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Transcript: The Rachel Maddow Show, November 9, 2020

Guests: Tammy Duckworth, Richard Besser, Denise Turner Roth


Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is interviewed. This weekend, even though Donald Trump did not recognize the winner of the presidential election, leaders all around the world did. From United Kingdom, to Canada, to France, to Germany, Israel and Ireland and Greece and India and South Korea, Australia and Qatar, from all corners of the globe, foreign leaders congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and welcomed them to a new world order.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with Ali Velshi, in for Rachel.

Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Good to see you. Have a great rest of your evening.

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

Rachel's still quarantining tonight after a close contact of hers tested positive for COVID-19, but she'll be back soon.

So how was your weekend? Did you take a deep breath for the first time for a few days or in a few months or in approximately four years? Did you finally get some sleep? I did.

We got a lot to get to in tonight's show. But let's take a moment to acknowledge it was a crazy weekend. I'll tell you right now in case you are in withdrawal that later in the show, our very own national treasure Steve Kornacki will be joining me. I have it on good authority Steve finally got some sleep.

But, of course, we all spent the last week on the edge of our seats every day, every hour wondering if this would be the day the election was called, if this would be the hour when the NBC News decision desk finally projected a winner.

By Saturday morning, headline writers were clearly struggling with how to communicate that a Biden win was very likely but not yet 100 percent certain.

"The New York Times" front page on Saturday went with Biden's lead in Pennsylvania, quote, opening a path to the White House.

Let history never forget that in those final hours of lingering uncertainty on Saturday morning, President Trump was golfing at one of the properties bearing his name while his lawyer spouted election conspiracy theories at a parking lot press conference outside a Four Seasons total landscaping in Philadelphia, a gardening business conveniently located next to a sex shop and a crematorium.

Why they held their big campaign press conference there of all places may ultimately take its place among the great political mysteries of history, but history waits for no man. And as the president golfed and as Rudy Giuliani made baseless claims of election fraud outside the landscaping shop, the TV networks and "The Associated Press" all made their calls within minutes of each other.

As soon as the networks projected -- made their projections, spontaneous celebrations erupted across the country, in particular of course in the big urban centers that had voted heavily for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

And there are, of course, millions upon millions of Americans who are not happy with the outcome of this election, but on Saturday, there did seem to be a kind of giant exhalation, a nearly unbearable tension over this hugely consequential election not having a clean resolution. Well, that tension finally broke. Saturday night the president and vice president-elect held a celebration in Wilmington, Delaware, that had been planned and delayed several nights in a row as they waited for the race to be called.

It was a socially distant celebration. A drive-in rally held outdoors with the Biden and Harris families all in masks, but no less jubilant for all of that, and no less historic. Much of Saturday's elation came from Kamala Harris becoming the first woman, the first person of color to be elected vice president. And then it was Sunday, a day of rest if there ever was one, after a week like that.

And now here we are and, no, President Trump has not acknowledged that he lost the election, let alone conceded. He continues to tweet that he is going to win the states that he lost. His lawyers continue to file increasingly thread bare lawsuits that keep getting tossed out of court.

Trump's attorney general this evening has given federal prosecutors the go ahead to investigate, quote, substantial allegations of voting irregularities, except there don't appear to be any substantial allegations. There are barely little allegations.

Vanishingly few elected Republicans have acknowledged Joe Biden's victory. And today, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor to give his backing to President Trump's doomed legal challenges to the election result.

The Trump administration is so far even refusing to sign off on allowing the Biden transition team to start its work. We're going to have more on that in just a moment.

But today, the president sent out his White House press secretary who somehow also works on his campaign, and she spouted such egregious lies about election fraud that even Fox News cut her off mid press conference.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You are welcoming fraud, and you are welcoming illegal voting. Our position is clear. We want to protect the franchise of the American people. We want an honest, accurate, lawful count. We want maximum sunlight. We want maximum transparency.

We want every legal vote to be counted, and we want every illegal vote --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, whoa, I think we have to be very clear, she's charging -- other side is welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal loading. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can't in good countenance continue showing you this.


VELSHI: But all that sound and fury really does seem to signify nothing so far. Even Fox News isn't buying it.

And what we have seen over the last 48 hours or so has actually felt normal. So normal in fact it feels kind of radical. Let's call it radical normalcy.

Messages have poured in from foreign heads of state congratulating the president-elect on his victory. The Biden-Harris transition has launched its website complete with information about the transition team and its plans and priorities for the weeks leading up to the inauguration. Journalists are reporting out who might be in a Biden-Harris White House and cabinet and how they're going to start building their administration.

Today, the president and vice president-elect got right to work, meeting with their COVID-19 advisory board to make plans for battling the coronavirus pandemic. The board is co-chaired by a former surgeon general, a former FDA chief and a public health expert, the people you would expect to run an operation like that in a normal universe.

There are no members of Joe Biden's family on a COVID-19 advisory board. There are no TV commentators with zero coronavirus expertise on the COVID-19 advisory board.

And when Joe Biden spoke to the nation today about the COVID-19 epidemic, he did not downplay it. He warned Americans this winter is going to be tough and many more coronavirus deaths are ahead of us. There was no talk of having turned a corner.

He praised the announcement today from Pfizer. The data from initial clinical trials suggests its vaccine may be more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. But he cautioned even if that bears out, a vaccine is months away and distribution will take time, and therefore, he implored Americans in a way the current president has absolutely refused to do to come together and take the simplest, most effective step available. Wear a mask.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is crisis that affects everyone. As I've said throughout this campaign, I will be a president for every American. This election is over. It's time to put aside the partisanship and the rhetoric that's designed to demonize one another. It's time to end the politicization of basic responsible public health steps like mask wearing and social distancing.

I won't be president until January 20th, but my message today to everyone is this. It doesn't matter who you voted for, where you stood before Election Day. It doesn't matter your party, your point of view. We can save tens of thousands of lives if everyone would just wear a mask for the next few months. Not Democrat or Republican lives, American lives.

You know, maybe we'd save a life of a person who stocks a shelf at your local grocery store. Maybe it saves the life of a member of your place of worship. Maybe it saves the lives of one of your children's teachers. Maybe it saves your life.

So please I implore you, wear a mask. Do it for yourself. Do it for your neighbor. A mask is not a political statement. But it is a good way to start pulling the country together.


VELSHI: President-elect Joe Biden today calling on Americans to pull together to fight a deadly pandemic, the sort of thing you would expect from a president as a baseline, like I said, radical normalcy. But we do only have one president at a time, and our current president has 72 days to do what he will with the office he holds. As the president-elect formulates a plan to fight COVID, the Trump White House and campaign are gripped by a second major COVID outbreak, the potential super spreader event this time may have been a largely mask-free election night party at the White House.

Attendees who have tested positive now include chief of star Mark Meadows, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and David Bossie, the man charged with leading the Trump campaign's legal battle to overturn the election results. He's now sidelined by his COVID diagnosis.

This evening, we learned that Trump's personnel director has threatened to fire any political appointee anywhere in the government who is found to be looking for another job. It's not unusual for political appointees of an outgoing president to start looking for their next gig. But as far as the president is concerned, he did not lose the election and the White House apparently will not abide anyone who thinks he did.

The president has already fired a handful of little known agency directors for reasons that remain unclear, but this is the firing that has really rattled people. President Trump abruptly fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet today. It's not so much that Esper's departure is unexpected. The president has had a classic Trumpian relationship with his defense secretary.

Despite Mark Esper's constant public deference, Trump has made it clear for months he considers Esper not loyal enough.

But while it's not unusual for cabinet members to be replaced in a second term when the incumbent wins re-election, it's almost unheard of for a cabinet member to be fired between an election and the inauguration of a new president.

Here's how NBC News' Ken Dilanian put it today. Quote: President Donald Trump's decision to abruptly fire his defense secretary underscores the national security concerns posed by what is shaping up to be the most volatile and uncertain presidential transition in modern American history, former officials and experts say, end quote.

He goes onto say, the firing of Mark Esper is raising fears that Trump will fire other key national security officials over the next ten weeks and use his enormous power in the military and intelligence realm to act rashly before he leaves office.

Joining us now, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former assistant secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs. Senator Duckworth is a veteran herself.

Thank you, Senator, for being here and taking time for us tonight.

I've heard a lot of Americans very concerned about the firing of the defense secretary. It's not the commerce secretary. It's not some other department of government. It's defense secretary.

He's talked about -- there has been talk about the FBI and other intelligence leaders, but you having been a sworn member of the military understand that the military doesn't work on the orders of the outgoing president. They follow the Constitution.

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): Exactly. The oath that you swear when you join the military is to support and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. So, it's not to carry out the president's orders, it's to defend the Constitution.

Now, you're supposed to carry out all lawful orders given to you. Unfortunately, this president -- you can't be sure that this particular president will actually give you a lawful order.

VELSHI: Now, we do have below the defense secretary, we have the joint chiefs of staff, the chair of the joint chiefs of staff, the chiefs themselves of the various military branches and then the generals who would do anything.

And there's no talk amongst anybody of the military doing something to keep Donald Trump either in power or in the White House as he's determined to have lost the election.

DUCKWORTH: Right. Contrary -- to the contrary, the military leaders have come out. For example, General Millie has come out and said that there's no role in the military to play in this transition process. And he's made it very clear.

And in my conversations with the various leaders, our uniform leaders of the military, they have said the exact same thing. And in fact, I received a message from Secretary McCarthy, the secretary of the army, today saying that they will be in full support of the transition process, a peaceful and smooth transition process as possible.

But that said, the president of the United States firing the defense secretary this soon after the election, this soon after a major transition destabilizes our national security. There's no way to get around it, and it's really what is a foolish move on his part, to put his own very fragile ego ahead of the well-being and the security of our nation.

VELSHI: And -- but it is fragile, and he is doing unusual things. He's tweeting in all caps several times a day. He's talking about how he won the state of Pennsylvania and he won Georgia and Arizona and all this kind of stuff.

You are the political leaders of this country. What are you and your colleagues thinking about right now because Mitch McConnell continues to sort of entertain the idea that he president's got some validity to some of his lawsuits? There isn't single lawsuit that's been filed that appears to have merit.

DUCKWORTH: That's true. And I'm somewhat taken aback by the lack of my Republican colleagues to congratulate Joe Biden, the president-elect, or even to acknowledge and criticize the firing of Secretary Esper that occurred today. So, my Republican colleagues are actually keeping quiet.

And that silence is deafening. That silence is not good for our national security. That silence on the part of my colleagues is not good for a small "D" democracy.

And it's really sad that we're at the place right now where they don't recognize the peaceful transition that needs to happen, but the well-being of the American people.

Don't look out for yourself. Look out for the well-being of the American people. After all, that's what we swore an oath to serve.

VELSHI: And yet on the other side of it, and I have to credit the great producers on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW for talking about the fact that what Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are doing does strike one as radical normalcy. They are just forging ahead. They said they're going to deal with coronavirus as job number one. That's actually what they did.

As we mentioned, there are no family members, there are no cronies. There are no TV commentators involved. It is just experts and they are moving ahead.

Is that the way to fight the strangeness of Donald Trump?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I don't know it's about fighting the strangeness of Donald Trump, right? It's about serving the American people. And I think that is what President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris is doing. That is they're putting the well-being of the American people first.

And what is the first thing we need to do?

We need to fight this COVID-19 pandemic. We've got to get this thing under control. That's why this was the very first thing that President-elect Biden has put out on the agenda because that's what the American people said when they voted for him is that we want you to get this thing under control.

And he's looking out for the well-being of all Americans, not just those who voted for him but every American by going ahead first and foremost with the health care crisis that we're in right now, because only after we get this pandemic under control will we be able to reopen our economy and do all the things we want to do.

VELSHI: Senator Duckworth, good to see you. Thank you for joining me this evening. Senator Tammy Duckworth is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. We appreciate your time tonight.

Today, we passed a huge hurdle in our global fight against the coronavirus. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced that it has come up with a vaccine that it says is 90 percent effective. But as big as coming up with a vaccine is, it's just the first hurdle in a long race.

We're going to a former acting CDC director in just a moment to help us understand what comes next.

But, first, one more thing, it was one of the many claims that President Trump made during his final debate with Joe Biden that didn't really add up. They say the stock market will boom if I'm elected. If he's elected meaning Joe Biden, the stock market will crash.

Now, I'm a financial journalist, but I'm not one to use the stock market as the measure of the economy. But since Donald Trump repeatedly uses it as a scorecard of his presidency, let's take a look how the markets are doing. Today, they soared on the promising news of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine. But they've been soaring for almost a week on news of Joe Biden's win.

The Dow ended the day more than 830 points higher, its highest close since February. On top of that, the S&P 500 had its second highest close in history. It's been a better day and better week for the stock market. Not exactly the crash we were all warned about.


VELSHI: Today, America has reached a terrible milestone. There have now been more than 10 million coronavirus infections here since the pandemic hit our shores. That bleak achievement is reflected in our daily case count, which reached record heights just after Election Day last week.

We passed 120,000 cases on Thursday, surged past 130,000 new cases on Friday. And despite the lies Trump told, the death rate is also on the rise now. We've lost more than 1,000 people per day nearly every day so far this month.

And just moments ago, NBC News' count of COVID deaths passed 240,000, 240,058 Americans dead to COVID.

On the world stage, the Trump administration has made this country the world leader in viral spread. We are, in fact, number one. We account for almost 20 percent of the global case count and body count. More than 18 percent of the global coronavirus deaths were American lives. We are a little more than 4 percent of the world population.

And, yes, things are still expected to get worse before Joe Biden is sworn in as our next president.

But with the new administration working on containment measures during the transition, we might have a chance to turn things right side up. Biden announced his coronavirus task force today, a team of 13 physicians and health experts, and he met with them virtually today.

We also got this huge news. Here's the headline. Quote, Pfizer's early data shows vaccine is more than 90 percent effective. Quote, Pfizer plans to ask the Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization of the two-dose vaccine later this month.

By the end of the year, it will have manufactured enough doses to immunize 15 million to 20 million people, company executives have said.

A vaccine with 90 percent efficacy is a very big deal. But now the question becomes, how do we distribute this? How do we get it to the people who need it to get things under control?

Joining us now is Dr. Richard Besser. He's a former acting director of the CDC.

Dr. Besser, good to see you here. Thank you for being with us, sir.

I love this news. It is -- it is -- there's no question this is fantastic news. There are some specifics we have to understand.

First of all, 90 percent efficacy is pretty good. People think all vaccines are effective against all things, but they're not. Bill Gates a few months ago said he was looking for a combination of vaccines that would together get us to about 95 percent efficacy.

To have one vaccine with 90 percent efficacy is a very big deal.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Yeah. You know, Ali, I always like to wait for independent scientists to verify the data. This is company data and an announcement.

But if this holds up, a 90 percent effective vaccine is a game-changer. This is on the order of the kind of protection you get from measles vaccines and measles vaccines are extremely effective at controlling disease.

There are a number of hurdles to pass. This was data based on seven days following the second dose of vaccine. So they'll be looking again to see how well it protects people 28 days after having received that second dose, and they'll be looking at safety data.

The FDA was clear that they want to see two months' worth of safety data before they would consider any vaccine for approval. So those are important pieces of information to come.

The other piece, Ali, is looking at how it protects not just at overall infection but at serious infection because we know that most people who get COVID thankfully will do well with it. They want to make sure that it's just --

VELSHI: Right, it goes away.

BESSER: -- against serious illness. That's right.

VELSHI: So I appreciate you pointing out that this is company data. Unfortunately for most of this COVID period we've been in, we've mostly got company data, companies announcing what they've doing, the stock goes up and we don't know what that's about. So we do need proper peer review data.

There is something else about this vaccine. It's two doses, and it needs to be kept at negative 94 degrees Fahrenheit, which is sort of colder than trucks run at. It's colder than the fridge at your pharmacy runs at.

So there's a sort of a separate infrastructure issue. How do people get a vaccine that has to be kept that cold?

BESSER: Yeah. I mean this is a real challenge. You know, you need dry ice to be able to keep a vaccine at that level. The company has developed some containers to help transport this vaccine at that level, but many hospitals don't have freezer storage that will keep things at that level.

So, you know, there's a real challenge in getting this out to people who need it, to getting it to rural communities. If you think about vaccine distribution on a global scale and countries where there's large rural populations and less infrastructure, it will be a real challenge. But these are challenges that have to be met.

You know, in this country, we can't -- we can't let a vaccine go out and have it just go to those people who live in places where they are able to get that cold storage. We have to be able to deliver this to people in all communities who are at highest risk.

VELSHI: But I am -- I am confident that the America we all know and the CDC we all knew can get this done. This is where four years ago you didn't think the president was all that important. I think people realize the president is important now.

Can we fix these logistical issues? Can we fix the distribution issues? Can we fix the access issues? And can we be a world leader in whether it's this vaccine or others that are in late-stage clinical trials in doing this again because we seem to have just gotten off the path.

BESSER: We can. We can. This is the kind of challenge that our public health system can rise to. This is the kind of logistical challenge that our government can take on and tackle, and we can do this. You know, every state has been working on vaccine distribution plans. We've known for a long time that two of the vaccines at least, the one here from Pfizer and the one from Moderna, require this kind of cold storage.

So, states have been planning for this as part of Operation Warp Speed. This is something that's been in the works and going. And now that there's a vaccine that's looking like it has that potential, we have to make sure that every community is able to receive this vaccine.

The critical piece, though, here is that people can't just take this news that there's a vaccine that looks effective and say, we don't need to do the other things that will save lives this winter because this vaccine will not have a big impact on COVID transmission this winter. What will work is wearing masks, keeping apart from each other, washing our hands, making sure the resources are there to test and track and isolate, and Congress stepping up and making sure that people have what they need so that people of color in this country and lower income Americans aren't continuing to be hit the hardest.

VELSHI: Yeah, and because Pfizer says 15 to 20 million doses by the end of the year, we will need in excess of 300 million doses in the United States alone and there's an entire world out there that needs these things. They've got to get to everybody and we've got to store it and administrator the vaccine.

So Joe Biden still informing people that it will be several months before anybody sees it. We heard from Dr. Fauci that there may be some ability for some people to get this on an emergency basis by the end of the year, but it's still months away.

Dr. Besser, thank you for keeping us informed and for helping our viewers understand as clearly as you have been doing.

Dr. Richard Besser is a former acting director of the CDC.

OK. A reminder that tomorrow, the Trump administration in Republican-led states will argue to gut the Affordable Care Act at the Supreme Court, advocating to kick 20 million people off their insurance. At the same time, the Trump administration is using an obscure part of the federal government to prevent Joe Biden and his transition team from being able to get to work. It's not like they have a huge mess to clean up or anything. I'll talk about that when we come back.


VELSHI: It was just before 11:30 a.m. Saturday when the networks finally called the presidential race for Joe Biden. That's the first unofficial step in the peaceful transfer of power and transition to a new president.

But while the calls by the major networks garnered hoopla and kicked off celebrations from coast to coast, the next step in the process usually receives a lot less attention. It involves something called the General Services Administration, or GSA. You don't hear about this federal agency much, but these are the folks in charge of all federal buildings. Among other duties, they hold the keys and the passwords and they rent office space for the incoming team.

And under a 1963 law, it is the administrator of the GSA who signs the official document, the proper legal term of art here is ascertainment, which sets in motion the next stage of the process, the handing over of millions of dollars and equipment and office space to the new incoming team. That process is usually completed within hours of the election being called by the networks.

Except more than two days after the major networks this race, the current head of the GSA, a Trump appointee named Emily Murphy, has yet to sign the key document triggering the official start of the transition. And as "The Washington Post" reports, she has no immediate plans to do so.

Now, this story continues to develop throughout the evening. Tonight, "The Washington Post" reports that a top Trump official at the U.S. Agency for International Development is using the GSA's delay as a rationale for not cooperating with the transition to a Biden administration. The official told USAID employees on a call today that the agency would not cooperate until the GSA signs the document.

In other conversations, the official reportedly told colleagues that Biden has not won and emphasized the importance of not abetting the process.

Now, the Biden campaign is weighing, telling NBC News tonight, that it should be entitled to all GSA functions. It's also called on the GSA administrator to swiftly ascertain, that's that word again, to ascertain the result. Said one Biden transition official, quote, we believe that it's been very, very clear that we are the winners in this election, end quote.

Asked what recourse the Biden campaign had, the official replied, quote, legal action is certainly a possibility, but there are other options as well that we are considering.

Now, someone who has unique insight into the GSA and the transition process is Denise Turner Roth. As head of the GSA under President Obama, it was Ms. Turner Roth who ascertained the results of the 2016 election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. She did so on November 9th, 2016, one day after the election, triggering the official start of the transition period for then-President-elect Trump.

Joining us now, Denise Turner Roth. She served as the head of the GSA under President Obama from 2015 until Donald Trump's inauguration in 2017.

Ms. Turner Roth, thank you for being with us this evening.

Suddenly, your role that not many people knew about has become so important. We need to understand it. You had the same role in 2016 of deciding when to ascertain the election results for Donald Trump.

What factors back then did you rely on to make that determination to sign the paper to get the transition started?

DENISE TURNER ROTH, FORMER GSA ADMINISTRATOR DURING OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: Well, thank you for having me this evening. It's good to be with you. There were a number of advisers and our general counsel that we were able to take a look at what actually was the circumstance, and we were looking at some key aspects. Had the states called the election, what were the major networks actually reporting, and actually overnight there was a concession as well, so that made the direction much more clear. But we didn't have to have a concession in order to go forward.

VELSHI: What's -- what's the issue here? There's been a lot of focus on things like office space. But clearly, the Biden administration can fiddle around and do that somewhere else.

What's the main risk of a lengthy delay in ascertaining the results?

ROTH: Actually, I think some of the reporting you did before I came on really pointed to it. The GSA is in the role of the actual transition of all of government, not just the GSA space, not just email addresses, but actually accessing the leadership of agencies, having those agencies be available and responsive to the transition leadership teams, having the meetings, the policy debriefings, all of those activities will occur as a part of the new government getting ready to come in and take over.

None of those steps or many of those steps, and I think the reporting shows it, are happening at this moment because of the movement of the -- the lack of movement of the transition. The ascertainment truly has a key part, and it goes well beyond the office space.

VELSHI: I think you make an important point. It's not the General Services Administration of the transition. It's the General Services Administration of the United States government.

It is all the buildings. It's all the keys. It's all the passwords. It's all the computers. And it's all the access to the important information.

We used to think about this in a post-9/11 world as security related, right? Is there a national security risk?

But now, we're in the COVID pandemic, so we actually need the incoming administration to have as much access as possible, the briefings necessary, the intelligence necessary to make the right decisions.

ROTH: That's correct. And the reason the presidential transition act was put into place is to allow for the smooth transition of government to occur. Prior to having that, sometimes the transitions wouldn't occur at all, or they would be haphazard.

In each time that there's been refinement of the law, it's been so ensure that that transition happens as quickly, as smoothly as possible. At the end of the day, the smooth transition of government, the accurate running of our country, the efforts that move forward to ensure one president moves and another president comes into place are key at this moment.

None of those activities can happen until these efforts are taken, until the ascertainment is achieved. And at the same time, there's also the importance of understanding there's a limit here. There's 77 days between the Election Day and the inauguration day, and the clock is ticking.

VELSHI: Let me ask you about this decision by the head of the USAID that is being reported out tonight, to not cooperate until the GSA ascertains the results. That could -- that could happen in the intelligence community. That could happen in other parts of the government.

Is the GSA's ascertainment the trigger not just for the use of office space and those types of things, but is it the trigger for other government departments to also begin cooperating with an incoming administration?

ROTH: You're absolutely correct. The process that GSA is leading is a transition of the entire U.S. government from one administration to the next administration. This is not just GSA's activities in the items that GSA manages, but it's the full government.

There's a transition counsel that's behind it and a transition team that's been in place and working. But all of the agencies will act according to that -- the ascertainment as it happens.

There's actually a memorandum of understanding that occurs between the transition team and the existing administration, and that also provides a guide post by which the agencies will work with the transition team. So all of those activities need to take place, and they can't happen and they won't occur until this moment takes place of the ascertainment. So there's a very significant moment that's happening here.


ROTH: Yes?

VELSHI: I'm sorry to interrupt you. That memorandum of understanding you're talking about, is that a predetermined thing? Is it a template, or does that negotiation become? Would you have called both the outgoing administration and the incoming administration and written down the agreement that they have about how things are going to go?

ROTH: The negotiations happen between the two. So, between both the existing administration and the incoming administration.

VELSHI: After the ascertainment is made? In other words, that should be the work that's happening right now?

ROTH: That's right. The process may have started before the election actually took place, but it actually is finalized, and it becomes the document by which the two will relate and to move forward the government. There is significant steps that will be outlined as a part of that understanding. And, again, those things cannot occur until the ascertainment's achieved.

VELSHI: Denise Turner Roth, I wish I had met you before because you are a wealth of information on something that our democracy happens to be hanging on at the moment. So, thank you for telling us about how the system is supposed to work.

Denise Turner Roth is the former head of the General Services Administration during the Obama administration. Thank you very much for your time this evening.

I'm not entirely sure how, but Steve Kornacki is still in one piece, and he joins us next.



STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Recounts in Georgia essentially mean a rescan of what's been done very painstakingly over the last five days. And we know that whether it's tomorrow or next week, the result will be the same, that Joe Biden has won the state of Georgia.


VELSHI: Stacey Abrams, former Georgia house minority leader and 2018 gubernatorial nominee saying essentially recount schmecount and projecting confidence that in the end, Biden will have won Georgia.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign doubled down on unfounded claims of voter fraud and just today filed a new lawsuit in Pennsylvania claiming mail-in ballots are unconstitutional and asking the judge to block Pennsylvania from certifying the results.

It cannot be said often enough that so far the Trump campaign has not provided any evidence of voter fraud, which might explain why the courts have been swatting away these lawsuits like flies. And if Pennsylvania's attorney general's response is any measure, this new lawsuit may meet a similar fate.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro tweeting about what he calls the latest meritless lawsuit to challenge Pennsylvania's election, which was overseen by bipartisan officials and was lawful, fair and secure. For months, the majority of these lawsuits have been dismissed and found to have no merit by courts at all levels, and this one is no different.

So where do things stand in terms of the actual math and the map?

I'm not even going to pretend to try and bring you up to speed on that because look who I have. The one, the only Steve Kornacki, my good friend, who I tried to help out a few times in the last week, but he was -- he was hard to get away from that board.

NBC News national political correspondent Steve Kornacki.

My brother, it is good to see you. Thank you for everything that you've done for America.

Let's start with Georgia behind you. It remains one of a handful of races that are too close to call even though President-elect Biden appears to be steadily expanding his lead to more than 12,000 votes now. Tell me where that race standing and what's taking so long.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I mean there is the question here of the recount, and that is going to take some time. But you're right, 12,338 is the official statewide margin, and, yeah, if you're taking a pad like that into a recount, that can be a tough thing, you know, to lose.

Joe Biden, I mean we saw this play out in the days after Election Day, the Atlanta metro area, mail-in ballots, absentee ballots. You just saw Biden, I think it was Thursday night into Friday, sometime in those wee hours, he overtook Trump in the count. And now it's up to a 12,000-vote pad. Biden just got an awful lot of support in that Atlanta metro area, and it even started extending.

You see the blue here. It even started extending a little bit to the north of the blue, into the exurbs. That area is becoming incredibly Democratic. Even the exurbs are now starting to shift a little bit politically.

And there is just a lot more sort of Democratic voting power in that area than there was before. And there's Joe Biden sitting on a lead heading into a recount. You'd rather be in that situation than be the guy 12,000 behind.

Let's talk about Pennsylvania. That is where the lawsuits were starting even before the voting got underway. There are always questions and lawsuits and attempts by the Republican controlled legislature in Pennsylvania, to try and change things there.

We are looking at a lead of 45,000 votes for Joe Biden, 98 percent in, a bunch of provisional ballots not in, and the Trump folks seemed to be honing it on those and on mail in ballots.

We're starting to get some of counties reporting out the provisional ballots right now. I think it is fair to say the provisional ballots typically are overwhelmingly Democratic. There is a little bit more of a Republican presence in the returns that we're seeing so far from these counties but it's not -- Democrats still may have the advantage overall with provisional ballots. The absolute worst for Democrats looks like the provisional will be a wash.

So Biden I think with the provisions as they're counted has that opportunity to build that lead a bit more. And again, that would -- if you pad it here for Biden from 45,000, anything more that he adds to that his lead could end higher than Trump's final victory was in Pennsylvania four years ago.

VELSHI: Steve, you've written a book about some of this stuff, but if you go back to the election of 2000 and Palm Beach County and Broward County and Miami-Dade and places like that, there's actually a dispute. If you looked at a ballot, you would wonder whether the ballot was cast for Al Gore or in the case for Palm Beach for Pat Buchanan which seemed like a mystery.

There's none of that going on in Pennsylvania. The allegations of fraud -- everybody is on the same side of this thing. Count all the ballots. What's happening? Because there's nothing fraudulent that happened that we know of in Pennsylvania. I was there on election night, I spent the days before the election in Pennsylvania.

KORNACKI: You know, I think you bring up 2000, I think whenever -- you know, whether it's a presidential election or a contested state election in general, when you've got any kind of dispute, it's worth remembering the 2000 election in Florida, because that is -- that is the perfect storm of circumstances that really can lead to an extended prolonged standoff. And what that was over in a gigantic state of Florida was a grand total of 537 votes.

That was George W. Bush's official final margin over Al Gore. And when you're in a situation like that you can really parse this stuff. Well, if you look at this ballot with this and this and this in this county cast on this day, you can make all sorts of legal arguments affecting dozens or just a couple hundred ballots, and you can swing potentially an election if you could just tailor it that way.

But we're not in that class here. In Pennsylvania again, you're talking about tens of thousands of votes here. This is just sort of a night and day difference when you're talking about any kind of potential for that sort of legal maneuvering.

VELSHI: Steve, thank you as always. Much appreciated. It has been so great to spend the last few weeks learning a lot from you.

Steve Kornacki, NBC News national political correspondent and all around national treasure.

All right. Often in the Trump administration, the best way to understand what was going on in our country was to look outside of it to see how others saw us. The end of his administration, his electoral loss on Saturday was no different. That's next.


VELSHI: One of Donald Trump's first presidential actions off of American soil was to shove the prime minister of Montenegro. This was at the back end of Donald Trump's first foreign sojourn, physically moving the body of NATO's newest member to make way for his own.

As for Donald Trump and his relationship with the world it never really got much better. There was a time he told the French president he had dandruff and that he had low approval ratings.

He told Justin Trudeau that he was dishonest and weak. And he threw a Starburst candy at Angela Merkel. He refused to walk side by side with the queen of England, but he held hands with Theresa May not just once but twice.

It has actually been kind of a whole thing with this president with foreign leaders and their hands. He famously refused to shake hands with the German chancellor but then nearly broke Shinzo Abe's cling off his wrist.

And, of course, it's been more than just shoving people away and throwing candy. He's embraced dictators who thumb their noses at our democracy while insulting and degrading and eroding our relationships with our most important and cherished allies.

America's relationship with its allies is embedded in the fabric of this country and Donald Trump did his best to yank a few of those threads loose.

But this weekend, even though Donald Trump did not recognize the winner of the presidential election, leaders all around the world did. From United Kingdom, to Canada, to France, to Germany, Israel and Ireland and Greece and India and South Korea, Australia and Qatar, from all corners of the globe, foreign leaders congratulated President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and welcomed them to a new world order. With their congratulations came messages of well wishes, of enduring friendship between nations, of shared interests, of looking forward to a future of cooperation.

My colleague NBC's Richard Engel put it this way. Quote: People around the world were reacting like the United States had overthrown a dictator. The democracy has been saved, that America's reputation had been saved, end quote.

It's been a fraught four years, and we are not yet out on the other side. It will take months, years, maybe generations to bend the moral arc of what this country stands for at home and abroad. But, boy, is there something kind of magic about having the rest of the world give a little wave in our direction this weekend to essentially say we're so happy you're still here.

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


Good evening, Lawrence.


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