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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 28, 2020

Guests: Jamie Raskin, Sarah Bloom Raskin, John Fetterman, Peter Hotez, Nikema Williams

Summary

For the past few weeks, the president has been signaling his support for a protest planned in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, the day that Congress will make Joe Biden's victory official. Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland is interviewed. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, President Trump announced that he's going to be traveling to Georgia to hold a rally on the eve of that election, ostensibly to stump for the Republican candidates, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

Transcript

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: There's a choice to be made right now. You're on the side of democracy, or you're not. Fantastic that we have to say it, but it is what it is.

MEHDI HASAN, MSNBC HOST: Indeed, 100 percent, pro-democracy, the bare minimum, the benchmark.

VELSHI: Yeah. Have a good evening, my friend. Good to see you.

And thank you to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel's got the night off.

There are just 23 days left in this presidency, 23 days until Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in. And yet after four years, another first.

Tonight, the House of Representatives overrode a presidential veto for the first time in the Trump era, overriding the president's veto of the annual defense spending bill. That's the bill that pays the salaries of the men and women in the armed forces and funds the nation's national security apparatus.

The annual defense bill is typically passed with bipartisan support and a veto-proof majority. But Trump vetoed the bill last week anyway in part because it called for renaming military bases named after the Confederacy.

Tonight, the House overrode that veto by a vote of 322-87. Mitch McConnell says he expects the Senate will vote to override the veto as well, which would officially pass the defense spending bill into law. The override process in the Senate is set to begin tomorrow. More on that in a second.

The House also passed a bill tonight introduced by Democrats to expand direct payments to eligible Americans as part of the sweeping COVID relief bill that Congress passed last week. Now, the bill would expand those payments from $600 for every adult to $2,000 per adult.

More than two-thirds of the House voted for it, but its chances in the Republican-led Senate remain an open question.

Now, that vote tonight is, of course, not a Democratic stunt. It's a direct response to Trump's own temper tantrum. After Congress passed the bill and sent it -- it's a $900 billion relief bill to the president last week for his signature, instead of doing what he should have done, putting pen to paper, he publicly attacked the bill, which was painstakingly debated for weeks.

He demanded $2,000 cash payments to Americans, which is a good thing except that it actually imperiled the passage of the existing bill. Ultimately, the president did sign the COVID relief bill late last night after teasing earlier in the day on Twitter that good news was coming on the COVID relief bill. Information to follow, he wrote.

The bill will help struggling Americans. It's a good thing that the president has signed it, but it's important to pause for a second and take stock of what Trump did along the way. CNN reports today that the president originally planned to sign the COVID relief bill on Christmas Eve, the day it arrived at the president's resort in Mar-a-Lago. They set up a special ballroom for the occasion with a chair and a desk for Trump to use to sign the bill.

But CNN reports that the plan was scrapped at the last minute because the president, quote, changed his mind. Letting that bill sit on his desk a few extra days got the president nothing. The bill he signed yesterday is the exact same bill that was handed to him almost a week ago. Besides creating a spectacle and snatching the news cycle, he got nothing that he wanted.

It did have a real granular, devastating effect on millions of Americans who were relying on the financial assistance programs for the federal government so that they can put food on their tables during one of the worst economic disasters to ever hit this country. Because Donald Trump decided to stall the signing of the relief bill, all the financial assistance due to struggling Americans is now delayed. The unemployment assistance program expired on Saturday. Because the president waited until Sunday to sign the bill, the program lapsed.

That means part-time workers, self-employed Americans, gig workers instead of receiving $300 in federal assistance this week, they get zero, zero dollars this week because the president's playing games. For Americans anxiously waiting for this $600 relief checks to put food on the table, to pay their rent, to make ends meet, they will have to wait days, maybe weeks longer because of the president's game playing. Fourteen million Americans rely on those federal assistant programs funded by this bill. Because of Trump, they had to endure extra days of unnecessary worry and pain.

The president, of course, remains focused not on the real financial hardships that are faced by millions of Americans but on his own selfish, petty interests. Here's the thing. While he was sitting on that important relief bill for the American people, Donald Trump spent the holiday weekend complaining about voter fraud that does not exist in his continued attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election.

The president is running out of options to try and reinstall himself as president against the will of the people. The Electoral College has certified the results. Congress will officially count the electoral votes on January 6th, which will put the final seal on Joe Biden's victory. But now the president's harebrained scheme has gotten a boost from a sitting Republican member of Congress.

Now, here's the thing. By law, the vice president, Pence, will oversee the counting of the electoral votes in Congress on January 6th. And so, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert has sued Vice President Mike Pence in federal court.

What Louie Gohmert is asking the judge in this case to do is strike down the law that requires the vice president to oversee that count and empower the vice president to overturn the election results in battleground states and hand the election to Donald Trump instead.

It sounds batty. It sounds like maybe I'm glossing over some key piece of context here, but I'm not. That's really what the president's ally in Congress, Louie Gohmert, is trying to do. And it's potentially not even the most madcap scheme that the president and his allies are cooking up. It certainly is not the most dangerous.

For the past few weeks, the president has been signaling his support for a protest planned in Washington, D.C. on January 6th, the day that Congress will make Joe Biden's victory official. The protest is expected to be attended by armed right-wing groups, conspiracy theorists, and white supremacists who all support the president's bid to overturn the election.

Trump told his supporters to, quote, be there. It will be wild. Never give up. See everyone in D.C. on January 6th. These are his tweets.

Experts on far-right movements say the protests could spark chaos and violence in the nation's capital. That in itself is scary. But it's how the president is reportedly considering wielding that violence that is raising real alarm bells.

Earlier this month, the president's disgraced, newly pardoned national security adviser Michael Flynn suggested in a televised interview that the president should use his, quote, military capabilities -- his words -- to overturn the election. He called it martial law.

Flynn suggested the president could essentially order troops into the swing states that he lost and use military force to rerun the election in those states to get the outcome he wanted. He actually said that.

According to veteran "Washington Post" columnist Dave Ignatius, this is a scheme that government officials are worried Trump might actually attempt to put into motion. Ignatius writes, quote, this threat while unlikely to materialize is concerning senator officials, including Republicans who have supported Trump in the past but believe he's now threatening to overstep the constitutional limits on his power. Government officials fear that if violation spreads, Trump could invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize the military.

Then Trump might use military capabilities -- Michael Flynn's word -- to rerun the November 3rd election in swing states as suggested by Michael Flynn. The headline on this piece is sobering by the way.

It's quote: Until Biden's win is certified, the U.S. remains vulnerable. Stuff is wild.

Joining us now, Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee and maybe more importantly for this conversation, he's a former constitutional law professor.

Congressman Raskin, good to see you. Thank you for your time this evening.

I'm not a constitutional lawyer. I'm no lawyer at all. Everything I've ever learned comes from "Law & Order" and guests like you.

Is this even a thing? Can this possibly happen?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Well, you're talking about the inside strategy or the outside strategy for Trump?

VELSHI: Yeah, good question.

RASKIN: You know, on the inside, it is absolutely outlandish and whimsical. You know, we've had the Electoral Count Act of 1887 in place for more than a century, and what they want to do suddenly is to deify the Senate president, here Mike Pence, essentially to turn over all substantive decision-making to him when the vice president has always acted in a ministerial capacity. Think of it like the chief justice in an impeachment tribunal. He's basically there to preside over the proceedings, but not to usurp Congress' right to make decisions about the counting of the electors.

In any event, counting of the electors should be the easiest thing in the world because we all agree and every court in the land agrees and what the electoral count is at this point. It's 306-232, the same margin that Donald Trump declared a landslide when he beat Hillary Clinton by that same margin.

So the outside strategy is to rile up the Proud Boys and the Aryan nations and, you know, all of the extreme rights. I mean, you know, he told them to stand back and stand by, and this is the big moment he may have been waiting for. You know, the question that members are talking about is does he just want to see violence and mayhem, which is obviously a very deep part of his nature.

VELSHI: Right.

RASKIN: Or does he want to use that as a pretext for trying to impose military authoritarianism at the last minute to --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: That's the question. That's the thing we need to figure out. It would be one thing if the Proud Boys and white supremacists show up in Washington and there are ways in which that can be dealt with. It's never going to be a good thing.

But Donald Trump has a propensity to call for federal troops. He kept telling mayors, if you can't control your city, I'll send it federal troops and tells governors the same thing.

So, now, he could be creating the pretext for the intervention of either National Guard or military, which we've seen him do before. Does that concern you?

RASKIN: Well, he's called on National Guard before. Unfortunately, Maryland, my state, did dispatch some National Guard troops in that, you know, unlawful police riot that Attorney General Barr ordered in Lafayette Square. I don't think that's going to be happening again, and a lot of states are refusing to participate in it.

In any event, the military should be very much on notice that it must conform to the rule of law and that the oaths that they swear are to the Constitution of the United States and to the people and not to the president. This is not a banana republic despite what the president wants to turn us into.

So, you know, I would be more afraid of a military coup had Donald Trump not spent his entire administration insulting the military and calling them, you know, fools and idiots and suckers for serving the country. So I don't think that there's some kind of secret fifth column that wants to break away from the republic and get behind Donald Trump, the kind of thing that Aaron Burr might have dreamed of.

VELSHI: What is this Louie Gohmert effort going to look like? He needs at least one senator I understand to support him and there maybe a senator who's prepared to support him, and then this actually becomes a debate in Congress on January 6th. How does that play out for you?

RASKIN: Well, what you're referring to there is that every member of the House or the Senate has the right to object to the counting of particular electors. And some of the, you know, right-wing Trump cultists are saying that they're going to object. But you do need at least one person from the Senate side.

So if a senator went with them, at that point they would state their objection, and there's no debate right at the moment. We resolve to our separate chambers and the House and the Senate would each conduct two hours of debate. Each side would have one hour with 12 members allowed to speak for five minutes apiece on each side. And then the House would vote, and the Senate would vote.

But here's the thing. Assuming that COVID-19 doesn't sideline enough members for the Republicans to have some kind of temporary majority, the House is going to reject all of these completely ludicrous suggestions. And so as long as the House objects, regardless of what the Senate does, I think the Senate will override the objection too. But as long as the House rejects the objection, if doesn't go anyplace.

At that point, the objection is killed. It's nullified. And if there's a second slate put forward, which hasn't happened yet, but they keep talking about it, and there were a standoff between the House and the Senate, it goes to the governor of the state for the certificate of ascertainment. So I don't think they have any real plays there.

But the Gohmert suit in court is trying to say that the vice president gets to decide all of these things, and that will be thrown out like every other suit that they've brought. I think that they have lost like 52 or 53 lawsuits across the country with more than 88 judges rejecting and castigating them for the nonsense they're bringing forth.

VELSHI: Congressman, you make us smarter every time we talk. Thank you for that.

Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland, thank you for your time tonight, sir. Don't turn your camera off. We're going to need it in just a minute.

President Trump's repeated efforts to upend the results of the election are playing out as millions in this country continue to suffer the devastating economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

For those Americans, Donald Trump's refusal to immediately sign the stimulus bill led to nothing but heartache over the Christmas holidays.

Jennifer Bryant, a mother of five in Georgia, had been relying on federal unemployment benefits. Given that she was behind on rent, she breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Congress had extended a moratorium on evictions. But when President Trump upended negotiations right before the holidays, it devastated her family.

Ms. Bryant told "The New York Times," quote, I went to bed in tears. To have our hope pulled out from under us, our lifeline, it was devastating.

Even though her benefits are set to be restored, President Trump's stunt means that millions of people suffered needlessly and others may be forced to wait weeks more for government aid.

Trump's delay in signing the bill caused benefits to lapse for Americans all across the country, meaning more uncertainty and more pain at a time when they are already struggling.

Joining us now from the same room you just saw, Sarah Bloom Raskin, who served as deputy secretary of the treasury under President Obama.

Well, a room change. It's a different room. I thought it was going to be the same room. If the name sounds familiar, it's because Ms. Bloom Raskin is married to our previous guest, Congressman Raskin.

Sarah, thank you for being on the show. I did not expect you to be in a different room. But thank you for being with us tonight.

SARAH BLOOM RASKIN, FORMER DEPUTY TREASURY SECRETARY: Happy to be with you.

VELSHI: Let's just talk about this for a second. We are talking about literally millions -- I'm not making that up. We're not exaggerating in saying it. There are about 14 million people directly relying on these benefits that will be extended by this bill.

These are people who are struggling. They're behind on their rent. We've talked to people who are making grocery decisions and eating less food in America than they would be.

By delaying that money, we not only hurt them, but you heard every -- hurt every other part of the -- hurt every other part of the economy. You hurt the grocery stores. You hurt the businesses that they spend.

There's no economic sense to what Donald Trump was trying to do.

BLOOM RASKIN: That's exactly right, Ali. This delay has really exacerbated the financial anxiety that so many Americans are dealing with. And these are Americans, remember, who have lost jobs or who are, you know, underemployed right now, who, through no fault of their own -- I mean, a massive pandemic swept through our country and turned demand for goods and services way, way down.

And as a result, many, many people, upwards of 12 million, really, you know, lost jobs, lost the wherewithal to be able to make, you know, utility payments, make rent payments, make their mortgage payments, put food on the table. So, essentially, the hardship is really quite real here.

And every day matters in these instances. So this is really no laughing matter. The delay is significant. And then, of course, there's the implementation piece, right? So the treasury has to write -- you know, has to print out those checks and get them out the door. And that's not timeless. That takes time.

So there's also this implementation piece, which I think is going to be quite painful.

VELSHI: So the irony is that Donald Trump came up with this scheme to give people $2,000, which I actually think is a better plan, and it's what Democrats have been fighting for all the time. But Mitch McConnell had made the argument that he has people in his caucus who either do not want to see the increase in the deficit that that would cause or don't want the what we used to call moral hazard. They don't want to be sending the message we're just going to pay for people to stay home, even though nobody's staying home by choice.

The issue here is that this administration in particular ran up the deficit in an historic fashion for tax cuts that we weren't clamoring for. But now, we're worried about doing so on the backs of people who have not had a check from the government in months.

BLOOM RASKIN: Yeah, you're exactly right. I mean coming into the pandemic, the fiscal space wasn't great for precisely the reason you mentioned. A lot of the spending had gone up because of the tax cuts which preceded the pandemic, and that left the country really in a much more vulnerable fiscal space once we got hit with a true emergency.

And so, the fiscal path is really not a long one. That said, you will see most economists, most policymakers really agree with the idea that this is an absolute emergency, one that is going to demand significant fiscal assistance.

And, of course, we -- you know, we had one, and that was the CARES Act, and that was a significant piece. But it needed to be followed by what the house certainly did in the HEROES Act back in May and then what was finally signed Sunday night, which is, you know, the stimulus -- or I should say the economic assistance that is now in play. But coming really much too late.

VELSHI: Sarah Bloom Raskin, thank you so much for your time tonight. Former deputy secretary of the treasury under President Obama, and our great thanks to the Raskin household for your support of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW this evening. Have a good night.

BLOOM RASKIN: You too.

VELSHI: We are getting word tonight, by the way, about a tactic that might just get the Senate to vote on those $2,000 COVID relief checks. This is new.

Senator Bernie Sanders says tonight that he's going to try and force a vote on that relief bill. He says he will filibuster the vote to override Trump's defense bill veto, which we expect would be passed by Republicans, unless Republicans in the Senate bring those $2,000 payments up for a vote.

With only a few days of crucial campaign time left for Senators Loeffler and Perdue in their Georgia runoff races, a filibuster could mean staying in D.C. through the holiday weekend, so that carries an unusual amount of weight. Senator Sanders will join us right here live tomorrow night to bring you up to date on what has happened.

I think we're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back with more after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: The president and his allies have been on a futile but extremely busy mission to overturn the election, and the cornerstone of their argument has been alleged widespread voter fraud. Now, some are still clinging to this despite a complete lack of evidence.

Case in point, the Texas lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, who has offered a $1 million reward in support of, quote, President Trump's efforts to identify voter fraud in the presidential election and his commitment to making sure that every legal vote is counted and every illegal vote is disqualified.

It's worth noting that the reward was not limited to election fraud found in Texas. And within hours of making that offer back in November, Lieutenant Governor Patrick's counterpart in Pennsylvania had something.

His only request was that the reward be issued in Sheetz gift cards. Better inside joke here in Pennsylvania. Sheetz, of course, being a very popular convenience store chain in neighboring states that is based in Pennsylvania. And by all accounts, it looks like Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman is entitled to the prize.

Here he was just last month telling Rachel about the evidence that he found.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA: My dude owes me at least $2 million. We had two instances of voter fraud in Pennsylvania that involved Republicans having relatives vote for Donald Trump, one living, one dead. We had a dead mom try to vote in Luzerne County, and then we had a Republican father who voted for Trump in Chester County and then left, about half an hour later, he came back wearing sunglasses and he tried to vote for his son, who was a Democrat.

So, I mean, this wasn't the best and brightest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Since then, Fetterman's claim to that reward has apparently only gotten stronger. Both of the people he mentioned have since been charged with voter fraud. On top of that, he's found another instance of a man casting his dead mother's ballot on behalf of Trump. That person is also facing voter fraud charges.

And as for Lieutenant Governor Fetterman, he's still waiting for Lieutenant Governor Patrick to make good on his offer.

Let's check in on how that's going.

Joining us now, John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.

Lieutenant Governor Fetterman, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.

I take it you haven't heard from Lieutenant Governor Patrick of Texas.

FETTERMAN: Not -- not recently. I heard from him early on saying for me to get serious. And I'm like, hey, my dude, where's my money, you know. And the good news I can report from Pennsylvania is that President Trump received 100 percent of the dead mother vote here in our commonwealth during this last election.

So we have three cases of voter fraud, three cases. Despite what the president tweeted out earlier today, the only documented cases of voter fraud in Pennsylvania were these three cases, and my dude in Texas owes Pennsylvania big bank.

VELSHI: Well, so Donald Trump -- I don't want to put it up because he tweets a lot of nonsense and it was immediately countered by Twitter. But, yeah, he tweeted more votes were cast in Pennsylvania than there are voters. He's trying every version of this possible.

Obviously, you're the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. You'd know if that's the case.

FETTERMAN: Well, of course. Let me give you the background on that nonsense. Seventeen snake handlers out of the Pennsylvania house, just 17 of them, not one state senator, not even the state party owns this. Some random House members sent out this ridiculous, you know, like tribute to the president. And, of course, the president would re-tweet anything that tries to cast doubt on the election.

There's zero fraud in Pennsylvania save for these three cases that brought us here together tonight for this conversation. They know that. The president knows that.

Joe Biden is going to be the next president. Everyone knows that.

VELSHI: So here's the thing. You were -- you were mayor here in Pennsylvania, and as soon as you get out of Philadelphia and in some cases Pittsburgh, you see the real Pennsylvania, or at least a different Pennsylvania, in which there are people who are -- who are suffering.

This thing that the president did where he got the bill, it was passed by both houses, and then he decided not to sign it for a few days, as I was talking to former Deputy Treasurer Sarah Bloom Raskin a few minutes ago, that's really real for people, a delay in $300 and checks that go out this coming Friday instead of today really, really makes a difference for a lot of people in this state.

FETTERMAN: It sure does. Absolutely. One of the things that I've learned from the GOP is that simping for the president and golfing is -- you know, waters the tree of liberty in this country. Meanwhile, millions that are going to go without benefits in that gap now because the president delayed signing it really isn't important to him.

And that's really the argument that that party makes. There isn't anything they would do or say at this point to distract the fact that the president lost this election and he is going to be leaving the White House next month -- actually, in, what, three weeks or so, and they're going to do whatever they can to try to distract that. But it doesn't change the underlying truth.

VELSHI: John Fetterman, good to see you. John Fetterman is lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. Thanks for making time to be here tonight.

Of course, I'm a Philly guy. I'm here in Philly, so I don't mean to disparage Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: I love those places. Thank you, sir.

There are new worries tonight about whether the coronavirus vaccine is getting to Americans as quickly as the government had promised. We've got some expert advice on that.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: I want you to see this. These are frontline workers from northwestern medicine in Chicago reacting to getting their first shot of the COVID vaccine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE SALVATOR, NURSE ANESTHETIST, NORTHWESTERN MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: I'm very excited about this. I've been waiting for a long time.

NURSE: Yes, very exciting, we're moving forward.

SALVATOR: Yep.

NURSE: Just a little pinch.

SALVATOR: Didn't hurt at all.

NURSE: So good. All right. This lady is not going to get COVID.

SALVATOR: That's right.

Great news. I just got my COVID vaccine shot. I'm sitting here waiting to see how I feel afterwards, but right now, I'm doing very well. I am very excited to have it onboard.

I did realize as I sit here and wait that underneath my mask, for the last nine months as I took care of COVID-positive patients, patients who probably were positive but we didn't know, that this virus has had me terrified for myself and for my family and for my friends, just for my fellow Americans. And now that I have the vaccine, I'm breathing a little bit easier.

BETTY MESTOUSES, NURSE ANESTHETIST, NORTHWESTERN MEDICINE: It's done. Vaccine's in. I'm very excited about this day. I've been looking forward to it for a long time.

DR. KHALILAH GATES, PULMONARY & CRITICAL CARE, NORTHWESTERN MEDICINE: Today is a great day. I received the first dose of my COVID-19 vaccine, and I'm super excited. For the first time since March, I'm feeling hopeful that there is an end in sight to this pandemic.

DR. MICHELLE PRICKETT, PULMONARY & CRITICAL CARE, NORTHWESTERN MEDICINE: I got my coronavirus vaccine this morning, and I feel like I can finally take a breath. It's been a hard nine months filled with anxiety and fear, fear that you're going to bring this home to your family or you're going to end up in one of your own ICU beds. So it's not all gone. There's a lot of that that remains, but a little less fear, a little bit more joy, and a lot more hope for what's to come.

There's going to be fear about this. It's new. It's different. But so is this virus.

Hopefully, this is a new day, a brighter day than the ones we've been having, and I look forward to seeing my colleagues vaccinated. I look forward to seeing less people in our ICU with this disease, and I look forward to telling my grandkids about the day I got the shot and how things changed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Hopefully, this is a new day and a brighter day. Those are some doctors and nurses at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago just after receiving their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine, frontline health professionals. These are the people who have been keeping it together for so many months, and finally getting a chance to feel like something positive might be around the corner.

All right. I want to play one more tape because it's a perfect encapsulation of the moment. In the foreground of the video I'm about to show you, the chief of cardiology at their hospital delivers an eloquent and serious take on what the vaccine means. And that in itself is absolutely worthy of your time and attention and is very good.

But the other thing that's going on here, which you cannot take your eyes away from once it starts, are the two health care workers behind him, just over his shoulder, who are also so happy to have themselves just received the vaccine and who are expressing it in a much more like everyday citizen kind of way to which we can all relate. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CLYDE YANCY, CHIEF OF CARDIOLOGY, NORTHWESTERN MEDICINE: We have a duty to the 300,000 we've lost. We have a duty to each other. Join me and share this smile that I have under my mask because it tells me that a new day is coming, a new year is coming, and a new hope is coming.

REPORTER: To the people who are worried about the vaccine, worried it's been rushed, they're unsure that it's been tested well enough. What would you say to them to encourage them to get vaccinated? And why is it important for so many people to get vaccinated?

YANCY: You know, if you think about so many things in our world and our country that have been monumental changes, they've always been driven by science. This too is driven by science. Fundamental new discovery that didn't just take months, it has taken years of research but finally we've been able to apply that usage and yield this remarkable breakthrough that so many of us view as the answer to a question that has been vexing us, plaguing us. So I implore you, trust the science.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: And that's just another thing that 2020 has given us, the idea that you can take photos of this little space at the top of your arm where you get injected with the vaccine. I've been getting a vaccine since I was a little kid. Never once did I think it was noteworthy or something I should take a photograph of.

Those first glimpses of positivity, there's so needed. Seeing these frontline workers express such pure joy and relief after getting their doses of vaccines, after months and months of seeing unimaginable suffering is a reason to be hopeful.

And we need a reason to be hopeful right now, because the United States has passed the grim milestone of over 19 million cases, over 325,000 Americans dead. And we continue to see well over 100,000 Americans hospitalized every single day for nearly the entire month of December. Over 121,000 Americans are hospitalized right now with this disease.

Millions and millions of Americans are waiting to get this vaccine, and by all accounts, it seems like we are in for a very troubling road ahead with the vaccine reaching the vast majority of the American public. The Trump administration once again proudly declared less than two weeks ago that the country could expect to see 20 million Americans vaccinated by the end of the year.

Well, the reality pales in comparison, a mere fraction of that 20 million number has actually been vaccinated here in the United States. And with less than four days until the New Year, Operation Warp Speed's end of the year projection is going to fall way short.

How is it that we are so far behind? That story is next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: The Trump administration appears to be changing its COVID vaccination targets on the way out the door. This morning, Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary of health, says the administration is now predicting that, quote, 20 million doses will be distributed to states by the first week in January.

Now, here's the distinction. That's doses available, not 20 million shots in arms. For reference, a month ago, they thought they would make enough doses available to put shots in 20 million arms by the end of the year. Twenty million arms, by the way, is 10 million doses, 10 million people because it's two doses per person.

But they were going to continue to vaccinate 25 million to 30 million people every month going forward. This new projection comes just days after Operation Warp Speed's chief adviser, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, admitted that the ramp-up of vaccinations is, quote, slower than we thought it would be. Indeed.

Now that the end of the year is on Thursday, the projections have changed in no small part because this is our current vaccination pace. CDC reports that as of this morning, more than 11.4 million vaccines have been distributed to states, but only 2.1 million people have actually gotten their first shot.

Now, there may be some lag in the numbers that the CDC has reported either because there might be a lag or maybe because of the holidays, these numbers are moving in more slowly. But even so, 2.1 million vaccinations is a far cry from 20 million vaccinations. Now they say they'll distribute 20 million doses to states by next week.

But according to the CDC, they're only at 11 million.

I want to talk about this. Joining us is Dr. Peter Hotez, the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital, the dean of the national school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez is an expert not just in vaccines, but he's done work on a coronavirus vaccine long before COVID-19 became a thing.

Peter, good to see you again.

You and I were together on the morning of July 30th, Sunday, July 30th -- sorry, Sunday, December 13th. Don't know how I got July 30th in my head. But that day will be important because that was the day the vaccine started rolling out. The following day, Monday, December 14th, people started getting the vaccinations, and it looked like a war-like effort, getting it out there and getting these vaccines to these hospitals and to health care workers.

What happened? Why are we at such a low number?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, TEXAS CHILDREN HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT CO-DIRECTOR: You know, Ali, I mean this has been a recurring theme for the whole year, that we see time and time again that our public health infrastructure just cannot handle a lot of complexity. We saw this with the diagnostic testing that a year into this, we still haven't gotten it right. We missed the entry of the virus coming in from Europe.

We now have this new problem we've just learned about that we're not even beginning to detect all of the variants coming in from the U.K. and South Africa and probably right here in the United States, and so this is another step. You know, in fairness, there are a lot of logistical complexities to the first vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, because of that deep freeze requirement and that requires careful unpacking and a lot of monitoring to make certain there are no temperature incursions that will make the vaccine batch go bad. And I understand that.

But then you have the problem that we never had a centralized plan for vaccinations left to the states. So there's enormous variability right off the bat. And then when you look at how -- and this is just the beginning.

Remember, when you look at how we give adult vaccinations in this country, so much of it has been privatized and left to the big pharmacy chains, the supermarket chains that have pharmacies. I mean, our health system for vaccinating adults is predominantly CVS, Walgreens, something called Amazon Pharmacy, and the big supermarkets.

So this is going to be -- you know, and then you throw on top of that some very complicated guidelines issued by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. It's going to be very tough to implement that. And then on top of that, you're going to have the issue of we still don't know the durability of protection. People are going to have to be advised when to get a third dose of the vaccine potentially later in the year, potential safety issues. What if you have a severe allergic reaction? How do you manage that in a pharmacy pharmacy-like setting?

So, this is going to be incredibly complicated, and I think the country is getting a bit weary of it because we keep on tuning in to hear General Leslie Grooves and Robert Oppenheimer, and we expect to hear about how we're going to win the war on fascism. Instead, we're hearing about supply and management issues from -- between Hanford and Los Alamos and Oak Ridge, and that's not what the American people want to hear at this point.

VELSHI: Durability right now were -- CDC is talking about three months, but that's just because that's what they've been able to determine from testing. It could be longer than that.

HOTEZ: That's right. This is a brand-new technology. We just don't know.

And it may not be the same for the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine. And the next wave of vaccines is going to be the two adenovirus vaccines from AstraZeneca/Oxford and J&J. We don't know the durability of that either.

So there's going to have to be a lot of conversations with the American people and a lot of monitoring to follow this. The hope is that it is fairly long lasting and it might last for a period of years. But, you know, we don't know. Is it three months, three years or 30 years? We're just going to have to wait and see.

VELSHI: Peter, good to see you as always. Thank you for joining me.

Dr. Peter Hotez is the co-director of the Center for Vaccine Medicine at Texas Children's Hospital. He's the dean of the National Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

The Senate runoffs are so important to the direction of our nation, but it's easy to forget they're not a national race. We'll need local help for where things stand. So, I'm going to talk to the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: There are only eight days left until voters in Georgia head to the polls for a pair of runoff elections that will decide which party controls the U.S. Senate in the next Congress.

Yesterday, President Trump announced that he's going to be traveling to Georgia to hold a rally on the eve of that election, ostensibly to stump for the Republican candidates, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

But whether or not those candidates should actually want Trump there with them seems like an open question, because ever since Election Day this year, Trump has made life difficult for the two incumbent Republican senators by repeatedly trying to undermine the state's election results and attacking Georgia's Republican governor and secretary of state for not supporting him in those efforts.

Now, the president's making matters even more complicated by playing chicken with important legislation. Last week, Republican Senator David Perdue released a new ad touting his vote in favor of the COVID relief bill at the same time President Trump decided to start blasting the bill and threatening to veto it. At the same time as that, Trump went through with his threat to veto a major defense funding bill that was supported by both Loeffler and Perdue, putting the two Republican senators in the awkward position now of possibly voting to override the president's veto as early as tomorrow, the first veto in this administration just days before he's set to join them on the campaign trail.

As the kids say, this is awk.

All this comes as new FEC filings show Democrat candidate Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock bringing in more than $100,000 each in the last quarter, shattering previous fund-raising records and significantly outpacing their Republican opponents.

Joining us now is someone who knows a lot about a win in election in Georgia, Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams is chair of the Georgia Democratic Party. She was elected this November to fill the Georgia congressional seat of the late John Lewis.

Congresswoman-elect, great to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

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

VELSHI: Let's talk about a couple of things that have unfolded tonight. First of all, Bernie Sanders saying he's going to filibuster the vote to overturn the veto of the National Defense Appropriation Act unless the Senate votes on the $2,000 relief payment.

That is tricky because a filibuster might delay things and your two senators from the state of Georgia may have to be in Washington instead of Georgia.

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, I think David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler has shown us time and time again that they are not really in Washington to represent the people of Georgia. That $2,000 relief is the difference between food on people's table, being evicted out on the street, and whether it's getting a little cold down in Georgia. And we have two senators that are playing with people's lives on the ground.

So I mean, I support Senator Sanders in making sure that we demand that people need access to immediate funds. $600 was just a small down payment in the right direction, but people need relief. The House Democrats have already passed this bill and we just need the senators to step up and give people in Georgia the support and the aid that they need right now.

VELSHI: So that's tricky because the race in Georgia is tight. And as we've seen, polls may or may not be all that accurate, but it's tight. At this point your two Republican senators are going to be faced with the prospect of having to vote up or down on making that $600 into $2,000. That's got to be very impactful to a lot of Republicans in Georgia or people thinking that they're going to vote Republican to cast a ballot for someone who didn't agree to increase their payout at a time when they had nothing to do with why they don't have an income.

WILLIAMS: I mean, I think it just goes back to what we've seen all along during this pandemic. When the pandemic first hit, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler had information that the general public did not have. They had this information as a U.S. senator, and they sat on it and then used this information to mess with their stock portfolios to make sure that they enrich themselves instead of looking out for everyday Georgians.

And so, this is just par for the course. And when people show you who they are, we should believe them. They are not here to represent the people.

I need Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock elected next week. We have eight days to go. But voters I'm proud on the ground because they understand what's at stake and we need Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Senate to bring relief to people that are hurting in Georgia in the midst of a global pandemic.

VELSHI: Eight days left. What else do you need to happen? Turnout has been strong. Do you think everybody who you need to get out there is getting out and voting?

WILLIAMS: Turnout is strong, but we can't stop until the last vote is counted. We are seeing the numbers continue to increase. This is the last week of early voting. We are already going to be short one day of early voting this week with the holiday on New Year's Day, so we need people to continue to make sure that they're showing up to vote this week. And then use the drop boxes.

Drop boxes are available to turn in your absentee ballots. We can do this. People told us we were going to have low turnout because this was a runoff.

But look at us now, over 2 million Georgians have already cast a ballot so far in this runoff election. That is on par with the numbers that we saw in the general election when we had record turnout.

So I'm excited and I cannot wait to get to Washington, get sworn in and have two U.S. senators in Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock that I can work with on behalf of the people of Georgia.

VELSHI: Congresswoman-elect Nikema Williams, great to see you again. Thank you for joining us and thank you for your time tonight.

That does it for us tonight. We're going to see you again tomorrow.

Now, it's time for "THE LAST WORD" with my good friend Lawrence O'Donnell.

Lawrence, eight days to this Georgia election. It's tight, and those two Republican senators are between a rock, a hard place, and a fire, like it is really a tough situation to be a Republican senator looking for reelection right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.END

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