Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is interviewed. Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, is interviewed.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Your show was so good tonight, I can`t hardly stand it, Chris.
Literally like every -- everything that you picked to cover tonight and the people you booked and everybody, every single way you covered everything that you talked about tonight, this is your best show in ages. It`s fantastic.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Thanks, buddy, I appreciate it. Have a great Monday.
MADDOW: Thank you very much.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Really happy to have you here.
There is a lot going on in the news today and indeed tonight. We just got breaking news tonight from "The New York Times" that in the criminal inquiry into former president Trump and his business, state prosecutors in New York are reportedly focusing now on the chief financial officer of Trump`s business. A man named Allen Weisselberg who`s name came up repeatedly with the campaign finance felonies, the hush money payments if which President Trump`s lawyer Michael Cohen went to prison.
Donald Trump, of course, was famously listed as an unindicted co- conspirator in that case. That is in fact what opened up the criminal inquiry among the New York state prosecutors in the first place. But again, "The Times" is reporting that inquiry is now focusing at least in part on the chief financial officer of the former president`s company.
Now, simultaneously tonight, "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" is breaking the news that in the other known criminal investigation into the former president, the one in Fulton County, Georgia, as to whether or not president Trump illegally tried to pressure election officials into changing that state`s election results, that case reportedly is being brought in front of a grand jury this week in Atlanta. "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" reporting tonight that Fulton County prosecutors are going to go before the grand jury in Georgia this week and ask them for subpoenas for witnesses and documents in that case that reportedly targets the former president.
We have never had a president or former president criminally prosecuted in this country. But on two different fronts, state prosecutors in New York and state prosecutors in Georgia, we are getting closer and closer to that prospect all the time. Again, the chief financial officer of the president`s business reportedly in the cross-hairs of state prosecutors in New York, Georgia state prosecutors taking the case against president Trump on election interference to a Georgia grand jury this week, which means just in the next few days.
We will keep following both of those stories as they continue to develop tonight.
Also tonight, in the wake of the devastating and fatal collapse of the power generating system and the electrical grid in the great state of Texas, the head of that state`s public utilities commission has resigned. Everybody is pointing fingers in Texas as to why oil and gas companies and power generators of all kinds aren`t required to make sure they can still operate in cold weather since it really was just cold weather that caused the whole state grid to shut down disastrously last month.
But so far, even with multiple high level resignations and state hearings and thousands of Texans still without drinkable water even tonight, apparently no one in the all-Republican Texas state government believes that the solution is actually to require the power system to be winterized. To regulate it so that those power generators and power operators are not allowed to operate in the state of Texas unless they can operate when it gets cold. That apparently is out of the question, because, you know, big government.
But the head of the public utilities commission is out as of tonight. Just like the lights and the water will be the next time there`s another cold snap, if nothing changes there, except resignations, so, that we can blame people who are no longer there, but nothing actually changes in terms of the infrastructure.
In Jackson, Mississippi, tonight, they are also creeping towards two weeks now with no poet potable drinking water in the city. Most of the city of Jackson has not had running water or diminished running water since cold weather hit there, those with running water are under a boil water advisory. So, there`s no clean potable drinking water running out of taps in the entire city of Jackson, Mississippi.
And Jackson is not back water. It`s a city of 160,000 people. It`s the capital of the state. The water infrastructure is so bad and particularly so poorly prepared for cold temperatures that the recent cold snap there rendered the city completely without safe water to drink from the tap. For, as I said, nearly two weeks now.
You think we need infrastructure investment in this country? Maybe? We are the richest and supposedly most capable nation on earth and we cannot keep water running and lights on now when it gets cold. When it gets can cold in February, which is when things get cold every year. It`s never a surprise.
A massive national investment in upgrading our infrastructure, everything from roads and bridges and airports and electric car charging stations and trains to the electrical grid, except in Texas, where they prefer to fail alone. And water systems and national broadband. That big infrastructure proposal, every single part of which is very popular with the public when you ask them what the government ought to be doing. That infrastructure bill is next, the next big thing that President Biden wants to get passed through Congress after the COVID relief bill.
It is -- this is a procedural thing, but it`s important in terms of what our government is going to be able to do this year. It is generally expected that in the Senate, the Democrats will have two shots this year, two bills, that they can pass using these budget reconciliation rules that allow them to pass something with just 50 votes, which means they can pass it even if all Republicans vote no, the infrastructure bill with all those things in it that I just described, that`s what they`re going to use their second shot on. That`s what they`re going to use the second of two opportunities for a budget reconciliation bill, which means a bill they can pass without Republican support.
The second one will be infra infrastructure, after the first one is, of course, COVID relief. And the COVID bill is a lot. It`s direct $1,400 checks to individuals. It`s some padding to unemployment checks. So, the unemployment checks come from the state. The federal government will add some extra money to unemployment checks, which makes it enough money to live on.
It`s the money to pay for vaccine distribution. More on that in a moment. It`s the money to re-open schools safely, which everybody wants. It`s the ban on eviction and foreclosures during the pandemic. It`s a big child tax credit to further financially help families with kids.
This thing is nearly $2 trillion, it`s a huge, huge thing. For context here, for understanding what this particular large number means, Republicans during the Obama administration freaked out for about five years -- arguably they freaked out for eight years, over the recovery act that President Obama signed in 2009 when the financial crisis happened.
They lost their minds over the Recovery Act, over the size of that bill. They never stopped talking about it, for the entire time that Obama was in office. That bill that they were so horrified by the size of, was about $800 billion. The COVID relief bill that is about to pass is 2 1/2 times that size.
And the House just passed it this weekend. And now it`s going to pass the Senate. And then, President Biden is going to sign it in to law. The reason the Senate can pass it is because they`re going to be able to do so without any Republican votes.
They`ve got two shots this year to pass stuff under budget reconciliation. They`re going to use one of those shots for infrastructure, this first shot, though, they`re using for COVID relief.
And the reason they have to do that is because Republicans are deciding this year that they don`t want to support COVID relief, which is astonishing on its face. I mean, astonishing in terms of the substance and politically astonishing given how much the American public wants the COVID relief bill.
Democrats, independents, Republicans, it`s wildly popular with the entire American public. It`s going to get zero Republican votes. Republicans on Capitol Hill want to complain about schools not being open, but then they`re going to vote no on the funding to reopen schools. They want to complain about access to vaccines but they want to vote no on paying for vaccine distribution. Good luck selling that.
But you know, they`ll deal with the political consequences of that themselves. Sub substantively, it`s sort of fine, it will pass without them. One uncanny thing, though, at least uncanny to me, is how little they want to talk about this. I mean, Republicans did really lose their mind in 2009 over the Recovery Act that cost less than a trillion dollars, but they lost their minds and never stopped talking about it.
They turned it in to this socialist hellscape that they had to warn us about and maybe nobody should have children again because the future generations had will suffer so much from this $800 billion bill that it will ruin America. They never stopped talking about it.
There was no rhetoric too extreme for them to use to denounce the Recovery Act. That was less than a trillion dollars. This is $2 trillion and this time Republicans are like, oh, they passed it in the House? Can we talk about Mr. Potato Head instead? Or something?
I mean, not a peep. What are they going to say about it? Here`s "The New York Times" yesterday reporting from the big conservative CPAC conference in Florida. Quote: As the conference began, House Democrats were preparing to approve a coronavirus relief package worth nearly $2 trillion that was opposed by every House Republican.
But inside the Hyatt Regency in Orlando, at the CPAC conference, it was hard to find many conservatives who cared.
They don`t care. At least they just don`t want to talk about it. It`s like they know it`s really popular. Even among Republican voters and so they`re just going to stay very quiet about it, let Democrats do it themselves and hope no one notices that they`re all voting no.
Did I mention that it`s a $2 trillion bill? And there`s another $2 trillion infrastructure bill coming right on its heels that will potentially be even more popular and the Republicans will not vote for that, either. I mean, they better hope there`s a lot of Mr. Potato Head stuff going on to give them all something to talk about while the new administration and the Democrats basically just make tracks around them and despite them with them trying to pretend like it`s not happening.
Speaking of making tracks, today they started shipping out doses of the third vaccine approved to prevent COVID-19 in the United States. Just like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has thus far proved to be radically effective at keeping people from having to be hospitalized and keeping people from dying from COVID-19.
I will also tell you, I -- I feel like I have to do this as full disclosure, because you`re going to see it in my face if I don`t explain it and I should just tell you, personally, as a person who is embarrassingly afraid of needles, I get so woozy, I have to sit down. I can`t handle myself with any dignity at all when it comes to having to get a shot or a blood draw or anything -- personally, this is the one I`ve been waiting for, because it`s only one shot.
If you have a person who is legit and afraid of needles is the only thing worse is knowing you have to do it again. The anticipation of it happening a second time after you endure it the first time for a person with a phobia, it is literally the anticipation of the second shot is worse. I will take whatever vaccine is available whenever it is finally my turn and I cannot wait until it is my turn. But I`m so hoping this is the one I`ll get.
So, I will only have to turn green and panic once, not twice. One shot and it would be over. Yes.
The footage today from the plant in Kentucky that is packing up and shipping out the first doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, it`s really nice to see workers at the plant signing the first boxes and cheering each other as they got the very first boxes loaded onto the first trucks. Here`s what they wrote on the very first box today: first J&J packout, get healthy. And they signed Bourbon 1, to show the plant they shipped it out of in Kentucky.
That was today. To hit President Biden`s plans for 100 million vaccine doses to be administered in his first 100 days in office, you can do that math in your head, 100 million in 100 days. Right, we would need to be administering 1 million shots a day to hit that goal.
Right now, our average, a rolling seven-day average we`re giving a day is 1.8 million. If we could double that, it would be great. Don`t get me wrong. It`s a huge ramp up from where we were. There was a dip with the cold weather and the storms that hit half the United States, but look we are back up, 1.8 million is our average now.
And today, bizarrely today, we were told for the first time that President Trump was vaccinated, along with First Lady Melania Trump at the White House in January while he was still president before the inauguration. Why did they keep this information secret from the American public?
Who -- I mean, sometimes I can -- sometimes that administration and that president did things that I thought were sort of crazy or wrong, but at least I could discern the self-interest. What was the self-interest here? To whom did the benefit accrue from keeping this secret from the American public?
While he was president, President Trump never encouraged Americans to get vaccinated. Now we know that he himself took the vaccine in secret and never told anyone. What possible benefit was there to him to keep that secret from the public? Think about all the good that could have done.
New poll shows that among Americans who are not yet vaccinated, there is a 2-1 disparity between Democrats and Republicans in terms of who is getting the vaccine when they get the chance to. Of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, among Democrats, 70 percent say they intend to get the vaccine as soon as they can.
But among Republicans, it`s only 33 percent. It`s less than half the number among Republicans. Well, why is that? What is it about being a Republican that might make you shy about vaccines?
Only a third of Republicans who have not been vaccinated yet intend to get the shot when had they can. What would the number be if President Trump was honest? I got vaccinated, and I was able to get it because I was president. Nobody would resent him for getting the vaccine.
Of course, you want the president vaccinated. What if he had just said, in January, I just got vaccinated, because I`m the president, as soon as you can get vaccinated, you should, too. You think there would still be a third of the Republicans in the country that were planning to get the vaccine if they knew that President Trump got it? Why did he keep this a secret?
And I will tell you, this comes of course not long on the heels of the news that was broken from "The New York Times" last month that President Trump was actually way sicker with COVID than the White House would publicly admit back in October of last year when he was hospitalized at Walter Reed.
"The Times" reports last month that Trump`s blood oxygen levels were down in the low 80s. That`s really bad. Low 90s means you are quite sick, potentially dangerously sick with COVID. He was apparently in the low 80s. Also with infiltrates in his lungs which means his lungs were showing up cloudy and white on his chest x-rays which is scary for somebody with advanced COVID.
"The Times" reported that when he went to Walter Reed some expected that he would be on a ventilator when he got there, that is how sick he was. None of that information was given to the public at the time. We only found out months later after he was out of office.
Again, had the White House, had the president just been honest about his personal -- his personal experience with COVID, how many Republicans and people who love that president, for whatever reason, would have finally believed that COVID is a serious thing that can kill even big strong people who you like?
But they kept that from the American public until he was out of office and now we find out that he also took the vaccine, but kept it secret. At a time when simply being straight with people about that might have saved thousands of American lives, or more. I mean, it`s just -- it`s just unbelievable. Who did that benefit?
You -- doing that cost millions of people their lives. Excuse me, cost thousands of people their lives. What for? Your pride? Didn`t want people to know that, I mean -- it`s incredible.
Anyway, but now, we`ve got three vaccines approved as of today and this third one is only one dose. Hooray. And it only needs to be stored in a normal fridge, which means a lot in terms of the supply chain and places this can get to and places it can be safely transported and stored and administered. There`s going to be 4 million doses of that vaccine shipping out this week.
They say they will have 20 million doses shipped by the end of the month and on top of the other two vaccines that are already out there, that means we will have enough vaccine available this month, by the end of this month, to vaccinate more than a third of the whole country. And that`s not even factoring in the AstraZeneca vaccine which just got approved in Canada today.
It`s been used in Europe for a few weeks now. There was some concerns that it wasn`t tested on a lot of older people, so there was some reluctance about that vaccine for older people in some parts of Europe, but the U.K. has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine and they just released results of a significant British study today that shows that vaccine works great in older people. Works in older people just as well as all the other vaccines work in older people.
AstraZeneca now approved in multiple European countries, now approved as of today in Canada. AstraZeneca is likely to be approved here in April. Next month. That will be vaccine number four, on top of the Pfizer, the Moderna and now the Johnson & Johnson.
As of today, we are getting 1.8 million doses administered every day and that is hopefully set to rise because now we actually do have a vaccine distribution plan for the country, for the first time -- something that did not exist six weeks ago when the new president and the new administration took over from the previous administration, which not only hid the details of the president`s COVID-19 illness, but also hid from the American people the fact that he himself and the first lady were vaccinated. Just astonishing.
But now, we`ve got a president who doesn`t lie about COVID-19 for sure. We have a president who got vaccinated on television, who tells people every chance he can get -- get vaccinated as soon as you can, as soon as it`s your turn, please do it.
We`ve got 1.8 million shots a day going in to American arms. And we`ve got legislation that`s going to pay for it and much more. And it`s legislation that is going to pass.
You guys, it`s working. What else can we do?
Joining us now is someone who has really quite series ambitions for what else we can do and what else should we do, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Warren, it`s great to see you. Thanks so much for making time tonight.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Thank you, it`s good to be here with you.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the big COVID relief bill first? Do you think it will pass? Do you think it will pass soon so that people don`t start to lose unemployment assistance which would happen two weeks from today? Are we on track?
WARREN: Yes. You know, I sure hope so. We need this money.
And it`s exactly as you said at the beginning. This is the money we need for vaccines. This is the money we need to help people who are struggling and this is the money we need to get our schools open. This is government working the way it should be.
MADDOW: In terms of the content of the bill and what may be tweaked in the Senate, I want to talk to you about the minimum wage situation, and the parliamentarian essentially arguing that that -- giving an advisory opinion, that that be excluded from this bill because of the Senate rules.
But there`s also the issue of whether or not there are conservative Democrats, frankly, moderate Democrats who are insisting on making the bill smaller.
"The Washington Post" is reporting tonight that President Biden met with some conservative Democratic senators who want the income eligibility tightened so fewer people get those $1,400 checks.
What can you tell us about that and what`s your reaction to that?
WARREN: Look, I`m going to be pushing for more, not less, help for people. I think that`s critically important.
But the bottom line is, we`re Democrats. We understand the need for help and we`re going to be talking with each other about it, but that`s what we`re committed to and I feel good about where we are on this.
Look, all you have to do is look around. We`ve lost half a million people in this country and we have had people sick. We`ve had children home from school for a year now.
We need to get this money out the door. We need to get it to our state and local governments. We need to get it to the folks who are on the ground and need to get things moving.
We`ve got money in this bill for child care. Do you know how many people can`t get back to work because they can`t get decent child care? We had a child care crisis before this pandemic. And now, it`s far worse.
So, these are the measures that we need. It is literally a COVID relief plan. And the sooner we get it out the door, the better.
I think the House has given us a good bill. I think there may be some small tweaks for much more technical reasons within the Senate about jurisdiction and so on.
But I think this is a good bill for us to go forward on. It`s not as big as I would like it to be. But it`s a good bill.
MADDOW: On the issue of the minimum wage, I know you support a $15 an hour minimum wage.
WARREN: I do.
MADDOW: And I feel like we`ve sort of -- we`ve talked this provision to death in the sense that every American is paying attention to the news like knows about the Senate parliamentarian and the Senate rules and the Byrd Rule and all these other things. Bottom line, do you think there is a practical vehicle by which you and your colleagues can get us a rise in the minimum wage this year? Do you think it can happen?
WARREN: Well, of course, it can happen if we just get rid of the filibuster. And look, I know I have been singing this song for a long time about the filibuster. But watch what`s happening.
Mitch McConnell right now has a veto, over our being able to do anything unless we can twist ourselves into pretzels and make it fit through reconciliation.
And so, now, the parliamentarian said sorry, that pretzel won`t go in the bag so we can`t do minimum wage through reconciliation. But if we say that we`re going to get rid of the filibuster, we are going to go with majority rule the way the Constitution holds for the House and the Senate, and we can actually pass the things we need to pass, then this, this is not an issue.
And understand, it`s not just minimum wage. It`s voter protection. It`s environmental crisis issues.
It`s immigration. It`s universal child care. It`s college. It`s gun safety.
It`s the things we need to pass to make this country work. And I want to be clear -- it`s the things the majority of Americans strongly support.
Americans didn`t send us to Washington to be some kind of debating society. They sent us here to get things done and that`s what we should do. And that means no veto for Mitch McConnell.
MADDOW: You have proposed and today introduced legislation that would put a new tax on the ultra wealthy, on people with net worth more than $50 million and increasing amounts of tax with significantly even larger net worth than that.
This is something -- I feel like we -- I have talked to you about this a number of times because this was a central part of your platform when you had your gangbusters run for the Democratic nomination in the presidential race this year. The thing I think that people don`t know about your wealth tax proposal is how popular it is. That it has public support, not just from Democratic voters but from a majority of Republican voters as well.
I wonder if that creates the possibility of some strange bedfellows for you on a targeted proposal like the one you introduced today.
WARREN: Look, this is wildly popular because people get it that the system today is unfair and rigged.
So, let me remind everybody what the wealth tax is. It says on fortunes bigger than $50 million, on your $50 millionth and first dollars, you`ve got to pitch in two cents and two cents on every dollar after that until you hit a billion dollars in assets and then a few pennies more.
This would make that top 10th of 1 percent, this would only affect about 100,000 families in America. This would make them pay and it would produce about $3 trillion in revenue.
That`s money for child care. That`s money for infrastructure. That`s money to build back better like Joe Biden says.
We needed this before, when I was running for president. But just understand, now that the pandemic has hit, while millions of families have slipped into poverty, millions of families are unemployed, what`s happened at the very top is the 660 billionaires in America have increased their net worth over the last year -- are you ready? -- by $1.3 trillion.
All we`re asking --
WARREN: -- is 2 cents, 2 cents to help build a future for the rest of America.
MADDOW: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, it`s good to have you here. Thanks for being here tonight.
WARREN: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: All right. We`ve got much more to get to. Busy Monday night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Last week, here on the show, we covered a story that I said at the time skeeved me out in a way that made me worry about my ability to sleep that night. I was right to worry about that.
And we actually heard from a lot of you guys at home that that story really resonated for you and skeeved you out, too.
The story came from Richard Engel at NBC News, who partnered with an investigative group Bellingcat to look at one particular participant on the attack of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Her name is Riley Williams, she is seen in the spot shadow, appearing to direct other rioters inside the Capitol.
She gained notoriety even among the other people arrested for the January 6th, when she was charged ultimately with helping to steal a laptop from the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The FBI cited in the charging documents a witness who claimed that Ms. Williams planned to pass that laptop to somebody she knew who was going to give it to Russian intelligence.
Riley Williams denies the charges. Pelosi`s laptop incidentally has not been found. But what they discovered is that Riley Williams is also the woman in this incredibly creepy video. Her giving a Nazi salute, she`s wearing a mask and sunglasses. She gives the Nazi salute, she says "Heil Hitler." She`s wearing neo-Nazi symbols. She`s advocating white supremacy in the video.
The key that allowed them to definitively prove that Riley Williams is the woman in the video, that indeed among the Capitol Hill rioters who have been charged thus far are anti-Semites and white supremacists, the way that they were able to do the leg work to figure out that that same person not only appeared in that video, but she posted racist and anti-Semitic screeds to several different social media accounts, the key that unlocked that is this video she posted from one of those accounts. It`s a photo of riley at a pro-Trump rally in D.C. in December, and in that photo, she is standing next to one of the speakers at the rally who is apparently one of her heroes, a man named Nick Fuentes.
Bellingcat discovered in combing through Ms. Williams` social media history, that of all the people she followed, it`s Nick Fuentes guy was her clear favorite. Mr. Fuentes is an advocate for a whites-only homeland, as in a country exclusively for white people. I will give you one guess as to what country he thinks that should be.
His resume includes denying that the Holocaust happened, claiming that things were better in America under Jim Crow laws with pro-racial segregation of course. The better to achieve a whites-only nation. He was at the white nationalist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. He rallied pro-Trump rioters outside the Capitol on January 6th this year.
And this weekend, while conservatives and elected Republicans were holding their Annual Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, this year it was all about how Donald Trump actually won the election and he`s still secretly the actual president.
While that was happening at CPAC, this guy Nick Fuentes hosted his own rival conference for Trump fans whom CPAC wasn`t enough, for Trump fans who needed something more radical, a conference for right wingers who think that CPAC is just missing that explicit white nationalist, Holocaust- denying flair.
Nick Fuentes took to the stage this conference, this America first conference that he hosted, and from there, he railed against a quote, new racial caste system in the country, with whites at the bottom. He said America needs to protect its, quote, white demographic core.
Really nice, nice folks, right?
Guess who the keynote speaker was at the conference this weekend? The keynote at the white homeland holocaust denial, wasn`t Jim Crow great guys, white nationalist conference, the keynote speaker was a sitting congressman. A sitting five-term Republican congressman and by sitting, yes, he is still in Congress -- Paul Gosar of Arizona.
Not a single other sitting member of Congress would go near this white nationalist white homeland conference. But for Congressman Gosar of Arizona, sure, and, you know, don`t just go, how about keynoting it?
And, yes, Paul Gosar is the kind of congressman who has said things like, the U.S. is already in a civil war and, quote, we just haven`t started shooting yet. He says stuff like this had and associates himself with causes like this. But keynoting the white nationalist conference? The conference for America being a whites-only country?
That is something that is supposed to be too crazy and offensive even for this Republican Party now, right? I mean, that`s why they had to have their own separate conference aside from CPAC, right?
Here`s how Congressman Gosar`s home state paper "The Arizona Republic" put it in a column today. Quote, where is the condemnation from Gosar`s fellow party leaders, the ones who insist the lunatic fringe is not taking over the once Grand Old Party. This is an easy call for a party that insists it`s not the party of white supremacist.
It ought to be an easy call. That would be an especially easy call, because Paul Gosar was joined at the white nationalist conference this weekend by Steve King. Remember who Steve King is? Former Republican congressman.
He is a former Republican congressman because he was stripped of his committee assignments, shunned and ultimately defeated in a Republican primary. After he said one too many nice things about white supremacy, and that was seen as over the line for the Republican Party.
Steve King is exhibit A for the Republican Party`s straightforward playbook about how to handle these things. He`s a walking, talking exhibit A, standing there at that same white nationalist conference, right next to Congressman Gosar. How come they`re not going to use that playbook against Gosar, the guy that`s still currently in Congress? Seriously. Are you guys cool with this?
Tik tok. Watch this space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We are hoping to reunite the families either here or in the country of origin. We hope to be in a position to give them the election and if in fact they seek to reunite here in the United States, we will explore lawful pathways for them to remain in the United States and to address the family needs so we are acting as restoratively as possible.
It`s because of the men and women of the Department of Homeland Security and across the federal enterprise that we will dig out of the cruelty of the past administration and we will rebuild our nation`s asylum system and all of our humanitarian programs of which we have been historically so proud as a leader in the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Homeland Security Secretary Ale Mayorkas announcing today that the hundreds of kids who remain separated from their parents due to the Trump administration`s family separation policy, they will be given a chance to be reunited with their moms and dads here in the United States if that`s what they want.
The Biden administration is trying to reunite those families. They say they will give the families a choice as to whether or not they will be reunited which the U.S. or another country. If they do, they will explore legal pathways for those families to stay here in the United States.
Under former President Trump, more than 5,500 kids were taken away from their moms and dads at the border. When Biden took office, at least 1,000 kids were still separated from their families, some of them years later.
For 611 kids, hope seemed totally lost, because their parents could not be found at all. A court-appointed steering committee of lawyers and advocates have been trying to find those families for years only to learn late in the process that the Trump White House had sat on names and phone numbers and addresses that would have helped with reunification.
The Trump administration just didn`t hand that information over while the kids languished with no families. A month ago, days after the inauguration, the Biden administration launched a task force to try to make these families whole again. And from what we can tell, it seems to be working.
Just in the past week, we learned that the parents of 112 of those kids have now been located. I mean, that still leaves 499 kids for whom the parents haven`t yet been found, so, there`s a long way to go, but progress does appear to be being made.
And for over 100 of those 600 otherwise lost kids, their families are now found.
Reacting to today`s announcement from the homeland security secretary, the ACLU, Anthony Romero, said this, he said, quote, these separated families suffers unfathomably because of what our government did. We owe them restitution. This includes a permanent pathway to citizenship, care and resources to help them.
Joining us now is Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Anthony, it`s really nice to see you. Thank you for making time tonight.
ANTHONY ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU: Of course, Rachel, delighted to be with you.
MADDOW: I have a whole mix of feelings about this story. I still find it hard sometimes to talk about. But I`m still as revolted as I ever was, as an American.
ROMERO: As we should be.
MADDOW: That we did this.
And I am hopeful that there is progress being made and that the current administration feels as revolted as I think most of us do about what they`re trying to clean up, but I`m worried about both the pace and the scale of what they`re going to be able to do to try to right this wrong.
ROMERO: Yeah. Well, I share both the urgency, a little bit of the worry, but I`m hopeful today. This has been a long time coming. We filed the lawsuit in February 2018 on behalf of one client.
And today, we heard Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas commit to help us find and restore these families. He said, quote, we will restore them to the fullest capacity that we as a U.S. government can do, end quote.
So, we`re going to hold them to those exact words, which I have memorized, because the fullest capacity is -- is a lot. We put a probe on Mars. We can find the remaining 499 families. We can bring the families here. We can give them a pathway to citizenship.
We can give them restitution for the torture and the child abuse that we committed at the highest levels of our government. They orchestrated and approved it.
So, we can do it. And we`re going to hold him to those words.
MADDOW: You talk about restitution and trying to make these families whole. Is part of what needs to be done also retribution? Does there need to be the kind of accountability for the officials who did this for the policy makers who ordered this and the officials who implemented it that should involve the justice department should there be criminal penalties?
MADDOW: Should the Trump administration officials that did this be afraid of the Biden administration coming to hold them accountable?
ROMERO: Absolutely, if we don`t, you know that foreign governments and some of our allies will. Absolutely, accountability has to be part of it.
That was one of the biggest mistakes of the Obama administration, of which President Biden was apart, because President Obama decided to not seek accountability for torture. He wanted to look forward and not look back.
And look where we ended up. Under President Trump, we had a family separation policy that was torture. Physicians for human rights called it torture. And unless we hold the criminals accountable for the torture and abuse they perpetrated on 5,500 families and children, 499 kids tonight don`t have a mom and dad around them because of what we did as a government -- a policy announced by Jeff Sessions, an official policy, zero tolerance policy that was not just cruel, it was criminal.
So, we don`t hold criminals accountable, then what is rule of law? But our first priority right now is to find the remaining 499 kids. Let`s make sure that we reunite them. Bring all the families back here. Give them a pathway to citizenship, restore them with restitution, that means financial resources to put around these families as a way to keep them, keep them from the harm and trauma they have experienced to restore them a bit.
We will never be able to pay it back. This is a debt we will never pay back. This is like turning back the St. Louis during World War II or Japanese-American internment. This is one of the greatest stains on American history.
But we need to fix it and fix it right. And Secretary Mayorkas is to be commended for getting out in front of the cameras today and making a commitment that we have not heard from any government official before, including the president.
The secretary of homeland security deserves our applause.
MADDOW: Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, thank you for your time tonight, we will stay on the story until the bitter end, we swear.
ROMERO: We will too. Thank you. I know you will. Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. More ahead here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: At the Pentagon today, the Biden administration announced it will be providing $125 million in new military aide to Ukraine to counter aggression from Russia. Russia invaded Ukraine seven years ago and took part of Ukraine for itself. Russia and Russian-backed forces have continued ever since to menace the whole eastern swath of that country, the Biden administration now sending Ukraine money and weapons to defend themselves. The sizable package of weaponry they`re sending includes two of the U.S. Navy`s mark six weaponized patrol boats and counter artillery radars and satellite imagery capability and military medical equipment.
And here`s a nice change. The aid comes with no strings attached. Huh, weird right? To get this help from our government, Ukraine`s president doesn`t have to announce some bogus investigation into a single one of Joe Biden`s 2024 potential presidential opponents. Amazing, right? It`s weird.
Also in the night and day news department today, the Biden administration plans to impose sanctions on Russia this week, possibly as early as tomorrow, in response to the poisoning and imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The Trump administration took no action in response to Russia`s poisoning Navalny with a chemical nerve agent last summer.
After he recovered from that attack abroad and returned to Russia and was immediately arrested when he landed, today, we learned that Navalny has been shipped off to a harsh prison east of Moscow where he`ll begin serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence.
This week`s sanctions will be the first sanctions levied against Russia by the Biden administration and they`ll reportedly be followed by further sanctions punishing Russia for the devastating SolarWinds cyber attack, which successfully compromised at least nine U.S. government agencies and about 100 U.S. companies.
Of course, the scale of that damage, a scale of the damage caused by that attack is still being assessed, but it does feel like night and day to finally have an administration who is willing to make Russia pay a price for this stuff.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: Best new thing in the world today. Ah. Here`s a fantastic one. Behold this little guy. His name is Theo. Look at him!
This bundle of cuteness is the brand new son of our beloved producer Miriam and her husband Alex. Theo made a surprise entrance Friday night, he was a couple of weeks early. But he`s still gigantic. Mom and dad and Theo are doing great.
Theo already fielding calls from baby hair modeling agencies. Look -- he`s brand new, already looks like he`s ready for a driver`s license and he might soon be able to make a good living as an Elvis impersonator.
God bless you, Theo. Welcome to the world.
We`re having quite a baby boom on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW right now. Producer Matthew is just back from paternality leave tonight. Miriam just had Theo. Producer Jen is going to be out on a maternity leave any second now.
Yeah. COVID baby bust? As if.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL."
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END