Must see Bernie TV. TRANSCRIPT: 5/3/19, The 11th Hour with Brian Williams

Guests: Carol Leonnig, Michael McFaul, Tessa Berenson, Philip Elliott

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, Donald Trump`s hour long phone call to Vladimir Putin, yet, no warning from the President about the election meddling after Mueller found Russia interfered in sweeping and systemic fashion.  The President trampled on what could have been a good message day.  The economy is booming and unemployment hit a low point for the past half century.

And I`ll be at the big board to show you why Joe Biden is not the front runner of presidential years past.  THE 11TH HOUR on Friday night starts right now.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  I`m Steve Kornacki in for Brian Williams.  Day 834 of the Trump administration and just a short time ago, we learned that North Korea has fired an unidentified short-range missile from its Eastern Coast.  South Korea`s Joint Chiefs of Staff say the North`s missile was fired from an area on the East Coast near Wonsan.  South Korean officials and U.S. authorities are now analyzing the details of that launch.  The White House says it is monitoring the situation.

But meanwhile, President Trump is at the center of a new controversy, this, after he talked on the phone with Vladimir Putin and discussed the Mueller report in a conversation that the President says did not include any talk about Russia`s interference in the 2016 election and the possibility that it might seek to do it all over again in 2020.  The White House says the conversation took place this morning and that it went on for over an hour.

Russia`s state-run news agency released a photo of Putin on the phone with Trump.  It is a call the Kremlin says, quote -- came, "at the initiative of the American side."  This is the first time the two leaders have spoken since the release of the Mueller report.  The report finding that the Kremlin, "perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to receive that outcome.

The Trump campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and release through Russian efforts.  Hours after their call Trump sent out this message, "Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia.  We discussed trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, nuclear arms control and even the Russian hoax."

He then gave an account to reporters in the Oval Office describing a brief exchange about the conclusion of the nearly two-year Mueller investigation, that is when Trump was asked if he had confronted Putin about election interference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President, did you address the election meddling issues that came in the Mueller report with Mr. Putin today?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We discuss and he actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse but he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever.  So pretty much that`s what it was.

KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Mr. President, did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP:  Excuse me.  I`m talking.  I`m answering this question.  You are very rude.

So we had a good conversation about many different things.  OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Did you ask him not to meddle?

WELKER:  Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

TRUMP:  We didn`t discuss that.  Really, we didn`t discuss that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And during an interview with Fox News last night, the President had this response when asked if he told Putin not to meddle in the next election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I don`t think I have spoken to him about the 2020, but I certainly have told him you can`t do what you are doing.  And I don`t believe they will be.  I don`t believe they will.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, FOX NEWS CHIED INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT:  Have you been very firm with the Russian president on that?

TRUMP:  I think so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Trump`s allies in Congress and members of his own administration seem to be on a different page about all of this.  They are worried that Russia may have plans for 2020.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  I would like to do more to harden our infrastructure because the Russians did it.  It wasn`t some 400-pound guy sitting on a bed somewhere.  It was the Russians, and they`re still doing it.

CHRISTOPHER WREY, FBI DIRECTOR:  We`re very much viewing 2018 as just kind of a dress rehearsal for the big show --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  2020?

WREY:  -- in 2020.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And late this afternoon, amid mounting questions about the phone call and what Trump actually said to Putin, the White House tried to reassert control over the narrative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The President`s made clear to everybody, every person that`s not an American voter has no business in our elections.  We`ve said it a lot.  And we`re actually doing things to prevent everybody from meddling in our elections, something the other administration failed to do.

Let`s not forget that any interference in any election didn`t take place under this President, it took place under President Obama.  We`re actually taking steps to stop it and make sure it doesn`t happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And here for our lead-off discussion on a Friday night, Donny Deutsch, whose new show, "Saturday Night Politics" debuts tomorrow night, Saturday night 8:00 p.m. Eastern Right here on MSNBC.  Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Price-winning Investigative Reporter for "The Washington Post."  Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at the CIA and the Pentagon as well as former Chief Counsel for the House Intelligence Committee.  And Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia.  Thank you all for being with us.

Carol, let me just start with you, this phone call, this communication between President Trump and Vladimir Putin today, it had been a while.  I think at least as far as we know since they has spoken, do you have any sense what precipitated this today?

CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST POLITICAL INVESTIGATIONS REPORTER:  No.  Other than the President saying rather tasked telling the American public that it was the President who initiated the call.

And actually, you know, what`s interesting about this call, Steve, is it feels every time they have the conversation about we learn what they discussed, especially what they didn`t discuss, it is a little bit of a shocker.  But it is a continuation of the kinds of conversations that the President has had with Putin over the last two years.  His primary focus is believing that he alone can have this great relationship building experience with Putin and that that`s worth something and that he puts that above the national security concerns or the concerns of allies who see a hostile power who is messing with our democracy, ordering the poisoning of some of our folks that he considers his enemies on foreign soil.  He puts that relationship above a lot of things people think he should reprioritize.

WILLIAMS:  Michael McFaul, I wonder from the standpoint of Putin and folks around him in Russia how this conversation at least as we now understand it, how they read it, if this is something that the President initiated.  They certainly know.  The mother report came out recently.  The President has this conversation, does not bring up this topic of election interference at all.  What does that read as to Putin and folks in Moscow?

AMB. MICHAEL MCFAL, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA:  Great news.  It means that maybe there is a possibility to engage directly with President Trump, to achieve things that they want to achieve and to create a gap between the President and his administration as you rightly pointed out.  They are oftentimes not on the same page.

And here is an example, if you read their readout, number one initiated by us, so it is a good question why did we initiate the call?  What was the objective of the call?

But then when you read off the Russian side, they are putting down their markers about their policy.  And Steve, I used to work at the White House for President Obama.  I used to set up these phone calls with the Russians.  And we would write the readout of the call before the call happened, tweak it perhaps to state what our policy objectives were.

So, for instance, if I were writing the readout, I would have said we talked about how Russia should not interfere in Venezuela.  We talked about how Russia should withdraw their forces and their support for separatists in Ukraine.  We talked about how they -- there will be dire consequences if they intervene in our elections in 2020.  The President`s readout had none of that kind of language.

KORNACKI:  I wonder what you`re describing.  Your sense with Trump and this administration from he -- does he, do you think, have policy objectives in calling Putin or you`ve gotten a sense through the years this is just a guy in some ways he likes?

MCFAUL:  Well, I`d say two things.  Number one, remember President`s words have consequences.  I`ve heard what Secretary of State Pompeo said about the Russian interference in Venezuela and what his own national security adviser who works just down the, you know, just down the hallway from him, what the President said about Venezuela in a good chat with Putin was completely add odds with him.  So that undermines their leverage when they are speaking with the Russians.

But to your broad point, I think the President has a theory of diplomacy that if he can just engage personally with Putin he`ll improve relations.  He doesn`t think about what are the concrete national security objectives he`s seeking to advance.  Instead, the goal for him is a good relationship with Putin.  Whereas that should be the means to try to achieve some other concrete objectives.

WILLIAMS:  Donny, just in terms of your read on Trump, you`re familiar with him going back some ways here, it`s been a consistent pattern it seems when the topic of Russia, when the topic of Russia`s role in the 2016 campaign comes up.  The President focuses on that issue of collusion.  And he can point to the Mueller report and he can say the Mueller report did not find any collusion between Trump, his campaign, and Russia.  But that question of interference, of even if there was no coordination Russia was interfering in the campaign, he seems to take that as that`s an attack on the legitimacy of his campaign.  He just doesn`t want to engage.

DONNY DEUTSCH, MSNBC HOST, "SATURDAY NIGHT POLITICS":  Well, I want to stick on the word attack.  There was a cyber attack. There is not a gray area here.  There is not a 99 percent, there was 100 percent that Russia launched a cyber attack on the United States to interfere in our elections.  That`s an attack.

That`s an act of war in my modern day of technology.  Putin is behind that.  This is not a country that kind of people are running off on their own.  And Trump is having a friendly conversation with him.  You know we`re analyzing what`s going on our conversation.  How was their a friendly conversation in the first place?

Lindsey Graham, who a day before is railing on behalf of Trump vis-a-vis Barr, and at the same time is saying this is outrageous. They interfered and standing by with Trump, how is he having any conversation with Putin?  We were attacked.

If our elections are ever in question, we don`t work.  That`s it.  It`s over.  And if -- our number one geopolitical enemy can in any way call into question our elections, and we know that`s a fact and the guy who was the puppet master over there is doing it and our leader is having a friendly conversation, that is a level of insanity that we have normalized and talked about as if, why is he having that conversation.  What`s in this conversation?

KORNACKI:  Here`s what I`m curious, though, the reaction that this call and then his account of the call as you hear from that -- in that talking to reporters today.  He had to know on some level of let`s going generate this kind of reaction, this kind of criticism.  Strategically, do you have a sense what he thinks he`s accomplishing with it?

DEUTSCH:  I think that, first of all, what he does, which is always stunning, you talked about this in the open, a good news day, once again, lowest unemployment in a half of century, 260,000 jobs created.  GDP still above three percent.  What does he do?  He trips on himself and goes in another direction.  So, I don`t know if there are some masochistic tendency that he can`t have a good day.  It doesn`t feel good, it`s kind of hurt.

I think on some level his thinking is, if it seems okay between us, that means nothing bad happen.  I think he`s oversimplifies things to such dam (ph) down way that the facts rely what he does.  So, there is no rational explanation.

KORNACKI:  And Jeremy Bash, we also -- we played that clip, there is Sara Sanders this afternoon in the wake of this call starting to get some attention saying we are doing things, she`s saying.  The administration is doing things to prevent Russian interference again in the 2020 election.  Are you seeing -- do you see signs that that is -- that is in fact the case?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  No.  And in fact I think it`s being undermined, Steve, by the signal that the President sent today by his phone call.  Never in American history has an American president said to an adversary country, we don`t think what you did was an attack when there is clear evidence it was an attack.  And not only that, but we welcome it again and let`s conspire on the phone right now to talk about how we`re going to speak publically about this hoax.

It is the President engaged in real-time obstruction of justice trying to throw sand in the gears of the congressional, follow up to the Mueller investigation.  And it is further proof as if any were needed that Donald Trump not only is in denial about the Russian interference and attack, but he actually welcomes it.

KORNACKI:  We also have that news Ambassador McFaul of North Korea with those -- firing those missiles.  And you had that meeting just, I think, a month ago.  Vladimir Putin met with North Korea`s leader.  In terms of that phone call today and in terms of the role Russia can play going forward in addressing the North Korea situation, talk about what Russia could do and what a Trump/Putin relationship could do there.

MCFAUL:  It`s a good question.  I have a great answer.  We don`t know a lot about that Vladimir stock meeting.  I think it`s pretty marginal, to be honest.

I think they`re on the margins.  President Putin just wanted to remind the world that he still plays.  But I think the fact of the missile launch is much more important.  That was -- so far, that was the signature achievement of these big, bilateral summits, the two that President Trump had.

The long-term goal of denuclearization is years away, if ever.  I`m skeptical that it`ll never happen.  But he always get back while there`s been no launches or now there has been launches.  What does that say about his diplomacy with Kim Jong-un before.

KORNACKI:  And Carol, you have a report.  I do want to bring this up and get this in.  It`s about a witness from the Mueller investigation here named Annie Donaldson`s.  So, "keeping track of the President`s action was Annie Donaldson, it was McGahn`s chief of staff.  Don McGahn, a loyal and low-profile conservative lawyer who figures in the Mueller report as one of the most important narrators of internal White House turmoil.  Just in the middle of another Russia Fiasco she wrote on March 2, 2017.  On March 21st, Donaldson recounts how Trump told McGahn he was furious with the testimony that Comey gave to congress about the Russia probe, beside himself, she wrote of the President getting hotter and hotter, get rid."

This is an interesting report.  Tell us a little bit about what you learned.

LEONNIG:  Well, I like how it connects to our conversation now about the President and his constant buddy-buddy kind of bromance with Putin that he appears to want so badly because in March of 2017 Annie Donaldson, Chief of Staff to Don McGahn, the White House counsel was basically trying to capture in realtime in her notebook a workplace diary how the President was raging against the Russia investigation by the FBI and how he believed that this was both a cloud over him and also intimated that he didn`t like it bearing down on him and steam rolling his way.  He did not like that scrutiny.

However, what`s fascinating about Annie Donaldson notes is she`s essentially the taping system.  It`s imprecise, of course it`s not tape recording like in Nixon`s White House.  But in these fragments, she captures the drama and fear that the President was engaged in something that at least looked like criminal conduct, criminal obstruction, if it wasn`t obstruction on its face.

And the efforts by Don McGahn, the White House counsel to try to reign in the President`s worst impulses.  Especially in March and in June to try to get him to see that what he was doing was verging on a crime.

KORNACKI:  And Jeremy, this is just another one of those examples, so much reporting out there, so much we`ve learned about those months, those early months of the Trump presidency, probably the first three to six months where if there is one thing I see sort of big picture it`s the collision of all of these instincts that Donald Trump brought to the presidency with the institution of the presidency, with the federal government, with the relationship between the branches, just a collision there that caused all sorts of upheaval.

BASH:  Well, he didn`t want to be bound by the rule of law, Steve.  And I think the big story of the week, of course, was the testimony of the Attorney General in front of the Senate and the non-testimony the following day in front of the House.

And I think Annie Donaldson who Carol illuminates in this interesting piece today is going to have to testify because Congress is going to have to understand when Bill Barr makes the contention that, no, the President didn`t try to have Mueller fired, he just tried to have him removed, which of course a ridiculous distinction that no lawyer should advance.  Annie Donaldson is going to shed light on that and so we have to hear from her.

KORNACKI:  And final question to you, Donny.  You have some familiarity with Michael Cohen, another name we`ve been talking about.  He is in the news because this is his last weekend of freedom.  What is your expectation?  Is he somebody we are going to be hearing from in the context of any of this investigations going forward?

DEUTSCH:  I spoke to Michael this afternoon and on a personal note, it`s obviously a tough time for him.  Forty-eight hours he`s going to be going away.

Look, he has been cooperating with the Southern District.  And actually the committees are still very much engaged with him.  As a matter fact, today, they were reaching out.  He`s going to jail in two days.  And basically he will not have the ability in jail, because he won`t have access to his computer to go through a lot of things they continue to ask for.  And I think that`s something the committee is going to have to somehow figure out.

Look, he is very engaged, has been with the Southern District.  I do believe over time and I do believe I have always said this all along, this ends in the Southern District.  It was never going to be about Mueller.  Whether he makes it to his next term or not, I think they take down the entire Trump enterprise with the Rico and I think a lot of a Michael and Weisselberg will have to do what adds to that.

So, Michael Cohen, you might not see him for awhile, but I think on the downfall of the Trump empire, he will be a name we will hear a lot of.

KORNACKI:  All right, Donny Deutsch in 24 hours from now this time tomorrow night, your new show will have already debuted.  We look forward to watching "Saturday Night Politics" with Donny Deutsch.  Thank you for stopping by.

Carol Leonnig, Jeremy Bash, Michael McFaul, thank you as well.

And coming up, this week brought us the fireworks of the Barr hearing.  Could we hear from Robert Mueller next?  The latest developments in both the House and the Senate that could bring the special counsel to Capitol Hill.

And later, the latest on the 2020 election, including why Joe Biden may not be the Jed Bush of this election cycle.  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Friday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WELKER:  Mr. President, should Mueller testify?  Would you like to see him testify?

TRUMP:  I don`t know.  That`s up to our attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Attorney General William Barr has already said he has no objection to Robert Mueller appearing before Congress.  NBC News reports that House Judiciary Committee has begun discussions with Mueller`s team about scheduling testimony, but that nothing has been finalized.

Earlier today, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham sent Mueller a letter offering him the opportunity to testify about any possible misrepresentation Barr may have made of a phone call the two had regarding Barr`s March 24th letter.

On Wednesday Barr said Mueller did not challenge the letter`s accuracy.  All of this as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler sent a final counter offer to Barr to obtain the full version of the Mueller report.  Nadler wants the unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence.

He had issued a subpoena on April 19th.  Today, he set an ultimatum writing in a letter to Barr, "The committee is prepared to make every realistic effort to reach an accommodation with the department.  But if the department persists in its baseless refusal to comply with a validly issued subpoena, the committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse."

The deadline Nadler set for Barr in the Justice Department to respond this coming Monday at 9:00 a.m.

With us with more, Tessa Berenson, White House Correspondent for "Time" magazine and former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.  Thank you both for being with us.

Tessa, let me just start with you.  I think it`s the question on everybody`s mind coming out of this week, the odds that we hear from the former Special Counsel Robert Mueller before Congress.

TESSA BERENSON, TIME WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Well, look, the White House has said that they don`t plan on interfering.  You just played a clip of Trump saying that and White House officials have said that to me as well that they could intervene and prevent him from testifying, but as of now they don`t plan to.

But one thing I will say is that the White House is not particularly happy with Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  They -- I`ve talked to multiple White House officials who say the prevailing view inside the building is that they don`t think volume two of his report on obstruction should have been written.  They think it was outside of his regulations.

He just needed to make a prosecutorial decision and shouldn`t have written 200 pages of bad behavior of Trump basically without deciding to prosecute him.  And they compared it to when James Comey said Hillary Clinton was careless in the handling of her e-mails in the summer of 2016 but didn`t prosecute her.  That ended up being one of the stated reasons for Comey`s firing.  And they feel that Mueller has done the same thing here with the President on obstruction.

So while they have said that they won`t interfere with him testifying, I think they will be watching with interest and really looking for some answers from him on the decisions he made in volume two.

KORNACKI:  And Joyce, I think just the fact that you had Mueller himself now emerge as sort of, well you have the Attorney General at that hearing this week saying that he considered the phone call that he had with Mueller, he considered him to be snitty.  I think that was his word.  Do you think that the reaction, sort of, in the public square to his report, some of the criticism, some of the comments like the one from Barr, do you think on any way that has effected Mueller`s desire, willingness, willingness to speak publicly, the sorts of things he might be willing to say publicly?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  You know, I doubt that it has impacted Mueller much, if at all.  Prosecutors are used to facing harsh criticism from the public.  We typically like to joke that if you are making your friends as angry as you are making your enemies, you are doing a good job.  So I don`t think that this will impact Mueller.

I`m sure he will look forward to a trip up to Capitol Hill about as much as he would look forward to a root canal.  It`s not really a place that DOJ employees like to find themselves.  And I don`t think Mueller will be any exception to that, but he will obviously go if he`s subpoenaed.

But something that we should all, I think, keep in mind to temper our expectations for his testimony is that just because the White House permits him to appear for testimony does not means he`ll be released from his obligation to protect grand jury material and classified material.  I expect a lot of what we we`ll hear from Bob Mueller when he does testify is that his written report speaks for itself.

KORNACKI:  Well, that`s one of the other questions here, Tessa, we mentioned that House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, setting this Monday 9:00 a.m. deadline.  They want the underlying evidence from the Mueller investigation.  They want every member to be able to look at the unredacted report.

What are the chances that between now and 9:00 a.m. Monday the Justice Department says, "OK, let`s make a deal here."

BERENSON:  Probably slim.  You know, we`re in this phase of brinksmanship right now on both sides.  And I don`t think either side particularly wants to end up in a court battle here, but that`s the way we`re heading unless they can reach some kind of accommodation.  You know, on the White House side Trump has said we`re fighting all subpoenas, you know, and he`s obviously the head of the Executive Branch.

I`ve talked to White House officials who say the lawyers in the White House have a slightly more nuanced view of things and they`re taking that broad directive but not necessarily implementing it exactly.  So, you know, we have to see if Congress and the Executive Branch are able to reach some agreement here or else it`s going to end up in the courts.

KORNACKI:  Well, Joyce, that`s an interesting question, this idea if it then ends up in the courts.  So Nadler is saying, "Look, if there is no compliance by 9:00 a.m. Monday or no indication there is going to be compliance, I guess, by 9:00 a.m. Monday, he says they will initiate contempt proceedings to hold Barr, the attorney general in contempt of Congress.

Well, the way these have played out in the past, at least my understanding of them, is that precipitates a fight that can last years.  You know, Congress may ultimately win the fight, but if they get what they`re working for, it can take two plus years from the standpoint of, you know, this is something Democrats say they`re trying to sort out this summer into this fall.  Presidential election in a year and a half effectively if this is kicked into the courts, is this something that we`re not going to learn anything more about until after the 2020 election?

VANCE:  You know, that`s a possibility and you`re exactly right, this is a delayed game by the White House.  This is all about slowing the role, making sure that nothing happens, putting off any consequences for as long as possible.

But we have seen an interesting reaction from the courts in a different context.  That`s the Deutsche Bank lawsuit that Trump has filed trying to keep his banks from releasing information that Congress seeks to subpoena.  And the judge at least in that one case put the parties on a very expedited briefing schedule rather than giving several weeks for response.  She actually began to require pleadings and intervention almost immediately.

So it will be interesting to see how the judiciary responds, and if they`ll try to push the parties to go through the accommodation process that they would normally use to work this out.  But perhaps get tough if they don`t.

KORNACKI:  All right, Joyce Vance, Tessa Berenson, thank you both for being with us.

And coming up, I know, I know, it`s early.  We`re supposed to say the polls are meaningless at this point.  Except maybe they aren`t completely meaningless.  And when it comes to Joe Biden, the newest numbers we have, maybe they`re telling us something pretty big.  I`m at the big board to sort it all out as soon as we come back with more of "The 11th Hour."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  All right.  Welcome back.  Well, you remember in the run off to Joe Biden getting into the race, there was a school of thought out there about his candidacy.  Some said that, "Hey, the day Joe Biden gets in the Democratic race will be the best day he has as a candidate.  It will all be downhill from there."

There was some thought that might be the case.  But here we are about a week or a week plus into the Biden campaign.  This is what you are looking at.  This is the average of all polls now on the Democratic side, Biden in first place, Biden at 35%.  That is significantly higher than where he was just over a week ago, just before he got in this race.

There has been a bounce for Joe Biden, a big post-announcement bounce.  Now that he is the race, his support has moved up.  He`s doubling up his nearest competitor.  That`s where the race stands now that Joe Biden is in it.

So the question becomes what does that mean?  What does that tell us about the strength he takes into this race?  Well, we have been talking about him as a very weak front runner.  He`s been compared to very weak front runners we have seen in presidential races in the recent week past.  So let`s compare where Biden is now that we`ve seen this bounce to where some of those very weak candidates were in the recent past.

So let`s take a look here.  We can advance it.  There we go.  So Biden, he steps in 35% and that`s now a lot of people have been saying, it`s Jeb Bush all over again.  A lot of comparisons have been made to Joe Biden now, Jeb Bush in 2016.

So where after his announcement in 2016, did Jeb Bush stand on the Republican side?  Let`s see, 15%.  That`s where he stood.  So already you see Jeb versus Biden.  Biden is in territory Jeb never touched.  Jeb picked at 17.8% in the average.  And Mitt Romney, where was he, 19.3.

So again what you see here is Joe Biden already is in territory.  Romney ended up winning the nomination.  It took him a long time to get his support up to that level.  Jeb never got near there.  So already Biden is in territory, they haven`t been in.

Then there is this.  How about just the sense of good will in the party toward it?

So look at this.  The favorable/unfavorable number for Biden is plus 62, 62 points more favorable than unfavorable.  That`s how Democrats with Joe Biden.  When Jeb got in, what was his number?  Plus 38, not nearly as strong.  When Romney got in, what was his number, plus 36, not as strong.

So Biden stronger than these weak candidates he`s been compared to.  I think he starts out as a pretty, I`d say pretty strong, not overwhelming, but he is a front runner in this race.  I think if you`re a Biden skeptic, here is what you would point to, one thing.

Take a look at this.  Rudy, remember him?  Rudy ran in the Republican race for president back in 2008.  When he got in, 38%, very similar to where Joe Biden is right now, and what happened with Rudy Giuliani?  It was a long, slow decline, steady until the end when he was a little bit more than -- this low, declined, and he dropped out of the race with one delegate.

If you`re Biden, that`s the dread scenario.  Over time do you just not wear well.  Maybe your age shows too much?  Who knows?  But that`s the dread scenario there.

But look, when you compare him to Jeb, when you compare him to some of these other recent weak front runners, Biden looks stronger now than they did.  We`ll see how it holds up.

Coming up, why Biden still seems to be on the president`s mind this Friday night when THE 11TH HOUR continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think that Biden seems to have the lead.  I`d be very happy if it were Biden, sleepy Joe.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE, CHIEF INTELLIGENCE CORRESPONDENT, FOX NEWS:  Why?

TRUMP:  I think he did a bad job.  I`d be running against --

HERRIDGE:  So you think he`s beatable?

TRUMP:  I wish him well.  I`d like him to get it.  I`d be happy.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I understand the President had been tweeting a lot about me this morning and for a while.  I wonder why the hell he`s doing that.  I`m going to be the object of his attention for a while.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  Well, Joe Biden seemed to get President Trump`s attention this weekend.  It started with this tweet storm on Tuesday.  Trump was blasting Biden`s support from the Firefighters Union, and he was still at it tonight, tweeting just a few hours ago, quote, "The International Association of Firefighters Union is rebelling on their very foolish leader.  Perhaps they will vote him out of office.  He doesn`t get it."

With us tonight, Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter and Philip Elliott, Politics Correspondent for Time Magazine, thanks to both of you for being with us.

Well, Philip, let me just start with you.  What is it in particular about the Firefighters Union endorsement that seems to have gotten the president so worked up?  Again, we say, he tweets a lot.  But even by his standards, he`s going at extremely hard on this particular point.

PHILIP ELLIOTT, POLITICS CORRESPONDENT, TIME MAGAZINE:  I was talking to some of my friends who work for the Firefighters Union, and they are very happy he`s doing this.  They realized that they have not been this politically relevant for a very long time, possibly since they endorsed John Kerry in 2004 and basically handed New Hampshire to him.

The President is so upset about this, though, because he sees firefighters in the same category as he sees military and police, and he wants to believe that he is beloved by these American heroes.  For him, with so much in politics, it is a personal front to him that they would not be with him. 

KORNACKI:  You know, Jon, there was a lot of talk in the run up to Biden getting in, but what kind of strategy he would run on, how much would he engage Trump, how much would he engage the rest of the Democrats?  But it seems to me that if you`re Joe Biden and you`re the front runner, at least right now in the polls, if it`s possible to just engage in a year-long fight with Donald Trump, that`s as good as anything else in terms of solidifying your support with Democratic voters.

JONATHAN ALLEN, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, NBC NEWS:  I mean, his strategy certainly right now is to not fight at all with other Democrats.  I mean, as you were saying earlier, his popularity among Democrats is high.

One way to keep that popularity high is to not engage with the other candidates and some of the Democrats, like in addition to that fighting with Donald Trump at the time when basically all of the Democrats agree on one thing.  And I don`t mean the candidates, I mean all of the Democratic voters agree on one thing, which is that they want to get rid of Donald Trump, and they want to figure out the best candidate to beat him.

You know, this is a way, as you suggest, for Biden to recommend himself.  At the same time, you know, I think there`s an interpretation.  You heard it from Joe Biden earlier, having a little bit of fun with it.  There`s an interpretation that the President talking about Joe Biden means that the President is somehow afraid of Joe Biden.  I think what we`ve seen from the President in the past is he`s very willing to talk about the things that he wants to see happen too.

I think he believes that he can make things a foregone conclusion by talking about them.  So I wouldn`t necessarily interpret his attention to Joe Biden as a sign of fear.

KORNACKI:  I mean, that`s the interesting question here, too, Philip.  I mean, part of this process for Democratic voters, obviously is, there`s a strategic element here in picking their nominee next year.  They are asking themselves, you see this a little bit in the polls.  Who is the most electable candidate?  Who can win?  Who can beat Trump.

That`s the message that Biden is trying to put out there.  Hey, I can get the union folks, I can get, you know, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, win those states back.  And that will be that.  To the extent that this is Trump versus Biden on the public stage right now, the Democratic voters get a chance to make that judgment on whether he matches up well.

ELLIOTT:  Right.  And part of the season why you`re seeing the vice president`s poll numbers be so strong at this point and maybe durable is that, there is a perception that Joe Biden is the best person to win back the Obama from 2012 voter who went to Trump in 2016.  And that`s mainly white working class voters and a handful of states in the upper Midwest.

There`s a sense that Joe Biden is perhaps at an advantage of winning those voters over.  And if Donald Trump is to hold the presidency, he has to maintain his choke hold on those voters and keep them at his camp.  Any defections could cause him the presidency very easily.

KORNACKI:  Jon, very quickly, some news out this afternoon as well.  I heard some New York Daily News reporting that Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, going to get in the race for president next week.

Well, over 20 candidates it looks like now if he jumps in there.  You know, look, I know there`s a lot of skepticism about this, and on the other hand, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana is running at close to 10% in some polls.  Is there more room potentially than we think for de Blasio?

ALLEN:  Well, it`s not at all clear to me, Steve, that the major of New York is more popular in New York than the mayor of South Bend, Indiana is in New York.  So why millions of Americans are asking why for Bill de Blasio, obviously Bill de Blasio is looking at the presidency and asking why not.

And he`s not alone.  More than 20 Democratic candidates, so I guess he will give it a try in Iowa and New Hampshire perhaps, and unto all the other states.

KORNACKI:  And we`ll see.  The first test for some of these candidates now is going to be that debate stage.  I believe it is capped at 20 if there`s more than 20, there might be a few that don`t end up making the cut.  That could be part of this too.  Jonathan and Philip are sticking around.

And coming up, the economy may be booming, but is that enough to catch the number that Trump needs to win re-election.   We`ll back after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I`ve had my best poll numbers, too, so I feel very good.  But our economy is raging, and when we have an economy that maybe is the best economy we`ve ever had, people tend to like you.  So we`re both doing well in that regard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  New numbers from the Labor Department today prove the economy is on a roll.  We learned the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since December of 1969.

But as our friend Jonathan Allen asks today, will it carry Trump in 2020?  He writes, "Under normal circumstances, a President riding these economic numbers would be coasting toward a sweeping re-election.   But Trump`s overall approval ratings have been consistently low, his matchup scores against potential Democratic rivals have been consistently unimpressive and his unwillingness to use his bully pulpit to keep the electorate focussed on the good news for him remains almost inexplicable in traditional political terms."  Jonathan and Phil are back with us.

Well, Jon, I guess, OK, the economic news is it couldn`t be better for a president from a political standpoint.  But I guess asking Donald Trump to behave and to treat those numbers as any of his predecessors or either party would have, it`s just not something in his playbook, is it?

ALLEN:  I mean, he wants to talk about anything but the economy except on particular days or particular moments.  He wants to talk about a firefighter`s endorsement.  He wants to talk about impeachment.  He wants to talk about immigration crisis.  He wants to talk about his relationship with Vladimir Putin or with Kim Jong-un.

This is a president who could be talking about these economic numbers all the time.  And look, as Democrats will point out, there are a lot of Americans who aren`t feeling the benefit of GDP growth at 3.2%, who weren`t feeling the benefits of unemployment rate of 3.6%.  And at the same time, these numbers could be so much worse for President Trump or for any other president.

If your frame is, what is the economy doing under a president?  This is about as good as the President could hope for right now.  And he`s just not hammering it.  When I talk to Republican strategist, they say, "If he would just put the a little bit more energy into this, he might see that his approval numbers would track upward with it."

KORNACKI:  Well, Phil, look, it`s obviously a huge question whether this will be sustained for the next year and half.  But I do start to wonder.  Look, if the question we have is, you know, as Trump received political benefit from the economy so far, not much evidence of it.  But if it were to continue at this phase, if it were to get better even.  At some point, is the cumulative effect just so much that almost, he would have to rise a little bit?

ELLIOTT:  Well, that`s the question.  And Democratic strategist I speak with, recognize that this is a very real risk to their odds of taking back the White House.  Which is why you see folks like Elizabeth Warren, couched this in away that, yes, the economy is working.  But is it working for you?  Yes, the stock market is growing but half of American roughly don`t own stocks and aren`t seeing gain from this.  That, OK, the President might be having great GDP growth here.

But imagine what it could be if we weren`t involved in a trade war.  And if you`re a farmer feeling squeezed by the tariffs, if you`re a manufacturer who sees that foreign direct investment coming and has slowed down because we`re in a spout with china.  If you`re an autoworker who just lost their job at the GM plants that shut down, that there`s an opportunity there, and if you`re a small business owner in one of those communities, there`s a really real squeeze on you as well.

I`m just looking at the Lordstown, Ohio plan, there`s a study out that the regional impact that was $8 billion into the local economy apart from the job.  There`s like small stores, restaurants, doctor`s offices, the spill over effects have been massive.  They`ve happened on the president`s watch, no necessarily because of him in all cases.  But that is an economic message that Democrats think they can win on -- run on and win on.

KORNACKI:  All right.  Well, again we are, you know, a year and a half, so a little bit more to election day, and if it were to continue like this and Trump`s number were not to improve at all, we might have to retire that old cliche about "it`s the economy stupid" that from the `92 campaign.  Jonathan Allen, Philip Elliott, thank you both for joining us.

Coming up, we take a trip in the wayback machine.  Before the presidential run and his decades in Congress, Bernie Sanders was a mayor and a TV host.  We`ll take you to the mid-`80s and the takes, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KORNACKI:  And the last thing before we go tonight.  Bernie Sanders of course got his start in local politics back in the 1980s.  He was a mayor of a small city in Vermont, Burlington.  Well, the largest city in Vermont but a small city nationally.  And part of small city politics back in the `80s, local cable access television.

When he was in mayor, Sanders hosted a cable access show called "Bernie Speaks with the Community."  And yes, there are tapes quoting now from Politico.

Until this week, most of the 51 episodes were available to the public only as videotapes in the offices of Chittenden County`s Channel 17, the government access channel for Burlington and the surrounding area.  Politico Magazine paid to have them digitized.  And CCTV says it is now making them available on its website.  We took a look here some of our favorite moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENT CANDIDATE:   Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi.

SANDERS:  Do you want to be on not candid camera?

Does anyone know what cocaine does to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

SANDERS:  What is it?  That`s right.  It screws up your mind and screws up your body.  How about even smoking cigarettes, who do smokes?  Let me -- come raise your hand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My mom and my father.

SANDERS:  Other than your parents, who smokes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Me.

SANDERS:  You smoker.  I`ve seen a lot of kids with 12 and 11 smoking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don`t smoke.

SANDERS:  All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I`m 9.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don`t smoke because I`m a little kid.  I`m only 5 years old.

SANDERS:  Well, let me start off by saying it`s an interesting hair-do. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thank you. 

SANDERS:  Lipstick is also very interesting.  Nicola, screen little focus, I know it seems to be a black, is that right?

What kind of society would you like to see?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I`m kind of an anarchist, but communism doesn`t bother me, like a true communism where it just goes to like no freedom of enterprise.  Because then, everybody gets a chance to live and be safe, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I`m kind of anarchist but I don`t believe in total anarchy because that were just going to kill ourselves.

SANDERS:  Thank you very much for your fore right views.  OK, see you.

You`re on television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, mom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Please don`t interview me.  OK.

SANDERS:  Hi, done rather.  So 60 minutes.  We`re here in Burlington, Vermont.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Dear, come here a second.  I want to introduce you to Bernie. 

SANDERS:  Oh my god, it`s such a frightening person.

Do you like skating out on the ice?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

SANDERS:  Pretty nice day, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mm-hmm.

KORNACKI:  Have you fallen yet?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A little bit.

SANDERS:  A little bit.  I see you got a bloody lip.  That`s OK.  Let me see you skate.  Are you good skater?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Pretty good.

SANDERS:  Pretty good, excellent.  OK.

Head off into the sunset, bye-bye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Bye, Bernie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KORNACKI:  And bye-bye from us, too.  That is our broadcast for tonight and for this week.  Thank you for being with us, good night from NBC News Headquarters in New York.

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