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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 9/28/21

Guests: Pramila Jayapal, Bharat Ramamurti, Norm Ornstein, Mark Berman, Elizabeth Warren


Interview with Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Interview with Democratic Congressman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Today the Treasury secretary said that the United States of America will for the first time in history crash into its debt ceiling and default on its debts on or about October 18th. Yesterday, California`s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that permanently requires a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to every active registered voter in the state of California.



And at the end of the hour tonight, we have California Assemblymember Marc Berman who is the guy who has put into law the governor`s signature on this law that now makes it law that in every election in California, voters will be mailed a ballot, every single time you go to the mailbox for the election in California in the future. And, so, voter turnout there has skyrocketed with the vote by mail. And it may continue.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, TRMS: Well, you know, California is not the first state to do this. We have other states that have done this pre- pandemic. There were states that have been working this, using this policy effectively for years. They have some of the highest voter turnout in the country.

Not a controversial thing at all, but a huge leap into the next century for a state as big and important as California doing it.

O`DONNELL: And, of course, leading off for us tonight, Senator Elizabeth Warren who had very big moments in two very big hearings today. Pramila Jayapal is going to be here with the latest on what`s happening on the House.

And, Rachel, I`m confused. Okay? I`m confused. I`m just -- I`m just watching and I`m confused.

MADDOW: Lawrence, you are not allowed to be confused. You are the one who explains all the Congress stuff to us. You can`t -- you can`t allow yourself to be bewildered.

O`DONNELL: It`s wicked uncomfortable that I just don`t -- never seen anything like it. Never seen anything like it, never seen anything like it. So, you know, I`m a spectator.

MADDOW: It will resolve, or it won`t. But the person who can tell you the most right now about how it is going to resolve is Pramila Jayapal who you`re about to have as your guest.

O`DONNELL: OK, she`s coming up.

Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, it was like most Senate hearings since the Republican Party became the Trump party with one side trying to illuminate what happened and the other side sometimes in their way trying to illuminate what happened. But all too frequently just wallowing in their own ignorance and outright stupidity. The official title of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing was, quote, to receive testimony on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan.

Two generals testified, General Kenneth McKenzie, he was the last commander of the United States forces in Afghanistan and General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The other witness was Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who was a four star general in the Army until President Biden appointed him secretary of defense.

Apparently not knowing that the American military has not won a war since World War II, the junior senator from Alabama began his questioning this way.


SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): Thanks for being here today. You are part of the most powerful military in the world. Is there any enemy that could defeat the strongest force in the world of the United States military? And I know all of you are going to say no.


O`DONNELL: And the junior senator from Florida who was old enough to know better said this.


SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): When in the history of this country have we ever had the U.S. military say and have a plan that we will take our military out first before we take our civilians? I can`t imagine that. I just can`t imagine ever in the history of this country our U.S. military would propose to leave a country without our citizens coming out first. Have we ever done that before?


O`DONNELL: Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth had this response.


SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (R-IL): I do want to note that my family and I were in Cambodia until the very end. I`m an American. I was born in Thailand, but my father worked for the United Nations.

And to answer my colleague`s question, my father chose to stay as long as possible to help the Cambodian people as long as possible. And he left after the American troops had left. The American ambassador stayed behind. In fact, after the last military transport left. I know this because my father was on the last transport to leave Cambodia, and the ambassador had to travel over land. So, yes, we do leave Americans behind.



O`DONNELL: Senator Duckworth is a former army helicopter pilot wounded in action in Iraq and lost both of her legs. Senator Duckworth knows more about military operations and American military history than anyone on the Republican side of that committee.

In previous reports of the evacuation from Afghanistan, we have mentioned on this program the people we left behind in Vietnam. But tonight, I`d like to focus on one group that I have only mentioned in passing in our previous coverage.

According to a 2013 report in "The New York Times," quote, by some estimates, tens of thousands of American servicemen fathered children with Vietnamese women during that long war. Some of the children were a result of long-term relationships. Others were born of one-night stands. But few of the fathers ever met their offspring and fewer still brought them home to America. After the war, those children known as Amerasians endured harsh discrimination and abject poverty in Vietnam viewed as reminders of an invading army.

Shamed by reports of their horrible living conditions, Congress enacted legislation in 1987 giving Americans special immigration status. Some of those children have been looking for their American fathers for their entire lives. I need to know where I am from said Trinh Tran, a real estate agent in Houston, who has searched in vain for her G.I. father. I always feel that without him I don`t exist.

Those children by law all had a right to American citizenship. We left behind tens of thousands of them in Vietnam. People are always left behind in war, always. And no one at today`s hearing was able to point to a time when the American military or any other military in the world conducted an honorable and orderly evacuation from a war that they lost.

That has never happened in history. The most successful evacuation from a lost war was the one we actually saw this year from Afghanistan. After the south Vietnamese capital came under the full control of the north Vietnamese military, the United States evacuated exactly zero people from south Vietnam. Zero.

And after the president of Afghanistan fled the country and the capital city of Kabul fell to the Taliban, the United States evacuated 124,000 people. Today`s hearing lasted six hours.

Senator Elizabeth Warren managed to cover every important point about the evacuation from Afghanistan in three and a half minutes.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Once President Biden made the decision to have U.S. forces leave the country, who designed the evacuation?

LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, Senator, again, I won`t address what I advised -- the advice I gave the president. I would just say that in his calculus, this was not risk free and the Taliban, as we have said earlier in this hearing, were committed to recommencing their operations against our forces. His assessment was that in order to sustain that and continue to do things that benefitted the Afghans, that would require at some point that he increase our presence there in Afghanistan.

So once he made the decision and of course from a military perspective in terms of the retrograde of the people and the equipment, that was -- that planning was done by Central Command and certainly principally by General Miller. Very detailed planning and then we came back and briefed the entire interagency on the details of that plan.

WARREN: Okay. So the military planned the evacuation.

Did President Biden follow your advice on executing on the evacuation plan?

AUSTIN: He did.

WARREN: Did President Biden give you all the resources that you needed?

AUSTIN: From my view, he did.

WARREN: Did President Biden ignore your advice on the evacuation at any point?

AUSTIN: No, Senator, he did not.

WARREN: Did he refuse any request for anything that you needed or asked for?


WARREN: So the president followed the advice of his military advisers in planning and executing this withdrawal. As we have already established, the seeds for our failure in Afghanistan were planted many, many years ago. So, let me ask you one more question, Secretary Austin. Knowing what we know now, if we would have stayed for one more year, would it have made a fundamental difference?

AUSTIN: Again, it depends on what size you remain in at and what your objectives are. There are a range of possibilities, but if you stayed there at posture of 2,500, certainly you would be in a fight with the Taliban and you would have to reinforce yourself.

WARREN: I appreciate your looking at it as a fighter. But I would also add one more year of propping up a corrupt government and an army that would not fight on its own would not give us a better outcome, and anyone who thinks differently is either fooling themselves or trying to fool the rest of us.

I believe President Biden had it exactly right, withdrawing was long overdue. The withdrawal was conducted in accordance with the advice of his military advisers who planned and executed every step of this withdrawal. Thank you.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Senator. Really appreciate it.

What was your takeaway from the hearing about the evacuation from Afghanistan?

WARREN: That it was actually an amazing undertaking. It was done under chaotic circumstances because the government had collapsed, because the party had melted away the Afghan army and that even in the midst of all of that, our military was able to get about 124,000 people out. They left no American-owned equipment behind. They managed to execute that.

And, yes, it was at risk. We lost a young woman from Massachusetts. I`m working now on trying to get the Congressional Medal of Honor for the people who we lost right at the end. But we knew it was a risky undertaking and the military performed. We should be proud of President Biden and proud of our military.

O`DONNELL: I want to get your reaction to another aspect of the hearing, and that was General Milley, who was taking on some questions and was making his points about the reports of Bob Woodward and Robert Costa`s book, about him making calls to China in the final days of the Trump presidency trying to assure them that there was no plan, no Trump plan of attack on China. Let`s listen to what the general said.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I am certain that president Trump did not intend to attack the Chinese. And it is my directed responsibility and it was my directed responsibility by the secretary to convey that intent to the Chinese. My task at that time was to deescalate. My message again was consistent. Stay calm, steady and deescalate. We are not going to attack you.


O`DONNELL: Senator, I imagine that was one of the stranger cases of testimony you have heard on the Armed Services Committee -- a chairman of the joint chiefs basically talking about having to calm a major power about the mental stability of the president of the United States.

WARREN: Yes. Although, remember the context he put this in. He said he was operating within his chain of command and he said he was making clear the intent of the president of the United States. That is that the president of the United States had not intended any ill will -- I shouldn`t say ill will. Did not intend to attack China and was making that clear. That was the general`s testimony.

O`DONNELL: I want to go to the other hearing you were in today where you had the chair of the Federal Reserve, and you had a confrontation with him that I have never seen at one of these hearings before. Let`s listen to this.


WARREN: The elephant in the room is whether you are going to be renominated for a second term as Fed chair. Renominating you means gambling that the next five years with a Republican chair who has regularly voted to deregulate Wall Street won`t drive this economy over a financial cliff again.


O`DONNELL: So the Fed chair is up for -- the appointment runs up next year. We`re either going to -- the president will reappoint the chair or a new one. What do you think is at stake in that question?


WARREN: Look, you remember what happened in the early 2000s. And that is we had Federal Reserve that was unwilling to rein the giant financial institutions. So a bit at a time they deregulate here, they turn a blind eye there. And those financial institutions very quietly just loaded up on more and more and more and more risk until they blew up the entire economy and the U.S. taxpayer was called on to bail them out.

Millions of people lost their jobs. Millions of people lost their homes. Millions of people lost their savings.

I came to Washington guaranteeing that will never happen again if I can help it. And what`s happened? We have had a Federal Reserve chair for five years now who has demonstrated over and over again that he is not willing to rein in the big financial institutions.

And he has taken one regulatory step after another, small steps, but always in the same direction, and that is the direction toward weakening the regulations over the biggest financial institutions. And the thing is, that`s cumulative over time. And it puts American consumers, it puts American workers, it puts American taxpayers, it puts the American economy at risk, and I can`t support someone like that for chairman of the Federal Reserve.

O`DONNELL: Senator, there is something very different about what you`re saying about the Federal Reserve appointment and what we`re seeing in the legislative process now in the senate. You are telling the president a year ahead of time what your position is on this. You are saying, I cannot vote for this nomination.

With Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Manchin, we`re discovering at the end of a legislative process that they apparently have dissatisfactions with a deal they appeared to agree to months ago and a structure that they voted for in the Senate budget resolution of $3.5 trillion.

And, so, where are we now? These two senators have, in effect, stopped progress in the House and Speaker Pelosi is now trying to put something together with these two senators as what appears to be either the roadblock or the final pieces that have to be put together on this bill.

WARREN: Right. Well, literally for months now, Democrats in the Senate, Democrats in the House have been operating with one goal in mind and one understanding, and that is there is going to be a lot that needs to be done in the reconciliation, this whole package. Yes, we need roads and bridges. We need water and sewers. But we also need child care and broadband.

We need health care. We need housing. And most of all, we need to make a big down payment in the fight against climate change.

All of it has been out there. And the agreement has been we`re going to move it altogether.

And I hope that`s the direction we`re still going in. The House progressives have been terrific on this. They said we had an agreement, and we expect everyone to stick with the agreement.

The progressives are not backing out. The House Democrats are not backing out, I hope, and that means we got to move everything together. We cannot have the train leave the station and leave a whole lot of pieces of what American families need back on the platform. Not child care, not housing, not health care, not climate. We can`t do that.

O`DONNELL: Senator, there is video from the Senate floor today where you and Senator Schumer and Senator Sanders were all gathered together talking. And that`s not going to be in the congressional record. Could you please tell us word for word what was said in that discussion?

WARREN: Oh, I could but I won`t. Not going to talk about private conversations.

O`DONNELL: Okay. Thank you very much, Senator. Really appreciate you joining us tonight.

WARREN: Good to be with you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, President Joe Biden clearing his schedule tomorrow, skipping a trip to Chicago to try to push his infrastructure package forward in Congress. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Progressive Caucus, joins us next.



O`DONNELL: Last night on this program, the brilliant Jonathan Capehart used a phrase, the storm before the calm, to describe what Democrats are doing in the House and Senate in the lead-up to the votes on the Biden infra infrastructure bill. Today, the storm got stormier with Senator Bernie Sanders doing what senators are by tradition never supposed to do.

He made Nancy Pelosi`s life more difficult by completing losing patience, apparently, and telling Democrats in the House how they should vote. Senator Sanders said in a written statement, let`s be crystal clear: if the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed on its own on Thursday, this will be in violation of an agreement that was reached within the Democratic caucus in Congress. I strongly urge my house colleagues to vote against the bipartisan infrastructure bill until Congress passes a strong reconciliation bill.

Now, that could be a first in senator history, a senator who has already voted for a bill urging other senators to vote against that bill that he already voted for.

Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner railed against Ted Cruz to this day for interfering in House business and urging House Republicans to vote against an increase in the debt ceiling when John Boehner was speaker. We await Speaker Pelosi`s memoires to find out how she really feels about what Senator Sanders had to say today.

What makes Senator Sanders reaching into House business even more unusual is that the position he advocates is already being well-represented by the leader of the progressive caucus in the House, our next guest, Pramila Jayapal.


Speaker Pelosi is no doubt less troubled by Senator Sanders` protocol breach than she is by the reluctance of Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to come to agreement with the rest of the Senate Democrats and the president. Once again today, President Biden had to have individual one-on- one meetings with them who are fast becoming the senators with the most entries in the Biden White House visitor records and once again frustrating all the rest of the Democrats, Senator Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema have not said anything publicly that indicates why their negotiations are going on so long or what they`re even negotiating about.

Today, Senator Manchin said exactly the same kind of thing he said the very first time he discussed this legislation at the White House months ago. He said, we understand getting to know each other better and being understanding what his vision for the country is and the things he wants to do and I respect and appreciate all that. He`s very good and listening, blah, blah, blah.

When asked when he discussed an actual number with the president, Senator Manchin said, no, we haven`t talked about that, no.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Pramila Jayapal of Washington state. She is the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

And, Congresswoman Jayapal, there is frustration breaking out in the Congress with Senator Sanders, with other members and right here at this desk that I am sitting at in trying to figure out what is going on with Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema? Do you have more insight into this?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, Lawrence, it is great to see you.

I will start by saying the position of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, we are 96-member strong caucus, has been for three and a half months that we are not going to move one piece of the president`s agenda without the much bigger piece of the president`s agenda. And I just want to take you back just for a moment to five months ago, August 28th, 2021. What happened on that night, Lawrence, is President Biden came out of the White House. He went down Pennsylvania Avenue. He came to the Capitol, and he delivered a speech.

He delivered a speech to Congress. I happen to be one of the few that was invited to that speech because it was COVID times and not all of us could go. I was sitting towards the back of that chamber and I listened to this newly-elected Democratic president with a Democratic House majority and a Democratic Senate majority in that chamber, not all of us but representative of us, listen to the president of the United States lay out an agenda.

That agenda was for child care for everyone. It was for paid leave. It was for universal community college. It was for getting lead out of waters and having clean water everywhere no matter what zip code you live in.

It was for health care, lowering prescription drug pricing. It was for housing, affordable housing, to house the unhoused people. And, yes, it was also for roads and bridges.

Now here we are today, and people want to frame this as progressives versus moderates, but let me just tell you, 96 percent of Democrats in the House and the Senate support the president`s agenda, which is the Build Back Better agenda. And what we know is that 4 percent of members of the House and the Senate are not supporting the president`s agenda, the Democratic agenda and want to make some changes.

We have been staying for some time, we put our vision out there. It is the president`s agenda. It is not some crazy out there left wing agenda. It is the president`s agenda that we are fighting to deliver to the people.

And so, we still have had no interaction, no negotiation with Senators Manchin and Sinema on what is it that they do like. We know what they don`t like. That`s been made quite clear over and over again, but do they want to do of the president`s agenda? We`re waiting for that.

But until then, Lawrence, House progressives are very clear. We are not going to leave behind women. We are not going to leave behind people who need housing. We are not going to leave behind climate change.

One of the most important issues that we are facing today and the president is going to have to go to COP26 in just a little bit. And he`s going to have to explain if we leave behind climate, why the United States feels like we can make any kind of an agreement with the rest of the world or force the rest of the world to address climate change as a real issue.

So this is -- we`re not leaving that behind. And that`s why we can`t vote for the bipartisan infrastructure bill until we pass the Build Back Better Act, which is 70 percent or more of the president`s agenda.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL,MSNBC HOST: Ok. Here is my theory about what the game is on the Sinema/Manchin side of this. That certainly Senator Sinema who says nothing about what she wants is going on. It`s that they or she or both of them are trying to drag out this negotiation to the point where Speaker Pelosi does move forward and ask you all to vote on the bipartisan bill that the Senate has already voted on so that their bill that they supported in the Senate, they watch that pass in the House.

And only after that do they, for the first time ever, say something concrete in a negotiation with President Biden. Only after their bill that they want passed is passed, and then they feel they will be in a much stronger position to chip away at the legislation that you are ready to vote for.

JAYAPAL: That`s exactly right. And that`s why we do not have the votes in the House for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And as Senator Warren said, this was a deal that the senators made that we were going to move both pieces together. It`s something that we have all been saying for some time. It was the deal that was made.

And unfortunately, Lawrence, we are not -- we are now in the verify stage. This isn`t about trust. This is about verify. And the only way to verify is to pass the reconciliation bill first as was articulated and then we will happily come back and vote for the infrastructure bill.

And I will tell you, Lawrence, not every one of my members likes that infrastructure bill. Some of them really believe that -- and I happen to be a part of this -- that there are actually bad things in this bill that hurt us on climate change.

But you know what? Every one of the progressive caucus members has said, I understand I play on the same team as the Democratic Party and the Democratic president, and we will vote for that bill even though we don`t like it.

We will vote for it. But we want the reconciliation bill first. And then we will go and we will happily do our duty of voting for the rest of the president`s agenda, which is the small piece that is in the infrastructure bill.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thank you very much for joining us for tonight`s episode of the storm before the calm. Thank you very much.

JAYAPAL: That`s a good thing to remember.

O`DONNELL: Right. Thank you very much. Really appreciate it.

Coming up, today the Treasury secretary said that the United States of America will for the first time in history crash into its debt ceiling and default on its debts on or about October 18th. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: Today Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said this.


JANET YELLEN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: It is imperative that Congress address the debt limit. If not, our current estimate is the Treasury will likely exhaust its extraordinary measures by October 18th. At that point, we expect Treasury would be left with very limited resources that would be depleted quickly.

America would default for the first time in history. The full faith and credit of the United States would be impaired and our country would likely face a financial crisis and economic recession as a result.


O`DONNELL: And to make matters worse, today the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blocked an attempt by Chuck Schumer to pass an increase in the debt ceiling by a simple majority vote of the Democrats in the Senate.

Joining us now Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council. He previously served on the staff of Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight. October 18th is the new deadline for debt ceiling action. What would it mean to the economy? What would it mean to the economy of the world if for the first time in history the American government defaults on its debt?

BHARAT RAMAMURTI, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Well, it would be catastrophic. And that`s what Secretary Yellen`s view is. That`s the view of outside experts, Wall Street experts who have looked at it.

It would cost us millions of jobs. It would throw the global financial system into panic and crisis. It would throw us back into a recession. It would reverse all of the progress that we have made in the last several months under President Biden.

And if I could, I just want to review how we got to this point. Republicans claimed a week ago that what they wanted was a bill that would fund the government, that would avoid a default and that would provide important disaster aid to people in Louisiana and elsewhere.

The Democrats put that exact bill on the floor of the Senate and Republicans responded by filibustering it saying you know what actually we want you to raise the debt limit to address default by yourself.

And today Senator Schumer said, ok, Democrats will address it by ourselves and the Republicans blocked that, too.

So really it is extremely irresponsible what the Republican Party is doing here and it is threatening not just the U.S. economy but the global economy and really putting our economic recovery in peril.

O`DONNELL: What is the next -- what`s the current Republican demand? Or is there a Republican demand for increasing the debt limit?

RAMAMURTI: No. You would think that maybe they`re saying, ok, maybe can you guys do something to address the debt? Can you change something on the spending side? No. There is no demand. It is just do it by yourself, but do it in a particular way.


RAMAMURTI: And like I said, it is not based, as far as I can tell, on a policy concern. It is purely about making things as difficult as possible for the Democratic Party and pushing the United States to the brink of a devastating default.

And remember Secretary Yellen noted this as well. Even if we get close to the default -- to a default, close to that October 18th date, it does real harm to the economy, the cost of borrowing for the federal government goes up as investors view that as more risky and that does real harm to the economy.

So, you know, I think what we are seeing here is a Republican Party that`s taking a very nihilistic view and really pushing the United States into an unprecedented situation.

O`DONNELL: Is McConnell trying to force this into the Democrats reconciliation package?

RAMAMURTI: You know, look, I think what Minority Leader McConnell is trying to do is make this as complicated as possible for the Democrats. And like I said, it is not based on any policy concern. It is just trying to throw a wrench into the system.

It`s important to remember, though, right, that the debt limit is about borrowing to cover spending and tax decisions that Congress has already made.

And if you look back on the four years of the Trump presidency when Mitch McConnell was the senate majority leader, Trump and McConnell racked up nearly $8 trillion worth of debt. If you remember that 2017 tax bill that they passed to -- tax cut for big corporations and to the wealthy, that is projected by the nonpartisan CBO to generate just by itself nearly a quarter of a trillion worth of debt next year and a trillion dollars worth of debt over the next four years.

And so whose debt are we borrowing to cover here? It`s debt generated by the Republican Party and the fact that they`re unwilling to step up to the plate and help Democrats do that work as I said is irresponsible.

O`DONNELL: Bharat Ramamurti, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

RAMAMURTI: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: And joining us now is Norm Ornstein, a congressional historian. He`s the emeritus scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Norm, it sounds like the debt limit would probably have to go into the reconciliation bill. Is that where we are?

NORM ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL HISTORIAN: That`s clearly what McConnell is trying to achieve. And there is something perverse about it from his perspective.

We have, as we know, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema who said, what`s the rush here? Let`s just take our time with this. What this debt limit hostage taking and reckless behavior does on the part of not just Mitch McConnell but every Republican senator, every single one who`s joined with him adds an urgency to getting that reconciliation package done.

I would assume that today when President Biden met with Sinema and Manchin, he let them know that this is not just about a kind of negotiation over what we do with these two bills that affect different kinds of infrastructure. It is also about whether we crash into a deep recession or something worse and have long lasting economic effects.

So McConnell has done this before, using the debt limit as a hostage. This may have a perverse impact if in fact we get this taken to a point where they deal with it in reconciliation.

And I just want to make the point, Lawrence, that if we do it that way, let`s end this ridiculous thing once and for all by adopting the wonderfully named McConnell rule, meaning the president raises the debt ceiling. Congress could disapprove. He can veto it. He can prevail at any time. No more of these hostage taking reckless elements run by Republicans when Democrats have always avoided them.

O`DONNELL: So this strategy could mean that the debt ceiling goes from being a legislative hostage to being a legislative engine pushing the reconciliation bill forward.

ORNSTEIN: And if that happens and we get rid of the debt ceiling ridiculous process once and for all and get both of these bills, reconciliation and the bipartisan infrastructure bill, I will take that bottle of wine sitting behind me and raise a glass to Mitch McConnell.

O`DONNELL: Norm Ornstein teaches me something every time he comes on here. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Norm. Really appreciate it.

ORNSTEIN: Thanks, Lawrence. Any time.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, the man who made sure that every California voter will always from now on receive a ballot in the mail for every election. He`s coming up next.




KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things that we have to do is to remind people that elections matter. Literally in their life. Because it is not only about who is president, it`s who`s governor. It`s who`s a mayor. It`s who`s a judge. It`s who`s the sheriff.

The decisions those people make in those positions impact your life every day. And so, the importance of voting is because elections are about issues.


O`DONNELL: That was Vice President Harris today at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The 2020 presidential election in California saw the highest voter turnout in that state in 50 years. The "Los Angeles Times" attributes the high voter turnout to, quote, the pandemic-inspired decision to mail a ballot to each of California`s 22.3 million voters.


O`DONNELL: That process has now become the law of the land in California. Yesterday, California`s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that permanently requires a vote-by-mail ballot be mailed to every active registered voter in the state of California.

Joining us now is the California Democratic assembly member Mark Berman, chairman of the Assembly Elections Committee. He wrote the law that Governor Newsom signed yesterday.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.

This turnout that you got through the mail-in process in this last election was a real lesson in voter participation, record highs. I think it was somewhere around 80 percent. 87 percent of those ballots were the mail-in ballots.

MARK BERMAN (D-CA) ASSEMBLY MEMBER: That`s right. What we saw is when we make it easier for voters to participate in their democracy, they vote. When we send them a ballot in the mail, they`ll vote.

And that`s what we should want. We want our voting systems to be safe, secure, but most importantly accessible. And that`s what we tried to accomplish here in California.

O`DONNELL: Now, does the legislation include provisions for drop boxes and the additional infrastructure to support this massive voting by mail?

BERMAN: Absolutely. Because that we know some people and some communities feel more comfortable voting in person. And so we want to make sure that people are able to participate. They`re able to vote in whichever way they`re most comfortable.

So every county still has to have drop boxes. They still have to have in- person voting opportunities up to four days before election day.

But we also mail all 22.3 million voters in California a ballot so that they can vote in person -- excuse me, so they can vote by mail.

O`DONNELL: Yes. This comes at the same time that we`re hearing of further degradation in U.S. Postal Service. And so how much time do people have for mailing in their ballots according to this law?

BERMAN: It`s a great question. So during the pandemic last year we pushed that back so that the ballots could be received 18 days after election day as long as it was post marked on election day.

Moving forward where we hope and expect that the pandemic won`t impact our postal service as much, we`re saying it`s seven days. So prior law was three days, but talking with elections officials across the state, we decided that seven days is long enough to make sure that every ballot gets counted. If people voted according to the law, they put that ballot in the mail by election day.

O`DONNELL: And I ask about the drop boxes because as a California voter and thank you for mailing my ballot in the future, I spoke to many people last time who were concerned because of what they were reading about the Postal Service, concerned about putting that ballot in a mailbox and were looking for the vote deposit boxes specifically because they preferred those, trusting the collection process for that. And so it seems that`s probably a tendency that will continue.

BERMAN: It is. But another part of this bill, which is a follow-on bill I introduced a few years ago is that in California we`ve created a Track My Ballot service where you can follow your ballot from when it`s mailed by the registrar of voters to you receiving the ballot, and then you putting it back in the mail and it going back and being processed appropriately.

So either use the Track My Ballot system or take it to your local drop box and put it in directly, whatever makes you most comfortable.

O`DONNELL: What is the quick argument you would make to other states about why they should do this?

BERMAN: It`s easy. It`s safe. It`s secure. It`s accessible and it works. California had, like you mentioned, the highest voter turn out that we`d had in 70 years, and elections officials up and down the state, you know, swear that it was a remarkably smooth system. So the system works, and our goal should be to make it as easy as possible for people to vote. And that`s what this does.

And for some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, don`t forget that Republicans actually picked up four congressional seats in California when we used vote by mail in 2020. So it`s not fraudulent. It just makes it easier for people to participate in their democracy and that makes our democracy strong.

O`DONNELL: California assembly member Mark Berman who is making sure that all Californians will receive their ballots in the mail. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

BERMAN: Thanks so much for having me.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. We`ll be right back with tonight`s LAST WORD.



O`DONNELL: Here`s something we didn`t get to with Senator Elizabeth Warren earlier tonight. In today`s Senate hearing, General Mark Milley described his phone call with Speaker Nancy Pelosi that was first reported in the new best-selling book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: On 8 January, Speaker of the House Pelosi called me to inquire about the president`s ability to launch nuclear weapons. I sought to assure her that nuclear launch is governed by a very specific and deliberate process.

She was concerned and made various personal references characterizing the president. I explained to her that the president is the sole nuclear launch authority and he doesn`t launch them alone. And that I am not qualified to determine the mental health of the president of the United States.

There are processes, protocols, and procedures in place, and I repeatedly assured her that there was no chance of an illegal, unauthorized, or accidental launch.



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


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