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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, September 25, 2020

Guests: Adam Smith, Maria Echaveste, Sarah Longwell


President Trump is using all the levers of power at his disposal to help his effort to remain in power by signing meaningless order on pre-existing conditions, by his DOJ politicizing ongoing investigation into discarded ballots, giving aid to Puerto Rico two years after Hurricane Maria, and refusing to commit peaceful transition of power. Republicans use misleading line to dodge questions about unequivocally respecting election results. Former top aide to VP Pence, Olivia Troye, assailed President Trump's response to the pandemic. Troye said the COVID task force doctors faced "political and internal pressure" on public messaging and that President Trump failed to protect the American public because he only cared about himself and getting re-elected.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: It's going to be very busy over these next few days. Again, we are expecting the president to announce his Supreme Court nominee tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Multiple sources are reporting that it is likely to be Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who is considered to be an archconservative and a particular hardliner on the issue of abortion rights. She has also been very outspoken in her public remarks that the Affordable Care Act should be eliminated. She's excoriated Chief Justice John Roberts for his earlier vote to keep it in place as law.

Again, that's tomorrow. That announcement from the president is expected at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. And then right after the weekend, on Tuesday, it is the first presidential debate. No rest for the weekend or for any of us.


MADDOW: That's going to do it for us tonight, though. I will see you again here on Monday. Now, it is time for "The Last Word" with the great Ali Velshi, filling in for Lawrence tonight. Great to see you, Ali. Thanks for being here.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Rachel Richie (ph), it was a great interview with Olivia Troye, notwithstanding her own observations.

Just the idea -- I think you said it at one point in the interview, that it is our first glimpse inside how that has happened over the last eight months, how those decisions, which we only see later in a speech by the president or a press release, and we're puzzling at a press conference and we're puzzling as to how they got to that point.

It was remarkable to get inside, get behind that curtain a little bit. So thank you for bringing that to us, Rachel. You have a great weekend.

MADDOW: Thank you.

VELSHI: As you said, a busy week for you next week.

All right, later this hour, we are going to break down Rachel's bombshell interview with Olivia Troye, which just ended. Our producers are going through that right now with some of the pieces that we want to hear again and share with you again.But with all due respect to my friend and colleague, the great Rachel Maddow, tonight is a night to flip her motto on its head. Watch what they say, not what they do.

President Trump is using all the levers of power at his disposal to help his effort to remain in power. He's taking actions that could, if you don't consider them carefully, look good in a headline, but upon closer inspection, they are mostly meaningless.

Take Trump's big health care announcement in North Carolina. He signed an executive order with great flourish that he claimed would protect people with pre-existing conditions. That's a joke. I think I can think about a stronger word for it than joke.

It is an order that holds no legal weight, first of all. What does hold legal weight is that his administration is in court right now, fighting to repeal Obamacare, which actually at its heart was designed to protect people with pre-existing conditions, something that the Trump administration has actively fought to eliminate.

Or look at Trump's justice department making scary claims about Pennsylvania election officials throwing out ballots of Trump voters. It was a shocking claim that was deliberately misrepresented. Trump's DOJ politicized a still-pending investigation by sending out inaccurate press release that allowed Republicans to shout about Democrats and ballot fraud.

The truth in this case is much less nefarious. A temporary worker accidentally discarded a small number of ballots and election officials -- quote -- "did not know which candidate the mishandled ballots were cast, until the U.S. Attorney's Office disclosed it." Once again, a great headline that falls apart when the facts come out.

On the off chance that Trump does something that actually helps people like his pledge to give billions in aid to Puerto Rico, the benefit of that aid to Puerto Rico is secondary. The main purpose is helping Trump's re-election.

It's been two years since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. And now, he cares about the island. It is great that Puerto Rico is finally getting help, but Puerto Rico is getting help because Trump thinks it will help him win votes.

Don't watch what they do. In this case, watch what they say. Watch what Trump and the people around him say they are doing.

This week, Trump refused to commit to accept the results of the election if he loses, and he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. His attorney general has lied again and again about voter fraud, claiming widespread fraud exists when it does not.

This morning, Trump's chief of staff tried to dismiss comments made by the director of the FBI because the director said that he had seen no cases of widespread voter fraud.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your own FBI director says he has seen no evidence of widespread voter fraud by mail or otherwise.REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC): Well, with all due respect to Director Wray, he has a hard time finding e-mails in his own FBI, let alone figuring out whether there is any kind of voter fraud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)VELSHI: Oh, snap. Why does the chief of staff think he knows more than the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation about this? Now, we have to listen with care when we say, watch what they say, because not every example is as blatant as Trump's, or in this case, Mark Meadows. Take for instance Mike Pence. The vice president said this last night.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: President Trump and I will accept the results of a free and fair election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)VELSHI: Don't be mistaken. That is not a commitment to accepting the results of the election. This isn't an internationally monitored election. Free and fair are for team Trump apparently in the eye of the beholder. Trump will define those two terms as he sees fit. All signs indicate that nothing short of a Trump victory will be either free or fair in his mind. Think that sounds extreme?

Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the judiciary committee, says he will only accept the results of the election if the Supreme Court decided the outcome.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): We need a nine-person Supreme Court, and people wonder about the peaceful transfer of power. I can assure you it will be peaceful. Now, we may have litigation about who won the election, but the court will decide. And if the Republicans lose, we will accept that result.

(END VIDEO CLIP)VELSHI: Courts do not decide elections in America. People do. The idea of a high court with six Republican-appointed justices, three chosen by Trump himself, overruling the will of the American electorate is terrifying. He appears to take it as a given that Trump will fall short, challenge the results, and turn to the federal judiciary as part of a bid to stay in power.

This is what we should be focused on. Republicans are taking meaningless actions meant to sound meaningful to win votes. But if those actions aren't enough, Trump will just call the election a sham. And his justice department and senior Republicans have indicated that they will go along with that plan. Republicans are telling us what they're really up to, and we should listen.

This is a fight for democracy. The lies, the deceit, and the schemes are authoritarian tactics that strong men use to remain in power. The United States of America is not an authoritarian government, we hope, we think. Terrifying to think what this country could be facing in November until you remember the truth of the matter. And the truth of the matter is that the system is not great.

We must remain vigilant. All of us must be vigilant to make sure that every vote gets counted and every voice is heard. And it starts with being an active voter, not just a voter, following every single direction on a mail-in ballot, using the right envelope, signing the right pages, and then tracking that ballot to make sure it is received.

It means making a detailed plan on Election Day if you plan to get to the polls. It means doing whatever you can for yourself and those around you however you can to make sure that this president and his lackeys cannot fix the vote.

To be clear, this doesn't mean Donald Trump can't win the election fair and square. What it means is that should -- fair and square should be the only way that Donald Trump wins. Not through lies, not through deceit, not through authoritarian tactics, but through letting the voters be heard.

If you don't believe me, maybe you will believe Joe Biden talking earlier today to my friend Stephanie Ruhle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Twice now President Trump has refused to agree to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. What are you going to do if you win and he just won't leave?JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Well, number one, the American people aren't going to be shut down in this election. They're going to vote. They're going to vote in large numbers. And this is just not going to be denied. And it is going to be clear from the beginning exactly where this is going.

I just think the people in this country are going to be heard on November 3rd. Every vote in this country is going to be heard. They will not be stopped. And I'm confident all the irresponsible, outrageous attacks on voting, we will have an election in this country as we always have had, and he will leave.



VELSHI: Stephanie is joining me on Velshi at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow and her full interview with Joe Biden will air as part of the L'ATTITUDE national business conference. MSNBC will have full coverage tomorrow on "Weekends with Alex Witt" at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

Leading off our discussion tonight is Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Washington. He is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thank you for being with us.

It is becoming hard to keep up with what the president is saying and what the president is doing. He is making promises that he didn't see fit to push through his legislation in his three and a half years as president. And at the same time, he is making no promises to do the one thing upon which our democracy depends, honor the election and leave office leave office if you lose.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D-WA): Yeah. It is frightening the way he is approaching this. But also, it is clear (INAUDIBLE) I was watching your program yesterday. So this is from a position of weakness. Trump knows he's losing. He's desperate. So he is, you know, he is sending money to Puerto Rico. He is trying to act like he's actually doing stuff, when he never has.

And then he is trying to undermine the election to put himself in a position, as Lindsey Graham said, to use the court to veto the will of the voters. And we need to stand up against that loud and consistently now through Election Day and beyond.VELSHI: I want to ask you, as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, about reporting in The New York Times that Pentagon leaders fear that Trump will threat, send troops into the street. Let me read you from this.

Senior leaders at the Pentagon, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that they were talking amongst themselves about what to do if Mr. Trump, who will still be president from Election Day to inauguration day, invokes the Insurrection Act and tries to send troops into the streets.

Several Pentagon officials said there could be resignations among many of Mr. Trump's senior generals, starting at the top with Gen. Milley, should troops be ordered into the streets at the time of the election.

I mean, on one hand, I like it that people who don't agree with the president would resign, although I'm not sure in that moment I want military leaders to resign if the president is using the military inappropriately.

SMITH: Yeah. I agree with you. What I want the military to do is uphold the Constitution and uphold the law. That's what they told me they will do. There are couple different pieces of this. One is the fact that Donald Trump will be president until January 20th. You serve one president at a time.

But the second big piece is the military has made clear to me, and we have had conversations about this, they will not follow an illegal order. They will not follow an order that would illegally help the president overturn the election. They will uphold the Constitution. They will uphold the laws.

I think the big thing we need to focus on is the state by state election to make sure we get every vote, to make sure they're counted, because remember, the federal government doesn't even actually certify the elections. It is the states that certify the elections.

And if the states certify the elections, then we will have the free and fair election that we know we're going to have and we have always had. That's what we need to stay focused on.VELSHI: And you are confident about this, that when things start to look wrong or go wrong because we don't want to start discussing this on November 4th or 5th or 6th, you are confident that people will make the right decision? People who have access to the levers of power will make the right decisions.

SMITH: I am confident of that. Fortunately, it isn't up to the president, and it's not even up to Bill Barr. It is up to a lot of officials in states. Ultimately, it is -- it is up to the judiciary if they want to insert themselves. The judiciary is loathed to overturn elections.

Keep in mind, let's say there is a contested election in Pennsylvania, are the courts in Pennsylvania going to want to overturn the election? It is because they won't just be overturning it for precedent. They will be overturning it for their state, for members of Congress, for state legislators.

They will be casting their state into chaos because of the president's paranoid conspiracy theories in his desperate attempt to overturn the Constitution to hold on to power.

I just don't think there are people who are going to follow him down that road. But we have to be vigilant. We have to report on it, like you are right now. We have to have lawyers in the precinct by precinct, state by state, to make sure that the ballots are counted properly and that we are prepared to repel all of these legal challenges.VELSHI: We will certainly do our side on reporting on it consistently --

SMITH: Thank you for that.

VELSHI: -- and regularly. Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for joining us, Congressman Adam Smith.

Joining us now is Maria Echaveste, the president of the Opportunity Institute, former deputy chief of staff to President Clinton. Also Jon Meacham, Pulitzer-winning historian and MSNBC contributor. He is the author of "His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope." Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Jon, let me start with you, because you and I have often talked in the last three and a half years about how as a historian you're writing and watching history as it's unfolding.

Now, we're asking you to actually look at history 40 days from now and beyond because we're starting to see the outlines, the rough sketch of something that most Americans cannot believe that they might have to contend with.

JON MEACHAM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Samuel Taylor Coleridge had one of the great definitions of history. He talked about how it was like a lantern on the stern and we could see what course we had come. But that lantern can cast light forward as well. And as you say, we have talked about this a lot.

The lantern on the stern of Coleridge's boat tonight tells us that we have three and a half years of, to put it kindly, wildly unconventional and often unconstitutional action on the part of a president and a base of support that are both more interested in the acquisition of power than they are in the ordinary conventions of governance and democratic practice.

And so I don't think it's overly predictive. This is not Johnny Carson and Carnac here. We have an extraordinary amount of evidence, including, as you were saying a moment ago, the president's own repeated statements, to worry. We have sufficient cause here. There is probable cause for a kind of national vigilance about this election.

I wish I were as confident as Chairman Smith, but I am less so. Not least because it is not a federal decision, a federal gesture that would suddenly sort of brass light bring order to chaos to lot of different states. There is unevenness, frankly, of talent in those state positions. We saw that in 2000.

And if you don't think the courts can insert themselves into this, ask my friend and neighbor Al Gore how that works out.VELSHI: Right, right.MEACHAM: So, there is a lot to worry about here.VELSHI: Maria, fascinating that we are having this discussion. I just can't even believe we're saying the words we're saying, that we are looking for assurances from senior leaders in the military and possibly the secretary of defense and homeland security about what they may do if the wrong thing happens on -- sometime between November 3rd and January 20th.

The fact is we are being brought to question these things, and a lot of people, political activists are saying, well, just vote in numbers that are large enough not to make this close. That can't actually be the answer in a democracy. In a democracy, the person who gets one more vote wins or in the case of the United States, one more electoral vote wins.MARIA ECHAVESTE, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think actually this is -- democracy is being put to its test and it's actually falling on us as everyone has pointed out.

The federal government, the justice department, they don't certify the votes, right? It comes down to every state. It is actually a weakness in our government that it comes down to counties and how they run their elections.

But it also means that the people have the absolute power to exercise their right to vote and need to do that and need to do that in as high a number as possible to make it clear.

But the point I want to make is that we know three and a half years this president misstates, lies, lives in an alternate reality. And when you deal with someone who has those kinds of issues, a truly delusional sense of his role in government, his powers, what we need to do is stay calm, is to have faith in our institutions.

And by that, I don't mean just quietly sit back. I mean exercise and give strength to those institutions, including the press, which is reporting, rightly so. But also, we do have decentralized elections. And that means we all have an opportunity to be vigilant and to make sure, as you said, Ali, have a plan but also to be there to be ready to help people who may not be able to get to the polls or who have trouble understanding their mail-in requirements.

VELSHI: Right.

ECHAVESTE: And I'm not being Pollyannaish. I was there in December when the Supreme Court ruled. And I want to be clear. It is not because the judiciary is going to insert itself. It is rather that we know that someone, if it's close, someone is going to go to court.

VELSHI: Mm-hmm.

ECHAVESTE: And I'm going to trust -- I have to believe that the justices will, in fact, uphold the Constitution because that is what they have sworn to do. That is what this country has, institutions that have stood for more than 200 years.

VELSHI: But for the complexity of casting the ballot, which has changed because of coronavirus, John, the rest of the stuff that the president is talking about and has been talking about for several months is a fiction.

Because for all the things he can say about the electoral system, and there may be judicial or other fights after November 3rd, the activity, the democratic activity that each American can engage in is the same as it was four years ago, 40 years ago, and 200 years ago. It is the casting of a ballot.

So the bottom line is if Americans can do what Maria says, go out there and cast their ballot sometime between now and November 3rd, in the end democracy still survives.MEACHAM: Yes but. And history turns on yes but. One thing is the casting of ballots has been an essential element of the American experiment. But 200 years ago, it was a limited franchise.

It's only been 99 years since Maria was allowed to vote and it's only been since 1968 when in my native region, we have had presidential elections that have unfolded without apartheid, right? 1968. The 1964 presidential election unfolded under apartheid.

So this is not -- and I'm relentlessly hopeful on this. But I am not relentlessly optimistic because the story of the country is a painful and often provisional progress.

And one of the absolutely essential elements in making a Constitution as the one that we have now, which is amended and is actually being put into practice because the 15th Amendment was ignored for so long, but after 1965, we got a little bit better at it, is the character of all the actors in the drama.

And it is the character of the voters to be, as you are saying, to be determined to stand in those lines as long as it takes. Everybody needs to help everybody get out there to register their will at the polls, all that said, though, it does require the character of those who do the counting and do the reporting, and most important do the accepting of that result.VELSHI: Yep.

MEACHAM: And so, character is destiny.

VELSHI: Well, we have a little time for all of us to figure what our character is and how we are going to do this. But the bottom line is we know what our responsibilities are and may we carry those out. Thank you to both of you. Maria Echaveste and Jon Meacham, thank you for joining us.

Coming up, we are going to have more on Rachel's big interview tonight with former Pence aid, Olivia Troye, who is explaining publicly why she's now supporting Joe Biden for president. We are going to talk with one of the original founders of Republican Voters Against Trump, next.

And later, the plea for explanations out of Louisville. The family of Breonna Taylor wants evidence to understand why no one faces criminal charges in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. We'll go live to Louisville for the scene there tonight.


VELSHI: Donald Trump is doing everything in his power to run a campaign to undermine the results of the election if he loses.

But the president's ongoing refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power has some Republicans pushing back on Trump. Olivia Troye is a life-long Republican from Texas who recently decided that she had had enough.

Olivia Troye was Vice President Mike Pence's lead staffer on the Coronavirus Task Force. After leaving the White House in August, she joined Republican Voters Against Trump to warn Americans about the dangers that she saw first-hand working in the Trump administration. You can see them in these pictures here.

Here is what Olivia Troye told Rachel Maddow earlier tonight about witnessing political pressure put upon White House Coronavirus Task Force doctors.


OLIVIA TROYE, FORMER TOP AIDE TO VP PENCE: I saw a lot of political pressure and dynamics on the doctors on the task force first-hand. There was certainly a lot of internal pressure from various senior political figures in the west wing. I saw the doctors bullied at times. I saw them at times have to really stand their ground and fight.

And sometimes, when they did that, it meant that most of you probably didn't see them in the press briefing the next day because they had probably said something that was a little bit too forthcoming and very true and it wasn't in line with their message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)VELSHI: Olivia Troye also explained how Donald Trump undermined the credibility of the coronavirus response during the White House task force briefings.


TROYE: He undermines the credibility of when the doctors then get up and speak because at that point, he has told millions of Americans some false -- basically false lie. I mean, completely lying to the American people. Some of these people listen to this.

When you are the president of the United States, people are tuning in. I mean, they're going to believe you. And this is part of the reason why this pandemic response has been so bad. How do you counter that when the number one person at the top is saying these things?(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: Joining us now is Sarah Longwell, a Republican strategist and the founder of Republican Voters Against Trump. I have said -- Sarah, thank you for being here, by the way. I have said many times and I said it on Twitter, there is no benefit to this country to not have a functioning Republican Party that stands up for conservative principles and stands in debate with Democrats about the way to approach things.

But this election is not about that anymore. This election is not about ideological positions or political parties. It seems to be about democracy versus a slide into authoritarianism.

SARAH LONGWELL, REPUBLICAN VOTERS AGAINST TRUMP FOUNDER: Yeah, that's right. This election is about whether or not we can preserve this great democracy, which it turns out is slightly more fragile than some of us had thought.

And that's why it is so important that so many Republicans are speaking up in that moment and especially people like Olivia, people like Miles Taylor, people like Elizabeth Neumann who are actually inside the Trump White House and who frankly stand to lose a lot by speaking out.

But they are coming forward because they believe that Americans need this information before they cast their vote in November. You know, Olivia's entire career was defined by trying to keep Americans safe. She joined the Coronavirus Task Force because she wanted to help make sure that Americans were safe. But Donald Trump undermined their work at every turn.

She -- you know, you could just tell when you watch her that this is something that is very hard for her. She's not used to the limelight. But she was so alarmed by what she saw that she just feels like she has to speak out in this moment.

VELSHI: I don't know if there are a lot of Lawrence's viewers here who are uncertain about who they are going to vote for. I don't know that there a whole lot of Americans who are -- there seem to be six or seven percent, depending on whose numbers you believe, people who are still trying to make up their mind, which I find fascinating.

But everyone knows someone who has got a lot of excuses for why they need to vote for Donald Trump. These might be normal Republicans like you were people who shared ideological positions or conservative positions with the Republican Party.

What road map can you give those people to say you can't vote for Trump now, one day you will be able to vote Republican again, one day the Republican Party will rise like a phoenix from the ashes, but it's not going to be on November 3rd?

LONGWELL: Yeah. I mean, look, Donald Trump, first of all, he's not a Republican. He is not a conservative. He has done more damage to the long-term prospects of the Republican Party than anybody I can think of.

And what I would say to Republicans in this moment, you know, voting can be very tribal. Politics has gotten very tribal. It's gotten very partisan. And Republicans have sort of talked themselves into this idea that, you know, it is not that they're exactly for Trump. It is more that they're really against those Democrats and somehow the Democrats are worse.

That is simply -- there is just no way that you can watch what this president does, see how incompetently he's handled the coronavirus, see how often he lies, how he cozies up to dictators. This is just not a moment for partisanship. It is a moment to think about your country, to identify as an American before identifying as a Republican and to say, this is enough.

We -- look, and you can -- you can have a temporary relationship with the Democrats. You don't have to sign on for forever. This can be about one election, and it's really about preserving democracy in this moment and making sure that Donald Trump doesn't get a second term because if you think things have been bad for the last four years, when he is unconstrained over the next four years, I shudder to think what it could look like.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: And that is a place in which Republicans -- traditional conservatives, can come together. They can say that's not what this republic is meant to be.

LONGWELL: Absolutely. And in fact, lots of Republicans are. I mean, you know, we started Republican Voters against Trump essentially to give people a home where they could talk about why they didn't support Donald Trump and in fact were going to, you know, do the sort of uncomfortable thing and vote for Joe Biden.

And when we started the project, we had about a hundred people who'd send in testimonial videos talking about why they couldn't support Donald Trump. But now we have over a thousand after just a couple of months and we have all these former Trump officials who are also coming forward to explain why they can't vote for Donald Trump.

And you see it every day, another Republican coming out to say that they just can't support Donald Trump and that they're going to support Joe Biden, because this is just a moment where actually a lot of conservatives and Republicans can come together and say, this isn't who we are and this isn't what we stand for.

VELSHI: Sarah, thank you for joining us tonight. Sarah Longwell is one of the founders of Republican Voters against Trump.

All right. Coming up next, the protests in Louisville. The family of Breonna Taylor and the governor of Kentucky are all on the same side tonight, demanding answers on why there was no justice for Breonna Taylor.

We'll be live in Louisville next.



JACOB BLAKE, SR., FATHER OF JACOB BLAKE: Why in 2020 am I having to tell you that we're human beings.



Say her name.

CROWD: Breonna Taylor.

BLAKE: Say her name.

CROWD: Breonna Taylor.

BLAKE: Say her name.

CROWD: Breonna Taylor:


VELSHI: That was Jacob Blake Sr. speaking today alongside the family of Breonna Taylor and their attorneys. His son Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha Wisconsin last month.

Here are live pictures from Louisville, Kentucky tonight where demonstrators there gathered for a third straight night protesting the decision by a Kentucky grand jury to bring no charges against three officers in connection with the police shooting death of Breonna Taylor. As you could see, police have set up barricades around the city and the demonstrators have been dispersed.

The family of Breonna Taylor is calling on Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron to publicly release all evidence and the full transcripts of the grand jury proceedings as the community looks for answers and demands accountability for a justice system they say failed Breonna Taylor.

Wearing her niece's EMT jacket, the aunt of Breonna Taylor read the message today on behalf of Breonna Taylor's mother.


BIANCA AUSTIN, AUNT OF BREONNA TAYLRO: I was reassured Wednesday of why I have no faith in the legal system, in the police, in the laws that are not made to protect us black and brown people.

I knew Cameron would never do his job. But what I do know is that him and countless others will go to bed sleeping with Breonna's face, still hearing her say her name.


VELSHI: A curfew in Louisville went into effect at 9:00 tonight and has been extended through the weekend. At least 24 arrests were made last night, including of the state representative, Attica Scott, Kentucky's only black female legislator.

Joining us live now from Louisville is NBC News correspondent Shaquille Brewster who unfortunately is -- has seen too many of these this summer and he knows what these protests look like and the anger in the community.

Shaq, what's going on there?

SHAQUILLE BREWSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well Ali, you may hear the helicopter above me. You see some of the police presence here behind me. But it's been a relatively quiet night here on the streets of Louisville. That's despite the concern that you heard from the mayor who said that with the weekend there will be more people, more people coming in from out of town, creating those larger demonstrations.

You know, officials have asked people to pretty much get off the roads, stay off the streets once that 9:00 p.m. curfew set in. and what we saw tonight was actually as that 9:00 p.m. curfew sits (ph) protesters left the main square where that has become the memorial for Breonna Taylor and marched about a mile down the road to a church and have been holding the demonstrations on the property of this church about 100 to 150 people there chanting and still calling for change.

And you know, Ali, today was an incredibly emotional day. We heard for the first time from the family of Breonna Taylor since that grand jury decision not to charge any of the officers directly for her death.

And you know, as you mentioned, you heard the family call for transparency. They wanted those transcripts of the grand jury decision and proceedings to be released because in the words of Benjamin Crump, the family attorney, they wanted to make sure that someone was there advocating on behalf of Breonna Taylor and talking about her life and her connection and loss of life with that raid back in March.

You know, I met with and spoke at a demonstration earlier with Attica Scott, that state representative who not only was one of the two dozen people arrested yesterday but who's the author of "Breonna's Law" and that call for police reform here in the state of Kentucky.

Listen to what she told me just a couple of hours ago.


ATTICA SCOTT (D), KENTUCKY STATE REPRESENTATIVE: You see it here. It's peaceful, but it's been the police who's responded with violence, all right, unnecessarily.

I mean we were headed back to the square. So there is absolutely no reason for their flash bangs. So I truly believe that the mayor has to get the police under control so they will stop being violent.


BREWTER: Now, we do expect protests to continue tomorrow and through the weekend. That curfew remains in effect through the weekend. And it is -- I should remind you as you go through downtown Louisville, businesses are still boarded up. You see the check points.

This is a check point blocking traffic in and out of the downtown area, so there is still a heavy police presence. Police are making clear that they are enforcing that curfew and that they want to keep the peace even as people continue to come out and exercise their First Amendment rights in the name of Breonna Taylor, Ali.

VELSHI: Shaquille Brewster, thank you, my friend. Good to see you. Shaquille Brewster in Louisville, Kentucky.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis -- the summer where we lost icons, but the lessons of their lives were to push on and fight on until you literally have no more life in you.

That's next.


VELSHI: This summer has left us with enormous pain. More than 200,000 Americans dead from COVID. Families reeling from the empty chair at their tables and our country struggling through the loss of two icons, John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Both fought literally until their last breath to bring us closer to equality. And while we grieve their passing, we need to find resolve to continue their fight.

Now more than ever, we must carry their legacy with action. That's what John Lewis told us to do when he wrote his last words in an essay published in the "New York Times" on the day of his funeral.

Here is part of that essay read for THE LAST WORD" by John Lewis's friend and admirer, Morgan Freeman.


MORGAN FREEMAN, ACTOR: Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe.

In my life, I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and non-violence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.


VELSHI: Now it is our turn to let freedom ring. As John Lewis told us, we must get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

Today Ruth Bader Ginsburg made history again as the first woman and the first Jewish person to lie in state at the capitol of the United States.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready, step. Ready, step. Ready, step. Ready, step.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From the narrow straits, I call out to you. You, God, answered me with expanse.

In the chambers of Justice Ginsburg hangs a framed piece of art that reads -- "justice, justice, you must pursue". Today we stand in sorrow and tomorrow we, the people, must carry on Justice Ginsburg's legacy. Even as our hearts are breaking, we must rise with her strength and move forward.

She was our profit, our North Star, our strength for so very long. Now she must be permitted to rest after toiling so hard for every single one of us.



VELSHI: Justice, justice, you must pursue. And she did pursue. Ruth Bader Ginsburg gave her best to America. Ginsburg and Lewis confronted discrimination with tenacity. Theirs is the example that we must follow in this moment. They didn't give up. They fought until the very end.

They taught us that when times get hard, we must channel our despair. Use our pain as fuel to organize, to vote, to listen, to inspire, to speak up and most importantly to love. Many have already donated in record amounts in the hours after the death of Justice Ginsburg, but this is just the beginning. How else can we continue the work of these two giants?

After the work, we're joined by Melissa Murray and Maria Echaveste who will help us find that inspiration as we look at the Empire State Building in New York City tonight in red, white and blue in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.


VELSHI: In 2015, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked her advice for young people.

JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.


VELSHI: Joining us now is Melissa Murray a law professor at New York University. She's a former law clerk to Justice Sonia Sotomayor when she was at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. And back with us, Maria Echaveste, former deputy chief of staff to President Clinton.

Welcome to both of you. Thank you both for being here.

Maria, you and I had a conversation at the top of the show in which we talked about -- we sort of ended on the idea of what is left for us to do. Despite all the bickering and that talking about not giving up power if Donald Trump wins the election, in the end there is responsibility for voters, for average Americans and the inspiration for that comes from John Lewis. And it comes from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who just never gave up. They had a right to rest long before they did.

MARIA ECHAVESTE, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Absolutely. And one of the things that John pointed out was that, in fact, yes, women only got the right to vote a hundred years ago, and the Voting Rights Act was 1965.

So it hasn't -- the founding documents have shown an ability to adapt, to respond as our country, as our society develops, and that's really, I think, what I want to focus on. Is that it is in our power. Those things didn't happen by themselves.

Women fought to have the right to vote, and Justice Ginsburg used the law to make sure that women had equal rights. John Lewis fought to have the right to vote.

So I think it's just a lesson for us that it is in our hands to really help this country be the best that it can be and not give up even in these times when you are facing leaders who are lying and have distorted view of reality.

We need to look at the facts. We need to look at what we can do at a local level, at a state, and, yes, definitely at the national level. But never give up is the lesson I take from both of those inspiring leaders.

VELSHI: I think the lesson that other folks need to take, Melissa, is the point that these rights didn't fall upon us. They were all hard fought despite the fact that there was a constitution, people had to fight hard for what they have.

There's a beautiful picture that Reuters published of a little girl saluting Ruth Bader Ginsburg's casket on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court wearing a superwoman costume. This little girl seems to understand the work that has been done and the work that is required to be done.

The rest of us need to understand in preparing for our ballots that this does not happen to us. It happens because we fight for it.

MELISSA MURRAY, LAW PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: That's exactly right. Both John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg read people of color, read women into the constitution. John Lewis' bravery on the Edmund Pettus Bridge fueled the passage of the Voting Rights Act. And Ruth Bader Ginsburg raised her voice up in dissent to defend those rights in 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted an essential provision of the Voting Rights Act and Shelby County versus Holder.

So we, going into this election have an obligation to the memories of both of these giants to do what we can to not only exercise our right to vote but to protect the rights of others to do so as well.

VELSHI: Maria, on December 14th of 2018, marking the 227th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, Justice Ginsburg spoke -- she conducted a naturalization ceremony for 30 people from 26 different countries, and she made this observation about her own life. Let's listen.


GINSBURG: What is the difference between a bookkeeper in New York City's garment district and a Supreme Court Justice? One generation. My own life bears witness. The difference between the opportunities available to my mother and those afforded me.


VELSHI: One generation. The difference between the opportunities afforded to my mother and those afforded me -- which by the way didn't automatically come. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to fight for those all the way.

It's a message we still have to take today. It's a message voters have to carry now with 40 days -- 39 days, whatever it is, before the election, that you want your children to have more opportunities? You need to vote. You want more opportunities than your parents? You need to vote.

ECHAVESTE: Absolutely. And I think what we're really facing in this moment is we've had over 40 years of a steady tilt towards an individualistic view of our society. You're poor because you made the wrong decisions. You know, the president constantly calls people losers because somehow, they're not as successful as he is.

What we're actually talking about is putting back "out of many, one". That is we are really building a society, and we have to build a community. And when we vote, when we vote for leaders who are going to address our health care, our housing issues, our national -- our need for child care, all those things, we are voting to make our country a better place.

VELSHI: Melissa, there's a lot of despair in the country right now, particularly after this last week where we're seeing democratic institutions bend under the pressure of this president. What do people need to think about the fact that tomorrow we are going to have an appointment for a new Supreme Court justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

MURPHY: This will be a pivotal appointment, shifting the tilt of the Supreme Court from a 5-4 conservative majority to a 6-3 super majority. This is absolutely huge. And again, the issues of minority rule versus majority will are really on the table. If you care about the Affordable Care Act, if you care about reproductive rights, if you are part of the majority of the country who believe in these things, then you should be concerned about a court where a bare super majority of nine people can write these out of existence. And that's exactly what we're seeing here -- the court being used as a way to impose and to install minority rule.

VELSHI: Thank you to both of you. Melissa Murray and Maria Echaveste, we appreciate you being with us tonight.

I'll see you back here tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. Eastern.

And that is tonight's LAST WORD.

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


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