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Transcript: The ReidOut, December 7, 2020

Guests: Philip Rucker, Jocelyn Benson, Edward Stenehjem, Jaime Harrison, Greg Bluestein


Trump obsesses over election loss, ignores pandemic. Rudy Giuliani tests positive for coronavirus. Biden introduces health team. "New York Times" reports, Trump administration passing on offer of additional doses may delay vaccine distribution. U.S. has been rounding the corner for three months. Most GOP leaders are silent on Trump's refusal to concede. COVID relief is in limbo with benefits about to expire. Former Alabama state senator dies of COVID after telling GOP colleagues, we messed up. Donald Trump failed to lie his way to a second term, but those same lies are creating a new headache for the GOP, an intraparty war that is threatening the Republican runoff efforts in Georgia.


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Thanks for joining us on THE BEAT with Ari Melber. I'll see you right back here tomorrow, 6:00 P.M. Eastern.

And don't go anywhere. "THE REIDOUT" is up next.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, I'm Jonathan Capehart in for Joy Reid.

Tonight, America is under sustained attack by a pandemic that is killing thousands of people every single day. More than 283,000 Americans are dead. More than 100,000 Americans are currently in the hospital. Millions more are unemployed and thousands of vacant store fronts are littered across America.

Given the current American carnage, you would think Trump would use the great power of the presidency to wage a full on war against this pandemic. Instead, he spent the past three weeks working harder than he's ever worked in his life, as he put it, to overturn the results of the small D democratic election that he lost.

Here he is earlier today.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: This was like from a third world nation. And I think the case has been made and now we find out what we can do about it. But you'll see a lot of big things happening over the next couple of days.


CAPEHART: According to The New York Times, the president is moody and sometimes depressed. He barely shows up to work ignoring the health and economic crisis afflicting the nation and largely clearing his public schedule of meetings unrelated to his desperate bid to rewrite the election results.

There's no one who embodies the state of the presidency more than Rudy Giuliani, who has been hospitalized with coronavirus after crisscrossing the country with Trump's misinformation campaign.

Trump's leadership absence has forced members of his coronavirus task force to fill the void.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The blip from Thanksgiving isn't even here yet. So we're getting those staggering numbers of new cases and hospitalization before we even feel the full brunt of the Thanksgiving holiday.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: This is not just the worst public health event. This is the worst event that this country will face, not just from a public health side.

DR. MONCEF SLAOUI, CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER, OPERATION WARP SPEED: We have a vaccine that is light at the end of tunnel. But we will not all have the vaccine in our arms before May or June. So we need to be very cautious and vigilant.


CAPEHART: Early today, President-elect Joe Biden announced his healthcare team, which will include Xavier Becerra, the current attorney general of California, as Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith who will be appointed to a new post specifically design to address racial disparities exacerbated by the pandemic. The President-elect will announce his nominee for defense secretary before the end of week.

Joining me now is Philip Rucker, White House Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, Mara Gay, Editorial Board Member for The New York Times, and Susan Del Percio, Republican Strategist and Senior Adviser to The Lincoln Project. All, thank you very much for being here this evening.

I want to go to some breaking news out of The New York Times. And this, to me, sort of speaks to the stunning incompetence of the Trump administration. The headline reads, Trump officials passed when Pfizer offered to sell more vaccine doses in late summer. Trump administration officials passed when Pfizer offered in late summer to sell the U.S. government additional doses of its COVID-19 vaccine. Now, Pfizer may not be able to provide more of its vaccine to the United States until next June because of its commitment to other countries.

Mara, Let me start with you, and we're going to go around the table here. Should I no longer be surprised by stories like this that sort of reveal the stunning incompetence of this administration, especially when it comes to dealing with this pandemic?

MARA GAY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well I would say, there's a big difference between being surprised and being shocked. I think we should all remain shocked because it's really just a testament to the lack of care and concern for the American people from this White House.

We're still finding out some information the details of this story, what exactly transpired over the summer. But one thing is clear immediately, which is that this White House was not actually focused on getting -- on taking care of the American people and getting that vaccine to as many Americans as possible. And they still aren't focused on it because the president would rather golf.

CAPEHART: You know, Philip, you're the White House Bureau Chief for our beloved paper. You're there, you've got your sources and your reporting. For a guy who keeps talking a lot about this pandemic and how they're on top of it and how it's going to be disappear, why on earth does it seem like the president -- basically, I mean, as The New York Times story says, he's checked out. But why is he going to such lengths to try to claim credit for the impending vaccine that, according to Pfizer, he has nothing to do with?

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Yes. Well, of course the coronavirus is not disappearing and it's not under control and it's not something that the government has under control.

I have to tell you that the reporting about Pfizer is really important for one reason in particular, and it's that Operation Warp Speed, the distribution and development of the vaccine, has really been the main part of the coronavirus response that the president has been somewhat engaged in.

He has held this up as a big success of what the Trump administration has done all year. It's really the only thing related to COVID that the president has made public remarks in months since November 3rd election. And to see the reporting today, that because of the administration, the vaccine roll out is going to be delayed by Pfizer, it's a testament to sort of what the administration has actually been doing, which is, at least at the presidential level, not a whole lot.

Our reporting matches what The New York Times has, Peter Baker, reported over the weekend, which is that the president is largely checked out for managing the crisis, as well as the economic crisis. Let's remember that millions of Americans who don't have enough food to eat right now and all of the millions out of work, this country is in crisis and in need of national leadership. And the president is really focused on trying to maintain his own power and overturning the election somehow.

CAPEHART: You know, Susan, the president keeps saying we're rounding the corner, we're rounding the corner, when it comes to the pandemic. Well, actually, don't listen to me say it. Let's listen to him say it.


TRUMP: We're rounding the corner. We're rounding the corner on the virus.

We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner on the pandemic.

It will go away. And, as I say, we're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corning, it's going away.

We're rounding the corner. We're rounding the corner.

We're rounding the turn. We're rounding the corner on the pandemic.


CAPEHART: Susan, who believes him anymore? Does anyone believe him anymore?

SUSAN DEL PERCIO, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No. But, first, Jonathan, congratulations on your new Sunday show. I had to get that in.

CAPEHART: Thank you, Susan. Thank you.

DEL PERCIO: Great news for the network. No one believes Donald Trump except those who want to live in a different universe than reality. I mean, Donald Trump keeps talking about rounding a corner. Sure, we're rounding a corner. The problem is we're rounding it at 200 miles an hour and off the rails. We're in the worst situation. We're worst than what we could ever expected from March. We knew the winter months would be bad. But we're talking about death totals over 300,000 by the time Joe Biden takes over.

It's so disturbing. I just can't believe the indifference to people's lives that this president has. He's not working, he's golfing. He doesn't care of people. Pfizer gets -- gives him the vaccine or not, how -- I just don't understand how you can possibly be so heartless.

CAPEHART: You know, to speak, I just want to take a word you used, Susan, indifference, and apply it to Republicans on Capitol Hill. The Washington Post had that extraordinary story surveying Republicans about whether they believe Joe Biden won the election and as you see there in the headline just 27 Congressional Republicans acknowledge Biden's win.

Philip, can you explain to the viewers, and I'm sure most of them already understand this intuitively, but what explains the indifference to just even acknowledging that Joe Biden is indeed the president-elect of the United States?

RUCKER: You know, many of these Republican members privately, no doubt, understand how elections work. They understand that more people voted in these states for Joe Biden than for Donald Trump. And that means that Joe Biden is the president-elect. But they can't bring themselves to acknowledge it publicly in large part because of President Trump's power over the Republican base. Many of them are facing reelection in two years.

And the thing that they're afraid most of is that they will get on Trump's blacklist and that he will recruit a primary challenger to them in their home districts or in their home state and will campaign against them. And they will, therefore, lose their primaries and lose their seat in power. It's been a dynamic we've seen all four years of the Trump presidency.

And the amazing thing is even though Trump has lost and is now lame duck president and is going to soon be a one-term president, he still has that hold over the Republican electorate and these lawmakers are toeing the line.

CAPEHART: And so, Mara, given what Philip just said, what do you view as the prospects of the incoming Biden-Harris administration of getting anything done no matter what happens with the Georgia runoff races next month?

GAY: I mean, I think what Philip laid out pretty well there is exactly right, first of all. I think what this really shows is the enduring power of Trumpism beyond Trump, right? And so that is something that the American people are going to have to grapple with for some time, unfortunately.

You know, I think that there is room for common ground on areas. I know it's -- people say this all the time, but, truly, if we actually get a real infrastructure bill to the floor, I do think that there some momentum there. And that could include infrastructure in rural areas, where all sanitation is a huge issue. And that is red states especially, as well as public transit dollars that New York City and others metropolises are in dire need of right now. So that's one area. Obviously healthcare is another.

The entire first year is going to be taken up of Joe Biden's presidency is going to be consumed by getting this vaccine safely and quickly to the American people and also ensuring them -- assuring them, rather, that it's safe to take. And so that's kind of step one, expanding healthcare.

There are plenty of areas common ground but I also think that Joe Biden is going to have to really act unilaterally in other ways. And that's going to include issues of the environment and obviously foreign policy, where a president has much more discretion. And we're going to see much more drastic changes on those fronts than we will on domestic policy is right away, I think.

CAPEHART: Susan, do you share Mara's somewhat optimistic outlook of members of Congress on both sides of the aisle being able to find common ground once Biden and Harris take over on January 20th that there actually could be prospects of legislative action and, actually, the president of the United States signing bills on behalf of the American people?

DEL PERCIO: I do share that optimism because I think so much will need to get done, especially handling this pandemic. There are no red states or blue states. There are people like Rubio who wants to run for president. First, he has to run for reelection. So he's going to have to do something to protect Florida, which are getting record cases every day.

But there's also another reason. After Donald Trump leaves the White House, he's going to be facing two investigations in New York, one by the Manhattan attorney general, the other by the state attorney general. Now the interesting thing here is Donald Trump will have to start watching what he says because he's going to have to go under a deposition unless he cuts a deal.

So that court -- those challenges will take over because, let's face it, Donald Trump, again, he only worries about himself. That's his focus.

CAPEHART: Mara, I want to end with you, because of this story that's on NBC News. It says former Alabama Senator Larry Dixon dies of COVID age 78, and his last words warns, we messed up. And I'm coming to you because you have talked about your battle with coronavirus and the toll that it has taken.

And I just wonder how does it feel to you to -- it seems like on a weekly basis, maybe even in a daily, we see the stories about every day people but then people in positions to have known better, having all the information, who were going against what science was saying who, literally, on their death bed are saying, we messed up?

GAY: First of all, it's tragic. And, you know, I think my great sadness here is that we were attacked by this virus as a world and as a country. And that was, in and of itself, tragic and devastating. But I think what we didn't have to do is we didn't have to allow conspiracy theories to be peddled, disinformation. We didn't have to abide by the tragic indifference to human life, to lives of those we don't know, or even to our own family and friends. And I think that was led by this president. And he set that example.

And I think we have a significant portion of the country who because of his poor example and because of the poor example, unfortunately, of other members of his party, we have a large portion of the American people who don't take this virus as seriously as it needs to be taken. And that is just a second tragedy.

And it's extremely painful and, frankly, triggering for me to see people continue to get ill and suffer and die and lose loved ones because we could have prevented this. And you hear over and over again, well, I just didn't think it was that serious.

And also, as a New Yorker, I get frustrated because we had refrigerator trucks in our city for weeks because we had nowhere to put the bodies. We lost over 24,000 of our neighbors. And that apparently wasn't enough of a lesson.

And I think what does that really tell us about the lack of empathy and connection in the country, the idea that this pandemic is something that's happening to other people who don't look like us or pray like us or maybe live the way we live or vote the way we vote. This pandemic is affecting all of us.

So I would just really urge people to take it seriously. When the president says we're rounding a corner, that is no guarantee. You could get this horrible virus tomorrow or give it to someone that you care about. So this is not the flu. Please take it seriously.

CAPEHART: And with that, Mara Gay, thank you very much. Philip Rucker and Susan Del Percio, thank you.

Up next on THE REIDOUT the depravity of many Trump supporters who refuse to accept his defeat, resorting to harassing and threatening people who are just doing their jobs, upholding the law.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are in Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's house. And we are not going away.


CAPEHART (voice over): That was outside the home of Michigan Secretary of State, Jocelyn Benson. She joins me next.

Plus, COVID vaccinations gets under way tomorrow in the U.K. as federal officials here in the U.S. scale back their optimistic forecast for how soon Americans will get the vaccine.

THE REIDOUT continues after this.


CAPEHART: While Donald Trump denies the reality that Joe Biden won last month's election, state officials across the country are moving forward and certifying those results.

But, as a consequence of Trump's continued baseless attacks and conspiracies -- conspiracy theories that the election was rigged, many of those state officials are receiving threats for following the law and doing their jobs.

Over the weekend, dozens of protesters, some openly carrying guns, showed up outside the home of Michigan's secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, in an effort to have her overturn the results in the state, all while Benson was inside with her 4-year-old son.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are on here in front of the secretary of state's house. And we want her to know that we will continue to be here.

That's right. "Stop the steal" right there. We will continue to be here, because we are tired and ignoring everything that has to happen.


CAPEHART: Joining me now is Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.

Secretary, thank you very much for being here this evening.

JOCELYN BENSON (D), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

CAPEHART: I have to start by asking, how is your son?

And please tell me that he is blissfully unaware of what was happening outside your home the other night.

BENSON: Indeed, he was. And that really was the goal and my primary focus.

And, to him, he just got to stay up late watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." So, it was a win for him.


CAPEHART: Well, great. And I'm happy to see you smiling. And I'm happy to see you laughing.

But what happened outside your home was incredibly serious. Tell me, what was going through your mind, how did you feel when you realized and heard that there were protesters, some of them armed, outside your home?

BENSON: I think two things.

One, obviously, in addition to just making sure that I was maintaining an area of space and calm and serenity for my son, so that he was fine, the two things that crossed my mind was, this is the escalation of the months of hateful rhetoric, and combined with the efforts to misinform the public about the reality of our election, because it was incredibly safe and secure, all emerging and bubbling up in individuals who truly believe that their votes didn't count, when, indeed, they did.

And, secondly, in regards to that, I realized that individuals weren't -- weren't challenging or threatening me directly. They were threatening me as the personification of our democracy, of our voters' will.

And, in that regard, I am proud to stand guard over our voters, every single one of them, and our democracy, and our elections process to ensure that the voters' will continue to carry the day and to proudly ensure and guard that reality for all of our 5.5 million citizens who participated in this year's election.

CAPEHART: Well, Secretary Benson, then, how does it -- how does it feel to have the incredible silence that there seems to be coming not only from, say, national Republicans, but also having this fueled by the president -- by the now outgoing president of the United States?

You said just now that you are safeguarding democracy. But it seems like it's a lonely fight.

BENSON: It is -- it is a disappointing fight, because those with platforms like the president, who know very well that the election in Michigan has been certified, and many other political actors are continuing to perpetuate mistruths and lies about a process that was extremely secure, extremely transparent, and is extremely accurate.

So, it is disappointing, not surprising, because, this year, the biggest threat to election security was indeed these efforts to misinform the public about their rights in an effort in part to suppress their vote.

And now, here that the election is over, the efforts have changed and morphed to trying to suppress the reality, the truth of the results of that election, manifesting itself in ways in targeting those like myself and other election administrators who simply seek to make sure the people's voices are heard and that every legal vote is counted.

So, we're going to continue to do the work that we swore to do when we took this office, myself and my colleagues all across the country and in the state of Michigan. And we also recognize that, throughout our history, these are the types of things that oftentimes -- and many people know this -- are borne by those who will seek to protect the vote and protect our democracy.

And so, in many ways, I have more pride and sense of fortitude and purpose tonight than ever before, because I'm confident not just in our elections and in our process, but in our ability to protect our voters, our democracy, every single citizen in the state from those who would try to upend and silence their voices.

CAPEHART: Well, Secretary Benson, as you well know, but our viewers might not know, you're not the only one in Michigan to have received threats, verbal threats, from people who are upset about the election.

Take a listen to this threatening voice-mail that state Representative Cynthia Johnson received after a hearing on voter fraud.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You should be swinging from a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) rope, you Democrat. You (EXPLETIVE DELETED) Democrats stealing the election. You deserve everything you (EXPLETIVE DELETED) get. Goodbye, man.

You're in so much trouble. Dems are going down, especially (EXPLETIVE DELETED) big-lipped (EXPLETIVE DELETED) like you.


CAPEHART: Secretary Benson, I should point out that state Representative Cynthia Johnson is African-American.

I wonder, have you reached out to her? Have you have you had a chance to talk to her?

BENSON: Yes, we spoke, actually, on Saturday and on Sunday this weekend, both prior to incidents. And, again, we're close friends. She's an incredible leader, an incredible voice for the city of Detroit.

And so I'm proud to stand with her and recognize also that threats cut deeper to those to women of color, to African-Americans, to those Detroiters who have withstood these threats throughout history in order to ensure that the voices of black voters could -- and voters of color could be heard.

And so we have to recognize, of course, that history as well.

CAPEHART: Secretary Benson, we have less than a minute left.

Governor Whitmer came out and spoke in your defense. We don't have time to play her sound. But I do want to ask you, have you been made aware, as Governor Whitmer was someone who had a plot against her that was foiled, have you been made aware by any law enforcement agency that you are a target of a similar plot?

BENSON: Not of a similar plot, no, although these types of threats have emerged in different ways, in different capacities against not just myself, the attorney general, the governor, but lawmakers, as you mentioned, frankly, on both sides of the aisle.

And this is really where we're at. It's really getting out of control. The hateful rhetoric that's transforming itself into hateful actions and threats and violence against various individuals throughout our state, Democrats and Republicans, just has to stop.

And everyone with a platform who can try to tamp down that rhetoric and call on their followers to do the same now has a responsibility to do that to ensure the safety and security of everyone who's just seeking to do their job as public officials.

CAPEHART: Jocelyn Benson, Michigan secretary of state, thank you.

BENSON: Thank you.

CAPEHART: Still ahead: Trump's Operation Warp Speed promised a flood of vaccines. But, for now, it's looking more like a trickle.

A look at the distribution hurdles still to be overcome -- next on THE REIDOUT.


CAPEHART: There is some hope for relief from the pandemic coming from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will meet to consider Pfizer's vaccine candidate, with authorization possible later this week. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said distribution could start within days.

The Trump administration is holding what it's calling a vaccine summit tomorrow, although the companies behind the two leading candidates, Pfizer and Moderna, declined invitations to participate, and no one from the incoming Biden/Harrison administration was invited to attend.

"The Washington Post" reports that the promised flood of vaccine is a little more like a trickle. "Instead of the delivery of 300 million or so doses of vaccine immediately after emergency use approval and before the end of 2020, as the Trump administration had originally promised," "The Post" reports, "current plans call for availability of around a 10th of that, or 35 to 40 million doses."

Meanwhile, Dr. Celine Gounder of the Biden/Harris COVID Advisory Board said today that the Biden/Harris team has yet to get clear information on the Trump administration's plan to distribute the vaccine.


DR. CELINE GOUNDER, BIDEN CORONAVIRUS ADVISORY BOARD MEMBER: We have already been trying to get a handle on how many doses will be available to us from each of the companies and by when. But we do need some internal information on that from the federal government.

We also need to understand where they are with their plans. We really need that level of granular detail on where they are with the vaccine distribution planning.

QUESTION: And you haven't gotten any of that yet?

GOUNDER: We have yet to see any kind of detailed plan.


CAPEHART: But, as the United States awaits the FDA's decision approval this week, across the pond, in the United Kingdom, where Pfizer's vaccine has already been approved, the first group of people will begin getting their vaccine tomorrow, starting with those over the age of 80.

I'm joined now by Dr. Kavita Patel, former Obama health policy adviser and fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Thank you both for being here.

Dr. Patel, I want to start with you.

And that sound that we heard from Cecilia Gounder -- from Dr. Celine Gounder about the fact that the Biden/Harris transition has gotten no information, they have no visibility into what the administration is doing, what they're planning, no information, how dangerous is that?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Jonathan, good to be with you.

And it's incredibly dangerous. I guess the one saving grace is that the manufacturers, Pfizer and Moderna, which are the two that we kind of hope will be the first to give us the doses of vaccine soon, have been trying to put a full-faith effort in coordinating with not just the federal government, which is clearly not taking this as high of a priority for communication, but also to states.

And I think that needs to be said. Furthermore, we know that Operation Warp Speed, I think, has already -- there's already talked about how they had an opportunity to actually option to buy more doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and they chose to limit it.

So there's a lot of questions here, Jonathan, but hopefully we can actually, January 20 moving forward, get some better answers.

CAPEHART: You know, Dr. Stenehjem, given your position at Intermountain Health, what does that say to you to hear someone from the Biden/Harris COVID transition team saying that they have no visibility, and you're a doctor having to deal with the on-the-ground consequences of there not being any national strategy?


I mean, here in Utah, it's a large health system. We're ready to go. Once vaccine starts shipping and comes to Utah, we're ready to distribute vaccine to all of our 38,000 health care workers in a tiered approach. And all we're waiting for on is an-FDA approved vaccine.

So it is disappointing to know that we could be doing this more efficiently and more effectively, and potentially even with more doses, as we anticipate approval coming in the next week.

So, we really hope that this goes smoothly with as many doses distributed as possible.

CAPEHART: You know, the president was in Georgia on Saturday and was talking about the vaccine. Have a listen to what he had to say.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Vaccines are on their way at a level that nobody ever thought possible. It would have taken another administration five years.


TRUMP: It took us seven months.

Some incredible work has been done over the last seven months. And we should always get credit for that. Don't let anyone ever take it away from us.


CAPEHART: The president wants credit for that. But, as we talked about in the A block at the top of this show, "The New York Times" is reporting that the Trump officials passed when Pfizer offered to sell more vaccine doses in late summer.

And, as I talked about in the intro, that fewer doses are going to be available.

Dr. Patel, I mean, the incompetence of this administration is mind-blowing. How much confidence do you have in the Trump administration? Given what the president says, he's very proud of these vaccines.

But do you have any confidence at all that he can follow through on what he bragged about in Georgia over the weekend?

PATEL: No, simply put, not at all.

And it's even more insulting to the almost 300,000 Americans we have lost, the countless tens of millions by the time this has taken a toll. No acknowledgement of that, Jonathan? I mean, that's just amazing to do a victory lap, when, to be clear, it was actually kind of -- it was -- to be clear, it was actually scientists of ethnic origin from other countries that were the backbone of several of the discoveries in this pandemic on the vaccine front.

So, I think all of it is hypocrisy. The only saving grace I have is that the NIH, the NIAID, Tony Fauci's institute, is one of the co-investigators on the Moderna vaccine. They're a critical part of Operation Warp Speed. And that will be what gets us through to having vaccines, hopefully, for all Americans in the next four to six months.

CAPEHART: All right, we're going to have to leave it there.

Dr. Kavita Patel, Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, both, thank you very much for being here this evening.

Up next: What is the sound of one person debating? That's what we heard when one of the Republican candidates didn't show up for an important debate this weekend ahead of those crucial Senate run-offs in Georgia.

More on those debates and the race straight ahead.

Stay with us.


CAPEHART: This election season offered yet again a strange sighting on the debate stage. Not a fly on a candidates head this time, but an empty podium, when incumbent Senator David Perdue of Georgia declined to participate in the debate against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff. Ossoff managed to challenge Perdue from afar, marking the no-show as his opponent's crucial flaw.


JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Our senator has been absent. He is absent. Doesn't think he needs to be here answering questions. Doesn't think he needs to be in Washington passing relief for the people.

People expect me to come to a debate like this and criticize Perdue. But it shows an astonishing arrogance and sense of entitlement for Georgia's senior U.S. senator to believe he shouldn't have to debate at a moment like this in our history.


CAPEHART: Meanwhile, in the other Senate runoff, runoff race in Georgia, both candidates showed up for their debate. Incumbent Senator Loeffler facing off against her opponent, the Reverend Warnock, who brought up Loeffler's suspect stock trades at the beginning of the pandemic.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should members of Congress be barred from trading stock?

SEN. KELLY LOEFFLER (R-GA): Look, what's at stake here in this election is the American dream. That's what's under attack, when they attack me for a lie. It's a distraction from the real issues. Not the conspiracies in this election.


CAPEHART: And yet, Loeffler wasn't able to address the biggest con of them all. That this election was stolen from Trump.


LOEFFLER: You know, President Trump has every right to use every legal recourse available. This process is still playing out and President Trump has every right to every legal recourse. Well, the president has the right to pursue every legal recourse to make sure that this was a free and fair election in Georgia.


CAPEHART: To be clear, Georgia recertified the results today, declaring Joe Biden as the winner of the Peach State for the third time.

That is isn't even the worst of the GOP problems. Republicans are concerned Trump's baseless election lies could depress turn out in the crucial Georgia run offs which could cost the party everything. And that's next.


CAPEHART: Donald Trump failed to lie his way to a second term, but those same lies are creating a new headache for the GOP, an intraparty war that is threatening the Republican runoff efforts in Georgia.

Joining me now is Jamie Harrison, founder of the Dirt Road PAC and associate chair of the DNC, and Greg Bluestein, political reporter for the "Atlanta Journal Constitution" and one of the panelists at last night's debate.

Gentlemen, thank you for being here.

Greg, I want to start with you. Talk about what it was like between the -- between the two debates, and start with the one with Ossoff. The idea that one candidate shows up and the other one doesn't.

GREG BLUESTEIN, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, that was probably the strangest debate I've ever been a part of, having one candidate debate, especially with as important of a debate as this is. It was the one debate that was scheduled that the candidates agreed to that we thought at least the candidates agreed to. It's the Atlanta press club tradition. It's gone back years in Georgia. Candidates pretty much always participate in these debates.

So you start off with a debate where it's just one candidate behind the lectern in an empty lectern and you have the second debate that was simulcast, it felt like, all over the place that had millions of eyeballs. So, quite the contrast between these two debates.

CAPEHART: You know, there was -- someone sent out a tweet, my husband showed it to me last night, where a person said I swear to God, these are four separate screen shots of Senator Loeffler and they all had the same expression.

She seemed to be on auto pilot. Her face had the same expression, the things she said were always the same, attacks on Reverend Warnock, attacks on socialism and the like.

Do you -- do you think that that sort of -- that that sort of play worked? Did it work last night?

BLUESTEIN: I mean one man's -- one person's robot is another person's on message. She stuck to her message, even if that meant repeating the same thing over and over again, even when we tried to get her to say whether or not she believed Joe Biden won the election and the Reverend Warnock answered that question point blank as well. Whether she believed in the false narrative that the election was rigged, whether she supported President Trump's criticism of Governor Brian Kemp who appointed her to the seat for refusing the president's demands that he call a special session to overturn the election results.

So each time we asked those questions, we kind of got the same standard line back even when we pushed. So as a panelist, that can be frustrating. Of course it also happens on the Democratic side too.

CAPEHART: Jamie, even though we're talking about the Georgia -- the Senate race, I do want to get your view as a South Carolinian into all of this.

Take a listen to what former speaker of the house, son of Georgia, Newt Gingrich, had to say.


NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe Trump probably did actually carry Georgia. I believe that the election process is a mess. I really wish the governor would call a special session to clean it up. And the Republicans simply have to turn out more votes than Stacey Abrams can steal.


CAPEHART: Stacey Abrams stealing votes?

Jamie Harrison, your reaction to a former speaker of the House talking like this about a democratic, small-D democratic election, a free and fair election.

JAMIE HARRISON (D-SC), FORMER U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, Jonathan, it's crazy talk. And, you know, we don't need four more years of this dumpster fire that we have in this Trump administration. And Newt Gingrich -- listen, we can't take advice from Newt Gingrich about doing the right thing. He hasn't done the right thing his entire life.

And so what we know is that Stacey Abrams was the actual victim of voter hanky-panky. There were hundreds of thousands of voters in south -- in Georgia that were purged during her election, and we know the impact that it had on that election. Right now we know that the voters in Georgia went to the polls and they did so and they decided that they were tired of the reality show of this administration and they were ready to build back better, and that's why Joe Biden won.

CAPEHART: Greg, the president was in Georgia over the weekend and he said something to his followers who were there that I want to get your reaction to. Let's have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're all victims. Everybody here, all these thousands of people here tonight, they're all victims, every one of you. The next great victory for our movement begins right here on January 5th.

And then we are going to win back the White House. We're going to win it back. And then in 2024 and hopefully I won't have to be a candidate. We're going to win back the White House again.


CAPEHART: Okay. The idea that the president is going to win back the White House as a result of a Senate runoff race in Georgia, let's just leave that to decide. What I'm wondering about is his comment that we're all victims. And I'm wondering, Greg, in Georgia does being called victims work for Georgians in general but for Georgian Republicans in particular?

BLUESTEIN: Well, this is what senior Georgian Republican officials feared would happen which is he spoke more about his own election grievances, and by saying you're somehow victimized by a free and fair election, that's exactly what it is, it's grievances. It shifts more attention on the November election and less on the January 5th runoffs in just a few weeks.

Now, he did say nice things about Senators Loeffler and Perdue so both the campaigns were at least happy they got the sound bites they needed. But at the same time, he spent the vast majority of the rally talking about his own election defeat and saying all sorts of falsehoods like he was the victim of this election.

CAPEHART: Greg, am I wrong in thinking that the Georgia Senate runoffs, despite the polls that we have seen, it's going to be a tough hill for the two Democratic candidates to get over? I'm trying to be realistic. Am I not -- am I wrong?

BLUESTEIN: Yeah. I mean, look, historically, Republicans have won every statewide runoff in Georgia history. There is a path and Joe Biden showed that there's a path. Joe Biden became the first Democratic to carry the state since '92 and the first Democrat to win statewide since 2006 so there's a path the Democrats can reforge, but again, it's going to be lower turnout, so getting that turnout base back is going to be hard.

CAPEHART: And so, Jamie, I ask that question because even though it's going to be tough, President-elect Joe Biden did win Georgia. And when you ran for Senate in South Carolina, a lot of your argument was about there's a new South, which I firmly believe, there is a new South. And the fact that Joe Biden did flip Georgia is evidence of that.

Do you think that this mindset and feeling of a new south will be enough to get both Jon Ossoff and Reverend Raphael Warnock to actually break the history that Greg just talked about and to actually win their runoff races on January 5th?

HARRISON: I actually believe that they will win this race, Jonathan, and it's because the work has been done in Georgia, by Stacey Abrams, Nikema Williams, Latosha Brown, so many folks have been working for years to make sure that there was a turnout operation in Georgia and it paid in dividends for this presidential election. And they have engaged that operation for this runoff. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are doing the work right now, and they are knocking on doors and they're talking about the issues that people care about.

You know, they're running against a Bonnie and Clyde of the United States Senate. These people care more about their own bottom line and their stock portfolios than they do the people who are suffering because of COVID. That is going to make the difference in the end. You've got to have senators who care about the people and their communities and their families. And Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, they care.

CAPEHART: You know, I am told that the president of the United States has just tweeted to say -- and I'll paraphrase here, saying that, you know, Governor Kemp and Secretary of State Raffensperger, they will be responsible if the two incumbent Republican senators lose their elections and calls them RINOs.

In the 20 seconds that we have left, Jamie, you go first and we'll end with Greg.

HARRISON: It's just shameful. You know, the president just needs to pack his bags, get the U-Haul ready. On January 20th, we're going to build back better.


Greg? Real quick.

BLUESTEIN: He wants them to do something that's illegal, overturning free and fair election results here in Georgia. They can't do it.

CAPEHART: And with that, we're going to have to leave it there.

Jaime Harrison, Greg Bluestein, thank you both very much for being here tonight.

That's tonight's REIDOUT.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.


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