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Transcript: All In with Chris Hayes, December 22, 2020

Guests: Josh Lederman, Paul Smith, Asawin Suebsaeng, Lina Hidalgo, Barbara Boxer, Al Franken

Summary

President Trump is offering pardons and commutations for 20 people, including four Blackwater guards who killed Iraqi civilians, three Republican congressmen who were convicted, and two people convicted in the Mueller inquiry. Dr. Anthony Fauci gets the Moderna vaccine on camera. the Texas Attorney General secretly asked the Trump administration to take emergency COVID relief funds back from Harris County, Texas. President Trump threatens to veto the COVID Relief Bill unless the check amount goes from $600 to $2,000.

Transcript

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST (voice over): Tonight on ALL IN. Breaking news, Trump offering pardons and commutations for 20 people, including four Blackwater guards who killed Iraqi civilians, three Republican congressmen who were convicted, and two people convicted in the Mueller inquiry. We'll have the latest. Then --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just remember, what you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening.

HAYES: The price of loyalty. Donald Trump turns on McConnell and Mike Pence as new concerns arise in the Pentagon, and the MAGA caucus plots a hopeless stunt in Congress. Plus --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our darkest days in the battle against COVID are ahead of us, not behind us. So, we need to prepare ourselves.

HAYES: Sliding vaccine timeline and how the Biden team is looking to boost production. Plus --

BIDEN: Congress did his job this week. I can and I must ask them to do it again next year.

HAYES: What this round of COVID relief bodes for a Biden administration when ALL IN starts right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES (on camera): Good evening from New York. I'm Chris Hayes. We begin tonight with breaking news. Just in the last hour or so, Donald Trump issuing 20 pardons and commutations ahead of leaving office including two people convicted in the Russia investigations that were pursued by Robert Mueller, Alex van der Zwaan, a fairly minor character who was convicted of lying to federal investigators in that Mueller investigation, and George Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser in Trump's campaign in 2016, and who pled guilty to the very same charge.

The New York Times reports that Trump's pardon list also includes four former U.S. service members who are convicted of killing Iraqi civilians while working as contractors in 2007. One of them Nicholas Slatten had been sentenced to life in prison after the Justice Department had gone to great lengths to prosecute him.

He was sentenced for his role in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians. If you don't remember, the Nisour Square Massacre was a bunch of Blackwater contractors opening fire on civilians who are stuck in traffic in midday Baghdad. Max Fisher at The Times reporting that one of the Blackwater contractors continued shooting civilians in the crowd even as his colleagues shouted over and over for ceasefire. One had to pull a gun on him to force him to stop. One of the people he shot was a mother clutching her infant.

Trump also pardoning three Republican former congressmen Duncan Hunter of California, a staunch ally who was sentenced to 11 months in prison for stealing lots and lots of campaign funds. Also, Chris Collins of New York, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump in the 2016 election who pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and lying to law enforcement officials, as well as hardline conservative Steve Stockman of Texas who was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for 23 felonies including fraud.

Trump had already pardoned or commuted the sentence of key allies, including Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. And this latest round of pardons is not expected to be his last before he leaves office in 29 days. Cynthia Alksne served as a federal prosecutor and as an assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington D.C. Paul Butler serve as a federal prosecutor in the Justice Department's public corruption division. And they both join me now.

Paul, let me start with you. There's two things I think of here. One, the public corruption aspect of this. I mean, there are a number of politicians now of his own party that he has pardoned, including these three Republican members of Congress. That is -- what is -- what message does that said? What do you think of that as a use of the pardon power?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: This is a cynical move by Trump. He's laying the groundwork for his certainly to come pardons of his family members and possibly close associates like Rudy Giuliani. And so, this was strategic. There are certainly some people who we pardoned who deserve clemency, including people who receive draconian sentences for drug crimes, and have turned their lives around.

And then there are people like George Papadopoulos and others who protected or tried to protect President Trump during the Russian investigation. And this is their reward with, as you say, many more rewards to come.

HAYES: Yes. Cynthia, this -- that aspect of it, the category of people who have now been pardoned who were either pled or convicted of lying extensively on behalf of the President, lying in furtherance of protecting him in furtherance of the enterprise around him. I don't think there's a ton of precedent for a president doing that.

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: There's not a ton of precedent, but there's precedent in the criminal world. I mean, this is essentially a criminal enterprise and he slowly pardoning everybody in an attempt to erase the actual history. I mean, we have Stone, we have Flynn, and soon we'll have everybody else. Now, we have Vander Zwaan and Papadopoulos.

You know, Friday night, Christmas night, expect Christmas cards to be flying and more pardons to come. I mean, he basically is pardoning everybody in the Mueller probe to try to erase that, a bunch of murderers, and political hacks. And then, there's a couple people he throws in to kind of try to hide it all and make it look like it's a proper use of the pardon power.

But he runs a criminal enterprise, and he's using his power to cover it up. And there's no way to stop him until January 20th.

HAYES: Yes. Paul, the pardoning of the Blackwater contractors, Nisour Square, was a horrific, horrific scene. Incredibly, profoundly traumatic in Iraq. The Justice Department did go to extraordinary lengths, multiple trials, if I'm not mistaken, if I'm recalling those details correctly. A scene of mayhem and bloodshed visited upon unsuspecting civilians for no reason, just going about their day.

And while those folks are getting pardons, the same administration is rushing ahead with an unprecedented spree of executions before they hit the deadline that they have to leave office. The juxtaposition of that is a little hard to swallow, I got to say.

BUTLER: Chris, more people have been executed by the federal government in the last six months than in the last 30 years. Barr and Trump are on a killing spree. There's no other way to put it. And when you compare the people who've been executed with the people who Trump pardoned today, it's grotesque.

So, recently, Karla Faye Tucker was executed. She was a survivor of sex trafficking and gang rape, the first woman to be executed by the federal government in decades. But we can think about Brandon Bernard who was executed recently. He was 18 at the time of his crime.

To show you how arbitrary the death penalty is, he was implicated along with four other people who were convicted of the same involvement in the crime. And some of those people are out now. They've been sentenced in the least. So, there's just no precedent for this in terms of what other presidents have done with regard to the death penalty.

Certainly, other presidents have used the pardon power in an instrumental and cynical way. But when you juxtapose the killing spree that Barr and Trump have embarked on with the folks who don't deserve any kind of mercy because they sold out the United States, it's really grotesque is again, the word that comes to mind.

HAYES: Cynthia, you and Paul both seem to be on the same page, which I think is reflecting the reporting that there's a kind of softening the ground happening here. I mean, that there's an expectation, obviously. There's no essentially functionally no check on this pardon power in the constitution. Pardoning himself is questionable.

But that -- you know, the more that -- the more he does this, the more it creates a kind of expectation or baseline he can exploit in the 30 days ahead.

ALKSNE: Right. I mean, there's more to come. But let's also think about it. And not only is it grotesque, as Paul says, but what if you were one of the officers that testified against these Erik Prince associates in the Iraqi murders? Why would anybody come forward as an officer, again, to help prosecute civil rights cases, if in the end, what's going to happen is political hacks are going to pardon and it's going to be wiped under the rug?

I mean, it puts the ability for prosecutors to prosecute way back on important civil rights cases. And it makes it more and more difficult for people to believe that justice is fair for everybody, because it's so obvious in this administration, not just Trump and his pardons, but Barr and his activities, that it makes a difference -- you get a different set a justice if you have big buddies and power.

And that is a legacy that is generational. That's something that my kids believe is true now. My kids in their 20s think well, sure. I mean, if your buddy is in power, you know, you have a different set of justice. And that's -- the damage for that cannot be understated. We have hundreds and thousands of kids coming up and young lawyers who don't have any idealism about justice, and that will have an effect on the justice system that's chilling.

HAYES: Yes. We should note, the President has a real soft spot for people either convicted of or accused of committing war crimes. They've made up a quite a significant part of his pardon portfolio. Cynthia Alksne and Paul Butler, thank you for being here tonight on a very short notice. I appreciate it.

MSNBC National Political Reporter Josh Lederman joins me now. Josh, what do we know about how this list came about and the process and timing behind it?

JOSH LEDERMAN, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, we know that the President has been considering granting many pardons for quite some time, because he's spoken about it publicly. A lot of the people who are on this list are not hugely surprising because we knew that if the president were to try to pardon his allies and people who have perhaps exposed themselves to legal jeopardy in trying to protect him over the years, these were the likely people. And some of them have spoken openly about the interest that they had in getting clemency from the president.

Now, we don't know how many more, if any, the President will still grant. There are still some others that he could certainly add to that list. It's not uncommon for presidents to grant clemency in the final days of their administration. But if you think back to President Obama and others, they often use that awesome power granted to the president to do something like help low-level drug offenders and try to set a policy message through those commutations and pardons as opposed to trying to offer protection to people who clearly stand to benefit from it when they took some risks in favor of President Trump over the years.

HAYES: You know, there was some speculation that that Barr's exit was -- had to do with whatever pardons were being considered. Obviously, you don't need the Department of Justice to do a pardon. The President literally can just do it. He doesn't need the Department of Justice. But one wonders like how much -- I guess how much this was circulating around the White House? How much people inside have a sense of who might be next and what that process looks like, process?

LEDERMAN: Yes. I mean, they have not run the kind of traditional process that you outlined, which is, you know, typically there is a committee at the Justice Department that goes through these applications in thorough detail, considers the pros and cons. At some point, a recommendation gets passed along to the White House where they have attorneys in the White House Counsel's Office, who handle pardons and commutations and take a look at that and are able to process that with the President.

But the typical process for the president in the past when he has granted pardons to others has been, you know, folks get hit in his ear. We saw, I think, Kim Kardashian at one point, you know, lobby -- essentially lobbying the president for pardons that they think he should make, and then ultimately, he makes a decision.

So, we'll have to see whether or not that was the case in this instance. It certainly was a long list in which he took some big names that were obviously going to be controversial, like the ones that we've been talking about, and interspersed with them some less controversial ones to sort of take some of the limelight off of those more controversial picks.

HAYES: Finally, the president tonight issued this bizarre video where he seemed to conflate the two pieces of legislation, the COVID relief package with the omnibus bill, which is the total government funding. He said it was a disgrace. He wants the checks to be $2,000, he said, or $4,000 which, if he wanted that, he could have lifted a finger in the last six months -- six weeks which he has not. He has had basically nothing to do with negotiations. He's been sitting in the White House stewing over his loss.

Now he threatened to veto, and they still haven't signed the Defense Appropriations Act. Did they know this was coming on Capitol Hill?

LEDERMAN: They had -- they had no idea nor did people in the White House. And I'm going to make a wager. I think several months from now, when we look back on tonight, this is going to be the bigger news story because the President has just taken this massive bill that took so much time to work out and it's so critically needed, and just threw a huge wrench in the whole process and it's not clear why.

But he has put every single elected Republican who voted for this piece of legislation in such a tough position, Chris. And it's not clear they're going to be able to salvage this. Lawmakers have gone home for the holidays. They're not here to be able to quickly send him something new even if there were the political capital and interest to do so.

And you have folks like Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have been campaigning on the fact that they were able to achieve this accomplishment on behalf of the American people. That now is all thrown in jeopardy and we don't know what's going to happen whether those checks that should have been going out starting next week will be able to go out, whether the President is actually going to veto this or if he's kind of just throwing out threats on Twitter.

But he seems very focused on what he sees as disloyalty from Republicans who have not done enough in furtherance of his goal and his legacy because that's the way he's been attacking several of them on Twitter tonight.

HAYES: Yes. I just want to reiterate this. He did nothing since Election Day. Nothing. Like, I have covered these negotiations painstakingly. The President was totally AWOL, nowhere, didn't do a thing, didn't lift a finger, didn't make calls, didn't work the phones, didn't talk to Mnuchin. Nowhere, nowhere, nowhere. So, this is completely out of left field. Josh Lederman, thank you very much. Iappreciate it.

Next, with only 29 days left in office, the President is holed up in the White House lashing out at his closest allies, now threatening to burn the relief fill in the ground. The collapse of the cult of Trump after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: The price of loyalty to Donald Trump at this moment is believing the unbelievable. It's that simple. A public affirmation of collective delusion is become the purity test for all Republicans, all conservatives, and a smaller and smaller circle of people can actually pass. I think they spent weeks now trying to find real evidence of massive systemic election fraud and voter fraud to back up the President's claims and they've got nothing, nothing concrete to show for it.

Although to be fair, and we strive to be fair on the show, there is a new story out of Delaware County, Pennsylvania about a man charged with registering dead relatives to vote in the presidential election, real evidence of voter fraud. The accused perpetrator even successfully cast an absentee ballot for his deceased mother. One minor detail, he cast the illegal ballot to further the campaign of Donald Trump.

It's actually pretty remarkable despite all their fishing expeditions, all their lawsuits, the people trying to keep Trump in office haven't found even the slim is thread of actual proof on which to hang their claims of massive voter fraud. They have literally got nothing. But pretending otherwise has become a core test in MAGA world. You either ignore reality and stick with Trump or you are a traitor. Those are the choices.

There's this quote we've mentioned from the book 1984 by George Orwell before, because it keeps being relevant, that captures the current dynamic. The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final most essential command.

And all this has been years in the making of Donald Trump. Remember, he rose to prominence in right-wing circles with the false, preposterous, and racist claim that President Obama was not born in the U.S. And by and large, most mainstream republicans just kind of hemmed and hawed and played footsie with it and kind of tolerated it.

And they've been basically doing the same thing for the entire presidency, even as the deaths rack up and we're over 320,000 and 3,000 today. 3,000 people died today but, you know, power is important. It's good to be a Republican in power. They never said no, they never said this isn't right. The whole plan was just wait them out. What's the worst that can happen, a once in a century pandemic that kills hundreds of thousands of people?

And so, now, we have 29 days until Donald Trump is set to leave office, and he's holed up in the White House quite literally plotting the end of American democracy, not hyperbole, as the cult collapses in on itself. And this is the final purity test. Do you believe this completely unhinged conspiracy theory about the stolen election and support Donald Trump and overturning the will of the people, maybe using the military, and if you don't, you're on the wrong side of the MAGA Civil War.

On Fox News, Jeanine Pirro called Attorney General Bill Barr, who has been a complete toady more or less up until now, a "reptile" for not playing along with the delusion. Trump himself retweeted a claim that Brian Kemp, the far-right governor of Georgia should be thrown in jail.

And there's Patrick Byrne, the conspiracy-minded former CEO of Overstock.com, because why not, who was caught having an affair with a Russian spy, because also why not, relatively new figure in Trump world. He attended a meeting at the White House on Friday, he says, in which some of Trump's closest advisors pushed back on Trump's craziest ideas like oh, imposing martial law on ending America's constitutional experiment. Byrne didn't like that. Then tweeted, "President Trump is being terribly served by his advisors. They want him to lose and are lying to him. He is surrounded by mendacious mediocrities."

We've also got Mitch McConnell, who has of course, enabled Trump's worst impulses at every turn for years, right? I mean, through all the COVID stuff, through impeachment, but who had the gall to accept that, yes, Joe Biden won the election. And so, he, Mitch McConnell, subject of a targeted attack yesterday from the White House, a very funny one.

The White House e-mailing this slide to Republican lawmakers in which Trump takes credit for Mitch McConnell winning reelection in Kentucky with the word, sadly Mitch forgot. He was the first one off the ship.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps inviting QAnon enthusiasts, Sidney Powell, who claims the CIA helped steal the election and who casts Trump inner circles insufficiently committed to the cause. He keeps inviting her to the White House. She was back again yesterday for the third time in four days. That's not great. There she is spotted by the New York Times looking "pleased with herself."

Today, Powell claimed the White House officials are blocking her from seeing or speaking to Trump, in another sign of the Civil War now playing -- now playing out. Powell is there because he tells trumpet he wants to hear, that he won the election, and that it's not too late for him to keep power, even if it requires a little touch of martial law.

Also in that camp is another QAnon backer, incoming Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene who was at the White House meeting with some fellow Republican dead-enders yesterday -- these are members of Congress -- to plot a strategy to try to force Congress to again overturn the election.

The key date they're focusing on here is January 6th. That's when Congress will meet to affirm the Electoral College vote. And that's when many Republicans will be an extremely unpleasant position. They either go along with the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and proclaim they want to overturn the will of the people or they have to affirm that yes, it's over.

And perhaps no one is dreading that day more than Vice President Mike Pence who is supposed to preside over the Joint Session. Axios reports Trump's views Pence is not fighting hard enough for him, and that Trump would view Pence performing his constitutional duty that is, of course, validating the election result as the ultimate betrayal.

So, what exactly is going to happen on January 6th? To answer that question, I'm joined now by legendary litigator Paul Smith. He's at the Campaign Legal Center. He's argued 21 cases before the Supreme Court including numerous voting rights cases.

Paul, it's great to have you on. So, I was saying someone earlier today that like, I'm not worried about this. This is not going to work. And then someone responded, well, explain why not. So, I want you to walk us through what's going to happen on January 6th and why this is doomed to failure.

PAUL SMITH, VICE PRESIDENT, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER: Well, the basic process is simple. The Constitution says that the electoral vote should be counted by the President of the Senate, which is the vice president in front of a joint session of Congress.

And so, in a routine year, routine case, he gets up there and they hand him 51 envelopes representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. He opens them in alphabetical order starting with Alabama. He hands the contents to four tellers who are other senators and congressmen. They report what it says. He announces the results for that state, ask if there's an objection. There hardly ever is. And then they move on to the next state, which is Alaska.

It gets more complicated, though -- and this is the situation that the Trump campaign has deliberately tried to create, when a state has sent in two different sets of electoral votes, a problem that is seldom arisen in our history, but has arisen before including in the disastrous election of 1876.

And this is what puts Mr. Pence in an awkward position when he gets to the third state which is Arizona, which we understand is going to have not only the certified electors of votes for Biden but then another envelope that has the votes cast by the Trump electors on December 14, even though they have no legal status. They were not -- they were not certified by the governor. They were not in any way endorsed by the legislature or any court decision.

The question will be exactly what happens, then. The right thing for the vice president to do is to say I am going to as presiding officer count the Biden electors because they were the ones certified by the governor. Is there an objection? And then we'll find out if there is an objection.

That objection, of course, we've seen in a lot of press reports recently requires not only a House member, but a senator to sign a written document. If they get one of those, then they go off for two hours separate in the two houses of congress debate, vote, come back to the court on whether they've upheld or rejected the objection.

But that puts Vice President Pence in a very awkward position. He may just decide he doesn't want to rule for the Bible slate provisionally. He may just say, I don't know what the right answer is. I need guidance from you. Why don't you all go off and debate and vote, so I don't have to pick and get the president mad at me. That may be an option he has. I don't think he's going to announce that the Trump electors are his choice.

So, the real interesting question is, will there be these separations of the two houses with two hours of debate per state as this process going to be dragged out for the whole day or maybe even to the next day, or is this going to be just the usual perfunctory process of counting the votes that we all know were the rightful votes.

HAYES: Well, you've left us on a cliffhanger there. So, yes -- so let's say that there's objections and these competing slates -- well, remember, how we resolve this is the important thing. I come to you like, why is it doomed? And you're like, well, no. So, you've got -- you've got Arizona -- you know, you've got Arizona and Georgia, and we think they'll challenge maybe Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and maybe Michigan, right.

So, let's say they draw this out, right, two hours for each of those states. The final word here comes how? Like, what's the definitive ruling here? Is it a majority of both houses?

SMITH: Yes. The House will clearly vote for the Biden electors in every case, because they vote just as individual members, and the Democrats have a majority. And it's almost entirely as almost as clear that the Senate will do the same thing. We saw Senator Thune say yesterday that any effort to overturn the election will fall like a shot dog, you know.

And so, there may be some senators who vote for the legitimate Trump electors, but they won't be very many. And certainly, many Republican senators acknowledge that Biden is the president-elect, legitimately elected. And so, in the end of the day, we may have two hours of ugly debate, especially in the House for each of these states. But in the end, I think that it's pretty clear the votes are going to be there to uphold the Biden electors.

HAYES: Yes. We should --Thune said yesterday, the challenge of Biden going down will go down like a shot dog. And it's the reason McConnell doesn't want all this because he doesn't want to put his members in this, you know, position of having to vote for the continuance of American democracy, or for Donald Trump, although that seems like an easy choice. Paul Smith, that was illuminating. Thank you for being with me.

SMITH: I'm happy to do it.

HAYES: For the latest on the MAGA Civil War, I'm joined now by Daily Beast White House Reporter Asawin Suebsaeng who just reported that Trump has told Sidney Powell he won't need her special counsel to investigate election fraud, an idea Trump had voted last week.

It seems like in the bizarre, increasingly strained purity test civil war and there, it does seem like there's some people who are trying to basically keep the Sidney Powells of the world out and -- but Trump wants the Sydney Powells of the world in. What are today's developments suggest?

ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, poor Sidney Powell. It appears she's not going to get her fancy new job title as a basically an adjunct attorney in the West Wing if President Trump sticks to this decision that he's conveyed to Sidney Powell.

But having said that, the terrain of ideas that Trump's closest advisors are currently arguing over, including Pat Cipollone, Rudy Giuliani, and Mark Meadows, who are very enthusiastically shipping Sidney Powell right now is basically trying to figure out who can present an idea of canceling democracy and fascistically overturning an election to Donald Trump that one faction thinks is less extreme than the stuff that Mike Flynn and Sidney Powell are currently pushing to Donald Trump.

Mike Flynn, of course, recently has been floating publicly that Trump should maybe even institute martial law in this country to "rerun the 2020 presidential election." So, when it comes to this MAGA Civil War, the end result that they want and almost certainly are not going to be able to achieve is the same. We need to cancel democracy in this country so we can keep the racist game show hosts in power.

It's just over a matter of haggling of tactics. And in the case of Sidney Powell, people like Rudy Giuliani apparently think that she is saying the quiet part way too loud. Whereas people like Giuliani like to say the quiet part a little bit less loud.

HAYES: It's such -- it's so well said because it was so striking to me that you got Mark Meadows, the Chief of Staff, where Meadows very much bragging about this big meeting with members of Congress. And you could just see what happened which is him being like -- trumping like why are you fighting for me? Why won't -- why don't -- why can't we do Mike Flynn's fascist coup?

And Mark Meadows being like, well, how about we'll challenge it on January 6th? Let's get the members of Congress here. Like this is the -- this is the end of American democracy route that they're offering him instead of the military occupying the swing states and rerunning the election.

SUEBSAENG: Right. It's all blatantly authoritarian. And it's just a matter of who is trying to get in Trump's ear how to do the authoritarianism. And there are some people who think that getting Sidney Powell in there who has an affinity for raging pro-Trump conspiracy theorizing and even certain QAnon flirtations. It's a matter of people who don't necessarily want her working in the White House for these final weeks in office, and also people who don't think that tanks should necessarily roll down the streets of Wisconsin so Donald Trump can get his way versus the people who do want that.

It's a very narrow terrain of anti-democratic thinking. There isn't a major player in Trump world right now who isn't indulging Trump's anti-democratic fantasies at the moment.

HAYES: Yes. Well, it's unnerving. I think this is all coming from a sort of position of pathetic weakness. But what is being ideated is unnerving, nonetheless. Asawin Suebsaeng, thank you so much for your time tonight.

SUEBSAENG: Thank you.

HAYES: All this is happening, of course, as the Coronavirus, just rampages across the country. There are now two vaccines available. That's the good news. The rule of thumb for a lot of people, and this was raised when we had him on the show, folks that were hesitant at least about the Trump administration's overseeing the vaccine process was I'll take it when Dr. Fauci takes it.

Well, this morning on the stage at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Dr. Anthony Fauci rolled up his sleeve. He got the Moderna vaccine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine. And I want to encourage everyone who has the opportunity to get vaccinated so that we could have a veil of protection over this country that would end this pandemic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: As important as it is for leading health experts like Fauci to show their trust in the vaccine so people will take it, it's of course, equally important that the vaccine is actually widely accessible. The current president would have you believe distribution of both vaccines are going very smoothly, he tweeted earlier today. But the reality is the Trump administration's distribution timetable is already slipping, OK.

This weekend, the head of Operation Warp Speed, the government program that's charged with rolling out the vaccine, apologized repeatedly over discrepancies and miscommunication that left more than a dozen states with fewer doses than expected.

Today we learned from some great reporting by NBC News, the incoming Biden team is now looking at employing the Defense Production Act to boost vaccine production. Heidi Przybyla is the lead reporter on that piece, and she joins me now.

Heidi, Joe Biden given address today where he talked about -- he talked about Coronavirus and about this sort of transition, stressing that we have the darkest days ahead of us. We lost 3,100 Americans just today. What is the Biden world's understanding of what they're going to inherit in this very complex logistical undertaking?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: A little bit of resetting expectations there, Chris. And that's because according to the Biden advisors that I've spoken with, they know that we don't have our plan together starting with the fact that we don't have enough supply. This is despite the fact that we are actively in negotiations -- we meeting the Trump administration -- with Pfizer for another 100 million doses. Maybe they can get 70 million out of it.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, Chris, the bottom line is other countries got in line ahead of us. And that's not going to be enough to get us to herd immunity by July 1 which is the goal that's been set out. We've been made even rosier predictions saying that, you know, maybe we could do this in the springtime.

So, the Biden administration has had -- or the incoming Biden ministration has had a look under the hood. And what they tell me is that we're going to be at a critical crossroads in January regardless of what happens with this Pfizer purchase. And that's because we have at least two additional vaccines, the trial data coming in for that, right around the time that Biden is inaugurated.

And at that point, we're going to have to make some decisions potentially, on how to help these companies scale up. This is where I'm told the incoming Biden administration is looking at this Defense Production Act, which is a Korean War era law that would allow them to basically command certain industries to produce things in the national interest.

There's many different ways they could use it, Chris. all of it depends on how successful these other vaccines are. Johnson & Johnson is looking at one that could be a one-dose shot. They're looking at lots of different things, OK, about how they could help these companies, but they're nervous about it. A lot of it depends on what these companies come up with.

And it's not going to be enough. This is to underscore. It's not going to be enough with this additional Pfizer purchase to get us to herd immunity which is so critical now with this new information coming out about the virus mutating.

HAYES: All right, Heidi Przybyla who wrote that great piece up for us at NBC, thank you so much for making time tonight.

PRZYBYLA: Thank you.

HAYES: Next, why did the Texas Attorney General secretly ask the Trump administration to take emergency COVID relief funds back from Harris County, Texas. Judge Lina Hidalgo responds after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEN PAXTON, ATTORNEY GENERAL, TEXAS: It's really important to my state that my voters be represented. And if other states don't follow the Constitution, and if their state legislature isn't responsible for overseeing their elections, then we have other people who are not under the Constitution -- under the Constitution supposed to be doing this, it affects my state.

And so our job is to make sure that the Constitution is followed and that every vote counts. And in this case, I'm not sure that every vote was counted, not in the right way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HAYES: Other states didn't count votes in the right way. Remember that guy, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton? That was him gaming got a strategy to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in a now-failed effort to just disenfranchise millions of Americans in other states and flatly overturn the results of the 2020 election.

If that wasn't enough, ethics watchdog CREW obtained a letter that Paxton wrote to Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin back in May, basically asking Mnuchin to take back some of the COVID relief money the federal government had allocated to Harris County, the largest county in Texas. And the reason, well, because Harris County plan to use some of that COVID relief money to set up mail-in voting during a pandemic.

Judge Lina Hidalgo is the head of Harris County government. She was a leading voice this year pushing for access to mail during the global pandemic, and she joins me now. Judge, did you know that the Attorney General of your own state was trying to intervene with the federal government to get them to retract COVID relief money from your county in May?

LINA HIDALGO, JUDGE, HARRIS COUNTY: No. No, Chris, I had no idea. I found out alongside everybody else today. And, you know, ultimately, we had a successful election. We had record turnout. 67 percent of eligible voters participated, which is the highest turnout since 1992. We had drive-through voting, we had three times the number of early vote locations, high mark from the community, no evidence of voter fraud or security issues.

But it's good that this is coming to light now because we did all of that in the face of many attacks from the state. And now we see the lengths to which some of these folks were going to try and disenfranchise American citizens.

HAYES: The money that -- he's basically got this complaint that this is a misallocation of COVID relief funds. And yet this is happening -- you know, it's right around when the -- when the cases start to rise in your state. We were talking to you in mid-summer. You were one of the epicenters for that midsummer break.

I mean, what do you say this -- to the Attorney General being like, well, what does mail-in voting have to do with COVID?

HIDALGO: Well, first of all, we know mail-in voting is something that has worked -- has worked for a very long time all throughout the country. And what we were planning to do is send mail ballot applications to voters who qualify to be able to vote by mail. So, there's actually mistruths in the letter.

And the most concerning part is in the letter he says, you know, you all should review all of the allocations, Cares Act allocations to Harris County for voting. So, think about it. I mean, we were investing tens of millions of dollars to making voting accessible. And if that had succeeded, we could have lost our ability to do that.

For my part, as an elected official that is also in charge of, you know, elections in my community, I do this as an effort to turn the wheels of democracy. I'm responsible to keep those wheels turning during a pandemic come hell or high water. And I don't have a stake when I'm doing that, as far as what the outcomes is.

Now, everybody who is in government should have that perspective. And his trying to stop federal emergency funds to come to fellow Texans is really a sad, sad thing.

HAYES: You know, I've been wanting to ask you this because we've had you on a bunch during this summer. You know, there were such palpable fear from state Republicans in Texas about turnout. There was palpable fear about Harris County where there are -- you know, Joe Biden won Harris County. You're a Democrat and you're elected in Harris County.

And yet, you had this huge record turnout. And guess what, Donald Trump still won Texas by five points. Democrats failed to swing a bunch of the seats that they had targeted. I wonder like, does that make them chill out a little bit about this whole thing? Because it was so clear, they were seeing this in a very partisan lens.

Like if we let more people vote, it'll be bad for us. But a lot of people voted in Texas, and Republicans still won the state. I wonder if that's a basis to go forward and be like, hey, let's have high turnout elections in this state. There's nothing to be worried about Republicans.

HIDALGO: I think the letter shows that yes, they were seeing voting as an existential threat to them, which is a shame because if you're a party that depends on low participation for winning, you're doing something wrong. That said, I don't know that the tech is going to change, Chris, because remember, they've had efforts that voter roll purges is very hard to register to vote in Texas. Obviously, the same gerrymandering issues we've had. I mean, they've institutionalized Republican prominence in the state.

Now, there is work for Democrats to do. And to the extent that Democrats deliver when they're governing, more people are going to turn out more people are going to vote democratic. There's work that needs to be done and that's clear. But I think it is clear and I expect this strategy to continue that this strategy of keeping turnout low, as folks see the demographics changing, and people from other places and with other perspectives perhaps to continue to enlarge the democratic electorate in this state and particularly in the large cities and large counties like ours.

HAYES: All right, Judge Lina Hidalgo there in Harris County, thank you so much for your time tonight.

HIDALGO: Thank you.

HAYES: Don't go anywhere. Much more on the breaking news tonight over the President's veto threats and pardons coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HAYES: The way legislating works in the modern-day Congress is this. Basically, not a ton of legislating happens during the year, not a lot of ton of passing bills, particularly in the Senate where Mitch McConnell doesn't like to do that. And then, when the government is going to run out of money, or it's an end of your deadline, then basically everything happens at once. That's what's happened this year.

We've got three major pieces of legislation, the National Defense Authorization Act, which basically authorizes the funding for all of the Pentagon defense establishment, the Omnibus Spending Bill, which is the spending for all of the rest of the government, and then the COVID relief package.

Those last two are sort of wrapped together. And well, basically, after a lot of false starts, it looked like deals worked out and all that. And now, it's unclear any of them will be signed by the President. The President threatened to do a veto of the National Defense Authorization Act in part because he thought Twitter was mean to him. That's sitting on his desk, hasn't been signed.

And just within the last hour, he came out and threatened to veto the entire Omnibus Spending Bill and the COVID Relief Bill unless the check amount goes from $600 to $2,000 which is a perfectly fine idea, but where has he been? Nancy Pelosi tweeting, OK, let's do it. We'll bring it to the floor in unanimous consent and get it done.

Where this leaves things? We don't know. I want to bring in someone now who knows all too well what it's like to be working out last-minute deals right before the Christmas deadline, former Senator Barbara Boxer of California.

Senator, I was going to ask you about basically, what we thought of this relief package in total and what it meant for Mitch McConnell. But now, with this wrench grown into things, like what must be going on in McConnell and Schumer and Pelosi's offices right now?

BARBARA BOXER, FORMER SENATOR FROM CALIFORNIA: Well, Mitch McConnell is having a fit right now. Let's be clear. He didn't even want to give two cents to anybody. I believe he wouldn't have done anything if it wasn't the fact that his two candidates, his corrupt candidates in Georgia are flailing.

So, he's having a fit because Trump didn't even have the courtesy to call Mitch and tell him, you know, what he was going to say. So, right now it's chaos. And, you know, Trump rode in on the chaos train, and he's leaving on the chaos train. If he doesn't sign these bills, they will become law eventually without his signature. If he vetoes them, there's enough votes to overturn it.

But I love that my friend Speaker Pelosi said, call this bluff. This is great. Let's make it $2,000. Chris, people are suffering. They need this. Where was Trump? He -- you haven't seen him in days and days, except occasional golf trip, you know, running around with people who are helping him come up with some conspiracy theories about how he actually won the election. He's delusional.

And I love the fact that Speaker Pelosi said OK, let's go with the $2,000.

HAYES: Yes, I agree with that. I want to bring in someone else to the conversation, also served in the U.S. Senate, Al Franken, former senator from Minnesota who I believe we now have on the line and set up.

And Al, good to see you. I'm curious on your reaction this. I mean, part of what has made this entire negotiation maddening from everyone that I've talked to and reporting on it is here you've got this president who could basically make Republicans do anything, who hasn't lifted a finger on these negotiations, hasn't pushed them on anything, has totally checked out. If he wanted to from the beginning, right, he's got these people doing like Stalinist self-criticisms on camera. He could have -- he could have had them probably deliver a $2,000 check, but he's been nowhere. And now the last minute he blows the whole thing up.

AL FRANKEN, FORMER SENATOR FROM MINNESOTA: This is not the time you threatened to veto a bill. You -- first of all, you should have been here -- there negotiating the whole time. And you're right, he's just been completely AWOL, not even just since the election, but pretty much AWOL before. He'll certainly on these talks. I mean, Mnuchin kind of dissipated in him.

But, you know, McConnell was a wall too. And this is really -- I think we got this deal, what we haven't seen adequate deal because of Georgia, because McConnell was taped talking to his caucus saying we got to do this because of Loeffler and Perdue. And that's why I mean, Georgia is so important.

And you know, they're united here, and other people are on the ground. The ground game there is so important. My friends are united here. They door-knock for Warnock. I can't think of a rhyme for Ossoff. But this is really important what they're doing. And it's razor-thin. If we win both seats, it's a whole different story. If not, you know, Mitch McConnell cares about one thing, about power. He's going to go in there trying to work hard to make sure that, you know, what he said about Obama, that he wants to make sure he's a one-term president.

And you know, this guy -- you know, this guy has been awful the whole way, but he's just gotten worse and worse and worse and worse. And this -- what he's doing right now, it's, it's a travesty. And he's a grown man who can't admit he lost.

HAYES: Josh Lederman, Senator Boxer, made the -- made the point that, you know, this really screws Loeffler and Perdue because clearly -- like they had been going around saying, like, look what we got. We got this targeted relief. And the line from Ossoff and Warnock is this is not enough. People need much more than this.

And now -- those were -- that was the -- that was the sort of polarized campaign dividing line. And now Donald Trump comes in to say, Ossoff and Warnock are right and Perdue and Loeffler are trying to sell you a crappy bill. I can't imagine that helps.

BOXER: Well, this is giving a gift to our two candidates, no question about it. I was watching them respond to the $600. And they said, really? After people are hungry, they're lining up to get food? Millions are food insecure, millions of children are food insecure. Millions are unemployed. This is the worst situation since the Great Depression. It might even be worse. And on top of that, people dying without being able to kiss their loved ones.

I mean, seriously, as often Warnock are bringing in the humanity. And now they can say that even Donald Trump heard us. He heard us. And now $2,000 is a possibility. So, look, Trump cares about no one but himself. I agree with Al Franken 100 percent. He's been a disaster from day one. And now he is again, going out the way he came in.

He's lazy. He hasn't worked. And he's throwing a monkey wrench in and good for Speaker Pelosi. I can't say that enough because, you know, she means it. She -- if he -- if he's serious about the $2,000, OK, let's go.

FRANKEN: You know, on --

HAYES: Senator Franken, do you agree with that?

FRANKEN: Absolutely. On the doors, this is what they're getting. This is the reaction they're getting. 38 percent on the door knocks are talking to them. Usually, it's about seven or eight percent. And what these people are talking about is exactly what Barbara is talking about. These people are broke. One $600 payment is not going to do it.

And I think this is a gift to Warnock and Ossoff. And Loeffler and Perdue deserve this. But, you know, Donald Trump doesn't care about anybody but Donald Trump, and he hasn't cared about these two candidates really in Georgia at all. And that may be good for us. That may be good for Joe Biden. That may be good for our agenda in D.C.

HAYES: All right, Barbara Boxer and Al Franken, it's great to have you both on tonight. Thank you. A lot going on at this moment. I appreciate it.

That is ALL IN on this Tuesday night. Where am I? What happened? That was a lot of news. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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