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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/27/21

Guests: Colby Itkowitz, Lonna Cave, Dave Chokshi, Eugene Daniels, Mat Kaplan


The defiant far-right acolytes of former President Donald Trump in the House Republican caucus have embarked on a targeted campaign ahead of the midterm elections to expand their ranks and extend their power on Capitol Hill. CDC shortens recommended COVID isolation, quarantine time to five days. In his first year as president, Joe Biden, with the help of Senate Democrats, has managed to confirm more federal judges than any president has in their first year since Ronald Reagan.



CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" on this Monday night.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ayman Mohyeldin in for Rachel.

Good evening, Ayman.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Hey, Chris, thank you so much. Greatly appreciate it.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel has the night off but we have a lot to get to tonight.

Tonight, there is new guidance from the CDC shortening the recommended isolation time if you test positive for COVID-19. Now, before tonight, you may recall the recommendation had been to isolate for ten days, but now the CDC is saying you only need to isolate for five days as long as you are asymptomatic at that five-day point, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around other people.

Now, this new guidance comes as the omicron variant sends daily case loads to record levels in parts of the United States. Today, President Biden joined a call between his White House COVID response team and state governors and the president acknowledged that the administration has not done enough to make COVID tests available. We`re going to have a lot more on all of that tonight.

Also, we`re going to have a few bits of good news for the White House as this year winds down.

Plus, we even have some news from outer space. Yeah, outer space.

But we begin tonight with the investigation into the January 6th attack on the Capitol and what is shaping up to be a very busy start to the new year for the congressional committee that is actually carrying it out. Now, before the holidays there was a flurry of developments in this investigation. In fact, the January 6th committee for the first time turned its sights on fellow members of Congress, requesting documents and testimony from two Republicans, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Jim Jordan of Ohio.

Leading up to the January 6th insurrection, both congressmen were deeply involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and, in fact, keep President Trump in power.

Now, we also learned just before Christmas that the committee had subpoenaed the bank records of at least one Trump campaign official. The bank subpoena was actually revealed in a desperate Christmas Eve lawsuit filed by Donald Trump`s spokesman trying to block the committee from getting his financial records. That lawsuit also revealed that Trump`s spokesman has been cooperating with the investigation, handing over 1,700 pages of documents and testifying for four hours. But the committee says it actually wants to know more about hundreds of thousands of dollars that Trump`s spokesman allegedly arranged for a social media and radio advertising campaign encouraging people to attend Trump`s rally on January 6th.

Now, even as the committee pushes ahead on uncovering the funding behind the events of January 6th, it is also still pursuing records from the Trump White House about that day.

Now, after Donald Trump last week asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the January 6th investigation from getting access to his White House records, the committee is asking the high court to make a decision quickly, by the middle of next month, as to whether it will actually take up the case or not.

Now, if the Supreme Court does not take the case, Trump would essentially be out of options here as every lower court has already ruled that the documents must be turned over to the committee.

Now, part of Trump`s strategy therefore appears to be delaying a final ruling on the issue as long as possible, perhaps even until 2023 when some hope Republicans will take control of the House and put an end to the January 6th committee entirely.

Now, with that possibility looming in the background, the committee tells the Supreme Court that any delay in considering the case would, quote, inflict a serious injury on the committee and the public. And just today, we have new reporting about what specifically the investigation wants to look at in those White House records.

"The Guardian" reporting that the committee is particularly interested in a phone call that President Trump allegedly placed the night before the attack to some of his top allies, who were all gathering at the Willard Hotel. They include among them, Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon.

Now, according to "The Guardian", President Trump called them the night of January 5th to discuss ways to stop the certification of Joe Biden`s victory the very next day, that was scheduled to take place in Congress. January 6th Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told "The Guardian," quote, if we get the information we requested from the White House those calls potentially will be reflected to the Willard Hotel and whomever.

Now, there`s also new reporting today about what the public are going to see from the January 6th investigation next year. "The Washington Post" is reporting that the committee is actually discussing a rough timeline of how it wants to roll out its findings to the public, writing in part, quote, public hearings starting in the winter and stretching into spring followed by an interim report in the summer and perhaps a final report ahead of November`s elections.

The committee is aiming for, quote, a dramatic presentation of the behind- the-scenes maneuvering by Trump, his allies and anyone involved in the attack or anyone involved in the attempt to overturn the election results.

A senior committee aide tells "The Post", quote, we want to tell it from start to finish over a series of weeks where we can bring out the best witnesses in a way that makes the most sense. Our legacy piece and final product will be the select committee`s report.

Now, as we await those public hearings and that report, and as the country approaches the one-year anniversary of the attack, the "Wall Street Journal" is reporting today on what the aftermath of January 6th has done to Congress and the people who work in it.

Quote: In interviews with more than four dozen lawmakers and congressional aides, people of all political stripes say the house has become a deeply unpleasant place to work with simmering ill-feeling and a series of ugly incidents fraying remaining bipartisan ties. Today, magnetometers meant to detect weapons beep regularly as house lawmakers enter and exit the chamber, serving as a regular reminder of the attack.

Adding to this stress, threats of violence have risen against members of both parties in the House and Senate. In fact, the U.S. capitol police chief expects the agency will have handled more than 9,000 threats in 2021. That is more than double, double the number of threats they handled just four years ago.

Quote, so far, the bitter fighting this year hasn`t turned physical, and it is important to note here the "Journal`s" use of the word so far. If anything, the next congressional elections look poised to make the atmosphere in the halls of Congress even worse.

Here`s from Colby Itkowitz at "The Washington Post." Quote: The defiant far-right acolytes of former President Donald Trump in the House Republican caucus have embarked on a targeted campaign ahead of the midterm elections to expand their ranks and extend their power on Capitol Hill. The effort backed by Trump and guided by House members such as Georgia`s Marjorie Taylor Greene and North Carolina`s Marjorie Cawthorn is part of the movement to purge the GOP of those not deemed loyal to the former president and his false claims that the 2020 election was, in fact, rigged in favor of Joe Biden.

Candidates seeking Trump`s approval meet with him at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where he peppers them with questions to test their MAGA bona fides. To secure the endorsement of high-profile MAGA figures like Cawthorn, Greene or Trump himself, the candidates must push the unfounded claim that the 2020 election was stolen and show complete fealty to the former president.

Joining us now is Colby Itkowitz, national politics reporter for "The Washington Post."

Colby, it`s great to have you with us. Thank you so much for joining us this evening.

So, explain this to me. Tell me how the plan is supposed to work. How exactly are these MAGA members of Congress going about trying to increase their ranks ahead of the mid terms?

COLBY ITKOWITZ, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Sure. So there`s actually only a small number of what we would call truly Trump`s foot soldiers in Congress, and you named a few of them, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, Matt Gates and Lauren Boebert.

What they want to do, rather than going after Democrats like you would in a traditional campaign and trying to flip seats to gain a majority, what they want to do is going after those they think is not loyal to Trump. Maybe they voted for his impeachment, maybe they voted for the infrastructure bill, but they want to create a Republican caucus in Congress that is completely devoted to Trump and have them in place for 2024 in the event that he runs.

MOHYELDIN: So can you just -- talk to me a little bit about these MAGA members of Congress and the new candidates that they`re supporting and how they see themselves different from other Republicans. I mean, are they using policy issues here? I mean to an outside observer, most House Republicans look like, you know, pretty strong Trump supporters. Over half of them voted not to certify Joe Biden`s win.

So I`m curious, based on your reporting is there a set of policy issues or is it just about fealty to Donald Trump and the big lie?

ITKOWITZ: You`re absolutely right. There`s a thin line between a true MAGA Republican and all of the other Republicans who do tend to fall in line with President Trump. But these are people who you go on their social media, you go on their campaign website and the first thing you do is pro- Trump, America first. All of the kind of code words that those members, the members like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Matt Gaetz use. They talk a lot about election integrity.

Now, election integrity, of course, is code in MAGA world for the belief, the false belief that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. A lot of them are younger. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Steve Bannon have talked about this. They want to create a new generation of Trump supporters, and so they`re going after kind of essential casting, a lot of white millennial men, college athletes, veterans, they sit apart and kind of talk the talk. They speak in kind of broad populous terms about the working class, the way that Donald Trump did, but they also really engage in those culture wars.

They talk about transgender laws and critical race theory, immigration, a big thing still, the border for Trump and MAGA world. So those are some of the things that Trump and his people in Congress are looking for in these candidates.

MOHYELDIN: So if, you know, Colby, you look ahead to the year ahead of us and Republicans do manage to take back the House next year one way or the other and the MAGA squad does increase its numbers, do you have any sense of what they want to do with their increased power? We were just talking about one of the things that is assumed, they probably want to shut down the January 6th committee, but do you have any other sense of what they want to do or what they say they want to do with their power if they do, in fact, get into power?

ITKOWITZ; Well, I interviewed a number of these candidates, and one of the candidates, Joe Kent, who is running in Washington state, said the first thing he wants the Republicans to do is bring up articles of impeachment against President Biden and also to create a congressional inquiry into the 2020 campaign. So that`s how they want to spend their time and they`re not looking at real policy here. They`re looking to shame Republicans who are not loyal enough to Trump, embarrass Biden and try to weaken him before the 2024 election, to try to prop up Trump in the event he does, in fact, run again.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah, it is just one more reminder of what a big segment of the Republican Party has become. Colby Itkowitz, national politics reporter for "The Washington Post" -- thank you so much for your time this evening.

ITKOWITZ: Thanks for having me.

MOHYELDIN: And, of course, the investigators on the January 6th committee are not only the ones trying to get to the bottom of what transpired on that day. The family of Rosanne Boyland who died on the steps of the U.S. Capitol wants to see those responsible for stoking the big lie and planning the January 6th rally held accountable.

Now, as I documented in my recent MSNBC podcast "American Radical", Rosanne Boyland drove up to Washington, D.C. from Georgia to attend Trump`s rally on January 6th. She was one of four people who died at the capitol that day, but to this day, her family remains unsure how Boyland ended up there.

Now, Boyland`s younger sister, Blaire, told me she believes that former president Trump actually played a decisive role in her sister`s journey to Washington and ultimately her death.


MOHYELDIN: Do you think there is a direct correlation between President Trump and what he was saying about the election fraud and what your sister believed?

BLAIRE BOYLAND, SISTER OF ROSANNE BOYLAND: Oh, yeah, definitely. I think, you know, if he hadn`t have said anything, I mean there wouldn`t even have been an event up in D.C. on January 6th. So she wouldn`t have been there and she wouldn`t have died.


MOHYELDIN: Now, Boyland`s older sister Lonna and her brother-in-law Justin believe January 6th was, in fact, a terrorist attack, but they believe that people like Boyland were lured to the Capitol and those who promoted the rally need to be held accountable for her death as well.


LONNA CAVE, SISTER OF ROSANNE BOYLAND: I don`t want her to go down as some crazed Trump fanatic terrorist person because that`s not the person that she was. And when my daughters grow up and learn about this in history class, I don`t want them to automatically tie Rosanne with this terrorism event.

JUSTINE CAVE, BROTHER IN LAW: You know, for me, in regards to January 6th and all of the people that died and injured up there, both Trump supporters and the Metro and Capitol police, we owe it to them and to ourselves to find out who really is behind this and how it happened, because this was, you know, an act of terrorism. Like I said, we don`t think that Rosanne was a terrorist.


MOHYELDIN: Now, as we approach the first anniversary of their sister`s death, over 700 rioters have been charged for their actions on January 6th, but neither the former president or any members of his inner circle have yet been held to account for inciting the event of that day.

Joining me now is Lonna Cave. Her younger sister Rosanne Boyland died during the January 6th attack.

Lonna, thank you so much for sharing your sister`s story with me and for making the time to join us tonight. Next week I know will mark the first anniversary of your sister`s death in the Capitol. I know you celebrated Christmas a few days ago and it was the first Christmas without her.

How are you and the family feeling?

CAVE: Well, it was rough obviously. Blaire and my brother-in-law have the COVID, so it was awkward that way, and then also Rosanne wasn`t there.


So it is kind of, you know, the crap shoot that is 2021, I suppose.

MOHYELDIN: I know we`ve been talking a lot about accountability, and I wanted to hear from you what accountability for Rosanne`s death and for the riot look like, not just for you and your family but for others that you are speaking out on behalf.

Do you believe there will eventually be some form of accountability from the highest levels of government all the way down?

CAVE: I mean, I would like to think that there will be, but -- I mean, I`m not holding my breath. I feel like people with power usually find a way of finagling out of things. So, I don`t know. I hope so.

MOHYELDIN: You and I have been -- I was going to say you and I have been talking throughout the course of the year, but has the January 6th committee reached out to you? Have they been in contact with you or anyone else in your family? Has anyone from any investigative authority been in touch with you to talk about accountability and trying to get answers about that day?

CAVE: No. No, we have not talked to anyone. You know, there`s been a lot of misconceptions as to why, you know, I spoke out and we -- yeah, we`ve not received anything from anyone.

MOHYELDIN: Well, tell me a little bit why you have decided to speak out. Why is this important for you to try and get to the bottom of how your sister was lured to the Capitol that day and who is ultimately responsible for it?

CAVE: Yes, of course. So, you know, Rosanne didn`t radicalize herself I think is the main thing that people are not really like addressing. There`s millions of people in this country that all believe the same thing, and from everyone that I spoke to on that day or since then that was there that day, all of them, all love their country, but they were just, you know, ill-informed as to what was really going on and why they were going there or, you know, the disinformation about the big lie, the steal. I think that they were just used as pawns and there`s the potential for it to happen again.

MOHYELDIN: You say they were used, you know, like pawns. I know the committee has interviewed hundreds of people in its probe so far and a couple of Trump allies have, in fact, been referred to the Justice Department for contempt of Congress already.

The committee does plan to hold, you know, weeks worth of public hearings next year. Talk to me about how you feel about the committee and the work the committee is doing so far. Has it been enough? Are they moving at an appropriate pace?

CAVE: I don`t think that -- I think they`re doing a great job. I just wish that they maybe made it more open to the public, transparency. I think that`s how a lot of conspiracy theories and stuff evolve because of it being, you know, behind closed doors. So then there`s all this room for people to make up stories as to what is going on, and so I think that they are doing a good job in holding people accountable, but I think, yeah, it just needs to be a little bit more transparent.

MOHYELDIN: You know, as I mentioned, Lonna, we have been working on this podcast for the better part of a year. It has just come out. All five of the episodes are available.

What has your life been like since the podcast came out and it has received the public reaction that it has received? Have you received any new information about the events leading up to your sister`s death?

CAVE: I have not received any new information. I have received a lot of hate mail and texts and people criticizing me and saying that I`m defending these terrorists and trying to make excuses for my sister when in reality that`s not the case. You know, the whole reason why I stepped up to tell Rosanne`s story was so that other families don`t have to go through this like we have.

You know, it was very traumatic for the country and for our family, and I think that this movement that`s going on poses a real threat to our democracy. We need to really address it at the core, which is who is behind this movement and how do we stop it.

MOHYELDIN: Are you at all concerned? Is your family at all concerned? I know you were talking about this a little bit right now, saying that you don`t want something like this to happen to another family. But are you at all concerned the events of January 6th and how close our democracy got to being derailed could happen again if there is no accountability?


CAVE: Yes, yes. I think that it can totally happen again, especially if people don`t start thinking that this is like a serious threat, because it is. You know, there`s millions of people that believe in this movement, and they`re basically using disinformation and scare tactics to turn grandparents into terrorists, and it`s happening -- the radicalization is happening on a widespread level and at a very alarming rate.

MOHYELDIN: Lonna Cave, I know this has been a very hard time for you and your family given the fact you are celebrating the holidays for the first time without her. So thank you so much for making time for us this evening.

Lonna Cave whose sister Rosanne Boyland died at the Capitol on January 6th, thank you again for joining us and sharing your story.

BOYLAND: Thanks.

MOHYELDIN: And, of course, if you are interested in learning more what led Rosanne Boyland to the Capitol that day, make sure to listen to MSNBC`s "American Radical" hosted by me. All episodes are available wherever your get your podcasts.

We have a lot more ahead, including breaking news from the CDC tonight about how long people who test positive for COVID should isolate. And we`ve got some good news for the White House as well.

Stay with us. We`re just getting started.


MOHYELDIN: Just last week, the CDC updated guidance for health care workers who catch COVID, shortening their isolation period from ten days to seven, and now tonight the CDC has released an update for the general public.

Now, if you test positive for COVID you can quarantine for just five days as opposed to the original ten days as long as you are asymptomatic. Now, the CDC recommends that you can actually continue to wear a mask for another five days after those initial five days. The new guidance though is not without its criticism, we should note, with some arguing that a negative test should also be required before leaving isolation and returning back to society. But it is apparently aimed at mitigating the virus`s impact on society, even as omicron tears through this country threatening to push us past last year`s case record.

Now, you may remember that in January of last year, we recorded over 300,000 cases in a single day as cases reached new heights hospitalizations did too and so did deaths. Hospitals were overrun and staff out sick and needing to isolating, increasing the strain on our health care systems. Now, one year later we may actually top that record, believe it or not.

The newly retired director of the national institutes of health, Dr. Francis Collins, predicts we could see up to 1 million new cases in a single day in this country. In the face of that frightening case load that may lie ahead, many people have felt buoyed by the early data out of South Africa and the U.K. which indicates that omicron so far -- the emphasis here is so far -- seems less severe than the previous strains. This weekend Dr. Fauci offered this word of caution. Watch.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The issue that we don`t want to get complacent about, John, is that when you have such a high volume of new infections, it might override a real diminution in severity, so that if you have many, many more people with a less level of severity, that might kind of neutralize the positive effect of having less severity when you have so many more people.


MOHYELDIN: Meaning even if only 2 percent of people who catch omicron require hospitalization, if we have 1 million new cases a day, that is 20,000 new people needing hospital beds daily in hospitals that are already stretched thin as a result of the pandemic. Now, U.S. hospitalizations are trending upwards with a 10 percent increase just in the past week alone.

Take New York, for example. One of the state`s most steeply sprinting up that COVID case charts, hospitalizations, well, as you can expect are rising too with a 32 percent increase just over the past two weeks, including an uptick in hospitalized children unfortunately.

New York City has been asking for federal help for more than a week, seeking testing sites as New Yorkers lined up in the cold for hours waiting to get tested so they knew whether to isolate themselves ahead of the holidays or, in fact, to do their part and stay at home and slow the spread down.

Today, President Biden spoke with the National Governors Association. In fact, he told them, quote, if you need something, say something. He reminded them that he ordered FEMA to set up six new pop-up testing sites here in New York City. Now, those opened last week. President Biden promised today that more are actually coming.

But here is the question. Will it be enough to help contain this variant?

Joining us now is Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Doctor, great to have you with us and thank you for joining us tonight.

There`s a lot to cover here, a lot of new ground we are talking about. But let`s start with today. The CDC shortening the length of isolation for those who test positive, decreasing it from ten days to five initially. What do you think of this change?

DR. DAVE CHOKSHI, NYC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Yes, what the CDC announced today tracks with something that New York state and city announced last week, which was similarly to shorten the isolation period. Although our focus was on people who are fully vaccinated and specifically for health care and other critical workers because that`s where the evidence is the strongest with respect to full vaccination and where the need is the greatest in terms of critical workers, particularly in our hospitals to make sure that people are getting good care.


MOHYELDIN: One of the points few have made and questioned is whether or not the CDC should have required a negative test in order for people to leave isolation. As it stands right now and as I have read it, the CDC is saying after five days if you are asymptomatic you can return, but it doesn`t specifically say you have to test negative with a rapid antigen test.

What do you make of that?

CHOKSHI: Yes, this is a very reasonable question, and it is true that a negative antigen test would provide an additional layer of safety to ensure that someone is not infectious, meaning they`re not contagious as they exit from their isolation window.

But some of the other parts of what the CDC has released are also very important to make sure that communities are protected given the nature of the omicron variant. I`m speaking specifically of the fact that it requires people to continue wearing masks and optimally high-quality masks like KN95s or KF94s or N95s for at least an additional five days beyond the isolation period. That`s going to be critically important to ensure that people around someone who was recently infected will remain as protected as possible.

The other important nuance is that this is only for people who are asymptomatic or who had very mild symptoms that are resolving. So, for anyone who continues to have symptoms, it is very important for them to stay home and continue isolating.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah, I think my concern and perhaps those of others is that people are going to self-interpret them as having mild symptoms and saying, oh, I can return to society after five days.

Do you worry at all about people finding loopholes or trying to justify to themselves that they can return after five days when they may not necessarily meet that threshold that doctors like you and others and experts know qualifies as asymptomatic or mild symptoms?

CHOKSHI: Yes, this is always a worry and something we have to think about when we issue public health guidance that is going to be applied in the real world, which we know can be messy and people interpret in different ways. This is one of the reasons that we really have to emphasize, you know, the other pieces of the guidance along with the fact that the isolation period is shortened. But we also want to give, you know, very clear guidance about the fact that isolation really helps, you know, making sure that people do stay home when they`re not feeling well and they complete that full five days and stay masked up.

These are reasonable things to balance some of the trade-offs and make sure that particularly as I mentioned, the critical workers, you know, the workers that we rely upon in our hospitals and other health care settings are able to go to work and care for people when we are seeing an increase in hospitalizations.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah, let me talk to you about hospitalizations for a moment before I ask you about testing, because earlier this month you told my colleague, Chris Hayes, that you actually expected hospitalizations to eventually rise. We`re actually seeing that in the data now.

How bad do things -- do you see things getting for New York City and hospitals this winter?

CHOKSHI: Yes, you know, unfortunately, this is a pattern that we`ve seen before. This is our fourth wave in New York City as well as in many different parts of the country, and we are seeing hospitalizations increase, particularly in the last few days. What I would say is that, you know, although that`s happening, they are not nearly at the level of prior waves thus far. We are at less than half of the number of patients, number of patients hospitalized in New York City compared to last winter`s surge and less than a tenth compared to the really, you know, terrifying memories that we have of March and April of 2020.

So, our hospitals are still holding, but we want to do everything that we can to prevent people from getting sick enough to have to need oxygen or other hospital care. That`s where vaccination really comes into play. We have a high level of vaccination in New York City already, in part due to everything that we`ve done to improve access and provide incentives and adopt vaccine requirements. We have to continue focusing on things like uptake of booster doses as well as the preventive measures like masking and testing and improving ventilation that can help to slow the spread in the coming weeks.


MOHYELDIN: Doctor, I got to ask you really, really quickly here. When are we going to see adequate testing in New York? We don`t have adequate testing sites. It is impossible to get an at-home test at a pharmacy in this city. How far is the city from that point of having adequate testing?

CHOKSHI: We are ramping up every day, you know, in the face of the unprecedented demand we have seen. We are doing more per capita testing than just about every other place in the country and perhaps in the world. We have 120 city sites that are up and running and we will add dozens moreover the course of this week.

And as soon as we are getting those rapid home test kits, we are distributing them to New Yorkers. So we do know there`s a huge demand for testing, but each day we are working to meet that and things will continue to get better with respect to testing capacity and access in the coming days.

MOHYELDIN: All right. Dr. Dave Chokshi, commissioner of the New York City department of health and mental hygiene. Thank you for your work and joining us tonight. Greatly appreciate it, Doctor.

CHOKSHI: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

MOHYELDIN: All right. Up next here tonight, we have much-needed good news for the Biden White House. We`re going to tell you about that when we come right back.



MOHYELDIN: So President Biden is wrapping up his first year in office at a moment of considerable uncertainty, there`s no doubt about that. The president`s legislative agenda has stalled with both his signature Build Back Better and voting rights legislation up in the air, and then you have rising omicron cases that are presenting a new test for the administration`s COVID response.

But amidst all of that uncertainty, there is some good news for the president and his party. Election experts have consistently warned that 2021 was going to be a terrible year for Democrats when it came to redrawing America`s congressional maps. But now with more than half of the new districts drawn, experts are actually starting to think the new maps could end up less tilted toward Republicans than they had previously thought.

There is also surprising news in another political arena once dominated by Republicans, and that is the federal judiciary. In fact, in his first year as president, Joe Biden, with the help of Senate Democrats, has managed to confirm more federal judges than any president has in their first year since Ronald Reagan. And President Biden`s nominees have, in fact, been far more diverse than any president in recent history.

So far, nearly 75 percent of Biden`s nominees have been women. Nearly 65 percent have been people of color. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the Biden administration is now overseeing a historic economic recovery. Jobless claims are now at a 52-year low with President Biden overseeing more job growth in his first year than any president since Jimmy Carter.

And Bloomberg projects that President Biden will also receive the biggest first-year expansion of the U.S. economy of any president since the 1970s. That`s amazing. Just today, we got the news despite growing concerns over COVID, holiday retail sales rose 8.5 percent over the last year. That is the fastest rate in 17 years, pushing sales even higher than they were before the pandemic back in 2019.

With the New Year fast approaching, how does the administration now plan to capitalize on this progress that it has made as it contends with a new COVID wave and a languishing legislative agenda on Capitol Hill?

Joining me now is Eugene Daniels, White House correspondent for "Politico" and "Playbook" co-author.

Eugene, it`s great to see you. Thank you for joining us this evening.

So, you talk to people at the White House day in and day out. What is the mood among the officials that you are talking to about what they accomplished? Because when we look back at this year from the trillion-plus dollars that have been spent, it is quite remarkable what they`ve accomplished so far. It seems like they may not be getting enough credit for. How are they interpreting this first year?

EUGENE DANIELS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yeah, I mean there`s frustration with exactly what you just said, they`re not getting enough credit for things that they`ve done, but they also seem determined to make sure people really understand what they`ve done in this first year and what they plan to do next year because, you know, in politics there`s the policy aspect of things, making sure that things get done.

But then there`s the political aspect, we have to sell it to people. Let people know exactly what you did and how you did it, and I think what they`re looking forward to over the next year, at least the next six months, is making sure people know what the infrastructure bill did for them, what the child tax credit did for them and what they want the build back better agenda to do for them as they move forward.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah, and we will talk about that in just a second. Speaking of Congress here for a moment, it is obviously going to reconvene in the New Year. It will officially become an election year. Does the White House here believe it still has the ability to pass either the Build Back Better Bill or voting rights next year? Voting rights is hot, you know, it is not getting enough attention according to some.

If so, is there a point next year it becomes impossible to pass anything because it is an election year and the gridlock that comes with it?

DANIELS: Yeah. I mean the thing is, with Build Back Better, they`re feeling more pressure than ever to get things done. There was a while where no one knew what Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia, who has been holding the car. We talked about him more in the last year than his entire legislative career, so people know the kind of things, the ins and outs of waiting to hear what he wants.

He has given them a concrete offer basically to the White House, $1.8 trillion, universal pre-K for ten years, expansion of Obamacare, some money, I think $500 billion to $600 billion to fight climate change. So, that means there`s still a lot of things that can get done, that can help change a lot of lives.

When it comes to voting rights, that one is actually probably going to be a lot more difficult. They`re feeling intense, intense pressure from outside advocates and within the administration as well to fight for, you know, lower "D" democracy.


So, that is something they have to figure out what to do, but they can`t do it with going to reconciliation with this simple majority. So, they have to figure out a way to get Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema to kind of get on board with a carve-out for the filibuster when it comes to voting rights. That one is going to be difficult.

MOHYELDIN: Let me ask you really quickly about the year ahead because we talked about the election. The White House making good economic news the centerpiece of many of the president`s statements recently. How much do you think the economy and how it is doing is going to be front and center in the election next year?

DANIELS: Huge. The economy is always big, right. It is the number one thing that voters always talk about no matter what color they are, no matter where they`re from, no matter what their socioeconomic background, it is really important to voters.

So, you can expect the administration to continue to push that the president is, like you just outlined in your intro there, has an economy that`s trying to boom and figuring out, especially after and during a pandemic which a lot of economic experts say is really impressive.

So the more that they are able to sell that to people, make people feel that, I think that`s where it really helps them when it comes to what is going to happen in November, because if they can tell people and make sure people feel those economic impacts at their kitchen tables, then that`s when you really have a winning message there.

MOHYELDIN: All right. We will see how it plays out in the New Year.

Eugene Daniels, thank you so much. Good to see you, my friend. White House correspondent for "Politico" and "Playbook" co-author spending time with us this evening -- thanks, Eugene.

Up next, something really incredible is taking place way above us right now. I will tell you about that after the break.



MOHYELDIN: So right now, there`s an incredibly expensive and delicate object heading into space, bringing decades worth of hopes and dreams of people around the world with it. In fact, the James Webb space telescope launched into space on Christmas Day, tucked inside the nose cone of the European space agency rocket. Within minutes of the launch all the rockets parts fell away. Now the telescope is on its own, heading for its home a million miles away.

But it will take the telescope a month to get there. Look at the time line. The yellow triangle on the left side of the screen is the current position of the telescope. And the farthest right object on the timeline, that is where it`s going. While it`s trying to get there the telescope will go from looking like this, to looking like this. It will take hundreds of maneuvers over four weeks for it to fully unfold unnecessary points.

If anything goes wrong at any point, there`s nothing humankind can do about it. We can`t send somebody out there to fix it. The James Webb telescope is years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget. But it has finally, finally, left earth. And should everything continue to go well, it is going to be amazing.

Joining us now, someone who has been watching and waiting for this mission for years. He is Mat Kaplan, the host of Planetary Radio, which is the Planetary Society weekly podcast devoted to space exploration. I encourage everyone to give it a listen.

Thank you so much, Mat, for being with us.

So, first of all, does it feel real yet that this thing actually got off the ground and GOP from being just a conception to a reality. This telescope, as I mentioned, billions of dollars over budget, years behind schedule. But, alas, it is in space.


So many of us have been waiting so many years. Many people from the beginning of the planning of this telescope for nearly 30 years for what is happening in space right now. And you`re right. We`ve got a long ways to go, before it is completely deployed. So far so good. There are a lot more steps ahead of us.

But, man, if it all comes together the way it`s supposed to, it is going to knock our socks off.

MOHYELDIN: So tell me a little bit about the steps you are looking forward to now. I mean, what`s the latest on the telescope progress? Have there been hiccups. What`s the scariest part of the journey in the weeks ahead?

KAPLAN: Scary is the right word. I mean, I can tell you knowing some of the scientists and engineers behind it, they are thrilled. But it is an anxious time, because they know how much is left to be done.

What we have seen so far is the deployment of the solar panel, and the antenna that is capable of sending lots of data, because these pictures take up a lot of room back to earth. That happened automatically.

What`s about to start as soon as tomorrow is the deployment of this gigantic tennis court-sized five layer solar shield, which you can see in the animation right now beginning to unfold. That by itself is so complex, it`s going to take almost a week for that to happen. And there are a lot of essential steps after that.

MOHYELDIN: And I know that we can talk about this for hours. But now just tell me briefly, what is this telescope going to tell us about where we come from and whether or not we`re alone in the universe?

KAPLAN: Man, those are the two big questions that my boss Bill Nye likes to ask. You know, where do we come from? And are we alone?

This telescope if everything goes is going to go long ways for answering both those questions. It`s going to look at stuff in our own neighborhood. As close as Jupiter, maybe help us understand that thing called the great red spot. The storm that`s so mysterious.

And it`s going to help us look back maybe to just 100 million years after the beginning of the universe and reveal the very first galaxies, the first lights to light up in our universe. And tell us a lot about how the universe came to be. And how we came to be where we are.


Now, along the way, it will be looking at exoplanets, planets going around stars that are light years away. If we`re lucky, it`s going to tell us what`s in the atmosphere of the planets. And if we find things like oxygen, methane, other things that are often called bio signatures, it doesn`t mean that we have found life elsewhere, but it`s a strong piece of evidence.

MOHYELDIN: Absolutely incredible. Mat Kaplan, I`m sure we`ll be speaking to you in the weeks, months and years ahead just about this.

Mat Kaplan, host of Planetary Radio, the Planetary Society`s weekly podcast devoted to space exploration. As I mentioned, do not miss that.

Thank you, Mat. I really appreciate it.

We`ve got one more story for you here tonight. Stay with us.


MOHYELDIN: If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Even if you don`t recognize his face or his name, you are likely familiar with the words, the words of the South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. His fight for equality in the apartheid South Africa was what won him a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

But his fight for equality and justice around the world since then it was made him a truly, unique, moral and political voice. He was critical of the Reagan administration`s cozy relations with apartheid in the 80s and vehemently against the U.S. invasion of the Iraq in the early 2000s.

And even though 32 of Africa`s 54 countries still outlaw same sex relationships, Archbishop Tutu was proudly pro-LGBTQ. A decade ago, he said he would rather go to hell than a homophobic heaven, which is a pretty incredible statement for one of Africa`s most prominent religious figures.

He championed Palestinian rights, even going so far as likening their conditions under Israel`s occupation to South Africa`s apartheid.

Take your pick of an injustice around the world, and I would beat he has spoken up about it in years before it was popular to do so.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away Sunday at the age 90. I think as much as it is important to celebrate the archbishop`s role as a leader in the successful fight for equality in South Africa, it`s equally important to mourn his loss. It was one of the last globally respected moral voices in struggles for equality, all around the world today. He will be missed.

That does it for us tonight.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD". Jonathan Capehart is in for Lawrence O`Donnell.

Good evening, Jonathan.