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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 8/13/21

Guests: Barry McCaffrey, Nahid Bhadelia, Jon Meacham


As American troops head to Afghanistan to assist in evacuating the U.S. embassy in Kabul, the Taliban continues to seize cities further plunging the nation into crisis. Adam Kinzinger slams Biden`s Afghan evacuation plan. CDC clears 3rd COVID vaccine dose for immunocompromised. Crush of COVID cases overwhelming southern states. Local officials defy-led school mask mandates bans.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: And good evening once again. Day 206 of the Biden administration. And as we come on the air tonight, 1000s of U.S. troops are on their way to Afghanistan to help evacuate American and Afghan civilians facing potential threats to their security. That mission comes as the Taliban accelerates. Now they`re advanced on the capital city of Kabul taking for more cities while meeting very little resistance from Afghan forces. NBC News Correspondent Kelly Cobiella is on the ground in Afghanistan again tonight.


KELLY COBIELLA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, the Taliban is firmly in control of Afghanistan`s second largest city, Kandahar. The militants consolidating their territory in the south, the north and the west, where they seize the historic city of Herat and its famed Military Commander Mohammad Ismail Khan.

In this Taliban propaganda video, Khan, who fought the Taliban in 2001 says he hopes the militants will bring peace, security and stability. The lightning fast Taliban takeover has shocked the world. The militant group took its first provincial capital one week ago today. Now their territory looks like this, closing in on Kabul. The Pentagon now scrambling to send 3,000 troops to the Kabul airport, most arriving by the end of this weekend, a temporary mission to get embassy staff out safely.

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: The deteriorating conditions are a factor a big factor in why the President has approved this mission.

COBIELLA: As the U.S. Embassy is ordering staff to destroy sensitive documents and computers, according to a memo obtained by NPR.


COBIELLA (on camera): NBC News has confirmed that half of Afghanistan`s 34 provincial capitals are controlled by the Taliban tonight. And there are reports of heavy fighting on cobbles doorstep, Brian, in Logar province, just 50 miles away. Brian.

WILLIAMS: Stay safe again, our thanks tonight to Correspondent Kelly Cobiella in Afghanistan. The administration maintains that the mission will remain, "narrowly focused and they are not calling it an evacuation." Republican member of Congress Adam Kinzinger of Illinois who served in Afghanistan and the military had this to say about the U.S. troop withdrawal tonight.


REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R) ILLINOIS: This was entirely foreseeable and beyond, you know, judging the decision to leave, which I think is a disastrous decision, we had nothing in place and have nothing in place for the evacuation of the 30,000 Afghan residents who put their life on the line, were promised a visa if they worked with us as translators and people in those kinds of things. And they are stuck in Afghanistan. Now, how are you going to evacuate them with all the major supply routes, when all of the areas controlled by the Taliban now? It`s a tragedy and it`s a tragedy that was entirely preventable.


WILLIAMS: President at Camp David right now, White House says he will spend much of the weekend meeting with national security and military advisors as you might expect. There`s also concern about security threats here at home. Department of Homeland Security today issued a new domestic terrorism threat advisory citing the approaching 20th Anniversary of 9/11 simmering tensions over COVID restrictions and those conspiracy theories over the election.

Meanwhile, we`re also following important developments tonight on the pandemic front. Today the CDC joined the FDA in approving a third Moderna or Pfizer dose for people with weakened immune systems for starters. White House says the rate of vaccinations in general has been on the rise with 918,000 doses given out yesterday, that`s the most in one day in over a month so that`s progress. However, there`s no sign this latest surge is letting up. Over 141,000 new cases were reported in our country today, 141,000. This week, this is notable, has already seen a single day death toll of over 1000 for the first time since late April. Across our country hospital admissions are up 31 percent in the space of a week, the situation especially bad across much of the American South.


NIKKI FRIED, FLORIDA COMMISSIONER OF AGRICULTURE: There are 15,840 Floridians hospitalized with COVID-19, 48.9 percent, almost half of our ICU beds are occupied with COVID patients. If Florida were a country, it would be the second most infected place on the planet.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS, (D) LOUISIANA: As bad as things have been over the last couple of weeks, they`ve just been tend to move in the wrong direction, 2907 individuals in the hospital with COVID-19. That`s the highest we`ve ever had in any given day. We`re in a bad place.


DR. THOMAS DOBBS, MISSISSIPPI: People who get COVID, diagnosed in Mississippi, about 15 percent of those who are in the hospital aren`t going to make it out. But a third of those who go in the ICU are not going to make it out.


WILLIAMS: That`s how dire it is in the south in the Pacific Northwest hospitals in Oregon are also feeling the strain from a crush of new arriving patients. Governor Kate Brown in Oregon deploying 1,500 National Guard members to support hospitals.

Amid the battles over masks in schools, more local officials are defying bans on mandates coming from Republican governors they`re having to go against their state`s governor. Today the Houston Independent School District in Texas, the state`s largest approved a plan requiring students to wear face coverings when school starts later this month. Many pediatricians say school officials have no choice but to defy these bans on masks.


DR. MICHAEL ANDERSON, PEDIATRIC CRITICAL CARE SPECIALIST: In this pandemic, and we know what works, we know that masks help stop the spread. It`s not political. We`ve got to protect the kids until we can get them vaccinated.


WILLIAMS: With that, let`s bring in our leadoff guests, our starting line on this Friday night as we wrap up the week, Eugene Daniels, White House Correspondent for Politico, co-author of each day`s edition of the Politico Playbook, retired Four Star U.S. Army General Barry McCaffrey, Decorated Combat Veteran of Vietnam, former battlefield commander in the Gulf, former Cabinet Member and Member of the National Security Council, and Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, an Infectious Disease Physician and the Founding Director of Boston University`s Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Policy and Research.

Good evening, and welcome to you all. General, we`re going to begin with you with this urgent matter overseas. Since you and I spoke at exactly this hour last night. The Taliban has made incredible progress over land. I`m tempted to say that if Patton`s Third Army had moved this fast, after D Day, VA Day would have come in two weeks in Europe. Question to you is, what happens when they take Kabul? And what, God forbid, happens if any Americans are harmed?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (ret.): Well, it couldn`t be a very cascading tragedy for the Afghan people to start with most of the country now 40 million people are back under their control, though the consequences of summary execution, women and girls being forced into near slavery conditions. It`s a sad event. We`re out. We now can easily protect and hold the Kabul International Airport. We`ve got very strong security around U.S. Embassy. There`s a backup brigade to the 82nd Airborne prepared to go in also.

So what we`re doing now is trying to downsize the U.S. presence, contractor, people with NGOs, non-governmental organizations, embassy staffers, probably try and get it down to a couple 100 people to maintain some figment of engagement with the Afghan government. But what we can`t do is protect the city of Kabul. So the Taliban can infiltrate. They`re now capturing artillery and mortars. They may have searched their missiles. There`s four and a half million people in that city with refugees piling in. So the Taliban could infiltrate and present a significant threat in the next few days. I think Secretary Austin, people on the ground know what they`re doing, but it`s -- again, a dangerous situation for the Americans also.

WILLIAMS: Eugene, you heard the General, I`m curious as to your reporting on the level of concern at the White House, of course, for this weekend`s purposes, that means Camp David, the people around this president, and do you have any read on whether or not more action is possible?

EUGENE DANIELS, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, the thing that they are most focused on and what the General talked about, right there is protecting Americans, right, and making sure that the folks that helped us during these 20 years, also get the help. Maybe they get out, they get there. You know, we`ve been working on getting the translators and interpreters out as well. So that is where a lot of the focus is. I`m told they`re not -- the thing that we`ve talked about on this, a lot of other shows, ever since the President said that we were pulling out before, you know, the 20th anniversary of September 11 was that this was foreseeable. Adam Kinzinger said it, but it was shocking and how fast when I think that`s something that the advisors have talked about behind the scenes, that what they`re telling us. They were surprised at how quickly this happened.


But also, this is a President who will -- while he was candidate, now as president, he has made this decision, he is moving out. We`re out of Afghanistan. And he said over and over, I was in his remarks that he gave to us this week, when we asked him about this. And he said, you know, this is the people of Afghanistan have to fight this now. This is the army of Afghanistan, the military of Afghanistan. It is their job now. And I think that is where, you know, the tough truth of it all is, it is no longer seemingly America`s problem right now, right? Could that change if Americans are hurt or killed while we`re, they tried to say it`s not an evacuation. But while we`re evacuating, and getting people out of there, that is a question that is clearly they`re talking about is on the table. But something that was said by the press secretary for the Department of Defense this week, was that if the Taliban were to engage, the military, as they`re getting folks out, they have been told already that they can act and react in the way that is appropriate. And so what that means is, we could see more fighting between army and military, American military and the Taliban.

WILLIAMS: Dr. Bhadelia, now to you, a matter, no less urgent, I can`t quite get over the fact that we`re having this conversation again, think of the appearances you made at this hour on this broadcast March, April, May of last year, when we were losing 1000 souls a day. That`s a benchmark we reached. Again this week, I want to play for you something from former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. He said this on CNBC earlier today.


SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: By September, hopefully you`ll see the other side of that curve in itself very clearly. But cases will be picking up in the northeast, the Great Lakes region, maybe the Pacific Northwest. They`re going to be later to experience a Delta wave that`s -- it`s probably going to coincide with the restart at school, some businesses returning.


WILLIAMS: So Doctor, here`s something else, I can`t believe that we`re going to have some sort of staggered, regional spiking across our country all over again?

DR. NAHID BHADELIA, INFECTIOUS DISEASES PHYSICIAN: Yeah, Brian, I think that the experiences of some of the other countries that have gone through the Delta surge is going to be different than ours. When you look at U.K. or Israel, you saw this very transmissible variant really just rushed through the population. And because there are a couple of things that happened here, one is we were much bigger country, and you`re seeing some of that rolling peek a little bit. But the other is that we have varied levels of vaccination, and our behavior will change just as Scott Gottlieb talked about as schools open. And I think that`s why it`s so important. As schools open in the setting of this Delta variant that we treat our children exactly as what they are, there are unvaccinated group of people in an enclosed space.

I do want to go back to what you and Eugene just talked about a little bit about Afghanistan. I want to point out that we`re talking about the conflict. But, you know, just pointing out the pandemic aspect of this. Afghanistan is also experiencing a Delta variant wave. We have no idea how bad it is because there`s no testing and 2 percent of the population is vaccinated. And all of this is happening in the background of a moderate to severe drought. So the entire country is headed towards a complex humanitarian crisis that is overlaid with this pandemic as well.

WILLIAMS: I`m glad you raised that point. General, indeed, about the suffering that we`ve witnessed in Afghanistan, and we all fear we may be about to witness. As President Johnson used to say, philosophize with me for a minute here. I`m worried about the part of this that matches the talking points being put out and put into the social media bloodstream by countries like China and Russia, that our military isn`t what it once was, and our word doesn`t mean what it once did. Your thoughts on that as a possible outcome from what we`re witnessing?

MCCAFFREY: Well, of course, right now, the notion that our diplomatic, colleagues in particular can tell the Taliban, don`t take over by force, or we`ll make you an international price out or nonsense. Their support is going to come out of Pakistan, the Chinese because the minerals to some extent the Russians, to some extent the Iranians. So are our options, our leverage in Afghanistan is essentially at zero. It will have an impact to some extent on countries who are on the periphery of China in particular, who will be worried about the consistency of U.S. foreign policy.


In terms of the military, any lieutenant colonel and intelligence system around the world looks at the 2.1 million men and women, the U.S. Armed Forces as the preeminent military force on Earth. It is extremely dangerous to deal with us in a hostile manner. So I don`t think that`s a long term consideration. But what is a consideration as we`re going to watch a humanitarian disaster unroll here in Afghanistan, there`s very little ability to -- for us to influence this, it was an elective decision.

Personally, I don`t think President Biden had much option politically, no support among the American people, no support and his political party. Certainly, Trump left him with a farcical peace treaty in which we essentially call a Taliban, don`t shoot at us, we`ll leave, you can settle it with the government. So he had no option there. I really don`t think. And I don`t think delaying it another 90 days or six months would have made a substantial change in the endemic corruption and incompetence of the central Ghani government.

By the way, those people are getting ready to run for their lives. The Taliban get their hands on that. No, they`re dead. So that will be another tipping point that we`ll see in the coming week or so.

WILLIAMS: That`ll be something to watch as well. So Eugene, with the president of Camp David this weekend, the time he doesn`t spend on Afghanistan. We know he watches some television news. He may see these local school board meetings coming to blows over mask wearing, and it may further emphasize to him how much politics has intertwine with this pandemic?

DANIELS: No, absolutely. And, you know, this White House continues to be frustrated, both privately and publicly about how little they can do here, right? How little they can do when it comes to a governor -- who`s just, a governor like Ron DeSantis who they`ve kind of been beefing with for a couple of weeks, deciding to, you know, ban masks for students while teachers and local officials are saying no, we want this. And so that is something that they have talked about over and over. And the President has said they are trying to figure out what kind of power federally they have to do something here. Experts say they probably don`t have a lot, right. It`d be hard to see how the federal government could force or try to help the local officials go around the law that the governor has put in place. That is a frustration of theirs, because what they know is that we saw like a light at the end of the tunnel of June months ago, right? We all started going out. We had our masks off inside, eating going to restaurants and all of that again, thinking and this White House pushing, if we just keep getting vaccinated, everyone, this can continue, thinking that might have been enough. And that has clearly not been enough. And I think even reporters we`ve underestimated as a country, how political all of this became over the last year, right?

We knew the masks were one thing. But then now you have the vaccinations being politicized, while we have new variants, different variants, more dangerous variants coming into this country and others and making this pandemic last longer than anyone wanted and making it a different pandemic, as Dr. Fauci has said over and over. And so I think now this White House is trying to figure out, how can we get into some of these fights without overreaching and by following the law?

WILLIAMS: Doctor, you heard Eugene, invoked a DeSantis` name in Florida, you get the indeed the last word. What about these governors who are anti- mask, but trying to emphasize antibody treatments?

BHADELIA: Well, I think that prevention is always better than cure. And, you know, this week, there was a study from Yale that showed that if Texas and Florida by the way, two states that are not seeing their cases at all, they are still seeing an upward, you know, movement. And if they had had 74 percent coverage of vaccines, by the end of July, they could have seen 70,000 fewer hospitalizations, and almost 5000 fewer deaths. I mean, by the time somebody gets sick enough that they need a monoclonal antibody, right, they`ve already gotten infected. They may have already infected other people. It makes no sense from public health perspective. We`re really happy we have that additional tool, but it`s something we use if some of the easier methods that keep people healthy don`t work out.

WILLIAMS: To our starting frontline, Eugene Daniels, General Barry McCaffrey, Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, thank you so much. Enjoy your weekend. Appreciate you starting off our conversation this Friday night.


Coming up for us, an open letter to Joe Biden from our friends at the Bulwark on the dire situation we`ve been talking about in Afghanistan. They want the President to change course. They`re trying to remind him there`s still time.

And later, one of our favorite presidential historians with us on the state of the nation as the President deals with these two threats advancing at the same menacing pace, the Delta variant domestically, and the Taliban oversees all of it as the 11th Hour is just getting underway on this Friday night.



KIRBY: We`ve been contingency planning for a lot of potential outcomes here in Afghanistan for a long time. The Afghans have an opportunity. They have an opportunity after 20 years to come together to lead. This is really going to be about leadership.


WILLIAMS: Admiral John Kirby`s had a tough job as Pentagon spokesman this week, despite swift backlash, the President standing by his decision to end America`s longest war as the Taliban in circles Kabul. Susan Glasser in the New Yorker writes at this way, "It is surely on Biden as much as on Trump how the pullout appears to have been organized so rapidly, there were no plans in place to evacuate the 20,000 Afghan interpreters who work for the U.S. and without agreement secured and advanced for regional basis from which to conduct the counterterrorism mission that the U.S. says it will continue.


Back with us tonight, Juanita Tolliver, veteran political strategists to progressive candidates and causes and Tim Miller, Contributor to the Bulwark and the former Comms Director for one Jeb Bush.

Good evening, and welcome to you both. And Tim, indeed, I saw you on Twitter tonight promoting the peace on the Bulwark by Georgetown Professor Paul Miller and Bill Kristol, which reads in part, "The situation in Afghanistan is dire. But it is not too late to deploy forces to stabilize it and ultimately turn it around. We can at least avoid the worst outcome of collapse and slaughter that would be a catastrophe for the people of Afghanistan, and a strategic and moral disaster for the United States."

Tim at the same time, you`re aware of the other side says we`ve been at this for 20 years. There are families watching tonight without moms and dads, without sons and daughters, because they perished on that battlefield.

TIM MILLER, THE BULWARK CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think there`s good reason to be torn about this, Brian, I know this is a full point as a pundit and commentator but, you know, I have mixed feelings. I think President Biden had to make a tough decision. There`s no doubt about that. I understand the frustration that folks have after being there for over two decades, there are people serving Afghanistan who weren`t born when we started there. You know, leaving troops there forever, sacrificing our treasure, risking the lives of more young men and women. Look, I understand the frustration.

That said, you know, we have -- as Susan Glasser said, responsibilities to the people that helped these young men and women. We needed to have a plan to get them out. We need to raise the refugee camp. So people, especially women and girls, trying to avoid the terror of the Taliban, will have an opportunity to come to this country that should be an open door in the Biden administration. That`s the nice thing about not having Trump in charge anymore. We don`t have to shut our doors to people who want to have the American dream.

And look, I don`t -- I think that what Kristol and Paul Miller wrote, I think the time is ticking on that. And I don`t expect Biden to take their advice, to be honest. But I do think that there was time to stabilize this. If Biden chosen to do that he`s chosen not to. And I think that we just have to be honest with the fact that that`s going to mean there will be a human rights catastrophe in Afghanistan and in Kabul, and maybe we`ve just decided that, you know, that`s not our problem anymore. And I understand that perspective, but that doesn`t mean that the human rights catastrophe isn`t going to happen.

WILLIAMS: Juanita, the whole thing is rather stomach turning. I have noted the reactions to attend to fuzz up and crossover traditional party lines. I want to read you something Juanita by Jonathan Swan over at Axios tonight, "Biden`s key aides aren`t second guessing his decision to withdraw. They derive comfort from the fact that the American public is behind them, and overwhelming majority support withdrawal from Afghanistan. And they bet they won`t be punished politically for executing a withdraw."

I would point out only that opinion polls are moving targets and the coverage of this week can change hearts and minds. But Juanita, basically, do you agree with that assessment?

JUANITA TOLLIVER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: To this point, yes, Brian, I agree with that assessment, given the polls that we`ve seen over the past 20 years showing that Americans wanted those truths filled out. We know for years, Biden has wanted those truthful out and even he opposed when President Obama increased the troops during his term. And so while yes, I agree politically, this is something that will have diminished blowback for Democrats. I do think it is important to keep an eye on those opinion pieces, especially as we know Americans are still on the ground in Kabul and at the embassy and they need safe transition out of the country. And so while there is definitely minimal political blowback from Biden standing by his decision, we know it was a popular decision. What comes next is making sure that every American who is on the ground in Afghanistan right now has safe passage, as well as the Afghan citizens who supported and collaborated with the military have safe passage. And we know -- and I agree with Tim on the fact that that is something that should have been shored up before. I think troops have been pulled out or done in coordination when troops were pulled out because as I`ve seen online State Department is just starting to set up additional infrastructure to make sure that Afghan citizens who collaborated with US media outlets have safe passage out as well. So there is a lot that still needs to be done. I think Biden is right to send back the 3000 troops to help do evacuations at the embassy because the last thing that this administration needs is any life loss at this point in terms of getting Americans out of Afghanistan.

WILLIAMS: Here, here to that. We`ve asked our friends Juanita and Tim to stay a bit longer on this Friday night.


We`ll fit in a break and coming up the cracks within the Democratic caucus just got a tad wider and now friendly fire threatens to derail the Biden agenda as those two confer.


WILLIAMS: Something of a revolt within the Democratic Party threatens to derail the President`s economic agenda. Nine House moderate democrats this time are now threatening not to vote to advance the three and a half trillion dollar budget plan until the bipartisan infrastructure bill is passed in the House and signed into law.

New York Times makes this point with the promise defections from the Progressive Caucus. It would appear that Speaker Pelosi faces a stalemate lacking the votes to either deliver the infrastructure bill to the President`s desk or advanced the budget resolution needed to protect the final legislation from Republican obstruction.

Still with us, Juanita Tolliver and Tim Miller. Juanita, I want to hear you out on this. I am tempted to ask who needs Republicans when you have the Democratic Caucus?

TOLLIVER: Brian, this is a masterclass in self-sabotage. And I`m looking at this like how on earth Democrats think it`s a good idea to stand in the way of Democrats and an agenda that was run on in 2020 that voters overwhelmingly support and voters absolutely need as we`re still very much in this pandemic.


And so I`m kind of looking around like, What gives? And honestly, this escalation this second letter, I can only think about what Representative Jayapal said earlier today, when she said, How could you dare call yourself a Democrat when you are voting against childcare, voting against economic investments, voting against investments and climate action that we all know we need immediately, paid family leave, and so much more.

And so this is a dividing line within the caucus that is wholly unproductive. But again, it`s self-sabotage. Because the last thing that Democrats need to go to voters in the midterm and say, Hey, we didn`t get it done now because of Republicans. But we stood in our own way. We couldn`t get it done together as a caucus. It makes no sense.

But even as we barrel towards the week of August 23, Speaker Pelosi has already said she`s calling back the House early during recess. I`m looking for her to do what needs to be done. I`m looking for her to wrangle her caucus, like her track record shows she`s capable of and get both of these bills on parallel tracks, because we know they`re both popular and we know they`re both essential to the Democratic agenda.

WILLIAMS: And perhaps the speaker indeed is watching tonight. Tim, as you may know, I am fond of saying that every time a Rasheeda Talib comes out for abolishing all policing and incarceration, a Republican congressional candidate gets their wings. Now, this isn`t what about is, I mean, yes, the Republicans have Congresswoman Greene. But the Democrats do have a way of heating their young.

MILLER: No doubt about that, Brian. And look, Jonathan Wiseman, who was the reporter for the times in that little bite you showed, you know, he`s a good reporter. And I understand that on paper right now, the Democrats might not have the votes for infrastructure. But here`s the reality. If Nancy Pelosi brought the infrastructure bill that President Biden supports that got 69 votes in the United States Senate to the House on Monday morning, that bill is going to pass. Rasheeda Talib and the Progressive Caucus can bluff all day on all day wants, the nine moderates can posture all they want, that bill has enough support to pass, I promise you it will pass.

And so I just think that the Democrats right now, you know, need to keep this sort of posturing you know, inside the tent. I know, I`m a new member of the coalition here. What`s happening right now with this is ridiculous. And they got to pass the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill.

I think probably will have the votes to but that`s more of a question of what, you know, Manchin and Sinema want to do in the Senate. So, you know, I think that we know the infrastructure bill can pass. We know it`s popular as Juanita said. We know Biden wants it, stop with the nonsense, pass it and then move forward.

WILLIAMS: Point of personal privilege as we say goodbye to our guests on a Friday night. I want to thank Tim for representing for the great city of New Orleans and the great establishment of Tipitina`s and allow me to say they all need our help because every place in New Orleans is in business to make people happy and times have been tough as they have been in so many other cities, Tim?

MILLER: Yes, buy some swag. They need it.

WILLIAMS: Buy some swag, actual beverages and food too while you`re at it. Juanita Tolliver, Tim Miller, it is always a pleasure two friends of this broadcast. Have a good weekend to you both.

As we`ve been discussing, it`s been a week of both successes and setbacks for the Biden administration. There are a few people better equipped to talk about it all than Pulitzer Prize winning historian Jon Meacham standing by to join us next.




JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Just short while ago the United States Senate passed the Infrastructure Investment and JOBS Act. This historic investment infrastructure is what I believe you the American people want what you`ve been asking for a long, long time. This bill shows that we can work together.


WILLIAMS: It was a big victory for the President to the tune of a trillion dollars. It`s just one part of what`s been a busy week for the Biden White House as the administration promotes the President`s agenda while also facing the Delta surge at home, the Taliban surge in Afghanistan.

Thankfully, back with us again tonight. Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize winning author, presidential historian, the Rogers chair in the American Presidency at Vanderbilt. He occasionally advises the President on historical matters and major speeches.

Jon, I don`t know how the hell this happened. But we did some checking. This is day 206. Your last appearance with us was back in June day 150. When you said that the Biden administration was off to an FDR ask start. How would you turn things tonight?

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Right. History is immensely complicated, as we know, reality`s immensely complicated. I think this was a week of powerful contrasts that represent the tasks that we face. You know, we think about the they got a bipartisan deal at 69 votes, you know, in a polarized era that`s like getting 99 you know, in dog years.

You know, Mitch McConnell voted for that bill, that number on par with what passed Medicare, with what pass the National Defense Science Education Act after Sputnik. It`s what passed voting rights. It`s a big deal.

At the same time, the what`s unfolding in Afghanistan is tragic and painful, and is outfields elementally of upsetting to those who have served those who know people who have served. And looking forward, you know, this was began kind of as a counter terror operation, it became a nation building one.

And one of the questions we have to face is, we are leaving a part of the world that has done us harm, done, irreparable harm in many ways.

And so the president I`ve been thinking about all day, as I suspect you have is President Johnson, LBJ, who could make these immense domestic achievements and then confronted a Cold War conflict, led a Cold War conflict that was a hot war that ended up being a kind of American tragedy.


So long, long answer, short takeaway is we don`t really know yet. I do know this. You know, Joe Biden`s a friend of mine. I try to help them when I can. And I`m glad he`s the one there and not the fella he beat.

WILLIAMS: Our mutual friend David Ignatius of The Washington Post puts it this way, Jon, for President Biden, who had hoped for an orderly us withdrawal from Afghanistan the chaos and cobble carries echoes, to your point, of the fall of Saigon in `75, precisely the image he wanted to avoid. And the Taliban`s drive for military victory, ignoring pledges to negotiate a transition of power, will raise questions about whether its promises to prevent al Qaeda from rebuilding safe havens in Afghanistan can be trusted.

Jon, you invoked the LBJ administration. That was two presidents later, we saw those pictures of people clinging on to the landing rails of helicopters and helicopters going off the side of our Navy ships because we couldn`t accommodate the space or the size.

As lofty as the goal was ending our longest war, Jon, it sounds bad, it looks bad. And as the title goes, there will be blood.

MEACHAM: There will be and my father fought in Vietnam, I got one of the most poignant notes I ever received from anybody but much less a president from Gerald Ford once, he had been part of a project talking about April 30 1975, the Fall of Saigon that evacuation in that period.

And he talks about, remember the phrase was that most tragic of days, here it was, it was -- it`s always stuck with me that most tragic of days, it ended this war that, you know, in 1968, killed 49 Americans a day, on average, 49. Ultimately, 55,000 I think American casualties.

And for a president, I think one of the things is worthwhile to think about is, as our friend Michael Beschloss has written about so wonderfully. This is the most solemn thing, the most difficult thing any president does is going to war, but also ending a war. And sometimes it takes more courage to do the latter. And I wonder if we`re seeing that, I don`t know.

But I think that as everybody starts responding to what`s on television and responding to everything, you know, think about the immensity of these decisions, the complexities of them. You know, I don`t know if it`s the right one. But I didn`t get 81 million votes to make that decision. So let`s pray that we`re on the right path.

WILLIAMS: We pray for those 49 souls a day that were lost at the -- during that point in the war, while pointing out we`re losing 1,000 a day to a pandemic. And it has now killed 10 times the number of names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington in this country.

Jon, what times we`re living through. Jon Meacham has been our guest on tonight`s broadcast. Thank you very much for coming on. Coming up for us. This was the week the debate over children wearing masks in schools and our country turned vicious. That story when we come back.



WILLIAMS: As we are all too aware across the country students are headed back into school. The heated debate over classroom mask rules has only escalated mostly among their parents and at least one argument has led to violence. Our report tonight from NBC News correspondent Morgan Chesky.


MORGAN CHESKY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Tennessee, angry parents taking on schools over mask mandates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don`t know anything about goal.

CHESKY: As the safety measures for classrooms play out in courtrooms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be heard on an expedited emergency basis.

CHESKY: In Texas, in Florida.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I rather write because I don`t going to get COVID.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have two actually in school and neither one of them wear masks.

CHESKY: In one Florida school district more than 400 students are in quarantine after at least 30 tested positive. The superintendent there says the district just implemented a mask policy despite the governor`s threat to withhold certain administrator salaries.

CARLEE SIMON, ALACHUA COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT: We believe that the price of a human life and the price of a salary and my check they`re not equivalent in any way shape or form.

CHESKY: In California where the state supports masking up in schools, a superintendent says one of our teachers ended up in a hospital after a parent attacked during an argument over masks.

TORIE GIBSON, AMADOR COUNTY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT: And we just don`t know from day to day what is going to happen next.

CHESKKY: Schools and families now caught in the middle.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It should not be a choice between education and our son`s wife. That`s not acceptable.

CHESKY: Morgan Chesky, NBC News.


WILLIAMS: Coming up, a warning from Republicans that a new McCarthyism is afoot.



WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go tonight a guy we have now quoted twice within our hour. Bill Kristol said this today and I quote, a new McCarthyism dominates the Republican Party. It`s smoother than the old McCarthyism less sweaty and boozy. But in accommodating and enabling dangerous demagoguery it poses probably a greater threat to our liberties and our democracy. Bill also called this to our attention from the Republican Accountability Project.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 1950s McCarthyism was dividing the country. Senator Joe McCarthy deceived America pushing a lie that our government was being taken over by communist spies. He gaslit America to advance his own political career.

And now McCarthyism is back with a new McCarthy. Kevin McCarthy. Just like Joe, Kevin McCarthy is gaslighting Americans.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Everyone who`s listening, do not be silent about this. President Trump won this election.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He protects white nationalists, anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists, while he whitewashes January 6 all to advances political power. Americans must once again stand up and ask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?


WILLIAMS: The unambiguous Republican Accountability Project on the new McCarthyism to take us off the air tonight.

And so that is our broadcast for this Friday evening and for this week with our thanks for being here with us. Have a good weekend unless you have other plans. On behalf of all our colleagues at the networks of NBC News, good night.