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Transcript: The 11th Hour, 12/23/21

Guests: Peter Baker, Donna Edwards, Barbara McQuade, Vin Gupta, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, Stuart Stevens, Jon Meacham


Omicron spikes in U.S. ahead of holiday weekend. Delta airlines cancels some Christmas eve flights. CDC shortens COVID isolation for healthcare workers. COVID tests in short supply ahead of holiday. FDA authorizes second COVID antiviral pill. Trump asks SCOTUS to block release of 1/6 WH records. Biden not giving up on "Build Back Better."


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: The kids you`ve been helping in Malawi get tonight`s Last Word. The 11th Hour starts now.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again, I`m Ali Velshi. Day 338 of the Biden administration. Tonight, brand new indications of the real-world impact of the Omicron variant. United Airlines has cancelled 112 flights for tomorrow on Christmas Eve because, "the nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation."

Delta Airlines has also reported cancellations, 90 flights, also in large part due to COVID related staffing issues. But this all comes as the daily average of new cases is approaching 200,000.

The New York Times reports the now dominant Omicron variant is spreading faster than any variant so far and daily case counts surpass those that Delta`s peak. Experts who`ve been watching this latest outbreak, expect infections to skyrocket and many fear that we may be looking at an unprecedented winter surge.


LAURIE GARRETT, SCIENCE JOURNALIST & AUTHOR: Getting pass Omicron is going to be quite an ordeal. The virus is leading everything. We`re in reactive mode constantly.


VELSHI: There are now growing concerns about shortages of health care workers. Late today, the CDC revised its guidelines saying those workers who tested positive who are asymptomatic can come back to work after seven days and the negative test adding that isolation time can be cut further, if there continued to be staffing shortages.

In many parts of the nation, lines to get a COVID test continue to stretch for blocks ahead of the holidays and supplies of at home tests continue to run out.

NBC News reports, the dozen or so companies authorized to make those tests are scrambling to step up production. The White House has pledged to send out 500 million tests to Americans. But that starts next month. Today, the administration was asked for more details about that program.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We`re just working to finalize the contracts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we understand that there`s going to be a website that people can go to starting next week.

PSAKI: We`ve been planning for the website to be ready when tests start to be ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many tests will each American be able to get?

PSAKI: It`s a great question. It`s something that we`re looking to finalize guidance on, and we`ll have that available as soon as it`s ready.


VELSHI: Meanwhile, the FDA has authorized Merck`s anti-viral pill to treat COVID. It is the second such approval after an authorization for Pfizer`s treatment came yesterday. We`re going to have much more on these just ahead with Dr. Vin Gupta.

New York City officials, meanwhile, are scaling back New Year`s Eve celebrations limiting the fully vaccinated crowd to roughly 15,000 people and requiring masks for all.

There`s also important news about former President Trump`s battle with the January 6 Committee, having been turned down by everyone else, Trump has now asked the Supreme Court to block the release of his White House records related to January 6. Trump`s lawyers argue that he has a constitutional right to keep Congress from seeing those materials, even though President Biden declined to invoke executive privilege over them, noting that, "President Trump is more than an ordinary citizen. He`s one of only five living Americans who as former presidents are granted special authority to make determinations regarding the disclosure of records and communications created during their terms of office."

Late today the January 6 committee asked the High Court to move quickly on Trump`s appeal. Lawyers for the committee say they will respond to Trump`s appeal by December the 30th. The Select Committee is also waiting to hear from Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan, this man, they`ve invited him for a voluntary interview about his conversations with Trump on the day of the Capitol riot. Earlier today, Congressman Jordan was asked what he plans to do about the Committee`s request.


REP. JIM JORDAN, (R) OHIO: We intend to respond to the letter at some point here.

Brian Kilmeade: Are you worried about it?

JORDAN: Well, I mean, it is what it is. Like I said, we`re going to, we`re going to review the letter, we just got yesterday, and our team is in the process of doing that.


VELSHI: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Thursday night. Peter Baker is the Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times. Donna Edwards is a former Democratic Member of Congress, now a Washington Post Columnist. And Barbara McQuade is a veteran federal prosecutor and former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She worked with the Department of Justice during the Biden transition. She`s a professor with the University of Michigan`s Law School and she hosts the podcast Sisters in Law, along with Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Joyce Vance, and Jill Wine-Banks.

Good evening to all three of you. Thank you for joining us.

Peter Baker, let`s start with you. Rough week, in general, for the White House particularly with the collapse of Build Back Better unexpectedly on the news on last Sunday. But the Omicron virus and the testing requirements that it calls for are something that White House has been sort of behind the curve on all week?


PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, look, you know, the one thing that President Biden promised as a candidate last year for office was, he was going to tackle COVID. And help us get through this pandemic. Now, who faults of his own or no fault of his own, we`re not there. A year later, where we seem to be back again, start -- at least when it comes to infections, not hopefully, in terms of the same level of severity, but that`s what the doctors are telling us about Omicron. But for a lot of Americans, it feels like we have yet to kind of move past this two-year crisis we`ve been living in, and there`s a lot of exhaustion, and a lot of it`s being taken out on the president, you can see that his approval rating, I think that people want the president to be able to get his hands on it.

Obviously, there are some things he hasn`t done, that critics say, he should have done. There are some things that are out of his control including, you know, the resistance to the vaccine that has been encouraged by a lot of people on the right. So, one thing he knows he needs to do is courage people to get past this holiday safely, until we can get, past the peak that this Omicron seems to be heading toward, and toward a spring, when there will be more available boosters, there`ll be more available test, they`ll be more available and therapeutics like the two that have been approved in the last two days. There is this light at the end of the tunnel if we can get past this particular search now to place when COVID becomes an endemic but not necessarily always fatal disease, and that`s what the administration is trying to get to. But they have a lot of dark days between now and then.

VELSHI: Donna, what do you make of it? Obviously, we`re in different places than we were for all of 2020 when there was an adversarial relationship with the White House, in terms of what it was doing about COVID, it almost seemed to be downplaying it. Now, we`ve got a sort of a practical logistical problem, and that you would think two years after this thing, we`d have ample testing, but we never actually got to a place where we had ample testing in the United States. And all of a sudden, everybody wants to test.

DONNA EDWARDS, (D) MARYLAND, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: No, I mean, I think that`s true. I mean, we basically went from delivering a vaccine, sort of skipping over that process of beginning to integrate testing with our vaccine strategy. And I will say this, we are in such a different place.

Today, over 200 million Americans have gotten a vaccine. And so, you hear these reports of the experience of those who`ve gotten fully vaccinated and have boosters, that they`re not experiencing the same, you know, very devastating symptoms that that the unvaccinated are, but we still have a challenge in this country because vaccination has become so politicized.

And, you know, I look at the former President Trump as he`s now encouraging people to get vaccines and I wonder what would have made a difference? You know, a year ago or more if he had been encouraging the same thing, instead of essentially encouraging the disinformation and the chaos that erupted. And we find ourselves in a situation now where only a third of Americans are still not vaccinated or 40% of Americans still not fully vaccinated.

VELSHI: It`s a strange thing to see Donald Trump pushing back against right wing journalists who are criticizing the vaccine.

Barbara, let`s talk about Donald Trump for a second. He has now asked the Supreme Court to stop the handover of documents to the January 6 committee, what do you make of that move? And what`s likely to happen?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, the least surprising thing of all, Ali, happened today when he filed this appeal and filed it on the last possible day. I think everybody predicted that because he wants -- you know, part of his game here is to stall, stall, stall, in hopes that perhaps if Republicans win the midterms, they will disband this committee, and he`ll never actually have to reckon with any decisions or any disclosures there.

But, you know, this is a decision that has already been looked at by an appellate court and by a trial court, both of them have said President Biden is the one who gets to control executive privilege. President Biden has determined it must be waived here in the best interest of the Republic. Donald Trump continues to persist that the National Archives should keep these documents secret. I think he will lose in the Supreme Court. And in fact, I don`t think they`ll even hear the case. I think they will instead simply let the appeals court decision stand.

VELSHI: And Peter, the committee, and its lawyers have asked the High Court to look at this or deal with it one way or the other. Very quickly, they say they`ll have a response by the 30th. And then as Barbara said, the Supreme Court may not entertain this at all. But the bottom line is this January 6 committee is gathering lots of information and evidence. Do you know what it is they need from Donald Trump`s documents to continue to make their case? Are they getting stuff by going to all these people around him and gathering the information that they`re gathering?

BAKER: Well, they are gathering stuff from other people that tells us a lot about President Trump even without President Trump`s cooperation, but they want to know more, and I think that there are so many documents out there that presumably could get their hands on telephone records or records of the President`s movements and, you know, actions on the day -- at a normal White House at least, they keep a minute by minute record of what a president does during every single day. And those records are invaluable in recreating what happens on a particular day.


In this case, we don`t know a lot yet about what President Trump did on January 6. We saw, as you remember, of course, a couple tweets in a video he put out that were all very seemed to be very belated and half-hearted when he finally said, you know, go home patriots, to his supporters without saying we love you.

But we don`t know a lot about what he was doing. Who was he talking to on the phone? Who was in the Oval Office with him? At what point -- what was he doing and saying, during this violence? It was he, in fact, satisfied that his supporters were putting pressure on Congress in such an extreme way, as some people have suggested, was he horrified as his own supporters in the White House allies and the White House have claimed, we don`t really know. And I think that that`s one of the things that January 6 committee would like to know more of, because one of things are talking about and Barbara McQuade would know better than I would about this, is the idea that President Trump may be legally liable for obstructing the Electoral College count by not stopping this violence, by not acting more assertively to stop this violence. And that`s something that Liz Cheney has raised. I think that that`s one thing that you`ve heard that the committee is looking at, they`d like to know more about what he did that day and didn`t do.

VELSHI: Yeah, Donna, I`m interested in your perspective on this as a former member of Congress. Liz Cheney on December 13, said, by action or inaction, Donald Trump may be criminally responsible. This committee moving ahead, despite a whole lot of roadblocks in its way, asking two members of Congress, two sitting members of Congress to come before them and give evidence. One, Pennsylvania Scott Perry has said absolutely no way. The other one, Jim Jordan, interestingly enough has not said no way yet. But we know these guys both have information. What`s your sense of how this committee is operating right now?

EDWARDS: Well, I actually -- I think that they`re acting very deliberately, and I mean, we noticed that there haven`t been a lot of leaks coming up out of the committee that the statements that have been made on the public record are very deliberate, they`re intentional, both to send a message and to be clear about what the committee is doing. I think we`re all looking forward to those open hearings, public hearings, coming up in the in the new year, because that will reveal a lot about the hundreds of interviews that they`ve conducted, and about the 1000s and 1000s of documents that they`ve been able to go through.

And so, I think we still don`t know what we don`t know, because I suspect that the committee, even in calling Jim Jordan and other members of Congress really is beginning to piece together the information that they would hope to glean from their testimony or from their documents, but I suspect they know an awful lot about what happened from the other witnesses who`ve come before the committee.

VELSHI: I would like to get your view on this Barbara as a former prosecutor. Liz Cheney was paraphrasing a law, 18 USC 1512, which would make it a felony to attempt to corruptly obstruct, influence or impede any official proceeding. And that there are some important words in there, whether it is done corruptly. And the idea of obstructing as opposed to simply protesting something, and of whether or not the January 6 or the events that are going on in January 16 in Congress constitute an official proceeding. So, there`s sort of three standards that need to be met in order to charge Donald Trump and his associates with criminal behavior here.

MCQUADE: Yes, and in fact, when Liz Cheney uttered those words, they`re kind of the magical incantation. I think every prosecutor in America had their ears perk up and say, she just recited the elements of the obstruction of justice statute. You know, it`s the way you might be at a cocktail party, and there`s a murmur of voices. But when someone says your name, you snap your head around at attention, I think most of us had that same reaction when she uttered those magic words.

So, number one, corruptly, and that just means that you had some improper purpose in what you did, or in this case didn`t do. Most of the time, a crime requires some action, but for certain people, it could also be an omission. So, for someone like Donald Trump, who has a duty to take care of that the laws be faithfully executed, and act by omission could also be criminal to obstruct or impede, that means that to put a stop to or tamper with an investigation in some way. We`ve had a couple of courts now decide on this. Some have said this is different. This isn`t like lying or intimidating a witness to simply interrupt the proceedings by, you know, allowing them to protest to go on. Courts have now held that this is sufficient for the obstructing or impeding an official proceeding.


And, in fact, I`ve had cases, Ali, in the past where people pulled the fire alarm at the courthouse to interrupt the court proceedings for the day so that they didn`t have to have their hearing where their bond was going to be revoked to go back to jail. That counts as obstructing official proceedings. So, I think it fits there. And then finally, is it an official proceeding? And I think that one is clearly yes, the statute includes sessions of Congress. So, it`s really just a matter of do the facts support it. And that`s why Congress is so eager to get their hands on these documents, to see if he did know that people were dying. And yet he continued to persist in his omission of not putting a stop to it when he had the power to do so.

VELSHI: Donna, you actually work with Jim Jordan, for viewers of this network, they may not know him all that well, for viewers of a network that sits across the road from us, they know him very well. He`s probably on Fox every day. What do you make of him in his role in this, as far as you know?

EDWARDS: Well, look, I don`t know. But I mean, I think that his earlier interviews on Fox that he`s tried to clean up since then, sort of speak to what he might may have been doing on January 6. And I do know Jim Jordan was actually in my class. I was a classmate I came in later, but he`s belligerent, and he will get in the way. And I think that right now he`s trying to figure out how he couldn`t reconcile what he actually did on January 6, what his documents say that that he was doing, and what he said about what he was doing, and there -- he may not be able to square that circle.

VELSHI: Thank you to the three of you for joining us, kicking off this important discussion tonight. Peter Baker, Donna Edwards, and Barbara McQuade, we appreciate your time.

Coming up, Dr. Vin Gupta is here to talk about the increasing strain that the unvaccinated are putting on the healthcare system. And later, we`ll talk to Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian Jon Meacham about the state of our democracy and the critical challenges ahead for the president. The 11th Hour just getting underway on a Thursday night.



VELSHI: Early research from South Africa and the United Kingdom suggests Omicron infections may result in more or in milder illness than earlier variants. But health officials have repeatedly warned that the unvaccinated are at higher risk and already strained health care workers are struggling with an overwhelming burden of patients.

The Washington Post reports that in New England hospitals are struggling under immense pressure driven by the Delta variant. "Doctors in the region all said that a substantial majority of the patients currently hospitalized with COVID between 60% and 80% were unvaccinated. The breakthrough cases, meaning those who are vaccinated, that end up in the hospital tend to be milder and are concentrated among older patients and people with other health conditions, they said."

Back with us tonight, Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist in Seattle. He has advised us on public health throughout this pandemic since those terrible early days in 2020. He`s also on the faculty of the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Vin, good to see you as always, my friend. I have to ask you, these increased hospitalizations which we were seeing prior to the onset of Omicron. Are these mostly Delta hospitalizations, or Omicron hospitalizations or do we not know?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Ali, great -- good evening. Great to see you. I think the answer is we don`t know. What we do know is that Omicron is of all the tests that ultimately gets sent with advanced lab, Ali, to get sequence genetically sequenced, most of them now are coming back Omicron positive. I think it`s a fair bet to say it`s probably a bit of both.

Really important just to emphasize this to all your viewers out there that these vaccines are doing exactly what they should. Vaccines against a contagious respiratory virus. Never were meant to prevent a positive test from mild symptoms. They were only meant to keep folks out of the hospital. It`s the reason why we say, please get the flu shot, flu is now approaching pre-pandemic levels. Flu does not provide a positive flu test, the flu vaccine, or mild symptoms of the flu would only keep you out of the hospital. Same paradigm here. So, what we`re seeing is entirely expected it`s not surprising.

VELSHI: Vin, what do you know about the degree to which this is behaving? The Omicron viruses behaving unusually, and that it is it spreads very easily and very quickly. But if you`re vaccinated, very few people are in fact getting seriously ill.

GUPTA: You know, what`s really interesting, what we`re learning now from South Africa, scientists out in Europe is actually what`s -- it`s illuminating for the rest of the world, the geography of our immune system, in our respiratory tract, probably something we wouldn`t have talked about on national TV together two years ago, but here we are talking about it. What we now know is that we just don`t have a lot of Defenses, Ali, in our nose, in our upper respiratory tract. But in our lungs, we have T-cells, those immune system fighters that prevent severe illness, we have a lot more antibodies. So, what Omicron has been able to do is it`s been able to overpower initial defenses in our nose, because there`s not as many. But by the time it tries to travel down our throat all the way down into our lungs, it`s facing in our model of immune cells, which is why yes, you might test positive if triple vaccinated, but by the time that virus tries to go down into your lungs, it`s going to get defeated. That`s why you don`t end up getting seriously ill. So that is why we really need to emphasize what`s actually happening so people can make sense of it.

VELSHI: I saw you tweet that. And I didn`t understand what it meant until I heard you say this right now. So, I appreciate for that -- I appreciate you for letting us understand that a little bit better.

Let`s talk a little bit about the speed at which Omicron starts, spreads, takes off like a wildfire. And then what we are seeing in South Africa, where it`s slowing down at almost the same speed. Dr. Fauci said, look, we don`t have enough information to understand what the differences are there in demographics or population concentrations or things like that. But is it possible that -- this is a different sort of graph of this infection?

GUPTA: Maybe. I mean, I will say that it`s doubly time was so extraordinary, that I think those that are unvaccinated, those that are watching that are unvaccinated right now, this version of this virus will come find you. That to me seems like it`s a foregone conclusion here, whether it`s going to spike and then come down like it`s in South Africa that remains to be seen, like Dr. Fauci said but I will say my colleagues at the Institute for Health Metrics they are forecasting 10,000 weekly deaths week over week well into March, just from COVID, whether it`s Delta, combination with Omicron. So, we`re not out of this yet. We`re still in cold and flu season. Flu, again, is approaching pre pandemic levels. So, vigilance is the norm. But if you are triple vaccinated, doing all the right things, travel safe, you are safe, so long as you`re vigilant.


VELSHI: By the way, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington is the gold standard in terms of projections that`s turned out to be very, very accurate over the last two years. Talk to me about health care workers, Vin, we are seeing shortages, we`re seeing people get sick, we`ve seen that the CDC has changed its guidelines about if a health care worker tests negative, if they isolate and they`re asymptomatic, and then they get a negative test they can get back to work sooner. How serious is this issue of a potential shortage of healthcare workers?

GUPTA: Well, it`s acute on chronic is what I would say. This is a problem here that we knew has long existed, 40% of nurses are due to lead the workforce by 20, 30% of doctors. Now you couple Omicron, everybody getting exposed, some getting actually testing positive. This is a major problem for a system that`s already stressed. So, what the CDC did today was a great first step, you`re going to see airlines, flight attendants, other places where there`s key staff maybe not in the healthcare sector also glamouring for this policy change, that`s good for healthcare workers, it`s good for other frontline workers just like they did in the U.K. So, this is going to be more and more of the same. We`re going to see this across sectors.

VELSHI: I want to talk to you about this antiviral pills. According to The New York Times in a clinical trial Merck`s drug, reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by 30% when given to high-risk unvaccinated people within five days of the onset of symptoms, Pfizer`s pill was found to reduce that risk by 88%. Explain this to me, is 30% -- I guess 30% is better than no percent. But what do you make of the efficacy of these two drugs?

GUPTA: You know, the problem with the Merck pills in addition to the fact that the Pfizer pill is just dramatically better in performance, keeping high risk people early diagnosis with COVID, those that are high risk out of the hospital to the tune of 90%, Merck does it to the tune of 30%. It`s pretty self-evident, which if you`re a patient, which one would you want me to prescribe to you? The Pfizer pill. In addition, the Merck pill has some concerning potential side effects. For example, it looks like pregnant women who might fit this demographic, high-risk, might early diagnosis of COVID. They`re not advised to get this pill based on some initial findings concerning side effects potentially. And when you couple that, Ali, when you couple that with the fact that it`s all about perception and trust, who is actually going to want the Merck pill relative to the Pfizer pill. So, it`s going to be really important to scale manufacturing, the Pfizer pill, people are going to trust it more. There`s no concerning side effects, like I just mentioned with the Merck pill, people are going to want that. And that`s going to be critical to saving lives, both here and globally. But the key issue here is supply.

VELSHI: Dr. Gupta, as always, thank you for being with us tonight. Dr. Vin Gupta, the university -- he`s a critical care pulmonologist in Seattle. He`s on faculty at the University of Washington.

Coming up, what we`re hearing from the President about his accomplishments over the past year and his push to get as much done as possible on his social spending plan in the future, when the 11th Hour continues.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: how are you not able to close the deal?

JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: Look, let`s talk about what we have done. We have passed more major legislation than anybody in the first year ever, ever, ever, ever. And I haven`t given up on this. I haven`t given up on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But Senator Manchin`s main sticking point it would appear is that the child tax credit, are you willing to take that out? If it means bringing him on board?

BIDEN: Well, look, I want to get as much as I can possibly get done is extremely consequential.


VELSHI: President Biden had hoped he`d be heading into Christmas with a Senate vote on a signature piece of his agenda. But he`s not giving up on the Build Back Better bill. And from what we just heard he`s hoping people will start talking about what he`s already accomplished.

Back with us, Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, the incoming Dean of the University of Arkansas, Clinton School of Public Service, and Stuart Stevens, a veteran of the Mitt Romney and George W. Bush Presidential campaigns. He`s now with the Lincoln Project. His latest book is, It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party became Donald Trump.

Good evening to both of you. Thank you for being with us. Dean DeFrancesco Soto, let`s ask you first about Donald -- about what Joe Biden is trying to message here. He is trying to get the point that a lot is been done. He started talking about the performance on the economy, which you know, some headlines indicate it has been struggling, it`s actually doing much better than some people suggest, if you try to draw attention away from this Build Back Better fiasco.

VICTORIA DEFRANCESCO SOTO, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Right. He`s framing the message in terms of what is positive, right, looking at the glass half full rather than half empty. And I think one thing I think a lot about, Ali, is that implicitly and at some points explicitly leading up into the election, there was so much comparison between Joe Biden Build Back Better, FDR, the New Deal, LBJ, we`re comparing apples with oranges here and so frustrating the political moments that brought about the big congressional legislative changes that this country has known in terms of the New Deal and the Great Society are different from what we have today.

So, what we need to do is look at Build Back Better, look at Joe Biden`s moment and understand this political moment of unprecedented, hyper partisanship, and take stock of what is happening with that, and not always trying to compare it to what we saw 50 years ago, or 80 years ago. So, I think he`s doing exactly what he needs to do is drawing attention to what he`s done and not comparing it to other things.

VELSHI: Yeah, it`s interesting point Stuart, those other big moments of bipartisan or unity around major legislation have followed things in which the country has experienced sort of a shared tragedy. I would have thought that COVID might be that shared tragedy, but the bottom line is we are so polarized that the country doesn`t have a shared view of what the future looks like and that seems to be stymieing some of Biden`s best instincts.


STUART STEVENS, THE LINCOLN PROJECT SENIOR ADVISER: Look, I think that world has disappeared, perhaps forever. I mean, I don`t think we talk about this enough that the majority of the Republican Party believes that Joe Biden is not a legal president. Now, nobody since 1860, has been in that position trying to negotiate or deal with that kind of -- it`s really beyond partisanship is that they believe they live in an occupied country. And that`s just so extraordinary and unique that I think the Biden administration has done a good job, trying to get this stuff passed. I mean, how long did it take Republicans on infrastructure? I mean, if you`ve been a kid born during the first week of Republican infrastructure, you`d be in the first grade now. Biden got it done.

And look, I`m about an optimist on this. I think that the administration is very steady, and they get we`re in a very good campaign. They don`t panic. And I would bet at the end of January, they`ll have this bill passed.

VELSHI: Victoria, what is the -- what`s the pivot here? Is it a pivot? What is Biden need to do at this point, realizing the barriers that he`s facing, particularly with Manchin?

DEFRANCESCO SOTO: Do what he does, negotiate, be Joe. And I think this is what he`s sold us on in terms of he has this experience, he`s been in the Senate, he can talk to fellow lawmakers. This is the moment where he has to come through. And Joe Manchin knows very well, what he needs to take back to West Virginia. And so, Joe Biden needs to meet him where he is. And he may not get everything he wants in Build Back Better. But he needs to get something. And ultimately, that is going to be what he then pivots and frames back to the American public in terms of, this is what I did.

OK, he`s not going to get everything in the Build Back Better plan that he campaigned for. He is going to get something. So, let`s focus on that something rather on the fact that the whole shebang is not going to come through.

VELSHI: Now, he`s -- Stuart, he`s talking about getting something as Victoria is. There`s also a pivot to voting rights that that Schumer has made or at least says that the Democratic Party is going to make and that a lot of Democrats would like Biden to get behind. This is the most directly, he`s talked about options around changing the filibuster, your thoughts on whether that is a non-starter or whether they`ve got space to help make this happen?

STEVENS: I hope they do. You know, it`s sort of amazing that we`re having this conversation while there`s a committee investigating a coup against the United States government. I mean, while that`s not the lead story, just kind of, I think says, speaks to where we are as a country. I think it is critical, they pass this voting rights. If without this, you get Republicans, they`re pretty clear about what they want to do. I mean, how many people who parties, who attempted a coup became more democratic once they got in power? Not many. And I think that`s what we`re looking at if Republicans get in power.

VELSHI: You`ve set us up for the conversation we`re going to have next. I appreciate that, Stuart. Stuart Stevens and Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, we appreciate your time tonight.

Coming up, we`re going to look back at a tough week for the president amid a stalled domestic agenda and a spike in the pandemic. Presidential historian Jon Meacham is here on the critical challenges for the administration that lie ahead, when the 11th Hour continues.




BIDEN: What happened was, the Omicron virus spread even more rapidly than anybody thought. Some people think maybe I`m not Irish. I don`t hold a grudge. But I want to get things done. I still think there`s a possibility of getting Build Back Better done. Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done.

Why would I not run against Donald Trump for the nominee? That`ll increase the prospect of running.

As a country, we can come together Democrats, Republicans, independents and do big things.


VELSHI: Wall Street Journal sums up the challenges for President Biden heading into the new year this way, "Mr. Biden will enter 2022 with his narrow majorities in Congress at risk and a perilous path to achieve his promises to address climate change, voting rights and police reform, along with the components of the proposal known as Build Back Better now in limbo in the Senate."

Back with us is Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author, presidential historian and the Rogers Chair in the American presidency at Vanderbilt University. He occasionally advises the current president on historical matters and major speeches.

Jon, it is great to see you again at the end of this tumultuous year. I always want to get your first take on legacy and history. It does -- Joe Biden is definitely embattled at this moment. But in fact, he seems to come into his own when it comes down to making deals and negotiating and staring down the barrel of challenges. What do you make of what the position he`s in right now?

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yeah. Well, I think all great presidents are embattled, all presidents are embattled. The fact is not being embattled. The question is, what do you do with it? And, you know, when we talk about Biden`s bad week or Biden`s rough year, you know, it`s not really a vocabulary that`s commensurate to the challenges we`re facing, right? I mean, this is democracy`s our maximum danger. It`s as we`re as close to losing the constitutional republic that a lot of us have taken for granted for a long time, as we have since fort Sumpter. And that`s not hyperbolic, it`s -- I think self-evidently true. And so, the President`s challenge is to keep a republic together, that seems insistent, at least part of it seems, insistent on living according to its own reality, according to its own tribal instincts, and not understanding or at least not choosing to understand acknowledging that democracy is about seeing each other not as adversaries, but as neighbors.

And this is not a Mr. Rogers kind of thing. It`s a fundamental aspect of popular government. I help you tomorrow morning because -- not just because I`m a good guy if I were, but because I might need you tomorrow afternoon. You know, there`s a reason the commandment is love thy neighbor as thyself. It`s not just love your neighbor because it`s the right thing to do is a covenant, right? I extend the hand because I might need a hand. And that`s where we are. I think that if anybody can articulate that in the public square, to go to what you just said, I do think it`s Joe Biden.


VELSHI: Does he have other partners who have that worldview? He is -- he`s been shaped in the United States Senate. He has seen it work overtime. But that doesn`t work in a vacuum, does he have people and maybe he`s got one in Joe Manchin, maybe he sees something in Joe Manchin that a lot of Democrats don`t. But does he have any more partners who are prepared to say, hey, we`ve got to choose a different road here and get some things done?

MEACHAM: That`s a terrific question. And I do think that one of the things we talked about, you know, we talked about Senator Manchin, understandably, but there are 50 Republican senators, who are simply not part of this conversation. And that`s a remarkable thing. You know, 40 years ago, when President Reagan came to office, you know, he passed significant economic legislation in his first year, because he got some Democratic votes. Now, those Democrats ultimately became Republicans in the course of things. But this isn`t even about, we`re not even talking about getting some Republicans to vote for this significant domestic legislation. And they`re having to talk about undoing the filibuster to talk about the basic building blocks of democracy.

The Voting Rights stuff here is not just about voter ID and the traditional conversation we have. There`s a new conversation going on since this time last year, which is about certification. It`s about officials in the States, it`s about state legislatures, not simply choosing to throw out a result they don`t like. There`s a gravity to this conversation. That`s not partisan, but it feels partisan. And it feels partisan, because the Republican Party has become a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump. It could recover, it can become a fully functioning constitutional party again, but it`s not as we sit here at the end of 2021. And I think that`s the task before that party. And, you know, President Biden is here trying to do this with a the narrowest of margins. And it says if we can take half the country and say they`re not part of this, of course, they`re part of it.

VELSHI: John, stand by, I want to continue this conversation about the degree to which you state a democracy is imperiled, you call the democracy`s hour of maximum danger. We`re going to take a look at the state of our democracy as we near the one-year anniversary of January 6, right after this where the 11th hour continues.



VELSHI: Our friend Bill Kristol of the Bulwark writes that the guardrails of liberal democracy are not stronger than they were a year ago. "The anti- democratic forces seem stronger at the end of 2021 than they were at the beginning. The Republican party seems to be more captive to authoritarian demagoguery today than it was a year ago following Trump`s defeat."

Jon Meacham is still with us. Jon, this article by Bill Kristol is interesting. This column, in which he says November 3, 2020, was more like Dunkirk and escape from a terrible outcome and occasion to heave a huge sigh of relief, but ultimately of success, that simply allows us to regroup and gather our energies and forces for a longer fight. I think he`s onto something here that for those who think that this threat is behind us. They`re willfully wrong.

MEACHAM: Yeah, as Churchill said, Dunkirk wars are not won by evacuations. And I think Bill is exactly right there. Joe Biden`s election was not D- Day, it was a critical battle. It is a sign that there is the capacity for progress in the country. Joe Biden is president. 81 million people want him to be president. The problem is so many people who at some level must know better think he`s not, think that somehow or another the election was stolen, and they think it, or they say they think it, because an authoritarian has told them to think that. And that`s the beginning of the end, to play one more Churchill card. Churchill once said, we`re not at the beginning of the end, but we are at the end of the beginning.

And so, I think that what we face right now is a genuine crisis of citizenship. This is not -- let me put this way, Joe Biden`s not on trial here. You know, we pull on him, and it`s his approval rating. We should be polling about ourselves, right? I mean, this is about self-government, is about popular government. It`s about all of us making a decision about our habits of heart and mind. And are we, in fact, mature enough? Are we strong enough to win a few and lose a few? Or are we able to do that, and part of democracy is being a gracious loser, and saying, you know what, we lost this one. We`re going to keep this journey toward a more perfect union going, and we`re going to try to win the next time.

And that`s the way this should be. And interestingly, for somebody who does what I do for a living, it is highly, highly unusual. I don`t think we can ever use the word unprecedented because everything is precedented from the Garden of Eden forward. But, you know, Richard Nixon in 1960, didn`t say, John Kennedy was a fake president. Hubert Humphrey in 1968 didn`t say that Richard Nixon was a fake president. You know, this is something different. And what we have to do, and it`s -- it really is about us, is we have to be able to say, you know what, we are not going to follow a cult of personality. Because when you follow a cult of personality, when you put the will to power at the center of everything, then we`re back in a state of nature, right? We`re back to what Hobbes called the war of all against all. And democracy was supposed to save us from those worst appetites.

VELSHI: We have work to do, Jon, when you say things like democracy`s hour of maximum danger or crisis of citizenship, I think they`re reasonable people. In all parties who don`t know that that`s true and aren`t worried that that`s true and I hope they hear what you had to say tonight. Jon Meacham, we always appreciate your time, thank you for it.


MEACHAM: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: We`re back with more of the 11th Hour after a quick break.


VELSHI: The Last Thing Before We Go tonight, when we launched my weekend show, one of my main goals was to learn how people across this country feel about the many issues we discuss daily with experts and journalists on this network. Through our Velshi Across America series, I was able to do just that. And so, this weekend, I`ll be highlighting some of our best discussions with people like you from across this great country.

We visited nearly 20 cities discussing some of the most critical issues of our time, race, gender, class, democracy, social justice, and how those manifest in society. So, I hope you`ll tune in this Saturday morning at 8 a.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.

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