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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, November 16, 2020

Guests: Peter Hotez, Kris Alexander, Dana Nessel, Kristen Clarke, Jared Bernstein


Georgia's Republican secretary of state is alleging that fellow Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham, are pressuring him to call into question legally cast votes in an effort to reverse President Trump's loss in that state. President-elect Joe Biden puts out his plans of how to get this country out of dire economic straits that it's in right now. According to "The Times", President Donald Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran's main nuclear site in the coming weeks.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Absolutely right. John Podesta, thank you so much for making your time available to us.

That is ALL IN on this Monday night.

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

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Have yourself an excellent evening.

And thanks to you at home for joining us at home this hour. Rachel is still quarantining after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19 but she is doing fine and will be back as soon as possible.

And we have a lot to get to on this Monday. But first, I want you to go back a couple of years with me just for a moment. Let's go back to March of 2018. There was this super weird moment, and it involved Donald Trump's legal representation. The president had already had a heck of a hard time securing legal representation for the Mueller investigation. At least a dozen top-flight attorneys had turned him down, which is unusual for a president of the United States.

But that is kind of what happens when you have a well-earned reputation for ignoring legal advice and not paying your legal bills. But in March 2018, president Trump decided he wanted this lawyer, who he liked to watch on Fox News, Joe DiGenova, who had been peddling conspiracy theories in right-wing media since the Clinton administration.

Joe DiGenova told FOX News that Trump had been framed by the Justice Department and the FBI. Now, that was what Donald Trump wanted to hear. And so, Trump hired.

Now, to be clear, Trump had never met him. He didn't clear it with his existing legal team. He didn't even tell them. He just announced that this Fox News commentator was his new lawyer.

His actual lawyer, by the way, in the Mueller probe, one of the few quasi respectable attorneys Trump had managed to retain, quit over the move. And then things went south.

When President Trump finally met this new guy, turns out he didn't like him. When Joe DiGenova and his wife and legal partner, Victoria Toensing, were finally invited to the White House to meet the president for the first time, "Politico" reported that, quote, the couple looked disheveled when they came to meet with the president, which helped convince the president that they weren't the right fit, end quote.

"The New York Times" was slightly more delicate about it, saying that once the president finally met Mr. DiGenova and his wife, the president, quote, did not believe he had personal chemistry with them.

"The Washington Post" had the saddest, most unvarnished take on it. The president wanted DiGenova to be on his legal team even though he didn't know him because the president enjoyed Mr. DiGenova's TV appearances. However, once he announced he hired him and brought him to the White House to meet him, quote, the president was less impressed with Mr. DiGenova than he had been while watching him on television. Ouch.

Donald Trump had been turned down by top lawyer after top lawyer. You're kind of scraping the bottom of the barrel when you land on a Fox News commentator to be your representation in one of the most serious investigations into a president in modern times. But even for Donald Trump, Joe DiGenova turned out to be a little underwhelming.

But now as Donald Trump attempts to fight the last great legal battle of his presidency, as he files case after case in state after state trying to find some way to overturn his loss in the presidential election, and as major law firms abandon the president in case after case because it sullies their reputation just to be involved, this weekend, Donald Trump announced his new legal dream team that is going to overturn this election for him -- Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing.

I mean I guess at this point Donald Trump is feeling like he needs all the help he can get, disheveled or not. And this team is newly under the leadership of Rudy Giuliani, last seen spouting conspiracy theories outside the Philadelphia Four Seasons Total Landscaping, next to the crematorium and adult bookstore.

Another lawyer on this dream team is Sidney Powell, who has been defending Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn in court by arguing that he was the victim of a deep state conspiracy. Powell told Fox News this weekend that Donald Trump is also the victim of a vast conspiracy, that, in fact, Donald Trump won this election by millions of votes. She said, quote, we have so much evidence, I feel like it's coming in through a fire hose, which is odd because the Trump legal team's filings so far has been marked by their total lack of any evidence at all.

On Friday alone, nine Trump cases in three states were either thrown out or dropped. Over the weekend, the Trump campaign scrapped most of its major lawsuit in Pennsylvania, removing the bulk of the allegations.

Today, four more cases in four states were dropped. Even the president's Twitter feed seems to be having some trouble percent veering. Yesterday he tweeted in all caps, "I won the election." Today, not even all caps. Someone's a little low energy.

So the president's legal strategy is not going well. If he had hoped to overturn the results of the election through golfing, tweeting, and Fox News lawyers, those hopes are dimming. But that does not mean he cannot do real damage on his way out the door.

He's still the president. He's still not allowing any kind of transition process to take place. Today, Joe Biden said he thinks Trump's refusal is, quote, more embarrassing for the country than debilitating for my ability to get started.

But answering a question from my colleague, NBC News' Geoff Bennett, Biden pointed out the one area in which the stalled transition could have devastating consequences.


GEOFF BENNETT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You spoke about the need to access the outgoing administration's COVID vaccine distribution plans. What do you see as the biggest threat to your transition right now given President Trump's unprecedented attempt to obstruct and delay a smooth transfer of power?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: More people may die if we don't coordinate.

Look, as my chief of staff, Ron Klain, would say, who handled Ebola, a vaccine is important. It's of little use until you're vaccinated.

So how do we get the vaccine -- how do we get over 300 million Americans vaccinated? What's the game plan? It's a huge, huge, huge undertaking. If we have to wait until January 20th to start that planning, it puts us behind over a month, month and a half.

And so, it's important that it be done, that there be coordination now, now or as rapidly as we can get that done.


VELSHI: President-elect Joe Biden today warning that if his transition team is locked out of the Trump administration's COVID vaccine planning, the lack of coordination could cause more deaths.

And the United States is already staring down an extremely grim next few months in this pandemic. The U.S. has now surpassed 11 million COVID infections with 1 million new infections in just the last week, a million.

More than a dozen states broke daily records of cases on Saturday alone. Consider the situation in the Dakotas. Here's the lead from "USA Today" this weekend. South Dakota welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to a massive motorcycle rally this summer, declined to cancel the state fair, and still doesn't require masks. Now, its hospitals are filling up, and the state's COVID-19 death rate is among the worst in the world.

The situation is similarly dire in North Dakota. One epidemiologist describes the rate of infection and deaths per capita in the Dakota as what he would expect to see in a war torn nation, not here.

Quote, how could we allow this to happen in the United States? This is unacceptable by any standards. In Wisconsin, the seven-day rolling average of new cases is over 6,000, 1,000 more cases per day than New York city had at the peak of its crisis in April. And New York City has 2.5 million more people than the entire state of Wisconsin. Florida added more than 10,000 new infections yesterday, the biggest single-day jump since July.

In El Paso, Texas, the morgue is so overwhelmed with bodies, inmates are being brought in from the county's detention center to help. And all over the country, hospitals are nearing the breaking point.


DR. NAILA SHEEREN, INTERNAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: The worst thing ever anyone can experience.

REPORTER: The wailing sirens during New York's coronavirus peak still ring in Naila Sheeren's head.

SHEEREN: We heard the sirens, ambulances after ambulances, and I'm starting to hear that in Iowa too now.

REPORTER: She and her husband now live in Cedar Rapids where she says they are feeling deja vu from New York city in April.

SHEEREN: What we were facing back then, at least one death per hour in every hospital, that's what we're seeing in Iowa now.

REPORTER: As Iowa climbs the ladder of the nation's worst COVID-19 hot spots, health care workers are hitting their breaking point.

SHEEREN: This pandemic has done them physical and emotional damage or given them that fatigue that I can't even describe.

REPORTER: Fatigue only being half of the problem.

SHEEREN: A level of depression that you can't really describe.

REPORTER: Yesterday the Polk County health department warned of shortages, saying, quote, staffing is one of the biggest challenges facing Polk County hospitals. We are seeing an increasing number of medical staff out with COVID-19 or isolating at home, and because of this, adequate hospital and clinic staffing remains an issue for our community.

SHEEREN: It's just not going to be enough. We just don't have the capacity soon enough. We're not going to have the capacity to support the amount of illness we're going to see.


VELSHI: Monica Madden (ph) reporting there for our affiliate WHO TV in Des Moines. That's Iowa. But the situation is much the same in state after state, especially in the Midwest and the Plains, where health workers talk about a crisis on the scale of what New York City experienced in April. But now, it's just less visible because it's spread out over larger states with lower populations.

North Dakota has finally issued a mask mandate. Chicago begins a 30-day stay-at-home order today. Washington and Illinois have closed indoor dining. Michigan is partly shutting down restaurants, bars, and schools. California, the governor says he's pulling the, quote, emergency brake, reinstating strict rules that will force most indoor businesses to scale down or close.

But in the midst of all this is the good news you've heard about. The drugmaker Moderna announcing today that its COVID vaccine was 94.5 percent effective according to early data from its clinical trial, a rate of effectiveness that seemed to shock even the scientists at Moderna.

This comes after Pfizer last week announced preliminary results from a trial of its vaccine showing it to be over 90 percent effective.

This is all just incredibly heartening news, especially at such a dark moment in the pandemic. But a lot of challenges lie ahead. If these vaccines are as good as they appear to be, the next questions are, how do we get everybody vaccinated? How soon can we do it? How much will it take?

Joining me now is someone I've been relying on since the beginning of this pandemic, somebody who was warning us about the dangers of it back in the early days, Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He's the co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. He is an expert, more than many of us are, on things like COVID.

Dr. Hotez, good to see you again.

I'm a little dismayed that you and I are still talking. I think it's about nine months since the first time, but at least we have some news. We've got these vaccines. They have some logistical challenges to them. One needs to be kept really, really cold. The other one just needs to be kept really cold, and they have to be manufactured and get all over the country.

What's your take on what these vaccines, how effective they are, and how quickly most Americans will get them?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, TEXAS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT CO-DIRECTOR: So, Ali, it's great to see you again even though it's under such horrible circumstances. Look, we've got now good news on two vaccines. I think there's two other vaccines we're going to hear about soon from AstraZeneca-Oxford as well as J&J. These are adenovirus vaccines.

In all, I think we'll see at least six or seven vaccines rolled out through Operation Warp Speed in the U.S., as well as another equal number globally including ours. Now, we announced today that we're doing clinical trials across India for our low-cost global health COVID-19 vaccine. So, they all work by targeting the spiked protein of the virus.

So I'm pretty confident that we're going to be in good shape by the spring. We will have a lot of logistical issues moving forward in the United States. I think the big picture is I think we can do it. Remember, every year we do this dance where we roll out 100 million vaccines for influenza, and during August, September, October.

So, it's not that much of a stretch to think that we could do this. There are some complexities with the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine. They require frozen storage. The Pfizer one requires minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, so that's going to be a little more complicated. The Moderna one, according to the press release, is saying that they can keep it at 4 degrees refrigerated temperatures for up to a month. So that means we could potentially get vaccinated in the pharmacy or the supermarket.

But I think one of the first things to point out is we're getting all this information from press releases. Remember when --

VELSHI: This is -- I wanted to address this with you.

HOTEZ: They're not talking to you. They're not talking to me. They're talking to the shareholders.

VELSHI: Yeah. And so Isaac, our producer, who writes these beautiful words that I say, brought that up today to say, is there any concern? I mean these are obviously Pfizer's -- the biggest drug company in the world and really, you know, has a reputation to uphold by not misleading people about a virus.

But it is a little untraditional to get these things through press releases, see the stock market shoot up or down depending on what the news is, as opposed to peer-reviewed studies and the way we normally learn about vaccines and therapeutics.

HOTEZ: Yeah. You know, Operation Warp Speed, I think, has a lot of scientific rigor. I think the clinical trials are being handled with a lot of integrity. The one flaw throughout the year has been that there has been no communication strategy. They've allowed the pharma CEOs to lead the communications and there's been misstep after misstep. So that is unfortunate.

Look, we have to have the scientific community have access to the data and hopefully that will happen as we move into December, and then when the FDA reviews the data prior to releasing an emergency use authorization, I've had a number of conversations with leadership of FDA. I think they have a pretty good handle on it, so that good vaccines will be released to the public starting in January.

And so the message is that life, I'm fairly confident life will get much better for most Americans as we move into January, February, and into March as we move towards fully vaccinating the population of the U.S. with those five or six vaccines. That's the good news.

The bad news is we are going through a humanitarian catastrophe right now because the governors of many states, without any guidance from the federal government, they're totally on their own, are allowing massive surges in ICUs. We learned from New York in March and April. We learned from southern Europe and Spain and Italy how the mortality really goes from this to this as you allow the surges on the ICUs.

So until we can get some guidance from the federal government to control that surge on the ICUs, we are going to move from now until February to 150,000 new deaths, new loss of American lives, and none of those lives -- none of those lives have to be lost, and that's what's breaking my heart.

VELSHI: None of them need to be lost.

Dr. Hotez, thank you for all the time and energy you have put into not just letting us understand this but the actual work you've done in the vaccine world.

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

And for those of you who don't really know what to believe about these things, follow him on social media. His writing is what you need to believe.

I want to turn now to Lieutenant Colonel Kris Alexander, who recently retired from the United States Army. He writes about the challenges of executing a mass vaccination campaign in an article in "The Daily Beast" today.

It was entitled "I was a military COVID planner: The vaccine rollout is going to be a nightmare."

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander, thank you for making time to be here tonight. I read with great interest your article about the fact that you actually know what's going to go into this distribution. It probably will need federal government help like maybe the Army Corps of Engineers or FEMA. This is not just a matter of putting vaccines into, you know, a courier package and having them sent out to pharmacies.

LT. COL. KRIS ALEXANDER, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FORMER NORTHCOM COVID CRISIS PLANNER: Yeah. It's -- like I said in my article, it's going to take flawless execution between, you know, the local, state, and federal government to roll out this vaccine to every corner of America, you know, especially the isolated, rural areas.

We had some great news today with the Moderna vaccine that it looks like the logistical requirements will be a little lighter. But like the doctor said before me, that's a press really. It remains to be seen what the logistical requirements are for that. And certainly with the Pfizer vaccine, ultra cold storage could present a problem to rural America. Those freezers typically aren't available, so it's going to be tough.

VELSHI: So spell that out for us because in your article, you discussed a county in Texas, fairly remote county that is very far from a major center, doesn't have hospitals. I think the county you talked about may not even have a doctor.

ALEXANDER: Yeah. I think it has two nurse practitioners who are responsible for covering a county of 3,000 people in a small clinic, and actually when we were doing some fact-checking, we called and, you know, they were very emphatic that they're going to take care of their people. But, you know, they didn't have a lot. Underfunded, understaffed, and very isolated, you know. Several hundred miles from the state capital, you know.

A lot of the people in the county, if they're going to go see a doctor, have to drive either into Oklahoma or to another county nearby in Texas just to see a primary care doctor. If they need to go to the hospital, they have to drive even further.

So, you know, those are the people -- I grew up in small town Texas. I grew up in a little town in south Texas, and we've seen how badly devastated South Texas has been, you know, so small towns all across America are in bad shape, and it's going to -- it's not done until we reach every single one of them.

VELSHI: So, look, I have a great deal of faith in the fact that the United States Army, the United States military, the National Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers, they can build structures. They can do that stuff.

But I think your larger point was not that we're not capable of it, but it's going to need to be flawless and it's going to need leadership, not something we have seen all that much of in the last nine months when it comes to COVID.

ALEXANDER: No. And we've been seeing a lot of mixed messages about the military's role as well. Obviously, Warp Speed has been a success, right? Or it's looking like it's going to be a success. We've heard that the military is going to come, but, you know, the military has some other daunting challenges ahead of it. It has to take care of itself.

It has to ship the vaccine to a globally distributed force, all their families and all the people who get treated in military treatment facilities. And, you know, that is going to be challenge. And, you know, and then there's been mixed messages out of the Pentagon as to, you know, whether it's a supporting role and whether it's a lead role. And frankly I don't think anybody really knows.

And so -- and then again, I mean, the military is not an infinite resource. You know, it can't -- it doesn't have the people. It doesn't have the equipment. It doesn't have the infrastructure to replicate what local health departments to, to replicate what state government does. It's just not designed that way.

VELSHI: Well, thank you for shedding light on this because at least we're now at a point where we can start thinking about distribution struggles because there might actually be something to distribute. But it will be serious.

Recently retired United States Army Lieutenant Kris Alexander, thank you for your time tonight. Thank you for your great article.

ALEXANDER: Thank you.

VELSHI: All right. You think once a COVID denying person actually got the virus, they'd stop denying it exists. Well, it turns out that may not always be the case.

Stay with us.


VELSHI: A dispatch this weekend from South Dakota from an ER nurse named Jodi.

Quote: I have a night off from the hospital. As I'm on my couch with my dog, I can't even think of the COVID patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who still don't believe the virus is real.

All while gasping for breath, they tell you there must be another reason they are sick. They call you names and ask you why you have to wear all that stuff because they don't have COVID because it's not real.

These people really think this isn't going to happen to them, and then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated.

The president has spent the better part of the year telling the country that COVID was no more serious than the flu, that it would all go away, would just suddenly disappear, that Democrats were making the whole thing up to ruin his presidency, and the consequences of that rhetoric, of politicizing a deadly disease, the consequences are so severe that right now there are people believing the whole thing a hoax, while they are dying of COVID.

Right now, the pandemic is not just a public health emergency. It's one he has super charged with partisan politics.

And perhaps nowhere has that been more pronounced than in Michigan. Michigan is in dire straits at the moment. Coronavirus is spreading at a rate nearly four times higher than it was back in April. The state set a new record on Friday, more than 9,000 new infections in a single day. Hospitalizations are up more than 100 percent in the last two weeks.

Last night the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, announced a sweeping new list of COVID restrictions to try to get the virus back under control. Indoor dining will be shut down. All group exercises must be canceled. In-person learning for high school and college is suspended.

Those measures will help save lives, but they are drastic, and they are economically devastating. It's an impossible decision for any governor to make but especially this particular governor, who was the target of a kidnapping plot organized by a group of militia men who were so angry about Whitmer's COVID restrictions in Michigan that they were plotting to kidnap and possibly kill her over it.

Those men were ultimately arrested by the FBI. Their terror plot against the Michigan governor was thwarted. But thanks to the continued rhetoric from the president, the anger over these kinds of COVID restrictions has not gone away, which is why it was so alarming to see one of the president's COVID-denying, herd immunity-supporting advisers tweet this about the governor of Michigan and her new COVID restrictions.

Quote: The only way this stops is if people rise up. You get what you accept. Hashtag #freedommatters. Hashtag #stepup.

That's a totally bonkers and dangerous thing to read from the president's COVID adviser for all the obvious reasons that you don't need me to waste your time with. But to tell the president's supporters to rise up against the governor of Michigan, who herself has been the direct target of a murder plot because of her COVID policies, that's a whole other kind of danger entirely.

The attorney general of Michigan responded with this. Quote: The statement is disappointing, irresponsible, and the reason why the United States finds itself in such desperate circumstances regarding COVID-19. I look forward to a new federal administration that works cooperatively with our state government to protect Michigan residents.

Joining us now is the attorney general of Michigan, Dana Nessel.

Ms. Nessel, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

It's kind of hard to believe. I mean, the last time you and I talked, we were talking about this plot to kidnap and possibly harm the governor of Michigan over COVID restrictions, and now, Scott atlas, who works for the president, tweeted something out that looks like a call to arms. It looks like something that feels like a veiled threat.

DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yeah. I feel like we've seen this movie before, you know? And it is just so predictable what we see out of the Trump administration, whether it's from him personally or from one of his advisers.

They are so much more hurtful than they are helpful to us in this state, and I guess my parting wish to the Trump administration is this. Please stop politicizing this virus. You are literally killing us. You're literally killing us. You're putting our public officials that are trying to do the best they can into danger and into harm's way. And what they're doing is they're creating an atmosphere of noncompliance because when they hear one thing from the state government and something completely the opposite from their federal government, people don't know what to do, and so they don't comply with these very important life-saving orders.

VELSHI: Stanford University, where Scott Atlas is from, has now put out a statement distancing themselves from him, not only him but the idea that he expresses views that are not in keeping an academic institution.

He tweeted back. He said, hey, I was never talking at all about violence. People vote. People peacefully protest. Never would I endorse or incite violence. Never.

The vote's over for the moment. You have seen -- not only have you seen protests in Michigan about masks and restrictions, you've seen heavily armed protests about this. This was a big discussion in the election about whether armed people can show up at voting centers so that they don't intimidate people.

At this point, how are these restrictions going over in Michigan because you have got a group of people who are objecting to them and are being encouraged by the president and his people?

NESSEL: Well, here's the thing. I truly believe if we had a federal government that stood behind our governor, stood behind our director of Health and Human Services, and said, hey, these are important orders, and people need to abide by them, and if we all work together, whether you're Republican, Democratic, independent, what have you, we can all help stop the spread of COVID.

But instead, that's not what happens. We hear these adverse remarks coming from the Trump administration and the state Republicans here follow that. Law enforcement comes out and says, we're not going to enforce these orders, and then the general public just disregards them, and they're not helpful.

So, I mean, I just can't wait until we have a federal administration that works together with our state government, and not just our state, but, of course, states all across America in supporting what we have to do to make sure that we rid ourselves of this horrible virus before it kills, you know, thousands and thousands of more people. I'm grateful that, of course, you know, we have these vaccines on the way.

But until then, we really need to work together, and these kinds of remarks, they're not just unhelpful, but they're dangerous, and they're reckless.

VELSHI: As you recall, I was in Michigan the weekend right after those threats occurred. I didn't run into people -- even the people who were voting for Donald Trump, they had just heard about this. They thought it was disgusting. They thought the attempt on kidnapping the governor was disgusting. They thought that the ability to protest wearing a mask, whatever the case is, has its lines.

Do you have problems with enforcements of existing restrictions in Michigan as a result of this kind of stuff?

NESSEL: Absolutely we do. I mean just look at the comments of our state legislators today. We had a number of Republicans who called for Governor Whitmer to be impeached because of that. I mean what kind of message does that send?

So we have widespread noncompliance around the state specifically because of the lack of support that we get federally, and it creates this. And it's really unfortunate because, you know, we really could do something to bring down the rates of infection in this state, but we can't do it this way. It's not going to work if we're not all working together.

VELSHI: It is really remarkable the things that we have to talk about these days.

Attorney General Dana Nessel of Michigan, thank you again for your time tonight.

We have some late breaking news tonight. Georgia's Republican secretary of state is alleging that fellow Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham, are pressuring him to call into question legally cast votes in an effort to reverse President Trump's loss in that state. We're going to have more on that right after this break.


VELSHI: It was one week ago today that Georgia's two Republican senators called on their state's top election official, who is also a Republican, to resign his post, saying that he had, quote, failed to deliver honest and transparent elections. Their calls for Brad Raffensperger to step down came not with any evidence but in the wake of disappointing election results showing Trump losing Georgia and both senators failing to clear the 50 percent bar that was needed to avoid January runoffs for their Senate seats.

Now, at the time, Raffensperger called the allegations laughable. Of calls for him to resign, he said plainly, that is not going to happen.

But the pressure seems to have worked. Despite telling Georgia voters that there was no wide-scale fraud and that no investigations would change the results of the presidential contest last week, Raffensperger ordered a hand recount of all ballots in the state, which is a laborious task that has to be completed by midnight on Wednesday. It's 5 million ballots almost.

Now, tonight, we're learning new details of yet more pressure that was brought to bear on that Republican secretary of state, pressure from one of the president's top allies, the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lindsey Graham.

In an interview with "The Washington Post," Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger says he has come under increasing pressure in recent days from fellow Republicans, including Graham, to question the validity of legally cast absentee ballots. As "The Post" reports, quote, in their conversation, Graham questioned Raffensperger about the state's signature-matching law and whether political bias could have prompted poll workers to accept ballots with non-matching signatures.

And then there was this. According to Raffensperger, Graham also asked whether Raffensperger had the power to toss all mailed ballots in counties found to have higher rates of non-matching signatures. All mailed ballots.

The secretary of state said he was stunned that graham appeared to suggest that he find a way to toss legally cast ballots. Quote: It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road.

Tonight, Graham is flatly denying the allegation, telling reporters that is not what happened.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think that's just ridiculous. If he feels threatened by that conversation, he's got a problem. I actually thought it was a good conversation.

REPORTER: He suggested, according to "The Washington Post," that he was surprised when you asked him if he has any power to throw out all mail-in ballots.

GRAHAM: I never -- no, I never said that. I said, do you have power as secretary of state to require bipartisan verification of the signature because right now they don't.


VELSHI: So that's Lindsey Graham's side of the story. But tonight, the secretary of state is pushing back saying, no, that's pretty much what happened.

Here he was on CNN.


BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, he asked if the ballots could be matched back to the voters, and I got the sense it implied that then you could throw those out. You would look at the counties with the highest frequent error of signatures. So that's the impression that I got.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I just want to be clear on this, Mr. Secretary. You say Senator Graham wanted you to find ways to get rid of legally cast ballots because CNN asked him about these allegations. He denied them. He says that's ridiculous. His words, that's ridiculous.

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, it's just an implication that look hard and see how many ballots you can throw out.


VELSHI: Look hard and see how many ballots you can throw out.

Naturally, the news is leading many to question whether Graham's allegations or his actions were improper or maybe even illegal. As the prominent lawyer Kristen Clarke tweeted: Attention Attorney General Barr, still searching for evidence of attempts to interfere with the election? Appears that Senator Lindsey Graham should be investigated immediately.

Joining us now is Kristen Clarke. She's the president and exclusive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Kristen, good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

What's your sense of what Lindsey Graham did if Raffensperger's allegations are correct? Is it improper? Is it unethical? Is it illegal? Where does it lie to you?

KRISTEN CLARKE, PRESIDENT & EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LAWYERS COMMITTEE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS UNDER LAW: We know that these are just allegations. But what I can tell you is that they are deeply disturbing, incredibly troubling that the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, somebody who handles incredibly important matters including the vetting and nominations of federal judges -- it is deeply troubling to have a state official allege that a member of the United States Senate took the position that this state official should throw out ballots cast by eligible voters.

I don't think that we should turn a blind eye to this. We should see the Senate open an ethics inquiry to determine whether or not these allegations are true. And Attorney General Barr has been on a fishing expedition to uncover evidence of things that went wrong with this election. So here you go. Here is something that the Justice Department should indeed open an inquiry into to understand whether or not this was a United States senator pressuring, instructing, or somehow trying to coax a state official into taking action that would strip eligible voters of their voice after the fact in this election. Deeply troubling allegations.

VELSHI: Which is kind of -- it's ironic in particular in Georgia where so much effort has been made to give eligible voters their franchise, to allow them to come out.

But there have been in excess of 24 or 25 court cases filed by either the Trump campaign or other Republican entities. Fifteen of them, I think, or more have been just tossed out, withdrawn, declined, denied, things like that. About nine of them have been pulled back, some of them in the last few days by the plaintiffs themselves.

So, in fact, in all of these fishing expeditions that Barr is on to find evidence of voter fraud, zero has been found so far. So it's kind of ironic that Lindsey Graham is the first person we've actually heard of alleged by a secretary of state to be talking about throwing out or getting rid of legally cast ballots.

CLARKE: That's exactly right. There is quite a losing streak in the lawsuits that have been filed in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan. We just had a state court of appeals this evening issuing an order rejecting yet another one of the state cases. We know that lawyers are dropping off of these cases left and right. There are a number of lawyers that dropped off of one of the pending federal lawsuits in Pennsylvania.

But I think, you know, here's what's going to happen at the end of the day. This is going to be a story in which we saw President Trump and his allies filing countless baseless, frivolous lawsuits to change the outcome of an election after the fact. That all failed.

And I think at the end of the day, the story is up, the story is over. We've been hearing this false narrative about massive vote fraud for years now, and here was their chance to prove it. And in case after case after case, they were unable to proffer any evidence or substantial proof that fraud exists in our country.


CLARKE: So I think that we will finally put that false narrative to rest.

VELSHI: There is a hotline, a toll free hotline you could call if you had fraud. They disconnected that. There was an official in Texas who offered a $1 million bounty if someone had examples. They couldn't get that either.

Voter fraud is just kind of not a big thing in this country at all. Kristen Clarke, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us. Kristen Clarke is the president and the executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

All right. Still ahead tonight, one of Joe Biden's top economic advisers joins us as the president-elect plans to get -- puts out his plans of how to get this country out of a dire economic straits that we're in right now.

We'll be right back with that.


VELSHI: I want to show you two lines that will tell you everything you need to know about the American economy right now. The first is this one. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which shot up 470 points today as the news about Moderna's potential COVID vaccine spurred a bout of somewhat irrational exuberance among the nation's investor class.

The second line I need to show you isn't on a graph. It's a line of thousands of cars all waiting to receive food from a food bank in Dallas metro area.

Here's the report from a local CBS station.


REPORTER: From the ground, you could see cars lined up everywhere in Fair Park. You take a wider view from the air, the length of the line was as far as the eye could see, backed up on to the freeway

CYNTHIA CULTER, LOCAL RESIDENT: I haven't been working since December. Can't find a job. They cut off our unemployment. It's a big deal, a real big deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a real blessing for us to be able to get this.


VELSHI: This crisis has not only decimated this economy over the past several months, it's exacerbated one of America's biggest economic problems, the growing divide between the stock owning and wage working classes.

Today, the president-elect also made a direct case for Congress to take decisive action before he takes office.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a reason why the federal government is able to run a deficit, because the states must -- must balance their budgets. And they're in real trouble. You're going to see hundreds of thousands of police officers, firefighters, first responders, mental health clinics, you're going to see them going out of business.

Right now, Congress should come together and pass a COVID relief package like the HEROES Act that the House passed six months ago.


VELSHI: All right. Joining us now is someone who knows a lot about how Joe Biden approaches the economy. Jared Bernstein is the former chief economist to then Vice President Biden, an advisor to the Biden campaign, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and he was the guy who was in charge of helping to figure out the stimulus bill from the last time in 2009.

Jared, good to see you again. You know, a gentleman e-mailed me this weekend and told me he was a performer, he'd been out of work since the beginning of COVID, he takes care of his mom, he's immuno-suppressed. His unemployment ran out. The money he got the government ran.

They cut his grocery bill in half. Now, they're cutting it again. They're going down to a meal a day for him and his mother.

Meanwhile, around the country, Donald Trump is telling everybody how great this economy is because of the stock market. I don't know how many times you and I discussed this over the last 10 years or so.

There is a real difference between the investors class and what people like those people in their cars in Dallas are feeling right now.

JARED BERNSTEIN, FORMER CHIEF ECONOMIST TO VP BIDEN: Yeah. I thought the way you set that up with those two lines is precisely what's going on at the heart of this K-shaped recovery as we call it, with one leg going up and another leg going down.

You know, if you look at the value of the stock market that's held by the bottom half of all households, that's over 60 million households, it's less than 1 percent. About 88 percent of the value is held by the top 10 percent. So when you are citing the stock market as a metric about how Americans are doing, you are essentially leaving behind almost the bottom 90 percent and surely the bottom half of households.

Now, the story you just told about that guy, as well as the person who is in the car that you interviewed there, are both cases where unemployment insurance benefits have expired. Now, there are still about 20 million people getting unemployment insurance claims, but those -- many of those claims will expire by the end of December unless Congress acts with precisely the urgency that the president-elect was urging today.

And I can't underscore that point enough. You know, not only did the president elect and vice president-elect make that point, Ron Klain, who is the incoming chief of staff said the same thing on the talk shows over the weekend. There are some issues, some policies that the Biden administration certainly wants to wait to work on until they're in residence in the White House, but this is not one of them. This needs to happen now, as the president-elect said today.

VELSHI: Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri says there's very little appetite in the Republican-controlled Senate for a bill like this. What -- we don't have much time. Handicap it for me.

BERNSTEIN: Let me say this to anyone who has that view. You may not have that, quote, appetite. There's a lot of starving people out there who have precisely that appetite and you need to think a lot more about them.

VELSHI: We got lots of interviews, lots of emails, lots of tape of people telling us that they can't afford their groceries. That needs to be the priority around here. The working poor, the people who can't afford their groceries, they don't know where their next meal is coming from.

Jared, thanks for your time.

Jared Bernstein is the former chief economist for Vice President Biden. We appreciate you joining us.

We're getting new reporting tonight out of the White House about military action the president may want to take before he leaves.

I'll have that story next.


VELSHI: Before we go, I just want to draw your attention to a down what -- downright scary piece of reporting that posted in "The New York Times" just a short time ago. It involves possible military action by the president during his final days in office. According to "The Times", President Donald Trump asked senior advisers in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday whether he had options to take action against Iran's main nuclear site in the coming weeks.

The meeting occurred a day after international inspectors reported a significant increase in the country's stockpile of nuclear material. "The Times" adds that a range of senior advisers dissuaded the president for moving ahead with a military strike, warning that a strike against Iran's facilities could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last week's of Mr. President's presidency.

Now, the report is, of course, all the more unnerving when you consider the fact that the president has just fired his defense secretary and a slew of other top Pentagon aides, instead replacing them with staunch loyalists. That move has national security officials on edge, expressing concerns, quote, that the president might initiate operations, whether overt or secret against Iran or other adversaries at the end of his term.

There's no doubt there have been concerns about a peaceful transfer of power between the two administrations, but increasingly, there are concerns about how the president could upend relations on the world stage in the waning days of his presidency. Food for thought.

That does it for us tonight. We'll see you again tomorrow.

It's time now for "THE LAST WORD" with my friend Lawrence O'Donnell.

Good evening, Lawrence.


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