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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, December 21, 2020

Guests: Joyce Vance, William Haseltine, Rick Wilson, Steven Corwin


New COVID strain raises alarms across the globe. U.S. tops 18 million cases as new COVID strain emerges. President-elect Joe Biden receives vaccine on live TV. President Donald Trump intensifies effort to steal the election. Trump and allies meet at White House about next steps to steal 2020 election. Attorney General Bill Barr breaks with Trump on special counsels. Fox News and Newsmax, facing lawsuits, walk back wild fraud claims about voting-machine companies. A new strain of COVID-19 reported in the United Kingdom has been blamed for a sharp uptick of cases.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Mike, thank you for the example that you and your staff have led Mike Fannin is the Editor of the Kansas City Star. We appreciate your time tonight and those efforts. That's tonight's LAST WORD. The Senate is in the middle of voting on the COVID Relief Bill. Stay here on MSNBC for the final tally. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams begins now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day 1,432 of the Trump administration leaving 30 Days until the inauguration of Joe Biden as our 46th president.

As we enter the second week of the vaccine rollout, and as we enter life with a second vaccine now in the pipeline, there are growing concerns tonight about a new strain of the coronavirus that has emerged in the U.K. mostly, scientists in Great Britain say it appears to be much more contagious than others that we have seen thus far.

Now parts of the U.K. are under a more strict lockdown, dozens of countries including Canada, France, Germany have suspended incoming flights from the U.K. for now, so far no indication the U.S. plans to join them. One White House Coronavirus task force member today explained what U.S. officials know so far.


ADM. BRETT GIROIR, MD ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH: The variant that's being discussed was first identified in September. So it's not something that just arose in the last week. There is no evidence of, nor reason to believe. It is not any more lethal or any more dangerous than the normal coronavirus. There is also no evidence to suggest no reason to believe that it would evade our vaccines that we have right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Possible, though, that if the updates come in that we might ban travel from the United Kingdom?

GIROIR: I think everything needs to be on the table.


WILLIAMS: The news about this new strain comes as the number of cases in our country now tops 18 million, and our death toll now stands at over 320,000 souls. It also coincides with day one of the rollout of the Moderna vaccine, which received you recall that emergency approval last week. Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden rolled up his sleeves for the first dose of his first shot. He got the Pfizer shot, offered praise for the vaccine effort.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: I think that administration deserves some credit getting this off the ground of operational Warp Speed.


WILLIAMS: And all this unfolding as Donald Trump appears to be opening up a new front in his fight to hang on to power and not leave the White House. This evening, his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows posted this, "Several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with President Trump preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned." That's the chief of staff to the president.

There have been reports that Trump allies in the House are planning to challenge the Electoral College certification of Biden's victory during a session on January 6. That was all but confirmed tonight by Republican congressman Jody Hice of Georgia, who was at the meeting and also confirmed Pence was there, "Big meeting today was Donald Trump, the VP, the President's legal team, Freedom Caucus, other members of Congress, I will lead an objection to Georgia's electors on January 6. The courts refuse to hear the President's legal case. We're going to make sure that people can.

Earlier Trump again made false claims about a massive election victory when he called into a conference for young conservatives in Florida.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We won this election in a landslide. They dropped hundreds of thousands of ballots of each state. It's all documented. The problem is we need a party that's going to fight, and we have some great congressmen and women that are doing it. And we have other some great fighters but we won this in a landslide, they know it, and we need backing from like the Justice Department and other people have to finally step up.


WILLIAMS: Tonight the Washington Post reports, "President Trump has turned to a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists, media-hungry lawyers and other political misfits in a desperate attempt to hold on to power after his election loss. Members of the group assembled in the Oval Office on Friday for a marathon meeting that lasted for more than four hours and included discussion of tactics ranging from imposing martial law in swing states, to seizing voting machines through the executive feed through executive fiat. The meeting exploded into shouting matches and outside advisors and White House aides clashed over the lack of a cohesive strategy and disagreed about the constitutionality of some of the proposed solutions."

And there's this, not to be outdone from the New York Times, the White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and the White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows repeatedly and aggressively pushed back on the ideas being proposed. Mr. Cipollone told Mr. Trump there was no constitutional authority for what was being discussed.

One of the lawyers at that Friday meeting in the Oval was Sidney Powell, the full on conspiracy theorists who has promoted the false claim that Venezuelan communist somehow programmed U.S. voting machines to flip votes for Biden. The Times also reports Trump entertain the idea of naming her as special counsel to investigate election fraud.

Today, Attorney General Bill Barr was two days left on the job through cold water on that suggestion, as well as the idea of the Fed seizing voting machines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the President have the legal authority to order the seizure of voting machines around the country?

BILL BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I say no basis now for seizing machines by the federal government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe there's enough evidence to warrant a special counsel to investigate that perhaps Sidney Powell or someone else?

BARR: Well, if I thought a special counsel at this stage was the right tool, and was appropriate I would do -- I would name one but I haven't and I'm not going to.


WILLIAMS: Barr also said he saw no reason to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Hunter Biden matter for his part Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani is now and this is important, distancing himself and his client from Sidney Powell.


RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Let me say definitively Sidney Powell is not part of our legal team. She hasn't been for five weeks. She is not a special counsel for the President. She does not speak for the president, nor does she speak for the administration. She speaks for itself.


WILLIAMS: Rudy Giuliani reached in a dark room today by Newsmax. Giuliani may soon be facing a ramped up federal investigation. NBC News reporting prosecutors in Southern District of New York have spoken to the Justice Department about making a legal request for Giuliani's emails. It's been reported the Feds were reviewing Giuliani's bank records as part of an investigation into his dealings in Ukraine.

Also tonight, a late breaking report from the New York Times suspected Russian hackers who penetrated the United States government agencies broke into the email system used by the Treasury Department's most senior leaders.

Earlier today, Attorney General Barr contradicted Trump and made it clear he believes the Russians were behind this attack.


BARR: From the information I have, you know, I agree with Secretary Pompeo's assessment it's certainly appears to be the Russians but I'm not going to discuss it beyond that.


WILLIAMS: With that, let's bring in our leadoff guests on this back to work Monday night, Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, co-author of the longtime bestseller, A Very Stable Genius. His forthcoming work will be on Trump's last year in office assuming it ends. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor and Dr. William Haseltine. He's a former professor at Harvard Med and the Founder of the University's Cancer and HIV/AIDS Research Departments, who now serves as Chair and President of the ACCESS Health International Think Tank. Good evening, and welcome to you all.

Phil Rucker, one of my favorite books over the last couple of decades by Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas is called the Wise Man. It's a gender specific, yes, but given the time in history it covers it's about the informal advisors to the President, East Coast establishment types all who guided the country in the post war era. Assuming a new title should be produced circle of sycophants around the president currently, what is as best your reporting tells you the state of play tonight on this fight against the election result which he lost?

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Brian, what you have right now is a president feeling under siege and wanting to try to reverse the outcome of this election. He has exhausted every legal avenue and failed there. He has exhausted political avenues and failed there. He now is looking for solutions. And, you know, many of the senior officials left in this government have not been able to provide him solutions because they don't exist. They're not constitutional, to do what he wants to do. And so that's why you see Sidney Powell, this outside attorney who had such kind of crazy conspiracy theories a month ago that she was fired from the Trump campaign. She is now back in the orbit, visiting with the president, meeting with him multiple times these last few days, to try to encourage the president to believe that there's some way he can overturn this election. Perhaps with some effort by his allies in Congress on January 6 when the Electoral College results are certified on Capitol Hill, that's what that meeting that you mentioned, with those Republican House members was all about today.

But look, this is a president looking for people who are going to tell him what he wants to hear, which is that he won in a landslide and the election results are going to be overturned. He's not going to have to vacate the White House on January 20. We all know that's not true. But the President is still, as of this hour, a few days before Christmas, I'm willing to accept that reality.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Counselor, I am assuming you dismiss talk of martial law as wild, dangerous and serious. I'm assuming you view the talk of the seizure of voting machines the same way. I'm also assuming you consider it serious, the story broken tonight on the Rachel Maddow Show that Rudy Giuliani indeed, looks like is facing an accelerated federal investigation?

: So all pretty good assumptions for somebody who hasn't been to law school. I think that you're dead on the money here, Brian, what we're seeing in the White House is really deeply concerning. And it is worth noticing what's going on, and calling it out for the serious effort it is by this White House to infringe upon our constitutional republic.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: The reality is the guard rails that we spent so much time talking about early on in the Trump administration, that didn't seem to exist then have now been reinvigorated. And it's the traditional institutions of our democracy, the military, some folks in the Justice Department, who now seem to be committed to making sure that this President leaves office on schedule.

And of course, you know, we've talked a lot about the fact that DOJ walks away from engaging in investigative tactics that could influence the outcome of investigations. There's supposed to be a very sharp hold on that activity around an election. So it's not surprising that we would see a little bit of talk about an investigation involving Rudy Giuliani. We know that that's been in progress, at least since October of 2019, when two of his business colleagues were indicted for conduct that involved foreign contributions, illegal foreign contributions being made in connection with U.S. elections. It looks like that investigation is live again and Rudy Giuliani should be concerned. We see reporting, he's talking with the President about a pardon, which indicates he really is concerned.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Haseltine over to your bailiwick. We're very fortunate to have you back on our broadcast tonight. The question to you is, how concerned should the folks watching tonight be when they hear this talk of a newly emerged strain coming out of southeastern United Kingdom?

DR. WILLIAM HASELTINE, FORMER PROFESSOR HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: I think the word would be alert rather than concerned. We don't know whether the vaccines are going to protect against it, it probably will. But it means that on top of the fuel, this is adding fuel to a fire. This virus is already more easily transmitted than it was when it originated. This is the second step up. And it's not the only place in the world that virus is more transmissible as occurred. There's recently a new report out of South Africa that a related but different strain, as many of the same properties as this one. And I think we know where they're coming from. We're creating them by treating people who have long, lingering infections, mostly immunosuppressed people with convalescent serum that actually creates a stew where the virus has a lot more chances to emerge, to mutate, to get around and to change. And it's a paradox we're trying to save people, but our efforts to save them seem to be creating these new viruses with some pretty dangerous possibilities, not only more transmissible, but there is a possibility suggested in South Africa that it is more lethal as well, especially to young people.

WILLIAMS: Well, Phil Rucker, if that isn't scary enough, we are -- we learn under sustained hacking attack by the Russians. The President's been mostly silent on that save a tweet that was designed to throw the Russians a lifeline. See all previous tweets on the Russians on the virus fill its vaccine rollout time. We're also in the middle of a horrendous spike. We have care rationing going on in some hospitals and communities in this country. So the President's silence on both fronts is odd why a total lack of engaging on his part.

RUCKER: Well, Brian, my colleagues and I spent the last few weeks actually trying to answer that question. How did we end up in this dark winter that we're in now? And why is the president so completely disengaged from the public health crisis facing the country? In the simplest answer we came across is something in one of his closest advisors said, which is that the President has given up on COVID, that he sort of created a personal timetable for himself of how many months he would stay engaged on this process, how long he thinks COVID would be around. And the virus has outlived that timetable. And so the President has turned on to other matters. He's not really paying much attention at all to COVID. We don't hear him talk about it. We don't see him tweet about it. We don't see him appear at those taskforce meetings.

And nonetheless, the doctors who are helping to try to guide the federal government response are trying to sound alarms in the White House, and they're falling in some cases on deaf ears. And that's one of the reasons why the spike has become so bad after Thanksgiving and right now in the run up to the Christmas and New Year's holidays. But the President is fixated on promoting and taking credit for that vaccine, for Operation Warp Speed without doing what the experts think is necessary to control the spread right now today.

WILLIAMS: To our viewers, by the way, the Washington Post piece that Phil referenced that we just showed on the screen is one of those towering pieces of work long enough to make sure you're comfortable before you embark on it. But please seek it out if you haven't read it already.

Joyce, over to you and your former employer, the U.S. Department of Justice, I noted the Attorney General had his farewell press conference today. I also noted only dry eyes in the House. He did take a pass on appointing a special counsel in the election matter or in the Hunter Biden matters. Should that be applauded? Or should we be fearful that that will get kicked down the road to the new acting A.G. Mr. Rosen, a man with no evident prosecutorial experience?

VANCE: Barr's comments today might have been a little bit more praise worthy, if he had made them when any of these controversies were fresh, but now the issues have been exposed. We know that there's no reason to have appointed a special counsel either for voter fraud or for Hunter Biden, frankly, because you only appoint a special counsel when you've got an issue that that the Justice Department has a conflict of interest on it and needs to get out of and that simply doesn't exist here. So Bill Barr is a little bit like a flat earther, who suddenly discovered and acknowledged publicly that the earth is round to be making these comments today.

You know, there's always the possibility that the issue, that that we could just be kicking the can down the road, and that the acting Attorney General could do something. But the clock is ticking out fast on this administration. There would certainly be legal challenges if there was a special counsel appointed at this point in time. And I think we would find that his hands were tied, both by legal challenges, but also by the fact the simple sheer fact that there's just not probable cause to take some of the action that the President wants, and that there's really no rationale for a special counsel investigation.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Haseltine, you get the last word. It's been theorized that what we're living through right now is the Thanksgiving surge. Do you fear, and equal Christmas surge that will hit mid to late January?

HASELTINE: I think that's clearly in the cards. You can see it in the travel bookings. You can see in the actual travel today, these people are -- people are traveling despite the fact that they are given every evidence that they should not. The infection rate is sky high and is even increasing. People are going to get together and it's a puzzle to many, many people why people are endangering themselves, endangering their families, endangering their loved ones and endangering their communities when they have all the information to know that they should not do that this Christmas. This, there will be other Christmases, but not for some of those who are taking these risks today.

WILLIAMS: We'll go out on a powerful statement from a powerful man in this field with our thanks to Phil Rucker, Joyce Vance and Dr. William Haseltine, thank you so much, all of you for starting us off on this back to work Monday night.

Coming up for us, does it all have to get worse before it gets better? Standing by for us one of the warriors in the Lincoln Project and a leading Washington journalist, they have a damage assessment for us tonight.

And later, on this the meteorological darkest day of the year, how much optimism should we have as these two vaccines now make their way across the country and into arms across America. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Monday night.



KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: We intend to work across party lines. The biggest challenges, the crises that are fun and center and our nation don't see party lines and if we are truly leaders, each of us in these positions, we've got to find a way to work together.


WILLIAMS: New reporting from the Washington Post today says Trump is leaving behind a mess and undermining Joe Biden as he prepares to take office. Post puts it this way, in his final weeks in office Trump is making a series of moves aimed at cementing his legacy and handicapping Biden's presidency from abruptly pulling troops from war zones to cracking down on Iran to encouraging the Justice Department to investigate his political enemies.

Back with us again tonight, Sam Stein, Veteran Journalist, Politics Editor over at The Daily Beast and Rick Wilson, longtime Republican Strategist, who has since left the party, also an author and co-founder of the Lincoln Project against Trump and Trumpism.

Hey, Rick, I'd like to begin with you. What kind of burden does this put on Biden? How real damage is going on right now? And is it just a matter of Ron Klain? Keeping a list of which wildlife areas to shut back down to drilling and exploration in the west, which committees to get Corey Lewandowski off of et cetera?

RICK WILSON, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I think a lot of this is a ministerial function that you can address a lot of it barely straight -- in a fairly straightforward way, but there will be things that they leave behind and the damage that they have done. That will lead to these like knock on litigation against various things with the -- like some of the wildlife areas, for instance, you know, their friends in the oil and gas industry move very quickly to exploit those, et cetera. So there were -- some of its ministerial, but it's all malicious, and it's all going to have, as I said, a sort of knock on effect that will not be pretty.

WILLIAMS: Sam, for the folks watching who intellectually know better but want their fears doused, can you guarantee everyone watching that January 6, will come and go with only the certification of the result of the elect doors, and January 20, will come and go and we will witness Joe Biden one hand in the air the other on a Bible quickly moving on to move into the White House?

SAM STEIN, THE DAILY BEAST POLITICS EDITOR: I think you can't guarantee anything, but I think it's probably -- it's almost sure that this will happen. Keep in mind that the House is run by Democrats. Just tonight U.S. Senate Republicans, including the number two Senate Republican saying, this has no chance in their chamber, but that doesn't mean this is without consequence, or that it's not scary. Certainly there are elements of this that will have, you know, profound lingering impacts on our democracy for generations to come. And then on top of that, if you're a Senate Republican, why would you ever want to even have to take this vote in the first place? I mean, you're being asked to choose essentially, whether to cross Donald Trump or support his efforts and basically overturning the democratic elections in our country.

And it's not really a place where you can find yourself a good in between route. It's either one or the other. So there's great damage that will be inflicted, I think reputation lifted off to the Republican Party if this does get its hearing on January 6, but ultimately, I think we'll end up in a place that we all suspect, which is Joe Biden will end up being inaugurated on January 20.

WILLIAMS: Rick Wilson, you tweeted over the weekend. I would love for reporters to ask every Republican member of the U.S. Senate the following question. Should Donald Trump declare martial law?

Rick absent the ability to do that, what do you think the tally -- what do you think the result would be?

WILSON: All of them would never have heard of Twitter (ph) or Donald Trump, they would all be so far in the tall grass, that you know, that the train hunters couldn't find them. This is the kind of thing he is forced them into over and over again, because they're too cowardly, to face up to his impact on their, on what was their party, and is now his party.

And so the idea that they would be forced into this situation, it highlights not only their weakness, but the absurdity of his position on this, the idea that we're even discussing in a tangential, ridiculous, silly way, the imposition of martial law in this country, it is a demeaning diminishment of the entire role of leadership in Washington by every elected Republican, they should be standing up me the only one of them who's really stood up on this is Liz Cheney.

And, you know, when you've got when you've got almost nobody in the Republican Party willing to say, hey, this talk of martial law, this talk of overturning a democratic and free and fair election is absurd. You don't have a functioning party anymore. You have basically a cheerleading section for Donald Trump. And they are so terrified. That, you know, look, it was a great thought experiment, because I would love to see the hemming and hawing of everybody from Portman to Johnson to Rubio, to Cruz to Holly, the Cotton, to Sasse, all of them having to try to answer that question. And they would do what they always do. They would suddenly have a meeting, they would never have heard of Twitter. They didn't know Donald who they would do the same thing they always do, which is to sort of cower in the face of corrosive absurdity.

WILLIAMS: And there's a there's a unique embarrassment and anger in the active duty and retired military field knowing this guy, suggesting martial law once wore three stars on both shoulders and represented this country in uniform around the world.

Both of these gentlemen have agreed to stay with us. We'll fit in a quick break here. When we come back, a lesson for some of the President's favorite television networks, playing for an audience of one is not without peril.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since Election Day, various guests, attorneys and elected officials have appeared on Newsmax and offered opinions and claims about Smartmatic and Dominion Systems. Both companies that offer voting software in the U.S. and Newsmax would like to clarify its news coverage and note that it has not reported as true certain claims made about these companies.

No evidence that Dominion uses Smartmatic software or vice versa. No evidence has been offered that Dominion or Smartmatic used software or reprogram software that manipulated votes in the 2020 election.


WLLIAMS: The Pro Trump network Newsmax is debunking its own reporting and guests on nonexistent voter fraud in the 2020 election. That's what you just saw there. Fox News aired a similar mea culpa over the weekend, after threats of legal action.

The New York Times reporting quote, the clarification came after Smartmatic voting software company sent legal demand letters to Newsmax, Fox News media and the much smaller ONE AMERICAN news network demanding that they correct and accuracies and in new windows and their coverage of the presidential election, and any role Smartmatic may have played in the voting process.

Luckily still with us are Sam Stein and Rick Wilson. Rick I have seen my share of walk backs in my career been involved in a few myself. But that's river dance. This is like Billy Elliot meets Scatman Crothers, this is professional walk back is the lesson here that you can't just lie and broadcast falsehoods.

WILSON: These people are backflipping faster than a Romanian gymnast who's told their parents are going to the Gulag if it doesn't stick the landing. I mean this is an astounding, you know, moment for the -- because the audience that they've coveted so much, the audience they wanted it's breaking away from Fox that's the pure Trump audience. Those people are turning on Newsmax and OAN now.

And it is an astoundingly beautiful thing to watch. It is a magical moment. Because no one believes any of this is true inside these organizations. They know what's on the line of BS. But now that they're they've been caught and now the threat of legal action is pending upon them. They have moved with dispatch to get out of this problem.

WILLIAMS: And Sam, bit speaking of people turning on people, there's a graphic that's making the rounds on social media tonight. I'll try to simplify this to the nth degree sent out from an assistant to the president labeled from POTUS. At the President's request, please see the attachment. This was sent to mostly Republicans on the Hill.

This is one of Trump's favorite graphics. It's designed to show that but for Trump interceding in the Kentucky Senate race, Mitch McConnell might not have been so lucky. So they're trolling the majority leader in the Senate. They last time I checked, they need a guy like that, they need friends in the Republican Party. What is going on here?

STEIN: Well, first off, I'm having trouble squaring Rick's gulag line with the festive background that he has. They're the two things just don't compute to me. That secondarily, onto the graphic, I had a source on the Hill, who was in disbelief over the graphic that was sent out to Republicans. It makes absolutely no sense from a practical standpoint. There's -- just no universe in which a tweet in a row book helped Mitch McConnell score almost 20-point election victory.

But beyond that, I think you get to a bigger point, which is, you know, for Trump, it's always transactional, right? I mean, what Mitch McConnell did here to offend him was he acknowledged that Biden was President Elect, and that was enough to essentially tear down any larger relationship that the two men may have shared, whether it be through judicial confirmations, or the upcoming Senate elections in Georgia, the special election in Georgia, in which Mitch McConnell does need Donald Trump to, you know, get engaged and fire up the base.

So, you know, this just goes to show me that everything is transactional with Trump, but it's always been the case. And it's going to be very interesting to see how this plays out in the weeks ahead, when there are extensively going to be many more cases where Republicans are being asked to take aside between respecting the outcomes of the election, and Trump's inner feelings.

WILLIAMS: One more to Rick Wilson, in Christmas Village where he's been joined by the cat. Rick, Sam's employer, The Daily Beast reporting from sources that the President is musing out loud about which airport might be named after him knowing you're a pilot and, you know from aviation. I remember today the FAA may have the last laugh, remember we give airports the three letter abbreviations in this country anything come to mind that.

WILSON: Nothing I can say on the air right now.

WILLIAMS: OK, I just can't like -- I just -- I don't know available airport.

WILSON: I think the first LaGuardia is a Queen's guy. I think probably needs to have. If they're going to name an airport after him, the LaGuardia experience will go on with his name attached to it. It will be as luxurious and fancy as it has always been.

WILLIAMS: LaGuardia, you come for the customer service, you stay for the great restaurant. Sam Stein., Rick Wilson, thank you gentlemen both so much.

STEIN: Thanks Brian.

WILLIAMS: Appreciate you coming on tonight.

WILSON: Thank you, Brian.

STEIN: Coming up for us back in May. Our next guest said he had never seen anything like what we were going through in a 40-year career in medicine. Tonight, we'll get his take on where we are right now as our nation crosses over 18 million known cases of this coronavirus when we come back.



GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: This is what we went through with COVID back in the spring when it ambushed New York and the rest of the country.

Why the United States after what we went through watching 120 other countries, why you wouldn't take action and require that people who fly to this country be tested first is beyond me. I mean, how many times do you have to make the same mistake in life.


WILLIAMS: Six flights a day from the U.K. to New York concerns tonight over this more transmissible strain of the coronavirus in the UK growing list of countries including Canada have cut off flights from the U.K. which may soon see widespread food shortages as shipments are cut off from the rest of Europe.

As for the Brits traveling here, Delta, Virgin Atlantic, British Air will require travelers from London to test negative for coronavirus before boarding flights bound for New York. We'll see.

For more we welcome to the broadcast Dr. Steven Corwin, cardiologist and internist by training. He is President and CEO of New York Presbyterian, one of the nation's largest medical groups where he has worked since 1991.

Doctor, thank you very much for a few minutes of your time. How concerned are you? How concerned should the folks watching be about this new strain?

DR. STEVEN CORWIN, PRESIDENT AND CEO OF NEWYORK-PRESBYTERIAN: Very concerned. I mean, I think you have a situation, Brian, as the governor said, we missed it in the spring. The virus was coming over from Europe. We were focused on travel from China. And then we had community spread and all hell broke loose, as you well know.

So I think that between human behavior and the transmissibility of the virus, we've got to be extremely careful about this latest revelation from the U.K. and take it extremely seriously. We can't get back to where we were in the spring. I think the governor got it exactly right.

WILLIAMS: How hard or easy has it been to get the vaccine for your frontline employees?

CORWIN: Well, you know, we had a little glitch over the weekend in terms of the Pfizer vaccine, we got the Moderna vaccine, first shipment today. We've given out over 5,000 doses to the frontlines. I got to tell you, the enthusiasm on our front lines for getting the vaccines is extraordinary. We have not yet seen the skepticism that some have predicted. Everyone has seen the necessity of doing this. The need to protect themselves, our patients, and we've had great uptick from this.

WILLIAMS: How do you compare today with the battle days in March and go by these two metrics, number one, what we've learned as far as treatment, and number two, just playing patient load.

CORWIN: Well, the patient load is much better for us. And unfortunately, it's not the case around the country. So the biggest issue we're going to have now as a country is staffing because you can't get staff from other parts of the country. And it breaks my heart to see what's happened in parts of Texas and Southern California. I know what they're going through.

Worried about 25 percent of where we were in the March-April timeframe. So we can handle that load. But we all have to be concerned about what happens over Christmas time. I know that people are fatigued with the pandemic. They want to see their relatives. But the goal of this Christmas should be let's get the next Christmas. And let's make sure that we're safe.

We expect to see a surge in January, we're concerned about it. And you can see other parts of the country really having difficulty especially with ICU care.

In terms of the care itself, we're better at, no two ways around it. When you're overwhelmed. When you when you don't really understand the disease, the mortality is higher are in hospital mortality, deaths was about 20 percent in the spring, it's now about 5 percent. That's still horrific.

But it's dramatically better. We understand the disease better, but we've got to get vaccinated. That's the only way we can get out of this thing. And the more vaccine we can we can put into arms, the better off we're going to be.

WILLIAMS: We'll take that change in percentage as a change for the better. Dr. Steven Corwin, thank you very much for the explanation and taking our questions tonight. Good luck to you. Have a happy holiday ahead. Coming up for us. Word has just arrived. Your United States Senate has passed the relief bill. We're going to take a look inside at what's really in it to actually help real Americans.


WILLIAMS: Well, we mentioned before the break long delayed help for American struggling in this pandemic will finally be on the way now as we just mentioned, Congress has just voted late tonight to approve the relief package.

While we are duty bound to note that for some this will be both too little and too late and we have grown to expect nothing more from this Congress. We have a report on what people can expect tonight from NBC News correspondent Stephanie Ruhle.


STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With a month long standoff over COVID aid finally at an end, help will be on the way soon for struggling businesses and families. What's in the $900 billion bill? First direct payments. $600 checks for individuals who make up to $75,000, $1,200 for couples who make under 150,000, plus an additional 600 for each child. Money that could hit bank accounts within days.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: We will be sending out next week direct deposit. I expect we'll get the money out by the beginning of next week.

RUHLE: The deal also includes an extra $300 a week and unemployment benefits starting in late December and lasting through mid March. 325 billion to help small businesses and extension of the eviction ban through the end of January and $25 billion in aid for renters.


RUHLE: Rachel Alvarez was furloughed from her waitress job in April and hasn't worked since. Before the pandemic she was making $6,000 a month. Now, Alvarez and her three kids are living on $255 a week.

ALVAREZ: I'm hurt for my children, you know, they shouldn't have to struggle like this.

RUHLE: Alvarez says she's frustrated help didn't come sooner. She hasn't been able to buy her kids a single Christmas present this year.

(on camera): Were you happy when you saw that Congress did come to an agreement?

ALVAREZ: Yes. For everyone in America, yes, very much. So something is better than nothing. And everybody needs something right now. We are not OK.

RUHLE: Brian, this rescue package is an important step to prevent more economic pain. But what's important, it's only a step. The majority of relief expires in early spring. And we know mass distribution of the vaccine isn't even expected until the summer.

So already, before a stimulus check has even been cut, lawmakers are talking about what needs to be in the next bill. And with the next bill in mind, that makes the Georgia Senate race which by the way is two weeks from tomorrow. All the more important that race that's going to decide who controls Congress in 2021.


WILLIAMS: Indeed, it will, Stephanie, thank you for that. Stephanie Ruhle with our report tonight. Coming up, the history being made above us right now. We will bring it down to earth for you when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight we take seriously our role as your number one source of Space News and Information. Tonight there is a lot, starting with the show playing out right now in the night sky. No pressure but what's happening tonight hasn't happened in 800 years.

Jupiter and Saturn are the closest they will be in our lifetimes. Some are calling this the great conjunction. Others called the duo collectively the Christmas star. The good news is the show is clearly visible to the naked eye. Other than the moon these two will be the brightest objects in the night sky. Any kind of telescope even a good pair of binoculars will show you details like Saturn's rings even Jupiter's moons.

The bad news is if it's cloudy where you live, these photos are going to have to suffice. They will both remain up there just not as close as they are tonight.

These two running mates have been dancing closer together across the sky since this summer. Like any two siblings, they are quite different. One more graceful and mysterious with iconic rings. The other known for its sheer girth and unique birthmark. One had a line of cars named after it. The other can claim a town in Florida.

They've never been terribly close, but they get together on big occasions like the one tonight, about every other 800 years in the skies above our troubled world. If you're watching us here in the east, you've got a few hours of viewing left. We wish you good weather. If you watch us at 8:00 p.m. out west, you're in luck, you have hours of quality viewing ahead of you. You may also catch a meteorite on this the peak night of the Ursids meteor shower.

There is also the winter solstice to talk about. Here in the northeast it means we are basically living in Minsk. It's cold, it's nasty. It starts to get dark around noon. We are in our furthest seasonal tilt away from the Sun of course, but this right now is the worst of it.

Tomorrow, we get a few seconds more daylight, and so on and so on. And by June, there's almost six hours more daylight each day than there is now. So we've got that going for us. We just have to survive a dark winter and I have it on good authority that 2021 is going to be better.

That's our broadcast for this back to work Monday night officially the darkest day of the calendar year. Our thanks for spending part of it with us. On behalf of the men and women at the network's of NBC News, good night.


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