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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, November 4, 2020

Guests: Neal Katyal, Robert Gibbs


Joe Biden campaign expresses cautious optimism as votes are counted. Donald Trump campaign falsely claims evidence of "fraud" and "cheating." A group of about 200 angry Trump supporters descended on the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix to protest the vote counting effort inside. Biden leads with 253 electoral votes, Trump's path narrows. Race is unsettled as Trump and Biden split swing states, vote counting continues. The Trump campaign says it has filed lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, laying the groundwork for contesting battleground states.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again, especially considering we are in THE 11TH HOUR of this presidential election or at least somewhere close. Day 1,385 of the Trump administration. This seemingly endless day after Election Day 2020 on the path to 270 electoral votes has dramatically narrowed for Donald Trump. Since most Americans went to bed if at all last night early this morning. The fortunes of Joe Biden have seemingly improved. At this hour, Biden appears indeed to be on the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, with 253 electoral votes by our count to Trump's 214, a quick proviso other news organizations even more generous in their electoral account thus far.

This afternoon, Biden locked up a pair of victories in two critical Midwestern states, states that Donald Trump won in 2016. NBC News has declared Biden, the winner in Michigan and the projected winner indeed in Wisconsin. The outcome there could still depend on a potential recount and or official confirmation of the vote count.

The verdicts are still out tonight in some big states like Georgia and Pennsylvania where Trump's leads have been shrinking as votes are being counted, Nevada, Arizona, North Carolina Alaska, yet to be called as well. Earlier this afternoon, Joe Biden joined his running mate Kamala Harris in Wilmington, Delaware.


JOE BIDEN, (D) U.S. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's clear that we're winning enough states to reach 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. When the count is finished, we believe we will be the winners. There will be no blue states in red states when we win, just the United States of America.


WILLIAMS: Trump has launched a legal fight to try to halt vote counting in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Campaign is also challenging the handling of ballots in Georgia demanding a recount in Wisconsin. Today, the President son, Eric and Trump acolyte and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani were sent to Philadelphia to try to stop the vote count.


ERIC TRUMP, PRES. TRUMP'S SON: This is fraud. This is absolute fraud. We're going to win Pennsylvania, but they're trying to cheat us out of it because they know it's their only path to victory.

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP PERSONAL ATTORNEY: All of you thought there was some kind of legitimate count going on here in Philadelphia. It was totally illegitimate. This is a concerted effort of the courts to run the Democratic Party. This is beyond anything I've ever seen before.


WILLIAMS: There is no evidence any of that is true. The Biden campaign says it's ready for court fights and for good measure today they unveiled their presidential transition website.

Another big developments and I could help determine control of the U.S. Senate. NBC News is projecting Democratic incumbent senator Gary Peters of Michigan has indeed defeated the Republican challenge from John James.

Also tonight while the President predicted and insisted that we would stop talking about it by now, we nonetheless remain in the midst of an out of control pandemic. Indeed, tonight the United States hit a grim new high for daily confirmed coronavirus cases, over 100,000 just in this single day.

But let's go back to our lead story. The latest on where the vote count stands, Steve Kornacki, blessedly after all these hours still at the big board for us. Steve, we appreciate you staying up with us. I know it's a lot to ask because we've normally asked you to dive into the minutiae. But for people just joining us shortly after 11 o'clock eastern time, where does this thing stand right now?

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Sure. Let's take the big picture, look Joe Biden is sitting right now at 253 electoral votes, Donald Trump at 214, of course, the target here 270. Biden is 17 away from that goal right now. And he's leading in some states that could get him there. So right now he is leading in the vote count. I can show you in Arizona. Now we've got a probably about two hours from now. We expect to get a big batch of votes in Arizona that's going to help us understand that picture. They're a little bit more, but Biden leading in Arizona trying to hold off the President Donald Trump. In the last update we got from Arizona got closer. Let's see if Trump can close that gap further.

There is Nevada. It's close. Biden's leading. We're expecting to get a lot of votes reported out tomorrow, probably around noon Eastern. Does Biden hold that lead in Nevada? We're probably going to get some clarity on that tomorrow.

By the way, if you just put these two states together, Arizona, and Nevada, if Biden holds his lead in Arizona holds his lead in Nevada that would equal exactly 270 electoral votes for him. So that is a path to 274 Joe Biden. He has several paths on this map, though. We're also seeing votes still come in, in Georgia. This one keeps getting closer and closer 30,000 vote advantage for Donald Trump. That was -- that has come down from hundreds of thousands. Why? Because you've had two things happening here. Number one, a lot of the vote, the late reporting vote has been from this Atlanta metro area, which is a core democratic area in Georgia. The other reason we're talking about mail-in ballots here, absentee ballots, Democrats were much more likely to vote by mail this year in Georgia and elsewhere. Republicans were much more likely to vote on Election Day in Georgia and elsewhere. The Election Day votes were tallied first in most cases, it's the mail-in ballots that are coming in right now. And Biden continues to chip away at the President's lead in Georgia. We will see if he can overtake him there, worth 16 electoral votes. If Biden is able to do that, there is North Carolina.

We are waiting on, there's Trump lead of 76,000 votes here. We're basically waiting to see how many people stuck ballots in the mail, the day before the election, for instance. And it took a couple days to arrive, is that going to add up to enough to awe for Biden to overtake Trump, reason to be skeptical of that. But let's see. That's why we wait in North Carolina. And then we come to Pennsylvania. And that is a state like Georgia, where Joe Biden is trying to play catch up in the gap a keeps -- I'm just seeing it right now, the gap keeps coming down. Trump's advantage here about 168,000 votes in Pennsylvania.

And again, mail in ballots, democratic areas that just chipping away Joe Biden is in Pennsylvania. So you see all sorts of past when you look at the states that are going on right now potential paths for Joe Biden to get those 17 further electoral votes that he needs for the president. He needs to hang on or excuse me he needs to come back and win Arizona. He needs to hang on in Georgia. He needs to hang on in North Carolina, win Pennsylvania and get Alaska Where he's headed is just not called yet. So a very, very precise and narrow set of things would have to happen for Donald Trump right now to get to 270. We'll continue to keep our eye on it.

WILLIAMS: Steve, thank you. If anything changes, just holler. We're here on the other side of the glass.

And we want to go back to Gadi Schwartz. Those watching toward the end of the last hour saw him at Maricopa County elections department in Phoenix. Gadi, you started out outside, you've come inside, tell us just what has happened there, who has gathered while the counting goes on?

GADI SCHWARTZ, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brian, we'd love to take you outside. Unfortunately, there were people in the crowd that somehow have pretty immediately heard about our live camera, and that walk that we did through the crowd. So we just went back out there to try to give you the same type of vantage point. And very quickly, people started gathering, they're like, hey, you know, we know what you're doing. And then the crowd started growing. So we have fallen back inside to where the actual action is happening back behind this glass. And you've got the people that are tabulating those votes. They're getting ready to run them through these tabulators right here.

Again, it's difficult because there is this crazy distraction going on outside. We can hear the chance inside, people yelling and chanting outside. And these poll workers continue to do their duty. They've got independence. They've got Republicans. They've got Democrats. They're all making sure that everything is being done by the book. They're checking the signatures. They're making sure that the ballots are ready to be put into these machines. And then they're hopefully going to get us some of those results.

I know a little bit earlier, Kornacki who is breaking down some of those some of the results that we've already seen. We saw just over 70,000 of those ballots come in. Unfortunately, we're probably not going to get a big dump in the hundreds of thousands. There's still about 300,000 outstanding ballots here in Maricopa County. And that is what's being worked on right now. Instead tonight, we're probably going to see somewhere below that 70,000 mark. But it's something that's been happening throughout the day. They say that this is a process that takes some time. They want to make sure they do it right. So they're not rushing things. They're also saying that this isn't necessarily out of the ordinary. They say that it obviously takes some time to get those walk-in, mail-in ballots. So that's what they're doing throughout the evening. And then at some point, their shift will end. And they may have to go outside and they may have to see that crowd. And we've seen some of them leave. And when they did leave, they were escorted out by the sheriff's department to a van and they were driven away.

WILLIAMS: So Gadi, just a couple seconds remaining, one more question. These are largely Trump supporters outside and what are the -- what are they demanding? What are they chanting?

SCHWARTZ: Yeah, a lot of Trump signs, a lot of Trumps shirts. And they are demanding that somebody from the elections division come out and talk to them and tell them that basically their demands are that they want to see what's going on in here because they think the election is being stolen from the president. They also have some strong words for some other networks that have already called this race, this race for us, obviously, too early, too close to call. But they were very angry about that. They're very angry at the media. And so there is just a lot of anger outside of the Maricopa County election center here. While inside it's peaceful and people from all political ideologies are working together to try to get this vote counted.

Gadi Schwartz, thank you for your live reporting from there in Maricopa County, Arizona tonight. We appreciate it. Let's bring our starting three guests into the broadcast tonight, starting with Phil Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for The Washington Post, co-author along with Carol Leonnig of the longtime bestseller, A Very Stable Genius, and Neal Katyal, Veteran of the Justice Department, Former Acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration. He has argued 42 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, including one just this morning, we note.

Gentlemen, thank you for joining me live. We're just starting off with two guests tonight. Phil, first off, this may call for a prediction on your part. What can we expect from Donald Trump in the next 12 to 24 hours? We see the plotline developing in this race. And we see mostly his supporters showing up in places like that while votes are being counted.

PHILIP RUCKER, THE WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF: Brian, what we've heard from the President in his remarks overnight last night, but also on Twitter today is a call out to his supporters that he believes that this election is being stolen from him, even though there is virtually no evidence to prove that it is not being stolen. Of course, these are legal ballots that are being counted in an orderly and legal way in keeping with our democratic process in this country. But he has tried to claim victory and claim that this ongoing counting of ballots of mail-in ballots is an attempt to conspiracy really, in the President's view, to steal this election from him.

I assume we're going to hear that language ratcheted up in 24 hours to come. His campaign is filing these lawsuits as you've talked about on the air tonight. But from the president, we've not seen him physically, since he came out there in the White House. You see the pictures there at about 2 a.m. last night. Perhaps we'll see him again tomorrow. His schedule is clear for the day tomorrow. But I assume we're going to hear him continuing to claim that this is fraud for the country and that the election is stolen, again, no evidence at that.

WILLIAMS: Neal Katyal, indeed, there's no evidence that these are anything but legally cast votes in states that allow them to be legally cast. Are any of the legal arguments that you've seen from the administration? Do any of them have merit to you?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: So far, not at all, Brian. So if I'm Biden, I'm feeling very good right now. I think courts can only do so much to help Donald Trump. And there's two big problems with all the litigation. First is it's always a losing strategy in the United States to try and block the counting of votes. People like Republican governor, Mike DeWine, are out there tonight saying count every vote. That's one problem, just the un-Americaness of it. And the second is, it looks like from the map that Kornacki and others have been showing us, Trump can't just win by winning one court case. He's got to win two in two different states. That's a really big difference from Bush versus Gore, where I was a junior lawyer that involved one state, of course, Florida, not more than one. And Bush was always ahead throughout the whole thing. Right now Biden is ahead. And so it's very hard to play catch up.

If I were Trump, I'd say the best chance I've got is Pennsylvania, and these late ballots, these ballots that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said could come in as late as Friday. And what Trump is saying is no they had to have come in yesterday. That was a theory that three justices in Bush versus Gore bought back in 2000. Never before, never since until last week when Justice Kavanaugh wrote an opinion saying that he bought the theory and it was joined by three of his colleagues. That's only four votes there, not five. Justice Barrett is now on the court. And so some people like Trump are predicting, oh, she's going to vote for him. I don't think that's true. I think there are three big problems even with the Pennsylvania thing. The first is it's not clear the ballots make any difference, because it may be other states matter. And even counting these ballots, a lot of the ballots have come in, these mail ballots by yesterday. So it's not clear that that matters.

The second thing is that the circumstances are a lot weaker here than even last week, because all these people have relied on the fact they can get the balance in by Friday. And so for the Supreme Court to come around and change the rules after the election, really problematic, and that brings me to my last point, Supreme Court does not like to be in the middle of this stuff. And, you know, I've talked to a lot of my colleagues in the Supreme Court bar and the left and right today, and I think nobody thinks that this kind of technical thing is really going to have any chance of success, particularly when it would be to undo an election. It's just a really, really uphill battle.

WILLIAMS: Phil Rucker, Nicolle Wallace was on with us earlier tonight, went through some of her reporting. Number one, her observation having been involved in Bush v. Gore, that this kind of hubbub lacks the heft of a Warren Christopher versus a James Baker showing up on scene when the best you've got is Rudy Giuliani in Philadelphia with the president's son in a news conference interrupted by calls on the networks of the State of Michigan. They also lack legal consistency in their arguments.

She is also reporting from Trump intimates that there may be some debate about how much he will cooperate, how much he will go along with the notion of, should Joe Biden prevail, a new president down to whether or not he participates in transitional affairs, ceremonial affairs is around for the inauguration. Do you have any reporting to add to that?

RUCKER: You know, Brian, I'm not aware of any decisions that have been made by the president, in part, because I think at this hour, he's refused to acknowledge that he appears to be on track here to lose this election. So I'm not sure he's really thinking about the transition.

Remember, Donald Trump is superstitious in 2016. He did not want Chris Christie to be doing much work on building a transition, because he didn't want to jinx the result of the election. And again this year, he has resisted getting involved in transition discussions, even though of course, some members of his staff are planning for that, because that's required by our federal government. But traditionally, you know, within days, really two days of an election result being known, the incumbent president invites the new president elected to the White House, and there's a very cordial meeting in the Oval Office to spouses, and to have lunch over in the residence of the White House. There's sort of a tour. And it's a very important symbolic passing of the torch moment for this country.

And then of course, there's the economic inauguration on January 20, where the Presidents appear together. They ride in a limousine together over to the steps of the Capitol. I, frankly, knowing Donald Trump as we do, I would frankly be surprised if he went through all of those motions. He is very likely to feel personally wounded and insecure about losing to Joe Biden sleepy Joe, as he calls him, and very well made out of all of that, but I'm not aware of that decision having been made.

WILLIAMS: Neal Katyal, there's a lot of anxiety on the left about the so called New Look Supreme Court just because I'm curious, I assumed today your virtual argument before the court included justice Barrett, and I'm curious, was she an active participant in questioning?

KATYAL: Yeah, she was an active participant, asked great questions, balanced questions at both sides. She's hit the ground running. And so, you know, as my first argument in 42 without Justice Ginsburg, and, you know, in some ways, I was glad it was telephonic because otherwise, I think I would have shed some tears. But I thought Justice Barrett handled the, you know, our first week of arguments really, really well.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, I can't thank you both enough. Again, after the -- these long days and the week we've had already and it's just what, Wednesday, Phil Rucker, Neal Katyal, greatly appreciate you being here.

A quick break for our coverage, and then just ahead, Michael Steele, Robert Gibbs, former Senator Claire McCaskill and the rest of our special coverage team as our coverage of the road to 270 continues.


WILLIAMS: We realize the folks watching tonight are chasing 270. We realize everyone is on edge for a change in any of the states we are tracking. Obviously if we see any movement, we will go right there. We will go to Steve Kornacki at the board.

Georgia is getting a lot of attention deservedly so tonight. They are still too close to call. But right there that is Priscilla Thompson in Atlanta where the counting goes on. Priscilla, how many votes do they estimate are still out there?

PRISCILLA THOMPSON, NBC NEWS REPORTER: 21,000, Brian, that is the magic number here today and folks are working to get those ballots counted. I want to step aside and just give you a look at the operation they have going here. For the past 14 hours, people have been in and out of this room working to count those ballots. They started the day with 74,000 ballots, and we've made pretty significant gains here, but they still have a long way to go. Right now, they're averaging about 2,000 to 3000 ballots per hour. But to be in this room, you feel a sense of energy, a sense of urgency. He spoke to one man here who has actually been here counting ballots today. And he says that you get into a rhythm. And before you know it, the hours have passed and, you know, the time just passes so quickly.

And so that is what it's like to be in this room right now as folks are working to get that done. And I should say that efforts like this are happening across the state. There are still multiple counties needing to get their ballots counted. The last update we have from the Secretary of State's office puts it at around 90,000 ballots, still needing to be counted in Georgia.

And, you know, they -- folks had hoped in Fulton County and in the state to have this then by the end of the day today. But obviously that is not happening. It looks like it'll be going into the morning but officials here in Fulton County tell us that they will get it done even if it means bringing in a second shift of folks to help out they want to get this done as soon as possible. Brian?

WILLIAMS: What an unbelievable operation. I've been watching that gentleman in the blue shirt walking around with bins of ballots all evening long. It is exhausting is thankless. Do me a favor, don't tell them the eyes of the nation are upon the work they're doing in that room. Priscilla Thompson, we thank you, however, for that live report.

Let's bring in three of our returning veterans Michael Steele, Former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Former Lieutenant Governor of the State of Maryland, these days, the host of the Michael Steele Podcast and Senior Advisor to the Lincoln Project, but we're jumping ahead of ourselves, that's Robert Gibbs, Former Obama Campaign Senior Advisor, former White House Press Secretary under one Barack Obama and Claire McCaskill, just to keep things even as with us, former Democratic Senator from the great State of Missouri.

Well, good evening to you all. And welcome Gibbs. I have to start with you because last night, you were Mr. Calm, Mr. Casual, at least one of us accused you of enjoying liquids at an insanely hour in the middle of the night. Are you still Mr. Casual? And have you added to that title, Mr. Confident as well?

ROBERT GIBBS, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I am calm, cool and collected and very confident, Brian. And just for the record I have as much as I wanted to have something to drink at many points last night. I still have it. So no, I look, I think what gives me confidence, honestly, Brian is as we look at the maps, the number of combinations that are in front of Joe Biden to get to 270 really have to give viewers confidence, they have to give the Biden campaign confidence because unlike President Trump, where there's really just one route to that, there are a number of different routes. And I think that's what opened up really early in the morning for the Biden campaign. And you know, in the states like Pennsylvania and Georgia, those margins have gotten smaller and smaller and smaller throughout the day. And I think tomorrow will be a decisive day.

WILLIAMS: Michael Steele, you were straight up brandishing a bottle in the middle of the night. So we know about you. Michael, look into the future, what do the next couple of days look like to you? And what does 270 plus for one of these guys look like?

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: First of all, I think 270 plus looks very good for Joe right now. I mean, he is -- as Robert said, he's got so many lanes in front of him to really kind of lay down the tracks he needs to get across the finish line, and to begin immediately the process of healing the country. And that's really what I think a lot of folks are going to be looking for. And really anxious about when you see the possibility of Joe Biden eclipsing 50% of the vote, winning the national popular vote at the same time, that says something that says something I think very, very important for the country at this time. And one can only hope and in some sense, even pray that that Donald Trump becomes the president in the moment and recognizes and does the right thing can see that that's what's required and of course, transition and all of that. That's a little bit ahead of us.

Right now to Robert's point, tomorrow is probably going to be the decisive day when we get the numbers in Georgia and Pennsylvania, for example. And I think at that point, there will be a collective sigh of relief. And for those of us who have been drinking just to stay up over the last 48 hours, we'll continue to do so.

WILLIAMS: OK, speak for yourself. Now, Claire, as much as I know you have cheered the success of your fellow Democrats and are rooting for Joe Biden. Interestingly, because I follow you on social media, you raised the curtain today on perhaps a conversation your party must have now in the future. There is no hiding the fact that this was not the result the Democrats hoped for in the Senate. This was not the result the Democrats hoped for in the House where they had real losses.

And if I read you right, today, you seem to indicate the way the party speaks to and approaches, vast stretches of Americans out there needs to change and fast.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Yes, I think one of the problems with Trump is, his behavior is so bad that those of us who see it clearly can't see and understand the people who are supporting him. We just shake our head and go, well, how can they support this guy, he lies, he makes stuff up, he blocked bus norms, he blows up the rule of law.

But they support him because there is something he is connecting with their sense of displacement in America, their grievances, and our party rather than just look down their nose at people who have supported Donald Trump needs to figure out how to talk to them.

You know, populace, and we're white working class people used to be a big part of the Democratic Party. Donald Trump, we may have stolen some educated people in the suburbs. But he has certainly stolen a lot of working class Americans from our party. And we need to figure out how to get them back.

Because guess what, we voted their interests. We do the right thing to provide a safety net and health care and pensions, and workplace safety and all the things that I think we need to talk more about. So I do think it's a gut check moment for our party, that we've got to communicate more effectively to people who feel like America is left behind

WILLIAMS: And Claire, I know you think about this a lot, especially given your home state. And let's go one more when did in your view. When did the Democrats become the whole foods party in a nation I insist is still a Ralph's country a Piggly Wiggly country, a Safeway country, and so on?

MCCASKILL: Well, I think it's hard to pinpoint. I think it began around cultural issues. The Republican Party, I think very, adroitly adopted cultural issues as part of their main theme, whether you're talking guns, or issues surrounding the right to abortion in this country, or things like gay marriage and the right for transsexuals and other people who we, as a party have tried to, quote unquote, look after and make sure that they're treated fairly.

As we, you know, circled those issues, we left some voters behind, and Republicans dove in with a vengeance and grab those voters. And you've seen this shift. You saw it the south, I've seen it in the rural areas of my state.

So we've got to get back to the meat and potatoes issues, we got to get back to the issues where we are taking care of their families. And we also need to quit acting like we're smarter than everybody else, because we're not. We're not smarter than everybody else. I get it that Trump's a disaster. And I get it, that we need to get him out of there for a lot of reasons. But that doesn't mean that we don't have work to do.

WILLIAMS: Robert Gibbs almost lost in last night's coverage. And I said this earlier, for a lot of us when we got off our shift early this morning, we kind of caught up with what else had happened. There is a QAnon member of Congress now on the Republican side, Susan Collins is going back to the US Senate. A lot of things Democrats didn't want to happen last night happened last night. And I imagine you're going to be part of this discussion as well.

GIBBS: Well, look, I think we have to -- I think we have to do what Claire's talking about, which is got to look ourselves in the mirror. Look, I've never been involved in a perfect election, even the ones where you win. And I think it's a good moment, even if Joe Biden wins this White House to take a look at how we're portrayed as a party, how we think about ourselves as a party, and go through this intellectual exercise of how do we demonstrate to people that we want to help them get ahead on the economy.

And look, we're going to have a great opportunity to do exactly that because the economy is still in a big hole from COVID. And it's going to take a while to get out of it. It's going to feel a lot more like the Great Recession than it is going to feel like a quick dip and recovery.

WILLIAMS: Meantime, there's Michael Steele, who is blaming Listen this conversation because in your wallet you've got a Republican National Committee membership card probably next year blockbuster card and you already now have on your resume, the Lincoln project, one of several groups of lapsed, reformed, in some cases, still are Republicans who helped make this race, what it is and what it may be, if and when we get over 270.

So Michael, take a well deserved victory lap on the part of all these former leaders and strategists who got together and worked to push the other side.

STEELE: Well, I'll stop by saying that I'm still a Republican, very proud one. And as I mentioned to Vice President Biden, and I'll say to my friends here on this, that I look forward to doing the tango over big policy issues when we disagree, and that's been the beauty of this, this discovery for a lot of us, this rediscovery of America, and understanding what we value.

And I think a lot of Americans to Clare's point, feel that that's been taken away from them, they've been shortchanged, and, you know, their sense of being able to value this country and see themselves in it, and have the institutions that they have come to respect and regard, respect and regard them in return.

And so for those of us the Lincoln project, this was a lot about that rediscovery, rediscovering democracy, rediscovering those principles, and for a party that decided to put it -- to put all at all and own it stock, its investment, his future in Donald Trump, we rejected that, because that's not the country. And that's not who we are. And we can have these political institutions. And we can have these political discussions and sometimes big brawls over healthcare and the environment.

But at the end of the day, we can't lose sight of the fact that we're all Americans. And we're all working together in this wonderful Republic, trying to create democracy every day. And so we wanted -- we wanted to remind ourselves, certainly, those in the Republican Party have those values that drew us into the party in the first place, and how all of that plays itself or should play itself out in this wonderful, crazy experiment we call the United States.

WILLIAMS: Great conversation. I know something about how tired the three of you are, because I can speak for everybody here at the mothership at headquarters. You all put one word in front of the other, which is more than I've been able to do at this hour. Michael Steele, Robert Gibbs, Claire McCaskill, three of our returning veterans, we're lucky to have them. Thank you very much for staying up with us, folks.

Back to the big board for Steve Kornacki. Steve, I know we're awaiting a trunch from Arizona love using that word. Have there been any change? I see you got Pennsylvania up any changes in the numbers since we've been away from you.

KORNACKI: Yes, no, still sitting there. 164,000 is Donald Trump's advantage there. Again, we were expecting and I'm waiting to see if there is a change here in Allegheny County where Pittsburgh is. We've been expecting to get a bunch more out of there potentially. So I've been keeping my eye on that.

You know, just take a look here. Let's go and see Georgia right now. You can see again, it's sitting at about 31,000, 31,000 and change. Donald Trump's lead is statewide over Joe Biden, who has been closing that gap steadily. And the countdown is on here.

The countdown to clarity potentially in Maricopa County in Arizona, Donald Trump trying to make up a gap of almost 80,000 votes. He cut into it with some of those votes that were reported a few hours ago. One more big report of them to come here. Although listening to God, his report a little while ago, maybe not as big from the way he was describing it as that first batch, but we will get some more. We think probably around 1:00 a.m. Eastern time.

And again, it gives us a sense there. Donald Trump, what's the pace? What's the rate he's getting? Is he getting about 60 percent of those ballots because he needs to be if he wants to have a chance to close that gap in Arizona and Arizona is an absolute must win for Donald Trump.

WILLIAMS: Steve, I know you're on the consumer end of these numbers and not on the policy and but given your job and what we get to see it on television. If I appointed you to the President's Commission on Election Returns, what's one thing that we could change about how we vote as a nation to replace whatever we call it the patchwork quilt of different systems and 50 different elections.

KORNACKI: Speaking as a very self-interested person --


KORNACKI: -- who stands at this board and tries to get election results out in a sensible way to people, look, I think the biggest thing here we all know this year mail in bounces scale. Most states, most counties, most precincts have never seen before and they don't have experienced processing that something on the scale. But really they didn't have the time in a lot of places.

Pennsylvania It's no coincidence. Pennsylvania is the one where we're waiting on all these votes where it's Wednesday night going into Thursday morning, and we're still waiting on tons of mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania. They couldn't open the mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania until Election Day. It's an archaic part of the law there were, you know, used to get a couple dozen, a couple hundred absentee ballots. OK, fine. Yes, you can open those till Election Day. Now they're getting thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and the law that Oh, no, you got to, you know, hold on until Election Day is still there.


KORNACKI: It's still there. It just seems like if we're going to make a decision, sort of as a country as a society we're going to say to do that what mass scale mail-in voting, let's come up with a way to get it processed in an orderly face off Florida last night.

WILLIAMS: Yes, true.

KORNACKI: Look at Orlando, Florida was we got the whole state in a couple hours.

WILLIAMS: Our dad's generation used to say, you know, they can put a man on the moon. Why can't they fix something. There's a Tesla in outer space with a fake astronaut at the wheel. You'd think we could figure out voting here on Earth.

Steve Kornacki, sorry for the diversion into policy and ease of voting. I just -- I sit here wondering how we could fix things if nothing else to make your job easier. Steve Kornacki at the big board, any changes will come running back to him a quick break our special coverage continues.


WILLIAMS: So, we're watching a number of states any one of which with a few numbers here or there could go a long way toward 270. We are joined by NBC News correspondent Jo Ling Kent in Las Vegas.

Jo no pressure, do they realize they're that starting about tomorrow morning, the eyes of the entire nation are going to be on the count largely in two counties in that sprawling but mostly rural state.

JO LING KENT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a lot of anticipation you can feel the buzz. In fact, we were just at the Clark County Election Center. And there was a small protest of mostly Trump supporters gathering and one of the questions on the mind of one protester was why don't we already know the results? Why can't we know sooner?

Well, the Clark County Registrar told me they're working as quickly as possible. They're processing up to 70,000 votes a day. And at this point, they're basically processing the mail-in votes, the provisional ballots, ballots for say new residents, people who are living overseas.

And so the real focus right now is getting those out the door. So we're going to have some more results starting tomorrow at 9:00 our time, 12:00 your time. So we should get a better sense at that point.

But what we know historically here in Las Vegas and all across the state is that main-in ballots according to recent history have skewed towards the Democrats. But remember, we're in Las Vegas. This is a town where the economy matters more than anything else.

According to our NBC News exit polls the economy matters more than even the coronavirus response. That's where Biden may see a little bit more of a challenge, Brian, is because Biden has been linked by the local Republican Party to a Democratic governor who's been criticized for his response to the coronavirus. So, we'll see how all of these mail-in ballots shake out. We'll get a better sense tomorrow but they're counting they say as swiftly and as smoothly as they can. And so far so good here in Clark County, Brian,

WILLIAMS: Jo, thank you and thank you for the reminder that we are talking Vegas after all. Appreciate it. Jo Ling Kent --

KENT: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- in Las Vegas as we can hear on the Strip. Now let's go over to Arizona correspondent Vaughn Hilliard in Scottsdale. And Vaughn maybe you were listening to the coverage of the protesters who have shown up and they can be heard inside Maricopa County where the counting is going on.

VAUGHN HILLIARD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, are calling Gadi down over there. Well, that voting is going on. There'll be counting these votes through 10:30, about 10:30 local here this evening. We are expecting a second batch of results to be handed down by Maricopa County elections officials.

You saw that first batch just earlier this evening. A positive indicator for the Trump campaign, which has clawed their way into a competitive race here in Arizona. You saw what started off this evening as a 93,000 vote lead for Joe Biden dwindled down to 80 percent. You know, and with Steve crunching the numbers there, the number of -- when we're looking at the evening, there are about 550,000 outstanding uncounted ballots, and the number we were putting out was that Donald Trump would have to win 60 percent of those remaining ballots.

And in that first batch that was released earlier this evening of 75,000 votes. Well, Donald Trump hit that mark of 60 percent. And now the question is where do these votes go from here, and that is where Democrats that I talked to, and I was talking with one official from the Biden campaign, who is encouraged and believes that you ultimately the mail-in ballots that were handled, delivered by voters on election day, just yesterday, will lean a little bit more democratic.

Now, you'll also see more independent voters who we saw in this race go more for Joe Biden than Donald Trump. And if that number can be brought down to more of a 50 percent range that puts Donald Trump out of the ability to essentially close that gap all the way.

Of course, we are now looking at about 475,000 votes. It's not very clear exactly what we're going to be seeing tonight, Brian, but it looks like we may at least have at least another 24 hours ahead of us out here in the desert.

WILLIAMS: Yes. Vaughn, thank you for another great day of your coverage, though we appreciate every minute of it. Vaughn Hilliard out in Scottsdale in the beautiful state of Arizona.

Back with us again tonight is our friend Jon Meacham, the presidential historian and author Pulitzer Prize winning biographer. His latest is "His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope", it's a great portrait of the late congressman.

Jon's also the host of an excellent new podcast series called It Was Said, focused on some of the most impactful and still relevant speeches in our history.

Jon, I was speaking to our mutual friend, your mutual historian Michael Beschloss earlier tonight about something he posted in the middle of the night about the history of the East Room, the solemn occasions it has hosted those who have laid in repose in the East Room, because it was the scene of such darkness last night, an event by this president, using authorities, he does not have to label the outcome of an election by the people. That is as of the time of our conversation right now. Yet undetermined.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, well, Michael is in many ways, the Michelangelo of all sorts of stuff, but he's certainly the Michelangelo of Twitter, in terms of --


MEACHAM: -- reminding us of what matters and what Mark Twain's point about history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. You know, it was what 2:30 in the morning to 2:30. And what we saw was a self-evident attempt to thwart the will of the people. And we could go on about that. But sometimes, you know, what one sentence does it. That's what the President wants to do. He wants to have counts and votes, counts in states where he's ahead. He wants to. He's behind. He wants to stop him where he's ahead, you know.

Thomas Paine, you know, called that vital pamphlet in 1776, which was a key factor in America declaring independence, common sense, by which he meant we're capable of assessing a situation and understanding the truth of it. And the truth of it is, the President wants to manipulate this election, because however, maybe it's closer than polls or expectations. But that doesn't change the reality that Vice President Biden seems to be ahead.

WILLIAMS: What does it mean to you, not as a partisan matter, but as a historic matter that it appears more Americans have voted for one Joe Biden of Delaware than any other person ever running for president?

MEACHAM: It's a reflection of the fundamental unease with the way Donald Trump has conducted the office. It's a reflection of an unhappiness, a rational unhappiness with the way the President has responded to an ambient pandemic.

And I think that whether you're Republican or Democrat, this volume of votes is stirring in many ways. I was struck by you mentioned, John Lewis. I haven't seen it precinct by precinct, but you know, Fulton County and parts of the other counties. That's John's district that's coming in.

WILLIAMS: I know, I wrote a great book or Jon Meacham.

Meacham: Yes, but there's something about that, right. So the 2020 election in Georgia, at least our understanding of the results is coming down to have the folks whom John represented in the Congress voted.

WILLIAMS: I'll give you one more is another John, John McCain, Southwest Arizona.


WILLIAMS: The other state were watching, how about that for symmetry?

MEACHAM: So yes, I mean, it's you don't want to get too Dickensian about it. You know, the ghosts of dignity passed. But there is something there. There is a sense, it seems to me again, a sense that whether you agree or disagree with Joe Biden nonpolicy, you intuitively know this is a decent guy. Right? Unless you're really lost in the Right Wing of wilderness of mirrors. You know that, you know the video that's gone around of Lindsey Graham saying if you don't think Joe Biden's a good guy, there's something wrong with you. So there's something good about that.

WILLIAMS: I think, let that be a coda to our coverage all day long. I think it's the first time someone has paused and said about the character of Joe Biden. He's a decent fella and I think by all accounts, he's a decent fella by all accounts he is knocking on 270 as we go off the air for this hour with our thanks to the esteemed presidential historian and friend of this broadcast, Jon Meacham.

As we say that's going to close out just this hour of live coverage. That is our broadcast for tonight. MSNBC continuing live coverage of this election this night, as we go into tomorrow, still hanging in the balance will continue with my colleague Chris Hayes on the other side of this break.



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