IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/12/21

Guests: Masha Gessen, Derrick Johnson, London Lamar, Diego Hijano, Michael Waldman, Chuck Marr


Republicans have become the party of the weak and the really weird. Democratic State Senator Carol Alvarado stood on the Senate floor and spoke for 15 hours without any breaks to block the chamber from passing its voter suppression bill. All 73 Tennessee House Republicans signaled their support for a special session to limit the authority of local officials to make rules aimed at stopping the spread of COVID.


ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

I just want to say -- you`ve been back for a few days. I just want to tell you. You are our North Star. You are revered and respected and I am not alone in saying that I speak for my colleagues when I say I appreciate you. It`s as simple as that.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You`re going to make me cry without even explaining why?

VELSHI: That`s it. That`s it. Just wanted to tell you that we appreciate you. I know that your viewers do because when I was sitting in that chair for a few weeks, they wanted me to make sure you knew that. And I wanted to tell you on my behalf that I share that view.

MADDOW: You are very, very kind. I have to go now. Thank you.

VELSHI: We`ll see you tomorrow, my friend.

MADDOW: Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI: How does this all ends?

The Republican Party is on a precipice. Further indulge the worst among them or pull back and find a way to be a functioning political party once again? How does it end?

Some might say we already know the answer. But as the GOP continually degrades itself further, it`s clear we haven`t actually seen how low they are willing to go.

Take a look at where we`re at. The delta variant ravaging the United States with Republican leaders because those leaders are refusing to enact preventive measures that would save people`s lives -- they`re blocking other people, schools, and municipalities from taking preventative measures. Why? Why are Republicans putting politics ahead of the health of their constituents?

Because they`re willing to indulge and be led by the worst among them, the deepest, the grossest dregs of the conservative movement has demonized medical professionals and condemned vaccinations and masks. And the rest mostly stay silent.

So even though the COVID vaccines were developed under a Republican administration and a Republican president, Republicans won`t endorse them. Trump won`t even do it himself.

"The Daily Beast" reports, according to four people who have independently spoken to Trump about a potential pro-vaccine campaign, the former president has shown little interest in tying his name to the broader efforts to get people inoculated. Why?

Trump is choosing to stay silent and thus amplify the worst of the Republican base, anti-vaxxers and medical disinformation spewers rather than do the right thing. Now, Trump has always indulged abhorrent conspiracies. Remember birtherism or about how Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim.

Spoiler alert, I actually am a Kenyan-born Muslim and Obama was never at the meetings at the Kenyan mosque. And the people around Trump have also been willing to go along for the ride.

Tonight, we`re learning new details about Trump`s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. According to "Politico", Trump was obsessed with a video out of Georgia that he thought showed voter tampering. It did not. But that didn`t stop Trump from pushing his Justice Department to break long- standing tradition to investigate that video. And the people around him, this time the then-Attorney General Bill Barr, were more than happy to go along.

"Politico" reports before Attorney General William Barr took over, the DOJ had a long-standing approach to voter fraud probes. Agents waited to open these investigations until the elections were over, the ballots were cast, the winners were certified. That policy was meant to stave off the perception that the FBI was deciding who won elections.

But on November 9th, 2020, a few days after the networks called the election for Joe Biden, Barr issued a memo letting the FBI investigate some voters fraud allegations much more quickly. The move caused some distress in the department`s criminal division.

Bill Barr used to be a principled conservative with a pretty good reputation even if you didn`t agree with his politics. But he eschewed his principles to endorse and support obvious lies.

"The Washington Post" reports that in 2018, Rudy Giuliani told federal investigators who were looking to issues related to 2016 campaign that it was okay to, quote, throw a fake when campaigning. That was 2018, right as Giuliani was ramping up the Ukraine scheme to fabricate a scandal that would take down Joe Biden`s 2020 campaign, or at least that was the plan.

And then there is the foam pillow guy. Tonight, we`re learning that the cyber expert hired by the foam pillow man to investigate his election fraud claims, quote, says the key data underpinning Lindell`s theory that China hacked the 2020 election is illegitimate.

Now, we can laugh off the foam pillow guy as someone so divorced from reality that he doesn`t merit discussion. But the foam pillow man is swimming the same waters as the former attorney general, the former president`s lawyer, and the former president himself.


Those people in those offices lend credibility to the foam pillow guy`s craziness, and Republicans, even ones who don`t go along with the election lies, lend credibility to the people who are pushing the craziness.

Look at the reaction that Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw, a veteran, got last night when he pushed back on the stolen election lie.


REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): Don`t kid yourself into believing that`s why we lost. It`s not. It`s not.


CRENSHAW: I`ll tell you openly.


CRENSHAW: I`m not wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you are. I have plenty of proof. I have proof in Arizona, Pennsylvania --

CRENSHAW: You did the Maricopa -- how did that turn out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, guess what? It`s going to turn out. It`s going to flip. You watch. You`re going to see --

CRENSHAW: It won`t. And you`ve got to flip all five states to --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know how they`re stealing the elections?

CRENSHAW: I`m not going to --


VELSHI: So how does this end? Two, just two House Republicans are willing to investigate the Capitol riot. Even Republicans like Dan Crenshaw who we just showed combating election lies in his own district are all too willing to indulge other Republican lies for political gain.

I mean, Republicans are allowing people to die because they`re so far gone, because they`re allowing the grossest members in their ranks to be the loudest voices. They`re allowing those voices to go unchallenged. How does it end?

Well, the pillow guy says it all ends tomorrow by the way. He says Biden and Harris will both resign in the morning, and through some alchemy that avoids the dozens of people in the line of succession to the presidency, Donald Trump will be sworn in as president tomorrow.

Well, I can tell you that`s not actually how it`s going to end. But the fact that that`s an option suggests how wacky things have become in American Republican politics. I just hope that more Americans don`t die because Republicans have become the party of the weak and the really weird.

Leading off our discussion tonight, Masha Gessen, staff writer for "The New Yorker" and author of the book "Surviving Autocracy," and former Florida Congressman David Jolly, who left the Republican Party in 2018. He`s an MSNBC political analyst.

Good evening to both of you.

Masha, let me start with you because you`ve talked about surviving autocracy. You`ve been trying to give people tips about how this is all going to go down and how you`re meant to survive it.

But what many of us who haven`t thought about it the way you have or Timothy Snyder or others have, is that it all starts with a lie, and the lie can be pretty stupid and pretty provably wrong, and yet if enough people say it enough times in enough circles, it persists, and soon millions of people are believing this. And that`s where we are today.

MASHA GESSEN, AUTHOR, "SURVIVING AUTOCRACY": I think actually we`re in an even bigger kind of trouble, which is that we have a party that has decided that its goal, its basic platform is that the current administration is illegitimate. Everything it does is illegitimate. Everything it says is illegitimate.

And the only party, the only politicians who represent -- who legitimately represent the will of the American people is the Republican Party, the Trumpist Republican Party, right? And everything stems from that premise.

So that`s the answer to your question why doesn`t Trump sign on to advocate for the vaccine that actually developed under his administration? Because that would place him somewhere, you know, in the area of lending legitimacy to the Biden administration, not that Trump has ever done the right thing.

But this is the basic explanation, right? And this is why we don`t see Republicans willing to investigate the January 6th insurrection in which many of them were physically, personally threatened, because that would lend legitimacy to the current administration. And that`s -- you know, that`s the battle we`re in now.

VELSHI: How does this battle go, David Jolly, because there are more of you than I imagine that there are, right? People who grew up and had conservative principles and probably would have enjoyed debates with liberals on some basic policy issues. But you don`t have that freedom anymore. Americans don`t have freedom -- Americans who don`t believe in conspiracies don`t have freedoms to vote for Republicans anymore, and Republicans who are not conspiracy theorists don`t have freedoms to enjoy living in their own party.

DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, that`s exactly right, Ali. I would say, look, I`m in the vast minority. The past four years has proven that out. I once hoped that we would be able to retake the party or that somehow we would be able to coalesce a group of reasonable, center-right policy-focused voters.

But the numbers just simply aren`t there. Where the numbers are is within today`s Republican Party, as a competitive force against the Democrats, they will either further consolidate or ultimately fracture because of these elements that you`ve highlighted.

And I would say there`s kind of two primary elements in today`s Republican Party, in today`s Republican coalition, there is just the abject, corrupt politicians.


And it`s more than just Donald Trump, right? You mentioned Bill Barr. You mentioned some of the members of Congress that aided Donald Trump in trying to kneecap the election and kneecap our republic. That is the corruption constituency, if you will.

But then there`s the other part, and this is probably the kneecap our republic. That is the corruption constituency, if you will. But then there`s the other part, and this is probably the majority of today`s Republican leaders, if not the party, that simply face the reality that this is the constituency they created, right?

All of the gerrymandering, all of the rigs, everything they`ve done with big money to secure what would otherwise be a minority party, to secure the ability to control the majority of government. That is the constituency they`ve created, and they can`t lose it. So, they will have to continue to peddle in this lane of corruption, of authoritarianism until it either further console cases or until it fractures the party once and all. But to fracture the party will mean that Donald Trump has been overtaken in leadership by somebody else out there, one of the governors, one of the congressional leaders, whomever it might be that comes behind Trump.

VELSHI: I want to read to you, Masha, something that Hussein Ibish wrote in "The Atlantic", about when they fantasize about killing you, believe them. So, during his four years in office, especially since the defeat, he preposterously describes as the greatest crime in history, Trump`s own -- Trump`s own sanguineous impulses and visions have been migrating into Congress and the Republican mainstream and spurring his followers to try to outbid one another in their vicious and gruesome pronouncements.

What begins as hyperbolic posturing, when it is persistent and repeated, will eventually be taken seriously. I ask you that in the context of the fact that the pillow guy says tomorrow morning, Biden and Harris are going to resign and Donald Trump is going to be sworn in as president. It`s stupid to the three of us on TV and probably most of the people listening to us, but there are some people out there who believe that. There are people who attended this conference in South Dakota that the pillow guy had for the last two years, demonstrating how the election was stolen, and yet he presented no actual evidence. It`s just the idea that the lie persists.

GESSEN: You know, we`re about seven months too late to this particular conversation. We actually saw exactly how it works on January 6th. We saw a bunch of people who nobody took seriously, who went to the Capitol in the utter conviction, right, that they were taking back the election, taking back legitimate power, and that they were going to be able to succeed somehow, right? They had, you know -- they had a script that they thought they were following.

The script then changed one after another, right? There`s nothing consistent in a totalitarian movement, and this is -- make no mistake, that`s what Trump has been building. There`s nothing consistent in its rhetoric except for the basic premise, and the basic premise is they are the only legitimate representatives of the American people.

VELSHI: So, David, what does happen then? At some point there must be some people, Republican members of Congress who would like to run because they`d like to formulate government policy that they think would be better for the American people. But that debate has fallen apart.

It`s actually kind of amazing this last week where we`ve seen Republicans get onboard with the bipartisan infrastructure deal. You know as a member of Congress that should be the biggest no-brainer of all, right? Passing infrastructure is one step more complicated than passing -- you know, naming a post office. It should be bipartisan. It`s necessary. Americans want it.

But we haven`t shown the propensity to do substantially more than that because of the preoccupation with being this party that sustains itself in power.

JOLLY: Yeah. Policy is not the platform of Republicans today. It`s grievance politics. It`s conspiracy theories. It`s negative partisanship in the classical term of how you run campaigns.

It`s the only currency Republicans currently have. It`s why you see these absurd claims now about Joe Biden that they tried against Barack Obama. But, Ali, I worry. I truly worry tonight, to the previous comment, that we`re going to see further violence as a result of the conspiracy theories that Republicans support and their failure to condone these conspiracy theories.

And even, you know, we saw January 6th, but look what`s happening at school board meetings in Tennessee, for instance, where parents under this veil of defending their own freedom that Republicans continue to put out there in the mainstream, that somehow it is okay for them to assault nurses and doctors in this process. The further these conspiracies get out of control and the inability of Republicans to stop them, or even worse, their ability to foster these conspiracies, I fear there`s more violence coming.

And the greater fear, then, is, are we truly broken? Are we truly now a nation that has been broken along political lines as a result of January 6th and the pandemic?

This is a sucker punch to us nationally, to our culture.


And we haven`t demonstrated in the last year the ability to mend our wounds and to heal our wounds and to come together. I don`t know what will bring us together because the level of distrust now is so deep in the body politic in the United States.

VELSHI: Yeah. I don`t want to go there.

I know, Masha, I think you believe we`ve passed the point and, David, you think we might be broken. I`m still going to hold out hope that somehow, some way we`ll prevail as a pluralistic society in which we don`t all have to be the same and we don`t all have to agree, and we can really have amazing debates about things, but we can do it within the constructs of our political system and our nation.

Thanks to both of you for being here. It`s an important conversation.

JOLLY: Thank you.

VELSHI: Masha Gessen and David Jolly.

Coming up, Texas Democrats took another extraordinary action to fight Republican voter suppression bills in their states, bills that Republicans claim are fixing the nonexistent problem of rampant voter fraud. And now some of those Democrats are facing arrest.

Will Merrick Garland and the Justice Department step in? That`s next.



VELSHI: Overnight, we saw another extraordinary move by Texas Democrats to fight back against Republicans` assault on democracy in that state. Democratic State Senator Carol Alvarado stood on the Senate floor and spoke for 15 hours without any breaks to block the chamber from passing its voter suppression bill.

Here`s what she said in the closing.


STATE SEN. CAROL ALVARADO (D), TEXAS: Where is all the so-called fraud? The people are still waiting for someone to actually demonstrate real evidence of fraud. Where does it end? Today it`s S.B. 1. Tomorrow, it will be some other manufactured crisis to justify the systematic chipping away of our voting rights. And little by little, every session, we just keep chipping away until one day we wake up and our democracy is unrecognizable.


VELSHI: That was it, 15 hours of talking on the Senate floor to try and hold back the damage that Republicans were doing.

Senate Republicans rammed through their restrictions anyway, but the bill is now stalled in the Texas House, thanks to the Democrat who`s have denied Republicans the quorum needed to pass it for a third time. The Texas House Democrats are facing arrest for their continued refusal to return to the chamber. The House sergeant at arms has been going door to door issuing civil arrest warrants.

Today, House Speaker Dade Phalen`s spokesperson told NBC News that the sergeant-at-arms deputized members of Texas law enforcement to assist in rounding up the Texas Democrats and bring them to the chamber. More than 40 of the Texas Democrats have tried to fight those arrest warrants in court and now, the NAACP is calling on the Justice Department to investigate whether these warrants violate the civil rights of the Texas Democrats.

Joining us now, Derrick Johnson, the president and the CEO of NAACP.

Derrick, good to see you again. Thank you for being with us.

Let`s talk about this philosophically. The idea that these Texas Democrats are holding up this vote. They have left, in some cases left the state, in order to stop something that they say is unconstitutional because it will take away voting -- the ability to vote from people.

And for that, they are being threatened with arrest by the governor. The sergeant at arms seems very determined and interested in actually having them arrested.

Tell me what your thoughts are on this.

DERRICK JOHNSON, NAACP PRESIDENT AND CEO: You know, as if you decide, I`m not going to work today, I don`t feel good. I don`t like the values that`s been withheld there. And then MSNBC sent law enforcement to your house and said, no, you`re going to come to the studio. We`re going to hold you captive until you interview a guest.

It`s outrageous. It`s a form of intimidation. That`s why we`re asking the Justice Department to look into whether or not this is even legal.

I commend the members of the Texas House of Representatives. I commend those senators in the State Senate who stood there for 15 hours. I know Senator Royce West was organizing and fell two short of denying a quorum in the Senate.

We must continue to fight and fight because the rights of individuals are at stake. And quite frankly, the quality of our Constitution is being challenged by individuals who want to see January 6th play out over and over, the denial of the peaceful transfer of power and the inability of individuals to be deemed legitimate citizens by being able to cast a vote.

VELSHI: Let`s divide how this is breaking down. Texas is the epicenter, right? It`s the place we are focused on. We know there`s nonsense in Arizona and Michigan and Pennsylvania and Georgia, but Texas is where the energy is focused on, the resistance to one of these state laws or a plate of state laws that would reduce voting rights.

Then we`ve got the United States Senate that`s now talking about two different bills, one of which Manchin is onboard for, one which Reverend Warnock is working to get going. You got the summer of action in which you`re seeing a number of people get arrested reminiscent of the `60s, faith leaders and protesters. And you`ve got the president.

The Texans have said, we need the senate, and we need the president to do something. We cannot hold out forever. One day they will arrest us. One day we`ll have to go home.

What have you heard from the president and from Joe Manchin and others that gives you some sense that this might end the right way?

JOHNSON: Well, I`ve been concerned that we have not put the same level of priority around protecting the rights of citizens to fully engage in our elections. This is not about partisanship. This is about supporting and upholding the Constitution. I am concerned as we celebrate the huge infrastructure package, we should -- we should commend the administration for that.


But we also recognize, particularly in the African-American community, that the New Deal policies, as great a piece of legislation they were, all those pieces of legislation, it created structural barriers for African- Americans. So as we celebrate on one side, we recognize unless and until this administration, the Senate prioritize access to voting, protecting our right to vote, we will fall behind as a nation. We will fall behind as a community.

So I don`t get into the conversation of which vehicle should be used or what procedure should be moved away. Get it done.

VELSHI: Right.

JOHNSON: Protect the rights of voters to fully participate in the upcoming elections.

VELSHI: Derrick, good to see you again as always. Thank you for joining us, sir. Derrick Johnson is the president of the NAACP.

Coming up, Republican lawmakers in Tennessee are asking the governor to call a special session to take action to ban mask requirements over the objections of health experts. Tennessee Representative London Lamar heard the news as she was grieving a staff member who just died of COVID. She`ll join me next.



VELSHI: Today President Biden condemned anti-mask protesters for politicizing the pandemic.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know there are a lot of people out there trying to turn a public safety measure -- that is, children wearing masks in school so they can be safe -- into a political dispute.

And this isn`t about politics. This is about keeping our children safe. I saw a video and reports from Tennessee protesters threatening doctors and nurses who were before a school board making the case that to keep kids safe, there should be mandatory masks.

And as they walked out, these doctors were threatened. These nurses were threatened. Our health care workers are heroes. They were the heroes when there was no vaccine. Many of them gave their lives trying to save others. And they`re heroes again with the vaccine.


VELSHI: Last night we showed you some of that disgusting video from the school board meeting in Williamson County, Tennessee. Hours after that meeting, all 73 Tennessee House Republicans signaled their support for a special session to limit the authority of local officials to make rules aimed at stopping the spread of COVID. It`s hard to follow because it doesn`t make sense.

The brain says, "You can`t actually be saying that, Velshi". So much for small government Republicans. The group sent their letter to Governor Bill Lee, who is reviewing the request.

For one Tennessee Democrat, the Republican overreach is personal. Tennessee state Representative London Lamar`s staff photographer -- he died of COVID the same day that House Republicans sent their letter. He was only in his 20s.

Representative Lamar represents part of Shelby County, Tennessee which has reported a daily test positivity rate above 20 percent for five straight days. She says she`s concerned that if a special session is called, Republicans would limit officials in her area from implementing mask mandates. Quote, "I`m just over political games they are playing. I`m over the irresponsibility they are playing."

Joining us now is the Tennessee state Representative London Lamar. She represents Shelby County. We are so sorry for the loss of your staff member. So poignant that he was so young, but he died of COVID -- the very thing that you are all trying to fight.

STATE REP. LONDON LAMAR (D-TN): Absolutely. It`s such a devastating loss, someone who`s been so instrumental in building my brand and being a part of my life has lost his life to this deadly disease.

But what it is, it`s just making my fight even more important as we continue to advocate for responsibility in how we`re handling this disease. Again, I have made it public that I`m asking our speaker and our governor not to call a special session.

Look, in Tennessee, only six counties are implementing mandatory mask mandates, including mine and Memphis. But only two of those counties are Democratic strongholds. So you do see Republican counties like Williamson County being responsible and implementing mask mandates while their legislative friends are asking a special session to take those away.

Again, we are playing with children`s lives. We are in the (AUDIO GAP) children can`t even get the vaccine because they`re not over 12 years old. So let`s (AUDIO GAP) ball with people`s lives and do the right thing. It`s just that simple.

VELSHI: Why do you think this is happening? You`re there on the ground. We talk about it every day on TV because it`s happening in Louisiana. It`s happening in Texas. It`s happening in Florida. But what`s the motivation? You`re close to these folks. Why?

LAMAR: You know, in my personal opinion, I think it`s another way to try to implement a voucher program. Tennessee is one of those states that was really forthright about trying to implement vouchers and those got struck down.

Now we`re trying to use this pandemic as a way to create another school district so that parents can send their kids to private schools. But a lot of these private schools got their own mandatory mask mandates.

So, again, I hate that we`re using a pandemic and children`s lives and the idea of masks in order to fulfill another political agenda which is vouchers, which has already been (AUDIO GAP) we need to do is focus on the real issue. And that is keeping our children safe.


LAMAR: And it`s so interesting because I was telling someone, I was like, the Republican party claims to be the pro-life party. However, they want to be pro-choice when it comes to these mask mandates. It doesn`t make sense. Let`s literally legislate responsibly. Let`s base our decisions on facts and science. Let`s do the right thing by our most vulnerable population, and those are our babies.


VELSHI: Let`s bring into the conversation Dr. Diego Hijano who specializes in infectious diseases in Children at St. Jude`s Children`s Research Hospital in Memphis, in the same state.

Dr. Hijano, I think a lot of people are not registering as London Lamar, the state representative has said, that there are a lot of kids involved in this debate who are not open to making their own choice. They`re not old enough to make their own choice. And they`re not old enough to get the vaccine even if they could make their own choice.

So we are now -- this has morphed into this weird political debate that went on all last year and has now morphed into something that is actually risking the lives and livelihoods and health of children. You`re seeing that.


I think that people need to understand like many areas in our country with low vaccination coverage, our community in Shelby County are seeing an unprecedented rise of new COVID-19 cases.

And unlike previous surges where the adult hospitals were the ones working at full capacity, in this new surge dominated by the delta variant, our pediatric hospitals are working at full capacity. 24 percent of all of our COVID cases in the county are in children.

We have over 1,000 active COVID-19 cases in those who are less than 17 years of age. The situation is daring (ph) for our children. All these cases are leading to hospitalization, intensive care unit, complications due to COVID, including death as it was reported for two kids in our county last week.

VELSHI: Two kids in your county died of this. And so Representative Lamar, those kids don`t have a choice in this matter.

LAMAR: Absolutely. And it`s very open that I lost a child before at birth. And so when I think about our legislators literally putting kids at risk of dying, that makes me think about the pain that I know another parent experienced that I have personally experienced.

So I take it extra personal that we`ve already seen kids in my community dying of the disease, and we`re trying to call a special session that`s going to put other kids at risk of dying.

I can`t have it. It`s unacceptable. And if we do go to a special session, I will be tearing down the House to make sure they cannot take away local LEAs` ability to protect our children because no parent should have to experience their children dying.

VELSHI: State Representative London Lamar represents Shelby County. Dr. Diego Hijano specializes in infectious diseases in children at St. Jude`s Children`s Hospital in Memphis. Thanks to both of you for being here tonight and the work that you`re doing.

Coming up, now that the new census data is out, the race for states to start redistricting begins. What impact could this have on Democrats` effort to keep their razor-thin margin in the House? We`ll talk about it next.



VELSHI: The long-awaited results of the 2020 census, which will reshape the balance of power in the United States for the next decade, have just been released by the Census Bureau. And the data show that we are diversifying at a faster than expected rate.

For the first time on record, the non-Hispanic white population in the U.S. dropped, and the fastest growing racial group is Americans who identify as more than one race or ethnicity.

The information is complicated but it`s now going to be used to redraw voting districts at every level of government. And this is the first time the districts will be redrawn since the Supreme Court ruled that federal courts don`t have an oversight role in deciding partisan gerrymandering cases, leaving that issue to the states.

According to Pew Research, Republicans are entering this redistricting cycle with the power to draw new maps in 20 states or 187 congressional districts, compared to Democrats` 11 states or 84 congressional districts.

Democrats have a slim majority in the House, so this redistricting period could have huge implications for who controls the chamber in 2022.

Joining us now are Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. He`s a constitutional lawyer and the author of "The Fight to Vote". Also my friend Maria Theresa Kumar, president and CEO of Voto Latino and an MSNBC contributor. Welcome to both of you.

Michael, what`s the implication here? The implication when you look at the census and you say, oh, we`re diversifying. That should just mean more diversifying and better representation for the diversity that is America. But that`s not actually what this necessarily means.

MICHAEL WALDMAN, PRESIDENT, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE: Well, what we see is that the multiracial diverse country that is in the future is actually here now. And we need a political system that represents America as it is right now.

The beginning of the census data is the beginning of redistricting, which is the beginning of the gerrymandering season. And the very states that have been rushing to suppress the vote will now be rushing to gerrymander.

It will have a significant impact, as you say, on congressional and legislative representation not just now but into the future. A whole decade these things last, and it`s why it`s so urgent for Congress to act now while it can to ban gerrymandering and set national standards on redistricting.

VELSHI: And right now we don`t have that, Maria Theresa. We do not have a ban on that, so people can go in there and despite all the shenanigans that you see in Georgia and Arizona and Texas, this is much simpler.

Redistricting is -- gerrymandering is a much simpler way of winning more districts.

MARIA THERESA KUMAR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely right. So -- if we were to go back to what happened as a result of the 2010 census, just in Texas alone, the growth of the Latino population and the growth of the African- American population that had been displaced by Katrina -- they technically should have gotten three Latino districts and one African-American district.


KUMAR: But because it was the -- because the GOP controlled the state legislature and the redistricting process in Texas, what ended up happening was that the Latino population garnered two. The white population garnered two. And the African-American population was left out cold.

That is not a democracy. What we need to ensure, and that is one of the reasons why the For The People Act is so important, is that we need to ensure that every single state is playing by the exact same rules to enfranchise every single American regardless of race and regardless of zip code. Short of that, you`re going to have the continuous shenanigans that we`re seeing in Georgia and in Texas.

So again, if we look at what happened in Texas and in Georgia, both of them are the hardest to vote states. Both of them, Ali, had certified fair elections, yet they are trying to create more voter suppression because they recognize that just in Texas alone, there`s a quarter of a million young Latinos that are going to turn 18 in time for the midterm election next year.

It`s all about this multicultural America that when we vote, we bring people and change into our democracy. We did it in time for the White House to change, the Senate to change, and Congress to change. And that is what the Republican Party is trying to do is they`re trying to hold back the future and disenfranchise a multicultural America who sees a very different future in the -- for us to abide by.

And that means that we believe in climate change. We believe in a woman`s right to choose. We believe in smart immigration policy.

And unless Republicans modernize, the only thing that they have left for them is to continue trying to stack the deck against Americans.

VELSHI: So Michael, what`s the race right now? How fast can people redistrict, and how fast can partisan gerrymandering be done away with?

WALDMAN: Well, the gerrymanderers have been waiting for this moment. And in a place like Texas, they`re going to get started now, and some have said that they`re going to try to get their maps done within a few weeks. The race is in the states like Texas, like Georgia and others where there`s an opportunity to gerrymander.

And on the other hand, Congress needs to do its job and actually deal with this issue, as maria said, the for the people act would stop voter suppression cold and it would stop partisan and racial gerrymandering cold with national standards.

It`s constitutional. It`s legal. Congress has that power. As we all know, legislation specifically to deal with gerrymandering was brought to the senate floor a few days ago, and the Republicans blocked it.

People like Senator Manchin and Senator Sinema, who say they care about gerrymandering and understand its tremendous undemocratic nature, when you have this kind of demographic change happening that needs to be reflected in our government, they have to find a way when the Congress returns, when the Senate returns in a few weeks, to act.

It is almost too late. It gets more and more complicated to have an impact from these national laws the longer it goes on. Now is the time. There`s no more waiting around.

VELSHI: Maria Theresa, are you confident that that will happen?

KUMAR: There`s been a lot of inside talks behind closed doors about the importance of at least holding off and providing the exception of the filibuster, so basically putting a stay in it so that there could be some sort of reconciliation around For The People Act.

It may not be what how it is right now, but there is that slight possibility. But I`ll share with you, and I think Michael will agree, unless we ensure that every single state is playing by the exact same rules, how can we ensure that our vote come next year will be certified? How can we ensure that the next Democratic or Republican president will be certified?

What the Republicans demonstrated to us on January 6th is that they are willing to cheat and to put our constitution and our democracy at stake if the people that they want to win lose.

And so, we need to make sure -- and this is not partisan. This is not democracy with a big D. This is a democracy of our institutions with a little d, Ali. How do we safeguard our democracy so that it`s not an autocratic institution where the minority is ruling and creating disenfranchised majority multi-cultural America?

Right now, what the census showed is that in children under 18 years old, there`s not a majority minority. There is -- the future is here, and they want to participate. They are anxious to be part of the system.

But what the Republicans are doing is creating shenanigans so that that future cannot vote in a democracy. And that`s why we need to ensure that we have the For The People Act.

And that`s why we do need Manchin and we do need Sinema to step up and recognize that this is not partisan. This is not political. This is absolutely to do with the oath of offices they took, that our democracy is that of the people and for the people, and they must be able to vote in order to succeed.


VELSHI: Thank you to the two of you for joining us tonight. Michael Waldman and Maria Theresa Kumar. We appreciate your time.

Coming up, tomorrow is Friday the 13th. But it`s going to be a very lucky day for many parents and kids. I`ll tell you why, next.


VELSHI: Friday the 13th is going to be a very good day for many American families. Tomorrow the second monthly installment of the child tax credit will go out. $250 for every child six years old and older; $300 for every child under six.

Today we got data on how families with kids spent their July payment. 69 percent said they spent some of the extra money on food. 37 percent spent it on clothing. 27 percent spent it on utilities. You can see from the data just how critical this money is. Too many families, many who are spending the money on the most essential thing, food.


VELSHI: Susan Rice, President Biden`s domestic policy adviser and champion of the child tax credit expansion, noted today that the number of families with kids that don`t have enough to eat dropped by nearly a quarter. And for what it`s worth, every dollar spent on groceries or school supplies is money that has a direct impact on the economic recovery, on the local economy.

Joining us now is Chuck Marr, senior director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Chuck, this is a good one to talk about because it`s helpful to people. It is remarkably low-hanging fruit, relatively inexpensive, and the bang for the buck is enormous.

CHUCK MARR, SENIOR DIRECTOR, CENTER ON BUDGET AND POLICY PRIORITIES: It`s just tremendous, Ali. I mean to think this is the first month but we already have signs of how it`s working, right?

As you said, the share of family`s sort of suffering from food insecurity dropped precipitously, right. The bottom line was the money flowed into bank accounts. And what happened? A couple million kids, fewer million kids went to bed hungry, right. That`s what it`s all about.

VELSHI: So, the issue here is we raised a quarter of these children out of that hunger. This thing may in fact raise a larger percentage of children out of poverty. You see where the money is spent.

So, all the arguments about how people, you know, spend their money irresponsibly because that`s how we think about poor and low wealth people in this country sometimes. All that has been laid waste, which leads the argument that this maybe is the kind of thing we should be doing with our tax dollars as opposed to sort of wringing our hands about tax cuts for the wealthy.

MARR: Oh, exactly. If you just think about a single mom, right with a toddler maybe -- maybe a second-grade daughter, right, who makes about $10,000 a year as a home help, she is getting out to work and trying to care for an elderly person, manage her household, take care of her kids.

Before this law, she was getting about $600 per child in child tax credit. After this, with the toddler she is going to get $3,600 and 3,000 for the second grader, right. Just think about the difference that makes in food on the table, like clothes for those kids. Being able to pay their rent so the family doesn`t have to move. So tremendous, tremendous benefit.

VELSHI: The White House, when this first came out, they did an interesting thing. Gene Sperling, who is the coordinator of the American Rescue Plan acknowledged, he put a tweet, acknowledging all the ways in which this isn`t work properly. It`s kind of unusual from a level of transparency.

He says the non-filer portal helped sign up millions for stimulus payments. It`s not in Spanish nor easily accessible by phone. We must push to improve now and make sure we have the right non-filer portal for CTC extension, even if it requires new legislation. The status quo is now -- he continues -- even with better signup accessibility, we must fund and rely more on navigators and trusted messengers in communities for signups. This is key.

Sorry. I have to read this off the screen. It`s the lesson that confirmed in our talk with poor people`s campaign, United Way -- anyway the point is he`s saying the status quo isn`t working. We need to do better. Are they doing better?

MARR: Yes. Exactly. This is being ramped up in realtime, right? To get to millions and millions of kids. And every effort has to be made. Because the kids who are at risk of missing out are the poorest kids, right?

And those are the kids who this is a potential game changer for. Really, we need to get the money to them. It needs to be (INAUDIBLE). The IRS has to continue to respond to the critiques. They have to continue to make that portal work better, right. You flashed (ph) some great organizations out there. United Way.

We need nonprofit groups. We need the media drawing attention to it as you`re doing here, right. And that all needs to be a sort of full-court press to get these kids in.

We also need to get the state governments involved, right. A lot of these kids who are not filed, their families don`t file taxes do qualify for Medicaid. They get their health care from Medicaid. They get SNAP so we need to get them, those organizations at the state level to reach out to these kids, reach out to these families to get them into the system.

VELSHI: Is this an example of a program that has worked well that you think should be expanded?

MARR: Oh, tremendously. The research is so strong, because it`s been around, right, since 1997. And it`s been around study after study, right. Same with the earned income tax.

Extra income for low-income families, the children, right. It improves their health. It improves their educational outcomes. It improves how much money they make when they become adults. Throughout their whole life cycle. Potentially a game-changer for millions of kids.

VELSHI: Chuck, good to see you. Thank you for joining us tonight. Chuck Marr, we appreciate your time.

And that is tonight`s LAST WORD.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" begins right now.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again.

Day 205 of the Biden administration.

Tonight, a troubling new sign of the delta variant`s increasing hold on our country.