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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/17/21

Guests: Phyllis Bennis, Michael Mazarr, Jason Martin, Dorothy Oliver, Jeremy Levine, Rachael DeCruz


The White House said that 3,200 plus are evacuated from Afghanistan so far, Taliban pledged safe passage of civilians to Kabul airport. A Trump supporter has pleaded guilty to threatening the life of Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock. The CDC reported 113,993 new cases of coronavirus today and one of those cases is Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate of any state in the country but Panola, Alabama has the highest vaccination rate in the state thanks to retired office administrator Dorothy Oliver. Today at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama announced the introduction of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the House of Representatives for this legislative session.



We will continue the grim news theme here but will have good news in this hour and actually, good news on the vaccination rate. In one small town in the south where the state has the lowest vaccination rate in the country but this one small town is a remarkable success story, thanks to one retired woman there who took it on herself to get the town vaccinated. It`s really an amazing story. We`ll do that later in the hour.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That is exactly the kind of story I need on a day like this and on a night like this. I`m going to sit here and watch it.

Thank you. A, thank you for finding that story and B, thank you for telling me that`s ahead. That`s what I need.

O`DONNELL: That`s what is coming up. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Well, what could become one of America`s enduring lies to itself about Afghanistan is being given birth on live TV these days. Last night on this network, an unnamed American military source in Afghanistan was quoted as saying what we are seeing now in the American evacuation of Afghanistan is worse, much worse than what we saw in 1975 in the American evacuation from Vietnam after we lost the war there.

The problem with that kind of quote is that any unnamed military source in Afghanistan tonight is too young to remember the Vietnam War and was probably not born yet. When we evacuated Vietnam in 1975 and so that source literally does not know what he or she is talking about, so, too Republican Senator Ben Sasse who said this today on television,

What is happening at the Karzai International Airport today is a more shameful, lower moment in U.S. history than 1975 in Saigon.

Ben Sasse was 3 years old in 1975. Ben Sasse literally does not know what he is talking about.

Everything about Vietnam was much, much worse than what has happened in the American experience in Afghanistan. The total of American military personnel killed in Afghanistan over 20 years equals approximately just one month of American military deaths in Vietnam in May of 1968.

And here is just one measure and only one measure of how much worse the American experience in Vietnam was. U.S. military deaths in Vietnam over roughly 13 years of active combat were 57,939. The American military deaths in Afghanistan over 20 years are 2,448.

On American -- of American military deaths alone, on that figure alone, Vietnam was 20 times worse than Afghanistan. When we fled Vietnam in defeat and disgrace, the number of American families who no longer knew why they lost a loved one in Vietnam was 20 times larger than the number of American families who are suffering with that feeling tonight about the lose of their loved ones in Afghanistan.

We left behind millions of Vietnamese civilian and military personnel, casualties in Vietnam. Millions of war dead in Vietnam and Cambodia, we left behind babies, fathered by American soldiers and yes, we left behind people who helped American reporters in Vietnam.

We left behind all sorts of people who helped us in Vietnam. Evacuating armies always leave people behind despite Hollywood mythology to the contrary.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger illegally expanded the Vietnam War across the border into Cambodia, where they killed thousands of innocent victims with a sustained strain of bombs that we dropped from the skies.


There is no measure by which the American experience in Afghan Afghanistan is worse than the experience in Vietnam but it is particularly American to believe that your personal version of an experience is always the best or the worst and so for 49-year-olds like Ben Sasse who have never before witnessed the United States being driven out of a country in total military defeat, this must be the worst.

The American military did not just terrorize Southeast Asia for 13 years with the Vietnam War. The American military and the American government terrified Americans at home in the Vietnam War, especially every American boy over 18 years old who had a draft card in his pocket that could get him sent to his death in Vietnam against his will. That terrified American families everywhere, everywhere in this country for years, families who were for or against the war were terrified of losing a son, losing a loved one in Vietnam.

Vietnam was much worse but if you are young enough to have never seen a draft card, never held one in your hands, you might not know that. I was a teenager protesting the Vietnam War and so I for one have never been able to support America`s entrance into another war because of the lessons of Vietnam. One of the lessons is that the American government and the American military do not know how to invade a country, lose a war and then exit without chaos and dishonor. No one in the Pentagon knows how to do that but it is their job to publicly pretend that they know how to do that.

And none of the TV pundits who are telling you that we can do that, and that we could have exited Afghanistan without chaos and dishonor actually knows how to do that.

When my cousin Johnny went to West Point before being shipped off to Vietnam and never coming back, West Point didn`t teach him how to lose a war and exit a country gracefully. West Point still does not have a close on how to successfully and honorably exit a war that the American military loses. No one knows how to do that.

It is not up to us how orderly the American exit from Afghanistan is, that is entirely up to the Taliban now.

David Halberstam`s brilliant book "The Best and the Brightest" told the story how the best and brightest minds from the Ivy League and American business and foreign policy establishment were infected with the delusion during the Vietnam War they could manage everything. That delusion is alive tonight and many of the best and the brightest in the American press core who seem to believe that the American military knows how to do things that it has never successfully done in its history.

If you are outraged with what you are seeing in Afghanistan tonight, may it not be the end of the war that outrages you but war itself. If you oppose what you`re seeing in Afghanistan tonight, oppose war. War is hell. War is hell in the beginning. War is hell in the middle and war is hell in the end if you lose.

The best and the brightest thought hell was manageable because of secretary of defense during the American buildup of forces in Vietnam during the 1960s successfully run the Ford Motor Company. The best and brightest believed he could successfully run and win the Vietnam War. The American military has the best equipment in the world, the American military may well have the best and brightest troops in the world but America`s successful opponents in Vietnam and Afghanistan have something that America has never had, patience.

The North Vietnamese and the Vietcong always knew that all they had to do was out last the American military commitment to Vietnam because American patience would run out. The Taliban always knew because of that lesson in Vietnam that all they had to do was patiently wait for the Americans to leave and so the Taliban won by waiting.

One very big difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam, we never had a president who believed that he could charm the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong into a gentlemanly end of the war.


DONLD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: We had a very good conversation with the leader of the Taliban today and they are looking to get this ended and we`re looking to get it ended.


I think we all have a very common interest.

The relationship is very good that I have with the mullah and we had a good, long conversation today and, you know, they want to cease the violence. They`d like to cease violence, also.


O`DONNELL: The person he had that conversation with is now the head of the Taliban in Afghanistan after he had him released from prison.

Today, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan explained some of what we`re seeing in Afghanistan today to a White House press corps too young to remember how much worse it was in Vietnam.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We communicated with American citizens for weeks telling them to get out of the country. We offered financial assistance for those not able to afford to get on flights themselves. Many chose to stay right until the end and that was their choice.

We now are faced with a circumstance we have to help evacuate those. That`s our responsibility as the U.S. government but the point I`m making is that when a civil war comes to an end with an opposing force marching on the capital, there are going to be scenes of chaos and lots of people leaving the country. That is not something that can be fundamentally avoided.


O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, are Michael Mazarr, senior political scientist for the Rand Corporation and author of "Leap of Faith: Hubris, Negligence and America`s Greatest Foreign Policy Tragedy". Also with us, Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She is the author of "Ending the U.S. War in Afghanistan."

Phyllis Bennis, let me begin with you and with your expertise in this arena. I wouldn`t presume to guide your thoughts on this tonight. I`ve been eager to hear what you`re thinking about what appears to be the end of the American military involvement in Afghanistan.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: You know, Lawrence, listening to you just now talking about the comparisons with Vietnam, I`m old enough to remember that war and remember the night it ended for the U.S. and one of the things that comes to my mind is the Vietnam syndrome, the name -- the derisive name that was given to the rise of resistance to military intervention that followed that war and it lasted a good 15 years.

Didn`t mean the U.S. didn`t intervene. They had the Central America wars, et cetera but those wars as a result of what was called a syndrome were unpopular and it meant Congress at a certain point was willing to cut funds. All of that is something we should look forward to. We need an Afghanistan syndrome now. So, that`s one of the things I`m thinking about.

I`ve also been thinking about the -- some of the things that President Biden said in his speech yesterday, which was in certain ways a very disturbing speech. He essential recalled the Afghan military and the Afghan people for that matter cowardly was part of it, but the important part was he committed himself, recommitted himself to the withdrawal that was so necessary even if it was quite late. So I think that was very important.

The point that I remember thinking I wish he would acknowledge and he was clearly not prepared to was the understanding -- he tried to say that we didn`t know that the Taliban could win. We didn`t, you know, there`s a lot of talk in the press, as well. We didn`t have the intel to know that the Taliban was strong enough to beat the Afghan army.

What it doesn`t take into account is that the Afghan military in the overwhelming majority of the cities that the Taliban took over in the last just few days, in the last week, they didn`t have to fight their way in. The Afghan military largely stood back and said we`re not going to fight you.

And part of the reason, a big part of the reason was that this was not about fighting for their country as President Biden tried to say. It was not about fighting for their country. They were being asked to fight for a government that did not and never had represented them. A government that was imposed by an outside occupier that created a government that was rooted in replacing or reflecting the same kind of government that we have in the U.S. and in Europe with a president and a parliament with all the powers centered in the national capital, in a place like Afghanistan where the long standing millennial long traditions, political and cultural traditions are that power resides in the family and in the clan and in the tribe, not in some far away capital.

There is this notion now as then that what happens in Kabul remains in Kabul, and that government never had the support of the population.

[22:15:03] It was always known for corruption and competence. And it violated those Afghan traditions. S why are we surprised that the Afghan military that was charged with defending that government, not their country, not their people, that they weren`t willing to fight for that.

So we --

O`DONNELL: And everything you`ve just said also describes the South Vietnamese regime, which we were supporting and which immediately collapsed as soon as the American troops pulled out of Vietnam. So the mirror is almost flawless in this case.

Michael Mazarr, the argument of staying in Afghanistan rests on the notion that a tiny group of 2,500 maybe of soldiers could perpetually keep the Taliban at bay and make the Taliban wait another 20 years, if we just left 2,500 soldiers in Afghanistan.

MICHAEL MAZARR, SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST, RAND CORPORATION: Yeah, and that`s just not a tenable argument for a variety of reasons. Military operational reasons, political reasons, 2,500 to 3,000 troops are not going to hold off even in stiffening and Afghan army a Taliban force estimated 75 to 80,000 battle hardened troops.

Part of what we`re now seeing has likely been going on is that the trajectory was moving strongly against the government of Afghanistan in recent months and perhaps years but the Taliban was not making full, making people fully aware of their degree of strength and capabilities because as you said, they were waiting for the critical moment.

If the United States had said we are going to take this little group of people and maybe a few hundred to a few thousand allied troops and contractors and leave them there, then that would have posed the Taliban with the question of whether to escalate. And I think we would have gotten trapped into a whole series of the kinds of dilemmas President Obama faced in 2008, 2009 when the situation was moving in the wrong direction and we had to either escalate and surge or accept that we were on a trajectory to losing.

So, no, I really don`t believe that there is some sort of minimal permanent war making that you can do and also, for a lot of the reasons you were bringing out which is that war is the fundamental choice of state craft and this is something that U.S. military troops are taught that, you know, in good terms, war is a different kind of act of state from other sorts of acts of state.

And when you start treating it as this little paint brush you can go around the world and dab into places to the degree that you want, that`s when you get into serious trouble. When the United States has done well, we have had vital interest at stake in large scale issues. We have fully committed as a nation to fighting and winning a war, and in those cases in the modern context we`ve done well. But it`s when we try to play a half way game with warfare that it`s wrong and I think there is a certain I`m morality to it, as well.

O`DONNELL: Phyllis, the -- one of the things we`ll talk about for the next several days, weeks possibly is this tragedy of people left behind and for a lot of people who never seen this before, this is going to be the first time they wrestle with the moral issues involved here. But the idea that this is not what is going to happen every single time that you have any kind of exit that is shaped like this from a losing war is just -- doesn`t comprehend reality. This is what has always happened in these situations.

BENNIS: That`s absolutely true. It doesn`t make it any less tragic. And it doesn`t mean there is nothing that could have been done to mitigate it. It doesn`t eliminate the problem.

But there are things that could and in my view should have been done much earlier. You know, we heard Jake Sullivan up there saying well, we notified Americans that we`re leaving there and they should leave and even offered them money to buy a plane ticket. That`s not a realistic answer.

The realistic answer is you start flying in planes and putting them on the ground and calling people and saying there is a flight waiting in three hours be on it. You start making clear that you know what is coming and that you`re warning people who may not know that this kind of reality is or has been inevitable in every war.

There were more people stuck on the tarmac than needed to be. There were more people who still had not been able to get into Kabul, to get to the airport. And, crucially, I think one of the things that is the worst is that the United States did not open up its access for refugees, for asylum seekers, for the desperate people who may not in fact be in ultimately as great risk as they fear.


But they are afraid and we should have had that responsibility to let them come, let them go somewhere else even if it doesn`t fall within the very narrowly defined 15 separate points that people have to answer if they think they`re going to get one of the special visas.

O`DONNELL: Michael Mazarr, there is no evidence in American military history that the Pentagon knows how to manage an evacuation like this.

MAZARR: Well, I wouldn`t -- I mean, non-combat evacuations are a very common activity for the U.S. military. They`ve done a variety of times and have a doctrine for it and know how to do that. If you`re talking for example --

O`DONNELL: No, let me just -- let me just pause on that for a second. I`m not talking about evacuations from other arenas but an evacuation of a country that the United States invaded, had a war more than a decade and lost outright. There is no model. They have never successfully left that kind of situation without scenes like this.

MAZARR: Thankfully, we haven`t confronted that situation too many times but you`re right, I mean, there is no way even if we had given people more advance notice and suppose we started flying in planes a month ago. That would then have been the signal that the end was beginning and then you would have seen scenes of panic.

So, I agree with you that there is -- the answer to this problem is not to have been there for that long in that way the way we were. That`s the way to avoid this kind of messy ending.

O`DONNELL: These are the things that are inevitable with the decision to go to war. We`ll have more on this as we continue to cover it.

Michael Mazarr, Phyllis Bennis, thank you both very much for starting us off. I really appreciate it.

BENNIS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, today a Trump supporter pleaded guilty to threatening to kill Senator Raphael Warnock. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: A Trump supporter has pleaded guilty to threatening the life of Raphael Warnock.

The day before Senator Warnock won his Georgia Senate race, using the conservative social network app, the Parler, under the name of "Lone Wolf War", Eduard Florea told his fellow Trump supporters that, quote, Warnock is going to have a hard time casting votes for communist policies when he`s swinging from the F -- swinging with the F-ing fish.

In response to another user`s post, Eduard Florea wrote: Dead men can`t pass crap laws.

A Proud Boy supporter, Eduard Florea didn`t join the group to attack the Capitol, but before the pro-Trump mob attacked, he posted: We need to all come to an agreement and go armed and really take back Washington.

At his home in New York City while the pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol, Eduard Florea posted: I am awaiting my orders armed and ready to deploy. Guns cleaned, loaded, got a bunch of guys all armed and ready to deploy. We are just waiting for the word.

Federal agents who searched Eduard Florea`s home in January found more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, along with military style combat knives. He`s scheduled to be sentenced in late November.

Joining us now, Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University and a former federal prosecutor. Also with us, Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "The Washington Post." Both are MSNBC analyst.

And, Gene, let me begin with you and what it feels like we`re seeing in this evidence, one thing we`re seeing is the reaction from this kind of Trump supporter to the election of a black man to the United States Senate and it makes me wonder what was going through minds like this when they saw a black man elected president of the United States.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: All right. When you can pretty much guess what was going through their minds. It drove them literally insane and, you know, you can trace a lot of the craziness that we have been seeing in our politics, I believe, to that moment, to the election of Barack Obama, I think, that brought home to a lot of people that this -- that white supremacy was in jeopardy or they thought it was in jeopardy and I think that catalyze a lot of what we saw in the tea party and the insurrection on January 6th. I say finally because I doubt that was the end of it.

O`DONNELL: Paul Butler, in a plea like this, he`s pleading guilty. That doesn`t necessarily mean that there is an agreement with the prosecutor for a reduced sentence by pleading guilty because sometimes the evidence is just so overwhelming that there is not really any point in going through the motions of a trial.

What do you think we have here?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: So, Lawrence, if the judge wants to throw the book at Florea, he can be sentenced to up to 15 years. But under the sentencing guidelines, he`s probably looking about two years in federal prison.


Those cases are tough for prosecutors because there is a thin line between what`s protected speech under the First Amendment and what the law calls a true threat which is when someone is placed in fear of serious injury. That`s a crime.

So if you look at this case, some people might say this is just a Proud Boy wannabe who was just bluffing like when he said that he had a caravan of three cars headed to D.C. on January 6th. The truth is he was at home in Queens. He doesn`t even own a car.

But on the other hand as you noted, when he was arrested, agents found 1,000 rounds of ammunition on his person and 75 style -- military-style combat knives. So of course, Senator Warnock would have to be very worried given the violent statements that were made about him.

So what the criminal law is trying to do with the law against making threats is to stop the bad guy before he actually carries out real physical harm.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: And Gene, this person has a deeply disturbed criminal history, an incident with his wife -- threatening to kill his wife, threatening to kill his child in 2014.

And so this is someone who you just can`t -- you just don`t know which way this person is going to break.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC ANALYST: No, you don`t know which way he`s going to break but that`s the sort of troubled person, I think, who is attracted to groups like the Proud Boys. It gives -- first of all, I`m not a psychologist but it seems to me it gives him a sense of self, a sense of power that he doesn`t have in the real world. But he can be powerful on Parler, you know, big bad Proud Boy.

But as Paul said, sometimes these blustery threats cross the line. This guy had a bunch of ammunition and he could well have been unbalanced enough to try to carry out these very direct threats, these death threats that he made against Senator Warnock. And I`m very happy that prosecutors took it seriously.

O`DONNELL: Paul, if you were the prosecutor in this case, what would you be asking as a sentence from the judge?

BUTLER: I would ask the judge to throw the book at this defendant, to give him something close to the 15 years that he`s eligible for under the sentencing guidelines.

Make no mistake, Lawrence, even though there was no actual violence carried out, this was an extremely serious crime from -- or extremely serious threat from a person who was deranged.

One of the things that prosecutors want to do with sentences is to deter -- to send a message to other people who might be publishing crazy stuff on these right wing Websites that if you cross the line, you will do serious time.

O`DONNELL: Paul Butler and Eugene Robinson, thank you both for joining our discussion tonight.

Thank you.

Coming up, Texas anti-mask Republican Governor Greg Abbott has tested positive for COVID-19. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: The CDC reported 113,993 new cases of coronavirus today and one of those cases is Texas Governor Greg Abbott. In a press release this afternoon, Governor Abbott`s office said "Governor Greg Abbott today tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. The governor has been testing daily and today was the first positive test result. Governor Abbott is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in good health and currently experiencing no symptoms. Everyone that the governor has been in close contact with today has been notified."

Governor Abbott is not only fully vaccinated, he`s actually more vaccinated than practically anyone else in America because as NBC News is reporting, Governor Abbott has received a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Last night, the governor attended a maskless Republican fundraiser in Texas.

Joining us now is Dr. Jason Martin, an ICU director and critical care physician in Sumner County, Tennessee, which includes the greater Nashville area. Dr. Martin, what is the situation you`re facing tonight?

DR. JASON MARTIN, ICU DIRECTOR, SUMNER COUNTY, TENNESSEE: Hi, Lawrence, thanks for having me on the show tonight.

The situation with the delta variant is typical for other parts of the region. I mean we`re seeing the virus really overrun our communities.

You know, a few months ago, we thought we had this beat. We were down to no COVID patients in the hospital but now we`re seeing waves and waves of patients come into the hospital and this time they are much younger.

O`DONNELL: What is the age group you`re seeing now when you say much younger?

DR. MARTIN: Yes. So I would say, you know, in the first wave that happened last winter, we were seeing, you know, folks in their 60s and 70s and 80s. But I think that group of folks has been really good about getting their vaccinations.

So now what we`re seeing is a large group of unvaccinated younger folks in their 20s, 30s and 40s ending up with life-threatening illness as a result of COVID. And you know, it`s terrible when anyone ends up in the intensive care unit with COVID-19. It`s especially terrible when folks come into the ICU with a deadly illness that is completely preventable.

O`DONNELL: You`re working in a state where the governor is apparently taking this lighter than I think you might want him to. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has issued an executive order allowing parents to opt out of any school mask requirements. Says "A student`s parent or guardian shall have the right to opt out of any order or requirement for a student in kindergarten through 12th grade to wear a face covering at school on a bus or at school functions."

What is your reaction to that?


DR. MARTIN: It`s absolutely unbelievable to me that our governor completely abdicated his responsibility to lead throughout this pandemic. And the fact that individual school boards were having to act to create law -- to create policy to protect the health and safety of children is unbelievable to me.

There was no statewide approach. There was no state mask requirement to protect the health and safety of children. And so individual school boards are being compelled to act.

And I think it`s really arrogant for the governor then to come in and override local communities when all they`re trying to do is protect the health and safety of their children and teachers.

O`DONNELL: And in Tennessee we have a report indicating that the number of 5 to 18-year-old children testing positive in the last 14 days has increased by 950 percent compared to just over a month ago.

What more evidence could the governor want for trying to protect school children?

DR. MARTIN: That`s exactly right. We`ve had over 11,000 cases of COVID in school-aged children in the last 14 days and that`s only going to climb I suspect as kids are in close proximity unmasked potentially in schools.

And here is what we know about kids getting infected. Despite what Governor Lee had to say on Fox News back in May, kids can get sick from the virus. Unfortunately, kids can die from the complications of the virus and have long term sequelae.

So we think -- you know, I don`t love wearing masks but I think it`s a small thing I can do to show folks that I care and to decrease the spread of the virus.

And not only can kids themselves get sick but they can take it home and spread the virus to more vulnerable populations. And so it`s really important that we get this under control now.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Jason Martin, thank you very much for joining us tonight and thank you for the work that you`re doing.

DR. MARTIN: Thank you, sir, for having me. And thank you for telling our story.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate of any state in the country but Panola, Alabama has the highest vaccination rate in the state thanks to retired office administrator Dorothy Oliver who has made vaccination her project. The remarkable Dorothy Oliver will join us next.



O`DONNELL: Alabama is the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country, less than 45 percent of the population is fully-vaccinated against COVID-19. The closest health clinic to Panola, Alabama is more than 30 miles away and that`s why Dorothy Oliver organized a pop-up vaccination clinic for her town of 144 people.

Dorothy Oliver went door to door to answer her neighbor`s questions about the vaccine and to get people signed up. Dorothy Oliver`s determination is featured in "The Panola Project", a new documentary from "The New Yorker".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard people saying they`re getting sick but --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some people said their arm hurt. Their arm going to hurt sometime. Mine -- I didn`t have no problems with mines at all. I had both of them. didn`t have no problem at all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It didn`t bother me.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see you`re trembling, you`re hesitant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at her smiling at me. You know I know don`t. You ready to take that shot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can put me down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, put him down. Woo. See, I got him. I`m good, aren`t I?


O`DONNELL: The vaccination rate among adults in Panola, Alabama is now 94 percent. And it is 100 percent among people over the age of 65.

And joining us now is Dorothy Oliver from Panola, Alabama. Also with us Jeremy Levine and Rachael DeCruz who directed and produced "The Panola Project" for "The New Yorker" documentary series.

And Dorothy Oliver, let me begin with you.

What gave you the idea to be the person who made sure everyone was getting vaccinated?

DOROTHY OLIVER, LED THE VACCINATION EFFORT IN PANOLA, ALABAMA: Because I saw the seriousness of this disease. And I decided that I`ll just take charge and just talk to everybody that come into the store or either wherever I go and just talk to them and ask them. Let them know how serious it is to go ahead and get that vaccination.

So I didn`t have any problem. Everybody just worked right with me.

O`DONNELL: How long -- in your one-on-one encounters with people talking them into this, how long does it usually take?

OLIVER: When I talk -- when I`m talking to them?


OLIVER: Oh, it doesn`t take then long. You talk them into it. And I just tell them about how serious it is and how I`m working in my community to make sure that all of my people, my community get vaccinated. And they -- it don`t take that long for me to talk them into it.

Probably just one person I had a hard time with but most of them agreed and go ahead and go get it. Asked me to go ahead on and, you know, schedule appoint for them.

O`DONNELL: And do they tell you why they haven`t been vaccinated already?

OLIVER: Yes, some of them are saying I hadn`t got it, I`m just scared. I don`t want to get it. Some will say it just -- it just -- I guess -- I just going to wait until somebody else, you know, see how everything going to go.

That`s what they tell me. I just want to wait and see how everything will go and then I`m going to probably take it.


O`DONNELL: How did you feel when you got to 100 percent of people 65 and over?

OLIVER: Oh goodness. I felt real good. And I felt like we were making progress. When we got that far, I tell you, I wanted to shout because I know, we did a good job trying to get everybody to get their shot.

O`DONNELL: Rachael, how did you find Dorothy and bring her story to us?

RACHAEL DECRUZ, "THE PANOLA PROJECT": Yes, well, so we were living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at the time. And actually heard about Dorothy from an article in "The New York Times". We were really interested and inspired by her work.

We drove out to Panola, met her at her convenience store. And as you saw in the film, she`s quite an enigmatic presence. We had a really wonderful conversation with her.

It was really clear the important and necessary and vial work she was doing in the community. And we just wanted to find a way to help elevate and share her story.

O`DONNELL: Jeremy, what do you think Dorothy`s secret is for convincing people?

JEREMY LEVINE, "THE PANOLA PROJECT": Yes. You know, I think we could all learn so much from Dorothy. She -- I was just so impressed seeing her at work.

She would show up. I mean she would literally kind of roll up on to people`s lawns.



LEVINE: And you know, she would have these conversations with some folks who were scared as she mentioned, or some people who also have deep disagreements with her. And she was never, she would never talk down to people. She would never yell at anybody, right.

This is what I feel like we`re all so used. We`re all at each other`s throats. And instead, Dorothy meets people with love. She meets them where they`re at. She answers questions. She jokes around.

And I`ve honestly never seen somebody so incredible at persuading people to make such an important decision.

O`DONNELL: Dorothy, does it help that you know just about everyone in town?

OLIVER: That`s the key right there. I know -- and just about everybody knows me. And they know how hard I work and they know I`m serious in what I do. And that makes a lot of difference.

O`DONNELL: So Dorothy, you`re getting people to trust you the way they would trust your doctor -- they would trust their own doctor. How do you do that?

OLIVER: I guess because I`ve been working in the community on different other, you know, occasion with other things that`s going on. And they know me and they know I`m serious and I would do what I say I`m going to do. And they know if I say it, it`s just about -- you know, it`s ok to do it, you know.

O`DONNELL: So you`re currently at 94 percent of everyone who is eligible for the vaccine. Do you think you`re going to be able to get that to 100 percent?

OLIVER: I`m not intending to stop until the job is done. So I believe.

O`DONNELL: And that has been the way you`ve treated apparently every day of this. You don`t stop until you do everything you can do, every single day you`re out there.

OLIVER: That`s right. That`s exactly right. I`ve tried -- from the time I start until I stop at eating, I`m still talking to somebody, trying to get them to go ahead and get the shot or, you know, whatever I need to do to help them.

If I need to take them, I take them, you know, to get it. Or either -- you know, just make a phone call.

O`DONNELL: Dorothy Oliver, thank you very, very much for joining us tonight. And thank you very much for what you`re doing.

Rachael and Jeremy, thank you very much for bringing this story to us. America needs more Dorothy Olivers.

Thank you very much, Dorothy.

OLIVER: Thank you.

LEVINE: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Tonight`s LAST WORD about voting rights is next.



O`DONNELL: Today at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama announced the introduction of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act in the House of Representatives for this legislative session.

The legislation is an effort to restore major pieces of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that have been struck down or weakened by the United States Supreme Court over the last decade.

House Democrats have said that the legislation would also combat the wave of new Republican-backed voter restrictions in state legislatures.

Congresswoman Sewell, the bill`s chief author, said this.


REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): I guess you would say that I`m here on the foot of the bridge to get into some good trouble. What John Lewis would call necessary trouble. In order to honor the legacy of Emilia Boynton, F.D. Reese, John Lewis and so many known and unknown foot soldiers, we in Congress must -- must pass HR-4.


O`DONNELL: John Lewis was severely beaten by Alabama police when he and other civil rights activists attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965 in a march to the state capitol to demand voting rights.

The incident came to be known as Bloody Sunday and led to the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Today, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the house will consider the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act next week.


O`DONNELL: That is tonight`s LAST WORD.


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