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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 3/17/21

Guests: Frank Figliuzzi, Kavita Patel, Michelle Au, Eugene Robinson, Bill Kristol


Atlanta shootings coincide with spike in anti-Asian violence. A suspect has been charged with eight counts of murder for the string of Atlanta shootings. President Biden and VP and Atlanta mayor condemn anti- Asian violence. White House is said to spend $10 billion to COVID test K-12 students. Biden administration defends its border response.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: And so this could not have been done without Claire Kim`s help. Once a member of THE LAST WORD Team, always member of THE LAST WORD Team. Thank you, Claire. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day 57 of the Biden administration and tonight the string of shootings in Atlanta that took the lives of six women of Asian descent has ignited anger and understandable well founded fear within Asian American communities across our country. It`s reverberating all the way to the White House.

Authority say a total of eight were killed when a gunman went on a rampage at those three Atlanta area spas late yesterday. 21-year-old Robert Long has been charged with eight counts of murder, will make his first court appearance tomorrow. Police say the gunman told them he was not motivated by race, but they of course have not ruled that out.


CHIEF RODNEY BRYANT, ATLANTA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We`ve received a number of calls about, is this a hate crime? We`re still early in this investigation. So we cannot make that determination at this moment.


WILLIAMS: The shootings come amid and alarming escalation of crimes against Asians in this country. And yes, it coincides with ugly rhetoric from former President Trump and others linking the coronavirus and China as the pandemic worsened across our country. One group tracking anti-Asian hate says they`ve received reports of some 3,800 incidents in just the space of this past year with over two thirds of the attacks reported by women.

Today, the Vice President, the President, Atlanta`s Mayor all condemns such crimes.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: Whatever the motivation here, I know the Native Americans are very, very concerning speaking about the brutality against Asian Americans in the last couple months, and I think it`s very, very troubling.

KAMALA HARRIS, (D) U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: I do want to say to our Asian American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged.

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS, (D) ATLANTA: This is an issue that`s happening across the country. It is unacceptable, it is hateful, and it has to stop.


WILLIAMS: Just today, the Director of National Intelligence, the DNI released a new report about extremist violence compiled with the help of the Justice Department and Homeland Security have warns, "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist and militia violent extremists present the most lethal, Domestic Violent Extremist threats." It adds, "increased last year and that it will almost certainly continue to be elevated throughout 2021."

Meanwhile, Politico is reporting the talks to create that 9/11 style commission to investigate the 1/6 Capitol riot have all but collapsed amid partisan troubles. There`s now a plan in the works to turn the entire inquiry over to three House committees as the White House boosts its vaccination campaign at the same time. The CDC today dubbed two new strains out of California as variants of concern, something to keep an eye on. The agency added that early data are showing variants could be up to 20% more transmissible. They warn some coronavirus treatments may not protect as well against all the mutations.

Experts are also keeping a close eye on cases. At least seven states in the District of Columbia have now seen a rise in infections over the past 14 days. Today, the White House announced it will spend $10 billion on testing for K-12 students to help schools reopen and keep them open safely.

As for the COVID Relief Act rollout, the Treasury Department says, it sent out about 90 million of those $1400 checks so far.

Meanwhile, the IRS is giving everybody extra time to file their taxes. May 17 is the new deadline. The agency cited, of course, the ongoing upheaval from the pandemic as the reason for this decision. As all that unfolds the administration is trying to manage the surge of migrants over the southern border, while also trying to contain the political fallout, the Washington Post reports more migrants were allowed into the U.S. last month even as 1000s were still being expelled. Today the Homeland Security Secretary defended the administration`s actions during a hearing on Capitol Hill.


REP. JOHN KATKO, (R) NEW YORK HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Would it be fair to call it a crisis? Because that`s what your agents are calling it.

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I`m not spending any time on the language that we use. I am spending time on operational response. I did the situation at the border.

REP. JEFF VAN DREW, (R) NEW JERSEY HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Two months ago, we didn`t have problems. We had agreements with other countries. And we were able to make a very terrible situation much, much better and much safer.

MAYORKAS: If we look at the 2019 numbers in February, we take a look at unaccompanied children and the numbers in 2021 are slightly greater than they were in February of 2019. If we look at individuals and family units, the numbers were far greater in number in 2019 than they are in 2021.


WILLIAMS: One more story from the world of politics that caught our attention today, the Republicans are fundraising off the fantasy notion that Donald Trump would run against Meghan Markle for president in 2024.

Last night, Trump told Fox News he hopes she launches a campaign for the White House because he`d be even more inclined to run. That was all the National Republican congressional committee needed to hear because they heard a way to raise money.

They are asking donors who they would vote for in such a match up and who they think would win. The committee also tells supporters Trump is waiting to hear from them before he makes a decision. And so it goes.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night, Jonathan Karl, Chief Washington Correspondent for ABC News, longtime White House Correspondent. In fact, his book Front Row at the Trump Show is now out in paperback with a new afterword that includes new reporting. Also back with us. Dr. Kavita Patel, Clinical Physician, former Senior Policy Aide during the Obama administration, now a non-resident Fellow at Brookings, and Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director of Counter Intelligence, also the author of the recent book, The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau`s Code of Excellence.

And Frank indeed, because of the events of last night, I`d like to begin with you and from your trade, tell our audience, what`s the justification? What are the underpinnings that await a declaration, perhaps, that this was a hate crime?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: Yeah, Brian, we should be listening to what this suspect, Long, has told the police because essentially, he has already confessed to a hate crime. Here`s why, In 2009, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law, the Shepard-Byrd Act, that added for the first time the element of gender as a protected class for purposes of hate crime. So crimes based on gender now qualify as a federal hate crime. I know we`re getting all wrapped up around the Asian components of this and absolutely, ethnicity and race play a role and are enumerated in the hate crime. But that`s going to be difficult to show perhaps, but let`s not forget that these women that were targeted were women, who happened to be Asia, they were Asian women.

Here`s why this is significant. If he says I was an addicted to sex, and I was acting out of vengeance against that, which embodies literally, embodies my addiction, he is essentially saying, I was targeting women. Even perhaps women at establishments that he might have actually frequented, if I don`t know, I don`t know what else would be a gender-based crime than saying I am lashing out at what embodies my addiction. It is women, and that`s who I`ve killed. So that can be corroborated, even through investigation of his electronic devices, his communications, friends and family interviews, his history, his track, record his spending, all of that points to a hate crime. And that`s where this should be headed.

And for those who are at home saying, I`m not understanding this debate, he`s going to spend the rest of his living days in prison for murder. What does it matter? It matters a lot. We have hate crimes, we distinguish them because they strike against everything we stand for as a free and equal democracy, skin color, gender, orientation, that`s who we are as a free people. When you commit those crimes for those reasons, we attach extra penalty to it. We call it something different. It does matter, and it should be called a hate crime.

WILLIAMS: Jon Karl, in your book, you talk broadly about the national environment created by Donald Trump when he was in the White House. Talk about that in relation to this.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We`ll look, how many times did we sit there as we were going through the pandemic, the emerging pandemic and here Donald Trump. It was incredibly racially charged incendiary language to describe what was happening, talking about the China virus, the Kung flu openly targeting one of my colleagues in the White House briefing room, a Chinese American, Weijia Jiang of CBS, you know, just spitting the name China out as he was talking about this and responding to her. That`s the context here. We don`t know again, we`ve got -- we have to see exactly what was going on in this case but clearly, there is a rising problem, it really an epidemic of its own in this country of anti-Asian American, anti-Asian violence.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Patel, here we are, this is the life we`re living in 2021. We have over half a million of our fellow citizens dead from the coronavirus. Do you perversely add these deaths as a kind of collateral damage? The virus didn`t kill them? A firearm did. But so did everything else we`re talking about tonight?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, FORMER AIDE TO VALERIE JARRETT IN THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Yeah, absolutely, Brian. And this just illuminates something that we saw before the pandemic. And just as Jon and Frank pointed out, violence against women has been not only on the rise since the pandemic begun, but has also been turned a blind eye against because we frankly haven`t had any infrastructure to support that. And the actual notion of systemic racism as a problem, as a public health problem along, Brian, with gun violence, that`s all wrapped up into what we`re seeing.

And it`s not -- it hadn`t started today, this start -- or in last 48 hours. This started with Charlottesville, this started before - it started in 1982, with a man named Vincent Kim (ph), who was killed because he was mistaken for a Japanese American. And he was actually -- his murderers were not sentenced to anything but basically a fine in probation, so, because they were fine men, and how many decade have we heard that? And it`s deplorable. And so this is something that has been decades in the building, Brian, the pandemic is just revealing much more of this. And it`s time that we put it to a stop, as Frank said, this is something that has been on the books in the laws, it`ll be interesting to see how this unfolds.

WILLIAMS: Frank, indeed, this DNI report on extremist groups is chilling. They rarely put out good news, but it takes us right back to our last conversation about the new world being faced by your former colleagues at the FBI when you read something like this, do you fear they know something that we don`t like an active and obvious threat?

FIGLIUZZI: I do. I think they`re warning us that the Intel they`re getting indicates that we`re in for the long haul, that there are organizations, groups, and even more disturbingly low and offensive offenders that they are having trouble tracking. They`ve lost control of that right now. They are -- this threat is out in front of them. And I see that reflected in this report.

You know, if you change just a few words, some of the verbiage slap a new date on it, this thing could have been written back in the 50s and 60s in this deep south in the Ku Klux Klan era in the civil rights and violent era of lynchings, have we changed at all? It seems that we`ve not made progress that we`re back almost to where we started in the civil rights movement. And now our own government is telling us we`re in this for the long haul. This threats not going away. In fact, it could become exacerbated and there`s hints of, you know, the political and societal elements of this, that`s codeword for conspiracy theories, fabrications, political leaders who fan and fuel this movement. It`s here for a while, if there`s one good news piece out of this, it`s that our government is finally saying, here`s the truth, here`s the Intel, we`re sharing it with you.

WILLIAMS: Frank is bracing to hear you talk like that. We are at least fortunate to know there are more good people on the home team than there are bad actors out there to do us harm. Jon, contained in the new reporting, in the paperback edition of your book is a section about the temper of the former president, tell our viewers the story about how and where it affected a prominent Pacific Northwest governor?

KARL: Yeah, this was something -- this involved the Navy ship comm -- a mercy that was the Navy had decided to send to the west coast in middle of March. And the Navy actually put out a press release in the middle of March saying it was going to Seattle. But the press release also noted that the governors of Washington State and California had both requested it. And I learned in the course of my reporting of an Oval Office meeting, where the President was meeting with one of his political supporters, Mike Pence came in to give the President an update on the movement of this navy ship saying was ready to take off to, you know, to Seattle, but they were also noting that the California had requested it as well. And Trump said to him, wait a minute, wait a minute, that jerk in Washington State, he`s been awful, Gavin, meaning Gavin Newsom, the government governor of California, has been saying the nicest things about me. Let`s give it to Gavin. And then he actually, Brian, yelled out to his secretary sitting right outside the Oval Office, Molly get Gavin on the phone.

And sure enough, Gavin Newsom is on the phone in a few minutes. He puts him on speakerphone and says, Gavin, I`ve got this navy ship. I know you want it that jerk in Washington wants it. You`ve been saying the nicest things about me. Don`t you think I should give it to you? And to his credit, I`m told Gavin Newsome said look, you know, your people, the Navy that they`ll give it to wherever it can be used most effectively. But ultimately, Brian, the kicker here is that it that ship did not go to Seattle, it went to Los Angeles and the Navy had announced it was going to Seattle, the President had the outburst. And this massive naval hospital ship ended up going to the governor that was saying nice things about the president.

WILLIAMS: And they accused Trump of having no empathy and being transactional. Dr. Gupta, one last question for you, I want to read you a quote from the New York Times and set it up this way, Dr. Patel, forgive me forever. And it`s about the AstraZeneca vaccine. We have it in some amounts here in this country. The FDA has not approved it for use on Americans. There`s an Op-Ed in the New York Times to this extent, "One argument for holding on to all the vaccines here seems to be a version of better safe than sorry, that it`s preferable to have an excess rather than a shortage. This isn`t right, or moral." And the Op-Ed goes on to make that point. So Doctor, with the caveat that the Russians may indeed be out to hurt the reputation of AstraZeneca, and on social media, they have been seen seemingly boosting any and all bad reports or rumors, because when you think about it, that would help their Sputnik vaccine and their business in the European market. Where do you come down on this, Dr. Patel? Is it -- is there a moral problem with us housing this here, unless and until the FDA speaks up?

PATEL: I think, Brian, the moral problem is really in the fact that up until the Biden administration, we had no participation in any of the global efforts, including the World Health Organization to try to eliminate, or at least minimize the effects of COVID around the world, including thinking about vaccines supply. So hitting on our shelves, this was something that Dr. Fauci addressed during his testimony, and it will likely have to address again in the testimony before the Senate tomorrow because there`s increasing pressure, rightfully so. I do think it`s a moral problem to hold on to doses, especially when we now know that the Biden administration has negotiated adequate supply for American. Having said that, I do not think that we should try to say that this supply is now necessarily all going to 100% go to a certain country only because, frankly, Brian, we`re expecting Novavax, AstraZeneca. These companies are going to get read out on their data shortly. And they could be going up in front of the FDA for an emergency authorization within a month, and that would mean extra supply well before the May 1 deadline President Biden has set.

So the question, Brian, is morally we should be participating in giving this vaccine supply where it`s necessary, especially considering how low the percentage of vaccination is in the E.U. But I don`t think that we should just be -- there`s no reason to say that our shelves should be laid bare recall a year ago, we thought we had a stockpile of PPE and other supplies. And lo and behold, we found out our shelves were laid bare. Our supply that`s promised to us from the three current authorized manufacturers is not all here in its entirety. Brian, it`s entirely conceivable, we could see a manufacturing error, problem with batches. So having this on our shelves is security, having the conversation about the supply that we give to the world is also parallel important. And I think that`s exactly what we should be continuing to put pressure on the Biden administration to do.

WILLIAMS: Great points and the first time I`d heard that all laid out and explained that way, our big three guests tonight, Jonathan Karl, Frank Figliuzzi, Dr. Kavita Patel, Hook em Horns, can`t thank you enough for starting your evening with us.

Coming up for us after our first break, the Georgia State lawmaker who new anti-Asian violence was only going to get worse, and sounded the alarm on the statehouse floor the day before the mass shooting, she joins us next.

And later, the president says the F word but not that one, fires up the filibuster fight. Two veteran political watchers standing by to join us for that. THE 11TH HOUR just getting underway on a Wednesday night.



DR. MICHELLE AU, (D) GEORGIA STATE SENATOR: Violence against Asian Americans has increased by nearly 150% in the past year, recognize that we need help, we need protection and we need people in power to stand up with us against hate.


WILLIAMS: Do you hear the urgency and her voice, that was our next guest one day before the shootings in Georgia. The tragedy has escalated and already heightened fear over a rise in anti-Asian discrimination and violence across our country.

For more we welcome to the broadcast Dr. Michelle Ou, she`s a Democratic state senator, representing the state`s 48th District, Northeast of the Atlanta metro area, also happens to be the first ever Asian American woman to serve as a state senator in the great State of Georgia.

Doctor, I know it would sound trite to ask you your reaction to the tragedy but I`m going to ask only because your words were still hanging in the air in the chamber when you learn the news of what had happened last night?

AU: Brian, thank you so much for having me. And thank you for asking, because I think the reaction that I had and that many people had is that we were shaken. Obviously, we were shocked, especially by the brutality and the, you know, the lethality of this attack. But we weren`t really surprised, right? This is, in some ways, a culmination of a lot of Asian American discrimination and violence that has been building over the past year. But it`s not just this incident. And it`s not just the past year of escalating violence. This is just the latest chapter in a long story and a long saga of Asian American racism and violence in the United States. So no, we are not surprised though it is still shocking to see it happens so close to home.

WILLIAMS: I am compelled to play for you and our audience, the following statement that we all witnessed today. And I`ve spent the last few hours processing. This is from a captain, part of the local Sheriff`s Department. We`ll discuss on the other side.


CAPTAIN JAY BAKER, CHEROKEE COUNTY SHERIFF`S OFFICE: This is still early, but he does claim that it was not racially motivated. He apparently has an issue, what he considers a sec fiction. And it`s a temptation for him that he wanted to eliminate. Last open investigators they interviewed him this morning and they got that impression that yes, he understood the gravity of it. And he was pretty much fed up at it then kind of at the end of his rope. And yesterday, it was a really bad day for him. And this is what he did.


WILLIAMS: Doctor, can we talk about the way we talk about a crime like this, I`ve had bad days, and I`m reasonably certain, so have you. And I`m also absolutely certain neither you nor I have taken a human life as a result?

AU: It`s remarkable the way that we treat certain perpetrators of crimes. The gentleness with which we handle the shooter, and attributing his behavior to him having a bad day, and to his wanting to squelch his addiction, as opposed to him taking responsibility for his own actions. As you noted, most of us had had very bad days, none of us have gone out and shot and killed eight people. So it`s just a remarkable narrative to see. And I`m really looking forward to see how people handle the story as more information comes out. And as we learn more about the identities of those that he shot and killed.

WILLIAMS: Americans who don`t know need to learn the acronym AAPI for Asian American and Pacific Islander community in our country, do you hope that we`ve established for all the worst reasons, this may be a public turning point, in terms of public perceptions of the problem of the threat of the violence against members of the AAPI?

AU: I`m hoping if anything good comes out of that it is this sort of public awareness. And that`s actually why I went to the Senate well on Monday, and spoke about this issue. You know, I think that it`s been coming to a head for some time. Now, I think probably over the last month or so more attention has been paid to this issue. But it`s been mostly stories reported out of cities like New York, and Los Angeles, and in the bay area where there is a higher density of AAPI Americans.

The reason I want to speak in the wild to my Senate colleagues is because I did not want people in the State of Georgia to feel that we were immune to this same epidemic of racial violence against Asian Americans. You never want to be right about these types of things. So the swiftness with which we saw this shocking attack literally the day after I went to give the speech floored me. But I think that if anything good comes out of it. It is that we increase awareness of this problem and that we have more allies to stand with us because it can`t simply be the members of the AAPI community decide me to stand up and finally speak out for ourselves against this violence. We need more people to also stand with us and fight against this kind of hate.

WILLIAMS: We pray your colleagues heard your words, we certainly did and wanted to repeat them tonight. Thank you so much for staying up with us on top of your day job and adding your comments to the record we`ve been covering in this story. Dr. Michelle Au, state senator from the great state of Georgia, thank you very much for being our guest tonight.

Coming up for us, another lawmaker from Georgia, this time in D.C., took to the well of the Senate to argue against what he called the unabashed assault on voting rights in our country. It`s a lot. It`s also urgent. We`ll talk about it when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Today, Senate Democrats introduced the For the People Act of voting rights measures similar to the one passed by the House earlier this month. In his very first remarks on the Senate floor, Georgia senator Raphael Warnock, a co-sponsor of the legislation argued there`s an effort underway to threaten the principle of one person, one vote around our country, including in his home state of Georgia.


SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we`ve ever seen since the Jim Crow era.

This is Jim Crow in new clothes. Since the January election, some 250 voter suppression bills have been introduced by state legislatures all across the country from Georgia to Arizona from New Hampshire to Florida. Using the big lie of voter fraud as a pretext for voter suppression.


WILLIAMS: If he seems like a veteran speaker, he preaches from the pulpit of Dr. King. Back with us tonight. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist over at the Washington Post and Bill Kristol, the author and writer and thinker and political veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, editor-at-large of The Bulwark.

Eugene, this knocked me out to Senator Warnock tweeted this tonight. The last time the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized, George W. Bush was president and passed the Senate 98 nothing. Now it can`t even get a vote. We have our differences. But there should be 100 votes to make it easier for Americans to make their voices heard in our democracy.

And Gene, it doesn`t mean we love you any less. But we have another friend around here named Eugene, Eugene Daniels over at Politico covers the White House newly minted contributor on this network. He made the point to Nicolle Wallace this afternoon, elemental point but so important that if voting rights isn`t the next big thing for Democrats, this is existential without it, with measures to reduce the votes from black and brown Americans. Everything else is endangered, every issue important to that party and its followers. So I want to hear from you on this.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, I think every issue is important to our democracy, too. Because what is going on is an attempt by the Republican Party to disenfranchise a large segment of the American electorate. That`s not the way our democracy is supposed to work.

Yet, you know, Reverend Warnock said there ought to be 100 votes for, you know, encouraging everybody to vote and letting everybody vote. But there are not 100 votes for that in the Senate. It is it is incredible.

You know, Georgia has experienced with voter suppression. Georgia has been at this for some time. Yet through the efforts of people like Senator Warnock and Stacey Abrams and others, Democrats managed to overcome that in 2020 and Joe Biden won the state. Reverend Warnock and Senator Ossoff won their seats over incumbent Republican senators.

And Georgia has freaked out and decided that the Republican authorities they have decided this could never ever happen again. And so they are not doubling down but tripling down on voter suppression efforts that are that are just simply unAmerican. It`s not the way our democracy is supposed to work. And the Democratic Party if it stands for anything, if it intends to do anything has got to fight this with not just both barrels with everything it has.

WILLIAMS: Bill Kristol, as we ping pong to another issue, on another border, our southern border. Joe Colvin writes this for the Associated Press tonight. The GOP is leaning in on the highly charged issue of immigration amid a spike in border crossings. They hope immigration can unite the party heading into next year`s elections, when control of Congress is at stake.

Bill, if you watch any Fox News, it is apparent they have dusted off. The Sean Hannity caravan is coming package of coverage. Is that going to be enough in two years to change the balance in the House of Representatives?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I mean, it could be you don`t know if the situation gets worse and worse and worse rates and bonds. The Biden administration has no way to combine much greater compassion and openness in the Trump administration with the you know, strength and determination to make sure that they can handle people coming illegally across the border and handle the unaccompanied children who are coming in a humane way.

So it`s a tough situation. It`s a tough challenge, real challenge for the Biden administration. I think they understand that. I don`t think it matters too much politically, what people think, this week or next week, but they do need to deal with it over the next year.

I do think I should say on the voting rights matter, which I think is an urgent existential question. I mean, we have a systematic attempt to rollback voting rights and suppress voting rights across the country at the state level. The Democrats have this huge bill, H.R. 1, a lot of it`s pretty good, but part of it is on voting.

And I wonder some political matters, strategic matter whether they shouldn`t pull out the voting stuff, there`s a lot of ethics things in there. There`s public funding for campaigns, there`s dark money provisions, there`s a lot of good government stuff, some of its pretty good, some of it maybe not so good.

But it makes it look like a giant Wish List of a bill 600 pages instead of a focused bill to not allow the suppression of voting rights. And if you combine that with the John Lewis bill, H.R. 4, which isn`t part of this bill, which is the extension of the Voting Rights Act actually destroy the revival, the Voting Rights Act, make that a voting rights bill, you know, anti-voter suppression bill.

I really wonder if they`d be a little better off politically, they may have to use this to break the filibuster. I think they need to break the filibuster on an issue that is an urgent one and we fundamental one to democracy. Anyway, that`s an interesting tactical challenge they`ll have over the next few months. Immigration remains about the overall policy challenge and a political challenge.

WILLIAMS: To our audience, it`s notable that both of these gentlemen see this as an existential threat to the continuation of our democracy. Both these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us we`re going to fit in a break here. And coming up the debate over the fate of the filibuster to break the legislative logjam inside that building.


WILLIAMS: With the massive relief bill victory under his belt, the President`s next fight in Congress may be about the Senate rules themselves. Even as he opens the door to filibuster reform, there`s that F word Politico reports today, quote, President Biden`s call for a return to the old school Senate filibuster, think Jimmy Stewart, is elating activists who want to get the impediment to majority rule yet the movement to scrap the Chamber`s 60-vote requirement is way ahead of Democrats whip count.

Remaining with us, Eugene Robinson bill Kristol. Bill, right off the top here, I`m going to remind you and our audience what your good friend I`m kidding. Mitch McConnell said yesterday we`ll discuss on the other side.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Nobody serving in this chamber can`t even begin can even begin to imagine what a completely scorched earth Senate would look like. This chaos would not open up an express line to liberal change. It would not open up an express line for the Biden presidency to speed into the history books. The Senate would be more like 100 car pileup.


WILLIAMS: So Bill I`m not sure How much more scorched earth it could ever get than under Mitch McConnell. But he`s trying to argue be careful what you wish for. You had fascinating thoughts on this today. And I`d like you to share them with our audience.

KRISTOL: I was just struck, McConnell usually keeps his cards close and straight, low key in his way, right? Let`s his actions speak for themselves. And it can be pretty effective. I think that he is worried. He wouldn`t have used that rhetoric, if he weren`t really worried that the Democrats could get the momentum to succeed in getting rid of or modifying filibuster, and he`s trying to bluff, I`d say, you know, it`s going to be a nightmare. I`m going to stop everything. I don`t think they could get away with that in the real world, voters would say, what are you doing here.

But I do think it would get back to my earlier point, it is why the Democrats really needs to lay the predicate for this in a compelling way. It can`t just be that a lot of activists got together. They don`t like the filibuster, they want to pass 15 big pieces of legislation with 50 votes. And, you know, they`re going to ram it through.

I think this is where the voting rights thing is special. And I really think a focus that we need -- if they need to break the filibuster to defend people`s right to vote. That`s different from just passing, you know, one tax bill instead of another tax bill.

So I think this is going to become, as you said, Brian, I think it might not have predicted this couple months ago, but this issue, the filibuster, and voting rights, is going to become a very important issue for the next several months.

WILLIAMS: Gene, where do you come down on this one?

ROBINSON: Well, I`ve won got the, you know, the Senate today is not the Senate of 30 or 40, or 50 years ago, if it`s just going to be a smaller, less efficient version of the House where everybody votes along party lines, and twice tries their best to thwart anything the other party wants to do, then the filibuster is an anachronism and go in theory.

Now and along with some of the other rules that that Mitch McConnell wants to use, to or threatens to use to create this scorched earth Senate. As a practical matter, I think a potential real world first step would be, as they`ll suggest, perhaps a carve out for voting rights as just so essential, it`s so fundamental to our democracy that -- that that is a class of legislation that you could define, that is not subject to the filibuster, you could do something like that.

You could modify the filibuster in some way. There`s going to have to be some sort of intermediate step because no, the Democrats don`t have the votes right now, to get rid of the full filibuster in its entirety. But this voting rights question is existential, and it has to be addressed by Congress. And the only way to do that it looks like is to, at least for this legislation, get rid of the filibuster period.

WILLIAMS: I am indeed sensing the fierce urgency of the issue. Two friends of this broadcast for good reason, two guys who have read all the books behind them. Our thanks to Eugene Robinson and Bill Kristol for being our guest tonight. Another break for us. Coming up an update on the progress and problems in efforts to get more shots into more arms across our great country.


WILLIAMS: While vaccinations in the U.S. ramp up there are troubling trends showing another uptick in the number of cases as we said at the top of the hour. You`ve heard it before on this broadcast. We set it last night we`ll say it again. The experts are warning the virus could surge again if we`re not careful. NBC News correspondent Miguel Almaguer has the latest.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what can con --

MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Appearing virtually before members of Congress today the nation`s leading doctors warned new COVID cases are made easy restrictions still remain a serious threat now plateaued at roughly 50,000 cases a day. Michigan has seen a 56 percent spike in new infections.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: The average daily death rate is tragically still more than twice that seen last September. We are in a race to stop transmission.


ALMAGUER: To slow the spread the nation needs to speed up vaccinations.

Some 28 percent of adults and 65 percent of seniors have received at least one shot including Bernice Bohannan who`s 111.

BERNICE BOHANNAN, VACCINE RECIPIENT: It`s not going to hurt them. It will help them.

ALMAGUER: But while more states like Ohio plan to soon open up vaccine registration to anyone 16 and up, in Mississippi where they`ve already done so there is more supply than demand.

CANDACE SANDERS, PHARMACIST: There are lots of unclaimed vaccine appointments for the two doses.

ALMAGUER (on camera): Vaccine inequity a major problem means some communities aren`t getting the supply they need and as some Americans refuse a dose, the race to herd immunity could be jeopardized.

(voice-over): With new outbreaks at nursing homes and colleges by this fall a vaccine could be available for high school students by early next year for children younger than that. Tonight a plan to vaccinate the nation if Americans are willing. Miguel Almaguer, NBC News.


WILLIAMS: Coming up for us an important reminder with all that`s going on of what day it is and how our world changed a year ago today.


WILLIAMS: Live picture of the green White House for tonight only when doing a lot of reminiscing lately. And the last thing before we go on this St. Patrick`s Day night. Everybody`s timeline is different. But on this night last year, we were on the air from our 30 Rock Collection Studio. Because it was primary night in three states and to be perfectly candid, we couldn`t get out of there fast enough.

Indeed, March 17 of 2020 was the first work from home night for a number of members of our staff. That was also the time when we realized how serious this virus was. Because New York City canceled the St. Patrick`s Day Parade, a huge and sad milestone for those of us who grew up with it saying nothing of anyone who`s had the honor of marching in it. It was virtual again this year and the world won`t be the same until we can hear in person.

The Pipes and Drums of the FDNY Emerald Society on Fifth Avenue right back where they belong. Our Irish president today virtually hosted the Irish Prime Minister in a shamrock be decked Oval Office, shamrocks in his jacket pocket and keeping with tradition.

The President also heard today from a friend of his name Braden Harrington. If you don`t remember Braden, here is how the two met.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Owen, this is my son Brayden.

BIDEN: Hey, Brayden, how are you man?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re here because he shutters -- he wanted to hear you speak.

BIDEN: Oh, man, come on. I tell you what, don`t let it define you. You`re smart as hell, now you really are. You can do this. Can I get a phone number for you and I can tell you how I would I used to do, and how I would do it? Can you take his phone because there`s about 25 stutters I continue to work with. And I can tell you the things that helped. I know by the way, the hardest thing is talking on the telephone so I don`t expect you to be where I started. I used to talk like this. And took a lot of practice, but I promise you, I promise you, you can do it. I promise you.


WILLIAMS: So that`s how it started. Here`s how it`s going. This is Brayden on this St. Patrick`s Day.


BRAYDEN HARRINGTON, NEW HAMPSHIRE: It is my honor today to present President Joe Biden with one of WVA`s most famous poems, The Lake Isle of Innisfree has invited. You may remember the last time we were together in person. He sign this book of VA`s for me. Thank you again. Thank you as well for all you have done for me and others who stutter. The Lake Isle of Innisfree, I will rise and go now go to innisfree in a small cabin built there of clay and models made, nine beam rows will have their hive for the honey bee and live alone in the bee-loud glade.


WILLIAMS: Brayden Harrington reading Yates for the President of the United States as one does, to close out these closing seconds of St. Patrick`s Day for us 2021.

That`s our broadcast on this Wednesday night. Our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.