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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, 7/28/21

Guests: Devlin Barrett, Pete Aguilar, Jon Tester, Tishaura Jones, Ashish Jha

Summary

"The Washington Post" reports that as former President Trump pushed for probes of 2020 election, he called acting Attorney General Rosen almost daily. Congressman Pete Aguilar of California is interviewed. Montana Senator Jon Tester is interviewed.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN for this evening.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now with Ali Velshi, in for Rachel.

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Another great show. Thank you. Have yourself an excellent evening.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.

It`s a big news day again today. Against all odds, a landmark bipartisan infrastructure package has advanced tonight in the United States Senate. We will be talking to Senator John Tester, one of the senators who helped negotiate that deal, in just a moment. And hopefully, he can walk us through exactly what is in the bill.

But first, we have got breaking news, right off the top. Here is the brand new headline tonight at "The Washington Post." Quote, as Trump pushed for probes of 2020 election, he called acting Attorney General Rosen almost daily.

Now, we had known before tonight, that Donald Trump had tried to pressure the Justice Department in the days after the election, asking the Department of Justice to investigate fake claims of voter fraud, which would help delegitimize Joe Biden`s victory. But until tonight, we did not know how extensive Donald Trump`s efforts were.

According to "The Washington Post," President Donald Trump called his acting attorney general nearly every day, at the end of last year, to alert him to claims of voter fraud or alleged improper vote counts in the 2020 election, end quote.

In those calls, "The Post" report that Donald Trump raised various allegations of voter fraud that he had heard about. And asked what the Justice Department was doing about it. Here is the kicker. These calls did not just stay phone calls. There is a paper trail.

Quote: Attorney General Rosen told few people about the phone calls, even in his inner circle. But there are notes of some of the calls, that were written by a top aide to Rosen named Richard Donoghue, who was present for some of the conversations. Those notes, by the way, could, soon, be turned over to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as part of its probe into why Bill Barr, so suddenly left the Justice Department after the election. Those notes could head to congress, in matter of days, unless Donald Trump moves to block that from happening.

Joining us now is Devlin Barrett, one of the lead reporters on the blockbuster story in "The Washington Post," tonight. Devlin, thank you for this reporting and thank you for being here with us tonight. As unorthodox as things were during the Donald-Trump presidency, this goes further. The idea of a president dealing in his own, personal interest, with his attorney general, is -- is stuff that we think about, when we think of Richard Nixon.

DEVLIN BARRETT, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. And -- and one of the things that we`ve all been working to understand a little better is exactly how hands on did Trump get with his aides and his senior officials as he pushed for this? And as he -- as he sought to, frankly, pull the Justice Department in to things, like litigation and attacks on the vote certification.

And now, we know, that a big part of that, and an important part of that, was these calls to the -- the nation`s top law enforcement official, at the time, Jeff Rosen. And so -- and -- and those calls, at least some of them, are documented in these notes. And, you know, it`s entirely possible that, in a matter of days, you know, those notes may be produced.

VELSHI: Let`s -- let`s talk about the two parts of that. What -- the notes tell us something about how Rosen may have seen these phone calls. Or at least this -- this -- this -- this aide to Rosen may have seen these calls. Generally speaking, you don`t take notes about things you don`t think are going to be important or meaningful. That there are notes, does that tell us the state of mind of the attorney general receiving phone calls almost daily from the then defeated president of the United States still in office?

BARRETT: Right. And I do think there was a great deal of caution and concern. And at the Justice Department, at this time, and I think the notes reflect a really tricky tightrope that senior Justice Department officials were trying to walk, at that time. Which was, they have to take, in their minds, they have to take the call. They have to talk to the president.

But they, also, don`t want to be sort of pushed or shoved or -- or even wrongly, you know, told that they have to go, you know, take Trump`s side in these fights.

And so, a lot -- what -- what was described to us is a lot of these conversations involved the president saying the things he`s concerned about. The things he is upset about. And the acting-Attorney General Jeff Rosen, saying, uh-huh, uh-huh, okay. I hear you, Mr. President. Don`t worry. We will -- we will investigate any, serious allegations, and trying to change the subject, even at times, and frankly, usually, not succeeding when he tried to change the subject.

VELSHI: So it sounds a little like that call to Georgia election officials that we all heard around Christmastime. That there`s a -- there`s a president trying to convince someone to do something, and the person on the receiving end, understanding this is probably unorthodox, somewhere along the line of unorthodox to entirely wrong or possibly illegal and try to not commit to anything.

[21:05:04]

BARRETT: Right. And you see that in -- in a -- in a implicit, gentle way, in Rosen`s testimony before Congress, back in May. He made a point of spelling out all the things he did not do, in that time period. And I think, in hindsight, now that we know about these phone calls, I think in hindsight that testimony stands out more clearly as Rosen sort of trying to draw a line for people, even though he didn`t feel he could say it publicly. Of look, whatever was said to me, whatever, you know, was brought my way, I did not go down the road that some of these folks wanted us to go down.

VELSHI: Great reporting, Devlin. Important reporting that this -- that may be before us in a matter of days, as Congress investigates January 6th and the accusations about election fraud.

Devlin Barrett is a "Washington Post" reporter out with this breaking news tonight. Thanks for being here, Devlin.

All right. Here is a question for you. Do you remember how January 6th started? I mean, do you remember the first thing that happened that day? We all know where the day ended up, with a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And we know that, right before the violent insurrection, President Trump gave a speech near the White House, in which he riled up his supporters, and told them to march to the Capitol.

But that speech didn`t start until noon. At that point, the stop-the-steal rally on the ellipse had been going on all morning. The whole gang was there -- Trump family members, Rudy Giuliani, the attorney general of Texas, who is under indictment and in the midst of an entirely separate FBI investigation, he had tried to get the Supreme Court, you will remember, to overturn the election.

But do you recall who began the day, bright and early, at 9:00 a.m., who really set the tone for the event? It was this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MO BROOKS (R-AL): Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That was how the day started. That was Alabama Republican Congressman Mo Brooks setting the mood for the day on January 6th. Congressman Brooks fondly recalled how, quote, our ancestors, end quote, sacrificed their, quote, blood and sometimes their lives, end quote. And he asked the audience if they were, quote, willing to do the same.

Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America? Carry the message to Capitol Hill? The fight begins today. All of those are Mo Brooks` words.

Now, some Democratic members of Congress tried to censure Mo Brooks for his speech, that day. But one of their colleagues had a different idea. Congressman Eric Swalwell of California filed a lawsuit against Mo Brooks, along with the other speakers of the January 6th stop the steal rally, including President Trump, in which he accused brooks of inciting an insurrection.

In response to the lawsuit, Congressman Brooks had a novel defense. I was just doing my job. He said he couldn`t be sued for his speech because he was acting in his official capacity as a United States congressman. And so, the court turned to the U.S. Justice Department and asked the department to weigh in on whether Congressman Brooks was just performing his official duties, as a federal employee.

And the Justice Department has now delivered its reply to the court and it says, in essence, you`re on your own, Mo. I mean, it did seem like a long shot that Mo Brooks would get the U.S. Justice Department to come to his rescue here. But spare a thought for the Justice Department lawyer, who had to actually write this court filing, spelling out their reasoning.

This is an actual quote from the filing: The complaint alleges that Brooks conspired with others to investigate -- to instigate a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, and incited a riot there. Instigating such an attack, plainly, could not be within the scope of federal employment.

Quote, alleged action to attack Congress and disrupt its official functions is not conduct a member of Congress is employed to perform.

Welcome to 2021, where the United States Department of Justice is forced to clarify in court that inciting an insurrection is not part of the official job duties of a member of congress.

But here`s one thing that`s worth pulling out from the argument that Mo Brooks tried to make about what he was doing at that rally, on January the 6th. He says, the reason his speech at the rally was part of his official duties was that he made it, quote, in the context of and in preparation for congressional votes, end quote -- votes that were held, that day, to certify the presidential election. It was all part of the preparation for the certification vote.

And that preparation had been going on for weeks, at that point. This was the headline at "Politico," on December 21st of last year. House Republicans meet with Trump to discuss overturning election results. Now, see the sub-headline there. Trump loyalists are planning a last stand, January 6th.

[21:10:01]

Inside the article, President Donald Trump huddled with a group of congressional Republicans at the White House, on Monday, where they strategized over a last-ditch effort to overturn the election results next month. Representative Mo Brooks, who is spearheading the long-shot push to overturn the election results in Congress organized the trio of White House meetings, which lasted over three hours and included roughly a dozen lawmakers.

During Monday`s meeting at the White House, where lawmakers noshed on a mid-afternoon snack of meatballs and pigs in a blanket, Trump talked with members for over an hour about how January 6th will play out.

Know who else was at that White House meeting planning for January 6th? Congressman Jim Jordan who just, last night, after a lot of hemming and hawing, admitted actually, yes, he did speak with President Trump on January 6th. This is the guy that Republicans tried to install on the House Select Committee to investigate the insurrection.

Liz Cheney, one of the Republican members of that committee, said she agreed with Speaker Nancy Pelosi`s decision not to let Jim Jordan on the panel because they will, likely, have to subpoena him as a witness. Maybe, they should think about subpoenaing Mo Brooks, too.

Mo Brooks, who spearheaded weeks of planning to overturn the election on January 6th, who says his man the barricade speech that morning was all part of his preparation for that day`s vote. I mean, the violence that day took most people by surprise, including the police officers on the front lines, according to their testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday. But apparently, it did not take Mo Brooks by surprise.

And here`s how we know that. Congressman Brooks, tonight, tells a reporter, Jim Newell, at Slate.com, that he was wearing body armor when he gave this speech on the morning of January 6th. Quote: Because of a tip he`d received about potential violence, Brooks had been wearing body armor at the very same ellipse speech, in which he encouraged rally attendees to start taking down names and kicking ass.

Quote: That`s why I was wearing that nice, little windbreaker, Brooks told me, with a grin, to cover up the body armor. Didn`t say who warned him or what the risk was that he had been warned about.

Well, those sound like good questions for the new select committee investigating the January 6th attack. We don`t know who will be getting subpoenas from that committee. But Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told us on this program last night that those subpoenas are going out, soon.

In terms of what led to and prompted the January-6th attack? The lies about election fraud, the narrative of a stolen election, the fantasy that Donald Trump`s election loss could be overturned. That, all needs to be investigated by this select committee. But that is not just stuff that happened before January 6th. As far as a false narrative about the 2020 election that is inciting people to violence or potential violence, we`re all living in an active-crime scene, right now. This is ongoing.

Take the so-called audit that Arizona Republicans have been conducting of the 2020 election results in Maricopa County, Arizona, the one being run by the cyber ninjas` guy, who is a QAnon stop the steal conspiracy theorist, where they have been running through ballots. They have been taking the ballots and running them under ultra violet light looking for bamboo fibers because maybe the ballots were secretly sent to America from East Asia.

Today, the guy who`s been overseeing the audit for the Arizona Republicans quit, after being locked out. I`m -- that`s not a -- I mean, he was actually, physically, locked out of the building where the audit has been taking place.

Well, that was this morning. He quit. And then, later today, he un-quit. So, that`s going well.

The whole Arizona audit circus was supposed to last a few weeks. We are now four months in. The Arizona Senate Republicans, just this week, sent a whole new batch of subpoenas to Maricopa county for more stuff that they want to look at. They are just going to keep on looking.

This thing is going to go on forever, so that Donald Trump and his allies can keep pointing to it and saying that proof of all the fraud is coming. It`s just around the corner. And it`s spreading.

In Wisconsin, the Republican chair of the state assembly elections committee is gearing up for her own Arizona-style audit in her state. She doesn`t want just a forensic audit of the `22 election. She wants a cyber- forensic audit. I have no idea what that is but I`m sure it`s much fancier than the regular audit.

This Wisconsin legislature -- legislator made a little pilgrimage to the Arizona audit site last month so she could learn how to launch one back home. This is on top of the election investigation initiated by the Republican speaker of the Wisconsin assembly who hired some ex-cops to dig into the 2020 election results for him under the watchful supervision of a Republican former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, who became a stop-the- steal activist after the November election.

[21:15:04]

Oh. And there is also the audit of ballots in Wisconsin being carried out by a crew of random Wisconsin citizens, including a guy convicted of bank and mail fraud.

Today, the Justice Department issued new guidance to states, basically, warning them about conducting these third-party, uncertified audits, warning states that they could find themselves breaking federal law.

A senior Justice Department official tells NBC News, quote, we are concerned that if they`re going to conduct these so-called audits, they have to comply with federal law. They can`t conduct them, in a way that is going to intimidate voters. But we`ll see if that guidance manages to dampen Republican enthusiasm for these audits in any of the many states that are considering them. It`s hard to find any kind of breaking mechanism for this out-of-control car that the big lie has created.

If the election was stolen, if the people in power are illegitimate, if Americans have been the victim of a vast conspiracy to deprive them of their democracy, what wouldn`t you do? What action wouldn`t be justified, in that situation?

Today, on Capitol Hill, local election officials from across the country came to give testimony on how the big lie is affecting them, how the false narrative of a stolen election, and the fake audits creating distrust in how local elections are run. How it has created an atmosphere of fear and threat and violence for election workers.

They described it as feeling like a local, small-scale version of what happened on January 6th at the Capitol.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADRIAN FONTES, FORMER COUNTY RECORDER, MARICOAP COUNTY, AZ: We had armed almost rioters in Maricopa County. We had Alex Jones and the Q Shaman, literally, arm in arm, shouting my name and shouting for other election officials in the parking lot. And their compatriots armed with -- with some pretty heavy-duty firearms.

And that was, certainly, no civil act of protest. That was not a grievance. The presence of those weapons in this environment was a threat.

And that was very difficult. It was a step away from what happened here. The motivation behind these threats is the lie. That needs to end.

JANICE WINFREY, DETROIT, MI CITY CLERK: What we`re going through I very much, the same, as what happened here. Except, for they`re coming to our homes, and they`re making us very uncomfortable. Some of my colleagues have been shot at, simply because of what we do. All of us have been threatened.

It`s unfair that we`re attacked for doing our job. I feel afraid. I feel afraid. I know that I`m going to get some kind of repercussion from just sitting here, today. But I decided to do it because I believe in the right to vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: I know I`m going to face some repercussion just from sitting here.

Joining us now, Congressman Pete Aguilar of California. He`s a member of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack. He`s a member of the Committee on House Administration, which held that hearing today, which with local election officials.

Congressman, thank you for being with us.

You know, yesterday`s testimony was incredible to hear. Lawrence O`Donnell and I were talking about this. We thought we all had heard everything there was to hear about January 6th. Then, hearing those police officers talk, again, was stirring.

Same thing today, these people, these elections officials in Michigan and Arizona, telling them -- us about how they`ve been threatened? People have gone to their homes. People have threatened their safety.

What`d you take away from that today?

REP. PETE AGUILAR (D-CA): What I took away is that these are additional, brave heroes who are administering our elections. And they are the fabric of our local communities. And they are under assault.

And so, our hearing today, in House Administration, which you showed that clip of, was about a bill from Nikema Williams and John Sarbanes, it`s the Preventing Election Subversions Act of 2021, making it a crime to intimidate and harass elections officials because we know that`s what they`re trying to do here. They`re trying to -- to use the combination of the -- the back-door law change with, you know, rooted in racism, combined with the audits, as you mentioned and that`s casting doubt on a free and fair elections system, that is administered by those very individuals who were -- who were under attack.

VELSHI: The Department of Justice has -- they -- they had done this with Maricopa County in the state of Arizona, a few months ago, sort of sent them a warning to say don`t lose the chain of custody of ballots. Don`t -- don`t fiddle with stuff. They have written, again, to states to say where election records are no longer under the control of elections officials, this can lead to a significant risk of the records being lost, stolen, altered, compromised, or destroyed.

[21:20:00]

The risk is exacerbated if the election records are given to private actors who have neither experience, nor expertise, in handling such records. And who are unfamiliar with the obligations imposed by federal law.

The Department of Justice is saying, is warning states of exactly what I think is going on. I think in Arizona, they are going to just keep on counting and storing and messing with these ballots until there`s nothing left of the ballots. Until no one can, actually, prove anything.

AGUILAR: That sounds about right because -- and that will continue to foment exactly what they want is to cast doubt on these free and fair elections.

And so, that`s -- that`s the intention here. And sometime, you know, they used to try to hide it. And now, they`re not. And so, it`s -- it`s very clearly a problem in some of these communities.

And Congress needs to step in. And so, that`s -- we wanted to -- to put a spotlight on what was going on. And, you know, I tip my hat to, you know, these local-elections officials.

Adrian Fontes, who you showed there, you know, who talked -- each of them talked about threats that they`d had against them, against them and their families and their loved ones. That shouldn`t be the case. And these individuals -- you know, really are that better off of democracy that we have back home, thousands and thousands of them, across the country, administering our elections laws. And they deserve to do their work without intimidation.

VELSHI: I don`t know if you had a chance to see Devlin Barrett and his colleagues reporting at "The Washington Post" that Donald Trump, in December, was calling his attorney general on a daily basis with this kind of information. Between this and the testimony we heard yesterday, lots and lots of people want to know who this points to and who was involved, and how Donald Trump and how Mo Brooks and people like that were involved in facilitating this.

Well, who -- I mean, what does that look like to you? Does -- does Donald Trump, do all these people get subpoenaed before the select committee?

AGUILAR: Well, we have a lot of work do. And -- and clearly, as you showed, you know, those brave officers yesterday, two D.C. Metro Police officers, and two Capitol Police Officers told their story. And in very graphic detail, what they went through protecting democracy.

And so, you know, we owe it to them. And the last question that the chairman asked them was, what do you want us to do? What do you want us to get out of this? And -- and just like you highlighted, you know, they said justice and accountability. And they want -- they want an accountable system, and they want us to chase the truth. And that`s exactly what we`re going to do.

We`re not going to be intimidated. We`re going do our work. We are going to make sure that we lift over every -- every rock. And we`re going to do our -- our level best to produce a document that gets to the root of what happened. What led up to the events of January 6th? How we protect against it, moving forward?

And so, that`s what our work will do. There will be subpoenas. We will move forward in a quick and expeditious way. But, you know, we will -- I`ll let the chairman talk about our work plan, you know, moving forward.

VELSHI: Congressman, thanks very much for joining us tonight. It`s good to see you again. Representative Pete Aguilar is a member of the House Select Committee on January 6th.

All right. If you are superstitious or you simply have kept up with the news, you may think that tweeting out that it is infrastructure week would jinx any chances of a bill passing. This time, however, it might be the real deal.

Senator Jon Tester, one of the key senators involved in the negotiation, joins us after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:27:31]

VELSHI: What a difference a week makes. Exactly, one week after a bipartisan infrastructure deal failed to clear its first procedural vote in the Senate, tonight, a new $550 billion proposal from the same bipartisan group cleared the upper chamber with the support of 67 senators, bringing a fresh round of optimism to the nation`s Capitol.

This time, 17 Republican senators including the top Senate Republican, Mitch McConnell, joined every Democratic senator in voting to begin debate on this bipartisan-infrastructure plan.

Now, after the vote, the bipartisan group of senators who have been negotiating this plan, for weeks, took a victory lap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R-OH): Not about Republicans or Democrats. It`s about making America more productive, more efficient. Therefore, improve the lives of the people we represent.

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D-AZ): The word in this town and all across this country from the naysayers is that bipartisanship is dead. That it doesn`t work, anymore. And that government is broken. And we are here to say, no. It works.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): We`ve still got a long ways to go, before we get to the finish line. But this was a vitally important, first step.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I think the country needed a bit of good news. And I think what we`re delivering tonight is that tonic, in a way, for the soul of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Tonic for the soul of America.

Well, America could sure use some tonic. Today, the White House applauded the deal. Noting that it included some of the largest ever investments in public transit, passenger rail, bridges, clean water, clean energy, and electric vehicles.

But tonight`s vote, while significant, marks the beginning of what is sure to be a very difficult road. Senators will now have to start filling in the details, crafting legislative language for the bill. They have to get it scored or priced out, by the Congressional-Budget Office. They have to vote on amendments. And then, get at least 60 senators to vote for it, again, in a -- in a technical vote, before the final vote on the passage.

And even if they do manage to do all of that, this bill is, still, going to have to pass the House. Where progressives are, already, making it clear they will not vote for this bill, unless it`s accompanied by another, much bigger Democratic proposal that includes many of their key priorities.

So just ahead of tonight`s vote, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal who leads the 95-member House Progressive Caucus released this statement. Quote: Progressives have been clear from the beginning. A small and narrow, bipartisan infrastructure bill does not have a path forward in the House of Representatives, unless it has a reconciliation package with our priorities alongside it.

[21:30:09]

The votes of congressional progressive caucus members are not guaranteed, on any bipartisan package, until we examine the details and until the reconciliation bill is agreed to and passed, with our priorities sufficiently funded, end quote.

Like I said, there is a long, long road, ahead.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer has promised to try and get it all done before the end of the summer. But there was no doubt that after weeks of frustration in the nation`s Capitol, tonight`s vote is a leap forward.

Joining us now is one of the Group of 10 senators whose work led to this agreement today, Montana Senator Jon Tester.

Senator, good to see you.

I don`t often start an interview with you -- with you smiling. So, you and a lot of senators are actually feeling like this is a big accomplishment. So congratulations, on that front.

How do you address this other thing? This -- this 800-pound gorilla in the room? The idea that this package, there are a lot of Democratic progressives who say has to be paired with a much bigger reconciliation bill, before they will support it.

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Look, I think you need to take a look at each and weigh `em out, on their own merits. This bill is traditional infrastructure. I think it`s what the country needs. And hopefully, we can get it through the Senate with a good vote and get it to the House and they`ll pass it to get it to the president`s desk.

And then, we have reconciliation and hopefully, we can get a reconciliation bill that meets the needs of America, whether it`s childcare or housing or senior care or whatever it might be. And -- and make sure that it`s paid for. And move it along, too.

I will tell you that -- that what Warren said is correct. I mean, this country needs this bill and they need -- they need -- we need to be able to show that we can work together to get something passed. And I think this bill meets the needs of this country very, very well. I am talking about the bipartisan bill.

And look, once we get this done, when we go to reconciliation, that bill may be really, really good, too. And we will make that assessment, once that bill gets drafted and built and amended and all the things that this bill`s going to go through over the next week.

VELSHI: Well, look, you and the other nine senators involved in this negotiation have -- have overcome some stuff. So talk to me about what the road looks like, in -- in reconciling two things. You heard what Pramila Jayapal representing House Progressives had to say.

Senator Kyrsten Sinema issued a response about the reconciliation bill where she said, I do not support a bill that costs $3.5 trillion and in the coming months, I will work in good faith to develop this legislation with my colleagues and the administration to strengthen Arizona`s economy and help Arizona`s everyday families get ahead.

So what we have here is two pieces of doubt both cast by Democrats at the moment. Tell me about how you negotiate this -- this, going forward.

TESTER: I think we got to talk about the merits of the bill. I think this bill`s about two things. It`s about jobs and a lot of jobs all over this country, good-paying jobs, livable wage jobs. And it`s about national security.

The truth is, is China wants to replace us in this world as the leading economic power. And if we don`t get our act together, in Washington, D.C., they will do exactly that. If we don`t start to unite and quit dividing, then -- then we`re -- we`re doomed in this country.

And so, I think, this bill is a step forward, where you have five Democrats and five Republicans that argued and fought, for two months. And -- but we, all, had the main goal in mind to get to yes. And then, we threw in the White House and they helped push this to yes, too. And we threw in Senator Schumer. And now, today, Leader McConnell, and -- and they all wanted to get to yes.

We need to continue that philosophy, moving forward, not only through the Senate but through the House to get this bill across the finish line. Our country needs this if we`re going to maintain our position as the leader -- leading-economic power in this world. And -- and if we don`t, shame on us.

So, we have got a lot of work to do, Ali, you`re right. But this is work that can be done. We have done a lot of tough work, getting this to point. And we`re willing to roll up our sleeves and continue that tough work going forward.

VELSHI: So, 67 votes in the Senate is -- these days, is usually reserved for something like naming a post office. Things that are just, nobody`s got any disputes over.

You mention Leader McConnell voted for this. This is a procedural bill. I mean, it`s an important one. It starts debate.

Do you think there is some way you can get 60-plus votes to close this debate, at some point? And then, the 50 -- I think you probably get the 50- plus votes you need, in the end. But you, still, are going to need ten extra Republicans, all along this road.

TESTER: Look, I think if people look at this bill for what it does for this country. I think we can get more than 67 votes moving forward. Truth is, is that, as I said before, we need investments in roads and bridges and broadband, electrical infrastructure and water and the list goes on and on.

[21:35:00]

And this bill does that. This is the largest expenditure in infrastructure in this country`s history. So, we need to talk about that, we need to talk about how we get this done.

Is it going to be easy? No, it`s not. Nobody thinks it will be. There will be a lot of games played. There is folks in the Senate that were going to try to derail this thing, but we need to stick together just like the 10 of us have stuck together over the last ten months.

And if we are able to do that, we will get this bill through the Senate with a good, healthy vote. I think it`s going to be north of 67 votes, quite frankly, in the end.

VELSHI: Wow.

TESTER: Once people get a chance to see this bill and what it does, I think there is going to be more than 67 senators that vote for it.

VELSHI: Talk to me about what happened with Jerry Moran of Kansas. He was on the team and he voted no in this procedural bill. Why? Do you know?

TESTER: Jerry is a good friend of mine, and I can`t speak for Jerry Moran. And we will have to sort that out through the process, but I don`t think Jerry`s a lost cause. I think if he sees this bill being good for Kansas and good for the country, he will get onboard.

And so, like I said, Jerry is a good man. He`ll analyze it on the grounds that he thinks is important and -- and act accordingly.

VELSHI: Senator, good to see you as always. Thank you for joining us. Montana Senator Jon Tester.

Well, still ahead here tonight, what happens when a group of Republicans at the local and state level try to tell a Democratic official how to run the city she leads? That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:40:22]

VELSHI: So, there was this hearing about mask mandates in St. Louis, last night that was just bananas. And I mean that, in a literal sense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good evening. I wanted to let you know, I followed your rules. I wore my mask. I social distanced. And I washed my hands. Heck! I even washed my bananas and my oranges! I was overboard. Okay?

I still got COVID. So, how did that happen? But I`m alive! I am a COVID survivor.

What county executive Dr. Page did yesterday was illegal. I hope the council recognizes this, and votes accordingly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Okay. There is a lot going on there. This was last night at a county council meeting in St. Louis. Members of the community, like that lady yelling about her very clean bananas, were there to ask the city council to repeal a new mask mandate enacted by the county executive, Dr. Page.

And if you thought the fruit lady was something, dozens of people showed up just like her. The county council meeting went on for hours. And the most shocking thing about all of this is that it worked.

Last night, the St. Louis County Council voted 5-2 to reverse the brand new mask mandate in the county, enacted in response to the dangerous-delta variant, that`s ripping through the region. The county executive who issued the mandate said that the council`s vote was meaningless, and that the mask rule remains in effect for St. Louis County.

But there`s a fight in the courts, as well. The Republican attorney general in Missouri has filed a lawsuit, asking a judge to overturn mask mandates in St. Louis County, and the adjoining city of St. Louis, once and for all.

New-COVID cases are skyrocketing, not just in St. Louis, right now, but the entire state of Missouri. Look at the right side of your screen -- as Rachel has been reporting for a few weeks. But only 41 percent of the population in Missouri is vaccinated right now, which is a dangerous combination.

We talked to the head of the CDC last night, who told us that the vast majority of the counties in the United States, with high or substantial- COVID transmission, that`s the stuff in red and orange on this map, have low vaccination rates. And look at Missouri, where the arrows pointing. Most of the state is lit up, bright red.

All of those red counties in Missouri are exactly the type of places the CDC had in mind, when it reversed its guidance on masks yesterday, and asked people to start wearing masks indoors in areas of high COVID transmission, regardless of vaccination status.

But look at what happened in St. Louis County, yesterday, after leadership tried to enact one of those mask rules endorsed by the CDC. People who live there went nuts. The Republican attorney general sued not the county, not just the county, but the city of St. Louis, as well, to try and cancel out a concurrent-mask mandate that was enacted by the mayor of the city of St. Louis.

What are local leaders supposed to do to protect their constituents, when they live in an anti-science state? As far as the mayor of St. Louis goes, she had this to say about the Republican AG attacking her public-health policy. Quote: I wish that he would put more of his attention toward serving the people of the state of Missouri.

Joining us, now, is the mayor of St. Louis, Tishaura Jones.

Mayor Jones, good to see you, again. Thank you for being with us, tonight.

You got -- you got a serious issue in your state and in your city. And it`d be one thing if you just had a serious issue, and you put in the mask mandate and you encouraged people to get vaccinated and we would get to the end of it. But you`re actively fighting people, as this COVID virus is -- is, once again, attacking your state.

MAYOR TISHAURA JONES (D), ST. LOUIS: Yes, we`re fighting people, on two fronts. We are trying to get people vaccinated, and to keep them safe. And that`s what the people of this -- of St. Louis City and St. Louis County elected myself and Dr. Page to do.

And it should be noted that Dr. Page is an anesthesiologist. He works in hospitals. I have a ten-year career working in hospitals and health centers, as a health administrator.

So, I think we know what we -- what we`re talking about. But we`re, also, following the guidance of the St. Louis metropolitan pandemic task force, made up of the leaders of our FQHCs, as well as our local flagship hospitals. They have been recommending that we go back to a mask mandate for about a week, now.

VELSHI: You -- you and I talked, right after you -- you got into office. You`ve been in office for about a hundred days, now. Have you had to sort of do a little bobbing and weaving and changing how you`re dealing with this?

[21:45:00]

Because 100 days ago, three and a half months ago, we thought we were in a different place with COVID, we were getting these vaccines out. We assumed that, you know, a lot of people would -- would take them. There was difficulty getting it. And now, you have got an entirely different problem to solve.

JONES: Yes, absolutely. We thought that people would -- that vaccination rates would be higher. We thought that our leaders would be more bold and forceful in recommending that people get vaccinated. But in St. Louis City, alone, we are looking at another problem related to 80 percent of new cases are in the African-American community, and only a little over 23 percent are vaccinated.

So, we have a whole, different issue to deal with, with vaccine hesitancy amongst minority populations.

VELSHI: How do you -- do you deal with both of those things, the same? Or differently? You -- vaccine hesitancy in minority populations, versus sort of anti-science conspiracy theorists.

JONES: Yeah, we have to deal with it, all, at the same time, or else, we will not get out of this pandemic. We are looking at a third surge in the state of Missouri. And we have to address vaccine hesitancy. As far as myself and my family, all of us are vaccinated, including my 75-year-old father, and my 13-year-old son.

So, you know, we follow the science. And I hope that others will follow the science, as well. It is safe to get vaccinated. And it`s your best defense against the horrible side effects of COVID-19 up to, and including, death.

VELSHI: What`s the fight look like on the ground? Let`s take -- get outside the political fight that we saw in St. Louis County or the attorney general suing you. Are you -- are you finding that you are able to sort of challenge the resistance on the ground? Are people at least abiding by the mask mandates?

JONES: Yes. We`re finding that people are abiding by the mask mandates in St. Louis City. And we`re also finding that we have to meet people where they are, when it comes to vaccine hesitancy. So just last Friday, we took our mobile vaccination unit from the Health Department to a community resource fair. And we`ll be taking that mobile-vaccination unit out, everywhere we can, to actually meet people where they are. And offer them vaccines and in communities where they live.

VELSHI: Mayor, good to see you, again. Thank you for being with us tonight. Good luck in your efforts. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.

We have much more ahead tonight, including what may be a positive development in the fight against the pandemic.

Stay with us.

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[21:51:30]

VELSHI: Largest employer in the country is the U.S. federal government. Without including the military, federal government employs more than 2 million people. And tomorrow, President Biden is reportedly going to announce a new coronavirus vaccine rule for all of those civilian federal employees.

Nothing is certain until the president says it himself, but the new rule would require all federal employees to get vaccinated or face repeated COVID testing. That comes after we learned Monday that a little more than 100,000 workers have their own new vaccine rule that`s go a step further. Patients facing health care workers at the V.A. will have to get vaccinated or they could lose their jobs.

And all of that comes in the same week we got big guidance reversal from the CDC. The CDC is now recommending all regardless of vaccination status that they wear masks indoors in many of the areas the virus is surging in the U.S. They`re also recommending masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors in schools regardless of their vaccination status. That news, of course, is coming just before schools start back up.

And CDC is now warning preliminary evidence shows even fully vaccinated people can spread the delta variant of the coronavirus to others. This is all tough news to follow. Sometimes following the science it means taking a step back.

Joining u to help us understand where we stand as a country in our fight against COVID and what the new guidance means is Dr. Ashish Jha. He`s the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, good to see you again as always.

I have to start somewhere else. Let`s start in the U.K. Things got so bad in the U.K. that the U.S. issued a travel advisory warning against traveling to the U.K.

Take a look at these numbers -- 69 percent of the U.S. adults have one dose of the vaccine. In the U.K., it`s 88.3 percent.

We`ve now seen the number of cases in the United Kingdom plummeting even though they eliminated some social distancing rules.

The U.K., what`s going on there that we don`t understand?

DR. ASHISH JHA, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, Ali, thanks for having me back.

Short answer is no one knows for sure, but there are a couple theories. One is, obviously, kids are out of school. And so, that helps to slow the spread in schools. Second, is the weather is terrific and people are spending time outdoors and we know this virus doesn`t spread outdoors.

And the third was this huge increase in vaccination in the U.K., lots of more people vaccinated. And again, I`m not -- I don`t want to use the term herd immunity but certainly have high level of the population immunity and I think that`s also helping a lot.

VELSHI: The Israel -- health panel in Israel is recommending a third shot of COVID for older people. Now, I`m always skeptical about these things. Pfizer has come out and said third shot would be good. If I were a public company, I`d probably say that too.

What do you make of this?

JHA: Yeah, I`d have to say, I`m looking at the data, we`re still learning but it does appear for some people, to be specific about this, not everybody, maybe older people, people who are frail, nursing home residents, a third shot may not be helpful because we`re really trying to ward off infections against this very, very contagious delta variant.

I don`t think it`s a slam dunk. I want to see a bit more data. That`s what Israel is relying on. And I would not be surprised if we go down that road in the next few weeks or a couple of months ahead.

VELSHI: We were talking to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the head of the CDC yesterday and she sort of pushed back on the idea that this is a reversal or a change.

[21:55:05]

She called it an update. She said we got more information and we`re updating it.

I get that. But after watching CDC all of last year, Americans were frustrated that the guidance seemed to be inconsistent. Maybe today`s CDC`s is suffering because of the reputational damage that was done to it last year.

What do you think of the new mandate guidance -- the new mask mandate guidance that came from the CDC?

JHA: Yeah. Look, I`m totally sympathetic to people who say, whoa, this feels very different from what we were dealing with just a few months ago.

This is the reality of the pandemic we`re learning a lot about the virus and learning about new variants that show up. So, in May when the CDC relaxes guidance, we did not think vaccinated people were getting the virus and certainly didn`t think they were spreading. Delta also wasn`t around much.

I think what CDC did yesterday was fine. I think it`s consistent with the science. It`s reasonable for those in high transmission areas who are vaccinated to wear a mask. I don`t think it`s going to make a huge difference by the way. I don`t think it`s going to somehow stem the surge, but I think this is where the science is heading and I thought CDC made a good call.

VELSHI: Ashish, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.

Ashish Jha is the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and has been keeping us informed for a very long time. Thanks so much for your time tonight.

We`ll be right back.

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VELSHI: Something to keep an eye on tomorrow. We`ve been watching those Texas Democrats who left the state to avoid the passage of restrictive voting rights legislation in Texas. They will be testifying before the House Oversight Committee in D.C. tomorrow. They, of course, are staying out of Texas until the session ends so the law can be defeated.

That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

It`s time now for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, my friend.