IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 3/3/2021

Guest: Barry McCaffrey, Jen Golbeck, Eugene Robinson, Stuart Stevens�


The U.S. House of Representatives canceled a session scheduled for Thursday following law enforcement warnings of intelligence pointing to a possible plot by a militia group to breach the U.S. Capitol. Lawmakers want Trump`s acting Pentagon boss and former Army Secretary to testify about Capitol riot. Senate Democrats are trying to push COVID aid across finish line. Mississippi and Texas governors defend ending COVID restrictions despite massive criticism. D.C. National Guard Commander testifies about Capitol riot chaos, noting no issues deploying troops during black lives matter protests. Some QAnon conspiracy theorists believe Trump will retake presidency on March 4.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Mondaire Jones gets tonight`s LAST WORD. "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again. Day 43 of the Biden administration. There are alarming signs of a new threat from extremists bent on staging yet another attack on our nation`s government and our Capitol as soon as tomorrow.

NBC News has learned Homeland Security and the FBI sent around a Joint Intelligence bulletin to state and local law enforcement that warns certain domestic groups have, "discussed plans to take control of the U.S. Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about March 4."

Also, the U.S. Capitol Police issued a statement saying it has intelligence showing a "possible plot to breach the capital by an identified militia group" on March 4. That date is when QAnon believers think former President Trump will return to office.

Earlier this evening House Democrats changed their legislative schedule passing the George Floyd police reform bill scrapping tomorrow`s House session because of security concerns. This new warning from the Feds comes nearly eight weeks after that January 6, insurrection and as we`re learning an unbelievable delay of deployment of National Guard troops on that day. The commanding general of the D.C. National Guard testified before senators today that he had some 155 uniformed members of the guard ready to respond to the insurrection. He described the initial request for help at 1:49 p.m. that day from the former Capitol Police Chief as rioters breached the complex.


MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM WALKER, D.C. NATIONAL GUARD COMMANDER: Chief son, his voice cracking with emotion indicated that there was a dire emergency at the Capitol, and he requested the immediate assistance of as many available National Guardsmen that I could muster. Immediately after that 1:30, 1:49 call, I alerted the U.S. Army senior leadership at the request. The approval for chief son`s request would eventually come from the Acting Secretary of Defense and be relayed to me by army senior leaders at 5:08 p.m. about three hours and 19 minutes later.

I had already had guardsmen on buses at the armory, ready to move to the Capitol. The Secretary of the Army`s January 5 letter to me withheld that authority for me to employ a quick reaction force. I found that requirement to be unusual. I have 39 years in the National Guard. I was in a Florida guard Hurricane Andrew. I`ve been involved in civil disturbances. So I believe that number could have made a difference. We could have helped extend the perimeter and help push back the crowd.


WILLIAMS: General Walker also said Senior Pentagon officials were slow to approve the request because of what he called optics.


WALKER: They got back to me saying and that was on the phone call with District of Columbia senior leaders that it wouldn`t be in their best mil - - it wouldn`t be their best military advice to send uniformed guardsmen to the Capitol because they didn`t like the optics. And they had also said that they thought it could inflame.


WILLIAMS: Walker noted he had no problem getting approval to deploy the guard when the protests were happening in Washington last June, and that there was no concern among military officials back then about the optics of that deployment.

Lawmakers now say they want to hear from Chris Miller, he was then Acting Secretary of Defense under Trump and the former Secretary of the Army, the man on the right Ryan McCarthy. So far, there`s no announced date or formal request for their testimony.

Senate Democrats are also trying to get Joe Biden`s COVID relief bill passed right now. Looks like the first vote to begin debate won`t take place until later this week. Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who`s been pushing a revisionist version of the 1/6 insurrection, has now set himself up as the leader of the effort to block Democrats passage of the bill.


SEN. RON JOHNSON, (R) WISCONSIN: I don`t want to sound like a leftist but I`m going to resist. OK, so the first way I`m going to resist is I`m going to go down and object to the waving of the reading of the bill. I will make them read their 600 or 700 page bill.


WILLIAMS: That could potentially push the final vote on the bill to this weekend. Some moderate Dems have also had issues with the relief package. And today they scored something of a victory when the President agreed to stricter income limits on what would be the next round of direct payments to millions of American citizens.

The President also had blunt words for the governors of Texas and Mississippi calling them out for ending mass mandates, rolling back COVID restrictions, just as the nation is making a big push to boost vaccinations.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: I think it`s a big mistake. These masks make a difference. The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything`s fine. Take off your mask, forget it. It still matters. It`s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science.


WILLIAMS: Mississippi`s governor Tate Reeves responded saying, "President Biden said allowing Mississippians to decide how to protect themselves as Neanderthal thinking. Mississippians don`t need handlers as numbers drop, they can assess their choices and listen to experts. I guess I just think we should trust Americans not insult them."

Governor Abbott down in Texas who met with Biden last week in the wake of the devastating winter storms and the colossal power grid failure responded with a series of falsehoods which he posted on social media. His press secretary offered a response in a more traditional statement that read in part, "The governor was clear and telling Texans that COVID has an ended and all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices."

Amid all of that the new CDC Director offered up this latest warning.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: With the most recent declines in cases and deaths continuing to show signs of stalling. We are at a critical Nexus in the pandemic. So much can turn in the next few weeks. How this plays out is up to us.


WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Wednesday night, Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times, Anna Palmer, Veteran D.C. Journalist, Founder and CEO of Punchbowl News, a D.C. based News Service she created with her fellow political playbook veteran Jake Sherman, and General Barry McCaffrey, Decorated Combat Veteran of Vietnam, former Battlefield Commander in the Gulf, and a former Cabinet Member, Member of the National Security Council. He retired as a four star general in the U.S. Army.

And indeed, General, I`d like to begin with you tonight, given the subject of that hearing today. Why do you reckon there was a delay of three hours and 19 minutes to get our ready Guard and Reserve up to the hill? Why do you reckon the Secretary of the Army was unavailable that day one called?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, first of all, it`s a shameful failure of security and an obviously threatening situation. And it`s astonishing to me that the guard wasn`t called up days prior. You know, eventually we ended up with 25,000 guardsmen or Washington coming as far away as Hawaii. This was the most competent, disciplined National Guard in the country`s history. They should have been on site in significant numbers, much prior to the day of the Trump inspired and summoned mob that stacked the capital.

I think we`re also watching the normal circular firing squad and in Washington evading responsibility. Primary responsibility is congressional leadership, Capitol Police, the DC police. They also get a protest with the urgency that the situation demanded. Now, at the end of the day, the sector in the army by law is the political thinker who`s in charge of dealing with domestic interactions. Why he didn`t respond with alacrity. You know, there`s two generals who are staffers, the Secretary of the Army, the chief Staff of the Army, were the people that should have been monitoring this. So it`s a mess. They need to call in Secretary McCarthy in particular and find out what was going on. I think they didn`t want to annoy Trump, and they didn`t want to get recreate Lafayette Square. That`s my take on it.

WILLIAMS: It was a mess, Peter Baker, and a three hour 90 minute wait for the guard just seemed endless that day in real time. The President was fond of talking up use of the guard throughout last summer. Here now a sampling we`ll discuss on the other side.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: Today I have strongly recommended to every governor to deploy the National Guard. In Minneapolis, they went through three nights of hell. And then I was insistent on having the National Guard go in and do their work. We sent in representatives commonly known as the National Guard. Look, I stopped it in Minnesota, Minneapolis, real fast. We insisted on the National Guard. It was brutal. Call me, we`ll be ready for them so fast. The heads will spin. It`s called dominate the street. When rioting and looting broke out in our nation`s capitol, I very quickly deployed the National Guard. I said get him in. I came in, I deployed the National Guard very quickly.


WILLIAMS: Well, you heard the man he wanted them on the streets of cities like his preferred pronunciation of Minneapolis. This is an open net layup shot for you, Peter Baker. What do you recommend changed between last summer and this incident we`re talking about today?

PETER BAKER, THE NEW YORK TIMES CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, the people in the streets last summer were protesting against policies and a bit of an approach that the President favored and the people who were protesting on January 6, and then took it beyond protesting, were his supporters. And we`ve seen this with President Trump, former President Trump, repeatedly if people are on his side. He is loath to denounce them. He is loath to speak out against them, no matter how radical no matter how extremists they are. This is how he`s gotten in trouble repeatedly with his comments that seem to embrace or at least fail to fully renounce white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups in the past. You know, he was asked about QAnon, repeatedly while he was president. He said, well, I don`t know much about them, except that they liked me as if that was all that really mattered.

And, you know, obviously, he decided that the guard was an important statement politically, last summer against African American protesters and others who are protesting racism by the authorities, whereas he didn`t see that need on January 6.

Now, interesting comments just this week, by the way, by General Milley, who`s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff didn`t get a lot of notice. They told reporters traveling with him this week, that when the President claimed at CPAC over the weekend that he had told the military to have 10,000 troops on guard and the National Mall in case something went wrong on January 6, General Milley said no, he never heard anything like, he never heard or like that, he never heard a directive like that from the president. He basically disputed the former president`s assertion that he in fact had taken this that seriously. And that`s pretty notable in particular, because General Milley, of course, was actually appointed by General -- by President Trump in the first place.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it did seem like the President got out ahead of himself with that comment on Fox News.

Anna, you cover the Capitol Secret Service code name Punchbowl. And it`s with that in mind that I say this, a lot of people think it`s a terrible precedent for the house to get out of town tomorrow. But that`s mostly those of us in the cheap seats who are not members of the House of Representatives, many of whom have had to beef up security, at work and back at their homes in their districts because of ongoing and active death threats. How much conversation did you hear surrounding this decision today by the speaker?

ANNA PALMER, PUNCHBOWL NEWS CO-FOUNDER & CEO: I think members are taking this extremely seriously. This is their own personal safety. I`ve covered the Hill for 15 plus years. And I`ve never seen it anything like this not even just the fence that is surrounding the Capitol and the 1000s of National Guard`s troops that are still there. But to your point, the number of members that are having individual details with them as they walk in the Capitol, as a go to the House floor, this is unprecedented, and I think is a clear indication of just how serious this threat is, and how many of the ongoing threats that they have been. It is a different move than they did when they decided to go back to the floor after the insurrection and decided to actually certify those votes. I think they felt like that was a very important symbolic measure to say the insurrectionists are not going to stop us from doing our business. But I think the speaker is taking the measure of continuing to do business with the actual threat of making sure that the capital remains safe and that the members and staff remain safe. And that`s what she`s having to wait here with that decision.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, and that should be paramount. You`re right.

General, you have -- it strikes me fought terrorism in many corners of this globe. Can you at a basic level believe that we are apparently on the eve of this second security threat tomorrow from these camo bear spray and news enthusiasts and some hardcore serious characters, and do you believe the threat?

MCCAFFREY: Well, you know, it almost looks like a third world country, it truly an embarrassment globally to the U.S. standing in the world. I don`t believe that tomorrow there`s going to be an insurrection to take over the Capitol. That`s nonsense. The securities in place, Congress in my view should not have succumbed and decided to not carry out their business tomorrow. I think the FBI is Scared these steroid blowhards to death around the country. It is no longer the anonymity of the crowd. Having said that, there`s

Having said that, there are several 100 armed crazies out there around the country, and so individual congressman, and for that matter, other public officials have good reason to be concerned about their security. We simply have to stand up to this manifesto and not let them back us down.

WILLIAMS: Peter Baker, because we need to be able to walk and chew gum, couple things here the past half the house has passed H.R., one, 220 votes in favor tonight. Number two, the Times, among others reporting on a backlog of unaccompanied children at the southern border having to do the administration says with the chain of command and the general backlog and processing, how big a problem speaking of optics, how big a problem is this for the Biden presidency?

BAKER: Well, obviously one of the priorities President Biden has stressed is reuniting children who were separated by the previous administration from their parents after they came across the border. Now we`re talking about unaccompanied children who don`t have parents with them. That`s a big problem. The Obama administration had this problem. Trump administration had this problem and obviously, something President Biden would like to avoid. He`s been talking to -- he talk to Mexico`s president this past week, to try to get some help from his side of the border, try to avoid the kind of crisis that we`ve seen in the past. But you`re right, especially on optics, but even on substance, that`s a big problem for presidents got other things on his plate, the idea that we`re now going to have to, you know, focus on this influx, potentially over the border is just one more thing he needs to make sure he`s on top of, because he wants to draw the strong, clear distinction between his administration and the previous one, which may crack down on immigration, so much part and parcel of its of his presidency.

WILLIAMS: Anna, back end of the Punchbowl for the final question, and it`s about this massive COVID relief bill, it goes against political wisdom with some polls, putting approval of it at north of 70% in some places that you`re going to have Republican senators go back home and have to defend a no vote for money that would have helped living breathing constituents of theirs. But it looks like both sides are going to hold. Are the Democrats officially still looking for crossovers from that side of the aisle?

PALMER: Yeah, there`s oftentimes issues, gun control is another one where there`s widespread support of it and, you know, across the nation, and it rarely gets that bipartisan support that you talk about. I don`t think that you`re -- they`re going to be Republicans who crossover on this. There`s a reason why it`s being done through reconciliation, which is one of those archaic rules that allow for it to pass with just 51 votes in the Senate. And if you look at what`s happening with Senator Ron Johnson trying to delay this, other senators trying to use any procedural tactics, they have an eye in order to slow this down as much as possible. This is going to be a party line vote. We don`t expect any Republican senators at this point to actually support the bill.

WILLIAMS: To Peter Baker, to Anna Palmer, to retired U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, our thanks to our big three guests for starting us off tonight.

Coming up for us, we`re fairly certain no former President is going to be stepping up and reclaiming office tomorrow, as QAnon followers believe. But what happens when it doesn`t happen? We`ll talk to a professor who keeps close watch on those types.

And later, the heartbreaking water crisis that is not taking place in the State of Texas, but does speak to our crumbling infrastructure. All of it as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting underway on this Wednesday night.


WILLIAMS: As we mentioned Federal Security types have sent around and intelligence bulletin warming, the warning that extremist groups have talked about plans to take control of our Capitol and remove Democratic lawmakers on or about tomorrow, March 4, it`s the same date that followers of the conspiracy theory group QAnon think Donald Trump will come back and become president again.

We only wanted to talk to one person about this tonight. And she`s back with us. Jen Goldbeck is an expert in malicious online behavior, who`s also an author and professor at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland.

Professor, please clue our audience in to why people view tomorrow as the return date of Donald Trump and the alternate inaugural.

JEN GOLBECK, EXPERT IN MALICIOUS ONLINE BEHAVIOR: So originally, March fourth was the date in the constitution when the President was inaugurated. The conspiracy theorists believe that we`re now going to go back to that date. And there`s a long convoluted story that essentially the U.S. ceased to be a company in 1871, and is now a corporation owned by the City of London. The military is going to take down the corporation that`s dissolving it and Donald Trump will come back as the president, the 19th, President of the United States, and inaugurated on the initial date in the Constitution.

WILLIAMS: It also, the theory goes on and I`m wondering where those cool taxi cabs and phone booths are going to come from if we are owned by London. At least we could see some of that. The theory goes on that there will be executions on the fifth of government officials. And this strikes me as a little bit new, correct me if I`m wrong, but QAnon did not feature violence as much as they have in some of their chat groups of late?

GOLBECK: That`s right. So there`s actually been circulating conspiracies about whether or not those executions have begun. There was a platform set up on January 20, for inauguration for the parade out in front of the White House. And there were actually photoshopped versions of executions where they would have that platform and then they took actual photos of executions. I believe from Iraq and photoshopped that in and circulated it suggesting maybe those executions had begun early.

There were always talks about arrests and maybe some violence. But this move to mass executions, public executions, is something that we really saw emerged much more clearly after the actual inauguration of President Biden.

WILLIAMS: Dual question, what is the fascination with the number 17? I know that they are fixated on the fact that President Biden signed and correct me if I`m wrong on any of this, 17 executive actions on his first day in office. Also behind Donald Trump, apparently at Andrews on his last day, there were 17 American flags. So dual question, what 17 mean to them? And what do they think? What role do they think Biden is in all this time?

GOLBECK: So I wish I had a really sophisticated answer, but Q is the 17th letter of the alphabet. That`s it. This is so they`re looking for signs that Q was involved. Part of it is saying, oh, there`s those 17 flags behind Trump. Maybe that`s a sign that the Q plan is actually happening. And then maybe Biden`s not actually the president. So the fact that he signed these 17 executive orders is a wink that cue is happening. This is the kind of digging for little details that the QAnon people are really into. It makes them feel smart. And it`s something that we`ve seen them doing for the three years that the conspiracy has been going online.

WILLIAMS: Call me a soothsayer, but let`s fast forward to this time tomorrow night. What will they be saying on the message boards that you sadly have to monitor for a living when Trump doesn`t show when by this time tomorrow night, Joe Biden remains President of the United States?

GOLBECK: To be fair, a lot of them have given up on this March 4 thing, even on the QAnon kind of hot diehard boards. There`s a lot of them that realize it`s not going to happen. Among those that do they are engaging in what they call hopium, which is they`re kind of drugging themselves with hope. I think they kind of know that it probably won`t happen. I think there`s a small group that are really committed to the conspiracy, and they`re going to be disappointed. But frankly, I think the disappointment that the conspiracy theorist really faced on the actual Inauguration Day is going to Trump, pardon my selection of words there, anything that comes tomorrow. The real worry is once all of these opportunities have passed, then what did they buy into, where do they re-channel those inner energies and that`s something that worries me.

WILLIAMS: Please keep in touch with us because that`s why we will want to have you on for our next segment. I can`t thank you enough, Professor. I don`t know how you remain sane and delve as deeply into all of this as you do. Professor Jen Goldbeck our guest again tonight, great thanks to you.

Coming up for us after this break, if Donald Trump really runs again will Mike Pence still be his running mate? New reporting on who else may be in the mix, believe it or not after this.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Actually, as you know, they just lost The White House but it`s one of those. But who knows. Who knows. I may even decide to beat them for a third time. OK.


WILLIAMS: We`re crunching the numbers he seems to have won once. If Trump does run again in 2024, the ticket may not include the loyal Mike Pence. Bloomberg news reporting today quote, privately he`s discussed alternatives to Pence as he takes stock of who he believes stood with him at the end of his term and who didn`t. Trump advisors have discussed identifying a black or female running mate for his next run. And three of the people familiar with the matter said Pence likely won`t be on the ticket.

Among the names being floated, South Dakota Governor Christie Neom, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, which somehow brings us to our next two gentlemen, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post. And Stuart Stevens, a veteran of Mitt Romney and George W. Bush`s presidential campaigns, he is these days affiliated with the Lincoln project.

Gentlemen, thank you so much for coming on.

Stuart, you got to go first here. First of all, what is Trump up to? And second of all, for the Republicans who really, really want to be president, and there are a bunch of them. It was debasing enough to watch them genuflect in Florida last weekend, how are they ever going to figure out how to use their wings and fly on their own?

STUART STEVENS, THE LINCOLN PROJECT SENIOR ADVISER: Well, look, I think the Republican Party, this is an extraordinary moment. They become an anti- Democratic Party. I, you know, I wrote a pretty bleak book about the Republican Party called It Was All A Lie. But it turns out, I was way over optimistic.

But if you don`t believe that the 2020 elections were legitimate, you don`t believe we live in a democracy. So we`ve never had this moment before, at least since 1980 -- 1864. A large segment of the country doesn`t believe that we`re in a democracy.

Of course, he`s not going to run with Mike Pence. I mean, it is Mike Pence to look at Donald Trump`s marital history, at least, his ex wives got a prenup got rich. You`ll cast can aside. I think the party`s just in a very bad place when you can`t admit who won a presidential race that wasn`t particularly close. I think it`s going to be very, very bleak for quite some time.

WILLIAMS: Do you think, Stuart, someone emerges someone has the guts to break free and say me over here. I`m the alternative. I`m the sane alternative. It`ll require courage because you might have mean things said about you.

STEVENS: There`s no market for sanity in the Republican Party. You could get maybe 5 percent Bill Weld got 8 to 9 percent but you can`t win a primary. George Bush couldn`t win a primary. George W. Bush couldn`t win a primary if you ran as he ran in 2000. That world just doesn`t exist anymore.

There`s a you have to -- to be a Republican contender, you have to validate yourself by saying that Joe Biden is an illegal president, that you`re engaged in a presidential campaign to defeat an illegal president is just crazy. And that`s where the party wants to be. It`s not the Trump took the party someplace unwillingly. The party went there very willingly and they quite comfortable with Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS: All right, Eugene, as if that wasn`t depressing enough. I`m going to read one of my favorite columnist latest column and happens to be Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post. And he writes, quote, The Republican Party`s biggest problem is that too many people of color are exercising their right to vote. The party solution is a massive push for voter suppression that would make old time Jim Crow segregation is proud. Some might argue that the party and buying into the lie that last year`s election was somehow stolen is simply delusional. I disagree. I think Republican leaders know exactly what they`re doing.

Eugene, let`s take as a matter of fact that Republicans in 33 of our 50 states are trying to tinker with the machinery of voter suppression in some form or fashion, a lot of them boldly doing it out loud and in the open.

What is -- is there a national remedy? I mean, Sherilyn Eiffel is an extraordinarily powerful lawyer, a great legal advocate. At last count, there`s one of her and 33 states that may need tending to by organizations like but not limited to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Well, actually, the House of Representatives just passed a remedy the For The People Act, H.R. 1, which is a sweeping piece of legislation that would undo basically a lot of the voter suppression that Republican state legislatures, and then governors are trying to not just impose to ramp up because a lot of it, there`s a lot already in place, that that activists like Stacey Abrams and others have had to overcome.

So they`re -- they want to pile on more that they want to take away the most -- the early voting day that`s most popular among African Americans in Georgia, for example. And so that that`s one way. Now, does that legislation get through the Senate that and not unless Democrats knew the filibuster, it doesn`t get through the Senate.

So barring that, it`s going to be trench warfare at the state level, and then it`s going to require the Herculean efforts of the kind that we saw in Georgia, this past election, to overcome these obstacles. These are obstacles and they will make it tougher for people to vote. But we saw in Georgia, they can be overcome.

WILLIAMS: Wow, there are obstacles to be sure, souls to the polls on Sunday is an idea that has just simply worked and has worked to expand voter turnout in the United States. So of course there are forces out there trying to curtail and end it.

Both of these kinds of gentlemen have agreed to stay with us. We`ll just sneak in a commercial break here. When we come back, the President accuses some states of Neanderthal thinking. We`ll ask our guests about the pandemics political impact these days.



FMR. REP. BETO O`ROURKE (D-TX): El Paso my home county where I am right now. There are 280 bodies stacked up in a warehouse because there are not enough grave diggers and not enough graves to be dug to put them in the ground. They had to set up 10 Mobile wards. And that`s just in my city right now is 85 percent Mexican American, they just don`t care and that indifference is killing people in my community and throughout the state of Texas.


WILLIAMS: What does that get your attention in Texas where all five troubling new COVID variants have been detected, identified. Clinical physician and friend of this broadcast. Dr. Kavita Patel puts it this way, Governor Abbott has purposefully injected a new infection into the state in the form of irresponsible policies that will promote unnecessary infection, hospitalization and death.

That saying a lot, still with us are Eugene Robinson and Stuart Stevens. And Eugene indeed, with this dictum of no mask, no problem crowd back inside venues and dining halls, the governor puts Texans in a tough spot. We did some sampling of Texas voters, we`ll play that for you and discuss on the other side.


MICHAEL FOJTASEK, RESTAURANT OWNER: We want to run this business to its full capacity. We just feel that it`s unsafe.

LUIS ANGULO, MURALIST: With the mixed messages, we know that everyone`s going to have their own opinion now as to what to do and we want to require people to wear masks.

HENRY SARMIENTO, AUSTIN, TEXAS RESIDENT: We`re are going to feel worried because I want to care about like I said first my family. And first, you know, secondly, my friends, you know and everybody else.


WILLIAMS: Those were folks in Austin and we got a blue dot in a red state, but Eugene, here`s the thing, this governor who has proven he can`t keep the lights on in Texas. Was this just the most Texas thing he could do by saying no masks, no problem?

ROBINSON: I think it was, I mean, he would look he was not doing that well politically, given the disaster with the cold weather and the blackouts and the water problems and so he just comes out and says let`s have a big old Texas party. You know, if COVID is over he declares when in fact COVID is not over. We are, you know, the doctors say this better than I do.

But we are at a great and promising point where vaccines are out. People are getting vaccinated, number of cases and deaths and hospitalizations were all down. They`re going in the right direction. And the last thing we need is to do things that would cause that decline to pause, still at a very high level of cases or, or worse yet turned around if that`s what Greg Abbott has done. And it`s stupid and inexcusable.

WILLIAMS: Stuart Stevens, because I follow you on Twitter, I saw the photo you posted this week of, apparently you as a high school student working for George W. before he was president. Boy, I don`t think I was ever that young. And if I was I didn`t look that good. But there ladies and gentlemen, is a young, Stuart Stevens with the governor of Texas and I raise it and I show it A, to add to your embarrassment, but B, to make a point about Republican politics in a simpler time.

Since you did do a look at the entomology of your party and since as you pointed out, you might have been too charitable in your book, which so many of us read. When did in your view, as you pick apart the modern history of your party, when did the Republican Party turn in one way anti science? And in another way, just look at the CPAC speakers last weekend anti- intellectual?

STEVENS: Yes, it`s -- there`s always been these two strands of the party before. I mean, there was sort of a boring governing party of Eisenhower. And then our conspiratorial, paranoid, wacky, largely influenced by racism, McCarthy element of the party. And those of us who were drawn to Governor Bush and capacity to conservatism, I think a lot of us assumed that we were the dominant gene, if only because the country was changing so much, that out of its own self interest, the party would have to change.

We saw the dark side. We thought it was a recessive gene. And I don`t know any conclusion to come to except that we were wrong. At least I was wrong. We were the recessive gene. And the party, which has always had in post war era, a racist element to it.

I mean, William Buckley, who is now regarded justifiably as a great intellectual, giant of the Republican Party, I mean, we forget in the 50s, he was a stone cold racist, which he later to his credit, great credit, recanted.

But that element is always been there. And it`s just become the dominant element in the party. I mean COVID is -- the Republican reaction to COVID, Trump reaction to COVID is a combination of these factors that have been long brewing and anti intellectualism, like you say, an anti-expert, an anti-science, a sense that government can`t help anybody. And you put all these together and you end up with hundreds of thousands of dead Americans.

WILLIAMS: Yes, indeed, Mike Pence was out there today selling the big lie and we`re going to deal with him on our last segment of the broadcast tonight. Two friends of this broadcast, who we will always invite back Eugene Robinson, Stuart Stevens. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

Coming up for us a report from the city that`s been relying on bottled water and rainwater for over two weeks now and it`s not in Texas.


WILLIAMS: Southern states like Texas have been reeling from winter weather that left so many people without power or water. And tonight, Jackson, Mississippi still dealing with a water crisis after freezing temperatures, that`s all it took, damage the city`s aging water system. It`s been over two weeks ago now. NBC News correspondent Morgan Radford has our report from Jackson tonight.


MORGAN RADFORD, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barbara Howard spent 15 days without running water using buckets to collect rainwater just to get by.

BARBARA HOWARD, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT: Collecting it here from yes rainwater to flush the toilet.

RADFORD: She`s one of almost 200,000 residents of Jackson, Mississippi who have been without drinkable water since mid February when a sudden freeze hit the city`s aging water pipes.

(on camera): Your water just started trickling in.


RADFORD: Is it brown, is it drinkable?

HOWRD: Is brown, we do not have usable drinkable water.

RADFORD (voice-over): The Henday Gainer (ph) is struggling to take care of a family of five.

HENDAY GAINER (ph), JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT: You can`t use the water to brush our teeth. You shouldn`t have to be living in these kind of conditions.

RADFORD: Tonight the entire city is under a boil water notice with many residents lining up for donated plastic bottles. The aging infrastructure a problem Mayor Chokwe Lumumba says he needs state funding to fix.

(on camera): It sounds like officials have known that the pipes have been a problem for decades.


RADFORD: So why is it taken so long to fix?

LUMUMBA: There`s constant investment going on. But it`s still insufficient and we`re looking at more than a billion dollars worth of local problems.

RADFORD (voice-over): NBC news reached out to the governor`s office and has not yet received a response. Leaving residents feeling left out to dry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Someone take responsibility and be a leader.

RADFORD: Morgan Radford, NBC News, Jackson, Mississippi.


WILLIAMS: Coming up profiles in cowardice that you`re going to want to see.



NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Donald Trump is a 24 nominate Republicans, would you support him?

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): Absolutely. I`m all support the nominee.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, proof that the spine removal campaign is nearly complete among elected Republicans. That was Georgia Governor Brian Kemp or has Trump calls him the hapless Brian Kemp. He was savaged by Donald Trump who let`s not forget tried to forcibly change the election results in Kemp state. But no problem. Kemp will be on board for a Trump run in 2024. Which somehow brings us to Mike Pence as in hang Mike Pence the chant we heard from the rioters, looters, insurrectionists, Sedition Acts and Yahoo`s in 1/6.

But no problem. Mike Pence is still on board. Same Mike Pence who was applauded for merely attending, merely showing up at the inauguration. He is still pushing the big lie because it`s what Trump wants. And don`t forget, he`s providing air support for the Republican efforts at voter suppression in 33 separate states. For them the big lie is good for business.

In an op ed today in something called the daily signal. Mike Pence writes this, after an election marked by significant voting irregularities and numerous instances of officials setting aside state election law, I share the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of the 2020 election.

Pence doesn`t have great luck with op eds. I`m thinking of this one. This was back June 16 and we quote, thanks to the leadership of President Trump and the courage and compassion of the American people, our public health system is far stronger than it was four months ago. And we are winning the fight against the invisible enemy.

The media has tried to scare the American people every step of the way. And these grim predictions of a second wave are no different. The truth is, whatever the media says our whole-of-America approach has been a success. We`ve slowed the spread. We`ve cared for the most vulnerable, we`ve saved lives, and we`ve created a solid foundation for whatever challenges we may face in the future. That`s a cause for celebration, not the media`s fear mongering.

The death toll on the day that was published was just over 117,000. 400,000 Americans have been killed since that day. Mike Pence wants badly to be president just as he wants badly for people to forget that he ever ran the Coronavirus Task Force and presided with his trademark combination piety and certitude over an effort marked by denialism, malpractice and mismanagement and over half a million Americans simply aren`t here anymore. Their loved ones may forever have questions for Mike Pence.

That`s our broadcast for this Wednesday night with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all my colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.