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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 4/21/21

Guests: CK Hoffler, Peter Baker, Brittany Packnett Cunningham, Eugene Robinson, Mike Murphy, Nahid Bhadelia


The push for police reform is receiving renewed energy and impetus with help from the federal government less than 24 hours after a jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd. Protesters across Russia call for Alexey Navalny`s release on same day as Putin`s annual address. Republicans are pushing back on Biden agenda. More than 50 percent of all Americans and 80 percent of seniors have had at least one dose of vaccine. Oxygen shortages compound death toll as India confronts COVID-19 surge. Syria`s decade-long war creates environmental disaster.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Elizabeth Esteban gets tonight`s last word. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 92 of the Biden administration, which tonight finds itself part of a major movement, the push for police reform, receiving renewed energy and impetus with help from the federal government less than 24 hours after a jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd.

The feds are now scrutinizing the Minneapolis police force which of course once employed Chauvin and the three other officers, let`s not forget, who are awaiting trial in George Floyd`s murder.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Justice Department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing. Yesterday`s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis. Good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices.


WILLIAMS: The investigation is going to focus on whether the department engages in excessive force and discriminatory conduct. It`ll be led by the Justice Department`s Civil Rights Division, as well as the Justice Department`s representative there, the U.S. Attorney`s Office in Minnesota. This is on top of an already existing federal investigation into whether Derek Chauvin violated George Floyd civil rights specifically.

The new DOJ inquiry getting underway as Chauvin await sentencing in Minnesota`s only maximum security prison. For obvious reasons he is being held apart from other inmates in the most secure unit there. He is reported to be held in isolation for 23 hours a day.

Meanwhile, another fatal police shooting has sparked more anger adding fuel to the controversy over use of force. Shortly before yesterday`s verdict was announced in the Chauvin trial, a 16-year-old Ma`Khia Bryant was shot and killed by a Columbus, Ohio police officer who was responding to a 911 call. Authority say officer Nicholas Reardon fired as Bryant threatened two girls with a large knife.

Today Columbus police released more footage from the officer`s body camera. And again here, a warning, the video is disturbing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, what`s going on? Hey, what`s going on? Hey, hey, hey. Hey, get down. Get down. Get down. Get down.


WILLIAMS: There is now an investigation underway in the officer who filed - - fire the four shots is on administrative leave. Just this afternoon, the Columbus mayor and police chief talked about yesterday`s shooting.


MAYOR ANDREW GINTHER, (D) COLUMBUS, O.H.: We believe that transparency with the public is the utmost priority during this difficult time. Bottom line, did Ma`Khia Bryant need to die yesterday? How did we get here? This is a failure and part of our community. Some are guilty, but all of us are responsible to tragedy.

INTERIM CHIEF MICHAEL WOODS, COLUMBUS, O.H., POLICE DEPARTMENT: There`s no other way to say to 16-year-old girl. I`m a father, her family is grieving. Regardless of the circumstances associated with this, a 16-year-old girl lost her life yesterday. Not sure how we should (INAUDIBLE).


WILLIAMS: Also tonight, a community in Elizabeth City North Carolina demanding police accountability now. Authorities say a deputy their shot and killed a man named Andrew Brown while attempting to serve him with a warrant. Brown`s family is demanding police release video from that deputy`s body camera.

The White House says President Biden will bring up policing and racial justice during his address to a joint session of Congress next week. He`s already made it clear he wants to see some sort of legislation and fast. Now the pressure is on Congress to get something to his desk.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes the bar for convicting officers is far too high. It needs to be changed. He`s a strong supporter as he also conveyed passionately last night of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The President doesn`t believe that he alone can pull the George Floyd Act, Policing Act, across the finish line. That is going to be up to Congress.


WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times." Brittany Packnet Cunningham, a veteran activist on matters of race and social justice, notably a former member of President Obama`s 21st Century Policing Task Force. She is these days host of the podcast, "Undistracted." And we welcome back veteran attorney CK Hoffler, she`s CEO of the CK Hoffler firm in Atlanta dealing with both wrongful death cases, civil rights litigation, counsel of Jesse Jackson in the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, also happens to be president of the National Bar Association, the nation`s oldest network of predominantly black judges and attorneys.

And for that reason, Counselor, I would like to begin with you given your line of work, your scope of the history here. Does the Floyd verdict, did the Floyd verdict seem like a turning point at all to you?

CK HOFFLER. VETERAN ATTORNEY: First of all, good evening, Brian.

Yes, absolutely. The Floyd verdict was a turning point, is a turning point in the history of this country because it really, really is a small victory as relates to a door opening for policing reform.

This verdict that the jury spoke loudly and clearly, in rendering the verdict on all three counts, and that was a measure of justice for the Floyd family and for this country. Because after all, what we saw was nine minutes and 29 seconds of a police officer Derek Chauvin killing, murdering brutally George Floyd. And that just really has to stop.

So, that was the tipping point. It`s the beginning of a broader discussion of how we must have police -- the Vice President and the President last night addressed this. Members of Congress are addressing this. As you know, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was introduced, put together crafted primarily by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. The NBA is a part of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And this is the most comprehensive and broad and effective proposed law that we`ve ever seen in this country that would deal with all of the issues and all the problems that we see in policing today. Racial profiling, no knock warrants, qualified immunity. Put the cameras, no chokehold. If you look at just historically, all of the issues where there`s excessive use of force with black and brown communities, and if you did a list of all of the issues and would lead to that, you would see that they`re addressed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. So, absolutely, it`s a turning point.

And now the Justice Department is doing a pattern and practice investigation to look at abuse and excessive use of force in the Minnesota police department. So without a question, that verdict has begun, or started just as George Floyd killing did. A whole series of events that are designed to make this country better in terms of policing reform, so it`s a wonderful thing.

WILLIAMS: OK, Peter Baker, let`s take what CK just said and apply it to your beats and to politics. This is from Politico, Following the Floyd verdict, nearly every Democrat at every level issued statements," this is in Congress, "many of them heralding a step forward for racial justice. On the Republican side, nearly the opposite was true. Few lawmakers saw a need to weigh in at all."

Peter, I don`t need to tell you, doesn`t bode well for bipartisanship for the Floyd Act or for police reform at all.

PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, exactly this has been a partisan issue since last summer since President Trump decided to make the focus the, you know, occasional violence, these are sporadic and ended but sometimes tough violence that accompany the peaceful protests after the George Floyd shooting rather than focusing on the conduct of police officers, rather than focusing on the grievances of, you know, many black Americans who feel like they can`t get fair treatment in the system today. And because that partisanship has so divided the country that George Floyd Act has sat there for a year, nearly a year basically unpassed.

Now, there is some talk that there could be a breakthrough. Senator Tim Scott from South Carolina, a Republican. has been in conversations with Karen Bass, the Congresswoman from California who`s the lead author of that proposed legislation. There`s some discussion that they could come to some sort of middle ground.

There`s a challenge, there`s challenge for President Biden because, you know, if he were to make the kind of concessions that he might need to make in order to get enough Republican support to pass it, that might be quite frustrating or just pointing to his own supporters who expect him to take more, you know, dramatic and expansive action. And that`s the conundrum we see with him in so many issues right now, but particularly sensitive on this one, because obviously, the turmoil of last year was a key factor in his campaign last fall, a key factor, I think, in his victory.

WILLIAMS: And, Brittany, we were thinking of you yesterday when the verdict came down, and what I wouldn`t give to see a graphic of your emotions over the past, say, 30 hours and four minutes since we learned the verdict. And I say it that way, because of course, there are two more controversial police involved shootings, killings. What does it do to your level of encouragement or discouragement?

BRITTANY PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM, FMR. MEMBER OF OBAMA POLICING TASK FORCE: I`ll be honest, as soon as the verdict was read, I had a set of mixed emotions. The only gratitude I had really was on behalf of George Floyd`s family, who got a modicum hopefully of closure yesterday.

But we have to be very clear about what it took to get here. It required multiple eyewitnesses, a nine minute videos, security camera footage from the convenience store, a global protest movement to get 12 jurors, one judge and one attorney general to do the right thing one time. As far as I`m concerned, I don`t find the same level of encouragement as some others have had about what this means systemically.

The choice was very clear here for the jurors in my opinion. But we have to stay focused on the system. It is easy to allow Derek Chauvin to be cast as the exception to the rule, and as an aberration to policing instead of a product of this environment. I`ve been beating this drum for a long time for a reason. Because when we look at the numbers, even when there is the rare conviction like we saw this week, when we look at the numbers, they do not decline, and those convictions do not serve as a deterrent.

They didn`t serve as a deterrent, just up the road in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, when Daunte Wright was killed. It didn`t serve as a deterrent when Ma`Khia Bryant was killed, or when that person was killed in Elizabeth City, North Carolina just this evening. So, we have to recognize that this has to remain a systemic question.

And while people are necessarily putting pressure on Congress, we also have to remember that there are over 18,000 police departments across this country, your mayor, your city council people, your police chief and your police union, are all having impact and making choices and decisions on what policing looks like in your community. So, we have to make sure that we never let the system off the hook at the local state and federal level. I`m not satiated by a single verdict and none of us should be.

WILLIAMS: CK, Brittany speaks the truth and by her very specific argument Darnella Frazier is as much a hero of this case as anyone else because absent those harrowing and horrifying nine minutes, 29 seconds, would any of this conversation be happening?

So, CK, let me put it to you this way. After Freddie Gray, the feds swooped into the Baltimore P.D. and took a good look around. What is -- what`s the Minneapolis Police Department about to have swooped down on them?

HOFFLER: I think they`re about to have a reckoning, a day of reckoning, which is necessary because again, this is not, you know, George Floyd, I do agree George Floyd is one person who was killed, brutally murdered before our very own eyes. But the Justice Department has made a determination that they need to look and see if there`s a pattern and practice.

The local grassroots efforts, the ministers, the church community, all the people in that community, many people have been fighting this fight for decades. Reverend Moss (ph) and others, Reverend McAfee (ph) and others have been saying that this is a problem that predates, way predates George Floyd`s mortar. It`s just that this case, for the first time that they`ve ever seen, there`s been just a single act of justice with the verdict. But that does not erase all the other cases that have taken place. And there could be a pattern in practice.

So, the Minnesota Police Department is about to have a day of reckoning because civil rights lawyers from the Department of Justice, and others will work with them to look and see what they have been doing and examine how they have been addressing black and brown people and others when -- whether using excessive use of force, with killings, and that is what needs to happen. This is just one police department.

This is just the beginning. There still needs to be pressure and the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act so that there is a federal standard that would go hand in hand with the efforts and investigating individual police departments.

Today, it`s Minneapolis, Minnesota, tomorrow it could be Elizabeth City, North Carolina. It could be Columbus, Ohio. It could be anywhere, literally, but it`s got to happen.

WILLIAMS: And Brittany, let me bounce right quick back to you. Powering your remarks seems to be a recognition that there are people in this country, some of them in elected office ready to say, well, that`s over, we got the Floyd verdict. The cop is clearly a murderer. Do we really need to go broader on police reform?

CUNNINGHAM: The answer is absolutely. And I would challenge us not to go broader on police reform, but actually to go broader on full transformation of a system and really getting down to public safety instead of policing.

Look, the system working is not Derek Chauvin going to jail, the system working would have been George Floyd being alive. And until and unless all people in this country, especially marginalized folks, black, brown, and indigenous people in particular, are allowed to thrive, we still have work to do.

I want to be fundamentally clear, the state should not be allowed to kill anyone. Police officers should never be judge, jury or executioner. That is not the authority we have granted them. And because they continue to take advantage of that authority, we should withdraw it.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, it would be malpractice to have you here as a former, even though this is a dramatic change of subject, former Moscow bureau chief along with your wife, Susan Glasser of "The New Yorker" and not ask you about what may be a clear and present danger and urgent situation.

People in the streets of Moscow, Navalny, apparently near death, a very real situation that there could be military action and counter action in Ukraine. How urgent is it to your veteran eyes?

BAKER: Well, I think the volatile moment there for sure. You`ve got 100,000 roughly, Russian troops mass along Ukrainian border. At the same time you`ve got this domestic turmoil at home. And then two things may, of course, be related.

You know, one of -- one of Putin`s traditional playbook moves when he gets some domestic trouble is to play the nationalist card. And, in effect, that`s what he seems to be doing right now with Ukraine. He certainly did that in the speech he delivered today, his annual message is akin to the State of the Union address that the President gives, in which he talked about, you know, in very saber rattling terms, how the west had mistreated Russia, and how they crossed the Red Line that Russia would respond quickly and fiercely.

And that`s, you know, pretty traditional rhetoric on his part. But right now with 100,000 troops so near the Ukrainian border, it comes with obviously, a greater degree of volatility and danger. And that`s I think, what President Biden and the American government here and then the West and Europe is worried about. Is this for real or is it just trying to make a point. And and so much is on the line here, because in fact, if there were to be some sort of military action, nobody knows where it would stop.

WILLIAMS: There`s a lot on our plate tonight. Thanks to these three friends of the broadcast. We handled it all so far. Peter Baker, Brittany Packnet Cunningham, CK Hoffler, our thanks for starting off our conversation tonight. Our thanks for joining us, as always.

Coming up for us how our politics are intertwined in the challenge of policing the police.

And later, anyone who wants a vaccine can now get a vaccine. So, why doesn`t it feel like we`re winning the war turning the time? When does that happen? Our medical expert is standing by to talk us through it tonight. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Wednesday evening.



PHILONISE FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD`S BROTHER: Life is precious. He was sworn to serve and protect. But instead he killed the individual who could have been home with me today, home with his daughter, speaking to her and playing with her. She has to live without her father for the rest of her life.


WILLIAMS: George Floyd`s brother, Philonise, also wrote this in the Washington Post today and we quote, "This is what justice feels like, gut wrenching relief, exhaustion. It`s not sweet or satisfying. It`s necessary important, maybe even historic, but only with the passage of time will we know if the guilty verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin is the start of something that will truly change America and the experience of black Americans."

Back with us again, tonight, maybe our most quoted guests, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize Winning Columnist at "The Washington Post," and another guy we quote around here a fair amount it seems to me, Mike Murphy, Veteran Republican Strategist, Co-director of the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California, cohost of the "Hacks on Top" podcast, which we heartily recommend around here.

Eugene, listening to Philonise reading his words in your paper today reminds me here`s a guy, certainly not looking to become a national media figure. We know him because his brother was murdered. And if you ask me, he has carried himself with enormous dignity. All of us have watched him. He seems so knowable, identifiable, likable, and strong.

Having said that, the headline on your piece was that the Chauvin victory - - Chauvin verdict felt like a victory. That was 30 long hours ago. What are your feelings about now?

EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: Well, first of all -- first of all about Philonise, you know, he -- it has been fascinating and wonderful to watch him grow into the role that was thrust upon him and to become comfortable and eloquent as he is now in speaking not only for himself, and not only for the family, but for millions of African Americans. And I`m just very proud of how he has done that.

You know, I -- you look back at the signpost of progress in our struggle against race events that change the course of that struggle. And you look at the killing of Emmett Till, for example. We knew at the time, people knew that it was awful. I don`t think people knew that 50, 60, 70 years later, we would be looking back at that moment as such a -- such a turning point.

And there have been other moments that looked more important at the time than they really were. So, we`re -- we don`t know yet whether the killing of the murder of George Floyd and the conviction of Derek Chauvin will be that sort of watershed event that does change the course of our struggle against racism in this country. We can hope, we can hope that it is and hope that it`s a good -- it`s a new beginning, but we`ll have to see.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Mike, Chauvin is killer, Chauvin is a murderer, we can now say that on the air, having he -- Chauvin having been convicted, though, anyone watching that nine minute 29 second video kind of knew that before the jury ruling. So, the thin blue line has its limits, Mike. Tell me there is a role for Republicans in reform.

MIKE MURPHY, VETERAN REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, I think there is. You get down to the question of defining reform. But you know, I believe there are turning points in American life. And I think we just had one. We had fast, fair, very aggressive and very proper justice.

And the argument that we shouldn`t get too excited about is, not like every time a boy scout tells the truth, you give them a badge or a badge. It, you know, it is true that we`ve set a precedent now that we have to continue. But it is a good thing.

And it`s one of these cultural inflection points. There`s awareness now. And one of the things that impressed me the most was the blue line cracking a little bit, because most cops are good, and they know this was murder and they`re not in the murder business. And so, you know, it was -- it was a different situation in the trial. And I think that`s going to catch on. So, I`m an optimist about this. It`s been too late in counting. And there`s a lot of work to be done.

Now, politically, it`s going to come down to the usual political question of pragmatism versus cynicism. There is a bill, the bill includes some strengthening of criminal prosecution, give the Justice Department more power to go look at police departments, which have been secretive and other things to assist in criminal prosecution. I think there`s a chance to get that through the Senate.

Tim Scott, the Republican senator who`s doing the negotiating has a lot of leverage in the caucus. And Karen Bass on the Democratic side is a good pragmatist, who knows how to get a middle of the road bill done. So, the right people are driving.

The issue is the Democratic bill includes a lot of civil things, lawsuits, and that is trickier, money, lawsuits. Because as we know (INAUDIBLE) have huge democratic funder. And so, that is a real no go zone for the Republicans who tend to be on the tort reform side. So, we can keep it focused on tools to prosecute more efficiently more aggressively criminal cops and be able to crack open bad police departments where the culture is out of control.

You know, again, maybe I`m an optimist, but I think a narrow bill could make it through the Senate, between what Bass hopefully is willing to give up versus the progressives and what Tim Scott can get done with his caucus.

WILLIAMS: Well, thank you both for those two answers. Both of these gentlemen are going to stay with us. I just have to fit in a break.

When we come back, what else have the Republicans been up to other than watching Joe Biden?



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL(R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: Assemble a patchwork of left wing social engineering programs and want to label it infrastructure. Without serious permitting reform, Mr. President, it won`t build back better. It`ll build back never.


WILLIAMS: Guy manages a straight face most of the time. Republicans are pushing back on just about every bit, every available morsel of the President`s agenda. Yet despite those efforts, Biden`s approval ratings remain high. Eugene`s newspaper puts it this way, for the better part of a year now, Republicans have tried and largely failed to define Joe Biden or even just to make people dislike him. And with his 100th day as precedent approaching, they`re admitting as much. I`ll get it out.

Still with us, Eugene Robinson and Mike Murphy. Maybe I should try print. Hey, Mike, the along those same lines, you would think Republicans across the country would be exhausted after their voter suppression efforts. But no, that other newspaper, The New York Times reports this, Republican legislators in Oklahoma and Iowa have passed bills granting immunity to drivers whose vehicle strike and injure protesters in public streets. Mike, that`s a good luck. Imagine the branding opportunities there.

MURPHY: Well, political stupidity tends to have unlimited energy. You know, there are two things going on here. Now, look, I`m with Senator McConnell, I think a lot of the $2 trillion infrastructure bill, by the way, that`s half the cost of World War II to the U.S. government and adjusted real dollars. A lot of it is very broadly defined infrastructure. There`s only about a nickel on the dollar, right roads, highways and bridges.

And I`m for about a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending. There`s good stuff in the bill. But what you saw from Leader McConnell was the attempt to start debating the details rather than the headline of infrastructure good. And start looking program this kind of spending. There`s only I believe, about $20 billion in it for airports. If you`ve been through an airport lately, I think maybe that`d be a bigger priority.

Now as far as cuckoo legislation, there`s this game going on, where Republican legislators and state capitals worried about their primaries like ever, the kind of the militant MAGA wing, which is not the whole party, but it`s what they worry about in primaries, they`re starting to kind of create these problems like with the voter bill, Georgia, all this fraud that we didn`t have, that they`re trying to solve with a blunt instrument for their base politics. Now they`re doing the same thing.

Although I will say, you know I`m not for violent protesting. I`m a law and order guy and that sort of thing. But we need to codify it with a bunch of new laws pointed at a big conspiracy that exists only on those websites and in the minds of that sliver the voters. I don`t think from a policy point of view we do and it`s not good policy either. So it`s dumb, but we`re kind of in the dumb phase right now. And the grassroots of the party out in those state capitals, it`s unfortunate.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, I got one for you. That reminds me of the quote by Jesse Unruh out when the state where Mike is. Politics is the mother`s -- money is the mother`s milk of politics. Here is from your paper, quote, corporations that pledged to cut off Republican lawmakers who oppose certifying the presidential election, largely made good on the commitment removing a key source of financial support for the party. But at least a third of those 147 republicans nevertheless raised more campaign money compared with the same period in 2019, boosting their collections from individual donors to make up the difference.

Eugene, that`s what reminded me of Jesse Unruh what`s at work here?

ROBINSON: Well, the Republican Party is changing. In fact, I would argue it`s hard to define it as, strictly speaking, a party right now because it has a crazy MAGA wing, it has more working class voters than it had before. It has Donald Trump, you know, down there in Mar-a-Lago trying to be a puppet master.

It`s not an organized political party, in the sense that we think of them. And one of the results, of course, is that what they can agree on in Washington, at least, it`s just to say no, that they vote together. You know, in both no, one, whatever the Democrats are trying to do. I don`t think that`s a winning even short-term strategy mentioned as medium or long term.

And I don`t think the Republican Party will remain in this state for terribly long, simply because our two parties are resilient, adaptable institutions, and eventually, they find a way to reform themselves and to start making, start cohering again, and making sense again, I think the Republican Party is just a long way away from that right.

WILLIAMS: OK, lightning round. 15 seconds each. Don`t make me come out there. Here`s the question first to Mike, then to Eugene. Does Chris Christie have a chance?

MURPHY: A small one. He finished sixth in the New Hampshire primary. I don`t see a lot of rocket fuel.


ROBINSON: Absolutely not. I don`t see a future for him in today`s party. If he waited eight or 12 years, maybe if he felt like doing it then but not now.

WILLIAMS: All right, folks, that`s a good night for all of New Jersey and the other 48. Eugene Robinson, Mike Murphy, two longtime friends of this broadcast for good reason. Thank you, gentlemen, very much. We`ll do this again.

Coming up for us. First, Joe Biden pledged you`ll remember, 100 million vaccinations and his first 100 days. Then he went ahead and doubled that goal. Today the goal was achieved with time to spare.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On tomorrow`s vaccine, vaccination numbers come out. We will show that today we did it. Today we hit 200 million shots.


WILLIAMS: Even as the president marks that extraordinary milestone, there are concerns tonight that vaccine supply may soon outpace demand. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation our country is going to reach a tipping point on vaccine enthusiasm as they call it within the next two to four weeks. We`re already trailing off from the peak of inoculations. One business leader put it this way to the New York Times, we`re about to enter the hand to hand combat phase of this war.

Back with us again tonight, thankfully, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, infectious disease physician and the medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston University School of Medicine. We`re so happy to have you here, Doctor. I`m going to read something you yourself tweeted, it`s time to consider dropping outdoor mask mandates. Evidence is strong on low outdoor risk now. I may still wear them in large stationary crowds in close proximity. But let me go for my run maskless mask in pocket. You speak for a lot of people and though he has an odd bedside manner, I`m going to play this from Rand Paul, who made kind of the same point we`ll discuss on the other side.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): If you want more people to get vaccinated, Joe Biden should go on national TV, take his mask off and burn it, light a torch to it and burn his mask and say, I`ve had the vaccine, I have now saved from this plague. If you`ll get the vaccine you can be safe too.


WILLIAMS: OK, we`re not condoning arson in any form. But doctor, what you`re saying and what he`s saying do have common ground here and in advertising they call it proof of performance. It`s a reward, wouldn`t it help vaccine hesitancy to give people a goal of, you know what, when you`re when you`re good, you can take your mask off in certain circumstances.

DR. NAHID BHADELIA, INFECTIOUS DISEASES PHYSICIAN: Well, Brian, I never thought I`d find a day where Rand Paul and I have anything in common. But and we don`t actually completely and we`re not completely uncommon except for agreeing that vaccines are good move, and that we should get vaccinated because that is our way out of it.

I think the trouble here is the CDC guidance currently says that if you are -- if you, you know, if you`re indoors, wear a mask. And if you`re outdoors, wear a mask, particularly where you cannot maintain that six foot distance and you are spending a lot of time around other people. And what you`re seeing is that there`s a complete variation all across the country in terms of how outdoor masks are managed. Some places don`t have outdoor masks, other states have outdoor masks mandate but not for exercise or only for when you can`t maintain that distance and other states like my own Massachusetts is actually requiring it all the time.

What that does, in some ways, and even before we get to the vaccine, we`ve learned a lot right, but 90 percent of all the infections are coming from the inpatient side by waiting the inpatient outpatient, sorry, indoor and outdoor risk. What we`re doing is they`re not equal, you know. I think what we`re ignoring is that we`re opening up into our capacity and letting people walk in and take their masks off and dine in doors and that is still bringing the cases up.

And so what we`re -- what we should be looking at is not whether or not we should stop wearing masks outdoors, but whether mask mandates should go down. And there should be clear step up for state from the CDC as more people get vaccinated about when such a mandate for outdoor should come up, particularly if that mandate on the outdoor should come up before the indoor mandate, which I think most people agree there may be months before we take that mandate.

That`s the difference. But I think all of us are saying vaccines are good, let`s get to the other side of it, because it means that we can all be safer.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, I also have to ask you about something personal for you. But I`m asking because of the lesson for the world and that is the public health disaster slow rolling crisis we`re watching in India. 300,000 new cases a day or thereabouts patients to a bed in hospitals where you can find a bed skyrocketing death rate. What is -- what`s the lesson here? beyond the human tragedy we`re watching.

BHADELIA: Thanks, Brian, for saying that. So I, you know, I think we`ve all experienced loss during this pandemic. And you know, it`s in -- in the last week, I actually lost an aunt and another one of my aunts is currently sick with COVID in India. What you`re seeing is why mine is one of hundreds of stories that I know many diaspora, you know, American Indians, we`re hearing this from our families where you basically seeing a public health disaster, that`s a confluence of really just restrictions coming down, you know, large gatherings occurring.

You`re seeing vaccines uptake not being as high as they should be, and potentially a small roll of the new variants that we think that might be more transmissible and the big goal here is that in that situation, you really should do what New Delhi one of the big cities is really suffering from how, you know, overloaded hospitals, is doing its locking down and pushing on getting more people vaccinated. But between now and then, I think India and Brazil is another place needs humanitarian assistance, because what`s going on over there it`s beyond imaginable as a tragedy right now.

WILLIAMS: Doctor, I`m sorry to raise that, I`m sorry for your loss, it`s just so important that we keep our eyes on it. And of course, keep the people of India in our thoughts at all times. Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, our guest tonight, we are forever grateful for your expertise. Thank you.

Coming up for us. The start of Earth Day is just minutes away here on the east coast. But tonight there`s something you need to see in the Middle East that should demand the world`s attention.


WILLIAMS: The world remains a sporty place, just tonight Syria and Israel appear to have traded missile strikes. And after a decade of civil war in Syria at least 400,000 Syrians have been killed that`s a lowball estimate millions more displaced.

The conflict has also left behind an environmental disaster in Syria`s northern region and now poorly maintained oil fields are contaminating the surrounding territory.

Head of Earth Day tomorrow, we have this report tonight from NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Northern Syria practically floats on oil. But instead of making the people rich, the oil is killing them. A decade of war has left oil facilities here in ruins and created an environmental catastrophe. Dozens of rivers and streams now run black. The water is lifeless and undrinkable. These are the children`s playgrounds.

Abdi Abdullah (ph), a village leader says the land is poisoned. We do not want oil he says. The people in northern Syria are close American allies, the Kurds. Their oil has long been their curse.

When ISIS took over, the terrorists seized the oil facilities to fund their murderous caliphate. When President Trump finished driving ISIS out, he wanted the oil too.

DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: We`re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil.

ENGEL: But the oil pumps were never really secured. Unmaintained the spew day and night. Unregulated black market refineries pollute the air. Many children work the sites.

Oncologist Dr. Denish Mohammed (ph) says long thyroid and skin cancers are now rampant.

Every day we see four or five new cases of cancer just in my clinic he says. I spent years following the plight of the Syrian Kurds. They fought off ISIS with U.S. Special Forces. Now they`re fighting what`s beneath their feet and losing.

U.S. troops continue to patrol here looking for ISIS holdouts, but there`s still no stability. And the environmental fallout from the toxic mix of war and oil means millions of Syrian refugees will have a far less welcoming homeland to return to.

(on camera): The U.S. military did not respond to our request for comment. There are currently no plans to clean up the oil contamination. And any cleanup because of the ongoing conflict will be extraordinarily difficult and expensive. And this is just a glimpse of the environmental degradation in Syria. Brian.


WILLIAMS: Our thanks to Richard angle for that report. It hardly gets any more depressing or helpless seeming than that, on this eve of Earth Day, which now begins minutes from now. Well, coming up. A funny thing happened at a Senate hearing this week, when one of the scholars of the senate got schooled himself.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, let`s talk about that guy senator John, no relation, Kennedy of the great state of Louisiana. He`s the one who likes to play the country lawyer maybe even the small town barber or general store manager, it`s a downhome persona that masks a first class education at Vanderbilt, Oxford, UVA law school, Magna cum louder undergrad Law Review executive editor, you know the rest all that scholarly stuff.

At senate hearings he goes big on the down home phrase ology and cute aphorisms with witnesses. He likes to play the role of I`m just a guy from Louisiana asking questions. But at a hearing this week, he might have met his match. When he asked Stacey Abrams if she knew what was in the voter, Georgia, the voter suppression law down in Georgia.


SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA): You`re against the Georgia bill. I gather. Is that right?

STACEY ABRAMS, VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I`m against certain provisions of it. Yes.

KENNEDY: OK. I think you`ve called it racist bill. Am I right?

ABRAMS: I think there are provisions of it. They`re racist. Yes.

KENNEDY: OK. Tell me specifically, just give me a list of the provisions that you object.

ABRAMS: I object to the provisions that remove access to the right to vote that shorten the federal runoff period from nine weeks to four weeks over your district the time that a voter can request or return an absentee ballot application.

KENNEDY: Slow down for me our audio is not real good here. OK. What else?

ABRAMS: It bans nearly all out of precinct votes.

KENNEDY: Bans what? I`m sorry.

ABRAMS: Bans nearly all out of precinct votes.


ABRAMS: Meaning that you get to a precinct and you are in line for four hours and you get to the end of the line and you are not there between five and 7:00 p.m.

KENNEDY: OK, what else.

ABRAMS: (INAUDIBLE) are over again.

KENNEDY: Is that everything?

ABRAMS: No, it is not. It restricts the hours of operation because it now under the guise of setting a standardized timeline. It makes it optional for counties that may be -- may not want to see expanded access to the right to vote, they can now limit their hours instead of those hours being from seven to seven. They`re now from nine to five, which may have an effect on voters who cannot vote during business hours during early voting. It limits the --

KENNEDY: OK, I get the idea. I get the idea.


WILLIAMS: So that there was Stacey Abrams, Spellman College magna cum laude graduate, UT Austin Truman scholar, Yale Law School, offering a primmer on the Georgia voter suppression laws as Senator John, no relation, Kennedy of Louisiana to take us off the air tonight.

With that, that is our broadcast for this Wednesday with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.