Senate leaders and Senator Joe Manchin reach deal on $1.9 trillion
COVID relief bill. WH: President Biden believes U.S. authorizations for
military force need updating. Dems agree on $300 per week enhanced
unemployment. Senate Republicans oppose popular COVID-19 relief bill. Today
Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell of California filed a civil lawsuit
against Trump and his associates. Congress is investigating the fallout
from the devastating winter storm in Texas. Democratic Congressman Ro
Khanna, the chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment
has sent a letter to the head of ERCOT.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: And one of those MacGyver types who I have
worked with since my very earliest days in this company is a sort of
magician, incredibly capable field IT guy named Dan, Dan Peterson (ph). And
Dan just got married. And true to the spirit of every shoot I have done
with him, this is the thing you need to know. He did it in a place I never
would have guessed you could do that thing. Dan got married at Taco Bell in
This is Dan on the left and his now husband Jitu on their wedding day at a
Taco Bell in Las Vegas which is a thing you can do, file this information
away. If it was anybody else, I wouldn`t believe it. But, you know, doing
things in unexpected places is Dan`s specialty. Mazel tov, you guys. Just
in case you ever need to know this. If you need to get married and you need
to go to Taco Bell, you can get married and go to Taco Bell. They`re a
MADDOW: That`s going to do it for us tonight. Happy Friday. I will see you
again on Monday. Now, it is time for "The Last Word" where our friend Ali
Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good night.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, we begin with breaking news. Senate
Democratic leaders have reached an agreement over unemployment benefits
with moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, ending a nine-hour standoff
that threatened to derail action on President Biden`s COVID relief bill.
The agreement would extend the existing $300 weekly unemployment benefit
through September the 6th, and it offers tax forgiveness on up to $10,200
in unemployment benefits for those who make less than $150,000 a year.
In a statement released tonight, Senator Manchin said, we have reached a
compromise that enables the economy to rebound quickly while also
protecting those receiving unemployment benefits from being hit with
unexpected tax bills next year.
Joining us now on this breaking news, Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of
Virginia. He is a member of the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate
Armed Services Committee. Senator Kaine, good to see you this evening.
On one hand, I`m not quite sure what -- what was happening in the Senate
for nine hours. On the other hand, we have crossed an important hurdle at
this point and are moving toward the passage of this bill. Tell me what is
SEN. TIM KAINE (D-VA): Ali, you`re right. I mean, look, we`ve got 50
Democratic senators and we need every one of their votes to get this bill,
which will do so much good for Americans, to President Biden`s desk.
Senator Manchin had a concern about the way the unemployment insurance
benefits were structured, and he stuck to his guns.
That concern was not my concern. I -- I really liked the bill as it game
over from the House. I think we`ve made it stronger. Senator Manchin needed
some additional adjustments to get there, but now we`re there and we`re
going to rocket forward. There are going to be dozens, maybe hundreds of
amendments that Republicans will offer tonight and tomorrow.
The Democrats, we have linked arms with President Biden and said the
American public needs this relief and they need it soon, and we`re going to
stay at our desks until sometime over the weekend. We send this bill back
to the House for a quick vote so that President Biden can get it next week.
VELSHI: For unexpected -- you know, it`s -- it`s -- it`s obvious why so
many Americans support this bill. It`s not actually a partisan thing. It`s
money that people need in their pockets. It is overwhelmingly popular
amongst Americans. It is even supported by the majority of Republican
voters. What`s going on? What`s -- what`s the reason for 50 Republicans not
voting in favor of this? And by the way, no Republicans voted in favor of
it in the House.
KAINE: Ali, my gut is this. I think they`ve made a strategic decision. And
remember, just replay the tape back to the beginning of the Obama-Biden
administration, they just sort of decided no matter what the new president
offers to rescue the American economy, we`re going to be against it.
I will say this. This is a bill that is just chock-full of -- of provisions
that Republicans have offered in past years. It`s chock-full of provisions
that are desired by Republican governors and mayors. As you point out, it`s
full of provisions that are popular with Republican voters. And when it`s
implemented, it`s going to do enormous good for Republicans and
independents and Democrats.
So, they may have made a strategic decision that -- and I can`t put myself
in their shoes about why they don`t want to be for it, but we`ll be able to
bring the final bill out and show you how much bipartisan agreement there
is in this bill. The democrats are riveted upon the fact we`re still 10
million jobs down from where we were --
KAINE: -- last year and we`ve lost 500,000 people. We`re not out of the
woods yet. We`re not going to go slow. We want to go fast to climb out of
VELSHI: You make an important point because we`ve got unemployment numbers
today and they were much better. The numbers of jobs created in February
were much higher than anticipated. But there`s no reason for too much
relief on that. We`re still 10 million jobs short of where we were a year
ago. And in the time that the Senate read the coronavirus bill, according
to The Washington Post, 900 Americans may have died from this virus.
So, we are up against some real deadlines here, March 14th being the most
tangible of them, when current unemployment extensions run out. What can go
wrong and what is -- and what do you think is likely to happen in terms of
the passage of this bill?
KAINE: So, I think you`re going to see, Ali, what`s likely to happen.
You`re going to see the Senate on the floor all night long, maybe into
tomorrow, and hey, it could be over the weekend, batting off republican
amendments that are largely efforts to derail the relief. But we`re unified
now and we`re not going to do it. We`ll stay here as long as they want, but
we`re going to get this bill done. So, while it will take some time, we`re
going to get this bill to the president`s desk.
You raised a good point about the job`s report today. It was a good job`s
report, 380,000 jobs created, but Ali, if -- what would it take? How many
months of that would it take to get back to where we were in 2019? It would
take us --
KAINE: -- nearly two years of job reports like the one we had today to get
back to where we were in 2019. Americans don`t want to wait for two years
for life to get back to some semblance of normal and that`s why this bill,
which is economic relief and health care relief, is so critical.
VELSHI (on camera): Yeah, the idea that it may be a few months before we
can take our masks off does not mean it`s a few months before business is
back to normal and people have their jobs back.
Senator, I want to talk about another topic and that was the airstrikes in
-- in Iraq. Let`s just listen to what -- what Jen Psaki, the White House
press secretary, had to say about this today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been, obviously,
a close ally and partner with Senator Kaine on a number of initiatives in
the past. He agrees that the AUMF is 20 years -- has been around for 20
years and it`s long overdue for it to be updated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI (on camera): She`s talking about the AUMF, the Authorization for the
Use of Military Force. You, of course, are on the Armed Services Committee.
What is the -- what is the issue here and what is the resolution to the --
the rights and the privileges that the president has in things like
ordering an attack like he did?
KAINE: Ali, there are -- there are three authorizations that are still out
there that can give a president authority to do whatever they want. It`s an
Iraq authorization from 1991, the first Gulf War that Congress never
repealed, an authorization against Iraq from `02 that Congress has never
repealed, and then the 2001 authorization to take against non-state
terrorist groups is now 20 years old.
My belief is the Constitution is clear. You don`t start a war without a
vote of Congress. A president can always defend the United States against
ongoing or imminent attack, but the president can`t take unilateral action
And the good news is we have a president in Joe Biden who is the chairman
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He understands both the
congressional and executive side to this as well as anybody who`s been in
the Oval Office. And he and his team have really committed that they want
to work together with Congress to get the U.S. off being in permanent
forever war. And we`ve got work to do to do it.
I introduced a bipartisan bill this week to get rid of the two Iraq
resolutions, and then we need to re-craft the 2001 authorization because
there is an ongoing need to take military action on occasion against
But it can`t be open ended any country forever. It`s got to be limited, and
I`m really happy that the White House understands that and has pledged to
work together with bipartisan members of Congress to try to restore balance
to the way we make decisions about war and peace.
VELSHI: Senator, good to see you as always. Thanks for joining us. I know
it`s a busy night for you, so grab whatever it is you grab to stay up all
night because we may be talking again tomorrow morning. Senator Tim Kaine
of Virginia, thanks for joining us tonight.
Coming up, the coronavirus relief bill, as we just discussed, is closer to
becoming law tonight. That`s a good thing. It`s going to help a lot of
people. But new polls show a good chunk of republican voter support the
Biden relief and zero congressional Republicans do. Imagine a world where
the Congress and especially the Senate actually reflected American public
opinion. What would be possible then?
Well, I`m guessing that the Democratic National Committee chair, Jaime
Harrison, has some thoughts on that, and he`ll join me after the break.
VELSHI (on camera): Looking at live pictures here of the Senate floor
where, as we just heard from Senator Tim Kaine, they are preparing to work
through the night to get this bill passed because it has been nine hours of
delay today, and they`re now just moving forward.
We are continuing to follow those developments from the Senate as it
considers amendments now to President Biden`s $1.9 trillion COVID relief
package. Expect many amendments to be suggested. They will probably all be
Eventually this bill will pass, but it could have passed already. This
legislation could have been on Joe Biden`s desk by now, ready for him to
sign if it wasn`t for Republicans. Republicans have tried to delay the
Check out Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson`s 11-hour stunt in which he forced
Senate aides to read the entire 628-page bill, a time during which 900
Americans could have died while they were delaying this legislation.
They`ve tried to weaken the legislation at a time of unparalleled crisis
for millions of Americans.
You`ve got to ask, what are Republicans doing? Democrats control the White
House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Republicans are the
minority party in every sense and yet they are fighting tooth and nail to
get concessions that will weaken the economic assistance given to Americans
in need. That`s what this bill is.
Why? Who do Republicans really represent here? They don`t represent the
seven million children who regularly don`t have enough food to eat. They
don`t represent the 13 million Americans who are behind on their rent. They
don`t represent the 400,000 small businesses that have been forced to shut
down during the pandemic, many of them permanently, or the working families
living paycheck to paycheck, or the parents staying up late at night
agonizing over how they will put food on the table.
And you want to know how I know all that? The numbers. The majority of
Americans in blue and red states support this legislation. Sixty-two
percent of registered voters support the relief bill. Sixty-seven percent
support increasing additional employment -- unemployment benefits to $400 a
week, not the $300 that they agreed to tonight, $400. Even 53 percent of
Republican voters support the direct payments of $1,400.
Republicans are actively and knowingly rejecting what voters want. They are
pushing for smaller direct payments to fewer Americans against the wishes
of Americans. So, who are they representing? Let`s not pretend that they`re
the party of fiscal conservatism and so they`re not supporting the bill on
They supported a multi-trillion dollar tax cut that added to our deficits
despite all of us knowing that that wouldn`t pay for itself, unlike when
you give money to people who are actually trying to make ends meet that
they have to spend in their communities.
So this might give you an idea of who Republicans represent, tax cuts for
the rich and for corporations, but god forbid, you give any real meaningful
assistance to people on minimum wage who are just getting by or maybe not
even getting by. Not fiscal responsibility. That`s cruelty. They are
masking that cruelty with weak excuses about how too much assistance won`t
actually spur economic growth.
This is my jam. Don`t be fueled by it. There is credible argument against
further stimulating a struggling economy. There is far more harm in doing
too little than in doing too much. Doing too little will prolong people`s
suffering. It will extend the recession. It will worsen generational
Tonight, the Senate agreed to offer an amendment to extend the enhanced
unemployment benefits program through September 6th at $300 a week. The
House passed a version that was $400 a week. How did the Senate have a
serious discussion about cutting unemployment payments by $100 a week in
the richest country in the world?
There`s no policy or political argument that has been made for opposing
this relief package. People need help. The help is popular and yet every
House Republican voted against the relief package and every Senate
Republican voted against even having a debate on the legislation, which
brings me back to my questions. Who are they representing? Certainly not
the voters who supported them.
The New York Times reports that the GOP has -- quote -- "offered very
little to advance working people`s economic interests" -- end quote. Today,
we learn the United States economy added 379,000 jobs in February. The
unemployment rate dropped one-tenth of a percentage point. It`s good news,
but it`s not great news. Millions fewer Americans have jobs today than
before the pandemic hit. Here`s President Biden earlier at an economic
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today`s jobs report shows that
the American rescue plan is urgently needed, in our view. Now, our economy
still has 9.5 million fewer jobs than it had this time last year. And at
that rate, it would take two years to get us back on track.
And some of last month`s job growth is the result of the December relief
package. But without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow. We can`t
afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus,
provide essential relief, and build an inclusive recovery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI (on camera): Well, he`s right. We can`t afford to take steps back,
not when there are so many who are still in such great need. But
Republicans keep taking steps back. They`re running back. The broke and
those in need be damned. I don`t need to tell you who Republicans
represent. Actions speak far louder than words.
Joining me now, Jaime Harrison, chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Jaime, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.
JAIME HARRISON, CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Good to see you,
VELSHI: I don`t understand this. You are a guy who`s in politics. You --
you`ve run for office. What -- what`s going on here? This makes no sense
right now. The republican base supports this. The people of America support
this. It is far more justifiable than those tax cuts that every one of
those Republicans backed three years ago. What`s going on?
HARRISON: Ali, this makes zero sense. Remember, when they passed those tax
cuts, remember what Lindsey Graham said why they had to do it? Because
their donors would be upset if they did not. Let me tell you, at the end --
HARRISON: -- of the day, this bill is so significant because it puts money
in pockets, it puts people in jobs, vaccines in arms, and make sure that
our kids get back into school. This is a game changer. In this bill -- in
this bill, it will cut child poverty in half, Ali, in half. That`s
significant. I mean, a family of four could get up to $12,000 in money that
they can have in order to secure their homes, get new transportation, and
provide for their families.
And to have this party try to delay it in every way that they can, it is
just disgusting, absolutely disgusting. And I hope their constituents will
take them to task because of it.
VELSHI (on camera): You bring up an interesting point about children
because it`s hard for a lot of people to believe that here in the richest
country in the world -- and you can measure that many different ways.
America is the richest country in the world. We have children hungry every
night, families who are food insecure. Here`s what Mitch McConnell said
about the unemployment insurance this morning on the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): This isn`t state unemployment insurance. It`s
borrowing from our kids and grandkids to pay yet an additional cash bonus
for not working.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI (on camera): That`s remarkable one sentence. He said a lot. It`s
borrowing from our kids and grandkids to pay an additional cash bonus, is
what he`s calling this money, for not working. The implication is that we
are giving money for free to people to not work. In fact, he suggested that
if you -- the problem with this $1,400 payment is it will discourage work.
It will turn people away from work.
Show me the math on this. Jaime, you`ve talked about this a lot, about
poverty, particularly in the part of the country you come from. Tell me the
person who`s not taking a job because they`re going to get a $1,400 one-
HARRISON: Ali, you know, this --
HARRISON: I can`t come up with adjectives to describe how ticked off I am
with these folks. Do they think people are just at home sitting on their
couches eating bonbons? Because these people are struggling. They`re lining
up at food banks right now just to have food in order to feed their kids.
These people need this money.
Listen, I know what poverty is. There were times in my family when we
didn`t have enough for a carton of milk and I had to put water in my
cereal. Those are the conditions that American people are living in right
now in the greatest country on the face of this earth.
And you`ve got people like Mitch McConnell. Maybe he should worry about his
wife`s situation and let`s do the business on the American people. That`s
what we want right now. We need real leaders right now who are going to
fight for the people in this country.
And this is my -- my plea to the American people. In the greatest times of
darkness for you and your family, just ask the question, who stood up for
you? It is going to be the Democratic Party. We`re going to get this bill
It doesn`t matter how long we have to stay on the floor. It doesn`t matter
how many amendments they put up. We will get this bill done, and this will
provide the money in the pockets of the people keeping their jobs, making
sure they can get their vaccines, and getting our kids back in school.
We`ve got to do this.
VELSHI: How do you --
HARRISON: It`s absolutely critical.
VELSHI: How do you walk this line between Democrats who want to get that
done and others who are, for whatever reason, taking what I think they`re
trying to portray as a more moderate position but pulling back on things?
There were eight members -- Democratic members of the Senate who voted
against the $15 minimum wage, the increase to $15 over five years in
minimum wage. It`s not a particularly radical idea, Jamie. A $15 minimum
wage is $31,000 a year if you live full-time. That`s not thievery.
HARRISON: Well, Ali, let me be clear on this. The policy of this
administration, the policy of the DNC is to support a $15 minimum wage,
bottom line, straight up, there it go, straight up, no chases. That is the
policy of the Democratic National Committee.
At the end of the day, we saw -- we`re going to have -- we`ve got some work
to do in order to get to the point where we can get this passed, but we are
going to do the work. But at the end of the day, every member has to be
accountable to -- for their votes to their constituents, and that`s
Republicans and Democrats.
So, you know, I`m not going to -- we`ll leave that up to the members of the
United States Senate, but the DNC and the Biden administration are going to
work hand in glove to make sure that we can work to get this minimum wage
increased to $15.
VELSHI: So, this is the -- the line you have to walk as DNC chair. There
are people, including some people, new members of the House of
Representatives, who are progressive and come from backgrounds like the one
you describe, where they have gone without.
One of the problems in the United States Senate is it is a chamber of
mostly rich men, but generally speaking very rich people who probably don`t
really relate all that well to what a $15 an hour minimum wage means.
I saw on Twitter people saying, why don`t we pay them 15 bucks an hour and
see how it works out? How do you square this circle? Because people who are
accusing Democrats of pursuing socialist policies when in fact things like
universal health care in whatever form you want to take it or things like a
$15 minimum wage is actually probably better capitalism than it is
HARRISON: Well, Ali, you know, listen, I tried to get a vote there in the
United States Senate and I would have been voting for that increased
minimum wage had I had one.
But now in this new job, my job is to expand the majorities for Democrats
in the House and the Senate to make sure that we have enough margin so that
just in case we`ve got a few members who can`t vote for a bill for whatever
reason, we`ve got enough in order to get it done on behalf of the American
So, my goal in going into 2022 is to expand the majority of Democrats in
the House and in the Senate to make sure that we can recruit candidates
that reflect where the American people are. And so, I hope we can get that
If folks want to join us, go to democrats.org because I believe in a 50-
state strategy -- 57, including our territories and D.C., and we are going
to get it done and get more representation into the United States Senate to
get the work done for the American people.
VELSHI: Jamie, good to see you as always. Thanks for joining us. DNC Chair
Jaime Harrison, we appreciate your time. We`ll talk again soon.
Coming up, Donald Trump is facing more legal trouble. He and his son,
Donald Trump Jr., are being sued for their role in inciting the riot at the
Capitol. Congressman Eric Swalwell, a top Democrat on the Judiciary
Committee, filed the lawsuit. What happens next, and what could happen to
the Trumps if a court rule against them?
VELSHI: During the first congressional hearings into the Capitol
insurrection, local and federal officials have blamed one another for the
security failures that occurred on January 6th.
New emails obtained by the "Associated Press" reveal that several agencies
around Washington were aware of the threat from Trump supporters
beforehand. They just didn`t act.
The AP reports quote, "Nearby police agencies were alerted two days earlier
that there might be trouble and were prepared to help but a lack of
coordination and adequate planning left the Capitol vulnerable and resulted
in a deadly and potentially avoidable breach."
A lack of coordination helped contribute to a deadly insurrection. More
than 300 people have since been charged with federal crimes for their
action that day, including Federico Klein, a former Trump appointee at the
State Department, who didn`t just attend. He was seen on video beating a
police officer with a riot shield. He was arrested Thursday and now faces
several felony charges.
Donald Trump was not held accountable by the senate for his role in
inciting the insurrection. But even Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made
clear that Trump bore responsibility for what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): We have a criminal justice system in this
country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune
from being accountable by either one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: We have civil litigation. Well, one member of congress now wants to
hold Trump accountable through civil litigation.
Today Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell of California filed a civil
lawsuit against Trump and his associates, claiming they made, quote, "False
and incendiary allegations of fraud and theft and in direct response to the
defendant`s express calls for violence at the rally, a violent mob attacked
the U.S. Capitol" end quote.
Joining us now, the attorney for Congressman Eric Swalwell, Phil Andonian.
And Phil, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
Tell me for those of us who get their -- most of their legal training from
"Law and Order" what the distinction is here. They didn`t convict in the
Senate, which a lot of people thought is the venue for dealing with this
kind of thing.
People like Mitch McConnell said take it to court, he should be held
accountable. So, that`s what this is, I assume.
PHIL ANDONIAN, LAWYER FOR REP. ERIC SWALWELL: Yes, and thanks for having
me. That`s exactly right. I mean we are looking to hold Donald Trump and
his inner circle accountable. That is the case that Congressman Swalwell
and the other managers put on in the impeachment trial and the Senate
punted and they invited litigation in civil courts as we just heard Mitch
And we have taken them up on their invitation to do just that. I think if
you think about it, the analogy would be a defendant in a criminal case
being found not guilty by a jury and then being sued civilly for
essentially the same conduct. It happens a lot. It happened with O.J.
Simpson, for example.
And that`s essentially what we`re looking at now. If the civil court is the
right forum, we`re here and we`re going to take this case and we`re going
to bring it before a judge and a jury and we`re going to have the merits to
adjudicate it that way.
VELSHI: So often, when you think about that comparison that you just gave
of civil versus criminal, the thought is that bar is higher in a criminal
trial than it is in a civil trial. The bar apparently in the United States
Senate is impossible for an impeachment trial.
So, clearly the bar you`re facing is lower. But to what extent? What is the
kind of thing you would have to prove to have a jury find for you?
ANDONIAN: Well, I think the first thing that we have going for us is that
it won`t be a stacked jury of not really peers but so much as enablers who
don`t have enough courage to make a stand when they had a chance to. So, I
think that`s at least a check in the right box.
I think in terms of the bar, I mean, you could look at it that way, but I
think it`s also just a different function of the -- or a different part of
the system. There certainly was a place for the impeachment trial.
The managers put on a master class in marshalling all the evidence. And
there should have been a conviction because Trump was in office and had in
his personal capacity for his own personal reasons had gone way beyond the
bounds of the office.
This is another venue for getting the relief that the American people
deserve. It happens to be the only venue right now because the Senate
punted and because there hasn`t been accountability. And so, we`re looking
forward to prosecuting our case.
VELSHI: The constitutional lawyer Laurence Tribe has tweeted tonight, "Go
Eric. This Rep. Swalwell lawsuit against Trump in his personal capacity is
one Trump won`t easily escape. Its legal basis is solid, and its factual
predicates are overwhelming. The factual predicates are overwhelming."
The factual predicates are overwhelming. You were just talking about the
House managers and the case they made. There were a lot of Americans who
watched that and said how would one not vote in favor of conviction having
watched video after video.
You even have more options than all of that video. You`ve got the
possibility of testimony and more information that has actually come out
since the impeachment trial.
ANDONIAN: That`s right. And that`s a big part of the litigation forum in
this country is that the parties have to put what they`ve got on the table.
We`re going to have an opportunity to ask a lot of questions of Donald
Trump and the other defendants and we`re going to have an opportunity to
ask for a lot of information. And I think right now we know what we know.
But we don`t know what we don`t know. And I think that`s going to be a very
fertile ground for us to till.
And that`s a big part of the lawsuit is exploring that.
VELSHI: Phil, good to talk to you. Thank you for joining us.
Phil Andonian is an attorney for Representative Eric Swalwell. We
appreciate your time tonight.
Well, coming up, three weeks ago Texas experienced a winter storm and a
devastating power grid failure. People literally froze to death in their
Some people who escaped physical harm received sky high electrical bills
that could potentially financially ruin them. Who is going to be held
accountable for this or are we just going to forget about it?
Well, the House Oversight Committee isn`t forgetting about it. That`s next.
VELSHI: Congress is investigating the fallout from the devastating winter
storm in Texas. Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna, the chair of the House
Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment has sent a letter to the head of
ERCOT, the operator of the Texas power grid demanding to know what caused
the massive outages that left millions without heat or power for days in
Congressman Khanna writes, "The subcommittee is concerned that the loss of
electric reliability and the resulting human suffering, deaths and economic
costs will happen again unless ERCOT and the state of Texas confront the
predicted increase in extreme weather events with adequate preparation and
The same day the investigation was launched, ERCOT fired its chief
executive, seven board members resigned last week and the chair of the
Public Utility Commission which oversees ERCOT resigned on Monday.
Last night an independent market monitor found that ERCOT made a pricing
error that overcharged power companies by $16 billion, -- that were then
passed along to Texans who are now struggling to pay their electrical
"The Wall Street Journal" reports, quote, "The monitor concluded that Texas
kept wholesale prices high for 33 hours longer than warranted and should
correct this mistake by retroactively repricing its wholesale power market
for that period," end quote. But today, Texas utility regulators refused
Joining us, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna from California. He`s the
chair of the House Oversight Subcommittee on the Environment. Congressman,
good to see you.
There`s so much wrong with this story that I don`t know where to start. The
only interesting issue is that everything that`s wrong with it, including
the overcharging and the lack of regulation in electrical pricing, and the
ERCOT issues and the lack of preparation for the storm, all of it was
predictable, all of it was fixable, and all of it can be fixed.
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): And I would add it happened before in 2011. They had
the same exact situation with the winter and there were recommendations to
weatherize the grid. What we need to know is why those recommendations were
Was there a political decision to disregard them? Why did no one invest in
the type of infrastructure that was recommended to them? So, my hope is
that the CEO of ERCOT will come and testify in front of our committee and
lay out the facts and tell the American people what went wrong and what we
need to do to prevent this from happening again.
VELSHI: The state of Texas though, the government of the state of Texas,
the governor and Republican leaders there have made quite a show of having
zero interest in the federal government playing any role in their
electricity regulation. In fact, they made the argument, if you`ll recall,
in the early hours of this power outage that Texans would rather take a
power outage than have the federal government involved.
KHANNA: That`s not what we`re hearing from the Texans who have $15,000 --
$20,000 bills and we`ll be hearing some of their testimony from Texans who
had to suffer through extraordinarily cold weather.
We have an obligation as the United States to make sure that this doesn`t
happen to anyone -- Texans or Californians or people in any state. And this
was so preventable because it just required basic infrastructure
investment. And that`s what the committee is going to find out, why those
decisions and recommendations of experts were ignored.
VELSHI: So this is -- it`s odd because it`s not -- energy experts I`ve
spoken to say that the infrastructure investments to winterize the natural
gas delivery and electrical delivery in Texas would not be unduly
burdensome. They would be what normal people would think of business
preparation, the kind of things that businesses prepared for.
So what`s your sense of what actually drove the decisions not do it. Is it
laziness? Was it just wishful thinking that we`re not going to get bad
weather in Texas? Or do you think it was something more sinister.
KHANNA: I think it`s a world view that these politicians have. Deregulate,
why do we need regulations? Why do we need this kind of investment? This is
bureaucracy. This is overregulation and often regulations that don`t
But you know what, there is a reason we have regulations when we get on an
airplane and want it to be safe. And there`s a reason now, we see that we
have regulations for bad weather conditions because the consequences of not
having that are disastrous in term of a loss of human life and in term of
And that`s why what we will find I think with these documents is that the
experts were saying to weatherize -- the experts were pointing out, by the
way, that weatherizing wind turbines was much simpler than weatherizing
If anything, Texas would have been benefitted if they had more renew able
energy despite the claims. And all we want is to get the facts out. And so,
we`re going to be having a hearing in late March. It`s not going to be, in
any way, a hostile hearing.
The idea is to help tell the truth, tell the American people what happened
KHANNA: -- and what we need to do most importantly going forward.
VELSHI: Congressman Khanna, $15 an hour minimum wage. You tweeted that t$15
an hour is barely enough to scrape by in any zip code. I encourage those
arguing otherwise to try to afford rent, utilities, food childcare and
elder care, car expenses, health care, school supplies on $2,400 a month.
15 an hour is $31,000 roughly a year. Why are we having such difficulty
with this? With understanding that minimum wage just hasn`t kept up with
inflation in any other part of our economy?
KHANNA: Ali, here`s the sad thing. Dr. King in 1963 when he marched on
Washington was marching for a $2 minimum wage. That would be $17 today.
And we`re sitting here in 2021 and we still don`t have a wage of dignity
that Dr. King was talking about in 1963. It is unconscionable that we have
the situation that we do where we have 5 million to 6 million Americans, by
the way, who gets tips or making lists of $5 an hour. And then we have
about 1.6 million American who are making $7.25. And 32 million Americans
who are making under $15 a day.
Now, Amazon, when they raised their wage to $15, guess what, their jobs
doubled, their profited soared. So this idea that we can`t afford to pay
$15 to people is just not true. The big corporations can certainly afford
it and the small businesses we can help with tax credits to offset the
VELSHI: Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for joining us tonight.
Congressman Ro Khanna is the -- he`s from California. He`s the chair of the
Oversight Subcommittee sub-committee on the environment.
Coming up, a heated battle -- just talking about Amazon -- is coming to a
head in Alabama where some Amazon workers are now voting on whether or not
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden issued a strong statement in support
of the workers and today progressive member of Congress showed up in
solidarity in what they say is a fight not just about workers` rights but
about civil rights. That`s next.
VELSHI: An historic union vote is under way in Alabama. Nearly 6,000
workers at an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama are voting on whether to
join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. If these workers
unionize, they`ll be the first unionized Amazon employees in the United
Today, five Democratic members of Congress visited the Amazon facility to
show their support for the union vote. One of those Democrats is
Congresswoman Terri Sewell who represents the district where the facility
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): The world is watching Alabama. And I want you to
know that these workers are following a rich tradition, a tradition of
civil rights and human rights. We see you. We hear you, Alabama workers.
And we are with you. We are with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: The visit from House Democrats comes on the heels of President
Biden voicing support for the Amazon workers union drive and organizing
efforts across America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unions lift up workers, both
union and non-union, and especially black and brown workers.
Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama and all
across America are voting on whether to organize a union in their
workplace. And it`s your right, not that of an employer. It`s your right.
No employer can take that right away. So, make your voice heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Joining us now, Stuart Appelbaum. He`s the president of the Retail,
wholesale and Department Stores Union. Stuart, you have seen this fight
before. In fact, you`ve been at it for a long time.
What Joe Biden just said there, saying to workers, it is your right, no
company can take it away from you. In fact, there have been many states,
particularly in the southern United States where they have worked very hard
to either discourage or take that right away from workers to unionize and
to collectively bargain.
STUART APPELBAUM, PRESIDENT, RETAIL, WHOLESALES AND DEPARTMENT STORES
UNION: Yes, that`s true. And it is good to be with you today to talk about
We saw today several congressmembers coming to Bessemer, Alabama to
understand better what it is the company is doing to try to intimidate them
and to try to thwart any unionizing effort that is going on there.
And I believe that the congress members were amazed and outraged by what
they saw. They heard about how Amazon has been holding mandatory captive
audience meetings with the lecture people on why unions are bad for them.
And they take photographs of people who dared to question what they were
They heard about the text messages the company is sending. They heard about
the tactics the company has used to have traffic light signals change so
the union wouldn`t be able to talk to people about the union when they were
stopped at the traffic light.
And all the abusive actions that are being taken by this company to try to
stop their workers from having a collective voice.
VELSHI: Let me ask you about the role that Joe Biden played. It`s not a
secret, he campaigned, he`s always been a union supporter. Unions have
But the fact that he made that statement which we just played. You`ve been
a union leader for decades. How big a deal is it that the president of the
United States is sending a message to union workers to say, you have this
right that cannot be thwarted, despite what you just said about what Amazon
is actually doing to discourage it?
APPELBAUM: I think the importance of what President Biden said cannot be
overestimated. It`s amazing. It is the most pro-union statement ever made
by a president of the United States in history.
Joe Biden said he was going to be a pro-union president. And he is
delivering on that promise. And the message is to the workers. That no
matter how powerful you think Amazon may be, the president of the United
States has your back.
And that makes a difference. Not just to the workers in this campaign, but
to workers in every campaign who are trying to unionize in this country.
VELSHI: "The New York Times" about how, using a comment from a professor at
Cornell University who studies labor relations, saying that Amazon has
actually figured something out in Europe, or at least European laws have
caused Amazon to figure something out in which they happily co-exist with
unions and it does not seem to affect their bottom line negatively.
But Europe`s got a different way of thinking about this, particularly in
Germany and in France where in some places unions have a seat place at the
board table, at the decision making table, not just -- they don`t just
negotiate with the company.
APPELBAUM: I think it`s so important here that workers have a voice as
well. I think Amazon`s business model has been to pay little or no taxes,
to feast on public subsidies, and to dehumanize and mistreat its employees.
Their employees want a voice. Their employees want dignity and respect in
the workplace. And they don`t feel that is happening. Amazon seems to care
more about the robots in their facilities than they do about the workers
and that has to change. The people deserve to be heard.
VELSHI: Stuart, thank you for joining us. We appreciate it. Stuart
Appelbaum is the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store
Union. That is the union that Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama are
voting in favor of or against joining.
Thank you for joining me. That`s THE LAST WORD for tonight.
You can match more of me this weekend on my show "VELSHI". On Sunday, join
me for a very special show about the past year in the COVID crisis in
I spoke to a group of frontline hospital workers about what it`s been like
living on warlike footing, every day, month after month. You don`t want to
miss this conversation.
It was fascinating and heartbreaking, but it`s testimony that we should not
turn away from. "VELSHI, ONE YEAR LATER", airs Sunday 8:00 a.m. Eastern on
"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" begins right now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again as we bring
another week to a close.
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