The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 12/27/2016

Guests:
Steve Eder, Joe Cirincione, Jamie Harrison
Transcript:

Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: December 27, 2016
Guest: Steve Eder, Joe Cirincione, Jamie Harrison

CHRIS HAYES, “ALL IN” HOST: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now with
my friend Ari Melber, in for Rachel.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC GUEST HOST: Good evening. Thank you, Chris.

And thanks to you at home for joining with us this hour. Rachel has the
night.

Now, hopefully, you`re lucky enough to coming off a nice long holiday
weekend right now. Maybe you visited some family, or if you`re a real
hero, hosted some family. Maybe you went on a trip, maybe you engaged in
some cherished holiday tradition, just like President-elect Donald Trump
does.

For 20 years, Donald Trump has spent the holiday at his golf club in Palm
Beach, Florida, and this year, it`s no different, although it`s a little
different for the residents of Palm Beach.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Along with Trump`s visits will come the road closures and
tightened security. Each time the president-elect lands, there will be
some delays in the sky and on the ground around his Mar-a-Lago estate. The
Coast Guard is restricting boat traffic on the Intracoastal Waterway and on
the ocean.

Traffic will also be restricted if he decides to leave the property.

During the five or so days that Trump was here for thanksgiving, PBSO
racked up a bill of about a quarter of a million dollars. The sheriff
tells us that he is looking to recuperate that money from the feds, but one
thing is for sure, it is likely that this price tag for this vacation will
be much larger since he`ll be here through at least the 1st of the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Presidents and president-elect`s doing have a way of
inconveniencing people wherever they go, which is not to say the plenty
folks in Palm Beach aren`t thrilled to have the president-elect of the
U.S., calling their town his home.

But this isn`t the first time Donald Trump has inconvenienced the city of
Palm Beach. The first time was at least a decade ago, and had to do with a
flag pole, a really, really big flag pole.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: The town says Trump also never got a permit, never filed for
landmark approval and is breaking setback rules. Code enforcement claims
Trump had three months to file for a permanent but chose not to. So,
Thursday, they had no choice but to start fining him.

Trump has filed a $25 million lawsuit against the town, claiming it`s
singling out Mar-a-Lago while ignoring other big flags. The town says if
there are other violators, they`ll look into it. But right now, this fight
is with Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, eventually, we can tell you, Donald Trump was owing Palm
Beach $125,000 in fines in that issue and then, he and the city did settle
the suit. Palm Beach agreed to waive the fines and Trump agreed that his
club would make a donation to a veterans charity, which is a nice thing.

Now, you`d think that would be the end of the story, except as maybe an
amusing anecdote about Trump`s hair-trigger litigiousness. But then less
than two months before Election Day this year, “The Washington Post`s”
David Fahrenthold discovered Trump never donated that money to those
charities at all. Instead something called the Trump Foundation made those
donations and the Trump Foundation gives new meaning to OPP, other people`s
property, because it`s funded almost entirely with other people`s money.

Right around the time that Trump was embroiled in this lawsuit against Palm
Beach over the height of that flag pole, he was transforming the Trump
Foundation, quote, “into something rarely seen in the world of
philanthropy, a name-branded foundation whose namesake provides none of its
money.” So, Donald Trump solicits donations from wealthy people for the
foundation, then doles that money out under his own name, which would be a
weird and pretty misleading way to run a foundation even if all that money
was genuinely going to charity.

But if that money is being used to settle Donald Trump`s own personal
business legal problems, that itself is illegal. That can be called self-
dealing, and Trump used his foundation to do things like that again and
again. It was the time a man who won a charity at a Trump golf course sued
Trump for refusing to pay out a promised million dollar prize. They also
settled. Trump agreeing to donate $158,000 to a charity of the man`s
choice. That donation, which was a legal settlement Trump was required to
pay, also ended up coming out of the Trump Foundation coffers. Other
people`s money.

Charitable foundations are also legally barred from making political
contributions but Trump used his to give 25,000 to the re-election campaign
of Florida`s attorney general who at the time was considering whether to
investigate Trump University. The Trump Organization always insists this
was all the result of a cascade of clerical error, though the foundation
did, we want to note, pay the IRS a penalty for violating tax law on the
issue.

And then there are the paintings. You may remember these from the
campaign. Two paintings of Donald Trump himself, one going six feet tall
that Donald Trump bought using, yes, money from the charitable foundation.
Now, on top of all the obvious crassness of using other people`s money
donated to charity to buy pictures of yourself, at least one of those
paintings has been found decorating a wall at one of Trump`s commercial
properties which tax experts say, duh, you are definitely not allowed to do
with a charitable purchase.

Now, you don`t have to take my word for any this, that Donald Trump was
self-dealing with the foundation. You don`t even have to take “The
Washington Post`s” word for it or all the tax experts that have been
consulted. All you have to do is take the word of the charity itself, the
Donald Trump Foundation. Just take their word.

We`ll show you on the screen in the box here. They basically copped to it
in the new tax filings. On this box, you can see it, the IRS tells you
just check here if you engaged in self-dealing. Yes. The foundation
checked yes.

Now, there`s news about this foundation that Donald Trump apparently hoped
you would miss because he used what we kind of think of as the mother of
all news dump days to drop it. Christmas Eve. That`s the evening that
Trump chose to make the unusual announcement here that he says he will
dissolve the foundation, quote, “to avoid any appearance of conflict,”
adding that he`s “very proud of the fact that the foundation has operated
essentially no cost for decades with 100 percent of the money going to
charity,” end quote.

Now, we can tell you tonight that percent figure is false. It`s not true
as many who have covered the foundation have shown. Recall, the foundation
paid the IRS that fine for an illegal political donation and has admitted
to self-dealing. Now, all of that would have been enough to provide a
poetically messy end to the messy and misleading saga of the entire Trump
Foundation, but, folks, there`s a little bit more.

The foundation is still in so much hot water that it can`t legally shut
down anyway, that`s according to the top cop in New York where Trump`s
foundation and businesses are, of course, headquartered. The Trump
Foundation is currently still under investigation by the New York attorney
general and almost immediately after the president-elect announced his sort
of unilateral plan to close it, the A.G.`s office said, actually, he`s not
allowed to do that under the law until their investigation is complete.

So, Donald Trump cannot complete even this tiny gesture towards resolving
his conflicts of interest. And let`s be clear, this is a very tiny
gesture. No doubt the Trump Foundation is concerned about good governance,
or good philanthropy, but it doesn`t get near the president-elect`s
financial entanglements. It`s the president-elect`s for-profit businesses
that are the biggest problem there.

That was the point Rachel was trying to drive home when she interviewed
Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway last week, that as long as Trump remains
the owner of his businesses and companies, people have a very easy way to
put money directly into the pocket of the president of the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, TRMS: So, government of Azerbaijan, they rent out
Trump hotel suites at the Trump Hotel in Washington. The president-elect
makes money from that. When his building project gets green-lit by the
government in Buenos Aires, he makes money from that.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP COUNSELOR: Well, the corporation does.

MADDOW: Yes, he`s the primary owner of his corporation. So, he`s – it`s
money for him. Anybody who wants to, any foreign country, anyone, can now
– they now have the option basically to pay money to the American
president by doing favors for this business that he owns.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW: – it`s still corruption, right?

CONWAY: It`s not corruption. That is not corruption. It`s a hotel room.

MADDOW: But if you want to give money to the president, the American
president, we have never had a way to do that before. No foreign
government has had a way to do that before. The American people, special
interests haven`t had a way to funnel money to the American president right
now.

CONWAY: No one is funneling money to him.

MADDOW: No, but you can through his businesses as long as he still has an
ownership stake in it.

CONWAY: He said he won`t be involved in his businesses when he takes the
oath of office.

MADDOW: But he will still benefit from their financial bottom line. And
so, anybody who affects that is in effect paying the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, Donald Trump may have had his own self-interested reasons for
ending his charity, which is a charitable term for something that hadn`t
given out any of his actual money in the last years, but it does gesture
towards one way these messy things do get resolved, they get ended. Ending
the foundation will in the long run draw a line in the sand. And ending
Donald Trump`s ownership and benefits from his companies would also draw a
line.

It would protect him and, more importantly, the United States from undue
influence. Is he considering doing to his business holdings what he did to
the foundation and drawing that line?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Is he going to give up ownership in his business?

CONWAY: He said he will do whatever is necessary to comply with the law
and the –

MADDOW: He`s never said he`s going to give up ownership. Are you making
news here?

CONWAY: No, I didn`t say that. I said he`ll do whatever is necessary to
comply with the law.

MADDOW: But as long as he owns it, any benefit to his business goes to
him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joining us now is Steve Eder, an investigator reporter for “The New
York Times” who has been covering Trump`s issues with the foundation.

Good evening to you.

A lot there. What does shuttering the foundation if and when that`s
allowed under New York law, what does that achieve?

STEVE EDER, NEW YORK TIMES INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: It`s a couple of
things. One, it`s the obvious thing that you got. You know, a soon to be
sitting president with the foundation and the considerations that go into
who can donate to that? How do you resolve those issues? You dissolve it.

And then you are the issues of the bank baggage, of all the issues that
came up during the campaign, the concerns about where the money went and
the ongoing – so by dissolving it, you in a way, you can put an end to
some of that. That`s the mission, I guess.

MELBER: Would anyone have ever known much about the weird way the
foundation ran, which is the most charitable way to put it, the paintings,
the use of other people`s money, had he not gotten as far as he did in the
presidential race?

EDER: It certainly became a key issue. We had the Clinton foundation on
one side that we were examining, and the Trump foundation on the other
side. Two very different things, but it was the kind of thing that did
certainly brought a lot of headlines and a lot of intrigue and questions,
and part of the vetting that went on, you know, deep into the presidential
campaign.

MELBER: Right. And what did that vetting find? I mean, it`s fair to say
this foundation didn`t do normal charitable works. It had a lot of things
that seem to overlap with his self-interests, which would have been fine
for a business to do or a PAC, a lot of rich people set up PACs where
instead of trying to pretend they`re doing charity, they say we have a
political agenda. Then you can donate to all the attorneys general you
want.

EDER: Sure, there are all sorts of questions that came up. The New York
attorney general was looking at it. It was, you know, sort of a fraught
situation that, you know, exposed all sorts of questions and concerns about
the way that this thing operated and how Donald Trump allowed it to
operate.

MELBER: Do you think that there is any corollary with what`s going on with
the foundation to the larger question of conflicts of interest, because
there`s a public storyline that we heard from Trump and his advisers, that
they can do whatever they want, he told “The New York Times,” legally, I
can run my business and the country if I so choose. And then there`s a
suggestion and your paper`s reporting suggests this as well as others, that
off the record, they`re actually worried this could consume a good bulk of
his first term if they don`t figure out some lines.

EDER: Conflicts are certainly a huge part of the discussion right now as
we look forward to this presidency in days. I mean, it`s a big part of
what we`re discussing. But, you know, one of the things that we have seen,
“The New York Times” reported over the weekend was the idea of an overseer
type person that will be in there. Experts say that`s probably not enough.
But it`s certainly a big part of the conversation right now.

MELBER: Yes, does an overseer mean anything if they`re still reporting it
to the family?

EDER: Well, that`s I guess one of those things that will be seen, the
experts are skeptical. But I think we`re going to see this really playing
out in the bright lights.

MELBER: All right. Steve Eder, investigative reporter for “The New York
Times” – thank you for joining tonight.

Still ahead, the president-elect`s apparent penchant for making policy via,
yes, Twitter – well, it`s taken a strange turn recently. That and much
more still to come.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: As we all know, the president-elect is a pretty prolific tweeter,
but today, he has chosen to tweet just one thing. Quote, “President Obama
campaigned hard and personally in the very important swing states and lost.
The voters wanted to make America great again.”

Now, with all respect to all involved, the race is long over and President
Obama wasn`t even in it. But to also be fair, Trump isn`t the only one
here re-debating this election. As the old saying goes, one man`s tweet is
another man`s podcast. And President Obama stirring up this competition
with his thoughts on November, Trump and Clinton, in a new podcast
interview. That story is ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: During the Cold War, the United States military stockpiled
hundreds and hundreds of nuclear missiles in the open fields of places like
North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming, because the most efficient way
to fling a nuclear missile is not to fling it east over the Atlantic and
Europe or west over the Pacific but rather north.

The U.S. government built hundreds of hardened underground missile silos in
those open fields. In places like North Dakota, these were huge silos to
house nuclear missiles and then launch them at even a moment`s notice. The
missiles were kept in what`s called hair trigger alert so that if the
Soviet Union suddenly launched hundreds of thousands of their nuclear
missiles at our nuclear missiles, our nuclear missiles could launch before
they were destroyed. That`s why it was always called Mutually Assured
Destruction.

The Cold War is over now, thankfully, but the U.S. still does have hundreds
of nuclear missiles on that hair trigger alert. They`re staffed and
maintained 24 hours a day by highly trained military personnel. At the
same time as all this, at least the next 24 days, the U.S. has a president
working to reduce the need for those missiles, to reduce nuclear
proliferation around the world. Nuclear weapons have only been used, of
course, twice in warfare, two U.S. strikes against Nagasaki and Hiroshima,
Japan, killing tens of thousands of Japanese citizens.

Since then, thankfully, no one has used them in combat. And in May,
President Obama made an unprecedented visit to Hiroshima where he talked
about the importance of pursuing a world without these nuclear stockpiles.

Today, that gesture was returned by Prime Minister Abe who left a wreath at
memorial for 2,000 U.S. service members who were killed in those attacks on
Pearl Harbor in 1941.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Wars can end. The most
bitter of adversaries can become the strongest of allies. The fruits of
peace always outweigh the plunder of war. This is the enduring truth of
this hallowed harbor. It is here that we remember that even when hatred
burns hottest, even when the tug of tribalism is at its most primal, we
must resist the urge to turn inward. We must resist the urge to demonize
those who are different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, on the one hand, the U.S. has a president you see there
working on the delicate multi-year effort to reduce nuclear
nonproliferation through soft powered diplomacy and hard powered treaties.
And on the other hand, the U.S. has a president-elect mocking the U.N. as
a, quote, “club” and tapping out potentially new nuclear policy on Twitter.
Quote, “The U.S. must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability
until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes,” he
wrote, which is a scary enough thing for the president-elect to say weeks
before he takes office.

Even scarier as it becomes clear that the higher echelons of the incoming
Trump administration cannot really explain why he wrote that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The American position on nuclear weapons worldwide for a very long
time now, not just as a partisan matter but over multiple presidents is
that we are trying to lead the way in reducing the number of nuclear
weapons in the world. He`s saying we`re going to expand our nuclear
capability.

CONWAY: He`s not necessarily saying that.

MADDOW: He did. He did literally say we need to expand our nuclear
capability.

CONWAY: And what he`s saying is we need to expand our nuclear capability -
- really our readiness or our nuclear capability to be ready for those also
have nuclear weapons.

MADDOW: What I`m trying to get is that a lot of people are like hiding
under the bed right now, because he doesn`t – it doesn`t seem like he
knows what he`s talking about on this issue –

CONWAY: That`s not fair. That`s not fair.

MADDOW: Well, then, how can you make policy on Twitter and then say he`s
not making policy?

CONWAY: He`s not making policy on Twitter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: He`s not making policy on Twitter.

Incoming White House counsel Kellyanne Conway does have a point she needs
to share there, as you saw with Rachel, that Trump`s words about new policy
weren`t really about new policy. And maybe it`s just part of her job to
buy Trump time after he tests out his thoughts or slogans or whatever on
Twitter. But Trump himself doubled down on the very next day on this
issue, saying he meant what he said and this is adding to MSNBC`s Mika
Brzezinski, quote, “Let it be an arms race, we`ll outmatch them at every
pass and outlast them all”, end quote.

An arms race. Now, it`s not clear if Donald Trump realizes that an arms
race is exactly what the U.S. avoids in the nuclear arena, a basic premise
shared by everyone from Reagan to Obama because for one thing, the U.S. is
already one of the top two leaders in that race, meaning we don`t need to
taunt people into catching up with us, pretty basic. And for another, the
biggest threat from nuclear weapons isn`t the difference between having a
100 and 101, it`s the different between having zero and one.

That`s why Obama`s worked so hard to prevent new nuclear powers from
surfacing like Iran. Now, Trump seems to be implying a very different
approach whether he realizes it or not.

Now, joining me now is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund,
a global security foundation that advocates for disarmament.

Thanks for being here.

And for those of you who don`t follow nuclear nonproliferation all the
time, generally, how different is what Donald Trump is saying here from
presidents have done in the sort of Cold War, post-World War II era?

JOE CIRINCIONE, PLOUGHSHARES FUND PRESIDENT: Night and day. In 24 days,
Donald Trump will take control of the American nuclear arsenal. This is by
far the most destructive, the most capable death machine on the planet. He
will be able to launch at his order one or 1,000 nuclear warheads almost as
easily as he now tweets.

No one can reprimand him. No one can pull those missiles back once
launched. There is no self-destruct mechanism.

So, it`s extremely important that the president understand what`s at stake
here. Every word that he says and now every tweet that he makes matters.
So, when he had those words last week, it`s not clear that he understood
what he meant. His handlers certainly didn`t understand what he meant, nor
did our adversaries nor did our allies.

This is why still a week later, we`re still talking about this, why it`s
still sending tremors throughout the global national security architecture.

MELBER: What do our adversaries think then, in your view of this?

CIRINCIONE: They`re afraid that he`s about to overturn four decades of
bipartisan cooperation, Republicans and Democrats, as you said, who have
been steadily reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world. We`re
down from about 60,000, 65,000 nuclear weapons during the height of the
Cold War down to about 15,000 weapons now.

The U.S. and Russia have 95 percent of them. So, we`re the big guys. And
what we do matters. If Putin and Trump are now both talking about
strengthening and expanding, as Trump said, their arsenals, that`s a signal
to the other guys to start their engines. What`s China going to do?
What`s India going to do? What`s Pakistan going to do?

That`s what`s so worrying about what Donald Trump is saying. If he`s
talking about a new arms race, it`s just not us that will be racing, it`s
all the eight, nine if you include North Korea, nuclear nations in the
world.

MELBER: Yes, you`re putting your finger on this specifically, which is the
difference between tone, whether it sounds punitively tough to say, let`s
race, or let`s build, or strategy and capacity, who is actually in this
race? Does he know the number of countries? Is he talking to them or is
he talking to nonnuclear countries and saying, come on in, the water`s
warm?

CIRINCIONE: Yes. So, there`s two things here. One as you pointed out in
that excellence, we still have weapons under a Cold War posture. We still
have weapons on hair trigger alert.

President Obama said when he came into office he was going to end that
practice. He did not.

But what that means is that Donald Trump can launch a weapon within four
minutes of an order to do so. Why? Why would you give any person that
authority?

So, President Obama still has 24 days to correct that mistake. He could
stand down U.S. nuclear weapons.

MELBER: And your organization to that end is circulating as sort of a
public petition on that, right? It says take off trigger alert so it would
take days or hours rather than a matter of minutes. Why hasn`t Obama done
that if you say that was something he originally been open to?

CIRINCIONE: That`s right. We have a petition at change.org to do exactly
that. And we`re gathering hundreds of signatures every day.

The trouble is the military has been resistant to this. The nuclear
bureaucracy and the Pentagon has been resistant to this. Obama has tended
to be a consensus president, so he wanted everybody to go along with it

But this is a moment where consensus in the country, outside the Beltway,
would be Mr. President, stand down these weapons. It doesn`t stop Donald
Trump from firing them. It just stops him from firing them quickly. It
would take hours or days, give you time for some deliberation, give you
time for consultation.

Right now, he doesn`t have to talk to anybody. He could just give the
order and the missiles fly.

MELBER: Right. That`s one of the moments you just said that if a couple
months ago, someone heard on television, oh, Donald Trump can launch
thousands of nuclear weapons or hundreds within four minutes, they`d think
they were in a movie. This is real life.

Joe Cirincione, thanks for sharing some of your expertise with us.

CIRINCIONE: Thank you, Ari. Despite everything I said, happy New Year.

MELBER: Yes, let`s all have a happy New Year. Appreciate your time very
much.

What do I want to tell you about next? Well, President Obama says he would
have won had he been able to run against Donald Trump. This is a topic, as
I mentioned, that he`s bringing up, which itself is kind of politically
interesting. The only problem is he wasn`t able to run against Mr. Trump.

President Obama does have, though, something more practical – advice for
Democrats on how to win again when he`s not on the ballot. That story is
next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGIA: The time for silence and patience is long
gone. We`re calling on the leadership of the House to bring common sense
gun control legislation to the House floor. Give us a vote. Let us vote.
We came here to do our job. We came here to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Congressman John Lewis there on the House floor. That was back in
June.

Now, shortly after that speech, Congressman Lewis and other House Democrats
sat down on the floor of the House chamber. You may remember this. They
said they wouldn`t leave until they got that vote on gun legislation.

And then, just as people were getting wind of what was happening, just as
people started tuning in to C-Span to see something different, the cameras
cut out. Recess.

Republicans said that the House was in recess. More importantly, that
meant the chamber would have its cameras go dark and so they wouldn`t
broadcast a thing.

But luckily for those opposition protesters who were all Democrats in this
instance, their message still got out from the House floor. For more than
25 hours, they continued their protest and it was actually seen because
they themselves live-streamed it on these new apps that allow these kind of
broadcasts straight from anyone`s smartphone. Namely apps like Facebook
and Periscope.

Then, C-Span did something interesting, they started airing the video feeds
coming from those House members on the floor because the actual cameras had
been shut off. Now, pictures of the sit-in started to flood social media,
Senate colleagues like Senator Elizabeth Warren went over to join in
solidarity. Those photos went viral.

House Republicans tried to shut it down but the demonstration took on a
life of its own. There were spontaneous demonstrations then outside
Capitol Hill that night in support of what was going on on the House floor
that those people outside only knew about from those floor videos.

Now, in the end, that particular instance was considered pretty effective
at getting attention. They didn`t ultimately get that instant vote they
were asking for on the gun bill. But as they marched out of the Capitol
more than 25 hours after the protests began, those Democrats were greeted
by something members of Congress do not see all that often outside the
place where they do business, a crowd of spontaneously cheering supporters
of people psyched and enthused and even inspired by something that happened
on the floor of Congress.

Now, the reason all this is interesting right now is because today, there`s
an update on this whole story. Today, we learn that the House Republicans
are proposing rules that would further punish members of Congress who shoot
video or take any photos on the floor of the chamber. The new policy would
even fine members up to $2,500 for the offense money that would be taken
out of the member`s salary directly.

The proposal by many is seen as a pretty much direct response to the
protests from June and the prospects of those protests reappearing. But if
history is any sort of guide and House Republicans would realize they`re
trying to shut down a protest in the Internet age usually only garners it
more attention.

As for Democrats, maybe there`s a lesson to be learned, too, about fighting
back now that they are in a clear minority if the people against you are
trying to literally ban your strategy, it might be a sign your strategy is
pretty effective.

And we have more tonight on the Democrats` plans for fighting back in the
Trump era, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Every new incoming president gets to choose who will make up their
cabinet, who will head up the 15 executive departments like Treasury and
Defense. Plus, those seven positions of cabinet rank like White House
chief of staff or U.N. ambassador.

A new president, of course, generally fill all those slots. That`s the
executive branch.

The tradition is different when it comes to filling the judicial branch
where the president only fills vacancies that were left over by the
previous administration. Through most U.S. history, those vacancies were
caused by a pretty usual process, the naming of new people, unexpected
deaths, the hearing process. Even when President George W. Bush left
office, 54 judicial vacancies were left to his successor President Obama to
fill.

But thanks to Senate Republicans, Trump will enter office with over 100
judicial vacancies to fill. That is double, of course, Bush`s amount.
Plus, the biggest vacancy of them all, the Supreme Court seat left by late
justice Antonin Scalia, now, one of the longest running vacancies in
American history.

And if this were a history lesson, it`s not a history of the executive or
judicial branch, although it involves them. The president has submitted
his nominations for the Supreme Court and other judicial vacancies. What
has changed here is obviously, the Republican Senate under Mitch McConnell.

Mitch McConnell has frozen judicial nominees and famously refused for the
first time in history to even hold a hearing to consider or look like the
Senate was considering Barack Obama`s nominee for the Supreme Court Merrick
Garland.

Now, Republicans are writing to reap the rewards of that unusual or at
least unprecedented strategy. Depending on how you see it, this was either
an unprincipled, unprecedented power grab of the worst kind, or maybe it
was just the shrewd politics that has come to define the last few years, a
necessary tactical move.

Well, in that new interview with his former adviser, David Axelrod,
President Obama said that as a matter of politics, McConnell`s tactics
worked.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mitch McConnell`s insight,
which I`ve said just from a pure tactical perspective, was pretty smart and
well-executed, the degree of discipline that he was able to impose on his
caucus was impressive. His insight was that we just have to say no to
that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: We just have to say no. And that was smart and well executed is
one way to put it.

President Obama might be looking for ways to avoid any notes of sour grapes
as he turns the over his desk to Donald Trump. But other Democrats and
liberals see this obstruction very differently and they`re right now
arguing that Republicans should actually be forced to pay a price for it,
otherwise, liberals warn, that rewarding the tactic will only further
normalize it. An unusually scathing Christmas Day editorial, for example,
“The New York Times” said basically the Republicans Supreme Court maneuver
was a robbery, a crime that can only be put right by the nomination of a
centrist to the bench.

Former Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy, who`s been through his share of his
fights on this, called the Garland blockade, quote, “The most outrageous
act of obstruction and irresponsibility he`s seen in,” count them up, “42
years in the Senate.”

Other Democrats want some kind of leveling up here, advocating that Trump`s
picks be given the full, quote, “Garland treatment”.

Senator Dianne Feinstein in particular says, quote, “What goes around comes
around.” But does it?

Republicans are readying to stack the courts with conservative Heritage
Foundation approved picks, not the kind of consensus candidates they
demanded on President Obama. And it is a real question whether Democrats
in Washington, as well as whomever takes over the DNC extract a price for
that obstruction or simply turn the other cheek to invite another beating?

Joining us now is Jamie Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democratic
Party and more importantly the reason he`s with us tonight, he`s currently
running to be the chair of the DNC.

Thanks for joining tonight.

What is your view of how to handle that strategic question I just
discussed?

JAMIE HARRISON, SC DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR: Well, first of all, happy
holidays, Ari. It`s good seeing you again.

Listen, I believe in this philosophy. You go the a lot of five and ten
stores that are still left in s South Carolina and you usually see signs
that say, “touch it, break it, own it.” Well, the Republicans have touched
this government, they broke it under President Obama and now they own it.
And now, you know, retribution is at play.

We cannot allow Donald Trump and the Republicans to ramrod into this
government these folks who want to bring us back to a bygone era as it
relates to so many that we all enjoy.

We see what`s going on in North Carolina right now in terms of rolling back
on right. And I expect similar things to happen in our federal government.

MELBER: So what should your party do with regard to Trump`s Supreme Court
nominee?

HARRISON: It`s time to roll up the sleeves and fight back. You know,
there are so many of us that when the Republicans took control in both the
House and the Senate who just begging the Senate Democrats to filibuster,
and I`m not just talking about the filibuster where they`ll pull a bill
from the floor and continue on with legislation, we`re talking about
bringing out the cots, making sure that people are there late at night and
stopping everything in its tracks.

That`s what people are looking for right now. We have to remember, there
were more than 3 million more people who voted for Hillary Clinton than
Donald Trump. And so, in essence, the majority of the American people want
what Hillary Clinton was fighting for in terms of policies and rights.

So, we can`t afford –

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: Right. You talk about the 3 million, that goes to political
strategy with folks saying, gosh, Hillary Clinton had the mandate, had the
edge, and there was some kind of execution problem in getting some of the
people out in the most important states and spending the money in the right
way.

Take a listen to President Obama on the ground game also in that David
Axelrod interview.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: Part of what we have to do to rebuild is to be there, and that
means organizing, that means caring about state parties, it means caring
about local race, state boards or school boards and city councils and state
legislative races, and not thinking that somehow just a great set of
progressive policies that we present to “The New York Times” editorial
board will win the day.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, candidly, Jaime, you`re not the candidate in the DNC race who
is closest to President Obama. Are you running more as the state party or
grassroots candidate then?

HARRISON: I am. I`m running for 57 – I know we got 50 states, but we got
six territories the our Democrats abroad. I`m running for all of them.

Our problem, Ari, was, you know, we sort of got drunk off the fact that we
were able to elect President Obama in 2008 and 2012, and we forgot how we
were actually able to do that, how we took back control of Congress in `06,
and that was with Howard Dean`s 50-state strategy.

We stopped investing in state parties. As a result the party
infrastructure was broken. That`s how Republicans now control 33 of 50
governorships. That`s why they control 69 of 99 statehouses and we`ve lost
over a thousand or almost a thousand Democrats in state legislatures over
the past eight years.

We have to go back to that strategy and rebuild state parties. It is
essential to our success. We can`t be the Democratic national presidential
committee. The DNC is more than just the presidency. It`s about the down
ballot folks who have arguably even more of an impact on the day-to-day
lives of people than the person that sits in 1600 Pennsylvania.

MELBER: Jamie Harrison, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party and
as we mentioned, the candidate for the DNC leadership post. I appreciate
your time tonight.

HARRISON: Thank you, Ari. Thank you.

MELBER: Happy holidays.

Now still ahead, remembering Carrie Fisher in her own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: All right. Still ahead I`m one with the force, the force is with
me. If you`ve seen the new “Star Wars,” you know what I mean. Stay with
us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: The highlighter not the problem. I keep the highlighter here
because if you put two highlighters together it makes a lightsaber.

That`s not a prop. It`s my lightsaber.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: Carrie, you`re starring in “Star Wars,” and this is your
first starring role.

CARRIE FISHER, ACTRESS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: And the critics say it`s going to be the movie of the year,
Carrie.

FISHER: I hope so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Everybody knows who Princess Leia is, and as a result, everybody
knows who Carrie Fisher was.

That is what it means to be a Hollywood icon, to have a role that not only
defines your career, but in many ways defines film or cinema and even
defines characters that hadn`t been written yet. Princess Leia, when you
think about it, has become kind of a shorthand for the damsel who refuses
to be in distress, who refuses to be saved or use as any kind of prop for
another male character`s heroics.

Princess Leia was Carrie Fisher, not the other way around. And that`s easy
to forget. There are three things that kept Carrie Fisher famous and
relevant for so many years, if she would sometimes insist otherwise.

First, she played a part in one of the biggest film franchises of all time.
Second, she led a dramatic, even scandalous, dangerous and definitively
Hollywood life. And third, she was funny and brutally honest about that
life, both in her interviews and in her writing.

And we all know there is a pretty fitting tradition when someone this
famous dies, when somebody who meant so much to so many of us, including
those of us who grew up on “Star Wars,” which is basically all of us for
several decades, people roll out those clips of their best appearances, and
you try to get in big names to then talk about them – which is worthwhile.

But there`s another thing here that nobody talked about Carrie Fisher quite
like Carrie Fisher. And almost all of Carrie Fisher`s interviews began
with Princess Leia and then they start moving around to her public
struggles, discussion of addiction, mental illness, and the trappings and
vicissitudes of Hollywood life.

Inevitably, though, through all that darkness, what always shine through
was the force that made her so famous and so loved – her sharp wit, her
unflinching honesty, her presence. Princess Leia will live forever.
Decades from now, we think new generations of “Star Wars” fans will be
rooting for her and, of course, falling for her.

Carrie Fisher died today at the age of 60, and we are all going to miss
her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER: You have said that in fact you had a drug addiction at one
point in your life.

FISHER: Uh-hmm.

INTERVIEWER: What – can you give me the range of drugs you took? Did you
just take prescriptives or did you take cocaine or –

FISHER: Everything.

INTERVIEWER: Everything. What does everything mean?

FISHER: I took, prescription drugs were my preference, I took
hallucinogenics. I took, you know, cocaine. I took pretty much the gamut.

INTERVIEWER: You wrote some in “Wired”, which is the book about John
Belushi`s life, who, of course, died of a drug overdose eventually. It was
said in that book that John could get you to take almost any kind of drug.
Didn`t his death scare me?

FISHER: Yes, absolutely. I was really convinced that he – that everyone,
he had convinced me to believe that everyone had overreacted, and he was
sort of OK, because he did survive a long time at a level when most people
don`t.

INTERVIEWER: Was that a catalyst in helping you?

FISHER: No.

INTERVIEWER: It didn`t help.

FISHER: You know, all the things are supposed to, that`s why I said, I
talked about this stuff, but it`s like I`d love to say, you know, I was
watching the show and I saw Liz Taylor talk about her problem and I really
realized, when John died, I thought, well, John took heroin. Of course, he
died. You just tell yourself that you are different.

INTERVIEWER: And what made you finally quit taking drugs?

FISHER: I was in an emergency room. That`s a strong indicator that your
life isn`t working.

This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You`re my only
hope.

I`m a member of the imperial senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.

DARTH VADER: You are part of the rebel alliance and a traitor. Take her
away.

INTERVIEWER: You write of your marriages. And one that got my is your
marriage to a Hollywood agent named Brian Lourd, who left you for another
man.

FISHER: He did? You`re kidding.

INTERVIEWER: That`s what I read. Yes.

FISHER: Oh, my God, that must have been really upsetting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is this?

FISHER: They called this Little Chechnya, so pretty and real, four murders
per capita than Detroit. Try not to write when you`re living here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that guy carrying a gun?

FISHER: Don`t worry, he`s not a cop.

You do not have to stay there. It`s a different country. They can`t
extradite you for failing to pay child support. It`s not a war crime.
It`s just a foreign baby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s not a foreign baby. It`s my baby. Your grandson.

FISHER: I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MELBER: We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: OK. It is time for the best new thing in the world today. And
this one is all about a glimmer of hope, although it doesn`t begin that
way. When they handed out the Pulitzer Prizes last year for the best work
in newspaper journalism, one of them went to a reporter who isn`t in the
news business anymore. He done that awesome reporting in California and
then left the newspaper for a gig in public relations because he couldn`t
live on that newspaper salary.

He wasn`t alone. A winner for a different category in South Carolina also
turned in an excellent Pulitzer Prize level work. She too left for another
job, and the day she got the news that her project had won a Pulitzer, she
had to go running back to the newsroom to celebrate with what were her
former colleagues.

Now, for all of my working life, the newspaper business has basically been
in a type of decline business-wise. For every reporter or editor who
leaves for a better paying or somewhat happier gig, others are handed a
cardboard box and shown the door in mass layoffs. The chart tells the
story.

Newspapers have just three quarters of the resources now that they had when
Jimmy Carter was president. And we are about to get a president who is
more complex to cover than Carter, a president who not only hates the
press, he says so, who not only openly attacks the press at mass rallies,
as well as on his, quote, “beautiful Twitter”, but who hasn`t held a press
conference since July.

And beyond the limits of tweets, this is not a president who makes it easy
to keep up with what is going on inside his administration or what is
coming. Excellent reporting is never easy and is often risky in multiple
ways. As a business, it is literally risky.

So, over these past elections, some of the best reporting especially on
presidential politics and now the president-elect was done by “The
Washington Post”. Their newsroom is a ten-minute walk from the White
House. They cover politics with a backyard zeal. It`s worked, we can
tell, because today, “The Post” says they`re hiring five dozen more
journalists. The jobs are spread across video, print and online, one team
focusing on what they call deep dives in a hurry, it`s the kind of coverage
we`re going to need as citizens for the next four years and beyond.

When the founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, bought “The Post” a few years ago,
no one knew what was going to happen. But for bucking the trend of those
shrinking newsrooms, for offering a glimmer of hope that coverage will get
better and excellence will be rewarded with jobs, “The Washington Post”
help wanted sign is the best new thing in the world today, and I think it`s
fair to say, as Rachel says, wherever you live, please subscribe to your
local paper. Most of them don`t have a billionaire owner. They need you.

That`s our show. We`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.

Good evening, Lawrence.


END

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