Trump disapproval drops to worst level since 2016. TRANSCRIPT: 9/11/2018. The Beat w Ari Melber.

Guests: Julian Epstein, Cornell Belcher, Donna Edwards, Seth Waxman, Wendy Davis, George Seay, Neil deGrasse Tyson

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: September 11, 2018 Guest: Julian Epstein, Cornell Belcher, Donna Edwards, Seth Waxman, Wendy Davis, George Seay, Neil deGrasse Tyson

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: If you don`t evacuate when you`re being asked to evacuate, then saving you is going to cost the opportunity to save someone else`s life that may need it that did follow directions. So please do that, helps everybody out survive this storm. "THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Good evening, Ari.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. Thank you very much. We`re covering several stories tonight including, of course as Chuck mentioned, that hurricane headed towards the East Coast. And how President Trump is linking it to his response in Puerto Rico where nearly 3,000 Americans died.

Also, Democrats say they are nearing success in the quest to take out Texas Senator Ted Cruz. And later, we have a deeper look at military-civil relations and the shock waves from Bob Woodward`s reporting with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. He joins me on THE BEAT tonight.

But we begin with new evidence that Donald Trump`s hellish month is taking a toll on his standing. And that`s sending many Republicans into a panic about the midterms. So what we`re about to report to you right now is something you kind of already know, Donald trump`s one of the least popular presidents ever. Along with something that is actually really underappreciated by the political and media class, that Donald Trump`s problems with governing and his aides` crimes are now weighing down his presidency.

So while it`s become sort of fashionable in political circles to say things like, Trump is Teflon or his base never wavers, in a new poll tonight, his approval has fallen to 36 percent, a drop of 6 percent in this new CNN poll and a full 61 percent of Americans view him unfavorably. And it gets worse, with those who strongly disapprove of Trump at 48 percent. Those are the kinds of voters who are likely to turn out against Trump in November.

Independents also giving up on Trump. You can see it in this chart. They were all the way up at 47 percent just last month. And what you`re looking at is a key data point slide, a huge shift to 31 percent that actually marks, get this, an all-time low for Trump among independents. Tonight, it has now been three weeks since Trump`s campaign manager was convicted and his top fixer pled guilty to committing crimes to help elect him, plus of course, the separate indictments of his congressional endorsers and the Bob Woodward reporting that has rocked this White House with serious evidence of incompetence and high-level revolt.

Plus, of course, in these last three weeks, we also had the dramatic anonymous declaration of resistance by one of Trump`s own senior aides. So all of this stuff is happening. And we in the news cover it for you and people say, "OK, what next?" Well, tonight is what`s next. The collective response in the country has people pulling further away from Donald Trump.

You can see it in the gradual softening in this survey from multiple polls. This is from the polling experts over at 538. Trump needs approval in roughly the 40s for the GOP to have a realistic chance of holding the House, according to experts. And we know that because of the data. In elections since 1946, any decline in a president`s approval hurts their party a little bit less than it hurts them but hurts.

So as Trump drops five to six points, that can cost Republicans two points in the House. And with Trump at 36 percent tonight, where does that put him against his worst times? We`re going to leave it up on the screen for you here.

You can see as compared to firing Comey, which was very controversial or compared to when he had that widely panned summit with Putin, which many conservatives criticized, or Charlottesville. What you see currently on the far left, the 36 percent tonight is a new record low right on par with where he was after Charlottesville. And as Donald Trump plummets and the walls close in today, his own son concedes Trump has a circle of trust that is much smaller than they want.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP JR., SON OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think there are people in there that he can trust. It`s just a much smaller group than I would like it to be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who do you trust?

TRUMP JR.: Well, you know, I`ll keep that to myself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they`re not family?

TRUMP JR.: Well, obviously, I`m talking outside of family. I think that one goes without saying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: a much smaller group than they would like. That`s a statement about who Donald Trump trusts. And if you think about it, it gets the whole concept backward. We live in a democracy. It may not feel like that on certain days, but we do. And that means the important question is who the voters trust. And although the White House might be making all kinds of noise to distract you from this information on your screen, the fact is, voters, do not trust or approve of Trump tonight.

Overall, 61 percent view him unfavorably. Among independents, you see it down to 31 percent which is a record-breaking low. When Donald Trump started his presidency with a resistance that was literally larger than his base because he lost the popular vote. Tonight, we can report after everything that`s happened, that resistance is growing.

I`m joined now by former Maryland Congresswoman Donna Edwards, Political Pollster Cornell Belcher, and Democratic Strategist Julian Epstein.

Julian, when you look at these numbers, sometimes we have to focus on the facts right in front of our face. Does it show that people are listening, and even those who, as I mentioned with independents last month were up in the 40s, are dropping in response to what they`ve learned just in the last three weeks?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think the obvious answer to that question is yes. August was kind of a scorched month, a scorched earth month for this White House. I don`t think any White House has ever had an August that was as bad as the last month was, save for maybe August of 1973 and the Nixon White House. The numbers are going down not just with independents but with college-educated women, with non-college educated white men.

So this is a situation that is just getting worse and worse. What`s most remarkable to me about this White House is not just that they`ve boxed themselves in and so many different situations with so many different scandals, is that they just have no idea how to kind of get themselves out of the mess that they`re in. I mean, with every incident that we`ve seen, whether it`s the Cohen plea or the Woodward book or "The New York Times" op-ed, they continue to make these matters worse. They continue to call more attention to it than they need to.

It`s just like the guys in the White House are somewhere and the president himself are somewhere like a cross between Mr. Magoo and a bond villain. Everything they do in responding to these incessant crises that seem to happen on a daily basis just makes things worse and worse. And it`s all showing up in the polling numbers.

The worst thing I think for the president is the personal qualities, the qualities of trust, honesty, strength, intelligence, all of those numbers are very, very much down in the latest polls. And the reason that that`s bad, Ari, is because those numbers are harder to move than the poll numbers on policy questions.

MELBER: Donna?

DONNA EDWARDS, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN, MARYLAND: Well, look, you can`t get elected if people don`t like you and they don`t trust you. And I think that`s the problem that Republicans are facing right now. The president`s numbers I think are pretty baked in but I don`t think he`s bottomed out yet. I mean he may retain that 30-plus percent core.

But, you know, Democrats know that in district after district across the country, that Trump has lost independents. Those are the voters who have to be won over in order to win those districts. There are, what, 23 or so districts where Hillary Clinton won and they`re up for grabs. And so I think that what we`re going to see here is that Trump`s numbers will continue to drag Republicans down and they`re running out of time. I mean, there is not really time to do anything else about that. And I think that Republicans certainly on Capitol Hill, but around the country, are beginning to realize that.

MELBER: Cornell, as a pollster, you operate in an environment where a lot of people had the aftershocks of 2016 and are skeptical of all polls. In fact, the bulk of national polls showed Hillary in the lead and nationally she finished in the lead but lost the electoral college. So while it was a shock wave and I think the media made a lot of mistakes in 2016 that we`ll own up to, there has been a kind of an overreaction and even a fear to look at these numbers.

I mean I think there might be viewers, Cornell, right now who say, "Wait, if it`s really this bad, how haven`t I heard about this?" Well, partly there`s a lot of different stories. But how do you as an expert look at these numbers and the significance they tell you going into the midterms?

CORNELL BELCHER, POLITICAL POLLSTER: A couple things. One is around the 2016 numbers and the pin polling, Ari, I don`t the polling wasn`t a problem, I think the problem was the narrative, right? And that we always wanted to be a forced two-way race, and a forced two-way race Hillary did get closer to a majority of support. But it was never a two-way race, it was always a four-person race because independents, third-party. So the protest vote was bigger this time around than it has been before.

So I think our narrative was wrong. And in 2012, the sort of public polling was right on. Part of the problem in polling is getting the universe right. So it is who is a likely voter? And what`s really important I think for Democrats this time around, you know -- and I want to sort of caution us about this. I don`t care how low Trump`s job approval numbers drop.

If we have the 2010 or the 2014 electorate again, Democrats are not going to take back the House, right? If we have an electorate that is -- that looks a lot younger and a lot more diverse than midterm elections typically do, I think Democrats have a fighting chance. If you have an electorate that is more upscale, one of the things that I think is really important in those numbers is even a majority of white voters are now disapproving of Trump and 55 percent of college whites are strongly in disapproval of Trump.

So it is not only just his disapproval numbers but can Democrats generate enthusiasm among voters who are not typical midterm election voters to turn out in droves this time around? And that`s where you get the polling not exactly right because the universes aren`t exactly right.

MELBER: So I want you all to stay with me. I want to dig into this discussion of the leadership of Donald Trump along with the concerns about it. You have, of course, a hurricane heading towards the East Coast right now, a new concern about the president`s environmental policy which is also important. Now, take a look, Trump late today claimed that his own response to the crisis in Puerto Rico he said was positive. Of course, that hurricane Maria left almost 3,000 Americans dead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the Puerto Rico was an incredible unsung success. Texas, we have been given A-pluses for. Florida, we`ve been given A-pluses for. I think in a certain way the best job we did was Puerto Rico.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And while Trump is saying that in public, I want to report "The New York Times" had a big piece noting a private secret plan here to effectively dilute Obama restrictions on a key gas, methane, which can drive global warming. And this comes while U.N. Secretary-General is calling on world leaders to do the opposite, to take the threat of climate change more seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: Climate change is the defining issue of our time. And we are at the defining moment. The leaders of the world need to step up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Julian, I wonder if you could put that in context for us, what the "Times" has unearthed, what`s going on in the administration sort of behind the scenes as we brace for this hurricane.

EPSTEIN: Well, Trump`s saying that the Houston experience and the Puerto Rico experience of the hurricanes last year is the bad Baghdad Bob moment. Baghdad Bob, of course, being the Iraqi General who claimed during the American invasion in 2003 that the Americans were committing suicide and surrendering. This is the Baghdad moment.

And when we talk about the self-inflicted wounds, this is Trump again kind of playing to the 30 percent of his voters, many of them kind of -- the 30 percent of the public who are his base, many of them being very low information. But the rest of the two-thirds of the country saying, this guy is a little bit of a buffoon. So again, this is to the point about self-inflicted wounds.

And the notion that he would say that on September 11th, when we commemorate 9/11 and Puerto Rico, remember, we lost almost 3,000 Americans, the fact that he would not comprehend that on such a sacred and hallowed day is just insult to injury.

The notion then on the methane issue, and these things tie together quite nicely, the notion that you would be making the climate change problem worse by loosening the rules on methane gas, and that`s a major contributor to climate change, while the biggest hurricane in 30 years is getting ready to barrel down on the East Coast, again, just tells you how completely out to lunch the White House staff and the president are on just like basic fundamental like no-brainer communications issues.

MELBER: Well, you say that, and Donna, that ties into what Donald Trump does think of his supporters. The infamous Fifth Avenue line, of course, is an insult to supporters because who would want to be a member of a club that was so cultish it would support murder on Fifth Avenue? Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn`t lose any voters, OK? It`s like incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: But Donna, the independents` chart that we`re putting up in the context of all these woes says the opposite. Those are people who were more with him, and they`ve looked at the last three weeks and they`ve turned.

EDWARDS: Well, and you know, maybe Trump was right about 36 percent of Americans. But here`s a thing, with the 2,975 people Americans who died in Puerto Rico because of the president`s neglect and incompetence, I think what they see in the president is his inability to take responsibility and make changes, to say, I was wrong and we should do things differently. And his total lack of empathy for people who are suffering.

And so I look at that and then I see these methane gas rules changes, and of course, that`s one in a line of changes around environmental policy that completely undo Obama-era policies. But he`s given license, really, to his agencies, to the EPA to undo all of these regulations. And so what that 31 percent of independents see right now is, you know what? They`re traveling in a very small minority with a president who has another very small minority of Americans who are with him.

MELBER: And Cornell, pardon another obvious question but sometimes it is part of my job. What does it tell you that they weren`t shouting this new methane climate change policy from the rooftops? That they are trying to sneak it?

BELCHER: I`m going to let a big political secret out of the bag here, Ari. It is, if you want to be popular, you probably should do things that are popular, right?

MELBER: Is that why they paid you the big bucks?

BELCHER: But if you want to be popular, you`ve got to do things that are popular, and this administration, his behavior aside, what have they been working on over the last two years rolling back ACA? There`s not a majority mandate for rolling back ACA, trying to destroy health care. That`s not popular. Giving a big tax cut to really rich people? That`s not a popular thing. If you want to be popular, you probably should do things that the majority of Americans actually want you to do.

MELBER: Cornell Belcher and Congresswoman Donna Edwards and Julian Epstein, thank you for digging into these new numbers with us, as well as the important hurricane news.

Coming up, why Donald Trump`s own company is now the focus of these probes into hush money payments and campaign crimes. Also, our exclusive reporting here at NBC that Russia was behind these attacks on U.S. Diplomats. One of those reporters is on THE BEAT.

And Ted Cruz fighting for his political life against a Democratic upstart. We have that story. And Wendy Davis is here to explain what`s going on in Texas. All that, plus later in the show, I go one on one with Neil deGrasse Tyson, talking science and how the military has spawned innovations. I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: When Michael Cohen pled guilty to breaking the law with those payoffs to women alleging affairs with Donald Trump, the prosecutor in the case made a public promise that he wouldn`t be afraid to bring other charges.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT KHUZAMI, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF N.Y: The campaign finance laws are designed to prevent the use of illegal money in elections and maintain the integrity of those elections. Mr. Cohen made guilty pleas for those campaign violations. We will not fear of prosecuting additional corporation -- campaign finance cases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, there`s a new report the feds are doing exactly that, and that office is investigating whether Trump or employees separately broke the law in addition to Cohen. In fact, the Bloomberg reporter who broke the story shared his view of the significance on THE BEAT.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re going to look and see whether the conduct that Cohen pleaded guilty to, the campaign finance violations, which involve payments approved by several executives at the Trump Organization if this pattern of conduct was more widespread.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Executives at the Trump Organization. Well, the court filings show two other such Trump Org employees involved in paying Cohen back for the Daniels payment. They`re described simply as executive 1 and 2. NBC`s identified 1 as Trump`s Chief Financial Officer Alan Weisselberg, who experts say would be key to any future cases.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy in the middle of this is the CFO Alan Weisselberg. And it`s clear that Weisselberg cooperated in a very narrow way in the Cohen plea. Now, the question here is whether or not he`s going to cooperate widespread because he saw or must have approved pretty much every type of expenditure that went out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And we`ve continued to poll on this thread. And last night, Avenatti himself, who represents Daniels, of course, said he has personal knowledge suggesting other payments, mean other people broke the law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Do you think there are other people affiliated with the Trump Organization who broke campaign finance law?

MICHAEL AVENATTI, ATTORNEY: I do because I`m aware of other payments that occurred in `15 and `16. I`m not at liberty to get into the details. My client was not alone. Miss McDougal is not alone. There are other payments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Not alone. In fact, accompanied by, Avenatti says, three other women who have claimed they also got similar hush money payments and federal prosecutors in New York`s Southern district aren`t the only ones looking into those claims. But they could have access to e-mails, to bank records and to much more than what we`re seeing leak out publicly.

I`m joined now by Natasha Bertrand who`s covered the story for "The Atlantic" and Former Federal Prosecutor Seth Waxman. Seth, what does it mean to hear that the feds are looking beyond Cohen here and how would this go forward?

SETH WAXMAN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. I mean when federal prosecutors smell blood in the water, they typically don`t pack up shop and go home. So they`ll do everything they can to investigate this wrongdoing. You have Mr. Cohen obviously that booked these transactions through the organization, called them tech services. And then the company itself calling it legal services. Both monikers designed to conceal the true nature of that type of transaction.

So if you take that with the Cohen plea, the Weisselberg immunity, and then you have the Trump charitable organization that`s alleged by the New York attorney general to have funneled almost $2.8 million in illegal campaign contributions to the Trump campaign. You put all that together, you mix in some e-mails or bank records or text messages, and if that incriminates others within the Trump Organization, I would fully expect them to go after those individuals.

MELBER: And Natasha, does this hit basically a bunch of nobodies at the Trump Org or does this hit some somebodies?

NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Hits some somebodies. I think it`s safe to say that the president`s children could have some exposure here, especially Donald Trump Jr., in a way that maybe we haven`t seen in the past. But, of course, this is something that the president has always been very, very worried about is going after his finances, going after things related to the Trump Organization.

And it kind of brings us also back to this report that we saw recently in Bob Woodward`s book about his fear that Mueller`s investigators and that federal investigators more broadly were looking into his relationship with Deutsche Bank.

MELBER: Well, let me pause you. We have that so I`ll read that part for your analysis. Woodward reporting that Trump said, "Look, I know my relationship with that bank. I know what I borrowed, when I borrowed it, when I paid it back, I know every goddamn one. I`m telling you, this is B.S." Mueller`s team saying there`s nothing new. We did have subpoenas to Deutsche Bank back in the summertime, it doesn`t involve the president or his finances. Go ahead, Natasha.

BERTRAND: Yes. So it`s not only the president that could be vulnerable to some legal exposure here with regard to Deutsche Bank. It`s also his son- in-law, Jared Kushner, also had an extensive relationship with that bank. And Trump himself still owes over $300 million to Deutsche Bank, which of course was involved in a major $10 billion Russian money laundering scandal.

So the question I think that`s really hanging large over people`s heads is, did Trump benefit, did anyone in his family benefit, because there was also a bank that his family used, from any of that Russian money that flowed through that bank. Why has Trump always been so cautious about discussing his financial records, especially not releasing his tax returns, for example? So this all goes to -- bless you -- this all goes to a red line, of course, that Trump has said that he did not want investigators to cross.

MELBER: Look, Seth, I want you to know, if Natasha were very insightful, I would be allergic to insights. And that`s clearly what`s going on. I think that`s my first anchoring sneeze. We`ll put it in a highlight reel, maybe. But my apologies for interrupting.

Seth, I want to play for you something that Mr. Avenatti said yesterday because I want you as a fair-minded prosecutor type to handicap. He basically is arguing that some of what happened is in the bull`s eye because he dealt with certain Trump Org execs. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVENATTI: This actually started by Donald Trump having Michael Cohen file a bogus arbitration proceeding in California using a Trump Organization employee, attorney by the name of Jill Martin in an effort to silence and intimidate my client. They used the agreement in order to proceed with that bogus arbitration in California --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Does that have any exposure though or ultimately an arbitration thing can get thrown out of court, it doesn`t go necessarily to the federal election issues?

WAXMAN: No, it doesn`t. But I`ll tell you, as a former federal prosecutor and when I was a federal prosecutor, it was the very rare instance. In fact, I can`t think of a single instance where I investigated someone where it turned out to be the first time they had ever been involved in wrongdoing. To get to the level where federal prosecutors are really bearing down on an individual, it typically in my experience says that there are things that had happened in the past, that that person or entity had engaged in multiple rounds of wrongdoing. It was just finally they got caught.

Of course, I`m speculating. I`m not saying that`s the case here but based on my prior experience, you know, earlier legal proceedings like that or other instances of wrongdoing typically take place before federal prosecutors bear down on you.

MELBER: And so Natasha, I want to give a final question to you which is kind of the most obvious. If you step back from all the legal lease, it seems that the Trump Organization was a very sloppy place with piles of money going to different Trump-related issues, problems, and goals. And I wonder if at the end of the day we have a working theory of why that was, because it certainly was trying to solve problems in Mr. Cohen`s case but probably in Trump`s as well were made worse, not better, by the sloppy accounting and the money deals coming out of Trump Org.

BERTRAND: Right. So I think it`s safe to say that the president is not necessarily a very detail-oriented person but he is a control freak. He wants to know everything that`s going on around him, especially as it relates to his money and his organization. And so he constantly felt the need to be kind of read in on everything that was happening in the organization, kind of fix this, fix that, make sure that I don`t get blamed for this.

But he was never really informed about the details of it. And I think that he wanted to keep it that way. He wanted to preserve this kind of arms- length, plausible deniability from everything, so that if something like this happened in the future, then he could reasonably say, "Well, I didn`t know about it or I wasn`t involved."

Now, of course, that is belied by the fact that some people made tapes. One of his most loyal fixers, Michael Cohen, of course, he made tapes of their conversations in which the president obviously knew.

MELBER: But you`re putting your finger on some of the personality tension here. It`s almost like someone who`s really into redecorating the apartment but is color blind. So they`re all about the process, but they`re not actually versed or even able to deal with, as you put it, the details.

BERTRAND: Or now the legal consequences of that. I don`t think that they ever expected to be held accountable for anything that went on, because Donald Trump, of course, was rarely actually held accountable for the legal messes that his organization got into. So now he`s faced with a whole new reality and how he confronts that as we`ve seen has been rather erratic.

MELBER: Right. And as you put it, they never got caught before. Then that does potentially incent bad behavior. Natasha Bertrand and Seth Waxman, thank you both.

Up next, we turn to how Republicans are concerned publically that Ted Cruz could actually lose to a Democrat in Texas. Wendy Davis is here. And I`m back in just 30 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: The other top story tonight, Republicans worried they could actually lose a senate race in Texas. That is where Ted Cruz is fighting for his political life against Democrat Beto O`Rourke, a Congressman elected in 2012 and the race unusually tight right now for Texas anyway.

Top Republicans like John Cornyn are saying we`re not bluffing. This is real and it`s a serious threat. Or a trump appointee telling donors there`s a very real possibility we`ll lose a race in Texas for Senate, how likable is the candidate that still counts.

Now those pitches could be dramatized for fundraising purposes but Cruz himself is going to basically his former arch-rival Donald Trump who will campaign for Cruz in Texas next month. They`ve come a long way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The lions Ted, the lion Ted. He`s a lion guy. He can lie with the best of them.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Donald, you`re a sniveling coward, leave Heidi the hell alone.

TRUMP: Everybody hates Cruz, lying Ted Cruz.

CRUZ: Donald is a sore loser.

TRUMP: It`s like a basket case, the guy is a pain in the ass.

CRUZ: This man is a pathological liar. The man is utterly amoral --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now critics see hypocrisy in these two men patching things up although we will note it`s common for primary rivals and politics to reunite or even try governing together. Now O`Rourke is running as a proud Democrat, not shying away even from the culture war traps that Trump has tried to set. It`s not every Texas candidate who takes this position in the NFL debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D), TEXAS: I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights anytime, anywhere, any place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That simple statement went viral drawing a shadow from LeBron James and it`s netted over 19 million views online. So what is going on in Texas? Well, I`m joined by Wendy Davis, the former Texas State Senator and George Seay a former Senior Adviser to Marco Rubio`s 2016 campaign. He told The Washington Post Cruz has managed to annoy everybody with his shifting views on Trump. Wendy why would a Democrat even be in the running is what many people outside Texas are asking?

WENDY DAVIS (D), FORMER STATE SENATOR, TEXAS: Well, for one thing, because Texas really is so much more blue than our recent elections have demonstrated us to be. And in fact, when you look at what happened in 2016, Trump only won by 10 points in our state showing you that we are trending to a place that we find ourselves now.

And we find ourselves here in this particular moment for a number of reasons not the least of which of course is the dynamic that people are feeling all over the country right now, but also because in Texas outside of the base very much like a Trump voter, outside of his base, Cruz is not well-liked at all. And Republicans are keen on understanding this and understanding how very vulnerable their Republican Senator is right now.

And on the other hand, you have Beto O`Rourke who is running the most authentic campaign that I have personally seen in Texas. His real self is coming --

MELBER: More so than yours?

DAVIS: More so than mine. And in fact, when I met with Beto very early on as he was just beginning to launch, that was the advice I gave him. Do not be message managed by pollsters and by others, consultants, be who you are and it will sell.

MELBER: Now, Wendy, do you think -- do you think Donald Trump will compliment Cruz the way you compliment -- complimented your candidate?

DAVIS: I don`t know. It`s so fascinating to watch. And the interesting thing about we Texans, we take offense to the kinds of things.

MELBER: Well, I`m just asking because -- I`m asking because he doesn`t usually give out compliments that way to say anyone`s better than him.

DAVIS: No, definitely not. I would not expect him to say that. But Texans are watching the fact that Ted Cruz has done an about-face on Donald Trump. He`s talking about being Texas tough while at the same time of course, in their presidential race you saw Donald Trump insulting not only Ted Cruz`s wife but also his father.

MELBER: Right.

DAVIS: And in Texas, that`s the kind of thing. We don`t like to see someone do an about face --

MELBER: Well, that`s something George talked about. I think maybe even an area of some agreement. Go ahead, George.

GEORGE SEAY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, MARCO RUBIO`S 2016 CAMPAIGN: I was just going to say that that there`s all sorts of wishful thinking going on across the country among Liberal Democrats that Texas is going to go purple or blue and that`s it`s just that its wishful thinking. Texas Republicans are undefeated and unchallenged over the last 20 years of state politics and that`s a better track record than the Alabama football team which is saying something and that`s not going to change this year. It`s going to be closer than it should be but I`d be worried if this was six or twelve years from now but not this year.

MELBER: So you disagree with the Republicans we showed in the lead who are worried about this. You think they`re wrong.

SEAY: I do. I think that Cruz is going to win. I think he`s going to win by three to six points. It`s going to be tighter than it should be. But if you look at the primary voter turnout the Republicans turned out roughly 350 thousand more voters in the primary than the Democrats did and there`s just too many Republican voters. And at the end of the day, they`re going to look at this race just like they looked at the Trump Clinton race where Trump beat Clinton by 8 points and they`re going to say based on ideology, based on our core values, based on it that weren`t Conservative, we`re going to vote for Cruz and he`s going to go back to Washington and represent us well.

MELBER: Well -- and George, you know the thing about Ted Cruz that`s different than a lot of the candidates is just people just don`t like him and people in your party and don`t like them and they talk about it publicly. And then if Republicans claim they like him nobody believes him. Take a look at some of that recently.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you kill Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate and the trial was in the Senate, nobody could convict you.

John Boehner, Former Speaker Of The House: Lucifer in the flesh. I get along with almost everybody, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not endorsing Ted Cruz. I hate Ted Cruz. And I think it`s exciting that he ever got the nomination.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: George, why don`t people like Ted Cruz?

SEAY: I loved your sound bites at the first where he had Trump and Cruz slinging mud back and forth at each other. It`s highly entertaining. And you know, I think Ted has really repaired his situation in the last year. I think the convention when he refused to endorse the President at the nominee at the time overtly then and only did it later on in the election cycle was an error and I think he realized that and he spent about the last 12 months going all over this way and building bridges --

MELBER: OK, you think he`s -- you think he`s more likable than some of the evidence. Let me get Wendy back in. Wendy go ahead.

SEAY: Well, let me say one more thing --

MELBER: Well, I want to go back and forth so I`m going to go to Wendy and then I`ll bring it back to you, George.

SEAY: OK, fine.

MELBER: Go ahead, Wendy.

SEAY: Great. You bet.

DAVIS: I can tell you what people don`t like about Ted Cruz as they see that Ted Cruz is for Ted Cruz 100 percent and he`s not representing the interests of Texas and he`s not in keeping with what people want to hear from their elected representatives and certainly from their candidates. There was a poll that came out today that shows them only three points apart and the good news about these polls is that they continue to trend upward in Beto O`Rourke`s favor. And Beto O`Rourke has caught fire with a group of people who typically do not vote in midterm elections. That`s why I think he`s going to win because we are seeing an extraordinary turnout. Our Democrats doubled their turnout over a million. More Democratic voters voted in this primary than had voted in the midterm when I ran in 2014 and I expect that that`s going to get even stronger. And not just that Democrats are going to be turning out in bigger numbers but a lot of those moderate Republicans and Independents are going to come Beto`s way because they do not like Ted Cruz.

MELBER: I`m over on time. George, I`ll give you a final sentence. I was just going to say that Ted Cruz did endorse John Cornyn when he ran for re- election last summer and Cornyn is out there busting it for Ted Cruz and walking blocks and making phone calls and I think that we`re rallying around Senator Cruz and I think he`s going to win. I don`t think --

MELBER: Well, I think -- what I think I hear you saying is this is, is that the block is hot as they walk the block and we`ll keep an eye on it. My thanks to George Seay, Wendy Davis, for a spirited debate.

SEAY: Thank you.

MELBER: Still ahead, the Kremlin is now the chief suspect in these attacks on U.S. diplomats but first this power struggle between Trump and his generals. Neil deGrasse Tyson has a new book that`s on target and he`s with me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Today, Bob Woodward`s explosive book on the Trump White House is officially out in store. It`s a depiction of a White House in chaos. Aides removing documents from Trump`s desk, that part`s well-known but some of the deeper themes at the role of the military and its access to nuclear codes, these people with so much responsibility working to thwart Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHILIP RUCKER, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: What Woodward details is again and again and again his military leaders, Secretary Mattis and others just being alarmed by this President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of them acting as Mica said, like guardrails of democracy trying to save the world. Maybe Jim Mattis falls in that category.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can tell you here at the White House and under the leadership of General Kelly we`re a team. We`re ensuring that the President gets the information that he needs to make incredibly important decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: My next guest has a unique perspective on this relationship between the military in the White House. Astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York Neil deGrasse Tyson. You could also recognize him from cameos on shows like The Big Bang Theory or maybe you`ve seen his SNL impression by Kenan Thompson or Tyson along with another science guy Bill Nye posing with a presidential selfie right there.

He`s the author of 14 books including the new book Accessory To War which argues that throughout our history military advances often go hand in hand with wider scientific progress. For example at the height of the Revolutionary War was George Washington`s saying it was absolutely necessary to get the latest tech from Europe, a telescope and one of the most famous paintings showing Washington Crossing the Delaware, he is holding that telescope right there in his hand.

I am honored to be joined today by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Thanks for being here.

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON, ASTROPHYSICIST: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

MELBER: We`re going to get to this book but I`m curious given your studies of the military what you think about the leaks that generals are trying to stop the president`s worst instincts.

TYSON: What I can tell you is if you walk the halls of the Pentagon, there are quotes everywhere drawn from the documents of our freedom and even though the president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, they will repeat throughout the Pentagon these quotes where they take an oath in the armed services of the United States. That oath is not to the president, the oath is to protect the Constitution.

And it`s a fascinating fact that the president is the Commander-in-Chief and they give the orders but at the end of the day, if the order does not match what you judge to be fulfilling the Constitution of the United States, the edicts of the Constitution in the United States, you`re expected to disobey that order. The idea that you are protecting the Constitution and the Constitution defines the United States, not any one president or another.

MELBER: Now, your book here accessory to war probes some interesting territory because we hear a lot about business as an innovator and a job creator and a disrupter. But you say it is government and explicitly government through the military that has advanced a technology that`s good for all of us.

TYSON: Well, that`s well known. So for example, what businesses can do is they can invest in some innovative technology but there`s the expectation that that`s going to be -- there`s going to be a return on that investment either in the quarter or in the annual report or at most five years, hence. The government, however, longer baselines of investment and expectations on the return on that investment.

MELBER: Let me read from your book about the U.S. example. President Eisenhower announcing the approval plans for launching the small unmanned earth-circling satellites and it says Eisenhower recognized no modern country could be militarily preeminent without also being scientifically eminent. Does that have a policy implication for us right now?

TYSON: Completely. Because there was the day -- I mean he saw the transition between we are mighty military because we have this many troops on the border and we are mighty military because we have the science and technology to render most of that even unnecessary because you have intelligence that tells you where you need to put troops and why you need to put them where they are and how to obtain the new high ground. The new high ground in the late 50s and early 60s was space.

MELBER: Space is something that as you know, the current administration has talked about. But it seems like we might be experiencing a bit of a decline in scientific literacy in the White House. I want to play for you for your reaction a couple presidents over the years. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, space is there and we`re going to climb it. And the moon and the planets are there and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there.

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Each of us all across this great land has a stake in maintaining and improving environmental quality.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s supposed to be 70 degrees today, it`s freezing here. Speaking of global warming, where is -- we need some global warming.

And so if I take hairspray and if I spray it in my apartment which is all sealed and you`re telling me that affects the ozone layer? Yes, I say no way folks, no way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: How are we doing?

TYSON: Well, if you have an elected official at any level who is scientifically illiterate or scientifically under-informed all that simply says is that the electorate was scientifically under-informed because they`re representing a voting base. And so I as an educator, I don`t generally spend time talking to politicians unless they call me, fine, there`s a courtesy to have that conversation. But as an educator, I turn to the electorate and I say if you think earth is flat that will compromise your ability to get jobs that depend on you knowing that earth is round.

OK, you can still be the janitor you could be the maid, you can do these things, but you`re not going to be head of NASA where you shouldn`t be so. So we live in a free country. People have the right to think whatever they want about whatever they want and I don`t have issues with that. I just have issues if you think the wrong things about objective truths and then you rise to power and influence legislation based on it. That`s the unraveling of an informed democracy.

MELBER: So that`s the final question given everything you`re working on. When you look at the climate challenges that we have, when you look at extreme weather, when you look at the news today about whether the government`s making it easier or harder to combat that, what do we as a citizen review think need to do the most?

TYSON: Well, I think it`s -- I hate to give this cliched answer but it`s about education. It`s about knowing and understanding what science is and how and why it works. Right now it`s taught in such a way that here`s a satchel effects and you learn it and then we test you on that and then you get a grade, and then you`re done. And you put the science class behind you, now you take history and literature and this and that as though this no longer matters to you once you took the test when in fact this is the -- this matters more than anything because it affects the future of your nation, your health, your wealth, your security, as well as the -- in some cases the future of civilization itself.

And when it has to do with climate, with energy, with global warming, with housing, with health, it affects us all.

MELBER: Yes. The book is Accessory To War. Neil deGrasse Tyson, thank you for being here.

TYSON: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Thank you very much. And that`s not all. We turn next to new sides Russia could be behind crippling attacks on our diplomats. A reporter who broke the stories here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LESTER HOLT, HOST NBC NEWS: Now to a mystery threatening to drive a wedge into the renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba, investigators are examining whether American diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Havana were victims of a hidden attack that may have caused hearing loss.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That was over a year ago. Tonight, NBC News exclusively reporting that it wasn`t Cuba but Russia that seems to be the main culprit in a series of mysterious attacks on those diplomats using microwaves and other types of sonic assault. U.S. officials telling NBC Russia is considered the main suspect based on communication intercepts from a lengthy probe. I`m joined by NBC`s Ken Dilanian who`s part of the team that broke the story. What happened?

KEN DILANIAN, INTELLIGENCE AND NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Ari, what we`re being told is that look, Russia was always a leading suspect because Russia operates in force, their intelligence service do on the island of Cuba as does China, and the Cubans were suspect as well. But now, it looks like there`s some evidence pointing to Russia including these communications intercepts. And the U.S. has determined that some type of microwave weapon may have been used in a way that made people think they were hearing sounds.

That`s why initially this was described as a sonic event. But there`s science that shows that microwaves that can mimic sounds in that brain that can also cause brain damage. And these diplomats and spies suffered some serious brain damage. And so the U.S. government is not ready to name and shame Russia, but they`re moving towards that point. And if they do, Ari, that`s a game changer.

MELBER: Right. So Russia is not messing around. What are the potential countermeasures?

DILANIAN: Well, a lot of people think the U.S. has their own technologies. I don`t think they would -- they would go that far in the spy versus spy game because there`s supposed to be a set of rules. You don`t attack the other person`s intelligence officers because they can do the same to you. This really crosses the line but you could see sanctions, you could see prosecutions, you could see indictments, Ari.

MELBER: This is a movie Born Identity level stuff and pretty fascinating to have you as part of the team that helps us understand what`s been a true global mystery. We appreciate your reporting.

DILANIAN: Good to be here. Thanks.

MELBER: Ken Dilanian up here in New York and we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: That does it for us. We`ll be back at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. But first on "HARDBALL" tonight, Chris Matthews has an interview with the San Juan Mayor Carmen Cruz about Donald Trump`s new comments on Puerto Rico and the other coming hurricane. That`s up next.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The circle tightens. Let`s play HARDBALL.

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