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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, November 12, 2020

Guests: Ron Klain, Tammy Duckworth


Joe Biden's first presidential decision, which was made during the campaign, was his choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate; and Joe Biden's second-most important personnel decision was the choice of Ron Klain to be the Biden White House chief of staff.. President Obama writes about the racist politics of Donald Trump.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Ali. Thank you very much. Thank you.

We are expecting new report of voter vote counts in Arizona at this hour. We will bring you the new Arizona vote totals as soon as they are announced. The NBC News election decision desk will have a close eye on the new data to evaluate whether there is enough information to project a winner in Arizona. The outcome in Arizona cannot change the fact that Joe Biden has won the presidential election already with 279 electoral votes, and Joe Biden is the president-elect of the United States and Kamala Harris is the vice president-elect of the United States.

Joe Biden's first presidential decision, which was made during the campaign, was his choice of Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate. Joe Biden's second-most important personnel decision was the choice of Ron Klain to be the Biden White House chief of staff. President-elect Biden made that announcement last night and Ron Klain will be our first guest tonight.

More Republican senators are admitting to reality today, bringing the total to 12 in some form. Today, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, Rob Portman, Mike Brown, Josh Hawley, John Cornyn and John Thune who is number two to Mitch McConnell in Republican leadership said that Joe Biden should be given the president's daily brief on national security issues.

Republican Senator James Lankford said he will take action if the president doesn't get the president's daily brief tomorrow.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): There is nothing wrong with vice-president Biden getting the briefings to be able to prepare himself and so that he can be ready. The president is already getting those. There is nothing wrong with former vice-president getting those.

Kamala Harris is on the Intelligence Committee. She has all the clearances that she needs to be able to do that. There is no loss from him getting the briefings and to be able to do that. And if that is not occurring by Friday, I will step in as well and be able to push to say this needs to occur so that regardless of the outcome of the election, whichever way that it goes, people can be ready for that actual task.


O'DONNELL: That brought no response from the president of the United States. None. Not a word.

Now, just imagine a fortnight ago if any of these Republican senators had separated themselves from Donald Trump on anything, no matter how slight the separation might be, imagine the rage tweeting at them from Donald Trump. Imagine that voice yelling over the helicopter noise as he condemned those Republicans to White House reporters. Imagine what he would have said about them to his rally audiences who would have obediently roared back their disapproval of Donald Trump's new Republican enemies.

Instead, we have silence. The sixth consecutive Day of Silence from the man who we thought did not know what silence is. We have never seen Trumpian silence like this because we have never seen Donald Trump the politician defeated before.

We have seen him humiliated, usually by his own words. We have seen him impeached. We have seen him disgraced. But we have never seen him defeated until now, and in defeat we now know he melts into a cowering silence.

The silence is the concession speech. The silence is the sound of Donald Trump defeated.

Imagine what Steve Bannon would have said just a week ago if any Republican senator in any way suggested it was time to treat Joe Biden like a president-elect. Two days after the election on November 5th, when it was already very clear that Joe Biden was on his way to winning the Electoral College, Steve Bannon said that Donald Trump should fire FBI Director Christopher Wray and Dr. Anthony Fauci, and after firing them, have them publicly beheaded. Steve Bannon actually said, I'd put the heads on pikes, right. I'd put them at two corners of the White House as a warning to federal bureaucrats, you either get with the program or you're gone.

Steve Bannon has not said one word about the 12 Republican senators who are not with the program any more. Some of those senators have actually congratulated Joe Biden on his victory. Steve Bannon and Donald Trump have said nothing about those 12 senators because it's all over, and they know it's all over, and the only reason I would ever mention Steve Bannon tonight or quote Steve Bannon tonight, who I don't usually quote -- the only reason I am quoting Steve Bannon tonight is that Donald Trump hired Steve Bannon for a high-level staff position in the White House. He gave Steve Bannon a security clearance that allowed him to attend meetings of the National Security Council.

The guy who wants to put Dr. Anthony Fauci's head on a pike was a key player in the very first team of White House staffers assembled during the transition by Donald Trump. Donald Trump hired Steve Bannon. And Joe Biden hires Ron Klain. That's the difference. That's what your votes did.

The position of White House chief of staff is nearly impossible to fully describe the complexities and range of responsibilities are greater than in any other job in Washington. The pressure is unimaginable. It is known only to the men who have held that job, which has been held only by men.

The first White House chief of staff went to prison. Bob Haldeman was the first person to hold the title chief of the staff in the White House. The title was created for him by President Richard Nixon. Prior to Nixon, the same job held the more modest title, appointments secretary. The person in charge of who gets to see the president when.

And everyone in Washington knew that was a very important position. But Nixon militarized the title to chief of staff, chose a military title, which seemed to elevate the position to the news media's eyes, anyway, and sharpened the world's attention on the importance of what is in the best of circumstances a working partnership with the president.

There have been some superbly qualified chiefs of staff, from Republican Howard Baker to Democrat Leon Panetta, Democrat Rahm Emanuel. Each of them had experience as elected members of Congress, invaluable experience, before running the White House.

But no one in the history of the job has had more White House experience and will have had more White House experience on day one than Ron Klain. After serving as chief counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Joe Biden, Ron Klain went on to become chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, and chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden.

President Obama named Ron Klain, the White House Ebola response coordinator at the height of a frightening public health crisis that Ron Klain and President Obama managed to control. Ron Klain and President-elect Biden will step into the Oval Office on January 20th when the coronavirus pandemic may be at a new deadly peak when the economy may be sinking lower by the day, and when the United States Senate might or might not be controlled by Mitch McConnell.

Forget about wishing him luck. It's going to take skill. And that's why Joe Biden has named Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff.

Joining us now for his first interview since being chosen as Joe Biden's chief of staff is Ron Klain.

Ron, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

And I want to turn for my first question to Mike Memoli, who has emailed me some questions and he gets the first question because he covered the Joe Biden campaign for president from the start, and he certainly deserves to be part of this interview. I have actually a bunch of questions from him I'm going to be using.

But let's start with this from Mike, NBC news covering the Biden campaign for, what is it now, almost two years. He wants to know, has Joe Biden called Republicans, has Joe Biden called Mitch McConnell?

RON KLAIN, CHIEF OF STAFF, PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: First of all, Lawrence, thanks for having me. I can't think of a better place to have my first interview. I appreciate it.

Joe Biden has spoken to Republicans. He's spoken to some Republican senators, and Republican governors. I'm not going to go into names. He has not spoken to Senator McConnell.

Look, I think Senator McConnell still seems to be insisting somehow that President Trump won the election. He didn't. There will be a time and a place for Joe Biden and Senator McConnell to talk.

They obviously need no introduction to one another. They have worked together. They have fought each other, worked together and fought each other over the decades.

They'll have a working relationship when the time comes, so I think that will all proceed forward in a very fine, efficient way.

O'DONNELL: Because of the weirdness of this transition, I'm going to ask you some questions about these calls that we normally wouldn't care about. Did the Republican senators call Joe Biden, or did Joe Biden call the Republican senators?

KLAIN: I think there's been some of each, Lawrence. Look, the vice-president -- former vice-president, the president-elect -- I'm still getting used to that. The president-elect served in the Senate for more than 30 years. He has a lot of relationships up there.

I think that's part of the reason why people elected him. They want to see an incoming president who can work with people in both parties, in the House and the Senate, and get things done. That's what they'll see. And that's what will happen as we move things forward.

Right now, the bulk of the president-elect's time is focused on what new president-elects do. He's been putting together his team. He met with his COVID task force on Monday, worked on the response to the Affordable Care Act lawsuit on Tuesday, met with his senior transition advisers about picking his cabinet. He's focused on his business. I think he'll spend more and more time engaging with Capitol Hill as the transition unfolds.

He did have a nice call with Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer, focused on what we need to do right now, right now, even during this transition period to get the American people the help they need to deal with the impacts of this coronavirus crisis.

O'DONNELL: Okay. And last question about the phone calls to Republicans, and it's only because the weirdness of this moment that we have to ask these questions. Are you not naming the Republican senators that Joe Biden has spoken to because those senators have requested that their identities be hidden or that Joe Biden thinks their identities need to be protected in this current environment on Capitol Hill?

KLAIN: I'm not naming names because we read out calls, we read out the calls, when both sides agree to read out the calls. He's having private conversations with individuals. That's part of what he's doing.

But I think the most important thing I would say, Lawrence, is that his focus is on doing his job as president-elect and his job as president-elect at this stage of the process is mostly moving forward on his agenda to get ready to be president on January 20th.

O'DONNELL: I want to go to another question from Mike Memoli and this is about the vice-presidency and the way this White House is going to work. And Mike points out that you have been the chief of staff to two vice-presidents, which I think, I haven't had time to check, but I think you are the only person in history who has been the chief of history to two vice presidents, Vice President Gore and Vice President Biden.

KLAIN: Yes. We all are --

O'DONNELL: Go ahead.

KLAIN: It's like the "Bull Durham" movie where the guy has the record for the all-time home run as a minor leaguer, yes, absolutely.

O'DONNELL: Nothing minor league about the vice presidency as Biden has shown and Al Gore has shown.

KLAIN: Indeed, indeed.

O'DONNELL: What specifically has Joe Biden said to you about the way he wants Kamala Harris to work and fit into the workings of this White House?

KLAIN: Well, you know, it's interesting. They've had a lot of time together this week. They've been meeting together virtually every day with senior transition team to plan on who will be in the cabinet, who will serve in high government positions and you can see already the working relationship really developing.

She is an incredibly insightful and trusted voice already by president-elect Biden. Her views are being heard as they discuss policy matters, as they discuss the range of personnel matters. She is going to be the last person in the room. She's going to be the last voice he hears from before he makes important decisions.

It's been impressive to see the range of experiences and perspectives she brings to this. I don't think it's a surprise to anyone who saw her campaign, who has seen her as a senator and seen her as attorney general in California. But she has been a very strong voice, a very strong force as he starts to make these decisions. She is going to be a very influential, very important vice president.

O'DONNELL: Before we get to dealing with Congress, it's going to be difficult even if the Democrats win 50 seats, you'll be at a 50/50 tie with Vice President Harris breaking the tie. Let's talk about foreign policy that the president will have control over and we get reports today indicating that there are foreign countries, leaders of foreign countries who have been trying to send messages through the State Department to the president-elect. Those messages are not being passed on.

How are you dealing with that?

KLAIN: Well, again, you know, Joe Biden spent a lot of time traveling the world. A lot of these foreign leaders have his direct number. He's spoken to them, directly spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson directly, spoke to President Angela Merkel directly. He spoke to the pope yesterday in fact.

And so, a lot of these world leaders know how to reach him. He is speaking to them. They are congratulating him on his election as president. They are looking forward to working with him.

Lawrence, you think back to Saturday when he was declared the president-elect by the tallying of the votes. And what you saw obviously was dancing in the streets in the United States, but all over the world as other people in other countries welcome the return of the U.S. under a new president, new vice-president as a global leader, as a country that's going to be a force for change, as a country that's going to work with our allies to help tackle these challenges like climate change, the challenges like fighting global pandemics like the one we're in right now and those that may come later.

You know, that deal with global security and national security. So I think what you're seeing is a very, very positive reaction around the world from our allies to this new leadership team in the U.S., a leadership team led by Joe Biden who many of them know for a long time.

O'DONNELL: We heard Senator Lankford say he's going to take action tomorrow if Joe Biden is not getting the president's daily brief tomorrow. You know the Senate. What action can Senator Lankford take?

KLAIN: Well, I think it's encouraging to see Senator Lankford and a number of his colleagues, including Senator Graham and others, say they want to see the president-elect and the vice president-elect get access to the highest level of intelligence briefings.

So I'll let them decide what actions they're going to take. What I know is that the president-elect is the president-elect. He is entitled under the statute to get those kinds of briefings. The vice president-elect is entitled to get those kinds of briefings. Hopefully they will be forthcoming very soon.

O'DONNELL: You are the only White House chief of staff at this point in the election calendar who does not -- who has not been authorized officially to begin the transition to get office space for the transition staff and the various agencies of the federal government.

How is that inhibiting what you're doing every day now since you don't have any of that access?

KLAIN: Lawrence, so far, the inhibition has been relatively minor. We've been able to proceed with building our COVID task force. We've been proceeding with our personnel meetings. We've been proceeding with our policy meetings.

We have space -- the private side of our transition is rented. We're working very effectively and moving forward on business.

But as time passes, the unreasonable position of the administrator of the General Services Administration, to refuse to ascertain that Joe Biden is the apparent winner of the election as the statute requires, will have an impact.

COVID is a really good example. As you said at the outset of the program, we're in a COVID crisis. Right now -- right now -- there are officials inside the Department of Health and Human Services who are busy planning a vaccination campaign for the months of February and March when Joe Biden will be president.

And so, the sooner we can get our transition experts into meetings with the folks who are planning the vaccination campaign, the more seamless the transition from a Biden presidency to a Trump presidency can be. So, we're doing our jobs, the transition is moving ahead.

The American people saw this in public this week, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris doing their jobs. But as time passes, the need to get the full access, we are entitled to. And the full access the American people want us to have. It grows each day.

O'DONNELL: When Joe Biden enters the Oval Office on the afternoon of January 20th, will he find on his desk a stack of executive orders that you have assembled? And if he does, what will be on top?

KLAIN: Well, it will be -- it will be a stack, Lawrence. Then Vice President Biden, now president-elect campaigned on a promise to take action starting on day one, protecting the Dreamers, for example, starting on day one, rejoining the Paris Accords for climate change starting day one. Reversing some of the environmental roll backs we've seen from President Trump, and fixing some of the flaws in the Affordable Care Act the Trump administration has imposed.

So, he is going to have a very, very busy day, one, on that side of the ledger. He also promised to start taking other action on day one. He is going to implement his COVID plan on day one. He's going to send to Congress immigration reform legislation on day one.

So, we have a very, very, very busy first day planned. That's what the voters voted for. I think it's important to remember, Lawrence, more Americans voted for Joe Biden in the history of this country. They voted for him because he promised them he would take action on these urgent crises starting on the first day.

He is getting ready for that now during the transition. We're going to deliver on that starting on January 20th.

O'DONNELL: Ron, we need to squeeze in a quick break. When we come back, I want to concentrate on COVID-19 and the administration's handling both during the transition and when you get into the White House.

We'll be right back with future White House chief of staff Ron Klain.


O'DONNELL: And we're back with President-elect Biden's chief of White House chief of staff Ron Klain.

Ron, today we have the horrendous news that we've reached a new daily peak high number of coronavirus cases in one day, 159,501 hospitalizations at an all-time high 67,096.

As you enter the White House, do you have plans to put someone in charge of this in the White House in the way you were in charge in the Obama White House of coordinating the response to the Ebola crisis?

KLAIN: First of all, Lawrence, you're absolutely right. It's a tragic milestone, all-time record number of daily cases. I remember back in September when Joe Biden said we were facing a very grim and dark winter and Donald Trump dismissed that as being kind of apocryphal.

And yet here we are in the November, right where we may see, the first time ever, we have seven days with a total of a million cases. So we are in a very, very dire straits as a country.

We are also approaching the rate at which people die, we have potentially 10,000 deaths in a single week, that also would be a grim milestone we're headed towards.

As a candidate for president, Joe Biden promised he would put an official in charge of the COVID response in the White House. He will do that. And he will have a COVID coordinator who works in the White House who has direct access to him and will be briefing him daily, otherwise as needed in response to the COVID crisis.

More than one official, though, the important thing is that official will have a team of people that he works with, someone coordinating, he or she works with coordinating vaccine distribution, someone coordinating fixing the supply chain problems we're having, someone coordinating the testing problems we were having so that we get this response where it needs to be.

And, of course, Lawrence, as he said, the vice-president, president-elect on his first day in office, will issue a nationwide masking mandate, requiring people wear masks where the federal authority extends, and then urging governors and other officials impose mask mandates in their states. So, we're going to start from day one really moving to get this virus under control.

O'DONNELL: Let's turn to the economic side of the coronavirus pandemic, and that is the job losses, the income losses, the losses of income for businesses. What can you do from the White House with executive power, and what do you need to do legislatively, what do you need to bring to Congress on day one in terms of economic relief under this -- under the conditions of this pandemic?

KLAIN: Yeah. Lawrence, as I alluded to in the last segment, that really shouldn't wait for day one of the Biden administration. That's something Congress should be working on now in its lame duck session. We know that state and local government are on the verge before Joe Biden takes office of laying off teachers and firefighters, police officers, other vital state and local officials.

We know that people have lost their jobs and in states, unemployment insurance begins to run out in many places in late December. We know that there are people who risk being kicked out of their homes. We know that there are people who have no incomes.

And so, Congress needs to work on this right now. It needs to help the people who are in need. I should say, Lawrence, these people, they are not clustered in blue states. They are in blue states, red states, they are in every kind of state in this country.

They're in urban areas, they're in rural areas, they're in suburban areas. This isn't something that kind of divides along political lines. We're seeing this epidemic hit everyone in all parts of the country. And I hope Congress gets to work on this.

Again, this is the subject of the call today between the president-elect, and Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer about the need for bipartisan action right now for a bipartisan country that's hurting right now.

O'DONNELL: To the question of bipartisan action, President Barack Obama reflects on that in his new memoir, which will be published next week, excerpts of which have emerged today. One of the things that President Obama says and this includes Mitch McConnell, he's talking about the Republican leadership in Congress, this includes Mitch McConnell. He says, in fact, the only difference between Trump's style of politics and theirs was Trump's lack of inhibition.

Does Joe Biden agree with President Obama's observation?

KLAIN: Well, I think obviously Joe Biden saw it firsthand. He often was on point in dealing with Capitol Hill and knows how difficult it is to reach across the aisle and get agreements with Republicans. But he did it, by the way. He did it as vice-president. He did it to pass the Recovery Act, the largest economic recovery package since the New Deal at that time.

He did it in passing arms control agreements. He did it in reaching other pieces of legislation to extend economic relief and other particular crises. Of course, it's difficult, but you have to try.

What I'll say is I hope that people in both parties, but particularly some of our Republican friends got the message of this election, which is Joe Biden ran avowedly and openly on a campaign of trying to work across party lines to get some things done, to get the people's business done, to deal with the crisis we're facing in the country. And voters responded overwhelmingly. As I said before, we got the largest number of votes of any presidential candidate in American history.

So, I hope the Republicans heard that message. Voters want the two parties to work together, to deal with this economic crisis, to deal with the climate crisis, to deal with the racism crisis, to deal with the immigration challenges we face, to deal with all these problems. And, of course, to deal with the COVID crisis. All these problems that have piled up.

And so, hopefully, there's been some learning. Hopefully there's been some progress, and hopefully we'll see a different approach here as we enter a new Congress next year.

O'DONNELL: Ron, I'm sure there are people who just tune out as soon as you say work in a bipartisan way, and here we have President Obama in his memoir saying that Mitch McConnell is the same as Donald Trump, it's just a stylistic difference and a question of inhibition levels.

I want to go back to -- think back to the time when you and I worked in the Senate and we never discussed this, but --

KLAIN: Yeah.

O'DONNELL: But I've said to other people that when I was working in the Senate, Mitch McConnell was one of the very reasonable Republicans and he was someone who I thought of as an honorable Republican in the 1990s.

As chairman of the Ethics Committee, Mitch McConnell recommended the expulsion of the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on sexual harassment charges and that senator then resigned.

Mitch McConnell, I'm not sure what I'm looking at. I don't know, has he changed? Does Joe Biden think Mitch McConnell has changed from the time when he worked with him in the Senate? Do you think the Mitch McConnell we see today is the same person who was working in the Senate when you were there?

KLAIN: Look, Lawrence, I'm not going to overly personalize this about Senator McConnell. I think that voters sent a clear message that they want progress out of Washington. That they want us to address the economic problems, the COVID problems, all the other problems I talk about a second ago.

And the president-elect is going to do his best to do that by bringing people together. By bringing people together in Washington, by bringing people together around the country by working with Republican Governors, Republican mayors -- all the different levels of officials and by rallying our Democrats.

Look, we still don't know if Mitch McConnell will still be the majority leader in the Senate when the new Senate finally gets underway next year. We've got two big races in Georgia which we're very hopeful about.

But whatever the power structure in Washington is, whatever the power structure in the country is, this is bigger than just one person. This is about the voices and the views of the American people. They want action, they want change.

That's what Joe Biden was elected to do. That's what he's going to do. He's going to use all the tools that he has. You know, his prodigious tools of persuasion, his ability to reach out to people on all aspects of our party, in both parties, to rally the voters and to do everything he can to move this country forward.

And that's what he's going to do after he takes office on January 20th.

O'DONNELL: Ron Klain, President-Elect Biden's incoming White House chief of staff. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Ron. We really appreciate it.

KLAIN: Thanks, Lawrence. Thanks for having me.

O'DONNELL: Thank you. And when we come back, Senator Tammy Duckworth will join us. She is considered one of the people who is on possibly the short list for secretary of defense in the Biden administration.

This day is a very important day in her life -- a very important anniversary in her life. She will explain that next.


O'DONNELL: She calls today her Alive Day. Today's date, November 12th has a special meaning for Senator Tammy Duckworth. She says it is, quote, "the anniversary of the day I almost died but didn't".


SENATOR TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): I remember the whole act of landing the aircraft because for me at that time, that was the most important thing to me. It was as if my life depended on it, which it did.

But I just remember that thinking, we've been hit. I didn't know that I was badly hurt. I had no idea. And I just remember thinking, you have to land this airplane. We have to get this thing on the ground.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She's a former Army Lieutenant Colonel. And is now a member of the Armed Services Armed Service Committee.

Senator. thank you very much for joining us tonight. Talk about what it means to have an alive day.

DUCKWORTH: Well, it's a tradition that Vietnam veterans taught to my generation. And that is a tradition of giving thanks for the day that you survive whatever your injury was.

You know, I could spend today sitting in a darkroom feeling sorry for myself because I lost my legs and that attack ended my military career. But I choose to use the day to celebrate the men who saved me. Chief Warrant Officer Dan Milberg who landed that crippled aircraft. My crew who carried me to safety, who fought as hard as they could to get me to the help that I needed to survive.

And the fact that all of us made it out of there. So today for me is a gift, it's a day of celebration. And of thanks -- it's also a North Star in my life, Lawrence.

You know, no matter what I do every single day, I never want to let down my guys who saved my life.

O'DONNELL: Which do you celebrate more? Your birthday or your alive day?

DUCKWORTH: My alive day. My alive day is probably the most important day in my life, with the exception of my two daughters being born.

I will tell you, though, it's also the only day of the year these guys that you thank them for saving my life but then they make me buy beers all day long.

O'DONNELL: I'm sure.

Senator, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, I know you're watching the Defense Department closely. You've watched the president fire the secretary of defense and install people for what will be approximately 70 days to do we're not sure what.

DUCKWORTH: Yes, what it is -- what it's doing is destabilizing our nation's national security. He may be pursuing his own agenda, but that's precisely it. He is putting his own personal vendettas, his own personal fragile ego ahead of the well-being and the security of our nation.

Lawrence, we lost five uniformed personnel today in a helicopter crash in Egypt. Do you know what the president tweeted this morning when that news came out? He tweeted about the Masters, about Jack Nicklaus starting -- kicking off the masters golf tournament.

That's what our president tweeted this morning instead of talking about the courageous men who lost their lives in Egypt today. And frankly, our adversaries are waiting for moments when we are distracted, when there is a vacuum in leadership especially in the military to attack.

And they consistently, consistently test our president in the first months of office. And what Trump is doing is just making it that much -- create that much more chaos over in the Defense Department.

O'DONNELL: And the president is also trying to make the transition as difficult as possible, have as many obstacles as possible. You are on everyone's list as a possible Biden defense secretary. If you were to go into the Defense Department in the Biden administration, you might have, in effect, some sabotage to deal with, some real messes to clean up on the arrival of a new administration in that Defense Department. Do you think that you would be able to do that?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I think that anybody that Joe Biden puts into the secretariat positions whether defense or anywhere else will have to face sabotage all across government.

I would expect that Trump official will be sabotage HHS, DHS, Treasury. You know, I would expect that they are doing everything that they can to make the transition as difficult as possible.

And I trust that Joe Biden will pick the right person to come in. And whoever he picks will be able to deal with it.

But the problem is, Lawrence, that our adversaries are watching. See, traditionally, you know, our adversaries choose presidential transitions as a time to test our military, test our national security.

Remember that the first World Trade Center attacks happened in February, right after President Clinton took office.

Kim Jong-Un detonated nuclear weapons and underground testing in September of President Trump's first year in office. President Bush had 9/11 in September in his first year in office. Obama had yet another Kim Jong-Un nuclear test that happened in May.

Our adversaries wait for the presidential transition. It's an opportunity for them to try to get away with as much as they can when there is a transition.

And president Trump is not making us any more safe or secure in the first months and years of the Biden administration. And he's really just putting on his own self-interest above the well-being of our country yet again.

O'DONNELL: Senator Tammy Duckworth, thank you very much for joining our discussion tonight. And Senator, Happy Alive Day.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Thank you, Senator.

And when we come back, President Obama speaks. President Obama's first interview since the election.

David Plouffe and Ben Rhodes will join our discussion.


O'DONNELL: In his first television interview since Joe Biden was elected president of the United Stats, President Barack Obama said this to CBS News.


SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS HOST: What are these false claims of widespread election fraud doing to our country right now?

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They appear to be motivated, in part, because the president doesn't like to lose and never admits loss. I'm more troubled by the fact that other Republican officials who clearly know better are going along with this, are humoring him in this fashion.

It is one more step in delegitimatizing not just the incoming Biden administration but democracy generally. And that's a dangerous path.


O'DONNELL: Today CNN published excerpts from the first volume of Barack Obama's new memoir "A Promised Land" which will be published on Tuesday. President Obama writes about the racist politics of Donald Trump, quote, "It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted, which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United Stats and was thus an illegitimate president.

For millions of Americans spooked by a black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety."

Here's an excerpt from the preface of President Obama's memoir as read by the author.


OBAMA: If I remain hopeful, it's because I've learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation whose conviction in the equal worth of all people seems to come as second nature and who insist on making real those principles that their parents and teachers told them were true, but perhaps never fully believed themselves.

More than anyone, this book is for those young people. An invitation to once again re-make the world and to bring about through hard work, determination and a big dose of imagination an America that finally aligns with all that is best in us.


O'DONNELL: After a break, Ben Rhodes former deputy national security adviser President Obama, and David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House senior advisor to President Obama will join our discussion.


O'DONNELL: Here's another excerpt from President Barack Obama's new memoir, "A Promised Land" as read by the author.


OBAMA: I've had to ask myself whether I was too tempered in speaking the truth as I saw it; too cautious in either word or deed; convinced as I was that by appealing to what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature I stood a greater chance of leading us in the direction of the America we'd been promised. I don't know.


O'DONNELL: Joining us now Ben Rhodes, former national deputy security advisor to President Obama and David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House senior adviser to President Barack Obama. He's the host of |CAMPAIGN HQ", the podcast. Both Ben and David are MSNBC political analysts.

And we're going to discuss the book especially as it relates to what will be the Biden presidency, but I want to begin with each of you on the news that is now only 24 hours old and that is I want to get your reaction to Joe Biden naming Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff. You both worked with him.

David Plouffe, your reaction.

DAVID PLOUFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I couldn't be more excited for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, the American people. Ron Klain is one of the smartest most effective people I've met in politics and government. I've seen what he's done in the White House as chief of staff to Joe Biden back when he was vice president leading the nation's ebola response, leading debate prep over the years.

He's a good person. He's a great manager, and Joe Biden enters the White House with the biggest challenge probably since any president since FDR. He's going to need someone like Ron Klain and a great team around him. And I think Ron Klain is just a great, great choice for chief of staff.

O'DONNELL: Ben, I'm sure you agree in general, but what do you see as Ron Klain's specific assets going into this administration at this time?

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, if you look at Ron's kind of two preeminent achievements in the Obama years, first he managed the Recovery Act that helped climb out of a giant economic hole and drove an economic crisis, and we're in an economic crisis again.

And second, you know, I was working with him when he managed the ebola response which was an incredibly complicated piece of business, Lawrence, because it included working overseas to build the public health infrastructure in west Africa and included the federal government working with state and local governments and mobilizing lots of different government agencies.

Obviously that's relevant to COVID. So this is someone who knows how to manage, knows how to move complicated pieces around, knows how to get things done, knows how to deal with pandemic and with economic crises. And that's what we're facing now.

And as David said that matters, he's just a nice guy, he's a good person. And we've not had that in too many of our public officials in the last few years. That's a good thing.

O'DONNELL: You know, I tweeted last night every good thing you're hearing about Ron Klain from people who worked with him is true. And I would just add for the audience because I know what this sounds like. A bunch of Democrats praising a Democrat.

But I can tell you when he was working in the Senate, Republican senators who did not agree with Ron Klain on policy and Republican staff members all would say about him as a person exactly what you're hearing now from people who worked with him. It's universal.

David, I want to get your reaction to what we're learning from President Obama's book especially that segment, that part that we just opened up with where President Obama asks the question, "Was I too cautious?" And his answer, his answer is "I don't know".

PLOUFFE: Right. Well, I think he was posing that question vis a vis communication, something Ben has spend years working alongside him on.

But, you know, first of all, the thing I'm proudest about and this comes through because, you know, the beginning years are captured in this first volume is despite the fact that he inherited an economic crisis, you know, passed health care reform which we tried to do for a hundred years, Wall Street reform, reset alliances.

So the president himself was not cautious. I think the thing that's striking about this book, I love presidential memoirs. I've tried to read them all. You know, this is not that.

It is a searing book. It's an entertaining book. It's a funny book. He asks a lot of questions. He examines himself, he examines decisions we make. So I think people are going to learn a lot both about him and about this important period in our history.

I think -- the other thing I know that Ben and I have spent a lot of time talking to the president about is the question he asked there was how candid he was.

Just it changed so much the way we communicate. And that's why we were trying to get people to enroll in health care, you know, he did shows like "Between Two Ferns" and talked to YouTube and Instagram influencers because the way a president -- the presidential megaphone has been shattered and the challenge for any White House is to put it back together.

O'DONNELL: Ben, he talks about Mitch McConnell in the book in unsparing terms. President Obama talks about Mitch McConnell's shamelessness and refers to his single minded and dispassionate pursuit of power.

The Mitch McConnell I read about in Barack Obama's book is a Mitch McConnell that Joe Biden will not be able to work with.

RHODES: Yes and this gets to the question he was asking about whether he was too candid. It was communications related to calling out I think the increasing radicalization -- and I use that word deliberately -- of the Republican Party. There was a through line that we all lived, David lived it but especially President Obama from Sarah Palin to the Tea Party to Mitch McConnell rabid obstructionism, to birtherism, to Donald Trump.

This was not all Trump, right? It was Mitch McConnell who made it his single purpose, single-minded purpose to block whatever Barack Obama wanted to do.

And I think what's really different between the two of them is Barack Obama wanted to acquire power to do things for people, to help people. Mitch McConnell wants to acquire power for power's own sake.

And I think at the end of the day what we really have in this country and this book coming out after Joe Biden's been elected I think shows in sharp relief there's two stories of America and American politics.

And Barack Obama represents a kind of inclusive politics, progressive politics, a politics of government trying to help people.

And Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell and represent a totally alternative view that the power is only for some people in this country and it's for them, you know. And I think that's what he's putting a fine point on.

O'DONNELL: David Plouffe, there's a beautiful line from Ted Kennedy in the book talking about running for president -- talking to Barack Obama, Senator Barack Obama about running for president. Ted Kennedy says to him. "You don't choose the time, the time chooses you."

Campaign students -- presidential campaign students will be studying that line and the decisive effect it had on Barack Obama for a long time to come.

David Plouffe, Ben Rhodes -- thank you both very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

PLOUFFE: Thanks, Lawrence.

RHODES: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Thank you. That is tonight's LAST WORD.



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