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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 5/20/21

Guests: Matthew Dowd, Jason Johnson


Ceasefire begins between Israel and Hamas. The truce came into effect on Friday morning in the Middle East, after days of fighting that claimed hundreds of lives. The attorney general`s investigation into Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg`s personal finances stems in part from documents shared by his former daughter-in-law Jennifer Weisselberg. President Joe Biden signs anti-Asian hate crimes bill into law. Biden had hoped to sign George Floyd Policing Act by the one year anniversary of Floyd`s death. CDC mask guidance causes some confusion. The CEOs of Moderna and Pfizer said a third shot could be necessary as soon as September.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Pharmacist Ashley Eccles (ph) gets tonight`s last word, and that word is thank you. Thank you to all of the vaccinators all around the world who are saving lives every day. Please go to and make your appointment to get vaccinated. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again, day 121 of the Biden administration which has just gone through its first major foreign policy test just four hours ago and unconditional ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect the sound of silence the end of the explosions was broken only by the sound of celebrations in Gaza.

Sure beats the alternative. The truce comes after some 11 days of rocket attacks airstrikes, some brutal fighting on the ground. The fighting claimed hundreds of lives and all and rendered much of Gaza which was already suffering through a humanitarian crisis unlivable. Other nations in the region were increasingly alarmed about the conflict destabilizing their neighborhood. Biden has been ratcheting up the pressure on Israel to end the hostilities. Tonight, he noted that he has spoken to Netanyahu six times during the crisis, said he promised to replenish Israel`s Iron Dome air defense system, while also providing more military aid in the future.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States fully supports Israel`s right to defend itself against indiscriminate rocket attacks from Hamas. We remain committed to working with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people of Gaza.

We will do this in full partnership with the Palestinian Authority -- not Hamas. I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely. My administration will continue our quiet and relentless diplomacy toward that end.


WILLIAMS: Biden added he had also spoken to Palestinian leaders and he thanked Egypt`s president, the man Donald Trump once called his favorite dictator for his efforts to bring about the ceasefire. Israel thanked him tonight as well. The White House says Secretary of State Blinken will travel to the Middle East and coming days to meet with Israelis and Palestinians. Just ahead we`ll go live to Israel for the latest there.

Meanwhile, on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the House narrowly passed and nearly $2 billion bill to boost security around the Capitol Building in the wake of the 1/6 insurrection. This proposal was largely based on findings from that panel that was led early on by a retired U.S. Army General Russel Honore. This comes one day after the House voted in favor of an independent commission to investigate the riot. Something the Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and many in his party opposed. He was on the phone with the former president during the riot. Today he was asked about his willingness to appear under oath before such a commission.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to testify about your conversation with Donald Trump on January 6 if you were asked by an outside commission?



MCCARTHY: Next question.


WILLIAMS: Despite McCarthy`s best efforts 35 House Republicans risked a lot to join with the Democrats to approve a commission. Trump has now weighed in with a none too subtle threat issuing a statement that reads in part "35 wayward Republicans -- they just can`t help themselves. Sometimes there are consequences to being ineffective and weak. The voters understand."

The former president now facing a big legal threat as New York State`s Attorney General and the Manhattan DA investigate the taxes of Trump Organization longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg, while also running a parallel criminal investigation into the company itself. Weisselberg`s former daughter-in-law has confirmed she`s been cooperating with the New York Attorney General all along and tonight she gave Trump a new reason to be worried.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will Allen Weisselberg flip on Trump?



WILLIAMS: One very important development to note tonight the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is now the law of the land, it bolsters the prosecution have anyone involved in an anti-Asian hate crime. They have escalated, of course, during the pandemic.

President signed the law today during the first nearly maskless ceremony in the East Room since he took office.


BIDEN: He can be given no safe harbor in America. Every time we`re silent, every time we let hate flourish, you make a lie of who we are as a nation.

KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have seen how hate can impede our progress. This bill brings us one step closer to stopping hate, not only for Asian Americans, but for all Americans.


WILLIAMS: Before we get to our leadoff discussion, and without delay, let`s check in overseas NBC News Foreign Correspondent Kelly Cobiella is live in Tel Aviv as a new day dawns in that region. And Kelly after all the fighting and all the loss of life, does it remain silent? Does it remain peaceful? And importantly, do people there think this will last?

KELLY COBIELLA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It is quiet this morning, Brian. It`s six o`clock in the morning here. The sun`s up. People are out and about a very few people out and about this morning at the seaside. I think the feeling here is that there was hope that this ceasefire would go into effect. There was hope for some calm. This is a place where things were getting back to normal after the huge success with vaccinations, dealing with the coronavirus, and then this outbreak of fighting between Israel and Gaza 11 days ago.

So there is a sense here that there`s a hope, I guess here that this will hold in Gaza, as you mentioned, huge celebrations overnight 1000s in the streets celebrating a quiet night finally there after just a devastating bombardment from the Israelis, damage to infrastructure, people killed, children killed. We`ve all seen those images. But as to the question as to whether or not this will hold, well, that`s a big, big question mark. I think a lot of people are in doubt. A lot of damage has been done not just to -- not just physical damage, but damage between relations of Jews and Arabs, Jews and Palestinians in Israel. So we`re not just talking about physical damage and conventional warfare, we`re talking about just the inter communal relations between neighbors, people who live side by side.

And another important note, Brian, one member of Hamas, leader of Hamas said that their hand is still on the trigger and that they -- this is not a conditional truce to them. They say that they`ll be watching, and they want the al-Aqsa Mosque protected, and they said those evictions from East Jerusalem. That is a red line for them if those go forward, they`re threatening to start this all over again. And it`s worth noting back in 2014, there was a ceasefire and there were multiple outbreaks of fighting after that ceasefire. So a delicate balance to be sure.

WILLIAMS: 6:07 a.m. in Tel Aviv and our thanks indeed to Correspondent Kelly Cobiella for giving us the live situation from there. Kelly, thank you so much.

And with that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Thursday night. Andrea Mitchell, our NBC News Senior Washington Correspondent, Longtime Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent, and of course, the host of Andrea Mitchell Reports, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for The Associated Press, And Sam Stein, Veteran Journalist who is now White House Editor over at Politico.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. And, Andrea, I`m so glad we identified the one hour of your day when you weren`t working, and you were able to join us tonight. I know you join us tonight with new reporting on how this all went down over these past few days.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, key Brian to it according to a person familiar with the diplomacy behind the scenes, key was a recognition, immediately by the White House, of course led by the President with all of his experiences. Former Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and Vice President, critical issue vice president in those eight years that they believed Israel was intent on invading Gaza. And if that were to happen, it would be a repeat of what happened in 2014, as Kelly just observed. It would be a long-protracted engagement and really long conflict. They wanted to avoid that at all costs. They knew once the rockets came in from Hamas that Israel would retaliate and were poised for a ground invasion. They felt very strongly that it had to be done behind the scenes that if they`ve put Bibi Netanyahu on the spot, that it would backfire. It would not only hurt their long-term relationship diplomatic relations with Israel, but it would be counterproductive.

So, they did it very, very quietly. They endured a lot of criticism. I reported a lot of it because it was coming from their allies on the hill. Israel was very aware that they were losing moderate Democrats, allies who had been long supporters of Israel, with calls for immediate ceasefire, but they deliberately took the heat, didn`t call for immediate ceasefire, and ratcheted it up as gradually, they found that Egypt was the key ingredient.

Egypt was the only one that could really influence Hamas. And they had to find out whether Egypt could actually influence Hamas. And they realized that once they Egypt promised that they could stop the long-range rockets from reaching Tel Aviv, which was such a red line for the Israelis. And once they got those long-range rockets to stop about four days ago, they figured that this might work. That`s when they ratcheted up the pressure. And of course, yesterday was a key call. There were six calls in all with Netanyahu. And that call yesterday, where it seemed as though Netanyahu was rebuffing the President`s call for substantial evidence that they were planning for a ceasefire. That he wanted to see substantial de-escalation, the words that were quoted back to us. And immediately Netanyahu went public and said that they were going to finish the job militarily. And that appeared to be an extraordinary rebuff of the President. But in fact, it was reaching those last-minute agreements, Egypt and Hamas, Netanyahu, figuring out, and finally it came together today. And within those last couple of hours, it was well touch and go until they knew it. And they also, of course, were taking a lot of heat from the U.N., with a surprise move by the French at the last minute with a resolution that they thought could have been really counterproductive.

So there was a lot in play. And they`re a bit defensive, according to the person from whom I spoke with, but they believe that the outcome is exactly what they needed. Now, if we`re Secretary Blinken going, and the real hard work to try to make sure this doesn`t happen immediately again, because Netanyahu now has a 70% of support and 80% where`s some Israelis were telling me today, but 70%, at least polling support, not to end the ceasefire. And so they have to prove to the Israelis this won`t happen again. And they have to prove to the people of Gaza, that this destruction, the terrible tragedy, the humanitarian disaster there can be remediated with U.S. help and regional help, and that`s what Blinken`s job is.

WILLIAMS: So Jonathan, and Sam, let`s beat around. There`s a lot there in Andrea`s reporting. And Jonathan, starting with you and your beat, Biden, White House was trying to tell reporters, look, we`ve got this and most competent West Wings, there`s always a lot more going on than what we can see publicly, they were putting out the signals that it was intense, very quiet diplomacy. What`s the chance, Jonathan, that that was the ticket that that worked for Joe Biden this time around?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, first of all, Brian, this is how Joe Biden is operating with Israel throughout his career from his chairmanship, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to being Vice President, and now president were publicly very supportive and privately willing to be sharper with Israel, willing to be more blunt with his assessment of the situation, and the country`s behavior. And that`s what we`ve seen here. The Biden, look, he made clear time and again, that Israel had a right to defend itself, he made sure that Israel had plenty of running room, that had plenty of ability to indeed defend itself, to the rockets coming in to Israel to be able to fire rockets back. You know, that it was a hope for a ceasefire, rather than demand for a ceasefire. And the phrase to echo Andrea`s terrific reporting was indeed quiet diplomacy that as much as the -- this West Wing was perhaps in the eyes of someone`s international allies, in the eyes of some moderate Democrats not doing enough publicly behind the scenes, they were working Israel and working Israel hard, involving the Egyptians to talk to Hamas, and lobbying from the presidential level, Biden himself to a bunch of key staffers talking to their counterparts in Israel saying that this time, this ceasefire would need to happen and happen soon. And the pivotal point happened within the last 72 hours or so. The rhetoric changed became sharper saying, look, you`ve had a week now to blast Hamas. It is time to stop losing support in the national community. You`re risking losing support here. Biden told Netanyahu in essence, I can`t cover for you anymore. And then in the phone calls in the last 24 hours, basically said OK, now is the time. And that`s where we are. Obviously this is a very fragile ceasefire. It`s a tentative one. There`s work to be done to make sure hold but if it does, Joe Biden, President Biden, who at this point performed policy sort of on a back burner as he deals with matters at home, maybe scoring to triumph.

WILLIAMS: Sam, while you`re remain a young man, you`re old enough to have noted the change. This time this time around if you look at the cycles of Mid-East violence, it was different. And I`m talking really about public reaction. And for starters, in this country, new generation has come up. The tilt of the world is a little bit different way more pro-Palestinian elected Democrats than there used to be, way less reflexive loyal support for Israel, then there used to be, way more emphasis on things like human and civil rights. That has been a big wake up call this time around.

SAM STEIN, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE EDITOR: Yeah, and I think it played a critical role in the past week. And by that I mean, Joe Biden was not only negotiating with Bibi Netanyahu and the Egyptians, but also with leaders in his own party, who are not only encouraging him to take a much more tougher stand on the Israeli but also to reconsider the military sales of the United States providing to Israel.

I think, when you consider that context, you know, ironically, I suppose it provided Biden with a bit of diplomatic leverage, to bring to Bibi to say, look, you know, I`m holding one, I`m holding my own party at bay here, they want to tear you up, they want to invade. Perhaps you should consider the future of your standing in American politics. Your aid could be at risk. Those are the types of things that can get the Israelis attention. We`re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars here, and military aid. So you know, Biden is a relic of sorts, an old school Democrat who unequivocally is supportive of Israel.

You see in polling day that Democrats are not as aligned with Israel as Biden is, a lot of domestic support for reconsidering U.S. relations with Israel. For as you noted, Brian, considering the situation in Gaza, humanitarian disaster and even apartheid. And so, you know, if you`re Bibi, and you look at the situation domestically, you have to wonder how much time do I have with supportive democratic president left and is dealing with Biden right now, the smart thing to do before the situation digresses, I suppose, domestically in the U.S.

WILLIAMS: So let me slip into you one domestic political question, especially for the week we`ve just witnessed. Let`s talk about how symbiotic the Republican Party`s relationship with Donald Trump has been given that they have signed over ownership of their party to this one guy for their -- for all their fear and fealty, what are they get back? What are they get out of it?

STEIN: They get money. That`s what they get out of it. We did a piece today at Politico, my colleague, Ron and I, just looking at what happened with the RNC and its fundraising apparatuses in the aftermath of January six, for about six days the RNC did not send a single fundraising email. And then on January 12 it started up again. From then until now they`ve sent 96 that mentioned the word Trump. That`s not a coincidence. Trump is a fundraising juggernaut for them. He`s a grassroots motivator. If they were to somehow get rid of him, they would not raise the money that they need to sustain for a political party. He is a cash cow. And so that`s a huge storyline here for the Republican Party. It`s not just that he`s threatening them with retribution or primary contest. It`s that they are depended on him to bring people into the fold in with people, small dollar donors that they bring.

WILLIAMS: Always goes back to the money beyond the potential mean faxes that may come out of Florida. A lot to ask our initial three guests tonight and they delivered Andrea Mitchell, Jonathan Lemire, Sam Stein, thank you all for helping our broadcast along this evening.

Coming up for us, Pelosi`s urgent warning as Republicans turn their back on the idea of a 1/6 commission. And later, the vaccine divide across our country and why it has some health experts concerned, why some governors are giving away free money. I`ll ask one of our top doctors if it means we`re not out of the woods yet. All of it as the 11th Hour is just getting underway on this Thursday night.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA HOUSE SPEAKER: All I say is, to my Republican friends and I do have them, take back your party. This is the Grand Old Party. The party has done so much for our country. It is interesting to see 35 members coming forth. I`m very proud of them. And it was a recognition that this was a bipartisan product negotiated in good faith.


WILLIAMS: Even though 35 House Republicans did crossover and support the idea of a commission its future in the Senate does not look great. With McConnell now publicly opposing the bill earlier today, Montana Democrat Jon Tester was asked if compromise is still an option.


SEN. JON TESTER, (D) MONTANA: I don`t know how you compromise on a nonpartisan commission that determine what happened on the insurrection on January 6, it seems like a no brainer to me that would pass the Senate 100 and nothing. I don`t get it. To be truthful with you, I think it`s very, very important. We get to the bottom of this I think if anything this commission builds 90 days too late.


WILLIAMS: Back with us again tonight Jason Johnson, Campaign Veteran Journalist Contributor over at the Grio, professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University and Matthew Dowd, Founder of Country Over Party in the past he was Chief Strategist for the Bush-Cheney presidential effort in oh four gentlemen.

Good evening to you both and welcome. And Matthew, because of the politics of this, you get to go first. I want to talk about the Senate Republicans and Rob Portman is about as good a test case as any he`s kind of been a penyata around here for the last year or so. Here`s a guy from Ohio, by any definition pre-Trump was a classic standard Republican sold out with the whole lot of them. He`s going to go home, there will be a Portman center for something he`s going to hope that people in introductions for the rest of his life call him the distinguished U.S. senator from Ohio. But when he asked him about a commission, no, I don`t think so. I think we`re good. What is the problem here? Do they not want the truth to come out? And why a guy like Portman on his way out the door, throwing his body in front of this?

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST TO BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Well, Brian, I think you described Rob Portman well, I remember sitting. I did debate prep with Rob Portman into Jackson Hole Wyoming when Dick Cheney had his debates and I did it with him and he was your as your right a principled conservative that was sort of the country club mainstream conservative.

I think what Rob Portman is, is a full recognition of what the Republican Party has become. And if you think about what happened in 2016, I think Donald Trump recognized what the Republican Party had become long before all of the other Republican politicians, which is why I thought early on he would be the Republican nominee, because he knew the Republican Party and who they were and what drove them and what motivated them more than any of the other candidates. And that`s why you`ll see now the candidates that ran in 2016, and people like Rob Portman, have become more of what Donald Trump is. You see it from Chris Christie. You see it from Marco Rubio. You see it from Nikki Haley, you see it from Rob Portman. And so I think it is not because Donald Trump caused the party to change, it was Donald Trump was a result of what the Republican Party`s become. Keep in mind, it is now a wholesale cultural grievance, large segment of white supremacist party. That`s what the party is. Yes, they don`t want the truth to come out. Because I don`t think they think that I think they think Republicans will be held accountable in the midst of this, but it`s much more than that. It is a full reflection of who the Republican base is. The Republican base believes this election was stolen, and I think they justify what happened on January 6.

WILLIAMS: And this current Republican Party, Matthew, before I get over to the very patient, Jason Johnson, made it what it is, the base is the monster they allowed to happen. Now they`re all kind of bound to cater to it?

DOWD: Sure. Yes, it`s like Frankenstein and the monster chasing them into the North Pole. And they`re running as fast as they can. But they know this is what the party is the party is driven the biggest influence of the Republican Party day is no elected official. It is Fox News and own and Breitbart and Newsmax those are the biggest influentials of the Republican Party today. There is not a single, or I shouldn`t say that, there is very few servant leaders anymore in the Republican Party. They are there is very few servant leaders and the idea that we are giving courage to the 35 who voted for a bipartisan commission, our standard for courage has been quite lessened over the years that that is a courageous act to vote for a bipartisan commission related to an insurrection at the Capitol.

WILLIAMS: Yeah, right there with you. OK, Jason, that nicely sets up what I brought for you tonight. This is an excerpt from Perry Bacon Jr. Op-Ed page, Washington Post today by far the biggest problem is the Republican Party presented with a clear chance to move on from Trumpism. After the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the GOP has instead continued its drift toward anti-Democratic action and white grievance. The future looks scary. Jason, I guess the question for you is how scary does the President look for you right about now?

JASON JOHNSON, PROFESSOR MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY: It`s pretty terrifying, Brian, because basically, you have a party that is $1 store front, for an insurrection, for coup, and you have a lot of Republicans. I don`t think but -- I don`t think Donald Trump recognize what Republicans were, they`ve always been this way. They`ve been doing it for 20, 25 years. It`s just that no one thought you could win this way in a democracy. And now that they see you can this is the behavior run get it. And here`s -- it the ultimate hypocrisy of this, honestly, Brian, is that you have Republicans who are saying, and especially in the Senate, we don`t need a January 6 Commission, we need to move passes. But at the same time, they`re voting for increased security at the Capitol, how you balance those things out, right? Like apparently, apparently, you don`t feel entirely safe at the job, but you`re not willing to investigate where this has come from. I find this to be dangerous because every single person, and I still believe because we have certainly circumstantial evidence at this time and is worth investigating as to whether or not members of Congress were actually participants or assistant or aided and abetted this insurrection, we still have not found out if any of them or their staff are engaged in his behavior. The people who were behind the January six insurrection will simply try again. And next time, they may not be able to hang Mike Pence, but they could get their hands on Nancy Pelosi, they could get their hands on Cory Booker. And that`s why this is so dangerous. I do not think the Democratic Party is taking this seriously enough because we know the Republicans are halfway complicit.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, please don`t move. We`re going to sneak in a break. Our conversation continues on the other side with this, the President was hoping to sign a police reform measure by the anniversary of George Floyd`s death. That`s five days from now. Turns out Congress had other plans.



BIDEN: Every time we`re silent. Every time we let hate flourish. We make a lot of who we are as a nation. I mean it literally. We cannot let the very foundation of this country continue to be eaten away, like it has been and other moments in our history and happening again.


WILLIAMS: Problem is so many on Capitol Hill don`t share the passion. You just heard the President today signed into law the bipartisan anti-Asian hate crimes bill. He was hoping to do the same with another important piece of legislation next week the George Floyd Policing Act.

But tonight that seems unlikely. The Washington Post putting it this way of policing deal remains out of reach on Capitol Hill as the anniversary of George Floyd`s death approaches. As the report points out, although talks continue productively, no deal is in immediate sight in the House is leaving Washington on Friday for a three week break.

Still here with us, Matthew Dowd and Jason Johnson. So, Jason, it wasn`t, well from a civilian standpoint, you and I are not in Congress thankfully, didn`t seem like a whole lot to ask to hit this anniversary coming up of May 25 a year since and all that that entails, we`re not going to get that. What`s more disappointing knowing that we`re going to miss the date or knowing that what we get will be watered down.

JOHNSON: It`s infinitely more disappointing that what we get is probably going to be watered down, Brian. And I want to talk about this with the sort of the Asian hate bill and the George Floyd Policing Act, because I think they`re both important.

Whenever I look at this legislation, and again, with the caveat that I`ve always been in favor of abolishing modern policing and rebuilding it from the start. But with that caveat aside, I always look at this legislation in terms of would this law hadn`t been in place last year have prevented any of this violence. I think the Asian hate bill, look, it`s symbolic. It`s important, it shows that the administration cares, but it wouldn`t have prevented any of these random acts of violence that we`ve seen. It basically just directs government agencies to pay attention to these things. And shouldn`t government agencies already be paying attention to hate crimes and violence and assault.

The George Ford Policing Act that`s being worked on right now, if you had created. The only possibility that could have prevented former Officer Derek Chauvin from doing what he was doing is if there was a national public database about police violence, and perhaps there might have been community pressure about Chauvin before he ended up killing George Floyd. But even that`s not guaranteed to be in this new bill.

So I find the whole process disappointing. This is about preventing the next crime of violence, the next terrorist acts by police against unarmed minorities in this country. And I don`t think any of these bills prevents what we`re really concerned about.

WILLIAMS: Matthew, Jason raises a great issue about the incongruity of these two pieces of legislation back to the first one, a truly bipartisan act. Every Republican senator voted for the anti-Asian hate crimes piece of legislation. Save one guy, wait for it, Josh Hawley from Missouri.

Matthew, what`s -- what does he think his brand is going to be now? And has he lost all remaining credibility in that chamber? He have the clenched fist on 1/6?

DOWD: Well, I don`t think he cares. I think that having credibility in the United States Senate and doing something that`s rational doesn`t appeal to the Republican base. I mean, look what Ted Cruz has been behaved like, over the -- I mean, there was I worked with Ted Cruz, I`m just giving an example of the type of people that come to this.

It there used to be an expression was why do people take such an instant dislike of Ted Cruz? And their answer is because it saves time. And the same is true of Josh Hawley. They don`t care. And I don`t think the voters that Josh had just how he wants to run for president of the United States, Josh Hawley is doing all this to position himself to run for president. This is who the Republican voters want.

And I think Jason`s right, all of these things are connected. And I think part of the problem in America today is America is not what it was 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, 100 years ago. And what`s happening now is the Republican Party has become the party of stop America`s diversity, right, stop the empowerment of groups in the country that are now a significant part of the country.

I`ll give you an interesting fact.

White heterosexual male Christians represent just over 25 percent of the country, white heterosexual male Christians. White heterosexual male Christians represent 80 percent of all the power levers in the country, politics, the economy, all of the power letters. And what we`re seeing is because it`s dropped from 90 to 80, there`s this huge pushback from people like Josh Hawley, that`s is why they`re, I think why they`re opposed to the policing acts. All of this stuff is race -- has race at its core. And it`s not like people are saying, No, no, no, you only need to be 30 percent of the power. It`s like we don`t even want -- they don`t even want to drop to 75 percent of the power in the country.

And to me, it`s all at the basis of that is there is a group of people in the country that don`t like the fact that country has changed and they want to do everything possible to keep it from changing anymore pushing back on it. And Josh Hawley is a leader of that.

WILLIAMS: We may not like the answers, but we are deeply indebted to these two guests for telling it like it is for us tonight and every time they come on. Jason Johnson, Matthew Dowd, gentlemen, truly, thank you for tonight.

Coming up for us. The Coronavirus numbers let`s not forget keep getting better. Problem is the confusion over masks lingers on with a big assist from the feds. Dr. Vin Gupta standing by to take our questions after this.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We`re not uniformly vaccinated. And there are some people who are not vaccinated. So the situation is there may be confusion about just throwing masks away. But if you`re not vaccinated, you`re still at risk of acquiring and transmitting infection.


WILLIAMS: So we have this kind of national honor system. Now mass guidance between states is still something of a crazy patchwork as health leaders like Dr. Fauci tried to make sense of this new CDC mass guidance reports of new COVID cases, though, continue to trend down seven day average is now around 30,000.

Cover of The New Yorker now illustrates hope toward ending this crisis as states begin to just peek through that open door at what life might be like at the other end of this, but some experts warn about celebrating too early.


DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We`re still averaging 30,000 new cases a day. When we were at that level -- when we hit that level in July last year, that was headline news. We`re so profoundly underachieving in the south and, you know, no one`s really getting vaccinated and then to lift the mat and insist on lifting the mask I think is -- could introduce a lot of risk into the system.


WILLIAMS: We are so happy to have back with us tonight Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist in Seattle. He`s also on the faculty at the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. So Doctor, we`re coming off an administration that was decidedly in denial and anti-science into an administration that is pro science but could maybe use an injection of sociology. Mask policy is a mess with states companies and transportation making their own rules as they need to.

What would you do to straighten out where we are right now?

DR. VIN GUPTA, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Always good to see you, Brian. Good evening. If you`re an employer, if you`re a school or district, if you`re a restaurant organization, if you`re an airline industry, you should certify who is and who is not vaccinated. Bottom line.

And Brian, you know, I had a chance to join leaders from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health today. And they`re working with their colleagues across the government to issue guidance by the end of the week. And it seems likely that they`re going to endorse as employers across society are OK, and are encouraged to actually certify who is and is not vaccinated.

And here`s the reason why, because I`m sure there`s some skeptical viewers out there.

COVID thrives in cold dry air. And so Brian, we`re entering an area -- a time of respite, the summer. COVID, like influenza, like other respiratory viruses, they don`t like humid hot air. So we`re going to have a rest, but we`re going to have to decline cases, decline client hospitalizations.

Come the fall, though, Brian, we`re going to see a different reality. We`re going to see a map of the United States where some places are fine. Some places are not fine, places in the heartland, places where we have not seen that increase vaccine uptake to the levels we like it to be.

And so what does that mean? That means that we`re going to see surgeons that are. And so it`s important to know, to anticipate the point for employers and school districts to know, wow, I might actually have a situation here that`s dangerous come the fall and the winter. So it`s actually -- it`s patriotic, it`s important to save lives that we certify who is and is not vaccinated, so we can plan ahead.

WILLIAMS: I`ve been surprised doctor at how many people have been surprised to hear we`re all probably looking at a booster shot. It certainly comes up as we think of the childhood vaccines and the subsequent boosters, we had to get lining up in school, in some cases, as little kids. What`s your guess as to if and when?

GUPTA: You know, I`ve seen some of the headlines today, the Moderna and Pfizer CEOs have said that we`re going to get a potentially a booster as early as September. And they didn`t provide any data. And myself and colleagues and public health looked at that and said, what -- why are they putting that out there.

And I say that, Brian, because this is just fodder for the anti-vaxxers. For the few people out there that are putting bad misinformation out in the ether. There is no evidence right now at six months, that you might need a boost throughout the year, or frankly, in a year and a half after you get the shot. We know that it`s six months after you get the vaccine in the case of Pfizer that your antibody levels are through the roof, and that you`re protected against all the variants that exists to this day.

So to say that at nine months or 12 months as the Pfizer and the Moderna CEOs put out today that you might need a booster is devoid of evidence. So I would encourage them publish the evidence, if that is indeed the case that the evidence is suggesting that that is the case, provided so that our government can actually plan ahead. Right now they`re just putting it out there into the ether. And right now the evidence that exists, Brian, just may not need a booster. So we need hard evidence before we start to speculate.

WILLIAMS: That`s why I asked you raised a great point there that people hadn`t heard and hadn`t stopped to think of. Next time you`re on we`re going to talk about the Olympic Games 64 days away, huge question marks about that event, health and safety. But for now, for tonight, our guest has been our friend, Dr. Vin Gupta, thank you for taking our questions as always.

And coming up for us. What you should know if you`re among the millions with travel plans this summer.


WILLIAMS: Coming off our last conversation, you can feel it happening and it`s just getting going. Airports that were ghost towns for over a year are now suddenly packed and the big travel season isn`t quite here yet as to what that might look like this summer. We get our report tonight from NBC News correspondent Tom Costello.


TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just a few weeks till the Great Escape of 2021 gets underway, mostly on the honor system. It`s highly unlikely you`ll have to show your vaccine card in the U.S., though, you will still need to wear a mask in airports, onboard planes and inside stores that require them.

Many hotels not all will let fully vaccinated people go maskless so well many theme parks including outdoors at Disney World Universal Orlando, Hershey, SeaWorld and Dollywood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If your whole family is fully vaccinated, now is the time that you can start to move back towards normal.

COSTELLO: While kids under 12 probably won`t be vaccinated experts say their risk is low.

(on camera): If you`re visiting the National Park, you can remove your mask if you`re fully vaccinated. Keep it on if you`re not vaccinated or you`re indoors.

(on camera): If you travel abroad, you probably will have to show your vaccination card or a negative COVID test result. You`ll need another negative test before flying home. Europe and the UK are opening slowly, Canada still closed.

But beware the State Department lists 80 percent of the world as level four do not travel from Fiji to France, Argentina to Austria.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would not go to the countries that are having major outbreaks. I wouldn`t travel to India to Nepal to Brazil.

COSTELLO: A busy vacation season but safer stateside. Tom Costello, NBC News, Great Falls Virginia.


WILLIAMS: And coming up for us the Russians endeavor every day to get more propaganda into our media. They are no doubt thrilled to get a big assist from Ted Cruz.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight, by all accounts, Ted Cruz did not like the nickname Cancun Cruz though, he tried joking about it, acting like it didn`t matter. He really won`t like being called Kremlin Cruz after his latest and remarkably stupid lapse in judgment.

Remember, as you watch this, just how much Ted Cruz dreams of being president of a country someday, perhaps not this country for reasons like this. He posted this quote, holy crap. Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea. Then he posted this video you`re about to see Russian propaganda a recruitment video for their military, followed by a video meant to diminish the U.S. military.


EMMA MALONELORD, U.S. ARMY CORPORAL: It begins in California with a little girl raised by two moms, and also marched for equality. I like to think I`ve been defending freedom from an early age to marry my other mom. With such powerful role models, I finished high school at the top of my class and after meeting with an army recruiter, I found it a way to prove my inner strength. I`m U.S. Army Corporal Emma Malonelord. And I answered my call.


WILLIAMS: So many things to say here starting with don`t we want committed and motivated members of our all volunteer armed forces. The Russians already reached deep into our society. Every day their disinformation is all over our media already. And it quietly tears us apart. Imagine how happy it makes them to have yet another advocate among Republican members of the Senate.

So many comments followed after Ted Cruz posted that countless reminders on social media that Cruz never served. But he did go to Princeton and Harvard Law School and briefly to Cancun and a number of people pointed out that real emasculation is Donald Trump saying your wife is ugly, Donald Trump saying your dad was involved in the JFK assassination, and then publicly genuflecting to Trump and devoting your political career to seeking his approval. The voters of Texas have a chance to rethink their decision in 2024.

As for us, that`s our broadcast on a Thursday night with our thanks for being here with us. On behalf of all our colleagues here at the networks of NBC News, good night.