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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, 8/27/21

Guests: Frank Figliuzzi, Eugene Daniels, Susan Page, Michelle Grossman, Matthew Dowd, Kavita Patel


CENTCOM: U.S. drone strike kills "ISIS-K planner." U.S. retaliates against ISIS-K with airstrike. Hurricane Ida barreling toward U.S. GOP slams Biden for Afghanistan withdrawal. Voting rights act faces uphill battle in Senate. Hospitals reach capacity as Delta variant spreads. RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan recommended for parole.


ALICIA MENENDEZ, MSNBC HOST: Good evening once again. I`m Alicia Menendez in for Brian Williams. Day 220 of the Biden administration. And we`re following dramatic developments out of Afghanistan tonight, following Thursday`s deadly attack in Kabul. Not long ago, we learned to the U.S. military has retaliated for that attack. A spokesman for U.S. Central Command released a statement that reads, "U.S. military forces conducted an over the horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned airstrikes occurred in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties." They`ll recall the threat President Biden made hours after yesterday`s attack.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For those who carried out this attack as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this, we will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.


MENENDEZ: Word of the airstrike in the Nangarhar province comes as the White House is still warning of the threat of another terror attack in Kabul, and U.S. troops are rushing to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies before Tuesday`s deadline.

Just two hours ago the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan issued another new security alert urging citizens to avoid four airport gates at the Kabul airport. During a morning meeting today with his national security team, President Biden was told another attack in Kabul is likely but that measures are being taken to protect U.S. forces at the Kabul airport. Earlier today as he spoke of yesterday`s bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members, Biden refer to the ongoing evacuation efforts.


BIDEN: The mission there being performed is dangerous. And as now, it`s come with a significant loss of American personnel. And whether it`s a worthy mission because they continue to evacuate folks out of that region, out of the airport, evacuated more than 12,000 additional people out of the airport in the last 24 hours.


MENENDEZ: Tonight, the White House says that since August 14th, the U.S. has evacuated more than 109,000 people from Afghanistan. Earlier today, our own Peter Alexander asked Press Secretary Jen Psaki about Tuesday`s deadline to have all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan.


PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: In terms of the commitment, just so it`s clear for Americans right now, just four-plus days away from the August 31st deadline, is the White House`s commitment still, at this point, that all Americans who want to leave Afghanistan will be able to leave before that date?

PSAKI: That is what we are focused on, committed to, and working toward.


MENENDEZ: Our Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel is in Doha tonight where he continues to follow events in Kabul.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While hundreds of Americans have been evacuated in the last 24 hours, if you`re an Afghan trying to get to the airport now, the path is blocked. The U.S. military says it`s coordinating security with the Taliban closely. It`s more needed now than ever after yesterday`s suicide bombing killed at least 13 American service members, most of the Marines while they were doing pat downs of evacuees, among them Navy Corpsman, Maxton Soviak from Ohio, whose sister describes her baby brother, as beautiful, intelligent, beats to the sound of his own drum. 20-year-old marine, David Lee Espinoza born in Texas, the mayor of his hometown today calling him a fallen hero. Marine Rylee McCollum, a former high school wrestler from Wyoming expecting a baby in just a few weeks. Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui and Corporal Hunter Lopez both from Southern California and Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, a marine from Missouri.

More than 150 Afghans were killed. And Kabul`s main hospital today, the Butcher`s bill of some of the dead and nearly 200 injured was posted outside. Coffins arrived in a steady stream.

Mohammed Safar (ph) was wounded in the blast, that asylum seeker, Mohammed says he was standing by the airport gate playing a game on his phone when suddenly the bomb knocked him unconscious.


MENENDEZ: Richard Engel reporting tonight from Kabul. As we mentioned, the Pentagon tonight revealed a drone strike has been carried out against the suspected ISIS-K planner. Our Pentagon Correspondent Courtney Kube has been following the latest developments. She joins us on the phone right now.

Courtney, thank you so much. What do we know about how this attack was carried out?

COURTNEY KUBE, NBC NEWS PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via phone): So, this was a stroke, a strike from a U.S. drone, a Reaper. It was carried out in Nangarhar Province, which is in eastern Afghanistan. It`s east of Kabul and along the border with Pakistan. And it occurred as an individual who is believed, according to the U.S. defense officials, believed to have been involved in planning for future attacks. He was driving in a vehicle with an associate. They were in an isolated area, according to the officials who I spoke with. And the strike was carried out in a manner that was intended to minimize any civilian casualties.


Because they were in an isolated area, the Department of Defense and U.S. Central Command do not believe there were any civilian casualties. They`re not tracking any. So again, it`s important to point out, this was a strike against ISIS Corizon. This was the first counter terror strike that the U.S. has taken that we know about in Afghanistan in some time. The last one they`ve acknowledged was actually in February of 2020. This strike, clearly, Alicia, in direct retaliation for the attack on Kabul airport yesterday.

MENENDEZ: Courtney, your sense, should we expect more attack soon?

KUBE: So that`s really going to end up being a policy decision for the Biden White House, because right now, they`re going to have to make two big decisions. Do they want to make -- do they want to do some sort of a targeted strike, which this was here this evening? Will they continue to do more? Or do they want something that would have, you know, an impact, a symbolic impact on ISIS? But reality not really, overall take out ISIS or have a big operational impact on them for the long term or do they want to do something bigger? The second big question, though, is they -- if there is going to be a larger retaliation for this, do they want to wait until the U.S. troops are out of the country?

At this point, the U.S. military is still on track for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan by August 31. It`s only a couple days away, it will be a difficult decision, if they want to plan for something. While there are still U.S. troops there. They are in -- there are 5,400 U.S. military roughly at that airport in Kabul, they`re completely surrounded by Taliban. There are other potentially dangerous elements, as we saw yesterday, in Kabul, it is a dangerous neighborhood. And they have to ask themselves if they would want to do anything while there`s still U.S. troops there.

MENENDEZ: Courtney, understanding those many factors, what message do they hope to send with the strike? Do they believe this will serve not only as retribution for yesterday`s attack, but a warning deterrence to others who might be planning something similar?

KUBE: So, it`s -- I`m sure, it`s intended to be a deterrent. But also look at this individual. They`re saying that he was involved in planning for future attacks. So that in and of itself sends a message, right, to ISIS, that they -- the message that I would imagine they`re hoping to send is, look, we can strike you, you know, we can get you even out in a remote area in Nangarhar, we can respond quickly, intent to hopefully stop them from carrying out any more attacks like this, while the U.S. is still in the country.

But again, this one strike taking out these two individuals. This is the kind of thing that`s going to have a major impact on the overall ISIS presence in Afghanistan, which by the way, it`s not enormous. The estimates they have somewhere in the neighborhood of 500, maybe as many as 1,200 or 1,500 total fighters in Afghanistan. That of course, is just absolutely dwarfed by the size of the Taliban, which is north of 75,000 fighters and candidly growing, you know, over the last several weeks. So, that being said, even with that small ISIS-K presence in Afghanistan, we have seen that they can still carry out these kinds of spectacular attacks, very deadly attacks, like the ones they did yesterday.

So, the question is, does the U.S. here intend to send a message that they can get these guys where they want, when they want or do they really wanted to have a larger operational and strategic impact on ISIS operations going forward?

MENENDEZ: Courtney Kube, as always, thank you.

Let`s bring in our leadoff guests on this Friday night, Eugene Daniels, White House Correspondent for Politico, co-author of each day`s edition of Politico Playbook, Susan Page, veteran journalists, best-selling author, longtime Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, and Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for counterintelligence. He is the author of the book, the FBI way and host of the podcast, The Bureau.

Frank, what sticks out to you about this strike against ISIS-K tonight. Are you surprised by how quickly this happened?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE: I`m encouraged by how quickly it happened and the fact that it happened while we`re still on the ground evacuating citizens tells me there`s some degree of confidence that the military can stave off preempt deter another attempt even as we hear additional warnings today about another possible attack. Here`s why the military event today is so much more than just a single drone strike. It is a projection of power. It is a message from the United States government that even though we`re leaving, we`re not done with counter-terrorism operations, even though we`re going to have to do this, as they say over the horizon from remote locations, and it`s going to be far more challenging. We can still do it.


And one of the mysteries that I think hopefully will get solved soon is whether or not today`s strike involved a partnership with the Taliban, whether or not intelligence, sources intercepts involved, the Taliban helping us. Sometimes counterterrorism makes for strange bedfellows. And that old adage, the enemy of my enemy is my friend might be applied here and well into the future.

MENENDEZ: I also think about what General McKenzie said about it`s not what they say it is what they do.

Eugene, what are you hearing from the White House tonight, could there be more strikes against ISIS-K?

EUGENE DANIELS, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, the thing that the administration has made very clear, and the President made very clear yesterday, is that they`re going to find these people and basically take them out, right? You heard Jen Psaki today, the Press Secretary said, he doesn`t want them to be on earth anymore, right? The President is very frustrated. He takes very seriously the attacks that happened yesterday. And he knows that not only, you know, politically, is it bad for exactly what they want to do. They want to move out of Afghanistan. And what we keep hearing from the administration, what I keep hearing from folks, is that this is exactly what we were scared of, of these attacks happening, and then us having to attack back.

And the thing that another -- some other things that we`ve been hearing, is that they have a pretty good idea of who they need to go after, who they want to go after. And if more of that is coming, it`s possible, right? We don`t really know. But it depends on, as Courtney was saying, how long they`re going to wait for the -- to pull out those troops that are going to come out on Tuesday, they do while the troops are there, do you wait a little bit and to find these folks. And like Frank just said, this was a show of force to make very clear, the President made a threat yesterday and a promise. And more importantly, he said, he also hinted to us that he had a good idea of who they want to go after. And that`s exactly what they showed today,

MENENDEZ: Susan, your reaction to tonight`s strike after a somber week for the country and for this White House?

SUSAN PAGE, USA TODAY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: Yeah, and as we hear the names and the ages, and the stories behind the Americans who were killed in that terror attack, and the scores of Afghans who were killed, and these changing alliances, this alliance with the Taliban is so interesting, because a few weeks ago, the United States was planning on this bullet with Afghan government forces as our allies holding up the Taliban. And now in the space really of days, we are forging an alliance with the Taliban, our original enemy after 9/11 when we first went into Afghanistan in war, almost 20 years ago.

So, this has been pretty head spinning. The ability, I do think the strike shows the United States military credible, competent, to know who to go after to be able to do so. And with using a drone, so not putting us forces in harm`s way.

MENENDEZ: Frank, what`s next for the threat we face after U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, how much harder did the CIA`s job just get?

FIGLIUZZI: Significantly harder. Don`t kid yourself that today`s attack is going to be -- this kind of counter terror operation is going to be the norm and it`s going to be this easy all the time. We`ve lost our bases there. That means we`ve lost staging platforms for electronic eavesdropping locally, drone strikes locally, this drone strike today likely came from, oh gosh, United Arab Emirates, perhaps maybe an eight-hour drone flight to get that done. That`s not optimal. CIA was staging at our bases, a deep penetration into the communities with help from the locals who were helping, that`s all gone now. This all has to be done remotely. It makes the challenge for CIA, for Defense Intelligence Agency, and here in the homeland for FBI that much harder. The good news, we`ve done this before. We can do it again. But it is going to be tougher.

MENENDEZ: Frank, our colleague Richard Engel described this as an attention-grabbing act on the part of ISIS-K a way of reinserting themselves into the conversation. How does this strike factor into that?

FIGLIUZZI: Well, it`s a slap down, for sure. And I think it will also send a message to the Taliban that you do want to partner with us. Let`s do a little bit of a primer here, you`ll recall that ISIS-K is actually a younger demographic, then is the Taliban, then is Al Qaeda. They are far more violent. They actually believe al Qaeda is not extremist and violent enough. They have not aligned with the Taliban. They`re the enemy of the Taliban. So, this is going to be a unique partnership that we`re probably going to have to move forward with the Taliban. But this puts them in their place for now. They will want to retaliate. They`re all about violent kinetic action. This is not over.

MENENDEZ: All right. Eugene Daniels, Susan Page, Frank Figliuzzi, thank you all so much for your time.


Coming up, we`ll get an update on the potentially powerful hurricane Ida. Then the end of the mission in Afghanistan may mark the start of Benghazi like investigations here at home. We`ll get into that part of this still developing story.

And later, the latest surge of COVID has been filling up ICU beds all week. Now, morgues in Florida overcrowded too. We`ve got one of our best doctors standing by. The 11th Hour just getting underway on a Friday night.


MENENDEZ: We are also keeping an eye on hurricane Ida. Tonight, Northern Gulf states are preparing for a direct hit later this weekend. Meteorologist Michelle Grossman is tracking this potentially powerful storm. Michelle, what should we expect heading into the weekend?

MICHELLE GROSSMAN, NBC NEWS METEOROLOGIST: Hi there. Yeah, we`re looking at the potential for category four storm at landfall and that`s what we`re expecting and it looks to be on track. So, we have about 30 hours before we see that landfall.

Here is the latest. So, this was as of the 11 o`clock advisory. Winds are at 80 miles per hour. It just emerged into the Gulf of Mexico. So, it`s really starting to blossom from here. Very warm waters, low wind shear. Those are two things that hurricanes really liked to blossom. So quickly becoming a category two storm and then by seven o`clock tomorrow, a category three storm, Sunday 7 a.m. winds of 140 miles per hour. And we do expect a landfalling category four storm, somewhere along the coast of Louisiana, most likely South Central Louisiana or southeastern Louisiana. Then it`s going to make landfall, we`re going to so see winds still Sunday, seven o`clock 125 mile per hour and we`re going to see a lot of rain also flooding rains. We could see up to 20 inches in some spots.


And look what happens from here Monday to Wednesday slows down drastically. And hurricanes are like the sponge, it just squeezes out the rain. So, we`re going to see a lot of rain falling. Again, could see 20 inches in some spots.

Here are your warnings. We`re seeing warnings all the way from Lake Charles, Louisiana all the way over to the border of Mississippi and Alabama, where you see that red color of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Morgan city, that`s where we`re seeing a hurricane warning. So, you want to evacuate if you`ve been told to evacuate tonight. Tomorrow, Sunday morning is going to be too late. So, tomorrow is your day to prepare. If not tonight.

Rain and flooding torrential rain starting on Sunday, we`re going to see that on Monday as well. And then it`s sort of that of rain itself out Tuesday into Wednesday. But just awful amounts of rain, we could see flooding in New Orleans. It`s like a bowl effect there. It`s really hard to get water out. That`s why we all those we have those pumping stations, and we`re going to put them to the test this weekend.

By Monday, also seeing a Sunday and Monday seeing those winds as well. When hurricanes get closer to land, or at least this one with it, we`re going to see those winds really stretch out, so these could spend 250 miles. What that is going to do is bring strong winds onshore, maybe bringing some power outages but also pushing water on land. So, we look at storm surge, what is storm surge, it`s a wall of water. It`s literally the ocean water, that saltwater pushing onto dry land. And it`s life threatening. So, we could see 10 to 15 inches where you see that pink, four to seven that`s in the red. It happens fast. So that`s why you want to evacuate and be inland away from the coast. If we do you see that storm surge.

Also talking about power outages, we`re looking at that maroon color there, Morgan city, also New Orleans where we could see some widespread power outages Sunday and Monday. And then it gets to be a little bit better as you go inland. I think the takeaway, the further north you go you`re going to see that heavy, heavy rainfall.

So generally, eight to 16 inches but could see up to 20 inches. And then before I leave you here, of course I circled to hurricane Ida, I should say hurricane Ida but also watching to other areas of interest. So, the tropics, we are one week away from peak season. And we`re really starting to heat up. And we`re going to be continuing to watching Ida throughout the weekend. But then also watching these other two areas. Back to you.

MENENDEZ: Michelle, beyond those who are being told that they may need to evacuate, how are people in the region being told to prepare?

GROSSMAN: So, you have to watch to your -- listen to your officials. You know a lot of people who live up along the coast they`re used to this, right? So last year there were four hurricanes are for tropical systems that moved on shore in Louisiana. Today, on this day, we saw category four, Hurricane Laura go on shore and Cameron Louisiana on Sundays, the 16th anniversary of Katrina. So that`s not lost on us.

So, you just want to look at your local warnings. You want to heed those warnings. You want to listen to the officials. I know it`s a weekend. I know it`s Friday. It`s Saturday. No one wants to, you know, go out of their way. But in this case, we`re going to see life threatening storm surge. We`re going to see the potential for deadly flash flooding.

Now, when you talk about water, that`s a really hard thing to go up against especially a 10 to 15 foot storm surge. That`s unsurvivable, so if you don`t evacuate that there`s going to be consequences.

MENENDEZ: Michelle, having lived in Florida for several years, I am accustomed to watching these storms. I appreciate your bringing this to us. Michelle Grossman, thank you.


MENENDEZ: Coming up, more reaction to tonight`s drone airstrikes against an ISIS-K planner, when the 11th Hour continues.




BIDEN: The mission there being performed is dangerous, and it is now, it`s come with a significant loss of American personnel. And -- but it`s a worthy mission because they continue to evacuate folks out of that region, out of the airport. We`ve evacuated more than 12,000 additional people out of the airport in the last 24 hours.


MENENDEZ: Recapping tonight`s breaking news, the U.S. military has retaliated for yesterday`s attack in Kabul, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command released a statement that reads, "U.S. military forces conducted an over the horizon counterterrorism operation today against an ISIS-K planner. The unmanned air strike occurred in the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. Initial indications are that we killed the target. We know of no civilian casualties."

Well, the President has said he remains firmly committed to the decisions he`s made in Afghanistan. The GOP remains firm in its opposition. This was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy earlier today.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, HOUSE MINORITY LEADER, (R) CALIFORNIA: We got extremely frustrated with this president. As I said, if you want to be president of the free world, you have to have the faith, the trust and the confidence that the American public. President Biden lost that yesterday.


MENENDEZ: But as USA Today reports, the GOP is less unified on how the president should be punished and what to do about the Afghan refugees coming to the U.S. and those whose lives are in danger because they helped American troops as interpreters in other roles during the 20-year conflict.

Here to talk about it, Juanita Tolliver, a veteran, political strategist to progressive candidates and causes. And Matthew Dowd, former George W. Bush Strategist and Founder of Country over party. It is good to see you both.

Matt Dowd, I`m going to start with you. Republicans wasted no time coming down on Biden for the exit from Afghanistan, critique, accountability, those come with the job, but floating ways to punish the president seems counterproductive to the immediate mission at hand, no?

MATTHEW DOWD, FORMER CHIEF STRATEGIST TO BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN: Well, they`ve never let facts get in the way of anything they`d said, or the principles of the Constitution or what we`re supposed to stand for as values of our country. None of that gets in the way of what they do. So, I find it amazing that Kevin McCarthy in that piece that you just played, talked about, a president can`t govern if they don`t have the faith, trust and confidence of the American people. Well, he served the president for four years that never, not even one day, had the faith, confidence and trust of a majority of the American public. I just think this is again, this is not a time where we`re supposed to be scoring political points in the midst of this. We just lost 13 service members in the midst of this. We`ve already evacuated 110,000 people double what people said that Biden couldn`t do, double what people said that Biden couldn`t do. I think as of right now, President Biden has done yeoman`s work in the midst of this at a time at an immense discussion and dissension. He`s done pretty good work in the midst of this.

MENENDEZ: Juanita, I was struck today by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in her briefing seeming to invoke Teddy Roosevelt, saying it is easy to throw stones when you are not the one in the arena making the tough calls. What do you make of the way the Biden administration has communicated around the President`s choice to remain the course thus far?


JUANITA TOLLIVER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I think the White House has gone through great lengths of balancing communicating with the general public while also getting the appropriate intelligence and information that they need to be able to communicate explicitly what they`re seeing and hearing from the ground in Afghanistan. And that is a delicate balance. I think the other thing McCarthy mentioned in his press conference earlier today was that it took Biden too long. And I`m like, it didn`t take him too long. He needed to make sure he had the facts from his military leaders domestically as well as on the ground in Afghanistan. And that`s critical for him to be able to lead and communicate to the general public.

And so, I definitely agree with Matt`s points on the fact that this work is hard. This evacuation operation is difficult, and Biden in the White House are doing what needs to be done right now. I do think their backs are up against the wall as we approach the August 31 deadline to leave the country. And so that is going to be another negotiation at the White House is going to have to make as they decided to again, evacuate and remove all troops by that 31st deadline, or continue to try to evacuate not only U.S. citizens, but Afghans who collaborated with military forces, press, U.S. NGOs, and other entities who are targeted by the Taliban, with the need to protect U.S. troops on the ground after we`ve lost 13 service members.

MENENDEZ: Matt, you have the President communicating about these evacuations as when he said you have the President communicating about our final exit. We spoke earlier about the new tenuous relationship the U.S. is going to have with the Taliban. How do you explain that piece, that about face to Americans?

DOWD: Well, I think the American public is sick and tired. And they`ve always been sick and tired for 18 years about this. And it took way too long for us to get out of there. It took -- we took on a mission that we should have never taken on which is nation build. It never works. It`s never worked in the history of the world when somebody comes in and tries to build a nation upon someone else unless it comes from the nation itself. And so, I think as of right now, it`s not just the Taliban have taken control. Afghanistan is a Taliban country now. That is a fact. And it`s -- it was that way for a long period of time we finally admitted it. And we finally had a president that was actually took the courage to admit that to the public. And I think now the public`s got to move on. It`s not as if all of the sacrifices made are gone. We should honor it. But how do we honor it? We honor it by telling the American public the truth.

MENENDEZ: When this conversation thus far has been about our exit about evacuations, Congress has already said it will probe how and why, what has happened has happened. But there are already rumblings about the resettlement of Afghans in this country. What is success look like then in the days and the weeks ahead?

TOLLIVER: I think success right now made sure that any Afghans coming to this country have what they need immediately, as soon as they get to the ground, they have shelter, they have food, they have resources available to them. And I think that`s going to take a lot of work that we`ve seen from a number of governors across the country that have opened up their states, right? Like, we`ve seen that from Maryland, Iowa, Virginia, a number of states that I think we`re going to need more of as we know, there are 10s of 1000s of more Afghans still looking for refuge here in the United States.

I think what comes along with that also is President Biden raising the refugee cap, so that we can accommodate them and have the funding and federal resources that they need to transition to the United States as well. And so, success looks like all of those resources being made available. It looks like Congress, as we`re seeing from progressives on the hill, applying pressure to Biden to raise that refugee cap. And again, governors across the country stepping up to help replace and provide refuge for Afghans.

MENENDEZ: Juanita, Matt, I want to get both of your thoughts on another big challenge facing the country and this administration. Listen to this, and I`ll explain on the other side.


REP. JASMINE CROCKETT, (D) TEXAS: We definitely started a movement in this country, we`ve made it clear that voting rights is under attack, so long as they can do this at night, which is what they like to do in Texas, right? When nobody`s paying attention and sweep it under the rug, then hey, who cares? Who knows, right? But instead, we basically rang the alarms and said, hey, listen up, things are getting really bad. Our democracy is under attack.


MENENDEZ: Despite the best efforts of Democrats in Texas, the inevitable is moving closer to reality. State House Republicans were finally able to push through a slew of voting restrictions. Among other things, the bill restricts early voting, adds criminal penalties for poll workers, protects partisan poll watchers, and institutes voter ID from vote by mail, GOP victories like this and red states like Texas, I mean it`s up to the federal government to step in and protect voter rights, a prospect that so far seems unlikely.


Matt Dowd, first, let`s start, what is happening? You`re like, I don`t even know where to start with that. Are we talking about COVID? Or we`re talking about voting rights? In this case, let`s start with voting rights. What is happening?

DOWD: No, here`s what`s happening -- this is what`s happening in our state. This is a clear demonstration where I sit, why leadership matters. And the Republican leader of this state leaders of this state is not just the governor, it`s lieutenant governor and the attorney general, are endangering Texans lives simultaneously, while trying not to be held accountable through their voting restrictions or done. So, they`re doing bad policies that are hurting people. And then they`re trying to put in to get placed a system where they can`t be held accountable.

Here`s a fact, Texas is 50th in ease of voting, 50th and ease of voting, and that included the things that we did last year in 2020 to make this easier. In the 1990s, Texas was 14th in ease of voting. So, what they`re doing is they know what they`re doing is bad for Texans on a number of issues, including COVID. And what do they want to do? They want to put in place walls so they be held accountable for bad policies.

MENENDEZ: Juanita, we need to I want to play you this exchange from the Texas House floor. Take a listen.


STATE REP. RAFAEL ANCHIA, (D) TEXAS: Courts have pointed out over and over and over again, intentional discrimination against African Americans, intentional discrimination against Latinos, intentional discrimination against people of color. These are not my words. These are three federal courts across this country, making 10 findings of that intentional discrimination.

STATE REP. GINA HINOJOSA, (D) TEXAS: Intentional discrimination against people of a certain race, is that racism?

ANCHIA: That is --


ANCHIA: Those words, intentional discrimination, I think can be fairly characterized in that manner.

PHELAN: We can talk about racial impacts of this legislation without accusing members of this body of being racist.


MENENDEZ: OK, so Juanita, this Texas House Speaker went so far as to ban the word racist from floor debate, does that tell us everything we need to know about this legislation?

TOLLIVER: Absolutely. Did you see how tiny tea that, Alicia, and hearing the word even mentioned on the House floor and I really want to give a shout out to State Representatives Anchia and Hinojosa for naming it, calling a spade a spade because what we have across the country are racist voter suppression bills passing across Republican-led state houses. And we know these states aren`t going to stop. Texas isn`t going to stop. Georgia isn`t going to stop. Arizona isn`t going to stop. And so, what now is needed is congressional action. And so I`m really grateful that we`re discussing this in relation to the march tomorrow, because that`s what this is about, keeping pressure on Congress for federal action to preserve voting rights, to protect our elections, to make sure that black Latino, API, indigenous communities don`t have these systemic barriers to the polls, because we know when you call a spade a spade, when we call out these targeted intentionally discriminatory practices for what they are, as in racist, this is the reaction we get. And so that`s why it`s important for Congress to act to make sure that our general rights of vote is protected and preserved, especially for traditionally historically disenfranchised communities.

MENENDEZ: Matt Dowd, you had senators` balls would enclose are saying they are now optimistic that federal legislation can move. What do they know that we don`t know?

DOWD: I don`t know what they don`t - I don`t know what they know that we don`t know. But I wish they get the backbone of Lonestar Democrats who basically made tremendous sacrifices without getting any help from Washington D.C. and the fight they`re having here that they look like they`re going to end up losing, but they were at least able to fight it. I think the Democrats in Washington D.C. need to gather some of what the gumption that Texas Democrats had and adapted to Washington and do whatever they possibly can, including a carve out on the filibuster to get this done in Washington, D.C. now.

MENENDEZ: Yeah, Juanita, I understand that, we`re going to be watching these marches on Washington this weekend, we know that it`s going to be very targeted in its messaging, is that though going to move someone like Joe Manchin?

TOLLIVER: I think it`s still part of the process to make sure that the public is paying attention so that his constituents can keep calling throughout the remainder of this recess, so that additional pressure can stay on Congress because they have to be implored to use every tool available to them to protect our democracy, to protect our basic rights to vote. And so that`s the intention here. The intention is calling it out, keeping it a part of public discourse, and making sure that since we know Republicans in Congress are not going to be able to -- not willing to step forward and help to preserve, and preserve our democracy, Senate Democrats have to do what`s necessary use every tool at their disposal, including a carve out for the filibuster to get this done.


MENENDEZ: Matt Dowd, almost every conversation we have, whether it is our conversation about the pandemic, whether it`s our conversation about voting rights, loops back to Republicans, 2022 and 2024. And the fact that they have their eye on those two dates, and it`s motivating a lot of the decisions that they`re making, but can they continue to ignore public sentiment when it comes to voting rights, right? Maybe this helps them in 2022. Maybe it helps them in 2024, eventually doesn`t come back to bite them?

DOWD: Well, that`s a great question. And I think it only is going to be answered by the people listening and watching this and Americans across the country. Because if they get away with this, and if they`re not held accountable, it`s only going to get worse. So fundamentally, it`s going to be answered by every single voter out there, getting to the polls in 2022. And deciding what they want in leaders and whether integrity matters, and whether that service in the interest of the public good and the common good matters. But in the end, it`s going to be up to the voters to decide because the only ones that can rein the Republicans in are the voters.

MENENDEZ: Juanita Tolliver, Matthew Dowd, thank you both so much for your time.

Coming up, the good news is vaccine rates are going up. So as the number of Americans now hospitalized with the virus, an update from a leading public health expert when the 11th Hour continuous.


MENENDEZ: ICUs in pediatric hospitals are once again overrun with COVID patients. More than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized with a virus that is the highest level recorded since COVID vaccines became widely available.

New data from Florida shows deaths from the virus are rising. Local NBC affiliate reports bodies stacked to the ceiling at one crematory as the surge creates a backlog of funeral homes. Despite all the deadly evidence, Florida`s governor has gone to great lengths to forcefully block mask mandates in schools. But just two hours ago a judge rejected Ron DeSantis` ban citing with Parents who argue masks are crucial and keeping school safe and secure.



AMY NELL, FLORIDA PARENT: I`m personally sick and tired of people playing politics with my child`s life.

DAMARIS ALLEN, FLORIDA PARENT: My rights as a parent matter, too. And not just the very loud, very small minority of parents who did not want masks in school.

KRISTEN THOMPSON, FLORIDA PARENT: It was madness that we even had to sue the governor to get to this place, we prevailed and thankfully, the fact mattered.


MENENDEZ: We welcome back to the program, Dr. Kavita Patel, Clinical Physician and Former Senior Policy Aide during the Obama administration, it also one of our public health experts and a non-resident Fellow at Brookings. Dr. Patel, the CDC Director described where outbreaks are occurring right now, take a listen.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Large scale quarantines or large number of cases are generally occurring in schools, because schools are not following our guidance, particularly our recommendations for teacher as well as students aged 12 and over to be vaccinated and for everyone right now, to be masked.


MENENDEZ: I mean, Dr. Patel, this is terrifying. I say that as a mom myself, given the resistance we`ve seen from some Republican governors, how well do mitigation strategies work when it comes to school safety? What are we learning?

DR. KAVITA PATEL, FORMER AIDE TO VALERIE JARRETT IN THE OBAMA WHITE HOUSE: Yeah, so we`re learning, Alicia, that mitigation strategies when used together, specially obviously vaccination of anybody eligible but then on top of that masks indoors, being able to ventilate if you`re indoors, that means open doors, open windows, fan, filters. And then third, really helping to put a testing strategy together with that and distance if possible, all of these things together, sing in harmony and can keep children camps, schools, daycares open and safe and in person. And we have the evidence mounting about quite the opposite, that if you have even one unvaccinated teacher who has symptoms and doesn`t wear their mask consistently, that one teacher can infect half of a classroom. And those children can then go on to spread the virus to other adults who are unvaccinated. It`s devastating to see this and as you know, this can`t be prevented.

MENENDEZ: Dr. Patel, the president today mentioned his administration looking into offering booster shots to vaccinated adults sooner than the eight months window he had previously announced. You wrote a column for The Washington Post warning the confusion surrounding booster shots could paralyze vaccination efforts. You write, we need a centralized information system to verify vaccination administration and clear guidance ahead on how to prioritize doses. And we need it before September 20 when boosters are expected to start becoming available to Americans. Our current data system to track vaccinations isn`t adequate. I think anyone who`s gotten the vaccine and looked for their vaccination card has some experience with that. What issues though, does the government need to address and what happens if those issues go unresolved before these boosters become available?

PATEL: Yeah, Alicia, thank you for bringing it up. Look, this is unfortunately been a decades old battle. It is -- so one thing that government can start to do today is to actually put incentives for an information standard that all of these disparate vaccine systems, State of New York, State of Texas, D.C., Maryland, every state is doing something differently, and is not speaking to each other. So, they can put forward just standards, doesn`t have to be a federal database, do not mistake that. It just has to be ability to communicate. We did this over 10 years ago, with electronic health records, Alicia, it`s not perfect. But it at least gives the kind of the same language used across these systems. And then the second thing is truly just consistent communication. I have had so many calls from patients of mine, doctors, friends and family. They heard five months from the president today, some have heard six months, eight-month, people are just very confused. And when I asked for people`s cards, they say, oh, I don`t have my card. I didn`t bring it with me. So, we still are relying on people`s memories to aid what I would say is one of the most important vaccination efforts of our generation.

MENENDEZ: I do want to ask you quickly, I have about a minute left, Dr. Patel. As hospitalizations and deaths surged through the country. Any indication that we`re approaching a peak?

PATEL: Yeah, we are seeing numbers cresting, even in some of these dire areas in Florida and Texas, not all of these parts, but we are watching numbers and they`re starting to plateau. They`re going slowly. And what will change that trend is exactly what we started with schools. So, I`m hopeful and we`re looking at other countries where they are also plateauing ever so slowly as well, because they`re also opening schools. So, we have it within our power to have that dissent and have it happen rapidly.

MENENDEZ: Dr. Kavita Patel always appreciate your expertise.

Coming up, he served more than 15 years in prison for killing a Kennedy and he could soon walk free. That story when the 11th Hour continues.



MENENDEZ: They`re spending decades behind bars for the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan may soon be out on parole. Two of Kennedy`s surviving sons supported the release of their Sirhan express remorse for the 1968 killing. NBC News Correspondent Stephanie Gosk has more.


STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 53 years ago moments after Robert F. Kennedy won the California primary Sirhan Sirhan fatally shot him in LA`s Ambassador Hotel.

Today in a stunning decision, the parole board recommended the gunman be released from prison, something few had predicted.

(On camera): How surprised would you be if the parole board let`s Sirhan Sirhan out on parole?


GOSK: The parole hearing Sirhan, 16th drew scrutiny because for the first time ever, no prosecutor from LA County attended. D.A. George Gascon`s office saying in a statement, the role of a prosecutor ends at sentencing. Adding, "If someone is the same person that committed an atrocious crime, that person will correctly not be found suitable for release."

CEVALLOS: On the one hand, it`s surprising because her hands her hand is such a notorious criminal. But on the other hand, there has been a trend away from locking up criminals and throwing away the key.

GOSK: As the recently elected Gascon told Lester in May he hopes to be transformative in his new role.

GEORGE GASCON, LOS ANGELES COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: My priorities are really how we reimagine the way that we bring security and safety and public health work community?

GOSK: Critics worry the prosecutors` absence from Sirhan`s parole hearing could open the door to letting a dangerous criminal who changed the course of U.S. history back on the streets. Sirhan is not out yet. There will be a 90-day review before the decision lands on the governor`s desk when RFK`s killer could become a free man. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News.



Coming up there is an eerie familiarity for what coastal Louisiana is in for this weekend, an update from the 11th Hour continues.


MENENDEZ: One last thing before we go, as we mentioned earlier in the hour, this Sunday marks the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina`s landfall in the State of Louisiana. And tonight, residents of that same state once again bracing for a major storm. Ida became a hurricane earlier today as it`s fun across Cuba. And forecasters warned this storm could farther strengthen into a powerful category three, or even four-hurricane by Sunday, just as it reaches the Gulf Coast.

That would make it the biggest storm to hit the U.S. so far this year, the potential of 140 mile an hour winds and life-threatening storm surge. Storm preparations are already underway. The mayor of New Orleans has ordered an evacuation for those who live outside of the levee system that protects the city from flooding.

MSNBC will be closely tracking Ida as the storm moves across the Gulf of Mexico and strengthens this weekend.

And one other note, be sure to tune into my show, American Voices here on MSNBC Saturdays and Sundays at 6 p.m. Eastern. Tomorrow, we`ll be joined by Joaquin Castro to discuss this weekend`s nationwide push to protect voting rights. And that is our broadcast for this Friday night with our thanks to you for being with us. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the network of NBC News, good night.