In This Episode
This week, Brian Beutler talks to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes about President Biden’s COVID plan, the parts of the plan that will be hardest to execute, and how to recalibrate our criticism for a president who finally takes the pandemic seriously.
[News clip] President Biden is setting optimistic new vaccine goals to fight the coronavirus. He now says anyone who wants a shot may be able to get one this spring.
Brian Beutler: Have you noticed something different about the sounds coming out of your TV when you turn on the news recently?
[clip of President Biden] And to mobilize more medical teams to get shots in people’s arms.
Brian Beutler: Something a bit more serious, compassionate, honest?
[clip of President Biden] Keep the faith. We’re going to get this done. And I’ll always level with you about the state of affairs. Thank you.
Brian Beutler: A new tone, if you will? If you haven’t, you should probably get your ears checked. The transition between President Trump and President Biden—one most famous for his selfishness and cruelty, the other for his empathy and experience—has been starker than any since the dawn of broadcast media. The former banned Transgender Americans from military service by tweet while binge watching Fox News. The latter: repealed the ban. Trump bullied a teenage climate change activist; Biden listened to her and rejoined the Paris climate accord. But most jarring of all has been the shift from a president who lied about and intentionally exacerbated the COVD-19 pandemic, to one who has made defeating the virus his top priority. Less of this:
[clip of Trump] Like a herd mentality—it’s gonna be, its . . . then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body? And then I see the disinfectant, and is there a way we can do something like that, by injection?
Brian Beutler: And more of this:
[clip of President Biden] We’re working to make vaccines available to thousands of local pharmacies beginning in early February. I also signed a declaration to immediately begin reimbursing states 100%.
Brian Beutler: Politically speaking, this has already been a big boon to President Biden. In the latest poll we did with Change research, we found that the pandemic overwhelms basically every other issue. The public’s top demands of Biden are: controlling the pandemic, getting people vaccinated and providing economic relief. His 1.90 trillion dollar coronavirus relief proposal is super popular. But talking about the pandemic in a humane way, proposing ideas about how to end it, clearing the scandalously low bar Trump set. That’s the easy part. The hard part will be actually getting the country back to normal. Back to work, back to school, back to family gatherings and house parties, and prepared to deal with the long tail of consequences for more than a year of social distancing, closures, mass infection and loss of life. Our sense of how well Biden will be able to pull it all off is only just coming into focus. So let’s evaluate it on its own terms. My guest is Chris Hayes. He hosts MSNBC’s All In, and the Why Is This Happening podcast. Chris sounded the alarm about COIVD early.
[clip of Chris Hayes] It has now been a week since the Centers for Disease Control confirmed the first community transmission of coronavirus in the United States. Now, here’s the CDC Web page on coronavirus. I go to it every day.
Brian Beutler: This is from a show back on March 4th, 2020. And in this clip, Chris is visibly furious.
Chris Hayes: This is a serious thing. It’s a serious thing that needs to be dealt with seriously. And right now, the federal government is failing. We need the facts. We need testing and we need them now. We needed them a week ago.
Brian Beutler: More than just about any other broadcaster. He has covered the coronavirus pandemic as a crisis that political leaders are morally obligated to defeat, not just to be truthful about. We’ll assess the Biden plan, the resistance to it, and how to recalibrate criticism for a president who, finally, takes the pandemic seriously. I’m Brian Beutler. Welcome to Rubicon.
Brian Beutler: So it’s been about a year, I think, since you started covering coronavirus. First as a looming catastrophe and then an actual catastrophe, And you’ve done it with a fitting, but I think a kind of rare mix of of both urgency, and outrage about the lack of urgency that some political leaders have shown. So I’m wondering why you think more people in broadcast haven’t treated it similarly. And if you ever find it difficult not to slip into a sort of maybe more detached mode of wry detachment or something, even if only as a coping mechanism for how horrible everything is.
Chris Hayes: Yeah, I mean, I think I do think there’s been a lot of outrage. I mean, I think of, you know, broadcasters and folks on cable news. And I do think that the two are related to each other, which is that there’s just a repetitiveness to it. There’s an acclimation that happens. I mean, you know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot, I’m actually writing something on this topic right now. You know, the thing I keep thinking is, you know, human beings, our superpower, quite literally, is adaptability. Right? Humans can live in the Arctic and they can live in the Amazon and they can live in deserts. And the reason they can do all that is because we just acclimate to whatever it is, whether it’s like snow 200 days a year, or whether it’s there’s no water. Whatever it is, we acclimate, which I think has been in some ways working against mustering the renewed appropriate outrage every day at the continuing disaster. Because we just are so driven by our sort of psychological makeups, our neural structure, our evolutionary inheritance, to acclimate to, to say: well, this is kind of how things are now. And I’ve been actively working against that because to me, it’s sort of been a discipline every day to just say: it is not acceptable, it is not acceptable. And I will refuse as almost a matter of like, will and discipline, I will refuse to acclimate to losing 3,000, 4,000 people every day. I refuse to acclimate to a year of kids out of school, of long term damages of entire families in the Rio Grande Valley being wiped out. Like, I just won’t, like I’m not going to accept that. But that in some ways is like a moral decision and a willful decision in how to deal with it, because I, like all people, I think, find myself just sucked towards it being normal. You know, when you go back to lock down—David Wallace Wells said this to me when I had him on the program. This was back in March or early April—Davis Wallace Wells a writer in New York magazine who wrote The Uninhabitable Earth about climate—and he said, “look at some level, right, during that period where basically the entire world was locked down”—I think three billion out of six billion people or whatever, were in some form of shelter in place and you could look at these incredible images of piazzas in Italy and, you know, downtowns in Mongolia and Brazil—”it’s incredible that we were able to coordinate this amount of human activity one direction in such a short period of time.” Which is also true. You know, the tragedy and the outrage here is that the, all of the, the very difficult sacrifices made by people have been, were squandered by our leaders— particularly by the, by the White House and the president—to use the time that we bought collectively through our sacrifice, to create a better future, one that looks like South Korea or Australia or a number of other countries.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. Well, we’re recording this on the on the eighth day of the Biden presidency. So, stipulating that an awful lot remains to be seen, what do you make of the new administration’s initial steps, the legislation, the economic and public health plans that President Biden’s unveiled, the vaccination goal—like what’s good, what’s bad, and how much of all that the last administration squandered do you think can be reclaimed?
Chris Hayes: So the first thing I think to think about is the vaccination issue, and there’s a number of problems there. So they announced this 100 million in the first 100 days, doses right not people, doses—100 million shots and hundred days. And they announced that I think about six weeks ago or so. And by the time that they were, you know, taking office or getting ramped up, we were doing about, about a million a day, some days, even 1.3, 1.4 million. Now, Peter Hotez, who runs a vaccination program down in Texas at Baylor, says—.
[clip of Peter Hotez] It’s not good and it’s not adequate. It’s too low a bar. We need to really ramp up to around three million Americans per day in order to reach 3/4 of the US population by the summer.
Chris Hayes: —and I think there’s a little there was a little back and forth a few days ago about like, were they just going to kind of rest on their laurels on the 100 million? And I never thought they were because I looked they at least understand a fundamental thing that Donald Trump refused to do, which is that all the incentives go in the same direction. This was the craziest thing, the most psychotic, destructive—both self-destructive in his own term, short term political interest, but destructive to the country—facet of the Trump response, which is that he refused to understand that all incentives and interests lined up in the same way. That it was in the best interest of Donald Trump, Donald Trump’s legacy, Donald Trump’s reputation, Donald Trump’s family, Donald Trump’s political party, Donald Trump’s future—the, like everything that he wanted was lined up with doing a good job combating the virus. The failure to understand that those two things never diverged was the source of so much misery and probably the source of his loss.
Brian Beutler: Mm hmm.
Chris Hayes: Biden, at the very least, and the people around him, understand that all the incentives go in the same way. The best thing for Joe Biden politically, for the Democratic Party politically, for everyone working, is the best thing for the country, which is get the virus under control as fast as possible. So at the very fundamental level, they get that. So the second facet of this is actually building federal infrastructure. The approach that the Trump administration took, both in testing and in vaccination and in public health policy, was to push down to the states. So that if it worked, Donald Trump can take credit. And if it didn’t, he could blame the governors. This is very, very apparent, it’s not even like a like, they basically said this, right?
[clip of President Trump] The states should have been building their stockpile. We have almost 10,000 in our stockpile. We’re a backup. We’re not an ordering clerk, we’re backup.
Chris Hayes: So, you know, Jeff Zients, who’s the person sort of coordinating this, made the point the other day that, like, they don’t have a central repository for data being fed in on how many vaccinations are happening today. They have to build that from scratch. So they understand there has to be a federal component to this. Federal benchmark’s, federal targets, you know, federal check-ins with the states to make sure this is all happening. I, I think the announcement yesterday, they’re bumping up these supply shipments almost immediately from about eight and a half million to 10 million a week—still not enough—that they’ve made the additional purchases of another 100 to 200 million vaccine doses. All of that stuff is moving in the right direction. But again, it’s easy to talk about this stuff at the top line when you’re talking about why is this rural county in Indiana not getting vaccine out? Right? Then you multiply that problem by thousands of counties—it is genuinely a logistically difficult problem, right?
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: It’s going, it’s logistically difficult problem. It requires both federal, state, local coordination. It requires I mean, we’ve got this crazy article in The Washington Post today where you get the SEIU union official in the Washington, D.C. area for nursing home workers talking about how surprised she was by how few people wanted to take the vaccine. These are people that work in nursing homes!
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: So there are so many places it can fail. The like, there’s the supply chain, there’s the getting the shots and arm and then there’s the human demand side component. You can fail at each of those three. Each of them are hard. You have to basically, you have to get all three right to get a shot in an arm.
Brian Beutler: And I think, I think in a sort of—like I agree with you, that there is, there the100 million shots goal wasn’t born of any kind of cynicism. I think maybe there was some sense of like: let’s set a goal that we’re confident we can achieve as opposed to one that we might miss. But that they genuinely do understand that they’ve, they’ve got to get the virus under control and vaccinating the people is, is part of that. But I think that there’s this sort of liminal space that you see a lot of leaders fall into where they are getting politically rewarded for mediocre responses. And that, and that there’s a trap that even an administration committed to getting this under control might fall into where one or two of the steps that you were just mentioning start to fail, that the picture overall looks much better than it did under Trump, but it’s still not acceptable. And yet Biden is like his, his approval numbers are good and people say that they think that he’s doing a good job and that in there there’s a trap, that there’s like a mess we could slip into.
Chris Hayes: Yeah, and we’ve seen that, we’ve seen that at the local level all over the place. I mean, you know, I think that Andrew Cuomo is a great example of someone who I think his record has been, I think the fairest thing to say is: very mixed. Mixed and, you know, again, with, with the stipulation for him and I think also Connecticut and New Jersey, particularly like, they got hit with the one of the worst outbreaks in the world—there’s a lot of mistakes you’re going to make under those conditions. It’s been he’s done some things well, he’s done some things really poorly. It’s, it’s, and yet he’s been politically very rewarded, as if he’s nailed it. Now, part of that, I think, is a recognition on the part of voters that, like it is a hard problem. I keep coming back to this like, you know, we can’t lose sight of the fact that this isn’t easy stuff. It really isn’t. It is quite literally a once-in-a-century pandemic. But I agree with you that, like, I think and I have confidence, partly because of Ron Klain in all this—
Brian Beutler: Likewise, yeah.
Chris Hayes: He’s the White House chief of staff—that they’re just not going to set, like, I again, when you come back to like it’s politically true. I also don’t think that’s the way it works in national politics. I think national politics are so polarized that anything less than a really good response is not going to [laughs] down to his benefit. So I think there’s, there’s part of it, too. But I also think that they just understand. Again—to come back to what you say and I think it’s, it’s, it’s a good point you make this sort of liminal space of good enough, but not great.
Brian Beutler: Obviously, it’s early to say whether the rollout of the, his coronavirus relief plan is going to lead to legislation but as far as like the size, the content of that plan, what does it tell you? Do you think it’s good enough? And what does it tell you about how they see the next year or two or four, economically speaking?
Chris Hayes: Well, I think it’s pretty damn good and I do think I think there is a little generational thing happening here, which is that I think those of us—you and I are in the same age cohort, in the same sort of journalistic cohort in that how old we were when we covered what, right?
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: I think there is a real, and I think it’s been I think it has been the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of people—in the wonk sphere, in the activist sphere, in the journalistic sphere—to look back at the Obama administration and say: they undershot. It’s not just that they were hamstrung by Republicans, which they absolutely were, but they, they negotiated with themselves and they, they were too cautious. You got to overshoot, you’ve got to overshoot. Err on the side of too big. Like, the, the way to think about this is the risk of too big, traditionally, as understood in macroeconomic models, is inflation. And that we haven’t, we have been living through a basically 30-year period of disinflation. Places that want inflation can’t get it.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: So the risk of what happens if you do too much, it’s like, well, it’s not really clear. Like maybe in the future interest rates goes up and then your debt servicing fees go up and you got to deal with that inflation. But like, those seem pretty small. Now, what happens if you do too little? Like people don’t get enough to eat and they don’t have jobs and they’re miserable and depths of despair go up and you get creamed in the midterms. [laughs] Like it’s just a no brainer. What, you know, which of those risks is bigger? So I will say that to a degree I find encouraging, like the 1.9 trillion and, and Biden—here’s what’s key too: almost immediately Barack Obama started talking about deficits, belt-tightening, all this stuff.
[clip of President Obama] Now every family knows a little credit card debt is manageable, but if we stay on the current path, our growing debt could cost us jobs and do serious damage to the economy.
Chris Hayes: The consistent message from Joe Biden, which is don’t worry about that now. All the economists tell us not to worry about it. Invest now.
[clip of President Biden] A growing chorus of top economists agree that in this moment of crisis, with interest rates at historic lows, we cannot afford inaction.
Chris Hayes: That is a big difference, a huge, crucial difference.
Brian Beutler: Not, not just that, but that deficits are good now. Like, it’s a radical change from Democratic Party orthodoxy.
Chris Hayes: It’s 180 degrees!
Brian Beutler: Yeah, yeah.
Chris Hayes: The problem is the obstacles still remain, which is the filibuster reconciliation. Can you get, you know, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Kelly and whoever else on board? That’s a really hard question.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. And to me, like one of the things that excites me most about the plan—also kind of scares me a little bit and I think it’s unknown whether it’ll survive—is that the Biden team adopted this idea of including automatic stabilizers in the plan.
Brian Beutler: Hey, it’s Brian interrupting my own question here so I can explain what I mean by automatic stabilizers. There are essentially programs like unemployment insurance that people qualify for automatically when they experience hardship. In addition to the stability they provide in an individual level, these kinds of programs also function as stabilizers for the whole economy when there’s a recession. Millions of people might still lose work, but they won’t lose all of their income. What Biden proposes is to increase the amount of money the unemployment program pays out and have that enhanced amount ramp up and down automatically based on how healthy the overall economy is. That way, he doesn’t have to ask Congress to pass a new law every few months until the pandemic is over, and benefits won’t lapse prematurely. House Democratic leaders declined to include a provision like this in earlier stimulus bills and the fear many of us had was that if the Democrats win the presidency, Republicans would shut down the economic recovery, just like they tried to do under President Obama and there’d be no automatic stabilizers in place to keep money in people’s pockets and the economy from sinking further. Fortunately, Democrats won the presidency and the Senate and can fix this problem. Unfortunately, if it turns out we need these economic stabilizers, it’ll probably be because our recovery from the pandemic won’t be as swift and smooth as we hope.
Brian Beutler: And so, you know, I think it’s crucial that this not slip out of the plan as it works its way through Congress. It also kind of scares me a little bit insofar as, you know, if ah—they’re learning from past mistakes, but you include automatic stabilizers if you’re worried that there’s maybe more turbulence in the future than the optimistic scenario might suggest. Where you get the virus under control, there’s all this pent up demand, it spills out into the economy. There’s a big boom. Everyone lives happily ever after.
Chris Hayes: Yes, that’s a good point. Although I think it’s also to me, it’s much more just an awareness of what the window is. There is a big CARES package, there was the of re-up of the PPP, of the Payroll Protection Program for small businesses that happened shortly thereafter, and then they stonewalled a new rescue package for months. Probably, again, probably cost Donald Trump the election in, you know, in the end.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: It’s remarkable, that that’s the case. Then they passed this latest lame, the one in the lame duck. I think everyone understands this is it. And if this is it, then I think that hedge makes a lot of sense.
Brian Beutler: Coming up, what to do about the millions of Americans who say they won’t take the vaccine. And why Chris says it’s beginning to feel like March 2020 all over again, when we return.
Brian Beutler: Welcome back to Rubicon. I’m talking to MSNBC host and writer Chris Hayes, who tracked the colossal failures of the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19, and is watching closely to see how the Biden administration picks up the ball.
Brian Beutler: So, like, what’s the one thing that you think that they should be doing that they aren’t?
Chris Hayes: That’s a really good question. So, a lot of it is the devil in the details. For instance, like, so there’s a chunk, there’s a bunch of money in there for a vaccination program, as a top line number, several hundred billion dollars. The question of like how, how that is distributed to whom, under what conditions is a really important one that is a much more difficult implementation issue than just like, what the topline number is. So, there’s a story today out of this contract that Philly signed with some like, [laughs] random 22 year old to distribute their vaccines.
[news clip] The health department now cutting all ties with this startup that was founded by a young Drexel grad student. This is all led to even more confusion, and others in the vaccine field are now worried it could lead to more mistrust.
Chris Hayes: I know talking to sort of big city public health experts and people that have run or worked in the upper echelons of public health departments like, they have a very clear sense of what they would do with that vaccine money in terms of contracting community partners to get vaccines out to people, particularly in underserved communities and hardest hit communities, right? You know, we’ve got this situation now where there’s a certain degree of correlation between vaccine reticence and hardest hit communities. And that is a really, really hard nut to crack, but that’s a nut you only really crack at the local level.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: And that has to do with the federal oversight and implementation. But again, that’s, that’s a really difficult thing. The other thing I would say, and this is a very simple thing—we had someone from the Brookings Institution last night who’s been studying the disparate vaccine success, and one of the points you made is just like have lots of places, like have lots of vaccine facilities.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: She made the point that North Dakota has like 50 or something for their whole population. And Massachusetts, which is four times the number of people or five times the number of people, has 60. And that, that’s a big thing, just get vaccine centers set up. But again, a lot of that stuff is, it’s like there’s no, you know there’s this always this sort of search for like the one the one weird trick, single magic bullet.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, we had Faiz Shakir—who we both know going back years from Bernie Sanders campaign and Harry Reid’s office—he conceived of this is like: do something analogous to the census. It’ll help in in the communities where there’s a lot of vaccine reticence because you’ll be drawing people from those communities to administer the vaccines.
Chris Hayes: The census partners with community groups in Chicago and Baltimore. You know what I mean? Like the answer to that is rather than build out from scratch, like there are, there are ways to connect local public health infrastructure with local groups. Now, there are places that have richer and denser versions of that. And then and then the other problem again is like is, is overcoming resistance and skepticism and, and worry. So that, there needs to be a multilayered approach here. Like it’s so crazy to me when you think about like, public service messaging—I mean, you know, this is an entire field that’s probably saved more lives than any single human field of human endeavor. Literally, right? Like, public information campaigns, like we’ve all seen the propaganda, like, venereal disease posters of World War Two. Like, what do you think that was? Like, there was a public health problem. It was hurting troop readiness. They pumped them full of a message about, you know, avoiding VD because they had a really urgent public interest. Like this sort of community work, like, it’s a cool opportunity to, to have communities speaking to themselves. Like that’s the key part. This is something public health people keep saying, right? Like it’s not, you know, like this was true back during HIV-AIDS, like there were a lot of different communities that needed to be reached.
[PSA with Heavy D] Hey what’s up y’all, this is Heavy D. Whenever you have sex, you should always use a latex condom. I do.
Chris Hayes: And, you know, one person or one PSA from one perspective was not going to do the trick. And that’s something that’s definitely true here.
Brian Beutler: New York’s done a few different COVID PSA’s over the past few months. Maybe you remember this one starring 51 year old Paul Rudd, who tried to convince millennials to wear masks.
[PSA with Paul Rudd] Yo, listen, hype beasts masks protect you and your dank squad, because caring about other people is the new not caring about other people.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, although to devil’s advocate this a little bit, and I don’t, I don’t know what consideration is the right one because it’s tough, but if you message—go, go get vaccinated, like, look at all these, you know important people who got vaccinated, they’re fine, they want you to do it—and then also people go try to get vaccinated and it’s a nightmare and it’s, there’s no vaccine for them, that not only does that compound your uptake effect, but it creates a political problem on the you know,—.
Chris Hayes: That’s totally right. And, and I think the reticence to push demand has been the concern with supply. But I think you’re going to see more and more—and again, like this is a real opportunity. And part of this is about the money that’s in that COVID bill, right? Like the hundreds of billions of dollars in there for a bunch of things.
Brian Beutler: And I think like we see this year in, year out now because of the way they built the Affordable Care Act, that you need to just have a ramp up of, like everyone go sign up, open enrollment. And then without that, enrollment plummets and the markets, like but we know how to do that, it’s like—
Chris Hayes: Right. But you also, what’s, what’s encouraging about that is that we actually see the input to output like, causation They start, you know, it’s always the case that, like, enrollment’s running at X and then it’s like a lot of effort is done. Tell people to go do this and they do it.
Brian Beutler: Yep. And, and take up increases. So having covered this as you have for the past year, have you found in the last few weeks or a few days that there’s a tension between giving a new administration that clearly takes this seriously some time to execute under like a presumption of goodwill, with the fact that time isn’t really on anyone’s side right now? Like is that, is, have, have you been balancing that intentionally in any way?
Chris Hayes: A little bit. I think we have been with the vaccination goals. You know, the thing that was so maddening about the Trump administration was the you know, there’s, there’s sort of two buckets of mistakes you can make. There’s, there’s sort of good faith mistakes—which can even be really horrible and tragic and lead to lots of unnecessary death but are just are mistakes, right? People in government make mistakes. People in private life make mistakes. I make mistakes on my show. And then there’s like the sort of the evil negligence, the willful negligence that was coming from the—and those are two different categories, and they can be deadly in their own ways. But there’s there was something about the, the willful negligence, the sociopathic approach to this problem that we had before, that was truly maddening.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: And evil. It was evil. I mean, there’s no other word for it. You know, we’re now in a place of a very difficult problem in which one can make lots of really bad, deadly, destructive mistakes. And we’re going to cover them that way, right? And we did, I mean, we’ve done we did stuff about New York on the show about mistakes the mayor made, mistakes the governor made, like it wasn’t because, like, they didn’t care—they made they made bad decisions. They erred. And we’ll continue to cover that from that perspective here.
Brian Beutler: I like the distinction you drew between like the good faith mistakes and the the bad faith ones, because it’s been my hobbyhorse for a few years now, but also because I feel like that tells you what the tenor difference is, or should be in coverage, right? It’s the difference between like, like “you unimaginable bastards” versus like, “OK, come on, guys, get it together, like, we need to do better than we’re doing.”
Chris Hayes: Right. I thought of this yesterday when I when the reporting about The Washington Post. The Washington Post had a scoop that the Pentagon had sort of put an extra layer of checks on the National Guard commander of D.C’s ability to call up troops. And the explanation—and I don’t, I have no way of knowing if this is a lie or not—but the explanation was that basically they were really freaked out about the optics of troops in the capital, given everything Trump had said, given all the Insurrection Act. And I was sort of inclined to think that was probably correct, that that was a real concern. And that, to me is an example of like an error of judgment—like they made a mistake, but they were not engaged in something venal or nefarious.
Brian Beutler: So have you given any thought to what the administration or other, most likely Democratic Party entities should do if we can’t get vaccine uptake to the 75’ish% level, it seemingly needs to be at to end community spread. If they’re just like whether it’s they have fears about vaccines because of historical injustices or they’re anti-vaxxers or they’re Trump people, and you that all up and it’s not enough to suppress community spread. What’s the government to do, if anything?
Chris Hayes: I mean, that is a great question, I, I think you, I think you view it as a problem that you have to solve. I mean, I don’t, you know—again, the difference between 70 and 75%, I think, is going to be that you’ll have some community spread, but not like these wildfire outbreaks. The health care systems are going to be threatened. It’ll be, it’ll be a sort of different order of magnitude in a population with that vaccination level.
Brian Beutler: My, my sense of this challenge, it’s all hypothetical, I guess but, was that, you know, if vaccines are available to everyone, everyone can get one pretty easily, there’s just a large population of people that don’t want to get it, that OK, like, given that they’re not a risk to anybody who is vaccinated and likely immune, we’ll just roll with it, right? That, that was before, I had to, like, a lay understanding of how like in a weird way, a legacy of the, of the Trump administration’s failure and global failures to contain the pandemic is these new variants. That you create new variants through the evolutionary process of just letting the virus spread and letting it interact with different levels of immunity so that it creates more resistant strains. And so suddenly this possibility that we have like smoldering fires here and there across the country in communities where uptake isn’t enough, stops being just like “OK, we’ll look, like those are local decisions that the people in those communities are making.” And it’s like a global risk. That as long as these, and I don’t know, like I don’t know how you fix the problem, but I also know that it’s, it’s not really an acceptable externality of, of this vaccine aversion.
Chris Hayes: I mean, I guess what I would say, though, is that cross that bridge, when we come to it. You bring all resources to bear, to get people vaccinated, and then you see where you are. I mean, one thing you can do is you can pay people to get vaccinated, right?
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: Come get a shot. We’ll give you $2,000. There’s some population of people for whom that would be dispositive, right? Like some group of people that are like: I don’t want it, I’m a little freaked out. And then it’s like: oh, OK, you know what, for $2,000, I’ll do it. That would pay for itself, obviously. Very obviously, like the math of that totally scans. So I think that’s one option, right? The other option—like the thing that I worry about or think about are like communities that have that are being pumped full of, yes, disinformation on this, particularly, I think like, conservative, conservatives, people with with, with, whose information stream is Fox News and right-wing posts on Facebook and, you know, overcoming that—which is basically going to be a kind of sociological problem—I don’t know how big that number is going to be in the end. I think that one of the things that we’ve seen actually with the pandemic is that there has actually been more unity on stuff than you would think in a polarized world.
Brian Beutler: Here’s what Chris means when he says more unity than you might think. The anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers and COVID denialists get a lot of attention in news and social media. And there are definitely plenty of them and they’re often very loud. But it’s not quite as stark as left versus right or blue versus red. All along, the overwhelming majority of the country has supported efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus. Even in Michigan, where Trump supporting COVID deniers plotted to kidnap the governor, her approval rating remained very high. Conversely, in parts of the country under Republican control that rejected mask mandates and lockdowns, people came around on their own when the toll the virus took in their communities grew intolerable. These trends will hopefully replay during the vaccine rollout. Demand will be higher than we think and even parts of the country where vaccine skepticism is greatest, well, people will get their shots if the virus rages around them. If it doesn’t work out that way, that’s when things might get complicated. Through decades of trial and error, we’ve learned that big, overt, even coercive public health strategies don’t always work, and can arouse more suspicion than already exists.
Chris Hayes: This is in some ways one of the original public health conundrum, right. Which is like: hello, I am Oxford-educated, public health official, you dirty, nasty people need to clean up your slums. Right? Like this is the original public health problem. And the sort of distance between the messaging from government officials, elites, public health people, and the people that are living these conditions, right, there is a long, fraught history of it being loaded with all sorts of colonial baggage, racist baggage, classist baggage, like all sorts of stuff about like: we are here to clean up you dirty people. And then development through the years, through, you know, tons of practitioners and literature about how to do this from a more community-based perspective. You know, that knowledge is the knowledge we’re going to need to draw on across a whole bunch of different subcultures, right? And different communities with different values and different perspectives. But meeting people where they’re at is going to have to be sort of a key part of the whole undertaking.
Brian Beutler: So Tuesday night, you tweeted something, something very uplifting. You said: I feel the way I do about American democracy right now the way I felt about COVID on March 1st. So why has your alarm peaked on the democracy front now? And to what extent do you think the two crises are related?
Chris Hayes: Yeah, I mean, a lot of people were like: whoa, buddy, bleak. Well, the way that I felt March 1st, and I would say even a little earlier, I’d say maybe February 26, which was when Dr. Missonia gave her a phone briefing that said, well, I’ve talked to my kid’s principal about remote school and everyone’s like: remote, what? What are you talking about? This is February 26, like: what do you mean remote school? Kids are not going to be in schools? That, you know, we had a very narrow window there to mobilize, to stop catastrophe. And that’s how I feel now. I mean the particular precipitating incident for that is just watching—you know, there was this moment on the night before the impeachment vote when I was covering it live, and it was, there was like, it was like this tally where Kinzinger came out for it and Lynne Cheney came out for it with a very, very good statement, and John Kako, Syracuse, New York, came out for it. McConnell leaked, clearly leaked the story to the New York Times about how he thought it was outrageous and indefensible, maybe impeachable—.
[news clip] This is a big, big moment. And what we’re waiting for is the watershed to see how many House Republicans follow.
Chris Hayes: And there was this little moment, I thought, you know, maybe they’ll just they’ll do it. They’ll just cut this guy off. You don’t need them anymore. These you know, he’s not even on Twitter.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: And what’s become clear is that that’s not happening.
[clip of Senator Rand Paul] Democrats are wasting the nation’s time on a partisan vendetta against a man no longer in office.
Chris Hayes: And that the future of the party, that, that you know, the other tweet I had yesterday is that, like, the biggest story in American politics right now is that we were watching one of the two coalitions radicalize against democracy in front of our eyes. And, you know that vote yesterday where 45 out of the 50 Republican senators voted to debate the point of order about whether it was constitutional—now it’s unclear whether they’re all, you know, in the bag for that position or not—you know, to me it’s like, it is hard to sustain a democracy when you have the following conditions: a narrow but fairly robust majority, that because of constitutional structures will alternate and share power with a increasingly anti-democratic, reactionary minority. And a kind of polarization process working on both of them. And the increasing radicalization of one of those factions in the direction against democracy.
Brian Beutler: Yeah.
Chris Hayes: And I just am really worried about what that spells. Like, I’ve said this, a million people have said this, but it’s worth saying again. We came so close to being so much worse. And by that I mean a mob beating to death a member of Congress. Or, a thing I think about all the time is: Capitol Hill cops get spooked, one opens fire, another hears gunshots, a whole bunch open fire, they’re 60 dead rioters. And then, like, what do you—I don’t know what the aftermath that looks like, man. That’s like Bunker Hill. Like, I don’t know what our politics does if 60 riders get shot dead. And that wouldn’t have been a crazy thing to do if you look at the images. Like, it’s, it’s in some ways a miracle that did not happen.
[clip of rioters changing “Hang Mike Pence”]
Chris Hayes: Mike Pence could have been beaten within an inch his life. Members of Congress could have been killed. The, the rioters themselves could have been slaughtered in mass. That would be top three to five defining events in American history, if that happened.
Brian Beutler: Yeah, and it came a month and a half, two months, whatever, after 20,000, 30,000 votes, and Trump gets a second term with seven million fewer votes than—.
Chris Hayes: Yes! That’s the thing I keep thinking about, too, is like Trump just actually wins Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin by narrow margins. Just, he does win them, fair and square, right? Wins them each by five thousand votes. Loses the popular vote by seven million. What exactly would, we also supposed to do with that? I think you would have to see—what I think would be called for and appropriate—would be mass, mass, nonviolent protests, civil society basically massing together to say like, I don’t know if they say we don’t accept it or just to say like we are the majority in this country and you need to know we’re here as you govern. I don’t know what the right answer is, but it’s a very difficult—I mean, it is a, we are playing Russian roulette. The factors that have come together, particularly the sort of combination the Electoral College, these, these sort of minoritarian institutions in the United States Constitution, the, the spatial polarization that’s happening—like, it we keep running this, we’re going to get unlucky. We got, we already had it happened on January 6th.
Brian Beutler: I mean, to me, the reporting about the, like this actually just fed the bloodlust of a certain faction of violent right-wing extremists. You know, probably you don’t get another sacking of the capital, per say, but it’s like the Senate is split 50 50. How do people interpret that? For all the political violence we have and have had, we have been blessed in this country despite big disagreements with like, for the last 40, 50 years, like they’re just, that kind of thing has not been part of how we expect the public to respond to being defeated politically, is that they’ll start killing senators or judges or whatever, right?
Chris Hayes: Right. Yes.
Brian Beutler: And that’s I feel like the spooky part of this, that when I see like Republicans decide: you know, we can live with, you know, four dead people, five dead people in the end, 100 million dollars worth of damage in the Capitol, and we’ll just move on and pretend it never happened—is that it’s like, OK, well, that just means like, let’s figure out what, what else they’ll tolerate.
Chris Hayes: Yeah, that’s, that’s the really dark thing. Is like, what, what would change their mind? What would have had to happen on January 6th for there to be 67 votes to to to convict? That’s a dark thought experiment. Let me just say, let me hop on to the other side and say, the following things I think are on the other side of the ledger. One is that like Democrats did win this improbable, incredible victory [laughs] to win control of the Senate, right? Joe Biden did win by seven million votes. Like there is, again, for the first time in American history, one party won seven out of eight popular votes in presidential elections. There is, you know, it is a hamstrung majority. But there is this majority in the country that is, you know, on the side of both sort of a center-left majority, but more importantly, a kind of pro-democracy majority, and the pro-democracy majority I think is even probably bigger than those votes. I think that there’s a way in which I think the capital riot and the spectacle of it were radicalizing in the opposite direction. I mean, were repellent to a lot of people. Like, so if you think of it as like the Popular Front, right, like spanning, you know, the Noam Chomsky to Bill Kristol, people invested in the continuance of American multiracial democracy as such, that is the—there’s more of us than there are of them and, and we’re on, we’re right substantively, and we have more of the people. And that gives me hope. You know, there are places where the majority is on the side of the bad guys. That’s when it gets, you know, that’s when it gets really, really dark.
Brian Beutler: Yeah. I’m going to try to tie this, because I did ask this because I do think it ties into the COVID question. And I think that there’s a prevailing hope that if Biden really executes his coronavirus response well, that Democrats will be rewarded politically and it’ll solve or at least defer some of these democracy problems, right? That like if Democrats are being rewarded for governing well in the face of a pandemic, they’ll win elections and we don’t have to worry about things like the Electoral College or gerrymandering or whatever else. And I’d like to say I believe that. But the baseline assumption I carried around for like the first 10 years of my career: that good policy is good politics and the economic fundamentals kind of rule everything—has been pretty badly shaken by the last several years. And I hope that there are people in positions of influence who realize that this kind of COVID reductionism or COVID determinism or whatever you want to call it, that: get this right and everything else will fall into place. Given the prevailing state of the Republican Party is a huge risk.
Chris Hayes: Yes. I mean, the way that I’ve come to think of it is that doing the right thing is necessary to political success, but probably not sufficient. That if you don’t, if you don’t do a good job governing, you’re screwed for sure. So you might as well do a really good job, help people and hope for the best. But, but the idea that that will transmit automatically into political victories, I think has been a little untethered. I mean, the people point to Florida where the minimum wage thing got 60% and won and Biden lost the state, and it’s like, well, if Democrats were more centrally committed to things like minimum wage, they do better, and I think there’s I think that’s there’s some argument there. I think we saw it with the checks discourse down the stretch for Warnock and Ossoff. But on the other hand, it’s like those are two different things. Whether people should get paid minimum wage in which people are in control, are different votes. And it may be the case that there’s a, there is not, there is a widening gap between how people think of those two things. Like “I want my people in control” is a more important driving question for a lot of people than like what they will do when they get there.
Brian Beutler: And if we can get the minimum wage by referendum, maybe you don’t need that other party so much.
Chris Hayes: Is another great point.
Brian Beutler: I’ll leave it there, but I’ll close by saying I’m really grateful that you are where you are, covering these issues the way you’re covering them. And thanks for spending all this time with us.
Chris Hayes: Yeah, that was great. Thanks a lot, Brian.
Brian Beutler: Thanks, man.
Brian Beutler: E-mailer Chris, a different Chris, sent the following question: I understand all the frustrations of Mitch McConnell using and threatening to filibuster for everything under the sun, however, if it was removed, couldn’t he use it to pass lots of harmful legislation in the future if Republicans win the Senate again, similar to how they used the nuclear option that Harry Reid invoked to push through countless conservative judges? Would it be better to make them actually use the filibuster and make them stand there and talk? I worry a lot about what harm Republicans can do if they have a Senate majority with no filibuster.
Brian Beutler: Here are a few thoughts in response. First, if Republicans win big in a future election, much as we might hate it and oppose it and try to discourage it, they should be able to implement their agenda, so long as it’s constitutional. That’s how democracy works. And to a great extent, Republicans already get to do this. Their top priorities are cutting taxes and stacking the courts with conservative judges. Neither of those things is subject to the filibuster. And when Democrats tried to filibuster a Republican Supreme Court nominee in 2017, Mitch McConnell just got rid of it. But a lot of things Democrats and progressives care about, like civil rights laws, are subject to the filibuster. That means abolishing it won’t make life much easier for Republicans than it already is, and we have recent history to back that up. Their 2017 effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed not because of the filibuster. They tried to go around the filibuster. It failed because they couldn’t get 50 votes for their bill. They were hobbled politically by the unpopularity of their agenda. Now, that doesn’t mean the filibuster couldn’t be reformed rather than abolished. As it stands, a single Republican can hold a bill to a 60 vote threshold simply by raising his hand. Democrats could try to change the rules to make that threshold apply only so long as the minority holds the floor and keeps talking—the Jimmy Stewart way—but then pass their bills by simple majority when the filibuster loses steam. That may, in fact, be where we’re headed.
Brian Beutler: Please continue sending us your questions. Our email address is Rubicon@Crooked.com/subscribe. Rubicon has written and hosted by me, Brian Beutler. It’s produced by Andrea Gardner-Bernstein. Veronica Simonetti is our audio engineer. And we’ll be back next week.