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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, November 23, 2020

Guests: Chris Lu, Sherrilyn Ifill


President-elect Joe Biden's team is granted access to transition resources after weeks of delay from GSA. Michigan's board of canvassers certifies Joe Biden's win. MSNBC continues its coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: I love restaurants, so I -- the logic here just seems inescapable. Tom Colicchio, thanks for coming on and make the case. I really appreciate it.

TOM COLICCHIO, CELEBRITY CHEF: Thank you, Chris. Have a great Thanksgiving.

HAYES: You, too.

That is ALL IN on this Monday night.

"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Great to see you, my friend. Thank you.

HAYES: Hey, great to see you. There you are in the studio.

MADDOW: And thanks to you -- look, I know. I'm -- I've got a background that isn't a stuffed dog and a barn door, right?

HAYES: Everyone loved the other background. I have to say. It was a huge hit. It was like to fascinating and weirdly voyeuristic but utterly compelling television. It really was.

MADDOW: The good news is that my camera was low enough quality because I was literally shooting the show from my laptop, from the little tiny camera on the top of the laptop, the camera quality was bad enough that you couldn't like read the names of the spines -- read the names of books on the spines on the shelf. So I at least had that little bit of privacy.

HAYES: It was awesome.

MADDOW: Thanks, man. Good to see you.

HAYES: You too.

MADDOW: It is -- it is a safe world in terms of privacy if it is a highly pixelated world, I have learned.

But, yes, I'm back in the studio tonight. My COVID quarantine is over. I'm sure you're as relieved as I am that I'm no longer doing this from between the barn door and the bookcase. But I do appreciate everybody being so kind and understanding.

I have continued to test negative for COVID-19 myself throughout my quarantine. My most recent negative test was today, for which I am grateful beyond measure. My partner, Susan, who's been positive, is doing much better, and she's going to be fine.

And, again, as my quarantine ends, as I'm back in the studio for the first time in more than two weeks, I just want to say thanks to everybody who made it possible for me to be away, to come back in the interim way I did, and to everybody who wished us well. Your prayers and well wishes made a huge difference to me and my family.

So I'm a real person. These things happen. I thank you.

All right. We're going to start tonight in a most RACHEL MADDOW SHOW kind of way by talking about airplanes, specifically talking about a kind of airplane that Susan's dad used to fly back in the day. He was a commercial airline pilot. This is a Dash 80. It's a big four-engine jet that Boeing started making in the mid-1950s.

The Dash 80 would later become the basis for the Boeing 707, which was, of course, a famous passenger aircraft. But the Dash 80 would also evolve on the military side in a bunch of really interesting ways. The Dash 80 first evolved on the military side into something called the Stratolifter, which is such a late '50s, early '60s name, right?

The C-135 Stratolifter. It has been used in the U.S. since 1960s. It is still to this day a workhorse transport plane for the United States Air Force.

In the mid-'60s, 1965, Boeing started making a special variant of the C-135 Stratolifter. And the special variant they made, cool name alert, it was called the Constant Phoenix. And that variant of that plane was specially modified to fly around the world, taking samples of the air, sniffing the atmosphere for signs that someone somewhere on earth had set off a nuclear explosion.

Constant Phoenix, that variant of the Stratolifter went into use for the first time in 1965, the height of the terror of the cold war. It was used to identify any secret nuclear tests or blasts or even accidents that some country was trying to keep secret. The nuclear blast-sniffing Constant Phoenix, amazing in its own right, but then it, itself, got modified into something else. It got modified into these.

These planes are very, very specialized planes, and they are used for one very specific purpose, even more specific than the nuclear sniffers that they were derived from. These planes are used for surveillance under a treaty called the Open Skies Treaty. They're called OC-135s. They're used just for the Open Skies Treaty.

And what the Open Skies Treaty is, is itself fascinating. It was entered into at the end of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was collapsing and the George H.W. Bush administration negotiated this treaty for the U.S. It went into effect in 1992.

The idea behind Open Skies is both sort of radical and simple. The idea was that you could help avoid nuclear war. You could help avoid war, period, through transparency, by letting countries see what each other was doing. There are 34 countries in the open skies treaty.

Under the terms of that treaty, all 34 of those countries can all look at what each other is doing. All of the countries in this treaty, again, 34, they're allowed to fly reconnaissance flights over each other's territory on short notice.

And then all the countries in the treaty are allowed to look at whatever reconnaissance those flights show, whatever surveillance information those flights have been able to turn up. So if you're part of this treaty, you can't block one of the approved planes for the open skies treaty from flying over your territory to check out and see what you're doing.

So you can't do anything that you can't hide from the air. The idea is that there would no longer be, say, surprise massing of troops on some European border. There would be no secret installation of a Cuban missile crisis-style missile array that took everybody by surprise because neighborhood knew it was there. The whole idea behind open skies was that all the countries under this treaty, nearly three dozen countries, would all get to look at each other from the open skies, and that transparency would help prevent surprises and help prevent war.

Now, we're part of the Open Skies treaty, 34 countries in all. The one country that is part of this deal that we have most worried about along the lines of the terms of this treaty is, of course, Russia because into the 21st century, Russia's the only country out there in this neighborhood that's still invading their neighbors and annexing parts of other countries.

But still, it's us and Russia and more than 30 other countries all under this same treaty. And it is these unarmed, specially adapted Boeing jets, these OC-135s, that are our nation's approved technology for supplying surveillance flights under this treaty, for surveilling other countries that are part of this agreement.

And tonight, right now, the Trump administration is in the process of destroying those planes, while they are on their way out the door to be replaced by the Biden administration.

Tonight, within the past few hours, it looks like president Trump has finally decided that he can't just keep pretending that he didn't lose the election to Joe Biden. He's still not conceding. He's still keeping up this public facade that there's something going on with Trump campaign legal challenges that's going to result in him magically being proclaimed the winner, right? Our case strongly continues. I believe we will prevail.

But the Trump appointee at the head of the GSA, the General Services Administration, has relented, and today she finally agreed to ascertain that Joe Biden's the apparent winner of the presidential election even though she's still not calling him president-elect. What this means in practical terms is that the federal money that pays for the transition is being released to Biden's team to actually start the transition, and it also means the Trump administration is supposed to start formally meeting with their successors to hand off the workings of the federal government.

It's finally happening, right? Twenty days after election day, 16 days after it was clear beyond any doubt that Biden had won and won by a lot. I mean, to be clear, there's obviously no case that the Trump campaign is pressing, strongly or otherwise. There's no case that they're pressing that holds any prospect for getting the presidential election results thrown out and, you know, Trump somehow seizing control anyway.

It's done. It's not going to happen. Michigan's certified their vote today. We'll take a little later on this hour about how that crazy train pulled into the station today.

Pennsylvania is just about there with their certification as well. Georgia already did their certification. It's not going to be an issue in Arizona or Nevada or wherever else they want to say that Democratic votes shouldn't count and magically Donald Trump is still president despite losing lots more states than he needed to lose in order to lose this election.

But the delay in accepting the presidential election's results, while all this nonsense has played out, it has already been harmful to the real work that needs to be done in getting the new government up to speed, right? Getting the country ready for a huge change in government while the pandemic is peaking and while the economy is in a disaster. I think it's been overlooked, though, that the length of time that the president has chosen to stretch out this, you know, defying the election results and keeping up this fiction that he's somehow going to stay in power despite the election, it's not just been a time waster in terms of standing up the new government, it has also been a distraction from the stuff that the Trump administration is doing right now on its way out the door to mess up the country as much as they can while they're leaving.

For example, the Trump administration really did pick right now as the moment they have declared they are exiting the Open Skies treaty. So for us and for all our allied countries in Europe who have been in this treaty with us for decades, we have picked this moment, today, to leave them blind to the surveillance and other intelligence on Russia that they have been depending on through us because of this treaty since the fall of the Soviet Union.

This thing has been in place since 1992. We killed it today. We're leaving. We're not going to do those flights anymore. And so the other countries in the treaty won't get access to the intelligence and surveillance data that those flights provided. They've been getting that data for decades. As of today, no longer.

And just to throw one more unwrapped Baby Ruth into the kiddie pool, just in case the Biden administration wants to rejoin this treaty once Biden is president, right, which is something that would not stretch the imagination. This treaty makes sense. Just in case they might want to rejoin the treaty, the Trump administration has decided to destroy the airplanes that we use for compliance with this treaty.

Quoting "The Wall Street Journal": In a move that could complicate President-elect Joe Biden's options if he sought to re-enter the agreement, the Trump administration is taking steps to dispose of the two specially equipped OC-135B planes the U.S. has used to carry out Open Skies flights.

A senior U.S. official said the planes are being designated as excess defense articles. The official said, quote: We've started liquidating the equipment.

The senior U.S. official insisted that the goal in disposing of the oc-135s is not to tie the hands of the incoming Biden administration. That said, quote: The move follows a decision in July by then Defense Secretary Mark Esper to cancel the program to buy newer planes to replace the OC-135s, thus eliminating the option of replacing the aircraft with more modern variants as well.

So they're destroying the planes, and they've made sure there won't be any to replace them.

So, now, to be clear, it's not even clear -- it's not even widely agreed as to whether or not it's legal for the Trump administration to be doing this. I mean, legally, they were supposed to consult with Congress for four months before pulling out of this treaty. They didn't. They just -- they just pulled out of it. Biden, if he wanted to, could presumably use that fact to unilaterally say as president, we're rejoining the Open Skies treaty.

When they said they were withdrawing, that was actually illegal. It was done improperly. Consider us to still be in it. But if Biden does that -- and it's not inconceivable that Biden's going to do that -- neener-neener, too bad. The Trump administration right now, as we speak is liquidating these airplanes. Like their Postal Service sorting machines in a majority black city in a swing state, right?

And they killed off the funding for new ones, so there's no more planes to replace them in the pipeline and they're very highly specialized aircraft. So, you know, neener, neener. And, hey, European countries worried that they might be the next country to be invaded by Russia, yeah, too bad. The U.S. is no longer here to help you keep an eye on that.

And if Joe Biden wants to be a normal U.S. president and go back to the United States helping other countries around the world in that way, well, he can start maybe at the scrap heap where we're putting all the equipment, right? In one of those car smashers to see how small we can make it. That's what they're doing right now in the transition, such as it is.

It has been a disturbing spectacle and a debacle, right? Watching the president and his team of -- his team of -- I mean, whatever's going on here. Do we call them lawyers in this context?

It has been a spectacle and a debacle watching the president, who was just voted out of office, try to nevertheless hold on to power by dint of his ability to intimidate and prevail upon local and state elections officials, right? And by these pseudo legal PR gambits derived from the comments underneath YouTube videos about the gold standard in lizard people, right? These things that they're calling their lawsuits, which are just absolute nonsense and have been laughed out of every single forward they've been put before in front of both conservative and liberal judges, judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats, and in including in one case by a Trump appointee himself.

It has been a spectacle and debacle watching conservative media go along with this nonsense and hype it too like it's credible. And to see Republican elected officials, including U.S. senators, just going along with this and saying, sure, it's totally possible that this stack of affidavits about the lizard people and the gold standard does mean that Trump is king now, right? It has been a spectacle and a debacle.

And with this begrudging letter from the head of the GSA tonight saying that the transition can now begin, maybe now, tonight, that part of this mess is ending. But now, what that means is that we get the transition as imagineered by the Trump administration. And it really does involve physically trashing these planes so we can't do surveillance flights over Russia anymore.

I mean, even just within the national security sphere, what else do we know they're doing? Well, it's also involved the president installing a "Star Wars" bar scene full of really weird dudes in senior roles at the Pentagon and the National Security Agency, including a new guy he's just put in charge of policy at the Pentagon, who says that President Obama is a terrorist leader. He's also put not one, not two, but three different guys who were at the heart of that whole thing where Trump said Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, right? Three junior staffers who made up that whole debacle are now the chief of staff at the Pentagon, the top legal counsel at the National Security Agency, and the intelligence chief at the Pentagon.

And that last guy, all of 34 years old, who is now the intelligence chief at the Pentagon, who was seen as too nuts for even the Trump administration at one point and was forced out of the National Security Council job he had in the Trump White House after he got caught trying to sell all that nonsense about how Obama was doing the wiretapping and the unmasking scandal and all that other made-up nonsense -- he was literally laughed out of even the Trump administration, but they brought him back and after the election, installed him as intelligence chief at the Pentagon. He's also, at the same time, now the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low intensity conflict. Did I mention he is 34 years old?

I should also mention that the new guy Trump just installed after the election as defense secretary unilaterally changed the structure of the military so that special operations like, you know, Navy SEALs, right? Special operations now report directly to the civilian leadership at the Pentagon, which means specifically that U.S. military special operations now report specifically to this kid, this 34-year-old guy who was too crazy even for the Trump White House. Like the Navy SEALs and -- you know, like Delta Force and the Green Berets, special operations of the U.S. military now have to report to him. And the thing they decided to change right after the election.

Also, they're shredding the surveillance planes that we use to flights over Russia to inform our European allies what Russia's doing in terms its military operations and nuclear stuff. They're liquidating the planes.

Today, President-elect Biden announced his first big raft of high profile appointees. The Biden nominee for secretary of state will be Tony Blinken, who was worked with Biden for decades. He will be the first person with diplomatic chops and State Department experience running that agency since Trump slid Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson in there on an oil slick, slip and slide in 2017. There will actually be somebody with high-level State Department experience running the State Department. Imagine.

Antony Blinken was the number two official at the State Department under Secretary of State John Kerry. He will now be secretary of state. John Kerry himself will rejoin government service as Biden's special envoy for climate. That will be a position on the National Security Council that will give that issue of climate a very high profile just by dint of the fact Kerry is going to be the one holding that job.

The former Fed Chair Janet Yellen who President Trump vilified and didn't appoint for second term. She will be back to government service, this time as treasury secretary. The first woman to serve as treasury secretary in our nation's history.

Homeland security secretary will be Alejandro Mayorkas. He was deputy secretary of homeland security for three years in the Obama administration under Secretary Jeh Johnson. He's the first Latino to head that gigantic and important agency.

The director of national intelligence will be another first, first time a woman has held that job. It will be Avril Haines. She has worked with Biden forever. She's a former deputy director of the CIA and a former senior Obama legal and intelligence official.

Jake Sullivan will be national security adviser to President Biden. He was the top national security adviser to Biden as vice president. Now he will be so to Biden as president.

The United Nations ambassador will be Linda Thomas-Greenfield. She was the head of the Foreign Service under the Obama administration. She is a bit of a force of nature. She will also raise the profile of that role simply by dint of her charisma and gravitas in that position.

All of these people will appear with Biden and Harris tomorrow at an event where Biden will start the process of publicly rolling out the new administration. And, yes, this is the new administration, which means all of these people will need, you know, FBI background checks and all the other things you need to start the process of confirmation, in some cases for some of them, Senate confirmation, right?

The whole process of standing up the new government and making sure you don't have anybody in there who's got liabilities that might make them a national security risk because all these positions are so important. That process of doing the background checks and all the rest of it can now, as of tonight, begrudgingly begin now that the Trump administration has finally relented 16 days after the election results were clear and allowed the transition to start.

But look at -- just -- we have -- because of that mess, we have not paid very much attention into what the outgoing Trump administration has been doing with this time just over these past 16 to 20 days since Election Day, right? You look closer and closer at what they've been doing, and just think about the kind of job that all those appointees and others are going to have coming into this. My God, they're going to have a bag of like -- not just a bag of cats. It's like a bag of cats and forks and live ammunition all mixed together to sort through when they get their foot in the door at these various agencies.

We have not paid enough attention to the way the Trump administration is setting the place on fire as they are walking outside the door, but it is now time to turn our attention to that.

Joining us now is Chris Lu. He was White House cabinet secretary during the Obama administration. He was executive director of the Obama presidential transition team in 2008. I should tell you that Mr. Lu is an adviser to the Biden transition team, although I should say he is not here to speak for them in that capacity.

Chris Lu, thank you so much for being here. I know your time is really in demand right now in particular. Thanks for being here.


MADDOW: So I zeroed in there on some national security stuff and some of the stuff that strikes me as both petulant and dangerous in terms of the outgoing administration and what the Biden administration is walking into.

What do you think the American people in general should understand about what's important about the transition, what's important about it starting late, and what you're expecting this time?

LU: Well, today's decision was an important first step in that peaceful transfer of power that has happened over 200 years through war and depression. And so, it's a first step, but before we leave this step, Rachel, we need to change the laws so that this never happens again.

You know, this is 16 days too late. We are now basically three weeks after Election Day. The transition period is only 11 weeks, so three weeks of that has gone.

But this is important. This starts the period of time where the president-elect can get intelligence briefings, that they can have these background investigations for the nominees you've talked about, that agency officials can start to talk to transition officials. Millions of dollars can be used to pay for the staff.

But fundamentally with all of this, this only works if there is a working relationship between both sides. In 2008 when I ran Obama's transition, I had a twice daily phone call with President Bush's deputy chief of staff when we worked out problems that came up during the transition. And that happened because of the top-down message that President Bush gave, that he wanted his entire administration to cooperate. He wanted the smoothest transition in history.

So, ultimately, these legal steps can happen, but unless there's a top-down commitment, there could still be bumps in the road, and I'm hoping notwithstanding the grudging letter that was sent, notwithstanding the president continuing to insist that he's going to contest this election, that beneath that there is this working relationship because this is not just about the success of the Biden administration. It's about the economy. It's about the pandemic. It's about national security.

MADDOW: When I think about the parallel decisions that were being made in 2016, this time in 2016, before Trump was sworn in in January of 2017, I think about the sorts of choices that he was making. He reportedly, according to Chris Christie, who was supposedly his transition head, discarded all of that planning and just started sort of picking names out of a hat and appointing people to jobs without much background checks at all. That's partly how we ended up with, for example, the disaster of Mike Flynn being appointed national security adviser and a number of other transition-specific scandals about people who they were trying to slide in the door who didn't have any business being in any high-ranking position in the U.S. government.

We look at the kinds of people who were just announced today by Vice President Biden, and it just feels like a different universe. Nobody expects that, you know, Tony Blinken is going to have trouble with his FBI background check or that, you know, there's something that's going to turn up in terms of Avril Haines, in terms of her ability to serve in the DNI job.

Why is it so important to get the background checks started? I understand that there's a whole confirmation process, preparation for people who have to be confirmed by the senate, but this idea of background checks and starting to get that paperwork done, why is that so crucial?

LU: Well, look, let's just go back to 2008. Even before Election Day in 2008, we sent forward several hundred names for initial background investigations. And part of the reason why, it's not just these seven or eight people you talked about. It's all the people below them. It's all the people who will go into the State Department or Defense Department or Homeland Security over the next couple of days to do these deep dives into the agencies.

Every one of those people that goes in there needs to have a clearance to access documents, to have conversations. It's not just those agencies. Even at a place like HHS, for many of the conversations you're going to have, you need to have that security clearance. And what happens is there's a limited capacity of people that can do these background investigations.

And so, there's just this pipeline, and it's not a big pipeline, and you want to get as many people through, not just so that you can do the work during transition, but so that you can have a team in place on day one, on January 20th.

And we know what has happened. We just go back to 2001, the 9/11 commission found that the six-week delay that the Bush 43 administration had in getting their people in place created a vulnerability that had issues before 9/11.

So, again, as we said, this is not just about the Biden administration. It's about safeguarding all of our national security, about our homeland security as well.

MADDOW: Chris Lu, White House cabinet secretary during the Obama administration, former executive director with the Obama presidential transition team in 2008, currently an adviser to the Biden transition team. Chris, I thank you for being here tonight.

And I'll close with one plea, which is if there are things that are going really wrong in the transition, if the Biden team can't get things that they need, if there are shenanigans and ways that the outgoing administration is trying to tie the hands of the incoming administration, let me just press you and vote right here that that information be made public. I feel like public pressure is the only thing that has moved things in this transition.

You don't have to tell me, but please tell the press. Just keep it as public as possible because it is the only way that's going to fix it.

LU: Absolutely. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Chris Lu.

All right. We've got much more to get too tonight. Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is here. You saw the Michigan certification decision today in terms of their vote. That seems to have been what set in motion the transition going ahead with the statement tonight from President Trump and from his GSA administrator.

The Michigan spectacle leaves some mess behind it that we need to talk about tonight. As the Trump administration continues efforts to try to disenfranchise mostly voters of color, in mostly Democratic-leaning cities and swing states, that story is still with us.

We'll be right back.


MADDOW: You know that the Trump campaign has demanded a recount in Wisconsin, right? Two Wisconsin counties, Milwaukee and Dane County.

Well, election officials in Milwaukee tried this weekend to begin the recount that was requested by the Trump campaign, but they barely even managed to start the actual recounting before they were interrupted. Interrupted, for example, by a Trump campaign observer who objected to all absentee ballots being counted on the grounds that those ballots were folded.

He considered that to be outrageous and reason enough to throw out and not count any of those ballots. They were folded even though those ballots have to be folded to fit into the envelopes that they are sent out with.

Then there was the Trump observer who demanded that any absentee ballot envelopes be set aside if the ink didn't perfectly match. Like if a witness' signature and address were written in what looked like two slightly different ink colors. They also demanded that mail-in ballots be set aside if they were in envelopes that had official stickers on them that had become unstuck at some point.

Then Trump campaign observers objected to the number of piles that elections officials were putting ballots into. When the officials did finally get a chance to start counting, observers from the Trump campaign then objected that they were counting too quickly, and that was the new problem.

The Trump campaign objected to every single ballot from one Milwaukee neighborhood being counted, and they objected to every single ballot envelope from another Milwaukee ward. Both of those are mostly African-American neighborhoods in Milwaukee, you'll be surprised to hear.

One Trump campaign observer reportedly wandered from table to table in the convention hall where the recount was taking place, objecting to every single ballot cast in the city of Milwaukee. Sure, just try it. You know, you only live once. See what happens.

In both Milwaukee County and Dane County, the other big diverse Democratic county where the Trump campaign has requested a recount in Wisconsin, the counting tables this weekend were mobbed by crowds of Trump campaign observers. Elections officials had to keep dispersing them. There was only supposed to be one per table, but they kept multiplying like rabbits. The "A.P." reports that one Trump observer in Milwaukee was escorted from the building by sheriff's deputies after pushing an election official. Quote, another was removed for not wearing a face mask properly as coronavirus infection rates have soared in the state of Wisconsin.

The circus may have really reached its peak, though, with this story. Here's the lead, you should see, from "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel". Quote, the attorney leading President Donald Trump's recount effort in Wisconsin voted illegally according to his own legal argument that in-person absentee ballots should be thrown out. So, it should be mentions did his wife. Their names appeared on exhibits that he submitted to the Dane County board of canvassers. The list of voters who voted in the manner the campaign says is illegal, an argument the board of canvassers has rejected.

Trump's lead lawyer in Wisconsin, that guy's brother, is also working for the Trump campaign there because it's always a family affair in the Trump universe. His brother says they want elections officials in Wisconsin to eliminate all in-person early votes. Just throw them all out. They also want to eliminate all mailed in absentee ballots unless they can track down the original application for each of those ballots. Also, they want to eliminate every absentee ballot where clerks wrote in the addresses of witnesses, which is something explicitly allowed under Wisconsin law.

They're just trying anything. Throw them all out. Just get rid of them. Are they from one of these two Democratic leaning counties? Then throw them out. We'll come up with something.

See, if you throw out enough of the ballots in the Democratic counties in the largely black cities in swing states, then Donald Trump totally won. Just don't count the black people's votes. It's so easy.

That's the theory, right? This is the manifestation of that strategy in Milwaukee. But the Trump campaign is doing this all over the place, in Atlanta, in Philadelphia, in Detroit.

In Michigan, though, where they've done this in Detroit, the Trump campaign had a presumably existential setback today, but there may be even more on the way for them there, and that story's next.

Stay with us.



WENDY GRONBECK, MICHIGAN VOTER: I've been a voter for over 50 years, and I've never before had to think about whether canvassers will certify an election.

TERRY WEYMOUTH, MICHIGAN VOTER: I would like to convey my thanks to all the election workers who counted votes.

CHARLENE MCNARY, MICHIGAN VOTER: Enough of the partisan jockeying. Enough of the conspiracy theories. Enough of elected and appointed officials using their platforms to silence our voices.

TRISCHE DUCKWORTH, MICHIGAN VOTER: The world is watching. It's time that we further the agenda of the people. Anything less than that is un-American.

PAVAN VANGIPURAM, MICHIGAN VOTER: There is no credible evidence that a single vote was fraudulently cast.

SUMNER TRUAX, MICHIGAN VOTER: I volunteered as a nonpartisan observer at the TCF Center. I saw no fraud, no impropriety on the part of the poll workers.

ELIZABETH POWERS, MICHIGAN VOTER: I saw no evidence of fraud. I also saw poll workers be accommodative to GOP challengers, taking note of their challenges.

STEPHANIE ARELLANO, MICHIGAN VOTER: I think we should be celebrating the record number of turnout that we had and the amazing work that all of our poll workers and other election officials did.


MADDOW: Those were some of the many, many residents of the great state of Michigan who weighed in during today's meeting of the Michigan state board of canvassers, which is usually sort of a low-profile thing. But they were incredibly high-profile as they met to certify the state's election results.

Some of those folks you saw weighing in there had served as poll observers or volunteers on Election Day. Others were just voters who dialed in to express their two cents about what the board should do. At times today, there were more than 30,000 people tuned in to watch a livestream of those zoom proceedings, and hundreds of Michigan residents waiting patiently for their turn to speak.

The public comments extended well into the night tonight, but the drama over whether that board would try to block the certification of Biden's win, whether the Republicans on that board would somehow side with the Trump campaign and try to stop the election results from being properly reported -- that drama officially ended late this afternoon when one of the two Republicans on the board joined the two Democrats on the board in announcing it was time to certify the state for the guy who got the most votes.


AARON VAN LANGEVELDE, VICE CHAIRMAN, MICHIGAN STATE CANVASSING BOARD: We must not attempt to exercise power we simply don't have. In this case, the law is absolutely clear. We have a clear legal duty to certify the results of the election as shown by the return that was given to us. We cannot and should not go beyond that. This board must do its part to uphold the rule of law and comply with our legal duty to certify this election.


MADDOW: That's Republican Aaron Van Langevelde, explaining his vote today to certify Joe Biden's victory, which sealed the deal. That's a majority of the four-person board. That means the state of Michigan will have its election results certified.

Biden won Michigan. Michigan now formally admits it. That means Donald Trump is a one-term president, also one who was impeached, also one who lost the popular vote too, twice, by millions of votes each time, and that's quite a record. But now it's official.

Still, though, in the end, in Michigan, in this crucial state of Michigan, it was down to these two guys, Aaron Van Langevelde voted to certify. You heard him explaining there in his low key way why he did so.

But his fellow Republican on the board abstained from the vote after arguing all day that he didn't want to certify the results. So it was a 3-0 vote by that board to certify the results, the two Democrats and the one Republican, while the other Republican abstained.

About an hour after the board voted to certify, the Michigan Supreme Court rejected a Republican-led effort in the courts to try to block certification, so those two things together, that effectively puts an end to Republican attempts to overturn Biden's victory in the election in Michigan.

But what the Trump campaign did here and has done here, trying to muck up this election results, doesn't necessarily just end here. Late last week, a group of Michigan voters represented by the NAACP legal defense fund, they sued President Trump personally and his re-election campaign, alleging that all these multiple legal challenges and specifically the president personally pressuring Michigan elections officials amounted to an illegal act of mass voter suppression, especially against black voters.

And that lawsuit tonight remains live, as does the question of accountability for what's happened here in the 20 days since the election.

Joining us now, Sherrilyn Ifill. She's president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Ms. Ifill, it's great to see you. Thank you very much for making time tonight.


MADDOW: I first have to ask if the decision in Michigan to certify the election results has any effect on your lawsuit and the aims of your plaintiffs here.

IFILL: Well, we've been monitoring this very, very closely. We monitored the actions of the president that we could learn this weekend and out of the two Republicans who went to meet with him at the White House, and we're going to continue monitoring.

Obviously, today, we were happy to see and we -- you know, you played at the top of the show the member of the canvassing board saying we have to uphold the rule of law. We were happy and gratified to see that today. But, you know, whether or not Mr. Trump is successful in his attempts to coerce, the attempt to coerce and to intimidate members of the canvassing board in Wayne County and then the state canvassing board to somehow discredit the vote of black voters in Detroit nevertheless is a violation of Section 11B of the Voting Rights Act.

And so while the outcome of today is a positive one, a positive one for the rule of law, a positive one for democracy and for this country and for the voters we represent, we are still standing by, and we have yet to know what more this president might try. And, of course, Michigan is not the only place in which he may be focusing his attention. We're also concerned about, you know, Pennsylvania and about Milwaukee because the president has cited those places as well, and particularly targeting cities with large or, you know, predominant black populations to suggest that there has been some fraud in voting.

MADDOW: Let me ask you just to expand on that a little bit in a civic sense because I feel like one of the things that we are -- I feel like we're entering a new phase. We've got the GSA ascertaining that President-elect Joe Biden is going to be the next president. There's going to be a transition process. The president basically acceding to that.

We've got this thing that's ended in Michigan in terms of the certification. And I feel like we're sort of now waking up to new realities. One of the things that I'm concerned about is what the Trump administration is going to do during this lame duck period and in the transition to try to set the place on fire proverbially as they go.

But I think a lot of people are also worried about what you were describing there, about these tactics both by the president and by his campaign and by Republicans who support him that after an election, elections officials are now subject to lobbying, subject to pressure, subject to enticement or threats in a way that should get them to do whatever their party or the party in power or anybody else who has an effect in terms of influencing them can get them to do.

I want that -- I want to go back to that not being a norm in our democracy. I'm worried that now that the Trump administration has set this precedent, it will be, and it feels like the only way to stop that becoming the new normal, at least in Republican politics, is for some people to go to jail for it or to feel like they are going to get in trouble if they get caught doing something like that. Is that the right way to think about it?

IFILL: I think it is, and let me add another norm to it, Rachel, which is that what the president has done and has done systematically and deliberately is to advance a norm in which the votes that are cast in majority black cities or predominantly black cities are seen and tainted in some way as being fraudulent or there being something wrong with them.

You know, we saw this outside when the canvassers were counting the votes, you know, the day after election in Detroit. And we saw, you know, all of these people standing outside saying, stop the count. And the president had people going back and forth about stop the count, count all the votes.

But the places he was targeting, the racist dog whistle was Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee. I understand that people want to say those are just Democratically controlled cities, but I'm not going to pretend that the dog whistle is not what it is because those of us who do this work have been putting up with the myth of voter fraud targeted in this racialized way for more than a decade.

It's never been substantiated, the presence of widespread voter fraud, and yet it's been used as the excuse for all kinds of voter suppression tactics, voter ID laws and purges and so forth, all of which we've had to fight and overcome to try and ensure that black voters have a right to participate in the political process.

So not only is the president announcing the norm that you can scorch the earth, you can have officials stay at the Trump hotel and drink dom perignon after having a private meeting with you at the White House during the period of canvassing, but that you can also hit the low-hanging fruit. You can also call back that canvasser in Wayne County, who said that she would accept the other votes in Wayne County, but she wouldn't accept Detroit.

It's also the advancing of this racial narrative about voting. I'll say racist narrative about voting that suggests that there is some fraud connected with votes that are cast by majority black voters in cities around this country.

This is so toxic. This is so dangerous. It's also so grotesque. I think about this summer when some of these very same members of Congress, leaders of the Republican Party who have been silent while Mr. Trump has done this, offered these encomiums to John Lewis and purported to understand the sacrifice that he made on the Edmund Pettus Bridge throughout his career, and yet they had stood by and allowed this terrible casting of black votes with this imprimatur of fraudulence, that is so dangerous.

And so, we think that's part of the reason why we have to pursue this as well. It's important. It's not nothing. And it not just about the outcome, it's about the full citizenship of black people, the right to participate in the political process, and have our votes cast and counted and have our votes have the same value as the votes cast by anybody else in our society.

MADDOW: That's exactly right and so well put. It's about accountability and consequences for these tactics built on the kind of foundation you're describing.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, our country is lucky to have you fighting these fights. Thank you for being here tonight. Really appreciate it.

IFILL: Thank you so much, Rachel. I appreciate it.

MADDOW: We'll be right back.


MADDOW: Today, the U.S. recorded more than 100,000 COVID infections for the 20th day in a row. More than 83,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID. It's the highest number we've had yet. Things are very, very bad.

Here's one glimmer of hope for you, though. You may remember a few weeks ago, CDC inexplicably listed their no sail order for the cruise industry, effectively allowing cruise ships to resume the business of sailing floating COVID Petri dishes all over the world. It was another long line of decisions out of CDC under Trump that the agency couldn't explain in terms of the science. It was just another decision where they folded under political pressure from the Trump White House.

But now, with Trump on his way out, a possible glimmer at hope at the CDC. Over the weekend, the agency put out new -- a new travel advisory, now recommending that, quote, all people should avoid traveling on cruise ships because, quote, the risk of COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high. Yeah, right.

We are nowhere near turning the corner on COVID. Things are going to get much worse before they get better. But the first step to turning things around in a sustainable way is a competent, robust, front and center CDC that makes decision based on science and nothing else.

Tonight with this cruise ship thing, maybe one baby step closer to the CDC we used to know? Maybe?


MADDOW: It has been good to be back in the studio again. Thanks to everybody for the patience and forbearance and support for these last couple of weeks while I had to be elsewhere. Happy to be back.

That's going to do it for me tonight. I will see you tomorrow night.

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

Good evening, Lawrence.


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