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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 15, 2020

Guests: Nikema Williams, Ashish Jha


Democrats rally in Georgia ahead of Senate runoff races. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Yeah. Well, getting the virus is not some badge of being insufficiently vigilant. The thing is implacable.

Jennifer Jacobs, who is a one-woman test and trace team on the White House beat, great reporting and thank you so much. I really appreciate it.


HAYES: That is ALL IN on this Tuesday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thanks, my friend. Much appreciated.

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

A busy news day, a lot going on. Today was even a bigger vaccine rollout day than yesterday was. Yesterday, it was about 140, 150 places around the country that received their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine, started administering those vaccines mostly to front line health workers.

So, as I said yesterday, just around 150 sites around the country. But today it was more than 400 sites around the country that got their first vaccine deliveries.

And it was in Bedford, Massachusetts, that the first V.A. patient, the first patient at a V.A. facility got a vaccine. A World War II veteran, a woman named Margaret Klessens.

Margaret Klessens is 96 years old. She wears her hair in a ponytail on top of her head like a boss. She's a great swimmer apparently. She is psyched to have received the vaccine. She wishes she said that she would have got all this attention for something like this when she was 16 instead of 96, but at 96, she'll take it.


MARGARET KLESSENS, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: The nurse come up and told me that the vaccine was in, and she said I was going to get a dose of it. So I get up, I was happy.

REPORTER: Klessens, who is originally from Charlestown, served in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. She worked in communications at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia through the war and says Monday she was surprised how fast the vaccine came in.

M. KLESSENS: Tat's what I thought when the nurse come up to me. I thought, oh, they really did get it in early. And I thought everybody was going to get it. Then I find out that I'm the only woman down there to get it.


REPORTER: Sally Klessens is one of Margaret's four children. She didn't know her mom got it until her mother called.

S. KLESSENS: I'm glad she got it. She makes her own decisions. She's highly competent, which is wonderful.

REPORTER: Monday night, Margaret Klessens tells us she is still feeling good.

M. KLESSENS: Wonderful, yeah, they asked me after they inoculated me, and no pain, nothing.

S. KLESSENS: She wants to get out again, you know? We want to her out and about going out to dinner and swimming again. She used to swim all the time.

REPORTER: Margaret Klessens says she now hopes everyone can get the vaccine. She says she's grateful for the opportunity and humbly laughs at her newfound fame.

M. KLESSENS: Why didn't all these things happen when I was 16?


MADDOW: Ninety-six-years-old, World War II veteran Margaret Klessens.

We're going to talk this hour about not just how it's going in these first two days of the vaccine rollout, but how the vaccine effort affects two other things. First of all, the record hospitalizations that we are seeing right now with all the joy over the vaccine starting to get out there. Tonight, there are more Americans in the hospital with COVID than there have been at any other night in the entire pandemic.

Over 112,000 Americans hospitalized with COVID right now, and it does not look like that number is going down any time soon. So, how does the rollout of the vaccine affect everything we need to be doing to try to bring new case numbers down, to try to keep people alive who are already sick right now, and to help and support the health providers who are trying to keep our brothers and sisters alive, and all the hospitals and intensive care units around the country that are full up and getting worse right now? Hope helps and the vaccine provides hope.

But what else can we be doing and how does the vaccine effort affect what we need to be doing given how absolutely overrun we are right now by sickness and death and new cases?

We're going to be talking about that tonight. We're also going to be talking tonight about what it means that we may be soon getting a second vaccine approved, like really soon, perhaps by the end of the week. A vaccine rollout for a single vaccine has been fascinating, and as I said, it has inspired hope over these last couple of days.

If we get a second vaccine approved and started to roll out by the end of the week, how do those two vaccines dovetail, essentially, in the rollouts. We'll get expert help on both those questions coming up tonight.

In Washington tonight, the special guest star making a surprise appearance in the news is shame, the return of shame, or at least embarrassment in the last days of the Trump administration. This is a surprise to me. I never thought shame would come back, but here it is.

Trump national security adviser Robert O'Brien had been planning to spend all week long this week on a European and Mediterranean junket paid for by the taxpayers and accompanied by his wife, trips to Switzerland, and Germany, and London, and Rome and Paris, Paris where the trip reportedly included a planned private tour of the Louvre, the famous Louvre museum, a private tour for Robert O'Brien and his wife, even though the Louvre was closed to the public because of COVID concerns, he apparently was playing the "I'm the national security adviser" card in order to get that.

I mean, it does sound like a fantastic trip, tons of fun, right? And think about how much better off you are than everybody else in the world. Nobody is traveling anywhere. Museums are closed all over the world, but, you know, taxpayers sending you and your wife on a European tour of all the capitals with private museum tours for just you two, right around the holidays, traveling on U.S. government aircraft, no cost to you. Boy, that sounds fantastic, until shame returns.

And it gets reported that that's how the national security adviser is using up his last days in the lame duck, and then suddenly, Robert O'Brien decides tonight, apparently, that maybe it might be a good idea to heed the call of shame and head home.

Jennifer Jacobs at Bloomberg first to report tonight that national security adviser, Mr. O'Brien, cut short his jackpot European vacation. He says he's now heading home to deal with the massive consequences of the Russian intelligence cyberattack on U.S. government agencies.

This is this big attack by Russian government actors. It was first reported over the weekend. It now turns out that it was incredibly widespread and potentially incredibly damaging. The Russian government hackers infiltrated and compromised computer systems at the U.S. State Department, at the Homeland Security Department, at the Department of Defense, at the Treasury and Commerce Departments.

Most worryingly, the Trump administration appears to have had no idea that the attack had even happened until a private cop told them about it last week -- that's bad. Perhaps even more worryingly than that, the White House and senior Trump administration officials have been basically silent on the attack. Silent about who did this to the U.S. and whether there will be any consequence for the attackers.

It should be noted that seems to be sort of par for the course in this administration when we get hit by attacks from that one particular country.

This is "The New York Times" today, quote, analysts said it was hard to know which was worse, that the federal government was blindsided again by Russian intelligence agencies, or that when it was evident what was happening, White House officials said nothing. But this much is clear. While President Trump was complaining about the hack that wasn't, the supposed manipulation of votes in an election he had clearly and fairly lost, President Trump was silent on the fact that Russians were hacking into the building next door to him, the United States Treasury.

Don't worry. As much of a bummer as it was for his cool world tour, Trump national security adviser Robert O'Brien is coming back to Washington, coming back from his trip early to work on this matter. So, we'll see how this goes.

At "BuzzFeed News" today, reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier pried loose from the Trump administration an unexpectedly timely document that we had never seen before today until Mr. Leopold, Mr. Cormier, used the Freedom of Information Act to get this thing. Look at this. We have never seen this document before.

It is the criminal referral that was made to the FBI and the Justice Department concerning President Trump's behavior, specifically about his call last year to the president of Ukraine where President Trump told the president of Ukraine that Ukraine would only get its military aid from the U.S. government if that country's president helped Trump get re-elected by announcing some sort of Ukrainian investigation targeting Democrat Joe Biden and his family.

Bring it all back, right? Why does this sound so familiar? Oh, yes, we forget, Donald Trump was impeached a year ago. Donald Trump was impeached. We are a country. It will always go down in our permanent record that we are a country that elected Donald Trump to be president of the United States. But it will also go down in our permanent record that Mr. Trump twice lost the popular vote and he was impeached by the House before he was voted out of office by the American people, by a pretty impressive margin after just one term. It's all sort of a mixed bag.

It's funny, as weirdly hard as it is to even remember that Trump was impeached, it's even harder to remember that within the impeachment saga, there was a moment when the sitting president of the United States was referred for potential criminal prosecution. Referred by the inspector general of the intelligence community who looked into the allegations, said these are worth passing on to the Justice Department for potential prosecution.

And now for the first time, we can see that criminal referral. It is addressed on the counterintelligence division of the FBI. It's copied also to the head of the criminal division of the Justice Department.

It says in part, quote: On behalf of the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, the ICIG, is formally refereeing allegations regarding, among other things, alleged violations of law related to a telephone call on July 25th between President Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine. According to the allegations, the president of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election which includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the petition main domestic political rivals.

More specifically, the complaint alleges that President Trump, during a phone call with the Ukrainian president, sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help President Trump's 2020 election bid. If true, that might violate U.S. campaign finance and other criminally enforceable laws.

Here's the money part, the ICIG conducted a preliminary review of the complainant's allegations. Based on the ICIG's preliminary review, I determine that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the allegations appear credible. If true, such allegations may violate laws that prohibit a foreign national from making a contribution of money or other things of value in connection to a federal, state, or local election.

Similarly, U.S. laws prohibit a person from soliciting, accepting, or receiving such a contribution or donation from a foreign national directly or indirectly. In addition, a conspiracy to engage in such illegal conduct might also violate other criminally enforceable laws.

And that's about the president. And that was sent to the FBI and the Justice Department. Hey, look, this looks like these might be crimes by the president. Are you guys going to handle this?

And we forget -- I mean, the scandal mountain range is so high. You lose track of the elevation of each individual peak, right? We forget, I mean, forget that Trump was impeached. We forget that the way impeachment of this president started was that he was referred for potential criminal prosecution.

And remember what happened to that criminal referral about the president's behavior? Attorney General William Barr and the Justice Department under him said, no, no, that whistleblower complaint about what the president did here, that should not go to Congress. Instead, we'll take care of that here at the Justice Department. We will elevate whether these are indeed potential crimes by the president, just leave it to us.

And then having -- for the moment, temporarily blocked the complaint about Trump's behavior from being considered or seen by anybody else, William Barr and the Justice Department very promptly decided that everything Trump did was fine, that they actually didn't even need to investigate it. It definitely wasn't a crime, everything President Trump did was so super cool. So, that had to be the end of it, nobody ever needs to hear about it.

I mean, it was that whistleblower complaint about President Trump escaping the garbage disposal that William Barr and the Justice Department shove it into. That complaint escaping the Justice Department's efforts to cover up what the president did and to secretly exonerate the president without ever investigating what he did. That is how we got the impeachment of this president last year.

And we know from the record that the person who actually led that effort at the Justice Department to keep this thing under wraps is named Jeffrey Rosen. When Bill Barr became attorney general, he insisted he needed to bring on his own hand-picked deputy, the person he hand-picked to be his attorney general was Jeffrey Rosen. Rosen was there throughout Barr's tenure at the Justice Department.

But we know from contemporaneous reporting, quote, the Justice Department's review of the criminal allegations against the president was overseen by Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. It concluded that there were no grounds for criminal investigation into Trump's behavior.

I mean, that was how Trump getting impeached started. The Justice Department grabbing that whistleblower complaint, having Jeffrey Rosen review it to say there's -- to say -- so he could say there's nothing to see here. And then them trying to keep it from Congress and from anybody else knowing about the complaint having been made.

But now, as of today, thanks to Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, we can see the criminal referral that went to the Justice Department about Trump's behavior, this criminal referral from the inspector general who was like, I have looked into this in a preliminary way. This looks serious to me. You need to evaluate whether this is potential crimes.

He put it in writing. We can see that document for the first time today. And we know how that story ends, right?

That inspector general who made that criminal referral about Trump, Trump fired him several months later. Fired him in April of 2020. But the guy who was given the criminal complaint to deal with, the one who buried it and tried to make it go away and said there doesn't need to be an investigation of this, that was Jeffrey Rosen. And Jeffrey Rosen just got named to be attorney general for the last month of Trump's time in office.

And we learned that William Barr was pushed out or resigned last night, and we learned that his hand-picked deputy Jeffrey Rosen will be taking Barr's place and running the Justice Department until Trump's no longer president.

Jeffrey Rosen's key role in trying to cover up the scandal and alleged criminal behavior by the president that led to Trump's impeachment, it's interesting to me. It hasn't had much scrutiny at all since the announcement he's going to be the new attorney general. But if he's taking over the Justice Department for just the last month of the Trump administration it's worth thinking about the kinds of things Trump might want to do in that last month.

It's worth remembering the role that Rosen had in trying to make that alleged criminal behavior by President Trump not only disappear but disappear in a way that would submarine those allegations and prevent anybody else from looking at them.

But look at what else has happened for Jeffrey Rosen's tenure, since he and William Barr had been in office. As reporter Charlie Savage puts it today at "The New York Times".

Quote, Mr. Rosen has kept a low profile. But with Attorney General Barr's pending resignation, Rosen is set to become the nation's top law enforcement official for the delicate final month of Mr. Trump's presidency. It will be an extraordinary responsibility for a man who has no prosecutorial experience and who has participated in several decisions in which the department took steps that favored the president's friends or punished his perceived enemies. I would add to that steps that benefitted the president directly against serious allegations of criminal behavior.

But the litany of things that Rosen's been involved in is amazing. I mean, among other things, it was Jeffrey Rosen who tried to force an indictment of Andrew McCabe, who was the acting FBI director who took over the FBI after Trump fired Comey. McCabe had overseen the important parts of the Russia investigation. President Trump demanded that McCabe be prosecuted and locked up.

It was Jeffrey Rosen who tried to insist that McCabe must be indicted, that he must be prosecuted against the views of career prosecutors. It was also Jeffrey Rosen who was put in charge of reviewing the work of career prosecutors who took on the case of Roger Stone. The result of Rosen's review was that DOJ came in and tried to overrule all those prosecutors to insist that Roger Stone get a much lighter sentence.

The prosecutors on that case quit in protest after what Jeffrey Rosen did to that case against Stone. It was Jeffrey Rosen who, according to "The New York Times", quarterbacked the case against Trump's national security advisor John Bolton when Bolton setout to write a book critical of president Trump. Trump reportedly demanded that the Justice Department go after Bolton from having the temerity to write a negative book about Trump. It was Jeffrey Rosen that actually led the Justice Department in that effort to in fact put the power of the U.S. Justice Department into an effort to go after Bolton.

It was also Jeffrey Rosen who decided that Trump cabinet secretary, Ryan Zinke, shouldn't be prosecuted even after Zinke was referred for criminal prosecutions related to a number of scandals, and career prosecutors convened a grand jury in that case. It was Jeffrey Rosen who kyboshed that and Zinke was never charged, over the objections of career prosecutors.

It was Jeffrey Rosen, as heard on last night's show, who intervened with prison officials to make sure that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort would not have to set a delicate foot inside the jail on Rikers Island like any other prisoner would have had to do if that prisoner was in federal custody but also facing criminal charges in New York state court. It was Jeffrey Rosen who intervened to make sure Manafort wouldn't have to go to Rikers.

It was Jeffrey Rosen who wrote that letter to federal prosecutors just a few months ago, telling that they should consider charging anti-racism protesters with sedition. Sedition, the crime of trying to overthrow the U.S. government, that was Jeffrey Rosen who wrote to prosecutors to tell them that's how they should treat anti-racism protesters. Charge them with trying to overthrow the U.S. government and throw the book at them.

That's Jeffrey Rosen's record under William Barr at the Justice Department. And now he's going to be taking over the Justice Department for the last month that Trump is in office, when I'm sure Trump won't insist on doing anything weird at all with the powers at the Justice Department. What could possibly go wrong?

So from the Trump side, the lame duck period is as weird as it's ever been and unnerving as well, right? That said, one of these things is not like the other. From the Biden side, the side of the incoming administration, they're conducting a normal transition and rolling stuff out as normal or at least as normal as things can be done during a pandemic.

Today, new President-elect Biden appointments were announced or reported for a bunch of important positions including Pete Buttigieg, former Democratic presidential candidate, for transportation secretary. If Mr. Buttigieg is confirmed, he will be the first LGBT cabinet secretary in the nation's history.

Also this reporting tonight that the president-elect is choosing Gina McCarthy to be his domestic coordinator on climate. So, John Kerry will be the global climate envoy, Gina McCarthy will work on climate on the domestic side. McCarthy, of course, was EPA administrator in the Obama administration. She knows of what she speaks on this issue.

Also reporting tonight the former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm will be the energy secretary in the Biden administration.

So, from the side of the incoming administration, the president-elect and his team are sort of rolling things forward in an orderly and fairly noncontroversial way. The transition appears to be on pace and again kind of normal looking from the side of the incoming administration.

But in terms of the outgoing administration, it's definitely still crazy town. I mean, forgive me it's a technical term. But the president today retweeted this statement that the Republican governor and the Republican secretary of state in the state of Georgia should both prepare to go to jail. You see the thing he retweeted there has Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger both wearing face masks that show that their secret communist Chinese agents.

I mean, it's one thing -- it's actually a pretty considerable thing for one of the lawyers who the president has used for his post-election legal challenges to say something like this and put this in writing online. But for the president to boost this and endorse it is amazing. That's what things are like on the outgoing president's side of the transition.

I mean even with the Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell saying publicly today, finally, that Joe Biden is the president-elect, took him six weeks to say it, even Vladimir Putin congratulated Biden before Mitch McConnell did. But even with McConnell finally getting there today and McConnell reportedly today telling other Republican senators they shouldn't try to mess with the electoral vote when those votes come up to Congress to get counted on January 6th. Even with some Republicans finally begrudgingly coming around to the fact we had an election and their guy lost, it is still nuts on the Republican side.

And it's not getting better. It really did end up being six states yesterday -- six states won by Joe Biden were nevertheless Republicans in those states decided they would form fake Republican slates of electors who are not the actual electors from those states, but they would go through the sort of pageant of declaring themselves to be electors and fake casting their fake electoral votes for Trump from their states even though their states in reality went to Biden. Six different U.S. states did that yesterday.

Wisconsin U.S. Senator Ron Johnson told "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" today that he no longer contests the fact that Biden won the election but he's nevertheless going to chair the Senate hearing tomorrow on what he sees as irregularities in the election. He's going to bring up a bunch of the Trump lawyers who have argued these cases that have lost at every level of the legal system in order to talk about what their cases were that lost when exposed to the first brush with actual legal scrutiny. They'll get a platform at a U.S. Senate hearing tomorrow.

Democrats, for their part, they're going to call Chris Krebs as their witness for that hearing. Krebs is the cyber security chief at homeland security who Trump fired for saying the election was secure and sound. We're now at the point where the Democrats are calling Trump's own appointee, his cybersecurity chief who he picked and put in the job, the Democrats are calling that person in order to reality check what the Republicans are continuing to allege about an election that they still don't believe really happened.

But round two is coming, right? The day before the Electoral College votes are finally going to be counted up on Capitol Hill, whether or not the Republicans try to monkey wrench that whole process, that is going to happen on January 6th. The day before that, January 5th is the Georgia Senate elections that will determine which party controls the Senate and will determine in large part whether or not Joe Biden can get anything done in his first two years in office.

President-elect Biden was in Georgia today campaigning in a straightforward way for the Democratic candidates in those elections. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, Biden doing a big rally and event for them today in Georgia. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the president was calling for the imprisonment of the state's Republican governor and secretary of state.

Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security advisor just did a fox news interview in which he insisted to the audience they shouldn't pay any attention to the Senate runoff in Georgia. There's no reason to pay any attention to that because the real election everyone needs to be worried about is the one that was stolen from Donald Trump in November and who cares about that.

We are a two-party political system. But one of these things is not like the other. One side over a two-party political system is having a much harder time of it than the other right now in ways that I think in a sort of under-appreciated way do setup a scary present, a scary current moment for the lame duck on national security issues, for entities like the U.S. Department of Justice, which when they go haywire can cause mass, mass damage to our constitutional republic.

But that imbalance between the parties while creating a dangerous situation for this drift lame duck, very distracted, very out of touch with reality outgoing president. It also has political consequences. The difference between the parties right now also sets what I think is a truly unknowable future for impending political things like that big next election in Georgia.

We're going to get into that straight ahead.

Plus, we've got more on vaccine day two. I guess a lot going on.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Today, President-elect Biden flew to Georgia for his first campaign stop since the presidential election. It was a drive-in rally for Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. You see them there with President-elect Biden.

Control of the U.S. Senate hangs on their elections, on these two January 5th Senate runoffs. Early voting is under way as of yesterday. Initial turn out for early voting appears to be indicative of a strong amount of interest in Georgia in these races.

Georgia in many ways is the center of the political universe right now. As soon as Joe Biden took the stage today, he shouted out three people who were there joining him. The mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, voting rights leader Stacey Williams, excuse me, Stacey Abrams, and also Nikema Williams. Nikema Williams will be joining Biden in Washington next month as a newly elected member of Congress.

This past July when beloved U.S. Congressman John Lewis died at the age of 80, an odd quirk in Georgia law meant the Georgia Democratic Party had just 72 hours, they had just three days to decide who they wanted to nominate for his seat.

I mean, the state of Georgia, the whole country was only just starting to mourn the passing of John Lewis, this icon of civil rights and American civic virtue, this moral giant who walked among us. But even in the initial plush of grief in this passing, Georgia Democrats had to make this lightening fast decision who they wanted to replace him on the ballot.

And John Lewis's political allies who knew him best, his parties in the home state of Georgia, they chose State Senator Nikema Williams. She represents part of John Lewis' district in the Georgia Senate. Just a few months earlier, Nikema Williams had become the first black woman to be elected the leader of the Georgia Democratic Party.

And so, last month, in the November elections not only did Senator Nikema Williams win her house race, she'll take John Lewis' seat in Congress in January. But with her at the helm of the Georgia Democratic Party, Georgia in that election went blue in a presidential race for the first time in nearly 30 years.

Yesterday as one of Georgia's 16 Democratic electors she cast her Electoral College vote for Biden and Harris at Georgia's state capitol.

Joining us now is Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, who was elected last month to the late John Lewis' congressional seat.

Ms. Williams, it's great to see you. Thank you so much for making time to be here tonight.

REP.-ELECT NIKEMA WILLIAMS (D-GA): Thank you for having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: I imagine that you are somewhere -- you and other Georgia Democrats are somewhere between euphoric at what you were just able to do in the state of Georgia in the presidential race and also on a tightrope in terms of the import of this difficult task you've got with these two U.S. Senate runoffs on January 5th.

Let me just ask how you and your colleagues in the Democratic Party in Georgia are feeling and doing right now.

WILLIAMS: It's definitely a balancing act, Rachel. While we want to celebrate because what we did on November 3rd was no small feat, we also understand we have to finish the job and we've got work to get us to January 5th. So, we were back out there and we're still talking to voters, and we're making sure we're organizing. We're at the doors and talking to people about what matters.

That's what our new president, Joe Biden, was doing here in Georgia today, rallying the troops because we know this is the turn out game. So I'm excited. I'm still celebrating from us flipping Georgia blue, but I also know there's still work to be done for us to bring it home for the entire country on January 5th.

MADDOW: I have to ask how -- if at all -- how you and your colleagues have to adjust or account for or even make sense of some of the crazy dynamics that are happening on the other side, on the Republican side right now. I wanted to read you something from today about President Trump and his influence on the Republican side and these upcoming Senate races.

President Trump couldn't make it any clearer. He needs his supporters to fork over cash. He wrote in one recent text message: We must defend Georgia from the Dems. I need you to secure a win Georgia.

Three's just one hitch, though, Trump's new political machine is pocketing most of the money. The campaigns of the Georgia senators competing in the January 5th races aren't getting a cent.

I mean, the president has made Georgia the center of the universe because he wants to talk about his own loss there, but he's not helping and national Republicans seem to be tied up in knots in terms of what they're going to do about their own candidates in Georgia.

WILLIAMS: Rachel, I think you said earlier when I was listening to you, crazy town is exactly what it is, and actually, that make it makes sense. Yesterday, as I was casting an official Electoral College vote, one of the 16 from Georgia, we had Georgia Republicans downstairs doing their own little circus show, and none of it makes sense.

They are making a mockery of our democracy in this country, and we are just staying focused. We're staying the course. They're playing the games on the other side and doing whatever they're doing that makes zero sense.

And we are talking to voters. We're organizing. We're talking about the issues that matter. How do we get our children back to school safely? How do we make sure we get this pandemic under control so that our economy is back on track and start moving forward with a plan for health care for everyone in this country? And they're over there playing games. I we don't have time for it, and I kind of pay them no attention.

MADDOW: Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, the leader of the Georgia Democratic Party, my door is always open whenever you wanted to come back and talk Georgia politics and about your district and talk about what's going on right now with your state as the center of the universe right now, I'd love to stay in touch. Love to have you back soon. Thank you so much tonight for having here tonight.

WILLIAMS: I'm going to have to come back and celebrate, Rachel, after we win on January 5th.

MADDOW: I will hold you to it. All right.

OK, up next earlier this week, we found something really, really, really interesting and sort of heartwarming in our archives. It is very newly relevant given what is happening right now in the country, with the vaccine efforts. This is one of those cool things from history I want to show you. That's coming up.

Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A massive assault on polio gets under way in Texas, as ten counties aim to reach a million and a half people with doses of the Sabin oral vaccine. A concerted campaign brings long lines of people to school centers on the first day to the delight of authorities. It was recommended that even those who had already taken the three-shot soft vaccine receive the oral doses, doses that are taken painlessly on a lump of sugar. It's a striking display of community cooperation.

There are special arrangements for those two young to swallow the sugar, a drop of health. Authorities worry later that the youngsters took to the immunization plan looking on it as one big lark, an ounce of prevention multiplied by a million and a half.


MADDOW: It was 1961 when a scientist named Albert Sabin developed a vaccine for polio that did not require a needle for a shot in the arm. For the Sabin vaccine, the medicine could just be dropped onto a cube of sugar, so kids were happier to take that. They could just pop a sugar cube into their mouth instead of getting a shot.

The vaccine developed by Jonas Salk, of course, had changed the world in the fight against polio, but the Sabin vaccine sealed this human achievement, conferring lifelong immunity to polio. And on Sundays, when the Sabin vaccine was ready, the U.S. would hold these massive vaccine drives at schools and churches, the lines of kids wrap around the block for a chance to get Albert Sabin's oral polio vaccine. They called them Sabin Sundays.

At some of those drives, they gave out commemorative spoons, right? After you got your spoonful of sugar, you could get the souvenir spoon to mark the occasion. And if you put aside for a second the medical marvel of administering a vaccine on a sugar cube, it was these really, really long lines that built excitement around the Sabin vaccine, excitement that the vaccination effort was going to work because the uptake was so strong, the American people were so interested in getting it.

You could hear the narrator in that newsroom marveling over it, right, a striking display of community cooperation, because a vaccine is only as good as the number of people who are willing to take it. The federal government was super worried at the time people would be too scared to take the Sabin oral vaccine against polio. The CDC even developed a special cartoon character to use as a kind of polio vaccine cheerleader. He was a bumblebee called Wellbee. Wellbee, get it.

And they put them on this PSA style posters, Wellbee says be well, take the oral polio vaccine, ttastes good, works fast, prevents polio.

I mean, it might seem a little silly looking at it now but those kinds of efforts to educate and reassure the public to know what to expect and encourage you to go do it, I mean, those things are really important when it comes to vaccines. If you don't build confidence that taking a vaccine is safe and that it will work, it doesn't matter how many doses you produce, it's effectively useless unless the vaccine program work to get those vaccines into humans. I mean, you might as well dump them down the drain if people are not going to voluntarily line up to get this thing done.

It's something we're bumping up right now, as the rollout of the COVID vaccine gets underway, a recent poll done by the Kaiser Family Foundation says that they would probably or definitely not take the coronavirus vaccine. That's not good.

The good news is that the number of people open to taking the vaccine appears to be quite fluid. It's up a lot from a few months ago. Back in September, the number of people who said they were willing to take the vaccine was 63 percent of the country. Now, it's 71 percent so it's moving.

But moving public perception on this kind of thing can be slow and difficult and does take concerted effort. Building confidence and trust in a big vaccination effort, it isn't something you can manufacture overnight.

Which is why it was a bit alarming this week to learn that the Trump administration has just this week begun the work of thinking about how they might try to convince the American public to take the coronavirus vaccine. They didn't start working on this in the spring or a few months ago when the vaccines were starting to look promising. They're just starting that work this week, just convening the first focus groups to talk about it while the first shots are already being administered.

They literally started holding focus group meetings today for the first time to come up with some language about how they might talk to the public about this stuff. Yeah, no time like the present especially with a second coronavirus vaccine barreling toward what appears to be FDA approval.

The vaccine made by Pfizer is the one being given right now. A second vaccine made by Moderna is expected to be approved by the FDA potentially as soon as Friday this week, which raises all sorts of interesting and important questions about what this means for the effort to vaccinate the entire country.

And again, it's instructive to look to the past here. When some American kids were getting Albert Sabin's oral polio vaccine on the sugar cube, there was still the more traditional polio vaccine, too, that one that went into your arm developed by Jonas Salk, right?

That kind of double-barreled approach to large scale vaccination is not just common in a wide scale effort like this one, it can even be necessary to beat back a widespread outbreak like the one we're fighting right now. It also has implications in terms of supply chains, in terms of relative and comparative value of different vaccines.

I mean, today, we're only in day two of what's going to be we think the largest vaccination effort in the history of this country. How will having two or potentially more vaccines that are all slightly different from one another? How is that going to affect the rollout? What should we be looking for?

I have lots of questions. We've got expert help on that stuff next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: This is the all-caps headline across the whole front page of "The New York Times" today. You can see it there -- Healing is coming: U.S. vaccinations begin. And then below that: Dread persists as death toll tops 300,000.

But still, hope at last for those in the medical trenches.

There's the front page of the "Washington Post" today, underneath a headline about the electoral college formalizing Biden's win, you see there "mass vaccination effort begins at U.S. hospitals." And then look right in the middle of the page there, "disparaged by Trump, scientists deliver." That's one for the ages.

Today's "Hartford Courant" in Connecticut, all caps, quote, "THE DAWN OF A NEW DAY."

Today's "Akron Beacon Journal" in Akron, Ohio, again all caps, "A MOMENT OF HOPE".

In Florida, the Tallahassee Democrat, 20,000 doses of hope. You see an ICU nurse there in the featured image she's been treating COVID patients since the pandemic began, you see her wiping a tear after she got her vaccine.

Front page of "The Dallas Morning News" today, "Let the healing begin."

In Nebraska, here's the "Omaha World Herald" today, "Hope in a bottle: vaccine arrives."

And on top of that, this historic -- these historic editions of all local newspapers across the country, now new headlines about a second lane opening up on this highway. "The Associated Press" this afternoon, "second COVID-19 vaccine, this one from Moderna and NIH nears approval from FDA."

That second vaccine could be approved by the end of this week. How is that going to impact the effort that's already under way to roll out the first vaccine? I have lots of questions. I hope answers to those ones are cause for yet more hope.

Joining us is Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, it's always a real pleasure seeing you. Thanks for making time tonight.


MADDOW: How different are the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines?

JHA: They're really similar. They're both mRNA vaccines. They work in very, very similar ways.

Little bit of difference in how they're stored and how stable they are in warmer temperatures. Pfizer needs to be minus 96 degrees and the Moderna vaccine can be kept in regular freezing and refrigerating for more a longer period of time. But that's it. That's the only difference.

MADDOW: That means that there will be different logistics necessary for both delivering and storing and ultimately administering the vaccine. Obviously, it's better to have more available and have multiple sources of relief in the pipeline here, but will -- should we expect an impact on the vaccine rollout to have two different vaccines, again, broadly similar, but with some different handling requirements?

JHA: Yeah, they definitely have different handling requirements. You're going to want to see them in different places. So the Pfizer vaccine in large hospitals, in major institutions, that can handle the minus 96 degree freezing temperatures that are needed, whereas I think the Moderna vaccine is going to be easier to get to rural areas, pharmacies and doctor's offices.

From a clinical effectiveness point a view, not much of a difference in safety. I would personally be happy to get either one, small differences in dosing as well. After 21 days you get the second shot. The other one, 28 days.

But other than that, I think the logistics is where the differences are going to play out.

MADDOW: And, Dr. Jha, as we see this major logistical effort, you see the hopes of the nation riding along with the UPS and FedEx drivers who are delivering these things, everybody in the country is watching videos of vaccine delivery, weeping while we see it. With all that effort, that support, what's the parallel impact? I don't know if that phrase make sense.

But how should we expect this effort to interact or not with the effort to try to keep Americans alive who are sick with this illness right now? We've got a record number of Americans hospitalized right now. America's hospitals and ICUs stretched tonight like they never have been before.

Do you see these efforts as helping one another or will there be some competition of resources between the two different tasks?

JHA: Yes, I hope there isn't any real competition of resources. There need not be. There were different sets of issues. But one contrast the other really in a very striking way, doesn't it, that we're so close to putting this pandemic behind us and, therefore, like anybody who gets infected today who we lose in three, four weeks from that infection is somebody who could have gotten vaccinated six or eight weeks from now.

I think it makes it that much more compelling to try to save lives to protect people given how close we are to vaccines.

MADDOW: That's right. Even people can't imagine themselves, keeping themselves as safe as possible indefinitely, knowing you have to do it with closed brackets somewhere on the horizon to where we can get past this thing, you need to keep yourself and your family alive through the time when we can make this more safe, maybe that gives people more impetus to do it. I hope so.

Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health -- sir, it's always really, really helpful to have you here. Thank you.

JHA: Rachel, thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: One last story for you tonight. Do you remember the U.S. State Department holiday party with 900 people on the guest list? Indoor party, 900 guests inside all in one room at the State Department?

That party is tonight and the good news is it was apparently a gigantic failure. Good news in the COVID sense is what I mean. "Washington Post" reporting in the last few minutes, quote, only a tiny fraction of the more than 900 invited guests actually showed up.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to give a speech at the event. He canceled and got somebody else to do it. That's perhaps because of out of the 900 invited guests only 70 RSVP'd yes as of yesterday. Even fewer than that actually turned up.

In one nod to COVID compliance, at least, Santa reportedly had a mask on at the event. You can see him there.

But they invited 900 people for an indoor event. And everybody they invited was like, are you kidding? If you want to do something nice for the holidays, that's not it. Best party fail ever.

All right. That's going to do it for us tonight. Thanks for being with us tonight. I will see you again tomorrow.


Good evening, Lawrence.


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