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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 9/22/21

Guests: Bob Woodward, Robert Costa, Peter Hotez

Summary

Democrats are at odd over key votes on President Biden`s agenda, as lawmakers point fingers with default and shutdown looming. Authors of the new book "Peril" on former President Trump`s dangerous final days in office. FDA granted Emergency Use Authorization to Pfizer booster shots to those 65 and older and those at high risk. Cumbre Vieja volcano spewing molten lava threatening surrounding areas.

Transcript

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: On the debt ceiling, the two-track infrastructure bills and more. That is tonight`s "LAST WORD." THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 246 of the Biden administration and briefly here are our breaking news tonight has to do with those booster shots. The FDA has now signed off on a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for people 65 and older, as well as those at risk of severe disease. The CDC is expected to weigh in with more specific guidelines within the next day or so.

It`s complicated. That news comes as President Biden is on a full-court press to save his first-term agenda and the stakes, as we keep reporting, could not be higher. He spent today getting his own Democrats on board trying to bridge the differences between members of the home team. This afternoon, he held three separate face-to-face meetings at the White House with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate, as well as the moderates and those on the left.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a messy sausage-making process. The president is bringing people with a range of viewpoints on big important packages. He`s going to be deeply engage with getting bills and legislation across the finish line.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Biden doesn`t have a whole lot of time to try to broker a truce with members of that home team. Both pieces of his agenda, his trillion- dollar bipartisan infrastructure bill, and that $3.5 trillion social safety net package, well, they appear to be on a collision course. Democrats arguing among themselves over which one to vote on first. Speaker Pelosi has promised a vote on the bipartisan bill Monday. Progressives say they`ll vote no unless the larger bill is passed.

When she returned from her meeting today with the president, Pelosi, who was mobbed by cameras, seemed to suggest everything was on track.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you still planning on holding the bipartisan infrastructure vote on Monday?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We are on schedule. That`s all I will say, and we`re calm and everybody`s good and our work`s almost done.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Nothing to see here. The White House and Democrats in Congress are also facing another critical deadline. They have to figure out how to avoid a government shutdown October 1 and keep the U.S. from defaulting on its debt shortly after that. Senate Republicans say the Democrats are on their own here and they have vowed to vote against a House bill that addresses both issues.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is now pushing a competing short- term funding bill, keeps the government open, but that does nothing about raising the debt limit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): So my advice to this Democratic government, to the president, the House and the Senate, don`t play Russian roulette with our economy. Step up and raise the debt ceiling to cover all that you`ve been engaged in all year long.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Rather remarkable, considering he`s not offering one vote in support.

Earlier today, Senator Elizabeth Warren slammed the Republicans over their stance on the debt ceiling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): It`s time to call the Republicans out over this. Are you kidding me? On the debt ceiling. When Donald Trump was president and needed to raise the debt ceiling over and over again, Democrats said yes, we get it. And what are we trying to raise the debt ceiling for now? To cover the debts that were incurred during the Trump administration. And the Republicans want to turn around and play political games with that?

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: "Washington Post" has an assessment from the folks at Moody`s. It says a failure to come to an agreement on this debt ceiling could push the U.S. into an immediate recession. Could also wipe out as much as $15 trillion in American household wealth and cost our economy up to six million jobs.

It will be interesting to watch Schumer get this done and in a moment we have a guest on who can talk about just that.

Amid all this, we learned another item on Biden`s agenda will not become law. Congressional talks on a bipartisan police reform bill have collapsed. The effort to reform policing had gained widespread support of course after the killing of George Floyd, but today the lead negotiators in the Senate, that would be Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, well, they announced there would be no deal.

White House says it will look for other ways to hold our nation`s police departments more accountable. But as the "Wall Street Journal" points out, and I quote, "Without legislation, the administration is relying largely on the Justice Department in its efforts to change American policing."

Meanwhile, the pandemic continues. You know the stats. We`ve been losing just north of 2,000 souls a day. Most of the estimates are that 95 percent or so of the patients in ICU beds are unvaccinated in the hardest hit states.

[23:05:00]

Today during a virtual global summit on the virus, the president announced the U.S. will donate half a billion doses of the Pfizer vaccine to other countries around the world.

With that, let`s bring in our stellar starting line on this Wednesday night, Peter Baker, veteran journalist and author, chief White House correspondent for the "The New York Times," Claire McCaskill, former Democratic senator from the great state of Missouri, and Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post."

Indeed good evening and welcome to you all.

Peter, we`ll start with your beat. What do we know about these meetings today, how they went and the fix Joe Biden finds himself in presently?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is in a fix because in fact he has gambled so much of his presidency on this very -- you know, very narrow window that got in front of us the next few weeks, right? This $3.5 trillion bill isn`t just about spending. It`s about a lot of different legislative priorities that he`s wrapped into a single measure. It`s as if FDR put his entire new deal into one bill or LBJ of the great society.

It`s not just spending. It`s on -- you know, free community college for students, childcare for parents, it`s climate legislation. He wanted to include immigration legislation. And what he`s finding there of course is the real trouble is within his own party, among his own Democrats. But look, he will tell you, what the White House will tell you is this is just a stage. Every time it looks like the train is about to crash into another train, the tracks change and things, you know, get back on course, and that this will in fact also head toward a resolution that they think will be acceptable. They just can`t tell us how they`re going to get there yet.

WILLIAMS: Claire McCaskill, we can`t default on the debt ceiling. It is remarkable. If you can fog up a mirror to watch McConnell say, with a straight face, that the Democrats have to do the right thing here. He`s telling his entire caucus to sit down during the vote. So now the pressure goes to one Charles Schumer of New York. If you`re Schumer, Claire, how do you get this done?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), FORMER MISSOURI SENATOR: Well, I think he may have to separate the reconciliation and all of this stuff going on with that and continuing the government. He`s only got three things he`s got to worry about now. He`s got to figure out how he gets a reconciliation bill through without Biden`s package. He`s got to figure out the debt ceiling. And he`s got to figure out how to continue to fund the government.

Mitch McConnell has amazing nerve. I mean, the Republicans did this three times during Trump. They raised the debt ceiling. And I think it`s time to do away with this. You know, it seems to me that when you vote to spend money, you are voting to raise the debt ceiling because that`s what they`re defending, that Americans won`t understand what this is. It sounds like to Americans that they`re raising the limit on their credit card.

No, they`re not doing that. All they`re doing is paying their bills. That`s all they`re doing. So, the notion that they want to play political gains with America paying its bills is astounding to me. That they are trying to withhold every single vote. Democrats always gave them votes on the debt ceiling, always.

WILLIAMS: So, Eugene, tonight, among other things, we`re thinking of George Floyd. So much for the most impactful summer of public protests in the history of this republic, being the impetus for police reform. If you ask the Senate negotiators, not so much. And so it ends with a whimper.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Right. As if one of our major political parties didn`t notice or didn`t care, and I`m talking about the Republican Party because they`re the ones who don`t want to really do anything substantial in the way of police reform even though they move a few inches toward something that might be acceptable but in the end, you know, Cory Booker from the Senate, Congresswoman Karen Bass from the House on the Democratic side, were extremely flexible and extremely -- working extremely hard just to bring the Republicans to just a minimal acceptable place where some actual reform could happen and they couldn`t get them there.

So, it`s up to the Justice Department now, as you said, and as they continue their pattern and practice investigations of police departments in their interventions there, that`s basically what we`re left with at this point.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, back over to the White House. Compared to our it turns out fatal exit strategy from Afghanistan, compared to the diplomacy speak of pissing off the French, where does the debt ceiling rank in terms of the problems Joe Biden is looking at?

[23:10:02]

BAKER: Well, look, the debt ceiling is a more immediate crisis at this point. If they were to somehow fail to pass it, as you just pointed out with that study written about by the "Washington Post," it would be economic, you know, consequences of a great and enormous damage to the country. So that`s a higher priority, I think at the moment. Afghanistan is something that Biden would just assume put in the rearview mirror. Obviously he`s trying to smooth things over with the French.

But the debt ceiling, looms in front of him. And, you know, look, I mean, in the end, Washington constantly plays this game with chicken and so far has not actually, you know, gone over the ledge here. But there`s always a first and the first time is what Biden doesn`t want to have happen on his watch. So he needs to find a way, he and Chuck Schumer to figure out how to navigate this so that they`re not jeopardizing the country`s credit standing and putting the economy into a tail spin at the very moment he`s trying to boost it forward.

WILLIAMS: Claire McCaskill, remember, what was it? A test vote on TARP back in the day when all the constituents of all the elected Republicans in the Senate called in to Washington to remind them that their finances and 401(k)s were on the line. Staying on brand here for McConnell could really, I know it`s not your leading concern, extract a huge cost when you`re trying to take over the Senate.

They can`t really go back to their home states and campaign on we actually voted to tank your 401(k).

MCCASKILL: Yes. And keep in mind here, if Mitch McConnell actually pulls this off, it will be their fault that the country defaults. Everyone in this country knows it`s an evenly divided Senate. Everyone, we`ve had enough focus on the filibuster to understand it takes 60 votes. This notion that all of a sudden was always taken a bipartisan vote, that all of a sudden Mitch McConnell gets to sit down and say we don`t have to worry about the country`s economy tanking or our world standing diminishing. It will be his fault.

And you`re right, Brian. You know what Mitch McConnell cares about? All that dark money that funds those elections. And guess where that money comes from? It doesn`t come from mom and pop down the corner drugstore. It comes from major corporations in this country. And I can assure you he is going to have a moment where his stomach will clinch over whether or not he`s going to be able to get the money he needs, dark money, to take the Senate, if he does this to the economy.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, give me an on-the-fly column of 60 seconds or so, reminding everybody that Joe Biden was elected, having been there on his experience and his competence, and while folks like us have learned never to draw conclusions about a moment in time because tomorrow everything can change. If time stopped tonight, what would your column say with his agenda frozen? What happened? Is there a leading reason to you?

ROBINSON: Well, I guess I`m not quite sure about the premise. It`s unclear to me that the agenda is frozen. If time stopped tonight we wouldn`t know how it ended, right? We wouldn`t know what eventually happened. And my position has always been, and I`ve been right so far, that Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer are pretty good at what they do. They`re pretty good at this passing legislation thing.

They`re pretty good at this counting votes thing, all of them. They have a lot of experience at it. And so, you know, we`ve been to the brink several times already, leading up to this huge brink. But, you know, so far, they`ve managed to pull it out at the end. You know, the past results do guarantee future performance. I mean, so, you never know. But I certainly would not be writing any sorts of obituaries for the Biden agenda, for the Democratic Party. You know, let`s see how the next few days and indeed few weeks play out.

WILLIAMS: And Peter Baker, indeed, you`ve written more A-1 and political analysis stories than all of us put together. You`ve learned that same lesson about obituaries on the fly.

BAKER: Well, that`s right. You know, look, at this point in history, you would have said Ronald Reagan`s presidency was not going very well. You would have said Bill Clinton`s presidency was not going very well. I mean, we should be careful about judging a presidency at this stage of its term. We`re only a few months in basically. Obviously, looked terrible over the summer with the Afghanistan withdrawal. It looked good a few months before that with the infrastructure package and COVID relief bill.

[23:15:03]

We`ll see where it looks, you know, a year from now with the midterm which will be his first real report card. There are a lot of time, you know, left to be judging here. And so, you know, it looks terrible right before it looks great and vice-versa. So, you know, I think that Gene and Senator McCaskill are right. Let`s not assume we know where it`s going to end because we`re still a few days and weeks away. And Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have shown before that they know what they`re doing.

WILLIAMS: Great thanks to our stellar starting line tonight, Peter Baker, Claire McCaskill, Eugene Robinson. All friends of this broadcast, with our thanks for starting us off.

Coming up, "Peril" authors Bob Woodward and Robert Kosta on the state of our democracy and what`s next for the only twice impeached retiree in the entire state of Florida.

And later, a green light for Pfizer booster shots as we announced at the top of the broadcast. But what if you`re not 65, what if you got the Moderna or the J&J? We will ask the leading expert as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I think democracy is hanging by a thread. It`s not just the president`s agenda. And I don`t mean to be hyperbolic. To paraphrase President Kennedy, I really do believe this is democracy`s hour of maximum danger.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Our next guests echo that sentiment in their new book. That was last night`s broadcast by the way, detailing Donald Trump`s dark, dangerous final year in office.

[23:20:03]

It is 400 plus pages, it`s all on full view. The new reporting they offer on just how close the vice president came to overturning the election and how concerned the chair of the Joint Chiefs that our country would end up somehow at war. But the book`s final two words may paint the most ominous picture of all, quote, "peril remains."

We are so pleased to have here with us tonight the co-authors of "Peril." Bob Woodward, celebrated author, journalist and associated editor at the "Washington Post," and Robert Costa, national political reporter with the "Washington Post."

Gentlemen, thank you so much. I know you`re on book tour and you would probably give anything for either a cup of coffee or a couple of hours uninterrupted sleep, and we appreciate you being with us.

Mr. Woodward, I seem to remember you having a coauthor a few years back then you wrote a couple of dozen solo books. Tell us how you came to take on a coauthor again and did you bump into him in the newsroom?

BOB WOODWARD, "PERIL" CO-AUTHOR: No. It goes back to 2016 when Bob Costa, who`s less than half my age, said we should go interview a presidential candidate named Donald Trump, and we went and interviewed him at his hotel in Washington. And Costa realized Trump had to be taken seriously in the political environment that existed at that moment. I went on to do a couple of books on Trump. Turns out Costa is the expert on Trump in so many ways, and Congress, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party. So I was looking for somebody younger and more skilled than I that I could lean on. And I was able to. He is an engine of perspective and balance, and I do maybe one or two interviews a day, and he`d do six or seven.

WILLIAMS: Let me tell you, Bob, Mr. Costa --

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERT COSTA, "PERIL" CO-AUTHOR: That`s not accurate reporting.

WILLIAMS: Oh, no, you`re not going to jump in here.

COSTA: That`s not accurate reporting.

WILLIAMS: You`re not going to jump in here. I was going to say to Bob that Mr. Costa is the rising tide that lifts all boats and that`s why he was a frequent guest on this broadcast for so many years because he all made us look better by dent of being on. And I`m still going to cut you off from saying anything modest, Costa. But I`ll ask you this. I remember of your leading traits, the size and depth of your rolodex, including your many conversations and so much reporting on and pertaining to Mr. Bannon.

And reading this book, it strikes me that Mr. Bannon has had an undercelebrated and certainly under reported role in everything that came to be 1/6. Am I correct in that?

COSTA: You`re spot on and thanks, Bob and Brian, for your generous words. It`s a pleasure to be here and to work with both of you. And when you look at the Bannon story, for example. Bob Woodward and I said to ourselves, we`re going to go back to January 6th to what happened in this dangerous transition period and ask further questions, dig deeper. And we all knew about Rudy Giuliani, President Trump, their roles, they were outsized figures during the transition period.

But as we started to report and sit down with sources for five, six, sometimes 10 hours, longer interviews at length, you started to realize there were other players in this whole period who had significant influence, John Eastman, the conservative lawyer who we put in our book, we put in the memo, draft in a memo about how they could try to throw the election to the House of Representatives, not certify it for Biden, have Vice President Pence essentially give the election to the House Republicans to give to President Trump.

And Steve Bannon, he`s now known as a podcast host, a conservative figure, popular on the far-right. But he`s also someone we realized, too, was talking to President Trump in the final days of the Trump presidency. Talking to President Trump even January 5th, the eve of the insurrection. And saying to President Trump based on our reporting kill the Biden presidency in the crib. January 6th has to be a reckoning. These were moments that had not been reported. And it shows how -- so often we ask the question, Brian, we did it so often on your show, where are the top Republicans around President Trump? Where is Leader McConnell, Leader McCarthy? That`s not always the story in this modern GOP. It`s about some of the fringe figures, the outside figure who actually wield significant power in these times.

[23:25:00]

WILLIAMS: So, Bob Woodward, this may call for analysis on your part. But that last point Robert raised, what was it about the Republican Party that left it so open, so vulnerable to a complete and total hostile takeover that, of course, remains to this day?

WOODWARD: Well, in the Republican Party, the old order was dying. And I remember talking with President Trump about this and said you seized that, you seized literally history`s clock. And Trump kind of jumped in his chair in the Oval Office and said, yes, that`s exactly what it was. The power of Trump exists. The polling clearly shows that he heads the Republican Party and you see all of these figures.

Bob Costa`s right. I mean, there`s this affinity that people have for Trump but it`s very practical. He`s got support in the Republican Party and he can -- Costa and I have talked about this. Looks almost certain that Trump is going to run. He is the powerhouse in the party. And he struck a chord, and for 20 or 30 years from now, people are going to be writing books and analysis about what happened in 2016.

But he did it. He lost in 2020 by, you know -- if you look at three states, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Georgia, if you flip 45,000 votes, he would have been elected president. So he`s there. And we`re continuing the reporting on -- in this book. What he did. What he cared about. I mean, there -- let me -- I don`t want to dwell on it too much but there`s a scene in the book, when General Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, senior military man for the United States, discovers that Trump has signed a memo calling -- ordering withdrawal of all forces from Afghanistan and Somalia.

This is while Trump is still president. Milley did not know about this. He marched over to the White House, barged in on the National Security adviser, Robert O`Brien, said what the F is this? Do you know about this? The National Security adviser did not know about it. Others did not know about it. O`Brien, the National Security adviser, took it to Trump and said you can`t just -- the procedure, the law requires that you have a meeting of the principals and the National Security Council, and Trump agrees to nullify this memo.

So, here Milley`s looking at this and say, oh, it`s not some fantasy that Trump is going to go rogue. He`s seen Trump go rogue. Trump signed that memo. Because of a couple of underlings took it to him and he went along with it. So, Trump, a dangerous man, as we know a dangerous president.

WILLIAMS: I would call it third-world politics. I don`t want to offend the third world. Both of these gentleman have agreed to stay on for another segment.

Coming up, one of our conversation continues. As we mentioned, the book ends with this stark warning. More on the peril that remains.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:32:47]

WILLIAMS: The twice impeached, retired former president has long been threatening another run for the White House in `24. This weekend, he`ll be back at it again, back out on the road at a "Save America" rally in Georgia. This might be a good time for a reminder. Just last week Trump again tried to get Georgia`s secretary of state to just declare him the winner there.

Still with us are the co-authors, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

Bob, this isn`t the kind of question that lends itself nicely to a 60- second reply but I`ll try. I don`t know about you but a lot of the people in my life who are smart and thoughtful, some of them recognizable faces and names from our broadcast have been in touch with me to say, in their view, now, right now is the time to worry.

Your book makes it very clear, down to the last page, that we came close. How close are we right now?

WOODWARD: Well, you can`t predict the future. But what Bob Costa and I found in eight or nine months of reporting, just going off line, not writing for the "Washington Post," or going on television, is that there was a national security crisis in this country. That war with China was dangerously possible. There`s a call that we have the transcript of between Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House and Chairman Milley in which, on January 8th -- now this is two days after the insurrection at the Capitol, in which she -- and I don`t know if you`ve had a chance to look at it.

Extraordinary transcript of the leader of the House, the speaker of the House, saying, I`m worried about President Trump`s control of nuclear weapons. What guarantees can you provide? Milley says there are procedures. At the end of the call he makes it -- he realizes Nancy Pelosi was right. This is dangerous and he takes action, calling in the key people doing essentially what happened in 1974 with Nixon, when the secretary of Defense, James Schlesinger, put the word out, don`t take orders from President Nixon or the White House, without involving Schlesinger.

[23:35:22]

Milley filled that bill and did -- took parallel action on his own and I`ve never really seen a scene like this where he calls in the people who run the war room in the Pentagon and said you will not act without making sure you talk to me and consult me. So there was very serious worry about two of the catastrophes that could befall this country. Some sort of use of nuclear weapons and a war with China.

WILLIAMS: So, Robert Costa, when you and Bob reported that it was Senators Lee and Graham who were vetting Trump`s false claims, obviously coming up empty, you know, to name two guys who put the second sycophant, there it is right there, they`re very Trumpy members of the Republican caucus in the Senate. Tonight Trump went after both of them. "Your Republican presidential candidate won in a landslide," that`s a lie, "but has so little backing from Republican leadership. They should be ashamed of themselves."

Robert, if he`s talking like that to the loyalists and he really is mulling over an attempt to be their presidential candidate in 2024, doesn`t that equal coming close to burning the house down before attempting to redecorate?

COSTA: It`s an expression of his power within the Republican Party. This is someone, Senator Graham, who we documented in our book, is trying to rehabilitate President Trump`s image, trying to get Trump back to a position to run again in 2024, playing golf with him very frequently. Yet tonight in a statement, a public statement, Trump is saying Senator Graham, Senator Lee should be ashamed of themselves. And that all comes from reporting from "Peril" where you have Senator Lee and Senator Graham realizing in the January 2nd, January 3rd, January 4th, that all these claims being made by President Trump are not accurate.

That there`s no meat to these claims of election fraud. But President Trump tonight, even though he`s in political winter, he`s signaling with this statement he`s in control. And if you come at him, even if you`re a political ally, a friend, you`re going to pay a consequence and he`s going to take you on.

WILLIAMS: The name of the book, again, is "Peril," and that`s not an accident. We are so grateful to the authors, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, for spending time and staying up late with us tonight.

Gentlemen, thank you, good luck to you as we go along the way.

Coming up for us, it is official as we said at the top of the broadcast. Pfizer booster shots are coming but only for some. And we will talk about that issue with one of the leading vaccine experts in our country.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[23:41:30]

WILLIAMS: As we mentioned tonight the FDA approved that emergency use of Pfizer`s booster shot for Americans 65 and older, and those who are at high risk. "New York Times" telling the story this way, quote, "Roughly 22 million Americans are at least six months past their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, according to the CDC, about half of them 65 and older. Millions of Americans who received the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are still waiting to learn whether they too can get boosters."

It`s an important night to have our next guest back on with us, Dr. Peter Hotez. He`s a vaccine scientist working with a team to develop a low-cost COVID-19 vaccine for global distribution. We`ll get to that in a moment. He is co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children`s and he`s the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

So, Doctor, my words, not yours, but this is where our beloved federal government becomes really clunky. First of all, you and I both know that people of means and access are going ahead and scheming to find a way to get that third shot. It`s happening all across the country every day. Second of all, the use of the government nomenclature, which is for the public safety, this Emergency Use Authorization, that has been seized upon as no one needs to remind you, by the antivax community so they can label the vaccine experimental and scare people.

Should the U.S. ever be in the business of saying no to deserving, worried, responsible people who may be 55 and maybe seven or eight months past that second shot, but want this third booster?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, VACCINE SCIENTIST: You know, Brian, back in early part of this year, or even late December, I said on multiple occasions I thought this was going to be a three-dose vaccine because we gave those first two doses so close together. Three weeks apart for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, four weeks for the Moderna. And we have to do that because we have to fully immunize the American people especially the health care workers and nursing home residents, and it saved a lot of lives. It was the right thing to do.

The problem was we forgot the public communication on this, both from the companies and from the federal government, failed to articulate and say, by the way, like any vaccine, given that close together, we`re going to see waning immunity, we`re going to need a third dose, get ready for the third immunization. This is going to be a three-dose vaccine. And so it caught people by surprise when Israel started showing data over the summer or even earlier that we were seeing waning immunity and decline of efficacy effectiveness from over 90 percent to 40 percent to 50 percent and that got people very worried and scared, and even though we knew it was going to happen.

And so now we`re slowly coming up to where Israel is at. They presented data last week showing that 60 -- people over the age of 60 clearly benefitted from a third immunization and restored a lot of the protective capacity, and then even in the MMWR and the CDC that was done as well. So that`s a long way of saying we`re finally getting there but we could have gotten ahead of this to explain it.

[23:45:02]

And we`re still not quite there because this -- none of these discussions and deliberations at the FDA seem to adequately consider the long COVID effect, the neurological deterioration that the U.K. has shown and cognitive declines, that are even in 40 to 50-year-olds. So we`re kind of getting this kind of half-baked approach of saying 65 and older with an asterisk that if you`re in a high-risk group, to be determined whether it`s underlying conditions or occupational exposure, you can get it as well.

But I think we would have done much better had we messaged this from the beginning, like some of us have recommended. And, and go down to a lower age group, as you rightly point out people in their 40s and 50s.

WILLIAMS: Well, brag on your work for a moment with us this evening, Doctor. While the rest of us talk for a living, talk about the work you`ve done to vaccinate the wider world, importantly beginning in India and Indonesia.

HOTEZ: Yes, thank you for that opportunity. Our Texas Children`s Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor has been working on global health vaccines for a couple of decades. And we started working on coronavirus vaccines 10 years ago, developing SARS and MERS vaccines. And then we took this pivot. And all of our vaccines are low-cost recumbent and protein vaccine that could be made at very low cost and no limits to the scale that you can produce it because it`s a technology that`s similar to the hepatitis B vaccine that`s been given for decades.

So when I say pivot, our center which is co-headed by myself and my science partner for the last 20 years, Maria Elena Bottazzi. We turned that around and made a COVID vaccine. But that didn`t get a lot of help really from either the federal government or a lot of international agencies. But countries are so desperate for vaccines because they knew MRNA vaccines weren`t coming because they can`t be scaled.

We successfully worked with biologically in India, they`re producing 100 million dose a month, with the hope that it will be released for emergency use authorization next month and as well as with Indonesia with Bio-Pharma. And, you know, this checks all the boxes. No limits to the amount you can produce. We think around a $1 to $2 a dose. The simple refrigeration, safety record, that`s equivalent maybe to the hepatitis B vaccine. We`ll have to see which means it potentially could use in kids.

So it checks a lot of boxes and we`re hoping that we could scale this up for the world. But we do need more help from the federal government and other international agencies.

WILLIAMS: As always, thank you for your work, thank you for the words you have now shared with our audience on the status of all this domestically and overseas.

Our guest tonight has been Dr. Peter Hotez. Doc, it`s always a pleasure. Thanks very much for staying up with us tonight.

Coming up for us after this next break, the slow-moving disaster destroying a huge amount of property in a stunningly beautiful place.

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[23:51:28]

WILLIAMS: Nature has rumbled to life far to our east and across the Atlantic where for days now a volcano in the Canary Islands has been spewing molten lava and ash, forcing thousands of people to evacuate, burning homes and property as it goes. It erupted over the weekend for the first time in half a century. And it`s a stark example of that old adage, Mother Nature bats last.

We get our report tonight from NBC News correspondent, Miguel Almaguer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As spectacular as it is dangerous, tonight the ongoing volcanic eruptions on the small Spanish island of La Palma are triggering an unstoppable slow-motion disaster. For four days, fountains of fire have violently spewed hundreds of feet high. Rivers of bright red lava pouring into pools and engulfing homes. 20-foot- high waves of molten rock consuming and covering neighborhoods in their path.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We see it all of our life. We were running into the house, just packing the documents.

ALMAGUER: Preceded by a 4.2 earthquake, the Cumbre Vieja eruption continues to crack open fissures and volcanic vents, as tremors rattled the Canary Island. The sky filled with massive plumes of smoke and sulfur, forcing 6,000 to evacuate, and now the scramble to save animals as some 200 homes are destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language) Right now I feel powerless because you can`t do anything against a volcano. You can`t do anything.

ALMAGUER: The 1800-degree lava now flowing downhill towards the populated coastline and perhaps with the most significant threat still ahead, tonight this incredible display of nature`s fury could be weeks even months away from its fiery end.

Miguel Almaguer, NBC News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: And coming up for us here tonight, if America ever really was like the Grover`s corners of Thornton Wilder`s "Our Town," well, that happening anymore.

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[23:57:14]

WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight. People like to say, and I think a good many of us still like to believe, that local board meetings are still the backbone of our country. Town and city council meetings, PTA meetings, schoolboard meetings. But you know what`s happened in so many of our communities. Masks happened. Vaccines happened.

And perhaps you don`t follow your local news anymore and it`s tempting to pass it off as just in the red states but it`s hard to find a jurisdiction anywhere where the anti-vaxxers haven`t objected to a public health measure of late.

Well, the folks over at the Recount put together some of the most vocal and, frankly, the most imaginative.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to wear snot on your face all day? Fine, you do you, boo. But don`t force that non-science, Satanic BS on our kids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind that is blowing through the black people, through the white people, through the Chinese people. You`re blowing through your veins.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are demonic entities and all the schoolboards of all the United States of America go back to (EXPLETIVE DELETED) medical school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By putting masks on these kids` face, you can`t identify any of them. Voting on this tells me you guys support sex trafficking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Federalist Papers, and also the bible, and these guarantee my freedom and yours and our children`s to breathe oxygen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You dealt with sheep, now prepare yourself to deal with lions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you`ve done, you poked the cubs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And no one is going to mess with our cubs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And let me tell you something, go home tonight and take one of these spoons and put it on your vaccination spot. Guess what? It`s going to stick to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to the state and asking where they got their science? If you`re going to tell me the CDC, come on, guys.

REP. MADISON CAWTHORN (R-NC): Forcing our children to wear masks is nothing short of psychological child abuse. On the altar of wokeness.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any idea what`s in a vaccine? E.coli, pig blood, detergent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not a joke. There are COVID camps.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Concentration camps were something that the Nazis did.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your children and your children`s children will be subjugated. They will be asked, have you been a good little Nazi? (INAUDIBLE).

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Perhaps you remember your first edible. The Recount to take us off the air tonight. That is our broadcast for this Wednesday evening. With our thanks for being here with us, on behalf of all our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, goodnight.