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Transcript: The 11th Hour, 12/29/21

Guests: Sam Stein, Courtney Subramanian, Barbara McQuade, Celine Gounder, Eugene Robinson, Bill Kristol

Summary

Hospitals are beginning to feel the strain of virus hospitalizations once again. The New York Times is reporting Wednesday`s daily case count topped 488,000, shattering all previous records. And Dr. Walensky defended the CDC`s new guidance for isolation after a positive test. Meanwhile, Pres. Biden will speak with Russian Pres. Putin tomorrow. Jury finds Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of sex trafficking a minor for Jeffrey Epstein and four other charges.

Transcript

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC HOST: And that is tonight`s "LAST WORD." Jonathan Capehart. I`ll see you here again tomorrow night. THE 11TH HOUR starts right now.

[23:00:12]

CHRIS JANSING: Good evening once again, I`m Chris Jansing. Day 344 of the Biden administration. Tonight, the breaking news on COVID is a story told in numbers that are increasing and increasingly worrisome.

Tonight the New York Times reports the U.S. has shattered its single day case record, almost doubling the highest numbers reported one year ago. Quote, As a second year of living with the pandemic was rolling to a close the new daily case total top 488,000 on Wednesday, according to a New York Times database, Wednesday`s seven day average of new to daily cases 301,000 was also a record.

More than 13,000 National Guard members have been activated in 48 states. The White House says it`s been surging aid to hospitals and other facilities, One million gloves, 342,000 masks along with respirators and face shields all shipped out, along with 40,000 gowns for frontline workers.

Federal teams made up of members of the military, FEMA and other agencies are also headed to states where infections are soaring. As for hospital admissions for COVID, the CDC says they`re 14 percent higher than a week ago. That`s an average of about 9000 more people admitted every day.

Officials note the pace of admissions isn`t what we`ve seen in previous surges. But in many places, the crush of patients speaks to a very different reality.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R) OHIO: Today we have more Ohioans with COVID in the hospital, hospitals throughout the state than we`ve had it any other time during this pandemic. I think it`s important to emphasize something. What we`re seeing in our hospitals are hospitals filling up our emergency rooms, is being driven by people in Ohio who were not vaccinated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JANSING: Earlier this evening, Dr. Anthony Fauci noted there are even more signs now that Omicron is less likely to get you really sick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: It appears that Omicron from data both in South Africa, the UK, and accumulating data here in the United States, indicates that it very well might not be as severe and many people from studies that are going on right now who get Omicron have either no symptoms or minimally symptomatic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JANSING: Was back on TV tonight because the controversy over the new guidance on reducing COVID isolation shows no signs of going away.

The Washington Post`s reports the recommendation to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic infected people to five days was driven largely by the concern that essential services might be affected during this latest surge. This morning, the CDC director offered this explanation for the decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Well, so it really had a lot to do with what we thought people would be able to tolerate the fact that we were going to have so many more cases, many of those would be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic people would feel well enough to be at work. They would not necessarily tolerate being home and that they may not comply with being home, it was -- this was the moment that we needed to make that decision and those changes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JANSING: A few hours later, in a different appearance, Dr. Walensky insisted the new guidance is based on scientific data.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WALENSKY: These updates to our recommendations were made to reflect what we currently know about COVID-19 infection. Let me make clear that we are standing on the shoulders of two years of science, two years of understanding transmissibility.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

JANSING: We`ve got a doctor standing by to take our questions on that and the impact of this latest COVID outbreak just ahead.

Also tonight, we`ve now heard from the January 6 Committee about its agreement with the Biden White House to hold off on requesting hundreds of records from the prior Trump administration. In a statement, a House committee spokesperson said the panel quote, welcomes President Biden`s decision to clear the way for the production of another set of records. The committee has agreed to defer action on certain records as part of the accommodations process, as was the case with an earlier tranche of records.

The statement goes on to say, the Select Committee has not withdrawn its request for these records. And we`ll continue to engage with the executive branch to ensure the committee gets access to all the information relevant to our probe.

Meanwhile, an ABC News report says the chairman of the January 6 Committee has just invited House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to sit for an interview with investigators. One committee member was asked about that earlier on this network.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): I think would be important to listen to what Kevin McCarthy has to say. He is in fact indicated publicly that he has nothing to hide that he would be willing to talk further and I hope that he lives up to that.

[23:05:05]

We know from other Republican members who related the conversation he had with the President that he had some communication. I`d like to ask Kevin about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JANSING: The committee`s fight for the rest of those records takes another step forward tomorrow. The panel and the Biden administration will file their response to Donald Trump`s appeal to the Supreme Court, where he`s asking to keep those records secret. House investigators have already asked the court to fast track the case.

Also tomorrow, the current White House, we`ll be spending some time with one of the country`s main adversaries. President Biden has agreed to a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who requested the conversation.

The White House says the two men will talk about the Russian troops now gathering on the Ukraine border and to warn Putin, the U.S. will respond to any invasion.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night. Sam Stein, a veteran journalist and White House editor for Politico. Courtney Subramanian, White House correspondent for USA Today. And Barbara McQuade, a veteran federal prosecutor and former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She worked with the DOJ during the Biden transition, and is a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. She co-hosts the podcast Sisters in Law along with Kimberly Atkins Stohr, Joyce Vance, and Jill Wine Banks. Good to have all of you here.

Courtney, we are hearing so many medical experts talking about the U.S. entering a harrowing phase of this pandemic. And there is still strong persistence to COVID precautions on the right, resistance to COVID precautions on the right. How is the Biden White House preparing for what certainly looks like a really difficult period ahead as we enter year three of this pandemic?

COURTNEY SUBRAMANIAN, USA TODAY WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it`s important to know we`ve really seen the White House pivot their response to reflect the frustration of American people. And in that regard, you know, take into account political considerations that we haven`t seen them necessarily take in the past. They`ve moved away from the idea of vaccine mandates, although we did hear Dr. Fauci entertain the idea of vaccine mandates on domestic air travel this week.

But I think what underscores this pivot is the comments we heard from CDC director Rochelle Walensky today, defending the decision to recommend the time that people should isolate from when they tested positive for COVID, from 10 days to five days, which you mentioned earlier, which is that while, you know, it is about the transmission window of, you know, one to two days prior to the onset of symptoms, and two to three days after.

She also said this really had a lot to do with what they thought people are able to tolerate. And I think that`s what they appear to be focusing on with their latest strategy. Catching up on testing, which we know they are behind on redoubling vaccination and boost her efforts and surging supplies to you know, overwhelmed hospitals, instead of implementing more restrictions that are just politically not palatable for a president whose approval ratings have taken a hit in recent months.

You know, he admitted, Biden admitted to a call to governors and a call earlier this week that they did fail to prepare for testing ahead of the holiday season. And that`s something we`ve heard epidemiologists beat the drum on from the early days of the pandemic and the President himself talked about, you know, as early as March.

So, they are once again trying to play catch up on a pandemic that Biden promised to shut down and here we are nearly nine months later, you know, with them admitting that they were caught off guard, but we have seen them try to ramp up efforts on testing. They plan to distribute 500 million free at home tests in January, on a website The White House has yet to release. No details. Firmed up on that. White House. COVID coordinator Jeff Stein said today that he expected contracts on those tests to be completed next week. But we`re still waiting from the White House and when we expect those tests to be available.

JANSING: And to the point, Sam, of what people will tolerate. Let me play what Obama`s first Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who was the former governor of Kansas said a little earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, OBAMA`S FIRST HEALTH SECRETARY: I live in a part of the country where every step that the public officials take at the state level our Democratic governor has taken to try and put masking protocol in place. Put vaccination requirements in place has been undone by the legislature. So it`s a kind of free for all.

President Biden is trying to walk through this minefield of having major portions of the country that have undone any of the basic public health guidelines and our findings. themselves in a world of hurt/

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[23:10:03]

JANSING: I mean, there`s an argument to be made, Sam, that minefield may be an understatement. What`s the political toll on this White House, especially as we head into a midterm year?

SAM STEIN, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE EDITOR: Well, I think people are exhausted by it all. I am personally exhausted by at all. I think everyone else on the panel was exhausted by it all. And I think that manifests itself in what you were talking about, Chris, which is just the political toll.

You know, a huge chunk of Biden`s appeal in the 2020 campaign was his pledge to get a handle on the pandemic to put it in the country`s rearview mirror. And up until July 4th of this year, it seemed like we are on track for that anything he infamously now declared that we were, you know, going to celebrate a COVID free, a freedom from COVID July 4th.

Well, here we are, from the six months later. And the Omicron variant, obviously, is just absolutely raging through the country.

The other thing that I would just note is that, you know, the preventative measures that we`ve long sort of held to try to prevent us from contracting the disease, you know, mass burn, social distancing, shutting down certain facets of society.

Those don`t seem to particularly work with this variant, you know, people who are triple vaxxed are getting it. People who are wearing masks may be less prone to getting it. But, you know, social distancing is not really a thing. And it`s not just in Kansas.

And so what they have is a very limited tool shed. They have to urge people to get triple vaxxed, because we know, but anecdotally, and scientifically that it is helpful in terms of the outcomes you get when you get infected.

But a large chunk of this country, a frustratingly large chunk of this country, is resistant to vaccinations and continues to be so. I think that`s the real trouble that Biden defense (ph). Here`s -- it`s not for any fault, lack of fun, but he`s having a difficulty persuading that chunk of people, when that is the clearest way out of this pandemic.

JANSING: Yes, and we`re going to talk to a doctor in just a little while. But Barbara, I want to move on to talking about the January 6 Committee. We mentioned, there`ll be presenting their arguments to the Supreme Court in response to Trump`s attempt to keep his records hidden. Is the court likely these take this case? And how quickly might they decide on whether the document should be released?

BARBARA MCQUADE, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: I think they`re not likely to take the case. We saw a very well-reasoned opinion that came out of the Court of Appeals and the court below, it affirmed a decision by the trial court. And the real question is, who gets to control executive privilege? Is it the current president? Or is it a former president?

For that reason, it does present a slightly novel issue that gives I think, some little glimmer of hope that the Trump camp, the court might take this up, but it seems that they`d rather stay out of this fray. And if so the status quo favors the committee and turning over those documents.

So I think if it chooses not to take up the case, it will make that decision quickly. If it does take it up, then it will have to hear argument, and it could be many months before we get a decision.

JANSING: Also, what do you make of the committee`s comments regarding that agreement to defer its request for some of those records, but they still want them?

MCQUADE: Yes, you know, this is actually how it`s supposed to work. It`s very much part of the normal negotiation and accommodation process. When both branches of government, the legislative branch and the executive branch actually respect their institutions and the responsibilities of the other, they work through this process. They say, what is it you really need? What is it you really need right now? What if we give you half a loaf? Will you accept that for now and then see how it goes?

And that`s how it`s supposed to work, recognizing that there is some legitimacy to executive privilege. But there is also a compelling interest in learning what happened on January 6. And so if both of those interests can be accommodated, and that`s the goal of people who govern in good faith, that was what was so sorely lacking during the Trump administration. And I think what is at the heart of this lawsuit that he`s now appealing to the Supreme Court.

JANSING: And in fact, Sam, we are just over a week from the January 6 anniversary, which of course, only deepened what was already a terrible partisan divide on the hill, and, frankly, elsewhere in politics all around the country.

Democrats have a big fight on their hands, not just trying to keep their majorities, but in making a case for themselves and for I think American democracy in general. Are they up to it now? Is the party unified enough for this?

STEIN: Think so. I mean, there`s a few factors here that could complicate that Barbara alluded to one, which is if this does get kicked around and Supreme Court and we`re talking about a matter of months, suddenly the, you know, the timeframe becomes a little tight, right. I mean, we`re -- this committee needs to get a report in the summer if he wants to really have an impact politically, but also, if it wants to get its work done judiciously. And so, you know that that`s one complicating factor.

And then, the other thing is sort of the 30,000 foot one which is, OK, we`ve had this horrific attack on the capitol where in the year anniversary it wasn`t just an attack it was an assault in the democratic transfer power, what has been done to shore up the cracks in the system that these people were trying to explain with these riots?

[23:15:16]

And if you look around, you`re not seeing much, obviously. I mean, there`s no legislative project progress, federal level, there`s been some executive actions here and there. And then, of course, the Department of Justice has gone after some states here and there. But, you know, absent some sort of larger legislative push in the new year, it`s going to be tough to say, definitively the Democrats are up to the task.

JANSING: Courtney, I also want to ask you about that phone call tomorrow that Biden has with Putin, clearly foreign policy has the potential to be an even bigger problem for this president in 2022. What are you hearing about the plans to meet those challenges?

SUBRAMANIAN: Yes, I mean, the as you mentioned, the phone calls tomorrow, it will be their second this month, as tensions build up around, you know, Russia`s military buildup on the border with Ukraine. Biden is expected to tell Putin the U.S. is prepared to proceed diplomatically, but also stands to respond with economic sanctions, NATO reinforcement and assistance to Ukraine to defend itself.

Senior administration -- a senior administration official told us this afternoon, but, you know, that Biden and both leaders actually believe that there is value in leader to leader engagement in what they described as a moment of crisis.

So, you know, this is certainly Biden`s biggest foreign policy challenge headed into 2022. He had quite a few this year with the withdrawal from Afghanistan and other issues. But, you know, NSC spokesman Emily Horn said, this call would cover a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia, and they`re really looking for Russia to show signs of deescalation before any sort of diplomatic end game, which is a point they`ve really hammered home. And this, of course, comes before the U.S. and Russia, delegations are expected to sit down for security talks on January 10.

JANSING: And, Barbara, I want to ask you about another big story tonight, you have an article in the Daily Beast on the Ghislaine Maxwell verdict. Fantastic article, by the way, I recommend it to everyone you begin with this line. When your partner is a monster, you can appear harmless by comparison. But appearances can be deceiving.

As probably folks know, Maxwell was convicted tonight on Federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges facing decades in prison. Talk about what you think this verdict means and what you`re going to be watching for next.

MCQUADE: I think it`s an incredibly important verdict. It`s very difficult to convict sex traffickers, in part because oftentimes the passage of time has made it difficult for witnesses to remember, sometimes witnesses themselves can have their credibility attacked.

And so to see these were young women come forward have the courage to tell their story, and to be vindicated to see an actual conviction by someone who tried to literally, you know, escape goat the perpetrator here of Jeffrey Epstein, when she herself was his partner in crime, you know, he to facilitating his abuse. And so I think it`s a very important verdict. And I think it should be empowering to anybody who`s ever been the victim of sexual abuse.

JANSING: You also talked in the article about how Ghislaine Maxwell doesn`t look like what we think of when we talk about sex traffickers. So again, I recommend it to people. Barbara McQuade, always great to see you, Sam Stein, Courtney Subramanian, and thanks so much for being with us on this Wednesday night.

Coming up how the latest policies coming out of Washington are impacting those on the frontlines in the battle against COVID. And later, one of our upcoming guests calls last January 6, a dress rehearsal for what may come more on the events of 2021 that have many political observers anxious about the new year, the 11th Hour just getting underway on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:22:47]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEWINE: Nurses, the people who are keeping the hospital going everyone has worked exceedingly hard, very, very difficult circumstances.

GOV. KATHY HOCHUL (D) NEW YORK: What do you see in their eyes, I see two things. I see their commitment to doing what`s right. They want to help people. They want to be there for them. But also, there`s an exhaustion setting it

GOV. ERIC HOLCOMB (R) INDIANA: Thank you to those individuals who complete shift, after shift, after shift who have been doing this for two straight - - going on two straight years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JANSING: The governors of Ohio, New York and Indiana each sounding an alarm today. Hospitals are filling up and health care workers are feeling the strain. One of the biggest hospitals in Wisconsin is now at capacity, unable to accept more patients. Another facility is calling in the U.S. Navy to help handle the caseload. And we may be just at the beginning of what the World Health Organization chief warns may be a tsunami of delta and Omicron cases.

Back with us tonight, Dr. Celine Gounder, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at the NYU School of Medicine and Bellevue Hospital. She was part of a panel that advises the Biden transition team on COVID-19 and she hosts a weekly podcast on the impact of Coronavirus called "Epidemic."

It`s good to have you here and I want to start with that possible tsunami referenced by the WHO chief. There was a New York Times headline tonight that said New York struggles to keep running under Omicron. I mean, everything from a huge percentage of EMTs calling out sick, subway lines shutting down because they don`t have people. But there was this one very real example of a 68-year-old resident I want to read for you, it says, in downtown Brooklyn, Wanda Ortiz, who has had fever, body aches and a scratchy throat since Christmas, summoned the strength to head over to the CityMD on Atlantic Avenue Wednesday morning to get tested. The clinic was dark. She wandered off to find another testing site hoping she would not have to stand in line too long in the cold.

It`s just one of thousands if not millions of stories across the country. How worried are you about a possible tsunami and the closures that brings the ability to help the sick looking for help?

[23:25:03

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: Well, Chris, I`m on service at Bellevue Hospital right now and a number of our own staff are out sick something like a third I believe of our nurses are out sick, many of our doctors are out sick with COVID. We`re having to pull from outpatient clinics. People who would normally be on vacation for the holidays right now are being asked to come in.

And we`re still short staffed. We`re still having a really hard time keeping up with a patient loads we have now. We are trying to do what we can to prepare for the inevitable increase we will see in the next couple of weeks. But I am really concerned. I think people really are exhausted and they`re being stretched to the limit.

JANSING: And obviously, you know, you had a situation where the administration or the CDC said, OK, we`re going to shorten the amount of isolation time. If you`re asymptomatic, we know that you`re less likely to give somebody else COVID.

Yesterday -- Earlier today, I spoke with the President of the Association of Flight Attendants, her group is really upset with those new guidances shortening isolation time. So I want to play for you a little of what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARA NELSON, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS PRESIDENT: Our concern is that this is putting all the onus on the workers. And when you put policies forward, that are pro-business and not grounded in public health, it gives people reason to pause and not trust our public health requirements. People are worn out, and we`ve got to give them a break in order to take care of this country and keep the economy moving. This is a short term fix that the CDC gave businesses, that is going to have long term pain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JANSING: Is she right?

GOUNDER: I think the CDC recommendations would have been okay, if they had included testing to come out of isolation at five days. And unfortunately, their current recommendation is five days of isolation. And then five days of wearing a mask when back at work or around other people. We know people across the country are not reliably wearing masks, they`re perhaps not wearing them at all, or they`re wearing them below their nose or on their chin, which is absolutely useless for preventing the transmission of COVID.

And I`m also hearing not just what you`re describing with flight attendants, but from healthcare workers being told that after they`ve completed five days of isolation for COVID, that they`re expected back at work. And I think many are concerned Well, what if I still feel sick after five days? Do I still have to go to work? And they feel like the expectation is, yeah, you`re you need to be on the job.

JANSING: So I mean, it just almost seems like the problem is so enormous if they can put that New York Times headline up again. I mean, even by the standards of this pandemic, which has been absolutely devastating. Not only is New York City being pummeled by Omicron. But their new numbers show we`re just about double, double the worst place where we have been. Single day case record nearly doubling from the highest numbers from last winter. What do we do? What does states do? What a local governments do? I mean, you know, they`re still going to have a New Year`s Eve celebration in Times Square.

GOUNDER: I mean, honestly, that gives health care workers like me palpitations, and makes me feel nauseous to even think about that.

JANSING: Literally nauseous.

GOUNDER: We have some state -- literally nauseous. And some states, yes, are calling in the National Guard. But how many National Guard are medically trained or doctors or nurses. And so really, when you call in the National Guard, what they might help with is logistics, security at the hospital, maybe transporting patients from one part of a hospital to another, but they`re not able to do the direct patient care where we really do need staffing to help us and so there`s only so much you can rely on those kinds of extra surge, sources of staffing.

JANSING: One of the things we talked about at the top of the show is the amount of stuff that`s going out everything from gowns, you know, every piece of equipment you could possibly, maybe not possibly imagine, but an awful lot of stuff.

And it was one of the things early on, right? We just didn`t have what we needed. You couldn`t even get a mask. We were being told not to get and not to buy the public, you know, really good mask because we needed in the hospitals. Do you at least have what you need to treat the people who are coming in?

GOUNDER: In that respect, yes, it is a very different situation from the spring of 2020. In 2020, I had the same face shields that I was just cleaning day after day and using for months. Now, I have as many face shields and masks and gowns and gloves as I want. So we are in a very different position with respect to personal protective equipment than we were at the beginning of the pandemic.

JANSING: Well, at least on that positive note, we will say some things are going right but hats off to you and to all the folks you work with there at Bellevue and all the doctors and nurses who are again fighting the -- good fight on the frontlines. Dr. Celine Gounde, we appreciate it.

[23:30:06]

And coming up, it`s one of the past year`s biggest stories the fragile state of our democracy. We`ll talk about it with our great political observers to the best we have when the 11th Hour continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JANSING: As we approach the one year anniversary of the attempted coup on the Capitol, the investigation into January 6 is reaching a pivotal phase. Yet there are warning signs that efforts to subvert democracy in 2024 are already well underway.

The Associated Press with new reporting today writes in battleground states and beyond Republicans are taking hold of the ones overlooked machinery of elections. While the effort is incomplete and uneven, outside experts on democracy and Democrats are sounding alarms, warning that the United States is witnessing a slow motion insurrection with a better chance of success than Trump`s failed power grab last year.

With us tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Washington Post and Bill Kristol, author, writer, thinker and Politico. He`s a veteran of the Reagan and Bush Administration`s and editor-at-large at The bulwark. Good to see you gentlemen.

So Bill, is there a new blueprint to undermine democracy and 2024 something we should be laser focused on?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: There is and then a large part of it was the effort in 2020 and then course after the temporary repudiation of that effort by Republicans a tolerance of it and even in some ways an embracing of it by an increasing number of Republicans in Congress, and at the state level that itself is incredibly important.

[23:35:13]

I mean, our judgment to January 6 is so important going forward, not just going backwards. And then you have the efforts at the state level, state legislative level to lay the groundwork for overturning election results. People running for the Senate and the House explicitly on that kind of platform. So yes, it is one might have hoped after Trump lost the election level reserved a little over a year ago, that we were kind of through the worst of it. I`m afraid that we`re right in the middle of it now.

JANSING: I want to play you this from writer and thinker, Nikole Hannah- Jones, take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: We are a society that willfully does not want to deal with the anti-blackness that is at the core of so many of our institutions, and really our society itself. And we`re seeing a backlash. We`re seeing efforts to me to subvert democracy to make it harder for black people in particular, but people of color, marginalized people in general to vote. I think that we are in a very frightening time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JANSING: Eugene, are you equally frightened?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: I am very worried. You know, I mean, it frightened look, you got to fight back. Right? I mean, you have to -- there are a lot of people in this country who are very concerned about the fact that, for example, one of our two major parties, the Republican Party is no longer so sure about the whole democracy thing. It`s just no longer and it certainly is no longer 100 percent committed to it, and is actively exploring ways to get around it. I mean, that`s alarming, and we should be alarmed about it. But we have to call it out. We have to denounce it, and we have to fight against in every way possible.

I think the first thing is, and this is something Congress, I think, has to do. We have to secure the way electoral votes are counted, the way the people`s votes are counted, and not give that into the hands of partisan, you know, coup minded Republican state legislators, who -- that want to reject the people`s decision on who was their next president and substitute their own decision and want Congress to be convinced it throw out electoral vote.

I mean, this is so unAmerican, and just unacceptable. And that I think is a first order of business. And then there are all these laws that are being passed in states to make it harder to vote. And those are also deeply conservative.

JANSING: Yes, I mean, the state legislatures, obviously, something and what we`re seeing with the really fight against voting rights bill is very real and very concerning. But there`s this new trend with a lot of Republicans going hyperlocal. They`re targeting school board elections in the coming year. They are looking to do things that we`ve already seen banned subjects that aren`t even being taught like critical race theory. They`re calling for more parental control.

How much of a concern do you think that is? Do you think that plays into what we`re already seeing and these attacks on democracy? Bill.

ROBINSON: Yes, I think it plays it.

KRISTOL: I`ll say word, but Eugene didn`t say a word.

JANSING: Yes.

KRISTOL: Eugene`s excellent answer just now. He said, the first order of business has to be in effect to strengthen the guardrails. I couldn`t agree more, where a year, it`s -- I think people will look back and say, Are you kidding me? January 6 happened. We know a lot of the things that happened between November 3rd and January 6th, even before we get to January 6 Committee report. We know kind of the weaknesses of were exposed.

One thing that has to be done is to deal with people who are continuing to try to exploit those weaknesses. But the other thing to do is to strengthen the guardrails that protect us, right. To protect the system. And that has not been done. That has not been done at the federal level.

And I think people will look back and say, Are you kidding me a year in and we`re still saying, and saying correctly, as Eugene said, this should be the first order of business, but it hasn`t been.

JANSING: Yes, not only does going to school boards, Eugene, you know, obviously addressed those kinds of concerning issues, but it also builds a bench, right, because people who then went to school boards can then start running for state legislature and push those same kinds of ideas.

ROBINSON: It does and, you know, that has to be fought at that local level. I mean, it really does. And that`s something that progressives and Democrats have to become more serious about, but it is -- I think it is no accident that all of this this focus on imaginary critical race theory and all that is happening at a time when, you know, most the majority of public school students in this country now are not -- are non-white.

[23:40:20]

And as the country becomes more diverse and as white Americans many obviously not all but some who are used to being in the majority are not easily getting used to the fact that they will soon not be an absolute majority in this country. You just can`t ignore that as an underlying mega trend that is helping to drive some of the some of the unrest that you see.

JANSING: Both guests are staying with us and just ahead, some of the critical challenges facing Joe Biden as the New Year fast approaches when the 11th Hour continues

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JANSING: Some pundits have like and President Biden struggles to get his agenda passed with President Obama`s Affordable Care Act setbacks. Biden is hoping the New Year brings progress on both Build Back Better and voting rights which have been languishing in Congress.

Top Obama a David Axelrod put it this way in the New York Times. No historical parallel was perfect, but the near death and revival of the ACA is a parable that does offer a path forward for this President and his administration. Still with us, Eugene Robinson, Bill Kristol. Eugene, is there a path forward? Do you see it?

ROBINSON: Well, the Affordable Care Act was passed. So, it doesn`t all have to happen in the first calendar year of a presidency.

[23:45:00]

And in fact, some of these things sometimes take time. My distinct impression from the president in recent weeks, and certainly in the last couple of weeks is that he is more focused than he had been before on the voting rights question, that we`re in rights issues.

And I would not be surprised to see that move to the top of the agenda, especially since it now appears that it is going to take time to get the Build Back Better agenda, or as much of it as he can through both houses of Congress. And it may be in pieces and it may take some time. I still believe he`s going to get if not all of it, most of it, and I think it will be a very big deal when it gets it but he may focus on voting rights first.

JANSING: Optimism. OK. Bill, I`m also want to talk about foreign policy. Biden has that call tomorrow with Vladimir Putin. Putin asked for it. Retired general Ben Hodges had this to say to the Bulwark about Russia and Ukraine this week, I would still say that a new offensive is not inevitable. But all the pieces are in place. What`s most worrisome is the language that keeps coming out of the Kremlin. How does Biden need to deal with this threat?

KRISTOL: Yes, I mean, this is the trouble of the President Biden we can hope, we can all -- some of us could hope that he focuses on both voting rights and the progressives hope he gets a lot of BBB through. But of course, the world doesn`t just sit there let you go in your own schedule.

And which (INAUDIBLE) is saying is that the Putin threat that Ukraine is serious. I think he would also say that developments in the Far East with China serious, Iran is moving ahead. Biden administration is doing its best on all those.

But didn`t it -- we could have a foreign policy. I just read a little thing for the Bulwark actually predictions for 2022. Those are all notoriously bad and difficult. But I said maybe we`ll have a foreign policy or for better or worse, and it could be for worse.

Incidentally, it`s been a long time since we really had a year that was defined by the foreign policy challenges really, since about six, seven years after 9/11. I`d say we pivoted to domestic policy in the world, some very bad things happen in the world. But good things happen, but we kind of didn`t put them at the top of our agenda, I would say. But we may not have that choice this year. So, Joe Biden has a lot of experience in foreign policy. And this could be a year of real testing for him.

JANSING: So if bill gets to look forward, Eugene, let`s just take a little perspective backwards, OK. Look, foreign policy challenges notwithstanding, and even without passing Build Back Better and voting rights this year. Some argue that Biden has accomplished a lot, has he? And if so, why was poll numbers so bad?

ROBINSON: Well, I guess he has. I mean, there was the Rescue Plan, which was worth $1.9 trillion, there was the infrastructure bill was $1.2 trillion. There was a huge spending bill that we have don`t even talk about very much. It was near hundreds of billions, but to make the United States more competitive with China, which is potentially very important going forward. He has had approved 40 federal judges, that`s more than any president in the first year of his administration since Ronald Reagan. It`s a record.

So yes, this is a big year of a lot of accomplishments. And, you know, Democrats and we observers, frankly, have tended to talk more about what hasn`t gotten done, than what has got done. And in fact, it`s quite a lot.

JANSING: Our thanks to Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol. I don`t know has this been an incredibly slow year or an incredibly fast year or depends on the day? All I know --

ROBINSON: You know, Chris, COVID, COVID, COVID. That`s what makes this year unlike any other year. And COVID is going to have a vote next year too.

JANSING: OK.

KRISTOL: Lots (INAUDIBLE). We can have this conversation in a year and not discuss COVID. That would be nice.

JANSING: That would be nice.

ROBINSON: Yes, that would be great.

JANSING: We wish you a very Happy New Year on this last Wednesday of 2021. Thanks, guys. Appreciate you.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

JANSING: And coming up, travellers who suffered through the Christmas light cancellations may still be frustrated as we welcome 2022 and air travel update when the 11th Hour continues.

[23:52:48]

JANSING: Despite this latest surge in COVID cases nationwide, travel is nearly back to pre-pandemic levels this holiday season. Yet, between the virus surge and attendance, staffing shortages and bad weather, airlines just can`t keep up. NBC News correspondent Steve Patterson has our report.

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STEVE PATTERSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the growing misery at airports across the country unending. Again today, thousands of flights either cancelled, disrupted or delayed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to get home.

PATTERSON: The highest pain points you felt at airports dealing with a dour mix of sick outs and severe weather, like Seattle where unclaimed bags are piling up in the current wait time for Alaska Airlines customer service is up to 20 hours.

Airlines say they`re working around the clock to refund passengers and reshuffle flights. Delta cancelling 250 flights announcing vouchers for wayward travellers. JetBlue sacking at three flights announcing a scheduled cutback until January 13 to reduce last minute cancellations. Flight attendants pleading for patients.

MITRA AMIRZADEH, FLIGHT ATTENDANT: They are all just working to try to get you to where you need to go as quickly and as safely as possible. If you work with us, we will work with you.

PATTERSON: Flight experts Scott Keyes says the backup will last all the way through the holiday season.

SCOTT KEYES, SCOTT`S CHEAP FLIGTH FOUNDER: They just don`t have a lot of margin for error. Almost all the planes and almost all the pilots are currently working if they`re available.

PATTERSON: Winter weather wreaking havoc in the skies and on the roads. Icy roads causing this four-mile backup in Wisconsin. And more storms are in the forecast. 20 million Americans under severe weather alerts with the southeast bracing for strong winds, hail and tornadoes.

A possible tornado already causing minor damage in southern Georgia. But some relief for the West, warmer temperatures are on the way as travellers hope for an end to this holiday nightmare.

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JANSING: Our thanks to Steve Patterson for that update. Coming up, putting in perspective the cancelled culture of 2021 when the 11th Hour continues.

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JANSING: The last thing before we go tonight, 2021 was the year cancelled culture became a political weapon of sorts for people on the right. But our friends at The Recount decided to take a closer look at just who and what were said to be targeted. And the list -- the very long list, well, it just might surprise you.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cancelled culture going after Dr. Seuss tonight.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: First was Mr. Potato Head and Mrs. Potato head.

LARA TRUMP, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: They`re cancelling Halloween, they`re cancelling Valentine`s Day.

UNIDIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let`s talk about Democrats cancelling themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMAL:E Hollywood now cancelling itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cancelled culture coming for Kermit the Frog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They cancelled the black Muppets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re being taught the cancelled culture is good. Fossil fuels are bad and math is racist.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re even trying to cancel Yes, Barack Obama.

HANNITY: Game shows, doctors being subjected to the hate, the rage of cancelled culture

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want to cancel skinny jeans and side hair parties.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want to cancel Fox News.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How dare you cancel the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were cancelled remember. The woke people are basically trying to cancel Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cancel culture is coming for a Disney classic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cancelling the American family cancelling, the Constitution the flag.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cancelled culture claiming our third president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cancelling Kamala.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden he will be cancelled. Stacey Abrams she`s going to get cancelled because she rode in a car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, just like driving cars.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cancel, cancel. No, you`re cancel, cancel, just cancel everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the cancelled culture coming after you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You see the final expression of cancelled culture in Islam terrorist groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

It`ll be interesting to see would they come up with in 2022.

[00:00:02]

Our thanks to The Recount for that collection. And 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.