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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 1/29/2021

Guest: Val Demings, Olivia Troye, Katie Hobbs, James Hildreth�


President Joe Biden in his first week as president has signed 42 executive actions including addressing the pandemic, climate change, the military and racial equality. The Republican Party is refusing to condemn one of their own, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, as calls for her to be expelled from Congress piles up. Rep. Val Demings (R-FL) answers questions about security in the capital, her colleague Marjorie Taylor Greene, and GOP voters leaving the Republican Party.



RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You did it. You made it to the end of this week. You thought it couldn`t be done. That is going to do it for us tonight. I hope you have a great weekend. I will see you again on Monday. But don`t go anywhere. Now it`s time for "The Last Word" where the great Ali Velshi is filling in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good to see you again, Rachel. You have a great weekend and we will see you Monday.

MADDOW: Indeed. Thanks, my friend.

VELSHI: All right. Tonight, marks the end of President Biden`s promised shock and awe campaign that his administration had planned for his first 10 days in office. President Biden signed 42 executive actions, including 22 executive orders addressing almost all areas of government from climate change to racial equity to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now the Biden administration has to pivot to a far harder task, legislating. President Biden is working to get his COVID relief bill through a deeply divided Congress. Democrats do have control of both chambers for the first time since 2009, but the margin is so small that Biden and Democrats are still going to have to work across the aisle for most of the time.

Now, how do you work across the aisle though when some of the people on the other side are zealots who will lie, cheat and steel to get what they want. Democrats need to work with 150 Republicans who supported overturning the results of a free and fair election. Democrats need to work with a party whose members have ties to extremist groups that stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Next week, the House will take up a budget resolution, the first step in advancing President Biden`s $1.9 trillion relief package. And Biden`s made it clear. He`s going to try to work with the other party but will go in alone if he needs to.


UNKNOWN: Do you support passing COVID relief through budget reconciliation?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I support passing COVID relief with support from Republicans if we can get it, but the COVID relief has to pass. There`s no ifs, ands, or buts. Thank you.


VELSHI: Now, of course, there are moderate Democrats who also need some pushing. After all, Democrats have proven to be the big tent party while Republicans are increasingly becoming the conspiracy theorist party. So, yesterday, Vice President Kamala Harris appeared on local television stations in Arizona and West Virginia to stress the importance of the administration`s COVID relief plan.

Now, those two states were selected in order to target Arizona senator, Krysten Senema and West Virginia senator, Joe Manchin. Those are the two most moderate Democrats in the Senate who are going to be key to the passage of that legislation.

And that is actually what a normal administration does. It works to bring all members of its party together to pass bills and make real change. You might have forgotten what it`s like to see a regular president do regular president things like that.

And you might say that a regular president would also work across the aisle to bring on votes from the other side. And, again, normally you`d be right. But while we have a regular president, we don`t have a regular party across the aisle right now.

Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene remains in office tonight, despite a review of her social media accounts finding that she liked posts in 2018 and 2019 that endorsed violence against prominent Democrats.

Republicans have done almost nothing to stop her hate-filled rhetoric and most have stayed completely silent. It`s not surprising though when you think about their continued support for Donald Trump just weeks after he urged a mob of his supporters to invade the capitol putting hundreds of lives in danger.

Later in the hour, we`re going to be discussing the deepening problem facing Republicans because of their refusal to disavow the worst among them. But that brings us back to our original question. How does the party of plans move forward with the party of problems? Sometimes the answer is you don`t.

If one party`s operating in good faith and out of a desire to help the American people, then the other party is collapsing upon itself from dangerous lies and conspiracies, you might just have to go it alone. And there`s anecdotal evidence that suggest Republicans are doing real damage by supporting the extremists in their ranks instead of focusing on helping the millions who are struggling.

NBC News examined data from key battleground states and found that Republicans are leaving their party, a lot of Republicans. Almost 9,300 Arizona Republicans have left the party since the capital insurrection. 9,891 Republicans have left the party in Pennsylvania. 7,421 Republicans have left the party in North Carolina.

In Orange County, Florida, more than 1,200 Republicans have changed their party affiliation. We`re still in the early days of Biden administration, but if those statistics are any indication, the party of plans is going to become the party of getting stuff done real soon.

Leading off our discussion tonight is a member of Congress who knows about getting stuff done, Democratic congresswoman Val Demings of Florida. She is a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees and she is the chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery.

Congresswoman Demings, good to see you. Thank you for being here. It`s good to talk to you again. You know a thing or two about one of the things that`s about to happen in the United States Senate, and that is your colleagues are going to be impeachment managers. You were an impeachment manager in the first historic impeachment of Donald Trump.

And now we`re getting ready for the second one. Writ large. this is remarkable that there are Republicans in the Senate who were targeted, as you were, as a member of Congress in that January 6th insurrection who are not prepared to hold Donald Trump responsible for it.

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Ali, well, let me say it`s good to be back with you. And I tell you what, I am so proud of those 1,200 former Republicans from Orange County, Florida, where my district is who have changed parties. It`s not about being a Republican or a Democrat, but it`s about getting things done for the American people and holding those who are engaged in wrong doing accountable.

Look, you know, I served as an impeachment manager last year. Donald Trump`s wrong doing was clear. It was convinced and it was overwhelming. And the GOP members of the Senate chose not to hold him accountable. What we tried to make clear last year was that if we do not hold him accountable now, he`s a habitual offender.

He is going to keep on doing wrong, and boy has he done that. I think he`s overdone himself this time. This time he incited a violent mob to brazenly break into the capitol to threaten to kill Mike Pence and hunt down (inaudible) members of Congress.

If that`s not an impeachable offense, Ali, I sure want someone to explain to me what is. And yes, as you have seen, many Republicans refuse or at least are saying (ph) that they are not going to hold him accountable. We`ll see what happens.

VELSHI: I want to talk about some of those Republicans. On one hand, there`s holding the president accountable for what he`s responsible for, but here`s just an example. "The New York Times" reporting on Republican ties to extremist groups, "In signaling either overt or tacit support a small but vocal band of Republicans now serving in the House provided legitimacy and publicity to extremist groups and movements as they built toward their role in supporting Mr. Trump`s efforts to subvert the outcome of the 2020 election and the attack on Congress. To some degree, the members of Congress have been reflecting signals that are sent Mr. Trump."

Now, this is uniquely relevant to you. You were a chief of police in Orlando. You are the chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery. This is a very serious matter that there are people inside our Congress that may be fomenting ties to extremist groups, violent extremist groups.

DEMINGS: You know, the speaker this week talked about the enemy within. As a career law enforcement officer, certainly as the chief of police, we had policies that said you could not be affiliated with any extremist group and you certainly couldn`t associate with any member (Inaudible) and they should nod to the people. (Inaudible).

Stand up and clearly denounce the behavior of some of their members. But instead, the minority leader chose to take a trip down to Florida and to basically, I`m not sure what he was trying to do, try to repair a broken relationship with the former president. We need real leadership. We`re certainly not getting it right now.

VELSHI: What`s your take on this one remarkable colleague of yours, this one remarkable new colleague of yours, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a name that most Americans didn`t know of, but we were -- we`ve been talking about her for months, warning that Americans are about to elect a conspiracy theorist to Congress.

She is now in there. She is attempting now -- not going anywhere -- to impeach Joe Biden. And she is reflecting sort of the worst parts of the Republican Party, and yet they`re not doing anything about it.

DEMINGS: You know, Ali, I really don`t like to elevate foolishness or elevate those who perpetuate it because clearly that`s who we`re talking about. But this particular new colleague has just been unbelievable. Let`s look at some of the things she said before she was elected, the things she has done since being elected, the roles that she has played, the messages that she`s carried and the insurrection on January 6th.

If that`s who the Republican Party, the GOP members of the House and the Senate want to become, then that`s absolutely shameful. And I believe they`re going to see more members and more members of their party leaving the party. If that`s not who they are, then they need to clearly stand up and denounce it and hold her and others like her accountable, but we will know them by the fruits that they bear.

VELSHI: I want to ask you again, from your perspective on homeland security and as a former police chief, how are we -- how are you feeling about the security around Congress and the, you know, there seem to be ongoing threats of violence.

Obviously, we saw with the inauguration and the National Guard and the police out there that I don`t think people are going to get away with what they tried on January 6th. But there do seem to be ongoing warnings about threats of danger to members of Congress and to the capitol.

DEMINGS: Yes, January 6th has proven to be, and I know it will always be an unforgettable day. But unfortunately, I feel like that was really just the beginning. There are still ongoing threats. You see the added security that continues to be around the capitol.

We`re not only concerned about those outside of the capitol. We`re concerned about those inside, those that we work with every day inside of the capitol. We`re worried about members in their offices. You heard about the confrontations, the nerve that some members have had with other members, but we`re concerned about members in their district.

And so, this has to become a party. We focus a lot on outside threats and those from other countries who do us harm, but we have to (inaudible) very seriously right now about the enemy within.

VELSHI: What a thing, I mean, that you said that. It`s true, but what a thing that that`s what we are actually worrying about in the United States Congress. Val Demings, good to see you as always. Congresswoman Val Demings was the first female chief of police in Orlando. She was an impeachment manager and she`s the chair of the Homeland Committee -- Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Recovery. Thanks for joining us.

All right, coming up, it`s getting worse. For years, the Republican Party has ignored the rhetoric and actions of its most extreme members and that ignorance is finally catching up to them. Olivia Troye and Eugene Robinson join me next.


VELSHI: As the old saying goes, if you don`t learn from history, you`re bound to repeat it. The Republican Party might want to keep that in mind as it tackles or continues to avoid tackling the growing issue that is Marjorie Taylor Greene. There`s one big difference between that old saying and the current GOP.

Republicans aren`t just repeating history by continuing to support her. Every time Republicans ignore the growing extremism within their ranks, they are creating new disturbing problems worse than we`ve seen before. Their problems are getting less tethered to reality.

They`re angrier. They are more hate filled and they`re getting increasingly dangerous. This is the product of years and years of putting their heads in the sand and pretending that nothing is wrong. Take the example of former Republican congressman Steve King of Iowa who throughout his 18 years in Congress had a history of wildly racist xenophobic remarks.


REP. STEVE KING (R-IO): This old white people business does get a little tired, Charlie. I mean, I`d ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you`re talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?


VELSHI: Now, remarks like that got little or no reaction from Republicans in Congress. He was just one voice. How much harm could he do? There was actually more danger some Republicans probably thought in alienating a base of racists who agreed with King and his ilk. Steve King kept getting re- elected and his bigotry kept being tacitly endorsed by Republicans because they did virtually nothing to try to stop him.

They didn`t try to primary him or kick him out of the party. Sometimes a (inaudible) statement would go out and then the GOP would just wait until the controversy died down. Steve King would then inevitably say something yet worse and the cycle would repeat. It was only after he gave an interview to "The New York Times" questioning the offensiveness of white nationalism and white supremacy in 2019 that Republican leaders finally removed Steve King from his committee assignments.

And that punishment actually worked. Republicans started to distance themselves from him and he was defeated in a primary election. But it took 18 years to take action. What kind of message does that send to Republicans who hold similar views? Give me 18 years in Congress and then you`ll punish me. It sounds like a bargain. As much the same with Donald Trump who spouted similar bigotry from the day he announced his presidential campaign.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Mexico sends its people, they`re not sending their best. They`re not sending you. They`re not sending you. They`re sending people that have lots of problems and they`re bringing those problems with us. They`re bringing drugs. They`re bringing crimes. They are rapists, and some I assume are good people.


VELSHI: For months of disgusting remarks about war heroes like John McCain and by about grabbing women by the genitalia, Republicans would sometimes condemn then candidate Trump and a brave few would withdraw their support, but almost all of them either stayed silent or immediately came back into the fold the moment they saw his poll numbers holding steady.

And after Trump won all bets were off. He was never punished. No one could strip him of committee assignments and no one within Congress or the party apparatus did anything to stop him or put him in his place, even after he lost an election and incited an insurrection at the capitol. The House Republican leader went to Mar-a-Lago and praised Trump`s contributions to the GOP.

That`s not what I`d call learning from history. That`s endorsing the dangerous mistakes of this past. So of course, we`re here now with Marjorie Taylor Greene, an even more insane version of Steve King and Donald Trump.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): Just finished with our meetings here at the White House this afternoon. We had a great planning session for our January 6th objection. We aren`t going to let this election be stolen by Joe Biden and the Democrats. President Trump won by a landslide.


VELSHI: That was December 21st. That woman was sworn into Congress on January 3rd. And as we learn more about her past endorsements of political violence and her history of racist anti-Semitic remarks, we`re still seeing nothing from the Republican Party writ large.

Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise, two leaders of the House Republicans, have issued tepid statements condemning Greene`s words but she is still in Congress and she still has the backing of the Republican National Committee.

So what`s it going to take? What`s it going to take for Republicans to distance themselves from conspiracy theory touters, white nationalists and bigots? Or is the party only doomed to fall even deeper into the depths of hate, fear and violence?

Joining us now, Olivia Troye, former senior staff member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and a former Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. She`s the director of the Republican Accountability Project.

Eugene Robinson joins me as well. He is an associate editor and a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the "Washington Post" and he is an MSNBC political analyst. Good evening to both of you.

Eugene, tell me what you make of this right now because there`s been tacit embrace of some of this nonsense for some time, but it`s not tacit anymore with people like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Steve King before them or the groups that involved themselves in the insurrection. It`s out there and obvious. The only option for Republicans now is to disavow these people.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. But are they going to disavow these people? I doubt it. I mean, look, Marjorie Taylor Greene has become so visible and we`ve got so much just beyond outrage, a sickening behavior and rhetoric from her in the past, the racism, the anti-Semitism, the space laser that supposedly set the fires in California.

You know, it`s a whole ball of wax. It`s absolutely unacceptable. There`s no way she should be a member of the U.S. Congress. And she certainly should be censured by the Republican caucus. And she has become such a visible symbol of what`s happened to the party, it`s not inconceivable that we`ll get -- we`ll eventually get something a bit more than tepid rhetoric from Kevin McCarthy and Steve Scalise and the like.

But it won`t mean anything because when you saw Kevin McCarthy take that trip to Mar-a-Lago to bend the knee to Donald Trump, you saw the decision the Republican Party has made. At least for the next two years to get through the 2022 election, they`re sticking with the racism and the conspiracy theories and the apocalyptic rhetoric and that the election was stolen, the whole nine yards.

One of our political parties, one of our two major parties is completely unmoored from objective reality and is playing this dangerous game and it`s going to continue playing the game.

VELSHI: And, you know, Olivia, on one hand, who cares about one random member of Congress, but to Eugene`s point, she did say that the fires in California, the forest fires, were caused by a laser, that had something to do with the Rothschild`s that was part of effort to clear the land for high speed rails.

I mean, what do real conservatives do who actually would like to have discussions with real Democrats about policy issues and argue things like minimum wage or second amendment stuff when you have this kind of garbage taking up the agenda?

OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER ADVISER TO MIKE PENCE: It`s a distraction. It`s a distraction from policy issues and things that actually matter. But even worse, it`s also drawing people, American people into her movement, right? Because words matter. She`s an elected official and she`s communicating these types of conspiracy theories.

And her supporters are agreeing with her and they`re repeating them. And that is actually fundamentally what`s really dangerous about this moment in our country, what these Republican enablers who are behaving this way, who are not being held accountable, who need to be held accountable.

Because we`re in a very dangerous divisive moment in our country. It`s not just political either. It`s about domestic terrorism. It sees extremist groups. It sees movements. All of that is part of the equation.

VELSHI: Yes, I think, Eugene, Olivia makes a really good point. This isn`t in a vacuum. The crazy things that we can say about Marjorie Taylor Greene, you know, this isn`t your crazy uncle at Thanksgiving. She`s actually talking about things that really happened, about the danger -- by not accounting for how a forest fire actually started.

She has claimed that Parkland, the shooting, was a false flag and wasn`t true. And she`s aligned herself with groups who have much more nefarious aims that we saw on January 6th at the Congress. So, you know, to the extent that this is actually growing into a real threat to society, how do Republicans, you know, Kevin McCarthy`s going to be meeting with her next week apparently. What`s that conversation going to look like?

ROBINSON: Well, he`ll probably tell her to knock it off and she`ll probably ignore it. I mean, because, you know, this is -- this is who she is. This is what she believes. This is what she intends to keep saying and doing.

And look, look, the racism and the anti-Semitism and the conspiracy theories and the praising, the violent rhetoric, these are features of today`s Republican Party. They`re not bugs. I mean, this is part of the appeal. This is part of what unites the Republican base of today.

It`s not the Republican base of 15 or 20 years ago. It`s not Mitt Romney`s Republican. This is Donald Trump`s Republican base. And if the party is in his image -- and this is what they came for.

And so the party could have made a decision, could be making a decision now to go in a different direction and to free itself from all of this and to go back to being more of the conservative political party we once knew. But it seems to have decided not to do that. I`m confident it has decided not to do that and to keep going on this very dangerous course.

VELSHI: There are some people who identified as Republicans who would like that not to be the conclusion to come to. Olivia, you are the director of the Republican Accountability Project. You know, we`ve got -- seen some billboards from your group that say you lied about the election, the capitol was attacked, resign.

And you`re not just talking about, you know, there`s Ted Cruz on there, but there is billboards that speak to Josh Hawley, Kevin McCarthy himself, Jim Jordan from Ohio, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Representative Madison Cawthorn. What kind of traction do people like you have in getting the attention of these Republicans who are doing this damage?

TROYE: Well, recently we`ve started this project because we want to remind people of what these Republicans did. This group of Republicans who chose to go along with the big lie, who chose to incite the type of violence that led to January 6th, right.

President Trump didn`t do it by himself. He had a whole group behind him who allowed that moment to happen. And so while these people tried to, you know, call for unity without taking responsibility for what they did, and while they go around and try to do their own revisionist history, we`re going to serve as a reminder to say no, this is not okay.

It`s not okay to not uphold our Constitution. It`s not okay to tell the American people lies and try to overturn a legitimate election. And so, we`re not forgetting. We`re not forgetting now. We`re not going to forget in 2022 when there`s primaries and we`re not going to forget in 2024 either.

And we`re going to support the principled Republicans, the few and far between which you all have seen that have held up the Constitution, that have stood up and said enough and that have come forward. We`re going to stand by them. But the rest of these people, it`s time to purge and remind people exactly what they did and hold them accountable.

VELSHI: And is that -- Olivia, are you hopeful that a phoenix rises from the ashes here and there is a Republican Party that emerges from this that represents, as Eugene said, the old Republican Party?

TROYE: I wish I could be that positive right now, but judging by McCarthy going down and meeting with Donald Trump, the RNC inviting Donald Trump to be a speaker at their spring meeting. There`s been reporting about that.

I mean, how much more? What`s it going to take for these people to actually break away from these movements, these conspiracies, these dangerous phenomenons? And I don`t see that happening any time soon to be honest with you.

So we`re not here to rehabilitate the entire GOP. The GOP that I subscribed to back in the day -- the McCains, the people who are willing to do what was right, to work with Democrats and to do the right thing for the country, that party to me right now is not really existent.

What we`re looking for is a few and far between (INAUDIBLE) stand by them. And then the rest of the people, we`re going to call you out.

VELSHI: Olivia, thank you. Good to see you.


O`DONNELL: Yes, go ahead Eugene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Just one point -- can I say one quick thing?


ROBINSON Before we can have the phoenix, we have to have the ashes, I mean. And the political parties change direction and reform themselves after they have suffered crushing defeats.

And the Republican Party has suffered defeat. They`ve lost the presidency, the Senate and the House all in recent years. But those defeats were not of the magnitude to make the party change course.

So, it may take another couple of elections and they have to be just obliterating defeats before the party seriously changes.

VELSHI: What a time to be witnessing this. Thanks to both of you. Olivia Troye is a former senior member of the White House coronavirus task force, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence and she`s the co-director of the Republican Accountability Project. And of course, Eugene Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post". Thanks to both of you for being with us this evening.

Coming up, Joe Biden, a Democrat flipped important states like Arizona and Georgia to take control of the White House and the Senate, so of course, Republicans in those states are now taking desperate steps to rig future elections.

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs joins me after the break.


VELSHI: So if you`re going to lose an election, common sense suggests that you look at why you lost, you see what positions didn`t poll well, what remarks fell flat. You come up with a plan to appeal to a broader section of the electorate.

Or if you`re a Republican you just come up with a plan to stop voters who didn`t vote for you from voting altogether.

Record voter turnout in Georgia, in both the general election and the January senate run-off helped send Joe Biden to the White House and sent Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the Senate.

In response Republicans aren`t looking inward, they`re trying to stop Georgians from voting. Republicans in the state legislature introduced a bill that would require voters to include a copy of their photo ID when they request an absentee ballot. Voters will also have to include another copy of their photo ID when they submit that absentee ballot.

A spokesman for Fair Fight, the voting rights organization founded by Stacey Abrams said by requiring access to a printer, which many Georgians do not have, Republicans are attempting to purposely take away the ability of many Georgians to vote by mail simply because they believe too many Democrats and too many people of color voted by mail.

In Arizona which also backed Joe Biden and sent Democrat Mark Kelly to the Senate, a Republican lawmaker in the state legislature has introduced a bill that would allow the legislature to override the results of future presidential elections, quote, "by a majority vote at any time before the presidential inauguration," end quote.

Joining us now is Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. Secretary Hobbs, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

I`m kind of fascinated but I just said what I just said to the audience. They`re trying to pass a bill that basically allows the legislature to overturn the results of a presidential election at any time before it`s ratified.

That`s not how it works. You`re the secretary of state to make sure that people`s votes are cast and counted properly in a democracy. That`s actually your job.


And this bill is really just a slap in the face to voters. It absolutely allows the legislature under any circumstances, if they`re not happy with the result, they can just change it. And that`s not what we do here in the United States of America.

VELSHI: We seem to be -- and the example that I used in Georgia and we`ve seen similar examples in Pennsylvania -- attempts to solve for a problem that`s not actually much of a problem, right? This idea of photocopying a driver`s license to put it in for your application and photocopying it again to put it on your mail ballots, that would be interesting if people like you and other secretaries of state across the country were telling us, wow, we`ve just got this massive problem with people who get other people`s ballots somehow and then fraudulently cast them. That`s not really a thing.

HOBBS: Right. It`s absolutely not a thing. We`re seeing similar attacks on vote by mail here in Arizona that have been introduced in the legislature. So, you know, vote by mail is extremely popular in Arizona. We`ve had it for years, no excuse absentee voting. And 75 percent of the electorate here are signed up to get their ballot for every single election they`re eligible to vote in.

So, you know, you mentioned looking inside themselves and responding to the electorate. And they`re doing exactly the opposite by attacking these -- the people`s ability to vote.

VELSHI: So, there have got to be Republicans in Arizona -- there are lots of -- there`s got to be a lot of them who say this does not make sense. I want to be able to vote by mail. I want to be able to trust the outcome of the election. This just doesn`t feel good.

At what point -- how do you get this out of this stupid partisan realm and make everybody understand that our goal should be greater participation in elections. It`s kind of what we`ve been trying to do for, you know, a couple hundred years here, trying to get everybody to participate in elections.

We haven`t always done it well but that`s the goal, not suppressing the vote.

HOBBS: Yes. I think unfortunately those common sense folks aren`t necessarily in the legislature. So, yes. I mean, I think your earlier guest talked about, you know, suffering a great loss and making significant changes because of that. I think that`s what`s going to have to happen.

VELSHI: What legal avenues are there when a state legislature passes a law that seems counter to democracy?

HOBBS: Well, I would hope that we have a lot of places to stop that bill before it becomes law, including on the desk of Governor Ducey. I have a hard time thinking that he would sign something as undemocratic as that into law.

But certainly if this bill were enacted, you would see significant legal challenge to block the bill, including a referendum, which would send that bill to the ballot for voters to decide on.

VELSHI: And Arizona Democratic Representative Ruben Gallego has said quote, "Referendums are expensive but I will raise the money to kill this democracy-killing bill. Follow this bill. If it passes, we will have 90 days after it is signed into law to collect the necessary signatures to get it on the ballot and then defeat it."

So your view -- I mean Doug Ducey, by the way, is getting -- a Republican - - all sorts of pressure from the Republican Party, too. They`ve censured him. They`re calling him some kind of cheat just for the idea that he has said look, I didn`t want Joe Biden to win but he won and that`s the way the election went -- for upholding democracy.

HOBBS: Yes. No, I mean I think the Republican Party is in a fight with their elected leaders right now, some of their elected leader, Doug Ducey included. So yes, I think -- I don`t think he`s in a race to appease a lot of these folks right now.

VELSHI: Secretary of State Katie Hobbs of the state of Arizona, thank you for joining us. Yet another conversation that I didn`t actually ever think I`d have talking to a secretary of state about how their state maybe isn`t going to count the votes and listen to the will of the voters.

Thanks for joining us tonight.

HOBBS: Thank you.

VELSHI: All right. Coming up, communities of color have been the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic and they`re also less likely to have reliable access to vaccine. Now that a third vaccine might soon be available, what can we do to close that access gap? We`ll talk about that next.


VELSHI: Today we got new news in the fight against the coronavirus. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 72 percent effective in the United States against COVID-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single dose. It doesn`t have to be kept in ultra cold temperatures like the Pfizer vaccine, so in theory it could reach more people and save more lives.

But that vaccine and all vaccines can only save more lives once they reach the majority of the population. And right now we know that vaccines are not reaching some poor people of color. Early data showed that a disproportionately small number of those getting the COVID vaccine so far are black and Hispanic.

Despite months of discussion about overcoming deep seated disparities, vaccine distribution plans that do not account for systemic inequality are going to result in poor people dying.

There are real reasons why poor people and often people of color can`t access either testing or vaccination sites. For example, many vaccine appointments needs to be set up online which means that people without Internet access cannot compete for the coveted online appointments.

Inequality shows up when people live in communities without a nearby pharmacy to get a vaccine. And for those who don`t have a car and have to rely on public transportation, if that`s even an option.

These disparities in access to health care are not new. The health care system is not built for equality and it has never been equitable for poor people and for people of color.

In this moment we need bold changes that break this vicious cycle of inequality and prioritize the most vulnerable population so that we can all end this pandemic.

We also need leaders who welcome new ideas and strategy to save our communities of color from this pandemic.

In Dallas County, Texas local leaders designed a plan to ensure equitable distribution of vaccine. According to "The Texas Tribune", Dallas leaders tried to prioritize any resident who meet the state`s criteria for vaccination and live in one of the 11 zip codes which are all completely or partially south of Interstate 30 which is a dividing line that splits the county along racial and socioeconomic lines.

The planned was axed because the Texas Health Department didn`t like the zip code allotment even though it would only apply to a third of the vaccines allotted to the entire county.

The Dallas Health Department actually threatened to reduce the vaccine supply telling Dallas County quote, "While we ask hub providers to ensure vaccine reaches the hardest hit areas in populations, solely vaccinating people who live in those areas is not in line with the agreement to be a hub provider. If Dallas County is unable to meet these expectations we will be forced to reduce the weekly vaccine allocation."

Threatening to cut vaccine allocation over a plan to fight racial disparity is not going to get us to the goal of ending this pandemic.

After the break, Dr. James Hildreth is going to join us to discuss how to ensure that systematic racism and systemic inequality do not prevent COVID vaccines from reach those who have been most effected by the coronavirus. People who are poor, people who are black, Latino or from other underserved communities.


O`DONNELL: Here`s the NBC News affiliate in Dallas, Texas reporting from a vaccine registration event at a neighborhood in south Dallas with a majority Hispanic population.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was tremendous turn out at this Oak Cliff vaccine registration operation for people like Dominga Esparza.

DOMINGA ESPARZA: I came because I don`t know how to go in the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dominga Esparza says turnout here sends a message.

ESPARZA: It told me that there`s a lot of people here that`s willing to take the shot.


VELSHI: A lot of people here who are willing to get the shot. So how do we ensure that people like Dominga and people from other communities of color get vaccinated?

Joining us now Dr. James Hildreth. He`s an infectious diseases expert and the president and CEO of Meharry Medical College. He`s a member of the FDA`s vaccine advisory committee which is evaluating COVID vaccines.

Dr. Hildreth, thank you for being with us. I`m just floored by this. We talked for eight, nine, ten months about one day if we are so lucky to be able to get an effective vaccine, not two vaccines or three vaccines, but an effective vaccine.

You know we`re going to have to work to really convince people to take it. But that was going to be the problem.

I`m fascinated by the difficulty people continue to have in getting access to this vaccine. Access seems to be a bigger issue than acceptance.

DR. JAMES HILDRETH, PRESIDENT/CEO, MEHARRY MEDICAL COLLEGE: Well, Ali, thank you very having me first.

But the problem has many layers. There is a gap of supply which all of us are dealing with. There is a gap of trust and a gap of access that you alluded to. And these issues are related to the same reason why African- Americans and Latinex people are being more devastated by the pandemic in the first place.

You know, we don`t have access to health care on equal basis. We don`t have access to technology. So all the things that have led to COVID-19 disproportionately affecting the populations are being reflected now by the challenges with the vaccine.

We can`t underestimate the trust issue here. And we`ve got to make sure we have trusted messengers, trusted organizations that are leading the way in terms of trying to get the vaccine to the people we want to get it to.

And the other thing is, we have to take the vaccine to these populations, not necessarily relying on them coming to where the vaccines are. That has to be part of our strategy. We have to get the vaccine to the communities because some of them just cannot make it to where the vaccines are being given.

That is a major hurdle. We have to get past that.

VELSHI: And we`re seeing it play out. The Kaiser Family Foundation has analysis of data from 17 states. it was published just a few days ago. And it said the share of vaccinations among black people is smaller than their share of cases in all 16 reporting states and smaller than their share of deaths in 15 states.

For example in Mississippi, black people account for 15 percent of vaccinations compared to 38 percent of cases and 42 percent of deaths. In Delaware, 8 percent of vaccinations have been received by black people while they make up nearly a quarter of cases and of deaths.

Dr. Hildreth, this example -- Kaiser looked at 17 states, it was the same information in almost every state.

DR. HILDRETH: Well, yes, so we actually saw some of that here in Tennessee. And there`s no getting around the fact that when race becomes a part of any of the conversations in this country, things get complicated and very difficult.

So I think we need to focus on something called a vulnerability index where you account for all factors related to health disparities. Where you live, your educational level, how much money you make, the kind of jobs you have.

If we frame it in that context, it makes it a little less challenging to make sure the most vulnerable populations get it. Because again, we know that brown and black people are the most vulnerable but it just appears that when we start to frame this in the context of race, it makes it very challenging for some people.

So I think we have to focus on the vulnerability index. And if we do that, I think we can get this done. But you can`t get around the fact that when race becomes part of the conversation, things get really more challenging. And I think that is what we`re up against in this case.

VELSHI: I`m entirely with you, which is why I think that there should be universal health care coverage because then you get around all of this stuff. You don`t have to talk about it in terms of race or poverty or vulnerability.

But the bottom line is -- you mentioned it -- our actual health care system isn`t set up to deal with the most vulnerable in society. So why would our testing regimen be able to deal with that? Why would our vaccination program be able to deal with it? We needed to recognize that we can`t deal with it so we needed a different way to vaccinate everyone.

DR. HILDRETH: I totally agree. And I think that what we need to do is to empower and mobilize trusted organizations and take the vaccines to where the communities are.

And churches would be a great place to do this because in most communities of color, churches tend to be a place where people feel safe. They trust the faith leaders there.

So I think that that`s one example of what we can do that might make this much more effective. I also think that some of the things that are being contemplated speak to the fact that people are not being sensitive to the challenges we have.

I think in Florida, they are going to be using Publix, and there are a lot of Publix in Florida -- Publix grocery stores. But they`re not in places where poor and black people live and that`s -- I mean that doesn`t account for the challenges we have.

I think it`s a great idea to use grocery stores, pharmacies and those kinds of places as vaccination centers but you have to make sure you also do that in the communities where they`re most needed.

The bottom line is the most vulnerable populations to disease and death are people of color. If we have to save the most lives, then they should be prioritized to getting the vaccine. That is just the bottom line.

If we`re going to save as many lives as possible, that has to be the focus. I mean there is no getting around that.

But as I said earlier, the problem is that when we start to talk about race and race is a factor here that just seems to be a challenge for some people to wrap their heads around that. But that`s what we`re up against.

VELSHI: Dr. Hildreth, good to see you. Thank you for joining us this evening.

Dr. James Hildreth is the president/CEO of the Meharry Medical College and he`s a member of the FDA vaccine advisory committee which evaluates COVID vaccines. Thank you for your time.

And that is tonight`s LAST WORD. You can catch me tomorrow morning at 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. on my show "VELSHI". I`ll be talking with Congressman Hakeem Jeffries whose family was threatened during the Capitol riot.

I will also be joined by Senator Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Nikema Williams.

And I can`t help myself. I need to explain what is going on with GameStop and the stock market and why everybody is getting it wrong. I promise, you`re going to feel smarter after we talk about this.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" begins right now.