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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 7/20/21

Guests: Adam Schiff, Dolores Huerta, Ashish Jha


Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California is interviewed. Longtime Trump friend and associate, Tom Barrack is indicted on seven counts including obstruction and false statements. The co-founder of United Farm Workers on Texas Democrats is holding meetings with activists, election officials, lawmakers on how to protect right to vote. Congressional and White House staff are getting infected with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: And, Rachel, you skipped to part about how they will delay, they will vote against it. And yet like these other bills which are popular among Americans somehow take credit for the passing of a bill they didn`t show any support for.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That`s right. That`s exactly right.

VELSHI: The more things change, Rachel, the more things change.

Good to see you, my friend. See you tomorrow.

MADDOW: Thank you. You too, Ali. Thanks.

VELSHI: Well, we are tired of this.

In April 2020, brutal start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the same month Donald Trump suggested Americans might inject bleach to beat the virus, then Attorney General Bill Barr told Donald Trump point blank that he would lose reelection because voters were tired of the chaos of the Trump administration according to the new book "I Alone Can Fix It" by our first guests tonight, Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker, because chaos was always a feature of the Trump White House.

Most of us were tired of it then. We`re still tired of it now that he`s out of office. But something changed in the last few days for the people who never grew tired, for the die hard Trump lovers and hard-core conservatives, it seems like they are starting to realize the danger of embracing the chaos and jumping off the cliff with Trump.

Case in point, here`s one line from a wild, unhinged statement that Trump sent out yesterday. Quote: people are refusing to take the vaccine because they don`t trust the Biden administration. They don`t trust the election results, end quote.

There was more but that`s all we`ll say right now and we`ll only repeating that part because it`s part of a broader point that I`m trying to make here. Donald Trump, the most influential person in the Republican Party, by far, is still lying about the election. But now, he`s encouraging people to doubt the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccine at the same time.

Are you kidding me? Trump himself got vaccinated in January. That`s not just Trump chaos. This is Trump disinformation. This is Trump disinformation that could kill.

Some conservatives finally seem to be growing tired of it. Today, Trump`s long-time friend, the quarterback Tom Brady mocked Trump at the White House for his election lies


TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Not a lot of people think that we could have won, in fact, I think about 40 percent of the people still don`t think we won.


BRADY: You understand that, Mr. President?

BIDEN: I understand that.

BRADY: Yeah.


HANNITY: Fox`s Sean Hannity who usually helps to spread Trump disinformation actually said on his program last night.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Please take COVID seriously. I can`t say it enough. Enough people have died. We don`t need any more deaths.

Research like crazy, talk to your doctor, your doctors, medical professionals you trust based on your unique medical history, your current medical condition, and you and your doctor make a very important decision for your own safety. Take it seriously.

You also have a right to medical privacy. Doctor/patient confidentiality is also important. It absolutely makes sense for many Americans to get vaccinated. I believe in the science, I believe in the science of vaccination.


O`DONNELL: Trump ally Steve Scalise, the number two House Republican now apparently trusts COVID vaccines too, after months of dodging whether or not he would get vaccinated, he got his first dose calling it safe and effective. That`s nice. Congratulations on that.

These about-faces are important. Conservative voices have influence and could change the hearts of minds of the hesitant. But let`s not give them too much credit, Hannity and Scalise could have and should have spoken out months ago, which is shameful that it took this long to combat Trump`s lies. There voices could have made a big difference with Republicans who doubted the seriousness of COVID or who were hesitant to get vaccinated.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows that 23 percent of Republicans will definitely not get vaccinated. A Yahoo poll of unvaccinated Americans find that 37 percent, more than one in three, believe that COVID vaccines pose a greater risk than the actual virus to your health.


Americans are continuing to get COVID. Americans are continuing to die from COVID. But now as the CDC director said, it`s a pandemic of the unvaccinated. More than 9 out of 10 Americans who died from COVID in the United States in June were unvaccinated, according to Dr. Fauci.

So, what`s it going to be Trump lies that could kill or breaking free and telling the truth.

Some staunch Trump allies seem to be breaking free. Some of them finally seeing like they`re saying, we`re tired of people dying because of Trump`s lies. Now no more need to follow suit. More need to shout from the roof tops, we`re tired of this. It may be the only way to save lives at this point.

Leading off the discussion tonight are co-authors of the new book "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump`s Catastrophic Final Year", Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker of "The Washington Post".

Congratulations to the two of you on a remarkable book.

Let me start with you, Carol, there is an alternate universe in which Donald Trump could have and should have taken credit for some fascinating things, including a vaccine that was developed in part, in some cases, because of help by the U.S. government. He didn`t have to be the guy who`s at the head of a group of people who are vaccine skeptics.

What happened? What happened with Trump and being able to say, I can do this, I can lead us, I alone can fix this, into the Trump that fixed nothing?

CAROL LEONNIG, CO-AUTHOR, "I ALONE CAN FIX IT": You know, Ali, his alternate reality, the one he`s living in, the one he talked about at length with Phil and me when we interviewed him at Mar-a-Lago has only gotten more hardened over time. Anything that doesn`t help him has to be false. It`s interesting too because it`s particularly perverse to have someone not taking credit for the vaccine they pressured everyone to deliver.

VELSHI: Right.

LEONNIG: Which Donald Trump did, he deserves some credit for that.

But it`s also perverse to link the distrust of the election among his supporters, which he sowed and stoked for months, to it`s also perverse to link the distrust a vaccine that could save their lives.

You know, what we found about our report about Donald Trump`s final catastrophic final year in our new book is that many people giving him expert advice at the time, insiders in the medical community were literally pulling their hair out in fear, in near-panic about him resisting their good guidance and they were shocked the degree to which he put American lives in peril for his own political benefit. And it sounds a little bit like by linking election and vaccination distrust, he`s linking these things for his political benefit, again.

VELSHI: Phil, I`m trying to remember back to last spring and the moment I realized Trump was going to end up on the wrong side of this thing. Early, early on, when we had numbers of people vaccinated in either the single digits or low double-digits, an excerpt in your book which you write, Trump did not want sick Americans landing on U.S. soil, even if they were working for the State Department, or else the government would have to report a rise in infection and that would make the public, the voters, nervous. The president was always thinking about the political ramifications for himself, even in a crisis.

You know, we remember he was at the CDC in Atlanta. There was a ship- docking that had infected people and he didn`t want it to happen because he said it would double or triple the numbers of COVID people.

The scientific community understood this was going to triple and double and multiply because this was going to be a pandemic, the president seemed to, in that moment, make a decision this was politics over pandemic.

PHIL RUCKER, CO-AUTHOR, "I ALONE CAN FIX IT": That`s exactly right, Ali, and that was the president`s mindset from day one of the pandemic. Remember, even before anybody used the "P" word and called it a pandemic, Trump was down playing the coronavirus saying it would disappear, saying it could go away with the warmer air, saying it was totally under control. His words.

And when people started to get infected in the United States, he tried to limit the number of tests. He didn`t want those people who had been in China from coming back to the United States right away because he was worried the number of infections in the U.S. would go up and somehow weaken his political standing.

What he didn`t realize in the moment when he was trying to survive each news cycle day-to-day was that the compounding gravity of the coronavirus situation was creating an untenable political situation for him heading into his reelection. I mean, he by all accounts according to the reporting for this books we talked to 140 senior administration officials, Trump failed at managing this pandemic.


And then, of course, he failed also at managing race relations in this country.

VELSHI: So, let`s stick with this, with the pandemic failure for a second. It wasn`t just scientific experts who are advising against this, there were some political experts who were suggesting he should take a different approach.

From your book, Carol, I`m not going to do it, the president told his team, referring to an executive order mandating masks. Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio said that even if the executive order idea was a no-go, Trump could still help himself politically like putting a mask on his face, wear am ask, Fabrizio counseled the president, voters don`t think you take it seriously. And he says, people tell me it makes me look weak, Trump replied. People see Biden, he`s always wearing a mask, and he looks weak. People tell me it doesn`t look presidential.

So, all of those things, they continue to exist now, because I saw a movement, about free our children, unmask our children or something , this mask thing, Donald Trump could have in the early days put an end it to it. Is as simple as the fact he thought it makes him look weak?

LEONNIG: You know, what`s interesting about that moment, Ali, is that the president when he said at the time, people tell me, what he really often was meaning was I feel that I look weak. I will tell you that we learned in our reporting that the chief of staff, Mark Meadows at the time counseled the medical and political advisors, no way, he can`t wear a mask, he`s already dug in on this, he can`t do it, because his face will basically rebel.

But Donald Trump himself believed that he looked weak and he told Phil and I that about the importance in his mind of looking strong, looking healthy, looking impenetrable, that was important to him.

The other thing that`s very sad thing about this moment is that Robert Redfield, the CDC director, it`s one of his greatest regrets. According to our reporting, he repeatedly tried to get the president and ultimately when failing to convince him, he tried to get the president`s physician, Sean Conley, to convince the president for his own safety, just that alone, wear the mask.

But Redfield knew and told Conley and told aides if the president would wear the masks, we will literally save hundreds of thousands of lives, and the president wouldn`t do it.

VELSHI: And yet, this continues today. Stuff that we`re talking about, while it feels like ancient history was last spring. Just today, Anthony Fauci was testifying today before Congress, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and he got into it once again with Senator Rand Paul, a man with medical education.

Let`s play what happened between the two of them today.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Senator Paul, I have never lied before the Congress and I do not retract that statement.

Senator Paul, you do not know what you are talking about, quite frankly, and I want to say that officially. You do not know what you are talking about.

I totally resent the lie that you are now propagating, Senator. You are implying that what we did was responsible for the deaths of individual -- I totally resent that and if anybody is lying here, Senator, it is you.


VELSHI: So, Phil, that stuff that started then continues today. We talked about Steve Scalise getting an injection. We talked about Hannity telling people to take this seriously. It is July of 2021. These decisions were being made in March and April of 2020 and they live -- they just have -- like a German cockroach, it just keeps on going.

RUCKER: That`s right. What an incredible exchange, by the way, today between Dr. Fauci and Senator Paul and underscores the degree to which President Trump succeeded last year in making Anthony Fauci a political punching bag for his conservative base.

You know, Fauci, a career government scientist had one objective through 2020, and that was to save lives and get America out of this pandemic and yet Trump in part according to our reporting because he was jealous to Fauci`s popularity and public opinion surveys tried to bludgeon Fauci, tried to tar him in the minds of his Make America Great Again followers. And you see that continuing today, where Republican lawmakers, as you saw there with Senator Paul, are going after Fauci, trying to discredit him, trying to lay blame in his hands for some of the deaths in this country, even as Fauci is trying to do by all accounts the right thing and keep this country safe and frankly keep people vaccinated so we can move on.

VELSHI: As I say good night I leave our viewers with one more excerpt from your book that I think answers question a lot of people have.


The interview he said was a great honor and offered to do another if we needed to ask anything else, and shrugged off the hours we spent asking the questions, I enjoyed it actually, Trump said with a twinkle in his eye. For some sick reason, I enjoyed.

Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker, we enjoy your company all the time. So I guess Donald Trump does too. The new book is called "I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump`s Catastrophic Final Year", thank you both for joining us tonight.

Coming up, Kevin McCarthy showed today his intention to turn the bipartisan commission investigating the deadly insurrection at U.S. Capitol into a troll event with the completely unserious pick of three people from the overturn the election caucus.

Coming up next, we`ll talk to someone who knows better than anyone how to tamp that down. Chairman Adam Schiff is with us next.


VELSHI: America will finally have a chance to learn more about the January 6th attack on the Capitol.


One week from today, the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection will hold its first hearing. The scheduled witnesses are four people officers who have shared harrowing accounts of how they came under attack from the Trump-incited mob that day.

A new CBS News poll finds 72 percent of Americans, including 59 percent of Republicans believe there is, quote, more to learn, end quote, about what happened on January 6th.

Of course, there is. How did these people know where to go, who let them in? Who told them what would happen? Who supported them? Where did they get their money from?

But would the Republicans on the select committee allow us to learn more or will they turn it into another political circus designed to defend Donald Trump?

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is a allowed five committee members to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Three of the five Republicans McCarthy chose have embraced Trump`s big lie and voted to overturn the election against Joe Biden, including the Trump sycophant Jim Jordan who yesterday said this about this particularly committee


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We know what this is, this is impeachment round three. This is going to go after President Trump.


VELSHI: Well, that`s a lie. Kevin McCarthy wants Republican Congressman Jim Banks to serve as the number two on the committee, Jim Banks who also voted to overturn the election said yesterday, quote, Nancy Pelosi created this committee solely to malign conservatives and to justify the left`s authoritarian agenda, end quote. That is also a lie.

Today, Speaker Pelosi said this about whether she`ll approve the members who Kevin McCarthy had proposed.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I`m considering his proposals. I`d like look to make it clear about how people voted on the president affirming the election of Joe Biden is not a criterion for service. That doesn`t matter.

REPORTER: What is the criteria?

PELOSI: Well, you`ll find out.


VELSHI: Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He`s the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who served as the lead impeachment manager in first impeachment trial of Donald Trump. He is also going to be on this committee.

Now, I want to start there. Thank you again, Chairman, for joining us.

I want to start there with what Nancy Pelosi just said, I`m paraphrasing, but she basically said that voting to overturn or not certify the election on January 6th, which is a separate thing from the insurrection but they`re connected, voting to do that is not disqualifying to be on the committee. I want to get your reaction to that.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, look, I think that the speaker has taken a position all along that we want to get to the truth. We want to get to the heart of the matter and we are willing to work with the other side. We`re even willing to work, as she stated today, with people who voted to decertify the election.

We were willing to have a commission with five Democrats and five Republicans in which not a single subpoena could go out if Republicans uniformly objected. That was a heck of a leap of faith.

Now, Kevin McCarthy didn`t want any of that, Donald Trump didn`t want any of that. They didn`t want the truth to come out. I think it`s reflected in some of the choices that they made for the select committee now. But we`re going to confirm as a body to discuss and analyze what McCarthy is proposing.

You know, certainly, some of them are being put on just to disrupt. And, you know, we`re not going to allow ourselves to be deterred, we`re going to get to the truth of all of the facts regarding January 6th.

VELSHI: So lots of people who may not be conspiracy theorists or nonsense peddlers have said to me what Jim Jordan said, that this is just impeachment three. This is just another impeachment.

You were the lead impeachment manager. You were the ranking member and then the chair of the House Intel Committee. So, you`ve seen all this stuff.

What is your response to people who say this is just another go at impeachment?

SCHIFF: If it was another go at impeachment we would not propose the committee be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans as we did with the commission. We not have negotiated a bill in bipartisan faith that the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee agreed to, along with Bennie Thompson.

But they didn`t want that because they don`t want an honest inquiry into the facts of January 6th, to answer all of the questions you asked.

How was it organized? How was it paid for? What do people know in Congress or the White House about the violence that was going to take place before the events of that day?

Was there advanced notice? What intelligence did we have or not have? And most importantly, what do we do to protect the country going forward?

Those are questions everyone American should want answered. That`s a very different kind of an inquiry than an impeachment in which you`re looking at whether the president should be convicted or remove from office.

VELSHI: So, it`s an interesting point because you`re going to be hearing from a number of Capitol Police officers, including one, Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, who`s with the U.S. Capitol Police.


He spoke to Mehdi Hasan on July 6th. You may hear similar testimony from him at the committee.

Let`s just play what he said to my colleague, Mehdi Hasan.


SGT. AQUILINO GONELL, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: When former President Trump was in power, they say, well, you cannot hold him accountable because he`s out the door, he`s leaving in a couple weeks. When he goes out of office, then you can`t hold him accountable because he`s already out of the office. Every single time they had the opportunity to hold the president -- the former president accountable, they haven`t.


VELSHI: And Sergeant Gonell seems legitimately confused about this. Mitch McConnell said, after the impeachment vote, there are methods by which Donald Trump can be held accountable for what he did. But Sergeant Gonell is wondering, what a lot of Americans are wondering about, where are the methods?

As far as Republicans are concerned, there don`t seem to be any methods. Every time there`s an attempt to hold Donald Trump accountable, there`s some reason that why they shouldn`t.

SCHIFF: There was a brief moment after the insurrection when Mitch McConnell I think felt the pangs of conscience, felt some call to defend the republic but it was fleeting. And he quickly realized if he tried to hold persons accountable, he would lose his position and I think there was nothing`s more important to him maintaining his position.

Now, Kevin McCarthy had no struggle along those lines. He is nothing if not 100 percent a political animal.

But the reality is the Republican Party is gone. You have a cult around Donald Trump. The legislative leadership in Congress will do whatever he wants. And, of course, they`re not going to hold him accountable, they`re afraid of his base.

And as long as that is true, they will continue pushing out his lies big and small because that`s what their party is right now. It`s an anti-truth party. It`s an autocratic party and we need Republicans of good conscience to take back the party because the system really depends on two healthy parties.

VELSHI: Chairman Schiff, good to see you. Thank as always for joining me. Chairman Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee. He will be serving on the Select Committee looking into January 6th.

Coming up, Neal Katyal is going to join us on today`s breaking news, the arrest of Trump friend and confidant and chair of the Trump inaugural committee.



VELSHI: Yet another member of Trump`s inner circle has been indicted. Another one. Tom Barrack, the chair of Trump`s 2017 Inaugural Committee, was arrested in California today and charged with failing to register as foreign lobbyist of the United Arab Emirates, an act required by the Justice Department.

According to the "New York Times," quote, "Federal prosecutors said that Mr. Barrack used his position as an outside adviser to Mr. Trump`s campaign to publicly promote the UAE`s agenda while soliciting direction, feedback and talking points from senior UAE officials," end quote.

Barrack has also been charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements during a 2019 interview with federal agents. A spokesperson for Mr. Tom Barrack said, quote, "Mr. Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty," end quote.

The charges were brought by federal prosecutors in New York who asked that Barrack remain in custody until his bail hearing. He`s a very, very rich guy. They say that his wealth, his access to a private jet and, quote, "the defendant`s deep and long-standing ties to countries that do not have extradition treaties with the United States," end quote, namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE. That bail hearing has been said for this coming Monday, July 26th in Los Angeles.

Now for those of you keeping track at home, and who doesn`t love playing this game, Tom Barrack is the 7th Trump associate to be indicted. And although he was not associated with the campaign, Elliot Broidy, the vice chairman of Trump`s 2017 inaugural committee, was also charged with failing to register as a foreign agent just like Tom Barrack. Broidy pleaded guilty in 2020 to violating this very act, the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He was pardoned by Donald Trump on his last day in office.

It`s hard to keep track of sometimes. But the guy to help us is Neat Katyal. He`s a former acting U.S. solicitor general and an MSNBC legal contributor.

I mean, Neal, most of these people didn`t need the money, by the way. You know, Tom Barrack certainly didn`t need the money. I don`t know what it is. What attracts what? Does Donald Trump find these people? Does he they find them? I want to ask my control room, while you`re answering that, to put up the screen that shows all those people we just showed connected to Trump who have been indicted. Talk to me about this, Neal.

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Ali, I think, you know, the screen, and you said it right at the outset, you know, this is yet another one of Trump`s confidants that`s been indicted. The astonishing thing in today`s indictment, what it underscores is just how many people surrounding Donald Trump have been accused of crimes. You were asking, is it about love of money or something, I don`t know. I mean, it seems like basically you have to be a felon in order to qualify for a job with Donald Trump.

That was the qualification. And, you know, perhaps the biggest loser today in all of this is Allen Weisselberg who just realized he could have been making UAE money instead of just settling for tuition.

VELSHI: Right.

KATYAL: Which is what he got.

VELSHI: And by the way, you mentioned something interesting. There`s a reason why these laws exist. This thing that Jared Kushner was involved in and Barrack was involved in and others were involved in, which really became this fight between the country of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, I mean, it has real-world implications. Working for foreign governments for the purpose of influencing U.S. policy has real- world implications. Those countries, they embargoed Qatar for a very, very long time.


KATYAL: You said it beautifully, Ali, and you know, this act that he was accused of violating, the Foreign Agent Registration Act, it goes back to 1938. And it advances one of the most serious purposes in government, and saying, look, you want to lobby for a foreign government, you can do that. We`re not going to block you from that. You just got to tell us, you`ve got to be up and up about it, you`ve got to register in advance so that everyone knows.

And the acquisitions in this indictment are scary. Basically one of Trump`s best friends was trying to insert stuff into Trump speeches and other things, without acknowledging at all that he was acting on behalf of a foreign government. And, you know, that`s been a flat violation of the law since well before you and I were born. And it`s big bucks. You know, the indictment alleges, you know, possibly $1.5 billion that this fund controlled by Tom Barrack got, and, you know, Barrack`s defense is, well, I`m only 10 percent of that fund. That`s still $150 million.

You know, and so the idea that you can do that and profit this way, I mean, that`s what the law is all about, blocking foreign influence in our government at least without disclosing it in advance.

VELSHI: So, generally speaking, the violations of this Foreign Agents Registration Act are procedural, there`s something where somebody hasn`t filled something out, they generally let them, it does not -- not a whole bunch of people go to jail for this sort of thing, but there`s a fundamental importance to the law, as you just articulated. There`s a reason it`s there and it`s about transparency. Right? We need to actually know when decisions are made whether somebody else with some other interest, whether it`d be financial or world domination or something, it`s influencing a decision that the United States government or the president of the United States has to be taking.

So it seems procedural and bureaucratic on the surface but there`s a fundamental philosophical good philosophical reason for laws like this.

KATYAL: A hundred percent, and it`s not procedural, Ali, at all, with all due respect. I mean, this is one of the hearts of American government which is, again, it strikes a balance. It says you can lobby for a foreign government, you`ve just got to tell everyone. And this isn`t like something unknown. I mean, everyone person who works in this town, in Washington, D.C. knows about this act and knows like to stay on the right side of it.

The reason why cases aren`t brought isn`t because it is technical or procedural, it`s because nobody in their right mind would violate this. So that`s point one. And point two is, just remember, the indictment is not just about the Foreign Agent Registration Act, it`s also about the fact that Trump`s -- one of his best friends, the guy who`s indicted today, Tom Barrack, lied to the FBI and obstructed justice when he was asked about this. And, you know, he faces four charges of lying during a voluntary interview. I mean, talk about digging your own grave.

VELSHI: Yes, yes. I`m glad you brought that point up. It`s not that I just forgot to submit the form. It`s that the FBI asked me about this. And I didn`t say I`m not speaking to you because he had a right to do that. He had a right to do -- I watch it on "Law and Order" all the time. You can tell these people you`re not talking to them. He didn`t do to that. He talked to them and then he lied to them. And now he`s in trouble for it.

Neal, thank you for helping us through this one because it puzzles me, boggles my mind.

Neal Katyal is a former acting United States solicitor general and he`s an MSNBC legal contributor.

Coming up, we will be joined by civil rights icon Dolores Huerta on how she sees the fight for voting rights.



VELSHI: Texas Democrats are keeping the national spotlight on voting rights this week despite their COVID-related setbacks. Their second week in Washington is full of virtual events featuring activists, election officials and key Democratic lawmakers. This morning the Texas Democrats held a video call with House Majority whip Jim Clyburn and they participated in discussions with civil rights groups.

Later this week the delegation is going to speak with four secretaries of State and Democratic legislators from Arizona, Florida and Georgia where Republicans have already passed voting restrictions. But kicking off the week of events was legendary labor leader and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America.

Here`s some of what Huerta said yesterday to the Texas Democrats.


DOLORES HUERTA, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: It`s happening right now, in many ways it`s even more severe, it`s broader, it`s bigger than what was going on in the `60s. You are the soldiers that are fighting for everybody, not just for Texas, but you`re fighting for Arizona, you`re fighting for all of those states where they are passing these laws to suppress the vote. You were standing up to the ideals and the dreams of what America is and what America should be.


VELSHI: Joining us now is Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist and labor leader. She`s the co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, with Cesar Chavez. She did that -- they did that in 1962.

But, Dolores, I`m not meaning to, you know, say anything about your age on TV, it`s impolite, my mother would be very crossed. You started the Agricultural Workers Association in 1960. You`ve been working on this stuff since 1955. This fight, you know, and you tell these people that this is maybe more serious than it was in the `60, you were there at the frontlines of civil rights fights in the `50s, in the `60s, in the `70s, in the `80s, in the `90s. It`s never stopped for you.

HUERTA: No, it hasn`t. And way back in the `50s actually in California we passed the laws that people could vote in a Spanish language and not only that, we got rid of the deputy registrars so that anybody who is a citizen can register another person to vote. And as you know, in California we have some of the most liberal voting rights, people can vote online, and they can register with their cellphones or their computers. When you go to the DMV to get your driver`s license you`re automatically registered.


We have had mail-in ballots for a long, long time now, and so we would hope that the other states catch up with us, especially Texas, because we know that -- especially for the Latino community, there are so many -- 40 percent I think of the population are Latino, and if they could all register to vote and not this voter suppression really Texas could literally turn blue.

VELSHI: And you and Cesar Chavez, your names are associated with farm worker, with labor, agricultural labor, but in fact in 1960 when you started, one of the things that you did was voter registration drives for those agricultural workers.

HUERTA: Yes, absolutely, yes. We came out of another organization called the Community Service Organization and that was our entire focus, was to get out there and go door to door and register people to vote, and with my foundation, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, we continue doing that exactly. And I mentioned about Texas being 40 percent Latino population, you know, in the state of Virginia which has only less than 8 percent, it was the Latino vote that really helped to turn Virginia from a red state to a blue state. A lot of people don`t know that.

VELSHI: What did you tell these folks from Texas? Because it looks, on some days, like a losing battle. Right? They`re going to go back to Texas, many of them may face arrests. They are prepared to be arrested. It`s not a criminal charge but the sergeant at arms can arrest them for not being in the House. But this is not going to end easily. And without the majority in the Texas House it may not end in their favor.

So what does someone like you with literally decades of voter registration and civil rights work have to say to them to keep their fight going?

HUERTA: Well, first of all, I want to thank them and to tell them that all of the nation is grateful for their sacrifice, for them leaving their homes and their children behind knowing that they are going to be persecuted possibly arrested because of this courageous action that they`re taking, to fight for the voting rights of everybody, all of the people in those states, where all of these Republican legislatures are passing laws to suppress the vote.

They have joined the march of civil rights leaders like Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and of course John Lewis by the actions that they`re taking. And I would hope that all of the people in Texas, please see what your representatives are doing, please do the work. They`re gone right now. They`re in Washington, D.C. but all of you down there in Texas, please do the work, go out there and tell everybody that you`ve got to support them.

You know, we`ve got to fight. Really, you know, Abraham Lincoln said that the ballot has got more power than the bullet. The ballot has got more power than the bullet. We`ve got to fight for our voting rights because this is the soul of America. The soul of America is our democracy and we all have to stand up there and fight because if not -- we could not keep our democracy if we do not engage and if we do not commit, we do not fight for it.

VELSHI: They decided to go to D.C. not Oklahoma or somewhere else so that they can have impact on and have conversations with federal legislators. Do you think the federal legislators are taking them seriously enough? And let`s cut through the BS, what I mean is, is their message going to resonate with those Democratic senators who are standing in the way of moving off this filibuster so that they can entrench the protections for voting rights that we need in this country?

HUERTA: Well, we hope that they will. We hope that somehow this message -- the sacrifice that they are making and so many others that this will reach their heart, this will reach their conscience, and realize what they are doing, they are fighting for all of us. We have to fight to keep our nation a democratic society. And if we don`t fight we`re going to lose it and we see that we are at this critical point right now in our nation where there are some that don`t -- they don`t care. They want power, they`re greedy, they don`t care about the working people.

They don`t care about labor unions, people of color, women, so we`ve got to stand up there and we are the ones that have to commit. And we have these wonderful Texas Democrats that are paving the way for us and showing us, that if we have to sacrifice, let`s do that. Let`s make it happen. Let`s keep our democracy.

VELSHI: Well, it`s mighty generous of you to talk about them paving the way, and they`re doing a remarkable job but if we`re going to talk about people who paved the way for civil rights, your name goes very close to the top of that list.

Dolores Huerta, thank you for joining us tonight. Dolores Huerta is the civil rights activist, who really doesn`t need much introductions. She`s a labor leader and the co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America.

Coming up six of those Texas Democrats all fully vaccinated have tested positive for COVID. Today the White House confirmed some fully vaccinated staffers have tested positive. Is this surprising in groups where the level of vaccination is almost complete?

Doctor Ashish Jha joins us after this.



VELSHI: Covid cases are on the rise across the United States. Breakthrough cases which are positive coronavirus cases among the fully vaccinated are rare but they are contributing to that rise. And several breakthrough cases have cropped up in Washington, D.C. The Capitol attending physician said today that several vaccinated congressional staff members and one member of Congress have been infected with the virus. A spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is among those staff members.

The White House announced today that a member of the Biden administration has also contracted a strain of the coronavirus despite being fully vaccinated. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it`s not the first breakthrough case among White House staff.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We know that there will be breakthrough cases. But as the (INAUDIBLE) shows cases in vaccinated individuals are typically mild. The White House is prepared for breakthrough cases with regular testing. This is another reminder of the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines against severe illness or hospitalizations.


VELSHI: CDC director Rochelle Walensky says that the Delta variant of the coronavirus now accounts for 83 percent of all new COVID cases in the United States.


Joining us now is Dr. Ashish Jha, he`s the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, good to see you again. How worried should we be about this? In vaccinated circles people getting this -- either the Delta variant or some version of coronavirus?

DR. ASHISH JHA, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH DEAN: Yes, Ali, first of all, thanks for having me back. I think this is to be expected for a couple of reasons. One is we`re seeing massive outbreaks in unvaccinated individuals. When you have a lot of virus circulating around, it`s going to challenge vaccinated people and we`re going to see a few breakthroughs. So this is not totally surprising.

The good news is the people who`ve had these breakthrough infections have had mild disease. And that says to me that the vaccines are working. We never thought these vaccines were 100 percent. And the best way to prevent breakthrough infections is to reduce the amount of infections in the community which is get more people vaccinated.

VELSHI: Can -- I heard some -- I`ve never really got my head around the term but viral load where we`re talking about how infectious something is. We used to talk about it, compared to the flu, you know, a year ago. Is the viral load such that people who are vaccinated can be spreading this to other people?

JHA: Yes, they can but far less likely to. And that`s the key thing. So there are a couple of differences between unvaccinated and vaccinated people. Unvaccinated people obviously spread quite efficiently. They spread when they don`t have symptoms. Vaccinated people tend to have much, much lower viral loads. So they are much less likely to spread asymptomatically, and even when they`re having really bad symptoms they can spread it to other people but it`s not that common.

VELSHI: The efficacy, we`ve seen certain studies that show that the main vaccines that we`ve got have some degree of efficacy against the Delta variant doesn`t mean you`re not going to get it, it means you can get it. Generally speaking, if you are vaccinated and you get this Delta variant, will you experience lesser symptoms?

JHA: Yes, exactly. There are two things going on. First, you are much less likely to get it. So let`s be very clear. If you are vaccinated you are less likely to get any kind of infection. But if you`re unlucky enough to get infected you`re going to have much milder disease.

Look, I don`t want to be infected. Nobody wants to be infected with the Delta variant or any other variant. But what we care about most is avoiding hospitalizations and deaths. And the vaccines seem to be just really terrific at doing that.

VELSHI: I want to play for you something that Dr. Fauci said at a Senate hearing today about the duration of efficacy of the vaccines. Let`s listen to it together.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: There are also areas of immunity that are more difficult to measure like T-cell responses. But the one that seems to be very well correlated is the antibody level. We know from studies from the clinical trials as well as from animal studies that there`s a baseline level below which you go, you`re at much more vulnerable to getting a breakthrough infection.


VELSHI: Yes, the question that he was being asked was about the duration of the efficacy of vaccines. As we get further and further away from the first people who got vaccinated, when these vaccines came out, does this become more of a danger? And how does that work into this concept of booster shots?

JHA: Yes, it`s a great question. There`s a lot we still don`t know. But here`s how I would think about it. There are two arms of the immunity, there is the antibodies that Dr. Fauci was talking about. Think of that as your kind of active forces. And then you have your reserves, the T-cells. And what we`re seeing is some early data that you get a little bit of waning of your active forces, the antibody levels, and so we`re going to see some more breakthrough cases.

We`re not seeing any waning of the T-cells, your reserves, so even if you get a breakthrough the T-cells kick in and they prevent you from getting severe disease. So I think we have very good data right now that says you`re going to have really long-term protection against severe illness but those breakthrough illnesses are a problem and we don`t know when they`re going to start becoming more common.

And we may need a booster especially more vulnerable, high-risk, imagine older people, people in nursing homes. I think they may need a booster shot sometime sooner rather than later.

VELSHI: Can this come to an end if we still have a whole bunch of people who don`t want to get vaccinated?

JHA: Boy, it`s going to be a lot harder because not just talking about this horrible Delta variant but we`re also talking about future variants. This thing comes -- you know, to me, what`s striking about people who have not yet gotten vaccinated is don`t we all want to put this behind us? Like aren`t we ready to move on from COVID? I am. And the only way that`s going to happen is if 90 percent, 85 percent, 90 percent of people have immunity to this. We just need a lot more people getting vaccinated and until that happens we`re going to continue struggling with this

VELSHI: Ashish, I did not guess that a year and a half later I would still have questions to ask you, but I suspect I`ve got a year and a half more questions to ask you.

Ashish Jha is the Dean of Brown University School of Public Health, and he, like so many others, makes time for us to answer these questions.

That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.