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Trump has attacked Cohen. TRANSCRIPT: 1/23/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Matt Zapotosky, Anita Kumar, Donna Edwards

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  If that had passed the Senate today, then the government would have been reopened if the President of the United States signed the bill.  Tim Kaine with another Kaine mutiny gets tonight`s last word.  THE 11TH HOUR with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, Michael Cohen backs out of his live testimony over fears for his family.  Donald Trump, who`s mentioned Cohen`s father-in-law publicly, is being accused tonight of witness tampering in plain sight.

Plus, on the Mueller front the documents we saw today and what they say about Paul Manafort, what he did and did not remember.

And it`s turning the Capitol into a thunder dome.  Trump versus Pelosi on a possible State of the Union Address during a government shutdown soon entering its 34th day as THE 11TH HOUR gets under way here on a Wednesday night.

And it goes on.  Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 734 of this Trump Administration.  And as the government shutdown heads into day 34 by the end of this hour, a senior official`s telling NBC News the White House is preparing for this impasse, get this, to potentially continue for many more weeks.  That is just ahead.

We begin with long-time Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen suddenly pulling the plug on his upcoming live congressional hearing.  Cohen says he will not testify publicly on the 7th of February because of intimidation coming from the President.

Cohen`s legal adviser Lanny Davis issued a statement today that reads in part, and we, "Due to ongoing threats against his family from President Trump and Mr. Giuliani," this is a movie script, "as well as Mr. Cohen`s continued cooperation with ongoing investigations, by advice of counsel Mr. Cohen`s appearance will be postponed to a later date.  This is a time where Mr. Cohen had to put his family and their safety first."  Last week on this network Davis made a similar accusation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, MICHAEL COHEN LEGAL ADVISER:  There`s only one person in the country, one president in our history, that would threaten family as a tactic to make fear of somebody he calls a rat for telling the truth.  And that`s President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Today the President weighed in on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I would say he`s been threatened by the truth.  He`s only been threatened by the truth.  And he doesn`t want to do that probably for me or other of his clients.  He has other clients also, I assume.  And he doesn`t want to tell the truth for me or other of his clients.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Just to review here, Michael Cohen has already pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations which he says occurred under Trump`s direction.  He admitted to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower negotiations.  But in recent weeks the President has suggested Cohen`s family members be investigated.  This message is from Saturday, "Lying to reduce his jail time.  Watch father-in-law."

Last month Trump wrote this. "He," Cohen, "makes up stories to get a great and already reduced deal for himself and get his wife and father-in-law, who has the money?  Off scot-free."  Remember our friend Scott Free.  Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani have also talked about Cohen`s family during recent interviews.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  In order to get a sentence reduced he says I have an idea, I`ll give you some information on the President.  Well, there is no information.  But he should give information maybe on his father-in-law because that`s the one that people want to look at because where does that money -- that`s the money in the family.  And I guess he didn`t want to talk about his father-in-law.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST:  So it`s OK to go after the father-in-law?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP`S LAWYER:  Of course it is.  If the father- in-law is a criminal.

TAPPER:  The father-in-law.

GIULIAN:  The father-in-law, we happen to know -- and just go read the Southern District report.

TAPPER:  Yes.

GIULIAN:  The man was involved in criminal activity with Michael Cohen and Michael Cohen is withholding it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Congressman Elijah Cummings of the State of Maryland chairs the House Oversight Committee.  He had called on Michael Cohen to testify back in December.  Today he didn`t seem to be backing down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND, HOUSE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE:  This is something that should upset every single American.  This is the United States of America.  This is not Russia.  We have not decided exactly how we will proceed from here.  But I guarantee you as sure as night becomes day and day becomes night, that we will hear from Mr. Cohen.  Period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  In the meantime, House Oversight has opened up another inquiry.  The Committee is also looking into White House security clearances.  You remember those.  They are asking for information about how multiple current and former officials obtained said clearances.  Big question here, how Jared Kushner managed to get access to certain classified documents before he was given his permanent clearance.

And as we mentioned, there is new information from Paul Manafort`s lawyers concerning Special Counsel Mueller`s allegation that the former Trump campaign chairman lied while cooperating with investigators.

Today Manafort`s legal team submitted another heavily redacted document in an effort to knock down the Mueller claim.  They write that it, "Does not support the conclusion that Mr. Manafort intentionally provided false information.  Rather, when placed in proper context, much of the evidence presented by the Office of Special Counsel merely demonstrates a lack of consistency in Mr. Manafort`s recollection of certain facts and events."  Well written.

Let`s bring in our lead-off panel on a Wednesday night.  Mimi Rocah, former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, now a distinguished fellow in Criminal Justice at the Pace University School of Law.  Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon and former Counsel to the House Intel Committee.  And Matt Zapotosky, National Security Reporter covering the Justice Department for "The Washington Post."  Good evening to both of you and welcome.

Mimi, I want to play for you something we watched unfold on live television, 4:00 Eastern Time.  This is Donny Deutsch, known well to our viewers, but he`s been drawn into this because of a long-time personal friendship with Michael Cohen.  Now you might say in the news.  We`ll talk about this on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONNY DEUTSCH, CHAIRMAN & FMR. CEO, DEUTSCH INC:  I happened to speak to Michael right after the pure interview.  He said I`m not doing it.  I`m not testifying.  My wife is sitting here crying.  They`re calling out -- my poor father-in-law, he`s 80.  So his is a man who`s never done again.

He goes he`s the President of the United States.  The Justice Department report.  He can do whatever he wants.  The President got on the air and tweeted publicly, watch out, father-in-law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Mimi Rocah, this may not require exactly how much legal knowledge you already have.  What are we watching in plain sight?

MIMI ROCAH, FMR. ASSISTANT U.S. ATTY., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:  We`re watching witness intimidation, or attempted witness intimidation in real time.  And frankly, we didn`t need Michael Cohen`s reaction to prove that to us.  I mean, anyone, and you don`t have to be a lawyer or a former prosecutor, who`s watching Trump with any objectivity and what he`s saying about Michael Cohen`s family, can see that of course he`s trying to intimidate him.  He`s trying to make Cohen believe that if he goes ahead and testifies someone is going to come down on his father-in-law.

Now, I don`t know anything about the father-in-law.  I don`t know what he`s done or not done.  But that`s not the point, right?  The point is if I were prosecuting a mobster and some cooperating -- I had a cooperating witness who was going to testify against him and that mobster went up to the cooperating witness and said to him privately, I`m going to tell them about what your father did.

WILLIAMS:  All right.  He`d be a member of your family right now.

ROCAH:  Right.  Exactly.  It could be more subtle.  But Trump was pretty explicit actually.  I would consider that witness tampering because that is, he was suggesting, it is saying I`m going to try to get the government to investigate your family member who I believe did something wrong in order to stop you from testifying.  That is what Trump did.  And he`s doing it with the weight of the presidency behind him.

Donny Deutsch`s point there was exactly right.  He is -- Trump is technically the head of the Department of Justice.  He can technically, and this is a President unbounded by norms, direct investigations.  Are they going -- you know, no -- I`m not saying the father should or shouldn`t be looked at.  That`s up to the prosecutors who are working on the case, who are trying to get Michael Cohen to cooperate.  But no one should be looking at the father-in-law because Donald Trump says so.  And no one should be looking at him because he doesn`t want Michael Cohen to testify.

WILLIAMS:  To our control room, we had a graphic made of the federal statute that encompasses all of this.  I think it aired just prior to the Donny Deutsch interview this afternoon.  We`ll effort getting that on the screen.  As I say to, Jeremy Bash, reports from the control room are that you were nodding aggressively while the counselor was speaking.

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Yes, I think the President is unique as a witness intimidator in two respects.  First, as Mimi pointed out, he does oversee executive branch.  He oversees the arm of the government that can conduct investigations of other family members.  He also oversees the Bureau of Prisons who will set the conditions of Michael Cohen`s imprisonment.  I think Michael Cohen probably should be worried about any efforts to influence that organization.

But second, the President has a massive bully pulpit, not just on Twitter but in all the ways that the President communicates.  And he can inspire and he can incite and he can urge followers and other people who are inclined to his point of view, perspective, to do very tough things against the Michael Cohen family and make that testimony for Michael Cohen very painful but also once Michael Cohen goes away to prison he`s not there in effect to protect his family.  I think he feels like his family in particular his wife, his father-in-law, are very exposed.

WILLIAMS:  And Mimi, as a former federal prosecutor you can probably repeat along with us as we read the statute which we have found and will put on the screen.  When folks at home hear us talking about witness tampering, tossing around the phrase, here`s the law.  "Whoever knowingly uses intimidation, threatens, or attempts to do so with intent to influence, delay, or prevent the testimony of any person."  That`s not a terribly tough argument to make.

ROCAH:  No.  And particularly I know people are using the word "threat."  I mean, I view this as an intimidation type.  And again, you`re not going to just look at one statement by the President.  You have to look at a whole course of conduct.  I know we say that -- us prosecutors say that all the time, but it`s true.  And you have here, it has been an ongoing attempt, and it can -- it doesn`t matter ultimately if it`s successful.  Even if Cohen went ahead and testified and said, you know what, I`m not going to let this scare me, I`m going to go testify, you can still technically charge this under the statute.

I think it`s sort of evidence of how intimidating it`s been that it seems to be having an effect on him.  But I`ve already heard people saying well, that`s not really the only reason why Cohen`s not testifying.  It really doesn`t matter at the end of the day.  I will say this.  At the end of the day for whatever investigations, and there`s reporting that Cohen is still working with investigators both in the Special Counsel --

WILLIAMS:  As recently as tonight.  Yes.

ROCAH:  Yes, and in the attorney general`s office and in the Southern District of New York.  This is probably a good thing for those investigations.  None of those people involved in those investigations, prosecutors, would want Cohen testifying publicly.  I`m not saying that is the reason why, but the result may be that you have some relieved feds right now.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Matt, thank you for your patience.  There`s kind of an unwritten rule in Washington that Elijah Cummings is not a guy you want to make angry.  Who wins in this and what do you think is the next move here?

MATT ZAPOTOSKY, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, Elijah Cummings is all but saying he plans to subpoena Michael Cohen if he doesn`t ultimately agree to testify.  One of my colleagues talked to him today and asked at my request, hey, what happens if he goes to prison?  You know, he`s set to report to prison on March 6th, about a month after he had been supposed to testify.  And Cummings said essentially we`ll go get him, we`ll have the marshals go get him and he`ll still testify.

I think there would be some logistical hurdles to figure out with the Bureau of Prisons there.  But he definitely wants to make this happen.  We`ll see if it can, though.  I mean, Cohen does not seem to want to do this.  He has cited the threats.  He`s also cited I think very importantly and sort of being missed in this the advice of his attorneys.

You know, his last go-round before Congress didn`t go so well.  He ended up getting charged and pleading guilty to lying to Congress.  His testimony, the most interesting aspects to the public would probably be on ongoing investigations, the one in SDNY into campaign finance violations and, you know, maybe the more important one that Mueller is conducting into Russia and Trump connections.

You know, I think there are a lot of reasons he wouldn`t want to testify and he would have a lot of say in preventing that.  He could take the Fifth Amendment.  Clearly that`s what his own wrongdoing would be at stake.  He`s going to prison.

I think there are legitimate reasons that the committee might want to back off.  You know, this guy`s only got a month or so left before he goes to prison.  But, Elijah Cummings is intent on getting this guy before Congress.  And I wouldn`t be completely surprised to see a subpoena at some point.

WILLIAMS:  OK, Jeremy, you`re a veteran of Capitol Hill.  What would be the problem if Cummings said you know what, we`re going to do this in closed session.  It would kill the television ratings.  It would reduce the theater of it.  It would reduce the chance of grandstanding, especially among people new to the Congress, people who want to stake their claim on this hearing.

What if it was under seal for a finite amount of time?  Aren`t there ways around this other than go to hell coverage on all the networks and live TV coverage?

BASH:  I think they could do portions of it behind closed doors and closed session perhaps as an accommodation to the Special Counsel`s office to explore areas like the Trump Tower Moscow deal that we know are under investigation, active investigation by Bob Mueller.

But there are other areas that for the purposes of oversight you want in public because the oversight function is to increase transparency.  And I think in some ways it would be a capitulation to the President`s intimidation tactics to say we`re not going to do this in public.

And by the way, I`m not sure that really saves Michael Cohen much of a headache at all.  We still have the President of the United States making threats against his family.  And that won`t go away, Brian, if it`s an open or closed session.

WILLIAMS:  And a quick question that people have asked me, are you going learn any more in a hearing room than all the conceivable questions the feds are going to come up with to ask this guy is there a chance that someone will come at it from an unusual angle and ask that one key question that becomes the sound bite on broadcasts like this one?

BASH:  From my perspective, absolutely.  And more importantly, Congress is an independent branch of government and they have an oversight function, an oversight role to understand the leverage the Russian Federation has over the President of the United States.  And the Trump Organization and its inner workings are key to that investigation.  That may be part of what Bob Mueller`s looking at but it`s not the entirety of what Mueller`s looking at.

WILLIAMS:  That`s a good point to make, however.  Hey, Matt, what did we learn or not learn in this document concerning Mr. Manafort today, the terror of the black lines?

ZAPOTOSKY:  Well, we learned that Manafort is sort of resisting the notion that he intentionally lied to the Special Counsel.  We kind of knew it.  But this was Manafort`s occasion to publicly and to the court respond to the allegation from the Special Counsel`s office that he had continued to lie to their investigators after he pleaded guilty.  And he sort of chalked it up all to memory issues.  The special counsel not presenting him with documents.  So he could sort of refresh his recollection.  Him sort of changing his story mid-stream but feeling like well, that was OK because I wasn`t lying, I just didn`t remember right and then I did remember right in the middle of an interview.

I was very disappointed, though, that the redactions just made it impossible to learn anything substantively new about what he lied about.  I really hope that at some point the Special Counsel will make those allegations public.  It feels sort of just inherently unfair to me to say hey, this guy lied and not air it out.  The Special Counsel has intimated that they sort of have lots of evidence, testimony that points to him lying.

But so far they`ve put it all behind black boxes and forced Manafort to put it all behind black boxes with the exception of a few weeks ago when he sort of slipped up and put it behind transparent black boxes I guess I would say.  But today we learned he doesn`t believe he intentionally lied.  We unfortunately didn`t learn much about the substance of those lies, which is the big question for us.

WILLIAMS:  We have really put you three guys to work tonight.  But like so many nights it feels like breaking news.  We have even more for our next segment.  But our thanks to Mimi Rocah, to Jeremy Bash, to Matt Zapotosky, thank you.

And coming up, the State of the Union tonight is in flux as the White House prepares for a shutdown lasting weeks longer perhaps.  Let`s see how long people can go without an income.

And later, we go way back to when the Trump Administration held its very first official White House briefing.  Remember those days?  We will when we come back on a Wednesday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Well, we have that little animation because at 11:12 p.m. tonight the leader of the world`s largest arsenal and best fighting force was in the White House using his phone and did so again at 11:18 a dramatic reading follows.  "As the shutdown was going on, Nancy Pelosi asked me to give the State of the Union address.  I agreed.  She then changed her mind because of the shutdown, suggesting a later date.  This is her prerogative.

I will do the address when the shutdown is over.  I am not looking for an alternative venue for the State of the Union address because there is no venue that can compete with the history, tradition, and importance of the House Chamber.  I look forward to giving a great, "State of the Union address in the near future."  Donald J. Trump from the White House tonight.

Now to the business of the process of the shutdown, forgive the phrase.  The "Washington Post" reports tonight the White House is asking around to agency leaders for a list of programs that will be jeopardized if the shutdown continues into, say, March and April.  The "Post" points out, "It`s the firmest evidence to date that the White House is preparing for a lengthy funding lapse."

Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate, your U.S. Senate, is expected to vote on two competing bills to reopen the government.  Here is the problem.  One of them is Trump`s plan he announced on Saturday that would include the wall.  The other is a short-term bill to get the government up and funded, get people paid through February 8th.  Both bills are expected to fail.

Some House Democrats say they`re working on a deal that would offer more technology spending at the border.  NBC News reports this counteroffer would "Meet or exceed $5.7 billion for border security, asterisk, but no money for a physical wall.  Democrats still hold the position that the government should first be reopened immediately before negotiations take place over border security.  At the same time the counteroffer signals some movement on Capitol Hill."

Meanwhile, as the shutdown drags on, we got this stern message from the Vice President of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRISH GILBERT, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF THE NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSOCIATION:  We cannot be in this any longer.  It is already less safe than it was a month ago when we shutdown.  We have critical components to safety that are not there.  We have processes not there, training not taking place, distraction in the workplace.  We have controllers actually reporting to us that they`re making mistake -- mistakes when they are giving clearances, clearing planes in places where they shouldn`t be clearing them in conflicts with other airplanes because they`re so stressed out about how they are going to take care of their family.  Their livelihood is threatened at this point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Somehow, outlets where they had personnel shortages before the shutdown, some controllers were working six days a week, 10-hour a day shifts.  And tonight unions for air traffic controllers, pilots, and flight attendants after all released a statement saying there is growing concern for safety in their industry due to the government shutdown.  It reads in part, "If in our risk averse industry, we cannot even calculate the level of risk currently at play nor predict the point at which the entire system will break, it is unprecedented."

With us to talk about all of it Jeremy Peters Political Reporter for the New York Times and Anita Kumar now White House Correspondent and associate editor for POLITICO.  Anita, it boggles the mind that we are about to with straight faces have a conversation about god forbid a disaster or loss of life required as a triggering mechanism to get both sides to reopen our federal government after a month.

ANITA KUMAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO:  I actually have been hearing that for the last few days, that even people close to the White House are saying that they will not budge, that the Democrats won`t budge until there`s an accident or some kind of security safety issue, both sides aren`t going to come to the table.

But I think you hinted here that there is going to be some movement.  This House proposal that they`re talking about, I think that`s probably going to go somewhere.  I mean, clearly the Senate bills that are coming up are not going to go somewhere.  I think the House saying that they would look at spending some money not necessarily on a wall but on enforcement issues is going to get some attention.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy, same question to you and what just happened to the balance of power, at least within the beltway in the past few minutes the President has agreed, something we`ve never had, to a State of the Union that will await a reopened government.

JEREMY PETERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Right.  I think, Brian, the ultimate impact of the President`s tweet just now saying he`ll wait to give his State of the Union is pretty minimal.  I mean, it just kind of adds the latest twist in this ongoing squabbling back and forth, give your speech, Mr. President, no wait, you can`t give your speech.  Oh, well, now you can`t go on your trip.  I`m going to give the speech anyway.  No, you`re not.  I guess now we`re at OK, I won`t give the speech.

So, I guess we`ll wait to see whatever happens tomorrow, which, you know, at this point really could be anything, although I have been hearing slightly more optimism that at least with the Senate votes, though those are doomed to fail, it appears that could provide some type of forward moving momentum here to get the gears of government at least somewhat grinding again.

WILLIAMS:  Anita, Jeremy just used the "O" word for optimism.  Are you hearing any of that being shared?  Especially the subset of that question is Republican defections.  Who`s had enough?

KUMAR:  Yes, I mean -- well, I mean, it`s been going on for quite some time, right?  So you think that both sides would have enough.  I mean, every paycheck I think that goes by that people aren`t getting and messages like you heard before about safety, I think that it`s going to get there but they`re -- both sides are just really dug in on this.  I mean, you mentioned the State of the Union thing, back and forth.  I mean, this just shows you that they are not looking to compromise.  They both have their way and they want their way.

So, you know, I just go back to this House proposal that`s out there.  To me that`s the sort of only glimmer of hope.  I don`t know that I would say on the optimism, though, because the President has been adamant that he still wants this wall, it`s something he campaigned on, he talked about, and that he thinks that it`s necessary and that he wants to get the money for it that this is the time for him to try do that.

WILLIAMS:  Jeremy, I have three visuals and then a question.  Visual number one is a letter by all the former secretaries of homeland security.  As cabinet agencies go, it hasn`t been around that long, but they all signed on to this letter saying in effect end this.  It also includes the former Homeland Security Secretary, General Kelly, who is the most recent White House chief of staff.

Visual number two is some polling information.  And it shows the President deeply underwater.  When people were asked the question by CBS News pollsters, is this border wall worth the government shutdown?  71 percent say it is not worth it.

Now add to that the following visual.  This is all the aircraft over the United States right now.  See some of those routes that really pop like DFW up to New York.  The European flights leaving this time of night to begin their long arcing flight over the north Atlantic and all the pacific activity as well.  That`s what the skies over this country look like.

And here`s a prediction.  They will all land safely tonight because of the true professionals, the public servants working without pay in all the TRACON stations, all the local towers at all the airports in this country, but for how long, Jeremy.  And our first question comes back, god forbid, is this going to take a tragedy?

PETERS:  I sure hope not.  But I think what this speaks to more than anything else, Brian, is the degradation of our political culture and the willingness that political leaders have to really subject the government workers to this prolong period without pay.  But also just to show blatant disrespect for the government, for the functions of our government, that our constitution has set up.

And it`s really a change from this -- when these things were rare, right?  Or when politicians had more of a capacity for shame.  When the Republican Party dared not shut down the government for 20 years after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns because they thought it was not only bad politics but bad governance.

That kind of shame doesn`t exist anymore in today`s Republican Party because what you`ve had over the last ten years or so is a party that is more and more hostile to government.  They think that government doesn`t do much good for them.

When of course there`s plenty of evidence and money in their social security accounts and money paying for their Medicare to prove otherwise.  But I just don`t see a Republican Party that exists anymore where shutdowns are perceived as bad politics, even though the overwhelming majority of Americans don`t like them.

WILLIAMS:  I wish the topic was more cheery.  But I thank you nonetheless both of you for coming on and adding your reporting to this segment.  To Jeremy Peters, to Anita Kumar, two of our returning veterans, our thanks.

Coming up, more of the shutdown politics with two political veterans.  Here`s a hint.  Both of them from the same state.  Including a look at one component that could sway Trump, his poll numbers.  More on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Stop the shutdown. Stop the shutdown. Stop the shutdown.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Those protesters outside Mitch McConnell`s office want to get back to work.  They would like to get paid for their work as well.  There`s been little public talk of an actual shutdown solution.  The House passed its tenth bill today to reopen the government, but it doesn`t include wall money and thus won`t go anywhere.

Over in the Senate Leader McConnell blocked a similar bill in the Senate.  Now there are these bills that are both expected to fail tomorrow.  Nothing like managing expectations.  And the longer the shutdown drags on the lower the President`s approval rating sinks.  This may get his attention.

This new AP-NORC poll shows his support dropped eight points since the shutdown started in December.  His disapproval ratings are now back to what they were after there were good people on both sides in Charlottesville.

Here with us tonight, apparently no one available in 49 other states.  We have two Marylanders.  And it`s a good thing we like them.  Donna Edwards, former Democratic member of Congress representing the state of did I mention Maryland.  And newly minted "Washington Post" columnist.

And Michael Steele, former Chairman of the Republican National Committee and former lieutenant governor from the state of, wait for it, Maryland. 

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  There we go.  It is. 

WILLIAMS:  Thank you both for being with us.

STEELE:  Sure.

WILLIAMS:  Michael, the whole rap on Mitch McConnell is his ability to count noses.  Any good leader, any good whip in the House or Senate, that`s what they do.  They`re like a western rancher counting a head of cattle.  But there`s no way to get to 60 apparently on either vote without doing how a bill becomes law, which none of us paid attention to when we were in school.  Why bring them up?

STEELE:  Well, they`re bringing them up because they`re probably trying to position for the back end of this conversation, which is going to be around something that`s beginning to form in the House.  I don`t think this bill that`s going to close -- that`s going to rather open the government is going to emerge out of the Senate.

It`s going to emerge out of the House.  And it`s going to have -- I still believe at the end of the day, Brian, it`s going to have elements that make it look like a wall, make it sound like a wall, but it`s not going to be a wall.

Trump will be able to go and say I got money for the wall.  However, that`s going to be framed and architectured for him to be able to do that.  That`s what the next phase is after these votes, because Friday is a day of reckoning.  As has already been discussed.  Where a lot of folks for the second pay period now will go without a check.

And if it wasn`t real before, it`s going to get very real for Mitch McConnell and a whole lot of members in the Senate.  So I think they show motion with these bills that they`re going to be voting on tomorrow, and then the heavy discussion begins.

WILLIAMS:  Donna, you of course served with Nancy Pelosi in the House, and you of course have a ton of federal workers in your former congressional district.  How do you think the Speaker of the House will know when it`s time? This can`t be entirely one-sided after all.

DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSWOMAN (D), MARYLAND:  Well, no.  The way I feel is that the speaker probably has a real sense of where her caucus is and where the points of negotiation are.

And I think that the move by the Senate to dispose of these two bills, neither of which will get 60 votes needed to move them on, begins to open the door and create a pathway by which there can be a resolution.

The point is the resolution can`t happen with building a wall.  And we all know that.  I think the Democrats have always said that they can see a way to doing fortified reinforcements of what already exists and making sure that there are -- is increased border security and technology and increasing immigration judges and all of those things that actually contribute to security.

And I don`t think any of that has changed.  And what needs to change is the President.  And I think in some ways that can happen because he will see the failure of these two bills coming up in the United States Senate. 

WILLIAMS:  Michael, this is not billiards, nor is it terrapin football, but at the risk of having something thrown at the television inside the White House, was this advantage Pelosi today?  Did she just win a round?

STEELE:  Oh, yes.  She punked him good.  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, boy, you just got something thrown at TV.

STEELE:  Yes.  Sorry, but yes.  She called his bluff.  He thought he was calling hers.  But she called his.  And the President tonight recognized that probably the only place he could hold a speech is some alley in D.C.  So I`ll just wait until after the shutdown.

Nancy Pelosi, I think to the congresswoman`s point, she knows her caucus.  She knows where she can go, how far out she can go.  And there is no reason for her to move, Brian.  There just isn`t.

The President at the very beginning of this thing back in December, once he rejected the Senate bill that he sent the vice president up to say yes, I`m behind it and I`ll go for it, said to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi I take full responsibility for this, I own this, and I won`t blame you.  Nancy`s like, OK.  And here we are. 

WILLIAMS:  Yes, he said, used the word mantle.  Give met mantle of this shutdown.

STEELE:  Give me the mantle, that`s right.

WILLIAMS:  Wonder how that mantle feels right about now.  Hey Donna, I`ve got one for you.  This is from my friend Peter Baker over at "The New York Times."

"Democrats accuse Mr. Trump of hostage-taking tactics but among the hostages has been his own presidency.  Other than his single-minded pursuit of a border wall, Mr. Trump has all but put on hold advancing the rest of his agenda.  It has become as one administration put it a one-issue White House".

Though Donna, you and I both know this speech, if history is any guide, and who knows at this point, will contain words like infrastructure.  You remember that word?

EDWARDS:  Yes, I remember it.  I don`t think the President does.  I mean, here`s the thing.  The President backed himself into a wall.  He was always going to lose this fight.  And now the question is just how does he lose or how do Republicans allow him to save face to move on?

The fact is he wanted to do a State of the Union message but you can`t stand in front of the entire United States and proclaim to Americans that the State of the Union is good when the government is shut down and when it`s not functioning.

And he is the head of that dysfunction.  So I think that right now the most that the President can count on is that he`s worked himself into -- full on into an election cycle now and I just don`t know where this administration goes up from here.

WILLIAMS:  I want to go where angels dare, and that is to talk about 2020 for just a moment.  You may not recognize this fellow.  You might find his name difficult to pronounce.  But he would like very much to be your next president.  The latest Democrat to join a very crowded field.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), SOUTH BEND, INDIANA:  I believe that we need new voices.  It`s time for a new generation to step forward to offer leadership.

At end of the day I have more years of government experience than the president of the United States.  I have more executive experience than the vice president.  And I have more military experience than the two of them put together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  The group of 2020 candidates gained one more today.  That was the 37-year-old mayor of the great city of South Bend, Indiana.  He joins seven other declared candidates including Senator Kamala Harris, who also announced this week.  She sat down with Rachel in this very studio tonight to talk about why she is right for the job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA, CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT:  We are a country that has always been aspirational.  We have these ideals.  We were founded on these ideals.  Our strength is that we fight for these ideals.

And our strength is also that we speak truth and acknowledge we`ve never quite reached those ideals.  We still have a whole lot of problems around issues of equality and freedom and fairness.  Right?  But people are prepared to fight.  And I`m prepared to join that fight.  And if necessary and if folks will have me I`m prepared to help lead that fight.

WILLIAMS:  OK, Mr. Chairman.  Here`s the question I`d like to ask.  And Donna, I`m coming to you right after this.  So have a brilliant answer ready.  Which Democrat as of now poses the greatest threat to Donald Trump?

STEELE:  Joe Biden.

WILLIAMS:  Why?

STEELE:  Well, because I think Joe Biden is the one who takes away from Trump without having to go with Trump will take all the rest of these candidates, where he took Marco Rubio in the 2016 cycle.  He can avoid that.  He is blue collar.  He`s always been blue collar.  He`s authentically such.

And so when you`re looking at the Wisconsins and the Ohios and the Pennsylvanias and the Michigans of the world he will resonate with them.  Uncle Joe.  He`s called that for a reason.  Yes, there have been gaffes and there have been the crazy stuff, but compared to Trump? People are like okay, that`s a walk in the park we can do.

WILLIAMS:  Not to be argumentative, but what about Kamala Harris presents as a person who`s going to be rolled presumably by Donald Trump?

STEELE:  Well, I don`t know.  I mean, you asked me based on what I know.  I have not seen what Kamala and others are going to do.  Joe has been there, he`s done the race, he`s got the connection, he`s got the ground game, he knows the opponent.  We`ll see as these other candidates come on line how they develop that.

I`ll tell you, though, the person who`s impressed me the most of those who have been announced has been Elizabeth Warren because she`s come out, she`s laid out very -- you know where she`s going.  You know what she`s going to fight for.  I mean, Kamala said she`s going to fight.

So tell me what you`re fighting for.  What are you going to do on taxes?  What are you going to do on health care?

How much is that progressive part of the base that Elizabeth Warren really represents pulls a Kamala Harris from California or a Mayor Pete --

WILLIAMS:  Yes.

STEELE:  -- from Indiana into that space.  That`s going to be interesting to watch.  But Joe I think has a leg up right now.

WILLIAMS:  Congresswoman, please note the former lieutenant governor of Maryland just took a pass on the last name of the mayor of south bend as did --.

STEELE:  I know booty juice.

WILLIAMS:  We`re going to get us into trouble here.  So as did I, full disclosure.  Now, Congresswoman, you`ve had the advantage two of entire minutes of listening to the former chairman of the Republican Party.  What is your answer to the question who poses the greatest threat to Donald Trump?

EDWARDS:  Well, so here`s the thing.  I don`t actually know that yet and I`ll tell you why.  I think it`s the candidate who gets through this field and demonstrates that they`re able to take a punch and get back up.

And I think for some of these candidates they`re kind of untested.  And I would put Kamala Harris in that category as well in terms of, you know, running -- I mean, a really tough race for the Senate.  That didn`t happen and I think some of these other candidates are going to have to prove that they can take that and then they can get up.

I think Joe Biden obviously has done that.  I think Elizabeth Warren has done is that as well.  But I`m not saying that they can`t.  And that`s why I`m actually looking forward to -- even though it is a crowded field, looking forward to it because I think it`s really going to be important for Democrats not to just anoint a next nominee for our party but somebody who really is going to be the standard bearer for the breadth of our party.

And I think the only way that you can get through that is through a tough, hard-fought primary that`s going to put you in the right position to fight it out for the presidency.

WILLIAMS:  We ask a lot of them, but Congresswoman Edwards and Mr. Chairman Steele keep coming back and we`re very fortunate to have them.  It`s not like Maryland is underrepresented on television these days.  Thank you both.  Appreciate it.

EDWARDS:  Thank you.

WILLIAMS:  Coming up, those of us who are old enough to remember White House press briefings get downright wistful for a time when our government communicated with the people directly and on a daily basis.  Our wistful look back when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  I didn`t know that was coming.  Forgive the photo from the Calvin Coolidge Administration.  This is the portion of our broadcast where we do the remembering so you don`t have to.

Among all the digressions from normal that we chronicle here each night, one of them is the death of the White House daily press briefing.  It`s not really even a monthly press briefing anymore.  Sarah Huckabee Sanders was last behind the podium on April 18th, 36 days ago.  That`s even pre- shutdown.

In fact, she`s only held a briefing five times since Labor Day.  By our count, there were only 61 press briefings in all of 2018, which by our count contained 365 days.  More often than not, the press secretary or her deputies have to be questioned in the driveway.  It`s like wild kingdom out there.  Sometime it`s dark, often they`re on the run.

And this is where we like to insert our regular reminder they work for your government, the money you pay out in taxes puts food on their tables.  So we decided to dig deep into our video archives back to a simpler time long ago, 2017, the first official press briefing by the brand-new press secretary, not counting his rant about the crowd size at the inauguration.  Here once again, Sean Spicer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for coming out to our first official briefing here in the Brady room.  As you know, we are all about big viewerships and large audiences here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And do you stand by your statement that was the most watched inaugural (INAUDIBLE).

SPICER:  Sure.  It was the most watched inaugural.  When you look at -- look, it was the largest watched inauguration ever.  Do you dispute that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I don`t want to get into numbers.

SPICER:  Well, I do.  I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.  We hit the ground running on day one.

On Wednesday the President will host a swearing in ceremony from -- from new Secretary of Homeland Security General James -- Kelly -- John Kelly.  The President`s a very successful businessman and negotiator.  He`s going to sit down and work with Congress to get the best deal possible, but he understands better than anybody how to negotiate a great deal.

He keeps getting told what he can`t do by this narrative that`s out there and he exceeds it every single time.  We`re here today.  I`m going to stay here as long as you want.  So I want to make sure that --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Again, the last full-blown press briefing, December 18th of this past year.  Eight months after what you just watched, Sean Spicer was gone, and one more personal update, Anthony Scaramucci, the former White House Communications Director, last week landed the coveted slot on the cast of "Celebrity Big Brother."

He vowed to survive in that role longer than the 11 days he was Trump`s communications guy, but tonight he is out, out of the "Big Brother" house under mysterious circumstances.

Coming up, what this soon to be 34-day-long government shutdown is doing to our country and the people who work for it or try to every day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go here tonight.  If you`ve been watching, you know all week we`re trying to keep the stories of our fellow citizen`s front and center, the citizens we refer to as federal employees who have now gone over a month without pay.

This week, Lara Trump, wife of Eric Trump, was asked about the human toll of this shutdown and her answer is getting a lot of attention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARA TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP DAUGHTER-IN-LAW: It`s not fair to you and we all get that, but this is so much bigger than any one person.  It is a little bit of pain but it`s going to be for the future of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Now, about those citizens being asked to endure a little bit of pain and go without money for food, you name it, rent, childcare, mortgage, car payments, chemo, utilities, college loans, all of it.  We begin tonight with a couple who went to that protest at Mitch McConnell`s Senate field office in Kentucky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETH KAY, FEDERAL EMPLOYEE:  You`re going to hear stories across the nation from federal workers who are having to choose between their medications and whether to keep their lights on, whether they can pay their car note or buy groceries for their family.  This is a dire emergency.  We`ve been held hostage, the federal employee.  Put us back to work and continue the negotiations.

PAULA METCALF, FEDERAL EMPLOYEE:  Me, myself, I`m handicapped.  I have to get a lot of medicine.  I`m not able to afford the co-pays right now because I have no money coming in.  I have no money.  I don`t know what I`m going to do if this keeps on.  Its 33 days and we need to be working so we can be having our money back.  I`m just trying to survive on what I have.  I have me, my husband, and my little dog.

JOHN ALEXANDER, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY EMPLOYEE:  The whole world is looking at us like we we`re kids.  So this is what kids do.  I can`t have my toy or whatever and I`m going to throw a tantrum.  I feel bad for, I just feel bad for the whole situation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  How about that the last gentleman works for Homeland Security.  Three federal workers, our fellow citizens being forced to go without us (ph), the shutdown goes on.  With that, that is our broadcast on a Wednesday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York. 

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END