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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 2/24/2021

Guest: Irwin Redlener, Michael Steele, Peter Baker, Neal Katyal�


White House nominee`s confirmation hits turbulence. White House is still pushing for Neera Tanden`s confirmation. In the wake of Donald Trump`s impeachment acquittal, the GOP civil war has begun in earnest. Some, like Lindsey Graham, have decided to go all-in on Trumpism. Others are in talks to start a third party. White House is ready to roll out Johnson & Johnson vaccine once it`s authorized. New COVID-19 variant found in NYC may weaken vaccine efficacy. Trump is set to speak at CPAC on Sunday. Top House Republicans butted heads over the direction of the GOP. Dems slams GOP who voted to overturn election.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Congresswoman and Dr. Raul Ruiz, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it. Thank you. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams is next.

MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC HOST: Hi, I`m Milissa Rehberger. We seem to have a little bit of trouble getting to Brian Williams here. Not sure what`s going on. Are we going to take a quick break? Yes, we will. And we`ll get Brian and we will be right back.


REHBERGER: Good evening. I`m Milissa Rehberger, in for Brian Williams. We`re trying to sort out a little bit of an issue with -- thank you, Sharon. Could you just -- not in my ear, please.

It is day 36 of the Biden administration. And now comes the hard part. The President is now fighting on two fronts, facing down Republican opposition to his COVID relief bill. And to some of his Cabinet nominees today his nominee for White House Budget Director Neera Tanden learned to Senate Committees were postponing the votes that would trigger the Chamber`s full vote for confirmation. That essentially means her prospects don`t look very good.

Republicans say they`re not also sold on Deb Haaland, the Interior Secretary Nominee and Xavier Becerra, Biden`s pick for Health Secretary.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you disappointed that more of your Cabinet nominees have not yet been confirmed by the Senate?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am but I don`t so much blame it from the Senate. I blame it on the failure to have a transition that was rational. As you know, previous administrations had a significant number of their cabinet confirmed before they were sworn in.


REHBERGER: Earlier tonight by this Chief of Staff at the White House has not given up on Neera Tanden`s confirmation, but he did concede the administration has been working on a plan B.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: She`s a great candidate for the job. And certainly we`re fighting our guts out to get her confirmed. If Neera Tanden is not confirmed she will not become the budget director. We will find some other place for her to serve the administration that doesn`t require Senate confirmation.


REHBERGER: The party that can`t agree on whether or not to re-anoint Donald Trump as their standard bearer appears to have found some unity in rejecting Biden`s nearly $2 trillion COVID relief bill.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY MINORITY LEADER: What you need to focus on is how unified we are today in opposition to what the Biden administration is trying to do. What we have seen here at the beginning of this administration is pretty far left across the board.


REHBERGER: This Friday, the House is expected to vote on the $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package. The Senate is aiming to get it to the president by March 14, then Biden would sign it into law. A new morning console poll today found 76% of voters say they support the plan, including 60% of Republicans surveyed.

The New York Times notes Biden`s confirmation and stimulus battles may set the tone for the next two years and that, "the animating spirit behind the administration`s approach is impatience, born of the pandemic, the looming midterms and Mr. Biden`s own bitter experiences with Republicans during President Barack Obama`s administration. As a consequence, Mr. Biden has not shied away from conflict while projecting an era of conciliation."

It`s also worth noting this all comes after the results of an election that were challenged for weeks based on a lie perpetuated by his predecessor and members of his party.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Biden, do you feel confident that the Republicans here are confident that you`re the legitimate president, since some of them have refused to say it?

BIDEN: You`ll have to ask them.


REHBERGER: We`re just days away from Biden`s predecessor returned to the -- predecessor`s returned to the political stage that twice impeach Donald Trump is to speak before the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida on Sunday. Today, the division over his role in the Republican Party became very clear. Watch the dynamic here between Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Leader in the House, and Lynn Cheney, who was the number three House GOP Manager.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you believe President Trump should be speaking -- or former President Trump should be speaking at CPAC this weekend?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congresswoman Cheney.

LYNNE CHENEY, HOUSE GOP MANAGER: That`s up to CPAC. I`ve been clear my views about President Trump and the extent to which following January 6, I don`t believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country.

MCCARTHY: On that high note, thank you all very much.


REHBERGER: Trump has vowed to throw his support behind MAGA candidates but his political activity may be curtailed by his many potential legal problems. From the investigation into his finances to possible charges related to the capital riot to defamation lawsuits. There are two other major developments we`re keeping an eye on tonight. There may soon be a third COVID vaccine. New data from Johnson and Johnson shows its single dose vaccine to be highly effective. We`re just waiting on a decision by an FDA advisory panel.

Also tonight, The New York Times reports a new COVID strain is spreading rapidly in New York City. And researchers say it has a mutation that could weaken the effectiveness of vaccines, much more on all of us right after this break.


O`DONNELL: Good evening once again, I`m Lawrence O`Donnell. We`re still having some technical problems with Brian Williams camera position. We hope to get him back at some point in this hour.

Turning to another case of good news bad news in the fight to put this pandemic behind us on the vaccine front, there should soon be a third option to get shots into arms. The FDA announced today the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is safe and effective. Once it gets the agency`s emergency authorization, the company says it has 4 million doses ready to go and 20 million more will be on the way by March. Though to be fair, 24 million doses isn`t much compared to the other makers.

As for the bad news, another new variant has been discovered this time in New York City. The New York Times reporting this one carries a worrisome mutation that may weaken the effectiveness of vaccines.

Back with us tonight, Dr. Irwin Redlener, the founding Director of Columbia`s National Center for Disaster Preparedness who advises us on this public health pandemic. Dr. Redlener, let`s start with that bad news from New York City.

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, EXPERT ON PANDEMIC INFLUENZA: Yeah, Lawrence, it`s really is concerning. And you know, it`s this is constantly this mix of good news and bad news. And just to emphasize what you said, there is good news, because J&J is producing a very good vaccine, we think that will not need deep freezing can be stored in a refrigerator, and will only require one dose. And there has been a lot of vaccine doses getting out in general. But the countervailing reality is just with the New York Times has reported and you just noted, Lawrence, and this is really worrisome. And this is the big worry that all of us have that even in spite of the good news that we could be facing a variety of mutations, we call them variants that in fact have different characteristics than the original. They may be more contagious. They may be more lethal, and now we`re worried that they may not be as -- the vaccines may not be as effective against them. So we`re going to have to monitor this very, very closely.

On the other side of it, though, is that both Moderna and Pfizer are already working on booster shots of their original vaccines that may actually help combat these new variants, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: is, is the news that this New York City variant is a meaner variant than we have been seeing prior to this?

REDLENER: Well, it`s not clear yet. It seems to be more contagious. It`s running rampant in the city right now. And doctors on the front lines are actually they are worried. And it remains to be seen as to how lethal this particular variant is. But the fact is that if it`s not going to be effectively tamped down by the vaccines that are available, that of course, is a double worry for us in that it may be spreading rapidly, more lethal on the one side, and also less affected, less impaired by the vaccines that are currently on the table.

O`DONNELL: Let`s go to that new vaccine, Johnson & Johnson. It`s a single dose. This is the first single dose vaccine. How much of a game changer is just the fact that it`s a single dose?

REDLENER: It is a major game changer because as you know, Lawrence, the logistics of getting a dose, a single dose into somebody`s arm is very complicated task. And then having to two doses is particularly additive in terms of the stress on the distribution systems. Besides which the original two vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna both require very, very frigid temperature storage. So it`s not just that J&J has a vaccine that is only requires one dose. But the fact that it can be transported and stored much, much easier, is really important, and it is a game changer. It`s not just a game changer in general, Lawrence. It`s also a game changer for getting the vaccine into parts of the country and parts of the world, frankly, where the cold chain challenges and the challenges of getting to doses are extraordinarily difficult. And though this is a game changer, countries that you`ve done your own work and in Africa too, Lawrence, are places where this particular vaccine is going to be a life changer, lifesaver and a game changer, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, Ghana got the first delivery of vaccines today. And with UNICEF helping out on syringes, and we haven`t heard any reports at all about countries like that getting even their first doses of vaccine until now?

REDLENER: Yeah, yeah, that`s big news. And really important is, you know, besides the humanitarian realities of wanting to get everybody protected from this pandemic, we also have the practical matter, Lawrence, which is that if we don`t stop this pandemic, everywhere, nowhere is going to be safe. In other words, if we allow pockets of the COVID-19 to fester anywhere in the world, we are constantly going to be in danger ourselves. So it`s in our mutual best interest for every country and the world health organization to get this under control across the globe.

O`DONNELL: For people who are simply waiting for it to be easier to get the vaccine, they might qualify now, but they might be struggling with websites and thinking, I`m going to wait until I can just go to my doctor`s office and get one. Is that day ever going to come?

REDLENER: You know, I am so perplexed and frustrated, Lawrence, by the fact that is so complicated. To get people the vaccines, this should be something we could easily get down to logistics. The challenges for older people, people isolated, people living in communities challenged by poverty, is what we`re having the most difficulty getting people vaccinated. It`s extremely frustrating. And I don`t think people should wait any more than they have to even if it takes a little while to get yourself an appointment. The sooner you get the vaccine, the better. I think that`s the hard and fast rule that we need to deal with.

But it`s the responsibility of government, Lawrence, to make sure that the systems are getting an appointment, and getting your shot should be greatly simplified. And I think in fairness, the Biden team is heavily focused on this. They`re going to get it done. And they will, I think, exceed the 100 million doses in the first 100 days of the Biden administration. They`ll exceed that. But it`s a struggle and they have a lot of lost ground to make up for and a lot of missteps and dishonesty from the last administration to get through, but I think they`re going to get there.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Irwin Redlener, thank you very much for joining THE 11TH HOUR again tonight. Really appreciate it.

REDLENER: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: As many of you know what we do here before the commercial break is called a tease. This is my favorite tease that I`ve ever had before a commercial break. Brian will be back after this break and he`s going to join us with a -- join you with a discussion of Mitch McConnell insisting that Republicans still have a unified party even though facts beg to differ. That`s what you`re going to -- that`s what`s up next when Brian and THE 11TH HOUR continues.



SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R) UTAH: Well, President Trump continue to play a role in my party? I`m sure he will. He has by far the largest voice. I don`t know if he`ll run in 2024 or not. But if he does, I`m pretty sure he will win the nomination.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Mitt Romney from earlier today and welcome back, I indeed did not ask for 23 minutes off tonight, a brief explanation of what happened to us. Our central control room appears to have gone the way of the Texas power grid. We have lost all of the incoming guests` remotes from most of the people we were supposed to talk to you tonight.

Lawrence O`Donnell will get a little something extra in his paycheck at the end of the week for stepping up and stepping in and helping us out. He just thought he was out of the woods, but he`s going to stick around for our discussion. And we`ve managed to reconnect with former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, one word of warning the earpiece through which I usually hear our guests, the control room, the sound of our program has been rendered inert along with the rest of our central control room. So I`m going to have to listen to the broadcast on a nearby speakerphone in case any of that sounds unusual.

So without further delay, we have Lawrence O`Donnell, we have Michael Steele, I`m told standing by.

Michael, let`s start this segment by talking about CPAC. Who else would be speaking at CPAC? Who else would be leading the party other than Donald Trump, if there was an identifiable bench, and if as the party did under your chairmanship, there was a recruitment effort if there were fresh faces to step up?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: Well, once the former president lost or was finished a second term and moved on, then the reins of the party would return to the party leadership, meaning the national chairman and the state party elected representatives at the National Committee, the chairman and the National Committee, men and women. And of course, the leadership on the Hill, that would be the minority or majority leader, depending if we had the minority or the majority. And they would begin to put in place the process of organizing the party for the upcoming cycle, which actually begins this year.

We`ve got two important elections in November in Virginia and New Jersey for governor, along with other smaller races, which are set up a prelude if you will, to 2022. It gives you the sense of where the party is or messaging? Where the party is on policy, and where the party is on organization and infrastructure. All of that is now disrupted.

Going into CPAC this weekend, ordinarily you`d have those men and women who would be lining up to run in 2024. So you`d be looking at Nikki Haley, and a Larry Hogan and a Charlie Baker and John Kasich and others, Mitt Romney, maybe even and across section Republicans going in, because this is kind of the kickoff of that season.

Donald Trump has commanded the stage. Donald Trump will be the center of attention. And you note that, you know, the folks who are not showing up, not the ones who are showing up but the ones who are not showing up, gives you a sense of just how this weekend is going to play out.

WILLIAMS: Lawrence O`Donnell, no matter what you call it, Republicans know they have an off ramp, they have a divorce option. It doesn`t need to be this way. He has -- Donald Trump has already taken the dignity from so many of them who in effect, sold out the seats they were elected to. Are you convinced that this is just going to be the Republican brand and the storyline we`re covering for the next two to four years?

O`DONNELL: Oh, no, I think the bigger storyline we`re going to be covering is defendant Trump, which will be a storyline that it sounds like will go on for a few years and will in effect, I think Brian, be the off ramp of for the Republican Party. The likelihood of Donald Trump not just being charged with election crimes in Georgia, but actually being convicted in Fulton County is very high. It`s just -- it`s absurdly high for a former president, the United States, the jeopardy that he`s facing there. He`s facing legal jeopardy in Manhattan. The legal jeopardy is everywhere with Donald Trump. And so I have this feeling that the secret hope of the Kevin McCarthy`s is that criminal juries do the work for them and get Donald Trump out of their lives.

WILLIAMS: Well, let me ask if your theory pans out, Lawrence. There`s no evidence game that you name check, Kevin McCarthy. What`s the plan? What`s the policy roll out? What is their brand and what are they going to stand for absent Donald Trump?

O`DONNELL: Oh, well that Donald Trump has truly destroyed for him because he`s made them flip flop on all sorts of issues. And so there is simply no position that you could say with confidence is a Republican Party position, control of the deficit, no, they gave that up with Donald Trump. Control of the debt, no, they gave that up with Donald Trump. Foreign policy, tough on Russia, no, I`m afraid not. So I`m sitting here as blank as everyone else on what the policy position of the Republican Party would be, if and when they can get out of Donald Trump`s shadow.

WILLIAMS: Lawrence, I am told if you have other plans for this evening, we have regained contact with two of our other first segment guests and with our thanks go into the night. I wouldn`t look back in case the control room melts down again.

Lo and behold there they are former Missouri Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and New York Times Chief White House Correspondent Peter Baker. Sorry friends for whatever confusion there was. It was cold and dark in the studio for a little while and much panic, those suppressed in New York.

Peter, what is the level of appetite with in the White House you cover for the fist fight with the Republicans given how much we know they need out of both chambers?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, you know, you see President by just today talking about having a constructive meeting with a bipartisan congressional delegation at the White House. He doesn`t want to fight with Democrats, Republican, excuse me, I think he`d like to at least continue to push the idea that he is a unifying figure, it doesn`t mean that he`s ready to make compromises on that $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, it would be satisfying Republicans.

I think that the lesson that he took, and that is after the Obama, you know, stimulus package early on, was going to light in order to try to win bipartisan support you`re not going to get was a mistake. So he`s going to insist on something pretty close to his original package, if he can keep the Democrats in line, even if it means he doesn`t get Republicans.

But he will continue, I think, to lower the temperature and at least have the atmospherics of bipartisan, you know, reach out.

Now Republicans, of course, will say that that`s not really bipartisanship that if you simply rammed through your agenda without our support, that`s simply one party rule. And that will be a talking point there.

As you remember, of course, Donald Trump was never much of a bipartisan dealmaker. Not at all. The difference is, of course, he really promised to be one whereas President Biden has and the question for President Biden is, at what point does that promise, you know, unfulfilled become a problem for him? Or can he simply, you know, continue to draw support as he has pretty large support in polls in terms of approval by offering the, the, you know, again, the atmospherics of bipartisanship, even if not actual compromise?

WILLIAMS: You guys have never sounded better on speakerphone, by the way Claire. Here`s why I asked that question. This is from Politico. Quote, Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer need rock solid unity, to ensure the opening months of Biden`s administration don`t get derailed by intra party feuds. That dynamic ramps up pressure on the White House to help Schumer keep his caucus together.

Claire, I was saying last night, no president has had this much experience in the Senate since Lyndon Johnson. No president has been faced coronavirus in this case, with as much a single issue presidency since 43 in the day is after 9/11. Do you worry about cohesion? Do you worry about this combination of Biden and Schumer being able to keep the flock together?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO) FMR. U.S. SENATOR: You know, here`s the thing, I think they need to worry less about fighting the Republicans and worry about internal fighting and really stay focused on fighting for the policies. Because the policies are wildly popular.

I`ll tell you what`s not popular right now, Brian, now it`s Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell, and Kevin McCarthy and Ted Cruz and Josh Holley, they`re all underwater. But right now Joe Biden is in a very strong position in terms of this country, supporting him and his COVID relief bill.

So if they can keep this together and get the COVID relief bill across the finish line, and then follow it with a strong infrastructure bill, even if the Republicans are fighting them, people are still going to support this president because this is stuff they want.

WILLIAMS: Claire, I got a question for you about the dynamic in the Senate, especially after what we`ve seen this week. What`s it like among this group tend to be better educated than most folks to hear remarks or questions from a guy I`ll use his new nickname given to him this week. RonAnan Johnson, from Wisconsin, a guy who plainly knows better.

We`ve been talking about the big lie actually, if we`re being honest there were many, there`s Obama wasn`t born in the United States. There`s, it`s just like the flu, it`s going to disappear. All these educated folks buying in to the big lies, does it make for tension? What on earth must it be like, since there`s only 100 of you in that chamber at one time?

MCCASKILL: Yes, you know, I always hesitate to kind of pull back the curtain in terms of individual members of the Senate, because it, you know, feels like a personal attack. And it`s something that as a senator, you try not to do.

But let me tell you, I`m not sure Ron Johnson does no better. There are really, really, really smart people that are Republican senators that know better. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, I can put a whole bunch of them in that bucket. Rick Scott, Marco Rubio, but I`m not sure about Ron Johnson. I mean, he spent most of the last four years wanted to talk about Hillary Clinton`s e-mails. I mean, how dumb was that?

We had, you know, this burgeoning problem of domestic terrorism. And he was the chairman of the committee that I was ranking on, that should have been having hearings on this years ago. He had one, you know, drive by hearing on it and really didn`t ever signal to the administration that this is something that should be taken seriously. And we saw what the result was. It`ll be interesting to see if he runs again, I think he`ll get beat if he does.

WILLIAMS: And, of course, Mr. Chairman, as I like to call you, absent the new ideas, that first quick conversation you and I had tonight, absent the bench, the need to carry that water, the need to never let them see you sweat is even greater among these republican elected officials.

STEELE: Oh, it is, it is going to be enormously challenging. And to Claire`s point, you have a lot of incumbents that are going to be obviously on the ballot in the House and the Senate, and many of them are going to get challenged.

I suspect there they`re going to be eyed by a lot of folks in the Trump world because even though they may have played -- have played ball, they didn`t play it well enough, or they didn`t play it long enough, or they weren`t there at the beginning. There will always be an excuse in Trump world to remake the --continued the remaking of the Republican Party because that ultimately, that`s what this is about. That`s why the leadership is you know, flying down to Mar-a-Lago after this week in various sessions with Donald Trump.

Why? I don`t know. He`s no longer titular head. He`s a former president who generally should go off and either paint a picture or, you know, build a house. But he`s not. He`s going to be at CPAC, and he`s going to emerge and reengage in a way that puts greater pressure on those incumbents going into next year. And McConnell, only thing he can do is to shake his head, because at a certain point, those folks are going to be left to the wilds of a base that wants to take a lot of them out.

WILLIAMS: And Peter Baker, that moment, that dynamic between McCarthy and Cheney, it was like that commercial for chewing gum, where the ice chill enters the room and everything has icicles on it. That is not quite emblematic of the proportion of the split in the Republican Party.

In Trump`s Republican Party, Cheney is clearly the outlier and came within an inch of her life of losing her number three management seat on the Republican side. But she does speak for some Republicans. It looks like however, McCarthy speaks for more of them.

BAKER: Yes, it`s a really important question as to who really is, in fact, more representative of the caucus at this point. I mean, when it was a secret ballot, Liz Cheney actually came out OK. She came out to, I think three to one basically, when it came to a vote on keeping her leadership position.

On the other hand, she was one of only 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump and she of course has been attacked mercilessly by his allies and she -- and the Republican caucus voted to keep, you know, the QAnon congresswoman from Georgia in there by a healthy margin as well. So which is the Republican caucus, Republican caucus that sticks by with Cheney, with Republican caucus that sticks by, you know, Greene and Georgia who espouses, you know, theories about Jewish death rays and wildfires and all that.

And I think that the truth is, this is a Republican caucus that is torn, it`s torn between its instincts between its, you know, its agreement on some level with the things that Liz Cheney says and it`s understanding of the politics of the moment, and that the politics of the moment are, Donald Trump still commands great support in the base, and if you cross him, you`re going to cross that base, you`re going to pay a price.

Now, we`ll see in 2022. It`s a long way between now and then. I think Lawrence O`Donnell previously made a fair point, whether Donald Trump continues to exercise that power may depend on how much he is underwater himself with legal issues that may distract him or take him out of the picture.

WILLIAMS: By way of thanking these guests, just one more word to our viewers, Milissa Rehberger was the first sound you heard first face you saw. Then Lawrence O`Donnell stuck around to help us out all of this because we`ve had a control room crash that rendered all our studios all our Zoom connections in up.

We are back and our thanks to Michael Steele, Senator Claire McCaskill, Peter Baker for sticking with us, apologies gang. It was bound to happen at some point.

A break for us and coming up, more tense moments from Capitol Hill, where a number of Republicans despite our electronic age, still prefer to work by gaslight.



REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH) OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: We had an election, it was all a charade, it was all part of the predicate for laying the groundwork for the mail and balloting and all the chaos and confusion the Democrats wanted.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA) OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: All the gaslighting that we just heard does not change facts. I didn`t vote to overturn an election. And I will not be lectured by people who did about partisanship.


WILLIAMS: Nice to see everybody getting along with us tonight is John Heilemann, author, journalist, our national affairs analyst, co-host of the circus on Showtime and executive editor of the recounts. And Neal Katyal, look at all these people. We found electronically. Department of Justice veteran, former acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration who has argued dozens of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, but how many catastrophic control room failures has he lived to witness how many more after tonight? That`s the big question.

John Heilemann, I have a kind of slow curveball for you. And that`s this. Is it possible that Trump is having more influence? Now that he has been silenced on social media? Because to those who have already lost their dignity to him, sold out to him? The idea of him the threat of him is still very potent.

JOHN HEILEMANN, THE RECOUNT EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, Brian, I wouldn`t say that`s not just a slow curve, that`s a slow hanging curve, that that, where if somebody stole the signs and gave them to me in advance. So I can`t promise I`ll hit it out of the park, but I`m not sure. I would say he has more influence.

But I`ll tell you, I think he has more pernicious influence right now, right? Because a lot of these people up here, I`m here in Washington, DC, a lot of those folks up on Capitol Hill, prove themselves over four years to be such abject cowards that they were terrified. They said so they were terrified of Trump tweeting at them, that scared them, you know, and they would say it all the time. I don`t want it. You know, I`m worried about the Trump tweet.

So I think in some ways, his -- the power and the influence that he exerted through that infernal machine was pervasive in a way that his power now is not as pervasive, it`s not as much in your face. The cowards don`t have as many small things to run from in the form of those tweets. But it`s more pernicious.

Now Brian, because I mean, we`re seeing it, you know, talking about Ron Johnson earlier in the program, we`re now looking at it in the House, it is just the fact that Trump is gone, and that the big lie lives on and that hundreds of these people are engaged in government by gaslight, as you said, in a new administration, at a time when we face such big problems, that Trump could continue to control them, even though like by remote control, without Twitter by pure mind control from Mar-a-Lago, from the golf course. But he`s still causing these people to behave this way. I would say maybe his influence is less pervasive.

But, as I said, more pernicious in some ways. And could if it continues deeper into the administration, we`ll see about Lawrence`s opinion. But if it continues deeper into the Biden administration could just keep getting worse, in some ways, if the Republicans continue to behave this way.

WILLIAMS: And, Neal, speaking of pernicious, I have an urgent matter to raise with you and that is voter suppression. Voter suppression is on in a big way. Forget GameStop. If you want to buy stock in something, find any business associated with voter suppression.

Neal, it`s happening out loud. And in plain sight. It`s happening admittedly in a lot of states where they have Republican legislators but for those watching, for those who can`t believe the speed and visibility with which this is happening, to change who can vote and how they vote, because the election didn`t go their way. The Democrats control the game nationally. Do they have levers they can pull to keep this in check?

NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: They do, Brian and it is a clear and present danger right now. Just since the November election, over 100 different bills have been introduced, and state legislatures that make it harder for people to vote. They`re putting limits on who can vote by mail. There`s all sorts of stuff about photo ID laws and stuff like that and a lot of diverse shenanigans.

I mean, and nothing demonstrates really the Republican allergy to facts like their eagerness to go round two against Stacey Abrams and Mark Elliott and people like that. But we need to give people like Abrams help. And you ask, you know, what can the government, the federal government do? And I think they can do a lot.

And in particular, I think they need to authorize the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. You know, the Voting Rights Act is something that was passed first in 1965. I had the honor of defending it and the constitutionality of it, in the Supreme Court in 2009. And it was upheld then. But then four years later, was struck down in a case called Shelby County by the Supreme Court and a five to four decision written by the Chief Justice.

And there are ways to easily go around that decision and have a new Voting Rights Act, but we need it because the problem is a lot of the suppression is really subtle, like they changed the place of a polling place, like right before the election, all, you know, change the hours, things like that.

And what the Voting Rights Act did is it said, You`ve got to get that pre cleared any change whatever it is, by the Justice Department or by a court before it goes into effect. It`s a sensible, obvious law, and it really should be considered in the next few days.

WILLIAMS: We`re just getting started covering it, we`ll stay on it. Two of the best minds we get to access on a regular basis. Thanks for rolling with us gentlemen, John Heilemann, Neal Katyal, both friends of this broadcast.

Coming up after another break, alarming new video of the Capitol writer accused of stealing the speaker`s laptop, we`ll show it to you when we come back.


WILLIAMS: This week senators are hearing from current and former Capitol Hill law enforcement officers in their effort to figure out how it is rioters took our Capitol on 1/6, as we learn more about the planning and participants that day.

Tonight there`s chilling new video as we mentioned of the woman accused of breaking into Speaker Pelosi`s office and straight up stealing her laptop. NBC News correspondent Richard Engel has our exclusive report.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is 22-year-old Riley Williams from Pennsylvania in the Capitol on January 6, according to the FBI.


ENGEL: Upstairs is speaker Nancy Pelosi is office inside a female voice the FBI believes to be Williams seems excited.

WILLIAMS: I`m in Nancy.

ENGEL: On the desk is Palosi`s HP laptop. The same voice tells others to treat it carefully.

WILLIAMS: Dude, put on gloves.

ENGEL: According to the FBI or witness claims William stole the laptop and intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia to be passed to Russian intelligence.

Williams turned herself into authorities shortly after the Capitol assault.

An NBC News investigation can reveal tonight. This is also Riley Williams expressing neo Nazi sympathies.

WILLIAMS: There is no political solution. All that is left is acceleration. Heil Hitler.

ENGEL: NBC News along with the investigative group Belling Cat verified the mask video found on an encrypted white supremacist chat group.

Williams social media accounts now deleted were also full of support for white nationalism.

Williams faces charges of unlawful entry and aiding and abetting the theft of government property.

(on camera): Williams lawyer told us tonight that the video was meant to be an internet joke intended to mock Nazis. But he wouldn`t confirm or deny that his client was in it. Brian.


WILLIAMS: Disturbing stuff. Richard angle thank you for that report tonight. Another break and coming up something Trump talked about all the time that may now end up on the scrap heap of history.



DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: With the Air Force learning a lot of planes in particular the F-35 fighter jet.

The F-35 that is some plane.

When our enemies here the F-35 engines, their souls will crumble and they will know the day of reckoning has arrived.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, sorry about the trigger. But like the fifth grader he played on Twitter, the former president talked about the F-35 all the time, because it was one of the few aircraft he was told about when he became president.

And as often as he mentioned the stealth fighter plane, he mentioned something else he had been taught which was almost correct, but not really.


TRUMP: You can`t see it. You literally you can`t see it.

You know, almost like an invisible fighter.

It`s very tough to beat a plane when you can`t see it.

They can`t see it. I said that sounds good to me not knowing too much about it.


WILLIAMS: No one at the Pentagon could ever figure out how to tell them. It`s just an expression. When we say you can`t see it, it means it`s invisible on radar. You can see them flying just fine with the naked eye.

But with Trump gone now the Pentagon is dealing with an honest and tough question. How do you solve a problem like the F-35? There it is. It wasn`t meant to be a flying Dreadnought. But the jet that was supposed to be our nimble stealth fighter weighs in at 25 tons.

It was built to replace this the F-16. The coke classic of American fighter jets fast and nimble but old and only available used. We haven`t bought one new in 20 years. That`s where the F-35 came in. Only like anything built by committee, the F-35 got built in three versions with technology so stratospheric, it`s full of bugs, not good if it comes down to you or the bad guy shooting at you.

So with just a couple 100 of them ever made. The Pentagon may scrapped the F-35 program. And wouldn`t it be nice right about now to have all that money back. But don`t take my word for it. Quote, the failed F-35 program is costing us 1.7 trillion. That`s enough to house all homeless people in the United States 28 times over.

Quote, The F-35 program cost $1.7 trillion. We could have used this cash to cancel student loans for every person in America. And finally this, the U.S. Air Force just admitted the F 35 fighter has failed. Maybe it would be cheaper if they gave us all our own F-35.

That is our broadcast on this Wednesday night. Thank you so much for bearing with us this evening. Thank you additionally for being with us tonight, on behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.