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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, August 19, 2020

Guests: David Plouffe, Robert Gibbs, Claire McCaskill, Eddie Glaude, Jr.


The third night of the Democratic National Convention featured a must-see lineup of former and would-be presidents and a historic acceptance speech. Senator Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and Asian American on a major party ticket, delivered her vice-presidential acceptance speech, and former President Barack Obama spoke shortly before her. Harris shares family story in her speech. Obama, in scathing Trump rebuke, warns democracy on the line. Trump blasts Obama's legacy ahead of DNC speech. Trump refrains from disavowing QAnon conspiracy.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The loss of jobs, the loss of opportunities, the loss of normalcy, and yes, the loss of certainty. And while this virus touches us all, we got to be honest, it is not an equal opportunity offender. Black, Latino, and indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately. And this is not a coincidence. It is the effect of structural racism, of inequities in education and technology, health care and housing, job security and transportation, the injustice in reproductive and maternal health care in the excessive use of force by police and in our broader criminal justice system.

This virus it has no eyes and yet it knows exactly how we see each other, and how we treat each other. And let's be clear, there is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for the lives of too many others to name, for our children, and for all of us. We've got to do the work to fulfill that promise of equal justice under law.

Because here's the thing, none of us are free until all of us are free. So we're at an inflection point. The constant chaos leaves us a drift. The incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot. And here's the thing. We can do better and deserve so much more. We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better and do the important work, a president who will bring all of us together, black, white, Latino, Asian, indigenous, to achieve the future we collectively want, we must elect Joe Biden.

And I will tell you, I knew Joe as Vice President. I knew Joe on the campaign trail. And I first got to know Joe as the father of my friend. So Joe son Beau and I served as Attorneys General of our states, Delaware and California. During the Great Recession, he and I spoke on the phone nearly every day, working together to win back billions of dollars for homeowners from the big banks that foreclosed on people's homes.

And Beau I, we would talk about his family. How as a single father, Joe would spend four hours every day riding the train back and forth from Wilmington to Washington. Beau and Hunter got to have breakfast every morning with their dad. They went to sleep every night, with the sound of his voice reading bedtime stories. And while they endured and unspeakable loss, those two little boys always knew that they were deeply unconditionally loved.

And what also moved me about Joe is the work that he did as he was going back and forth. This is the leader who wrote the Violence Against Women Act and enacted the assault weapons ban, who as vice president implemented the Recovery Act, which brought our country back from the Great Recession. He championed the Affordable Care Act, protecting millions of Americans with pre existing conditions, who spent decades promoting American values and interests around the world.

Joe, he believes we stand with our allies and stand up to our adversaries. Right now, we have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons. Joe will be a president who turns our challenges into purpose. Joe will bring us together to build an economy that doesn't leave anyone behind where a good paying job is the floor, not the ceiling.

Joe will bring us together to end this pandemic and make sure that we are prepared for the next one. Joe will bring us together to squarely face and dismantle racial injustice, furthering the work of generations.

Joe and I believe that we can build that beloved community, one that is strong and decent, just and kind, one in which we can all see ourselves. That's the vision that our parents and grandparents fought for, the vision that made my own life possible, the vision that makes the American promise for all its complexities and imperfections, a promise worth fighting for.

So make no mistake, the road ahead is not easy. We may stumble, we may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths and we will act with the same faith in you that we asked you to place in us.

We believe that our country all of us will stand together for a better future. And we already are. We see it in the doctors, the nurses, the home health care workers and frontline workers who are risking their lives to save people they've never met. We see it in the teachers and truck drivers, the factory workers and farmers, the postal workers, and poll workers all putting their own safety on the line to help us get through this pandemic. And we see it in so many of you who are working, not just to get us through our current crisis, but to somewhere better.

There's something happening all across our country. It's not about Joe or me. It's about you. And it's about us. People of all ages and colors and creeds who are yes, taken to the streets and also persuading our family members rallying our friends, organizing our neighbors and getting out the vote. And we have shown that when we vote, we expand access to health care and expand access to the ballot box and ensure that more working families can make a decent living.

And I'm so inspired by a new generation. You, you are pushing us to realize the ideals of our nation. Pushing us to live the values we share decency and fairness, justice, and love. You are patriots who remind us that to love our country is to fight for the ideals of our country.

In this election, we have it chance to change the course of history. We're all in this by you, me and Joe, together. What an awesome responsibility. What an awesome privilege. So let's fight with conviction. Let's fight with hope. Let's fight with confidence in ourselves and a commitment to each other. To the America we know is possible. The America we love.

And years from now, this moment will have passed and our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes, and they're going to ask us, where were you when the stakes were so high? They will ask us, what was it like? And we will tell them, we will tell them, not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: There's your Democratic ticket and their spouses, no live crowds to react these days. Politics is about mostly empty rooms. Of course it's a time of heavy hearts. You just heard the Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris, wrapping up her historic speech as the first woman of color nominated to the ticket of a major party.

She also, if you were watching then, you know opened tonight's session with a warning about the threats to voting rights presently in our country. And before that, we heard the sharpest attack yet from Trump's predecessor, former President Barack Obama who spoke live from the Museum of the American Revolution in the city of Philadelphia. And from the woman Trump defeated Hillary Clinton a dire warning to the electorate not to sit this one out.

Brian Williams here with you for the rest of the way but we want to begin with what we have just witnessed with our friends, Rachel Maddow, Nicole Wallace, Joy Reid, who remain with us and watching from our New York studios.

Rachel, I want to get your thoughts on tonight. And what we have just witnessed and I'm tempted to say, you think you know, somebody, and I don't mean us in the business. I mean, us as American consumers and citizens who had a good number of Barack Obama speeches to watch over eight years of his presidency. You think you know, somebody, and then tonight, someone and something altogether different?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW: Yeah. And actually, I would apply that analysis, Brian, to both of the culminating speeches tonight both to President Obama's speech and to Senator Harris. Senator Harris has been a -- I'm from the part of California that she's from. She's been a public figure to me for a very long time. I've played very close attention to her as a potential presidential candidate. I really thought she was going win the Democratic presidential primary this year. I was completely wrong. She didn't even make it to Iowa before she dropped out and ended up endorsing Biden.

But I felt like I knew her before I saw her give this speech tonight. And this was a different Kamala Harris. This was more like what she is like in-person, if you have the opportunity to meet her off camera, that warmth and that personal willingness to show you who she is and to talk about things that matter to her in a way that, you know, can soften your heart a little bit. And I think of her as a politician and as a public figure as being kind of nails as being really tough. It's part of the reason that I've always thought she'd be an excellent general election candidate against Donald Trump or any Republican.

But tonight for her to do so much biography, so much talking about her mother's the most important person in her life. Just the part where she said, you know, I'm thinking about that 25 year old Indian woman all five feet tall, who gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California, to turn to that my mother taught me that service to others gives life purpose and meaning. That's the side of Kamala Harris that is very accessible, I think, and warm and kind of loving in a way that I think she's been so tough as a public figure. She hasn't shown much of that.

So that to me was a surprise. President Obama's speech tonight slayed me. I'm sure people have different opinions about. This is a different kind of thing from him, but his warnings that we could potentially be at the end of American democracy scared me and I found upsetting and hard to watch, but just powerful, powerful stuff.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST, "THE REIDOUT": Yeah, absolutely. No, I, you know, I, first of all, I just like to cosign everything that, that Rachel Maddow just said, because I agree, you know, to go to President Obama for someone when I was lucky enough with E.J. Dionne, to write a book about Obama's speeches, right? So President Obama can be a poet. There's a kind of speech he gives particularly his eulogies that are all poetry, and that take you through these emotional chords of American history. He's a writer. So he speaks like a writer and he participates in writing his speeches, which is unusual for a politician. And so he -- and he has this very poetic and very almost dramatic sort of sense. That was not the kind of speech he gave tonight.

This was this was President Obama saying, I sat in that office, and I want you to listen to me, because I'm warning you, because I know it from inside the job, that there's a danger here. This was the speech that Obama has given throughout all speeches I've read or watched, that absolutely did feel like the most of the warning. And I think it was warning about the potential end of America. And I mean, that seems dramatic when people say it and people throw around. If we have one, four more years of Trump, the country will end. But there is a fundamental sense that if you break every institution that made it possible for there to be a Barack Obama, it will end. You know, will be another thing. So I think his speech was important, I think was one of the most important speeches I've ever heard him give.

On Kamala Harris, again, I will agree with Rachel Maddow. She is extremely nice, right? And so I think that the hard charging tough person that we're used to seeing rip apart Bill Barr, and make him seem that he's about to need, it depends, right is the kind of person that we're used to. But she's also capable of just being this. And her story about her mom is so poignant to me personally. I also lost my mom to cancer, so that's the part which I really probably needed a Kleenex because, you know, losing your mom and not having a mom with you during these big moments in your life when you're achieving big things is so personal, that for a politician to explain that and to share that with the public. It's something Barack Obama also understands and dealt with. And I think the pain that politicians bring to the table is what makes them empathetic and makes them real. Joe Biden obviously has exactly the same abilities to channel that personal. And she did that tonight. And normally she's fiery in her speeches, but tonight, she was really lovely and loving. And I think that was important.

I also want to shout out the Elizabeth Warren speech. And I will give the total credit to Rachel who noticed the BLM in the background.

MADDOW: With a little blocks?

REID: Yeah. A little bit to say black lives matter gave me a little bit of life. Love that and Gabby Giffords. I think that the Democrats --

MADDOW: Oh the Gabby Giffords thing was incredible.

REID: The Gabby Giffords and the oboe, a lot of emotion there. And obviously, this was the all star team of democratic women, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Gabby Giffords. You know, it was an all star presentation. And I think it was one of the best prosecutions of a sitting president that I've really ever seen.

NICOLE WALLACE, MSBBC HOST, "DEADLINE: WHITE HOUSE": Brian, let me jump in on the Obama speech first, because I actually think that the speeches went together in an interesting way. And I think that President Obama doing what he did allowed Senator Harris to do what she did, and I think that kind of coordination is not often executed the way it's been executed this week.

MADDOW: That's a good point.

WALLACE: Let me say this about Obama. I have a hunch that every living former president would speak from the same deep well of despair. Obama's speech shook me because of his despair laid bare. And if you had been the president, you probably feel, you probably have a well of fury that started the first day of the transition. When Donald Trump and his son tried to set up a back channel to Russia, to go around the intelligence community, by the way, they're a bunch of stars at the CIA from members of the intelligence community that died protecting this country's national security.

First thing that Trump did when he won was to liken them to Nazis. So we cannot fathom the fury and the despair and the rage that every former living president I'm going to kind of limb and say the dead wants to feel when I watch Donald Trump. And I've not seen any living president tap that well of despair and be vulnerable enough to share it with the country. But that is my theory of the case of what President Obama did tonight.

And the gift it gave Senator Harris, the vice presidential campaign exists in three acts. The first is the announcement speech. The second is the convention speech. And the third is the vice presidential debate. By Obama doing what he did, and being that vulnerable and sharing that urgent call to action, and I would guess he wrestled with whether or not to do that. She was allowed to do -- and I don't see -- I see her attacks, is really nice. I think the reason she slays Bill Barr is because she does it with this velvet hammer. So I didn't see her as sort of putting aside the fierceness to be nice. I think she is always all things. And I don't think that any woman should ever again have to compartmentalize any part of herself. And I think the gift of her candidacy is that she doesn't.

But I think that by Obama doing what he did at 10 o'clock at 10:30, she could do what she did, which was tell her story. And I'm from the Bay Area too. And I've grown up knowing her and watching her and watching all the women around her. So to see all them there, it just let her tell that part of her story. But I think that this convention storytelling is second to none. I actually think that the stories they have told, have built this drama that is Hollywood like in its tension, in its despair, and it's pain. I mean, to make the pain that we have all felt if you love this country to watch what Donald Trump has done to it has been searing, it has been gutting. And to make that part of the case to the country is risky. And you know, we don't know until Election Day if it works, but it is big and it is painful and it is raw. And I just think that this Obama speech was one for the ages and let everybody else kind of go out and do what they have to do to tell the Biden story. But I think it's something we'll be talking about for a really long time, Brian.

MADDOW: Brian, are we allowed to --

WILLIAMS: Nicole to your point?

MADDOW: Excuse me, Brian.

WILLIAMS: Oh I was just going to say before we delve back into what we witnessed historians, and we all read them and we all are lucky to be living in a time of great historians love presidents and precedent. And think about a time where no prior presidents support the incumbent. And Nicole think about next week's convention, the living surviving former Republican president will not set foot virtually or no, in that convention. This is an extraordinary night for those reasons.

WALLACE: Well, and Brian, so take that and put that exact frame around former living generals except maybe Flynn, right? I mean, you've got Mattis, who was -- who is a great and revered general who came out after Lafayette Square in liking Donald Trump tactics and his penchant for division to the Nazis. I mean, that's not just a general that won't stand with him, as he, you know, stands for reelection, but someone who is called the president he served similar in his tactics to the Nazis.

You've got John Kelly, who, you know, I think call him an idiot. You've got Rex Tillerson, who was his Secretary of State who called him a bleeping moron, the people -- and for those of us who cover it, this is instructive, because the Trump team rules by intimidation and fear, they're tweeting out, you know, deranged people. This was his cabinet, his national security officials drew these conclusions and there's only one president at a time. So President Obama, former presidents Bush didn't see him up close, but Rex Tillerson did, John Kelly did. Secretary Mattis did and those are the conclusions they drew.

I think it is a moment of choosing for this country. I think that's what President Obama came out and said tonight, and again, none of us knows what the country will choose. But I do think that Senator Harris and Vice President Biden deprived Donald Trump of all of his ammunition from four years ago. They're not elites. I mean, Donald Trump ran is this sort of common man, but he isn't. He has gold toilets. Joe Biden was nominated by so many men in an elevator on the way to an Edward meeting that didn't endorse him. I mean, Joe Biden is sort of taking all the Trumpy stuff away from Trump. And I think Senator Harris helps make that case. I think President Obama help tell the story of why it matters so much.

MADDOW: President Obama's not emotion but his kind of -- it was a little bit of rage. I mean, he's not -- I mean, we all know that there has to be a Senate live character created to be Rachel Obama, right? Like he doesn't show that sort of thing but when he showed some of his anger -- I'm actually -- I had I had told the control room that I wanted to play number six, which I'm going to change my mind about actually, sorry, because I'm that terrible person. But the part -- can we play thought number three for Obama. OK.

REID: Yeah.

MADDOW: Just because this -- so at this point he has made the argument that our democracy is at stake. He has talked about how a democracy withers until it is no democracy at all, when people are talked out of the idea that our system of self governance is what we can do, to solve whatever problems that we have. But there's this moment where you see Obama like kind of having to reel himself back in, in terms of how serious he thinks this is what we have to do about it. Let's watch it.


: What we do echoes through generations. Whatever our backgrounds, we are all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great grandparents, working in fire trips and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust, Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told go back where you come from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beep for trying to vote.

If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans, our ancestors.


REID: Yup.

MADDOW: That is an uncommon Barack Obama right there talking that.

REID: Yeah. And it's not even the way he normally talks about American History, right?

MADDOW: Right.

REID: He normally talks about the reconciling nature of our history and the ways in which we've been able to repair. And he's very much about that. And he is an institutionalist, he really does deeply believe in the reparative power of America. This was, I was going to pick the exact same one, because this was Barack Obama saying, this isn't even the most savage our history has been. And I'm going to explain to you how savage it has been.

MADDOW: And those people believe that democracy --

REID: That's right.

MADDOW: -- was the solution or whatever problems we have. And now we're going to be the ones who can fight democracy.

REID: That's right.

MADDOW: It's just like --

REID: Like if we lose America --

MADDOW: Right.

REID: -- after they managed to get through all of that.

MADDOW: And save it and building into what it is now.

REID: Then we have -- how to -- and it's funny because Kamala Harris kind of ends with the same kind of flourish where she says, one day people are going to look back.

MADDOW: That's exactly right.

REID: And they're going to ask us, what was it like, what did you do? And don't let yourself be caught saying I did nothing because you only have to vote and it's risky now, because COVID is there and voter suppression is real, and the fight against democracy. I've never seen anything like it. You know, I say it all the time. My father was rolling in his grave. He was a Reaganite. He would never recognize what the Republican Party is now, because it is in many ways, an insurgency against America. It's an insurgency against every value that Republicans used to claim that they held dear. They're fighting. They're not just fighting. You know, Barack Obama, they're fighting us. They're fighting voters, the Postal Service, they're fighting every institution to break it, so they can keep power. Both Kamala Harris and Barack Obama in very different ways made that message --

MADDOW: And for Obama to have made that pointed case against what's happening with trumpism and what's at risk with trumpism. And for Harris to be left Nicole, as you point out to say, they will ask us what was it like and we will tell them, we will tell them not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did. She didn't have to prosecute the case against Trump tonight. She got to introduce herself tonight. She got, you know, she said, I know what a predator looks like pointed pause. We only knew what she meant, right Brian?

But, you know, at that point she's -- she actually steps up to the point of talking about Trump walks away from it and is able to get back to, it's nice to meet you, America. Here's how we're going to help. And that's a powerful emotional sort of way to bring us back from the brink that I think President Obama brought a lot of people to tonight by speaking so starkly.

WILLIAMS: And as if to stay on brand and prove some of the underpinnings of the arguments we heard tonight, Rachel, you were to kind of to mention the incumbent president tweeting in real time as his predecessor spoke in all caps, staying on brand. To our friends, to Rachel, Joy and Nicole, thank you. A reminder, we get to do this again tomorrow night though, perhaps different content. Appreciate it.

MADDOW: That's right. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: And to all of those watching, we now begin our special two hour edition of the 11th Hour for tonight, which happens to be day 1,308 of the Trump administration. 76 days to go until our presidential election, night three of the virtual Democratic National Convention.

In this new format and as part of the backdrop of the day, President Trump talked about QAnon on conspiracy theorists from the podium in the White House Briefing Room accepted their support.

In fact, the followers believe among other things that the world is run by a group of Satan worshipping pedophiles and cannibals plotting against Trump while operating a global child sex trafficking ring. And while spreading the coronavirus via 5g internet service.

Today Trump described them as quote, people who love our country then who like me very much. More often that topic later on in this broadcast. We have a lot for you tonight, a lot to get to as "The 11th Hour" gives way to something like the 12th hour.

Coming up next, we'll be joined by two Obama administration alums, including one who helped the former president writes tonight's speech. Our special two-hour edition of "The 11th Hour" just getting underway on this convention Wednesday night.


WILLIAMS: Back with us again tonight, two veterans of the Obama White House David Plouffe, former campaign manager and senior advisor. His latest work is "A Citizens Guide to Beating Donald Trump," and Robert Gibbs, former campaign senior advisor former White House press secretary under President Obama.

And, David, I know that you had a hand had a role in the crafting of tonight's remarks. And I know that no one need remind you writing it is one thing. It's in the delivery. And I contend we saw something altogether different tonight.

DAVID PLOUFFE, FMR. OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Oh, I hadn't heard I mean, that was Barack Obama's speech. It's an idea in writing and delivery. I've obviously helped on a lot of speeches through the years as Robert watched a gazillion of them. And there's never been one like that.

I mean, I think he often used to talk about the fierce urgency of now that Dr. King talked about, and I think urgency, truth. You know, one of his signature lines back in '08 that he would often say when he was president was, I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear. I'm going to tell you what you need to hear and that's what he did tonight. And I think it was even for me. You know I'd seen his speech ahead of time. It's alarming to hear it. He's basically saying if this election goes to Donald Trump, our democracy could be over.

And that's the truth as he sees it, and I violently believe with it. So I hope what comes out of this speech is people who are going to work five hours a week worked in, people who weren't sure they were going to vote early vote as early as they can. People understanding the stakes.

So it was a historical speech, really, because we had a former president, who loves democracy as much as he loves anything other than his family say that it's all on the line. But I thought his delivery, the speech itself is powerful. But the delivery was incredibly powerful.

And again, I think like Michelle Obama's speeches, actually, the fact that it was not in front of a big hall, I think was very helpful. I think it really helped set the stage not just we the people in the constitution in the background, but there was an intimacy to his call to action and his urgency, and I think we all need to heat it. And if we don't, you know, did the whole enterprise could be over Brian.

WILLIAMS: Well, that was -- Robert Gibbs, that was, of course the undercurrent. That's what historians will take away from tonight that the American people. Absent campaign hyperbole were told for the first time in their history by a former occupant of the Oval Office, that democracy itself is under threat.

And I also, Robert, want to read you the work of Peter Baker in today's New York Times. This is adjacent, after watching President Trump systematically demolish many of his achievements, Mr. Obama has almost as much at stake in this year's campaign, as his former Vice President and his party's 2020 presidential nominee, Joe Biden, does -- a second chance to redeem his legacy and prove to history that Mr. Trump's election was an anomaly not a permanent repudiation.

Robert, all that leaves out. In making it personal both can be true at the same time, all that leaves out is, by the way, folks, your democracy is in danger.

ROBERT GIBBS, FMR. OBAMA WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, and I think he did a remarkable job setting out the stakes of what is on the line in November. And I agree with David. I've heard that line of fierce urgency of now from Barack Obama so many times and you could feel it.

I thought he was overcome by emotion walking us through that argument. I think it was also important if you take this back to his 2004 speech, he also attacks the cynicism of letting this moment get the most of you and what you have to do to pull yourself up and become involved.

And I wholeheartedly agree with David I think the idea both with Michelle's speech and with Barack's speech tonight, the ability for us to not pay attention to the crowd shots or funny hats, or having them try to talk over a crowd. We can focus one on one. I felt like with Michelle's speech, I felt like I was having coffee with her. With Barack's speech, I felt like I was in the backyard at a barbecue. And he was walking through what's at stake.

And I think that will become more powerful and more consequential as we really listen to those words. It wasn't a lecture, it was just a simple here's what's at stake. Take it from me, I one of the only -- I'm one of the few people in the country's history that has sat in that office and made those decisions.

WILLIAMS: Robert, while I have you for your team to win it, of course, means the incumbent has to be defeated. The incumbent who was again tweeting in all caps real time while his predecessor was giving such a harsh speech. Here is an exchange from the briefing room today that I want your take on.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I listened to that, and then I see the horror, that he's left us the stupidity of the transactions that he made. Now President Obama did not do a good job. And the reason I'm here is because of President Obama and Joe Biden, because if they did a good job, I wouldn't be here.


WILLIAMS: So, Robert, how do you personally process that? How does the most popular president in the land process that?

GIBBS: Well, I don't think he processes it all that personally. I think, look, elections after eight years of one party are uniquely changed elections. And we've seen that throughout our history. I think what's important for -- what was important for Obama today was to again to lay out what he sees as the real stark reminder of what's at stake and to think through and to walk us all through what he sees as important and I think the power of it, the softness of the tone, the emotion and the delivery.

Look, you know, I'm a big believer now that if Donald Trump wants to tweet and give press conferences and do events, Democrats auto encourage him to do twice as much because it does nothing but turn off voters. It does nothing but walks, you know, 45 is luck in 44, 45 percent and lose 55 percent.

And I think if you look at the popularity of somebody like former President Obama, there's a reason that he spoke at this time and on this day in this convention, because he still has a big sway over people that will ultimately decide this election, a small sliver of people that have decided to fire the incumbent and want to be reassured that they can hire Joe Biden and get competent leadership.

WILLIAMS: Treat to be able to talk to you guys, veterans of Obama team, the David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs. Our thanks for joining us yet again tonight and historic evening we have just witnessed from various sections of our country electronically.

Coming up, we will further go through night three of this convention with our guests Claire McCaskill, Eddie Glaude, Jr., Lawrence O'Donnell when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Here now for more our guests Claire McCaskill, former Democratic senator from the great state of Missouri, Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr, the chairman of the Center of African American Studies at Princeton and of course, our own Lawrence O'Donnell, hosted the 10:00 p.m. Eastern hour on this very network. Senator, I'd like to begin with you the especially the last two speakers tonight.

Spoke of a life people are living across our country. They spoke of an ongoing emergency, a clear and present danger right now right before us.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO) FMR U.S. SENATOR: Yes, I you know, Barack Obama tonight was towering. He was large. He was a statesman. He filled the screen with his words and with the emotion behind them. I don't think Donald Trump is ever looks smaller than he does tonight. He looks teeny tiny small because he spent the day whining about whether or not people could wear his hats.

And you know, whining, you know, in all caps about, oh they'd spied on, me which of course is not true. He just looks tiny. And that was the contrast that Barack Obama brought to mind. And by the way on fear, the Republicans next week are going to tell America to be afraid of people who don't look like you. Be afraid of Muslims, be afraid of immigrants, be afraid of protesters.

Barack Obama tonight said be afraid that we're going to lose our democracy. Be afraid that you're going to lose your power in this country. It's a different kind of message. And one that I think resonates obviously much better with the American people than the other kind of fear.

WILLIAMS: Professor talk about the combined candle power in a visual medium like tonight of Senator Harris and President Obama back to back.

EDDIE GLAUDE, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: It was extraordinary and I want to lean into something that Nicole Wallace said in the last segment or the segment before last. We have to read the two speeches in tandem -- and what I mean by that is this, right, there is a sense in which Barack Obama's speech took the form of the 17th century, Puritan form of speech called the Jeremiah. It is an indictment. It is a lamination. And is an exhortation, an indictment of the sins of the community. Right, a lamination, about the state of where we are in an exhortation for us to turn back, you know, to turn back to our ideals and principles.

It is an -- it was an extraordinary example of what we call the American Jeremiah, and he opens up the space for Senator Harris to then introduce herself differently, right, to not engage in the kind of prosecutorial work that we thought that she was going to engage in, but to actually reintroduce them to carry with her into the room. She called the role of all of those black women who made her possible then brought in her family, particularly her mother. And what do we get? We got inspiration, an aspiration, a kind of version of the country that did not shrink or shirk, you know, shrink from our ugly past, but really to imagine us differently, but only insofar as we act in this moment.

It was an extraordinary kind of echo of a old political form of speech brought together by two historic actors. It's something that I got to really sit down and read and study because I got to bring this to my students as an example of classic American political speech.

WILLIAMS: Lawrence, did you dream that in your adult life, we would hear a former American president, and not one of the silly ones, one of the serious ones, a two-termer, a history maker in his own right, look into a camera and tell us his fellow citizens that our very system is under real and present threat.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC HOST, "THE LAST WORD": Something you could never possibly anticipated five years ago of Barack Obama standing up there and saying, do not let them take your democracy away. And he means the President of the United States. He said, the President of the United States would cheat to win, if necessary, and there's not a person out there who doesn't believe that. That is now just conventional wisdom. Trump voters believe Trump would cheat to win. They know he would cheat to win. And for many of them, that's okay with them.

I want to point out another thing that Barack Obama did tonight and the totality of the presentation, there were two presentations by Barack Obama. They ran the video, the full White House video of President Obama giving Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which came as a surprise to Joe Biden and I personally had forgotten the surprise elements of it, which we saw on video and you -- so you saw that incredible embrace of Joe Biden, the person the man by Barack Obama.

And in Barack Obama's speech, he referred to him as a brother. He said he was choosing a governing partner for a vice president, but he discovered a brother. He couldn't have hugged him more closely on a on a personal level. He couldn't have endorsed the Soul of the man more solidly and more clearly than he did.

And yes, there was a lot of apocalyptic language used by the president, President Obama in a way that we've never heard before. And these kinds of speeches, all of that was merited. All of that will get plenty of attention. But I just wanted to focus on that very, very personal bond that President Obama delivered for Joe Biden tonight.

WILLIAMS: Our guests are staying with us just ahead an example of some of what tonight's speech making was about the incumbent president saying the movement that the FBI has labeled a dangerous fringe group loves this country and they like it. That and more of them we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The theory is this belief that you are secretly saving the world from this Titanic cult of pedophiles and cannibals. Does that sound like something you are behind?

TRUMP: Well, I haven't -- I haven't heard that. But is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? I mean you know. If I can help save the world from problems, I'm willing to do it. I'm willing to put myself out there.


WILLIAMS: We're back with our guests and Claire McCaskill that was all spoken out loud today in the West Wing of the White House and maybe a devil's advocate. It's the 5g talking because if it can spread COVID maybe it can get into your head but how many voters do you reckon that gets him by saying that?

MCCASKILL: None it loses him votes. But he doesn't get that part. He doesn't know how to expand past this little calcified bubble of people that think he's terrific and the world is out to get him. So it is outrageous, especially when you contrast it with what we heard tonight. It is embarrassing for our country.

WILLIAMS: Professor does every day give us a new living, breathing, alternative flipside image of the former president who spoke tonight?

GLAUDE: every single day and in previews what we're going to see next week, Brian, we're going to see white grievance, white fear, appeals to white resentment, as David Plouffe said, we're going to be experiencing white power hour over and over again for a few days. So we need to buckle up witness what we witness.

WILIAMS: Lawrence, finally, the President may know the expression having been in the casino business, he's playing with house money. But here I'm talking about the stewardship role of the presidency. When you accept the accolades from QAnon and don't reject it and you're standing behind that seal. You're supposed to be a steward for all of us, so you potentially accept it on our behalf.

O'DONNELL: Brian, the most important thing about that moment for me is what I've been watching with Donald Trump from the night he won the election, and that is, she never wants to speak to voters who haven't already voted for him. He never speaks to a voter who he doesn't already have.

Senator McCaskill just said he might have lost voters with what he said today. Maybe but what we know for certain is he didn't gain any and there are so many moments that he's handed like that one where you could reach out to voters he could have easily said well, of course, people who vote democratic or have registered as Democratic voters are not cannibals.

So there's so many easy things to say in response to that, that make you sound like a reasonable person. And don't have to swerve into policy areas. But it's yet another example of how Donald Trump is incapable of. He doesn't even have the basic intelligence to speak to voters who have not voted for him, who might conceivably be talked into voting for him. He has absolutely no capacity to reach them. And that's why his polling numbers have always been bad every single day of his presence.

WILLIAMS: We're grateful to our friends for hanging out with us late at night Claire McCaskill, Eddie Glaude, Jr., Lawrence O'Donnell, thank you so much for making the broadcast. There is much more of our special coverage ahead of this Democratic National Convention nights three when "The 11th Hour" comes back.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Welcome back. Good evening once again as we keep going as we cross the midnight hour here on the East Coast. This is now Day 1309 of the Trump Administration; 75 days now remain until the Presidential election. We have just seen Night 3 of the Democratic National Convention.

Kamala Harris accepted her party's historic nomination to be the Vice Presidential candidate running on a ticket with Joe Biden. She is the first black woman, first Asian-American to appear on a major party national ticket.

Tonight, also included other Presidential firsts: Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for President by a major party; Barack Obama, the nation's first African-American leader. The President reacted to the latter's speech with falsehoods in all caps but in real-time, "He spied on my campaign, and got caught". Then there was this, "Why did he refuse to endorse slow Joe until it was all over and even then was very late? Why did he try to get him not to run?"

Trump's handling of the pandemic, which has now stolen over 173,000 souls from our midst, the cratering U.S. economy, racial injustice, gun violence, climate change, were all on the docket in tonight's broadcast, but the overarching message of the evening was the threat Donald Trump poses to American democracy.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: When we vote, things change. When we vote, things get better.

KERRY WASHINGTON, ACTRESS: We fight for a more perfect union, because we are fighting for the soul of this country and for our lives.

GABBY GIFFORDS, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: We are at crossroads. We can let the shooting continue, or we can act.

GOV. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM (D-NM): We have the chance this November to end two existential crises: The Trump presidency and the environmental annihilation he represents.

BILLIE EILISH, AMERICAN SINGER: Donald Trump is destroying our country and everything we care about.

ESTELLA JUAREZ: Every day that passes, you deport more moms and dads and take them away from kids like me.

HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: For four years, people have told me, I didn't realize how dangerous he was, I wish I could do it all over. Look, this can't be another would have, could have, should have election.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): As speaker of the House, I have been - I have seen firsthand Donald Trump's disrespect for facts, for working families and for women, in particular.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): COVID-19 was Trump's biggest test. He failed miserably. Today, America has the most COVID deaths in the world and an economic collapse.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job, because he can't. And the consequences of that failure are severe. Tonight, I'm asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala's ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better.

HARRIS: The constant chaos leaves us adrift, the incompetence makes us feel afraid, the callousness makes us feel alone. It's a lot. And here's the thing, we can do better and deserve so much more. We have a chance to change the course of history. We're all in this fight, you, me and Joe together.


WILLIAMS: That's about how tonight went. And here to talk about it all our own Alicia Menendez, who you can see as I do at 6:00 p.m. Eastern Time weekends on this very network; Robert Costa, national political reporter, also with The Washington Post, moderator of Washington Week on PBS; and Jason Johnson, veteran journalist, contributor over at TheGrio, a professor at Morgan State University. Good evening to our friends and welcome to you all.

Alicia, let's rewind a bit. Earlier in the evening then Obama and Harris, families were celebrated, women were celebrated, the fabric of society was celebrated, but against the heavy backdrop of mass shootings, of families being separated, of climate change, a tough story to weave, in your view did they do that part successfully?

ALICIA MENENDEZ, ANCHOR, MSNBC: They did it successfully and I thought it was such an interesting contrast to last night. Watching last night, it felt very much an appeal to a persuadable voter concerned with safety, security. Tonight felt much more like a message to the base and more specifically, as you were just outlining there, really trying to tie the movements that we are seeing across this country, the Black Lives Matter movement, the immigration rights movement, the climate change movement, the women's movement, the movement against gun violence, and saying while all of those movements are sort of running parallel to this election, it is time for the enthusiasm and energy that is fueling those movements to intersect with this moment.

I also noticed, Brian, and I'm sure you did too that there were specific direct pleas tonight to young voters. You had those coming from Hillary Clinton, who asked young voters not to give up on our democracy. You had that coming from former President Obama, who said please use this moment as a way of harnessing all of your energy and using government as a force for good. So, a different message than we saw last night.

I think the question is how that becomes additionally complicated as we continue through this election. There weren't as many faces from those movements being presented tonight as there might be in the future. And so, a different message we'll see if that continues to play out into tomorrow evening.

WILLIAMS: Robert Costa, let's talk about the institutionalist Republican senators of which there are a many, a couple of them are running for re-election, most of them have spent the last couple of years hiding under the nearest rock. When our Former President says our very democracy is being threatened, do you think if we could hook some of them up to a polygraph, because Lord knows they couldn't say it publicly, they might get tweeted at, do you think they would agree?

ROBERT COSTA, POLITICAL ANALYST, MSNBC: Brian, they see what happened tonight at the Democratic Convention and they see that Obama coalition reassembling. And this is such an important time in America as we remember The Nineteenth Amendment, but talking to Republicans and Democrats in recent minutes, it's clear that they're not only talking about The Nineteenth Amendment these days or tonight, they're talking about The Twenty-second Amendment that bans a President from going beyond two terms.

Democrats are just looking at the Obama speech tonight and saying, maybe one day he could come back, maybe that Twenty-second Amendment could be repealed because that was a rebuke, a historic rebuke of a Current President by a Former President. And that speaks through the fundamental core of this country, its values, and there was a partisan speech on one level but it was beyond that from President Obama. A speech that many people - while Senator Harris' speech was historic in and of itself and had its own power, that speech by a Former President in a constitutional setting, Republicans are sitting up straight tonight and paying attention.

WILLIAMS: Jason, I'll say what I said opening the broadcast tonight. Over eight years, you come to know your President pretty well, especially those of us who pay attention for a living. But all Americans, all citizens, all consumers, how is it that the combination of traits we saw in Barack Obama tonight have not been revealed in their totality prior to now?

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, MSNBC: I think Barack Obama has always been a much more reserved person than we have seen him in his sort of much more relaxed open-shirt post-presidency life. And I also think that he realizes how dire things are. I mean this was a President who is now openly saying, "Look, when I initially had this job, I was going to be very quiet, I was going to go into this post-presidency."

Now he knows that Donald Trump is trying to steal the election, now he knows this is the code red, this is the loud klaxons. If we do not get involved, it's not time to chastise, it's not time to talk about rules and institutions; if we don't get involved, we will not have a democracy to protect.

So I was impressed with what he said substantively, but I'll also say this Brian, I have seen Barack Obama speak in person, I have seen him on television, I have seen him get misty-eyed. I was at the funeral for Clementa Pinckney at Mother A.M.E. Church. The President looked like he was about to cry. And I don't mean that in a bad way.

I mean that in a way that Barack Obama emanated tonight, I love this country and it could be gone and I want you all to understand that. If you looked in his eyes, there was a passion I have never seen before in this President. It was an emotion I have never seen before in this President. And that's what I thought was probably the most impressive thing of the night. It was not his most fiery speeches, it was not his rah-rah speech; it is a I love this place and I know you do too, and we have to get together to save it.

WILLIAMS: Alicia, by the end of the GOP convention, coming up around this time next week, it has been said if they are successful, Americans will believe the nominee is Hunter and not Joe Biden. How are they going to counter some of the arguments made tonight on guns and shootings, on immigration, or just not at all?

MENENDEZ: They're going to paint a very different picture of America. We have already seen that with some of the people who are going to be slated to speak there, they will speak a lot. As we know, President Trump thinks that he can pick up some of the suburban women voters by emphasizing security and safety. The challenge for him is that the contours of security and safety have radically changed.

I mean when we talk about security and safety, those voters are now thinking about a virus that has claimed over 165,000 American lives. They are thinking about an economy that is in turmoil. They are thinking about the safety and security of their family in a very different way.

I want to loop back though, Brian, to something that Jason was saying, which is this is something different, the speech you heard tonight from Former President Obama than what you have heard before and something that I think he understood was that he had to set the stakes and say, "Listen, I wanted him to be able to succeed. I wanted to believe that he was going to be able to do this job and he cannot." That he couldn't just make this, it couldn't come across as a partisan attack, it couldn't come across as a vitriolic attack, it needed to seem as though I really was hoping that this was possible and this couldn't work, and it couldn't.

And what that also did, Brian, is that created the room and the space for Kamala Harris to not have to be the one tonight who had to prosecute the case against Donald Trump. She has plenty of time to do that between now and November. But tonight, such a historic moment and it would have felt a little bit like a loss if she had had to spend a big part of her big historic moment talking about Donald Trump. The fact that she was able to instead talk about herself, talk about her story, connect her story to the story of millions of Americans, was actually just much fairer to the moment than if she had been called upon to prosecute the case against Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS: Indeed. And Robert Costa, to prove perhaps that we can walk and chew gum and to mix my metaphors, the flames are visible from Rome as we have this conversation. The Post Office is under attack in the United States of America after all and of all things, and the news media were full of new pictures today.

Sorting machines being tossed out, dismantled, more Post Office blue boxes that have been unbolted from more sidewalks, loaded on more flat-bed trucks even though the Postmaster General says, "Let's call a halt to this." It's been done to hinder vote by mail operations. The Republicans on the Hill that I love to ask you about, they have constituents who love the U.S. Post Office and are probably scared and maybe waiting for medications. So, how has this gone over?

COSTA: I have some insight details, Brian, talking to House Republicans tonight. This is a reckoning for them, a moment of choosing. Speaker Pelosi is bringing a new bill to the floor in the coming days to fund the Post Office that's under siege, the postal service. And Republicans in the White House, the leadership, they are whipping against Speaker Pelosi's bill.

That's a sign that the Republicans are trying to hold ranks and stick with the President amid this postal crisis. But, you see many Republicans up for re-election, including in the Senate, who may start to take a different tack (ph) for now. Leader McConnell is not working with Speaker Pelosi in any kind of legislation, but this is something to watch.

WILLIAMS: Jason, a tough love question, is the party ready for the fight that's going to come? Trump's going to go to the mattresses, in many ways policy be damned. There is going to be something every day from here on out.

JOHNSON: Oh, they better be. Look, Joe Biden and Senator Harris, they better be ready for all sorts of bad faith attacks and garbage and everything else that can be thrown at them. And one think I want to add about the Post Office, because it's going to go into these kinds of attacks.

The Post Office is the second largest employer in America behind Walmart, OK. It employs right behind Walmart. It is the one government agency that touches everybody. Even the IRS can't get to you without the Post Office.

So when Donald Trump gets up next week and tries to make his case, he is going to have to explain to everybody in America, why he is attacking one of the agencies that employs hundreds and thousands of people. He is going to have to explain why he hasn't done anything about COVID. He's going to have to explain why people are afraid that their kids are going to school and coming back two weeks later with COVID.

So I don't think that the President has to worry so much about attacking Joe Biden and attacking Senator Harris. He has got to explain what he's done. Today is the four-year anniversary of when he told Black Americans, hey what do you got to lose? He said on August 9 of 2016, four years later, 37,000 African-Americans have died in six months from COVID. Donald Trump has got to be on defense for part of his convention; offense, he has got time for that.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our friends for hanging out late with us tonight to Alicia Menendez, to Robert Costa, to Jason Johnson. Thanks for all that you have added to our coverage and our conversation.

And on this history-making night, James Carville standing by to join us next when our special coverage continues.


OBAMA: This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down, if that's what it takes for them to win. So we have to get busy building it up, by pouring all our efforts into these 76 days and by voting like never before, for Joe and Kamala and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country that we love stands for today and for all our days to come.




HARRIS: This virus, it has no eyes, and yet it knows exactly how we see each other and how we treat each other. And let's be clear, there is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work.


WILLIAMS: On that note, we are happy to be joined once again tonight by James Carville, the veteran Democratic strategist who rose to national fame with the Clinton Presidential campaign, who happens to be co-host of the 2020 Politics War Room podcast.

James, I want to say that no matter where you are in the political spectrum, if you stopped in and watched this tonight, it was bracing, it was urgent and owing to this new format and the intimacy of it, I don't think I have ever seen anything like tonight.

JAMES CARVILLE, VETERAN DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I thought one of the most effective things I have ever seen in a political convention was the Medal of Freedom ceremony, because it did not look political. Everything else you can't help, because a political convention is going to be political and that's OK, it should be. But I was actually moved when they were reading the citation, and I just never (ph) thought of that, that they should get a promotion.

And President Obama, what my take from his speech, as every strategist or political person knows, we have got to get to win elections, you got to get people under 35 to vote more. And he was speaking right to the disaffected. He was talking to young people with - I think particularly maybe young people of color who just don't feel like they have a big stake in what goes on.

And I could hear him trying to motivate people and he has a particular amount of credibility within this demographic, he still does. And that was my take away from his speech. I thought it was effective, but I thought he was trying to stimulate that part of the electors which tends to be more dormant than other parts of the electors.

WILLIAMS: I'm tempted to say that lost a bit in the coverage tonight were the remarks by Hillary Clinton owing to the fact that Barack Obama was so powerful owing to the fact that there was so much interest in Senator Harris' content and delivery and style. What did you make of Hillary Clinton's speech?

CARVILLE: Well, that's the kind of thing that can get a guy in trouble these days. But I'll start out by saying I thought she really looked good. I haven't seen Mrs. Clinton in a month of Sundays. And the second thing is I thought she was pretty effective in whata-shoulda-coulda line was to tell people don't let this happen again. She didn't make it so much personal to her, but I thought she did a very good job of reminding people, in particular, maybe people that didn't vote or didn't turn out in 2016, I thought it kind of dovetailed a little bit what President Obama said.

But I thought she was quite effective. She limited her points and she made them very well and they were very important. And when you looked at her, it just sort of reminded you of that night that you and I were on this podium together at MSNBC. That jarring night that every Democrat or even what Independents remember like it was yesterday. And I thought she was very effective in saying, let's not let this happen again, and I was quite taken with it and I thought she was quite effective, I really did.

WILLIAMS: How did it strike you to hear for the first time in your adult life and not at some hugely long volume with great gesticulation, not in the atmosphere of a campaign, but to hear a smart and sober former two-term president look into the camera and tell his fellow citizens that our very democracy is at stake and under threat?

CARVILLE: It's not, Brian, it's not sobering rhetoric - President Obama and I think he does, I mean he looked like he really meant it. At a moment he almost looked like he was like, come on people, we got a lot at risk here, please.

I mean it had a really, I wouldn't say begging, is not the word I'm looking for, but it had a real, stop and take this seriously thing to it. That's definitely what I heard. I mean I don't need much motivation. But I'd go back to what I think he was speaking to people, who feel detached from this system, telling them you have a lot at stake.

And he went through it all of how people have been detached or brutalized by this system, rose up instead and staying in the system is the effective way to change. And I thought that was particularly effective also. But if we can get these young people more than 35 out, it will be a big election.

WILLIAMS: Well, how do you do that? I was just thinking as you said that - about that part of Obama's message, the world has changed so much from when you and I first came up, the distractions, the devices alone, used to be that a campaign could make up its mind to drop a message and by that afternoon, it was like a blowtorch of publicity. It's not that way anymore. What do you do to hammer home that message?

CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I mean I guess a little bit to the convention but there's a whole infrastructure of how these young people communicate with each other and they have different influences, and they have different - my daughter, I had no idea, tried to explain it to me and I have no idea what it is.

But there are people that do that and I think that President Obama has set the kind of template for that. But I had Congressman (inaudible) podcast with had the same conversation. We can get people to vote that are over 40. The problem is getting younger people and that is kind of been part of our democracy for a long time.

But I think that in the Biden campaign, the Democrats are going to make a real effort in trying to do everything they can to get young people all across, not just young people of color, I'm talking about young whites and everybody. They just - young people do not vote as much as older people and that's just the fact.

And we're going to have to try to change that in the cycle to bring about the kind of change that the country needs. I really believe that and I think that was a lot of what the people behind the convention tonight had in mind.

WILLIAMS: Final question in remaining seconds. Am I right that the stakes for Joe Biden tomorrow night are just to successfully get through the speech?

CARVILLE: No, they are going to do much better than that. And the setting is there and my expectation is it's going to be Barack Obama, whatever, I don't know. But I think he's going to do fine. I'm not remotely worried about that.

And I think that you just can feel the humanity, but I just got to go back to that Medal of Freedom ceremony, I thought was just really touching and it was really did not have a political feel to it, which was very refreshing in the middle of this convention.

WILLIAMS: James Carville, our thanks to you for joining us. As always, greatly appreciate your time and coming up for this for us.

More on the historic new look of presidential politics, getting closer to the look of America and the policies the diversity is trying to bring along with it when we continue.


GIFFORDS: Words once came easily, today I struggle to speak, but I have not lost my voice. America needs all of us to speak out even when you have to fight to find the words.




BARACK OBAMA, FMR PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: To the young people who led us this summer, telling us we need to be better. In so many ways you are this country's dreams fulfilled. You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You're the missing ingredient.

The ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.


WILLIAMS: An emotional former president tonight. It was bracing to watch. Back with us to talk about what it is we've witnessed Alexi McCammond, political reporter over at Axios and Britney Packnett Cunningham activist and former member of President Obama's 21st century policing task force.

A pleasure to have you both back with us. Alexi, as I understand it, you were the pool reporter today covering the Biden campaign effort, even if you talk atmospherics and tone and tempo as I'd like you to do, what was that like? What did you glean from that experience?

ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: Well, thank you for having me, Brian and Britney, it's good to see you virtually. Today was really odd and it was a really interesting example of the (inaudible) reality that we're in. As you mentioned, I was a reporter covering Biden and Senator Harris through this day.

So you know, I'm very grateful that I was one of only 30 reporters who got to watch this speech that Harris gave in person live from the State Center here in downtown Wilmington. But you know that was the really kind of striking things. She gave this really fervent passionate speech to a completely silent room and the really kind of funky thing at the end Brian, was after she gave the speech and this is something that we got to see that I don't know if other folks got to see because I wasn't watching on TV but you see Senator Harris standing on that stage, turning to the big projection screen that shows all the folks at home watching in their zoom boxes and giving her kind of a virtual round of applause.

She turned to the zoom screen and gave them a round of applause and was thanking them and you know I thought that was just a really funny moments again, because you're sitting in this room with 30 other folks. You're watching her give a speech and it's completely silent and I think that just speaks to this new normal because obviously, the normal convention, it would be ruckus and loud and rowdy and people would be shouting and cheering and a testament to all the speakers for pulling it off in a completely silent room.

WILLIAMS: Indeed to your point Alexi, somebody tonight tweeted out the reverse view, what it is that Senator Harris was looking out at and this is the life we've chosen or had imposed on us. Empty rooms, odd backdrops, no applause, stirring lines delivered to absolute silence in the room and the only time you can hear from humans is through an electronic screen as we are all communicating now.

Britney, I just want to hear you out on what it is you think we witnessed tonight?

BRITNEY PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM, FMR MEMBER OF OBAMA POLICING TASK FORCE: Well, I think we witnessed a number of things. As a student of history myself, I certainly still have goose bumps from recognizing the amount of history that we witnessed tonight with the first South Asian woman, the first black woman accepting that nomination.

We heard Mary J Blige at the end and we heard a Divine 9 shoutout at the beginning. That is certainly never something that many folks in our community thought that they would see in their lifetimes. So if nothing else, we witnessed history. We also as Alexi already said witnessed a new normal and I think what Democrats are really trying to express here is look, we wouldn't be in quite this dire situation if this person that we're trying to beat weren't in the White House but we're going to move forward anyway.

They're trying to make sure that people can hear the story of the party and here the forcefulness - the forcefulness rather with which they will move forward despite desperate circumstances because that's what we'll need them to do in November.

So I certainly think we saw a very clear-eyed orientation toward that and lastly, I think especially from Senator Harris, we saw a refraining of this conversation to be about more than just what we're dealing with now but about looking toward the future. When Senator Harris says this virus has no eyes yet it knows exactly how we see each other, I found myself completely compelled and convicted, not just to think about how Trump had dealt with this virus but to think about all of the work that has to be done, moving into the future to make sure that we are treating one another far better than we have been.

I mean that our systems actually do better by us than they have been thus far. I think President Obama pointed to the future as well Gabby Giffords pointed to the future. A lot of the speakers tonight said it's not just about beating Donald Trump, it's got to be about more than that.

WILLIAMS: Alexi, to the point Britney just made, I've thought of this since the naming of Senator Harris to the ticket. Americans are going to get a long put off lesson especially those who need to hear it about HBCUs. By the end of this people are going to know right off what AKA is and that's a huge step forward for our society.

And some of that is going to fall on journalists like you who are going to write in slow motion, the story of this campaign, a kind of biographical profile that over several pieces and over eleven weeks, tells the story of this woman from California who in turn, tells the story of a huge chunk of our country.

MCCAMMOND: Yes Brian. I mean next time Britney and I are on, you're going to be wearing a pink and green suit. So I look forward to that.


MCCAMMOND: Interesting. We'll call each other and coordinate. But I think that's exactly right Brian. I mean, I think that a lot of folks are kind of learning on the job as they're covering Senator Harris and what this movement really means. I mean we're also seeing that post George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, the way that newsrooms are having these internal reckoning.

Really thinking about the ways in which they've upheld and supported and perpetuated systemic and systematic racism and how they can be better for their employees now and in the future but I think it's a good thing. I mean even this week with the Democratic Convention going on and this message of democratic unity, we've heard folks and I've talked to folks like former HUD Secretary Julian Castro who's been talking about the lack of Latino representation among featured speakers.

And I bring that up because I've even seen how some folks, journalist included are now spinning that to say well, he's just complaining. He's complaining but he's not speaking but it's so much bigger than that issue and it's so much bigger than Castro, so much bigger than Senator Harris.

And I think that's what I'm excited to see as journalists and people like kind of realizing this moment on the one hand that it's bigger than these folks because it represents a movement and these people that we hold this with and we could all benefit from understanding each other in a struggle we go through and the joys that we have, a little bit better but it also means that we have to push ourselves to check our biases when we show up to work and to these situations with other people and really be committed to learning and growing and to sharing these authentic stories and to helping other people see their owns stories reflected in the types of leaders that are being elevated in this moment.

WILLIAMS: Because I miss nothing, I saw your at least, laptop interview with the Secretary just last night after we got off the air. Hey Britney, what do we do about the need or is it an obligation or should it be either to report in real time the incumbent president tweeting in all caps about his predecessor, while his predecessor is becoming the first president in American history to do what he did tonight.

PACKNETT CUNNINGHAM: Well look, I think that unfortunately we have to at least call out what happened that we saw the current sitting president have a full-on temper tantrum on Twitter tonight but what does that tells us? That tells us that he's running scared, that tells us that when we point out the facts of his administration, the simple and basic facts of his record, that he can't actually stand up to that.

He and that is he that he created himself. I think that while we pay attention to it, we continue to point Americans toward our collective responsibility to fight against the voter suppression that we've been facing and to make sure that we focus on things bigger than one person and one administration.

He'd love to distract us, he would love to make the story about his temper tantrum, about the false accusations that he pointed out to the last administration. He'd love to point to the birtherism and some of the misogyny war that he and his cronies have been throwing at Kamala Harris.

We have to be bigger than that, we have to be better than that and I do want to get back to this point though that Alexi was smartly making about making sure that being better than that includes giving us the biggest head possible.

I think it was a huge miss that Julian Castro was not on the stage, this week. I think that he had one of the most progressive policy platforms that we saw from all the primary candidates and that's not a complaint, that's not in the opposite direction of unity, that's recognizing that he could help bring in a lot of people into the conversation who want to make sure that they're heard, especially when we're hearing from so many current and former Republicans.

They want to make sure that they are still a part of the democratic base and I think it's going to be important for the entire party apparatus to do that more thoughtfully so that we can truly link arms together and move beyond this current administration.

WILLIAMS: And I have learned that I have to apply for entry in AKA before we speak next. Britney Packnett Cunningham, Alexi McCammond, thank you both very much for having us in and staying up late with us tonight and contributing to our broadcast.

Coming up for us, Democrats have one more night to try to make their case. John Heilemann is standing by to join us live to preview what to expect tomorrow or if you're here on the east coast later today.



HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: For four years people have told me, I didn't realize how dangerous he was. I wish I could do it all over or worse, I should have voted.

Look, this can't be another woulda, coulda, shoulda election. If you vote by mail, request your ballot now and send it back right away. If you vote in person, do it early.


WILLIAMS: It's been a long four years since her convention for Hillary Clinton. She was back tonight to remind the nation, her fellow Democrats of the repercussions of staying home on Election Day, sitting this one out.

Here with us tonight for more, running the anchor leg of the broadcast as it were, John Heilemann, Author and Journalist, our National Affairs Analyst, co-host of the Circus on showtime, Executive Editor over at the Recount. John, sum up what it is we witnessed tonight, a question I've been looking forward to asking you this evening.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know Brian, I'm always impressed by the way in which you sum up events like this very pitifully and immediately following them. It takes me off a little time to kind of absorb things but you know you move right to it as soon as this evening ended, which was the thing that I think struck a lot of people, especially people like us who have been students of and watchers of Barack Obama, covering him off for a long time.

The way in which he gave a performance tonight that was not like any performance we've ever seen before. I've you know watched him since the time he was in the state Senate in Illinois and even before that in Harvard graduate school and I just I've never seen a Barack Obama like this before and I think that there's a lot of work that got done tonight at this convention.

Obviously, there was a big focus on some policy areas that have been not spoken of very much in the first two nights of the convention that are super important to the outcome of the election, particularly the focus on economic policy in the first part of the second hour.

I think it's - we can talk more about that if you want but I think it's very important and obviously there was a big focus on I think tonight in a way that we didn't see in those first two nights, more of a focus on the emerging Democratic coalition.

What the coalition of the future looks like for Democrats but I think when the histories of this are written, what will be remembered is Barack Obama's speech. We also obviously saw Kamala Harris's big speech. A lot of important stuff happened but I think when people look back on this, 10 years now, 20 years from now, it will be because of Barack Obama's speech, something not just like - unlike anything he's ever done before but something like we have never seen an ex-president ever do before at any party convention, really in the modern history of conventions. It was that different.

WILLIAMS: John, give me a preview of next week and I don't mean to jump ahead in time but it's been theorized that by the last night of the Republican convention, if they are successful, Americans will come away thinking it's Hunter Biden who's the nominee.

HEILEMANN: Well, you know I think Brian, there's going to be obviously a lot of focus on that. I don't know whether I mean, look, one of the most interesting things of this period of the pandemic period has been watching the Trump and there have been so many things that have been totally mind blowing in this period but if you're on the purely political scale, while this presidential campaign has not been front and center for obvious reasons given the economic devastation and the public health devastation in the last five months, the campaign oddly has kind of taken a backseat.

But if you've been watching it as we have been watching it, you you've seen the Trump campaign struggling to try to find the negative frame to put on Joe Biden you know. We know that an incumbent in the kind of political trouble Donald Trump's in must make this election a choice and not a referendum and then must seek to disqualify Joe Biden.

That's the political work ahead of the Trump operation and next week is a big moment for them to try to do that but they've had a hard time deciding how they want to go about that in finding a series of arguments that have been consistent and consistently effective.

They seem to have settled though, not on some of those kinds of arguments, not on the ones that relate to Hunter Biden or the ones that relate to Joe Biden's mental faculties which they kind of fooled around with for a while though they keep coming back to it a bit.

But they really seem now to be focused on the notion of Barack - of Joe Biden as a puppet of the Left and I think a lot of what you've seen in this convention so far has been designed to sort of get ahead of that argument, to try to defuse that argument. That's why you've seen I think, so many Republicans over the first couple days is that they are very much trying to inoculate Joe Biden against the charge that he's become a captive of the left and that's what I imagine we're going to see a lot of next week.

I'm sure that will be Hunter Biden talk, I'm sure there will be Obamagate talk, I'm sure there'll be all kinds of talk but really what I think they're going to be trying to drive is this notion that if Joe Biden gets elected, he will not really be in charge. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, AOC, they will be in charge. Whether that's an effective line of attack or not remains to be seen but I think that's where they're going.

And I think we're going to hear an awful lot about the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in the course of those four days next week from the virtual space that that convention will be coming from.

WILLIAMS: All evidence shows that you are probably correct. John Heilemann has agreed to stick around through this commercial break. If he tries to leave for that matter, a camera will follow him throughout his home. We'll get his final thoughts on what's going to be night four of the DNC, tomorrow and or later today.


WILLIAMS: Back with us is our guest John Heilemann. John, I have in my hand and we have prepared to put on the screen the list of speakers for Thursday, later tonight here on the east coast and it reads like a law firm. Booker, Buttigieg, Newsom, Bottoms, Baldwin, Duckworth, Coons, Yang, Bloomberg, Biden. It's a lot and it bears no resemblance to the convention where you made your bones as an author.

The introduction of Sarah Palin to a national audience. I think we can agree that the roll out of Kamala Harris has gone better than that.

HEILEMANN: It has. I mean, it's been flawless I think in most respects Brian. I mean they - it's obviously weird and the - I think we've talked about, there's like three parts to it, to a running mate. There is the announcement, there's the convention speech and there's the vice presidential debate, the last of those is probably the most important and the one that gets the most attention.

Although the announcement itself getting someone on the ticket in a way that's free of turbulence where someone can't be attacked for not being qualified for the job, obviously very important. She has now given two different very good speeches on in the first two parts. The announcement speech she gave and the speech she gave tonight, very different kinds of speeches. The first one more prosecutorial, this one more personal but when I say weird, I mean in both cases the kind of the things that have been much remarked on, it is strange, it continues to be enduringly strange and this is not a fault of Senator Harris's but it's enduringly strange to see someone in one of those empty rooms giving speeches that would ordinarily illicit enormous reactions from a big crowd, especially in her case.

She has spoken in front of very large crowds and is a magnetic and captivating speaker, to see her in that empty room, it's kind of that airless echo in space but I think from - on the basics of you got this pick made, it did not leak, she cleared the bar ready to be Commander-in-chief immediately.

She's not about even been attacked by Republicans on that front. It could not have gotten any better for them.

WILLIAMS: John Heilemann who in truth had his bones already made way before 08. John, thank you for hanging out with us, staying up late with us. We were looking forward to talking to you tonight as always. Greatly appreciate it. That is our broadcast for this evening. Thank you all for being here with us. Our special coverage of the Democratic National Convention continues at the top of the hour after this break.



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