Democrats pass landmark legislation as GOP freaks out over Dr. Seuss. House Democrats pass policing reform and voting rights bills. Denouncing cancel culture, a recurring theme at CPAC. GOP leader falsely claims Dr. Seuss has been outlawed. Governor Greg Abbott`s decision to lift the mask mandate and open up all businesses has left many Texans confused and concerned.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: I was voting for maple. You can engage with us about this important issue @arimelber on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. I promise to reply to some donut messages.
THE REIDOUT with Joy Reid is up next.
JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, everyone. We begin THE REIDOUT tonight with the question. What`s the purpose of a political party? What do they actually do? What is government for? What`s the purpose of it?
When it comes to American politics right now, and really for the last decade, at least, but particularly in the post-Trump era, it is clear that for one of our two political parties, the purpose of politics is to write bills, to pass laws, normal stuff. For the other party, the purpose of politics is purely performative. It`s about theater and acting out the worst insecurities and fears and paranoias of the loudest part of their voting base.
You saw it last night as the Democratic controlled House of Representative passed two major pieces of legislations. HR-1, a sweeping voting rights and election reform bill that would expand access to the ballot creating nationwide automatic voter registration, restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated and also the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, the long overdue policing overhaul that would ban choke hold and racial and religious profiling and restrict certain no-knock warrants, two pieces of real impactful legislation. Never mind the fact that they had to do it in the middle of the night, because of ongoing security threats to the Capitol.
They also did it with zero support from Republicans. Well, sort of, I mean one Republican voted yes on the George Floyd Bill. But Texas Republican Lance Gooden later said he oopsied and pressed the wrong button by accident. The official record will reflect his opposition to reforming policing in America.
Soon after every Republican voted against police reform, one rose to address the most pressing issue of our time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEX MOONEY (R-WV): We should all respect and honor Dr. Seuss and forget this cancel culture nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And now let`s just be clear, the purpose of politics is supposed to be to do politics, to enact policy. You are simply not a serious political party if you`re using your time on floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to harp on how the Grinch stole Christmas. In this very unserious political party with no agenda other than opposing anything the Democrats do and trying to trip up people of color and anyone else who doesn`t tend to vote Republican on their way to the ballot box so they can stay in power to do nothing but wage meaningless, theatrical culture wars over supposedly not being able to say Merry Christmas, you can say it, or Mr. Potato Head needing a gender, it`s a potato, or whining about Dr. Seuss being quote cancelled over old time racist cartoons. Narrator, the Publisher stopped printing racist staff themselves.
Now, look, none of this should come as any kind of a surprise to you if you caught any of the CPAC political conference in Florida over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., DONALD TRUMP`S SON: There is nothing the radical left won`t cancel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The cancel culture.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cancel culture.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Cancel culture.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the what, cancel culture.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to cancel, the cancel culture, right?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The radical Democrats, the fake news media and their toxic cancel culture, something new to ear ears, cancel culture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: I know, I know. Sorry about including your toxic ex. Anyway, the latest ridiculous, embarrassing GOP obsession was also evident when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy snuck in a lie of his own on the House floor during the debate on the voting rights bill earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Under the Constitution, we genuinely defer to states and counties to run elections. Democrats want to change that. First, they outlaw Dr. Seuss and now they want to tell us what to say.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Really, Kevin, because you all didn`t seem to defer to the states on January 6th, when you all try to overturn the state election. Then -- and also what is that even mean about the Dr. Seuss thing? What does it even mean?
And then there are other Republican senators who are less concerned with passing a COVID relief bill than performative displays and wasting time. Enter the Republican conspiracy senator from Wisconsin, by way of Moscow, Ron Johnson. He decided to delay a Senate vote on the nearly $ 2 trillion package for Americans who are struggling to survive a year-long pandemic by forcing a full reading of the bill. He explained that chicanery on a Wisconsin radio talk show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI) (voice over): I don`t want to sound like a leftist but I`m going to resist. Okay, so the first way I`m going to resist is I`m going to go down and object to the waiving of the reading to the bill. I will make them read their 600 or 700-page bill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: And just to be clear, when he says them, who he really means are the Senate clerks who are still reading the entire 628-page bill, that they have been for the last three and a half hours. It could take them up to 15 hours. Ah, populism.
But despite that, making the what, $30,000 salary guys read the bill while the $174,000 senators do literally nothing but complain about Dr. Seuss, Senator Johnson`s buddy in the sedition caucus, Ted Cruz, took a break from tweeting about Dr. Seuss to drop this gem of whataboutism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): We`re getting ready to go through an unfortunate bit of political theater. And the reason for that is that the Democrats have made the decision to be hard partisans rather than to work together in a bipartisan manner.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: A theater, you say, Cancun Cruz?
Joining me now is Aisha Mills, a Democratic Strategist, Michael Steele, former Chair of the RNC, and Charlie Sykes, Editor-at-Large at the Bulwark. Thank you all for being here.
I`m going to start with you Charlie, because you know, you write -- The Bulwark is all about sort of policy ideas, it`s all about sort of reconstructing what conservatism, what the politics is supposed to mean. It strikes me that all that the Republican Party is at this stage in its life is just a theatrical enterprise, about you can`t say Merry Christmas, when can totally say Merry Christmas, about Mr. Potato Head needing to have a gender. It is not a living thing. It`s a literal potato with like ears stuck on it.
I mean, but these things seem stupid. But I am shocked that they have been able to get away with this kind of theater for so long.
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you`re right. And this is what`s extraordinary. Have the side shows become the main event for a party that used to say we`re the party of ideas. We used to have debates about the stimulus package or about health care. When was the last time by the way you heard a Republican on the floor of Congress, you know, talking about how do we reform access to health care, you know, perhaps with some substantive policy issue.
But this, I think, is a sign of the dominance of the entertainment wing of the Republican Party, where you have more and more people come to Congress and their job is not to sit in a room and write legislation and solve social problems or even talk about the problems that real Americans face, it is to build followers on social media, it is to be famous for being famous. They are celebrities. So, you have people like Madison Cawthorn that, you know, put together a staff that`s all communications as opposed to legislation, because they are not in that business at all.
But what you`re seeing in the Republican Party is in the middle of an economic crisis and a COVID crisis they are all culture war all the time. And, you know, I mean, frankly, just think about it. It`s March 4th, 2021, half a million Americans have died, and our political dialogue is consumed with the gender of Mr. Potato Head and Dr. Seuss who wasn`t really a doctor.
REID: It`s insane. I mean, you ran this party, my friend, Michael Steele, and, you know, I feel like we had a preview of it when you start -- you go from Mitt Romney being the Governor of Massachusetts and helping to craft the predecessor to Obamacare to all Republicans being against something that the Heritage Foundation had ideas upon that wound up in Obamacare, to them saying repeal and replace but they never had a replacement.
It was just repeal and replace because it was a slogan and it was theatrical, and they could do the tea party sort of fandango. But they never actually came up with the replacement because I guess that at some point they realized that they didn`t have to have any policies.
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes. I think a lot of it rests were Charlie accurately puts it. I mean, it`s not just the entertainment portion of the program that we`re seeing. It is the grifting portion of the program that we`re also witnessing, because from that entertainment comes goo-gobs of cash. Everybody is making some money.
STEELE: And we just saw that profiled in the congressional race of Kim Klacik, who, you know, a team spent all these money on the media side of sort of building up her celebrity.
And so the reality for the party and something I witnessed when I was there which is why the folks on K Street hated my guts because I was cutting off the cash. I wasn`t spending money the way they wanted to spend. I was putting it in the states to actually win campaigns.
And, you know, when you have a party where very few state parties have websites, you got to spend some money. We spent $6 million to build freaking websites because it wasn`t about doing the basic hard door to door stuff that`s required to win the public.
And so, that`s what we`re seeing played out right now on a day-to-day basis, the grift along with the entertainment. We witnessed that at CPAC, which is not even a good former shadow of itself. And so the reality of it is, as long as the cash is flowing and I can go out there and say something ugly about Obama or Biden or both and it`s going to cha-ching my coffers, I`m doing it. And that`s not what a political party should be about today, particularly in the age of COVID.
REID: Exactly, there is no policy. I mean, you think of Matt Gate, who`s basically just a Twitter troll for a living, for $174,000 of our tax money. You got Jim Jordan, who`s running around calling for a literal hearing. Like can we play him? This is cut two, this is Jim Jordan, calling for a hearing on cancel culture.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JORDAN: First, it was Kermit the Frog and The Muppets and Mr. Potato Head, then now Dr. Seuss. But don`t forget, they also came after you guys. They came after Fox News, One American news and Newsmax too. So this is frightening where the left wants to go. I have said, I think this is the biggest threat to freedom we face.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: This guy has already got ethics issues. He needs to like worry about his own hometown. You know, there`re all of these -- you`ve got Elaine Chao, who`s got ethic -- they`re not worried about that and, you know, even protecting themselves from ethics issues. They`re worried about having hearings on cancel culture.
Aisha Mills, it seems crazy, but here is how many times Fox News has talked about Dr. Seuss. Since Monday, they`re have been 33 segments. 33 segments about Dr. Seuss, only once did they actually show any of the Dr. Seuss images because they don`t want to show the actual racist images because they`re like they just hate Dr. Seuss because he had a cat. It has a cat on the cover, so they just hate things with a cat. Like they are trying to pretend like they don`t know why they have a problem with it. Dr. Seuss Enterprises is who cancelled those books because they`re embarrassed by them. But they`re making these into the most important issue during a pandemic. Your thoughts?
AISHA MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, the fact that this is sort of a complete and ridiculous lie, that Democrats had anything to do with this, is, in fact, indicative of this party that doesn`t care about facts, right? All of this is a really Republican strategy to essentially dumbify the American public.
The intention of, you know, I would even say the tea party, but all of what we`ve seen in modern culture, I think, of the Republican Party, is to make sure that Americans are bit deaf, dumb and blind to what government is supposed to do for them, to facts, to reality, to science generally. The whole idea is to throw rope a dope out there and make you believe that your government isn`t actually supposed to serving you, working for you, creating any opportunity, any equality, anything.
Because there is this sentiment that for some to be a Republican is to be anti-government, which to me is extremely ironic, because all these people are running for office to get these jobs that they then say they should defund and that those jobs should do nothing. They shouldn`t pass a legislation. They shouldn`t do any work. They should just talk about cultural phenomenon`s.
And I think that, you know, really at the end of the day, at the heart of all of this is about eroding civics, eroding democracy, making sure that the public is a bit deaf, dumb and blind to all things that are going on, that impact our wellbeing.
And that is what makes me so -- I would say, funny as it is, sometimes, it`s really quite frightening. Because when you can deconstruct the entire society and have people believing that those who elect you are supposed to do nothing for you and that all of this is about is some kind of like cultural war, then where are we as you know, as society that`s supposed to come together to serve all people? We`re nowhere. That is the playbook.
And that`s to me is what`s sinister about all of these, is that it`s far more bigger -- it`s far bigger than some of the gaffes that we think are a bit laughable. There is really played to make people disbelieve in the fundamentals of our society and that is not only tragic, it`s really dangerous.
REID: Right, I mean, Charlie, the right loves to talk about virtue signaling. Everything is virtue signaling, but all they do is their version of virtue signaling. It is, to Aisha`s point, they have decided that their actual job, that they`re getting paid by the public`s tax dollars to do is to constantly signal outrage over some cultural issue or another, most of which are completely unimportant to people`s lives.
I mean, look, here is Mrs. Potato Head. I brought Mrs. Potato Head, I went, got her today. Does she matter in your life right now? Is this what`s important to you right now, that she is able to be a girl Mrs. Potato Head? I mean, I can take her nose or her mouth and then she`ll just be a potato. This is not -- this is what they`re talking about. I mean, Charlie, this is more important to them than health care.
SYKES: It does feel like we`re living in a movie version of Idiocracy. And, by the way, at least she`s in anatomically correct, I think, in that version. But, you know, so you mentioned virtue signaling. If, in fact, what`s wrong with the signaling virtues at a certain point, virtues are supposed to be signaled, but what they are is this perpetual outrage machine.
And when you run out of things to be genuine outraged about you`re outraged by Mrs. Potato Head or Mr. -- or Dr. Seuss. I mean, this is one of those things. I`m sorry, you know it feels -- you can`t make this up. You can make this up if you have members of Congress standing on the floor in the midst of all of this and they could talk about the minimum wage, they could talk about putting money -- you know, how do we accelerate the vaccines, and instead we`re talking about how we can make people mad at one another.
And to Aisha`s point, you know it`s not just dumbing it down. It`s a way of basically saying these other people don`t share your values. They are so -- they are out to get you. They hate you. They are going to destroy everything good and beautiful and, apparently, the symbol of good and beautiful today is you`re holding in your hand that we must fight. We must fight for Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head.
REID: There have to be gender.
REID: She`s got a cute little handbag.
And, you know, Michael, it seems ridiculous for me to be sitting right here on the primetime television new show with a Mrs. Potato Head next to me, but this is what they`re doing on the right. This is the equivalent of what Republican governance has become. Hanging around with a potato and making sure that the potato is a girl or a boy, because God made potato and potato not potato and patato. That is literally the Republican platform at this moment.
STEELE: So if I`ve known that Mrs. Potato Head was going to show up today, while Mr. Potato Head was out, I would have brought my Spud, which in my closet over here, in my pantry. And, you know, then that could have been an interesting program between Spud and Mrs. Potato Head.
REID: If you trying to turn Mrs. Potato Head into a French fries, Michael Steele?
STEELE: I`m saying -- I`m just saying -- so here is, I get it in Charlie.
SYKES: Freedom fries.
MILLS: Nobody is trying to solve the problem. And I think that that`s the thing that is just so disconcerting to me. I live in Trump country now. And what is so ironic about folks is that they actually have no expectation that government is even designed to solve problems. So, yes, people are dropping dead left and right from COVID. Oh, well, I don`t know whose problem that is, right? I can`t afford to pay my mortgage.
MILLS: Oh, well, I guess nobody is supposed to deal with that. It`s crazy.
REID: You know whose problem is? It`s the problem of politics are what we have to solve that. The purpose of politics is to solve problems.
STEELE: It is.
REID: Not to complain about this. I`m sorry last word to you, Michael.
STEELE: Joy, just real quick because I think again Charlie is put his finger on the accurate pulse here. And it really does go to cultural impact of all of this has, which is what -- so -- that blogs up the whole thing around policy, because there`s still a lot of consternation about it.
And I`ve had this conversation. How did we lose the culture war on abortion? How did we lose the culture war on gay marriage? How did we lose the culture wars on families that don`t look like my white picket fence family? And I think that that is one of the more animating principles right now that, again, gets back to Charlie`s first point about the entertainment and the grift. And when you put those two in that space, you can aggrandize it and you can raise money off of it. And that`s the ugly part of all of this.
REID: Yes, that`s exactly right.
STEELE: Because they don`t really care about the real cultural impacts.
REID: Totally. People are selling Dr. Seuss books for $3,000 on Etsy. I couldn`t find Mr. Potato Head in the store. I wanted three different (INAUDIBLE) to try to buy one. It`s all sold out. People are making money on this left, right and center but no one is getting any policy solutions.
Aisha Mills, Michael Steele, Charlie Sykes, and Mrs. Potato Head, thank you for joining us. You didn`t have a lot to say but thank you for being here. I thank you all for being here today.
Meanwhile the threat of violent -- really serious staff, the threat of violent -- a violent new plot had the Capitol on high alert today. For the dangerous and deluded far-right, however, this was supposed to be the day that orange Julius Caesar returned in triumph to cease power.
Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the crowned prince of the Republican cult, says a huge campaign donation had nothing, nothing at all, to do with how a very wealthy Florida enclave got all the vaccines they needed.
And as bad as that smells, Governor DeSantis, you are not, believe it or not, you are not tonight`s absolute worse. But it was really, really close. The big reveal is coming up. THE REIDOUT continues after this.
REID: The threat to the U.S. Capitol is so pronounced that the U.S. House of Representatives had to cancel today`s session, after DHS and the FBI warned that some domestic extremist groups have discussed plans to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers.
And the Capitol Police released a statement on a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an unidentified militia group. Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged that the decision was made for security reasons but downplayed its significance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): If, in fact, there`s any troublemakers around, it made sense. I don`t think anybody should take any encouragement that, because some troublemakers might show up, that we changed our whole schedule. No, we just moved in a few hours, and it largely will accommodate the Republicans going out to their own session.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: D.C. has been heavily fortified since the plot -- since the riot -- sorry -- on January 6.
And, today, the Capitol Police requested a 60-day extension for the National Guard to continue to protect the Capitol.
In an exclusive interview with my colleague Jacob Soboroff, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas detailed the seriousness of the threat that domestic extremism poses
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, U.S. SECRETARY HOMELAND SECURITY: We are watching the threat stream, the information, social media, other sources with respect to this particular day, March 4.
But, quite frankly, we are vigilant every day, as we must be, when the threat is as acute as it is in the domestic violent extremism context.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Joining me now is Frank Figliuzzi, former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI.
And, Frank, thank you for being here.
You have got a piece that`s up on MSNBC now. And I will read a little bit of it. You said: "There`s one truth that went unspoken during the testimony on Tuesday about the January 6 attack, how the January 6 attacks were allowed to occur in the first place and by whose hand."
I want you to get a little bit more into that, because it does seem that, at this stage, all of these agencies of government are being extra protective. Today was supposed to be the -- quote -- "grand re- inauguration" of Donald Trump, according to QAnon kooks.
But they really sort of had the battlements up for it. What do you mean by that, that they were allowed to occur by those -- by whose hand? And do you think they`re doing better now?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, the January 6 insurrection didn`t just spontaneously combust. It didn`t happen overnight. It was incited. It was cajoled and cultivated and encouraged.
And until we come out, as a nation, as leaders, as law enforcement executives, and call that out and say, look, we`re going to -- we`re holding hundreds of people accountable by arresting them for the violence that occurred on January 6. But until we say that you guys in the House and the Senate and former President Trump made this happen, facilitated and enabled it, and, therefore, you are radicalizers, until we hold them accountable for that, we will continue to have entrenched -- entrenched violent extremism in our society.
And we will continue to see extensions of National Guard and millions of dollars have to be paid to secure the iconic symbol of our democracy. It comes from the top. And until we acknowledge that and hold them accountable, we will continue to have this problem.
REID: And there`s a lot of conservative angst and complaint about the ongoing security posture in the Capitol.
In fact, the National Guard troops are still there and say, well, it makes us look like we`re sort of an embattled Third -- you know, banana republic. But the reality is, they`re acting like they didn`t hear any of the testimony.
I mean, the acting police -- Capitol Police chief said -- Yogananda Pittman said, they want to blow up the Capitol. She testified to that. They want to blow -- let me just play it. Let`s play it.
This is cut three.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YOGANANDA PITTMAN, ACTING U.S. CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6 have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Now, let -- let me let you hear what representative Michael Waltz -- he is, of course, a Florida, of course. This is what he is claiming about the security sort of protocol.
Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-FL): January 6 was horrible. Everybody should be prosecuted that participated.
But I`m just not seeing this specific threat that keeps these soldiers here. I have been asked -- I have been asking official after official for that briefing, and we`re not getting it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: What does he understand about they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible? I don`t see how we can get anywhere on this, Frank, if you have got one party that`s decided it`s just going to pretend it doesn`t hear what we all hear.
FIGLIUZZI: This is feigned ignorance. It`s willful ignorance, because the truth hurts.
The truth is that the threat is us, is what -- is what he`s essentially saying. Every time he pretends he hasn`t heard the briefing, he doesn`t know what the threat is, he`s essentially acknowledging, the threat me, and I have to get with the program now.
So, look, one of the most disturbing things about the fact that business at the Capitol had to be altered today, in some ways shut down, is that we`re sending a message that -- it`s like the kid who doesn`t want the math test today and calls in the bomb threat to the school to close it down.
We can`t keep having this conversation. Security`s got to get tighter. And I`m -- from a national security perspective, I`m also concerned about the message it`s sending to foreign adversaries, who clearly now are saying, that place is still insecure, still can`t repel a small handful of violent militias. So, what are we going to do about this?
And the review can`t come out fast enough. Reports as recently as today is that they`re going to have to add another 1,000 security personnel to the Capitol Police force. Let`s do it. Let`s get it done. But let`s not close down the Capitol again because of some deranged extremists who can`t understand the truth.
REID: How concerned are you about the threats that are even further inside the house?
I mean, there was a guy who was senior in the State Department who had to be pulled out of Afghanistan because he had a Facebook post saying that America is over without Donald Trump in place, and making racist statements about the vice president.
I mean, there are people still embedded inside of our government who are carrying that Trump banner.
FIGLIUZZI: Yes, government agencies are not a monolith. They reflect the polarization and division in our society, but they cannot remain if they`re going to espouse violence or false conspiracy theories.
So, it is part of the new administration`s job to ferret out violence and falsehoods within the U.S. government. That`s got to be a priority. And I`m, quite frankly, not really hearing about that enough from new agency leaders, new Cabinet members. But, moving forward, you`re going to hear a lot about it.
REID: Yes, indeed.
Frank Figliuzzi, thank you. Always great to talk with you.
And still ahead: the dangers of Trump in political exile. This is a fascinating conversation. Republican leaders are not content to let the twice-impeached election loser slip quietly into the water hazard on the 14th hole. No, no, no, no. He`s still running the show from his resort home in Florida.
Will they never, ever learn?
REID: Despite the far-fetched prophecy from the cultish QAnon movement, disgraced former President Donald Trump did not emerge from retirement today to be inaugurated once again.
That`s not surprising, given how ludicrous that idea actually is. But the FBI`s warning of potential violence at the Capitol today is a reminder that these kinds of beliefs are potent enough to represent an ongoing threat.
As the events of January 6 showed, we`re witnessing a new brand of right- wing conspiratorial thinking, one fomented by the former president and encouraged among his base. And it remains one of the lingering dangers of Trumpism, even though Trump himself is out of office.
And now author Masha Gessen is out with a cautionary tale in "The New Yorker," warning that Trump`s path to regaining power is already clear.
Gessen offered the alarming example of Hungary`s now autocratic leader Viktor Orban, whose rise to power included an eight-year political exile after his party was voted out in 2002.
"Like Trump," Gessen writes, "Orban continued to claim that the election had been stolen, because, in his view, if he wasn`t in government, then the government had been hijacked. Those attacks fueled his comeback in 2010. And, by that time, government institutions were widely viewed as illegitimate and therefore easy to corrupt or dismantle."
And joining me now is Masha Gessen, staff writer at "The New Yorker" and author of "Surviving Autocracy."
Very excited to talk with you today, Masha.
You wrote a cautionary tale in 2016, warning us that the institutions will not save us. And we barely were saved by them this time. We say on the team that we were one corrupt Georgia official or one corrupt Pennsylvania local official away from having the election stolen.
Talk about how this might work. Donald Trump has sort of installed himself a sort of president in exile from Mar-a-Lago. How could that help bring him back to power?
MASHA GESSEN, "THE NEW YORKER": Right.
So, I was -- I went back and looked at some instructive examples from Eastern and Central Europe, Hungary and Poland. And there are two really interesting things. Viktor Orban, who was out of power for eight years, really launched an attack on the legitimacy of the party in power and the legitimacy of the entire system as soon as he was voted out of office.
He positioned himself as the only true Hungarian, the only true representative of Hungary. There was this amazing phrase that has stayed with people who have been watching Hungarian politics for a long time, which is, he said, the homeland cannot be in the opposition, meaning that the only true Hungarians were with him.
Donald Trump is doing something very similar. The Kaczynski party in Poland, the Law and Justice Party, which was out of power for a similar amount of time, what they did is instructive in a different way, which is that they really over the years that they were out of power consolidated a kind of conspiratorial world view, which became the ultimate political marker.
If you believed in the conspiracy about Russia blowing up the entire Polish government on a plane, then you were a true patriot, then you were a true Pole. And if you didn`t believe it, then you were a European, cosmopolitan, and all the wrong stuff, right?
And so we`re actually seeing a combination of these things in this Trump -- in Trump positioning himself as a kind of president in exile. But I`m particularly concerned about this attack on the legitimacy of the party in power and the government as it`s constituted.
REID: Yes, because, basically, what you`re saying is that Donald Trump is - - and he is -- he`s constructing this same idea that the election itself -- he keeps saying it in these official-looking documents that look like they had a presidential seal on it -- the election was stolen. We know we really want. We, the real true Americans, really won.
But we had this conversation the team -- on the team -- one of our team calls this morning, that, to me, it`s like, if he were just doing that on his own, like some kooky Florida -- Floridian, he was the new Florida man, it kind of wouldn`t matter, except that he`s also subdued every single member of Republican leadership, so that they do it with him.
Let me just play -- this is a bit long, but I want you guys to listen, to the audience, to hear this. This is Republicans then and now on Trump. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I don`t get angry often, but you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time.
Donald, you`re a sniveling coward. And leave Heidi the hell alone.
I am honored that President Trump is here endorsing and supporting my campaign, and I look forward to campaigning alongside him in 2020.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think Donald Trump`s a con man. I`m not going to support somebody I don`t believe is a reliable Republican conservative.
I like the president. I want to help him. I hope he`s successful. He`s been a friend to me.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): President Trump`s actions preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: If the president was the party`s nominee, would you support him?
MCCONNELL: The nominee of the party? Absolutely.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Do you think the subservience of Republican leadership, including the supposedly very powerful Mitch McConnell serves to make this thing, this horror show more likely?
MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR, "SURVIVING AUTOCRACY": Yes, I do. I mean, I think that one of the scariest things we heard last weekend at CPAC was Donald Trump saying I`m not leaving the party. I`m not forming another party.
My favorite autocracy experts who have literally written the book on contemporary autocracies said that`s really bad sign. It`s not -- we don`t want the never Trump Republicans to leave the Republican Party either. He said that would be terrible solution because whoever leaves the party loses. Basically we have lost the Republican Party. We lost the Republican Party to this position of attacking the legitimacy of government. It`s a permanent war against the American system, the political system.
The Republicans aren`t going to same themselves and save us. It`s up to the Democratic Party to engage the political audience, at least part of it that Trump has engaged.
REID: It`s scary to think about this. We`ll recommend every one read your piece.
Masha Gessen, thank you as always. Everybody read that piece. Thank you.
And up next, Republican governors in two states are in a dead heat, dead heat for tonight`s absolute worse. There can be only one. Only one. Who will it be?
Stay with us.
REID: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is very proud of himself and his handling of the pandemic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Florida got it right and the lockdown states got it wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: What he doesn`t tell you is that he has ruled his state like a real like version of the Hunger Games, a deadly free for all. In January, he refused to come up with statewide plan for vaccine delivery arguing it was not up to him to dictate how hospitals should deliver services. Unsurprisingly was a total bedlam, confused seniors, crashed state websites, jammed phone lines and spent hours waiting overnight in the cold to get vaccinated.
This free for all continues to this day. And late today, the governor announced he has expanded the pool of people who could get the vaccine to include people with let conditions, but he didn`t bother to define what those conditions are.
Naturally, this triggered mass confusion prompting Floridians to call their doctors and pharmacists demanding answers.
But here`s the thing, Ron`s survival fittest of the government doesn`t apply to his donors. "The Miami Herald" is reporting today that DeSantis had the state hand-select to posh community in the Keys to receive the vaccine. Why would he do that?
According to "The Herald," the ultra exclusive neighborhood is home to the mega wealthy. More importantly, it`s home to a number of very wealthy Republican donors. His donors.
And guess what? It`s not first time he`s done this. In February, DeSantis decided put a pop up vaccine in two of Manatee County`s wealthiest and mostly white ZIP codes. One of them is home to another wealthy donor.
When confronted with the allegations he threatened to pull the Democrats. Florida Democrats calling for a federal investigation for favoring wealthy donors for vaccines. So, you think this would make him the worse.
But no, no, he`s not. You know who is absolute worse is. Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Yes. He`s a repeat offender.
Here is why. After following DeSantis down the COVID denial path and opening up his state without restrictions he`s dishing out anti-immigrant xenophobia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: The Biden was releasing illegal immigrants into our communities who had COVID. The Biden immigration was spreading COVID in south Texas yesterday because of their lack of constraints of testing and quarantining people who come across the border illegally. The Biden administration was exposing Texans to COVID. That is Neanderthal type approach to dealing with the COVID situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: So, for that absurdly racist claim, Governor Abbot is the absolute worst, for the second time this week. You got to work hard to get there.
Much more on that after the break, as well as new reporting that Abbot never bothered to consult some of his top health adviser before he ended his state`s COVID restrictions. Stay right there.
REID: Governor Greg Abbott`s decision to lift the mask mandate and open up all businesses has left many Texans confused and concerned. Stores like Target, Starbucks, and CVS will still require customers to wear masks, leaving the unfortunate task of enforcement to essential workers, who will become de facto mask police facing off with unruly customers.
Experts warn that now is not the time to lift the mandate. Back in April when he first tried to prematurely open the state, Abbott assured Texans that his decisions would be made in consultation with a panel of medical experts. Apparently that wasn`t true.
"The Texas Tribune" reported that three of the four experts on that panel say they were not consulted.
For more I`m joined by Dr. Bernard Ashby, Miami-based vascular cardiologist, and Dr. Ivan Melendez, Hidalgo County local health authority.
And I`m going to start with you, Dr. Melendez, what do you make of the fact that your governor lifted the mask mandates all over the state point black, lifted all restrictions and didn`t even ask his own state medical experts?
DR. IVAN MELENDEZ, HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS HEALTH AUTHORITY: If you come to my office and you have a blood pressure problem, I don`t give you a depression pill. If you have depression, I don`t give you an antibiotic. You cannot give the same medication for every disease process. Texas is diverse as a country. In the very south, completely different than our brothers that are in Corpus and Dallas and Houston and San Antonio.
Incidentally, I was giving a conference to a large group of people via Zoom day before yesterday about the importance of mask wearing when someone in the audience says, and what do you think about the governor`s announcement? And he puts his phone up to the zoom, and at the same time that I`m enforcing the use of masks, our governor is saying the exact opposite.
And so, you can imagine our embarrassment, our despair. You know, we always want to be professional, so we don`t do personal attacks. But it`s a very hard position to defend and, remember, we`re the group of people that were the hardest hit in the country in July, and it was only after the governor took the individual flexibility, maneuverability from my county, and we went from 13 deaths in five weeks to 50 a day after the same medicine for everything.
We cannot have the same approach if you live in Big Bend or if up live in McAllen, Texas.
REID: Very quickly before I go to Dr. Ashby.
I mean, he also added this nice racist twist to it, blaming migrants from Central America for bringing COVID. This sounds like the old days when people used to attack Haitian migrants and try to blame them for HIV and try to stigmatize, or what we just talked about yesterday on the show, Asian-Americans being completely, unfairly stigmatized and in some cases beaten and harmed because of the previous president attaching COVID to anyone who is Asian-American because he blamed it on China.
What do you make of that racism?
MELENDEZ: Well, I have two comments. Number one, back in July when there was the same size fits all, we didn`t have an immigrant problem. And yet we immediately became a chaos without the influence of immigrants. Obviously, you cannot deny that 9,000 undocumented folks or documented folks, people that are coming, it doesn`t matter if you`re going from Oklahoma or to Florida or to Alaska, if you`re having folks coming in from central America, 9,000 in our community, not tested and released, it absolutely contributes.
However, that`s not the predominant problem. The predominant problem is that --
MELENDEZ: -- we`re just breaking through. I don`t think it`s the migrants` fault although quite frankly releasing 9,000 people from different communities, it doesn`t matter if you`re from Finland or El Salvador, it`s a problem.
REID: That`s right. Yeah, I heard a lot of people aren`t thrilled to have people coming from Texas to their states now that it`s all open for COVID.
You know, Dr. Ashby, the runner-up to absolute worst tonight was the governor of Florida, who is always in the running. But there`s a different twist in Florida where essentially it`s like vaccines to the highest bidder. It feels like Florida is becoming sort of a gangster`s paradise of vaccine selling. Is it as bad as I feel like it is?
DR. BERNARD ASHBY, MIAMI CARDIOLOGIST: Joy, love the green top first of all. And every time I`m on here, you try to get me in a good mood, but I`m not right now. Dr. Melendez, pleasure to be back on here with you.
So just to be clear, okay, Florida`s governor, DeSantis, is the worst, okay? So we`re talking about the revocation of mask mandates without consulting the experts, try not even putting them in place in the first place. We don`t have any, okay? So that`s one.
And let`s take it a step further. DeSantis from the onset of this pandemic has made consistent decisions that prioritize profits and the economy over the public interests and the health and wellness of the population. And he is has now moved to a next phase where we`re dealing with the vaccine distribution.
First of all, there`s no transparency with the vaccine distribution strategy, right, at all. We don`t know how the rhyme or the rhythm -- the rhythm as to how they`re distributing the vaccine. We have no idea. So that`s all being concealed from us.
All we know is that Governor DeSantis has used his executive action to, on a whim, do pop-up clinics here and there, and this proportionately went to the communities with the wealthiest ZIP codes, the communities that donate to his campaign. He has had the highest fund-raising since the 2018 election over the past two months.
And down in the Keys, one of his wealthiest donors gave him $250,000, and they got their vaccines back in January.
Mind you, my patients back in January, back in February couldn`t even begin to get access to the vaccine. And these are the type of things that just piss me off because at the end of the day, Dr. Melendez, I respect you for being gentlemanly and being respectful, but I don`t play when it comes to my patients. I don`t play when it comes to my community. I`m going to go off on you because when it comes to life and death, I don`t play.
MELENDEZ: Well, let me respond.
REID: And we have Republicans who -- go on. Yes, please do.
MELENDEZ: I`m going to respond.
Look, I -- I don`t respect the message from the governor. I don`t respect the policy. I don`t have to disrespect him as a man.
I`m very upset too. I can tell you, you know, my uncle died, my neighbor died. I intubated my sixth grade schoolteacher. I caught the disease myself. I`ve lived it.
And if I had to go back in the last year and mention three of the moments that I scratched my head absolutely, this is on the top of the list. When you have only 30 percent of your people vaccinated and you`re rolling back, absolutely.
So, you know, I understand the passion, and I feel it too, and I completely disagree with what he`s doing. But I think what we need to do is we need to just be consistent with the message and say, hey, here we are. Get our opinion. Include us. Let us be part of the solution.
REID: It doesn`t seem like that is the plan, however.
But Dr. Bernard Ashby, and Dr. Ivan Melendez, thank you both for being here. Appreciate you both. Appreciate the passion.
That is tonight`s REIDOUT.
"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END