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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 5/17/21

Guests: Gene Sperling, Rosa DeLauro, Stephen Richer


Today, President Biden announced that his careful, deliberative approach to governing is now focused on making government work more efficiently and fairly this time in delivery of the child tax credit. Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, chair of the House Appropriations Committee is interviewed. Today, Joel Greenberg pleaded guilty to six federal crimes including sex trafficking of a minor. In the plea agreement, Greenberg agreed to fully cooperate with federal investigators. A Republican official in Arizona says that what is happening with the ballots in the presidential election in Arizona is now unhinged. President Biden issued a carefully written statement today supporting a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.



And thank you for that -- hearing from Steven Richer is going to be very important to get a Republican perspective from Arizona. He says what`s going on there is unhinged. A word that I think has gotten more currency in the last five years than it has in the previous 500 perhaps, it`s been the word of the day so often.

But, Rachel, our first guest tonight is really unique in American presidential history because our first guest -- and I`m opening this to you and the audience to guess who this is -- has been an adviser now to three real president s and one fictional president. And he is now an adviser to Joe Biden.

The fictional president, by the way --

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": You know me, I don`t -- yes, come on.

O`DONNELL: Big hint, the fictional president was, of course, Jed Bartlett on NBC "The West Wing", and our first guest was a consultant, adviser to that fictional presidency, and three real ones -- Clinton, Obama, and now Biden. Take your time. We have all night.

MADDOW: No. No, not going to do it.

O`DONNELL: This isn`t "Jeopardy!", you have all night.

MADDOW: Lawrence, would it profoundly affect our friendship, like even retroactively if I told you that I`ve never seen "The West Wing"?

O`DONNELL: No, because that`s true of most people, and this is something that people in television don`t realize is that, you know, a giant, giant TV audience back then was 20 million people, which we used to get on "The West Wing" and now a giant TV audience is maybe 6 million people. NBC is lucky if they can get 6 million people to watch something.

So, what that tells you is back when 20 million people were watching, say, "The West Wing," that meant a few hundred million weren`t. So that`s kind of an important number. It`s a very important number to keep in mind, that number who are not watching. It`s a huge number.

MADDOW: I mean, I didn`t have a TV until well after I had a TV show on MSNBC. I grew up watching TV, and then when I moved out of my parents` house, I just like never had a space for it until like well after I already had a TV show on MSNBC, and in that lacuna, I missed all of pop culture apparently, and so I`m of no use at any pop quiz or being quizzed by my colleague on TV.

O`DONNELL: So, Rachel, this was an on-site occurrence of what you`ve just described. Senator Bud Cary when he was in the Senate came to Warner Brothers one day to visit me in my office, I took him down to my set, to visit "The West Wing" set, and the beloved John Spencer, just beautiful, just a Rolls-Royce of an actor, was working that day, and John saw Bud Cary and came over and met him and he -- John just couldn`t contain himself.

He said, how do you like the show? And Senator Cary had to say, I`ve never seen it. And so, there`s an even sharper version of it than your version of it. So it happens all the time.

MADDOW: I`m going to go home and start streaming from episode one right now.

O`DONNELL: It`s available. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: "The New York Times" has gone backstage at the White House and worked their sources to find out Joe Biden`s big secret, the secret of his legislative success in passing the single largest federal spending bill in history when he passed the COVID relief bill through Congress and signed it into law, instantly improving the finances of poor people and unemployed people and underemployed people and people everywhere in the country struggling to support their families during the pandemic.

"New York Times" found the secret to Joe Biden`s over 60 percent approval rating. The secret of the success of the Biden presidency so far was there in the "New York Times" reporting. And according to in depth, behind the scenes White House reporting by the anything reporting by the "New York Times," that big secret is homework.

That`s what our teachers told us in elementary school was the key to success, homework. Our teachers in high school told us the same thing. Some of our teachers in high school started suggesting that homework was actually the key to success in life, and I, for one, could not understand what they meant by that because I was looking forward to finishing school and never having to do homework again in my life.

But Joe Biden knows better, knows better than the high school me. Joe Biden knows it`s all about homework. Joe Biden knows homework is the key. Every person who has achieved great things can tell you about the homework it took to get there.

At the end of this hour, we`ll talk about the homework it took for 87-year- old Bill Russell to be inducted is the Basketball Hall of Fame this year as a coach, 46 years after he was inducted into the basketball hall of fame as a player. The most important thing to know about Bill Russell as a basketball player is that he was cut from his junior varsity team in high school. Bill Russell had to work at it. Bill Russell can tell you about the homework that got him to the Hall of Fame.

Joe Biden can tell you about the homework it has taken to get him to the presidency and now to get him through the presidency. "The New York Times" is reporting on the homework that Joe Biden does now. Quote: Before making up his mind, the president demands hours of detail-laden debate from scores of policy experts taking everyone around him on what some in the West Wing refer to as his Socratic journey before arriving at a conclusion.

In other words, Joe Biden is presidenting exactly the way the Founders hoped the president would do the job, thoughtfully, carefully, never rushing to judgment. And according to the approval ratings, the country appreciates that approach to the presidency, especially after the impetuous madness of Joe Biden`s predecessor in the Oval Office who never read a briefing book and never would have understood it if he did.

Some Republican strategists are now worried that they will not be able to make Joe Biden and his policies the issue in congressional elections next year. Quote: Interviews with more than 25 GOP strategists and party officials depict a president whose avuncular style and genial bearing make him a less than ideal foil. He doesn`t induce anger or rage, and at the moment, his White House is relatively drama-free.

In response, Republicans are preparing to break with time-honored custom and cast the president less as the central character in the midterm elections than as an accessory to the broader excesses of the left because Biden is so boring, he`s not as scandalous, said John Thomas, a Republican strategist who works on House campaigns across the country. Though Biden, certainly is relevant as the head of the party in power, Thomas said, there are bigger boogie men. We don`t need him as our number one foil.

And so Republicans are going to try to win control of the House of Representatives next year, not by attacking Joe Biden, but by trying to attack prominent individual members of the House. The trouble with that is that Republicans in the house of representatives are in the middle of a battle amongst themselves that will not be resolved before the 2022 elections, and that is a battle over the truth. The truth of the last presidential election and the truth of what happened when a Trump mob invaded the Capitol on January 6th.

Congresswoman Liz Cheney wants the Republican leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy to tell the are truth about January 6th and his phone calls to Donald Trump while Kevin McCarthy was hiding from the mob in an undisclosed location.


REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Leader McCarthy has spoken to a number of people in large groups and small groups since the 6th about his exchanges with the president. He`s spoken publicly on the house floor about his view of the president`s responsibility. I think it`s very important that, you know, he clearly has facts about that day that an investigation into what happened, into the president`s actions ought to get to the bottom of. I think that he has important information that needs to be part of any investigation.


O`DONNELL: And that is the biggest message coming out of the House Republicans these days, the Republican war on the truth led by Kevin McCarthy, and the few Republicans in the House of Representatives like Liz Cheney who are willing to stand and be counted against Kevin McCarthy`s war on the truth.

Today, President Biden announced that his careful, deliberative approach to governing is now focused on making government work more efficiently and fairly this time in delivery of the child tax credit.


JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you file your taxes today, know that your tax cut is coming. But this here is the great news. You won`t have to wait until your next year`s tax return to get that break.

I`m announcing today that on July 15th and the 15th of every month thereafter throughout the year, you will get deposited in your bank account half of your tax cut at least, $250 per child each month, a direct deposit into your account.

Experts have told us this will cut child poverty in America in half. This tax cut sends a clear and powerful message to American working families with children. Help is here.


O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight is Gene Sperling, former White House adviser to President Clinton, to President Obama. He is now the White House coordinator for the American Rescue Plan, an adviser to President Biden and, of course, he was an adviser to the fictional NBC "West Wing" president, Jed Bartlett, played by Martin Sheen. Gene Sperling playing Gene Sperling joining us tonight.

Gene, this news about the child tax credit makes this income, this support to American families as consistent and steady as normal income is. We don`t get our incomes in one lump sum per year, and this is a way of dealing with that phenomenon of where this used to be delivered in one lump sum per year, here it is being spread out in a predictable, usable way throughout the year.

GENE SPERLING, WHITE HOUSE AMERICAN RESCUE PLAN COORDINATOR: You know, absolutely right. This is an historic tax cut. It is one of the hallmarks of the American Rescue Plan in providing security, dignity, opportunity to virtually every middle class family, and as you said, being a policy that can have a major impact in reducing child poverty.

But you`re right, normally, you wait for your tax cut until the next year. So there`s a couple of things here that are quite new and important. One, we`re giving that tax cut now starting in July when people need it, when they`re still come coming back from the COVID pandemic. But as you said, Lawrence, it`s going to come every month, and one of the things I`m most proud of in our work with Treasury and the IRS is that for the people who get direct deposit, which is 80 percent of American taxpayers right now, it`s going to come on the 15th of every month.

So working families trying to make ends meet will know that if they have two children, they`re going to get $500 every month or if they have two children under 6, it will be 600 every month right on the 15th. And I do think this reflects a lot of the policy heart of Joe Biden, not just that it`s going to help the dignity and security of families that it`s going to reduce poverty, but when you talk about him, you know, wanting to know the details, one of the things he presses and this was true in the campaign.

It`s true as long as I`ve worked with him, is how is it going to affect people? How are they going to know what they`re getting? How do average people who are working hard every day just supporting their family are going to understand what the government`s doing for them.

So, here, they`re going to know. January -- July 15th, August 15th, September 15th, they`re going to know that there`s that extra support that they can plan on and count on. And this has really never been done before, and I think it`s an important thing.

And, Lawrence, let`s be clear. It`s critical for this year, but nobody wants this to end after this year. That`s why it`s also extending it, making sure it goes on and on. It`s a key part of the president`s American Families Plan. And I think it`s going to be very hard pressed for many Republicans to decide after this monthly child tax credit goes out to all working families that they`re going to oppose President Biden`s effort to have this go on for years to come.

O`DONNELL: The -- it has never been done before, but as we know, it has been thought about, strategized by policy experts in the arena, trying to regularize, trying to normalize income support for people who need it in a way that so-called normal incomes arrive into people`s lives, and government has always had this kind of -- this grudging form of delivery, you know, there`s all these conditions and these time timings and these things that make the delivery less useful in people`s lives.

I mean, it works. It`s helpful, but one lump sum is kind of the least useful way to get money.

SPERLING: You know, absolutely. And actually, our Vice President Kamala Harris used to say that some of the reasons that people get taken advantage of with predatory payday lending is that even though they know maybe tax relief`s coming, you know, when that car breaks down, when they need that extra expense, when they`re dealing with, you know, a medical issue, that money is not there. So to make sure that people have the option really, it will automatically go monthly to every American, I think both the fact that, you know, the president`s increased it to 3,000 per child under 17, 3,600 for children under 6 years old, and made it go monthly, and Lawrence, an important thing was before this a family, the most hard pressed American families may be making 15, 16,000, they got less of a child tax credit than a family making ten times as much.

That doesn`t make sense when that lower income hard pressed working family needs it just as much. Now it`s going to be the same for everyone. That`s more fair, and yes, some experts believe that over time it could reduce child poverty in half while being major tax relief for middle -- tens of millions of middle class families.

O`DONNELL: Gene, before you go, I have to ask you about this "New York Times" article reporting behind the scenes how President Biden does the job. You have now been up close with three presidents starting with President Clinton working on complex economic policy, many issues that most presidents have not dealt with before coming into the Oval Office.

What would you add to that "New York Times" report about the way President Biden approaches these complex decisions and digesting this complex material?

SPERLING: Well, you know, I think in his heart, he understands that what might seem like a policy detail to perhaps some reporters is a life or death issue for a family. Making sure that people get the child tax credit, as we said, could reduce poverty for half of children. That`s not just a detail, you know, does it come on a regular basis. He understands, he understands whether people are getting the health care, whether child care centers are closing. We just announced a restaurant grant program, restaurant revitalization.

You know, he realizes, you know, when we were in the oval talking about it, he was talking about relatives of his that he had seen. His first father- in-law worked so incredibly hard on a restaurant. He sees that real person, and he knows getting that right might be a detail in a policy world, but it`s life and death to a working family, to their hopes, their aspirations, the desire that everyone has to care for their children.

So what I like about the details is not him and the details, is not just the wonky detail, but that sense that he sees in every person and every family, he sees that time that his father had to go tell them that they`d lost their job, that they weren`t sure about their economic security. And it`s that detail that`s kind of -- that`s rooted in his heart and his sense that economics is really about ensuring the dignity and respect and place in the community of all of us.

O`DONNELL: Gene Sperling, it really is an honor to have you be our leadoff guest tonight now that you are serving in your third White House. We really appreciate it, Gene. Come back anytime.

SPERLING: And, Lawrence, of course that first presidency I got to work with you and you were the top aide in the Senate, and then of course we got to work together on the fictional "West Wing." So two out of four.

O`DONNELL: That`s right, that`s right. It`s very important slots in both of our resumes. Thank you, Gene. Really appreciate it.

SPERLING: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And joining our discussion now is Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. She is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee and has advocated for the child tax credit for decades now.

Congresswoman DeLauro, I just want to say congratulations. This is a kind of addition to the program that is not just the new support level that has been reached, but this regularizing the income is so important. This is something you`ve been working on for years.

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D-CT): Thank you. It`s wonderful to be with you tonight, Lawrence, and to listen to Gene Sperling who is implementing the rescue plan and someone I`ve known for years as well and worked with.

But it is -- when you think of it, it`s really a great day with this announcement. Think about it, beginning on July 15th, families who have been hit the hardest, families who have been struggling every single day, how do they put food on their table? How do they pay their bills? How do they pay for child care or health care? For diapers?

They are going to start on July 15th. Help is here for them. They are going to get a monthly cash payment, and that is, as Gene Sperling pointed out, for kids who are 6 to 17, it`s $250 per child every single month, and for children 6 years and under, it`s $300 per child every single month.

You know, it really is a lifeline. This is a lifeline, Lawrence, for middle class families, and yes, and these are not Gene Sperling`s ideas or mine or numbers. This is coming from the National Academy of Sciences, Columbia University who tell us that the effect of this is to lift one-half of our kids out of poverty.

It is a new deal. It is transformative, and you know, I wish it didn`t take the 18 years it has, but it`s here, and it`s now, and it is going to be real starting on July 15th for families.

O`DONNELL: You know, Senator Moynihan used to work on these policies, especially anti-poverty policy. I remember one time he said to an administrational official in a meeting we were having about this, there`s no sense getting involved in this if you`re not prepared to work on it for 30 years.

And your career tells that story the same way. And so many people expect wins in politics and in governing within months or within 18 months and some of these things do take decades. They should take less time, but they do, and it requires that commitment that you`ve made to this that actually gets this done.

What does it feel like tonight? And this is not an end of a road. This is an important marker in a road. What does it feel like tonight to have gotten it to this point?

FLORES: Well, it is really overwhelming in so many respects. I often have to pinch myself to say, you know, it really is here. And I just want to say a thank you to President Biden who has embraced the child tax credit, and who in his press conference today, that is what he -- you know, he opened with.

He gets it. He understands it. He understands what people`s lives are about. He is really a unique individual that really walks in people`s shoes, and it is -- that is -- that connection with people is something that is so much of his -- of his strength.

And he believes in this. He, like I do and others, so many, we want to make it permanent, and we will make it permanent. So you know, that`s the road that we are going to go down because, look, we`re not going to eradicate child poverty in a year or in three years, which is why this has to be made -- why it has to be made permanent.

I want to say a thank you Janet Yellen, I mean, with the Treasury. It wasn`t that long ago that it wasn`t quite sure that we would be able to get the payments made monthly, but her efforts, and you know, the IRS, you know, have really gotten us to this point. So I am just elated.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, thank you very much for joining us tonight. The people receiving this credit might not get your name, but they are getting it because of your commitment to this over decades. We really appreciate you joining us tonight.

DELAURO: Thank you. It means so much to me, Lawrence. Thank you very, very much for having me on tonight. Thanks.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, who is most likely to become a criminal defendant this year, Rudy Giuliani, Matt Gaetz or Donald Trump? We`ll get Andrew Weissmann`s answer to that question, next.


O`DONNELL: Today, a Florida Republican former county elected official, who is a friend of Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz pleaded guilty to six federal crimes including sex trafficking of a minor. In the plea agreement Joel Greenberg agreed to fully cooperate with federal investigators. In the plea agreement, Joel Greenberg did not mention Congressman Gaetz by name but does refer to co-conspirators and he pledged to fully cooperate with federal investigators about the actions of his co-conspirators.

When it was first revealed that Joel Greenberg might plead guilty and cooperate with federal investigators last month, Joel Greenberg`s lawyer said, quote, I`m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling comfortable. Congressman Gaetz insists he has done nothing wrong.

And today, attorneys for Rudy Giuliani revealed that he was the subject of a federal search warrant two years ago in 2019. Today, Rudy Giuliani`s lawyers filed a challenge to a 2019 federal search warrant of Rudy Giuliani`s iCloud account. That search warrant was served at the same time that Rudy Giuliani was speaking to people in Ukraine in an attempt to hurt the presidential candidacy of Joe Biden.

"The Daily Beast" reports Donald Trump as well as several of his legal advisers and long-time confidants have been hesitant about swooping in to help the embattled Giuliani. Trump`s silence has led to simmering frustrations among members of Giuliani`s inner orbit who privately allege that the ex-president`s team is working to convince him to hang Giuliani out to dry in his hour of need.

Joining us now, Andrew Weissmann, who served as FBI general counsel and chief of the criminal division in the Eastern District of New York. He is an MSNBC legal analyst.

And so, Andrew, the question tonight is who is most likely, most likely to become a criminal defendant this year? Matt Gaetz, Rudy Giuliani, or Donald Trump?

ANDREW WEISSMAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: I will take Matt Gaetz on that question.


WEISSMANN: And that`s because you don`t cooperate somebody like Joel Greenberg without really knowing that you have other people who are at least as culpable as he is. You know, there`s an old saying you don`t cooperate down, meaning you don`t cooperate somebody against people who are less culpable. And here to cooperate somebody like Joel Greenberg, it seems really clear that he`s going to have information about Matt Gaetz and because there was a plural in the others that appeared in the charging instrument, there could be other people as well that are facing indictment. But I think this is clearly a bad day for Matt Gaetz.

O`DONNELL: And so what are you -- what would you expect to be the timing or can we tell or have any sense of what the timing is for what might be coming out about Matt Gaetz?

ANDREW WEISSMANN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST: You know, that is harder because, you know, there`s going to be a negotiation. Presumably some offer will be made and there will be a back and forth. But I would think that it would be in short order.

Again, you do not take this step without knowing what your next step is. And you`re going to have to have corroboration of somebody like Joel Greenberg. So presumably they also have the women who were involved in this and other evidence as well.

So, you know, it`s hard to put a time line on it, but I would think it`s going to be certainly this year.

O`DONNELL: So one big surprise, legal surprise of the day for me was to discover that in 2019 the Donald Trump Justice Department had a search warrant against Rudy Giuliani`s iCloud.

WEISSMANN: Yes, that was fascinating, especially to read Rudy Giuliani`s feigned shock, you know, which was I`m shocked to, you know, find out there`s gambling going on at Rick`s Cafe to date myself with a Casablanca reference.

I mean here -- this is Rudy Giuliani. He was a federal prosecutor in this district, the southern district of New York. He knows darn well that people get search warrants and they don`t tell the targets of an investigation that they`re under investigation.

So this happens all the time and yet he`s complaining about it. And of course he fails to mention, as you do, that this was done under the Trump administration, not under the Biden administration.

So he really has nothing to complain about here. You know, his papers were really quite ludicrous.

O`DONNELL: Andrew Weissmann, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

WEISSMANN: You`re welcome.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And up next, we will be joined by a Republican official in Arizona who says that what is happening with the ballots in the presidential election in Arizona is now unhinged. This is the official Rachel was talking about at the beginning of the hour.

That`s next.


O`DONNELL: Arizona`s Democratic secretary of state calls it a fraud-it, a Republican-elected official in Arizona is now calling it unhinged. Unhinged is one of the most used words of the Trump era. "This is unhinged" is how one Republican elected official in Arizona is describing what is happening to ballots cast in the presidential election in Arizona.

Stephen Richer (ph) who will be our next guest is a Republican who was elected in the November election, defeating a Democrat to become the recorder in Maricopa County. That is the same election that Joe Biden won in Maricopa County by 45,109 votes.

Voters in Maricopa County voted for Democrats and Republicans. Democrats won some of those elections and Republicans won some of those elections in Maricopa County. But no one is questioning the elections won by Republicans.

On Saturday, Republican Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer said "We can`t indulge these insane lies any longer as a party, as a state, as a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2 plus 2 equals 5.

And joining us now is Maricopa County recorder Stephen Richer. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, Mr. Richer.

This is sounding like for you a stunningly frustrating time of your professional life, especially since this is happening in your party.

STEPHEN RICHER (R), MARICOPA COUNTY RECORDER: Yes, absolutely, Lawrence. And thanks for having me on.

But you`ve hit on the main points and why this is so frustratingly irrational. I defeated the former chief elections official, who is a Democrat in 2020. And you know, just the idea that I would be covering up for the guy that I spent the previous year criticizing is facially (ph) laughable.

O`DONNELL: So as you say, there were Republicans who were elected with these same ballots that Joe Biden won the county in, exactly the same ballots delivered some races to Republicans, and yet there`s not a single question about a single Republican who won in Arizona?

RICHER: Without getting into the motives, I would say that if you really wanted to look at close races that were on every single ballot in Maricopa County, you should start with mine. Mine was the closest race that was on every single ballot. I only won by about 5,000 votes out of two million cast. So I don`t know why they`re not starting with mine.

O`DONNELL: And so what is happening within the Republican Party? Is your view of this spreading within the Republican Party in Arizona? Or are the Cyber Ninjas winning the hearts and minds of Republicans in Arizona?

Mr. Richer, can you --

RICHER: I`m sorry, I don`t know what happened there for a second. But yes, here I am. Apologies for that.

So I think we`re struggling with a first mover problem. And that first mover problem is that Republicans who have stuck their necks out have gotten them whacked off completely. And so now I`m moving out with the entire county and we`re hoping that other Republicans see this.

I know there are other Republicans even in the Arizona state senate who say enough of this nonsense. And I`m hoping that they will be heartened by our efforts and join us.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to another Republican, Jack Sellers on the Maricopa County board of supervisors.


JACK SELLERS, MARICOPA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: This board is done explaining anything to these people who are playing investigator with our constituents` ballots and equipment paid for with real people`s tax dollars.

People`s ballots and money are not make-believe. It`s time to be done with this craziness and get on with our county`s critical business.


O`DONNELL: Mr. Richer, is this a coordinated kind of public uprising by Republicans against this process?

RICHER: Yes, absolutely. Everyone on the county said enough. We`re tired. We`re humans. We`re tired of our people being denigrated. We`re tired of being accused of unlawful activities.

And so on Thursday night, every single county official said this is enough. We`re standing up. We`re pushing back. We had hoped to stay on the sidelines. I ran on the slogan of making the recorder`s office boring again.

Never in a thousand years would I have imagined I would have been on MSNBC. And I can`t imagine you imagined having the Maricopa County recorder on your show. That probably was never a character in the West Wing.

O`DONNELL: I did not know that there was a Maricopa County recorder until today, so you are going to succeed. So do you reach the point, it sounds like, where silence just became untenable including the fear that you would be perceived as being part of what you`re calling this unhinged process?

RICHER: It`s more the continued character assassination and defamation against the hardworking people in my office. We`re an office of 160 full- time employees who work their butts off, quite frankly, and it`s just -- it`s enough.

And you know, I realize that this might have some political ramifications for me, but I don`t care. I just absolutely do not care. These continued lies are hugely inappropriate and they`re disrespectful to so many people who are just normal human beings who go home, and they root for the Suns, and they watch Netflix, and just work their jobs diligently and with integrity.

O`DONNELL: Stephen richer, we really appreciate you joining us tonight. And I`m sure Arizona voters really appreciate you speaking honestly about what you`re seeing in this process. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

RICHER: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, President Biden issued a carefully written statement today supporting a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. Ben Rhodes will decode that statement for us next.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live in safety and security and enjoy equal measure of freedom, prosperity, and democracy. And my administration is going to continue to engage the Palestinians and Israelis and other regional partners to work towards sustained calm.


O`DONNELL: That`s what the president had to say yesterday. Today the White House issued a carefully worded written statement in which President Biden expressed support for a cease fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

President Biden spoke today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The White House released a readout of that call saying in part, "The president expressed his support for a ceasefire and discussed U.S. engagement with Egypt and other partners towards that end."

On Saturday, President Biden spoke with Palestinian Authorities president Mahmoud Abbas. The White House readout of that call said in part, "The president expressed his support for steps to enable the Palestinian people to enjoy the dignity, security, freedom and economic opportunity that they deserve."

Joining us now is Ben Rhodes, former deputy national security adviser to President Obama. He`s an MSNBC political analyst. And today, Ben, much has been made of the distinction between the president supporting a ceasefire and specifically calling for a cease fire. What is the difference in that language?

BEN RHODES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, having written many of those types of statements (INAUDIBLE) myself, Lawrence, I think it`s the difference between taking a passive approach where you want to be seen as for an outcome. We`d like a cease fire, but you don`t want to be seen in any way to be publicly pressing Israel to take that step.

They`re clearly trying to navigate between a desire to not be out of step with Israel and the Israeli government and the fact that there`s growing, I think, horror and revulsion at the civilian casualties we see in Gaza and the growing feeling in the Democratic Party of why do we continue to give a blank check to the Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu who has shown no interest in peace with the Palestinians and frankly has Donald Trump`s best friend and has undermined Democratic presidents before.

O`DONNELL: Ben, take us inside the way the discussion goes inside the White House in a situation like this. Certainly there must be some people in the White House advocating that the president should call for a cease fire. Others are advocating for this other position.

How does that debate go? What is the argument against calling for a cease fire?

RHODES: Well, I`ve been in this debate about Gaza conflicts myself, Lawrence. I think that the argument against is probably, look, we`ll be better able to influence what Netanyahu does if we are backing him publicly and pressing him privately.

You heard the administration say repeatedly today that there`s intense diplomatic conversations. That`s kind of code for them saying, trust us, we`re telling them privately that we have to move to a ceasefire. But we fear that if we go public with that, that then Netanyahu might want a conflict with us, might want to resist us. I think that`s one side of the equation.

The other side of the equation is people are saying, hey look, we`re losing moral authority in the world right now. We`re essentially isolated in not calling for this cease fire in a situation where we see this horrible images out of Gaza.

And frankly, Netanyahu hasn`t listened to us in the past on issues related to Palestinians anyway. And there`s valid points on both sides of those debates, Lawrence, but I think clearly they`ve chosen the pathway of not wanting to have any public daylight with Netanyahu and try to handle this all privately.

O`DONNELL: And Ben, I take it this is one of those presidential situations that when everyone leaves room and decision is made on the language, everyone knows that this holds for about the next few hours, not the next few days.

RHODES: That`s right. And what you saw is everybody using the same language from Tony Blinken to Jen Psaki. But they also know that this is glued (ph) and the next day the circumstances will change.

I think part of what is tragic Lawrence in these Gaza wars, as you get closer to the end, sometimes the pace of the Israeli strikes pick up because they`re trying to hit every target that they can before it moves to a ceasefire and before they feel like the international pressure so great that they have to move in that direction.

And so when you`re in White House particularly this situation when you`re dealing with conflict where we have a lot of agency, right. We provide a lot of that military assistance to Israel but we`re not in control. You`re not sure what you`re going to wake up to.

O`DONNELL: Ben Rhodes, thank you very much for joining us on this important story and sharing your expertise. We really appreciate it.

RHODES: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: And coming up, Jackie Robinson was a first. One of the most prominent firsts in American history:: the first African-American Major League Baseball player.

Bill Russell who was also a first, was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson`s funeral. Bill Russell is now 87 years old and he continues to earn his place along with Jackie Robinson on Mount Rushmore of sports.

That`s next.


O`DONNELL: In tonight`s LAST WORD, one of my heroes from childhood who remains a hero to this day, Bill Russell. I`ve never once thought of Bill Russell the basketball player without thinking of Bill Russell the man. Because before I was old enough to watch Bill Russell in a Boston Celtics game, he was the first person to bring basketballs to Africa in 1956 on a trip with the State Department.

Bill Russell stood with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in the march on Washington when Dr. King delivered his "I have a dream" speech. Bill Russell visited Auschwitz with his Jewish friend, the basketball genius Red Auerbach who seemed irreplaceable as the Boston Celtics coach until Bill Russell replaced him and became the Celtics` player coach -- the first African-American coach or manager of any major league sports team.

Bill Russell never stopped being a coach and most of the time over the last 50 years, he wasn`t getting a paycheck for it. Kobe Bryant said that Bill Russell mentored him about how to work with teammates and get the best out of everyone on the court.

And so it was about time when it was announced over the weekend that Bill Russell at age 86 is being inducted into the basketball hall of fame as a coach, 46 years after he was inducted into the hall of fame as a player.

Bill Russell is a living connection between the marches of Martin Luther King and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in protest. Bill Russell allowed me to tag along in his entourage of family and friends who went with him to the White House in 2011 when President Barack Obama awarded Bill Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Bill Russell was in junior high, he was cut from his basketball team. He got better after that. He led the University of San Francisco to two championships. In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, he won 11 championships. A record unmatched in any sport.

Won two while also serving as the team`s coach. And so happens he also was the first African-American ever to hold such a position as a coach in a major league sports team of any sort.

More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define the word "winner". And yet whenever someone looks up at all 6`9 of Bill Russell --- I just did, I always feel small next to him -- and ask are you a basketball player, surprisingly, he gets this more than you think, this question.

He says no. He says that`s what I do, that`s not what I am. I`m not a basketball player, I`m a man who plays basketball. Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. He marched with King. He stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game.

He endured insults and vandalism but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players. And made possible the success of so many who would follow. And I hope that one day in the streets of Boston children will look up at a statue built not only Bill Russell the player but Bill Russell the man.


O`DONNELL: And because the president of the United States said that, two years later a statue of Bill Russell was installed outside Boston`s city hall. One of the first people to get a look at statue before it was unveiled was the man who suggested it.

The day the statue was unveiled in Boston, Bill Russell said this. "If we want to keep our society and our country vibrant, we have to build a solid foundation and the only way to build a solid foundation is to educate the next generation."

Bill Russell -- the educator, the mentor, the man -- gets tonight`s LAST WORD.

Good night, Bill.