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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 4/1/21

Guests: Heather McGhee, Peter Hotez


Dell Computers, American Airlines, AT&T, Southwest Airlines, and Microsoft are coming out and criticizing Texas Republicans` anti-voting legislation. MSNBC`s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. "The New York Times" is reporting that the Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex, and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by "The Times."


MEHDI HASAN, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" on this Thursday night.


Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Mehdi. Thank you very much, my friend. Much appreciated.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Super happy to have you here.

It is April 1st, which is always a special day here on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, because April 1st as you may know is the birthday of Paul Manafort which, for our country, or at least ought to be, perhaps, an annual sort of solemn civic reminder that the immediate former president of our country had to pardon his campaign chairman and he had to pardon his campaign manager, and he had to pardon his longest standing political advisor, and he had to pardon his national security advisor, and he had to pardon the deputy chair of his inaugural.

And his deputy campaign chairman went to prison and his personal lawyer went to prison, and his other personal lawyer is under federal criminal investigation, and he himself personally is named by prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in multiple federal felonies, and he himself personally is now today, as a former president, actively under criminal investigation in two different states.

We`ve never been in that kind of a situation before as a country. Mazel tov. I mean, you might have seen the obituary this week for G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate conspirator and sort of legendary blowhard who went to prison for burglary and illegal wiretapping, among lots of other things. A lot of obituaries of G. Gordon Liddy, because of his role in Watergate and because of how much time has passed since those crimes, a lot of obituaries about him were little mini history lessons.

You could tell the obituary writers were sort of agog of the criminal misbehavior of G. Gordon Liddy and all these other clowns around President Nixon during the Watergate scandal -- but honestly, I mean, come on, we ought to take a moment to appreciate, we ought to let her chests swell a little bit in knowing that we, our generation, us, we just lived through an administration that was so thoroughly criminal, it makes the Nixon Watergate scandals look adorable in retrospect.

This is why we celebrate Paul Manafort`s birthday every year, at least here on this show, April 1st, April Fool`s. We made it, America.

And after his presidential pardon from Donald Trump in the waning minutes of the Trump administration, Paul Manafort today is busy trying to see if he can recollect some of his seized assets from the Justice Department. Happy Birthday convicted felon Trump campaign chairman. Congratulations to us for surviving what you brought to the public fore. Congratulations for us for surviving it at least thus far.

I mean, what does happen next in the Republican Party after that administration that they just brought us? It`s very possible that the Republican Party wants to bring President Trump back to run again in 2024. He could theoretically tap all the same campaign staff and senior advisors. We could save newspaper ink by listening them in campaign coverage by their federal prisoner ID numbers instead of by their names, right? We wouldn`t even need new head shots. We`d have the Bureau of Prisons mug shots for all of them. Honestly, Watergate is cute in comparison.

One very strange offshoot of the 2016 campaign came back up in the news today on this of all days. You may remember that alongside the scandal of the Russian government intervening in 2016 to try to help Trump get elected and the questions about what the top people in the Trump campaign, like Paul Manafort, were doing sharing confidential campaign data with one Russian intelligence agent while the Russian help for the Trump campaign was going on. You might remember that alongside that particular streak of treachery, there was also a Russian agent who was arrested, tried and convicted for secretly working in the United States in the lead-up to the 2016 election to infiltrate political conservative groups like the NRA and to make inroads into Republican campaigns, including that of President Trump.

Her indictment defined the subjects of the conspiracy in her case this way, quote, to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government, specifically the Russian Federation, quote, to exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation and to infiltrate organizations active in U.S. politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation and to infiltrate organizations active in U.S. politics in an effort to advance the interest of the Russian Federation.

That was from her indictment. Her name was Maria Butina. She stands out among the many, many Trump campaign related mug shots for a number of reasons. For one thing, she`s the only one who is not a dude. But while she was locked up in federal custody ahead of trial and after her conviction as well, she did, of course, have help and consultation with the Russian government. She`s a Russian citizen. Ultimately, she was deported. She was released to the custody of the Russian government. She was flown home to Moscow after she got out of federal prison in the U.S.

Upon her arrival in Moscow, as a convicted foreign agent sent to the U.S. by the Kremlin to infiltrate conservative American politics and Republican campaigns, when she landed in Moscow, she was greeted like a national hero. They offered her a position in the Russian parliament as soon as she got back. Ultimately, they gave her a TV show on Russian state-controlled TV on "Russia Today."

Meanwhile, back home, her American boyfriend, a man named Paul Erickson, a Republican political operative who had helped her as a Russian government agent get into the upper echelons of the NRA and high Republican politics, President Trump pardoned Paul Erickson. President Trump pardoned Maria Butina`s boyfriend, again, right before he left office, much to the dismay of people Paul Erickson was convicted of defrauding to the tune of millions of dollars since 11 $1.2 million.

His pardon means he doesn`t have to make resolution to the people he was frauding. Given the president by the founding fathers who wrote the constitution. Convicted felon con artist boyfriends of hostile Russian agents. I`m sure that`s exactly the sort of pardon the Founding Fathers had in mind to entrust to, you know, infinitely somber minded and trustworthy American presidents.

We do, of course, though, have a new president. As with Russia, as with everything, things have been very different for these last couple of months he has been in office, and here`s something to keep an eye on. This is not getting much attention here in the U.S. but this week, the U.S. European Command, which is the regional command for the U.S. military in Europe, this week, they went to their highest alert level after what appears to be a Russian attack killed Ukrainian soldiers in Ukraine this week. That effectively could mean that the cease-fire after Russia invaded Ukraine, that cease-fire has started to fail.

After those Ukraine Ian soldiers were killed in the past week, Russia then started amassing military equipment on the Russian border with Ukraine. Today, NATO expressed concern about Russia`s recent large-scale military activities near Ukraine. In the last 48 hours, the Biden administration secretary of state, Antony Blinken, has had la call with his counterpart in Ukraine, as has Biden`s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, as has chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Millie.

Even though Biden has been in office for a couple of months, the Biden administration has already put new sanctions on Russian government officials, including specifically in response to the Russian government using a banned military-grade nerve agent to try to assassinate the top opposition leader in Russia, a man named Alexei Navalny. After Navalny recovered from the attempted nerve agent assassination, Russia arrested him in January. They convicted him basically instantly and now have sent him to some long but indefinite term in a Russian penal colony.

And more than 100 Russian cities and towns had major protests in support of Navalny demanding the Russian government let him go. That is the sort of thing that absolutely terrifies the Russian government and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Putin took meetings this week on Tuesday with Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, and Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. They too are pressuring him on Navalny. They pushed about the treatment of Navalny in prison.

The U.S. government has repeatedly, including President Biden himself, has repeatedly insisted to Russia they got to let Navalny go. President Biden made multiple public statements about it. He says he also put it to Putin directly in a phone call. The State Department pressures them about it all the time, including today. Let Navalny out of prison.

Well, yesterday, after some increasingly worrying recent reports from his lawyers and supporters talking about what appears to be a deteriorating physical condition of Alexei Navalny in prison, yesterday, Navalny announced that he is starting a hunger strike, that he will stop eating until he can see a doctor who can treat him for whatever mysterious medical ailment he has in prison that is causing him extreme unexplained pain. He says that he is losing feeling in his legs entirely and worries that he soon won`t be able to walk.

Again, he started a hunger strike yesterday saying he would no longer eat until he could see a doctor. That announcement came from Alexei Navalny yesterday. Today the Russian government did send someone in to see him in his prison cell. Guess who they sent? They sent Maria Butina and her camera crew from RT, "Russia Today", where she has a TV show now.

They sent her to Alexei Navalny`s prison to go harangue him in his cell and tell him how good he`s got it and put it on Russian state TV.

I forgot to mention that Trump just pardoned her boyfriend as one of his last acts as president. That`s what the last Republican president did in terms of the way he fits into this, this current set of affairs with Russia and what they`re doing to the lead opposition figure in that country`s politics.

Like I said, happy Paul Manafort day. Never forget.

Here at home, things remain unpredictable and a little unnerving in Trumpland and, therefore, in Republican politics. The most vocally pro- Trump Republican member of Congress, Matt Gaetz, is still proclaiming his innocence after now multiple news organizations have confirmed that he is under federal criminal investigation for allegations of child sex trafficking. Federal criminal investigation that reportedly started during the last months of the Trump administration and was affirmed and approved by Trump Attorney General William Barr.

CNN is reporting tonight and this is not confirmed by NBC news, but CNN is reporting tonight that the federal criminal investigation into Matt Gaetz is examining, among other things, whether Gaetz may have used not just money, but drugs in his dealing with young women. The way that CNN puts in their lead tonight, investigators are examining whether Gaetz engaged in a relationship with a woman that began when she was 17, and whether his involved with other young women broke federal sex trafficking and prostitution laws.

Again, this is per CNN. Not NBC reporting. We have not confirmed this. CNN saying that investigators are looking at whether he used drugs in addition to cash in his dealings with young women, that is -- that is new.

As we reported last night, the House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, has now confirmed after initially saying otherwise, he`s now confirmed that if and when Congressman Matt Gaetz is indicted, Republicans in the House will remove him from all his committee assignments and otherwise relieve him of his congressional responsibilities.

Presumably they`ll move to expel him from Congress if he`s convicted, unless he quits first. But we shall see. That`s still happening.

Congressman Gaetz has consistently been among the most prominent proponents of the craziest pro-Trump stuff in the Republican Party, including him aggressively promoting the conspiracy theory that somehow Venezuela, or maybe it was Cuba or something communist anyway, got into some of the voting machines somewhere and dead Hugo Chavez stole the election from Biden. Maybe it`s China. It`s hard to keep straight.

You can`t even hear these conspiracy theories that often anymore on the Fox News Channel where Congressman Gaetz spent a lot of time espousing them at one point. You can`t hear that stuff very often anymore on Fox News prime time, not since Dominion Voting Systems started suing the Fox News Channel for $1.6 billion for the news organization consistently promoting that crazy sauce after the election.

But even if it is now -- now has to be watered down on the Fox News Channel, the infection there is really sort of deeply taken hold. One of the stories we`re looking at tonight, for example, is news out of Arizona where Republicans in the Arizona state legislature in their infinite wisdom have picked a QAnon inspire promoter to get taxpayer funds in Arizona to conduct an audit of the actual ballots cast for president in one Arizona county.

Republicans in the Arizona state legislature are still really sure that, like, QAnon or Mike Flynn or Navy SEALs in Germany or dead people in Pennsylvania or Fidel Castro or something or something, they`re sure of it. It`s hard to keep track of, but there`s something there that explains the real truth about how Joe Biden secretly isn`t president and he`s a lizard that lives in a movie set.

So Republicans in the Arizona legislature have hired a QAnon guy to audit the vote officially on behalf of the Arizona state legislature, paid for by the taxpayers of the great state of Arizona. Good luck, Arizona. Your state just voted for two Democratic U.S. senators and for the Democratic candidate for president.

But Arizona Republicans, what do they have to offer? Arizona Republicans, you do you. You just keep keeping on. I`m sure it`ll work.

In Texas today, Republicans there have some new head winds as well. This follows on an interesting way from something we reported on last night` show. Last night`s show we talked about the fact that two huge corporations and huge employers headquartered in Georgia, the Coca-Cola Company and Delta Airlines, both came out yesterday in strong terms denouncing the anti-voting rights law that just passed the Republican-controlled legislature in Georgia and was signed by Georgia`s Republican governor.

Well, those actions however late they were by Delta and Coca-Cola, they seemed to rung a bell for some other corporations who are finding themselves in similar circumstances, as Republicans try to attack voting rights all over the country. Tonight, American Airlines and Dell Computers both big corporations, both major employers, both headquartered in Texas, both Dell and American Airlines came out tonight to express similarly, sharply worded objections, to a copycat anti-voting rights bill in Texas that Republicans in the Texas legislature have already passed through the Texas Senate and it looks to be on its way to the Texas House, too.

Some really interesting development, Republican legislatures in red states trying everywhere all over the country to rollback voting rights as far and as fast as they can. In the process, though, they are making outspoken and aggressive enemies of the biggest corporations and the biggest employers in their states. That`s probably not good for them for now or for the long run.

And if these corporations have legitimately got religion on the protection of voting rights now, if this is not just lip service and trying to stem off a boycott that they have discovered that actually they are on the side of democracy and being headquartered and operating in a democracy is better than the opposite, if they really do have religion on protecting voting rights and they`ve decided this is something that`s important to them as corporations and they want to work to defend that, it`s going to be fascinating to watch what happens next here.

Because, as I said, it was a little late when it came to what we heard from Delta and Coca-Cola. Georgia Republicans already passed that bill. It`s already a law. And Georgia Republicans are as likely to repeal their anti- voting bill as I`m likely to get a birthday card of my own from Paul Manafort. I mean, they`re just not going to roll that thing back.

And in Texas, I mean, Texas Republicans, we`ll see. But they`re well on their way to passing their draconian anti-voting rights bill as well because they can. Which is going to put these big, powerful, influential corporations like Coca-Cola, American Airlines, Delta Airliners, Dell Computers, they`re going to put them in a position of having to decide what they`re going to do next because just speaking out against bad bills and bad laws in Republican-controlled states after those bills become law or when they`re inadvertently on their inevitably on the way to becoming law, that`s not going to actually do anything to redress voting rights, except put your statement on the right side of the ledger for history.

If, in fact, Republicans in these states keep passing these anti-voting rights rollbacks, the only thing that`s really going to save voting rights in those states and elsewhere, in fact, all around the country is Senate bill 1, the For the People Act, which is a voting -- which sets a voting rights floor for the whole country which no state could go below.

As you know, the For the People Act passed as HR-1 through the House passed the House. It`s now Senate Bill 1 in the Senate. It needs help passing the Senate. If the heaviest hitters in corporate America have decided they are in this fight on the side of voting rights and they don`t just want to say so, they want to show up, that could be a big deal. And that`s worth watching, not in the distant future, but in the next few days.

And I will tell you, I mean it, since I`ve been on the air tonight, we just got word that Southwest Airlines, which is also headquartered in Texas, Southwest Airlines now has also put out a statement basically telling Texas Republicans to not do what they are trying to do to voting rights. Again, it was Delta Airlines in Georgia yesterday. It was American Airlines earlier today in Texas. Now, tonight, since we`ve been on the air, it`s Southwest Airlines in Texas as well.

And also tonight, again, this is just from the past hour or so, we`re also hearing from AT&T, a huge corporation also headquartered in Texas. They have also put out a statement telling Texas Republicans to back off what they`re trying to do with their new voting rights rollback. The statement from AT&T is not quite as blunt as we got from other corporations today, but still. This is happening quickly now and is worth watching.

And again, in terms of what`s going on with the Republican Party and the Republican Party post-Trump, part of what`s important here is that in these Republican-controlled states, this is Republicans in the legislature being cleaved from the biggest business interests in those states and they would very much like to see themselves on the same side as those big business interests, but they can`t, as long as these corporations have decided they want to be on the right side of history on voting rights, and Republicans in all these states have decided the opposite. This could be consequential in a lot of ways.

On the Democratic side of the ledger, today, President Biden held his first cabinet meeting one day after rolling out his big legislative effort, the big $2 trillion infrastructure bill that would be the biggest investment in American infrastructure since World War II. We hosted Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez here on the show last night, one of the leading and most high profile members of the progressive wing of Democrats in the House, saying that while she lauds President Biden and his administration for putting together what she described in very positive terms in terms of this bill, she told us here on the air last night that as far as she`s concerned, and a lot of other progressives are concerned, the bill could be much, much bigger.

Well, to that point, it`s actually one last thing to say about Republican land as it relates to that today. Democrats, I think, got a huge boost today, a huge help today toward the goal of making that infrastructure thing actually happen and potentially to progressives getting their goal of making it happen in even bigger terms. They all got a huge boost with the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, came out and said that there will be no Republican votes for the infrastructure bill.

And I`m sure he meant that to be bad news for Democrats, but honestly, for Democrats, that is a blessing because it means there`s now no reason for Democrats to waste time trying to do the ultimately futile thing they might otherwise try of reaching out to the Republicans and meeting with Republicans and ceding to Republican demands to take things out of the bill in order to try to make Republicans happy, to chase maybe a Republican vote or two, meanwhile -- all the while making the bill smaller and less ambitious and less progressive.

Mitch McConnell put an end to that. He laid it bare. There will be no Republican votes no matter what.

So don`t bother asking, right? Thank you. That means -- at least it should mean that Democrats can now move ahead with plans to pass this thing on their own terms with just their own votes. It means that the negotiations over what`s going to be in the bill are only going to happen among Democrats, which means there will be some difficult negotiations. Democrats do have different interests and different sort of to also tolerances of spending and different philosophies about sort of government involvement there should be in different things, that are name in the infrastructure, sure.

But it means there will be equally difficult negotiate with some conservative Democrats who might want to take some stuff out of the bill. It`ll be equally difficult to negotiate with them as it is to negotiate with the progressive Democrats who want to make the bill even bigger and more ambitious.

All the negotiations happen now within the Democratic caucus. What McConnell did today means -- it should mean that none of us also have to endure months of beltway commentary nonsense about how this ought to be a bipartisan bill. Isn`t it a tragedy that no Republicans are coming along to vote for the bill and doesn`t that say something bad about the bill? Shouldn`t Republicans be included in these conversations?

We don`t have to listen to that nonsense because the Republican leader in the Senate said today, the day after Biden rolled out the bill, there will be no Republican votes no matter what is in it. Okay, done. Then this bill isn`t for you guys and none of the discussion about it will involve you.

You guys can be back to worker the stuff that you really care about, like who is Q. And something-something, Dr. Seuss. And who are you going to run for president in your Republican primary for 2024 against the guy that might have to run from prison, but he`s probably still going to run.

Happy Paul Manafort`s birthday, Republicans. Quiet now. The adults are working on something that could be a really big deal.

We`ve got more on that, next.


MADDOW: Look at this. This was the front page of the "Cincinnati Enquirer" today. A big story about baseball`s opening day. We`ve got this above the fold, a 700-word story about a local bridge and how Biden`s new infrastructure brand could fund it. Quote: State and federal officials` plans aligned this week to bring the greater Cincinnati region closer, maybe, to funding its biggest single public works project, a new bridge over the Ohio River.

This is what local papers have been like across the country for the last 24 hours. "Houston Chronicle" today, Biden`s infrastructure pitch aims at Texas. Here`s "The Times Picayune" in New Orleans hailing the White House specifically mentioning the Claiborne Expressway in their town.

Here`s the "Indianapolis Star". It says, yes, please, in all caps. Yes, please. Amtrak proposal with new Indianapolis roots has people talking.

It`s kind of cool to see local papers like this, right? Excited about the prospect of really big, really overdue potentially awesome investments in their area and things that will benefit everybody, right? New train lines, you know, tearing down blighted old infrastructure that messed up your town, building new bridges in places where you really need new bridges because the old ones are falling down.

This is the stuff that has tons of local support and you can see the palpable excitement around the country as people start to realize if this infrastructure bill passes, what it might mean for their town, their city, their state. The plan has just really broad support among voters.

A couple weeks ago, there was an data for progress Invest in America poll that found support for a large infrastructure plan among likely voters nationwide was almost 70 percent. That includes 50 percent of likely Republican voters.

Still today, the Republican leader in the Senate said no matter what`s in the bill, zero Republicans will vote for it, which means Democrats won`t have to expend energy talking to Republican senators about how they want to whittle this thing down and not really do it. Democrats instead can focus on negotiating among themselves, which, if anything, this $2 trillion package might get even bigger.

It also means that this package, this bill, this plan from President Biden is popular with Democrats in congress, with Democratic voters, with Republican voters and just not with Republicans in Congress. So Republicans in Congress represent no one on this. But what the president is trying to do has broad-based support including from Republican voters who disagree with their own members of Congress on this. That seems like a pretty solid political footing on which to move forward.

And here`s the part of it that is going to seem counterintuitive to a lot of people, but is also more jet fuel on this for Biden. President Biden is proposing to pay for this investment by raising some taxes, raising the corporate tax rate on the biggest, most profitable corporations in the public, many of which famously paid no federal taxes at all.

It turns out that only makes the bill more popular. Literally, the bill is more popular when you tell people it`s going to be paid for by new corporate taxes than it is if you just don`t tell them anything about how it`s going to be paid for. I like it. OK, it`s going to be paid for by new corporate taxes. Oh, I like it a lot.

A recent "Politico"/Morning Consult poll found voters by a 2 to 1 margin support the plan by raising taxes on corporations and the highest earners. This bodes well for Democrats looking to pass this plan the way Biden wants to pass it, or potentially even a bigger version of it. But I think it would be remiss this indicates a whole new politics around this issue.

I mean, Republicans` standard austerity governments around this issue are not even convincing their own voters anymore. So does that mean now that something new is possible that wasn`t possible before we got to this point?

Joining us now is Heather McGhee. She`s chair of the board of directors at Color of Change. She`s also the author of what is probably the most influential book in the American left right now. It`s called "The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together."

Ms. McGhee, it`s a real honor to have you here. Thanks so much for making time.


MADDOW: Let me ask you about the premise here that I laid out that the politics that we used to think applied to government action on things like infrastructure or even things like health care or anything the government might do maybe don`t apply anymore, that the idea of austerity and government`s inability to do anything right, that those arguments don`t even resonate among Republican voters anymore. Do you think that premise is right?

MCGHEE: I think the premise is largely true because Americans are sick of worrying about what part of this country is going to fall apart next. We know that our infrastructure, which used to be the envy of the world, now gets a C or D grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. We know that too many families are worried about what`s coming out of their tap.

This bill meets America`s needs. And the only thing that Republicans have going for them in terms of a strategy is white identity politics. The idea that they`ve been able to pull together and maintain a majority of white voters to keep putting them back in office, even though they`re delivering relatively zero on an economic agenda, because of identity politics. It`s the idea of the drained pool, the way so many towns across the country managed to drain their public swimming pools that were segregated rather than integrate them.

That`s what`s been happening over the last 15 years. That`s why there are so many unmet needs because it`s been hard to get a majority support to invest in an America that`s becoming more diverse. But I do believe that is changing now.

MADDOW: And that`s changing now -- I mean, as you talk about in the book, and in a way used argued that`s penetrated a lot of people`s consciousness, is the idea that it is a multiracial coalition of American voters coming from all sorts of different backgrounds and all sorts of ideological stripes who sort of decided with the drain the poll metaphor that, actually, it would be nice to have swimming pools again, and it would be nice to have things in common that we all benefit from, and the idea that we shouldn`t have anything because -- the idea that we shouldn`t have anything if we can`t have it only for ourselves, only for our subgroup. It`s an idea that`s just curdled for a big enough number of Americans that even if it continues to work with some white voters, it`s never going to be a majority again.

MCGHEE: That`s right. I mean, that`s what we have to hope. We have to hope this is the kind of solidarity politics that can remain. But you see what the right-wing strategy is, right?

The original COVID bill is something Republicans felt pretty confident that they could refuse to support, even though it had supermajority support in the country. Why? Dr. Seuss. The threat that Democrats are canceling things that white Americans support and love and know because they think it`s racist.

You know, the whole theatrics around running to the border, the zero-sum politics about opening schools instead of opening borders. This is what they have. This is the hand they have to play.

And yet this bill will meet so many unmet needs. It needs to be bigger. If this is going to be our once-in-a-generation shot, it needs to have a lot more green jobs, it needs to be more aggressive, actually, on addressing climate change, because we only have so many years. But this is the chance, right, this is the chance for us to say this was why people waded through high water to vote in November and January because of things that could transform our communities.

MADDOW: And if you can`t do it with super majority support and Democratic Party control of the House, and Senate, and the White House, when are you going to be able to do it.

Heather McGhee, chair of the board of the directors at Color Change, as I mentioned, the author of "The Sum of Us: What Racism Caused Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together", which is just wicked smart and super influential and deserves it. Heather, thank you so much for your time tonight. It`s great to have you here.

MCGHEE: Thank you.

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


MADDOW: The major COVID storyline right now is even though the vaccines are going great guns, about 154 million shots have been administered so far, 2.9 million shots a day on average now, about 30 percent of the U.S. population has gotten at least one vaccine dose. Even while that is happening, which is good, we now have rising case numbers in a majority of states. Johns Hopkins says more than 30 states have a rise in case numbers right now. That`s kind of a push-me-pull-you in terms of whether or not we`re supposed to feel good or feel worried, or both about what`s going on with COVID.

But as of now, dozens of states that have cases going up right now, Michigan is the state where cases seem to be rising more alarmingly. You can see it in this graph, cases in Michigan rising since February, but that current upward slope on the far-right side of the screen, that`s getting steeper by the day now. That`s bad.

Hospitalizations also going up in Michigan. If you look at the red line there -- the red line there -- that`s the number of inpatient adults in the hospital in Michigan. You see how it`s going up on the right side? That`s now. That`s the most recent surge.

That number surging in a way we`ve seen happen time and time again. Following a rise in cases, we get a rise in hospitalizations. What do we get after hospitalizations? Deaths.

Deaths in the state of Michigan also now on the rise. That same pattern as all the other surges. Cases up, then hospitalizations up, then deaths up.

Well, here`s something interesting. This week the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, asked the White House for special help for Michigan. She asked the White House to help meet the surge in cases in her state with a new surge of vaccines to her state. In places where we have big surges in cases, raises this interesting question. Can we flood those zones with more vaccines than they might otherwise get?

I mean, it makes sense, at least in layman`s terms, in trying to get around the epidemic on the other side of it. For two reasons, right? The risks of having tons of virus floating around, having tons of copious transformation anywhere in the country, it`s the same as the risk we had before vaccines, right? Copious transmission means people are getting sick and people are dying.

With vaccines, that may be somewhat mitigated by the fact that older people are likely to have vaccine-induced immunity now, but still, the same patterns that we saw, rise in cases, rise in hospitalizations, rise in deaths, it still holds, it`s still happening.

Also, though, now more so than before, there is the additional risk of copious transmission anywhere in the country. With all the variants that are out there now, the more transmissible variants that are out there, right now with all the variants circulating, copious virus anywhere in the country means more opportunity for the virus to mutate and potentially defeat someday vaccines and the therapies that are currently working against them. More transmission equals more reproduction of the virus, equals more mutation of the virus which means more circulation and development of new virulent, bad variants.

So if you can surge vaccines to places that have an uptick in cases, that doesn`t that make sense, right? Vaccinated people don`t get infected, mostly, which means they help stop the exponential spread. They also don`t help the virus develop even more potentially dangerous mutations. They also don`t get sick and they don`t have to go to the hospital and they don`t die.

I mean, wherever we have -- I mean, the vaccine rollout is going great. The vaccine rollout is exceeding expectations in considerable ways. Is it a reasonable case that Michigan is making, that places that have tons of transmission, that places that have worrying surges of transmission ought to be prioritized for additional surges in vaccines?

I mean, again, I`m not a doctor, so this is just the way it seems to me as a layman on this. White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients told the governor of Michigan when she asked that the White House is thinking about how to address so-called hot spots in terms of transmission. He reportedly said that everything is on the table.

Governor Whitmer did announce that her state is getting more doses next week, but it seems like all the states are getting extra doses next week. We reached out to the White House to find out if Michigan`s allotment is because of her request. And an administration official told us it`s not. It`s just all the states are getting more next week.

But the White House did tell us they`re working closely with the governor and her team as Michigan faces this challenge. But scientifically, what about that as a strategy? Why not flood a state that is currently a hot spot for transmission with more vaccines? Why not lessen their vaccine eligibility? Why not go door to door?

Joining us is Dr. Peter Hotez. He`s co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children`s Hospital. He`s also dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez, thank you so much for making time tonight.


MADDOW: So, I -- obviously I`m not a doctor and not an epidemiologist, I`m not expert in any of this. So, I just wanted to give you a chance to set me straight. I`m telling how I`m sort of feeling about this as an issue and what seems like a reasonable policy adaptation to consider.

Is there something I`m not understanding or have I gone about this the wrong way around?

HOTEZ: Well, Rachel, it turns out you`ve learned a lot of epidemiology over the last 14 months, so that`s a pretty good assessment, actually.

You know, a couple things to think about. One, the major variant overwhelmingly in the U.S. is the B.1.1.7 variant, originally from the United Kingdom. Yes, we have other variants, the South Africa, and Brazil here, and the California variant, but the one that`s really accelerating right now and the one that is keeping us all up at night is the B.1.1.7 variant. That`s likely accounting for the big rise in cases in Michigan and it`s also accounting for a lot of hospitalizations now among younger people.

So this variant is more transmissible and has higher mortality as well and higher hospitalization rates. The issue is the B.1.1.7 variant is not only in Michigan, it`s across the Upper Midwest, it`s across New England, across New York and New Jersey and it`s here in Texas and Florida and Georgia in a big way.

So they`re thinking what`s happening in Michigan now is a harbinger of what`s to come in the rest of the country really soon. That`s one issue.

The other is a lot of states are underperforming in terms of testing. So some of that the variants may reflect a level of testing. For instance, in Kansas, the level of testing is reported to be quite low so it might be far worse than we actually realize.

And then there`s the question of bandwidth. Even if we supplied more vaccine to Michigan, would they have the capacity to manage it and be able to vaccinate it? And it may be the case. So, there may be some wiggle room in terms of supplying extra vaccine, but the bottom line is the B.1.1.7 variant is getting everywhere now. We`ve got to vaccinate the country as much as possible.

By the way, this was all predicted and predictable. And I have to say the Biden administration did respond. You know, if you remember, Rachel, back in January after the inauguration, they gave the 100 million vaccinations in 100 days. It was looking reasonable, but then we saw the rapid rise of the B.1.1.7 variant, and the community said to the Biden administration, including myself, hold on, this isn`t going to work anymore because now with the B.1.1.7 variant, we have to vaccine by the end of the spring.

They responded and put together a plan. So, they are clearly well responsive in terms of what`s happening. In terms of the specifics for Michigan, it may make sense to supply some additional vaccine, but this is going to start going up in every state now.

Until we can get to more than half the country vaccinated -- by the way, we`re going to get there pretty soon. I think in four to five weeks, we`re going to be in much better shape. It`s a matter of how we navigate now the next four or five weeks.

MADDOW: Yeah. And whether or not anything can be done for places that can`t get vaccinated fast enough to keep all those people out of the hospital, keep people from dying, whether the mitigation measures we can recommit to them even for just a small number of weeks until the vaccine is on the other side of it.

HOTEZ: You know, there are a lot of pharmaceutical interventions, Rachel, that we can push for. Let`s face it, the Detroit Tiger had a date today, admittedly with a reduced number of people in the stands, but they still had opening day with 8,000 people. There`s still businesses. So, there`s still some wiggle room too in terms of the non-pharmaceutical interventions that could be moved around a bit.

MADDOW: Dr. Peter Hotez, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children`s and dean of National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor -- sir, as always, thank you for your time tonight, clarifying, as always. Thank you.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Breaking news tonight from "The New York Times." for the last couple nights we have been focusing on this remarkable and stomach-churning story about an active criminal investigation into pro-Trump Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz.

Well, "The New York Times" has just significantly advanced the story. I haven`t had time to digest this. I am reading it for the first time now. I`ll tell you the lead: Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex, and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by "The Times."

Investigators believe the former tax collector in Seminole County, Florida, Joel Greenberg, he was indicted last year on a federal sex crime charge and other crimes, initially met the women through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts, fine dining, travel, and allowances. Mr. Greenberg introduced the women to Congressman Gaetz, who also had sex with them, according to three people with knowledge of the encounters.

The Justice Department inquiry at "The Times" says it`s also examining whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and whether she received anything of material value, according to four people familiar with the investigation. The sex trafficking count against Joel Greenberg involved the same girl.

"The Times" has reviewed receipts from Cash App, a mobile payments app, and Apple Pay that show payments from Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg to one of the women, and a payment from Mr. Greenberg to a second woman. The women told their friends the payments were for sex with the two men, and the two men here, Greenberg, the guy from SeminoleCounty, and the congressman.

An encounter starting in 2019 and 2020, Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg instructed the women to meet at certain times and places, often around hotels in Florida and would tell them the amount of money they were willing to pay according to the messages and interviews. One person said the men also paid in cash, sometimes withdrawn from a hotel ATM. There`s also an allegation of drug use.

There`s clarification from "The Times" that is a violation of federal child sex trafficking law to provide someone under 18 anything of value in exchange for sex, which can include meals, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes. There is a ten-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for anyone convicted of that crime.

Mr. Gaetz denies ever paying any woman for sex or having any underage relationships. But this story is considerably advanced by "The Times" tonight.

We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: I told you one story that we were covering tonight was fast developing. We had Dell Computers and American Airlines coming out and criticizing Texas Republicans` anti-voting legislation. By the time we got on the air. Since we have been on the air, AT&T, and Southwest, also headquartered in Texas, they have also come out against it.

Now, just in the last few minutes, Microsoft as well have come out and blasted these plans by Texas Republicans to roll back voting laws. This one`s rolling fast.

That`s going to do it for us tonight, at least for now. I`ll see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.