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Meet the Press - February 14, 2021

Rep. Jamie Raskin, Sen. Dick Durbin, Gov. Larry Hogan, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Audie Cornish, Carlos Curbelo, Kasie Hunt, Claire McCaskill

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Acquitted.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

Donald John Trump, former President of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the article of impeachment.

CHUCK TODD:

A divided Senate votes 57 to 43 to convict former President Trump, ten votes fewer than needed.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

The failure to convict Donald Trump will live as a vote of infamy.

CHUCK TODD:

Mitch McConnell votes to acquit, but --

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Former President Trump's actions preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty.

CHUCK TODD:

The most bipartisan impeachment vote in US history --

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

He incited that mob. He lit the match. Come on, get real. We know that this is what happened.

MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN:

This impeachment is completely divorced from the facts, the evidence and the interests of the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

-- but the former President's party stands by their man.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House managers offensive and absurd.

CHUCK TODD:

How closely has the GOP now tied itself to Mr. Trump and his behavior? My guests this morning: The top Democratic impeachment manager, Jamie Raskin, Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland and Democratic Whip, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. Plus, the CDC announces new guidelines on opening schools, and the Biden administration secures 200 million more vaccine doses. I'll talk to the new director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky. Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt, former Democratic senator of Missouri Claire McCaskill, former Republican congressman of Florida Carlos Curbelo and Audie Cornish, host of NPR's "All Things Considered." 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:

And a good Sunday morning. During the 2016 presidential campaign Donald Trump made what may be the most accurate public statement he's ever made:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, okay? It's, like, incredible.

CHUCK TODD:

Yesterday, Senate Republicans largely proved him right. 43 of 50 Republican senators voted to absolve Mr. Trump of responsibility for the deadly January 6th riot at the Capitol. The final tally was 57 to 43 to convict, 10 votes shy of the 67 needed. And this was after Democrats read into the record Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler's statement that President Trump sided with the mob in a call to Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy as the riot was underway. And it was after Democrats made the "but for" case, that but for President Trump, there would have been no rally on January 6th, no mob storming the Capitol, no threat to the lives of Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker Nancy Pelosi or to any members of Congress the rioters could find. The former President released a statement last night saying in part: "This has been yet another phase of the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country. No president has ever gone through anything like it." Whether Donald Trump proves to be an anchor or an albatross to his party is up for debate. What is not up for debate is that the Republican Party now runs the risk of being defined by those terrible images of January 6th. There's no doubt many Republicans sincerely believed the trial was unconstitutional or just another partisan attack. But Herrera Beutler's story gave the party's institutionalists yet another of the many exit ramps they've been offered over the years from the former president. But instead, they voted to stick with him, again, wherever that leads.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY:

The yays are 57, the nays are 43.

CHUCK TODD:

In a crystallization of four years of repeated decisions to condone Mr. Trump's conduct, on Saturday, Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted to acquit him of the charge he incited the violence that left five people dead. Even Republicans who criticized the President's conduct voted in his favor.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

President Trump is still liable for everything he did while in office. He didn't get away with anything, yet. Yet.

CHUCK TODD:

With just seven Republicans voting to convict.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

His actions to interfere with the peaceful transition of power, the hallmark of our Constitution and our American democracy, were an abuse of power.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY: I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty.

CHUCK TODD:

The vote followed the plot twist on Saturday.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

We would like the opportunity to subpoena Congresswoman Herrera.

CHUCK TODD:

Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler said in a statement that as the attack unfolded, Mr. Trump sided with the rioters in a contentious call with Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, saying, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." It was a week of emotional testimony and video evidence linking the former President to the insurrection.

RIOTER:

Let's call Trump, yes. Dude, dude let, let's tell Trump what's up.

RIOTER:

Trump would be very upset.

RIOTER::

He'd be like-- no, just say we love him: “We love you, bro.” No, he'll be happy. What do you mean? We're fighting for Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

And newly released tape evidence of the assault on law enforcement.

POLICE OFFICER:

We've lost the line. All MPD pull back.

CHUCK TODD:

Just after Vice President Pence was evacuated from the Senate chamber - his life in danger - Mr. Trump attacked Pence on Twitter.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE:

He still sent out a tweet attacking him further inciting the very mob.

CHUCK TODD:

The president's lawyers attacked the idea that Mr. Trump's use of the word "fight" incited the crowd, playing an edited montage of Democrats saying the word.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

We're in the fight of our lives right now.

BETO O’ROURKE:

We fight like hell.

CHUCK TODD:

-- and charged Democrats with hypocrisy for not condemning the sometimes-violent protests last summer. And from the start, the outcome of the trial appeared decided, with Republican senators adopting the same language they used to defend Mr. Trump the last time he was impeached.

SEN. RICK SCOTT:

Think of what they did. They rushed through this process. They rushed into an impeachment. I mean, think about it, there was, there was no due process.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

We've seen a whole lot of table banging. I think you are going to see a lot of partisan table pounding.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Most of the evidence is hearsay. This is not evidence. This is a liberal, Democratic novel being presented as evidence.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the lead Democratic impeachment manager, it's Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Congressman Raskin, welcome to Meet the Press.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Good morning, thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

So, this is -- feels like one of those --the glass -- the water glass metaphors. Is it half-empty or half-full? You got seven Republicans to convict. Mitch McConnell felt like he used your closing argument to make his repudiation even though he voted to acquit. So do you feel like this was a success or do you feel like because you failed to convict that you can't look at it any other way than a failure?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Well, I think it was a dramatic success in historical terms. You know, it was the largest impeachment conviction vote in U.S. history, it was by far the most bipartisan majority that's ever assembled in the Senate to convict a president, which has traditionally been a kind of partisan thing in American history. But we got seven Republicans. And if you look at the ten Republicans in the House who joined us, it was by far the most bipartisan decision. And a complete repudiation of the president's conduct. Now, unfortunately, it didn't reach the two-thirds majority in the Senate. We're explaining this to foreign journalists who can't understand why he wasn't convicted with a 57 to 43 vote, a 14-vote margin. Well, you need two-thirds. But I think that we successfully prosecuted him and convicted him in the court of public opinion and in the court of history. He's obviously a major political problem for the Republican Party. And as long as he's out there attempting to wage war on American constitutional democracy, he's a problem for all of us.

CHUCK TODD:

He's showing no remorse with this acquittal. And by -- what have we done? Have we now given a permission slip to political violence in our everyday politics?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Well, certainly, you know, those 43 Republicans in the Senate shamefully did that. Now a number of them, including Senator McConnell are aggressively trying to disentangle themselves from the vote. McConnell went right to the floor to say that he was convinced that Donald Trump was morally and physically responsible for this attack. I mean, I would have liked to have had him on the impeachment managers team based on the way he presented that, except then he went back to the completely counterfeit argument that the Senate couldn't conduct a trial of Trump's impeachment. Although, he was impeached during his presidency for acts committed in his presidency. And I think we showed to the satisfaction of the country that that was done when the country first started. It was done in the Belknap decision after the Civil War. And there's no problem with it. And yet, they decided to hang their hat on that very dubious hook in order to basically cater to Trump and the forces within the party that are still loyal to him in a really cultish and dangerous way.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to get to think three specific what ifs, okay, or backseat driving that people might be doing. Maybe you're doing it to yourself. What if number one is this, when it was clear that the trial wasn't going to start until after Joe Biden was inaugurated, was there any thought of taking an extra week, an extra two weeks before starting the trial for you to do more investigating?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Well, actually we did take an extra two weeks. It was supposed to start before that. Nobody said to us, nobody on any side, that we didn't make our case. It was absolutely overwhelming and meticulous and comprehensive. I don't think anybody can watch that without coming away saying, “Donald Trump incited that violent insurrection.” He named the date of the rally, he named the time of the rally. It was timed with the counting the electoral college votes. He said, "Stop the steal." And then he basically, you know, fired the cannon of the rally-goers that he had gathered right at the Capitol. So, look, when you listen to what McConnell said or what Senator Capito from West Virginia's saying, they're saying, "Look, the facts were there." They're not disputing that. They're just saying, "We don't think that we can prosecute a former president." They would have found some way -- you can always slice the bologna real fine to come up with some way to acquit somebody if that's what you want to do. And in fact, that was the whole strategy of our opposition council. They were saying, "Well, you can pick due process. You can pick First Amendment. Pick whatever you want. Just pick one reason to let him go." --

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

-- and 43 Republicans did.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, on witnesses, it seems as if this was a last-minute decision to go ahead and try to call Jaime Herrera Beutler. Should you have had a witness plan much sooner that might have included Mike Pence, Kevin McCarthy, Jaime Herrera Beutler, Marc Short, people like that?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Okay. Well, let's start with Jaime Herrera Beutler. She issued her statement the day before. We tried mightily to get in touch with her. We just wanted her to -- she could have come and just done an interview. We couldn't get through to her. And so we did seek permission to do it. And --

CHUCK TODD:

Why did you wait? I don't mean to interrupt you.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

-- when we got a vote --

CHUCK TODD:

Can I interrupt you on this real quick?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Yeah, please.

CHUCK TODD:

Her story was known for weeks. Why not -- why did you not try to contact her until the last couple of days?

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

No, she issued her statement the day before. And we brought up the resolution right at the time that the resolution for witnesses were called for, according to the Senate resolution. There's no other time we could have done it. That was the moment to do it. We won that vote. We were going to proceed to do it. And then the Republicans stipulated to allow the evidence to come into the record. Now you ask about some other people who might have gotten up there and lied. We don't know what Kevin McCarthy would have said. I mean, that was her record of what he was telling people. What he told people was that he had called Trump to say, "You've got to get us out of this. Hell, these people are here." Trump said, "It's antifa." McCarthy said, "No, it's not antifa, Mr. President. It's your people. You've got to get us out of here," to which Trump said something like, "Well, maybe they just care more about the election than you do," i.e. Trump knew exactly what they were doing. He knew that that mob which he had deployed was there, you know, occupying people's offices and threatening Congress. So it was there for everybody to see. So we could have had 1,000 witnesses but that could not have overcome the kinds of silly arguments that people like McConnell and Capito were hanging their hats on. They're trying to have it both ways. But --

CHUCK TODD:

One more of those what ifs, insurrection versus dereliction of duty. And I know you made a pretty compelling argument, I think in your closing argument, about how they were -- you couldn't disaggregate them. But if that -- if it had been dereliction of duty, it looks like you might have gotten two or three others.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

You know, remember, these Republicans who voted to acquit in the face of this mountain of unrefuted evidence were going to find some reason to do it. So if we had charged dereliction of duty, they would have said, "That's not an impeachable offense. You've got to deal with that within the military system. The president is not bound by the code of universal military justice and the uniform code of military justice and so on." I mean, you know, you can always come up with a lawyer's argument to get to where you want to go. And they did not honestly confront the reality of what happened to America, which was Donald Trump incited a violent mob to attack the Congress of the United States. So you know what, we have no regrets at all. We left it totally out there on the floor of the U.S. Senate. And every senator knew exactly what happened. And just go back and listen to McConnell's speech. Everybody was convinced of the case we put forward. But, you know, as the defense lawyer said, "Just pick any one of these phony constitutional defenses and then you can justify it." It could be First Amendment, it could be bill of attainder, it could be due process. All of them are nonsense. I thought that I successfully demolished them at the trial. But, you know, there's no reasoning with people who basically are acting like members of a religious cult and when they leave office should be selling flowers at Dulles Airport.

CHUCK TODD:

Congressman Jamie Raskin, I hope it brings you some solace that many of us are grieving and mourning with you and Sarah and your family. I know it's never going to get easy with that. So with that, sir, I appreciate you coming on and sharing your views with us this morning.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN:

Well, thank you for your kindness. And thank you for having me. And I want everybody to hang tough for democracy. We won on a vote of 57 to 43, although we didn't make it to two-thirds. And there are a lot of patriots out there hanging tough for the constitution.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Congressman Raskin, thank you very much. And joining me now is the number two Democrat in the Senate. It's Dick Durbin. Senator Durbin, welcome back to Meet the Press. Let me start with what Nancy Pelosi said about Mitch McConnell's statement right after he made it yesterday. Let me play it for you, sir.

[BEGIN TAPE]

REP. NANCY PELOSI:

He was hedging all over the place. I don't know whether it was for donors or what. But whatever it was, it was a very disingenuous speech. And I say that regretfully because I always want to be able to work -- work with the leadership of the other party.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Did you find Senator McConnell's remarks disingenuous?

SEN. DICK DURBIN

Well, let me say, Chuck, the outset -- first, to Jamie Raskin and his team, an extraordinarily good job. Importantly, in the history of our country they spoke up at the right moment. But let me say another word. We were never going to reach 67 votes in the Senate without Mitch McConnell voting guilty. So he went up on the floor afterwards, he basically gave the speech that Jamie Raskin would have given to the Senate, and then tried to justify his vote for acquittal. It wasn't going to happen. We weren't going to reach 67 without it.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you find his remarks disingenuous? Or do you think that -- do you take him at his word on his belief about the constitutionality of it?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

I tell you what, I think that argument that we can't impeach someone who's out of office really begs the question -- the House managers made the point early on -- so that means that there's some period in the presidency when Congress cannot respond quickly enough that a president can get away with anything. I don't believe the framers were that careless in writing those sections. And history tells us, as Jamie Raskin just noted, that we have impeached those who have left office. You can't resign your way out of your responsibility.

CHUCK TODD:

In fact, I was going to say, I do feel like that maybe what inadvertently has happened is we now have this gap during the -- during the transition that apparently, January 7th to January 20th, we are lucky Donald Trump didn't do anything. What would have happened if he did something? Is there suddenly no mechanism to have removed him from office if they weren't going to invoke the 25th amendment?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

That's exactly the conclusion that many of the Republicans were hanging their hat on, that there was a grace period for the president no matter what he chose to do. Listen, it gets down to this, when you look at it, Chuck. Many of the Republicans were voting out of loyalty to Donald Trump. For those who want to know what Donald Trump's version of loyalty is, I have two words: Mike Pence. Many of them were voting out of fear, what would happen if they went home. I would just ask them to take a reflection on the future of their party which embraces QAnon conspiracy and Proud Boys and then shuns sending Cindy McCain and Bill Cassidy. What is the future of a Republican Party in that posture?

CHUCK TODD:

Did Senate -- we had a report that Chris Coons visited the House managers and said, "Look, this drive for witnesses, it could cost some Republican conviction votes. Some Democrats aren't happy with it." Was there enough unease with extending this trial that there was motivation to pull the witness request back?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

I don't know what Chris did. I didn't follow him or ask him. I saw the same press accounts. But I think the bottom line is this: the evidence was stipulated as to what Congressman Beutler said. And having been stipulated, we knew exactly what she was going to say if she were called for a deposition, so I don't think we lost any ground. The facts were before the Senate. I think the physical deposition would not have made a significant difference, and it would have delayed the proceeding.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. Do you feel as if, by accelerating the process yesterday, is there going to be a connection with being able to speed up now and deal with the president's relief package? I mean, was there any coupling of that yesterday or not?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

No, we have this coming week, of course, as a recess week for the Senate, so we had time. That wasn't the element here. And I do want to make this point: we are working with President Biden on the priorities of the American people, dealing with this pandemic, dealing with the economy, providing cash payments to American citizens to help them through this tough period. So what we did with this impeachment trial was not at the expense of President Biden's priorities. We'll be returning to them quickly when we come back to Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

Do we need a 9/11-style commission still about January 6th?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

I -- I can tell you one of the things that I was looking forward to was making the record for history as to what occurred. We still have people, even at the trial, were making claims that antifa was really behind it, not Trump's people. Well, that was rejected by Kevin McCarthy. It's been rejected by the clear evidence that was presented to us. I wanted to make sure that the Soviet-style revisionists on the Republican side who are trying to blame everybody but Donald Trump had a record in front of the American people that was clear. I think Jamie Raskin and the House managers made that record with clarity. Even -- let's be honest with you -- even Mitch McConnell acknowledged that last night in his speech, so we have that record. And that's the important historic record to show this generation of doubters and any future generation.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, so it sounds like you think we've done a big chunk of this investigating. All right. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, thanks for coming on and sharing your perspective with us.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is the Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan. Governor Hogan, welcome back to Meet the Press. You know, you have a special sort of relationship and insight, I think, to Congress, being the son of a member of Congress who voted as a Republican on all those impeachment articles against Richard Nixon. I'm just curious, what did we -- what did the Senate do yesterday in terms of Donald Trump, in your view?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, you know, there's what the vote was and what the result of the Senate, you know, the Republicans in the Senate did yesterday, but then there's the court of public opinion. And quite frankly, I think the Democrats made a strong case. Even though Leader McConnell didn't vote to impeach, his words were pretty strong. And I think time will tell what, you know, how that impacts Donald Trump and how it impacts the Republican Party in the country. And I think it's going to go far beyond just that vote yesterday in the Senate. There's going to be potentially courts of law and the court of public opinion, and we're going to decide how history remembers this day and what people did and said.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you have voted to convict, if you were a United States senator?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

You know, I think the, the, the argument was pretty convincing, and, you know, I wasn't -- I'm not in the Senate, but, you know, I think I probably would have voted with, with some of my colleagues that were on the, on the losing side, so there were -- I was very proud of some of the folks who stood up and did the right thing. It's not always easy. In fact, it's sometimes really hard to go against your base and your colleagues, to do what you think is right for the country. It's exactly what my dad did back in the 70s. He, you know, he paid a price for it immediately, but it's what history remembers him most fondly for.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting when you look at the number of Republicans that voted to convict. It's 15% of the Republican conference and that feels about what the split is inside the Republican Party right now, right? 85-15 and the 85 is sitting there with Donald Trump. Is that how you view it?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, it's hard to tell. I think this stuff is fluid. Let's face it, the president has only been in office now for a month. And so we have a long time -- I think there's going to be a real battle for the soul of the Republican Party and the battle's just beginning. And I think some of us are going to stand up and try to fight for the party that we believe in, that we've been a part of for so long. And, you know, there's going to be folks that want to continue to head down this road of Donald Trump. And we're going to figure out whether we're going to be a party that can win elections or not.

CHUCK TODD

Where do you -- where do you have this, this battle for the soul of the party? You clearly would like to do it inside the party. I know there's some movement of starting a -- sort of a principled conservative third party. You have Adam Kinzinger who seems to be more where you are, which is, “Hey, let's plant a flag inside the party.” How long do you give the party to find out if you can move the party towards your direction?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, you know, I sort of feel as if there was -- and I’ve said this before -- there was a hostile takeover of the Republican Party and, you know, I'm not, for one, not ready to abandon the party that I spent my whole life, you know, working for, that I believe very strongly in, going back to, you know, being a Youth for Reagan chairman. I want to return to that party. You know, after Watergate, everybody said it was the death of the Republican Party in 1974 and we came back six years later in 1980 with the biggest landslides in history, and I'm hoping we can return to a successful party because I think a competitive two party system is critical to our democracy.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, but that happened because the Republican Party chose to distance itself from Richard Nixon. Do you think the Republican Party can be successful --

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

-- without distancing itself from Donald Trump?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

I don't think they can. I think that if they really want to win competitive seats and in purple states and if they want to win suburban districts, if we want to somehow get back the House and the Senate, if we want to win a presidential election, they're going to have to start building coalitions like we've done here in one of the bluest states in the country where you can have a message that appeals to more people.

CHUCK TODD:

What is -- let me ask you this, what should, you know, there was no platform essentially for the Republican Party in 2020, other than loyalty to Donald Trump. What do you hope the platform -- what are the, what are the -- what's the platform going to look like in 2024? What do you hope it looks like in 2024?

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Well, you know, I wouldn't say there was no platform, and it wasn't really a terrible year for Republicans. We obviously lost the presidential race by a wide margin. However, you know, we -- we made the -- it was still a tough battle in the Senate. I think the president cost us the two seats in Georgia, in the Senate races. But in the House, we actually gained. And many people who are like, from my wing of the party, who are common sense conservatives that we're not really Donald, strong Donald Trump supporters. They all won. And, you know, people like Susan Collins won. Phil Cox -- Phil Scott up in Vermont. We picked up a whole lot of House seats in all the suburban districts. So, I think the party has a winning message. We just had a bad messenger, and I think we've got to move on from the cult of Donald Trump and return to the basic principles that the party has always stood for.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Larry Hogan, Republican from Maryland, appreciate you coming on and sharing your perspective. As I said, you've known and lived Congress in this world for a long time. Thanks for coming on, appreciate it.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN:

Yeah, thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, after the trial, where does the GOP go from here? Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is with us. NBC Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt, former Democratic senator of Missouri, Claire McCaskill, former Republican congressman of Florida, Carlos Curbelo, and Audie Cornish, host of NPR's All Things Considered. Audie, it's been a while. So I'm going to let you get the first crack at this question. Was yesterday a good day or a bad day for Donald Trump?

AUDIE CORNISH:

Well, I think Donald Trump no matter what anybody else says about what's going on in the world has his own vision and reality of what's happened. I think it's pretty clear though that in this moment, especially in that speech from Senator Mitch McConnell who effectively bent the knee, it's one thing to go out and say a lot of things about a Donald Trump and be critical in that way. But at the end of the day, it's about actions, votes and the record. And right now, when it comes to actions, votes and the record, Donald Trump has firm, firm control of the GOP.

CHUCK TODD:

Carlos, same question to you.

CARLOS CURBELO:

Chuck, I think it was a bad day for Donald Trump. This was the most bipartisan impeachment and conviction process in history. And Senator McConnell really laid it out plainly and simply again yesterday after the vote. And I think what he did is so important, you can debate why or not -- why he decided to vote the way he did. Obviously, he put forward an argument that other constitutional scholars agree with. But after that vote, he did the most important thing that anyone who wants to combat Trumpism can do which is to express simple truths, to make sure the American people and specifically Republicans know who Donald Trump is, what he did and how he provoked the worst attack on our democracy in our history. That remains there for the record. And that is the beginning, Chuck, of the process of decoupling Donald Trump from the Republican Party. That's what Mitch McConnell started yesterday and I think it was a bad day in the balance for the former president.

CHUCK TODD:

Kasie Hunt, Speaker Pelosi's decision to go after Mitch McConnell for what he did, calling it disingenuous, I know there's not a lot of love lost between the two. But that can't help things in that relationship.

KASIE HUNT:

There's not a lot of love lost, Chuck. But they also know the difference between what they say in public, in front of their respective bases of supporters and what they're going to do in private to try and work to get things done. And I'm interested to see if there's a new era between the two of them in the wake of that speech, behind the scenes, from Mitch McConnell. It's very clear that he put power ahead of everything else in that series of decisions he made yesterday. He wanted to retain his power as the Senate minority leader. And he wouldn't have been able to do that if he had voted to convict Donald Trump. But he also recognizes that Republicans, and Larry Hogan -- Governor Hogan just said the same to you, Republicans are not going to be able to win elections if they do not repudiate Donald Trump. Mitch McConnell knows that. And it's why he said what he said. And he repeated it in an interview right after he took this vote. He said, "I care about electability and that's it."

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Claire McCaskill, Joe Neguse, his entire closing argument, was aimed an audience of one. He clearly had read Mitch McConnell's book. And there's an excerpt I want to show people here about Mitch McConnell's mentor, John Sherman Cooper. And McConnell describes, "'How do you take such a tough stand,'" and this was during the Civil Rights debate, "'And square with the fact that a considerable number of people who elected you have the opposite view,' McConnell asked. He didn't hesitate a moment. 'I not only represent Kentucky,' he told me, 'I represent the nation. And there are times you follow and times when you lead.'" Claire McCaskill, you and I were on the air together a couple times yesterday. And you were defending Mitch McConnell here a little bit during the back and forth. Where are you on the genuineness of his remarks?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Well, let's be clear one thing that he did do yesterday. He made sure that there is a real war within the Republican Party because he gave a lock him up speech, Chuck. He said, "Lock him up." He gave an invitation for criminal prosecution to the nation's prosecutors. Now that is -- and he's the highest-ranking Republican in the country. Yesterday was a bad day for Donald Trump. But it was a worse day for the Republican Party. So why did he do that? He can't stand Donald Trump. He thinks Donald Trump cost him the majority. But also he has to worry about donors who write seven-figure checks, who are totally put off by Donald Trump at this point. And frankly, even if he voted to convict, he knew the majority of his caucus was not going to follow him. And that would expose a real weakness in terms of his leadership.

CHUCK TODD:

That's interesting there, Kasie. Does that comport with your reporting? That McConnell -- Because that's the debate. Would McConnell have been able to bring over ten votes or not? Claire seems to indicate he might not have been able to.

KASIE HUNT:

I think it was a real open question. I think had he made a definitive case and really sold it, it's possible that they could have gotten there. But the reality is that afterward, that group of people was going to be smaller than the group of Republicans who were going to vote acquit Donald Trump. And so there's no scenario where Mitch McConnell can be the minority leader when he's sided with the smaller group. So he would have been ceding the power that he has. And I think he wants to use it to try and move beyond Donald Trump. I think Senator McCaskill's point is absolutely the right one. We have known all the way along how much McConnell privately loathed Donald Trump. It is not a secret. He was willing to use him. But they are not alike in basically any way. So I think that this is finally McConnell's chance to actually say that. But that he did act in his own interest of power.

CHUCK TODD:

Audie, big picture though, did we give a permission slip to our politics to be more violent by not holding anybody accountable for these actions yet?

AUDIE CORNISH:

I'm not entirely sure who you mean by we.

CHUCK TODD:

When I say we, the --

AUDIE CORNISH:

Are we talking about the Senate and the Republican Party?

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

AUDIE CORNISH:

You know, so far, essentially, the only people who have sanctioned Trump in any way is Silicon Valley. Right? The Justice Department, of course, is plowing ahead with investigations. Opened up some 200 cases of people who were involved in the insurrection. NPR's investigation shows that a percentage of those people cited Trump specifically in their kind of motivations or suggestions about why they were doing what they were doing. This conversation isn't over. But I think it sounds like on this panel I am the person who is a little more pessimistic about what this means going forward for the Republican Party. I did not see some opening to the door of a grand revitalization or some change or Trump saying goodbye. What I see is a party that is clearly still in is thrall. Lawmakers who are still fearful of him. And what that means going forward is quite serious.

CHUCK TODD:

Audie, I see the glass as half-empty as you do. So don't worry, you're not totally alone there. We're going to actually have more about this conversation when we get all four of you back in a few minutes. But when we directly come back, the CDC releases some new guidelines for how to operate schools during the pandemic, how soon can we take kids from the screens back to the classroom? I'm going to talk to the new head of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Covid vaccinations have ramped up to 2 million a day at the end of last week, and the Biden administration is securing 200 million more doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Despite that though, there is still growing frustration over the lack of vaccine supply to meet demand, particularly at this moment. At the same time, parents are desperate to get their kids back in the classroom. And the CDC has issued new guidelines for operating schools during the pandemic. Joining me now is the new director of the CDC, Rochelle Walensky. Dr. Walensky, welcome to Meet the Press. And before I get into the school guidelines, I want to ask you about a report out of the U.K. that indicates this U.K. variant, not just potentially more contagious but potentially more deadly. And this is obviously the variant that officials like yourself fear could be the dominant strain in this country. How concerned are you that we're up against another dark period?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

Good morning, Chuck. Thanks for having me. I think we have to watch this very, very carefully. We've known now that this B.1.1.7 variant -- the variant that came from the U.K. -- we have over 1,000 cases here in the United States in over 39 states. We know that early data have demonstrated that it is around 40 to 50% more transmissible. Already, that means we're likely to have more cases and more deaths from this. And now, these early data that have come from a prior set of early data have suggested that there might, might in fact be increased morbidity and mortality. It, all of it, is really wraps up into we can't let our guard down. We have to continue wearing masks. We have to continue with our current mitigation measures. And we have to continue getting vaccinated as soon as that vaccine is available to us.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let's talk about the school guidelines. And there's some folks that are wondering how much politics may have gotten involved, or how much the White House may have gotten involved? Because last week, the White House walked back some comments of yours about teacher vaccinations. And you were saying that they were not necessary in order to open schools. The White House said you were speaking in your personal capacity. How should we -- are you speaking here as the head of the CDC or in your personal capacity? And should, should people see a difference?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

I'm speaking as the head of the CDC. I believe that that's why you have me here today. Our guidance has now been released. It was released on Friday, and it specifically articulates the five key mitigation strategies that we need to keep our schools opened, and other layered mitigation strategies, including teacher vaccination, that are nonessential to get our schools opened but we do recommend.

CHUCK TODD:

What are some of the flexibilities in your guidelines? And I say this -- you say you want to have six feet. There are some schools that say, “Look, we can -- can we do three feet? Everybody will wear masks. Can we do three feet, particularly for elementary schools?” What would the CDC say?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

You know, our guidance is really dependent on how much disease is in the community. We know that most of the disease that comes into the school comes into the community. And with universal mask wearing, we know that there's very limited transmission within the schools, and that that transmission is largely from staff to staff and largely when those masks are, mask wearing is breached. So, we are more flexible with the six feet if there's limited amount of community spread in those low to moderate ranges. When you get to substantial and high ranges of community spread, we really feel like you need six feet. The data suggests, the science suggests, you need six feet with universal mask wearing to keep our children and our staff safe.

CHUCK TODD:

We are getting close to, I think, about 15 to 20 million Americans this week will have gotten their second dose of the vaccine. What is the guidance for a vaccinated American -- a fully vaccinated American? What is the travel guidance? What is the mask guidance? What is their work guidance?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

Really great question. I'm proud to say as of yesterday, we hit the 50 million vaccinations into arms mark. So we are, we are scaling up. We don't have a lot of data yet to inform exactly the question that you're asking. We have issued guidance this week that suggests, that recommends, that if you have been vaccinated and you are exposed, and you're exposed within three months of your vaccination, that's similar to if you've been exposed within three months of disease, that you need not quarantine. As data emerge on many of the questions that you're asking, we will update our guidance in real-time.

CHUCK TODD:

We’re seeing a lot of states – we’ve just had a dip these last two weeks. It felt like the first week where we took two steps forward and one step back, rather than one and two back, but a lot of states are getting rid of their mask mandates already. Is it too early to be doing that?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

Absolutely. We are still at about 100,000 cases a day. We are still at around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two and a half fold times what we saw over the summer. It's encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they're coming down from an extraordinarily high place. And as I said earlier, if we want to get our children back to school -- and I believe we all do -- it all depends on how much community spread is out there. We need to all take responsibility to decrease that community spread, including mask wearing, so that we can get our kids and our society back.

CHUCK TODD:

And including mask wearing well. I'm very glad that you guys gave a little bit of a lesson on that. I know people will go to your website, get more lessons about that as well. Dr. Walensky, it’s been -- we didn't ever get the head of the CDC for the last year. It's nice to have the head of the CDC on Meet the Press. Thank you very much.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY:

Great to be with you. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Make sure to check out our interactive state by state guide to figure out when and where you could receive your Covid vaccine. Visit PlanYourVaccine.com to learn more. When we come back, one very good reason the Senate was so divided on the impeachment vote. Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data download time. The largely partisan impeachment vote in the Senate was a function of changes in the Senate over recent decades. Take a look at how many split party delegations, states with one Republican and one Democrat, from Bill Clinton's first term up until this year. You see it's quite a dramatic drop. It means most Republican senators now come from states won by President Trump giving them very little incentive to politically vote to convict. They don't really think they have to win voters across the aisle. At the same time, Joe Biden won 25 states. But only three with split Senate delegations. None had two Republican senators. So going forward, President Biden is dealing with a Senate with increasingly sharp partisan divisions and little motivation for Republican senators to compromise. And it’s -- the reverse is true for Democrats as well. When we come back, will Donald Trump continue to have a big role in the Republican Party? Or could this be the time he finally starts to fade away? Stay with us.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Carlos, I want to build off of what Audie said. She’s basically doesn’t -- didn't see what you and some others on the panel saw. And it really is sort of Donald Trump's future in the party. I guess if he's a stock, would you buy it? And let me introduce you two facts here: Josh Mandel, the new front-runner for the Ohio Senate seat, went full MAGA in his announcement to replace Rob Portman. And the infotainment bullhorns all still belong to the Trump wing. Is this still a, a bad time to be Donald Trump?

CARLOS CURBELO:

Chuck, the Republican Party is still a willing hostage of Donald Trump today, there’s no doubt about that. However, there is a lot of evidence that that power of the Trump movement, that influence, is waning. And we're going to see this play out over the next 18 months, right? Mitch McConnell, the strategic mind with Liz Cheney, with other establishment Republicans, against Donald Trump and his movement. Which will win? We'll see. That Trump lane is going to be available to a lot of Republicans, especially in primaries. How many candidates run in each primary? That's going to have a big impact on all of this. But this is the battle that's going to play out over the next 18 months. I think we will have the answer by the time the November 2022 elections are here.

CHUCK TODD:

And Kasie, is that the real measuring point that we'll find out, are they within his grip or not? 2022 the real measuring stick?

KASIE HUNT:

It's going to be an important turning point, Chuck. But I also think the big question is what is Trump going to do ahead of 2024 because he really could hold some of these would-be presidential candidates who want to inherit his voters hostage to his own intentions. I think the big question is, can former President Trump stay focused enough on these goals that he says he has to actually make a real difference, and whether any of these Republicans like Josh Mandel can actually credibly carry that banner? And don't forget the point that Senator McCaskill made, which is that there is this open invitation --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

KASIE HUNT: -- to investigate Donald Trump in the courts, and we simply don't know how that's going to play out.

CHUCK TODD:

Claire, let me flip the script. Is Donald Trump still an effective campaign tool for Democrats?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I think he is. And let's, let’s for a minute talk about Joe Biden. Joe Biden is enjoying the kind of approval numbers that Donald Trump, Donald Trump only dreamt of. Joe Biden is pursuing policies that have broad bipartisan support in the country, forget about Congress, in the country. As long as Joe Biden stays focused on Covid relief and infrastructure and some of the things that really resonate with the American people, the Democrat Party is going to be in great shape in 2022 and 2024.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, I guess, Audie, the question, though, is can Joe Biden govern with this Republican Party? Does he only have 17 Republicans to work with, the ten in the House and the seven in the, in the Senate? Or does he have to try to forge a bigger coalition than that if he even wants to find bipartisanship?

AUDIE CORNISH:

I think I'm less interested in sort of this seeking of bipartisanship that people talk about and more interested in how he builds any kind of coalition for compromise. He's not a stranger to this process. He's been through it with Barack Obama and in that White House. So he knows what he's up against. I'm also less interested in what's going on with Donald Trump going forward and more interested in what the Republicans who say they want to do something different actually do. And what that means for the voters there along -- they can take along with them. Because I don't believe that Republican voters are hostages. I think they're willing supporters of Donald Trump, and if there is an alternative, it should present itself.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we’ll -- I think I'll believe that Donald Trump isn't an influence in the party when you stop having Republicans feel like they have to tell one message to the mainstream media and then go full MAGA to the infotainment culture. Anyway, terrific panel. Thank you, guys. It's been a long week for Kasie, especially, and for a lot of us, it's just been a long start to the year. I guess now Trump might be in the rearview mirror. And that's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. We'll be back next week. By the way, you've still got time to -- don't mess up Valentine's. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.