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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 10/12/21

Guests: Peter Baker, Kavita Patel, A.B. Stoddard, Juanita Tolliver, Stuart Stevens, John McKown


White House tells governors to prepare to vaccinate children as young as 5 against COVID-19. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis proposed a law to shield all workers from being fired for not getting COVID-19 vaccines. U.S. House votes for short-term debt ceiling fix, averting default. Trump administration officials are due to appear for in-person depositions set to take place Thursday and Friday.




BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again day 266 of the Biden administration and tonight the White House appears ready to take a major step toward the next phase of this campaign to get as many Americans vaccinated as possible. At administration official confirming to NBC News that governors were told today to start getting ready to vaccinate children ages five to 11 by early November. Move comes in anticipation of the FDA approving the vaccine for that age group in the coming weeks. Vaccines have already been approved for kids 12 and older.

White House says it`s already bought 65 million pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Of course, parents would have to go along and that`s proving tougher than anyone predicted.

The news comes as the governor of Texas Republican Greg Abbott has mounted a broad challenge to the Biden administration`s vaccine mandate. Abbott`s ordered a ban vaccine mandates not only sets up a legal confrontation with the feds but it also forces businesses to make tough choices in Texas. He`s also getting backup from fellow Republican governor and fellow Trumper Ron DeSantis in Florida. He`s proposed a lot of shield all workers from being fired for not getting the vaccine.

This afternoon, the White House put both governors on blast.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 700,000 American lives have been lost due to COVID-19 including more than 56,000 in Florida and over 68,000 in Texas, why would you be taking steps that prevent the saving of lives that make it more difficult to save lives? I think it`s pretty clear when you make a choice that`s against all public health information and data out there. That it`s not based on what is in the interest of the people you are governing. It`s perhaps in the interest of your own politics.


WILLIAMS: As we`ve talked about here, the political battle comes as Moderna and J and J are both asking the FDA to greenlight their booster shots. Moderna has submitted its own data asking the agency to authorize a half dose of its vaccine as a booster at least six months after the second shot.

FDA did say Moderna`s booster does enhance virus fighting antibodies but declined to take a position on the need for a third dose for all. The agency`s advisory panel is set to meet on boosters later this week.

Also tonight, the Buffalo News reporting the White House has told senior members of Congress that the U.S. side of the Canadian border will finally open to vaccinated Canadians starting in early November.

Meanwhile, the House voted tonight to finally raise the nation`s borrowing limit until early December essentially putting off the threat of a first ever us default for now. The vote was 219-206. Lawmakers interrupted their recess for one day to vote.

House Democrats still have another heavy lift trying to make Biden`s sweeping economic agenda become law.

Late last night, Pelosi told her members to brace for cuts to the three and a half trillion dollar package to expand social programs. Today, she made it clear they would have to be ready to vote on a smaller bill.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: We have some important decisions to make in the next few days so that we can proceed. I`m very disappointed that we`re not going with the original $3.5 trillion. If there is are fewer dollars to spend there choices to be made. And members have said let`s get the results that we need. But we will not diminish the transformative nature of what it is. Mostly we would be cutting back on yours and something like that.


WILLIAMS: Of course in the meantime, time`s a wasting and the proposed bill offers a range of new benefits for families and children expands. Medicare and combats climate change. Pelosi had said she had hoped to pass it by the end of this month. Tonight, the leader of the liberal bloc in the House pointed out that nothing would be settled until senators Manchin and Sinema who both oppose the three and a half trillion dollar bill come out with their own proposed cuts.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): We`re willing to look at hearing back years for some of our priorities. We already have our proposal and again we`re waiting on two people to get back to us with their proposal.


WILLIAMS: The negotiations over the spending bill to finance the president agenda is taking place as the House Special Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol is gearing up for a major test later this week.


Trump administration officials are due to appear for in person depositions set to take place Thursday and Friday. Trump has told them not to cooperate. So far, Steve Bannon is following those orders. Committee members are warning there will be consequences for Bannon or anyone else who defies a subpoena.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) JAN. 6 SELECT COMMITTEE: He is required to show up he is required to testify and if he doesn`t, and doesn`t have a reason, a legal reason to profit which he doesn`t, then we will hold him in criminal contempt. And we will refer that to the Justice Department for prosecution. That will be true of the other witnesses as well if they do not comply.


WILLIAMS: Now in the other party tonight, Liz Cheney who co-chairs the committee, don`t forget, also weighed in on enforcing those subpoenas.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): We`ll see if they show up. If they show up we`ll be prepared. Every single person on the committee recognizes how important it is for us to make sure that we ensure -- we enforce our subpoenas and then we do so expeditiously.


WILLIAMS: The House committee had said it has already conducted closed door interviews with those witnesses who have come in voluntarily.

With that, let`s bring in our starting line on this Tuesday night. Peter Baker, veteran journalist and author, Chief White House correspondent for The New York Times and Dr. Kavita Patel, clinical physician, former senior policy aide during the Obama administration. She`s one of our public health experts and a non-resident Fellow at Brookings.

And Dr. Patel, indeed, the news tonight means I`d like to begin with you. So this rollout of vaccines for kids, kids have parents and in our country in 2021, a record high percentage of those parents have come out as anti- vaxxers. What would your best advice be on this rollout and the messaging to prove that the administration has been paying attention and has learned the lesson from the rollout thus far?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, CLINICAL PHYSICIAN: Yes, Brian, a critical part of this rollout is going to be exactly as you point out, trying to combat the misinformation by literally doubling down on the message that vaccinating children is one of our last steps and trying to get us back to normal, a lot of what we`ve been doing to kind of limit children and therefore society`s restrictions. Everything from schools, daycares, we`re flooded with trying to understand if a common cold is just that, or if it`s COVID in children, and that`s going to continue until we can vaccinate.

And then down to the individual the administration has to have listen, you just covered it in some of the footage around mandates. It`s going to be taking that Jen Psaki message from the podium, getting it to people and actually showing that these mandates have actually been the key to getting our country back on airlines back in holidays.

And I hope that actually scenes Brian of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, having people see that if you`re vaccinated in your household life looks a lot more like 2019 than 2020. That`s going to be critical images, facts in some way to combat the misinformation, although that`s always a high and hefty task.

WILLIAMS: We certainly join you in all of those hopes. And Peter indeed to hear the doctor invoking Jen Psaki`s words and tone in the press room today. Does the White House regard what the governors of Texas and Florida are doing as a direct assault on their efforts to arrest this pandemic?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure, exactly. That`s what it is. I mean, you know, Governor DeSantis, Governor Abbott have doubled down on their base, the base is telling them that mandates on vaccines, mandates on masks public health measures that have been recommended by the experts are in fact, unpopular with the Republicans that are, you know, working to appeal to. They have greater support. They`re working against the larger public opinion which generally supports mandates not by huge numbers.

I saw a poll by the Associated Press that lower 50 percent support Biden`s mandate for vaccines, only about a third oppose it as that overwhelming but it is a majority and it is significant difference between the pro and the con.

But what you`re seeing in DeSantis, Abbott, some of these other Republicans is they`re playing to the Republican base, which is overwhelmingly against it. And that`s the calculation that they`re making. It`s good politics at this point, even when they don`t win when it comes down to some sort of a court shout out with a vitamin station.

WILLIAMS: We should admit to frequent viewers who are used to seeing three initial guests on this hour that we do indeed have three it`s just that our friend AB. Stoddard, veteran Washington journalist, Associate Editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics has been battling Wi Fi Gremlins.


I`ve been told they are conquered or at least severely wounded and we can proceed. So A.B., I have a quote here from you from the Washington Post, under the headline ban on vaccine mandates in Texas, sharpens political battle lines, quote, especially on the right. The dispute has become in large measure about identity and culture, not just about the policy itself.

A.B. in asking you how we got here, I am tempted to say that people didn`t pause before they rolled up their sleeves to get the Salk vaccine and say, wait a minute, who did we vote for in the last election?

A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS ASSOC. EDITOR AND COLUMNIST: That`s right. I mean, this obviously is new to this pandemic, but the actual anti- vaxx movement was really reaching its high strength, right, as Donald Trump came into office, with the help of social media, and then a little bit with the help of Donald Trump, who, you know, was, you know, flirting with vaccine skepticism about it potentially leading to autism, and then the pandemic hits.

And though he can take credit for the creation of the most rapidly produced an effective vaccine in history, he does not. And he learns from his, you know, rallies and events that he gets booed now. And he has to follow his followers on the question of being anti-vaccine. And when he tries to promote it, it`s unacceptable to them.

So we`re at this point now where that is. It is such a part of the culture war, that focus groups and employers and people who are doing a lot of questioning about this trying to break down vaccine hesitancy are finding that when people are in the world of Trump supporters and in the world of the vaccine, skeptics do get vaccinated, they tend to keep it a secret from the people around them because they don`t want to defend their actions.

WILLIAMS: And doctor, I want to ask you about the boosters but as I do a reminder and heart day harkening back to our first exchange here tonight, that this discussion, like so many others falls in its designated audience. And we can talk about Moderna and J and J for the rest of the hour. And the anti-vaxxers care not a whit to hear the conversation about approval of boosters, having declared and establish that. What is your prognostication on the approval of j&j and Madonna? And will it happen quickly?

PATEL: Yes, I do you think it will. And I think Brian, it`ll align along the same categories that we saw limitations to Pfizer`s booster, so it would be for select categories. In fact, Moderna, smartly kind of mimic that language, looking at 65 and older, high risk categories. And you see Johnson and Johnson following suit.

So the discussion Thursday and Friday, I don`t think we`ll reveal any surprises. We`ll see boosters for kind of priority populations first, Brian, but I think what will be really interesting is on the docket Friday with mixing and matching. I think much of the United States is waiting to follow what we`re doing in the rest of the world where if you`ve had Moderna for the first two, you can actually mix that with a Pfizer booster potentially.

And I hate to date is not out on that it should be tomorrow, Brian, and then we should be able to understand if that`s possible. That`s important because it gives flexibility to those of us giving out vaccines. You can come in, Brian, if you`ve had Moderna. And all I have is Pfizer, I can still offer you a booster specially if you`re eligible and gives you on your way and hopefully have a very safe season.

I think at hand is the fact that the boosters. The FDA had very neutral language and their preliminary copy that was released today. And it took what I would say is a neutral stance, not declaring that it`s supported or was against boosters, but just raising the issue that the boosters really are not to help against death and severe illness that our current vaccines still to this day month later, are effective against that, but really pointing to possibly aiding in symptomatic infections. So that controversy was aired last time as Pfizer`s discussion will likely be aired, but I don`t think it`ll limit access to boosters.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for that. Peter, the news of tonight out of Congress that is positive for the Biden administration is that the House has now successfully kicked the default can down the road and I`m asking because still we have no deliverables from these big Biden bills. Most of the American people aren`t quite sure what`s in them. And in your best a one news analysis style, give us a baseline on what is at stake as of right now tonight for this administration.


BAKER: Brian, you`re right, it says something that the only success they can talk about is avoiding a disaster for two months, right? We have pushed the disaster off until Christmas, how wonderful. The fact that matter is the most basic thing that government does pays his bills, keep the doors of government open, they are basically accomplishing the bare minimum at this point. They are not, of course, accomplishing what Biden wants them to do, which is to actually try something proactive, right, you know, big initiatives that he has been sponsoring.

Now they may get there. This is not an easy process. It`s certainly not easy when you have margins as thin as the Democrats have. And remember, they can`t lose a single vote in the Senate. You can`t lose more than three in the House. That means they have to have nearly 100 percent of their own caucus on board because they`re not going to get any Republican votes, not even talking to Republicans.

And that means that, you know, you`re going to have a week`s more of hard negotiation before you get to see whether or not there is going to be an outcome. Now, you saw Congresswoman Jayapal talked about the, you know, the Manchin and Sinema coming in with their number, obviously, it`s not going to be $3.5 trillion. You know, Manchin said he`d be comfortable around 1.5 trillion. That`s obviously not acceptable with the progressive. I mean, these are numbers at this point. And they`re not about, you know, principle or ideology. And you would think that numbers are something you can kind of find a middle ground on, but this is Congress, so nothing should be guaranteed.

WILLIAMS: And A.B. indeed, think of everything Peter just said this is Democrats waiting on Democrats, it`s Democrats sniping at fellow Democrats already, some of the moderates are saying in a modified whisper that the liberal wing tend to be in safer seats. They don`t have to worry about reelection, like the moderates do. You recently wrote that? Even if Joe Biden`s polling was more robust, it would still be a dicey time for the democrats share your thinking with our viewers?

STODDARD: Well, the polling is terrible. I think Democrats are looking at the Quinnipiac poll that had find that 38 as an outlier, which is fine, but all you have to do is look at the rest of the polling, and it`s consistent across the board, where independents and Democrats are moving away from the President on the question of competence and the question of accomplishments.

The problem is that Twitter likes to beat up on Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema with the voters see, is it the Biden administration is supposed to take democrats into some backroom and knock their knees together and come up with a deal and it`s not really about individual senators, or different Coalition`s in the party, that the leaders are supposed to lead and get this done.

And so it`s really affecting Biden`s numbers. Because if he was actually like he did with the American Rescue Plan, getting these two coalitions and his party together, and uniting them, he would get the credit, so he`s getting the blame, because he`s not.

The problem with the discussion of the top line numbers is that behind that is a fight over the structure of these programs in the structure of the bill. You saw the speaker come out yesterday and say we just need to do a few things well, and fund them. Then today, she said something that sound like she backtracked and said we needed to be transformational, and meaning we`ll have a lot of programs and just fund them with a shorter funding stream with sooner sunset.

This is what the centrist and the moderates are against they want just a few things that are universally popular that are well funded for a long time. Progressives want a kitchen sink, they can say there are a million things in this package, but then only have them funded for a short time to meet the number that the moderates will vote for in the Senate.

That`s where the fights going right now. It`s unresolved. The speaker said things today and yesterday that contradict each other. And that`s why it remains a big mess. But it is if you look at the polling imperative that the administration get this behind them and start talking about COVID again. The public is very panicked on COVID. And they see their long term economic outlook as for as long as the pandemic persists, and so democrats need to see that the longer they take on this issue in Congress, the worst the polling will be.

WILLIAMS: And as the dumpster burns at least the House of Representatives is off on a well-deserved two week recess. Peter Baker, A.B. Stoddard, Dr. Kavita Patel, great thanks to our starting line tonight.

Coming up for us, on one side science common sense, on the other the governor of Texas, caught in the middle are all those businesses just trying to do the right thing and protect their employees and their customers. We`ll get into all of it.


And later if you`ve got it, chances are a truck driver brought it to you. Only problem is there aren`t enough of them. It`s not a job for everybody but it`s a great job for some. I`ll talk to one who`s doing all he can to keep business moving. All of it as the 11th hour is just getting underway on this Tuesday night.


WILLIAMS: About the current situation facing Democrats, Politico puts it this way, and we quote, Democrats have a Goldilocks problem with President Joe Biden`s social spending plan. Too big, some moderates worry it could cost them their seats. Too small, and progressives fret the base will stay home. But almost everybody concedes that if they fail to pass anything, there may be no path to keeping their majorities in Congress next November. Ding-ding-ding.

Here to talk about it. Juanita Tolliver, a veteran political strategist to progressive candidates and causes and Stuart Stevens, veteran of the Romney and George W. Bush presidential campaigns. Now with the Lincoln Project, his latest book is "It Was All A Lie: How The Republican Party Became Donald Trump." Don`t say someone didn`t warn you. Good evening, and welcome to you both.

OK. Juanita, let`s just agree for the purposes of this conversation. That everything in the big Biden bill is good for Americans everything and it is designed to improve people`s lives. What do you cut?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, PROGRESSIVE POLITICAL STRATEGIST: I can`t agree with that. I`m sorry, Brian. I know you said for the sake of the broadcast, but I can`t agree with false choices here, right. Like, and let`s think about the cuts that centrist and moderate Democrats are proposing, right? They`re proposing cutting childcare, which we know has kept millions of women out of the workforce, they`re proposing cutting elder care, they`re proposing cutting Medicare expansion like all affordable housing.


All of these things are critical investments because they are long standing crises that existed well before this pandemic. And they`re industries that we know have a direct impact on our baseline economy as well. And so, I just can`t agree that there`s something that deserves to be on the chopping block here.

I think the reality as we heard from Speaker Pelosi is that yes, there are difficult decisions ahead. It sounds like she is now leaning towards sunsetting programs sooner than they originally anticipated which we know is something that tracks with progressive. And I will say it sounds like progressives are the only ones in this moment who are recognizing the need to deliver what Democrats promised on.

Voters elected Democrats for a prospect of a better life, at tangible positive increases into their quality of being and failure to deliver that is absolutely going to have a negative impact on Democrats at the polls. And what we heard from progressives tonight at the progressive Town Hall, where Senator Sanders, Representative Jayapal, Representative Presley and others spoke was that the time to deliver is now.

I think your previous guests emphasize that the polls absolutely emphasize that and the need to deliver ahead of the midterms is only going to continue to grow. So Democrats have to get it together and deliver as many of these provisions as possible.

WILLIAMS: Stuart Stevens, I want to play for you some of Congressman Schiff on CNN earlier today, we`ll discuss afterwards.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: What happens to Kevin McCarthy becomes speaker?

SCHIFF: Disaster, because he will do anything that Donald Trump tells him. And we cannot have someone with absolutely no reverence for the truth, no willingness to uphold his oath, in that position in line to the presidency. Donald Trump doesn`t need to be appointed speaker of Kevin McCarthy is because essentially. Donald Trump will control whatever he does.


WILLIAMS: So Stuart, Schiff went on to call McCarthy an insurrectionist in a suit and tie. But there`s increasing frustration, even among loyal Democrats that it`s all words. People would like right about now to see some consequences. I know I`ve asked you this nine ways from Tuesday, but is it possible to overstate how important this moment is for the democrats?

STUART STEVENS, THE LINCOLN PROJECT SENIOR ADVISER: No, I mean, look, I`m somebody that spent years pointing out flaws in Democratic Party. And my conclusion is that it`s up to the Democratic Party here to save the country. They really have to.

I am optimistic that they`re going to come to some sort of bill that bill pass. I mean, in one way, this is sort of normal, Big Bill stuff. I mean, it was like this for the civil rights bill. It was like this for Obamacare, like this for Social Security. What`s different is that Biden is negotiating with the party that does not believe that he`s legally elected. And that`s not a small thing. And it completely changes the whole tone of it.

So you have -- Democrats trying to be a governing party. They`re trying to pass stuff, they`re trying to actually deliver. And the Republicans, they don`t even think he`s president. So it`s really unique. I remain optimistic because I have a lot of confidence in the people around Joe Biden. I think they ran a very shrewd campaign. They`re savvy, they`re sane, they`re experienced. I think they`ll get through this.

WILLIAMS: Are they killers?

STEVENS: Look, I think they`re doers. And I think this is a moment where they have to kind of produce and then get about the business of selling it. You know, my opinion is that what Democrats need to do in this election is nationalize it. They need to make this a referendum on democracy. There`s only three times the last 125 years if a party out of power gained seats, the last time of 2003. Or 2002.

I was very involved in that for the Republicans. And we nationalized around domestic security really, and they need to nationalize this into a referendum on democracy, because that is the plan of Republicans. Why is Donald Trump supporting, you know, going Youngkin in Virginia, because he wants his own governors in there for the next election.

So, that`s what I think they need to do. And I hope that we can help with that in the Lincoln Project and I hope that it will be that because if it is a referendum on democracy, I think Democrats will gain seats.

WILLIAMS: Had to ask both these guests are going to stay with us our conversation is going to continue after this break. Coming up some big Texas employers are defying their own governor over vaccine mandates here looking at one of them. What to do when staying on brand if you`re a governor is more important than the public health.



WILLIAMS: A lot folks pointing out the hypocrisy of Texas Governor Greg Abbott`s vaccine mandate banned for all businesses and entities in his state. Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune puts it this way, quote, Governor Greg Abbott`s latest executive order contradicts what he`s been saying for months about mandates and the personal choices of Texans and their businesses during the pandemic.

Two of the state`s biggest employers are already defying the governor both American and Southwest Airlines say they intend to leave federal mandates in place. Thank you very much. Dell and IBM have also joined their ranks. Still with us Juanita Tolliver and Stuart Stevens.

Juanita as no one needs to remind you, big companies normally view operating in states run by Republicans as a nice warm bath of fellow travelers not so this time.

TOLLIVER: Not so this time. And it`s interesting that Governor Abbott`s going so far as to call President Biden a bully when he`s the one trying to apply pressure here for all the efforts to score political points, right. Like he`s not doing this for any other reason than to stave off primary opponents in next year`s gubernatorial election.

And so I appreciate these very large businesses continuing down their course following federal mandates the guidelines because they recognize that the best thing for their business is to keep their employees safe and to keep their customers save. And so these vaccine mandates are something that is actually going to boost the economy, everything that is opposite of what we`re hearing from Governor Abbott right now.


I think and also on top of that, when Governor Abbott released this ban, he goes on to say that all of this is going to cost people their jobs if they don`t want to get vaccinated. It seems like he`s willfully ignoring the second part of this mandate, which is submitting to weekly testing, right? Like it doesn`t feed his narrative so he`s cutting that off. But the reality is the mandate is either be vaccinated or submits a weekly testing. And all of this is in the intention of keeping people safe, especially as we head into flu season.

WILLIAMS: Stuart, it is the baseline custodial duty of an elected governor to see to the health and safety of the people in your state. That`s why this trend is so especially ghoulish chasing after the love of the MAGA crowd. It`s why governors go to visit flood damage and tornado damage. Perhaps Abbott to be consistent should stop doing that.

STEVENS: Look, this is utter lunacy. Governor has been subjected himself to mandate for vaccine since he was in the first grade. This used to be sort of an accepted thing. And now it`s become this crazy proof that you can appeal to these Trump people. Look, Governor Abbott`s daughter`s very involved in his campaigns work for public records in New York City. If they moved to Texas, he is now trying to mandate that his own daughter would be more at risk because the company couldn`t have a mask policy. It`s just crazy.

And you know, I used to know Greg Abbott a little bit around Texas, in the 2000 Bush campaign in Austin, he was not this person. And it`s just another example of somebody who either wasn`t the person who they said that they were in pretended to be or somebody who has completely abandoned all their principles, for what, a third term. It`s just -- it`s both sad and tragic and a complete failure of why you should be in office.

WILLIAMS: And we saw Chuck Grassley sell out do the same thing just this past weekend. 88-year-old dean of Republican senators. Juanita Tolliver, Stuart Stevens will stay at this. Can`t thank you both enough for adding your voices to tonight`s broadcast.

Coming up for us. Look around wherever you are, you`ll see things that got to you by truck. And if you`re waiting for something you`ve ordered, it`s probably because our country doesn`t have enough people to drive the trucks. We`ll talk to a veteran freight hauler right after this.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you`ve got it, our truck brought it to you. If you got your food, your clothing, your medicine, if you`ve got fuel for your home`s fuel for your industries, a truck brought it to you. Today, our trucks stop, America stops.


WILLIAMS: Alpacino as Jimmy Hoffa in the Irishman. Hoffa was correct back then, and it`s still correct now, it is almost impossible to buy or receive something that didn`t spend all or part of its journey to you on a truck. We have roughly as many truck drivers as we have teachers between 3 million and 4 million and we could probably use 1 million more truck drivers in this country.

Here`s how CNBC puts it quote, a shortage of truck drivers a problem that existed pre-pandemic but one that has only worsened since means goods can`t get from the port`s to warehouses to then find their way to retailers and consumers.

With us tonight John McKown, truck driver for TForce Freight. John, usually pulls double trailers or a single 53 footer. He`s a 20-year veteran. He spent 16 of his years behind the wheel. As a teamster, John, we really appreciate you coming on. I wanted to hear it from the actual drivers tonight. What kind of people whether it`s short hauls, or long hauls? What kind of people generally make the best people in your line of work? And is the money still good if you`re willing to work like hell?

JOHN MCKOWN, TFROCE FREIGHT DRIVER: Absolutely. You know, it takes all types of people whether you`re -- wherever you`re from around the country to be a truck driver, and the money is good. And just like the movie just said, If you got to the truck brought it everything Brian from the clothes on your back, to the creamer that you put in your coffee every day comes at some point on a truck, and there is a shortage.

But you know, Brian, there`s always been a shortage of truck drivers. But since the pandemic hit, one that really hurt is bad with the pandemic is the truck driving schools shut down. So there`s really no -- there was nobody in the pipeline. And that`s why really is one major reason why we`re really short.

WILLIAMS: I grew up friends with a long haul truck driver and watching him. It seems to me that he had the ability to pick up a load in Buffalo on a Monday and get it to Denver on Thursday. And in between nobody much cared what route he took what he did with his personal time, as long as he made that drop off on Thursday. That is not the case anymore. GPS knows when you stop at a rest area. You`ve got cameras and the cabs of the trucks.

The government knows how many hours are on the clock on that work day. And I am guessing technology would if it had its own devices would put you all out of work and make it an autonomous driven industry. How has technology made your job better, if at all?

MCKOWN: Well, what`s it all about at the end of the day, Brian, it`s all about safety, safety on the highway. Your family`s out there and my family`s out there. And you know, we`re not a bunch of road truck drivers going out and down the road doing that what you just said, pushing through making sure if you`re tired you`re still trucking.

You know, the hours of service is there for a reason. And the important thing is, is that there`s a lot of talk about the autonomous truck but you know, you`ve got to have the professional driver. The professional drivers got to be in that cab. And that`s what we do every day. We are a safe industry. We`re out there every day, every night throughout the night bringing goods to the American people. And you know, this country is the backbone is the trucking industry of this country. But the --

WILLIAMS: Did you.


MCKOWN: The new technology, the CMS, the Crash Mitigation System has just made our job made -- my job easier as a driver. You know, I`ve got the radar looking forward. I got a blind spot indicator on my right, making sure that that I know someone may be in my blind spot on the right. It`s just made my job easier. As more technology comes along.

WILLIAMS: We`ve seen that bumper sticker all our lives from the drivers. If you can`t see me, I can`t see me see you. Let me ask you, John. Did you feel essential at the height of the pandemic, as everyone was calling truck drivers essential workers?

MCKOWN: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I was one of the guys. Brian, that got to -- I took a tractor trailer loads of the hand sanitizer into the NYPD during the pandemic. We were essential. You know, we didn`t miss a day. Actually, it was busier than ever because they relied on us. The country relied on the trucking industry to make sure things got through, made sure that the from toilet paper, to masks, hand sanitizer to make sure all that got to the people where it needed to be. Yes, I felt essential. And we got it done, because that`s what we do.

WILLIAMS: What has the cost of fuel done to your job and your industry and we should point out tell the good people watching how many miles per gallon, the average 18 wheeler gets.

MCKOWN: We drove a brand new truck today. We got some new trucks in our fleet and I was up to nine miles per gallon.


MCKOWN: Our older trucks get somewhere around six. But now with the new technology, I was up -- I was watching it very closely. I was up to nine, nine and a half miles a gallon. Fuel cost has risen. But with the new technology, the newer equipment coming out, you know, fuel mileage is increasing. And therefore that`s going to be good for the fleets. I`m a fleet driver, so I don`t pay for the fuel. But I`m also conservative in that, you know, I realized somebody has to pay for that fuel. So I`m conservative, and I know my truck and all that stuff. But the new technologies coming and like I said 9.1, 9.2 miles per gallon all day to day.

WILLIAMS: Man, that makes you a Prius among the six mile per gallon crowd. One final question, what`s the breakdown owner operators versus fleet drivers? And is any one of those more lucrative?

MCKOWN: You know, I`ve never been an owner operator. I don`t know. I think they make, you know, they get the money, all the money that the revenue that they do. I don`t know a lot about the breakdown. I just know that, you know, it takes all of us to get this done between owner-operators and fleet, fleet owners and fleet drivers. We all got to work together and we have. This is a resilient industry. We`ve been doing this for 100 years, and we`ll continue to do it when America needs us we`re there and we`re going to get it done.

WILLIAMS: Well I`m going to take that sign over your left shoulder and turn it back on you and tell you we are thankful for you and the job you do. We have it to thank, as I said, for everything in our homes and lives. Our guest tonight has been John McKown. We are happy to find him outside of the cab for a few brief moments enjoying a Tuesday night at all. Thank you, sir, very much for taking our questions.

Another break for our coverage tonight coming up inside the battle to save a pristine stretch of California coastline.



WILLIAMS: With wildfires still raging in California. The Guardian points this out quote what the U.S. Forest Service once characterized as a four month long fire season starting in late summer and early autumn now stretches into six to eight months of the year. That is true. A new fire exploded this week near Santa Barbara, forcing evacuations closing a portion of the highway there, which happens to run through one of the most beautiful spots on Earth. We get our report tonight from Santa Barbara here is NBC News correspondent Erin McLaughlin.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It`s a battle to save California`s pristine coastline from devastation. Just north of Santa Barbara the Alisal Fire burns out of control shutting down a section of the famed Pacific Coast Highway. It`s breathtaking views now marred by smoke.

CAPT. DANIEL BERTUCELLI, SANTA BARBARA FIRE DEPARTMENT: Not only is this area prone to significant fires that have had significant damage in the past, but it`s also a beautiful area.

MCLAUGHLIN: The fire doubling in size overnight, forcing evacuations from the forest to the sea. Firefighters now defending the famed Reagan Ranch once known as the West Coast White House.

(on camera): You can see those plants climbing up that hillside just feet away from this highway. Fire officials say those dry fuels combined with the northerly winds are the reason why this highway will be closed for the foreseeable future.

(voice-over): 7m000 acres scorched zero percent contained threatening up to 120 structures. The toll adding to the state`s staggering fire season, almost 2 million acres burned so far.

(on camera): And you tie this to climate change.

BERTUCELLI: You know, some people would. We are seeing our fires burn differently. We`re seeing them burn hotter and faster. They`re more dangerous.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Rancher Patrick Brown`s family has owned this land for more than 80 years. He evacuated last night.

(on camera): Are you scared?


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Tonight fear apprehension and an all out effort to save one of the most beautiful stretches on Earth. Erin McLaughlin, NBC News, Santa Barbara County.


WILLIAMS: And when we come back there is other news from our natural world tonight this one of the beautiful variety.



WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, that last report we just aired out of Santa Barbara, California had to do with a tragedy unfolding in the natural world. This next story is about something beautiful that is an outgrowth of something potentially very dangerous.

Two days ago there was a solar flare on the surface of the sun. It`s a kind of explosion and eruption in a junction of boiling roiling energy from the hot surface of the sun. The flares then take days to get here and when they do, they can disrupt our radio communications, they can interrupt GPS, they can affect satellites in orbit.

Solar flares also cause something beautiful. And we have pictures for you from last night the Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis vivid in the night sky, visible way further south into the U.S. than they normally are because of the solar flare. A United Airlines Captain shot this photo from the cockpit. From the ground the view in places like this one cross Lake Minnesota, positively Spielbergian. The lights dance across the sky, the green waves are bright enough to read by.

And just think about the sun for a moment shall we, It is so large, over 1 million Planet Earth could comfortably fit inside. This by being 93 million miles away, it can still burn unprotected human skin here on Earth in the space of a few minutes. If it ever blows up we`re dead, if it ever goes out, we`re dead. These are larger matters than us, matters way beyond our control.

And that is another reason while we`re all alive and well and here on Earth, it`s a reason to marvel at the magical green light that is the definition of out of this world.


And on that note that is our broadcast for this Tuesday and I well after sundown with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.