MTP Daily, Transcript 5/26/2017
Show: MTP DAILY
Date: May 26, 2017
Guest: Leon Panetta, Matthew Continetti, Anita Dunn, Nathan Gonzales,
NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: That does it for this hour. I`m Nicole
Wallace. “MTP DAILY” starts right now. Hi, Chuck.
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Hi, Nicole. Hey, how about the Rev.?
WALLACE: No one interrupt – no one interrupt the Rev.
TODD: I`ve had that – I`ve had that problem with the Rev. But you`ve got
to let him finish. That`s – you`ve got to let the Rev. finish. Amen to
All right, thank you, Nicole.
Well, if it`s Friday, the White House`s Russia war room will be up and
Tonight, as the president returns to Washington, we are learning just how
close to home the FBI`s Russia investigation is getting. We`ll talk to
former CIA director and defense secretary, Leon Panetta, in an exclusive
Plus, a big Republican win in big sky country. Republican Greg Gianforte
wins the House special election despite an Election Day assault charge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG GIANFORTE (R), MONTANA REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT: And for that, I`m sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you`re forgiven.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: But the Democrats made huge gains. So, which party is truly feeling
Later, the 2016 election that never ends.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They may even call you
a nasty woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.
Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to a Friday MTP
DAILY. Tomorrow, it`s welcome back to Washington, Mr. President and
welcome back to the chaos that you left behind.
If you want to get a sense of what the president is coming back to, just
look back at what he left.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I`d like the get your reaction to Deputy
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein`s decision to appoint a special counsel.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The entire thing has been a
witch hunt. Believe me, there`s no collusion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you, at any time, urge former FBI Director James
Comey in any way, shape or form to close or to back down the investigation
into Michael Flynn?
TRUMP: No, no. Next question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: All of that was the day before the president left town.
Folks, the president`s first overseas trip then gave him and his staff a
welcome vacation from the Russia feeding frenzy. The trip started fairly
well but it`s arguably ending in a Trumpian fog of chaos in part thanks to,
guess what? Russia.
Here`s the bottom line. The Russia issue was thrust back in the spotlight
in the second half of the president`s trip abroad. And it`s likely going
to dominate the conversation again when he gets home tomorrow but for
Yesterday, the president met with NATO leaders in Brussels where the issue
of Russian sanctions were raised. The White House then told reporters that
the U.S. position on Russian sanctions was that we don`t have one.
Gary Cohn, the National Economic Council Director, told reporters, quote,
“We don`t have a position on Russian sanctions.”
Now, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Mike McFall, called that answer
Today, Gary Cohn offered a clarification.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Let me make just make one
clarification from yesterday. I may have not answered the question – I
thought I answered it very clearly, but let me make it clear, on Russia.
We`re not lowering our sanctions on Russia.
If anything, we would probably look to get tougher on Russia. So, I don`t
want there to be any confusion on that topic. And my fault. I should have
just been much clearer.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TODD: It`s a fittingly strange way to cap off the president`s European
portion of this trip which has arguably turned into a bit of a problem or
border line disaster.
The president shoved the prime minister of Montenegro. It becomes symbolic
of the NATO`s stop itself. He berated our NATO allies over their financial
commitment to the alliance. He didn`t reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the
core principle of NATO. He criticized our German as very bad on trade,
according to German media.
And to make things even stranger, the White House said he confirmed those
comments. Then, hours later, suggested Mr. Trump never said them.
The president also landed in a little bit of hot water with Britain`s prime
minister because of U.S. intelligence leaks surrounding the Manchester
By the way, though, the tough talk on NATO politically will play pretty
well with much of the president`s base. But still, it is adding to
uncomfortable ties in Europe.
Now, all of this chaos with our European allies is happening amid confusing
White House statements about how tough we`re going to be on Russia.
And, speaking of Russia, as you know, NBC News, we`ve been recording that
Jared Kushner, the president`s son in law and one of his senior advisors,
arguably the seniorest of senior advisors, has come under FBI scrutiny in
the Russia investigation, according to multiple U.S. officials.
So, tomorrow, the president comes home to that. And the chaos he left
behind, the FBI firing, the special prosecutor, the allegations of meddling
in the Russia probe are going to be there waiting for him, too.
And the White House realizes this and they`re readying up for a war on all
of this. Just moments before we came to air, my colleague, Peter
Alexander, reported that the White House is indeed setting up a war room on
It`ll be headed by Jerad Kushner, Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon. As
aides prepare for what they`re describing as a, quote, “new reality” after
the appointment of Bob Mueller, the special counsel.
Joining me now is Leon Panetta. He is – it`s going to take me about an
hour to get me through his resume here. He`s a former secretary of
defense, a former director of the CIA, a former chief of staff to a
president who also had to deal with a special counsel. Oh, by the way, he
was also a member of Congress. Oh, and did I say an aide to a Republican
president once, too?
Mr. Secretary, always good to see you, sir.
LEON PANETTA, FORMER DIRECTOR, CIA: Nice to be with you, Chuck.
TODD: Let me start – we`re going to start in, sort of, backwards
chronological order on your resume and your expertise. I want to start,
first and foremost, with the NATO – the NATO speech that the president
made and the discomfort that our European allies have.
But at the same time, is there any part of what the president did in
delivering, I guess if you wanted to be generous, tough love to NATO allies
that could actually be effective?
PANETTA: Well, you know, at least in my experience, if a president is
going to make points that may be uncomfortable with the people you`re
talking with, you usually make those points in private, not in public. In
public, you reaffirm the relationship and the alliance.
And I think it would have been better for the president to have reaffirmed
the NATO alliance, reaffirm the fact that we abide by Article Five. And
make clear to the world that we stand with the NATO alliance and with the
history that that alliance has provided, in terms of providing security to
Europe against Russia.
TODD: Are you concerned that had the perception that the president isn`t
necessarily fully on board Article Five, when it comes to, say, an Estonia
is going to something that is going to tempt Vladimir Putin to test that?
PANETTA: Well, that`s the concern. Because I think one of the things that
Putin has sensed, in the last few years, is that the United States is weak
in responding to Russia.
And so, he`s been taking advantage of it whether in the Crimea or the
Ukraine or Syria or in these intelligence attacks against the United
States, trying to interfere with our elections.
He`s obviously been very aggressive. If he reads the tone of this meeting
as somehow raising a question as to whether the United States will stand
with Article Five and will stand with our NATO allies, that could be
trouble for the future.
TODD: All right. Let me move now to put on your intelligence hat. And I
want to get to this issue that`s been – one aspect of the Russia
investigation that`s been percolating this week. And that is this
potential that it was actually fake intelligence or fake potential e-mails
that motivated then FBI Director Comey to essentially take the decision
process over whether to prosecute – or the announcement of the decision on
the Clinton part of e-mail investigation to essentially take that away from
the Justice Department.
And what`s – wait, look, “The Washington Post” and CNN are reporting that
it`s – that they thought it probably wasn`t true, that there was somehow
Justice Department collusion with the Clinton campaign. But they were
concerned about it anyway.
How troubling is it if the FBI is essentially making decisions based on
fake intelligence if they know it`s fake intelligence?
PANETTA: Chuck, what we`re hearing is the most convoluted reasoning I`ve
ever heard from the FBI. I cannot – I cannot imagine that the FBI would
allow something that they knew was fake and was something that the Russians
were trying to issue, to influence what would happen in this country, that
they would allow that to, in fact, influence a decision a decision by the
FBI on an investigation. That just doesn`t make sense to me.
TODD: Look, I know you didn`t work directly with Director Comey. Does
this sound like a way he would operate?
PANETTA: No, it really doesn`t. Based on his reputation, based on the
kind of integrity that I think he`s shown throughout his career, in terms
of calling issues the way he sees them.
And that`s usually the way the FBI operates. Normally, if the FBI
determines that there`s a violation of law or there`s evidence to prove a
violation of law, then that`s what they say and that`s what they go with.
They don`t try to manipulate a presentation, based – certainly based on
something that they know to be fake. I don`t get that.
TODD: I guess, look, my concern over this is I feel as if any FBI
investigation now becomes tainted in the eyes of many in the public.
And it – could we get – be at a point where even if there is a definitive
charge that is made by Bob Mueller, the special counsel, or by the FBI,
that you`re going to have a lot of the public question it and not believe
it because there seems to be such concern about how the FBI operates?
PANETTA: Chuck, I think what all of this proves is that the Russians were
very successful in their attempt to destabilize our country and undermine
credibility in our basic institutions.
If anything, Russia has taken a lot of satisfaction over listening to how
they were able to manipulate the FBI with regard to an investigation. This
– you know, this is disturbing, in terms of our national security that the
Russians were so successful at being able to influence what happened in
And it`s for that reason that we are dealing with a very serious national
security issue. And we have an obligation to the American people to
determine what happened and how we prevent it from happening in the future.
TODD: Let me – now put your former White House chief of staff hat on.
When you became chief of staff in the Clinton White House, there was an
outside investigation that was rattling the White House a little bit. You
were brought in, essentially to try to bring some adult supervision to the
– to issue.
We now know this White House is, sort of, accepting reality now and has to
set up a war room. You know, what`s the best way to do this? How do you
compartmentalize as a White House under investigation?
PANETTA: Well, the most important thing in this kind of situation is not
to let an investigation totally dominate everything that`s happening in the
White House. The president of the United States has a responsibility to
deal with a lot of issues confronting this country.
He`s got an agenda that he wants to get through the Congress. He`s dealing
with foreign affairs issues. He is dealing with crisis. That`s what a
president ought to focus.
And if this investigation dominates a White House and has everybody running
around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to deal with that, it
So, the best thing to do is to put this investigation into a separate area.
If they`re establishing a war room, that`s fine, to be able to focus on it.
He`s got, I assume, lawyers that will deal with issues, regarding that
The best thing to do is to separate it from the responsibilities of the
presidency. Allow that investigation to go its course and do your job as
president of the United States.
TODD: Well, give some advice to a Reince Priebus. You probably had a
president that would fume at something the special counsel did, that would
fume at media coverage, that would want to respond.
And we have since heard stories about how angry then President Clinton
would get at some aspects of things. Obviously, we know President Trump`s
upset about how this investigation goes, how this played.
He hasn`t kept it under wraps. How hard was that for to you keep it under
wraps for Bill Clinton?
PANETTA: Well, you know, presidents are human beings and they react
emotionally to issues that bother them. And President Clinton was no
different, I`m sure from other presidents, including President Trump, with
regard to those kinds of issues.
But you are president of the United States. And your first responsibility
is to be president. It`s not to react emotionally to issues that pop up
So, my responsibility, as chief of staff, was to focus on what is the issue
that we want to emphasize that the president wants to emphasize on that
particular day? Is it an education issue? Is it a foreign affairs issue?
Is it going on a trip?
Focus on that issue because if you simply allow the president to react
emotionally to what concerns him, then that will be the headline the for
day. And that`ll hurt his agenda and his mission as president.
TODD: What`s your confidence level in President Trump right now, as
command-in-chief after his first trip overseas?
PANETTA: Well, you know, I`ve said this before that I think this is a tale
of two presidencies. On national security, I feel like he`s got a pretty
good team working for him. They do present positions that are more in line
with, kind of, the traditional positions that the United States ought to be
taking. And he does seem to be listening to them. Sometimes not all the
time but at least he`s listening most of the time.
On the domestic side of it, I don`t see that. I don`t see anybody who`s
got political experience, who has experience running a White House.
I sense that there is a lot of competing centers of power within the White
House and it`s creating a chaotic background to try to support the
president of the United States. And if that continues, I think this
presidency is going to be chaotic into the future.
TODD: As I said at the top, I wanted to use different parts of your resume
to ask you about different issues that we`re dealing with right now. And
the final one has to do with, sort of, our coarsening politics.
And later in the show, I`m going to indicate that patient zero in our
polarized politics may have been something took place while you were in
Congress. And that was the dispute over what was known as the bloody
eighth, the Indiana eighth congressional district. And it took over a year
to decide who won.
You know – and I know sometimes we like the say, oh, in the good old days
things ought to – compare that moment. Number one, was that the moment
that, sort of, launched the polarizing nature of the House at least and
deteriorated relationships. And it, sort of, launched Gingrich? Do you
buy that, that that was patient zero here?
PANETTA: No, not necessarily. I think – I think there were a lot of
factors at play that created this divisiveness that we see today. Part of
it was, you know, just the way Newt Gingrich handled himself and went after
the institution of the Congress. The whole issue with the House bank that
he raised. The whole issue, you know, dealing with this election.
But, more importantly, just, I think, the attacks that were made that were
really undermining the relationship between Democrats and Republicans that
historically have created bipartisanship.
Add to that money, add to that sound bites in the media, add to that a lot
of other issues and that`s the result we have today which is a very divided
country, a very partisan Washington, and a very dysfunctional Washington,
in terms of governing.
TODD: Well, I didn`t want to limit this to a sound bite. That`s why we
did 15 minutes with you, sir. Leon Panetta, I`m not going to bother with
all the titles. Just one of the Washington wisemen who is wise enough to
know he should be living on the west coast. Mr. Panetta, thank you, sir.
PANETTA: Thank you, Chuck.
TODD: You got it.
PANETTA: Thank you.
TODD: Coming up, Republicans held onto that congressional seat in Montana
but what does that tell us about the wave that Democrats have been hoping
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Great win in Montana.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Welcome back.
Despite the controversy and despite the political environment, Republicans
won another special election last night, just one day after their candidate
was charged with misdemeanor assault. Republican Greg Gianforte captured
50 percent of the vote. The Democrat, Rob Quist, got 44 percent and a
libertarian, Mark Wicks, got six percent.
It was only after he won and after polls closed that Gianforte apologized
for allegedly assaulting a reporter who tried to ask him a question about
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIANFORTE: I took an action that I can`t take back. And I`m not proud of
what happened. I should not have responded in the way that I did and for
that I`m sorry.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you`re forgiven.
GIANFORTE: I should not have treated that reporter that way. And for
that, I`m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs. That`s not the person that I am and it`s
not the way I`ll lead in this state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Remember, when you take the oath of office to preserve and protect
the Constitution, you know what that first amendment is.
So, who should be happy tonight? The Democrats who came closer to winning
than they have in past elections or the Republicans who had to spend big to
win a usually safe seat but came out on top in the end?
And what does the answer to that question tell us about 2018 and the fate
of the House? We`re going to have a dive into that coming up.
TODD: Welcome back.
Chaos at home, chaos abroad, Trump in trouble, intel leaks, FBI confusion,
Russian probes, Montana body slams. We`ve got a lot to talk about with our
panel right now.
Anita Dunn was White House communication`s director in the Obama White
House. Yamiche Alcindor, an MSNBC Contributor, “New York Times” reporter;
Matthew Continetti, the Editor-in-Chief with “The Washington Free Beacon.”
All right, Yamiche, the president comes home after a brief respite from the
Russian feeding frenzy here in Washington to right back into it. I mean,
we now have our weekly story about a White House shake-up. I say this
because every week, there`s speculation about it. But they clearly want to
reorganize themselves around this war room and the special counsel.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And, unfortunately, I doubt that
that`s going to be able to happen.
I mean, there`s so much news that was breaking while he was there, even
just today, learning about this idea that James Comey might have acted on
what he thought – what he knew was to be a fake document that was possibly
leaked by Russia. The idea that his administration continues to have all
these issues with Russia. The idea that we`re still talking about now
Jared Kushner, kind of, becoming one of the central people being looked at
by the FBI.
I mean, he comes back to the exact same chaos that he left, including the
chaos that was created abroad when he was talking about Germany being very
TODD: Yes. And the problem is they`re in the middle of – we`re not sure
of – well, there`s – wait, there was a translation problem here or is
this there? I mean, they are having to do a lot of explaining right now,
MATTHEW CONTINETTI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, “THE WASHINGTON FREE BEACON”: I`m
finding it hard to keep track of everything Jared Kushner is responsible
for. In addition to the Middle East peace, domestic policy, reinventing
government. Now, he`s going to be running the war room to conquer the
investigation that he is part of the inquiry.
So, I mean, I think – you listened to Leon Panetta, right? I mean, the
Clinton White House, when faced with these challenges, brought in new
people, established separate structures.
I think that`s important for the Trump White House to keep in mind if they
want to have any stability as they handle these investigations and try to
pursue domestic agenda at the same time. Of course, that`s not the
president we have.
TODD: No. And you`ve got to compartmentalize here. But, look, you`ve
done crisis communications for various clients. I mean, we know what the
right answers is. The answer is going to be his self-discipline, I think.
ANITA DUNN, FORMER COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: There
are two issues for this White House. One is that, as former Secretary
Panetta pointed out, they have a process for foreign policy. If they have
a process for domestic policy, any kind of regular process, it has not been
evident since he took office.
So, now they`re trying to develop a new process and they already don`t have
a process. So, I think that that is a huge challenge.
But, more to the point, the discipline that`s going to be needed starts
with the president who has given us, so far, kind of, real-time tapes with
his tweets. Some kind of real-time what I`m thinking, what my motivations
are and what I`m –
TODD: You don`t need on subpoena anything. He just tells you.
DUNN: Listen, he told – he told – it`s not like there was a cover-up.
He told Lester Holt, on your network, why he fired James Comey, right? So,
TODD: To the shock of his own staff.
DUNN: To the shock of his own staff.
ALCINDOR: So, here is Leon Panetta saying, oh, well, he needs to be
someone who`s more disciplined, some who`s not emotional, someone who is
not concerned with every single day a new thing that`s happening.
And then, I was thinking to myself, OK, but we`re talking about President
Trump. So, clearly, that`s not going to happen. So, really, what he`s
going to need is, I think, what the Clinton White House did which is new
people, new blood.
But the people that are with him are so close to him and so loyal. I have
no idea whether or not it`s getting through to him how bad things are.
TODD: Matthew, actually, I – if I were them, I would move the White House
to another time zone. I do think keeping him away from cable news has
helped his tweets this week.
CONTINETTI: Absolutely. And I think the trip has largely been a success,
from the White House perspective. One reason is because the president has
CONTINETTI: He has had his calendar filled. He has – he`s jetting from
country to country. He`s probably tired. He doesn`t have time to –
CONTINETTI: Of course, you can`t do that when he`s in Washington and he
insists on having unstructured time when he`s in Washington and that leads
to these P.R. blow-ups.
TODD: Listen, you brought up this FBI story and all this and I brought it
up with Leon Panetta. It seems, to me, more than ever, what did – what
motivated Director Comey here? And I think he`s got to answer this
question. The credibility of the FBI is at stake, at this point. Is it
not? Doesn`t – I mean, I – either the FBI was duped knowing or he did
not pursue what is an alarming allegation.
DUNN: So, my modest prediction is that the day that he goes into public
testimony for the first time, probably in front of Senate Intelligence
Committee, you know, will be the day that Washington stops, except perhaps
a certain tweeter in chief.
TODD: Oh, I think everybody watches. I think he, too.
DUNN: Everybody watches. And because he does have a lot of questions to
answer. And they`re not necessarily classified information that he`ll be
I think the credibility of the intelligence community, the credibility of
the FBI, the credibility of the American government writ large is very much
a question right now.
TODD: I think it is.
CONTINETTI: If you trace the stock market of Jim Comey`s reputation, it is
a series (INAUDIBLE.) And this latest news has sent him back into a trough
(ph). Probably by the time he testifies in public, he`ll be back at a
peak. So, it`s just – in the run down, you mentioned, the intel leaks,
chaos abroad, chaos at home. And I thought to myself, just another day in
Donald Trump`s Washington.
TODD: I – and – but I come back – I just – will the public – if the
FBI comes to a definitive conclusion, I`m concerned that you`re going to
have a large chunk of the country that doesn`t believe that. And, by the
way, they have earned the skepticism themselves because of Director Comey`s
actions, even if they were motivated by good.
ALCINDOR: And as much as we talk about the polarizing effect of this – of
this country, I think when it comes to Director Comey`s stock market, it`s,
kind of, going up and down and with different populations.
But I think this idea that you`re acting on false documents, that, kind of,
makes everybody mad. The idea that the FBI, the revered institution that
we – that we think is going to keep us protected, that`s going to do all
this stuff, that they could be doomed (ph) by the Russians, that says so
much about this country and says so much about where we are.
TODD: That`s the most troubling aspect of this. And I have talked to
multiple members of Congress who have been briefed in different ways about
this particular issue. Their just as confused and, frankly, just as
frustrated. And it`s bipartisan.
CONTINETTI: It`s probably important that Mueller is there now.
CONTINETTI: And you have an independent voice now. Because if we have
reached the point in our media culture as well that no matter what`s
concluded, you won`t have people leaning on some side.
TODD: That`s right.
CONTINETTI: That`s just a – the media has a kind of authority, I think,
TODD: We expected that with the media over the last 10 years for good or
DUNN: But you probably already had that situation with the FBI even before
these revelations, Chuck. Because the reality is that Democrats had grave
doubts about the FBI based on the Clinton investigation. Republicans had
grave doubts about the FBI, based on the Russia investigation.
TODD: Mostly based on the Clinton investigation, too, actually.
DUNN: But based on the Clinton investigation, too, actually, that`s
correct. Talk about not pleasing anybody and feeling like you`ve done the
But, at the end of the day, I think that the way that Mueller handles this
– and he does have bipartisan support in this town, right? But the way
that he handles it is going to put everything that`s happened beforehand
very much in stark contrast.
TODD: I think we`re all hopeful that Mueller can do this.
TODD: We`ll see. I have – I have doubts that anybody can survive in this
culture these days.
You guys are sticking around. We will talk some Montana a little later in
the show. In fact, still ahead, after the big Republican win in big sky
country, we`re going to look at the next key races on the horizon and how
they could shift the landscape heading into the big mid-term year or not.
Keep it here.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, “MEET THE PRESS DAILY” SHOW HOST:
You know the saying, if it`s Sunday, it`s “Meet the Press.” I know it
wasn`t that way last Sunday but we`re back this Sunday. I`m going to talk
with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Republican Chairman of the
Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker.
We got a lot to discuss, the president overseas, terrorist attacks, et
cetera. Then there`s my conversation with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu
whose message on race went viral this week after the city finished the
controversial process of removing four confederate-era statues from public
(START VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: This is actually a divisive move to many southerners. What do you say
to them, that this debate has become more polarized?
MITCH LANDRIEU, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Well, first of all, I didn`t start
the civil war and I certainly didn`t start the racial divide that this
country has had. I simply recognize for the people that we still have it
and that the monuments that were in place were really signs of oppression
for 67 percent of my city that is forced to walk by them. And I found that
morally offensive and so it didn`t make any sense. This didn`t have
anything to do with politics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: You`ll be able to see a lot more of that conversation on Sunday as
well, all of it on “Meet the Press.” Check your local NBC station. I will
be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. Another special election, another race with Democrats
making up ground, but still coming up short. As we said earlier, Republican
businessman Greg Gianforte notched the 6-point win over Democratic
musician, cowboy poet Rob Quist. But that is a much more narrow margin on
the Democrat 16-point defeat in that same house election and the 21-point
loss that Hillary Clinton had to Donald Trump in Montana.
Democrats have boosted their margins over 2016 in all the three house
special elections so far this year. Kansas, Georgia part one, we`ll get
part two later in June, and Montana. But, they have yet to notch a win. So
what`s next? Here`s the calendar. On June 6, a house run up in California.
That is a safe Democratic seat and is to replace Xavier Becerra.
The June 20 special house election in both South Carolina and Georgia,
South Carolina replaces Mick Mulvaney and of course the Georgia contest is
the one most people have been focused on, Ossoff and Handel. That`s the
race to replace Tom Price, the HHS secretary. On August 15, there will be
primaries in Alabama for their special senate election to finish out the
term of Jeff Sessions.
Then November 7th is this year`s election day, gubernatorial races in both
New jersey and Virginia. Finally, December 12 will be the Alabama senate
special election, full run-off there. And that brings us to the all
important 2018 mid terms. As you can see there, many more Democratic senate
seats in the ballot than Republican ones.
Plus the two independents in Maine and Vermont who caucus with the
Democrats. That`s why they`re in light blue. So, it is a long shot for
Democrats to take the senate majority. In the house, Democrats would need
to flip 24 seats in 2018 to take control. A tall order but something that
can be pulled off in a relatively modest wave election.
Joining me now are two election experts; Jennifer Duffy, the senior editor
of the Cook Political Report where her focus is senate and gubernatorial
races and Nathan Gonzales is the editor and publisher of the Inside
Elections. Welcome to you both. Let me just start with Montana. Basics.
What did you take away from it, Nathan?
NATHAN GONZALES, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, INSIDE ELECTIONS: Well, I think that
you talked about the trend. I think it is possible for Democrats to lose
these elections and have the momentum at the same time. It is true, don`t
look too much into any one special election when you take a step back and
look at all of them.
I would even throw in the post inauguration marches, town hall protests,
the energy and enthusiasm, or in Georgia 6 where a 30-year-old former
Capitol Hill staffer is raising over $20 million. I think Democrats have
the momentum and that`s an important factor when you get to a midterm
TODD: Jennifer, you and I have been doing this a long time together.
Compare Memorial Day now to the environment the way it look like Memorial
Day of `09 to Memorial Day of 1993, right? Those elections. What does it
feel like now?
JENNIFER DUFFY, SENIOR EDITOR, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I mean, you do feel a
democratic energy. We`re seeing some interesting things in the senate. You
know, here we are, the end of May, there`s not one senate retirement that
has been announced. And going back to 2006, almost all retirements have
been announced by March 31st.
TODD: And by the way, this year we would have expected democratic
DUFFY: Yes, that`s right.
TODD: Because there were so many more. That means Democrats feel good about
DUFFY: They do feel good about running. We`re not seeing major candidate
announcements yet from Republicans. There have only been a couple. We will
see what July looks like. July is kind of my test about how recruiting is
going, where the people get in after this next step. You see the deadlines.
So, yeah, there is a lot of energy, there is a little bit of panic on the
Republican side. There is no question about that.
TODD: Let`s talk about the democratic side though. Do they have a problem
with the DCCC? I say this because they seem to only go half into Montana.
And they went in just enough to sort of please activists but not enough to
please activists. And it was not enough to make a difference. In fact,
Speaker Ryan`s pack is why Greg Gianforte survived.
GONZALES: You know, they`re in a difficult spot about having to balance,
yes, we want to challenge everywhere. It is not actually everywhere but as
many places as possible. But does that mean going all in or spending
millions of dollars.
TODD: They don`t look like they want to be one.
GONZALES: I think they are still doing – even though fund raising is going
better, particularly on the candidate side, but they`re still dealing with
a finite amount of money. And so to say, why didn`t you – they`re still
looking for winnable races.
I mean, this is still an equation about where can you maximize your funds.
And their data coming into the Montana election show that it was not a
close race. And so why dump money in I think is part of mindset.
TODD: All right. Let`s dig in. The next – the impact of the these next few
special elections. The impact it has is usually on perception of whether it
is a good environment to run or not a good environment to run. You`ve been
saying we have had a surprisingly lack of retirement announcements.
On the house side, too, mind you. Do you expect that to change basically,
people watching Georgia? Could Georgia be that trigger point that sort of
either gets – becomes a windfall for Democrat candidates recruiting wise
or sort of stops the momentum?
DUFFY: I don`t see Georgia being windfall for Democrats in the house. I`m
not sure senate candidates are going to take that seriously. The windfall
though, you might see it in the gubernatorial races in November. You know,
I think, first of all, I think Democrats are pretty well positioned to win
in New Jersey.
You know, Virginia is going to be close but if Democrats pull that off, you
know, electing yet another democratic governor, I think that helps. And
then you have Alabama.
TODD: Weird, wild senate special election.
TODD: I don`t know if it`s going to tell us anything about the national
environment but it does tell us about the problems inside the Republican
DUFFY: Absolutely. But I think that, you know, there are enough Republican
candidates there. It`s a run-off state. If they force a run-off, and that
Democrat suddenly looks more competitive than any Democrat ought to be in a
statewide race in Alabama, I think that may be the thing that really flips.
Chuck, the one thing you got to remember is, Democrats only have nine
targets in the senate, one of them being Alabama. There is only one state
up, Nevada, that Hillary Clinton carried.
DUFFY: The next vulnerable one is Jeff Flake in Arizona which Trump carried
by 4. The next one is Ted Cruz.
DUFFY: . in Texas which Trump carried by 9. The remaining six seats, Trump
carried by healthy double digits. So there aren`t a lot of targets. So we
start to see some bizarre things going on in places like Alabama. Then it
GONZALES: The thing about special elections is there`s something that you
can take from each of them to make your case. If Jon Ossoff wins in
Georgia, if a Republican wants (inaudible) that was just because you raise
TODD: (inaudible) your own analysis.
GONZALES: . you raise all that money and every house candidate is not going
to raise $20 million which is true but that doesn`t mean that Republicans
don`t have a fundamental problem in this cycle.
TODD: House retirements. I have to say I have been impressed that they
limited them so far. What do you hear?
GONZALES: I mean, I think, history tells us that there is going to be more.
I think there is still time. I think August recess, coming out of August
recess, we could see more. I went back to the 2010 cycle.
TODD: It is the sweet spot of the first.
GONZALES: Well, 2010 cycle, it wasn`t until the fall where like the two
Democrats in Tennessee retired and then those seats were basically off the
table in the Republican column. So there is still just because – right
now, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the big one.
GONZALES: But there is still time for some of these more competitive
district for members to leave and be a problem.
TODD: Well, we will continue to overcover and overanalyze these one
elections at a time as the big (inaudible) of 2018 comes. We`re going to
see a lot more too. Thank you very much.
DUFFY: Thank you.
GONZALES: Thank you.
TODD: Up next, the ugly state of American politics and the race that may
have started it all.
TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed still with the ugliness and
toxicity of our politics these days and I think many of us can point to one
moment that may have started it all. Call it the Patient Zero, this ugly
trend. The virus hit perhaps in 1984 in the race in Indiana`s 8th
congressional district. The fight was so ugly and so emotional it became
known as the Bloody 8th.
Don`t adjust your television sets. We are going to use some vintage footage
and graphics from NBC Nightly News back then. It was Democratic freshman
Frank McCloskey who was being challenged by Republican Richard McIntyre. To
say the vote was closed doesn`t do it justice. Here`s 1985 NBC News
correspondent, Jamie Gangel.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE GANGEL, 1985 NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The problem both men claim they
won. At first, McCloskey had the numbers. Then it was McIntyre. Then it was
McCloskey. Then it was McIntyre again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: After some sparring, the democratic-controlled house ordered the
counting of some 5,000 or so votes that had been uncounted for technical
reasons. The Democrat McCloskey was back on top for good, the winner by a
grand total of 4 votes. It was good enough for speaker Tip O`Neill and his
democratic majority. They seated McCloskey and the Republicans in the house
temporarily unseated themselves and walked out in protest.
The Republican anger led to Newt Gingrich becoming house minority leader
and what followed was the win at all costs attitude that we see today.
Republicans believe Democrats are winning at all costs. Democrats believe
Republicans are trying to do it this way and well off.
Remember, all this happened in 1984. That was before Robert (inaudible),
before Clarence Thomas, before Monica, WMD, you lie. You know, we now know
maybe where it all started. Does anyone have a good idea of where it might
TODD: Time for “The Lid.” Our panel is back. Anita Dunn, Yamiche Alcindor,
Matthew Continetti. Montana, what did we just experience? And what do you
take away from it? Matthew, look, I am not done with the – I think it`s
kind of lame that he apologized after he won. I`m sorry, it doesn`t feel.
CONTINETTI: It was lame.
CONTINETTI: He was lame.
CONTINETTI: You know, you talked about the Bloody 8th. This is the whacky
CONTINETTI: Both candidates were extremely flawed. That`s why you see
Gianforte in a Republican state getting 50 percent.
CONTINETTI: It`s not something to write home about. Quist, on the other
hand, was also a mess. He had a stack of opposition research that reached
to my shoulders. Interesting take away for me, Sanders campaigned for
CONTINETTI: And Quist lost. Now, Sanders is not campaigning for Ossoff in
Georgia, and Ossoff looks like he`s going to win.
TODD: That`s an interesting – what do you make of that?
DUNN: Well, I just point out you can`t get two more different districts
than Montana and suburban Atlanta.
CONTINETTI: The country is politically distinct. The new south versus the
rural upper mid-west.
DUNN: Which is and is one of the reasons some people such as me think that
Georgia has a state wish to be paying a lot of attention to make a lot of
investments for 2020. Let me make three very quick points about Montana.
First of all, Speaker Ryan gets a huge amount of credit for saying, I`m not
going to let this become a psychological blow to my caucus and putting –
they ended up spending 6, $7 million.
TODD: Sixteen to 1. Sixteen to 1 pack (ph) wise as far as speaker versus
DUNN: But, you know what? But they did what they needed to do.
DUNN: Second point though which is the downside for Speaker Ryan is that
this is a Republican candidate in a state that Donald Trump carried by 20
points who could not take a position on the health care bill. I mean,
refused to take a position because it is so unpopular in a deep red rural
state like Montana and who when he was asked about the CBO score, not
exactly a gotcha, kind of lost it, right?
DUNN: The third thing I would point out is that the tension between kind of
the grassroots Democrats and the Washington Democrats, you`re never going
to have a race that better illustrates it than this one I think.
TODD: There is no doubt. Democrats need to realize, you know, Republicans
can keep the grassroots, win the grassroots, and the establishment were
fighting, you know, it ended up biting them. Yamiche?
ALCINDOR: I of course want to talk about body-slamming.
ALCINDOR: . because I think that like, that to me, it is also something as
a working journalist who covers candidates that could be in people`s faces
asking tough questions. The fact that it is at all acceptable that somebody
can be body slammed and then be elected and then be given and then only
apologize after you`ve won the election, to me is disgusting.
And it`s this idea that I think it is going to be an escalation and it says
a lot about where we are as a country. It also says a lot about where we
are heading. As a reporter, I`m thinking to myself, is it now politically
acceptable for someone to put their hands on me and people voters are just
going to say, well, it`s okay, you know, that press, we don`t like them
When you`re driving and I just came back from rural Mississippi trying to
do some reporting on poverty, people are getting so angry that they are
thinking that they`re physically going to be assaulting people because they
don`t agree with whatever “The New York Times” printed that morning. I
think we`re getting into really scary territory here.
I think both sides in some ways have something to do with the obviously –
I covered for President Trump and he put up some fence and pointed at us.
But I would say that Bernie Sanders also told people that the media was
lying, that we were not covering things correctly. And I think we`re
getting into a space where people are not just not trusting us. There is
kind of palpable anger toward reporters.
TODD: To me, I go, it`s like, I actually – I`m not saying the burden is on
the populist. I think the burden is on the leadership to sort of stand up
and say this is enough. It`s not who we are.
CONTINETTI: You know, it`s important to remember too, we talk about the
course of our politics. I believe politics is downstream from culture.
These trends that we`re seeing, they`re apparent. It`s – if you flip your
phone and you go on to social media, this is much larger than one special
election in a house race in Montana. It has to do with our inability to
control ourselves. And I think what the solution for that is may be beyond
TODD: Mark Sanford I thought put it as eloquently as anybody has in “The
Washington Post this morning, Anita. He basically said, look, A, it`s weird
out there right now.
DUNN: No question.
TODD: You and I experience a lot of weirdness covering these things. But
that there is this sense of a permission slip that anything goes. And he
attributed it to the president. This is Republican Mark Sanford attributing
it to the president, not some whacky left wing pundit.
DUNN: This is Mark Sanford who also probably was the most eloquent person
in denouncing the monopoly money budget that the president decides to send
up to congress this week as well. This is a Mark Sanford that many of us
are surprised to find, you know, ourselves agreeing with a great deal of
Chuck, you know, the Republican Party has had a history, though, of using
the presence of foil going back really to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew who
I think did describe you as nattering nabobs of negativism.
DUNN: . as I recall. But also if you recall how.
TODD: Miscellaneous footsie putters too is Pat Buchanan.
DUNN: Yeah. If you recall how the Bush campaign in 1988 set up the press in
the Dan Quayle event and they miked the crowd so that when reporters were
asking Quayle questions, the crowd was booing them. If you think about what
Sarah Palin did with the press in 2008. So this is not new but they`re
taking it to a level, and I think the president is taking it to a level
that is very scary.
ALCINDOR: The Democrats did it, too. So the reporter who spent a lot of
time on a campaign trail covering the Clinton campaign and Sanders
campaign, they were not saying the press is amazing people and they`re here
to tell the truth. They were also very angry at reporters. I think they
contributed to it, too.
TODD: Unfortunately I`m out of time and I wanted to bring up Matthew`s
favorite topic since you wrote about it so well a couple of weeks ago which
is the 2016 campaign was still going on today.
TODD: Thank you to the three of you. Exactly. It`s May 2016 broadcast.
Anyway, Anita, Yamiche, Matthew, thank you. We`ll be right back.
TODD: That`s all we have for tonight. If it`s Sunday, catch “Meet the
Press” on your local NBC station. “For the Record” though with Greta starts
right now. My good friend, Chris Jansing is in.
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