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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 3/24/21

Guests: Nahid Bhadelia, Kris Brown, Eugene Robinson, Bill Kristol


President Kamala Harris will lead Biden`s southern border response. White House provides media access to Texas border facility. Mass shootings renew call for action on gun control. The Boulder shooting suspect will appear in court Thursday. New video shows Capitol riot attack on Brian Sicknick. There are new concerns as more states report COVID spikes. Police procession honors Officer Eric Talley. Republicans will lead Senate delegation to border. Schumer and McConnell spar over federal voting rights legislation.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Thank you. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 64 of the Biden administration. We`re now at the point where its agenda is running headlong into reality, the President is going to get a chance to talk about his priorities. And his challenges at his very first, "formal news conference" tomorrow and the challenges are many.

Just tonight U.S. officials confirmed North Korea has launched two more short range missiles. The White House is also grappling with the growing surge at the southern border, a renewed demand for gun control following to more mass shootings and increased resistance from Republicans issues all vying for his attention as his administration works to end this pandemic. Today, Biden named his vice president Kamala Harris as the point person in the effort to stop the flow of migrants to our southern border.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: She`s the most qualified person to do it, to lead our efforts with Mexico and the Northern Triangle and the countries that help -- are going to need help in stemming the movement of so many folks. So this new surge we`re dealing with now started with the last administration, but it`s our responsibility to deal with it humanely and to -- and to stop what`s happening.

KAMALA HARRIS, (D) U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that we also -- because we can chew gum and walk at the same time -- must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek.


WILLIAMS: And here was the reaction tonight from one Republican senator.


She doesn`t understand what is generated this problem. This is not a Trump problem. This is a Biden problem. Trump brought order to chaos. This will be the Achilles heel the undoing of the Biden administration will be their immigration policies.


WILLIAMS: And so it goes Senator Graham is among 18 Republicans on a trip to the southern border on Friday. Today after growing pressure over a lack of transparency, the White House allowed the very first look inside one of the Texas facilities for unaccompanied children have crossed over the border. Nearly 800 children are held there.

Biden administration led a tour with congressional members and an NBC news crew on the understanding the video would be shared with all networks.

Meanwhile, NBC News is reporting Biden transition officials are accusing Trump advisors of "sitting on their hands" when urged to increase shelter space for migrant children. This was back in December.

Trump White House reportedly failed to take action until just days before the inauguration. And remember, the Biden team was robbed of the normal and proper transition as they came into office.

On top of that, tonight Axios reports nearly 300 migrant children in U.S. custody right now have tested positive for COVID. On the pandemic front, over a dozen states now reporting a rise in new cases and there is particular concern about Michigan where hospitalizations are now spiking. They`re soaring especially among younger patients. The White House says tomorrow President Biden will announce a new vaccination goal after achieving the original goal of 100 million shots in 100 days with many days to spare.

As we mentioned, recent mass shootings in Boulder and Atlanta have reignited the call for tougher gun legislation. Well, today the White House was asked if the President was any closer to taking some sort of executive action instead of waiting on Congress.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Executive actions are of course an important lever that every president has at their disposal. There`s current discussions and analysis internally of what steps can be taken.


WILLIAMS: The suspect in the Boulder shooting is scheduled to be in court tomorrow. He`s facing 10 counts of murder. Authorities have yet to reveal a motive. They`re curious as to why he chose that supermarket 30 minutes from his home.

And another ongoing investigation, newly released video obtained exclusively by the New York Times offers a harrowing glimpse into the moment on January 6, the one that may have cost Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick his life. NBC News Correspondent Pete Williams is following this story. Here`s a portion of his reporting on it.


PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The videos obtained by the New York Times show the moments before and after prosecutors say Officer Brian Sicknick was hit with a chemical spray outside the U.S. Capitol the day of the riot. He died the next day but the coroner has not yet said what caused his death. The two men accused assaulting him can be seen in the videos. Julian Khater of New Jersey wearing a Trump knit hat and George Tanios of West Virginia with a red baseball cap.

Prosecutors say Khater reach toward a backpack Tanios was wearing and said, give me that bear, expletive. But Tanios said, hold on, hold on. Not yet, not yet. It`s still early. Prosecutors say that`s a reference to a can of this brand of bear repellent spray the Tanios bought before coming to Washington. Nine minutes later the video appears to show Khater raise his arm and spray something towards Sicknick and two other police officers.

All three fall back cover their eyes and prosecutors say cry out in pain. That night Capitol Police say officers Sicknick collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. He died about 24 hours later.


WILLIAMS: Meanwhile, new federal court filing show prosecutors believe the leaders of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys were indeed in touch, did some planning and coordination before 1/6. One social media message back in December from a leader of the Oath Keepers says, "we have made contact with the Proud Boys and they always have a big group. Force multiplier."

With that let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night, Julia Ainsley, our NBC News National Security and Justice Correspondent, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for The Associated Press, and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an infectious disease physician, Medical Director of the Special Pathogens Unit up at Boston University School of Medicine.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. Mr. Lemire, we begin with you as we have to begin with your beat tonight. This president as we`ve laid out as no one needs to remind you absent any honeymoon has a full plate he tried to be the anti-drama president tried for there to be no suspense but life hands you these events when you`re in that office. What do you know about the preparation going into tomorrow`s event 1:00 p.m. there abouts Eastern Time?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: This has been through its first 50 or 60 days, Brian, a remarkably disciplined and methodical White House, one that moved in one direction towards that COVID relief bill unifying a sometimes fractured Democratic Party behind it, quelling the intra party divisions to focus on that $1.9 trillion package. They got it done. They wanted to spend some time now touring the country selling it, telling Americans what`s in it.

Well, plans have now changed. The events, as you say, have overtaken them. Tomorrow, that news conference, so we know the President and his aides, have done some rehearsals this week, they are certainly going to talk about that COVID relief bill. But they know they`re going to be fielding questions on a variety of subjects, these external forces that often define the presidency, the situation of the border, yes, these two mass shootings and call for gun reform laws to be sure. The international pressures we`re seeing from places like North Korea and Russia right now and even some divisions with a Democratic Party senators objecting to the lack of Asian Americans in the Biden cabinet. He`s got a full plate tomorrow. It`s a significant moment as any presidential news conferences.

WILLIAMS: Julia, it`s great to have you. The Trump team blames some if not all of the problems they are having with surging and processing at the border on the fact that the Trump administration dismantled all known systems that we used to follow. And they were denied the usual period of transition. How close is that to the truth and your reckoning?

JULIA AINSLEY, NBC NEWS NATIONAL SECURITY AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it`s close to the truth. Of course, there is a seasonal surge and we expect it to get higher as we get further into the spring months and the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has said that he expects a 20 year high. But I think that we have to look at the pandemic. It`s hard to talk about any news or any trend outside of that. And as we seen, because of the pandemic, not only did the Trump administration block all immigrants, including asylum seekers from coming in, but they also dismantled the bed space for children. And so then when the Biden administration came in and decided to start letting children in, there was not enough bed space. And as we`re reporting today, Brian, we know now that an early December right when those transition conversations started, possibly they should have started earlier, but when they finally did get off the ground, about every single week, Biden team transition officials told DHS told HHS, we need more space for children, because if you don`t expand that space, they`re going to be stuck in Border Patrol facilities. And they knew how long it would take to ramp up the space that they needed.

And so they could have had a head start if the Trump administration had responded and began to open those facilities and look for new facilities and time. Instead, we know that act, that then HHS Secretary Alex Azar, waited until January 15 to even begin doing site surveys, let alone contracting to get new staff, to get people to actually man these facilities. And so we now see that there was a significant delay in bringing on the bed space. And it wasn`t because of a blind spot from the incoming administration. In fact, they say it was because of absolute reluctance in the best possible light from the outgoing Trump administration.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, we turn to your expertise, dual question, what is sending cases up and what is making young people sick in a state like Michigan?

DR. NAHID BHADELIA, INFECTIOUS DISEASES PHYSICIAN: Brian, what you`re seeing here is the new variants that are transmissible and more lethal meeting pandemic fatigue and loosening of restrictions and our way forward really, let me take the case of Michigan that is an example of a state that started to loosen public health measures, and it had the bad luck of now being hit with high amounts of B117. And since majority of the people who are over 65 have already been vaccinated, you`re seeing a shift of now, people who are younger being affected by the strain that is potentially more lethal and more transmissible. So not just the states that are heavily hit by B117 but I think all states need to reconsider rolling back their indoor capacity and keeping those mask mandates until more of us are vaccinated.

I do think, you know, the national -- the federal government might want to look at these days with big surges with variants to consider if they should get greater help with vaccinations, or other measures to help control these surges. And the last thing is, young people need to get vaccinated. This is a lesson for why everybody of every age needs to get vaccinated with this vaccine.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, Jonathan Lemire back over to your beat. It is now clear that Kim of North Korea will not enjoy a second straight American president who has a crush on him. The Biden administration has thus far brushed off these test launches. There`s been a handful in the last handful of days. Where do you think this is headed? And what do you know about the level of engagement it is early yet in this administration?

LEMIRE: It certainly is early, Brian, but the odds are against these two men, President Biden and Kim Jong-un exchanging love letters, like President Trump and Kim Jong-un did and I was part of that President`s trip to the DMZ that seems unlikely to be repeated anytime soon. Yes, publicly, the U.S. is brushing us off, saying that these are standard sort of tests for North Korea who likes to rattle their sabers every so often. They also recognize look, North Korea knows as a new president, they want to test him a little bit to see what kind of response he get. And right now, the communications behind the scenes are minimal. And the White House does not seem to want to engage on this. There`s no talk of fire and fury or comparing whose button is bigger. But I also think it does focus again another relationship in that region, which is China. Certainly President Trump and his administration and others prior to him have leaned on China to try to help control North Korea -- China, North Korea, sometimes, of course, are allied. And right now things are tense with Beijing, to say the least. We saw what happened this week in Alaska, with the first meeting between American officials and top Chinese diplomats. So that is an avenue that the U.S. wants to keep the bookshelves open with China trying to control North Korea, even as other things -- even as other parts of the relationship remain very strained.

WILLIAMS: Julia Ainsley, how unusual is this lack of access to border facilities, though, we are happy to have at least the glimpse we got today. Our crew was allowed in to see a kind of broad brush view of conditions, long video shots with faces fuzzed up to protect identities. How unusual is this?

AINSLEY: Well, we do still need to see inside this border patrol facilities, Brian. It -- I have toured those facilities in the past even at the height of the family separation crisis in 2018. They allow journalists into those facilities. That`s where we got the famous pictures of kids in cages.

Now, I will say that those cages have been dismantled. That border processing facility has been dismantled. But we know that there are children in very overcrowded conditions and the facility that we were allowed to tour today, my colleague Gabe Gutierrez toured, that`s HHS. That`s where these children would want to go. Obviously, they would want to end up with their parents, but they would want to first get out of border patrol custody. Then they go to HHS for their child welfare workers who are trained to work with them, to make sure that they understand their legal process, their case to assess their health and their mental health needs. That is where they are best cared for. And we still haven`t gotten into the overcrowded facilities to understand that conditions there. We know that in 2019 when there was a surge before, inside those Border Patrol facilities, children were complaining about not having a place to sleep, sleeping outside, on the concrete. We don`t know if that`s happening now, because we can`t get in.

But I will say there was a glimmer of transparency tonight when DHS decided to actually publish the data on the number of children and Border Patrol custody. We understand that`s about 4600 at this point, a little over that number. Until then, Brian, those numbers are something that us beat reporters on immigration had to spend a significant amount of our time just begging our sources for every day. It wasn`t freely given. It is nice now to see that this administration has finally seen that it`s a priority to give that information and hopefully that access will come next.

WILLIAMS: Well, we`ll take it as a star, won`t we?

Dr. Bhadelia, you`ve done nothing to deserve this. But I want to play for you. I need to play for you in exchange between Ted Cruz and the news media on Capitol Hill today because it deals with medicine and the coronavirus. We`ll discuss on the other side.


SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: Good afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you mind putting a mask on for us?

CRUZ: Yeah. When I`m talking to the TV camera I`m not going to wear a mask. All of us have been immunized, so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`d make us feel better.

CRUZ: You`re welcome to step away if you`d like. The whole point of a vaccine, CDC guidance is what we`re following.


WILLIAMS: Doctor, let`s lay aside for the moment the infectious charm of Ted Cruz and talk about his remarks on the merits. Number one in terms of common public health courtesy and number two, is he right on the facts, he does mirror a discussion that now that we are in the age of vaccinations, you do hear in life?

BHADELIA: Well, Brian, unless everybody else in that room is also vaccinated. He is not following the CDC guidance. The CDC guidance currently says that you are vaccinated, you don`t have to wear a mask in front of everybody else`s, you know, potentially not vaccinated or if you are in a single household where there are only lower risk people. I`m guessing everybody else in that audience around him either is either not vaccinated and that they`re definitely not part of the same family and so he should be wearing a mask.

We do know vaccines reduce transmission, but given everything we know about the number of people that still need to be get vaccinated, and the fact that we have this highly transmissible variants, it`s just good public health example and good public health practice to continue wearing that mask.

WILLIAMS: Doc, I was trying to keep you clear of politics, but this was one of those days politics and medicine merged in that moment. Thank you for taking the question. And our thanks to our big three tonight, Julia Ainsley, Jonathan Lemire, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, much obliged for starting us off this evening.

Coming up for us, a majority of Americans supported tougher new gun laws even before what we`ve just witnessed in Boulder. But our next guest has a warning for everybody wanting to close gun loopholes.

And later life, death and politics, what`s really at stake for the children and everyone else in this fight over our southern border. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Wednesday night.



SEN. CHRIS MURPHY, (D) CONNECTICUT: Tonight, my colleagues and I are going to come to the floor and I hope some will join me to read into the record the names of individuals who have been lost to gun violence in 2021, as a way to make sure we recognize who they are and the lives that they lead. But also as a last gasp effort to try to convince our colleagues to do something.


WILLIAMS: You heard the Senator from Connecticut there. This comes as Boulder, Colorado continues to mourn the 10 people killed in Monday`s mass shooting at a supermarket. This afternoon police there held a procession for the murdered police officer Eric Talley. People lined the roadway to pay their respects to the 11 year department veteran. Monday shooting has fueled a renewed push for tougher gun laws. Vice President Kamala Harris was asked about that earlier today.


HARRIS: This is not about getting rid of the Second Amendment. It`s simply about saying we need reasonable gun safety laws. There`s no reason why we have assault weapons on the streets of a civil society. They are weapons of war. They are designed to kill a lot of people quickly.


WILLIAMS: With us for more tonight we are happy to welcome Kris Brown, President of Brady, one of America`s oldest gun violence prevention groups. We should point out named for Reagan Press Secretary James Brady who was grievously wounded during the assassination attempt against the president.

Kris, thank you very much for coming on. Does this moment seem to those of you whose life`s calling this is any different from the shooting of your founder on a sidewalk outside the Washington Hilton, any different from the killing of 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, any different from a week ago in Atlanta? When will we know when the moment is finally going to be different?

KRIS BROWN, BRADY PRESIDENT: Brian is an excellent question. And the answer -- short answer is in many ways, it is no different. The rationale and the reason for action has long ago, been crystal clear. We lose 100 people a day in this country to gun violence 40,000 a year whose lives are claimed 80,000 Americans who are shot, every single year in this country and like Jim Brady have to live for the rest of their lives with the consequences of those shootings. The difference today is that the American people have spoken in real ways to address this issue.

In 2018, they elected a majority a gun violence prevention majority to the House of Representatives. And they passed two important bills that sat on Mitch McConnell`s desk. Now they sit on leader Schumer`s desk. We have an opportunity to determine whether the United States Senate, the representatives elected there are going to take action to do something that 90% plus of Americans say needs to happen, which is strengthen the Brady background check system. Those are the two bills that President Biden said the Senate should pass and send to him per signature.

WILLIAMS: Do you agree, I heard today Mike Murphy, who comes on this broadcast a lot is a veteran of Republican politics right before he became a never Trump Republican. He said in an interview today that if the Democrats overreach on this, they could single handedly rejuvenate the NRA, whether its attempts at legislation, whether it`s executive actions, are you mindful of that?

BROWN: I`m mindful of the fact that the NRA, while morally bankrupt, is actually in bankruptcy at the moment for a reason. They are a misinformation campaign that is actually bankrupt because the way that they have managed this issue and the misinformation to the American public. But we`re not afraid of the NRA. And neither is Joe Biden, he ran and won on a platform to do exactly what he`s doing. I don`t think anyone looking at the polls would think that they need to be concerned about not taking action, they need to be concerned about taking action, they need to be concerned about not taking action, the American people are fed up.

You know, gun violence is a uniquely American problem. No other industrialized country on this earth puts up with this kind of carnage, where Americans are afraid to send their kids to school, or to go to work, as we saw in Atlanta in the horrible hate crime there just a week ago, or go grocery shopping, or to concerts or to movie theaters, the time is well past due to address these kinds of fundamental changes that need to be put in place. And make no mistake. This is a public health epidemic. So while the bills that are pending in the Senate to strengthen the Brady background check system are critical.

Brian, we have to have a myriad of things that happen. We need executive action from this White House. We need more money to finally give communities the funding that they so desperately need and the Violence Intervention organizations that need that money to tackle the uniquely American epidemic of gun violence that has a disproportionate impact in this country, on communities of color. We need Joe Biden to lead on those issues, to bring this administration along, to sign those bills into law, but also to tackle this issue comprehensively as the public health issue that it is.

And the reason it needs to be done is this is preventable. We don`t need to be talking about this issue three months from now, or three years from now, if we put the funding and the approaches in that are all entirely consistent with the Second Amendment completely. All of the arguments that we hear on the other side, Jim and Sarah Brady heard those exact same arguments 27 years ago, when the Brady law was being debated. Oh, it won`t work. It`s not going to save lives. The Brady law has been in effect for 27 years, and it stopped the sale of more than 3.5 million guns to individuals we all agree shouldn`t have them. That is a goal worthy of all Americans to protect our safety, and it`s well past time that we enhance that system.

WILLIAMS: Chris Brown runs the organization called simply Brady. Kris, thank you for your time and taking our questions tonight.

Coming up for us, the President has a new assignment for Kamala Harris. It`s been called high risk and very low reward because it involves our southern border. More on the complex politics of immigration when we come right back.



CRUZ: 18 senators are going to be traveling down to the southern border, traveling down to Texas to see firsthand the crisis that is unfolding.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): We want to solve the problem. But you have to start with securing the border and under the Trump administration we were so close to accomplishing that. And that`s all been blowing up right now.


WILLIAMS: But at least we`re sending Ron Johnson down there. Two of the Republican senators headed for the border on Friday, Republicans have seized on this surge of migrants at the border sensing a political opening make no mistake to gain back control of Congress somehow.

Back with us tonight. Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist at the Washington Post and Bill Kristol, the author, writer, thinker and Politico, a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations, and editor-at- large over at The Bulwark.

Bill, I`d like to begin with you as I welcome both of you, gentlemen, given the arc of your career in the last four years, it`s not outlandish that you could someday advise Joe Biden on how he should not only counteract the politics of this, how should he grab a hold of this and not let this issue define him?

BILL KRISTOL, THE BULWARK EDITOR-AT-LARGE: I think he`s begun to do that. And maybe they were a little bit slow and seeing that this would be how much this would be used against them politically or tried to be used against them politically. They`re not getting out the story, the facts, there was a story in the Washington Post yesterday, one of the New York Times, there`s an increase of crossings of the border, it`s not a huge surge. It`s really the 2019 numbers, plus a little bit of pent up demand from 2020.

I think they feel they`re getting a handle on it. They`re housing the unaccompanied minors. They`ve got legislation passed the House already that`s pending in the Senate. And I think the appointment of Vice President Harris is a sign that they`re pretty confident they`re going to get this under control. You don`t bring this into the White House and put the vice president in charge.

You want to have work on it. And you want to have the government really attend to it a little more than they would if it`s a cabinet secretary making a phone call and so forth. But I think mostly this is a sign that they think -- they`re going they`re getting their arms around this. And they think things will look better and a couple of months.

I know they want very much to get the DREAM Act through the Senate. I`m told the Republicans there are they have some Republican support. Republicans are nervous about signing on when the border situation looks really bad, or at least Republicans are making it look bad. And they don`t want to get too beat up by their own colleagues and by their voters by supporting liberal immigration bill.

So I think what they want to do is get this under control, pass the DREAM Act and move forward on other immigration reform measures.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, by save the best for you here is Governor Ducey of Arizona. His reaction to the naming of Kamala Harris as the special master in this case.


GOV. DOUG DUCEY (R), ARIZONA: She`s about the worst possible choice that one could make. In no point in her career has she given any indication that she considers the border a problem or a serious threat. If President Biden`s intent was to show that he`s taking this issue seriously, he`s really done the exact opposite here.


WILLIAMS: So Doug Ducey, staying on brand and look, Eugene, does Kamala Harris have anywhere near the expertise that Mike Pence brings to the coronavirus fight? Of course not. But getting serious for a moment, a point you made in a column, maybe three columns back was so simple and correct that it and you can say it better than I can`t. It was your words, after all, that Biden does have control of his own destiny here, he can simply choose to go big, and own it the problem and the solution but own it.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Yes, because you`re going to own it, you`re the president of the United States. And so, you know, it`s -- it is your problem. So, my argument was just go big and get in front of it surge, the resources necessary to the border, to do the, first of all, do the processing that you need to do this. There has been an increase in unaccompanied minors coming across the border, the administration has made a decision on humanitarian grounds, that they`re not going to turn away unaccompanied minors, they`re not going to just leave them to their fate in Mexico on that side of the border, these are people generally coming from Central America, they`re trying to flee from gang violence, they`re trying to seek asylum.

So they`re not just going to turn them away owning that policy. But owning that policy means getting the resources there necessary to process them and move them through the stages of the system in an orderly and legal way, get them out of border patrol custody within the legal 72-hour limit, have better facilities for them to go to which they started to do after they get out of border patrol custody, move them on into to the care of sponsors and, and other family situations that you found for them.

And this just requires basically, you know, surging resources to meet the situation. And, you know, if you`re Vice President, sometimes you get, you know, you get these kinds of jobs that comes with the turf. But I agree with Bill Kristol that the administration is getting it now. And I think they`re -- what they`re doing now or attempting to do is essentially what I sort of advise them to do, you know, you take control of the situation.

WILLIAMS: Yes, I was just going to say LBJ loved having oversight over NASA, Latin America for JFK, not so much. Both of these gentlemen are going to stay here while we fit in a quick break. When we come back we`re going to try something of a bank shot two topics. We`re going to talk voter suppression, what`s going on in the States. What did that man say about it today that was untrue. Also, if it`s been a while since you heard Cuba reference, we`re going to change that when we come back.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY) MINORITY LEADER: States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever. This is clearly an effort by one party to rewrite the rules of our political system.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) MAJORITY LEADER: This is infuriating. I would like to ask my Republican colleagues, why are you so afraid of democracy or some of these voter suppression laws in Georgia and other republican states? Smack of Jim Crow, rearing its ugly head once again.


WILLIAMS: They talked about voter suppression today in Washington not just any issue. It`s elemental to our democracy. Mitch McConnell there was not telling the truth. As the Washington Post reports in 43 states across our country, Republican lawmakers have proposed at least 250 laws that would limit mail, early-in person and Election Day voting, that by another name is suppression.

Eugene Robinson, Bill Kristol remain with us. Eugene, just tonight it was reading a New York Times story on local tinkering they`re doing in the state of Georgia changing local election boards that used to be bipartisan, giving them quiet Republican control. My question to you Eugene is just one degree off the last time we talked about this, are the Democrats nationally and at the state level up for this fight?

ROBINSON: I think they have to be. This is an existential question. This isn`t, as you said, an elemental question for our democracy. And it certainly has to be for the Democratic Party, because the Republican Party is essentially trying to make it impossible for Democrats to win, to compete, not to win, but to compete on a level playing field in crucial swing states, especially but in states across the country. And it is -- it is an outrage on what`s going on.

Mitch McConnell just told a flat out bald faced lie when he said there`s that voter fraud. That`s the whole point. The whole point is to make it easier for Republicans to win by keeping Democrats away from the polls. And this has to be it`s close to a litmus test for Democrats in terms of how they proceed in the Senate as anything I can imagine because it is just basic to the future of the party. And it`s basic to the future of our democracy. It`s just not fair. It`s just not fair. And it`s not American, and it`s not democratic.

WILLIAMS: Let`s talk about potential new states. Bill Kristol being of supple mind and constantly migrating ideas, has said, Let`s not stop at the District of Columbia or Puerto Rico. Let`s welcome into the league of states a free Cuba someday. Bill. I have noticed it has taken up most of a week on your social media. Give us the 62nd version of your art. Government why we should reserve a star or a stripe for our friends in Cuba?

KRISTOL: Once they freed themselves from dictatorship, and once they if they wish to join the union, why not Cuba, it`s closer to Puerto Rico, it was taken -- in Puerto Rico, both came into U.S. control in 1898. I don`t think we should keep them against their will. But then they`d be good Americans. I think they have experienced with dictators, trying to, you know, lying about elections, they would resist that here in the US.

So I imagine a lot of them would be good Americans if they chose to be, and they would care about their voting rights. And they would see that -- I mean, the Mitch McConnell thing extra say What about that? It`s very revealing that he had to tell that flat out lie. There`s no voter suppression going on in the States. Are you kidding? Well, you mentioned in Georgia, and what`s obviously going on and pretty explicitly going on around the country.

He has to pretend that`s not happening. Otherwise, how can you really say the federal government should do nothing? Nothing. And that`s the Republican position on everything right, there gun shootings, horrible mass murders. Democrats have some proposals, some of them good, some of them maybe that wouldn`t work so well. What`s the Republican proposals? Nothing. What are the Republican proposals against voter suppression? Nothing. I think it`s unsustainable really.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, I can`t thank you enough. Our conversations always cover the gamut tonight was no exception. Eugene Robinson, Bill Kristol, both good friends of this broadcast. Thank you.

Coming up, 18 years after the start of what became known as Operation Iraqi Freedom. Look at what Baghdad looks like today brought to us by the reporter who made his bones covering the destruction of Baghdad. That`s right after this break.


WILLIAMS: 18 years ago this week the U.S. military was in the early days of the invasion of Iraq for a time early on. Our chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was the only American reporter on the ground in Baghdad.

When Richard was back there a few days ago for the Pope`s visit full disclosure, I started asking him what it felt like what the city looked like. Then we got around to him going around and taking some pictures of what he saw. It resulted in the report we have for you tonight, Richard Engel returning to a place where he`s used to hearing gunfire and explosions, this time finding a very different city.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Baghdad was once called the city of peace. But in recent years, it`s more remembered for the Civil War unleashed by the American occupation.

Well, I`m hearing lots of anti-aircraft fire all around me.

I was there when US troops invaded in 2003 acting on cherry picked intelligence that Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. And when American Special Forces captured Saddam on the run, hiding in a hole by a farmhouse.

(on camera): The entire crawl spaces tiny, Saddam would have had to lead himself in here. It`s actually also very well camouflaged, so American soldiers were standing right on top of it.

(voice-over): Earlier this month as COVID travel restrictions loosen up, I returned to Baghdad, I found a city that`s trying to turn a page. Families are out, life is returning.

During the dark days, Baghdad`s famous book market was obliterated. Dozens were killed. Anywhere that drew a crowd was a target.

Now, the market is back, full of students. English is more widely spoken. The nearby shop under Cafe is once again a haunt for intellectuals to discuss the shifting tides of history.

There`s an underground music scene now open for jam sessions. And exhibits by aspiring artists.

(on camera): One of the biggest differences in Baghdad now is that you can actually see the city because the glass walls are down, before all the major streets were lined with these tall concrete slabs. And not only did they block your vision, this lab were designed to prevent car bombings and snipers. The walls didn`t just change how the city looked. They were dangerous to put up.

I was with U.S. troops that had to fight each time they put up one of these slabs of concrete, they were attacked time and time again.

Now, the walls are down, and it`s transformed this way the city looks and feels.

And this is Baghdad`s Firdos Square, so much of Iraq`s history has happened right here. This is where Saddam Hussein`s giant statue was pulled down by American troops when they came into this city in 2003. I watched it happen. I was on a balcony right there and saw the U.S. forces Marines arrive in big armored vehicles and they put chains on the statue and pulled it down and Iraqis were celebrating.

(voice-over): Also in this square, it was a huge, huge truck bomb that blew up. Now it`s Iraqis who are in charge here. The Americans don`t patrol even though there are still some American forces still in the city. You barely see them. And in Firdos Square, there`s no statue at all. Richard angle, NBC News, Baghdad.


WILLIAMS: And special thanks to my friend, Richard, for putting together that report for us here tonight. Coming up, that rare moment when I`m first lady says, here`s what happened to me. And then women across the country nod their heads because it happened to them too. We`ll have the story when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, this was equal pay day. It`s designated on this day because on average, March 24 is how far into the New Year women must work to be paid what men make in just the space of that previous year. That`s all women, when you break it down, it gets worse, equal pay day for black women in this country, August 3, for Hispanic women in this country, October 21.

And while we`re at it, if anyone has a good explanation for why women are paid 82 cents on the dollar for every dollar a man earns in the exact same job doing the exact same work in the United States in the year 2021. We`d love to hear it drop us a line. Just as a thought experiment take women out of the U.S. economy just for a day. See what happens to our country.

So at a White House sponsored event today we heard from the President. We heard from the soccer great Megan Rapinoe. And we heard from the first lady who related her own experience regarding teacher pay.


JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I found out that they were paying me only 75 percent of the man who was actually hired the same time. You know, I just -- I couldn`t believe it. It wasn`t just the money. That though that was unfair, it was the lack of respect, the discrimination. Why was my work worth less/

MEGAN RAPINOE, U.S. WOMEN`S NATIONAL SOCCER TEAM: I`ve been devalued, have been disrespected, and dismissed because I am a woman. And I`ve been told that I don`t deserve any more than less because I am a woman. You see, despite all the wins, I`m still paid less than men who do the same job that I do. For each trophy, of which there are many, and for each win for each tie, and for each time that we play it`s less.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It doesn`t matter if you`re an electrician, an accountant, or part of the best damn soccer team in the world. The pay gap is real. And this team is living proof that you can be the very best at what you do and still have to fight for equal pay.


WILLIAMS: And a quick review here in our country, women make up slightly over half the population in addition to making our country go, they represent just under 60 percent of the U.S. workforce. And in a pandemic here which has been disproportionately cruel to one gender. Here`s a hint, it`s the gender that`s already underpaid.

That is our broadcast for this Wednesday night with our thanks for being here with you, with us. Rather, I`ll be with you tomorrow, 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. That`s when our live coverage of the President`s first formal news conference begins. The news conference set to begin at around 1:15. Then, of course, we`ll see you back here tomorrow night.

So on behalf of all the good men and women at the networks have NBC News, good night.