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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 7/8/21

Guests: Melissa Murray, James Stavridis, Eugene Robinson, Matthew Dowd


Civil rights leaders warn against GOP-led voting limits. Civil rights leaders meet with Biden and Harris. Texas GOP continues push to pass new voter restrictions. Pfizer is to seek FDA approval for 3rd COVID vaccine dose.


LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: President Biden 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. Day 170 of the Biden administration. There`s new words and see tonight in the battle to protect voting rights. Efforts to stop Republican controlled states from restricting access to the ballot are now gaining momentum following the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld new election laws in Arizona and the success of Senate Republicans in blocking federal voting rights legislation.

Now leaders of national civil rights groups are stepping up pressure on the White House. Late today they met President Biden and Vice President Harris in a private session to lay out what they plan to do to safeguard the right to vote.


MARC MORIAL, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE PRESIDENT: Democracy is under a vigorous, vicious and sinister attack, beginning with the events of January 6 at the Capitol and cascading like a tsunami, through state legislatures across the nation.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT: We are going to build a movement around this country to resist that. What is clearly a move to try and disenfranchise people of color from voting. The methodical way this has been laid out in the state legislators and in their state legislation is geared toward robbing us of the vote. The movement from the ground up is starting to be the only way that we can preserve our right to vote. We informed them that this is going to come not from the White House down but from our houses up.


VELSHI: According to the Brennan Center for Justice since January 48 states have introduced at least 389 bills to restrict voting, 17 states have signed 28 new laws curbing access to the vote. Another 61 bills are moving through 18 other state legislatures. And today the Texas Legislature opened a special session to revive the Republican backed election bills that Democrats killed in May by staging a walkout in the last moments of the regular session.

The proposed Texas legislation includes banning 24 hour and drive thru voting new voter ID requirements for mail-in ballots and expanding the powers of partisan poll watchers.

Democrats in the Texas Legislature gathered in front of the statehouse today vowing to again push back.


STATE REP. NICOLLE COLLIER (D-TX): We are here because we will not be silent. Friends, we will not back down, we will not back out. And we will not back up. Because we`re defiance, we will defy the push to suppress our votes, because we believe in protecting the right to vote for all Texans.


VELSHI: Presidents also facing a new potential crisis in the battle against COVID. Today, the World Health Organization said global deaths from the virus have topped 4 million, with the Delta variant now detected in 100 countries. In this country, the CDC warns new cases are up by 11 percent over the past seven days, largely fueled by that variant now surging in areas with low vaccination rates.

Today we learned that Pfizer is working on an updated version of its vaccine to target the dangerous Delta variant. NBC News`s Miguel Almaguer is following that part of the story.


MIGUEL ALMAGUER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Pfizer says a booster shot, a third dose of its current vaccine could offer Americans five to 10 times more protection against COVID. Given six months after the second dose, Pfizer believes those inoculated would be highly protected against the Delta variant, which is now exploding across the U.S. The company expects to deliver new data to the FDA within weeks and is also working to develop a Delta specific version of its vaccine. It comes as new COVID cases and hospitalizations both climb at a dangerous pace. Some hospitals are now in the middle of their most dire days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The competition for beds is higher now than it was during the peak last year.

ALMAGUER: Though vaccines are effective against Delta the unvaccinated are fueling the spike with a third of adult Americans not yet inoculated. Researchers at Georgetown say these five under vaccinated clusters of the country could become a breeding ground for new variants putting the rest of the nation at risk.



VELSHI: Pfizer says it intends to request emergency use authorization for the booster sometime in August. Tonight, the CDC and the FDA issued a joint statement saying anyone who has been fully vaccinated will not need a booster right now. The agency said new data is now being reviewed to determine when a booster shot might be needed.

Meanwhile, CNBC reports scientists and health experts now fear that the rise in Delta cases could mean a return of mass mandates and other measures in the fall.

On the foreign policy front, the Biden White House is defending its decision to pull the U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.

Today, the President said the military mission will officially end on August 31. Right now that withdrawal is said to be 90 percent complete. In his first speech on Afghanistan since April, Biden explained his decision to bring us troops home.


BIDEN: We did not go to Afghanistan to nation bill. Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that just one more year fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely. I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan now inevitable?

BIDEN: The Afghan troops have 300,000 well-equipped, as well-equipped as any army in the world -- and an air force against something like 75,000 Taliban. It is not inevitable.


VELSHI: One more headline from tonight, the number of people killed in the Florida condo collapse has now reached 64. Nearly 24 hours after the rescue operation transitioned into a recovery mission. There are still 76 people unaccounted for, two weeks after the building came down.

With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Thursday night, Ashley Parker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for The Associated Press, and Professor Melissa Murray of NYU Law School, who was a law clerk for Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the federal bench prior to her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Welcome to all three of you. Thank you for joining us tonight.

Ashley, I want to start with you. And I want to start with something that Charlie Sykes wrote about in the in the Bulwark about the GOP and voting restrictions. He says I hope Democrats are not putting too much confidence in the Biden economy, the infrastructure bill will overcome the social issues as well as the attack on the elections because this is something that the GOP is completely behind. And the base is very motivated and very fired up to do which I can`t remember anything quite like this. He`s saying the GOP is fully, fully behind this voter suppression, voter restriction stuff, and the economy and infrastructure be damned for now.

ASHLEY PARKER, THE WASHINGTON POST, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: He`s not entirely or he`s not wrong, rather, first of all, speak more generally to his broader play a federal issues and you could put the voting restrictions into that are incredibly important in the Republican Party in your seat for former President Trump, him harping on things like critical race theory and thinking that those are winners for his party. They`re not talking about the economy. And then he is absolutely right on the outsized role that voting restrictions are playing in the Republican Party, because it is something that the base is deeply fired up about. You know, President former President Trump has perpetuated this false dangerous and baseless claim that the election was somehow stolen. That`s not true.

But about 30 percent of Republicans believe that a huge swath of his base believes that and then even Republicans who don`t believe that so called big lie, even Republicans who are getting pushed out of their local parties, because they dare to say that President Biden is the legitimate president, even they say, well, our voters don`t trust elections, and therefore we need more restrictions. But it`s the sort of circular logic because their voters don`t trust elections because former President Trump keeps on saying the election was stolen. And so in that manner, you have almost the entire Republican Party from sort of MAGA nation to even more moderate Republicans saying that, yes, these restrictions, these voter laws are something that we absolutely support and they think are good for them politically.

VELSHI: You know, and Melissa, there was a court document from a hearing for somebody who had been detained for their involvement in January six with the Justice Department, actually not only citing Donald Trump`s role, but the fact that right leaning media accentuates those claims. It reads as follows, former President Trump continues to make false claims about the election. Continue to insinuate that he may be reinstalled in the near future without another election and minimize the violent attacks on the capital television networks continue to carry and report on those claims. And to Ashley`s point, this is how the big lie becomes the big fact.


MELISSA MURRAY, NYU LAW PROFESSOR: That`s exactly right, Ali. And it`s not just that we`re seeing this in the media and certainly the right-wing media. We`ve also seen it credited at the Supreme Court just last week in the Brnovich decision that was a legal challenge to Arizona voting restrictions. The Supreme Court seemed to credit the idea that there was a true threat of voter fraud that needed to be addressed by the state, and that states could take steps through more restrictive laws to address claims of voter fraud.

So even at the highest echelons of the courts, we`re seeing that this big lie is in fact becoming embedded as a big fact. And that`s fueling more and more legislation more and more restrictive legislation that will make it harder for voters to go to the polls and vote.

VELSHI: Jonathan, let`s talk about voter rights and the civil rights group that met with the president today and the Vice President. They`re making it clear, you heard Reverend Al say that they are starting a movement from the ground up to stop the erosion of voting rights. What does -- what impact does that have, the fact that those civil rights leaders, most of whom are allied with the White House in the first place. What difference does it make that they went there, and they sat with the President and the Vice President and said, this has to stop and we need your help?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I wrote on this today, and there`s been immense frustration among certain quarters of Democrats and liberals and civil rights groups, about the lack of real leadership from the White House on this issue. They point to how committed President Biden was to COVID relief and now to this infrastructure bill in both tracks, that bipartisan agreement and the reconciliation pro-part of it, and yet there hasn`t been an outward real push on this, which many Democrats feel as a sort of the existential threat facing not just their party, but democracy itself.

Sure, we`ve heard from the President occasionally on the issue, but aides have kept pushing, there will be a big speech, they`ll be a big rollout on this that hasn`t happened yet. Now that we`re reporting tonight, this could happen as soon as next week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, the President giving a speech on the matter.

Today, he did meet with the civil rights groups. We also saw the Vice President talk about this. She`s leading administration`s response on issues of voting rights, and she announced today that the DNC will be giving $25 million towards the issue. But for many, it`s not quite enough. They want the president to really lean in on this. But White House aides feel somewhat frustrated as to what they can do. They can do the math and Senate as anybody else, they don`t really see a chance for sweeping federal election reform there. They don`t see any voting rights bills getting passed, without changing or eliminating the filibuster. And yet there are Democrats, Manchin and Sinema, senators among them who don`t want to do that.

So short of that their focus now aides are telling us is really going to be more on legal challenges on state by state, the Department of Justice will be involved. Also, of course, we will see them next year trying to really boost turnout and trying to just drive people to the polls, like they did, they point to 2020 and be able to have a high turnout during the pandemic. They think they can do that again. But of course, we all know that`s harder in the midterms. And there is real concern among Democrats inside and outside of the West Wing, that these restrictions put in place by Republicans will hurt Democrats significantly at the ballot box next year. It could cost them control of one if not both houses of Congress.

VELSHI: Professor Murray, short of there being new federal legislation and short of the necessary pushback like we`re seeing in Texas, against state legislation to curtail voting rights. The Justice Department, as you mentioned, did get involved to some degree in sort of expressing to the Republicans in Arizona that there are problems underway with the way they are conducting their recount and writing to Georgia and saying that they`re getting directly involved in that. What kind of teeth does the Justice Department have in helping out those who are fighting against the erosion in voting rights?

MURRAY: Well, it certainly sends a strong message that the Biden administration is behind these efforts to try and make sure that they will be conduits for democracy are available to all voters going forward. But again, I want to emphasize the court`s decision last week in those Arizona voting challenges will make it much more difficult for challenges to be brought under section two of the Voting Rights Act. That`s the last real provision of the Voting Rights Act. That remains to challenge restrictive voter laws and you`ll recall it in 2013 in Shelby County versus Holder, the court gutted the pre-clearance requirements that required states to first vet any changes to their voting laws with the Department of Justice or a federal court. The court at that time said that section two would remain but again last week, the court has tightened up the rules for challenges under section two of the Voting Rights Act, and made it much harder for suits to proceed under that avenue of the Voting Rights Act, including the DOJ suit against Georgia.


VELSHI: Ashley, I want to ask you about COVID and the new Delta variant, the Biden White House has had good marks. They made this their priority on day one, they set targets most of which were met except for getting American 70 percent of adult Americans one shot at least have the vaccine by July 4, they got close with that. This Delta variant is possibly throwing things off, given the seriousness with which this White House has treated this matter since day one, what are they doing now? What are they thinking about this becoming a much more serious matter now?

PARKER: Well, they`re still talking about and still doing the public relations pushes, voter education trying to work specifically in local communities. But it`s worth noting, we are at this totally different point that was, on the one hand unimaginable before anyone who wants a vaccine can get a vaccine. I mean, that would have been great news just a few months ago. And now what they are grappling with is that a lot of these people don`t want to get vaccines and they`re sort of digging into the research and trying to understand is it an issue of with young people where they perhaps just need a bit more education? Are there rumors they need to dispel, and they`re coming up against the reality that some people are just not going to get vaccinated for whatever reason, they`re uncomfortable with it. And it is, especially in those communities where the Delta variant can grow out of control and other variants can emerge. And to say they keep on stressing this, but there is a portion of the population that they recognize and have come to terms with are just not going to get vaccinated.

VELSHI: And Jonathan, let`s talk about Afghanistan for a moment, the President was pretty clear about his language about, he`s not sending troops back in another generation of Americans in with no reassurance of a different outcome. But he was asked very directly, is it inevitable that the Taliban will take over right now, he said the Afghans have 300,000 -- a fight fighting force of 300,000. They`ve got an air force against the Taliban, that`s about 75,000 sort of make it sound like the Taliban was a ragtag organization. They are, except they haven`t lost anything yet.

LEMIRE: No, that`s exactly right. I mean, though, the president downplayed the chances of the Taliban retaking all of Afghanistan, he also was pretty plain when assessing that there probably wouldn`t just be one government that rules the entire country suggesting it could be divided up into various territories and sort of suggesting the Taliban would own at least part of it. And I think all U.S. intelligence officials, and those around the globe have been surprised and dismayed at how quickly the Taliban has regained territory here in recent weeks and months, as the U.S. and NATO forces begin to withdraw from the region.

The President said that, look, the U.S. would not have responsibility for what happened after this, that we`ve been there long enough that it wasn`t our goal to nation state, and that the Afghani people and government and military needs to take care of themselves. But there are questions here that the U.S. -- is the U.S. pulling out too soon? Are they pulling out too much? The moment, we think that they`re only going to leave some troops there to protect an embassy, maybe an airfield or tool, but the presence will largely be gone as of August 31. That`s the date the President Biden line today.

But this is clear. He`s been consistent on this for a while both before coming into office, and certainly he has said that it was his predecessor, President Trump, who suggested this aggressive timetable. But Biden also made clear that he also felt it was time for American troops to leave the U.S., to end this so called forever war. And I think that it is a moment to the world we`re watching with some concern as to what fills that vacuum, what forces go in and what, you know, terrible things the Taliban may do. But this is a shift in foreign policy, and the President despite the pushback is sticking to his guns.

VELSHI: Thank you to the three of you for kicking us off tonight, Ashley Parker, Jonathan Lemire and Melissa Murray.

Coming up, what ending that two decade presence in Afghanistan means for U.S. security? We`ll ask the retired Admiral who once led the NATO mission there.

And later, the politically calculated outrage on the right over Biden administration`s latest effort to reassure people about vaccines. The 11th Hour is just getting underway on a Thursday night.




BIDEN: So let me ask those who want us to stay? How many more? How many 1000s more Americans daughters and sons? Are you willing to risk? Already we have members of our military whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago? Would you send their children, their grandchildren as well? Would you send your own son or daughter?


VELSHI: President Biden is holding film and now justifying his promise to get all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by the beginning of September despite a Taliban resurgence. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton offered this warning today.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: This military withdrawal and the withdrawal of all the other American agencies that are affected by it, I think risks very grave danger to American national security. Let me be clear as well, this is not a partisan point. Because if Donald Trump had been reelected, I think he would be doing exactly what Joe Biden was doing. It`s a mistake across the board and I bear very much fear we`re going to feel the consequences in the not too distant future.


VELSHI: Back with us again, Adm. James Stavridis, he is a 30 year veteran of the United States Navy, who retired with four stars on his shoulders. He`s the former head of the U.S. Southern Command and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. He`s also the co author of the recent book, 2034, a novel of the next world war.

Admiral, it`s a pleasure to see you again. John Bolton`s not wrong. There are Democrats and Republicans who oppose what Biden is doing in Afghanistan. There are Democrats and Republicans who support what Biden is doing in Afghanistan. But nobody disagrees with the idea that the Taliban, who has been undefeated for decades, is resurgent right now and may cause a problem in the governance of that country.

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS, U.S. NAVY (RET.): I`d agree with that. And the key word and what John Bolton said is risk. We don`t know, having commanded that mission for four years, by the way, when we had 150,000 troops there, we`re now well under 10,000 troops in the last four years.


Let me put it in a kind of a numbers perspective for you from my vantage point. I`d say there`s a one in three chance this lands reasonably well, that the Afghan security forces can go toe to toe with the Taliban, that it`ll force the Taliban to come in and conduct what has been envisioned for a long time and negotiated into this, because it`s hard to imagine a purely military end to this insurgency, one in three chance that comes out, OK. But I`d go with John Bolton on the risk here. I think there`s a two and three chance, Ali, that the wheels really come off. And what I mean by that is, the images of Vietnam, the end that helicopters lifting off the roofs of embassies, God, let`s hope not. But even more recently, when the soviets withdrew the Afghan security forces held on for a couple years until the wall fell, and the funding ran out. So the key is going forward. And this is what the President said, and I commend him for it. We`re going to fund the Afghan security forces, we`re going to be in an over the horizon posture. And we`re going to do all that we can to ensure that the wheels stay on the car. Let`s hope it does,

VELSHI: Until the president said, we`re not in the business of nation building. This is an ongoing debate. In the history of America, sometimes we have been in the business of nation building, and it`s worked. Sometimes we`ve been in the nation building a business and it hasn`t worked. But the bottom line is, arguably, where is Afghanistan today compared to when we went in?

STAVRIDIS: In terms of nation building, if you will, is vastly better. Women and girls have real rights, there are millions of Afghan children in schools medical capability, and access is a -- for many 10s of millions of people. Life expectancy has gone from the mid 40s, to the low 60s. It`s an extraordinary set of accomplishments.

We did it, Ali, by the way, not just for the altruistic reasons that it`s good to help other countries we did it because that`s counterinsurgency 101, is you build up a society, and therefore they`re less inclined to go with the insurgents. So at the end of the day, all those games could be washed away in that two and three scenario I outlined. Again, the key is going to be supporting the Afghan security forces going forward.

VELSHI: We have seen in places where there have been governance vacuums in the past, including in Afghanistan, but in Libya and Somalia and others, that those become havens for people who would -- who were up to no good. What danger is there of that? Are those days gone, where we have to worry about terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda taking up, you know, space in a place like Afghanistan, because we`re not there?

STAVRIDIS: Well, I wish that were the case, but it`s just not. And our intelligence agencies have focused on this. And are their problems in other parts of the world, east Africa, West Africa, other parts of the Middle East, absolutely. But ungoverned spaces as you say, nature abhors a vacuum, attends to fill it and in this case, it`s filled up before with malign actors. Let`s hope it doesn`t come to that. And you`re right, by the way, Ali, to point out our successes in foreign policy. We`ve done a pretty good job in Colombia, helping the Colombians rebuild that society. We`ve done a pretty good job in the Balkans. You can remember 20 years ago, the Balkans were on fire. We`ve had some missteps and some failures along the way, as well. The jury`s still out on Afghanistan. We need to lean in here and do what we can to avoid a really horrific outcome. We can still do that. I think.

VELSHI: Admiral good to see you, as always, thank you for joining us this evening. Admiral James Stavridis.

Coming up, one of our next guests says the nation`s very future depends entirely on who comes out to vote next year, more on the challenges to voting rights when the 11th Hour continues.




KAMALA HARRIS, (D) U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: This is about all voters. It`s about all voters. This is not about Democrats or Republicans. This is about Americans.

Our democracy is strongest when everyone participates and it is weaker -- it is weaker our democracy as a nation is weaker when people are left out.


VELSHI: Vice president back at Howard University today to announce a $25 million push by the Democratic National Committee to counter the rush of restrictive voting laws. Consider the state of Texas. Despite republican claims that election security is a priority, one Democrat calls the latest voting bill now back before lawmakers a solution in search of a problem.


REP. ANN JOHNSON, (D-TX): The only problem that we have is that the Republican governor is staying true to his allegiance to Trump. And playing into this big lie. Texas is merely the next Domino that is trying to fall for Republicans. There was no issue with the integrity of our election system. If Republicans are worried about the integrity of something they ought to look at the integrity of our electrical grid.


VELSHI: With us again tonight, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post and Matthew Dowd, the founder of Country Over Party. In the past, he was the chief strategist for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign in 2004. Gentlemen, good to see you both.

Matthew, I`m going to start with you. You are in Texas. You`re watching this. I want to just show our viewers some of the things that are in Texas, Bill 3, adding ID requirements for mail voting, banning drive thru early voting, banning overnight early voting, adding criminal penalties to certain election processes, and empowering partisan poll watchers.

That does bring to mind that some of these are interesting, but most of them bring to mind the idea of a solution in search of a problem. And boy in Texas, they`re looking for that problem, that problem of voter fraud, mass voter fraud, the government officials there are turning over every rock to find it. It`s not really there.



I think they found 16 instances of a registration with an address wrong on it. They spent $20 million, the Attorney General spent $20 million on 16 instances out of 11 million votes cast in 2020. So it`s not a problem.

And this fundamentally goes to the issue of the Republicans know the electorate is changing. And it`s changing in Texas, the demographics and how it works. And they know this is directly linked to it. They know that the policies they`ve been passing, whether it`s rollback -- rollback Roe vs. Wade, whether it`s permitless carry for guns, whether it`s all of the other things they`re doing which is highly unpopular in Texas, in among Texas voters, they know that they don`t want to be held to account by the voters. That`s what this is all about. They do not want to held to be account.

And for me that that list that brought up, Ali, that you read across, the first three are bad, putting impediments in place and making it harder to vote. The last two are what concerned me the most, which is basically gets to the point in time, where you want to figure out a way to overthrow the job of an election worker, and nullify an election. That`s what the last two are about.

VELSHI: Right. The first three discouraged people from voting, that`s bad, but they can be overcome. The last two are about this perpetuation of the big lie, or big lies coming forward.

Eugene, let`s talk about that. Because we just heard from vice president Harris, this is the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, committing $25 million to focus on TV and digital ads, campaigns to help people understand how to register to vote, and get information to people who are affected by these restrictive laws.

So it`s a different approach to the whole thing. It`s not fighting it in the courts, it`s informing people of their right to vote and the laws that are designed to prevent them from doing so enough useful. What do you think?

EUGENE ROBINSON, THE WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST: Useful, but not enough. I don`t think there can be just one approach, just getting out the boat. You know, making sure everybody knows how to register and how to comply with onerous and unnecessary new restrictions. That`s necessary, that has to be done. And that can be that can be really effective.

But these new laws have to be fought in court. The Justice Department needs to be paying attention. It can`t just be Marc Elias and others who are buying lawsuits in the public interest. But we still do have most or what`s left of voting right that. We have a civil rights division and the Justice Department and Justice Department ought to be fighting tooth and nail and Democrats ought to be finding some way, you know, in a hair on fire posture, to pass whatever Congress can pass, to nullify or mute over some of the some worst of these restrictions, especially the ones that as Matthew said, have to do with the ability of partisan local officials and state legislators to overthrow an election.

That is -- that`s the true danger to democracy, the biggest danger to democracy. And here it is, it`s happening before our eyes.

VELSHI: Matthew, in fact, there`s pressure even on those few Republicans who decided to push back both on Donald Trump and the big lie. New York Times reporting today that there are far right voters, challenging Republicans who voted to impeach Trump. This is a story about Congressman Peter Meijer.

Apparently, at a recent event, a woman informed Meijer that he would shortly be arrested for treason and hauled before a military tribunal, presumably to be shot. People are willing to kill and die over these alternative realities. He said.

I`ve been out there talking to people since before the election. And I was quite surprised the degree to which attitudes like this conspiracy theories and belief in the big lie and these voting issues are quite mainstream amongst some Republicans.

DOWD: Well, that`s think -- I think that`s one of the greatest dangers in our democracy. Is it just this idea that there`s no longer a common set of facts and democracy depends on the ability to get to the common good with a common set of facts, and we no longer have a common set of facts, or an idea that science should be relied on or data should be relied on

And it`s not just I -- people would blame Trump and Trump I think was a great exposure of a big part of the problem. But what I think these politicians and the GOP are really responding to is their voters. This is who their voters are. This is the reap -- this is the ecosystem of the Republican Party, which is no longer based in reality, which is no longer based in facts, which is no longer based on any kind of firm knowledge and then what you`re dealing with.


And the problem is, they`re not only believed it. They`re being fed it day in and day out at different cable networks, on different news sites. And to me, overcoming that problem is going to take a lengthy period of time. But it`s also what`s fundamental to our democracy, which concerns me that we may be already in the point in time where we are a broken democracy, because we have no ability to get to a common set of facts.

VELSHI: What an amazing conversation that we`re having in 2021 about this. Gentleman standby, we`re taking a quick break.

Coming up the politics of vaccinations are now proving to be a matter of life and death in some parts of the country. Is that fact going to change any minds?



BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS HOST: One of the big stories been with this last two years is COVID-19. The origin is the top story. But the focus of this administration on vaccination is mind boggling. Why not give people credit rather than try to berate them into doing something and claiming it`s playing politics.


VELSHI: This latest angry anti-vaccination spin from the right all began when the Biden administration started talking about enlisting community leaders to go door to door and reassure those who are still reluctant to get the shot.

Still with us Eugene Robinson and Matthew Dowd.

Eugene, Lauren Boebert, congresswoman from Colorado had this to say about this. Biden has deployed his needle Nazis to Mesa County. The people of my district are more than smart enough to make their own decisions about the experimental vaccine and don`t need coercion by federal agents. Did I wake up in Communist China?

Gene these claims get more and more outrageous by the day?

ROBINSON: Yes, every --

VELSHI: It`s crazy.

ROBINSON: Every word of that is a lie and every word of that is crazy. Every word of that is deliberate, however, and designed to this sort of crazy tribal attitude that has developed, that has been encouraged to develop against vaccination.


This most insane thing I`ve ever seen, right. You know, vaccination is a very, very good thing for you. It`s in your best interest to get vaccinated, then everybody the best interest for everybody to get vaccinated. Nobody`s forcing anyone to do it.

But if you think about it for five minutes, in any sort of rational way, you see that it`s a good idea. And it`s certainly not anything out of Nazi Germany. It`s just -- it`s amazing that we`re at this point, when we`re dealing with a matter of public health, matter of public health. Vaccinations are required for kids to go to school. I mean, this is not -- this is nothing -- it`s nothing new.

VELSHI: I don`t understand. I don`t understand Matthew, how -- I mean I understand how Trump lost this messaging, because the bottom line is he could have and in some circles still does take credit for the fact that we developed vaccines, the world develop vaccines in a much shorter time than most people expected. This could have been his legacy. But he`s poisoned people`s minds. And now, now they`ve run away with it. Trump`s just one of the lot now, because there are individuals in America who have decided that the attempt to convince them to get vaccinated is some sort of totalitarian, authoritarian action.

DOWD: Or what Trump`s like is, he could have been a lot of things of what it could have, should have, because there`s so many different things he could have done differently. I mean, you watch and listen to this, I really agree with Eugene. Crazy, but the problem is, she`s a Congresswoman and Donald Trump`s a former president. These are people that run Fox News and other networks, that aren`t the guy in the street corner or the gal in the street corner, screaming at people.

This is not only crazy. This is exceedingly dangerous, as we`re seeing as rates rise and states that haven`t gotten the vaccination rate up. And I don`t know when, at what point in time, we got to the fact that ignorance and lack of care for our fellow brothers and sisters in this country is celebrated. That`s actually what is being celebrated. Ignorance and a lack of compassion and caring for our fellow brothers and sisters in this country. That`s where we`re at with this. It`s not about liberty, it`s not about freedom. It`s not about any of that. It`s the idea that I can do whatever I want. And I don`t have to care about who`s in my community, or how it affects or what I believe may be completely off the wall. That`s what the difficulty is.

And that leads back to what I said at the end of the other segment, when we don`t have an ability in this country to actually believe in our universal way in science. It is a public health disaster that we`re facing. And it`s actually self-imposed by these red communities that refuse to believe in any science and refuse to care about their fellow citizens.

VELSHI: So this becomes problematic because I want to read you a Gene, something was written by Paul Waldman today, in the Washington Post, in which he says, there probably isn`t a GOP officeholder in the United States, who doesn`t keep tabs on Fox to see what their constituents are hearing. And now they know those constituents are being told over and over that vaccines are dangerous, if not deadly, and a dire threat to freedom. Worst of all, getting vaccinated means doing what Biden wants you to do.

So you do have these members of Congress, Lauren Boebert, you`re well ahead of most of them on this kind of nonsense, but who are sitting there saying I`m not getting in the way of this train. The vaccines as dangerous the Communist China, the remarkable references to Nazis, their members of Congress are not helping the situation.

ROBINSON: No, they`re not, but they`re not serving their constituents. If you`re new, and just a baseline, right, minimum, you want your constituents to live, you want your constituents to be healthy, what you want your community -- the communities you represent not to be, not to suffer yet another wave of COVID dieting infection.

And so the way to prevent that is to encourage, not force, not, you know, no storm troopers have brown shirts, or whatever they call it, but to encourage people to get vaccinated because it makes sense. It makes sense for them.

And there are lots of Republican elected officials know that. And if they don`t have the courage, and the integrity, to say that and the compassion, the caring for their own constituents to say that, then they serve to occupy the offices they hold, they really don`t. It`s just -- it`s more than a shame. It`s just an outrage.


VELSHI: I said at the end of the last segment, it is amazing that we`re having this discussion in 2020. But I do appreciate both of you taking time tonight to have it with me. Eugene Robinson and Matthew Dowd, thanks to both of you.

Coming up why the only cheers you hear when Summer Olympics are coming up around will be the ones in your living room. We`ll explain that when the 11th Hour continuous.


VELSHI: Well, this is not good timing. A spike in COVID-19 cases in Tokyo has prompted authorities there to declare a month long state of emergency with the opening ceremonies to the Summer Olympics. Now just two weeks away, officials are reversing last month decision to allow local spectators at most events. NBC News correspondent Tom Llamas has our report tonight from Tokyo.


TOM LLAMAS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the Olympics kick off in 15 days, these seats will be empty. No claps, no cheers. No fans at all. Tonight organizers pulling back on plans announced just two weeks ago to allow some local spectators.

The ban on fans coming just hours after Japan`s Prime Minister announced a new state of emergency in Tokyo which begins Monday and we`ll run through the entire Olympics.

(on camera): One of the reasons for the state of emergency officials want to find out the crowds at restaurants and bars like here in downtown Tokyo.

(voice-over): Officials are urging those businesses not to serve alcohol. They want people to watch at home. Even the illuminated Olympic rings are being shut off early.

The new restrictions come after an uptick in COVID cases in Tokyo due to the Delta variant. A transmission here is still relatively low compared to other hotspots. The vaccine rollout has lagged.

(on camera): What is Japan so afraid of?

KOICHI NAKANO, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, SOPHIA UNIVERSITY: The vast majority of the jobs needs remain unvaccinated and they`re afraid of the Olympics sort of, you know, kick starting another surge

LLAMAS (voice-over): 70,000 people from around the world are expected here for the Olympics, including IOC President Thomas Bach, who just arrived and is now in quarantine.

(on camera): Now, Ali, as for the athletes themselves, some have described this decision as heartbreaking. But we are learning tonight that there could be some events held outside of Tokyo like surfing, the marathon and baseball that could have some fans. Ali.


VELSHI: Tom Llamas for us and Tokyo. Thank you. Coming up. Elsa isn`t done with East Coast just yet. The latest on the storm still ahead when the 11th Hour continues.



VELSHI: The last thing before we go tonight an update on Elsa. The Hurricane turn tropical storm has already killed at least one person in Florida killed by a downed tree. Tonight the storm has tens of millions under tropical storm warnings as it drenches the East Coast with flash floods and dangerous winds that threatened to knock out power.

Forecasters predicted some parts of South Carolina could see up to eight inches of rain. The National Weather Service`s Elsa kicked up at least one tornado in Camden County along Georgia`s coast, winds their hit 128 miles an hour flipping vehicles and snapping trees but luckily no one was hurt.

Elsa is still on the move tonight targeting the Northeast which has already seen its fair share of flooding rain this week. In fact, some New York City commuters were met with horrific conditions this afternoon.

This is from a Bronx subway. Riders trying to get through waist deep water to get to their train some use trash bags attempting the world`s worst potato sack rates. Others said YOLO and just went for it.

Downtown in Manhattan at Herald Square waterfalls coming in from ceilings inside the subway station. And this commuter at Penn Station saw a water in the subway station not falling down but shooting up from a grate in the floor.

Major highways in the city were also flooded, leaving cars stuck and drivers stranded. And again, this is all before Elsa brings in even more rage of the region over the next few hours. So it`s time now to break out my waders for tomorrow`s commute.

That`s 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.