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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 11/19/21

Guests: Gwen Moore, Derrick Johnson, Ari Berman, Nse Ufot, Helen Butler, Joshua Huelster, Keneshia Grant

Summary

President Biden`s Build Back Better Bill passes in the House of Representatives. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) answers questions passing the social and climate policy bill and regarding the verdict of acquittal handed to Kyle Rittenhouse by a jury. The party of Donald Trump knows America is changing all around them. And the party of Trump is not doing anything to appeal to that diversifying American electorate.

Transcript

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Man, what a day. What a week it has been. That is going to do it for us, at least for this second. I`ll see you again on Monday night. Now it`s time for THE LAST WORD where Zerlina Maxwell is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening Zerlina.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, MSNBC HOST: Thank you so much, Rachel. And you are so right. It has been a day. Have a great weekend.

MADDOW: Thank you. Appreciate it.

MAXWELL: To quote my friend and -- thank you. To quote my friend and radio show host Jess McIntosh who said to me today, it`s been a very America kind of day. This morning, House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed the Build Back Better Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The build back better bill is passed.

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MAXWELL: The Biden social infrastructure bill passed today with near unity among Democrats and only one defection. And Leader Chuck Schumer says he expects the Senate to pass it by Christmas. This once-in-a-generation legislation includes historic social safety net and climate provisions and sets aside nearly $200 billion to provide four weeks of paid medical leave starting in 2024.

That provision in particular will have a direct impact on millions of people, including women, people of color, low-income workers, and their families. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, black workers are 83 percent more likely than their white counterparts to be unable to take that necessary leave when they need it.

Paid family leave was at risk of being removed from the bill permanently. But progressives led by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who I should note is a woman of color, fought to keep it in the bill. It is not surprising that the most racially diverse Congress in American history passed the most consequential piece of legislation for women, children and people of color.

Meanwhile, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, he tried but failed to stop the bill`s advancement with his eight-hour and 32-minute rant about baby carrots and some such other nonsense, while his fellow Republicans sat behind him, nodding and laughing along as if these are times that just you can joke about.

And soon after that, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she passed the Democratic agenda. She also got a letter informing her that President Joe Biden was temporarily transferring presidential powers to Vice President Kamala Harris while he underwent a routine medical screening.

So, in this very America kind of day, and this morning Kamala Harris became the first woman and first woman of color to become acting president for a grand total of 85 whole minutes. And this afternoon the vice president was in Columbus, Ohio to sell the new bipartisan infrastructure law to the voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAMAL HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Because of our work together, America is moving forward. And ultimately that is what infrastructure is all about. It`s about getting our nation moving. And the way I see it, my definition of infrastructure -- I tell people, you know what I think infrastructure is? Infrastructure gives people what they need to get to where they need to go, right?

And so that`s about roads and bridges. It`s about broadband. It`s about making sure our babies can drink clean water, and so getting the lead out of those pipes. And it will be when we pass Build Back Better about child care and elder care and what we need to do to support families to raise their children and take care of their relatives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MAXWELL: As the vice president was heading to Ohio, a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges stemming from the night he fatally shot two people and injured a third person during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin last summer. That was after police shot a black man, Jacob Blake, in the back. Like I said, it was an America kind of day.

[22:05:07]

Joining us now to discuss, Democratic Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin. She is a member of the CBC and the House Ways and Means Committee. Congresswoman, thank you so much for being here on this historic night.

REP. GWEN MOORE (D-WI): Oh my goodness. I`m -- what a way to end the day with you, Zerlina. Good evening.

MAXWELL: Thank you so much. It was a historic day, like I said. It was full of ups and downs, 85 minutes of Kamala Harris being the president, Build Back Better passing through the House, but also the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict. And that`s what I want to start with. What`s your reaction to the verdict?

MOORE: Well, just let me start out by saying -- by recalling something that a defense -- a late defense attorney, a good friend of mine once told me. That not guilty is not the same thing as innocent. And I think that that`s what we have here.

I absolutely was not surprised by the verdict. And, you know, as soon as I realized that this judge was going to throw out the two very minor misdemeanor counts of his violating curfew as a 17-year-old, being out, and then carrying a weapon as an underage person that completely took the pathway, I think, to the conviction of anything further than that.

And then he protected this defendant`s character. The jury never heard anything about Rittenhouse`s state of mind, you know, shortly after during this event, you know, when he walked around with a t-shirt saying free as F and hanging out with white supremacists groups and so on. You know, as a black person, I probably am seeing what a fair trial looks like in so sort of twisted way.

MAXWELL: One of the things you mentioned is the fact that there`s a lot of evidence, obviously, that we can talk about here that wasn`t necessarily in the jury room as the jury deliberated. So, I think the specifics about this particular case, people are going to be talking that for the end of -- until the end of time.

In terms of the bigger picture and what`s happening in this country, I think this trial happens within the context of the two other trials related to white vigilante violence, the Charlottesville civil trial and also the trial of the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery down in Georgia.

Do you think this verdict, this acquittal will embolden other white vigilantes or other folks to commit acts of violence against black lives matter protesters or anyone who stands up on behalf of civil rights?

MOORE: Well, I mean, that`s the chilling concern and worry about this. You know, I was never for the open carry law. We have far too many guns as it is in our society. Again, Rittenhouse got off with some technicality about how the state statute was written that allowed him to have this AR-15, this underage would-be safety patrol officer.

I wonder if this is not going to spread. And then, Zerlina, I have heard and I have seen that the so-called second amendment consortium of groups and, you know, white supremacists are offering him all kinds of internships and opportunities.

And it is very frightening the message that it sends beyond the jury`s -- what they had in front of them, their "not guilty" verdict versus the reality that he is being buoyed and elevated, you know, and has really shown little to no remorse about having killed people and only being concerned about his own plight, you know, in my estimation.

MAXWELL: And one of the things, I think, we have to keep in mind here is that all of this stuff is happening at the same time we`re in this global pandemic. As I mentioned, on the flip side of things, Kamala Harris assumed the powers of the presidency today for 85 minutes.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the Democrats through the process of passing transformative legislation today. You know, this is America in so many ways. What are your thoughts on the fact that all of this is happening at the same time?

[22:09:50]

Do you see a connection between, you know, the most diverse Congress that you are a part of currently and the demographic shift in America and also the rise in white vigilantism and an emboldened white nationalist movement in this country? Do you see a connection between all of these things?

MOORE: Oh, absolutely, Zerlina. You know, even though we`ve had a great day, we passed the Build Back Better Bill, the beef (ph), we still are unable so far to get voting rights and criminal justice reform, which, you know, we see that we need some sort of reform just from the decision that was made today.

I mean, you know, I don`t contest to what the jury decided given what was in front of them, but it really begs the question as to whether or not we are going to allow people just to run through the streets when they feel threatened to start to shoot people.

And so our inability to pass justice reform and voting rights is still an element that worries and concerns me about our ability to truly have a transformative society that looks at equality and justice for all. As you know, Democrats have some headwinds in terms of history with regard to keeping and managing the -- keeping control of the Senate and the House.

But I do think that with this build back better bill, we`re demonstrating who is actually contributing to the growth of our economy in a healthy way. I mean, think about the supply chain problems that we`ve had and yet we`re going to build up our ports and airports and we`re going to kill -- we`re going to work on stopping the virus, which, Zerlina, I said it today. My god!

Kevin McCarthy talked for eight hours and 32 minutes and didn`t mention the pandemic one time as being the reason that we`re having high prices and supply chain problems. Went on to blame it on kindergarten and giving people insulin at no more than $35 a month.

You know, I mean, you know, you would think in eight hours and 32 minutes, you know, all of this lust for that one minute on the floor, and he had eight hours and 32 minutes. And a congressional research paper report that told him that this -- you know, that all of this inflation, which is problematic, for gas prices, for food, is because of the pandemic.

And, you know, so it`s frustrating on many levels, but I feel that we`re going to be able to demonstrate within the next year that we have really improved people`s lives. People are going to see it within the next year with projects starting, with being able to get health care in places like Wisconsin, which couldn`t get the Affordable Care Act, and I am just thrilled. Like I said, this is a great, great day all in all.

MAXWELL: It was a roller coaster, but I think that a transformative piece of legislation like this one, we will see the impact on American lives and everybody is going to make the case for re-election next year. Kevin McCarthy, I guess the pandemic didn`t come to mind in that eight hours. Congresswoman Gwen Moore, thank you so much for starting us off on this Friday night. Please stay safe.

Joining us now is Maya Wiley, a civil rights professor and MSNBC legal contributor. Also Maria Theresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino and also an MSNBC contributor. I`m so glad you`re both here with me on this very consequential day.

Same question to both of you. Maya, I want to start with you. How do you square the progress that we`re seeing Democrats make legislatively with this verdict today, and the fact that conservatives are celebrating Kyle Rittenhouse and the acquittal?

MAYA WILEY, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I think at the end of the day what we require in Washington is leadership and it`s what we`ve seen and it`s what we`ve gotten that recognizes what the daily life experiences are of Americans, and that includes everything from struggling just to be able to take care of your family and meet your family`s needs and then build it back where you`re going to get $250 to $300 in your pocket every month on one of your top three costs of living, which is child care.

But also your most precious, precious resource for our country and for any family, which is our children. It`s exactly the kind of leadership we need. But what we haven`t gotten in D.C. and I think Representative Moore said this really well -- is a recognition that we also need to be a country of peace.

[22:15:03]

But peace is a choice and it does not come in the absence of justice. And so unless we`re paying attention to the way we have to change laws and practices that do not protect us all equally then we are always going to be in danger of the kind of violence that we saw, and I absolutely agree that that requires both leadership in Congress.

I`m thinking about what reforms can be made nationally, but it also means that we have to take back the state houses because the self-defense laws that are being used to essentially shield people from violence because they were afraid, and far too often that means people who are white who are afraid of people who are not, that that`s not equal protection of the laws.

And that that means that we also have to build up our capacity to do what democracy calls us to do and that`s solve our shared problems. And justice is a shared problem because as we saw in Rittenhouse, while race was the pre-cursor, when people who are white stood up to demand that we improve the criminal justice system, they too became victims of injustice and that we have to change.

MAXWELL: And Maria, it`s so true that all of these things are happening at once and we really have to live up to, as Maya said, that idea that equal justice turned law is a thing we have here. It`s in our constitution and we need to live up to that.

But what`s your reaction to the split screen between legislative progress and yet a step backwards in terms of this verdict and what it means to the people who are allied with folks like Kyle Rittenhouse and those groups?

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So, what we saw today in the courthouse, that verdict actually speaks to the case book example of why we need critical race theory. Talk about the layers of implicit bias in our institutions, in the courthouse, in the hearing. We saw the judge who, by the way, is an elected official. If any says that matter -- this is how you see explicitly what happens when you stand by the sidelines.

He had no business on that bench. And what we saw today at the same time in Washington, D.C., where people who understood implicit bias, who understood what critical race theory is, that there is literally, sadly, remnants of a past that has to be rectified.

The infrastructure bill that was passed -- that was signed into law just on Tuesday, Zerlina, speaks to the importance of looking and addressing our infrastructure because it is a testament sadly of implicit bias in our policy-making and in our institutions.

And so right now, we know that this is where they`re trying to divide us as a nation, but what we saw signed today was a multicultural America who gave Joe Biden and the Democrats a mandate in 2018 and they said we need pieces of legislation passed that speak to our values of multicultural America.

Four hundred pieces of legislation could not get to the Senate because Mitch McConnell was trying to hold back the future. And then the Democrats were delivered the House, the White House, and the Senate, and this is what it means. It means that we`re going to address the sins of our past.

But it doesn`t mean that it happens overnight. And sadly, what I feel so badly for right now is the family of those two individuals who taught their sons right, who understood what it meant to be allies and what it meant to be the future of America, and the court has failed them.

And what we need to do is to stand locked arms recognizing that we are living in an incredible moment in America where the majority of us, a multicultural America, deeply believe in our rales and future. And what happened in Rittenhouse is the remnants of the past, but we have to continue to stand together.

And I know that right now a lot of folks are having a very hard time, but I have to remind folks, we won because we knew exactly what Donald Trump was trying to stand for, and we locked hands and we registered and we voted and we have to organize and we have to keep that fierce fire in our belly, ladies, so that we continue doing it for the midterms because, otherwise, they will try to get us back to the future and we`re saying, hell, no way.

MAXWELL: Well, on a night like tonight, I can`t help but think of that history because I`m sitting in front of a grand -- a photo of my grandfather which is off camera and he marched in Selma. So I know that the march -- we`re marching on towards progress. And whatever that looks like, I hope you all are there. Maya Wiley, Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you so much for joining us tonight.

Coming up on this historic night, NAACP President Derrick Johnson will join us to talk about American justice and the implications of the conservative right making a hero out of Kyle Rittenhouse.

[22:20:02]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MAXWELL: Today after a jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges in the fatal shooting of two men nearly 15 months ago, the family of victim Anthony Huber said, "Today`s verdict means there is no accountability for the person who murdered our son. It sends the unacceptable message that armed civilians can show up in any town, incite violence and then use the danger they have created to justify shooting people in the street."

And joining me now is Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP. Thank you so much for being here tonight.

DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: Thank you.

MAXWELL: What is your visceral reaction to the verdict today?

JOHNSON: It was unfortunate for the families of the victims with this outcome. We all witnessed and seen on screen what happened. But it`s a true tale what have we need to do moving forward. Here is a judge that`s been elected for the past three days, mostly unopposed. I hope their community take note and recognize that this particular judge is not providing justice for that community.

In addition to that, the jury pool question is a real question that we must embrace in the way in which we increase the number of people who are registered to vote and willing to serve on juries. It was an injustice. This was worse than the Emmitt Till trial.

This was worse to so many trials where we know for a fact individuals committed murder and yet they were not brought to justice. And it`s unfortunate, but this is America.

MAXWELL: Do you think that it emboldens other people to pick up guns and go to protests or, you know, communities of color to terrorize folks?

[22:25:00]

I mean, I feel like one of the dangerous precedents this sets is people who don`t live in a particular community will go to where unrest is after a police shooting. We`ve seen police shootings happen far too often.

JOHNSON: Well, this is the legacy of the Trump administration. It is about the otherness and emboldened so many people, whether it`s in Charlottesville or the synagogue in Pittsburgh or in this case where people feel like it is okay to display their white supremacist behavior in the public square.

Unfortunately for the families of the victims of this murder. Here`s a 17- year-old who came across state lines with a firearm that he purchased illegally, driven by his mother to a community that did not invite him, allegedly protecting property that was not his property, and to support law enforcement officers who didn`t need support.

And so there is no logical reason for him to be there. The fact that this judge dismissed the armed charges which should not have -- shouldn`t have been dismissed.

The real question here is was there federal crime committed? Should the Biden administration be bring federal charges in this case? Do we have a U.S. attorney that`s been appointed in this jurisdiction so that we can look at whether or not this young man should be charged?

You and I both know had this person been African-American or Latino, he would be behind bars tonight. And unfortunately, unfortunately the families of the victims will not receive justice.

MAXWELL: What is the role of civil rights organizations in this particular moment? How do you see your role with an organization like the NAACP that`s connected to this long history? I see this case as a part of the history that we`re all living through. How do you see your place in it?

JOHNSON: Well, it`s definitely a part of history we`re living through. In fact, the reason the NAACP was created because on average an African- Americans were being lynched every day when we were created in 1909. And so for the advocacy voice is one, we must reform our criminal justice system.

Two, in terms of the communities we represent, we must encourage a heightened engagement, particularly when you have judges who are elected or jury pools that are not as diverse as necessary. The sad part of what we`re witnessing right now is the potential outcome of the Ahmaud Arbery killing that those three individuals actually did.

We`ve seen that on tape. But unfortunately, in that community with 25 percent African-Americans, only one juror, we are unfortunately faced with the same outcome. We cannot have a justice system that is unjust. We have a legal system that`s void of justice for African-Americans and Latinos across the country, and in many cases, poor whites as well.

MAXWELL: NAACP president, Derrick Johnson, thank you so much for being here on this historic night. Please stay safe.

Coming up, one thing to remember about America. Our government is much more Republican than the actual people. And Republicans, they want to keep it that way. That`s up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:32:33]

MAXWELL: The party of Donald Trump knows America is changing all around them. And the party of Trump is not doing anything to appeal to that diversifying American electorate.

They could come up with policy ideas to broaden their base, but instead they`re attacking the ballot box in ways that disenfranchise those who traditionally vote Democratic. One tool Republicans are using is gerrymandering, which basically means they`re redrawing election maps to overrepresent Republican voters.

Simply put, as demographics shift away from a majority-white American electorate, they`re rigging the game. This week under the headline "The Redistricting Apocalypse is Here", Washington Post opinion columnist Paul Waldman wrote, "The word `redistricting` doesn`t carry the same inherent drama as a crowd of rabid thugs breaking doors and windows to storm the Capitol. But the way it`s proceeding right now in its own way, it`s just as much of an assault on our democracy."

Yesterday my next guest Ari Berman put it very bluntly. He said, quote, "We are in a 1965 moment for democracy."

And joining me now is Ari Berman. He`s a senior reporter covering voting rights for "Mother Jones". He`s also the author of "Give Us The Ballot: the modern struggle for voting rights in America".

And Ari, I`m so grateful to have you on really what I think has been a historic day and I see a connection between all of the stories we`re talking about tonight.

ARI BERMAN, SENIOR EDITOR, "MOTHER JONES": Hi, Zerlina. Thank you for having me.

And I think you`re absolutely right. The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse, the rampant voter suppression targeting communities of color, the extreme gerrymandering targeting communities of color. It`s all connected and it`s all about trying to preserve white supremacy in the face of major demographic shifts.

You have places like Georgia that are becoming majority-minority, that are electing black senators, Jewish senators. And what`s happening is Republicans are drawing maps to lock in not just Republican power, but white Republican power for the next decade.

[22:34:54]

I don`t think people just appreciate just the extent to which election results are going to be pre-determined by the maps that are being drawn right now, which aren`t getting nearly enough attention.

MAXWELL: So is this a coordinated effort on the side of Republicans to rig the game? And what would that actually look like for an election to happen, and yet the rigged game, you know, it doesn`t allow for the voters and their voices to actually count or be heard? What does that actually look like in practical terms?

BERMAN: It`s absolutely a coordinated effort. There was an attempt to try to overturn the election. There was an insurrection. When they failed at doing that, they decided to try to achieve the same goals through other tactics.

So the first thing they did after the insurrection was make it harder to vote in all of these key states like Georgia, Texas, Florida. Then after making it harder to vote, they then are passing all the gerrymandered maps to undermine fair elections.

So you make it harder to vote and then you make it so that there`s no one to actually vote for because so many of the election results are pre- determined, competitive seats are taken off the table.

What it looks like is in states that are basically 50/50, they`re drawing maps to give Republicans 60 percent of seats, 70 percent of seats, in some cases 80 percent of seats. And they`re also taking almost all of the competitive races off the table.

So once Republicans take power, once they retake the House through gerrymandering, once they lock and control the state legislatures, it`s going to be very difficult to vote them out of power and to hold them accountable and to have a functioning democracy in places like Georgia, places like Ohio, and places like Texas.

MAXWELL: So if that`s the case, what is the short-term solution? Is it only federal legislation? And then what?

BERMAN: Well, the most impactful solution by far is federal legislation because there really is no substitute for congressional action. There is no substitute for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and there`s no substitute for restoring the Voting Rights Act and passing the Freedom To Vote Act today because it`s really hard to outlitigate these maps, to out-organize these maps.

Congress has to make partisan gerrymandering illegal. They have to make what Georgia and Texas and Ohio are doing unconstitutional.

And they have the power to do that, but Democrats aren`t using the power they have to pass federal legislation protecting voting rights, so it`s not a fair fight. Republicans are doing everything they can to rig democracy, but because of a few Democratic holdouts on the filibuster, Democrats are doing everything they can right now to protect democracy, and they aren`t showing the same amount of urgency that Republicans are.

MAXWELL: Ari Berman, it`s always great to talk to you. Thank you so much for being here on this Friday night. Please stay safe.

Joining us now are Nse Ufot, CEO of the New Georgia Project, which is working to protect voting rights in the state of Georgia; and Helen Butler, executive director of the Georgia Coalition for the People`s Agenda, a nonprofit advocating for voting rights, criminal justice reform, housing, and education.

Nse, I`ll start with you, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project just gave the state Senate map drawn up by Georgia Republicans a big fat F, an F, that`s bad -- that`s failing. That`s not passing. And the draft Republican Congressional map got a C. That`s better, not great. My parents would be upset.

How has this affected your day-to-day work?

NSE UFOT, CEO OF THE NEW GEORGIA PROJECT: It`s had a profound effect on not only my day-to-day work, but the country that I live in and the rights that I have enjoyed up to this point.

I mean, we`re talking about Roe v. Wade on the chopping block before the end of the year quite possibly. We`re talking about an attack, continuous back-to-back grievous blows to our democracy, making it more difficult for young people to vote, for poor folks, for people of color.

Having to, you know, have conversations about these distractions when we all see what is happening.

You`ve laid it out. Ari`s laid it out. My nephew can look and see that this is an attempt to take their ball and go home. That the current rules that have been set out of how our elections are conducted do not serve the interests of the minority party. That fewer people are aligning with the GOP`s platform, and so in order for them to hold on to power, they`re going to cheat.

And that`s why we have 400 anti-voting bills being introduced in 48 out of our 50 United States. So it`s making our lives very difficult. It has a real-life impact on us.

[22:39:52]

I pointed out earlier today that the judge in the Rittenhouse trial is an elected official who has run unopposed several times, that being able to exercise the franchise, being able to choose our leaders, people who are going to co-govern with the people and in the interest of their constituencies is our democracy. It is how we, you know, express our values. It`s how we run our country, and it`s being attacked right now.

MAXWELL: And Helen, in terms of those anti-voting laws, Georgia has one. They passed it on the state level this year. What practical -- what obstacles have been created by the law for voters in the state of Georgia?

HELEN BUTLER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GEORGIA COALITION FOR THE PEOPLE`S AGENDA: Well, Zerlina, I tell you, every obstacle you can think of is from being able to exercise your right to vote via an absentee balloting, not being able to be given water while you stand in long lines.

It`s really -- the real threat is the takeover of every aspect of the election process, and gerrymandering goes right along with it because it is taking total control of every aspect for us to be able to exercise that precious right to vote.

Georgia has this long history of racial discrimination, and this is continuing that process. People of color were the largest demographic that increased in the 2020 census -- 10 percent increase and all of that was people of color.

While the white population basically decreased. But what we see our legislators doing is trying to maintain total control of all aspects of government.

really they`re targeting boards of education, going after boards of commissioners, and especially ones that are headed by women, black women. And so they are really going after total control of the process.

And our only option is to fight back in court and to fight back at the ballot box. But of course, as Ari has said, and Nse has said, that is going to be a difficult challenge. But we`re up to the task, and we are going to continue this fight to have our right to vote.

MAXWELL: You know, there`s a lot of criticism of, you know, the idea of being woke. But this is the reason why you need to wake up because these things are happening. And as an American voter, everybody needs to be paying close attention because we see you. We see what you`re doing.

Nse Ufot, Helen Butler -- thank you both for joining us on this historic night.

Coming up, ICUs in Minnesota are nearly at capacity less than a week away from the Thanksgiving holiday. That`s up next.

[22:43:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MAXWELL: Today the CDC endorsed coronavirus booster shots for all Americans over the age of 18. New COVID infections in the U.S. are up 33 percent over the last two weeks. And Minnesota with a vaccination rate of 62 percent has actually become a new COVID hot spot in America. Cases are up 52 percent. Hospitalizations are up 37 percent. And deaths are sadly up 12 percent in just the last two weeks alone.

And joining us now is Dr. Joshua Huelster, a critical care doctor at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis who specializes in respiratory issues.

Doctor, what impact is COVID having at your particular hospital?

DR. JOSHUA HUELSTER, CRITICAL CARE DOCTOR, ABBOTT NORTHWESTERN HOSPITAL: Well, it`s an immense impact. We`re seeing nearly as many cases as we saw in our large surge last winter, so nearly a year ago.

Out of, I believe, this morning when I went into work, we had 66 patients in our ICU. 35 of those had COVID. 29 of them were on ventilators. We have five people on ECMO support, which is, I think, easier to understand as lung bypass.

This large surge of patients that we have and really throughout our entire hospital system has impacted the ability to provide the care that we normally would deliver to people.

Most of the ICUs in the state are full. I believe this morning at the beginning of the day there were only seven open ICU beds in the Twin Cities metro area.

So it`s -- it`s -- you know. We`re at crisis level. It`s as bad as it was last winter. It`s quite disheartening, especially as you pointed out, vaccines are readily available but been unable, as with many places in the country, we`ve been unable to get every eligible person to take the vaccine.

And when, you know, one understands that the vaccines are exceedingly safe and highly effective, it really -- it becomes really, really hard to understand.

[22:49:49]

MAXWELL: From your vantage point, to your knowledge, are the majority of the patients that you are treating unvaccinated, at the moment? You see them as a critical care physician?

DR. HUELSTER: Yes, without a doubt. You know, I can`t give you the absolute percentage, but it is in the high 90 percent of patients we see are unvaccinated. Unfortunately, we have had a couple of breakthrough cases, but really in honesty most of those breakthrough cases then occurred in people who had other underlying conditions.

For instance, it`s now well established that people who are on immunosuppression for organ transplant in particular things like kidney or heart transplant are -- haven`t had the same response to the vaccine as people who are not on those medications.

But yes, everyone -- just about everyone that I am seeing in the ICU currently is not vaccinated and that has been consistent since vaccines have been available.

MAXWELL: That is the consistent thing we`re hearing from doctors and experts and so as of today if you are over 18, boosters are available. Get your booster, get your vaccination. You heard it here from the doctor firsthand.

Dr. Joshua Huelster, thank you so much for being here tonight. And please stay safe.

Coming up, America`s first woman president -- that`s up next.

[22:51:32]

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MAXWELL: Five years, one week and four days after Hillary Clinton won the popular vote for president, America got its first woman president, at least for 85 whole minutes.

Here`s how the "Washington Post" recorded the historic day. Kamala D. Harris on Friday became the first woman to serve as acting president of the United States, as President Biden was briefly placed under anesthesia for a routine colonoscopy.

Biden arrived at the hospital shortly before 9:00 a.m. and sent the letters to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Pro Tempore Patrick Leahy at 10:10 a.m., according to the White House.

He spoke with Harris when he resumed his duties at around 11:35 a.m. Harris worked from her office in the West Wing during this time the White House said today.

And so today on this Friday, we had the first biracial, black, South Asian woman president for 85 whole minutes. And it was like totally fine.

Joining us now Keneshia Grant, associate professor of political science at Howard University.

So first of all, congratulations to the real HU, Howard University alumni Kamala D. Harris for becoming the first woman president of the United States. What is your reaction to the fact that we made history, if just for a brief moment today?

KENESHIA GRANT, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, HOWARD UNIVERSITY: It`s certainly a bright spot in my day when I passed by the White House today. I smiled a little bit wider than I would.

I think that there is a bit of space between what we tell children that they can do and what they actually can do. And there`s a lot of hope in that space so when we tell little girls, you too could be the president of the United States, we are saying that we hope that that could happen.

But today we have something to point to, something concrete where we can say, no, actually there is a person who looks just like you who did this today. And so if you have those dreams, you can dream those dreams a little bit brighter because we`ve seen what it looks like.

And we have seen as you said that the nation just kept going on as though everything was fine with a black woman, with a South Asian woman president for a few minutes today.

MAXWELL: What do you think it means in a moment like this that you have this bright spot in a day like today where you have a verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, a year out from the racial reckoning, you know, in the same America that elected Barack Obama twice, you had Donald Trump right after that.

How do we process all of this?

GRANT: Yes, this is a question I often get from students and I try to remind them that I think we are part of a very long story. And so this story of bright spots followed by darkness or bright spots together with darkness are a part of our long history.

In addition to the things you talked about in politics we could think about slavery and reconstruction. And so these things tend to go together but I think it`s important for us to use those bright spots to take them and to find joy in them as we continue the work.

It`s important that we don`t get bogged down in the dark spots that we celebrate the bright spots when they happen because it`s necessary to hold on to that kind of thing when we need to continue to work, when we`re doing the voter registration and turnout, when we`re fighting against the redistricting that we were just hearing about, or figuring how to get through COVID. We can do those things with a smile on our faces and we can remember those good times.

MAXWELL: I just want to end on a positive note. What does it mean for a Howard alumni to be the first woman president? I mean, why are HBCUs like Howard so important to historic moments like this?

GRANT: They`re really important to these historic moments. They`ve been important before we knew or before we were talking about them in the popular media. But it is the case that people come to these places and get a very clear sense of themselves and get a very clear sense of what the world expects from them and how they might be perceived in the world.

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And so this equips them to go out and be the change that we want to see in the world and so they are very important for that reason. But in particular, it`s a wonderful time to be teaching at Howard University with the vice president of the United States being a grad because those students can feel that energy and they can feel like they can do it too.

MAXWELL: I didn`t mean to shade Hampton University. I love Hampton University but as Kamala D. Harris would say, the vice president, the real HU is Howard University. So I had to say it at the top.

Professor Keneshia Grant, thank you so much for joining us tonight --

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MAXWELL: -- on this historic night. Please stay safe.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.

You can catch every weeknight at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on The Choice from MSNBC exclusively on Peacock.

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