Beto O'Rourke drops out of 2020 race. TRANSCRIPT: 11/1/19,The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Ro Khanna, Ben Rhodes, E.J. Dionne, Neera Tanden, Debbie WassermanSchultz

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  I told you this was going to be an exhausting week. It has been an exhausting week. That means you have to have a good weekend and rest up because next week is probably going to be worse. All right, we`ll see you again on Monday. Now it`s time for the "Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Rachel. I think most of our viewers would appreciate it if you had a restful weekend so that you can be in fine form for next weekend.

MADDOW:  I would do my damn best. Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI:  Have a great weekend.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

VELSHI:  All right, ahead tonight, a Democrat`s tough face-to-face with a top Trump official. Congresswoman Debby Wassermann Schultz has accused acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli of pursuing a "heinous white supremacist ideology in seeking to deny public benefits to legal immigrants." At the end of the hour, we`ll speak to the congresswoman about her allegation.

Also it`s the dinner that helped make Barack Obama a star. Many consider Iowa`s liberty and justice celebration as the place where Obama had his break out moment in the 2007 presidential race. Tonight, 14 Democratic candidates are trying to have their own break out moments at that very same event on the same night that Beto O`Rourke dropped out of the race, so there`s a lot to talk about in the 2020 race.

But first, House Democrats are preparing to take the impeachment investigation public. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Bloomberg News that public hearings from key witnesses could start later this month.

But she cautioned that there was no deadline to finish the investigation and that any case to impeach the president, "has to be iron clad." The investigating committees have already heard testimony from 13 witnesses who have provided roughly 100 hours of testimony behind closed doors.

Next week, House Democrats have 11 more witnesses on their deposition calendar and their testimonies could prove pivotal. On Monday, the investigating committees are scheduled to hear from National Security Council lawyer John Eisenberg who allegedly moved the transcript of ae phone call between President Trump and President Zelensky of Ukraine to a secret server.

And breaking tonight, investigators have subpoenaed John Eisenberg to appear before the impeachment committees next week rather than rely on his voluntary cooperation. That`s according to the "New York Times."

New reporting suggests that John Eisenberg knew how damaging that phone call was to the president. This man, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman who served as National Security Council`s director for Ukraine told lawmakers that he went to John Eisenberg to register his concerns about the call.

According to a person in the room for Vindman`s deposition, John Eisenberg recorded Lieutenant Colonel Vindman`s complaints and then conferred with his deputy about how to handle the conversation.

"Politico" reports, "The lawyers then decided to move the record of the call into the NSC`s top secret code word system. Vindman did not consider the move itself as evidence of a cover-up, according to person familiar with his testimony. But he said he became disturbed when a few days later Eisenberg instructed him not to tell anybody about the call especially because it was Vindman`s job to coordinate the interagency process with regard to Ukraine policy."

NBC News and the "Washington Post" have since confirmed that reporting. Also breaking tonight, House Democrats have scheduled outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry to provide testimony to the impeachment committees. A spokeswoman for Rick Perry told "The Wall Street Journal" that he won`t testify behind closed doors.

But the spokeswoman added, "If the committee is interested in conducting serious proceeding, they are welcome to send the secretary`s consideration an invitation to participate in an open hearing where the department`s counsel can be present and the American people can witness.

So, we might see Rick Perry on our television sets in an open hearing sooner than we think. Now, like with Rick Perry, it`s important to note, we don`t know if many of these witnesses will actually appear for their closed door depositions. If precedent holds, most of them will, but nothing is guaranteed with this administration.

Last night, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said that the committees will start releasing the transcripts of all these closed door depositions; depositions from diplomats, military advisers and foreign policy experts that have yielded blockbuster evidence of a quid pro quo.

(BEGIN VIDEOCLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  One of the aspects of the resolution that we passed today authorizes me to begin releasing transcripts and I would expect that process will begin as early as next week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  Now, as I mentioned later this month House Democrats plan to take the impeachment investigation public. But even before the public hearings take place, it seems like the investigation has already started putting a dent in President Trump`s poll numbers among Republicans.

A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 49 percent of Americans say that President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, 47 percent of Americans say that President Trump should not be impeached.

Now, here`s where things get interesting, 18 percent of Republicans polled say that the president should be impeached and removed from office. Almost one in five Republicans wants Trump out. And the president`s approval rating among Republicans has dropped 13 points since this summer.

In July, Trump enjoyed support from 87 percent of Republicans, and now that support is at 74 percent. Who knows how low it could go once the impeachment investigation is all out in the open. Leading off our discussion tonight, Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He`s a member of the House Oversight Committee and has attended many of the closed door depositions for the impeachment investigation.

Also joining us, Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. She`s an MSNBC legal contributor. And Ben Rhodes, former Deputy National Security Advisor to President Obama who is also an MSNBC political analyst.

Welcome to all of you. Thank you for joining me here on a Friday evening. Congressman Khanna, good to see you again. Let`s talk about what the next step is in this process, the open hearings. At least for the next week or so we presume the hearings, the people who have been subpoenaed or invited will still testify in a closed door setting where Democrats and Republicans are present. 

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA):  Yes, Ali, we will continue to gather the evidence and it`s important to understand that Republicans are there as well, they have their council. But then we will quickly move to public hearings.

And the important thing to realize here is that the facts really aren`t in dispute. I think a few key witnesses like Ambassador Taylor will establish that the president withheld aid, pressuring Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, his political rival and this is unconstitutional.

VELSHI:  Congressman, what`s the advantage of the closed door hearings versus the public hearings? If you keep on getting the evidence that we keep on hearing because we see some of these opening statements that the witnesses present.

They seem to corroborate the story that Democrats believe to be the case. Why the closed door hearings versus open hearings?

KHANNA:  Well, first of all, I think many of the witnesses may not be willing to come and be badgered in front of national television. I mean, the Republican attacks on career civil servants and people that have served our military have been outrageous.

And I don`t think we would get the same cooperation or the same honesty if we were forcing these individuals to have to testify to millions of people and face the wrath of the president of the United States and the Republicans.

VELSHI:  But they ultimately will, right? You will -- what will happen? You`ll take sort of the best of and put them together for public hearings?

KHANNA:  Yes. I mean, I think a lot of the depositions eventually will be released, but not everyone is going to have to testify publicly and they are going to have the opportunity first to make the case in private instead of in the glare of the television.

So I think that this is the way almost all investigations have taken place. And the Republicans are making a process argument for one simple reason. They know they can`t defend the facts. I mean, the facts are so simple. The president pressured Zelensky to investigate his political rival and withheld military aid.

VELSHI:  Barbara McQuade, we now know through the course of testimony that there were lawyers involved. The "Washington Post" is reporting on John Eisenberg and his request to Alexander Vindman to not to talk about the Trump-Ukraine phone call that Vindman was so concerned about that we`ve all heard about.

And I want to quote from the "Washington Post," "The interaction between Eisenberg and Vindman suggests there was a sense among some in the White House that Trump`s call with Zelensky was not as the president has repeatedly claimed perfect."

Eisenberg has been subpoenaed. We don`t know whether he will attend the deposition or not, but the fact is this is a lawyer for the National Security Council. What does this make you think?

BARBARA MCQUADE, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR:  I think it`s very concerning. We had already heard the information that John Eisenberg, the lawyer, had taken the unusual step of concealing this call in a code word safe where it`s not normally stored. That raised a lot of questions I think to why that was done.

And now we have this additional testimony by Colonel Vindman that he also told him not to tell anybody about this call. I think that suggests what prosecutors refer to as consciousness of guilt. This could be a basis for obstruction of justice, although to prove a case of obstruction of justice, you have to show that there is an investigation pending and this may have predated any investigation.

But it shows something deeper which is this idea of consciousness of guilt. You don`t have to hide things if you think that they are honest and done forthrightly. You hide things when you worry that there`s a problem there.

And so the mere fact that he is storing it in this special safe and that he is asking Vindman not to speak about it suggests that he knows that there`s something problematic about it.

VELSHI:  Ben, talk to me about this because you were at the National Security Council. I don`t know if you ever experienced things like this, but how would this have been handled? How should this have been handled?

Vindman heard something that was of concern to him. It sounds like as a military man, he had a sense of process about him. He went to the NSC`s lawyer, probably the right thing to do.

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, yes. I mean, the NSC lawyer, though, used to be there to not facilitate crimes but to make sure that we were acting in an ethical way. What is so extraordinary to me about this is I knew that system. That system was reserved for very sensitive matters, you know, covert operations of the United States; things that dealt with sensitive human intelligence sources for instance.

You don`t put things on that server just because they`re embarrassing. And you certainly don`t put things on a server because you realize, wait a second, the president of the United States may have just committed an impeachable offense, a crime in his phone call with a foreign leader.

And so it`s rather extraordinary to me that the lawyers, the people who were supposed to be keeping people on the right side of the law in the White House were instead trying to conceal information.

And Ali, there`s just no other reason to put that call on that server. There`s no other sensitive information in that call. There is no intelligence referred to on that call.

The only reason to put that call transcript on that server is if you don`t want enough people to see it to catch you in that crime that the president committed.

VELSHI:  Congressman Khanna, I know you can`t tell me about things that were not in the public eye in the last couple of weeks in terms of testimony. But it does appear from what we have heard has happened that these -- each witness tends to corroborate the last witness.

We had Tim Morrison who said he didn`t think what the president did was illegal, but that`s sort of beside the point. He did say that he heard the same things that others had said that they had heard about that call on that call.

So, whether you interpret it as illegal or not is a separate question. Are you hearing things that are surprising you? Are you hearing things that are contradicting the message we got from the president himself? The message we got from the memo itself of that phone call?

KHANNA:  Ali, based on the public reporting, here`s what`s important to realize. This was not just one phone call by Donald Trump and Zelensky where he misspoke or spoke aggressively.

This was a coordinated effort that lasted months by the White House to pressure Zelensky to get dirt on Joe Biden because the president, the White House feared that Joe Biden was the person most likely to beat him, and they were willing to withhold military aid.

And what`s remarkable is how many people were involved in this scheme. It`s important to realize that Republicans were saying, oh, quid pro quo is just part of normal foreign policy.

This is not the president saying get to the bottom of corruption. This is the president saying help me beat my political rival who`s winning in the polls.

VELSHI:  So let`s talk about it because the president very quickly after news of this broke said it was about corruption in Ukraine. I want to ask Barbara a legal question about it. I want to ask Ben a question on the facts on this one. President Trump mentioned this at a rally in Tupelo, Mississippi tonight. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When you call the leaders of a country many people listen. And I`m on the phone and they want me to say to this brand new president who just got there, call to congratulate him. Please could you help me, please? I don`t know who he is. I didn`t know his name I will I looked down on the card.

And one of the reasons I held up money, very important, corruption, but the other reason, why isn`t Germany and France and U.K. and all of these European nations that are right there, why aren`t they doing things that they`re supposed to do? Why is it always the United States?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  So from the applause there you could see that this works for the audience that`s listening to him except for the fact that it`s not true, what the president just said.

The idea and he`s been singing this since he tried the corruption thing and didn`t work, he then moved to the whole I`m holding out so that the Europeans would do more for Ukraine. The Europeans have always done more for Ukraine since the beginning of this crisis with Russia.

RHODES:  Yes. And we put together with the Europeans this entire strategy of essentially imposing pressure on the Russians, imposing sanctions on the Russians, and providing coordinated support, the United States and Europe to the Ukrainian government.

And to follow up on something that Ro said that`s really important, the people who`ve testified -- I used to work on this policy, Ali -- it`s everybody who works on the Ukraine policy.

VELSHI:  Right.

RHODES:  It`s the guy in the White House who works on it, the guy in the State Department, the Pentagon, the one in the Pentagon. You know, everybody who would be sitting around the table in the interagency process was witting of essentially this corruption of our Ukraine policy to make it not about working with the Europeans to try to strengthen the Ukrainian government

But rather to make it about how can we facilitate Rudy Giuliani`s effort on behalf of Donald Trump to pressure this government to investigate the president`s political opponents. That is a wholesale corruption.

Again, not just in one phone call but what the entire U.S. aid -- government was doing, the taxpayer funded U.S. government was doing to pressure Ukraine to do Trump`s political bidding.

VELSHI:  Barbara McQuade, Ben just (inaudible), we haven`t heard from Rudy Giuliani for a few days. One week ago we were talking about how he had butt-dialed an NBC reporte. That said, Donald Trump continues to try and have this tried in a court of public opinion.

In the course of one speech, has now tried out the corruption angle and tried out the I was just waiting for U.K. and Germany and France to do more. Does any of this matter in the end?

MCQUADE:  It could. You know, anything he says, anything he tweets are admissions that can be used against him later. You know, if he locks himself into a certain story and then changes his story later, there is some suggestion that there is a lack of truth there.

But I think that impeachment unlike criminal prosecution is ultimately a political process. And so if he can win in the court of public opinion, he may be able to win in the impeachment battle as well. So I think that`s the game he`s playing. He`s good at it, and I`m sure he will continue to try to distract people, you know, referring to the perfect call and trying to distract people from the real facts.

VELSHI:  Barbara McQuade, thank you. Congressman Ro Khanna and Ben Rhodes. Ben, stick around. I`m going to talk to you later. Thank you for getting us started though, the three of you.

Coming up, one Republican congressman head butting a camera today instead of talking about Trump`s behavior. He said the call -- he said to call his office to get and answer so we did. We`re going to tell you what we found out after the break.

And later, a big night on the 2020 front. The event in Iowa that catapulted Barack Obama`s campaign is taking place tonight. Who broke through amid the breaking news tonight that Beto O`Rourke has ended his quest for the White House? A lot of news to talk about tonight on the "Last Word."

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VELSHI:  Republicans have been quick to chide the impeachment process to avoid discussing whether it`s appropriate for President Trump to solicit a foreign government to investigate his political opponent. But now that the impeachment inquiry is about to become public, Republicans are forced to confront the substance of the case against Donald Trump. Questions they`ve been dodging by any means necessary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS HOST:  Was it appropriate for the president to ask for investigations of his Democratic rivals with another foreign leader?

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA):  I`ve never seen one talking point from the White House. I`m talking to you based upon the most important facts we have.

MARGARET BRENNAN, CBS NEWS HOST:  You have no problem with any of this?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC):  I have zero problems with this phone call.

BRENNAN:  Even with that sequencing?

GRAHAM:  I just told you.

BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS HOST:  Do you wish that conversation wouldn`t have happened, sir?

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA):  Well, I wish they wouldn`t have released the transcript of the conversation.

REP. BRAD WENSTRUP (R-OH):  Did the president have to mention Joe Biden? Boy, that`s the elephant in the room. I don`t think you necessarily have to but I did not see it as a quid pro quo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you ask a foreign country to investigate an opponent of yours?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m not the president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it`s OK for our president to extort other countries to begin investigations into his political rivals?

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IO):  OK, we`re going to move onto another question, but what I would say is we can`t determine that yet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you think it`s OK for President Trump to ask China to launch an investigation of Joe Biden and Hunter Biden?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL):  I don`t know, but that`s a real request or him just needling the press.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The question is, is it appropriate for a president to be --

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R-CO):  Look, I think we are going to have an investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why don`t you answer the question about is it OK for the president to ask a foreign country to investigate the Bidens?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don`t think we`re doing interviews instead of interviewing yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What do you make of these allegations?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY):  I said I`m not going to comment on the merits of what`s going forward.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is that concerning at all to you that the transcript had been described as a perfect transcript but may not have been?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH):  No. I mean, there`s a process. The changes I think that were outlined in the press were not a big deal.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

VELSHI:  Republicans are so desperate not to answer questions about Trump`s behavior that veteran Congressman Don Young from Alaska head butted a camera when confronted by the liberal group moveon.org before ducking into an elevator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Congressman, it`s a simple yes or no question. It`s just a quick no -- is it OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please, as we talked to you already.

REP. DON YOUNG (R-AK):  There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is it an acceptable thing to ask foreign governments to interfere in our elections?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just asking the same question over and over again is not going to get you guys anywhere. Now, if you talk to Zack (ph) in our office, he`s our press secretary. He`s the best person to talk to you about this and to be able to get you something back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just curious, it`s a yes or no question. Do you think its OK for the president to pressure foreign governments and interfere in our elections?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think the best thing to do is talk to our press secretary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  You ever get a situation like that where you just, like why is the elevator not coming? I really need to get on this elevator. We called Zack (ph). We called Zack (ph) in the congressman`s press office to get an answer. Guess what? No response.

The next public phase of impeachment could take its toll on Republicans as Jennifer Rubin notes in the "Washington Post" "If Republicans ever break free of their irrational fear of Trump and his base, they might recognize that saving him is becoming incompatible with saving themselves."

Joining us now, Jennifer Rubin, opinion writer at the "Washington Post" and an MSNBC contributor, E.J. Dionne, opinion writer for the "Washington Post" and a visiting professor at Harvard University. I kind of felt for the Congressman Young there for a second as he was trying to get in that elevator and escape the repeated asking of the question, but Jennifer, it`s kind of crazy, right?

Republican after Republican after Republican nobody wants to discuss the merits, nobody wants to comment on the merits or they have no problem with the phone call. At some point, the process are -- disappears because the process will become transparent to everybody and that whole argument about how its Soviet-style depositions will evaporate.

JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Well, I guess now Zack (ph) is the congressman from Alaska because apparently he can answer questions that the congressman doesn`t. I find this really sort of embarrassing and pathetic. These people are paid to at least give us their opinion.

They can have whatever view they want but to be afraid of saying what they think or to run literally from the press or their own constituents, this is not a sustainable strategy, let me tell you.

And judging from the poll numbers for people like Cory Gardner and Joni Ernst, it`s not going to sustain them. I think they`re trapped. The process argument has fallen apart as you say, and they don`t have a good substantive argument. The president`s defense is I did it and it doesn`t matter, I don`t care, everything I do is fine.

The Article II of the Constitution allows me to do whatever the heck I want. So, I don`t know how senators in particular who I think have a higher level of probity are going to deal with this.

Essentially, we have a confession. We`re now going to have to exonerate them. That`s apparently what the Senate is contemplating that even with a quid pro quo, you know, hey, whatever.

VELSHI:  Well, E.J., this is interesting because Lindsey Graham was on there saying he had no problem with the phone call. There were a couple of people there who had -- don`t really have -- take any issue with it. But there were a lot of them who were saying difficult questions, unfair question, stop interviewing yourself, we`ll get to the investigations. We`ll get to the merits of it.

At some point and that point may come within two weeks, may come within 30 days, there will be nothing to hide behind and there will just be the facts, which by the way most of us have known largely since day one. What happens then?

E.J. DIONNE, OPINION WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST":  Well, I think they`re in a heap of trouble, but they were already in a heap of trouble. I mean, we have reached a pretty bad point when Don Young`s head butt may have been the most honest response in that whole lot of evasions.

I was thinking about that old Police song when I saw that series of word salad, you know, the do, do, do, the da, da, da, that`s all I have to say to you. They have nothing to say because they know that they are being asked to defend the indefensible.

And it is particularly hard for senators in tough races next year from tough states, Joni Ernst and Susan Collins and Cory Gardner because they lose either way. They need the Trump base and they know they need a lot of votes from anti-Trump people.

So what you`re starting to see, there`s a story in "The Post," they`re going to try to pivot to say, well, yes, this is what he said but it`s not impeachable or it`s not illegal. But this is a complete contradiction to so many of the things they`ve said in the past during the Russia investigation.

They were denying -- they were saying, yes, foreign interference would be wrong but Trump is innocent. They can`t say he`s innocent now because the evidence is too overwhelming and that`s why they just don`t know what to say.

VELSHI:  And we`re seeing a crack amongst conservatives, Jennifer, in this. And the support amongst Republicans for Donald Trump is now down to about 74 percent in this particular instance. Chris Wallace yesterday on Fox is saying that it was more than just a phone call or a perfect phone call whatever it is.

Judge Andrew Napolitano wrote an op-ed in which he weighs in on this. I want to read you from that. It says, "With the process soon to be as Republicans have demanded and with the proof of impeachable offenses plain to see, to what will the president`s allies resort as a defense?

They will claim that the federal crimes of soliciting campaign assistance from foreign governments and bribery aren`t impeachable offenses and that Trump was misunderstood because he exaggerates all the time and often doesn`t mean what he says. And then the American public will decide if this -- all this is skim milk or cream."

And that`s what it comes down to. We`re not -- unlike the Mueller report, we`re not going to be -- I imagine, I`m guessing -- we`re not going to be having arguments of fact come two weeks from now or three weeks from now.

RUBIN:  This is what the Republicans are reduced to arguing, that bribery is not an impeachable offense. This is pretty crazy stuff. And I think E.J.`s exactly right that for senators who don`t live in the middle of deep, deep red America and are not soaking day after day in Fox News, these arguments are going to come across as pretty crackpotish (ph).

And think about this, does the Republican Party really want to go down in history as the pro-corruption party? This is essentially what Trump is saying. I can get foreigners to decide our elections.

I can use taxpayer funded aid to Ukraine, which is defending itself against what`s supposed to be a common enemy, Russia, and instead get them to use their influence to help me win an election.

This is the very essence of corruption, and I don`t see how it`s going to be sustainable for them to keep supporting it and defending it.

VELSHI:  Thanks to both of you. Jen Rubin and E.J. Dionne, always appreciate your analysis.

Coming up, the shifting ground in the race to defeat Donald Trump. A new poll shows a four way race in Iowa as Beto O`Rourke drops out of the race.

And later, a look at one of the more contentious moments on Capitol Hill this week and it had nothing to do with the impeachment of Donald Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETO O`ROURKE (D) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: This is campaign that has prided itself on seeing things clearly and speaking honestly and then acting decisively. We have to clearly see at this point that we do not have the means to pursue this campaign successfully and that my service will not be as a candidate nor as a nominee of this party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALI VELSHI, ANCHOR, MSNBC: That was former Congressman Beto O`Rourke telling supporters that he is officially dropping out of the Democratic Presidential primary earlier tonight. Beto O`Rourke`s departure come as new polling shows the top of the Democratic feel starting to take shape. And we`re going to have more on that later in the hour. But even with these latest developments, we`re still more than three months out from the Iowa caucuses and a reminder of just how early we are in the process that`s taking place tonight in the Hawkeye State.

Tonight is the annual Iowa Liberty and Justice Celebration. It was formerly known as the state`s Jefferson-Jackson dinner. The event has a unique place in Democratic campaign lore, partly because it was where many consider the nation`s presidential campaign of then senator, Barack Obama, to have first taken off with the delivery of this speech.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can make this election not about fear but about the future. And that won`t just be a Democratic victory. That will be an American victory. And that is a victory that America needs right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Tonight, 14 Democratic candidates are each trying to have their own breakout moment. Here is a look at some of the top moments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The first time I came to this state was as a volunteer to knock on doors for a presidential candidate, a young man with a funny name. And we knew the stakes were high then. The stakes are colossal now.

  JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s a couple of things I`ve learned the last couple of weeks. Number one is that Vladimir Putin doesn`t want me to be President. And number two, Donald Trump doesn`t want me to be the nominee.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anyone who comes on this stage and tells you they can make change without a fight is not going to win that fight. And anyone who comes on this stage and tells you to dream small and give up early is not going to lead our party to victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: When we come back, I`ll be joined by the person who helped Barack Obama write that famous speech as well as someone who worked for the campaign that had to respond to it. I`ll ask them what they think of the current crop of Democratic candidates. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (D-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to thank Beto, who is a friend, not only for running a principled campaign but for understanding that we must end the horrific level of gun violence in America.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I want to give a shout-out to Beto because he had the courage - Beto had the courage to say, look, you can`t walk around talking about gun safety, but you don`t have the courage to figure out how you`re going to take 5 million assault weapons off the streets of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Joining me now, Neera Tanden, former Senior Advisor to President Obama and Hillary Clinton, who was the policy director - she was a policy director for Hillary Clinton`s 2008 campaign. She`s the President and CEO of the Center for American Progress. Ben Rhodes also back with us. He helped Barack Obama write the famous speech we saw a little bit of in the previous segment.

Welcome to both of you. Ben, let`s talk about that. That night in 2007, this night in 2007 at that event in Iowa. You put a lot into that being the pivotal moment for Barack Obama, and in the end, it paid off.

BEN RHODES, FORMER OBAMA DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Yes. I mean, look, he was lagging behind in the polls. There wasn`t a sense of whether or not he could put this whole thing together. And that`s really the starting gun for the last sprint to the finish of the Iowa caucuses.

And so, together with John Fabro, obviously with then Senator Obama, we sat down. How do you boil this entire argument? Because what you need to do is, why should I be President, why me not nobody else, and what is the sense of urgency that I bring to this? And can I prove to those people in Iowa that I`ve heard them and that is making be a better candidate? And here is my argument. And he laid it all out in about 15 minutes. And from there on, that was lightning in a bottle.

VELSHI: Neera, let`s talk about a few things that have happened this week, starting with tonight. The departure of Beto O`Rourke. It was starting to look inevitable. Does it benefit anyone in the race?

NEERA TANDEN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT OBAMA & CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS PRESIDENT AND CEO: Well, I would first want to say that Beto ran a race that I think brought a lot of really important issues to the table. Obviously, he was an incredible advocate on issues like immigration, on gun violence. And I think he really gave a moral voice after El Paso in fighting Donald Trump`s white nationalism really, his racism. And he had a moral clarity that I think was a really important contribution.

In terms of the polling and what`s happened with - what we`ve seen is that from polls in July and over the summer when people asked second choices, interestingly enough, a lot of his voters seemed to go to Biden first, then Bernie, and then some other candidates.

So I - but I think that`s very fluid and it might be very different today than it was over the summer. I mean, what`s really true of this race is that it`s extremely fluid. It was fluid 12 years ago and - at this time, and it is very fluid now. And I think days like tonight and the next debate are when people - the voters are really going to feel like they have to make decisions because they haven`t really been making them thus far.

VELSHI: What do you think about the top of the pack right now? We are looking at - we`re still looking at Bernie Sanders. We`re still looking at Elizabeth Warren. We`re still looking at Joe Biden. And then you`ve got Pete Buttigieg there bumping up close to them, and then everybody else still at 5 percent or lower.

TANDEN: Well, for me, I think - I do think it is still pretty fluid. Obviously, Mayor Buttigieg has been rising in Iowa. I think he had a really good debate performance a few weeks ago, and that is going to help crystallize how he does.

I would say Ben is really right, though. The truth is that this is the time that these candidates have to make a reassuring argument. They have to make the argument as to why they are the best person to take on Donald Trump and lead the Democratic Party and actually - and you saw tonight - make the argument about why they are better than their opponents.

And I do think that we saw a number of the candidates this evening really make the case as to what could fuel their race and what`s best for them. Elizabeth Warren, if she`s a fighter. Kamala Harris, if she`s a prosecutor. Mayor Pete talking about how he can inspire a new generation, a lot like then Senator Obama did. And Joe Biden really making the case that actually both Donald Trump and Putin see him as the most wary opponent.

VELSHI: Ben, both Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris are not in that front pack, but this is an important three months that`s coming up. Kamala Harris pulling out some staffing from other states to concentrate everything on Iowa. And by the way, a strategy to make Iowa really important did work for Barack Obama. But that looks like what Kamala Harris is doing now. She`s putting it all on Iowa at the moment.

RHODES: Yes. She`s closing on offices, moving staff and pushing all the chips into Iowa. Just listening to this discussion, Ali, I mean, we all kind of know the outlines of the race right now. Right? You`ve got Warren, you`ve got Biden, you`ve got Pete coming on, you`ve got Bernie hang on.

And to me, when I go back to why did that speech work for Obama, he really spoke to what is this moment. Right? What is on your minds? And I get it. I get what you care about, and I`m going to make this bigger. I`m going to make this a movement. Everybody jump onboard with me. And yes, draw some contrast with my opponents. I would like to see these candidates.

The one thing that they haven`t quite yet done is they`re arguing about things, Medicare for all. They`re arguing about policy proposals. We`re in a big moment in this country right now. We`ve got an election coming up that the stakes are higher than anything that I can remember in my whole life. And I`d like to see them really go big. And Kamala did tonight. She came out like a fighter. She came out like I get it, I get how upset people are, I get how frustrated people are, I get how scared people are. Right?

And I think the person who`s going to emerge from this pack in the next few weeks is the person who can take, yes, the lane that they`ve carved out, the policy proposals they have, but how do you put that together into something that has a sense of a movement that can capture the fear and hope in the country right now and move that forward?

VELSHI: Ben, thank you for joining us tonight, Neera Tanden as well. Thanks to both of you.

Coming up, stunning news this week that the Trump administration separated even more families than previously known. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz confronted Ken Cuccinelli in a live hearing, calling the immigration policies of the Trump administration based on white supremacy. She was criticized today on Fox News, and tonight, Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets the "Last Word."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: We are beginning to learn the full scale of the Trump administration`s cruelty toward migrant families at the southern border. The American Civil Liberties Union revealed that the Trump administration separated 1,556 more immigrant children from their parents between July 2017 and June 2018. That`s a figure never previously disclosed to the public. That brings the total number of children separated since July 2017 to more than 5,400.

This week, Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director, Ken Cuccinelli, testified before a House Oversight Subcommittee on the Trump administration`s immigration policies. Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz confronted Cuccinelli over the administration`s treatment of migrant children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): You want to block all immigration and make life harder for immigrants, and you have demonstrated that you will pursue this heinous white supremacist ideology at all costs.

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR, U.S. CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES: After declaring that I`m not a white supremacist, as you alluded--

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You have been - you have been (inaudible) white supremacist--

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: --nor is the President--

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK.

CUCCINELLI: And--

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Facts matter.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, they do.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right.

CUCCINELLI: Yes, they do. Truth matters.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Right. That`s why I`m stating them here today.

CUCCINELLI: Yes - no, you certainly are not.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Please answer the question. How many children may stop receiving critical services due to fear of losing legal status under this rule? Yanking social services--

CUCCINELLI: You`re asking about public charge.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: That`s right.

CUCCINELLI: I don`t have that information in front of me.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You don`t know how many children off the top of your head it affected? Did you not think it through before you insisted that that--

(CROSSTALK)

CUCCINELLI: That rule is a thousand pages long, ma`am.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: All right. Today, Cuccinelli criticized Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz on Fox News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUCCINELLI: She came in, laid on her smears both me and the President, all completely false, and then wasn`t there much longer, got on her broom and left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: "Got on her broom and left." When we come back, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets tonight`s "Last Word" on the confrontation with Ken Cuccinelli and what to expect from next week`s depositions related to the impeachment inquiry.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI: This week, a House Oversight Subcommittee hearing became contentious when Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz accused Ken Cuccinelli and the Trump administration of pursuing immigration policies based on white supremacy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You and Mr. Trump don`t want anyone who looks or talks differently than Caucasian Americans to be allowed into this country.

CUCCINELLI: That`s false.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I`m sorry, please don`t interrupt me. And I`d like the time to added back.

CUCCINELLI: That`s defamatory.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Excuse me, there`s nothing defamatory about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining me now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz from Florida. She`s a member of the House Oversight Committee.

Congresswoman, thank you for being with us. It`s a big charge that you made against Ken Cuccinelli. Tell me more about what you base it on.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Well, I think the - all of America has watched this heinous immigration policy that persecutes and has intentionally targeted people of color over the last three years play out. And I just had an opportunity because I`m a member of the Oversight Committee and a member of a coequal branch of the government, much to the annoyance of Mr. Cuccinelli and the Executive Branch to call what has been evident.

In that, this administration has had an immigration policy based in a white supremacist ideology. And all I did was I had an opportunity to say it to his face. And that`s my responsibility as a member of our coequal branch of government.

VELSHI: Kind of interesting because we`ve been covering this for a long time.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: And it`s part of holding the executive accountable. Sorry.

VELSHI: We`ve been covering it for a long time. We`ve been trying to hold the executive accountable with the pictures and the stories of what`s going on on the southern border. It doesn`t appear to have softened the administration`s view of how they want to approach immigration, which seems it`s strange from the top to bottom. Right? The idea that they want to limit legal immigration, in fact, and then deal with undocumented Americans - undocumented immigrants the way they do, it seems economically unsound and it doesn`t seem in keeping with America`s principles.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Yes. Ali, the question I was asking was about the public charge rule that Ken Cuccinelli advanced, which would deny immigration to an individual who may become what he called a public charge if they needed benefits when they come to the United States. And that was - that is intimidating thousands of families and having them withdraw their children from vital public programs that keep them healthy and safe.

And he couldn`t even answer the simple question I was asking, was - how many children did that public charge rule affect? He had no idea because he didn`t care. And that further underscored what I was saying, which is that they have been persecuting people of color, their immigration policy advances a white supremacist ideology, and I just called it out because I had that opportunity.

VELSHI: You were having a hearing that was very different from what most Americans thought was going on on Capitol Hill this week because what we`ve been watching is, people coming in for depositions and going out and trying to get reporting about what`s been going on in those hearings. This is now going to become something that certainly in the next two or three weeks, depending on how it goes, will start to become public. What do you believe Americans are going to hear when they start watching impeachment hearings?

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: As Americans watch the public impeachment hearings, they are going to see what I had an opportunity to see as a member of the Oversight Committee in these depositions. And that is that this has been a thousand-piece puzzle that has slowly been - the evidence made clear that the President and - that a direct line is drawn to the President in withholding military aid approved by Republicans and Democrats from a country that vitally needs it to keep a foreign enemy, Russia, at bay, and also dangled a White House meeting, all in an effort to get him to open up investigations against the President`s political opponents.

That is illegal. Withholding the military assistance is a law that the President violated. And he abused his power. That`s unacceptable. It`s illegal. And it`s impeachable.

VELSHI: During the Mueller report, there were discussions and arguments on the facts. There does not seem to be any discussion or arguments on the facts here. Your colleagues across the aisle, Republican colleagues in Congress, are not arguing the facts at the moment. They`re arguing the process.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: No, it`s really - it`s really pathetic, actually. I`ve watched people, many of whom I respect in many other aspects of the work we do together, really become sycophants to this President. They cower in fear at the possibility of losing their power or perhaps being criticized by him. And instead of arguing the substance, because they can`t, you can`t listen to the evidence, Ali, and think anything other than that this President is guilty as sin. And what they do instead is they argue process.

Now they`re actually - some of them are actually now trying to say, "Oh, nothing to see here. It`s no problem that the President abused his power. It`s perfectly OK that he withheld military assistance that we approved in law in order to get a foreign country to investigate his political opponents. It`s perfectly OK that we are drawing direct lines with a quid pro quo between President Trump and President Zelensky, with the President trying to get Ukraine to interfere in the presidential election in 2020."

It is ripe for an impeachment inquiry. And when the American public sees it, I know they`ll be appalled.

VELSHI: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thank you for joining us. Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz gets tonight`s "Last Word."

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you.

VELSHI: That is tonight`s "Last word." This Sunday night, please watch "Impeachment: White House in Crisis" with Ari Melber. It airs at 9 p.m. And "The 11th Hour with Brian Williams" begins now.

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