IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Daily Beast TRANSCRIPT: 8/6/20, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams

Guests: Stuart Stevens

BETO O`ROURKE, FORMER DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN, TEXAS: -- and treated them as  such, sent the signal to this killer that he should take them out and he  did. So we have a very clear choice before us in November, for hope this  country comes down for Joe Biden.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Beto O`Rourke, former Presidential Candidate and  former Democratic Congressman from Texas. Thank you for joining us tonight.  That is tonight`s last word. "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams begins  now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, day 1,295 of the  Trump administration, 89 days to go until our presidential election less  than three months from now. Today, the President was back in the  battleground state of Ohio, a must win for him and it was a day when the  pandemic met electoral politics. In many messages, some of them subtle,  others not so much.

With less than an hour left in this Thursday night before we give way to  Friday, we are even closer to 5 million Americans sickened by this virus.  The death toll now north of 160,000 of our fellow citizens. And to  paraphrase the President, it truly is what it is. And it`s a staggering  number growing by about 1,000 souls a day.

The latest model out today from the prestigious university of Washington  research group projects, we could lose almost twice that number nearly  300,000 by December 1st. Here`s how the President spoke today about the  crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In an interview this week, you were talking about  people dying of coronavirus. You said, "That`s true and it is what it is".

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody can do what I`ve done,  in terms of all of the things that we`re doing to combat this horrible  disease that never should have been sent to us.

We have to produce not only cleanliness and perfection in every way, but we  have to protect our most vulnerable citizens against this horrible virus.  Our strategy shelters, those at highest risk while allowing those at lower  risk to get safely back to work and the school, instead of a never ending  blanket lockdown causing severe long-term public health consequences.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And as the man on the TV used to say, but wait, there`s more.  Trump now appears to be employing the promise of a vaccine as part of his  re-election strategy. Today, he took three opportunities to suggest that we  could even see a vaccine by Election Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We have a lot of vaccines under study, by the way, we look like  we`re going to be really good on vaccines and with therapeutics also. We  have a lot -- 

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT-AT-LARGE: So what`s the earliest we  can see that? A vaccine?

TRUMP: Sooner than the end of the year, could be much sooner. These  companies are fantastic.

RIVERA: Sooner than November 3rd?

TRUMP: I think in some cases, yes, it`s possible before, but right around  that time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said that a vaccine could be ready by around  November 3rd, are you optimistic that that will happen, and will that give  you a boost in the election?

TRUMP: On the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

TRUMP: I am. I`m optimistic that it`ll be probably around that date. I  believe we`ll have the vaccine before the end of the year, certainly. But  around that date, yes, I think so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, would that give you a boost in the  election? Would that help you in the election?

TRUMP: It wouldn`t hurt. It wouldn`t hurt. But I`m not doing that. I`m  doing it not for the election. I want it fast because I want to save a lot  of lives.

Under operation warp speed to vaccines are already in the final stage of  clinical trials. And we`ll have a vaccine very soon, I hope long before the  end of the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Dr. Anthony Fauci weighed in on that with his own reality check.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS  DISEASES: We`re trying very hard to ultimately get a vaccine that might be  available by the end of the year or the beginning of 2021. But that`s many  months away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Amid all of this, there has been a call for increased widespread  rapid COVID testing. Today on that front, we learned that Ohio`s Republican  Governor Mike DeWine, at first tested positive for the virus using a rapid  test just prior to greeting the president in Cleveland.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Everyone who sees the president is tested. So I  was tested. I went from there to the airport. And when I got to the  airport, found out shortly thereafter that I had tested positive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: And again, but wait, there`s more, we say at first he tested  positive, tonight, the Governor said he tested negative in his second test  of the day. His state has seen a rise in virus cases over the past several  weeks, he`s been forced to take aggressive actions to try to contain the  spread as many governors have, including issuing a stay-at-home order, a  mask mandate, closing schools, postponing the state primary.

Tonight, there appears to be a new warning about an uptick in cases from  Dr. Deborah Birx, but nothing she was willing to say, publicly mind you.  The folks at The Center for Public Integrity once again reporting that any  private phone call on Wednesday, Birx told state and local officials the  White House Coronavirus Task Force is keeping an eye on the virus numbers  in 10 specific areas across the country. Here they are. The report says  Birx also warned about family gatherings being super spreader events. This  comes just days after Trump criticized her for saying the virus had entered  a new phase.

And two weeks after another private briefing in which Birx warned 11 cities  that they should take aggressive action against the virus. All of this  plays out while the Labor Department says nearly 1.2 million Americans  filed first time unemployment claims last week. That makes it the 20th  straight week, the number has topped a million. It`s also estimated upwards  of 30 million Americans find themselves without enough food during this  economic calamity.

Congress and the White House are talking about a relief bill but they`ve  got nothing and the two sides are billions of dollars apart. Congress is  supposed to begin recess tomorrow. A lot of lawmakers have already left  town for their three-day weekend. Trump has said he`s ready to sign a  series of executive orders if there`s no relief bill.

Also, tonight, New York State Attorney General Letitia James has launched a  major legal challenge to the NRA, moving to dissolve the NRA as part of a  lawsuit that charges the leadership with fraud and corruption. The NRA, and  here`s the rub, was chartered as a nonprofit in New York almost 150 years  ago. Late today it filed a counterclaim sued the President, a staunch  defender of the group and a beneficiary of its generous campaign  contributions weighed in earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: That`s a very terrible thing that just happened. I think the NRA  should move to Texas and lead a very good and beautiful life. And I`ve told  them that for a long time, I think they should move to Texas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Thursday night, it`s a lot.  Kimberly Atkins formerly at WBUR and the Boston Herald these days, a newly- minted member of the Boston Globe Editorial Board, Sam Stein, Politics  Editor for The Daily Beast and Carol Leonnig, Pulitzer Prize Winning  Investigative Reporter for The Washington Post, happens to be the co-author  along with her very stable post colleague, Phil Rucker, of the best-selling  book, "A Very Stable Genius". Good evening, and welcome to you all.

So Kim, is this the new re-election strategy promising a virus to an  anxious nation in the midst of a pandemic with what happens to be a  delivery date of November 3rd or thereabouts?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, this seems to be the latest  attempt to deliver some sort of magic pill to make this virus go away or to  make people less worried about it, with the President is clearly trying to  deliver a campaign deliverable. He says that he wants it for in order to  end this pandemic. But it`s quite interesting, even though he was asked  about this date that he took that and ran with it and made it a November  3rd promise.

Of course, from what we`ve heard from Dr. Fauci and from what we know about  vaccines that have been delivered for everything from Ebola to the common  flu, that coming up with a vaccine takes much longer and that the estimated  date of a vaccine being found by the end of this year or the beginning of  next year, which Dr. Fauci claim doesn`t take into account how much longer  it would take to actually get that delivered across the country to people  and get the point of immunity to a place where the nation can fully reopen,  where schools can reopen, businesses can reopen. It`s going to be well into  next year, even if everything goes right.

So this is the President, again, trying to paint a rosy picture showing his  desire to find some way anyway, for this pandemic to go away. But not  actually providing the leadership on things like testing that can assist  people in going away. I was actually shocked, Brian, that if the Governor  of Ohio is unclear as to whether he has the coronavirus or not. How are --  how is everyone else, how our teachers, our administrators, how our  business owners supposed to be clear enough to know whether they can  reopen. It`s really quite something.

WILLIAMS: Yes, as we`re going to discuss with a doctor in our next segment  isn`t that the testing problem in one day in a nutshell and one prominent  lawmaker who came within a whisker of shaking the President`s hand or at  least greeting the President, who was unmasked at the time on the tarmac.

Hey, Sam, we talked about this with Ashley Parker on last night`s  broadcast. Is this something of a brand change for the President from deal  maker to more of observer/heckler? In the last 24 hours, we`ve been  reassured it`s going to go away. He`s out there with his theory that Beirut  was an attack, people kind of -- just kind of dismissed it. And for most of  America, this was surviving on a Thursday during a pandemic.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I don`t know if it`s a brand  change, Brian, so much as this is the brand. Sometimes he deviates, but the  President likes to paint optimistic pictures about virtually everything  around him. He believes in positive thinking. I think he admitted as much  in Monday`s recent interviews.

And he also riffs. He`s known to riff about matters of, you know, great  intelligence import, but also small matters. He makes things up and we get  called on it, he just moves on to the next topic. So I`m not sure this is  terribly off script for him. It does create a remarkable sense of confusion  for the public, and it leaves a lot of messages for staff to clean up,  which is a routine thing.

And then of course, it creates problems politically. The more he talks, the  more problems that he creates for his electoral chances. His decision to  bring back these daily briefings was done over the consternation of some of  his aides who thought they were disastrous in the first go around. But he  has supreme confidence in his ability to manipulate media and delivers on  message. And these are the things that come along with it.

WILLIAMS: Carol Leonnig, we`re at this unique intersection right now. In  the midst of this pandemic where government, the same government that has  through its failures, led to mass loss of life can also do things to help  people during this pandemic. So take us inside the fight between the White  House and the Hill. And Mitch McConnell, especially his clamp like hold on  his Republican majority in the Senate. This won`t look good if he fails to  deliver to people something to help them further during this pandemic.

CAROL LEONNIG, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Brian, it`s such a fascinating  conundrum for conservative lawmakers in Congress, Mitch McConnell, among  them, but many others, including Mark Meadows, who not long ago was the  leader of a conservative sort of rumpus group and in Congress, and now is  the White House Chief of Staff. It`s such a conundrum for them to be  hurdling themselves towards spending more money on unemployment benefits  when it`s not something that`s really part and parcel of what they describe  as their party`s mission.

But they realize in painful, painful detail, but while scanning poll  numbers in the last few weeks, that their ship is going down unless they do  something about the pandemic. They can see that the President is not doing  it. He`s trying to argue that it`s the governors` responsibilities or it`s  China`s fault. So there`s nothing that can be done. It is what it is.

But Congress members in this Republican Party are literally freaking out  about how many losses they personally or as the party will sustain, if they  don`t deliver something of value. As, you know, Rahm Emanuel used to say  points on the board. They`ve got to get some points up very quickly.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Kim, I note that the Boston Globe Editorial Board, oh wait,  that includes you, is out with an editorial saying that Congress should  step in to protect the mail-in vote. And it occurs to me that that, too,  would be a test of Mitch McConnell and his love for democracy and ensuring  the process of a presidential election goes through successfully.

ATKINS: It would. It`s a reminder that Congress does have the authority to  oversee the mail. And Democrats on the House are saying that that authority  includes ensuring that the mail is delivered speedily and efficiently,  particularly right now in an election year. And when it comes to mail-in  ballots. We`ve already seen the postmaster general implement new austerity  measures that have that has already slowed mail dramatically, and that has  raised alarms on Capitol Hill.

That`s an entirely separate issue from whether or not the Postal Service  will get emergency funding as part of this next round of coronavirus  relief. So, one lawmaker suggested that they could even seek a court action  in order to compel the post office to roll back these measures that is  slowed mail delivery and ensure that people get ballots in time if they`re  going to do mail-in balloting and if that they can get it mailed in, so  that we have a smooth election at a time when the President has repeatedly  attacking the process as fraudulent.

WILLIAMS: And, Sam, just to keep this fair, I note that you and your  colleague have written that there was -- the virus was detected in the  Milwaukee Convention Center, where the Democrats were to at least  headquarters their Zoom call convention where Biden was supposed to accept  and has since thought better of it. What are the details here?

STEIN: All we know is that they started doing more aggressive testing for  people going to the convention site about a week ago. Around that time, two  test came back. They were false positives. And then later in the week,  three tests -- three people were tested, they were confirmed positives, and  they were told to go quarantine and stay at home.

I was told by two people that this episode was not directly related to the  decision to cancel the in-person speeches that Biden was set to make in  Milwaukee, but it did underscore just how sensitive and problematic it is  to have any convention of any size. Go on in this current pandemic,  gathering even 100 people in an indoor space. It makes very little sense  from a public health standpoint. And it was only a matter of time for  Democrats to pull the plug on this.

And let me just say one last thing just because -- to jump on Kimberly`s  point because I think it`s a valid one about mail-in voting, if I may. At a  time when Trump is talking about making sure that everything is counted as  close to Election Day as possible, the logical solution here would be to  put more money to mail system so that it can be delivered in a more  expedient matter. But right now, that`s not the case with Republicans on  the Hill, they`re going the exact opposite direction, creating the problem  that Trump is actually warning about.

WILLIAMS: And Carol Leonnig, the law becomes fascinating depending on how  people choose to use it. I am speaking of the New York Attorney General,  figuring that after all, the NRA was founded as a nonprofit 150 years ago  in her state, trying to do to the NRA what that very office did to the  Trump charity. And this is kind of a new resourceful area of law to match a  new kind of presidency. Is it not?

LEONNIG: Absolutely. It`s funny how often Attorney General James today,  this morning. It feels like yesterday, but this morning, mentioned the  Trump case herself. So much has happened, hasn`t it, Brian?

She was asked, don`t you think you`re kind of overreaching to call for  dissolving the NRA? 149-year old organization, one of the most powerful  juggernauts in our political process for so many years. Isn`t that a reach?  And her answer was enough is enough. No organization is above the law. And  we are calling to dissolve this organization just as we dissolved another  that had rampant violations of charity rolls, the Trump charity. That  precedent helps her.

What cuts against Attorney General James is that she`s a Democrat and  people are already trying to say that her attack on the NRA is politically  motivated. They are bypassing the actual facts, which are that the CEO of  the organization and several of his lieutenants were basically pilfering  the NRA`s coffers and diminishing the power of Second Amendment rights and  the defense of Second Amendment rights because they were taking vacations  in the Bahamas. And going on yachts and safaris, and spending millions on  private security and other gifts, and special luxuries.

Her facts are very, quote unquote, bad for LaPierre, Wayne LaPierre the  head of that organization for the last 39 years. But already the President  himself has said that this is just political, and it`s just an effort to go  after an organization that`s Republican leaning and supportive of him.

BLITZER: As we said, it`s a lot but these are the three journalists able to  cover it all on a Thursday night. And so our great thanks to Kimberly  Atkins, to Sam Stein and Carol Leonnig, who also brought the strongest  backsplash game we have seen since we`ve been invited into people`s homes  during this pandemic. Kudos on that.

Coming up for us after a break. Now that mask wearing has already been  politicised, we`ll look at the real-life consequences of politicizing a  vaccine. And as promised, we will act and ask a doctor what he thinks of  that after this.

And later, the first line in his new book is, I have no one to blame but  myself. We`re talking about Veteran Republican Campaign Strategist Stuart  Stevens. He is here to explain what he means by that kind of thing as "The  11th Hour" just getting underway on a Thursday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, NBC: A vaccine  done before year`s end and maybe around November 3rd -- November 3rd, of  course, is Election Day. Is this also politically time somehow?

ALEX AZAR, U.S. SECRETARY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: No, no. Every effort  that we`re making is about saving American lives and improving the health  of our people. By the end of this year, we will have in the high tens of  millions of doses of vaccine meeting the FDA standards.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: So November 3rd is just a random target date to have a vaccine  ready. The President`s own top health officials won`t say it. He had  several times today. As we said earlier, the President tried to imply a  vaccine could or would be ready by Election Day even before. He said the  same thing to Geraldo Rivera in the last 24 hours.

In a Washington Post op-ed, the actual FDA Commissioner made this pledge  and we quote, "I have repeatedly said that all FDA decisions have been and  will continue to be based solely on good science and data. The public can  count on that commitment". As we said, it`s a lot even on the medical front  tonight.

And here with us is Dr. Vin Gupta, an E.R. doc specializing in all these  types of illnesses, also an Affiliate Assistant Professor with the  University of Washington Department of Health Metrics Sciences. Doctor,  thank you for being with us. Let`s go a little bit backwards in topics  because most recently tonight, it`s the Ohio Governor who made news having  tested positive again, only because he was going to be in proximity to the  President. That says a lot about our testing problem, tested positive  before he tested negative.

You have tweeted out this tonight. You said, I think there`s a fundamental  misunderstanding here from Governor Mike DeWine and his team. Rapid tests  do not typically give false positive results. They do give false negative  results. The second test is meaningless and shouldn`t have been mentioned.  Doctor, continue.

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Brian. And thanks for  giving me the chance to clarify this to all your viewers and the American  people. A -- The test that we have the rapid tests, the trade-off you have  is that sometimes you`ll get one in 10 or maybe 15 percent of the time  you`ll get a false negative. That means you won`t pick it up if COVID-19 is  present.

But rarely, are you going to ever have the case of a false positive, which  is the case that DeWine team is positing here that he had a positive hit on  the Tarmac and suddenly went back to Columbus, he had a negative hit. It  doesn`t jive with the science. And so my point there is, wait -- if they`re  going to get a confirmatory test, wait for that confirmatory lab test that  PCR test that we know is that gold standard, before issuing some sort of  press release. Because this all it does is causes the American people to  get confused about whether these point of care rapid tests are actually  useful. They are, they`re useful for broad screening for rapid results.

And to get a positive test, you have to trust it. You have to trust it. And  that`s what we need elected leaders like Governor DeWine to emphasize not  to undermine.

WILLIAMS: Well, thank you, Doc, for clearing that up because it certainly  is getting -- it`s run through the news cycle tonight. Now on this other  topic, and that is a vaccine. Is it possible physically, medically,  scientifically, humanly possible to have a shipping date of November 3rd,  on this vaccine? And my backup question would be, is it possible that  enough companies and our medical infrastructure would knuckle under the  political pressure to make it happen?

GUPTA: On the ladder points, who knows? From based on what we`ve seen and,  you know, respectfully to the Commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Hahn. Dr. Hahn  was not willing to answer a single question -- I`m saying this as a  pulmonologist -- was not willing to answer a single question during his  confirmation hearing, during the vaping crisis on his stance on vaping,  primarily because there was political pressure on that issue. Remember that  crisis a few months ago.

So to say that the FDA wouldn`t be politicized, well, I think we have  evidence to the contrary. So that`s number one. Number two, do I think,  based on where Moderna, where AstraZeneca, where all these other leading  candidate vaccines are right now, at this moment, 90 days out from the  election? Do I think we`re going to have hundreds of millions of doses for  the American people? Absolutely not.

And all it does, Brian, is give fodder to the anti-vaxxers out there, to  the skeptics, to that 50 percent of Americans polled who say they will not  receive an initial dose of this vaccine. It just gives them greater reason  to doubt the quality of it. And for good reason. Because it`s getting  politicized up front. We`re not focusing on quality and safety, we`re  focusing on election timings and other deadlines.

WILLIAMS: And I am exhausted as you are by how many times I`ve had to ask  you some form of this question. Again today, here`s what we hear from Dr.  Birx. Ten regions of the country she`s worried about only, we, the public  didn`t get to hear that, we weren`t intended as the recipients. It`s only a  public interest group that put out the recording. What about the public and  public health?

GUPTA: You nailed it, Brian. You know, I think when I hear that, I think  about my colleagues who are leading major health systems who have to  determine how much of our ICU capability do we co-opt so we can have knee  procedures, so we can have other elective surgical procedures that require  patients to be in an ICU setting. That are the procedures that keep the  lights on, that are the financial sustainment for major health systems.

Without giving us clarity on where these hotspots are arising, we`re not  going to allow health systems, health system leaders to actually prepare so  that they can stay fungible so that they can function. So this is having  real impacts on the American people. We need to get this out of the  political realm and focus on the science of the evidence.

WILLIAMS: Well, as I`ve also said to you before, absent hearing from our  officials, it`s you and your colleagues on the air on networks like this  one who have become our public health officials de facto. It`s a job you  never wanted or asked for but one you have not shrunken from.

Dr. Vin Gupta, always a pleasure. Thank you for taking our questions.

Coming up for us tonight, Donald Trump uses a trip to the battleground  state of Ohio to attack his opponent over guns and God. We`ll have that  when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DASHA BURNS, NBC NEWS REPORTER: What made you go from pretty solidly for  Trump to backing away from that, and now lining up more on the fence?

JERRY STPANOVICH, KENT COUNTY, MICHIGAN VOTER: When he said that, you know,  well, we`re just going to knock this right down. Well, that`s, that ain`t  going to happen, not with the actions that we took. He took some right  actions. I agree. Some he should have taken a lot sooner and taken a lot  more seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Our own Dasha Burns talking with a voter in East Grand Rapids,  Michigan about the President`s pandemic response, Michigan, one of those  critical states come November, by the way and to that end today, our  political unit, put out our first NBC News battleground map of the 2020  election season. Get used to seeing these there will be a lot of revisions.

This one happens to have Biden way ahead with 334 electoral votes.  Remember, we`re inside 90 days, but he leads in some big ticket states like  Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Ohio is a toss up right now  as the New York Times Today the president faces headwinds in Ohio where  today Trump wasted no time going after his opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He`s following the radical  left agenda. Take away your guns, destroy your second amendment, no  religion, no anything. Hurt the Bible, hurt God. He`s against God. He`s  against guns. He`s against energy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Here with us tonight to react to that and more Stuart Stevens,  former chief strategist for Mitt Romney`s 2012 effort. He is a proud  product of Jackson, Mississippi, a veteran of Republican politics, who has  since joined the folks at the Lincoln Project the effort to defeat Trump  and Trumpism being led by similarly disaffected Republicans. Also happens  to be the author of a brand new book. "It Was All a Lie, How the Republican  Party Became Donald Trump."

Thank you very much for being with us. We`ve been excited to have you. I`ve  got to get your response to the president saying something I could imagine,  Huey Long said about an opponent or two in his time that Mr. Biden is  against God.

STUART STEVENS, AUTHOR "IT WAS ALL A LIE": Yes, my money`s on God and that  that matchup. I think God`s going to be just fine. What you see here is a  candidate who`s just flailing around. They had planned to run on the  economy. Now we have the worst economy in the history of the country. And  they plan to run against socialism, but it was Bernie Sanders.

And Joe Biden just isn`t a very good candidate to make people afraid of. I  mean, even as a nickname sleepy Joe Biden, that`s not a name that makes,  you know, women and children run screaming from the room. So there`s just  sort of loss now. And campaigns go through stages like this, and sometimes  they get found and they settled on a message that works, but right now  they`re just lost.

WILLIAMS: Let`s speak a little truth about your adversaries for most of  your time in politics, and that would be the Democrats. They can find nine  million ways to screw this up. You know that including but not limited to  the purity testing. We are going to hear from Democrats the minute, Biden  announces his choice for vice president. But the question to us Stuart is  do you find the biggest risk to them overconfidence or unforced errors?

STEVENS: Oh, I don`t think they`re going to be overconfident given what  happened in `16 and where the polls are. And the polls are not that  dissimilar now than they were with Hillary Clinton. I`ve been very  impressed with the Biden campaign. It`s very difficult to start as a front  runner and stumble badly as they did, and not try to do something to  completely remake the candidacy. It seldom works.

But there`s just such hydraulic pressure to do what you`re doing, you know,  35 to nothing at the end of the third quarter in the Super Bowl, you can  stick with your game plan. Well, they did. I think they made the decision,  the vice president made the decision they were going to win or lose. It`s  going to Joe Biden was. And, you know, dammit, they didn`t win. And that`s  pretty rare. And it shows I think a maturity and uncomfortableness for two  years.

They`re not going to be baited into running a race that they don`t want to  run. And I think this vice presidential pick is going to be uniquely  important because Biden himself says that he`s a transitional candidate. So  we`ll see.

WILLIAMS: Yes, we will I want to throw on the screen, three tight Senate  races that few people would have believed oh, just a year ago would have  been tight. Graham, Harrison on the upper right, South Carolina, dead heat,  Maine, Gideon, Collins. Basically a statistical dead within the margin of  error. Ditto, Kentucky, do you believe these numbers? And if so what do you  think it means?

STEVENS: I think it means that this is a very negative environment for  Republicans. You ever top of a ticket that is dragging everything down.  I`ve seen like this latest moment poll, they had Donald Trump`s very  unfavorable at 48 percent. The hardest thing in politics is take someone  who`s very unfavorable and get them to vote for you. Make sense?

So if it`s 48 percent is a very unfavorable view of Trump, it just gives  him a very small margin of error. So it`s, look, it`s a bad environment for  an incumbent. I mean, I just woke you up in the middle of the night and I  said, look, Brian, is the worst economy in the history of the country. And  160,000 people more people than we`ve ever done before in a four month  period of dying in America. How do you think the incumbent is doing? You  know, you wouldn`t say well, he`s doing great. He`s kind of in the bag.  There`s just external forces out there that make this a very tough race for  Republican incumbent party.

WILLIAMS: You raise a good point. To our viewers having invited us into his  home, Mr. Stevens has allowed us to linger a bit. He`s going to stay where  he is over this break. When we come back, we`ll talk about this new book of  his. We`ll talk about what a long strange trip it`s been for his fellow  disaffected Republicans after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Russia if you`re listening, I hope you`re able to find the 30,000 e- mails that are missing. I have President Putin he just said it`s not  Russia. I will say this. I don`t see any reason why it would be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in  the 2020 election?

TRUMP: Yes, of course I will. Don`t meddle in the election, President.  Don`t meddle in the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: To our viewers, if you`re listening we have a new book to add to  your pile during the pandemic. In his new book, "It Was All A Lie." Stuart  Stevens writes the Republican Party was built on a series of core values  that he says turned out to be mere marketing slogans, one of those values  being tough on Russia. He writes this and we quote, in a sane world, a  center right party of a country facing an attack on the foundation of its  democracy would lead the charge to defend the country. It was a Republican  President Ronald Reagan, who issued the ringing challenge to the Soviet  Union. Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall. That party has been transformed  into Russian apologists more concerned with defending Donald Trump than  defending the country. It`s madness.

Stuart Stevens has been kind enough to keep us through the break. I have  wondered we all have our hobby horses. What got into Graham? What got into  Collins? What got into Mitch McConnell, my personal favorite Portman of  Ohio, Mr. Sober Traditional Russia Hawk, a skeptical guy who has just found  a way to take a walk, take a pass, turn around, not notice any of it. What  has happened to your party on Russia?

STEVENS: It`s heartbreaking. I mean, just watching those clips makes my  heart hurt. There`s one thing the Republican Party stood for. It was a  realistic view on foreign policy. I mean, Ronald Reagan helped bring down  the Berlin Wall. And we thought that words could change the world. We said  that in the Reagan era, and there was some truth to it. And now with Trump,  we just say well, they`re just words, it doesn`t really matter what the  president said.

I don`t understand it. I don`t see how it`s patriotic. I don`t see how it`s  in keeping with an oath in office. From the very beginning, Trump has been  an apologist for Putin. If you go back to when he was running and it was  brought up to Putin kills journalists, he goes, well, you know, it`s not  like America, so great itself.

It`s a disgrace. I think it`s an abdication of the role that America plays  in the world, which is a beacon of democracy. And it`s a complete exposure  of a fallingness (ph) inside the Republican Party to allow this to happen.

WILLIAMS: Why are the Lincoln Projects ads better than anything that  Democrats have produced and that`s a backhanded way of asking if any, or  all of you guys would like a hand if the party goes down to different feet  in forming the ashes into something new resembling what you grew up with?

STEVENS: Well, look, I think everybody, you know, all these groups that are  opposing Trump, Republicans are Republicans, each of us is going to have to  make their own choice come November 4, we look at how the world is.

Listen, I think the Democrats actually have done some very good ads. I  think the Biden campaign did some very good ads. But what I`ve discovered  in the Lincoln Project is, it`s liberating not to have a client. We can go  out and decide what we want to do. And we do it very quickly. We don`t have  to run it by a client or a review committee, and we don`t have to worry  about it. If we go too far, it`s going to blow back on our candidate.

And when you`re in the campaign, those are legitimate concerns. So it turns  out you put the lunatics in charge of the asylum. They can go out there and  stir up some mischief and get people`s attention and I think he`ll help  defeat Trump.

WILLIAMS: I haven`t heard it put quite that way superb answer to that  question. The book again, recommended for everyone`s COVID-19 book pile  that are growing, we`ll give you that. "It Was All A Lie, How the  Republican Party Became Donald Trump," written by a man and politics long  enough to know, Stuart Stevens, the author, our guest. Great pleasure.  Thank you for coming on and staying up with us on a Thursday night. Good  luck with the book.

STEVENS: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: And coming up for us. It`s not too soon to think about getting  away for the holidays. Oh, you can think about it all you want. Have you  seen the list of countries Americans are allowed to visit? We have an  update on travel for Americans in the teeth of a pandemic mismanaged  pandemic at that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WILLIAMS: This was a good one from earlier today. Your State Department  today announced it is little lifting the global travel warning for American  citizens. And that sounds like great news until you realize they don`t want  us anywhere. It`s the other countries that are warning their populations  about American visitors. We`re not allowed to travel the most countries on  Earth. Hell, they don`t let us into Canada no matter how much we happen to  love both Martin Short and Lorne Michaels.

NBC News correspondent Helena Humphrey has an update on what Americans  should expect if they were hoping to travel anywhere anytime soon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HELENA HUMPHREY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was a time when  an American passport could take you almost anywhere.

(on camera): Before the pandemic this was a ticket to 185 countries but  now, with the U.S. still struggling to get its case numbers under control  an American passport is a ticket to almost nowhere, just nine countries  granting access without any restrictions.

(voice-over) The list is short but some popular holiday destinations are  still open, including the Dominican Republic and the Maldives. Small island  nations dependent on tourism for survival. Mexico, Turkey and Tunisia are  also welcoming Americans. But in Europe, a travel ban on Americans leaves  just Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and North Macedonia restriction free.

There are another 23 countries you can head to. But they come with  restrictions. Island allowing Americans in provided they quarantine for 14  days upon arrival, a rule many U.S. travelers on following.

JP MCMAHON, IRISH RESTAURANEUR: Aer Lingus flights from the far out of  Texas and Florida is absolute madness, because I think by the time they get  to our door, or they make into our restaurants, I mean it`s just too late.  Like for us to try and do it. We can try and police this, but we don`t have  the resources.

HUMPHREY: Iceland was also expected to reopen to U.S. travelers starting in  July, but with spike in case numbers in America that`s been put on ice. And  with it many Americans bucket list vacations.

MARY MERCIER, U.S. TOURIST: My boyfriend and I had booked a trip to Iceland  the first week of October. And we really had hoped to be able to see, you  know, as much as we could from going to the Blue Lagoon to glaciers to, you  know, elephant rock. Unfortunately, as things started to progress, and  things started shutting down in March, we realized that this may not  happen.

HUMPHREY: And with so much travel restrictions constantly changing, federal  aid for airlines expiring soon, and a global travel industry bracing for a  $2 trillion hit to its revenue. Industry experts say travelers should think  twice before booking that winter vacation.

BOBBY LAURIE, TRAVEL EXPERT: I would definitely say traveling to  continental Europe over the holiday season was probably a no go right now.  Especially if you`re going to be planning your travel after October 1 where  we don`t know what`s going to happen with the airline industry. We don`t  know what`s going to happen with their flight schedules. How long the  pandemic will continue on into 2021.

HUMPHREY: Disappointing news for travelers and a global travel industry  desperate to get back up in the air. Helena Humphrey, NBC News, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS: So this holiday season, maybe go for a drive and don`t get out of  the car. Coming up for us. It was something the President said the day  about Biden that got us thinking about all the stuff the president says.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Did you ever watched Biden where he`s always saying the wrong state?  It`s great to be in Florida, Florida. No, it`s Ohio. I`ve never seen it. I  haven`t done that one yet. That`s a disaster. I love the state of Iowa,  sir, sir. It`s Idaho. It`s Idaho.

And the worst is what he`s in like Indiana. And he says it`s great to be  with the people of Florida. And you have palm trees all over the place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: The President with the washing machines from earlier today brings  us to the last thing before we go tonight, as we mentioned here last night  as Stuart Stevens was kind enough to mention again tonight, because Trump  is unable to run on a strong economy or a strong response to a pandemic,  they`re going to run directly at Biden. Anybody named Biden anyone who`s  ever met Biden, specifically the president likes to work into his speeches  the theory that Biden is an older fading or confused or generally not all  there.

He did it again today, about 90 minutes before saying this in Cleveland.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Your foreign competitors move their factories to prevent a level  playing field and to avoid liability, shifting production to Thailand, and  Vietnam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: Thailand which one presumes is just up the road a piece from its  neighboring. Thailand got us to thinking of some of the other more recent  gems we have witnessed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: In Minneapolis, the city voted to disband the police department.  Just like we did in many Minneapolis. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln,  Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant. I visited the Red Cross  headquarters to discuss plasma therapy, plasma therapies. The plasma is so  valuable. When they gaze upon Yosemite, el Semites (ph), towering sequoias.  If you`re in the office of the presidency, we have to be sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS: From the majesty of Yosemite, to the tropics of Thailand, the  President of the United States to take us off the air on a Thursday night.  Thank you so very much for spending some time here with us on behalf of all  my colleagues at the network of NBC News, good night.

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