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Meet the Press - January 3, 2021

Anthony Fauci, Ron Johnson, Stacey Abrams, Geoff Bennett, Leigh Ann Caldwell, Peter Baker, Clint Watts and Brandy Zadrozny

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, coronavirus cases soaring.

DR. ROBERT KIM-FARLEY:

We are now at a virtual tsunami.

CHUCK TODD:

Hospitals overwhelmed.

GUYANA CHUKLANSEV:

It's like a war zone and we're asking for help and help’s not coming.

CHUCK TODD:

A more contagious form of the virus now in the U.S.

DR. SCOTT WEISENBERG:

It’s going to lead to a lot more deaths over a period of time, just because there's more cases.

CHUCK TODD:

The administration's vaccine distribution system failing to deliver.

ADM. BRETT GIROIR:

The federal government doesn't invade Texas or Montana and provide shots to people.

DR. ASHISH JHA:

It's not an invasion. Like, it's helpful. The federal government should be helping states.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest this morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci. Plus, the Republican attempt to overthrow the election.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

There's this feeling that this election was stolen, that it's not fair, that there's all kinds of fraud.

CHUCK TODD:

At least a dozen Senate Republicans -- supported by Vice President Pence -- will vote to deny Joe Biden's victory. I'll ask one of them, Senator Ron Johnson, about this attempt to discredit a free and fair election. Also, battle for the Senate. Two runoff elections on Tuesday in Georgia, with control of the Senate in the balance.

STACEY ABRAMS:

We're going to do everything in our power to ensure first and foremost that every voter in Georgia can be heard.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest, voting rights activist Stacey Abrams. And QAnon.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE:

There's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out.

CHUCK TODD:

How the QAnon conspiracy theory has stretched from the fringe to the halls of Congress. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Peter Baker, Chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell and NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning and a happy new year to everyone. 2020 is finally in the rearview mirror, sort of. January is providing a bit of a 2020 hangover, if you will. Donald Trump's entire presidency has been a stress test on our democracy and that remains true even now. Consider what has happened since Election Day: Mr. Trump has refused to concede the election. He and his allies have declared widespread fraud where none exists and tried and failed in court to overturn Joe Biden's victory, with plenty of Trump-appointed judges turning away their nonsense lawsuits. But hoping to please the president, at least 12 Senate Republicans do plan to challenge the electoral college vote on Wednesday, with Vice President Pence's encouragement, while Mr. Trump is urging supporters to show up in D.C. to protest in Washington that day, create a disruptive environment. This week, Ruppert Murdock's pro-Trump New York Post headlined "Stop the Insanity." The president has also pardoned supporters tied to the Mueller investigation, of course, rewarding them with obstructing Mr. Mueller. The president also vetoed the Defense budget -- that veto was overridden -- and threatened to derail the coronavirus relief package, then backed down at the very last minute. One thing President Trump has not done is pay much attention to the Covid pandemic, which took more lives in the month of December than in any month so far. After the administration did a face plant on testing, now only a small percentage of the 20 million vaccinations promised by the end of 2020 have been administered, as a new, more virulent strain spreads from state to state. So that's where we're going to begin because joining me now is the single most respected voice on the pandemic, it’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is, of course, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Dr. Fauci, 2021 is finally here. But obviously, we are still dealing from the fallout of what life has been like in 2020. And I want to put something in perspective. The last time you were on this program was November 29th. And I want to put up the number of people who have died since then. It's an average -- it’s over 83,000 -- and it's an average of 2,300 a day in those 36 days since you've been on last, which is the equivalent of six to eight jumbo jets falling out of the sky on a daily basis. So here we are. How much worse is this going to get?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

You know, Chuck, it could and likely will get worse in the next couple of weeks, or at least maintain this very terribly high level of infections and deaths that we're seeing. And the reason is that, you know, we're in that situation that we predicted a few weeks ago as you get into the holiday season and people have done a considerable amount of traveling. There's been congregate settings where people innocently and understandably were gathering for social and family get-togethers against the advice of public health officials like myself, even though it's very difficult to do that when you have a family-oriented season. And then you have the cold weather, people doing things indoors much more than outdoors. And this is what happens. It's terrible. It's unfortunate. But it was predictable that we were going to see the number of cases that we're seeing now. My concern is that it could get worse over the next couple of weeks as we see the lag that happens when an event occurs like the Christmas and New Year's holiday. You usually have a couple of week lag before you see an additional uptick of cases, which is always followed by hospitalizations and deaths. So things are bad enough as they are right now with the numbers that you mentioned, which are really terrible. But it could get worse. Rather than sit back and throw up our hands and say, "Oh my goodness, it's getting worse," we need to double down on some of the fundamental things that we talk about all the time, Chuck -- the uniform wearing of masks, the physical distancing and the avoiding of congregate settings and crowds, particularly indoors. We've just got to keep doing that.

CHUCK TODD:

I've got to ask you, with the combination of the more virulent strain that's out there that may be -- and we're still learning more, and I know you don't have full answers to this either -- but it may essentially mean that a contagious person infects five people instead of two or something like that, are we looking at a campaign when President-elect Biden becomes president, are we going to need to do another 15 to 30 days, stop the spread, maybe do a partial lockdown -- between that issue and obviously what's happening now? And it looks like hospitals -- they were overwhelmed in November, Dr. Fauci, what's going to happen at the end of January?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Yeah. Well, I hope we don't have to do the lockdown because of the -- we all know, Chuck, how much Covid-19 fatigue there is of people just really being worn down with this. But we certainly need to enhance and make more uniform our public health measures. President-elect Biden has called for 100 days of everybody wearing a mask uniformly throughout the country. That's really a good start. The idea about locking down is something that you might have to do, but you want to avoid. In certain areas of the country, such as in California, which is really being stressed with regard to the hospital beds and the personnel who are really getting exhausted with the number of cases that are coming in, you may have to have, and they already have decided, on some form of lockdown in specific areas of the state or specific regions of the country. So that's not out of the question. We hope we don't have to do it countrywide, because we feel that if you adhere to the public health measures, you can turn things around short of a uniform lockdown.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about this mutated strain here. Your level of concern about it, and I assume you're, like most other officials, you have to assume it's already running wild in this country. How long will it take you to know more about the danger of this new strain?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, we're certainly following it very carefully and closely and taking it very seriously. A lot of experience is coming out of the United Kingdom, of England, which have had this right now dominating the spread of virus throughout their country. We've isolated multiple examples of the mutant being in this country. So there's no doubt it's here. And there's no doubt, given the efficiency of its ability to spread, that it's going to spread. What we're hearing from our U.K. colleagues is that, although it does transmit much more readily than the standard strain, it does not appear to be more virulent, namely making people sicker or greater incidence of dying. Nor does it seem to elude the protection that's offered by the antibodies that are induced by the vaccine. But we want to find that out for ourselves. So, I mean, we understand the data from the U.K. They're very good. They know what they're doing, but we're going to study this very carefully ourselves. Bottom line, Chuck, getting back to what we mentioned a moment ago, the best way to counter this is to do the public health measures that prevent spread. That's the point. Regardless of what kind of strain you have circulating out there, you've got to adhere to the public health measures. And that will stop the spread of any strain.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about the vaccination process right now. You called the -- you yourself have already called the rollout disappointing. We're obviously well short of the 20 million vaccination goal. You and I talked about this a month ago. And you had had a lot of confidence in the vaccination system in this country would really kick in and work. What is your explanation of why this, why the government's promise fell so far short?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Well, Chuck, you know, you have to look at it. There are multiple stages of this. There's the allocation. There's the shipping. There's the distribution and there's, finally, getting in people's arms. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with General Perna who was explaining that they had allocated 20 million. That's good. They've shipped about 14 million and have distributed mainly to the individual clinics and hospitals and places who are going to be, who are going to be putting it in people's arms to about 13 million. They had promised it was going to be 20. I asked why we're not at 20, and there was certainly a bit of a glitch, which he explained. But as we get into the first couple of days and first week of January, very likely we're going to hit that 20. So we're going to be somewhat behind by a few days. The real issue is getting it into people's arms. So we now have about four million, which is obviously below where we want to be. But if you look at the last 72 hours, there's been about 1.5 million administered into people's arms, which is an average of about 500,000 a day, which is better than what that four million over 20 million proportion tells you. So what I'm saying right now is that, A, we're not where we want to be. We've got to do much better. But B, let's give it about a week or two into January to see if we can pick up momentum that was slowed down by the holiday season. So again, no excuses. We're not where we want to be. But hopefully, we'll pick up some momentum and get back to where we want to be with regard to getting it into people's arms.

CHUCK TODD:

A handful of other countries, Dr. Fauci, have decided not to hold back a second dose and fully vaccinate, but essentially, hey, use all the vaccinations that you got, get as many people a first shot as you can, and we'll worry about the second shot, well, when we get the second shot. We're not doing that. Where is your head on that? And is there a point where you might say, "Look, I'm not fully in favor of it, but maybe it's better than a lockdown"?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

Okay. First of all, this related to a lockdown has nothing to do with a lockdown. I can tell you that. So let me tell you where we are, Chuck. It's obviously a question that everyone's asking. The issue of giving it to people and not having a guarantee you're going to get a second shot goes against the science. We want to do it according to the science. You give a first dose. If you have a Pfizer, 21 days later, you get a boost. If you have the Moderna, 28 days later, you get the boost. The idea about stretching it out so you can give more people, that's if you have not enough vaccine and you have a lot of people lined up waiting to get a vaccine. That's not our problem now. We have vaccine. We need to get it into people's arms. So it really is the right solution to the wrong question. Right now, if we do it efficiently the way we've planned, it's much better than trying to stretch it out and not having a scientific basis of knowing what happens if you wait, instead of 28 days, you wait 50 or 70. We don't know whether or not that's going to be good enough. We know what the science tells us. So my feeling and my direct answer to your question, Chuck, is let's do it the way the clinical trials have instructed us to do it. But let's get more efficient into getting it into people's arms.

CHUCK TODD:

And final question, the president tweeted just before you came on questioning the death toll, saying the CDC massively overcounts the death toll. Many experts have told me we're undercounting the death toll. Where are we on, on this death toll? It's over 350,000. Are we overcounting in this country or undercounting, Dr. Fauci?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

The numbers are real, Chuck. You know, you're going to have some deviation, plus or minus a bit. But the numbers are real. We have well over 300,000 deaths. We're averaging 2,000 to 3,000 deaths per day. All you need to do, Chuck, is go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths.

CHUCK TODD:

Dr. Fauci, as always, sir, thank you. Happy New Year. 2021 couldn't get here fast enough. And let me just say for a lot of us, we can't wait to get those vaccines. And I see you took one and you're fine, correct?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

I'm good. I'm fine. Very, very little problem. Just a little ache in the arm and that was it. We're good.

CHUCK TODD:

If it's good enough for you sir, it's good enough for me and my family. So thank you, Dr. Fauci. Turning now to the other big story this morning, the Republican effort to delegitimize Joe Biden's election. Twelve Republican senators and senators-elect say that they will reject the election results of swing states won by Joe Biden until an audit of alleged fraud is completed. They now have the support of the vice president. None of this has any chance of actually overturning the election. There was no widespread fraud, number one. But it is -- looks like it's being done to curry favor with President Trump and his supporters. And among the senators taking part is Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. And to his credit, he's agreed to join me this morning. Senator Johnson, welcome back to Meet the Press. So I want to start with this. Last month, you told a newspaper in your home state that you would not object to the Electoral College certification, quote, "unless something surfaced." There have been 57 cases filed by the president or his allies. Not a single court has found a single instance of fraud or any of this evidence seen as legitimate. So what has changed to suddenly put you on the side of questioning the results of this election, sir?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Well, good morning, Chuck, and happy new year. Let me first respond on Covid. I think our greatest failure in responding to Covid is we've completely ignored early treatment. And we've actually vilified doctors who've had the courage to practice medicine and treat patients with widely available repurposed drugs. So I just have to point that out. We've utterly failed from that standpoint. To answer your question, I would ask that all your listeners ask you, ask our critics to actually read the letter. One of the points we make is we are not acting to thwart the democratic process. We're acting to protect it. The fact of the matter is that we have an unsustainable state of affairs in this country where we have tens of millions of people that do not view this election result as legitimate. We've just come off of four years where the other side refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of President Trump. And here we are again. And what we're saying is we need transparency. And you do not -- when you're trying to investigate wrongdoing in elections, you don't have very much time. And so what we're suggesting is let's set up a commission, as they did -- I know it's a long time ago, 1877 -- but let's take a look at it, a bipartisan commission, to organize all the allegations -- certainly what I did in my hearing. It was a three-and-a-half-hour hearing. We barely scratched the surface. But organize the allegations. Let's put out -- take off the table the ones that have been explained but also acknowledge the problem areas that have not been explained so that we can restore confidence in our election system. This is an unsustainable state of affairs right now. And that's all we're saying is, as long as someone's going to be objecting to this and we're going to be taking a vote, let's propose a solution in terms of, you know, transparency, investigation with a commission.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator, I want to quote Senator Ben Sasse for you. Because what you're alleging is, essentially you and your colleagues have created this controversy. So right now, we are locked into a destructive, vicious circle, in some ways as you kind of outlined, except -- which is, you made an allegation that there was widespread fraud. You have failed to offer specific evidence of that widespread fraud. But you're demanding an investigation on the grounds that there are allegations of widespread fraud. So essentially, you're the arsonist here. President Trump is the arsonist here.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

No, that --

CHUCK TODD:

You've started this fire. And now you're saying, "Woah, look at this. Oh my God. All these people believe what we told them," because you didn't have the guts to tell the truth that this election was fair.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Chuck, this fire was started back in, you know, January of 2017. People like Mark Zaid in his tweet, "The coup has started. First of many steps. Rebellion and impeachment to follow ultimately." This was started when the mainstream media stopped, dropped any pretense of being unbiased and actually chose sides during this election. This fire was started when you completely ignored, for example, our investigation of Hunter Biden. You know, no evidence of wrongdoing there. And now we find out after the election, no, there is a fair amount of evidence to the point that we have a real FBI investigation. So --

CHUCK TODD:

Senator. All right, I've had enough --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

It’s the bias of the media --

CHUCK TODD:

-- of hearing this. All right.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

No, listen. I've had enough of this, too.

CHUCK TODD:

No, Senator. It is --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

It’s the bias in the media that has created a situation --

CHUCK TODD:

You've spent, you have spent the last two years --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- where Republicans and conservatives do not trust --

CHUCK TODD:

No --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- the mainstream media. And that is what, that is what has destroyed the credibility of the media and our institutions and really --

CHUCK TODD:

Right, no, the destruction of the institutions --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- shaken confidence in this election result. So I didn't start this.

CHUCK TODD:

Listen, you have spent -- and I'm just curious, senator -- you have spent much of your time in the last two years carrying a lot of this crazy conspiratorial water for President Trump, whether it was the attempt to somehow blame Ukraine for the interference in the election, rather than Russia. You've used your committee to sort of create the illusion of voter fraud, as you just described earlier, because there are, quote, "allegations." I'm just trying to understand here what are you doing it for? You're not trying to overturn the election, you just said. Are you simply trying to curry favor with constituents of the president? Is that what this is all about, is --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

No, I'm trying --

CHUCK TODD:

-- this a cynical political ploy?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

I'm trying to be transparent. You know, one of the things we found out in our hearing is, you know, the basic allegations kind of fall into three categories. I would say the first is the either violation of or lax enforcement of election law. There is voter fraud. There always is. We had one witness talk about 42,000 people voting twice in Nevada. The other issue --

CHUCK TODD:

Just because you had somebody say it --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- really is the fact that the courts, yeah --

CHUCK TODD:

-- didn't make it true --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

It's easy, it’s easy, it’s easy, it’s --

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, none of these allegations -- stop. You don't get to make these allegations that haven't been proven true. Here's what I don't understand. You understand how our government was set up. The reason we have a judiciary is because partisans like yourself weren't going to be trusted by the public to decide who won or lost an election. Let me ask you this: Who carried the state of Wisconsin?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Well, Vice President Biden has won by 20,000 votes. But there are also issues in Wisconsin. You know, one of the things I point out and was revealed in our hearing is I entered into the record three letters written by Congressional Democrats to the voting machine manufacturers. Now, at that point in time, I didn't hear Chuck Schumer call it "quackery" or "conspiracy theory" or, you know, "a ridiculous charade." But that's exactly how he attacked my hearing that I thought was a really good hearing that laid out some of the issues. You know, we had Chris Krebs testify. You know, Chris Krebs said, "Oh, you know there’s -- it was the most secure election." But in our, in our hearing, he actually admitted, well, he wasn't talking about potential fraud. He was just looking at hacking. He also admitted that some of these election tabulation machines are hooked up to the internet, which privately he told me that that wasn't the case. So, again, I didn't criticize Democrats when they were talking about potential hacking of voting machines. But now it's quackery? Now it's conspiracy theory? That's the problem, Chuck. There's a double standard here, and we are not being transparent, and we are dismissing the concerns of tens of millions of Americans. Again, I didn't, I didn’t light this fire. This fire was lit over four years ago. And we've destroyed the credibility, you have destroyed the credibility of the news media by your bias. And of course people like James Comey, Andrew McCabe, John Brennan destroyed the credibility of the FBI and our justice system as well. We have an enormous problem in this country. It's unsustainable. And the only way you solve it is with information, and transparency, and hearings, and investigations --

CHUCK TODD:

So you believe --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

It's not quackery --

CHUCK TODD:

You believe in --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

It's not conspiracy theory --

CHUCK TODD:

You believe --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

It's what's going to be required.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. Then why didn't you hold hearings about the 9/11 truthers? There's plenty of people who thought 9/11 was an inside job. So you're basically saying is --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

I mean, Chuck --

CHUCK TODD:

-- if there's enough people who believe a conspiracy theory --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- I could have held hearings on all kinds of things. I held hearings on --

CHUCK TODD:

If there's enough people who hold --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- what I figured was the most relevant issues --

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to do a -- how about the Moon landing --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

And obviously this election --

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to hold hearings on that?

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

What I would like to hold hearings on, you know, what I was talking about: Why did we not spend hundreds of billions of dollars exploring early treatment? Why did we vilify doctors who had the courage to treat Covid patients, practice medicine, try and find available, cheap repurposed drugs to do so? Why -- I'd love to hold hearings on that. There are all kinds of things that I'd like to hold hearings on. You have to kind of pick and choose based on priorities. Right now, we have this election. We've got tens of millions of Americans that think this election was stolen. We need to get the bottom of it. Again, what's explained, we need to explain it, get that off the table. We also have to acknowledge there were some real problems here --

CHUCK TODD:

Again --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

There's some issues that need to be explored and investigated.

CHUCK TODD:

You've got to ask yourself when you tell people a million times that something was stolen or something was fraud and then they believe it, I think you need to look in the mirror and ask yourself why so many people believe this.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Well, Chuck, you need to look at your mirror because you carried the Democrats’ water on --

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Johnson, I've got to go. I appreciate you coming on --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- the whole Russian collusion with the Trump campaign hoax --

CHUCK TODD:

I’ve let you, I’ve let you say plenty of --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

That is what you did in the media. You carried that water for years. You destroyed the credibility of the press --

CHUCK TODD:

You can -- Senator Johnson.

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

-- not me.

CHUCK TODD:

Other than, other than crediting you for coming on, I appreciate that because only two of your colleagues had the guts to say yes this weekend about this conspiracy theory that you're working on. Thanks for coming on. That I appreciate. When we come back --

SEN. RON JOHNSON:

Have a good day.

CHUCK TODD:

-- I'm going to talk to voting rights activist Stacey Abrams about Tuesday's Georgia Senate elections and control of the Senate, which is at stake.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Control of the United States Senate will be determined in two runoff elections on Tuesday that have already set records for fundraising. Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, top of your screen, are running against Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. And no one has done more to register new Democratic voters and fight real voter suppression than Stacey Abrams, founder of the voting rights organization Fair Fight. And Stacey Abrams joins me now. Ms. Abrams, apologies, I'm going to have a little shorter segment than I wanted because of what I had to do with the previous interview. But I want to begin with, with President Trump's recent tweet attacking your former opponent in 2018, Governor Kemp, essentially calling for his resignation, alleging -- he calls him a puppet and says they're disastrous for Georgia, won't let, quote, “professionals get anywhere near Fulton County.” Could you have scripted President Trump's behavior any better to help the Democrats and your efforts to turn out voters? I mean, if anything, he is dividing the Republican party.

STACEY ABRAMS:

I don't think our focus should be on the internet, seeing fights happening with Republicans. My mission and the mission of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock is to turn out every Georgian who wants relief from Covid-19, who understands that $600 is not going to get a family through the winter. We need jobs. We need access to justice. We need real health care in Georgia and across the South. And we need leaders who actually show up to do their jobs. We have two feckless hypocrites in David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. They have waffled back and forth on whether they care about the future of Georgia, and they've done very little to show any real concern for Georgia lives. We know that Jon and Raphael are the two men who will go to Washington, D.C. and will prove that Georgia indeed stands with its people.

CHUCK TODD:

If you come up short, what would be your explanation? You've had plenty of money. You've had plenty of resources. You’ve had, you know -- in this -- is it, is it what? Is it the access to the polls? If you come up short on Tuesday, what's your explanation?

STACEY ABRAMS:

That this was a competitive election and we didn't get the votes we needed. The reality is in 2018, we were able to show in court multiple times that there were impediments to voters who had the right to vote. We were able to secure litigation and legislation to make changes to make it easier for voters to access the ballot. But not at any time, I never challenged the legitimacy of the or the legal sufficiency of the election. I challenged the process that kept voters from being able to be heard. I'm excited about the fact that Georgia is a competitive state, that this is a nail biter. And my hope is that Democrats will show up and demonstrate that November is the beginning of a pattern. But if it's not, then it's going to further demonstrate that we are a site, a force to be reckoned with and we'll continue to fight, not only for national elections and statewide elections, but fight to continue to improve lives at the state and local level.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, if Democrats don't win one or both of these seats, some of them are going to come to you and say, "Hey, Stacey Abrams, I wish you were on the ballot, wish you would run." Have you had second thoughts, third thoughts, fourth thoughts in the back of your mind? Are you, like, "God, I wish I were on the ballot right now?"

STACEY ABRAMS:

Not at all. I think we have two extraordinary candidates. Jon Ossoff is a warrior who has fought against corruption. And there's no better person, no better foil for him than David Perdue, who profited off of this pandemic. And Raphael Warnock is a social justice warrior, someone who has fought hard for families. And Kelly Loeffler has done absolutely nothing with her time in the U.S. Senate, other than to make money off of it and to chastise and undermine the credibility of communities that are doing their best to be heard and seen in our country.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I'm a data nerd. And I know you know the state county by county and all this stuff. And, you know, there's this generic take. It's essentially Atlanta and the suburbs, versus the rest of the state. But if the convention -- blow up that conventional wisdom. Tell me someplace outside of Atlanta and Savannah that you think Democrats, if they do well there, that's a sign they're going to win this race.

STACEY ABRAMS:

We're going to win metro Atlanta, we're going to win Columbus. We're going to win in Albany, we're going to win in Macon, we're going to win in Savannah. I was recently in Upson County, a county that is traditionally a Republican county, but it has improved its Democratic performance from '16 to '18 and from '18 to 2020. We know that in a lot of the ex-urban counties that are outside metro Atlanta, but not quite south of the Gnat Line, we've seen improvements in participation. And we believe that there are voters across the state who are going to show up. More than 100,000 voters who did not participate in November are voting in this election, have already cast their ballots, and they are disproportionately voters of color and disproportionately young voters. And what I remind people of is that in the statewide election, you don't win county by county. You win person by person. And that's what we've been doing. Fair Fight has been willing to invest millions of dollars into organizations, smaller groups, that have been doing the grassroots organizing and mobilizing that it's going to take to win. And we are very hopeful and very determined to do so on Tuesday.

CHUCK TODD:

Stacey Abrams, appreciate you coming on. Happy new year to you. Thanks for coming on and sharing your perspective with us.

STACEY ABRAMS:

Thank you for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

You've got it. When we come back, what Mitt Romney just called the dangerous threat to our democracy. The panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is joining us. Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Leigh Ann Caldwell, and NBC News White House Correspondent Geoff Bennett. All right, guys, I think the theme of this is simply going to be President Trump's dividing of the Republican Party. Peter Baker, in the last sort of ten days, he's called on the Republican governor of Georgia to resign. Essentially called the entire runoff campaign illegal. Threatened John Thune with a Kristi Noem primary challenge. President Trump here, we knew that he might burn it all down. Apparently, he wants to divide his party right to the very end here.

PETER BAKER:

Well, I think that's right, Chuck. And I think it's rather remarkable. You know, if we had to put this in historical context, it’s rather -- we just keep acting as if this is almost normal. It's obviously not normal. You know, I think about 220 years ago, John Adams was the first incumbent president to lose an election and gracefully handed over power to his successor without trying to keep control. That set a precedent for this country that has been the most important bedrock of democracy, arguably in our history. And here we are 220 years later. No sitting president in history who lost an election has tried to hold onto power. This is something that has never happened before. And you're right, it is dividing the Republican Party because there are Republicans out there who say, "This is just a bad precedent all around because there will be Democrats who will lose elections and then suddenly they'll be claiming with false allegations that they didn't, and try to muck up the works and take away the win from their side." This is just not the way the system has worked historically. And you're right, he’s willing to go -- President Trump is willing to go after anybody and everybody no matter how close they had once been to him, no matter what party they're in, including Mitch McConnell, including to the point of almost upending the Covid relief bill in part out of spite for Senator McConnell. And it's all part of this unending, relentless campaign to convince the country that, somehow, he didn't lose.

CHUCK TODD:

Leigh Ann Caldwell, Mitch McConnell has called the publicity stunt that Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz now are all engaging in, one of the most -- will end up becoming basically probably one of their most important votes ever as United States senators, so here they are dividing the party on this. How divided is this party going to be on this vote on that Senate Republican floor? We know what's going to end up with House Republicans. They are the Trump base. But Senate Republicans are not. Will half vote against the president or not?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL:

So Chuck, I've been talking to my sources all weekend, and there’s a couple of things. This group following Ted Cruz, they haven't yet decided how many states or which states they're going to object to and how they perhaps might vote, all these things are still under discussion. A lot of sources I've also been talking to, none of them say that the outcome is going to change at all. So what's going on here? And it is that Trump has a tremendous shadow over this party. And a divided party, a divided country only benefits the president. And there's a lot of electoral politics that are coming into play here, especially with Trump's grip on the Republican base, on conservative voters. It's not just 2022, the midterm elections, but it's looking ahead to the 2024, the presidential election as well with people like Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz who are perhaps possibly going to jump in that race, and even Vice President Mike Pence, who's going to have a big role on Wednesday, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Geoff, what's the end game for President Trump? What's his end game here?

GEOFF BENNETT:

The end game is, as it's always been, which was to find some offramp from this election to emerge as if he's not the loser. It has now resulted in the president trying to undermine a free and fair election. And it's an objective fact that the election results have been counted, recounted, certified and litigated multiple times. President Trump and Republican allied groups are on the receiving end of about 60 court losses. And to Leigh Ann's point, this gambit planned for Wednesday isn't expected to change the election outcome beyond, you know, potentially damaging our democracy and damaging our standing in the world. And I've talked to some, you know, establishment Republicans who are concerned that this fissure could create, on the one hand, a Trump party and a Republican Party. And that if that crack in the party hardens and if that continues, it'll be hard, if not impossible, for Republicans to win swing states or swing seats because there just aren't functionally enough Republicans to support a party that's effectively split in two. And then on the other side, I've been covering the Biden transition from the very start in Wilmington. And there are concerns among Democrats that, not only will this sort of leave this lie in the minds of millions of Trump supporters, that Joe Biden is somehow not a legitimate president, it'll also make it increasingly difficult for a President Biden to get Republicans who support Donald Trump to buy into what Joe Biden is pushing to fight Covid. For every American to wear a mask, for every American get vaccinated not just once, but twice, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Peter Baker, if Democrats sweep the Senate seats on Tuesday in Georgia, the fallout, I mean, it's painfully obvious to any observer without a partisan hat, that it will be Donald Trump will be the main reason why this happened. Maybe you could say Mitch McConnell is a secondary sort of boogieman source there. But I imagine this will accelerate the divide inside the party, right?

PETER BAKER:

Well, you would think so, right, because Republicans did pretty well in the November 3rd elections, all things considered, except at the top, right? They gained seats in the House, they held onto the Senate even though they had more vulnerable members than the Democrats did. And so to lose these two Georgia seats in a state that, frankly, is still pretty Republican even if it's trending now more Democratic than it had been in the past, would be a pretty big blow. It would leave them outside of power both in the House and the Senate. It would leave Biden and the Democrats in control of all three of those, you know, institutions. And I think that there would be a lot of recriminations. Normally at least, there would be a lot of recriminations. You'd see Republicans saying, "Why did we follow a leader who led us down this path, whose, you know, the brand, Republican brand itself still has power, but it was Trump himself who was the one who couldn't bring votes to the table, and we should move on?” On the other hand, he still did get 74 million votes. And that's a really powerful force within the Republican Party. He's going to remain an outspoken figure even from the sidelines. His Twitter account, with 80-some-million people will receive his messages, no matter how true or false they are. And that's a factor for Republicans, particularly those who want to run in the future.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, Leigh Ann Caldwell, does Mitch McConnell have anything to worry about if somehow he is not going to have the votes, he's not majority leader anymore? Would he have to worry about his leadership?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL:

Yes. He needs to win Georgia. He does everything about -- every decision he makes is to ensure that he maintains his position as majority leader. A Republican source of mine said that Trump has been extremely unhelpful in Georgia, Chuck. And so it's going to be a big day.

CHUCK TODD:

Yup. All right. Excellent panel trio. Appreciate that. When we come back, the conspiracy theory that has migrated from the internet fringe to the halls of Congress which gets sworn in today. What exactly is QAnon?

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Suspicion of government and openness to conspiracy theories have long been features of American politics.Recently, QAnon, a blanket conspiracy theory that's part politics, part religion and completely irrational has spread, like a virus, from the fringes of the internet to the political mainstream. The QAnon phenomenon is also very pro-Trump and its followers include at least one newly-elected member of Congress. As we first reported on "Meet the Press Reports," which is on NBC News Now and Peacock, the issue for the GOP is will it distance itself from this movement or welcome the enthusiasm of its support?

[BEGIN TAPE]

MORGAN RADFORD:

Do you believe there's a ring of high-profile politicians who are kidnapping and sacrificing children?

COREY PETERS:

I do believe that.

CHUCK TODD:

QAnon, once a fringe phenomenon, is now exploding online, a symptom of how susceptible America is to a conspiracy theory -- supercharged by the power of social media. The Atlantic's Adrienne LaFrance has spent months studying QAnon and its shadowy origins.

ADRIENNE LaFRANCE:

This mysterious figure Q is someone with military intelligence who's secretly working with Donald Trump to take down high-profile Democrats who are, in private, abusing children.

CHUCK TODD:

Kim Holmberg says her fiance left her after being drawn into QAnon online.

KIM HOLMBERG:

The anti-vaxxers and the chemtrail people and the flat-earthers and the Spygate people and Obamagate and etcetera, etcetera. All of that has now found a home.

CHUCK TODD:

According to a September analysis from Dynata on QAnon supporters, 63 percent are white, 58 percent are male, 55 percent have a household income less than 75,000 dollars a year and just 30 percent have a bachelor's degree or equivalent. And 58 percent said they were supporting Donald Trump for president.

ADRIENNE LaFRANCE:

It is, at its core, a pro-Trump conspiracy theory.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I've heard these are people that love our country, and they just don't like seeing it. So, I don't know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me.

CHUCK TODD:

The president has retweeted QAnon-linked accounts hundreds of times. And boosted congressional candidates who supported it, like Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who Mr. Trump called a “future Republican star.” Taylor Greene was elected and will join Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert, who has also praised QAnon, on Capitol Hill.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE:

There’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take this global cable of Satan-worshipping pedophiles out.

CHUCK TODD:

The Republican party has grappled with whether and how to distance itself.

KARL ROVE:

Big mistake. This is a group of nuts and kooks and he ought to disavow them.

CHUCK TODD:

In October, the House voted to condemn QAnon.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON:

The resolution is adopted.

CHUCK TODD:

But seventeen Republicans and one Independent voted against the resolution. The FBI has labeled QAnon a domestic terror threat.

CHRIS WRAY:

We have had cases where -- properly predicated cases involving violence -- where people have been motivated by some of those conspiracy theories.

CHUCK TODD:

In 2017, a North Carolina man was sentenced to four years in prison after firing a gun in a D.C. pizza restaurant, where he was looking for a non-existent child trafficking ring run by Democrats. All of it, an internet lie. According to Dynata, nearly half of QAnon supporters say the coronavirus isn't real, and among those who say it is, a good chunk think it's being spread by 5G cellular technology. In the fall, QAnon accounts pushed the conspiracy theory that President Trump was not sick with the virus but carrying out secret missions in an imagined war.

COREY PETERS:

I believe that President Trump was approached by the military, and it's been a plan that’s been in place for decades.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

We'll be producing a new season of "Meet the Press Reports" on NBC News Now and Peacock very, very soon. When we come back, why we can no longer ignore movements like QAnon.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Joining me now to talk about the danger posed by conspiracy theories like QAnon are NBC News national security analyst Clint Watts and NBC News investigative reporter Brandy Zadrozny. Brandy, I want to start with you, Donald Trump has been a central figure in the QAnon conspiracy. What happens to QAnon on January 21st?

BRANDY ZADROZNY:

Well, cults and, you know, churches don't generally just give up their messiahs. And we don't expect that to happen now. Whether, you know, Trump's in the White House or not, Trump seems to be the central figure with this group. And he seems like he will continue to be. It’s only proven right so far as we look towards the -- his claims, his baseless claims that the election was contested, that he actually won. They are the main people sort of shepherding this lie. And so that's expected to continue.

CHUCK TODD:

Clint, the social media companies over, I would argue, particularly over the last, say, three months, did seem to make some efforts to purge themselves of QAnon in a way they didn't before. Looking back, how successful have they been? And -- or are these folks going to just migrate over to the Parlers and the more extreme sites around the internet?

CLINT WATTS:

Chuck, you know, we do have some parallels that we can look at. There have been purges of different extremist groups over the years. And we see them try and coalesce on other platforms. And, unless the platform is really strong, meaning that it equals in engagement, it allows people to facilitate, it's easy to get to in terms of an app, the groups really struggle. And so what I think is interesting about QAnon and sort of this migration right now is you see this new app, Parler, really come online. And you're seeing a coalescence of people moving there. Ultimately though, I think that it was a little bit too late on the social media companies' part. Once they're already there, it allows them to spread and recruit. And this is consistent of all belief systems. The longer they're on these mainstream platforms, the longer they're able to connect with like-minded people around the world.

CHUCK TODD:

Brandy, QAnon, the whole QAnon conspiracy in some ways sort of fit hand in glove with the pandemic, whether we like it or not, right? Whether it was the mask mandates, whether it's anti-vaxxers. It -- there're a lot of parts of the pandemic that we're all dealing with that it feels as if the QAnon conspiracy is either using to build followers or, what? How would you describe it?

BRANDY ZADROZNY:

Yeah, the QAnon conspiracy theory really acted as an umbrella. It sort of covered everybody who was interested in the anti-lockdown protests, the election and people who were arguing that the pandemic was either a hoax or that measures to sort of protect us from the pandemic were ridiculous, anti-mask, stuff like that. And what happened was, you know, we study this on Facebook using this tool called CrowdTangle. And we could see the membership spike in March during the lockdown order. So we would watch these QAnon groups before the platforms got rid of them. And we saw it works like a line. And then right in March during the lockdown orders, you saw a crazy spike. And those just continued. And that happened in anti-vaccination groups and QAnon groups. And we saw this incredible overlap. You know, the biggest anti-vaccination group actually became explicitly a QAnon group that had hundreds of thousands of members. And then we saw it spread to Instagram. We saw, you know, these really flashy posts. Someone called it Pastel-Anon. But it's lifestyle, influencers, mommy bloggers, fitness gurus, alternative health people. And over the summer, you know, we even saw QAnon protests in some 200 different cities across the country. So we just saw it blanket everything.

CHUCK TODD:

And Clint, we have our first member of Congress, Marjorie Taylor Greene, got elected to Congress, a QAnon follower. She's since tried to distance herself a little bit. But here she was at her orientation tweeting, "Our first session of new member orientation covered COVID in Congress. Masks, masks, masks. I proudly told my freshman class that masks are oppressive. In Georgia we workout, shop, go to restaurants, go to work and school without masks. My body, my choice." What does it mean to the QAnon movement to have somebody be an official member of Congress and an adherent?

CLINT WATTS:

Chuck, what's always been strange about this is conspiracies about deep states usually don't happen when a symbolic leader like President Trump that they admire so much is in power. Usually it's, you know, part of the information and insurgency comes from outside and it's about a deep state. And I think in the case of this Congresswoman, it's going to be very similar. Now, she's in charge, to a degree, right? She's going to be calling upon people to testify. She's going to be making decisions about votes and how those votes line up against an ideology that's pretty amorphous. So at what point does it begin to collapse on itself or not? Meaning that, no matter what she does, her supporters will continue to believe these conspiracy theories. They will make excuses oftentimes or change timelines. Or that it's part of a plot that's going to unfold in the future. And it really just shows the demand for this disinformation that we have in our society right now. The conspiracies combining with populism all brought together on social media. It's a way for a belief system to sort of orchestrate itself. And then, when they do come into power, what will they do with it? What is the deep state when they are now part of the state?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that's what it is. It's the ease with which this has surfaced. Clint Watts, Brandy Zadrozny, thank you both. Thank you all for being with us today. That's all we have. Thank you for watching. We'll be back next week from our new studio next door to the capital because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.