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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, December 29, 2020

Guests: Nikema Williams, Barbara Res, Richard Bates


The NBC affiliate in Shreveport, Louisiana, is reporting that Congressman-elect Luke Letlow has died after contracting COVID-19 last week, according to his campaign manager. Georgia voters tonight have it within their power to object to what Mitch McConnell did today and remove Mitch McConnell from the majority leader's job by sending two Democrats to the United States Senate and giving Democrats control of the Senate. The Manhattan district attorney has hired an international forensic accounting firm to examine Donald Trump's tax returns and other financial documents. A doctor packs a cooler full of COVID-19 vaccine into his pickup truck and drives three hours into rural Michigan to deliver vaccine to the most isolated hospital in the state.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: I saw that earlier today.

Ali, I have to confess, I didn't know what the Nobel Peace Prize looks like either until today.


O'DONNELL: I just, by the way, had to get rid of my cough drop as we begin this hour.

We have some disturbing news from Louisiana breaking at this hour, Ali. Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, just elected Republican congressman in northern Louisiana, he has just died from COVID-19 tonight.

This is a report from WDSU, the NBC affiliate in Shreveport, Louisiana, saying Congressman-elect Luke Letlow has died after contracting COVID-19 last week, according to his campaign manager, Andrew Barch (ph). Letlow, who just turned 41, 41 years old, was getting treatment in the intensive care unit in Shreveport, according to an announcement on his Twitter page just last week.

And, Ali, this is the kind of news that is so grim to have to report. This is someone just 41 years old, just elected, won about 62 percent of the vote, very strong Republican county there, congressional district in northern Louisiana. And he won't be going to congress. Louisiana now will have to, at some point, schedule a special election some months away. So that will be a vacant seat.

VELSHI: And worth noting he was tested on December 18th, and admitted to hospital on December 19th. This is an unusually fast case of COVID developing. A long way to go before the end of this, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Really is. Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI: All right.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, a Louisville police officer who shot and killed Breonna Taylor was not indicted by a grand jury that investigated the incident but "The New York times" is reporting tonight that that police officer, Myles Cosgrove, will be fired. "The Times" reports, Louisville police officer who fired the shot that killed Breonna Taylor was told on Tuesday that the department was moving to oust him from the force, as was a second officer who obtained a judge's approval for the poorly planned nighttime raid on her home.

Also today, President-elect Joe Biden said the COVID relief package passed by Congress that includes a $600 one-time payment to individuals is just a down payment on what he'll ask Congress to do when he takes office.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I propose a COVID action package early next year and challenge Congress to act on it quickly. Look, my ability to change the direction of this pandemic starts in three weeks.


O'DONNELL: Three weeks. Let's just pause and take that in for just a moment. He said three weeks. Three weeks.

There are only three weeks left in the worst presidency in American history, a presidency that we all had to endure. The seemingly, unbearably long four years of the Trump presidency will be over in three weeks, and the mendacity and incompetence and corruption and relentless vulgarity of Donald Trump and his retinue will be replaced in an instant on January 20th by the competence and decency of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Three weeks.

Donald Trump is going out true to form with a corrupt pardon process unlike anything we have ever seen, accompanied by political chaos in the Trump party, with Donald Trump suddenly publicly demanding $2,000 payments to individuals that the leader of Trumpism in the United States Senate, Mitch McConnell, blocked today. And there is, of course, the predictable Trump incompetence in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine in this country.

Donald Trump has not been vaccinated and has not urged anyone to be vaccinated. Today, the next vice president of the United States of America, Kamala Harris, said this when she got vaccinated.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: I trust the scientists, and it is the scientists who created and approved this vaccine. So I urge everyone, when it is your turn, get vaccinated. It's about saving your life, the life of your family members and the life of your community.


O'DONNELL: Congressional Democrats took quick action after Donald Trump suddenly claimed that he was in favor of sending direct payments of $2,000 to individuals as part of the COVID relief legislation that he already had signed into law with only a $600 payment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly passed a $2,000 version through the House of Representatives.

Chuck Schumer brought that house bill to the Senate floor today.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): In a moment, I will move to have the Senate take up the house bill to increase that number to $2,000, which I might add had broad bipartisan support. I don't want to hear that we can't afford it. I don't want to hear that it would add too much to the deficit. Senate Republicans added nearly $2 trillion to the deficit to give corporations a massive tax cut. Republicans just fought to include a tax break for three martini lunches in the COVID relief bill.

So I don't want to hear it that it costs too much to help working families get a check when they're struggling to keep their jobs, pay their families -- pay their rent, feed their families and live a halfway normal and decent life.


O'DONNELL: And so, the drama in the Senate today was, who will object when Chuck Schumer rose to ask for unanimous consent to go along with Donald Trump's proposal of a $2,000 payment per individual. Every Democrat in the Senate supports the bill. A handful of Republicans in the Senate have at least been claiming that they support the $2,000 payment. But none of them objected when Mitch McConnell rose to play the role that he himself has gleefully described as the Grim Reaper.


SCHUMER: Would the senator modify his request to include a unanimous consent request that the -- to include unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of HR-9051, a bill received from the House to increasing recovery rebate amounts to $2,000 per individual that the bill be read a third time and passed. The motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table with no intervening action or debate?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there objection to the modification?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Objection is heard.

Is there objection to the original request?

Senator from Vermont?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Would the senator modify his request that immediately following the vote on the veto override, the Senate proceed to the consideration of HR-9051 that the bill be considered read a third time and the Senate vote on passage of the bill, without intervening action or debate. Further, that if passed, the motion to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there objection to the request for modification?

MCCONNELL: I object.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Objection is heard.


O'DONNELL: Another objection might be heard on January 5th when the votes are counted in the Senate elections in Georgia. Georgia voters tonight have it within their power to object to what Mitch McConnell did today and remove Mitch McConnell from the majority leader's job by sending two Democrats to the United States Senate and giving Democrats control of the Senate. And we'll know Mitch McConnell's fate in just one week.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Zerlina Maxwell host of "Zerlina" on Peacock. Also joining us, Errin Haines, editor at large at "The 19th," and an MSNBC contributor.

Zerlina, I want to begin with your reaction to what we're learning about the Breonna Taylor case, apparently the officer who fired the fatal shot will be fired.

ZERLINA MAXWELL, HOST, "ZERLINA" ON PEACOCK STREAMING SERVICE: Sitting here today, it feels like the bare minimum. Certainly after a case in which a sleeping woman is murdered in her bed, there needs to be some sort of systemic accountability. That's what protesters are asking for and certainly her family needs justice. And justice is not the -- in the form of losing your employment when you killed someone in their homes, in their bed, in the course of that employment.

And in this particular case, one of the most egregious facts is the officer who received the harshest punishment, he shot a wall and yet the person who shot Breonna Taylor and killed her only loses his employment reportedly. So that is not justice, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Errin Haines, also to be fired, the officer who basically did the paperwork on what was clearly a faulty search warrant and that has received a lot of blame for what sent those officers to that door in the first place.


And, you know, if you remember, he tried to, you know, blame -- say that the post office, you know, was involved with drugs and in that case and that was some of the basis and foundation for that warrant. You know, the chief in her letter to him said that apparently that was third-hand information that he was passing on, and so it was not exactly honest in conducting himself in a proper way as member of law enforcement. And so that contributed to his firing.

But I will tell you, I mean, as somebody who spent the better part of this decade covering the issue of racial disparities in policing, I can tell you that the legal justice that so many of the families of these slain victims, whether that has come in a courtroom or from their federal government or local government, has been extremely rare. And, you know, the firing of these officers involved in Breonna Taylor's shooting is certainly something that protesters were asking for this summer and well into the fall even as they were waiting for criminal charges that never really came.

And while the family did get a civil settlement that came with some police reforms, what I'm thinking about is that this news really comes on the same day that the Justice Department said that they were going to end their investigation into the 2014 killing of Tamir Rice by Cleveland Police.

And that was one of the earliest cases of what we know as the Black Lives Matter movement. And I know there are a lot of the activists I talked to see this as two steps forward, one step back. Those officers fired. But no more investigation, you know, in Tamir Rice's case and this is an issue that could not be more of a priority for them as they continue to kind of press the incoming administration on issues of racial justice and policing and policy and starting with President-elect Joe Biden and who he's going to pick for attorney general, which I think increasingly becomes among the most consequential nominees he will make.

O'DONNELL: Zerlina, where are we right now on the $2,000, $600, after the better part of a year, Republicans in Congress supporting zero dollars in direct payments to Americans suffering in this economic slump?

MAXWELL: Well, we're at the point where Mitch McConnell has attached Donald Trump's demands to the $2,000 payment, basically to kill any opportunity for the Senate to pass something to help the American people. It gives Republicans to vote for something that he knows will not pass.

And unfortunately, I think his cynicism drives his decision-making all too often. And in the middle of this pandemic, I do not have any more patience for this level of cynicism in our government. If our elected officials do not want to do their jobs, they should perhaps, like the police officer, find new employment. Mitch McConnell was re-elected recently but there are two Senate runoffs in Georgia and the Georgians who have voted so far, 79,000 Georgians have voted in the runoff election that did not vote in November, Lawrence.

That number is significant. If that case continues, I think the voters of Georgia are going to be telling us a lot about what they think about Mitch McConnell's decision on these $2,000 payments. People need that money to feed their families. They are not going out to buy televisions and laptops and, you know, sitting at home being lazy and they don't want to work. That's not what this is about, and Republicans need to be serious and do their jobs for a change.

We're in the middle of a plague. It seems to me it might be the time to step up and do your job.

O'DONNELL: Errin Haines, David Perdue was just on Fox tonight and the challenge of kowtowing to Donald Trump and kowtowing to Mitch McConnell simply didn't come up. The host didn't ask him a single word about the $2,000 payment or any form of direct payment to Georgians.

HAINES: Well, he certainly signaled his support for it on Twitter, and it was interesting. Stacey Abrams also took to Twitter to weigh in on that tweet saying that he and Kelly Loeffler seem to be on a road to Damascus in the final week headed into the -- these runoffs in my home state.

Listen, Mitch McConnell is the Grim Reaper is fresh fodder for the Democrats looking to unseat Perdue and Loeffler with seven days to go and really flip the balance of the Senate as Georgians are among the millions of Americans really weathering this post-holiday coronavirus surge. We know the vaccine is stalling. We know that people are facing economic hardship and we are reportedly headed into the worst chapter of this pandemic yet.

And so, Mitch McConnell now joins President Trump as a foil for Democrats in Georgia that are looking to energize those voters there because we know there's an historic drop-off in runoff elections. But the pitch is now for Georgians to do as Zerlina was saying, what Kentuckians did not and take away Mitch McConnell's power.

So, you know, politics, as those of us who often cover this, can often be poetic. But I don't think that any of us couldn't have written more perfect prose than having these embattled senators really having to wrestle with this legislation that so directly impacts so many of their constituents, you know, really teeter on the campaign to actual governing, imagine that, in the final days of runoff in the Senate that are both really kind of balanced on a razor's edge.

O'DONNELL: We're going to have more on this in the next segment from Georgia.

Errin Haines and Zerlina Maxwell, thank you both for starting off our conversation this evening. Really appreciate.

And coming up, in one week, Georgia voters will decide whether the United States Senate will remain a dysfunctional roadblock of American government led by Mitch McConnell. That's next.


O'DONNELL: Georgia's Republican senators have spent most of the year supporting zero financial support for Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, then this month, they finally decided at the last minute to support a $600 one-time payment. Then, after they voted for that $600 one-time payment, they suddenly reversed themselves to say that they support Donald Trump's brand-new idea of a $2,000 COVID relief payment to individuals.

Earlier tonight, on MSNBC, Stacey Abrams said this.


STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT ACTION: They are feckless hypocrites who would rather win an election than help the people of Georgia and do their jobs. These are two people who have stood by, used the pandemic to profiteer, use the pandemic as an excuse for inaction.

They've assailed the very core issues that people need. You need unemployment insurance because your job is no longer there. You need that $2,000 direct payment because your mortgage is still owed even though you cannot go to work.

What they have done is signal very clearly to Georgians and to Americans that they have no positions. They are spineless and they are people who kowtow to Mitch McConnell, kowtow to Donald Trump, which means they will not serve the people of Georgia.


O'DONNELL: The problem for Georgia's Republican senators is that they can no longer kowtow to Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump at the same time because Mitch McConnell blocked a vote tonight in the United States Senate on Donald Trump's idea of $2,000 payments.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed a bill through the House of Representatives with bipartisan support, $2,000 payments, and today, Mitch McConnell refused to allow a vote on that bill on the Senate floor and Georgia's Republican senators did not object in any way to Mitch McConnell blocking a vote on the $2,000 payments that they pretend that they support.

Democratic candidate for Senate Jon Ossoff running against Senator Perdue said this: The people have needed help, but for the past year, David Perdue has opposed all direct relief for working Georgians even while he cashed out personally on the pandemic by trading medical stocks. He hasn't had a change of heart. He's exclusively focused on his own political survival.

Democratic candidate for Senate, Raphael Warnock, running against Senator Loeffler said this. Kelly Loeffler made clear her priorities when she sold $3 million of her own stock while downplaying the pandemic, called unemployment relief counterproductive and then waited nearly nine months to take any action on additional relief while Georgians lost their jobs.

Joining us now, Nikema Williams, who elected last month to represent Georgia's 5th congressional district, the seat once held by Congressman John Lewis. She's also the chair of the Democratic Party in Georgia.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

What does the action in the United States Senate today mean for the Georgia Senate race?

REP.-ELECT NIKEMA WILLIAMS (D-GA): Well, thank you for having me, Lawrence, to have this discussion because people on the ground in Georgia are hurting. People have been demanding direct payment and assistance for some time now. And we've been ignored by our Republican senators.

Kind of like what happened today when they didn't object to Mitch McConnell not bringing this up for a vote. $2,000 is nothing to Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue because they're some of the richest people in the United States Congress. And they have shown us exactly who they are. They are people who have made profits off of this pandemic when people in Georgia are hurting.

So I am standing with the people and we're going to the polls in record numbers in Georgia and we're going to make sure that we put Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the United States Senate because we need U.S. senators who are willing to work for Georgians and not for themselves.

O'DONNELL: Let's listen to what Jon Ossoff said to Ali Velshi in the last hour.


JON OSSOFF (D-GA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: The only reason that Mitch McConnell is even entertaining the possibility of this kind of direct relief for the American people that's needed, the only reason that David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler turned on a dime and endorsed at least in their statements these direct payments of $2,000 is because voters in Georgia are voting in record numbers.


O'DONNELL: It sounds like people around the country in the other 49 states and, of course, the people of Georgia, can thank Georgia voters for getting the $600 payments and get anything kind of economic relief because what Jon Ossoff is saying, without the Georgia Senate races, Mitch McConnell would have done absolutely nothing in the United States Senate.

WILLIAMS: Lawrence, you're exactly right. When people show you who they are, we should believe them. Georgia voters demanded change when we gave our 16 Electoral College votes to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And we're going to do the same in November when we show David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler that we do not want them pretending to represent us any longer because they don't represent the people in Georgia.

They are only looking out for themselves and making profits off of the pain of people during this pandemic. So I am looking forward to voters continuing to exercise their voice and their power, turning out in record numbers. This is the last week of early voting, and I see the excitement on the ground. I'm talking to voters daily, hosting events daily.

And people are genuinely excited about this election. So I'm excited and I can't wait to come back with you to talk more about what this means to have a Democratically controlled conference and have my friends Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to work on behalf of the people of Georgia together when I'm sworn in next Sunday.

O'DONNELL: Let's talk about this early vote. Zerlina Maxwell was just saying in the previous segment that you have over 70,000 new voters this time who didn't vote in the presidential election.

What are we to make of that?

WILLIAMS: Seventy thousand new voters, some of those are people who weren't yet 18 and registered to vote after the fact. But a lot of those people are people who were already 18 and now they understand that we can win elections here in Georgia. We shocked the country when we flipped Georgia. The first time in 28 years we've turned Georgia blue in a presidential election cycle.

So, we're ready to do that again, Lawrence. And I know that 40 percent of these newly registered voters that have already voted in the runoff are black voters. And so that bodes really well for our prospects. We're building multiracial coalitions on the ground and that's how we're going to win on January 5th.

O'DONNELL: David Corn has some new important reporting today in "Mother Jones" about Senator Loeffler and her conflicts of interest as a senator. David Corn's reporting, Loeffler was overseeing regulators at the same time that they were engaged in activity affecting a company she was intimately tied to as a current shareholder, former executive, and spouse of its CEO.

Is that kind of reporting by David Corn and others, including reporting in Georgia about Kelly Loeffler's potential conflicts of interest getting through to voters, or does it matter at all to voters who have been previously supporting Senator Loeffler?

WILLIAMS: It's absolutely getting through to Georgia voters because what I'm hearing on the ground is voters want someone to represent them, to look out for their well-being. People in Georgia all over this country, but especially in Georgia, we've been hard hit by this pandemic.

And when we have the United States senator who is already the wealthiest in the entire United States Congress looking out for her own well-being, it's a shame. And she needs to go back, run her company and do whatever she needs to do and let Georgia voters continue to demand that we're going to have someone who truly looks out for the people of this state.

O'DONNELL: What are we going to see? There's a week left. A week from tonight, we'll be sitting here in election coverage mode, major election coverage night here at MSNBC because these two elections are about the future of American government. It will tell us what kind of government we're going to have for the future years, first years of the Biden administration for sure.

What do you expect to see in the last week that we haven't yet seen or will it just be -- will the campaigns be running the same plays that have gotten them this far?

WILLIAMS: So, Lawrence, we are continuing to do the organizing on the ground. We're keeping the energy up. I'm looking forward to a few contests in Georgia. I'm in D.C. right now but can't wait to get back to have some celebrations and how we celebrate our voters showing up in record numbers, and just keeping the energy up because we know this is going to be a close election.

We are a battleground state. I've been saying it all along. And in true battleground fashion, every vote will count. Every vote will matter and we need to make sure that we're not stopping until the last vote is counted.

So we're going to keep turning out the votes, continue to organize and talking directly to voters because we know that when we bring our issues and what's at stake to the voters, we win.

O'DONNELL: Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams of Georgia, thank you for joining us again tonight. We always appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Thank You.

Donald Trump is running out of legal delaying tactics and handing over his tax returns to the Manhattan district attorney as the United States Supreme Court has ordered him to do. And now the Manhattan district attorney has hired an international forensic accounting firm to examine Donald Trump's tax returns and other financial documents.

That's next.


O'DONNELL: Here's something you really don't want to have happen to you. A prosecutor hiring forensic accountants to study your tax returns and other financial documents. And that has now happened to the man who might be well on his way to becoming 2021's defendant of the year.

Today "The Washington Post" is reporting the Manhattan district attorney's office has retained forensic accounting specialists to aid its criminal investigation of President Trump and his business operations as prosecutors ramp up their scrutiny of his company's real estate transactions, according to people familiar with the matter.

District attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. opened the investigation in 2018 to examine alleged hush-money payments made to two women who, during Trump's first presidential campaign, claimed to have had affairs with him years earlier. The probe has since expanded and now includes the Trump Organization's activities more broadly, said the people familiar with the matter.

Our next guest worked in the Trump Organization for years. Her new book is entitled "Tower of Lies: What my 18 years of working with Donald Trump reveals about him". In the book, Barbara Res writes, "The seeds of who he is today were planted back when I worked with him. He was able to control others through lies and exaggeration with promises of money or jobs through threats of lawsuits or exposure. He surrounded himself with yes men, blamed others for his own failures, never took responsibility and always stole credit.

These tactics are still at work, just deployed at the highest levels of the U.S. government, with all the corruption and chaos that necessarily ensue."

Joining us now is Barbara Res, former executive vice president in charge of construction at the Trump Organization. Barbara, thank you for joining us once again tonight.

I want to get your reaction to what you're seeing in what is now the final three weeks of the Trump presidency and the pardon watch that we are all on every day, every night. I'm always expecting pardons to break at any moment including during this hour.

What are you seeing in the way Donald Trump is handling these final weeks?

BARBARA RES, FORMER EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AT TRUMP ORGANIZATION: You know, talking about the pawns, I've been thinking about that. And he doesn't really have a sense of crime and punishment.

First of all, anything he does can never be a crime. That goes without saying. But, you know, I was thinking in terms of punishment and serving the crime or fitting the crime.

I go back to Mike Tyson. When Mike Tyson raped that young woman and Trump said he shouldn't be sent to jail. He should just give money. That's his kind of attitude about the way things are handled.

I look at the people that he's pardoned now, and I find them falling into different categories, some of them, but everything is based on Trump's interest. I think some of them, although, you know, he's loyal because they were loyal, he's loyal as long as it suits him.

I think that, you know, guys like Stone and Manafort could still be very, very damaging to Trump so, of course, he's going to pardon them as soon as they can.

The rest, people like Bernie Kerik and Milken, he admires them and I think that's part of why he pardoned them. You know, the way that they were so outrageous with their actions.

So I think that, you know, in terms of if the family -- yes, sure, he knows what they did. He knows everything that's gone on. You know what, I'm surprised he's not saying, oh, I'm only pardoning them because I know that the Democrats will go after them. And I don't want them to be hassled.

But I think he's pardoning them because he knows exactly what went on. And you know, I keep going back to the rest of them like (INAUDIBLE) and he loved the guy. He loved the guy because he was totally lawless.

And that's what Donald respects. He respects people that break the law and get away with it.

O'DONNELL: What do you think the forensic accountants are going to find when they go to work for the Manhattan district attorney and they get their hands on the Trump tax returns which they will be getting within probably the next two months or so.

RES: You know, when it came to finances, Trump was like very closeted. Everything was out of the office and in the hands of specialists. And then he brought Weisselberg in from Brooklyn and I think Weisselberg got a little bit involved in the financing part. But you know, it used to be just collecting of rent and paying the bills and, you know, stuff like that.

I just think that they're going to find some pretty -- pretty nasty stuff. But I don't have direct experience with anything having to do with finances so much. I was there making the buildings happen and getting the permits and things like that.

O'DONNELL: Who do you think -- one of the things that's been pointed out about the evidence that the grand jury will need in Manhattan in order to make a criminal case on, say, state tax evasion in the state of New York, is intent.

And that means you probably need a witness from inside, whether that be Allen Weisselberg, the chief accountant for Donald Trump in effect. Is there someone inside who you would expect to flip, get immunity and be the person who reveals what's really been going on?

RES: The interesting thing about Weisselberg is that I think he's already gotten some kind of immunity because he's never --

O'DONNELL: He got federal -- he did get apparently federal immunity in what was the Michael Cohen investigation, but as this moves to the state, that becomes an open question.

RES: Well, and he certainly may be -- may be subject to his own investigations, his own indictments so, you know, anything is possible. I said before that I didn't think Weisselberg would perjure himself but he's a potential person that knows -- he knows a lot.

I'm interested in wondering, does Cohen have anything to do? Could Cohen be of any use in these actions?

O'DONNELL: Well, he's definitely been part of the -- he has suggested he's been part of this criminal investigation by the Manhattan DA already.

We will know more as it unfolds next year.

Barbara Res, thank you very much for joining us again tonight. We always appreciate it.

RES: It was a pleasure.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

And when we come back, our next guest is a doctor who has gone from delivering babies to delivering vaccine. He packs a cooler full of COVID-19 vaccine into his pickup truck and drives three hours into rural Michigan to deliver vaccine to the most isolated hospital in the state. That doctor will join us next.


O'DONNELL: Donald Trump promised that 20 million Americans would receive the coronavirus vaccine by New Year's Eve with just two days left to meet that goal. About 10 percent of that number have been vaccinated -- 2.1 million Americans. As with everything else in the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump is going to fail spectacularly at delivering vaccinations to the American people.

Today President-Elect Joe Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind. We're grateful to the companies, the doctors, the scientists, the researchers, the clinical trial participants and Operation Warp Speed for developing the vaccines quickly.

But as I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should. And the pace of the vaccination program is moving now as it -- if it continues to move as it is now, it's going to take years, not months to vaccinate the American people.


O'DONNELL: It could take years for you to get the vaccine. Dr. Richard Bates used to deliver babies, now he delivers vaccines. The Mid-Michigan Medical Center in Midland, Michigan had the foresight to buy ultra cold freezers for storing vaccine months ago when the early reports on the development of the vaccines indicated extreme refrigeration might be necessary, especially in storing the Pfizer vaccine.

And so the Mid-Michigan Medical Center received early deliveries of the vaccine because they were capable of storing it correctly.

Dr. Richard Bates puts a refrigerated cooler in his Honda pickup truck and drives it three hours north to Michigan's most geographically isolated hospital in Alpena.

Dr. Daniel Maxwell at the small hospital in Alpena told "The Washington Post", "We're not getting it six months after Detroit or New York or San Francisco. We're getting it at the same time. To me and to our community, that's a really important message."

Joining us now Dr. Richard Bates, the regional vice president of medical affairs at Mid-Michigan Health. Dr. Bates, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it. This is really an extraordinary story.

First of all, I just want to know, how do you do it? I mean, literally, how do you transport the vaccine and maintain the correct temperature during that three-hour drive?

DR. RICHARD BATES, REGIONAL VP OF MEDICAL AFFAIRS AT MID-MICHIGAN HEALTH: Well, the vaccine is removed from the ultra cold freezer and our pharmacy staff, which is excellent in preparation, puts the vaccine into the cooler, which I have behind me. and that cooler is monitored for temperature so it's monitored from 3 to 6 degrees centigrade all along the way. And we monitor that and make sure it stays at that temperature all during the trip up there.

O'DONNELL: And what about the details of the refrigeration. Is it -- is there a period of time in the transport where the temperature doesn't have to be as ultra cold as it might have to be for longer term storage?

DR. BATES: Yes. As soon as it's removed from the freezer, it usually takes about two hours for it to thaw. And it can thaw from that ultra cold state while it's in the carrying freezer that we -- that I transport it in.

So then once it's received by our staff, our pharmacy staff in Alpena, then they place it in the refrigerator there. And it is good at that temperature for only five days.

O'DONNELL: Why you, Doctor? There must be other ways to get this vaccine from midland up three hours north up to Alpena. Why did you take on this duty yourself?

DR. BATES: Well, we've had a very good, an active group of my colleagues have been working on the planning of this dispersal of the vaccine. I happen to live -- still have a home in Alpena. I spent all of my clinical career as an obstetrician/gynecologist in Alpena. So part of my coverage for the region also is Alpena and West Branch to Gladwin (ph). So I have still maintained close ties to that community.

O'DONNELL: I have to believe when you're living in a place like Alpena and you hear well, vaccine is here, it's arrived and there's a lot of different Alpenas all around the country, remote locations. I have to believe people are just thinking, well, it's not going to get here for a long time.

So what was the reaction when you showed up with that delivery of vaccine?

DR. BATES: Well, I mean, we were timing when I left and when the group to receive the vaccine was going to be assembled and everybody ready to receive it, so that was kind of neat to be kind of in phone contact where I was along the way so they could be ready.

You know, the experience in the room when we walked in with the vaccine was -- can't describe it. People were -- there were tears. When people were receiving their injection, people were clapping. Nurses and physicians -- just the joy was really palpable. It was something.

O'DONNELL: It sounds like the joy and the clapping that accompanies delivering babies as you did for so many years.

DR. BATES: You know, really it's the only thing I could compare it to, honestly. Delivering a child and handing that baby off to parents that have been hoping and dreaming and thinking about this baby for the last nine months and then to finally see it and hold that baby in their arms. And for me to be able to give that, be part of that experience, it was a privilege for the years that I was able to do that for the community in Alpena.

And just to see that very similar thing happening all over again because this has been a long pandemic. And the staff, the clinicians, the nursing staff, et cetera, you know, just hope was what we delivered, I think.

O'DONNELL: Dr. Richard Bates, I know I speak for the millions of people watching this right now when I thank you for what you do. And it is a privilege to have you join us tonight. Really appreciate it.

DR. BATES: My pleasure.

O'DONNELL: Thank you.

And when we come back, the coronavirus vaccine will not be reaching most African countries for a very long time. So social distancing and masks and other preventive measures will continue to be vitally important throughout the next year.

That's next.


O'DONNELL: Last night on this program we heard a new poem from Joyce Chisale entitled "Had I known". Joyce Chisale graduated from high school this year and will begin her studies at Malawi College of Medicine next year.

Joyce's new poem is about a girl like herself, an imagined girl who wasn't able to finish high school in Malawi and found herself pregnant and abandoned by the man who got her pregnant while she sadly watches girls like Joyce continue with their high school education.

Joyce Chisale was able to finish high school thanks to your generosity to the KIND Fund which provides scholarships to girls to attend high schools in Malawi where public high school is not free and provides desks to schools in Malawi.

Last night Eddie tweeted "I've been out of work since March but donated what I could again this year to your KIND Fund. Your update and Joyce's beautiful poem brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for what you do. And tell Joyce she is an inspiration to girls everywhere."

Thank you, Eddie.

Anne T. tweeted "I thought friendship was more important than education so I downplayed my joy of learning to stay cool. I didn't know how blessed I was. Had I known. Totally blown away by Dr. Chisale's poem on THE LAST WORD. Thank you Lawrence for creating Kids in Need of Desks. I donated."

Thank you, Anne.

Teachers in Malawi have told us that contributions to KIND have been even more important this year because providing desks in classrooms dramatically improves social distancing in the classrooms where children have been sitting on the floor elbow to elbow as they read and write.

Schools in Malawi were closed for seven months this year to control the spread of the coronavirus. There was virtually no remote learning in Malawi where very few people have computers. Some public school classes were conducted on the radio but most kids don't have access to a radio.

High school student Monica Kalilombe (ph) told us what it was like when the schools reopened.


MONICA KALILOMBE, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT: I feel on top of the world now being back in class because now I am back on track with my future and I am able to study again. I am happy.


O'DONNELL: Monica is back in class at her high school thanks to a scholarship from the KIND Fund. You can go to to contribute any amount toward a desk or a girl's scholarship. No contribution is too small.

For Monica Kalilombe, completing high school is about her future and much more.


KALILOMBE: I want to be a role model to my family and siblings. I want to get educated and help assist them.


O'DONNELL: Monica Kalilombe who is a role model gets tonight's LAST WORD.


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