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Transcript: All In with Chris Hayes, December 4, 2020

Guests: Cedric Richmond, Stephanie Kelton, Elaine Godfrey, Margaret Love, David Roberts


Jobs numbers stagnate as COVID deaths hit records high in the U.S. Interview with Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) about how the president-elect will handle the economy and the pandemic. President-Elect Joe Biden signals progress on COVID relief as President Trump stews over election defeat. President Trump may pardon his family and allies before his presidency ends.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: That's amazing. That is tonight's REIDOUT. "ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts now.


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

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: The folks out there aren't looking for a handout. They just need help.

HAYES: The tanking economy, almost 3,000 Americans dying a day, thanks to a president who treated the election like one of his casinos, getting people to buy in and then cashing out.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do you think the Taj Mahal is beyond belief from any standpoint, then we think it's going to be a tremendous success.

HAYES: Tonight, the dire situation in states like Iowa that just tried to ignore the pandemic and the economic consequences across the country. Plus --

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): The president should pardon himself, his family, his administration officials, and his supporters who've been targeted.

HAYES: New details about just who is angling for a presidential pardon, and the argument for a Biden Blitz in January to get anything actually done, when ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES (on camera): Good evening from New York. I'm Chris Hayes. This is the front page of the New York Times today, Friday, December 4th. It's not a happy page. It's ominous in many ways. But there's something interesting about it. Look at it for a second. There are no stories specifically about Donald Trump on it. No picture of the president.

That said, in many ways, this front page is all about Donald Trump and the disaster that he's brought upon us. The red chart there showing the daily COVID deaths is all about Donald Trump. Yesterday, the United States recorded more deaths than any other day during the pandemic according to the COVID Tracking Project. There have already been another 2,500 deaths recorded today. That's just shy of yesterday's record. There's still time left in the day.

And with the increasing public health crisis, there's increasing desperation on the economic front. Without congressional intervention, more than 30 million people could lose their unemployment benefits at the end of the month. That's all of their benefits. We're not talking about the bonus, the $600 that went on top of the benefits. That's flat out no more unemployment.

Today's jobs report shows the economic recovery is stalling. The only reason the unemployment rate fell is because people stopped looking for work and no longer counted as unemployed. Washington Post Columnist Catherine Rampell shared this graph today showing that even after a modest rebound, jobless numbers, look at that, they are still worse than at any time during the Great Depression -- recession.

The thing is, everyone knew or should have known this was exactly where we were headed. And that includes Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and the entirety of the Republican Party that went along with them. Trump took the same approach the election he's taken to everything he's ever done. It was clear from the beginning.

It was like the Trump Taj Mahal, the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Trump Entertainment Resorts, Trump University, you name it, the plan was always the same. You sell people on the short term, turning the corner, right? You get the investors in, you take what you need from it, and then the whole thing falls apart after you're out and long gone.

And that was the approach to the election. All that mattered, the day that mattered was what happened before election day. Nothing else, not a single life lost or business failed after November 3rd mattered. Because Election Day was the day that Trump either got reelected and didn't have to run again or he lost and it was not his problem anymore. That it was -- what it was all about. And now here we are. It's a month after Election Day. And it is the disaster we all knew it would be.

Way back in April, April 21st, that's almost eight months ago, the CDC director Robert Redfield said the following. "There's a possibility the assault of the virus on our nation next winter, meaning right now, will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through." He said that in April. We've said on this program all along for months, talking to guests and experts, that people need more relief economically.

And people have said all along, you cannot separate public health in the economics just like today's job report shows. I mean, we're losing business and losing jobs and guess what industries, hospitality and restaurants. We're also losing state jobs like education workers. None of that would have happened if the virus is under control or if we could pay people to stay home in those industries.

But the approach, the approach all here of Donald Trump, and Mitch McConnell, David Perdue, and Kelly Loeffler, it was to polarize the electorate on whether you wanted to get back to normal or not, right. To polarize the issue of COVID around so-called lockdowns, and it was sort of ingenious in its own way.

I mean, you tell people that things are back to normal, tell people it's not actually a big deal, tell people you can get over it, get back out there and don't you want to get back there. You want to get trapped in your house for another few months? Go to parties, go to bars, go to big events, go to church, come to our rallies. We're doing rallies. Do it. Do it. Do it. Get out there, everyone, please. You're voting for me to restore normalcy. And look, that's what I've done. We're all doing normal stuff. I'm dancing the YMCA and you're in a packed crowd.

That messaging was so extremely cynical and sadistic. It took my breath away. It really did. But it wasn't just Donald Trump. This is the thing. Donald Trump is gone soon from office, but it was also a rhetoric of the Republican Party by and large from the top down. It was what South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said while her state was literally experiencing one of the worst outbreaks in the world, echoing the president, downplaying the threat, encouraging tourists to come visit the state. That even the one in every thousand residents of the entire state has died of COVID.

The state recorded a single-day death toll that would have been the equivalent to about 20,000 deaths on a national level. But that kind of messaging, it actually got Republicans a lot politically. I mean, they ready to wield their power. They got Amy Coney Barrett, they have a 6-3 Supreme Court. In the election, they picked up 13 seats in the House. They have a good shot to hold on the Senate. Donald Trump lost but it was closer than many expected.

And crucially, they succeeded in this. They pushed off the very worst consequences until after the election. That was the trade. They kind of knew they were doing it. But of course, it led us deeper into this health and economic disaster. They brought us to this inevitable point that we all knew we were headed for.

That was the plan all along, get to election day. What happens after the number of people that die, the number of people that are sitting there Facetiming their family members for one last final lonely goodbye with the tube stuck down their throat in a hospital that's been slammed and overloaded by people that are working triple and quadruple shifts. Well, who cares really? It's not our problem.

Donald Trump is shrinking by the day. We're all -- we all see it. He wasn't on the front page. Sometimes I forget he's the president. He is noticeably receding back into the absurd laughingstock that he was and always was meant to be. And while the president is missing an action, his flunkies can't even be bothered to address the severity of the situation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is the President right now when so many people are suffering?

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Well, look, there's still a lot of suffering out there, I agree. But I would also argue the economy has registered a very strong comeback from the peak of the pandemic contraction.


HAYES: Did you notice a little chuckle there? I mean, look, I sometimes laugh when I'm nervous, so charitably maybe that's what's going on. Larry Kudlow, the top economic adviser, chuckled at that question of all people suffering. But sometimes it really does seem like they think it's a joke. They think it's a trolling joke. It's a way to own the libs this deadly disease.

Today, Florida State Representative Anthony Sabatini, and I saw him tweet this and I had to double-check. This was a real elected official. He tweeted, "Cases, OMG cases. There are cases, more cases. Cases are going up. Cases, case, cases. Cases went up. OMG, there's more cases. Cases increased. There are cases, cases, cases. Wow, cases went up. Scary cases. Wow." It's all funny to him.

Last night, Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz proudly attended a mask-free gala in New Jersey, in apparent violation of state law, while the hospitals fill up in New Jersey, maybe some people will get sick from that event. I hope the staff doesn't get sick from that event. I mean, I hope no one gets sick from it. But I really hope the staff that could choose to not be there doesn't get sick.

Republicans push people into dangerous situations knowingly, cynically for political benefit. That was the plan. That is what they did. We all saw it happen. And now that thousands and thousands of people are sick and dying in what is the deadliest year in American history at a time when, get this, COVID deaths right now are racing to become the number one cause of death every day in the entire nation. That's what's happening as I'm speaking to you. And as that's happening, Matt Gaetz and all those folks, Mr. Sabatini, they think it's a joke.

A lot of responsibility for ending the pandemic and fixing the economy will fall to the President-Elect Joe Biden. Louisiana Congressman Cedric Richmond is the co-chair of Biden's transition and his incoming head of the White House Office of Public Engagement. And he joins me now.

Congressman, it's good to speak to you. You know, it looks like we have progress today. It was progress in terms of a bipartisan compromise bill at around $900 billion that includes a lot of relief provisions. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer has said they're willing to sort of negotiate that.

And then crucially, today, the President-Elect endorsing that. What role do you see the president-elect -- I mean, you're still serving in Congress. What role does he have in these negotiations? How much does it matter if he's pushing Democrats to take -- to take a deal along these lines?

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): Well, what he's doing is reminding people of the urgency of now and the fact that, you mentioned it, almost 13 million people are going to lose unemployment benefits at the end of the year, moratorium eviction will end, paid family leave will end.

So, his role right now is to make sure that politicians and people in Congress understand that there are real-life people that are hurting. And so, he applauds the efforts of Democrats and Republicans to come together. Remember, he ran his campaign saying that Democrats and Republicans should come together and put people first.

And so, I believe that he's leading by example. But more importantly, as a member of the House, we need to do something for the people out there that are hurting.

HAYES: You know, there was obviously these negotiations and very protracted. And I should say that the Democratic caucus in the House under leadership, Nancy Pelosi passed a relief bill all the way back in May called the Heroes Act. At the time, the jobs numbers looked much better than they do now. And Mitch McConnell and Larry Kudlow and Steve Moore and others said, look, we don't need more relief.

And then it was clear that things were not actually getting much better, that they had stalled. There was negotiations before the election that broke down. Nancy Pelosi had this answer today about why this number was acceptable to her now when it wasn't before the election. I want to play it and get your reaction. Take a lesson.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): That is a total game-changer, a new president and a vaccine. So, there's nothing to compare. These are different -- what was then before was not more of this. This his simplicity. It's what we had in our bills. It's for a shorter period of time. But that's OK now because we have a new president.


HAYES: Now, I saw some people today saying that this was an admission on the part of the speaker that she didn't want to deal before the election at a cynical political reasons. What's your response to that?

RICHMOND: Not at all. What she acknowledged was when we pass the Heroes Act, we knew that this was going to get worse. We knew we needed to extend enhanced unemployment. We knew that we needed to provide help for state and local governments. We knew that we needed to do something for the American people and we would have to do it over the long haul because we know it was going to get worse before it got better.

Republicans on the other hand, and I hate to say this, they were flat out lying to the American people saying, oh, we've passed the curve, this is going to end. And we knew it would not. And we weren't going to lie to the American people. So, what has changed now is that there's a shorter period of time in which we're going to have to carry these benefits through. And we've, unfortunately, lost months and months because of Republican obstruction.

But we do have a vaccine that's coming. We have a president that's going to do everything he can to end this as quickly as possible. He will lead by example. And he will have the ability to continue to push healthcare reform and other things to make sure that we're treating people.

So, it is a difference. And leadership matters. That's what it all boils down to. And Donald Trump has shown no leadership. His head has been in the same bunker for the last couple of months. And so, when you see jobs reports, and you see people dying, and you see a president playing golf, it's reason for concern.

And so, I think the speaker pointed out correctly that with faith in a new president and a vaccine, that you don't have to extend the benefits as long as we did when we passed the Heroes Act.

HAYES: I see. Congressman Cedric Richmond who is on his way to joining that incoming administration, thanks for making some time for us tonight.

RICHMOND: Thank you for having me, Chris.

HAYES: The economy cannot recover until the pandemic is over. And for more on what that recovery will need, I'm joined by Stephanie Kelton, former Chief Economist for Democrats Senate Budget Committee, now professor of Economics and Public Policy at Stony Brook University.

Stephanie, it was interesting to me that -- I follow and read a lot of macroeconomic commentators, reporters, and economists. And across the political spectrum, some folks who are more sort of finance on Wall Street people, some people who are Republican-aligned, some that are Democrat, Liberal. Everyone was kind of freaked out by the jobs report today. Why was that?

STEPHANIE KELTON, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS AND PUBLIC POLICY, STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY: Well, I think because it's just further evidence of what we've all recognized has been taking place for a period of time. And that is that, you know, this economy is really in the midst of a slow-motion train wreck. That this recovery which was uneven and bifurcated to begin with. That's why people like President-Elect Biden has been referring to it as a case shaped recovery.

We already had problems with the recovery in the sense that it wasn't bringing everyone along. Now we see that the recovery, bifurcated and uneven as it was, is beginning to slow down. And so, we know that what lies ahead is really -- you know, it's renewed Carnage, Chris, in the economy and we all saw it coming.

HAYES: Someone made this point of which was interesting to me. You know, this whole year is weird, right? I mean, it's almost like a -- it's like an exam question on a macro exam, right? Like, what happens if you shut down the economy and then try to restart it? That, you know, you can get into a situation whether it's local, federal budgets or it's businesses closing where there's a cascading effects where things get worse, where the -- where the sort of snowball starts rolling down the hill. How much is that a worry?

KELTON: It's a huge worry. And if I were putting this on an exam for my students, I would put it -- you know, it would be the first or second question on the exam, because that's where you try to build up the confidence of your students. You give them the easy questions first, and the hard stuff comes later.

So, you know, this is exactly what I'm talking about when I say renewed carnage. When we talk about removing income support from the economy, at the same time that a lot of the, you know, deferrals, the moratorium on rent, student loan debt, when we told people -- when the federal government said, you know what, hang on to that money, don't send it in right now. Don't pay that rent, don't worry about the mortgage, don't worry about the student loan debt. They didn't say, don't worry about it forever. They said, it's building up on you, right. We're going to defer those payments.

But at some point, the bills come due. And so, the bills are coming due at the end of the year. Many of those programs those the moratoria expire. Meanwhile, the income support isn't there. So, you have this toxic combination of the bills are due and where is the income to make good on all those payments.

So this is -- this is really the easy question. We all know exactly how this ends. It ends the way you said it. If people start missing payments, you get a cascading wave of defaults, and you have the real risk that this economic crisis can start to bleed over into the financial system. And then we're dealing with a whole different kind of crisis on top of the health crisis and the economic crisis we're already facing.

HAYES: I should note, some welcome news today that Betsy DeVos did announce that they will continue the forbearance on those student debt payments for a bit longer. They extended that. The big obstacle here, and we saw it, you know, when Republicans -- basically when Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats pass that bill, right. The Senate Republican caucus said we don't like it, we don't need more money. And also, we haven't talked about the deficit in years. But we've now rediscovered it an issue and we really think it's a real problem.

I have also noticed a real shift in the center of the conversation across the ideological spectrum at a time of record-low interest rates and unprecedented challenge in the macroeconomy on the deficit. That you have people who even back during the Great Recession were starting to get a little nervous saying this is not the time, we need massive support. Have you seen the same thing?

KELTON: Oh, yes, I have. I mean, I think that, you know, academic economists are definitely shifting the positions that they're taking. This time look very different from where we were, let's say, a decade ago when we were fighting against the Great Recession. So, everyone understands, Chris, that this economy is not going to recover.

People like Jerome Powell, the Fed chairman, is telling Congress, is telling the world, we don't have this. We do not have the tools to lay a foundation for a sustainable, robust economic recovery without our fiscal partners. That means the White House. That means Congress. That means we're going to have to have fiscal support. And that's going to mean deficits for a prolonged period of time. You got to keep the fiscal support in place until the economy is strong enough to stand on its own.

HAYES: Stephanie Kelton who has been a sort of profit, I think, on this particular point and who's watched the consensus move towards her particularly since the Great Recession luckily. Let's hope it holds into the future. Stephanie, thank you very much.

KELTON: Thank you so much, Chris.

HAYES: Next, what happens when leaders just give up on containing the virus? Well, Americans pay the price of their lives. A heart-wrenching glimpse of what that looks like up close on the ground after this.


HAYES: The depressing and raging unavoidable conclusion that I've come to by serving COVID policy as we do full time every day and as we have for months. But as we look at this fall and heading into the winters, that huge swaths of the country have policymakers that have just given up at the highest level. There's just -- they're not trying anymore.

Iowa was one of those places. The Atlantic's Elaine Godfrey writes this unbelievably gripping account of what that happens when policymakers give up. To visit Iowa right now is to travel back in time to the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in places such as New York City, and Lombardi, Seattle when the horror was fresh. The virus has been raging for eight months in this country. Iowa just hasn't been acting like it.

The author of that piece Elaine Godfrey joins me now. It's a really remarkable piece of journalism, Elaine, and I learned a lot from it. Tell me what has been the approach. I was in the sort of cluster of those Midwestern states that has had a really bad peak and they're sort of starting to move off top peak, at least, temporarily right now. You were there a few weeks ago. What was it like?

ELAINE GODFREY, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Thanks for having me, Chris. Yes, it's a pretty bleak situation right now. You're right that cases towards the very end of November dropped. But what we've seen in Iowa is no mask mandate at all throughout the entirety of this pandemic, businesses have mostly stayed open, restaurants and bars are open for dining in, drinking in, watching the football game.

And when I was there, I was in grocery stores where people weren't wearing masks. It just wasn't required like it is in D.C. where I -- where I live now. And November saw the highest number of new cases that Iowa had ever had in this pandemic. It's slowly been sort of building. And now we've hit this huge peak that doctors predict will become even worse after -- in the weeks after Thanksgiving, in the next couple of weeks, and even after Christmas, if the vaccine rollout, you know, doesn't mitigate things.

HAYES: What was the hospital situation like?

GODFREY: So, I talked to probably a dozen health care workers at the University of Iowa hospitals and clinics in Iowa City, Iowa. We sit outside in the cold and talked about what their days were like, what their weeks had been like. It's terrible. Every person I talked to had a horror story, something that just floored me about losing a 30-year-old patient with new corpsman comorbidities suddenly, and just the doctors, the nurses, the respiratory therapists, like hitting the ground and just sobbing.

Everyone is so tired. They've been reassigned from wherever unit in the hospital they are to the intensive care unit or the COVID unit. They're running out of people to administer ECMO, which is a kind of last resort, life support measure. They kind of are having to ration a specialist for that procedure.

And they're really worried because Iowa is full of -- I mean, the hospital I went to is pretty big, but Iowa is full of small rural hospitals who cannot afford to postpone these surgeries. That's how they make a lot of their money. They don't have a lot of these resources. So, this is really hurting them.

HAYES: Yes. The state of Iowa and this sort of time you're there that sort of snapshot of like, you know, what happens when it just overruns a place. And we're now seeing that move out, right? So, there's -- your colleagues at the Atlantic had this just incredibly upsetting piece today that just said, look, the U.S. has passed the hospital breaking point.

And you know, what they turn -- what they look at is smaller and smaller percentages of people nationwide that have COVID or being admitted to the hospital. At first you'd think like, that's, great, right? It's not. It's because -- it's not that smaller percentage of people need to be admitted, it's that hospitals have run out of room. Like it's -- we're actually watching it in the data.

GODFREY: Yes, that's totally right. I mean, I talked -- so this was two weeks ago when I talked to doctors, and they said, we're already having to say, OK, which one of these three people is sicker, is sick enough to warrant or to need an ICU bed because we don't have enough.

The Iowa City Hospital is the place where people all over Iowa are sent for specialized care. And if they're very, very sick, that's where they go. There's no room for them anymore. There are waiting lists. This is a huge problem and we're not -- if experts are to be believed, we are not even near the peak yet.

HAYES: You know, one thing that's -- you talked about Kim Reynolds who's the governor. She has been similar, I think, to Kristi Noem and similar to DeSantis, and a bunch of Republican governors who have basically said, look, this isn't that big a deal.

But one thing that does happen, a lot of them do reach a breaking point. We saw with Doug Doocy in Arizona during the summer surge. Reynolds did do a bunch of measures I think in about a week and a half ago in terms of limiting, you know, indoor gatherings, 15 people or less, restaurants and bars have to close by 10:00, mask or face covering, which again, there's a lot of loopholes in that as you -- as you put in the article. But it does seem like at a certain point, there was a breaking point to the denial.

GODFREY: Yes. And it seemed to have coincided with this really high number of cases and a number of deaths. So, November 17th, I think, was when she issued that. That was a few days after Iowa reach this peak. And now it's sort of lower and maybe increasing again.

Yes, I think people are sort of realizing, OK, we have to do something, people all over. Even if these regulations take her new math mandate, for example, doctors think it won't do anything. They're extremely disappointed by this because there's so many loopholes with the regulation.

HAYES: Elaine Godfrey who did that reporting on Iowa in the Atlantic, thanks for making time tonight.

GODFREY: Thanks so much.

HAYES: Ahead, while the President reportedly eyeing up to 20 pardons for his pals as he heads the exits, we're learning more about that alleged bribe for pardon scheme. Remember that? Those stories are next.


HAYES: Donald Trump has not wielded the pardon power the way his predecessors did. In the past, presidents would have Justice Department attorneys examine pardon applications and they would carefully weigh who should be pardoned and why. And then those attorneys would go to the White House and the president. They would present their findings for careful consideration.

That's not what's happening in this administration. Trump just kind of pardons whoever he wants, who gets to him in his office or he sees on Trump TV. We've seen him pardon right-wing culture warriors like Dinesh D'Souza and Joe Arpaio. We've seen him grant clemency to people who could potentially have incriminated him. Like Roger Stone, who sentence he commuted, and Michael Flynn who he pardoned just before Thanksgiving.

Just today, a judge questions whether Trump's pardon of Flynn is too broad and may unlawfully protect Flynn from future prosecutions. But here's the thing. Trump might just be getting started. As his presidency nears its endpoint, he's become increasingly focused on pardoning both himself and the people around him.

The Times reported a few days ago that he discussed pardons for his three eldest children and Rudy Giuliani. Political now reports Trump is mulling pardons for up to 20 allies before they've been charged with any sort of crime. Of course, Trump's biggest backers love the idea.


SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Why wouldn't he just pardon himself and his family on the way out the door because I think it would be right to do so because these people are nuts.

GAETZ: The president should pardon himself, his family, his administration officials, and even supporters who've been targeted.


HAYES: On Tuesday night, shortly before we went to air, you might remember, a judge unsealed they heavily redacted document revealing a Justice Department investigation into a potential scheme in which White House officials may have been offered a bribe in exchange for a presidential pardon or clemency.

Now, the document did not identify the target of the investigation. No one has been charged. At the time, the DOJ only said "no government official was or is currently a subject or target of the investigation disclosed in this filing." That's interesting. The White House declined comment.

Yesterday though, the Times seems to have broken open the mystery. The Times identified two Trump associates it said were being scrutinized in the potential scheme. According to the Times and the court filing, they had been approached by a billionaire real estate developer who is seeking clemency for a Berkeley psychologist convicted of tax evasion.

Under the suspected scheme, Sanford Diller, the billionaire, would make a substantial political contribution to an unspecified recipient in exchange for the pardon. One of the Trump associates said to have been approached is Republican megadonor Elliott Broidy. You may remember him. He pled guilty back in October in a separate case. That one involved covertly lobbying the Trump administration on behalf of foreign interests. Broidy's attorney said his client only referred the billionaire to a lawyer who might be able to help and that Broidy is not under investigation and has not been accused by anyone of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

The second Trump associate named by the Times in that scheme is the lawyer that Broidy referred the billionaire to. His name is Abbe Lowell. He also happens to be the lawyer for Jared Kushner. And for his part, Lowell's attorney says Abbe's role was honorable, predictable, ethical lawyering. And that if he approached the White House Counsel's Office for clemency, it was utterly routine. I like that if there.

So, we're going to keep an eye and see how all this plays out. It's sort of unclear. The Justice Department says it's not currently a live investigation. Who knows what that means? But it is important to remember that while pardons can be abused, they can also be a really important tool of mercy and grace and to fight some of the wrongs in our justice system.

And there are people who spend their entire careers trying to make sure the massive power of presidential pardon is used widely. Someone who did that for two former presidents says what Trump is doing now is utterly unprecedented. And she joins me next.


HAYES: On this program, before I referred to the pardon power as a kind of Chekhov's gun the U.S. Constitution, Anton Chekhov, a Russian writer talked about if you put a gun on stage in the first act just a revolver hanging on a peg, then the gun would have to go off in the play at some point, otherwise it shouldn't be up there.

Well, the pardon power is the gun on stage. The pardon power is one of the most absolute powers that the President has. It was the subject of some contentious debate during the Constitutional Convention. Some people thought it was too broad, that it could lead to tyranny. And now here we are in the third act of the play, it appears, possibly, with Donald Trump wielding that weapon.

Someone who understands the pardon system particularly well is Margaret Love. She served as the U.S. pardon attorney under Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton. She spent 23 years representing pardon applicants, and she joins me now.

I guess first, Margaret, because of your experience, I would love to hear just what like regular order for pardons looks like. Obviously, there are tens of thousands of people in federal detention. Lots of people want pardons or clemency from the president. How does it usually work?

MARGARET LOVE, FORMER U.S. PARDON ATTORNEY: Well, how it usually works if the Justice Department pardon process is followed. Is that ordinary people file applications, whether they're in prison or have served their sentence with the Justice Department's pardon attorney. The cases investigated, a report is written up. It is sent through the political appointees in the Justice Department over to the White House, and it is then acted on by the President.

Now, I should note actually, that in the past couple of decades, the right order of things in the pardon process has been pretty not regular at all. It has been neglected and kind of kicked to the side even since the Clinton administration. So, I don't know that I really see the Trump administration as anything but a sort of a culmination of a 30-year process of meltdown of the pardon process.

HAYES: In terms of the pardon process, I mean, most pardons, the vast majority, right, are for people who have been convicted. And it's -- you know, it's a grant of mercy. And sometimes it's people have exigent circumstances, sometimes it's, you know, it's grace to a person who's ill and who has a very long sentence, someone like that.

Where does the like preemptive pardon for a person who isn't, as far as we know, subject to investigation even -- like, had those happened before or are we in completely new territory?

LOVE: Well, we're almost in completely new territory. It did happen with President Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon. And that was a very, very broad pardon that extended to any federal crime that would have been committed during the five-plus years of his presidency. But that is the only one until this president that was so preemptive, if you will, pardoning uncharged conduct.

And the recent pardoned of Michael Flynn was extremely broad pardon and extended not only to the charges that he had pled guilty to but also to any conduct that he could have been charged with that took place that was under the jurisdiction of the special counsel.

So, that really makes the part most unusual. I think that there is some grounds to wonder whether it is too broad. I've seen people write -- one person, in particular, wrote a very interesting piece about how there was a qualification of specificity, that you had to be specific. And Leon Jaworski almost challenged the Nixon part and talked about that in his memoirs, and finally decided not to. But -- so I think it remains to seen whether the very broad preemptive pardons can be challenged.

The former pardon of Nixon, of course, I think, probably the most controversial politically pardon in American history. I think it's fair to say. It was wildly unpopular at the time. His approval rating tanked. It's likely the thing that ultimately led to Carter's victory in that election in '76.

And how does that relate to the founder's conception as far as you think of it, or even just in a broader theoretical sense of the -- of the kind of political constraint functioning on the -- on the absolute power of the pardon?

LOVE: Right. Well, I think Ford's pardon of Nixon has come to be viewed very much as in the spirit of what Alexander Hamilton thought was the political use of the pardon power. He did see it largely for -- to remedy two severe sentences, but he also saw a distinct political use of the power. He talked about seasons of insurrection. And I think, in the time since President Ford's pardon, it has become known as very much an effort to get the country to move on from a traumatic situation.

HAYES: OK. But now, let's talk about -- I mean, I don't know if the President is serious about this, although he might be. Like, where would you plot this on the chart of outliers the president preemptively pardoning 20 -- pardoning 20 people in his inner circle for federal crimes?

LOVE: Well, if that happened, it would certainly be an outlier way off the charts. And it would be hard to justify, although it hasn't happened yet, so it remains to be seen how it might be justified. But in a way, the kind of idiosyncratic and almost theatrical nature of Trump's pardoning has raised some question in some folks, mine in particular, as to whether this may be a kind of blessing in disguise, that we have asked the pardon power to do an awful lot of things in the justice system.

It's a pretty antique and clunky relief mechanism. And it seems to me that it is high time and maybe this is the opportune time to think about whether a lot of the business that has come to the pardon office ought to be rerouted into the courts. And we've done that with the petitions from federal prisoners for commutation. They have been routed into the courts. And why not the full pardons?

HAYES: That's a fascinating point. You had written about the president using his pardons as a kind of personal play thing and ignoring the Justice Department. This may be the culmination of that as we get into the last few days here or last month and a half. Margaret Love, thank you so much. I learned a lot.

LOVE: Thank you very much.

HAYES: Ahead, how can Joe Biden break through the wall of bad-faith opposition that's certain to greet him when he takes office? How about trying to do everything all at once on day one? The Biden Blitz theory of getting things done next.


HAYES: Joe Biden takes the oath of office at noon on January 20th. He will, of course, take over a deeply divided country facing immense challenges that have only grown worse over the past four years and particularly over this past year. Some of those challenges will take significant time and effort to tackle, but there's actually a lot that Biden can do starting on day one whether or not Republicans maintain control the Senate.

And the speed at which he acts will matter too. Writer David Roberts of Vox says the way for Biden to succeed in this hyper-polarized environment is to run a blitz, where he does everything at once. Because the only thing Biden will have real control over his administration and what it does and his North Star, his organizing principle, should be doing as much good on as many fronts as fast as possible.

This is one area where Biden can actually learn from Trump's example, Robert says, by constantly acting being on the offensive, generating news stories and controversies. Trump simply overwhelmed the ability of the system fastened on any one thing.

The idea is to take on everything quickly and boldly knowing some of it won't work. It will take hits, you'll get backlash, but at the end of the day, all that matters is what gets done, put on paper and into law. The rest is vapor.

I'm joined now by the author of that piece, David Roberts, who writes about energy and climate change for Vox. David, I really liked the piece and it made me think a lot. Layout the sort of theory of the blitz as you understand it.

DAVID ROBERTS, WRITER, VOS: Sure. The idea is that, you know, I sort of set it up in contrast to Obama's administration who had this idea that he had a certain amount of political capital and he could elicit cooperation from Republicans by sort of moving slowly and deliberately doing one thing at a time, taking plenty of time to negotiate, basically offering good faith attempts at cooperation.

And what happened was, he just got rope-a-doped again and again, and it became clear, I think it's especially clear now in retrospect, that there was never any intent to help him. It was all -- it was all intended to waste time because Mitch McConnell has recognized accurately I think that in hyperpolarized two party politics, it really is a zero sum game in anything -- any victory that a Democratic president gets, hurts Republicans.

So, Biden should assume that up front, I think. And if -- and if we, you know, if we needed any more proof of what the right is now, I think the Trump years have cleared that up. And he should just take that on board and realize he's not going to get help. He's going to be confined to what he can do on his own, and he should just do it.

HAYES: Now, part of that -- I mean, d it is a little complicated, right? Because if there's -- even if there's a 50-50 Senate which Democrats control, you know, nominally but they can't lose a single vote, or if Mitch McConnell control the Senate. Like, they can't just like, ram through legislation, right. So, what does -- what does that mean in sort of real terms with the legislative bottlenecks there might be?

ROBERTS: Honestly, my assumption has been that Democrats are unlikely to win these to Georgia run offs. And thus, Mitch McConnell is likely to be the majority leader. And thus, that legislation is more or less off the table. I mean, that's my assumption, other than sort of these emergency spending bills that have to go through to keep the government running.

But you're seeing now like they're already gearing up to worry about the deficit. They're already gearing up for opposition. So, I think Joe Biden should already be thinking, what is the maximum freedom of motion I have? What is the maximum I can do without Congress, without legislation? And it turns out there is a lot.

The presidency is extremely powerful, but I think in the past, like Obama was leery about using that power too much, at least early in his administration, because he didn't want to flip out the right. He didn't want to sort of lose this cooperation he thought he might get. But if Joe Biden is clear-eyed about the fact that he's not going to get it period, he can just start pulling those administrative levers the second he walks in the door.

HAYES: And that's -- and that's a really interesting idea, right? Because if you think -- I mean, I think what Obama thought was there was a possibility of consensus. He also was waiting on that 60 of both in the Senate. He wanted to do these big legislative things, so it was -- it was a calculation. If you go in thinking like I'm not getting it -- I mean, particularly if you don't win the runoffs, right, I'm not getting anything out of a McConnell Senate, other than maybe avoiding shutdowns, maybe.

ROBERTS: Yes, that's not certain.

HAYES: You know, there was -- I think there -- one of the things that's interesting in your piece, I think there was an idea in -- there has been an idea, and I think Joe Biden might have this idea, because he served in the Senate for so long, that if you take these administrative actions that are provocative, like you, poison the well for whatever bipartisan comedy there might be. And your argument is like, there's none to be had so you might as well do it.

ROBERTS: The well is full of poison. I mean, what more -- what more proof do we need? I mean, how -- like, what do we need to see the last 10 years have been, 100 percent consistent on the right, they have not deviated from the course of action for 10 years now. The only doubt that's ever been raised about what they're going to do next is from Democrats who seem endlessly credulous about the next promise of cooperation.

So, the well is poison. That means what matters is the power you have, and what you can do with it. And that should be Biden's overwhelming focus.

HAYES: And the other -- so the other thing that's really interesting is this idea of pacing, right. Like there -- and this, I think, is a real interesting lesson of Trump because there's obviously a lot of things he did horribly, terribly, like govern. But certainly of hacking the news cycle, because I think that one of the things that that I've seen among Democratic politicians, this was true of Obama, was like, they didn't want to make news.

Because if you're making news, then you've got controversy. And if you got controversy, then you're adding political capital, you're getting questions about it. And one of the ways that Trump hack that was to make so much news. And you -- and you sort of think that can be a model. Like, if you do a lot of stuff, everyone's always chasing the last thing you did.

ROBERTS: Right. Right. And if you try not to make news, the sort of perverse outcome is you get the media really wanting to make news, right? They end up chasing every little thing. So, if you were, say, a tan suit and there's a Republican willing to accuse you of treason for it, that'll be a two or three-day story because there's nothing else.

But what Trump did is just make news every five minutes. So, you know, one scandal after another pass just because everybody was still busy sort of harrumphing and trying to like understand it by the time the next one arrived, and so no one could make a real story out of any one of these things.

And what I thought might be nice to try for once for Biden is to just do good things at the same pace so that -- so that, you know, the inevitable sort of like, Republicans are going to howl about this. There's going to be pundits in D.C. who scratch their chin and worry that he's not being -- you know, he's not reaching out enough and there's going to be all the usual, you know, chatter in D.C. But he can just ignore that stuff.

And by the time a narrative settles or sort of congeals, he's on to the next thing doing something else. So, you know, let's try to like use the news cycle the way Trump used it, you know, for the forces of good, I guess, is my idea.

HAYES: It's a really, really good idea I think. I really enjoyed the piece. You can read it at or David Roberts (INAUDIBLE). David, thank you so much.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Chris.

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


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