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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 10/11/21

Guests: Anat Shanker-Osorio, Jesse Wegman, Desmond Meade, Norm Ornstein

Summary

Republicans embrace Donald Trump`s election lies. President Biden`s American Rescue Plan provided $1,400 in COVID relief payments and enhanced unemployment benefit of up to $300 per month, and the expansion of the child tax credit that last month reached more than 60 million children. In 2018, there were only three states that did not allow convicted felons who had served their sentences to vote -- Florida, Kentucky and Iowa. Then in 2018, 65 percent of Florida voters voted for a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for felons who had completed their sentences. Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein was the first nonpartisan analyst to see there was something very wrong with the Republican Party in Washington. He says the Republican Party is an obstructionist cult aiming to do whatever it takes to block governance.

Transcript

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

After more than 920 days, they finally had another running of the Boston marathon. Today, everything went very well, and it was a pretty great day for Boston.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": I checked in at "The Boston Globe`s" front page, the BostonGlobe.com, their front page today in the middle of the day. I was looking for some other New England news, and I completely forgot it was marathon day and it was like, oh, there`s 14 most read stories on the front page of "The Boston Globe", they`re all different stories about the marathon. I completely forgot about it, even though I`m supposed to be a Massachusetts, you know.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, you are. You`re just the other end of Massachusetts.

MADDOW: Exactly.

O`DONNELL: They couldn`t be farther away from Boston end of Massachusetts.

MADDOW: The closer to Albany part of it. Yeah, got it.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Well, starting somewhere around the early 1990s, Rush Limbaugh and other right wing fanatics decided to change the name of the Democratic Party, they changed it to the Democrat Party. They thought that was really smart, the Democrat party.

Their point was that both parties are Democratic parties in the sense that they both believe in democracy and our products of democracy, and so neither party should claim the adjective Democratic for itself. Republicans are no longer quite so fetishistic about their attachment to democracy. Instead of expressing their belief in democracy, Republicans now express their belief in stolen elections. The Republican Party has always presented itself as the defender of traditional American values against an assault on those values by liberal Democrats.

Michael Gerson may have been the single best Republican practitioner of that art of expressing American values as a speech writer. Michael Gerson is an evangelical Christian who was the chief speech writer for President George W. Bush, and the words that he gave to President Bush who sometimes mangled those words, were among the most eloquent expressions of traditional American values.

Today in his column in "The Washington Post," Michael Gerson writes the GOP is a garbage scow of the corrupt, the seditious, and their enablers. This is unprecedented in American political history, but by now, we`ve grown used to it, that the most eloquent and lacerating and accurate descriptions of the Republican Party now come from the former leading lights of the Republican Party, intellectuals like George Will, speech writers like Michael Gerson and Bill Kristol, presidential campaign strategists like Stuart Stevens and Steve Schmidt, and the list goes on and on.

Including our first guest tonight Jennifer Rubin who writes: It is long past time that Democrats seize the high ground on values including fair play, honesty, respect, and nonviolence. In truth, a party that winks at violence and tries to undermine faith in elections is anti-American and anti-democratic. Hold Republicans accountable when they rationalize violence and denigrate the importance of elections. Take them to task as anti-work and anti-family for opposing necessities such as subsidized child care for working parents or paid family leave to take care of parents.

That`s how Democrats can achieve consensus, if not unity, cast themselves as defenders of American values and put Republicans on defense. In Iowa this weekend, we saw a possible foreshadowing of the presidential campaign of 2024 with Donald Trump holding a rally in Iowa, campaigning for at minimum, attention.

He was also campaigning to maintain his control over the Republican Party, which was vividly demonstrated by the abject fealty of the oldest Republican member of the United States senate, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the 20th century version of Chuck Grassley in the United States Senate was a predictable conservative Republican who was thought by his colleagues to be somewhere in the middle of the bottom half of the Republican Senate intellectually.

[22:05:11]

It was easy for senators like Grassley to know how to vote in those days. They simply did what their Republican leader Bob Dole from Kansas suggested that they do. Chuck Grassley`s conservative consistency in those days could have been mistaken then as principle, and indeed it was mistaken as principle by everyone, possibly even including Grassley himself.

It took Donald Trump to reveal that Chuck Grassley does not believe in anything. Chuck Grassley has become the perfect example of the unthinking and supremely dangerous Trump political foot soldier.

Eight months ago during the second impeachment of Donald Trump, Senator Chuck Grassley issued this written statement. President Trump continued to argue that the election had been stolen even though the courts didn`t back up his claims. He belittled and harassed elected officials across the country to get his way. He encouraged his own loyal Vice President Mike Pence to take extraordinary unconstitutional actions during the electoral college count. There`s no doubt in my mind that President Trump`s language was extreme, aggressive, and irresponsible.

This weekend in Iowa, Donald Trump`s language was extreme, aggressive and irresponsible and Chuck Grassley stood right there with Donald Trump in Iowa and publicly begged and groveled for Donald Trump`s endorsement for his Senate re-election campaign next year.

And so, the 88-year-old Chuck Grassley having successfully debased himself once again at the feet of Donald Trump got Donald Trump`s endorsement. He will be 89 on Election Day next year, and if things go well for Chuck Grassley, he will be 95 when he`s running for re-election again and begging for Donald Trump or Donald Trump Jr.`s endorsement.

Michael Gerson who spent a career in politics trying to elect Republicans to every office now says that unified Republican control of the House and the Senate and the White House after the next presidential election is, quote, the nightmare prospect of American politics.

Leading off our discussion tonight, are Eddie Glaude, chair of the African- American studies department at Princeton University, and Jennifer Rubin, a conservative opinion writer at "The Washington Post," and author of "Resistance: How Women Saved Democracy from Donald Trump". Both are MSNBC contributors.

And, Jennifer, we begin with you, and every -- I don`t know what it is now, maybe every couple of years, we just have to remind the audience how extraordinary it is that a Republican president`s chief speechwriter is out with a column saying how horrific the Republican Party has become today.

We`ve gotten used to you and George Will and other Republican intellectuals of the past coming on and pointing out just how horrific the Trump Republican party has become, and I just -- I don`t want people to get used to that because it is such an important phenomenon. It is so very important that we have your perspective on what we`re seeing in the Republican party and what you are writing today about the party of values and how the Democratic Party has to figure out the language of values and use it the way Republicans have successfully used it in the past.

JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yeah, I think when I look around, I`m not so amazed, frankly, at those of us who have been speaking out. I continue to be amazed by the Chuck Grassley, the worms, the go-alongers, the people who must know at some level this is dangerous and awful and yet prostrate themselves in front of Donald Trump.

So I do think that perhaps we who have been on the Republican side once upon a time do have a little perspective. And you`re right, they on the Republican side use values to hit the Democrats over the head with you`re anti-family, you`re not patriotic, you`re anti-police. All of this, of course, is nonsense, and is now directly applicable to them.

And I love when Joe Biden gets down into the weeds of policy because I`m a policy wonk, but that`s really not the way to do politics in America. He really has to set a much higher bar and talk about his package as one that is pro-family, that is pro-democratic, that is pro-national unity and begin to talk in the language of values pointing out that Democrats are the repository of those values now.

Republicans are antithetical. They`re hostile to those values. And I think unless they do that, he`s going to be mired down in a never-ending scrawl of details and media coverage and Republican accusations.

[21:10:13]

He really, I think, has to lift the bar, and I would point him in the direction of my dear friend Matt Dowd who is running for lieutenant governor of Texas of all things.

You watch his ads, he`s talking about common sense, common purpose for the common good. That`s language that we need to hear on a national level from Democrats.

O`DONNELL: Professor Glaude, it strikes me that the best communicator of values that I have heard on the Democratic side of our politics was Barack Obama beginning with his convention speech in Boston in 2004, which is the first time many of us saw him speak at all. And that was a values-laden speech all the way through. That was not a clicking off of a list of policy objectives, an it`s very unlikely that Joe Biden at this point is going to become the gifted orator he`s never been.

But there`s a big Democratic team, there`s a big Democratic team in the House and the Senate who can go out around the country and supply the kind of values, rhetoric that Jennifer`s talking about.

EDDIE GLAUDE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. And I think I want to applaud Jennifer for the column because she`s absolutely right. You know, we at one point, Lawrence, we were talking about how essential the central workers were to the food supply chain in the midst of COVID, and now we`re allowing people to talk about them as folks who just want a handout. Now we`re seeing the rhetoric shifting.

At a certain level we need to make this claim. Sometimes -- and history bears witness, I think, to this claim -- that it falls upon the shoulders of an unsuspecting generation to save American democracy, and that`s where we are. And that`s what the Democratic Party has to understand its task as, so as we articulate these values, we have to articulate within a framework that the republic is in crisis, that it`s in danger, and that we must in some way stand behind or stand for those values if we`re going to salvage this fragile experiment it seems to me.

O`DONNELL: And, Jennifer, the Republicans, I`m not hearing quite the same values rhetoric for them that we have in the past because so much of their rhetoric involves talk about fraudulent elections, stolen elections, all of this stench of corruption that Donald Trump imagines and spews.

RUBIN: Yeah, even they, I guess, find it hard to talk about values when they`re winking and nodding at violence, when they`re seeking to undermine elections. So I think they have just decided to go mean and that somehow convinced themselves that what their base wants is the meanest junk yard dog in the yard and that they are going to be it and they are going to simply attack, attack, attack.

And the Democrats have got to figure out a way to not be on defensive, to go on offense to point out what they`re doing, but more importantly to set forth why their values, why American values are the way we get through this.

We don`t get through this by screaming foul when we lose elections. That`s not the American way. We don`t get through this by denying that the president is the president. We don`t get through this by seeking to prevent people from voting. That`s not the American way, and I think Democrats really need to understand the depth of the trauma we`re in, the depth of the peril that the democracy is in and really rise to the occasion.

And it`s hard because I know Democrats love talking policies. They love talking about all the great things they`re doing, and there is a lot of great stuff in this bill that Joe Biden is in favor of, but if you only talk in the details and there`s so many details, you get lost in the weeds. And that`s why I think a values conversation that elevates the Democratic Party is what they really need.

O`DONNELL: So this weekend saw another Republican, this time the number two ranking Republican in the House who on a Sunday show and be unable to say that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president of the United States, and moderator Chris Wallace did the parrying back and forth, which I won`t bother showing to the audience because we`ve seen this before. We`re going to see it again whenever these people are invited on those kinds of shows, there will be that little round that we go through.

But Liz Cheney, Congresswoman Liz Cheney, Republican, had this reaction to it. She says millions of Americans have been sold a fraud that the election was stolen. Republicans have a duty to tell the American people that this is not true, perpetuating the big lie is an attack on the core of our constitutional republic.

[22:15:04]

And, Professor Glaude, there`s Liz Cheney saying Republicans have a duty. She`s using that value language of a duty, and as a Republican herself, she is showing that they are failing in that duty.

GLAUDE: And she`s absolutely right. I can`t believe I`m saying that I agree with Liz Cheney, right? But she`s absolutely right. And it has everything to do with the fact that these sorts of claims are all about delegitimizing our electoral process, by deepening distrust, by setting the stage for folk to call into question outcomes that they disagree with.

And I think it`s really important as we talk about the role of the Democratic Party here, we have to say, at least I have to say this, that the Third Way response might not be adequate. The tentativeness, the tentative way in which the Democratic Party has adjusted to the framework, Lawrence, of Reaganism over these 40 years may not be the appropriate response to the crisis we face.

When I say unsuspecting generation has to in some way save democracy, you can`t fall back on the old strategies. We`re going to have to risk and be courageous enough to stand on these values as we try to imagine a new way of being together.

So, absolutely. Absolutely. I agree with Liz Cheney in this instance. I can`t believe I just said that again.

O`DONNELL: Well, I love that point that I can`t believe that I`m saying I agree with Liz Cheney, and what`s so fascinating about it is -- I had arguments with Liz Cheney on television debates about torture back in the Bush presidency before she was in office, what we never dreamed was that there would come a time when there would be a debate in this country essentially about the validity of democracy itself. And if you had asked me then, if you`d asked me 10, 15 years ago, I would have said, well, of course, Liz Cheney and I are going to agree on the legitimacy of democracy itself.

And so, Jennifer, that`s the unsurprising part of what we actually do agree on.

RUBIN: Yeah, and I think that has to be underscored. Whatever your disagreements with Biden on whether this package should be 3.5 trillion or 1.9 trillion, whatever it is, that is not the issue of our time. The issue of our time is whether we`re going to have a democracy, whether the American ideal, equal justice under the law, a Constitution that restrains those in power is going to survive or not.

And so, I would implore both ex-Republicans, disaffected Republicans, never Republicans, independents and Democrats of whatever stripe to figure out a way to deliver for their voters who desperately want these very popular measures. Get that done, put that to bed, and then go out and tell the American people what you are for, that you are there to not only protect their interests but to embody and save American democracy. And really take it to the next level.

As you know, Lawrence, presidencies are not won on blank papers. They`re not won on ten-point plans. If so, Elizabeth Warren would have been president ten times over. They are built on this emotional connection in which voters see in that leader someone who cares about them, someone who embodies their values, and someone who makes them feel like America is a place for them. And if Democrats can`t do that, we are in deep, deep trouble.

O`DONNELL: Jennifer Rubin, and Professor Eddie Glaude, thank you both for starting us off tonight, really appreciate it.

Thank you.

Coming up, credit where credit is due, most voters don`t know what President Biden and the Democratic Congress have already done. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:23:03]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The work of our time is to prepare ourselves to be competitive to win the fast-changing 21st century global economy. That`s why I propose two critical pieces of legislation being debated here in Washington right now. One focused on the investments we need to make in the physical infrastructure of America, roads, bridges, ports, et cetera. The second focus on the investments we need to make in the American people to make us more competitive.

We need to stay focused on what these bills will mean to the people who are just looking for a little bit of breathing room, a fair chance to build a decent middle class life, to succeed and thrive instead of just hanging on by their fingernails.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was President Biden on Friday speaking to voters who mostly don`t know what he has done for them already. President Biden`s American Rescue Plan provided $1,400 in COVID relief payments and enhanced unemployment benefit of up to $300 per month, and the expansion of the child tax credit that last month reached more than 60 million children.

The August payment of the child tax credit lifted 3.5 million children out of poverty. New polling shows many Americans don`t know that Democrats and the Biden administration provided that relief and that every single Republican in Congress opposed that relief. The latest "Politico"/Morning Consult poll finds 61 percent of respondents say they received the expanded child tax credit of up to $300 for every child each month, but only 47 percent of those respondents credited Democrats for passing the legislation, and only 38 percent credited President Biden.

Joining us now, Sam Stein, White House editor at "Politico". He`s an MSNBC political analyst. And Anat Shenker-Osorio, the founder of ASO Communications.

Now, Sam, you wrote about this, a failure to connect accomplishment to the people who are delivering that accomplishment. Voters just not making the connection.

SAM STEIN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I mean, there was a proposition that Democrats had very early in Biden`s term, which was that they were going to do things a little bit differently than the Obama White House did. And by that, they were going to give benefits to the American people that were immediate and that were tangible, and what can be more immediate or tangible than money in your pocket. So, you outline three of the ways they were just going to shuffle resources to the American people.

But what`s been striking to me as underscored in these polls and interviews I`ve done with top operatives is how little that`s translated, 38 percent crediting Biden for the enhanced child tax credit, which is the crown Jewel of his domestic agenda now ask something he`s trying to extend until 2025.

That is an abysmal number f your proposition to the electorate is, hey, I gave you, the working parent, $300 a month to help with your child, and the parent says thanks, it`s been helpful. Who gave it to me? I don`t recall you doing it. You do have a moral case. The actual reduction in childhood poverty has been an immense success. But in an electoral case, they fumbled.

O`DONNELL: Anat, you studied, this kind of communication. How does the communication chain work from the president of the United States telling people this is what I did for you today, down to the actual voters who need to know that?

ANAT SHENKER-OSORIO, FOUNDER, ASO COMMUNICATIONS: Yeah, I`m glad you`re asking me.

So, a message is like a baton that has to be passed from person to person to person. If it gets dropped anywhere along the way, by definition, it isn`t heard, and even someone with arguably the largest pulpit, right, the president of the United States, the notion that what people think about Democrats is actually made out of what Democrats say or do is almost laughable.

And in fact, it is the media, hate to tell you, that determine what it is people hear about these programs. The child care tax credit, for example, was dropped right around the same time as what happened in Afghanistan. That swamped the coverage, and to me, it is very, very sad that the numbers that you report are there are certainly not what we`re seeing in our nightly focus groups very much reaffirming that and in the polling we`ve done privately, but it`s also utterly unsurprising.

If the media isn`t telling folks about these things, then how is it they`re supposed to get this message, even if the president is reporting on it.

O`DONNELL: And, Sam, the other thing we`ve always known about undecided voters and those are the people you`re trying to reach with this information, the people you already have for electoral purposes anyway, I mean, they need to know about it for their own lives and for using the program, but for electoral reward for having done this, you need to get this to the voters who might not be voting for you, and those are the people who aren`t watching shows like this, and they aren`t consuming very much political news anyway.

STEIN: Right, so there are some reasons to remain optimistic if you`re a Democrat. One is that you`re not consuming news like we are. You will get your news closer to the election, and the Biden campaign will have ample opportunity to remind you either through earned media or just media that they did this. So there`s plenty of time.

The second thing is we talked to some pollsters on this piece, they said while the republic at large may not credit Biden, something very interesting is happening in the polls. Republican voters with children tend to be more favorably disposed to Biden than Republican voters without children. That could be correlation or causation, but the people I talk to say that shows there is some resonance.

So, maybe Biden isn`t moving the electoral -- but he may be moving people slightly on the margin here that could help in 2024. This is not a unique phenomenon to Biden. You might remember this, Lawrence, Barack Obama heading into his re-election, the vast majority of the public thought that taxes had gone up under Obama.

In fact, he had reduced taxes through his stimulus act for the vast amount of voters. There`s also a lot of voters who don`t understand or consume information like we do.

[22:29:42]

Anat, is that -- that example Sam just gave, taxes going up under President Obama -- is that just the enduring impression that under Democrats taxes go up and under Republicans taxes go down and there`s very little you can do with the relatively uninformed swing voter about that?

ANAT SHANKER-OSORIO, FOUNDER, ASO COMMUNICATIONS: Yes, what I would say about that is that motivated cognition is a hell of a drug. And what I mean by that is that the more the descriptor of the human cognitive processing system would be I`ll see it when I believe it, not the other way around.

What we find in experiment after experiment is that when people have already cemented a world view, they in essence have a frame around what is occurring, then facts are simply impervious to it. They bounce off of it, right?

In lay terms if you`ve ever had the experience of trying to tell one of your friends that the guy that she`s dating is a complete and total jerk and you provide her fact after fact after fact and they are just going ping, ping, ping, that`s what I`m talking about. But spread across massive issues of social justice and economic well-being.

And so people are incredibly adept at discounting factual information that`s simply weeding it out, not paying attention to it, ignoring it that doesn`t fit their pre-existing frame.

And so it`s precisely as you said. If they have an existing story line about, quote, unquote, what Democrats do and how they behave, then facts are pretty much impervious to it.

Now, rather than get very, very sad about that, because one could, but one still has to go on. We could recognize that we have to speak as your previous guests were saying in the language of values. And more than that, as I often like to tell people, don`t take your policy out in public. It`s unseemly.

Messaging about policy is always less effective than what that policy delivers. So when we ask people, how do you feel about paid family leave? They`re into it. When we say instead you`re there the first time your newborn smiles, they`re way more into it.

When we say raising wages very popular. When we say instead everyone makes enough to care for their family, way more popular.

What Democrats need to do when they do have the mic is stop selling the recipe and start selling the brownie. Stop talking about the names of your policies and instead speak to voters in imageable terms about what it would feel like to have that as the reality in their life.

And so it`s not a child care tax credit, which is the name of a policy. It`s you go off to work and you feel great about what your kid is and you know that they`re safe, loved, and cared for and that you can afford it.

O`DONNELL: Anat Shanker-Osorio and Sam Stein, thank you both very much for joining us tonight.

SHANKER-OSORIO: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

SAM STEIN, WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, POLITICO: Thanks, Lawrence.

And coming up, what if you had to pay $52,985.02 for the right to vote in Florida? That`s next.

[22:33:01]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In 2018, there were only three states that did not allow convicted felons who had served their sentences to vote -- Florida, Kentucky and Iowa. Then in 2018, 65 percent of Florida voters voted for a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights for felons who had completed their sentences.

About 1.4 million Floridians suddenly had their right to vote restored in what "The New York Times" then called, quote, "The biggest expansion of voting rights in decades anywhere in the country."

Jesse Wegman reporting for "The New York Times" tells us what has happened since the Republican legislature passed a law signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis requiring the payment of all court fines, legal fees and restitution before a convicted felon would then be allowed to vote.

Jesse Wegman tells the story Judy Boldon, who believed she owed a few hundred dollars, only to discover that she would actually have to pay $52,985.02 to cast her vote in Florida. Ms. Bolden is one of more than 700,000 people in Florida who are barred from voting because they can`t afford the financial obligations stemming from a prior felony conviction. "It`s like I`m not a citizen," she said. That`s what they`re saying.

Joining us now, Jesse Wegman, member of "The New York Times` editorial board. Also with us Desmond Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

And Jesse, your reporting is just stunning. How does that number get up to that $52,900?

JESSE WEGMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it happens in lots of different ways. You know, one way is that there are sort of initial fines and fees that may follow on a criminal conviction. But then, you know, the really sort of insidious part is people get new court costs applied to them for every time they show up in court.

Then their debt may get sold to a collections agency, and the collections agency can charge up to 40 percent interest. And so everything just builds up really quickly. And when people are making, you know, minimum wage or a little bit more and they have to pay all their other bills, they end up not paying their legal debt, and it balloons very quickly.

O`DONNELL: And Desmond, you`re a former convicted felon yourself who`s come through this process, now a law school graduate, soon to be a member of the bar in Florida fighting this fight.

[22:39:53]

O`DONNELL: When that constitutional amendment was passed by 65 percent of the voters in Florida in 2018, it did not say anything about anything other than simply granting people like you the right to vote again.

DESMOND MEADE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, FLORIDA RIGHTS RESTORATION COALITION: Lawrence, first of all, thank you for having me on, but listen, you know when that passed, that was a huge moment when amendment 4 passed. It was a moment where we seen the state of Florida come together, people from all walks of life, all political persuasions. And we were able to accomplish this through love, right?

But then we have politicians that get involved that creates the divide and the division. Part of that is even the rhetoric, Lawrence, for instance we no longer use the term "felon" because part of this thing is how do we humanize people who have made mistakes, right?

Just because you have made a mistake in the past, that doesn`t mean you should be forced to choose between putting food on your table or being able to vote. But that process comes with the humanization of people with felony convictions.

And I think Jesse did a great job in just humanizing, you know, people like me who just want to be a part of society, who want to be able to participate in our democracy. I think it starts with the terminology that we use to identify each other.

But at the end of the day, what we do know is that the state of Florida is still trying to figure this process out, right? If they would have done what the voters simply wanted and that was just that once a person is free from confinement and free from probation, that they`re able to register to vote, we wouldn`t be here tonight having this discussion.

O`DONNELL: Desmond, I wish I spoke to you earlier today before I wrote that script introducing this segment tonight where I was using the word "felon" in the way you`re talking about, using it as a noun describing a human being. And thanks for that correction. That`s going to be -- we`re going to be changing that going forward.

Jesse, what about very, very, very old convictions where there might not be all the available records. What happens in those cases?

WEGMAN: You know, this is part of, I think, what reveals the utter bad faith at the core of this effort by the Republican legislature in Florida, which is the sheer incompetence and chaos and just sloppiness of the application of this new law, which says the completion of a sentence, which I think virtually all Floridians who voted for this amendment in 2018 understood to be when you got out of prison and at most when you finished your parole and probation.

This new law extending that to include these fines and fees and other court costs really was, you know, the essence of it is that it`s such a mess, nobody knows these amounts, so as you say, some of these convictions that people have that they owe legal debt on are so old that the counties that they were convicted in don`t even have the records of what they owe, so they can`t figure it out.

The state can`t tell them what they owe, and yet the state is saying to them, sorry, until you pay this debt and nobody can tell you how it is, you`re not voting. I mean if there was any sort of more egregious form of intentional disenfranchisement, you know, I haven`t seen it in many years.

O`DONNELL: Desmond, is there any way to challenge the constitutionality of this statute, which in certain ways seems to be overruling an actual constitutional amendment in the state of Florida?

MEADE: Lawrence, this was already challenged last year. We seen the ACLU, Vernon (ph) Center, League of Women Voters and a multitude of other organizations challenging this in the court. They were successful in the lower courts, I think the northern district of Florida. However, the state of Florida did appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of appeals, and the 11th Circuit sided with the state.

And so that`s where it is right now. That`s why organizations such as mine, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, is so important because we`re standing in the gap. And we said from the very beginning, we`re going to let the litigators litigate. We`re going to let the politician do their politicking. And we`re going to focus squarely on the people.

And so from the very beginning, soon we knew that this statute was going to be implemented, we created a fines and fees program where I don`t know if you heard, but last year we raised over $27 million to help individuals pay off their fines and fees -- over 44,000 people benefitted from that.

And we established an attorney assistance program so we could utilize a provision that was hidden within the statute that allows the courts to waive these fines and fees of individuals so they`ll be able to register to vote. And so far we have over, I believe, 20,000 people that are in our program right now waiting to be processed.

[22:44:59]

MEADE: The courts were delayed a little bit because there was a level of uncertainty with the back and forth in the litigation. But now that this has been settled, courts are now freed up to actually start implementing their interpretation of Senate Bill 7066 and we`re seeing great progress and enthusiasm within the courts in several judicial circuits throughout the state of Florida.

O`DONNELL: Desmond, quickly before you go, is there a way for viewers to contribute to funds for helping people pay these fees?

MEADE: Well, of course. And over 90,000 people have done so. And we want to encourage people to continue to free the vote in Florida. They can go to our Web site at Floridarrc.com where there`s ways that they can donate, it`s tax deductible.

Please, we need all the help we can. We`ve had help from people like Lebron James and Michael Jordan and Ariana Grande and so many others who came together believing that no American citizen should ever, ever have to be forced to choose between putting food on their table or being able to vote.

And so please help us free the vote. Donations are welcome. Keep it coming.

O`DONNELL: Desmond Meade and Jesse Wegman, thank you both for joining us and reporting on this important story. We really appreciate it.

MEADE: Thank you so much for having me.

WEGMAN: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, congressional scholar Norm Ornstein was the first nonpartisan analyst to see there was something very wrong with the Republican Party in Washington. That was over ten years ago.

Now he says the Republican Party is an obstructionist cult aiming to do whatever it takes to block governance.

Norm Ornstein joins us next.

[22:46:42]

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O`DONNELL: Today our next guest Norm Ornstein, wrote a "New York Daily News" op-ed titled "Fix the Senate, Save America". In it he says, quote, "The debt ceiling fiasco is Exhibit A in the larger problem. One of our two political parties is no longer a traditional conservative problem-solving party but has morphed into an obstructionist cult aiming to do whatever it takes to block governance in order to inflame voters and regain power no matter the cost to the country."

Joining us now is Norm Ornstein, a congressional historian and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Norm, thank you very much for joining us tonight. You know, fix the Senate, save America. There are so many things to fix in the United States Senate.

How do you begin -- I would like to begin with proportional representation. Now that there`s two per state but that`s we`re a long way off from getting that done.

NORM ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL HISTORIAN: And the senate`s going to get worse. I mean we have to consider that, Lawrence, that before long it`s become -- going to become even less representative of the country as a whole. But right now we are in a moment where we need triage. And the fact is if we don`t fix the Senate, we can kiss our democracy good-bye.

Certainly the debt ceiling fiasco is a part of it. I think and hope that Mitch McConnell, not for good purposes, but his own malign ones, has given us an opportunity, a little bit of breathing room to take that reconciliation bill and make it work so we have a big accomplishment, one that will include an enormous set of things for the American public, especially for working class and middle class and poorer people.

And then we have to fix that debt ceiling blackmail once and for all. It`s Tom Hannah (ph) and I, when we wrote more than ten years ago about what was then an insurgent outlier purpose, now an obstructionist cult, saw that this was being used for horrible purposes. And there are ways to do that in reconciliation.

And third and most important, we discussed it before, we have to discuss it many times. We need to find a way to restore the filibuster where the burden is on the minority so we can get the things done starting primarily with democracy reform but moving on to many, many other things that are just going to be blocked because every single Republican will filibuster and keep them from happening.

O`DONNELL: Yes and Republicans managed to hold a disproportionate share of Senate seats because, of course, the Senate represents land and not people and it is a fundamentally anti-democratic institution in its design.

Speaker Pelosi has issued a statement tonight about the infrastructure negotiations saying, overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families and the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis.

That sounds to me, Norm, like the compromise is being more and more focused, that that is the talk of compromise that I`m hearing.

ORNSTEIN: And, you know, at this point, I`m agnostic to a degree. We just need to get something that is going to be a compromise somewhere in the range of $2 trillion over ten years. And it might end up being over five years.

If we get some of these core elements, continue to cut child poverty, as was done dramatically with the child tax credit, find a way to get child care so that people can actually go back to work and see that their families are taken care of.

Do something about the climate but also I would hope provide free community college and pre-k education, which are going to be enormous for the next generations and for getting the jobs where people can actually be trained to work in what`s required.

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ORNSTEIN: If we can do some of those right now, most of those right now in some reasonable fashion, it would be, as I said in the piece, in great society territory with this very narrow majority.

It`s really important that the next few weeks we get that done, but I come back to this. They`ve got to do something about the filibuster because what comes next, so important, is protecting our democracy against people who want to steal it.

And we see this happening every day all over the country. 2020 was a harbinger of what`s to come unless we act and we cannot act without a reasonable way of altering that terrible rule for this undemocratic body already that the supermajority is there. It shouldn`t be required in a doubled up way.

O`DONNELL: Norm Ornstein, among the first in Washington to warn of us about where the Republican party was going. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

ORNSTEIN: My pleasure, Lawrence. Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

We`ll be right back.

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[22:59:58]

O`DONNELL: Boston began the day with another successful running of the marathon. And tonight the Boston Red Sox are at this moment showering themselves in champagne. The Sox, having won their playoff series and Boston will sleep tonight with dreams of another World Series.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.