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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 5/31/21

Guests: Joan Cephas, Kizzmekia Corbett, Matthew Mallory, Elizabeth Drew


President Biden continues pressing Congress on his legislative agenda, including voting rights, infrastructure and police reform. Democrats in Texas stop a voter suppression bill from passing in a dramatic walkout. Where does the U.S. stand in the battle against COVID-19? The developer of the Moderna vaccine, Dr. Kizzy Corbett, discusses beating the coronavirus one vaccination at a time.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I`m Lawrence O`Donnell here for a special two-hour edition of THE LAST WORD on this Memorial Day weekend.

Today, President Biden participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. President Biden was joined by first lady Jill Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to honor the men and women of the United States military.

President Biden lost his son Beau to brain cancer six years ago yesterday.

Here`s what President Biden said after the wreath-laying ceremony.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our son Beau`s service in the Delaware Army National Guard unit, the year he spent deployed in Iraq, was one of the things that he was most proud of in life.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of his death. And it`s a hard time, a hard time of year for me and our family, just like it is for so many of you. It can hurt to remember, but the hurt is how we feel and how we heal.

I always feel Beau close to me on Memorial Day. I know exactly where I need to be, right here, honoring our fallen heroes.


O`DONNELL: After the congressional Memorial Day recess, President Biden will be pressing Congress on his legislative agenda, including voting rights, infrastructure and police reform.

Here`s what Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said about the infrastructure negotiations yesterday.


PETE BUTTIGIEG, U.S. TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: Between now and when Congress comes back on June 7, this is not going to be a break for these conversations. The conversations will continue.

But, as the president so often says, inaction is not an option. And we really are facing some serious time pressure as we look to that week following this week, when Congress is going to be back in D.C.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Shannon Pettypiece, senior White House correspondent for NBC News Digital.

And, Shannon, what is the order, the sequential order, of the Biden legislative agenda when Congress comes back from recess?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, NBC DIGITAL SENIOR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Editorial here`s the timeline, at least as the White House sees it.

They are going to be having conversations this week back and forth between congressional staff, White House staff. Their goal is,by January 7, as you heard from Secretary Buttigieg there, they want to have -- quote -- "a clear path forward," so some agreement, some path forward on a piece of legislation.

The House has said they want to act by August -- I`m sorry -- by July 4, and then the Senate could pass something in August. That`s on the infrastructure front.

The White House Democrats know that everything they want might not be in that infrastructure bill if they are able to get some bipartisan deal. It might be infrastructure-lite. It might be looking like a big highways bill, not everything the president would like to see.

Then there is the reconciliation path that they can still do. They can do both. They can do infrastructure deal with Republicans, and then their own reconciliation package. So, that`s another track. And that is a long process. And it`s going to mean keeping all the Democrats united in order to get something through. But that`s another piece of the agenda.

There`s also police reform that is sort of on the front burner at this point. There`s been a lot of optimism on the Hill about being able to get something done on police reform in the coming weeks, probably not in the coming days, but in the coming weeks. So that is another piece that could come together legislatively.

Now, all of these pieces could fall through. Some of them could come together, or they could all wind up and the president could leave August, the Congress could leave for their summer recess with a number of big legislative wins that the president can check off on his legislative agenda.

O`DONNELL: And where is voting rights in the Biden legislative agenda, especially after what we`re seeing happen in Texas overnight?

PETTYPIECE: It`s -- obviously, it`s something the president has said over and over again is so important to him. He called this Texas bill that Democrats walked out on in the Texas legislature an assault on democracy.

He obviously feels very strongly about this. There`s only so much the White House can do, though, on that front. That is really up to Congress. And that is not an area where there is any sort of bipartisan coalescence around that topic.

There does not appear to be votes for a bipartisan deal. And unlike a reconciliation budget bill, you can`t get that through on 50 votes. You need to get 10 Democrats (sic) to come over in the Senate, and they don`t have that right now.

O`DONNELL: Shannon Pettypiece, thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

PETTYPIECE: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And joining our discussion now, Maria Teresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino and an MSNBC contributor. Also with us, Jonathan Alter, columnist for The Daily Beast and an MSNBC political analyst. He is the author of his very best, "Jimmy Carter: A Life." That is Jonathan Alter`s latest book, the latest of many.

Maria Teresa Kumar, Shannon Pettypiece has set it up for us, the Biden legislative agenda, beginning June 7, when Congress returns from this current week`s recess. It seems like infrastructure is their number one. And I don`t sense -- it`s hard to tell what they -- what they`re pushing after that.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think you`re absolutely right.

I think she mentioned also that they were going to try to push the police reform. And the most important piece of legislation right now that you highlighted, at the end of the day, was this idea of the For the People`s Act, reforming our electoral programs at the federal level, so that you don`t have a piecemeal approach that`s happening at the state level. But she`s not wrong. There`s Manchin and Sinema, who don`t want to go with the Democrats on that. So that`s an uphill battle.

So I think that, right now, what Biden and the White House are going to try to do is, they`re going to try to cut their losses and try to push an infrastructure bill. But there is a huge distance between the Republicans and the Democrats on this, because what Biden offered was a $1.2 trillion infrastructure that included some reforms at the social level. And the Republicans, what they`re trying to do is say, we don`t want any of that we want to repurpose a lot of the $900 million already -- excuse me -- $900 billion already in the budget, and just give you a quarter of a billion dollars for this other infrastructure.

But that doesn`t meet the moment we`re in, Lawrence. And what I mean by that is that what you saw, the first part of the budget that we saw, the Family Plan that we saw, the emergency jobs plan, that was all trying to make sure that we were in a state of emergency. We were trying to create a patchwork of COVID.

Now this infrastructure is trying to create a state of recovery, recognizing that we need to have continued impetus in our economy. Otherwise, we`re not going to get out of this rut we`re in that we`re presently seeing.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what the president`s Republican negotiating partner in the Senate, West Virginia`s Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, said yesterday about the infrastructure bill.


SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R-WV): I think we`re building those blocks towards a really good solid infrastructure package that has bipartisan support.

So we`re responding to what the president has said. He told me on the phone just day before yesterday, "Let`s get this done."

And I think that means that he has -- his heart is in this. We have had some back-and-forth with the staff, who have sort of pulled back a little bit, but I think we`re smoothing out those edges.


O`DONNELL: Jonathan Alter, as you know, in all of these -- this kind of legislation, the thing that usually blows it up is the pay-for. How do you pay for it?

And so far, all we know from the Republicans is that they are opposed to every pay-for idea that Joe Biden has, and the Republicans haven`t really advanced any real pay-for ideas.

When I spoke to the president two weeks ago, at that point, he said they hadn`t even discussed pay-for, which I kind of understand, because, as you know, that`s the last thing. And it`s usually the thing that breaks it all apart when you`re dealing with Democrat and Republican negotiations.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the first thing to understand, Lawrence, is it`s not going to break all apart. There will be an infrastructure bill this summer. I believe there will actually be two bills, one that is a bipartisan measure that mostly relates to physical infrastructure, roads and bridges.

The Republicans are now on the defensive. They`re the party of fiscal irresponsibility, which is a big change for them. They have no idea about how to pay for it. The Democrats want to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it.

So, the Republicans are going to be in a position where they need a bill, they need something to take back to their constituents beyond Mr. Potato Head and their cultural kinds of issues, cancel culture issues. They have to bring home some bacon. So they have some real interest in doing what Trump couldn`t get done in all those infrastructure weeks, and actually having a roads and bridges bill.

That`s only a small portion of the infrastructure that Biden and the Democrats want. They want a lot of what you might call human infrastructure, extending the child tax credit, a series of really important measures to strengthen the social safety net, which is a form of infrastructure.

That will likely go through with 51 votes, reconciliation. But the big news, the good news is, this is happening one way or another. Because the Democrats have reconciliation, which they can use for any kind of infrastructure, they will get this. They might have to cut the numbers a little bit to please Joe Manchin, but there will be major legislation coming this summer that I would argue the American people are going to appreciate.

And that may well help the Democrats next year.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said about this.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): I think waiting any longer for Republicans to do the right thing is a misstep.

I would go forward. I would offer -- President Biden has a huge, bold agenda of so much he wants to do for the economy and the American people. Democrats should respond and vote together now through reconciliation to get it done, and then move on to the rest of the bipartisan agenda.


O`DONNELL: Maria Teresa, that`s kind of the way the Democrats always used to operate in the Senate when they were in power. And that is to publicly strategize about how to get this done, at variance, to some degree, with the president.

I mean, this is exactly what Chuck Schumer and President Biden have been hoping to limit. And I`m not saying Senator Gillibrand did anything wrong there at all. But what they don`t want is a bunch of voices, Democrats in the Senate, suggesting, here`s the strategy you should use, here`s what you should do, and build some kind of impatience around Joe Biden`s approach to this.

KUMAR: Well, I think you nailed it.

And what -- this particular White House has been incredibly disciplined in their messaging, both what`s happening on the White House and what`s been happening on the Senate side. And so to have this conversation so publicly makes for a bit of uncomfortableness, because there is movement.

I mean, you have heard the senator from West Virginia saying, look, I think we`re going to have something. Is it perfect, what the Democrats want? Probably not. But it doesn`t matter, because, at the end of the day, in the reconciliation process, that we mentioned earlier, if it is a 51-vote, and it`s the Democrats, and all of a sudden the Republicans in the different states receive the benefits, the Republicans are going to take credit for it anyway.

And perhaps that`s what Senator Gillibrand is trying to flag is saying, you`re going to give the Republicans all they need. And at the end of the day, the real hard work, the one that talks about the human infrastructure, that investment, that`s going to come from the Democrats, and the Republicans are going to walk away taking credit, even though they voted against it.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, it seems to me that President Biden wants to move on infrastructure first, get as much as he possibly can, if anything, in a bipartisan form.

And all of these exercises seem to have the subtext and sometimes the overt text of a lesson to Joe Manchin about the Senate cloture rule and how we cannot continue to live with it.


O`DONNELL: And so he -- it seems like the president is trying to do everything in the kind of order that Joe Manchin wants him to, so that, at some point, he can turn to him and say, on voting rights, for example, Joe, the 60-vote threshold for this means we will never be able to get it done. We have got to change that threshold for this.

ALTER: I think that`s exactly what is going on right now. A lot of this is an effort to essentially say to Joe Manchin, look, we`re going to go as far down the road with you as we can. We`re going to do it your way as long as we can.

But you have to recognize that this party, this Republican Party, does not want to play by the old rules, where they come together in the national interests.

And I was talking to a senior Democratic senator this past week, and he said a reckoning is coming on the filibuster. And Manchin, I think, was really taken aback by the fact that they used the filibuster to stop an investigation of the insurrection on 1/6, that commission, which was so much in the American tradition, what we did after Pearl Harbor, after the Kennedy assassination, after 9/11.

And the fact that the Republicans blocked that was a shock to Joe Manchin. You could tell from his comments he was sort of really disturbed by that. And so, even though it looks like his feet are set in concrete on the voting rights legislation -- and, by the way, he has his own bill, which is probably unconstitutional, which is a whole other question, but there is some room for compromise with Manchin`s bill.

And if it`s his bill that is facing this Republican filibuster, this Republican roadblock, maybe then he will really get the message. And Biden is very skillful at giving members of his own party and in the other party some time, let them legislate. Their muscles are atrophied in legislating. They went there to legislate.

So he wants to make them feel that they have been given their due. And that`s what`s going on right now. How it will end on voting rights, I`m not very optimistic on that or on immigration reform or the other things that cannot be done through reconciliation. You have a Republican Party that has gone into an obstructionist mode.

It`s a cult of personality party. And it`s very hard to do deals with people who are no longer in the reality community.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan Alter and Maria Teresa Kumar, thank you both very much for joining us on this special edition of THE LAST WORD on Memorial Day. Really appreciate it.

ALTER: Thanks, Lawrence.

KUMAR: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And coming up: Democrats in Texas stopped a voter suppression bill from passing in a dramatic walkout last night, denying the -- them a quorum in that party.

Today, the Texas Republican governor is threatening to call the legislature back in a special session, which could happen as soon as tomorrow.

That`s next.


O`DONNELL: Late last night, Democrats in Texas blocked Republican legislation with some of the most rigid and sweeping voting restrictions in the country.

Because the Texas legislature is controlled by Republicans, Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives walked out last night before a midnight voting deadline, which denied Republicans the quorum needed to vote on the legislation.

Here`s the Republican speaker of the Texas House last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A quorum is apparently not present. The point of order is well-taken and sustained.


O`DONNELL: The legislation Democrats blocked last night, Senate Bill 7, would add new restrictions on absentee voting, give more authority to partisan poll watchers, ban early voting on Sunday mornings, which is when many black churches encourage Souls to the Polls, immediately after Sunday morning services.

The bill would also reduce evidence requirements for overturning an election, ban drive-through voting and ban 24-hour voting, which was used for the first time in 2020 in Harris County, home to a growing number of Democratic voters.

The Republican governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, who is up for reelection next year, has said he will call a special session to get the bill passed.

Joining us now, NBC political correspondent Ali Vitali.

Ali, what`s the next move for Texas Republicans?

ALI VITALI, NBC NEWS POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what`s been really fascinating, Lawrence, is the ways in which Republicans and Democrats both have reacted today.

You mentioned that Governor Abbott is saying he`s going to call a special session. That`s because this is one of his top legislative priorities. We don`t know when exactly that special session is going to be. But, in the meantime, he has said that he`s going to veto one of the specific articles in the budget that the legislature passed, specifically saying no pay for those who abandon their responsibilities.

Democrats, in the meantime, have really been focused singularly on making sure that people know why they think this bill is so dangerous, and why they walked out on the House floor last night, so that the bill could not be voted on.

They`re focusing on things like what you mentioned, the impact that this could have by saying no early voting on Sunday mornings, which would directly impact efforts like Souls to the Polls, traditionally meant to get black voters out to their voting places, and done typically after they go to church.

They`re also taking aim, for example, at the language in this bill that would make it easier to overturn an election, really by raising the specter of fraud and lowering the bar for evidence there.

So, Democrats, including Texas Congressman Colin Allred earlier today, talking about how this is not business as usual, as far as Democrats see it. Listen.


REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): I think our democracy is at a tipping point.

What you just talked about here is overturning elections, stopping certain Americans from voting. That`s how you lose your democracy. We`re having a very sanitized conversation about this, pretending, so to speak, as if this is kind of Democrats or Republicans and the usual push and pull.

This is not usual. This is not normal.


VITALI: Democrats want to make the point here, Lawrence, that they say this is not normal.

But the reality is, this kind of legislation is being normalized by Republican lawmakers across the states. Florida and Georgia have actually gotten a lot of the coverage on this. But other states that we spent a lot of time talking about during our election coverage in 2020 are also moving bills that are similarly restrictive and sweeping, places like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona.

All of those places are now trying to look at what worked for Democrats in 2020, and then trying to target and restrict that. A lot of this, too, and it has to be mentioned, is steeped in the nationalization of politics when it comes to how former President Trump lied outright about what was happening on the ground, alleging fraud that did not exist.

And now Republicans in legislatures across the country are saying, we need to shore up an election system that was secure in 2020, but they`re continuing to lay the seeds of doubt about.

O`DONNELL: NBC`s Ali Vitali, thank you very much for your reporting on this tonight and for joining us. Really appreciate it.


O`DONNELL: And let`s take a look at what a state Representative, Texas state Representative Jessica Gonzalez said about this.


STATE REP. JESSICA GONZALEZ (D-TX): It`s a sweeping piece of legislation that we -- that was negotiated behind closed doors.

From the get-go, as being a member on the Elections Committee, we were silence, especially the Democrat women on the committee. We were silenced. Witnesses were silenced. There has been dishonest brokers in the entire process.


O`DONNELL: Representative Gonzalez will be joining us later in the program.

Joining us now is Elizabeth Drew, a political journalist and author. Her latest piece in Project Syndicate is titled "The Big Lie and Its Consequences."

And, Elizabeth, I just want to read this passage to the audience to set up this discussion.

You write in this article: "by demonstrating craven loyalty to Donald Trump, despite his lies about the 2020 election, the Republican Party is no longer simply playing for the base. By questioning the very integrity of America`s electoral system, it now represents an open threat to the U.S. constitutional order."

And so you -- you are making the point that this is a much larger thing than just trying to please Donald Trump and Trump followers.

ELIZABETH DREW, POLITICAL JOURNALIST: Lawrence, this may be the period, and we will look back not very far from now, and say, this was the period when our system of democratic elections was broken.

And I mean that literally. If enough people don`t believe that it works -- you have some 74 percent of Republicans who insists that Biden is not a legitimate president -- if you have that many people not believing it works, if we let -- if the courts -- and who knows about the Supreme Court -- if the court let these abhorrent state laws stand, then we don`t have a democratic system of elections.

So, then we don`t really have a democracy. Lawrence, you know this perfectly well. Congress passes laws and the president tries (AUDIO GAP). Isn`t that great?

The laws are not self-implementing. People have to obey them, respect them, and implement them. If you have enough people -- and we apparently had enough in 2020, and now still going on -- who don`t believe in it, who denigrate it, then we don`t have a democracy. They have destroyed the system. And that`s what I`m worried about.

We`re setting horrible precedents.

O`DONNELL: It seems that the most troubling aspects of these bills is what happens after people vote.

Yes, they are trying to put hurdles in front of specific voting groups who they think they know how to block, like block Souls to the Polls on Sunday morning. We know what they`re doing there.

But many of these bills contain provisions that basically make it relatively easy to overturn the results of an election that you don`t like. That`s the case in the Georgia legislation. And that`s part -- that`s what`s going on in this Texas legislation.

DREW: Well, that`s the danger, that they`re passing laws.

And they`re not very hard to understand. They are pretty obvious at what they`re aiming up. They`re -- various state, in a coordinated way, are passing laws that blatantly are stacked against blacks voting. They have been trying to do this for a long time.

And Republicans have been talking about voting fraud and all that for a long time. But Trump, who really doesn`t care -- he doesn`t care about the implications of what he`s doing. He doesn`t care if it wrecks the election system. He doesn`t care if a whole race gets discriminated against in a lot of large cities.

And the 2020 election was a lot closer than people think. Yes, Biden did very well in the popular vote. But, as the world knows by now, I hope, that`s not what`s counted at the end. It`s the electoral vote. And that was much more narrow. It was narrower than it was in 2016.

So, it`s not a sure thing that these kinds of actions won`t overturn the result of an election.

O`DONNELL: Elizabeth Drew, thank you very much for joining us tonight and sharing your perspective on this. Really appreciate it.

DREW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up: As we begin the summer holidays, 62 percent of eligible Americans have been vaccinated. What does that mean for summer travel and summer plans?

That`s next.


O`DONNELL: We`re just five weeks from President Biden`s deadline of vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July 4.

Our as of today, 62 percent of adults have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine, just as the United States is reporting the lowest number of coronavirus cases in more than a year.

In an interview with "The Guardian," Dr. Anthony Fauci warns of declaring victory prematurely. Dr. Fauci says: "We don`t want to declare victory prematurely because we still have a ways to go. But the more and more people that can get vaccinated as a community, the community will be safer and safer. As long as there is some degree of activity throughout the world, there`s always a danger of variants emerging and diminishing somewhat the effectiveness of our vaccines."

The United Kingdom is now in the beginning stages of what they`re calling a third wave in that country`s race between vaccination and the coronavirus variants.

According to "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "Variant identified in India is believed to be responsible for up to 75 percent of new cases in the U.K. and more transmissible than the previously dominant strain of the virus."

Fifty-eight percent of the British population has received at least one dose of vaccine.

Joining us now is Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious disease physician and director of Boston University`s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Policy and Research. She is an MSNBC medical contributor.

Dr. Bhadelia, how do you rate where America stands in dealing with this pandemic, as we begin the summer season, where people are hoping to resume normal summer activities?

DR. NAHID BHADELIA, NBC NEWS MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Lawrence, overall, we`re incrementally getting safer, as Dr. Fauci said.

You`re reading these great numbers, overall, over 60 percent. And the precaution here is that underlying that are two trends, interstate difference. There are states that are farther behind. States such as Louisiana, Mississippi, you`re seeing 30, 40 percent of the population with one dose.

And then you`re seeing intrastate differences, where you`re seeing some parts of even states like Massachusetts, for example, with high rates of vaccination, you may see, in Western Massachusetts, communities that have lower rates of vaccination, and you`re seeing trends where it might be communities that are having a harder time taking time off work to go get vaccinated, right?

And that`s work that we need to do to ensure to remove those barriers. And then there`s communities elsewhere in the country where, potentially, COVID was not considered as big a threat. And why would you take a vaccine now, when it was not considered a threat in the past? And that`s where education engagement in importance of the vaccine not just for individuals, but the entire community to be safer, is so going to be so necessary moving forward.

O`DONNELL: And going forward, will the recommendations for what vaccinated people can do be changing in any significant ways?

BHADELIA: Well, currently, I think the CDC recommendations are already great for -- if you`re vaccinated, you can travel. You can gather in groups. You don`t have to wear masks.

I think that the things that might affect whether or not those recommendations changes, as you again heard Dr. Fauci say, one, the rate of our own vaccination in this country and the appearance of new variants. You mentioned the U.K. situation.

Now, that`s an interesting one, because they`re about on par with us, a little ahead of us in vaccinations, and they`re seeing their cases go up again, and it is driven by this new variant that`s more transmissible, but that may also decrease the effectiveness, at least in people who`ve just gotten their one dose.

And that`s why the speed of vaccination here for us in the U.S. is going to be important, as much as the coverage is, because we have always been about a week or two behind the U.K., as you know, when these new variants appear.

O`DONNELL: President Biden has set another deadline that it probably was not part of their original plan to set, and that is this new 90-day deadline for an investigation of the origins of COVID-19, and might it have been from a laboratory leak in China?

And what does it -- what does it matter to us at this stage in terms of fighting this vaccine (sic)? What -- how does the origin matter now that we have vaccines that work against it?

BHADELIA: Well, you have made a very important point.

Immediately, in this fight, today, the important thing is that we get vaccines everywhere where there is possible to get the vaccines. And that`s where the big fight is for all of us to return to normalcy.

I -- the tough part here for me with the vaccine -- the conversation about the origins is how clouded this has become in politics. The question of could there have been a leak from the laboratory, the chances are -- is much smaller than the fact that this would have been a virus of natural origin.

However, it should be investigated. The thing that clouds it a little bit is that it`s clouded by domestic politics here in the U.S. and it`s also clouded by geopolitics on the international scene between U.S. and China WHO.

And my -- as a scientist, as a physician, the question is, how do we get to that scientific question and leave the politics behind? And that`s a very tough situation right now, when there`s such other bigger geopolitics that are involved.

O`DONNELL: And in terms of vaccine availability now in the country, have we reached that point where it is -- it is -- you could describe it as being so easy to get that all you`re up against now is people either having difficulty scheduling because of work or hesitancy?

BHADELIA: That`s right.

Availability here in the U.S. is going to be very high, to the point where the Kaiser Family Foundation actually says that, in their report, by the end of the year, the U.S., having vaccinated -- after vaccinating everybody over the age of 5, we will still have about a billion doses in surplus.

And so it`s really -- as you said, Lawrence is not availability. It`s now accessibility and people`s actual ability to want to get the vaccine. And that`s why I think recognizing and doing education around the fact that this is how we get to the other side, like, this is how we return to a normal summer is going to be so important for all of us.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, thank you very much for joining us once again. We always appreciate it.

BHADELIA: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And coming up: The developer of the Moderna vaccine, Dr. Kizzy Corbett, knows that the way to beat the coronavirus is one vaccination at a time.

And that is why she rushed off the stage after our MSNBC town hall to talk to Matthew Mallory, who had doubts about getting vaccinated. And that is why, when Matthew decided to get vaccinated with his mother, Dr. Corbett was there with them.

Our interview with them all is next.


O`DONNELL: Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett and her team at the National Institutes of Health spent years working on a vaccine for coronaviruses before COVID- 19 existed.

Kizzy Corbett was ready last January to quickly develop the vaccine model that Moderna used for their COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Corbett has already saved hundreds of millions of lives with the Moderna vaccine. And, sometimes, she has to do it one shot at a time.

Dr. Corbett met Matthew Mallory at MSNBC`s town hall, "Vaccinating America," three weeks ago, but was unable to convince him that night to get the vaccine. Then, a week later, Matthew and his mother, Dr. Joan Cephas, met Dr. Corbett at a Walgreens in Virginia, where Dr. Corbett watched as they both received the Moderna vaccine that she had helped develop.

Here`s our interview with Dr. Kizzy Corbett, Matthew Mallory, and Dr. Joan Cephas at the Walgreens that day.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Dr. Kizzy Corbett, Matthew Mallory, and Matthew`s mother, Dr. Joan Cephas, who is a doctor of educational psychology, joining us from Walgreens.

Kizzy, this is a very, very exciting day. I really wasn`t sure this was going to happen.

What`s it like for you? You`re vaccinating America one shot at a time. And this was a big conversion for you.

DR. KIZZMEKIA CORBETT, DEVELOPED MODERNA VACCINE: You know, every single time someone decides to be vaccinated, it is extremely exciting for me. I will never get tired of hearing that people have made the choice to be vaccinated.

And, moreover, whatever my voice can be the beacon of that change, I am so happy. I`m thankful for Matthew and his mom for coming out today. And, of course, I was so thrilled to come all the way to Virginia to make sure that it happened.

O`DONNELL: Matthew, how do you feel?


O`DONNELL: So, Kizzy obviously chased you down in the theater right after the town hall.


O`DONNELL: I was following.


O`DONNELL: And you and I were out on the sidewalk afterwards. And in our final exchange, you told me that you don`t like needles.

And I used to not like needles either, but I told you that I did not even feel it when I got my Moderna injection. And I know there was no reason for you to believe me.

So, how did it feel for you when you actually -- you don`t like needles, but you got the needle today. How did that feel?

MALLORY: Oh, it felt good. Like you said, I felt the same thing. I didn`t feel anything at all. It was over and done with before I even know it.

O`DONNELL: Yes, that was my experience with it.

And, Dr. Cephas, what did you experience in getting the vaccine today?

DR. JOAN CEPHAS, RECEIVED MODERNA VACCINE: It was very easy for me. I didn`t feel the needle at all. It went by very quickly.

O`DONNELL: So, Dr. Cephas, I have a question for you about Dr. Corbett.

And you are a doctor of educational psychology, so please rate for me the educational psychology that Dr. Corbett used on your son and you to get you into that Walgreens today.


CEPHAS: Well, I looked at the town hall meeting, and I was very impressed with the information that was being shared by Dr. Corbett.

And after talking to my son Matthew after the show, that was what really inspired me to go ahead and get the vaccine.

O`DONNELL: Now, Dr. Cephas, we -- Kizzy and I know about Matthew`s reluctance.

Why were you reluctant or, why did you take this long to get the vaccine? .

CEPHAS: I was listening to some of the conspiracy theories and just not really for sure the effectiveness of the vaccine.

So, after I got more information, became more educated, and Dr. Corbett really inspired me to get the vaccine.

O`DONNELL: Now, you just listened to Dr. Corbett on the town hall and then today, when you met her at Walgreens, that`s the first time you have had a chance to talk to her beyond what you heard in the town hall; isn`t that right?

CEPHAS: That`s correct.


And so would you say Dr. Corbett was the key to convincing you to get this vaccine?

CEPHAS: She -- yes, Dr. Corbett was the key, because she was the key to convince my son to get it. So it was like a snowball effect. She convinced my son to get it, and it snowballed to me for me to get it.

O`DONNELL: Kizzy, what have you learned about reluctance, and have you learned anything new about reluctance in talking to Matthew and his mother?

CORBETT: You know, Lawrence, one of the things that I found in the last I guess you can say six months, as I`ve talked to people all over the country, mostly virtually, around their reluctance or inquisitiveness with this vaccine is that you really do need that person that`s going to chase you down after a town hall to make sure that your questions are answered.


CORBETT: And that is what I feel like my purpose is with Matthew and his mother, and beyond, actually.

It is very important for us to make sure again and again that we listen to people and that we leave no question unanswered regarding their questions around the vaccine.

O`DONNELL: Matthew, when you went home from the town hall, what did you tell your mother about it? How did the two of you discuss this?

MALLORY: We talked about how was the -- my experience was going to the town hall.

I let her know that I got a lot of information about the vaccine, and which kind of pushed me over the edge of going -- going ahead and saying, yes, I`m going to go ahead and do it.

O`DONNELL: And, Dr. Cephas, was there anything in particular that Matthew said that drew you closer to this decision?

CEPHAS: As we discussed what happened at the town hall and the information that he gathered from attending the town hall, we`ve talked about how that we like to travel.

And one of my motivating factors in getting the vaccine was that I love to travel, and it became very evident to me that, in order to travel, it`s almost being mandated to get the vaccine.

So, that was a motivating factor. And that`s how we came to the decision. And I shared with Matthew that, if he would get the vaccine, I would get the vaccine. We would do it as a pair.

O`DONNELL: How easy or difficult was it to find an appointment to get the vaccine?

MALLORY: The appointment was very easy.

I was able to come down to my local pharmacy, give them my information, and they were able to get me -- get -- educating me how everything will go. It was very easy.

O`DONNELL: And, Kizzy, how much difference does it make, in your experience, the degree of difficulty in making the appointment?

CORBETT: It makes so much of a difference.

You know, I`m from rural North Carolina, so I understand what accessibility to getting vaccinated looks like. And it is so helpful that there are about 20,000 pharmacies around that country that are now taking walk-in appointments.

People can look up their local pharmacies on And about 90 percent of people in this country live within five miles of a pharmacy to get the vaccine. And so, as accessibility becomes easier, we hope to get more people vaccinated.

O`DONNELL: Matthew, six weeks from now, you are free to travel safely.

Four weeks from now, you`ll get your second shot. Two weeks after that, you`re considered fully vaccinated. Where do you want to go when -- if you can travel in six weeks?


MALLORY: Well, actually, I already have a trip planned. I`m planning to go to Jamaica.


And, Dr. Corbett, I think you have a family relationship with Jamaica?

CORBETT: I do. I do. I do.

My brother-in-law is from Jamaica. So, I`m very excited that Matthew`s going to be able to experience Jamaica. And I just -- I told him that I`m going to hop in his suitcase, because I need a break.


O`DONNELL: Kizzy Corbett is a part of your life now.

So -- so, Matthew...

MALLORY: Yes, sir.

O`DONNELL: ... what would you want -- what do you want to say to Kizzy today?

She worked years and years to develop this vaccine. She worked very hard, more than overtime, when COVID-19 hit, figuring out exactly how to build the vaccine that you got today, the Moderna vaccine.

What do you want to say to her about the work she`s done?

MALLORY: I want to say, thank you.


MALLORY: You`re very much appreciated. Your hardworking efforts is definitely paying off. You`re saving the world.

CORBETT: Thank you. Thank you for being vaccinated.


CORBETT: That is really it, right?

There`s -- I could have made a vaccine, and then, if no one took it, then it wouldn`t even matter.

And so it`s really -- at this point, the duty is on the people who are being vaccinated. So, thank you.

O`DONNELL: Kizzy, what would you like to ask Matthew and Joan at this point in their experience?

CORBETT: You know, I just want to -- in the same way that you got your information and you transferred it to your mom, I just want to make sure that, if people ask you questions about the vaccine, that you are transparent and that you are honest, and that you remind people of all the information that you got that day in the town hall...


CORBETT: ... so that we can keep this snowball effect rolling and continue to get people vaccinated in the same way.

O`DONNELL: Matthew, what are you going to tell your friends and family if they are wondering about getting the vaccine?


MALLORY: Go ahead and get it done. It`s not that bad.

And go ahead and get it done. It`s not that bad.

O`DONNELL: Not that bad. That`s the -- that`s the review so far.

Matthew Mallory, I cannot thank you enough...

MALLORY: Yes, sir.

O`DONNELL: ... first, of all for coming to the town hall. You have been a great lesson for so many millions of people now.

Dr. Joan Cephas, Matthew`s mother, thank you very much for joining him to day.

And, Dr. Kizzy Corbett, we will never, ever be able to thank you enough. But I`m going to thank you once again for joining us and doing this today.

Dr. Kizzy Corbett, thank you very much. Thank you all. We really appreciate this.

CORBETT: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: This has been a great day. Thank you very much.

CORBETT: Thank you.

MALLORY: Thank you.

CEPHAS: Thank you.

MALLORY: Thank you.


O`DONNELL: We have much more ahead in the next hour, including Texas State Representative Jessica Gonzalez, who will join us on the Democrats stopping a voter suppression bill in Texas last night.

She will be our first guest when our coverage continues in the next hour.