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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/13/21

Guests: Ravi Perry, Carlee Simon, Stephanie Kelton, Abby Finkenauer


GOP lies about election, COVID threaten democracy. Dept. Of Homeland Security Warns of potential violence fueled by false election claims. Poll: 29 percent of GOP believed lie Trump would be reinstated. COVID cases rise, GOP blocks efforts to stop the spread. Florida, Texas schools defy governor`s mask bans.



RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That`s going to do it for us tonight on this Friday evening. We will see you again on Monday. Now, it`s time for the "Last Word" with the great Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good evening, Rachel. It was it was hard to watch that show, particularly the stuff on Afghanistan. We know we are watching something coming apart, and people are at odds about what to do about it. But it is very, very sad to watch that.

MADDOW: It is very, very sad to watch it. And our colleague, Mehdi Hasan had an incredible guest on last hour. I don`t know if you saw it.

VELSHI: I did, yes.

MADDOW: He had the woman who was the first fixed wing pilot from the - first female fixed wing pilot from the Afghan Air Force, who eventually had to apply for asylum in our country, because of the Taliban hunting her.


MADDOW: Her talking about seeing what`s happening to our country, her fear for her family still in Afghanistan right now - I mean, it`s - there`s - I mean, there`s no word for it other than dire.

VELSHI: I share your view that when Mehdi finished the show and you were commenting on that interview, I shared your view, and it was riveting. It was it was remarkable to watch. May this have a better ending than it`s looking like right now. Rachel, you have a good weekend, and we`ll see you on Monday.

MADDOW: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: Well, it is Friday. It`s Friday, the 13th. May seem silly to say this, but Joe Biden is still the President of the United States. Now, perhaps you didn`t know, but for months, the foam pillow guy was telling every poor, sad gullible soul, who`d listen, that some alchemical Voodoo was going to make Trump president again. And it was going to happen today right after Joe Biden and Kamala Harris resigned after the fraud of the 2020 election was exposed.

It didn`t happen. So the foam pillow guy`s prediction - his theory, if you will, it was wrong. As are all the crazy conspiracies pushed by Trump and his lackeys, no matter the subject. A good rule of thumb if it comes from the mouth of Trump or Rudy Giuliani, or a foam pillow CEO, don`t trust it. Seems obvious.

But, sadly, too many of your fellow Americans do trust what those hacks say. And it`s gotten so bad that even some non-conspiracy theorists Republicans cannot convince their base of the truth anymore.


REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): Don`t kid yourself into believing that`s why we lost. It`s not.

CROWD MEMBER: You`re wrong.

CRENSHAW: I`ll tell you openly.

CROWD MEMBER: You`re wrong.

CRENSHAW: I will tell you - and I`m not wrong.

CROWD MEMBER: Yes, you are. I have plenty of proof. I have proof in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

CRENSHAW: Five different states?


CRENSHAW: Hundreds of thousands of votes?


CRENSHAW: You`re kidding yourself.


VELSHI: There was fraud in the 2020 election. It came from Donald Trump. He`s the one who demanded that state election officials quote "find enough votes" to change the results in states that he lost. He`s the one who pushed the Justice Department to question the election results. He`s the one who told the big lie over and over and over again.

And as we have been documenting over the last several months, Republicans are legislating off that lie, disenfranchising voters as punishment for making their voices heard. The constant disinformation has infected and degraded every single Republican and millions of regular unaffiliated Americans too. It`s seeping into all aspects of our lives.

When I tweeted that we`d be talking about this, some of you asked why would we cover the lies and rantings of unhinged conspiracy theorists? Here`s why. Because it`s killing Americans and it`s wrecking our democracy - yours as much as everyone else`s. The election lies, the COVID lies, the economic lies, the lies are hurting us as a nation, they weaken us, they divide us more effectively than any foreign adversary could ever hope to do.

Blocking people from voting makes the country lesser. Terrorizing people, threatening them with violence or worse carrying that violence out, makes this country lesser. And that`s where we are today. Lies about a stolen election are what led to the Capitol riot and officials are now worried about another attack.

Just today, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new National Terrorism Advisory warning quote "through the remainder of 2021 racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists and antigovernment, anti-authority violent extremists will remain a national threat priority for the United States."

According to the report, enforcement - law enforcement is most concerned about non - about continued and nonspecific calls for violence that are based on quote "Conspiracy theories on perceived election fraud and alleged reinstatement, and responses to anticipated restrictions relating to the increasing COVID cases."

You know, who gets briefed on DHS reports like these? Republicans in Congress. And funny enough, they don`t seem to care enough about those threats to stop the lies, they just keep on lying. And other countries, namely Russia and China are exacerbating the problem.


Today, CNN published details of new intelligence reports that indicate that Russia`s efforts to interfere in our elections haven`t stopped. They`re, quote, "ongoing and evolving." And part of that evolution is folding Republican lies about COVID into their efforts. Republican lies are helping the Russians destabilize America. Quote, "there are some indications that Moscow is now attempting to capitalize on the debate raging inside the U.S. over vaccines and masking." Those lies are hurting us.

A new Fox poll finds that 13 percent of Americans never wear a mask in public, 17 percent have no plans to get vaccinated. Now, those seem like small percentages, especially when compared with the 69 percent of Americans who are still concerned about the pandemic and have been vaccinated.

But that small group has an outsized influence, because it includes people like Donald Trump and Republican governors who are fighting masks mandates, and demonizing medical professionals as case rates and hospitalizations soar to record levels.

And by the way, 17 percent of Americans is millions of Americans, millions of unvaccinated Americans walking around among us without masks, potentially infecting others with a deadly virus, including those of us who got the vaccine. Do we even need Russia and China to stoke COVID divisions when one political party in this country is already doing that?

Maligned disinformation is rampant and is hurting us and is hurting our democracy. I don`t know what to say anymore. I`m literally running out of the words to talk about this, because it`s nuts, and Republicans just don`t care. They continue to lie and because their lies are believed by enough people, they stay in power, allowing them a platform to perpetuate those very same lies and legislate off of those lies.

The Republican Party in America has an outsized influence over our democracy, the Senate is split 50:50. But Senate Democrats represent 41 million more people than Senate Republicans do. In the census data that we saw this week, we saw that the white population is declining for the first time in history in America, while the number of multiracial Americans have more than doubled - people who identify as being with more than one race.

Americans live in a country whose government is whiter and more conservative than its population, and it could become more so. And instead of changing their policies or appealing to new demographics, Republicans just lie. They lie to instill fear and mistrust. They lie to keep people on their side.

And here`s the thing the lies do work, and as such, they have consequences. Unnecessary COVID deaths are a consequence of those lies. The Capitol Insurrection was a consequence of those lies. The erosion of voting rights in defense of election integrity is a consequence of those lies. These are just three of the consequences. What lies down the line?

What do we do about it? Us, those of us who don`t believe the lies, who believe that Joe Biden won, and that the vaccine works, and we don`t get our political prognostications for a foam pillow salesman? What do we do about it?

Leading off our discussion tonight, Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama. He`s an MSNBC Political Analyst. His new book is, "After the Fall: Being American in the World We`ve Made." Ravi Perry is a Professor and Chair of Howard University`s Department of Political Science. Ben Collins is a Senior Reporter at NBC News, whom I joke dwells in the underbelly of the Internet.

It is relevant to have all three of you here this evening. Good evening to you all. Ben Rhodes. I`m a little bit lost for what to think about this. There are no policy discussions anymore. There are no things where a Democrat on one side debates a Republican on another side about something that might be a reasonable matter for politicians to debate. It`s lies versus truth these days.

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, Ali, my old boss, Barack Obama used to tell me that, you can have differences of opinion, for instance, about how to deal with climate change. But how do you have a debate with someone who doesn`t believe that climate change is real and manmade. And I think the situation that we`re living through is really existential to our democracy.

And the book that you reference that I wrote, it deals with authoritarianism - the competition between democracy and authoritarianism. And I`m often asked what`s different about this day and age in terms of the competition that is always put out throughout history?

What`s different is that technology and social media allows for putting 40 percent of this country into an entirely alternative reality, where people could believe that vaccines don`t work and masks don`t work. People could believe that Donald Trump actually won the election. People can believe that climate change is not real or it`s not manmade. And that`s what we`re contending with.

This is not about differences of opinion about policy. It`s about people living in an alternative reality. And I think what we have to get our arms around is how social media and technology has exacerbated the spread of conspiracy theory. And when you have one major political party, that is fine with that, that goes along with that.


Then actually use that because it serves their own interests, we have a big problem and we`re not going to get our arms around that problem, until we get our arms around the platforms that spread disinformation and conspiracy theory that allow for foreign actors like Russia to come in and pour gasoline on the fires that have already been started by the right wing in this country.

Until we get our arms around how technology is mass mobilizing and scaling up this alternative reality that a big chunk of our country lives in, we`re just not going to be able to have a healthy democracy, and be able to deal with the big challenges of our time.

VELSHI: Ben Collins, it was one thing when these conspiracy theories floated around amongst people who got their information from places like Facebook or, your crazy uncle has views about the government or whatever the case is. But it has reached the point where it is affecting all of us, right?

When people don`t get their vaccines, or they don`t want to wear a mask, and they infect people, and those people die, then it`s not just a conspiracy theory dwelling problem anymore. When people do not trust the government or do not trust elections, it does actually become a problem for the rest of us. And maybe we didn`t all take it as seriously as we should it - should have when you were yelling at the top of your lungs about this a few years ago. But now here we all are. And what do we do?

BEN COLLINS, NCB NEWS SENIOR REPORTER: It first starts with dealing with the reality that we all have right now, which is we`re not having debates about taxes, or you know, this infrastructure bill or something like that. There is a large portion of this country, that is dovetailing right now with the Republican Party - the mainstream of the Republican Party that believes that there is some sort of shady cabal that is running the world secretly, and it`s overturning elections, and it`s putting shots inside you. They either give you a microchip, or make you sick over the course of few years and they`re doing it to control the population. Or maybe they`re doing it to control the population of just white people.

And that you have to change the way we talk about politics, and realize that this is actually happening right now. The conversations about politics are not these dinner table conversations that we used to have over the last 20 or 30 years. It`s a different conversation. People really truly believe that there is a secret New World Order. This used to be Weekly World News stuff.

But it is the tenets of a what a lot of these people are dog whistling in the mainstream Republican Party right now. And you can`t decouple these things. You can`t decouple this ridiculous pillow conference in the middle of the country right now where people are saying over and over again that this this election was stolen by the Chinese. Or maybe it wasn`t the Chinese, and then all these things change. You can`t decouple that from vaccine hesitancy.

It`s all comes back to this one dog whistle that Donald Trump perfected over the last four or five years, which is that there is some - that the government cannot be trusted period, end of story. They went after me, Donald Trump. They`re going after you eventually. This is a deep cynicism, you have to confront that cynicism.

And as Ben Rhodes just said, you have to confront the forces on social media that push those things to the front of your feed, and then eventually to real life and real life politics.

VELSHI: Professor Perry, the Attorney General Eric Holder was talking about this just today on MSNBC, about the demographics and the way things are interpreted both by Democrats and Republicans right now. Let`s just play what he had to say. And I`d like to get your comment on the other side.


ERIC HOLDER, JR., FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is not a tension between fairness and Democrats doing better. In fact, if it`s fair, Democrats will do far better. Democrats don`t have to cheat. We don`t have to gerrymander. Republicans do in order to deal with a nation that is more diverse, that is younger, that is more urban, that is more suburban, and that people need to focus on is less, less rural.


VELSHI: And professor, we of course, got the census numbers that probably didn`t surprise you or me, but they are the silent thing that Republicans are fighting against. It is this changing face of America, that they are not reaching out to try and cater to, but instead fighting against.

RAVI PERRY, CHAIR, DEPT. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE HOWARD UNIVERSITY: Yes. Democrats have tried over the last several decades to make it clear that they wanted to appeal to these new browning of America. The demographics that have been predicted long was confirmed with this new census report.

And what the Republicans have chosen to do clearly, its chosen to avoid the inevitable. And they have instead dug in their heels up honing on to a kind of whiteness from yesteryear, and certainly from the 20th Century. And so whether it`s the vaccines, whether it`s the big lie, whether it`s public education in GOP led States and state legislatures, what we`re seeing is a massive disinformation campaign by the Republican party to ensure that people don`t know the power that they have.


And that the brown vote, Asian-American and Pacific Islanders, Latinos, African-Americans that make up much of the Democratic coalition, that they have their power weakened in states where they tend to live the most here in the south.

VELSHI: Ben Rhodes, I want to just show you a poll from POLITICO and Morning Consult. This was taken in June, about Donald Trump. Today they`re calling it the day of the reinstatement when Donald Trump was reinstated. We`re looking at whether or not the country`s going in the right or wrong track. 29 percent said very or somewhat likely.

Actually I think this is the wrong question. I`m going to take this off. I`ll just ask you something else. I think this graphic might be incorrect. That there are a lot of Republicans about 30 percent of Republicans who actually think Donald Trump might come back into office, there`s no - he might run again in 2024. But that`s not what the question is about.

How do you capture them? How do you get into their world and sort of say, I understand you`re conservative for a lot of interesting reasons. You might like smaller government, you might want lower taxes, all this kind of stuff, but how do you get them into a normal conversation and get them away from this idea that there`s going to be a reinstatement, that there was widespread fraud in the election.

Republicans are not guiding them back to this conversation. Is there any room for Democrats to do so?

RHODES: I think Ali, we have to recognize that it`s incredibly difficult. The example I`d give is that when we were in the White House, there were polls, time and again, though, that a majority of Republicans believed the birther conspiracy theory - the racist birther conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was not born in United States.

Far too much of the mainstream political media kind of treated that as almost a comical aberration. No, they really believe that. And that`s how you got Donald Trump to be the Republican nominee. And that`s how he ultimately became president.

I think what we have to understand is there have to be policy responses to these things over time. So for instance, again, how does something that as Ben rightly said, was once in the Weekly World News in a supermarket tabloid? How is that reaching 30 to 40 percent of Americans? It`s because social media algorithms are written to prioritize sensationalist information that triggers people, that triggers their emotion.

There`s going to have to be a conversation about regulation of how those algorithms are written, so that you`re not mainlining conspiracy theories and disinformation that services an agenda where - let`s be blunt, as we`ve been talking about the census - what`s happening here is the Republican Party cannot win a popular election in this country. They haven`t since 2004 when George W. Bush was elected.

They`re trying to entrench minority rule of a majority. And they`re using disinformation and conspiracy theories to mobilize their base sufficiently to be able to do that. And here`s the thing, it could work. It works in other countries. And so unless we have a policy response, it gets our arms around how you get - there`s always going to be a segment of the population that believes crazy thing. The question is, how do you shrink that, from it being 40 to 45 percent? down to a number of people that is manageable? And is not derailing our democracy?

To me, yes, we have to show up in places. Yes, we have to make our case. Yes, you have to go into rural parts of this country, and try to make the case to people about what is facts on things like vaccine. But ultimately, if you`re facilitating literally the dissemination and mainlining of conspiracy theories to people, there`s only so much you can do and we have to recognize that.

So I`d like to see the mainstream media treat this more seriously. And not treat like Republican lies as somehow of equal value to people like me who might be wrong about the size of government or taxation, right, but at least live in on Planet Earth. And how are we getting our arms around the tools and technologies that are making this mass mobilization and scaling up of disinformation possible?

VELSHI: So Professor Perry, the thing is that, people look at the census report, and they think they think of the browning of America. They think of the people who formed the Democratic Coalition and think it`s all going to be OK. But in fact, it`s the opposite of OK. Because gerrymandering - redistricting is going to begin and Republicans control far more districts or far more states in which there`s redistricting than the Democrats do.

So rather than the country looking more like - rather than Washington looking more like what the country looks like right now, we will actually see in the next election, it looking less so.

PERRY: You`re absolutely right. And that is because we have in America a problem, frankly, in voting in our local and state election. It is state representatives and state senators that draw congressional district lines and Republican Party controls, most governor`s mansions and most state legislators.

So yes, they are going to gerrymander, racially gerrymandered, arts (ph) and gerrymander the districts that work in their favor. And of course, if you are a part of that browning of America coalition, it`s very likely that those districts are not going to cater to your interests when it comes to policy that congressional members actually put forth.


And so the challenge for all of us is to make sure that the disinformation actually is mitigated. I actually think it is working. It`s already worked. It`s worked primarily because those same state legislatures, and those same governors of most of the states also have fought very hard to ensure that we are no longer teaching civics. We`re no longer teaching ethnic studies. We can`t talk about women, we can`t talk about gender, we can`t talk about sexuality. We can`t do any of these things in K through 12 education.

So we have generations of people now who simply don`t know their own power, the power that the Constitution gives them in terms of their citizenship rights, or to exercise their freedoms in this country via the ballot box. But we have to return to the importance of education and perhaps mandating civic education and ethnic studies and global history and affairs, so that people can understand the world around them and then vote their interests accordingly.

VELSHI: Ben Collins people did believe - a lot of people did believe this reinstatement day thing. It was silly, because it meant Joe Biden, Kamala Harris would resign. And somehow instead of the normal course of people who - the line of succession, somehow Donald Trump would be reinstated as President of United States. What are what are those folks thinking on a day like this? Friday, the 13th has come and gone and unless this happens in the next hour and a half, it`s game over.

COLLINS: Yes. Look, these people are getting more and more desperate. That is always the worry with this sort of thing. I will say that in the days before this, people had already moved the date back because they realized it was just Mike Lindell saying this. And Michael Lindell, even among the most diehard QAnon Trump supporters, is losing a lot of steam recently. So they realized that it was just him saying this. There was nobody in Trump`s orbit actually saying this,

But the dog whistle is still out there. Donald Trump is still sort of dog whistling that he`s going to be reinstated somehow, saying, he might come back sooner than 2024 or something like that. The worry is not that sort of thing. The worry is the violence when people get desperate. You`re already seeing it with QAnon supporters, you can see it with others very soon.

VELSHI: Gentlemen, thanks to you for helping us out this evening, Ben Rhodes, Ravi Perry and Ben Collins. It is a pleasure to have spoken to you this evening.

All right, coming up, parents and school leaders are fighting Republican governors, as we just mentioned, to keep their schools - their school kids safe as Delta is raging and already wreaking havoc on the new school year.



VELSHI: The school year was supposed to mark a return to normal for school children and teachers, but the Delta varied and Republican policies are working to stop that. In Palm Beach County, Florida, just two days into the school year more than 400 students have been asked to quarantine after being exposed to the coronavirus.

And according to Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare a child under five years old has died of COVID. The first child to die there of the virus. But Ron DeSantis is standing behind his executive order, banning masks mandates in schools. More than 800 Florida physicians are calling that decision reckless.

In an open letter to Governor Ron DeSantis they write quote, "as the virus burns through Florida health care providers feel we are fighting this fire without any leadership. What`s heartbreaking and infuriating for us as doctors is watching children needlessly suffer while Governor Ron DeSantis rejects simple protections such as masks and vaccinations.

In Texas, Harris County became the latest Texas county to sue Governor Abbott challenging his mask mandate ban there. And today, a judge ruled in its favor. It came just in time. Earlier, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins issued this warning.


CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY JUDGE: If your child has heart - congenital heart defect or something, needs an ICU bed or more likely, if they have COVID and need an ICU bed, we don`t have one. Your child will wait for another child to die--


VELSHI: Your child will wait for another child to die. Joining us now Carlee Simon, the Superintendent of Schools in Alachua County, Florida; and Dr. Peter Hotez, Dean of National Tropical - the Dean of the National Tropical School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and the Co-Director of the Texas Children`s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being here. Dr. Hotez, let me start with you. You and I`ve been talking for several weeks now about the threat of COVID to children, something we didn`t know as much about last year. But now things are different, because last August, nobody had a vaccine.

So whatever the threat was, kids were - there were precautions taken at school, they were generally separated from people. Now we`re going back to school and some places like Florida and Texas are saying go back to school as if it`s normal. You know that that`s not really a good thing to do.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR FOR THE CENTER FOR VACCINE, DEVELOPMENT TEXAS CHILDREN`S HOSPITAL: Yes, Ali, here`s what happened. It`s - the game changer is the Delta variant and the Delta variant is accelerating aggressively. And what we`re seeing now is like something we`ve never seen before. So whereas last year, the kids were generally escaping infection, now this is sweeping through communities.

And unfortunately, Florida and Louisiana right now are the epicenter globally of this pandemic. So Florida, and in Louisiana, are vying with Botswana for the world`s highest rate of COVID-19. And what`s happening is this is creating a firestorm. So I don`t know that kids are getting selectively infected.

But what`s happening is anyone who`s unvaccinated is getting swept up in this firestorm, including, including adolescence, and kids. And that`s why not for the first time, we`re seeing children`s hospitals get filled up with COVID patients and even pediatric intensive care units, which is nothing we`ve ever seen before.

And, the thing that scares me, Ali, is schools are just starting to open now. So it`s only going to get worse. The schools are going to act as really serious accelerant now, as bad as things are currently.

VELSHI: Superintendent Simon, you wrote an op-ed for "The Washington Post," "the Florida constitution says the state has a paramount duty to provide safe and high quality public schools. It`s one of the highest constitutional standards for public education in the nation. We hope and expect that our state leaders will live up to that duty. As our school board chair has so aptly put it, better loss of funding than a loss of lives."

You and the school board are both on the same side of this thing, that protecting these kids is your primary objective.

CARLEE SIMON, SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT, ALACHUA COUNTY, FLORIDA: Yes, of course, we`re really dedicated to making sure that we have a face-to-face option for our students. We know that that`s where we`re going to have the most impact on recovering from our COVID side associated with students having a challenging year last year, so we want them face to face.

And in order for us to do that we need the mask. The mask will help us to prevent this and slow this, because we are seeing what was just shared that it is - it`s rapid. Tuesday was our first day of school, Wednesday our second day of school, we had the highest positive COVID rates for our students than we have had in our entire COVID experience.


And what we`re noticing and what we`re discussing internally is that, what they are doing is the family has had the COVID and they`re actually - it`s coming into our schools. We`re not right now at this place where it`s totally being transferred at the school. But we know that we have a lot.

So at this point, we have 530 something children who are quarantined, and we`re expecting by Monday, this number is going to be considerably higher.

VELSHI: Dr. Hotez, apropo the first conversation I had on the show this evening. One of the things that you said to me that has stuck with me is that, there were always anti-vaxxers. There were always people who would be concerned about this. But you and I both shared a view. We were together the day the vaccines rolled out in December. And you and I both shared a view that as more people got it, that hesitancy would drop.

You were not prepared to be up against Republican governors and political people who had decided to align with anti-vaxxers.

HOTEZ: Yes, I think this is the game changer, Ali, is that the there - for some reason, the Republican Party or the extreme right, decided to adopt an anti-vaccine, anti-science platform. It started actually in 2015, in Texas, with the Republican Tea Party, and we started to see anti-vaccine political action committees under this banner of health freedom, medical freedom.

But now it`s become mainstream across many parts of the GOP. And you`re seeing now and this these terms of freedom used all the time - health freedom, medical freedom, when in fact it`s denying freedom to many - to many parents now who are afraid to send their kids to school, because not enough kids are masked or vaccinated.

VELSHI: You have received, superintendent, a letter from the education secretary - the federal education secretary, who has said, "I want you to know that the U.S. Department of Education stands by you." This is the several school districts in Florida. They`re even saying that they will - that you`ll be able to use Affordable Care Act funds to pay educators if the governor withhold salaries in contravention of his mandate.

What do you think`s going to happen here when - how is this going to end? Will teachers end up doing what they have to do? Will the school districts do what they have to do in contravention of what the governor is saying?

SIMON: Well, as far as I`m concerned, I`m going to have to do what I have to do and my staff will as well. I think where I am is, I`d like to know what the governor is planning on doing. So we`ve gotten to this point where I look at the mask situation - and that conversation needs to somewhat come to an end. I mean, we have masks, we need these masks.

I want to know what the governor is going to do to help us keep school in face to face. We have a problem already. I`ve told you we have 500 plus students who were quarantined. When they`re quarantined, that means they`re not in their class and getting an instruction. So what is the governor going to do other than have emergency meetings where they talk about penalties to school districts who do what they need to do to protect their student body, their staff, and their all of their workforce?

VELSHI: These are weird times, but we thank you for the work that you`re doing, keeping those kids safe. Superintendent Carlee Simon of the Alachua County School District and Dr. Peter Hotez of the Texas Children`s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

Coming up. Joe Manchin is sounding like he will be a no on the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill because of concerns over the federal deficit. Economist Stephanie Kelton, author of "The Deficit Myth" joins us to explain why Joe Manchin is wrong, and that there are much bigger deficits that he should be worrying about. I`m excited to talk about this. Stay with us.



VELSHI: Today, nine House Democrats sent a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying quote, "we will not consider voting for the budget resolution until the bipartisan infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes the house and is signed into law." The moderate Democrats are reportedly concerned about the, so called price tag, $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill which includes childcare, universal pre-K, free community college, paid leave medical leave, healthcare expansion, eyeglasses, dental things like that.

Senator Joe Manchin raised the same concerns earlier this week, quote, "millions of jobs remain unfilled across the country and rising inflation rates are now an unavoidable tax on the wages and income of every American. These are not indications of an economy that requires trillions in additional spending, given the current state of the economic recovery, IT is simply irresponsible to continue spending at levels more suited to respond to a Great Depression or Great Recession. Not an economy that is on the verge of overheating."

So Joe Manchin is worried about the cost, but there`s a much another much higher cost that he should be much more worried about, or at least acknowledging in his calculation. Stephanie Kelton is a Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Stony Brook University. She`s the author of "The Deficit Myth." Stephanie, good to see you again.

Joe mentioned and others are missing a very big point that this is not spending for the sake of stimulating the economy spending, it`s spending on things we should actually spend. So when you when you build the highway system in America, the purpose of that was not stimulating the economy, it was to build a highway system so that people could get around.

The things that this reconciliation bill is going to address like eyeglasses and dental care for people who don`t have it, like the cost of college tuition. It`s not the same thing as stimulating the economy.

STEPHANIE KELTON, "THE DEFICIT MYTH," AUTHOR: I agree with you completely. I don`t think we should be thinking about the proposed $3.5 trillion dollar package as economic stimulus. That`s not what it`s about at all. As you say, it`s about you know, the President was referring to it early on as part of the Build Back Better agenda.

This was an agenda aimed at making some really big and strategic investments in things like health care, in education, in elder care, in infrastructure and the broad range of things that you just mentioned.


So I think you`re exactly right. This isn`t about stepping on the gas pedal and trying to juice the economy. This is about taking aim at many of the real deficits - the deferred maintenance, the things that we`ve long ignored in our economy, and attempting to make some investments that boost economic wellbeing.

VELSHI: So there`s a - there`s always this selective concern about deficits and debt. No, Republicans had it in 2017, when we had massive tax cuts that were supposed to result in everybody getting $4,000 extra or whatever the case is. But there there`s a disregard for the millions of hungry children in this country, the millions of people who can`t afford a college education, the millions of people can`t get their health care the way they need to, and the long term economic costs of that. That`s generational. That sticks around for decades if you fail people on that front.

If you - we`ve seen it with the child tax credit. You give people a little bit of money upfront who actually need the money, and it immediately betters their circumstance and therefore enriches the economy.

KELTON: Yes, I mean, that`s a perfect example, because this is a single provision in a piece of legislation that Congress passed this March. And just that single provision, the expansion of the child tax credit, is going to lift almost half of all the kids who were living in poverty in this country, out of poverty. The problem is, it`s it was a temporary move.

And what this next piece of legislation in the 3.5 trillion that`s being proposed, there is an effort to make that more permanent. To extend it up to five years. And so, you look at an accomplishment like that. If we just pulled almost half of all the kids living in this country out of poverty, why on earth would we let them slide back in? We`ve demonstrated how easy it was to pull half of them out. Why don`t we turn our attention to the other half?

VELSHI: And it was pretty cheap compared to a whole bunch of other things we do. It was pretty cheap. I guess, my question is, the inflation cudgel is back. And, and people often use it with respect to if we have too much debt, the money will be worth less, and we`ll have inflation. The inflation that we`re seeing today is real. Gas prices are up 50 percent up off from where they were last year, none of which has anything to do with debt or deficit.

KELTON: Yes, absolutely right. I mean, what we`re experiencing are what I`ve been calling growing pains we have just been through - and let`s be real, we`re still going through it, right. This virus is not done with us.

And so we have an economy - and I`m talking about a global economy that has experienced in different parts of the world at different times waves of the coronavirus that have led to shutdowns, lockdowns, partial shutdowns, disruptions in the supply chain and the ability to produce and manufacture and ship goods and services.

And I think we have actually held up remarkably well in light of all that we`ve been through. Yes, inflation is running hot. It`s moderating. And I think we`re starting to make the adjustments that are necessary to bring the economy fully back on line and to bring inflation back down to more normal levels. And we`re seeing it already begin to happen. I think we`re getting there.

And I think you`re right, where we`re starting to see some Republicans - many Republicans and maybe some Democrats get skittish in light of recent inflationary pressures. But you got to keep in mind that so much of what is in this proposed $3.5 trillion spending package actually helps mitigate inflationary pressures.

There`s money there to build more semiconductors, there`s money there to help with childcare, so people can enter the labor market again. So what I`m saying is that you can actually spend money and reduce inflationary pressures. We shouldn`t be thinking of all spending as something that necessarily pushes prices higher. A lot of what we`re proposing here, or what`s being proposed actually has the potential to build our economic capacity, increase productivity, and help reduce inflationary pressures.

VELSHI: But we have this built in reaction that when you give poor and low wealth people anything, it`s a giveaway that the rest of us in our grandchildren are going to be paying for. Stephanie, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us tonight. Stephanie Kelton.

All right. Coming up, earlier this week, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley mounted an embarrassing attempt to defend Donald Trump`s abjectly anti- democratic behavior in pressuring the Justice Department to help overturn Joe Biden`s victory.

Tonight, we`ll talk to the Democrat running to replace Chuck Grassley. That`s next.



VELSHI: Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa is expected to run for an eighth term in 2022 when he will be 89 years old. Even though 64 percent of Iowans think it`s time for someone else to run according to a recent Des Moines Register poll.

This week, Senator Grassley joined 18 other GOP Senators who bucked Donald Trump and voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which by the way includes more than $4.2 billion to repair Iowa`s roads and bridges.

But also this week, Grassley offered a shameful defense of what Trump was doing in the run up to January 6th, trying to corrupt the Department of Justice to help him overturn the presidential election.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA): This country has had to deal with Democrats` obsession with destroying Trump for much too long. In the process, I fear my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have done and will do lasting damage to our political system. The President has every right to discuss ideas and strategies with his closest advisors. The President, whether that President is Democrat or Republican should feel unrestrained to bring ideas to his closest staff for robust discussion.


VELSHI: For robust design. Joining us now is former Democratic Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer. She`s running for Senate in Iowa in 2022.


That was - you know, that there are times, I was saying to the team producing the show that there are times in the past where you could look at Chuck Grassley and sort of think of him as an elder statesman who, conservative in that Midwestern kind of way, but normal.

To show unrestrained robust discussion, that`s not what Donald Trump was doing when he was talking Jeffrey Rosen and Donoghue. That wasn`t - that was telling them to say that the election was corrupt.

FMR. REP ABBY FINKENAUER (D) IOWA: Exactly right. When I watched that this week, I just, you know, he`s done a lot lately, Senator Grassley, that I`ve been concerned with, with not voting for the bipartisan commission to investigate 1/6, to even pushing the conspiracy theories himself about Arizona. And now this speech.

He`s not the guy I remember watching growing up. I grew up in Iowa, where we had Democrat, Tom Harkin, we had Republican Chuck Grassley, and they`d go off to Washington and into the U.S. Senate. And you know, I wouldn`t agree with what everybody was doing. But you kind of knew, they still at least had Iowa`s back.

And when I`ve been watching him these last, well, few years, he`s not the same guy that I remember. This is - it`s - what we`re talking about here, how he has acted, it is quite frankly, giving up on democracy, and quite frankly, our country. And that`s not who I thought he was, and it`s why we`re going to beat him. And we`re going to need everybody with us.

Because you do not get to say those words on the floor of the U.S. Senate, defend a president who was trying to stay in office after he lost an election and expect to get reelected in a state like Iowa. We are going to win this race. We need you with us. Go to and join us.

VELSHI: I guess, though it is different, right? When he says the stuff he says like that, it`s different from Republicans who come out and completely lie about stuff. This is the lying light or the encouraging of Trump light. How does that play in Iowa when you talk to people? Because I do know that folks in Iowa, sometimes not been on one side of the political divide or the other. There are conservative Democrats who have voted Republican, the Republicans who have voted Democrat, depending on the candidate. How does this go over this Chuck Grassley stuff that`s happening?

FINKENAUER: Yes, so as I`ve been traveling the state from Dubuque to Council Bluffs to down in Lee County, which is near Missouri, we`ve been talking about what happened on 1/6. And the fact that Senator Grassley was somebody who should have known better, who should have pushed back against the lies.

And then again, not only didn`t he push back against the lies that led to that day where I watched my friends, and my former colleagues get attacked in real time by a violent mob that was fed misinformation and lies. He not only - again, he actually pushed those conspiracies himself.

And when we talk about that, the folks that come up to me afterwards, they have tears in their eyes, and they`re going What happened to that guy? How did he become this? And, I don`t have answers for that. I don`t know why he has decided to give up on democracy like this. But I will tell you, we will defeat him. Because again, you do not get to talk about democracy in the way that he has, you do not get to subvert it the way that he has, and at the same time, decide that you`re just going to keep getting reelected.

That`s not how this works, not when we did what we did in 2018 in Iowa where we flipped congressional seats. We actually won statewide in three different races for Democrats. And we`re going to do it again in this midterm. And we`re going to make sure that we hold anybody accountable, who, again, can`t even stand up for democracy and do the basics of their job that they`re supposed to do as a U.S. senator.

VELSHI: So Chuck Grassley supported the infrastructure bill, although polling even by Fox indicates that 56 percent of people were in favor of that, only 38 percent are opposed this. There`s some real money going into Iowa. So, somehow he made the right political decision on that one.

But given how polarized America is getting and looking, what`s it like to be a Democrat running for statewide office in Iowa right now? What`s the environment?

FINKENAUER: Well, I can tell you folks are happy that we got a president who actually did what he said he was going to do. I mean, we heard Trump go around our state for years and talk about an infrastructure package - never did it. And here, Joe Biden comes in and he gets it done. That`s noticed.

And it`s noticed, because of the families like the one that I grew up in. My dad was a Union pipe fitter welder, and he`d be gone months at a time just trying to provide a good life for our family and put food on our table. But I also remember there were months where he was not gone and where we actually would have the name of his business agent memorized, where we`d have to make sure that we picked up that phone when it ranged because that mean had a job. And now we`re talking about good pay. jobs across this country. That means something.


VELSHI: Abby Finkenauer good to talk to you. Thank you for joining us. Abby Finkenauer is a former Member of Congress and is running for the Iowa Senate in 2022. Weil be right back.


VELSHI: All right, that`s tonight`s "Last Word." Don`t forget to watch my show "Velshi" tomorrow morning from 8:00 to 10:00 am Eastern. And tomorrow I`m going to be talking to two Texas Democrats whose fight against voter suppression has landed them on the receiving end of civil arrest warrants. State Representatives Rafael Anchia and Gene Wu are among the group who fled the state to break quorum and block Republicans from pushing through new voting registrations. They both join me tomorrow morning, assuming that is that they are not under arrest.

"The 11th Hour with Brian Williams" begins right now.