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Transcript: All In with Chris Hayes, 2/8/21

Guest: George Conway, Floyd Abrams, Sheila Jackson Lee, McKay Coppins, Jennifer Rubin, Atul Gawande


We are hours away from the second impeachment trial of Former President Donald Trump. 144 constitutional lawyers signrf a letter saying, "any first amendment defense raised by President Trump`s attorneys would be legally frivolous." Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Chuck Schumer announced low-income Americans will soon be able to apply for up to $7,000 from federal government to cover the costs of COVID-related funeral expenses. According to a study, the U.K. COVID variant is spreading quickly, doubling roughly every 10 days in the U.S.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Yes, indeed. We have to -- we have to at least share across these communities and all work together because we`re all -- we`re all in this together. Congressman Andy Kim and Connie Wun, thank you both very much for bringing this issue forward. That`s tonight`s REIDOUT. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts now.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST (voice over): Tonight on ALL IN.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Is Donald Trump guilty of inciting a violent mob against the United States?

HAYES: On the eve of his second trial, Republicans looking to give Donald Trump a pass or out of excuses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What we already know does constitute the gravest violation of his oath of office by any president in the history of the country.

HAYES: Tonight, famed free-speech attorney Floyd Abrams on the new arguments from Trump`s lawyers. How the conservative legal community is undercutting the former president with George Conway, and how the Republican Party is radicalizing against democracy.

And as we break two million daily vaccinations for the first time, new alarms about how quickly the more transmittable U.K. strain is spreading in America.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Modeling would tell us, Andy, that it could become dominant by the end of March. That`s the sobering news.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES (on camera): Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. We are one day away from the start of the historic first-ever second impeachment trial Donald Trump for incitement the violent insurrection against the government on January 6th which left five people dead.

We are in unprecedented territory. We have never impeached a president twice. We have never tried one who is out of office. Tonight, the Senate chambers set those long tables moved in for impeachment managers and defense teams to socially distance. Of course, we now have a pandemic unlike the last time that we did this.

The Trump legal team has submitted their final pretrial memo arguing the trial itself is unconstitutional and a politically motivated attack on Trump. House Democrats filing a concise "see you in court" type of response.

But here`s what we know so far about what the days ahead will look like. Tomorrow, we expect four hours of debate about that question of the constitutionality of the impeachment trial. There will then be a procedural vote to move forward with the main part of the trial, which will begin on Wednesday at noon and consists of up to 16 hours of oral arguments for each side, taking place Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Trump`s lawyers have requested the trial pause for the Sabbath. We expect the proceedings will continue early next week with questions from senators, possibly a debate over witnesses, and then possibly a verdict.

And we`re going to be covering all that as it happens, details and the arguments. But it is worth taking a step back to look at the whole picture here because we are really in the third act of a three-act drama, one that started when Donald Trump first ran for president in 2016. He won the Electoral College, he won the presidency while losing the popular vote by nearly three million votes. And in that election, he was the beneficiary of not one, but two criminal conspiracies to tilt the playing field in his favor.

The first, directed by Trump himself, according to court documents and his then-fixer Michael Cohen, the conspiracy to pay hush money to a porn star to hide his extramarital affair from the public right before the election. The second conspiracy, Russian interference in the election in his favor. The degree to which he was enmeshed in remains to this day somewhat unclear, but he certainly beyond dispute welcomed and solicit.

Soon after the 2016 election, Democrats and Republicans the House and the Senate and the Justice Department said about investigating that Russian interference in part to get to the bottom of what happened. But it all underlined the fundamental point of issue here, which is that Donald Trump is just not a person who believes in free and fair elections.

To his core, Donald Trump is a cheater and believes in cheating. And it`s one thing to cheat a golf and marriage, as we know he does, but it`s another thing altogether to cheat at democracy. Because cheating at democracy means destroying democracy. And Donald Trump is a person who manifestly cheats and wants to cheat. That was the core of the story of the Russian interference that he and his campaign his son welcomed and exploited.

The results of the 2016 election which again, were very narrow 70,000 votes tipping across three states to have a different outcome. They were for obvious reasons forever colored by the fact that Trump cheated. He defied the basic ground rules of free and fair elections.

Now, fast forward to act two, the first impeachment of Donald Trump. We had to go through that one because it had become clear that Trump was trying to cheat again in the next election. He was caught red-handed attempting to essentially rerun his successful play of 2016 this time by using his powers a head of state to withhold foreign aid from Ukraine in exchange for acts that would once again essentially tilt the playing field against his opponent, likely opponent, Joe Biden.

Now, the argument Republicans made at that time was, well, it`s only nine months until the election. If you don`t like Donald Trump, don`t impeach him, then vote him out then.


SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): I would say let the voters decide.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): I mean, let the voters decide this.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): The voters are voting and it is up to the voters to decide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s better to let the people decide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The answer is an election not an impeachment.


HAYES: Yes, an election, the voters, we love the voters. Let the voters decide. We should take our cues from the voters. What do the voters want? Now, Democrats like Adam Schiff, lead impeachment manager last time around, argued that wouldn`t work precisely because we can`t trust it will be a free and fair election with this man in office.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): He`s guilty as sin, but why not let the voters clean up this mess? And here to answer that question, we must look at the history of this presidency and to the character of this president or lack of character and ask, can we be confident that he will not continue to try to cheat in that very election?

Can we be confident that Americans and not foreign powers will get to decide and that the President will shun any further foreign interference in our democratic affairs? And the short, plain sad incontestable answer is no, you can`t. You can`t trust this president to do the right thing. Not for one minute, not for one election, not for the sake of our country. You just can`t. He will not change and you know it.


HAYES: And then we know what happened next. We did get that election. The Republicans acquitted Donald Trump. Voters, though, took the Republicans` advice. They voted Donald Trump out, fair and square. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump with a sizable Electoral College majority and a big margin, seven million votes, three and a half percentage points.

And so then what does Trump do? He refuses to accept the result results. He seditiously plots to overturn them. He pursues every possible avenue in attempting to overturn the will of the people culminating in a deadly attack in the capital designed to violently stop the transfer of power.

At which point it was clear to Democrats that another impeachment was unavoidable because this was an unacceptable frontal assault on democracy. And what a republican say then? Well, it`s too late now. His term is almost over.

Last year, it was don`t impeach him. There`s an election coming. Let the voters decide. And the voters decided, and he tried to overturn the voters along with help of men like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, and it became well, don`t impeach, we just had an election. Now, it`s just, well, he`s already gone. I mean, it`s too late now. We can`t do anything.

In all three cases, the issue has always been the same. Fundamentally, this man does not believe in democracy and increasingly, the party that follows him does not either. Trump is opposed to them. He takes actions in opposition to them. He is a walking talking no longer tweeting, existential threat to the Republic.

Hiding behind process arguments is pure cowardice and abdication of duty. If Republicans want to defend the President`s conduct, and by all means try to defend it, but they won`t and they largely can`t because it`s indefensible and it has been all along.

I want to bring in conservative attorney George Conway, a staunch Trump critic, co-founder of the Lincoln Project. It`s good to have you on, George. I saw a lot of process arguments on the Sunday shows from Republicans. It is very clear to me that the easiest and most cowardly thing for them to do is just not to try to get into the merits of any of this and just say, well, we can`t try them now. Never mind the fact that the reason that he`s no longer in office when he`s being tried is because Mitch McConnell delayed it. But the argument itself doesn`t actually seem like a pretty good one. In terms of the law in the Constitution. What do you think?

GEORGE CONWAY, CO-FOUNDER, LINCOLN PROJECT: It absolutely isn`t. I think as Chuck Cooper, who`s a very important conservative lawyer in Washington D.C. pointed out in an op-ed just the other day, the text of the Constitution does not support the argument that these senators want to latch on to, because it does not say to former office holders cannot be impeached and removed.

And in fact, and we conservatives like history, there`s a history of people being impeached and tried after leaving office. In fact, in 1787, when the Framers, and this is laid out very nicely in the House managers` brief, in 1787, just before the framers began the Constitutional Convention, there was a famous impeachment in the United Kingdom of Warren Hastings who had been the Governor-General of India, and he was charged with corruption after he had left office and returned to London.

And the Framers were fully aware of that precedent. And in fact, at the time of the founding, many states allowed, specifically allowed impeachment of former officeholders. And then in 1876, there was an impeachment of a Secretary of War who resigned two hours before he was impeached. He ran over to the White House and presented his resignation to President Grant because he knew he was about to be impeached. And the Senate tried him anyway. The House impeached him, the Senate tried him anyway, and voted 37 to 29 to continue with the trial.

And all the precedent is against Donald Trump here. And the only reason why 45 U.S. -- Republican U.S. senators have decided to latch on to this argument that the text of the Constitution and the weight of history opposes is because they`re afraid. They don`t want to face up to what they have to deal with here, what their duties require them to deal with here, which is a president of the United States who literally did the worst thing that any president ever has done or could do, which is to end try -- to end constitutional democracy in the United States of America.

HAYES: Yes. And that point, right, that we`ve now seen, you know, these different process arguments. But those are all reverse-engineered around the desire to not engage with the conduct, because they know the conduct is wrong, and indefensible. And that`s been the through-line throughout, which is why you get everyone twisting themselves in these knots.

CONWAY: Right. And the Senate really should know better because the Senate -- the reason why we are here today, as we`re opening points out, is because the Senate, specifically all the Republicans, except for Senator Mitt Romney, failed to do their duty last time around at the last trial ended a week -- a year ago last week. They failed even to hear witnesses about an outrageous effort by the President of the United States to extort -- use his presidential power over security assistance to Ukraine to try to extort an announcement by Ukraine about fake investigation of Joe Biden and his son.

And this was -- this was, as you point out cheating. And the reason why we are here today is they just blew that off because it was too uncomfortable for them to fit for them to deal with. And because they just decided, oh, it doesn`t matter, it doesn`t matter, it doesn`t matter. But it does matter because he is who he is. He did what he did because that`s who he is.

He was corrupt. And he doesn`t believe in democracy. He only believes in what`s in his own best interest. And that is exactly -- that was -- that metastasized in November and for the last two -- and the two months after that ending on January 6th with people dying on Capitol Hill with an insurrection that he fomented in order to stop the counting of electoral votes against him.

HAYES: What`s particularly galling is that he also -- when you say it metastasized, he actually recruited senators into this effort. So, when you see the clip of Ted Cruz saying let the people decide back a year ago, right, we`re having an election. Well, the people decided and Ted Cruz didn`t like it, nor did Josh Hawley, and they voted to overturn the people.

CONWAY: Absolutely.

HAYES: I mean, this whole idea -- the whole argument of the first impeachment was, who are we to substitute our judgment for the people? When the people actually voted, they tried to substitute their judgment in the votes they took on January 6th.

CONWAY: Yes. And Trump wasn`t -- Trump didn`t just start doing that on November 4th -- or midnight on November 4th. He was trying to undermine the election four months previous to that, because he knew he was losing. And he was basically saying, oh, well -- at one point, he said, let`s postpone the election, even though the text of the Constitution specifically says you can`t do that.

And you -- he was continually attacking the mechanisms of democracy saying that if I lose, it`s going to be because the election was stolen. This was all premeditated. And because -- and when you look at the -- you know, he`s got this flimsy first amendment defense, it isn`t about speech. It`s not about -- I`m sure Floyd Abrams will tell you about this later. It`s not about speech, it`s about his entire course of conduct in trying to destroy democracy. And that`s why he`s not -- it`s not protected by the First Amendment and impeachment isn`t covered by the first amendment.

HAYES: I have to read you this section of the -- of the pre-trial brief, which is just so batty from the Trump lawyers. And again, I guess in their defense, this is sort of a rush job, but they say in referring to the House managers brief it recites a long list of what happened on that day, how awful it was.

They say in a brazen attempt to further glorify violence, the House managers took several pages in memorandum and restate over 50 sensationalized media reports detailing the horrific incidents and shocking violence those hours. What does that even mean?

CONWAY: The reason why we sensationalize is because we all saw it on television and the 100 senators saw it on television, and 435 members of House saw it on television. Yes, it was sensational. But it also happened and there`s no dispute about what happened.

HAYES: Do you think -- where is the conservative the legal universe on this? I thought that -- you know, you referenced Chuck Cooper who is, you know, a very well-known and established conservative lawyer. He has this Wall Street journal op-ed, which again, the Wall Street Journal tends to be very conservative editorial page, so this seemed like a speaking to fellow members of the tribe as it were.

I just think that the weight of evidence and law here really isn`t on the President`s side on this. And the conduct itself was bad. And I just curious, like, if you polled the people in your world of sort of big deal, conservative practitioners and jurists, like, what they think about that?

CONWAY: Yes, I think that, Chuck -- that Chuck Cooper`s op-ed is emblematic of where everybody is. I mean, he was -- he was an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration. He shepherded. He was -- he was Jeff Sessions` visor in Sessions` confirmation hearing. He`s john Bolton`s lawyer. He`s been a member of the Federalist Society for decades.

You know, he clearly gets it, I mean, that this was the most lawless thing that a president has ever done. And the fact of the matter is, the President -- former president doesn`t have any good legal arguments. And also, for example, there`s Steve Calabresi, Professor Steve Calabresi of Northwestern, who has signed at least two op-eds that I`ve seen where he says that the president should be -- that the president should be -- President Trump should be convicted, not just impeach, but convicted.

And there are -- I`ve seen statements joined by Charles Fried, Reagan`s Solicitor General, and you know, I belong to a group of conservative lawyers that issued his statements. And you hear nothing, virtually nothing, on the other side. And I think that speaks volumes. I think that, you know, the fundamental thing is that the conservative lawyers do believe in the rule of law, and though many of them probably stayed a little too quiet during the last four years, there`s no question they`ve seen more than enough.

And the judges that were -- the conservative judges who were among the 60 courts that rule against Donald Trump were against -- are protecting the rule of law as well.

HAYES: George Conway, thank you so much for making time tonight. I appreciate it.

CONWAY: Thank you.

HAYES: Next, does Trump`s free speech defense have any standing. Legendary first amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams says no. Floyd Abrams joins me to explain why after this.


HAYES: On the eve of the second impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, the idea that Trump`s lawyers are offering is that he just "exercise his first amendment right under the Constitution to express his belief that the election results were suspect." It`s an exceedingly weak defense. You don`t really need 144 constitutional lawyers to tell you that. But just in case, 144 constitutional lawyers did just sign a letter saying, "any first amendment defense raised by President Trump`s attorneys would be legally frivolous. In other words, we all agree first amendment does not prevent the Senate from convicting President Trump and disqualifying him from holding future office."

One of the lawyers who signed that letter is Floyd Abrams, arguably the preeminent first amendment attorney in the country. He represented the New York Times during the Pentagon Papers case where two reporters who are jailed for not revealing their sources. And Citizens United, remember, that was a first amendment case in that landmark campaign finance case.

He`s the author of the Soul of the First Amendment, among other book books, and Floyd Abrams joins us now. It`s great to have you on Mr. Abrams. Why do you feel motivated to write this -- write this letter?

FLOYD ABRAMS, CONSTITUTIONAL ATTORNEY AND LEGAL SCHOLAR: Well, I don`t usually write letters saying the First Amendment does not apply. This was a situation in which I and all these other professors and scholars thought that it was -- the word we chose, frivolous, to maintain that the First Amendment protected President Trump with respect to his impeachment at all and with respect to the facts of this case.

HAYES: The letter raise that the first amendment doesn`t apply and impeachment proceedings so it cannot provide a defense for President Trump. Why does it not apply in impeachment proceedings?

ABRAMS: It doesn`t apply because there are lots of things that a president or any of us can do that are protected by the First Amendment that could still lead to impeachment. I suppose, the president ran around burning an American flag saying, I have no intention of protecting the people of the United States.

He took an oath to preserve and protect and defend the Constitution. If you start saying I won`t do it, if you start saying I`m not loyal, to pick that example, of course, he could be impeached.

HAYES: You also say that his speech and conduct around January 6th constitute unprotected incitement. And this to me is an even deeper level of analysis. I mean, I think the first point about the First Amendment not applying really does make a lot of sense. My favorite example is the President went around inviting China to invade, right? If the President was constantly like, I think we would be better off if China just invaded and occupied. Like, he probably want to do something like that.

ABRAMS: And you should do that.

HAYES: Right, you should do that. Which again, if someone wrote that, right, if someone wrote that and they`re -- the state tried to sanction them, you as their lawyer would rightly say, that`s outrageous. This is First Amendment protected speech. But a president saying it is another thing. But then the idea of incitement, which seems to me dicier ground first amendment wise, and you make this argument in the letter. The President`s speech and conduct around January 6th constitute unprotected incitement. What do you mean by that? ABRAMS: I mean, when the President started out for some time falsely saying that the election had been stolen, tells people to go to Washington and tell them it`ll be wild when they get there, gives a speech to them leading them to go to the Capitol, telling them to go to the Capitol, telling them they have to be strong and not weak, telling them they will lose the country. The country will be lost to them, unless they win this.

When you add all the different things up he said, and the context in which he said it, he was inciting them not only to go but to do something. And the only thing that they could do in that circumstance that would fit what he was saying was the sort of violence that we saw.

HAYES: It`s fair -- I feel like incitement is a difficult -- it can be a difficult category and it and the First Amendment protections are really important in this in terms of this. But it is striking to me that you think that this really does fit the bill. That the pattern of behavior, the actual speech and what happened culminate into something that is -- fits in a pretty small target, I would imagine you see.

ABRAMS: Absolutely, absolutely. Look, all of us 144 people, we all love the First Amendment. We all write articles generally saying I don`t want it to be expanded, it ought to be taken more seriously. But in a situation in which the totality of what Donald Trump did, the totality of what he said, amounted to a cry for then to take action, not just have views, and not just attend, not just go to the Capitol, but to be strong and to do this, and to do that, and you`re going to lose your country, unless you watch. I think the watch is very logically the violence that we saw.

HAYES: Floyd Abrams, a real legendary advocate for the first amendment, and a great pleasure to have you on, sir. Thank you very much.

ABRAMS: Thank you, Chris. Good to see you.

HAYES: I want to turn now to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. She was there at the Capitol on January 6th, had to be rushed to an undisclosed location along with other members for their safety.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): And looked straight ahead.

HAYES: And she joins me now. Congressman, can you hear me?

LEE: Yes, I can. Can you see me?

HAYES: I can see you. You`re someone who I think was an early -- you identified the President`s sort of chief antagonism towards democracy and free and fair elections quite early on. And I wonder what you make of this -- us arriving at this point now four-plus years into this?

LEE: Chris, because of my tenure and the background that I have, I have seen now four impeachment proceedings, including one of a judge. And it was evident as the election proceeded in 2016 that this campaign and this president and this person, Donald J. Trump had an irreverence -- an irreverence, not a reverence for democracy from order, from law and order, from respect, from dignity. And he carried that through the campaign right into the United States presidency.

That was evidenced by his reckless engagement with Russia, his inviting the Russian ambassador, if you will, to the White House by leaking classified information, by getting into fights with people of different racial backgrounds, by insulting African American women Congressional Black Caucus members, as well as other members of Congress. He was just irreverent.

And he clearly was someone that was not (INAUDIBLE). He was not a respecter of democracy. And it continued, as evidenced by his actions with Ukraine and his blatant discussion with the president of Ukraine of what you can do for me. That led, of course, to his prediction. He predicted that he might not allow a peaceful transfer of power. He was asked several times during the campaign, and he was glib, but he`s never precise. He never admitted that he adhered to the law in order of this nation. And he was right.

And he proceeded for months after November to talk about the election was stolen. He clearly became an insurrection as President.

HAYES: I`m curious how you and your close colleagues see the trial now in this respect. Obviously, the managers will be doing it. I get a sense in talking to senators every night, Democratic senators feel like they have a narrow majority, a country in crisis, a full plate agenda. They feel a solemn duty to do this, but they want to move through it quickly. How do you feel?

LEE: Well, first of all, I view the House managers as patriots. They have the experience that so many of us have, trial lawyers, knowing the Constitution, some of them are from the Judiciary Committee, and others are from relevant and important committees. They`re patriots. They`re simply trying to do their duty on behalf of the American people.

Then I would see this in this way in this question. What kind of nation do we want to live in? I think that is the question that the jurists who themselves could be considered victims as I might be considered one. In the chamber, I had a particular experience. We were in an essence locked down where we could not escape for a period of time. We actually heard the tormentors, the terrorist, the insurrection is banging up against that central door where they came from the United States Senate.

We actually saw four armed police officers playing close withdrawn guns toward that door as there was this loud bang. We actually heard that shooting, sadly, of the young woman coming in on another end of the house. It did not penetrate, but we heard that.

And so we`re all either victims or witnesses by way of video. And I asked myself the question, and the jurors should ask themself the questions in the United States Senate. What nation do we choose to live in? What nation do we choose to show to the world? And what nation do we choose to show to our children?

The second question they should ask, how seriously do we take the oath that I swear to defend this nation against all enemies foreign and domestic? Did the President do that? Did he watch in joy as was evidenced by video while the insurrection was occurring? We pleaded with him to please have these individuals drawdown. We pleaded with him, as did the mayor of the great city of Washington D.C. to place an advance the National Guard.

There were members of Congress, Chris, who were on their cell phones calling different states, one of them was Maryland. Please send the National Guard. The response was, as soon as I get the word. Obviously, the commander in chief had to give the word.

So, my position would be on this. There is a constitutional argument that is bogus. We have done individuals who are no longer in office, and we have both impeached them and convicted them for crimes committed, in this instance, high crimes and misdemeanors. And the other argument to that is that the President, evidenced by his acts, that he intended to bring down democracy while we`re in the midst of upholding it. He was there to bring it down.

What do we say to the world? And again, my question, what kind of nation do we live in or we want the world to know that we live In if we do not hold him accountable? He has a right to his defense. I think it`s excellent that he has defense counsel. They`re presenting his defense. That is democracy. That is the way our legal system works. We as Patriots are bringing forward our case as anyone would do, as I would do. And it`s up to the jurors right now to be able to hand over a sentence of guilty or not guilty.

And they have to choose both their heart this broad concept of conscience, this historical perspective of presidents of some 44, 45 presidents, including President Trump. Just ask the question, has any other president, no matter where they`ve been impeached or not, been charged with insurrection and the tearing down the government?

HAYES: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, thank you so much for your time today. I appreciate it.

LEE: Thank you for having me.

HAYES: Ahead, how far will Republicans go to retain power. The party`s radicalization against democracy while it probably will only get worse, after this.


HAYES: On the eve of this first-ever second impeachment trial, here`s the central story in American politics. The Republican Party is radicalizing against democracy. We saw with Trump, we saw with his enablers in Congress. But here`s the weird part of that. The other story about the Republican Party that is it is moderating on policy.

Josh Hawley goes from one week calling for $2,000 checks to trying to overturn a democratic election. The paradox, the central tension between these two make up an essay I just published today in the Atlantic. And it`s to me the defining story of the Biden era.

Two people who have closely followed the machinations of the Republican Party over the last few years, McKay Coppins, staff writer for The Atlantic, whose most recent piece is called The Coming Republican amnesia, and Jennifer Rubin, opinion columnist for The Washington Post who has a head -- has a piece today headlined, The GOP is not a normal party. And they both join me now.

McKay, what do you think about this sort of framework, radicalizing against democracy, weirdly, moderating in lots of places on policy?

MCKAY COPPINS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: It`s really interesting. I mean, it`s clearly true. And, you know, I think there`s no better and more recent, you know, signal of this, than the fact that Mitt Romney who ran in 2012 as the party`s standard-bearer, as kind of the ultimate fiscal conservative, is now proposing, you know, pretty progressive welfare payments to alleviate child poverty, right.

This is a policy that not only would Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have scoffed at in 2012, the majority of the Republican Party would have balked at. But what`s interesting about that is that, you know, set aside people like Mitt Romney, the majority of the Republican Party is becoming more radical on questions that were not previously seen as up for debate anymore. Questions about, you know, democracy, and should somebody who wins a presidential election assume the presidency.

And what`s strange -- your essay was great. And what struck me about it is that, as the policy differences between the parties start to shrink, and they`re still pretty big policy differences, but as they get smaller, you would think that that would mean that neither party would have as much incentive to kind of throw democracy out the window to try to win. But instead, you have the Republican Party, you know, busting all these political democratic norms to try to win.

And it`s because I think, as you rightly point out, it`s not really about policy for a lot of the Republican Party, it`s about who`s in charge, who gets to rule.

HAYES: Who gets to rule?

COPPINS: And that`s kind of the core debate.

HAYES: Yes. And the Mitt Romney plan is $3,000 per child, which is remarkable. It`s good policy. People can read about it. It`s -- there`s a democratic versions of various iterations. And to me, this question of who rules, Jennifer, has become so central. It`s central in both directions, right? I mean, it`s central to all democratic politics actually, right? People want -- you know, they want to feel like they have power and control. But it seems central to the exclusion of other things right now in the Republican Party in a way that`s really striking.

JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It is. I would only say this just to pick up on McKay`s last point, and that is, you may be keeping the Republicans too much credit and saying that their policies have moderated. Unfortunately, Mitt Romney is not the Republican Party. I wish he were. I voted for him once.

Those kinds of Republicans absolutely are moderating. Unfortunately, the rest of them, and this is to your immediate question, really aren`t in the business of doing anything. What do they believe in? What proposals are they advancing? Aside from those 10 Republicans who went to the White House with a smaller, tiny plan for rescue, the Republicans don`t believe in anything right now. They don`t believe that politics is a transactional business. It`s all about identity, the need to control power because they`ve convinced their base that without it, they`re doomed. Western civilization is doomed, white Christianity is doomed unless they hold power.

So, it`s no longer about policies at all. It`s simply about inflaming the base and making their own election a prerequisite of the continuation of life as they know it in America for their base.

HAYES: Yes. And as I -- as I noted in the essay, McKay, I mean, part of that, again, to maybe give too much credit, but I think there`s a core of this that isn`t wrong, which is that when MAGA rally goers look out at the commanding heights of American culture, they are correct that they are by and large, not occupied by people like them.

Like -- so what it ends up being is, you can`t vote out the New York Times op-ed columnist, but like that or the college professors, you know, whoever it is the people that write the ads you don`t, like the people -- so, this is now becomes our venue for power is politics to get those people.

COPPINS: Well, and this is what`s so interesting, right? Because the story of the last four years, really 10 years and a lot of ways, is that liberals have consolidated cultural power while conservatives have consolidated political power, right? This isn`t just at the national level, it`s at the state legislative level you look across the country.

But what conservatives I think rightly understood was that political power is fleeting. You get into this in your essay as well. We`re at a moment when the, you know, the parties are going back and forth in terms of their control of Congress and the White House. This is actually fairly unprecedented if you look at American history.

But holding on to political power only lasts so long. And so conservatives are feeling, you know, uneasy. They`re feeling nervous about the fact that they don`t have cultural power. It`s why they end up losing a lot of the big debates over things like gay marriage or the war in Iraq. You know when these issues are being litigated in cultural spaces, and media spaces, academic spaces where they don`t have as much influence, they try -- they try to respond by accumulating more political power, and to your point, feeling like they have to hold on to it by whatever means necessary.

Hayes: Finally, Jennifer, and quickly, do you think there`s room forward out of this sort of vise the Republicans seem trapped in now?

RUBIN: Well, they don`t think so. That`s why they think the courts are in all and be all. That`s why they maintain power in the culture wars. I think they have to decide whether they believe in democracy and whether they believe that politics is about serving the people or whether it`s about cultural identity spasm and temper tantrum. And right now, I think the temper tantrum said is in control.

HAYES: McKay Coppins and Jennifer Rubin, thank you both for making time tonight. I appreciate it. Ahead, what we know about the rapid spread of the U.K. COVID strain in America and why Dr. Fauci is still optimistic. And for some families who have lost loved ones, the Coronavirus help is on the way. A good news story next, stick around.


HAYES: Back in April, we are in the height of first wave of the pandemic in New York City when the country was shocked by images of bodies piling up at overwhelmed funeral homes at the epicenter of the outbreak. Prisoners from Rikers Island were burying COVID victims and others in mass graves on New York City`s heart Island.

At that point, April of last year, remember early in this, there are around 2,000 Americans dying from the virus per day. And at that time, Senator Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went to the hard hit neighborhood of Corona, Queens to call the Trump administration to release funding to pay for COVID-related funerals for families that could not afford them.

We discussed their call on this program at that time, knowing the Trump administration was refusing to cover those costs despite the federal government having helped pay for the burials of victims of past disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, Superstorm Sandy. Releasing the money just seemed like a no brainer. I mean, grieving families who could not afford burials for loved ones who died from COVID were absolutely desperate.

But The Trump administration refused. In fact, it went out of its way to explicitly block the money from going out. And then in December, lawmakers passed a COVID relief bill that included $2 billion in disaster relief funding for COVID funeral expenses, specifically earmarked for that purpose.

In December, we saw 4,000 Americans dying daily distribute all around the country. The problem was twice as bad as in April but the Trump ministration still did nothing to get that money out the door. Well, Donald Trump is no longer president, and today, Schumer and Ocasio-Cortez returned to Corona, Queens to announce that low-income Americans will soon be able to apply for up to $7,000 from federal government to cover the costs of COVID related funeral expenses.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I lost my dad when I was about 18 years old. And the funeral expenses haunted and followed my family along with many other families in a similar position for years. When you suddenly lose a loved one, you`re talking about an expensive four, or five, seven, $10,000. And then during COVID, with overrun funeral facilities, etcetera, families also are being -- are having to deal with -- having to pay for the storage of the bodies of their own loved ones. This is wrong.


HAYES: The program which runs for FEMA will cover funerals dating back to the start of the pandemic, so it`s retroactive. And Democrats are working to re-up it in 2021 as part of the new COVID relief package. As AOC noted today, crucially, undocumented families will be eligible to apply.

We are headed towards this incomprehensible mark where half a million Americans dead from COVID. The country has not yet begun to reckon with all that loss. But this is one small thing, one small thing the federal government can do to bring a small amount of relief to grieving families, something the government wasn`t doing due to the cruelty of the people running it. And it is very, very good to see that change.


HAYES: It`s a bit of a deja vu feeling right now in the pandemic in a worrying way. Almost a full year ago, there was a feeling of dread the virus which was ravaging China and parts of Europe could explode in the U.S. which of course it did. Now, there`s a very similar feeling around the virus variants.

A new study shows the variant first found the U.K. known as B-117 is doubling every 10 days. There`s concern from the CDC it could be the predominant strain in the U.S. by March. Although, as Dr. Fauci noted at today`s COVID briefing, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are thankfully still effective against that U.K. strain. But then there`s also the South African strain. And officials are concerned about data showing AstraZeneca`s vaccine not yet approved in the U.S. may not be effective against that variant.

Dr. Atul Gawande served in the Biden transition team`s Coronavirus advisory board, also staff writer at the New Yorker, who penned a piece titled "Inside the worst-hit county in the worst-hit state in the worst-hit country," chronicling the Coronavirus fight in Minot, North Dakota last fall. And Dr. Gawande joins me now.

One to 10, one being like everything`s easy, breezy, and we`re in great shape, 10 being like, I`m panicked. Where are you on the variance right now?

ATUL GAWANDE, STAFF WRITER, NEW YORKER: I`m at a seven. I`m worried. I`m worried. I`m not yet pulling the screaming alarm bell. That said, you know, you described the doubling in every 10 days. It was less than one percent just a few weeks ago. Florida, it`s now up to 10 percent.

And you essentially see this picture where the Coronavirus vaccine is scaling upward. You have hospitalizations with the wild version that we -- the virus that we`ve had going down. But then you have this virus climbing and climbing upward. It is more contagious. It is -- we have an effective vaccine, but the challenge is getting people to keep their foot on the brakes to stop this from spreading, masks work, our distancing policies work, but if we let up on this because we`re feeling good about where we are, then we will land back in the soup again.

HAYES: Yes. To me, it just seems like this -- there`s this question of are we going to have one more big, awful, destructive curve in this country, right? Like -- and that -- and that -- and when we think about that, that means 100 -- I means that`s just the amount of human misery destruction between having that or not and it`s just an open question. And part of it also depends on the vaccine.

I mean, the trajectory seems good, two million a day, we`re averaging 1.5, we`ve hit two. Do you think we have it in us to get to like three for the foreseeable future?

GAWANDE: I do think that the vaccine distribution is going to be going up, but it`s not going to keep up fast enough with the strains.

HAYES: Right.

GAWANDE: What makes me more optimistic is that over the last month, we`ve gotten the entire country up above 80 percent facemask usage. We have -- we have big parts of the country where it`s over 90 percent. I wrote about North Dakota, where it was negligible six months ago, now at 90 -- you know, 89 percent mask usage.

The key issue is can we keep our foot on the brake. And you know, the story again and again is that we have these battles. We are riven as a country about coming together. And the story isn`t about one group of people who don`t care versus another group of people who do care. This is a story about people desperate to have freedom again.

They`ve had a year with their kids not in schools. They`ve been without, you know, restaurant and bars are laying off people. That pain -- many people on one side feel they`re not hearing, the other people on the other side don`t feel they`re hearing each other. And we just have to find a way to keep pushing through and arguing with one another to get the -- get the brakes on.

HAYES: Yes. The North Dakota -- your reporting on North Dakota is fascinating and partly I think just that divide. But also the fact that people -- eventually people do change your behavior. That`s one of the lessons here. Like, you see enough people around you get sick and die, that that wins out in the end. It just happens too late to prevent stuff. But that does -- that is what happens in the end everywhere.

GAWANDE: And, you know, for the most part, the measures stick because people have seen how bad it is.

HAYES: Right. You know, it`s interesting, on the flip side, we have this now argument with teachers about saying, hey, schools are safe, why aren`t you going back? And it`s the same set of concerns. Do we hear each other well enough and can we manage this conflict in such a way that we -- you know, your earlier segment was can this not just be a war to the death but instead a debate, a fight? Yes, the votes are taken and then we move forward and we`re able to move in a decisive direction.

And you know, you saw in North Dakota, they did ultimately come together. But you know, at any moment, the foot can come off of the breaks.

HAYES: Yes, that`s the big fear. Gosh, we all feel it during this COVID winter. You said bars and restaurants, I was like, that sounds nice. Dr. Atul Gawande, thank you very much for your time tonight.

GAWANDE: Thank you.

HAYES: That is ALL IN on this Monday night. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.