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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/21/21

Guests: Jeffrey Mandell, David Kessler


President Biden announced new measures the White House will be taking in the next few weeks to try to make testing more wildly available and easier to get; the president said the U.S. government will be buying 500 million of those at-home test kits and will mail them for free to any American who wants one. NBC News confirms that West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin joined the Democratic strategy call tonight.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: And I think if you listen about it casually, seems like it must be a scam, right? But is it?

That`s what I wanted to find out from "New York Times" tech columnist Kevin Roose on my podcast. And what he told me was fascinating and clarifying and I feel like I have my arms around this now. You can listen to our conversation right now on "Why is This Happening", wherever you get your podcast.

That is "ALL IN" on this Tuesday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: But it`s a scam, right? I mean, just between us, you don`t have to say, I mean, bottom line, like, at the very end of it, it`s a Ponzi kind of scam, right, ish?

HAYES: I -- I mean, I guess what I would say is, there`s lots of things like it. And so, the extent that there`s lot of things in life --


HAYES: -- that people pay crazy amounts of money for that make no sense, like it`s sort of in that category. That was my basic takeaway.

MADDOW: Okay. That`s good, though, because, like, taking away the, like, ooh, it`s digital-ish or it has an acronym that`s hard to remember, therefore it must be unique thing and putting in the realm of other stuff like this, which may or may not be a scam. That is a surface. That is very helpful.

HAYES: I found it useful. I found it useful.

MADDOW: Well done, my friend. Thanks, Chris. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for being with us tonight. You know, it is official. As of today, you have made it. You have made it through the longest night of the year. It is all downhill and brightening horizons from now on. It`s great to have you here.

OK, one year ago, to be precise, exactly one year and one week ago on December 14th last year, this quite nutty thing happened at the state capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. A group of 16 Michigan Republicans came to a side door of the state capitol and they tried to get in. A very polite state trooper at the door told them the capitol was closed except for official business, that everyone who was due to be there for that official business was there and accounted for, and these Republicans knew they could not come in.

Now, the official business that was under way that day is that Michigan was going through official process by which the state`s electors cast their votes in the Electoral College. Biden and Harris won the state of Michigan, so that means the re-electors for Biden and Harris were chosen to be the official electors from the state of Michigan. The electors that day had to meet official at the state capitol at noon and cast their votes in the Electoral College. It is an elaborate and performative process we go through to pick a president in this country, but that is the part of the process that was under way inside the state capitol that day.

And so, it`s kind of just this crazy thing to see that these Republicans were outside banging on the door trying to get in, because they said that they were there for the official business, that the real electors weren`t actually inside. They were the real electors for Trump, and so they were demanding to be let in.


STATE TROOPER: The capitol is closed. Or if you are taking part of the Electoral College process. Anybody else is not permitted to --



STATE TROOPER: The electors are already here. They`ve been checked in.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not all the electors are on site.

STATE TROOPER: All 16 electors have been (INAUDIBLE) by the governor staff and were here to vote in the Electoral College. They`re been checked in, they`re already here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the GOP electors -- I`m sorry.

STATE TROOPER: I understand. The capitol is closed.


MADDOW: State trooper patiently explaining, no, I know what the Electoral College is. I know what the electors are. The real electors are here. They`re inside and that`s not you guys.

There`s the real electors. Those are the only electors, and you guys telling me you`re also electors, you are not getting in.

That happened in Michigan last year, December 14th. We covered it at the time, sort of this bizarre thing, right? But it turns out Republicans did that in a number of different states that day. What we now know was part of a three-part plot orchestrated from Washington to try to falsify the election results and keep Donald Trump in power.

Part one was in the states. An effort in multiple states to line up false electors for Trump. I mean, if Biden wins a state, that means the electors from that state are the Biden electors. But they created these false slates of Trump elector, as if Trump had won those states. That was part one of the plan in the states.

Part two of the plan was to use the U.S. Justice Department to pressure states into sending those fake Trump electors to the Electoral College or at least to withhold the real Biden electors.

Part three of the plan was to get Vice President Mike Pence to go along with this when it came time on January 6th for him to actually count the Electoral College votes, right?


That`s what the mob was for at the capitol on January 6th, right, to help Vice President Mike Pence with that decision, to make sure he did the right thing when it came to counting those fake Trump electors or not.

But the part that happened actually in the states has received comparatively less attention ever since. I mean, the footage that exists of these Republican fake electors banging on the door trying to negotiate their way past that state police captain. That gave us insight how they did it in Michigan.

Consider what happened next door that same day, that same time in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, Republicans there approached it in a way that is more unsettling. What we`re seeing here, this is factor actual electors meeting in Wisconsin that day in December 14th of last year -- the actual Wisconsin electors casting their votes in the Electoral College. Wisconsin has ten electoral votes, Biden and Harris won the vote in Wisconsin, so these are ten Biden/Harris electors meeting officially to cast their Electoral College votes.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers was there. He was actually one of the electors. They met in this big fancy ceremonial room. There was applause when they were done.

Governor Evers said we made it, today we did our part to continue the long and sacred tradition of our democracy honoring the will of the people.

That was the real process at the Wisconsin state capitol that day. Those were the real electors really casting their real votes for the Electoral College that day, 12:00 noon, December 14th, Wisconsin state capitol, Madison, Wisconsin. Good, all good, the way it is supposed to go.

But later that afternoon, "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" was first to report that while that real meeting of the real electors was happening inside the state capitol, fake electors were also meeting elsewhere in the same state capitol at the same time on the same day. Quote, an hour after the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed Joe Biden is the winner of the November 3rd presidential election in Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans refused to accept the result and met at the state capitol to put forward their own slate of electors.

While ten Democratic electors met inside Tony Evers office to finalize the state`s ten electoral votes for President-elect Biden and Vice President- elect Kamala Harris, Republicans convene to cast votes for President Donald Trump. What do you mean cast votes? The details on this are amazing.

So this was a scoop by "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" that day. The reason that they got it as a scoop and not everybody knew it was happening is the Republicans actually did all of that in secret.

Unlike what happened in Michigan where they brought cameras with them and pounded on the door of the capitol and made a big stick about it, in Wisconsin they did it in secret. They did not announce their plans in advance. They met behind closed doors. They didn`t allow any public access to what they were doing.

When the "Journal Sentinel" got wind of what they were doing, the executive director of the state`s Republican Party told the paper, quote, we just wanted to quietly go in and do our thing.

Well, what thing they did would soon be revealed as quite a thing. Because they didn`t just act this out like a pageant like the Michigan Republicans did. No. In Wisconsin, the Republicans did it privately and, I kid you not, they forged all the paperwork to make it seem like they were the real electors.

Look, we have the paperwork they forged. Certificate of the votes of the 2020 electors from Wisconsin. We the undersigned being the dually and qualified electors for president and vice president of the United States of America from the state of Wisconsin do hereby certify the following, A, that we can when we convened and organized at the state capitol in the stiff Madison, Wisconsin, on the 14th day of December, 2020, to do the duties enjoined upon us. B, that being so assembled and duly organized, we proceeded to vote by ballot, and balloted first for president and then for vice president by distinct ballots, and, C, that the following are all of the votes for president and all of the votes for vice president so cast aforesaid.

Sounds official right, until you get to this part. Who are the votes cast for, Donald J. Trump, number of votes, 10. Michael R. Pence, number of votes, ten.

We they -- what are they? The duly and qualified electors? Yeah, then they all signed up it as if this were a real thing, with all this official- seeming language.


In witness whereof, we the undersigned have hereunto at the Capitol in the city of Madison, Wisconsin, in this 14th day of December, subscribed our names. And then, indeed, there`s all ten of them signing their names to this forged document that says they are the real electors and Wisconsin`s electors cast the state`s votes for Trump, even though Trump lost Wisconsin.

And they didn`t just do this to like to LARP, right? They didn`t do this -- put knit a scrapbook to fantasize about what their alternate reality might have been like had Trump won. They actually submitted this forged documentation, memorandum, to the chief justice of the U.S. district court in the western district of Wisconsin. These are all the places the actual electoral vote count is supposed to be submitted if they were the real electors. They submitted theirs as if it were the real thing.

Quote, pursuant to 3 U.S. Code Section 11, enclosed please find Wisconsin`s electoral votes for president and vice president. There was no such thing enclosed with that document. There was a forged document saying Wisconsin`s electors voted for Trump, which was not true. Those were not real electors. They were forged to make it look like Wisconsin was saying official Trump won the state when actually Biden did. It`s amazing that they did that.

And "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", who had the scoop that the Republicans had done that secretly behind closed doors while the real electors were meeting down the hall, they had this prescient note. This is just over a year ago, this is December last year. Quote, the Electoral College votes now go to Congress, which will count them on January 6th. Vice President Mike Pence will preside over the tally. Some Republicans have raised the possibility of having members of Congress challenge the results of some states to try to shift votes to Trump.

Yep, that`s, in fact, what happened. And ten Wisconsin Republicans agreed to impersonate the real electors from their state and provided forged set of documents so Republican electors from Wisconsin could be substituted for the real ones if the plan had worked.

Now, because of everything else going on at the time, because of some of the other efforts like the footage from Michigan, because some of those other efforts were higher profile, what happened in Wisconsin kind of faded from view, at least in the national news, if it ever surfaced there at all. The "Washington Post" mentioned it in a couple sentences in an article that was about a lot of other things going on. We featured it once here on this show.

But inside Wisconsin, people who worry full time about the democracy and, crucial, people who know what modern Wisconsin Republicans are like up close and personal, they have taken this very seriously, and they have tried this year to make sure that it not only wouldn`t go unnoticed, but that there would be consequences for what the Republicans tried to do.

Attorney Jeffrey Mandell with the Wisconsin legal group Law Forward, he wrote to the state election commission in Wisconsin and also to the Milwaukee County district attorney, the prosecutor there, referring those ten fake electors who forged that paperwork referring them for potential prosecution.

Quote, following the November 2020 election, ten individuals, impersonating the legally selected and authorized presidential electors of the state flouted the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box and fraudulently attempted to misappropriate Wisconsin`s participation in selecting the next president of the United States. We write to you to request your assistance in investigating these events, in determining if they violated long-standing Wisconsin law and helping deter others from ever attempting such a grave and brazen offense against our democracy.

While Governor Tony Evers and other legitimate Wisconsin electors were convening in the state Capitol on December 14th, a separate group of individuals gathered in the state capitol and disputed a competing set of documents purporting to cast Wisconsin`s ten electoral votes for a candidate who lost Wisconsin`s statewide popular election and, therefore, had no legal entitlement to those electoral votes. They did so without advanced notice or public access or media attention.

After their meeting, these individuals transmitted the fraudulent documents they created to the president of the U.S. senate, to the Wisconsin secretary of state, to the archivist of the United States and chief justice of the Western District of Wisconsin. These fraudulent electors acted without any legal mandate whatsoever and with the intention that the false documents they produced would be received as valid documentation for the purpose of inducing the U.S. Congress to credit the wrong candidates with having earned Wisconsin`s ten electoral votes.


The fraudulent electors met in a concerted effort to ensure they would be mistaken as a result of their deliberate forgery and fraud for Wisconsin`s legitimate presidential electors chosen by the mechanism prescribed under the U.S. Constitution and Wisconsin law.

Through these actions, the fraudulent elect easy sought to undermine the November 2020 presidential election and achieve through fraud a result that their chosen candidates had been unable to secure through a free and fair election or through a bevy of meritless post-election lawsuits challenging the results to vote. We write to draw your attention to the actions and request your office immediately investigate the individuals responsible with an eye toward assessing whether criminal charges are appropriate.

They then suggest some possible charges that might apply, including forgery, falsely assuming to act as a public officer, official misconduct, conspiracy, and others. It has been more than ten months now since that referral was sent to the state elections commission and to the Milwaukee County district attorney. We don`t know if any criminal investigation was ever undertaken by the state prosecutor there. Certainly, there have been no public-facing charges that we`ve seen for any of those people who took part in the forgery and the fake electors` scheme.

I have to tell you there, in fact, have been no negative consequences at all for any of those ten Republicans who signed their names to those forged documents. One of them, in fact, was appointed to serve on the state`s election commission this year. He had previously been on it. They reappointed him to it this year. It`s one of the entities that`s supposed to be investigating whether the people who impersonated the electors ought to be prosecuted for having done so.

So far, it seems like that guy doesn`t think he should be prosecuted, nor does he think he should be recused himself from the election commission`s decision on that matter. Why would I do that? It`s only about me?

But what happens when a group of people trying to falsify election results face no consequences for trying it? Even when they went so far to see as to forge the documents they needed to pass they must off as the real thing. What happens when there are no consequences for trying something like that? Drops down the memory hole and we pretend it didn`t happen.

Well, in the case of Wisconsin and that state`s Republicans, the metaphor you`re probably looking for comes from the medical world. In the case of Wisconsin, when you ignore something like that and just pretend it didn`t happen, it metastasizes.

Here`s what I mean by that. Here`s "The Washington Post" on what`s going on in Wisconsin now.

Quote, one of the investigators re-examining the 2020 results in Wisconsin on behalf of the Republican-led legislature is the president of a group that unsuccessfully sued to overturn the election results. Another worked as a deputy in President Donald Trump`s White House personnel office at the time that that office was known for weeding out people perceived to be disloyal to President Trump. A third is an anniversary lawyer who represented Trump`s campaign during last year`s Wisconsin re-count a process that confirmed President Biden won the swing state by roughly 21,000 votes.

All of these people are being paid with Wisconsin taxpayer money as part of a legislative-backed investigation into the 2020 election results, an investigation that has picked up steam in recent weeks. The inquiry is the latest gambit by Republicans to re-examine if 2020 election nationally. It makes little pretense of neutrality in Wisconsin and is being led by figures who have shown allegiance to Trump or openly embraced false claims of fraud.

The former president personally lobbied Republican state lawmakers to pursue the Wisconsin investigation and spurred on other ballot reviews around the country, leaning on legislators to revisit the vote more than a year after Americans went to the polls. In Wisconsin, the state that`s likely to see some of the nation`s most competitive races in 2022, for governor and U.S. Senate, there are now multiple efforts under way to scrutinize how the last election with you run, including a recommendation by a county sheriff to prosecute and jail state election officials.

Election experts say Wisconsin has now lapped Arizona as the leading front line in the war over the legitimacy of the 2020 election. This fall, the Racine County sheriff recommended that five of the six members of the bipartisan Wisconsin elections commissions should be criminally charged over rules they adopted last year after hours of debate at public meetings about how to handle absentee balloting at nursing homes during the pandemic. Separately, one Republican state rep introduced a state resolution calling for members of the state elections commission and the nonpartisan state administrator of elections to resign or else, or else face efforts to remove them from office and to criminally investigate their activities.

Another Republican representative has introduced a measure to decertify President Biden`s win in the state a move that drew both public praise and private encouragement from Trump, according to aides to the former president.


Meanwhile, the head of the Republicans` legislative session ordered a judge to jail the elected Democratic mayors of Green Bay and Madison, Wisconsin. The mayor of Madison, one of the targeted mayors, tells "The Washington Post," quote, it`s both laughable and horrifying at the same time. We don`t think there`s any legal basis to this threat, but it`s a threat. I think it`s designed specifically to try to intimidate.

You start by pretending Trump won. Nothing happens. You take it far enough that you forge documents trying to make it seem like Trump won. Nothing happens.

You form one of these election audits, one of these reviews of the election results. Nothing happens. Even though the taxpayers are paying for the thing, you staff it entirely with super Trump loyalists who have literally already sued to overturn the election who have led stop the steal rallies, who are publicly committed to the cause of falsifying the results and reinstalling Trump. You staff the taxpayer-funded audit entirely with people like that, but still, getting away with it. Nothing happens.

Why wouldn`t you see how far you can push it or arrest elections officials? Why wouldn`t you try to arrest mayors in Democratic cities? You`ve gotten this far, nothing`s happened to you. Why wouldn`t you just keep pushing it?

The Republicans in the Wisconsin state legislature announced last week they`re keeping their election audit, their election review going into 2022, and they`re going to give it more taxpayer funding. They were going to finish it this year, but, come on, it`s going so good.

We have been watching this slow motion collapse in Wisconsin pretty closely. I think it`s important to know that Wisconsin`s watching it pretty closely too, and there is real pushback.

"The Journal sentinel" editorial board recently sang the praises of this one Republican state senator who`s refusing to go along with what the rest of the party is doing. Her name is State Senator Kathy Bernier.


STATE SEN. KATHY BERNIER (R), WISCONSIN: This is a charade. There`s a simple explanation for almost every single thing that people accuse election officials of doing. These made-up things that people do to jazz up the base is just despicable, and I don`t think any elected legislator should ever play that game.

We have a great system here, and no one should falsely accuse election officials of cheating. They say, but we don`t have confidence in Milwaukee and we don`t have confidence in Madison. Just remember, you take it down to the micro level, there are volunteer poll workers, practically volunteer, working every single poll. And every single poll has people that are just as honest as you and I working that poll.

No election is perfect, but there is not evidence of intentional malfeasance, no evidence that the election in 2020 was inaccurate.

When Benjamin Franklin came out of the convention and our Constitution was created, he was asked, what kind of a government do we have? And he said a republic, if we can keep it. We`re in jeopardy of losing it.


MADDOW: Wisconsin Republican State Senator Kathy Bernier, standing up to what the other members of her party are doing there. She is paying the price for it. She tweeted this week about how all the right-wing demands in her party for her resignation because of the stance she`s taking. She said all those right wing demands for her resignation are making her reconsider her plans to retire. She says that`s motivation.

But other people in the state, other important institutions in the state are standing up for her. She is, for example, getting bold headline support from newspapers like "The Journal Sentinel." "The Capital Times" in Madison just announced a Republican review there as a, quote, train wreck, saying it`s staffed by a team of legal misfits so loony, even Trump avoids associating with them.

"The Wisconsin State Journal" just editorialized against U.S. Senator Ron Johnson who has encouraged the state`s Republicans not only to keep pretending Trump won, to keep it up with erring they`re doing, just screw with the state`s elections, he`s encouraged to have Republicans in the legislature just fully take control of all elections administration in the state now. Senator Johnson is just telling them o claim the power to do it and proclaim they`re in charge and take over.


Just in time, it should be noted, for his re-election campaign for the U.S. Senate which is happening this upcoming year. This stuff appreciably crazy right now in Wisconsin.

We should have seen it coming a year ago when ten Wisconsin Republicans literally forged documents and impersonated electors to make it look like Trump won their state so they could be substituted as the Wisconsin electors if the January 6th plot worked.

We should have seen it coming when they tried that. We definitely should have seen it coming with had they faced zero consequences for doing that. If you give them an inch, they will take a mile, and now this apparently is the marathon.

The fight back, though, is also real and it`s important for the whole country to see that. We have more on that ahead. Stay with us.


MADDOW: A year ago when ten Republicans in the state of Wisconsin forged election documents and tried to proclaim themselves to be fake electors for Donald Trump in the Electoral College instead of state`s real ones for Joe Biden, an attorney from a group called Law Forward in Wisconsin wrote to the Milwaukee County district attorney in the state`s election commission and referred those Republicans for potential criminal prosecution for, among other things, forgery, because they did forge documents that were designed to make it look like they were the real electors when they were not.


That doesn`t seem to have gone anywhere as far as we can tell, but once you get away with trying something like that, that might be an incentive for things to get worse, and things in Wisconsin have gotten considerably worse on this front ever since.

Joining us now to talk about the fight back is Jeffrey Mandell. He`s the president and lead counsel of Law Forward.

Mr. Mandell, thank you for joining us tonight. Appreciate you being here.

JEFFREY MANDELL, PRESIDENT, LAW FORWARD: Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: So we`ve been watching these dynamics play out in Wisconsin from afar. Let me ask you if I`ve screwed any of this up in the telling or gotten any of it the wrong way around.

MANDELL: No. You really -- you`ve gotten it right, Rachel, and you did something super important, which is you`ve connected the dots. Because the two things in your intro that struck me the hardest were the concept that this is metastasizing and things are in Wisconsin are now appreciably crazy. And both of those things are exactly right. What`s happening in Wisconsin is we`re having lots of individual issues that people are treating as individual issues, but they`re not. They`re all connected.

So you connecting those dots is incredibly helpful because it shows how profound the danger to our democracy in Wisconsin is.

MADDOW: Tell me about the decision that you and the group you`re part of made back in February to ask Milwaukee County`s district attorney to open a criminal investigation into what they tried to pull off around those electors. That was referred to the county D.A. there in Milwaukee and also to the state`s election commission.

We looked into it. We`ve been unable to determine if any investigation was ever opened, if any state or local prosecutors are investigating this event.

Do you know if anybody ever followed up on it? Is it a dead letter or is this potentially still a live question?

MANDELL: Well, I believe it`s still a live question. I should note that law forward is a nonprofit law firm dedicated to democracy in Wisconsin. So we don`t do things just on our own. This is an effort we you understand took with the Service Employees International Union. They`re our client in Wisconsin on this issue and they have said they thought it was incredibly important to seek some accountability for exactly the reasons that you outlined in your introduction.

And we felt -- we agreed with them. It is vital. Not enough people knew that this happened. In fact, it`s not clear to me that the district attorney`s office even knew that this had happened in the shadows of the capitol on December 14th. And so we wanted to bring attention to this and we did that by asking the Wisconsin Elections Commission to undertake a civil investigation by asking the Milwaukee district attorney`s office to undertake a criminal investigation, and by asking the Office of Lawyer Regulation in Wisconsin, which regulates ethics rules for lawyers to investigate and determine whether one of the fraudulent electors, who is a member of the barks might have violated legal ethics rules.

To date, we haven`t heard anything back. As you note, it`s been more than ten months. But we do believe that the Wisconsin Elections Commission is actively working on this because there was a meeting in late October where Mr. Spindell, one of the commissioners and also one of the fraudulent electors referenced the fact that they had been discussing this in closed session.

MADDOW: Am I right that he is trying to avoid recusing himself from that group`s own decision about whether or not there should be action taken in response to the fraudulent electors thing? I mean, he was one of the fraudulent electors. He wants to participate in the decision-making of what should happen to himself?

MANDELL: Well, it`s a little bit hard to tell. I think that that`s the best we understand. What we did ask the elections commission, we filed a motion asking that Mr. Spindell recuse himself. There was a briefing schedule where everybody who had a view on this was supposed to share that view with the elections commission. Mr. Spindell didn`t submit arguments or briefing.

But then in late October there was a meeting where he indeed complaining about the idea of how to recuse himself, but really not sure. But I think as your laughter points out, it`s fundamental to American justice that one does not get to be the judge in one`s own case. And so Mr. Spindell was one of the fraudulent electors. He should not be entitled to determine whether what they did was proper or not.

MADDOW: Mr. Mandell, one of the other things going on here, one of the things -- the reason I wanted to talk to you tonight is because of the manifest escalation in terms of how radical the Republicans have become on this issue and really how, I would say, emboldened I think they`ve been in my hypothesis, that is because of lack of consequences for everything they`ve tried thus far, even as it`s increasingly pushing the envelope. As I understand it, you also represent the mayor of Green Bay, the guy who`s conducting this review is threatening to jail your client.

That seems to me -- threatening to put a mayor in jail for not going along in a way that the investigation finds compelling, that would seem to me to be a significant escalation. But I wonder from the inside of that fight, that sort of feels like the next rung on the ladder and not a major escalation.

MANDELL: It does feel like a major escalation, Rachel. Yes, we represent the city of Green Bay and Green Bay officials who are really proud of holding a full, fair, free, safe, secure election in the midst of a pandemic that Wisconsin law was not prepared for. And they did everything right in holding this election.

The investigation is baseless. There have been just a legion of challenges, lawsuits, complaints to the elections commission, complaints to the Green Bay ethics commission, and thus far every single one of them has been turned away.

Now we have Mr. Gableman who is leading this investigation for the Wisconsin legislature, and he does not have the authority under Wisconsin law, we believe, it`s pretty clear that he does not have the authority to compel people to sit for private depositions. He can compel people to testify to the legislature, but he is attempting to jail the mayors of Madison, Wisconsin, and green bay, Wisconsin, the second and third largest cities in the state. He`s attempting to jail them because they will not sit for these extralegal depositions in some kind of contemporary Star Chamber in an office building that he has rented space in the suburbs.

MADDOW: Jeffrey Mandell is president and lead counsel of Law Forward, who is absolutely part of this fight that is fully joined in Wisconsin -- thank you for helping us understand what`s going on in your state tonight, sir. It`s nice to have you here. Thank you.

MANDELL: Thank you. Have a great night.

MADDOW: We have much more ahead here tonight. Stay with us.



MADDOW: Look at these cars. This was Miami, Florida, today, everybody sitting in that long, long, long line of cars waiting to get a COVID test. This was a testing line in Boston Massachusetts today where it was cold.

Boston`s airport at Logan, people have been lining up for tests inside the terminal. Yesterday, the line in Washington, D.C., for tests curved all the way around Farragut Square, all these people queuing up to get COVID tested.

By nightfall last night, people were still in lines across the city. This was outside one fire house in D.C. that was offering testing.

This was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the line stretching all the way around the block, and again, it was cold. This was New York Times Square, busiest part of America`s largest city. That is a COVID testing line today. So many people showed up, they had to set up stanchions to control the line.

If you tried to get COVID tests in the last week or so, chances are you have waded in one of these massive lines, or you spent time trying to an open appointment anywhere where you live, or maybe you`ve gone in and out of the drug stores to see if there`s any at-home tests magically still on the shelves.

Two of the biggest drugstore chains in the country, CVS and Walgreens are reportedly overwhelmed by the demand if the at-home COVID tests. The stores have struggled to keep these kits in stock. Supplies are dry online as well.

Well, today from the White House, President Biden announced new measures the White House will be taking in the next few weeks to try to make testing more wildly available and easier to get. The president said the U.S. government will be buying 500 million of those at-home test kits and will mail them for free to any American who wants one. That is set to start next month in January. That seems like a big undertaking.

The president also announced today the administration will be opening new federal testing sites across the country. One of those facilities was open in New York City before the end of this week and it`s already Tuesday. The president today also tried to reassure those of us having flashbacks to what life was like at the start of the pandemic. He said today that despite this new surgery, we are in a much different position than we were two years ago.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Another question that folks are asking is, are we going back to March 2020? Not last March 2021, but March 2020 when the pandemic first hit. That`s what I keep getting asked. The answer is absolutely no, no. This is not arch of 2020, 200 million people are fully vaccinated.

We`re prepared. We know more. We just have to stay focused.


MADDOW: We do have tools to fight the virus today that we did not have at the start of this pandemic. We have these miraculous vaccines. We have boosters. We have at-home tests when you can get one. We have ready supplies of things as basic as gowns and gloves and masks and ventilators. We have some drugs that seem to work as treatment if you get infected, drugs that work some of the time if you get them early.

So, in all those important ways, no, it is certainly not March of 2020 when it felt like the world was collapsing in on itself, but knowing that we`ve got all those tools, it doesn`t shake the feeling, right?


It doesn`t really shake the deja vu.

Joining us is Dr. David Kessler. He has been a frequent source of guidance for this show. He is the top science adviser to the Biden administration`s COVID response.

Dr. Kessler, as always, it`s an honor to have some of your time. Thanks for making time to be here tonight.


MADDOW: We`ve talked a couple of times in the last couple of weeks about the emerging body of knowledge that could help us understand the current state of the pandemic, the effects of this new variant, the omicron variant. We now know that it is the majority of COVID that is circulating in the country.

Do we know more about the effectiveness of our vaccines against it? Do we know more about whether it is less severe, less likely to cause severe illness in people who do get infected?

KESSLER: Omicron is among the most highly transmissible respiratory viruses in our memory. The number of cases is exploding. But the most important thing is that vaccines and boosters work.

We have to understand what`s going on. And what will happen. It will be a lot of breakthrough cases. If you`ve been vaccinated and boosted, you may get infected, but you will likely have mild symptoms. There`s always in biology -- there`s always exceptions.

In vaccinated, not boosted individuals, there are going to be breakthrough cases, it will be symptomatic.

It`s the unvaccinated that I lose sleep at, because it`s the unvaccinated who are in the intensive care units today. This variant is going to infect record numbers of people. The vaccines and boosters prevent serious complications.

MADDOW: For unvaccinated people who get infected with this variant, who get infected with this mutated strain of the coronavirus, do we know whether they are any less likely to be severely ill than if they had been infected with delta or with the original strain of COVID that we contended with?

KESSLER: So, let me tell you exactly what I know. I have sat for days with our scientific colleagues from South Africa. There are fewer hospitalizations per case in South Africa. There`s fewer ICU admissions. There`s shorter length of stays. There`s no increase in the oxygen requirements. So, all that suggests that it may be less severe.

Now, that may be due to different demographics in South Africa, different rates of natural immunity, or maybe it`s the virus itself, or it may be a combination. Some of the initial animal work that I am seeing, it`s very, very preliminary, suggests that maybe, maybe, you know, it is -- it may be slightly less severe. But we have to confirm that.

Look, we`re going to know in the next week or two. Cases are increasing rapidly. We`re keeping an eye on the number of hospitalizations. The difference between us and South Africa is clearly that we`re starting with a higher baseline. We`re starting with a lot more cases of delta and a lot more people in the hospital.

So what worries me, even if it ends up being less severe -- I mean, if you have fewer hospitalizations per case, but you have more cases, you`re going to still have more hospitalizations and that`s on top of delta. We`re going to get through this, but the most important thing, as the president said today, is that vaccines and booster work. It doesn`t mean you`re not going to get infected, but you`re going to do well through this, symptoms will be milder, maybe even asymptomatic.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, to hear you say that the numbers are exploding or they are going to explode, that there is going to be a massive number of new infections, I think Americans watching this tonight hearing you say that in your very sober, very clear way want to know how much they should change their lives to account for this new reality and for these prospects that are now bearing down on us. If people have been vaccinated and boosted, should they not change their holiday plans? Should they assume that they`re as protected as they can be and it`s safe to travel, it`s safe to see people?

Obviously, people who are unvaccinated are in a very difficult, very dangerous position right now. People who are not boosted yet need to get boosted in order to have the kind of immunity you`re talking about. But for people that have been vaccinated and boosted, should they keep their plans or should they drop them?

KESSLER: Risk is a matter of personal, individual assessment. If something`s important for you to do, of course, go do it. Be vaccinated, be boosted, wear a mask, wear a good-quality mask.


If it`s important, go do it.

But, Rachel, I said last week and I still believe it, that the most important thing is we have to up the level of vigilance at least for the next number of weeks. It`s an individual choice that we each have to make.

I certainly am being more careful and that`s what I would advice.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, I`m going to let you go now. I know your time is precious. If you wouldn`t mind coming back sometime soon, I`d love to talk with you in particular about treatment. We`ve talked a lot about monoclonal antibodies, the antiviral pills that are now being considered as treatments by the FDA. I`d love to talk to you more about future treatments or treatments we`ve got or ones on the horizon will offer us hope here, too.

KESSLER: I`d be happy to do that. I can tell you my colleagues at FDA are working hard tonight on exactly that. So more to come, Rachel.

MADDOW: Dr. David Kessler, the chief science advisor to the Biden`s administration`s COVID response -- Dr. Kessler, as always, it`s an honor. Thank you, sir.

KESSLER: Thank you.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.



MADDOW: So yesterday, it looked like it was all over. Today, maybe not. Democrat the have spent the last 48 hours working to try to save President Biden`s build back better agenda, even though Joe Manchin said on Fox News this weekend that he was a no vote on it which would theoretically mean it`s dead.

Well, the chair of the Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, was our guest last night after she spoke with Manchin earlier in the day yesterday. Today, Congresswoman Jayapal reportedly spoke with Senator Manchin again and she tells "The Washington Post`s" Greg Sargent, that what she asked Senator Manchin to do is basically go line by line through build back better and say what he doesn`t like and doesn`t agree to, what he won`t support.

Whether or not Senator Manchin is going to go along with that remains to be seen but there are signs now that he may still be willing to negotiate and that this thing isn`t actually over. Tonight, just before we got on the air, Senate Democrats all called into a special caucus meeting to try to hash this out and for most of the day today was an open question whether or not Senator Manchin would join that call.

Well, this hour, NBC News confirms that Senator Manchin did in fact, join that Democratic strategy call. So he showed up to talk. There is that.

Watch this space.


MADDOW: So today was the shortest day of the year, the least amount of sunlight you will experience all year long, which feels heavy. I know. It certainly feels dark.

But you know what? Here is the real news. Tonight, the darkness will be shorter than it was last night, maybe only by a second or two depending on where you are in out beloved northern hemisphere. It starts getting -- the nights start getting shorter tonight and from here on out, every single night will get a little shorter than that. Every day we`ll get a little more sun, we`ll get a little bit more light. We`re round the corner and heading home. Here we go.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.