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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, December 16, 2020

Guests: Joyce Warshaw, Christina Greer, Olivia Troye, Peter Hotez, Pramila Jayapal, Rebekah Jones

Summary

Donald Trump's time in office is coming to an end, and Joe Biden's going to be president in 35 days. But there's one thing Joe Biden will not be able to undo, and that is Donald Trump's toxic lies. New reporting shows how the Trump administration undermined the work of critical agencies in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Tomorrow, an independent FDA advisory panel will meet to decide whether to recommend the second coronavirus vaccine for emergency distribution in the U.S. Congressional leaders are on the verge of reaching a deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. Data scientist Rebekah Jones built Florida's coronavirus dashboard at the beginning of the pandemic. She was fired from her Health Department job earlier this year after she refused, she claims, to manipulate the state's data on the virus.

Transcript

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, friend.

I don't get what the point of all this stuff is, right? I am all for holiday parties. I miss people. I miss talking without a mask when I'm in the street. But it's just not worth it. I don't know what you get for doing it the other way. I would imagine people getting invited to these parties are also put in a tough position. I'm not sure what it gets anyone.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Exactly.

VELSHI: Except COVID.

MADDOW: Well, the fact that they invited 900 people and less than 70 of them RSVP'ed that they'd attend should have been a sign that people are thinking for themselves on this. I think that Mike Pompeo thinks that holding defiant COVID doesn't exist events somehow helps him line himself up to run for president in 2024 but I think he might be wrong about that.

VELSHI: Yeah. I think it might be the opposite.

Rachel, have a great evening. Good to see you as always. Thank you.

MADDOW: Thanks, Ali. Thank you.

VELSHI: Well, Donald Trump's time in office is coming to an end. Joe Biden's going to be president in 35 years -- 35 days. Feels like 35 years, 35 days.

And he's pledged to undo as much as he can of the outgoing president's dangerous policies. But there's one thing Joe Biden will not be able to undo, and that is Donald Trump's toxic lies, lies that have lasting consequences, lies that have put Americans' lives at risk. It will be impossible to undo the harmful effect of those lies because so many Republicans beyond Trump are continuing to push them.

The most despicable Trump lie was his constant downplaying of the coronavirus threat. Even as he stopped telling that lie right now, even if he stopped right now, his supporters and his enablers will still tell it for him. This weekend, thousands of maskless Trump supporters marched in Washington, some of them carrying signs claiming COVID was a hoax, a hoax. It's killed 300,000 Americans. Sixteen million people contracted it so far.

And those supporters had the backing of this man, the incoming Virginia Republican Congressman Bob Good, who repeated that Trumpian lie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP.-ELECT BOB GOOD (R-VA): This looks like a group of people that gets that this is a phony pandemic. It's a serious virus but it's a virus. It's not a pandemic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: It's a virus. It's not a pandemic. Wrong.

More than 300,000 Americans have died from the pandemic including more than 300 in Bob Good's new congressional district.

Then there is Mike Pompeo. We were just talking about him, who's been forced into quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID. Now, it's unclear when Pompeo was exposed because he's not really keeping himself away from people. But he has hosted several indoor parties at the state department for hundreds of guests. Events that health experts fear could turn into super spreader events, because they always do.

This is a small but illustrative sample of how Republicans are handling the virus. Their words and their actions do actually have consequences. People were taking note of these Republicans. They're following their lead, look at the election. Election disinformation is running rampant among the GOP. More than 200 Republicans are continuing, elected Republicans are continuing to refuse to admit that Joe Biden won the election.

Let's put that in perspective for a moment if we can. This week, the Electoral College affirmed Biden's win. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulated Joe Biden. Even Vladimir Putin acknowledged Biden's win.

But the House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and hundreds of other Republicans in the House and Senate have refused to do the same thing. What are you going to believe, one Republican senator who says Biden won or 200-plus Republicans who say nothing?

Like Georgia Republican senator who is running for re-election Kelly Loeffler.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Will you ever acknowledge that Biden will be -- is going to be president?

SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): Look, there will be a time for that if that becomes true. But you know, the president has a right to every legal recourse. And we're letting that play out right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: There will be a time for that? If that becomes true?

The time is now, Senator, because people's lives actually depend on it. Ron Johnson, who runs in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, he runs it, held a hearing today in that committee focusing on something that four dozen judges and the president's own attorney general have said doesn't exist, widespread voting irregularities.

Senator Ron Johnson spread ridiculous theories at the beginning that do not bear repeating but this does. Chris Krebs, the Trump administration's former top election security official, testified that there were no issues with the security of this election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS KREBS, FORMER DHS OFFICIAL: While elections are sometimes messy, this was a secure election. Of that I have no doubt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: You've heard the lies. Now you hear the consequences. Democratic Senator Gary Peters revealed that in that same hearing, Chris Krebs and his family received threats for debunking election lies. In fact, special security arrangements had to be made to ensure that Krebs could safely testify at the hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KREBS: I would appreciate more support from my own party, the Republican Party, to call this stuff out and end it. We've got to move on. We have a president-elect in President-elect Biden. We have to move on.

These officials that are Republicans -- look at Georgia. Brad Raffensperger, Gabriel Sterling, Geoff Duncan, these are Republicans that are putting country over party, they're being subjected to just horrific threats as a result. This is not America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: "This is not America." Neither is this. In Houston a former police captain was arrested after allegedly running a man off the road and threatening him at gunpoint in an attempt to prove false claims of a massive voter fraud scheme in Harris County, Texas. That's where Houston is. The Harris County D.A. said the former police chief crossed the line from dirty politics to commission of a violent crime and we are lucky no one was killed.

This is not America. Dr. Joseph Varon, the chief of critical care at Houston United medical -- Memorial Medical Center told NPR that half of his nurses won't take the COVID vaccine for political reasons.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DR. JOSEPH VARON: I had a friendly argument with more than 50 percent of my nurses in my unit telling me that they will not get the vaccine. And you know, of course I pushed the concept that people should get vaccinated. And I asked, why not? And you know, at the end of the day, like I have said before, coronavirus has become a political toy, and most of the reasons why most of my people don't want to get the vaccine are politically motivated.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

VELSHI: This is not America.

In Kansas, Dodge City Mayor Joyce Warshaw, a Republican, decided to resign this week after receiving threats for supporting a mask mandate following a spike of COVID cases in her area. In her letter of resignation, Joyce Warshaw said, quote, life has dealt out many challenges in our world that have perhaps caused many people to act inappropriately, but I do not feel safe in this position anymore and am hopeful in removing myself this anger, accusations and abuse will not fall on anyone else and will calm down.

Seriously? No official, Republican or Democrat, should be forced out of office for doing the right thing, for wanting to save lives, for wanting to keep their constituents safe. That is not America.

Leading off our discussion tonight is the aforementioned Joyce Warshaw, the former Republican mayor of Dodge City, Kansas. Mayor Warshaw, what a thing. You are the mayor, which means you have control over certain things including perhaps your own security. But you've just had it. You just -- you're facing personal attack for trying to make policy decisions.

I think you're probably used to people disagreeing with policy decisions. You signed up for that when you ran for mayor.

What changed? What was the last straw for you?

JOYCE WARSHAW (R), FORMER MAYOR, DODGE CITY, KS: You know, Ali, I believe it was -- and I was listening to the beginning of your show, of course. And I see this across the nation. And I think it's now funneled down to rural America. People are empowered to be bullies. They're empowered to feel they can say what they want to say, they can threaten, they can accuse, they can abuse and it's okay, they're going to get their way.

And, you know, that's what I saw as we began to look at what we needed to put in place to lower our COVID-positive numbers in our city and county.

VELSHI: I want to just read from the "Washington Post" that wrote a story about this in which it said: Although Dodge City had mostly returned to normal after shaking off the pandemic's first wave, infections began surging again last month. By the time Kansas Governor Laura Kelly again issued a statewide mask mandate in mid-November, 1 in 10 residents of the surrounding county had contracted the virus.

So you were working off both a statewide mandate and evidence that suggested that this infection was spreading again. Did it ever occur to you that what you were doing should be political or was going to be politicized?

WARSHAW: You know, it never occurred to me in any way. And it was at the point where our county did not want to support our governor's mask mandate. So, Dodge City being the largest entity, it fell on our shoulders. And we had to accept the responsibility of what was best for 27,000 to 28,000 people in our city. And that's when we decided to have the discussion, talk to the medical personnel and study scientific research to see what we could do as a community. And that's what led to the mask mandate.

VELSHI: Mayor, I was traveling around the country for several months before the election talking to Democrats and Republicans, and I found something of a loss in that I expected to go out there and have reasonable debates between liberals and conservatives about the approaches to many public policy things. And I started to find more and more people who were subject to conspiracy theories or subject to partisan ways of looking at factual matters.

It's something the Republican Party is going to have to contend with over the next couple of years to figure out -- find what their footing is or a lot of mainstream Republicans like yourself are going to have to find somewhere else to hang their hat.

What happens in your opinion? How do you get the Republican Party away from this anti-fact world in which so many people are living?

WARSHAW: You know, I wish I had the answer. I truly wish I had the answer. I just recently changed my affiliation because it's heartbreaking to see the Republican Party of which I knew worked across the aisle, they were strong people, they supported our democracy and our country, and I'm -- quite frankly I'm embarrassed by some of the behaviors that I'm seeing from our -- from the Republican Party.

And I just wish I had the answers as to how we're going to get this under control. My hopes are now that with the vaccine and with the new administration hopefully being recognized and coming into a new year that maybe we can all calm down a little bit and realize we're all in this together.

We are America. We're in this together, people. And you need to look at society as a whole. It is no longer all about you. We are in this together. And we need to develop some compassion for our country, our democracy, and most of all for each other.

VELSHI: Joyce Warshaw, you have acted on principle. It's not something we've seen a lot of in the last four years. And I hope that means we will see you back in public life after you've had a little time to collect yourself after this event.

Joyce Warshaw is the former Republican mayor of Dodge City, Kansas. Thank you for joining us, Mayor.

WARSHAW: Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: Joining us now, Christina Greer. She's an associate professor of political science at Fordham University. And Sam Stein, politics editor at "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Welcome to both of you.

Christina, let me start with you. I am hopeful that there are lots of people like Joyce Warshaw out there. Lots of people who identified themselves as Republicans and have said this anti-fact weird thing that's going on right now does not represent me. I do wonder what happens to them later. I don't think it's healthy for America to be -- to have one party that sort of follows Democratic rules and another one that just doesn't.

What's your view of how this unfolds?

CHRISTINA GREER, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF POLITICAL SCIENCE: Well, it's really concerning to me, Ali. I think it depends on how January 20th goes and sort of the rollout after that. I mean, Joe Biden honestly will spend a lot of time trying to reach across the aisle to see if Republicans will work with him. I don't know if that's going to work. I don't know if Mitch McConnell, especially if he's Senate leader, will actually work with his old friend from the Senate. So that's one piece.

It depends on how much oxygen Donald Trump continues to take out of the room. How much attention the media still gives him. Whether or not he waits until literally January 20th at noon to be dragged out of the White House or whether he'll go with some sort of dignity and grace and respect of the American Constitution. It also depends on what he tells his supporters.

I mean, Ali, we had over 70 million Americans who said that they wanted to continue the road that we're on with Donald Trump. Seventy million people said what was going on with the border and sterilizations and not just immigration but COVID, at the time it was over 200,000 deaths, the economy in the tank, small businesses drowning. You know, his racist rhetoric, white nationalist rhetoric, anti-Semitic rhetoric, anti-Muslim rhetoric, anti-LGBTQ plus rhetoric.

Seventy-plus million people said, I want to continue with that. That's fine with me. I think we have to figure out what that means for us as a nation but more specifically the Republican Party needs to figure out what they're going to do because Donald Trump has made it very clear that he will attack members of his own party, he will convince people to run against sitting members of Congress. He has no loyalty to his party. And so we're in a period where I'm trying to explain this to my introduction to politics students with a collective action problem.

We've got a free rider problem with people who won't take the vaccine. We've got a tragedy of the commons problem. The list goes on and on. And we're in a dangerous moment I think in our democracy, especially when we think about the violence that's been sort of put toward elected officials.

We can think about the governor of Michigan, the secretary of state and now mayors in smaller cities who are feeling threatened. So I'm definitely concerned, Ali.

VELSHI: And you got Chris Krebs in the hearing today worried about exactly what you're worrying about. Sam, listen to what Chris Krebs said, and let's talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KREBS: I have significant concerns that the targeted violence against these election workers is going to have a chilling effect on turnout of election workers in the future. If there's no election workers, it's really hard to do an election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Sam, I mean, election workers is one way of thinking about it. The other way of thinking about it is that when you look at all the efforts we have made to enfranchise people who have otherwise been disenfranchised and some would argue we had greater success in this election than we've had in a long time, I'm almost worrying about a backlash effect. I'm worried about the Republican legislatures in Wisconsin, in Michigan and in Pennsylvania and Republican legislators in Georgia working actively against allowing or making it easy for people to vote.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you should be worried. They haven't hidden that agenda in the aftermath of the election. They've talked openly about their suspicion that mail-in voting and early access to the polls was responsible for some nefarious form of corruption that led to Biden's victory. And they're using it as a predicate to push forward new laws that would restrict mail-in voting, that would add hurdles for people who wanted to vote.

All under the pretense of election security when there's really not much if any evidence that these are fraudulent in any way. So yeah, you have every right to be worried about it. You know, I guess -- the only thing that's different this time around, which is even more worrisome, is that these warnings about election insecurities have come with actual real world threats.

We've seen just yesterday a very bizarre but very worrisome story out of Houston in which someone was driven off the road by an old police chief who was under the suspicion that this man had ballots in the back of his truck. It turned out to be air-conditioning units. And then held a gun to his head as other cops came.

I mean, that is the type of stuff that seems utterly insane but it is potentially happening, in this case actually happening, because we've hit such a fevered pitch about electoral fraud. So yes, worry about the future but also the present is pretty bleak too.

VELSHI: Thank you to both of you. Professor Christina Greer and Sam Stein, good talking to you. At some juncture, this will all end.

As I said, 35 years before Joe Biden becomes president. It is actually going to be 35 days. But sometimes these days feel like years.

Coming up, if it seems like the Trump administration hasn't been doing enough to stop the spread of COVID, it's because they haven't. After the break I'm going to talk with Olivia Troye, a former member of the White House COVID task force.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: New reporting shows how the Trump administration undermined the work of critical agencies in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. Two Republican appointees to the CDC told "The New York Times" that the Trump administration crushed the agency's work, politicizing their work in an effort to appease the president.

Kyle McGowan, a former CDC chief of staff, explains: everyone wants to describe the day that the light switch flipped and the CDC was sidelined. It didn't happen that way. It was more of like a hand grasping something and it slowly closes, closes, closes, closes until you realize that in the middle of summer it has a complete grasp on everything at the CDC, end quote.

Amanda Campbell, the former deputy chief of staff at the CDC, said that political appointees "pressed agency officials, quote, to revise, delay, and even scuttle medical report drafts that they thought could be viewed by implication as criticism of President Trump.

At the same time, then Health and Human Services science adviser Paul Alexander was pushing debunked and dangerous theories about herd immunity for combating the virus. On the 4th of July, Paul Alexander wrote in an e-mail, quote, there is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups to expose themselves to the virus. Period.

Those efforts by the Trump administration to undermine government agencies' response cost lives.

Joining us now is Olivia Troye, former senior staff member of the White House coronavirus task force and a former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.

Olivia, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us this evening.

Olivia, the United States has crossed 300,000 deaths. That's about 18 percent of the global death toll right now. The United States is 4.25 percent of the global population. There seem to have been many opportunities starting in March and onward for the president and others in the administration to take a different view of this, to decide that this just wasn't all a media and a Democratic attempt to wreck the presidency, to just do something to fix this.

And yet it seems from this reporting time after time after time the wrong choice was made and people ended up getting sicker and dying.

TROYE: That is correct. And the most disappointing part of it is that these things were discussed in task force meetings. There were serious discussions had with the experts like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx talking about the science and the data and what needed to be done, and decisions about made that needed to be carried out in terms of guidelines and guidances.

But the story about Paul and Amanda, it's 100 percent true. I know them well. I worked closely with them. I spoke with Kyle probably every day. And we've had these conversations behind closed doors about how wrong this was and how hard this was. And when I saw them go public today, I have to say that I was grateful.

VELSHI: When did it start happening? How did you realize that this was going the way it was? I understand that we all saw it in real time with the president saying, you know, there were 12 cases or 15 cases and it's going to go to zero and it's not really going to happen. But at what point did you realize that this was actually going to impede the work of the coronavirus task force?

TROYE: The second I saw them get upset about the messaging from CDC and Nancy and the press briefing in February. When she comes forward and was very brutally honest about the reality of the situation. And she gets reprimanded for it the next day and you see the vice president take over the task force. Was the day I saw firsthand that this was going to be a very challenging scenario because it was going to be about messaging, controlling everything, because you were in an election year.

And I said this from the first day that I spoke out, that this has been an ongoing challenge for all of these people who were in this situation. And what you're seeing is the truth come out about what really was going on behind the scenes and what we were dealing with there.

VELSHI: But in the end, you're an analyst. There must have been people sitting there saying the messaging is not going to work, it's not going to stop the spread of the disease, we actually have to do things. There was a small period around Easter when the president felt he wanted America sort of reopened by Easter and they came up with a plan that said 15 days to stop the spread and there were PowerPoints and there were handouts and it looked like something. And yet even that didn't -- it didn't actually become something. Nothing happened out of it. Nothing really came out of it that was meaningful.

So there was no ability to have a parallel track with the messaging that would result in something that would reduce the spread of coronavirus.

TROYE: Right. Well, Ali, I'll say this. We did the 15 days to slow the spread, which eventually gets extended, right? And it doesn't move as quickly as the president wanted it to move. And the virus is the virus. It's very real.

And we saw progress in those couple of weeks when we did shut down and we encouraged everything and we did the social distancing and the messaging was coming directly from the vice president, from the podium, and from Dr. Birx and others. And we saw the numbers decline, again I was grateful.

But then what happened is that you see the White House double down on the message that pressures governors, in these phone calls and in these private meetings where they are told to move forward and open up and release restrictions. And you know, when I see that reporting coming from HHS in those e-mails, I was sick to my stomach today when I read that, and I thought to myself, that was the shift that I saw in June and July when things got even harder and the messaging changed. And the vice president's messaging changed.

And I could not figure out what was going on behind the scenes that I wasn't seeing because I was in all the meetings and I was talking to CDC and I could not understand what was happening except my job was getting harder and these obstacles were getting harder and the political dynamics were getting harder.

And I have to say it's very clear to me now. I get it. And to see that shift in what happened and what was really being done behind the scenes gets carried out. and you see that change where it's get everyone back in school and they're messing with the CDC guidelines in terms of schools and openings and bars and numbers and distancing and, you know, the meatpacking industry.

All of these things combined are all part of the strategy. And you see Scott Atlas walk in at the end of the summer, right at the end of that, and pushes everyone aside.

VELSHI: We will have other pandemics. We know that. We were warned about this one, and we will have others. Let's hope that we take every one of these lessons that we have learned from this and make sure we never do it this way again.

Olivia, thanks for the work that you have done. Olivia Troye was a former adviser to Mike Pence and a senior staffer with the White House COVID-19 task force.

Coming up, with the FDA set to approve another coronavirus vaccine in a matter of days, the next step in ending the pandemic is convincing people to actually get vaccinated. And that might be more of a challenge than you think.

Vaccine development expert Dr. Peter Hotez joins me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Tomorrow an independent FDA advisory panel will meet to decide whether to recommend the second coronavirus vaccine for emergency distribution in the United States. The FDA is then expected to approve that vaccine this week. But a great challenge remains -- how to convince at least 75 percent of the population to get the vaccine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We hope that the overwhelming percentage of the population will accept the vaccine. If we do that, we will get a veil or an umbrella of herd immunity over the population that would dramatically diminish the dynamics of the outbreak. When we do that, then that would be the end of this outbreak.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Vice President Mike Pence, the Second Lady, and the Surgeon General will all be vaccinated on camera on Friday. President-Elect Biden is expected to receive his COVID vaccine publicly as soon as next week.

A new Kaiser poll found that the groups most unwilling to take a coronavirus vaccine are 42 percent of Republicans, 36 percent of people between the ages of 30 and 39, 35 percent of rural residents, and 35 percent of black adults. We need those groups to trust the best tool that we have to end this pandemic.

Joining us now is Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of medicine and a co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

Dr. Hotez, you got the COVID vaccine yesterday. Tell us first how you're feeling.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: I feel great. You know, there was that evening I maybe had a slight fever. I didn't take my temperature. Some muscle soreness. And I woke up in the morning with a lot of body aches and pains. And by mid-morning it was fine.

So no real problem there. So I think that's a good message because we hear a lot about fever spikes and that sort of thing. And I'm sure that does happen. But I think the overwhelming majority of Americans will tolerate this vaccine very well.

VELSHI: Peter, you and I talked about how long vaccines take to develop. We've been talking about this for several months. This is definitely faster.

Now, there's a bit of a backstory here in that some of the work on this type of vaccine was done ahead of time. But in the simplest of terms how do you explain to those people who are concerned that this just happened too fast?

DR. HOTEZ: Yes, well, you know, part of it is the fact that with Operation Warp Speed, which was a great program in terms of scientific rigor and integrity of the clinical trials, never had a communication strategy or plan. And so that was a big -- that was a weakness with the Operation Warp Speed program. And it was filled with either anti-vaccine messages from committed anti-vaccine groups. And they caused a lot of damage.

But also, you know, the pharma CEOs and the press releases which are not meant for you or for me. They're meant for shareholders which tended to spectacularize their claims. And look, it was great what they did and they you know, made huge contributions. But it ignores the fact that the coronavirus vaccine program in the United States began at least 17 years before, after the first SARS emerged out of southern China and really caused a lot of damage in Toronto.

So the COVID-19 virus is also called SARS 2. SARS 1, which is about 80 percent similar, emerged out in 2003, and then the U.S. government invested a huge amount of funding from the National Institutes of Health to start developing prototype coronavirus vaccines. And we were the beneficiaries of that.

We began making coronavirus vaccines and actually showing that the spike protein of the virus is the soft underbelly, the soft target of the virus. And that was really important because it meant that if you could deliver the spike protein you could make a coronavirus vaccine.

And when that new sequence came up on bio archive which is a pre-print server out of China in January, our community of scientists looked at this and, you know, most of us said we got this, we just have to figure out how to best deliver the spike protein. And there was differences in the scientific community. We felt it was best to do it through a recombinant protein, a traditional technology and not vaccines now being scaled up in India and being tested across India.

But the NIH had been working on this very interesting mRNA approach and that moved forward. And Pfizer and Moderna pursued that. Then there was the adeno virus technology out of AstraZeneca and Oxford and J&J. And guess what, it looks like they're all working.

Pretty much any approach that you use to induce virus neutralizing antibodies against the spike protein works. And I think that story's useful because, you know, again people feel this kind of sprang out of nowhere, what the heck was going on.

In fact, 17-year timeline is a typical time horizon for a vaccine development program. And the clinical trials were really well done. 44,000 individuals in Pfizer. I think 30,000 in Moderna, which is a typical size. So that wasn't rushed.

The only part that was not a typical timeline is usually you wait a full year after giving the vaccine in that phase 3 clinical trials in order to see if there are additional safety events and to confirm protection over a long period of time to show that that protection is durable.

VELSHI: Yes.

DR. HOTEZ: But then you'd never -- too many Americans would lose their lives over that period.

VELSHI: Peter thanks as always for keeping us up to speed on what it all means. There are as many questions today as there were a month ago. And we're going to have to keep on answering them.

Peter Hotez is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine and the co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. Thank you for joining us.

Coming up, Congress is close to reaching another agreement on another COVID relief package. But will this one actually do enough for Americans in need? Because the nonsense that the Republican caucus was talking about absolutely wouldn't.

Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Hold your breath. Congressional leaders are on the verge of reaching a deal on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. Of course we've been told this before. But this time seems a little bit different because the smaller package still includes another round of stimulus checks for millions of Americans.

Now, the amount is still being negotiated. But sources tell NBC News the checks would be for around $600. That's half of the previous $1,200 payments. But still, it is a win for House progressives, who told House and Senate leadership that their support for a deal would be contingent on the inclusion of enhanced unemployment benefits and direct stimulus checks.

The current bill includes enhanced unemployment benefits, funding for small businesses, rental assistance, and funding for vaccine distribution. At the moment, however, there is no state and local funding in the bill.

Joining us now is Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal from Washington State. She's the co-chair of the congressional progressive caucus.

Congresswoman Jayapal, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

This is better than the pathetic offer put forward by senate Republicans that did not include any direct payment to individuals or help for small businesses. It was a plan designed to indemnify corporations against being sued if they brought their people back in ways that were unsafe. How satisfied are you with what you're hearing about a deal right now?

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-WA): Well, Ali, as you know, what we did in the Progressive Caucus is we united and we said we are not going to vote for a deal that doesn't have direct relief, money in people's pockets.

And to us that is direct relief checks and it is expanded unemployment assistance. Those are the two things that are the most immediate in terms of getting relief to people who have been suffering.

It's been nine months since we passed the Cares Act, and Republicans have held up any kind of relief over and over again. So we are really thrilled that 48 hours ago there was nothing in the package and then the offer was, well, we'll put some relief checks in but we're going to strip it from unemployment. We said no way.

And now at least we've got this, which $600 per person, so that would be if you're a family of four, that would be $2,400. So that's $600 for an adult, $600 for a dependent child.

And I think that at least that is a little bit that gets people across the line, you know, at this moment when a snowstorm is hitting and people don't know if they can keep the heat on.

There are single moms who are writing me every day and saying I don't know what to do if I'm kicked out of my home. There are people writing to me and saying I can't put food on my table. How do I handle this?

And the Trump administration and Republicans in the Senate have been so -- intransigent isn't sufficient, cruel isn't sufficient -- but to just be so blind to what is happening to people across this country, refusing to give help has been awful.

So no, it's not enough. We're going to have to come back and do more with President Biden administration. You know, the reports right now are that if we want to even in the short term pull out our economy, defeat this virus, we're going to need to have $3.5 trillion to $4.5 trillion of investment.

And part of that is because we've waited so long that the economy's gone so deep into the hole and a million people every week are still filing unemployment claims.

VANIER: Yes. Eight million Americans have fallen into poverty since the summer. The Washington Post, Heather Long writing that the poverty rate jumped to 11.7 percent in November, up 2.4 percentage points since June. The biggest jump in a single year since the government began tracking poverty 60 years ago.

Economists say the sharp rise in poverty is occurring for two reasons. Millions of people cannot find jobs, and government aid for the unemployed has declined sharply since the summer.

This is not a stimulus package in any fashion. It will be stimulative to some businesses because some people will have some money to spend. This isn't even replacement of the income that they have lost through no fault of their own.

Does it gall you that we are discussing this in the Halls of Congress, in the Republican caucus with Republican senators who say we're not -- we're worried about the effect that this is going to have on the debt? They didn't worry two years ago about the effect that tax cuts were going to have on the debt when we were all screaming at the top of our lungs this is going to have a negative effect on the debt.

Now we're worried about the debt when people are slipping into poverty and becoming food insecure.

JAYAPAL: Yes, absolutely. It infuriates me. And I, you know, I have no regard for people who talk about wanting to protect life and then allow 300,000 people to die of a virus that could have been preventable.

You know, mass unemployment is a policy choice. Other countries around the world put money directly from the government to individuals and businesses to keep those people in their jobs, to keep businesses open.

I had a bill that did that. The Paycheck Recovery Act had bipartisan support. We couldn't get it through. So we are in this moment because of the absolute cruelty and intransigence, and those words are not words that are sufficient, because of the Republican leadership.

Now we're going to have to climb out of this. and the reason that we had to take a hard line on putting money in people's pockets is because it was inconceivable that we would pass another package that didn't have some direct support to individuals.

Now, I will say, you know, you said there is no state and local money in here. Actually it is a little bit more complicated because there is state money through vaccine distribution, through some support for schools and some other things. Localities are going to have a hard time but there is money for states and in this package but there had to be money directly to people so they could pay their bills.

Yes. Congresswoman, good to see you. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, thanks for the fight. And thank you for the efforts you've made.

JAYAPAL: Thank you.

VELSHI: Tonight's LAST WORD is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Data scientist Rebekah Jones built Florida's coronavirus dashboard at the beginning of the pandemic. She was fired from her Health Department job earlier this year after she refused, she claims, to manipulate the state's data on the virus. Last week Rebekah's home was raided by armed state police officers. It was all caught on camera.

She says the raid was Governor Ron DeSantis's way of squashing dissent within the health department over his handling of the pandemic. Now the "South Florida Sun Sentinel reports", quote, "Throughout the COVID-19 crisis in Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis' administration engaged in a pattern of spin and concealment that misled the public on the gravest health threat the state has ever faced, a South Florida Sentinel investigation has found. The administration suppressed unfavorable facts, dispensed dangerous misinformation, dismissed public health professionals, and promoted the views of scientific dissenters who supported the governor's approach to the disease.

Joining us now is Rebekah Jones. She is the former manager of data and surveillance for the COVID-19 section of the Florida Department of Health.

Ms. Jones, thank you for joining us. Thank you for being with us. Have you got any further information as to why police came into your house armed and removed your family at gun point in addition to taking your computers?

I am still, having watched it myself, unclear as to why they suspected that they would need their guns drawn to do anything with your family.

REBEKAH JONES, FORMER FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH EMPLOYEE: I don't think that they're ever going to admit that it was wrong to do this in the way that they did it. It seems pretty standard protocol to just defend whatever your officers did despite all of the evidence.

They've come out and said that no one ever had their guns drawn, that no one ever pointed them at anybody, and the only video that they released --

VELSHI: We're looking at it on screen.

(CROSSTALK)

JONES: Yes, you know, don't believe your own eyes was the last command. I don't think I'm ever going to get answers or an apology for what happened.

VELSHI: So that worries me a lot. It's not personal. You and I don't know each other. I wish you had some peace with this. But it is more important than that.

In fact, I want to read this to you. Beyond the potential violation of Ms. Jones' rights, these actions may inflict deeper public harm by preventing other state employees from raising similar concerns about the validity of Florida's COVID data and undermining public trust in the reliability of vital health reporting."

This description -- this is 11 House Democrats wrote a letter to Florida's inspector general -- this description and that video and your description which lo and behold like things we've seen for the last six months, people say things happen with police. They are discredited. Then guess what? The video comes out and it is exactly what they said.

This is the kind of stuff you see in authoritarian regimes. This is the kind of stuff you see in fascist regimes. Rebekah Jones said things the governor didn't like. Rebekah Jones gets police showing up at her house with guns drawn and intimidating her children.

JONES: Yes. and the alleged crime that they were investigating was access to an e-mail account that the user name and password was publicly available on the Department of Health Web site in seven different reports. You could have Googled it and accessed it. The content of the message they were investigating was asking from what they provided to me of that message asking other people to step forward and speak out about what ever malfeasance was going on in the state.

This wasn't just to, you know, take my stuff and shut me down for all of the day but very much intended to get at my contacts which I don't think they're going to be successful at, and yes, to scare people into ever taking this path.

VELSHI: Rebekah Jones, the light is shining on you. Don't be scared because the whole country now is watching you and your family and what they do to you. We'll make sure we're there to report all of it. Rebekah Jones, thank you for joining me today. Rebekah is the former manager of Data and Surveillance for COVID 19 at the Florida Department of Health which is not an organization you should trust for information if you live in Florida right now.

That is tonight's LAST WORD.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" begins right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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