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President Trump flails TRANSCRIPT: 8/4/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Rami Khouri; Arturo Vargas, Jonathan Swan, Rob Davidson


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: It is absolutely my pleasure. It`s great for those  of us who do from time to time sit in your chair to have you back, because  your viewers miss you a lot, and they`re always very worried about you,  that something must be amiss.

And I will tell you, the world feels like it`s a little more on its axis  when you`re here. But the thing I remind your viewers when I`m in that seat  is that, it`s still your fantastic team who is putting that show together,  and while you are such a unique part of it, your team is such a big part of  maintaining that consistency, even when you`re gone. 

So, my gratitude for you being back, and my gratitude for your team for the  great work they did. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  Well, I will just tell you, even though  I`m taking your time in order to do so, which is rude of me, you are very  kind to sit in the way you did. You are very good to my staff. My staff --  "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" staff is the best staff of any staff in  television. They are fantastic, and they love working with you, because you  have such integrity and such great work ethic and you`re such a decent guy. 

So, that means the world to me. So, I`m always happy to leave things in  your hands. Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI:  Thank you, my friend. We`re happy to have you back, and I will see  you again tomorrow night. You have a great evening, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI:  Well, at the height of the Great Depression, FDR told us we had  nothing to fear but fear itself. And the worst days of the Civil War,  Lincoln gave us four score and seven years ago, and every subsequent word  of the Gettysburg address. 

And now, with more Americans dead from coronavirus than died in world war I  and the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Donald Trump tells  us it is what it is. Here he is, in a must-see interview with "Axios"  national political reporter Jonathan Swan speaking about the American dead. 


JONATHAN SWAN, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS:  I`ve covered you a long time.  I`ve gone to your rallies. I talked to your people, they love you. They  listen to you and they listen to every word you say, they`re hanging into  it. 

They don`t listen to me or the media or Fauci. They think we`re fake news.  They want to get their advice from you. So when they hear you say  everything is under control, don`t worry about wearing masks, these people  -- many of them are older people -- 

TRUMP:  What`s the interpretation of control? Yeah, under the -- 

SWAN:  You`re giving them a false sense of security. 


TRUMP:  Right now, I think it`s under control. I`ll tell you what?

SWAN:  Now, a thousand Americans are dying. 

TRUMP:  They are dying, that`s true, and you had -- it is what it is. 


VELSHI:  Jonathan Swan is going to join us in just a few minutes with his  reaction to that stunning exchange, "it is what it is." 

There are almost 4. 8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 157,917  people in the United States have died from coronavirus. It is what it is. 

The 14-day average of new deaths in the United States has increased by 36  percent over the last two weeks. It is what it is. 

A new coronavirus deaths are rising in 26 states and Puerto Rico. It is  what it is. 

Those five words that say so much about Donald Trump`s disregard for the  people that he`s supposed to defend and protect, that is how history will  remember Donald Trump`s arrogant response to a thousand Americans dying  every day. 

Donald Trump would rather move on from these truths because they are  inconvenient for him. It is not in what he considers to be his political  self-interest. 


SWAN:  A thousand Americans are dying a day. 

TRUMP:  They are dying, that`s true, and you had -- it is what it is, but  that doesn`t mean we aren`t doing everything we can. It`s under control, as  much as you can control it. 


VELSHI:  It does mean we aren`t doing everything we`re doing, and it does  not mean it`s under control. 

In Donald Trump`s fantasy world of lies, this country has controlled the  pandemic. In the real world, the one in which we live, Donald Trump has  failed astonishingly to follow scientific advice and common sense to save  Americans. It is taking on average, at least a week for coronavirus test  results to come back, which makes it impossible to effectively contact  trace. 

Jonathan Swan pressed Donald Trump on a need for a national strategy to  assure rapid testing. 


SWAN:  When can you commit, by what date, that every American will have  access to the same-day testing that you get here in the White House? 

TRUMP:  Well, we have great testing. We`re doing, and -- 

SWAN:  By what date?

TRUMP:  Let me explain the testing. We have tested more people than any  other country. 

SWAN:  When do you think we will have that for everyone? 

TRUMP:  I think you will have that relatively soon. I mean -- 

SWAN:  What does that mean? 

TRUMP:  You already have half. 

SWAN:  Yeah. 

TRUMP:  I would much rather get back to you. 


VELSHI:  All right. Yeah, get back to us. Get back to the Americans waiting  in line for hours for a test and more than a week for a result. Get back to  the essential workers who are risking their lives for all of us. 

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is fixated on cherry-picking information to obscure  the fact that there are only three countries in the entire world that have  more coronavirus deaths per capita than the United States. 


REPORTER:  How do you explain that, why the percent of the population has  died is so much higher in the U.S.? 

TRUMP:  Well, I think actually the numbers are lower than others. I`ll get  back to you on that, but we proportionately are lower than almost all  countries. We`re at the bottom of the list. 


VELSHI:  That is false. It`s a lie. It`s dangerously false in fact. 

What is frightening about the Jonathan Swan interview, it`s not clear the  president is spinning the information. It`s possible he night not  understand the information. 

This clip leaves you with the impression that Jonathan Swan might be the  first person in the room to actually explain this to him. 


TRUMP:  If you look at deaths -- 

SWAN:  Starting to go up again. 

TRUMP:  Well, right here, the United States is lowest in numerous  categories, we`re lower than the world. Lower than Europe. 

SWAN:  In what, in what? 

TRUMP:  Take a look. Right here. Here`s case death. 

SWAN:  Oh, you`re doing death as a proportion of cases, I`m talking about  death as a proportion of the population, that`s where the U.S. is really  bad, much worse than South Korea, Germany, et cetera. 

Look at South Korea, 51 million population, 300 deaths. 

TRUMP:  It`s like -- you don`t know that. 

SWAN:  You think they`re faking their statistics, South Korea? 

TRUMP:  We have a very good relationship with the country. 


VELSHI:  Joining us now, Jonathan Swan, national political reporter at  "Axios". His interview with the president aired last night on "Axios" on  HBO. And Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency medicine physician in western  Michigan. He`s also the executive director of the commit committee to  protect Medicare. 

Gentlemen, thank you for joining us.

Jonathan, congratulations on an interview that Americans can look at, like  Chris Wallace`s interview, where you held the president`s feet to the fire  in this interview. There was so much to get to. It was a long interview and  a lot of stuff in there. 

What`s your -- what`s your chief takeaway from your conversation with the  president? 

SWAN:  My chief takeaway is that he is not confronting reality when it  comes to the virus. And he is reaching for data points that are good for  publicity or sound good but are not the best metrics for revealing what`s  going on in this country. And I think the big one is testing. 

You know, he talks about this number of the U.S. has done more tests than  anyone in the world. That`s true. But it`s also not a particularly  meaningful thing to say, because the reason the U.S. has had to do all  these tests is because the virus spread undetected like wildfire through  this country in February, March, April, and it took a very long time to get  the testing working and effective, and we`re still not there with these  delays. So people are walking around for, in some cases 10, 11 days  spreading the virus and contact tracing is out of control. 

So, yes, that`s happening. He said to me, don`t I deserve credit for all  these tests? I said you would if hospitalization rates and deaths were  going down, but they`re going back up again. 

And where the U.S. distinguishes itself is when you look at other countries  that have wrestled this virus, you know, to some extent into submission and  they`re heading down the curve, not many of them are heading back up the  curve. That`s what has happened in the U.S. that`s really, really  concerning. 

And instead of grappling with that and trying to learn the lessons of what  went wrong or acknowledge failure, he is searching for the data points that  cast him in the most positive light. 

VELSHI:  Dr. Davidson, the struggle that I have, and I have it every single  day with President Trump, because he gives this response about testing, but  in the interview with Jonathan, I was really struggling with the idea that  the president does seem to be either unable or unwilling to distinguish  between the fact that we do lots of testing, people are dying, they`re not  dying because we`re doing more testing. 

The president seems to have this litany that says, we have a lot of cases  because we have a lot of testing. But to Jonathan`s point, what is -- is he  missing this point or deliberately being misleading? 

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN:  Well, it`s hard to tell. He  sort of had a deer in the headlights look at him during the interview when  Jonathan was explaining to him what the testing actually meant and the fact  that deaths were going up. I think his complete lack of empathy is evident  when he says it is what it is, I`ve been doing my job for 20 years. If I  went to a room and I saw a very sick patient, and didn`t think they were  going to make it, and told them and their family, well, it is what it is,  what will we do?

Now, of course not. You do everything you can. You leave everything on the  table. This president has not done that for the American people. 

VELSHI:  Jonathan, there were a couple of instances, more than a couple,  there are a few instances in the interview in which president Trump said  something. You intervened with either not understanding what he was trying  to say or getting clarification. In one of the cases, it was actually about  testing. 

Let`s just listen to your interchange. 


TRUMP:  There are those that say you can test too much. You do know that. 

SWAN:  Who says that? 

TRUMP:  Oh, just read the manuals, read the books. 

SWAN:  Manuals? 

TRUMP:  Read the books. 

SWAN:  What books? 


TRUMP:  Let me explain. What testing does is it shows cases, it shows where  there may be cases. 


VELSHI:  Did you ever get an answer as to what manuals or what books you`re  supposed to read about this? Obviously, there weren`t manuals when we  started about this. There have been people who`ve written about it since.  But do you know what he was talking about? 

SWAN:  No. And there`s no credible public health expert who is suggesting  that there is a danger to testing too much, none that I`ve heard any way.  And if such a manual or book exists that is credible, I`m not aware of it. 

But it`s a very serious point because, again, public health experts say  until we get to a vaccine, the only way to get this virus under control is  apart from, you know, good social behavior, is a very aggressive and rapid  testing isolation, contact tracing, quarantining. 

And the fact that he`s, you know, with this interview conducted the final  week of July still expressing ambivalence over the value of testing is  stunning. 

VELSHI:  And, Dr. Davidson, the problem is, and Jonathan brought this up in  his interview with the president, the problem is there are lots of people,  maybe 30 percent, 35 percent of the country who believe the president.  There`s a larger proportion that get their news from other networks which  parrot the president. 

So, in the words of Dr. Joseph Varon, the chief medical officer of United  Memorial Medical Center in Houston, he says, we`re fighting two wars, a war  against COVID and a war against stupidity. 

DAVIDSON:  You know, that`s exactly right. And Jonathan brought it up  perfectly, that people hang on his every word. 

And him telling people that masks weren`t important is critical, because I  still have people coming in -- just last week a man came in and refused to  wear a mask because the president told him it was fake, he didn`t believe  it was real. So, this is -- you know, we`re fighting this on multiple  fronts and making it more difficult. 

VELSHI:  Jonathan, there were a few other exchanges. I guess I`m trying to  get to the bottom of how much of this is political expediency for the  president and how much of it is a block whether the president is not  getting the information properly or just choosing to ignore it, because it  did seem there were moments that you were presenting evidence to the  president, at one point he gave you papers, you studied the papers and  found they were presenting contradictory information to what the president  suggested they were proof of. 

What is your sense of this? Is the president deliberately avoiding good  science and good information or do you suspect he`s not getting it? 

SWAN:  No, no, I suspect he is getting it, but he`s impervious to it,  because it doesn`t suit his salesmanship. 

And, you know, I started the interview by asking about a philosophy that  he`s been a proponent of many years, he calls it the power of positive  thinking. It`s -- Norman Vincent Peale popularized it. It was sort of seen  as philosophy of self help. It had religious association with it, but  President Trump applied this throughout his life, this idea that if you  believe something, you visualize it, it becomes real. 

It`s perfectly harmless and maybe even helpful in commercial real estate  when you`re promoting a property or reality TV show. It`s even served him  well in his political career. But it`s unsuitable manifestly to the worst  pandemic in a century that refuses to be swayed by rhetoric or spin. 

VELSHI:  Dr. Davidson, yesterday, the president took a piece out of Dr.  Deborah Birx, who I have been quite critical about on this show, because  she has gone out of her way to be misleading, particularly on right wing  channels. When she went on CNN and spoke the truth about something, the  president called her pathetic. He`s been doing this to Fauci, as Fauci  tells us the truth. 

So the bottom line is the people who do have the science around the  president, if they message in a way that doesn`t suit him, he starts to  write them off and cut them off. 

DAVIDSON:  Yeah, that`s exactly right. We need science to be leading on  this. And the president is absolutely undercutting his scientific advisers,  even the ones who tend to agree with him more often than not, and the  public needs that, the healthcare community needs that. And the only way  we`re going to divide this into the ground is listening to those voices and  not the voices of politicians who are, you know, 13 weeks away from  reelection. So, that`s the path we need to take and it`s unfortunate we  have a leader unwilling to do it. 

VELSHI:  Thank you to both of you gentlemen. Jonathan, again,  congratulations on -- I know it`s just doing your job, but you did it  particularly well in a time when it is a real service. 

Jonathan Swan of "Axios", great work. Dr. Rob Davidson, thank you again for  your continued efforts. 

We`re not done with Jonathan`s interview. President Trump didn`t honor  Congressman John Lewis because he said John Lewis snubbed him, and that he  did way more to help the black community than Lewis ever did.

Reverend Al Sharpton is going to have some things to say after the break. 


VELSHI:  How do you think history will remember John Lewis? 

Jonathan Swan asked President Trump that very question in an interview for  "Axios" on HBO. The president`s answer once again confirmed how  narcissistic, arrogant and petty Donald Trump truly is. 


SWAN:  How do you think history will remember John Lewis? 

TRUMP:  I don`t know. I really don`t know. I don`t know. I don`t know John  Lewis. 

He chose not to come to my inauguration. He chose -- I don`t -- I never met  John Lewis actually, I don`t believe. 

SWAN:  Do you find him impressive? 

TRUMP:  I can`t say one way or the other. I find a lot of people  impressive. I find many people not impressive. No, but I didn`t -- 


SWAN:  Do you find his story impressive? 

TRUMP:  He didn`t come to my inauguration. He didn`t come to my State of  the Union speeches. And that`s okay, that`s his right. 

And, again, nobody has done more for black Americans than I have. He should  have come. I think he made a big mistake. 

SWAN:  Taking your relationship with him out of it, do you find his story  impressive, what he`s done for this country? 

TRUMP:  He was a person that devoted a lot of energy and a lot of heart to  civil rights, but there were many others also. 


VELSHI:  Seems so anguished saying that. 

Let`s just talk about John Lewis for a moment. At 23 years old, John Lewis  was the youngest leader of the 1963 march on Washington, leader, not  participant. He was beaten badly and jailed repeatedly for marching for the  voting rights of African-Americans, civil rights for everyone across this  country. 

John Lewis was one of the most well-known lawmakers in the House, having  served in Congress for more than three decades. 

What Donald Trump said about the impact John Lewis will have on history is  simply disgraceful. Donald Trump attempted to reduce the legacy of John  Lewis to a single act, but the congressman refused to attend his 2017  inauguration. 

Throughout the interview, the president repeated the lie that he has done  more for the African-American community than anybody else in history, in  history. Including one extraordinary answer where he questioned the  importance of the civil rights act, signed by Lyndon Johnson that John  Lewis fought for and almost died for. 


SWAN:  You believe you did more than Lyndon Johnson who that passed the  civil rights -- 


SWAN:  How? 

TRUMP:  I got criminal justice reform done. I got prison reform. I`ve done  things --  

SWAN:  Lyndon Johnson --  

TRUMP:  I`ve done -- well, he -- 

SWAN:  He passed the civil rights act. 

TRUMP:  How has it worked out if you take a look at what Lyndon Johnson  did? How does that work out?

SWAN:  You think the Civil Rights Act is mistake? 

TRUMP:  Because, frankly, it took a long time, but for African-Americans  under my administration -- 

SWAN: But you think that was a mistake?

TRUMP:  -- Jonathan, under my administration, African-Americans were doing  better than they have ever done in the history of this country. So I did a  lot. 


VELSHI:  Joining us now is the Reverend Al Sharpton, the host of MSNBC`s  "POLITICS NATION" and the founder and president of the National Action  Network. He was a close friend of the late John Lewis. 

I feel like I just want to hand it over to you, Reverend, because you`re a  man of the cloth and the things that are going to come out of my mouth  momentarily as a result of this are not things Jesus would smile upon. 

REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST, "POLITICS NATION":  I think that you hit it  right when you talked about his narcissism. But I think even beyond that,  it shows a man deeply insecure. 

When you are asked about how history will remember someone, and you can  only reduce your assessment of history by saying how they related to you,  he didn`t come to my inauguration. He didn`t come to my state of the Union  Address. You see history only within the boundaries of your own being,  that`s sick. 

I mean, that`s someone that needs a lot of help and therapy, because  history is not going to judge anybody based on how they related or didn`t  relate to Donald Trump. And to go from being a little insecure and a lot  narcissistic to being delusional is to act as though the Civil Rights Act,  which legally banned and barred public accommodations being segregated or  didn`t work out so well, I guess if you are talking to a man who was sued  by the federal government for discrimination in the buildings he and his  father owned and managed, I guess it did mean a lot to him, because he  would have been on the other side of the Civil Rights Act, which is why he  was sued. 

I think it was also offensive to anybody in this country to minimize the  fact that John Lewis bore on his body the wounds of those that fought Jim  Crow by being beaten as a freedom rider, beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge  that should be renamed after him in Selma, Alabama, to give voting rights,  and here you are being assessed by a man obsessed to end voting rights by  his war on those of us that are fighting voter suppression and now his war  on mail-in voting. 

So if you deal with who is talking, you shouldn`t be shocked at the words,  but you should be stunned he`s saying them as president of the United  States. 

VELSHI:  Now, you know John Lewis. If John Lewis were in this discussion,  if we were part of it, he wouldn`t tell you that he did more for African- Americans than other people. But that list is long, and you may question  the motivations of some, but Donald Trump places him above Abraham Lincoln,  above John Lewis. He hasn`t mentioned Martin Luther King, but he probably  places himself above Martin Luther King, above Lyndon B. Johnson for  signing the Civil Rights Act.

But here`s the most interesting thing. He continues to say he`s done more  for African-Americans than anyone else, largely because he points to  declining unemployment rates prior to the pandemic for African-Americans.  Except everybody else`s unemployment rate was dropping for everybody else  at the same time and the gap between blacks and whites never close. 

SHARPTON:  Well, first of all, many knew John Lewis better than me, I  looked up to him, I had a lot of interactions with him. And I think he  would have been -- he would not have addressed what he did. 

But I as someone who was in the wave after him, I was around 15 years  younger than him and Julian Bond and Jesse Jackson and others, had picked  up the mantle of Dr. King. I would say John Lewis` record is something that  we could not even begin to weigh in a few minutes on television. 

But for Donald Trump to act as though that what he inherited from the first  black president, who he tried to act like wasn`t even an American, tried to  act like he was born in another country, not in this country, he inherited  that economic recovery and the black unemployment and went along with that  with what Barack Obama had done. 

And he did -- there was no initiative by Donald Trump to reduce black  unemployment. His initiative was a tax cut bill that disproportionately  helped others and generally hurt in many areas where black Americans would  be. 

You are correct when you say the unemployment gap between whites and blacks  remain the same under President Trump. The biggest correction that Donald  Trump has done for black Americans in my judgment is he has, in many ways,  caused the greatest rise of black unity I`ve seen in my lifetime. People  that never walked together, stood together, marched together and will vote  together are together because of President Trump. 

That`s his contribution. He has united a community that is in badly need of  it, and I think he will see that in how they vote November 3rd. 

VELSHI:  Do you think he gets that? Do you think he understands -- do you  think he believes the stuff that he was telling Jonathan Swan? 

Because he said it many times before. He`s made the references to the  person who`s done the most for African-Americans in history, he often says  including Abraham Lincoln or maybe Abraham Lincoln was better than him. But  that`s as far as he can get.

SHARPTON:  Well, I think that he is -- has operated so in trying to con  people that he`s deluded himself. The other thing I think is that I really  don`t think as a person who watches television and doesn`t read or study,  he has a grasp of history to know what presidents before him have done any  way. 

I would challenge him to tell me the achievement of any president or what  their policies were. You have to ask yourself, what is the policies of  Donald Trump for black America, since that`s what he wanted to talk about? 

He did do some things that Kanye West and his wife asked him to do. That`s  not a program. Even Richard Nixon had a black capitalism program. The Trump  program was to end the Justice Department suing for voter irregularities  and voter suppression in several states, in consent decrees that had been  put there by the Justice Department because the patterns of police abuse. 

His programs for blacks have been to undo the things that were done because  blacks were disproportionately suffering in many areas. That has been his  program. 

VELSHI:  He seems to have a program to scare suburban white people about  black people moving into their areas too, but that`s one we heard for a  long time. 

Reverend, good to see you as always. Thank you for joining me. 

Reverend Al Sharpton is the host of "POLITICS NATION".

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

VELSHI:  Weekends right here at 5:00 p.m. on MSNBC.

Florida Republicans have spent 25 years building up vote by mail processes  in the state, and President Trump is doing his best to tear it all down.  Could that be behind his new found respect for mail-in voting today? But  only if it`s in Florida. 


VELSHI: In what appears to be a stunning reversal from his relentless  attacks on mail-in voting, Donald Trump actually encouraged it today in a  tweet, but only in the key battleground state of Florida, tweeting quote,  "Whether you call it vote by mail or absentee voting, in Florida the  election system is safe and secure, tried and true. Florida`s voting system  has been cleaned. We defeated Democrats attempt at change. So in Florida, I  encourage all to request a ballot and vote by mail."

Wow. This change in tune comes just a day after Donald Trump threatened to  sue Nevada over its efforts to send a mail-in ballot to every registered  voter. It`s a discrepancy that Donald Trump sidestepped when he was asked  why vote by mail in Florida is different from any other state, praising the  current and former Republican governors for having a quote, "great system"  of absentee ballots and even mail-in ballots.

But amid growing concern among Republicans that Donald Trump`s attacks on  mail-in voting could backfire by limiting Republican voter turnout in  November, Donald Trump changed his tune again today, telling Gray TV that  quote, "Absentee ballots are good but the universal mail-in ballots are  very, very dangerous. I don`t think it works."

Joining us now Steve Schale; he`s a Democratic strategist and the former  state director for the 2008 Barack Obama campaign in Florida. He also  served as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign`s Florida re-election in  2012.

Steve, good to see you. Are you popping champagne that Donald Trump has  decided to come around on mail-in ballots or is this still not a -- it`s  still weird? 

STEVE SCHALE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I mean, you know, when you`re a  Democrat in Florida, you`re so used to them, the advantage they`ve got with  absentee ballots. I mean I go back to early days running state legislative  races and you just knew you`d start the night down 3,000 or 4,000 votes at  the beginning. They`re just that good at it. 

Even in 2008, you know, when we had 600 employees out there banging on  doors and all the money in the world, we basically gave up competing with  them on vote by mail. They were just that good at it. And we had to make up  the difference on election day into early voting.

And so to see how he`s literally just torched this institutional advantage  that Republicans have had for 20 years, in a matter of like weeks is just  stunning.

I mean just to give you a quick example, in the last two weeks when he`s  really been on this war against vote by mail, Republicans have lost --  Democrats have had 140,000 more people sign up to vote by mail than  Republicans just in the last two weeks. And so it`s not headed in a good  direction for him right now. 

VELSHI: The pretzel that he`s twisting himself into by drawing distinctions  between absentee balloting and vote by mail which don`t exist, by  suggesting that vote by mail in Florida is somehow safe, when in Colorado  or Oregon or all these other states that have been doing it for a long time  it`s not. The fact is there`s virtually no provable voter fraud in mail-in  voting. It`s just a logistics issue. 

SCHALE: Yes. I mean, Florida`s done excuse free vote by mail for 20 years  now. And we have a very well-thought out process. You get your ballot, you  mail it, you sign it, return it. The canvassing board reviews it almost  immediately to make sure the signatures match. If you don`t have a  signature that matches, they call you and tell you to come fix it.

You know, there`s a lot of things Florida gets wrong, actually Florida does  elections pretty well in the last, you know, over the last 20 years. I mean  we`ve paid a lot of really good fixes. 

And so, you know, I mean is any system completely foolproof? NO, but I mean  is there fraud? Absolutely not. I mean it`s a good enough for President  Trump to use. It`s good enough for Kayleigh McEnany if you vote by mail in  Florida. So not really sure what the issue is.

But I`ve got to say, man, it`s been fun to kind of pull up a lawn chair and  just watch them, you know, again torch 30 years of work. 

VELSHI: Let`s listen to a little bit of Jonathan Swan talking to the  President about this earlier. 


JONATHAN SWAN, AXIOS: The Republican Party has an extremely well-funded  vote by mail program. Your campaign puts out e-mails telling people to vote  by mail.


SWAN: Your daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, she robocalls in California saying  it`s safe and secure, mail-in voting. 

TRUMP: Let me tell you -- 

SWAN: The Republicans won.

TRUMP: We had no choice.

SWAN: That was an all-mail in race. 

TRUMP: You know, you could have a case where this election won`t be decided  on the evening of November 3rd. 

SWAN: Absolutely. What`s wrong with that? 

TRUMP: This could be decided two months later.

SWAN: It won`t be two months but what`s wrong with the proper mailing  count.

TRUMP: It could be decided many months later.

SWAN: Have you discussed -- 

TRUMP: You know why? Because lots of things will happen during that period  of time. Especially when you have tight margins. Lots of things can happen. 


VELSHI: Steve, let`s put that in the back of your head for a second, and I  want to pull up the latest polling in Florida. You alluded to some of this,  the increase in the sign-ups by Democrats. We`ve actually looked at three  polls. The Mason Dixon poll has Biden up by 4. A CNN poll has Biden up by  5. Quinnipiac has him up by 13.

The margins of error on all of these are much -- are smaller than the  increases. The Mason Dixon poll has 4 percent margin of error and that`s  what Biden`s up by.

But the bottom line is Biden is beating Trump everywhere, and Donald Trump  has got to take Florida to even have a chance of winning this next  election. 

SCHALE: Yes, I mean first of all, I`ll tell you viewers to disregard the  Quinnipiac poll. I mean they`re good pollsters, they`re just not very good  at polling Florida. They tend to be all over the place here.

That four or five-point margin looks about right based on what it sort of  feels like right now. And the last Republican to go to the White House  without winning Florida was Calvin Coolidge, back when we had six electoral  votes and probably no air-conditioning. So different kind of state.

And the nice thing about frankly the way Florida`s vote by mail and early  voting system, we`re probably going to have 70 percent or so of the state  counted before 8:00 Eastern. 

And so the President`s concerns about having this thing drag out for weeks  are just not founded. I suspect, you know, (AUDIO GAP) a point or two,  we`re going to know it by 8:30, 9:00 Eastern time.

VELSHI: So what is the best argument nationally for Democrats, given that  Donald Trump`s argument is remarkably inconsistent on this? He basically  wants mail-in voting in places that he thinks it benefits him and anywhere  else he just doesn`t.

At some juncture, the President is endangering the election by all of this  constant talk about the fraud and the danger of mail-in voting. 

SCHALE: Yes. I mean I worry about that. I mean we certainly, again -- going  back 12 years to 2008, we had to deal with the challenges of Democrats in  Florida being concerned about going through 2000 again. Can they trust the  system? And I think it`s really incumbent on people who are rational, and  that`s rational Republicans and Democrats, to stress confidence in the  system.

I mean the worst thing you can do is for Democrats to throw out conspiracy  theories or Republicans. I mean we need voters to be comfortable when they  vote or cast their votes, it`s going to count. And you know, and again,  most of these battleground states like Florida, we`ve been through this  before.

The system is very safe and very secure. People, you know, need to make  sure they sign the document right and put a stamp on it. But for the most  part, it can have -- I mean it absolutely can have confidence in the system  and your vote is going to count. 

VELSHI: Steve, good to talk to you. Thank you for joining me. Steve Schale  is a Democratic strategist and former state director for the Barack Obama  campaign.

Coming up next, why President Trump says the explosions in Beirut were an  attack when signs are pointing to an accident. We`ll have the latest on the  dramatic situation in Lebanon, up next. 


VELSHI: In 1995, Timothy McVeigh got his hands on two tons of ammonium  nitrate. The result was the destruction of the Alfred Murrah Building in  Oklahoma City and the death of 168 people.

I tell you this so you understand how much destruction two tons of ammonium  nitrate can cause, to understand what happened today in Beirut, Lebanon  where more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in the city`s port.

Look at that. At least 78 people have been killed, more than 4,000 have  been injured. "The New York Times" reports quote, "Hospitals were so  overwhelmed that they were turning wounded people away."

But perhaps the most shocking thing about today`s explosion is the  purported cause. "The Times" reports tonight, "A large cache of explosive  materials ceased by the government years ago was stored where the  explosions occurred, according to top Lebanese officials, specifically  ammonium nitrate, commonly used in both fertilizer and bombs.

Gross government negligence sticking an unfathomable amount of explosive  material in a busy section of a capital city for any amount of time, but in  this case keeping it there for years.

Now, to truly understand how bad this is, you have to understand what life  was like in Lebanon before today`s horrific explosion. The power grid is  functioning only two to four hours a day. There are no traffic lights in  the capital. An incoming flight at Beirut`s airport had to abort a landing  recently because the runway lights went out.

With food shortages and inflation rampant, people are taking to Facebook to  offer to trade household items for milk. And the country recently returned  to near total lockdown amid rising coronavirus cases.

When I saw the news out of Beirut today, there was one person I wanted to  talk to, Rami Khouri. He`s a professor of journalism at the American  University of Beirut and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. 

Rami, thank you for joining us. Tell me what you believe happened in Beirut  today. 

RAMI KHOURI, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY OF BEIRUT: I believe what happened was the  culmination of about 25 years of incompetent, inefficient, dishonest,  uncaring, and largely corrupt sectarian oligarchic governance. All of these  things are what the Lebanese people, who have been out on the streets for  about seven, eight months, have been protesting about, asking to change the  government.

This was an accident. But it was an accident that happened because the  government somehow, whether it was with knowledge of senior people or just  mid level people or just the port people with no accountability, with no  rules making, somehow allowed this huge amount of material to stay in the  middle of the city, next to other material that could catch fire, which  apparently did because of the heat and humidity.

So it was the negligence, the criminal negligence, the uncaring  inefficiency of the ruling sectarian oligarchic elite that allowed this to  happen. The same way that we have very little electricity in Beirut, there  are no jobs for young graduates, food prices have tripled, the currency has  collapsed, people can`t get their money out of banks, the water is getting  salty, the garbage is not collected.

Virtually every dimension of life has deteriorated steadily over the last  15, 20 years. And this is largely because of the nature of the government  system, which in effect is not really a government system, but an  enrichment process for those who sit in the seats of power. 

And I believe that this explosion, the political aftershocks will be  greater than the actual explosion shocks that we see now, because this is  going to ignite a huge political reaction, I think both internally in  Lebanon and internationally, to get this ruling government out of, not just  this government, but this system of sectarian power sharing, get the system  out of there, and let the Lebanese who are talented, hardworking, wonderful  people, let them create the kind of good government that they know they  deserve. 

VELSHI: Rami, we believe the latest death count is 78, 4,000 injured. This  happened in the port. This is not an obscure part of Beirut. This is a  country that actually depends on its port, a city that depends on its port.  How bad is it from what you`ve heard? 

KHOURI: It`s terrible, from what I`ve heard and what I`ve seen, I`ve been  speaking to people all day and the photographs, the films that are coming  out. It`s like a nuclear bomb almost. It`s -- the devastation is all over  the city, not just in the port area.

The worst of it is in the port area and within maybe a kilometer, but  destruction happened all over the city. People were terribly frightened. 

The worst of it is in the port area and within maybe a kilometer, but  destruction happened all over the city. People were terribly frightened.  Everybody was hysterical almost. They had no idea what was going on.

I was there when Hariri, the prime minister, was killed with a bomb  explosion. I was at my office at the "Daily Star" then. And that was a bomb  that was pretty big. This one is, you know, a thousand times bigger, or at  least 200 times bigger.

So when you hear that kind of bomb, your windows rattle, or they break. You  have no idea what`s going on. You just get really scared. You go to find  out where are your kids, where`s your family, can you get home.

And this is -- this fright is all over the city. It`s been there before.  We`ve had it when the Israelis bombed. We`ve had it during the civil war  among Lebanese. It`s the fear, and hysterical fear that is not new. But  this is really what is happening right now, and people have to find a way  out of it. 

VELSHI: Rami, thanks for joining me. I always appreciate talking to you.  Rami Khouri of the American University of Beirut and at the Harvard Kennedy  School. He`s a senior fellow there.

Up next, tonight`s last word and why everyone should care about the new  attack on the census by the Trump administration. 


VELSHI: The coronavirus has already upended this year`s census schedule,  and now a shortened collection period is raising worries over the accuracy  of the data.

The Census Bureau announced late Monday all census data collection would  end one month early. Now, that shortened time frame has experts concerned  that some populations will be undercounted, including minorities and  immigrants, and has elected officials worried that Donald Trump is  politicizing the census process.

In an op-ed published in "The Washington Post", Representative Karen Bass  and Stacey Abrams write, quote, "The President has already signaled his  goal of a skewed notion of America, and that`s why he`s trying to beat the  clock in order to rig the future."

Joining me now is Arturo Vargas. He`s a voting rights expert and the CEO of  NALEO Education Fund, a nonprofit organization promoting Latino  participation in American democracy.

Arturo, thanks for being with us.

Never mind shortening the collection period by a little while, there are  people, particularly those in the Census Bureau, who think that this should  be extended way beyond normal times. In fact suggesting that according to  former Census Bureau directors, they want it extended until next April, the  end of next April, because coronavirus is hampering the collection of  critical census information. 


Well, it`s not just the former census directors who are saying we need to  extend the census reporting deadlines by four months. The administration  itself made this request of Congress. The Census Bureau went to the  Secretary of Commerce, who went to the White House and said, we cannot  finish this job under the current deadlines. We need more time.

So the Trump administration formally asked Congress for an extension of  four months. But when the President realized that he may not be president  when the data are delivered next April, he changed his mind and now is  forcing the Census Bureau to rush the 2020 census and really undermine what  could be one of -- what should have been one of the best censuses ever  could be one of the most disastrous census to date. 

VELSHI: And let`s look at where the censuses -- the responses are trailing.  There are a number of states -- Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, New York,  North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, south Carolinas, Texas, and  Wyoming which the response is trailing by more than 5 percent. The current  national response is about 63 percent. That`s according to CUNY.

Part of the problem, Arturo, is that a census count allows policymakers at  the federal level or otherwise to allocate resources properly. If you  undercount -- this shouldn`t be a political matter whatsoever -- if you  undercount, you`ll just have the wrong number of things in various parts of  the country. 

VARGAS: That`s right. You know, this isn`t a Republican or Democratic  issue. This is an American issue. To the extent that any state or  population group is undercounted hurts everyone -- blue states, red states.  What we want to make sure is that we have an accurate count of the U.S.  population so we can properly appropriate or apportion political  representation, $1.5 trillion of federal funds every single year where it`s  required and needed. And so that the data that public health experts and  public policymakers need to make informed decisions about what their  communities require are accurate.

You know, if there is an undercount, then all of the decisions that a  policymaker would make would be off because the decision would not be based  on the true size of the population that they`re dealing with. 

VELSHI: So that`s hospital funding, that`s law enforcement funding, that`s  all sorts of things that if you`re in a place where you`re not counting  people, you`re going to get less as a result of it from your federal  government. 

VARGAS: That`s absolutely right. This is for everything from Medicaid,  Medicare, school lunch programs, virtually everything that the federal  government does relies on census data. So if the census data are wrong, the  allocation of resources is wrong.

So we need to make sure that every single household completes its census  form. And the real danger that we have right now is that the Census Bureau  needs to go out and count about 37 percent of American households who have  not yet filled up their census forms. They need to go out and knock on  doors in an environment where it`s going to be very, very dangerous for  them to do that. 

VELSHI: Arturo, thanks for your time. It`s good to talk to you. Arturo  Vargas is the CEO of NALEO Education Fund.

All right. That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" begins right now.