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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 29, 2020

Guests: Bernie Sanders, Rick Bright, Christina Ghaly, Jon Ossoff


Senator Bernie Sanders (I) of Vermont us interviewed. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Jon Ossoff is interviewed.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, friend. You were just talking to Travis about people being duped.

You know, in the two months before the election, I travelled around the country and I remember speaking to a woman who was supporting Donald Trump in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and I asked her why she was supporting Donald Trump, and she said because she's against child sex trafficking and pedophilia. I said so is Joe Biden.

I don't think she had any sense that she knew what QAnon was or followed QAnon, but it was the groups that she was in that was feeding her this stuff, that voting for Donald Trump is a vote against pedophilia, voting for Joe Biden is something entirely different. So, there are people being duped who don't even know they're being duped.

MEHDI HASAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, indeed. And sadly, Ali, social media companies, as you and I have discussed many times before, have so much to answer for. They've left it too little too late to crack down on these conspiracy cults.

VELSHI: It's remarkable. Thanks for covering that. Mehdi, good to see you. Have yourself a good evening.

And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Rachel's got the night off and I hope you at home are getting a little time off this holiday season, although this holiday season is a little quieter than usual because with coronavirus cases surging across the country, most people have, of course, cancelled the usual large family gatherings and office holiday parties, most people. Not everyone.

Take for instance the White House. The White House had at least 25 indoor holiday parties planned for the month of December, 25. Well, they say holiday parties. Some might say super spreader events. But hey, tomato/tomato.

Let's not forget that this is a White House that has already had at least one super spreader event even when a good portion of that event was held outdoors in nice weather. Close to a dozen attendees at the September Rose Garden ceremony for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, including President Trump himself tested positive after that. Then many more White House staffers and Trump associates tested positive after a White House election night party.

Ultimately, something like three dozen people in Donald Trump's orbit contracted the virus. This White House is a giant Petri dish, and you want to have 25 holiday parties there? What exactly do you think is going to happen? Well, unfortunately, if predictably this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party came down with COVID-19 symptoms after attending a holiday gathering in Washington, D.C.

TOM MOUNTAIN, VICE CHAIRMAN, MASSACHUSETTS REPUBLICAN PARTY: People would just leisurely take off their masks to eat, to mingle, to schmooze. I don't even think some people wore masks the entire time. It was a big event, about 200 people. And again, I was as guilty as anyone else. I just wasn't wearing a mask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mountain says he went to be tested after returning home to Massachusetts. Symptoms of the virus had already set in before he received the positive result.

MOUNTAIN: The bad cough, chills, fever, upset stomach, extreme fatigue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ongoing cough evident in our interview.


VELSHI: Tom Mountain was hospitalized twice in a matter of days and he told "The Boston Globe" that on both occasions, he came very close to being hooked up to a ventilator. Quote: Mountain admitted that his wife cautioned him strongly against going to the party, refusing to go herself. But he said he felt it was his duty to represent the state's Republican Party at the event as both party's vice chairman and the vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Jewish Committee. Mountain said that he wishes he had heeded his family's advice.

Now his wife, son, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law have also all tested positive for the virus.

Now, no one can know for certain if Mr. Mountain caught the virus at that party or if he was already infected and was potentially spreading it around that party himself. But if the White House is going to insist on having 25 indoor holiday parties this month, parties that a lot of people invited are going to feel obligated to attend, then President Trump is going beyond negligence. He's actively putting these people at risk.

Tom Mountain admits that throughout the pandemic, he's been a, quote, naysayer on the issue of wearing masks, but unlike the president, he still supports, Mr. Mountain appears to have taken a lesson from his COVID experience.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Given what you've been through and knowing what you know now, you know, of course, New Year's Eve is coming up, what's your message about gatherings, people coming together?

MOUNTAIN: Wear a mask. Stay -- stay as far away from people as possible.


VELSHI: Wear a mask, the plea from a Republican official who did not believe it was that important until he and his entire family got sick. Imagine the difference it could have made if President Trump had come to a similar realization after he was infected at the White House, after he was hospitalized, after his family contracted the virus.

But no, today, the president was not rallying Americans to battle the frightening surge in COVID cases this holiday season. He was, once again, on the golf course in Florida, as well as complaining bitterly about recent renovations to his Mar-a-Lago Club, according to CNN.

Just this evening, another reminder of what may await the president when he leaves office next month, "The Washington Post" reported that the Manhattan district attorney's office has retained forensic accounting specialists to help in the D.A.'s criminal investigations of Trump and his business operations. A source familiar with the investigation tells "The Post" the D.A. Cy Vance has the specialist looking for anomalies among a variety of property deals so as to advise him on whether the president's company manipulated the value of certain assets to obtain favorable interest rates and tax breaks.

Quote: The analysts hired by Vance could be called on to testify about their findings should the district attorney eventually bring criminal charges.

Now, this is probably the perfect time for your daily reminder that if President Trump were to try to pardon himself before leaving office, that pardon would only cover federal crimes, not state investigations, like the one being run by the Manhattan D.A. And while Donald Trump today golfed and perhaps fretted over his potential criminal liability, his successor acted like the president we're supposed to have in the middle of a pandemic.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Look, my ability to change the direction of this pandemic starts in three weeks. With thousands dying every day between now and then, let me conclude by discussing what needs to happen now. We can save -- all the experts tell us -- between 60,000 and 100,000 lives in the weeks and months ahead if we just step up together.

Wear a mask. Socially distance. Wash our hands. Avoid large indoor gatherings.

I know all these are not easy to ask, but I'm asking you to make a sacrifice. You're already making tremendous sacrifices every single day. It's hard on your lives and your livelihoods, and your kids, and your families. It's not small what we're asking of you, but we're in this together.


VELSHI: We're in this together. President-elect Joe Biden today doing his best to prioritize as the -- what the current president will not, rallying Americans to fight the coronavirus.

He also criticized the Trump administration's vaccine distribution for falling far behind. I'm going to have more on that in a moment.

But as the president-elect spoke today and the current president was only to be heard railing on twitter, the actual action was in Congress. And there are only a few days left in 2020. But like everything else this year, what's going on in Congress right now is totally unpredictable and has scrambled all of our previous notions of how politics is supposed to work.

Hanging in the balance is whether Americans are going to get over three times more money in COVID relief than they thought they were. We need a quick recap. Months and months ago Democrats in the House passed a huge COVID relief package, October 1st, and then spent the rest of the year begging Republicans in the Senate to pass it.

But Republicans in the Senate did nothing, most of them, including the two Georgia senators locked in competitive runoffs that will decide control of the Senate next month, opposed Democratic calls for direct stimulus payments to be sent to American households. They opposed it.

At the very last minute, Senate Republicans agreed to an extremely pared down compromise bill that was nothing like the economic support that House Democrats passed all those months ago, but at least it was something. It included $600 relief checks, an amount that frankly felt like a cruel joke for Americans who have lost their jobs and are facing eviction.

Then Donald Trump kind of freaked out and refused to sign the bill, threatening the possibility that there would be no COVID relief at all because he said he wanted the relief checks to be bigger. Ultimately, Trump caved. He signed the thing this weekend, having accomplished absolutely nothing except a needless delay in unemployment benefits for lots of desperate Americans.

But House Democrats took him up on his demand and passed a bill giving Americans $2,000 relief checks. Even a bunch of Republicans signed on to that and it passed the house with a bipartisan two-thirds majority. That doesn't happen all that often.

Suddenly, the two Georgia Republican senators in the run off elections, the same ones who had blocked a relief bill and opposed stimulus statements for months, they love the idea of $2,000 checks. After all, that's now what Donald Trump wants apparently, so do they.

Even the Democrats like it too, like I said, everything is scrambled right now. So, here we are. $2,000 checks to help Americans struggling economically because of this pandemic. President Trump likes it, House Democrats like it, some House Republicans like it too. Senate Democrats, the two Republican senators whose seats are on the line in a week whose races will decide the control of the whole Senate, they love it.

And so, Senate Democrats today brought the bill for those $2,000 relief payments to the Senate floor, and they had some questions for their Senate Republicans.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Will Senate Republicans stand against the House of Representatives, the Democratic majority in the Senate and the president of their own party to prevent these $2,000 checks from going out the door? We're about to get the answers to these questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there objection to the modification?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Objection is heard.


VELSHI: I object. You know that voice. If there's one person who would happily stand against the wishes of everybody else and not give more money to struggling Americans, it is Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell objects.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): The leaders of our country, President Trump, President-elect Biden, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are all in agreement, we have got to raise the direct payment to $2,000. So, that is where we are right now in this historic moment.

Do we turn our backs on struggling working families, or do we respond to their pain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there objection to the request for modification?

MCCONNELL: I object.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Objection is heard.


VELSHI: Mitch McConnell objects. Mitch McConnell is not letting that COVID relief through. Instead he's proposing combining the bill for $2,000 checks with some other Trump demands, things like, say, investigations into how Trump actually won the election, adding things like that to the relief bill is essentially the same as killing it.

But Senator Bernie Sanders has come up with a plan that might, just might, get Mitch McConnell to crack. As the final days of Congress tick down this week, Senator Sanders is threatening to do the worse thing you can do to United States senators, make them actually stay at work over holiday. Bernie Sanders says unless Mitch McConnell allows a vote on the $2,000 COVID relief payments, Senator Sanders will filibuster the giant defense spending funding bill, the one Donald Trump vetoed for a host of inexplicable reasons.

The Senate is set to override that veto which funds the military, Bernie Sanders is threatening to make senators stay in town through the holiday weekend to do it, which would be especially problematic for those Georgia senators, those two senators who need to get home to campaign for those very tight January 5th runoffs.

Will Senator Sanders' plan work? Will he be able to get that vote on those $2,000 checks?

Joining us now, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont who's been spearheading the effort to force a vote on the $2,000 relief bill in the Senate this week.

Senator Sanders, good to see you. Thank you for joining us this evening.

SANDERS: My pleasure.

VELSHI: Senator, tell me what your plan looks like. What is supposed to happen?

You're saying we're not overriding that veto. The votes are there to override the veto, but you're going to somehow hold that back until Mitch McConnell brings to the floor this vote for the $2,000. How does the changes that Mitch McConnell is proposing in his bill affect your plan?

SANDERS: Well, Ali, my plan is not complicated. The House did the right thing by, as you indicated, over a two-thirds bipartisan vote. They voted to increase the $600 direct payment to $2,000 for every working class adult in this country. And that is the right thing to do.

So, my plan is pretty simple, is to demand that Mitch McConnell allow the United States Senate to vote up or down on that legislation that was passed by the House. And if McConnell allows that to happen and if we get the 60 votes, and I think we have a shot to do that, we are going to bring massive relief to ten of millions of families in this country who today are struggling, they're worried about eviction, they're worried about feeding their kids, they're worried about being able to go to the doctor -- intense suffering out there.

This legislation would help very significantly and give people some hope as we end this very, very terrible year.

VELSHI: So, you need all the Democrats in the Senate and 12 senators. We probably know you've got two, the two senators locked in the Georgia race. They've decided they found religion about that.


SANDERS: You're quite right. Isn't it amazing how after resisting --

VELSHI: Yeah, it's amazing.

SANDERS: I just -- I just -- it's hard to understand why. I mean, it befuddles the mind.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about this. Mitch McConnell has -- is prepared to bring something for vote. He's presented it tonight. And it has a few things in it that Donald Trump asked for, the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, looking into the fraud in the election.

Is that a deal breaker for you? Is there some way to negotiate something with Mitch McConnell that says already, we can do something you want that's largely similar to the bill passed in the House but he gets the few changes?

SANDERS: As it currently stands, it is a deal breaker. You have an issue like the Section 230, which is a very complicated and controversial issue.


SANDERS: And you cannot just snap your fingers and in a day vote to eliminate it. You need study it and it probably needs, you know, a lot of discussion.

But what I would think is if McConnell allowed us an up or down vote on what the House did -- that's the $2,000 check for adults -- if he separated the issue of Section 230 and the so-called voter fraud thing, let people vote on that, my guess would be that both of those provisions would not get the 60 votes that they need. Whether or not we can get the 12 or 13 Republicans that we need to pass the House bill, not sure.

But I think we got a shot at it. It is very hard in this day and age for Republicans to go home to their districts and say, you know what, we did not pass legislation that you want. Last poll I saw had 78 percent of the American people wanting it. Legislation that Trump -- Trump supports the $2,000. Biden supports the $2,000, you know, the American people support the $2,000.

Tough to go home to your district if you don't vote for that.

VELSHI: I want to show the viewers right now, there are seven Republicans who have expressed the idea of supporting the increase. One of them is Hawley of Missouri who you've been working with in trying to get this increased for some time before the shenanigans of last week. But there are seven. You need 12.

Here's my issue, those who don't support it, those who have come out and been concerned -- in fact, I've got Susan Collins on this list, but she -- a lot of people are saying we don't want to give money to people who don't deserve it. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is saying we don't want to give money to people who might still be employed.

There's this real remarkable fear amongst Republicans and fiscal conservatives about anything that would run up the deficit a little bit if you give it to working people. There was zero concern a couple of years ago when they did a tax cut that nobody really needed about running up the deficit in a way we have never seen before. But God forbid you give money to working people or people who aren't working right now.

SANDERS: Ali, that's exactly right. It's not only the huge tax breaks we gave to the wealthy. It's not only the fact we have a tax code that allows large profitable corporations like Amazon to pay virtually nothing in federal taxes. It's the hundred of billions of dollars in corporate welfare that we provide.

And just last week, we voted -- against my vote, I didn't vote for it -- a $740 billion defense bill, which is more money on defense than the next ten nations combined. There was almost no debate about the amount of money that is being spent on defense, and everybody knows it, enormous amount of cost overruns and waste in that defense bill.

So, you're quite right. When it comes to helping desperate working people, oh, we can't afford it. When it comes to giving tax breaks for the rich or corporate welfare, no problem. That is an outrage and that's what we're dealing with right this minute.

VELSHI: All right, Senator. We'll stay in touch with you on this over the course of the next few days. And if you're filibustering, I guess we're going to be seeing a lot of you.

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, thanks for your time this evening.

SANDERS: Thank you.

VELSHI: As we approach the New Year, the Trump administration is falling drastically behind on its goals for vaccine distribution. We're going to talk to one of President-elect Biden's coronavirus advisers next about what that means for us going forward.

Stay with us.


VELSHI: Colorado public health officials confirmed today that the new, more transmissible strain of coronavirus has made its way to the United States. The new strain, which was first discovered in the United Kingdom about two weeks ago, was detected in a Colorado man in his 20s.

Here's the interesting thing. According to officials, the patient has no travel history. He's currently in isolation and will remain there until public health officials say otherwise. Experts say the new strain could be up to 70 percent more contagious than the one that has already infected more than 19 million Americans and killed more than 330,000.

Experts do not believe that the new strain makes people any sicker than the current one or that it is more deadly than the current one. But here's the problem, it comes at an already devastating time in this crisis. As of today, more than 337,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, 338,000, actually now.

And the CDC is predicting that death toll will reach 400,000 before President Trump leaves office on January 20th. That means about 65,000 more people are expected to die in the next 22 days. Let that sink in for a second.

There's one beacon of hope out there right now, the vaccines, the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. But there's trouble on that front as well. Just a few weeks ago, the Trump administration said it would be able to vaccinate 20 million people by the end of the year. So far, 2.1 million people haven't been vaccinated. Just 10 percent of what was projected, 10 percent of what people were told they could reasonably expect.

Now, to be fair, there is likely some lag time between when a shot goes into the arm and when the CDC is able to report it so that we can tell you about it. But 18 million people worth of lag time is unlikely. The Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed released a statement today to explain the slow vaccine rollout. In it, they promised to distribute 20 million first doses by next week. Then explained, quote, these doses are being distributed at state's direction to the American people as quickly as they're available and releasable and the rapid availability and distribution of so many doses with 20 million first doses allocated for distribution just 18 days after the first vaccine was granted emergency use authorization, is a testament to the success of Operation Warp Speed, end quote.

President-elect Biden had this to say today about the quote/unquote "success" of Trump's Operation Warp Speed.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: The Trump administration's plan to distribute vaccines is falling behind, far behind. We're grateful to the companies, the doctors, the scientists, the researchers, and clinical trial participants and Operation Warp Speed for developing the vaccines quickly. But as I long feared and warned, the effort to distribute and administer the vaccine is not progressing as it should. The pace of the vaccination program is moving now, if it continues to move as it is now, it's going to take years, not months, to vaccinate the American people.

I've laid out three challenges in our first 100 days. One of them is insuring that 100 million shots have been administered by the end of the first 100 days. If Congress provides the funding, we would be able to meet this incredible goal.

It would take ramping up five to six times the current pace to 1 million shots a day. This will take more time than anyone would like and more time than the promises from the Trump administration have suggested.


VELSHI: All right. Joining us now is Dr. Rick Bright, he's a member of President-elect Biden's coronavirus advisory board and a former top vaccine expert at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Dr. Bright, good to see you. Thank you for being here.


VELSHI: Let me first ask you about this new strain that we found in Colorado. If this 20-year-old man who's got it didn't travel anywhere, I guess we can assume and people like you know enough to assume that it's probably already here. In the minds of people like me who don't really understand, you know, very well vaccines and viruses, the idea that this is more contagious and infectious doesn't seem as bad as if it were more deadly.

But folks who understand this say that it actually is worse that it's more contagious and more infectious because of the exponential nature of how viruses spread in our society.

BRIGHT: Ali, you hit a lot of great points. I mean, first of all, we expect viruses to change. We expect viruses to mutate, especially once they start circulating more broadly among different people and such. So, it's not a surprise that we find different variants of the virus, the SARS-CoV-2 virus appearing it.

Of course, we want to monitor it very closely. We don't want to cause alarm. We want to take it seriously.

And when we find the virus has changed certain properties, like this is more contagious, of course, we want to check if it causes more severe disease and if it does anything to abate the vaccine or the therapeutics. Most of those data are still not available. Scientists are working really hard to get that information. But we do have a pretty good indication that it is spreading more easily, meaning more people can get infected with this virus. That's a concern.

However, that's a concern we can manage because we know that wearing our masks and social distancing and keeping our group size small, et cetera, washing your hands will still do everything to reduce the spread of this virus.

VELSHI: Right.

BRIGHT: Stay vigilant and I think we'll give the scientists time to learn more about the virus.

VELSHI: And epidemiologists and infectious disease experts have been saying that to us since day one, since February and March of last year. That's still the best way.

The good news is we have no evidence that this new mutation of the virus won't react or won't be protected against by the vaccines, in other words the vaccines may still work. But now we've got this issue about a much slower rollout than we expected.

What do you make of it?

BRIGHT: Well, it's very disappointing actually. I mean, for all of the great work that the scientists have done to make the vaccines in record time and to start producing the vaccines that the companies have really prioritized and the scientists and government have done a lot of work, and now we see those vaccine doses sitting in freezers and sitting in warehouses instead of being distributed and administered to people.

You know, vaccines in a freezer, we've said numerous times, don't do anything to help a person prevent infection. You have to administer those vaccines.

We know it's difficult. We know it's a lot of work. Trump administration made big promises. I think they may have oversold their capabilities, underestimated the complexity, the challenge. Now we find those vaccines sitting in the freezer. We need to get them out.

VELSHI: So, here's the thing. Joe Biden's saying he wants 100 million people in the first 100 days. That's a million a day. That's five to six times where we are right now.

What's going to change?

BRIGHT: A lot's going to change. First of all, we're going to get a handle on how those vaccines are being produced. We're going to use whatever authority is possible. President-elect Biden will use whatever authorities are possible and available to him to ramp up production of the vaccines. We have more vaccine available.

The Biden campaign is also -- the Biden administration is going to work more closely with the states and partnerships. It's not going to be a hand off and good luck. It will be a partnership. As President-elect Biden said today, we're all in this together, so we're not going to leave the states alone and have them figure it out on their own. We're going to walk this through all the way to the end with educational programs and all communities to make sure the vaccine is getting to those hard to reach communities and people who are black and Latinx and Native Americans who are really hit hardest from this virus, we want to make sure the vaccines are reaching them.

So that Biden is going to move heaven and earth to get the vaccines to the people as quickly as possible. That 100-day goal is practical and feasible as we all work together to improve the process we see today.

VELSHI: Dr. Bright, good to see you. Thank you. We're heartened that you are going to be involved in this rollout because we are going to have to do better than we're doing right now.

Dr. Rick Bright is a member of President-elect Biden's coronavirus advisory board. He's a former top vaccine expert at the Department of Health and Human Services. This man knows of which he speaks.

Dr. Bright, thank you for joining us tonight.

BRIGHT: Ali, thank you. Have a good night.

VELSHI: America's second largest city is suffering more from COVID tonight than just about anywhere else. Things are so bad in Los Angeles that hospitals are running out of the oxygen that patients desperately need. One of L.A. County's top health officials joins us live in just a moment.


VELSHI: Here's the cover of "The Los Angeles Times" today, with this sobering headline, L.A. hospitals are at breaking point. The sub-headline, just below that, ambulances are being turned away, oxygen is running low and they just keep coming.

The lead of the article reads: At Los Angeles County-UCS Medical Center, the breaking point came Sunday night. There was not one available bed for at least 30 patients who needed intensive or immediate levels of care. The hospital had to shut its doors to all ambulance traffic for 12 hours. Some patients, including the very sick who required intensive oxygen experienced wait times as long as 18 hours to get into the intensive care unit.

The CEO of Memorial Hospital of Gardena telling the paper, quote, I've been in the business 40 years and I've never seen anything like this.

Los Angeles County is one of the hardest hit places in the entire country right now. The county, which is home to a quarter of the 40 million people who live in California is on the brink of disaster, reporting a positivity rate of nearly 20 percent just yesterday.

That's equal to roughly nine to ten people testing positive in L.A. County every minute. The death statistics are also terrible. One person every ten minutes is dying of COVID right now in Los Angeles County. That's one person dead every ten minutes, one family's world crashing down every ten minutes. Deaths in the county have increased by 600 percent since early November, and it all comes at a time when the local hospitals are being overrun.

Here's Meagan Fitzgerald reporting for "NBC Nightly News" earlier this evening.


MEAGAN FITZGERALD, NBC NEWS REPORTER: The COVID crisis in California slips further out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like a war zone and we're asking for help and help is not coming.

FITZGERALD: Regional stay-at-home orders extended for most of the state as the virus kills some 230 people a day over the last week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Patients are dying like flies. We're full. We're at max capacity.

FITZGERALD: With more than 13,000 new infections a day in Los Angeles County, up from just 1,200 at the beginning of November, health officials warning of darker days ahead.

DR. CHRISTIAN GHALY, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH SERVICES DIRECTOR: We're exhausted, stretched thin, and they're already caring for more patients than they can safely handle.

FITZGERALD: At hospitals here in Los Angeles, ambulances are waiting hours for patients to be triaged. Here at MLK Hospital, space is so critical that the chapel has been turned into an overflow unit.


VELSHI: That's incredible. Martin Luther King, Jr. community hospital in Los Angeles resorting to using a chapel as overflow to care for patients.

Across L.A., hospitals are putting patients into conference rooms, even gift shops because they're so overwhelmed. Several hospitals across the country have set up outdoor tents to keep up with the surge. The number of COVID ICU beds have broken records for 16 consecutive days.

And just this evening, hospitalizations in Los Angeles County exceeded 7,000 for the first time ever. That's nearly 1,000 percent above where it was two months ago, 1,000 percent increase in daily hospitalizations. This is unimaginable. These statistics as the county health department pleaded with the public to stay home, saying, quote, our health care workers are overwhelmed. You saw one of them in that story.

Nearly all hospitals in the county are turning away ambulances, forcing them to divert certain kind of patients elsewhere. The county's health services director sounding the alarm today, quote: Many hospitals have reached a crisis point. Soon, there won't be any places for those ambulances to go.

Nowhere for the ambulances to go in America.

Joining us now, Dr. Christina Ghaly. You saw her in that report. She's the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. In that role, she oversees the county's public health hospitals. If she looks familiar, you just saw her a few moments ago.

Dr. Ghaly, thank you for joining us tonight. I know this is a busy and difficult time for you.

There's a hospital in Pasadena, Huntington Hospital, where they're giving an information sheet to patients on which it is written, if a patient becomes extremely sick and very unlikely to survive his or her illness, even with life saving treatment, limited medical resources may go to treat other patients who are more likely to survive. That's like wartime medicine. That's battlefield stuff. How do we get here?

GHALY: Hi, good evening. Thanks for having me.

Sadly, this is the consequence of really two surges upon surges. There was an initial surge in November in Los Angeles County, and then unfortunately, we had a great deal of gathering and traveling and holiday parties over the Thanksgiving holiday that created this new surge. And it's reached, as you just so correctly and eloquently described, really a breaking point in Los Angeles County where the emergency medical services system is having trouble offloading ambulances in a timely manner.

Emergency departments are full. The intensive care units in our four hospitals that we run, 86 percent of those patients have COVID. And two-thirds of the patients across the county in hospital beds have COVID. This is simply unsustainable.

VELSHI: What's the thing that can happen because you are not in Los Angeles County or the city of Los Angeles or in California in a jurisdiction where the people in charge have been deniers or have not been supporting the idea of wearing masks and social distancing and various restrictions? It's not like L.A. County's done the wrong thing, so how have we ended up -- is it people -- are they dropping their guard?

GHALY: I do think there's some dropping of the guard and I think it's important to remember that Los Angeles is an incredibly large and diverse county. There's 10 million people in this county, so we can't fit everyone into the same box and to describe their behaviors in the same way. There are some people that still don't believe in the virus or wearing a mask, and we see that.

I do think people have let their guard down over the Thanksgiving holiday and I'm concerned over the Christmas holiday as well. I'm hopeful they don't repeat those practices over New Year's. And then one of the things that is compounding this in Los Angeles County is it is a very densely populated county. I know the image is not of that, that it's very spread out. That's not how the vast majority of Angelinos live.

Many housing units are very crowded. There's a large number of low income population. There's many essential workers who aren't able to safely quarantine or telework from their homes. And that creates really the substrate of massive transmission once we start to let that transmission loose.

As one of your earlier speakers described, once you start that point it grows exponentially and it gets harder and harder to get under control.

VELSHI: Dr. Ghaly, thank you to you and the Los Angeles people in health services and all the health workers who are going through this. It is heartbreaking to see after having seen these images and hearing these people in May and June and July, to now see that we are at the end of December and they are still struggling. So, our hearts go out to those of you who are trying to keep us safe.

Dr. Christina Ghaly is the director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, thanks for your time tonight.

GHALY: Thank you.

VELSHI: We'll be right back. Stay with us.


VELSHI: One week from tonight, right now, we'll be getting our first returns from the Georgia Senate runoff election that could decide the balance of power in Washington as Joe Biden takes office. Already, a record 2.3 million voters have cast their ballots. That makes this the highest turnout runoff election in Georgia history and there's still a week to go.

That early turnout is being driven in part by black voters in Georgia whose share of the early voting electorate has increased from where it was at this point in the general election in the fall. Last night, voting rights groups won a key victory in Georgia courts when a judge ordered two counties to reverse a decision to purge 4,000 voters from the polls. These were two counties that Biden won handedly earlier this year by the way.

The president for his part continues to makes things difficult for Republicans in Georgia. Today, he once again tweeted an attack on Georgia's Republican governor, arguing he should help Trump undermine the November election results. At a time when Georgia's two Republican candidates should be focused on their reelections, they've now been entirely sucked into the chaos in the Washington created by Donald Trump's demand for bigger stimulus checks.

Here was Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff on that issue last night with my colleague Joy Reid.


JON OSSOFF (D-GA), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: President-elect Biden, President Trump and Democrats all support this policy to get money into the pockets of hardworking Americans who are in dire straits right now, and Senator Perdue needs to come out tonight and commit to voting on the floor of the Senate for $2,000 relief checks.


VELSHI: Jon Ossoff demanding that his opponent, quote, come out and commit to voting on the floor of the Senate for $2,000 relief checks.

Well, today, Senator Perdue caved to that demand by his opponent, saying that he will now support the $2,000 checks, which is a 180-degree change that puts him directly at odds with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Joining us now is Georgia Democratic United States Senate candidate Jon Ossoff.

Mr. Ossoff, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us tonight.

OSSOFF: Hey, Ali. Thank you.

VELSHI: Last night, you were on with Joy and called for Senator Perdue to come out in support of the stimulus checks. He's done that now. What's your response?

OSSOFF: Well, this is the power of the people already making a difference. David Perdue, the same senator who was lining his own pockets, trading medical and vaccine stocks in the early weeks of this pandemic, opposed direct relief payments all year long while his constituents were suffering. But now, he fears he may lose power, so he's reversed himself on the eve of this election. And it's because of the extraordinarily powerful turnout of voter here in Georgia and in particular, black voters who are shattering all records.

But here's the bottom line. Here's what we face in Georgia. We're running the biggest grassroots get out the vote program in American history. But David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and the GOP are mounting a relentless attack on the voting rights in Georgia.

Lawsuit after lawsuit to purge the rolls, to restrict hours when absentee ballots can be dropped off, to remove drop boxes. This is a brazen attempt to suppress the vote and disenfranchise black voters in Georgia. I need everyone out there who's tracking this race to recommit to empowering us to defend the sacred franchise and defend voting rights and go to ElectJon, and chip into our vote protection efforts right now.

VELSHI: So, I think a lot of us are more surprised than we should have been on Election Day that voters in Georgia or so many states really rejected Donald Trump but not necessarily down-ballot Republicans at the same rate.

So what do you have to say specifically to those voters who, in this last election, on November 6th, voted against Trump but for David Perdue?

OSSOFF: Look, we have good work to do for the people, and the only reason that Mitch McConnell is even entertaining the possibility of this kind of direct relief for the American people that's needed, the only reason that David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler turned on a dime and endorsed at least in their statements these direct payments of $2,000 is because voters in Georgia are voting in record numbers.

And if Mitch McConnell holds onto the Senate, they will return to the brazen partisan obstruction, the ruthless exercise of power of its own sake. They will block the COVID relief that is needed. They will block the increase in minimum wage and the investment in jobs and infrastructure that's needed. They will block the civil rights and voting rights legislation that's needed.

That voting rights legislation in particularly crucial to protect voters at a time of some of the most disgusting and disgraceful voter suppression in American history.

VELSHI: You know, one of the areas key to Joe Biden's victory was in the suburbs outside of Atlanta, places like Georgia's 6th congressional district. In 2016, Hillary Clinton lost Georgia's 6th district by 1.5 percentage points. In 2017, you lost the special election for Congress in that district by about 3 percentage points. Biden won the 6th by more than 11 points which was a huge swing.

How do you figure out and make those same suburban voters who came out for Biden come out for you and Raphael Warnock next week, and the week that remains in this election?

OSSOFF: Look, this is all about the power of our ground game. This is all about the effectiveness of our unprecedented turnout efforts. We've made more than 5 million calls to Georgia voters. And in a COVID-safe way, we are knocking on hundreds of thousands of doors.

But I need everyone to hear this clearly -- the efforts to suppress the vote are consistent and persistent and ruthless. And we need people to recommit to supporting us in these races to fend off these attacks on the franchise and these efforts to disenfranchise black voters. And that's why I'm asking everybody to log online to and support our efforts to defend voting rights and generate record-shattering turnout to win these Senate races and Mitch McConnell's reign as majority leader and begin the next chapter in American history to get things done in the United States Senate.

VELSHI: Georgia Democratic United States Senate candidate Jon Ossoff, thanks for joining us tonight, sir.

OSSOFF: Thank you so much.

VELSHI: All right. You might think that once someone became the president of the United States, they would no longer feel the need to pad their resume with awards they didn't actually win. But with this president, you'd be wrong. That story is next.


VELSHI: The treaty of Portsmouth ended a bloody war between Russia and Japan in 1905. After it was signed, the envoys from each country who helped negotiate the peace deal posed for a not very smiley picture, the Russians on the left, the Japanese on the right celebrating the end of the war.

The guy in the middle is not a member of the Russian or Japanese delegations. That is the American president, Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt helped broker that peace deal between Russia and Japan. And for his efforts, Teddy Roosevelt won himself a Nobel Peace Prize.

He was not only the first president to receive the high honor but the first American, too. Teddy Roosevelt took the money he got for winning the Nobel Peace Prize and gave it to congress. He wanted Congress to fund an industrial peace committee which would help build what he called, quote, fair dealings between classes of society.

Three other American presidents have received the Nobel Peace Prize since Roosevelt.

Despite our current president's best efforts, he's not one of them. The trophy closet at his golf club does not house a Nobel Peace Prize. Donald Trump, of course, not spent the duration of his presidency calling for fair dealings between classes of society. As we speak, he's actively campaigning to be re-elected president of the United States even though he decisively lost the election a full eight weeks ago.

Last night, the outgoing president posted this odd campaign-style ad on his Twitter feed bragging about his so-called accomplishments while in office. There's a section about how the president stands for American jobs, the president posing with lots of heavy machinery. There are lots of shots of the president and the military and a short section of the video dedicated to peace.

But let's just pause this for a second and get a closer look. Here's the president posing at the White House after signing an agreement with Israel and two Arab nations this summer. Zoom in to the corner, please, of this video, the part about the president promoting peace.

The crack editing team at the White House appears to have added a little picture of the Nobel Peace Prize. Now, to be perfectly clear, Donald Trump has not won the Nobel Peace Prize for signing this agreement. Donald Trump has not won a Nobel Peace Prize, period, and here he is implying that he has. A little coin there. And it says Alfred Nobel.

Now, it's the holiday season. In the spirit of compassion, there could perhaps be an alternate explanation. Maybe this is just the president's way of expressing how much he loves peace except that's not a picture of the freaking Nobel Peace Prize. Here is the picture the president added to his video.

This is a picture of the actual Nobel Peace Prize, the one given out to -- I'm sorry, this is the one given out to scientists and great writers and whatnot. This one on the right is what the Nobel Peace Prize looks like. The president of the -- look, they're different. You can see that.

The president of the United States put the wrong award that he did not win on the fake campaign video about an election that he lost. Maybe if he actually won one he'd know what the thing looks like.

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


Lawrence, you can't make this stuff up. I would love to one day be able to hand over to you with this stuff and not have this -- this show and not have something entirely weird to say. The president faked that he got a Nobel Peace Prize.


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