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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 3/1/2021

Guest: Jim Manley, Colin Allred, Peter Hotez, Jesse McKinley�

Summary: "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that yet another young woman has come forward with a sexual harassment allegation against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. White House will not overrule $15 minimum wage decision. Democratic Congressman Colin Allred of Texas is interviewed. Today, Johnson & Johnson began shipping 3.9 million doses of its vaccine which requires just one shot and can be stored in standard refrigerators. In Jesse McKinley`s breaking news reporting in "The New York Times" tonight, Anna Ruch who is 30 years younger than New York`s Governor Andrew Cuomo described an encounter at a wedding where the governor tried to kiss her against her will.

Transcript: LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

So, Theo and the COVID babies are arriving -- we have to come up antoher term. COVID babies doesn`t sound right now. But, you know, shutdown babies. Whatever.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Lockdown babies, maybe.

O`DONNELL: Lockdown babies.

We thought this was going to happen. You know, the nine months after a giant blizzard that closes things down for a couple of weeks, we tend to see this. And so here we are.

MADDOW: I guess. You know, it`s awkward to think about it that way, I don`t like to think of my producers in those terms, but yes, the whole idea that we had some sort of pandemic baby bust is belied by the experience at least of the staff of this show. And it`s very exciting.

So --

O`DONNELL: Well, there we are. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

We have breaking news tonight that could move New York state one step closer to having a woman governor. "The New York Times" is reporting tonight that yet another young woman has come forward with a sexual harassment allegation against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Jesse McKinley broke tonight`s story, and has been leading the "New York Times" reporting on three serious accusations of sexual harassment against the governor from three separate women, two of whom were working for Governor Cuomo at the time of the incidents.

The breaking news involves a woman 30 years younger than Andrew Cuomo who worked in the Obama administration and on the Biden presidential campaign but never worked for governor Cuomo. She tells "The New York Times" that she had a disturbing encounter with Governor Cuomo at a New York City wedding in September of 2019.

"The Times" has included this photograph of the incident as it was happening at the wedding. The details surrounding that photograph reported in "The New York Times" are difficult to read and make you want to turn away from that photograph.

The woman in this photo told "The Times," he said, can I kiss you? I felt so uncomfortable and embarrassed when really he is the one who should have been embarrassed.

Jesse McKinley`s reporting around this photograph moves the Cuomo story from controversy to crisis. President Biden`s press secretary was asked if governor Cuomo should step aside while he is being investigated on charges of sexual harassment. If the governor does choose to step aside or is forced to step aside, the previously invisible Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul would become the acting governor. And the political danger for Cuomo if this story keeps going is that New Yorkers might prefer an experienced woman who served in Congress, now in her second term as lieutenant governor and has never been involved in any controversy.

We`ll bring you the difficult and sensitive details on this story later in this hour with the "New York Times" reporter who has been leading this investigation for "The New York Times."

Andrew Cuomo`s political misfortune tonight is that he belongs to a political party that cares about sexual harassment. And so he`s entering the political fight of his life to hold on to his governorship, and that fight is only with Democrats. Democrats only.

The Democratic mayor of New York says he doesn`t accept Andrew Cuomo`s apology for any of the misunderstandings that he says may have occurred in his communications with women. Democrats aren`t going to change their position on sexual harassment in the workplace just because a Democrat is accused.

Republicans on the other hand have proven that they don`t care about sexual harassment at all. They don`t care about any of the accusations, including rape, credibly made against Donald Trump, and Republicans proved once again this weekend that they don`t care about any governing policies.

The god of the Republican Party is the most recent defeated presidential candidate who gave his first post-presidential speech and didn`t say anything about governing policy. Nothing.

He didn`t say whether he still believes that struggling Americans should be getting another round of COVID relief checks in a COVID relief bill. He didn`t say anything about whether Republicans should be for or against increasing the minimum wage, because Republicans as a party stand for nothing. Absolutely nothing. No governing principle or issue, that means governing now is entirely up to the Democrats, governing in Washington.

Passing a COVID relief bill is entirely up to Democrats, and the argument about including an increase to minimum wage to $15 in the relief bill is among Democrats only. The Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, who was appointed to her job by the Democratic majority leader Harry Reid in 2012 has ruled that a minimum wage increase cannot be included in the budget reconciliation bill according to the unique rules of the Senate and everyone in the Senate has always assumed a minimum wage increase could not be allowed in a budget reconciliation bill, which is why the Democrats have never tried to raise the minimum wage in a reconciliation bill.

Many new members of the House of Representatives who are working on the first budget reconciliation bill of their careers have been shocked to discover that rules of the Senate as interpreted by the Senate parliamentarian can get in their way. This is a common experience for members of the House to have profound irritation to put it mildly with the Senate parliamentarian.

Last night, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said this.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): We should override the parliamentarian. I think that this is a matter of course. And that our constituents and people across this country put Democrats in power to among other things establish the $15 minimum wage. We have a responsibility to do that.

Our two options are to override the parliamentarian or eliminate the filibuster, those are the only two paths we have in order to create substantive change in the United States and that`s what people across the country sent us to do.


O`DONNELL: Sounds simple enough, and it can be done. But last week White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain told Joy Reid that Vice P[resident Kamala Harris would not overrule the Senate parliamentarian. The White House announced it last week, and today, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it again.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The decision for the vice president to vote to overrule or to take a step to overrule is not a simple decision. It would also require 50 votes. As you know, it`s not a one-step decision. And the president and vice president both respect the history of the Senate. They`re both formerly served in the senate. That`s not an action we intend to take.


O`DONNELL: And so even with the White House repeatedly saying no, Vice President Harris will not overrule the Senate parliamentarian, members of the House of Representatives continue to push for that to happen.

Here is Congresswoman Jayapal with Joy Reid earlier tonight.


REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): I think the parliamentarian should be overruled. That is not unprecedented as you know. Hubert Humphrey did it in 1967 and 1969. Roosevelt did it in 1975. These are certainly unprecedented times, where we could thank the parliamentarian for her opinion. It is an advisory opinion and then we could still include it in the minimum wage bill.


O`DONNELL: Pramila Jayapal is absolutely right about all of that, the parliamentarians opinion. It`s just an advisory opinion. But she did misspeak there when she said that Vice President Roosevelt did it in 1975. She meant Vice President Rockefeller did it in 1974.

But that`s the last time it happened. 46 years ago. So there`s nothing more rare in the United States Senate than overruling the parliamentarian. I think it was actually 47 years ago. In this case, it cannot work as a way of passing the minimum wage, cannot possibly work, because the Democrats don`t have enough votes among the Democrats to pass the minimum wage after Vice President Harris overrules the parliamentarian which they`ve announced she`s not going to do.

But let`s go along with it. If Vice President Harris overruled the parliamentarian and allowed the minimum wage to be in the bill, then Mitch McConnell would offer an amendment to remove the minimum wage from the reconciliation and the Democrats would lose that vote.

At least two Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, would vote against, including the minimum wage in the reconciliation bill and others might join.

Earlier tonight, in an interview with Rachel Maddow, Senator Elizabeth Warren said this.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): If we say we`re going to get rid of the filibuster, we`re going to go with majority rule the way the constitution holds for the House and the Senate, and we can actually pass the things we need to pass, then this isn`t an issue.


O`DONNELL: So get rid of the filibuster is the suggestion from Senator Warren about how to pass the minimum wage. But there are ways to raise the minimum wage without using budget reconciliation or getting rid of the Senate filibuster, because that`s the way the minimum wage has always been raised, without using budget reconciliation and getting rid of the filibuster.

And we are joined tonight by a master of the Senate to help us guide us through the options.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Jim Manley, a 21-year veteran of the United States Senate, who served as adviser to Majority Leader Harry Reid and chairman of the Senate Labor Committee, Senator Ted Kennedy.

Also with us, Jason Johnson, professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University. He`s an MSNBC political analyst and host of a new podcast "A Word with Jason Johnson" for Slate.

Jim, let`s begin with the Senate options. Get rid of the filibuster has become the easy throwaway line. That we already know is impossible because Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said they absolutely will not vote to do that.

But the -- and I`ve outlined why trying to get this into reconciliation won`t work, Mitch McConnell can strip it out with an amendment if you did overrule the parliamentarian.

The last time the minimum wage was raised, it was squeezed into a defense spending bill at the last minute. And that`s the way it was done in the past, just stuck on to must-pass bills that then Republicans vote for. In fact, the last time they raised it, George Bush was president in 2007 and the Republican president signed it because it was inside a giant bill with military funding in it.

JIM MANLEY, FORMER ADVISOR TO SEN. HARRY REID: Well, and I just so happened to be working for Senator Kennedy, the author of that bill when we did this. It`s a little bit more complicated than that. I mean, you know, we begin with a premise that he spent more than a year stalking the Senate floor looking for attempts to offer amendments to raise the minimum wage. I put together more press conferences than I thought humanly possible trying to highlight the need to get it done, then at some point dealing with guy named John Boehner, who at that point in time was the chairman of the Educational Workforce Committee, who was dead set against doing anything on the minimum wage.

But when push comes to shove, he was offered a compromise that included tax breaks for small business. God, Kennedy hated that idea, never done it before, but that`s the art of compromise, that`s what it takes to get things done.

So, for the life of me -- you know, your opening segment nailed it correctly. I mean, none of the options are going to work. All of them end up being -- losing some more than others.

So, yes, let`s get Senator Manchin in the room, let`s get Republicans in the room, and get a compromise and if they can`t, let`s blame them. But first of all, take the first step, putting onus on them to deliver, and I`m talking about Senator Manchin as well.

O`DONNELL: Uh-huh.

Jason Johnson, so Ron Klain said last Wednesday to Joy Reid, no, we`re not going to overrule the Senate parliamentarian, and that is a White House call because it would be Vice President Harris who would have to do it, sitting in the presiding officer`s chair. Then the White House said again today, Jen Psaki, we`re not going to do it, they couldn`t be more clear.

And yet, members of the House of Representatives continue to say overrule the parliamentarian. What`s going on? Is there a communication disconnect here?

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Lawrence, I have to say, as your other guest said, your opening was brilliant, there`s some basic civics and government classes that certain members of Congress have not followed up on. This is a little beyond "Schoolhouse Rock," right? At the end of the day, you have sort of people in the house, and again, the house is supposed to be that philosophically, the house is the rabble, it`s the passion, it`s the people, do it what you do it.

The Senate is the deliberative body. And at the end of the day, yes, they could try to filibuster, that`s not going to work. Manchin and Sinema don`t want it to happen. If you fire the parliamentarian, as you said, Mitch McConnell will just say no and have an embarrassing vote to yank it out.

You can`t blow everything up right here, right now on this particular issue and quite honestly, you know, Lawrence, long-term, I think this works for Democrats. They can keep fighting for the $15 minimum wage for the next year and a half and blame it on the Republicans all they want. Passing this bill now is the immediate relief people need, fighting for minimum wage that has passed in many states throughout the country is still an issue they can fight for.

I think this is sort of a short-term thinking by really passionate, well- intentioned people in the House of Representatives, members who may not understand the things at play in the Senate.

O`DONNELL: Well, you know, some have said, and I get this, the moment with parliamentarian hasn`t happened until it happens, so we are going to lobby up until the moment when the parliamentarian`s -- moment on the Senate floor happens and vice President Harris has that decision to make. So I get, I think, why they`re continuing to put the pressure on, even though the White House has said they`re not going to do it.

But we are definitely going to have a vote on the Senate floor on the minimum wage, and Bernie Sanders has told us how. He has tweeted tonight, this week as part of the reconciliation bill, I will be offering an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. And, Jim, this is exactly the way we would expect this to play in the Senate.

Chuck Schumer won`t have the minimum wage in the bill he brings to the floor because he knows how the parliamentarian is going to rule. So there will be this Sanders amendment offered and it will take 50 votes to pass it, plus Vice President Harris` vote if they get there. And that will tell you, that will tell you right there if the Democrats can do it.

MANLEY: Yup. Absolutely, and to that I`d say it`s about damned time somebody figured out strategy, try to move the amendment process. It piggybacks off -- so I`m glad that Senator Sanders made that announcement tonight, but it piggybacks off what I tried to say earlier, when Kennedy did. It doesn`t have to be a one-off. This is going to be the beginning of, as Jason suggests, a series of pressure tactics to put the Republicans on the defensive and trying to figure out a way trying to cut a deal.

Maybe not $15, maybe it will be $12.50 or whatever, paired with tax breaks for the wealthy. But I was encouraged that Senator Sanders made this announcement tonight, and I can only hope it`s going to be first of many attempts to try and put Republicans in very difficult position. Because after all this is a pretty popular position, in many states, of trying to vote against the minimum wage increase, just like it used to happen.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, and, Jason, and I think the house members by this time know what they`re dealing with and what the likelihood is down to, in the 1 percent range of overruling. But at this stage of the argument, that seems to be best way to keep this discussion alive, the House way of putting pressure on senators, they`re hoping that somehow they`re going to deliver some kind of pressure, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

JOHNSON: This is the smart thing to do, some is a lack of understanding, but some of this is the House`s job. There needs to be minimum wage increase in United States of America, just this period, right? Minimum wage, today, it`s lost 18 percent of its value since last minimum wage increase. We are in the middle of a pandemic, lost hundreds of thousands of jobs and whole families supported by one person on minimum wage. I mean, there is a legitimate urgency here.

But the House`s best option is continue to pressure. Even with unrealistic ideas, it`s part of a larger pressure on Joe Biden to say, look, incrementalism is not getting us out of this mess. Donald Trump was not an incrementalist, he tore down everything to get what he wanted and Democrats across the board want to see bold action from Joe Biden.

So, on that end, I can never disagree with people who want Joe Biden to make big moves a face of a once in a century crisis that this country is facing.

O`DONNELL: And, Jim, before we go, I just want to say, I can remember Senator Kennedy, it was a lonely quest in those days trying to get attention to the minimum wage, even Democrats thought they had bigger things to deal with. It was very, very hard to do it.

Here we have a visibility I`m not sure it`s had in decades. This is an urgency level, we`re going to find out what that`s worth politically.

Jim Manley, Professor Jason Johnson, thank you very much for starting us off tonight. Really appreciate it.

MANLEY: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, the most important ongoing political story of our time, nothing less than that. It is the Republican attempt to restrict your right to vote in this country. Democratic Congressman Colin Allred, a former voting rights lawyer, joins us next.

And later in the hour, we will be covering the breaking news tonight on Governor Andrew Cuomo with the reporter from "The New York Times" who has been leading their investigation of sexual harassment against the governor.


O`DONNELL: Tonight, Stacey Abrams told Joy Reid why Republicans suddenly oppose mail-in voting.


STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT ACTION: In Georgia, mail-in voting has been primarily used by Republican voters for years, 2020 was first time Democrats won both early and mail-in voting. And to break that because too many Democrats voted, because too many black and brown people voted is to cut off your nose to spite your face. And the people in charge should be listened to, and they should be -- we should hear loud and clear that they are willing to destroy democracy to win elections.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Colin Allred of Texas. He has worked as voting rights attorney.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

I am calling this the most important ongoing political story of our time. There`s not necessarily a new development every day but momentum is moving in one direction for Republican legislatures, and that is make it harder for you to vote. What Stacey Abrams is talking about is Republicans now in Georgia want to limit the way they have successfully voted in the past because they saw it work for Democrats this time.

REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): That`s right, Lawrence, and, you know, we`ve seen this for years now, that this is not a new trend. What we`re seeing I think in the recent spat of laws is the most severe restrictions put on the right to vote really since the days of Jim Crow, and just like in the days of Jim Crow, we are seeing politicians using the guise of election security to try and put in place laws surgically targeted to restrict the voting rights of folks they think might not vote against them -- might not vote for them.

And so, you know, as a voting rights attorney, I`ve seen it play out in reality. I`ve seen the frustration on a voter`s face when they realize that they missed some deadline or don`t have right ID, it`s heartbreaking, and it`s not who we are as country.

O`DONNELL: What -- the House has legislation that tries to deal with this, H.R.1. What -- what would that do?

ALLRED: Well, H.R. is, in my opinion, the sword for us to affirmatively expand voting rights. It has automatic and same-day voter registration. It ended -- it ends things like voter purges, stops things like voter ID laws, but also ends partisan gerrymandering.

That`s the affirmative expansion of voting legislation that we need. We have H.R.4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to repair the damage done by the Supreme Court to the Voting Rights Act. That would be the shield to defend ourselves against some of these laws, to bring back a national preclearance standard so that states that maybe weren`t covered previously would be covered by preclearance.

That`s the approach we need to take in my opinion, it`s from both sides, both affirmatively expanding the voting rights and fixing what the Supreme Court did in gutting the Voting Rights Act.

O`DONNELL: So, with your experience as a voting rights attorney, and you`re quarterbacking this for the Democrats, what`s more important, getting national legislation through the House, through the Senate, or fighting these things within the state legislatures?

ALLRED: Well, it`s going to be a long night in the state legislatures. And as you know, Lawrence, we have so many of these legislatures that we don`t control and we don`t have ability to stop what they`re doing. And, unfortunately, over the last four years, we have seen judges put on federal courts, from the district court levels, the appellate court level to certainly the Supreme Court who are going to be hostile to voting.

So, we can`t just rely on the courts and we can`t just rely on the state legislatures to do the right thing.

So, we have to have a federal law. We don`t want vastly different voting rights from one state to another. We want to make sure we set a national standard. It should be fair.

It has to be something that inspires confidence in the American people, certainly. But let`s be very clear, voter fraud is not a large risk for our country. The risk that we`re facing right now is that politicians are trying to pick their voters. They`re trying to put in place laws to make it impossible for them in many cases to lose their jobs. That`s not how this thing works.

As somebody who has run for office myself, I can tell you, you know, you have to accept being a Texas Democrat you might lose some elections every now and then. You go out, you organize, you put forward policies you think convince people to vote for you and you try to win. That`s how we do things in our country.

O`DONNELL: Not easy being a Texas Democrat but for one Republican, it is suddenly not easy being a Texas Republican.

Before you go, I just want to ask you about this new poll showing Ted Cruz in Texas with a -- pretty big disapproval number, 48 percent disapprove, 43 percent approve. So, his disapprove is higher than his approve, which is very bad situation for an incumbent officeholder.

That seems to be Texans realizing what government means to them in a crisis like the electricity failure in Texas.

ALLRED: We still have Texans right now, Lawrence, who don`t have water. We still have Texans right now who are cleaning up from their ceilings collapsing and pipes bursting, who are wondering how they`re going to pay and afford replacing some of the things that they`ve lost, their personal effects.

And to -- during this crisis, to have the arrogance and callousness to think that this is a good time to go on vacation, as Senator Cruz did, also as our attorney general did, he was in Utah. Or to lie about what caused it as the governor did, to say it was wind power that did it I think this shows this lack of respect for Texans, a lack of empathy for what`s going on.

There are so many things that I and my office are doing right now to try and help folks. I can`t imagine thinking that that would be a good time to get away and get some sun.

And you know, I think that`s being reflected in the poll you mentioned.

O`DONNELL: Congressman Colin Allred of Texas, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

ALLRED: Thanks so much, Lawrence and thank you for covering this really important issue. You`re right, it is the most important one.

O`DONNELL: Thank you very much. Appreciate that.

Coming up, tonight`s good news. A third coronavirus vaccine has just become available in the United States. Dr. Peter Hotez joins us next.


O`DONNELL: Today Johnson & Johnson began shipping 3.9 million doses of its vaccine which requires just one shot and can be stored in standard refrigerators.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the vaccine for emergency use on Saturday. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 85 percent effective against severe COVID-19 but and 100 percent effective against hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Johnson & Johnson is promising to deliver 20 million doses by the end of this month. Pfizer and Moderna are currently testing their vaccines in children, 12 and older. Johnson & Johnson is planning to rapidly move to test its vaccine in children younger than 12 years old including newborns. Then Johnson & Johnson will test its vaccine in pregnant women.

Today Dr. Anthony Fauci said this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGIES AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If you project realistically when we`ll get enough data to be able to say that elementary school children will be able to be vaccinated, I would think that would be at the earliest the end of the year and very likely the first quarter of 2022. But for the high school kids, it looks like sometime this fall.


O`DONNELL: And joining us now, Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez, what is your sense of where the Johnson & Johnson vaccine fits into the current vaccine delivery program?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We urgently need a third vaccine and we are actually going to need a fourth and a fifth vaccine as well. We have a daunting task ahead of us.

You know, our original estimates were at about 60 percent to 80 percent of the U.S. population needs to be vaccinated in order to slow or halt virus transmission, in addition to saving lives.

And now with the new variants coming along, the variants of concerns which are more transmissible, like the B-117. That number is going to probably go up to 85 percent or even higher.

So Dr. Fauci is right. we will need adolescents vaccinated and possibly kids. Infants, I don`t know that that`s going to be happening in the U.S. any time soon but certainly pivoting towards adolescents.

I think the only disappointing news about the J&J vaccine Lawrence, is the fact that we have only three or four million doses delivered right now.

The whole point of Operation Warp Speed was to manufacture at risk so that we would have vaccine ready to go. And we don`t have a lot of time because now with this new variant accelerating, the original time table of vaccinating by the fall, that` s out the window.

We`ve got to vaccinate the American people by late spring, early summer. So I`m very disappointed to learn that we have so little vaccine coming and we still have to wait for the motherlode to come over the summer. So that`s a problem.

O`DONNELL: As a practical tactical matter, it seems like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would end up being the one that we might someday be able to get at our doctor`s office because it doesn`t require any extraordinary refrigeration.

DR. HOTEZ: Yes. And that`s going to be true of the next few vaccines that come down the pike. It will be true of the J&J vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine, the Novavax vaccine, our (ph) vaccine as well if it ever gets into the U.S. where it`s already in production in India now for low and middle income countries.

So that`s right, it`s going to be a little more user-friendly. You know, the mRNA technology will improve, in the next five years it will be easier to scale up production. Probably they`ll work it out to the point where you can keep it at 4 degrees refrigeration temperatures or even room temperature. But not right now, not for this pandemic.

O`DONNELL: And we just saw last week, the first shipments to Ghana and Africa will probably be a place much more suitable for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine because of that refrigeration issue and with transport around the continent of Africa, refrigeration would also be difficult during in transport.

DR. HOTEZ: Lawrence, the emerging story coming out of Africa is not good news. The B-1351 variant out of South Africa is now accelerating into Mozambique, into Malawi, going into Zimbabwe. And even though Africa`s done pretty well in 2020, I worry their time has come when this thing is really going to accelerate.

And we don`t have vaccine for Africa. We, you know, the two mRNA vaccines are probably not going to be scaled adequately to make a big impact in Africa. The J&J vaccine, you already see the production problems we`re having. It`s unclear what role that` s going to have. The AstraZeneca which is a good vaccine for the U.K. variant does not seem to work against the South African variant.

We`re running out of options. We`re hoping our vaccine can come in but I worried there`s humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Africa if this South African variant really starts to accelerate. We don`t have a lot of options unfortunately.

O`DONNELL: And of course, the richer governments in the world have been competing for these vaccines.

DR. HOTEZ: That`s right. They all took care of themselves. By the way, the global policy makers did a good job trying to -- they anticipated this. You know, organizations like SEPI (ph) and GAVI (ph), lots of acronyms that probably are not too familiar with the general American public but important global health organizations, W.H.O., saw this coming and they created a COVAX sharing facility.

The question is whether we have enough durable and quality vaccines to deliver to places like sub-Saharan Africa.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you very much for joining us again tonight.

DR. HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, we`ll be joined by "The New York Times" reporter who broke the news tonight of a third accuser of sexual harassment by New York`s Governor Andrew Cuomo. This report includes a photograph of the moment the alleged sexual harassment was taking place.


O`DONNELL: I feel I have to issue a warning about this segment. We`re going to show you a photograph that appears in "The New York Times" tonight of an alleged sexual harassment incident in progress. It`s a moment at a wedding reception when the governor of New York is trying to kiss a woman who is 30 years younger than he is.

To put it mildly, she does not look pleased, and she told her story to "The New York Times" tonight in a report that has now definitely moved the governorship of Andrew Cuomo to an extreme crisis point.

Most Americans have no idea who their lieutenant governor is. And that`s the way most governors like it. They want the limelight to themselves. But the limelight on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was growing so hot as accusations of sexual harassment continue to mount almost every day now that New Yorkers might soon begin to focus on New York`s usually invisible lieutenant governor Kathy Hochul.

Kathy Hochul is from Buffalo. She served as a legislative assist to New York`s senior Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, before getting elected to the House of Representatives. She is now serving her second term as lieutenant governor of New York.

And as New York`s attorney general begins investigation of the governor, it could become necessary for Kathy Hochul to step in as acting governor. That possibility was raised in the White House briefing room today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president concerned that this could serve as distraction from Governor Cuomo`s handling of the pandemic? And should he potentially step aside while this investigation is under way so that there are no distractions handling the pandemic?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I stated yesterday, the president`s view has been consistent and clear, that every woman coming forward should be treated with dignity and respect. That applies to Charlotte. That applies to Lindsey and any woman coming forward.


O`DONNELL: Charlotte Bennett and Lindsey Boylan have each gone public with their accounts of being sexually harassed by Governor Cuomo. Lindsey Boylan who is now a candidate for Manhattan Borough president posted her written account online five day ago. Saying that the governor made suggestive comments to her on the governor`s private plane and that he once kissed her on the lips in his office. Governor Cuomo denied those accusations.

Charlotte Bennett who is 25 years old, told "The New York Times in a story published this weekend that when she was working for the governor last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor initiated conversations with her about her dating life and asked her if she believed age differences mattered and said that he was open to dating quote, "anyone above the age of 22".

Governor Cuomo issued a statement yesterday, apologizing saying, "I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal. And that some of my comments given my position made others feel in ways I never intended."

Charlotte Bennett refused to accept that apology today saying the governor has refused to acknowledge or take responsibility for his predatory behavior.

The situation for the governor got much worse tonight with new reporting from our next guest Jesse McKinley in "The New York Times.

"The Times" tells the story of Anna Ruch who is 30 years younger than the governor and met him at a New York City wedding in September 2019. Anna Ruch has never worked for Governor Cuomo. She worked in the Obama administration and she worked on the Biden presidential campaign in 2020.

"The Times" reports "The governor was working the room after toasting the newlyweds, and when he came upon Ms. Ruch, now 33, she thanked him for his kind words about her friends."

"But what happened next instantly unsettled her. Mr. Cuomo put his hands on Ms. Ruch`s bare lower back. She said in an interview on Monday, Ms. Ruch said that touch on her bare skin, discomfited her. `I promptly removed his hand with my hand which I would have thought was a clear enough indicator that I was not wanting him to touch me,` she said."

"Instead, Ms. Ruch said Mr. Cuomo called her aggressive and placed his hands on her cheeks. He said, `Can I kiss you.` Ms. Ruch said, `I felt so uncomfortable and embarrassed when really he`s the one who should have been embarrassed`.

"A friend captured the exchange in a series of photographs taken on Ms. Ruch`s cell phone. Shaken, Ms. Ruch said she later had to ask a friend if Mr. Cuomo`s lips had made contact with her face as she pulled away. The governor had kissed her cheek, she was told."

"It`s the act of impunity that strikes me, Ms. Ruch said. I didn`t have a choice in that matter. I didn`t have a choice in his physical dominance over me at that moment. And that`s what infuriates me."

"And even with what I could do, removing his hand from my lower back, even doing that was not clear enough. Unnerved and baffled, Ms. Ruch said she posed for a photograph with Mr. Cuomo afterward. Once the governor walked away, Ms. Ruch`s friend approached her with look of alarm."

"It was when my friend looked at me and said are you ok with such genuine concern in her face that I realized how obviously inappropriate it was, Ms. Ruch said. Not only to me but those around me as well."

We will be joined by Jesse McKinley who broke this story in "The New York Times" tonight after this break.


O`DONNELL: In Jesse McKinley`s breaking news reporting in "The New York Times" tonight, Anna Ruch who is 30 years younger than New York`s Governor Andrew Cuomo described an encounter at a wedding where the governor tried to kiss her against her will. Jesse McKinley reports what happened next.

"After collecting herself later that night, Ms. Ruch said she had hoped to speak with the governor before he left the reception and confront him about his behavior, but by then she said she could not find him. "I would have rather just said it that night, she said. I wanted to say that wasn`t ok."

Joining us now is the Albany bureau chief for "The New York Times" Jesse McKinley.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

I want to just go through these three accusations and make sure we have the governor`s position defined on this. As I see it, the governor specifically denied the allegations made by Lindsey Boylan. Has he denied the allegations by Charlotte Bennett or Anna Ruch?

JESSE MCKINLEY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": He has not. Charlotte Bennett told her story to me last week and then we published it on Saturday night. And since that time the governor has not explicitly denied anything that Charlotte said. He made kind of a more kind of broad statement on Saturday, saying that he believed that to be a mentorship rather than a relationship that Miss Bennett believed was veering in a sexual manner.

In the case of Ms. Ruch that we broke this evening, with Matt (INAUDIBLE) my excellent colleague and his response to that thus far has been simply to point back to a statement that he made on Sunday night that some of his remarks he feels have simply been misinterpreted, that he has been, you know, known to banter with people and that he apologized if people took that as inappropriate comments.

O`DONNELL: Do you think that the Anna Ruch story will be regarded differently in Albany because this was not an at-work story?

MCKINLEY: Well, certainly it is not a place -- a case of workplace discrimination, but I think it`s beginning to fit into a narrative Lawrence of first of all, a governor under siege, but also a governor whose private behavior is being thrust into the public eye, you know.

This is a guy who has run the state for ten years, has had, you know, pretty remarkably high popularity ratings particularly since the coronavirus struck. And now has had without a doubt the worst six to eight weeks of his tenure, not only with this scandal over the sexual harassment but with the nursing home data being withheld as well as some of his kind of abrasive, aggressive behavior against lawmakers.

So I think in toto, you know, this last couple of months has really damaged Mr. Cuomo`s reputation which was rising, and now looks in a very perilous position as we enter March.

O`DONNELL: And so we now have the attorney general launching an investigation. She`s going to hire, the attorney general is going to hire outside counsel so that it`s impartial. The attorney general herself is a Democrat.

But in general, historically, New York governors and New York attorneys general don`t necessarily have great relationships.

MCKINLEY: That`s putting it very kindly. You know, Governor Cuomo himself was an attorney general and was known to make Eliot Spitzer`s life quite miserable and certainly that is a long-established trend.

In this case, you know, Tish James who is the attorney general here in the state, will be giving basically subpoena power and perhaps a staff to an outside investigator to look into these claims.

And keep in mind, that`s a pretty powerful stick. You know, subpoena power means that you can compel people to give up documents and recordings. You can get witnesses to come in and give depositions.

All of which for an aggressive prosecutor or a special prosecutor or a special investigator in this case, can be pretty powerful weapons to dig at the truth and, of course, dig at Governor Cuomo`s reputation.

O`DONNELL: I want to read more of the governor`s statement which was issued prior to your reporting tonight, so it applied to the first two cases that we knew about.

He said "To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody. And I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to."

So there`s the governor himself supporting an investigation and ultimately it was on his authority that he asked the attorney general to conduct this investigation, even though he was looking for a different form of it over about a 24-hour period before it evolved into what it is now.

And so this investigation is going to go on, is there any sense of how long an investigation like this would take?

MCKINLEY: Well, it`s interesting you say that, you know. And since the story with Matt (INAUDIBLE) and I came out earlier tonight, you know, there have been calls to expedite this investigation, to kind of give it an oomph, so to speak, to kind of get it going, to get it on its feet and try to give answers out there as quickly as possible. Because I think beyond Governor Cuomo`s, you know, uncomfortable position, I think for the people of New York, there`s a lot of unanswered questions.

A lot of people are wondering what happened here. And think there`s going to be pressure for speedy resolution.

O`DONNELL: Jesse McKinley, thank you very much for joining us from Albany tonight. Really appreciate it.

MCKINLEY: Anytime.

O`DONNELL: That is tonight`s LAST WORD.