CDC Director Rochelle Walensky is interviewed. House Democrats are
going to vote on that measure as to whether or not Congresswoman Marjorie
Taylor Greene should be on House committees.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: All right. One of the big questions facing
Democrats in the Senate is whether they should eliminate the filibuster.
That`s the topic of the latest episode of my podcast, "Why is this
happening?", where Senate insider Adam Jentleson lays out how we got the
filibuster in the first place, why it became Mitch McConnell`s go-to move.
Find out wherever you get your podcasts.
That`s ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Any budget committee staffer that included you
would make me sign up for that budget.
HAYES: It`s such an amazing compliment to get on national television. You
would make a good budget committee staffer.
MADDOW: Budget committee staffer.
HAYES: Pardon me, felt a little serotonin, thank you. Good.
MADDOW: Also, I am sending you some personal financial information later
that I would like you to help me with.
MADDOW: Because you alone could get that compliment.
All right, thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
Here`s an interesting thing -- sort of a personal thing, but also a news
thing. Right before President Trump was impeached the first time, I
published a book called "Blowout" and the weird surprising to me thing
about "Blowout" is that tended up being oddly well timed. I had no idea it
was going to be well-timed when I set out to write it, but that`s how it
landed. It was a book about the oil and gas industry and the political
power and geopolitical power of that industry.
And a big chunk of that book was about all of the craziness and corruption
in Ukraine. And, of course, then, right at the time the book came out, all
the craziness and corruption in Ukraine ended up being the setting, like
the playing field for what President Trump got impeached for the first time
he got impeached.
I did not intend it to land that way. It was fortuitous and I hope helpful
to people trying to figure out that landscape while we were looking at that
Now, of course, Mr. Trump is being impeached for a second time. And it`s
kind of uncanny, a lot of the things I wrote about in that book that came
out during the first Trump impeachment, they`re sort of coming home to
roost now. The whole reason I wrote that book is because I think we were
pretty consistently underestimating the sway of this one industry, how much
sway the oil and gas industry has over politics and whole governments, both
here in the United States and around the world.
And so I thought there was -- I thought it would be helpful. I thought
there was a need for kind of a rip-roaring round the world explainer for
how that one industry can sometimes explain a lot of what otherwise doesn`t
make sense about politics. If something is happening in politics and
geopolitics that doesn`t make sense on the service and what we`re taught to
look for in terms of political currents, it helps to look at this industry
and see if maybe they`re the hidden hand there. Particularly when politics
fails or when governments are really bad, the whole book was like, hey,
this is a place to look.
And, of course, it`s one thing to say here`s the hidden hand at work here.
Here`s the unacknowledged power that`s really making things possible or
impossible that`s really calling the shots here. But it`s that further
thing to understand that dynamic well enough so that when that hidden hand
weakens, when that power behind the throne collapses for some reason, you
can anticipate what kinds of changes that might mean. Understanding the
real power at work means knowing what might happen when that power goes
south, when it shuts off.
So this book "Blowout" when it came out in the first Trump impeachment, I
meant it to be sort of a heads-up for the oil and gas industry being a sort
of secretly powerful political entity. But also a heads-up that if and when
the bottom ever fell out of that industry, be prepared. Be ready to go,
because when the bottom falls out of that industry, a lot of things are
going to change. A lot of things that they as an industry were blocking are
suddenly going to become possible. A lot of bad government, for example, is
going to fall apart, once the power behind bad government loses its zhoosh.
That was the sort of warning I was trying to sound about the oil and gas
industry during the first Trump impeachment.
Now, of course, we`re in the second Trump impeachment. And what do you
know? The bottom actually has fallen out of that industry. I mean, right
after "Blowout" was published, royalty after Trump impeachment numero uno,
the coronavirus crisis hits worldwide. That immediately walloped the oil
and gas industry like nothing ever in its history has ever hit them before.
The floor just dropped below them.
At one point early on in the coronavirus crisis, the price of a barrel of
oil was negative. It cost less than zero dollars to buy a barrel of oil.
Meaning if you owned a barrel of oil, not only could you not charge
somebody money for taking it from you, you would actually have to pay
somebody to take that barrel of oil away from you because it was worth
And over the course of the pandemic, it hasn`t really gotten better. I
mean, the price of oil has pinged around, but it`s a disaster for that
industry. Yesterday, ExxonMobil just posted its worst quarterly earnings in
40 years. I mean, not long ago, Exxon was the most profitable corporation
in the history of corporations, for multiple years running. This quarter,
they lost over $20 billion. And this is now four straight quarters for them
This was the richest company on earth by a mile forever and ever. Now
they`re a company that loses more than $61 million every day they stay in
operation. They`re losing $61 million a day.
This was the headline this morning in the business section of "The New York
Times." after a bruising year, the oil industry confronts a diminished
future. Big oil companies lost billions in 2020 because of the pandemic.
They face broad questions now about how they will adapt to climate change
So that book that I wrote "Blowout" tried to document how the oil and gas
industry has undercut democracy, hollowed out democracy, both in parts of
the United States and around the world. This is about the strength and
incredible financial resources of that industry has stopped us from making
even the easiest reforms and fixes when it comes to the climate.
Well, now that mighty industry is sucking wind and so stuff is changing. It
seems like a whole new world is possible. I mean, listen to this from
today. This was Senator Chuck Schumer who as of today is running the United
States senate. This is him announcing today what they`re getting to work on
in the United States Senate, now that the Democrats have control as of day
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Senate Democrats are not going to waste any
time taking on the biggest challenges facing our country and our planet.
It`s long past time for the Senate to take a leading role in combating the
existential threat of our time, climate. Climate change touches virtually
every aspect of our economy, and involves virtually every aspect of public
So as the Biden administration prepares a whole of government approach to
combating climate change, the Democratic majority will pursue a whole of
Senate approach as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A whole of Senate approach. Now that the Democrats are in control
of the senate, he`s assigning every committee in the U.S. Senate to start
moving climate legislation. They`re moving on it.
This past week, the Biden administration unveiled multiple efforts they`re
going to pursue all at once, including through executive action, to make
the country take a big shift on climate -- long, long overdue, easy
Today, Pete Buttigieg, one of the best communicators in a generation of
Democratic talent was sworn in as secretary of transportation in the Biden
administration. Among other things, Secretary Buttigieg will be overseeing
the transformation of the huge fleet of all federal vehicles to all
electric vehicles. General Motors just announced they will no longer make
internal combustion engines for their cars and SUVs within the next 15
And I`ll tell you right now, the best super bowl ad you`re going to see on
Sunday is the Will Ferrell Aquafina Kenan Thompson ad about GM shifting to
electric cars and this ground breaking new battery they`re putting in like
30 different models of cars. Their whole fleet is going to be electric in
less than 15 years.
It`s happening. It`s happening. All at once, and now very quickly. When the
worst opponents of us getting it together on climate are collapsing
economically or are so rocked back on their heels economically and
politically, honestly, that some of even the big oil companies are trying
to decide now if they might switch sides and maybe try to be good guys on
this issue for once. When your opposition collapses like that, it`s time to
run the field.
And a Democratic president is in office who is committed to this as a top
priority, and the American people voted the Democrats into control, both
the United States house and the United States Senate, when Democrats
campaigned on the fact they were going to move on this issue, it`s
happening. And it`s happening in part because the bad guys on this issue
have collapsed. It is happening in part because of the suddenly sagging
fortunes of what previously, what until a year ago was the richest, most
destructive industry on the planet.
That`s what that book that I wrote "Blowout" is about. The full title is
"Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most
Destructive Industry on Earth."
And apparently, this book is going to come out again every single time that
Donald Trump gets impeached. Came out in hard back when he was getting
impeached the first time, and now this week, it`s just come out in
paperback for the first time, if he gets impeached a third time, I`ll have
to release it on a wax disc.
The audio book was also nominated for a Grammy, if that`s of interest in
case you would prefer to hear it rather than read it. But anyway, if you go
to MSNBC.com/blowout, it`s all there in case you are interested.
But it feels a little uncanny. And as I mentioned, today, Republicans and
Democrats in the Senate did finally sign the rules that allow the Democrats
to take charge there. Take charge and start running all the committees.
Democrats won those two Georgia Senate races nearly a month ago, which is
what gave them 50 senators, which is what gave them control of the Senate,
but Republicans have dragged their feet in actually allowing the Democrats
to take over and start working in the Senate. It was a week and a half ago
that Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, actually dropped
whatever his supposed objections were that were the excuse for him not
allowing Democrats to take over, but even after he publicly dropped that
objection last Monday, he still dragged it out another week and a half. It
wasn`t until today that he finally relented and agreed to sign over power
to the Democrats.
So it is a month late today that Democrats started running the U.S. Senate.
I mean, they should have 24 months in power in the Senate until the next
election. But Republican Senator Mitch McConnell succeeded in eating one of
those 24 months. So they`re only going to have 23 months to get done what
they want to do. Which gives them, I think, quite -- permission, is that
the right word, gives them reason at least to go as fast as possible.
The Republicans stole a month from them, so now they get to go double time.
Now they get to start. And on the other side of the capitol, in the House,
it`s, of course, a real split screen moment right now. On one side of the
screen, there`s House Democrats moving ahead with the whole governing
thing, voting to move forward President Biden`s big COVID relief bill, to
start working on the legislation as of tonight.
On the other side of the screen are House Republicans who have spent all
day and now all night having a big fight within their party about which
Republican members of Congress they should punish for unconscionable acts,
and how they should be punished and exactly what counts as unconscionable
Tonight, Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, she`s third
ranking Republican in the House leadership, she survived a vote among her
colleagues on whether they were going to oust her from leadership because
she was one of ten house Republicans who voted to impeach President Trump
for his role in inciting the violent attack on the capitol January 6th.
Even though she survived the vote, dozens of her house Republican
colleagues tonight voted that she should be kicked out of her leadership
job for daring to cross Donald Trump. But they could not drum up enough
votes to get it done, so Liz Cheney will stay in her role as the number
three house Republican.
And make of that what you will. Only ten Republicans in the house voted to
impeach Donald Trump, but tonight, 145 Republicans voted to keep Liz Cheney
in leadership despite her vote.
Tonight`s vote was also a secret ballot, so maybe Republicans are more okay
with impeachment when they don`t have to answer publicly for their votes.
Or maybe lots of house Republicans just secretly like Liz Cheney but they
don`t want to talk about it publicly. Like I said, make of it what you
But the other colleague of theirs who House Republicans are grappling with
tonight is, of course, the freshman congresswoman from Georgia, Marjorie
Taylor Greene, and if you are a living, breathing sentient human who has
consumed any news coverage in the past few days, you are more than likely
familiar with Congresswoman Greene and all the things unearthed about her
and her views and her public statements recently from harassing and mocking
a teenage survivor of the Parkland school shooting, because Ms. Greene
believes that shooting was a hoax with actors and nobody really died, to
endorsing social media posts that advocate putting a bullet in House
Speaker Nancy Pelosi`s head, to propounding a conspiracy theory that the
California wildfires were not a naturally occurring thing or even the
product of normal arson, no, in fact, she says they were started by lasers
from space controlled by shadowy Jewish groups. It should really be looked
All of which comes on top of what was already famous about her, that she`s
an energetic adherent and proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory which is
the same conspiracy about Satan-worshiping, pedophile, child-blood-drinking
lizard people that motivated lots of the rioters who attacked the capitol
on January 6th, that`s a theory she has propounded, a theory that among
other things predicts a violent resurrection of the Trump presidency and
the public execution of hundreds of prominent Democrats and celebrities and
figures from the news media, public executions. They want them in public.
They want everybody to see them.
In the wake of the January 6th attacks on Democratic members of Congress,
they say they feel unsafe around Congresswoman Greene, including one who
asked to have her office moved away from Marjorie Greene`s office out of
concern for her safety after a couple run-ins with her. And as you know,
this doesn`t really have to be hard for House Republicans. They do have a
playbook they wrote themselves for handling something like this. A playbook
they have used very recently.
Only two years ago that Congressman Steve King of Iowa found himself
wondering aloud to a "New York Times" reporter, what`s so wrong with the
word white nationalist and white supremacist. Why did though become such a
bad thing? And even though Steve king had been saying stuff like that and
acting that way forever, this time, Republicans decided they just had
And the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, got his caucus to strip
Steve king of all his committee assignments. He was kicked off all his
committee said, treated as a pariah from there on out. He had no actual
work to do. He ended up twiddling his thumbs in the House for the lest of
the term and there was a Republican primary against him in which he was
sounded defeated and that was it for Steve King`s political career. They
know how to do this.
And Democrats now control the house. They basically said to Republicans,
look, you know how to do this. Take care of this problem with Marjorie
Taylor Greene saying Nancy Pelosi should be shot and sandy hook didn`t
happen and Parkland didn`t happen and Jews are controlling space that
account for the wildfires.
I mean, take care of this problem you have with Marjorie Taylor Greene the
way you did with Steve King. She wasn`t musing aloud about whether words
are good or bad the way Steve king was. She has been publicly propounded a
theory that not only led to a violent attack on the capitol, but that at
its heart is about executing Democrats, for being Democrats. So Democrats
have been saying, listen, do what you did with Steve King here. Strip her
of her committee assignments or I guess we`ll have to do it for you?
Democrats have been particularly incensed that Republicans put Ms. Greene
on the Education Committee, someone who believed mass school shootings in
recent years have been a hoax and no kids really died. Put her on the
But this time around, House Republicans have not been able to bring
themselves to use the Steve King playbook. Maybe it was the supportive
phone calls that Congresswoman Greene claims to have received from Donald
Trump, but House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, after having met with
her yesterday, in which she was reportedly not at all contrite in that
meeting about anything she said, House Leader Kevin McCarthy put out a
statement tonight that did not announce any sort of action on Congresswoman
Greene and instead attacks Democrats for their criticism of her.
And so tonight, the house rules committee approved a resolution that will
strip Congresswoman Greene of her committee assignments. Again, the same
punishment that befell Steve King.
The full house is going to vote on that tomorrow. That means all House
Republicans will now be forced to go on the record voting to support
Marjorie Taylor Greene or not. Voting to go on the record as to whether or
not you can serve as a Republican member of Congress after calling for the
execution of the speaker of the House.
Very few Republican members of Congress are actively defending Marjorie
Taylor Greene or any of the things she has said or done. They`re mostly
arguing process. They say if Democrats remove her from her committees,
that`s bad. That`s a bad thing for the other party to do because whatever
party controls Congress, that party can then remove the other party`s
members from the committees.
The Democrats don`t seem swayed by this argument. Here was rules committee
chairman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts at tonight`s hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D-MA): If the president is going to be that somebody
advocates putting a bullet in the head of a member of Congress, and if that
is going to be the new determination as to what it takes to throw people
off committees, I`m fine with that. I`m fine with that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Yeah. I`m fine with that. Can we all agree on that? Can we all
agree that if you call for putting bullets in the heads of other members of
Congress, that`s the line? Republican members of congress, does that seem
like a reasonable line for you? We`ll set that as the threshold. Is that
okay as a precedent? I guess we`ll find out when all members of the house
have to vote on it tomorrow.
But House Democrats are trying to walk and chew gum at the same time. They
have teed up this vote tomorrow on kicking this radioactive Republican
member off her committee said. They`re moving ahead on a big COVID relief
bill. They took the first step in passing President Biden`s COVID relief
bill, after President Biden held a phone call with house Democrats today
and hosted Senate Democrats in the Oval Office.
His message to them was, act fast and go big. The president reportedly
saying that basically, the main thing Congress has to be worried about with
COVID relief is not doing enough. Not going big enough with this effort,
saying they are definitely not going to shrink it down or dilute it, even
if Republicans continue to complain that they don`t like it.
And one reason, the main reason the president and Democrats want to go big
is, of course, because they think it`s good policy. It will help the most
Americans and the most direct and sustainable and robust ways possible.
That`s why they don`t want the bill to be less effective than it can be.
But the other reason I think they feel comfortable saying let`s go big
right now is that it`s very popular, what they`re trying to do.
I mean, President Biden as a brand-new president is pretty popular
individually, but his popularity is nothing compared to the popularity of
the COVID relief that he and Democrats are pursuing right now.
There`s a new Quinnipiac poll out today that finds 68 percent of Americans
support this $1.9 trillion COVID relief package the president has put
forward, 68 percent support. The $1,400 in direct aid stimulus checks that
are a central piece of the package, that`s supported by 78 percent of
Americans. Ask Americans if they support increasing the federal minimum
wage to $15 an hour, something the president has said he wants in the bill,
support for that among Americans is at 61 percent.
This is a wildly popular COVID relief bill, every aspect of it. And with
congressional Democrats working as of tonight to get it passed into law
with the Senate putting in motion procedures that will allow them to pass
it even if every Republican says no, they hate it, that`s what the Biden
administration is doing legislatively to get the country relief from the
hardship imposed by the pandemic to fund vaccination efforts, to get
schools to reopen safely, and all this crucial stuff. It`s incredibly
popular, every aspect of this.
So, yes, they`re emboldened by mass public support for what they`re doing
to not compromise and weaken their proposals, to instead move forward with
what they want to do, with what they believe is right and what the public
is behind. And it`s, you know, I mean, with the crisis that we`re in with
COVID, it`s clear at least nobody questions why they shouldn`t just be
doing this first, right?
And seeing them go ahead, refusing to be slowed down, refusing to be put
off track, that seems appropriate given the size of the challenge and the
public supports it. But of course, alongside legislation, the other thing
President Biden is doing is he has to build out a whole new federal
government response to COVID because the federal government response that
existed before the Biden administration took over was such a disaster to
the extent it existed, it was terrible.
The Government Accountability Office just released a report today detailing
how bad the Trump administration`s response to COVID was. "Washington Post"
report today on that study led with just how horrified the investigators
were by what they were seeing when they started looking in detail at what
the Trump administration actually did on COVID.
Quote: A government watchdog study from a generally staid audit agency
amounts to a wide reaching condemnation of President Trump`s botched
response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The document outlines broad Trump
administration failures so alarming that the normally circumspect auditors
announced themselves deeply troubled. That constitutes an anguished cry
from an office that prides itself on just the facts, dull reports.
Among the things that so deeply troubled the government auditors, they kept
telling the Trump administration how many things needed doing that were not
getting done, and the Trump administration just didn`t respond to any of
that. They didn`t get any better. They didn`t take any action in response
to clear recommendations about stuff they were doing wrong or needed to
improve. They absolutely just blew it all off.
They started bad. They got worse over time. Even when they were told that
there were things specifically they could do to improve, they ignored them
and continued to get worse. As we have reported extensively here over these
last months, one of the most heartbreaking and horrifying failures of the
Trump administration is what they did to the CDC. Which should be our
lodestar as a country as to who we follow, when we trust, who gives us
unassailable public health guidance about how to handle something like a
It should be our lodestar, should be the world` lodestar. CDC has been up
until this administration, this past administration, they have been the
premier public health agency in the world, the world gold standard. And
what the Trump administration did to it was repulsive. For an agency so
needed, for an agency that should have been at its apex of its capacity to
meet the most challenging moment in public health in 100 years, the Trump
administration cut them off at the knees.
The mismatch between what was needed and what they did is revolting. I
mean, from the White House reaching down to the level of individual
scientists working in the field to assess an outbreak in a South Dakota
meat processing plant, telling individual scientists to change their
language so the meat plant wouldn`t actually be told by CDC what they
should do to keep their workers safe. To burying CDC guidance on how to
reopen schools and businesses safely, not letting anyone see it.
Having CDC scientific guidance edited by the president`s daughter, Ivanka
Trump, editing CDC scientific guidance. Really? And Kellyanne Conway, too,
because why shouldn`t she?
Having a director put in place at CDC who did not protect his agency from
any of that, who did not let it happen, who did not sound the alarm, who
did not resign, who personally bent to the White House`s will and let the
scientific work of that once great agency be infected by the White House`s
nonsense, who carried their water for them, who personally helped them
intervene to squash science. That`s what the Trump administration did to
That`s a big part of what went wrong with this horrific, horrific pandemic
in this country. That is a big part of how we have 4 percent of the world`s
population and 25 percent of the world`s deaths. So how do you fix that?
First thing you do is you hire a new CDC director. When Joe Biden announced
he had chosen one of the prominent infectious doctors in the country,
prominent HIV/AIDS researcher to lead the CDC, the announcement was met
with what can only be described as mass enthusiasm and relief from her
colleagues in the medical field.
One of her colleagues at Harvard Medical School summed it up like this:
This news has sent me into a sort of public health euphoria. It gives me
such hope to know someone as kind and fearless as Dr. Rochelle Walensky
will lead our public health agency. Welcome back, CDC.
Welcome back, CDC. We need you.
The new director of the CDC joins us for the interview here live next.
MADDOW: The CDC over decades had earned its reputation as the globally
renowned gold standard for public health research and guidance. But during
the coronavirus pandemic, this past year, the Trump administration silenced
and censored scientists at the CDC, promoted the views of political
appointees who are unqualified to be making those sort of pronouncement. It
was a real bastardization of the CDC`s crucial role at a time that we
needed them most.
And so, it was clear early on that whoever the new president was going to
tap to run the agency was going to have to be in charge of not just turning
the tide of the pandemic but also restoring CDC to what it should be, a
President Joe Biden has chosen Dr. Rochelle Walensky to run the Centers for
Joining us now for the interview is Dr. Walensky.
It`s a real honor and a pleasure to have you here. Thank you so much for
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: Thanks so
much for having me. I`m delighted to be here with you.
MADDOW: I am intimidated by the scale of the task ahead of you. Not only
WALENSKY: Me, too.
MADDOW: -- of the crisis that we are in -- good, you`re human.
Obviously, the scale of the public challenge, but also the organizational
challenge that you`ve got given what the CDC has been through for the past
How -- how are you thinking about the task ahead?
WALENSKY: You know, as you say, I think it`s a two-pronged task. I have to
take care of the people who are doing the hard work. And they have been. I
mean, they have been for -- many of them are career public health
officials, stewards of the health of this nation, and really, of the world.
I have to take care of them because they`re doing hard work that is about
to protect the rest of the country, and that has been working to protect
the rest of the country.
In truth, there hasn`t been massive turnover of the wonderful personnel who
are working there. They have been muzzled. They have been beaten down. But
they`re still there.
And they are working hard, long hours. Over 8,000 of them have been working
towards COVID-19 over the last year, 1,500 of them have been deployed to
250 cities across the nation and the world. And they are -- they are still
there doing -- doing the work of public health and reviewing the science
and making sure that science gets heard.
MADDOW: I feel like I -- I don`t have the same worries that the Trump
administration will do to you and do to CDC under you that -- the kinds of
problems that we saw under the Trump administration. And so, I don`t feel
like we need to protect CDC and to protect your independence in the way
that needed to happen during the Trump administration.
But I also feel like the solution to what we saw happen to your crucial
agency over the last year can`t just be, you know, whoo, let`s never do
that again, let`s hope we always have good presidents and we always respect
the guidelines and the future.
I mean, are there things that need to change so that those kinds of
problems don`t happen again? Are there protections that you and your
colleagues need just in case things take an ugly turn like that again?
WALENSKY: Absolutely. I think we need to protect our science. We need to
make sure that there`s no finger hold over the MMWR, over the science
that`s produced that we have the final say in that science. I was very
clear before I took the position that they would hear the science from me
and it might not be good news all the time, and we had to maintain humility
in terms of what we were learning because science teaches us all the time.
We will review the guidance and make sure that there -- the guidance is up
to date, that the soft language that might have been there is now turned to
the hard language that the science needs to report. And, you know, quite
honestly, I do think I need to do, you know, not everything was done
We need to acknowledge the places where we might have misstepped, where we
can learn from what was done, what might have been done improperly or might
have -- could have been done better, and we need to review that so the next
time we`re in this position, we can do better the next time.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the sort of layman`s translation of one of
the virological things that`s starting to get more and more attention now,
and that is the variations and mutations of the virus that seemed to be
affecting its transmissibility, potentially its susceptibility to vaccines.
For us, the public, who have been listening to guidance from people like
you about wearing masks, about social distance, about the other things that
we can do to try to slow and stop transmission, is there anything that we
need to do differently because of the existence of these variants that we
haven`t already been doing? Is there any sign that any of the public health
guidance we have been given about how to protect ourselves and others might
not be effective against those -- those variants?
WALENSKY: Yeah, it`s a great question. I mean, you hear the word mutation,
and everybody thinks of a science fiction movie, right?
So we know that viruses mutate. We know that they change their genetic
code, often every time they replicate. MRNA viruses mutate frequently.
We expected mutations and we expected variants. Usually when there`s a
variant that becomes predominant, it`s because it has some advantage to the
virus, whether it`s because it`s increasingly transmissible, whether it`s
because it has increased mortality, or because it can escape our vaccines
and our treatments.
We know that some of the variants have increased transmissibility. There`s
increasing data that suggests some of the variants, the B117 variant, may
actually be increased -- lead to increased mortality. And the jury is still
out with regard to how these vaccines are going to work with regard --
against these variants.
We have to be -- you know, follow the science, and we`re learning more and
more about whether our public health measures, our mitigation measures, our
mask wearing, our distancing will -- will be fully effective against these
variants, but we have every reason to believe that they will. And the more
case reporting that we`re looking at with the variants that are emerging,
the more we`re actually finding they were happening when masks and
distancing weren`t happening.
So, it`s in fact the same disease, and we believe right now that if you
follow the mask guidance, you follow the distancing guidance, the lack of
gathering, and you don`t gather, that you should be protected against these
variants. What we know is that they will probably be less forgiving when we
don`t follow that guidance.
MADDOW: OK. And do you think that we should expect that there needs to be
another big scientific lift in this country in terms of sequencing the
virus when people do get infected, tracking the variants, and indeed,
potentially developing vaccination boosters or vaccination adaptations that
account for it? Is this going to be a whole -- you know, I feel like
scientists got us to the moon in a matter of a very short period of time in
terms of getting us safe and effective vaccines. Do we now need to go to
Mars? Do we now -- is it going to be a big, heavy lift to contend with the
additional complications here?
WALENSKY: The answer is we don`t know, but we can`t be wrong. And so we`re
doing all of those things. We are doing increased sequencing. We have
increased our sequencing ten-fold just in the last two weeks.
We are looking to the -- to Moderna and Pfizer to try to create boosters
and vaccines in case we need to go there. Because when we need to be at
Mars, we need to be almost there when we get going (ph) -- when the time
MADDOW: Dr. Walensky, you said something today at the White House COVID
briefing about reopening schools, specifically about teachers. You said
teachers don`t necessarily need to be vaccinated for COVID before schools
can safely reopen. Those comments caused a lot of discussion, frankly a lot
of consternation even among a bunch of people that I know.
If you don`t mind, I would like to take a quick break right here. I`m
warning you in advance I`m going to ask you about that when we come back if
you can stick around.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back with the new director of the CDC,
Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALENSKY: I want to be very clear about schools, which is: yes, ACIP has
put teachers in the 1B category, the category of essential workers. But I
also want to be clear that there is increasing data to suggest that schools
can safely reopen, and that that safe reopening does not suggest that
teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us once again is Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director
of the CDC.
Dr. Walensky, thank you again for being here. It is a real honor to have
Those comments today at the COVID briefing from the White House caused a
lot of consternation, got a lot of attention. I think broadly speaking, I`m
not a teacher, but I know a lot of teachers and I feel like teachers are
worried that even if kids aren`t necessarily a high risk, if they get
infected at school, many of the teachers feel like they are at high risk.
Why isn`t it a prerequisite for safe reopening for teachers to get the
WALENSKY: Thank you for raising this, and thank you for discussing it.
I want to be very clear about what the science shows and what I believe in
how we should prioritize. There`s accumulating data that suggests that
there is not a lot of transmission that is happening in schools when the
proper mitigation measures are taken. When there is masking, when there is
distancing, de-densification of the classroom, ventilation, contact
tracing, hand washing, all of those things when they`re done well, the data
suggests, the science suggests that there is not a lot of transmission
happening in schools, and in fact, the case rates in schools are generally
lower than they are in the population surrounding it.
So, that`s what the data and the science suggests. And that we definitely
want to have the community rates of disease go down. We want to make sure
that that is happening as well. But the data suggests that it`s safe to go
back to school if you do all of those mitigation measures.
Now, that said, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has
prioritized teachers as essential personnel because they are essential to
our society`s function. And so, they fall in the 1B category, and they
should be prioritized as essential workers for vaccination.
That can be true, and I can believe that to be true, and I can emphasize
that I believe teachers should get vaccinated. But I also think that the
science tells us that if we can do the proper mitigation measures -- and I
would emphasize, if we have the funding to do the proper mitigation
measures as is put forth in the American Rescue Plan -- that we can reopen
schools safely even if all of the teachers are not vaccinated.
MADDOW: Is CDC going to do detailed guidance that will, if it`s seen as
authoritative guidance that will be seen as effectively rules for what it
takes to safely reopen schools?
WALENSKY: They are working actively on that now, and it should be
forthcoming, absolutely. Because we know --
WALENSKY: -- we know that guidance is essential.
MADDOW: Now, I have to ask you on that point, though. We have had a
political promise, a campaign promise from President Biden that one of his
goals for his first 100 days is that he wants schools to reopen.
So -- I mean, maybe I`m once bitten and twice shy here given what`s
happened in the Trump administration in the past year, but is there -- is
it -- is it reasonable to be suspicious of CDC guidance on reopening
schools given that the president has said that schools should reopen?
If CDC scientists find that scientifically actually, it`s hard to safely
reopen schools, maybe we shouldn`t be doing so much in-person learning,
will the Biden administration -- will the president let you say that
WALENSKY: I`m -- I think all of what you`re saying is actually consistent.
The Biden administration and I agree with it, believes that schools should
be the last thing to close and the first thing to open. That administration
and I agree with it, believes there should be adequate funding to make sure
that all of the mitigation measures are in place in schools, should be
prioritized in schools, so that we can get those schools open.
And then, there should be funding for testing in schools, there should be
funding and resources for vaccination of teachers.
So, all of those things are consistent. And I think what that first 100-day
plan tells us is this is a priority. We have to get our children back to
MADDOW: In terms of some of the most vulnerable people and the people who
have experienced the highest rates of infection, particularly on the job,
we reported here last year that your predecessor, Dr. Robert Redfield --
sorry to say it this way -- but he tampered with the report on COVID
transmission at a meatpacking plant. He ordered CDC investigators to water
down their findings and recommendations.
Thereafter, after we reported that, we learned that the meat industry,
meatpacking industry had effectively drafted the president`s executive
order, mandating that meatpacking plants must stay open even if local or
state authorities wanted to shut them down for public health reasons.
It`s -- that to me is a disaster, especially given how many thousands of
people who work in the meatpacking industry ended up getting infected and
how many of them died. Are you going to unwind all of that? Should we
expect a revision of that? It seems like that process was so corrupted.
WALENSKY: We intend to do a full review of all of the guidance to insure
that it fully follows the science. It has been reviewed by subject matter
What I can tell you is we are -- we are stewards of public health. We want
to make sure that those workers in the meatpacking plants are safe. We want
to make sure that the food is safe for the American people.
The Department of Labor has put forward guidance to make sure that those
workers are safe. There is guidance that should look at infection control
policies within those meatpacking plants to make sure that all of the
documents and guidance for the workers are actually in multiple languages
so that they can fully understand them, and yes, we intend to fully make
sure that the science is leading us.
MADDOW: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease
Control -- ma`am, let me just -- I`ll just say right now, thank you for
what you`re doing, and I am -- I will reiterated how intimidated I am by
the task ahead of you.
But I`ll also tell you, if you get stepped on and if you and the scientists
at the CDC for any reason feel like you are not able to lead with public
health or you`re not able to say what you think needs to be done, if you
get into some politically uncomfortable positions with the new
administration -- which I don`t expect, but if it happens -- please know
that you`ve got an open door here to tell the public what`s going on, and
you will not believe how much support you will get for scientific freedom
if there`s any political trammel on what you`re doing.
WALENSKY: I look forward to being back and I sure hope and don`t
anticipate it will be for that reason.
MADDOW: I -- I am -- I`m with you on that, and I look forward to having
you back. Good luck to you. Thank you so much.
WALENSKY: Thank you. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: As I mentioned at the top of the show, we are expecting a vote
tomorrow on whether or not a new Republican member of Congress will be
stripped from her committee assignments. That vote is going to take place
tomorrow afternoon. This is House Democrats forcing the Republican counter
parts to respond to a -- what seem Tuesday be an escalating series of
violent conspiracy laden and virulently anti-Semitic social media posts
that Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has made.
We have a pretty good idea how Democrats are going to vote on that measure
as to whether or not she should be on House committees. But if you have any
indication how Republicans were thinking about the issue consider this.
Multiple news outlets reporting tonight that during the Republican`s closed
door caucus meeting to discuss this issue, Marjorie Taylor Greene got a
standing ovation in that room from as much as half of the Republican caucus
in that room.
The House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity today to
remove the congresswoman from her committee assignments simply on the say
so of her own conference, of the Republicans saying so themselves. He chose
not to do that even though he knows full well if he didn`t take that
action, Democrats were definitely going to have the votes to go ahead and
do it anyway.
So at the end of the day, she`s not going to end up any committee
assignments. She`s going to end up a member of Congress who has no work to
do and isn`t invited to any of the rooms in which actual work happens. The
Republicans chose not to do it themselves. The Democrats will. And tomorrow
we will get to see every Republican member of the House go on record about
where they stand on the anti-Semitic conspiracy lady who endorsed the
murder of Nancy Pelosi.
We don`t yet know the timing of when that vote is going to happen yet. We
don`t know about the kind of debate or floor speeches that may happen in
advance. But we know it`s going to be on the House floor tomorrow
afternoon. Yuck (ph)!
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Still having to get used to the fact we`re allowed to actually
book government officials now. We were always calling them and asking them
to be on the show. But now, the White House doesn`t intervene to stop
government officials from coming on the show to explain what it is they`re
doing and to face my questions.
It`s -- I don`t know how long it`s going to take me to get used to this,
but I`m going to -- I hope it lasts.
That does it for us tonight. Thanks again to the CDC Director Rochelle
Walensky for being here.
We`ll see you again tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
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