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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 3/29/21

Guests: Rochelle Walensky, Brandt Williams


MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. CDC Director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky is interviewed. Opening statements from the prosecution, and then the defense have been delivered this morning in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.



JEAN GUERRERO, AUTHOR: And they`re just going to try to whip up hysteria about this, you know, alleged third world takeover.

HASAN: It`s truly horrific. I mean, to sum it up, it`s truly horrific he`s still on the scene, but, Jean Guerrero, thank you for writing that book, and enlightening us about Stephen Miller, and thanks for being with me tonight.

That is ALL IN on this Monday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Mehdi. Thank you so much. It`s great to see you, my friend. Thank you.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Very happy to have you here. What a news day today.

The ship is unstuck in the Suez Canal at long last. But, of course, it will remain stuck in our hearts forever. Now that we know that one of the world`s most crucial shipping arteries can get stuck like a cork for days and days and days and days and days, thanks to just one big ship steered a little bit wrong.

Who knows whether we will ever put two and two together that maybe you can`t just keep making ships infinitely bigger without also increasing the size of the crew that pilots them or giving them any better tools for maneuvering their giantly gigantic giantness through tiny little bottlenecks originally designed for ships 1/100th that size or even smaller.

Long live the Ever Given. Also, let`s see who gets stuck next. That happened today.

Also today, the election at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama, this is the election to decide whether or not that facility can have a union, which is a big deal for that facility, which employs thousands of people, but it will have huge implications for Americans in the workplace in general. It will have huge implications for whether employees can be in a union at the country`s second largest employer, Amazon.

This election that everybody up to and including the president of the United States has weighed in on, that election has been spooling out at the Bessemer plant for the last few weeks. It finally comes to an end tonight. We`ll have more for you tonight coming up on why even as that election ends, it might still be a while yet before we know what the result is going to be there. But once we do get a result, it is going to be a very big deal either way.

We`re also going to have a live report from Minnesota where the trial is under way as of today for the officer accused of killing George Floyd in Minneapolis by kneeling on Mr. Floyd`s neck for more than nine minutes until he died. That death set off weeks of some of the largest protests and demonstrations in American history.

The individual of -- excuse me, the issue of individual accountability and justice for the officer charged in Mr. Floyd`s death, it was always going to be intense, but it`s all the more so since this is a trial in state court in Minnesota, which means we get to have cameras in the courtroom. So we get to see every twist and turn in the case, every action by the judge, every bit of witness testimony, every cross-examination.

Day one was today. It was quite dramatic. We`re going to have more on that coming up in just a moment.

On the issue of voting rights, the great reporter Jane Mayer at "The New Yorker Magazine" somehow obtained a leaked phone call from the big money conservative forces that are trying to derail Democratic efforts to protect voting rights at the federal level.

Now, why is this such an urgent thing right now? Well, both sides see it very urgently, apparently. Late last week, of course, we saw Republicans in the state of Georgia sign into law the most sweeping anti-voting rights law in generations, including a truly novel provision that would let Republicans -- that will let Republicans in the state legislature oust elections officials in specific counties and take those counties over with their own people if the Republicans in the state legislature don`t like the way that county voted. What could possibly go wrong?

The night of the rushed closed door signing of that bill, we saw a Georgia state representative, a Democrat, Representative Park Cannon, arrested by state troopers for knocking on the door of the governor`s office, asking to be let in to observe the signing.

They really are charging Representative Cannon with two felonies for that. They are threatening her with nearly a decade in prison. I kid you not.

But that Georgia bill is the first of what will be many. Even the specific provision that has attracted outrage across the country that is hence forth a criminal act in Georgia to offer water to a voter who has been waiting in an hours-long line to vote, even that provision, the no offering water to voters in long lines, that itself is moving to other Republican controlled states with Florida Republicans apparently deciding today they would like a law like that in Florida, please, too.

They like that part of it specifically. Make the lines long enough, and exactly the right neighborhoods, and well, if you ban food and water for the people on those very long lines, well, you can basically fine tune the size and color of the electorate through sheer physician attrition. Maybe air strikes next, if that doesn`t work.

Texas already has the most restrictive rules in the country when it comes to voting, but Republicans in Texas, too, are also moving after Georgia to make voting in Texas even more difficult to do. We`ll see whether they also pursue a Georgia style elections trap door where they just give themselves the power to take over themselves and remove elections officials in individual counties if those counties don`t vote the way Republicans in the legislature wanted. Since the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the only thing approaching a potentially potent defense against all this stuff happening in all of these states is if there`s a new federal law, if President Biden can sign a new federal law that basically puts a floor under American voting rights, that provides a federal guarantee of voting rights and nonpartisan administration of elections that individual states can`t go below.

The tape that Jane Mayer at "The New Yorker" obtained and published today shows that far right dark money groups are pretty panicked about that prospect, about the prospect of Biden and the Democrats figuring out a way to pass that legislation, to pass those reforms. And part of the reason they`re panicked about that prospect is because they cannot figure out a way to argue that those reforms are unnecessary or that they shouldn`t happen. They can`t come up with an argument that any actual voters like.

Turns out their research found that when you just explain in neutral terms the ways the For the People Act, the Democrats bill, S-1. It`s already passed the House, HR-1. It`s now Senate Bill-1, S-1, in the Senate. It`s the For the People Act.

What the research found that was funded by far-right dark money billionaire groups is that if you describe in neutral terms what that bill does, if you just say just the facts of what Democrats are trying to do there, that it would protect voting rights at the same level for every American in every state. It would put transparency into the elections process. It would assure nonpartisan administration of elections.

It turns out if you explain it in neutral terms, what the bill would actually do, oh, no, American voters like it, a lot. Left, right, and center. Oh, no.

These are disastrous research results for the dark money far right billionaires who were trying to turn people against it. Whatever are they going to do?


KYLE MCKENZIE, RESEARCH DIRECTOR, KOCH-RUN ADVOCACY GROUP "STAND TOGETHER": When presented with a very neutral description of HR-1, people were generally supportive, and the most worrisome part, which Grover mentions at the very beginning of his presentation, is that conservatives were actually as supportive as the general public was when they read the neutral description of HR-1. There`s a large, very large chunk of conservatives who are supportive of these types of efforts.

HR-1 stops billionaires from buying elections. Unfortunately, we found that that is a winning message for both, you know, the general public and also conservatives. You know, that simple message, but far and away, was resonated with people, and you know, when they had to compare that message versus tons of other ones, they were most persuaded by that, and they found that to be most convincing and most, you know, riled them up the most.


MADDOW: Imagine you`re a researcher who`s been hired by billionaires who buy elections. As like, their hobby, their sport, their real raison d`etre in the world, right? You have been hired by billionaires who have been playing with American politics as a hobby, right? They are the dark money billionaires to end all dark money billionaires in politics.

They have hired you to do research on this bill the Democrats are thinking about. What you find when you message test that bill is when you tell people what the bill would do, HR-1 stops billionaires from buying elections, what do you find in your research? Quoting the researcher directly, quote, unfortunately, we found that that is a winning message for both the general public and also conservatives.

I`m really sorry, sir. Boss, thank you for the funding for the research. May I please stay employed here, but I just found out people don`t want you to do what you do. Want me to put a fine point on it? Because I can.

Pity the poor billionaires who commissioned this research. Turns out the public really doesn`t want them controlling our elections with giant secret infusions of money that they never have to disclose and let them play with American democracy like a mad dog plays with a rag doll.

Yeah, turns out Americans don`t like that, not even conservatives like that. What are they going to do?

We`re hoping to have the New Yorker`s Jane Mayer here on the show tomorrow night to talk about this remarkable leak that she got, to talk about the shaky, worried, almost panicked effort by far right billionaires and their interest groups to try to make sure the new voting restrictions hold up and the Democrats can`t stop them by passing HR-1, S-1, the For The People Act.

But tonight, here, in just a moment, we`re going to be joined live by the director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, on what has been a huge day of news, mostly good news, but also otherwise, on COVID.

Let`s start with the good. First of all, you might remember late last week, we got this sort of astonishing news that sort of flummoxed me on the air. I kind of lost speech about it for a second, but the news late last week the U.S. had hit a single day vaccination record of over 3 million vaccinations delivered in a single day. I know big numbers seem like big numbers, but nearly it was 3.4 million shots in one day. In one day, in a single day, we vaccinated more than 1 percent of the entire U.S. population, at the end of last week. That is stunning.

Even more stunning, it turns out we kept up that pace over the weekend. Looking at the numbers for today, it turns out that over the last four days, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and today, Monday, the total number of vaccination doses given in this country was about 12.6 million, which means in four days we kept up that pace, in four days we vaccinated nearly 4 percent of the U.S. population, which is just astonishing.

I mean, if you keep up that pace, hopefully even increase that pace, just means we`re going to get there. Like it`s in sight. We can keep doing it at this pace, we can get there. We can speed it up, we can get there.

According to the White House, more than a third of all American adults, of all American adults, more than a third have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, 36 percent of all American adults. If we can keep up this pace, vaccinating 1 percent of the population every day, let alone it`s an even larger proportion of adults. If we can keep up this pace, we have more than a third of the population having at least one vaccine dose now. We could double that in about a month if we keep up this pace, which would get us very close to where we need to be.

I mean, imagine how different our prospects will feel if we`ve got 70 percent, 75 percent, 80 percent of adults in this country vaccinated, and younger people are starting to get vaccinated too. President Biden today announced a big expansion in terms of the distribution of vaccines to pharmacies.

And this is interesting. Something I want to talk to Dr. Walensky about. It seems like getting your vaccine through a local pharmacy is turning out to be the most popular if not among the most popular way for Americans to get their vaccines. It does depend from group to group and place to place, but that means that finding is causing the Biden administration to double down on that as a route for vaccines.

Right now, the federal government is getting vaccine supplies to 17,000 pharmacies. President Biden announced today that that number will go from 17,000 pharmacies to 40,000 pharmacies, more than doubling it.

President Biden said today with a number of doses distributed continuing to rise each week, and with those 20,000 plus new pharmacies coming onboard to administer shots that haven`t been giving them thus far but will be soon, President Biden said today that by April 19th, three weeks from today, 90 percent of all American adults will be eligible for the vaccine, and 90 percent of us will have a place administering the vaccine that`s within five miles of where we live.

And that is phenomenal news if it pans out. It also comes out alongside some scientific news about how the vaccines are working. That`s honestly the data I feel like I have been waiting for. I have been focused on this issue of treatment for people who get infected with COVID, can we offer them a cure, can we offer something to keep them from getting sick, from going to the hospital, from dying. I talked about it a lot on the show. You have probably seen it.

But the other thing that we have all, I think, been waiting for in terms of vaccines is how much vaccinating everybody gets us closer to the end of there being a coronavirus epidemic in this country. And we need -- there is a piece of scientific data we know to be able to answer that question. Don`t just think about it in terms of whether we individually are going to survive it. Is the country going to end our coronavirus crisis by vaccinating enough Americans?

It`s a piece of information that we have needed. Today we got it. We all know already if you get vaccinated, that vaccine will basically prevent you from getting sick with COVID, it will prevent you from going to the hospital with COVID symptoms, prevent you from dying with COVID. Great, good for you.

But there`s a scientific gray area about whether once you`re vaccinated you can still get infected. It may not be an infection that will give you symptoms, it may not be an infection to send you to the hospital, that will kill you, but can you get infected with mild symptoms or no-symptoms even if you have been vaccinated? That`s an important thing to know, right? Because even if vaccinated people themselves aren`t going to get sick from COVID, the prospect that -- by getting vaccinated you might protect yourself, but you could still potentially get infected, not have symptoms, and unknowingly pass it on to other people, and be protecting yourself, you would still be a risk to others, that prospect has been looming. And that uncertainty has made it woollier and harder to think about how really your life is going to change all that much if you`re vaccinated but you`re still potentially a risk to any non-vaccinated person.

Getting ahold of that information about whether you can get infected once you`re vaccinated and potentially pass it to somebody else, that`s really important.

Well, today, the CDC reported new data that shows that under real world conditions, not just in a lab, not just extrapolating from tiny numbers of test subjects but looking at thousands of front line health workers and essential workers who have gotten vaccinated and who have since been doing their jobs and living in a real world, not only are the vaccines for those folks, thousands of them, keeping those people from getting sick from COVID themselves, those vaccines are also highly effective at preventing those people from getting infected, even with non-symptomatic infection. And if you are not infected, you can`t give it to anybody else.

And I know this sounds like an incremental piece of news, but sit on this for a second enough to absorb what this means, right? What this means is that we can get there with vaccines. We can end this thing.

It means that instead of a vaccine being able -- excuse me, it means instead of the virus being able to hop from person to person to person to person, spreading and spreading, sickening some of them but not all of them, and the ones it doesn`t sicken don`t know they have it and they give it to mere poem because they didn`t recognize, right? Instead of the virus being able to hop from person to person to person, potentially mutating and becoming more virulent and drug resistant along the way, now we know that the vaccines work well enough that the virus stops with every vaccinated person.

A vaccinated person gets exposed to the virus. The virus does not infect them. The virus cannot then use that person to go anywhere else. It cannot use a vaccinated person as a host to get more people.

That means the vaccines will get us to the end of this. If we just go fast enough to get the whole population vaccinated. It`s huge news.

New scientific findings announced by the CDC today, which made it all the more striking that the CDC director today wanted to talk about the other side of the coin. And she got personal and direct and a little scary in doing so. She wanted to talk today about the not good news, the news that even though our vaccination program is blasting off and still getting bigger and faster even now, the other side of the epidemic, the speed at which COVID is spreading now among the still unvaccinated population, that is very scary again.

And it is looking like it is heading toward a new surge. And if we get a big new surge, that could screw all of this up. Unless, we do something about it to stop it now.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Yesterday, we in the United States surpassed 30 million cases of COVID-19. CDC`s most recent data show that the seven-day average of new cases is slightly less than 60,000 cases per day. This is a 10 percent increase compared to the prior seven-day period. Hospitalizations have also increased. The most recent seven-day average, 4,800 admissions per day is up from 4,600 admissions per day in the prior seven-day period.

And deaths, which typically lag behind cases and hospitalizations, have now started to rise, increasing nearly 3 percent to a seven-day average of approximately 1,000 deaths per day.

When I first started at CDC about two months ago, I made a promise to you. I would tell you the truth, even if it was not the news we wanted to hear. Now is one of those times when I have to share the truth, and I have to hope and trust you will listen. I`m going to pause here, I`m going to lose the script.


MADDOW: I`m going to pause here. I`m going to lose the script.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at the White House COVID briefing today. At that point where she says, I`m going to pause here, I`m going to lose the script, what she then said thereafter made headlines across the country.

I mean, you can already hear the tone -- like, all of the other news right now on COVID is all about this gangbusters vaccine rollout and this incredible news about the effectiveness of the vaccines, them being a very effective at keeping us from getting infected, not just keeping us from getting sick, which is so important in terms of the size of the epidemic. Every else is kind of good news.

Dr. Walensky comes out today and says our new case numbers are really bad. Our hospitalizations are going in the wrong direction. I`m going to give it to you straight. I`m going to pause here. I`m going to lose the script. What she then said made headlines across the country and led to sharp words along the same lines later in the day today from President Biden.


WALENSKY: I`m going to pause here. I`m going to lose the script. And I`m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope.

But right now, I`m scared. I know what it`s like as a physician to stand in that patient room, gowned, gloved, masked, shielded. And to be the last person to touch someone else`s loved one because their loved one couldn`t be there. I know what it`s like when you`re the physician, when you`re the health care provider, and you`re worried you don`t have the resources to take care of the patients in front of you.

I know that feeling of nausea when you read the crisis standards of care and you wonder whether they`re going to be enough ventilators to go around and who`s going to make that choice. And I know what it`s like to go up to your hospital every day and see the extra morgue sitting outside.

I didn`t know at the time when it would stop. We didn`t have the science to tell us. We were just scared. We have come such a long way.

Three historic scientific breakthrough vaccines, and we are rolling them out so very fast. So I`m speaking today not necessarily as your CDC director, and not only as your CDC director, but as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, to ask you to just please hold on a little while longer.

I so badly want to be done. I know you all so badly want to be done. We are just almost there, but not quite yet. And so I`m asking you to just hold on a little longer to get vaccinated when you can, so that all of those people that we all love will still be here when this pandemic ends.

We are not powerless. We can change this trajectory of the pandemic. But it will take all of us recommitting to following the public health prevention strategies consistently while we work to get the American public vaccinated.

I`m calling on our elected officials, our faith-based communities, our civic leaders and our influencers in communities across the nation. And I`m calling on every single one of you to sound the alarm, to carry these messages into your community and your spheres of influence. We do not have the luxury of inaction, for the health of our country, we must work together now to prevent a fourth surge.


MADDOW: A fourth surge. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky saying today a fourth surge is coming, even with all of the vaccinations that we`re rolling out, saying we`re going to have hospitalizations and deaths like we have had before in previous surges, and like they`re having now in some European countries again. She says it`s happening because we`re opening up just a few weeks too soon. Just barely before we have enough people vaccinated.


WALENSKY: What we have seen over the last week or so is a steady rise in cases. We`re now in the 60,000 to 70,000 range. When we see that uptick in cases what we have seen before is things have a tendency to surge and surge big.

Many of these states are opening up at levels we wouldn`t necessarily recommend. I am working with the governors. I will be speaking with them tomorrow to try to buckle down on trying to refrain from opening up too fast. You know, in the context of the fact that we`re scaling up these vaccines. I think people want to be done with this, as I mentioned, I, too, want to be done with this.

The thing that`s different this time is that we actually have it in our power to be done with the scale of the vaccination, and that will be so much slower if we have another surge to deal with as well.


MADDOW: We have it in our power to be done, to be done with this thing, given the scale of the vaccination that we`re doing.

But as Dr. Walensky says it will be so much slower to deal with, it will take so much longer to get there if we`re starting another big surge in cases right now, which it looks like is what we`re starting in for right now. President Biden himself echoed Dr. Walensky`s call on that, and sharply worded remarks today at the White House.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our progress in vaccination is a stunning example that there`s nothing, nothing this country cannot do if we put our minds to it, and we do it together. But I have also said, I will always give it to you straight, straight from the shoulder. Our work is far from over. The war against COVID-19 is far from won.

This is deadly serious. We share the sentiment of Dr. Walensky, the head of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC expressed earlier today this is not a time to lessen our efforts. That`s what she said.

We could still see a setback in the vaccination program. And most importantly, if we let our guard down now, we can see a virus getting worse, not better.

I`m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please, this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down. And businesses should require masks as well.

The failure to take this virus seriously, precisely what got us into this mess in the first place. Risk more cases and more deaths. Look, as I do my part to accelerate the vaccine distribution and vaccinations, I need the American people to do their part as well.

Mask up. Mask up. It`s a patriotic duty. It`s the only way we ever get back to normal.


MADDOW: President Biden at the White House today, amid news day full of incredible hope and progress, scientific advances in our scientific understanding that give us renewed hope. But amid that, a newly urgent demand in conjunction with an emotional CDC director to stop reopenings now around the country for a few weeks to reinstate mask rules now in states, in cities, in counties, in businesses so that we can put this thing down. Because it is within reach unless we`re about to let this thing get out of control again.

All right, we have news ahead on one thing the Biden administration itself may have up its sleeve on the mask issue. We have also got the CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, here with us live next.


MADDOW: Director of the CDC, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, today got very stark and warned the country about her fears of impending doom, as new COVID cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all start to rise again for the fourth time in this country.

Dr. Walensky is a scientist. She`s not prone to hyperbole. She sticks to the facts and the data.

When she talks about having a sense of impending doom, that seemed like something we ought to listen to.

Joining us now for the interview is Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.

Dr. Walensky, thank you so much for making time. I know it`s been a long day already.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Thanks so much for having me, Rachel. Good evening.

MADDOW: So, we are at a time in some ways of add least measured optimism in this country. Vaccinating a record number of people every day, and the pace seems to be, if anything, improving. And yet, you issued this sort of dire outlook for how things could go if we`re not careful.

What is -- what is the sense of -- what is the doom that you sense might be impending?

WALENSKY: First of all, I just want to note that I share this optimism. I`m so -- I`m so impressed with our ability to vaccinate at a clip of 3 million vaccinations a day. We have 93 million Americans who have gotten their first dose, 51 million who have gotten their second dose.

And we have -- we can kind of almost see the end. We`re vaccinating so very fast, our data from the CDC today suggests, you know, that vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don`t get sick, and that it`s not just in the clinical trials but it`s also in real world data.

And yet on the other side, I`m watching the cases tick up. I`m watching us have increased numbers of hyper-transmissible variants. I`m watching our travel numbers tick up, and the sense is, I have seen what it looks like to anticipate the oncoming surge. And what I really would hate to have happen is to have another oncoming surge just as we`re reaching towards getting so many more people vaccinated.

You know, we`re still losing people at 1,000 deaths a day. And so I just can`t face another surge when there`s so much optimism right at our fingertips.

MADDOW: Is it possible that the pace of vaccinations already is such that the rising numbers of new cases that we`re seeing will not be followed with the same level of surge in hospitalizations and then following that, deaths. Is it possible there are enough high-risk people in the country who are vaccinated that even terrible amounts of transmission are not going to have the same consequence in terms of people ending up in the ER and in intensive care?

WALENSKY: That`s a really good question and one we`re looking at. You know, it could very well be, given that we have, you know, been vaccinating our people over the age of 65, those are the people that have accounted for 80 percent of the deaths so far, that we`ve done so well in vaccinating the, you know, more senior members of our society that deaths might not be what we would expect with prior surges.

It`s also the case, though, that, you know, if we don`t see those number of deaths, the deaths that we`re going to see is among younger people. Obviously, we don`t want to see those either.

And there are plenty of reasons to not want to have COVID outside of just the deaths alone. We know that about 10 percent of the population that gets sick with COVID has long haul syndrome, has symptoms beyond three weeks, cardiac challenges, depression and mental health challenges, pulmonary challenges, renal failure, clotting.

So, there`s a lot we don`t understand about this disease, and we shouldn`t want to have it circulating whether or not it leads to mortality.

MADDOW: When you talked about the risk that you`re also worried about in terms of sort of hyper-infectious variants, hyper-contagious mutations of the virus, is there a sort of a nightmare breakthrough scenario in which we can`t vaccinate our way to an end of the epidemic, specifically because the variants are evolving in such a way that they develop resistance and we have enough circulating resistant virus that we can`t get ahead of it?

WALENSKY: Certainly, that`s possible. I don`t think that`s where we are right now.

We do know that this hyper-transmissible variant that we`re most worried about, the B.1.1.7 that originated in the U.K., is now about 26 percent of all circulating virus around the United States right now. Some regions in the Southeast are up to 36 percent of circulating virus and about four of the HHS re -- five of the HHS regions now, the B.1.1.7 variant is the most predominant variant of all circulating virus.

So, that is concerning. What we do know is that so far, it appears that the B.1.1.7 is neutralized by our current vaccines, but that is among our concerns, that if you have enough virus circulating, those variants can mutate even more and lead to sort of more troublesome variants in the future, which is why we really want to stop the circulation of virus.

MADDOW: Right. It`s why the vaccination pace needs to be as fast as possible and why we need to reduce transmission while we are simultaneously vaccinating people.

Dr. Walensky, there`s one other people of that, the transmission reduction part of it, and that plea from you and that follow-up plea today from President Biden that I`d like to ask you about if you wouldn`t mind sticking with us for one more segment.

WALENSKY: Of course.

MADDOW: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, is our guest.

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: We`re back now with CDC director, Rochelle Walensky.

Dr. Walensky, thank you for sticking with us.

I wanted to ask you about something President Biden said today. He said he basically wanted to associate himself with your remarks today, calling on Americans to hold on, to not consider COVID done, to basically finish strong, and to keep holding to public health measures like social distancing, masking, until we can get this thing under control with vaccines.

He said specifically today: I`m reiterating my call for every governor, mayor, and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Reinstate the mask mandate if you let it down, and businesses should require masks as well.

The administration has the ability to require workplaces to have mask rules in place. And in fact, we had expected that OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, might by now have issued a rule by like that.

I wanted to ask your opinion on that and to ask you if you know what may be happening with that process.

WALENSKY: My understanding is OSHA is working with certain sectors in order to insure the safety within the workplace. We`re really calling on governors within each state to insure that their mask mandates in those states and to the extent that they do not, we`re calling on citizens to make it their responsibility to make sure that they protect themselves and one another.

I really want to avoid the headline of somebody who got admitted with COVID to the hospital, somebody God forbid who passed away from COVID in the hospital who had their vaccine appointment the week later.

MADDOW: In terms of the ability of the administration to act here, though, there was an executive order from President Biden telling OSHA to start working on a rule about masks in the workplace, to produce a result of that review or the study of that matter by March 15th.

So we`re well past that now. We haven`t heard anything from the administration as to whether OSHA is going to do it. I know -- I hear what you`re saying about calling on individual citizens to do it, calling on governors to do it. We know a lot of governors have no interest in doing it, and a lot of citizens, especially in their workplace, don`t have the power to enforce whether or not other people in that environment are wearing masks.

Couldn`t an OSHA rule requiring it as a matter of workplace safety potentially be a game-changer?

WALENSKY: So those are conversations I will leave with -- leave to OSHA, as they are responsible for those. But what I will say is that we know that these masks work, and we know that every individual should be taking it upon themselves to do what they can to protect themselves and to protect others.

We are oh, so very close. The president announced today, 90 percent of Americans will be eligible for a vaccine by April 19th. And 90 percent of Americans will be within five miles of a vaccination site by April 19th, extraordinary measures to get to where we need to be. So we`re just asking people to wear masks for just a bit longer.

MADDOW: It`s three weeks until hitting those -- until hitting those benchmarks.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, you have a million things to do and a million places to be -- thank you for spending some time with us tonight. Godspeed.

WALENSKY: Thank you so much for having me.

MADDOW: All right. Much more to get to here tonight. Stay with us.



JERRY BLACKWELL, DEREK CHAUVIN TRIAL PROSECUTOR: You will learn that on May 25th of 2020, Mr. Derek Chauvin betrayed this badge when he used excessive and unreasonable force upon the body of Mr. George Floyd. That he put his knees upon his neck and his back, grinding and crushing him until the very breath, no, ladies and gentlemen, until the very life was squeezed out of him.

ERIC NELSON, DEREK CHAUVIN`S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You will learn that Derek Chauvin did exactly what he had been trained to do over the course of his 19-year career. The use of force is not attractive, but it is a necessary component of policing. When you review the actual evidence, and when you hear the law and apply reason and common sense, there will only be one just verdict. And, that is, to find Mr. Chauvin not guilty.


MADDOW: Opening statements from the prosecution, and then the defense, this morning in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin has pled not guilty to second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter charges in the death of George Floyd last summer in Minneapolis. This is a trial, that, of course, would transfix the country under any circumstances. But it also happens to be the very first time a full-criminal trial has been broadcast live, from the state of Minnesota, for all Americans to watch in real time.

COVID social-distancing requirements meant that there would be almost no room for family members or the public in the actual courtroom. And so, judge decided to allow cameras inside. That is why we can all watch it in real time.

The day began, today, with George Floyd`s family kneeling outside the courthouse in Minneapolis. It ended tonight with a rally and march against police brutality near that same spot.

Inside the courthouse on this first day of trial, prosecutors called their first witnesses including a 911 dispatcher who watched the whole thing unfold on a nearby security camera. That footage was seen today for the first time publicly at the trial. She testified after she saw officer Chauvin and his colleagues sit on George Floyd, they stayed on top of him for so long, she, at first, thought her screen might be frozen.

She was so concerned something was not right, she called her police supervisor. As the prosecution put it today, she, quote, called the police on the police.

The idea here, is that from the testimony of that dispatcher, and other witnesses who saw the encounter between George Floyd and the police that day. Prosecutors want to demonstrate that people who saw the incident could tell, in real time, that what Officer Chauvin was doing that led to George Floyd`s death was wrong.

It was just day one of this trial, which is expected to last several weeks.

Joining us now is Brandt Williams. He is a reporter from Minnesota Public Radio. He is covering the trial.

Mr. Williams, thank you so much for making time to join us tonight. I know that today`s a big day.


MADDOW: So, we spoke, a few times last summer, at the height of the protests in response to Mr. Floyd`s death. Here we are. We`re on the first, full day of the trial, today. It is a remarkable thing that we can all watch it in real time, on camera.

I just have to ask, sort of, big picture, what struck you as noteworthy or surprising, potentially, from -- from what we saw today in court?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think the prosecution made some good attempts to -- to put some ideas, I think, into the heads of jurors. That I think may stick with them, as they go through the trial and as they go into deliberations.

One is when Jerry Blackwell, who is delivering the opening statements for the prosecution, mentioned that George Floyd was on the ground for so long, and that Derek Chauvin was not getting up, even -- even after the paramedics came to check for his pulse. Chauvin, still, stayed on his -- on his neck and on his back.

And also, that George Floyd had sustained road rash to part of his chest because of the pressure applied by Chauvin. Those may be things that the jurors will -- will take with them.

Now, for the defense`s case, it seemed that Eric Nelson was just trying to say, look, yes, there is the video. There is this 9 minutes and 29d seconds of the time Mr. Chauvin was on Mr. Floyd. But there is, also, thousands and thousands of bits of evidence in this trial. And that there -- the BCA agents and FBI agents conducted interviews with, you know, dozens upon dozens of law-enforcement officers.

And he was trying to appeal to their sense of -- of reason to say, well, there must be more to this story because there`s been such an extensive investigation. I think, those are a couple things that stood out from today.

MADDOW: In terms of the attention to the trial, given the attention to this case and the national, sort of, convulsive reaction to what happened when Mr. Floyd was killed. I wonder what you think about the fact that this is being televised. Whether or not you have cameras in court is a very controversial issue at all sorts of level of the judiciary. This is an unusual thing for Minnesota, specifically because of the interest in the case and -- and COVID protocols.

Do you think that the trial is going to unfold differently because it is being live streamed on the front page of the "New York Times," among other places, and shown on television in real time? And do you think that will affect the way that the streets of Minneapolis react to -- to developments in the trial and, indeed, what will, ultimately, be a verdict?

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, here are -- here`s a couple things that I am thinking about. I`m pleased that the trial is being live streamed and broadcast. As a reporter who covers a lot of trials, lot of high-profile trials, I think it`s important for the public to be -- to get this background and education on how these types of things work. How these trials work. How evidence is presented.

And my hope is that there will be a lot of people, who do tune in and watch as much of the trial as they can, and be able to make up their own minds about what happened in the courtroom, instead of relying on, basically, reporters like me, who, after listening to, you know, several hours of testimony, straight, you know, I put together reports on some of the high points, things that I found to be newsworthy. That people don`t have to rely on reporters, like me, to point out, you know, what we report as being newsworthy.

So there -- I -- I -- my sense is that there will be a lot of people, who take away some -- a lot of knowledge about our criminal-justice system, that they didn`t have before. Now, whether or not this sways their feelings about how the verdict comes out, either way, that`s yet to be seen. But I think it may offer people a chance to, you know, they may feel that they learned something.

And -- and that maybe, they feel like, okay, maybe I don`t agree with what the jurors -- how they decided on the case. But at least I got to see the same things they saw. And I just came to a different conclusion.

MADDOW: Well, Brandt Williams, reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, we, for one, we, at this show, are happy to be able to rely on reporters like you to put it in context and help us understand. Thanks for being with us and good luck continued coverage of the trial.

WILLIAMS: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: That`s going to do it for me, tonight. I have got a long night ahead of me of clicking refresh, refresh, refresh, over and over and over, again, on the vaccine-availability site, as lots of -- lots of New Yorkers do, as New York -- New York eligibility of the vaccine opens to everybody, age 30 and over, as of 8:00 a.m., tomorrow.

I`ll see you, again, tomorrow. See what kind of shape I`m in.


Good evening, Lawrence.