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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 3/25/21

Guests: Jennifer Palmieri, Nikema Williams, Lauren Groh-Wargo, Jen Psaki, Beto O`Rourke


A few hours before Georgia`s Republican governor signed into law a bill that was rushed through the Georgia legislator to restrict voting rights, President Joe Biden called the effort "sick." President Biden promised now 200 million doses of the vaccine delivered into arms by the end of the first 100 days. That`s doubling the original objective.



And tonight, we have White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki and it`s the kind of news night now where she will not be our first guest, as we assumed during this big day of the presidential press conference because we`ve got to cover the Georgia situation. We have two experts from Georgia to cover that for us.

And, Rachel, your concentration in the previous hour on the way this new law in Georgia changes the secretary of state`s involvement, which is to say removes the secretary of state from the process, for me is the most chilling part of this bill. We`ll see what the experts in Georgia have to say about it. But your concentration on that was really illuminating.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Well, thank you. It`s scary stuff. And being able to overrule and in fact replace elections boards counties by counties, you can imagine partisan bad actors going in and saying let`s figure out which counties voted for the Democrat. And those will be the elections boards we`ll replace. We`ll uncertify those results and make sure those go the way we want.

I mean, it`s -- it is a recipe for disaster in terms of small D democracy.

O`DONNELL: And the speed of the way they did this is part of the scandal of it.

MADDOW: Uh-huh, exactly. All right. Thanks, my friend.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.

Joe Biden said these three words today in the same answer in his press conference, sick, despicable, pernicious. That`s what Joe Biden called the Georgia legislature`s voting restriction bill today hours before that bill was then signed into law by Georgia`s Governor Brian Kemp.

We`ll see what Beto O`Rourke calls it when he joins us tonight before testifying tomorrow against a similar bill in the Texas legislature.

We`ll also be joined by two experts in the voting right crisis tonight, freshman Congresswoman Nikema Williams, who now holds John Lewis`s George state in the House of Representatives. And Lauren Groh-Wargo who was the manager of Stacey Abrams` campaign for governor in Georgia.

Michael Eric Dyson was one of the scholars in President Biden`s recent meeting with historians and biographers at the White House. We`ll find out what was discussed in that meeting and we`ll get Professor Dyson`s view on what has become the 21st century struggle for voting rights in this country.

And, of course, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will join us to take some questions that were not asked at today`s presidential press conference.

A few hours before Georgia`s Republican governor signed into law a bill that was rushed through the Georgia legislator to restrict voting rights, President Joe Biden said this about the bill the Georgia governor was about to sign.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I`m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It`s sick. It`s sick.

Deciding in some states that you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote? Deciding that you`re going to end voting at 5:00 when working people are just getting off work? Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances?

It`s all designed -- and I`m going to spend my time doing three things. One, trying to figure out how to pass legislation passed by the House, number one. Number two, educating the American public. The Republican voters I know find these despicable, Republican voters, folks out in -- outside this White House.

I`m not talking about the elected officials. I`m talking about voters. Voters.

And so, I`m convinced that we`ll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing -- this makes Jim Crow look like Jim eagle. I mean, this is gigantic, what they`re trying to do. And it cannot be sustained.

I`ll do everything in my power along with my friends in the House and the Senate to keep that from becoming the law.


O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, John Heilemann, NBC News and MSNBC national affairs analyst. He`s host of the "Hell and High Water" podcast for "The Recount". And Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for the Obama administration. Both are co-hosts of Showtime`s "The Circus."

And Zerlina Maxwell is with us. She is the host of "Zerlina" that airs on Peacock.

And, Zerlina, let me begin with you and what we just heard from the president became all the more urgent tonight when that bill was signed into law.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, PEACOCK HOST, "ZERLINA": Absolutely, Lawrence. And I think that, you know, the president hit the nail on the head when he called it Jim eagle and he compared it to the Jim Crow era because that`s exactly what this is. I mean, don`t get it twisted. Essentially what happened here is Georgia went blue, elected two Democratic senators. And the reason why is because black people, Latinx, indigenous and AAPI voters turned out in record numbers.

And so, the way the GOP decided to respond to that result is to restrict access to voting for those exact communities. I mean, claiming fraud because you are allowed to give water to someone standing on a line to vote is ridiculous. And I think that Joe Biden spoke to really, I think what is going to be seen as an overreach and perhaps can help contribute to some momentum into getting HR-1 through the Senate.

O`DONNELL: Jennifer, there`s been a lot of talk about how the Republican behavior in the Senate can help determine whether or not Chuck Schumer gets Joe Manchin to go along with reducing the threshold for closing debate from 60 votes down to 51. But what about the Republican activity in Georgia? How much pressure does that put on the Senate rules?

JENNIFER PALMIERI, HOST, SHOWTIME`S "THE CIRCUS": I do think Republicans are going to have a bad reaction to this. When I was in Georgia for the Senate runoff, and that was when President Trump made the call down to Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state there, to try to pressure him to find votes for Trump, the reaction from voters was to turn out more, to be more determined.

And I think that the president, President Biden is right, that this is outside of the country is not seen as a partisan issue, that there is concern about what Republicans are doing in these state legislatures just as there was concern that Republicans in D.C. didn`t support the COVID bill.

So, it is -- I think people -- I`m glad people are focusing on the state legislatures as much as they are and it is a number one reason to pass HR- 1. And this could put additional pressure on to deal with the filibuster at least when it comes to constitutional matters, matters of voting, as people suggested.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, Joe Biden is not one to use words like "sick" and the way he talked about this today unless obviously it is something extreme. Joe Biden sees this as extreme, and the game changed this afternoon after his press conference with the Georgia Senate passing it, rushing it through, then the governor rushing his signature onto it.

We saw Joe Biden repeatedly in the press conference today step right up to the line of saying, yes, of course, we`re going to have to reduce that 60- vote threshold in the Senate at least for some things. This clearly is part of what will push the Senate toward that it seems.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah, that`s right, Lawrence. And I think one of the things that people are finally starting to appreciate about Joe Biden is that contrary to a lot of the stereotypes around him, which is that he is sort of this politician stuck in the past, a different vision of the Democratic party that existed back in the 1990s, the 1980s, the 1970s, what Joe Biden has showed over his whole career is a remarkable capacity for change and growth.

And he has changed and grown alongside the party. You could say he has an unerring political instinct for where the center of the -- the center of his party is, which is to say he has always had his thumb -- he`s never been the most left wing, obviously, not the most progressive. But he knows when the party is moving, and he reacts to circumstances.

So the combination of the fact that he`s already -- this is already a much more progressive, much more ambitious Joe Biden than a lot of people thought we would see, but we also see a Joe Biden who`s become very reactive or I should say responsive to circumstances.

So, I think you`re right. Joe Biden a year ago would never have contemplated wanting to change the filibuster rules, and I would now bet pretty much -- I would give almost any odds at this point that we`re going to see Joe Biden put his shoulder into some kind of significant filibuster reform because of the changing of the facts on the ground like the ones in Georgia today.

O`DONNELL: I want to take a look at another issue in the presidential press conference today, and that was when Joe Biden was citing statistics that we used on this program earlier in the week about what`s happening at the southern border. Let`s listen to what he said about that.


BIDEN: Truth of the matter is nothing has changed. As many people came -- 28 percent increase in children at the border in my administration, 31 percent in the last year, in 2019 before the pandemic, in the Trump administration. It happens every single solitary year. There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. It happens every year.


O`DONNELL: And, Zerlina, what he is citing there is research from a professor at the University of San Diego who studied this, and we presented it here the other night. And it is very clear that there is this seasonal element to this, which is apparently seasonally forgotten by the Washington press corp.

MAXWELL: Well, that`s so true, Lawrence, but it`s also the fact that the Republican Party doesn`t have a policy platform. So it`s not like they can come out in the Biden administration and point to a list of policies that they`re going to push for. They don`t have anything other than Donald Trump.

What they wanted to do here early in the administration is look around, find some images that they could B roll on Fox News, point to and say, look, this is very scary. And we have to understand that the Republicans are not upset because the unaccompanied minors coming to the United States to seek asylum are not being treated humanely. I didn`t hear Marsha Blackburn do a press conference about child separation.

They`re not upset about the treatment of the migrants. They just wanted to point to something that looked bad for TV. Biden re-centered the humanity in the immigration conversation --


MAXWELL: -- and I think that`s what`s important about today`s press conference when that issue came up repeatedly.

O`DONNELL: Zerlina Maxwell, Jennifer Palmieri, John Heilemann, thank you all for starting off our discussion tonight. Really appreciate it.

MAXWELL: Thanks, Lawrence.

HEILEMANN: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, we have a lot ground to cover in this hour tonight. The voting rights crisis in Georgia tonight, two experts, Congresswoman Nikema Williams of Georgia and Stacey Abrams` campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo will join us next.

And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will be with us later in the hour as will Beto O`Rourke and Professor Michael Eric Dyson.

Please stay with us. We have a lot to cover here tonight.


O`DONNELL: It is like a Christmas tree of goodies for voter suppression. That`s what a Georgia Democratic state senator said today about the bill that was rushed through the state Senate in less than a day and was then immediately signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp. The bill requires photo ID to vote by mail, cuts the number of drop boxes for ballots dramatically, with one Democratic district being cult from 33 to 9 drop boxes.

The bill shortens the period between Election Day and runoff elections from nine weeks to four weeks after Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock used those nine weeks this winter to win their seats in the United States Senate. The bill also makes it a crime to offer water to those waiting in line to vote.

In the debate in the Georgia House, Democrat Erica Thomas said this.


STATE REP. ERICA THOMAS (D-GA): Why do we rally? Why do we protest voter suppression? It`s because our ancestors are looking down right now on this house floor praying and believing that our fight and that their fight was not in vain.

So, we call on the strength of Congressman John Lewis in this moment because right now history is watching.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Nikema Williams of Georgia. She is the chair of the Democratic Party in Georgia and she holds John Lewis`s old seat in the House of Representatives.

Also, with us Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action. She managed Stacey Abrams` campaign for governor.

And, Congresswoman Williams, the question tonight many people are asking, what would John Lewis do? And what will you do?

REP. NIKEMA WILLIAMS (D-GA): Lawrence, this is that good trouble that Congressman Lewis told us sometimes we have to be willing to speak up, to stand up when we see something that is not fair and not just.

We have an obligation, a moral obligation to find a way to get in the way. We`re seeing that with our legislators who stood up today and they voiced our concerns and they spoke up on behalf of the people.

But this is not enough. We have to keep going. And we know that when we look at the civil rights movement, sometimes we had to go to court. Sometimes it took the federal government. And this is Jim Crow 2.0 and we`re not stopping here.

We will see them in the courts, and I will see them in Congress as we continue to push to pass HR-1.

O`DONNELL: And HR-1, which will move through the Senate as Senate bill 1, is something that was on the mind of the president today in the press conference. It`s very clear that for that to get through the Senate something`s going to have to be done about the 60-vote threshold rule. In the Senate do you think this puts more pressure on that in the Senate?

WILLIAMS: The American people are on our side, Lawrence. And people are standing up and making sure that senators understand they don`t care about a procedural vote or a procedural move to get it passed through. What we want are senators that are willing to speak up on behalf of all of us. And Democrats showed up to vote. They showed up in force. The rules are trying to be changed to prevent us from winning again, and it`s going to take Democrats in the United States Senate to stand up for voting rights.

This is not a regular bill going through. This is literally the right to vote. We should not have to choose which state we live in if we want our vote to be counted, but that is what`s happening right now with the voter suppression tactics we`re seeing all across the country. And that`s why we need HR-1 because regardless of your zip code your right to vote should be protected.

O`DONNELL: Lauren Groh-Wargo, possibly thanks to some of the intervention from big corporate interests in Georgia, there was -- there were some adjustments in this bill. Some bad things were removed from the bill. They did not try to block Sunday voting anymore.

But at the same time that they were removing that harmful provision, they were inserting a new one, which basically pulls the secretary of state out of the process, out of overseeing the voting in Georgia, which looks like, to my eye, possibly the worst thing in this bill.

But what is the worst thing in this law?

LAUREN GROH-WARGO, CEO, FAIR FIGHT ACTION: Well, it`s a good question, Lawrence. And sitting here in Congresswoman Nikema Williams` district, I can tell you we are not stopping fighting. And like you said, the fighting we`ve already done with our members of Congress lifting this up, Georgia corporations sort of dipping their toe in, I wouldn`t say they were in the fight exactly, but dipping their toe in, we got a lot of bad out of this bill.

So, I want to be clear to the Lawrence O`Donnell viewers, we`re going to elect and re-elect Raphael Warnock. Do not fear. Georgia is competitive. Georgia voters know what`s going on. They are angry about it and they`re going to fight for the right to vote.

So, we`re going to hold the U.S. Senate here in Georgia. Have no doubt. Congresswoman Williams and I will be sure that happens.

Secondly, they`re going to be in court and we`re going to use this as evidence to back up congress`s efforts on HR-4 to get this state back under preclearance. They`re proving to America they have racist intent, trying to criminalize giving water to voters, and that there`s going to be the push for S-1. And the worst part of this bill, I agree, the power piece on disempowering the secretary of state in the county is bad, but really what this bill is, it`s a voter intimidation bill. It`s a license to racially profile and challenge voters.

Coming on the heels of a horrific Asian-American targeted hate crime. Basically, anybody now can challenge voters willy-nilly based on the color of their skin or what their last name is and it makes it much easier.

But guess what, Lawrence. We have lots of lawyers. We have lots of power. We have lots of grass roots advocates. We will walk with voters to make sure their rights are defended, and we will push back hard when folks are challenged on their right to vote.

We preserved early vote in this bill. We preserved vote by mail because of everybody`s activism because we need people to go to and get in the fight. Because your phone calls, your social media, it matters. And this bill was on track to be so much worse, but rest assured we`re going to keep fighting.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Williams, does Georgia have a history of the voting process being corrupted by water, by water provided to people who might be waiting in long lines to vote?

WILLIAMS: Lawrence, I don`t know if you`ve ever spent a summer in Georgia, but this summer during our June primary, it was quite hot. I waited in line for five hours to vote in the June primary and I was the recipient of some of that water to keep me in line and to keep me hydrated while I wait.

So, just -- if you look at the details that are in this bill, Georgia Republicans are trying to keep people out of line that they`re already forcing in line by making it harder to cast an absentee ballot. I don`t have ink in my printer to print something I needed for work today, but we would need a printer to print a copy of our ID to send it in with our absentee ballot.

So just looking at everything that is happening here, these are the same tired tricks. We might not be counting jellybeans in a jar, Lawrence, but they`re looking for the same end result. To keep people who look like me away from the ballot box. And we won`t let it happen on our watch.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Nikema Williams and Lauren Groh-Wargo, thank you very much for your expertise on this tonight. We really appreciate it.

GROH-WARGO: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, Beto O`Rourke will join us to talk about a Texas bill that he is testifying against tomorrow, the same kind of legislation as they passed in Georgia. And up next, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will join us to discuss the questions that were asked and the questions that were not asked at today`s presidential press conference.

Jen Psaki joins us next.


O`DONNELL: President Biden was repeatedly asked about the 60-vote procedural threshold for cloture in the Senate, which is frequently referred to as the filibuster. He was asked about that today, and he repeatedly indicated that he supports a change in Senate rules if necessary to pass his legislative agenda.


BIDEN: From between 1917 and 1971, the filibuster existed, there were a total of 58 motions to break a filibuster, that whole time. Last year alone, there were five times that many. So, it`s being abused in a gigantic way.

And for example, it used to be you had to stand there and talk and talk and talk and talk until you collapsed. And guess what? People got tired of talking and tired of collapsing. Filibusters broke down and we were able to break the filibuster and get a quorum and vote.

So, I strongly support moving in that direction.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on, Lawrence. I appreciate it.

I want to begin with what the president began with today in his opening remarks, and about which he did not get a single question, and that is the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed so many in this country, continues to infect so many people per day. He has promised now 200 million doses of the vaccine delivered into arms by the end of the first 100 days. That`s doubling the original objective.

What changes in the delivery system will you have to make in order to achieve that? And when will we get to the point where people can just go to their doctor`s offices and get that shot from the doctor they know and trust the way they`ve been able to get flu vaccine shots?

Well, our hope is, Lawrence, that that will be soon. And we have been steadily picking up and increasing our access, trying to meet people where they are.

So, it`s different for everybody in every community, as you all know, and I know you`ve been covering this closely. So, in some cases that means increasing our supply to pharmacies. In some it means increasing our mobile units that are going into people`s communities.

As you know, everybody doesn`t have the luxury of taking the day off work. We need to meet people make it easy for people to get the vaccine. In some cases, they`re opening up more mass vaccination sites.

So, we are -- we have been steadily increasing this over time. There`s no doubt this is an ambitious goal. When we set the 100 million goal back in December, people thought that was ambitious. We obviously are ahead of schedule in meeting that.

Meeting the 200 million is still ambitious. We`re confident we can get there. But as you noted it`s going to require continuing to increase supply to states, to pharmacies and to all of the programs that are increasing access in communities across the country.

O`DONNELL: When the president was asked about gun safety legislation today, he ended up in a discussion of legislative priorities. It didn`t -- it didn`t emerge very clearly where is gun safety in the Biden White House legislative agenda? Where is it in the order? How far down the list? And are there any executive actions that the president is contemplating on gun safety?

PSAKI: The answer is yes, Lawrence. And I`ve talked to him about this quite a bit over the last several days. I travelled with him to Ohio earlier this week and that was obviously on the heels of the tragedy in Boulder and of the tragedy in Atlanta just last week.

The way he views it -- and this is an issue he`s been working on, as you know Lawrence, through his career. He is not new to the issue of gun violence, to the need to put in place common safe gun safety measures.

And that is why he fought to pass the Brady Bill when he was in the senate. That`s why he fought for background checks, of course, why he fought for a ban on assault weapons, something he thinks should happened again, and why he was the lead in the Obama-Biden administration on putting in place executive actions in the wake of Newtown.

So, he`s looking at this with -- through several levers. Executive actions, he`s having his team review what`s possible and what can be on the table. There`s a legal review that`s required for that as well.

He`s also looking at what can happen with legislation. There`s a couple pieces of legislation that have worked their way through the House including increased background checks. He also wants to see more requirements on gun liabilities on manufacturers -- on gun liabilities for gun manufacturers, I should say.

That`s something there`s been legislation proposed in the past. He would like to see that proposed again. So he`s going to work with members to see what`s possible and see what the path forward is.

He`s not naive about this. He thinks we have to work through many channels to get more done to keep our communities safe.

O`DONNELL: But what about the legislative agenda. Can you tell us where it is just chronologically in the White House legislative agenda?

PSAKI: Well, we have to walk and chew gum over here, as you know. And that requires moving on several levers. And I`ll just give you an example.

Even before the tragedies of the last week or so, we knew, we were going to propose -- he was going to propose more of his Build Back Better agenda which will have a legislative component of course. He talked about infrastructure today.

At the same time, we want to see a path forward on immigration and moving that forward, obviously a priority, something that there`s desperate need to have movement on that.

So, there`s a lot of -- we want to move on a couple of tracks. It has to work through committees. It has to then, you know, be considered as renegotiations. And he is eager to have those conversations about what`s possible on gun legislation.

O`DONNELL: Almost everything on the legislative agenda discussed today runs into the Senate rule that currently requires 60 votes to end a debate and then proceed to an actual vote on the legislation.

The president today said that that has to be worked through. He also said, he agrees with Jim Clyburn that the so-called filibuster rules which isn`t really the filibuster, as the president knows but the 60-vote threshold -- that that is a relative to Jim Crow era. He`s clearly opposed to that.

The majority leader of the Senate Chuck Schumer has said repeatedly to me to Rachel Maddow to others that failure is not an option. Clearly there is some plan that is not yet being publicly discussed that the president knows about with Chuck Schumer about how to go through a sequence of some kind in the Senate that would eventually lead to a vote on reducing that 60-vote threshold. Is that being presented in this kind of shadowy way now because of private conversations that the president is having with Joe Manchin for example to bring him along?

PSAKI: It`s not meant to be, and he did not intend to present it in a shadowy way as you said earlier today. I think what people -- the American people should have seen today is that President Biden`s objective is -- and his first focus is to work with Democrats and Republicans. He`s also not naive about the obstruction and how the filibuster has been used as a cudgel. You know, it hasn`t been used in a way. It`s been abused as he said earlier today.

And he also feels he was elected to move forward on solutions and getting things done for the American people. So, there`s no secret behind the scenes planed.

What people should have seen from the president today is a recognition that he needs to leave the door open to a range of ways to get business done for the American people.

And of course, if a bunch of Republicans wake up tomorrow and they want to work with him and really to work him and work with him to get things done, he`ll be eager to do that and have that conversation. He`s still going to invite Republicans to the White House to see if there`s a path forward.

At the same time, you know, he was in the senate for 36 years and he knows the filibuster is not being used how it should be used, how it was meant to be used, and how it was used when it was originated.

So that`s what was reflected in his comments today.

O`DONNELL: How many times has he talked to his friend Joe Manchin about the Senate rules and about possible changes in those rules? And is the president worried about Joe Manchin possibly being pressured by this into switching parties?

PSAKI: You know, I think the president has talked to Joe Manchin, he considers him a friend and he`s somebody he`s spoken with a number of times over the past several months of his -- two months I should say of his presidency, about a range of issues, including of course, the American Rescue Plan, something that Joe Manchin supported.

He -- I think the president sees and hopes that he`s going to -- knows that in Joe Manchin`s heart he believes in the Democratic ideals and the issues that the president and much of the party is certainly fighting for.

He also recognizes that he has politics in his fate and has to take that into account if he makes decisions. But the president`s going to continue working with him on a range of issues.

I would say when he talked about the talking filibuster today, he`s concerned about how that`s how it was originated. It should be. So easy to used that filibuster and institute and use it as a way to block reforms and block progress.

That`s something that Senator Manchin has talked about as well. So certainly, that`s on the president`s mind and he`s been watching closely the ideas that have been presented.

O`DONNELL: And quickly before you go, the president is now dealing with the same issue that every president before him has struggled with since the current southern border was established.

No president has ever achieved a kind of success that meant it was operating just like the Canadian border. What will be this presidency`s definition of something that you could call an achievement if not success at the southern border.

PSAKI: Well, I think the reason for that Lawrence is that, no president in recent history has been able to get immigration reform passed.

And the president certainly recognizes as we all do who have followed this issue closely that unless you address the root causes in these countries something that he`s asked the vice president to be the lead on, you know, putting funding in, addressing the economic downturn, the corruption that is driving people to leave. Unless you do something to address that, people are going to still come to our border as they have year after year, cycle after cycle as we`ve seen through the course of the last -- of the Trump presidency as well as the Obama-Biden presidency and vice presidency.

So, getting immigration reform moving forward is a priority for him. He also believes there needs to be a pathway to citizenship. And he believes we need to invest in smart security. We need to address the current challenges we`re seeing at the border, these kids as you talked about today, who are fleeing terrible conditions, we need to treat them with humanity, get them to safe places.

That is first and foremost on his mind but he also knows that we`re not going to address this in the long term unless we pass immigration reform and put really long term changes and reforms in place to address the root causes and create a pathway to citizenship.

O`DONNELL: Jen, we all watched you during the press conference. We know you`re anticipating the questions. You know, you prepped for the questions.

What question did you prep for that you were sitting there waiting for and you did not get?

PSAKI: You know, I was surprised there wasn`t a question about gun legislation or gun safety earlier in the press conference. And also, that there wasn`t more questions about COVID given it is the number one issue that is on the minds of Americans -- the pandemic, what we`re doing to address it, how we can address it.

Maybe it`s because we have a president out there and we talk about it so much, but I was surprised there wasn`t more about that topic earlier in the press conference.

O`DONNELL: Well, I`m glad you got to address it here. Jen Psaki, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight.

PSAKI: Thank you, Lawrence. Great chatting with you.

O`DONNELL: Really appreciate it. Thank you.

Coming up, Beto O`Rourke drove eight hours from El Paso to Austin, Texas to testify against a Texas voter suppression bill. Up next, Beto on the road again, joins us.



BETO O`ROURKE, FORMER DEMOCRATIC TEXAS CONGRESSMAN: Hey everybody, we are about three hours into an eight and a half hour drive from El Paso to Austin, Texas. I`m making my way to the state capitol to testify against House Bill 6 tomorrow.

House Bill 6 is perhaps the greatest attack on voting rights in our democracy in Texas in nearly a decade. It`s going to make it a lot harder for a lot more Texans to vote and to make sure that their voice is heard in our democracy.


O`DONNELL: And joining us now is Beto O`Rourke, former Democratic congressman representing El Paso, Texas. He is now the founder of Powered By People, an organization helping elect Democrats in Texas. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Tell us about the bill in the Texas legislature that you`ll be testifying against.

O`ROURKE: There`s, Lawrence, actually two of them. There`s House Bill 6 and then the Senate Bill 7 combined. They`re going to do a lot to keep many Texans from being able to vote.

For example, local elections administrators will no longer be able to offer 24-hour voting, which in a state where the minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and where many Texans work two, maybe three jobs in order to make ends meet, if you can`t vote between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. you`re going to be out of luck.

They`re going to reduce early voting dates, hours and locations on top of that, further restrict mail-in balloting. We`re one of the most restrictive states to begin with. And there are going to be these punitive threats against anybody who makes even the most technical violation of these new voting laws, making them felonies.

And I`ve got to tell you, our attorney general Ken Paxton in his so-called election integrity task force, 72 percent of that task force`s prosecutions have been against black Texans and Latino Texans in a state where blacks and Latinos compose 44 percent of the population.

Last point is that those in the disability community who may need the help of an assistant or a home health care aid to to fill out a ballot or send that in will functionally no longer be able to do that.

So, in a state that already ranks 46 in voter turnout, the state that is the hardest in which to register and to vote and to participate in our politics, they are going to make it even more restrictive.

That`s why I drove the eight and a half hours and why folks from all over Texas are converging on the capitol to see if we can`t stop this.

O`DONNELL: And among the felonies, the new election felonies they want to create, does it include a felony for the say Republican president of the United States to call Republican officials in Texas to try to change the result of what voters delivered to the ballot box?

O`ROURKE: It`s interesting the connection between those who are promulgating these new laws and their connection to the big lie promulgated by Donald Trump. For example, our attorney general, Ken Paxton, head of that so-called election integrity task force, he was literally down the street from the U.S. Capitol on the sixth of January, 2021 inciting those rioters, inciting those insurrectionists and seditionists to storm the Capitol, right alongside, Donald Trump.

The chairman of the committee that actually cancelled the hearing before many of us who had driven many hundreds of miles to testify could say a word, was in Pennsylvania right after the November 3rd election in 2020 trying to overturn that lawfully, legitimately, democratically decided election.

So, these folks are very much a part of the big lie. And in fact, the opening preamble to these bills talk about the prevalence and the concern of voter fraud even though, Lawrence, in Texas it`s a 0.00004 percent chance that you will encounter voter fraud.

You are more likely to be struck by lightning in the state of Texas. And this is a state that doesn`t lack for real problems. 50,000 dead of COVID. More than 100 killed in a winter storm when the lights, the power and the heat went out. And many other challenges that face us, instead they`re focusing on this.

O`DONNELL: The president got a lot of questions today, as you know, about the southern border. As someone who lives on the southern border, I would like to get your reaction to something the president said.

Let`s listen to what he said about the situation of the children that are found coming across the southern border.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The idea that I`m going to say, which I would never do, if an unaccompanied child ends up at the border we`re just going to let them starve to death and stand on the other side. No previous administration did that either except Trump.

I`m not going to do it. I`m not going to do it.


O`DONNELL: What was your reaction to that?

O`ROURKE: He`s absolutely right. And he`s speaking in the best traditions of this country of immigrants, a country that`s the greatest on the face of the earth because of those who came here by choice and made us better by their very presence.

And he`s also talking about the rule of law. Donald Trump broke the law. President Joe Biden is trying to honor that law. I think in addition to that compassion and empathy that he displayed today, he seeks to go to the root of the problem, the Northern Triangle countries of Central America, and makes the western hemisphere his number one foreign policy priority.

Given the fact that they`ve been ravaged by multiple hurricanes, they`re on the frontlines of climate change that we in large part have helped to produce. Our drug consumption and drug laws, all of the factors that we`ve contributed to the exodus from these countries.

If we don`t get serious about addressing that, then whether it`s President Biden or his successor or a president 20 years down the line, will be facing these same challenges and these families. And if there`s a crisis, it`s only for these families. It`s not for the border. It`s not for the United States.

As President Biden suggested, we can, we must and we will handle this. But for those families if we want to reduce the suffering that they`re going through, especially for their children, then we`ve got to make sure that we look at the underlying causes and make this a priority right now. We do that, we rewrite our immigration laws, and we follow our own asylum laws that are on the book and get rid of Title 42, that false excuse that says that migrants are somehow going to make the pandemic worse, then we will start to live truly in the best traditions of this country.

O`DONNELL: Beto O`Rourke, thank you very much for joining us on this important news night. We always appreciate it.

O`ROURKE: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up President Biden recently convened a private discussion in the White House with historians, biographers and other scholars about how he can deal with the challenges that history has handed him.

Professor Michael Eric Dyson was in the room and he will join us next.



BIDEN: When my great grandfather got in a coffin ship in the Irish Sea, expectation was he wasn`t going to live long enough on that ship to get to the United States of America. But they left because of what the Brits had been doing.

They were in real, real trouble. They didn`t want to leave. But they had no choice. So, you`ve got -- we can`t -- I can`t guarantee we`re going to solve everything. But I can guarantee we can make everything better. we can make it better. We can change the lives of so many people.


O`DONNELL: Even though we are a nation of immigrants, no previous president has ever told the story of an ancestor`s dangerous trip to the United States of America as an immigrant.

Joining us now is Michael Eric Dyson who was in a private group discussion with President Biden at the White House with historians, biographers and other scholars this month. He is the distinguished professor of African American studies at Vanderbilt University, and author of the book "Long Time Coming: Reckoning with Race in America". Professor Dyson is an MSNBC contributor.

Professor Dyson, thank you very much for joining us tonight. So, tell us everything that happened in the room, or at least what you found to be the most striking moment in that discussion with Joe Biden.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, besides getting a chance to shine Jon Meacham`s shoes which is always a distinguished pleasure, it was the possibility of engaging one of the most remarkable, one of the most humble, one of the most curious political officials that I`ve ever encountered, and especially presidents.

He was a man of profound humility, willing to engage people, to absorb their sagacity, their wisdom, their insight, their analytical acuity, their specific fields of endeavor. But also willing to engage in a free roaming conversation across the horizon of American politics and American intellectual history.

Imagine a graduate seminar where a very sharp student is engaging in a serious analysis of a particular subject and then bringing to bear a broad variety of streams of knowledge and awareness. That`s what it was.

After every presentation of each of the historians and analysts and commentators and critics are gathered there, President Biden to my utter delight and surprise would intervene after every presentation and give an extemporaneous improvised analysis of the particular subject, show his knowledge of the particular subject, ask penetrating questions and evince a remarkable comprehension of the interconnection between that particular field and what he was now facing. It was a rather remarkable evening.

O`DONNELL: And it could have been an intimidating room for any politician. You mentioned Jon Meacham. Doris Kearns Goodwin was there. Michael Beschloss, Professor Eddie Glaude Jr., Annette Gordon Reed, Walter Isaacson, Yale`s Joanne Freeman.

This is a group where it would be very easy for them to, in most circumstances, all of you to overpower a politician.

DYSON: Oh, easily so with the exception of me, all of those great minds gathered there, that gaggle of gregarious, you know, talkers. But what was interesting is that with ease and simplicity, with simple grace and high eloquence this man, the president of the United States of America, showed that he was humble enough to receive the input of these figures and yet great enough to engage them in a very serious and honest conversation.

He didn`t have to pretend he knew everything but what he knew was wide and broad. And in many cases much deeper than people have ever acknowledged. But also, it was the possibility of the curiosity and the result of that curiosity. It is to relate what I want to know to what I have to do so that practice and theory -- I call it extreme (INAUDIBLE)

O`DONNELL: Michael, did he ask for advice?

DYSON: He certainly wanted to know what we thought about particular issues and crises. I don`t want to say -- I don`t think the president of the United States of America would seek any advice from us, though we deem ourselves to be public policy experts of a certain sort and amateurs.

But no, he was looking for something broader. It was not a utilitarian calculus, or a particular specific outcome and metric that guided his own beliefs and his interaction, it was about what is the theory? It`s the intrinsic value of knowledge and how that knowledge can be related to a particular crisis.

So in that sense the man is an intellectual of the first order and a curious guy who wants to know more about the world. And I tell you, Lawrence, it was beautiful and refreshing to know that the most powerful man in the world has intellectual curiosity and a desire to want to know for its own sake.

My God, what a return to greatness in that Oval Office. If not quite Jeffersonian, at least Lincolnian at a certain level.

O`DONNELL: Michael Eric Dyson, he gets tonight`s LAST WORD.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.