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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Stephanie Ruhle, 4/18

Guests: Michael McFaul, Jeremy Bash, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Harry Litman, Juanita Tolliver, Michael Steele, Vin Gupta


President Zelenskyy says Russia started a new offensive in eastern Ukraine as it continues attacks on other parts of the country. This comes as the U.S. plans to start training Ukrainians on howitzer artillery systems in the coming days. A Trump-appointed federal judge overturns the CDC`s mask mandate, causing confusion for travelers. And after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the White House Easter Egg Roll returns.



LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: They get tonight`s "LAST WORD" once again. THE 11TH HOUR with Stephanie Ruhle starts now.


CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: Tonight, a major escalation in the war in Ukraine, Russia on a new offensive with new strikes, killing civilians. President Zelenskyy saying the long anticipated battle for Donbas has begun.

And the CDC travel mask mandate struck down by a federal judge, leading to all kinds of confusion. What the White House and the airlines are saying tonight.

And a year and a half since the election was decided, new reporting that the same group of Trump allies who pushed the big lie is still trying to decertify the vote in critical states as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on this Monday night.

Good evening, I`m Chris Jansing in for Stephanie Ruhle. As the war on Ukraine moves into day 55, the Kremlin has set off a new phase in the East. Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Russia`s large scale offensive is underway. The battle for Donbas has begun.

Zelenskyy made clear no matter how many Russian soldiers are sent to the area, quote, We will be fighting.

Meanwhile, Russia has continued hitting targets across the country. At least seven people were killed in Aviv, the western city that had become a safe haven for displaced civilians. NBC`s Matt Bradley brings us the latest from Kyiv.


MATT BRADLEY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia striking hundreds of targets overnight among them the northeastern city of Kharkiv. This woman mourning her slain father. The Russian attack scene as preparation for its major assault on eastern Ukraine, where the city of Mariupol has withstood a two-month long siege. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are still holed up in a steel mill. Russia warning them to surrender or be killed. But they`ve refused to give up.

Tonight, the city`s mayor says over 100,000 people remain in the city. Ilyas (ph) among those who fled a few weeks ago but his mother would not leave. He`s not heard from her since the neighbor has said she`s still alive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope and I know that my mom will be all right. And we will celebrate our victory when this all ends. And we will win. I know that.

BRADLEY: But Russian President Vladimir Putin also confident of victory over Western sanctions. Today insisting they`ve failed. Russia has withstood this unprecedented pressure, he said.

Russian ground troops retreated from Western Ukraine weeks ago. But in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin of the heartbreaking toll they left behind is still felt. So many families tonight still suffering from overwhelming grief.


JANSING: Our thanks to Matt Bradley for that report. The White House said today it`s considering additional sanctions against Russia. Press Secretary Jen Psaki says the administration is continuing to review its options, and the U.S. will soon begin training Ukrainians on using Howitzer artillery systems, powerful weaponry that was part of the president`s latest round of military aid to help Ukraine. The Pentagon says this could all happen quickly.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We think we`ll be able to start some basic training on the on the howitzers outside of Ukraine and it`ll be more of a train the trainer`s environment so we will be training a small number of Ukrainian forces that will then go back in and train their colleagues. And we think we`ll be able to do that in relatively short order. And they are already used to using howitzer systems artillery systems, so this one won`t take that long to train them.


JANSING: Let`s begin with NBC News Ali Arouzi. Ali, it`s good to see you tonight. You are amid interview when the missiles hit in Lviv. Tell us what you saw, what you felt, what you heard.

ALI AROUZI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Chris. That`s right. We were there at about 8:30 local time interviewing terrorism expert, Malcolm Nance, and we heard a whistle go through the sky and then a bang. And at first we weren`t sure what it was. We knew it`s not normal that we weren`t sure what it was.

And then immediately after that, we looked up in the sky and saw a massive object flying very quickly at a downward trajectory. At first, I thought it was a plane going down. And then Malcolm said that`s a cruise missile. Big, big thought on the ground. It was followed by three four other missiles, plumes of black smoke was rising up and I`ve got to tell you, Chris, that`s the last thing we were expecting. We`ve seen hits on the outskirts of Lviv on strategic locations.

But this was a very built up residential area, full of houses, apartment buildings. If that missile had strayed a couple of clicks either way, it could have taken out an entire apartment building and it was a very intentional strike by the Russians, who was at 8:30 in the morning, not four in the morning when everybody is at home, and it hits an auto repair plant.


And now for the first time in Lviv, Chris, seven people have died. There have been no other fatalities in the Lviv in this war, and amongst the injured was a very tragically a three-year-old child who had escaped very heavy bombing in Kharkiv with his mother. He was injured by that missile, a part of his finger was cut off by broken glass, and now he`s in the hospital.

So this is unfortunately no longer a safe haven for the people that have escaped the war torn east, north and south of the country.

JANSING: So I`m wondering Ali what the aftermath has been like on the ground, the people you`re talking to is the sense that Putin is trying to send the message Listen, nowhere is safe.

AROUZI: That`s exactly right. I mean, as you mentioned, this was a safe haven. People were coming here. There was a sanctuary was a refuge. But he`s very much broadened his attacks, as we saw this morning.

And that`s, Chris, right in the center of the city where we were, when we were interviewing Malcolm it was less than a mile from where we were standing, as I said, full of residential buildings.

Now, the Russians are saying that they targeted or warehouse full of ammunition and arms that were supplied by the West. What they didn`t say in their statement, it was auto repair shop and everybody that died there was a civilian, so it really has terrorized people here.

And then when you talk to people here in Lviv, they don`t ask you anymore if another attack is going to come here. They`re asking when another attack is going to come here. So nobody feels safe here anymore. People used to feel lucky that they were in love it from the east. That feeling has gone pretty quickly today.

JANSING: Ali Arouzi, you and your crew stay safe. Thank you for your reporting. And with that, let`s bring in our experts. Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia and MSNBC international affairs analyst. His book is titled "From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin`s Russia." Jeremy Bash, former chief of staff at the CIA and the Pentagon, and Ruth Ben-Ghiat, history professor at NYU and author of the book "Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present." Good to see all of you tonight.

So Ambassador, Zelenskyy warned that the offensive in the East has started. The New York Times says some foreign military analysts believe the actions are actually preliminaries to a much larger assault. What are you expecting in this new phase of this already brutal war another toddler killed today?

MICHAEL MCFAUL, FMR U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: A major more conventional war between conventional forces which you really haven`t seen much of so far. By the way, most of what we`ve seen is terrorism, like you just saw, reported out of Kyiv that wouldn`t terrorizing civilians.

But what the Ukrainian government expects, what our government expects, and what Russians are planning for is a major conventional war to try to control the area from Crimea to Donbas. And I think it`ll be go on for weeks, maybe even longer.

JANSING: Jeremy, we reported on the U.S. training Ukrainian troops actually training the trainer`s on American artillery, let`s talk particularly about these Howitzers. How important are they could they be in the fight for eastern Ukraine?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF: Yes, they give the Ukrainians about 10 to 20 miles worth of range with those 155 millimeter shells, they can be fired very precisely. So to Ambassador McFaul is point if this is an armor fight between two standing militaries and ground battle in sort of a traditional set piece armor on armor fight, the Howitzers are going to be very effective, they`ll be towed up to the frontlines, they`re up armored. So they have some resilience and some survivability, the key is to get them trained.

And I think here the model that the U.S. is employing by bringing a small number of Ukrainian elements outside of the country to train in either Poland, or Romania, Slovakia is nearby that western part of Ukraine. That`s a terrific model, because I think it`s one we`re going to have to employ over and over again, as we give the Ukrainians more and more sophisticated weaponry.

The distinction between offensive and defensive weaponry is out the window. We`re basically giving the Ukrainians anything that they can use to take the fight directly to the Russian forces.

JANSING: And the White House in the Pentagon today, Ruth, went over yet again, what is going and not just that, but how quickly it got there that the first load of new weaponry that was being sent over to Ukraine got there in 48 hours from the signing of the papers to when it got on the ground.

Having said that, Senator Chris Coons said just Sunday that he`s worried this conflict can turn into Syria, if the U.S. and Western allies don`t do more to help. Do you share that concern?

RUTH BEN-GHIAT, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: I do and I`ve been very glad to see there was a $800 million package, you know, granted by the U.S. and I hope that spurs other countries do the same.


I also like the -- what I read about U.S. weapons makers meeting to discuss how to ramp up their production. Because, you know, since the Russians won`t negotiate in good faith, I think the most important negotiations are those Zelenskyy and the Ukrainians have with us and allies so that they can be given what they need to win.

JANSING: Ambassador, The New York Times also points out quote, civilian deaths and crimes committed by soldiers figure into every war in Russia. However, such acts are rarely investigated or even acknowledged, let alone punished. That leaves it unclear how much the low level brutality stems from the intent of those in charge, or whether commanders failed to control their troops. Combined with the apparent strategy of bombing civilian targets, many observers conclude that the Russian government and perhaps a part of Russian society in reality condones violence against civilians.

Would you agree with that?

MCFAUL: No, I think it`s a conscious effort to kill civilians. The way that story reads it`s like, well, maybe it`s the soldiers fault. Maybe it`s the commander`s fault. We don`t really know. I categorically disagree with that kind of supposition that maybe we don`t know who`s at fault.

No, look at what`s happened in Mariupol. Putin is deliberately killing innocent civilians to depopulize (oh), depopulate that city. He is deliberately destroying those buildings, look at those buildings. That`s not an accident. That is on purpose. And I think we need to understand it is part of his strategy. It`s horrific. It`s heinous, but it`s part of his strategy, and we need to call it for what it is. Ultimately, Putin is responsible for that. There`s not some Aaron (ph) soldier on the ground in Mariupol.

JANSING: So similarly, then, Michael, do you think for example, when the Food Kitchen when Jose Andres; folks get injured and their facilities get wiped out, that that just collateral damage? Or it`s Putin saying, we want to starve those people?

MCFAUL: Well, in this specific case, I don`t know. I want to be clarified about that. But you don`t get the benefit of the doubt when you are deliberately killing civilians. American forces have killed, civilians, innocent civilians in the past in wars, we all know that. But when we do it, we say it was a mistake. We investigate it. We try not to do it. Have you heard anybody talking in those terms from Moscow? Absolutely not, because it`s a deliberate terrorist strategy, to try to get Zelenskyy to capitulate.

JANSING: And in fact, Jeremy, earlier today, Frank Figliuzzi said that Biden should consider adding Russia to the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, let me play that for you.


FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: He is attacking a civilian population, with use of violence for the purpose of intimidating or coercing with an objective a political objective, that is terrorism, by definition, people are saying, Well, we`ve already sanctioned them all the way we can. No, we have not.

State sponsor of terrorism designation would allow us to freeze Russia`s assets here in place in the United States, we would then penalize the remaining countries that are still doing business with Russia.


JANSING: Is that something you think, Jeremy, that the administration should consider? And what could the impact be? How significant could it be?

BASH: Well, I think it certainly meets the classical definition of terrorism. But in some ways, kind of like the old adage goes to put Russia on the state sponsor of terror, oh SLIS will be unfair to terrorists, because in fact, what Russia has done is actually so much worse, is so much more egregious.

And so the ability to freeze their assets to even seize their assets as Professor Lawrence Tribe talked about an earlier program on this network. I think all these tools are in the hands of the administration. We don`t need additional designations, although I`m happy to do it. If it makes people feel better, I`m all for it. There`s almost no level of opprobrium as appropriate for what the Russians have visited on Ukraine.

JANSING: Ruth, your latest piece is titled "Trump Putin and the Politics of Domination" and you write Putin is a personal escalator, quote, in personalist rule, public office becomes a vehicle for private enrichment for the leader and his allies. Over time, the political system increasingly reflects the personal values and mission of the personalist leader. And that usually means the institutionalization of thievery, lying and repression.

So thievery, lying and repression. But how do you go from that to the atrocities we see unfolding, and actually expanding in Ukraine today?

BEN-GHIAT: Yes, well, I think that Putin launched this. He, of course, he has, you know, this is an extension of what he`s been building up for since the 2014 annexing Crimea, but I think that he had intonations (ph) of his power slipping away from him eventually, and personalists leaders act in ways they do reckless things, they become more isolated. They don`t take advice.


This wasn`t gamed out with his military because he is the expert on everything. And they start to believe their own propaganda, and then they miscalculate in ways that we`ve seen. We`ve also seen the costs of the thievery because I think one of the reasons the Russian military has spectacularly, you know, performed poorly in the eyes of the world, is that the equipment has been, you know, outdated, and you don`t invest in your institutions, including the military when you`re a kleptocracy. You siphoned off the money for the leader and his cronies. So we`re seeing the toll of the institutionalization of the thievery and the repression right now.

JANSING: So we talked at the beginning about the next phase of this war. And so Jeremy, what are you going to be watching for in the coming days and over the next week that will tell you maybe where this war is going? Does it continue the way it`s been going that Ukraine is able to hold off? It`s very -- it was very striking to me. And we hear it day after day after day, that young man that Matt Bradley talked to whose mom stayed behind who was so certain that Ukraine is going to triumph in the end.

BASH: Absolutely, Chris, and look Russia`s plan a fail, which was to take the city`s their plan B fail, which is to bomb the cities into submission. So now they`re on to Plan C, which is basically to retrench to the Donbas to position supplies, helicopters, materials close to their forces, to learn the mistakes that they made in the opening days of the war.

So I think it`s incumbent on the west and the United States to continue to arm and train the Ukrainian so they can continue to hammer the Russians and drive them out of the Donbas. I can see a settlement of this situation with a Russian troop on any inch of Ukrainian soil.

JANSING: One of the places we`re watching clearly ambassador is Mariupol. You see the 2,000 plus remaining Ukrainian soldiers who are holed up in that old steel facility. There are also civilians there as well. Can they hold out?

MCFAUL: I don`t know. I mean, two weeks ago, I was talking to very senior Ukrainian officials, and they thought Mariupol was going to fall any day. So the fact that we`re still talking about Mariupol not being in Russian hands, I think is an incredible testimony to the brave folks still fighting there.

I can`t predict when it will happen. But I will predict that if it does happen, it will be celebrated as a major victory for Russia. And we need to avoid doing that. Remember, they couldn`t take Mariupol using conventional military means. So instead, they had to kill everybody and destroy everything. That`s a very, you know, empty victory, in my view. But I think it`s coming. I think that will be coming in the days and weeks to come.

JANSING: Yes, and Ruth, we know that Vladimir Putin doesn`t need the truth to celebrate what he calls a victory. But if he had an actual victory there, it`s easy to imagine what he might do with it in terms of propaganda purposes.

BEN-GHIAT: Absolutely. And, you know, the Kremlin is circulating stories, saying that Putin`s popularity rating is soaring since the beginning of the war. And you know, whenever a regime starts puffing up the personality cult, I see this as the leader actually being in trouble. That`s how those regimes work.

And indeed, the longer this drags on, the more disaffection there`s going to be among Russians from food shortages, and also the pipeline of information from soldiers coming back, telling the truth to their families and communities and people realizing they -- they`ve been fighting under false pretenses that all of that is very harmful.

So Putin has incentive to try and end this and declare some kind of victory and they`ve set the date of May 9 to have some kind of victory celebration, because this is the historic day where you celebrate the victory over the Nazis. And he wants to be, you know, Stalin 2.0 celebrating his victory. We`ll see if that happens.

JANSING: Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Ambassador McFaul, Jeremy Bash, thank you. Coming up, a federal judge has struck down the mask mandate for planes and trains what it means for travelers across the country, as new COVID cases tick up.

And later, with rough approval numbers for the President, we`ll ask our political experts if Democrats should be doing more to sell what they`ve already accomplished. THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on a Monday night.



JANSING: We`re already seeing a major domino effect after a Trump appointed federal judge overturned the CDC`s mask mandate for travelers on public transportation calling it unlawful.

The White House said today`s court decision means CDC public transportation masking order is not in effect at this time. The TSA released a statement tonight saying it will no longer enforce the mask mandate on public transportation and transportation hubs.

The ruling immediately set off widespread changes and confusion. So far, New Jersey Transit and the MTA said they`re still going to require masks, Amtrak as well as airlines including Delta, United, JetBlue and Southwest have announced masks will now be optional on domestic flights.


With us tonight, Harry Litman, former U.S. attorney and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General under President Clinton. Hey there, Harry. So look, what do we need to know about this rolling? Are we kind of in the Wild West, it`s every company for itself.

HARRY LITMAN, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: 100 percent. It`s a mess. I mean, the crazy thing about it, she has certain arguments does the judge for making it unlawful and one little district in Florida. But she then in a breathtaking move that district court judges can do but they`re not. It`s supposed to be something they`re disinclined to do, especially good conservatives put it into effect in the entire country.

People landed in planes. And we`re told all of a sudden, you don`t have to wear masks anymore because of this one order by a district court judge in one district in Florida who said that the reason you needed to make a nationwide order when only two or three people had been in front of her saying it makes us anxious to wear masks.

She said you there`s no way to give them the relief they want because unless you make it nationwide, because you could never tell them from other travelers, which is basically silly. Of course, you could. You could give them a piece of paper. I don`t know how their fellow travelers would take to it. But they would say I don`t have to do this mass mandate.

So, you could quibble with the actual ruling. But you can definitely take strong issue with her making it national. That could be overturned by the 11th circuit, but it`s only been extended until May 3rd. So maybe the administration lets it drop.

One more point. She said this was unlawful from the get-go if the case was filed in July 2021. She`s as good as saying they could never have done this even at the high watermark of COVID. Even with all the health effects that the mask mandate was meant to shore up. So it`s a really expansive holding that illustrates the power of a single district court judge.

JANSING: Well, let`s talk about that single district court judge because our friend Joyce Vance tweeted this. The judge is a Trump appointee who was rated unqualified when nominated and had never tried a case. She clerked for Justice Thomas. Elections matter in more ways than one. What do you think about the judge`s background?

LITMAN: Yes, so look, I understand it, and she has never tried a case that is a real failing for a district court judge. I think she probably Hey, if you read her long opinion, it`s not as if it`s incoherent.

But that next step, the one I`m talking about, I think an experienced district court judge just wouldn`t do. She says I`m skittish about a nationwide injunction, but she goes ahead and does it anyway.

So perhaps that`s the mark of an inexperienced judge, which was the beef that the ABA had with her. In any event, everybody in the country now the law has been changed overnight. The United States could go very quickly to the court above her, but they might not given that it`s set to expire in a few weeks anyway.

JANSING: Yes. Yes, they`re making that decision. So we`ll wait and see what the administration has to say. But meantime, the New York Times reports tonight, that some of the same lawyers and associates who tried and failed to overturn the 2020 election are still trying to decertify the vote, leading conservative lawyer J. Michael Luttig told the Times, quote, at the moment, there is no other way to say it. This is the clearest and most present danger to our democracy. How concerned are you about this?

LITMAN: I`m pretty concerned. First, what Luttig says he is a very solid, conservative judge. And if he says that you can believe it. Now, the whole thing is like a bad zombie movie. They`re coming back from the dead and trying to press claims. The concern is not that they`re going to win. It says crazy, silly, impossible as it sounds.

Their concern is there going to stoke the partisan flames in this country. Have people continue to think that the law should first in some bizarre way, go back and give Trump the presidency may be a boon for fundraising. That`s the real issue here, not, you know, there`s no chance of success on the merits, but there`s a strong chance of deepening of divisions that already are very, very deep. I think that`s what Judge Luttig is talking about, and that`s a bonafide concern.

JANSING: Harry Litman, always good to see you my friend. Thank you.

LITMAN: You too, Chris. Thank you.

JANSING: Coming up with the midterms approaching, we`ll ask Michael Steele and Juanita Tolliver if Democrats should be working harder to sell what they`ve accomplished so far, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.




JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: -- has done more for you than anybody else has ever done for you.


JANSING: Yapping, a largely under used word I think the American Language. James Carville. Well, the president is hitting the road this week with a stop tomorrow in New Hampshire then on to Oregon and Washington State to make that sales pitch and try to shore up his poll numbers.


Republicans have their own concerns in spite of the traditional advantage of being the opposition party in a midterm year. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is warning his party about unacceptable candidates who could win primaries but lose those races in November.

Back with us tonight, Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee and former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Juanita Tolliver, a veteran political strategist and progressive -- to progressive candidates and causes. Great to see you both.

So Juanita in a New York Times op-ed today Senator Elizabeth Warren implies that what James Carville told us last week might not be enough she wrote this, quote, we need to finalize a budget reconciliation deal making giant corporations pay their share to fund vital investments in combating climate change and lowering costs for families, which can advance with only 50 Senate votes.

Is she right or is James Carville?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I think is very easy to answer that question, Chris. Of course, Senator Warren is right. She`s giving out a plan that is exponentially better than James Carville, just be grateful for what you got, even though you`re still struggling approach.

Senator Warren says we need one part blame Republicans for obstructing our agenda and two parts of Democrats doing every single thing they can in Congress, and through executive action to make people`s lives tangibly better. That was the one mandate of the Biden administration from the moment he assumed office, and is to make sure people know and feel that their lives are better under him than the last guy.

So Democrats need to do everything in their power to deliver on that because as Senator Warren wrote, voters remember the promises Democrats made in 2020. And they`re going to be looking for returns on this investment, all while they`re experiencing higher prices for food, for gas, for housing.

And so it`s absolutely right. The Democrats should do what they can and Congress and Biden leverage his executive authority to make their lives better right now.

JANSING: Do Democrats do you think, Michael Steele, need to do that? Do they need to come up with something new is a little too much of what have you done for me lately, which is easier to run against Republicans with?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHARIMAN: Well, OK, so I don`t even know where to begin here. First off, with all the respect I have for Juanita because she`s always on point. But on this one, your points a little off. You all know we got like six, seven months left in this election, right? So you`re going to spend their time --

TOLLIVER: You couldn`t get it done before August recess.

STEELE: Right. You couldn`t get an infrastructure bill done within a year? I mean, come on, you only have seven months to do it. James Carville is absolutely right. Democrats have learned nothing from watching Republicans do politics, the basics of politics. You have a winning message around what you`ve already done. Your problem is that, oh, we got to do something on climate. The problem is how you relate what you did on infrastructure, what you`ve done on COVID, what you`ve done on getting people back to work, to helping reduce those gas prices to putting people back in the frame of mind that yes, there`s a little pain right now. But the game is so much better already.

JANSING: Juanita--

STEELE: I mean, there are --

JANSING: -- there are Democrats who worry too many Democrats are overthinking this.


JANSING: In that basket they would put Elizabeth Warren,

TOLLIVER: I think it`s yes. And talk about what Biden has done. Yes, talk about the impacts of the American Rescue Plan that`s still having an impact today, talk about the infrastructure investments, talk about that. But you also cannot ignore the context and reality that people are living in in real time. Because when they hear or be grateful for what you got, they`re going to stay at home.

And so making an all-out concerted push, even if you`re not successful, making that conservative push shows voters that you`re fighting for them day in and day out no matter what, and that`s what they need to see.

JANSING: Michael, let`s talk about the Republican side. They are all in on culture issues, what banning books from libraries. In Florida, they are pulling math textbooks for so called critical race theory. I mean, is this the kind of thing McConnell is warning about in some of the candidates that Trump`s endorsing?

STEELE: Yes, McConnell, look, I`ve been saying this for three months that McConnell is sitting there looking at what`s coming down the pike gun. We can`t win with this, y`all. We can`t. We can`t do it.

But the party doesn`t care. And you know why? Because they have a weak opponent in the Democrats. The Democrats can`t even take the dumb easy stuff that Republicans are doing and use it against them.

So in one sense, yes, McConnell`s nervous but the rest of the party isn`t it because they`re sitting there looking at the basics where you can push back against Marjorie Taylor Greene. DeSantis and anyone else where you go -- where you`re going to be worried?


That`s why you see the doubling down on so much of the culture stuff, because that`s an easy narrative to put out because there`s no counter narrative to it. What`s the counter narrative to it?

JANSING: You know, the New York Times over the weekend, Juanita, ran a profile of the former president as a modern day party boss. Here`s how they say Trump is exerting his power. He has focused his efforts almost obsessively on installing unflinching loyalists in key battleground state posts, often in place of the very officials who thwarted his attempts to subvert the 2020 results, simple translation support the big lie or forget my endorsement.

And is that something that Democrats should be using for their base to get them fired up about the midterms?

TOLLIVER: Absolutely, Chris. This is Trump`s latest iteration on attacking democracy attacking our elections, preventing every single person and voter`s voice from being heard in elections. And so I think this is something that Democrats are paying attention to and responding to.

And we`re seeing that response in the investments of Secretary of State races where we know Trump has endorsed candidates in states that he lost like Arizona, Michigan, and Georgia. And he`s trying to do that.

And so in response, Democrats are not letting these races go unnoticed, like they have in elections pass. But also we`re seeing new investments even in very, very local clerk positions and election administrators through groups like Run For Something and American Bridge that are making investments to recruit candidates, because Trump is going to continue this. He`s going to try to rig elections by selecting the referees the same way he tried to subvert the outcome in 2020.

And so, driving attention to this, emphasizing the impact that these elections in the midterms will have on our elections for the foreseeable future, it`s critical for Democrats that should be a part of their messaging.

JANSING: Juanita Tolliver, Michael Steele, thank you both. Coming up. We`ve heard the legal side of the mask mandate debate, but up next, Dr. Vin Gupta is here with the medical perspective as COVID cases climb higher yet again, when THE 11TH HOUR continues.




DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, VICE PROVOST OF GLOBAL INITIATIVE UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: I thought removing the masks a few months ago was premature. All those mayors and governors said you know things are improving. And I kept saying yes, they`re improving but they`re not improved yet. And we`re no doubt going to see an upsurge because we`re taking off the mask prematurely.


JANSING: Today`s debate over the travel smask mandate is being waged as COVID cases are climbing particularly in the Northeast. Philadelphia today became the first major city to bring back its indoor mask mandate. And like the travel mandate, this order is being challenged in court.

We welcome back Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist in Seattle. He is also on faculty at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Always good to see you.

So, look, cases arising where you are in the Pacific Northwest. How worried are you about this BA.2 variant and all this confusion now about mask mandates?

DR. VIN GUPTA: Chris, good evening. The BA.2 variant is what we would expect with a contagious respiratory virus. So for all your viewers watching this, they may be wondering, well do the vaccines, three doses for the vast majority. Does that protect me against the hospital? The answer is yes.

And it appears that these vaccines are incredibly effective, and that there really isn`t that much of a difference between this new variant versus the original Omicron, it`s more transmissible, which is why we`re hearing more about it. But there is no fundamental risk to an individual who is otherwise fully vaccinated.

Which is why Chris, I suspect we`re going to have the next six months relatively free from hospital stress in both coasts across the country. And that`s going to be our new normal. The wintertime, however, is going to be a different situation.

JANSING: Talk to me about what you think parents should do. This may be particularly personal to you, if they have to take your unvaccinated children though now on a plane or a subway or any other crowded places where now as of now masks are no longer required.

GUPTA: Well, I`d say that if you`re with a child under five as I am, I tend to wear a mask even though I feel very comfortable in my triple vaccine status that I`m protected. I do it to minimize my child`s confusion. And I would recommend that you do the same if you`re going in an airplane cabin at 30,000 feet or down the subway, that that`s the right thing to do right now.

And I will make a larger point that as to whether or not this federal judge was thinking scientifically when they decided to end the mask mandate or put a temporary stay. You know, this concept was there -- their entire decision was based on this definition, narrow definition. Chris, what is sanitation. They`re viewing a mask as not being something that helps with sanitation, who literally they`re viewing a mask is it a Clorox wipe, can it clean the surface in front of you? Well, that`s the modern definition of sanitation.

Sanitation is anything that will prevent and control infection spread. Masks obviously do that in the setting of an airborne respiratory virus, so this could be easily challenged if the Biden administration wants to push back.


JANSING: So that brings me back, look, and we don`t know what they`re going to do because maybe it was going to be allowed to expire anyway. But if you have to take a baby with you, and obviously a child, a three-year-old, a three-month-old can`t be vaccinated, how do you protect them?

GUPTA: Well, I would say a three-month-old, I urged an individual to really reconsider whether or not they need to travel. So typically, I say this, surrounded by pediatricians in my world, a lot of pediatricians say try to avoid that airplane cabin for that first six months until the initial vaccine series are completed. Unlikely we`re going to have the vaccine ready in time for kiddos that young in the next few months.

For the under five group though, Chris, I will say I do believe Moderna is going to have clearance for their vaccines for that under five group, hopefully by June, that there are two dose regimen, great data on it, they already have sought FDA clearance for that, that two-dose regimen back in the end of March.

So hopefully we`re going to have good news in the first few months of summer, no later than that. So that`s going to be helpful. But do I think young parents of very young children should be traveling? No.

JANSING: No, I am also thinking about this, the BA.2 variant, a lot of people are looking over the next couple of weeks, given how many large gatherings there were, again over the holiday weekend that still, you know, people getting together. And obviously, the lifting of these masks mandates. And we don`t really know that we have great numbers on the number of COVID cases, right, even though they`re because most people are not testing anymore.

But having said all that, how reliable are the case numbers? And if people are going to find themselves testing positive, how accessible are you finding COVID therapeutics to be right now then?

GUPTA: They are not very accessible right now, Chris, just to take that last question first. It is difficult. So if you`re not next to an urban center, or brick-and-mortar pharmacy that actually has supply. There are some cases that people have to travel several miles up to 100 miles to actually access therapy in brick-and-mortar pharmacy. So that is a problem here, hopefully with Congress funding more purchasing of supply in the weeks ahead, that will be rectified by the winter.

Your earlier point, are we capturing the number of cases adequately at University of Washington estimates that we`re actually only recording testing and recording about 15 percent of the actual number of cases that are occurring right now at this moment.

Most -- Mostly because Chris, you and I we test ourselves at home, as our family members as to were friends. That is now norm that`s commonplace.

And so as a result, we really shouldn`t take much stock as to the case loads here.


GUPTA: I will say 6,000 people just died last week from COVID. So this is not totally over. But again, hospital stress decreasing for the next six months. Winter 2022 though a different story.

JANSING: Dr. Vin Gupta, always great to see you. Thank you.

Coming up, some of today`s ups and downs in the Easter bunnies big White House come back when THE 11TH HOUR continues.




JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Who knows who`s under here? No more bunny business. That`s the line we work on. Do you guys like it? Thank you for joining us Easter Bunny.


JANSING: The last thing before we go tonight, the egg-ucation roll for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the White House hosted the traditional Easter Egg Roll on a rainy south lawn this morning. Dr. Biden dubbed the event the Egg-ucation Roll, well let her explain.


JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Education never stops. The determined spirit of education is what we wanted to honor in this Easter Egg Roll. So we turned the South Lawn into a school community. Today, we help you learn to read -- we help you learn by going to the reading nook, roll some eggs and most of all have fun. Welcome to your house. That people`s house. Happy Easter.


JANSING: In the reading note (ph), President Biden held up the ever popular "Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?" for the first lady to read to the children. The chilly wet conditions didn`t stop the main event the Easter Egg Roll itself.

President Biden whistled the start of the competition encouraging the young competitors along the way. Later, Vice President Harris joined the fun though the excitement was maybe too much for some of the pint size purchase events.

The tears totally understandable. I mean DC can be a bit overwhelming for newcomers.

There was another prominent guest who also didn`t seem to be having a particularly fun time. A Bloomberg reporter posted an image of Democratic Senate hopeful John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. His arms crossed a displeased look on his face. Perhaps he was thinking about Easter egg rolls of the past.

The New York Times describing the 2019 event this way quote, the last time the White House held an Easter Egg Roll the president ditch the Easter Bunny and briefed a child on his border wall. Phrases like masking ordnance and rapid testing were not yet part of the national lexicon. A Corona was just a beer.

And just to help you remember, here`s a moment from the former guys opening remarks.


DONALD TRUMP, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: We`re setting records on stock markets, we`re setting records with jobs and unemployment numbers are the lowest they`ve ever been 50 years in many groups in historically the lowest numbers we`ve ever had. Regulations, low taxes, our country has never done better.



JANSING: So a traditional Easter message and the reminder of just how much things have changed to get us off the air tonight. On that note, I wish you a good night and from all of the colleagues across the networks of NBC News, thanks for staying up late.