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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, November 17, 2020

Guests: Garlin Gilchrist, Jocelyn Benson, Ricardo Samaniego, Rick Bright


President Trump fired Chris Krebs, the DHS official overseeing election cyber security. The Wayne County board of canvassers has decided to vote unanimously to certify the results in Wayne County, which is where Detroit is, and it is the most populous part of Michigan and where Joe Biden won so massively by a difference of about 323,000 votes. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is ALL IN on this Tuesday night.

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

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you.

And thank you to you at home for joining us this hour.

Rachel is still quarantining after a close contact tested positive for COVID-19. She is fine and she will be back as soon as possible.

We're going to start with news that's just broken in the last couple of hours, but I want to give you a little context here. First, as you know, President Trump has so far spent his lame duck period doing three things -- tweeting, golfing and firing people.

The most high profile firings have been at the Pentagon where the president has installed loyalists in several top jobs in the days since he lost the election. But last week, we noted on this show that the president appeared to have started cleaning out the government's top cyber security officials as well. The Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, certainly not a household name but throughout 2020, it was at the center of preventing foreign interference in the election, both by preventing cyberattacks, but also by pushing back on deliberate Internet disinformation about the election.

Last week, "Reuters" reported that the assistance director of cybersecurity at CISA was forced to design and the widely respected head of the agency, Chris Krebs, was telling associates that he also expected to be fired. Why? Because Mr. Krebs, quote, drew the ire of the Trump White House over a website by CISA dubbed Rumor Control, which debunks misinformation about the election. White House officials have asked content to be edited or removed, which pushed back against numerous false claims about the election, including that Democrats are behind a mass election fraud scheme.

In fact that very day, the day Krebs started telling people his days were likely numbered, he and CISA had joined several other government agencies in a celebratory statement announcing that, quote, the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.

Now, it turns out Chris Krebs was entirely correct. That statement, a statement you would think any American president would be thrilled to see, proud to see, has led to Chris Krebs losing his job tonight.

Donald Trump fired Chris Krebs this evening by tweet. How else? And Trump was very clear about the reason.

Quote: The recent statement by Chris Krebs on the security of the 2020 election was highly inaccurate, in that there were massive improprieties and fraud, including dead people voting, poll watchers not allowed in polling locations, glitches in the voting machines which changed votes from Trump to Biden, late voting and many more. Therefore, effectively immediately, Chris Krebs has been terminated as director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

Now, a source with knowledge of the firing tells NBC News tonight that Chris Krebs learned of his firing from those tweets. And just to take a moment to wrap your head around the ludicrous position that Chris Krebs found himself in. His entire job was to make sure the 2020 election was secure and free of interference. By all accounts, he did his job remarkably well.

But then, because his boss didn't like the how the election turned out, Chris Krebs was expected to do an immediate 180 and say, actually, I did my job terribly, the election was riddled with problems, and that's why it looks like my boss lost.

To his credit, Chris Krebs did not do that. He got fired instead.

"Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius writes tonight, quote: When the history books are written, a hero of this election will be Christopher Krebs, the head of CISA.

He posted regular rumor control warnings and malicious election claims and retweeted a caution against wild and baseless claims about voting machines, even if they are made by the president.

Krebs may have infuriated the White House but he spoke for a task force that included representatives of secretaries of state and state election directors in all 50 states. The people who administered the election. It's difficult to sabotage an election result in the United States, as President Trump and his supporters are discovering, end quote. Difficult, yes. Impossible?

Well, Trump and his supporters are trying to find that out. We don't know yet what, if any, practical effects Trump's firing of Krebs is going to have, installing a new cyber security chief after the election seems unlikely to do Trump much good at this point beyond giving him the thrill of revenge.

But Trump's continued insistence that the election was fraudulent, his willingness to fire a top official who dared contradict him on it, it gives encouragement and cover to his supporters who are trying to sabotage the election results in unpredictable and highly unsettling ways.

Take a look at what's happened in Michigan this evening, specifically in Wayne County, Michigan. Wayne County is the most populous county in the state. It includes Detroit, a city made up predominantly of Democrats, specifically African-American Democrats. Wayne County went heavily for Joe Biden in the presidential election. After all the votes were counted, Joe Biden won Wayne County by 37 points, by more than 322,000 votes.

Statewide though, the race was much closer. Joe Biden won the state of Michigan by just two points and change, a margin of about 148,000 votes, which predictably has made Wayne County a target of the president's crack legal team, because if you can throw out enough ballots in blue, blue Wayne County, you could depress Joe Biden's victory there, you could maybe make a dent in Joe Biden's statewide lead, big enough that it could flip the results in Donald Trump's favor, maybe.

That would of course only work if there were enough fraudulent ballots in Wayne County to throw away, and there's absolutely nothing to suggest that that is the case in Wayne County in Michigan or for that matter anywhere else in the country. But, boy, has the Trump campaign tried all the same.

The Trump campaign has filed four lawsuits in Michigan disputing the results in Wayne County, claiming everything from counting irregularities to illegal ballots, a real smorgasbord of bogus claims of voter fraud, specifically these lawsuits have tried to stop the certification of the results in Wayne County to delay Joe Biden's inevitable certified win of the state of Michigan.

Those lawsuits have all been tossed out. So, tonight, after making it through the legal obstacle course from the Trump side, the result in Wayne County were scheduled to be certified by the official board of canvassers is made up of four people, two Democrats and two Republicans. The certification happens when an up or down vote. It needs a majority to pass. Look what just happened.

Tonight, the Wayne County board of canvassers deadlocked on the vote to certify the election results. The vote was along party lines. The Democrats voted to certify. The Republicans voted against it.

Now, the consequences of this deadlock tonight at least appear to be logistical. The certification of the election in Michigan's largest county will now be delayed until November 23rd when a statewide board will take it up which means Joe Biden's official victory in Michigan will be pushed back another week.

But it is the backdrop of this news tonight that makes it dramatic because the president might be losing in the courts with his baseless claims of fraud. But in Wayne County, he is winning over Republican officials who have the power to hold the votes hostage, predominantly African-American votes hostage, all in the name of the president continuing to run his mouth on Twitter about his voter fraud fan fiction.

The head of the Michigan Republican Party issued this statement of congratulations tonight to the two Republican members of that board of canvassers who refused to certify the results. I am proud that enough evidence of irregularities and potential voter fraud was uncovered resulting in the Wayne County board of canvassers, refusing to certify their election results. This action will allow more time for us to get to the bottom of these deeply troubling irregularities, except that there was no evidence of widespread irregularity. There's no evidence of voter fraud, no evidence that has been uncovered and presented to the board of canvassers to justify slamming the brakes on democracy in Michigan tonight.

Those kind of conspiracies are getting thrown out of courtrooms left and right. Just today, you may have seen the headlines, Rudy Giuliani making a fool of himself in federal court as he carried water for the president's false claims of fraud in our election. It is true that their legal strategy is not working. They cannot and will not move this election an inch in the courts.

But that's not the only tool in their tool box. So eyes front. This is not over. The air is not quite out of that balloon just yet.

Joining us now from Detroit, Garlin Gilchrist, the lieutenant governor of Michigan.

Lieutenant Governor, thank you for being here, sir.

Your response to what has happened tonight, unpredictable on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, the Republicans on the board of canvassers just decided they're not certifying this thing.

LT. GOV. GARLIN GILCHRIST (D), MICHIGAN: Well, Ali, thank you for having me. And the truth is the president and Republicans have been telegraphing this move for months. They were going to refuse the results of the election and use everything at their disposal to try to delegitimize the voices and the votes of people here in Michigan and across the country.

And you are right. I don't know that it's accidental that the city of Detroit, where I live, where I vote with my family, the blackest city in the state and in the country, was the place they chose to target. Those Republican board of canvass members who decided not to vote for the certification specifically said that they were willing to certify everything except Detroit.

This has been targeted and this is something that is very troubling. But we expect that as this process moves to the state board of canvassers, that they will follow the law and do their job and carry out their responsibilities, certify these election results and to really just follow the will of the people of Michigan.

Joe Biden won Michigan by 140 plus thousand votes, 14 times the margin that Donald Trump won Michigan in 2016. The people have spoken, and it's time for these professionals -- or so-called professionals -- to do their job.

VELSHI: Lieutenant Governor, we wouldn't -- as much as they've been signaling this, we have been watching around the country particularly the example in Georgia where the Republican secretary of state has been very public about the pressure he's been getting from other Republicans to do things that are improper. You would think that's how it looks.

So, do you have any fears about what happens when it goes to state, when it goes to the next level that these shenanigans can get played out in a week?

GILCHRIST: Well, I wouldn't put anything past these really bad faith Republican actors. So, what we need to do is make sure we are keeping up the pressure and shining the light on the process on the professional who is need to do their job from the board of canvassers. And also recognizing that the people of the state of Wayne County have a right to be upset about this, have the right to outrage, that people in Wayne County and in Detroit who can see their election results undermined because these partisan actors chose to act in bad faith.

And so, I think you're going to see people really stepping up and really calling for the board of canvassers to do their job and follow the law and carry out their responsibilities. That is what they're here to do. This is an administrative action.

They do not have the power to overturn and throw out these votes because the truth is there is no evidence of any malfeasance. There is no evidence. The only people who have tried to cheat have been Republicans when they tried to sabotage the postal service, when they told people straight up not to vote or had robocallers in Michigan telling people to vote on the wrong day. All these actions were taken by people wanting to undermine voters. So, it just happened to continue even after Election Day.

VELSHI: You look at where the president's focusing his attention. Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta. You said it, right? These are -- these are heavily black cities that went overly for Joe Biden, typically go for Democrats. And the accusations are broad that people are gathering votes and they're harvesting votes and there's widespread cheating.

The implication, I don't know, is that African-Americans don't know how to vote. But it does seem to be where Donald Trump is focusing his attention even though these things keep getting kicked out of the courts.

GILCHRIST: I mean, again, this has been very targeted and very specific. The strategy here is to throw out the votes of people who the president has every -- you know, is not confident would ever vote for him. So, he does not think those votes are legitimate.

So, his allies are using the tools at their disposal to try to carry out, frankly, his vision. But that is not the vision of the American people. That is not the will of the people of Michigan, of the people of Detroit and Philadelphia and Milwaukee and Atlanta and all these cities that stepped up in record numbers and voted for a new president. We need to have people instead who are willing to respond to the will of the people, not try to undermine the will of the people. And that needs to happen at every level of government.

VELSHI: Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us this evening. We appreciate your time, sir.

GILCHRIST: Thank you for having me.

VELSHI: Let's turn now to the other development tonight. President Trump's firing of Chris Krebs, the DHS official overseeing chief of national security.

Joining us now is Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and the Defense Department, and an MSNBC national security analyst.

Jeremy, good to see you tonight. Thank you for being with us.


VELSHI: The Michigan part wasn't expected. This part was expected. Chris Krebs, we were expecting would lose his job.

And I have to say, Jeremy, if this happened in any other country, the way we would be reporting on it is that the president seeks to overturn the legitimate outcome of the election by ousting one of the key people who guaranteed that it was a safe election and free of foreign interference. It's remarkable that this would be happening in any democracy, let alone this one.

BASH: Yeah, this is a banana republic story line, Ali. Chris Krebs is a patriot. I know him and many people, Democrats, Republicans, independents, really came to respect him because he was one of the few Trump appointees who said I'm going to take my job seriously. I'm going to work with professionals to maintain the integrity of the election.

And the fact that Donald Trump lost the election and there was no fraud, there were no irregularities and in fact Chris Krebs and his teams did their job, of course, Donald Trump's going to fire him. But the firing of Chris Krebs does not make Donald Trump a truth teller.

In fact, the fraud that's happened on the election process is sitting in the Oval Office, Ali.

VELSHI: Well, look, you've really had a keen eye on this both from your perspective in defense and CIA. Game this out. What is this all meaning? If you look at the changes in the national security establishment, in the Pentagon, is this like that? Or is this just petty Donald Trump being Donald Trump, you said the wrong thing, you said the things I'm claiming are lies so you've got to go.

BASH: Very little practical impact for moving ahead of the federal agency. But I think it sends a broader signal. And, of course, when the United States tries to stand up for democracy and election integrity around the world, we often times point to our own process.

Well, it's going to be hard to do that in light of the fact that Donald Trump has fired Chris Krebs, who again, was speaking truth to power. He was merely telling the truth, and the truth hurts for Donald Trump. But the truth was that there was no election irregularity. There was no fraud.

And the other thing, Ali, is that Chris Krebs and his team at DHS worked hand in glove with General Nakasone, the commanding general of U.S. Cyber Command, and they went on the offense, and they pushed back against efforts by Russia and others to interfere, and this hour, it appears they did a good job in doing that. And hats off to the general and his team and to Chris Krebs and their teams.

But, of course, Donald Trump wants to say that if the votes went against him, it was a fraud. But the votes that went for him, it was election integrity. Well, it doesn't work that way in a democracy, Mr. President.

You do the math, and if you lose, you're out.

VELSHI: Interesting that there's people -- maybe Chris Krebs thought because the election was safely executed, he could do this. But he tweeted the other day, he said please don't retweet wild and baseless claims about voting claims even if they are made by the president. These fantasies have been debunked many times including DHS, CISA on this excellent site source, Rumor Control.

Rumor Control is the heart of this problem, right? The guy who was dealing with keeping the election safe from foreign interference or cyber interference had a website that actually was there to dispel rumors in direct contrast to the president who was fuelling these rumors for months on end and went into overdrive after the election.

So, at this point, they were headed for a collusion course. And it seems that the messages anybody headed for a collision course with the president of the United States calling this election fair, if the president could fire you, he will.

BASH: Yeah, I think, look, what happened in the election. Donald Trump was resoundingly defeated. But, of course, Trumpism is somehow alive and well. And the oxygen of Trumpism is disinformation and lies.

So, I think it's going to be a major task for professionals across our government. But frankly people all across our country to rise up and tell the truth about what happened in this election, to tell the truth about what's happening with respect to our country, with respect to coronavirus, with respect to all the grand challenges that we collectively face.

If we can't get a ground truth, a common understanding of facts, it's going to be very hard to solve the country's problems. So, Trumpism rages, but it rages on the back and the life blood of misinformation. Chris Krebs who was fired tonight, all he did was debunk the information to come together as a country to unify and solve common problems.

VELSHI: Jeremy, good to see you again, my friend. Thank you. Jeremy Bash is the former chief of staff at the CIA and the Defense Department. We appreciate your time tonight.

We will continue to stay on this Michigan decision, the vote that took place that was deadlocked because it is an unusual and unexpected development.

We continue to get our reporting out of Michigan to find out where this next leads.

Well, coronavirus cases continue to surge in every state in the country and into the highest offices in our capitol tonight.

We'll have more on that after the break. Stay with us.


VELSHI: We got some breaking news now. We are working to get independent confirmation on this and to get the lieutenant governor of Michigan who was just with me back on this.

But there is reporting coming out of Detroit right now that the Wayne County board of canvassers decisions to certify the election has been made. That they have, in fact, the four members of the Wayne County board of canvassers has decided to vote unanimously to certify the results in Wayne County, which is where Detroit is. It is the most populous part of Michigan. It is where Joe Biden won so massively by a difference of about 323,000 votes.

The issue here is that the board of canvassers is four people, two Republicans, two Democrats. The Republicans decided not to certify this, citing all sorts of widespread fraud and bad things that were happening. Now seems they've voted again. I'm working off of the reporting of other reporters right now. We are working to independently confirm this.

But Kathy Gray (ph) from the "New York Times" is reporting that the decision to certify the election came after three hours of voters loudly calling out the board for trying to disenfranchise Detroit voters. Detroit voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. They are all overwhelmingly black.

I'm just going to ask my executive producer Cory to let me know when the lieutenant governor available.

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist is back with us. He's lieutenant governor of Michigan.

I'll just continue to tell my viewers the story here, Lieutenant Governor. Another vote, this time unanimous from Wayne County board of canvassers to certify the results but also to direct Jocelyn Benson to do a comprehensive audit of the out of balance precincts.

Former state elections board director Chris Thomas says, I think the state board will do what the law requires him to do, and if any officer fails to perform their ministerial duty, they will be subject to a lawsuit.

Now, that tweet came before the news that they've revoted.

Lieutenant Governor, have you had a chance to get any news on this? Can you confirm this to be true?

GILCHRIST: Yes, Ali, I can confirm that the state board of canvassers has now voted to -- excuse me, the Wayne county board of canvassers has voted to certify the election results in Wayne County. And this to say, this is ridiculous. I mean, the fact that these partisan actors were willing to toy with democracy, to toy with the votes of the voters of Wayne County, and this really is ridiculous and it's shameful.

And I'm glad that now they have done the right thing, and frankly I think they did it in response to the people who rose up, to the people who spoke out and said this is not what our democracy is about, in Detroit and Wayne County in Michigan or America. And so, now the process will move forward and there's no problem calling for an audit. There has always been a process available in Michigan law to review these kinds of things after certification.

So, they should have done this in the first place. It shows out unserious they were about the democratic process. I'm thankful this is moving forward and we can put this behind us. We can work with now President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. We can move forward as a state and the nation.

VELSHI: The president has just tweeted, not having the new information we have, about the success in Michigan.

The Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has tweeted at the president that he is incorrect about this.

I have to say now that we have a moment to breathe here, Lieutenant Governor, this is the worrisome stuff that those of us that think we live in a democracy don't have to contend with. We think that the hard part is voting. In some parts of America, we make it awfully hard for people to vote. I've never understood why that is.

As you know, I'm from Canada, just south of where you are, where you are. I'm from Canada. We don't make it hard for people to vote this way.

Nobody thinks it's supposed to be two partisan yahoos on a county canvas board who can stop a presidential election.

GILCHRIST: Well, listen, you know, in my earlier days of my career, I was a community organizer. And we know that the work includes voting but does not end with voting. So, the work of always stepping up and making sure your voice is heard to the public officials who are accountable for running these public systems. And when they fail to do their jobs, when they do not carry out their responsibilities, it is our responsibility to speak up. And so, I'm glad that voters and people in Michigan did that. And I think that's part of what helped them reverse course.

The work of democracy is always going to require effort. We cannot treat it like it's not fragile because there is. There are people out there, going to, including the president of the United States, who I am not surprised he would tweet misinformation. He tweets lies all the time. But the fact we have to work on our democracy, the fact we have to protect its fragility, the fact we have to shepherd it and make sure we can move it forward and keep its values intact, that is all of our collective responsibility.

And I'm glad for the people of Michigan and the people of Wayne County took that seriously. I'm proud to be from this county where people spoke up.

VELSHI: And while you are here, I just want to tell our viewers, because you and I talked a few minutes ago when this hasn't happened. The news we have is after remarkable public pressure, the Wayne County board of canvassers, the four people on there have revoted three hours after their initial vote, and they will be certifying the results of the election, which look like those in front of you, a roughly 323-vote gain advantage by Joe Biden.

These are two Republicans, two Democrats. The Democrats had voted to certify the results. The Republicans had voted not to do that. They are now voting to certify the results. They have done so.

There is a request to the secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, to conduct an audit, which we call out to Jocelyn Benson to see her response to that. But that doesn't seem to be the issue. We appreciate you rushing back to help us confirm this news, sir. And we appreciate your time as always.

GILCHRIST: Happy to do it, Ali. Thank you for having me.

VELSHI: Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.

All right. This once in a century coronavirus pandemic has already taken nearly 250,000 American lives. We're going to take a break and talk about the latest on coronavirus when we come back.


VELSHI: I want to bring in the secretary of state of Michigan, Jocelyn Benson, who is at the heart of what is happening tonight.

Secretary of State, good to see you. I do believe -- we've got her here? Here we go.

All right. So, we started the show talking about the Wayne County board of canvassers refusing to certify the results of that county. I was on with the lieutenant governor.

After he left, we found out they changed the vote and they have certified the results apparently after three hour of public pressure. But there's some request for you to do something in the state.

So, I want to know whether you know that, whether you were involved in that, and what that means.

JOCELYN BENSON, MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, yes. I think this is really a reflection of truth winning out and winning, and voters' will and voices winning the day. The 4-0 vote by the Wayne County Board of Canvassers to certify the elections for all Wayne County, including Detroit, really underscores the fact that there were no irregularities, there was no widespread fraud found in Michigan, found in Wayne County.

What there were and what -- was an issue were some bookkeeping errors that frankly are really, you know, par for the course and quite common throughout the state and other states as well.

And they've never held up certification before. In fact, even in 2016, there were 80 percent of precincts found to be out of balance. Here in 2020, closer to 40 percent were found to be out of balance, yet it did not hold up certification in 2016 and shouldn't and ultimately didn't hold up certification here.

Now what our office was then asked to do was to look into those bookkeeping errors and to try to address some of those clerical issues. And so, we're going to be looking into that request, and certainly it's important to us that every valid vote is counted and that the public have full faith in the results of the election as an accurate reflection of the will of the people.

VELSHI: So, is that request by them binding upon you or do you agree to do it or you don't mind doing it?

BENSON: It does not appear to be binding. We're still looking into those details. And again, this is all happening as we speak.

I think the gratifying thing is really --


BENSON: -- what was validated which is there was no widespread fraud, no irregularities, only clerical errors and the results have now been certified. This clears the way for the state certification of the results in the days ahead, and we can move forward ensuring that the will of the people in Michigan are heard and are reflected in the official certification of every county in the state.

VELSHI: What happens next? When does -- how was this going to affect the state certification? And is there anything else outstanding in Michigan where it can go wrong? Or is Michigan going to certify that Joe Biden won the presidential race in that state?

BENSON: We certainly appear to be fully on track to certify the results of the election as we've known them for nearly two weeks now, which was, you know, not just the results of the presidential race but other races as well, including the U.S. Senate.

So, there are still a few counties that are finishing up their canvassing process, which is again is proper protocol. We fully expect they'll certify. Then the state board of canvassers will perform there ministerial role, certifying the results, which the governor and I will then validate, and we'll move forward from there, ensuring again that the votes as reflected in the unofficial totals become that full certification with the official results and the electoral votes for Michigan going to President-elect Joe Biden.

VELSHI: And do we have a date when that's going to happen or a date by which it has to happen, the full state certification or all of the precincts, all the counties certifying?

BENSON: Well, today was the day for the counties to finish their certification. And now, it goes to the state, and it will likely be sometime next week. Again, this is all still happening as we speak.

So, I expect the state board of canvassers will meet sometime next week or sometime very shortly in the days ahead to perform their ministerial role of certifying the full statewide results which will then be transmitted in the process through the legislature and, you know, other official capacities in Washington.

VELSHI: I saw earlier on Twitter people were concerned about the outcome of this after the first vote. And someone said, is Jocelyn Benson concerned? And you tweeted back that you're not concerned. So, you thought this was going to way it ended up going.

We appreciate you taking time to join us this evening. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, thank you for joining us on such short notice.

All right. Now, the other big story of the day, the once in a century coronavirus pandemic which has already taken nearly 250,000 American lives, decimated the economy and is surging across this country. Cases are now rising in all 50 states. While President Trump has remained largely silent on the skyrocketing case count, his own coronavirus task force just delivered a sobering assessment of how much this pandemic has spiraled out of control.

NBC News has obtained a copy of the report that says in part that there is, quote, aggressive, unrelenting expanding broad community spread across the county reaching most counties without evidence of improvement but rather further deterioration, end quote. Wow.

Broad community spread. You remember nine months ago, none of us even knew what that word meant. The report warns current efforts to stop the spread, quote, are inadequate and must be increased to flatten the curve, and that the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday has the potential to, quote, amplify transmission considerably.

It's almost hard to phantom. Things getting worse than they are, when we look at where we are in this moment. North Dakota now has the highest COVID-19 mortality rate in the world, according to new analysis, in the world. Mortality rate, people dying from this.

South Dakota doesn't fare much better. It ranks third worldwide in terms of COVID mortality, which is the situation of the country's premier health institutions is dire. At the world renowned Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, more than 900 staff members, 900, have contracted the virus in just the past two weeks alone, one-third of its staff.

This comes amid news that its hospitals ICU is now at capacity. Meanwhile, medical professionals in Illinois, the hospital system there might not be able to absorb the influx of patients that are expected after the holidays. Communities all across the country are buckling under the strain of the virus, it's perhaps nowhere more pronounced than El Paso Texas.

At least one top health official says care is being rationed, adding we're flying people from ERs in El Paso to hospitals elsewhere in Texas because we don't have the ability to keep them in our ER.

In recent days, the city has had to double the number of mobile morgues to deal with the rising death toll. Inmates from the county's detention center have been brought in to help move the overflow of bodies. That's how hire things are in El Paso right now.

And it is against this background that the county judge in El Paso, Ricardo Samaniego, has been rally support for a temporary end to non-essential business, just days after a state appeals court blocked down a previous shutdown in an effort to slow the outbreak of COVID-19. The attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, was among those who blasted Samaniego for those COVID restrictions, going so far as to call him a tyrant for trying to enact the measures.

The judge responded by telling the Dallas Morning News, quote, if he walked around where there are 150, 145 bodies inside of trailers and families in the parking lot crying because that's the closest they can goat their loved ones, then -- then tell me I'm a tyrant. I dare him and I want him to be in the middle of that situation, see, hear those people crying on the floor of the parking lot, the medical examiners and then tell me I'm a tyrant. It's very, very frustrating.

Joining me now is the very, very frustrated man, the El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego.

Mr. Samaniego, thank you for being with us. The situation sounds terrible in El Paso County.

JUDGE RICARDO SAMANIEGO, EL PASO COUNTY, TX: It is. We're in a crisis. And it doesn't seem I can get the attention I need for that. You know, when the governor thought San Antonio, Austin, and all those areas, their numbers were climbing nowhere near to us, he felt a stay-at-home order was okay.

I have not used anything. My order was exactly like his other than the curfew. It's really difficult for me to understand that something he used as a tool in that part of Texas would not be something that I could use.

So, we worked really hard on this legal situation, felt extremely comfortable. We're able to go through the district court with Judge Moody and went to the eighth circuit. Then it was not in our favor, but it's obvious that at that point it became a little bit more political than really based on my legal ability.

We still believe and have the legal authority in an emergency disaster. It was more about fighting me, about having authority than fighting the virus. I keep saying, you know, instead of fighting the virus, they're fighting me, and that doesn't make sense.


SAMANIEGO: El Paso has always got the short end of the stick on a lot of things coming from Austin, so we're not surprised at all.

VELSHI: Yeah, and this has been a bit of a battle that we've been talking to people in Texas about, particularly along the border. There seems to be a difference in the case count, in the rate of infection and in the ability to get the necessary treatment and get more importantly what you as judges can do, the restrictions that you can place, the state of Austin, the governor, the lieutenant governor seem to have major issues with allowing jurisdictions to do what they need to do to stay safe.

Why is that?

SAMANIEGO: Well, from one standpoint obviously, we're a really dominant -- we're a Democratic city, and they're Republicans. I think their focus is more of an open the economy and see what happens. We'll try to minimize the impact.

When we're focused on the public health and kind of minimizing the economy, we were able to open businesses. As soon as we shifted from going in to open the economy and let's see how we can maintain or minimize the impact on the public health, things went south on us.

So, we're in an area where we're right next to this beautiful community that we enjoy. One of the down sides is the exchange of so many people going back and forth. They're really struggling. I try to get the governor to understand if they can see us as a region, forget this border situation, but look at it as a region, I think we would be very successful. But I'm having a real difficult final for anyone to understand that we do enjoy this great relationship.

We're right next to New Mexico. Very dynamic situation. We're at 782 deaths. Juarez is way, way ahead of us in deaths. They don't have the resources, but we have the center exchange.

So, we're trying our best. We have nine trailers now. Over 218 bodies are now this those trailer. The mortuaries are having a really difficult time. They're backing up on situations.

The bodies now, the drive (ph) home is taking four or five hours. So, a lot of things that you don't want to happen are beginning to happen, trying to figure out who you're going to take care of and who you're not going to take care of. You know, my order was 14 days ago, I think if we had done a little -- just to be clear, I always ask for a temporary stay-at-home order. This was not this shutdown and reopen again.

VELSHI: Yeah. I know you talk to businesses and the point you make is really relevant that folks from El Paso always say El Paso and Juarez really are two parts of the same place. The interchange between those two, it's not like it's a national border between them.

Judge, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us. El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, thank you for your time tonight.

SAMANIEGO: Thank you.

VELSHI: And we wish you the best of luck in dealing with this crisis that is upon you.

Coming up next, a former top health and human services who resigned in protest over the Trump administration's management of the coronavirus and he was now a member of President-elect Joe Biden's advisory board joins us live.



DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR OF BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now, based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged. There will be likely a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. It will be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza. Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.


VELSHI: That was Dr. Rick Bright back in May, testifying before a House subcommittee. Well, it's actually still fall right now, but make no mistake, that dark winter is here.

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths are up at levels we have not seen before all across this country. But there may be a couple of reasons to have hope. Yesterday, another drug company reported positive preliminary results from its vaccine trial. Moderna says its vaccine is 94.5 percent effective.

And in just two months, we're going to have another administration worn into office, one that is ready to use the knowledge and expertise of doctors and scientists who have been studying diseases like this their entire careers, experts like Dr. Rick Bright.

Joining us now is Rick Bright, the former top health and human services official who resigned in protest over the government's management of the virus. He's now a member of President-elect Biden's advisory board.

Dr. Bright, good to see you.

And we are -- we are relieved that the experts the Trump administration didn't want to pay attention to will be leading our fight. But you warned about this. Part of the issue was that the United States was not doing the right thing when other countries were doing the right thing. And now that things have gotten worse, our results are exponentially bad.

BRIGHT: Absolutely. Thanks for having me on, Ali.

I have to say I'm really disheartened by the statistic that your former guest just put on in front of us. 218 bodies are in the back of nine freezer trucks in El Paso alone. If that doesn't wake up everyone across our country and inspire them and encourage them to wear a mask every single day to slow the spread of this virus, I don't know what will.

We hear about the 73,000 people who are in the hospital today. We hear about 42 people dying every single hour in our country. That's about one person every minute, every minute and a half right now, and we still aren't doing our own jobs wearing the masks the way we should.

So I hope that statistic we just heard, 218 bodies in the back of nine refrigerator trucks will inspire people to wear their masks to help us get this pandemic under control.

VELSHI: Yeah. You talked to my colleague Andrea Mitchell today about the fact that not certifying the ascertainment of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president-elect will have issues. You're a guy that understands some of the actual logistics of getting this virus out, this vaccine out, however many of them there are. There are complexities if a virus doesn't need special treatment, but, in fact, one of them needs refrigeration and another one of them needs super, super cold freezing.

We have work to do to get this to everybody.

BRIGHT: You know, it's really complicated. It's difficult alone to make a vaccine. It's even harder to make a lot of vaccine. And then it becomes extremely complicated to get it filled into vials and distribute it to the state and the hands of doctors and nurses and administered to the patient.

A vaccine itself, as we say, doesn't save any lives, but vaccination does. I've spent my career studying vaccines and how to make the vaccines and how to scale the vaccines and use them in a pandemic. I'm fully aware of the complexities that it takes.

My concern is now that we're going to have a transition to a new administration, a new team of experts coming in to take over the baton of finishing the job of ending this pandemic, you know, we need to know what's been happening for the last nine or ten months. We need to know what the current status is, the current plans, the current relationships, the current databases of information.

Without that, we're actually flying blind into this transition. We need to sit downside by side urgently to be able to exchange information. Every day that we wait, every day that we delay that puts Americans at risk and puts the entire pandemic response at risk.

And so time is of essence to get this GSA clerk to ascertain this election so our teams can sit down together for the sake of American lives and get this done.

VELSHI: You -- one of the things you mentioned to Andrea today is that there can be a lot of efforts from the top level down to distribute a vaccine properly or to treat people or do whatever we need to do. One of the issues we face is that last mile because we haven't in modern history had a rush for a vaccine, right?

People get their flu vaccine on their own schedule. They don't think they're getting the flu tomorrow. They realize it's flu season so they go.

This will be something that everybody rushes to. And we don't have that what you call the last mile, from the vaccine to the pharmacy to your arm, if you're getting injected with it. We don't have that fully sorted out yet.

BRIGHT: We've never had to do something like this on this scale ever. As you said, some of the vaccines are frozen at a very low temperature. Some are refrigerated temperature. Some are frozen at an intermediary temperature.

Some of these vaccines, you have to take two doses that are three weeks apart. Some of them are two doses, four weeks apart. And maybe one of the vaccines that comes out will be a single dose.

So there are a lot of complexities. Some of these vaccines will be more or less suitable for the different populations. Maybe if you're immune compromised, you won't be able to take some of the vaccines. Maybe if you're a pregnant woman, you won't be able to take some of the vaccines.

So there's a lot of complexities involved in determining who gets what vaccine and making sure they get the right vaccine and then tracking to make sure they get the right second dose of the same vaccine so there is no confusion or mix-up or adverse event or accident that might occur.

VELSHI: Dr. Bright, good to see you. Thank you for joining us. I'm glad you were able to continue your work on the Biden team. Dr. Rick Bright is the former top director of the bio medical advanced research and development authority at the HHS, now on President-elect Biden's COVID advisory board. We appreciate your time. We'll be right back.


VELSHI: All right. I know I'm a little over time, but I've got a little news for you that I think you're going to appreciate.

Moments before the show tonight I spoke with Rachel Maddow. And she says she should be back here in the next couple of days. So I leave you with that happy thought.

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

And I look forward to your chats with Rachel at the end of the show like ours, Lawrence.


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