tv The Last Word With Lawrence O Donnell MSNBC February 5, 2021 10:00pm-11:00pm PST
i have moved the light beer into the fringe for its one-time-a-year appearance. i have purchased the avocados and the potato chips. i have cleared my calendar. i will see you on monday, fatter, slightly worse for wear, but very happy for having done what everybody else is also going to do this weekend. that does it for me tonight. i will see you again on monday after the bucs win the super bowl. now it is time for "the last word," where ali velshi is filling in tonight for lawrence o'donnell. good evening, ali.
>> i was already ready for a fun show but you were super charged. a few minutes ago i was listening to you and dan goldman have a conversation when you uttered the words, the my pillow guy's soliloquy, words i never thought i would hear in my life. i'm deeply appreciative for you kicking it off for us. have yourself a great game and we'll talk about the bucs on monday. >> i will do, ali. thank you very much, my friend. >> thanks, friend. all right. well, tonight it is a tale of two parties. one is governing and the other -- it is not clear what the other party is doing. republicans are destroying themselves from the inside, consumed with feuds over how loyal they can be to a former president who incited an insurrection. and fighting over what actions to not take about the dangerous conspiracy-spewing congresswoman marjorie taylor greene. meanwhile, democrats want to pass laws and help americans who are hurting from the pandemic. today joe biden made it clear he will pass his covid relief package with or without the support of the other side. >> a lot of folks are losing
hope, and i believe the american people are looking right now to their government for help to do our job, to not let them down. so i'm going to act and i'm going to act fast. i have told both republicans and democrats, that's my preference to work together, but if i have to choose between getting help right now to americans who are hurting so badly and getting drive -- bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that's up to the crisis, that's an easy choice. i'm going to help the american people who are hurting now. >> economic relief should not be a partisan issue. it is clear. people are hurting. but why help millions of out-of-work americans when you can instead try to oust liz cheney from her republican leadership position because she got a case of morals for a moment and voted to impeach donald trump? there is so little talk of solutions from the gop. there hasn't been talk of it for
four years. there's so little talk of helping the american people. it is just about them and their petty little internal dramas. they barely have ideas of their own and yet they refuse to endorse solutions that are broadly supported by the american people. 68% of americans support president biden's covid relief package according to a brand new quinnipiac poll. 78% are in favor of $1,400 stimulus payments. even 64% of republicans support the stimulus payments. the white house knows that republicans are on the losing side of this. they even released a video about it. >> my message to our republican elected officials is to put our country first. >> and i think there should be a bipartisan effort to step up and try and assist these people, and it is imperative to act quickly before things get worse. >> the sooner the better because a lot of people are hurting and
need the relief as soon as possible. so i'm, you know, rooting for them to get that done. >> here is the far deeper problem at the center of this thing. we don't actually know what republicans stand for anymore. they don't support popular legislation or offer solutions of their own. now, to be fair to republicans, it is hard to juggle ideas and solutions when your focus is pulled toward a dangerous conspiracy-spewing freshman congresswoman from georgia whom you will defend at all costs for some unknown reason. marjorie taylor greene was stripped of her committee assignments this week for indicating support for the execution of prominent democrats with whom she now serves. seems like a favorable action to take but republicans balked. they spent more time talking about how unfair it was to the conspiracy spewer than talking about helping americans in need. what do you stand for if you defend a woman who incites support for political violence?
our next guest, democratic congressman jimmy gomez, says removing greene from committees is not enough. her toxicity and terrifying effect on the republican party require her removal from congress, according to the congressman. but republicans would rather focus on feuds than see the obvious danger of keeping marjorie greene or donald trump for that matter in office. the very, very small group who have condemned marjorie greene or donald trump are paying the price. republican congressman adam kinzinger is being censured for taking actions, quote, contrary to the values of the gop. contrary to the values of the gop. senator ben sasse might be censured for the second time by nebraska republicans for not being deferential enough to trump. >> you are welcome to censure me again but let's be clear why it is happening. it is because i still believe as
you used to that politics isn't about the weird worship of one dude. >> the weird worship of one dude. the republican party is not that familiar anymore. it doesn't have a set of values or principles. it defends a man who incites an insurrection. it defends a woman who supports political violence and barely utters a peep about the millions, the millions of jobless americans struggling just to survive through no fault of their own. maybe it is time for the party to re-brand. maybe they can take on a new party name more reflective of reality, something like the do-nothing party. sure, sounds like it has been used before, but a group that is devoid of ideas probably can't come up with anything better anyway. joining us now, democratic congressman jimmy gomez of california, a member of the house oversight committee. good to see you. thank you for being with us. i'm curious, i'm sort of asking everybody who has anything to say about marjorie taylor greene these days what the camel -- the straw that broke the camel's back for you. what is the thing, the part of
the litany of things that she has done that makes you feel that she shouldn't be in congress? >> for me it was something that was building over time. it was the fact that i was trapped in the gallery during the insurrection where people were beating down the door because of a lie that donald trump spread that the election was stolen and the only way they could get it back is by overturning the election of joe biden and storming the capitol. she was part of that -- that inciting that insurrection. she has never backed down from the lie, she has never backed down from using hate speech, and it was that and also just as more information came out regarding saying that parkland was a false flag, that 9/11 was an inside job. it just showed that her ideas are dangerous, and the fact that she is willing to use them to gain political power and to incite political violence. i said i had enough and i thought she should be removed. >> you know, i'm curious,
because on that day, on january 6th where you were trapped in the gallery, so many of your other colleagues were trapped including republicans, if you feared for your life on that day you would not have been unreasonable to do so. there are all sorts of things that scare us in life, but they were actually coming for you and your fellow members of congress, republican and democrat. why do your democratic members of congress, your republican colleagues, why do they not see this? >> you know, i don't know. i also think that some of them are scared. i -- we're reaching out, trying to get people on a resolution to expel her and some people are concerned about their safety, some are concerned about the safety of their staff. they remind me and i remind people that the insurrectionists weren't just coming to get nancy pelosi. they were chanting, hang mike pence, hang mike pence. so she doesn't pose just a threat to the democratic party, but she poses a threat to the republican party and to civil discourse in the united states of america.
i'm deeply concerned about that. >> what is your -- what is your argument that you make to the people of georgia who elected her, who say, look, it is our choice, we can elect whoever we want? she didn't run against anybody but she won by 50 points in her district. is the root problem marjorie taylor greene? is the root problem donald trump, or is the root problem the people who actually elected her to congress? >> when she continuously spreads a lie, you know, conspiracy theories and uses that to win votes, we can't as a house disqualify her. that's what i'm saying that should be done because she is dangerous in the house. remember, there's no rule that you can't have a gun in the house office building. you're not supposed to bring guns to the house floor. she has said she is going to do that. she has walked around the metal detectors. so we are fearful for her to be in the house with other members, and i'm not the only one. i have 70 co-sponsors to my
resolution to expel her. so it is not just about her say, but also just the violence and the rhetoric she has been using to incite violence. so it is a deep concern. >> two of your colleagues have been fined $5,000 under this new regulation which says that you cannot bypass the metal detectors that members of congress now have to pass through to get to the floor of the house, representative louie gohmert of texas and representative andrew clyde of georgia. what happens? i guess they just keep getting fined and they get fined more if they do it more often, it comes out of their salary so there's no recourse? >> they have 90 days to pay it and then it comes out of their salary, but it depends on how rich they are. for me $5,000 would be a lot of money since i still owe student loan debt, i still have bills, but for some of them it is not going to stop them. i think it has to be more painful than that. it should double every time they have a violation.
that would really get their attention. >> talking about $5,000 being a lot of money, it is a lot of money. in fact, to a lot of americans $1,400, which is what they're hoping they're going to get in the next round of relief checks, is a lot of money. joe biden has said he is not compromising on the $1,400. there are some republicans who seem to be acting in good faith and negotiating with the president and the white house, some republicans in the senate. but biden is saying he's not budging on the $1,400. he may budge on how much you have to earn or how little you have to earn in order to get the $1,400. what is your take on this? >> i always wanted to make sure we got $2,000 a month during the pandemic. i'm a co-sponsor of the emergency money for the people act during the pandemic. we're not going as far as i like, but i'll support a bill that gets that $1,400 extra to people. people are hurting. i've been in food lines. i have been handing out food every weekend since the pandemic has started, and people are
struggling to make ends meet. we are on the verge of an eviction crisis. so, yes, we have to get more money to people's pockets, and in california people who make $50,000, $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 are still struggling. we have to keep them in mind because they're also americans being impacted by the pandemic. >> i want to ask you about the $15 minimum wage. you remember four years ago not everybody was on the same page about the idea that $1,500, which is $31,000 a year if you are lucky enough to work full time, just for those people who think that folks are running away with it, biden told norah o'donnell that his guess is that the minimum wage increase that he's proposing does not make it into the final passage of the american rescue plan. but here is the thing. look at this quinnipiac poll. 61% of americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and a lot of states have actually voted for this in referendums. what do you make of it?
>> i voted for raising the minimum wage when i was in the california state assembly to $15. it was during the fight for $15. i think that the united states should take that step to increase the minimum wage. it is the one thing that will get more people out of poverty, that will make sure that people can support themselves, to get them off government programs. $15 i see as a minimum, and in certain states we should even go higher. >> congressman, good to see you. thank you for joining me. jimmy gomez is a representative, democratic representative from california, and he is a member of the house oversight committee. coming up, as the path clears for president biden to pass this covid relief bill, democrats are getting down to the nitty-gritty details of what that legislation is going to look like. one of the committee chairs who met with the president today on that very issue, congresswoman rosa delauro joins us next. think you're managing your moderate to severe ulcerative colitis or crohn's disease? i did. until i realized something was missing...me.
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[ applause ] >> a little bit of history there. vice president kamala harris casting her first tie-breaking vote in the united states senate this morning. now that the democrats have passed their budget resolution, the biden administration's covid relief bill is closer to becoming a reality with or without republican support. and that relief is desperately needed. today was jobs day. the jobs report showed the economy's recovery is stalling. projections indicate that at the current pace of progress the united states will not return to full employment for a decade. here is president biden today. >> this is what this moment comes down to. are we going to pass a big enough package to vaccinate people, to get people back to work, to alleviate the suffering in this country this year? that's what i want to do. we do have the resources to get to full employment sooner. we do have the tools to reduce a lot of suffering in this country.
we just have to choose to use them. so it is time to act. >> the president is now getting into the nitty-gritty of the legislative process after the senate vote this morning he hosted house committee leaders to discuss the details of the bill with the goal of passing it before the weekly unemployment supplement expires on march 14th. joining me now, one of the house democrats who met with president biden today, democratic congresswoman rosa delauro of connecticut. she is the chair of the very important house appropriations committee. congresswoman, good to see you again. i like that we've had a chance now two times to speak during the last week. i want to ask you about this relief plan. there are questions about whether or not democrats and the president should compromise on the $1,400 that is being suggested to augment the $600 that was passed last time and make it a total of $2,000 because some republicans say if you -- if you give less money we will get on board. what do you think?
>> well, first of all, thank you for having me. we've got to stop meeting like this, ali. this is great to be with you. but the package and the discussion, first of all, was very rich with the president and vice president so totally engaged with the committee chairs and the leadership of how we move forward with this package in an effort to bring that kind of relief that you are speaking about. the president was very, very clear that he was going to stand with the $1,400 plus the $600. i find it really -- look, it would be wonderful to have bipartisan support in this effort, but my republican colleagues did not blink an eye when we passed a tax cut to benefit the richest one-tenth of 1% of the people in this country. you and i know and the american people know that they are on their knees. they're suffering. a health care and an economic crisis that is once in a century. we need to move.
we need to move fast, and we need to provide the health relief that they need and the economic relief they need to get us back on track. >> a number of economists have come out and said there's just no danger of doing too much. we're nowhere near possibly overstimulating the economy, and the fantastic thing about the federal reserve and interest rates is if we ever got to that point where the economy was too hot and inflation was too high, they could slam the brakes on that with interest rates if they needed to. and yet republicans are worried that this is too much, too big, and, god forbid, it will increase the debt. >> well, you know, these are -- it is amazing for me to listen to this debate from my republican colleagues in that, you know, again, the tax cut was not too big, which has added to the debt. that didn't seem to faze them or bother them at all. what is important and is
critical within this package which says that we then can look to reducing unemployment, reducing hunger, reducing poverty. we are going to make an investment in our health infrastructure system. we are going to make an investment in child care. we cannot get through a recovery if parents do not have a place to put their children. we are going to try to stabilize education so our schools can open and our kids can go back to school. we're going to look at the housing industry. for me in particular, the child tax credit, which is in this proposal, has the ability -- it is like social security, ali. social security lifted 90% of our seniors out of poverty. the child tax credit here will lift more than half of black children out of poverty, 40% of latino children, 61% of native american children.
it really has an unbelievable transformative impact on what can happen to families today. that's the direction that we need to go. we need not to throw money at a problem or put band-aids on a problem, but look at how we address these issues as building an architecture for the future which is what we need to do because of what this pandemic has exposed in terms of the inequities in our society and where we need to go. we need to move quickly. we are prepared to do that. as you know, the house passed the budget resolution today. it now moves to the committees to put the bills together and then get them to the senate. it is our hope that we are going to be moving, you know, by the end of this month. >> congresswoman, last night there were a number of your fellow members making speeches
about january 6th and what happened. this coming week this impeachment trial is going to go to the senate. i want to play just a little bit of what your colleague, congresswoman alexandria ocasio-cortez, said last night. >> with little to no accountability for the blood shed and trauma of the 6th, some are already demanding that we move on or, worse, attempting to minimize, discredit, or belittle the accounts of survivors. in doing so they not only further harm those who were there that day and provide cover for those responsible, but they also send a tremendously damaging message to survivors of trauma all across this country, that the way to deal with trauma, violence, and targeting is to paper it over, minimize it, and move on. >> congresswoman, i'm going to ask you the same question i asked your colleague, jimmy gomez, a few minutes ago. you all were there and they were
targeting you and they were targeting your republican colleagues as well. i believe you were in the gallery as well, you and i were talking about this last week. >> yes. >> this is -- i'm kind of puzzled, because if that crowd got in and they used that ammunition that they had, enough collectively to shoot every one of you there, those bullets had their name on it, too. i'm not understanding how this became partisan. >> i don't understand it either. i was in the gallery, as i said to you last week, ali. i was with jimmy gomez. jimmy gomez grabbed me by the arm to, you know, help me make my way around as well. we were watching out for one another. it didn't make any difference if it was a republican or a democrat, we all needed to be protecting one another, and there needs to be the accountability. i don't understand. we cannot turn this under and push this under the rug.
you know, i'm reminded of what the -- in south africa when they had the truth and reconciliation commission, where one had to understand what happened, why it happened, who was accountable in order for us to move to healing and to any kind of unity. we just can't say that people who even at the end of that day when we went back to the floor of the house, they voted to overturn the election that was fair by all measures. and so it is a denial of the -- of the violence of the day, of who incited that violence, and still the continued denial of the election of joe biden and kamala harris as president and vice president of the united states. why? what are they afraid of?
>> an important point you bring up about south africa. there was no reconciliation until there was truth. you could not come and ask -- >> true. >> -- that commission for forgiveness unless you were prepared to say what really happened. we are not at that point in america where we've got the truth. congresswoman, good to see you again. thank you for joining us. we are glad you and your colleagues are safe. congresswoman rosa delauro of connecticut, the chair of the house appropriations committee. coming up, fox has fired one of its most vocal trump supporters just one day after a multi-billion dollar lawsuit was brought against the company for its election lies. more on that next.
baseless and ridiculous theories of electoral fraud. fox cancelled the show one day after fox and dobbs became defendants in a defamation lawsuit seeking $2.7 billion in damages. the lawsuit by the election technology company smartmatic also names as defendant two other of trump's favorite anchors maria bartiromo and janine pirro, as well as rudy giuliani. the lawsuit argues that they joined giuliani and powell in championing the disinformation campaign against them. the lawsuit argues, of course, the story did more than make defendants money and jeopardize smartmatic's survival. the story undermined the people's belief in the democracy. the story turned neighbor against neighbor. the story led a mob to attack the u.s. capitol. joining me is dylan byers.
a senior media reporter for nbc news and msnbc. good to see you, my friend. let's get clear. what happened tonight? is lou dobbs still in a job? i assume a guy like him has a contract they would have to deal with in order to get rid of him. >> yes, he does have a contract. ali, to the best of our knowledge based off the sources we have spoken with, he will see that contract out through the end of its term, but it would be a pretty safe bet to say you won't see lou dobbs on fox business or on fox news again. while the network is saying, you know, the network's pr department is saying, look, we had plans to do something like this well before the lawsuit, the timing makes that claim rather dubious. what you have here is a lawsuit that at $2.7 billion would effectively wipe out all of the profit that fox news made for rupert and lockland murdock in the last year. so you ask this question about is there a penalty for lying and
you watch the rightward drift of fox news and the answer to that question seems to that be there is a penalty if there is a threat to the business. you do not get rid of your highest rated anchor on fox business unless you feel like there's a worse cost to incur from keeping him around. >> there was a precursor to this, and that was that, it was a very weird thing. fox and fox business put together this thing where some -- an election expert was asked questions that basically debunked the nonsense that jeanine pirro and lou dobbs and bartiromo others were saying and they had to do it on their own shows. it was a precursor, and i think it was the threat of the lawsuit that led them to do that, but that obviously was not enough. >> yeah, that's right. if you look at that, it obviously looks like they're preparing to make the argument, well, we presented the other side of the story or, well, we fact checked ourselves.
even if you look at the fox news statement, they stress the fact they're not just a news network but an opinion network. you can see them starting to protect themselves against this defamation suit. >> let me ask you about some of the things that are quoted in the suit. they're cited in the lawsuit by smartmatic, three instances of things that lou dobbs said. on november 12th he said, this looks to me like it is the end of what has been a 4 1/2-year-long effort to overthrow the president of the united states. november 16th he said, there is no election in our presidential history, our nation's history in which there were so many anomalies, so many irregularities, and so much clear evidence of fraud. on december 10th, lou dobbs said, we're going to examine in some detail the reasons for what is apparently a broadly coordinated effort to actually bring down this president by ending his second term before it could begin. here is my question for you,
dylan. what is so different about what lou dobbs did than what maria bartiromo did or jeanine pirro did or for that matter sean hannity? why is dobbs gone and they're still on the job? >> that's a really good question. i think we have to wait and see what happens with the other two fox anchors you are talking about. you are talking about statements that are just absurd on their face. between those three anchors and then the two lawyers for president trump, you have them alleging things like that smartmatic software was being used in key battleground states to sway the election. there was one county in which smartmatic software was used and it was my county of los angeles. it wasn't used anywhere else. so the claims out there are -- it is not that they're toeing the line of fact and fiction, they are way, way out in deep water. again, it is the idea of what is the limit that you can get away with saying on a powerful cable
news network and, again, if you wade into defamation, you have pretty much crossed that line. i think fox news knows and the murdocks know that the -- actually have a pretty sound case. >> dylan, good to see you, my friend. thank you for your reporting. dylan byers is a senior media reporter for nbc news. thank you. coming up, democrats turned pennsylvania blue in the presidential election. can they do it again in the upcoming senate race? pennsylvania lieutenant governor john fetterman thinks he can do it, the first major candidate for the open senate seat joins us next. i thought it had to be thick to protect. but not anymore. because always discreet is made differently. unlike other pads, always discreet has ultra-thin layers that quickly turn liquid to gel and lock it inside. so i get strong protection, in a pad i barely feel.
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one man thinks he's got what it takes to deliver for the democrats. pennsylvania lieutenant governor john fetterman filed paperwork this week to compete important the senate seat and there's support for his candidacy. when he announced last month he was considering a run, he raised more than $1 million in just two weeks, and that's thanks in part to the visible role that the lieutenant governor played in shooting down republican election lies about his state. >> the only election scandal in pennsylvania is how did president trump end up with 100% of the dead mother vote in our state? >> joining us now, pennsylvania lieutenant governor john fetterman. lieutenant governor, good to see you again. thank you for being with us. talk to me about the evolution of this decision. is it a decision, first of all, is it exploratory or do you believe that you are going to run as the democratic candidate for the senate in pennsylvania in 2022? >> well, i mean, we're getting close to a decision. we are not quite there yet, but
i just -- i just want to be able to thank everybody. you know, we've raised over $1.4 million and it is with over 36,000 grassroots donors. our average donor amount is around $30 to $31, so support has been overwhelming. i just can't express my gratitude. so a decision will be coming really soon. we filed some necessary paperwork over the last couple of days to take it that much closer, but we're getting close for sure. >> let's talk about the situation, the political landscape in pennsylvania. it is not dissimilar to the situation in ohio or north carolina where you have republican senators who are not going to run again, richard burr in north carolina, rob portman in ohio, and toomey in pennsylvania, none of whom are really the kind of people who are showing their colors as trumpians these days. so the absence of those people causes a problem for republicans in these states including in
pennsylvania because regular republicans have to figure out whether they want to go with the looney tunes group or they want to do something else. >> yeah, well, i mean i -- i don't know the other senators, but pat has been absent a backbone for the last, you know, forever years he's been in the senate. it has been nice to see he's been liberated by the simple fact that he doesn't have to run again and he can tell the truth. i mean what a concept, telling the truth. i mean, this idea that saying there was actually no election fraud and that the president's lies incited the riot on capitol hill on january 6th, i mean, that's not a profile in courage. that's just, you know, the truth. you know, we're going to miss pat one way or the other, but i don't want to ever get to a point where just telling the truth is a profile in courage. >> there is -- you know, while the attention in this election has been on georgia with the senate elections, the stuff that
the legislature is doing or has been doing or tried to do with respect to voting in pennsylvania is some of the most outlandish in america, the things that they've come up with. now, again, they're trying -- for instance, there are three different proposals to eliminate the no-excuse voting for no particular reason, just that it didn't go the way republicans wanted it to go in the last election cycle. >> yeah. i call it the pennsylvania gop democracy for me but not for thee. you know, vote-by-mail was 100% their law, they voted for it unanimously, they loved this law. and then after the president said that vote by mail was bad, they realized they had a line to toe and now they're trying to repeal it. they couldn't pile on fast enough, even though it was their law. they are operating in an utterly fact-free environment and they relish it. they don't see a problem with it, and they're also going to attempt to gerrymander our state supreme court effectively out of existence, too.
so this idea that, hey, the voters voted for me, there wasn't fraud in my election, but that joe biden, you know, we rigged pennsylvania for him. it is baseless, it is vile, it is unamerican and it was incitement and we saw it play out in the capitol on january 6th. >> talk to me about your appeal in this state. we're both in the same state right now. you have philadelphia in the east, pittsburgh in the west, urban centers, multicultural populations, hospitals, and schools. in the middle you have working class, in many cases anti-establishment folks who are angry about stuff. how do you bridge that gap? who are you to all pennsylvanians? >> right now i'm their lieutenant governor, but what i also am is the same person that showed up in a very marginalized, struggling community 20 years ago to work on
a lot of key issues that i haven't had to evolve on, quite frankly.
i think the party has evolved more in my direction, whether it is a $15 an hour minimum wage, whether it is environmental and social justice for marginalized people in these communities. you know, health care being a basic, fundamental human right that we all need and we all deserve. whether it is effective community policing. whether that is rights, equal protection under the law for lgbtqia communities. i mean, all of these -- you know, ending the war on drugs, legalizing marijuana in this country. i mean, you know, these are just fundamental, common sense things that we have seen that the party has moved towards these ideals as we should, and that's where i've always been for the last 20 years. i'm always going to
run on what i know to be true. >> did you ever get your money, by the way, for the bounty that the guy in texas put up if anybody found voter fraud? because i think last we talked you were up to three cases you had at least found in pennsylvania. >> thanks for bringing that up. deadbeat dan has never paid up a
single dime, but we found one additional instance of voter fraud here in pennsylvania. it was -- >> tell me. >> it was in my home county of allegheny county, a gentleman who voted for his deceased wife for trump. so again, donald trump again captured 100% of the dead relative vote here in pennsylvania, out of 7 million ballots. that amounts to four cases, all going for the president. but deadbeat dan, you know, we're still waiting. but, you know, we would love -- >> hasn't paid up yet. do let me know if you ever get that money. pennsylvania lieutenant governor john fetterman. thanks for joining us tonight. >> thanks for having me on. coming up, virginia is about to become the first southern state to abolish the death penalty. one of the country's most tireless anti-death penalty activists, sister helen prejean, joins us next. n,
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virginia is about to become the 23rd state and the first southern state to abolish the death penalty. the state senate passed the same measure this week. it's one of several measures that they have taken up since virginia democrats took control of the state legislature in 2019. the good news is because virginia leads the nation in executions, it may make a difference. the bad news is how many they have executed. you may want to be sitting down for this. nearly 1,400 executions since 1608, when the first recorded capital punishment took place in what is now the united states. "the new york times" was told it's important that we shut down the machinery of death in virginia. joining me now, sister helen prejean, the author of "river of
fire," on becoming an activist. sister, thank you for being with us today. tell me, first of all, your feelings about what is happening in virginia? >> it's a deep, deep rejoicing. i was with a man, joseph odell, in virginia, when he was executed. and he was -- he was innocent, i believe. but that fourth circuit was upholding the death penalties and virginia was killing more people than any other state and i've watched virginia at work. it's amazing to me, there's a convergence of forces that have happened, i think, that have led to this moment. and a key thread in it is african-american people. they have this really dynamic interfaith center for public policy, led by lakesha cook, and they had 300 clergy, african-american people of color clergy that began to have
vigils and began to speak out. you have african-american leadership just like in the georgia run-offs, and you have george floyd being killed and you have the governor who had done blackface. he felt bad about it. the confederacy statues are coming down. black lives matter happened. so you have this convergence of voices now to show the legacy of slavery that virginia and all the deep south states have had with the depth penalty and it finally converged to a point. there was enough conscious in the country. and those that worked on the board that the were working for 35 years for this day, were giving all these factors that have happened. and ironically, trump is the reason they were putting down the death penalty. they were outraged by the 13 killings that trump did simply
because he could, that people were calling their legislators and it just made the moment and the wave hit the shore. >> and i want to ask you about this, sister, because you have been doing what you have been doing for as long as i have been covering it. where are we in the process, you are talking about putting pressure on legislators and officials to roll back executions. meanwhile, you just mentioned the 13 executions that took place in the last days of the trump administration, which is by far a record. and it may make some people feel that we are, we've gone completely in the wrong direction. so where are we now? >> okay, look, different jurisdictions. what -- and i just traced this out in an article in the nation, its going to come out starting tomorrow. when gregg v. georgia, when the supreme court put death back, it was faulty, it was skewed from the beginning. they did two impossible things.
first, they said as a criteria, the worst of the worst and nobody knows what it means and they coupled it with discretion for prosecutors to go for death or not. the truth is, nobody gets death in a trial on up, if a prosecutor does not decide to seek death. trump had complete discretion with federal executions. even though 17 years before, there had been no executions. he starts killing people like knocking cans off the fence. because he could, he had the discretionary power. and that's what people could see. look at this. but at the state level we have been shutting death down for ten years. last year, 2020, was the lowest number of executions almost since we started the death penalty, only seven. we have prosecutors and you can see this in virginia, not going for the death penalty. juries are not voting for the death penalty. 34 states have not had an execution in ten years.
so even as we are shutting it down in the states, trump stood out as such an anomaly of killing because he had the discretion in the federal jurisdiction and here is biden coming in, and look at lisa montgomery, the three people killed in the last five days of trump's presidency. if they could have lived five more days, biden would have not killed them. look at the vague reason in the way death comes down. >> can the president do that? can biden, who has said, you know, it's on the campaign website, the biden campaign website said eliminate the death penalty, and he will work to get rid of it at the federal level and give incentives for the states to follow the federal government example. how big a lift is that? >> it's going to be big. but the first thing he can say,
is a moratorium. no executions while i'm president. then he can commute the death sentences on death row. like was done in illinois, after the 12th innocent person came in to office. george ryan enacted the legislation. he can commute, he has the power. it's called the last divine right of kings, it's power over life and death. and he can commute the sentences. but finally to eliminate federal death penalty will have to be an act of congress. okay, got to go, great being with you. >> sister, you keep time better than i do. thank you for joining us. >> i have a voice in my ear. >> i think they meant to do talk to me. they are telling me i have to wrap up the show so i will. and thank you for being with us. that is tonight's "last word," tomorrow morning on my show i will be talking to top biden
economic adviser tomorrow about what is next for the covid relief plan, who gets the checks and when. and the second impeachment trial will be starting. "velshi," saturday and sunday on msnbc. "the 11th hour" with my friend brian williams starts right now. > well, good evening once again day 17 of the biden administration. in four days time, donald trump will once again be defending himself at an impeachment trial in the u.s. senate. he was acquitted of abuse of power and obstruction of congress in his first go-around. exactly one year around today. his place in the history book of impeachment was already secure. but this solidifies his unique low point in american history. now, trump's charged with incitement to insurrection stemming from the riot on capitol hill a month ago. tonight in an intvi