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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 9/7/21

Guests: Lorena Gonzalez, Lizzie Fletcher, Uche Blackstock, Laurie Garrett, Grace Meng, Jessica Ramos


With exactly one week left before Election Day, the latest poll shows 53 percent of likely voters want to keep Gavin Newsom, and 43 percent want to remove him with 4 percent undecided. After Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the bill restricting voting in Texas today, he said the next thing he`s going to eliminate in Texas is rape. Child cases rise where schools opened earliest. U.S. reports highest weekly increase in child cases. President Biden, Dems talk storm disaster relief in Queens. President Biden pushes for infrastructure after Ida damage.



You know when you`re watching "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" and you -- she`s going on this thing -- you have no idea where she`s going. She`s going down this trail --

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: She`s very random.

O`DONNELL: Well, like, for example, when she`s talking about Grendel`s Den and I`m talking about what the -- she`s talking about Grendel`s Den.

And, Rachel, I don`t want to date myself, but all of my experience in Grendel`s Den was before they had a liquor license, okay? So --


O`DONNELL: So, then we discover, we, meaning me, and I guess America, that Grendel`s Den, this little bar in Harvard Square made Supreme Court history through, of course, Professor Laurence Tribe. And that is the most important thing I`ve learned about the Texas law is that Grendel`s Den law, (INAUDIBLE) Supreme Court that says a private entity cannot enforce the laws in the way that this Texas abortion law wants private citizens to enforce that law.

MADDOW: It does seem that there are several paths to the end of that Texas law. And the one about that bar in Cambridge may be one of if not the most direct. I will also say that I know you`re not a booze guy, Lawrence, so the liquor license didn`t mean the world to you, when it came to Grendel`s Den, but them getting the liquor license is probably why they`re still there 50 years later. Were it not for Laurence Tribe taking their case to the Supreme Court, you wouldn`t have -- we wouldn`t have -- they wouldn`t be there.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, and I was walking around there recently, and a lot has changed, but Grendel`s Den is still there. And, Rachel, before you go, my favorite -- my favorite line of that whole discussion with Professor Tribe was, he was my student, which, of course, was his reply to your question about the attorney general of the United States. And every time -- every time he`s here, that list, that astonishing list from Barack Obama to so many people who have been Professor Laurence Tribe`s student, the lucky people among us.

MADDOW: And we think -- you know, you think of Merrick Garland as first of all, old guy-ish, but also distinguished attorney general of the United States who had a career as a senior judge before he ever got to the attorney general office. And, Laurence Tribe was like, oh, yeah, that kid. He was all right.

O`DONNELL: He was my student.

MADDOW: It`s great.

O`DONNELL: Yeah. Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Well, Larry Elder is increasing his lead over the field of candidates who are trying to replace California`s Governor Gavin Newsom. Larry Elder is a formally reasonable conservative Republican. He used to be someone you could talk to. I did talk to him on his talk radio show in Los Angeles maybe 20 years ago.

But he is now publicly at least a full believer in the cult of Trump. And Larry Elder will become governor of California on October 22nd by winning only a third of the vote if a majority of California voters vote to recall Gavin Newsom and remove him from the governorship if they cast those votes next week.

The ballot mailed to all California voters has just two questions. Do you want to remove Gavin Newsom as governor? And if over 50 percent of voters say yes to that first question, and the person who gets the most votes on the second question will be governor, the second question which is open to all the voters, no matter who they vote on the first question, is if the person who gets the most votes on the second question is open to all voters. If the governor is recalled, who do you want to replace him?

Larry Elder is 20 points ahead of the 45 other candidates on that list. So, there is absolutely no question, none, no question, that if Gavin Newsom is recalled, Larry Elder will be the governor of California, which is why Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren went to California this weekend.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA): Governors matter too. Just consider this week what we`ve seen in Texas, a state legislature, a Republican governor, who are willing to set vigilantes loose to prey on vulnerable women who want to make their own decisions about their bodies.


Consider what we`ve seen in Florida, a Republican governor, who in the midst of the worst pandemic in our nation`s history wants to bring public schools to their knees and cut off funding if they try to keep our children and our teachers safe by wearing masks.

Make no mistake, Larry Elder dreams of being California`s own Donald Trump.


O`DONNELL: California`s senior Senator Dianne Feinstein is 88 years old. She has already voluntarily resigned from her position as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And now the possibility that Senator Feinstein might at some point have to leave the Senate for perhaps health reasons has become an issue in the recall campaign. And I want to stress that Senator Feinstein is in good health.

So, this is entirely theoretical, but it is now a political issue. And here is what Larry Elder said about replacing Senator Feinstein.


LARRY ELDER, CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: They`re afraid I`m going to replace her with a Republican, which I most certainly would do. And that would be an earthquake in Washington, D.C.


O`DONNELL: He`s right about that. It would be an earthquake. He`s right about all of that.

Governor Larry Elder could make Senator Mitch McConnell the majority leader of the United States senate. All it takes now for the Democrats to lose control of the Senate is for the Democrats to lose one Senate seat, just one.

Larry Elder is the kind of Republican who could never come close to winning a majority vote in the state of California, but he can win 33 percent of the vote. And in this recall election, that`s more than enough to make him governor. And that means the recall election is now about two people, Larry Elder and Gavin Newsom. Republicans want to remove Gavin Newsom, and Democrats want to stop Larry Elder.

The Democrats` TV ad campaign is about Gavin Newsom and Larry Elder. But they don`t mention Larry Elder`s name.


AD ANNOUNCER: Here`s what you need to know about the September 14th recall. Voting yes elects an anti-vaccine Trump Republican. Voting no keeps Gavin Newsom fighting the pandemic based on science, compassion and common sense. And here`s the thing -- if you don`t vote, we could have an antivax Republican governor of California.

So, do your part to stop the spread. Every voter will receive a ballot in the mail. Mail your ballot or vote in person on September 14th. Vote no on the Republican recall.


O`DONNELL: With exactly one week left before Election Day, the latest poll shows 53 percent of likely voters want to keep Gavin Newsom, and 43 percent want to remove him with 4 percent undecided. But that actually leaves Gavin Newsom only 3 points above the recall threshold of 50 percent. That is much too close for Democrats trying to hold on to the most important governorship in the country. And that is why Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to campaign for Governor Newsom tomorrow in the San Francisco Area.

And President Biden is expected to campaign for Governor Newsom at some point in the next week.

Leading off our discussion tonight, David Plouffe, former campaign manager and White House senior adviser to President Barack Obama. He`s an MSNBC political analyst. And Democratic California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight, both of you.

Representative Gonzalez, let me begin with you. That poll spread where Gavin Newsom is at 53 and recall is at 43, I would look at that as a 10- point spread in any other election. But in this election, I look at it as he`s just a few points above the threshold where he can be removed.

LORENA GONZALEZ (D), CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY: Yeah, the recall law in California is just absurd. And I`m hopeful that after this -- after we`re successful this time, we can revisit it because clearly, he will get far more votes than anyone else on that ballot. But that`s the first question. We have to get through that first threshold. Do you want to recall him?

And unfortunately, when you`re asking that question, people who are motivated to recall the governor are more motivated to vote than those of us who are extremely happy or satisfied with this governor and are going to vote no.

O`DONNELL: David, the indications are so far that Democrats have cast twice -- registered Democrats have mailed in twice as many votes as registered Republicans. Does that tell a story?


DAVID PLOUFFE, FORMER OBAMA CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, we still have a week to go plus Election Day voting.

Now, those numbers are a little bit behind the partisan breakdown in 2020. But 2020 was a blowout year for Democrats. So, yeah, I think in terms of the return ballots, overall that looks good. There`s some weakness amongst return ballots in the Latino community, which has to be a focus not just the next week but I think for the next generation of the Democratic Party.

I think, Lawrence, the campaign and Gavin Newsom have done a good job of turning this into an Elder-Newsom race. As an incumbent, you want it to be a choice, not a referendum. But now in the last week that ad continues to do some persuasion, and that`s important persuasion because we see what`s happening in some of the southern states and Midwestern states that have governors that would be more responsible than Larry Elder. It would keep the state and the country in the pandemic for a long time. This has now got to be turnout.

As an organizer, what you would like is to see everyone has a ballot. So, now anybody who`s not voted, you`ve got two ways to get their vote counted. You can get that ballot in the mail or dropped off between now and next Tuesday, or they can avail themselves of the polling place on Tuesday. But, yeah, so far, I think given that there was supposed to be a lot more intensity on the Republican side than Democratic side, you have to like where those returns are to date.

O`DONNELL: Representative Gonzalez, what can be done about -- I don`t know what to call it anymore here, David and Representative. Do we call it turnout or do we call it mail-in? What can be done about voter mail-in in the next week?

GONZALEZ: Well, look, we have shifted to this new form of voting where every voter gets a ballot in the mail. That`s fairly new. The last election is the first time we did that. So, there are people who are still waiting until Election Day and will go cast their ballot on election day, either holding onto their ballot that was mailed to them or going in getting a provisional ballot on election day. We know that. It`s just voting behavior.

And Latinos in particular are going to be essential are notoriously late -- our community is notoriously late for getting that in. But they`re not dumb and they know what is at stake here. So, my community is not going to be fooled by a snake oil salesman who is basically Donald Trump with darker skin, quite frankly.

And we hear. We hear everything Larry Elder is saying. You hear him saying he would like to eliminate the minimum wage. That is not going over in my community at all.

So, when it comes down to it, it`s a matter of either getting them to mail it in, drop it in a drop box, or go into a voting site on election day. And we`re going to do it this next week.

O`DONNELL: David Plouffe, the Newsom side has massively more campaign money than Larry Elder does. But is it in the interest of the Newsom side of this campaign and Democrats to actually amplify Larry Elder`s voice and actually get the word out there about what he wants so that they can get a rejection of that at the ballot box?

PLOUFFE: I think it is important. So, Lawrence, you know, the campaign, the Newsom campaign, they believe that almost 80 percent of the people that are going to vote in this election are going to be vaccinated, much higher than the vaccination rate in California, which is already quite high compared to many states.

So, yeah, I think you want to drive that. So, you`re in the last week of the campaign. You`re doing two things. You`re trying to execute on voter turnout, whether that be in person or by mail ballot. And there are still some people who are undecided. Based on the polls, there may be 4 percent to 5 percent of people who aren`t sure.

I think you have to drive a hard message. I think what is interesting, Lawrence, is this is a precursor to `22 and `24. You`re starting to see Republican elected officials, some of the clowns on the insurrectionist network Fox News already saying if Newsom survives this, it was rigged.

And so the notion that somehow this is only 2020, this is going to be in front of us at least for the next two election cycles. And we need to prepare ourselves, because if that anti-democratic side of the Republican Party were to gain power, they will challenge/contest every election. I think that`s what you`re going to see. Knock on wood, Gavin Newsom, a little more than seven days from now survives the recall, I think you`re going to see almost unanimous chorus across the Republican Party sadly. Certainly, it`s extreme elegance and the propaganda wing led by Fox, saying it was voter fraud.

But, yeah. But I think they should really -- they are right now leading with the vaccine. I think that`s really, really important because those are probably the highest stakes people can get their arms around right now.

O`DONNELL: Senator Gonzalez, is there a kind of closing message to Latino voters to get that response up?


GONZALEZ: I think there is. I think, you know, our community was hit the hardest by the pandemic health-wise and employment-wise, trying to deal with child care and everything that happened this past year. But for all the steps that Gavin Newsom took, we are in a better spot than we would have been in any other state. And we know we lived through of course four years of fear under the Trump administration. We cannot go backward.

And when we`re talking about the bread and butter issues for the Latino community, things like good jobs and health care, the accessibility to make a better life for your children, Gavin Newsom`s the one who`s going to deliver on that. Larry Elder will take us back to days we know in California as the Pete Wilson days, what we know in California is the last 40 years of Donald Trump trying to do that. But we have that guard in California, we had people like Gavin Newsom protecting us.

And so, I think with Latinos, we have to remember what`s at stake. It`s not just the vaccines. It`s not just getting back to work. It`s not just getting back to school. It`s being safe, having health care, having good jobs, good union jobs, the ability to make a life for their family.

We`ve been able to live the California dream, but that`s because of Democrats and our community knows that. They`re not going to get fooled by some Republican coming in to get rid of a governor -- and let`s start forget the people who started the recall were very clear. They didn`t do this about COVID. They didn`t do this about Gavin Newsom going to dinner. They did this because Gavin Newsom stood up for immigrants.

This was all about the immigrant agenda that California had to fight back against Trump. And the Latino community knows that. They have to be reminded of that and they will come out and vote to maintain Gavin Newsom as governor.

O`DONNELL: We will be reporting actual vote counts exactly one week from tonight. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and David Plouffe, thank you both very much for starting off our discussion tonight. Thank you.

Coming up, Republicans know how unpopular it is, to put it mildly, to prevent the victims of rape or incest or both from using abortion services. Republicans know how cruel that is. And that is why they always lie about it, always. The lie that Texas Republican governor told today is that Texas is going to eliminate rape. That`s next.



O`DONNELL: Today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott assigned a new law that will eliminate some forms of voting in Texas like drive through voting and 24- hour voting, practices that have made it easier to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is still going on in Texas and the rest of the country. This comes after Governor Abbott signed the legislation that made it effectively impossible to receive abortion services in Texas because anyone involved in providing any abortion services to anyone at any time can now be sued by anyone.

There is no exception on that law allowing abortions in the cases of rape or incest or both.

After the governor signed the bill restricting voting in Texas today, he said the next thing he`s going to eliminate in Texas is rape.


REPORTER: Why force a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: It doesn`t require that at all because obviously it provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion. Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets.

So, goal number one in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape so that no woman, no person, will be a victim of rape. But in addition to that, we do want to make sure that we provide support for those who are victims of rape.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Democratic Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher of Texas.

Congresswoman Fletcher, I want to get your reaction to the governor saying, goal number one in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape.

REP. LIZZIE FLETCHER (D), TEXAS: Well, Lawrence, thank you so much for having me tonight, and I`m glad to be with you. And I would love to see Texas address violence against women. But that is not what this bill does that he signed. And frankly it`s not seeing -- something that we`re even seeing the governor address. In fact, Governor Abbott vetoed a bill this session that would have required high schoolers to learn about the perils of domestic violence.

You know, he`s just -- it`s kind of magical thing that`s typical of approach of governing that he will give an answer that is untethered to reality of what he is doing. And we know that Texas unfortunately has not been making this its top priority. It has instead made its top priority effectively banning abortion.

And whether it`s our backlog of untested rape kits, which even our senators talked about earlier this year, to the fact that Texas had the highest number of rape cases reported in 2019, and we know many rape cases go unreported. And we know this number has gone up in recent years during Governor Abbott`s tenure.

So, I would love to see our state do that. His actions and his priorities say otherwise.

O`DONNELL: The governor got a lot of applause from all those Republicans sitting around him when he said they were going to eliminate rape. That sounds like the kind of magical thinking that they`re using when they`re writing these bills that they`re passing.


FLETCHER: Well, that`s absolutely right. I mean, the first thing he said in the clip you showed was that women will have plenty of time to make a decision about whether or not to seek abortion care because they have six weeks. If you know anything about getting pregnant, you know that six weeks is not very long, in fact, and that most women don`t know they`re pregnant at six weeks. Some doctors won`t even confirm a pregnancy for sure until seven or eight weeks.

So, what we do know for sure is that abortion has effectively been cut off for millions of women in Texas. And the other thing we know that`s particularly scary about this bill is that it allows anyone, including antiabortion activists who have no connection to patients, to act as bounty hunters. And whether they want to sue doctors or health centers or ride share drivers who take someone to an abortion clinic, they can go to court and sue.

And that`s why this bill is so frightening. These politicians, the ones who were surrounding Governor Abbott today, are trying to use this law to isolate women who are seeking abortions by targeting their support network, discouraging their loved ones and others for helping them for fear of being sued. And, you know, this is just the opposite of what we need in our government where we need people to seriously address the issues in front of us and deal with the very, very difficult choices in front of us.

That`s not what we see Governor Abbott doing. It`s not what we see Texas Republicans doing in this legislative session.

O`DONNELL: Voting Rights Attorney Marc Elias was just on with Rachel Maddow in the last hour. We filed the lawsuit today against the new Texas law on voting. He says the only way to really deal with this is for Congress to pass the For the People Act, or the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

FLETCHER: Well, that`s right, Lawrence. We have to pass voting rights legislation in the congress. And I`m proud that the House just went back in august and passed HR-4 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. We passed H.R.1 earlier this year. These have been top priorities for the Congress and we need to get them across the finish line in the Senate.

What we`re hearing from the Texas legislators today and recent days is that this bill is all about protecting the elections. And really it`s not. And the legislators and the governor have changed those stories so many times about why this bill is needed, why it`s important, and it`s because it isn`t needed.

We have heard both from federal and state elections officials that the 2020 election was the safest and most successful in recent memory. We have record turnout in Harris county, where I live here in Houston, and we saw these real efforts to make it easier and safer for people to vote during the pandemic. And our elections officials worked creatively and tirelessly to make it possible. And, you know, there just wasn`t evidence of widespread voter fraud. It`s just another effort in support of this big lie, but it has real consequences.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher of Texas, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

FLETCHER: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, the delta surge has pushed America`s coronavirus case count past 40 million. Laurie Garrett and Dr. Uche Blackstock join us next.


O`DONNELL: The United States has now surpassed 40 million total confirmed cases of COVID -9 since the pandemic began with now 40,356,294 cases so far in this country. In July of this year, it took 64 days for cases to increase by 1 million, last week cases increased by 1 million in just six days.

United States reported last week the highest weekly increase of cases of Coronavirus among those under 19 years old with 251,781 new cases from late June to mid-August. COVID hospitalizations of those under 17 years old increased nearly fivefold. The Wall Street Journal reports since the school year kicked off in late July at least 1000 schools across 31 states have closed because of COVID-19. The shutdowns are hitting classrooms especially hard in the deep south, where most schools are among the first to open, a possible warning of what`s to come as the rest of the nation students start school this month. 75% of people 18 years or older in the United States have now received at least one vaccine dose, that means that about 65 million people 18 years or older remain unvaccinated.

On Thursday, President Biden will address the nation and outline a new plan to fight the spread of the Delta variant.

And joining us now are Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize-winning Science Reporter covering global pandemics, also with us, Dr. Uche Blackstock, an Emergency Medical Physician and the Founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity. Both are MSNBC contributors.

And Dr. Blackstock, let me begin with you as both a physician and a parent, what are your concerns now with the opening of schools?

UCHE BLACKSTOCK, ADVANCING HEALTH QUALITY FOUNDER & CEO: So, thank you so much for having me on, again, Lawrence. So, you know, my children are starting school next week in New York City Public Schools. And I`m going to be honest with you, I`m concerned, it`s a very different situation than it was a year ago. We have the Delta variant and schools are opening a full in-person. So, classrooms are going to be packed and crowded.


And a lot of areas across the country, case rates are high. And it almost feels like a human experiment. And so, I`m concerned and as you noted in the opening that we`re going to see an increase in cases. And the reason why is because we still have widespread community transmission of Coronavirus. We have essentially reopened. There are no indoor restrictions. There are states without math mandates. My City, New York City does not even have an indoor mask mandate. We have a mandate for schools, but we don`t have one for the city. And so essentially, we`re seeing a patchwork of different policies that are essentially driving up cases. And what we really need, and I hope President Biden addresses on Thursday is sort of a reset, we need to talk about other mitigation policies other than vaccinations that we can just have a vaccination centric policy. We need to use other mitigation policies and policies that help support people if they need to stay home from work and have non- essential businesses in order to decrease the spread of this virus.

O`DONNELL: Laurie Garrett, what do you see coming? And I asked that because you were the first person, I heard on this network telling us to we were going to have to hunker down and choose who we wanted to be with when we hunkered down. This was before the lockdowns came. What do you see on the horizon? What do you see coming?

LAURIE GARRETT, MSNBC SCIENCE CONTRIBUTOR: Lawrence, I`m afraid. Of course, I agree with Dr. Blackstock`s assessment completely. And I`m afraid that as schools open more and more across concentrated areas of the country, large population centers, we`re going to see more rotation of virus through the community, through the households and back into the schools over and over and over again, wherever there are relaxations and mask wearing policies and wherever overall community vaccination rates are low.

What we see across America is really big geographic differences in the distribution of vaccine use, and in the willingness to abide by community protection measures such as wearing masks. And so, I think we`re going to see a really differentiated, fragmented epidemic with totally different dynamics from one part of the country to the other. And this is all going to be based on politics. It`s going to be based on political decisions that have been made by leaders in one part of the country versus another. And it will reflect, you know, deciding on the hope for economics versus the reality of the science. And of course, it`s also going to be based on certain crazy ideas about personal liberty versus community responsibility.

O`DONNELL: Dr. Blackstock, what are some of the non-vaccine approaches that need to be re-emphasized or strengthened? In addition, obviously, we`re not saying to the exclusion of vaccine, but vaccine being not the only thing that can be done.

BLACKSTOCK: Right. So, we know that multi layered strategy is what`s effective. We know that sort of, each strategy that you use has holes in it. But when you put all of the strategies together, they`re very effective. So obviously, we`ve talked about mask. Masks are not the end all be all, but they are effective at preventing the spread.

We also know that testing is incredibly important. And that`s one area that`s been, you know, really, very, quite weak. And we`ve had time to build up a robust infrastructure. And I will say, especially for rapid testing, I`ve mentioned this before on this show that we really need to get rapid at home testing in the hands of every household, people should be able to access them and access them free, because they are quite expensive when you buy them in the store, you get to test for about $25. We also need to pay attention, obviously, to ventilation in buildings, especially in offices and schools, as we`re returning back to schools and offices.

And I also think that we need to think about, you know, you have the eviction moratorium coming to an end, we have the unemployment benefits coming to an end, in the midst of, you know, hitting this 650,000, you know, Americans died from COVID-19 mark. You know, what does that say about our country that we`re withdrawing these benefits from people who actually are probably the most vulnerable in this pandemic, and more or more likely to be essential workers or low wage workers. So, I think we need to have a more holistic view about how we`re approaching this pandemic, and we definitely need a stronger federal response than we have now.


O`DONNELL: Dr. Uche Blackstock and Laurie Garrett, thank you both very much for joining us tonight.

BLACKSTOCK: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up today, President Biden toward storm damage in the northeast which suffered the worst death toll from Hurricane Ida. That`s next.



GOV. KATHY HOCHUL, (D) NEW YORK: I`m New York State Governor Kathy Hochul and this is my second week on the job. And my third visit to the street.


O`DONNELL: New York Governor Kathy Hochul`s third visit in two weeks to Elmhurst, Queens was to show damage from Hurricane Ida to President, the President of the United States.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: These waves crashed through the streets here, testing the aging infrastructure and taking lives. More lives were taken here than down in Louisiana. Let me say that again, they had over 20 inches of rain. They had 178-mile-an-hour winds -- gusts. And more lives were taken here.



O`DONNELL: Flooding last week killed 52 people in the northeast, including 18 in New York state were many of the victims died after being trapped in flooded basement apartments, including a 14-month-old baby boy, not far from where the President spoke today.

President Biden was also accompanied on his visit by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, also a New Yorker, and several members of the New York Congressional Delegation. And he drew a direct line from the storm damage to the need to pass the infrastructure bills.


BIDEN: Folks, the evidence is clear, climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, to our economy. And the threat is here, it`s not going to get any better. The question: Can it get worse? We can stop it from getting worse.

And when I talk about building back better, and Chuck is fighting for my program, our program, on the Hill, when I talk about building back better, I mean, you can`t build to what it was before this last storm. You`ve got to build better, so if the storm occurred again, there would be no damage.


O`DONNELL: We`re joined now by two people who were there today Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng who represents part of Queens, New York and New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, who represents Elmhurst, both were present today with the President.

Congresswoman Meng, let me begin with you. What did the President learn about the situation that he did not know before he arrived there today?

REP. GRACE MENG, (D) NEW YORK: Well, we really wanted President Biden to come see what families were going through on the ground since last Wednesday. I also want to thank my friend, Senator Jessica Ramos, she`s literally been on the ground, feeding families, helping to carve out garbage and clean out the water every single day. And he saw people cry. He saw people`s emotions, but no one complained. They were tough from the little kids to the seniors. And we wanted to show him that we need investment. We need to make sure that we are getting programs and access to the FEMA money as soon as possible.

O`DONNELL: Senator Ramos, so many of us feel that we know New York City well, but I don`t think any of us anticipated that that kind of death by flooding was even possible.

STATE SEN. JESSICA RAMOS, (D) QUEENS, NEW YORK: Well, Lawrence, East Elmhurst, the neighborhood right outside of LaGuardia Airport is one big bowl. And when flooding happens, the bottom of the bowl gets really, really bad. And unfortunately, this is actually going back 40 years, our sewage system was not capable of dealing with our population back in 2008, when he was just handling 2 billion gallons of sewage water every year.

Now, in 2018, we`re up to five gallons of water. And we`ve had to record breaking storms. This past week with both Henri and Ida. Times have changed. We need a green new deal to update our sewage system in order to update our infrastructure to handle the people who are living in our city. And make sure that we`re able to call this planet home for generations to come.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Meng, what surprised you the most about what you saw, and what you`ve seen in the storm damage?

MENG: It`s just been so painful meeting so many families who within just a short period of time, within minutes, saw the water come in flood their rooms, I have six constituents in my district who died and who drowned. And so, it`s really heartbreaking. We not only need a Green New Deal. We need a Green New Deal for our public schools, our transportation system. And like Senator Ramos said, our sewage system. There are too many parts of this city, a lot of these homes had previous warnings, where they were already suffering from flooding and water damage even when there wasn`t a lot of rain.

O`DONNELL: Senator Ramos, it sounds like you knew that if this storm hit in the right way, this is the kind of thing that was possible?

RAMOS: That`s right, Lawrence, we`ve been advocating for a long time for changes meaningful investments to be made in this particular part of the city. Even a few years ago when President Biden visited LaGuardia Airport, he had called LaGuardia Airport, an airport like in a third world country and we were able to update the infrastructure there. But misguided priorities have ended up with investments in air train that is really miss advised for our district.


And, you know, what we need to do is really make an investment in how our streets are able to support our people. I mean, perhaps there are streets where we can`t support people. Our earth is telling us where there`s natural catch basins, we need to make sure that our city is helping us actually clean out catch basins, before these big storms. There`s a lot to do in terms of preparedness and making sure that we`re putting together our best practices in order to prevent this from happening again. We`re expecting rain in New York City tomorrow, we`re expecting the possibility of another storm in coming days. And so, we have to operate in this mode of urgency. And I`m really thankful for Governor Hochul. She`s come out three times to the neighborhood. She understands that these changes have to be made as soon as possible. And that`s why we need those federal dollars. That`s why President Biden`s visit today was so important. We can`t allow this to continue to happen.

You know, when Sandy hit New York, we were able to help those houses achieve the resiliency they needed. It`s time for the North Shore of New York.

O`DONNELL: Congresswoman Grace Meng, New York State Senator Jessica Ramos, thank you both very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

MENG: Thanks so much.

RAMOS: Thank you for having me.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. We`ll be right back with Tonight`s Last Word.



O`DONNELL: This Saturday will mark 20 years since the September 11 attacks in the aftermath of the attack survivors and people who lost loved ones gave countless interviews. One artist wanted to know what people would share about their 9/11 experiences on their own, without being prompted by questions. Our project is showcased in the new film Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11 Produced by NBC News studios and Yard 44 Productions. NBC`s Stephanie Gosk has more.


STEPHANIE GOSK, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the days after 9/11, an artist had a simple vision, give people struggling with the trauma, a quiet, safe place to talk. Rod Sergio (ph) put a camera inside a plywood box. From New York City to the Pentagon to Shanksville. They talked, a father.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Realizing that you`re helpless is a terrible thing for a parent.

GOSK: A survivor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I took off my shoes, and I rolled up my pants there and we all crawled through the debris, smoke.

GOSK: A witness.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone literally, lost their mind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There`s 727 just run into the building.

GOSK: The massive archive of testimonials and now the subject of a new documentary Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11 co-produced by NBC News studios.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This simple wooden box which is very simple in its nature, that very bold and forward thinking and its intent to just gave this space to people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They closed the door. They switched on the button. And they said what they wanted to say.

GOSK: The producers reached out to more than 150 people who made these recordings and ask them to speak again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My friend, Lindsey Morehouse (ph).

GOSK: Including Lisa Napan (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of my best friends from school was in the second tower on the 89th floor.

GOSK: Now Lisa Ryd (ph), mother of four.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t know, I wonder if it will help them one day, like when they lose somebody who they love, they will be able to remember, it`s OK to be sad. It`s OK to grieve. Because you can also live your life and you can live your life and you can be happy too.

GOSK: While you knew it was being recorded, did it in some way just feel private enough to kind of let some stuff out that you weren`t talking about otherwise?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it felt really private and safe. It felt like I was alone with my thoughts. And it felt good to talk because I wasn`t talking to people because it was too hard.

GOSK: And it is still hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are songs that come on in the radio that just like I have to pull over and just, you know, take a moment because she loved music so much and she loved dancing and --

GOSK: There is some pain there that`s really close to the surface even though it`s 20 years later, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She just turned 24. She`s like frozen in time. So, her death was, and still remains a really challenging topic for me.

GOSK: Very little compares to the tragedy of that day. But the emotions fear, shock, and loss are all part of the human experience. The producers say that is what makes these people`s stories relatable, and even hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this is a film about resilience and how we as humans find ways to cope with our trauma and cope with our grief and move through tragedy. And even though the most traumatic thing could have happened. There is a way to get through.



O`DONNELL: Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11 premieres tomorrow night on MSNBC at 10 p.m. and we`ll begin streaming exclusively on Peacock at the same time. And after the premiere tomorrow night MSNBC`s Jonathan Capehart will host a special conversation with the filmmakers. That is Tonight`s Last Word. The 11th Hour with Brian Williams starts now.