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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 4/8/21

Guests: Cynthia Alksne, Maria Hinojosa, Cornell Belcher, Mark McKinnon


Rep. Matt Gaetz ally expected to plead guilty, may flip on Gaetz. Gaetz denies any wrongdoing. President Joe Biden takes executive action on gun violence. Expert witness details how Floyd was deprived of oxygen. Senator Pat Toomey signaled his willingness to work with President Joe Biden on his efforts to limit gun trafficking and the growing presence of ghost guns. Texas Republicans pushing slate of bills to make voting even harder in state. Lifting mask mandate trigger the surge of COVID-19 as new variants emerges.



LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: We`re going to have to need -- we`re going to need to hear more from you about that on this program. Sister Simone Campbell, thank you very much for joining us again tonight.

CAMPBELL: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Sister Simone gets Tonight`s Last Word. The 11th hour with Brian Williams starts now.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, once again. I`m Ali Velshi in for Brian Williams on this day 79 of the Biden administration.

Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is now facing a new and potentially much more serious level of legal jeopardy. He`s under federal investigation for potential sex trafficking, possibly involving a minor and that case grew out of a broader probe involving a close associate and ally, a man named Joel Greenberg, who`s facing an array of federal charges himself also including sex trafficking.

It appears tonight that Greenberg may be ready to strike a plea deal with federal prosecutors, a move that presumably would bolster their case against Matt Gaetz. Greenberg was not in court today, but his lawyer said his client likely will take a plea and avoid a trial although he said the deal was not yet finalized. That possibility was revealed during a brief court hearing today in Orlando, Florida. After the hearing, Greenberg`s lawyer offered this somewhat cryptic yet ominous assessment.


FRITZ SCHELLER, ATTORNEY FOR JOEL GREENBERG: I`m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does Joel consider Matt Gaetz a friend or has he cut ties?

SCHELLER: In any case I have if there`s other potential co-defendants, you know, I concluded my clients in talking to them.


VELSHI: Joel Greenberg`s lawyer would not say specifically what his client knew, but the Washington Post reports he added, "his client was `uniquely situated` to help prosecutors and was seeking a deal, quote `with the least possible exposure."

Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing. And earlier today, an unsigned letter of support was released by, "the women of U.S. Congresswoman Matt Gaetz`s office." The letter praised him as a principled and morally grounded leader who has treated each and every one of us with respect. Thus, it goes on to say, we uniformly reject these allegations as false.

Yet tonight, The New York Times reports a second senior aide to Gaetz quit late last week, hours after his communications director resigned, according to three people familiar with the decision. Tomorrow, Gaetz is scheduled to appear publicly for the first time since news broke about this federal investigation. He`ll be speaking to a pro-Trump women`s group at the former president`s Doral resort in Florida.

At the White House today, the focus was all about curbing gun violence. President Biden took the initial steps toward gun control with a series of executive actions. His announcement came just a day after one deadly mass shooting in South Carolina, and just hours before another in Bryan, Texas. Biden`s order includes a crackdown on so called ghost guns, which are firearms assembled from kits that don`t have traceable serial numbers. It also calls for the Justice Department to publish model red flag legislation for states. It lets police officers and family members temporarily removed firearms from people who present a danger to themselves or others. The President is also asking the Department of Justice to issue a report on firearms trafficking.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Gun violence in this country is an epidemic. We say it again, gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it`s an international embarrassment.


VELSHI: Biden also made it clear that actual legislation and not just executive orders would do the most to stop gun violence.


BIDEN: This is just the start. We`ve got a lot of work to do. But all these bills, they had supported both Democrats and Republicans in the House. And universal background checks are supported by the vast majority of American people. And I might add the vast majority of responsible gun owners and I`m willing to work with anyone to get these done.


VELSHI: President today also announced the nomination of David Chipman, this man, a gun control advocate, to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Bureau has not had a permanent director since 2015. And Chipman is expected to meet stiff resistance during the confirmation process.

White House is also keeping a close eye on the continuing rise in New COVID cases. The situation in the upper Midwest of the United States has been particularly concerning. At least five states are reporting a 50% increase in cases over just the past two weeks.

Also, there was more stunning testimony today in the trial of Derek Chauvin as a lung and critical care expert described in great detail how he believes George Floyd died.


DR. MARTIN TOBIN, LUNG EXPERT: We see here that he reaches a level of zero of oxygen at 20:25:41. And so at that point there`s not an ounce of oxygen left in his body in his entire body at 20:25:41.

JERRY BLACKWELL, PROSECUTOR: So it was the knee then lifted off of his neck at the point there was no more oxygen in his body?

TOBIN: No, the knee remained on the neck for another three minutes and two seconds after we reach the point where there is not one ounce of oxygen left in the body.


VELSHI: We are going to have much more on day nine of testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial just to head.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Thursday night, Katie Benner, Justice Department Reporter for The New York Times, she has been reporting on the Gaetz controversy since the Times first broke the story. Jonathan Lemire is the White House Reporter for The Associated Press. And Cynthia Alksne, is a former Federal Prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

Good evening to all of you, Katie, we have been hearing from you since the night you broke this story. Tell us the latest news on Matt Gaetz?

KATIE BENNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: So we saw today is in the trial of his friend Joel Greenberg was accused of many crimes including child sex trafficking, Mr. Greenberg`s lawyer and the prosecutors in case basically said that they were working toward a plea deal, clearly Mr. Greenberg that he faces a lot of jail time, a mandatory of 12 years, many decades more if he`s not given some sort of break. And I think looking at the facts all sides agree that it`d be best for him to come to an agreement to plead guilty and to cooperate in the investigation. This is really difficult for Mr. Gaetz, because Joe Greenberg is uniquely situated, as his lawyer said, providing information, particularly about a 17-year-old girl who both men are thought to have had sex with and provided free hotel and other things. Now, that would fall under child sex trafficking, which is a mandatory 10 years in jail.

VELSHI: Cynthia, tell me a little bit about this potential deal, his lawyer -- Joel Greenberg`s lawyer has alluded to it. He said that they`re working on one. It hasn`t been finalized. What can we surmise with respect to Joel Greenberg and the more than 30 felony charges against him and whether or not he may be cooperating in a larger probe into Matt Gaetz?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I think we can surmise that sitting in jail, awaiting trial has focused his mind and inspired him to make a deal. And we know that based on the sort of the colloquy in the courtroom and also all the little breadcrumbs that his lawyer left outside the courthouse suggesting that there was a deal.

Now let`s just think about that. All of the transact -- the financial transactions between them, would then be available and easy to find by the federal prosecutors. For example, tonight, The Daily Beast is record reporting that Matt Gaetz at one point venmoed Greenberg $900. And the next morning, Greenberg is venmoing, showing young women and all -- he can explain all those things. I mean, it`s just shocking that Matt Gaetz had a Venmo account that was public. And here`s a little tip for future defendants, when you can get a Venmo account and the little box in the quarter. And you can pick either private or public, pick the private one. I mean, it`s just amazing that he had a public Venmo account.

But anyway, all of the details between their relationship will come out. And Greenberg will give that information. He will not be a witness in any case, because he doesn`t really have any credibility at all. Because let`s face it, he`s a scumbag. And what will happen is that the prosecutors then can track and the FBI can track all of his information, get it corroborated, and get independent witnesses to tell the story of what these men were doing, if in fact, they were having sex with underage girls, or flying people to the Bahamas, essentially, for prostitution.

VELSHI: We haven`t been able to independently confirm the Venmo part of the story. But the other way you could look at this, Cynthia, is you could just not make it private and just not commit crimes when you`re venmoing PayPal money.

Katie, your new story dropped less than an hour ago, and I was reading it and it was lengthy and detailed. And then it took a sudden turn that I didn`t expect it to take. There`s a whole another part of the story about Matt Gaetz that I was not aware of and it had to do with a something called a ghost candidate running in an election. Can you give us a sense of what this part of the story is about?

BENNER: Absolutely. So as investigators have delved deeper into allegations of sexual, you know, sex related crimes, a witness did tell investigators that they heard a conversation between Matt Gaetz and a lobbyist in Florida named Chris Dorworth. Chris Dorworth is very well known in the state. He`s a Trump administration, alive lobbyists and he`s risen to prominence over the last four years. The two men talked about basically running a sham candidate in a state Senate election in Florida last year, the candidate would exist basically to siphon votes off of the Democratic candidate handing the election to the Republican.

And we did reach Mr. Dorworth to comment. He points out that running a third-party candidate who might impact the Democrat is in and of itself, not illegal, but would be illegal as a third party candidate was paid to run specifically to spoil the election. He claims that he did not pay anybody in that election to run to spoil the race. However, the FBI is looking into this. The interesting thing about it is if the affair continues on this path, and finds more evidence related to this conversation, it could really open up the investigation beyond what we have so far, which is an investigation into a variety of sex crimes.

VELSHI: I would encourage people to read this story because it is very detailed with respect to this other part of the story that many of us didn`t know about. Thank you for that, Katie.

Jonathan Lemire, we`ve been wondering what Republicans are going to do about this. And it seems that most people have been keeping mum until something that looks like a formal charge or more information comes out. But on the strength of this reporting, including Katie`s reporting tonight, we have got a tweet from Representative Adam Kinzinger, where he calling for Gaetz to resign. There`s -- and it`s quite simple as Matt Gaetz needs to resign, not a lot of love lost between Adam Kinzinger, who, you know, sort of stood up to Donald Trump as well, and Matt Gaetz.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: No. And first of all, sage advice when it comes to the public versus private Venmo accounts, I think that what you`re -- this is not a surprising take from Congressman Kinzinger, who has been one of the few Republicans to race or break with President Trump and for President Trump and his disciples of which Congressman Gaetz is certainly one of the more ardent ones, where he`s really patting himself as an heir to the MAGA throne. And Kinzinger, of course, has said before President Trump is talking to the Republican Party and he`s far founded a group to try to unseat these Republicans and replace them with more moderate members, ones occasionally willing to work across the aisle with Democrats, but at least so far, his voices fairly lonely. Gaetz, of course, as you noted, is going to be in Florida this week at President Trump`s former club. It also this weekend, there`s a gathering of top Republicans at, where else, Palm Beach, Florida, just up the road from Mar-a-Lago, the four president`s estate and there is expected to be an event there, which is underscores what a shadow he still casts over the Republican Party. It will be interesting with light of these new revelations if there are other Republicans who say enough`s enough and start calling for Congressman Gaetz`s resignation. But we have seen as a pattern, Republicans not as quick to do that, as Democrats, when one of their own members is embroiled in some sort of scandal. But one has to assume that Congressman Liz Cheney, who of course, Congressman Gaetz, so publicly targeted not that long ago, because she went after for President Trump. I imagine she is enjoying these developments, even if she hasn`t commented publicly just yet.

VELSHI: Yeah, he`s referred to her as part of the Cheney legacy or something like that.

Cynthia, let me ask you about a story that was published in The Washington Post tonight that says that the ex-daughter in law of former Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg, a woman named Jennifer Weisselberg has turned over more documents to the Manhattan DA`s office. The story says the subpoena a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Post ordered Jennifer Weisselberg to produce all of the records she possesses for her ex-husband`s bank accounts and credit cards plus his statements of net worth and tax filings.

Now, our Tom Winter at NBC interviewed her some weeks ago, it was not even clear that she would have needed a subpoena to produce this, she seemed quite willing to do so. What do you think this is about? What do we think she`s got, having to do with her husband that`s tied to her father in law and Donald Trump?

ALKSNE: Well, financial records are, you know, mother`s milk of American political prosecutions. And if she has financial records, that can be helpful, and it can be used to flip lower level or other family members. That`s very important, and that slowly and slowly and slowly encircles Trump. So that`s what -- I`m sure that`s exactly what`s happening. And then more records they get, the more information they have, the more likely they are to start flipping people.

VELSHI: And, Jonathan, this is key to the point you were just making and that is that, in these attacks on Donald Trump, whether they`re from people who wanted to see him prosecuted or people who thought he was on the wrong side of the election fraud story, Matt Gaetz for people who were not following him, is as loyal as loyal guests to Donald Trump?

LEMIRE: Oh, no question. He was one of his loudest and defenders and every opportunity sort of has almost patent himself after the former president. He was a staple as an opening act and a number of the President`s rallies last year. He is someone who has adopted a similar sort of strategy with the media. We remember, he of course, the early days of the pandemic really downplayed it, alienated a lot of his colleagues in Congress, we showed up with a gas mask on, on the floor of the House are making fun of the protective measures that other members were taking in the early days of the virus as it was beginning to spread. We know that he was in defended president -- former President Trump earlier this year when -- he even went to Wyoming to hold a rally to oppose Congresswoman Liz Cheney, again, because Cheney had denounced Trump for what had happened on January 6, the inspection of the Capitol fueled by the former president`s words.

So he is someone who indeed has sort of tried to shape himself as a disciple of the former president, one who is a frequent guest on conservative media. In fact, there have been some talk that he might even leave office to go make crossover and join the conservative media ranks, which these stories perhaps have complicated. But we should also note as a final point, loyalty with President Trump often was a one way street. And the former president, you know, put up with -- offered a pretty tepid defense of Congressman Gaetz in the last 24 hours, so just simply noting that Gaetz denied the allegations. But that`s the standard line the former president has used a number of times when there are powerful men accused of misconduct by women. So I don`t think we should say -

VELSHI: Included the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia when he was accused of -- yeah, when the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia denied involvement in Jamal Khashoggi`s killing, he used the same thing. Donald Trump said the same thing. Interesting, though, that he had a stronger defense for Roy Moore, when Roy Moore was first criticized for some of his activities.

Katie Benner, I feel guilty asking you about this because I can tell you`ve been busy on the Matt Gaetz story, but you are a Justice Department Reporter and today we saw the Attorney General make his first public appearance with Joe Biden, Joe Biden talking about guns today and executive action. What did you sense about Merrick Garland and how things are going to go with the Justice Department from his first appearance?

BENNER: So it was a great first public appearance from Merrick Garland, because I think it told us everything that we need to know about the new Attorney General. He was extremely measured. He talked about doing things like gathering data, running studies trying to evaluate the problem. He said that they were going to propose draft legislation. But what all of this says is that he understands the Justice Department has a lane, it can only do so much when it comes to gun regulation. It can only do so much when it comes to gun control. But at the end of the day, it will be Congress that will either take up the draft legislation and run with it and pass a law or not. In the meantime, he feels that his role very measured is to look at the problem, evaluate it and make recommendations. There are no bombastic statements. This is not Trump`s Justice Department. There was nothing surprising, and it was very, very right down the middle. And that`s what we`re probably going to see from Merrick Garland for his entire time as attorney general.

VELSHI: Which is why he was thought of as a potential Supreme Court Justice at one point, someone who would have bipartisan support until things got complicated.

Thank you to all three of you, Katie, thank you for your newest reporting on this. Jonathan Lemire, Katie Benner. Cynthia, stay with me, please, we have to continue our conversation.

Coming up, all of America`s watching is even more troubling details of George Boyd`s death emerge. We`re going to ask our legal team if there`s any reasonable doubt left about what happened in plain sight.

And later, Texas, home to the nation`s deadliest -- latest deadly mass shooting now in the spotlight over guns and voting rights. The 11th Hour is just getting underway on a Thursday night.



TOBIN: Mr. Floyd died from a low-level of oxygen. The cause of the low- level of oxygen was shallow breathing, small breaths. The main force is that are going to lead to the shallow breath are going to be that he`s turned prone on the street. That he has the hand cuffs in place combined with the street and then that he has a knee on his neck and then that he has a knee on his back and down his side.


VELSHI: According to today`s compelling testimony from renowned Pulmonologist Dr. Martin Tobin, George Floyd died from a low-level of oxygen. In excruciating detail he described to the jurors how Floyd struggled to breathe handcuffed and pushed against the asphalt under Derek shoguns knee.


TOBIN: On the left side of his lung, it was almost like a surgical pneumonectomy it was almost to the effect as if a surgeon had gone in and remove the lung. You see his knuckle against the tire. This tells you that he has used up his resources and he is now literally trying to breathe with his fingers and knuckles. When you have to breathe through a narrow passageway, it`s like breathing through a drinking straw, but it`s much worse than that.


VELSHI: Much worse than breathing through a drinking straw. For more, we welcome to the broadcast Maria Hinojosa, a veteran journalist who covered police violence in Urban Affairs for years as both NPR and CNN. She`s a former colleague of mine. She`s now the founder of Futuro Media, where she serves as host and executive producer of Latino USA. She`s also co host of the podcast In The Thick, focusing on America shifting cultural and political landscape, and the author of, Once I Was You; A Memoir of Love and Hate in a torn America, still with us, former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne. And Cynthia, I want to start with you and that testimony because that was but a taste of the testimony we got from two doctors today who were unequivocal about the fact that this wasn`t about fentanyl, which is what the defense would have you believe. But it is in fact that he was suffocated. He could not take in breast the remarkable detail that Dr. Tobin presented was literally breathtaking. What do you make of how this affects the case?

ALKSNE: Wow, I thought he was one of the most amazing experts I`ve ever seen. And very credible with a jury it`s going to be almost impossible to overcome his opinion. First of all, in just his manner with the jury, and he would turn and talk to them he would undo his collar and explain to them to the anatomy. And then he would say to them, go ahead and put your hand on your neck and then put your hand here and feel your -- this and feel that, and he went through it. And I found myself sitting in my little kitchen, feeling my neck and doing exactly what he said. He was that mesmerizing. And what he did was he erased the all of the work of the defensive yesterday and erased any future defense coming up.

You know, yesterday, if you remember, the defense attorney spending a lot of time trying to prove that maybe his knee wasn`t always on his neck, maybe it moved down to his shoulders, maybe it was on his traps, maybe. And he just basically said that doesn`t matter. He had no oxygen, all of that - - nope, doesn`t matter, has nothing to do with anything. He died from the lack of oxygen.

And then going forward, one of the big issues is that there are two prosecution autopsies. One which basically says he died when his heart stopped because of the neck compression. And the other, he wasn`t -- he -- when he died after the lack of oxygen because of the neck compression. And he sort of brought those together in a way that the prosecution really needs and made it also simple, that it`s going to be very hard for the defense attorney to make much hay with those different autopsies. And then he finally just finished off the defense by saying the fentanyl had nothing to do with it, which was then supported by another expert. It was a devastating day for the defense. I thought the case was overwhelming from jump straight. But this is -- makes the case almost impossible. I mean, it really is impossible to go forward for the defense at this point.

VELSHI: Cynthia, you always make it so clear to us what`s going on.

Maria, our friend Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw talks about a concept. She coined this concept of intersectionality, the idea that it`s never really one thing when you have difficulty in society or economically or with the justice system, and George Floyd is really a picture of that. He was black, he was urban. He was not wealthy. He had a drug addiction, all of which was pointing toward not just his death at the hands of police, but has been something that has pointed to a lot of people and their death at the hands of police in America.

MARIA HINOJOSA, VETERAN JOURNALIST: George Floyd was from Texas. George Floyd had a girlfriend who was white. George Floyd worked at a Columbia (ph) bar surrounded by Latinos and Latinas dancing, speaking Spanish. So yeah, too many -- to us, George Floyd represents exactly that, that total humanity. And for me, I think when I think about today`s testimony, Cynthia`s right, it was riveting. I think this notion, the humanity that the doctor brings, when he says George Floyd was trying to breathe through his knuckles. There`s nothing like that image there that makes it clear, why George Floyd died because of the knee on his neck.

For me, the bigger issue, Ali, is how do we deconstruct 402 years of essentially making black men a threat. So we`re seeing a trial here, but we`re really trying to deconstruct the narrative that has existed from the first time a black man was brought here in chains. And therefore, the notion created that they were a threat, that they were a problem that they had to be controlled. And as I was thinking about this segment, Ali, I was thinking, you know, I would never have my husband, who is Afro-Dominican, speaks with an accent and American citizen, but an immigrant, I would never have him engaged with the police under any circumstances, except to say good day, I`m the one who can take that power and challenge it. But the fact that that I --

VELSHI: There are some --

HINOJOSA: -- represents that threat, and that`s what we`re trying to see here is, his humanity, versus Chauvin`s fear, alleged fear.

VELSHI: Does this trial, regardless of the justice that may be served at the end of it. Does that humanity -- does that prosecution telling the story of who George Floyd is? Do you think that`s resonating across America with people who were saying our story`s not being told, and it finally is in a court of law in pursuit of justice?

HINOJOSA: I think it is. And I think part of what we also have to recognize is that there was solidarity that was happening on the street there. There were people who were trying to come to his aid, who were of a diverse background, right? I was talking about the fact that actually in the Midwest I grew up in Chicago, and in working class communities, yes, there is a lot of redlining but in working class communities, there is a lot of cross cultural Amistad. There is defending each other. And I think that that is part of the lesson that we`re seeing, right, is that in fact, we have to attempt to save our lives. Because, you know what, in the end, it wasn`t just George Floyd who died there, right? The people who witnessed that are going to be scarred for life. I haven`t seen the video because I have respect for his life, but I`m telling you that this has changed the country. And I`m with Cynthia. I think this is going to be very difficult for the defense to win.

VELSHI: It`s a discussion for another day, but we will discuss the fact that the defense is actually trying to make those people who were trying to come to George Floyd`s defense peacefully, and recording it on video, making them into a threat as well. Thank you to both of you for joining us, Maria Hinojosa and Cynthia Alksne, thank you.

Coming up, President Biden says he`s going to work with anyone to get new gun laws, but our Republican lawmakers listening. We`ll ask two people who might know when the "11th Hour" continues.



KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I`ve fought my entire career to end this violence and to pass reasonable gun safety laws. Time and again, as progress has stalled, we`ve all asked what are we waiting for? Because we aren`t waiting for a tragedy, I know that. We`ve had more tragedy than we can bear.


VELSHI: Vice President Kamala Harris in the Rose Garden on a day we learned of two more mass shootings, this time in Texas and South Carolina.

Politico reports, Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania wants a long-term solution writing, "Toomey, who is retiring in 2022, is eager to reach agreement on a targeted guns measure that can outlast Biden`s presidency." And said, "He appreciates President Biden`s expressed willingness to work with both Republicans and Democrats to achieve this goal. If done in a manner that respects the rights of law abiding citizens, I believe there`s an opportunity to strengthen our background check system."

With us for more tonight, Cornell Belcher, a Democratic Pollster who worked on both for President Obama`s campaigns and with a number of House and Senate Democrats, as well as Mark McKinnon, former Adviser to both George W. Bush and John McCain. He`s now one of the Co-Hosts of the "Circus" on Showtime. Good evening, gentlemen.

Cornell, let`s start with you. President Biden, going right up your alley, talking about sort of the popularity of gun control measures. He has now hinted a few times that he is wanting to do stuff that Republicans and Democrats want, and sort of drawing a bit of a distinction between Republicans in Congress and Democrats in Congress. But he did say that he would rather do this through legislation than executive action, because it`s more long lasting. It`s more durable.

CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, that`s true. I mean, the President only has so much power to change these gun laws, and make some sort of the gun laws more stricter. But he also points out something that has been true now, that`s been true -- that was true when Obama was talking about these measures. And, you know, look at the Gallup polling, these 7% of Americans want to make, you know, want to make it more difficult, want to have stricter gun laws, right?

So you do -- so we have this conversation about bipartisanship, and can we get Republicans on board. When you have 57, approaching 60% of the American people wanting something out in the real world, Ali, this is actually bipartisan, right? In the real world, you have Middle America, moderates, conservatives and liberals want some action on what`s happening here around guns.

Only in Washington, DC, with Republicans who playing a zero sum game about power, do you see that this is -- that you can`t get any sort of partisan, bipartisan movement around that. And look, God bless to me, but I got to think that if he were running for reelection and if he had to face a Republican Primary, he might not be talking about finding a compromise on this either, because it is deadly for Republicans to try to talk about finding compromise today with Democrats.

VELSHI: So that`s -- you become interesting always, Cornell, interesting points here but, Mark, let`s talk about this devil being in the details here. An overwhelming majority of Americans want something to be done, but you travel around the country. You talk to conservatives all across the country, what does that something on guns most look like to you?

MARK MCKINNON, FOMER ADVISE TO JOHN MCCAIN AND GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, it`s a split universe really. Like the -- when you pull something like background checks on guns, it pulls 97% approval. Now, that means you got to have a lot of Republicans to get 97% of the entire country. So, you know, more than 50% or 50%, way more than 50% of Republicans are supporting back things like background checks, and red flag laws, and I`m sure on ghost guns.

But we have this -- we have the NRA, which just had a hostage hold on the Republican Party for years. It`s going bankrupt now due to their indiscretions and profligate spending, and insider dealing. But the fact of the matter is that, if you`re a Republican, it`s a cultural thing. It`s not a political thing. Republicans believe, thanks to Donald Trump and many others, that it shows weakness if you support any kind of measure on the second amendment. They think that any measure, even including background checks is "an imposition on your second amendment rights."

Well, background checks are an imposition on second amendment rights, in the same way that seatbelts are an imposition on your rights to drive a car. It`s absolutely ridiculous.

VELSHI: Cornell, if the President were asking your advice as a pollster, what`s the road forward here? Because it is very, very hard to get this done at a federal level despite the fact that both you agree that some things can be done quickly and easily. The fact is, the President wants to do more than just some basic things like background checks, although red flag laws are also, you know, that people have more time to listen to at least a conversation about that. But what would you tell the President can actually get done?

BELCHER: You know, I would tell him he`s got to take this outside of Washington. He got to take it to the streets. I think, you know, and Mark knows this better than I do that once upon a time, you know, the gun issue turned on Democrats in a really tough way, and it put Democrats in a real tough bind.

If you go to 2018 and look at, get inside the data from the 2018 election, which was a sea-, sort of sea-change election for Democrats. And what you see is those voters who were voting on the issue of guns, were actually voting overwhelmingly for Democrats

So, you see a sea-change happening here, and you look at those suburbs that Biden won in 2020, that Democrats, certainly when -- in 2016 and even my guy, Obama, do as well in 2012 then. And there`s a moment here for Biden, it`s all common sense gun legislation, with gun reform, with moderate middle suburban America in a way that makes it politically untenable for Republicans to continue to hold this position.

They have to pay a price for holding this gun position that is way outside of the mainstream Americans. For too long, I think Democrats have not made them pay a price for it. I think Biden has a unique opportunity this time around to make them pay a price for it.

Democrats shouldn`t wander away from the gun issue going into this next election. They should embrace it and make Republicans pay a price for being on the wrong side of this.

VELSHI: Gentlemen, stick with us for a little bit longer. Coming up, I want to have a discussion with these two gentlemen about an update on efforts to, in Texas, to make new voting restrictions law.


VELSHI: As Georgia deals with fallout over its newly passed voting restrictions, attention on the issue is now focusing on Texas. Republicans there are working on several bills that would restrict voting. Today, one was advanced out of a House Committee. NBC News reports, "The legislation would impose criminal penalties for errors during the election process such as making it a felony for an official to give a voter an absentee ballot application or solicit the submission of an absentee application if the voter does not request it first."

Still with us, Cornell Belcher and Mark McKinnon. Mark, the lieutenant governor of Texas, Dan Patrick. So, you know, for people who don`t know, you know this well, the lieutenant governor is a particularly strong position in the state of Texas. They preside over a lot of legislation. This lieutenant governor has been on a search for election fraud, countrywide, in particularly in his state. You had a conversation with him in October of 2020, before he put out a bounty for election fraud. This is from the "Circus," I want to play a little of this, please.


DAN PATRICK, TEXAS LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: We had 11 days of early vote. We now have 17 days early vote. Before you could only turn in your ballot on Election Day if it was mailed about. Now, you can turn it in any of those 17 days.

MCKINNON: You have a situation here where people are saying you guys want to have one drop box per county, that means Loving County with 136 people gets one box and Harris County with almost 5 million gets one box. Optically, that`s kind of problematic, isn`t it?

PATRICK: No. Are we going to follow laws or we`re not going to follow laws? I mean, are we just got through all the laws out the window because of COVID?

MCKINNON: Do you think it`s a good law that you have?

PATRICK: Yes, it`s a good law and it`s been fine. And no one`s ever said a word about it. Look, I don`t trust the Democrats one inch. I`m not trying to get every vote that they can get.


VELSHI: That interview was aged interestingly, what was your take away then and has it changed?

MCKINNON: Well, you know, what you really have to do is draw the lens back and figure out, you know, when you get out of the weeds, you know, what does he really saying? He just doesn`t trust Democrats because they think they`re going to try and get every vote they can get. Well, what the hell`s the matter with getting every vote you can get?

The law that he is passing now, Patrick and the Republicans are passing, as you noted, would make it a felony to solicit an absentee ballot application or solicit the submission of an application if the voter does not request it first. Well, in Colorado, we just, where I live now, they mail out those applications to everybody because they want everybody to vote.

What in the hell is the matter with wanting people to vote? They`re making it a criminal offence to give somebody an absentee ballot if they don`t request it. My view is, shouldn`t we have more people voting rather than less? And by the way, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, who presides over the Senate, after the election, said that he had a million dollar fund, that he would reward people to give him any evidence of voter suppression. And he hasn`t paid out a nickel, isn`t that one example?

And by the way, the people who said there was no voter suppression include the United States attorney general under Donald Trump, Bob Barr, and his chief elections officer.

VELSHI: Yes. It`s interesting one of the claimants for that money is the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania who`s found four instances of fraud in the state of Pennsylvania, Trump supporters voting a couple times. He keeps claiming that money. He says he`s looking forward to getting it.

Cornell, play this out for me. What`s the end game because in the end, Mark makes a good point, the competition here is supposed to be in the field of ideas and to just get all the votes you can actually get. Can Republican legislatures and state governments, can they restrict enough votes to make a difference in the end?

BELCHER: Let me tell you, this is -- the end game is as old as American politics itself, Ali. As the historian once wrote, we are not looking for the origins of racial issues in American politics, because racial issues predate American politics. You know, racial issues are the root -- aren`t at the root of American politics, they are the seeds of American politics. And that`s no more clear in the three-fifths compromise, where they tried to nullify the political potential black bodies. That is as American as apple pie, and we see that here today.

You know, there`s a saying that my father used to say from the south, and I know others did as well. Look, you know, black and whites could always get along in the south, blacks just couldn`t have power. And what you see right now is, you see what the diversifying of our electorate and our political system, you see people of color, you know, having more political power. And those who plan the zero sum racial political game right now, that is a threat, that is absolute threat to them. And it is a threat to sort of our democracy.

And really for me, Ali, it`s about this one simple thing. Are we going to have a democracy the next decade? Are we going to have one person one vote in the next decade? And I wish, Ali, that we would have Republicans who would who would instead of trying to block the votes of black and brown people come to black and brown communities. If you believe in a free market of ideals, come to the black and brown communities and put your ideas on the table and let`s compete for -- and ask the people those votes, as opposed to trying to block those votes because that`s going to lead to disaster.

VELSHI: What a great world that would be. We can get there one day, and liberals and conservatives can argue in that arena of ideas. Guys, it`s fully two hours after my bedtime, but between your collection of hats, Mark, and your collection of jackets, Cornell, you have kept me up this evening. Thank you, and good to see you both of you. Our thanks to Cornell Belcher and Mark McKinnon.

Coming up, mask mandates are down, the national case count is up. The latest on the pandemic when the 11th Hour continues.


VELSHI: Alabama and Utah are about to join the 21 states that have already dropped their statewide mask mandates. Yet, health officials are continuing to sound the warning that a surge of infections could come from highly transmissible COVID variants. A New York Times analysis found overall, the country has seen a 14% rise in new cases over the past two weeks. NBC News Correspondent Miguel Almaguer has an update on the fight against the pandemic.


MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: As the nation adds another 74,000 new COVID cases in a single day, tonight the numbers are among the most concerning for the young. New infections among 10- to 19-year-olds are climbing. In Minnesota, they account for one in every six new cases. Dr. Vin Gupta is seeing younger patients with serious lung problems.


ALMAGUER: No one and no region is immune for 16 straight days, Michigan has seen over a 100% spike in new infection rates.

MATTHEW SIMS, BEAUMONT HEALTH INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: With numbers are just going up and up, and up. And every day, when I look at our COVID numbers they`re higher than the day before.

ALMAGUER: With 25% of adults vaccinated, there are more reports of breakthrough cases, 102 fully vaccinated people in Washington later caught the virus. It comes after 141 cases in South Carolina and 374 in Minnesota. Experts say the infections are rare and a reminder, the vaccines a strong layer of protection, but not a silver bullet.

Nurse practitioner Diane Schmidt contracted COVID four months after she was vaccinated.

DIANE SCHMIDT, NURSE PRACTITIONER: My case is definitely an outlier. I would still highly recommend the vaccine.

ALMAGUER: But in North Carolina and Colorado, closures at mass vaccination sites, hundreds had appointments cancelled after a small number of adverse reactions. Tonight, both centers set to soon reopen, progress but not without setbacks.

There is also new worry that true number of new infections is much higher than being reported. One reason, many testing sites have turned into vaccination centers.


VELSHI: NBC`s Miguel Almaguer reporting for us tonight. The "11th Hour" continues after this short break.


VELSHI: Last thing before we go tonight is a quick programming note. You can watch the 11th Hour anytime you please, by downloading the MSNBC app on your phone. If you`re on the move, you can listen to live each night on Sirius XM Satellite Radio Channel 118. The show is also available as a podcast, so there`s no reason why you would ever have to miss a single night of the 11th Hour.

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