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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 12/16/21

Guests: Laurence Tribe, Mikie Sherrill, Pete Buttigieg


The January 6 Committee subpoenas the author of the plan to overturn the 2020 election. Interview with Democratic Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg participated in a White House public meeting with members of the Biden administration and members of the trucking industry today, including labor leaders. Secretary Buttigieg helped present what the administration calls a trucking action plan to strengthen America`s trucking workforce.



LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, do you really think it`s helpful? Isn`t it kind of confusing the eve thing? You throw people off to thinking and then they have to throw it off and then they go oh, she means Thursday. She means just Thursday.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Nobody gets confused and think Christmas eve is Christmas evening. We know that the eve of something is the eve. And frankly, Fridays are important enough to me that I need to start celebrating in advance.

O`DONNELL: But that`s the thing. We`re in the eve season. There is some big eaves coming up.

MADDOW: That`s true.

O`DONNELL: We hear eve, it might throw me off even more now when I hear you say it in December. But --

MADDOW: I need eves all year long because Fridays are very important to me, Lawrence. And I have so little that gives me joy. You must leave me this.

O`DONNELL: I get it. You know who is going to give you joy? Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who is joining us tonight in this hour, and our law professor Laurence Tribe. He co-wrote a piece in August saying the Justice Department should conduct a criminal investigation of what Donald Trump did to try to violate election law on January 6 and before.

And I want to check in with Professor Tribe tonight to see if this week may be the evidence base for and justification for a criminal investigation of Donald Trump has increased at all.

MADDOW: Well, certainly, the January 6 investigators started talking in specific statutory language about what it is they`re trying to figure out if Trump did it. I mean, the language from Liz Cheney on this has been really provocative. It`s deliberate and they`re making a case for that kind of evidence which is going to put the Justice Department on the spot. But the January 6 investigation seems to be building a real case.

O`DONNELL: Yeah. We will see what Professor Tribe thinks of what`s developed this week. And Rachel, please enjoy the next couple hours of your --

MADDOW: Friday Eve.

O`DONNELL: Friday eve. Friday eve. Yeah, that`s how you say it.

MADDOW: I shall. I will celebrate with my family. Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

Well, they are still silent. They are still hiding. They`re still living in fear of the day when the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol will reveal their names.

They are the Republican members of Congress who wrote texts and emails to the Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows showing that they were active participants in a criminal conspiracy to violate election law on January 6 and overturn the results of the Electoral College vote that was legitimately won by Joe Biden, and they all know who they are, every one of them. The authors of those texts, they know who they are.

But none of them are voluntarily jumping up to tell us hey, I wrote that one. That was me. None of them are proud of those texts.

Today, "The New York Times" revealed a list of Republican members of the House who are identified as, quote, right wing members of Congress who became key foot soldiers in Mr. Trump`s effort to overturn the election.

They are Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Louie Gohmert, Mo Brooks and Scott Perry. All of them remained silent today. Here is a text from someone in Congress the day after the attack on the Capitol.

Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the six states. I`m sorry nothing worked.

That`s the bank robber saying the day after I`m sorry that we couldn`t get out of the bank with all the money.

The member of Congress who wrote that text is afraid tonight, days after it`s been revealed, afraid to come forward and say yes, I wrote that text. I`m proud of writing that text.

That text is saying I`m sorry the crime we committed yesterday, the crime of conspiracy to violate election law did not succeed in our criminal objective.

Yesterday, Congressman Jim Jordan was forced. Let me repeat that, was forced to admit that he wrote a text that outlined a criminal conspiracy to commit election fraud and change the votes of the Electoral College.


Jim Jordan admitted that only after it had leaked to some reporters that Jim Jordan wrote that text. That Jim Jordan forwarded this text to Mark Meadows from a Republican lawyer describing a criminal plot to steal the election.

On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence as president of the Senate should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.

The rambling text then goes on to quote Alexander Hamilton, before there was an established government of the United States. Quoting Alexander Hamilton on a point that had nothing to do with counting votes or the Electoral College, Jim Jordan did not admit that that was his text until two days after that text was revealed. Two days.

Jim Jordan stayed silent for two days. He had absolutely no intention of admitting that was his text until it leaked to the news media. Jim Jordan`s plan was to remain silent like every Republican member of Congress who sent one of those texts, texts that have been exposed.

Even the Republican member of Congress who sent this text is afraid to admit it. "The president needs to stop this ASAP. Sent that on January 6 when the Capitol was being attacked.

Why not admit yes, I sent that text? Why not be proud of that? They are all silent, every one of them.

The proof of their fear is their silence. There is no louder member of the House of Representatives than Jim Jordan. He was silent today, silent.

Silence is what Jim Jordan chooses when he is in very, very big trouble. Jim Jordan continues to remain silent about under oath accusations made by members of the Ohio state wrestling team saying when Jim Jordan was an assistant coach of that team, he knew about sex crimes committed by the team doctor against members of the team. And Jim Jordan said and did nothing about that.

Members of that team testified under oath that when Jim Jordan found out that kids on the team he was coaching were being sexually abused by the team doctor, Jim Jordan chose silence. Every day that Jim Jordan chooses silence is a day that Jim Jordan knows he`s in deep trouble.

Today, the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol issued a subpoena to a man who "The New York Times" describes tonight as, quote, the founder, forklift driver and floor sweeper at one shot distillery and brewery in Dripping Springs, Texas. The man`s name is Phil Waldron. He was one of the non-lawyers with no expertise whatsoever in Rudolph Giuliani`s clown car, complaining about the elections in the swing states.

Mr. Waldron is being investigated for circulating a 38-page power point presentation which Bennie Thompson calls an alarming blueprint for overturning a nationwide election. Phil Waldron spent 30 years in the Army retiring with the rank of colonel, which is not a difficult rank to achieve when you spend 30 years in the Army. You will hear him being referred to as a colonel, as if it`s worthy somehow of your respect, which it is not. He is someone who works in some kind of brewery and distillery.

In August, our next guest co-wrote an article with former federal prosecutors Barbara McQuade and Joyce Vance laying out a road map for the Justice Department to follow in investigating Donald Trump. Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe co-wrote the article, saying, if we are to maintain our democracy and respect for the rule of law, efforts to overturn a fair election simply cannot be tolerated and Trump`s conduct must be investigated. One possible charge is conspiracy. It is a federal crime for individuals to agree to defraud the United States by interfering with governmental functions.

In the "Financial Times" today, Edward Luce writes: History tells us that democracies that fail to protect themselves with the full force of the law are flirting with extinction. The article quotes Washington`s Governor Jay Inslee saying: The American psyche has not recognized we were one vice president away from a coup.


Leading off our discussion tonight is Laurence Tribe, university professor of constitutional law emeritus at Harvard Law School. He has won 35 cases in the United States Supreme Court.

Professor Tribe, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

I`ve been wondering this what the revelations of the week add to your assessment made back in August that the Justice Department should be running a criminal investigation of what Donald Trump was doing.

LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROF.: This week, the House select committee released a cascade of information that confirms what I believed and other people I think joined me in believing back in August, and that is the Department of Justice really needs to look into the crimes that were committed.

Liz Cheney was very precise, clearly channeling a decision of a Trump appointee, Judge Dabney Friedrich from last week. She essentially quoted from 18 U.S. code section 1512 which makes it a federal crime for anyone corruptly to obstruct or impede, whether by action or inaction an official proceeding, and she held, Dabney Friedrich held in a prosecution brought by the Justice Department against some foot soldiers that an official proceeding includes what Congress has to do when it counts the electoral votes on January 6. That`s one of many federal crimes that are involved. Another is the federal crime of aiding and giving comfort to an insurrection, which is clearly what happened on January 6th.

And what we have is an avalanche of information about texts and emails and other communications directly to the White House, directly to Mark Meadows, who was at Donald Trump`s side. So the question of whether it was Trump alone or Trump and meadows or both of them with the six members of Congress who were in constant contact with the White House, all of them seemed to be involved in a conspiracy to commit a very serious crime punishable by 20 years in federal prison.

And to the extent that they were aiding and giving comfort to an insurrection, that too is punishable by ten more years. And importantly, by permanent disqualification from holding federal office. And it is certainly true, as Edward Luce said, that a democracy that allows this kind of crime to go uninvestigated and unpunished and merely exposed by the legislative branch is a democracy that is committing suicide. We cannot afford to do that.

O`DONNELL: So we have a recent president of France who was convicted of criminal offense involving campaign finance, minor compared to what we`re talking about here. And he was sentenced to a year of home confinement. And so in the Western world, we do have examples of this, but it seems to me that Washington generally and possibly the Justice Department even more so regards the possible criminal prosecution of a previous president as something that occurs not on this continent.

This is not something for us. This is something for another kind of government in other kinds of countries.

What`s your reaction to that kind of thinking about this?

TRIBE: Well, I imagine that that kind of thinking might have been in Attorney General Merrick Garland`s mind at an earlier stage before it became increasingly clear that he is almost certainly going to confront a referral for criminal investigation and prosecution of some very high officials.

I think he is wise enough to recognize that dangerous as it is to make a common practice of going after the preceding administration, it is even more dangerous to allow any incumbent who has been voted out of office to plot and plan from the very date of the election and indeed by planting doubt about the election in advance the possibility of holding on to office indefinitely, regardless of what the people want. It`s not indicative of a banana republic to preserve the peaceful succession of power to someone chosen by the people and by the Electoral College.


That`s the hallmark of a democracy that cares enough about its future to preserve itself.

Remember Franklin`s famous comment. What do we have? A republic, if you can keep it.

To keep it, we really have to up our game at the Justice Department. And I`m hopeful. I can`t quite say I`m confident because there is no indication yet that a serious grand jury investigation is under way of the people at the top of the attempted coup and the insurrection.

But I am hopeful that Merrick Garland will wait no longer, and that we are about to see serious criminal investigation, not only of the foot soldiers, but of the general, and of the top general of them all.

O`DONNELL: So Donald Trump remaining absolutely silent in the face of these revelations this week, the detailed descriptions of the criminal plot to violate election laws, steal the presidential election. The Republican participants in the House of Representatives remaining absolutely silent about their participation in the plot.

So let me offer a possible defense from the silent side. A member, whether it be a House member or Donald Trump, says look, I didn`t think any of this was illegal. I thought it was within Mike Pence`s power to do this, and I firmly believed that the election results were fraudulent. I don`t have any proof of that. I just believed it because all my friends voted for Donald Trump.

TRIBE: You mean the insanity defense? Is that what you`re describing?

O`DONNELL: I didn`t know that was the insanity defense. I thought it was the ignorance defense, yes.

TRIBE: Well, you know, ignorance of facts I suppose is one kind of excuse. I didn`t know that Donald Trump had lost the election. But that`s just not plausible. Ignorance of the law doesn`t count.

And you have to be monumentally ignorant of the Constitution and the laws of the United States to think that the vice president has unilateral power to basically disregard the certified electoral votes and allow a completely phony set of electors to come in their stead. People who say they believe that are asking you to accept a fantasy. And I just don`t think that`s a plausible claim. I don`t think the attorney general of the United States is likely to be inhibited by the possibility that some juror might accept that claim.

Even if so, that`s not a reason not to investigate thoroughly and fully. The idea of waiting, just waiting until the January 6 committee is done is a big mistake. Memories fade. People shade their testimony to meet what they`ve already heard.

It`s important that a parallel investigation by the FBI be under way right now. The Justice Department, with all of its power not simply wait for Congress, but move all speed ahead to investigate fully the criminal responsibility of those who tried to overturn a fair and free election in the United States.

It`s first time that it`s gone this far. We cannot let it happen again. And the only way to avoid that is to invoke these laws that among other things disqualify people from ever holding office if they take an oath to uphold the Constitution and then plot to subvert it.

O`DONNELL: Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, always an honor to have you with us. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

TRIBE: Good to be with you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill said she saw members of Congress giving tours the day before the attack on the Capitol, giving tours of the Capitol. Congressman Sherrill joins us next.



O`DONNELL: Our next guest, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill has been sounding the alarm on what her Republican colleagues were up to before January 6.

Congresswoman Sherrill, a former Navy helicopter pilot, described seeing members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol that she saw on January 5th for what she thought was reconnaissance for the next day.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey. She is a member of the Armed Services Committee. She is a former federal prosecutor and a former helicopter pilot in the United States Navy.

Congresswoman Sherrill, we have come a long way from that experience you were having on January 5th watching these people move through the Capitol and wondering about it, 24 hours later, getting very suspicious about it.

We now have all of this information gathered and revealed so far by the January 6 committee, which I sense is the tip of the iceberg of what they know. What is your sense of where we are and your understanding now of what you went through a year ago?

REP. MIKE SHERRILL (D-NJ): Well, Lawrence, you`re exactly right. As you mentioned, I`m a former Navy helicopter pilot and I`ve served all over the world. So we`re trained to alert, to report things that are unusual or don`t seem right. And certainly when the Capitol was closed to visitors, to have those tours going through the Capitol and then to see what happened on January 6, I reported that, and I think as we`ve seen through testimony and thousands of papers that have been turned over in texts, we`ve seen reported that quite frankly, the coordinated effort that went into planning January 6 went far deeper than I think any of us had anticipated.

There was a detailed plan, a coordinated effort that led to those attacks, the effort to overturn our Democratic elections. And luckily, just because of really our deep belief in Congress, we were able to go back and ensure the will of the people were heard, that we were able to certify the elections, but at such a heavy, heavy cost.

O`DONNELL: I want to repeat the list that "The New York Times" is publishing tonight about the members of Congress who were heavily involved in a plot with Mark Meadows to overturn the election. These are the Republican members of Congress. Jim Jordan, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Louie Gohmert, Mo Brooks, Scott Perry. They were actively involved.

"The New York Times" describes it this way. This circle moved well beyond words and into action. They bombarded the Justice Department with dubious claims of voting irregularities. They pressured members of state legislatures to conduct audits that would cast doubt on the election process. They plotted to disrupt the certification on January 6 of Joseph R. Biden`s victory.

And as we just heard from Professor Tribe, that plot was a criminal plot.

SHERRILL: Well, I think we saw over time that the former president was very impressed with strongmen like Duterte and Putin and Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un. I mean, these were the people that he looked to and lauded, really, and spoke in very complimentary terms about while turning his back on our traditional allies that supported democracy with us.

So, it should come as no surprise really he was emulating them. And we saw even his own legal team put together a 36-slide PowerPoint on how to keep him in power and what people could do and were presenting that evidently to members of Congress. So, to see that this was a coordinated effort to overturn the will of the American people really now comes as no surprise.

O`DONNELL: What has been your reaction this week to cover all these texts going from Republican members of Congress to Mark Meadows during the attack on the Capitol saying Donald Trump has to stop this? They all believed that Donald Trump had complete control of that crowd and could tell them to simply stop them, leave.

SHERRILL: That`s really damning, to have that understanding and then not come forward in the aftermath of January 6 in a united front to ensure that we -- that this never happens again. This was an attempt to thwart the democratic voice of the people, something I regard as sacred.

I have taken on oath to the Constitution of the United States many times over my lifetime, the first time when I was 18 years old and entered into the naval academy most recently. I did it last January as I started a new session of Congress.

And what`s really incredibly heartbreaking to me is every single member of Congress we`re talking about when we`re talking about people like Mark Meadows, when we`re talking about the president of the United States, every single one of them took that same oath.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.

SHERRILL: Well, thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, I`ll ask Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg about President Biden`s announcement tonight about the Build Back Better bill. Secretary Pete Buttigieg joins us next.



LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Secretary Pete Buttigieg will join us next, and I`m always eager to talk to the Secretary of Transportation, especially after reading a deeply reported article in "Time Magazine" by Elana Samuels entitled, "The truck driver shortage doesn`t exist, saying there is one makes conditions worse for drivers".

Elana Samuels reports, "There`s is no trucker shortage. There is a trucker retention problem created by the poor conditions that sprung up in the industry in the wake of the 1980s deregulation.

There were 1.5 million people employed in trucking last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Just 1 percent fewer than in October 2019, and 15 percent more than a decade ago. That`s a faster growth rate than overall nonfarm employment, which is still down 2 percent from October 2019 and up only 12 percent from a decade ago.

In fact, there are so many truck drivers right now that brokers are able to pit them against each other and worsen conditions."

Our next guest, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg participated in a White House public meeting with members of the Biden administration and members of the trucking industry today, including labor leaders.

Secretary Buttigieg helped present what the administration calls a trucking action plan to strengthen America`s trucking workforce.

And joining us now is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Mr. Secretary.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Thank you for having me on. God to be with you.

O`DONNELL: I`d like to begin with what is the breaking news of this hour, which is the statement from President Biden tonight about the Build Back Better act.


O`DONNELL: He said describing his discussions with Senator Manchin, "Senator Manchin has reiterated his support for Build Back Better funding at the level of the framework plan I announced in September. He said we will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead. Leader Schumer and I are determined to see the bill successfully on the floor as possible."

So the timing there sounds like when I hear weeks, it sounds like it won`t be before Christmas as was hoped. It sounds like it`s moving over into January. And the September level that he`s talking about with Senator Manchin, is that the $1.75 trillion?

BUTTIGIEG: That`s right. That`s my understanding. And the president expressed confidence that this is going to get done. I think largely because the urgency continues. And the support among the American people continues.

Right now we don`t have one Republican vote for this. But we`re continuing to have the conversation with senators to look at how exactly to get this done.

Look, this is only becoming more urgent as we see a lot of news about inflation because this bill is about cutting costs. We`re going cut the cost of insulin, cut the cost of child care, cut the cost of elder care, cut the cost of pre-k to free, and something I care a lot about, cut the cost of electric vehicles so the more drivers and families can afford the gas savings that come with an electric vehicle if you can only afford one.

This is something that America needs more than ever. It`s the right policy at the right time. And I do believe we`re going to get it done, even though I can`t speak to the exact date that it`s going to happen.

O`DONNELL: So I know the -- and we`re going get to this -- the trucking workforce is specifically addressed in the infrastructure bill that`s already been passed, but as I was thinking about it this evening, there are so many provisions of the Build Back Better bill that apply to truckers as well as other workers all over the country.

I mean the child tax credit, for example, when you read about just how difficult the economic life of truckers is in this country. They have -- there is ways of benefitting the trucking workforce outside of the infrastructure bill and in Build Back Better.

BUTTIGIEG: Absolutely. And I`ll just give you one example, right. You know, we had a round table as you mentioned today where Secretary Walsh and I were meeting with leaders from labor and business in the trucking sector.

One of the most interesting presentations was by an organization called Women in Trucking. And the number of women in trucking has grown to about 10 percent. But obviously, that`s a long way short of 50 percent. And if we`re leaving 50 percent of the country on the table when it comes to recruiting people into a profession where we clearly need more people, not that you have to be a woman to benefit from the child care provisions in Build Back Better. But there is no question that it`s going to lead to more women returning to the workforce, which is just one of many, many reasons why it`s not just good for families, it`s good for the economy.

O`DONNELL: I want to go to one point in your plan released today that addresses what I was talking about and what that "Time Magazine" article is talking about, about the working conditions of truckers that makes the job so unattractive, which is one of the major problems in the industry.

And your plan indicates that the Department of Transportation, the Department of Labor will launch a task force to investigate predatory truck leasing arrangements that dissuade drivers from entering or staying in the industry established in the bipartisan infrastructure law.

So that`s already established in the law. How do you hope that will help strengthen the trucker workforce?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we need to make sure that this is the most attractive job possible. On one hand, we`re driving more recruitment efforts, because we do know there are a lot of people seeking to get into this profession. That`s where some of the work we`re doing, for example, to cut some red tape out of the process of getting a commercial driver licenses is so important, recruiting more veteran, and other efforts.

But we`ve also got to face it. There are a lot of conditions that are unfair or unreasonable that truckers face. And as long as that persists, of course, it`s going to be difficult to attract people and keep people in that profession.

Some of the arrangements in terms of how people are trained and then wind up on the hook for the costs of their training can be problematic if they`re not paired with a good income on the back end of that. Similarly with these leasing arrangements. Look, we`ve got make sure that it`s true what people are told when they`re invited into this profession.

Now you talk to some truckers, they have had fantastic careers, good wages, benefits. That`s especially true of the truckers who enjoy the protection of being a member of a union.

We also got a lot who feel that this is not the profession that they signed up for. We`ve got to fix that or else our best recruitment efforts are just going to be filling a leaky bucket.

O`DONNELL: Yes, the reporting in "Time Magazine" describes a dramatic difference in your life as a trucker if you`re a unionized trucker, or if you`re independent trucker on your own. And those unionized truckers have sensible work hours. And the independent truckers are just at the mercy of so many different crosscurrents.


BUTTIGIEG: Well, they`re typically paid, the independent ones are paid by the load or by the mile, not by the hour. And that means, for example, if they`re at a port and it`s operating in an inefficient way or a warehouse and they`re being made to wait hours and hours just to be able to pick up or drop off a load, they`re not being compensated for that time.

So the time when there`s talk about a shortage, and I don`t want to get hung up on the terminology, but clearly we have an issue of trucker capacity. Part of what we`ve got to do is not waste the time of the truckers that we have. And of course, time is money for them.

It`s just one example of things that need to develop in this industry if we want it to be the kind of sustaining career that makes sense for workers and makes sense economically, at a time when our supply chains are getting so much attention.

Look, supply chains at the end of the day are made of people, literally driven by people. And if you think about it especially the last two years, we`ve depended more than ever on truckers.

They can`t come to work by zoom. We need them to be on the road. We have counted on them. When you order something online, it doesn`t just descend from the cloud. It is brought to your home and brought to the warehouse, it left to get to your home by a trucker. Same thing with everything that you see on a shelf in a store.

And we`ve got to make sure that this profession is respected and compensated in a way that reflects its value.

O`DONNELL: Secretary Buttigieg, as you look at the supply chain from -- in its totality, internationally, domestically, what do you see as the areas that need the most improvement at this point?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, for the reasons we just discussed, we`re certainly paying allot of attention to the issues around trucking capacity. We`re also seeing a lot of challenges in our ports, although I`m really pleased with some of the progress that`s been made.

You know, at least one of our key ports in California has cut in half the amount of containers that are dwelling there for a long time, gumming up capacity and taking up space when we really need to be moving those through. Cut it in half since early November.

We have got sweeper ships picking up empty containers. Tomorrow we`ll be in Savannah where we`ve seen pop-up container yards that we`ve helped to support to try to move containers inland so they can be processed more quickly and efficiently.

There is a lot of good work going on, but there is a lot remaining to be done. For the long run, it`s upgrading our infrastructure, including our port infrastructure.

In the immediate term, it`s these steps like the ones I just described. And then, look, the bottom line is globally and domestically, as long as this pandemic persists, it is going to create disruptions in our supply chains, as it has from the very first time that it was hard to get toilet paper in this country in March of 2020.

That`s one more reason why we have such urgency about getting everyone vaccinated and putting this pandemic in the past.

O`DONNELL: Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, always great to have you here. No one breaks it down as clearly as you do. Thank you very much for joining us again tonight.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, this was the line for a drive-through COVID testing in Miami today. Laurie Garrett will join us next with the latest on the omicron variant and what you need to know about holiday travel and New Year`s Eve parties. That`s next.




JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Due to the steps we`ve taken, omicron has not yet spread as fast as it would have otherwise done and is happening in Europe. But it`s here now and it`s spreading, and it`s going to increase.

For unvaccinated, we are looking at a winter of severe illness and death if unvaccinated. But there is good news. If you`re vaccinated and you have your booster shot, you`re protected from severe illness and death.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize winning science reporter covering global pandemics. She is an MSNBC science contributor. Laurie, you tweeted about being on the show tonight, and you said that you`d try to answer these questions. Should you change your holiday travel plans and what about New Year`s Eve? Neither of those questions had occurred to me until I read your tweet. New Year`s Eve clearly the most important of them.

So let me put it to you this way. If I were in, say, California, should I fly to New York if I am invited to the coolest New Year`s Eve party in New York. And I just checked my New Year`s Eve invitations, and so far it`s zero. So this is a theoretical question.

LAURIE GARRETT, MSNBC SCIENCE CONTRIBUTOR: Lawrence, we`re facing a truly overwhelming epidemic phase here. It`s going to be gigantic. You can look around the world, places like Toronto reporting today or Denmark for the whole country, New York City data, and everywhere what you see is not a curve that does this nice, you know, line at some 45-degree angle or even a loop-da-loop as we`ve been seeing with delta.

It is this. It is straight up. All over the world we`re seeing these absolute explosions because this virus is so contagious. We know that it is significantly more contagious than delta, which was the most contagious we had seen, you know, since January 2020.

And on top of everything else, it looks like it colonizes, and we have now electron microscope pictures that show this. It colonizes in the upper airways. And that means that just casual breathing is expelling virus into the airspace of all of those around you. And so unless everybody is wearing really tight-fitting N95 or K95 masks and covering their nose, which is really the main route of infection, not the mouth, the nose. Unless you`re doing that, then you`re at risk.


GARRETT: So, wow, that`s a lot to talk about and to think about if you want to get into a taxi cab or public transportation, go to the airport, go through all the crowds, TSA, everything at the airport, then fly on a plane and then do everything in reverse at the other end, and then be among a mix of people, some of whom may be strangers and try to trust that everybody has tested themselves.

We`re seeing that this virus hits people so quickly that they can test in the morning and they come up negative on a home test. They test at 5:00 in the afternoon they come up positive. This is -- this is really something different from what we`ve dealt with up until now.

So, Lawrence, the question becomes, well, do you rationalize that the risk is worth it even against this very, very contagious omicron because you heard that it`s somehow a milder virus, somehow it`s less likely to cause you great harm compared to delta and prior strains. And that did appear to be the case. That was what people were saying two weeks ago when everything was getting started in South Africa.

But keep in mind, it started on a college campus, so you`re talking about two young, healthy 20-somethings. And South Africa is a very youthful society. It`s one of the youngest societies on earth.

Now we`re beginning to see the virus erupting in places where the demographic skews older, in Denmark, in the U.K., and eventually here in the United States. And there we have a different risk ratio.

We also have to keep in mind that we have all kinds of different variabilities on who is vaccinated, who isn`t vaccinated; if you had one shot, two shots, a booster, which vaccines. And all of these variables make a difference in whether or not you`re going to get sick if you get infected and how sick will you be?

But you can`t say it`s a zero risk. That`s absolutely for sure, even if you`re triple vaccinated plus you previously had COVID, because none of it combined offers 100 percent protection.

O`DONNELL: Laurie Garrett, a lot to think about. Thank you for joining us once again. We always appreciate it.

GARRETT: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, you are next in tonight`s LAST WORD. Seriously, you. It`s all about you, next.



O`DONNELL: Last night we updated you about the remarkable journey of Joyce Chisale who first appeared on this program five years ago when she received a scholarship to attend high school in Malawi thanks to your generosity to the KIND Fund.

You`ve had a chance to watch Joyce Chisale growing up on this show over the years from the first time she appeared with us reciting a poem in Malawi.

We brought Joyce to the United States in 2018, where she joined us as a guest in the studio and spoke to students her age in New York City public schools about the challenges of getting an education in Malawi where public high school is not free and the girls` graduation rate is less than half the boys` graduation rate.

Last night Joyce joined us from her new campus at the University of Malawi College of Medicine.

Leslie Crojan tweeted, "Watching Joyce Chisale tonight brought tears to my eyes. I remember when she was first introduced and read her poem "Little By Little". I`ve donated scholarships to KIND every year since.

Kim Donovan tweeted, "She`s my favorite. I always love hearing about Joyce. Little by little she`s on her way."

Pam tweeted, "Lawrence thank you for the update on Joyce. I love seeing her."

So far this holiday season you have contributed an additional $786,766 to the KIND Fund, Kids in Need of Desks, the partnership I created with MSNBC and UNICEF to provide desks to schools in Malawi and scholarships for girls to attend high school.

Stacey Roberts tweeted, "As the year ends, I`ve contributed once again to KIND providing desks and scholarships to young girls in Malawi. Most students in Malawi don`t have desks. Please watch Joyce Chisale`s thankful message. No amount is too small."

You can contribute any amount at any time at You can make a contribution as gift to anyone on your holiday gift list and UNICEF will send them an acknowledgment of your gift.

Eddie Bug tweeted, "I just donated to Lawrence`s KIND Fund to help a girl attend high school in Malawi. The girls are tomorrow`s leaders and even a little bit can change a life."

Thank you all very much for your continued support and kindness. I thank you and Joyce Chisale thanks you.


JOYCE CHISALE, KIND FUND SCHOLAR: To the people who are donating to KIND Fund scholarship, you are doing a great job out there. You are helping a lot of girls, including me, and on behalf of all the girls, I would like to say thank you for your support. May you continue having that heart to support others. May God bless you."


Joyce Chisale gets tonight`s LAST WORD.

"THE 11TH HOUR" starts now.


STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I`m Stephanie Ruhle.

Day 331 of the Biden administration and with just nine days until Christmas, we are back waiting in long lines for COVID tests.