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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, November 11, 2020

Guests: Nasia Safdar, Kathleen Sebelius, Timothy Snyder, Adam Schiff

Summary

COVID-19 cases rise in level once again, causing more concerns for hospitals and health care providers, especially in relations to cases of COVID pneumonia.

Transcript

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That sort of always shocks me and brings me back Dr. Kara Kass, Dr. Syra Madad, thank you both for making time tonight. That was really helpful.

All right, that's "All In" on this Wednesday night. Stay safe out there. Please, please, please, please.

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

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Thank you, Chris. Have you -- have yourself a good and a safe night and thanks you to you at home for joining us this hour.

We do have breaking news on the COVID front. We have just learned that 144,000 people, new cases have been reported in the United States. That is by far a record for new infections, 144,000. More than that, actually, that's just our rough initial count that we've got.

Rachel once again has the night off as she continues to quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. She is fine, but again, she is quarantining as anyone should under the circumstances.

We're going to talk more about the coronavirus later on in the show, but we've got lots to get to on this Veteran's Day.

The banner headline at the top of today's print edition of "The New York Times," "Election officials nationwide find no fraud."

"The New York Times" called election officials in every single state. What did they find? No evidence of voter fraud. Rather, quote, "Top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been remarkably successful despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic.

"The New York Times" was joined by the Associated Press whose journalists spread out across the country and came to the same conclusion. Their headline, quote, "States cites smooth election despite Trump's baseless claims."

Now election experts told the Associated Press that the increase early voting with 107 million people voting early in-person and by mail helped take pressure off Election Day operations. The AP also noted that there were no incidents of violence at the polls or voter intimidation, quote, "The 2020 General Election was one of the smoothest and most well-run elections that we have ever seen and that is remarkable considering all the challenges."

And that was set by the way by a Trump appointed Democrat on the Election Assistance Commission.

And if you stop to think about it for a minute, it is remarkable that this election went so smoothly in the middle of a raging out of control pandemic, and amid constant haranguing from the President about a rigged result. Also amid the ever present and worrying specter of foreign interference, also considering the record shattering turnout that we saw in this election, 152 million voters and counting.

There's a reason for that. The legions of election workers from coast to coast who worked on the polls and for early voting, tabulated the ballots under the constant watchful glare of the entire world: young, old from every walk of life, rather than being accused of engaging in some massive vote rigging conspiracy, they should be lauded as the true heroes of democracy that they are.

Nobody thanks the poll workers. We owe these election workers an enormous debt of gratitude for making the impossible possible and putting up with the nonsense that they are listening to now.

As one election official in Madison, Wisconsin said, many of these volunteer workers made all the difference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): The other major benefit was the army of poll workers at their disposal to count a record number of absentee ballots.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was the key difference for us on Election Day. If we didn't have as many election officials, and we didn't have as much space as we did, it would have been a really late night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: So if you are an election worker yourself, or you know someone who is or answered your state's call for volunteers during this extraordinary time, thank you.

Now that over a week has passed, the broad picture is coming into view and it is this: despite what the President and his allies might tell you, there was no wide scale fraud.

The President and his allies may claim voter fraud occurred, but that is simply not what is being reported across the country. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The President's claims are not backed by any election officials, including Republican officials in Philadelphia, in Arizona who continue to pour cold water on what the President is tweeting.

In Georgia, the state's Republican Lieutenant Governor says there are simply quote, "No substantial instances," end quote of voter fraud in his state. In Philadelphia today, the city's top election official, a Republican called claims of voter fraud quote, "completely ridiculous" end quote and denied reports pushed by the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani and others that dead people had voted.

City officials have not found one single instance of that happening he said today. The Republican Attorney General in Arizona explained what happened in his state, and the answer is pretty simple. There was no fraud. Voters just didn't like Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK BRNOVICH (R), ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL: The reality is right now, there's, you know, less than 50,000 votes to count and the President would have to get about 65 percent of them to win Arizona. So it does appear that Joe Biden will win Arizona.

There was a time not that long ago, we, as Republicans talked about, we need to make sure the rule of law means something. We don't want anarchy. We want the rule of law.

If indeed there was some great conspiracy. It apparently didn't work since the county election official was Democrat lost and other Republicans won. What really happened it came down to people split their ticket. People voted for Republicans down ballot, but they didn't vote for President Trump and Martha McSally, and so that that's the reality.

Just because that happened, it doesn't mean it is fraud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That's the reality. Just because that happened doesn't mean it is fraud. Republican claims of fraud are going nowhere.

One of their signature examples promoted by Lindsey Graham and others evaporated when a Pennsylvania Postal worker who allegedly -- who alleged ballot tampering recanted his story signing an affidavit saying his claims were not true. He now denies doing that.

The courts continue to rebuke the President's lawyers at every available opportunity. In Texas, I kid you not the Lieutenant Governor, a Republican is now resorting to offering a $1 million cash prize, a million dollars to anyone who can come up with an instance of voter fraud, which suggests the desperate lengths the President and his allies will go to in order to keep this election from slipping away even as it becomes clear to anyone living in reality, Earth one over here, as we've taken to calling it that there's no there, there to the President's claims.

A new poll suggests nearly 80 percent of Americans think Joe Biden won the election which sounds great until you realize that means 20 percent or one in five are either not sure who won think the election remains undecided or believe that Trump won, one in five.

The markets continue to operate under the assumption that Biden will be the next President. The Biden Campaign also does not appear too worried. It continues to proceed as normal.

Tonight, President-elect Biden named his longtime aide and veteran of the 2000 Florida recount, Ron Klain, as his White House Chief of Staff. Klain was also the Ebola czar, which will be useful during this pandemic.

The Biden transition team continues to act as if this shaky period will eventually end and their candidate will be sworn in on January 20th with certainty. It's a position adopted by the candidate himself, and by his senior adviser and renowned election lawyer who spoke to reporters on a Zoom call last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB BAUER, SENIOR ADVISER TO BIDEN CAMPAIGN: The Biden-Harris transition is going forward. It's moving along very briskly. President Biden will take the oath of office on January 20, 2021 and that's going to be our answer to that.

I mean, in the meantime, there'll be theater, but it'll be playing to increasingly light crowds until it empties out completely and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, take their oath of office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Tonight, NBC News is reporting that President Trump met with top advisers including Jared Kushner, and campaign manager, Bill Stepien to discuss the path forward.

But whatever Trump is saying behind closed doors, he is outwardly continuing his verbal assault on the results of the election. And while we may be used to this kind of behavior from this President, one thing bears repeating. This is not normal.

Lies and attempts to de-legitimize an election in the minds of voters by this President and his enablers in Congress, his Republican enablers in Congress are at best, doing massive damage to our democratic process.

At worst, they are signs of something far more sinister. Many stories have been written about Republican officials simply humoring the President, and that this will all eventually be resolved, and that may very well be true.

But as one of our nation's foremost scholars on authoritarianism warns today, we should be very careful about ignoring the President's claims and letting them spread unabated.

Famed author and Yale Professor, Timothy Snyder writes in "The Boston Globe" today that quote, "Trump's big election lie pushes America toward autocracy. Clinging to power by claiming you are the victim of internal enemies is a very dangerous tactic. Don't underestimate where this can go."

"Underestimating Donald Trump is a mistake that people should not go on making. Laughing at him will not make him go away. If it did, he would have vanished decades ago. After all, a claim that an election was illegitimate is a claim to remaining in power. A coup is underway and the number of participants is not shrinking, but growing. Republican lawmakers find ever new verbal formulations that directly or indirectly support Trump's claims. The longer this goes on, the greater the danger to the Republic."

Joining me now Tim Snyder, bestselling author of the books "On Tyranny" and "Our Malady: Lessons on Liberty from a Hospital Diary." He's a Professor of History at Yale University.

Professor Snyder, thank you for making time with us this evening. There are a lot of people who don't want to hear what you wrote today in "The Boston Globe" or what you tweeted yesterday. They want this to be over. They believe, as Joe Biden constantly says, this will pass and he will be the next President of the United States.

But what you write about is something deeper than that. The scar that this will leave on democracy, you actually refer to Germany of the 1920s as an example of how dangerous this can be.

TIMOTHY SNYDER, AUTHOR, "ON TYRANNY": That's right. I mean, an election doesn't ordinarily unroll with a story like this. In the United States, usually the story is clear: one person wins, one person loses. One person gives a victory speech, one person concedes.

What we have to think about looking forward is what it means when a sitting President and many of his important allies, the Majority Leader in the Senate, for example, the Secretary of State, for example, take part in what is unequivocally a big lie.

All of the evidence is on the other side, there's no reason in the world to think that there was fraud. So when the President injects a big lie like this into the system, he is doing damage.

He is doing damage the way that people remember. He is doing damage the way that people regard a Biden administration, and perhaps what's worse, he is making the claim that since the other side cheats, it is all right for our side to cheat in the future.

So that's a bomb laid on the future of democracy. And this is -- so this is the kind of talk and the kind of reasoning we have to get behind us as quickly as possible.

VELSHI: David Rohde wrote in "The New Yorker" today, and he spoke to the idea that humoring the President actually undermines democracy and he was speaking about Bill Barr talking about looking into election fraud.

"At best, Barr is humoring the President playing for time and expect state and Federal Judges to stand up to Trump and dismiss his false claims. Odds are that the Judges, particularly those with lifetime appointments, will do so. Still, there is no excuse for allowing a sitting President to flirt with authoritarianism."

He is making the same point. It's like Barr has got a job to do. He's the Attorney General of the United States. You can't humor the President on something like this. This is the basis of our democracy.

SNYDER: Yes, I mean, for one thing, hours tick by, days go by. Now, weeks are going by without the White House being able to take a clear stand on what has just happened.

For another thing, as you say, Mr. Barr is supposed to stand for the rule of law. There are a few aspects of the rule of law more important than our succession principle.

Our succession principle, which is that of democratic representation of citizens. By stating even that, the Department of Justice should be investigating what Mr. Barr surely knows to be outrageously false claims. He is putting the Department of Justice on the wrong side of the rule of law.

Like so much else. This, this puts him and Trump's other allies on the wrong side of history. It puts the United States into the group of countries where people don't accept the outcomes of elections. Again, humoring or playing along or using this situation for your own personal gain, as the Georgia senators are doing may seem sensible to you moment to moment.

But in the long term, this is bad, not just for the Republican Party. It is clearly bad for the Republic as a whole.

VELSHI: Jennifer Rubin, a conservative commentator in "The Washington Post" and former Republican wrote today, "It's no consolation. Indeed, it is worse that McConnell and the rest almost certainly know Trump's claims are a joke and incapable of overturning an election. They apparently are willing to damage democracy and further divide the country so as to cast the lawful winner as an illegitimate President and avoid Trump's wrath."

"Other democracies looking on will be horrified. Dictators will find vindication in Republicans refusal to accept the results of an election."

So she is also speaking about the longer term damage and the damage to America's role on the global stage.

SNYDER: Yes, I mean, look, there's a basic question of principle here. The basic question of principle is that we have a legal and ethical means of changing leaders.

This is hard fought and hard won. Democracy is rare. Democracy is fragile. People have made sacrifices over the generations for it. People are still making sacrifices for it.

Even the poll workers who you've mentioned, you know, thousands and thousands of people who worked very hard, while taking a lot of flak, they are making sacrifices for this principle.

And this principle is one which rises or falls not just in one country, but around the world. We are setting an example the entire time by our behavior, whether it's a good example or whether it's a bad behavior, bad example.

What Mr. Trump has just done is encouraged tyrants to do what they'll tend to do anyway, which is to ignore election results. And we've taken pride in our ability to tell autocrats they should leave when they lose elections.

This has been one of the big legacies of American foreign policy since the year 1989. What we're doing now is setting the opposite example.

We are telling tyrants around the world, Lukashenko in Belarus, Putin in Russia, whomever it might be that this is how Presidents normally behave. Again, the sooner this stops, the better; not just for our reputation, but for the world.

VELSHI: And for our democracy. Timothy Snyder is the author of "On Tyranny." He is a Professor at Yale University.

Professor Snyder, thank you for your time this evening. We appreciate it.

SNYDER: My pleasure.

VELSHI: President Trump has spent this past week firing top national security officials and replacing them with administration loyalists, which would be concerning at any point in time.

But why now? Why the week after losing the election? The House Intelligence Committee Chair, Congressman Adam Schiff joins us live next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: We have new reporting tonight on Donald Trump's efforts to fire senior Pentagon leaders and install staunch loyalists in their place. It started on Monday when Trump announced the firing of the Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Twitter, which came as a shock because outgoing Presidents here on Earth One do not replace Cabinet level positions a mere 49 hours after losing re-election.

On Tuesday, the President continued his slew of firings and forced out the Pentagon's top policy chief installing a FOX News regular to take his place. Anthony Tata is best known for pushing fringe conspiracy theories and for referring to President Obama as a quote, "terrorist leader."

Comments which led the administration to withdraw his previous nomination for a top Pentagon role this summer.

Now, if that were not enough, today, the news broke that Trump installed yet another Fox News commentator who, like Tata also holds fringe anti-Muslim views to a senior adviser role at the Defense Department. Yes, another one. Retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor joins The Pentagon following a history of controversial comments, including criticizing Germany for being too welcoming to quote, "Muslim invaders," which isn't an unusual perspective if you live in Eighth Century Europe.

The President has now forced out a total of four senior Pentagon officials since Monday, including Esper, his Chief of Staff and senior officials overseeing policy and intelligence.

And Trump is not stopping there. He has elevated a fierce loyalist to the powerful position of General Counsel of the National Security Agency, someone who just so happens to be named in the Articles of Impeachment against the President.

And the concerns don't end there. "The Daily Beast" is reporting tonight that Trump's National Security Adviser is enabling Trump's post-election mayhem by supporting the moves to install political loyalists to top levels at The Pentagon and pushing National Security officials to publicly endorse Trump's claims that the election is not over.

But wait. That's not it. There's more.

Officials tell "The Daily Beast" tonight that Robert O'Brien is actively working against the Biden transition. One National Security official says tonight, quote, "If you even mentioned Biden's name, that's a no go. You'd be fired. Everyone is scared of even talking about the chance of working with the Biden transition," end quote. Wow.

With just 70 days to go until Inauguration Day, what does this all mean for the country's National Security? And just how concerned should we be?

I know just the person to ask, Congressman Adam Schiff of California. He is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Chairman Schiff, thank you for being with us tonight.

You are one of a handful of people who gets the highest intelligence that this country has access to, and there are concerns that others in the Intelligence Community have raised that this is the moment that America has to be strong, the moment between -- the transition between governments and our transition process is supposed to guarantee that the incoming President does not come in with a weakness, not knowing everything that's available.

And yet we are hearing that Joe Biden is not getting Intelligence briefings.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Ali, that's right. In fact, the 9/11 Commission underscored the transition period as being a period of real vulnerability when the nation can be unprotected if that transition doesn't go quickly, it doesn't go smoothly. And of course, what we have here is anything, but.

It is not just that the President refuses to concede, although that is a body blow to our democracy. And it's not just that the incoming President can't get Intelligence briefings, can't apparently even get calls from foreign leaders or messages from foreign leaders that Mike Pompeo was withholding from the President-elect.

But Donald Trump is punishing enemies by removing them from top positions in The Pentagon, rewarding people who have either no experience or exactly the wrong experience and are merely politically partisan actors to these top positions.

They may make decisions in these waning weeks of the administration that put the incoming administration in a foreign policy crisis. So it couldn't be more debilitating, and if I can just put a finer point on your conversation with Professor Snyder.

VELSHI: Yes.

SCHIFF: The fact is, the President couldn't be doing all of this. He couldn't have broken down so many of our norms and democratic institutions over the last four years, he couldn't be behaving the way he is today if there weren't leaders within the Republican Party in Congress and elsewhere, going along with him.

And they rationalize it by saying, well, we'll just do it until the courts decide. Or we'll just do it until the Georgia Special Election is over. Or we'll just do it until he is out of office. Or if he is going to run again, we'll just do it for the next four years.

And this is how a democracy is smothered. It doesn't always die with a shot in the back. Sometimes it dies over a course of slow suffocation and it is absolutely inexcusable what these enablers are doing.

VELSHI: Yes, it is a lesson of our democracy that we have to win and we have to lose and if you cannot do it in an orderly fashion, your democracy suffers.

I want to talk to you about something that Josh Rogen wrote in "The Washington Post" today about The Pentagon, the changes that are occurring there. He said, "Several officials said that a group of Trump loyalists is seizing the opportunity to purge The Pentagon and several other agencies. Many officials in the agencies they are taking over are also now wondering whether the loyalists plan includes helping Trump resist leaving office."

What do you think about that?

SCHIFF: You know, you can't really put anything past this President. I do have confidence that The Pentagon isn't going to go along with a military coup.

And so, you know, I hope and pray that confidence is not misplaced, but I do believe that. Nonetheless, the President is going to do whatever he can to cling to power. That's what autocrats do. He has shown every inclination to do so.

And, you know, as you underscored earlier, this is not only so crippling of our democracy, and basically creates a group of people going into the next administration around the country who feel that the Biden presidency is somehow less than legitimate because the last person was claiming fraud.

But it sends the message to other would-be autocrats around the world that this is how they should behave. But I have confidence that our military isn't going to participate in a coup.

And, and no matter who they try to stack The Pentagon with that the leadership of The Pentagon is not going to go along with that.

VELSHI: Yes, and every last member of the military current and former with whom I've spoken and said the same thing that there is no military officer, or for that matter, member of the military who will go along with something that feels like a coup.

Representative Adam Schiff is the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Sir, thank you for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: All right, tonight, NBC is confirming that there have been at least 144,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the United States today. That completely smashes through any other previous single day record for new infections in this country.'A riveting tale from the frontlines is next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VELSHI: Kelly Meeker is 36 years old. She is a gymnastics coach. She had a four beloved cats.

At the end of September, Kelly woke up with a 103-degree fever, sore throat, chills. She got tested for COVID, positive. She has no idea where she caught it. No one she knows who was sick.

On September 28, she was so ill that she checked herself into the hospital, September 28.

This is Kelly today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GABE GUTIERREZ, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: When did you first get here?

KELLY MEEKER, COVID-19 PATIENT: When did I first get COVID?

GUTIERREZ: Yes.

MEEKER: We were just talking about that. That was around September 28 or so.

And I went into the hospital. Oh, no, I went to the E.R. and got fluids, then went back home. Then, the next day, I still had a fever, wasn't feeling well, went back to the hospital.

Then they told me I had COVID pneumonia. And then they ended up transferring me here and putting the tube down my throat. So, that was all within a couple of days of each other.

GUTIERREZ: So, when they brought you to the hospital and you're getting sicker, what's going through your head?

MEEKER: I was just feeling miserable. I knew something was wrong. I knew I had COVID from the very first day that I had symptoms.

But I just kept getting worse and worse. And I just kept feeling sicker and sicker. I just knew I needed to get some sort of help, because it wasn't getting any better.

GUTIERREZ: And when you got here, I don't know how much you remember, but you were put on a ventilator. That must have been really scary.

MEEKER: Well, I have just been seeing the pictures the past couple of weeks. And it's pretty scary to look at the pictures. It's actually -- it's kind of heartbreaking to look at them.

I don't like to look at them very much.

GUTIERREZ: What would you say to people who think that, oh, this is something that affects perhaps the elderly or maybe isn't as serious because...

(CROSSTALK)

MEEKER: Wear your damn mask.

GUTIERREZ: Really? So, tell me, now, what would you say to people who are skeptical that COVID is really that serious?

MEEKER: I would say, wear your mask, because it -- I almost died from it.

It's more serious than people think. I just think people aren't taking it serious enough. And if these people need to, they can see my pictures, they can read my story, because it was pretty scary, touch and go for a while.

GUTIERREZ: You don't remember any of your time on that ventilator?

MEEKER: No, not while I was in the coma, no.

GUTIERREZ: Right.

And when you came out of it, I mean, you have been -- now you're in recovery. You're out of isolation. How amazing is it to see your mom here?

MEEKER: It's so cool. It's so cool.

(LAUGHTER)

GUTIERREZ: And, mom, how tough has it been for you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, hard, hard. It was, yes, really hard.

But I cried a lot, but it's tears of joy now, because she's getting better.

GUTIERREZ: What was the hardest part?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, when we couldn't see her. That was the hardest part. It was just helpless.

I mean, nothing you can do. You couldn't hold her hand. That was probably the hardest. We did some video calls. That helped, to see her. But it was more or less for us to talk and just look at her. And -- but that -- it was heartbreaking to watch her.

MEEKER: When were you not allowed to see me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I came on October 15. That's the first day we could see you.

MEEKER: Oh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

GUTIERREZ: Were you able to communicate at least with the nurses through video, through Zoom or some...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes, we did quite a few Zooms.

GUTIERREZ: How hard was it for you to see your little girl in that condition?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was hard. That was hard, yes. I had to turn away a lot of times.

GUTIERREZ: What would you tell people around this country that may not see COVID face-to-face quite like you experienced it? What would you tell people around the country?

MEEKER: It's so scary. Just be protective. You have to be aware. Wear your mask for everyone around you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: That was long, and it was hard to watch. But it was important, because 144,249 new cases have been reported today.

That was my colleague Gabe Gutierrez interviewing Kelly Meeker, who has been hospitalized for over a month, about a month-and-a-half, at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis.

Today, we set a brand-new horrific record for new COVID infections in a single day, more than 144,000 Americans newly sick with COVID tonight. The country set a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations yesterday, as hospitals in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin are all on the cusp of being overtopped.

The situation is particularly grave in Wisconsin, where new cases and hospitalizations are at all-time highs. Today, the state's top health official said -- quote -- "In terms of the number of cases we're finding, this is as bad as that early severe wave in New York City. We are very close to a tipping point."

Joining us now is Dr. Nasia Safdar. She is the medical director of infection control at the University of Wisconsin Hospital.

Dr. Safdar, thank you for being here. I'm sorry, this is the second time you and I have talked, and it's never good news, but things are substantially more serious in Wisconsin than they were when you and I last spoke.

DR. NASIA SAFDAR, UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN HOSPITAL: Yes, it seems like it's just a few weeks ago that we talked, and we were mentioning that we were at a tipping point.

And I think that tipping point has now arrived. Every day, it's a steep trajectory of patients that require hospitalization because of COVID pneumonia. I think there's also the concern that patients may require hospitalization for many days. And that, obviously, has implications for staffing. It has implications for beds.

It's a difficult time for Wisconsin. That's for sure.

VELSHI: Let's talk about staffing and beds.

One of the differences in the beginning -- we talked so much about flattening the curve, because the same number of people can get ill, but if they get ill at a slower rate, their -- facilities and the things that you need to treat them will be available.

One of those things we don't talk about is the people. We have shown the people, people like you, but the front-line workers who are needed, the nurses. We have situations in this country where nurses who are COVID-positive are being asked to go back to work because there are no other nurses.

You can't move them from parts of the country to other parts of the country right now. We have 43 or 44 states setting new records.

SAFDAR: Yes, I think staffing is probably our biggest concern right now.

You know, it's relatively easy to put into use an unused hospital bed or to create one out of thin air if you need it. But you really can't find a fully trained ICU nurse, for instance, very easily, especially when, around the country, a lot of health systems are in the same state as we are.

So, in order to preserve the capacity of the health care work force, we have to make sure they don't get infected, and that's not what we're currently seeing in Wisconsin, with record numbers of infections in employees, as well as the community.

VELSHI: We're seeing the Biden transition team taking this very seriously.

Ron Klain has been named Joe Biden's chief of staff. He was, of course, the Ebola czar, and he's got sort of large groups of expert people working on this. But they are not the administration right now. And we still have states where we have insufficient direction to municipalities about basic things like mask-wearing and isolating more or keeping separate.

We're still not much further ahead than we were when you and I last talked.

SAFDAR: I think that one thing that we're noticing is that it's really important to have and still continue to have reverence for this virus, in the sense that we don't really know everything about people, that -- the spectrum of infections that they get, how quickly they recover.

Some may not recover for many months. So, we can't presume to say that since March we have learned enough that we can start to be dismissive of it, that we can start not social distancing, not wearing masking. These are fairly fundamental health measures and I think the time has gone beyond debate about what they do and what they don't do and embrace them as the measures they're intended to be.

VELSHI: Dr. Nasia Safdar is the medical director of infection control at the University of Wisconsin Hospital.

Let's hope, the next time we talk, we have got some better news. Thank you for being with us tonight.

SAFDAR: Thank you.

VELSHI: One more thing on this, and it is actually a piece of good news.

Kelly Meeker, the young woman recovering from COVID that we heard from earlier, I should tell you, she took her first steps today since she was first placed on a ventilator all those weeks ago.

I find some hope in that.

I find some hope in watching the Biden transition team, which clearly has COVID-19 as its top priority and has put scientists and experts in charge. We're going to have more on that and the Trump administration's stonewalling, the stonewalling that could cost lives, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: With the news out of the Biden transition tonight that the president-elect has named Ron Klain, who was the Ebola czar under President Obama, as his chief of staff, the next administration will now have someone in a huge role with major relevant experience to help the Biden administration lead the nation through this pandemic.

We got that news as we learned that the country broke another coronavirus record today. We recorded more than 144,000 new cases. And now there is the risk that the Trump administration dragging its heels on letting the Biden transition launch could cause major setbacks to our handling of the virus.

We need PPE. We need mask compliance. We need a well-distributed vaccine as early as possible. And with the news from Pfizer on Monday, we are closer than ever to meeting at least one of those goals.

This is what the former health and human services secretary under President Obama, Kathleen Sebelius, had to say about Trump gumming up the works -- quote -- "It's only 10 weeks, and that's not a very long time when you think of all the federal government. So, every day counts, every delay counts. And so we're in very unprecedented territory."

But Biden seems to be doing everything he can to still make every day count. In addition to the Coronavirus Task Force he announced on Monday, Politico reports that Biden has formed a special COVID transition team. Altogether, the team consists of 52 transition officials, including representatives reviewing nearly every major federal agency, with plans to meet by video call as frequently as once a day.

It's also enlisted dozens of additional state level health experts and academics to serve as subject matter experts who can aid specific policy efforts.

It's expected that Biden's 13-member Coronavirus Task Force will also eventually be integrated into the COVID-19 transition team.

Politico also reports that the team held its first virtual meeting yesterday.

Joining me now, Kathleen Sebelius, former health and human services secretary from 2009 to 2014.

Secretary, good to see you. Thank you for being here tonight.

I'm heartened by Ron Klain's experience, specific experience with an outbreak in the past. Ron has been a guest on this show many times, and he seems to know of which he speaks. You know him.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: I do.

And I think Ron Klain is a terrific choice for chief of staff, one of the most important offices in the federal government with the new president-elect. He knows Joe Biden very well. He knows government very well. And he's handled some big challenges in the past.

And that kind of competence and personal connection is really what you want in a chief of staff, somebody who can -- doesn't need training wheels, will actually get the ball moving well before they get to office.

And I would agree with you, Ali. The Biden team is incredibly impressive, doing everything possible to put mechanics in motion for a transition as smooth as possible. Ten weeks from today is the inauguration. As I said, that isn't a very long time.

And Joe Biden knows that. He knows government. He respects government.

My concern are things like, how hollowed out are these very key health agencies? Who is missing in the career staff at the CDC and the FDA and even NIH that needs to be replaced very quickly?

VELSHI: Yes.

SEBELIUS: How do we get a handle on the agency-by-agency look, because it's really the mission of the career staff that carries the ball forward?

VELSHI: Olivia Troye, who was part of the current COVID-19 team, wrote today: "Since the transition hasn't been formally approved, the vital information that the next administration needs is either being shared in limited ways through unofficial channels or not at all. The inevitable result is, if this continues, is that the Biden COVID-19 response team will have to waste valuable time getting up to speed and retracing the few steps this administration has already taken."

Your take on that?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think that's absolutely right.

What would be ideal is that the Biden team spends zero time on what's already been done. Are there supply chains in place if the PPE situation gets more dire? Where in the world did Jared Kushner purchase the PPE from that he got? Who did he turn it over to, who then sold it to whom?

That information might be helpful to know where there might be capacity, where there are supplies of PPE. What is already under way in planning a logistical effort to get vaccine from the manufacturing site to various states, to the most vulnerable populations in those states?

That's not an easy task, particularly if you need a cold chain along the way. How does that happen?

If there's planning under way that's going on, that would be enormously helpful to know. But I would say, one of the things we really need is for the president of the United States to be focused on this disease, to be focused on people dying every day, to be focused on the health crisis at hand.

Where he never has paid attention before, maybe he can stop lying to people about the fact that this is a hoax, and urge people over the next 10 weeks to take it seriously and follow CDC protocol, because we're in a very dangerous period of time, with the holidays approaching, people wanting to gather, going inside, and the virus spiraling all over this country.

VELSHI: Yes, the danger is now people -- I mean, the CDC did issue new guidance about Thanksgiving, but folks don't take it seriously anymore. People have doubts about vaccines.

The difference here with that the way the Biden incoming team is treating this, it seems to be that they're approaching this from a whole-of-government perspective. This team is about policies across government, not sort of a committee that's going to meet on its own in isolation, when the president, as you say, doesn't take this seriously.

It does look -- and it may be -- it's 10 weeks away, so it's not going to -- it's going to hurt a lot. But it may be much more seriously dealt with than this administration has ever chosen to look at this.

SEBELIUS: Oh, I don't think there's any question.

And incoming President Biden has made it very clear from the outset there will be a national plan. Let's start from that. There never has been. Governors were told in March, you're on your own, go find your own PPE, figure out what your guidance should be, don't follow the CDC guidance, and, if you do, we will send a Twitter war after you and demand that you liberate your state.

So, there never has been a plan. Governors have never understood what the federal role will be and then how they can collaborate and cooperate.

So, this approach from incoming President Biden is not only a much more traditional approach, but a very experienced and dynamic approach, which says, we're going to use all the muscle of the federal government the moment I get there on January 20 to mobilize resources, to mobilize the logistic capability, to make distribution transparent, to make sure that people understand from the scientists that we do -- when we have a safe and effective vaccine and how it's going to be distributed and to whom, and under what circumstances.

That never has been in place.

VELSHI: Well, Yes.

SEBELIUS: So, they can begin doing a lot of that right now. It would just be enormously helpful to have a cooperating partner in the current administration.

VELSHI: Yes.

And it can be done. We have got the Army Corps of Engineers. We can build the cold chain to keep the drug, this vaccine, at negative-94, if needs to -- if that's what we need. But we actually need the federal government in on it.

Kathleen Sebelius, thank you for joining me again.

Kathleen Sebelius is the former health and human services secretary.

Thank you for your time.

Coming up next here tonight: one woman's remarkable story, a story that represents many people in this country who have been overlooked for too long.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: Marcella Ryan was a young Lakota girl on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Promise, South Dakota, when she felt the call to become a nurse.

Years later, she was working in a surgical ward when she heard another call. This one came over the radio. It was about the need for nurses to serve in World War II. So, Marcella enlisted and joined the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

After training, she received orders to join the 76th General Hospital unit in England, and then she was deployed to France. In the aftermath of D-Day, 1st Lieutenant Ryan cared for the soldiers wounded on Omaha Beach. She later served on the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge and remembers the continual blasts of German buzz bombs as she worked.

She recalls hearing that distinct terrifying buzzing sound night and day, night and day.

After the war, Marcella Ryan married Navy vet Gilbert LeBeau. They had eight children. And yet, even then, she continued to serve. Long after receiving military honors and being awarded the French Legion of Honor, she continued to work as a nurse back in South Dakota.

She did so for 31 years, until her retirement.

Marcella Ryan LeBeau is 101 years old. Her story is not one-off. It's part of a long tradition of Native American military service that goes back to the foundation of this republic.

Look no further than her own family. As she told NPR today: "My ancestors were warriors, Rain-in-the-Face, who fought in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, or Greasy Grass That they called it. My father was a Spanish American War veteran. My brother, oldest brother, was a veteran. All down the line."

Many Native Americans served this country before they were considered citizens or had the right to vote. They did so despite the fact that the United States had signed and broken, nullified or changed all of its treaties with Native American tribes.

But, despite a painful history of violence and marginalization, Native Americans have the highest record of military service per capita compared to other ethnic groups. And that's part of what makes this next piece of news so important.

Today, just blocks from the nation's Capitol, a National Native American Veterans Memorial was unveiled by the Smithsonian. The design is a steel ring atop a stone drum surrounded by steel lances, where veterans and others can tie cloths for prayers. The seals of the five branches of the armed forces are embedded in a wall nearby.

For many veterans, like 1st Lieutenant Marcella Ryan LeBeau, it is the hard-fought recognition of generations of service, service that has continued all down the line.

Thank you.

That does it for us. We will see you again tomorrow.

END

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