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Transcript: The ReidOut, December 29, 2020

Guests: Donna Shalala, Ashish Jha, Elaine Batchlor, Edward Markey, Stacey Abrams

Summary

COVID vaccinations off to a slow start, with more than two million vaccines rolled out, far from the 20 million that was promised by the end of the year. This lag happening as hospitals hover near maximum capacity with the Trump administration leaving the vaccine rollout up to the states. The Trump campaign launched another Hail Mary legal attempt to over turn the election, asking U.S. Supreme Court to review a Wisconsin ruling upholding that state's result before January 6th, when Trump and his supplicants in Congress think they can mount a last ditch effort to stage a coup of sorts.

Transcript

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: They said there's too much handshaking. And that was before we knew to stop shaking hands. We'll see you back here tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. "THE REIDOUT" starts now.

JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. I'm Jason Johnson in for Joy Reid.

Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed or ludicrous speed or hyperspace, anyway turned out to be anything but. With only 2.1 million people initiating vaccination, meaning they've received their first dose. That figure is nowhere close to the 20 million vaccinations the Trump White House promised would be administered by the end of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If authorized tens of millions of vaccine doses will be available this month.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We literally are on track to distribute tens of millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine before the end of this month.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We expect to have enough doses to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of this year.

GEN. GUSTAVE PERNA, OPERATION WARP SPEED CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: The number of doses available to us to allocate ended up being lower.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We certainly are not at the numbers that we wanted to be at the end of December.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR MD, ASSISTANT HHS SECRETARY: By the end of this week we will have distributed about 15.6 million doses to the states. By end of next week we'd be at about 19.9 million distributed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: How many doses you got? A lot. That last bit about 19.9 million doses by the end of this week, keep in mind that means doses distributed to the states. It does not mean those doses are actually going into arms.

This snail pace of a rollout is put simply a mess, with dozens of states saying they didn't receive the number of promised doses. We're now approaching 340,000 COVID deaths. And while the president golfed again today, the president-elect presented a remarkable game-changing goal for his first 100 days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I have laid out three challenges in our first 100 days. One of them is ensuring that 100 million shots have been administered by the end of the first hundred days. If Congress provides the funding, we'd be able to meet this incredible goal. It would take ramping up five to six times the current pace to one million shots a day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Joining me now, Congresswoman Donna Shalala from Florida who also served as secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton administration, Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, and Dr. Elaine Batchlor, CEO of Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital Los Angeles.

Thank you all so much for joining me this evening.

Donna Shalala, I have got to ask you first. Is this plan by Joe Biden feasible? With the resources and the technology that we have available today, is this rollout possible or is he just being really optimistic right now?

REP. DONNA SHALALA (D-FL): He's being optimist. But I have great faith that they are thinking through how they can ramp up the number of vaccinations. Look, in 1947, New York City inoculated 6.3 million people in less than a month. It really takes a different level of planning. You don't just send out the vaccinations. You have to have planning. And frankly, the developing world knows more about mass vaccinations than we do here in the United States because we use an existing institution.

So we're going to have to go beyond existing institutions. I will feel better when Walgreens and CVS and Target and Walmart and wherever you turn you can get a vaccination. And they shouldn't be with holding these vaccinations for the second dose. They should get everything out that they can possibly get out. But they are just not organized and they're totally dependent on a public health system that's quite weak in terms of the distribution.

You cannot depend just on the hospitals. If you saw what the public health people in New York in 1947, they didn't depend just on the healthcare institutions.

JOHNSON: Right.

SHALALA: They did a real ad hoc operation to get that many vaccinations done.

JOHNSON: With that in mind, Dr. Batchlor, there was a tweet by Dr. Wen today that went into a great deal of detail about what the rate would have to be for vaccinations in order for the United States to reach any short of herd immunity or put this under control. At our current rate it would take 10 years in order to get this country over the hump with COVID.

How fast do you think it's realistic for us to be maybe in six months from now if there's not a tremendous amount of pushback for Joe Biden's plans?

DR. ELAINE BATCHLOR, CEO, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. HOSPITAL IN LOS ANGELES: Well, I'm hoping that President-elect Biden will be able to implement a plan to get the vaccine out to our communities as quickly as possible. As a hospital, we are actively engaged right now in vaccinating our staff. So we have currently vaccinated over 1,000 members of our staff. I've had a vaccine myself.

We are focused on educating the community next and making sure that people understand that the vaccine is safe and effective, and the way for us all to protect ourselves, our communities, and to end the pandemic.

JOHNSON: Dr. Jha, so while we're beginning the sort of slow process under this current administration of rolling out the first dose of the vaccine, we've also now been struck in this country by our first case of the new strain of coronavirus. It's been found in Colorado.

The biggest question in everybody's mind, first of off, does this current vaccine -- can it stop this new strain of the virus, and two, if it can't stop this new strain of the virus, what kinds of changes might we need to take at sort of the chemical level or the pharmaceutical level in order to be prepared for these kinds of changes?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. So great question. And again thanks for having me on. Look, here's the bottom line. This strain, the U.K. strain that we've been talking about for a couple of weeks was detected in somebody in Colorado who has not been traveling. So that means that this person picked it up in Colorado from somebody else, which means that this strain is here.

It's been in the U.S. probably for some time. But we're not monitoring for this and that's one of the reasons we haven't identified it until now. One of the things we've got to do as a country is start monitoring for these things. I mean, it's really stunning that other countries are monitoring more than we are.

On the issue of vaccines, I actually do think that this -- the current vaccine is likely to work. Not 100 percent sure. None of us are. But I think those studies need to be done and they're being done right now. Imagine that terrible outcome where a variant becomes resistant to the vaccine. And I think it's not likely. I think it's unlikely. But look, this is not -- a lot of unlikely stuff has happened in this pandemic.

There are probably about six weeks before a new vaccine could be generated. That would allow us to target that new variant. I don't know whether it will have to go through all of the FDA testing in the same way. There's a lot of unanswered questions. But in the short run I'm pretty confident that the vaccine is going to do really well by us.

JOHNSON: But, Donna, what we're hearing also right now as these vaccines are being rolled out is that Hill staffers will be getting vaccinated. Those people who are working close to members of Congress which seems more like a good idea. What we don't know is whether or not they're going to be providing vaccinations for security, for the maintenance crew, for the other people who are working in and out of the Russell Building, in and out of the White House.

Do you think that every single person should be covered when we're talking about these sort of government agencies, and if so, does there need to be a priority on maintenance workers and security over staffers, or so is it just be everybody first come first serve?

SHALALA: Yes, absolutely there has to be a priority on them. The same in hospitals. The people that clean hospitals are as important as the first responders that we've all been talking about. Everyone that has any kind of contact or whose work has contact with the patient ought to be immunized.

But, look, we've got lots of vaccine. It ought not to be sitting in refrigerators. We've got to get it out and we've got to get it out quickly. And we have to use new distribution methods to get it out. If New York City can get that many people immunized in a relatively short period of time, we certainly can get big numbers in this country. A million a day would be lovely. A million a month would be lovely.

But, look, we can do better. We certainly can do better. And the rest of the world has all these immunizations days in which they inoculate hundreds of thousands of people. I was in India when they did that and it takes an extraordinary organizational effort. And we need to get that done as opposed to doing what this administration has continued to do. Just delegate it to the states and let them figure it out. That's not good enough when you have to get millions of people immunized as quickly as possible.

JOHNSON: And it's even worse when you still have members of Congress who may be getting vaccinations but still want to walk around maskless. That becomes part of the issue as well.

I want to go back to you, Dr. Batchlor. You talked about taking first doses and connecting people. One of the things that we've had a lot of trouble with in America is track and trace. People don't want to -- look, people don't want to answer surveys that come through e-mail. So they definitely don't go along with track and trace.

What needs to be implemented on the ground to make sure that people come back for a second dose? One of the things that has always been a concern of mine is that somebody will come in and get dose number one, and maybe they're too busy, they don't come back for dose number two. How do we make sure that follow-up process works when we can't even do track and trace?

BATCHLOR: So when we give the vaccine, we ask a number of questions about the patient and potential risks. We give them a little card that shows that they've had the vaccine and when they're due for the second dose. And we enter their name into a public health data base so that we can remind them to get their second dose. That's part of the process that we are using to vaccinate folks.

I also wanted to comment on your previous question about who we vaccinate and who we give priority to. So we know that healthcare workers are in the first group that's getting priority for the vaccine. In our hospital that means everyone who works with patients was given the same access and the same priority to the vaccine. From the people who transport patients and clean rooms to the doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists.

And we're proud that all of the staff are stepping up and taking advantage of the opportunity to get the vaccine. As we heard, the vaccine isn't going to help us unless people take it. It's not vaccines that end pandemics. It's vaccinations.

JOHNSON: It's people.

BATCHLOR: Yes.

JOHNSON: And with that in mind, Dr. Jha, what happens if you -- I mean, I don't assume this is going to happen in many healthcare centers. Right? But let's imagine it's a government agency. Let's imagine it's a public school system. What happens when you start running into people who say, I don't want to take it. Whether they claim it's religion reasons, whether they think they're about to be microchipped.

What do you think needs to be both a public health and possibly the government response to people who will inevitably say they don't want to take the COVID vaccine?

JHA: Yes. So I think this is going to be a real issue. In my mind, there are two or three things that need happen. I mean, first of all there are people who have just concerns because we've built this vaccine pretty fast and they want to know that it's really safe. I think those people -- what you do is you engage with them, you communicate with them, you understand their concerns and you address them. And you do it using community leaders and religious leaders and local public health leaders. So you need a strategy.

There are a small proportion of people who are just pretty hard core antivaccine that we may not be able to get everybody, and we may not be able to get, and we don't need to get everybody. I don't see any major role for government mandates. What I think is going to drive high levels of adoption is they're going to watch people get vaccinated and do well and be protected.

And then I think a lot of private companies are going to require it for employees. I can imagine airlines requiring it if you want to get on a long haul airplane. And so people are going to have to make choices. You want to get vaccinated and be able to fly or do you not? And of course this is America, if you choose not to, that's OK. But I think a vast majority of Americans will end up wanting to get vaccinated especially given how safe and effective these vaccines are.

JOHNSON: And I want to close real quick with this. It comes to safety. This is a thing that always occurs to me. And it spins out of my last question about security.

You know, Donna, what happens if there's resistance? Even arm resistance to say a mobile truck coming into vaccinate people. We have seen antimaskers. Look, we have seen people attempt to kidnap governors and break into government buildings because they don't like being told about a mask. How are these elements going respond to white trucks and vans coming into their communities saying hey, it's time get your vaccination? Is there a plan in place? What kinds of plan need to be put in place to make this rollout safe for those delivering?

SHALALA: Well, first of all the local police departments are thinking this through. So that I have some confidence in local law enforcement. Let me say to the previous questions, too, going back for a second shot is not new in this country. We do if for kids all the time. We have tracking systems. If you have a baby you know that you have to bring them back three or four times to that they get all of their shots. So there's nothing new about this.

And second, I believe economic incentives are going to drive the acceptance of vaccines. Business leaders are going to say to their employees we can't open unless you're vaccinated.

JOHNSON: Right.

SHALALA: We need everybody to get vaccinated. We can't open schools until everyone is vaccinated. So I'm a great believer not necessarily that we have to do mandates but that employers in this country and school leaders have to say you want to reopen the economy, then we all have to get vaccinated. That's a very different kind of argument added to the scientific.

JOHNSON: I hope. I hope. You are giving me some optimism here. I hope the market and schools are enough to make people move.

Thank you, Congresswoman Donna Shalala, Dr. Ashish Jha, and Dr. Elaine Batchlor.

Up next on THE REIDOUT, Republican leaders do not want struggling Americans to get $2,000 relief checks. Democrats are for it. Trump is for it. But Mitch McConnell is doing everything he can to stop it.

Plus the impact that fight is having on the Georgia Senate runoff now just one week away. Stacey Abrams will join me.

And when Congress counts the electoral votes next week, will Mike Pence side with Trump or with the Constitution?

Back with more of the readout after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: Senate majority leader McConnell today slammed the door shut on millions of Americans desperate for real help.

Bucking Democrats, McConnell refused to hold a clean vote on $2,000 stimulus checks, because it puts his party in a jam.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Will Senate Republicans stand against the House of Representatives, the Democratic majority in the Senate, and the president of their own party to prevent these $2,000 checks from going out the door?

We're about to get the answers to these questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there objection to the modification?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I object.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Objection is heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Republicans, who said nothing when Trump exploded the debt with deficits for his tax cuts for corporations and millionaires, have suddenly grown comfortable with the idea of spending more money -- or certainly have a problem with sending more money to struggling Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): There are some things that I think we need to do with the debt. If we keep the Senate, which I think we will, and I become Budget chairman, I'd like to create a dialogue about, how can we finally begin to address the debt?

MCCONNELL: Let's weigh this very carefully, because the future of our country in terms of the amount of debt that we're adding up is a matter of genuine concern.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congress is going to have to do some really heavy lifting to try to stabilize our fiscal picture.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: Oh, now you care about the debt.

And now unwilling to pass a clean bill, McConnell announced that the vote on additional aid would take place only if it was lumped together with two completely unrelated issues, investigating the 2020 election and stripping liability protections for social media companies, two issues that he knows are politically unpalatable to Democrats and probably to some Republicans.

In a procedural move, Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Ed Markey of Massachusetts plan on objecting to the passage of a major defense bill until and unless but McConnell allows a clean vote on the additional $2,000.

Joining me now, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts.

Thank you so much, Senator Markey, for speaking to me this evening.

I got to start this off by just asking up front, how long can you delay a potential vote on the defense bill in order to push Mitch McConnell into a clean vote on the COVID relief?

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): Well, we can push it at least until New Year's Day.

And so we're going to continue to use every procedural tactic at our disposal in order to ensure that the Republicans are under the maximum pressure to give help to ordinary American families.

They are the only obstacle right now. Trump supports it. It's now passed the House of Representatives. And it's Mitch McConnell and Republican leadership who are holding up a vote which would give a $2,000 check to each American to deal with this crisis that they and their families are living through.

JOHNSON: And when you speak to your colleagues privately, because this is the thing that all Americans are always wondering about -- you said it's Republican leadership, it's Mitch McConnell that's blocking this vote for just a mere $2,000.

Are Republicans who are your friends privately saying, gosh, we really wish Mitch would just move and get out the way, because we want to vote for this? Or are they basically lining up with him?

MARKEY: Well, we already know, as I said, that Donald Trump does, in fact, want to give a $2,000 check.

We also know that Marco Rubio does. We also know that Josh Hawley does. We know that the two Republicans in Georgia do as well. So, I believe that, if we had this vote out on the floor of the United States Senate, that we would have more than enough votes in order to pass it and to give real help to every single American family.

So, it's a procedural trick that Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership are using, because, if they got out of the way, then I think the support of Donald Trump would absolutely ensure that we would have the votes to provide this help.

People are in a crisis. It's an unemployment crisis. It's a health care crisis. There's an addiction crisis. It's a food crisis. There's a crisis of faith in the American government right now.

And we have a moral responsibility to move. And I think, if we had the vote, it would be reflected in the number of Republican votes that we were able to garner. The same thing happened on the House floor just yesterday.

JOHNSON: And, Senator Markey, that brings to mind this idea.

You had 44 Republicans in the House vote in favor of this bill, including two Republican members of Congress from Kentucky who serve with Mitch McConnell. What do you think it is about Senate culture that allows this to happen?

I mean, that's a large chunk of Republicans in the House who are willing to vote in favor of a bill that Trump has given them a free runway to support. Why is the culture of the Senate so different? Why is Mitch so recalcitrant?

MARKEY: Well, the rules of the Senate give a lot of power to the Senate Republican leader. That's just the bottom line.

That's why we put a hold on the defense bill. Bernie Sanders and I know that it's something that the Republicans care a lot about, because many Republicans care more about the defense bill than they do about funding for defenseless Americans.

And that's why we're linking the two together, because it's a bloated defense budget. We don't hear Republicans complaining about that, all the unneeded nuclear weapons funding that is inside of that legislation, all of the other programs that are just no longer needed in the 21st century.

But when it comes to helping poor people, when it comes to helping families that are desperate out there make sure they can pay the rent, pay the mortgage, pay for food, paid for any of the medical services which they need, all of a sudden, they become born-again deficit hawks.

But it doesn't translate within the defense budget. So, that's the culture we're dealing with. And that's why we're going to hold on all week, so that we can put a spotlight on who it is that is holding up this much-needed relief for ordinary American families.

JOHNSON: It's amazing.

They're comfortable pushing through a bill that could pay $600 for a hammer, for a fighter jet we may not need any more, but don't want to give $2,000 to a family that might be right down the street from them in their home states that are starving.

I want to close with this. The big change -- you said you can hold out until the end of the year. But another big change is, you might have two new colleagues after next Tuesday, if Georgia ends up flipping, if your colleagues Loeffler and Perdue are removed from office and replaced Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock.

Do you think that's going to change these negotiations in a significant way? Or do you think Mitch McConnell will still stand in the way of a clean vote for increased funding to support people who are surviving out there during this pandemic?

MARKEY: Well, we will be in a new era, OK? All we're looking for right now is a yes-or-no vote, an up-or-down vote on the $2,000.

And I think it could have an impact in the Georgia two run-offs, if the Republicans block a vote on helping ordinary families. But if we win those two seats -- and their action might very well be helping us, the Republican leadership -- then, ultimately, Joe Biden is sworn in, we have a majority in the Senate, with Kamala Harris as the new vice president, breaking the ties on any votes that need to have a tiebreaker, and we're in business, we're ready to go.

We have to think big. It will be very helpful if we have the majority, because we have to think big, we have to act big. That's what Joe Biden wants to do. And so, from my perspective, that election next week is absolutely critical, because we can see this week what Republican leadership is doing that is really harming the well-being, the help that ordinary families desperately need right now.

JOHNSON: Senator Markey, thank you so much for your patriotism and standing up for regular people.

Up next, Stacey Abrams is here with the latest on her efforts to turn out the vote and the Republican efforts to suppress the vote in Georgia's upcoming all-important Senate run-offs.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: We're now in the homestretch in the Georgia Senate run-offs with one week to go. Georgia has already set a new state record for voter turnout in a run-off, with more than 2.3 million votes already cast.

That's about one-third of all registered voters. This comes as civil rights groups are raising alarms about polling site closures in several counties making it harder for some voters to cast their ballots.

At the same time, Republicans and conservative groups continue to push lawsuits trying to suppress the vote ahead of next Tuesday's election. Last week, a Fulton County judge dismissed a Republican lawsuit that tried to limit absentee ballot drop box hours.

And, yesterday, a federal judge ordered two counties to reverse a decision removing more than 4,000 voters from the rolls from a mostly pro-Biden county over unverified change of address data.

Joining me now is Stacey Abrams, founder of Fair Fight. She is also the sister of that federal judge, Leslie Abrams Gardner.

Stacey Abrams, good to speak to you this evening.

STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: You as well.

JOHNSON: So, I have to start with this.

How on earth -- and this is a number that is most shocking to me -- how on earth do you get 79,000, almost 80,000 people who didn't vote in the 2020 election to come out and vote in a run-off? That's like somebody skipping the movie and just showing up for the post-credit scene.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Like, how do you guys get that sort of enthusiasm on the ground?

ABRAMS: We have been investing in organizations across the state that believe that cultural competency -- that cultural competency works.

But, more importantly, we have been in every part of the state. We have been talking to young voters, talking to voters of color, talking to voters who didn't think this election mattered. But what was also incredibly helpful was winning in November.

For voters who thought that there was no point in participating, November demonstrated that Democratic values, that progressive values can win in our state. And they want to be part of actually getting that $2,000 check that can help them save their family's home. They want the resources that will come with new jobs.

And they know that obstructionism will stop COVID relief from happening and will block president-elect Joe Biden from doing good work. And so they know we need Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

JOHNSON: In other words, winning begets more winning.

And this is this is something else I think is important; $2,000 is really important in large parts of Georgia, right? I mean, it may not make your whole life move, but it can get you some new shoes. It really does matter.

I want you to listen to this sound from Senators Perdue and Loeffler and the different positions that they have taken on COVID relief. And then we will talk through it after this clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DAVID PERDUE (R-GA): I'm delighted to support the president and his $2,000. It's really a $1,400 increment over what we have already done.

And I think, with the vaccine coming, I think this is absolutely appropriate.

JUDY WOODRUFF, "PBS NEWSHOUR": The president wants to cut payroll taxes. Are you in favor of that?

PERDUE: Well, I think incenting people right now through payroll is -- a payroll tax is one way to do it. I do support that, actually. I support that better than giving just a direct payment, like we did in the first round of CARES. I really oppose that.

SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): I have stood by the president 100 percent of the time. I'm proud to do that.

And I have said, absolutely, we need to get relief to Americans now. And I will support that.

CHARLES PAYNE, FOX NEWS: Republicans considering that extra $600 in unemployment insurance, maybe $400. Have you taken a position on this yet where you would be comfortable?

LOEFFLER: Look, we don't need incentives not to work. We need to get folks back to work.

PAYNE: Right.

LOEFFLER: Right now, from what I'm hearing, I'm not seeing a big need to extend the federal unemployment insurance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: So, Stacey, do they just not know the position that they took, or do they have no position? What's going on here with the two current representatives in the Senate from the state of Georgia?

ABRAMS: They are feckless hypocrites who would rather win an election than help the people of Georgia and do their jobs.

These are two people who have stood by, used the pandemic to profiteer, used the pandemic as an excuse for inaction. They have assailed the very core issues that people need. You need unemployment insurance because your job is no longer there. You need that $2,000 direct payment because your mortgage is still owed, even though you cannot go to work.

What they have done is signal very clearly to Georgians and to Americans that they have no positions. They are spineless and they are people who kowtow to Mitch McConnell, kowtow to Donald Trump, which means they will not serve the people of Georgia.

JOHNSON: And I want to highlight something that you have talked about in the past, that it's not just a matter of them standing in the way of COVID relief, but they haven't done much in the state when it comes to things like maybe rural hospitals.

So, even if I do get a COVID relief check, if there's no hospital in Central Georgia or Southern Georgia for me to go to get help, I'm still in a bike. Is that something else that they have been failing at?

ABRAMS: Well, Jason, let's go a little step further. It's not just that they failed at it. That failure is mostly the province of Brian Kemp and the Republicans in the state legislature.

What they have done is actively agitated against support. They have tried to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which, for millions of Georgians, is their only access to health insurance, because we do not have Medicaid expansion. Yet, under their leadership, we have lost two hospitals in the midst of a pandemic.

Georgia is a fourth of the population of California. And yet, while California has two million who've been infected and 24,000 who have perished, Georgia has 611,000 people with this infection, and 10,000 people who have died from it.

We are too small to have numbers that are approaching the numbers of California. And that is in no small part because Donald Trump, supported by Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue and Mitch McConnell, have done nothing, in fact, have worked against the health care and the needs of Georgia's people. That's why we desperately need Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock.

They have spent their lifetimes, their work helping actual Georgians, talking to Georgians, understanding their lives and doing the work necessary to get them the relief they need.

JOHNSON: So, while Brian Kemp hasn't really done much for rural hospitals, and hasn't done anything for COVID relief, and hasn't done anything for people who are losing their jobs, one thing he's always been really dedicated to is voter suppression.

What kinds of challenges are Republicans throwing up to try to prevent people from expressing their voices in this run-off? We have heard about changing poll sites, trying to change times to early-vote.

What kinds of challenges are you and Fair Fight and other organizations in the state facing when it comes to voter suppression?

ABRAMS: We have been successful in helping expand access to early voting locations.

In fact, today, I was in Cobb County, one of the counties that had shut down several of the locations that were active during the general election. I was at the Smyrna Community Center, and the line was out the door and down the street, but it was moving quickly. So, it's a good thing.

But we also know that True the Vote, a Texas-based conservative organization that prides itself on voter intimidation, has sued to -- has been basically challenging voters across the state in all 159 counties, I believe. They have challenged at least 364,000 voters. To date 45 counties have rejected their bids, knowing that it's based on very specious information and a poorly reasoned argument.

In fact, we know that, in Muscogee County, one of the challenges is that they're calling out voters who are in the military service who often have to forward their mail. They're using bad information to intimidate voters, both by taking them off of the rolls.

But, worse, their goal is to scare voters out of coming, because they don't want to be challenged. They don't understand the law. They can't afford attorneys. They simply want leaders who are going to do the work of getting them COVID recovery money, getting them relief, but also building a future that they can depend on.

And that's why we need Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to come home permanently. And we need to send Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to D.C. to do the work of the state of Georgia.

JOHNSON: Stacey, I can't let you go without asking this. It's about a year and a half ago this time, people were thinking, you were going to run for Senate. You're not running for Senate. You have not been a part of the Biden administration thus far.

What is your political future? Are you going to continue your focus in Georgia, or are you thinking of moving nationally?

ABRAMS: My focus in Georgia and my focus on D.C. is making certain that we send Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock from Georgia to D.C. to serve Georgia and to serve America.

JOHNSON: Always the best answer. Thank you so much, Stacey Abrams.

Still ahead, will Trump's delusional refusal to accept the results of this election every end? Or will his henchmen in Congress challenge the official certification of Biden's win.

THE REIDOUT is back, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNSON: Georgia's January 5th Senate runoff elections loom large on horizon. But there's one final hurdle to cross in the 2020 presidential election.

On January 6th, eight days from now, Congress meets to officially count the electoral votes and confirm Joe Biden's clear-cut election victory.

Just tonight, the Trump campaign launched another Hail Mary legal attempt to over turn the election, asking U.S. Supreme Court to review a Wisconsin ruling upholding that state's result before the 6th, when Trump and his supplicants in Congress think they can mount a last ditch effort to stage a coup of sorts.

Trump has been agitating on Twitter for what he's been promising will be a wild protest in Washington. He's also spoken with Alabama Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville who's left open the possibility of joining fellow Alabamian, Congressman Mo Brooks, in challenging electoral votes.

Typically, the certification of elections is a formality, but in this role as president of the Senate, Vice President Mike Pence is already in the hot seat, at least with Trump's MAGA super fans.

Yesterday, Texas Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert and several of Trump's would-be electors from Arizona filed a lawsuit, arguing Pence should simply ignore President-elect Joe Biden's electors and count Trump's losing slates instead.

Tonight, "Politico" reports Pence declined to sign onto the plan, according to Gohmert's lawyers.

Pence is being pressured from others as well. The conservative polling firm Rasmussen suggested Pence could take his queues from -- this is the truth -- Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. In a tweet Sunday, Rasmussen quoted Stalin saying, quote: Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.

We just cancel Rasmussen now, please?

Pence's upcoming role has reportedly dominated Trump's mind. It might be the first time Pence has ever dominated his mind. According to "Axios", quote, Trump would view Pence performing his constitutional duty and validating the election result as the ultimate betrayal, unquote.

The problem is that Pence doesn't actually have the constitutional authority to just not accept the result. Will he do the right thing?

More on that after the break.

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[19:51:12]

JOHNSON: As Congress prepares to formalize Joe Biden's victory next week, Donald Trump and his most extreme allies are still hoping the Vice President Mike Pence will attempt to invalidate the will of the people when he oversees the official electoral vote count next week. It's an effort that former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal says is, quote, doomed to fail, calling it, quote, profoundly anti-democratic and unconstitutional.

In a "New York Times" op-ed, Katyal warns Pence to, quote, count the votes as they've been certified and do everything he can to oppose those who would do otherwise. This is no time for anyone to be a bystander. A republic is on the line.

Former Solicitor General Neal Katyal joins me now, along with Charlie Sykes, editor at large of "The Bulwark."

Neal, I'll start with you. Look, I've seen a lot of losing battles, battle of Hoth, "Empire Strikes Back", the Free Folk versus the White Walkers, anybody goes against missy (ph) and versus (ph). I've seen losing battles before.

What on earth are Republicans thinking they can do in this instance? Because this seems like a losing battle that doesn't make any sense. What do they think Mike Pence is going to be able to do?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: First of all, Jason, it's a delight to see you in this chair and I'm so privileged to be here with you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

KATYAL: There's nothing on earth, nothing on earth that they can do. I mean, eight weeks ago tonight, we had an election. Eight weeks ago.

This is insane that this is going on in Trump's mind. It's not going on anywhere else. He's just a sore loser. So, remember, 59 different courts have rejected his claims across the country.

The FBI has rejected it. Bill Barr has rejected it, as attorney general. Mitch McConnell has rejected it. But Trump is still living in this fantasy world. And the claim now is that somehow Pence on January 6th could just throw out the election and pick the new vice president, himself, and the new president, President Trump?

I mean, give me a break. I mean, that is literally what we fought a war about, the idea that we don't have a perpetual monarchy. The idea that, you know, Pence can just open up the ballots and decide who becomes the winner is absurd.

I mean, it's like the guy at the Oscars who opens the envelope. I don't think that person gets to decide the winner. Sorry, "La La Land".

But here, we're not talking about movies. We're talking about democracy, the most fundamental thing. The idea that the vice president gets to pick the next vice president and not you and me, there's nothing more profoundly un-American about this.

I mean, you know, it's not even something Putin would come up with. You have to go back to the original Stalin for that.

JOHNSON: I wouldn't be surprised if Mike Pence liked "La La Land" way more than "Moonlight." We all know why.

But with that in mind, I want to go to you, Charlie Sykes. Look, this is the thing that sort of confuses me about a lot of Republicans in this situation. We have seen vice presidents step up before and have to oversee the counting of electoral votes when they were on the losing side. Sometimes they liked it, sometimes they didn't.

I want to play this sound from Richard Nixon then I want to get your thoughts on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT: This is the first time in 100 years that a candidate for the presidency announced the results of an election in which he was defeated and announced the victory of his opponent. I do not think that we could have a more striking and eloquent example of the stability of our constitutional system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNSON: And, Charlie, you know, that's Nixon who, you know, was vilified as one of the most terrible presidents that we've had because he cheated, but we also saw the same thing with Al Gore. And Al Gore had real disputes.

So what is it that Republicans are hoping to get out of Mike Pence? Do they want him to buck this system that we've seen from other vice presidents in the past? Do they just want him to be a sacrificial lamb in their blood feud with democracy? Or do they actually think this is something that's in his soul that he's really that down with the Trump and MAGA cause?

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's hard to tell where the delusion ends and the completely deranged begins here, but it does feel like a little bit of the triumph of hope over experience to think that Mike Pence will do the right thing. But I have to hope that when it comes down to it, following the law and doing your duty will come first, that he will choose country over -- over Donald Trump.

But as Neal has said so very, very clearly, if he doesn't, this will secure him a place of genuine infamy in American history. And, you know, Don -- I mean, Mike Pence has been willing to be a sycophant for the last four years, but is he willing to completely destroy not only his political standing but also his place in history, not to mention violate the spirit and letter of the Constitution?

You know, a lot of what's going to happen on January 6th is going to come down to Mitch McConnell. We've been talking about him all night, but it really depends on whether or not Mitch McConnell will drop the hammer and tell his fellow Republicans in the Senate, do not file an objection, don't put Pence in this position, we don't want to go through this circus.

And you wonder how far he's willing to go with people like Senator Tuberville, you know, to say, look, if you do this, you're going to get the lousiest committee assignments, your bills are never going to see the light of day because this will be a disaster, number one for the country, obviously, for the Constitution, but also for the Republican Party if they go through this ridiculous and absurd effort to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans and overturn an election in a cause that is, as you pointed out, is doomed to absolute ignominious defeat.

JOHNSON: Quickly, Charlie, do you think that Mike Pence has incent incentive to go along with this harebrain scheme, if he has any plans of running in 2024? Do you think that might be on his mind?

SYKES: Yes, it does, because he will be vilified. On January 7th, he'll be the number-one villain of the MAGA-verse if, in fact, he does the right thing and does his duty. And the question is, is he willing to put up with that?

I think it's interesting that he's got a very extensive travel plan for the day after the January 6th vote. This is one of those moments where you honestly have to weigh who you are, this is the test that everybody wonders what will you do when you have to choose country over party, and in his case, country and Constitution over Donald Trump who's about to leave office as a disgraced, defeated, one-term president.

JOHNSON: Yeah, this might be one of those instances where he's left at the gym and doesn't get to take the team bus home.

Neal, just very quickly also, when we're thinking about Donald Trump's future, you've been tweeting today about the fact that New York administrators, New York legal teams have started to put together forensic and whole squads in order to examine the finances of Donald Trump.

Tell us a little bit about that and what you think that speaks to for what Donald Trump's going to face the moment he leaves office later on in January.

SYKES: Well, I think New York is doing the right thing in investigating the president. It should have happened for years and the Justice Department under Bill Barr shut down the federal side of that. But the beauty of our Founders is they recognized that we have a dual system with states as well. And the president can't shut that down.

The federal Justice Department can't shut that down. Even President Trump's pardons which he loves to abuse that power, that can't shut it down. So, there's very serious accusations against the president, all sorts of financial improprieties and that's what's being looked at.

And I suspect New York will do the absolute right thing and take the facts where they are and if he did commit the crimes has to face the consequences.

JOHNSON: I can't help but think about this and I know I'm asking you guys to prognosticate in a way, but, you know, I've got you on the spot, I've got you here.

If Ossoff and Warnock end up winning next Tuesday, do you think that has any impact on the circus we might see on the 6th? Might Republicans just sort of lay down their arms if they see that they just lost two more senators from a formerly southern state like Georgia?

Quickly, Charlie, and then to you, Neal.

SYKES: Yes, absolutely, yes. I mean, think about what a shock it will be if they convene on January 6th realizing that they just suffered this double defeat in Georgia. It will very much be on the minds of the senators. (INAUDIBLE) to Mitch McConnell's hand.

JOHNSON: Neal?

KATYAL: I'd like to think that that's right, but I right but I think Pence so far has given no signs anywhere of doing the right thing. I mean, this is a guy who still hasn't congratulated our first female African-American vice president in our history. And so, he's a kind of spineless individual, and it's worth remember whatever he does on January 6th, Senator Harris is going to be sitting in that chamber with him whether the Georgia race goes one way or the other.

JOHNSON: Right.

KATYAL: And after the way the vice presidential debate went, do you really think Vice President Pence is going to do anything with Kamala Harris in the room?

JOHNSON: She will -- she will reclaim her time, and I have to reclaim mine.

Thank you so much, Neal Katyal and Charlie Sykes.

That's 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

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