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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, December 7, 2020

Guest: David Kessler

Summary

President Trump refuses to concede election, citing baseless claims of voter fraud. California AG Xavier Becerra has been tapped to lead HHS in Biden administration. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Transcript

DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, it absolutely is. And, look, you're seeing that in Perdue not showing up at the debate.

One of two things he's seeing in the polls. Either it is too toxic for him to be in kind of hand to hand engagement with Ossoff, or he sees polls that, say, Lindsey Graham saw against Jamie Harrison, which is if I just keep my mouth shut and ride the MAGA wave, I can get there.

But what does that look like in 2021? You started the segment, Chris, with a most pressing question. What does the Republican Party look like next year? I think that verdict's still out.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Well, and it's still out because there's lots of high stakes questions that are going to be resolved, particularly if the Republicans retain the Senate, like governance of the country will depend on it.

Tia Mitchell and David Jolly, thank you both.

That is ALL IN on this Monday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

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

All right. This is from page 243. In a few short months in the summer and fall of 1973, he rewrote the rules for how a White House occupant can respond and fight back when his own Justice Department comes knocking.

Damn the investigators. Damn the press. Damn the opposition. Damn the facts. Hang in there, baby.

A legitimate investigation, it turns out, can be smeared and muddied up with a simple but aggressive counteroffense, one that privileges feelings over facts, base loyalty over evidence, obstruction over cooperation. Vice President Spiro Agnew went beyond denying the damned lies about his criminal activity. He also rallied his supporters against the public officials in the justice department who were working on his case. He attacked witnesses said to be cooperating with the government as, quote, crazy and self-motivated while also claiming that he barely even knew them.

He demanded that the investigators be investigated and purged from the government payroll if need be. He demeaned the professional and personal integrity of specific officials in the chain of command on his prosecution. Their allegedly dodgy behavior, Agnew insisted, should cast doubt on all of the allegations against him.

The assault on his own government was paired with ceaseless attacks on the media, stoking his supporters' mistrust of legitimate reporting. He portrayed the press itself as one of his chief adversaries, encouraging crowds at his events to shows of open hostility toward journalists. He threatened reporters covering his case with subpoenas and even with jail time. And not incidentally, he did all this at a time the country was in serious crisis, the Watergate crisis.

Spiro Agnew attempted to survive his own scandal by waging a conservative attack on the institutions of American life and government that were trying to hold the small-D democratic line and thereby hold the country together at that particularly tenuous time in our nation's history. Ultimately, he failed to save himself. But he left a scorched-earth battle plan for any corrupt officeholder that followed him.

Attack the investigation as a witch hunt. Obstruct it behind the scenes. Attack individual investigators in personal terms. Attack the credibility of the Justice Department itself. Attack the media informing Americans about the case.

Punch back, hard, until either you are broken or the system is.

So I have this new book that's coming out officially tomorrow. Got a really nice review in "The New York Times" this weekend. "The Times" also picked it as a book to watch for in December, which is really nice.

If you listen to the podcast that I did by this same name "Bag Man," some of the history in this book will be familiar to you, but there's a whole bunch of new stuff that wasn't in the podcast too, like, for example, former Vice President Spiro Agnew offering himself for sale after he was run out of office. He offered himself for sale to foreign governments as an international anti-Semite for hire. This is after he was forced out of the vice presidency.

He literally went to the Saudi royal family and asked them to put him on the payroll so he could work in America, being paid by the Saudis to expose and denounce American Jews. I desperately need your financial support so I can continue to fight.

International anti-Semite for hire. Nice work if you can get it, right? The Saudis actually did pay him to do some of that work.

There's also newly relevant reporting, I think, in the book about how the Justice Department arrived at the conclusion in the context of the Spiro Agnew case that a president can't be indicted. That policy, which we have all become intimately familiar with in the Trump era -- that didn't come out of nowhere. It was specifically borne out of the Agnew crisis through a sort of hodgepodge, botch job of an OLC memo that was designed specifically to solve the problem of Nixon and Agnew being at each other's throats and Nixon trying to save his own skin while being willing to sacrifice Agnew.

It really was a product of its time. It was patched together from bits and bobs they found around the house. And it really was never intended to provide a get out of jail free card to any corrupt or criminal president who came after Nixon and Agnew. We tell the story of where that came from and how you know they didn't mean for it to apply to other people in the book. But that get out of jail free card is exactly what Agnew's scandal left every president who came after him.

So anyway, I promise I won't do this like over and over again. This is not going to become the Rachel has a new book show. But I have a new book, and I wanted you to know that it is coming out as of tomorrow -- or I guess as of midnight tonight.

And if you are interested in whether President Trump is going to try to pardon himself, if you are interested in why the Justice Department wouldn't prosecute him while he was president but they might now that he's leaving, if you are interested in knowing what happened the only other time in living memory we had an individual-1 in the White House who was implicated by line prosecutors in felonies that they had lots of evidence about and they had to figure out what to do about it, then you might like it.

"Bag Man", it's called "The Wide Crimes, Audacious Cover-Up and Spectacular Downfall of a Brazen Crook in the White House." If you go to MSNBC.com/bagman, you can get it there.

There's also a couple things I'm doing in the next week where you can get the book and come to an online event where I will talk about it. You can combine those things. Anyway, I'll give you those details tomorrow. I have said enough. Thank you for your indulgence.

All right. Tomorrow is December 8th, which is a red-letter day in the planned departure of Spiro Agnew's spiritual doppelganger from the White House. In terms of Donald Trump's presidency being a one-term presidency and him being turfed out -- he could not be turfed out by impeachment. Republicans in the Senate wouldn't allow it.

But he did lose the popular vote twice. He lost the Electoral College once. He is a one-term president, and he will leave.

But tomorrow is a red letter day in the process of him leaving because tomorrow is what's called the safe harbor day. It's the day by which all of the states are supposed to have settled any disputes about which electors they are sending to the Electoral College.

The electors don't actually meet and formally elect Biden the next president until next week. But tomorrow is called the safe harbor day for that process because any state that picks its electors in accordance with the election results in their state, in accordance with state law in their state -- any state that gets that done, that gets in their slate of electors by tomorrow, by the safe harbor date, Congress by law has to accept those electors, full stop and finally. There cannot be any congressional shenanigans or belated objections or anything to them.

Now, it doesn't mean that every state will get their electors in by tomorrow, but any state that does get their electors in by tomorrow, by the safe harbor deadline, Congress must accept those electors and nobody can mess with it.

And, you know, usually an arcane date like the safe harbor deadline for the appointment of electors, usually it doesn't need to be an anybody's calendar at all because usually all this stuff is just pro forma, and you don't need to worry about it. Somebody wins the election. We acknowledge that somebody won the election. That means we acknowledge that somebody lost the election. That person starts making plans to leave, and the person who won starts making plans to come in, and it all just sort of happens behind the scenes.

The incoming Biden administration, it should be noted, is proceeding as if everything is as normal and none of these shenanigans really matter. Biden today, for example, revealing a whole bunch of picks for important health positions, including his nominee, Xavier Becerra, to run the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is a $1 trillion department that has been an absolute disaster under Donald Trump, not just as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic but especially as it relates to that.

Becerra will be taking over that gigantic department. He has been viewed as a very capable not only politician and leader in the Democratic Party, but also a very capable manager, and he will be taking over something big with a lot of attention on it. We'll be talking about that tonight.

We'll also be talking in just a few minutes tonight about some of Biden's other very high row pro-fight choices announced today, including the sort of proverbially standing ovations we saw today in the public health world, specifically for Biden's choice to lead the CDC. We'll be talking about that in detail in just a moment.

There's also new reporting tonight which NBC News has just confirmed that President-elect Biden has made his choice for defense secretary. Retired four-star U.S. Army general named Lloyd Austin, whose highest profile position in the Army is he used to be the head of CentCom. CentCom, of course, is the geographic command in the military that covers the Middle East. It's always a very high-profile position and Lloyd Austin, General Austin, was CentCom commander during part of the Obama administration. He will now apparently be President-elect Biden's choice to lead the Pentagon full stop.

But as sort of orderly and normal as the incoming Biden administration has been through this transition period, right, making basically widely respected, broadly praised, not particularly controversial choices for all the important jobs, rolling them out on a regular timetable with almost no drama around it, I mean, for all of the no drama that Biden is presenting and for as normal a process that Biden is running in terms of the transition, it's a two-way street, right? And the outgoing president, of course, is trying everything he can to throw spike strips all over this road and screw up this process any way he can, damn the consequences.

NBC News reporting today that the sort of random, no experience junior-level former House staffer who Trump installed as chief of staff at the Pentagon, he installed him after he lost the election. That young controversial Trumpy chief of staff has been blocking the transition from happening at the Defense Department.

We talked about this on Friday night in terms of intelligence programs that were under -- intelligence agencies that were under the remit of the Defense Department. NBC News is reporting today that it's the Defense Department writ large that he's blocking in terms of the transition. Quote: A Trump loyalist recently appointed as Pentagon chief of staff is controlling the Biden transition team's access to Pentagon officials, even blocking some career officials and experts from giving information about key defense issues to the transition team, according to current and former U.S. officials.

One former official telling NBC, quote, he told -- meaning the Pentagon chief of staff, told everyone, we are not going to cooperate with the transition team. He has put a lot of restrictions on it.

Yeah, so, good luck to the Biden folks with this whole appointing a new defense secretary gambit as if everything's normal here. Even on core national security issues, the Trump folks are not going to let even the Defense Department do a transition. They're refusing them access. How long are you going to try to keep that up? This is like a neener-neener thing, or is this part of a broader plan?

How much are you sabotaging yourselves on the way out, right? You do consider yourselves Americans who all share the same national security imperatives with all other Americans. How much are you sabotaging that stuff for even yourself and your family on the way out the door as some sort of service to the chaos president who wants this transition to be as screwed up as possible?

A federal judge in Michigan started the day today by throwing out the latest Trump lawsuit trying to block the election results in that state. It's not going well for pro-Trump forces in Michigan right now if their behavior is anything to go by. This week pro-Trump protesters showed up with guns outside the home of Michigan's Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

One Democratic state senator in Michigan questioned pointedly some of the sort of crazy pants witnesses who were rolled out for the Rudy Giuliani hearing in Michigan last week, the one that was featured on "Saturday Night Live" this weekend. One of these hearings where, you know, Giuliani just said the election should be thrown out in Michigan and Republicans in the Michigan legislature should declare Trump the winner instead. That Democratic state senator who questioned sharply those witnesses at the Giuliani hearing, today she released audio of voicemails that she has since received from Trump supporters, voicemails telling her that she's going to be lynched.

In Georgia, another federal judge started the day today by also throwing out the Trump administration's latest lawsuit in that state. Georgia today recertified its election results again. They recertified Joe Biden as the winner in Georgia. This is after not one, not two, but three state recounts in Georgia. How many times can Biden win Georgia?

Incidentally, Georgia and Michigan as well as Arizona all had to call off or cancel legislative functions this week because Rudy Giuliani did show up for all these events, all these sort of ersatz hearings in all three of those states, and he showed up at all of them with no mask on, and now Mr. Giuliani has tested positive for coronavirus and has been hospitalized in D.C. I mean depending on when exactly Mr. Giuliani became infected and when exactly he became infectious, it's possible that he could have infected just innumerable people on this tour that he's been on over the past week -- state legislators, witnesses, reporters, security officers, anybody around him.

He apparently never wears a mask. He did all of that travel, all of these long indoor talky-talky events, all of these selfies. He apparently loves big group photos at these hearings where he's trying to get Republicans and various state legislators to overthrow the election results in their states. He loves at the end of all these hearings, always make sure everybody crowds in for a big crowd picture, masks off, big smiles. He's got COVID, we now know.

We wish him, of course, all the best. Do not wish this thing on anyone.

Mr. Giuliani is 76 years old, and as I said, he is hospitalized tonight in Washington. Republican state legislators in multiple -- Republican state legislators in these multiple states where he's been doing this overthrow the election tour are now contending with their own exposure to him and who they may have infected if Giuliani infected them at these events last week.

But, you know, for everything the outgoing president is doing to mess up the transition and to have, you know, Rudy Giuliani do these infection bonanza hearings in the swing states all over -- for all they are all doing to stretch out their as yet totally fruitless legal challenges for as long as they possibly can, even though all of those challenges, dozens of them have just been laughed out of court at every level -- for this towering dust devil of nonsense they have spun every day, what about the crimey stuff? What about the stuff that's not just nonsense and noise? What about the actual individual pressuring by the president of officials that they should falsify the election results?

If you or I did that, we'd be indicted. The president has not just done this once or twice. The president is now doing this as a matter of course in his daily work as president. "The Washington Post" just reported within the past hour, it's now three different states where the president has personally leaned on and pressured state officials who have some responsibility for handling election results. He has leaned on them and pressured them, again, in three states to try to get those officials to falsify the election results in those states, to say Trump won instead of Biden.

It is apparently not just Michigan, which we saw 2 1/2 weeks ago, where he brought Republican state legislators to the White House ahead of Michigan certifying its results, to pressure those legislators apparently into trying to insert themselves into that process, to stop the formalization of the vote, to interfere with Michigan declaring correctly its election results as a Biden win.

It's not just Michigan. It's also not just Georgia where the president this weekend called Georgia's governor and told him he needed to have the state legislature overturn Biden's victory in Georgia and call it instead for Trump. According to "The Washington Post" tonight, it's not just Michigan, and it's not just Georgia.

It's also Pennsylvania where, per "The Post's" new reporting, it has been twice in the past week where the president has called the Republican speaker of the statehouse in Pennsylvania and told that speaker that he needs to figure out a way to throw out the Biden win in Pennsylvania and give the state to Trump instead.

I realize it sounds quaint to point this out, but pressuring officials to falsify election results is a crime. I mean, that's election interference, right? If anybody else you knew was pressuring elections officials personally, leaning on them, weighing on them to try to get them to falsify the election results and say the other guy won, they'd be indicted.

I mean, now, Spiro Agnew and Donald Trump are among the politicians who have occupied the White House who have complicated the idea of whether or not a crime committed by someone in the White House still counts as a crime. But ignoring this stuff and pretending it's okay can't be the right solution here either.

Joining us now is Andrew Weissmann. He was one of the lead prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller. He headed up the prosecution of Paul Manafort.

His latest book, which is required reading, is called "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation."

Mr. Weissmann, it is a real pleasure to have you here tonight. Thanks very much.

ANDREW WEISSMANN, FORMER LEAD PROSECUTOR FOR SPECIAL COUNSEL ROBERT MUELLER: Nice to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW: So is it overstating the case to talk about election interference here, to talk about not just the president fighting to make sure that the election -- that he has every chance of winning the election to the end, but actually pressuring election officials to falsify these results? To me, that puts this in the category of potentially criminal behavior.

WEISSMANN: So you're right on. I know that you like to say that you're not a lawyer and you turn to lawyers as guests. But your -- your instincts are completely right here.

So first there are two types of statutes that are at issue here. One is very specific, and it relates to election interference, 18 USC 241 and 242. What's interesting historically is those statutes came about because of emancipated slaves and a concern that people were going to interfere with their votes. There are also general statutes such as the statute that prohibits falsifying records, falsifying documents that you would submit to court such as the election results or committing wire fraud or mail fraud.

All of those are potentially involved here depending on what the facts are. But pressuring state officials to falsely certify or to undermine correct votes is a federal crime. And that raises the issue that you really started on when you talked about Spiro Agnew, which is are we a nation where those at the highest levels of this country will be held to account if they commit a federal crime?

And it's also one reason it cannot be the case that it's constitutional for the president to pardon himself because at this stage, he would be free to commit all sorts of election interference and then just pardon himself and avoid ever being held to account for that wrongdoing. And it's just impossible to think that that's something that the framers intended to be the result here.

MADDOW: I don't know what's happening with William Barr at the outgoing Justice Department, the Trump appointees at the Justice Department. I don't know what's happening with Mr. Barr personally. There's been a lot of reporting he may leave eventually and probably in pretty short order we'll find out who Joe Biden's nominee is going to be to lead the Justice Department.

Do you foresee a future in which line prosecutors somewhere in the Justice Department, in the U.S. attorney's office or at main justice, are asked to investigate something like this, to potentially bring charges against anybody involved in some of these schemes that the president appears to be personally pressing via phone and sometimes in person from the White House?

WEISSMANN: I would like to see that. I can't say that we're going to see that. There obviously is a lot of political pressure to move on. But to my mind, particularly if the Manhattan district attorney's office does not bring an indictment, it's really important for the rule of law to apply not just to you and me but to the very senior people, including the president of the United States.

Other Western democracies such as France and Israel are facing that right now. We like to hold ourselves up as a nation where the rule of law applies even to the president of the United States. Well, we should then emulate France and Israel, where there are ongoing indictments now of current and former presidents.

But I fear that if the Manhattan district attorney's office does make a case, it will provide an out for the next attorney general to say that that is sufficient vindication of that interest given the harms that would come and the disruption to the country of pursuing the former president criminally at the federal level.

MADDOW: Yeah. I feel like having dug in so deeply into the Spiro Agnew story, that dynamic that you're describing there, that if there is some way to avoid those very difficult constitutional confrontations, if there is some way to avoid having to tread new ground that's never been trod before, the Justice Department will try to find some way to avoid it. But the very basic questions of justice here are much simpler than all those complex calculations.

Andrew Weissmann, former lead prosecutor to special counsel Robert Mueller -- sorry. Go ahead.

WEISSMANN: I was just going to say that, you know, the crime of obstructing a special counsel is one where it's really important that that be vindicated in some way because it really means if you don't vindicate that, there's no point in appointing another special counsel going forward.

MADDOW: That's right. And once you've let it -- once it's documented and you've let it go, you've set a precedent that it's de facto legal for the next person to do it too. Exactly.

Andrew Weissmann, it's great to see you, my friend. Thank you very much for being here tonight.

WEISSMANN: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We've got much more to get to here tonight. As I mentioned, the announcement by President-elect Biden today about who his CDC choice will be, his choice to run the CDC, greeted with sort of a rapturous reception in the public health community. We're going to be talking about that. Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler is going to be with us tonight.

There's a lot to get to. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In May 2019, the Oversight Committee in the House held a hearing on the staggeringly high price of a relatively new HIV drug. The title of the hearing was "HIV prevention drug, billions in corporate profits after millions in taxpayer investments." The chair of the committee, the late and truly great Elijah Cummings called that hearing to address why this particular lifesaving drug cost over $2,000 a month in the U.S. while in other countries, a version of that same drug sold at just a fraction of that cost.

One of the witnesses that Cummings called to testify was this doctor, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, infectious diseases chief at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard.

Dr. Walensky's pioneering research on AIDS policy and specifically the cost effectiveness of treatment is internationally recognized. She served as chair of the AIDS Research Advisory Council at the National Institutes of Health. She's been adviser to the World Health Organization, to the U.N.'s program on HIV/AIDS.

So she's like, you know, world-leading expert on the subject. It was sort of a no-brainer that somebody like Dr. Rochelle Walensky would be somebody who the committee wanted to hear from on that subject. But once she was there, she made kind of a splash. She did not mince words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: We have the scientific tools to end this HIV epidemic, and we are fortunate that pharma has developed these drugs to get us there. They have already profited enormously. Now in the spirit of saving lives, of preventing new infections, of realizing -- putting forth a cohesive public health response and realizing a presidential call to action, I simply ask that these drugs be reasonably priced so that those most marginalized and at risk can reap their benefit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Today, Joe Biden announced that that is his pick to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky. The announcement that she will be in charge of the CDC led to an almost audible sigh of relief from the nation's public health experts, particularly given how much the outgoing administration has muzzled and dismantled and chipped away at the credibility of the CDC. They've basically forced that agency to the sidelines as the nation has approached nearly 300,000 Americans killed by this disease.

The CDC being back in charge, the CDC being put back in the hands of somebody qualified and capable and well-respected in the field was greeted just that way today.

Dr. Ashish Jha, who you have seen make multiple appearances on this show, he's dean of Brown University's School of Public Health. He said today, quote, running the CDC is complicated, especially in a crisis. You need to, one, communicate with the American people. Two, run a sprawling organization. And, three, understand and effectively use tools of public health.

Dr. Jha said lots of people can do one of these three things. No one I know can all three as well as Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

Josh Barocas, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center saying today, quote, this is the happiest a bunch of stressed out, overworked and tired infectious disease providers and epidemiologists have been in nearly 12 months.

Gregg Gonsalves, who we've had here on this show as well, a hero of the AIDS activist movement and a clarion voice against COVID, he now works as an epidemiologist at Yale. Gregg Gonsalves could not height his excitement.

He said, quote: OMG. Best CDC director choice ever. Biden knocks it out of the park. I haven't been this hopeful in months. Dr. Walensky is the perfect person to lead us out of the darkness of this pandemic. I would follow her anywhere. She is an inspiration to all who know her.

Pulmonary and critical care physician Dr. Vin Gupta who you have seen multiple times on this show said today, quote: This is the type of health appointment that gives us all confidence that frontline clinicians with clear COVID expertise through lived experience will be steering us ahead.

And it's actually not just public health officials. Look at this from "Boston Globe" columnist Kevin Cullen. Rochelle Walensky and the return of competence. After a parade of sheep and charlatans posing as White House endorsed public health officials, Joe Biden's selection of Rochelle Walensky to head the CDC suggests that conviction and competence are back in vogue in the beltway.

She is a reassuring symbol in a most unnerving time. A bright, glowing endorsement of ability, embodying the suggestion that competence has returned. That after years of some of the most important jobs in government being awarded to people in basis of blind loyalty, instead of objective capability, things will now change. Knowing what you're doing matters again.

Knowing what you're doing matters again. Always important when you're talking about the kinds of challenges the U.S. government has to face on a daily basis. But as this country deals with a terrifying new wave of this epidemic, having people there who know what they're doing, who have the confidence of their peers and the best people on this issue in the world, it feels different.

It is an understatement, of course, to say that the incoming Biden administration is going to face enormous challenges come January 20th given what is likely to be the daily death toll and the daily case count by that time. But the people he's choosing to confront it are the real deal, and we've got more on that in detail next from one of the people who has been advising President-elect Biden on this crisis since day one, since March.

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler joins us next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Today, we officially learned who will be leading President-elect Biden's health care team. As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Mass General, will be CDC director. Vivek Murthy will be back at U.S. surgeon general, which a job he also held at the end of the Obama administration.

California attorney general and former Congressman Xavier Becerra will serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services, which is an interesting choice, picking a fighter for that job. Becerra brings to the job extensive experience in Washington, a lot of power within the Democratic Party, and a long history of winning fights over access to health care. Becerra had a key congressional role in making Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, into law.

Since he's been California's attorney general, he's filed a gazillion lawsuits against the Trump administration on a whole bunch of health policy issues. He also took a lead role in defending the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court against Republican states and against the Trump administration.

President-elect Biden also announced Jeff Zients, formerly the head of President Obama's National Economic Council, who will serve as the coronavirus coordinator for the administration. He assigned him a deputy as well.

All this means that President-elect Biden is setting up his team to be in place for when he takes office in 44 days. But in the meantime and over the course of these next 44 days, he has had this long-standing team working alongside him, advising him daily on coronavirus. That group includes his pick for surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy. But a bunch of other incredibly esteemed and experienced experts.

The task force is co-chaired by Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner. He's currently a professor of pediatrics, epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF, the University of California at San Francisco.

And Dr. Kessler joins us now live.

Dr. Kessler, it's a real honor to have you back with us. Thank you for making time tonight.

DR. DAVID KESSLER, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: Can I just ask you about what the role is that you and your fellow advisers to the president-elect -- what your role is now that we're well into the transition? He's obviously rolling out some of his appointees and his picks for high-profile jobs in the new administration, including on health care and COVID issues.

How are you and your fellow advisers working with him on these?

KESSLER: We're getting ready for day one. We can't miss a day. I mean, this is an enormous challenge that the president-elect and the new administration is undertaking, and this transition has to be seamless. So we are learning and listening across the board. I am in hundreds of meetings a week.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee, I believe, is set to vote this week on Thursday on whether Pfizer should get emergency use authorization for its vaccine candidate. One FDA adviser said this weekend that the Pfizer vaccine could potentially be essentially approved by the end of this week depending on how this process goes.

As a former FDA commissioner, how do you feel about the FDA process at this point? What do you think the American people should expect right now in terms of the pace and the process for vaccine approval?

KESSLER: One of the most important things is that the studies done on these vaccines were done according to the gold standard. They are randomized, controlled, placebo studies. So they are full studies.

And what you will see over the next several days, FDA is likely tomorrow to put its evaluation of those studies, of the safety and efficacy of those vaccines online. And then you're going to see Thursday, scientific experts discuss the evidence in front of the American public, especially in front of doctors and health care professionals, and we will hear about the data.

Now, I am hopeful that the safety and efficacy of these vaccines are what they seem to be. They seem to be safe and effective, but we can't pre-judge that. Look, a lot's at stake here. We're going to have to trust FDA's judgment, and I think that trust is being well earned.

MADDOW: If safety and efficacy has been assured to the extent that the FDA can and the process is sound and you and other experts can tell us that this has been done right and this vaccine is -- has come to market in the right way, that will get us very quickly to supply and distribution concerns, whether or not adequate vaccine can be distributed both properly and quickly in sufficient quantities to serve the American people and the needs that we have as quickly as possible.

Are there things that the incoming Biden administration can do even during the transition to try to positively impact those concerns? Is there enough of a transition process that you and your colleagues can play a constructive role in that?

KESSLER: Yeah, there are dozens and dozens of people working literally around the clock on looking at all the elements just with regard to vaccines. The capacity of the manufacturers to make enough vaccines, the herculean task of being able to administer these vaccines -- you know, it's not a vaccine vial that's important. It's a vaccination that saves lives, and that is one of the biggest jobs that any government will ever undertake, and that will fall to the Biden administration.

It -- you know, there will be hiccups. There will be ups and downs. It's not going to happen overnight.

But I am confident that the planning that is going on, that we will get this job done, and the staggering numbers that we're seeing today -- I mean this epidemic, this curve is still going up and up, and I don't see a plateau, and we've got to get the vaccine right. We have to be able to earn the trust of the American people.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, one last question for you on that same point, and that is that I've been reporting and a lot of people in the news have been reporting particularly in the past week on there being some real problems in the transition, not necessarily in the health field. There's been very concerning developments and reports about how the transition has been stymied, apparently deliberately on a number of national security issues, for example, on some intelligence issues on some very sensitive issues at the Pentagon.

If there are hiccups, if there are problems in the way the transition is being handled around COVID and around health care and particularly around these vaccine concerns, would we hear about it publicly? Would you and your colleagues and those involved in the Biden transition feel like it was safe to tell us if there was something that needed public outcry in order to fix it?

KESSLER: Absolutely. We don't shy away from saying it the way it is. But the docs are working with the docs in these agencies. I'm confident that we will wrestle these problems to the ground, and we will safely have -- again, don't want to pre-judge it. Let's see the data.

But we will deliver a safe and effective vaccine to finally end this epidemic. It's a huge, huge undertaking, Rachel, but I am comfortable even with all the ups and downs, all the difficulty that we will have along the way, we will make it through this.

MADDOW: Dr. David Kessler, former FDA commissioner, co-chair of President-elect Biden's coronavirus task force -- Dr. Kessler, it's always an honor to have time with you. Thanks for your time this evening, and thanks for your work.

KESSLER: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. I have a front page that I want to show you tonight. A front page out of North Carolina that is such a perfect snapshot of the multiple planets that we are living on right now in this news cycle. I'll show that to you right after this break.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: This is North Carolina today. Front page "The Charlotte Observer", you see the big splash headline at the top there: Please take this virus seriously.

That is a plea, a quote from a funeral director in Nash County, North Carolina, a plea to her neighbors in rural Nash County, quote, because I am in the business where I see families lose loved ones, not able to say their final goodbyes, people who are dying alone.

North Carolina, like everywhere else, the virus is now wreaking havoc including in rural areas that previously have been spared. "Charlotte Observer" reporting cases in Nash County have nearly doubled since the start of last month. Deaths increased by more than 150 percent since last October.

Quote, it took almost seven months from the state's first confirmed case of the virus in March for 50 people to die of it in Nash County. It took six weeks for the virus to claim its next 50 victims there.

Statewide, North Carolina set a new daily record for new cases yesterday. They set a new high for COVID hospitalizations today. The state's epidemiologist warned today that despite the fact those case numbers and hospitalization numbers are records, they do not reflect an expected spike from Thanksgiving travel.

So, yeah, I mean there's the headline: Please take this virus seriously. That's the big headline.

But look at the other, look at the rest of the front page. Look on the left. See if you can believe these two articles exist at the same time next to each another on the same front page from the same planet this many months into the pandemic.

On the right: Explosion of cases and deaths in North Carolina, funeral director warning please take this virus seriously.

On the left: North Carolina labor leader says virus is not a threat that requires safety rules. This is not like a union official. This is the state, the state department of labor. Quote, will not impose additional regulations requiring employers to protect workers from coronavirus, according to a letter from North Carolina Department of Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry.

Berry said such action is outside her department's authority. She downplayed the risk posed by the virus to workers.

In this letter to workers' groups that asked she take state action to protect them, this Republican labor commissioner in North Carolina wrote this. This is stunning. Quote: while I am not dismissing the tragic deaths that have occurred as a result of this virus, statistically, the virus has not been proven likely to cause death or serious physical harm from the perspective of an occupational hazard.

Yep. When you find yourself starting a sentence with "while I am not dismissing the tragic deaths," you may want to reconsider where that sentence is going to land if that's where you're taking off from, especially where it is going to land is the coronavirus has not been proven likely to cause death on serious physical harm. That's the person in charge of workplace safety in North Carolina.

"The Observer" reporting today nearly 4,000 people in North Carolina filed complaints about coronavirus safety concerns in the workforce, just through the end of October, 4,000. In the face of those 4,000 complaints, the state's labor department under Cherie Berry issued a grand total of five citations, 4,000 complaints, five citations.

A couple of months ago, North Carolina's Democratic governor tried to issue an executive order with regulations to protect workers in his state from coronavirus and exposure on the job. In the end, he had to drop that because Cherie Berry, this Republican labor commissioner, said no matter what he did she wouldn't enforce it.

Cherie Berry is retiring soon after serving five terms in this job in North Carolina, having declared coronavirus not a threat. So people who work in her state need no protection from it. She will now leave office. She will be replaced in January by a new state commissioner of labor, also a Republican, elected last month.

It is going to be a long winter. Godspeed, North Carolina.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: If you are around a TV at noon Eastern Time tomorrow, I will be on Andrea Mitchell's show here on MSNBC tomorrow in the noon hour. I will see you then before I see you tomorrow night.

And now it's time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O'Donnell.

Good evening.

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

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