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Robert Mueller to testify TRANSCRIPT: 7/11/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Guest: Michael Steele, Franco Ordonez, Eric Tucker, Eliza Collins, Donna Edwards

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, the presidential retreat from a fight of his own making, Donald Trump backs down on his citizenship question for the census and orders the government to collect data it already has.  All that earning him the congratulations of a loyal attorney general.

Plus, new details on how Democrats are preparing for Robert Mueller`s testimony, and the key witnesses in the Russia investigation who may now be subpoenaed to appear on Capitol Hill.

And new numbers just out tonight on the Democratic field for president showing the top of the crowded field narrowing.  "The 11th Hour" on a Thursday night starts right now.

Good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  I`m Ali Velshi, in for Brian Williams.  He`ll be back here tomorrow.  And today -- I`m sorry, it`s day 903 of the Trump administration, and the President makes a sudden retreat in his lengthy battle to put a question about citizenship on the 2020 census.  This reversal came just days before ICE agents are expected to follow through with Trump`s orders to round up thousands of undocumented people for deportation.  Early this morning there was reporting the President might have been ready to announce an executive order to add that citizenship question to the census, but this evening in a Rose Garden appearance with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General Bill Barr, Trump told the nation he was abandoning that effort.  He tried to make it sound like a change in direction.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We are pursuing a new option to insure a complete and timely count of the noncitizen population.  I am here by ordering every department and agency in the federal government to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and noncitizens in our country.  They must furnish all legally accessible records in their possession immediately.


VELSHI:  Now, Trump made today`s announcement after running into several legal road blocks.  And after he spoke, he asked his attorney general to back him up, which Barr did.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Thank you, Mr. President and Congratulations on today`s executive order.  The Supreme Court correctly recognized that it would be entirely appropriate to include citizenship questions on the census.  It nevertheless held that the Commerce Department did not adequately explain its decisions for doing so on the 2020 census.

There is no question that a new decision to add the question would ultimately survive legal review.  The problem is that any new decision would be subject to immediate challenge as a new claim in the three ongoing district court cases.

As a practical matter, the Supreme Court`s decision closed all paths to adding the question to the 2020 census.  Put simply, the embedment was -- was a logistic impediment, not a legal one.  We simply cannot complete the litigation in time to carry out the census.


VELSHI:  And Trump begin today`s announcement with some clues to his motivations in a fear-based message that seemed to particularly tailor to his base.


TRUMP:  Are you a citizen of the United States of America?  Oh, gee, I`m sorry, I just can`t answer that question.  And that`s after spending billions and billions of dollars.  There used to be a time where you could answer questions like that very easily.  There used to be a time when you could proudly declare I am a citizen of the United States.  Now they`re trying to erase the very existence of a very important word and a very important thing, citizenship.

Far-left Democrats in our country are determined to conceal the number of illegal aliens in our midst.  They probably know the number is it far greater, much higher than anyone would have ever believed before, maybe that`s why they fight so hard.  This is part of a broader left-wing effort to erode the rights of the American citizen and is very unfair to our country.


VELSHI:  All right, keep in mind that the government already collects citizenship data through what`s known as the American community survey.  Samples approximately two percent of households every year.  As NBC`s Pete Williams explains, that information is combined with data that the census gathers from other government agencies.


PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:  The census counts everybody, the entire population, not just citizens.  It certainly would be a legitimate thing to find out how many noncitizens there are, but the census bureau already does this through two means.  According to the most recent data in that survey, the number of noncitizens in the U.S. is 22.5 million.


VELSHI:  Administration critics have expressed concern that a citizenship question would discourage some U.S. residents, especially immigrants, from responding to the census.  Today one House Democrat said even without the question the debate is already working to Trump`s advantage.


REP. JIM HIMES, (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE:  The President has no interest in real data about citizenship.  The President and his people understood that if they threatened a citizenship question on the census that would create fear in immigrant communities.  It`s been out there long enough that at least part of the President`s objective has been achieved.


VELSHI:  Now, as the President backs down on one front, he`s gearing up on another.  "The New York Times" was first to report nationwide raids to arrest thousands of members of undocumented families that will begin on Sunday.  The "Times" reports the Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation will take place, "over multiple days and will include collateral deportations.  In those deportations, the authorities might detain immigrants who happen to be on the scene, even though they weren`t targets of the raids.  When possible, family members who are arrested together will be held in family detention centers in Texas and Pennsylvania.  But because space limitations, some might end up staying in hotel rooms.  ICE`s goal is to deport the families as quickly as possible.  The official said ICE agents were targeting at least 2,000 immigrants who had been ordered deported.  The operation is expected to take place in at least 10 major cities."

Two Homeland security officials confirmed to NBC News the raids will begin this weekend.  The 10 cities are Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, and San Francisco.  Today the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spoke out in support of this weekend`s raids.


KEN CUCCINELLI, CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION DIRECTOR:  The men and women of ICE are committed to doing their job and fulfilling that mission which includes deporting those who have gone all the way through the due process and gotten a removal order but not obeyed it, of which there are about a million people in this country.


VELSHI:  Now, in her weekly meeting, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the raids but she was less specific about how to stop them.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER:  These families are hard- working members of our communities and our country.  This brutal action will terrorize children and tear families apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Will you appeal to the President, though, to put off these raids.

PELOSI:  I`m going to appeal to the people of faith, the faith-based organizations to appeal to the President.  I think that they put him in office and they had a better voice for this.


VELSHI:  Here for our lead-off discussion on a Thursday night, Franco Ordonez, White House Correspondent for NPR, Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor.  Welcome to all of you.

Franco, let`s start with you.  This executive order that the President has put forth tonight actually changes nothing materially.

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN:  Right.  That`s absolutely right.  I mean, they basically instructed the federal government to do what the federal government`s already doing, which is rather humorous.  But that`s Trump, but that was the point.  The point was to really kind of go through the motions, stir up a lot of dust around this, feign hurt and anger and charging ahead and then wind up exactly where you knew you were going to be two weeks ago or at least the day the Supreme Court came out with its decision.  Having Barr come out and sort of give the legal imprimatur on all of this, the sort of the cherry on top.

But Ali, this was all pretty much sort of the setup for what will come possibly this weekend, even though from what I`m hearing, a lot of the ICE folks, the officials are not happy about these raids.  There`s a level of coordination.  And all of that is a little skittish about it and exactly where they`re going.  And if you have a million people, you know who they are, then, you know, why haven`t we been doing this all along.  So there are a lot of questions like that that are coming out tonight and over the next few days.

And the administration, you know again, has got folks chasing a lot of bright, shining objects down many, many rabbit holes.  And that`s typically what Trump will do in this situation.

VELSHI:  Joyce Vance, this is the second time we have seen President Trump count on his attorney general to do some cleanup work for him.  The arrangement the attorney general used was interesting.  He said it was a logistical challenge, not a legal challenge, and that any effort to get the citizenship question would have prevailed but for the fact it has other courts and other challenges to go through.  But the government`s argument was that they needed the Supreme Court to make a decision by a particular date in order to get it printed.

So the fact is that, if the government felt strongly about this being logistical or not legal, this would have been instituted on day one of the Trump administration.  It`s a strange argument to make.

JOYCE VANCE, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  It really is.  And they did run into logistical problems, but the real problem here, Ali, is that what the government, what DOJ and the White House didn`t want to see move forward was discovery into the original motivation for adding the citizenship question to the census because there is this newly discovered evidence that there were Republican operatives who had determined that this was the data that they would need to gerrymander districts, particularly on the southern border to disenfranchise Hispanic and nonwhite Democratic boarders.  So by conceding voters, so by conceding this issue, they really shut down any further inquiry into those bad motivates for adding the question to the census.

VELSHI:  Franco, let`s talk about these raids.  Here`s what the mayor of Miami said about the planned ICE raids this weekend.


MAYOR, FRANCIS SUAREZ, (R) MIAMI:  The federal government hasn`t communicated with our government.  They haven`t told us what the parameters are.  They haven`t asked us to support what they`re doing or given us any information on who they`re targeting, how they`re targeting them.


VELSHI:  Now, Franco, the last time the President promised these raids, the problem became -- the President had communicated things that ICE agents don`t necessarily want communicated, particularly when there are people on target lists.  We appear to have done the same thing again.  We`ve listed the states, we`ve listed the cities, we`ve listed the target number of people.  What`s your sense?  What`s your understanding?  What have you learned about how these raids are going to go down?

FRANCO ORDONEZ, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:   Yes, I mean, typically you don`t, you know, you don`t alert people before you go and arrest them.  I mean, what we`re learning is that there is a lot of politics involved with this.  There is -- if you talk to advocates and those who work with immigrants, they feel this is directly an effort to put fear and concern in this.  But the administration says they are going after people who have already been ordered to leave, final orders of removal.

You play the Cootch Nelly (ph) clip where he talks about there being a million illegal immigrants here in the country who have been ordered to leave and have not left and they say it`s time to go.  But, this is a very interesting time.  In the past these type of raids have happened, but those usually target people who have criminal histories, violent offenders.  In this case they`re going after families in many cases, and that`s a much different approach.

VELSHI:  Michael, Franco makes an interesting point, and that is the message today continues to be one of fear, that you should fear these people, you should fear the fact that there is a citizenship question.  It`s a departure from the history of the Republican Party but it is not a departure from Donald Trump`s rhetoric.  Let`s listen back at some of what he`s had to say.


TRUMP:  Hillary Clinton is going to destroy your social security and Medicare.  She even wants to give your benefits to illegal immigrants and you`ve seen that all over.

If Hillary Clinton were to be elected, it would create an unprecedented and protracted constitutional crisis.

Hillary Clinton wants a 550 percent increase in Syrian refugees coming into the country.  They`ll be pouring into the country. That`s above Obama`s unbelievable thousands and thousands coming in.

We`ve got to stop the drugs from pouring into this country and poisoning our youth and plenty of others.  And it`s a tremendous epidemic like we`ve never had before.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.


VELSHI:  That last one, Michael, was from his inauguration.

STEELE:  Right.

VELSHI:  This has been a steady and consistent theme for Donald Trump which clearly works with his base.  But for the Republican Party that, one imagine, wants to expand its base, what does this do?  What kind of lasting damage does this kind of talk?

STEELE:  Oh, I think we`re beyond the idea of expanding the base, especially with Hispanics.  I -- please, tell me how do you have that conversation.  How do you talk to someone in the Hispanic community while they have a relatively, a friend, or colleague or someone that they`ve known for a long time who suddenly gets caught up in this weekend`s raids and is no longer here?  How do you have that conversation with someone whose family was trying to emigrate here because of political and other economic pressures at home but their children are now sitting in cages along the border?

So, you know, if you got a secret conversation that you want to have, have it, good luck.  I just don`t see it playing out that way.  Yes, you know, Donald Trump got a sizable chunk of the Hispanic vote in 2016, but that was before all of this.  And so how all of this goes down in the Hispanic community, particularly if he goes through with the raids this weekend and carries forward the meme we heard in the sound bites.  You know, these are people who are going to bring disease and they are bringing -- taking your jobs, or taking something from you, they are threat to your community.  How do you then wrap around on the back end in the height of a political campaign, Ali, and say I need your vote?

VELSHI:  Joyce, I`m an immigrant to this country.  And in fact, I`m an immigrant to the last country that I came -- I went to as well.  So, to me, the association with immigrants and lawlessness is troubling.  But to the extent that Donald Trump has created that impression amongst people, how do Democrats push back on that without falling victim to what he continues to say about being fans of open borders and, in fact, encouraging lawlessness by not wanting to round up people who have been scheduled for deportation?

VANCE:  Trump has driven this litany that immigrants, and particularly brown-skinned Hispanic immigrants who come across the southern border are criminals, that they carry disease, that they`re undesirable.  And it`s important, I think, for Democrats just to take a foundational stand that immigration is what has made this country great, that we were all, most of us, immigrants, or had family that were immigrants at one point or another, and that the entire point of America was to open immigrants with open arms.

The real peril here for the President, and at some point I think that this will turn and hurt him is that he`s using ICE, which is a law enforcement agency for political purposes, not for law enforcement purposes.  Because these people that ICE will go out after this weekend are people who have permanent removal orders.  They are largely people who are living lawfully inside of our borders but for the fact that they lack legal immigration status.

And this forces ICE, which is an agency with limited resources, to focus on this law-abiding population as opposed to using their resources to go after people who are here illegally and who are also engaged in criminal conduct.  I know where the ICE agents would rather be and it would be focusing on criminals.  And sooner or later that failure of priorities in this administration will come home when we see someone who is here illegally engaged in criminal activity, not sought after by law enforcement because they`re going after low-risk people.

VELSHI:  Franco, to the extent you commented on the impositions of fear, the idea that this is all meant to -- whether it`s a citizenship question or it`s the signaling of these raids, it is all meant to send a signal to anybody who is in the United States undocumented that we are coming for you.  Despite the setback on the citizenship question today, is Donald Trump succeeding on this front?

ORDONEZ:  Well, I mean, look, I mean, he`s certainly building support among his base.  This was an issue President Trump ran on in 2016, and he largely credits for carrying him to the White House.  On the flip side, Democrats are also using this issue to kind of bolster their base.  All the Democratic candidates as we heard in the debates are almost largely talking on this issue, and you`re saying they`re going to cut back on enforcement.  So this is an issue that is going back and forth, both sides are really using it to build support among their base, and it`s really becoming an issue that we`re going to hear a lot more about.

VELSHI:  Franco Ordonez, Michael Steele, Joyce Vance, thanks to the three of you.

Still ahead, there are a dozen more people tonight who could now be called to testify on the Mueller report, and that news has caught the attention of someone in the Oval Office.

Plus, how Democrats are preparing behind the scenes for Robert Mueller`s own testimony now just days away.

And later, new numbers that should catch the attentions of the Democratic front-runner, who today took on what he calls the "Trump doctrine?"  THE 11TH HOUR just getting started on a Thursday night.


VELSHI:  Today the House Judiciary Committee authorized a dozen subpoenas for people mentioned in the Mueller report.  They include current and former high-ranking Trump administration officials like Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, John Kelly, and Jeff Sessions.  President Trump was, of course, not happy, writing on Twitter, "Now the Democrats have asked to see 12 more people who have already spent hours with Robert Mueller, and spent a fortune on lawyers in so doing.  How many bites at the apple do they get before working on border loopholes and asylum?  They also want to interview the highly conflicted and compromised Mueller again.  He said he was done after his last nine-minute speech, and hat he had nothing more to say outside of the no collusion, no obstruction report."

Mueller`s testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committee is now just six days away.  The Associated Press reports on the preparations writing, `a Democratic aide said staff members have been watching old videos of Mueller testifying as FBI director during the administrations of President George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  They`re looking to see how he`ll act, the aide said, and they have noticed that he gives minimal commentary when answering questions."

Politico reporter Heather Caygle reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats in a closed-door meeting today that she wants a level of calmness and no drama in the Mueller presentation.

With us for more tonight, Eric Tucker, reporter for the Associated Press who covers the Justice Department.

Eric, what can you tell us about how lawmakers are preparing for this conversation with Robert Mueller, and what their best-case scenario is?

ERIC TUCKER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER:  So I think there`s no reason to not take Robert Mueller at his word, that he intends to hue very closely to his 448-page report and that he will not stray beyond it.  And assuming that he, of course, adheres to that pledge, I think Democrats are actually facing a real challenge because their goal is going to be to try to get him to go beyond it, to reveal new incendiary revelations about the President.

And I think frankly that`s not likely to happen.  That said, one pretty favorable optic that Democrats could get is if Mueller simply reads aloud for the American public in front of cameras for everyone to see some of the more damaging, harmful commentary from the report, some of the more powerful evidence.  I think that actually could be fairly helpful for the Democrats.

VELSHI:  So those are two possible outcomes, right?  One in which they get him to say things that you haven`t heard before that could be incendiary, that could speak to how he was thinking and what he thought of Donald Trump and his actions.  The other one could be just to get him to read from the report.  And I guess every member of Congress is thinking now what question they can put to him in their limited time to elicit the most effective response.

I know this isn`t your job, but you do ask questions for a living, as I do.  What do you think that question is?  What series of questions could get Robert Mueller to say something that he seems intent on not saying?

TUCKER:  There is at least one question that I think was on everyone`s mind when Mueller had his press conference at the Justice Department, and that is if Donald Trump or anyone other than the President, would you have recommended indicting him?  Another way of saying that is, but for the Justice Department legal opinions that say you can`t charge a sitting president, would you have, in fact, recommended charging him?

I think a lot of Americans who are watching this press conference thought that in so many words he was effectively saying, yes, I did identify criminal conduct that I would have moved forward on, but I could not.  And I actually don`t expect that he will go in that direction, but I have to imagine that that is on the minds of Democrats because any sort of sliver in that direction would be a terrific coup for Democrats.

VELSHI:  Or they could use the corollary, that Bill Barr and Donald Trump kept on saying no collusion, no obstruction, and they could ask him to clarify that or simply, do you even agree with those words?

TUCKER:  That`s right.  That`s right.  Now, the flip side, of course, is that if I`m a Republican, I want Mueller to state many times over and repeat very loudly what he did not find, and namely, a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, because that`s a favorable fact for the President, it`s a favorable fact for the Republicans.  Of course, Mueller in no circumstances will not say I found no collusion because that`s not a legal term and the report takes great pains to say that`s not what we were looking for.  But in fairness to Republicans, I think Mueller was pretty clear that the evidence did not add up to a criminal conspiracy.  So I would imagine Republicans want him to say that.

VELSHI:  Donald Trump goes after Mueller`s character a lot.  That is a high bar, even for Republican members of Congress.  Do you imagine that they will try and impugn his integrity?

TUCKER:  I wouldn`t thinks so, because I am not sure how effective that would be.  That said, there are sort of grounds on which you could challenge the investigation itself.  One of the things that I think has caught the President`s attention and some of the attention of Republicans in Congress is the makeup and composition of Mueller`s team.  Many of the members, or at least more than a handful, for instance, contributed to Democratic politicians.

So, if I`m a Republican, I might want to ask Mueller, why did you pick certain people?  Some of the people on the team have reputations as being very aggressive.  So there are ways in which you could kind of attack or kind of pick at the foundations of the investigation without going to Mueller himself.  I think that`s a tough targets, especially given that, of course, he was a Republican appointee as FBI director.

VELSHI:  Eric, thank you for your reporting.  Eric Tucker of the Associated Press.

Coming up, our new NBC News-"Wall Street Journal" poll shows a pac emerging at the top of the Democratic primary field.  Who`s in, who`s out when THE 11TH HOUR comes back.



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  American foreign policy, I think, has to be purposeful and inspiring, based on clear goals, driven by sound strategies, not by Twitter tantrums.  The challenge of following this disastrous presidency will not just be to restore our reputation and credibility.  It will be to enact a forward-looking foreign policy for the world as we find it today.


VELSHI:  Former Vice President Joe Biden today outlined his plan to turn around American foreign policy.  His remarks came as a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal Poll shows him comfortably hanging on to his front-runner status, polling at 26 percent.

Take a look at this, Senator Elizabeth Warren in second place with 19 percent.  Senator Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders are tied for third at 13 percent.

The polls are on par with the top money raisers in the race.  Politico puts it this way.  The top tier of the Democratic presidential primary is now reshaped around five candidates.  The latest fundraising numbers prove it.  Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have raised about $100 million in the past three months combined.

With us tonight to talk about all of it, Beth Fouhy, NBC News Senior Politics Editor, and Eliza Collins, Politics Reporter covering the 2020 campaign for the Wall Street Journal.  Welcome to both of you.

Eliza, what do you make of these numbers? 

ELIZA COLLINS, POLITICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  I think these numbers you just hit it on the head.  With these numbers and this money that is coming in the fundraising, we have a very clear top tier.

Now, we`re looking at -- the tier, we see Sanders and Harris are tied.  We see Warren rising.  We see Biden does not have a strong of a lead as we`ve seen in previous polls.  So it`s not super clear how the top five stack up.

But it is very clear that there is a top five.  And the other, you know, almost 20 candidates are not even coming close.

VELSHI:  Kind of remarkable actually.  Buttigieg who rounds at the top five, is still almost half of where Harris and Sanders are, Beth.  But what happens to the other 20 or whatever?  I mean, at some point they`re not cracking 2 percent.

BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR:  Right.  Well, a couple of things.  We`re going to see them all release their fundraising numbers.

We`ve gotten the top tier as Eliza mentioned.  And yes, the top tier in polling are also the top tier in fundraising.  Without question, we`ve heard from all them.

Now we have a whole lot of other people who have not revealed their numbers yet because, frankly, we`re not expecting them to look so good.  Sitting senators like Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, the governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, probably not going to show any sort of great shakes in their fundraising.  That`s why we haven`t seen that yet.  We`ll get those by Monday.

The next big step in this race is the next debate, which is being held by CNN at the end of July.  Again, we will see two nights, all the candidates on stage together.  And really that`s the last chance that any of these sort of lower-level folks have.

VELSHI:  To make an impact. 

FOUHY:  To make an impact.  But think about it.  I mean, this poll that you described, our NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, came after our NBC News debate, and all of those people stood in front of, you know, many, many millions of people to make their case and really nobody moved in the polling.

So it does appear that this five-candidate top tier is where it`s going to be.  It`s been there for a while and it`s where it`s going to be for a while.

VELSHI:  However, Eliza, 12 percent of voters say their mind is definitely made up, which means a whole lot of voters haven`t made their minds up.  A whole lot of voters still don`t know how to pronounce Pete Buttigieg`s name.  So there is still perhaps some opportunity for some of these folks, or is there?

If you`re running at 2 percent or lower right now, is it likely that any of these folks have a chance?  And I say that with the caveat that I think that`s kind of where Donald Trump was running around this time before the last election.

COLLINS:  That is true, but Donald Trump did pretty quickly start to rise once we saw him on the debate stage with the other Republicans.  It is not likely that someone polling at 2 percent is going to suddenly surge, but it is possible.  12 percent is a very low number of people who have made up their mind.

But I think what we`re starting to see and this poll showed is people looking at, you know, who their second choice is.  So they might like Joe Biden first, but then second they`re looking at Kamala Harris.  And so they`re not necessarily looking at someone polling at 2 percent.  And that is not good news for these people polling very low.

The poll did find that Julian Castro and Cory Booker, who are polling sort of in those very low single digits, are people that, you know, voters want to know more about.  So that does bode well for them, at least in terms of getting in front of people, they may have another good debate night.  But it`s going to be hard to go from 2 percent to suddenly up to 25 percent, especially when you don`t have the money.

You know, we`re going to start seeing people invest in TV ads soon.  And that`s where you get really in front.  And TV ads are expensive, and so you need money to be able to continue on and you need to keep hitting these polling and donor thresholds to be on the next debate stage in September.

So it`s possible, but not likely.

VELSHI:  Let`s talk, Beth, about Joe Biden.  He laid out his foreign policy strategy.  You know that kind of stuff, I love listening to.

FOUHY:  Right.

VELSHI:  It does not rank high for most Americans.  He`s I think trying to tie himself to the Obama administration in which there were some foreign policy movements and some successes.  Is that a way to separate him from the pack?

FOUHY:  Well, I think what he wanted to do is get -- yes, to get away from this infighting he`s had with some of the other Democrats and kind of get the race back to where he had hoped it would be the entire way, which is just looking away from them, looking straight at Trump and taking the fight to Trump.

He clearly has identified foreign policy as a weakness for the president.  He talked about President Trump`s relationship with Kim Jong-un and how he`s, you know, really mangled a lot of alliances that this country has been in for many decades.

He feels like he can be on with an equal playing field with the president of the United States when he talks about foreign policy.

But you make the point out, Ali, that it`s not always going to be the best thing for him to yolk himself to.  There were several things that happen in the Obama administration that people are critical of, including some Democrats.  They`re, you know, not -- the red line in Syria, for example, what was done in Libya.

He was supposed to be the foreign policy sort of chieftain in that White House, and so he`s going to be held to accountant for some of the things that maybe didn`t go as well in the Obama White House in terms of foreign policy.

But generally speaking, he feels like he`s on pretty safe ground there.  He`s a man who spend, you know, many decades in the Senate, of the foreign -- head of the Foreign Relations Committee, he has relationships all over the world with world leaders.  So he feels like this is a good place for him to take this battle directly to Trump.

VELSHI:  All right.  Eliza and Beth, stay with me.

Coming up, another Democrat may be looking to hit the incumbent where it hurts, questioning the President`s performance.  THE 11TH HOUR is back after this break.



SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The guy has now got to start distracting people from the fact that he made all these promises that I believe he had no intention of fulfilling, and he has failed to perform on every level by which we should measure a president of the United States.  Not to mention failed as a commander in chief.


VELSHI:  There she is talking about Donald Trump, but Senator Kamala Harris` performance in the first Democratic debate raised her profile in the 2020 Democratic primary, most notable was this, her exchange with Joe Biden.

She took him to task over his defense of working with segregationists and opposing school busing as a senator.  One new poll today found those comments don`t seem to have hurt Joe Biden all that much.

He`s polling at 35 percent in South Carolina where more than half of the primary voters are expected to be black.

Back again, Beth Fouhy and Eliza Collins.  Eliza, you have talked to voters in South Carolina.  Not only is Joe Biden holding well amongst them, they don`t seem to be all that troubled by his references to segregationists or the issue that Kamala Harris brought up about bussing. 

COLLINS:  Exactly.  So I was in South Carolina before the busing comments at the debate, but after he said that he worked well with segregationists in the Senate.

And basically voters said, "Yes, he misspoke, but they understood the point he was trying to make, which was that he could work with anybody."  They basically feel like that`s Joe Biden being Joe Biden.

Sometimes he misspeaks, but he has a long record.  You know, he was the vice president to the first black president and that earns him a lot of credit with these voters.  And so, they might not like what said.  They might have feel a little bit uncomfortable, but they can really forgive him for a lot.

And when I went to South Carolina and talked to voters, I talked to one voter, you know, out of a dozen who was even remotely concerned about his comment.  And we`re seeing that in the polling that it just really doesn`t seem to sway these voters.  They might not like the exact comment, they might have thought Harris did well in the debate, but they`re still sticking with Joe Biden.

VELSHI:  So that`s an interesting point, Beth.  Kamala Harris did well in the debate.  I think most people who watched the debate think so.

FOUHY:  she had a moment. 

VELSHI:  And she used Joe Biden as the foil.  But really many people took that to I think read, wow, I could take someone on and maybe that someone is Donald Trump.  In other words, her gain didn`t entirely seem to be Joe Biden`s loss.

FOUHY:  Right.  I mean, she definitely had a moment.  She definitely looked like she could take the fight to somebody on the stage and somebody who`s sort of like a big figure, in this case, Joe Biden was that figure on that stage.  So that`s true.

But, you know, looking at our poll, Ali, she`s not breaking through particularly with black voters.  We`ve got Biden at 46 percent among black voters, Harris at 17 percent.  I mean, almost 30 points back.

So she`s still has to be making the case.  I mean, one of the, you know, central premises of her candidacy is that Democratic voters in particular in the country at large would be excited potentially to vote for a black person for president.

VELSHI:  Right.  Is that just a name recognition thing?  Does he just do better because he was Barack Obama`s vice president and a name everybody`s known for 40 years?

FOUHY:  Sure, sure.  And Eliza made that point that, yes, that the fact that he was Barack Obama`s vice president is a very big factor for a lot of African-American voters.  And yes, Kamala Harris does need to build up her name recognition.  There`s no doubt about that.

But you know what, she stood on the stage in front of 15 million people and was introduced to a whole lot of people who may be haven`t seen her before.  So she is getting to the point where people -- Democratic voters are going to have familiarity with her.

She still has to make the sale.  It`s not there yet.

VELSHI:  Yes.  But it is early yet.

FOUHY:  It`s early yet.

VELSHI:  Eliza Collins, thank you for joining us, Beth Fouhy.  By the way, for those viewers out there who like me or don`t, Beth Fouhy was responsible.  She was my first boss in the business.  Beth Fouhy, thank you to both of you.

FOUHY:  The luck was mine.

VELSHI:  Coming up, the very latest on the speaker versus "The Squad."  Democrats and a House divided when THE 11TH HOUR continues.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  We respect the value of every member of our caucus.  The diversity of it all is a wonderful thing.  Diversity is our strength.  Unity is our power.

And we have a big fight and we`re in the arena.  And that`s all I`m going to say on the subject.


VELSHI:  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today responding to rumors that she is feuding with a small group of freshmen Democrats, the so-called "Squad," Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib.

Pelosi`s comment today come after AOC accused the speaker in the Washington Post of the "explicit singling out of newly elected women of color."  Here`s how Pelosi responded to that accusation.


PELOSI:  They took offense because I addressed, at the request of my members, an offensive tweet that came out of one of the member`s offices that referenced our Blue Dogs and our New Dems, essentially, as segregationist.

Our members took offense at that.  I addressed that.  How they are interpreting and carrying it to another place is up to them.  But I`m not gong to be discussing it any further.


VELSHI:  Pelosi is referring to a tweet written by Ocasio-Cortez as chief of staff linking so-called New Southern Democrats to segregationists of the past.  That tweet was later deleted.

This afternoon, the New York congresswoman tried to clear things up.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK:  We`re not talking about just progressives.  It`s singling out four individuals.

MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Do you think she is racial (inaudible)?  Is she racist?

OCASIO-CORTEZ:  No, no, absolutely not.  Absolutely not. 


VELSHI:  New York Times reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis sums it up like this way.  "Add months of simmering tensions over the Green New Deal, impeachment and defunding immigration enforcement.  Sprinkle in a dollop of social media-fueled sniping and a dash of racial resentment, it adding up to a feud between Nancy Pelosi and four freshmen congresswoman collectively known as the Squad, that doesn`t seem to be going away any time soon."

Here for more on this, Donna Edwards, former Democratic Member of Congress from Maryland, now a Washington Post Columnist.  Donna, great to see you.

You are about the most perfect person to talk to about this, as a woman of color, who was in that caucus, who served with Nancy Pelosi.  You have a perspective on this, and I`m anxious to hear it.  Are either of these sides making a mistake or are we making too much of this?

DONNA EDWARDS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think there are a lot of mistakes that can go around.  But let me just say this, first of all, I didn`t just serve with Nancy Pelosi.  I served under her as part of her leadership team.  I saw her and worked with her up close.

And so -- and I think she takes really seriously protecting her members, protecting the majority, and she was in a position where she held the gavel and then she lost the gavel.  She doesn`t want to do that again.

At the same time, these four members have come in and they`ve brought great energy to the party.  They have a lot to say.  They may be a little bit impatient, but I`ve watched them work in their committees.  I`ve seen them handle testimony and witnesses.  They do their homework.  They work really hard.

And I think that there`s a learning curve that takes place when you come into Congress, and especially the way that some of these members came in.  I mean, I came in having defeated a somewhat well-liked in some quarters, long-time incumbent, and it`s a rocky road at first, so, I really do understand that.

And I think tempers need to kind of simmer a little bit.  There needs to be a conversation.  But they need each other.  The Squad needs Pelosi to be successful in the Congress and Pelosi needs the Squad because, despite what she said, there are 7 million followers out there are real.  There`s about 7 million among the four of them, and that brings a level of energy that can bring an outside strategy that I think Pelosi and moderates, and the Democrats actually need going into this election cycle.

VELSHI:  To be the speaker of the House, you have to have 200-plus members.  Is it unusual that there are going to be a handful or more than a handful?  I mean, we look at the tea party, that was more than a handful of people that just didn`t agree with Republican congressional leadership.

Is it normal and manageable, or, I mean, do we -- is it desirable that this doesn`t happen or is this healthy?

EDWARDS:  Well, first of all, I think it`s healthy, and I don`t that what`s happening among Democrats is really the same as Republicans, because you take these progressive members and the progressive caucus, they all -- they do share values among Democrats, so, it`s not quite the same thing.

But I think it`s important for progressives to try to push the needle a little bit and the natural response is for the leader, even though she`s a progressive, to protect the moderates and to moderate that, as well.  And so I think they`re all playing their roles.  This is really important for us as Democrats.  And some of these debates on policy and strategy are really important how we go forward and how we win together.

VELSHI:  This is what Senator Lindsey Graham had to say on Fox News tonight.  Let`s listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  If you cross AOC and the Fab Four, you`re going to get a primary, and if you vote with them, you`re going to lose in the general election.  So, the biggest beneficiary of this will be the Republican Party.


VELSHI:  Do you believe that to be true?

EDWARDS:  No, I don`t.  Lindsey Graham doesn`t know a thing about the Democratic Party, and so let`s just dismiss that out of hand.  I think it`s really important for these four members and for progressives, which are the largest caucus in the -- among Democrats, to have a voice, to push policy, but understand that we also have the responsibility and they have the responsibility to protect those moderates and to protect their majority.

And by protecting their majority, they get to serve on committees they get legislation done and they serve their constituents.

VELSHI:  Donna Edwards, pleasure to see you as always.  Thank you for joining us.

EDWARDS:  Thank you. 

VELSHI:  Donna Edwards.  More "11th Hour" after the quick break.


VELSHI:  Last thing before we go tonight.  A couple of quick programming notes.  Ahead of Robert Mueller`s testimony on The Hill next Wednesday, join my colleague Ari Melber this Sunday at 9:00 pm, Eastern for an MSNBC Special, "The Mueller Report: What You Need To Know."

As for me, I will be back here tomorrow at both 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. Eastern.  Brian will be back with you tomorrow to close out the week.

That`s our broadcast for tonight.  Thank you for being with us.  And goodnight 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