LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: That is the LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Tonight on this September 11th, the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, President Trump attacked his now former national security adviser. He attacked the polls showing him losing to Democrats in 2020. And attacked the reporting that he tried to change the weather forecast.
Meanwhile, at a federal prison in upstate New York inmate Michael Cohen has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors as the Manhattan district attorney now investigates if the Trump family business cooked the books to pay people off.
And 10 democrats now just hours away from their next debate. Will they go after Obama this time? Will they attack cheeseburgers or Donald Trump? As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Wednesday night.
Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 965 of the Trump administration. September 11th, 2019. That makes it the 18th anniversary of the largest loss of life on U.S. soil since the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War and the day that launched our longest war still ongoing tonight.
The President started this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with his own attacks on social media, railing about a poll done, "by one of the worst pollsters of them all, the Amazon "Washington Post"/ABS. Sleepy Joe, Pocahontas, virtually all others would beat me in a general election. I haven`t even started campaigning yet and I`m constantly fighting fake news like Russia, Russia, Russia."
The President has indeed been campaigning ever since his official campaign announcement rally back in mid June in Orlando, Florida. The economy was also on the President`s mind this 9/11 morning. He posted, "The Federal Reserve should get our interest rates down to zero or less, and we should then start to refinance our debt. It`s only the naivete of Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve that doesn`t allow us to do what other countries are already doing. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we are missing because of boneheads."
Trump did go to the Pentagon for the morning 9/11 memorial. Remember the Pentagon one of the targets on that day. He spoke of his decision to abruptly call off a Camp David visit with the Taliban.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had peace talks scheduled a few days ago. I called them off when I learned that they had killed a great American soldier from Puerto Rico and 11 other innocent people. They thought they would use this attack to show strength. But actually what they showed is unrelenting weakness.
And if for any reason they come back to our country, we will go wherever they are and use power the likes of which the United States has never used before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Trump also had quite a bit to say about his now former National Security Adviser John Bolton on this day of such weighty meaning behind the banner of anything national security. Trump used an Oval Office event to announce plans to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes to defend the departure of John Bolton.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: So John is somebody that I actually got along with very well. He made some very big mistakes.
Frankly, he wanted to do things not necessarily tougher than me. John`s known as a tough guy. He`s so tough he got us into Iraq. He wasn`t getting along with people in the administration that I consider very important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: When asked for a response, Bolton texted this to NBC News, "I`ll have my say in due course."
The President today was asked about several other challenges now facing his administration, including but not limited to China, Iran, North Korea, gun control, his responses seemed to strike a similar note having to do with vagueness, not so much specifics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: And you look at so many of the things that are happening.
We are looking at vaping very strongly.
we are always watching Venezuela.
We`re going to take a look at a lot of different things.
I`m not looking at anything.
There are a lot of things under discussion. We`re having great dialogue.
But I look at some statements that are made from so many different people. And I do believe they`d like to make a deal. If they do that`s great and if they don`t that`s great too.
If we can`t make a deal that`s fine too.
Some things will never happen and some things can really very much so -- very meaningful things can happen.
We`ll see what happens. I mean, maybe they do and maybe they don`t. I mean, you`re just -- going to just see.
So we`ll see what happens.
We`ll see what happens.
We`ll see what happens.
We`ll see what happens. OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: The President`s self-inflicted controversy concerning Hurricane Dorian roared back into the headlines today. A "New York Times" report with a by line that includes peter Baker who joins us in a moment says Trump pressed his own acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to have NOAA, the parent agency, correct the forecasters who contracted Trump`s claim that Dorian could hit Alabama.
"Washington Post" also reports Trump pushed staff to intervene with the nation`s main forecasting agency. Again, a division of the Department of Commerce. And the President today was asked about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you tell your chief of staff to have NOAA disavow those forecasters who said that Alabama was not --
TRUMP: No, I never did that. I never did that. That`s a whole hoax by the fake news media when they talk about the hurricane and when they talk about Florida and they talk about Alabama. That`s just fake news. It was right from the beginning it was a fake story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Thousands of people tonight are still believed to be missing in the Bahamas. Parts of which Dorian left uninhabitable.
Today NBC News learned the Trump White House has decided not to give temporary protected status to Bahama residents who survived the storm. It means they can come to the U.S. temporarily only if they have the right travel documents but they won`t be granted work permits once they`ve here. Fifteen hundreds victims of Dorian have so far come to our country. Many others, remember, have lost their passports along with the rest of their shelter and belongings.
There was also what`s being called a major win for Trump today on immigration. The Supreme Court allowing his administration to refuse to consider a request for asylum from anybody who fails to apply for it in another country after leaving home but before coming here to the United States.
It`s a lot. And here for our lead-off discussion on a Wednesday night, among three of the very best, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for "The New York Times," Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Reporter for "The Washington Post," and Jonathan Allen, NBC News National Political Reporter. He`s in Houston tonight ahead of the Democratic debate there tomorrow night.
Ashley, you and Phil Rucker did a dual byline piece part of which I`m going to read back to you to start us off, "One of Bolton`s fatal sins was believing he could outmaneuver the President and promote the hawkish worldview he has advocated for decades according to Republicans familiar with the dynamic. He really doesn`t believe in advisers, said a Republican in close touch with Trump, speaking on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations. He really just has people around him he asks questions of."
So Ashley, not so much a kitchen cabinet as maybe the cabinet in the laundry room over the washer and dryer. Just a -- this is in some cases a collection of friends?
ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: In some cases it is a collection of friends. He does have an actual Cabinet until recently, you know, John Bolton was a senior adviser. But in just -- in covering this White House and in talking to people current officials, former officials, friends, there is a sense that the President, yes, he will check with his Cabinet secretaries but he is just as likely to heed their advice as he is, for instance, the advice or input he may receive from watching Fox News or talking to one of those hosts on the phone or even calling someone who he knows from his New York real estate days late at night or running into someone on the patio of Mar-a-Lago. And he weights all of this advice frankly fairly equally.
On the one hand, it`s I guess, populist of him. But on the other hand it can make it very frustrating to actually be a senior adviser in that administration tasked with trying to guide and move and help influence and sway major critical policy decisions.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, CNN reporting tonight, reporting we have not yet matched, that the President, the West Wing is considering combining the jobs of national security adviser and secretary of state, not generally, so much so that in one specific man, and that`s Secretary Pompeo. We`ve said early and often on this broadcast, you don`t graduate number one in your class at west point without a combination of I.Q., E.Q., and physical strength, and by all accounts Pompeo has that. Is this, Peter, based on your understanding, because of a lack of other entrants for the job or because Pompeo has proven extraordinary at managing up?
PETER BAKER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no, I think there are plenty of entrants for the job, but it is in fact a testament to how singular a figure Mike Pompeo has really become. This rumor of the idea of combining these two jobs a la Henry Kissinger in the 1970s took all of about five minutes after John Bolton`s departure to start making its way around Washington. And it`s not clear whether it`s just sort of a fanciful notion or maybe just the, you know, ambitions of the people around Pompeo looking to sort of cement his place in the security team.
But the truth is, even if this doesn`t happen, what`s really striking is the fact it was even conceived of, right? And it says something about Pompeo. He is the last survivor really of the original national security team, the one who has managed better than anybody to figure out how to navigate Trump`s world, the one that Ashley just described. He has his point of view, which is not always the same as the President. In fact, ideologically he`s sometimes closer to where John Bolton was. But he understood better than Bolton how to manage this President and manage a very volatile commander in chief, get what he wants done and sublimate his own ideas if he needs to in order to keep the President on board.
WILLIAMS: Jon Allen, as by way of a preview of tomorrow night in Houston, do you think the Democrats this time may attack Trump more than Obama?
JONATHAN ALLEN, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I think certainly Democratic voters would like to hear the Democratic candidates spend more time showing contrast with Trump than Obama. I think after the last set of debates there was a lot of criticism about just how much they were distancing themselves from Obama. Certainly gives the front-runner Joe Biden an opportunity to punch back, to frame himself as closer to the former president than the rest of the field.
And obviously the Democratic Party is most obsessed with President Trump and with replacing him. So, I don`t know if he becomes the point of focus completely in this next debate. I think there are a lot of candidates who are trailing, who have low single digits that are still on the stage who maybe trying to launch some broadsides tomorrow to try to gain some traction against the candidates above them. But I certainly expect to hear the name Trump more than we have in the last couple of debates.
WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, I can`t believe it but here we are back talking about Alabama. And on the purest micro level, think of a family in Gulf shores. They`ve saved all year for their traditional Labor Day summer vacation. It gets mentioned that Alabama is a potential target of this storm and people might rethink their plans. That could have an actual impact on families, on the economy.
That didn`t happen, of course. Here we are still litigating the President`s attempt nothing short of changing the weather forecast. What does this say, this episode specifically, about Donald Trump and through your reporting we`ve learned a bunch of pliant employees?
BAKER: Well, it`s rather remarkable. You know, what started off as frankly, you know, a momentary embarrassment, something that could have been, you know, explained away or, you know, apologized or otherwise made to disappear pretty quickly has now extended itself into a 10, 12-day, you know, story. And on top of that we now have two investigations. You know, we have the Commerce Department`s own inspector general looking at the origin of the statement that repudiated the weather forecasters in Alabama.
And now today the House Science Committee, which is majority Democrats, launched their own inquiry. And that may or may not add up to anything. It may not be anything wrong. Maybe the White House is simply doing what it was allowed to do. But now suddenly it will face weeks if not months of answering questions responding requests for documents, e-mails, and telephone records and the like.
One more nuisance at the very least and potential threat at the most along with a lot of others. So, it`s an unnecessary self-inflicted wound of course. But that`s something we`ve seen again and again in this presidency.
WILLIAMS: Ashley, you heard that mashup from the President in the Oval Office today, kind of a collection of vagueness. Behind the scenes, Americans would be forgiven for wondering if the grind of staff work, career professionals, specialists, the rigor of office still goes on. Can you speak to that?
PARKER: A little bit, sure. I mean, I think the Trump White House, to be clear, was chaotic from the start. And we`ve now sort of lived through several iterations just of for instance chief of staff and each person sort of brings a different stamp to the White House. But what you`re seeing now is you`re seeing the exodus of a lot of officials who either legitimately were or fancied themselves to be guardrails, people who disagreed with the President strongly and like Bolton, for instance, who disagreed with him strongly and publicly, which is a fatal sin and to be fair is something that no president would tolerate are now gone.
You also have a lot of people who are doing the jobs, not just their own job but they are officially doing the jobs of two or three people because there had been vacancies that either can`t be filled or have not been filled. And then finally on top of that you -- even while you have sort of roles in name only you have a President who at his core believes to be his own best policy advisor, his own best communication`s director, his own best chief of staff who is also sort of performing all of these roles. And so it is a bit of a cauldron of task there, frankly, there was task from the beginning. And it is now a different type of turbulence, but it is one that is affecting the President and that we understand he is getting frustrated in taking out on his aides a little bit.
WILLIAMS: Jon Allen, a rare foray in the Oval Office today, rare for this presidency into an American consumer issue of modern life. Also a public health issue when the President had this event to talk about vaping, we would be remiss to not run this portion of the President`s remarks. Jon, we`ll talk to you about it on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Vaping has become a very big business, as I understand it. Like a giant business in a very short period of time. But we can`t allow people to get sick and we can`t have our youth be so affected. And I`m hearing -- and that`s how the first lady got involved. She`s got a son, together, that is a beautiful young man and she feels very, very strongly about it.
Especially vaping as it pertains to innocent children. And they`re coming home and they`re saying "Mom, I want to vape."
WILLIAMS: So Jon, what have we learned? The first lady has a son. The word "together" was then added. And apparently children are now announcing their intentions. A change from my generation to their parents when they come in the door. On a serious note, Jon, no sooner had that event happened. You saw social media light up. Firearms kill 36,000 of our fellow citizens every year. Someone said the vaping death toll plus or minus 6 and however horrendous a public health issue this turns out to be, you have to pick your targets and pick your campaigns.
ALLEN: Yes, I suspect when the history of all of this is written, Brian, we`ll find out that one vaping manufacturer, one e-cigarette manufacturer got to the President`s ear with its lobbyists and its supporters before the other one did, that essentially the battle over flavored e-cigarettes is a corporate fight and he came down on one side pretty quickly.
This is not -- this is an issue I think that a lot of people do care about. It did not sound from his comments like it`s something that he`s given a lot of thought to. It`s certainly an issue that has not been on the scene for as long as the fight over, say, gun control or many other public health hazards. He`s not a president that has involved himself or engaged himself much in the way of regulation.
And what we know from the past of tobacco regulation is that when one company gets involved in regulation it usually has some great benefit for that company. You can look back to tobacco regulation and the desire of at the time the Philip Morris Company to get FDA regulation of tobacco. What that did for Philip Morris was lock in market share against its competitors.
So, judging from the history of this, I think that it`s likely that this was something that wasn`t given a lot of thought to by the President beforehand and it`s something that we`ll see a lot of money change hands as a result of.
WILLIAMS: This is the world we`re living in, September 11th, 201, as i said at the outset. Thanks to three of the very best for being with us tonight. To Peter Baker, to Ashley Parker, and to Jon Allen.
Coming up for us, who the President`s former lawyer has been talking to while doing time in prison. Conversation`s that should perhaps concern the Trump Organization.
And later, a viewer`s guide to the third Democratic debate tomorrow night already as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this Wednesday evening.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) HOUSE OVERSIGN CMTE. CHAIRMAN: Donald Trump wrote you a check out of his personal account while he was serving as President of the United States of America to reimburse you for hush-money payments to Ms. Clifford. Is that what you are telling the American people today?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: Yes, Mr. Chairman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Though there are days in this country where it`s as if that hearing never happened, we are hearing tonight that former Trump Attorney Michael Cohen is talking to the Manhattan District Attorney`s Office about those very same hush-money payments. Sources tell NBC News the State of New York is looking into the possibility that the Trump organization falsifies business -- falsified business records in violation of state law. Cohen has already pleaded guilty to federal charges.
And again, this is a local New York district attorney. But they enforce the law too. The former lawyer is now an inmate serving three years in prison for among other crimes his role in procuring those payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, which constituted a campaign finance violation. Let`s not forget this, a case in which the President was an unindicted co- conspirator.
Back with us tonight, we`re so fortunate to have Chuck Rosenberg, former U.S. attorney, former senior FBI official. Happens to be the host of the MSNBC podcast, as many of you already know, called "The Oath," now in its second season as they cover Season 3 of the Trump White House.
Chuck, can Michael Cohen say no when prosecutors show up at the prison where he`s incarcerated?
CHUCK ROSENBERG, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: Theoretically, yes, he can say no. You see that sort of conduct in the movies. In real life people in prison or people facing prison time are rational actors. And so if you have the ability, the opportunity to cooperate with the Feds or with state law enforcement and to perhaps work off some of your time in return for your information, most rational thinkers, most rational beings do exactly that.
WILLIAMS: What do these investigators want to know?
ROSENBERG: Well, so it`s a violation of -- let me back up for a second. Lots of things are a violation of federal law and state law. They can be prosecuted by either. Bank robbery, drug dealing, tax evasion. Here, what was a federal violation, the campaign finance violations you referred to with respect to the hush money, are also potentially a violation of New York state law making false business records, right? Same set of facts, but they`re unlawful in slightly different ways. That`s what New York State cares about.
Do we have an entity, the Trump Organization, recording false books, recording false entries, making false ledgers? And if they do, and Michael Cohen can help them get there and prove that, a violation of New York State law that we should expect will be prosecuted.
WILLIAMS: We are so used to around here and during this era knowing and talking to people like you on the federal side. And we`ve all learned a master`s degree in learning what happens when you trifle with the Feds and learning the power of the Feds. How much power will the Manhattan D.A. have to hold over the head of Michael Cohen and to enforce a case against the sitting President of the United States perhaps?
ROSENBERG: Well, let me take your second question first because that`s -- it`s really interesting. We talked a lot, Brian, if you recall, and I know you do, about the prohibition on federal prosecutors charging a sitting president.
ROSENBERG: New York State is a separate sovereign. They`re a separate entity. And oh, by the way, they don`t have such a policy and they don`t have to abide by the federal policy. So in theory, I`m not saying this will happen, a state could charge a President with a crime that he, in this case he committed while in office, prior to office, as long as the statute of limitations on it has not run.
So New York state has a lot of leverage here, to answer your first question, and could charge a sitting President to answer your second question. There`s some theoretical and constitutional difficulties with that, but they`re not prohibited by policy.
WILLIAMS: A pure promo to end our conversation. Congratulations on your start of Season 2 of "The Oath." As I like to say, covering Season 3 of the Trump presidency. Tell us about at least one upcoming podcast.
ROSENBERG: Absolutely. This week, Rob spencer, the lead prosecutor on the 9/11 case. Next week Four-Star retired Admiral Bill McRaven, the --
WILLIAMS: Former head of all special operations.
ROSENBERG: All special ops and the longest-serving Navy SEAL in American history.
WILLIAMS: And by the way, the man who got Osama bin Laden.
ROSENBERG: He is a wonderful guest.
WILLIAMS: He truly is. As are you. Thank you very much.
ROSENBERG: Thank you, sir.
WILLIAMS: As always, a pleasure.
Coming up, our viewer`s guide to tomorrow night`s Democratic debate, which puts the top 10 on the same stage for the first time. We`ll have that next.
WILLIAMS: The top 10 2020 Democrats will debate for a third time. That`s less than 24 hours from now. But things, as they say, will be different this time around. It`s the first time all of the top-tier candidates will share a stage at the same time.
Also the first time Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden will have a chance to debate each other. Good timing for her with new CNN polling showing her up four points, give or take, since last month. Notably, Joe Biden is the only top-tier candidate whose numbers have ticked down a bit since August.
We are so happy to have back with us tonight Mike Murphy, Republican Strategist, co-director of the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California. Happens also to be co-host of the podcast "Hacks on Tap with David Axelrod." They also make a terrific follow on social media. And we come to you -- we welcome to the broadcast tonight, Tarini Parti, National Politics Reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."
Tarini, I`d like to begin with you and your list of five things to look for tomorrow night which because we love lists in the television news business instantly caught our eyes. They are, will Warren and Bide attack each other, especially over health care? How will Biden`s series of gaffes affect him? Will Democrats lay off ought the Obama administration? Is punching up a good break-out strategy for lower-polling candidates? Will proposals about gun buybacks divide the field?
Tarini, start with number one. What is likely, what is possible to happen between Biden and Warren?
TARINI PARTI, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Right. So any direct engagement between those two candidates. Now, these are two candidates we have not seen on the debate stage together. This is something that voters have been waiting to see. So any direct engagement between the two will be one to watch but especially on health care.
Now, we know Joe Biden has been pushing for incremental change. Elizabeth Warren, as she likes to put it, pushes for big structural change. This is the kind of ideology that`s, you know, at the root of what`s dividing the Democratic Party right now. So, any sort of discussion between those two candidates will be one that could help a lot of voters decide who they`re supporting, what kind of nominee they think could beat Donald Trump in the end.
WILLIAMS: So Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, if there was a head of the Democratic Party, would we not assume that that person would go backstage and say even with the help of flash cards Obama good, Trump bad?
MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes. I would think they`re all going to have that tattooed on them. The problem is this is the first playoff game. The summer in Iowa is over. The race to the Caucus is really heating up. And you`ve got kind of two tiers of candidates.
The people who have something right now, have a hunk of votes, are basically Biden, who`s sitting on his third pretty comfortable but vulnerable. Elizabeth Warren who`s been in ascension. And Bernie Sanders who`s been in a slow decline. So those three all have the problem of Elizabeth Warren`s ascension and will anybody do about it?
My big debate question is, will anybody put Elizabeth Warren on the defensive or will this let her keep scoring points and keep moving up? If you`re one of the understudies, the Mayor Petes, the Cory Bookers, the Amy Klobuchars, the Beto O`Rourkes, you`ve really got to have something happen. Because with the exception of Buttigieg, who`s got a big war chest, which will buy him time, the others are running out of money just when the campaign is getting more expensive. So they`ve got to show their donors they`re in this and to have a moment and the best moment is always conflict.
WILLIAMS: And Tarini, indeed it`s your number three item. What happened one of the last times out? By way of going after Biden they end up criticizing the Obama administration. Barack and Michelle Obama are probably the -- well, likely the most popular couple in the world. Former First Lady I think by polling is the most popular human on the planet. It is a rich eight-year legacy for very proud Democrats in the business. Can you believe that it`s your third item that they need to remember not to attack Barack Obama?
PARTI: I think that was something that took a lot of people by surprise, especially Obama allies during the last debate. And now that we`re seeing a lot of these candidates position themselves as the ones who can build the Obama -- rebuild the Obama coalition and make it even better, so while they`re making this argument they can`t also criticize the Obama administration. So we saw someone like former Housing Secretary Julian Castro criticize the Obama administration on immigration policy but then also try to make the claim that he is the one who could build that Obama coalition and get those voters to elect him to defeat Donald Trump.
So I think we might see some of these candidates tone down that criticism if they are trying to win over those same set of voters. And we`re already hearing from someone like Senator Kamala Harris, whose campaign has previewed her debate message and said that she will focus on Donald Trump, she will focus on unifying the country and around common solutions, as her campaign spokesperson put it.
WILLIAMS: Mike, a couple caveats here that I try to include in every broadcast. We don`t have a national election. We have 50 state elections. Donald Trump lost in pure vote terms the last national election in terms of raw votes. So it`s with that caveat that I put this new "Washington Post" polling on the screen.
These are head-to-head match-ups. It shows Biden over Trump by a healthy 15-point margin. But then you see Sanders and Warren and Harris and Buttigieg. What do you make of this kind of head to-to-head match-up 14 months out?
MURPHY: Well that`s a good point, Brian, because these national polls, they move -- they give you a good idea of what happened 10 days ago based on the noise in the campaign. But there`s one theme running through every poll and frankly almost every election since the day Donald Trump was sworn in, which is people have punished the Republicans. Even in this special in North Carolina we won but we won a 10 to 12-point solid Republicans district by only two points. That`s a district that would elect a bag of horseshoes by three or four points if it had an "r" on it.
So, you know, all these Democrats are really performing well because of Trump`s weakness. The question is when we get to a real campaign next year, somebody`s going to get nominated and the whole Trump campaign is going to be about doing unto them what the last few years have done to Donald Trump to make it a little more of a fair comparison. They haven`t been through the car wash of national politics yet, and it can be a rough ride.
WILLIAMS: Mike, if you had to privately bet your savings and checking tonight, do you think it`s going to be anything approaching a blood bath for the GOP?
MURPHY: Look, if I -- you know, the future is uncertain in politics. But if you mark this to market as the Wall Street folks say, you have an asset. What can you sell it for? The test is Election Day. And in 90 percent of the election days, we`ve done badly with Trump. So unless Donald Trump becomes really good at changing things up and the Democrats nominate a competitive candidate, big if, the odds are he`d lose. But a lot of loose ends, particularly who they nominate.
Elizabeth Warren is no Dan McCready down in that North Carolina special. She would not do as well in that district as the Democrat candidate did holding it to only two just based on ideology.
WILLIAMS: Terrific point. To Mike Murphy, our thanks for coming back on the broadcast. To Tarini Parti, thank you for coming on the broadcast and welcome. Thank you to you both.
Coming up --
PARTI: Thanks for having me.
WILLIAMS: -- a veteran Republicans strategist has advice for Democrats going into tomorrow night. It`s about what not to discuss because people can hear you when you say it out loud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Look, this is the classic example of the Democrats absolutely not getting what this election is about. It is a referendum on Donald Trump, full stop. All of these policy chatter they`re talking about, all they`re doing is giving the Trump ad makers fodder for extraordinarily dumb and yet incredibly effective ads that they`re going to run to the Trump base over and over again, repeating that message.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Our friend Rick Wilson, remember, a Republicans strategist by trade who is among those saying to the Democrats have your policy debates, just don`t televise them. This is about beating Donald Trump. But if people think you`re coming for their cheeseburgers, you`ll lose this election.
But then there`s this. A majority of Democrats do seem to agree on one thing. A new NPR/PBS/Marist poll finds nearly two-thirds of Democrats surveyed, 58 percent say it`s more important to have a nominee who can beat Donald Trump. 39 percent want a nominee who shares their views.
We`re so happy to have back with us tonight John Heilemann, our National Affairs Analyst, co-author of "Game Change," co-author of "Double Down," co-host and co-creator of "The Circus" on showtime. Where do you come down on the Rick Wilson theory espoused by many others, if you legislate cheeseburgers, drinking straws --
JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, MSNBC: Yes.
WILLIAMS: -- light bulbs --
WILLIAMS: -- you`re going to lose.
HEILEMANN: Yes. I think those are all issues that create a target-rich environment for the Trump campaign. And you can see it after this climate event the other night. You know, you just watched the way the Trump campaign -- I was on the show with you and you saw --
WILLIAMS: Every night on Fox News they`re doing it.
HEILEMANN: Yes, you saw what they put out as their press release. They know that these are positions of vulnerability. And, you know, more importantly I would say not just those issues but issues like decriminalizing the border, taking away private health insurance. These are things that are not broadly popular in America, Brian. And I think, you know, if that is what -- if they want to serve up that platter to the President, they won`t necessarily lose the election but they will reduce their chances of winning the election.
WILLIAMS: So Bob Strauss, who used to run the Democratic Party and ran the Democratic Party, used to talk about dinner table issues. He did not mean someone reaching in and affecting what happened at your dinner table or legislating your dinner table. What could they do?
HEILEMANN: If the Democrats want to take your tofu away, they might win the election that way. Not if they`re going to take your cheeseburgers away. I mean, look, you know, we`re looking at this polling here and I am stunned by much of the polling we`ve seen over the last couple of days that would suggest the President would lose in head-to-head match-ups against Democrats.
HEILEMANN: -- all of it, meaningless --
HEILEMANN: -- in the content. We`re so far away. We don`t know who the nominee is. There`s going to be miles to go. I`ll tell you what there`s not miles to go on those, right now according to this Pew poll, all registered voters when you do fave, unfaves, favor/unfavorable views of candidates, which is what pollsters and strategist actually look at when they`re looking at how their candidates are doing right now. Among registered voters Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, all of them upside down, all of them higher unfavorables than favorables with all voters. Now, they have a lot of time to introduce themselves --
WILLIAMS: I don`t know much but I know that`s not good.
HEILEMANN: That is not good. They have a lot of time -- and they have time to fix it. But right now, Joe Biden, supposedly the most electable one, 46-45. Unfavorable 46-45 favorable. And it gets worse from there for the other Democrats. And I just say right now the Democrats -- most voters don`t know that much about them, positive or negative.
But the war to define that candidate going forward, the Trump campaign is going to try to define them in negative terms. The Democrats, whoever is the nominee, is going to try to define themselves in positive terms. But starting in this place, especially with someone like Joe Biden, who a lost people know in the country, not a great place to be starting.
WILLIAMS: Hold that thought. John`s agreed to stay with us over a break. Coming up about last night, can anything be learned or gleaned from one special election? To be honest, it had more than two voters.
WILLIAMS: So we noticed today our friends over at CNN went up with this article and the title is "Trump EPA set to officially roll back Obama clean water regulation." Forgive me. That topic got us thinking, the cleanliness of water is one of those topics Donald Trump positively luxuriates in discussing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say I want crystal clean water.
I want crystal clean water. I want crystal clean water.
We`re going to have, by the way, crystal clean water. Crystal clean water. Crystal clean. Clean, beautiful, crystal water.
Crystal clean water. Crystal clean water.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: John Heilemann remains with us.
HEILEMANN: Crystal clean water.
WILLIAMS: What`s at work there?
HEILEMANN: I don`t know. The man is a germophobe. He like things that, in general, are crystal and clean and apparently water is among them.
WILLIAMS: Those words only work in that --
HEILEMANN: Crystal clean water, brain. Clean, crystal water.
WILLIAMS: The President of the United States.
HEILEMANN: Do you not like clean water?
WILLIAMS: I like it.
HEILEMANN: You have an issue with clean water?
WILLIAMS: I really like the crystal clean. Hey, what did we learn last night? Special election, North Carolina. Did we learn a greater lesson about suburban vote?
HEILEMANN: I think "The New York Times" occasionally does a double barrel lead that is exactly right. And this was double barrel lead you`re going to have no matter what happen last night. One element believe was going to be about Donald Trump`s strength to this base, and other element was going to going to be about his weakness and the Republican Party`s weakness in the suburbs. Depending on who wanted to lost. As it turned out, Republican is winning meant that you lead with Trump`s strength with his base but then followed that up with the weakness of the suburbs.
WILLIAMS: Fury inside baseball.
HEILEMANN: Well, it`s just the reality is that both sides have something they can point of to here. The President is right. He`s strong with his base and you heard Mike Murphy earlier saying this thing about, you know, what that tells you about where that district stands or where that part of that district stands.
So the reality is Republicans have a profound weakness in the suburbs. The President`s hold that his base is very strong, and that 12-point gap that we had in 2016 was narrowed considerably. Democrats nominate the right person. They can win North Carolina. They nominate the wrong person. The President`s base will cause him to win that state again.
WILLIAMS: Dave Wasserman, Cook Political Report. Question for 2020, will Dems nominate someone who will allow Trump to self-destruct in the suburbs, already on display in Charlotte, et cetera, or someone who gets in the way?" Just another way of saying what you just did.
HEILEMANN: That`s exactly right. And so, you know, what happened in 2018 in the midterm elections was that without a Democrat at the top of the ticket and in a lot of ways, a pure national referendum on Trump played out in every congressional district, no one was in the way. And so in suburban districts all over the country, Donald Trump`s unpopularity drive Republican candidates down and Democrats won in a blue wave.
If that can happen again, a referendum on Donald Trump, and there`s no one who files that up in the Democratic side, there`s no reason Democrats can`t beat Donald Trump. But the issue is if someone end up at the top of the ticket who Donald Trump can use as a foil effectively and allow him to say, look over here and allow suburban voters to not focus on Trump but focus on something else.
WILLIAMS: We have one minute. If you see me waving my arms --
WILLIAMS: -- because we`re out of time.
WILLIAMS: Will the Joe Biden false equivalents gaffe reporting, the FAK on every political journalist, is Joe Biden gaffes --
WILLIAMS: -- compared to say, today in the Trump presidency, that just continue unabated. The President went to the Pentagon, a 9/11 target today, and talked about the Taliban --
WILLIAMS: -- as house guests.
HEILEMANN: Yes. It will continue unabated. I say that not approvingly but I believe it will happen because -- I do think one of the things the reasons why it`s happening is that, we`ll see what happens if Joe Biden is the nominee and he goes against Donald Trump. That is when we`ll worry about it. Right now part of the reason people are focused on Joe Biden`s gaffes is because Democrats want someone who can beat Donald Trump, and every Democrat in the field is trying to say to reporters don`t pick that guy. Look at those gaffes.
WILLIAMS: That`s our viewers guide for tomorrow night. John Heilemann, it`s always a pleasure to have you here. Our thanks.
A quick note about tomorrow night. Nicolle Wallace and I will be here for "The 11th" and as it turns out, the 12th hour, actually the 24th, with special expanded coverage of the Democratic debate in Houston.
Chris Matthews and NBC News Political team will be with all the candidates in the spin room at the debate venue. Our guests and analysts here in this room will include Claire McCaskill, former Senator from Missouri, that music, Eugene Robinson, Joy Reid, and a host of others, that`s tomorrow evening. When the debate coverage ends on ABC, our coverage begins. It`s best explained using clear English.
Still coming for us tonight, will we listen as close to a dozen Democrats answer the question? What should we call what we are witnessing right now?
WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight. As we try to make a habit of saying around here impeachment traditionally comes in two flavors, regular or classic, and diet. The case we`re witnessing the later, diet, one calorie impeachment gets stronger every day and pretty much every time a Democratic member of Congress is asked, hey, what`s the deal with impeachment?
The Nic Fandos` headline in " The Times" tonight is everything. "Is it an impeachment inquiry or not? Democrats can`t seem to agree." We`ll here`s what we`re talking about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, WASHINGTON: For anyone that was confused, we are in the midst of an investigation.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, NEW YORK: We are holding hearings for the purpose of investigating the possibility of voting articles of impeachment against the President.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIR, CALIFORNIA: I think Chairman Nadler has described proceedings well.
NADLER: What we`re doing tomorrow is adopting procedures enabling us to do it more effectively.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it`s a bit technical inside baseball.
REP. LAUREN UNDERWOOD (D), ILLINOIS: Essentially, the impeachment inquiry has already begun.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People can call this whatever they want to call it.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE, NEW YORK: I don`t want to get caught in semantics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you support this moving forward with articles of impeachment against the President.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: I mean, we should move forward on things leading up to that.
REP. KATIE HILL (D), CALIFORNIA: The only vote that is ultimately going to matter is whether we vote to impeach him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: So we hope that cleared it up for all of you. And with that, we wrap up what is the worst day of the year every year here in New York. Tonight beneath the twin blue shafts of light over Lower Manhattan, one of the places where so many died 18 years ago, and we ache for those who were killed, for their families, for those who went to war in its name, for those still dying because they rushed in to help.
That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night, September 11th, 2019. Thank you for being here with us. Goodnight from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END