MSNBC`s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Millions in
Texas remain under boil water advisories. Georgia Republicans introduced
elections bill liming early, absentee voting. President Biden assures
European leader of commitment to alliances.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": Under conditions of extreme stress and
uncertainty, sometimes making the wrong ones. And then, there`s -- are you
being honest and transparent about what you are doing? And it`s like the
first are much more forgivable than not the latter, which has been sort of
one of the stories of this, broadly not just in this case.
Jesse McKinley, who is doing great reporting on this for "The Times", the
Albany bureau, thank you so much for your time.
JESSE MCKINLEY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Of course.
HAYES: That is "ALL IN" on this Friday night.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ali Velshi, in for Rachel.
Good evening, Ali.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Have yourself a great weekend.
Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel`s got the night off,
but she`s going to be back on Monday.
And for a Friday, in the dark days of winter, there`s certainly a lot going
Let`s start with the team that President Biden is trying to assemble and
try is the operative word here. A month into his presidency, fewer than
half of Joe Biden`s cabinet nominees have been confirmed. Only seven
cabinet officials have been seated. The Senate still has not voted on the
other 16. Four of them are still waiting to get a hearing.
And tonight, they have hit another bump in the road. Neera Tanden is Joe
Biden`s nominee to run the Office of Management and Budget. She`s worked on
numerous Democratic presidential campaigns. She worked in the Obama
Now, Republicans have said Tanden should be disqualified to run OMB,
essentially, because her tweets about them were too mean, which is pretty
rich coming from some of Donald Trump`s most ardent supporters. Now,
President Biden`s cabinet nominees. They don`t need Republican support to
pass but with the Senate in a 50-50 split, without any Republican on-board,
Biden`s team can`t afford to lose any Democratic support, either. And
that`s where we get the speed bump today.
Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia announced tonight that he
will not vote for Neera Tanden to lead OMB. Zero Republicans right now are
expected to support her nomination. And so, barring some kind of surprise
on that side of the aisle, Joe Biden`s nominee to lead the Office of
Management and Budget appears to be DOA.
Barack Obama`s nominee to run the Commerce Department had to withdrawal
from consideration, in 2009, for this reason, due to lack of support in the
Senate. Same with Donald Trump`s pick to lead the Labor Department. As
Rachel likes to say, watch this space.
We have also got our eyes on Texas tonight where tens of thousands of
people are still without power in what is turning out to be a slow-rolling
catastrophe for the state. Millions of people in Texas are under a boil-
water advisory. That`s complications from these rolling-power outages that
have made the water unsafe to drink for millions of people because the
water-filtration plants don`t have power. We are going to have a live
report out of Texas, in just a moment.
But also, today, we got a 591-page document, reading material to cozy up
with this weekend. House Democrats have released the long-awaited text of
their COVID-relief bill.
Now, this bill would provide qualifying Americans with $1,400 relief
checks. It would extend the federal-unemployment benefits. It would provide
much-needed assistance to small businesses.
The bill provides much to the states, to speed up the vaccine effort and
help schools reopen safely. It also calls for increasing the minimum wage
to $15 an hour, over the course of a few years. The total price of the
package is $1.9 trillion, which many Republicans say is too expensive.
So, today, President Biden addressed those concerns about the price tag of
the COVID-relief bill. He said he was open to discussions about how to make
the bill better, and more cost-effective. But he dared Republicans to be
specific about how they want to cut costs because lowering the price of
that bill means depriving Americans of a much-needed, financial lifeline.
It means denying states what they need to start returning back to normal.
So what, exactly, what Republicans cut back?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me ask them. What would they
have me cut? What would they have me leave out? Should we not invest $20
billion to vaccinate the nation? Should we not invest $290 million to
extend unemployment insurance for the 11 million Americans who are
unemployed so they can get by? While they get back to work?
Should we not invest $50 billion to help small businesses stay open, when
tens of thousands have had to close permanently?
Pass the American Rescue Plan, 40 million Americans will lose -- lose
nutritional assistance through a program we call SNAP, the old food-stamp
program. Do we not invest $3 million -- $3 billion to keep families from
This is United States of America, for God`s sake. We invest in people who
are in need.
(END VIDEOI CLIP)
VELSHI: President Biden made those remarks, today, at a Pfizer plant in
Michigan, where they are manufacturing one of the two COVID vaccines that
are currently approved for use here in the United States. He got a tour of
the facility, and he reiterated his promise that the United States would
have enough vaccine on hand for the entire country, by the end of July.
It was just shy of a year ago that this nightmare began. And it comes at
the end of a week of what was really sustained good COVID news. The United
States saw 29 percent decrease in COVID cases this week, compared to the
same time seven days ago. This is the steepest, one-week decline since the
The director of the CDC said today that COVID cases have been on the steady
decline for the past five weeks in a row. It`s too early to say exactly why
we are seeing such a steep decline. It could be a passing rush of cases
from the holiday season. It could be stricter-mask wearing and social
distancing, the earthly effects of the vaccine. Could be all of the above.
It`s going to be a while longer, though, before we can let our guard down
because we need more vaccines in arms before we do that. And today, there
was promising news on that front as well. One of the logistical hurdles has
been keeping it cold enough. Both, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines must be
kept at freezing temperature before they are put into syringes, otherwise,
the doses will spoil.
Right now, the Pfizer vaccine, in particular, has to be kept remarkably
cold. Somewhere, between minus-112 and minus-76 degree. But that might be
changing. Pfizer`s announced that its data shows the vaccine may not need
to be stored in an ultra-cold freezer in order to be effective. But could,
instead, be kept in a normal freezer, the kind that are more commonly in
Now, this would significantly untangle some of the logistical hurdles that
have slowed down the vaccine distribution, so far. And Pfizer has
officially asked the FDA for permission to allow its vaccine to be stored
at a higher temperature.
Right now, the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses, and on that front, we`ve
got, yet, more promising data. A peer-reviewed study out of Israel found
today that just one dose of the Pfizer vaccine was 85 percent effective at
preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19, 85 percent immunity. That`s
practically the whole ball game.
The faster we could vaccinate people with a vaccine that`s 85 percent
effective, the faster we could achieve herd immunity and that`s what they
have been experimenting with in Great Britain.
In the United Kingdom, they are waiting several months to administer second
doses instead of the recommended several weeks like we are doing here in
the United States. The idea is to try and offer a lower -- lower level of
immunity to a larger group of people. by vaccinating more people, once.
Instead, of fewer people, twice.
That decision was controversial, at the time. But this new data out of
Israel seems to vindicate that strategy, which begs the question, should we
be considering that, too? Joining us to help make sense of this is someone
who is going to advise the White House in making these decisions. Andy
Slavitt is the White House senior adviser on the COVID-19 response.
Andy, this is the first time we have spoken since your appointment. Thank
you for -- for joining me tonight. Can we talk a little bit about this?
We were told, in the beginning, that`s really important that you get the
vaccine, the first dose. You get the second dose, at prescribed time
interval. You certainly can`t mix it with another vaccine.
And now, we are getting this evidence about greater levels of protection
than we thought. Explain this to me as an expert. Is -- what`s the math on
that? Is it better to -- to -- to inject more people with one dose than it
is to inject fewer people with two doses?
ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE COVID RESPONSE TEAM SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, good to
be with you, Ali.
Let me give you the bottom line, first. The bottom line, first, is that
everybody should still be getting their second dose. Now, it is good news
to hear and the new data comes in.
And I think, you know, I spoke with the FDA today. I spoke with NIH today.
They pore over new data that comes in, you know, multiple studies.
But the thing, I think, to keep in mind is not just the efficacy of the
vaccine but the durability of the vaccine. And with -- with only one shot
of Pfizer and Moderna, the current view is that the -- that the vaccine
just doesn`t last long enough. So the second dose is really, really
The other thing that Dr. Fauci mentioned to me, today, is that with the
second vaccine, you have a much-better chance against variants. The second
vaccine of Pfizer, as -- as we know, does pretty well against -- against
the South African variant. And all of the vaccines, we know, do very well
against the U.K. variant. But that`s with two doses.
So they are going to continue to look at the data. But right now, people
shouldn`t be confused. The current recommendation from the FDA and it will
be, for some time, is to take two, not one.
VELSHI: Andy, let`s talk about that term you just used, durability. We are
approaching a year, from the first case, first widespread cases. And, boy,
last March and April and May were a really difficult time. So there are
people who got coronavirus, then, who are now approaching a year.
How -- how effective -- how long do we believe these viruses last, at the
SLAVITT: Well, the antibody protection, we know, wanes. And -- and how long
it lasts. Well, we can`t precisely say but we do know that it -- that it
lasts at least 90 days.
And at six months to nine months, it`s not as clear. What we, also, know,
anecdotally, is that some of the variants, potentially the one from South
Africa, the one from -- from Brazil. There may not be antibody protection
from -- from a first dose. That`s why the recommendation, of course, is
that people still wear masks. Why people who have had COVID should still
get vaccinated, because the vaccines offer the strongest protection.
VELSHI: Andy, let`s talk -- let`s talk a little bit about the rate at which
people are being vaccinated. We are at about 1.6 million doses a day. But
it seems that, if we were not constrained by supply, we could be at a
higher number than that.
SLAVITT: Yeah. I mean, we are going to continue to ramp up the production
of vaccines, and states are getting better and better at being able to --
to move through the vaccines that they have.
You know, when -- when we got here on January 20th, we didn`t have enough
vaccines. There weren`t enough -- there were no vaccines in inventory. We
hadn`t, yet, ordered enough and purchased enough vaccines for the American
public. The president directed us to do that.
There weren`t enough vaccination sites. And there weren`t enough
vaccinators. We have taken action, on all of those and as a result, since
January 20th, we have increased the amount of vaccines we have shipped to
states, by 60 percent. We have also been -- we also started retail-pharmacy
program. We`re setting up 100 community-vaccination sites.
And -- and we`re moving vaccines into community-health centers, to make
sure that we get the equity, not just that we get more people vaccinated
but, that we get people fairly vaccinated, including those that are most at
risk, in vulnerable communities. So that`s a lot of progress but we know
it`s not fast enough.
We know that we are still in a shortage situation. Be very blunt. We are
going to be in a shortage situation for some matter of time, probably,
measured in months. Not likely, weeks. Certainly, not more than --
certainly, not beyond the middle of the year.
And until that time, we know there is going to be more people that want
vaccines than we have vaccines available.
VELSHI: Andy, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us tonight.
Andy Slavitt is the White House senior adviser on the COVID-19 response. We
appreciate your time tonight. Thanks, Andy.
Well, another part of the Biden administration COVID response that is
getting extra attention this week is how the storms are delaying
distribution. The storms that are pummeling the country have delayed
distribution of 6 million doses of the vaccine. But while those problems
are expected to be dealt with in the coming days, residents of Texas and
other southern states could be feeling the effects of this weather for
months to come.
After living without power and heat for days on end, something as basic as
water is now a major issue in the state. In Harris County, which is home to
Houston, county officials say tens of thousands of buildings have burst
pipes. Not only causing extensive-property damage and flooding, but also,
making it hard to get access to clean, drinkable water.
And look at what happened in San Antonio. This was the scene last night
after a fire broke out within the flooring of an apartment building, just
outside the city. Flames, quickly, consumed the entire building. After a
few hours, the building collapsed.
But not before cars, parked on the street and in front of the building,
also, caught fire, eventually, forcing residents of other nearby buildings
to evacuate. Dozens of firefighters were on the scene throughout the night
trying to tame this blaze. But once again, access to water became the
issue. When they went to tap the nearby fire hydrants, they were all
frozen. They were basically useless. The water in them didn`t come out.
They had to call on dozens of water tender trucks from across the region
for reinforcement. Even still, hours passed before they were able to put
out the flames. One firefighter told me today this is a firefighter`s worst
nightmare. You are there on the scene and you can`t put the fire out.
That`s the situation in Texas right now as much of the state has been in
crisis every day this week. Millions of residents are still under boiled-
water notices. Residents have to boil tap water before consuming it, which
might work in a pinch if the taps worked, if water came out, if pipes
People have been forced to wait in line to fill containers with the water
they need for their families given their pipes have been shut or broken.
Twenty percent of San Antonio still has no water pressure. Meanwhile, more
than 100,000 people in the state are still without power and heat.
Temperatures were, once again, below freezing throughout much of the state
last night as they have been all week.
People have been doing everything they can to get warm, wrapping themselves
in winter gear and blankets, burning paper and artwork as kindling,
sleeping in their cars, turning on their car engines, indoors, to try to
warm up which is incredibly dangerous. That has caused a spike in carbon-
monoxide poisoning. At least five people have died from it.
Texas is in crisis. Much of this was possibly avoidable. We knew weeks ago
this winter storm was headed straight for Texas. Texas never designed its
power grid to withstand the high-demand extreme winter weather that they
get. But the board of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, ERCOT, met
ahead of the storm. They said they were ready for winterization, that they
were ready for the storm.
This is how the president and chief-executive officer of ERCOT began the
board meeting on February the 9th.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL MAGNESS, PRESIDENT & CEO, ERCOT: And one thing I want to say before I
really get into the presentation is it it`s actually going to be winter
here, pretty soon. As many of you and those of you in Texas know, we do
have a cold front coming this way. We`ll probably see our winter peak later
this week or in the very early part of next week, and operations has issued
an operating-condition notice just to make sure everyone is up to speed
with their winterization. And we`re ready for the several days of pretty
frigid temperatures to come our way.
So, more on that, over the next few days. But it does look like we will
have a little bit of winter weather to contend with during the course of
the rest of this week. So, I want to go onto the next slide, if we could
(END AUDIO CLIP)
VELSHI: A little bit of winter weather to contend with. We`re ready. Next
slide, if we could.
The head of ERCOT made that statement about the then-upcoming storm. Took
him 40 seconds. That`s all he needed to relay the message about the energy
grid`s preparedness for the storm, 40 seconds.
One of the many Texas officials outraged by this story is county judge, KP
George. A judge in Texas the top-elected official in a county. Fort Bend,
Texas, is just outside of Houston.
Earlier today, KP George, Judge George, tweeted: Forty seconds. Years of
deregulation and lack of care led to this abject failure.
Judge KP George also took a shot at state officials like Governor Abbott
and Ted Cruz, writing, ERCOT, brought to you by the people who are blaming
windmills, vacationing in Cancun and saying Texans chose blackouts instead
of federal partnerships.
Joining me now from Fort Bend County, a huge county right next to Houston
is Judge KP George.
Judge George, I appreciate your time tonight. This is what you call
gaslighting for people who don`t understand the term.
When you go out, and you tell somebody something that`s a lie, to distract
from whatever it is that you are trying to distract them for. The idea that
Texans chose not to be part of a larger grid because they`d rather be
freezing and cold and without water, than have federal involvement in
The idea that it was alternative energy that caused this. Because of frozen
windmills, you don`t have power in Texas. It`s gaslighting.
JUDGE KP GEORGE, FORT BEND COUNTY, TX EXECUTIVE: It is. It is gas lighting.
And -- and I tell you this. A 90-year-old senior citizens calling me saying
I am on my last oxygen cylinder. A mother calling me and saying that my 4-
week-old baby, I am driving around in a car to keep that baby warm.
And then, people struggling with burst pipes. And people struggling to keep
themselves warm, and 850,000 of my residents, I don`t think not even a
single one said or agreed with what that statement is all about.
VELSHI: You also have a very strange situation. You got the governor and
others making these statements. And then, you have got the situation where
your -- your senator, Ted Cruz, got himself mired in a situation, which he
-- which he left the state.
What is -- what does the solution actually look like in Texas? What needs
to be done right now to get people out of the emergency that they`re in, in
which people are actually dying? And what needs to be done -- done in the
longer term, to accept the fact that you are going to have weather
instances like this and you have to be prepared?
GEORGE: I just -- I just think, you don`t -- you don`t need to be a rocket
scientist to figure this out. Also, understand that you mentioned, sir,
before, we are Lone Star State. And I just wanted to very -- be very clear.
I just wanted to say I am so proud of being in Texas. We love Texas. And
it`s a -- it`s a unique state.
But at the same time, when it comes to this kind of weather events, we
cannot manage it alone. And -- and also, right now, I`m -- I`m calling for
a full investigation. And Texans need to know why this happened. What is
the reason why it happened?
And -- and there should be some kind of answers coming. And also, I
understand, that our legislators are in session right now and next
Thursday, I believe they will take hearing on this issue. In between,
Governor Abbott issued investigation on to ERCOT. And also, we asked the --
the leadership to resign.
But he appointed these people. And obviously, I believe should have known
better. And so, my point is I am right here at the ground. You know, I am -
- I`m the -- I`m the boot on the ground. And I am seeing this.
My citizens are calling me with these issues, I mentioned. And I`m -- I`m
going to the shelters, and I am setting up warming centers. And -- and I`m
talking to people. And they are saying, last night is the first time, in --
in a week, I -- I slept.
Hearing from an 80-year-old person, it is heartbreaking. And, you know,
Texas is a unique place. But this is -- this -- many of this would have
VELSHI: Judge George, good to see you. Thank you for joining us. Our wishes
are with you and the people of Texas that you stay warm. Had a couple power
outages in the northeast, this winter, and we`re much-better prepared for
it but they are not pleasant under any circumstances, to be cold in your
open own home and then to not have water.
GEORGE: Yeah. I, personally, got my -- my home flooded. So -- so I can
understand exactly how my residents feel.
GEORGE: Thank you.
VELSHI: Our heart goes out to you and our thoughts are with you and our
support is with you. Fort Bend County judge, KP George, thank you for your
time tonight. We wish you the best of luck.
A lot more to get here to tonight. Up next. An example of Republicans in
another state trying to pull some slight of hand and stack the deck in
their favor. Stay with us for that story.
VELSHI: Over the past year, the state of Georgia has done more than any
other state to shape the political future of this country. After all, it
was that grassroots-driven voter mobilization in Georgia that flipped the
state blue for the first time in nearly three decades, helping Joe Biden
become president. It was that historic result in Georgia that led then-
President Donald Trump to try and pressure Republican-elected officials in
Georgia to help him reverse the outcome of that election, a move, that may,
yet, land him in prison, as Georgia prosecutors continue to investigate the
It was, also, Georgia, where just one day before a violent, right-wing mob
stormed the U.S. Capitol, Democrats, once again, managed to turn out voters
in historic numbers, electing not one but two Democratic senators, handing
Democrats control of the Senate.
Every major piece of legislation that comes out of this Congress and this
White House, including the sweeping-coronavirus-relief package, that was
just announced today. All of it is possible because of what happened in
Georgia in November, and then in January.
And so, it makes sense, that now, just as the rest of the nation finally
thought it could stop focusing on Georgia. Republicans in Georgia are
taking aggressive action to try to stop anything like that from ever
Yesterday, Georgia Republicans introduced a set of sweeping, new bills to
limit access to polls in that state. Among the provisions, in these new
bills, is a move to significantly restrict absentee voting in Georgia. All
Georgians have been able to vote absentee, since 2005, without any
problems, under laws that were created, and passed, by Republicans. Itself
it was all good while Republicans were winning elections, I guess.
But now, the Democrats have won three statewide elections in Georgia where
the absentee ballots tended to favor Democrats. Suddenly -- suddenly,
Georgia Republicans have decided to significantly restrict who can and
cannot vote absentee. One bill would also end early, in-person voting,
voting on Sundays. Days, when black churches have historically held
something called souls to the polls drives to turn out their members.
I will give you three reasons why Republicans or three guesses as to why
Republicans want to end early voting on Sundays, in particular.
Of course, all of this comes just after Georgia held two elections with
record levels of both early and absentee voting. Elections where Georgia`s
own secretary of state, has stated emphatically, there was no widespread-
voter fraud. And Georgia Republicans do not appear eager to debate merits
of the bill, before passing it.
According to NPR, the text of one voter suppression bill was introduced
just one hour before it was passed out of committee giving the Democrats on
that committee barely any time to find out what was in it. So what happens
next in the state of Georgia? Georgia Democrats are still in the minority
in the statehouse and the Senate. So, is there anything they can do to stop
Joining us now is Democratic Georgia state representative, Rhonda Burnough.
Representative Burnough, thank you for joining us.
Tell me the status of this. This is a remarkable and interesting matter, in
that Republicans, until this election, were all about early voting and
absentee voting. They wrote that law into being. They -- they are the ones
who passed these laws into being.
STATE REP. RHONDA BURNOUGH (D-GA): Thank you for having me tonight.
Yes. We did receive this bill, yesterday. And today, during our committee
meeting, it was a hearing in which fellow Georgians were able to talk to us
about their concerns about HB-531. As we know, Georgia has been a leader in
providing voters more options to vote than most states. So, why would they
undermine -- why would we undermine our own success?
And as you said, it`s basically because we did win those three elections.
And so now, they want to change all of the rules.
VELSHI: And ostensibly, it`s to stop illegal voting, fraudulent voting. But
your own secretary of state, I have seen him itemize the cases they are
investigating. There are very, very few. There`s no evidence, at all, of
widespread-voter fraud, despite the fact that that secretary of state, a
Republican, is under remarkable pressure from allies of Donald Trump to
find voter fraud.
BURNOUGH: Yes, you are correct. There is no widespread-voter fraud in the
state of Georgia. So, for that reason, we don`t understand why, all of a
sudden, we received a bill that was 48 pages. And it was a combination of
all the worst bills that they could come up with. It would now prevent us -
- it would limit the days for -- for early voting.
It would, of course, as you said, block Sunday voting. And one of the --
the very popular things that happened during our elections, what it would
limit ballot drop boxes, and also, outside funding. That they don`t want
the election supervisors to apply for the various grants that were offered
during the election season.
VELSHI: There`s -- there`s an element in here, which is kind of interesting
because one thing we have watched in Georgia not just in these last two
elections but in the previous election, which Stacey Abrams was running. Is
the degree to which people would stand outside, for hours, to be prepared
to vote. There`s -- there is a part in it bill that prohibits the handing
out of food and water to voters.
It says that no person shall solicit votes in any manner or by any means or
method, nor shall any person display or distribute any campaign material.
Nor shall any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of
any money or gifts, including but not limited to, food and drink to an
So, people who would take water to people who were standing for hours in
lines. This bill would make that a crime?
BURNOUGH: Yes, it would. But part of the bill -- yes, it would make it a
crime. And those people who were passing out water were passing it out to
everybody. They didn`t go up and ask anybody if you were Republican or
Democrat. And with all the changes that they are trying to do with this
bill, we would go back to having long lines. People standing in line, not -
- seniors not being able to have seats. And so, with all these changes,
they are trying to take us backwards, instead of forward.
VELSHI: It is remarkable development. We will watch it closely with you.
Representative, thank you for joining us. Georgia`s State Representative
Rhonda Burnough --
BURNOUGH: Thank you for having me.
VELSHI: -- we appreciate your time tonight.
Still ahead. A very real example of the change Georgia voters decided on,
in November. Stay with us.
VELSHI: All right. Here is proof of how much difference an election makes.
During president Trump`s first G7 meeting, back in 2017, he was the last to
show up for the traditional photo op, forcing the other world leaders to
wait around for him.
He was also noticeably absent when the group decided to walk through the
Sicilian town that was hosting the summit. You can see them walking here,
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,
and the British prime minister, Theresa May.
Trump, meanwhile, decided he would go it alone, waiting behind for a golf
cart to carry him the 700 yards. That`s four-tenths of a mile.
From there, that partnership only got rockier as the years went on. Not
because of his isolationalist impulses but that was part of it, but also to
some degree because of this rather bizarre insistence that Trump tried to
insert Russia back into the G7, which when it had Russia in it, was called
G8. But Russia was banned from the group after invading and seizing part of
That remarkable act of aggression didn`t seem to matter to Donald Trump. He
called the move common sense. He then said when it was his turn to host the
G7, he wanted Putin there. Never mind the fact that Canada and Germany and
France and the United Kingdom all disagreed with that.
Well, today, we got a searing reminder of what a difference a change in
leadership can make. President Biden, this afternoon, set a new tone in
terms of how the United States plans to deal with Russia. With remarks that
took place as he attended his first virtual, G7 summit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin seeks to weaken European -
- the European project and our NATO alliance. He wants to undermine the
transatlantic unity and our resolve because it`s so much easier for the
Kremlin to bully and threaten individual states, than it is to negotiate
with the strong, closely united, transatlantic community.
That`s why -- that`s why standing up for the sovereignty and territorial
integrity of Ukraine remains a vital concern for Europe and the United
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: President Biden is making a clean break with Trump`s America-first
foreign policy. No more pandering to Russia, no more not going it alone
anymore, riding in a golf cart while the rest of the world walks together.
This comes, as the U.S. voices a willingness to restart diplomacy with
Iran, and talks regarding that country`s crumbling-nuclear deal, and amid
this country plans to reenter into the Paris climate agreement. There is a
real sense that America is back on the world stage or at the very least,
trying to put humpty dumpty back together, again, and back on top of the
Joining me now to talk about this, Ben Rhodes, deputy national security
adviser under President Obama.
Ben, good to see you.
I think, one can`t overstate what has happened in the last couple of weeks,
with respect to Joe Biden engaging on the world stage, but in particular
ways. It`s not -- it`s not pink cloud to pink cloud with everybody. In
fact, he had a tough conversation with Israel`s prime minister, Benjamin
Netanyahu. And the lack of a conversation with the Saudi-crowned prince,
Mohammed bin Salman -- sort of sending a message to both of them, too, that
America will have a clearer role, even in the Middle East.
BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, that`s right, Ali. If you think
about it, you know who were Trump`s favorite leaders? Mohammed bin Salman
was perhaps at the top of that list. The first trip Donald Trump took as
president overseas, he broke precedent. Instead of going to one of our
neighbors, he went to Saudi Arabia.
And, of course, the leader that Donald Trump would never criticize was
Vladimir Putin. I think, what you see is Joe Biden, very deliberately,
picking venues. This -- the Munich Security Conference where he gave that
speech today virtually, that`s the venue in the heart of Europe signaling,
you know, you are our friends, you are our allies. Not these other guys.
The agenda is very different. He is talking about democracy, standing up to
Russia, climate change, diplomacy to get back into the Iran nuclear
agreement. So, both the tone, the settings, and the substance, is entirely
different than what we`ve seen the last four years.
VELSHI: So, Ben, this is the moment to determine whether some of those
alliances have been damaged. Obviously, G7 is a -- is a key alliance. NATO
is one, that was undermined by -- by Donald Trump. Is everybody happy to
take America back, again? Are they okay to say, hey, let`s just forget
about the last four years and we`re -- it`s back to business?
RHODES: Well, yes and no. On the one hand, it just shows you how extreme
the Trump policy is or was that Joe Biden`s had to go out of his way to
reaffirm, we are a member of NATO. We honor commitments to NATO. We are
back in the Paris agreement, which the U.S. led in negotiating. We are
prepared to have diplomacy to go back into the Iran agreement that we took
the lead in negotiating.
So this is a sea change. I think the rest of the world, particularly our
allies, have thought, you know, on the one hand, we very much want America
back. Back at the table. Back defending a set of values. Back, working to
solve problems like climate change or dealing with pandemics, where Trump
had been totally absent.
On the other hand, they just lived through the last four years and they are
looking over Joe Biden`s shoulder and thinking, well, who are those crazy
people behind you who stormed the Capitol on January 6th? Can we trust that
the Americans won`t do that again, in four years? Can we trust that they`ll
keep their word?
If we want to negotiate a complex agreement, like the Paris agreement was
or the Iran-nuclear deal, can we trust that the Americans won`t just tear
So his task is -- is much harder than just making a speech and setting the
right tone. He`s going to have to build back credibility, month by month,
year by year, initiative by initiative, because of the wrecking-ball
approach that Donald Trump took to our alliances and our role in the world.
VELSHI: We shall watch to see how that goes.
Ben, good to see you, as always. Thank you for joining us, tonight. Ben
Rhodes, deputy national security adviser under President Obama, we
appreciate your time tonight.
Tonight`s show is special because tonight we`ve got two big science stories
in the show. Both of which, blow me away. And the first of which, is right
on the other side of this break.
VELSHI: All right. I want to show you something. Science is amazing but
it`s, also, as you know, very complicated. Sometimes, we need someone to
break it down into simple terms for us, lay folks, to understand.
When it comes to the emerging threat of the COVID variants from the United
Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil, there is a lot that we still don`t know.
And I`m, certainly, not a vaccine expert or a doctor or an immunologist.
But I do understand video games.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS: Each vaccine is created to instantly recognize a
virus, by its shape. Once the vaccine identifies the shape it`s been
programmed to look for, it blocks it, very efficiently.
But when a virus mutates, it changes shape, making it more difficult for
the vaccine to identify its target. And if a vaccine can`t recognize what
it`s trying to block, we`re all in trouble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: That was my NBC News colleague, Richard Engel, host of "On
Assignment", breaking down in layman`s terms, how the virus mutation
slipped by the immune system.
The CDC warns that these new variants spread more easily and quickly, which
could lead to more cases of the virus, which would, in turn, put even more
strain on the health-care system, leading to more hospitalizations, and
potentially, more deaths.
Now, there is some hopeful news about our current vaccines. The so-called
mRNA vaccines, providing protection against these mutations. There is also
research showing them to have reduced effectiveness, when compared to the
original strain of the virus. But, don`t despair.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ENGEL: But hope is not lost. Science may come to our rescue. The new type
of mRNA vaccines, developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and others, are so
revolutionary, they can be quickly reprogrammed to adapt, as viruses
UGUR SAHIN, CEO, BIONTECH: Just a modern way of making -- making vaccines,
which gave us, also, the ability to respond with an effective and safe
ENGEL: Ugur Sahin invented the Pfizer vaccine. He is the CEO of BioNTech.
Is it almost like you are cutting and pasting like a computer?
SAHIN: Yeah. A little bit. It`s a copy of the virus. But in this copy, of
course, there`s no genetic piece of the virus. It is just information.
Which is safe and which is not able to replicate. It is so easy. I -- it
is, of course, not easy but it is -- it is a process that allows us to make
ENGEL: So it`s a copy and paste of the genetic material.
SAHIN: Copy and paste. Yeah.
ENGEL: And no matter how many times it changes, you just copy a new image
and paste it?
SAHIN: Copy and paste. Copy and paste.
ENGEL: It`s a transformative way of making vaccines.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Kind of amazing. It`s now a race between an evolving virus and the
scientists on the front lines working to make flexible vaccines.
Joining me now, Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent and
host of on assignment. This weekend, he is going to be hosting a special
edition of "On Assignment", focused on the race to stop those COVID
variants in their tracks.
Richard, I always appreciate you staying up so late. You are always far
away somewhere before it`s the middle of the night to be with us. But this
is really, really important.
This race between the virus that is evolving and mutating to escape the
vaccine and the vaccine, that can be copy pasted, and adapted, to the -- to
the virus. Who wins this race? How does it look? How does it look?
ENGEL: Well, so far in this race, we are winning, but the virus is evolving
very, very quickly. The vaccines that we have right now that are currently
available do work against the main variants. They don`t work as well, but
they still work. And that is the key thing to know.
So it is a race to get the vaccines out before this virus continues to
evolve because this is a battle against evolution. We understand evolution
sort of in human terms or in mammal terms, it happens very, very slowly.
You and I evolved. It happens over generations. It happens over millions of
years. Because we are made of DNA, DNA is relatively stable, we have long
life spans, relatively speaking, and there aren`t that many of us, so
evolution takes a long time.
Viruses are made of RNA. They mutate more easily, and there are trillions
and trillions of viruses out there and they only live generally a few
hours. So with each production, each generation of viruses, there are
opportunities to mutate, opportunities for improvements, and that`s we`ve
We`ve seen the virus over time because it has had so much room to
replicate. It has had improvements accidentally, and those improvements are
propelling themselves forward, creating these new and improved strains. So,
then you have these amazing scientists who are trying to quickly adjust the
technology so that they can compensate as the virus evolves at the speed of
VELSHI: Richard, at some juncture, our attempts to get herd immunity and
lots of people vaccinated, we hope, we overtake the fact that the virus is
mutating and it will be affecting fewer and fewer people and we will have
developed is certain immunity.
Is there a point at which we look like we`re in control of this situation?
ENGEL: Well, herd immunity is a funny concept because with the variants,
herd immunity doesn`t always apply because -- there was a city in Brazil,
Manaus. They had huge percentage of the population that was infected, about
70 percent, some say 80 percent of the population had the coronavirus.
Then a new strain came, and the fact that they had been infected before
didn`t help them. Their previous infections gave them no protection because
they were protected from something that was no longer relevant. The virus
So the most important thing is not necessarily just herd immunity. If you
just let this virus go and don`t battle it with the vaccines, it will
continue to change and your previous infections might no help you very
much. But the key thing is to drive down the numbers because the rate at
which the virus mutates is a factor of how much there is out there.
So if you can shrink it, if you can reduce the general amount of virus on
the planet, it will still mutate, but there will be less of it. It will be
much more controlled and it will mutate less frequently because there will
be fewer options for it to do that.
So the way to achieve the herd immunity effect is by getting people
vaccinated and reducing the number of virus particles out there.
VELSHI: This is amazing. I`m so grateful for the time you`ve taken to
explain it. I set my Sunday evening to watch your special. Richard Engel is
our NBC News chief foreign correspondent and the host of "On Assignment."
This special hour on COVID mutations airs Sunday, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Don`t
miss it. I`m not going to.
Richard, we appreciate you making time tonight. Hope you get a little sleep
before the sun comes up. Thank you, my friend.
ENGEL: Thank you very much. My pleasure.
VELSHI: Coming up next, a story that both Rachel and I are very geekily
excited about. Stay with us.
VELSHI: All right. This last story is not just a departure from the world
of politics, but indeed from this planet. But Rachel and I are very excited
about what NASA is doing on Mars these days.
Today, NASA released the first color images from the landing of their
rover, the "Perseverance", on the planet`s surface.
Now, as a layman, this photo is definitely the straight out of Hollywood
winner. It shows the moment perseverance touches down, kicking up plumes of
dust from the planet`s surface. But after listening to NASA`s team of
scientists talk today, I`m blown away by every single one of the images
This, for instance, is not the most eye-catching photo until you realize
it`s the first high had much resolution color photo ever taken from the
surface of Mars.
Or this photo taken from a satellite circling Mars of the "Perseverance"
parachuting down to the surface. This feels like any other Google Maps
photo you`ve ever seen, until you learn that the satellite from which the
photo was taken was traveling at 6,750 miles per hour and had the time and
angle itself exactly right to get this shot in a single pass from over 400
miles away at the very moment that "Perseverance" was as long as from going
1,300 miles an hour to 200 miles per hour as it got ready to land, and they
got the shot.
Or this photo which is literally just a photo of the front wheel of the
rover and bunch of rocks, but the scientists at NASA already think that the
rocks right there in the upper left-hand corner, feet from where the rover
landed, may be able to tell them how old the dried out area near the
landing site is, giving us a huge data point about the history of Mars.
NASA says we should start to expect far more photos like that and color
videos, and even, I kid you not, color videos from a small detachable
helicopter to be transmitted back to earth in the coming weeks and months.
I used my phone to deposit a check the other day. I had to retake the photo
because it was blurry, so color me impressed, NASA.
All right. That does it for us tonight. Rachel is back on Monday, but you
can catch me all weekend live from Birmingham, Alabama, with a special
series of shows that honor Black History Month. You`re going to see my
conversations with activists and ordinary citizens from all walks of life,
from a city that is steeped in America`s struggle for racial justice and
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAKAYA MADDOX, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: All we want is for you to see us as
humans. We`re humans. We want to be treated with the same dignity and
respect that you would give somebody white or anybody else. All I did was
came out of my mother`s womb just like you and trying to make the best out
of this life that God has given me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: More of that this weekend, 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. I am live from
It`s time now for "THE LAST WORD." My friend Jonathan Capehart, in for
Lawrence O`Donnell this evening, something I get used to doing on Saturday
and Sunday mornings, I get to do now.
Good evening, Jonathan.
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