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

Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/26/21

Guests: Timothy Kudo, Adam Weinstein, Joe Cirincione, Colin Allred, Lina Hidalgo


At least 13 U.S. service members, dozens of Afghan civilians dead in Kabul airport attack. President Biden vows retaliation for Kabul attack that killed 13 U.S. members. Texas Democrats managed to delay this moment for six weeks, but tonight the Texas House of Representatives is debating a Republican bill to restrict voting rights in Texas after enough Democrats returned to the House of Representatives to establish a quorum.



And I know you think you will bring that report tomorrow night, but who knows what tomorrow might bring to change the course of --


O`DONNELL: -- any -- you know, during COVID I`ve been saying we can`t use the word "plan" for anything we`re talking about in our future. It`s an idea I might do, X or Y. I think in this news environment it`s the same thing, and as long as this evacuation is going on in Afghanistan, we can guess what we`re talking about tomorrow night, but we`re not going to know.

MADDOW: It`s true and it is humbling. But I am going to try. I`m going to try and that`s all I can say.

O`DONNELL: I think you`ll get it done. I think that`s the night for it. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence. Appreciate it.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, we`ve been through this only once before in our history. Before the evacuation in Afghanistan, the American military had carried out only one evacuation from a war that we lost. That was from Vietnam in 1975, and Vietnam, when the airport we were using came under rocket fire from the north Vietnamese army and two marines were killed, the final two soldiers killed in combat in Vietnam, Republican President Gerald Ford immediately ordered the abandonment of the airport and the switch to helicopters dangerously taking people from the tops of buildings to finish the evacuation.

President Ford immediately ordered the evacuation speeded up. The president never gave a thought to trying to a avenge deaths of those two marines or in any way prolonging the dangerous situation and extending his deadline for evacuating from Vietnam. President Ford speeded it up. But President Ford did not tell us any of that at the time.

President Ford did not say a public word about the evacuation while it was going on or immediately after its end. Not one word. And not one word about the deaths of those marines in the evacuation of Vietnam.

Today, when tragedy struck in Afghanistan and 13 marines were killed, 18 marines were injured, President Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that`s happened of late.


O`DONNELL: The Pentagon estimates that at least 60 Afghans were killed in the suicide bombing outside the airport in Kabul. President Biden`s first message today was one of condolence to the families and to the loved ones of the marines who were killed.


BIDEN: My heart aches for you. I know this. We have a continued obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you, families of those heroes. That obligation is not temporary, it lasts forever. The lives we lost today were lives given in the service of liberty, the service of security, the service of others and the service of America.


O`DONNELL: The president`s second message was to the people who carried out he attack.


BIDEN: For those who carried out this attack, as well as anyone who wishes America harm, know this: We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay. I`ll defend our interests and our people with every measure at my command.


O`DONNELL: The president then explained what happens next.


BIDEN: We will not be deterred by terrorists. We will not let them stop our mission. We will continue the evacuation.

I`ve also ordered my commanders to develop operational plans to strike ISIS-K assets, leadership and facilities. We will respond with force and precision at our time at the place we choose in a moment of our choosing.

Here`s what you need to know: these ISIS terrorists will not win.


We will rescue the Americans in there. We will get our Afghan allies out. And our mission will go on.

America will not be intimidated. I have the utmost confidence in our brave service members who continue to execute this mission with courage and honor to save lives and get Americans, our partners, our Afghan allies out of Afghanistan.


O`DONNELL: The first question to the president today was from NBC`s Kelly O`Donnell.


KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC NEWS: Do you believe you will authorize additional forces to respond to that attack inside Afghanistan, and are you prepared to add additional forces to protect those Americans who remain on the ground carrying out the evacuation operation?

BIDEN: I`ve instructed the military whatever they need, if they need additional force, I will grant it. But the military from chairman of joint chiefs, the joint chiefs, the commanders in the field have all contacted me one way or another, usually by letter, saying they subscribe to the mission as designed to get as many people out as we can within the time frame that is allotted. That is the best way, they believe, to get as many Americans out as possible and others.

And with regard to finding, tracking down the ISIS leaders who ordered this, we have some reason to believe we know who they are -- not certain -- and we will find ways of choosing without large military operations to get them.


O`DONNELL: The president made a point that every student of history, as he called himself, knows is true.


BIDEN: Look, I know of no conflict as a student of history, no conflict where, when a war was ended, one side was able to guarantee that everyone they wanted to be extracted from that country would get out.


O`DONNELL: As a point of historical comparison, after the last American helicopter left Vietnam, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was asked, quote, do you have any idea of the number of Americans who remained behind? Secretary Kissinger answered, quote, I have no idea the number of Americans that remain behind.

The United States left hundreds of thousands of people behind in Vietnam who wanted to leave and come to this country. Today, the president suggested that the number of people who might want to leave Afghanistan now could number in the millions.


BIDEN: Millions of Afghani citizens who are not Taliban, who did not actively cooperate with us as SIVs, who, if given a chance, may be on board a plane tomorrow.


O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, Joe Cirincione, national security expert and distinguished fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Spacecraft. Timothy Kudo, a former marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Adam Weinstein, a former marine who served in Afghanistan. He is now a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Spacecraft.

I want to begin with the marines tonight because these were your brothers in arms who were lost today. Timothy, let me begin with you and just your feelings of what happened today.

TIMOTHY KUDO, FORMER MARINE CAPTAIN: I mean, it`s an entirely tragic day for the Marine Corps but also the war in Afghanistan. I`ve been over there, and I think many people who have been over there, I heard the screams of parents of Afghans who had their children killed, and then I came home and heard those same screams from Gold Star widows and families.

And it`s an utter tragedy, yet as I look today at the loss of life, I realize this has been happening in Afghanistan for 20 years, and it`s been happening to tens of thousands of Afghans, you know, more than 2,000 American soldiers have been killed in this war. So I`m glad this is coming to an end, but it`s also who will be the last soldier to die in Afghanistan?

O`DONNELL: Adam, your reaction to the events of the day?

ADAM WEINSTEIN, QUINCY INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT: Well, obviously, today`s events were dismal and all Americans, I think, are mourning the loss of our service members, but my fellow marine said it perfectly. This is an extension of the loss of life we`ve seen over the last 20 years, and it`s a consequence of a failed U.S. military strategy.


We cannot look at this evacuation in a vacuum. Whenever you have U.S. troops in a country where non-state actors are able to blend in with the civilian population, the events we saw today, that we witnessed today, can happen. That`s been the story of this war for the past 20 years, and it`s precisely why the U.S. military could not offer a sustainable solution for the conflict in Afghanistan.

O`DONNELL: Joe, I was struck today by looking once again at a press conference that Henry Kissinger participated in after the last helicopter left Vietnam. Most of the press questions were about the futility of the war itself. They weren`t tactical questions about exactly what happened yesterday and exactly how did you lose control of the airport, and Henry Kissinger was there talking about what he thought was the cease fire he had negotiated with the north Vietnamese which did not work, and where they were actively, you know, sending rocket fire against this evacuation.

And when you look at what happened then compared to what happened now, the Biden administration has achieved much more, but it`s suddenly marginal. It`s just a marginal improvement over the first time we tried to do this. And the lesson seems to be, we simply do not know how to, and no one knows how, to run an organized, safe evacuation from a war they lose.

JOE CIRINCIONE, QUINCY INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE STATECRAFT: That`s exactly right, Lawrence. A retreat under fire is one of the most difficult military missions to execute. Napoleon lost far more troops in his retreat from Moscow than he lost in the invasion in Russia in the first place. We are not used to this kind of action. We`ve lost the memory of what happened in Laos and Cambodia and Vietnam.

And you put it right. We have lost this war and what we`re seeing is the end of 20 years of failed strategy, of failed military operations, of failed nation building, and yet the discussion in Washington is exactly the opposite of what you described with Henry Kissinger. In Washington, we are focused on what`s been going on for the last 20 days instead of looking at the last 20 years.

This may be a chaotic withdrawal. It may be that Joe Biden could have done it better. But this is not why we lost. This should not be the focus of our attention. There has to be a reckoning with what has gone profoundly wrong with American strategy and American overreach to bring us to this tragic point.

O`DONNELL: We do apparently have some effective communication with the other side in this evacuation that we did not have in Vietnam.

Let`s listen to what the president said today about some of the effective communication with the Taliban on this evacuation.


BIDEN: With regard to there are certain circumstances where we`ve gotten information, and quite frankly, sometimes from some of you saying you know of such and such a group of people are trying to get out, they`re on a bus, they`re moving from other people. And this is their location. And there have been occasions when our military has contacted their military counterparts in the Taliban and said, for example, this bus is coming through with X number of people on it made up of the following group of people. We want you to let that bus or that group through.

So, yes, there have been occasions like that. To the best of my knowledge, in those cases, the bulk of that has occurred have been let through.


O`DONNELL: Timothy, with your experience in Afghanistan, are you surprised that the American military is having some successful communications like that with the Taliban?

KUDO: Not entirely. When we were over there, the Afghan police and Afghan army we were with would regularly speak with the Taliban counterparts and other commanders. You could jump on the phone with them as well if you wanted to with your interpreter and communicate.

It wasn`t productive communication. It was basically them taunting us and us just kind of listening to what they were saying. But, you know, this is very common over there, and I think as the Taliban has shifted to becoming the government of Afghanistan, it makes a lot of sense for us to be in communication with them.

We`re trying to figure out some way to work together towards what Biden has, you know, noted is a common goal for both of us, which is the withdrawal of presence in Afghanistan.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what General McKenzie said about where we go from here.


GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE: We continue to do that. That`s not something that we`re beginning now. We`ve done it all along, and we will continue to do that up until the last moment.


O`DONNELL: And that`s the general talking about the way the evacuation will continue.

And General McKenzie seemed to be processing today as a day in battle where you have casualties, you have losses and that doesn`t change your objective.

KUDO: Yeah. I mean, I think what we need to look at now is, as we shift from a military position to diplomacy, and that`s going to be the inevitable outcome with where we`re at with this no matter how this ends, that we need to find a way to -- the Taliban and the United States forces have done terrible things to each other over the course of the past 20 years of work, and that`s created a huge amount of bad blood on both sides, which I think we`re seeing in large part with the people who want to keep us in Afghanistan. It`s an ability to move beyond that.

I don`t know how we`ll create that kind of rapprochement, but we have to, because when we look at the American citizens there, we have a short deadline to do this, but we have to think how to do it after the deadline ends, not using our military, but using diplomacy and working with the Taliban, trying to figure out, you know, kind of averting to a traditional immigration type of program to hopefully continue to get people out.

O`DONNELL: Adam, was there something you wanted to hear from the president today or the military today that you didn`t hear?

WEINSTEIN: No, not really. I think the president gave a message that was directed at the American people that might not have gotten into the specifics that`s some policymakers or analysts wanted to hear. But that wasn`t the point of this message.

We have to remember the folks who are castigating the president for the casualties we saw today, many of those people said that, you know, a dozen or 20 U.S. casualties is perfectly sustainable if it meant staying in Afghanistan indefinitely. So, I think it`s important we don`t hold President Biden to two different standards whether or not it`s collateral damage as a result of a withdrawal versus collateral damage as a result of remaining committed to a completely failed policy that has occurred over the last 20 years.

So, I think President Biden today showed empathy, which was needed in this moment, both for Afghans and the service members that lost their lives from the United States, and I think he expressed a commitment to think outside of the box to get the rest of these people out. That`s what it`s going to take. That`s why diplomacy in some form with the Taliban is going to be essential for making sure that we can get our partners and Americans out of the country in the days going forward.

I think we should remember that diplomacy and communication with the Taliban is not the same as granting legitimacy to the Taliban. Those things shouldn`t be conflated. We can talk to the Taliban just as we are talking to the Taliban without recognizing their action of taking the government by force.

O`DONNELL: All right. We`re going to take a break here. Everyone please stay with us, and after this break we will hear what President Biden said today about the policy mistake of the last 20 years in Afghanistan.




BIDEN: To fight a war that we had already won relative to the reason why we went in the first place. I have never been of the view that we should be sacrificing American lives to try to establish a Democratic government in Afghanistan, a country that has never once in its entire history been a united country, and is made up -- I don`t mean this in a derogatory way -- made up of different tribes who have never, ever, ever gotten along with one another.


O`DONNELL: And back with us, Joe Cirincione, Tim Kudo and Adam Weinstein.

And, Joe, let me begin with you and your reaction to what the president had to say about the history of Afghanistan and how it relates to where we are tonight.

CIRCINCIONE: Those were strong words by the president, and you may disagree with the way he conducted this evacuation, but he`s not lying to us. He`s telling the truth. He`s explaining it the way he sees it, and I think accurately.

He`s getting to the heart of the issue. This was a flawed strategy from the beginning, going in, getting Osama bin Laden, disrupting al Qaeda, yes, check, we did that. But to stay and have a continuous American occupation of this country, to construct a centralized government which they never had in their entire history, as the president pointed out, and all for what? For what purpose? To try to use military American power to reshape the geopolitics of the Middle East.

This is what the president is taking issue with. In Washington , you see a determined CYA operation going on in the Washington establishment, a cover your butt operation, where all of those who have been responsible for the wars in the past 20 years are now on TV saying these wars were just and noble, that if we just listened to them, everything would work out okay, that we could keep 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and have stability and security indefinitely. And oh, by the way, we`re being stabbed in the back by Joe Biden.

This is a very dangerous moment in the foreign policy. We have to be honest about how we got here and not continue this kind of effort to salvage past reputations and prestige.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to the president reminding the White House press corps and the American people about why the military went into Afghanistan 20 years ago.



BIDEN: Our interests in going was to prevent al Qaeda from reemerging, first to get bin Laden, wipe out al Qaeda and Afghanistan, prevent that from happening again.


O`DONNELL: Adam Weinstein, you could think that`s a statement of the obvious, but it actually isn`t these days. That fact has gotten lost in so much of the discussion of what`s been happening in this evacuation.

WEINSTEIN: Well, I think Washington engaged in so much gaslighting over the years that it actually began to believe its own message, which oftentimes was detached from reality.

I mean, look at ISIS-K, as an example. This is a group that killed 90 school children this last may. U.S. troops were still in the country. This is a group that the may before that engaged in an attack on a maternity ward. So ISIS-K is a group that has terrorized Afghan society even when we had upwards of 8,000-plus U.S. troops in the country.

It`s precisely the kind of non non-state actor that U.S. troops were not able to deal with, and it`s the reason why it didn`t make sense to apply an open-ended military strategy here.

What did we achieve in Afghanistan? We did degrade al Qaeda, we didn`t defeat al Qaeda, and the president`s job is to take these risks that still exist and prioritize them. I think he rightfully made the assessment that it just didn`t make sense to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. It`s very easy to go around, like the H.R. McMasters of the world are doing, and say, we have a risk here, and we have a risk there and say that we should just chase them with permanent U.S. military intervention in perpetuity. But that simply is not a strategy.

O`DONNELL: Tim Kudo, I was thinking today about 1983, and I`m sure as all marines think about, when the marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by a terrorist, 241 American deaths, I think 20 or so marines in that group, and President Reagan did absolutely nothing other than completely retreat and remove all marines from harm`s way.

Compare that to where we are tonight.

KUDO: Yeah, so my old unit was first battalion 8th marines which is one of the units on the ground in Kabul right now, may even be the unit that took the casualties today, and we were that unit in Beirut. We were the Beirut battalion.

So, I look at the reactions that have happened in the past day, and it is mind-blowing just how much -- not only do people completely ignore what`s happened in the past 20 years and the attacks that have just been mentioned that have happened over and over in Kabul and other parts of the country, but also just the reality of what it is to be at war and to try and accomplish a mission in a hostile territory to face the risk of casualties, injuries and death. But that`s part of what it is to be a marine and go over there and do this. In the past couple weeks, they`ve evacuated more than 100,000 Afghans, Americans and other partners, and that`s a tremendous accomplishment that I feel like as we look at the casualties (ph) today, as tragic as they are, it certainly wasn`t in vain.

O`DONNELL: And, Joe, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, had to deal with a question today about two Republican senators calling for President Biden to resign over what happened today. Of course, no Republican senators called on Ronald Reagan to resign when that happened in Beirut to the 220 marines, 241 military personnel.

And so we are in a zone here where we were not going to be getting through this together, we`re going to be getting through this in a contentious way with Republicans trying to make the most of it.

CIRINCIONE: That is one of the saddest things about this, a time when we should be mourning together, we should be expressing our sympathies together. You see this caught up in the maw of this disinformation partisan hyper-attack mode that is Washington these days, and it`s used to call for resignations, to -- as H.R. McMaster did, to say this is just a matter of political will and to imply that Joe Biden doesn`t have the manliness to go after them and spread the kind of disinformation he`s been spreading all over the airwaves today.


It`s sad. It`s tragic. And while people like me get to pontificate about this, my thanks go out to people like Tim and to Adam who served in uniform, who were on the front lines, who did the right thing in Afghanistan and implemented a strategy that they had no role in creating, but they did, to the best of their ability.

We owe you, Tim and Adam, thanks, and Lawrence, thank you for having them on to share their experiences tonight.

O`DONNELL: Adam, one of my fears about the way this has been discussed for the last two weeks is there is in the air, or certainly was until today and maybe will continue, this kind of mythologizing about the capacities of the American military and that it is a flawless machine that can do anything. And there is no reason at all why it couldn`t have run a perfect organized and honorable retreat and withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And that kind of magical thinking seems to me is part of the kind of magical thinking that allows you to go into a war like this that you find yourself unable to get out of.

ADAM WEINSTEIN, U.S. MARINE CORPS VETERAN: : Well, if we look at some of the dysfunctions that were inherent with this evacuation, you know, and you`re honest about it with yourself, how can you possibly think the United States could remake Afghanistan ore engage in a nation-building exercise that`s successful?

But when folks in Washington talk about the capabilities of U.S. military, they always imagine a perfect scenario that has no human error and that foresight rather than hindsight is going to be 20/20.

Of course, a CEO of a corporation could never tell his investors, by the way, everything would have been ok, the business wouldn`t be bankrupt so long as we had made precisely perfect decisions at every juncture and there was no human error. That`s not how you -- that`s not how you approach risk.

And so I think that the experience of the last 20 years, which is this evacuation is but an extension of that, should give us all pause as Americans and give us a little bit of humility to recognize that our military and our political system and the constant change in foreign policy that happens from administration to administration is not able to intervene in countries abroad and remake those societies.

It`s simply a crazy proposition. And I know that when you talk to the average American outside of Washington, D.C. and you ask them, do you think it`s normal to stay in a country militarily for 20 years, the answer is almost always no.

O`DONNELL: Adam Weinstein, Timothy Kudo, Joe Cirincione, thank you all very much for joining us on this important night.

Thank you.

Coming up, at this very hour tonight, the Texas state house is debating the latest edition of the Republican bill that restricts voters` rights in that state. The Texas congressman and former election law lawyer Colin Allred will join us next



O`DONNELL: Texas Democrats managed to delay this moment for six weeks, but tonight the Texas House of Representatives is debating a Republican bill to restrict voting rights in Texas after enough Democrats returned to the House of Representatives to establish a quorum.

The bill would ban drive-through voting, ban overnight voting, restrict vote by mail, add new requirements on people who assist voters, impose criminal penalties on election workers and give more power to partisan poll watchers, among other things.

Any action by the Texas legislature could in effect be overruled by Congress with the passage of the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

On Saturday thousands are expected to march on the National Mall in Washington for the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.`s "I have a dream speech" there. Civil rights groups are organizing similar marches across the country, including in Georgia, Florida and Texas. All of the marches will be in support of federal voting rights legislation.

And joining us now is Democratic Congressman Colin Allred of Texas. He is a voting rights attorney.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight in your dual capacity as an election law expert and member of Congress. I think we can assume, and unless there is some other stunt that`s possible with the Texas Democrats, that the Republicans are going to pass something. And the question will then become, what can you and Congress do about it?

STATE REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): Well, you`re right, it is likely going to pass. Let me just briefly say, Lawrence, I appreciate your discussion of the attack in Kabul earlier today. And I just want to say that President Biden said it well when he said that those marines died for defending our vision and our values.

And I think that our vision and our values are at risk in what`s happening in Texas right now, because we have an effort, as you know, you covered it well, to try and specifically target types of voting that has allowed minority communities to have easier access to the ballot.

It is not based on trying to vet any kind of fraud. There was no fraud in Texas in the last election. And with 11 million Texans voting, they still won, yet they`re still trying to pursue these divisions. I think it`s un- American and we have to do something in Congress to stop it.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to some of the debate in the Texas House where the issue of racism came up and that seemed to bother the Republicans a lot. Let`s listen to this.


STATE REP. RAPHAEL ANCHIA (D-TX): Courts have pointed out over and over and over again intentional discrimination against African-Americans, intentional discrimination against Latinos, intentional discrimination against people of color.

These are not my words, these are three federal courts across this country making ten findings of that intentional discrimination.


STATE REP. GINA HINOJOSA (D-TX): Intentional discrimination against people of a certain race, is that racism?

ANCHIA: That is -- Miss Hinojosa, those words intentional discrimination, I think, can be fairly characterized in that manner.

STATE REP. DADE PHELAN (R-TX): We can talk about racial impacts at this legislation without accusing members of this body of being racist.


O`DONNELL: Your reaction to that, Congressman.

ALLRED: Well, you know, obviously as a lawyer, I look for what we can prove in a court of law. And we can prove, and we have proven multiple times, that whenever this legislature gets a chance, they try and pass was said there laws that are "intentionally discriminatory" against racial groups in the state of Texas.

And we just had our census data come out showing that we are one of the most diverse states in the country. That we will very soon have Latinos being the largest plurality group in our state, that we are diversifying rapidly, 95 percent of our growth in the last decade with non-white.

So how are we as a (INAUDIBLE) to democracy wanting to work this out where we have a legislature that`s trying to prevent and stand in the middle of kind of a ripper of progress and say stop. Trying to prevent, sort of what we all know is coming in terms of representative government of the state of Texas.

And we have these efforts going on while we are diversifying so rapidly. It`s coming to a head. And we have to understand that as a democracy, for us to continue as a democracy, we have to allow the people to vote and let it come out as it will.

You will win some, you will lose some, you have to change some of your policies, that is how democracy works. And that to me is really what has been so sad for me watching what`s happening in Texas for the last. you know, 10, 15 20 years as we`ve continued to diversify these efforts to try and stop that progress and to try and maintain this old power structure that really isn`t representative of our state anymore.

O`DONNELL: Texas Congressman Colin Allred, thank you very much for joining us again tonight. We always appreciate it.

ALLRED: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Judge Lina Hidalgo in Harris County, Texas has dramatically increased the vaccination rate in her county and is now in a legal fight with Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott who is trying to stop the mask mandate that Hidalgo has issued. Judge Lina Hidalgo will join us next.




JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: So today I am announcing that if you come by a Harris County public health site and get your first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, you will get $100, no strings attached.


O`DONNELL: That is our next guest, Judge Lina Hidalgo, last week. Today Judge Hidalgo announced that the number of people getting the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Harris County, Texas increased by 706 percent since she announced the $100 cash incentive. Yesterday Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has issued an order banning mask mandates issued a new executive order banning vaccine mandates, even if the vaccine has been fully approved by the FDA like the Pfizer vaccine.

Judge Hidalgo has issued a mask mandate for schools in Harris County.

Joining us now is Harris County judge, Lina Hidalgo. Thank you very much for joining us tonight, I really appreciate it.

HIDALGO: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Let`s begin with what you`re doing on the vaccine with those $100 bills. Has it surprised you how effective it`s been?

HIDALGO: Well, absolutely. It exceeded our wildest expectations. and I have to credit the Biden administration for highlighting that $100 figure and the incentives.

But yes, we launched the program. This Tuesday we had over 3,400 people get the vaccine out of Harris County sites. On average before we started the initiative, it was about 430 people a day.

So it`s continued to increase, and it just shows you, you can be creative, you can be bold, you can move the needle on this virus even in a state that is hostile toward actions that try and mitigate this crisis.

But we`re thrilled, and you know, whatever it takes we need to get those vaccination rates up. We`re not done. About 58 (ph) percent of our elderly population is fully vaccinated, so we have a ways to go. But we`re doing everything we can, this and so much more to try and get people vaccinated.

O`DONNELL: Texas has a very low vaccination rate compared to other states. Has the governor done anything to try to stop your $100 incentive program?

HIDALGO: Not the $100 incentive program, but certainly the state is doing a lot to facilitate, I would say, the spread of the virus. You know, we know that the masks work, work very well. We know that children under the age of 12 don`t qualify for the vaccine, and they tried to forbid masking in schools, mask requirements in schools.

And that is the fight that we fought. We have won a temporary victory in the courts, but you know, there is that. What you mentioned about the vaccination requirements.

Every time the state does that, every time the governor issues these orders, these edicts, prohibitions, he suspends the health code. The order literally says I am suspending the health code in order to and what he does is in order to prevent us from responding to this crisis.

And it is so ironic, you know, that each time we get a new tool like the FDA approval, the tool is taken away from us. So you know, I`m not giving up, my community is not giving up, but it surely is very sad and we`ve been doing this from the very beginning of the pandemic.


O`DONNELL: So what is the status tonight for masks for kids going to school in your county?

HIDALGO: In Harris County, it is the law. We have issued an order requiring it, and the courts have upheld it for now. The Texas Education Agency has said while there`s litigation the orders stand. And so I`m relying on parents in this community to make sure that the school districts are doing the right thing. And we need to because of our children.

You know, all of these school administrators have a responsibility for the safety and the health of the children under their care. And so we need them to enforce it just as they enforce any other kind of dress code, any other kind of requirement. And we`re going to continue doing our part to try and get those vaccinations up.

O`DONNELL: If you had a chance to talk to the governor directly about this privately just as a concerned -- someone who`s concerned about these kids, what would you say to him?

HIDALGO: Well, we are in touch, our teams are in touch. And I always make very clear, you know, the priority. Whenever there`s a crisis and we deal with fires under the director of emergency management, I deal with floods and I`m dealing with this pandemic. We need to put politics aside, and we need to get the work done.

But it seems like with this pandemic it is a competition amongst Republican governors to see who can be the first to politicize things. I mean, how does it make sense from a health standpoint, from a medical standpoint to rush to say an FDA-approved vaccine can`t be required when so many vaccines are required in different kinds of settings.

And so I hope that as these hospitalizations climb, you know, right here in Harris County, we have people waiting hours and hours for a hospital bed right now as we speak, and it`s a real problem. These are real people, real deaths that somehow we can get past the politics. But until then we all have to keep pushing in the right direction.

O`DONNELL: Judge Lina Hidalgo, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

HIDALGO: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, a day like today has happened only once before in our history, in 1975 at the end of the American evacuation from Vietnam. And then the Republican president of the United States unlike Joe Biden did not take responsibility for anything and did not say a word about the marines who were killed in action during the Vietnam evacuation.

That`s next.



O`DONNELL: The last time we did this the president of the United States did not say a word. When the last American helicopter left Vietnam in April, 1975 Republican president Gerald Ford did not address the nation the way President Biden did today and has done several times during the evacuation.

President Ford simply issued a written statement that was read aloud by his press secretary. It said in part, quote, "During the day on Monday, Washington time the airport at Saigon came under persistent rocket as well as artillery fire and was effectively closed. The military situation in the area deteriorated rapidly. I therefore, ordered the evacuation of all American personnel remaining in south Vietnam.

The evacuation has been completed. I commend the personnel of the Armed Forces who accomplished it as well as Ambassador Graham martin and his staff of his mission who served so well under difficult conditions.

This action closes a chapter in the American experience. I ask all Americans to close ranks, to avoid recrimination about the past, to look ahead to the many goals we share and to work together on the great tasks that remain to be accomplished."

The president did not mention the Marines who were killed in the rocket attack on the airport. The president might not have even known about that. The bodies of the two marines who were killed were left behind by mistake in a hospital in Saigon.

President Ford`s reaction to the rocket attack on the airport was to switch the evacuation from airplanes to helicopters and speed it up and use those helicopters to pick up people on the tops of buildings in very dangerous maneuvers.

One of those marine helicopters crashed in the South China Sea killing the pilot Capt. William Nystul and his copilot Lieutenant Michael Shea. Their bodies were never recovered. They were running low on fuel and repeatedly tried to land on an aircraft carrier that was already too crowded with other helicopters.

President Ford was told about their deaths, but he didn`t say a word about them in his written statement. President Ford said nothing about taking responsibility for anything that happened in the evacuation from Vietnam.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I bear responsibility for fundamentally all that`s happened of late.

Ladies and gentlemen, it was time to end a 20-year war. Thank you so much.


O`DONNELL: President Biden gets tonight`s LAST WORD.



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

Day 219 of the Biden administration. A devastating day for this still young presidency but mostly for our military families and those of Afghan civilians, of course, as U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffer their heaviest losses in years just days before they themselves are due to leave the country.