The Joe Biden administration today announced that though it believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, it supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. Business leaders voice opposition to voting restriction bills in Texas.
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": That`s ALL IN for this evening,
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much, much appreciated.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
September 11th, 2001, the day of the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on our country that was a Tuesday. Part of what New Yorkers remember about that day was that it was a local election day, that Tuesday in New York City. A beautiful early fall day, when planes hit the buildings, and the buildings came down, in Lower Manhattan turned into hell.
But, afterwards, even before the next Tuesday rolled around, inside a week of the 9/11 attacks happening, something else on a different scale, but also terrible and terrifying, started to happen in a whole bunch of places all over the country. And at first, we did not know, if this was a second act, for the 9/11 attack.
To the offices of NBC News, and ABC News, and CBS News, in the office of "The New York Post", someone in explicitly, to the offices of the "National Enquirer" tabloid in Florida, somebody mailed anthrax. It was not just a white powder that they called anthrax, in a terrorizing no in order to scare people, it was actual anthrax, potent anthrax, and it was mailed to those news organizations.
It was also mailed to the offices of two different United States senators, it was real anthrax. It was potent and more than 20 people were infected by the anthrax, sent through those mailings. Five people were killed by it. It was a mysterious attack, both then and now.
But it did start right after the 9/11 attacks, when the country was absolutely reeling, and we didn`t know if it was a second act to the attacks from the morning of Tuesday, September 11th. It added this bio weapon`s terror dimension, to our out of control fear and terror at the time. It`s almost hard to explain, that different dynamic, that different dimension of it now that we are 20 years down the road from it. But if you lived through it, you know it was a real fear.
And one of the things the U.S. government did, in places like the U.S. Congress and U.S. Supreme Court, parts of government that they thought they could be a next target, of what appeared to be an ongoing anthrax bio warfare attack. One of the things that happen in certain parts of the government, is they started immediately to stockpile and antibiotic called Cipro, ciprofloxacin. It`s a broad spectrum antibiotic that you can take to fight an infection, caused by something caused by something like anthrax.
Cipro is made by the Bayer Corporation. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and then the anthrax attacks which went on for a little while after 9/11, demand for Bayer`s antibiotic for this drug Cipro just skyrocketed for obvious reasons. The U.S. government told Bayer, in fact, that they wanted to have enough Cipro on hand to treat 12 million Americans, simultaneously.
And Bayer said, okay sure, but in order to build up that much of a stockpile, in order to make that many Cipro tablets, it`s going to take us more than a year and a half. That`s just how long it`s going to take us to do that. Is that okay? No, that was not okay.
The U.S. government was saying, listen, we don`t need this drug to save people 20 months from now. We`re being attacked by somebody mysteriously mailing potent anthrax to all different kinds of people, right now. We need it now.
And Bayer basically said tough. This is our drug. We own the patent on it, that`s how long it`s going to make us to make 12 million doses.
And then something interesting happened. Some other companies came forward and said, hey, we know this is bears drug and they hold depend on it, and they`re the only ones allowed to make, it but if we are allowed to make it, we can make that drug ourselves really quickly they came forward and said they could make generic versions of it that would fill the entire order the U.S. government wanted, in 12 weeks. Bayer was saying it would take them 20 months, these companies said we can make a generic and make the whole order filled in 12 weeks. Just say the word, we`re happy to do it.
And Democrats in Washington, very quickly said we should do that. We need more than Bayer can give us, fine let`s let other companies jump in and make more. Is the path and really more important than that?
A Democratic senator named Chuck Schumer from New York City, who is just been walloped in the 9/11 attacks, he led the charge for the Democrats, saying the government had the legal right, to break up Bayer`s patent in an unusual circumstance like this in order to let other companies make Cipro, so we can have enough. So if the anthrax, continued and God forbid millions of Americans needed to be treated, then this country could be treated.
Even Republicans in Congress conceded that although they were not inclined to do something like that, under normal circumstances, these were not normal circumstances, and in this case, if the administration came forward and said, yes, that`s what we want to do, Republicans in Congress said, they would support it to. They would break the patent if need be.
Now, what ultimately happened back in 2001 is that the George W. Bush administration threatened to but did not break the, patent for Cipro. That said, they use the threat that they might, that very real bipartisan threat that they might and they could, they used that threat to make Bayer go back to the drawing board and reconsider what exactly they could do to make the U.S. government`s demand for their drug.
With that real threat looming over them, Bayer thought about it again in decided, actually it might not take 20 months, they announced they could not only dramatically ramp up their production of Cipro, but they might be able to drop the price of it by nearly 50 percent. And so Bayer kept its patent, back in 2001. And the U.S. government got its drug supplies.
But Bayer at the time, knew they almost did not keep their patent. They knew their U.S. government almost took over their patent. And that real threat of them is what got them off the mark. That was 20 years ago.
Now, today, a version of that story is playing out again, on a much larger scale. This time is not a mysterious bio weapon arriving in the mail, on the heels of a world changing terrorist attack. This time it is a global pandemic, killing millions of people in every country on earth. And until there is a cure, what we need to stave off the tide, of literally tens of millions of deaths, our vaccines against COVID-19, vaccines against COVID- 19, which we have, for which we have.
But the vast majority of the world still does not. And the current system that we have got, for trying to get vaccines out to everyone all over the world, so far isn`t working. It is at least not working quickly enough.
Just take one example of India, the apocalypse underway in India right now, the huge nation of over 1.3 billion people. They have only got 2 percent of their population vaccinated. And you can see what is happening there in terms of massive infection, mass illness, mass death, a completely overwhelmed health care system. People dying in the streets. Infection out of control, 2 percent vaccinated.
In contrast, we have got more than 40 percent of our adults fully vaccinated. Over 80 percent of our seniors, people over age 65, had had at least one dose, which offers significant protection. That`s good for us. Right, we are on our way, even though our numbers are not high enough yet.
But they are 2 percent in India. That is -- that is a problem that is a human catastrophe right now in India. It is also a catastrophe for the whole world, including for us, because I mean, the CDC said yesterday, the new COVID variant that is emerged from India, has already been found in five U.S. states.
Right now, the way the global vaccine rollout is going, which is excruciating we slow, and to -limited places, some countries are not even expected to get vaccines at all until 2024, which means, not only a huge ongoing, growing global death generation of new and more infectious and dangerous variants of the coronavirus, which ultimately myth may render our existing vaccines and effective, which sends us back to jump.
The companies, that are making vaccines, have done amazing work, right? They moved heaven and earth to get those vaccines done and to get them on the market, safe and effective. The vaccines approved in the United States, already are miracles. They are scientific miracles.
And those vaccines have the potential to save the world, if the world can get them. Right now, the world is not on track to get them, in anywhere near the timeframe that they need to get them, in order to get the pandemic under control. And in order to prevent the emergence of variants that will render movement of the vaccination efforts we`ve already made, and we still moving along with.
The company that has developed these vaccines have had the benefit of U.S. government support already, right, to fund the development of the vaccines, and their testing, into ramp up manufacturing capacity, the government has helped them to the tune of billions of dollars. These companies have also sold hundreds of millions of doses already, including to the U.S. government, which in addition, helped pay for the vaccines development in the first place.
But now, faced with most countries on earth not having access to vaccines, anywhere near the numbers they need, now today, the Biden administration has made this incredibly dramatic announcement that they support breaking the patent. They support waving the patents, in a limited way, for COVID vaccines.
Basically what`s that means is they support, giving out the recipe, for the vaccines. So other companies, other countries, all over the world, can make their own generic versions of these vaccines, that work.
So like, those companies that came forward and said, yeah, we know Bayer has got the patent but we can make Cipro generically if you just let us do. The Biden administration, in this instance, with COVID vaccine, is saying yeah let`s make them do it. Let`s make generic drugs.
And this was, undoubtedly a hard call for them. I mean, the Trump administration was adamantly opposed to doing this. They lead the global resistance to doing this. Trump supporting Republicans in Congress have said they are adamantly opposed to doing. This and they have been lobbying the Biden administration against making this change.
Pharmaceutical companies are more against this than anything else they can imagine. Their own business line is based on this idea that it get to invent things and then on a patent on it that lets them have monopolistic control on that drug, and all of the revenue it generates, for a generation.
But, as hard as the decision must have been, for the Biden administration, it helps, it matters, that at the end of the day, honestly this is something that President Biden explicitly promised he would do, if you are elected president.
Ady Barkan is a lawyer. He`s an activist, he`s a dad. He`s also dying from ALS. Mr. Barkan uses a computer speech assistance to speak since ALS took his ability to speak in his own voice.
Using that computer assisted technology, he did an interview, a hard one, a hard charging interview, with then presidential candidate Joe Biden last summer, last July. And in that interview, Mr. Barkan got this explicit promise from candidate Joe Biden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADY BARKAN, LAWYER/ACTIVIST: The World Health Organization is leading an unprecedented global network, to promote international cooperation in the search for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines. But Donald Trump has refused to join that effort, cutting America off from the rest of the world. If the U.S. discovers a vaccine first, will you commit to sharing that technology with other countries? And will you ensure there are no patents to stand in the way of other countries and companies mass producing those lifesaving vaccines?
JOE BIDEN (D), THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Absolutely. Positively. This is the only humane thing in the world to do.
This guy`s whole idea of America, America on its own, it has made America alone. We`re out there by ourselves. What is he doing? It lacks any human dignity what we`re doing.
So the answer is yes. Yes, yes, yes. And it`s not only a good thing to do, it`s overwhelmingly in our interest to do as well. Overwhelmingly.
BARKAN: Thank you for that commitment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The answer is yes, yes, yes, yes. Absolutely, positively. It is overwhelmingly in our interest to do it.
That was his promise, as a candidate. Today, as president, the Biden administration made good on that promise. President Biden`s U.S. trade representative, Katherine Tai, announcing the administration`s decision and precise and definitive terms. I sort of never thought I would see something like this from the U.S. government. But here it is.
This is a global health crisis and the extraordinary circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures. The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for COVID-19 vaccines. We will actively participate in negotiations with the World Trade Organization, needed to make that happen.
The administrations aim is to get as many safe and effective vaccines to as many people as fast as possible. As our vaccine supply for the American people is secured, the administration will continue to ramp up its efforts working with the private sector and all possible partners, to expand vaccine manufacturing and distribution. It will also work to increase the rummage here eels needed to produce those vaccines.
That last bit there, actually is key. The raw materials. It`s one thing for the U.S. to say, it`s a huge thing for the U.S. to say, we support suspending the patents, waving the patterns here. We support other countries being given the recipe for making their own generic versions of the COVID vaccines. It`s a huge thing.
But it is another thing altogether, for the Biden administration to say that they are going to make sure, that the raw materials, the ingredients, the specialized equipments, the trained personnel, the expertise, the know- how, all get out to the world as well. So not only do people have permission theoretically, to make their own vaccines, they actually can.
Without hugely ramping of the supply of materials and equipment and expertise and raw materials in particular to make the vaccine, generic or not, we can only increase supply by so much. The Biden administration is saying, we will leave global negotiations, to give companies in countries around the world permission to do this, and to give them the ability to do it safely.
This is a huge deal. This is a huge decision for the Biden administration. Obviously, it`s 180-degree U-turn from where the last administration stood on this issue. But it is an advance in terms of the United States saying that we will lead the world on this issue. We will take responsibility, for getting this done globally.
I mean, if this is done rights, it means the United States of America will not only lead global negotiations to get this part of it done, but we will lead the world to make sure there is a global response. So this thing does not haunt humanity, including us, for the rest of our time on the planet. The only way out, from COVID-19, is for the whole world to get ahead of it. And the only country on earth, capable of leading the whole world of getting ahead of it is us.
And that is what the Biden administration is banking on being able to do. And they are banking on us, the American people, believing in that again.
So this is a really big deal. It is a decision that potentially could save tens of millions of human lives. It could make the difference as to whether or not we do ever and this pandemic, or if this is it. It`s a huge deal.
We will have one of the world`s foremost experts on, this that`s going to be joining us to talk on it a little bit later on. I`m very much looking forward to that conversation.
In terms of what else is going on in the news today, also today, a federal judge ruled that the national moratorium on evictions, the ban on kicking people out where they live, which went into effect because of the pandemic, went into effect last year, today a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government does not have the right to impose a freeze on evictions.
The Justice Department says they will appeal that judges ruling. So we expect that will probably mean, the existing eviction ban will stay in place at least temporarily, while this thing weight makes its way through the courts. That`s potentially a big deal, for what it`s worth, this is a Trump-appointed judge, who`s trying to throw out, the freeze on evictions. It`s the Justice Department under President Biden that will now file an appeal, to try to keep the eviction freeze in place.
We are also watching the Justice Department today, for any sign that they may appeal exclusive court ruling, that led the show with last night. A federal judge in Washington ruling yesterday afternoon, that Trump Attorney General Bill Barr, was, quote, disingenuous, and that he and other Trump administration Justice Department officials basically lied to the court and lied to the public, about then Attorney General Bill Barr`s decision to not bring federal criminal charges against President Trump, after the Mueller report laid out more than ten instances of criminal obstruction of justice, by the then president.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson yesterday ordered the Justice Department to release to the public, a document that the Trump Justice Department has been trying to keep secret for years. It`s a document about their decision, not to bring criminal charges against Trump. The judge says that she has seen that document, although the Justice Department tried to stop even her from seeing it.
She said she has now seen, it she has reviewed, it she said the Trump administration, excuse me, the Trump Justice Department lied about what`s in that document. She now wants it released to the public. The Biden Justice Department now has to decide if they are going to appeal that ruling from the judge, or if they will comply with it and go ahead and release that document.
The release of that document, and the attending drama about why they lied about it, why they tried to keep that documents secret for years, that will obviously put a very hot spotlight back on the question of why Trump in fact was not charged, with obstruction of justice despite all of the evidence of justice that was laid out in Mueller`s investigation.
Before you look at, up and just tell you, know the statue of limitations is not up, for what it`s worth. The statue of limitations on Trump`s conduct, that was described in that part of the Mueller report, it`s generally a five-year statute of limitations. That stuff was in 2017, 2018, 2019. So there is still time. Just saying in case the Justice Department decided that was a question of whether or not he should be charged, is still open.
After Facebook today issued its weird pseudo-legal-ish decision, in which they announced they were upholding the ban on Trump from that social media platform. Former President Trump immediately started sending a statements, that were apparently decide to remind everyone why he was kicked off that platform in the first place.
Right after they said he was still kicked off Facebook, he put out public statements, reiterating his fantasies. That he secretly is still president, calling himself president, as if he`s president now, saying that the last U.S. election should not count, because it was fantasy.
He said there was some mysterious fraud that no one can quite describe, which is the only reason Biden appeared to win, but really Trump won, really Trump was the one who won it. He puts out that statement. It`s like oh yeah. Now I remember why you are kicked off all the social media platforms. You told all your followers that you are still secretly president and they needed to avenge the fraud that you are fantasizing about, and that led to them violently attacking the U.S. capital, to try to stop the certification of the election results.
Oh yes, thank you for the reminder. That`s why your banned. They just re- upped your band today. Now I remember why they banned you in the first place.
Former President Trump`s statement on his election fantasies today, appeared to be focused on Arizona, which he has made multiple statements about over the last couple of weeks. Arizona is where Republicans are continuing with this cuckoo for cocoa puffs, audit of the presidential election results in Arizona, which is being run by a QAnon promoter which is never had any previous experience with elections or auditing one.
The news`s from that thing today was amazing. The auditors admitted today that after a couple of weeks, of hammering away at the 2.1 million ballots they are reviewing, they are through much less than 10 percent of the ballots. That led much of the Arizona press corps to do the math on this thing to the quick conclusion that apparently they are going to try to drag on this audit, slash recount, well into the summer, around the time everybody was arriving to the conclusion that this thing is going to have to go for weeks and weeks and weeks if they stay at this pace.
The venue where they are doing it, the arena where they are holding this supposed recount, announced publicly that actually they are not welcome to stay. They have got other things booked for that space. And so they are not going to be allowed to stay past the middle of May.
So, they are doing this thing at a pace that will require them to be there all summer. They`re not going to have any place to do it as of a week and a half from now. So that`s a complication.
The local ABC station in Phoenix also reporting today that the so-called official observers of the audit are required to sign nondisclosure agreements, which, of course, a nondisclosure agreement prohibits you from telling any buddy something that you`ve seen or experienced. So their observers, but they`re not allowed to tell anyone what they have observed. Also seems like a little bit of a complication.
Also, one of the guys running the audit, explain today on camera, that what they are doing with the ballots, why it`s taking so long, why they have been through less than 10 percent of them already is because they`re taking a very, very careful look at the ballots. What are they looking for? They are looking for bamboo.
Because, it`s possible that maybe, China came over and made Joe Biden president, buy something, something Asia bamboo ballots, something.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The other day at the press conference, you are talking about bamboo. What is that about?
ARIZONA ELECTION EDITOR: Well, there`s accusations that 40,000 ballots were flown in --
REPORTER: To Arizona?
ARIZONA ELECTION EDITOR: Into Arizona. And it was stuffed into the box, OK? And it came from the southeast part of the world, Asia, OK?
And what they`re doing is to find out if there is bamboo in the paper. That camera right there, that they take a picture of the ballot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They came over from the southeast part of the world, and they put it in the box. There you go. Trump is president.
They are looking for bamboo in the ballots because Trump is secretly president, because China, or maybe just Asia, made bamboo ballots and flew them to Arizona, and they can find them with a camera. So they have to use the camera, and all of the ballots.
Republican Party is in the verge of kicking out some of their House leadership because of insufficient loyalty to Donald Trump. Donald Trump is now the animating focus of the Republican Party right now because of their absolute outrage that he is not being allowed back on social media to keep promoting the idea that he secretly won the election. He wants to promote the fact that Arizona`s recount is going to prove that he secretly won the election.
What are they doing in Arizona? They`re looking for the bamboo. Because, bamboo, Asia, planes, that must -- look at the camera.
I mean, one of these parties is not like the other. But this is how we are proceeding building into the future right now.
Lots to get to tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Today, the Biden administration announced he would back a proposal to let other countries manufacture generic versions of the COVID-19 vaccines that have been developed by big pharmaceutical companies and offer the world`s best hope at beating back this pandemic and saving tens of millions of lives. It sounds like a technical change, it sounds like a business thing, but to people who follow this thing, people in the public health world, this is a huge deal.
You probably heard the group Doctors Without Borders, an international aid group that sometimes known by their acronym in French, MSF. Here`s how MSF, Doctors Without Borders, announced -- reacted today when this news was announced. They said, quote, this is huge. The United States of America is putting lives over profits.
They then go on to list another amount of countries that have yet to endorse this proposal, including Canada, the U.K., Brazil, the E.U., asking when they will follow the example set by the United States and, quote, get on the right side of history.
Other big expert groups in this field who pushed for this change are calling on the Biden administration now that they`ve made this call to stand their ground, to make sure that this gets followed through, and to be ready as industry tries to push back and delay or reverse this decision.
U.S.-based aids and human right activist group, Health Gap, said in a statement today, quote, this is a necessary first step from the Biden administration, but negotiations must not drag on. Already 2.2 million people have died of COVID-19 since this waiver was proposed back in October. The Biden administration must not cave to big pharma scare tactics and its army of lobbyists that will undoubtedly kick into high gear to stall for their progress.
Another big, hugely influential nonprofit Partners in Health, which delivers health care to some of the world`s poorest countries, one of the most inspirational nonprofits operating anywhere on the face of the earth. Partners in Health had a similar message, essentially applauding it but saying, now stick to it, and let`s get it done. Partners in Health says, quote, we applaud the decision of the United States to support the waiver of intellectual property protections on COVID vaccines to help end the pandemic. We call on the United States to follow through on this commitment, make sure we don`t delay negotiations on the waiver.
People who follow this stuff, people who have made a life out of trying to work on global health issues, global public health issues see this as huge deal and amount of urgency they feel to follow through and make sure it happens tells you how big a deal this think this is.
Joining us now is Dr. Joia Mukherjee. She is the chief medical officer for Partners in Health. She`s also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
Professor Mukherjee, thank you so much for joining us. It`s a real pleasure to have you here.
DR. JOIA MUKHERJEE, PARTNERS IN HEALTH CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: You`re welcome. Thank you for having me on, Rachel.
MADDOW: So, I`m not expert on this stuff. I used to work in previous life on things sort of indirectly adjacent to this, but it`s been a long time and this is a complicated decision.
Let me just as you to correct me if there`s any part of this that I`ve explained wrong so far.
MUKHERJEE: Yeah, no, not at all, Rachel. I was thinking I know you have a background in AIDS activism. I`m wearing my AIDS pin today, wrong side, you know, to remind that these are lessons that we have learned together across the globe in fighting for treatment access, and fighting for the globe to share the fruits of modernity and share the fruits of science, and that is really a basic human right.
MADDOW: In terms of the practicalities here, some of the people who argued against doing this and people who have suggested that it`s right to do but it`s not enough, have said that the bottleneck here isn`t necessarily the patent. It`s not necessarily recipe, you know, the intellectual property, is that the capacity to manufacture vaccines is really hard to develop. You need ingredients, you need the equipment, you need the know-how for how to do it, you need trained personnel to help you learn how to do it and to get you started.
How much of that can the United States do or lead on in order to help the promise of this decision be made manifest?
MUKHERJEE: Yeah, great question. We at Partners in Health and our allies at Health Gap and 100 countries that have been urging the Biden administration and other wealthy countries to support the trips waiver never said that the trips waiver was enough. There are three key aspects that we want to see here.
One is the waiver, because it`s not just one patent, each individual step may be patented and several of the processes may be patented. So that`s one thing.
The second is really sharing the know-how, how do you make this? This is a relatively new kind of vaccine, mRNA vaccine, although many labs and facilities have been working with mRNA for decades. So sharing know-how is second important thing.
And then the third is really the funding. And we saw that even in the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. was a leader in global AIDS by putting in the funding for this to happen.
Interestingly, there`s already $16 billion committed to global work on COVID-19 vaccine. So the money is there, we hope the U.S. will continue to put money into this effort. We need the know-how shared, the raw materials and the patents.
The patents are one step but they are a major step. They`re a gateway to a cascade of things that have to happen. And many of us were very stunned today, and very thrilled to see the message from Ambassador Tai, saying that the Biden administration would support the waiver, but we know that`s only one step.
And right now, what we`re focused on is really having very transparent text-based negotiations that we`re all able to see that won`t over- represent the needs of the big pharmaceutical companies or CEOs and really will work to end the pandemic.
MADDOW: Dr. Joia Mukherjee, chief medical officer for Partners in Health, thank you so much for your time tonight. As you said, I think a lot of people in this space were thrilled with this announcement today. But in order to make it manifest, it`s going to take a lot of work and a lot of alacrity. The government is going to have to go fast here.
I know that people like you and your organization, and a lot of other advocates in this space we`ll be pushing them hard to do so. Thank you so much for helping us understand.
MUKHERJEE: You`re welcome and thanks for having us on.
MADDOW: All right. Much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: See if you can spot the difference between these two stories. Here`s story number one. 2016, a woman in Tarrant County, Texas, named Crystal Mason went to her local polling place to vote but she discovered her name wasn`t on the voting roles there. At a suggestion of a poll worker, Ms. Mason filled out a provisional ballot.
She was told basically, you know, we`re not sure the problem is, but fill out a provisional ballot, instead of a normal one, that way, if there`s any real problem here, we won`t count it.
Few months later, Crystal Mason was arrested and charged with illegal voting. Because when she filled out that provisional ballot she was on supervised release after completing a prison sentence for a federal conviction, she thought because she had served her time in prison, she was then eligible to vote. She didn`t know that under Texas law, you`re not eligible to vote until you have completed probation or supervised release after released from prison.
Even though it was a technical and sort of complex misunderstanding, and even though her ballot was counted, she was nonetheless convicted and sentenced for five years in prison for illegal voting. Five years in prison. That is story number one.
Here is story number two. A guy in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, a guy named Bruce Bartman filled out a voter registration application for his mother last year even though his mother had been dead for a dozen years. Mr. Bartman then requested and submitted an absentee ballot in her name, with a vote for Donald Trump for president in 2020. The state of Pennsylvania flagged his mom`s voter registration as belonging to a dead person, but he signed and sent back a letter swearing that she was actually still alive.
He did all of that in order to cast a fraudulent vote for Donald Trump. He pled guilty to it in court. He was just sentenced, he got five years probation.
So can you spot the difference? Crystal Mason in Texas tries to vote because she doesn`t know that she`s not technically illegible, her vote is never counted, five years in person. Bruce Bartman in Pennsylvania, elaborate premeditated scheme to cast a dead person`s vote for Donald Trump, including swearing that the person wasn`t dead after he started to get caught, all this forgiven, five years probation.
I know there has to be something that explains the radical difference in prosecution and punishment of these two people, I just can`t quite put my finger on it.
Meanwhile, two other Republican gentleman in Pennsylvania are also currently facing voter fraud charges, one guy who just like Bruce Bartman registered his dead mom to vote. Another guy who went and cast his ballot at the polling place, came back 45 minutes later wearing sunglasses to cast a ballot in his son`s name. Somehow, an alert poll worker saw through his brilliant sunglasses disguise.
Voter fraud is very rare, there are a few instances of it here and there. They`re usually ridiculous. After the November election when Republicans were having trouble finding any example of the giant epidemic of Democratic voter fraud they were fantasizing about, they were sure had just taken place, the Republican lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, publicly offered a 1 million reward for anybody providing evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
For months now, his counterpart in the great state of Pennsylvania, Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, has been needling Dan Patrick about this. When are you going to cough up that million bucks? I have three cases of voter fraud right here in Pennsylvania, three Trump supporters, Dan, where is my money?
One was a guy casting a ballot for Trump in his dad`s mother`s name. Not the kind of evidence you had in mind? I got a second one of those too if you want to try that.
But despite the Texas lieutenant governor`s inability to find any type of voter fraud, not even for a million bucks, Republicans in Texas are nevertheless pushing ahead with this idea that the some fantasy rampant about voter fraud justifies draconian new restrictions on voting in Texas.
The attempted voting rights rollback is so severe that dozens of big Texas companies not known for taking strong political stances have now come out and spoken out against it. But the leaders of Texas` biggest city and county took a forceful step today to try and get the business community to do more and to try to rally the community against what Texas Republicans are trying to do to Texas voting.
One of those leaders joins us live here, next.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: In 2020, Harris County, Texas, broke its all-time voter record. It did so almost a full week before Election Day. More people voted early in Harris County, Texas, last year than voted in all of 2016.
They set that record in large part because the county made a huge push to expand voting access to the county citizens. They hired a ton of new poll workers. They made it easier to vote by mail. They did a bunch of innovative stuff like offering 24-hour polling places. They offered drive- through voting, which is during a pandemic, over 127,000 people. About 8 percent of all Harris County voters cast their ballots using the drive- through option.
And all those different things paid off, together, big time. More people voted in Harris County than ever before.
Well now, Republicans who control the Texas state legislature have made it their mission to make sure that does not happen again. They have to bill specifically targeting big populous counties like Harris County, with the aim of stopping the kinds of innovative things the county put in place to make it easier to vote last year, which is in part by yesterday, 175 business leaders, from the Houston area, sent a letter to the Republican legislature, saying why they oppose this bill.
But, as you can see from the "Houston Chronicle" headline there, one key group was missing, the Greater Houston Partnership, which is the region`s largest Chamber of Commerce.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, EXECUTIVE, HARRIS COUNTY, TX: There is a group, sticking out like a sore thumb, for failing to speak up at a time of enormous consequence. Right now, voting rates are falling like dominoes in states across the country, from Georgia to Arizona to right here in Texas. And yet, the largest Chamber of Commerce in the Houston area is silent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That is the top elected official in Harris County, Texas, Judge Lina Hidalgo, today singling out the largest Chamber of Commerce in the Houston area, for their silence on Texas Republicans attacking voting rights, even when so many other Texas business leaders are standing up saying they will not abide by it.
Joining us now is Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who is essentially the chief executive of Harris County, the most populous county in Texas.
Judge Hidalgo, it`s nice to see you. Thanks for making time.
HIDALGO: Thank you.
MADDOW: How important is business support for voting rights going to be in the end, as Republicans and the legislature take aim at voting rates statewide and seem to be taking aim specifically at things like your county?
HIDALGO: Look, it`s very important for all of us, to stand up against this. But the business community is uniquely positioned, to make a difference. This is not a transient, quote/unquote, political, partisan issue. This is about are you willing to stand up, for and fight for American democracy? Do you believe in American democracy?
I think of Martin Luther King writing from Birmingham jail, I think of the blood that has been spilled to protect that promise of America, to protect that light that we fight for around the world. And, when some folks are trying to turn democracy itself into a wedge issue, we need to stand up and make clear that voting rights, democracy, is something we already won and have been done with.
The business community, more than anybody else, can stand up and prevent this from becoming a wedge issue.
MADDOW: Judge Hidalgo, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you tonight is watching that press conference. You made the point that this Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Houston Partnership, they wouldn`t even let their members take a vote internally about whether or not they wanted to publicly oppose these bills. I wanted to ask you why you raise that point, and what you think that means.
HIDALGO: Yes, it`s almost hard to believe, but essentially, I have heard from respected business leaders of major businesses in the Houston area, leaders in this Chamber of Commerce, that they requested that the leadership meet, and that they hold a vote to decide whether or not the chamber itself is going to come out in opposition to these voting bills. And the response was that no vote will be held.
I was just on the phone with some of the chamber leaders are telling me we have a meeting tomorrow. It`s a discussion meeting, but they`re not going to be allowed to vote, and possibly taking a stance. So it`s voter suppression. On the topic of voter suppression, and it does make you wonder if you have to suppress the vote less the membership, come out against voter suppression ship, what are you doing here?
You have to remember, too, Rachel, these bills single out Harris County. You pointed out our innovations that are about bringing voting into the 21st century, that Republicans as well as Democrats use in record numbers. They are attacking my constituents, my community, the community that this chamber, and these businesses are meant to represent.
And so, that`s why it`s just so ironic, and we need everybody to continue taking a stand.
MADDOW: Harris County, Texas Judge Lina Hidalgo, essentially the executive of the county there, thank you so much for your time tonight. We are watching this closely as we`re watching other states that are trying to be back these voting rates around the country. But in Texas, it seems like things are getting quite intense. Thanks for helping us understand tonight, Judge.
HIDALGO: Thank you.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Before we go tonight, a little bit of breaking news in a story that we covered at the top of the show. This has just developed since we`ve been on the air. The U.S. Justice Department tonight, the head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department has just sent this letter to the Republican-controlled Arizona State Senate, essentially warning them that they are so-called audit of the 2020 presidential election, this recount they`re doing of the presidential election result in Arizona which is being conducted by a company with no election experience run by QAnon promoter, the Justice Department is now warning that may be in violation of federal law, in part because they have turned over these actual ballots from a federal election to a private company when ballots are legally required for under the control of elections official.
Also, interestingly, because the people doing this audit say they may go door-to-door asking people about their votes and that would constitute voter intimidation under federal law.
Again, this record just sent tonight. We don`t know what this portends. But if the Justice Department is getting involved in the bananas recount in Arizona, that could potentially be a very, very big deal. Watch this space.
That`s going to do it for us for now. See you again tomorrow night.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.