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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 8/31/21

Guests: Dan Berschinski, Henderson Lewis

Summary

No president before Joe Biden chose to go with honesty as the organizing principal of a speech on Afghanistan. House Minority Kevin McCarthy threatened telecommunications companies today if they cooperate with the congressional investigation with the attack on the Capitol on January 6th. In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, more than a million people remain without power in Louisiana tonight, including the entire city of New Orleans. Yesterday, the New Orleans Public School district announced classes will remain suspended as officials assess the damage in the school buildings.

Transcript

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

And I just took notes, took a note while you were speaking, and it`s actually right here, I can you -- you can see it. It says elections have consequences, even if impeachments don`t. And it says, RM, 8/31/21.

It`s just a note so I`ll know who I`m stealing this from when I use it at some point. Some point down the road, maybe when you`re on vacation or something. That`s such a good one, putting that right over there in the steal file right over there.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: You know, I have a history, a short history that I`ll tell you about sometime of having things cross stitched on pillows when they strike me as the right thing to see from a particular broadcast. So I might get with my needle and thread posse and make you a little pillow with that one.

O`DONNELL: That`s the one. America should hear this again. Elections have consequences, even if impeachments don`t. Perfect.

MADDOW: Coming soon to a t-shirt near you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Immediately I don`t know left a mark -- President Biden left a -- President Biden left a marker for history today. The bar could not be lower for honest and accurate presidential speeches on Afghanistan, especially considering the woefully inarticulate presidential speech that started the war in Afghanistan with George W. Bush making promises that were filled with absurdity by the time his presidency came to an end. In fact, by the time his first term came to an end, promises such as we will win this conflict by the patient accumulation of successes. We will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail.

To deliver the best presidential speech in history about Afghanistan, all the president needed to do was be honest about what our record in Afghanistan actually shows. No president before Joe Biden chose to go with honesty as the organizing principal of a speech on Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was time to be honest with the American people again. We know longer had a clear purpose in an open- ended mission in Afghanistan. After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, I refuse to send another generation of America`s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago. After more than $2 trillion spent in Afghanistan, what Brown University estimated with be over $300 million a day for two decades -- yes, the American people should hear this, $300 million a day for two decades.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: We`ve never seen this before, seen an American president preside over the end of a lost war and then stand up and tell America what went wrong in that war and why our evacuation from that war was at times chaotic and always dangerous.

This happened before, but the president didn`t say a word then. The last American helicopter left Vietnam on April 30th, 1975 at the end of a much more chaotic evacuation than we saw in Afghanistan and the Republican president of the United States Gerald Ford said nothing. He did not give a speech about it. He did not answer press questions about it.

President Ford was not attacked by his political opponents from the chaos of the American evacuation from Vietnam because no one expected a massive American evacuation from a war that we lost with 20 times more casualties than we suffered in Afghanistan to be anything but chaotic and dangerous.

A week before the final American helicopter left Vietnam, President Ford gave a speech in New Orleans at Tulane University in which he did not talk -- he actually did talk, did talk about American humiliation in war, but he was talking about the war of 1812. Seriously.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT: We as a nation have suffered humiliation and a measure of defeat in the war of 1812.

[22:05:06]

Our national Capitol in Washington had been captured and burned so the illustrious victory in the battle of New Orleans was a powerful restorative to our national pride.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: In that speech at Tulane, President Ford talked about economic issues. He urged medical students who were listening to find a cure for cancer and he said next to nothing about Vietnam. He mentioned the word Vietnam exactly once.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORD: Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam, but it cannot be achieved by refighting a war that is finished as far as America is concerned.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

As I see it, the time has come to look forward to an agenda for the future, to unify, to bind up the nation`s wounds and to restore its health and its optimistic self-confidence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: So that`s what he said. When the evacuation was still going on in Vietnam. Here is some of the chaos that happened just in the two days before Gerald Ford gave that speech while 7,000 people a day were being flown out of the Tan Son Nhut air base.

South Vietnam`s President Thieu resigned from office, handing over the office to the vice president. He gave a two-hour resignation speech attacking the United States government that had been propping him up for years. The completely oblivious Secretary of State Henry Kissinger actually said publicly that he believed President Thieu`s resignation which was forced by the United States would lead to a negotiation with North Vietnam that would save Saigon, then the capitol of Vietnam, save Saigon from attack.

President Ford mentioned none of that chaos in his speech at Tulane. Four days after President Ford`s speech, President Houng, resigned as president of South Vietnam. The third president that week, President Minh, tried to achieve a cease-fire but the Tan Son Nhut air base was bombed by North Vietnamese pilots, rocket attacks on the airport followed in which U.S. Marines Charles McMahon and Darwin Judge were killed, becoming the last two Americans killed in combat in Vietnam, their bodies were left in the hospital in Saigon by mistake.

President Ford did not say one word about their deaths, not one word. Because the Americans couldn`t use the airport anymore, they used helicopters touching down on the tops of some buildings, which could not bare the weight of the helicopter, so the helicopters had to whoever as the people clamored aboard without being checked in, who they were or what if anything they had done during the war to help the American effort.

I mentioned Vietnam tonight as I have been from the start of the evacuation from Afghanistan because it is the only model, the only model we have for an evacuation from a war that we lost. And every day of the evacuation of Vietnam was utter chaos at every level. The president of the United States did not believe there was a thing he could do or say to reduce the chaos. Secretary of state Henry Kissinger was enveloped in the chaos himself. The military did their best trying to do something they had never done before. They conducted a major evacuation from a war that we lost while they were being shot at.

When the evacuation was over, Henry Kissinger said in response to a press question, that he had how many Americans were left behind, had no idea how many Vietnamese were left behind who should have been evacuated. That was the official secretary of state`s official answer, no idea. Joe Biden was a senator in 1975 watching all of this when we evacuated from Vietnam and he clearly remembers that evacuation because today he said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The bottom line is there is no evacuation from the end of a war that you can run without the kinds of complexities, challenges, threats we faced.

[22:10:08]

None.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Today, President Biden said we`ve got to learn from our mistakes. But we never do. We made all the mistakes of Vietnam in Afghanistan and we will probably make them again somewhere because too many people in the American news media and political office still believe that the American military can do the impossible.

They still believe that the American military can be the first military in the history of the world to evacuate from a war that we have lost and do it in an organized and honorable way. And they believe that there were easy alternatives to President Biden`s evacuation from Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: Since March, we reached out 19 times to Americans in Afghanistan with multiple warnings and offers to help them leave Afghanistan, all the way back as far as March. Now some say we should have started mass evacuations sooner and couldn`t this have been done in a more orderly manner. I respectfully disagree.

Imagine if we`d begun evacuations in June or July, bringing in American troops and evacuated hundreds of thousands of people in the middle of a civil war. There still would have been a rush to the airport, a breakdown in confidence and control of the government and it still would have been very difficult and dangerous mission. To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask, what is the vital national interest?

Remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place? Because we were attacked by Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda on September 11, 2001 and they were based in Afghanistan. We delivered justice to bin Laden on May 2nd, 2011, over a decade ago. Al Qaeda was decimated.

We succeeded in what we set out to do in Afghanistan over a decade ago. And we stayed for another decade. It was time to end this war.

When I hear we could have, should have continued the so-called low-grade effort in Afghanistan, at low risk to our service members, at low cost, I don`t think enough people understand how much we have asked of the 1 percent of this country who put that uniform on. There`s nothing low grade or low risk or low cost about any war. It`s time to end the war in Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: And once again today, President Biden said something about the evacuation from Afghanistan that president ford never said about the evacuation from Vietnam.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I take responsibility for the decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Leading of our discussion tonight are former U.S. Army Captain, Dan Berschinski, he`s a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network. Also with us, Eugene Robinson, associate editor and Pulitzer-winning columnist for "The Washington Post". He`s an MSNBC political analyst.

Dan, you`re a veteran of this war that is now officially over in terms of American involvement. What was your reaction to what the president had to say today?

CAPT. DAN BERSCHINSKI, RET, U.S. ARMY: I appreciate the president taking responsibility and I thought particularly stating the reasons why we needed to end this forever war and the reasons why this evacuation, this inevitable conclusion has been the right thing to do, he spoke the truth that three previous White House administrations refused to do.

O`DONNELL: Dan, let me zero in on a tactical point given your experience in the country. The president saying if we had started this earlier, no matter what we started it, if we decided to do massive airlift a couple months ago, there would have been a rush to the airport, there would have been an overwhelming surge of people trying to get out as soon as that first move toward a major evacuation occurred. Do you agree with that?

BERSCHINSKI: Yeah. I think honestly that`s a better question for a diplomat, someone who had spent years in Afghanistan working closely with their government.

[22:10:02]

But as we saw, their government failed, the army laid down their weapons, the people, the citizens had no faith in the government that we spent 20 years propping up and if we had announced, hey, now is the time to go, we absolutely would have seen the same rush to the airport and then we would have had Taliban hopefully cooperating like they did standing feet away from our soldiers but instead of doing it for two weeks, it would have been two months or three months or four months and it would have been an incredible risk. As risky as this operation was, it would have been even worse had we stayed for longer to prolong the withdrawal. I think the president is absolutely right.

O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, I`m not one for very often giving reviews of speeches, political speeches, because I don`t think invest in them very much, I don`t consider it much of an art form. I`m much more concerned to what politicians actually do.

But today, I indulge and on Twitter immediately after the speech. I said it`s the smartest and most honest speech about Afghanistan ever given by an American president. And I got the usual amount of ridicule and hatred that I always get with any tweet. But here`s what I didn`t get, I didn`t get anyone submitting another speech by another American president that they thought was more honest or smarter than this one.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that`s because there is none, Lawrence. Your assessment is correct. I think President Biden will sleep soundly tonight having done something he has really advocated doing for at least a decade. He has recognized that we did not have any longer vital strategic national interest in Afghanistan, Afghanistan and that this war, the generals and hawks given their head, this war would have gone on forever. And it was the Afghan president, President Ashraf Ghani, who asked President Biden not to go in earlier because it would have created a panic.

My colleague, "Washington Post" colleague David Ignatius has great column posted on the sequence of event. Turns out, President Ghani rushed off the exits and he took off, leaving Afghanistan rudderless and creating the final bit of vacuum that the Taliban filled.

But I thought it was an absolutely honest speech. I think it was realistic. I think a lot of people who were saying, well, we might have done this, we should have done that, we should have done whatever -- I think they`re living in a fantasy land where, as you pointed out, you can lose a war gracefully and in an orderly fashion. That simply does not happen and, you know, my reference on that is all of human history.

O`DONNELL: Yes, it`s a pretty big reference.

Let`s listen more about what the president said today about learning from our mistakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: As we turn the page on the foreign policy that`s guided our nation the last two decades, we`ve got to learn from our mistakes. To me, there are two that are paramount. First, we must set missions with clear, achievable goals, not ones we`ll never reach. And, second, we must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interest of the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Dan, you heard that surge of applause in the video I played of President Ford in New Orleans speaking to a basically Republican audience about getting out of Vietnam. There was universal by that point agreement that we needed to get out of Vietnam.

I also felt that we had learned the lessons that Joe Biden said we have to learn today, that the mistakes of Vietnam would not be repeated. Now that I`ve seen them repeated, I have absolutely no confidence that we will learn the lessons this time.

BERSCHINSKI: Unfortunately, I have to agree with you. In 2017 general John Nicholson, the 17th commander of our war in Afghanistan testified before Congress and described the war as, quote, a stalemate. Just last year chairman of the joint chiefs, Mark Milley, also testified before Congress and said to Congress, we have made a, quote, modicum of success.

We have an entire generation of general officers in the military that presided over a failed war.

[22:15:02]

At minimum, they failed to adequately advise the senior leadership that this war was unwinnable and unachievable by any means and at worst they failed to do the job they were assigned to do of winning the nation`s wars.

So if our general officers who were steeped in military history and strategy can`t identify a quagmire in the middle of it, I don`t have any faith in the rest of America unfortunately.

O`DONNELL: Dan Berschinski, West Point graduate, combat veteran in Afghanistan, and Eugene Robinson, thank you both very much for starting up our discussion tonight.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, Kevin McCarthy threatened telecommunications companies today if they cooperate with the congressional investigation with the attack on the Capitol on January 6th. Neal Katyal and John Heilemann join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:20:02]

O`DONNELL: Everyone remembers phone calls with the president of the United States, everyone except Jim Jordan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOST: On January 6th, did you speak with him before, during or after the Capitol was attacked?

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): I`d have to go -- I spoke with him that day after, I think after? I don`t know if I spoke with him during the morning or not. I just don`t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was a week ago. And now, "Politico" reports that, according to a source, Jim Jordan had at least two phone calls with Donald Trump on January 6th and one of the phone calls also included Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz.

After he was asked about the new reporting this week by "Politico", Jim Jordan now says, quote, look, I definitely spoke to the president that day, I don`t recall, I know it was more than once, I just don`t recall the times. Jim Jordan later added that he`s sure one of the Trump-involved calls took place in the safe room because we were in that room forever.

According to CNN.com, Jim Jordan and matt gates are among at least 11 Republican members of Congress now under scrutiny by the House select committee investigating the January 6th insurrection. Yesterday, the committee requested that a group of telecommunications companies preserve the phone records of Donald Trump, a group of Republican members of Congress, and members of the Trump family who played some role in the rally that took place before the Capitol insurrection.

CNN.com reports that other members of Congress whose records have been requested include Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn and Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Tonight, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy issued a statement saying that if the telecommunication companies comply with the committed request, quote, a Republican majority will not forget and will stand with Americans to hold them fully accountable under the law. Tonight, the committee responded to that with a written statement saying that the committee is investigating the violent attack on the Capitol and attempt to overturn the results of last year`s election. We`ve asked companies not to destroy records that may help answer questions to the American people. The committee`s efforts won`t be deterred by those who want to whitewash or cover up events of January 6th or obstruct our investigation.

Joining our discussion now, Neal Katyal, former acting U.S. solicitor general and MSNBC legal contributor. Also with us, John Heilemann, NBC News and MSNBC national affairs analyst and the host of "The Hell and High Water" podcast from "The Recount".

Neal, let`s begin with what`s going on here legally. The companies get a request to preserve information that we know they preserve anyway. What is going on here legally?

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think what`s going on here, you know, I think I have one question for Kevin McCarthy, which is why are you so scared, congressman? Because nobody thinks Kevin McCarthy is right legally.

It`s preposterous. He can try and make these statements and fight it in court but he`s going to lose. Now, it`s true the law recognizes attorney/client privilege but it doesn`t recognize a legislator conspirator privilege.

And this is a really silly but dangerous threat. Kevin McCarthy can`t tell you what law is being violated, he can`t cite to one. And yet, he`s threatening retaliation against third companies, these companies like social media companies, phone companies and the like. What is he threatening for? Just merely complying with a subpoena, a lawful subpoena.

That`s a mob boss tactic. Two days ago, he go after and threaten someone who complies with a subpoena. It just shows this party has lost any pretense of being the law and order party. This is an anti-law party, an anti-democracy party at this point.

O`DONNELL: So, John Heilemann, we have at least now one campaign agenda item for the Republicans in the congressional election and that is elect us so we can pass laws, I guess, to penalize telecommunications companies that Cooperate with federal investigations.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yeah, I think that`s right. That`s one thing, Lawrence. There`s also -- this is like a lot of McCarthy threats, this is a threat that seems to be directed not just at the companies but also kind of issuing a threat in a somewhat more veiled way towards all the Democrats who are pressing for these phone records.

He seems to -- this is like another one of these threats where Republicans are basically saying you know what, we may be back in the majority relatively soon, you guys should probably be careful what you do hear because if you leave a fish`s head in our bed, we`re going to put a horse`s head in your bed. It is, as Neal said, it mob behavior, not the behavior of people who care about the constitution or care about the law or care about getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6th, which of course, is what this is all about, right.

And the truth is that McCarthy is not on the list right now. A lot of people want to know what Kevin McCarthy did on January 6th and the communications that he had with Donald Trump. He`s not one of the congressmen currently listed -- currently listed -- and I think that`s another thing that`s going on here which is McCarthy wants to keep his own name off that list and wants to make sure that the Democrats who are running this committee know that he is -- or think at least that he is going to rain down hell on their heads if they drag him into this.

And I think again, that gets back to the top of what Neal said, what is Kevin McCarthy so scared of. If he did nothing wrong, he shouldn`t be afraid to be called and shouldn`t be afraid to have people look at his phone records.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Well Neal, one reason why Kevin McCarthy might not be on the list so far is that his conversations with the president are a matter of public record already to some degree and he has described those conversations to other people who could be called as witnesses to say what he said about those conversations.

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Exactly. And that puts him in a different position than, for example, Jim Jordan, who as you were saying early kind of disassembled about his January 6th conversations and reporting today suggests there were many conversations between Jordan and Trump on January 6th.

Now that itself shouldn`t surprise us. I mean what else do these guys have to do besides plan an insurrection. It`s not like they were doing their jobs or anything.

Meanwhile Matt Gaetz who`s also a subject of the new reporting saying that he had these conversations with Trump. I think he`s just excited that he`s making headlines for something beyond being in a federal sex trafficking investigation.

But the bottom line is that, you know, these conversations look like they happened. I think Congress is absolutely right to say preserve the records. You can`t trust these people not to try and delete them. And so that`s why they`ve issued this lawful order to the telephone companies. It`s absolutely a by-the-book thing it do in an investigation and there`s zero that`s unlawful about it.

O`DONNELL: And John Heilemann, all we`re going to get here in the end is a record of a phone call having happened. We aren`t going to get the contents of the phone call, we`re not going to get the words they said. And so it`s going to be up to Jim Jordan to say or not say what was said on that phone call and the chances of that being accurate are exactly zero.

HEILEMANN: Well, that`s right. Obviously, Lawrence, although you know, I think -- I want to just say so far this committee has done everything as far as I can tell. They`ve done everything that I would have wanted them to do and everything that they`ve done has been right. They have been so far playing hard ball.

We`ll see how long that continues because I do think that what we want if we want to get to the bottom of what happened on January 67th, is we want Kevin McCarthy to have to testify. We want -- definitely want Jim Jordan to have to testify because as Neal, again, just suggested, he`s already lied. He`s already basically acknowledged this week that he lied previously about the phone call -- about the number of phone calls he had with Trump.

We know that Jim Jordan is a person of interest, so to speak, in this investigation for things that we know he said and did on that day, for his involvement in encouraging the Stop the Steal protest and for the fact, you know, we all know Jim Jordan suddenly got that nice little Medal of Honor from Donald Trump before Trump left office. We all wonder what that`s about, too.

So I think these guys all need to be hauled up before this committee. They all need to testify under oath. They all need to be. If they won`t come, they need to be subpoenaed.

And so far, I`m encouraged about this committee`s toughness. I just -- I think there`s no way we`re ever going to get to the bottom of what happened unless all of these folks have to testify under -- as I said, under oath and under threat of punishment if they refused to testify and we`ve got to try to force them to testify as honestly as we can.

I know you`re skeptical and I`m skeptical. They`re going to tell the truth but the only possibility of getting -- or close to the truth -- is to make sure that we get to hear their testimony.

O`DONNELL: So Neal, if these members of Congress are subpoenaed to testify to the committee, which is the only way they`d show up to testify, they will presumably fight that in court. How much time will get eaten up that way?

KATYAL: I mean that`s the old Trump tactic. And they can try and stall and delay it. But I do think that this is a law enforcement investigation, the reasons to move quickly.

And that`s my one quibble with my friend, John. I think the commission -- the committee`s done everything right but it`s taken a while. I mean, we`re eight months after January 6th or close to it. And we don`t have answers to a lot of basic questions. And there`s a narrative being formed now by the Republican Party that January 6th was no big deal.

And I can`t imagine a more dangerous, frankly, big lie than that. You know, this was a threat, a massive threat to our democracy and everything we stand for and we need to know what happened, why it happened and who was behind it.

O`DONNELL: Neal Katyal and John Heilemann, thank you both for joining us tonight.

Thank you.

And coming up, two weeks from tonight, California could elect a Republican governor with a tiny minority of the vote. David Plouffe joins us next.

[22:35:02]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In just two weeks California voters will decide Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom`s fate in just the second recall election in the state`s history.

22 million registered voters in California have already received their ballots for the September 14th election. Each ballot includes two questions: do you want to recall governor Newsom? And two, if the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him?

46 candidates qualified for the replacement ballot. If more than 50 percent of registered Californians vote no on the first question -- if more than 50 percent vote yes on the first question, removing Governor Newsom, Governor Newsom will be removed from office and will be replaced by the candidate who receives the most votes on question two, even if that vote total is tiny.

[22:40:01]

O`DONNELL: That person could be Larry Elder -- Republican Larry Elder, a Los Angeles talk radio host, Stephen Miller`s mentor. According to a recent UGOV/CBS poll, Larry Elder is leading the field with 23 percent. That 23 percent could be more than enough to make Trump supporter Larry Elder the next governor of California if Governor Gavin Newsom is recalled.

Joining us now is David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House senior adviser to President Barack Obama. He is an MSNBC political analyst. David, the polls look difficult tonight. It looks like a close call on Whether Gavin Newsom will be recalled.

DAVID PLOUFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Lawrence it is. I would say, you know, if you look at the public polls, I think they`ve opened up a little bit for Newsom. In conversations I`ve had with their campaign, they feel like it opened up a little bit. You know, almost 55 percent of people who have returned ballots are Democrats, which is a good number.

Still two long weeks to go at that and everybody in California who`s a registered voter has been mailed a ballot. So you are worried about turnout in any nonpresidential year election, I think that helps a little bit.

But the question really is, let`s say Newsom has opened up a little bit at the poll today. I think Survey USA had him up 51 or to 43. You know, that`s not a lot of comfort.

And so the question is the people who are still undecided are they going to all flop one way or the other? Are they not going to vote?

But I think the Newsom campaign has done a very, very good job of defining it as a choice. As you know, Lawrence, no incumbent, not even Ronald Reagan back in 1984 wanted it to be solely a referendum on their performance. You want to turn it into a choice.

And I think they`ve done a very good job of screening Larry Elder into the role as the most likely governor if the recall is successful. And I think that`s really helped because Larry Elder makes Donald Trump look responsible.

O`DONNELL: But the problem is they are -- the Democratic Party is officially telling voters, advocating to voters just vote no on the recall and then mail in your ballot and do not -- do not pick another name, which strikes me as a possibly disastrous mistake because there are people on there who are worse than other people on there.

And so a lot of smart Democrats I`ve been talking to over the last few weeks have been saying they were going to vote no on recall and then for the candidate they were going to pick Kevin Faulconer who they expected to do better as the least crazy Republican former mayor of San Diego. But he`s polling at 3 percent tonight, David.

Larry Elders at 23 percent, the next guy down is at 13. And so if there is a recall, Larry Elder is the governor and that`s thanks to a Democratic strategy to make sure that there was no recognizable Democratic name on the ballot in case the recall went.

PLOUFFE: It`s a great question, Lawrence. So perhaps it a risky strategy. It`s a strategy I agree with and perhaps I`m in the minority of people you talked to. I think you want to simplify this.

First of all, this recall -- I mean I`m not a fan of recalls, generally but specifically, this has been weaponized in a way we haven`t seen before.

I mean Gavin Newsom is up for reelection next year, a little more than 12 months from now. So if you don`t like the performance he`d done after a time, to make the case against him.

But I think you want to simplify this. You don`t want to dignify this. I think you simplify this. Just vote no, just vote no. I think you`ll gain some points that way.

I understand there`s some risk for that and everybody talks about (INAUDIBLE), you know, just about 20 years ago when there was a Democrat as lieutenant governor on the ballot and there was a view that that was a mistake.

You can`t rerun elections. But I actually agree with the strategy. Maybe I`ll come regret those words in two weeks but I think you want to simplify this. I think you want to say no. I think support for the recall has dropped and I think Larry Elder has been really, really magnified as the threat that he would be.

Now, a lot to do. you know, Latino turnout I think based on reports is not what you`d like to see. Democrats have a lead now in turnout. But again, we have a long two weeks to go.

But I think right now the race is in a better place than it was let`s say three to four weeks ago.

O`DONNELL: David Plouffe, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

And coming up, the situation in New Orleans is no better tonight as the city continues without power and no word on exactly when power will be restored.

That`s next.

[22:44:43]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: Four people have now been confirmed dead in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. The latest of the two confirmed deaths were in Mississippi. More than a million people remain without power in Louisiana tonight, including the entire city of New Orleans.

Today the mayor of New Orleans ordered a curfew that started tonight at 8 p.m., that` s until 6 a.m. tomorrow morning.

And today Louisiana`s Governor John Bel Edwards said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D-LA): Many of the life supporting infrastructure elements are not present. They`re not operating right now. So if you have already evacuated, do not return here or elsewhere in southeast Louisiana until the Office of Emergency Preparedness tells you it is ready to receive you.

The schools are not open. The businesses are not open. The hospitals are slammed. There`s not water in your home and there`s not going to be electricity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[22:49:43]

O`DONNELL: Our next guest is the superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools with supervision of 78 schools with 44,631 students. Yesterday, the New Orleans Public School district announced classes will remain suspended as officials assess the damage in the school buildings.

Joining us now is Henderson Lewis, superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools. Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

What is -- what is your optimistic view of when students will be able to return to schools? What`s the range of possibility on the calendar of when they will come back?

HENDERSON LEWIS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Yes, thank you for having me this evening. and this is truly a challenging time for our community as we respond to our recent hurricane.

But as we think of even what our governor stated earlier today, we cannot have our students return back to in-person learning until we can restore power, you know. Because if we don`t have power, we cannot have our community and our families to return back to the city of New Orleans.

O`DONNELL: Well, also there can`t be any remote learning without any power in the city of New Orleans.

LEWIS: That`s correct.

O`DONNELL: So what happens next?

LEWIS: So right now we`re working with our local officials to understand when power will be restored, and our leaders are working with our families right now, first of all, understanding if we can get in contact with them, to understand where they are and we`re going to be doing wellness check on our students and our families at this time.

And then as we think about the recovery outside of having electricity and our students not leaving, that is, with technology in their hand makes it really impossible to really have in-person learning.

So we`ve been working with our school to really just survey to understand what our students really have at their disposal at this time. But it`s a really difficult time for our community. And you know, in addition to this recent hurricane, we`re also battling, just like everyone else in this country, COVID-19.

O`DONNELL: Yes. There is a report from New Orleans public radio station that says so far the greatest number of COVID cases associated with K thru 12 schools in Louisiana has been in the New Orleans area. Orleans parish has reported the highest number of cases, 732 as of August 22. About 9 percent of the New Orleans public school students and staff were in quarantine as of August 20.

So you were already facing some very serious challenges because of COVID. That`s -- there`s nothing in what we`re seeing now that`s making any of that better.

Now it`s impossible for anyone to get vaccinated in New Orleans who wants to get vaccinated in New Orleans. The whole public health system has basically shut down at the same time.

LEWIS: Certainly. And so we`re encouraging our families who may be away and still have access to that they qualify (ph) our students to get vaccinated -- to be vaccinated -- but also in the city of New Orleans, we believe that`s enough. And so we just want our community and whether you`re still in the city of New Orleans or if you have left the state, to continue to mask up to protect yourself as well as others because that`s the best way that we can continue to fight COVID-19.

And hopefully I`m just looking forward to the day that we can actually have our students and our families return to the great city of New Orleans and be able to be back in our schools with our teachers so we can continue to move our school system forward.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what the governor actually said today about when power will be restored.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: Quite frankly, you know, I will be surprised -- not pleasantly surprised, but unpleasantly surprised if it actually is 30 days before we start to see power being restored.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: So we just don`t know, but 30 days is one of the possibilities.

LEWIS: Yes, 30 days is one of the possibilities. And we saw last year, and I think our situation is a little different than the storm that hit the state of Louisiana where it was several months. And so we`re hoping that that`s not our situation, because we know through COVID there has been a lot of learning loss, so we possibly will lose 30 days to have our students back.

But again, we`re just trying to understand and work with our government officials to restore power. And then our teachers and our educators are well prepared to continue to work with our students to get them back on track and move them forward.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Henderson Lewis, superintendent of New Orleans Public Schools, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

LEWIS: Thank you so much.

O`DONNELL: We`ll be right back with tonight`s LAST WORD, which includes the historic American policy change announced by President Biden today.

[22:54:39]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: A new poll shows that 54 percent believe that President Biden`s decision to leave Afghanistan was the right decision, 42 percent say it was the wrong decision.

Today President Biden said his decision about leaving Afghanistan was about more than just leaving Afghanistan. It is about something much larger than that.

It is about ending America`s impossible dreams, about the ability of the American military to do the impossible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This decision about Afghanistan is not just about Afghanistan. It`s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.

We saw a mission of counterterrorism in Afghanistan. Getting a terrorist to stop its attacks morphed into a counterinsurgency. Nation-building, trying to create a democratic cohesive and united Afghanistan, something that has never been done over many centuries of Afghan history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[23:00:02]

O`DONNELL: Finally, an American president has said that we do not know how to remake other countries. We never have and we never will know how to do that.

That is tonight`s LAST WORD.

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