Meet the Press

Meet the Press

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Vaccines begin rolling out of Pfizer’s manufacturing facility after the FDA gives its approval.

DR. ERIC WEI:

It can’t be overstated. You know, this is what we’ve been praying for.

CHUCK TODD:

Still, warnings that vaccines will come too late for too many —

ROBERT REDFIELD:

Probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we are going to have more deaths per day than we had for 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor.

CHUCK TODD:

— as Covid cases and deaths set new records.

BARBARA FERRER:

Over 8,000 people who are beloved members of their families are not coming back.

ELIZABETH CHOW:

We can make space. We can’t make critical care nurses.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning I’ll talk to the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins. Plus, rejected: the Supreme Court turns away a dangerous and anti-democratic Republican effort to overthrow the legitimate results of the presidential election. President Trump, who approved of the move —

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Certain very important people, if they have wisdom and if they have the courage, we’re going to win this election.

CHUCK TODD:

— vows to fight on. My interview with retiring Republican Senator Lamar Alexander:

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with a simple question: any doubt who won the presidential election?

CHUCK TODD:

And Congress, still unable to agree on relief for millions out of work and running out of money.

JOE BIDEN:

It has to get done before they go home. Millions and millions of Americans simply can’t wait any longer.

CHUCK TODD:

I’ll talk to Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker, Washington Post contributing columnist Matt Bai, and Lanhee Chen, fellow at the Hoover Institution. Welcome to Sunday. It’s Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history. This is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. Here’s a scene we have all been waiting for: trucks carrying Pfizer’s newly authorized vaccine are rolling out this morning, it’s a welcome sign of progress as the country faces a crisis of health and a crisis of leadership. Look at this: Covid is now responsible for six of the ten deadliest days in U.S. history, including two days this past week. Pearl Harbor has already been knocked off the top-10 list and 9/11 will soon follow. We’re not including events like Gettysburg or the 1918 pandemic, because the daily number of deaths for those events are unreliable. Sadly, things are likely to get even worse. Over the past week there have been nearly 1.5 million newly confirmed cases of Covid. It’s an average of almost 212,000 new cases per day. So right now, take a look at the counter at the bottom of your screen. We started it at the top of the hour, to show you what 212,000 new cases a day comes to in 60 minutes, the length of this broadcast. It’s a sobering figure. We’re going to go back to the counter throughout the hour, but as you can see, already we’re almost at 500 cases. In addition to this attack on our health, there’s the simultaneous attack on our democracy. Late Friday, the Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit filed by 18 Republican state attorneys general and supported by more than 120 Republican members of Congress — more than half of the Republicans in Congress — to overturn the legitimate results of the presidential election. That President Trump would support such an anti-small-d democratic move, that’s no longer a surprise. More alarming is the willingness of so many Republicans to debase themselves and the democracy that they’ve sworn to serve, simply for fear of losing a primary to a more Trumpian candidate. Read this list. Learn the names. The courts have preserved our democracy, for now. Hopefully, we can all now focus our efforts on one front: the health front, where the progress on vaccines offers hope for relief in the midst of what is likely to be a very tough winter.

DR. STEPHEN HAHN:

This vaccine met the FDA’s rigorous standards for quality, safety and efficacy.

CHUCK TODD:

The historic authorization of the Pfizer vaccine paves the way for a complex coordination effort.

DR. ERIC WEI:

It can’t be overstated. You know, this is what we’ve been praying for.

CHUCK TODD:

It comes after White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows reportedly threatened to fire FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn if he did not approve the vaccine on Friday night. President Trump tweeted on Friday: “Get the damn vaccines out now, Dr. Hahn. Stop playing games and start saving lives!”

DR. STEPHEN HAHN:

The representation in the press that I was threatened to be fired if we didn’t get it done by a certain date is inaccurate.

CHUCK TODD:

The first batch of the 2.9 million doses is already being sent to states, packed with dry ice designed to keep them at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

BRUCE KRANZ:

The temperature starts to go up rather quick. So time is of the essence once this lid is off.

CHUCK TODD:

The rare moment of hope comes after the worst week in the pandemic.

ROBERT REDFIELD:

Probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day then we had at 9/11.

JOE BIDEN:

We’re in the teeth of the crisis right now. This nation needs presidential leadership right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Hospitalizations are at a record high.

NURSE:

Having a patient ask you if they’re dying. And the whole time she just kept saying, “I’m trying, I’m trying, but I can’t breathe.”

NURSE:

There’s a very good chance that he may pass without the family being able to say goodbye.

REPORTER:

How much time do you think this patient has?

NURSE:

I don’t think past midnight .

CHUCK TODD:

New Hampshire House Speaker Dick Hinch died of Covid a week after being sworn in.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU:

We’re not tearing up the Constitution when we ask folks, you know, to be safe, smart and socially distance.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, more states are issuing new restrictions. Pennsylvania joining New York City in banning indoor dining.

GOV TOM WOLF:

People are really tired, we’re all tired. But our healthcare workers above all are really, really tired

CHUCK TODD:

Massachusetts, Indiana, Mississippi and New Mexico asking hospitals to postpone elective surgeries. There are new nightly curfews in North Carolina and Virginia.

GOV. RALPH NORTHAM:

Starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday morning, Virginia will go into a modified stay-at-home order.

CHUCK TODD:

And new limits on indoor youth sporting events and other indoor gatherings in Oklahoma.

GOV. KEVIN STITT:

I don’t take any of these decisions lightly.

CHUCK TODD:

On Saturday, the CDC approved the vaccine, prioritizing who gets it first. Still, many Americans remain skeptical. In a new CNBC poll, 12% of Americans say they will get vaccinated only if required to. And nearly one in five say they will not get vaccinated, period.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

I will get the vaccine as soon as it is made available to me. I will do it publicly to let the rest of the country know that I’m confident about its safety.

WOMAN:

It’s not something that I’m interested in taking or even have my children taking.

REPORTER:

Is there anything a doctor, a public health official could do to convince you that it’s safe at this stage?

WOMAN:

Absolutely not.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins. Dr. Collins, welcome back to Meet the Press. I have to tell you, there’s something, it’s just such a relief to see these vaccines start to be shipped out. It’s — it can’t come soon enough. And yet, I do think we ought to step back. It’s quite remarkable that we have a vaccine in such a short period of time. It is less than a year from the first confirmed case, it appears, if we even backtrack to December of 2019.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

It is indeed astounding that in just this space of some 11 months, we have gone from a recognition of a new pathogen, to a vaccine that we know is safe and effective.

CHUCK TODD:

So distributing this vaccine and deciding who gets it first, we’ve seen with health care workers that they are supposed to be this vaccine first. I want to pull up a study that was out of Miami-Dade County, Jackson’s Hospital System. And it was quite striking. A survey of the health care workers, okay, this wasn’t the general population, but this was health care workers. Just under half of the respondents said they would not be interested in taking this first vaccine, while another 35% said they were not interested in this round, but would consider in the future. The rest, 49% said that they were not interested at all in the COVID-19 vaccine. Excuse me, I think I misspoke there. About half said that they would take it right away. But if we can’t get to 70% penetration with health care workers, Dr. Collins, we have a real hurdle in front of us to convince people to take this, do we not?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

We do indeed, Chuck. And this is a source of great concern for all of us. And I would like to plead just to people who are listening to this this morning, to really hit the reset button on whatever they think they knew about this vaccine that might cause them to be so skeptical. The data is out there now. It’s been discussed in a public meeting. All the details of the safety and the efficacy for anybody who wants to look. This is a very powerful outcome of this incredibly intense year long experience to develop this. And I think all reasonable people, if they had the chance to sort of put the noise aside and disregard all those terrible conspiracy theories, would look at this and say, “I want this for my family. I want it for myself.” People are dying right now. How could you possibly say, “Let’s wait and see” if that might mean some terrible tragedy is going to befall? And especially for health care providers. Please, people. When you look back in a year and you say to yourself, “Did I do the right thing?” I hope you’ll be able to say, “Yes, because I looked at the evidence.”

CHUCK TODD:

You know, some of this skepticism may be borne out by the idea that there was a speediness to this, that we were rushing it along. I mean, some have objected even to naming the vaccine goal Operation Warp Speed. And there was something the president tweeted on Friday, and I’m wondering how helpful this is. He said, “While my pushing the money drenched but heavily bureaucratic FDA saved five years in the approval of numerous great new vaccines, it is still a big, old, slow turtle. Get the damn vaccines out now, Dr. Hahn. Stop playing games and start saving lives.” The skepticism, are you concerned it’s born out of the appearance that we rushed this? I mean, even that last tweet, it looks like we sped things up a day.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

I think that is part of the skepticism, along with a lot of other things that reflect the terrible polarization we have in this country about absolutely everything, this included. But if you look at the facts, the way in which these vaccines were designed, tested in phase one and then phase two, and then very large phase three studies, 44,000 people in the Pfizer trial. And then this careful analysis by objective scientists who are the only ones who first get to see the unblinded data, then it goes to the FDA, then it’s reviewed in a public setting, I think there have been few, if any vaccines, that have ever been subjected to this level of scrutiny. So if you want to look at the facts, I think you should be very reassured. Put aside all of the noise and, yeah, all of the skepticism that’s born of potential interference from some source or another. That did not determine the outcome. This was based upon scientific decision making of the most rigorous sort. I’m part of that. I’m talking out of knowledge of having been totally immersed in this 100 hours a week since last January.

CHUCK TODD:

Let’s talk about some of the issues that we don’t know the answer to yet after you take the vaccine. When will we know the answer to the question of whether, if you’ve been vaccinated, whether you can spread the disease?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

Chuck, that’s a great question because we know from the phase three trials of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine will be discussed on Thursday in a public meeting, and it looks very similar, that this is very effective, 95%, in preventing symptomatic illness. But we don’t know whether somebody who had the vaccine could still acquire the virus without any symptoms and potentially be contagious to others around them. That is an urgent question to discover. It will take us a couple of months to figure that out. And there’s still some debate about the ideal design of the studies to do that. What that means is if you’ve had the vaccine, and people are going to start getting it this week, you still need to wear the mask, you still need to think of yourself as potentially contagious, even though you are protected from getting sick at a very high percentage of certainty. Masks are still going to be part of our life. We need to recognize that and not step away or start to drop our guard.

CHUCK TODD:

How long are masks going to be a part of our life? I mean, are they going to be stocking stuffers next year too?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

I don’t think so. But, you know, it’s going to depend on the American public quite a bit in terms of whether people are willing to take part in this immunization plan, which depends on the vaccine. The experts would say, “We need 70-80% of Americans to be immune before this virus will basically give up and it’ll be gone.” And we think we can get there by June or so for almost all of the 330 million Americans who are interested in getting this vaccine. But if only half of them do so, this could go on, and on, and on. You know, General Perna, who’s responsible for the distribution, gave a comparison on Saturday that this distribution was kind of like D-Day. Well, okay, let’s make that comparison. Remember, D-Day was June of 1944. The war didn’t end until 1945. We’re in that same space. And it’s up to all of us, just like we did in World War II, to pull together and say, “We’re going to get through this.” But we’re not done yet. We’ve got to absolutely double down on all the things that Americans can do to save lives. And look at the lives that we have lost and the tragedy that’s there. We’ve got a chance to make this next few months, which otherwise could be really dark, just a little bit better, why wouldn’t we do that?

CHUCK TODD:

Hey — one more question I have. I was talking to a woman who runs the Advancing Health Equity. She’s the founder of it, it’s Dr. Uché Blackstock. And one of the things she said, I’m going to paraphrase it for now. One of the things she said, it’s great if people like Dr. Fauci and maybe the former presidents go on camera and take a shot. But people that look like her, Black doctors in the community, have to be influencers on this too. What is the government’s plan to roll out a vaccine, you know, “You’ve got to take this” campaign? Are we going to start to see PSAs, celebrities, things like that?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

So yes. And she’s absolutely right. For somebody like me to say, “You should be signing up for this vaccine,” okay, a white guy who works for the government. Sure, that isn’t necessarily going to be the voice that people need to hear if they’re skeptical. We are working closely with, you know, health care providers, especially those in communities of color and trying to make sure that all of those messages are ready to go. CDC just put up a tool kit that’s available for people trying to spread the word about what we know about vaccines.That just went up a day or two ago. And there is a big effort coming soon for public service announcements, with voices of people who, we hope, will generate trust. Not just necessarily people who sound like they might just want it to be true. But people who’ve been part of the whole enterprise have looked at the facts and say, “America, this is good for you. Let’s all get together and make this Covid-19 slip back into the rearview mirror.” Isn’t that what we want?

CHUCK TODD:

Absolutely. Dr. Francis Collins, head of NIH, and I have to say, there’s so much research that you guys do over there. This is important and a big moment, amazing technology for this vaccine. So kudos to the entire scientific community, of which NIH is so important of. So thanks for coming on and sharing.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS:

It’s an amazing team. Amazing team, Chuck. And it is amazing to look at what’s been accomplished over these 11 months. Just unprecedented working together with talents from every sector, not worrying about who got the credit, but let’s do this. It’s a great year for science, even though it’s a terrible year for the world.

CHUCK TODD:

This is what good government can look like, folks. Anyway, Dr. Collins, thanks very much. Joining me now is Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. Senator Coons, welcome back to Meet the Press. I want to start with something that Governor Chris Sununu said to me on Friday on Meet the Press Daily. It was about all of you guys in Congress. Take a listen, sir.

[START TAPE]

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU:

I don’t think any of them deserve their jobs, frankly. None of them can stand up and say, “As a congressman or a senator I’ve led on the biggest health crisis this country’s ever faced.” They fell down and let politics get in the way. Shame on them.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Coons, can you defend Congress from that criticism?

SEN. CHRIS COONS:

Well, Chuck, thanks for a chance to be on again. And first, I’m just going to celebrate the combination of two things — that nine months ago the Senate passed unanimously the CARES Act, which provided about $2.2 trillion in support to the American people and funded much of that great work at NIH and at private firms like Pfizer that is delivering these vaccines to the American people, starting this coming week. But I’ll agree with Governor Sununu that the fact that nine months later we don’t have a next round of Covid relief is something I personally am frustrated and embarrassed about. Bluntly, I will put a lot of that responsibility at the feet of the leader of the Senate Republican majority, Mitch McConnell, because over and over as negotiations have tried to move forward over the last nine months, he’s had a key red line and sticking point. There is now I think real optimism because a terrific group of eight senators, a bipartisan group, along with two members of the House, have worked hard over the last couple weeks and come forward with a framework, a $908 billion framework, Chuck, for a next round of needed relief. We should not leave for the holidays until we have adopted that $908 billion framework to give a next round of relief to the millions of Americans who are facing eviction, hunger, unemployment, disease. It includes funding for vaccine distribution and $300 billion for small businesses to keep them afloat or help them reopen. I am really optimistic we can get this done this coming week. And if we don’t, we deserve Government Sununu’s criticism.

CHUCK TODD:

So, is this deal already have a majority support in the U.S. Senate? Is the problem that it doesn’t have a majority support among Senate Republicans? Is that why Senator McConnell won’t bring it to the floor?

SEN. CHRIS COONS:

That’s my strong impression. But I do want to say there are Republicans working hard on coming together around this bipartisan framework. It has been a difficult negotiation, and there’s folks who’ve dedicated weeks and weeks to this effort. Even earlier this morning, I was exchanging ideas and terms with some of the Democrats about exactly how we close the last remaining gaps. But frankly, Chuck, I’m hopeful that all of us in the Senate will look back on what we accomplished nine months ago with the unanimous passage of the CARES Act, look at the need and the suffering in our states, and look forward. We are at the beginning of the end of this pandemic, with nearly 300,000 Americans dead. That’s a lot of empty chairs at tables at holiday time, and there’s 16 million Americans infected, 850,000 filed for unemployment this past week for the first time. We have to address the trust deficit in our country. Trust in science and vaccines. Trust in each other after this election. And the Senate here can lead and show that we can deliver the kind of relief that will restore hope to the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to move quickly to the transition. One of the jobs not yet filled is attorney general. I’m curious what you think is the — what is the best way to ensure that the Hunter Biden investigation at the Justice Department is protected from the appearance of political interference? Do you think it needs to be a special counsel?

SEN. CHRIS COONS:

Well, Chuck, first, you know, so many of us have just gotten used to, in the era of Trump, that being a normal question. Joe Biden will not run the White House as a family business, as President Trump has. And he will not interfere in decisions made by senior leadership at the Department of Justice. He won’t view the attorney general as his personal attorney, as President Trump clearly has viewed Attorney General Barr. So I’m confident that whoever is nominated to be the attorney general will restore the rule of law and will follow the appropriate process once they’re in place.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand wanting to take your word for that, but the public’s pretty skeptical now. And it may not be President-elect Biden’s fault. But do you think there needs to be some protection? Is it a special counsel? Is it keeping the Delaware U.S. Attorney on and letting him — you know, making it clear publicly he’s not going to be interfered with?

SEN. CHRIS COONS:

Either of those options may well work, Chuck. But, frankly, this is news to all of us within the last week. I think we should trust that attorney general nominated by Joe Biden will restore the rule of law to how the Department of Justice works and will be an attorney general following the Constitution for the American people, not a personal attorney for the president.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Chris Coons, Delaware — Democrat from Delaware, thanks for coming on and sharing your perspective with us, sir. I appreciate it.

SEN. CHRIS COONS:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

And as we go to break, here’s where the average hourly Covid case count stands based on how many cases there were last week. As you could see, we’re already at thirty-three hundred. When we come back, what a three-term Republican senator says about the attacks on democracy by his fellow Republicans. My interview with Lamar Alexander is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Next month, the Senate will lose one of its most familiar faces. Republican Lamar Alexander is retiring after serving three terms in the Senate. He’s also been the Secretary of Education and a two-term governor of Tennessee. In addition, he twice ran for the Republican presidential nomination, coming pretty close in 1996. Unlike many of his colleagues, Alexander is not repeating President Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged against him. So, I caught up with him this week and asked about Mr. Trump’s post-election behavior.

[BEGIN TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with a simple question. Any doubt who won the presidential election?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, shouldn’t be after Monday. I mean, the states have counted, certified their votes. The courts have resolved the disputes. It looks very much like the electors will vote for Joe Biden. And when they do, I hope that he puts the country first — I mean, the president — that he takes pride in his considerable accomplishments, that he congratulates the president-elect and he helps him get off to a good start, especially in the middle of this pandemic. We need to not lose one day in the transition in getting the vaccine out to everybody who needs it.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it’s been 37 days since the election, 33 days since it was called, six days since we know that enough pledged electors have been certified for the election. And yet, on Wednesday, the president of the United States tweeted “#overturn.” Is it about time for this to stop?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, Monday it should stop. I mean, remember, it’s not unprecedented to contest an election. Al Gore took 37 days, I believe, to contest before he finally conceded. And then he made the best speech of his life respecting the result, which is what I hope the president will do if the electors vote for Joe Biden on Monday, which it is apparent they will.

CHUCK TODD:

I don’t understand the context, though, of trying to compare this to Al Gore. That was an incredibly close election. The only reason there’s a perception that this was closer than some others is the order with which we counted the vote. So is the comparison to 2000 really fair? Or is it creating a false straw man?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, it’s not — you’re exactly right. It’s not the same circumstance. But what is a good comparison is that Al Gore conceded, then unconceded. Then, after 37 days, he conceded again. But the important thing was he made the best speech of his life. He went on television. He said, “the courts have decided. I respect the result. Let’s put the country first.” That’s what I hope the president will do if, as expected, on Monday the electors vote for Joe Biden. Everything before Monday is really a projection. We’ve gotten used to the media deciding shortly, you know, on election night. My first race for governor, I conceded within two hours. But the votes hadn’t all been counted. I think it’s fair to allow candidates to contest elections if they want to, if they have evidence. But when it’s over, it needs to be over.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I don’t remember these same comments four years ago, on “Hillary Clinton should get more time” and all of this stuff. I mean, do you see why it looks like a double standard?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, what about Stacey Abrams’ concession speech? Have you found it yet?

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I understand that —

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

That was two years ago, Chuck. She was defeated. She was defeated by more votes — she was defeated by more votes for governor. And why don’t you say —

CHUCK TODD:

I’m not here to defend Stacey Abrams’ decisions.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

— something about that? You’re going to keep talking about Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I’m not here to talk about Stacey Abrams. I’m not covering that race —

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well.

CHUCK TODD:

— and that’s her decision.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, why aren’t you covering —

CHUCK TODD:

Look —

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

— that race?

CHUCK TODD:

— and that is something that she deserves to be asked. But the question I have is, this is how the Republican Party seems to define itself in the Trump era, which is anything the president does that is unseemly, breaks a norm, instead of criticizing him, you, just now, you just say, “Well, what about?” It’s whataboutism. “What about this?” That doesn’t dismiss the president’s behavior, does it?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Uh-huh. But I would think if you’re going to talk about Donald Trump all the time, you might mention Stacey Abrams once. I mean, after all, Georgia is where the Senate races are —

CHUCK TODD:

It is something I’ve mentioned a handful of times. I’m not here to debate that.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

— it had been — you mentioned her — well, why aren’t you? Why aren’t you? I have consistently said that if the president loses, and it appears that he will when the electors vote, he should put the country first, take pride in his accomplishments, congratulate Joe Biden and help him off to a good start, especially because of the vaccine. I think that’s a very proper way to think about that. And it respects the processes we have. In fact, that should help increase the validity of the election if all of those who think that it’s not valid see that states have counted, recounted their votes, that the courts have resolved the disputes, that the electors have all voted. It’s very hard to say that Joe Biden’s not validly elected after Monday, if all that happens.

CHUCK TODD:

Here’s the thing. Are you aware of all of these threats against election officials? Sort of, some of them are — you’ve probably seen the comments by the gentleman from Georgia, a Republican official who said these threats of physical harm have to stop? The secretary of state in Michigan had people outside her house. Do you not hold the president responsible for creating — for sort of creating the conditions that’s encouraging this behavior?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Chuck, I’ve said what I have to say about this. I think to threaten election officials is a deplorable thing to do. I think the most important thing for our country, as George Washington said when it was founded, is not the first election, but the second election, the orderly transfer of power. I think anything that detracts from that is not good for our democracy. And people can make their own judgment about whether the president’s acting appropriately or not. I think he has a right to take his legal cases. I don’t think his lawyers have a right to go to court with specious lawsuits with no evidence. And I think the processes say it’s over on Monday if the electors vote for Joe Biden, which I expect that they will.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, you’ll laugh at this, but I found this op-ed you wrote in December of 1996 after Bob Dole’s loss. And here was the lead of your op-ed, Senator. “Our national agenda sounds like a demolition derby. ‘Abolish the Department of Education, blow up the IRS, slash environmental regulations, rip up the federal registers, send welfare back to the states.’ This is what voters hear from us.” You were lamenting that in 1996. One could argue those were the good old days of bipartisanship. I guess you were prescient. But I think you were wrong. Voters want to hear the demolition derby. Is that what we’re finding out?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, it makes a lot more news. I mean, Washington’s a split screen television. On the one side, you see the confirmation hearings and the tweets. On the other side, if people would look, they’d see, you know, Democrats and Republicans working together to create a vaccine, to pass the most important outdoor recreation and environmental law in 50 years, to permanently fund Black colleges, to move medical miracles into doctors’ offices more quickly, to fix No Child Left Behind. That affects 50 million children. All that happened. It doesn’t make the same kind of news the fights do over on the other screen, but it’s happening. And more of it should be happening, given the talent that exists in the United States Senate and the need in our country for an institution that’s forced to come to broad agreements on tough issues that most of us can vote for and that the country will accept.

CHUCK TODD:

Last question: Trump 2024, would you bet against him?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER::

I would never bet against him. I think he’ll be a force in our party and in our country for as long as he wants to be. He’s, number one, been president of the United States. He’s gotten a lot of votes from a lot of people. And he’s mastered the communications network, the internet democracy — that influences our internet democracy, in a way no one else has. So if he wants to be a factor, he will be.

CHUCK TODD:

You don’t sound enthusiastic about that.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, I answered your question. I think he’s entitled to do that if he wants to be. I mean, he’s president. He has lots to say. And if he wants to be a factor, he can be.

CHUCK TODD:

And you can hear my full, unedited interview with Senator Alexander on the Chuck Toddcast, after the show, wherever you get your podcasts. It’ll be in that feed. When we come back: Some red state Republicans and their supporters are now talking about secession. Should we take this kind of talk seriously? The panel is next.

CHUCK TODD

Welcome back. Panel is with us. NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker; Washington Post contributing columnist Matt Bai; and Lanhee Chen, fellow at the Hoover Institution out in Palo Alto and Stanford. Kristen, let me start with you. It appears to be over to pretty much everybody. Tomorrow the electors vote. The president though claims he’s going to fight on. What does that look like between now and January 20th?

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, the president and Rudy Giuliani, his top lawyer, vowing to fight on. I think that means they will file some briefs in some lower courts. But in talking to some of his closest advisors, including legal advisors, they say this is game over. There is essentially no path. They acknowledge that the president has lost, that the Supreme Court’s ruling is the final nail in that coffin. The question though, Chuck, where is the off-ramp here? And I think that’s what a lot of Republicans are going to be looking for. Look, we reported several weeks ago that President Trump is not going to concede by any measure, but that he might say, “Look, for now, I’m going to look to the next battle,” announce his re-election campaign for 2024, maybe even do that on January 20th, the day of the inauguration. But I am told that there are a range of discussions going on about what specifically President Trump is going to do next. And the possibility, Chuck, that he may delay announcing his re-election campaign until after the inauguration. So, we’ll have to see, but I can tell you that there is growing frustration within the Republican Party that there is no clear off-ramp. They want to know what the plan is, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

There may be growing frustration privately, but publicly, Lanhee Chen, let me read what the chairman of the Texas Republican Party had to say about the Supreme Court decision. “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a union of states that will abide by the constitution.” He’s not the only person that talked secession this week. Rush Limbaugh, the godfather of this sort of political rhetoric that we’re dealing with these days, also introduced it and then said, “Oh, I was just talking about it.” How does the mainstream Republican Party, or what’s left of it — what’s their exit ramp?

LANHEE CHEN:

Well, you know, first of all, talk about secession and the like is nonsense. It’s nonsense and it’s dangerous. What was disappointing, Chuck, was watching over 120 members of the House, plus almost 20 state attorneys general, come together to essentially make an argument that isn’t just dangerous, but goes against the very conservative principles on which the Republican Party was supposedly built. You talk about going against federalism, going against the notion that you should ask the judiciary to be activist in overturning the will of the people. I mean, these are the kinds of things, Chuck, growing up in the Republican Party, to me, would have been fundamentally offensive. But you’ve got a bunch of people who are out there making this crazy argument essentially to politically appease one man and to politically appease their electorate instead of explaining to them, “Hey, look, here’s the reason why this is madness.” So, I think the Republican Party, you know, it does have a reckoning coming. There are some serious questions. My guess is, going forward, those candidates who are interested in running for president in 2024 are going to have to find their voice and speak out more forcefully. In addition to that, you’ve got a bunch of moderates who have come together, for example, to try and craft an agreement on coronavirus relief legislation. People like that, I think, have to be increasingly more forceful. But what we’ve seen this week is deeply disappointing and it’s very challenging, I think, to the future of the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

Matt Bai, here’s what Jonathan Last over at the Bulwark described – how he described the party these days: “Maybe the best example of the totalitarianism we’re seeing in the party is how Republicans who say the obvious, that Joe Biden won a free and fair election, are treated. They are not merely seen as having divergent opinions; they are viewed as dissidents.” And Lanhee’s Twitter feed after this show will likely prove that comment true, Matt Bai. You know, where is this Republican Party going?

MATT BAI:

I mean, I’ve been shocked by it, Chuck. And I watched your interview with Senator Alexander, a guy, you know, I met 20 years ago who came to government as a reformer, who’s leaving government, can say whatever he wants. He can barely bring himself to say Donald Trump lost the election. You know, my entire life, Chuck, my entire career and yours, Republicans have run as the daddy party, right, as the linguist George Lakoff put it, right, as the party of tough guys and tobacco spewing and gun toting and, you know, not take any garbage from anybody. And come to find out there’s no spine. There’s no toughness at all. All you’ve got to do is put up the threat of a primary or have somebody who berates them on Twitter and the entire party completely folds. I’ve been really surprised, particularly by the behavior after the election. And I think they’re going to have to deal with that legacy for a very long time. They will not have a party, and the most — the funniest part about it, Chuck, and the reason they won’t have a party, is because within six months, I guarantee you, sure as I am sitting here talking to you, Donald Trump will be berating them on social media and going after them because that anti-establishment, anti-party fuel is what keeps his movement going.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Kristen Welker, this is all coming — what makes this even more alarming, the president’s behavior, it’s all coming on a week — the worst week we’ve had of the virus. We did a — just from December 5th to December 12th, the last week, President Trump’s tweets — and I want to show just the subject matter of them — 222 tweets over the last week. 62% of them were focused on his made-up election fraud charges, 26% of the tweets had to be flagged for misinformation, just 7% had anything to do with COVID-19. I mean, that’s what makes this temper tantrum all the more weird and what makes the Republican acquiescence to it all the more alarming.

KRISTEN WELKER:

You’re absolutely right. It’s remarkable that we have not seen the president come out and talk about COVID-19 frequently in these recent days, and again, there’s frustration on both sides of the aisle around that. I have been told that that will be a key focus this week at the White House, given, of course, the news about the vaccine. But Chuck, arguably that’s part of what cost him this election, the fact that he was so focused on his re-election and he stopped sort of being out front on the issue of Covid. And I have to say all of this just turns up the heat on Congress to try to get a deal on Covid relief. There is growing concern that both sides continue to be unable to reach an agreement. And I’m hearing they’re just not going to leave until they have one. They have to get this done, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Well, the president’s not participating in that. That’s yet another way he’s not doing any part of his job except tweeting or showing up at a football game without wearing a mask. Anyway, when we come back, how Covid has changed our shopping habits, especially during the holiday season. Stick with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time and a look at how Covid-19 has changed the way we shop going into the holiday season. As you may already guess, it’s increasingly been online. A look at online spending since late September from Rakuten Intelligence shows an increase of 51% compared to last year in the same period. Of course, more people are shopping online every year, but this year’s increase is far larger than the last year’s 19% jump. And with all this time at home, the things we’re buying are changing as well. First, furniture. Now that so many people will be working from home for the foreseeable future, they’re investing in desks and office chairs. And all that time inside your home means you’ve probably noticed all of the things you’ve put off, leading to a 92% increase in sales of home improvement supplies. And maybe you’re one of many Americans who adopted a pandemic puppy or cat or other pet this year. There was a 70% increase in online receipts for pet food, pet toys, and other pet supplies. And then, if you quit going to the gym, but wanted to work off any quarantine 15, you might have invested in home gym equipment. Online receipts in health, fitness and nutrition have climbed an astonishing 122%. Of course, some of these trends may be short-term changes, but once you’ve invested in home gym equipment or a home office setup, you might be more inclined to make those changes permanent, which could have lasting implications on our economy overall. Coming up, when it comes to Joe Biden’s administration choices, what’s old is new again, but really, it’s still pretty old. That’s next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Now to shift gears a little bit, focus on the president-elect and Joe Biden. The Cabinet’s about half built, the big jobs more so on that. And here’s some of the descriptors out there, Matt Bai. “Team of buddies, team of careerists, an Obama reunion, weather vanes and operatives, the Goldilocks Cabinet.” What do you see so far in Joe Biden’s Cabinet, because it does seem as if he’s given everybody a reason to be upset right now, at least if you cherry pick various Democratic constituency groups?

MATT BAI:

Well, the main thing I’d say is that it’s clearly time for us to retire the “team of anything” construction, which is a little tired. You know, I think what people miss about Joe Biden as a character in the national narrative, in a sense, he’s thought about becoming president and what he would do and who he would do it with for longer than anyone, any president in American history. You know, we think of Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson as having been in public life for a very long time before they had power. It doesn’t even come close to the amount of time that Joe Biden has spent running, thinking, preparing. And so, I think a lot of what we’re seeing, yeah, he’s reaching back to the Obama administration a little. Some people are saying — it was an interesting, interesting article from David Ignatius at the Post saying, my colleague at the Post, saying, “You know, he needs vision and he’s going for sort of comfortable aides who have been there before.” And I think that’s an interesting argument. I’d entertain it, but I also think these are folks he’s known for a long time now, that he has wanted to be part of his government. I think he’s had in his mind what this administration would look like for quite a while. And I think, I don’t think he’s going to be shaken from it.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Lanhee, in many ways, this Cabinet, I feel like, is reflective of perhaps the mandate he thinks he got. I think he thinks he won because he’s got to restore some order, lower the temperature. In general, does this Cabinet lower the temperature, sort of bring back some order?

LANHEE CHEN:

Well, in some ways, it does. You know, I think you’ve got picks there that have experience. Janet Yellen at Treasury obviously is one that comes to mind. But what this feels like to me, Chuck, is they’re a bunch of puzzle pieces. You’re trying to figure out where they all fit. Some of them fit well. Some of them fit pretty poorly. Xavier Becerra is an example of a pick at Health and Human Services that doesn’t pick well. You’re in the middle of a pandemic. You pick a guy with no health care, no public health experience, very little experience managing a large bureaucracy. That, to me, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. So, it’s almost like he had a bunch of people. He knew he wanted to give some folks roles. He knew there were people who would be experienced and would bring that to government. And it was just a question of trying to plug holes. To me, at least, that probably wasn’t the best approach. He probably would have been better off looking and saying, “Who would be best at this actual job?” So, it’s resulted in some good picks and some real stinkers, I think.

CHUCK TODD:

Kristen Welker, I want to shift a little bit to the Hunter Biden news. And in fact, we have a clearer picture here at NBC News of what we think the investigation is focused on. In fact, we uncovered an email here. Let me put up the report on it by our own Tom Winter. “Hunter Biden’s former business partner sent him an email in 2017 saying he did not disclose on his tax returns $400,000 in income from the Ukrainian natural gas company where he sat on the board, according to a copy of the email obtained by NBC News.” So, it looks like we have an idea of where this investigation is headed, more on did he report his income. What is the concern level of the Biden team on this investigation?

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, look, they’re having to answer questions about this, Chuck, and so there’s no doubt it’s a distraction to some extent. You have Hunter Biden insisting he did nothing wrong. And the Biden transition team continues to point to comments made by President-elect Biden himself, to stress the fact that he is very proud of his son and also to stress this other thing that President-elect Biden has been talking about, Chuck, which is that his Justice Department is going to be independent from the White House, from him, that he is not going to interfere in ongoing investigations. And so, I think you are going to hear the Biden transition team continue to hit that point. But, of course, all of this looms very large over Biden’s pick for attorney general. We’re told that the top two front-runners, Doug Jones, the senator, of course, Merrick Garland, someone who former President Obama picked for the Supreme Court and never got a hearing. This will loom large, if and when he does pick one of them, over their confirmation process. But again, the messaging coming out of the Biden team is that Joe Biden is not going to interfere in ongoing investigations, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Matt Bai, it’s no fun for Joe Biden to have to start with this investigation, whether it is officially a special counsel or some sort of protected status for the U.S. Attorney. That’s no fun way to start your administration.

MATT BAI:

It’s not, Chuck. But just — you know, I think there’s some perspective here that’s needed. You know why this doesn’t matter all that much? Because he’s not actually proposing to turn the government over to his children, as this president has. And I think this is an important point. It’s going to be a test of Joe Biden’s integrity, as Senator Coons said. I think there are ways for him to meet that and I hope he does. It’s not affecting his governance because he does not intend to build a hereditary administration, which ought to be refreshing.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I want to thank you all. A terrific trio here. By the way, happy birthday to one of the colleagues, I believe, of Lanhee Chen. It’s the 100th birthday of George Shultz. Please read his op-ed today. Some important lessons there. Before we go, time to take one last look at our counter. And based on the average number of confirmed Covid cases each day this week, there are likely to have been nearly 9,000 confirmed cases just in this hour that we’ve been on the air. This is just one more reminder to please, folks, social distance, wear a mask, wash your hands. Be safe. Ignore the nonsense on social media, and you know what I’m talking about. That’s all we have for today. Thanks for watching. We’ll be back next week because, if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet The Press.

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