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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, November 19, 2020

Guests: Jeff Timmer, Jocelyn Benson, David Kessler, Malcolm Kenyatta


President Trump has summoned to the White House the Republican leaders of the Michigan statehouse and the Michigan state Senate. this is as Michigan heads toward its Monday deadline for certifying all of their results. MSNBC's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, "ALL IN": THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now with the one and only Rachel Maddow herself back in the anchor chair.

Good evening, Rachel. So great to see your face.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thank you very much.

I'm not actually in the anchor chair. I'm just kind of floating here in space in my office, but it's close enough. Thanks for being so nice the whole time I was gone. It's been really good like texting with you and keeping in touch, my friend.

HAYES: So glad you're good.

MADDOW: All right. Thanks.

All right. And thanks to you at home for joining me here this hour in my home.

I know that this shot looks a little bit weird, and if you think I'm looking, you know, unwell or pale or feverish or something, I'm happy to tell you that I'm actually physically fine. It's just that I'm not that pretty -- and as Richard Nixon learned the hard way in his first debate against JFK, makeup actually is a good idea, even a necessary idea when you are going to be in front of a TV camera.

The problem is I don't know how to put on makeup. I don't use it in my regular life. I don't know how to do it professionally. And there's nobody here to help me because I'm still in quarantine.

I am almost done with quarantine if all goes well, but I am following the guidelines, and that means it is still just me here alone. And so, this is what you get. This is the best I can do.

So I'm not going to go on about this at great length. We have a lot to get to tonight, tons of guests and a lot of news going on. But I do -- before we jump into all of that, I do want to tell you what happened to me in the hopes that you might take it on as something that might be helpful for thinking about you and your own family.

OK. So if you know anything about me off of TV, if you know me personally at all, then the foremost thing you probably know about me is that I am in love. Susan and I have been together for more than 21 years. It was love at first sight.

That has never waned. She is the center of my universe, and it's not even like she's the sun and I'm a planet. It's more desperate and pitiful than that.

It's more like she's the planet and I'm the satellite up there -- hold on. Something's making a noise. I'll be right back. See, I'm at home. I have to do this myself.

Something's going wrong. I'll be right back. Don't turn the camera off. I'll be right back, I swear. Hold on. Just stay there.

Told you. It's just me. There's nobody I can ask for help, and if something is going on, I can't stop it with anybody except me.

Okay. Now you're going to see how a person does this, MacGyvers this at home. There's the way that I can hear the control room. I put this on back here.

Hold on. I told you this will work. Oops. Sort of worked.

Here's the microphone. Put this on back here so it's not too distracting. This is how the sausage is made.

All right. Is that good? Okay. So where was I? Cable on my shoulder.

Yeah, I think the cable might just stay on my shoulder, you guys. I'm not sure there's anything I can do about that. Is that better? All right? OK.

So, as I was saying, I'm in love, and Susan really is the center of my universe. And the way that I think about it is not that she is the sun and I'm a planet that orbits her. That would give too much credit to the other planets.

It is -- it's -- I think of it as a much more pitiful thing, that she is the planet and I am a satellite, and I'm up there sort of beep, beep, beeping at her and blinking my lights and trying to make her happy.

She really is -- I'm just lucky -- I'm one of the lucky people on this earth who has a life like that. She is the center of my life. She's the organizing principle of my life. My relationship with Susan is the only thing at the end of the day that I would kill or die for without hesitation.

And Susan has been sick with COVID these past couple of weeks. And at one point, we really thought that there was a possibility that it might kill her, and that's why I've been away.

Susan tested positive two weeks ago. We separated from each other that day because I tested negative that day. She tested positive. So she and I have both been alone since then while we have -- I've continued to test. I've stayed negative.

And she has not only been positive. Over this time, she's gotten sicker and sicker while I tried to care for her while still staying physically apart from her.

And the bottom line is that she's going to be fine. She is recovering. She's still sick, but she's going to be okay, and we're not scared anymore like we were.

But it really didn't feel like it was going to go -- it was going okay at the outset. And I mean, like I'm -- warts and all, right? I'm willing to show you all of this. I don't know you at home except through this medium.

But just believe me. Whatever you have calculated into your life as acceptable risk, as, you know, inevitable risk, you know, something that you're willing to go through in terms of this virus because statistically, hey, probably, it will be fine for you and your loved ones, I'm just here to tell you to recalibrate that.

Frankly, the country needs you to recalibrate that because broadly speaking, there's no room for you in the hospital anymore.

And so, we've got more people in the hospital right now than we've had since the beginning of this epidemic. It's gone up 50 percent in two weeks, right? There isn't room for you in the hospital anymore broadly speaking. So for the sake of your country, you really can't get sick and need to go to the hospital right now. And the only way to ensure that is to ensure that you do not get infected.

But please, just also know that whatever you think of your own life and however much risk you are willing to take on for yourself, that's not how this works. What you need to know is that whoever's the most important person in your life, whoever you most love and most care for and most cherish in the world, that's the person who you may lose or who you may spend weeks up all night freaking out about and calling doctors all over -- all over the place and over and over again all night long, trying to figure out how to keep that person breathing and out of the hospital.

Just don't -- whatever you're doing, however you calibrated risk in your life, don't get this thing. Do whatever you can to keep from getting it. For Thanksgiving next week, you really are going to just have to have it at home without people coming over.

Yeah, that's going to suck. But that is going to suck so much less than you or somebody in your family getting this and getting sick. Trust me. And I think I know you well enough because I know me well enough. I'm guessing that you might be willing to risk yourself, right? Especially after all these months and all this time, it's so frustrating, right?

I would have done anything. I would have moved mountains for it to have been me who was sick these past couple of weeks instead of Susan. I still would give anything for that. But this thing does not give you that choice.

You can't say, I'm willing to just get it myself and play the odds. You don't get that choice. It won't necessarily be you. It will be the person you most care about in the world, and how can you bear that?

And all you can do to stop that is move heaven and earth to not get it and to not transmit it. It is just -- again, I'm not going to go on about this at further length. I will just tell you personally this thing is scary as hell, and whatever you've been willing to do to risk getting it, don't. Just don't do it.

So that is what's been going on with me. My close contact is Susan. I have been quarantining because of my exposure to her. I'm negative. She's still sick but getting better.

My quarantine ends soon. I'll be broadcasting like this until it's safe for me to be around any of my co-workers again in the future. All right? OK.

Tonight, we're going to be talking with the former FDA Commissioner David Kessler. He is the co-chair of the advisory group on COVID for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. He has been briefing Joe Biden on this issue since March. He knows what Joe Biden knows about this subject. He knows what Joe Biden understands about this, how he thinks about it, how he learns about it, what he values within this subject matter. Really excited to talk with David Kessler. He's going to join us live in just a moment.

The Biden/Harris transition does proceed apace. The president-elect saying today he has made his choice for his first cabinet secretary. He says he has picked a treasury secretary and he'll announce who that choice is next week. And I say the Biden/Harris transition is proceeding, but formally there still is no transition effort from the lame duck Trump administration toward the incoming Biden/Harris administration.

President-elect Biden today actually told reporters that it's an open question. It's still a possibility that he might sue the Trump administration to force them to start the transition process so the Biden folks can start the process of getting background checks and security clearances and starting to meet with the outgoing staff at the agencies they are going to be taking over.

I'll also tell you that former President Barack Obama today had some strong words about the transition not yet happening and some strong words about what President Trump is trying to do to pretend like he didn't lose the election.

Former President Obama made these remarks in an incredible long-form interview with our own Jonathan Capehart today. In that interview, the full Obama interview, is going to run as a special right here after me this hour, 10:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. So after I am done this hour, you're going to want to stick around for that.

But let's talk now a little bit about the insanity that President Trump is pursuing right now in Michigan. President Trump started off his re-election campaign with actual staffers in charge of potential post-election day litigation. Those guys, including his deputy campaign manager, they're not running this.

Then he put a different guy in charge, a guy named David Bossie, who is not a lawyer. He put him in charge of post-election day litigation, but he is no longer running this either because somehow a hell mouth opened in the crust of the earth and despite all those other people supposedly being in charge of post-election day litigation, it was Rudy Giuliani who emerged from a belching fire hole underfoot, and we learned that he, fresh off getting the president impeached, fresh off the failed Hunter Biden Russian intelligence operation he tried to run in the campaign, he of all delectable souls would be running the president's legal strategy from here on out, which has been super pretty ever since, just like we saw today.

And honestly with not even his campaign and not even his sort of handpicked political henchman non-lawyer running this, with Giuliani running this, I mean, honestly, maybe that means that this is over. The Trump and Giuliani efforts to overturn the election with weird little lawsuits, those lawsuits are failing by the dozen now.

The latest loss was tonight. A Trump-appointed federal judge, Trump appointee in Georgia, blocked their efforts to stop Georgia from certifying their election results tomorrow. There was a statewide audit in Georgia that was completed tonight. It did not change the Georgia results at all. The secretary of state saying it didn't change the results one thimble.

Those Georgia results will be certified tomorrow despite a lawsuit by Trump and Giuliani trying to stop that certification. Those results will be certified by 5:00 p.m. tomorrow Friday. And then the governor will certify Georgia's electors for the Electoral College the day after tomorrow on Saturday. That's that. The Trump campaign has been trying these little lawsuits everywhere, but they've lost or withdrawn basically all of these lawsuits in Wisconsin, in Georgia, in Michigan, in Arizona.

There do remain a couple of strange Trump/Giuliani lawsuits in Nevada and Pennsylvania where in those lawsuits -- I kid you not -- they are just telling judges to negate the election. Just throw out all the votes. Throw the whole thing out. Pretend there wasn't an election and instead have those states send Trump electors to the Electoral College despite how the state voted. They're trying that both in Nevada and in Pennsylvania, which is just a remarkable thing, right?

Pretend the election didn't happen. We hereby declare that this election didn't matter. We think you should install Trump anyway. That's what they're trying.

And they're being just that blunt about it. On the Fox Business Channel tonight, one of the lawyers who's working with Rudy Giuliani, the one who said today that the whole election was a plot by George Soros and Cuba and Antifa -- today on the Fox Business Network, she stopped even trying to keep up the fiction of trying to argue that Trump somehow won the election.

She really is just flat-out now arguing that all votes are invalid, that the election is null and void. We didn't have an election for president this year, and Trump should just be reinstalled in power anyway.


LOU DOBBS, FBN: Let's start out right now with the president's path to victory here as you and the legal team see it if could you give us just that -- that canvas very quickly.

SIDNEY POWELL, MEMBER OF TRUMP'S LEGAL TEAM: Well, yes, Lou. The entire election frankly in all the swing states should be overturned, and the legislatures should make sure that the electors are selected for Trump.


MADDOW: The election in all the swing states should be overturned, and the legislature should just pick Trump electors and Trump should be installed in power anyway because.

That's the Trump legal team plan, and that is not a plan. I mean, at least, it's not a legal plan anyway. That's something else. But today brought some new news that even as the president's legal team, such as they are, is failing and failing and failing and failing at everything they're trying, melting like hair dye into the rivers of flop sweat.

Today, brought news that maybe these lawsuits that that they're losing -- where they're losing all of them, maybe that isn't going to be their plan from here on out. Instead, their plan from here on out will be the president himself will bring the weight of his office, the weigh of the office he continues to hold to bear on elections officials, to just try to force elections officials or pressure elections officials personally into falsifying election results and proclaiming Trump to be the winner in states that Biden actually won.

First, we had this news overnight that the president had personally contacted Republican members of the board of canvassers in Wayne County, Michigan, where Detroit is. The president personally getting in touch with them, encouraging those Republican members of that board, encouraging their efforts to not certify election results there. The president thus personally leaning on local elections officials to mess with the resolution of the election in Michigan.

The president personally leaning on two county elections officials to get them to do his bidding. Then, news this afternoon that the president has summoned to the White House the Republican leaders of the Michigan statehouse and the Michigan state Senate, right? This is as Michigan heads toward its Monday deadline for certifying all of their results.

The counties have certified all their results. The state is supposed to certify the results on Monday. They want the legislature to somehow intervene and stop that process from certifying Joe Biden's 150,000-vote victory in Michigan, to instead have the legislature declare that that didn't happen.

Here's how "Reuters" reports it out tonight. Quote, President Donald Trump's strategy for retaining power despite losing the U.S. election is focused increasingly on persuading Republican legislators to intervene on his behalf in battleground states that Joe Biden won, according to three people familiar with the effort.

Quote: Having so far faced a string of losses in legal cases challenging the election results, Trump's lawyers are seeking instead to enlist fellow Republicans who control legislatures in Michigan and Pennsylvania. A senior Trump campaign official telling "Reuters" that the campaign's plan is to cast enough doubt on vote counting in big Democratic cities that Republican lawmakers will have little choice but to intercede.

The campaign is betting that many of those Republican lawmakers who come from districts Trump won will face a backlash from their own voters if they refuse to act. The campaign, the Trump campaign believes the longer they can drag this out, the more they will have an opportunity to persuade lawmakers to intervene, said the senior Trump campaign official.

And this, of course, is a pipe dream, right? In a democracy, the winner of the election is the candidate who got more votes, not the candidate who seized control and declared that votes don't matter. But if Republicans don't want a democracy anymore and they instead want to do it this other way, I mean, it's one thing to see the Trump, you know, "Star Wars" bar scene articulate out loud their weird fantasies about trying something like this, right?

But it's another thing for them to actually try it and for the president himself, the president of the United States, to employ his own power as president, personally leaning on county elections officials, bringing state legislators to the White House to try to get them to throw out the election results and thereby keep him in power. They are actually trying that as we speak. Now, in just a moment, we're going to speak with the official in charge of running the election this year in Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. She's going to join us live in just a moment.

Before I bring in the secretary of state, though, I first want to add one more voice to the conversation who has a very interesting perspective on this. His name is Jeff Timmer. He's a longtime Michigan Republican. He's a former Republican member of the board of state canvassers in Michigan. That's the group of four people who will be charged with certifying Michigan's election results on Monday.

He used to be one of the two Republican members of that board. That board has two Republicans and two Democrats. Mr. Timmer used to be one of those Republican members.

Now, Mr. Timmer has since become an independent. He is a strong critic of president Trump now. He's a senior adviser to the Lincoln Project. He's a co-founder of Republicans and independents for Biden.

But he's watching this closely, and he's sort of sending up a warning flag for all of us. Today he said this as a warning about what's going on in his home state with these efforts to throw out the election results.

He said, quote, be alarmed, America. Serious games are afoot in Michigan.

Joining us now is Jeff Timmer. He's a senior adviser to the Lincoln Project. He served as one of the two Republicans on Michigan's board of canvassers from 2009 to 2012. Mr. Timmer, I'm really pleased to have you with us tonight. Thanks so much for your time.

JEFF TIMMER, FORMER GOP MEMBER OF MICHIGAN'S BOARD OF STATE CANVASSERS: I'm glad to be here. I wish it was under different circumstances. I've never seen anything so crazy and so corrupt at the same time.

MADDOW: Yeah. Well, it's -- I'm trying to get a handle on how dangerous it is. I was struck by you calling these serious games in Michigan. It made me wonder if I -- I spent a long time talking with my staff about this. Should we see this as a game that we shouldn't worry too much about and that we shouldn't sort of breathe life into by covering this as a serious thing, or is this serious enough that this could potentially be a real way that they're going to try to effectively delete this election?

TIMMER: Well, luckily we have clowns running the show. I mean they could -- if they had chimps going into court, they'd do better than what Giuliani and team is doing, and they'd be more fun to watch. But these people seem to have a way of failing upward, and so I think we do need to be alarmed that we have clowns running the show, but they seem to kind of luck into things. And what's happening here Michigan is they may be able to throw a wrench into the certification process, and now Trump has summoned the legislative leaders, kind of like neutered pets to the White House.

Come here, boys, come on. And the optics of them going and listening and participating in this couldn't be worse. But if there's no certification, there's going to be enormous pressure, even more pressure on them to certify or do something in the absence of this board taking action.

And that's where things can get very dangerous, and that's why I'm alarmed.

MADDOW: What about that state canvassers board, right? That is supposed to certify Michigan's results on Monday now that the counties have certified their results. I know you served on that board, I believe alongside one of the two current Republican members, alongside Norm Shinkle.

Do you know anything about the pressure that's being put on these members?

TIMMER: From my understanding, the pressure is enormous. They're hearing from all kinds of people asking them to withhold their vote, to abstain, to resign so that the board is inoperable, so that there is no certification. There's any number of things that are possible and any number of pressures being put on them. It wouldn't surprise me if the president has also called the members of the state board like he did the Wayne County board.

There is rumors -- I haven't been able to confirm that from either member. They don't like talking to me these days. But I wouldn't be surprised if they've heard from the president themselves.

MADDOW: The Republican leaders of Michigan's House and Senate, as you said, are headed to the White House tomorrow to meet with President Trump. You have criticized them for taking that meeting.

I'm struck, though, that the Republican Senate leader, Senator Shirkey, was asked just a couple of days ago if the legislature might sort of go along with these fever dream fantasies about negating the election, you know, overthrow the election result, put in their own pro-Trump electors. And he said very bluntly that is not going to happen.

How much faith do you have in him and in the House leader that even with the president personally weighing on them, that they'll stand up and stick up for democracy?

TIMMER: I have very little faith that they'll be able to stand up to this. There hasn't been a Republican in the country that's been able to stand up to Trump's nonsense over these last four years, and I doubt that either of these two can withstand the pressure if it actually comes to a situation where the board deadlocks, the board doesn't certify, the court hasn't ruled in time to compel them to certify, and the legislature is looking at the clock ticking. There's a December 8th federal deadline for certification to happen.

And if it hasn't happened in Michigan by that date, there's going to be enormous pressure on the legislature to take some action. And the likelihood of either of these two legislative leaders, who have been involved in nonsense like the armed protests at the Capitol earlier this year -- both of them were directly involved in those instances. If they couldn't stand up to these clowns that showed up at the Capitol in Michigan with long guns, there's no way they're going to stand up to somebody like Donald Trump at the White House. They're looking at political futures.

The speaker is about to be unemployed. He's term-limited in January. He's looking for a new job. So ask yourself. I mean, you know, Donald Trump is a very transactional person, and there's any number of things that could happen to put pressure on these people.

MADDOW: Jeff Timmer, now senior adviser to the Lincoln Project, previously served as a Republican on Michigan's state board of canvassers -- thank you for helping us understand this. This is a stark tale that you're telling, but thank you for helping us get it out to a wider audience.

TIMMER: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. Now let's bring the person in the center of the proverbial storm here, Michigan Secretary of State of Jocelyn Benson.

Madam Secretary, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate you making the time.


MADDOW: Let me just ask your reaction to what we just heard from Mr. Timmer there. He's a former member of the state board of canvassers. He is very pessimistic about whether or not the president personally might be able to find some way to personally intimidate, pressure, or entice people involved with the certification of Michigan's election result to pervert it and to try to install him as the winner of Michigan's election even though Biden won by so much.

What's your reaction to those fears?

BENSON: I think a couple of things. One, it's clear that the voters of Wayne County and the voters of Michigan have made a choice, and it's also clear -- I mean notably this has been one of the most scrutinized elections in recent history for our state and probably in other states as well, that even in spite of all that scrutiny, there's been no irregularities uncovered, no evidence of widespread fraud, no -- and therefore no legal or factual basis to challenge or disregard the very clear choice that the voters of Michigan have made.

And so, you know, we've accepted every county's certification of the vote, and we'll be certainly expecting the state board of canvassers to do the same, which is their legal duty very clearly stated in Michigan's state law.

MADDOW: As I understand it -- and I absolutely might be wrong here. But from my trying to understand this process in granular detail, that meeting of canvassers where they're supposed to certify the vote total, that takes place at the office of the secretary of state, at your office. Is that right, and do you have any sort of working relationship particularly with the two Republican members of the board? Have there been any conversations in advance of that meeting as to what's expected and what they're planning, potentially what kind of pressure they're coming under?

BENSON: No. My office holds the bureau of elections, which essentially works to support the work of the state board of canvassers in many capacities as they have a very administrative role in affirming different certifications and petitions and the like. And so in this role, they have a very clear and frankly very narrowly defined administrative role to certify the results once the counties do so. There's really not a lot of wiggle room in the law there.

And so I think my role as the state's chief election officer has been to focus on the facts, the data, and the truth, ensure that that continues to be made and those cases continue to be made both publicly and in all conversations because, again, I think the data's quite clear on this in terms of the vote and the vote count.

So, you know, I'm very confident that all elected leaders in Michigan will, like I have, focus on the truth, focus on the data, focus on the facts and make decisions accordingly. That is particularly in furtherance of their legal duty under state law.

MADDOW: I understand the underscoring there in terms of the legality, the legal underpinnings of what's required here. There just shouldn't be this kind of drama at this point in the process.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, thank you for helping us understand it. Good luck. I know this is going to be a fraught few days. I really appreciate it.

BENSON: Thanks.

MADDOW: All right. I mentioned earlier that "Reuters" reporting from earlier this evening that the Trump campaign's -- apparently their current plan to try to throw out the election results and keep Trump installed in power even though he lost centers on their efforts now to try to get Republican state legislatures in two states to throw out the votes and send electors to the Electoral College for Trump even though Biden won the vote in those states.

Now, as "Reuters" is reporting it, those two states where the Trump campaign is focusing are Michigan, which we've just been talking about here, and Pennsylvania. Well, we'll tell you how they're trying to do it in Pennsylvania coming up. A live report from somebody fighting what Republicans are trying to do there.

That's all ahead. Stay with us tonight.


MADDOW: So this is a big deal, and it's actually something different than we have seen in months. The doctor in charge of day to day management of the COVID response at the CDC briefed reporters today. What?

The doctor gave plain-spoken advice about what to do about Thanksgiving next week in the midst of this pandemic. You probably saw the headlines about that guidance today. The CDC's guidance boils down to this very simply. A, if you were thinking of traveling for Thanksgiving, don't. And, B, if you were thinking of having an indoor celebration of Thanksgiving with anybody who doesn't already live in your house, don't do that either.

Very clear advice spelled out for very clear reasons as much as it might be hard to hear. But while we hope that that clear guidance will have an impact on whether Thanksgiving becomes a massively fatal catastrophe in this country this year, it's also just worth noting that the CDC did a freaking press briefing, right?

This is the first time they've done that in months. In previous health crises in this country, the CDC would do daily, regular press briefings. The Trump administration strangled that in the crib. Now they briefed the press today. Is it possible they're back that they're being allowed to talk to the public about this virus again? Could it be?

Well, I should note that the CDC director, Robert Redfield, was not part of that briefing. As far as we know, the White House still has their minders sitting on him. The "A.P.", you might remember, reported last month that the White House installed political operatives in Director Redfield's office at CDC to control the flow of information and to, quote, keep an eye on Redfield.

The White House literally installed a new chief of staff in Redfield's office. They installed a new CDC chief of staff, who is a person with no background in public health or medicine at all. As the "Associated Press" put it delicately, she, quote, seemed a particularly strange fit for the nation's top public health agency in that before the White House installed her as CDC chief of staff, her previous job was working as a publicist and talent booker for the Cartoon Network. That's who they installed as CDC chief of staff to keep an eye on that CDC director.

So, no, the CDC director was not in this press briefing today. But maybe that's for the best. The CDC did actually make recommendations to the public that were very clear. The CDC spoke on a matter of public concern and put scientists on the phone with reporters, and they took questions, and that's good. That's how things are supposed to run.

I know I always say watch what they do, not what they say. In this case, with the CDC, it is worth watching both what they say and what they do because the fact that they did this kind of briefing today at all is itself part of the news, and it's good news. I mean, maybe this is CDC starting to reassert itself as the Trump presidency winds its way down the drain in the weirdest way possible.

The weeks between now and inauguration day are going to be some of the worst weeks we have seen in this pandemic. We're going to talk next with the co-chair of President-elect Biden's coronavirus advisory board, somebody who has been advising Joe Biden for months as this pandemic has worsened, is now advising him on what needs to happen in the weeks and months ahead. I'm really looking forward to this interview. It's right after the break.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: Dr. David Kessler served as FDA commissioner under President George H.W. Bush and then interestingly he continued in that role under President Bill Clinton. He served ultimately during a very eventful 6 1/2 years in that post leading FDA.

Dr. Kessler helped speed up the federal drug approval process in order to more quickly deliver lifesaving treatments including for HIV and AIDS. He made huge strides in standardizing the nutrition labeling on packaged foods, which is actually a very big deal.

He made a name for himself battling big tobacco. The FDA under Kessler investigated that industry and uncovered that cigarette companies were deliberately trying to addict their customers. Lawsuits filed by the states later resulted in a landmark settlement against the tobacco companies that was worth billions of dollars because of that research.

Well, now, Dr. David Kessler is serving in a new role that has its own daunting challenges. He has been named as one of the co-chairs of President-elect Biden's coronavirus task force. He's been advising Biden on the pandemic since all the way back in March. Dr. Kessler told us today that on the first day, he first started briefing Biden on COVID, there had been 86 deaths in this country due to the virus.

Today, we are now at more than 250,000 deaths. And I should tell you just a short time ago tonight, NBC News confirmed that we've just hit a new single-day record in terms of new cases today. Over 189,000 new cases were added just today alone. It seems almost inconceivable, but it feels like we are on track to hit 200,000, maybe even a quarter million new infections per day soon if things stay on this pace.

Joining us now for his first interview since the election is Dr. David Kessler, co-chair of the Biden coronavirus task force, former commissioner of the FDA.

Dr. Kessler, it's a real honor to have you here tonight. Thank you for your service. Thanks for making time to be here.

DR. DAVID KESSLER, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Thank you for having me, and sorry what you and Susan have been going through. Our best.

MADDOW: Thank you. That -- I need that.

Let me just ask you, Dr. Kessler, you've been in a unique position in terms of seeing Joe Biden learn about the pandemic up close, basically from the beginning, from March. Can you tell us anything about what it's like to brief him, how good he is at absorbing information, the kinds of questions he's interested in, whether what you're trying to teach him has been sinking in.

KESSLER: So we would give him an 80, 90-page document that he would have before him, and this is Dr. Murthy, who is former surgeon general, and I, and it was very extensive epidemiology, vaccines, testing, very broadly based.

And we would get to about 45 minutes into it, and we would say, Mr. Vice President, we're at our time, and he said, I need to keep on going. I -- this is very important. And there's all this staff around us. You know, we're talking about mRNA biology, and I almost felt bad we were taking so much time of his.

But what I understood, what I saw in him, you know, the wheels going, he was thinking about what are the implications for governing, for the country. And most importantly, what effect this was having on people. It was extraordinary. We would sometimes sit there for two hours at a time. He's a very quick study.

If you go back and you listen to the presidential debates, I think he's probably the only president who will ever talk about a reproduction number.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, you mentioned Dr. Vivek Murthy, former surgeon general. You and he and the other members of the coronavirus task force -- I mean, it was such a relief to not see, you know, cable news personalities and like people who run pillow companies and like all the other kind of like quacks and luminal influencers that the president has chosen to listen to here.

But sort of after that initial relief, it has made a lot of us start thinking about what it means to have a president who takes science seriously, who wants to put science at the forefront of the decision-making here, and who's not afraid to let scientists communicate the reality of what's going on to the public. I'm thinking about what these next couple of months is going to be like and looking at those numbers and thinking about what our hospitalization and death rates are going to be like.

Do you anticipate, you and your other coronavirus task force members with the president -- do you anticipate personally briefing and doing that kind of public communication as this -- as we go into what's going to be a real dark couple of months?

KESSLER: Absolutely. You know, the president-elect very much believes in restoring trust, in putting science first. Clear, uniform, evidence-based guidance, he understands that. He understands that it's very important to help all states, not seeing them as red states or blue states. He has enormous respect for science and expertise, and he -- that's what he -- that's him.

MADDOW: Dr. Kessler, I don't want to go into detail on this tonight, and I'd like to have you back to have a longer discussion about it in coming days. But I wondered if you could just give us a pressee right now, the short version of whether or not we should be scared and concerned about the lack of a transition in terms of handling both the safety assessment for potential vaccines and the planning for vaccine distribution.

I feel like I have heard enough from you and your colleagues who have been advising Vice President Biden that I know that your thinking is far advanced on these matters, and it feels like your planning is far advanced on these matters.

I don't have very much hope that the Trump transition is going to turn on anytime soon and that the existing work that's been done is going to be conveyed to you in an organized matter. Should we be concerned that you'll be very hamstrung and unable to do that basic work that will set us back weeks or even months while the transition remains stunted?

KESSLER: Absolutely. I mean, it's very concerning. We can work with anyone. I've worked with Republican and Democratic administrations. We have to work with our colleagues at Warp Speed, at CDC, at FDA. We can't lose a day here.

MADDOW: Dr. David Kessler, co-chair of the Biden coronavirus task force, former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an esteemed, accomplished public servant back into that work now in a very different way.

Sir, thanks for doing this first interview with us since the election. We look forward to having you back whenever you can be here.

KESSLER: Stay safe, Rachel.

MADDOW: I will do. Thank you.

All right. I mentioned earlier that the Trump campaign plans right now to try to throw out the results of the election and keep the president in power seem to be focusing -- new reporting suggests it seems to be focusing on trying to lobby and pressure and manipulate Republican state legislatures in two states. We had a reporter on one of those states Michigan. We're going to Pennsylvania, the other one of those two states next.

Stay with us.


MADDOW: OK. Check this out from Pennsylvania. Late tonight, Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature passed a resolution they say could issue an audit in Pennsylvania this year. Reviews will be completed after results are certified in Pennsylvania, that the Republican say this audit is nevertheless necessary to turn up any, quote, inconsistencies in the 2020 election results and to ensure the accuracy of the vote.

The thing about that, though, of course, is that there is zero evidence of any big inconsistencies in the Pennsylvania election, there's no real reason to doubt the accuracy of the results. So, why are they doing it?

Well, here's how Democratic State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta explained it when he confronted them on it while the resolution is being debated.


STATE REP. MALCOLM KENYATTA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: You said the eyes of the world are on us. And the eyes of the world are indeed on us and they are watching us tear our democracy apart for no reason. You know, so much of this is political theater. But this political theater is having a poisoning effect of our democracy in people's faith in the results. Going around talking about voting fraud where there is no voter fraud diminishing faith and trust in our election.

If we want to talk about emails people are getting and phone calls, I'm getting phone calls every day talking about folks stealing the election. The election was not stolen.


MADDOW: Joining us now is Pennsylvania State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta. He represents parts of the great city of Philadelphia. Mr. Kenyatta, it's nice to see you. Thank you for making time to be with us tonight.

KENYATTA: First of all, Rachel, Matt and I have been playing for you, Susan, and your family and it's good to have you back.

MADDOW: Thank you. I will take all the prayers I can get. I will take a double helping to the extent that I can.

Let me just ask you, Malcolm, about what is going on with Pennsylvania Republicans. We talked to you about trying to set up an investigative committee to be able to subpoena power, to investigate the conduct of the election while votes are still being counted. You and your colleagues were able to push it back and back off the effort.

Now, what is the new audit that they're planning on doing? It sort of feels like a different version of the same thing.

KENYATTA: Rachel, it really is. And a part of what state legislatures benefit from is there is not a lot of attention of what happens at the state level. But it's critical. As you explained, what they are doing is not substantive, but it is deeply serious.

We watched the president for four years to use the federal government to fund his golf courses and everything else, and now he has bullied the House Republican caucus into funding a phishing expedition in to claims of fraud that really that do not exist. We've seen his lawyers go around, with no evidence and they have given a blank check to some soon to be mentioned audit company to try to find the fraud that the president is complaining about on Twitter, and that's deeply dangerous.

MADDOW: Do you think that Pennsylvania legislators, Republican Pennsylvania legislators are engaging, with the thing that the Trump campaign are trying to get them to do, are they engaging with the prospect of trying to delete the election results effectively, trying to negate them and cast enough aspersions on the vote that some other method is chosen by them to appoint Trump electors rather than the electors who would be appointed for Joe Biden? Is this a live issue among the Republicans in your state?

KENYATTA: There are two things that we know. First is that they are now party to one of the lawsuits by the president to try to hold up the certification of the results. If past is prologue, they be unsuccessful in that.

But the other thing is what we have seen from the president. He has lost this election and now he is trying to destroy our democracy on the way out, cast aspersions on the results that were favorable to him, and the unfortunate thing is the Republican Party is eager and willing to help him.

You know, he's been tweeting about state -- you know, local state house races, and what they do in terms of their leadership. You have never seen a president weighing in on who the state house should pick for their leadership. But I think they are afraid of him.

You know, I won't be bullied by the president. I know the House Democratic Caucus won't be bullied, but, unfortunately, we have in the House GOP, folks who are really spineless and are afraid of a mean tweet by the president. And so, they are doing his bidding in terms of trying to find anywhere they can fraud.

We know no fraud exists. This was a safe, free and fair election in Pennsylvania and what is absurd, Rachel, is they don't want him celebrate their victories at the state level and yet cast aspersions on Joe Biden's victory. It's absurd.

MADDOW: Malcolm Kenyatta, Pennsylvania state representative, it's great to see you, Malcolm. Thank you for being with us.

KENYATTA: Always a pressure, thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Since I'm already home, I don't have to rush back here tonight to catch the very special event that is about to happen in the next hour. What is about to happen right here, right now, is our friend and colleague Jonathan Capehart interviewing former President Barack Obama. I'm so looking forward to this. It starts right now.

Good night, everybody.


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