, when the Build Back Better Act, it`s in such disarray. The President wants to talk about, of course, unemployment, being low, wants to talk about the idea that there are people that are able to get jobs in this economy, and that people are able to sort of have the sort of economic prosperity that he had been promising when he was running for office. I mean, that of course, the other thing is that inflation is still high, people are still paying more for goods. And the President is also wanting to make sure, based on my conversation with White House officials that people feel like he understands what`s going on, that he understands the sort of struggles that everyday Americans are having.

So, I think that that`s in some ways, it`s a strategy, because Democrats are dealing so much with the infighting that they have to deal with. Just today, I interviewed representative Jamaal Bowman on PBS NewsHour. And he was essentially saying that Joe Manchin doesn`t care about people of color, doesn`t care about the poor, because he is not supporting build back better. So that`s a really, really hard place to be when you have Democrats accusing other Democrats of not caring about the very people that the party as a whole says they really put at the center of their strategy. So, the President has a lot on his hands, a lot of challenges going into 2022. And talking about the economy is one way for him to say look, even though we have some challenges here, the things that we`re doing well.

VELSHI: Carol, let me ask you back to the January 6 committee, they have -- this is the justice department now, got prosecution -- they got a guilty plea from a member of the Proud Boys who apparently is now cooperating with them. That of course is different than January 6 committee. But tell me what we know about this.

LEONNIG: You know, this is probably one of the most interesting turns. Remember, this prosecution or I should say the FBI`s investigation has come under a lot of criticism, including from a federal judge on the argument that many of the prosecutions, many of the charges levelled at people involved in storming the Capitol violently, and actually engaging with police in violent ways, attacking them, bear spraying them, poking them with various items, flagpoles, fire extinguishers, bats.

A federal judge and others have criticized this prosecution as treating this event like a misdemeanor of interrupting a congressional hearing. And, in fact, Chief Judge or the federal court in D.C. said this is a major violent felony. And I`d like to see what in the world is going on.

Now, we have now long, long into this case with 700 defendants, we have a guilty plea, a cooperation agreement from a member of one of those extremist groups, that was planning violence that was discussing members, were discussing, bringing weapons, members of this group were discussing how to hide those weapons, members of this group and others were discussing how to kill cops to make sure that they could have their political result, the one that they preferred, actually happened on January 2.

So, this is a huge change. And, you know, I would urge people to watch these cases close in the next coming weeks because there are several other major conspiracy cases where individuals who look like they might be cooperating are kind of not being sentenced. There`s a delay in their sentencing, which is a hint to me that they may be cooperating as well.

VELSHI: Something is going on.

LEONNIG: We just don`t know --

VELSHI: We`ll watch that carefully. Melissa, tonight the Supreme Court has scheduled a special hearing for challenges to the Biden administration`s so-called vaccine mandates. The New York Times says that there is reason to think that the court six justice conservative majority will be skeptical of broad assertions of executive power. What do you make of the idea that they`ve agreed to hear oral arguments? I think January 7, they`re going to hear them, and perhaps tackle this issue?

MURRAY: Well, I think one thing it shows, Ali, is that this court has at least heard some of the criticism of its prior use of the shadow docket. The shadow docket, of course, is the emergency management tool that it uses to handle emergency appeals like this kind of appeal. We saw that they used it in the Texas abortion case and also earlier in a case involving and execution, but they`ve received a lot of criticism. And so, the interest in migrating this particular case from the shadow docket to the courts regular docket is a really interesting move one that suggests that the court is amenable to outcry from the public. Whether or not the Biden administration is going to face a hospital verbal reception before this six-degree conservative supermajority is an entirely different matter. And as you say, this is a court that is poised to be skeptical of executive overreach. And it`s likely that the Biden administration is going to face some tough sledding here.

VELSHI: I appreciate the time and your analysis, from the three of you tonight, Yamiche Alcindor, Carol Leonnig and Melissa Murray, thank you so much for being with us.

Coming up, we`ll talk to an infectious disease doctor about new information on the severity of Omicron. And when we might see this current case surge in the Northeast peak.

Later, our political experts react to the open invitation from the Senate Minority Leader to Senator Joe Manchin. The 11th Hour just getting underway on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:20:32]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: It appears that in the context of South Africa, there was a decrease in the severity compared to Delta, both in the relationship and ratio between hospitalizations and the number of infections. This is good news. However, we must wait to see what happens in our own population, which has its own demographic considerations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: A note of optimism and a note of caution. To that point, hospitals here in the United States remain strained from the last surge that was fueled by the Delta variant. Omicron is rapidly spreading. And NBC News Analysis finds, "hospitalizations around the nation have risen 39% from November 1 to Tuesday, while healthcare workers prepare for the worst, Pfizer board members Scott Gottlieb predict some states seeing a surge now could fizzle out in a matter of weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER & PFIZER BOARD MEMBER: A tri- state region probably is going to be coming out of this epidemic wave of Omicron by mid-January. If you look at some of the modelling, other parts of the country will still be hitting up.

All right, with us for more as Dr. Eileen Marty, she`s a Professor of Infectious Diseases at the Florida International University in Miami, a veteran of global medicine and the world -- with the World Health Organization.

Dr. Marty, thank you for being with us. It`s good to see you. So, we have Dr. Fauci talking about some positive things happening in South Africa that fast ramp up of Omicron, there now seems to be coming down at a similar pace. And there are two studies from the United Kingdom that are finding fewer hospitalizations from Omicron compared to Delta suggesting that it might be a milder illness that is caused, particularly if you`re vaccinated, what`s your take on what we`ve heard today?

DR. AILEEN MARTY, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY INFECTIONS DISEASE PROFESSOR: So, there`s a lot going on here. First of all, molecularly, there`s nothing about this virus that would indicate that it is actually milder. I think we have to look at what`s actually happening boots on the ground in each country to understand why we`re getting these results. And they are good results, that we are seeing more milder cases. But we also have -- are looking at, for example, in South Africa, the mean age is about 27, that`s getting this infection, so they`re young. So, you`re expecting milder disease in that age range.

When you look at what`s going on in the U.K., they`re highly vaccinated. So again, you expect a better outcome in that -- in those populations. And the studies that came out from the UK, note these facts as something to take into consideration. So -- and there`s no evolutionary pressure on this virus to change in Berlin at all. It may or may not, but not from any evolutionary pressure, because there`s so many different hosts that it can infect. So, there`s all that.

Now, you heard Dr. Gottlieb talking about this probably peaking sometime in January. And I do think that the data indicates that, especially if we look at what`s going on right now in South Africa. But I think everyone should be aware of how very fast this thing is spreading. Within just a matter of weeks, it`s now reached 106 different countries that are showing cases of Omicron. And here in the United States, you noted the increase in hospitalizations, also the total numbers of cases that we`re seeing over 160,000 cases a day. So, when you have those kinds of numbers, even if it`s milder, there`s still going to be a very significant portion, especially among the unvaccinated that are going to end up needing a lot of medical care, including hospitalizations, and our workforce is currently depleted. And that`s part of the complication. We have exhausted our medical staff, we`ve exhausted our EMTs, our firefighters, all of this has been going on for two years.

VELSHI: Yeah, it`s constant. Let me ask you in this moment, how you should think about behaving. How do you tell people about what to do? It seems like this is highly contagious, but people are still travelling. Do they pull back? Do they isolate? How quickly do you get tested? Because it`s hard to get tested these days? How are you changing your behavior?

MARTY: So, number one, do it all. When you are in congregate settings indoors, poorly ventilated with have all kinds of people that you don`t know their vaccine status or their exposure status then even if you`re vaccinated, even if you`re boosted, wear your mask, keep your distance, keep your hygiene because there`s a study from Ireland that just came out yesterday, talking about the increased risk from fomites from the Omicron variant.

[23:25:22]

So, the hygiene rate remains important, even though the greatest risk is still transmission by aerosols, by inhalation and exhalation from those who have it. So, test if you possibly can. I understand how challenging it is to get tested right now. Yes, we have some good things in the horizon, for example, of the approval today of the protease inhibitor by Pfizer is great news. It`s a shame that we don`t have the amounts in supply that we need in order to really make a difference. But in the meantime, make sure that where you`re going to, the people are safe, and that if you`re going to be travelling, that you yourself are negative before you travel.

VELSHI: Every night and every day on this network, I`m talking to doctors like you and every one of them is bringing up staffing shortages. We know that one of the government`s actions this week was to send 1000 Medical military personnel to places that needed help across this country.

In the United Kingdom, they have reduced the COVID isolation period from 10 days to seven days, in part to ease the staffing concerns, the staffing shortages in the health care system. I know the airlines have told the CDC they need to consider this because they`re going to end up with staffing shortages too, given how many people are getting this, but is that something to be considered shortening the isolation period for people who do get infected with the Omicron.

MARTY: Assuming that the individual does not have, you know, notable symptoms that continue, because it`s going to be variable. So, you still have to have an appropriate medical evaluation of the individual. But one of the good things, if you will, about the people who are vaccinated and boosted, who get infected, and may even become ill from Omicron is that they`re -- even though their viral loads are very high, initially, they control the virus much better. And so, their viral loads go down very quickly as well. So, they have a shorter period, which they`re contagious to others, which would indicate that in that setting, you can reduce the amount of time that they are isolated. And that`s what we`re looking at, but that would -- but that is for people who are vaccinated and boosted. That`s not necessarily the case for individuals who are unvaccinated who could still pose a risk to others for longer periods of time.

VELSHI: You did mention the pill that`s been approved by the FDA, the Pfizer pill. Is that a game changer to you, is that significant?

MARTY: Very significant. It`s a very safe pill with very, very few side effects for very few people that works exceptionally well 88%, 89% efficacy for -- but it`s for a select population. It`s not a post exposure pill, it`s a -- it is not a pill to take once you`re in the hospital, it`s a pill if you have symptoms, and you take it soon after those symptoms start and have a positive test. In that setting it is outstanding and is something much easier to do than for example, monoclonal antibodies, especially now that most of the monoclonal antibodies are not working very well against Omicron with the exception of course of the JSK, which still has to be three times as much as before.

VELSHI: I`ll take outstanding for any development against COVID these days. Good to see you Dr. Marty. Dr. Eileen Marty is the Professor of Infectious Diseases at Florida International University in Miami.

Coming up, Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol are here to discuss a new effort by Mitch McConnell to lure Joe Manchin across the aisle, when the 11th Hour continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:32:56]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MINORITY LEADER: I admire what Joe Manchin did. I don`t expect them to give up. I think they`ll keep coming back to him. I`ve suggested a good solution to his problem would be to come across the aisle and join us or he`d be treated with respect.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: The Democratic Party is not happy with its senator from West Virginia, but Republicans are making it known they welcome him to the GOP with open arms. In addition to those comments from the majority leader, Senate Senator John Cornyn of Texas, says he personally texted Manchin in an effort to get him to defect. This is how Manchin responded when he was asked about the possibility two weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you waiting just for the world to come back your way? Or would you ever leave the party or be an independent? Because you do -- you are caught between the two, there`s no doubt that.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: I`m caught between the two, but the bottom line is you have to be caucusing somewhere you follow me and if they would ask me to leave, I would just have to say I guess we`ll have to abide by your wishes. I don`t know. I don`t think that`ll happen. I don`t tend to leave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That`s important. He says that with us tonight. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize Winning Columnist for the Washington Post. And Bill Kristol, author, writer, thinker and Politico, is a veteran of the Reagan and Bush Administration`s and editor at large at the Bulwark. And I hear that -- hear what Manchin just said, Eugene, and I take some words from your column earlier this week where you say I doubt Manchin will switch parties and become a Republican since he would instantly revert to being a bit player with Senator Mitch McConnell running the show, as Majority Leader. Manchin could conceivably become an independent and continue to caucus with the Democrats, but that wouldn`t materially change the situation. Tell me more about that.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, I just don`t see him leaving now. You know, who knows? I mean, it`s very difficult to predict anything in politics these days. But, number one, Joe Manchin has been for his entire political career, a Democrat and he believes most of what other Democrats believe he just doesn`t believe in the Build Back Better bill.

[23:35:08]

So, I think there`s more of an affinity there than there would be in the Republican Party. And I don`t see him just becoming one of, you know, just one of Mitch McConnell`s legions. I`m sure they would roll out red carpet for him. And maybe they would make him chairman of the Energy Committee, although, you know, there are Republicans who have waited in line for those committee positions. And that`s not an easy thing for McConnell to finesse. So, I personally don`t see it. Why would he give up being star of the Joe Manchin show? He seems to enjoy that.

VELSHI: Bill, to that point, that Joe Manchin is probably got more in common with Democrats than he does with Republicans. You`ve made the point that he said that there are things about Build Back Better he could support. Why not, at this point, start to break it up, get what you can get done, and run on that.

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I think that`s what the Biden administration and Chuck Schumer probably should do. I mean, he says he wants these parts of the bill to go through committee, they haven`t been hearings in the Senate on them, there were some of the House, this has been presented as a sort of takeoff package in the Senate.

Let`s have hearings on the Child Tax Credit, let`s have hearings on pre-K, universal pre-K, let`s have hearings on child -- on support for family leave, medical leave, and so forth. There`s some good things, I personally think about the bill. There are some things that are pretty problematic about the bill, the way we do legislation in the holidays. And until pretty recently, United States is we have hearings, we hear testimony, we have amendments offered and debated. Some of them are just decided on partisan grounds. And then a bill comes to the floor, which in turn can be amended and debated. I think it would be a lot, I think they may end up in something like this. Some of it could pass with 60 votes, some of them might end up in reconciliation next year anyway, I think actually, it might end up as a better bill, slimmer bill, we`re focused on the key things that have to happen soon, than would have been the case if this thing just rolled through with 50 votes.

VELSHI: So, Eugene, Bill has the view that get what you can get done. You also have the view from your column the other day, that Democrats need to talk more about the things that they`ve succeeded. You write Democrats across the spectrum, are going to have to stop talking so much about what they can or won`t do, and instead, talk about what they have already done. And if necessary, galling as it may be, they may have to settle for a pared down Build Back Better package that funds fewer programs over a longer span, Democrats are doing much Republicans are doing nothing. And that`s the message to take into the midterm. So, your views are dovetailing here, you`re agreeing with, it`ll get done what you can get done and then make hay about it.

ROBINSON: Well, reality has an impolite way of imposing itself on all kinds of situations. And the reality is that it`s a 50/50 Senate, and that Democrats need Joe Manchin, but because there are no Republicans willing to cross over and vote for Build Back Better, there just are no interest in that. So, either they get Manchin`s vote on this bill, or they take a different approach, and it might not be all bad perhaps legislatively, certainly politically to have Republicans go on the record in committee and on the floor, on the child tax credit, on universal pre-K on all these very popular provisions of Build Back Better.

There are some Republicans who will find it uncomfortable to vote for them as if they come up one after the other one by one. And that`s what`s on -- but that`s the question, do you want universal pre-K or not? And it`ll be interesting to see. I`m not yet convinced you get 10 Republicans, but you make some uncomfortable.

VELSHI: Guys, stay with me. I want to take a break and continue this conversation on the other side, Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol.

Coming up, we`re going to talk about whether what happens when Democrats lay out the high stakes involved in the battle to pass voting rights legislation, as the Senate now makes it a top priority for the new year when the 11th Hour continues.

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[23:42:34]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PSAKI: If you don`t have 60 votes, then you need to change the rules in the Senate. There is not support for that at this point in time. Now, what the President`s view is, is that getting voting rights done is absolutely essential. If the Republicans continue to obstruct, we`re going to have to look at what`s necessary to get that done. And we`d love to do that as quickly as possible. The President would love to send -- to sign a voting rights law into law -- voting rights bill into law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Stop me if you`ve heard this before, Democratic leaders from the President on down agree that voting rights are a top priority, but they haven`t been able to get all 50 Democratic senators to agree to a rule to change any and to bring any legislation to the floor.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer isn`t giving up. During a Virtual Democratic Caucus Meeting last night, he reiterated plans for a vote saying, "We are now called upon to act. We alone can protect our democracy from these attacks."

Schumer also said that if Republicans blocked voting rights legislation again in January, the Senate would consider and vote on rules reform.

Still with us, Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol. Eugene, this whole concept of the Senate taking up and voting on rules reformed still requires 50 senators to be on board and at the moment, Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin are not supportive of changing the rules of the Senate.

ROBINSON: At the moment, they are not, and I mean, there has been a group of moderate senators, John Tester and others who had been working to try to see if there is some formulation, some carve out around the filibuster for this kind of legislation, voting rights legislation or for this piece of a specific piece of legislation. We`re talking after all, and for example, in the John Lewis Act of provisions that are basically the same provisions that in -- it was 2004, 2005 all Republican senators voted to extend and in the provisions that in 1982, even Strom Thurmond, the famous segregationist from my home state voted to extend. So, but you know, we will have to see if they are able to convince Manchin and frankly Sinema who could be the tougher nut to crack on as she has made the more Sherman like statements about the filibuster even more so than Manchin. And she`s even more difficult to read than Joe Manchin.

[23:45:13]

VELSHI: Bill, you talk about there being a path for voting legislation that there`s some way to do this, that gets it through Congress. What is it that you think can get through the Senate and how?

KRISTOL: Yeah, I think it`s the key question. Everyone talks about voting legislation. There are many, many elements to these bills. Some of them are again, much more urgent, I think, than others, protecting election officials for intimidation, preventing the state legislatures from overturning the results of the electors in the state, preventing the House from doing so, the kind of January, what happened between November 3 and January 6 with Trump tried to do last year, just a year ago. That I think would be much harder for the Republicans to simply refuse to even open debate on that bill hasn`t been introduced. Why? Well, I was talking to a Democratic staffer about that just last week, and oh, well, the goods -- we`re holding that one back that we could get more bipartisan support. We don`t want to get your plan off ramp. We want to put pressure on them on these first two bills. They`re not feeling any pressure, these bills get brought up brought up suddenly, is one day of debate. They get 50 votes. They don`t get the 60 they need. They go away.

The administration and Chuck Schumer, we`re talking about something else the next day. I mean, literally right. There has not been a sustained campaign on either of these. Eugene`s right, the John Lewis stuff, most of those provisions, there`s very -- they`re very strong arguments for those. So, they have dramatic hearings where people have testified in Georgia and South Carolina, about what has happened there and about the need for these provisions, particular provisions, not generally some big act, it`s 200 pages, no. They forced votes on particular provisions? No. So I think there`s been a lack of political strategy here on the part of the Democrats. I`m not saying it`s going to be easy anyway, in a 50/50 Senate was such a polarized and radicalized, frankly, Republican Party, but they`re not -- they need to really rethink the politics of this, the political strategy, I think.

VELSHI: Well, let`s talk about this. Eugene, Schumer has said a colleague - - Dear Colleague letter, in which he says I would ask you to consider this question, if the right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, then how can we in good conscience allow for a situation in which the Republican Party can debate and pass voter suppression laws at the state level with only a simple majority vote, but not allow the United States Senate to do the same? I`m not sure who he`s asking the question of but that is the call to make this a majority vote issue if you can get Sinema and Manchin on board or to other Republicans perhaps.

ROBINSON: Exactly. But that`s the big "if". And, you know, it -- I think Bill makes some valid points in that. And when we talk about, you know, "voting rights legislation" it is unclear what specific measures we`re talking about. And I do think there is value in putting Republicans on the spot about specific provisions, certainly, for example, you know, how the votes get counted? Who counts the votes? And how is that made? How do we ensure that that`s fair? How do we ensure that provisions of the of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that that meant so much to so many, including my family in South Carolina, are not effectively reversed? And, you know, it those specific kinds of questions might put some Republicans on the spot in a way that they`re not feeling the pressure now.

VELSHI: Guys, thank you very much. It has been a great discussion. I hope some wisdom comes out of this. Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol, we appreciate you.

Coming up, the moving story of volunteers working hard to make a big difference in the life of Afghan refugees here in the United States when the 11th Hour continues.

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[23:52:22]

VELSHI: Four months ago, the world saw chaotic images of Afghans crammed on military planes after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan with 1000s of those refugees beginning a new life, a group of volunteers were inspired to help. Our report tonight from NBC News Correspondent Vicky Nguyen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UYEN NGUYEN, CO-FOUNDER OF VIETS FOR AFGHANS: Lentils, more rice.

VICKY NGUYEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Uyen Nguyen is the Co- founder of Viets for Afghans, a volunteer group helping Afghans resettle in Seattle.

U. NGUYEN: We want them to feel welcome. There is a group of people that they can rely on.

V. NGUYEN: Uyen says, these images of Afghans escaping after the U.S. withdrawal in August reminded her of the Vietnamese experience in 1975. She lost four family members including her mother and two siblings during their escape as Bo people.

(On camera) How did that experience at 10 years old shaped who you are now?

U. NGUYEN: It made me realize that how someone`s life can just turn upside down really, really quickly.

V. NGUYEN: In four months, vets for Afghans has resettled to families with help from the sponsor circles program.

U. NGUYEN: Can I have a kiss?

V. NGUYEN: Today volunteers visit Sahiv (ph) and his family of eight.

SAHIV (ph): The Vietnamese communities help and the help of other people that are close to him, just been overwhelming.

V. NGUYEN: Some 25,000 Afghan refugees are currently living on U.S. military basis. But next month Sahiv`s family moves to this Seattle apartment. Tam Wen (ph) offering it rent free.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is a friend that is generous enough to provide you the house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are three bedrooms.

V. NGUYEN: The kindness continues. Tam`s nephew will pay for their utility bills.

(On camera) What would you say to people who want to help but they don`t know how?

U. NGUYEN: We didn`t know how either, just get started.

V. NGUYEN (voice-over): The sponsor circles program requires volunteers to commit to three months. But we in says the bonds forming now will last a lifetime. Vicky Nguyen NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Coming up, a look at a new very expensive telescope that`s set to launch later this week when the 11th Hour continues.

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[23:58:07]

VELSHI: Last thing before we go tonight. On Christmas Day, NASA expects to launch what some are calling a $10 billion Time Machine. Let me explain, the James Webb Space Telescope has been decades in the making, it`s seen as the successor to the Hubble. The telescope has instruments sensitive enough that it will be able to look back at 13 billion years of cosmic history. How is that possible?

NBC News explains telescopes essentially function as time machines because it takes time for light to travel through space. The Webb observatory will be able to see farther in the universe than ever before and therefore farther back in time. This means that astronomers will have the chance to study primitive stars and galaxies from the earliest days of the universe.

Now unlike Hubble, which sees primarily visible light, the Webb telescope will gaze at infrared light which can pierce through thick veils of cosmic gas and dust that might otherwise obscure some celestial objects from view. But a lot of things need to go right for this telescope to be a success. Once hopefully successfully launched a million miles into space. The mirror which is nearly 21 feet across at the heart of the telescope needs to be kept very, very cold, which isn`t always possible when you`re orbiting around the sun. So, a five-layer sun shield will need to unfold around the mirror to keep it protected at an SPF of over 1 million.

Scientists and astronomers are understandably nervous, but excited.

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MARCIA RIEKE, ASTRONOMER, PROFESSOR OF ASTRONOMY AND ASSOCIATE DEPARTMENT HEAD AT THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA: It`s kind of a cliche to say that it`s going to change the course of astronomy, but it might very well do that because it`s such a leap in capability.

GREG ROBINSON, JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE PROGRAM DIRECTOR: We`re going to learn some things about how galaxies were formed, and how the earth came into being. It`s certainly going to shape textbooks going forward.

RIEKE: Webb is about the same scale project in terms of dollars and people is building great pyramids in Egypt. And that gives you kind of a sense that Webb is on a scale. It`s kind of a cultural undertaking, and not just something for astronomers.

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VELSHI: So, on Christmas Day, once you`re satisfied that has made it down your chimney look up again. Here`s hoping for a successful launch on Christmas Day. That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night with our thanks for being with us. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.