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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/19/21

Guests: James Fallows, Norm Ornstein, John Heilemann, Jason Furman, Michael Mina


U.S. ramps up evacuation efforts in Kabul. A Trump supporter terrorized Capitol Hill saying he had a bomb. Forty-nine-year-old Floyd Ray Roseberry of North Carolina drove a pickup truck onto the sidewalk in front of the library of Congress. House is not expected to vote on final passage of bipartisan infrastructure bill next week. Jobless claims fall to lowest level since March 2020. Alabama and Mississippi run out of ICU beds.



Have you noticed anything different about my TV show this week?


O`DONNEL: Good, you`re not supposed to.

MADDOW: Other than the fact that you are achieving new levels of perfection every day. You`re always ascending, right?

O`DONNELL: So here`s the thing. I`m coming from a different undisclosed location this week.

MADDOW: Really?

O`DONNELL: It`s supposed to look like all of my unclosed locations. So, you know, it`s pretty close. You`re not supposed to guess. This one is a couple thousand miles away from my last undisclosed location.

Rachel, here`s the thing. Here`s the thing. It`s the first time -- I`m not going to say where I am. It`s the first time in a year and a half that you and I have been doing our shows in the same state. So, we can just kind of leave it at that and --

MADDOW: You`re in Narnia too?

O`DONNELL: We`re so close. Rachel, we haven`t been this close since 2020. It`s like, February, first week of march 2020.

MADDOW: It takes me back. I totally thought that I had locked up the wardrobe and I was the only one who could broadcast from Narnia. But now that I know you`re here, I`m going to come find you.

O`DONNELL: The same state. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, compadre. Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, as of tonight, and this could change because things could take a dramatic turn for the worst at any moment. But as of tonight, President Joe Biden is managing the most successful American military evacuation from a war that America lost. As of tonight, the Biden administration and the American military have managed to evacuate 7,000 people from Afghanistan after the capitol city of Kabul came under the control of the people who won the war.

In Vietnam in 1975 after Saigon, then the capital city of south Vietnam fell under the complete control of the north Vietnamese army, Republican President Gerald Ford was able to get absolutely no one out of Vietnam, no one. In those final days before the last American helicopter left Saigon, leaving thousands of our allies behind, the Ford administration and the American military were able to evacuate a total of 7,000 people.

The Biden-run evacuation is well on its way to evacuating many more people than the American military was able to evacuate from Vietnam in the final days. In Vietnam, the Americans were being driven out of the country at gunpoint. In Afghanistan so far, the Taliban have not fired a shot at the American military. In both desperate last-minute evacuations, the military did its very best.

The final days in both are filled with stories of American heroism, but they are also demonstrations of the American`s continuing ability to invade a country, spend 20 years losing a war, and then evacuate in a way that meets with the approval of an American news media filled with people who think they know how to do what the American military has never been able to do. What you`re not hearing in any of the critical analysis of how the Biden administration and the American military have handled the evacuation of Afghanistan is the example of who has done this sort of thing better.

No one is telling you that the Russians did a much better job of invading Afghanistan, losing the war there, and then evacuating. No one is holding up the Russian evacuation of Afghanistan as the model. No one is holding up the evacuation of any defeated army from a foreign country as the model. And of course no one is holding up the American evacuation of Vietnam as the model of how to do this because the American evacuation of Vietnam was much, much worse in every way, by every measure.

Every war produces a limitless flow of tragic individual stories. The end of every war produces a similar flow of tragic, individual stories.


But no individual story can tell you what your war policy should be or should have been. If this is your first experience with watching people left behind in war, then use it to decide whether you will support the next American war.

But if you use it as an example of something you know how to do better than the American military, then you are making the mistake of believing that the madness of war can be managed. The American military does not know how to manage the madness of war.

Catch-22 is a phrase that has entered our daily vocabulary to describe impossible situations. Sixty years ago, Joseph Heller put that phrase in our vocabulary through the title of his war novel "Catch-22," which captures the clumsy and inefficient processes of the American military, which he experienced first hand serving in World War II. Armies are not efficient machines. Armies are not run like automobile affects when the CEO of Ford became the secretary of defense during the Vietnam War. That organizational master, Robert McNamara was lost in that job, as lost in that job as any of the other secretaries of defense during the Vietnam War.

The American military is a massive bureaucracy that does some things well. But the thing that it does not know how to do is the same thing that no military in the world knows how to do, and that is organize a dignified and honorable retreat and full evacuation from a war that we lost in a foreign country without leaving anyone behind. When someone tells you that the evacuation from Afghanistan could have been run better, ask them why that has never happened before in history. Ask them why this should be the very first time in history that a desperate, last-minute military evacuation from a lost war should not be chaotic and messy.

President Biden is now being criticized for saying he knew it would be chaotic. President Biden was a United States senator when he watched the chaotic exit from Vietnam. Of course, he knew this was going to be chaotic. And of course he could not say that publicly before the chaos developed because such a statement by the president would have immediately created the chaos.

The American news media is very good at telling you the tragic individual stories of war, and it is very good at forgetting those stories. So far, in all the tragic stories being presented to us about people struggling to get out of Afghanistan, people who deserve our full sympathy and support, there is no story quite like the story of two friends who were left behind in Vietnam.

Gorgeous, gorgeous blue eyes. Long eyelashes of which I was very envious. That`s how Darwin Judge`s sister remembered him. Darwin Judge was a 19- year-old lance corporal in the Marine Corps from Marshalltown, Iowa, who spent less than two months in Vietnam before he was killed. He did not die alone.

His 21-year-old marine corporal buddy, Charlie McMahon, from a suburb of Boston, was right besides him when they were both killed in a rocket attack. That was Charlie McMahon`s 11th day in Vietnam. Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge became the answer to John Kerry`s family question in his Senate testimony as a Vietnam veteran against the war, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

It turns out, there were two men, Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge, hit by the same rocket attack. They were in Vietnam to help manage the final desperate exit. They were there to protect the people trying to get on those final helicopters. They might have been on that final helicopter on April 30th, 1975, if they had lived just one more day.

The day after Charlie McMahon and Darwin judge were killed in action, the last American helicopter left Saigon and left their bodies behind, in a hospital in Saigon. It was a mistake. It was the kind of mistake the American military can make in a situation like that.

The American military did not just leave behind friendly interpreters in Vietnam, they did not just leave behind interpreters who helped reporters in Vietnam. They did not just leave behind friendly allies who helped the military and worked on American military bases. They also left behind hundreds of babies and children who were fathered by American soldiers over the 18 years of the American military involvement in Vietnam. And they left behind the last two men to die for the mistake of the Vietnam War. They left Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge behind.

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy went to work for his constituents, the McMahon family, and a year later he managed to secure the return of the bodies of Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge. Senator Kennedy never criticized President Ford for leaving them behind. Senator Kennedy never said he had a better idea about how to manage the evacuation of American troops and American allies from a war that we lost.

The Democrats did not attack Republican President Gerald Ford for how he handled the exit from a war lost by Democratic and Republican presidents. The governor of Georgia, who was an Annapolis graduate and a navy veteran, was running for president on the day that the last American helicopter left Vietnam, and he did not criticize how Republican President Gerald Ford managed that evacuation, because Jimmy Carter knew there was no good version of an evacuation from a lost war.

No one was surprised by the chaos and the dishonor of the American final exit from Vietnam. The world was not surprised. Every day of the Vietnam War was chaos, including the final day.

Just a year after the evacuation from Vietnam, at the Democratic National Convention in his acceptance speech for his presidential nomination, Jimmy Carter said this.


JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT: I`ve never had more faith in America than I do today. We have an America that involved Dylan`s phrase, is busy being born, not busy dying.



O`DONNELL: In that speech, Jimmy Carter did not criticize Gerald`s management of the evacuation from Vietnam. None of the anti-war protesters that demand a withdrawal from Vietnam attacked his management of the final withdrawal from Vietnam. No one in the anti-war movement, including the Vietnam veterans, believed that they had a better idea about how to evacuate a lost war or that the American military was capable of doing a better job of evacuating from a war that they lost.

The lesson of the Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan, including the last days of those wars is not that we have to teach West Point classes of future generals how to safely and honorably evacuate from our lost wars without leaving anyone behind. The lesson for a country that has not won a war since 1945 is, stop launching wars of dubious legality and unclear moral purpose that we do not know how to win.

The people who own the American exit from the Afghanistan war are the people who advocated launching that war and, more importantly, the people who never learned, the people who never stopped advocating for continuing that war.

Leading off our discussion tonight is someone who was there in the thick of our politics in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, James Fallows a speechwriter for presidential candidate Jimmy Carter and then speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. He`s now a staff writer for the "Atlantic."

Jim, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I find discussions that do not involve memories that range as far back at 1975 this week to be rather frustrating, so I`m glad you`re here.

One thing I`m fascinated by is how the evacuation of Vietnam did not become the political football that the Afghanistan evacuation has become instantaneously.

JAMES FALLOWS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Let me say first, Lawrence. Thank you for the setup you did. I agree with everything you were presenting about the horrors of that war generations ago, and of course there are horrors now, but when you start a war, you buy into the end of that war.


And I agree the solution -- Jimmy Carter, his proudest achievement was that he did not go to war in four years that he was in office.

As you probably recall, as a very young man then, the mid-1970s -- there were horrors on every front. The first American president in history to resign, Richard Nixon resigned, there was the Watergate scandal -- there were -- after the fall of Saigon, there were, again, the horrors of the Khmer Rouge onslaught in Cambodia. That part of Carter`s campaign as part of the Democratic nomination and against Gerald Ford was to talk about the tragedy of Vietnam and Cambodia as opposed to the tactically failure of the Ford administration, those final days, and that the United States needed not to put itself in that situation again and to learn from that tragedy and to do better as opposed to, you know, what we have been seeing in the last week, as you pointed out.

O`DONNELL: We have a polling now saying that 62 percent now believe that - - or as of a couple days ago anyway that fighting the Afghanistan war was not worth it. It`s hard to imagine, you know, support for the Afghanistan war going up from there at this point.

And so, the president is doing something that 62 percent of the country thinks should be done. When you say not worth fighting, that means they`re saying it should`ve been done years ago.

FALLOWS: Should have been done. I think there`s a whole separate debate about the date when the war in Afghanistan was lost, and I think that was in December of 2001 when the leaders of the Bush administration decided o stop concentrating on Afghanistan and began preparing for the invasion of Iraq. Everything since then has been a sequel from that time.

But I think there has been -- what Joe Biden said in his remarkably blunt speech earlier this week was that he realized that he was not going to be - - he was not going to pass this war onto a fifth president, it having been on the watch of four presidents, including him. So I think the polling and just they suggest most people in the U.S. even recognizing the tragedies that are happening right now, that even recognizing that there are -- this was not -- not a wise use of American power.

O`DONNELL: I want to use both of your hats. As someone who worked in the White House and as someone who worked in the news media, because the news media that many in the Washington press corps have been relishing in the gotcha moment with the president and they think they got a gotcha moment because Joe Biden is saying after the fact that he`s not surprised that there`s chaos. He obviously is old enough to have seen the Vietnam chaos, he`s not surprised by the chaos. He didn`t say that before the fact.

Now, I made the point that a president of the United States could never say before the fact that there will be chaos possibly or likely in a situation like this.

What is it like for you as a member of the press when you watch a president kind of trapped in the presidency, as it were, and not being able to say things as certain points that he can say as events develop, which is what we`re watching here, and then the news media`s complete inability to process what`s actually happening in that, the news media`s feigned naivete about, oh, you know, we got him in this huge contradiction with himself?

FALLOWS: I think a very astute point you made earlier on is about what would have happened that is something we`ve been inured to in the past couple years. We had a president that could say anything and had no sense of the gravity attached to normal presidents words. Normal presidents of any party and any inclination he knows as his eight years as vice president, which is that there`s great consequence to what a normal president says. You can imagine just the additional chaos apart from what we`re seeing if Biden had said what many people in the press want him to have said now beginning a week ago a month ago, or whatever. So yes, I believe this is a kind of kabuki.

O`DONNELL: James Fallows, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Your perspective on this is invaluable. Your experience in 1975 with the presidential campaign at that time is an invaluable window for us. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, once again, a Trump supporter terrorized the Capitol, this time it`s a guy with a pickup truck and said Donald Trump was going to be reinstated as president.

Congress is not in session today. When the House returns next week, they will take up the infrastructure bill. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: Here`s something the Taliban did not do today. A Trump supporter terrorized Capitol Hill saying he had a bomb. Forty-nine-year-old Floyd Ray Roseberry of North Carolina drove a pickup truck onto the sidewalk in front of the library of Congress. Multiple buildings were evacuated, including the Cannon House Office Building.

Mr. Roseberry told police he had a bomb and surrendered after officers negotiated with him for about five hours. Officers collected, quote, possible bomb-making materials.

During the standoff, Floyd Ray Roseberry lived streams streamed on Facebook from inside the truck, "BuzzFeed" reports in the live extremes the man demanded that president Joe Biden and Democratic politicians step down, accusing them of killing America.


He identified himself as a Southerner and called on other patriots and Southerners to join him on Capitol Hill to begin a revolution.

"Talking Points Memo" reports that in a video posted yesterday, Floyd Ray Roseberry says Trump will be reinstated as president once Joe Biden is driven from office. When members of the House of Representatives returned return to next week, as long as there are no demented Trump supporters threatening to blow up the capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi plans to have the house begin voting on the Biden infrastructure legislation.

Joining our decision now, Norm Ornstein, congressional historian and emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. And John Heilemann, MSNBC national affairs analyst, and host of the "Hell and High Water" podcast from "The Recount".

John, let me start with you. The infrastructure bill in the form of the budget resolution is one of the things that`s supposed to be cued up for the House`s return next week, but that`s pending how many pickup trucks of Trump supporters might be negotiating with cops about exactly when they`re going to get out of their trucks or blow up the Capitol.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah, Lawrence, that`s a very optimistic, rosy picture you paint there. But unfortunately, seems to be opposite, seems to be right on. You don`t get cases that are clear than this one.

We all understand what the threat is that the post-January 6th threat and we`ve now seen multiple attacks on the Capitol. We`ve now seen multiple people who want to do damage to the capitol. The Capitol has become a prime target for the MAGA right and the white grievance crowd that are out there. And, you know, I think there`s no reason to think that it`s going to stop anytime soon.

I think -- as you know, I`m predicting a new era of political balance, unfortunately, for a while. And today is just one more piece of evidence we`re not getting further away from that but we`re getting closer to it. In fact, I think, you know -- I am bracing for worse ahead, not only on the domestic legislative front but people keep coming back to that building and trying to do damage to it, unfortunately.

O`DONNELL: Norm Ornstein, one thing that could help would be for House Leader Kevin McCarthy next week or sooner to get out of his Republican members together to make a statement that President Trump is not going to be reinstated ever. He`s allowed to run for the office again, but there`s no such thing as reinstatement.

Now, what are the chances of Kevin McCarthy actually doing that, and are they equal to or less than the chances of Kevin McCarthy supporting the Biden infrastructure legislation?

NORM ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL HISTORIAN: It`s about the same, which is a big fat zero. And we should note here that the Republican Representative Mo Brooks issued a statement pretty much supporting this violence that was threatened by this bomber, somebody who had been involved in helping to instigate the insurrection.

And what I would also like to see Kevin McCarthy do, which is equally unlikely, is to denounce his own member for, in effect, giving imprimatur to violence. That`s where we are now in those politics. You know, to segue to the infrastructure plan, one would hope that these nine Democrats who have said they`re not going to support anything involving that larger ambitious infrastructure package, the $3.5 trillion one, unless and until they get first the bipartisan package, it would be very nice if they made a statement that really was against this kind of insurrection and said we`re going to support legislation that improves America.

Pelosi`s putting them on the spot by packaging these things together and saying you wanted to vote on your package? We`re going to put it together with the other one and we`ll see if they respond.

O`DONNELL: John Heilemann, Nancy Pelosi has been so good at navigating these kinds of legislative courses in the past that it feels to me like there`s an awful lot of confidence about, oh, Nancy Pelosi will put it all together next week in the House with the nine Democrats who want a different procedure from all the rest of the Democrats and make peace between them and the more progressive Democrats and -- I don`t know. I have that feeling, but in any other world in the past, if we had nine Democrats taking a stand like this, we would say, wow, this thing`s in trouble.

HEILEMANN: Well, right. More than that, Lawrence, I think, you know, we`ve -- part of the confidence, I think, people had, I think people still have the confidence you`re talking about.


And and I think they have good reason to have the confidence Nancy Pelosi, and again, I`ll observe for the 400th time, the kind of incredible lockstep, well-organized, well-orchestrated legislative juggernaut that so far has been the Biden White House and its staff with all of that experience that it has. The Ron Klain`s and Steve Ricchetti`s of the world working hand in glove with Nancy Pelosi`s office, working hand in glove with Chuck Schumer`s office, have been the only reason why this whole high- wire act that you and I have observed all along -- we haven`t seen anything like it. There`s never been anything this complicated or anything this costly.

The combination of these two pieces of legislation historically off the charts in terms of dollar values and then the complexity of trying to get them through, trying to land the two planes at the same time without that kind of coordination and that kind of skill and experience, they would have no chance.

And instead, we all sit back and say, well, of course, Nancy Pelosi will pull it off.

And again, as I said, there`s good reason to think that, but the reality is right now that all of that complexity just got magnified or multiplied by the fact that moderates suddenly woke up in the House and realized they had as much leverage in terms of trying to extort differences both in process and in outcome as progressives had all along. That should be -- you`re correct, it is like, oh, my god, this thing was already this hard to do, it`s now impossible, and yet I think somehow the stakes are so high that I think the combination of Pelosi, Schumer, and Biden and what would happen, the cost of failure, the political cost of failure in addition to the substantive cost of failure, it might just make this thing all too big and too complex in some ways to fail.


NORM ORNSTEIN, AUTHOR, "IT`S EVEN WORSE THAN IT LOOKS": You know, I don`t think it`s out of the question that this could go down on a vote when it first comes up next week. I think it would be really bad given the fact that so many Democrats have criticized Joe Biden -- your statement to begin this program was very powerful -- over what`s happened in Afghanistan. It would not be a great thing to happen.

But I do believe that Pelosi has a backup plan if that happens, and we might come back with something that we talked about earlier in the week. If what they want is a stand-alone vote on just that one narrower package, bring it up with just one small change so that if they vote against that a second time, they really are looking like nothing, but people going for extortion and being obstructionists.

But if you do that, then there`s time at least to go through with the larger infrastructure package, and of course, this also would mean that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act would go down if they vote against it.

She`s added on a lot of pressure on these members, and ultimately I just have to believe that Pelosi is going to find a way to prevail, but don`t be surprised if it takes a little bit longer than next week.

O`DONNELL: All right. We need you both on standby for next week. Norm Ornstein and John Heilemann, thank you both very much for joining us tonight.

ORNSTEIN: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, Jason Furman was the Chairman of President Obama`s Council of Economic Advisers, and he is seeing things in the Biden economic recovery that he`s never seen before. His one-word description of the economic picture is, quote, "wonderful." Professor Jason Furman joins us next.



O`DONNELL: Here is something you don`t hear economists say very often. No, wait. Wait a second. Here`s something you`ve never heard an economist say. Quote, "I have yet to find a blemish in this Jobs report. I`ve never before seen such a wonderful set of economic data." That`s what Harvard Professor Jason Furman said about the July Jobs report, and know the employment picture is looking even better.

Joining us now is Jason Furman, former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President Obama. He is currently Professor of the Practice of Economic Policy at Harvard`s Kennedy School.

Professor Furman, I have to say, in all my hours in classroom with economics professors, I don`t ever remember the word "wonderful" being used for anything. It`s called the dismal science for a reason. What is going on here?

JASON FURMAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS FOR PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, 8:30 a.m., the jobs numbers come out. I open them the second they come out. The first number I saw, 943,000 jobs. That`s just a really high number. I, then went and checked about 11 other numbers, the labor force participation rate, the black unemployment rate, the wage number, the number of people working part time.

Every one of those numbers improved in the month of July, all moving in the direction we want them to move.

O`DONNELL: And we have unemployment -- go ahead. Sorry, the unemployment number now, while we`re still in the pandemic, it`s just extraordinary.

FURMAN: Yes. I mean, if you would have asked me a year ago, if you have had asked me six months ago, I would have thought it would take a lot longer to where we are now. We`re definitely not all the way there. We have a lot to go on the unemployment rate right now, it is 5.4 percent, prior to the pandemic it was 3.5 percent. There is no reason we can`t get back there.

Hopefully we can get a lot of the way back there by the end of this year, but after the damage the economy went through last year, it`s healing more quickly than we`ve seen in previous recessions, many of which weren`t as bad as this recession was.

O`DONNELL: And there is more fuel coming to the economy if the infrastructure package gets through the Congress in whole or in part.


FURMAN: Yes, absolutely. And I think, you know, the President says build back better and he says build back better for a reason. If we could return the economy to exactly where it was in February 2020, that would be pretty good. But it wouldn`t be good enough. That was an economy that had a lot of inequality, that had not enough opportunities for, you know, people to work, too many children not in preschool and, of course, an economy that wasn`t green enough.

So all those things need to change. We don`t just need to repair the damage. A lot of what`s coming next is to build something better.

O`DONNELL: And of course, in the nature of infrastructure spending, it`s not -- it`s not a one-year spending program. You know, this kind of building goes on for many years. The building that will be authorized by the infrastructure bill, and then the economic benefits of that work go on for years after the construction itself is completed.

FURMAN: Yes. That`s exactly right. And it`s such a great opportunity right now. A lot of this is being paid for. The President has proposed tax increases on high-income households and some rollback of the corporate rate reduction under President Trump.

But also, frankly, I think we can borrow. The Federal government can borrow at a 1.3 percent rate right now. That`s actually lower than the inflation rate. And so when you`re making an investment, the question is, is that investment going to pay off over time? Is it going to create economic growth? Is it worth the cost to that borrowing, and it`s an awful lot of investments that pass that test.

O`DONNELL: And another thing built into the cost of this infrastructure bill is there haven`t been infrastructure bills for several years. So, if you`ve neglected the maintenance, if you`ve neglected the upkeep, of course it`s then going to be more expensive than doing regular maintenance.

FURMAN: Yes. That`s exactly right. I mean, again, you look at the Federal debt. The Federal debt doesn`t include deferred maintenance. It doesn`t include the cost of not investing in children and children that don`t go to preschool, don`t grow up, and succeed, and have the earnings they would otherwise have.

So, we have a lot of costs out there and part of this is doing is recognizing them, addressing them sooner, and that`s a smarter, more cost- effective thing to do.

O`DONNELL: Professor Jason Furman, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Always appreciate it.

FURMAN: Thanks a lot.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. Coming up, the delta variant has upended our previous thinking about the coronavirus and how long we will be living with it and how many shots of vaccine we will need to get through it. Up next, a Harvard epidemiologist who has been studying this will join us.



O`DONNELL: C.D.C. reported 157,694 new cases of coronavirus today in the United States, three of those cases are senators. Republican Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi, Independent Senator Angus King from Maine, Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper from Colorado, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham also tested positive this month. All four senators had been fully vaccinated before they were infected.

Alabama, the state with the lowest vaccination rate, has run out of ICU beds due to the surge in coronavirus infections in the state. The Alabama Hospital Association said there were 29 people in the state on Wednesday being forced to wait in emergency rooms for an open ICU bed.

The Mississippi Department of Health says there are only seven ICU beds available in the state and 96 patients need them. Yesterday, the Biden administration announced continued effectiveness of the vaccines will now depend on getting a third booster shot for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. There is no guidance yet on a booster shot for the recipients of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.

Joining us now is Dr. Michael Mina, epidemiologist with the Harvard school of Public Health. Dr. Mina, thank you very much for joining us tonight. The issue on the vaccine booster shot raises the question of just how protected vaccinated people are.

I, for example, have never stopped wearing masks indoors, at stores. I now know that in November, I`ll eight months away from my second shot of Moderna. So, the effectiveness of this vaccine is kind of on a downward slope during that period of time, apparently. That`s my understanding of the science.

So what should vaccinated people be doing in protecting themselves as we head toward our third shot, our booster shot?

DR. MICHAEL MINA, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: That`s a great question. Vaccinated people right now should on the one hand recognize that just getting the vaccine at all that see has given you a massive leg up to ensure if you do get this virus and infected with it, you will not end up in the hospital. It`s the most likely scenario.

However, it really scales with age. As you say, as we move further and further away from the date that you got your vaccine, unfortunately, the oldest individuals in our society are going to be likely the quickest to have their protection start to wane, which is why the boosters are starting to be recommended. And also why it`s become controversial about whether or not everyone needs it or just the older individuals and immunocompromised, recognizing that the vaccines may not be doing what they -- may not be sufficient to prevent transmission is important.


MINA: We have to recognize that the virus is able to transmit in some people who are vaccinated and we have to be aware of that as we move around in what our expectations are for what benefit we are getting. It is really a medical benefit to help us not end up in the hospital, but it is becoming less and less effective against delta in terms of limiting spread.

O`DONNELL: Is breakthrough the right word for describing vaccinated people who get infected? We call it a breakthrough infection like we should be surprised or shocked that somehow the virus got through the vaccine wall.

MINA: I don`t think that breakthrough is the right word for somebody who becomes asymptomatically infected who is detected on a test. The vaccines were not indicated or designed to stop transmission, but when people become symptomatic, that would be defined as a breakthrough infection in my book because that`s really the indication that these vaccines have. That`s what the trials measured.

And I would say that none of this is surprising. We expected, or at least many people expected that these vaccines will wane over time. The tremendous efficacy of 90 to 95 percent that we saw was right after people got vaccinated. That`s when you have the most antibodies circulating. And naturally, just like in any vaccine or infection, waning is an expected outcome.

O`DONNELL: Now, if we were not developing, let`s just go to a hypothetical universe where we are not developing new variants and the vaccine was still fighting the same old variant it began fighting in say, February, would that that have anything to do with the length of effectiveness of the vaccine?

MINA: It would for sure. The mutations that are rising that have now led to delta and will inevitably lead the further variants down the road are certainly giving the virus a leg up to both transmit more readily, but also appear to be giving it an ability to start to chip away at our immune protection, and enable it to infect individuals a little easier.

So, if we were still dealing with version one of this virus, for example, and that really matched the vaccines well, whereas now the vaccines that`s we`ve gotten and including the boosters, unfortunately, are going to be -- I don`t want to say outdated, but they are based around the genomic sequence of a virus that is no longer actually in circulation. We`ve now moved on to delta and that`s a different -- a slightly different sequence.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Michael Mina, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

MINA: Absolutely.

O`DONNELL: We`ll be right back.




JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Throughout this process, my north star has been remembering what it was like when my late son, Beau, was deployed to Iraq. How proud he was to serve his country, how insistent he was to deploy with his unit, and the impact it had on him. And all of us at home.


O`DONNELL: It has been seven decades since we have had a war-time President who knows what it feels like to have a son or daughter serving in a war zone. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had four sons serving in the war at the same time. Incidentally, Winston Churchill`s son serves in combat with the British Army in World War II. President Dwight Eisenhower who presided over the final months of the Korean War in his first year as President had been the General and Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, his son served in that war and the Korean War.

Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon each had two daughters. Presidents Johnson and Nixon presided over the disastrous Vietnam war while their sons-in-law were serving in that war.

Now Presidents who`s launched our biggest foreign wars did not end them. President Roosevelt served admirably as Commander-in-Chief during World War II. He died in office at age 62 the month before Germany surrendered and five months before Japan surrendered.

When President Nixon was forced to resign and hand the title of Commander- in-Chief to his Vice President Gerald Ford, it became President Ford`s duty in 1975 to stare helplessly at America`s defeat in Vietnam and our chaotic and dishonorable exit from Vietnam.

And now, President Biden is ending a war that he did start. Joe Biden is the fourth President to be the Commander-in-Chief of our forces in Afghanistan and he decided there should not be a fifth.


BIDEN: What`s happening now could just as easily happen five years ago or 15 years in the future. We have to be honest. Our mission in Afghanistan has taken many missteps, made many missteps over the last two decades. I am now the fourth American President to preside over the war in Afghanistan. Two Democrats and two Republicans.

I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth President.

I made a commitment to the American people when I ran for President that I would bring America`s military involvement in Afghanistan to an end. While it has been hard and messy, and yes, far from perfect, I`ve honored that commitment.


O`DONNELL: President Biden gets tonight`s last word. "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 212 of the Biden administration. There`s mounting pressure to speed up the air lift to get people out of Afghanistan as new reports indicate the White House was warned about the disaster that would quickly unfold after the official U.S. withdrawal.