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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 6/8/21

Guests: Derrick Johnson, Marc Morial, Adam Jentleson, Nikema Williams, Dorothy Brown, David Cay Johnston


Today, a group of civil rights leaders met with Senator Joe Manchin to discuss with him how much still has to be overcome to assure voting rights in this country. President Biden stopped his negotiations as Rachel predicted on the infrastructure deal with West Virginia`s Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito. Senator Capito was theoretically negotiating on behalf of Senate Republicans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a consummate practitioner of the art of the possible, renewed her focus and House Democrats` focus on the John Lewis Voting Rights bill today. Internal documents reportedly obtained from the IRS show how the richest people in America get away with paying little or no federal income tax and it all seems perfectly legal, which is why President Biden wants to change it. Insanity is a criminal defense but stupidity is not, which is very bad news for the Trump mob that attacked the capitol.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, you know, when I think of you, I think of modesty. You are very modest about your perceptions of the way things are in this world. And so, I know not it`s not the kind of thing you do, that thing you did tonight for a second where you said that kind of I told you so about the breakdown of the talks --


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: I regret as soon as I said.

O`DONNELL: -- President Biden and Shelley -- I could see you regretting it when you were saying it. But, but I believe -- here`s my -- here`s my window into the internal workings of Rachel`s thinking about this. You were thinking this one was so obvious, it will not look like I am taking any credit at all for seeing what everybody else saw, including 99 percent of "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" audience.

MADDOW: Yes, that`s exactly right. See, even -- what I said was, like, I could have told you that and so could -- I think something like so could anybody else watching or something like that. But even phrasing it in that way actually sent a line of hives up my spine which I have to now go home and have to like cope with in terms of me having said "I told you so".

O`DONNELL: But here we are. And it is where we thought we were going to be, which is okay, nothing from the kind of attempt to compromise with Republicans. Now there is a discussion going on with a kind of ad hoc group of senators, Democrats and Republicans, President Biden negotiating directly with them, calling up some of them directly.

So, now, we`re at the second stage of an attempt at some form of bipartisan. And the third stage, if we get to it, is some way of doing it with Democrats only and Joe Manchin says, sorry, 60-vote threshold is going to be there, so we`re not sure where we are.

MADDOW: Here`s the thing. We know for sure that Republicans are never going to vote for the infrastructure bill, and even if one or two does, they won`t do so in significant enough numbers that will allow any infrastructure bill to be passed with anything other than reconciliation. Reconciliation is the only way to try to pass anything of substance, and it`s certainly the only way to try to pass this. When it comes to voting for it, Joe Manchin will have to decide whether he`s going to vote for it or not.

But with or without him, it`s going to be the only thing they can try. There is no other option. Senator Manchin supposedly wants not only infrastructure but a gigantic infrastructure bill. He`s talked about wanting a huge infrastructure bill.

At the end of the day, let him decide whether he`s going to vote no which he`ll have to explain to his constituents which is not the substance of the bill but something that he wanted Republicans to do that they wouldn`t. I mean, there`s no there`s no other path here.

The only question is how much time is going to be wasted while they let this play out in an unbelievably foreseeable way.

O`DONNELL: Uh-huh. Yeah, we have Senate expert Adam Jentleson joining us in this hour. And so, we`re going to try to let him explain to us where we are tonight in the United States Senate.

MADDOW: He knows these things better than I do for sure, yeah.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, our first guests tonight are marching down the road that the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. marched on 60 years ago.

And today, that road took them to a meeting with Senator Joe Manchin where they could have said, almost word for word, what Martin Luther King said in 1963.


REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: The tragedy is that we have a Congress with a Senate that has a minority of misguided senators who will use the filibuster to keep the majority of people from even voting. They won`t let the majority senators vote, and certainly, they wouldn`t want the majority of the people to vote because they know they do not represent the majority of the American people.


O`DONNELL: What would Senator Joe Manchin have said to Martin Luther King about filibusters that were being used to block civil rights legislation?

Looking back 60 years to the voting rights that Martin Luther King was fighting for, it seems easy now to say you would have been on Martin Luther King`s side.

But it wasn`t so easy then to be on Martin Luther King`s side when he was alive. Joan Baez was on his side and at his side many, many, many times. Joan Baez appeared on stage when Dr. King gave his historic "I have a dream" speech on the Washington Mall where Joan Baez led thousands in singing "We Shall Overcome" that day.

At the Kennedy Center Honors broadcast Sunday night, where Joan Baez was an honoree, it was very easy for everyone there to sing "We Shall Overcome," including Joe Manchin.


O`DONNELL: A lot of people in Washington think that that`s an old song that has no meaning today. Almost half of the elected people in Washington think that they are the elected Republicans in Washington who are fully supportive of the new Republican barriers to voting, that voters in 2022 and 2024 will have to overcome and perhaps voters for generations after that might have to overcome.

Today, a group of civil rights leaders met with Senator Joe Manchin to discuss with him how much still has to be overcome to assure voting rights in this country. Joe Manchin opposes the Democrats` top priority, voting rights bill, the For the People Act, but he supports a narrower called the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

But the John Lewis bill would also be subject to a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, and so far only one Republican supports that bill. Nine more Republicans would have to support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act for it to pass in the Senate, and today, Mitch McConnell announced his opposition to that bill which means there is virtually no chance of getting those nine Republican votes for the John Lewis bill. Republican Senator Susan Collins does not support the John Lewis voting rights bill even though Senator Joe Manchin took the extraordinary step for a Democrat of endorsing Susan Collins in her re-election campaign last year.

What has Joe Manchin gotten for that endorsement?

Here`s what Senator Manchin said today about his meeting with the civil rights leaders.


REPORTER: Did they change your mind?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): What we had was a great -- we had a respectful, we had a very informative and very good conversation and it was the start of a good relationship, it really was.


O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, and Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League.

President Johnson, I shall address you as president. Please, let me begin with you. What did you discuss in that meeting with Joe Manchin today?

DERRICK JOHNSON, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: Our goal was to start a relationship and open up a dialogue. We were successful with that. But we talked about how do we get to a way to protect voters? And that`s, of course, what we`re going to chart moving forward.

We cannot accept that, okay, he`s in this place, there is no way to get 60 votes, because in 1963 when King made that statement, the next year, we had the Civil Rights Act, two years later we had the Voting Rights Act. We are on a time clock to make sure we protect the right of voters, and it will happen this year. How we get there will be the course that we navigate and open up this dialogue among others to protect the rights of voters to fully participate in this democracy.

O`DONNELL: President Morial, we just saw a video of Joe Manchin singing "We Shall Overcome." You watch him in that video, it seems like he gets it. He certainly gets what it was about 60 years ago, but does he get what it`s about today?

MARC H. MORIAL, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: Lawrence, thank you for having me.

I would make a few points. Number one, we asked Joe Manchin to reconsider his position on the For the People Act and on the filibuster. So the premise of our meeting was to seek to convince him to support the For the People Act. I might add that the two bills go hand in hand. It`s not one or the other, and that`s a very important point.

Number two, I`m outraged and insulted that Mitch McConnell who voted for extension of the Voting Rights Act when George Bush was president would be so quick, so hasty to, in effect, trash the legacy of John Lewis and trash the legacy of civil rights. Shame on Mitch McConnell for doing this. Shame for putting up a blockade in front of the necessity of restoring the protections that were earned and fought and marched and bled for in 1965.

We are going to continue to fight, and as Derrick said, we wanted to establish this first meeting with Joe Manchin as a way of continuing to work to push, to persuade, to encourage his support for, one, the For the People Act, two, the John Lewis Voting Rights act, three, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

We have three significant civil rights bills which I believe, Lawrence, are as significant as those that were enacted by the Congress in 1965. As Derrick mentioned, it took President Johnson with his political skill and ability and a movement of people in the streets all across America, a popular movement to break that Senate filibuster in 1964 and 1965.

We have to break that filibuster because democracy is on trial. We have to break that filibuster because the legacy of what people worked for and fought for in the 1960s is once again on trial in the United States Senate right now.

O`DONNELL: President Johnson, so what happens next? Is this the first of a series of meetings with Senator Manchin?

JOHNSON: Well, absolutely. This is, for us, an aggressive start to make sure we advance a bill that truly reflect the needs and interest for our democracy. It goes beyond just the John Lewis Act because the harm that the state legislative bodies across the country, particularly in Georgia, have already committed the last two months need to be addressed.

We also need to make sure that the state of bodies are not taking advantage of this moment to gerrymander districts that we won`t be able to recognize the House of Representatives and we have to ensure that moving forward there is the protections necessary so local jurisdictions and state jurisdictions are not positioned to suppress and subvert democracy.

African-Americans fought too hard and too long. Marc Morial would never have been there if the filibuster had remained in place to block the Voting Rights Act. So many of us would not be in the positions we`re in if America had not stood up when they did to ensure that our Constitution was protected.

What Mitch McConnell and the senators in the Republican Party is doing now is trying to impede and subvert democracy so they can select voters instead of voters selecting the elected officials.

O`DONNELL: President Morial, is what we`re seeing here a version of the Democrats letting these bills basically come to the fore in the Senate, see them shot down one way or another by the Republicans so that they then, with you, will go back to Senator Manchin and say to him, this cannot be done with 60 votes, there will never be 60 votes for any of these things, we have to do something about this rule?

MORIAL: I think it`s important there be a full and complete debate and a vote so we can see exactly where every member of the United States Senate is on these very important pieces of legislation. We have to demonstrate a resolve to proceed notwithstanding the opposition. If these bills do not get passed through the United States Senate, we`ll have to take whatever steps are necessary at that point.

Let`s say this, Lawrence, it is outrageous to the nth degree what Mitch McConnell said today. He has said to me in his office numerous times over the years that he`s proud of his record on civil rights. He just threw it away. He just threw it away by saying, I`m not for the John Lewis Voting Protection Act.

Here is a moment in history in 2021 after an insurrection on the Capitol, with a pandemic and a tsunami, a voter suppression bill is being introduced in states all across the nation, not being introduced in a bipartisan way, not being enacted in a bipartisan way, and we have the recalcitrance for the leaders to stand up and protect the people`s right to vote.

This is an important fight. This fight goes beyond politics. Lawrence, if you look at polling data on the provisions of the for the people act, polling data on the provisions of the voting rights act, I tell you where the bipartisanship is, it`s amongst the American people. I`ll tell you where the support is, it`s amongst the American people -- north, south, east, west, right, front, center, left, black, white, Hispanic, indigenous, Asian-American, men and women, young and old.

The support for the protection of democracy is with the people. Will the leaders of the nation, will the members of the Senate who stand in the way hear those voters, hear the people and do what is necessary at this moment in history?

O`DONNELL The two presidents, NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson and National Urban League president and CEO, Marc Morial, thank you very much for starting our discussion tonight. Please come back.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

MORIAL: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, President Biden stopped his negotiations as Rachel predicted on the infrastructure deal with West Virginia`s Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito. Senator Capito was theoretically negotiating on behalf of Senate Republicans.

President Biden will now negotiate directly with a group of Democratic and Republican senators who have been negotiating their own versions of an infrastructure bill, the Senate 60-vote threshold will also be a problem for passing an infrastructure bill, and almost everything else on the Biden agenda will suffer from that 60-vote threshold.

Former Senate staffer Adam Jentleson, and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eugene Robinson will join us next.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: Conversations about some of the institutional and structural barriers toward democracy working better like the elimination of the filibuster or the end partisan gerrymandering is important. But this is why it is also important for us to figure out how do we start once again being able to tell a common story about where this country goes?

All of us as citizens have to recognize that the path towards an undemocratic America is not going to happen in just one bang. It happens in a series of steps.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Adam Jentleson, former deputy chief of staff for Senator Harry Reid. He`s the author of the book "Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of American Democracy".

Also with us, Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post". He`s an MSNBC political analyst.

And Eugene Robinson is one of the few people who understand Joe Manchin`s situation or he claims to.

Gene, you wrote, I understand the reality of Manchin`s situation. He is a political unicorn. Donald Trump won his state by 39 points. Joe Manchin is the only Democrat standing in the state of West Virginia and that basically explains where we are with Joe Manchin tonight, does it?

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Will it explains some of it? I mean, it explains -- it doesn`t explain why Joe Manchin is going to essentially block the Biden agenda on voting rights and perhaps on infrastructure and on other things. It does explain why Democrats are stuck with Joe Manchin. I mean, because there`s no other Democrat that can be in the Senate from West Virginia.

If Joe Manchin were replaced by a Trump-ish Republican which he would be if he were not the senator, then, you know, Mitch McConnell will be back in charge of the Senate and so Democrats are clearly materially better off with Joe Manchin than without Joe Manchin.

That said, Manchin is -- has the key in his hand to a lot of real progress that can be made and he refuses to turn that key, and I`m not sure that makes any political sense even for him, even for West Virginia. But that`s where he is and my friend Claire McCaskill said this morning, you know, he`s the star of his own show.

O`DONNELL: And, Adam, Joe Manchin is also kind of casting a big enough shadow to take the heat off some other Democratic senators who are not there yet and changing Senate rules either. I mean, Jon Tester was on television saying he`s not there yet, he`s not ready yet. Although he sounds like you can convince him after some failed exercises and bipartisanship with Republicans, he doesn`t sound is absolute about it as Joe Manchin does.

ADAM JENTLESON, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF, SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV): That`s right. I think there`s a number of senators who still want to see some efforts of bipartisanship play out. But I`m making played pretty clear in the statements that that bipartisanship when push comes to shove and faced with the choice between any reform in the filibuster that they will choose some form of reform. So, I`m not going to speak to Senator Tester in place in that category yet.

But I think that the fact that a lot of these senators aren`t taking a publicly strong stance opposed to the filibuster tells you a lot. If they`re not comfortable strongly opposing reform to the filibuster in public, then they`re probably not going to be comfortable voting against it when that vote is called and their number is called and they have to vote one way or the other.

O`DONNELL: And, Eugene, we`re watching the tests of bipartisanship on a few fronts at the same time. The John Lewis voting rights bill was suddenly became the issue of the day after Joe Manchin basically blocked the For the People Act. Mitch McConnell decides now is the day I have to say I`m opposed to it`s pretty much guarantee he will not even come close to getting 60 votes. He won`t come close to getting ten Republicans on that.

Joe Biden gives up into negotiations, his public negotiations with Republican senator about infrastructure. Moving closer to more tests of what is actually possible within the Senate rules on infrastructure, on voting rights.

ROBINSON: Absolutely. I am as outraged as your guest Marc Morial, my friend Marc was, and the fact that Mitch McConnell picked this day right after Joe Manchin said not HR-1 but HR-4. I like that. And so does Lisa Murkowski and we can build it and do that. And Mitch McConnell just completely blew that possibility out of the water. And so it`s not going to be anywhere near any Republicans for that bill.

So where does that leave even that first step toward assuring voting rights and the answer is that leaves us nowhere. It leaves us nowhere as long as we`re still dealing with the 60-vote threshold as the filibuster is now structured, and I don`t think we move forward unless there`s not going to be any kind of reform until and unless Manchin and some others change their minds.

O`DONNELL: Notice to Sterling Brown, our brilliant director in the control room. Whenever anyone is talking about Mitch McConnell you always have to have the reaction shot of Adam Jentleson because there is nothing Mitch McConnell does that Adam Jentleson has not predicted he will do.

And so, Adam, Mitch McConnell flipping today and picking today as the day where he basically kills any hope of the 60 votes on the John Lewis bill in the Senate.

JENTLESON: Yeah, I mean this is an interesting point because for a while there was some speculation that the smart thing for McConnell to do would be to let the John Lewis bill go forward with 60 votes because that would help them avoid any showdown over the filibuster and it would be good for his legacy. He`s made a big deal of civil rights in the past and the thing to remember about Mitch McConnell is that he does whatever the base demands at the end of the day.

There`s a lot of speculation that this time he`s going to turn away from Trump. This time, he`s going to break from the base. That never happens. Ever since Rand Paul and the 2010 Kentucky primary and humiliated Mitch McConnell, after Mitch McConnell went all in for Trey Grayson, Mitch McConnell has hued closely to whatever the base wants, and today, it was a great thing about that.

That is what he does and it`s an outrageous but it`s also predictable. This is simply who he is as a politician.

O`DONNELL: Gene, so where do we go from here? With you think are the priorities or it should be the Biden agenda priorities to rack up another win? What is the thing that you see and their legislative agenda where they can actually get a win on something?

ROBINSON: Well, you know, they just today, I mean, they got a win on the extra money for basic research, basically an anti China legislation. They got a win on that, sort of minor victories around the edges.

You know, just because I still kind of believe in logic even after the last five years, I think logic has evaporated in logically there ought to be support for infrastructure bills because members of Congress like those. They like to be able to give -- to the folks back home so they`re all to be bits and pieces in chunks of that that you can get through.

But again, I`m not sure. I`m not sure right now. It doesn`t look like they won`t do anything and it looks like everything is going to have to be reconciliation.

O`DONNELL: Adam Jentleson, your quick prediction on infrastructure.

JENTLESON: I think it eventually passes. With much Strum und Drang, it slips to the fall, probably Thanksgiving and Christmas, but eventually it will pass on a party line, though.

O`DONNELL: All right. Adam Jentleson, Eugene Robinson, thank you both very much for joining us again. We always appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, all eyes in the House and Senate have now turned to the John Lewis Voting Rights bill today. Nancy Pelosi endorsed it again and Mitch McConnell came out in opposition to it.

Congresswoman Nikema Williams who now holds John Lewis` Georgia seat in the House of Representatives will join us next.


O`DONNELL: Legislating is the art of the possible and with Senator Joe Manchin opposing the expansive voting rights bill called the "For the People Act" that bill now only has 49 votes in the Senate which means that for not, at least, passing that bill is not possible.

That is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a consummate practitioner of the art of the possible renewed her focus and House Democrats` focus on the John Lewis Voting Rights bill today.

In a message to House Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote, "It is essential that H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act become law. When we pass H.R. 4, we must do so in a way that is ironclad constitutionally. This is what Congressman Butterfield and his House Judiciary Committee -- the House Judiciary Committee are hard at work on now. H.R. 4 must be passed but it will not be ready until the fall."

Senator Joe Manchin is a supporter of the John Lewis Voting Rights bill as is Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski which means that as of now, that bill has 51 votes in the Senate but still would need to pass that 60-vote threshold in the Senate.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Nikema Williams of Georgia who occupies the House seat of the late Congressman John Lewis. She is also the chairwoman of the Georgia Democratic Party.

Thank you very for joining us once again tonight. We always appreciate it.

REP. NIKEMA WILLIAMS (D-GA): Thank you for having me, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: The John Lewis bill is back. It is back strong today. It seems to be the next best hope for the Democrats.

WHITFIELD: So Lawrence, I think what you missed was a little part of that "Dear Colleague" letter that Speaker Pelosi sent where it said that H.R. 4 was not a substitute for H.R. 1. And we need both of them to make sure that our voting rights are truly secured across the country and standardized for democracy.

So there isn`t a substitute to just say that we can pass H.R. 4 and then we don`t need H.R. 1 because H.R. 4, while I`m a strong proponent and will fight to the end to make sure that we get (INAUDIBLE) back in place, it does nothing to prevent the laws that have already been enacted in states like Georgia and what is about to happen in Texas and what we`ve seen introduced in 47 states across the country.

So I am continuing to practice in the art of what is possible and making sure that we don`t give up on H.R. 1 in this conversation around H.R. 4 and the John Lewis Voting Rights act.

O`DONNELL: One thing that is not included in either one of those bills was pointed out by "The New York Times" in an editorial, and that is the counting of votes. What happens after the votes are cast and how Georgia, your state, has changed some of the components involved in counting votes, who authorizes the counts of votes. Arizona is trying to do the same thing. Texas is trying to do the same thing.

How can you address that part of the problem that is now developing which many of the voting rights lawyers have said are the most dangerous components of those bills?

WILLIAMS: So legislation is ever changing, Lawrence, and maybe that is something that Senator Manchin can work on in the Senate version of this legislation and work with Republicans since they seem to have problems with how votes were counted in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

But what I`ve been focused on is making sure that we have a standardized process to access the ballot across the country, no matter where you live. If you are here in Atlanta, if you are in California, if you are in New York, if you are in D.C. which I hope will become a state, which is a whole another conversation for another night.

But no matter where you live in this country, your right to vote should be standardized and that`s what my focus is right now with H.R. 1, the For the People Act. And then when we get H.R. 4, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, added on to this, that only gives us the pre-clearance so we can look at when laws are being enacted in the future, having pre-clearance so that states that have a history of voter suppression like Georgia will have to go through the Department of Justice to make sure that they`re not doing things that will impair someone`s access to the ballot.

O`DONNELL: Are you worried about the vote count in the next elections in Georgia 2022, and your own next election, then in the next presidential election, and what Republicans will do after the polls have closed with their new powers in these new laws to basically deal with the vote count?

WILLIAMS: When it comes to the right to vote, especially here in the south, Lawrence, I`m always worried about what Republicans might do.

But what I`m more worried about is how do I make sure that every Georgian that wants to cast a ballot has the ability to do so in a way that is safe, in a way that we can count those votes. And that is what I`m worried about mostly, because people showed up to vote in November and January in Georgia.

We gave the United States senate a Democratic majority. And now it`s time that we make sure that we`re standing up for the people that showed up to vote and giving everybody the same access to the ballot across the board.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Nikema Williams, thank you very much for joining us again tonight.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, internal documents reportedly obtained from the IRS show how the richest people in America get away with paying little or no federal income tax and it all seems perfectly legal, which is why President Biden wants to change it.

David Cay Johnston and Professor Dorothy Brown, a tax law expert -- both of them tax law experts actually -- will join us next.


O`DONNELL: In the most stunning mockery of economic inequality in the history of this planet, the richest man in the world has announced that he`s going to leave this planet in his own spaceship next month.

When Jeff Bezos returns to his section of the planet called the United States of America, his tax rate will continue to be lower than yours or mine or anyone you know unless you know some of the top 25 richest Americans.

ProPublica reports that it has obtained, quote, "a vast cache of IRS information. ProPublica is not disclosing how it obtained the data which was given to us in raw form, with no conditions or conclusions".

ProPublica contacted Jeff Bezos and other billionaires in their tax reporting. Jeff Bezos did not dispute the accuracy of ProPublica`s data which shows that in some years, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and George Soros paid no income taxes at all, zero, because that is what the current tax code allows them to pay.

The single creepiest item in the data is that in 2011, back when Jeff Bezos was only worth $18 billion, he even claimed and received a $4,000 tax credit for his children.

ProPublica reports that, quote, "Those 25 people saw their worth rise a collective $401 billion from 2014 to 2018. They paid a total of $13.6 billion in federal income taxes in those five years, the IRS data shows. That`s a staggering sum, but it amounts to a true tax rate of only 3.4 percent. And many of them have paid much less than 3.4 percent in some years.

ProPublica`s analysis continues, quote, "By the end of 2018, the 25 were worth $1.1 trillion. For comparison, it would take 14.3 million ordinary American wage earners put together to equal that same amount of wealth. The personal federal tax bill for the top 25 in 2018, $1.9 billion. The bill for the wage earners, $143 billion."

And joining our discussion now is Dorothy Brown, a professor at Emory University School of Law where she teaches tax law. She is the author of the new book the whiteness of wealth.

Also with us, David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer prize winning investigative reporter specializing in tax issues. He is the co-founder of

And Professor Brown, let me begin with you. It is almost like these days, these people on this top 25 list of American billionaires are begging for a wealth tax. Jeff Bezos sending himself off into space on his spaceship. We have really vulgar video of Bob Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, being given a Bentley for his birthday by some other rich guys. Bob Kraft could buy every single Bentley in every showroom in America with his own money.

They literally do not know what to do with their money. But the one thing they don`t do with it is send it to the United States Treasury.




O`DONNELL: Yes, Professor. Go ahead.

BROWN: That`s exactly right. And they are poster children for my book "The Whiteness of Wealth" where I show how tax policy is designed to build white wealth. So the one disappointment I have with the story is how it ignores race.

Every person in that story they talk about is a white man. But they don`t talk about the fact that it`s part of their whiteness that helps them build wealth. So what we see is a tax system that is driven and helped along by rich white taxpayers to pay less in taxes.

O`DONNELL: David Cay Johnston, I guess I`m the one here who has written tax law in the Senate Finance Committee, and we always, on the Democratic side, maybe only on the Democratic side when we write it, we were always concerned about enforcement.

And whatever provision we were writing, we were always sitting there trying to anticipate, ok, this is going to work, right? And we could never anticipate at this end of the income scale, at this end of the wealth scale how they would react to any kind of tax law that we put in front of them because they just have so many maneuvers and so many accountants working on it.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, what ProPublica has done here in the most important tax story in the 55 years I`ve been writing about taxes, I wish I had gotten the data, but I didn`t.

What they have done is absolutely unquestionably established that we do not have a progressive tax system in America. The system is progressive up to about $2 million a year of income, and then it goes the opposite direction down to where you have Jeff Bezos in two recent years paying no income tax, Michael Bloomberg paying about a 3 percent tax rate on his income.

Now ProPublica used increases in wealth. We don`t tax accretions to wealth, we tax income. But when you just look at Michael Bloomberg`s income, 3 percent of $10 billion. I pay more than three of the four people they focus on as a share of my income.

And this is an absolute outrage and maybe the public will wake up to the fact that we have, as Dorothy brilliantly points out in her very smart, easy to understand book, we have a system designed to increase the wealth of people who are white and workers, of all races, should be saying wait a minute, why is my tax bigger than my increase in wealth every year? One of the most important points ProPublica makes.

O`DONNELL: Professor brown, David just made an important point about some rich people. If you look at the lower end -- what is now the lower end of rich in America -- incomes, you know, $400,000 and above, say $400,000 up to $2 million, those people are mostly earning wages. Those are basically biweekly paychecks. Withdrawals from them. You know?

And those people don`t have any of those tools for escaping on a grand scale from a tax burden the way the ultra rich do.

BROWN: So they do have some income from stock which is taxed at a low 20 preferential rate which is why Biden`s tax plan which would increase the rate on stock for those with greater than a million income they won`t get hit by that. But yes, their lion`s share of their income is wages. So those rich people are paying higher taxes than significantly higher-income Americans.

Professor Brown, what in the Biden agenda, legislative agenda, might address this?

BROWN: Well, the first thing is the plan to increase taxation on income from stock which is what a lot of the, you know, Bezos and Musk and Bloomberg -- they have a lot of income from stock which is why their tax rates are so low.

So Biden proposes if you have more than a million dollar your taxes on wages will be the same rate as your taxes on capital gains. But what this article tells us all is one of the things he needed to add is a minimum tax. Right? A real minimum tax so that if you make $46 million like Bezos did you can`t get away with not paying taxes.

So that is not currently in the plan but hopefully after the Biden administration executives see this story they`ll realize it needs to be added.

O`DONNELL: David Cay Johnston, there`s a lot of people out there, or how many there are, making $300,000 a year, maybe two salaries put together in the family and they`re looking at the TV right now saying I have a minimum tax on my tax return. My tax return says I have got to pay a minimum tax. What happened at the high end?

JOHNSTON: Oh, there is no minimum tax. If you`re in that position, and you have stock losses say from way back in the market collapse in 2001 or 2008 you can only deduct $3,000 a year against your salary but if you have income from selling stocks you can take unlimited deductions against this.

And one other element here, this is very important, these very wealthy people who have stock they can get away without ever paying taxes because when they die they can take an unlimited deduction for giving the money to a family foundation that will controlled by their family. That needs to stop.

On your income, you`re limited to, until recently, you are limited to 20 percent or 30 percent on your stock.

O`DONNELL: Professor Dorothy Brown and David Cay Johnston, thank you both very much for joining us tonight.

BROWN: Thank you.

JOHNSTON: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, insanity is a criminal defense but stupidity is not, which is very bad news for the Trump mob that attacked the capitol. That`s next in tonight`s LAST WORD.


O`DONNELL: The law recognizes insanity as a criminal defense But not stupidity. And so, the violent invaders of the Capitol who are now blaming Donald Trump for their crimes are out of luck.

41-year-old Douglas Jensen of Des Moines, Iowa led the charge against heroic Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman and he has been in jail awaiting trial since his arrest on January 8th.

In a new court filing, his lawyer said this. "Doug Jensen became a victim of numerous conspiracy theories that were being fed to him over the Internet. He fell victim to this barrage of Internet-sourced info and came to the Capitol at the direction of the president of the United States.

Six months later, Languishing in a D.C. jail cell, locked down most of the time, he feels deceived recognizing that he bought into a pack of lies."

Speaking of a pack of lies many in the Trump mob believe that the elected Democrats in the Capitol building that day murder very young children and drink the adrenaline from the dead bodies of those children.

That is actually what QAnon believes. Sean McHugh of California was caught on video screaming at Capitol police, "You guys like protecting pedophiles?" In 2010 McHugh was convicted in California on the charge of unlawful sex with a minor. The victim was 14 years old and says she was intoxicated at the time of the incident when McHugh was 23.

McHugh has been in jail since he was arrested on May 27th and charged with eight federal crimes including obstructing congressional proceedings. And assaulting police officers with a dangerous weapon.

As of now at least 460 people from 44 states and Washington, D.C. face charges in the attack on the capitol.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert who is now being sued for his part in inciting the insurrection at the Capitol said on the House floor, quote, "Their only crime was supporting Donald Trump."

No word yet on whether Louie Gohmert will be using the "Trump made me do it" in that lawsuit against him.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.