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tv   The Last Word With Lawrence O Donnell  MSNBC  March 10, 2021 10:00pm-11:00pm PST

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eastern. as soon as that is over i'll join my friend chris hayes for special coverage he's doing live from the lincoln memorial looking back on this incredible year we've had and looking forward to what is coming next. this hour 9:00 p.m. eastern tomorrow i'll be joined live by dr. anthony fauci. dr. anthony fauci. like i said, lots going on. i will see you then. now it's time for the "last word" with lawrence o'donnell. good evening, lawrence. >> good evening, rachel. and our first guest tonight is the person who got all those people confirmed in the united states senate today, senate majority leader chuck schumer is going to join us. and rachel, this new information tonight, the new tape of donald trump making a call to georgia to an election official, this one before christmas, so earlier than the one that we already heard, is just such stunning additional information about what was clearly an ongoing campaign to try to change the result of that election.
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and as you point out, he seems to cross the legal line repeatedly in these phone calls. >> and it also fills in some of the pieces about who was involved in this campaign and what the pattern of corrupting events were. again, this may be a racketeering investigation in georgia based on actions and statements from the district attorney's office. but the white house chief of staff really did turn up bodily in person, surprise, at the audit in georgia when they were auditing the absentee ballots in cobb county. he showed up in person. then the next day he apparently told the president to call the investigator leading that audit while he told her what answer he wanted and how much she'd be praised when she produced that correct answer, which was that he mysteriously won the election. i mean, that's just -- it's starting to read like an elmore leonard book. >> and you hear on the phone call something you'd otherwise
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never hear in a phone call with the president of the united states. and that is the other person seeming to try to get off the phone, seeming to try to end the conversation, when anyone else would just be so thrilled to talk to a president. how long can i keep this going? and she's probably a republican, that's how she got appointed to that job in the republican government, and she seemed to be doing everything she can. and that's the most helpful thing she can do to donald trump-s get him to hang up before he commits more crimes on the phone. >> exactly. she's flattering him and thanking him and being like, yeah, we're just looking for the facts, mr. president, which is what you meant to say, right? that i should just look for the facts? isn't that what you meant to say, sir? got to go. >> yes. >> yeah, she's trying to help him. >> how many more tapes? we'll find out. >> all right. thanks, lawrence. >> thank you, rachel. thank you. our first guest tonight, senate
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majority leader chuck schumer, got judge merrick garland confirmed today by the united states senate as the attorney general of the united states. and so as of tonight the attorney general chosen by president joe biden will be overseeing all of the investigations of the insurrection of the capitol including possible trump involvement and trump white house involvement with the trump mob that attacked the capitol and killed police officer brian sicknick. today chuck schumer got congresswoman marcia fudge confirmed as secretary of the department of housing and urban development. also today chuck schumer got michael regan confirmed by the senate. as the of the head of the environmental protection agency. michael regan is the first black head of the environmental protection agency. and chuck schumer is actually a double first himself. he is the first new york senator to serve as majority leader, and he is the first jewish senator to serve as majority leader. more about that later. the most important test of a new majority leader is the very first big and controversial bill
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that the majority leader brings to the senate floor. and as his first test chuck schumer brought to the senate floor the single biggest spending bill any democratic leader of the senate has ever tried to pass. no new majority leader has ever had a more difficult first bill. the republican senate led by mitch mcconnell had one objective. yes, they wanted to defeat the bill, but much more importantly for the workings of the senate going forward, they wanted to beat chuck schumer on the senate floor. they wanted to break chuck schumer's hold on the senate democrats because if they could do that on chuck schumer's first big bill, then the republicans would cripple his leadership for the rest of the biden presidency and the senate would fall into chaos because the new majority leader could not deliver and could not control the senate. in all my years of working in the senate and watching the
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senate, i have never seen a more difficult challenge for a new majority leader. and to make it even more difficult, chuck schumer was working with zero margin of error. he could not lose a single democratic vote in the senate. no democratic majority leader has ever had a 50-50 senate. no majority leader has ever done what you just watched chuck schumer do. and he never let you know how difficult it was. "the new york times" described him as a happy warrior throughout the process. and in the end chuck schumer delivered a bill that bernie sanders on one side of the democratic party and joe manchin on the other side of the democratic party are both proud of. chuck schumer sent that 628-page bill from the senate to the house of representatives where it was passed today without changing a word of what chuck schumer sent to the house.
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and so in the end when president biden signs the bill, he will be signing the 628 pages that chuck schumer was able to get through a 50-50 senate. president biden, who spent 36 years in the united states senate said, i've never seen anyone work as skillfully, as ably, as patiently with determination to deliver such a consequential piece of legislation. joe biden has seen the very best senate majority leaders at work in both parties, but he's never seen anything like what chuck schumer did to get the biden covid relief bill through the senate. after marathon negotiating sessions with democratic senators before and during the legislative action on the senate floor and after a grueling all-nighter in the senate fending off republican amendments, chuck schumer was
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grateful for and overjoyed by each one of the 50 votes he was able to get on his first big bill, the most important test of his leadership that chuck schumer has ever faced. >> i want to say one thing. i am so proud of my caucus. i love each one of them. they are just so great. and you know what unites our caucus? everyone knows especially with 50 votes we all have to pull together. everyone knows. >> and joining us now, the majority leader of the united states senate, chuck schumer. thank you very much for joining us tonight, mr. leader. it's a real honor to have you here. first time as majority leader. >> i got a little teary watching that, so excuse me. i'm a crier. >> i know what it's like, and i was telling people on saturday when i saw that that moment is completely real.
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i was on the senate floor for a 51-vote win on a hugely important bill in the first months of the clinton presidency. and when you get those 51 there's nothing quite like it. you do end up loving every one of them. >> i truly do, and it's an amazing caucus. we talk to each other. we respect each other. we don't agree with each other on everything, but the bottom line is every member as you said knew that failure was not an option. this is such a major change for america. and we're delivering. i tell americans help is on the way. your $1,400 check for beleaguered people, help is on the way. your vaccines are going to get in people's arms much more quickly so we can get rid of this crisis. help is on the way. we are making the schools -- we'll allow the schools to open safer and more quickly. and maybe the most important thing of all which really i care about, and i give a lot of credit to sherrod brown and
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michael bennet and cory booker, ronwiden and richie neil in the house, is the eitc, the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit. if we take half the kids in america out of poverty, that's a generational goal. and you know these kids when you're brought up in poverty, you don't get adequate nutrition, you don't get adequate health care, you don't get adequate education, you don't get adequate housing and then when they're 18 and lost we became them. it's so much better for society and cheaper in the long run to put the money in now. so we are excited, lawrence. we are excited about this bill, the most important bill to pass in -- and so many other things people don't pay attention to. i had a construction worker teary-eyed talking to me two weeks ago. he said my pension is gone. he said i don't care about me, i care about my wife, my children and my parents. if i don't have that pension
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they depend on -- we restored it. these people put in dollar after dollar week after week and they said at least when i retire i'll have a life if not of luxury at least of dignity. it was gone. we restored it. so we have delivered for america, lawrence. and it's been the whole caucus, as you said, from bernie sanders to joe manchin. each one knew they couldn't push things too far in their direction so that the other end would fall off, and we did it. and i give them credit. i do love them all. i truly do. i know it sounds corny but i do. >> it doesn't to me. it might to everyone else listening but it doesn't to me. senator schumer, there's a room i'd love to be in someday and i used to be in it quite frequently. it's your conference room. where you meet with committee chairmen and others. but you have a leadership team that is unique in democratic senate leadership teams that i've ever seen, and it's a larger one than other leaders have had at other times. and it includes elizabeth warren. it includes bernie sanders.
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it includes joe manchin. all sitting at that not so big conference table that you have in that room. what is it like when you have joe manchin at the table, bernie sanders at the table? what are they like with each other, and how much did that experience with each other in that room leading up to this help get this done? >> you know what we do in that room? we encourage everyone to state their viewpoints and not to take it personally if joe manchin feels this way and bernie sanders feels that way. and then my job is to try to bring everybody together so that we see each other's points of view, respect each other's points of view, and then come up with a solution we all can support. but not something that's so watered down it doesn't mean something but something real. and i think those meetings and the general meetings -- i meet monday night with those 10. then the next day i meet with 20. and every tuesday we have a lunch and i encourage everybody to speak out.
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so there are no hidden grievances or unspoken desires of legislation. and it works. it works. and we'll keep working because failure's not an option. you know the thing i'm sort of proudest of, lawrence, and you've talked about this. we democrats have to show we can deliver. people are -- you ask yourself this question. why did close to half of america vote for such a horrible, evil man like donald trump? a liar, a divider, a bigot, a racist. because they didn't have hope. and when people don't have hope about the future, when people feel that the american dream which simply put is if i work hard i'll be doing better ten years from now than i'm doing today and my kids will be doing better than me, if they don't believe that they can turn to a demagogue, they can turn to a dictator. what we are showing people is government can work for them. and there's going to be nothing more tangible and immediate than checks, $1,400, and by the way
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there was some talk about trying to cut the children checks, the $3,000 and $3,600 lower, we didn't. and when people will get that, and they'll see the vaccines come into their arms far more quickly than anyone ever imagined as we recover from this crisis. and we will think wow, government can do something. the american people don't expect us to snap our fingers and make all the trouble go away. but they expect us to work so they give them hope and direction. and maybe that's the most important thing that happened in the last two days. they're going to see it, and i believe it'll change the political atmosphere quite a bit. >> well, i want to mention one trump voter who's very excited about this bill. and he tweeted about it today. he's a trump voter in mississippi. his name is roger wicker. and he tweeted, "independent restaurant owners have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief.
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this funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll." senator, as you know, the weird think about that is roger wicker is the republican senator from mississippi who voted to kill all of that. >> but we try to be bipartisan when we can without sacrificing the need for big, bold action. so as you know the power of majority leader has is to determine what goes on the floor. the very first amendment i put on the floor was a wicker-sinema amendment, he a republican, she a democrat, to do a restaurants act. and even though he didn't support the bill, there are bipartisan parts to this bill. and we want to show our republican colleagues we want to work with them. we're not going to say no because a republican name is on it, we're not going to do it. now, we're not going to whittle things down so that we're not getting anything done. that was a mistake of 2009 and 2010. but we do want to work with them. so i'm proud of the fact wicker was on the bill. and yes, he didn't vote overall for it.
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he should have because of so many other good things. but at least we're showing him when he has a good idea that is sort of bold and the restaurants needed help we're not going to just say go away. maybe that'll lead to more. who knows? >> senator schumer, we're going to squeeze in a commercial break here. when we come back there's a couple of things i have to ask you about. the filibuster rules and the "albany times union" tonight has new reporting on governor cuomo. i want to get your reaction to that. please stay with us. we're going to be right back with majority leader chuck schumer. psst! psst! allergies don't have to be scary. spraying flonase daily stops your body from overreacting to allergens all season long. psst! psst! you're good. (driver) i don't know what happened. (burke) nothing happened. (driver) nothing happened? (burke) nothing happened. (driver) sure looks like something happened. (burke) well, you've been with farmers for three years with zero
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chuck schumer was in hiding when he learned that he was moving up from minority leader
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to majority leader of the united states senate. it was on january 6th in the middle of the invasion of the capitol when jon ossoff was declared the winner in the senate race in georgia that gave the democrats 50 senators after raphael warnock had been declared the winner the night before. mitch mcconnell was in the same location in hiding with chuck schumer when they both got that news. senator mcconnell offered senator schumer his congratulations. chuck schumer was told later that when he was in hiding and the attackers of the capitol was searching for the house and senate one of the people who invaded the senate was heard saying, "where's the big jew?" chuck schumer is the first jewish senator to lead the united states senate, and that was not lost on trump supporters who invaded the capitol wearing clothing that celebrated the holocaust. robert keith packer was wearing his "camp auschwitz" hoodie. what would he have done if he had found chuck schumer?
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nazis invaded the capitol of the united states in 2021 looking for chuck schumer 76 years after nazis were rounding up and executing members of chuck schumer's family in nazi death camps. and after those nazis left the capitol on january 6th, chuck schumer went right back to work. in 1950 brooklyn was not yet the coolest place in new york city when chuck schumer was born there. abe and selma schumer's son took his schoolwork seriously, got perfect s.a.t. scores, went to s harvard college and harvard law school. and the rest is history that chuck schumer continues to write for himself and for the country. if you ever have an emergency in your home and you need a plumber or an electrician, that person for that day becomes the most important person in your life. and there is no emergency quite like needing an exterminator to come to your house or your apartment, and that is what abe
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schumer spent his work life doing in new york. when abe schumer was on the way, you knew that help was on the way. and today abe's son is delivering help to a lot more people. >> so this is a wonderful day for america. this is one of the most consequential pieces of legislation we have passed in decades. and you know what we can show, america? that we can get things done to make their lives better. and we will continue to do that through the rest of this session. help is on the way. back with us senate majority leader chuck schumer. and senator schumer, the filibuster rules seem as though there might be some movement. we've heard recent statements by senator manchin saying there are adjustments that he can make. can you make any more progress in the senate if you don't have some changes in the filibuster rules? >> well, look, here's our bottom line.
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and i think every democrat shares this, praise god. and that is that we need big bold change. america, as i mentioned, not only because of the covid crisis but because people do not have that american optimism and they turn to demagogues like trump. and if we don't do anything, lord knows what will happen in four years. and we could lose the majority in two. so getting things done is very important. now, the wish of a good number of our colleagues, maybe most, is that we work with republicans to get those things done. but if we can't, failure is not an option and we will have to put our heads together as a caucus like we do now, and we will have to discuss, for instance, how we can allow georgia, who imposed racist, despicable rules that could very -- you know, the idea that souls to the polls, the churches, the buses that leave churches on sunday after church and go to the polls. and now all of a sudden the georgia republicans say we shouldn't allow early voting on
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sunday. that's racist. you're racist, plain and simple. and what are we going to do? are we going to allow that to happen? it will make it much harder for raphael warnock to win re-election two years from now. they're doing it in other states making it harder for other democrats to either win empty seats or retain. we'll have to sit down as a caucus and figure it out if republicans won't come our way, and we're going to test them out of course before we go forward with this. but the bottom line is very simple. we will put our heads together. everything will be on the table, and i will do everything i can to make sure that failure is not an option, that we solve these kinds of problems. >> and senator, let me turn to a new york issue, the albany times union, a newspaper i know you read every day is reporting tonight new information about a new accuser of governor cuomo. you have said up to now that let the investigation take its
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course. is there anything about these new allegations that is changing your view of this? >> well, everyone of these allegations is really serious, really troubling and needs to be carefully, carefully looked at. i have always said that sexual harassment is just not tolerable in our society. and we know that. and so i early on called for an independent investigation. i have a great deal of faith, lawrence, in the attorney general of new york state. she will uncover everything. she will turn over every stone. she has subpoena power for both records and witnesses. and i am also confident that she will resist any outside interference political or otherwise. i have faith in her. >> senator, let me take you back to january 6th, which it turns out is the day you realized you were going to become majority leader and what you went through on that day, what you were feeling when you were rushed out of the building and when you
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were in hiding for hours on end, actually. and then to discover after the fact these photographs we've seen of people that day wearing clothing celebrating the holocaust and this information that some of these people were looking for you. they were looking for what they called "the big jew." >> well, lawrence, first let me say that january 6th i've described it like the sentence in "a tale of two cities," it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. i stayed up all night. at 4:00 a.m. we learned it was pretty much certain that ossoff and warnock would win and i'd become majority leader. and of course i felt joy initially. but immediately thereafter another emotion coursed through my veins. and that was of awe. and i don't mean awe in the sense of my daughter saying dad, that movie was awesome. but awe in the biblical sense. the angels when they saw god's face trembled in awe.
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the responsibility on the shoulders of our caucus was enormous. and so i had those two emotions coursing in my veins. i drive down to d.c. i'm on the floor of the senate at 1:00. majority leader at that point. and within an hour a policeman in a big bulletproof vest and a big submachine gun strapped across his waist grabs me firmly by the collar. i will never forget that grab. and he said, "senator, you're in danger." we rush out, we walk to the right. we see these sons of guns. i would use the curse word. i'm from brooklyn. but this is national television. and you can see we walk through the hall and the minute we see them, we go through the doorway, we see them and we turn around and run back the other way. and to be honest with you, i didn't quite remember it. everything was such a whirl. there we are. everything was such a whirl. and until i saw that film which the impeachment managers showed, and they hadn't told me they would show it, that's when it collected. but to realize that these people
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were encouraged by this president is one of the most awful things that america has ever known, that he fomented this, he incited this. and i hope -- i hope and pray. i thought the impeachment managers did a good job. and i hope and i pray that americans as this sinks in will say we can have nothing to do with donald trump. and that only a small band of awful people like these people do. i also have faith that merrick garland, who we installed, who we put in office today, will go after everyone of these sons of guns, every one and throw -- obviously due process. we're america. we don't do what they do. but throw the book at them. no leniency. and if they deserve long jail sentences, which i would believe they do, put them in there and let that be an example to anyone else who might try. these are the worst, and they are authoritarian. and if america doesn't fight back in every way, which i
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believe the attorney general will do, the president will do and certainly we in the senate democrats will do, god save us. and will our republican friends finally come forward and join us in this? fear of donald trump should not be enough to undermine this democracy as trump and these people and their ilk are trying to do. >> senate majority leader chuck schumer, thank you very much for joining us tonight. really is an honor to have you here as majority leader. thank you very much. >> it's a pleasure to be with you, lawrence. thank you. >> thank you. coming up, on this day when president biden has won his first big legislative victory in congress, white house communications director kate bedingfield will join us. we will ask her the question that every west wing faced after a big win. what's next? you can't plan for your period's... what the gush moments.
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this bill represents a historic, historic victory for the american people. i look forward to signing it later this week. everything in the american rescue plan addresses a real need including investments to fund our entire vaccination effort, more vaccines, more vaccinators and more vaccination sites. millions more americans will get tested including home testing. schools will soon have the funding and resources to reopen safely, a national imperative. >> joining us now kate bedingfield, white house communications director. thank you very much for joining us tonight. really appreciate it. i want to get your reaction to -- >> thanks for having me. >> -- senator wicker's tweet today where he's basically claiming credit for a piece of this bill. and are you concerned about how difficult it will be to make the
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american public understand where this bill came from, who delivered it, who delivered what? >> well, look, across the course of putting this bill together and then working to get it passed we earned the support -- president biden earned the support of 75% of the american public. so people saw president biden lay out his vision for a package that was going to get $1,400 checks to families who need it. it was going to get money to fund the vaccination program, to get shots in arms and provide money to reopen schools and get schools open. so he was very clear from the outset about what he thought the right path forward was. and over the course of this process 75% of the american public agreed with him. so you touched on the right question here, lawrence, which is what is next? so the next thing to do is to implement the bill and to go out and talk to people about how this money is going to make a difference in their lives. and that's what you're going to
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see president biden do. that's what you're going to see vice president harris do. that's what you're going to see the first lady and the second gentleman and the cabinet do. they're going to spend time over the next couple of weeks making sure we're really talking to people about the difference this is going to make and the fact help is here. the president said on the campaign trail help is on the way. with the passage of this bill help is here. and i noticed, i saw tonight american airlines announced that 13,000 employees who had been furloughed are now not going to be furloughed because of this bill. we're already seeing immediate real world action. and we're going to be talking to people over the next two weeks about how this bill is going to help them. >> american airlines sent out a letter to the employees saying if you got one of those furlough notices you can just tear that up. and it's all thanks to this legislation. and it's one of those examples where that communication is extremely clear. there's no one working at american airlines who doesn't know where that came from. but your job as communications
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director is to make this clear in all 50 states and to voters in all 50 states. and yet you also have to be proceeding with the next agenda items in the white house. so how do you juggle those two things at the same time? >> well, like i say, first we're going to spend a dedicated amount of time talking to the american people about this bill. you're going to see the president do it. you saw him do it. he laid out very clearly when he came into office on january 20th that his first priority was to get this virus under control, to stand up a vaccine program that's going to vaccinate people all across this country, and to get our economy back on track. he's been relentlessly focused on that. he's been talking about it. he's been pushing forward this legislation with the great work of course of senator schumer who you were just speaking to and speaker pelosi. so he's been relentlessly focused on this. he's been talking directly to the american people. we've been talking directly to the american people as an administration. for example, local media -- we're out in local markets every
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day talking to people through their local news about what they're going to get from this bill, about the help they're going to receive and the fact that president biden and the democrats have passed in record time -- tomorrow is day 50 of the administration and president biden has already made good on promises to make meaningful progress to get this virus under control. so we are going to be focused on talking directly to the american people and making sure that there's no question about who has helped to get this bill done. >> now, the vote count seems to indicate that the highest number of votes a biden agenda item can get in the senate is 51. it doesn't look like there are any more votes available. and so how will the rest of the biden agenda including immigration reform and other issues move through the senate without changes in the filibuster rule? i know white house press secretary jen psaki said it is president biden's preference to not change the rules. but the word preference in politics is a pretty soft word.
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what will you be able to get through the senate without changing the senate rules? >> well, i think you saw from this process, lawrence, that president biden is not willing to hold up urgent aid. he's not willing to hold up the process, and he is going to remain focused on moving quickly and making the progress that we need to make. now, that doesn't mean that he doesn't want to work with republicans. i think you saw him be incredibly bipartisan in this process. he had a number of republican senators to the white house to talk about their ideas for the rescue plan. and he continued outreach to republicans throughout this process. but he showed simultaneously he's not going to hold the process hostage. so you're right. his preference is not to get rid of the filibuster. he believes we're better served when we build a broad coalition. and again, i would note that 75% of the country including a majority of republicans supported the rescue plan. so this was a bipartisan bill for everyone except republicans
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on capitol hill. but look at what we've been able to get done in the first now 7 weeks of this administration. quite a bit. so his preference is to continue to work with people on both sides of the aisle, but he's not going to allow the process to be held up. >> kate bedingfield, i know you have a bill signing ceremony to plan, and so we thank you very much for joining us tonight. really appreciate it. >> thank you for having me, lawrence. i appreciate it. >> thank you. we have breaking news in the investigation of donald trump in georgia. there's another tape. that's next. ♪ limu emu & doug ♪ liberty mutual customizes your car insurance so you only pay for what you need. thank you! hey, hey, no, no limu, no limu! only pay for what you need. ♪ liberty. liberty. liberty. liberty. ♪ ah, a package! you know what this human ordered?
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before christmas donald trump lies to frances watson, chief investigator of the georgia secretary of state's office, and tries to get her to change the result of the election. >> i won georgia, i know that. by a lot. and the people know it. and, you know, something happened there. i mean something bad happened. when the right answer comes out, you'll be praised. people will say great because that's what it's about, that ability to check and to make it right because everyone knows it's wrong. >> joining us now david cooke. he's a former district attorney for the macon judicial circuit in georgia. and mr. cooke, what does this new evidence add to what fani willis is presenting already to a fulton county grand jury? >> i think the point is it just paints another portrait of the continued effort of him trying to change the result.
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and i think it's important that we don't get hung up on just this phone call but we see how it fits into the larger picture. and that's what's important about a racketeering indictment, is that if she were to bring racketeering as was referenced in her letter to governor, then the jury would hear multiple pieces of the puzzle and put them all together to get a more clearer picture of what went on. >> one of the other things that's mentioned, these different counts that she's investigating that's mentioned in her letter, is making false statements to state and local government bodies. did we not just hear donald trump making false statements to a government official? >> i'm not aware of any evidence that substantiates the claims that the former president just made on that phone call, but again, i think it's important to remember that there were other statements that he and other people assisting him made to georgia officials that weren't true.
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so when you combine that with the other evidence it's certainly not helpful to his case. >> well, when he says to a georgia official "i won georgia," that's a lie. >> based on everything we've seen, that's a lie. and again, when you combine it with the other things that we know and the pressure to get people to go against their oath of office, that can be very damaging in a criminal trial. >> knowing the way fani willis assembles a case, what are you expecting in terms of a timetable of her work with the grand jury? >> i think she's going to be very deliberate, and i think she's going to act quickly. but knowing d.a. willis the way i know her, i know she's not going to let artificial time constraints dictate what she does. she's going to act with all deliberate speed but she's going to let it take as long as it
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takes because what's most important to her is the end result and that's justice. >> david cook, thank you very much for joining us tonight. we really appreciate it. >> glad to be here. have a good night. >> thank you. and coming up, the war against the coronavirus has many soldiers and many generals. one of them is a woman who won the nobel prize in december. her story is told in the exciting new book "the code breaker" by walter isaacson. that's next. itamin b5 formula is gentle on skin. with secret, outlast anything! no sweat. secret.
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i picked up walter isaacson's new book "the code breaker" late one night last week when i thought i was too tired to read, and the cliche happened. i could not put this book down. because of scenes like this. walter isaacson volunteering in august in the clinical trial of the pfizer covid-19 vaccine. page 435.
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"look me in the eyes, the doctor ordered, staring at me from behind her plastic face guard. her eyes were vividly blue, almost as blue as her hospital mask. yet after a moment i started to turn to the doctor on my left, who was jabbing a long needle deep into the muscle of my upper arm. no, the first doctor snapped, look at me. then she explained because i was part of a double blind clinical trial of an experimental covid vaccine they had to make sure that i didn't get any clues about whether i was being injected with a real dose or merely a placebo made of saline solution. would i really be able to tell just by looking at the syringe? probably not, she answered. but we want to be careful." "the code breaker" is a scientific action adventure story told in the form of the biography of a woman who won the nobel prize last year for her work in the scientific arena that walter isaacson says is about nothing less than the future of the human race.
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joining us now walter isaacson who is now a professor of history at tulane university. his latest book is "the code breaker." walter, you are now ten books into your collected works. each of them building in many ways on the other. biography has become your favorite form. what drew you to this subject? and boy, did you get lucky in the middle of studying this subject. >> well, jennifer doudna is this really cool woman who as a young girl picked up the double helix. you're younger than i am. but they were both old enough to remember that book about the structure of dna. and she saw the character of roselyn franklin and she said, oh, wow, girls can be scientists. her high school guidance counselor said no, no, no, girls don't become scientists. well, that pushed her on, and she discovers the structures of rna, which turns out to be this
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miracle molecule. it's the molecule that's the messenger in the pfizer and moderna vaccines. moderna. it's the guide that allows us to edit our own genes. so this is about a very brilliant fun woman who says okay, i'm going to understand the secrets of life. it's a great detective story. >> and the coronavirus enters the story while you're investigating this story yourself and while you're writing this story, and she goes to work on it. >> yeah. you know, her kid was going to a robotics competition exactly a year ago. and she woke up at 2:00 in the morning and woke her husband up and said we've got to go andy, this virus pandemic is spreading. they pick him up, he's complaining. but then they get a text saying, robotics competition canceled. so she goes back and the next day gathers 50 scientists she's been working with on rna, and then they use it. they apply it to ways to detect
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the coronavirus, and they apply it to ways to make these new vaccines and to have a way of really just killing the virus outright. so it was kind of exciting to be right in the middle of a story and then having this pivot happen that brought it and made it so relevant to our lives. >> and the long-term solution described in the book is to be able to edit genes such that we will not need vaccines in the future to fight these kinds of viruses. >> there are many ways that this new technology of crispr can help us. one is -- and this is controversial but the chinese doctor did it two years ago, edit early stage embryos so we wipe out virus receptors from the human species. i don't think we're ready to go there yet, but we can certainly use crispr to actually kill the virus.
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crispr cast 13 it's called can chop up rna like the coronavirus. and that means we don't have to do it through stimulating our immune system. we can just do what bacteria have done for a billion years and fight it directly. and in the long term, yes, we're going to be able to edit human genes to make ourselves safer, to make ourselves healthier. we've already been able to cure sickle cell anema last year using this technology, and soon we'll be able to protect ourselves against viruses. >> there's a very important note in your book for parents and for young kids out there. you note that -- and you've written now biographies of creative people from da vinci to ben franklin to steve jobs. and you note that many creative people are alienated as kids when they're young, as she was growing up in hawaii. she says i was really, really alone and isolated at school and alienated by their surroundings. >> you know, we all try to figure out how we're going to fit into this cosmos.
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we all want to know. and that's leonardo da vinci, doing that nude guy doing jumping jacks and the circle in the square. vetruvia man. it's like how do i fit in? and that's what jennifer doudna did. she was always curious. she was curious about all this -- and how beautiful nature is. and when you embark on an adventure there's a joy in understanding how something works, especially when that something is ourselves. and that's the type of thing that this coronavirus pandemic should teach us, is that we should understand the beauties of nature and also fathom how science can help us. >> cathy isaacson, the writer who's also the wife of walter isaacson of 35 years, has written the most revealing thing yet about walter isaacson. she writes, "our daughter betsy once said that in writing about ben franklin walter was writing about himself. an upwardly mobile newspaper man interested in science and diplomacy.
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she said that in writing about einstein walter was writing about his own father, a friendly distracted engineer with a strong humanist streak. walter told her that with steve jobs he was writing about her, a smart, fairly headstrong tech-loving geek. and with jennifer doudna the subject of his latest book he was writing about me, isn't that right, sensible, and persistent. you can see why i love him." and walter, such is the beginning of the first biography of walter isaacson. >> never, never -- i've already consulted my lawyer. but you know cathy well and she's your biggest fan. >> walter, this book at this time is so important to where we are both in the current science and the future science of where we're going. what would you say is the basic takeaway that readers should get from this book? >> basic science, curiosity-driven science. sometimes politicians as you
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know well, lawrence, will say why do we have in the budget some study of bacteria and some repeated sequences that bacteria have in their genetic code? and then somebody discovers, well, those repeated sequences are the way -- they're called crisprs. are the way those bacteria fight viruses and they can adapt every time a new virus hits. and so suddenly basic science leads to a discovery which leads to an invention which becomes a useful thing in our lives. and that's the story of the mrna vaccines and the story of crispr and it's really the story of all of science, is that if you're just curious about nature that will reward you. >> reading a walter isaacson book is like going back to the most exciting college class you ever took. you learn something on every page. walter isaacson, the book is "the code breaker." thank you very, very much for joining us again tonight. really appreciate it. >> and thank you, lawrence, on
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such a busy day for having me. you're a good friend. good to see you. >> thank you. walter isaacson gets tonight's "last word." "the 11th hour" with brian williams starts now. and good evening once again. day 50 of the biden day 50 of the biden administration and exactly halfway through his first 100 days in office the president is marking two big accomplishments. today he secured a landmark bill for federal aid, and he announced that over 100 million more covid vaccines will soon be in the pipeline and then in arms across our country. this afternoon congress cleared biden's signature domestic packages, $1.9 trillion national relief package. >> this bill represents a historic, historic victory for the american people. >> the bill won final passage in the house of representatives on a straight party line vote,