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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 4/21/21

Guests: Eddie Glaude, Melissa Murray, Cedric Alexander, Ashish Jha, Raul Ruiz, Elizabeth Esteban


The attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, announced today that the U.S. Department of Justice is launching a sweeping investigation into the policing practices of the Minneapolis Police Department. Twenty minutes before the guilty verdict was announced in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, police in Columbus, Ohio, responded to a 911 call where a fight had broken out among teenage girls which resulted in a police officer shooting and killing 16-year-old Ma`Khia Bryant. Today, President Biden announced that his administration has reached his goal of administering 200 million vaccine shots days ahead of schedule. Yesterday President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the Oval Office. For 17-year-old Elizabeth Esteban, Harvard University was a distant dream -- 2,800 miles from her home in California but a world away from the community she grew up in.



And you grew up on the West Coast so you have a sense of the kind of distance I`m talking about. Imagine yourself in California thinking about Harvard College, 2,800 miles away, but -- but you`re living in a mobile home where the Internet doesn`t work very often and you`re trying to read your college acceptance or rejection e-mails and you can`t quite get your Internet to work. And then you eventually do and you see your admissions e- mail from Harvard College.

That`s what happened to 17-year-old Elizabeth Esteban going to join us at the end of this hour because her story is just amazing. She grew up speaking her tribal language, her parents` language from Mexico. And so it`s one of those stories when you see it in real life it`s the only way you can believe it.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Lawrence, I will tell you something, a little behind the scenes thing, which is that today when I was talking with my staff and producers about what we were going to do on the show tonight and when we were booking and what stories we were pursuing and what we were trying to nail down, one of the things we talked about is Lawrence has somebody tonight who`s going to be amazing. And you`ve got to see this story, and we`ve all heard he`s got this interview tonight going to be incredible.

So in the proverbial building in which we no longer work because of COVID, everyone`s been talking about this interview you got tonight. I cannot wait to see it.

O`DONNELL: So the way she`s doing this tonight to make sure the way the Internet works instead of her mobile home, she`s going to do it from her congressman -- her local congressman`s office. That`s why we know the connection is going to work.

MADDOW: That`s amazing. I cannot wait to see it. Go, man, go.

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

MADDOW: Indeed.

O`DONNELL: Well, Derek Chauvin did not act alone. There were three other police officers on the scene when Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, two of whom were also on top of George Floyd holding him down. And so we`re going to do it all over again.

On August 23rd, those three officers will go on trial together in the same courthouse where Derek Chauvin was convicted facing charges for aiding and abetting second degree murder and aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter.

Another jury of 12 men and women will see all of that video all over again and decide if what they`re watching those three other officers do is criminal. And the prosecution of those three officers is as important as the prosecution of Derek Chauvin if we`re ever going to change policing in America, because if that change is going to come, it`s going to have to come from inside police departments. Only police officers can change police conduct.

The witnesses to George Floyd`s murder knew that. They knew there was nothing they could do to stop bad policing that they were watching. They knew that one of the police officers on top of George Floyd was their only hope of saving George Floyd`s life. That`s why those witnesses begged any one of those officers to stop what was happening to George Floyd, and none of those officers did that. None of them.

That`s all it would have taken. One good cop. At least one good cop or a cop who was just afraid of what would happen to him because of what they were doing to George Floyd. There was no good cop at that scene, not one. No good cops.

The attorney general of the United States, Merrick Garland, noticed that. And so, today, he did what many attorneys general of the United States in both parties have done before him, he announced a Justice Department investigation of an entire police department.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yesterday`s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis. The investigation I am announcing today will assess whether the Minneapolis Police Department engages in a pattern or practice of using excessive force including during protests. The investigation will also assess whether the MPD engages in discriminatory conduct and whether its treatment of those with behavioral health disabilities is unlawful.

It will include a comprehensive review of the Minneapolis Police Department`s policies, training, supervision and use of force investigations.


O`DONNELL: The Justice Department conducted investigations of police departments for decades before the Trump Justice Department stopped doing that. Police officers got a very clear message from the Trump Justice Department: We will never judge you. Donald Trump himself personally encouraged police officers to be more violent when they arrest people.

American police officers got a new message yesterday. They watched the handcuffs being put on the police officer who was just convicted of murdering George Floyd. The biggest police department in the world, the New York City Police Department, woke up to this photograph today on the cover of "The New York Post". That picture is worth a billion words.

Words have never gotten through to police officers. I wrote a book 35 years ago describing the criminal use of deadly force by police officers, and that did absolutely no good in changing police conduct. Millions upon millions of words have been written on the subject since then. Millions of words have been chanted by millions of protesters in this country since then.

And in the case of George Floyd millions of words were chanted in protests around the world. And there was absolutely no indication that any of those words had any effect on the behavior of American police officers. Maybe the sight of Derek Chauvin in handcuffs on his way to a jail cell will get through to police officers.

Maybe the good cops will finally realize that being a good cop is not limited to what you do on the street but includes what you do about bad cops. Do you stay silent when you see them commit a crime or do you intervene? Do you report that crime? Do you testify against that crime?

We`re always going to have some bad cops, and we`re always going to have bad doctors, bad priests, bad senators. That`s the way it works. But the only people who can police bad cops are good cops.

When my father was a patrolman in the Boston Police Department, he intervened one night and pulled another cop off of a black man. And yes, the other cop hated my father for the rest of his life. And yes, the desk sergeant reassigned my father to the worst assignment that he could think of.

But my father didn`t think he had a choice when he saw one of his fellow officers possibly beating someone to death. And I wish I had my more stories like that to tell, but that`s the only one.

I wish we all had good cop stories to tell. I wish member of Congress invited good cops to sit in the gallery as guests of honor at the State of the Union Address because that good cop stopped a bad cop. And there are plenty of members of Congress who would do that, but those stories aren`t happening in their congressional districts.

And so, Congress can pass the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, and President Biden can sign it into law, but justice in policing will not be decided by Congress. It will be decided in the streets by individual police officers. It will be decided by good cops and bad cops.

The image of Derek Chauvin in handcuffs as more power to change the behavior of bad cops on the street than any words the president might sign into law. Fear is the only thing that can change the decision making of bad cops. Fear of those handcuffs that they saw on Derek Chauvin`s wrists. Fear of the life Derek Chauvin will now live in prison.

There is no more important force in delivering justice in policing than good cops. Good cops can seem like a mythical notion to people who have never seen good cops, people who have now seen abuse by police after abuse by police after abuse by police on video with their own eyes are wondering where are all the good cops? Where are they?

How much longer can we keep saying that most cops are good cops? No good cops showed up when George Floyd was lying face down on that street. There were no good cops there, not one. Where are they? Where were they then?

It is long past time for the good cops to prove that they are more loyal to the people they were sworn to serve than to the bad cops in their ranks. It is long pastime for the good cops to prove they are good cops by stopping the bad cops.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Professor Eddie Glaude, chair of African-American studies at Princeton University. Also with us, Melissa Murray, professor at law at New York University. Both are MSNBC contributors.

And, Professor Glaude, let me begin with you and your reactions to this day after, this night after the verdict.

EDDIE GLAUDE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I`m still exhausted. There is a kind of general sense that by the tight stomach I`ve lived with for the last few weeks isn`t so tight, but then I`m still dealing with the images of Ma`Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, and her death. So, it feels as if, you know, Lawrence, there are these kind of waves, these tsunami waves that keep coming.

So, you know, we`re still at it. There was a good verdict but we`re still dealing with the question, the central question at hand.

O`DONNELL: And, Melissa Murray, we`re going to go through all of this evidence again on August 23rd when the trial of the other three officers begins.

MELISSA MURRAY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That`s right. And again, to Eddie`s point if this trial was simply about Derek Chauvin`s conduct I think the trial of the officers will be as you say, Lawrence, more about the broader culture of policing and how we actually perform that role in the United States. I think the real question we`re going to see is whether we actually see those officers go on trial or whether these three resounding convictions of Officer Chauvin will propel these three other defendants to seek guilty pleas going forward. So I think the real question is will we see this in court again?

O`DONNELL: Yeah, and, Eddie, my point about this next trial is that this is the one that has real power to change police behavior because most cops have always believed if they`re not the ones who actually did it, if they`re just literally an inch away from the guy who did it, they`re safe. They`re legally safe. They have nothing to worry about. They won`t get in trouble in the department, nothing is going to happen.

And that is the support system -- the support system that has enabled all of the bad cops.

GLAUDE: Right. So, you know, if you see something say something. If you see something intervene. You are in some ways culpable. You are in some ways responsible and complicit if you standby and allow an unlawful act to take place.

So I think you`re right. It has the potential to shift the culture. It has the potential to impact the way unions work on large. But, you know, I keep thinking, though, this good cop, bad cop formulation which is so important exists within the context of a broader systemic problem.

Think about the Carter Commission Report, that important report, Lawrence, what was hidden in the back of it about expanding policing, about how particular communities were to be surveilled because there were in some ways potentially threats to explode because of past riots and the like? We have to in some ways not only empower good cops, but we also have to change the mindset, certain assumptions about communities being policed and who suffer the most.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to more of what the attorney general said today.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Most of our nation`s law enforcement officers do their difficult jobs honorably and lawfully. I strongly believe that good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices. Good officers welcome accountability because accountability is an essential part of building trust with the community. And public safety requires public trust.


O`DONNELL: Melissa Murray, that`s the kind of passage we always hear in speeches like this. But I have to say in decades of studying this I have seen no evidence whatsoever for the following statement we just heard the attorney general make. Good officers do not want to work in systems that allow bad practices. Where`s the evidence they don`t want to do that?

MURRAY: Again, I think this is going to be a really long and perhaps tortured conversation that we have as a country about what it means to actually do policing and particularly as Eddie says in communities that often have been marginalized and perhaps stereotyped as overly criminal and bearing the brunt of that policing and surveillance.

I think what we saw today from Attorney General Garland is an important step and for one it is a complete 180 from the position of the Trump administration which had pretty much abandoned all pattern and practice investigations under the DOJ.

So, it`s a really encouraging step to see that go forward. It means there will at least be some opportunity to think about this in a systemic way. But it`s also worth noting that most policing is quintessentially a local activity. So there`s very often very limited things the government can actually do to coerce or to convince or encourage local police departments to, again, be more accountable and be fair in the way they do their work.

O`DONNELL: Eddie, your reaction to what we just heard the attorney general say?

GLAUDE: First of all, I think what Melissa just said was absolutely brilliant. And to answer your question to her directly, I have seen no evidence of what General Garland just laid out.

Look, at the end of the day, Lawrence, policing takes us to the heart of the contradictions of race in the country. We have never resolved it. Policing is that site, that space where violence and the ugliness of American racism converge, and it`s legally sanctioned by the state.

So we are at the heart of the matter right now. We are at the heart of the contradiction. That`s not going to be resolved by one verdict. It`s not going to be resolved by a verdict of guilty with the three officers. It`s going to take long, hard work moving forward.

O`DONNELL: Professor Eddie Glaude and Professor Melissa Murray, thank you both very much for starting us off tonight. Really appreciate it.

And coming up, we`re going to cover that case that Professor Glaude was just talking about, the 16-year-old girl who was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday. More police bodycam video of the incident was released today. That`s next.


O`DONNELL: Twenty minutes before the guilty verdict was announced in the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, police in Columbus, Ohio, responded to a 911 call where a fight had broken out among teenage girls which resulted in a police officer shooting and killing 16-year-old Ma`Khia Bryant. The police department quickly released the officer`s body cam video, which shows that Ma`Khia Bryant had a knife in her hand that appeared to be a steak knife. The first thing the video shows is Ma`Khia Bryant knocking one girl to the ground and then a man beside Ma`Khia Bryant then kicks that girl in the head.

As Ma`Khia Bryant then rushes toward another girl dressed in pink leaning against a car. And as she raises the knife to that girl, the police officer shot Ma`Khia Bryant four times and killed her.

We`re now going to show you this horribly disturbing video. It is 12 seconds long. We will freeze the video just before the shots are fired.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey. Hey, what`s going on? Hey, get down. Get down. Get down.



O`DONNELL: The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has opened an inquiry into the case and the officer has been taken off patrol.

Joining us now is Cedric Alexander, former public safety director and police chief of DeKalb County, Georgia. He is a member of President Obama`s task force on 21st century policing and he is an MSNBC law enforcement analyst.

Cedric, what do you see in this video?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER, MSNBC LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think I see what most of us see. We see a young lady, unfortunately, as it may be a 16-year- old, looked like she was about to stab a victim there. And unfortunately, in this place and time and space where we are, a police officer arrived to the scene and he took what I`m quite sure he`s going to say is appropriate action, immediate action to save someone`s life.

And quite frankly to be honest with you, it is tragic what we saw. But he did have a responsibility there to protect that other woman, as he come up on that and we all saw that involved very quickly in 12 seconds right there.

So this is a tragedy however you -- you know, however, you look at it, and it`s unfortunate. And as we well know it`s happening right now in this very moment in which police and community are certainly at a great deal of odds. And we`re trying to find different ways in order to reform and reframe change policing practices and all those things as we go through this very difficult time at this moment in American history.

So it is very, very sad. And it would have been sad on any day, but it`s even tougher in this environment we`re in at this very moment.

O`DONNELL: One of the things I focus on in a shooting like this is why the four shots? We don`t yet know which of those shots was the fatal shot or if more than one of them was a fatal shot. But what about the first two shots being enough?

When we think of the invasion of the Capitol and we saw that one person who was shot by police, that was one bullet. Just fired one bullet and that police officer stopped after the one bullet, reconsidered the situation after one bullet and didn`t fire anymore.

There seems to be a police tendency to -- to over-fire, to fire more bullets than seem necessary under the circumstances.

ALEXANDER: Well, you know, that`s an ongoing debate. And certainly for citizens, it`s one in which they ask that question. Why wasn`t one shot enough, two shots, three shots, et cetera? But I cannot speak for this officer. It is an ongoing investigation, so let me speak in generalities around this when shots are fired.

When officers are engaged in a high stressful situation, any high stressful situation, they are trained generally to double tap, one, two, assess, one, two. But when you`re stressed under those type of conditions it`s not impossible to pull that trigger more than once or twice.

So I can`t account for his actions. So here again I`m speaking in generalities around this. But each one of those shots he fired he`s going to have to account for those during this investigation in terms of why he took the action that he did.

And I think we can see from the video and even though we don`t want to judge this case out here, but we can see from the video a threat or a stabbing that certainly looked like it was about to take place right there in front of all of us.

So this is very tragic. And here again it comes at a very, very tough time in American policing.

O`DONNELL: Yes, the timing is so grim and difficult.

A question came up for the police chief today in his press conference that comes up I think fairly frequently in these things by people who don`t have a lot of experience with them. And that is why not shoot for the legs? Why not shoot for the arms?

And, of course, that comes from the Hollywood images of sharp shooters with revolvers, which are the least accurate firearms ever made. You know, just doing these kinds of shootings that doesn`t happen, can`t happen. And, of course, most police bullets fired in the line of duty miss their targets completely.

When officers are on the run like that, the possibility of trying to pick out a limb as opposed to the body mass is -- is impossible, and everyone within the police world knows it.

But how would you explain that to people about why officers cannot make that choice or that attempt to, oh, I`m just going to try to wound by shooting the leg?

ALEXANDER: Well, generally, that does not work. Certainly, it worked in the movies, but in real life it does not work. We`re all trained to shoot center mass to stop the threat. And by doing so, you increase the chance of hitting your target.

If you or I, Lawrence, were shooting for someone say in their arm or leg, we very well could miss. And that attacker could still do the harm in which they intended to do.

So it is a question that oftentimes comes up. But here`s what I`ve always said we have to do in policing today. We`re going to have to explain to the American people why we do what we do, why procedurally, why we fire "X" number of shots. Why do we aim center mass? Because what is happening, Lawrence, people are asking for more accountability. So they`re seeing and observers and asking these questions because for a long time, police have operated in this kind of clandestine environment where we just do what we do but we don`t have to explain it.

But today, what the American people are saying I want you to explain to me why you fired so many shots. I want you to explain to me why you shoot center mass. It`s not necessarily people are going to oppose you, but when people have an understanding of why you do what you do under certain circumstances, when these events do occur, people find themselves a little more educated about these things. And oftentimes when we write policies, it becomes important that our community is there to be part of that.

O`DONNELL: Cedric Alexander, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

ALEXANDER: Thank you for having me, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, if you`ve had your two vaccination shots or the Johnson & Johnson shot will you eventually need another shot? That is the question facing Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Biden administration. Dr. Ashish Jha will join us next.


O`DONNELL: Today President Biden announced that his administration has reached his goal of administering 200 million vaccine shots days ahead of schedule.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today we hit 200 million shots in the 92nd day in office. 200 million shots in 100 days -- in under 100 days actually. It`s an incredible achievement for the nation, and here`s the context. You know, at the pace we`re moving when I took office, it would have taken us more than 220 days, almost 7.5 months to reach 200 million shots.


O`DONNELL: Dr. Anthony Fauci explained on Sunday how the federal government will decide whether a vaccine booster shot is needed.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We`ll look at the durability of the response, namely measure the antibodies. We`ll get hopefully soon a good correlate of immunity. And if the correlate goes down and you see it starts to slope down you could project when it`s going to be so low that you might have a danger of having breakthrough infections. When that happens clearly you`re going to see a recommendation for a boost.

The other thing is you might start seeing more breakthrough infections that go beyond the level of the efficacy of the vaccine. And then you might also make a decision to do it.

I think by the end of the summer, the beginning of the fall, though, we`ll have a pretty good idea whether we`ll need to boost.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Doctor, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Well, I`m sitting here now with two shots of Moderna in me, feeling fine. When might I need another, and when -- how long is this going to last? How long are my two shots going to cover me?


I too am sitting here with two shots of Moderna feeling quite good. And my best guess is that I might need a booster next year. We don`t know for sure. As Dr. Fauci said there`s a lot to sort out.

The science on this is not clear. But the evidence so far says these vaccines have a very strong level of protection at six months. I would not be surprised if it lasts us at least a year.

But it is possible that for the first of couple of years of this pandemic we`re going to need annual booster shots. And you don`t for sure. Small chance it`ll be earlier, but that`s my best guess.

O`DONNELL: Do we already have information about that slope downward THAT Dr. Fauci was talking about? For example, if it`s 95 percent when it`s relatively fresh, say a month after you`ve gotten the shot. Does that effectiveness -- how long does it take for it to slope down to say 90 percent?

DR. JHA: Yes. it doesn`t quite -- it`s not like we lose a little bit of effectiveness every day or every week. What happens is we have plenty of antibodies. We will -- they will slowly go down, and they will come a level below which you just won`t have the same 95 percent protection anymore.

And we don`t know what that level is. We have not seen any evidence that you hit that six months and that`s why I said my guess is we`re going to get to a year, but we don`t know.

But I don`t have any reason to believe that someone six months out is any less protected than someone who`s only a month out.

O`DONNELL: Because the way people are talking about this in the real world is they`re thinking about travel plans, for example, and they`re thinking, well, you know, I got my shot two weeks ago and they start to plan travel. As people have been discussing planning travel farther in advance, this is just in my conversational bubbles, they start to worry, oh, wait, will this vaccine still be good for that trip in September?

DR. JHA: Yes. So what I`m saying to folks is don`t worry about the summer, it`ll be good. Don`t worry about much of the fall. It`ll be good.

Again, it`s probably early to middle of next year that most people will have to start thinking about this. But you know, we get the flu shot every year. And that`s not a huge deal. And I think I would not be surprised if we`re going to need a COVID shot.

Here`s the one way in which we could end up needing something sooner. If the variants really start causing a lot of breakthrough infections -- yes, we`re seeing a little bit of it, it`s not bad. But if that really picks up, then I can imagine people needing a booster to deal with the variants and that could come sooner.

But if you`re planning anything for this calendar year I think you should feel reasonably confident at this moment that you`ll be able to do that without needing a booster.

O`DONNELL: And what about vaccinating children?

DR. JHA: Yes, I think we`re making good progress on that, Lawrence. Look, right now the 16 and 17-year-olds are allowed on Pfizer. I expect over the next four to six weeks to hear from the FDA about 12 to 15-year-olds. Pfizer`s already filed an authorization for that.

The big question is kids under 12 and there we really don`t know. We`re just doing the studies right now. It could easily be end of summer or fall. It could even be later than that.

At this point that`s much harder to project, but I`m pretty confident by the time we`re in the summer, 12 and above we should be able to vaccinate.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you very much for authorizing my travel planning tonight. Really appreciate it. And it`s always great to have you join us.

DR. JHA: Absolutely.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

DR. JHA: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And coming up in tonight`s episode of "In The Room", we will be joined by Congressman Raul Ruiz who was in the room, the Oval Office yesterday in the first visit of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the White House in a very, very long time -- like one whole presidency.

That`s next.


O`DONNELL: Here`s something that never happened during the Trump presidency. Yesterday President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with members of the Congressional Hispanic caucus in the Oval Office. Our next guest was in the room when the president said this.


BIDEN: America in our view (INAUDIBLE) cannot succeed unless Hispanic families succeed. The idea that we`re not going to invest in what will be roughly 25 percent of the population by the time these kids are in our positions just absolutely makes no sense. And that`s what we`re all about.


Today White House press secretary Jen Psaki said this about immigration reform.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is President Biden potentially open to doing immigration reforms through reconciliation?

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, this is another area where the president looks both at history -- also past history and also recent history and sees that there has been bipartisan support. There is bipartisan support for example on the Dreamers and moving forward there.

His view is that right now this should not be -- that the conversation should not be about a reconciliation process. It should be about moving forward in a bipartisan manner.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Raul Ruiz of California. He`s chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Congressman Ruiz is also a physician and a public health expert.

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

So what was it like to be in the room after several years now of not being allowed in that room?

REP. RAUL RUIZ (D-CA): It was quite incredible, Lawrence, to really be in the Oval Office with the president of the United States. And especially a president of the United States such as President Biden who truly genuinely cares about Hispanic Americans in our country, something that we haven`t had in over four years with the last administration.

O`DONNELL: And what was on the agenda? Immigration reform and what else?

RUIZ: Well, we talked about how can we improve the lives of Hispanic Americans throughout the entire country. So we talked about the most pressing issue right now which is vaccine equity. We talked about health care disparities and the need of more doctors in medically underserved areas.

We talked about the American jobs plan and the American families plan and being able to help our middle class families by permanently expanding the child tax credit, by giving the subsidies for child care as well as increasing housing vouchers and making that mandatory over the next ten years.

So -- and we also talked about how can we prevent white supremacists from joining our military, federal law enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security. So there were very robust conversations about policy including immigration.

O`DONNELL: Did you have suggestions about screening for that, for people joining the military?

RUIZ: Well, there`s a lot of recommendations already by the Department of Defense, seven in fact. Six of those have been implemented. We want all seven to be implemented including codified into law, and we want those extended into the federal law enforcement as well as the Department of Homeland Security.

For example, identifying tattoos and symbols that resemble white supremacy affiliations. So these are very important as we combat the racial injustice and brutality against targeted minorities.

O`DONNELL: Was there an agreed upon strategy for the legislative approach to immigration reform?

RUIZ: Yes. The agreed-upon strategy is that we need to get the Senate to pass the Farm Work Force Modernization Act, as well as the Dream and Promise Act. We passed that out of the house. We need the Senate to do it. So we really need ten senators to do that.

And we`re going to move the U.S. Citizenship Act which will fix our broken immigration system, increase our economy. A study showed that in ten years we can increase GDP by $1.4 trillion, create two million more jobs as well as increase the cumulative American income by $791 billion. So this is an economic push now.

In the case we cannot do it through the normal process and if we need to do a budget reconciliation -- if we need to do the budget reconciliation, then the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will make its case to the parliamentarian that this indeed is an economic benefit, a budgetary benefit for the American people.

O`DONNELL: Our next guest after you leave us is a constituent of yours, as you know, Elizabeth Esteban. She was your guest at the last State of the Union address, and that was the second time in her life that she traveled in an airplane to go to Washington. What was that like to bring her to the Capitol that night?

RUIZ: Well, it was so special for me because I also grew up in a farm worker community with farm worker parents. And she`s a child of farm workers and grew up in poverty and who was advocating for environmental justice in a part of my district that has suffered so much from arsenic in their water, from mulch fires in illegal recycling plants that have never been permitted near the poor communities. And she really stood up for her community.

And after the State of the Union she helped me organize testing in the (INAUDIBLE) to reach communities with the farm workers. She volunteered at vaccination clinics with Biden`s retail pharmacy programs that I helped coordinate with local community members.

And so she`s really been a champion of the community, and given her history, her resiliency, her grit, her determination, her passion and her dreams I have no doubt that any university is going to be proud to call her an alumnus, and she`s going to accomplish great things for our country.

O`DONNELL: Well, she will join us next. Congressman Raul Ruiz, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

RUIZ: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And you will meet Elizabeth Esteban and hear her amazing story tonight. She will get tonight`s LAST WORD.


O`DONNELL: For 17-year-old Elizabeth Esteban, Harvard University was a distant dream -- 2,800 miles from her home in California but a world away from the community she grew up in speaking the tribal language of Purepacha (ph), the language of her parents, immigrants from Mexico who work in California`s agricultural fields.

Elizabeth Esteban lives in a mobile home with her parents and her younger sister and brother. Elizabeth was concerned about applying to Harvard College because she thought she couldn`t possibly afford to go there but most Harvard students are on financial aid and pay only a portion of the tuition or none at all.

Harvard`s financial aid system is based exclusively on the financial need of the student and is designed to make sure that students do not have to graduate with any burdensome student loans.

Elizabeth Esteban did not know all of that when earlier this month on a day when her Internet service was working at home she opened an email and discovered she`d been accepted into the Harvard class of 2025.




ESTEBAN: I got accepted.


O`DONNELL: And then, another email came that said she would receive a full scholarship to attend Harvard. Perhaps inspired by her congressman, Raul Ruiz, who brought her to the last State of the Union address, Elizabeth wrote, "I plan to run for Congress and in the future my ultimate goal is to run for office to become president of the United States. Crazy, some may say."

Not a bit crazy and I ask you to remember when you go into the voting booth some day and see the name Elizabeth Esteban on the ballot, please remember that you met her here tonight on THE LAST WORD.

And joining us now this year`s valedictorian at Desert Mirage High School, Elizabeth Esteban. She is now a member of the Harvard class of 2025. Elizabeth, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We are really glad you`re here.

What did it feel like when you got that email with that acceptance to Harvard?

ESTEBAN: I felt every emotion because I wasn`t expecting it. I was really expecting a rejection letter. And when I saw in bold letters "congratulations" it was just -- it meant the world to me.

O`DONNELL: And then the other good news that you got which was that Harvard will cover -- you won`t have any bills from Harvard whatsoever for all four years.

ESTEBAN: Yes. That was the most exciting news because my number one worry was not affording college. So knowing that I`m not going to have to worry about that and focus on my studies was just relieving.

O`DONNELL: And how did your parents react to this?

ESTEBAN: At first they didn`t understand the true meaning about getting a full ride. But then they were proud of me and they hugged me and told me you`re going to be able to accomplish all you goals if you go to Harvard.

O5; You know, Elizabeth, Harvard`s 385 years old and you got in in whatever everyone knows is the most difficult year ever because last year due to COVID many of the incoming freshmen took a gap year and are only going to come this year so there were very few seats, very few open slots for acceptances for this year -- fewer than ever, and you got one so it was even harder than it has been in the past.

ESTEBAN: Yes. Getting into college has been very complicated. As the years go by but I just want to tell the young people to just try it out and don`t live a life just regretting it and questioning what if I did try and what if I did get accepted.

O`DONNELL: And what about your younger brother and sister? Are they looking up to their big sister thinking maybe they can do something like that?

ESTEBAN: Yes. My brother already has what -- he already knows what he wants to do when he grows up. He wants to be a nurse and then become a doctor. So I`m really happy to be there and just guide them and help them out as well.

O`DONNELL: And I want to talk about the language that your parents speak. Their native language which is a tribal language from Mexico. There are maybe 200,000 people in the world now who speak that language. And you grew up with that.

And how has that -- how has growing up in your family created your view of life in this country?

ESTEBAN: Well, growing up in a community where most of my -- most of the people that live here are hard working farm workers and my parents implemented those values of working hard, be determined, respect everyone, it just helped me out and it actually made me mature even faster because I had them and they always taught me all those guidance growing up.

O`DONNELL: And so the first time you will see your college is when you show up to go to your college.

ESTEBAN: Yes, that`s right.

O`DONNELL: All right. Well, you might need some advice and I have somebody right here, Eli Rivas who like you from California, recent graduate of Harvard College. He works with me every day on this show.

He also got a scholarship to attend his four years of Harvard. He`s going to help you out with everything you need to know. He`s going to let you know where all the cool places are to hang out so your support system is already here.

ESTEBAN: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

O`DONNELL: Elizabeth Esteban, thank you very much for joining us tonight. This is really exciting for us to meet you.

Thank you.

ESTEBAN: Thank you for having me.

O`DONNELL: Elizabeth Esteban gets tonight`s LAST WORD.