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Transcript: The 11th Hour with Brian Williams, September 18, 2020

Guests: Neal Katyal, Claire McCaskill, Valerie Jarrett, Elizabeth Prelogar, Michael Steele, Jon Meacham


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at 87. Ginsburg's death expected to ignite political battle over her replacement. Ginsburg is seen as "architect" of fight against legal gender discrimination. Dozens in the crowd were lighting candles and sat somberly on the high court's steps. President Trump announced his list of potential Supreme Court nominees before listing the new candidates last week.


NANCY NORTHUP, CENTER FOR REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS PRESIDENT: The time is really, really a tough one to be facing this lost.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights. Nancy, I have a feeling I'm going to be seeing a lot of you in coming days and weeks talking about the fights that are newly upon us with the passing of Justice Ginsburg. Thanks for being here tonight, the night that she's passed.

NORTHUP: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: All right, our continuing coverage of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the age of 87, the national response to her passing. Our continuing coverage continues now with Brian Williams and Nicolle Wallace. Thanks for being with us tonight.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening, I'm Brian Williams. And tonight we have asked Nicolle Wallace to join us for this entire hour of coverage as we continue now our evening long special coverage of the news you no doubt have heard by this hour, the death tonight of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

This happens to be day 1,338 of the Trump administration leaving 46 days to go until the Presidential Election. A hugely consequential day for our country, as history would have it.

And tonight a crowd has gathered indeed at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court announced her death earlier this evening said it was due to complications from cancer.

Ginsburg, who was 87 years old was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She was an iconic figure whose legacy only grew into her ninth decade on Earth. She had changed American law and left her mark on American law before she ever served a day on the Supreme Court where she went on to further cement her legacy. Her health has been tenuous for some time. She has battled any number of elements including multiple rigorous cancer treatments. She said more than once she would no longer serve on the court if she were unable to do the work. And it turns out only in death was she unable to continue.

Tonight we will look at all of it, her life, her jurisprudence, the fight now before us, just when you perhaps thought our politics could not get any more poisonous or toxic, it's about to.

Donald Trump had already started a rally in Minnesota, one word of her death arrived he was informed only after leaving the stage on route to the flight home.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away --



TRUMP: Well, I didn't know that. I just -- you're telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman. Whether you agreed or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I'm actually sad to hear that.


WILLIAMS: And just a few minutes ago, the President issued a statement saying, "Today our nation mourns the loss of a Titan of the law. Nicolle.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Look, if you are a woman you live in Ruth Ginsburg's America and she has been this towering figure in American jurisprudence and has affected our country in more ways than we can describe in just an hour. Even if she hadn't served on the court, she would have left that mark.

As New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse told our colleague Joy Reid tonight, Ginsburg was the architect of a new way of thinking about equal protection under the law, a trailblazer for women's rights. She argued six cases before the High Court and work with the ACLU to attack and dismantle legal gender discrimination.

Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court in 1993. And this is a powerful member of the liberal bloc. She was liable vote in favor of protecting abortion access and voting rights as well as affirmative action. Her death just 46 days before voters go to the polls brings a seismic shift to the political landscape. The last time -- I'm sorry, Brian, that's you.

WILLIAMS: The last time, a vacancy came up in an election year was in January, let's not forget of an election year Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously argued the Senate should not and would not even hold a hearing on President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland. That allowed Donald Trump to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the court. The rest, as they say is history.

Tonight, McConnell issued a statement saying, "President Trump's nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate."

Now earlier, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York posted this message. "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next supreme court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president."

Indeed in the days leading up to her death, Ruth Bader Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter. It reads, "My most fervent wish is that that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed." Vice President Joe Biden who presided over Ginsburg's confirmation hearing spoke of her death about an hour ago.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Her opinions and her dissent are going to continue to shape the basis for a law for generation. But there is no doubt, let me be clear, that voters should take the President and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider. This was the position of the Republican Senate took in 2016, when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today. And the election is only 46 days off.


WALLACE: Here for our leadoff discussion on a Friday night, Neal Katyal, a veteran of the Justice Department and Former Acting Solicitor General during the Obama administration. He has argued 39 cases before the United States Supreme Court. Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for The New York Times is here, and Claire McCaskill, former Democratic Senator from the State of Missouri.

Neal Katyal, we start with you, you have argued cases in front of the Supreme Court, your thoughts from the personal to the history she made to the political reality she -- we are in now?

NEAL KATYAL, FORMER ACTING U.S. SOLICITOR GENERAL: Well, I am heartbroken. Anyone who loves the court, anyone who loves the law is heartbroken tonight. And I know we have to talk about Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump and all that. But let's not let her worries about these folks cloud this moment, Nicolle, she was so much greater than all of that. She transcended that. I mean, there's almost no one who's changed our lives more in the last, you know, last decades as an advocate for women's equality, even on the more mundane stuff, like how the court operates, the Civil Procedure rules and stuff like that. But that's not why you see these scenes in Washington tonight at the Supreme Court. I mean, the only other time I've seen a scene like that is after the same sex marriage case was decided when you had thousands of people on the plaza singing America the Beautiful and the like. And, you know, they're doing that tonight. And Justice Ginsburg cast one of those five deciding votes for same sex marriage as she did so many different things in her life. She was a fervent advocate for equality.

And the words above the Supreme Court or equal justice under law, there is no one in our lives who's embodied that more in her life's work than her so is supposed to make -- it is the hugest loss to the court and to the country imaginable.

WILLIAMS: Hey Counselor, it would be in a perfect world ideal to devote this hour to a celebration of the life and jurisprudence of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is impossible only because of the role that politics plays in our life in 2020, and where we are on the calendar. So I have a question for you because Republicans are already raising the potential rush to try to confirm a replacement would be because an eight to eight court, an eight Justice Court, potentially four to four would be fraught if they have to rule on anything regarding our upcoming election. Can you tell the good folks watching who are going to hear this argument more and more about the times an eight Justice Court has operated and thrived either due to vacancy or recusal?

KATYAL: Yeah, I mean, this is a bogus argument. And it's so sad to me to hear people like Mitch McConnell tonight rushing essentially with glee to try and fill this seat. And this is the Trump administration's modus operandi. There was a federal judge in Tennessee who died last week, within six days, they nominated her replacement, you know, barely even letting the family time to grieve, before doing so.

The idea that the Supreme Court can function with the members is preposterous. I've argued before an eight member court many times. And of course, the best evidence that it can function with eight was what the Republican said in 2016, which was it's easy to function with eight. When you have eight justices what it means is that if there is a tie vote, that the decision of the lower court is affirmed without any presidential decision making. So it does have, you know, bind other cases that's a common thing that happens even if you have nine justices, you often have one recused for any number of reasons, stock investments or involvement with the case or the parties or the like, our system accommodates those things. This is not about the very few cases that are going to come before the court in the next couple months. This is because they want a lifetime appointment.

And, you know, and the problem with that for the Republicans is that's exactly what they said in 2016 was an inappropriate and unfair. And look, if they do this, if they do this, the Democrats will be well within their rights to expand the Supreme Court because the constitution doesn't have a fixed number, and we've had 10 justices in the past. They'd be well within the rights to expand it to 13 or 15, or even 17 to nullify these games. Nobody should be playing games with the Supreme Court. If the Republicans do so, the Democrats will have weapons available to them.

WILLIAMS: So Peter Baker play the role, I just tried to fill as an amateur as is so often your role at the New York Times, please give us the lead paragraph on what just changed with the passing of this legal and intellectual giant tonight?

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, obviously, it changes a lot in terms of legal community, changed a lot in terms of core, it changed a lot in terms of our understanding of what the Constitution is going to be in the future.

But in terms of politics, it just up ends an election that was already high stakes, high octane, bitter, toxic and fiercely contested. What it's done, of course, is introduced a new element into the campaign that will, you know, galvanize supporters presuming on both sides of the aisle, right? It will allow the President to try to take attention away from the coronavirus and say to conservatives or Republicans who might be uncertain about reelecting him. Look, here's why you need to stick with me, see the consequence if you don't. You may not like me or my agency (ph). So my policies that I'm giving you judges, I'm getting you justice isn't it better to have a conservative justice in this seat and a liberal?

Similarly, you imagine that Democrats are going to wake up tomorrow morning, and they think about this. And how much is at stake of Joe Biden were to win this election, this, if they -- if there's still a seat available at that point, obviously makes an enormous difference if it's a Biden appointee.

Now, the question is whether or not you can rush, such a confirmation between now and the election. And that's a very, very open question. If they try it and it's not clear from Senator McConnell's statement if that's what they're going to do, because he doesn't say what timing he's thinking about, but they try it between now and the election that will be obviously a particularly titanic battle, the likes of which we haven't seen, I think in terms of confirmation a long time. And that's a fraught moment, I think. And for a lot of Republicans who were in tight races, particularly Susan Collins, and even Mitch McConnell, Senator Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Cory Gardner in Colorado. Put them all in a really interesting position really potentially difficult position where they're going to have to answer for what's different between this year and four years ago when they blocked President Obama's nominee.

WALLACE: Claire McCaskill, let me be blunt, because that's the only way you and I have these conversations. The political power of this moment for the Republicans is that the very voters that find his personal conduct, reprehensible and revolting, are quite animated by the prospect of a conservative appointment to the Supreme Court, especially one that changes the balance of power. What is the counter argument on the Democratic side historically, Democrats haven't viewed the Supreme Court with the same sort of intensity in terms of turnout and exit polls saying, this is why they showed up. How do they change that now for the next 46 days?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, the American people respect fairness and everyone knows what Mitch McConnell did in 2016. And they will be reminded of it over and over again. I mean, Chuck Schumer's tweet tonight, were Mitch McConnell's words in 2016.


MCCASKILL: Exactly what Mitch McConnell said in 2016. So the people that -- I think Mitch McConnell is in a tough place here. It's tricky, because if he pushes his members in tough races, people like Lindsey Graham, who has said he would not do this, and Grassley, who's not in the race, but he's also said he wouldn't do it. But you look at somebody like Susan Collins or you look at somebody like Cory Gardner. This is a tough, tough place to put them in, in these very short period of time before the election.

And I am not sure like Peter said, I mean, we're talking about whether or not Mitch McConnell things people need to be home campaigning and working on winning and even if you just give them a week, they've only got like 37 days, 38 days.

Well, the quickest to Supreme Court justice has ever been confirmed in the history of our country is 47 days. So this is really -- it's going to be very interesting. But I've got -- I have to just briefly tell my favorite Ruth Bader Ginsburg story. My favorite night --

WALLACE: Please, please.

MCCASKILL: -- in the Senate. My favorite night in the Senate was the night that the women of the Supreme Court gathered with the women of the Senate. And it was just us. And we would gab and gossip and joke at no staff. And I think the second dinner we had was at the Supreme Court. And I was talking to Ruth Bader Ginsburg and I told her how much work she caused me. And she said, what are you talking about? And I said, well, when I was a young prosecutor, the very last case she argued, in front of the Supreme Court was a Missouri case called Durham versus Missouri. And the case she was arguing was that women in Missouri should not be allowed to exempt themselves from jury service, just because they were women.

She won that case. And I was an assistant prosecutor and my job was to begin to retry all the cases that were thrown out by the decision that that basically wiped out a very unfair law that allowed women to get out of jury service just because they were women.

So with that, she quietly gets up from the table. She leaves, she walks down to her office and she comes back and she brings me the brief of that case with her name signed on. So it is a treasure I have and that's how generous she was and how kind she was. And believe me when you had a conversation with her one-on-one, she was a very funny woman. You know, this is somebody who you -- would have adored spending time with, Nicolle, she's our kind of -- she was our kind of gal.

WALLACE: Sounds like, thank you for sharing that.

WILLIAMS: I know there are some levers, the Democrats can pull being in the minority. They can delay committee vote for a week, they can insist on 30 hours debate on the Senate floor, I believe. The tough love question for you in the wake of this tragic news tonight is, will the party be ready? Are the Democrats able to put on their big boy and big girl pants? Having once perhaps mistaken Senator Flakes, pain facial expression, and he got very good at that for a potential no vote. That incident, of course turned an attorney named Kavanaugh into Justice Kavanaugh?

MCCASKILL: Well, the thing that's different about Kavanaugh in this scenario is, first, Mitch McConnell made the rule. And now if he doesn't live by it, he looks like a cheater. Somebody who thinks there's two sets of rules, one for him and one for everybody else. The second thing is, we were the ones that were in real trouble in 2016. You're looking at somebody that the moment I found out Kennedy had resigned I knew I was in trouble.

We had Democrats up in very tough states, including mine. And they now are in that situation where they're the ones that have incumbent Republicans in very tough races. So make no mistake about it. Lindsey Graham said he wouldn't do this. So if he does it, he's in big trouble with people who would typically think Lindsey Graham would keep his word. If he doesn't do it, he's in big trouble with the far right, who sees nothing beyond the end of their nose and getting rid of Roe v. Wade.

So, Lindsay is in trouble either way. So Mitch McConnell's got to navigate this and try to hold on to power in the Senate and make no mistake about it. That's the only thing he cares about. He doesn't care about what the Supreme Court rules on anything. Mitch McConnell only wants to hold on to power so this is a tricky path for him to navigate.

WILLIAMS: Thanks to our leadoff guests on this consequential night, to Peter Baker, to Neal Katyal, to Claire McCaskill. Nicole?

WALLACE: Joining us now, Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. Valerie, Claire just took my breath away with a personal story about Justice Ginsburg and I want to ask you if you have any personal stories to share?

VALERIE JARRETT, FORMER SENRIOR ADVISER TO BARRACK OBAMA: Oh, my goodness. Well, first of all, good evening, Nicolle and Brian. And I want to begin by saying that my deepest, heartfelt condolences to Justice Ginsburg's family and thank them for sharing her. What a gift to our nation. And we appreciate them for that.

I remember the first time I spotted her in the White House and it took my breath away, of course, I followed her career since I was a young lawyer. She was an icon for women fighting for women's rights against discrimination, and watched her confirmation of the Supreme Court and every decision since then.

And anytime I was in her presence, she was decent, kind, thoughtful human and really funny. And we will miss her deeply. And I just think it's unconscionable that on the eve of her death, Senator McConnell would be talking about replacing her immediately. It's just -- It's unkind. It's not respectful of her family. And it is going to irritate a whole lot of folks around our country. And I agree with Senator McCaskill it's going to put some senators who have tough races in a very difficult position.

WALLACE: Valerie, does Joe Biden now find himself in a position of having to produce some names of people he would appoint? I mean, how does this change -- we've talked about, and Peter Baker and his colleague, Maggie Haberman have reported out how this changes the race, and perhaps give Donald Trump an opportunity to change the topic, but it would seem to me that at this moment, and because it was Justice Ginsburg, this is an equally sort of powerful political opportunity for the Biden-Harris ticket. Do you see it that way?

JARRETT: Well, I think what Vice President Biden will do is point out the double standard, the fact that when President Obama appointed Merrick Garland -- Chief Judge Merrick Garland in March of 2016, what did Mitch McConnell say? He said, oh, well, we couldn't possibly confirm a justice in an election year. The people's voices should factor in. And now they're considering jamming through an appointee in just 46 days. It's unprecedented in the history of Supreme Court appointments. And so I think it gives Vice President Biden an equitable argument to make whether I don't imagine that he would release names before he's actually sworn in as president, but I think he can put Vice -- put President Trump in a very awkward position.

WALLACE: I guess my only pushback would be, when is that ever stopped President Trump or Mitch McConnell norms or feeling awkward or being indecent or being unkind. And I just --

JARRETT: No, you're right, Nicolle.

WALLACE: Right. I mean, is there more truthful?

JARRETT: Well, yeah --

WALLACE: There's no shame, Donald Trump will take this and run on this now.

JARRETT: I think President Trump will absolutely run on it. But Senator McConnell, the most important thing to him, as he has proven to us time and time, again, is to maintain his leadership position, and it will be in jeopardy if he loses the Senate. And the polls that we've all seen have showed that those races are tight. And so for him to put his Senate Republicans in a tough spot, who already had tough races, I think puts him in a very awkward position. So he has to choose, does he want to jam this through? Give the Democrats an opportunity to galvanize around that double standard, or does he want to hold off?

My guess is he will take his chances and jump it through and my expectation will be that there will be consequences to be paid in November for those senators who take that tough vote.

WALLACE: Oh, Valerie, the soft bigotry of our low expectations of today's Republicans. Thank you so much for joining us --

JARRETT: Well said, Nicolle.

WALLACE: -- on such an important and political and historic night for the country. Thank you, Valerie.

JARRETT: You're welcome. Good night.

WILLIAMS: Valerie, thank you. And with us now, Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for The Washington Post, Moderator of Washington Week on PBS and Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Columnist for The Washington Post.

Robert, quickly to you because I've been following you tonight on social media and your reporting between texting and calls. Again, once we get beyond the impact of this loss to American jurisprudence, and everything else Justice Ginsburg touched, what are the politics of this breaking out to be?

ROBERT COSTA, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Brian, first, of course, my condolences to Justice Ginsburg's family as they deal with this loss. But you did ask about politics and based on my reporting, tonight talking to top Senate Republican sources, there are already discussions about how to move forward.

Number one, Leader McConnell has sent a Dear Colleague letter, a private letter to top senators and their aides and said, keep your powder dry. He wants to make a decision with them in the coming days about whether they make a push to have a vote before the election. Some of the more conservative senators and their types are telling to me that they would like to see a vote on a replacement for this seat before the election making the argument. I'm not giving this argument any credence. I'm just reporting on the fact they're saying they can make the argument that they want to have nine justices on the court to deal with an election crisis. I share that so you understand what Republicans are going to be doing in the coming days.

Two, you see a real push already from some of my more moderate Republican sources, the centrist types to hold back, to have this as a lame duck decision. That's the tension tonight inside the GOP and they're already floating some names but it's an early moment in this process.

WALLACE: Eugene, I think that reality that we live in is that Donald Trump is likely to make a pack to float it, he might just tweet it out, who the heck knows. And we'll be off to the races. What is your advice for Democrats for how to deal with that?

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, a couple of things. Nicolle, first of all, I just want to mark the passing of a true giant of jurisprudence. I mean, I compare the accomplishments of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to the -- they're analogous to those of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall in the way she advanced rights for women in this country, particularly with all the groundbreaking landmark work that he did even before she got to the Supreme Court. So we have lost a true giant tonight. And it is a very sad day for this country just on that basis.

You know, I think, yes, probably President Trump will blow a nominee probably tweeted. I believe he's probably now trying to figure out what's the best leverage he can get out of this, right, because he's behind in this election. If the election is tomorrow he loses.

But so how can he use this vacancy and the prospect of putting on a justice on the court who would rule against the rule to overturn Roe v. Wade? How can he bought me best use that as leverage is that to try to ram it through before the election, which is a difficult thing for both practical and I think political reasons. It's difficult for Mitch McConnell to do with his endangered senators, some of whom have said they would not do this precise thing like Lindsey Graham, in a tough race tied in South Carolina. Now, is he going to do something that he specifically on tape, on videotape said he would not do?

We already know Lisa Murkowski says she's not going to vote to replace the justice right away. Susan Collins is in a tough position, tell us in a tough position. And as Claire said, and others have said, Mitch McConnell cares most about retaining his Senate Majority and he will be loath to put that I think in jeopardy. So I'm not convinced that he is going to go along with trying to ram something through.

So from President Trump's point of view, what is then what's the best way to leverage it and it's -- it may be in his mind, and I know this kind of, it sounds crazy, but he's Donald Trump. I mean, it's almost -- I would not be that surprised if he said something like, you know, yes, there is an election coming up and the people do get to decide. And guess what, you know, do you want me to name the next justice? I've given you a list of names. These are the people I'm going to pick or do you want Joe Biden to choose some, you know, socialists to going to destroy America?

And leave that question hanging. He may think that it's best to have that question hanging in the air on election day to drive pro life voters who may not like him, who may have soured on him, who may be appalled at some of the stuff he's done, but who care so much about that issue, that they may be inclined to hold their noses and vote for him or vote in an election that they're not planning to sit out. So I think that's kind of his calculation.

I think Democrats have to keep the pressure on and they have to continue to parrot back the words of Republicans from 2016 and other occasions when they said precisely that if they were in this situation, they would not rush to confirm a nominee. And if push comes to shove, and there is an attempt to shove it through, I think they have to use all the sort of guerrilla delaying tactics that one they can be used in the Senate, which is another form of pressure because it takes these endangered Republican senators potentially off the campaign trail when they need to be out there. They can't afford to be sort of pinned down in Washington.

So Democrats are not without power in this in this moment and they just need to I think as you perhaps said earlier put on their big boy pants and, and joining the battle and know that the battle is not necessarily lost at this point

WILLIAMS: Hey Robert, I want to talk about the city where you live and I want to talk about these live pictures we've been watching on the right hand side of our screen. And I want to be the first person during this hour of coverage to say notorious RBG.

It strikes me that when William O. Douglas was a justice for decades, they whispered behind his back they called him Wild Bill when Thurgood Marshall was on the court he was called nothing but Mr. Justice Marshall, but Ruth Bader Ginsburg enjoyed this weird collusion and confluence of social media, a feature film of her life story, a documentary of her life story and time on the bench and assessed from Saturday Night Live, a hungry generation of young Americans coming of age in a political time, who realized in real time, just how historic a figure she was among us.

And look at the town where you live Washington DC on an unseasonably cool night at 11:00 Eastern time. People felt the need, and we're starting the Jewish holiday. Notably, people felt the need to go outside to make it to the steps of the court. Above which Neal Katyal reminds us the inscription, equal justice under law. Sum up what you see there.

COSTA: The scenes we're watching tonight are perhaps the least surprising thing I've seen as a reporter who lives in Washington works in Washington, because Justice Ginsburg was not only a legal figure, and she was a cultural figure as well, as you just noted, but she was a moral figure for so many people who live in Washington, especially those who are more center left of center.

They saw her as an icon and inspiration. You walk down the places the neighborhoods in Washington, DC were young Senate and House staffers live. College students live places like U Street and the crosses around U Street in 16th and 17th Street and you look up at walls there are murals to Justice Ginsburg, paintings of Justice Ginsburg, there are things on street posts with her face and image, sometimes not even a letter or a name. People know the face. They know the image they connect with it.

And I can't tell you how many my sources in the Democratic Party say they came to Washington to practice law to practice politics because of Justice Ginsburg, and for millennial women in particular, after she was nominated and confirmed by President Clinton in the Senate, she is someone who for the last almost three decades, has been at the forefront of American legal political thought. And that has made her this figure who so many people and so many women identify with in a powerful way.

And that's a legacy that will last for decades to come. And you see it in a vivid and visceral way when you live here in this city.

WALLACE: Brian, Robert juice his word sort of moral leader. I mean, I think if you -- one of the obituaries that went up on I think it was the Washington Post website shortly after news broke that she died, told the story of her frustrations, right if she -- after she graduated from law school, and she said she couldn't find a job. And there were three things that in her view were working against her that she was Jewish, that she was a woman and that she was a mother.

And if you are a woman working in this country, if you're a working mom in this country, your life is better because of her. And it did not matter what party from which you hailed you knew what she had done, you stood on her shoulders. And this loss comes at a time when people are just writhing around in the feeling of loss, the loss of the normal way of life, the loss of all these norms.

I mean, Valerie Jared was accurate in everything she said. But it hinged on this sort of predication that Republicans are still capable of shame that Mitch McConnell can be shamed into trying to live by his own words. That era is over. That is some of what we are reeling from in terms of what we have lost.

But losing her she people talked all the time about how they wanted her bubble wrap. They just needed her to live until there was another president so that that spot would be preserved so that her role not just on the court, but in American life, and especially for women would be preserved.

And I'm sure you're hearing the same thing I'm hearing, Brian, that, you know, why do we need to mash up the politics of the moment with the loss of this legend, but it is because and she would have been acutely aware of it. I think her statement to NPR makes abundantly clear that she was those two things have to coexist for the next, you know, 4850 days.

WILLIAMS: Yes, it's no surprise she was a thoroughly modern figure given the battles she faced coming up. as you point out, she goes to Cornell, then she's married with a child goes to Harvard Law, tied for number one in her class goes to Columbia Law School, like Sandra Day O'Connor with whom she served briefly on the court couldn't find employment with a first class American law school education.

So, fast forward to modern times, she was in on the joke about keeping her health and staying alive and what she meant to people. She was enormously proud of what she meant to the generation coming up now. And it is not at all overstatement to inject the words a moral figure because that begins to explain the loss we're covering tonight.

There is the front page of tomorrow's New York Times. This comes with our thanks to our friends, Robert Costa and Eugene Robinson because more friends are waiting to talk with us. They include Joyce Vance, former US attorney who spent 25 years as a federal prosecutor, Matt Miller, an MSNBC justice and security analyst, former chief spokesman over at the Justice Department during the Obama administration, and we're happy welcome Elizabeth Prelogar who clerked for Justice Ginsburg, from '09 to 2010.

And with permission, Elizabeth, I'd like to begin with you. Because here I am, I'm not a lawyer. I'm a court buff, and I try to read all the consequential decisions of the court and I was so struck by the language, Justice Ginsburg's decisions, stood out because they were written for me, they were written for a lay person with a passing understanding of constitutional law. What was she liked to clerk for? I want to know what your job interview was like.

ELIZABETH PRELOGAR, FORMER CLERK FOR JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: She was an incredible person to work for. And you're exactly right. She wrote those opinions for you and for the country because she wanted the words of the law to be comprehensible and the things that she was trying to, to express and the law that she was making, she wanted to make sure that the public could understand it.

That job interview, I was so nervous, and yet she put at ease immediately. We started talking about our mutual love of writing. And she had learned actually from Vladimir Nabokov, I'd written my thesis on him and undergrad. And so we started talking about Vladimir Nabokov books, and it instantly put me at ease. It was such an incredible privilege to work for her. And it's such an enormous loss for our country tonight.

WALLACE: Matt Miller, can you take on sort of these twin aftershocks the loss of a giant, a titan in every sense of the word and what it puts in motion?

MATT MILLER, FMR. JUSTICE DEPT. CHIEF SPOKESMAN: It obviously puts in motion a massive battle to succeed her and what I think it does is it really changed the chart changes the terms of the election.

You know, it's become a, I think, a cliche to say that, you know, this is the most important election of our lifetime, but, but if anything, it's an understatement this year, and I think the number of things that are on the ballot now, you know, it's not just the rule of law and everything, everything that we seem you're wrapped up with Donald Trump for the last four years, it's now at -- a women's access to abortion, it's now access to health care for the 20 million Americans who got it under the Affordable Care Act. It's the ability of every American to buy health insurance, even if they have a pre existing condition.

And I think the thing Democrats are going to have to do over the next, you know, few months as this confirmation battle begins is, they're going to have to try to win not just the vote, but win the argument out in the country.

And I say that knowing that it may not be possible at the end to win the vote. I mean, Republicans have the votes, if they hang together, they can take (inaudible) nominee through either before the election or shortly after the election in a lame duck session.

But if Democrats can win the argument that number one, this is not right, that the Republicans laid out the terms in 2016 of how a Supreme Court nomination should be handled in these two circumstances and they should follow those rules. And number two, the issues that are at stake. If they can win that argument, they may lose this vote but the win the election, and I think what you'll see is it will give fuel to a push to reform the court and add seats in under a democratic senate and vice president -- President Biden in 2021.

WILLIAMS: Joyce Vance as a veteran of the law, how about the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg's role in American jurisprudence was cemented long before she went up the steps of the Supreme Court for the first time. We don't always reach the standard or the ideal, but the fact that American law is supposed to be gender neutral, we can thank this woman for that.

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think that's correct, Brian, women like me, we owe our careers to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because she went before us. She made the path so much easier for us to walk because of her commitment to equal justice under the law. And she had a delightful ability, a wonderful turn of phrase, as you say, to make the law comprehensible for everyone and I always think about in the Shelby County versus Holder case, which came out of my part of Alabama, the famous voting rights case.

And she explained it like this. She said, throwing out the Voting Rights Act, when it's working, when it's protecting people's right to vote is like throwing away your umbrella in the middle of a rainstorm, because you're still dry. And that is of so much value to all of us taking her experience as a lawyer and taking it onto the bench and the way that she did.

WILLIAMS: Hey, Elizabeth, do I have it right that she was, in addition to all the other things that she was that she was in on the joke, she was a person of this era?

PRELOGAR: Very much so. She embraced her notorious RBG moniker as she has such a gentle humor about her as she could laugh at herself. She also just had this incredible ability to connect with people. And I think one of the best examples of that was her famous friendship with Justice Scalia, and it was so genuine. He would come to her chambers and sing happy birthday to her on her birthday. They had a mutual respect for each other. And although they disagreed on many things about the law, they agreed on the importance of civility and on connection.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to these three guests for adding to our knowledge and our coverage of this gigantic story we are covering tonight, Nicolle.

WALLACE: Well, now we are joined by our very own Katy Tur, our colleague and friend who hosts the 2:00 p.m. hour on this network. Hi, Katy.

KATY TUR, MSNBC ANCHOR: Hey there, Nicolle. Hi there, Brian. And joining us now is Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for The Associated Press. And Michael Steele, former chairman for the Republican National Committee. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us tonight on this in this extremely sad day.

I know talking about election politics right now can seem so crass, given what this country is going through and mourning the death of such a stately figure in our history. But Ruth Bader Ginsburg legacy and the Supreme Court are inextricably tied to politics, especially when it comes to this 2020 election, which is almost here.

Jonathan. I've been talking to a number of Trump allies. I've been talking to sources across the political spectrum. The agreement among everybody is that this is a momentous event. The disagreement is on who this benefits. What are you hearing from your Donald Trump campaign and White House sources about what their plan of action is at hand how they might use this on the campaign trail in the coming days?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Katy, you said absolutely right. First and foremost, condolences to Justice Ginsburg and her family. But we of course have to look at this also through a political lens. We are only about six weeks away from the election.

There's been a lot of talk perhaps linked to a possible COVID-19 vaccine about an October surprise. Well, one has now arrived before the calendar turns indie to October. This is though uncertain how this could cut. It can could go either way. Certainly it's going to stir passions on both sides of it was already an extraordinarily bitter campaign, one being fought amid a pandemic that has claimed nearly 200,000 lives and left 10s of millions on employed.

The President's allies, yes, their initial reaction was of course, thinking this could be a game changer, if you will. We're expecting court reporting tonight that the President will probably meet with some contenders from his Supreme Court. List his -- list that he has released. He just added to a week or so ago of possible nominees to for the court were a vacancy to open up.

Also, he's expected to in the days ahead, make an announcement. Probably sooner rather than later. We heard from him tonight. I spoke to reporters after his rally in Minnesota. He did just praise Ginsburg, Justice Ginsburg, as a character and her life did not mention the vacancy.

Joe Biden however, we know did talk when he addressed reporters in Delaware, saying that it should wait. He did it should happen after the election. The voters should choose a president and then a president should choose its nominee.

Of course, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has already made clear that he wants to bring President Trump's nominee to the floor for a vote though he did not say whether or not that would be before the election of perhaps in the lame duck period. Democrats of course, howling that's hypocritical, since he would not do the same for Merrick Garland.

TUR: Michael, if you'll allow me to put this in a little bit of election historical perspective, bring it back to 2016, Donald Trump released his list of who he might choose for the Supreme Court if he were elected in 2016, the day after he clinched the nomination for the Republican Party and it was intended at the time to make sure that he was going to get every single Republican voter that was out there. He was in a very tough fight at the time, it seemed at least with Hillary Clinton.

So this was intended to give those who did not like Donald Trump. And there were a number of Republicans who didn't at the time, a reason to vote for him anyway, hey, here is my entire list.

When I've been talking to some, now anti-Donald Trump Republicans at the time, not so much, and some Democratic sources, they say, here's the difference maker right now, when it comes to what is going to happen in November this could potentially be more galvanizing for Democrats, because you have to look at what happened in 2018. Post the cabinet vote in the Senate, and what that did for Democratic voters, especially suburban women across this country, and the blue wave we saw in 2018.

One other point, one former republican made to me is that Donald Trump already has all of the single issue voters, there's no more to get. They're already going to be on his side. They weren't going to move no matter what. In your estimation of what we're going to see in the coming weeks, what do you expect to happen?

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIRMAN: You laid out a lot there that because that that is really the full kettle of what we're looking at before if permit me to just offer my condolences on behalf of my family, as well to the family of Justice Ginsburg, and as they say in the Jewish tradition, bless it is the true judge on this night of her passing.

So, I think there are a couple of things to look at here. One is everything is on the table, in terms of what the Republicans are paired to do to get this sixth conservative justice on the court. For them, it doesn't matter if it happens before the election or after the election. Doesn't matter what was said in 2018. Doesn't matter what was said in 2016. It doesn't matter what was said during the Obama administering, none of that matters. This is a clean slate.

So I think everybody has to understand politically how Republicans are looking at this. So you can quote back to Lindsey Graham, and to Mitch McConnell all day long, it will not matter. You might as well be talking to a blank screen, because they won't hear it. Because the objective now as McConnell has made clear from the very beginning, was to put a conservative on the judiciary and every vacancy at every opportunity, and this vacancy presents that opportunity. So there is that.

For the Democrats looking at this, there is a little bit of strategic here. The Republicans do despite what I just said, they do have some fault lines. They've got six seats right now that are a precarious bubble, which will almost likely be galvanized around the question of the court.

And so the question for McConnell is weighing do I see still want to be majority leader in 2021? And this is my, my hurrah going out the door, or do I want to do something different. So the Democrats can play this a little bit better than one may think. They've got some cards here particularly with Lisa Murkowski has already said she's not voting for nominee, Susan Collins, Cory from Senator -- I'm blanking for a second from Utah is also another possibility --

TUR: Gardner. Senator Lee. Senator Lee.

STEELE: Yes, Lee. Yes, and Cory Gardner. All of these players are now in play in that regard. So there is I think, a lot of room here to have something done oddly enough in which the decision is made. We'll wait. We'll actually wait because it may be better looking at the election from the Republicans perspective, Trump gets reelected. We'll still get the fill this seat. And that's a risk there consider but I think the Democrats may have a little bit more room than one may think, given the dynamics of the six seats and possibly more that could be in play next year. I mean, this November.

TUR: I think you might have actually meant -- I think you might have actually meant Senator Romney from Utah. Michael Steele, thank you so much.

STEELE: Yes, yes, but Cory Gardner -- yes, exactly. Romney from Utah but I was thinking of Colorado. Yes.

TUR: Cory Gardner is in the in the fight for his life in Colorado and the majority of Coloradans believe that they're going to take one Supreme Court justice that -- our Supreme Court decision that might come up or was likely to come up again, abortion the majority of Coloradans believe that abortion should be legal. Michael Steele, thank you so much, Jonathan Lemire, thank you as well.

STEELE: Thank you.

TUR: Brian, Nicolle, I'll toss it back to you. I'll leave you with this one thing though. I was talking to a Schumer staffer a little bit earlier tonight and I was asking them, him what they were going to do to delay potentially this vote if McConnell brings it to the floor. And the response I got was we're going to delay it as long as we possibly can, and, quote, fire and fury.

WALLACE: Wow, I saw one of your other bits of reporting tonight Katy Tur on social media. It's not TV friendly, but I'll try to paraphrase a Trump source said he's one lucky mother bleep. So, Katy, you've been full of fresh reporting tonight, and we're grateful to have all of it. I want to tell all of our viewers though, that you are hosting a special documentary, Justice Ginsburg on the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the top of the hour, just a few moments from now, Brian.

WILLIAMS: We are happy to be joined by the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Jon Meacham, a guy who we often turn to, to explain and sum up what it is we are covering in our day jobs and in this case, the loss we have witnessed tonight.

Jon, I'd like to begin in an unusual place, Justice Ginsburg, as has already been said, this hour, famously said she had three strikes against her when out of law school and looking for work. She was a woman. She was a working mom and she was a Jew. And I'd like to begin by talking about her Jewish faith, which was so important to our.

I was reminded tonight that in the Jewish faith, those who die on Rosh Hashanah are believed to be blessed with an extra type of divine righteousness. It was deeply a part of who she was as a thoroughly modern figure. And as a woman, like Justice O'Connor, despite having sterling first class credentials, a huge intellect had such a hard time breaking in.

JON MEACHAM, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: And isn't it amazing that it was all the day before yesterday. We're honoring a woman who faced those barriers 20 minutes ago, and like John Lewis, like Justice O'Connor, someone who we were able to watch move from a place of exclusion and of limited opportunity to the pinnacle of power, and once at the pinnacle of power always remembered from when she came and how she had to open the path for others.

And I think that part of the legacy here for Justice Ginsburg is her life now becomes part of a living debate in the life of the country. She has gone, slipped the surly bonds of Earth, but she will be a vibrant force in what is arguably the most important presidential election since either 1860 or 1864.

She believed firmly in the rule of law, she believed in the capacity of the Constitution, not to remain in a kind of 18th century amber, but saw it as a living document that could in fact, be part of the enlightenment era project that America at her best has been.

It was not a matter of reflexive authority or simply following what was written down, but was to use the God given gift of reason to assess changing circumstance to assess changing data in order to arrive at a more perfect union.

And is there anything more fitting than a constitutional order that is so clearly on the ballot will now have a vibrant, contentious doubtless, but a vibrant battle not only over Article I, the Congress and his power not only over Article II, the presidency and its powers, but now Article III, and the judiciary and that founding project, that because of our appetites, because of our ambition, because of our limitations, no one of us could be trusted with absolute authority.

WALLACE: Jon, I think the vibrance of articles one, two, and three may only be visible to historians tonight. I think most of the people I've heard from feel sheer despair. Can you just talk about moments where it feels like a moment that was already very, very difficult, got or difficult in our history?


WALLACE: What do people reach for? Do they -- do does Trump bring back some of those people despite his reprehensible conduct and Joe Biden's gains among Republicans and moderates or does this rally, people who believe and saw the world the way Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave, which is the opposite way that Donald Trump seems to be the world.

MEACHAM: You just framed the question of the next 50 days. That is exactly the question we've been debating in my household. I know you have to. Who does this held, who does this hurt? Do the suburban moms come out because of this? Or do the red states because of their obsession with the Supreme Court since the Brown decision? You know, we've had all those conversations.

But at the heart of it, I think is, and perhaps this is hopeful. I think it's rational. At the heart of it is this example of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is Brian just said, began life with a very limited horizon and crossed that horizon and showed us a path to a better fuller freer nation.

And so despair, I think is a sin. When you look at the American experience, and I don't mean to be Panglossian about it, or Pollyannish about it, but look at -- were 100 years in two women being allowed to vote. You were disenfranchised until 1920. 55 years ago that my native region lived under functional apartheid.

A woman who dies tonight is a hero of the Republic couldn't find a job that she was more than qualified for when she gets out of law school. That's not to say Oh, so it's better now. So we stopped quite the opposite. We've seen how fragile and tenuous those kinds of gains can be, but they are gains.

And so what the historian has to do and what I would argue with the citizen has to do is look at it as a case study and try to figure out what was it that got Ruth Bader Ginsburg from not being able to find the job she was qualified for, to sitting on the United States Supreme Court. And what got her there was that more Americans began to actually see that the Declaration of Independence didn't just apply to people who look like me and Brian. Right, it applies to everyone.


MEACHAM: That was the central claim of the black freedom movement. That's the central claim of the American Revolution, as we should understand it, and this idea that it is somehow or another everything gets frozen at a certain point, a certain year, and that that's where America is great. And we have to go back to that. That's a historical that's just wrong.

And so my sense of hope comes from the fact that we live in a country that had a Justice Ginsburg, and we have to fight and work every minute of every day in this big complicated, contentious country to make sure there are more Justice Ginsburg's.

WILLIAMS: And that's why Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize winning author and presidential historian. It's also why we asked him to join us on nights like this. Jon, my friend, thank you very much from us both.

And we've just been handed this from former President Barack Obama. The quote from his statement is this quote, four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing on an upward down vote from Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn't fill an open seat on the Supreme Court, before a new president was sworn in.

A basic principle of the law and of everyday fairness is that we apply rules with consistency and not based on what's convenient or advantageous in the moment as votes are already being cast in this election. Republican senators are now called to apply that standard.

Obviously, Nicolle, that was the part of the former president statement not dealing personally with the loss of Justice Ginsburg, which every American feels tonight but dealing with the natural questions of law and process that comes up. May I take this moment to thank you so much for being my wing person on our coverage tonight. This was --

WALLACE: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: -- thing really important and it was really important for you to be here, and a partner in it and a part of it for the two of us. That's going to do it for this hour for this broadcast for tonight and for this week.

As we mentioned, stay tuned. Katy Tur hosts a special hour on the life and legacy of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg gone tonight at the age of 87. On behalf of all of our colleagues at the networks of NBC News for us, good night.


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