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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 3/26/21

Guests: Jocelyn Benson, Charniele Herring, Renee Graham, John Sarbanes, Sal Mercogliano


Georgia Republican lawmakers just passed a voter suppression legislation making it difficult to vote and restricting access to the ballot box after losing in the 2020 presidential election. President Biden criticizes the voting restriction bill in Georgia calling it an atrocity. For four years Donald Trump and his allies were almost never held to accountant for their actions, but this week has changed all of that. H.R.1, the For the People Act is designed to protect and expand the right to vote. There are dozens of important provisions in the bill that do that, but there are dozens of other important provisions that have gotten scant attention. 12 percent of the world`s entire trade of goods has been blocked by a ship that is about the length of the Eiffel Tower. That`s how much business the world does via the Suez Canal.



RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: This is one of those nights when behind the scenes at the TV show there was an expected technical difficulty. Most technical difficulties are almost by definition unexpected, and something just happens, and you have to cope.

Every once in a while, something happens where you`re, like, uh-oh, stuff is definitely going to go wrong. That happened here on this show tonight. And luckily for us, knock on wood, nothing ended up going wrong, but my dear friend Ali Velshi, nevertheless, got to the studio, got make up, got before the camera at least an hour early ready to go just in case things went terribly and disastrously pear shaped on my end.

And for that, among so many other things, I am grateful to you, Ali, as always. Thank you for being ready to step in. Thank you for being my safety net.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: It`s always my pleasure. You know, I`ve always got one ear and one eye on your show anyway as I get ready on Friday nights to do "The Last Word." But I had more than that not because we thought there might be technical difficulties, but that conversation about the evolution of democracy and the threats to it leading to your conversation with Reverend -- Senator Warnock was fascinating and enlightening, so that we don`t take for granted the situation we`re in now.

So, I`m appreciative of that. And the other thing just to kick you off for the weekend is to keep in mind that as dangerous as those technical issues were, they`re not as bad as a boat stuck in a canal right now.

MADDOW: That`s right. All of my boats are free floating at this point. Nothing is aground. That was never going to be a particular issue. But you would have been there with a tiny little front-end loader to try to lose me if need be. I know you would be, Ali.

VELSHI: You can always count on that. I`m your tugboat. Rachel, you have yourself a great weekend and I shall see you on Monday.

MADDOW: Thank you, Ali. Thank you.

VELSHI: Well, as Rachel pointed out, democracy is, in fact, under attack. And don`t mistake that for hyperbole. The attacks are real. It`s not a given that democracy will persist under the weight of this sustained attack. Donald Trump used to lead the charge in dismantling our Democratic institutions.

But now that he`s gone, Republicans in state houses across the country are continuing his dirty work. Last night, Republicans in Georgia passed severe restrictions on voting reminiscent of the Jim Crow-era legislation.

What`s telling is that Republicans in Georgia wrote the voting rules. They had no problem with the rules that were in place until of course, Joe Biden, Raphael Warnock, and Jon Ossoff turned the state blue. The Georgia restrictions are the centerpiece of a national movement among Republican- controlled state legislatures to restrict access to the ballot box.

I never thought we`d be living in a United States of America where the basic tenets of democracy are up for debate and under actual threat. I don`t talk a lot about my personal story, but it is one that is centered around a quest for democracy so this attack hits particularly close to home for me.

My great grandparents left India at the end of the 19th century for better economic prospects in South Africa, but their souls yearned for justice, for equality, and for democracy, none of which existed then for people of color in South Africa.

For the next 60 or so years, my great grandparents, my grandparents and my parents were intimately involved in South Africa`s anti-apartheid movement in a quest for democracy. That quest ultimately crushed them economically to the point that in the 1960s, my parents were forced to leave the land of their birth because of the color of their skin.

They moved to Kenya where I was born, but it was a nascent struggling democracy at the time. Ultimately, they moved to the west where Democratic values were entrenched. My father ran for political office, failed. Ran again and won and broke some barriers along the way.

The night he won his election, he still would not have been able to vote in the country of his birth. What a wonder democracy is. I grew up in awe of it and I thought that democracy only got stronger and better. It never occurred to me that one day, 50 years after my parents first set foot on this continent, I would be staring down very real and very mainstream efforts to dismantle democracy.

Because that`s what Republicans are doing, attacking democracy, attempting to destroy democracy and they`re doing it with glee. Georgia Republicans want to block Americans from exercising a basic and very hard-earned right. This is not an exaggeration.

Let`s look inside this ludicrous voter suppression bill that was signed into law today by the governor of Georgia. It makes it a crime to give water and food to voters waiting in line. It allows you unlimited challenges to a voter`s registration. It requires I.D. to cast mail-in ballots.

It limits the number of ballot drop boxes. It allows the Republican- controlled legislature to effectively take over state elections. President Biden is rightly appalled.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s an atrocity. The idea -- if you want any indication that it has nothing to do with fairness, nothing to do with decency, they passed a law saying you can`t provide water for people standing in line while they`re waiting to vote? You don`t need anything else to know that this is nothing but punitive design to keep people from voting. You can`t provide water for people about to vote. Give me a break.


VELSHI: It`s an atrocity, an atrocity that Republicans have committed and want to continue to commit because they are losing elections. They`re not winning in the arena of ideas and so they`re going to stop black and brown and young and poor people from voting in an effort to stay in power.

Some still believe this is about voter fraud. It is not. It never ever was. Georgia`s Republican secretary of state stated clearly and definitively that there were no credible claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

But even if you lose your mind and believe the lies about fraud for a minute, we should point out that nothing in the Republican`s voter suppression bill actually combats possible fraud. No water? Early poll closures? Fewer voting places? How does that prevent fraud? It doesn`t.

Its democracy itself that is under attack and you should care. You must care. Every citizen of this great country should care and be outraged and speak out and fight back. Creating impediments to our fellow citizens` ability to vote is the opposite of what this nation stands for, both here and abroad.

Immigrants like me look to America as the place that struggled and fought and shed blood from the revolutionary war to the civil war to the suffrage movement and the civil rights movement to extend the right to vote to everyone and to do so unimpeded.

This is not colonial Kenya or South Africa in the middle of the 20th century. This is the United States of America in 2021. This is the bastion of democracy, or at least I thought it was. But even that is not guaranteed.

Just because America was founded on Democratic values does not mean we will keep them. There are people actively trying to take away your Democratic rights, and you cannot expect to keep them if you are not prepared to fight for them.

Leading off our discussion tonight is somebody who knows a lot more about this than I do, Michigan secretary of state Jocelyn Benson. Secretary Benson, thank you for being with us. You have been sounding the alarm about this for a long time.

And of course, we talked so much about this during the election because these sorts of attacks in different ways were under way in the presidential election in Michigan. The danger now is with the excitement of a presidential election behind us, these things continue. They`re changing while people aren`t paying attention.

JOCELYN BENSON, SECRETARY OF STATE, MICHIGAN: Exactly. And thank you for sharing those inspirational words and a reminder that democracy is as live and real as those of us who are willing to fight for it. And yes, the 2020 election is behind us, but the battle over the future of our democracy here in the United States is escalating.

And in addition to the democracy deniers who continue to spread misinformation about the integrity of the vote, in addition to those who continue to attack and level threats against election administrators and election officials, we have a new battle front emerging in state legislatures across the country.

And Georgia showed us firsthand that 56 years, the very moment that thousands of people were gathered on March 25, 1965 at the (inaudible) Alabama State Capitol asking the federal government to step in and protect them against state efforts to roll back their voting rights.

Fifty-six years to that day we see the governor of Georgia signing Jim Crow-like restrictions on the right to vote again in that state. And so it`s a sober reminder that we have to continue pushing forward protecting everyone`s right to vote because there are many out there with power seeking to eliminate those rights.

VELSHI: And there`s something important you just set there, protecting everyone`s right to vote. So in the civil war, we ended up with more people having the right to vote. And in the suffrage movement, we ended up with women having the right to vote. And then the civil rights movement, we removed certain impediments.

But really, if you were on the right side of history and all of those things, you were fighting for everybody`s right to vote because if everybody doesn`t have a right to vote, then something is missing from all of our rights as citizens.

BENSON: Exactly. It`s the foundation of everything else that we believe in and that our country stands for. I mean, if you don`t have a healthy democracy, whether you`re fighting for access to adequate health care or good schools or clean water or roads that you can drive on, everything is in peril if you don`t have that power to determine who represents you and hold them accountable.

And for those now in leadership to try to take that power away, it`s reprehensible, but it`s also what history teaches us happens after you see an increase in access to the right to vote, and that`s also what we saw in 2020.

Don`t forget, more people voted in that election than ever before in recent history. Certainly, in Michigan we saw the most successful secure election in recent times. And so, you know, history teaches us that oftentimes after those moments with great enfranchisement comes efforts for disenfranchisement. And again, that`s also what we`re seeing now.

VELSHI: And in Michigan, I just want to show our viewers what`s going on there. For Republicans gathering enough signatures, they need more than 340,000. The GOP-controlled legislature could approve a proposal into law without Whitmer being able to veto it. This is an election law change. What would it do?

BENSON: Well, it would roll back the very types of access to the vote like access to be able to vote absentee, that`s in our state constitution. It would make it significantly more difficult for people to actually access that right, saying that you have to pay for a stamp, for example, to mail back that ballot.

Limiting access to secure drop boxes, which millions of citizens on both sides of the aisle utilized in 2020 to return their ballots. It makes it much harder to request to get that absentee ballot. You can`t receive that through the mail from an election official anymore, an application to vote absentee.

So, it`s a number of things that make the administration of the right to vote in Michigan very, very difficult and will have a clear impact of making it harder for people to vote, particularly in historically disenfranchised communities, urban communities, among young voters.

And, you know, it really underscores that the GOP in Michigan and across the country is a party that is led by people who don`t believe in democracy. And that`s what we`re seeing reflected in Georgia, in Arizona, and now in Michigan.

VELSHI: Right. And what`s the point here as it relates to voter fraud? Because that used to be the cover that people would use. That this is to keep the election safe. I don`t even know if anybody is hiding behind that anymore, but none of these things seem to actually deal with voter fraud?

BENSON: No, they don`t. And of course, there was no evidence of widespread fraud in Michigan or in any other state this past election or in any other election in recent history. So, you know, that argument is really based on nothing, not based on any evidence.

And of course, we all want to protect against any lack of integrity or any fraud in our system and there are secure protocols in place already to do that. So, in other words, we`ve demonstrated in Michigan that our election system works quite well.

I was actually in Washington this week testifying before the U.S. Senate in support of federal legislation that would expand the very protections we have in Michigan to states all across the country. We are in many ways a collection of best practices and for the Republican Party to now try to roll those back really shows that they don`t believe in democracy.

And the other thing we have to watch for if they do go the petition route is that we also have a history of seeing people collecting signatures in Michigan and lying to people about what they`re signing. And so it`s very possible that someone could say, hey, sign this, it supports access to the vote when exactly the opposite would happen if the proposal passes.

So that`s the type of thing we have to look out for now in this moment of this battle over democracy in Michigan and in many other states as well.

VELSHI: Secretary Benson, good to see you again. Thanks for taking time to be with us tonight. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

All right, coming up, you should be angry about Republicans trying to do what they`re trying to do with voting laws across the country and what they`ve succeeded in doing in Georgia. But Democrats should not be discouraged about Georgia because experts have seen the future, and I`m going to show it to you next.


VELSHI: With the blatant assault on democracy in Georgia it is okay to feel angry but don`t lose hope. Today, Dave Wasserman, the editor of "The Cook Political Report" tweeted something very interesting. "Georgia is roughly where Virginia was a decade ago. Republicans still control state government and may be able to redistrict the state to their liking one last time, but long-term demographically, the writing is kinda on the wall."

Now, you may not remember, but Virginia is only recently a reliably blue state. In 2000, Republicans in Virginia controlled both chambers of state government, both Senate seats, the governorship, and the state`s electoral votes for president.

By 2019, the opposite was true. In just 20 years, the state`s demographic has shifted dramatically. Here`s why. More people moved in from the northeast into northern Virginia counties around the Washington, D.C. area. The suburbs outside cities like Richmond grew. And an influx of immigrants and minorities made the state far more diverse.

Sound familiar? In 2006, Democrat Jim Webb barely eked out a victory in a Senate race against Republican incumbent, George Allen. Two years later, Barack Obama won the state, flipping it blue at the presidential level for the first time since 1964.

Virginia has voted for every Democratic presidential candidate since. In 2017, Danica Roem beat a 25-year Republican incumbent who opposed LGBTQ rights to become the state`s first openly transgender lawmaker.

In 2018, Virginia Democrats won back control of both chambers of the state government for the first time in a generation. And now the Democrats have control, they are getting stuff done.

In January, Virginia became the 38th state to pass the equal rights amendment. Just this week, Virginia became the first southern state to abolish the death penalty. And Democrats have a big list of progressive agenda items from gun control to expanding voter access to raising the minimum wage.

Georgia is on the same trajectory. Democrats in Georgia won it all this year, and they`ll do it again. The only chance Republicans have in the long term is to become viable in the arena of ideas and fight for votes fair and square. Republicans` severe voting restrictions might slow down the progress, but it`s not going to stop it.

Joining us now is Charniele Herring, majority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates and former chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia. And Jonathan Capehart, opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and host of the Sunday show, "With Jonathan Capehart" on MSNBC.

Good morning to both of you. Thank you for being with us. Leader Herring, being the leader of the former chair of the Democratic Party in Virginia, used to sort of be a side show. It wasn`t really a thing. It was a party in the wilderness for a long time. And you have watched, you have been part of a change in the state of Virginia that 15 years ago people wouldn`t have thought possible.

CHARNIELE HERRING, MAJORITY LEADER, VIRGINIA HOUSE OF DELEGATES: Absolutely. It has been an incredible journey. But what was key is that we did not lose our values. We fought for our values. We thought for voting rights every session. Bills constantly put in, and we were not discouraged. We kept pushing and pushing until we got to the majority.

And what is important is that we ran diverse candidates. And we, our values, the values of the Democratic Party are the values of Virginians, and that`s why we kept winning and finally taking over the legislature. But one of the first things that we did, our first order of business, House Bill 1, which I was honored to introduce is to have no-excuse absentee voting, expanding voting rights, rolling back voter I.D., making it more accessible.

And I will tell you, before we took the majority, we were ranked 49 in the country when it comes to ease to voting and access to the ballot. Now, we are number 12 in the nation. We`ve had two measures this year of voting rights act for the Commonwealths of Virginia and restoration of voting rights, and I`m looking forward to our numbers going up.

VELSHI: And Jonathan, I never get to talk to you anymore. Jonathan and I are back to back on Sunday mornings, but we don`t interact with each other. Jonathan, Virginia didn`t become this hot bed of voter fraud as a result of these things.

Is that just me or do you not also hear Jonathan out there? Okay, we`re going to get Jonathan`s audio. You`re pretty good even without the --


VELSHI: Wait, we got him back. Jonathan, we got -- now we`re going to put audio to your animated face.

CAPEHART: Sorry. Sorry about that. I was going to say imagine that, people going -- people being allowed to vote, making it easy for them to vote and they actually go out there and make their voices heard at the ballot box.

And here`s the other thing that I want to add to what Leader Herring was just saying. You know, you`re running diverse candidates and they`re winning, but they are also winning -- they`re winning not because they`re diverse, they`re winning because they are speaking to their constituents.

I`m so glad you showed Danica Roem because, yes, Danica Roem is the first transgender person to win in the state legislature. And her -- the 20- something year Republican incumbent she ran against, said that he was the most transphobic person in America and he tried to use her gender identity against her.

What did Danica Roem do? She ignored him and talked about the number one issue facing her constituents, which was traffic. She only talked about traffic. And I think that is what, to your point about, you know, in the marketplace of ideas, when the Democrats come to the table and they`re talking to voters, they`re talking to voters about what they care about.

And right now what we`re seeing around the country is, yes, there are Democrats and Republicans, hard-core Ds, hardcore Rs, but in the vast middle there are people who are like, I don`t care what your party is, I want you to solve my problems.

And I think Danica Roem is a prime example of what happens when a candidate talks directly to the constituents, what they can do in terms of winning backing of people no matter who they are or where they come from, what they look like or who they love or how they identify.

VELSHI: Leader Herring, this is a good point. I mean, for the average voter, particularly the voter who is somewhere in the middle, they`d love to be able to be listening to candidates who stand for things as basic as traffic, but whatever it is, might be human rights, it might be wages, it might be health care, and be able to make a decision between two parties.

But Republicans at the state level in a lot of states, including in Georgia, are not bothering with that. They are not talking about issues. They`re talking about this boogie man of voter fraud that doesn`t exist and are not attempting to win in the arena of ideas.

HERRING: Right. Exactly. That is where their focus is, giving life to Jim Crow. I mean, that seems to be where their focus is, and it is not about traffic, it is not about improving schools. It is not -- what the Republican brand is what we see happening in Georgia.

And that`s why voters are responding. We are talking to voters and earning their trust and support because we`re getting things done and we have proven it. And people love voting. I tell you, it was heart-warming to see people turning out early in Virginia last presidential election.

To see that early vote happening and people want to vote and we should want people to vote. But this is a party, the Republican Party, I will say, that they talk about how great it is when there`s low voter turnout because they have a possibility of winning. That should not be happening. There is (inaudible) franchise (ph) voting.

VELSHI: Do you see, Jonathan? Do you see Georgia going in this direction? You know, those counties around Atlanta are getting reliably blue, in fact, very much like Virginia. Counties around every urban center, every major urban center in Georgia are getting reliably blue. Do you see Georgia going down the road that Virginia went?

CAPEHART: Well, Georgia is going down that road right now. Unfortunately, what`s happening is in response to Georgia flipping blue in presidential and flipping blue not just in one seat, but both Senate seats, that the Republican legislature, as we`ve been talking about all week, they moved really fast to suppress the vote, to make it more difficult to register to vote.

And then if you jump through those hoops, you`re successful. Then to make it difficult for you to actually cast a ballot, make it difficult for you to actually vote. And so what we have to see is how are the -- will those Georgia laws be challenged? Will S.R. 1 make it through the United States Senate that would at least mitigate some of the harm and the damage that`s been done by the Georgia law?

And then lawsuits. The law is already being challenged. How many more challenges are going to be put to the Georgia law? And then will those challenges be successful?

VELSHI: Well, Jonathan, you set that up nicely for me because I`m going to be speaking to the author of H.R. 1 and S.R. 1 in a little while. Jonathan, let`s make a little time to talk on Saturday morning again. Thank you for being here. And Virginia Majority Leader Charniele Herring, thank you for being with us as well.

Coming up, the days when Donald Trump and his allies could say anything are over. That`s next.


VELSHI: For four years Donald Trump and his allies were almost never held to accountant for their actions, but this week has changed all of that.

Today Dominion voting systems filed a $1.6 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox for promoting false conspiracies about their voting machines, arguing, quote, "Fox engaged in this knowing and reckless propagation of these enormous falsehoods in order to profit off of these lies," end quote.

"The Washington Post" reports that the New York attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney have partnered to investigate former White House strategist Steve Bannon`s money laundering efforts.

Trump, you`ll recall, pardoned Bannon for scamming Trump donors under the guise of funding the border wall but that pardon only applies to federal crimes not state crimes.

And today the House Oversight Committee requested that the Biden White House and 16 other federal agencies share all documents related to the Trump administration`s efforts to overturn the electoral college and their possible connections to the Capitol invasion.

The Justice Department has already charged more than 400 people for their actions during the invasion. Those cases now fall under the purview of the attorney general, Merrick Garland, who has said prosecution of those involved at any level would be his top priority.

Joining us now is Glenn Kirschner, former career federal prosecutor and an MSNBC legal analyst. Glenn, so many things to get to with you. I`m glad you`re here.

This may not be the most important one, but it`s the most outlandish one. Sidney Powell, the Trump lawyer who was carrying on about these voting machines and this -- you know, these conspiracies has said in her response in trying to get a case against her dismissed, she said no reasonable person would conclude that the statements she made were truly statements of fact.

What legal defense is that? I lied to you and you`ll be an idiot to have believed me?

GLENN KIRSCHNER, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Ali that`s a really poor defense. It`s kind of like if you defend yourself in a murder trial by saying, I kind of killed the guy. You know, that`s not a winning defense.

And you know what gives me a chuckle about this story, Ali? I have to be honest. Now that Dominion is suing Fox, who was one of Fox`s star guests over and over and over again on the issue of election fraud, the election being stolen, the election being rigged? It was Sidney Powell who has now admitted in her own defamation suit that nobody should`ve credited her statements.

Let me tell you, that puts Fox in a real trick bag when they have to decide what their litigation position is because, apparently, one of their marquee guests has admitted that she wasn`t being straight with the American people. I think Fox lawyers are going to start to discuss a little thing called a negotiated settlement.

VELSHI: So this is interesting because at some point when Fox was under pressure for another matter a little earlier, they were arguing that their hosts are sort of entertainment. It`s not really journalism.

Fox`s response to the Dominion lawsuit is this, "Fox News Media is proud of our 2020 election coverage which stands in the highest tradition of American journalism and will vigorously defend against this baseless lawsuit in court."

"Stands in the highest tradition of American journalism?" Feels like they`ve set themselves up for a challenge to that. That doesn`t seem like the wisest thing to have put out.

KIRSCHNER: No and they`re certainly not going to be relying on Sidney Powell, right, as upholding the highest, you know, most truthful, most honorable journalistic ethics because she`s already admitted that she can`t be credited.

So again, I think this is a lot of hot air. I think Fox has been peddling fictionist fact for a very long time and it sounds like a lot of these Trump problems are coming home to roost.

VELSHI: Glenn, there`s no -- the president isn`t on Twitter anymore and there`s no Parler anymore. So he`s given to having to publish statements which, you know, if you`re a regular person, you may not see. So I know this isn`t necessarily something my viewers want to see, but Donald Trump did publish a statement today. It reads very much like a tweet, as if he`s space limited.

This is the entire statement. It`s on his letterhead. It says, "Where is Durham? Is he a living, breathing human being? Will there be a Durham report?"

One of my producers said to me I thought he was asking where Durham, North Carolina is.

KIRSCHNER: Yes. And you know, I guess we`re going to hear about Hillary`s emails again. How about Hunter`s laptop. And he is living in the past and he really does seem to be sort of, you know, devolving or decompensating because the more you hear him talk about for example whatever Anthony Fauci said I should do on the COVID front, I did the opposite.

Well, what I would call that Ali, is an admission of guilt. Because when you are disregarding what your health experts are saying should be done to protect the health and safety of the American people and you`re admitting you`re doing the exact opposite, you know, that is a little thing I would call evidence and that`s going to be used against him in the future.

VELSHI: Glenn, good to see you, my friend. A lot more to get through. We`ll talk again. Glenn Kirschner is a former federal -- career federal prosecutor and he`s MSNBC legal analyst.

All right. What if I told you there was a bill to counter much of the self- dealing, Hatch Act violating, helped by Putin campaigning of the Trump era? What if I told at you bill was actually H.R.1? Yes, that H.R.1 -- it`s the bill that Capehart was talking about a few minutes ago. It`s a voting rights bill and also an anti-corruption bill.

The congressman who wrote that bill will join us next to tell us about all the provisions you wish had been in place four years ago, starting with not permitting any presidential candidate who didn`t release their tax returns to run.


VELSHI: Republicans these days are sucking a lot of oxygen out of a lot of rooms. The GOP today enjoys nothing more than screaming and shouting and complaining and pulling focus and their assault on voting rights has pulled focus from a lot of important provisions in a massive piece of legislation from House Democrats sponsored by our next guest.

H.R.1, the For the People Act is designed to protect and expand the right to vote. There are dozens of important provisions in the bill that do that, but there are dozens of other important provisions that have gotten scant attention because Republicans are so hell bent on destroying your right to vote.

So I want to take a deep breath, cast out thoughts of the GOP for a few moments and take a look at what else is in this bill.

For starters, H.R.1 would almost certainly have stopped Donald Trump from ever running for president. There`s a requirement in it that all presidential candidates disclose their tax returns. Can you imagine if we didn`t have to spend four years talking about this one?

If that hadn`t stopped Trump, H.R.1 extends federal conflict of interest rules to the president and the vice president, which would mean things like the Trump Organization. H.R.1 imposes stronger ethics requirements on all members of congress.

And ever heard of a little thing called foreign election interference? H.R.1 requires that campaigns report attempts by foreign nationals to unlawfully interfere with elections and it adds tighter limits on campaign donations by foreign nationals.

H.R.1 goes well beyond voting rights to reshape how our political system works.


SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): These are not radical proposals. These are ideas that nearly everyone in this country agrees with. And this bill we can make them a reality and ensure that Americans have a democracy that for works for them.


VELSHI: Joining us now Democratic Congressman John Sarbanes of Maryland. He`s the sponsor of H.R.1. Joining us as well Renee Graham, opinion columnist and associate editor of "The Boston Globe".

Representative Sarbanes, I`m going to get to you in a second because Renee and I have been watching each other on Twitter today and I know that Renee has got a lot of thoughts about the thing that`s going on in Georgia right now and the degree to which this is an actual assault not just on black people and poor people and young people. It`s an assault on voting rights in America, Renee.

RENEE GRAHAM, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": I mean, it`s a coup. Voter suppression is a coup. And we`re watching it unfold in real time. And I think what I found really shocking about what happened in Georgia yesterday was how open it was. It wasn`t as though they were trying to somehow, you know, keep it behind closed doors, although they did and arrested a state rep to keep her from going in there.

But the fact that they released that photo of this group of white men doing white supremacy`s work in front of a portrait of a slave plantation, you know, you can`t get much more blatant than that.

So yes, this is absolutely a coup and this is a direct assault on our democracy.

VELSHI: Congressman Sarbanes, these provisions in H.R.1, that I want to talk about today which are different from the very, very important voting rights part of things that I really hope the Senate takes up and moves forward with.

Senator Klobuchar was saying these are not radical ideas and they`re ideas that all Americans agree with. It`s actually more than that. These are ideas in this bill that most Americans already thought were laws and didn`t realize until Donald Trump that they weren`t. That you could do the things that Donald Trump got away with and wasn`t held to account because the law didn`t provide for him to be held to account.

REP. JOHN SARBANES (D-MD): Well, like all the provisions in H.R.1 and now it`s S-1 on the Senate side as you know, these are measures that actually the American people came to us and said we want to see these kinds of reforms. Whether it`s the ballot box reforms that make sure they can vote every year, every two years without having to run an obstacle course, whether it`s strengthening ethics and accountability, which is basically just saying to lawmakers and executive branch officials, when you get to Washington behave yourselves. Or whether it`s the money in politics reforms to push back against that influence, that undue influence that big money is having.

If you think about it, voter suppression diminishes the voices of the people out in the country, and conflicts of interest and big money diminish the voices of the people inside Washington. We got to fix all of those things or we can`t credibly say to the American people that we`re trying to restore their voice.

VELSHI: You know, this business about running around an obstacle course to register to vote, you know, Renee, I was talking a bit of my personal history. But in Canada where I grew up, you don`t have to run an obstacle course to be able to vote. You are presumed to be able to vote if you voted the last time around. And if you want to vote, it`s a very easy process to get registered for.

How do you -- how do you end up with so much of America on the wrong side of an effort to expand the franchise to everybody who qualifies for it under the laws of this land?

We`re not looking for new voters. We`re not looking for unusual people. We`re not looking to break any rules. We`re looking to make people who are qualified to vote able to vote without, as the congressman says, running through obstacles.

GRAHAM: I`m not sure the problem is so much that America is against this as it is Republican senators. A poll was done by Data for Progress, which is a progressive group, that showed that the bill is broadly popular across parties.

Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all support this. you have 56 percent of Republicans support this bill. I think that tells you that people want voting to remain a constitutional right and not a privilege that`s available to fewer and fewer people. And I think that was proven in the last election.

It`s not by accident that you had -- almost 159 million people, two-thirds of eligible voters, participating in that election because it was easier to do it. There was more access either through early voting or especially through mail-in voting.

So I don`t think that it`s the country that doesn`t want voting to be easier. I think it`s Republican senators who realize it`s the only way that they can maintain power.

VELSHI: So Congressman, explain this to me because when this poll that Renee was just talking about, which we put up on the screen, 56 percent of Republicans support the For the People Act. An overwhelming number of Republicans support background checks for guns. An overwhelming number of Republicans support extending rights for Dreamers. An overwhelming number of Republicans supported the Relief Act. Senate Republicans don`t support any of these things.

SARBANES: Because I think the Senate Republicans, unfortunately, the elected officials in their party have gotten captured or taken hostage, let`s say, by the big money crowd inside Washington, which we know every day blocks progress on things that all Americans want to see.

All the things that you just mentioned have strong support in the country, but we can`t seem to get it done in Washington because the big money, the lobbyists, the insiders, the PACs and so forth they`re calling the shots, instead of the people`s voices being represented.

That`s why we`ve got to have disclosure of secret money. That`s why we`ve got to have a strong Federal Election Commission to be the cop on the beat on election time to blow the whistle when people are crossing the line in the money space.

All of these reforms are part of H.R.1/S-1 because it was designed for the American people to step back into their democracy and take control again. That`s why we`ve got to get it done.

VELSHI: Renee Graham, what`s the best way to get people energized around things like this? It`s always harder when we`re outside of a presidential election or a runoff election.

GRAHAM: I think in some cases it`s exactly what we saw in Georgia. It was, as President Biden said, an atrocity. And I think that`s the way you get people energized around this. It`s like it`s not just taking away the votes of these people in this state. No one is safe from this.

Every American is at risk and that means --


GRAHAM: -- every vote is at risk. And I think that`s the way you get to convince people. It`s not affecting -- you know, there`s no such thing as a small injustice. You know, everyone is going to be affected by this because it isn`t going to stop with Georgia.

VELSHI: I think you`re absolutely right. This is not about whether it affects you, it`s whether it affects every voter in America if you`re one of them.

Congressman John Sarbanes, thanks for joining us. Renee Graham, always good to see you. Thanks for joining us tonight.

Coming up, what a time to be alive. You can say voice-activated speaker, order items manufactured on another continent and it can arrive on your doorstep literally the same day. Weirdly, we live in a touchless, seamless world.

Or at least we thought we did until that boat got stuck in that canal. What the really, really big ship stuck in the Suez Canal is revealing about the global economy. And how and when will that really big ship be able to get out? That`s next.


VELSHI: All right. I`m geeking out over that massive cargo ship stuck in the Suez Canal because it`s one of the busiest shipping routes in the world.

In the year 2021, 12 percent of the world`s entire trade of goods has been blocked by a ship that is about the length of the Eiffel Tower. That`s how much business the world does via the Suez Canal.

Hundreds of cargo ships are waiting at sea on both sides of the canal. Others have rerouted around the Horn of Africa like they used to have to do in the 19th century which adds more than a week to a ship`s journey.

This is a massively expensive traffic jam. An estimated $400 million is lost in trade every hour that this ship remains stuck. The operator says strong winds and a sandstorm grounded the Evergreen and it may take weeks to dislodge her from the canal.

But the Ever Given -- I`m sorry, it`s the Ever Given -- the Ever Given has given us a tidal wave of glorious memes like the situation being explained by Austin Powers.

One person asked, "hey is the Suez Canal really slow for anyone else right now?"

The excavator trying to help you is you doing your best, and the ship is the crushing despair of everything from the past year.

Someone else said, "Emotionally, I am the Suez Canal."

And some ideas to unstick the stuck ship. How about you try to lift it up with balloons."

And "I wonder what Ross from `Friends` would do?"




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.


VELSHI: Joining us now, Sal Mercogliano, he`s a former merchant mariner. He`s an associate professor of history at Campbell University, an adjunct professor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. And he and I had been talking about this daily at this point.

Sal, you and I talked yesterday and you said this is not going to be a fast matter. For people who think that this is going to be done in a couple of days, it`s probably not going to be.

What is the problem with everybody`s suggestions about blowing it up or lifting it out or whatever. What is the difficulty in dislodging this ship?

SAL MERCOGLIANO, FORMER MERCHANT MARINER: The difficulty is you make this tougher to get out with some of those suggestions. Removing the vessel has to be done in a very methodical manner. The danger in any salvage operation is you make the situation worse if you don`t do it correctly.

The Egyptians coming out today and saying that the vessel will be removed in two to three days -- that`s is a political decision. That`s not a salvage decision.

about the forward third of this vessel is aground and that means that this is a 1,300-foot vessel, it means it`s lifted up out of the water. And just scooping sand out from the left side of the vessel is not enough. You have to worry about it rolling and more importantly you have to worry about putting too many stresses on it.

As I mentioned to you the other day, you know, this ship has rammed into Asia, and its stern is hang up on Africa and it`s dangling over the Suez Canal. You just have to be very careful on how you unstick it.

VELSHI: Sal, I mean I think most people can get their stuff off of a ship, but they don`t know it and they don`t know what these ships are like and how big they are. And when you see this thing that is almost the size of the -- the length of the Eiffel Tower and the cargo that`s on it, it starts to make you understand how serious an issue is because there are 185 ships like this behind it.

You told me last time we talked that a few ships have been pulled out of the canal. What is the status of the world`s shipping goods right now?

MERCOGLIANO: Well, one of the things that we saw, a very good indication here is that Evergreen, the parent company, a Taiwanese company has already started to reroute vessels around Africa. So you`re adding an extra week on to that. The companies are thinking about adding a surcharge on to the cost to move those containers. It`s already cost you about $7,500 to move a single container.

They`re looking at adding surcharges. Those surcharges are going to be added on to consumers. That`s where this is all going to go.

And one of the things we`re going to start to see here is this is going to get exponentially worse. As we`re experiencing in the United States these log jams in our ports, with vessels just waiting to get in, and the difficulty in us getting exports out, Europe is about to experience the same exact thing as their ports become inundated with vessels after a drought of vessels because of the closure of the canal.

VELSHI: It`s also particularly relevant, a point you`ve made for fuel prices because a lot of fuel that comes from Saudi Arabia makes it way through the Suez Canal.

MERCOGLIANO: Yes. Right now we see our fuel prices spiking up about 3 percent. There`s actually a pipeline alongside the Suez Canal and there`s an option to pump off oil into that pipeline but we don`t see any of the operators doing that right now because it`s a very expensive option.

So they`re waiting it out. They`re waiting to see what the dredging and the salvage operation has. A good indication for us is going to be is when those vessels that are waiting in those anchorages and particularly in the Great Bitter Lake (ph), the lake in the middle of the canal, start pulling out and turning around.

That`s going to tell us that they realize that this is going to be a long time. The salvage company right now has kind of stopped talking. But one of the things they were talking about in the very beginning was this is going to be a very methodical, long process to get this vessel moved.

They`re very concerned about it rolling off the embankment it`s on and putting a twisting motion on it. And again, they already have flooding in the forward part of the compartment, something that was confirmed by the operator this morning. So they have to worry about causing more damage to the vessel.

VELSHI: What a remarkable story. Sal, thanks very much for bringing your knowledge to our viewers. Sal Mercogliano is an associate professor of history at Campbell University, an adjunct professor at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.

And that is tonight`s LAST WORD.

You can catch me tomorrow morning on my show "VELSHI" from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And then on Sunday morning join me for a special show live from Minneapolis, "8:46, THE TRIAL OF DEREK CHAUVIN". On the eve of the trial of the police killing of George Floyd in the city where it all happened, I`m going to break down everything you need to know about how we got to this point and what to expect as this historic trial gets under way.

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