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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, December 21, 2020

Guests: Elizabeth Neumann, Amy Klobuchar, James Clyburn, Mike Fannin


"The New York Times" reported this weekend that Trump is deep in talks with an unhinged cast of characters, all of whom believe in stealing the election from Joe Biden. Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is interviewed. Today, the U.S. surpassed 18 million total cases of coronavirus and Donald Trump is doing nothing to reassure Americans who are worried getting the coronavirus vaccine. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) is interviewed. Despite Republicans' continued efforts to make voting more difficult, Georgians are turning out in record numbers. Nearly 1.5 million ballots have already been cast. The death of George Floyd this summer prompted newsrooms across the country to take a hard look at how they cover race and black communities.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

I was enjoying your conversations with Dan Diamond, and thank you for letting folks know that I'm going on to be talking to James Clyburn shortly.

The United States, Rachel, is 4.25 percent of the world population, 19 percent of its COVID cases, 19 percent of its deaths. Clyburn said that we may need a 9/11 style commission.

So regardless where his subpoenas go, we must, we can't forget this, we can't say Trump is out, we need to move on. This is way worse than 9/11, as you know.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": And, you know, the damage that Clyburn laid out in his letter today, explaining the subpoenas and explaining what he is looking at, I mean, some of is that is over because some of the worst actors are bad people who -- people who had a bad influence on the CDC and are now gone. But not all of them are gone and some of this damage and this undermining of the scientific response continues, and 30 days is a lot of lives at stake for this not to get fixed.

VELSHI: It's a lot of lives.

MADDOW: And Clyburn is putting more pressure on them than anybody else right now and God bless him for it.

VELSHI: And all the experts that warned us about this, said there will be others. There will be other pandemics. We need to have systems in we need to have systems in place that do not allow even the president of the United States to lie and to ignore experts and to diminish people who are trying to do the right thing.

So, we shall see where it goes, Rachel. You have a great evening. Thank you.

MADDOW: Thank you, Ali. Thank you, thank you.

VELSHI: Well, the outgoing president is attempting a coup. Not something kind of like a coup, not something close to a couple, it's the actual thing. It's a coup.

And it's everything Donald Trump promised to do and said that he said that he wanted to do all along.

"The New York Times" reported this weekend that Trump is deep in talks with an unhinged cast of characters, all of whom believe in stealing the election from Joe Biden. Trump invited conspiracy theories, like his disgraced former lawyer, Sidney Powell and his disgraced former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to the White House to discuss a potential declaration of martial law as a last-ditch effort to force a second vote in some swing states.

They're not trying to hide these conversations in dimly lit corners of the White House. Michael Flynn went on crank conservative network Newsmax last week to broadcast the idea, suggesting it was 100 percent normal for Trump to invoke martial law to remain in power. He actually used the term martial law.

News flash, it's not normal. When you use the military to overturn an election, it's a coup. The military has no role in enforcements with anything having to do with civilians and their democracy. Also not normal, that these conversations about a coup are ongoing.

Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times" reports the disgraced crackpot of a lawyer, Sidney Powell was back at the White House this afternoon. This continued talk of a coup has gone on long enough that some senior White House officials are actually afraid. One senior administration official who refused to go on the record told "Axios" that when Trump is, quote, retweeting threats of putting politicians in jail and spends time talking to conspiracy nuts who openly say declaring martial law is not big deal, it's impossible not to start getting anxious about how this ends, end quote.

Another nameless official told CNN, quote, no one is sure where this is heading. He is still the president for another month.

That's right. Trump is still president for 30 more days, 30 fraught days. Every single day from now until January 20th, you can bet that Trump will do everything he can to stay in power, in no small part because he has a group of kooks telling him that he can -- kooks who are calling for a coup.

But here's a thing -- just because Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn and their kind are in fact kooks doesn't mean that we should dismiss them or their ideas. Yes, they are kraken lawsuits and criminal records and faces covered in melting hair dye in press conferences at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping are mockable, but they are sitting in the actual Oval Office advocating for the prevention of a duly elected government to take office. And there's a kook who is still commander-in-chief for another 30 days listening to these kooks.

Appallingly, they are not all who he is listening to. There are sitting members of Congress telling Trump that he can still successfully overturn the results of a free and fair election.

"Politico's" Jake Sherman reports that Trump met today with Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, and Louie Gohmert, all regular purveyors of outlandish conspiracies.

His own chief of staff, the subservient Mark Meadows described the meeting as a conversation about voter fraud which we should note doesn't exist.

Trump has a cavalcade of crazy enablers, fringe kooks, members of Congress, his own chief of staff, validating his worst instincts and encouraging him to believe that the solution to stopping Biden is still out there. Why isn't anyone stopping him? I'm asking you, senior administration officials who are still giving blind quotes to news outlets.

Trump lost the election, and yet your cowardice knows no bounds. You will not take a stand in favor of democracy like they did in the American revolution, like they did in the civil war, like they did in the civil rights movement, like they did all summer in the streets of America while your guy encouraged police to fire tear gas and shoot rubber bullets. You do not have enough backbone to take a stand against a monomaniacal man who's actually attempting to stage a coup.

You tell the media you are afraid, you will not let them use your name. You say you are anxious and concerned but you will not tell your boss when he has gone too far. You are cowards.

And if you want to prove me wrong, stop talking and start doing something about Donald Trump, because right now, there's silence on one side and the other side is a growing group of conservative enablers whose allegiance is not to democracy but to a president who wants to be a dictator.

Read a history book. Learn where the saying crossing the Rubicon comes from. And why democracies are steeped in the belief that militaries have no role at all to play against the will of a free and democratic nation. Like Julius Caesar 2,070 years ago, Donald Trump is attempting to cross the Rubicon, and lead an insurrection against democracy.

Ironically, Trump considered invoking the actual Insurrection Act of 1805 to send federal troops into states, to curb protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd. His administration deployed officers in riot gear with no identifiable markings to police demonstrations in the Capitol. He has no issue using the military to achieve his aims. He used the military to clear a path outside the White House so he could hold the bible upside down outside of a church for a photo op.

So, if he will use the military for stuff that has no consequence, why wouldn't he use it to stay in power? We must take him seriously when he tries this time, because if you read the manual how to do a coup, this is exactly the stuff that you would be doing, holding meetings with influential supporters and elected officials egging you on and telling you it can be done.

Coups get real when legal and political options are exhausted. Trump is running out of options. He is considering a coup and he has 30 days left to execute one.

So no more blind quotes, no more silence. Now is the time to speak out against a man who is actually attempting to dismantle democracy to stay in power. You can't sort of be on the right side or sort of be on the wrong side of that. And it doesn't make you a Democrat or a Republican, or an independent, or a libertarian to speak out now.

You are either on the side of democracy, or you're not. He is not, so what side are you on?

Leading off our discussion tonight, Elizabeth Neumann, who served as assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy at the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration.

And Jason Johnson, the politics editor at and a professor of politics and media at Morgan State University. He is an MSNBC political analyst.

And, Jason, there's going to be people that say, come on, don't get carried away with yourself here. It's not a coup. This is actually what coups look like.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is, and Ali, I've got to say, I'm with "The Grio" now. I'm with "The Grio" for about six months. That's where I write my stuff, I have to make it clear. Here's the thing --


VELSHI: I am sorry, my apologies.

JOHNSON: Not a problem. Not a problem. Here's the thing, and this is very important for people to understand.

It's not just that we are in a coup, but we are at the beginning of a coup that will only get violent. Coups don't have to be successful, right? It's like attempted murder. Attempted murder is still a crime even if you're not successful.

You have people storming state capitols. We had people trying to kidnap the governor of Michigan, today in Oregon you had people breaking into the state capitol and shooting chemical agents at local police officers and journalists. They are all acting at the behest of Donald Trump.

Unless anybody thinks it's like, well, they are not directly -- remember, this is a guy who during a presidential debate, told the Proud Boys, who are a terrorist organization, or a terrorist sympathizing organization, to stand by -- you know, stand up and stand by.

So, this is what the president is calling for. The meetings are going to be less of a problem than the number of men and women that you have on the ground who are willing to engage in violence. So that is the danger here. It has to be seen as a danger, and the men and women who are placating the president on this, the men and women in Congress who are pretending that this isn't really an issue, they are now terrorist sympathizers. Because if you can't stand up against the actual acts of violence that are happening in our states about this election, then you're sympathizing with terrorists.

VELSHI: Elizabeth, if everything goes well, this is just talk and Donald Trump leaves on January 20th. But there are people in government whose responsibility it is right now to make sure that we are protected in case things don't go well. Who are those people? Why the blind quotes? Why are we not hearing from people who are telling reporters off the record that they are a little bit worried how this is going to turn out?

ELIZABETH NEUMANN, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICIAL, TRUMP ADMINISTRATION: Well, we already have seen it's not going well, as was just discussed. We have people taking matters into their own hands. There was a former law enforcement officer in Houston that pulled an innocent guy over because he thought he was part of some voter fraud scheme and he is just an air conditioning repairman.

I mean, people are starting to do violent things and it's just a matter of time before somebody gets seriously hurt and not just mildly hurt or threatened. So there's already danger under way in the fact that they are not speaking out and condemning it is concerning to me. But I have to tell you, when the quotes started coming out over the weekend, I just was so aggravated that Donald Trump is who he is.

It's been obvious. Even if you came in like I did, hoping for the best, it didn't take very long to realize he is not controllable, he is going to do what he wants to do. And when he gets to the moments where his back is against the wall, it's when he is the most dangerous.

So this idea that they thought that they could control him was extremely prideful. We just had an election where they had the opportunity to tell the American public about his character and they covered up for him. And now they are concerned?

I don't know if it's just that they are starting to realize that they could possibly get prosecuted for being in the middle of a seditious conspiracy conversation and or maybe they have some other liability and they feel they need to speak out. It's better late than never, but they have, in my book, they have waited too long and created this monster that we are now all having to deal with for at least the next 30 days.

VELSHI: I never thought in my career I would be discussing seditious conspiracy, as it related to the U.S. government.

Jason, Kamala Harris, vice president-elect, was on THE REIDOUT tonight with Joy.

You sort of making the point you made about attempted murders still being a crime and still being dangerous. There's damage here even after January 20th. Listen to what Kamala Harris had to say.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: There has been, I think, a conscious and a purposeful effort by the current administration to undo government in every of its forms. And we are going to -- we have a whole lot of work ahead of us. There's been a lot of destruction that has happened in the four years which is going to require a lot of work for repair, much less leapfrogging over that to get to where we could have been even if we had moved incrementally.

So we have a big task in front of us, and I will tell you that Joe Biden and I and the team we are putting together, they are, we are fully aware of this. It -- there's a lot to get done, and again, to your point, a lot of it is going to be about repair of what was broken.

But we are up for it. We are up for it.


VELSHI: We are up for it, she said, Jason. What does that look like? Because that's true. It's not just a matter of getting rid of Donald Trump but 74 million people voted for him, a large percentage of whom believe that it was not a fair election. And that stuff doesn't go away in an inauguration.


You know, Vice President Harris, she is understating how bad this is, because they are trying to get a ham on it. It's not just, I have said it before. They have got to go throughout civil service, federal agencies and basically root out Trumpists like the Baath Party in Iraq.

They have to remove all the people who are not loyal to the American government. I'm not talking about loyalty tests. I'm talking about people who have engaged in corruption, people who have tried to undermine the system, people who have tried to destroy American government. They got an internal job.

And they have to develop an administration that is reflectful and responsive to the needs people have.

And then, finally, this, and I give -- I give Vice President-elect Harris a lot of credit for this because she was on this as a candidate. She was on this on the ticket. She has been on this on all along.

She has said that racism is a national security problem. I saw her give that speech at Netroots Nation.

What we have right now, what we were just talking about with the violent protests and attacks here and Proud Boys here and there, if it was another country, Ali, we would be calling it ethnic conflict. We would be saying, this is like the Balkans, that is how it looks to the rest of the world. I'm glad that Harris pointed out that this is a problem.

VELSHI: Elizabeth, the Baath Party comparison in Iraq is interesting because the danger is when they purged Iraq of everyone in the Baath Party, you ended up purging a whole bunch of people from government, and then you find yourself without a bunch of people.

There are good people who worked in this government and thought like you did when you came in that something might be doable about this.

How do we -- how do we keep them while purge ourselves of people who participated in undemocratic activities?

NEUMANN: It should be relatively easy to figure out who are the biggest concerns. Most of them are political appointees. They will not be allowed to stay.

You know, there are a handful of career civil servants that probably did a little too much in support of actions that, you know, on one hand are probably, you know, at minimum disgusting, possibly are under potential court review for whether they were unconstitutional. So, I think for those individuals it's hard to fire federal government employees, so -- but you can usually move them into a position that does not allow them to continue to have influence.

VELSHI: Thank you to both of you, Elizabeth Neumann, and Jason Johnson, for kicking us off tonight. We appreciate your time.

Up next, after months of delay and repeated missed deadlines over the last two weeks, the next version of coronavirus aid to Americans struggling through this pandemic is finally here. Senator Amy Klobuchar joins us after this break.


VELSHI: All right. Any minute now, we are expecting the United States Senate to vote on the much anticipated coronavirus bill, just to let you know what is happening. They are in the process of a procedural discussion about it that could take up to an hour, it might not. But sometime within the hour we are expecting the vote.

Earlier tonight, the House did pass the bill, it's 5,593 pages long. It's a funding bill for the government by the way. It has funding. It's got tax cuts. It's got emergency economic relief for Americans suffering from the fallout of the pandemic. It's likely to be one of the largest bills ever passed by Congress.

It's a $900 billion agreement, which sets two important relief measures at half the level they were provided for in the first relief package that was passed if you recall in March. The legislation provides $600 stimulus payments, one time, to Americans earning up to $75,000 a year. It revives lapsed supplemental federal unemployment benefits at $300 a week for 11 weeks.

The bill also includes $284 billion in small business loans, $25 billion in rental assistance, $69 billion for vaccine distribution funds.

Congressional Democrats and Republicans have spent seven months negotiating this bill and it's not close to being enough. $600 is not going to cover the rent or the bills that have piled up, thanks to months of congressional inaction.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pledging to do more once Biden takes office.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We consider it a first step and that, again, more needs to be done. We are so excited that that will be happening under the Biden/Harris administration about 700 hours from now.


VELSHI: Joining us now, Democrat Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. She is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator Klobuchar, thank you for being with us.


VELSHI: The House passed the second version of the bill on October the 1st. This is how long this has taken and we have faced all sorts of nonsense, including a number of Republicans saying they don't want to run up the debt. They don't want to encourage people by sending them checks to stay home.

And it does seem like the close race in Georgia has decided to influence Mitch McConnell into saying, you know what? Maybe we should get a deal done.

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. People need help right now. COVID is spiking. You have small businesses closing all the time. Winter is here in the northern part of the country. And we had to get this done.

Is it everything that we wanted? Of course not. But I think it's really important to know in addition to what you laid out, the vaccine distribution money on there. We need that for the states. That's a way of helping states.

These vaccines just can't parachute into a small town in rural Minnesota. And then also there's help with rental assistance but also emergency food assistance, $25 billion.

There's a lot of help in the bill that we need to get out immediately to the American people and we could not wait any longer. And we could not go home to our states without getting this done.

VELSHI: Your belief is that it's getting done in the next few hours?

KLOBUCHAR: Yes. I know that sounded scary, Ali, when you said that line, I saw it from your perspective. An hour of a procedural debate in the Senate sounds bad.

But it is truly an hour. And we are ready to go and we are going get this done. There's no more crappy votes that are coming up that we have been working on all weekend. It is simply to get this pandemic relief bill done.

VELSHI: What's your sense of how fast people get that relief? You know, we talk about $600 as a one-time payment and then unemployment extensions, I saw a report the other day that said many Americans are $5,000 in arrears on rent or payments and things like that. But they need every dollar they can get at this point.

KLOBUCHAR: They do. And that's why time is of the essence. Secretary Mnuchin said, you know, in the next week or so, I'm looking in the past and thinking it's in a few weeks. But the money has to get out there.

And I think some of these other ways we are helping the states with the vaccines and the distribution and the light at the end of the tunnel that comes with that will be helpful to hospitals. We're going to have some extra help in there for hospitals and health care workers.

As you point out, it's the second biggest stimulus package that has ever passed the Congress.

VELSHI: January 5th is that election in Georgia and that is going to determine the control of the Senate.

In the event that Democrats do not have control of the Senate, with the aid of Vice President Kamala Harris, what happens, because this took way too long to get to something this basic? We seem to be concentrating on other things or at least Republicans in the Senate are concentrating on liability protection for companies that bring workers back in situations that aren't safe.

What are we missing here? We are missing some very basic stuff here, and that is that regular people through no fault of their own still have probably six, seven, eight months of this to go through before everybody is vaccinated, we've got herd immunity and we can get back to something that feels like normal.

KLOBUCHAR: Exactly. And I want everyone to see the light at the end of the tunnel. But to do that and to get there, we are going to have to help people in addition to this.

This is a down payment. And we've got Joe Biden and Kamala Harris coming in pledging to make this their top priority when they get in. It gives us so much more leverage, Ali, to have somebody in the White House that is going to govern with compassion and govern with competence.

We just haven't had that for four years. You also have Democrats and Republicans in the Senate working together on this bill, and while it is not at all everything that we wanted, you have at least the basis to move forward and just as Jupiter and Saturn came the closest that they ever did in centuries tonight, maybe it's a cosmic sign that we can move on, because Joe Biden has made it a priority to work across the aisle and we just have no other choice in the Senate.

And I am not giving up on winning those Georgia races. They are very close. We can do this.

VELSHI: Senator Klobuchar, good to see you. Thank you so much. And I can see you're very close to the chamber now.

KLOBUCHAR: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: So you are ready to go in there and cast your vote. We will cover that.

KLOBUCHAR: In the president's room headed over there right now to vote and to join the debate. So thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: It's a historic night. Thank you very much, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Up next, Anthony Fauci confirmed tonight that a Trump official did try to interfere with the CDC and its statements about the pandemic. Trump officials have refused to turn over documents that will shed light on the issue of politicizing the coronavirus. So, now, Congressman James Clyburn has issued subpoenas.

Congressman Clyburn joins us next.


VELSHI: Today the United States surpassed 18 million total cases of coronavirus and Donald Trump is doing nothing to reassure Americans who are worried getting the coronavirus vaccine. Donald Trump still hasn't done what President-Elect Joe Biden did today, getting the vaccine publicly and encouraging other Americans to do so when it's available.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: I want to say we owe these folks an awful lot. The scientists and people who put this together and front line workers. We owe you big. We really do.

And one of the things is that I think that the administration deserves some credit getting this off the ground is Operation Warp Speed. I also think that it's worth saying that this is great hope. I'm doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it's available to take the vaccine. There's nothing to worry about.


VELSHI: Now, look, some concerns about the vaccine are to be expected. It's a new scientific achievement, we don't know the possible long-term side affects if there are any.

But a lot of people are suspicious about the vaccine not for those normal reasons but because of Donald Trump. Because he and his lackeys lied to the American public repeatedly about the coronavirus and then politicized the only purely scientific tool we have to end this pandemic insisting that the vaccine be ready before Election Day.

That's why 55 percent of Americans who are hesitant about the vaccine say they don't trust the government making sure the vaccine is safe and effective. And 51 percent say they fear politics played too much of a role in the vaccine development process.

That is the legacy of Donald Trump. We have a life saving serum and people won't take it because he has made us doubt it. This can never, ever happen again.

And Congressman James Clyburn is doing something about it. Today the Congressman subpoenaed documents from the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and the director of the CDC Robert Redfield. Congressman Clyburn said, quote, "The select subcommittee's investigation has revealed that efforts to interfere with scientific work at CDC were far more extensive and dangerous than previously known."

Documents recently obtained by the sub committee show that over a period of four months as coronavirus cases and deaths rose around the country, the Trump administration appointees attempted to alter or block at least 13 scientific reports related to the virus -- 13 scientific reports related to the virus.

Joining us now is Congressman James Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives.

Congressman, good to see you again. One day you and I will talk about good things but that is not it now.

You are calling for a 9/11 style commission to examine the Trump administration's handling of this because less went wrong in 9/11 than this did. That was at least good people who didn't do the right thing in some cases and allowed that to happen.

Here we had good people doing the absolute wrong thing and deliberately, apparently, according to your letter.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me.

You know, it's very clear when you get people coming before your committee and saying that they were ordered to delete certain communications that they got and then, you find out later that somebody in fact maybe the same person in this instance who we don't know exactly who gave the order and that's why we are trying to get the documents.

Because Mr. Alexander is the conduit here. We think the order came from someplace else and they could prove it to us by giving us the documents. And they are refusing to do it.

They promised to give us what we wanted and they gave us a big dump. We went through it and there was a bunch of stuff that we didn't ask for and then there's stuff that we did ask for that we could not find. And now, we have decided that they are not going give us the information so we issued the subpoenas this morning because we think the American people deserve to know.

This is probably the worst health care crisis we have had in over 100 years. Nothing like this since 1918. And here we are 315 (SIC) people have died and millions have been infected and they are playing games with the American people. We deserve to know exactly what happened, and who made it happen.

VELSHI: So, these subpoenas, they may run out the clock. There's only 30 days left in this administration. Ultimately do you believe when there's a Biden administration that those documents will be there so that you can retrieve them.

Because regardless of what happens with the Trump administration and the lackeys that politicized the CDC, we have to be prepared for another pandemic in the future and we have to have things in place that never allow organizations like the CDC to be politicized so that they lie to the American people and people die.

CLYBURN: Well, you know, and the future may be sooner than we think, here and now, that there's some mutation taking place that could very well cause more severe problems a new surge of another strain of this virus.

So, we need to get to the bottom of this, and we need to do it right away. Now, the new administration, hopefully, will give us the information we want.

This information belongs to the agencies. It's not these people's personal property. And we would hope that when they leave, and they will be leaving right along with Mr. Trump that they don't take these documents with them. Or destroy them as they have attempted to do.

So, we are going to continue to pursue this and I hope that we will get better cooperation from whoever replaces them with the new administration.

VELSHI: One of the other issues Congressman, you look at the number of people who are doubtful about taking this vaccine or fearful about it. The numbers are highest in the African-American community for very good reason because there's been a history of experimentation and the withholding of treatment from African-Americans in North Carolina, in Tuskegee with the Tuskegee experiment.

How do you walk this line? Because on one side, Donald Trump did politicize everything up to and including a vaccine. On the other hand, we need people particularly in the black community who have been disproportionately hard hit by this virus to get out there and get that vaccine when it becomes available to them.

CLYBURN: Yes, you are right about that and that is exactly why I did the vaccine just three days ago. Because I think it's imperative that we demonstrate by example what we do here. I see you are showing me getting the shot at the moment.

VELSHI: That's you, yes.

CLYBURN: Exactly. I wanted to be an example. I want African-Americans to know that this is something that we must do. This country is at peril with this virus. You have to get beyond this. And the only way that I know to do that is for everybody that can to get vaccinated so that we can start a downward spiral in this with this virus.

VELSHI: Congressman, how -- have you had any discussions about this 9/11 style commission that you want to happen with the incoming administration?

CLYBURN: I've not had discussions formally. But I have some informal discussions with SOME people that I knew would be a part of this administration. And I believe very strongly that we need to do a lot of things regarding the way this White House has operated.

There's some things that have been revealed that let us know that we need to put in place some safeguards going forward. This democracy of ours is much more tenuous than any of us believed for a long, long time.

When I used to teach this stuff I thought we had a fool-proof method. The president has demonstrated that there are some things that need to be repaired. And we need to be prepared for the future. And to do that, we may need to have a cleansing such as a 9/11 style commission could provide.

VELSHI: Congressman, I always appreciate the time you take to talk to our viewers. We are appreciative of that. Congressman James Clyburn.

Coming up, voters are turning out in record numbers for the run-off elections in Georgia that are going to decide the balance of power in the United States Senate. That is despite Republican efforts to make voting difficult in that state. Will the early voting enthusiasm be enough though for Democrats to take one or both of the seats up for grabs on January 5th. That is next.



KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why are so many powerful people trying to make it so difficult for us to vote? We have to ask the question why. And we know the answer. Because they know our power. They know when we vote things change. They know when we vote we win.


VELSHI: Georgia's senate run-off elections are in 15 days. Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris was back on the campaign grail today in Georgia, ahead of the January 5th election that will decide the control of the United States.

Despite Republicans' continued efforts to make voting more difficult, Georgians are turning out in record numbers. Nearly 1.5 million ballots have already been cast. It's an unprecedented level of enthusiasm for a special election that rivals the numbers that we saw at this point ahead of the general election.

According to new data from Target Smart, there had been more than 67,000 newly-registered voters in Georgia since the general election. Now, it's important to remember here that Joe Biden won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes.

NBC News reports the new registration numbers point to a slight advantage for the Democrats and while this is encouraging for the party, the advantage is small and slight shifts in turnout among those who participated in the general election could make such minor gains inconsequential.

Joining me now, Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for the PBS Newshour and an MSNBC political analyst. Yamiche, good to see you as always. Thanks you for being here.

Theirs is -- I was just in Georgia over the weekend. And there is a remarkable sense of moment there. Typically a run-off election does not have the energy of a general election. But there's some sense amongst voters that this is more important than just who you pick as your senator for Georgia.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: That is right. And good evening. Thanks for having me. What you saw Senator Harris do, Vice President-Elect Harris do today was really under score that Georgia has the power to change the soul of the country, the soul of the Biden agenda. They know and her and President-Elect Biden understand that control of the senate will be critical to whether or not Joe Biden can actually get thing done or whether or not he is going to be fighting Republicans for four years or eight years.

What you saw her say in that clip there was that there are a number of people trying to stop people in Georgia from voting but she also said something else.

She told an anecdote about the late Senator John McCain, saying that he was with his one vote, a lone senator able to stop Republicans from taking away health care from millions of Americans.

She said, you have the opportunity to do that twice. You have the opportunity to send two Senators to the Senate. And she said that because in some ways she was trying to explain to people of course, you are going to have someone that's representing your state but even bigger than that. you're going to have people who don't know your name, or are going to be impacted by what happens in Georgia for choice years to come.

VELSHI: I will never, as long as I have memory, I will forget John McCain walking in his thumb up and then pointing down his vote that sunk the effort to repeal Obamacare.

Earlier tonight, Vice President-Elect Harris was on with Joy Reid making the point that you were making, that this is a remarkably important vote to cast in the effort to make people understand if they don't care that much about John Ossoff or Reverend Warnock, why it's so important. Let's listen to what she said.


HARRIS: We know that we absolutely intend to work closely with all people in the United States Congress, regardless of their party affiliation. But on some issues, we just know and have to believe that if we have the majority in the Senate, it may be easier to do things like the get the John Lewis voting rights act passed.

And that's just the reality of it in Georgia and it is within the power of the people of Georgia to determine how their voice will be reflected in the United States senate.


VELSHI: There's a lot there that is really important. One is John Lewis, of course, represented Atlanta for a very long time. Number two, is that Georgia is wear this whole voting rights as it relates to black voters matter were has been playing out for the last few years. Thanks to groups and people like Stacey Abrams.

VELSHI: And number three is the fact that they have got run-offs in Georgia was exactly for this reason. To stop black people certainly from being well represented or stopping black candidates from winning statewide office.

So this whole idea of voter suppression, voter rights, John Lewis, voting -- the voter rights act. And the power of black people at the ballot, all comes together on January 5th in Georgia in a way that it does not necessarily elsewhere in the country.

ALCINDOR: That's right accounts, and you hear her talking about the fact that there people trying to take away your vote.

That same message was echoed for president -- during President Obama's speech in Georgia, Michelle Obama made that speech when she was trying to get people to vote nationally in the 2020 election that of course President Trump lost.

And Democrats here are trying to get people to really understand, Republicans have become really good at really targeting where Democrats, especially of course African-Americans because they are so loyal to the Democratic Party, where they vote and then trying to take away the vote. That is objectively speaking.

You can go and look at courts, you can go and look at the judgment that we've seen in different states. Republicans are the ones who have looked at voting and said when turnout is low it's good for us.

So that's what Senator Harris is trying to get people to understand there.

VELSHI: What a weird and upside down way of looking at democracy.

Yamiche, as always, thank you my friend. Yamiche Alcindor is the White House correspondent for PBS Newshour and an MSNBC political analyst and one of the finest journalists of our times.

Coming up the death of George Floyd this summer prompted newsrooms across the country to take a hard look at how they cover race and black communities. That self-examination at "The Kansas City Star" led to an apology to the black community for decades of what the paper's editor called sins of commission and omission in their news coverage.

We're going to talk to the president and editor of "The Kansas City Star" after this.


VELSHI: "We are sorry". Those are the words of Mike Fannin, the president and editor of "The Kansas City Star" apologizing to readers of one of the Midwest's most influential newspapers for its decades long history of racist news coverage.

Following the police killing of George Floyd at the suggestion of reporter Mara Rose Williams, the newspaper began examining how it covered race and the black community since its founding in 1880.

"Kansas City Star" reporters reviewed thousands of pages from their 140 years in print. Fannin says, quote, "Reporters were frequently sickened by what they found. They felt shame at what was missing -- the achievements, aspirations and milestones of an entire population routinely overlooked as if black people were invisible."

Now the paper is owning and apologizing for its mistakes. Mike Fannin says the paper has disenfranchised, ignored and scorned generations of black Kansas citizens. It robbed an entire community of opportunity, dignity, justice and recognition.

Joining me now the president and editor of "The Kansas City Star", Mike Fannin. Mike, good to see you. Thank you for being here.

Ever since the death of George Floyd good people who lead organizations including journalistic organizations around the country have all had a discussion about having greater diversity, seeing things differently, reporting more broadly.

But "The Kansas City Star" went further. You engaged in a deep look at things that came long before any of you who work there now ever worked there. Why -- what was the point of going all the way back, 140 years back and looking at all of the coverage?

MIKE FANNIN, PRESIDENT/EDITOR OF "THE KANSAS CITY STAR": Well, once we understood exactly what that coverage said and didn't say in many cases, it wasn't really a hard decision to make once we knew to the extent that The Star had really failed to help, you know, the community progress on this front.

We felt like it was an opportunity to, you know, lay ourselves bare and do some moral inventory. And I think that without that self-examination I think many in the community felt we lacked the credibility to tell some of those accountability stories.

VELSHI: What's the ability of journalists in the organization to say I wasn't here for any of that thing. Times were different. There were black newspapers that served black communities across America. That wasn't the role but now we are what we are.

And I ask you this because all of us need to do this, right. We have to say what came before us and what set the tone for who we are today.

How did your reporters and your journalists interact with the idea that they didn't do the bad things -- many of the bad things that you were talking about?

FANNIN: Thanks, Ali. We did have some of those conversations, and you know, some of the conversations were along the line of this has happened at metro newspapers across the country. But it still doesn't change the fact that it was wrong and that it affected generations of Kansas Citians who, you know, weren't given the recognition or the opportunity, you know, through what was a mighty platform at the time for "The Kansas City Star", one of the biggest papers in six states, subscribers in six states, a giant platform and, you know, a stage from which the star could have made a real difference at making Kansas City a more, you know, equality based city.

VELSHI: Interesting lesson in the idea that you can take responsibility without taking blame for something.

What does this do for you moving forward? How is "The Kansas City Star" going to be different in a way that doesn't repeat the mistakes of the past?

FANNIN: Sure. And, you know, to be clear we're not perfect now, so we make mistakes now. We've made, you know, mistakes and we'll probably continue to make them. But we want them to be honest mistakes that we learn from.

So you know, what we take away from it is a whole list of bullet point items starting with the advisory board that we've named to work with us throughout 2021 on, you know, identifying further progress that we can make and on, you know, really reviewing the key issues of the day, the things that come up in our newsroom.

And there are a number of improvements that we've made this year and made in recent years, and we just need to keep getting better and rebuilding that relationship.

There's relationship repair that has to happen here, and not just for us but like I said part of our reason for doing this is hopefully to spur other self-examinations across the country and news outlets.

VELSHI: What a great journalistic endeavor in a time when journalism is under such pressure and criticism from viewers and readers and listeners across the country.

Mike, thank you for the example that you and your staff have led. Mike Fannin is the editor of "The Kansas City Star". We appreciate your time tonight and those efforts.

That's tonight's LAST WORD.

The senate is in the middle of voting on the COVID relief bill. Stay here on MSNBC for the final tally.



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