ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, it`s a scene from a blockbuster movie, not a July 4th celebration on the National Mall. Tanks descend on the U.S. capital ahead of Donald Trump`s spectacle at the Lincoln Memorial.
Meanwhile, these are the pictures migrant children have drawn of their time in detention centers. And based on his Twitter feed, the President sees the conditions they face as a deterrent to those who might follow them into the United States.
And an about-face on the census, after a Supreme Court ruling saying the feds didn`t have a good enough reason to include a census citizenship question, Trump orders the DOJ to get it back in. Neal Katyal helps us make sense of it as "The 11th Hour" gets under way on a Wednesday night.
Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams. Day 895 of the Trump administration. There could not be a more stark split screen on the eve of the nation`s 243rd birthday. On the left preparations for Trump`s July 4th "Salute to America" are under way on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. a celebration featuring tanks, military flyovers, and a speech from the commander in chief taking place as his administration is in the throes of a full-blown humanitarian crisis on the right of your screen on the nation`s southern border.
The President has promised "Our July 4th Salute to America at the Lincoln Memorial is looking to be really big. It will be the show of a lifetime. The cost of our great Salute to America tomorrow will be very little compared to what it`s worth. We own the planes. We have the pilots. The airport is right next door. Andrews. All we need is the fuel. We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats. Nice!"
Democrats in Washington on the campaign trail have criticized the President`s plans. Just a short time ago the Deputy White House Press Secretary had this response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOGAN GIDLEY, DEPUTY WHIE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Now, look, it`s pretty clear at this point that the Democrats in this country hate this President more than they love America. I was with the President for quite some time this afternoon talking about the speech, listening to him talk about the themes that he wants to address. And there`s not a political bone in the entire speech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: NBC News has learned there is concern among some top military officials that tomorrow`s event could put the Armed Forces in a position to be used politically even though Pentagon lawyers gave the OK for participation and attendance.
"The New York Times" also quotes -- reports "some retired and active-duty military officers and privately even some Defense Department personnel said the participation of the military in President Trump`s "Salute to America" appears to politicize the armed forces on a day when the nation traditionally toasts its independence in a non-partisan environment."
Earlier on this network the mayor of Washington, D.C. expressed her apprehensions about tomorrow night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER, (D) WASHINGTON, D.C.: This has been a non-partisan fun family event where people come from all walks of life, from all points of this region and the world to celebrate the fireworks. So we hope that the president will stick to that and not turn it into that, and we hope too that we never see the spectacle of our military force being on display as a show of force to our own people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now, Politico reports there`s concern about White House aides about their ability to pull off what Trump expects to see. Reporter Nancy Cook, who joins me in a moment, writes "White House and the Republican National Committee have spent the last week scrambling to distribute VIP tickets. White house officials and allies are wringing their hands over the risk of the hastily arranged event morphing into Trump`s Inauguration 2.0 in which the size of the crowd and the ensuing media coverage do not meet the President`s own outsized expectations for the event. "They started this too late and everyone has plans already," says Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor."
Once again, this is all happening as critics are slamming the administration for its handling of the situation at the southern border. Just yesterday a Homeland Security Inspector General`s report detailed the squalid overcrowded and dangerous conditions in which many migrants are being held. It quoted a senior border official who warned of the conditions being a ticking time bomb.
This afternoon amid preparations for his "Salute to America," the President defended his administration, writing quote, "Our border patrol people are not hospital workers, doctors, or nurses. The Democrats bad immigration laws, which could easily be fixed, are the problem. Many of these illegal aliens are living far better now than where they came from and in far safer conditions. If illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detention centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!"
Late today, one House Democrat had a scathing response.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D), VIRGINIA, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: For him to say what he said today is virtually to concede by implication that yes, I deliberately made the conditions inhumane to try to discourage them from coming. The results, the consequences, the trauma, the actual deaths of people in our care be damned. And I think that`s just a value no American should want to emulate or accept the day before our independence celebration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And tonight, it appears Trump may be inching closer to achieving another key goal, adding a question about citizenship to the 2020 census. And this comes after a stunning reversal by his own Justice Department.
Yesterday the Department of Justice agreed to leave that question off the form. A retreat that came after the Supreme Court froze the administration`s plans to include that question. After a couple of angry Twitter messages from Trump and a conversation with a federal judge, justice lawyers today changed course and announced that the White House is now seeking a way to restore that citizenship question to the census.
Here for our lead-off discussion on a Wednesday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the "New York Times." The aforementioned Nancy Cook, White House reporter for Politico. And General Barry McCaffrey, a retired U.S. army four-star general, a heavily decorated combat veteran of Vietnam and U.S. ground commander in the Gulf war among other distinguished roles. Thanks to the three of you for getting us kicked off on a Wednesday night.
Nancy, Donald Trump has been wanting to have something that feels like a military parade or a military display for more than two years now. Something is going to happen tomorrow, but there seems to be a good deal of chaos around the way this is being organized. What are you hearing in terms of the concerns?
NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, really what the concerns are that there`s a question about will enough people show up. The White House and the Republican National Committee has all of these VIP seats that they have been trying to off-load. Originally they tried to give them to a bunch of high-end donors. Now I`ve been hearing even tonight after I published this story today that they`re really willing to off-load them to anyone.
One White House staffer that I talked to late this afternoon took home 15 tickets and was just going to hand them out to whomever she could tomorrow. And the big concern on the part of the White House and the RNC is whether or not these seats will be filled. They don`t want it to be like the inauguration where Trump ends up really upset by the crowd size and then ends up sort of not giving the patriotic non-political speech that so many advisers want him to give.
VELSHI: Right. And Peter, with respect to the inauguration, the President didn`t have a lot of choices in how many people were actually going to show up. But because it didn`t go his way he sent out his then Press Secretary Sean Spicer to say this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHIE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Photographs of the inaugural proceedings were intentionally framed in a way in one particular tweet to minimize the enormous support that it gathered on the National Mall. This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. That`s what you guys should be writing and covering.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Are we worried we`re going to see something like that again?
PETER BAKER: "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a President who obviously thinks a lot about crowd sizes, as even in the recent protests in Hong Kong, the thing that struck him --
BAKER: -- he said publicly was the crowd size there. When Kamala Harris announced her candidacy for president, the thing he mentioned in an interview with my colleagues and me was her crowd size. It`s something that`s on his mind. So yes, you can be sure that he`ll be watching very carefully to see how many people come tomorrow, and he will probably be making comparisons if the crowds are good and if they`re bad then he`ll be probably finding ways to, you know, excuse that or blame it on other people or maybe the weather will dampen the enthusiasm for. But it really change, change is the nature of the event.
I`ve grown up in Washington, I live here, born here. Every year my family and others and other families would go down to the mall and it was not a political event. This is now forcing families to decide whether or not going to the mall constitutes a political act or not. And that`s going to change the thinking for a lot of people I think.
VELSHI: Yes. I`m as you know a naturalized American. It`s never occurred to me that July 4th was a political event. And now it becomes a question.
General, "The Washington Post," I want to describe to you how "The "Washington Post" described President Trump`s connection to the armed forces, "More than any president in modern history, Trump has ignored the traditional norms intended to keep the armed forces out of partisan fights. He has dispatched U.S. troops to the southern border and even suggested that it would be acceptable for them to open fire on unarmed migrants. He has tweeted orders at top generals in a brazen end run around the traditional chain of command and regularly refers to America`s fighting forces as ``my military." Trump`s July 4th celebration has elevated his norm-defying behavior to new levels."
Is this just norm-defying or is there anything dangerous about it?
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, you know, we`ve never seen anything like this. Essentially, the commander in chief, and there`s only role as commander in chief is over the 2.1 million men and women of the armed forces. There`s a series of laws that govern the behavior. If he and the Secretary of Defense, the only two civilians who command the armed forces. The JCS don`t.
So he has broken all the guidelines, all the constraints. He`s used them in a political manner. And by the way, you`re never going to find somebody that loves m-1 tanks more than me.
MCCAFFREY: I mean, they are just an incredible fighting machine. But we don`t want this, our armed forces, to become a prop in what tomorrow will undoubtedly be another politically divisive day.
VELSHI: What`s the circumstance, general? I`m curious. Because countries like France do hold these types of demonstrations. Obviously, we associate them more with military dictatorships in a show of strength. What is the right way in which we can appreciate these remarkable machines and these airplanes?
I mean, look, as you said, you like a show. Nobody likes an air show more than I do. What`s the way in which this gets done without politicization?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I think most of it, we are to focus on the fact it`s actually Mr. Trump. That`s been the problem. He`s turning it into a narcissistic kind of display of his own purpose. It undoubtedly is a political event, which makes everyone uneasy in the Pentagon.
Around the country, routinely, there are air shows all over the United States --
MACCAFFREY: -- all year, from the Air Force and the Navy Blue Angels from the U.S. army, does parachute drill teams, posts -- we have Fleet Week in New York City. So displaying and letting the American people see their armed forces and its equipment is entirely legitimate. We just don`t want it used divisively in particular on the 4th of July. Which, you know, Peter, I think nailed the whole issue.
Washington D.C. loves that day. It`s a tremendous ceremony. Now, it`s going to be another vile political fight.
VELSHI: Nancy, "The Washington Post" also reporting on the culture war aspect of this, linking the event to the NFL national anthem controversy. Let me read that to you. It says, "Advisers say Trump sees this event as a way to associate himself with the flag and patriotism, which will resonate with many Americans the way his comments criticizing NFL players for kneeling during the national anthem did. After wading into the anthem debate, according to two former senior administration officials speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, Trump told his aides, "It`s a winning issue for me. What are they going to say? I`m being too patriotic? I believe in America?" One official recounted Trump saying. "Give me a break."
It`s an interesting point, Nancy. What are you going to say? Donald Trump is bringing out our military machinery, the thing that makes America great. You`re going see air shows, you`re going to see pride in the things we should be proud of. In Donald Trump`s mind, it works for him.
COOK: Exactly. And I think what he is doing is he`s daring Democrats and people who oppose him, his critics, to basically, you know, criticize what his advisers hope will be a very patriotic speech and a speech that draws on American history. And it`s basically putting them on the defensive, or at least he hopes to. And that`s something that we`ve seen him do again and again.
And, you know, when I talked to White House officials, they kept emphasizing, you know, the President loves this country, you know, we`ll see that tomorrow. And I think that he`s just trying to make it impossible for people to criticize him.
Of course we are potentially entering into a bad news cycle for him because I think you that can`t forget that what is going to be juxtaposed with tomorrow`s parade is also an increasing outcry over the way migrant families and children and women are being held at these, you know, immigration, temporary immigration facilities. And I think that will be a really interesting split screen moment for the President.
VELSHI: Barry -- Peter, there`s a lot of talk from White House officials and spokespeople and Hogan Gidley, the Deputy Press Secretary, that this is a non-political speech that`s meant to, I don`t know, achieve what. And that the President`s going to skip -- sprick (ph) -- stick to the script. Hogan Gidley said there`s not a political bone in the speech.
I`m struggling to remember times when President Trump has done that various situations. Is it likely, is it possible the President`s going to go out there and deliver a non-partisan speech that doesn`t take swipes at his political opponents or Democrats?
BAKER: You know, is it possible? Yes, of course. And there have been instances where he had performed that function. That`s the function you want a President to perform. You want him to be the leader of all people.
And there are moments the Memorial Day, you know, Veterans Day, sort of national moments when he has stuck to the script pretty carefully. It`s just not his nature, though. It`s not a thing you can know. That`s why you hear Nancy using these words, like the advisers hope it`ll be a speech that will stick to patriotic themes and they have written a speech that doesn`t have a political bone in it, says Hogan Gidley.
Well, we don`t know what he will actually say, right? He is not somebody who sticks to the script every time and they worry understandably that he will veer beyond it and use it as a way of celebrating not just America but himself and his politics and his administration heading into a re-election year. That would make it a different type of event.
A president is supposed to be the leader of all people. A president is supposed to celebrate America. And there is a way to do this, you would imagine, that would be a unifying way. But he is not a unifying figure by nature. He is a polarizing figure by nature. His enemies, his opponents, his critics are very suspicious. And so it`s just fraught with the potential for being another divisive day, as general McCaffrey said.
VELSHI: General McCaffrey, while we have you here, there`s an actual military matter that we have to talk about. Donald Trump issued another tweet warning to Iran today. It said "Iran has just issued a new warning. Rouhani says that they will enrich uranium to any amount we want if there is no nuclear deal. Be careful with the threats, Iran. They can come back to bite you like no one -- nobody has been bitten before."
What do we make of that?
MCCAFFREY: Well, we`re finally getting threats that are equivalent to those used by the North Koreans. Certainly something that strikes you.
It is unlikely that this administration will want war. It would be ruinous to the region. It would be an ugly, bitter fight. Of course we can punish the Iranians in a very serious way with air power and naval power. But certainly the Saudis, the Israelis, the Iraqis, nobody wants this war to happen. Never mind the Iranians.
So the threat piece of it is unlikely to do anything but worsen the situation. Finally, the President put these people in a box. The economy is tanking. The people are blaming their own leadership.
And so what does he think going to happen? They`re going to start going nuclear and they`re going to poke at us in a military fashion through surrogates, the situation getting more complex and more dangerous. This President should not want war with Iran.
VELSHI: Jerry -- Barry McCaffrey, good to see you. Thank you, sir, Peter Baker and Nancy Cook. I appreciate all of you joining me tonight.
Still ahead, detention facilities through the eyes of children. The stark warnings tonight from pediatricians about the lasting effects of this trauma.
Plus, government attorneys scrambling this afternoon, trying to catch up to a presidential tweet. Former Solicitor General of the United States, Neal Katyal will join us.
And 2020 candidates descend on Iowa for the 4th of July holiday. We`ve got the latest from the trail tonight. "The 11th Hour" just getting started on a Wednesday night.
VELSHI: Striking images released today by the academy, the American Academy of Pediatrics, reveal how the crisis at the border has already affected migrant children. The organization says these drawings were made by 10 and 11-year-old kids recently released from customs and border patrol custody. They`ve drawn themselves in cages.
The incoming president of the American Academy of Pediatrics says today, "No amount of time spent in detention centers is safe for children." After touring the facilities last week, Dr. Sara Goza told NBC news today, "More children will continue to die if we do not make sure that every child who passes through federal custody is seen by a pediatric trained medical professional."
Dr. Goza also described her visit to CBP Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, quote, "The first thing that hit me when we walked in the door was the smell. It was the smell of sweat, urine, and feces."
Meanwhile, as we mentioned, President Trump responded to the crisis with a number of tweets today including this one, "If the illegal immigrants are unhappy with the conditions in the quickly built or refitted detention centers, just tell them not to come. All problems solved!"
With us to talk about all of this, Franco Ordonez, White House Correspondent for NPR, and Elliott Williams, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General and former Assistant Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Thanks to both of you for being with us today.
Franco, let me just start with you. There is a crisis. Most Americans polled in a CNN poll released yesterday believe there is a crisis at the southern border. And they believe the crisis is largely a humanitarian one. The choice that the President made to chime in on all of this in the last few days was not to discuss the treatment of those children or those people being held or the ways in which that can be improved upon but to suggest that perhaps if you don`t like it, don`t come.
FRANCO ORDONEZ, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed. I mean, look, I mean, President Trump has done these things. He`s not someone to back down. He is not someone to show any kind of weakness, you pointed out earlier. He`s taking advantage of this opportunity. He`s looking at this as a possibility to show this is a deterrent, to warn people like, hey, if you do not like these conditions, you can leave, you do not have to come. And in his words, "problem solved."
VELSHI: Elliott, let`s talk about what problem solved actually looks like. Because the President -- what he sees the problem to be is very different from what a lot of other people see the problem to be and what it has crystallized into the last few weeks is the idea that we are for better or for worse housing people in inhumane conditions. What does the solution to that specific problem looks like -- it look like? That`s not about the people coming across the border. It`s about what we do with them while we decide what their outcome is going to be.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FMR. ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, U.S. IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: Right. These facilities were not meant for the kind of stress they`re under right now. But why are they under that kind of stress, Ali, and that`s the bigger problem. And until we address the big problems in Central America, the government corruption, the violence, the poverty, you`re just going to continue to see this happening in the United States. So, you know, what we need is a hemisphere-wide problem.
And, you know -- and when we talk about it, and I think when we talk about it in the country and certainly when the President, God bless him, tweets about it, he`s tweeting about a border security problem, a border -- I mean border security fixes. You know, we need a bigger wall or more ICE agents or whatever. That`s a policy debate we can have in the United States, and that`s fine. But it`s a bigger problem than that and it`s an economic problem, like I said, a political corruption problem and so on.
And so by way of example, when we talk about Rohingya and the crisis in Myanmar, no one`s talking about the fact that, you know, you need bigger walls there. You`re talking about the fact that there`s political instability, --
WILLIAMS: -- religious strife and so on, and NGOs and organizations that have a stake in that are the ones who are addressing it and at the table at a minimum. And I think just a bigger community needs to be at the table be it with the White House or with Congress to address this problem. But until then you`re going to keep seeing -- and frankly I`m a parent watching pictures of, you know, kids drawing -- kids draw what`s on their mind, you know. My son does.
WILLIAMS: And seeing, you know, that`s hard to look at. But we`re going to keep seeing that until you really address the root cause of what`s driving all of this.
VELSHI: Franco, you have a new report this week that talks about the fact that the administration is now starting to fine people, fine immigrants in the U.S. illegally. What is this about and what are they aiming to achieve? Is this yet more deterrence or instillment of fear?
ORDONEZ: Yes. I mean, that`s certainly what -- it appears to be that way. The Trump administration recently started sending out these letters, notices of fines to those here illegally. Some of these fines were up to almost $500,000. It`s really hard to imagine that someone who is here illegally would be able to afford a half-million-dollar fine, which if you talk to the lawyers who represent them feel like this is absolutely an attempt to scare, to instill fear, to instill confusion, to push them out.
Also, a lot of these people or several of the people that were, that received these were also in sanctuaries, and, you know, kind of holed up in churches, living there. And there`s concern that this could be an attempt not only to intimidate the immigrants themselves but also the people that are helping them, the churches, and punish them for the activism that they`ve had.
VELSHI: Elliot, we have fines, we have detention, we have all of these methods that the administration is using to try and either deter or deal with this problem. In fairness, neither a Democratic-controlled Congress nor a Republican-controlled Congress has effectively dealt with the issue of tens of thousands of people coming across the southern border for decades now. What is the responsibility of Congress? We have for the last few days been talking to members of Congress who have gone down to these detention centers to testify to how bad the situation is. But it is in Congress`s hands now to do something about this?
WILLIAMS: Yes. I feel like every sentence I say when I talk about this is noun, verb, comprehensive immigration reform.
WILLIAMS: But what we need is a comprehensive reform of our immigration laws. Now, what they can do is they can reform laws, they can also pass spending bills, you know, to precisely target some of these, you know, some of these precise questions here. When they -- I`m reluctant to say that, though, because once you start passing individual spending bills, you start getting into the weeds of individual problems. And like I said, it`s a much bigger problem than any one piece of legislation could really address.
But Congress has a role to play here, it`s just not clear that anybody`s going to come to any sort of agreement certainly in the next year or certainly before, you know, highly contentious presidential primary season while it`s under way.
VELSHI: It is a complicated question. And thank you to you for helping us get to some of it. Elliot Williams and Franco Ordonez, thank you.
Coming up, help wanted. Government attorneys able to interpret and follow through on Trump tweets. Neal Katyal comes here next to explain the about- face on the citizenship question. Is there going to be one on the census? We`re back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You`re not allowed to ask whether or not somebody`s a citizen of the United States? How horrible and ridiculous is that? So we are looking at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know --
TRUMP: Because it wasn`t -- it wasn`t a real decision that that`s, boom, this is the way it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR: Lawyers for the Justice Department furiously backtracked today saying they`re once again looking into whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship status question to the census. The stunning reversal came after the president this morning blasted reports that the commerce department abandoned its efforts to add the question as fake.
The president`s words, by the way, calling it fake, directly contradicting his own Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who announced Tuesday he had given up his quest to insert the citizenship question. In a heated call today U.S. District Judge George Hazel set a Friday deadline on the citizenship question and told the Justice Department attorney, "If you were Facebook and an attorney for Facebook told me one thing and then I read a press release from Mark Zuckerberg telling me something else, I would be demanding that Mark Zuckerberg appear in court with you the next time because I would be saying I don`t think you speak for your client anymore."
Back tonight, Neal Katyal, a veteran of the Justice Department, a former acting solicitor general during the Obama administration, who has argued 39 cases before the U.S. Supreme court.
Neal, I don`t even know what question to ask you to start with. Let`s start with this. The president sent out a tweet today calling something fake news that was actually confirmed by his Department of Commerce after a Supreme Court ruling that said unless you come back to us with a better reason for putting a citizenship question on the census you can`t do it. So, let`s just start with the premise that the president in his tweet this morning was lying.
NEAL KATYAL, FMR. ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: So I think, Ali, you know, it`s not just Department of Commerce. It`s also the Justice Department lawyers who went into court yesterday and said we`re not going to be seeking the citizenship question, we`re printing the census forms without it.
And Ali, I never thought I`d see the day when the Trump administration`s top lawyers sound like drunk girl on "Saturday Night Live." You know, we`re going to have a citizenship question, we`re not going to have a citizenship question, we are. It`s thoroughly inconsistent. And that`s why, you know, when the Supreme Court ruled last week and said President Trump`s addition of the census question was illegal because they used a reason that was utterly pretext pretextual, by that should have been the end of it.
And now they`re coming back with all this sort of stuff. But it`s not going to work. I mean in a second work for really simple reason, Ali, that Solicitor General, the government`s top lawyer, has told the Supreme Court not once or twice but five different times that June 30th is the deadline - -
KATYAL: -- for the printing of the census forms. They started that on January 25th, where they told the Supreme Court, hey, this district court, this trial judge has ruled against us on the census, we want to skip the Court of Appeals and go straight to the Supreme Court. Why, they said? Because of this June 30th deadline --
VELSHI: And the Supreme Court has obliged. The Supreme Court obliged.
VELSHI: They gave them a decision by June 30th.
KATYAL: Exactly. They agreed to hear the case. It was oral argument --
VELSHI: I thought this judge with his Mark Zuckerberg comment was interesting. It`s like you`re telling me one thing, you told the Supreme Court something, they listened to you. Doesn`t seem like you and your boss are on the same page. What does that actually mean? Is somebody going to actually call Donald Trump to court and say what`s up with you?
KAYTAL: Well, I suspect that the lawyers are going to try and iron out whatever happened. I mean, one lawyer this morning from the Justice Department said the first I`m hearing of these tweets that I`m reading off of Twitter. And you know, I don`t know what`s going on.
And so clearly, the Justice Department`s kind of out of the loop and the commerce department`s out of the loop and the president`s, you know, off on his own quixotic campaign. But I suspect what`s going to happen at the end, Ali, is that the Justice Department lawyers are going to reassert themselves and say, look, this is what we told the Supreme Court about June 30th, we said even last week on Tuesday in a filing on June 25th. And yes, two days later the Supreme Court ruled against us. But boy, it will destroy our credibility with the federal judiciary if we go back on our word now.
I mean, when I sat in that chair, the government`s top lawyer for litigation, the thing I was most concerned about was protecting the credibility that prior generations of government servants had built up with the federal courts. And right now President Trump is threatening to torch whatever credibility the Justice Department has left because of what he`s doing. And that will be a huge, huge error for the country and for him.
VELSHI: So let me ask you something. The Justice Department lawyers either pull back on this or they go back to the court and try to get this done. But there`s no chance that someone in the government is trying to -- is going to try and get that citizenship question on the census extrajudicially, right? Going around the courts. Doing something -- because I like that would be illegal.
KATYAL: Well, nothing that this administration does at this point surprises me. And we`ve even had a member of Congress, a sitting member of Congress, say yes, go ahead, defy the federal courts, President Trump, and do the right thing, add the citizenship question.
I mean, this administration`s relationship to the rule of law is so tenuous, and I am worried about it. And I think all Americans should be because the crown jewel of our American democracy is our federal judiciary. And last week they stood up for the rights of all Americans to be counted and to say President Trump, you gave us a reason that was utterly pretextual and this question can`t be added. And that decision has to stand as the law of the land.
VELSHI: This is an amazing discussion. I heard you on with Lawrence O`Donnell last night, and i really thought it`s always great to have Neal Katyal but at least on this topic this will be the end of it. So next time we have Neal it will have to be on a different topic. But no, in fact 24 hours later we are back talking about the exact same thing. Neal Katyal, thank you for joining me tonight.
KATYAL: Thank you.
VELSHI: Coming up, Kamala Harris campaigns in Iowa today and takes sharp aim at President Trump. You`re going to want to hear what she had to say when "The 11th Hour" continues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know predators. And we have a predator living in the White House.
Donald Trump has predatory nature and predatory instincts. And the thing about predators you should know is that they prey on the vulnerable. They prey on those who they do not believe are strong. And the thing about predators you must most importantly know, predators are cowards. Predators are cowards. And so when we look at this campaign and we look at the task before us, it will be to successfully prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump, and I am prepared to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right. California Senator Kamala Harris is among the 2020 Democratic candidates flocking to Iowa this 4th of July weekend. By a "Des Moines Register" count, there are at least 50 campaign events scheduled. And a new ABC/Washington Post poll today shows former Vice President Joe Biden continuing to bleed support, although the numbers are less dramatic than other polls we`ve seen this week.
The poll sums up the trend like this. The Post/ABC poll underscores what has been the case from the time Biden entered the race in April. While he is the leader in the Democratic field, he`s by no means a commanding front- runner.
With us for more, Jonathan Allen, best-selling author and NBC News national political reporter, and Nancy Cook, White House reporter for POLITICO.
Jonathan, good to see you. Thank you for being with us. What`s the Democratic strategy in Iowa right now? The candidate strategies. Are they trying to put forward the argument that we saw from Kamala Harris at the debate that I can debate and I can defeat Donald Trump as well as you think Joe Biden can, or are all eyes on Joe Biden convincing voters to go with them instead of Biden?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think all eyes are on Joe Biden right now, Ali. The biggest thing for him I think in that last debate was not necessarily about the specific issue of busing or even more broadly about how he handled issues of race and desegregation but rather his ability to fend off an attack.
He looked very unsure of himself, very uncertain of himself on stage. And so I think a lot of Democratic voters, whether they`re in Iowa or elsewhere, are looking to see whether Joe Biden has lost a lot off his fastball, whether this is a candidate who can stand up to Donald Trump the way he`s presented himself, as the best candidate to do that. And if the answer to that question is no or the answer to that question is an open one, who else among the Democratic candidates is going to be able to do that?
And I think what you`re seeing from Senator Harris, what you`re seeing from Senator Warren, Senator Sanders, and some of the other candidates is what you had started to see even before that, which is an argument that each of them is the person best capable of taking on Donald Trump. And part of that is each of their individual policies but part of it is the projection of toughness, and I think in that clip you just saw from Senator Harris that`s exactly what she`s doing.
VELSHI: You know, Nancy, we`re only seeing eight candidates out of the 23 or 24 polling above 2 percent. This is really narrowing down to a group of about five candidates right now.
Obviously, the Iowa caucuses, which are many, many, many months away, are moments like these debates, right? A good showing in the Iowa caucus allows you to live another day and fight on to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Where are we in terms of Joe Biden and the comment that we saw from the "Washington Post" that Joe Biden started off as the front-runner when he came into the race but it was always tenuous?
NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think it just shows you -- I think the debates showed us really starkly how wide open the Democratic field is. And yes, Joe Biden has great name recognition. You know, he has a track record to run on, which there`s pros and cons with that. He still maintains very, very high support with African-American voters, and that will be a key voting bloc for whoever wins the Democratic nomination.
But I think what we also saw from the debates is that people were really excited by the idea of Kamala Harris and how energetic she was. And I think people thought she`s someone who can really take on Donald Trump. And I think it just shows us, you know, how wide open the field is and how there`s such different candidates maybe not even on policy but just on generational views and the things that they`re bringing to the table.
VELSHI: And, Jon, Biden`s support is slipping but Biden was the most popular in many cases because people knew him. They knew his name. With each passing day with these 50-plus events in Iowa this weekend, with the coverage that they get. Is Biden`s support really slipping because he`s Biden or is it slipping because people are getting to know some of these other candidates and saying hey, I`m going to check them out?
ALLEN: I think there are two real dangers for a candidate who is well known. One is that you reinforce negative messaging about yourself or that you introduce new information to voters they didn`t know about you.
In the case of Biden I think the concern about how he performed in that debate was new information for them potentially. The belief was that he was going to go in, that he was going to be a strong candidate, that he was going to have command of the substance, that he was going to have command of the stage and he had difficulty with that. So I think part of that slippage is on him.
I think in addition to that for some of these other candidates they really weren`t 100 percent. They still weren`t 100 percent known to voters. We can see that in the polling that they don`t have that 100 percent name ID that Joe Biden has. And so for a lot of voters they were tuning in for the first time. And I think that had something to do with the rise that you see for, say, a Senator Harris or a Senator Warren. I mean I talked to very few people who didn`t think that those two women were the absolute breakout stars of the two nights of the debate.
VELSHI: Thanks to both of you. Jon and Nancy. They`re going to stick around.
Coming up, women candidates are rising in the polls, and yet they`re still facing the same question that the last Democratic nominee had to squash. That question when "The 11th Hour" comes right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I`m the only candidate that has routinely won in red and purple places and done well in blue places, brought the whole state together.
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am someone that can win. I am the candidate that`s won in the reddest of red districts. I have won every single time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Women are running for president and gaining momentum and there`s an historic number of them this time around. The New York Times today has this headline. "It`s the question no one says they want to ask. But the women running for president keep hearing it." That question according to the piece, "Do you really think a woman could be elected president?"
Back with us, Jon Allen and Nancy Cook. Nancy, does the fact that we -- that the question persists? What does it tell you about the race?
COOK: Well, it`s so interesting to me that it keeps persisting, because there`s such diverse candidates this time around. You know, the Democratic field, the people who are running, are so different from one another. They bring different experiences, different political experiences, different policies that they`re prescribing, their personalities are very different. You know, Senator Harris is a much different person than Senator Warren, for instance.
And so, you know, it`s not the same argument from 2016, where, you know, you just had Hillary Clinton and it was hard to parse out what was her gender versus what was the baggage from the Clinton presidency that Republicans so loved to hate.
This time around, you know, there`s women who are representing a wide ideological spectrum, at least on the liberal side. And so, you have to wonder, why are they all being lumped together as, you know, can a woman, singularly, take the White House.
VELSHI: Jon Allen, it is kind of incredible, when you look at this field of 20-plus candidates, of the four in the top, you`ve got Kamala Harris, who is seen now, certainly after the debate, as tough and possibly, tough enough to beat Donald Trump. And you`re seeing Elizabeth Warren as somebody who drops policy every few days, the kind of policy that think tanks take apart and criticize.
Of the four, maybe five top front-runners, two of them are women and they are people who can easily be seen as the Democratic candidate and the president of the United States.
ALLEN: That might be a good nickname for Elizabeth Warren, the think tank, Ali. You should think her campaign might like that. Like that suggestion from you.
But the -- I think that -- this is kind of an absurd question in that what you see this year is several women candidates running for president four years after, really at this point, three years after Hillary Clinton lost the presidency by about 70,000 votes in three states. She didn`t prove that a woman couldn`t win the presidency, she proved a woman could win the presidency.
And the proof in that is that all of these very smart, very capable, very sophisticated politicians who are women decided to run for president. They didn`t decide, "Hey, I can`t do this." They decided, "Hey, I can do this."
VELSHI: Right. And, Nancy, Amy Klobuchar likes to point out that a woman got more votes than the President did in the last election.
COOK: Absolutely. And Amy Klobuchar herself is from Minnesota State, you know, she has her own brings a lot of things to the table. And so, I think that her point is, you know, look, there`s all these strong women out there. You don`t need to just lump us through this very reductive thing just of our gender.
VELSHI: Thank you to both of you tonight, Jon Allen and Nancy Cook. We`re going to have more "11th Hour" after a quick break. Stay with us.
VELSHI: The last thing before we go tonight is a programming note. Catch a special edition of "The 11th Hour" on Friday at the usual time. Brian`s going to have a special look at how the Mueller investigation continues to shape this presidency also it nears day 900.
That`s Friday, 11:00 pm Eastern, right here on MSNBC.
That is our broadcast for tonight. Thank you for being with us. I`ll see you tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. We hope you have a happy and safe July 4th holiday. 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