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Obama attacks Trump in speech. TRANSCRIPT: 09/07/2018. The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell

Guests: Jeremy Bird; Jonathan Alter; Ben Rhodes; Cal Perry

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: September 7, 2018 Guest: Jeremy Bird; Jonathan Alter; Ben Rhodes; Cal Perry


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are Americans. We`re supposed to stand up to bullies, not follow them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A rare and scathing rebuke of a sitting president.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I`m sorry I watched it, but I fell asleep.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s a West Wing witch hunt for the author of that anonymous --

TRUMP: Anonymous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "New York Times" op-ed moves full steam ahead.

TRUMP: I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was.

OBAMA: This is not normal. What happened to the Republican Party?

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: All of us encourage the good people that are around the president to stay.

OBAMA: That`s not how our democracy is supposed to work.

TRUMP: One after another, Donald Trump, he`s lost it up here.

OBAMA: We have the chance to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics.

TRUMP: They like to use the impeach word, impeach Trump. If it does happen, it is your fault because you didn`t get out there and vote.

OBAMA: What is going to fix our democracy is you. Don`t put your head in the sand. Don`t boo. Vote. Vote.



ALI VELSHI, MSNBC SHOW HOST: I`m Ali Velshi in for Lawrence O`Donnell. Five hundred ninety-five days after he left the White House for the final time as president, Barack Obama returned to the political stage with his most stinging rebuke yet of President Trump.

In his speak at the University of Illinois, he attacked his successor by name. Something former presidents virtually never do and he said Donald Trump is pushing back against the founding ideals of our democracy.


OBAMA: Each time we painstakingly pull ourselves closer to our founding ideas that all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. Each time we`ve gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back. It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He is just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been feigning for years.


VELSHI: The speech came as Donald Trump spent another day dealing with fall-out from an anonymous "New York Times" op-ed that claims there is a resistance among officials inside the Trump administration. That unprecedented development was not lost on the former President Obama.


OBAMA: And by the way, the claim that everything will turn out okay because there are people inside the White House who secretly aren`t following the president`s orders, that is not a check. I`m being serious here. That`s not how our democracy is supposed to work.

These people aren`t elected. They`re not accountable. They`re not doing us a service by actively promoting 90 percent of the crazy stuff that`s coming out of this White House and then saying, don`t worry, we`re preventing the other 10 percent. That`s not how things are supposed to work. This is not normal.


VELSHI: Former President Obama spoke again and again in his speech about the abnormality of the Trump presidency as he called for voters to provide a check on the president by electing Democrats in the midterms. He said this about Trump`s attacks on the rule of law.


OBAMA: It should not be Democratic or Republican. It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel to punish our political opponents.


Or to explicitly call on the attorney general to protect members of our own party from prosecution because an election happens to be coming up. I`m not making that up. That`s not hypothetical.


VAELSHI: The former president was referring to Donald Trump`s calls for Hillary Clinton to be jailed and his threats to intervene in the Russia investigation and his tweet calling on Jeff Sessions not to charge Republican members of Congress with crimes because it would hurt their chances in the midterms.

But even while President Obama was saying that, Donald Trump was threatening more new interference in the Justice Department. Here`s Donald Trump talking to reporters on Air Force One today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think Jeff Sessions should be investigating who the author of the op-ed piece was or something --

TRUMP: I think so, because I think it is national security. I would say Jeff should be investigating who the author of that piece was because I really believe it`s national security.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there action that should be taken against "the New York Times."

TRMP: We`re going to see. I`m looking at that right now. It only happened yesterday. But I`m looking. I am looking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said last night that it`s treason of what happened. In this country we punish treason with the death penalty. Are you serious about that?

TRUMP: We`re going to take a look at what had, what he gave, what he`s talking about, also where he is right now.


VELSHI: Legal experts almost all agree there is no treason in that op-ed. Treason as described in Article III of the U.S. Constitution is very specific. Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. None of that seems to apply to someone who penned an anonymous op- ed in which no threat against the government was made.

Now aid, no comfort given the government`s enemies. The White House press secretary tried to down play the president`s comments. Sarah Sanders told NBC that the president wasn`t directing the attorney general to open an investigation. He was simply, quote, "opining."

After his flight on Air Force One, President Trump took the stage at a fundraiser in North Dakota and gave his response to former President Obama`s hour long point by point take down of his presidency. All he could come up with was this insult about former President Obama` speech.


TRUMP: I`m sorry I watched it, but I fell asleep. I found he`s very good, very good for sleeping. Isn`t this much -- isn`t this much more exciting than listening to President Obama?


VELSHI: All right, joining us now, Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama and author of "The World as It Is: A Mmemoire of the Obama White House." Eugene Robinson, and associate editor and Pulitzer Prize winning opinion writer for the "Washington Post" and Yamiche Alcindor, the White House correspondent for PBS News Hour.

All three are MSNBC political analysts. I want to thank you all for being here on a Friday night. And Ben, I`m led to believe that you might have been at a surprise party that was thrown for you. You know you could have could us and taken the night off.

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I know. We all have kids anyways now, Ali, so we`re much less interesting than we were about 10 years ago.

VELSHI: Well, welcome to all of you. Ben, part of the issue here that we need to get to the bottom of is that the president says a lot of things that because he repeats them, there are people who believe them. And poll shows that anywhere between sort of 18 and 40 percent of people start to believe the stuff the president says.

And one of the things he`s saying is that this anonymous op-ed published in the "New York Times" may be a national security issue. We have asked all of our national security experts about this, none of whom can identify what the national security issue might be.

RHODES: Yes. And it is the mindset of an authoritarian that criticism of him is somehow a threat to the national security of the United States. It is not. There is no threat in that op-ed. There is no crime I publishing that op-ed. Frankly, I would suggest that the threat to the national security to the United States is a president of the United States who wants to take the Justice Department and use it to punish his political enemies.

As President Obama said today, that is not normal. That is not how our country has functioned for hundreds of years. That is not how our founders intended this country to function. So the threat that we see every day is a president of the United States who wants to disband with the real rule of law in this country and politicize investigations, politicize justice in this country.

VELSHI: Eugene, "The New York Times" responded to the president`s call to or his suggestion or what the White House calls on opinion, but his call to Jeff Sessions to investigate "The New York Times," they responded like this. "We`re confident that the Department of Justice understands that the first amendment protects all American citizens and that it would not participate in such a blatant abuse of government power. The president`s threat both underscore why we must safeguard the identity of the writer of this op-ed and serve as a reminder of the importance of a free and independent press to American democarcy."

Now, Eugene, look, there are a lot of people who think that writing this letter was -- this op-ed was bad form. There are people, including President Obama, who think it is not actually doing the country any favors to work in secret in the White House against the president but not critique all of what he`s doing.

But this is a different issue. Threatening "The New York Times," threatening that the Justice Department will go after this person, that feels a lot like dictatorships in countries unlike the one, the democracy in which we live.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. But it is not the first time we have heard President Trump sound like a wanna-be dictator. He`s done it all the time. The question really is whether this is a serious threat, whether he seriously is thinking about or even Jeff Sessions will be thinking about some sort of criminal investigation of an op-ed, is ridiculous on its face.

Whether he seriously wants to attempt this or it`s just Donald Trump bluster of the kind that we have heard from him literally for 40 years. You know, he always threatens I`m going to sue. I`m going to do this. I`m going to do that. He never does it. So it could be just blowing off steam. But, you know, is it normal? No, it`s not normal. We haven`t done normal for quite some time.

VELSHI: That`s a good point. Yamiche, the president until he had this op- ed to complain about had for about 24 hours before that Bob Woodward`s book. Here`s what he said at a fundraiser in South Dakota about Bob Woodward`s book and libel laws that need to be changed.


TRUMP: Totally phony quotes. I mean, totally like fraudulent books. They`re like fraudulent books. And then we`re supposed to take it because we have lousy libel laws. Hey Mike and John, could you do me a favor? Create some libel laws when people say stuff bad about you, you can sue them and if you`re right you win. Would you do it? Would you please? Would you please do that? Wouldn`t that be nice?


VELSHI: Yamiche, this is very interesting. He was talking by the way to Mike Rounds and John Thune, the senators. Can you please create some laws that when people say something bad about you, you can sue them? That`s not actually what our libel laws are designed to do.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: They are not designed to do that and the thing that`s really important here to not lose sight of is that Bob Woodward, a veteran Washington reporter, is staking his credibility on this book. President Trump who`s had all sorts of credibility issues is saying that the things that he -- that are in this book are not true.

What we know is that multiple sources, apart from Bob Woodward, have said that people in his administration have called him a moron, that they`ve talked bad about him, that the chief of staff has questioned whether or not he`s actually capable of doing his job.

Then there were all these reports before the book came out and before the op-ed where we had heard -- I had been hearing from sources and other reporters had been hearing, that there were people working within the Trump administration who were not drinking the cool aid all the way, who was saying, you know what, we need to stop this man from doing this.

We need to make sure that even if we agree with conservative values in some ways and thin that the economy is going well, we cannot just let him run the country because he has issues. I know a source told me personally that there were times where senior officials would have to brief people before they went in with the president saying no matter what he tells you, the White House refuses to commit to that deal because they knew President Trump in a room would just give away things that the White House couldn`t back up.

VELSHI: Let`s (inaudible) a little bit of President Obama`s sharpest criticism of Donald Trump in his speech. He did something unusual. He named President Trump. He spoke directly about him and he made a reference to white supremacy and Nazis. Let`s listen


OBAMA: It shouldn`t be Democratic or republican to say that we don`t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories we don`t like.


I complained plenty about Fox News. But you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people. We`re supposed to stand up to bullies.


Not follow them. We`re supposed to stand up to discrimination and we`re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.


How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?


VELSHI: Yamiche, what does it do? I mean the president makes a point and the rest of us are saying they`re nodding, how hard can it be? But I think we all went through this moment after Charlottesville when we said wait a second, did he just say what he said. Dos this do anything that Barack Obama comes out there and says, very eloquently, the obvious.

ALCINDOR: I think it depends on whether or not you`re someone who didn`t vote in the election. One of the things that President Obama did was not just talk about Democrats and try to rev up the base and say progressives and moderate Democrats get it together. But he also said if you`re sitting at home waiting for some savior, that`s not going to happen.

So, there`s a large percentage of this population -- of our population that did not go to the polls at all in November 2016. And I think the president is really trying to appeal to those people to say get up and make a change because we`re counting on you.

So I think that`s key and the fact that of course the president`s -- President Obama is saying that he`s going to be out on the campaign trail. If he`s out there and he`s using his swagger and really the Obama touch on other candidates, that could make a difference.

VELSHI: So Eugene, some of these people didn`t show up in 2016 as a habit, fewer people show up in midterm elections. The president continued that refrain, don`t boo, vote. But there seems to be things he was talking about where he said, "that`s not Democrat, that`s not Republican."

Was he giving permission to Republicans, maybe moderate Republicans, maybe people who don`t want to vote for Trump but they`re not really Democrats to come out and say I need to fix this and the only way to do that is to vote Democrat?

ROBINSON: Absolutely. He was attempting to do that. He was speaking to Democrats and progressive Democrats, moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, anti-Trump Republicans and every independent in the world. And he was trying to say vote Democratic. Even just strategically as a check on this administration.

His theory of the case is that you have to make that very, very broad appeal. You know, my theory of the case would be that you have to make the broad appeal. You have to make the narrow cast appeal to progressive. You have to make, you know, 1,000 points of light basically to just to try to boost that turnout because that`s what it`s going to turn on.

VELSHI: All right. To the three of you, thank you. Ben, stick around with me. Eugene Robinson and Yamiche Alcindor, thanks again for joining us on a Friday. Coming up, what happened to the Republican Party? That from President Obama today as he squared off against the GOP. More of the former president`s return to politics after this.


VELSHI: What happened to the Republican Party? It`s a question that former President Barack Obama asked in his speech at the University of Illinois, taking direct aim at Donald Trump but also at the Republican Party`s acceptance of his presidency. This was a speech warning voters that the behavior of Trump and the Republican Party is a threat to American democracy. Now, if you couldn`t listen to all 65 minute of Barack Obama speech, here are some sections you couldn`t afford to miss.


OBAMA: Progress doesn`t just move in a straight line. There is a reason why progress hasn`t been easy. And why throughout our history every two steps forward seems to sometimes produce one step back. Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely if wrongly fearful of change. More often it`s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege.

And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments. It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. Over the past few decades, the politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party. This Congress has championed the unwinding of campaign finance laws to give billionaires outside influence over our politics.

Systematically attacked voting rights to make it harder for young people and minorities and the poor to vote.


Handed out tax cuts without regard to deficits. Slashed the safety net wherever it could. Casts dozens of votes to take away health insurance from ordinary Americans. Embraced wild conspiracy theories by those surrounding Benghazi or my birth certificate.

Rejected science, rejected facts on things like climate change. Embraced a rising absolutism from a willingness to default on America`s debt by not paying our bills, to a refusal to even meet, much less consider a qualified nominee for the Supreme Court because he happened to be nominated by a Democratic president.

None of this is conservative. I don`t mean to pretend I am channeling Abraham Lincoln now, but that`s not what he had in mind, I think, when he helped form the Republican Party. It`s not conservative. It sure isn`t normal. It`s radical. It`s a vision that says the protection of our power and those who back us is all that matters even when it hurts the country.

It`s a vision that says the few who can afford, the high priced lobbyists and unlimited campaign contributions set the agenda. And over the past two years, this vision is now nearing its logical conclusion. So that with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, without any checks or balances whatsoever, they have provided another $1.5 trillion in tax cuts to people like me who I promise don`t need it and don`t even pretend to pay for it.

It`s supposed to be the party supposedly of fiscal conservatism. Suddenly, deficits do not water. Even though just two years ago when the deficit was lower, they said I couldn`t afford to help working families or seniors on Medicare because the deficit was in existential crisis.

What changed? What changed? They`re subsidizing corporate polluters with taxpayer dollars, allowing dishonest lenders to take advantage of veterans and students and consumers again. They made it so that the only nation on Earth to pull out of the global climate agreement, it`s not North Korea, it is not Syria, it`s not Russia or Saudi Arabia, it`s us, the only country.

There are a lot of countries in the world. We`re the only ones.


They`re undermining our alliances. Cozying up to Russia. What happened to the Republican Party? Its central organizing principal in foreign policy was the fight against communism. And now they`re cozying up to the former head of the KGB. Actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack. What happened?

Republicans who know better in Congress and they`re there, they`re quoted saying, yeah, we know this is kind of crazy, are still bending over backwards to shield this behavior from scrutiny or accountability or consequence. Seem utterly unwilling to find a backbone to safe guard the institutions that make our democracy work.


VELSHI: All right. Coming up, will President Obama`s blistering assessment of the Trump administration and Republicans wake up his supporters and make a difference in the midterm elections? That`s next.



BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are extraordinary times and they`re dangerous times. But here is the good news. In two months, we have the chance, not the certainty, but the chance to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics. What`s going to fix our democracy is you.


VELSHI: Joining us now is Jeremy Bird, former national field director for President Obama`s 2012 campaign and partner at 270 Strategies. Jonathan Alter is also here. He`s a columnist for "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC political analyst. Jonathan wrote The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies and Ben Rhodes is back with us. Thanks all three of you for being with us.

Jonathan, let me start with you. What`s the effect of the president`s speech today and others that he`ll be making? This is his sort of opening salvo for the midterm elections. But who will come out and vote, perhaps, as a result of hearing President Obama?

JEREMY BIRD, FORMER NATIONAL FIELD DIRECTOR: One of the most interesting things he said in a fascinating speech that I recommend people watch in its entirety was he uses a statistic from the 2014 midterms that only one in five young voters --

VELSHI: Right.

BIRD: -- turned out. So if he can`t bring that up and others bring that number up, Democrats are not going to win the House of Representatives. People think this is in the bag. There is certain complacent Democrats who really think this is in hand now. It`s not. The demographics of these midterm elections are stacked against Democrats. They have to change that calculus.

He`s going to be in Orange County tomorrow making a speech. I hope he`s out there all fall. I hope Michelle Obama, who has been reluctant to campaign gets out there on the trail because it`s on. As he said, this is the most important election of our lifetime.

VELSHI: Jeremy, President Obama also spoke about democratic ideas. So, you know, we`re trying to make sense of who he`s talking to. He was speaking about democratic ideas, talking on the things that Democrats are and should be running on. Let`s listen to that.


OBAMA: Democrats aren`t just running on good old ideas like a higher minimum wage. They`re running on good new ideas like Medicare for all, giving workers seats on corporate boards, reversing the most egregious corporate tax cuts to make sure college students graduate debt free. And Democrats talk about reforming our immigration system so yes, it is orderly and it is fair and it is legal, but it continues to welcome strivers and dreamers from all around the world.


VELSHI: Jeremy, what do you think?

BIRD: Well, I think his message was right on. I think he was talking about what we need to see over the next 60 days and what I think we have seen from a lot of candidates is we have to run on something. We have to run a vision of progress. We have to run a vision of unity and bringing the country together.

And, you know, he talked a lot about the candidates out there, up and down the ticket. Not just Senate, not just House but all the way up and down the ticket. They`re more diverse. We`ve got a ton of women running, just dynamic interesting candidates. And I think what he was talking about is how important it is to run for something, to run on something and how important it is for those folks to get out and vote for those candidates.

VELSHI: Ben, one of the things that frustrate me is that on a daily basis, the president Trump speaks a lot about things he`s done to the economy. And I always have to show charts that go back to 2008 and 2009 and show the trajectory. The president decided to get in or President Obama decided to get in on the action today talking about Donald Trump`s claims about the amazing economy. Let`s listen.


OBAMA: When you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let`s just remember when this recovery started. I`m glad it`s continued. But when you hear about this economic miracle that`s been going on, when the job numbers come out, monthly job numbers, suddenly Republicans are saying it`s a miracle. I have to kind of remind them, actually, those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016.


VELSHI: He`s talking about the monthly job creation numbers. But one wonders whether truth matters anymore. Barack Obama came out there and spoke the truth about a lot of things. Donald Trump doesn`t and yet somewhere between 20 percent and 40 percent of people tend to believe him on an ongoing basis.

BEN RHODES, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, MSNBC: Well, the amazing thing in looking at that is when Barack Obama took office, the economy was entering potentially a great depression. And not only did he lift it out of that potential great depression, he set in course the recovery that continued through the last several years of the Obama administration into the Trump administration.

I think what we see though is because of an ecosystem that the right wing has built of politics and media, the opinion of how the economy was doing among their voters shifted dramatically so people who before the 2016 election thought, Republicans who thought the economy was terrible suddenly thought it was great when Donald Trump was president. When in fact, it was a steady state of the Obama recovery that continued under Trump.

I think the most important thing here, though, that Jonathan and Jeremy both touched upon, is the Obama coalition turned out for Barack Obama in 2008 and in 2012. They did not turn out in the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014 or frankly in 2016 in the presidential election. Now, there is a chance of that coalition of young people, African-Americans, Latinos, others to come out and vote

Because we can see with our own eyes before us every day that the Republican Party is enabling this radical behavior, this hostility to workers, this hostility to democratic norms and we see from Donald Trump every day, if that Obama coalition can turn out in midterm elections, we will have finally some accountability and a check on this out of control presidency.

VELSHI: Jonathan, for people who like Barack Obama, they can`t get enough of this stuff. Is there some chance, though, that Barack Obama becomes the foil that Donald Trump loves, that Barack Obama becomes the thing that Donald Trump continues to talk about?

ALTER: Well, I think there is some worry about that in the Obama camp. But remember, Obama is 25 points more popular than Donald Trump. That`s a pretty good margin. He can go head to head with him and Trump can insult him and say that he fell asleep in his speech, whatever he wants to say, most Americans are siding with Obama. Most Americans, including large numbers of Republicans on Twitter today, were nostalgic for President Obama because as FDR said, the presidency is preeminently a place of moral leadership.

Now the ex-presidency is that place for moral leadership. And the contrast between a president of impeccable character and proven good judgment, a former president of impeccable character and proven good judgment and a current president who is of the lowest character of anybody that`s ever held the office is very striking and something that Democrats can capitalize on.

O`DONNELL: Ben, how long has Obama been waiting to make this speech?

RHODES: A long time. I see him all the time still. And look, part of it was deference to the norm of a former president not criticizing a successor. Part of it was he wanted to let over Democrats express their voices and step forward and fill some of the leadership voids. But the fact is it`s all hands on deck now between now and the midterm election.

This election is fundamentally important to see if we can check this president. And frankly, it will help determine the outcome of the presidential election in 2020. So you`re going to see President Obama out there making this very same case on the stump for candidates across the country mainly to try to turn out his supporters.

And he welcomes that contrast, frankly, with not only Donald Trump but the Republican Party has done because I think people can assess two brands of leadership here. And frankly, I think people in this country are going to want to see a future politics that looks more like how Barack Obama practiced politics as president than how Donald Trump is.

VELSHI: You have acquitted yourself formatively, Ben. I wonder whether you can make it back to that surprise party. It`s 10:38. If it`s worth the salt, it`s probably still going on. Ben Rhodes, the author of The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. Jonathan Alter is a columnist for "The Daily Beast" and the author of The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, and Jeremy Bird is a national field director for President Obama`s 2012 campaign.

Coming up, Beto O`Rourke is one of the keys for the Democrats flipping control of the Senate. He`s storming on to the national scene and Republicans in Texas are scared. That`s next.


VELSHI: Perhaps no politician in Washington understands the devil`s bargain that Congressional Republicans have made with Donald Trump better than Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who is going to hold a major campaign rally with the president next month, despite this.


TRUMP: His father was with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to Oswald`s being, you know, shot. I mean, the whole thing is ridiculous.

CRUZ: This man is a pathological liar. He doesn`t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.

TRUMP: He`s a nasty guy. Nobody likes him. Nobody in Congress likes him. Nobody likes him anywhere once they get to know him.

CRUZ: The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.

TRUMP: You know, Ted Cruz, he comes in bible high, bible high, puts the bible down and then lies to you. I mean, it`s unbelievable.

CRUZ: I mean we`re liable to wake up one morning and Donald, if he were president, would have nuked Denmark.

TRUMP: When I watched Ted Cruz this morning, oh, I can`t listen. So dramatic. Can`t watch.

CRUZ: Donald, you`re a sniveling coward. Leave Heidi the hell alone.


VELSHI: But Cruz appears to need President Trump`s help. The Texas Senator is currently facing an unexpectedly strong midterm challenge from Democratic Congressman and Senate candidate Beto O`Rourke. O`Rourke is polling within four percentage points of Cruz according to the latest NBC News poll. He`s also polled an impressive fundraising hall running neck and neck with Cruz in terms of campaign donations. And a video of O`Rourke defending NFL player`s decisions to take a knee during the national anthem recently went viral online being viewed over 50 million times.

NBC`s Cal Perry went down to Texas to follow the O`Rourke campaign and he joins me now. Cal?

CAL PERRY, JOURNALIST, MSNBC: Yes. So we wanted to give you a slice of this race and the place that it`s taking place in of course. And we have done so with conservative talk radio as both your guide and your soundtrack.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s hip and cool. Ted Cruz isn`t hip and cool. His new trick is to go to those places, hold a rally, get people to show up and say the things that they like to hear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am concerned about the polls. I don`t necessarily know where they`re polling people out.

BETO O`ROURKE, DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: There are people coming out in El Paso. There are people coming out in Fort Davis.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t see one Ted Cruz signs. I see Beto signs. I`m concerned if Ted Cruz really wants to win this race, where is his people at?

O`ROURKE: You go to some of the reddest places in Texas, places like Abilene, so reliably red, you can see it glowing from outer space. There is really something very special happening in Texas right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I talk to a lot of people and nobody, I have ever even talked, I have never met one person who said hope. So I mean who are they polling, the illegal immigrants?

O`ROURKE: To everyone in this community who gave me a chance to succeed, I want to tell you I`m going to make the absolute most of it right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three minutes after the hour, Robert Francis O`Rourke, better known as Beto feels it`s very American to take a knee.

O`ROURKE: I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights anytime, anywhere, anyplace. So thank you very much for asking the question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any response to Ted Cruz attacking you on what you said about the NFL?

O`ROURKE: No. I mean my followers -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn`t appear that Robert Francis Beto hurt himself with the ramblings on and on and on about there is nothing more American than taking a knee. As a matter of fact, it looks like it might have helped him. Who are these people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They`re American. You know, we should be able to -- if you want to kneel, be able to kneel. And if you don`t want to kneel, you want to stand up, go ahead and stand up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got a list of questions for Beto, Beto O`Rourke, otherwise known as Robert O`Rourke, do you really think you`re going to win with your hispandering?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why Beto and not Ted Cruz?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what, Ted Cruz has been out there for a long time and he hasn`t really represented anybody especially when it comes to Hispanic, he hasn`t really stood up for what Hispanics are for.


PERRY: One of the things that we are going to have to talk about here is some of the Democratic Party say if we`re competitive in Texas, it`s as good as a win. I`m here to tell you it`s not as good as a win. Just watch the hearings this week.

VELSHI: Right. And remember, the polls don`t indicate the fact that turnout in midterm elections for Republicans is much stronger than Democrats. So statistically, unless something changes this time around, Ben O`Rourke would have to be running ahead of Ted Cruz, as opposed to a little bit behind.

PERRY: Definitely at this point. And especially, when you`re polling likely voters, what`s going to win this election for Congressman O`Rourke is unlikely voters, specifically Latinos who live along that border.

VELSHI: All right. Cal, standby. If Ben O`Rourke can pull out a win in 2018, that would be something. But if he can, what are the chances that Texas turns blue in 2020? We`ll be right back with more from Cal and Jeremy Bird.



O`ROURKE: The question is how do you feel about NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem? The freedoms that we have were purchased not just by those in uniform, and they definitely were, but also by those who took their lives into their hands, riding those greyhound busses, the freedom riders in the deep south in the 1960s. And I can think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up or take a knee for your rights, anytime, anywhere, anyplace.


VELSHI: Texas Democratic Congressman and Senate candidate Beto O`Rourke in a campaign moment that went viral. Cal Perry and Jeremy Bird are back with us. Jeremy founded Battleground Texas, an organization devoted to making Texas politics competitive for Democrats.

And that`s the point here, Jeremy, it`s not that Beto O`Rourke might win a Senate seat, which he might, but to a lot of Democrats in Texas, just being able to compete for a Senate seat across Texas` many counties, and start to build an infrastructure is a big achievement. There hasn`t been a Texas Democratic Senator since the `80s and there hasn`t been a statewide election of a Democrat since the `90s.

BIRD: Yes. And it`s a state that -- it is a purple state, if not trending blue if you took the population and not the electorate. And so what we have to see in 2018 moving into 2020 is the electorate needs to look like the population. And look, what we saw this primary season is the Democratic Primary in Texas doubled the turnout from 2014 to 2018, from about 560,000 to over 1 million.

So we`re seeing that happen. And you saw 2016, we were -- the election was closer in Texas than it was in Iowa. So you`re seeing that happen as the electorate starts to look more like the population. Texas will become a battleground state and, eventually, will be a blue state.

VELSHI: The reason some is going purple, Cal, is because people are moving into Texas, their high-tech jobs in places like Austin. A lot of other parts of Texas like Northern Virginia. The oil brings people in but there are a lot of Hispanic voters. Ted Cruz is Hispanic.

PERRY: Right.

VELSHI: Beto O`Rourke is not. He`s got a Hispanic first name because he took that as a nickname when he was a kid.

PERRY: And they`re running kind of in opposite directions on that front.

VELSHI: Right. But how are - Beto O`Rourke is going out there registering voters.

PERRY: Yes. And he`s visiting every county in Texas, something Ted Cruz has not done. He provides an interesting alternative. He is a young face. He`s very charismatic on camera. And he does represent the folks who live along that border. One of the questions that I have though is what is the chilling effect that the administration`s immigration policies have created along that border?

There are people there and we talked to some of them when we were down there who are not comfortable putting their names on a clipboard at a rally. They just do not trust the government right now because of everything that`s happened. That has to be one of the things that he`s going up against.

VELSHI: Jeremy Bird, what does success look like for Beto O`Rourke? Does he have to win, or does close feel like a success?

BIRD: Well, he`s running to win. And I think we`re seeing a candidate unlike any other. He is a special candidate. I mean you see his energy, the dynamism, you know, the way that he`s running his campaign. He`s been to all 254 counties of Texas. He took 259 town halls. He`s outraising Ted Cruz right now. You showed the stat earlier where even in the last quarter, he doubled the money that Ted Cruz`s raising and he`s not getting it from PACs. He has no PACs, no special interests and the average donation is about $40.

So he`s running a campaign like we haven`t seen in Texas in a really long time and he`s running to win. He`s not running, you know, to get close. He`s running to win. I think though the fact that he is as close as he is, the kind of campaign he`s running, and what he is building that will be there for the future, that`s what excites me. There are 1.2 million more voters in Texas right now today than there was in 2014. The state is growing and those people are folks that, if we can get out to vote, it will become a blue state.

VELSHI: All right, guys. Thanks very much. Jeremy Bird, Cal Perry. Cal, thanks for that piece.

Tonight`s last word is next.


VELSHI: This Sunday, MSNBC will present an in-depth look at the Iran- Contra scandal that rocked the Reagan administration and shook the public`s confidence in the federal government. Narrated by Lawrence O`Donnell, special explores details surrounding one of the biggest presidential scandals in U.S. history and includes candid interviews with a top Reagan adviser.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is taking shape as one of the most controversial foreign policy developments of President Reagan`s years in office.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: It was a bombshell. The U.S. sale of missiles to Iran in order to free American hostages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reagan`s first response was to deny any connection to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A charge has been made that the United States has shipped weapons to Iran as ransom payment for the release of American hostages in Lebanon, that the United States undercut its allies and secretly violated American policy against trafficking with terrorists. Those charges are utterly false.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He and really misrepresents what he knows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything that we sold them could be put in one cargo plane, and there would be plenty of room left over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, if I may, the poll shows that a lot of American people just simply don`t believe you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was virtually pandemonium. Everybody was scrambling to try to get the story straight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Top officials in the Reagan White House go into complete cover-up mode. I mean, destruction of evidence.


VELSHI: "This Happened, Secret War, Secret Deals," airs this Sunday, September 9th, at 9:00 P.M. Eastern on MSNBC. That`s tonight`s last word. "THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.


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