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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 6/18/21

Guests: Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, Jessica Gonzalez, Xochitl Hinojosa, Betsey Stevenson, Peter Welsh, Trevon Logan

Summary

Vice President Kamala Harris visits ground zero of GOP voter suppression and meets with Democratic leaders and voting rights advocates who raised concerns about state legislation around voting. The Republican Party is showing little interest when it comes to bipartisanship on infrastructure and voting rights. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasts Sen. Joe Manchin`s bipartisan proposal. It doesn`t get as much attention as Republican voter suppression efforts but blue states are doing some good things to expand voter access, even a blue state with a Republican governor.

Transcript

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I have just double-checked, triple checked. It is in fact Friday so, good-bye. I will see you again on Monday. Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. Have yourself the first -- a great first official Juneteenth and let`s make note of this day in history, that there`s been Juneteenth celebrated for many years, but this is the first time we`re doing it as a federal holiday which I think is exciting. You have yourself a great weekend. We`ll see you next week.

MADDOW: Thanks, Ali. Thanks.

VELSHI: All right. Do you hear that sound? It`s fate, maybe too fate for some ears. It`s the sound of a little bit of hope because it`s been a week of action and a week of substantive breakthroughs in the fight to protect American rights to vote. And Democrats are hoping to build on that momentum.

In her first full week as the Biden administration`s top voting rights advocate, Vice President Kamala Harris has been busy. She`s traveled to Atlanta, ground zero in the Republican effort to subvert democracy to meet with Georgia`s new Democratic senators, congresswoman Nikema Williams and voting rights advocates to discuss ways to combat the state`s GOP voter suppression activities. One of the advocates who was in that meeting will join us in a moment, but here`s how the vice president described the meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a birthplace of the civil rights movement in America. And you have leaders who stand on the shoulders of those who came before who are active in fighting for all people`s rights. So, we talked about, for example, the need that rural voters have, to make sure that it`s going to be easy enough for them to vote. We`ve talked about our Americans with disabilities, and making sure that we have laws in place, and protections in place, so that people can vote without having these impediments that are unnecessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: It was the vice president`s third event this week focused on protecting the right to vote in Republican-led states. On Monday, Vice President Harris met with voting rights activists in South Carolina, and on Wednesday she met in Washington with more than a dozen Texas Democrats who blocked GOP backed voter restrictions. One of those Texas Democrats will also join us in just a moment.

Well, the administration is serious about protecting the right to vote at the state level and Democrats in statehouses believe the best way to do that is to protect the right to vote at the federal level. Some of the same Texas Democrats secured a last minute meeting with Senator Joe Manchin in an effort to win his support for federal protections on the same day that he released a list of proposed changes to the For the People Act.

The Democrats` massive elections bill that would have his support for that very legislation. In what was arguably the biggest breakthrough of the week, Stacey Abrams came out in support of the Manchin compromise soon after he released it. Today, former Democratic Congressman Beto O`Rourke also praised the Manchin plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: What do you think about this compromise that Joe Manchin is proposing?

BETO O`ROURKE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is progress. This is a step in the right direction. You mentioned it protects mail-in voting. It protects early voting for two weeks. It would end gerrymandering. It would make Election Day a national holiday. Those are four very major pieces of the original For the People Act proposal, and so I`m really pleased to see Senator Manchin agree to do this, and I think we may have an agreement that the Senate can move forward on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: As "The New York Times" frames it, the growing support for Manchin`s proposal reflects a "significant goal for Democrats; uniting the party around what it has billed as its highest priority and showing, were it not for Republican opposition and the filibuster, the elections overhaul would become law."

Would become law. Remember when I said I heard the faint sound of hope? Here`s why it`s so faint. Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear that he will denounce any legislation that protects or bolsters the right to vote when he condemned the Manchin plan as being rotten.

"The Times" explains, "Though some Republicans had previously expressed willingness to talk to Mr. Manchin about a potential elections compromise, it seems impossible to imagine even a few let alone 10 of them siding with Democrats on a measure that was eliciting such wrath.

And so it goes, Republicans who might support the Manchin compromise are still expected to fall in line behind Mitch McConnell even if that means that democracy suffers. It`s disappointing to read the framing of that article, to think that it`s just expected that 10 Republicans would never support or acknowledge the value of a compromise from the Senate`s most moderate and aisle crossing member.

But far from giving up hope, Democrats are in fact pushing forward. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is preparing the For the People Act for a vote in the Senate next week possibly as early as Tuesday. It seems the calculation is this. Even if 10 Republicans don`t support the legislation, Schumer wants every American to know that there`s just one party willing to protect the right to vote in America and it is not the party of Mitch McConnell.

Leading off our discussions tonight, Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood, the executive director of the Asian-American Advocacy Fund. She attended today`s meeting in Georgia with Vice President Harris. And Texas state Representative Jessica Gonzalez. She was part of the delegation on Capitol Hill this week who met with Senator Manchin and with Vice President Harris. Good evening, both of you.

Let me ask -- let me start with you, Representative Harris. You had a chance to meet with Vice President Harris. You also got in to meet with Joe Manchin at some point as well to express some of the on the ground concerns. In both of those meetings, I suspect you were telling them about the things that are happening in places like Texas, the things on the ground that they may not be as clear on in a federal level.

JESSICA GONZALEZ, STATE REPRESENTATIVE (D-TX): Yes. I mean, it was more of a listening, you know, kind of discussion. I mean, it was a lot of back and forth conversation. You know, and it lot of it was just really just kind of explaining what`s going on here in Texas and the importance of us having, you know, a federal law that`s going to come in and protect places like Texas.

And so I feel like it was a very productive conversation. I feel like there was, you know -- we talked about several ideas as far as like how for Texas to move forward. And the same thing, you know, as other states that are experiencing the same situation right now.

VELSHI: Aisha, what about your conversation? Because while Texas has a particular situation going on, as Vice President Harris said, Georgia was ground zero for this, both the effort to get people out to vote and the renewed efforts to stop people from voting.

AISHA YAQOOB MAHMOOD, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ASIAN AMERICAN ADVOCACY FUND: Yes, thank you so much. We discussed about it in the meeting as Georgia being the ground zero for both voter turnout and the ground zero for voter suppression. And I think that is why it`s so important that the vice president came to Georgia this week to talk to us about voting rights.

For us, we talked about the importance of protecting no excuse absentee voting. We talked about the importance of being able to provide access to resources, to county elections boards, so that they can do the important work it takes to make sure that our voters have the right to get out.

Whether it`s providing additional accommodations for voters with disabilities, providing language access so voters can make sure that they are able to vote in their own language and making sure that county elections officials, volunteers, poll workers are protected against the attacks we`ve been seeing against them here in Georgia.

VELSHI: One of the things, Representative Gonzalez, that the White House is looking at doing through the vice president and with the president is taking to the bully pulpit to sort of send this message out to Americans, if they can`t make it work in the United States Senate and it`s looking like this as increasingly difficult, they`re going to let Americans understand this.

It sort of a similar situation you got in Texas, right? You got limited tools available to you in the Texas legislation, but you have taken a stand and you are hoping that the public backs you in that stand. That the public understands why Democrats in the Texas state house did what they did and had to walk out in order to prevent these restrictions from coming into place.

GONZALEZ: Yes, I mean, absolutely. You know, the vice president made it very clear that the administration is not only focused on a federal solution but also closely tracking what is happening at a state level. And so I think it`s important that, you know, the country understands that this is a coordinated effort, a coordinated -- and we see these kinds of things happening all across the country.

And folks need to understand that that there`s places like Texas that, you know, although there (inaudible) a bipartisan effort and to try to pass the For the People Act, that`s not necessarily the case here in Texas. And so, we need some kind of intervention here. We need Congress to do something because here in Texas it`s not going to happen in a bipartisan manner.

VELSHI: Aisha, what can we done in a place like Georgia which has been such a trendsetter in how you get the vote out in the face of these potential increased impediments to voting? What do you, people like you specifically who are on the ground talking to communities, what do you do to offset that?

MAHMOOD: Well, we do what we`ve been doing for the last so many years. We work in coalition with all of the other voters that represent what it is to be a Georgian. We work with other black and brown organizers to make sure that our communities are educated. We`re at the polls doing election protection. We`re speaking out at county boards of elections.

And right now we`re gearing up for an ugly redistricting fight where we know Republicans are going to try to take more power away from our voters. Honestly, we understand that time is of the essence and we made that very clear today in the meeting with the vice president and to our senators.

But we also know that in Georgia, we`re used to these fights and we`ll continue to fight and make sure that we can protect our right to vote. Not just next year, but we have some very important municipal elections coming up this fall. And so, we`re running up against the clock, but I know that our community organizers, our organizations, our activists and our voters are ready for the fight.

VELSHI: That`s a good attitude, a good way to look at it. Jessica Gonzalez, what does it look like in Texas? What happens next with this standoff that you`re in?

GONZALEZ: You know, and I will add that it`s one thing that the vice president did recognize is that the broad coalition at as us as Texas Democrats were able to bring together to really put Texas -- and we thank the administration for putting Texas in national spotlight on this issue.

But she did recognize the fact that the broad coalition we brought together to make this happen, and a lot of it is bringing us together, these other states that are experiencing the same issues that Texas is experiencing right now, and to call on other states, other legislators who are experiencing the same thing that we are, and we need to come together to show the country what`s going on here.

And so that really gives me hope that we`re going to be okay. And we just got to continue galvanizing and just continue talking about these issues because, you know, our country`s at stake if we don`t.

VELSHI: Well, if the two of you who are steeped in this fight have hope and think we`re going to be okay, I`ll take that. That`ll be my cue to end the conversation and leave us with that faint idea of hope. Thanks to both of you for being with us. Texas State Representative Jessica Gonzalez and Aisha Yaqoob Mahmood. Thank you both.

Coming up, as some Democrats keep advocating for a bipartisan infrastructure bill or say a few more Republican senators to vote for an independent commission on January 6th, is it worth asking who is bipartisanship for? That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: New video released under court order provides a chilling look at the danger and chaos that occurred at the Capitol on January 6th. Be warned, this video is disturbing.

(VIDEO PLAYING)

VELSHI: All right, that man you were looking at, Thomas Webster. He`s a Marine Corps veteran and a former New York City police officer who remains in custody on seven federal charges. One political party in this country wants to know what led people like Thomas Webster, a police officer, to assault police officers, invade the Capitol and attack our democracy.

The other party, they don`t want to know what happened because it might make their former leader look bad. In leaked audio published by the "Intercept," Senator Joe Manchin recently told donors, "I need to find three more Republicans, good Republican senator that will vote for the commission to investigate January 6th. So at least we can tamp down where people say, well, Republicans won`t even do the simple lift, common sense of basically voting to do a commission that was truly bipartisan."

But can we truly have bipartisanship on meaningful legislation with today`s GOP? This week, we saw performative displays of bipartisanship. On Tuesday, Vice President Harris hosted 21 of the 24 female senators for dinner at her residence. On Thursday, members of Congress posed for the annual Seersucker Day photo.

But these symbolic displays mean little when Democrats are dealing with an opposing party that will only make the performative gestures, discarding substantive action. Case in point, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell dismissing Senator Manchin`s efforts to gain bipartisan support on voting rights legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I`ve taken a look at all these new state laws, and none of them are designed to suppress the vote. There`s no rational basis for the federal government trying to take over all of American elections in what is an extraordinarily dubious constitutionality would remove redistricting from state legislatures and hand it over to computers. Equally unacceptable, totally inappropriate. All Republicans, I think, will oppose that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Senate Democrats have to decide is it worth seeking bipartisan compromises with a party that has no intention of negotiating in good faith or is it better to go it alone and pass legislation that is supported by the majority of Americans?

Joining us now Sahil Kapur, national political reporter for NBC News and Xochitl Hinojosa, the Democratic strategist and former spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee as well as for the Department of Justice. Good evening to both of you.

Xochitl, let me start with you. There are initiatives that the Biden administration is trying to move forward with. In fact, I just want to put some of them on the screen.

The COVID relief bill, which is very popular, 60 percent of Americans support that. Infrastructure, 68 percent of Americans support that. The Child Care Plan, which we`re going to talk about later in the show, 61 percent support that. The point I think from the White House is these things are bipartisan in America. They`re just not bipartisan in the United States Senate.

XOCHITL HINOJOSA, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, DNC: Well, that`s absolutely right. Everything that you laid out there whether it is infrastructure, voting rights, checks in people`s pockets, the American people support. We`re 150 days into the Biden presidency, and Biden is a creature of the Senate. He was around when there was bipartisanship, when we passed laws -- legislation into law with bipartisan support.

So I think what is happening right now is the administration is trying their best to pass an infrastructure package or some sort of accomplishment that has bipartisan support. But what we`ve seen in the last 150 days is also when Republicans don`t come to the table, they won`t hesitate to use reconciliation to get things done.

And I remember that event where Joe Biden got up on stage and said, you know, all of the Republicans that did not vote for that COVID relief bill, right, and you see Democrats running ads saying that, no, that Republican did not support checks in pockets, shots in arms, things like that.

So you`ll continue to see a Democratic Party that is messaging aggressively. I think this is Biden`s one last attempt at bipartisanship and then I think that the administration will look at other options.

VELSHI: What do other options look like, Sahil? At what point? Because this is a president who is not that demonstrative about things. He doesn`t go out and announce that he`s doing things. So how do you move past an intransigent Republican caucus in the Senate? What does moving ahead look like?

SHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS: Ali, President Biden has two options here. The first is budget reconciliation. That is a process in the Senate where you can pass laws that change the way the federal government spends and taxes with a simple majority. That is 50 votes that Democrats have in the Senate plus the tie breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

That is of course, very limited only to budgetary measures. And the second option is to weaken or abolish the filibuster, the 60-vote threshold that is necessary to achieve to pass almost all other pieces of legislation.

Right now, Democrats do not have the 50 out of 50 votes they would need to abolish the filibuster. There are two hold outs in particular, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona who have explicitly and repeatedly ruled that out.

So the only option President Biden has at this moment beyond convincing those two to change their minds is to use budget reconciliation and that is why the White House is so optimistic about an infrastructure bill, a jobs and family plan to expand the safety net because they at least have a path to doing that without Republican support, Ali.

VELSHI: And that might happen. They might even do that without having to do it through budget reconciliation. They might get Republican support on that. But with respect to the filibuster, Xochitl, what do they do about this? At some point do Manchin and Sinema come around to the idea that we have tooted our horns about bipartisanship, no one else is interested?

HONOJOSA: Well, look, everybody knows there are two years to get things done. Democrats want to make sure as they have the White House, the Senate and the House, they want to make sure they`re getting as much done as possible so that they can go into the mid-term elections and in 2024 and tout that. And we don`t know what will happen in the mid-term elections.

I believe that if Republicans continue to not come to the table, that Democrats will use it against them and that it actually will hurt them in the mid-term elections, but I think that what will need to happen is a sort of come to Jesus talk with those two senators to talk about, listen, we`re talking about voting rights here, we`re talking about immigration reform.

We`re talking about things that are critical to our nation`s future. And in order to get anything done on those issues, then we need to have -- we need to look at filibuster reform. So, I believe we`re not there yet. I believe that the party is really trying to work on bipartisanship, but we`ll see if we can accomplish that with infrastructure.

VELSHI: Sahil, people like to see results. They don`t really care to see the sausage being made. So the bottom line is, if Republicans want to take the bully pulpit with respect to the voting rights act, go forward with it and demonstrate that it didn`t pass because Republicans didn`t vote for it in the Senate. Doesn`t that matter?

KAPUR: It does matter to an extent. Democrats would rather have the conversation be that there`s only, as you mentioned, one political party standing between this major piece of voting rights and election reform legislation becoming law. That the only thing standing between that and President Biden`s desk is Senate Republicans and the Senate filibuster.

As opposed to if they didn`t get all 50 members onboard, if this failed 49- 51 then the story would be Democrats can`t even agree amongst themselves to get a piece of legislation, and it`s much harder to make the case against Republicans. So the likely scenario on Tuesday, if they keep Joe Manchin onboard to at least begin debate, is that this goes down 50-50. That means they need 60 to move forward, it gets 50.

And then Democrats have a decision to make. They will all be asked what their position is on the filibuster. Every one of them is going to have to explain whether they support preserving that 60 vote threshold or abolishing it to pass this voting rights legislation.

And it`s going to be a very, very heavy lift, Ali, I should say to get all 50 Democrats especially those two onboard with nuking or significantly weakening the filibuster. And to your early point, I just want to make one other note.

The Monmouth poll that you showed, it had a fascinating finding which is that it asked people, do they want to pass -- do they want Congress to pass President Biden`s economic plans as is, or do they want them to cut them down for the sake of bipartisanship? Overwhelmingly, they said pass them as is including about a fifth of Republicans.

VELSHI: That`s interesting because that is what a lot of Democrats are telling their leaders to do, saying don`t negotiate and water these bills down only to have a reduced bill passed without Republican support anyway that they`re going to crow about. Interesting. I`m glad you pointed that out, Sahil. Thank you. Thanks to both of you. Sahil Kapur and Xochitl Hinojosa. Thanks for joining us.

Coming up, has the pandemic made you rethink your life choices, your job, where you live, how much you work, travel, how much time you spend with your kids or with your parents? If so, you`re not alone. There are so many people doing that right now that it could be driving the next big shift in the U.S. economy. Betsey Stevenson joins us after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: What the heck is going on with the American economy? Is it really recovery or is it just heading into an inflation abyss? Why are we not seeing that V-shaped recovery that we were told we`d experience once the virus got under control?

You ask these questions to different economists they will give you different and sometimes contradictory answers. In May the U.S. economy added fewer jobs than expected yet employers are complaining that it`s hard to find workers.

That`s led Republicans to blame the additional $300 a week that some Americans are receiving in enhanced federal unemployment benefits.

Now beginning this Saturday, another eight states all controlled by Republican will end those benefits for more than 400,000 people.

They`re among 25 states led by Republicans who are ending enhanced benefits early, affecting a total of four million people. Republicans claim the benefits are discouraging people from going back to work, but they`re not considering what our next guest says is a psychological explanation for the higher than expected unemployment rate.

Betsey Stevenson, who served as chief economist for President Obama, says we`re in the midst of an enormous psychological reallocation of people and jobs like we`ve never seen before. The pandemic has empowered people to reevaluate how they want to participate in the labor economy.

Instead of working a low paying job out of desperation many want to find a job that they actually want. Think of it as the "life`s too short to be doing this job" economy or "take this job and shove it" phase of this recovery.

Joining us now Betsey Stevenson. She`s an economist and professor of economics at the University of Michigan. She was the chief economist of the U.S. Department of labor under President Obama.

Betsey, good to see you again. You described it at one point as a mixer. You say in "The New York Times" op-ed, you said, "Think of it this way. The unemployed aren`t leaving work, they`re changing work and change takes time. The unemployed and potential employers are like single people at a giant mixer. There are lots of opportunities but most are unlikely to find the perfect match right away."

What does this mean? That this unemployed -- the enhanced unemployment benefit has bought people a little time to reconsider what their future is?

BETSEY STEVENSON, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN: I think that`s exactly right. But it`s not even just that they`re sitting at home reconsidering. It`s that it takes to time to actually apply for jobs.

I`ve heard from lots of workers who are applying for jobs right now. They`re just trying to find a job that`s a good fit for their skill set. Employers are trying to find workers who are a good fit for them. And all these people meeting and figuring each other out and getting hired, it just takes some time.

Just the same way that, you know, you don`t pick up a new spouse overnight. It`s actually kind of hard to pick up a new employee overnight. And a lot of people don`t want to go back to the kind of throw away jobs where we see extremely high turnover.

You know, Republicans are pointing to the $300 payments. Those payments are going to end in you know, like 2.5 months.

VELSHI: Yes.

STEVENSON: People know that. They want a job that they`re going to be able to hang onto in September. So they might take a little bit more time right now to find the right job and not a job that may even end before September even comes around.

VELSHI: So more than anecdotally we see, as I`ve been driving across America or even here in New York, I see signs, "help wanted", "people can start immediately". Restaurants, bars, service-oriented businesses are saying they just can`t hire enough people.

Is that tied to the $300, or is that tied to this psychological matter you`re talking about, or is it all of the above? There are some people who are not sure when they go back to work, they`re not sure what happens to their kids.

Now we`re finding out most kids will be in school but caregivers are not all that readily available.

So it sounds like there are a lot of things affecting people right now.

STEVENSON: I think there are absolutely a lot of factors. Some people don`t have their kids back in child care. That`s going to be a factor for them.

There are some people who found that, you know, restaurant work, retail work, the kinds of things they were doing before it`s become more hazardous, and I don`t just mean the threat of the virus, but people have been very confrontational with each other.

You turn on the news and find ought that a cashier gets shot because she told you to put on a mask. And it`s a totally different kind of job.

You know, employers who think they should be able to hire people like it was 2019, well, people have actually learned that these jobs are more hazardous, they`re more confrontational, and maybe they`re looking for something that`s going to be a little bit different.

And so I think you`ve got a mismatch between employer expectations and worker expectations in some of the jobs right now.

And then I think the other thing people aren`t talking enough about is, you know, we`ve got pretty closed borders around the world. And so a lot of the kinds of jobs where you see those help wanted signs, they are looking for immigrants, they`re looking for people who might come over on a guestworker visa and none of those guys are coming over.

VELSHI: What an interesting thing, Betsey, if our immigration policy in this country was not the department of security for the southwestern border but in fact a real comprehensive immigration policy. Because we are at that moment in American history. We are not giving birth to enough people to fill the amount of work we`re going to have in this country.

STEVENSON: I think the U.S. has always depended on, you know, the enrichment that comes from having people come from all over the world and join the U.S. labor market and try to make, you know, their case in the United States, make their lives in the U.S.

And I think we do suffer greatly when we don`t have people coming over. They are -- immigrants tend to be younger. They tend to work more hours. And that`s a real help to as you point out an older and aging labor force population like the United States.

V5: I want to show you a poll by pew that was conducted in January of 2021. The question is have you seriously considered changing occupation or field of work? In 2010, 52 percent of people said so. In 2021, this is at the end of COVID, 66 percent of people said so.

So bottom line is the work force is always looking for something better. You know, one of the arguments behind things like universal basic income is imagine giving people the freedom to find their job that suits them as opposed to be forced to work in a job that suits them.

There`s some economic animal spirit that comes out of that, right? When you have people who are working, doing things that they want to do versus things that they just have to do.

STEVENSON: You know, what makes an economy productive is when each and every worker is as productive as they can be. That means doing the kind of work in which they are going to be able to contribute the most compared to something else. And when people take more time to get some training or to just search for a really good match, then overall it benefits not just the worker but it will benefit the overall macro economy.

But that`s a reallocation. It takes some time. 50 percent means, yes, a lot of people are typically looking for new work. 66 percent is so much higher than that. And I think the V-shaped people, the people who told you we were going to get a V-shape, they thought it was going to be so much lower than the 52 percent. They thought, you know, everybody will just go back to doing the exact same thing, nobody will change occupations.

And now what we`re seeing is more people than normal want a change. And I think so many of us whether you`re in a job currently, whether you`re out of work, whether you lost work during the pandemic so many people are asking themselves do I need to be doing something different to get the most out of my career and get the most out of my personal life?

VELSHI: It`s a good way to be able to think about life. If what you`re saying is true that`s probably going to lead to us being generally happier and more productive over time.

Betsey good to see you, as always. Thank you. Economist Betsey Stevenson.

VELSHI: Well, coming up, it doesn`t get as much attention as Republican voter suppression efforts but blue states are doing some good things to expand voter access, even a blue state with a Republican governor.

That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: There`s a great red-blue divide happening in America. Republican governors are making unpopular decisions like, as we just discussed, ending enhanced unemployment benefits early.

In Texas, America`s largest red state, you can carry concealed weapons without a license and without any training starting on September 1st.

Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed the NRA-backed bill just as the United States sees a record breaking spike in gun sales and as according to "The Washington Post". the number of casualties, along with the overall number of shootings that have killed or injured at least one person exceeds those of the first five months of 2020 which finished as the deadliest year of gun violence in at least two decades.

The majority of Texans don`t even agree with the legislation. A poll last month found that 59 percent of Texans oppose the unlicensed carrying of guns.

And then there are the blue states taking popular action. Colorado Governor Jared Polis just signed into law the Colorado option making Colorado the third state to approve state-regulated public insurance options, lowering insurance premiums. 68 percent of voters supported a public option.

In Vermont the Republican governor -- a sane measured Republican who runs a blue state just signed into law a bill making Vermont a universal vote by mail state for general elections. That`s a move approved by 68 percent of Vermont voters.

And in more news, Vermont is now the first state to partially or fully vaccinate 80 percent of its residents, 12 or older.

Joining us now Democratic Congressman Peter Welsh of Vermont. Congressman, good to see you again. You`re awfully close to Canada where I`m from, so I think some of that common sense just bleeds into Vermont sometimes.

REP. PETER WELSH (D-VT): Open that border.

VELSHI: That`s right. Congressman, let`s talk about this. First of all, the vaccination. Have you done so well in Vermont because the rest of the country still trying to catch up to this 70 percent goal that we had set for July fourth. It doesn`t seem like we`re going to get there.

Some states are in the low 30s in terms of percentage. You`re at 80.

WELSH: Well, I think two things. We`ve got to give our Republican Governor Phil Scott an immense amount of credit for this. He had the responsibility to shut the state down and then steadily encouraged Vermonters to socially distance, wear a mask. And then also want to get vaccinated and we were successful.

And then secondly I think Vermonters understand that if they get vaccinated, whether they really want to or not it`s going to be helpful to their neighbors, and there`s that spirit of wanting to take care of other people here that I think really helped us be successful in vaccination rate.

VELSHI: The other thing that you`re doing that`s interesting is your Governor Phil Scott signed a bill last week requiring all registered voters to receive a mail-in ballot. Other states do this with no issue whatsoever.

We`ve got states that are worrying about the fact that, wow, people who didn`t ask for a ballot might be getting a registration for advance or mail-in balloting. All the states that do mail-in balloting find that it is a very, very efficient way of voting that is not subject to any increase in voter fraud.

WELSH: Well, you know, two things. Vermont has a unique history, Ali.

In 1777 we passed a constitution here in Vermont. And number one, it was the first constitution that abolished slavery.

Number two, it extended the vote to all males whether they owned property or not. And if you remember at that time to vote you had to be a property owner and you had to be a man. Vermont kept it male but you didn`t have to be the property owner.

So we`ve had a history of extending the franchise and that has carried through our tradition here in the state. Ultimately with this recent law passed by a Democratic legislature and signed by a Republican governor but bipartisan -- 57 percent of Republicans in the state senate voted for it.

And basically mail-in ballots to give new -- all Vermonters the option of the ease of voting by mail. And it`s worked. And we have a very high participation rate. We don`t have any fraud.

And the view here is, hey, let`s have the debate on the issues not on who can just suppress the vote of the people who are going to be voting against you.

VELSHI: What a nifty concept. "The Atlantic" writing about this situation that you have in Vermont, a Republican governor, a Democratic state senate that says the lesson of Vermont is not that functional government requires Kumbaya or that its model is exportable to Washington, a far more divers and complicated political arena.

But it does suggest that polarization is neither total nor inevitable and that states both red and blue are more ideologically tangled than their coloring on a presidential map would indicate."

Your take on that?

WELSH: See, I agree with that. I mean I served in the state senate with Governor Scott and you get to know each other very well. And you understand that the person that you disagree with may be coaching your son or your daughter in Little League, and you have a lot in common much more than you have that divide you.

In Washington we`re really infected by a lot of things like big money, like Senator McConnell who defines his job as making the Democratic president fail. That`s how he defines it.

And then of course you have the Capitol riots and the insurrection where some of my Republican colleagues are saying it was just a normal group of tourists taking a tour of the Capitol.

So that`s where it gets infected by big money, it gets infected by a winner take all kind of approach which we don`t have here in Vermont, because at the end of the day we`re going to all be living together and we have to find ways to make progress even if we lose the battle we`ll be able to fight another day.

VELSHI: Congressman, good to talk to you again as always. Thanks for joining me. Peter Welsh is the congressman from Vermont.

Today much of the federal government was closed in observance of Juneteenth which became America`s newest national holiday yesterday to commemorate the end of slavery in America.

But you know what Monday is? It`s not important historically but it`s very important to America`s future. We`ll talk about that next.

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VELSHI: There`s a lot of good stuff in the American Rescue Plan but nothing as close to a silver bullet as this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This tax cut sends a clear and powerful message to American working families with children, help is here. Experts have told us this will cut child poverty in America in half.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: It`s that simple. One policy nearly half of poor children in America lifted out of poverty, which is this one policy. It gives $3,000 for every child under 18 with an additional $600 for each child under 6.

More than $65 million will benefit -- children will benefit from the child tax credit and most importantly it would lift 4 million children above the poverty line and lift more than a million children out of deep poverty.

Deep poverty means children in a family of four that is making less than $13,000 a year. Imagine the impact of an extra $6,000 or $7,200 if the children are under six. Imagine the impact that could make to those children`s well-being.

And as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, quote, "Black and Latino children in particular whom the old child tax credit disproportionately leaves out or leaves behind would benefit," end quote. With this just one policy.

But actually getting this money to those kids parents or kid caregivers is not that simple. The Biden administration made an important change in distributing the tax credit. The money will now be distributed monthly like income rather than annually like a tax return.

But less than a month away from the first payment, there are some issues like initially the payments will only be available via check or direct deposit although the IRS will do some future payments to some families via debit cards.

And the newly-unveiled online tool for nontax filing families to claim their credit is only in English and has no mobile version.

My next guest says that that bit, that last mile of halving children`s poverty is the longest.

Joining us is Dr. Trevon Logan, he`s a professor of economics at the Ohio State University. Dr. Logan, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

Let`s just start with the overall thing here. Are we really cutting child poverty in half with just this one policy?

DR. TREVON LOGAN, PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS: OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY: We can if we`re reaching particularly the children who live in deep poverty as you mentioned, that families are earning under $13,000 a year.

That is the most critical aspect of this policy is to reach those children because it has the largest marginal benefit in terms of the fully refundable tax credit.

VELSHI: Largest marginal benefit. What does that mean economically? That means the money they use -- they`ll use all of it and it will all be used in a way that improves their prosperity and their standard of living?

LOGAN: Yes, and it`s also because it is the largest share of people who are particularly very poor. If you`re earning $12,000 a year, an additional $3,600 is a huge increase in your income.

That`s why it lifts these families out of deep poverty. It`s so much in proportion to the so little that they`re currently earning in income.

VELSHI: And when you talk about these families in deep poverty there are a couple of things that may apply to them. One is in many cases they do not have home computers. In many cases they do not have broadband Internet access and in many cases they do not have typical bank accounts.

So even simple things like this having an online portal or sending checks or having direct deposit still escapes some people.

LOGAN: Yes, it will escape the families who are dealing with homelessness. It will escape the families who can`t use anything other than a mobile device. It will also escape the families who are unbanked or underbanked because it might cost them something, for example, to deposit a check as opposed to a mobile payment. So we really do need to understand the context of these families who are living truly at the very, very fragments of the American income distribution who are on the very, very left tail.

VELSHI: And not a lot of Americans who are not anywhere near that left tail understand that. That this kind of poverty that you`re describing is not something that we believe we`ve got as much of in the United States but we do.

The IRS is obviously trying to do something. The American Relief Bill is trying to do something about this. We have allocated, we`ve earmarked the money for those who need it most. How do we get that last mile? What does the government need to do to deal with these issues that you just brought up?

LOGAN: The first I really believe is expanding mobile payments because that will reach a lot of these families. They`re underbanked. They`re typically underhoused but they also typically have some sort of cell connection not necessarily Wi-fi connections but they`re connected via cellphones, and they can do a lot of financial transactions via apps.

VELSHI: And do you get some sense the IRS is working toward that? I mean I don`t think of the IRS as the most tech-savvy, forward thinking technological organization, but we may need to do it to fix it for these folks as opposed to the rest of us.

LOGAN: Yes, and it`s important to understand that this current Website for these families who are not filers is outsourced. It is not done by the IRS in-house. So the distributors that they`re using, the contractors should be able to reach these people or the IRS should make it a requirement to be able to reach these households.

VELSHI: How do we deal with the other half? Let`s say we cut child poverty in half. It`s 2021 in America. We`re one of the richest countries in the world. I would think that child poverty is low hanging fruit. It`s an easy fix for us. It`s not a particularly expensive fix, and as you said the return is so great when you take people out of deep poverty.

LOGAN: The evidence is absolutely overwhelming that even small investments in children early in their lives particularly children who are of very limited means have outsized effects.

And the total spending that YOU have on children over the entire range of particular policies also has outsized effects.

One of the biggest effects of it is that the more you spend early in a child`s life the less likely they`ll need any assistance later in life.

VELSHI: Dr. Logan, I appreciate this conversation. WE could be having it for a lot longer and I hope we will. Dr. Trevon Logan is with the -- is a professor of economics at the Ohio State University.

And that is tonight`s LAST WORD. You can catch me tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern on my show "VELSHI". It`s the first Juneteenth federal holiday. And I`ll be sharing a fascinating and fruitful conversation I had this week with two families from a Mississippi high school where an error in calculating top academic honors roiled the town and brought its legacy of segregation to the surface.

Plus I`ll be joined by Democratic Whip James Clyburn and Senator Mazie Hirono.

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

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again.

This was day 150 of the Biden administration.