IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 2/26/2021

Guest: Ben Rhodes, Kavita Patel, Bill Kristol, Caroline Randall Williams�


FDA panel endorses J&J vaccine making approval likely. President Joe Biden and First Lady survey Texas storm damage. Biden warns Iran after ordering strikes in Syria. White House releases report blaming Saudi Crown Prince for journalist Jamal Khashoggi`s murder. Some of the most well-known names in the Republican Party aren`t at CPAC. Senate Minority Leader wasn`t invited. Former Vice President declined, so did Nikki Haley after she criticized Donald Trump.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day 38 of the Biden administration and this first big test comes now for the President`s agenda. As the House of Representatives is working late into the night this evening as Friday prepares to give away to Saturday, at some point they`ll be voting. This is not yet they`ll be voting on the President`s nearly $2 trillion relief package. It is expected to pass, but it`s going to be tight and Democrats can spare no more than three votes. This relief bill includes $1400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans, a boost in unemployment payments, billions in aid to small businesses, and individual states and money for testing and vaccinations.

And tonight, more help is on the way in that fight. FDA advisory group has granted emergency authorization for Johnson & Johnson`s new single dose one and done vaccine. That final approval could come as soon as tomorrow.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We`re going to use every conceivable way to expand manufacturing of the vaccine, the third vaccine to make even more rapid progress in getting shots in people`s arms.


WILLIAMS: Joe Biden and the First Lady spent much of this day in Houston parts of which remain a disaster area after the winter storm and the resulting catastrophic power grid meltdown. The visit was also a display of bipartisanship that we`re not used to. Biden surveyed the damage with House Democrats from the area and with the Republican Governor Greg Abbott and Senator John Cornyn.

Ted Cruz, the state`s other Republican senator who jetted off to Cancun while his constituents were freezing was in Florida this time, more on that in a moment.

Biden`s first trip as president following a natural disaster came just a day after his first military action as president. Airstrikes that landed in Syria against sites used by Iranian backed militia groups in response to rocket attacks on American forces.


PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS: Mr. President, what message were you sending to Iran with your first military action?

BIDEN: You can`t get -- you can`t act with impunity. Be careful.


WILLIAMS: Some of Biden`s fellow Democrats on the Hill are questioning his authority to launch the airstrikes. California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, a guest on this broadcast earlier this week captured their concern with this message, "We cannot stand up for congressional authorization before military strikes only when there is a Republican President. The administration should have sought congressional authorization here."

White House today took another long-awaited step that could prove risky and attempts to set a new course for diplomacy in the Middle East. The administration released a declassified intelligence report that concluded Saudi Arabia`s Crown Prince MBS, Mohammed bin Salman likely approved the killing of U.S. based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey. His murder sparked worldwide outrage particularly after the Trump administration`s response was seen as an effort to cover for the Saudi Prince. There`s more on the by demonstrations response later in the hour.

This weekend, the spotlight is on the Trump presidency and his political future such as it, is it`s all happening at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando leading up to Trump`s appearance on Sunday. Those hoping to be in Trump`s presence before then are making do with a six-foot-tall golden statue we showed you last night which is now standing in the lobby of the Hyatt Regency.

As we mentioned Ted Cruz now finds Florida preferable all those constituent problems back home in Texas. He scrolled the crowd with something of an uncomfortably high volume and over amped Lounge Act.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Orlando is awesome. It`s not as nice as Cancun. Let me tell you this right now, Donald J. Trump ain`t going anywhere.

Bernie is wearing mittens. And AOC is telling us she was martyred in the immortal words of William Wallace, freedom.


WILLIAMS: More than a dozen Republican House members who decided to hang out in Orlando this weekend, instead of staying in Washington for tonight`s vote, have cited the pandemic as their reason for not being there. It`s a curious excuse given the fact that they`re all at the Florida gathering which is decidedly mass hostile.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, everyone when you`re in the ball, when you`re seated, you should still be wearing a mask. So if everybody can go ahead, work on that. I know, I know it`s not the most fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have the right. You have the right to set own rules in your own house, and we`re borrowing somebody else`s house.


WILLIAMS: That`s about how that went. Just yesterday, the State of Florida reported over 6000 new cases and about 140 more deaths.

With all that let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this last night of the week, Philip Rucker, Senior Washington Correspondent Washington Post, his bestselling book, A Very Stable Genius, co-author with his colleague, Carol Leonnig now available in paperback was new reporting inside that do all so hard at work on a new book about the former presidents last year in office, Julie Pace is back with us, Washington Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, and Ben Rhodes returning to our broadcast as well, former Deputy National Security Adviser for President Obama, his book based on his experiences is called, The World As It Is, the minute we figure out what the world is tonight, we`ll let everybody know.

Julie Pace, I`d like to begin with you. The passage of this bill through Congress, the wins and losses along the way is this not a kind of microcosm, maybe even a macrocosm given its size, a preview of the kind of relationship Biden better get used to with Congress?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, AP ASSOCIATED PRESS: I think that`s right, I think that what we`re seeing here are a lot of the dynamics that Biden is going to face going forward as he pursues any number of other legislative packages. He`s facing passage of this bill with only democratic votes at both in the House and in the Senate. He`s had to use some procedural maneuvers to get to a point where he can pass the bill with only democratic votes. And that`s certainly what he`s going to face going forward. But even more difficult, is going to be the fact that he is probably going to have to flirt with the idea of getting rid of the filibuster, we don`t know if he`s going to go that far, there`s a lot of dissent within the Democratic Party about what direction they should take on that. But a lot of the things that he wants to do going forward this year can`t be passed through budget reconciliation, which is the procedural tool he`s using in this case. And so while this will be a victory for Biden, he will have gotten a big package through we presume both the House and the Senate in the next couple of weeks. The road ahead only gets more difficult for him legislatively.

WILLIAMS: Ben Rhodes, we go to your portfolio now, today the United States named and shamed MBS, but really, our power over him and correct me if I`m wrong here on out is quite limited. His father is going to die at some point MBS, the Crown Prince is going to be the king. And in that kingdom, he has dispatched with most of his critics and enemies, there`s probably nothing standing in the way of him being king for several decades barring a revolution from within. So, would you agree that America`s enforcement power is a bit limited?

BEN RHODES, FORMER DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think you saw that in the announcements today, Brian, were on the one hand, they did have the accountability of the statement from the intelligence community, declaring that MBS was responsible, something that Trump had obscured and sought to, frankly, cover up. But they chose not to issue any sanctions on MBS personally. I think calculating that doing so would rupture the U.S.- Saudi relationship. MBS already is the de facto leader of the country. His father`s very old and is not very well. I think the challenge, though, going forward is, is it sustainable for the United States have a relationship with a country led by someone who would chop up a U.S.-based journalist for The Washington Post in the Saudi consulate? I think the Biden people felt like they couldn`t make the determination about how much they`re willing to take on in transforming the U.S.-Saudi relationship right now. They just got an office. There`s a lot going on. They got this report out. They used some additional sanctions. I hope that they kind of put on notice, and they kind of signaled that Biden himself won`t be dealing with MBS. But I think we have to watch this space going forward as to whether or not the U.S.-Saudi relationship is going to change over time, or whether it`s going to be pretty much business as usual.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, Ben raises tough questions as usual. You`ve got MBS, this is my rough count. You`ve got COVID you`ve got the Texas aftermath. You`ve got the airstrikes of just last night. Can we go ahead and declare the honeymoon both short and over and let`s not forget a big norm is going to get broken Sunday. Usually former presidents go dark, they go silent for at minimum six months, out of the very minimum courtesy to the new president. Not so this time for all the reasons you understand better than most.

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think that`s right, Brian, and look, President Biden, I don`t think he ever really had much of a honeymoon. He came into office and immediately had to grapple with the crises facing this country. And now he`s only a month in and there`s virtually no hope for bipartisanship in this COVID relief package. Remember, Biden, when he took office thought he might be able to bring Republicans along for this coronavirus relief. It`s the kind of thing that historically both parties have gotten behind. And yet there is such fierce opposition within the Republican Party to spending at this level and to giving the Democratic president something that could amount to a win in political terms that we`re unlikely to see any Republican votes for the package when it gets to the House later tonight, and very likely also in the Senate.

And then look going forward, you`re talking about former President Trump`s speech at CPAC Sunday, his aides have previewed that he intends to attack the Biden presidency and the Biden agenda from the stage at CPAC. I don`t think in 2017, we heard much of a peep from former President Barack Obama, really not until the 2018 midterm cycle when he hit the campaign trail that campaign for Democrats, he issued some statements here or there about things that he viewed as particularly atrocious, that President Trump was doing, but otherwise he didn`t think it was his place to weigh in on the politics of the day. Clearly, Trump has a different view about what a former president should be doing.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, and ditto `43 at the start of the Obama presidency, people are looking for some sort of proof of life and we`re happy to see he was at least painting in the House in Texas, but he went dark and stayed that way for a long time

Hey, Julie, let`s talk about blue on blue verbal violence. The Democrats marvel at the Republicans lockstep especially over these last four years, it`s like World War One trench warfare, first wave goes out, next wave, next wave, never questioning the mission. This morning, we wake up, Tim Kaine and other Democrats are all over Biden for lack of consultation on the airstrikes. A lot of Democrats are all over Biden, on the minimum wage. The difference is, the family fight happens out loud, it happens where we can see it and hear it. It`s a stark difference from the other party.

PACE: Democrats are no strangers to having these kinds of open political debates. But Ben is very familiar with people like Tim Kaine and pushing back when it administrations, Republican or Democrat take military action without consulting Congress without seeking authorization. This is something that Kaine and several other Democrats have been quite consistent about actually over the years. I do think the minimum wage fight is really going to be fascinating. And in preview again, of what is to come for Joe Biden he is caught right now between the ambitious promises that he has made on the campaign trail, the promises that Democrats as a party have made to Americans saying give us power. And these are the types of things we will do and the realities of just how difficult so many of those steps will be to actually get through Congress.

Biden says he still wants to pursue a minimum wage, even if it`s not in this COVID relief package. How he goes about doing that, how he cobbles together the votes, what kind of procedures he`s going to be able to take to make that happen. It`s a big open question.

WILLIAMS: Ben, having read your book about your years in government, it is remarkable how much of your time was devoted to broadly the topic of terrorism, you probably never dreamed that same topic would be applied to a bunch of people wearing what they bought at Cabela`s bringing Trump and QAnon flags, taking the U.S. Capitol. And now I`m guessing you find it highly disturbing that the debate is, the Republicans are trying to skew it toward a debate over security and readiness, while other Republicans are straight up trying to forget what happened on 1/6.

RHODES: Yeah, well, Brian, obviously while they`re very different types of threats, there`s also some things that are quite similar in the sense that you have people who are radicalized, you have people who believe things that aren`t true, and you have some people who are organized and collecting weapons. And we saw on January 6, how far that could lead in this country. It`s a form of domestic radicalization, supported by an infrastructure that has financing, apparently with some groups again, who are dedicated to arming themselves. But what`s so different than any threat of terrorism we`ve dealt with before, is it part of what is motivating them, are the big lies that continue to emanate from Donald Trump, and even from members of the Republican Party in Congress, who continue to not acknowledge the fact that Joe Biden won this election fair and square.

And I think what`s so dangerous is we`re not going to be able to truly deal with this threat, just through additional resources for Homeland Security just through investigations if we`re not willing to look ourselves in the mirror, and blow the whistle on these conspiracy theories, as to parties as a united country, I don`t know how you start to detoxify the forces in our national life that led to January six. And when you hear the chief of the Capitol Police warning of additional threats against the United States Capitol, against the United States government, feel the urgency of those threats. And you compare that against the Republicans who seem to want to talk about anything else, or seem to want to deflect things by talking about, you know, protests in our cities this summer, or, you know, even worse, continue to propagate the conspiracy theories that are motivating the same people that stormed the Capitol, you see the gigantic challenge that the Biden ministration has, because they alone cannot convince those people that the conspiracy theories are not true in many ways, the Biden ministration is a subject of some of those conspiracy theories. So, the Republican Party until they get serious, we`re going to be less safe.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, you get the last word, let`s talk about some of that toxicity. Let`s talk about CPAC. Donnie Jr., DJTJ got up today, and called it TPAC, the T standing for Trump. And in many ways, he`s not wrong. In many other ways, it certainly looks like a gathering of what passes for the power structure in that party. Do you think news media accounts of a so- called Civil War within the Republican Party? Were premature, straight up false or at worst, wishful thinking?

RUCKER: Well, I think the former president`s son is right that it`s TPAC because you just look at the speakers and some of the speeches we`ve seen already and they`ve been all about Trump. You have people like Ted Cruz, who went down there who would like to run for president, again in 2024, talking about Donald Trump in their pitches to these voters. And that`s because Trump is the dominant political power force within the Republican Party. And, you know, to some degree, it`s true that there`s a civil war in the Republican Party, but it`s a very small part of the party that`s on one side and a vast majority of it. It`s on the other side. I mean, Liz Cheney remains a Republican. Mitt Romney remains a Republican, but they`re not speaking for a majority of Republican voters. And we see that in polling. But we also see that in the energy level of the activism at a place like CPAC in Orlando, which by the way, that`s a conference that`s usually in Washington, but it had to go down to Florida because it`s one of the only states of the country that would allow a mass gathering of that size indoors, given that we`re living in the middle of a pandemic right now.

WILLIAMS: So they got that going for them down in Florida. Josh Hawley was also given a standing ovation today, a lot to cover as we said, we`re so grateful to our big three at the end of a long week on a Friday night, Phil Rucker, Julie Pace, Ben Rhodes, many thanks for helping us out.

Coming up for us, will this be the shot heard and felt around the world? One of our top doctors standing by with a look at what we all need to know about the new J&J COVID vaccine, and later, over 6000 new cases of COVID in Florida today alone as Mr. Rucker was saying, but going maskless at one major gathering in the state this weekend very much on brand because at heart, it is a Trump convention. The 11th Hour, just getting underway on this Friday night.



DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Cases in hospital admissions in the United States had been coming down since early January and deaths had been declining in the past week. But the latest data suggests that these declines may be stalling. Things are tenuous now is not the time to relax restrictions.


WILLIAMS: That`s Dr. Walensky, the head of the CDC public health officials tonight are worried about the potential for a fourth wave. They say vaccinations continued precautions like masks can keep a surge at bay.

Just hours from now as we said the FDA is expected to formally approve the use of the J&J single dose vaccine. Once they do, roughly 4 million doses will be shipped immediately, 20 million more we`ll be ready on the loading dock.

Back with us again tonight, Dr. Kavita Patel, Clinical Physician, and Former Senior Policy Aide during the Obama administration now a nonresident Fellow at Brookings and is among our Medical Contributors.

Doctor, thanks for coming on go through the benefits of this J&J and listening to the president today. It sounds like he may be flirting with the Defense Production Act, because 24 million, even though it`s one and done 24 million isn`t that big a number because these companies have to make these liquids on spec hoping to get approved?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, FORMER AIDE TO VALERIE JARRETT IN THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Yeah, that`s absolutely right, Brian, but I think because of the review of the data, and as you mentioned, just now the compelling kind of efficacy. And let me translate that into real language, 44,000 people participated in this trial, half of them received the vaccine, half of them didn`t, there were zero deaths in the group that received the vaccine, zero hospitalizations in the ICU or zero people that needed to be ventilated in a group that received the vaccine. And there was a significant reduction of risk for moderate disease as well. And then even better news is that there was -- this was a trial that included looking at asymptomatic carriers or asymptomatic disease, meaning people who tested positive but didn`t have symptoms, which gives us a little bit of a clue, Brian, into what we`re all trying to figure out, which is, if I get vaccinated, will I get someone else sick, even if I stay healthy, and there was a reduction of asymptomatic disease. So bottom line, prevents death, prevents you from getting severely ill, and has a very strong data point to prevent transmission to others.

WILLIAMS: I want to show you these percentages, members of the public are now following along these efficacy percentages. And there`s no other way to put it if people felt bad for J&J because you look at the others 95, 94 there`s J&J at 72. I also saw 66% somewhere along the way. When you`ve got a public already doubting vaccines, what a quarter of the American people may be more, this makes it a tougher sell than it should be is the bottom line here that one shot of J&J will keep you out of the hospital, will keep you from dying?

PATEL: Yeah, that`s absolutely right, Brian, and I`ll even go a step further and say, what`s the cost of not being vaccinated? That`s the way to think about it. I think we`re all, as you heard from Dr. Walensky`s clip that you just showed, we`re fighting a race against variants, as well as just our own re-openings around the country. Phil Rucker showed, and you saw the images coming out of the Hyatt Regency in Florida. We know cases are increasing. We had 74,000 cases in the last 24 hours, 2300 people who died. So, what is the cost of not getting vaccinated? Brian, same week, we`re talking about a third new vaccine. We crossed over that 500,000 death mark. So that`s the real price we have to pay. My attitude, get as many shots into arms as possible, whatever they offer, take it. But I think you`re bringing up an important point that we should show these numbers, talk about what they mean, and emphasize what we just talked about the prevention of death, and of severe hospitalization.

WILLIAMS: For comparison, Doctor, what`s the efficacy percentage of the average seasonal flu shot a bunch of us get at the drugstore?

PATEL: Yeah, when it`s really great, Brian, and this isn`t often it`s 60%. And on average, it`s about 40%. And in some bad years, when we just were not able to kind of tweak the formulation, it was 10%. And I think that`s another reason these efficacy numbers, don`t translate to 10% means that 90 out of 100 people get it, it means that you have a reduction of risk of 10% compared to people who don`t get the vaccine. So you are always going to be more kind of, you`ll benefit from getting the vaccine compared to those who are not. But I don`t want to dismiss people who have questions, as a physician, we encourage it. We want people to ask questions. We want to spend time answering them. But we want to level with the public we`re racing against this virus and the prevention of death and severe hospitalization is the reason that any of us will raise our sleeves and take the shot ourselves.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Kavita Patel, our guest tonight and we`re thankful that she enjoys taking questions because she does so from us regularly. Always beautiful flowers and I see your mug Hook `em Horns, Doctor, thank you very much.

Coming up for us, the big lies flying around a mask averse Florida hotel, featuring a gold statue of that man in shorts or as they call it in Florida Friday night.



DONALD TRUMP JR., AMERICAN BUSINESSMAN: How`s it going CPAC? Or I heard someone earlier phrases a little bit better, TPAC.


WILLIAMS: Some of the most well-known names in the Republican Party aren`t at CPAC or TPAC. Notably the Senate Majority Leader wasn`t -- Senate Minority Leader, forgive me, wasn`t invited. Former Vice President declined, so did Nikki Haley after she criticized Donald Trump, God forbid, he refused to meet with her at Mar-a-Lago.

Plenty of other Republicans are in Florida tonight, including over a dozen members of Congress who should be at work in Washington for the debate in the vote over the COVID-19 relief bill. Instead, they`ve notified the clerk of the House they`re voting by proxy, citing of all things the ongoing public health emergency while they`re at CPAC pep rally in Florida surrounded by decidedly mask hostile crowd.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello CPAC. Didn`t anybody tell you that you`re supposed to be canceled?

There`s nowhere I would rather be than here with my fellow patriots free than locked down in Washington D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Florida got it right. And the lockdown states got it wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The socialists and the communists who want to see our nation burn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to erase our history. They want to replace it with their crazy Marxist theories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to indoctrinate our children. They want to remove our moral foundation from the next generation.

TRUMP JR.: They`ve banned the Muppets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Potato Head was America`s first transgender doll and even he got canceled.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Conform or they will cancel you. It sounds a lot like Communist China, doesn`t it?

TRUMP JR.: Liz Cheney and her politics are only slightly less popular than her father is at a quail hunt. What?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God bless President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know on January the six I objected during the Electoral College certification, maybe you heard about it.

I did. I stood up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Although we are broadcasting these speakers, we want to provide you with that, it does not mean that we necessarily believe or support all of their beliefs.


WILLIAMS: Just toss in a caveat there at the end.

Back with us tonight, two guests we love having, Caroline Randall Williams is an author, a poet, academic and observer of all things political, Writer-In-Residence at the Department of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and Bill Kristol, the author and writer and thinker in Politico, veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, Editor at Large of the Bulwark.

Bill, you`ll understand if I begin with you, I want to get your take on the Marxism and communism running rampant, let`s admit it through our society, along with vague references to Mr. Potato Head and locked down culture. Bill, this is your former political party. What do you make of it now?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: CPAC was always a little fringy. We used to joke about it being the Star Wars bar. There were some hot balls that eccentrics and extremists in the midst of some normal Republicans and people selling, you know, their t-shirts and so forth in Washington.

Really watching those clips, it was chilling though. And the spirit and I was not the Star Wars bar, the spirit is closer to that of a Munich Beer Hall with a cult of personality and authoritarian sentiment and spirited denunciation of one`s political opponents as fundamental enemies of society.

Really, I mean, you know, you can make fun of a lot of stuff that`s going on there. But it`s scary and it`s -- you can`t honestly say that that may not be half the Republican Party right now.

WILLIAMS: Professor, your alarm from your last appearance on this broadcast has stayed with me ever since. And it`s with that in mind that I asked you to comment on this gathering. And are you somehow comforted by knowing demographics are not this? Demographics are going in the other direction. And so, the base, while frothed up and enthusiastic is by definition shrinking?

CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY WRITER-IN-RESIDENCE: I am sort of comforted. But I also think that, you know, what we`re seeing to me is, and I`ve said this before, I think we`re seeing an antibiotic resistant strain of a disease that has come from not effectively eradicating the virus, the disease of white supremacy and toxic masculinity. I mean, Matt Gatz (ph) is a young guy, right? Like there are young people in this movement who are equipped. They are, you know, trained to speak the total nonsense and twist the truth into propaganda.

And I sort of think that it`s really time for the sake of democracy for Republicans or even just former Republicans who still claim to be conservatives holding on to the idea that the party is salvageable need to reorient themselves to the new reality, because we can`t afford the risk if I am, you know, if I`m right, then, you know, Ted Cruz`s smug, callous, smarmy speech, you know, it was as demonstrative in my mind as it was reprehensible.

This is the direction of the party. There is not enough gravitas or fortitude behind the scenes to write the ship. And I think that we have to figure out what we`re going to do about that.

WILLIAMS: Bill, to the point that Professor just made about people who claim to be conservatives, we get the freshest news around here. So, I want to play for you what just transpired on Fox News.


MATT SCHLAPP, AMERICAN POLITICAL ACTIVIST: The fact that the President is going to come and reconnect with the people who love him so much on this stage, I think it`s going to be a very, very important moment for actually healing amongst the conservative side of all of this. But I think for the country, generally, no one`s voice should be silenced, and definitely not a president United States.


WILLIAMS: So, Bill, that`s Matt Schlapp. And they do nothing quietly. I keep hearing this extension of the word conservative, kind of an attempt to brand management.

It occurred to me tonight, you are a damn conservative. How do you feel about others using that label?

KRISTOL: You know, look, I can write, I could say at great length why it`s not true conservatism, and there`s a better conservatism and I could talk about everyone from Edmund Burke to Bill Buckley, but at some point, you do have to say, and Caroline`s right about this, you know, conservativism is what it says it is at the time. And if that is the Conservative Political Action Conference, and they`re getting a lot of -- they`re getting the former president of the United States, they`re getting sitting U.S. senators, they`re getting sitting U.S. members of Congress, proud to objected to the electors on January 6, unwilling to denounce the interaction, unwilling to denounce the interaction on January 6.

So now, what does that mean, you still want to try to weaken them within the Republican Party, defend the decent Republicans. But I don`t disagree with Caroline that the fight for the Republican Party in the short term may be over. And I wrote a piece about this last week that maybe we`re all people like me now or kind of the Republican wing of the Biden coalition tried to help President Biden govern successfully. But you cannot afford to have that party that you`re seeing a good chunk of on the stage of CPAC back in power.

WILLIAMS: Your use of the Republican wing of the Biden administration made both Williams`s on the screen smile.

Both of these guests have agreed to stay with us as we get to a quick break.

Coming up, Republicans in the Senate once use the minimum wage increase as a reason not to vote for the relief bill. What do they do now is the question?



REP. DAVID SCOTT (D-GA): The American people are crying out. Congress help us. America is hungry. America is sick. And America is calling on you Republicans.

Just love your people. Take care of your people.


WILLIAMS: That is not hyperbole. Debate continues on the House floor at this late hour on this $1.9 trillion relief bill. It`s expected to pass likely with little or no Republican support it faces an uncertain future.

In the other chamber, still with us, Professor Caroline Randall Williams and Bill Kristol.

Professor, item came out of my home county at the Jersey Shore today, and I`ll read it to you, "A third grade Monmouth County girl started sobbing in the middle of her Zoom class and when asked what was wrong told her teacher and her peers that she was starving. The girl`s mother lost her job. They didn`t have anything to eat a problem being magnified across the state by the coronavirus pandemic." Says on former Star-Ledger. I`m sure it`s news because it`s a bedroom community of New York.

What it doesn`t speak to are the hundreds of counties across the country with similar third graders, similar moms and similar stories. Caroline, is the COVID relief bill enough, leaving aside for the moment the minimum wage argument?

C. WILLIAMS: I mean, it`s a start. Is the COVID relief bill enough leaving aside the minimum wage argument? I hope it`s enough to get us to whatever is next.

I, you know, the minimum wage argument I don`t know exactly how to leave aside because I think it`s such an important question. A living wage is a necessary part of life. And life last I checked is among our three explicitly stated inalienable rights in this country.

And I feel like we are in so many ways by -- But every time we fail to give people a living wage, we are failing to help them live which is one of their rights according to our founding documents. So, and I think this COVID question has exacerbated that tension. But I don`t know how to divide the one question from the other and trying to contemplate what`s right in terms of getting this bill passed.

WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol, let me roll for you and assortment of Republican senators, what they`ve been saying on the topic of minimum wage. And there`s a reason we`re doing this, we`ll discuss on the other side.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): One of the concerns that we have is the impact that this is going to have on small businesses and people at home, as the Democrats tried to have a nationally mandated increase in the minimum wage.

SEN. CYNTHIA LUMMIS (R-WY): Placing that one size fits all standard on every state in this country is ill advised, and irresponsible.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The minimum wage has got nothing to do with COVID. Zero to do with COVID. It`s got everything to do with their liberal wish list.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Specifically, when it comes to the $15 an hour federal minimum wage issue, this would be so harmful for our Iowa small businesses.


WILLIAMS: Bill, there`s a lot there. A lot of miss truth there, a lot of straight up casual cruelty there. Anyone in the audience try living on 725 an hour, 725 an hour is why we have poverty programs that date back to Lyndon Baines Johnson. So, Bill, what`s the solution?

KRISTOL: The solution is a lot of things. Probably it is an increase in the minimum wage. I think these intelligent economists can differ on how quickly to increase it and whether it should be regionally different in some regions from others. Generally getting people back to jobs, getting a handle on COVID, getting the economy going again, and getting jobs plentiful again, then having a tight labor market would be very helpful. So there`s an awful lot to be done. Obviously, education, there are a million things the federal government has to play -- has to play a role.

But I want to come back, you mentioned the casual cruelty, Caroline mentioned Ted Cruz before. For me that`s -- I come back to that. And you can have a reasonable policy debate on a lot of these things.

But Ted Cruz making a joke today this morning at CPAC about going to Cancun while people were freezing to death in Texas. And he`s just, you know, it`s good to be here in Orlando, it`s not as nice as Cancun.

I mean, I don`t know if we`ve seen that routinely, in American politics on either side, I don`t think so. That really is -- for me, that`s why this is kind of a new moment of both authoritarianism and also of just a fundamental lack of empathy for one`s fellow citizens.

WILLIAMS: I don`t know about our audience, but I`d pay good money to listen to a Williams and Kristol podcast. And I don`t mean, your modest host. I mean, our two guests tonight. Can`t thank you enough. And we`ll do this again with your blessing.

Caroline Randall Williams, Bill Kristol, try to enjoy your weekend. Thank you both very much.

Coming up. Joe Biden once said he would make Saudi Arabia pay the price for its role in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the story changed just today.


WILLIAMS: It`s been over two years since "Washington Post" journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered. The former president who notably chose Saudi Arabia for his first overseas trip as president gave the Saudis cover at every turn, especially the Crown Prince who`s now being publicly named and implicated by the U.S. Intelligence Community information the new president is disclosing for the first time.

NBC News Chief Washington Correspondent Andrea Mitchell has more on this story for us tonight.


ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dynamic young Saudi crown prince who fashioned himself a future global leader, now described by U.S. Intelligence as approving the operation to capture or kill Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi last seen alive entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, where he was killed and dismembered according to U.S. and U.N. investigators. The CIA concluding the Crown Prince viewed Khashoggi as a threat to the kingdom and broadly supported using violent measures if necessary, to silence him. The U.S. is punishing members of his hit squad, but not the Crown Prince.

(on camera): Can you explain why he is not being punished in these decisions?

ANTHONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we`ve done by the actions that we`ve taken is really not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it, to be more in line with our interests and our values.

This is bigger than any one person.

MITCHELL (voice-over): Candidate Joe Biden had promised tough action for Khashoggi murder.

(on camera): President Trump has not punished senior Saudi leaders, would you?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes. We were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them in fact the pariah that they are.

MITCHELL (voice-over): So, does the punishment fit the crime,

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): There ought to be a personal consequence to the Crown Prince. That`s obviously a delicate task.

MITCHELL: Still, the Biden policy is a dramatic change from Donald Trump, who rejected the CIA findings and refused to release them.

He and his son in law Jared Kushner, lavishing attention on the Crown Prince, repeatedly citing Saudi investments in the U.S.

(on camera): Tonight, the Saudi government rejected the CIA`s conclusion about the Crown Prince as false and unacceptable, even as human rights groups criticized that he remains unpunished.


WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Andrea Mitchell for that reporting from the State Department.

Another break and coming up, what we were told a year ago today about what was headed our way.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, it is hard to find an American life not touched by the pandemic in a real and personal way. And you`ve watched us struggle to put half a million deaths into some kind of perspective.

The worst thing would be if those we`ve lost somehow faded from our memory, of course, another tragedy would be if we ever lose sight of why the death toll is so high. This needs to be said today, it needs to be said next week, next year and in the history books our friends are already writing.

They died because of denialism. The former president was a virus denier surrounded by enablers who knew better. The fight against the pandemic was pathetic, mismanagement, malpractice. Others have forcefully argued that when the President brought in a radiologist, he`d seen on Fox News as the White House medical advisor, that decision and that man cost lives. The lesson is to never forget.

So, this following item is from a year ago today as fate would have it, it was the day Mike Pence was named to head up the White House Coronavirus Task Force. The day the experts stood there and watched and listened as the president told us it was the flu.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They said this is just like flu. Because people die from the flu. View this the same as the flu.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you planning to test more people?

TRUMP: Well, we`re testing everybody that we need to test. And we`re finding very little problem.

We`re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time.

It`s a little like the regular flu that we have flu shots for and will essentially have a flu shot for this in a fairly quick manner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should Americans be going out getting protective equipment such as mask, and so forth?

TRUMP: I don`t think we`re going to ever be anywhere near that. When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero. That`s a pretty good job we`ve done.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your response to Speaker Pelosi who said earlier today, you don`t know what you`re talking about, about the coronavirus?

TRUMP: I think Speaker Pelosi is incompetent. She`s trying to create a panic. And there`s no reason to panic. Because of all we`ve done the risk to the American people remains very low.


WILLIAMS: That was one year ago today, over half a million Americans have died since that day. And that`s why it`s incumbent on all of us who can still draw a breath to never forget.

That is our broadcast for this Friday night and for this week, thank you for being with us along the way. Have a good and safe weekend. On behalf of all our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.