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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/30/21

Guests: Peter Eisler, Kelly Burton, Bill McKibben

Summary

President Joe Biden warns Russian President Putin that the United States and its allies will respond decisively should Russia attack Ukraine. New congressional Maps could affect the 2022 elections.

Transcript

[21:00:09]

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: So, that does it for "ALL IN" this year. I would just say, if you`re about to go into this New Year mourning someone that you lost this year, I wanted to offer my condolences. I`ll tell you, a lot of people are thinking about people they lost this year, people that got sick this year, hardships they went through. And I hope everyone can be as kind to each other as possible and show each other grace in this New Year and struggle together for a better world.

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

Good evening, Ayman.

AYMAN MOHYELDIN, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris, and thank you very much for those very powerful words. I think we can all heed those as we go into the New Year. Happy New Year, my friend, to you and your family. Thank you.

And thanks to all of you at home for this hour. Rachel does have the night off.

But we`re actually going to start off the night in classic Rachel fashion. And we go back to the archives here. It was October 30th, 1961.

And on an island in the Russian Arctic Sea, this happened. The Soviet Union detonated the most powerful nuclear device ever tested. It remains, believe it or not, `til this day, the most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated. I know this is going to sound almost impossible to comprehend. It was 3,333 times stronger, yeah, stronger, than the bomb that was actually dropped on Hiroshima.

And because this was the height of the Cold War, because it was at the height of the arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States, the men who designed this bomb, the men who brought the Soviet Union to this glory of having the strongest nuclear device in the world, as you can imagine, they were heroes. Here is how one of those scientists, Andre Sakharov, was described in a "New York Times" profile.

In part it reads: A theoretical physicist of the stature of Oppenheimer and Teller, Sakharov gained eminence naturally, easily, and early in life as one of the fathers of the Soviet hydrogen bomb. His meteoric career earned him position, a fortune, private bodyguards and direct access to the pinnacle of the Soviet system.

And this is where Andre Sakharov could have stayed in a very comfortable position, lived life in the upper echelons of the Soviet system. But within a few years after he designed that giant hydrogen bomb, he instead started becoming a thorn in the side of the Soviet leadership. He urged the government to avoid a further arms race with the United States, fearing that it would lead to catastrophe. He argued publicly for political reforms and human rights and spoke out in defense of dissidents and even after he was arrested and sent into internal exile for years, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1975.

The Soviet leadership, well, as you can imagine, they would not let him attend that ceremony. And by the time Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev released him from exile during the reforms of the late 1980s, Sakharov was one of the most admired men in Russia. And he was known worldwide for human rights advocacy at this point.

Unfortunately, Andre Sakharov died in December 1989 just before the Soviet Union dissolved. But one of his last and greatest legacies by far was an organization that he founded shortly before his death. In fact it was called Memorial. And its goal was to reckon fully and publicly with the truth of the Soviet Union`s brutal past so that Russia would not repeat it going forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Delegates have come from more than a hundred cities across the Soviet Union for this founding convention of Memorial, an organization created to expose the brutal repression and bloodshed of the Stalin era. The heroic image of Joseph Stalin found in archives films of the `30s and `40s belies the fact that he was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people in slave labor camps as a result of artificial famines and executed under any number of purges.

After Stalin`s death in 1953, the communist party under Khrushchev began gradually discrediting the dictator`s record.

Last summer, Mikhail Gorbachev speaking before the party congress and the national television called for a monument to Stalin`s victim, encouraging the formation of Memorial.

But the organization created today may go far beyond the setting up of mere memorials to the victims of Stalin`s brutality where once statues stood in his honor.

Poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said, if we can`t save the past, Soviets can at least save the present and the future.

Dissident Andre Sakharov said Memorial should extend its aims to denounce not only Stalin but all the state`s terrorists and illegal methods of leadership.

[21:05:11]

That sort of talk alarms many communist party hardliners who feared the new movement could become a political party and a threat to the communist party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOHYELDIN: So at first glance, it might not seem obvious why a history project, an organization that is dedicated to documenting the Soviet Union`s past, would be so radical or why it would become such a major part of Andre Sakharov`s legacy. But as you heard in that report, "Nightly News" report, the communist party was immediately frayed of it, because they could see where such a project could end up.

It`s one thing to look back and criticize Stalin, who had been dead for decades. But what if they started criticizing later soviet leaders? What if they started criticizing current soviet leaders?

And sure enough, Sakharov`s movement did quickly become a threat to the current Soviet leadership. When Sakharov died less than a year after that first meeting of memorial, his funeral became a political rally and memorial, the organization Sakharov founded lived on, investigating and documenting the horrors of Soviet rule.

Memorial went on to create a complete list of all the soviet gulag camps, making an online interactive map of them. It created a searchable list of more than 3 million victims of Stalinism or their families.

But as the journalist Anne Applebaum wrote earlier this month, Memorial was, quote, not doing history for history`s sake. They were investigating Stalinism in the past precisely because they wanted to block the return of Stalinism in the present.

Toward that end, Memorial helped create public monuments to Stalin`s crime. They also began investigating modern Russian human rights violations in the present, most dramatically in Moscow`s campaign against rebels in Chechnya.

It`s a mission that has not mixed well with the increasingly authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin, who has been cracking down on dissidents and civil society for years now. And now, after more than 30 years, the Russian government has succeeded. They have shut down Memorial, Russia`s largest and most prominent human rights organization.

Now, ostensibly, Memorial`s crime was not properly abiding by Russia`s foreign agent law under which the government had essentially branded Memorial as a tool of foreign actors working or trying to undermine Russia. But state prosecutors were not shy about the real beef with Memorial, that it makes Russia look bad. In fact, one prosecutor said of Memorial, quote, why instead of taking pride for our country do they suggest that we repent for our pitch dark past, an argument that will doubtless doubtlessly sound familiar to anyone about fights in this country.

"The Washington Post" editorial board wrote this week, that the reminder of the past pains Mr. Putin, who wants to air airbrush away such dark memories and replace them with gauzy recounting of Soviet triumphs as he goes about eradicating what`s left of Russian democracy and replacing it with dictatorship. And even as the Russian government is cracking down on those documenting its past, it continues to lock up the people who have been trying to change its future. There were reports this week that rush police have arrested three allies of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The three were originally regional coordinators for Navalny`s party which was being disbanded months ago, it didn`t pose a serious threat.

But despite having outlawed the party and poisoned and jailed Navalny, the Kremlin is still not content. It is steadily rounding up the rest of the party`s former leaders. Just today, two members of the Russian protest group Pussy Riot were added to Russia`s foreign agents list, so were two Russian journalists working for Radio Free Europe.

This unrelenting crackdown on internal dissent is unfolding at the same time as Russia continues making threats abroad. I mean, Russia has just amassed something like 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine and Putin is demanding concessions from the United States, from NATO. Putin says NATO must guarantee him that it will not offer membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and it must roll back its military deployments in central and Eastern Europe.

What happens if NATO doesn`t agree? Putin says Russia will weigh military options. In fact he told Russian state TV that Russia`s response, quote, could be diverse. It will depend on what proposals our military experts submit to me.

It`s against this tense backdrop that President Biden spoke to Vladimir Putin today, a call that we should note was requested by Putin.

[21:10:08]

This is a photo from that call, their conversation reportedly lasting just under an hour. And according to the White House in its readout, President Biden, quote, urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine. The White House says that the president also made it clear to President Putin that the United States will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine, though it sounds like the Kremlin, as you can imagine, had a different takeaway from this phone call. They issued their own statement shortly after the call saying that President Putin warned President Biden that if the United States dared to sanction Russia due to tensions with Ukraine, that such a move would not only rupture ties between the United States and Russia, but would also be, quote, a big mistake.

That said, Kremlin spokesperson goes on to say that Russia was satisfied with the conversation but it turns out as the United States continues to pull the levers of diplomacy to prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, they`re not waiting for that call this afternoon. They were not waiting for it to try to figure out what Putin might have up his sleeve. CNN is reporting tonight that shortly before that phone call that happened at 3:00 p.m. eastern, the United States flew a military spy plane over Eastern Ukraine to try and get a better sense of Russia`s military presence on the ground. It is reportedly the second time the U.S. has done that in this past week.

No matter how cordial the conversations between Biden and Putin purport to be, the truth is tensions remain. And it raises the question how much longer can we stay at this simmering point before things erupt to an all- out boil?

Joining us now is Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia during the Obama administration.

Ambassador McFaul, thank you so much for joining us this evening.

And given what we heard, you know, both of the readouts, from the White House and from the Kremlin, what is your big takeaway from this call today between Presidents Biden and Putin?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Ayman, I`ll get to that in a minute, but you just did something profound tonight, which is, what has happened, (INAUDIBLE), what is happening to Navalny, (INAUDIBLE) political dissent, is (INAUDIBLE) when it comes to Ukraine and foreign policy (INAUDIBLE) Russia relations. (INAUDIBLE) so thank you for doing that on your program today.

I think this was a perfunctory phone call. There was no big change in terms of position. (INAUDIBLE) between Russia and (INAUDIBLE) about what might be done to enhance European security. And I hope (INAUDIBLE) negotiations our views and our concerns will be on the table as well.

MOHYELDIN: Ambassador McFaul, first of all, thank you very much, I appreciate your comments about that because that is one of the things we are trying to do is put in context Putin`s desire in terms of what he`s doing with Ukraine with the behavior of Putin towards Russia and cracking down on dissidents over the past several years that he has been in power.

But I`m curious to get your point and your thoughts about, you know, are we reading too much into the fact that Putin requested this conversation with President Biden? I`ve seen some analysis to suggest that he was doing it to kind of gauge America`s commitment to Ukraine, knowing that ultimately when all things are said and done, the United States is not militarily going to fight Russia on behalf of Ukraine.

MCFAUL: Yeah, and Putin knows that. So no, I don`t think he was trying to gauge that. I think he understands that perfectly well. By the way, Putin makes a lot of end of the year phone calls. I wouldn`t read too much into this particular call and that he requested it. I think that would be an incorrect analysis.

I think what he wanted to do was make clear that his redline and he published this, this is strange diplomatic behavior, by the way, usually you publish a negotiated agreement after you negotiate it behind closed doors. He`s chosen to publish it, what he wants, but in terms of U.S. and Russia relations and relations with NATO, he`s saying is, I`m serious about it and you better accept this or else.

I was glad to see that President Biden pushed back on that to say, no, or else is means catastrophic economic sanctions for you. Now they put out their positions and I hope that the diplomats when they meet in January will be able to reduce tensions and de-escalate.

[21:15:06]

And in the long run, there are parts that I agree with Mr. Putin. I actually think that European security and the institutions that supported it are weaker today than they were 20 years ago and they need to be enhanced. Where I think we would disagree is the reason they`re weaker is because of Putin`s belligerency.

When he invaded Georgia in 2008, when he annexed Crimea in 2014, supporting separatists, and that`s a diplomatic word for, in my view, for criminals in Donbass, assassinations against European citizens in cities like Berlin, London, Salisbury, and Tomsk. Alexei Navalny is a European citizen too, I want those to be on the table for discussion about European security, and that I`m not optimistic that Putin will agree to.

MOHYELDIN: And to be quite honest, we`re used to seeing bellicose statements out of the Kremlin, I don`t think anyone would say those are particularly new. Do you think the threat of a potential rupture between the U.S. and Russia if the U.S. issues sanctions, if there is some kind of follow-up action by Russia, is that something to take seriously? Should that concern us, and what might that look like?

MCFAUL: It`s pretty hard to think about how worse it could get. We`re at the lowest point we`ve been in U.S./Russia relations since Russia became an independent country in 1991.

I don`t think that is a serious threat. I think the real threat would be and the real danger would be a conventional war in Europe. That`s what we`re talking about. This isn`t going to be just weeks of fighting.

Even if Russia occupies parts of Ukraine, Ukrainians will continue to fight. And that is the nightmare scenario that I think all rational actors in Moscow, Brussels, and Washington, want to avoid. And that`s why I hope that these negotiations in January will be successful.

MOHYELDIN: We will have to wait and see how they play out.

Ambassador Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia -- sir, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Happy New Year to you.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me.

MOHYELDIN: Next year will mark a year since pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. capitol. But notably, the threats and violent rhetoric surrounding that day haven`t gone away. In fact, they`ve been much, much harder to prosecute. We`re going to have more on that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:21:30]

MOHYELDIN: One week from today will officially mark the one-year anniversary of the January 6th riot on the U.S. Capitol. And tonight, Speaker Pelosi announced the House will commemorate the occasion with a moment of silence on the House floor. There`s going to be livestream testimonials by various members of Congress who lived through that ordeal, a historical discussion moderated by the House librarian as well as a prayer session. All that has been planned for next week.

But the Justice Department has spent the past year charging over 700 rioters in the biggest criminal investigation in our country`s history. But now, the first trials are actually slated to get under way in February. Among them, a Colorado man who climbed through the first broken window moments after it was smashed with a stolen police riot shield and then battled with officers in the building. Also, an alleged rider from Texas who spoke about dragging officers out by their ankles.

Capitol police reports that threats against members of Congress -- well, they have more than doubled this year compared to last year. And earlier this month, a New Hampshire man was sentenced to 33 months for threatening to hang three senators and three members of Congress if they did not, quote, get behind Trump.

While many of the January 6th rioters in those threatening members of Congress are being charged, it is significantly much, much harder to prosecute the many Americans who have threatened local election officials in the last year`s presidential cycle. Rachel and her team here have covered the landmark journalistic series this year from "Reuters" where reporters have catalogued and even published an alarming amount of disturbing threats to election workers all across this country. Today, that team at "Reuters" is out with yet another report. This one is entitled "Anatomy of a Death Threat," that takes a look at 850 threatening messages to election officials and their staff in 16 states after they were falsely accused of vote are fraud.

From the report, virtually all expressed support for Donald Trump or echoed his debunked contention that the election was stolen. Nearly a quarter of those messages said the recipients should die. Some called for executions, many called for the target to be investigated, prosecuted or jailed.

"Reuters" reports that some of those menacing messages included such threats as "you and your family will be killed very slowly" and a message in all caps that read, "I know where you sleep, I see you sleeping, be very afraid, I hope you die."

Today, "Reuters" published a few more of these threatening voicemails to public election officials and workers. And before I play a sample, here is a warning that the voicemails actually contain explicit language. So, if you don`t want to listen or if you have any kids watching or in the room next to you, you might want to send them out of the room just for a minute. Okay?

Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIPS)

CALLER: We`ll (EXPLETIVE DELETED) kill you. We will (EXPLETIVE DELETED) take you out. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) your family. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) your life. And you deserve the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) throat to the knife. Watch your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) back.

CALLER: You guys will pay in the end, mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You guys are (EXPLETIVE DELETED) dead mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

CALLER: You (EXPLETIVE DELETED) are done. This might be a good time to put a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) pistol in your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) mouth and pull the trigger.

(END AUDIO CLIPS)

MOHYELDIN: After listening to those, you might assume that all the threats like these, the ones that you just heard there, would actually constitute clear crimes, especially if they`re being targeted towards officials in this country.

[21:25:12]

But as "Reuters" explains, building a criminal case for threatening messages is notoriously difficult.

The problem, the United States Supreme Court has not truly defined a true threat. For instance, many prosecutors would consider the phrase "I will kill you" as a clear threat. But "you should die" is legally protected free speech.

"Reuters" gives an examples from one of the messages which in part reads quote, "she cheated and she knows she cheated and she should be shot for treason."

So my question to you at home is this. Is that, A, a threat, or B, protected speech?

"Reuters" has the interactive for you which shows that according to legal scholars, such a message, although it is threatening, does not constitute a true threat because it doesn`t show clear intent.

Now, over 100 of these calls sampled by "Reuters" appeared to meet the federal threshold for prosecution yet arrests, well, they have been rare. Since the 2020 election, "Reuters" found just four cases, four cases that were prosecuted.

Joining us now is the lead reporter on that incredibly fascinating report from "Reuters" out today, Peter Eisler, he`s a national affairs correspondent at Reuters.

Mr. Eisler, thank you so much for being here, and more importantly, thank you and your team for this incredible and absolutely eye-opening report that shows where we are as a country right now. I know the team at "Reuters" has done this amazing job of cataloging 850 threatening calls to election officials and staffers.

But as we noted, these are just the calls found by "Reuters" in 16 states. Do we have any sense, any idea how widespread these threats are?

PETER EISLER, REUTERS NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: No. We really don`t. First of all, thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. We all appreciate it.

And no, there has not been any sort of systematic effort to gather these kinds of threats and hostile messages and menacing messages from around the country. And we went out and focused on places where former President Trump and his supporters and some of the media outlets that have been particularly friendly to him and to his claims of a rigged election have focused their allegations of voter fraud. So we looked at particular places in Arizona and in Georgia and in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and a number of other states.

We did not go around and survey every county or even every state in the country. And as far as I know, the threats and the messages that we have collected, that`s the biggest sample that exists right now.

MOHYELDIN: Do you know if anybody in the federal government is trying to, you know, follow your investigation or perhaps conduct an investigation of their own where they have a central repository of this information?

EISLER: So we`ve been doing these stories over the last several months. And back in June, after we began doing work on this, the Justice Department put a task force together to focus on threats against election workers, state and local election workers. To date, that task force, to our knowledge, has not made any arrests. They haven`t announced any arrests.

And whether they have, you know, gone out and systematically collected threats and hostile messages from all over the country, I don`t believe so. If they have, they haven`t said anything about it. And many of the election workers that we`ve spoken with, and we`ve spoken with scores of them, have said that they have gone to the FBI and brought them threats or referred threats to them that they were worried about, and the FBI has taken them and said they`re investigating but they haven`t really heard back in many cases, most cases.

MOHYELDIN: What if anything, Peter, can you tell us about what kind of people are making these threats? I mean, I know you`re dealing with a large number here. But have you been able to sample their backgrounds, where are they from, what do they do, beyond just their motivations?

EISLER: So we -- you know, many of these things are anonymous. And we were able to, for example, identify a gender in 500 plus of these messages, it`s overwhelmingly male, four out of five of the messages where we were able to identify the gender, were obviously male. We found a substantial number of these cases, the threat was contacting officials in a state other than the place where they live.

So, you know, out of 74 cases where we were actually able to identify where the person who sent the message was from, 32 of those cases, the person who sent the message was not in the same state as the person they sent it to. And then we found a relatively small number of people who are, for lack of a better term, sort of frequent fliers, people who are sending these hostile messages again and again to people all over the country.

And we found, you know, about ten of those people who had sent at least ten of these messages out. And they were responsible for about 180 of the 850 plus messages that we collected. In some cases, they would target the same official and just send that person message after message. In other cases, they would, you know, send messages to an array of officials, either in one state or even in some cases in multiple places.

MOHYELDIN: And very briefly, can you tell us, on the other end of it, who are these officials receiving these threats? Do very have a political persuasion? Is it because they made an important decision that is perceived as being in support of one outcome over the other? What do you know about the people receiving these threats, the officials, and why those individuals particularly?

EISLER: Well, the common denominator is that the people who tend to get large numbers of these really hostile messages are people who are pushed back on false allegations of election fraud or voter fraud. So in some of the places where President Trump and his allies had been most aggressive in contesting the results, so Maricopa County, Arizona, where you have a Republican-dominated board of supervisors.

You know, in that case it was Republicans that were really coming under heavy attack, you know, being called RINOs, a derisive term for Republicans in name only, because they would push back and say, no, we`ve done multiple audits, we`ve done recounts, we have, you know, verified the security and the veracity of the results of these elections, you know, up one side and down the other, the election is solid and it`s sound.

Really that is what earns you kind of the ire of these people that are sending these things. So, you know, in Fulton County, Georgia, which is another place that`s taken a lot of heat, that`s a Democratic county. And you`re seeing a lot of Democrats. In Maricopa County, Arizona, it`s a Republican-dominated county but again, some of the same phenomenon, you`re seeing the same thing.

MOHYELDIN: It is a sad state of affairs in our country when election officials who keep our elections operating are being threatened with their lives for simply doing their job. Peter Eisler, national affairs correspondent at "Reuters", again, thank you for helping us to understand your excellent reporting along with your team. Greatly appreciate it.

Up next, will Republicans be successful in their efforts to gerrymander congressional districts ahead of the 2020 election? There`s no data on out and it may actually surprise you.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:37:18]

MOHYELDIN: The last midterm elections in 2018 saw a big blue wave as Democrats swept up congressional seats, governorships across the country, local seats as well. But in addition to electing candidates in huge numbers, Democrats also won a host of ballot initiatives in several states including in Ohio.

Now, in that state, voters overwhelmingly decided to ban partisan gerrymandering, the process by which one political party gets to redraw the congressional map to give themselves an advantage in future elections. Both parties do it.

Now, following the 2010 tea party wave, Ohio Republicans redrew the congressional map to give themselves a 12-4 advantage. In 2018, Ohioans voted in favor of getting rid of partisan gerrymandering by a huge 50-point margin. But then this year, Ohio`s Republican legislators went ahead and they did it anyway.

Ohio Republicans drew their new maps to give themselves almost the same partisan advantages as they had before. This week, though, Ohio`s Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case challenging those new Republican maps. The Ohio Supreme Court has a conservative majority. But even the Republican-appointed justices on that court seemed skeptical of the state`s decision to blatantly disregard the will of the voters and plow ahead with gerrymandered maps.

Now, if the arguments at the Ohio Supreme Court are any indication here, Republicans in that state may not be able to tilt the playing field to their advantage the way that they had planned.

And it`s not just Ohio, to be quite frankly, where things appear to be trending that way. Michigan was one of several states to finalize its congressional maps just this week. As "The New York Times" noted yesterday, Michigan`s new maps have been effectively un ungerrymandered, a big win for advocates of fair districts in that state.

And heading into this year there was talk that Democrats were poised to lose the House in 2022 simply, simply based on Republican gerrymandering alone before any votes were even counted. But now with over half the state maps drawn and despite a definite Republican tilt, things actually are looking a lot better for Democrats than expected across the country.

A new analysis from Joel Wertheimer at the liberal think thank Data for Progress make -- sorry, makes that unexpected prediction and in part, it reads this: when redistricting is finished, more districts in 2022 will be to the left of Joe Biden`s 4.5 national margin against Trump than there were in 2020.

[21:40:02]

So I guess the big question tonight is how did this happen and what does it mean for the coming election year?

Joining us now is Kelly Burton, president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

It`s great to have you with us, Kelly. Earlier this year, everyone was predicting Democrats would do terribly in the redistricting as we were anticipating there. But it seems at least for now, things might have changed. First off, do you agree with this recent analysis that I was talking about, that things have gone better than expected for Democrats? And if so, why do you think that is happening?

KELLY BURTON, NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC REDISTRICTING COMMITTEE PRESIDENT: Well, thanks for having me and for talking about this important issue. Look, I will say right off the top that there`s no question the Republicans are trying to gerrymander their way to a House majority through redistricting this cycle. They are very open about that strategy. And I think what you`re seeing now is the comprehensive strategy that we and others have been running for years to fight back against that plan, to fight back against the Republican gerrymandering and their intent to manipulate the map so they can hold on to power regardless of what the voters say.

And that comprehensive plan is really coming to fruition. We have been engaging the public and raising awareness about the problematic impact of gerrymandering on our democracy. We have been encouraging people to get involved in this process. We have been shifting the balance of power away from Republican total control that we saw last decade, as you noted in Ohio, where the voters passed a commission overwhelmingly, similarly in Michigan. And then we`ve been holding them accountable when they decide to break the law and gerrymander as they`re doing in Ohio.

So I think we are executing a plan that we have had in place, knowing what we were up against with Republican gerrymandering and that plan is, you know, paying off.

MOHYELDIN: Has it also been effective that in some states, and you can look at a number of factors here that have been put forward for Democrats doing better, but some are saying at least one reason is that in some Democratically controlled states, like if you look at Illinois, Oregon, they`ve decided to draw partisan maps of their own.

I know your organization believes that Democrats can actually win with fair maps. But does it make sense for Democrats not to gerrymander in states they fully control when Republicans continue to do it in their red states? Like is that the approach or should Democrats be playing the Republicans` game in the states that they control?

BURTON: No. And they`re not. And we don`t need to. Democrats don`t have to cheat to win.

We are not afraid of the voters. We are not afraid of fair elections where we allow the voters to make the choice fairly. And what you`re seeing in the Republican states is the intent and the attempt to disregard what the voters want and lock in power regardless of the election outcome and of the voters in that state.

And what you`re seeing in the Democratic states is the Democrats trying to lean into the data, the census data, the reality of those states, and draw maps that reflect the state of the voters. Remember that the reason we redistrict is so that the districts can better reflect the shifts in demographic changes and geographic changes of the previous decade.

So the census data is a roadmap for redistricting. In the Democratic states, you know, you`re seeing maps that flow with that census data, that follow what the data says should happen in the states. And the Republicans are summarily dismissing the truth in the census data and drawing maps for power. It`s a different thing.

And we don`t need to cheat to win, we don`t think we should, and we think we can win when the elections and the maps are fair.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah, it`s a very important story, one we`ll be keeping an eye on and certainly a lot of important states like Georgia and North Carolina.

Kelly Burton, president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, thank you so much for joining us tonight, greatly appreciate it.

And arguably the biggest existential problem humanity currently faces right now is the climate crisis. And while President Biden`s plans to address it have stalled in the Senate, excuse me, there is still lots he can do on his own. We`re going to have more on that, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:48:24]

MOHYELDIN: December is not usually thought of as wildfire season, quite frankly. But tonight, more than 30,000 people are under evacuation orders as fierce winds drive wildfires in Boulder County, Colorado. At least 500 homes have already been burned to the ground with entire communities, unfortunately, now packing up to avoid that fast-moving inferno.

We`re at the end of December here. Unfortunately we have become all too familiar with extreme weather events like this all across the country. This year, California flooded and later broke records with its second biggest wildfire ever. The smoke from which made it all the way to New England.

Texas froze in February, leaving millions without power and running water. In June, the Pacific Northwest roasted with temperatures 30 degrees higher than the average. We had 21 storms in the Atlantic this year that were big enough to be named. One of those storms, hurricane Ida, hit Louisiana with so much force that it temporarily reversed the flow of the Mississippi River and caused massive flash flooding in the Northeast where states were significantly underprepared.

This month, record heat in the Midwest fueled the deadliest December tornado outbreak in our country`s history, leaving a trail of destruction from Arkansas to Kansas. It is impossible, impossible to tie any one of these weather events directly to climate change. But we have had an absolutely overwhelming amount of weather disasters this year. And when you take a step back and take all of these as a whole, we know that it is because of climate change.

So what are we going to do about it? How do we slow climate change while we still can?

[21:50:02]

We got closer than ever, than ever this year, to Democrats passing real substantial climate change with President Biden`s Build Back Better bill.

But Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, along with the filibusters have essentially put that legislation on life support. With that up in the air, one of America`s most influential climate experts and activists, Bill McKibben, is proposing an alternative path, an important path. He`s proposing that President Biden use the executive authority that he has as president to jump-start climate policy.

And that idea is actually not so crazy. While Congress has been tied up, President Biden`s interior department announced plans to make almost all federally controlled coastline available to be leased for offshore wind farms like this one. So what else could Biden do?

Joining us now is Bill McKibben, he is a climate expert and one of the founders of the grassroots environmental group, 350.org.

Mr. McKibben, thank you so much for joining us this evening. Greatly appreciate your time.

So, with the need to keep Joe Manchin happy potentially out of the window now, the shackles could come off, so to speak, in the fight against climate change. What kind of things could the White House, could President Biden do by using his executive powers on climate change?

BILL MCKIBBEN, ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST: Well, let`s make three points. One, the best scenario still is that somehow we get Joe Manchin onboard and pass the Build Back Better legislation. Look, in the 30 years of the climate crisis Congress has never passed climate legislation. We`ve got to finally do something.

If Joe Manchin who`s taken more money from the fossil fuel industry than anybody else refuses to budge, then the president has some things he can still do. He can start shutting down pipelines like Line 3. He can stop the leasing of new gas and oil on public lands. He can move and should move in any -- in any event to do things like make Treasury and the SEC and the fed crack down on the banks that are going after -- that are funding the fossil fuel industry.

But let`s also be clear -- and this is maybe the most important point -- President Biden has some work to do, but the rest of us have some work to do, too. We need to keep organizing. The great push around organizing that came to a head with the great student climate strikes in 2019 was sidelined by the pandemic. As we emerge from that, we need people pushing hard.

That`s why we`re starting groups like Third Act for people over the age of 60 who want to take on this fight, want to take on the banks that are funding the climate crisis.

MOHYELDIN: So I guess to follow up on that really quickly, the executive branch here does not have a lot of powers when it comes to the power of the purse. That`s controlled by Congress.

Are there any pieces of climate policy that need federal dollars that you think could pass Congress as stand alone issues? Or would you say to activists and others stop looking at congress, it`s dysfunctional, it`s not working when it comes to the fight on climate change?

MCKIBBEN: Look, we`re so far behind in this fight that we have no choice but to try and keep pressuring at the center, at the highest level. We need Washington acting. We need Wall Street acting. Those are the two levers big enough to really change the outcome.

That said, there`s also a lot of work to be done at the state and local level and a lot of work to be done by activists building power to weaken the fossil fuel industry. That`s the basic political equation here, right? The reason we can`t get what we need the Exxons of the world remain so powerful. So, when we divest, when we persuade banks to financing them, when we do those things, we begin to cut off their power.

MOHYELDIN: Yeah. As others have noted as well, Senator Joe Manchin, one of the largest -- if not the single largest recipient of fossil fuel dollars in this past election cycle.

Bill McKibben, thank you so much. Climate expert and one of the founders of the grassroots environmental group, 350.org -- thank you so much for your time tonight.

We have a lot more to get to tonight. Stay with us.

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[21:57:53]

MOHYELDIN: Today, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee which was removed from its place of prominence in September will be given to Richmond`s Black History Museum. The museum plans to seek advice from the community how to properly display it. It`s part of the national conversation that we have having this year as we reckon with our own history and how we tell the truth about it.

This year, the man who won the race to be Virginia`s next governor ran on a platform that exploited some white parents` concerns about teaching history related to race in schools. Promoted by right wing outlets as critical race theory, that misnomer for history lessons that involved race took off this year, successfully politicizing American curriculums so that anything that addresses our history as a country and economy borne of slavery and still grappling with racism is cast aside as too dangerous for our children.

Critical race theory has been a running debate throughout the year even though CRT is, of course, not being taught to children. But the term was weaponized to attack lessons on diversity and equity right after the death of George Floyd in 2020. This year, we saw the men who killed George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery convicted of murder.

In the case of Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd, it was the first time in Minnesota`s history that a white officer faced time for killing a black person. Last month in Georgia, the three white men who killed Ahmaud Arbery invoked an old Civil War era law allowing a citizens arrest in their defense. The law was used in the past to catch slaves and justify lynchings. They invoked that law, and they lost. All three men were convicted of murder.

Those were major courtroom victories for the parties of those black men and for people who fear for their own lives or for loved ones they know because there are more Floyds and Arberys than we typically hear about. But before we congratulate ourselves for moving in the right direction with these two trials just this week, we got word about another disturbing death.

A 17-year-old from Kansas named Cedric Lofton died in law enforcement custody back in September. This week, Cedric Lofton`s death was ruled a homicide. The family says surveillance video shows correction employees sitting on top of him for more than 20 minutes while he`s on his stomach, much like George Floyd. He lost consciousness and died two days later.

At the end of 2021, this is where we are, fighting to put history in the right context, seeing some accountability in the courtroom but then seeing the same old patterns pop up again. How far do we as a country have to go to attain accountability in a more perfect union?

We will keep trying. In fact, we must keep trying together in 2022.

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

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

Good evening, Jonathan.