Interview with Governor Lou Leon Guerrero of Guam. Interview with Democratic Colorado Congressman Jason Crow. Civil rights leaders urge White House to fight GOP efforts to suppress voting rights.
TA-NEHISI COATES, AUTHOR: To part with some of your material possessions. You might have to look around at your all-white school and say, I think, there`s a problem here. You know?
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: Yes, and that`s — that, I think, is — that is what the implication that people don`t like. And I — I — I get that. I can feel it in my heart, sometimes.
Nikole Hannah-Jones and Ta-Nehisi Cates, it`s great to have you both. Let`s see each other in person, soon, sometime now that we`re vaccinated.
COATES: Sorry for cutting you off, Nikole.
NIKOLE HANNAH-JONES, JOURNALIST: I`m used to it.
HAYES: See? An object lesson for everyone about how hard it is to deal with the delay that comes with the talking on television. It`s hard. It`s tricky. It`s like you get stuck in that thing where you are like this on the street with someone, you keep going the same way.
That`s ALL IN for this evening.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: The good thing about it, though, is even people who are incredibly talented and incredibly nice get tripped up in it. Even though the delay makes you feel like a jerk, when you are patently not a jerk and a very smart person. It still reaches out and grabs you by the ankle. It does. Unavoidable.
HAYES: That`s — that`s exactly right. In fact, you and I are speaking over a delay right now, which makes this exchange hard, A. And, B, I found it weirdly satisfying and delightful that those two lovely people were tripped up because it trips us up, too.
MADDOW: That`s a moral failing in you. But we can talk about that later, maybe, over the phone with less of a delay.
HAYES: True. Okay. Sounds good.
MADDOW: All right. Thank you, my friend.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Very happy to have you here.
I am going to tell one very quick Iraq story, but I am telling you it`s quick. And there`s a reason for me to tell it.
In 1996, when Bill Clinton was president, part of northern Iraq fell into absolute crisis. The First Gulf War had happened, of course, under the previous president, George H.W. Bush, Gulf War 1. In the wake of that war, the Kurdish population in Iraq had, basically, risen up and revolted against the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Saddam responded by crushing them, and millions of Kurdish-Iraqis fled into the mountains of northern Iraq and toward the border with Turkey. They were just trying to save themselves and their families. Turkey wouldn`t let them cross the border. They really had nowhere else to go inside Iraq. Meanwhile, Saddam was coming after them in a genocidal rage.
The U.N. ended upsetting up what was intended to be a sort of safe zone for the Kurds in northern Iraq. It was protected by a no-fly zone. It was an international-coalition effort with lots of U.S. aid groups providing help there, too.
And that sort of inherently unstable situation lasted about-five years. But in 1996, Bill Clinton`s now president. Saddam attacked. And the coalition forces that were protecting the Iraqi Kurds, in that part of northern Iraq, they bugged out. They left. And the reasons for that and the consequences of that are dark and complex. And that`s a longer story.
But in the immediate moment, in 1996 when that happened, the U.S. realized that it had a big, short-term, simple, urgent, moral, and strategic catastrophe on their hands. Because in the five years since Poppy Bush`s Gulf War with the Kurds rising up and not getting support from us, and then, the Kurds having to flee Saddam. And then, the U.S. helping to set up basically, this protectorate for them and that failing.
Well, over those five years, a lot of things went wrong and, again, that is a complex and dark tale. But over those five years, a very simple moral imperative came into focus for the American government and the American people, which is that the U.S. had ended up hiring and allying with a lot of individual Iraqi Kurds. Individual Iraqi Kurds were brought on, locally, as interpreters and translators which, of course, is crucial work. They were brought onboard as drivers and support staff, of all kinds. There — there was a few thousand of them who had directly helped U.S. and coalition personnel in northern Iraq over those troubled-five years.
And when the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, decided he was going to send 40,000 soldiers in, and the Republican Guard and all that, when he decided he was going to send all those in and the coalition forces left. Everybody who had helped or worked for the coalition forces in the U.S. aid groups up there, just had a bull`s-eye on them. They were marked for certain death, because they had helped us. So, clear, simple, moral imperative for the United States.
And so, in 1996, September of 1996, the U.S. launched something called Operation Pacific Haven. And it was all pulled together on very short notice but they did it.
Six thousand six hundred Iraqi Kurds and other Iraqis who had assisted American aid groups and American coalition forces in Iraq, 6,600 of them were rushed by air, they were airlifted out of northern Iraq and also Turkey to a place they could be kept safe.
They were brought here, to the U.S. territory of Guam. And those 6,600 Iraqi Kurds spent, on average, a number of weeks there, while they were vetted, while their paperwork was processed to, ultimately, allow them to come into the United States. To allow them to come into the country they had risked their lives to help, the country, which was now recognizing its debt and paying them back for that service, keeping a promise to them, for once, that we would keep them safe because they helped our forces.
This past November, November 2020, a news outlet in Guam called the “Pacific Daily News” tracked down one of those Iraqis who had been brought there as part of that airlift over that few-month period when they got those 6,600 Iraqis out of there in 1996. They tracked him down all these years later to find out how things had turned out for him.
His name is Hemmin Barzanji and in 1996, he and his whole nuclear family had been airlifted out as part of this emergency operation. It was his whole family, mom, dad, six kids. Twenty-four years down the road from that, just this past November, “Pacific Daily News” found him in Utah where he now lives. He told “Pacific Daily News”, quote: We arrived in Guam and we were shocked. It was just paradise to us.
He said that he recalled there had been more than 150 families, all, in the same, desperate circumstances. All, on that same flight with him and his family to Guam. Once they landed in Guam, they were given temporary housing. They were given medical care and help.
He said, quote, the moment we arrived in Guam, we were born, again. That is the time and the place where we got a second chance at life. He said, I, personally, would love to relive that Guam experience. We were welcomed. And the way we were situated in the place we lived. It was just amazing.
He and his family stayed in Guam, in 1996, for just under two months. They weren`t there long. But in that two months, they were given housing. They were given medical care. They were vetted. Their applications to stay in the United States were processed.
And then, they left. They were approved to move to the mainland United States and they moved to Utah. They had a family relation there. And now, two decades down the road, Mr. Barzanji, excuse me, owns and operates his own business in Utah. His brother is in pharmacy school in Utah. His sister has left Utah for Boston, because she`s in law school in Boston becoming an American lawyer.
He told “Pacific Daily News,” this past November, quote, look at us. If we hadn`t come to the States, we would all be dead.
That was how it worked, over a quick, seven-month airlift, emergency- airlift period starting in September 1996 going into the spring of 1997. That was during the Bill Clinton administration. That`s how it worked.
But that is not the only time it has worked, that way. In 1975, it was something called Operation New Life during the Gerald Ford administration, after — after the long, terrible U.S. war effort in Vietnam came to an end, it was 130,000 of our Vietnamese allies, who we brought out in a hurry. And again, Guam served as the safe safe-way point. A U.S. territory where folks could be brought safely to get them into safe housing, get them any medical care they needed, to get them nay care for their kids who they brought with them. Importantly, to get them vetted and get their paperwork and applications process so they could move on to new lives in the safe place the United States had promised them here, in America.
This was May 6th, 1975, “NBC Nightly News.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: For the next ten days, American ships like this one will be bringing south Vietnamese refugees to Guam. In all, the sea lift will add 80,000 evacuees to the more than 50,000 who have begun moving through Guam by airlift. The first evacuation ship, the American Challenger, docked at the Guam Navy Station early Wednesday morning, Guam time, with more than 5,000 people aboard. People at sea a full week but most of them in good health and happy to be safe here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Happy to be safe here. They came on the American Challenger. And again, they came, first, to the U.S. territory of Guam. They were received there, safely, housed there, safely. They got medical checkups, processed their paperwork, and then, on to the mainland U.S.
And, you know, getting on from Guam into the mainland U.S., there was more process involved there. And some people were housed in an interim way on — on military bases in the U.S., before they were dispatched to other part of the countries — other parts of the country. But we found this footage from some of those Vietnamese evacuees who had, already, been to Guam.
This was from their on-bound arrival at their next stop, which was Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. This was May, 1975.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government opened up a fourth military base for Vietnam refugees at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. And Robert Hager was there when the first of them arrived from the island of Guam.
REPORTER: This is Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The people here aren`t accustomed to large numbers of strangers and they`re apprehensive about the refugees. But today, when the first planeload of refugees arrived in Harrisburg, misgivings were temporarily put aside. It was a big, happy welcome from several thousand people. Pennsylvania`s governor, Milton Shapp, who earlier had expressed some doubts of his own.
GOV. MILTON SHAPP: You come from a land where most of us are either immigrants, ourselves, or the sons or grandsons or granddaughters of other immigrants. We will do everything we possibly can to help you get readjusted.
REPORTER: And there were signs.
This afternoon, the Vietnamese settled down at Indiantown Gap. Most of them have already been in a camp on Guam for almost a month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was May, 1975. And, you know, it — it feels like a — sort of a miracle and an utterly novel idea every time it happens. Every time we do it. But it isn`t a new invention, every time.
We have done this, before. We did it with Iraqi Kurds in 1996, under President Bill Clinton. We did it with the Vietnamese evacuees, in 1975, under Gerald Ford. We did it with Kosovo Albanians when the Serbs attacked them in 1999. Heck. Five years after the — the — you know, the marching band and the cheerleaders turned out for the Vietnamese evacuees at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, which you just saw. That same base, five years later, hosted more than 19,000 Cuban evacuees, again, for the same kind of initial processing.
We — we do this. We do this, as a country. We do this in times of international crisis. We, particularly, do this when we have people, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude as a nation because they helped us, because they provided crucial-local help to American service members at great risk to themselves in a dangerous place. And they were, then, targeted at home because they helped us.
Those people, we owe an explicit debt of gratitude to — in part, because we make them explicit promise that we will keep them safe, if they help us. Last month, the governor of Guam, Lourdes Leon Guerrero, wrote this letter to President Biden. She said, quote, Dear President Biden, I write to commend your decision to end our nation`s longest war and finally bring home our brave men and women serving in Afghanistan. This decision signifies turning a new corner in foreign policy and our nation`s return to leadership in international diplomacy.
She says, quote, recently, it has come to my attention that some congressional members have suggested that a task force be established for the visa management and evacuation of our Afghan partners during this drawdown process. And in particular, that Guam be considered a temporary transfer site before our allies move to permanent locations within the United States.
Guam has stood ready to serve as a safe-and-secure route for this type of humanitarian effort throughout our history. And today, it is no different. I assure you that my administration is preparing to assist — excuse me — I assure you that my administration is prepared to assist in executing your plans on this matter, should Guam be chosen. If such a decision is made, I respectfully ask that I be part of critical discussions concerning Guam`s role and any related task force, should one be established.
So, that — that was last month. The governor of Guam writing to President Biden. Guam has stood ready to serve as a safe and secure route for this type of humanitarian effort throughout our history. Today, it is no different.
Today, President Biden gave a speech on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, after 20 years of war there. And you can tell which parts of the speech, today, were where President Biden was sort of really swinging for the fences.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How many more? How many thousands more Americans` daughters and sons are you willing to risk?
How long would you have them stay? Already, we have members of our military, whose parents fought in Afghanistan 20 years ago. Would you send their children and their grandchildren, as well?
I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan, with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Biden, today, explaining why he is bringing American troops home, after 20 years of fighting in Afghanistan and a trillion dollars spent. And will we leave our allies there? The people who helped us there, to be hunted down and killed as we leave? Or will we get them out? Like we have proven we can do, in conflicts in the past.
He spoke to that today, as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: Starting this month, we`re going to begin to relocate — we`re going to begin relocation flights for Afghanistan SIV applicants and their families who choose to leave. We have a point person in the White House and at the State Department-led task force coordinating all these efforts.
But our message to those women and men is clear. There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose. And we will stand with you, just as you stood with us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose. We will stand with you, just as you stood with us. American veterans of the war in Afghanistan have been reacting all day and pressing on this issue because, obviously, the time sensitivity of it.
American veterans and advocates on this issue have been pressing, wanting more details on how this is going to work, how fast it`s going to work. I will tell you, there was a State Department briefing after the president`s speech today that was a bit of a bloodbath with reporters really aggressively demanding to know what this means. How exactly the Afghan translators who helped U.S. troops are supposed to get out? And when? And where they`re going to? And who is going to be running it?
But the commitment from the president is there, on the record. There is a home for you in the United States, if you so choose, and we will stand with you, just as you stood with us. The promise, explicitly is there. The commitment is there. The devil, certainly, is in the details. And time, certainly, is short.
And right now, the person who may be the critical link between that promise from the president and the moral necessity of us keeping that promise and keeping it well, and quickly. The person who may be that crucial link is a woman named Lou Leon Guerrero, the governor of the beautiful and resourceful and incredibly strategic U.S. island territory of Guam.
Governor Guerrero joins us now live from Guam, where the 14-hour time difference makes this an unusual logistical challenge. It makes me all the more grateful, Governor, that you are able to be here.
Thank you so much for being with us, live, tonight.
GOV. LOU LEON GUERRERO (D), GUAM: Thank you for having me, Rachel.
And I so enjoy your documentary (ph). Moving forward with the — the Operation Pacific Haven and the Operation New Life, brought back some sad memories. But also, happy ones.
MADDOW: Well, tell me — given that experience, tell me about your decision to write this letter to President Biden. Obviously, these discussions started in Washington. Afghan — Afghan war veterans in the Congress talking about Guam`s previous experience with evacuees from war zones like this.
Tell me about your decision to write to President Biden to say that Guam stands ready to help. And that you want to be included in this planning. Is this a controversial decision in Guam? Is this something that the people of Guam feel like they`re capable of doing and eager to do?
GUERRERO: The decision was made because I wanted to, maybe, offer our perspective. And maybe, to provide some detailed information that would make it a bit smoother, maybe. And what do you do after the Afghanistans (ph) come here? How does the community play? And what role does the community have in this whole ally help to our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan, who, like you said, have done a lot for the U.S. and now, it`s time to give back to them.
So, that`s what prompted my decision to write to President Biden. But even that, Rachel, I have already gathered our cabinet members. I have been talking to military. I have been talking to our National Guard and preparing for when that decision is made. because if you, also, realize in Ocean Pacific — sorry — Operations Pacific Ocean, I think Guam was given, like, maybe four days to prepare. But I think we were, already, preparing before that.
So, like you said, we have had historical experience. We have gone through the process. And believe me, our people will, certainly, play a very significant role in the smooth and, you know, the unfamiliar transition of those people that will be coming.
MADDOW: And have you heard anything from the administration that you can share with us? In terms of the decision — where we`re at in the decision- making process? Whether, indeed, your offer to help will be — will be acted on by the — by the administration? We`ve, obviously, heard that commitment from the president but we haven`t heard details about where the evacuees are, exactly, going. And whether they`ll, all, go to one place, or whether they might be dispersed to multiple locations.
GUERRERO: I have no official word in those decisions. I don`t know if even they already make a decision as to where they`re going to relocate or what site that they are going to use. I`ve been in communication with our military partners here. And they, also, do not have any, official word.
But I do know that they are, also, preparing, just like we are. And we`ve been in communication with them to see what — what we can do to make it much better and smoother transition, Rachel.
You know, I just wanted to, also, say that the people of Guam have been a people who have experienced war, who have experienced the atrocities of war. In fact, we are, just now, going on a memorial trail to, again, celebrate and remember our loved ones that have died and have suffered tremendously during war. And so, with that, we are very — we have the sensitivity. And we are very welcoming and we would like to do whatever we can, again, to make the lives of those people, like you said, with the Kurds and — who came in and they felt that they were born, again.
MADDOW: Governor of Guam, Lou Leon Guerrero, Governor Leon Guerrero, it is an honor to have you with us tonight. This is such an interesting moment and such an urgent moment for the country. Your willingness to share your perspective and potentially to play an incredibly key role in America making good on this promise is an inspirational thing. Thank you for being here tonight.
GUERRERO: Thank you for having me, Rachel. And good evening to you.
MADDOW: Indeed. Thank you, very much.
That 14-hour time difference does make things feel inside out, sometimes, doing these logistics.
But I want to now bring into the conversation, somebody else who has a different perspective on this because of his own — his own life.
Democratic Colorado Congressman Jason Crow served both in the Iraq war and in the Afghanistan war as an Army Ranger, as a member of the 82nd Airborne. In Congress now, he is a member of the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees.
Today, in response to President Biden`s speech, he said: My own service in Afghanistan made it clear to me that if there was a military solution to the war in Afghanistan, we would have found one years ago. That`s why I have supported President Biden`s decision to withdrawal U.S. combat forces and bring our longest war to an end.
Congressman Jason Crow, thank you so much for being here tonight. I know it`s a big day.
REP. JASON CROW (D-CO): Thanks, Rachel. Appreciate you having me.
MADDOW: First, just want to ask, as an Afghanistan veteran and somebody who is really involved in the veteran`s community. I just have to ask if there`s emotion. If there`s — if you`ve got strong feelings, today, seeing the war wound down by this president after all of the American sacrifice there and after the pieces of your life that were left there, yourself?
CROW: Yeah, Rachel. There`s a variety of mixed emotion that — that I and many other Afghan war veterans are experiencing. It started when the president announced the withdrawal, a couple of months ago. I had another moment, when I saw that last flight leaving Bagram Air Base, last week. That was a base where I have spent a lot of time in my life in the past, and again, today.
So, there is a lot of emotion. And I agree with the president, wholeheartedly that it`s time to bring our troops home. That doesn`t mean we`re going to abandon Afghanistan. Doesn`t mean we`re going to, you know, leave them to their own against the Taliban. We`ll continue to support them but we just can`t continue to do this.
You know, a lot of — so many Americans have left their lives, their loved ones, pieces of themselves and pieces of their heart in Afghanistan. And — and I, certainly, can sympathize with that. So it`s a difficult time. But it is time that we focus on what we can do in the next couple of months. What we can do is we can have some honor in making sure we`re doing right by our partners.
MADDOW: Well, to that end, obviously, the president made this eloquent commitment, today. There will be a home for you in the United States, if you so choose. We will stand with you, as you stood with us.
That`s a firm and — and, I think, unequivocal commitment from the president. That said, the people who have been working most closely on this issue told us, today, that they want more details, that they want more concrete information.
You just heard from the governor of Guam there. Even with her saying Guam stands ready and I support this and we will make it happen, if Guam is going to be the place to which these interpreters and their families are evacuated. Nobody seems to have details. The plan seems to be more of a commitment than an — a set of actions. I wonder, if you share that perception? Or if there`s more being done, that we can`t see?
CROW: Well, there is more being done that isn`t public, yet. And right after the president announced the decision to withdraw, I formed the Honoring Our Promises working group in Congress that has over 20 members, Democrat and Republican. Many of us, veterans, including Vietnam veterans, who have really come to this issue knowing their own experience. And the pain they suffered seeing their friends being left behind.
So, we`ve — we formed this working group, we have actually passed one piece of legislation, last week, to greatly expedite the SIV process. We`re going to take up another bill to increase vastly the cap for SIV visas and expedite the process further. I have been in regular contact with members of the National Security Council, the State Department, the Defense Department, some of the leads of these interagency task forces.
There is actually a lot of machinery that is ramping up right now. I think you are going to see a variety of options that are going to be used, including Guam, including military facilities in the Middle East, including the use of humanitarian parole to bring vetted applicants directly to the United States. You are going to see an all hands on deck and all the above approach to that.
But there is some operational sensitivity. You don`t want to announce those plans because you want to be able to allow those applicants to make their way to Kabul, and to get them, safely, out using commercial airlift.
But again, my — as a member of Congress, my job is not to just rubber stamp the administration and just say they`re doing a great job. My job is to continue to push, and I am not going to take their word for it. I am going to continue to push along with the other members.
MADDOW: In terms of the process, thus far, we saw the president, today, say that there is a point person at the State Department. There was a very spicy State Department briefing after the president`s speech today in which they identified that point person, the spokesperson for the State Department, was really pressed on that.
I feel like, as — as an observer from the outside, knowing what I know about the history of these matters but not, necessarily, understanding what — what we`re, operationally, doing right now, and maybe, it makes sense that I don`t know all those operational details because nobody in the public eye should.
I do worry that the — that time is ticking here. The U.S. withdrawal of troops has been fast, as the president said today, speed is safety. And the way the withdrawal has gone, with over 90 percent of U.S. forces already gone, it`s been done in such a way that no-U.S. forces have lost their lives, for example, as part of the withdrawal process, that far.
But the faster they go, the more urgently Afghan allies and interpreters need to get out of there. And I`d — I feel, looking from the outside, that whatever you`re describing in terms of how much work is being done. It doesn`t feel fast enough. It doesn`t feel like, when the president today talked about Afghan SIV visa holders, you know, taking commercial flights out of Afghanistan, that — that doesn`t feel like the right-first step. I feel like there ought to be airlifts that we`re seeing.
CROW: Yeah. It — it is not fast enough. And, you know, don`t get me wrong. It needs to be faster and I have been very disappointed that it took us this long to get here.
You know, we should have been here two months ago, right after the announcement of — of the withdrawal because not every day is equal, right? We don`t have the footprint. We don`t have the military forces. And what we are seeing is a degradation of the security in the outlying provinces. So those SIV applicants, those translators who live outside of Kabul, it`s going to be hard for them to get to Kabul.
The Taliban has taken over roads. They`re setting up checkpoints. Things are getting worse and worse, by the day. So the ability to conduct an evacuation now is going to be different from the ability to conduct an evacuation in August and September or October or November. It`s going to get worse, with each-passing month.
So, not every day is equal here. It needs to happen and I do think that we need to have additional-military resources including military airlift brought to bear with this issue.
MADDOW: Colorado congressman, U.S. veteran, Jason Crow — thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. It`s a pleasure to have you here. I know it`s a sort of solemn day, today, for you and your fellow Afghanistan veterans. Thanks for sharing some of it with us.
CROW: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: On that last point about the speed of this evacuation, what Congressman Crow just said there is undeniably true, doing an evacuation right now. Getting it up to speed right now is going to be hard. It`s going to get all the more harder with each-passing week and all the more dangerous for all the Afghan translators and their families that are left behind.
The governor of Guam is waiting for a call. We just heard. She says Guam stands ready. They are preparing, on their own, but they haven`t been notified that anything`s going to happen.
If this is going to happen fast, somebody should call her. Let us know if you need her number.
All right. Much more to come here tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Less than six weeks ago, in Texas, Democrats in the legislature there successfully beat back what might have been the most severe voting restrictions proposed by Republicans anywhere in the country this year, so far. The Democrats in Texas staged a dramatic walkout at the 11th hour. It was a tactical surprise to the Republicans. And it ended up torpedoing the anti-voting rights bill, the Republican were, otherwise, on track to pass.
With their walkout, six weeks ago, the Democrats forced the Texas legislature to adjourn its 2021 session, without having passed that anti- voting rights bill.
Well, starting today, Texas`s Republican governor, Greg Abbott, has called the legislature back for a special session, a so-called extraordinary session. So, Republicans, among other things, can take a second shot at getting those voting restrictions in place before the next election.
And so, with the new, special session, today starts round two. Democratic lawmakers came back to the state capitol in Texas, again, today, ready to fight, again, against that same legislation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STATE REP. JASMINE CROCKETT (D), TEXAS: When I looked at the proclamation, it said that he was calling this for extraordinary reasons. That`s what — that`s the language of the proclamation. In the last ten years, the growth in this state has been because of black, brown, and Asian folk. That is who is growing, in this state. Texas has more African-Americans than any, other state in this country.
So, all of a sudden, it`s a — an extraordinary issue that we, now, need to change the rules to voting.
STATE REP. RON REYNODS (D), TEXAS: We`re here to say, not on our watch. We will not allow you to re-envision Jim Crow 2.0. No, it`s not a poll tax or a literacy test. It`s not how many bubbles in a bar of soap. But it is voter suppression.
You can`t tell me that there is a reason why we`re eliminating 24-hour voting. Why we`re eliminating mobile voting. Why we`re doing things to make it — put criminal penalties for helping people to vote.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Texas Democrats, today, at the start of this special session called by the governor to try to get a voting rights restriction bill through by hook or by crook. So the — the fight is joined, once again, in Texas, today. We will see what Texas Democrats can do to try to stop this.
But it`s, of course, not just happening in Texas. Today, Vice President Kamala Harris, appeared at Howard University. She announced a $25 million expansion of an initiative in the Democratic Party to promote voter education, voter protection, voter registration, across the country, all, to try to blunt the effects of some of these new voter-suppression laws that Republicans are passing all across the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your vote is your power. And so, I say, don`t let anybody ever take your power from you. Don`t let anybody take your power from you, especially, the power of your voice.
We will not let anyone take away our power, and that`s why we are, all, here together today. We`re not going to let that happen.
And so, we need to fight back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We need to fight back.
Later in the day, today, Vice President Harris and President Biden held a close-door working meeting at the White House with a number of civil rights leaders and voting rights advocates about what, exactly, that fight back looks like. How to get through this impasse? How to come up with some way to fight this battle, even as Republicans, in state after state, pass new voting restrictions. Federal legislation that would backstop voting rights, that would protect voters across the country, remains apparently inexorably stalled in the United States Senate.
I will tell you, that those leaders and activists who met with the president and vice president at the White House today. They came out of that meeting sounding ready to fight, saying that they think President Biden agrees with them. That voting rights is an emergency that needs immediate action.
What does that mean, though, in terms of what can be done? When you run up against a wall, you can`t go through it, you have to go over it, under it, or around it. What`s the plan?
One of the people who was in that meeting with the president and vice president, today, at the White House, is going to join us here, live, next.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WADE HENDERSON, LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE ON CIVIL RIGHTS & HUMAN RIGHTS: I think it is noteworthy that president Biden convened this meeting because he recognizes that this moment facing the country is an existential threat to American democracy, as we know it. This is not a partisan issue. This is not about the divisions between Democrats and Republicans. This is about a far-broader threat facing the nation, as a whole, and democracy, as we understand it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: This afternoon, President Biden and Vice President Harris hosted, at the White House, a group of eight civil rights leaders, including Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Reverend al Sharpton, and the gentleman you just saw there, Wade Henderson, interim president of Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
The topic on the table today was voting rights. The meeting was on the president and vice president`s schedule for one hour. But they took almost twice that, almost-two hours.
Joining us now is Wade Henderson, the interim president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. He was there, at the meeting, today. Sort of dying to know how it went.
Mr. Henderson, thank you so much for being here tonight. I know it`s been a long day, already.
HENDERSON: Good evening, Rachel. And thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So many people around the country, right now, are despondent over what`s happening with voting rights, with this sense that Republicans are on the proverbial warpath to revoke voting rights. The sense that the courts have been neutered and, in any case, have lost their will to try to protect voting rights. And that the Congress feels like it`s mired in an impasse that`s not going to result in them providing any help, otherwise.
I think there is a lot of despair, on this issue. And I don`t think very many people are talking about paths forward, that — that feel very hopeful. Did any of that make its way into that meeting today at the White House? Can — can you share, with us, sort of the contours of that discussion?
HENDERSON: Well, Rachel, you are correct in characterizing the threats that Americans see and feel about our voting system. We are under attack, like never before, certainly, not in modern times. And, I think, the threat that democracy faces in this country is really an existential problem that we must address, if we`re going to preserve democracy, as we know it.
I came away from that meeting encouraged, in part, because the president and the vice president and their team convened this meeting to discuss an issue that we share in common. That we view, as being a system under attack. But secondly, because there was a real belief that we, who are advocates for change, have to take direct action if we are going to be effective in rolling back what we see happening, at the state level in the courts and the failure of Congress, particularly the Republican Senate to address these issues.
So, we had a full and open conversation about how to address some of the challenges that you have outlined. One of the things we mentioned — go ahead, I`m sorry.
MADDOW: Excuse me. I — I didn`t mean to interrupt you. It`s the awkward delay. Please, continue with your thought.
HENDERSON: Well, I was going to mention that one of the things we talked about was the importance of congressional action both on the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
And while, certainly, the For the People Act appears to be stymied, at least for a time in Congress. We don`t have to spare in that regard. We believe that, slowly, progress is being made.
I commend our Majority Leader Schumer for his effort to try to bring this bill forward. But we recognize that much more effort is needed. And so, we are, meaning the groups that you mentioned at the White House today, are meeting with Republicans. We are meeting with Senator Manchin. We hope to have a meeting with Senator Sinema.
And we will be engaging, in a summer of direct action in an effort to highlight the importance of this issue. And what is needed to help turn it around. For example, next week, a group of black African-American women will be leading a week of action in D.C. that they hope will help give voice to the concerns of African-American women, and will help propel this issue to the front of people`s agenda.
On July 17th, the first anniversary of John Lewis`s passing, the Leadership Conference, the organization that I represent, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, is convening a set of actions around the country. We call these good-trouble vigils in honor of Mr. Lewis and helping to revive his commitment to voter empowerment, in a very direct way. I am pleased to note that we are working with the John and Lillian Miles Lewis Foundation, which is an indication of how serious these issues are.
And, of course, later this summer, on August 28th, Reverend Sharpton and Martin Luther King III will convene a meeting around voting rights act in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial, highlighting these issues, as well.
So, this is a summer of action, devoted to preserving our democracy. And we think that that action is absolutely essential if we are going to make change that we need.
MADDOW: Mr. Henderson, you mentioned meeting with Republicans, as well as meeting with Senator Manchin, Senator Sinema, who have been two senators who have been, obviously, crucial in the Democrats` inability to even get it together on their own side, to support the for the people act in the Senate. I know that some of the attendees at today`s meeting said at the press conference afterwards that they are willing to sit down with Mitch McConnell to discuss voting rights legislation, if — if he`d be willing to sit down with you.
Do you have meetings with Republicans scheduled? Have you approached Senator McConnell`s office? Is there any crack of an open door there to have this discussion with members of the GOP?
HENDERSON: Well, it`s not entirely clear. We have had two meetings with Senator Manchin, for example. And in the second meeting, the senator brought 13 Republican senators to the table to have a discussion about some — about his version of the for the people act and some changes that he was willing to pursue, if it brought additional-Republican support to the effort.
Now, while that meeting did not produce individuals who announced their support for the bill. We`re, certainly, prepared to pursue that. Now, you know, there`s some skepticism about whether we will get Republicans to support this effort. I, certainly, think that`s the case because if you look at what`s happening, Rachel, in the states. And your program has given air to this, over the last-many weeks. We see Republican-controlled legislatures enacting provisions that, obviously, would make it — create barriers to access to the ballot in a very serious way.
It`s unlikely, in my view, that Republicans in the Senate, particularly having heard Senator McConnell`s admonition against supporting this effort, we — we — it`s going to be difficult to get a breakthrough. But having said that, we`re prepared to try.
We think it`s important to pursue all avenues that may lead to a successful enactment of the For the People Act and the John Lewis bill. But at the same time, Rachel, let me say, time is of the essence. We really don`t have a great deal of time to devote to that effort, if it proves, you know, fruitless.
And so, while we are prepared to meet, we`re not prepared to string this process out, indefinitely. Because we recognize that the calendar is the enemy of a bill that will address what we see happening in the states today.
MADDOW: Wade Henderson, interim president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — Mr. Henderson, it`s an honor to have you with us tonight. Thanks for helping us understand that important discussion and — and the road ahead. Appreciate it.
HENDERSON: Thanks, Rachel. It`s an honor to be with you.
MADDOW: All right. We have got much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.
MADDOW: On January 7th, the day after that mob of Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol, the Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy announced the unprecedented decision that in response to the national security threat presented by the January 6th attack, a 7-foot tall unscalable fence would be put up around the entire U.S. Capitol.
The fence, in fact, went up that same day, January 7th. Now, six months later, it`s still there. But apparently, it`s finally going to come down. The House sergeant at arms saying today that removal of the fence around the Capitol will start tomorrow. It could take up to three days, depending on the weather. That`s welcome news that they feel like it can come down.
Then, of course, right on cue, the news gods threw us this. A pro-Trump U.S. Senate candidate in Florida, a guy trying to primary Marco Rubio out of his Senate seat says he is holding a Free Our Patriots rally at the Florida state capitol this weekend. Demanding that all of the January 6th rioters that have been arrested should, all, be released. Calling the January 6th Capitol attack a false flag organized by the FBI.
Now, part of this is funny because the January 6th rioters are charged federally. So this is banging on the wrong door to show up at the Florida state capitol and demand that Florida`s governor do something about these cases he isn`t remotely involved in.
But it`s, also, a great diagnostic of how this story is evolving right now in the Republican Party, right? On the one hand, the FBI has arrested more than 500 people. Congress has, sort of, finally, agreed to do a bipartisan investigation. Things are calm enough according to the sergeant at arms that the Capitol police can start taking the fence down tomorrow.
On the other hand, Trump supporters are now starting to hold rallies calling the January 6th riot a false-flag op, demanding the release of the rioters. And at least one Republican U.S. Senate campaign is being built with that, as its core platform. Six months in.
Watch this space.
MADDOW: That is going to do it for us tonight on this fine Friday eve. I will see you again, tomorrow, on actual Friday. Uh-huh. Here it comes.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL.”
Good evening, Lawrence.