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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, August 14, 2020

Guests: Jim Messina, Bill Pascrell, Jena Griswold, Raul Ruiz, Saru Jayaraman


President Trump raises an issue of Kamala Harris' eligibility to be elected as vice president for not meeting citizenship requirements. U.S. Postal Service has sent warnings to 46 states of massive potential delays in delivering the ballots on time in November. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) has asked the attorney general of New Jersey to investigate what he calls accelerating arson of the U.S. Postal Service by the Trump administration. Kamala Harris gave her first interview today since being named Joe Biden's vice-presidential pick. Interview with Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA). It actually takes a black woman one year and seven and a half months to earn what a white man earns in a year.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: All right. That's going to do it for me tonight, but I want to tell you that I'll be back on Monday night, but things will look really different because on Monday night we're going to be covering the Democratic National Convention. I'm super nervous. I will see you then. Now it's time for "The Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: I can't imagine what makes Rachel Maddow nervous. You are going to be fantastic as you always are.

MADDOW: I'll be fine.

VELSHI: We look forward to seeing it, Rachel. Rest up. I know that, I mean, I know that to be true to some degree and that's what makes you as wonderful as you are because you care so much that you are actually nervous about it, Rachel. Thank you, my friend. Have yourself a great weekend.

MADDOW: Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: All right. Donald Trump knows that he is losing. The writing is on the wall everywhere he looks. His poll numbers are terrible. A new national poll shows Trump running 11 points behind Joe Biden.

The unemployment rate has skyrocketed. It's now sitting at 10.2 percent. The COVID statistics are sobering, 169,082 deaths in the United States -- 5,317,612 cases not including what "The New York Times" said has been a massive undercount.

None of this is good news for the president, 81 days before an election. So what's he done to change his prospects? Well, he hasn't come up with a national plan to fight coronavirus. He hasn't taken part in relief negotiations.

He's not doing any of the real work that could actually make a difference. It doesn't really seem like the president thinks he can win anymore by doing anything real. So what's he doing instead?

He's trying to corrupt the election process. He's trying to win by cheating. President Trump's handpicked postmaster general has ordered sweeping changes at the Postal Service that will have a direct impact on the delivery of mail ballots in November.

And of course, more Democrats are planning to vote by mail than Republicans are. This week, a Monmouth poll found that 72 percent of Democrats are very or somewhat likely to vote by mail compared to 22 percent, only 22 percent of Republicans.

Now because of the changes, the U.S. Postal Service is now warning 46 states and Washington D.C. that it cannot guarantee that all the ballots cast by mail will arrive in time to be counted. Think about that. Even if people follow their state's election rules, their votes might be disqualified.

During a pandemic, the president and his appointees are forcing Americans to make a choice -- risk your health or risk your vote. Later in the hour we'll speak with the Colorado secretary of state about what she's doing to fight this anti-Democratic effort.

She called out the president earlier this week saying, "Trump is lying about vote by mail." But it's not enough to just threaten your vote. Trump and Republicans seem desperate to recreate the perfect storm of events from 2016 that led to his Electoral College win, not his popular vote win because he didn't win the popular vote.

There is no substantive third party threat this year, so Republicans have manufactured their 2020 version of Jill Stein. Republican operatives around the country are trying to get the rapper, Kanye West, on to the presidential ballot.

It's an effort that appears to be and, in some cases, has been openly acknowledged to be aimed syphoning votes from Democrats and helping Trump's reelection bid. It's not just the operatives, by the away. Jared Kushner met with Kanye West last weekend in Colorado.

Both men claim their conversation was benign. Sure. We don't have evidence otherwise, but the dependents (ph) on the substance of that conversation, well, that meeting could be an illegal effort to coordinate campaigns. As "The Washington Post" explains, if Kushner was encouraging West to do something proactive that could be attached to a dollar value, that could be illegal.

If he was encouraging West to run, period, that could be an illegal solicitation of a campaign contribution. So, we've got a controversial third-party candidate designed to pull votes from Joe Biden. Then there is the attempt to recreate the FBI's probe into Hillary Clinton.

Trump pushed his Justice Department to investigate the officials who launched the Russia investigation and he hopes that that investigation into the investigators is going to hurt Joe Biden. He's not even hiding it. Listen to the president. And a warning, there is no evidence to support anything that he's alleging.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hope they're not going to be politically correct, and I hope they do what, because the fact is this was President Obama knew everything. Vice President Biden, as dumb as he may be, he knew everything.

And everybody else knew everything. I hope they're not going to be politically correct and say, well, you know, we want to go, just get -- let's get the lower guys that forged the documents going into FISA. Let's just get a couple of the lower guys.


VELSHI: Trump wants to hurt Biden and Obama. He just spelled it out. Don't go after the lower guys, go after Joe Biden. And if the Justice Department doesn't deliver, Trump's Republican allies in the Senate are doing the same dirty work that House Republicans did with their Benghazi hearings in 2015.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee said this week that his probe of Obama-era intelligence agencies would help Trump win re-election.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): The more that we expose of the corruption of the transition process between Obama and Trump, the more we expose of the corruption within those agencies, I would think would certainly help Donald Trump win re-election and certainly be a pretty good, I would say, evidence about not voting for Vice President Biden.


VELSHI: That's a remarkably explicit admission that he's using his committee to damage Joe Biden. I suppose you are starting to see a pattern here. Then there is what might be the most disgusting tactic that Trump used during the 2016 campaign and the 2012 campaign when he was just still a fake TV billionaire.

Trump said this week that he heard Kamala Harris was not eligible to be Joe Biden's running mate because her parents were immigrants. It's a theory running rampant amongst his followers. We're not going to play the sound of Donald Trump saying that because there is no need to say so. It's racist. And he is a racist. And that's all there is to it.

It's racist. It's disgusting and it's a lie. But it might work. He's hoping to energize his voters who brought the same racist lie about President Obama's birthplace. Remember, they said Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim. I know that not to be true because, in fact, I am a real Kenyan-born Muslim. It wasn't true then, and it's not true now.

These are the tactics that the president and his Republican supporters are resorting to in order to win the election, racist tactics. He's not coming up with a national testing plan to fight coronavirus. He won't get off the golf course and negotiate a relief bill for the millions of jobless Americans.

He just wants a repeat of 2016. He's using all the levers of the federal government at his disposal to make it happen. And if he can't repeat the tricks of 2016 that way, he's just going to stop your vote from counting altogether. As Rachel always says, watch what they do, not what they say. Trump is doing everything he can to steal the election.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for PBS News Hour and MSNBC political analyst, and Jim Messina, President Obama's 2012 campaign manager. He served as the White House deputy chief of staff in the Obama administration.

Good evening to both of you. Yamiche, let's start with you. You have been covering this president every week, but in this particular week, that seems unique. It seems like the flavor of the campaign has changed this week.

The president is going out there. He's warning suburban housewives about an influx of low income people who are going to ruin their property values. He mentions Corey Booker for no apparent reason.

He embraces racist views about Kamala Harris when, in fact, no such views have been expressed about John McCain, about Ted Cruz, people who were born elsewhere. What do you make of what's happening with the White House and the president?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president backed up against the wall with polls not looking good for him. Even though, of course, he still has the power of being an incumbent president, it's definitely not at all thinking that he might not win this.

But he understands that he's going to be in a struggle when it comes to November. And as a result, we're seeing two things. On the race issue, we're seeing him one of course, traffic in some of that questioning, that open questioning of whether or not possibly Senator Harris is eligible or not, eligible for the vice presidency.

As you said, the notion to question whether or not she's eligible is in of itself racist and it is completely not true. Of course, she's eligible. She was born in California. But then there's also this idea he's talking about Democrats destroying the suburbs.

And he's really congratulating himself for rolling back rules that were meant to combat segregation saying that low-income housing and people who are (inaudible) down as wealthy that they somehow don't deserve to be in the suburbs.

You add to that of course, then the mail-in voting portion of this, which is that the USPS is essentially saying, look, we might need more money and we will definitely need more resources and more time to process all this mail-in voting.

And what we see is the president inserting of course an ally of him. He is now the person who is the head of USPS, is a Trump ally, someone who has donated prolifically (ph) to his campaigns and to him. So what you see there is him not just as you said saying that he doesn't like mail-in voting, but also following that up with action by putting someone who is loyal to him ahead of the Postal Services (inaudible).

So I think this is going to be altogether a confluence of issues, but the president is pretty clear about what he's doing. So it is not as if we have to guess about what his agenda is. He's saying it very plainly.

VELSHI: Jim, what does it get him? The president has got his 30 percent, 35 percent of people who are going to support him anyway. There is probably another 10 percent who are fiscal conservatives who probably aren't digging the racism stuff. They're not digging the conspiracy theory stuff. They're not digging the endorse endorsement of QAnon sponsored candidates who make it through their nominations.

So what does the president actually get? Let's put aside the mail-in voting stuff because he gets something very definite from stopping people being able to vote, but these digs, the racism, the birtherism, what does it get him right now?

JIM MESSINA, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, look, ever since the day he took office, Donald Trump has been a football team with one play, and that is appeal to his base, and he continues to go to his base. And at this point, 81 days before the election when he trails by historically large margins, he has the biggest economic crisis we have seen, you know, in a long time.

Eight of the last nine presidents who ran in an economic recession have lost. And then he has racial unrest that we haven't seen in 40 years in the United States. So what does he do? He says to himself, I'm going to go directly to my base and try to jack up white angry turn-out in these battleground states. And, you know, that's exactly what he's trying to do.

And if you look at some of the registration numbers in these battleground states, it could work. You start to see in Florida, in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, the Republicans narrowing margins with the Democrats on registration numbers.

And so he has a very singular theory that I'm going to jack up turn-out and try to make sure that the Democrats can't vote and get my folks to vote, and so that's his entire theory about how he gets re-elected. It's disgusting. It's ridiculous and it's racist. But it's pretty much the only play he's had the entire four years and now he's just tripling down on it.

VELSHI: Yamiche, there is also the alliance that he has with Republicans in Congress. I want to just play for you Kevin McCarthy in 2015 talking about the Benghazi hearings and the effect that that was going to have on Hillary Clinton's polling numbers within the context of Ron Johnson and others in Congress who are now trying to investigate Joe Biden with respect to pretty dubious information that they're getting from Ukraine. Let's listen to what Kevin McCarthy said in 2015.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.


VELSHI: All right. So they know that game worked for them last time around. It is a little weird because Republicans in Congress, including Ron Johnson, are depending on information that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has actually said is dubious, that they shouldn't be trusting this one guy out of Ukraine, this one pro-Russian guy out of Ukraine that's releasing recordings of Donald Trump -- of Joe Biden. And, yet, they continue to do it.

ALCINDOR: That's right. And I think that what the president and his allies are doing is really trying to throw a bunch of things at the wall and seeing what sticks. So they're going to keep talking about Hunter Biden. They're going to keep talking about the fact that maybe Joe Biden is corrupt.

They're going to keep trying to poke holes at whether or not there is any sort of issues there, any sort of conflict of issues. And they are doing that as of course Democrats point to the president and say there are all sorts of conflicts of issues on his side thinking about the fact that he never disinvested from his businesses, thinking about the fact that he's needing with all these different people at the White House.

That Jared Kushner is having conversations with Kanye West and possibly other people like Mohammed bin Salham (ph) on what's that. There has some reporting about that. What we do know is that the president is someone who is going to play -- and I think I should say his supporters would agree with this.

He is someone who is blunt, a street fighter, who is a dirty fighter who understands that what he has to do is try to tear somebody down personally and attack their character. The fact that you saw him come out and talk about Senator Harris saying she's mean, she's nasty.

So what he's doing there is really kind of getting into the worst parts of people's minds and doing whatever he can to stay in office. And supporters of the president that I have talked to say they like that. They like the fact that he's someone who is fighting very hard.

And I think I should say frankly that there are some supporters of Joe Biden and Senator Harris who are hoping that they can also defend themselves and also make sure that they launch pointed attacks against the president because that's what they're going to face.

VELSHI: Jim Messina, there is an NBC -- I'm sorry, an NPR/PBS Marist poll that shows that 53 percent of Americans think Joe Biden is in a better position to handle the coronavirus than Donald Trump, 58 percent think Joe Biden's in a stronger position to handle race relations than Donald Trump.

But the magical thing about both of these polls, is that Donald Trump has got 34 and 38 percent in each case. Donald Trump lives between 35 and 40 percent. He has done that since the day he got elected. And those people have tasted flesh. They are never ever, ever going away. There is no way to sort of get Donald Trump below 34 percent in the end. The question is can Donald Trump expand his base beyond that in the next 82 days?

MESSINA: Well, as you said earlier, I ran President Obama's re-election campaign. What you realize in a presidential reelection campaign is elections for incumbent presidents are a referendum on them.

And the problem Donald Trump has is this referendum on him is a disaster because the number one issue for independent voters right now, 69 percent of independent voters say the most important issue is the coronavirus and second is the economy and third is race relations.

And on all of those issues, Donald Trump has serious major problems. And Ali, to your point, he is hemorrhaging numbers that we just haven't seen in a very long time. And so he's got three challenges. He has no plan. He has no mission going forward.

And so what we has to do is just rip apart Joe Biden. His only play left is try to rip Joe Biden down because he has no plan on the coronavirus or the economy or anything else.

VELSHI: That said, he still has a base of more than a third of American voters, so that is something to take very seriously. Thanks to both of you, Yamiche Alcindor and Jim Messina.

Coming up, the Postal Service is sounding the alarm about vote by mail for this election. Now, there is an inspector general investigation and one member of Congress has made a criminal referral to a state attorney general to look into the electoral subversion by Donald Trump and his big donor turned postmaster general Louis DeJoy. Congressman Bill Pascrell joins me after the break.


VELSHI: Today, the United States post office is warning states that there is a significant risk that some mail-in ballots may be delivered too late to be counted in November. "The Washington Post" reports that 46 states and the District of Columbia have received letters warning that their voters could be disenfranchised by delays in ballot delivery. An internal Postal Service document obtained by NBC News details plans to remove 671 high volume mail processing machines from postal facilities across the country.

In a statement to NBC News, a postal spokesman -- a spokesman for the Postal Service characterized the removal of hundreds of machines as "normal business adjustments!" including the exclamation mark. That's theirs.

But that's just one of the many changes being implemented by Donald Trump's campaign donor who has become the postmaster general, the first one by the way with no experience in the post office, Louis DeJoy. It's already causing delays in service including banning overtime, cutting staff and limiting extra trips to deliver mail on time.

In a memo obtained by NBC News, Louis DeJoy admitted to staff yesterday that his cutbacks and reorganizations have had, "unintended consequences that impacted our overall service levels." Back where I come from in Canada, we call that B.S. They were not unanticipated. These are planned.

Democrats have accused Louis DeJoy of implementing changes to deliberately slow down mail delivery to help Donald Trump undermine the integrity of the election.

"The Washinton Post" reports tha Louis DeJoy is in "frequent contact with top Republican Party officials and met with the president in the Oval Office last week." Why is that? Why is the head of the Postal Service, the postmaster general, why he's got to be on the president's office? T

Today we learned that the Postal Service inspector general is investigating Louis DeJoy and his controversial policy changes and whether he actually violated any federal ethics rules. And tonight, Democratic congressman, Bill Pascrell, made a criminal referral to the New Jersey attorney general to impanel a grand jury to look at electoral subversion by Donald Trump, Louis DeJoy and other possible Trump administration officials.

Joining me now, Democratic congressman Bill Pascrell of New Jersey. Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for being with us. What do you think is going on in the Postal Service? We're using all sorts of words that I think are unusual because there is no way that Louis DeJoy could have not guessed that doing what he's doing would slow down the mail and that coincides quite perfectly with what Donald Trump wants to happen ahead of this election.

REP. BILL PASCRELL (D-NJ): Ali, we simply cannot be polite to corruption. I don't know any other way to say it. And when you heard this in the beginning of the campaign, this is for the soul of America. That is not an exaggeration. This is on point.

And that is why I wrote to, first of all, the Inspector General Whitcomb, Tammy Whitcomb, and laid out what residents are saying in the 9th District of New Jersey, the district I happen to represent about how late their mail is, about they can't get medicines. They can't get checks. They can't get important information from relative to relative.

I mean, this is a postal office that handles 47 percent of the world's mail. And we're running it into the ground. And those folks have gone through this pandemic and we're still going through it, that work in the post office are front line heroes in my mind.

They have done an outstanding job even though the conditions were not up to what they should be, obviously. But I think that the second letter I wrote was to the attorney general of New Jersey who I know no better person in law enforcement who has the courage and guts not just to make a speech, but to go and do what he has to do.

And I'm sure that Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is going to do the job I laid out why I feel this is a criminal situation. I would never think -- think about this. I would never think of writing that letter to the attorney general of the United States. I mean, I'm going to go to the state.


PASCRELL: I mean, the state has oversight over the postal authorities -- excuse me -- the postal (inaudible). That's what I did.

VELSHI: And the election. And I'm glad you are doing this, congressman, because I had been speaking to members of Congress and other people who are disgusted, alarmed, worried, and scared on behalf of their constituents about what's going on.

But there needs to be an answer because we are just beyond 80 days from this election and it is very obvious what's going on right now. And the average American wants to know who is sticking up for them and who is going to stop this from happening.

PASCRELL: Look, this is an institution that existed before the constitution, Ali. And Mr. -- and you know Mr. (inaudible) better than I do, that if you don't adhere to the constitution, this existed before the constitution. This is the very heart and soul of what America is all about.

They can't stand up for people voting instead of suppressing, suppressing and suppressing. How the heck can you have an election? This is a (inaudible) and now today, the best of all, Ali, you saw this, (inaudible). Now, they stop (inaudible) in Montana. I wonder why. I mean, (inaudible). I mean, this is the crowd that once --

VELSHI: Congressman, I'm losing -- I think we got a bad -- we got a bad connection of some sort, so I'm losing your audio. We're going to try and get that back. But thank you for the time you've taken to not only do what you're doing, but to join me. We will try and fix Congressman Pascrell's audio. Congressman Bill Pascrell is from New Jersey.

Joining me now is Jena Griswold, Colorado secretary of state. Colorado is one of the states which has received one of those letters from the Postal Service. Secretary Griswold, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

Let me understand this. You got this letter even though your system actually is very, very well developed with respect to mail-in ballots. So, tell me how this affects you, the idea that the Postal Service has written to you to say what exactly?

JENA GRISWOLD, SECRETARY OF STATE OF COLORADO: Well, hi, Ali. It's great to have this conversation with you again. Unfortunately, the attacks on our election systems continue. You know, for Colorado, we are a lot better situated because of our Colorado election model.

But it should be shocking to the nation that the Postal Service said that because of its lack of services, millions upon millions of Americans could be disenfranchised. That's undemocratic. It's un-American. And President Trump is squarely to blame.

You know, this all boils down to the fact that he does not like vote by mail because he thinks it will help Democrats win. That's just untrue. And it's so irresponsible of him to undermine the safest way to vote during a pandemic. That's vote by mail. You know, it is just reprehensible and just one more thing that he is doing to try to undermine our elections in November.

VELSHI: A lot of states, you heard Bill Pascrell say that he's written to his attorney general to try and intervene because of sort of endangering the voting rights of folks from New Jersey. I spoke to the Michigan attorney general last night who said the same thing.

But what does your infrastructure in Colorado because you are kind of ahead of the game because you have got best in class mail-in voting, does it allow you to be able to circumvent this or to be able to say notwithstanding what the Post Office says, everybody in Colorado who is entitled to vote will have a chance to do so?

GRISWOLD: Well, I will make sure that every Coloradan can have their voice heard. And the Colorado election model does enable us to whether this lowdown, better than other states. We send out ballots weeks before Election Day, about three weeks.

And then we actually ask Coloradans to stop returning them by mail eight days before Election Day and instead return them to one of the 100 drop boxes we have across the state. But, Ali, I do think this should be very concerning to every person in the United States.

And I want to share with you that in 2012 and 2016, I served as a voter protection attorney. And in 2017, when the president started his voter suppression crusade, I ran for secretary of state, and I will not allow him to suppress voters.

VELSHI: Secretary of State Jena Griswold, thank you for the time you continue to take to bring us up to speed on what voting needs to look like in this country. And Colorado is the example.

Jena Griswold is the Colorado secretary of state. Our conversations will continue.

Coming up, Kamala Harris gave her first interview today since being named Joe Biden's vice presidential pick. She spoke candidly about what it's going to take to turn out black women to vote for Joe Biden and about who should replace her in the Senate. That's up next.



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESUMPTIVE VICE-PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Why don't they want us to vote? Why are they creating obstacles to us voting?

Well, the answer is because when we vote, things change. When we vote, things get better. When we vote, we address the disparities we have been talking about. We address the need of all people to be treated with dignity and respect.


VELSHI: That was Senator Kamala Harris today on the Trump administration's voter suppression efforts. During her first interview since Joe Biden named her as his running mate, Kamala Harris also acknowledged the historical significance of her candidacy.


ERRIN HAINES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: What does this mean for other women across the country who may be thinking about their political ambitions and what it will cost them?

HARRIS: These are celebrations worth having, but you know, in 2020 I think we want -- we all would agree that we would like that we are no longer having the first woman in many position but many women in those positions.


VELSHI: Kamala Harris also drew a stark contrast between Donald Trump and Mike Pence especially when it comes to black women voters who are largely credited with saving Joe Biden's campaign during the South Carolina primary in February.


HARRIS: When you have one ticket that can say the phrase black lives matter and another who has been full-time sowing hate and division in our country, those are the things that are going to motivate black women to vote. There will be a point of pride.

I don't want to have any false modesty about a black woman being on the ticket, but it takes more than just that to motivate black women to vote.


VELSHI: A new poll from Axios finds 22 percent of all voters say the addition of Kamala Harris makes them more likely to vote for Joe Biden. Among black women, 43 percent say the addition of Kamala Harris makes them more likely to vote for Joe Biden.

Joining us now is Errin Haines. She's the editor at large of "The Nineteenth" a nonprofit newsroom focused on the intersection of women, politics and policy. The reference is to the 19th amendment which was ratified on August the 18th. We'll be celebrating that the coming week. She conducted that first interview with Kamala Harris as vice presidential candidate.

And as of today, I am pleased to formally announce that Erin is officially an MSNBC contributor. Errin Haines, welcome to the family. Thank you so much.

I want to know what you learned going into that interview. What did you come out with that you didn't know or that you're more certain of about Kamala Harris?

HAINES: Well, I think -- thank you, Ali for that warm welcome. Happy to help represent the Philadelphia contingent of the MSNBC family.

What really struck me was Kamala Harris's understanding that the Biden-Harris ticket is still going to have to run a persuasion campaign headed into November. You know, this is not just about turn-out for them but they do still have to shore up some folks, you know, who need to be galvanized and energized to turn out to the polls especially in the midst of a pandemic when we know that voter suppression and depression (ph) efforts are in full effect as we suspected they would be even before the pandemic, but especially now.

And so, you know, her saying that just because, you know, she's a black woman or just because some black women are excited about her doesn't mean that they have this locked up. She's talked about the need for not just, you know, a victory in November but a decisive victory, a mandate.

And so what that's going to take is the kind of record turn-out that we saw in 2008 and 2012 from the black community, you know, but also the idea that even while they push back against efforts to suppress the vote through the post office and other means that she is urging voters to, as she said, quote, jump over the obstacles to voter suppression to make their vote count in November.

VELSHI: I have seen a lot of analysis in the last few days about Kamala Harris and the ten things you didn't know about her and the five things you knew about her but you didn't understand and all that. But one of the compelling things I read was actually at NBC from Alex Seitz-Wald who talked about the degree which historically the vice president has changed the way some people think about the presidential candidate themselves.

They talked about Paul Ryan, for instance, who was sort of beloved amongst ideological conservatives when Mitt Romney wasn't and he caused them to take Mitt Romney more seriously as a conservative.

What does Kamala Harris cause people to take more seriously or think differently about Joe Biden?

HAINES: Well, you know, it is interesting. You know, thinking about their relationship obviously during the veep stakes conversation, you had a lot of people bringing up the debate exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden last summer.

And what I think a lot of people missed in that exchange was that, you know, yes, certainly Joe Biden seemed to be taken aback from that. But that did, I think, helped him kind of grow on the topic of race, discussing race.

And I think that that's something that she may bring him along on in this conversation. I mean not to suggest that he hasn't had black support. He certainly has from Delaware which has the eighth largest black population in the country. A lot of people probably didn't know that.

But, you know, the idea that what his racial understanding, you know, could be on display, he started his campaign saying that this is a battle for the soul of America, announced her, you know --


HAINES: -- as his running mate ticket on the anniversary of Charlottesville, you know. So I think, you know, the two of them addressing systemic racism together is something that I think voters will be interested to kind of see how that dynamic works.

VELSHI: We appreciate the Pennsylvania lift that you are providing, Errin Haines. We've got Kasie Hunt. We've got Kristen Welker. We've got Hallie Jackson. And while I'm not in Philadelphia tonight, I am most nights.

So thank you for joining us.

HAINES: Oh, yes.

VELSHI: And welcome to the family. Errin Haines, editor at large at "The Nineteenth" and an MSNBC contributor now with the first interview with Kamala Harris since being named VP candidate.

All right. Coming up, we're going to talk to a congressman and a physician -- same guy, who is just back from doing coronavirus testing in some of the communities most vulnerable to infection. Congressman and Dr. Raul Ruiz will be my next guest.


VELSHI: California has become the first state to reach 600,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. And as California hit that high mark, Governor Gavin Newsom said the real number is likely higher.


GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): This nation, I think, deserves to have a better sense to know how prevalent is this disease. It is significantly, I would argue, more prevalent than those numbers even in California suggest. And it's simply because we haven't put the testing protocols in place. And we haven't scaled our testing capacity.


VELSHI: Access to testing is especially an issue in rural parts of California and among agricultural workers, many of whom are Latinos and immigrants who struggle with access to health care even before the pandemic.

Congressman Raul Ruiz represents one of California's rural-agricultural districts is also a physician and he's the son of farm workers. He's participated in four outreach events in his district, one of them just yesterday administering COVID-19 tests to farm workers and homeless communities in the Coachella Valley which forms part of his district.

Joining us now is Congressman Raul Ruiz, a Democrat representing California's 36th district which includes the Coachella Valley. He is a physician. He is a public health expert.

Congressman, good to see you again. You have really been at the front lines of this since the very beginning, since I think February when we were first talking about this after the first known case in the United States.

Talk to me about farm workers. Talk to me about rural workers, informal workers, people who are not on company health care and who can't afford to either socially distance or take time off.

REP. RAUL RUIZ (D-CA): (AUDIO GAP) -- essential workers and the working class who are like our workers have been devastated in terms of the coronavirus. They're at the highest risk of transmission and also very high risk of death due to COVID-19.

VELSHI: Talk to me. You know this community well. You are of -- your parents were farm workers. What is it that you are doing and what is it that you are able to do that our health services are not otherwise providing?

RUIZ: -- (AUDIO GAP) the supply chain in order for us to eat, to keep us healthy during this pandemic, but they are the highest risk of getting infected because they don't have the precautions at work. They don't have the luxury of staying home from work and they can't stay physically distanced. They aren't provided masks or opportunities to wash their hand.

They are at high risk of transmitting it to their family because when they go home, they oftentimes live in three generation family homes with only two bedrooms like I did growing up in a farm worker trailer park. And they have two bedrooms to share with three generations in a trailer, low-income housing or an apartment.

They're at the highest risk of dying because of the chronic health disparities that from chronic poor access to care and resources so they have higher rates of diabetes, higher rates of asthma. Precisely those illnesses that render someone more likely to die from COVID-19. And they're at the highest risk of not getting the resources that are necessary to keep them safe and alive during COVID-19.

So we have to take a targeted approach because if we don't, if we don't take care of our more vulnerable communities and everybody' health is still at jeopardy, then we can delay putting this (INAUDIBLE) to rest.

VELSHI: Congressman, good to talk to you. Thank you for being with us. We've got a bit of a technical problem, but we are going to try and get that fixed so that you and I can continue our conversation.

Congressman Raul Ruiz is a medical doctor. He represents California 36. He is a physician. He's a public health expert and he is the son of farm workers.

Coming up, pop quiz. How long does it take a black woman in America to earn what a white man earns in a year? You are going to be shocked by this. It's next in tonight's LAST WORD.


VELSHI: Here's Kamala Harris today making history, signing the paperwork to official become the Democratic Party's vice-presidential candidate. Here is then presidential candidate Kamala Harris on the debate stage a year ago.


HARRIS: Since 1963 when we passed the Equal Pay act, we have been talking about the fact women are not paid equally for equal work. Fast forward to the year of our Lord 2019 and women are paid 80 cents on the dollar, black women 61 cents, Native American women 58 cents, Latinas 53 cents. I'm done with the conversation.


VELSHI: All right. So black women's equal pay day was August 13th. That's the date in which a black woman's earnings match what a white man earned the year before. It actually takes a black woman one year and seven and a half months to earn what a white man earns in a year. But the pandemic actually threatens to widen that pay gap even more.

Michelle Holder, an assistant professor of economics at John J. College at the City University of New York said the impact that COVID is going to have on workers quote, "In a period where joblessness is low, workers have more leverage. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic the leverage that workers had, including black women, has now been stymied," end quote.

Joining us now is Saru Jayaraman, the president of One Fair Wage. She's the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California Berkeley.

Saru, thank you for joining me.

The issue here is that if you can never catch up to wages, then there is no chance of building wealth. And when things like this happen, these economic shocks in which people are laid off, women get hit harder, women of color get hit yet harder by virtue of the types of jobs they hold.

SARU JAYARAMAN, PRESIDENT, ONE FAIR WAGE: That's right. And we're not even actually talking about building wealth. We're talking about just having savings or some ability to survive through a crisis like this. Much, much worse for women of color who tend to be concentrated in lower wage jobs as it is. Even in those lower wage jobs they are paid less.

And I do think it's important to understand a lot of the -- this dates back a way long way back in history to slavery. Because at emancipation there were several industries that wanted to hire black women and not pay them anything, have them live exclusively on the whims and mercies of, you know, in some cases with domestic workers, their employers or in some cases as was the case with restaurant workers, to live on tips.

And in 1938 as part of The New Deal, several groups of black workers were left out, black women workers. So farm workers were left out. They were largely black men. Domestic workers were left out, they were largely black women. And tipped restaurant workers were left out. They were largely black women as well.

Fast forward today, you've got a zero dollar wage in 1938 for tipped black women restaurant workers for example. Today the wage is $2.13 an hour. That's the current federal minimum wage for tipped workers who are 70 percent female, disproportionately women of color.

And we just put out a report showing that even today, lots of people work in the restaurant industry, but even today there is a $5 per hour wage gap between white men and black women in the restaurant industry because of customer bias in tipping, because women of color work in casual restaurants rather than fine dining.

And that actually gets worse in places you wouldn't expect like New York and Massachusetts, which are supposedly racially progressive. They actually have an $8 per hour wage gap. New York and Massachusetts are second only to Alabama in being the worst states in the country in terms of this huge wage gap between white men and black women because of persistent racism, persistent sexism that really dates back all the way to after emancipation.

VELSHI: So you bring up the case of people working in restaurants, but there are a lot of cases in which black women work. I'll give you the list, including doctors, nurses, teachers, childcare workers, waitresses as you mentioned, cashiers. On average across those professions, black women are paid between 11 and 27 percent less than white men who are working the same job.

Because whenever we talk about unequal pay between men and women, you get conservative economists who come on and say well, it's got to do with education levels and choices that they make. You're actually talking job for job, same job to same job, black women get paid less.

JAYARAMAN: That's right. You know, you can take high wage jobs. You see black doctors, black lawyers, black women teachers earning less, black women professors for sure earning less than their white male counterparts.

What I'm saying is that it's also true at the low wage end of the spectrum where women cannot afford that wage gap. And for low wage workers in particular, as the professor that you indicated talked about, the pandemic has really created a situation in which that gap, that wage differential is no longer just unethical, immoral, unjust and outrageous. It is now a matter of survival, because for the restaurant workers and the domestic workers and the retail workers and the nurses who are disproportionately women of color, or disproportionately black women.

That differential between black women and white men now means can I pay the rent, can I feed my children, can I actually survive, can my family survive. That differential means all the difference in the world. It's the difference being able to save and have some resiliency during a pandemic and not.

I mean take for example, we have a member named Jamie who worked at a restaurant, worked as a waitress at a very high end restaurant actually in New York City. She experienced discrimination constantly. She was actually called the word Mamie one point by her white manager. She was given lesser shifts where she made less in tips. She was given lesser sections.

And over time she accepted it. But when the pandemic struck and she had nothing to fall back on, it became a matter of survival. She was asked to go back to work with no savings, with no protection, no safety protocols and she lost unemployment insurance for not being willing to take that job.

So now this is not just a matter of justice. It's a matter of survival.

VELSHI: We need to continue this conversation, Saru. Thank you for joining me. Saru Jayaraman is the president of One Fair Wage. She's the director of the Food and Labor Research Center at the University of California Berkeley.

And that is tonight's LAST WORD.

I'll see you tomorrow morning and every weekday -- I'm sorry, weekend mornings starting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern. We've got a great show coming up for you this weekend. I hope you'll join us.



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