Omarosa, Dina Powell, departure list Transcript 12/14/17 The Rachel Maddow Show
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: December 14, 2017
Guest: Greg Miller, Siobhan Hughes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It’s been a busy news day. The FCC today, as expected, voted to end net
neutrality, which in theory will give Internet service providers the
ability to essentially control what you’re allowed to see on the Internet
and what sort of Internet based applications and services you will be
allowed to use. They will decide, not you.
If Internet service providers elect to speed up or slow down certain
traffic for commercial purposes, that will put the whole online world, your
access to the whole online world in their hands. As I say, today’s vote
was expected. It did end up being a more controversial vote than I think
the FCC has expected for some very specific reasons, including some stuff
that has just broken in the last 24 to 48 hours. So, we’re going to have
more on that vote and its consequences coming up this hour.
Also today, Republicans appear to have lost control of their big tax bill
as Senator Barbara Boxer was just saying to Chris Hayes moments ago, she
was saying that she praised that they lose this thing. It looks like
Yesterday, we talked about the fact Republicans appeared to be speeding up
the approach to the tax bill in the wake of the big loss in the Alabama
Senate race Tuesday night. I think the idea is once the wheels start
coming off your car, you should probably make the race your car is in end
sooner than you were previously planning. We’ll just call it a day here.
Today, though, that effort to get to the finish line sooner than planning
appears to have cost them the support of some of their own senators who
were previously planning on voting for this thing. Now, this is a very
dynamic situation. It’s fascinating, given this is happening right at the
very end of the process for a bill that would be the biggest changes to the
tax code in 30 years and nobody involved in trying to pass this thing
appears to have a complete handle what is in it.
So, we’re going to have more on that, including a live update on the very
fluid situation tonight. That is still a developing story tonight. If you
were one of the people whose been protesting against the tax bill around
the country or on Capitol Hill, you want to see the report on that tonight.
It’s possible your efforts are paying off more than you might have expected
We also mentioned last night one of the consequences of not just the
Republican Party’s failure in Alabama but specifically the president’s
embarrassment in Alabama is the question of what Republican senators are
willing to do for the president in Washington, and whether that may be
changing now. If the president is trying to use his own personal political
power to bring Republican senators along to do things that they would be
otherwise disinclined to do, well, that personal power, that personal
influence on his part has just been weakened by what has happened in these
last few elections where he has played a role.
Just in the last couple of months, the president has put his name behind
and endorsed Ed Gillespie for Virginia governor who then lost. The
president vigorously campaigned for and endorsed Luther Strange in the
Alabama Senate primary, who then lost. The president then campaigned for
and endorsed Roy Moore for Alabama senator who then lost.
And if the president had never gotten involved in those elections, the
outcome would still be important for the Republican Party and the country,
but they wouldn’t have weakened him in Washington, vis-a-vis other
Republicans. They wouldn’t have weakened him in Washington on the question
of whether other Republican lawmakers fear him or hope to benefit from his
favor. I mean, who fears him or worries about him at this point? He
doesn’t appear to have much political juice right now.
So, there has been this bad run for the president politically. And after
that, we mentioned last night, one of the consequences may have been the
yanking of two Trump judicial nominations yesterday afternoon, hours after
the Roy Moore results came in, those two judge nominations were pulled.
Republicans decided they did not want to go to bat for those two
particularly embarrassing nominees. After the nominees were yanked,
Republican senators have also yanked another major and fairly high-profile
And whether or not you care about the individual nominations that are being
pulled, this is an important dynamic to watch. As the president loses
juice, right, as he loses popularity in supposedly pro-Trump areas of the
country, that will result in Republicans on Capitol Hill not wanting to go
to bat for him. Not wanting to go to bat for the more embarrassing things
the president and his administration are trying to get them to do.
So, we’re going to have more on that story ahead. I think that’s an
important thing going on in Washington.
We also got word tonight from, where else? The Kremlin, that our
president, Donald Trump, and the Russian President Vladimir Putin have had
yet another meeting. They had yet another one-on-one call today.
And one thing this means is that Trump and Putin continue to have lots and
lots of calls and meetings. But this is also at least the fourth time
where there has been a meeting or call between our president and Russia but
we have had to learn about it first from Russia. This is such a weird
dynamic and it keeps happening.
There is a big robust White House communications department we pay for and
every day that they give us reams of information who the president will be
speaking with, who he will be meeting with, and what the points of his
daily schedule. We have White House briefings and we have White House
communications advisers who call and you get data from who let you know
when something is about to happen.
That’s all true about this White House but none of that apparently applies
when it comes to Trump talking to Russia. In that case, notification comes
from Moscow. The last time Trump talked to Putin, which – well, at least
as far as I know, was November 21st. The first notification there was of
that in the English language that Trump would be speaking to Putin that
day, first English language notification is when “Reuters” translated a
notice from a Russian-based news agency which had reported that Trump and
Putin would be speaking that day, and it was the first any of us in this
country heard of it.
Two weeks before that, it was Trump’s big Asia trip where the people of
United States of America learned the president would be meeting on the
sidelines of the Asian summit, one-on-one with Vladimir Putin, and we
learned that from a Kremlin staffer who announced those planned meetings,
and then American reporters were able to take that information from the
Kremlin and bring it to the White House and asked them to confirm and then,
yes, they confirm.
Before that, it was the Oval Office meeting with President Trump and
Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador. That was the meeting
where not only did Russian state media have the honor of informing us in
our country that event took place, American media was actually banned from
that event, while a Russian state media photographer was invited into the
Oval Office to snap happy pictures, and then distribute them. So, that’s
how we got our record of those meetings.
And then again today, we got a nice readout from Vladimir Putin’s office,
from the Kremlin, about a conversation that took place today between Donald
Trump and Vladimir Putin. Thereafter, the White House confirmed that, oh,
yes, that happened. Why does this keep happening? Why do we consistently
have to get news about the behavior and the meetings and the conversations
of the American president from the Russian government? It is very strange.
And while we’re on the subject, we also got late word tonight from a new
report in “The Washington Post” that right after Trump announced he was
running for president, he announced in June 2015 this happened in July
2015, there was yet another instance when he was offered a one-on-one
meeting with Vladimir Putin, according Rosalind Haldeman and Tom Hamburger
at “The Washington Post” tonight, the same Russia connected publicist who
later set up the Trump tower meeting where he promised Russian government
dirt on Hillary Clinton to the top levels of the Trump campaign.
A year before the meeting happened, he made a direct offer via e-mail to
Donald Trump’s assistant at Trump Tower, telling her that he would be happy
to set up a Putin meeting for this new presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Trump’s assistant is a woman named Rhona Graff, I have spoken with her in
the process of trying to set up Trump interviews. She’s very, very nice.
She’s very efficient.
We had known for a while that Rhona Graff is on the witness list for the
house intelligence committee looking into the Russia scandal. Well, “The
Wall Street Journal” reported tonight that for the House Intelligence
Committee interview with her, Trump’s assistant and also and House
Intelligence interview with Felix Sater, who is a Russian born ex-con who
was part of the Trump organization, and who worked on the secret Trump
Tower Moscow project during the Trump campaign.
Republicans in the Intelligence Committee for some reason decided that for
those who interviews for Rhona Graff and Felix Sater, they would not do
those interviews on Capitol Hill. Instead, according to “The Journal”
tonight, they decided to send their own intelligence committee staffers to
New York City to do those interviews in the setting that would be more
convenient for Ms. Graff and apparently also for Mr. Sater.
Now, having staff conduct the interviews in New York, while actual members
of Congress are stuck back in Washington for votes, I’m sure that is very
convenient for those witnesses, but it has the knock-on effect of
preventing any members of Congress, including Democrats, from sitting in on
any of that questioning. Democrats on the Intelligence Committee are
reportedly not that happy about it.
And you’ve got to imagine Donald Trump, Jr., right, being like, wait a
second, I run the Trump Organization. My dad’s assistant gets them to come
here and I have to go down – I can imagine it’s awkward.
So, as I said, there’s a lot going on tonight. But one of the things that
we have to tried to keep track of on the show is who works at the White
This administration is 328 days old. In that time there has been an
unusually large number of people who have turned over, who have served in
the Trump White House for sometime, some of them in very senior roles but
then they either got fired or chose to leave for some reason or another and
I’m sure that we have missed some but just in terms of high profile jobs,
we try to keep a running tally of significant notable officials who have
fled or been fired from the Trump White House.
The vice president’s chief of staff for example has left as has the White
House chief of staff, as has the deputy White House chief of staff, as has
the first White House communications director and the second White House
communications director, and the White House press secretary, and the
assistant White House press secretary, and the vice president’s press
secretary, and the national security adviser, famously. Also, the deputy
national security advisor, the deputy chief of staff on the National
Security Council, the head of the intelligence of the National Security
Council, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, the White House chief
strategist, the White House chief strategist deputy, the special adviser to
the president on regulatory reform, hi, Carl.
Also, that deputy assistant to the president who goes on Fox News all the
time and seemed to be very important, but nobody really knew what he did,
and then we found out he couldn’t get a security clearance, he left, too.
And also, the secretary of health and human services, he left. I mean,
that’s not even counting the high-profile law enforcement people that have
been flung out like Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and the FBI
Director James Comey and the dozens of U.S. attorneys they fired on no
notice, get out tonight by midnight tonight.
I mean, it’s a very long list of people who have served in pretty
significant roles who are already gone. Well, this week we got two more
names to add to the list. One of whom got a lot of media attention for her
departure. Her name is Omarosa Manigault Newman. Her title, I looked it
up, was that she was the communications director for the office of public
liaison, which reminds me the director of the office of public liaison,
that’s another person who – that’s another person who left. Can we add
that guy to the list, too? Yes, thank you. Guy’s name is George Sifakis,
Anyway, Mrs. Manigault Newman was the communications director for the
office of public liaison, which is not a high-profile office, let alone is
that a high profile job in that office. The beef with her among White
House reporters is that nobody was quite sure what she did at all but she
is personally a high-profile person because of her reality show career.
So, her departure this week attracted a lot of attention but there’s been
one other departure from the White House this week that’s attracted
comparatively very little attention. But it’s for somebody with a much
bigger job. Her name is Dina Powell.
Immediately before her appointment to the White House, she was working at
Goldman Sachs. Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, was
previously the president of Goldman Sachs. So when Dina Powell came on
board, it was thought that maybe she would be in Gary Cohn’s orbit.
But where she actually ended up was at the National Security Council. She
was named the deputy national security advisor for strategy. And in that
role, a lot of normal Republicans, forgive me, or even like never-Trump
Republicans, they put faith in her, thinking she might be a potentially
moderating influence in the administration more broadly, but in the
National Security Council specifically.
And the National Security Counsel and policy making in this administration
is of particular concern. Remember the National Security Council initially
was set up by Mike Flynn and we all know how well that worked out.
And remember, after Flynn got appointed, after Flynn being appointed
national security advisor, the next shutter of fear that went through
national security circles was when Trump campaign CEO and White House
senior – the Trump campaign CEO arranged to get himself a seat on the
National Security Council, as well. Remember that?
People are like really, Steve Bannon has a permanent seat on the National
Security Council? This is a guy who runs a right wing Website and makes
movies how the “Duck Dynasty” guy looks like Jesus. I mean, really?
Permanent seat on the National Security Council alongside Michael Flynn
I mean, I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Bannon. I know he has had a bad week.
Alabama was as much his humiliation as it was the president’s. Remember,
the whole point of Bannon stoking the Roy Moore candidacy was to flex his
Steve Bannon muscles and prepare the country for his global domination plan
where he was going to run primary challengers against every single sitting
Republican senator, just like he did with Roy Moore.
Well, given how that worked out, the only people that may want to pay Steve
Bannon to enact that plan now are probably Democrats. So, Steve Bannon is
having a bad week. Everybody thought he might be this fierce specter in
Trump era politics in some continuing way.
But, you know, if you think about it, before this disastrous failure he had
in Alabama this week, really the last big round of attention he got was
when he was fired from the White House. Before that, it was the time he
was fired not from the White House but from National Security Council.
They demoted him from the National Security Council, then they fired him
from the White House. Flynn and Bannon were a weird idea for the National
Security Council. Both of them.
Flynn ended up resigning in the Russia scandal for things that resulted in
him pleading guilty. Now, he’s looking at a potential prison sentence.
Bannon left not that long after but those guys had really set up the
National Security Council in the first place. And once they were gone, it
raised the question of what would happen to the whackakos they had
installed, forgive me, it’s not kind. What would happen to the eccentric
odd balls that they had installed? What would happen to the free thinkers
they had installed at very senior levels of the National Security Council,
which is a very important thing?
And in particular, when it came to Dina Powell, there was speculation on
the National Security Council she might replace this guy. Dina Powell’s
title was deputy national security advisor for strategy. His title was
deputy assistant to the president for strategic planning, right? I mean,
come on, those two are a match.
That would be like if I came to work every day and I was the host of THE
RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, but there was somebody else on staff in an equally
senior position who was the host of RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, right? Basically
we have the same show. I expect there would be a fight to death and only
one of us would keep the job in the long run.
So, Dina Powell was expected to replace this man Kevin Harrington, who was
one of the original let’s call them free thinkers who was installed in a
very important National Security position back when Steve Bannon and Mike
Flynn were in charge of that sort of thing. He came to this very senior
job at the National Security Council with zero experience in foreign
Now, he’s supposed to be directing strategy for national security for the
United States of America? Never worked in foreign policy a day in his
life, however, he had worked at one of Peter Teal’s hedge funds. Peter
Teal, the eccentric, anti-democracy German-born billionaire who made his
money at PayPal, who famously bankrupted the Gawker Website for printing
things about him he did not like.
This guy in his senior job at the National Security Council, his work
experience for running strategy at the National Security Council is he
worked at a Peter Teal hedge fund and before that worked at a different
Peter Teal hedge fund.
Well, this week, we learned that not only did Dina Powell not end up
replacing him, she is now leaving the administration, and he is still at
the National Security Council. And we know that in part because “The
Washington Post” reports today in the remarkable epic 50-source story that
he, Kevin Harrington, is one of the pro-Russia officials remaining in the
White House who actually supports President Trump’s compulsive
submissiveness toward Russia and toward Putin in particular.
For Kevin Harrington, though, his motivation for his pro-Russia positions
is reportedly a little – it’s free thinking? Is that the word we’re
using? Idiosyncratic, let’s call it that. Quote, Kevin Harrington, a
former associate at Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Teal brought into
shape national security strategy saw close ties with oil and gas rich
Russia as critical to surviving an energy apocalypse, a fate the officials
who worked with him said he discussed frequently and the depicted as
I can’t believe this guy is still there. I remember being amazed at Peter
Teal people who are being considered at the beginning for high level jobs.
They were reportedly going to put a guy in charge of the FDA who came from
Peter Teal land, and the reason he wanted the job running the FDA is
because he believe we could all become immortal. Or at least some of us
could and he was working on that. So, that’s why he wanted to run the FDA.
This guy at the National Security Council is from the same crisper drawer
in the same fridge and he is still there and Dina Powell is leaving. As
Dina Powell leaves, the person left running strategy at the National
Security Council is somebody who believes the end is near and only Putin
can save us.
And this is like point 34 that we learn today out of new 100 pieces of
information the Washington broke with this big story. According to “The
Post” today in this remarkable story by Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip
Rucker, there’s an important national security story to tell about the
consequences of Trump refusing to admit to or grapple with in any
meaningful way the fact that Russia interfered meaningfully in the election
that made him president.
Quote: The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation
in which the personal insecurities of the president, his refusal to accept
what even many in his administration regard as objective reality has
impaired the government’s response to a national security threat.
According to “The Post” reporting, these are some of the other important
pieces of news they broke today, according to “The Post” today, the
presidents’ daily intelligence brief is structured by his briefers to avoid
upsetting him with any information he might not like to hear about Russia.
And I have to say this is a piece of reporting that raises troubling
concerns whether or not the president actually reads, whether he reads
intelligence briefings. Quote, a former senior intelligence official
familiar with the matter says Russia related intelligence that might draw
Trump’s ire is in some cases included in the written assessment and not
raised orally because then you can be sure he won’t see it because it’s
“The Post” also in this new piece today describes an extraordinary, what
they call extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that have captured
Putin’s specific instructions on the operation to attack our election last
year. The stream of post-election intelligence about Putin apparently has
given the intelligence community information that Putin believes the
operation to go after the election last year was, quote, more than worth
the effort. That would suggest Russia will keep trying to do more of it.
But “The Post” also reports that Trump has never convened a cabinet level
meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it.
In terms of the National Security Council, quote, one official said there
is an unspoken understanding within the NSA that to raise the matter of
Russia is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an
After the new national security advisor, H.R. McMaster brought in a legit
Russia expert to helm that part of the National Security Council, Fiona
Hill, Trump demeaned and insulted her in a way hard to believe for what we
know about this president and his White House. Quote, in one of her first
encounters with the president, an Oval Office meeting for a call with Putin
on Syria, Trump appeared to mistake Fiona Hill for a member of the clerical
staff, handing her a memo he had marked up and instructing to rewrite.
When Hill responded with a perplexed look, Trump became irritated with what
he interpreted as insubordination, according to officials who witnessed the
exchanged, as she walked in confusion, Trump exploded and motion to
McMaster to intervene. McMaster then followed Fiona Hill out the door and
Fiona Hill is the Russian expert on the National Security Council, a legit
Russia expert, who was brought into the National Security Council post the
Flynn and Bannon debacle. Just remarkable.
We’ve got Greg Miller here to talk about remarkable reporting, including
the damming and brand-new revelation even though they got caught planning
to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia and Congress alerted of the fact
and blocked them from doing it even after those efforts were exposed by
Congress and exposed in the press and who became a subject of great scandal
and great consternation in Washington, even after all that, the
administration and specifically Secretary of Stat Rex Tillerson reportedly
continued to offer the Russians in secret that the Trump administrations
would help them out on sanctions. That they were happy to give them back
some of what Obama had taken away in punishment for them hacking our
Just remarkable, remarkable reporting today from “The Washington Post.”
Greg Miller joins us next.
MADDOW: Here is the great Dan Rather just last week talking about his time
covering the LBJ presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O’BRIEN, LATE NIGHT HOST: There was a story that Lyndon Johnson, he
was a very earthty guy, and he would – he was very comfortable talking to
aides and reporters sometimes in the Oval Office while using the bathroom
while they were physically there. Not on the phone, but physically there.
Is that – is that true?
DAN RATHER, TV ANCHOR: That is true and I can be eyewitness testimony to
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bathroom diplomacy.
And thanks to extraordinary fly on the wall, fly on the wall, reporting
from “The Washington Post” we know that LBJ is not the only American
president known to mix business with bathroom. This is a section from
today’s reporting that’s about the president’s negativity toward NATO and
our NATO allies, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Quote, his
demeanor with the German leader was in striking contrast with the
encounters with Putin and authoritarian figures. Who were the three guys
in the world he most admires? President Xi of China, the president of
Turkey, Erdogan, and Putin, said one Trump adviser, they’re all the same
Merkel has never fit into that Trump pantheon. Before her arrival, senior
White House aides witnessed an odd scene that some saw for the visit. As
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and a dozen other top aides met
with Trump in the Oval Office, to outline issues that Merkel was likely to
raise, the president grew inpatient, he stood up and walked into an
adjoining bathroom. Trump left the bathroom door open, according to
officials familiar with the incident, instructing H.R. McMaster to raise
his voice and keep talking.
That is not the most important revelation from this new reporting from “The
Washington Post”, but, boy, is it the thing I can’t get out of my head.
So, I wasn’t hungry all day. Didn’t eat lunch. Didn’t eat dinner. I’m
Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker interviewed more than 50 current
and former U.S. officials for this piece. Mr. Miller joins us now.
Greg, thank you for joining us. Congratulations on this reporting.
GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank
you very much.
MADDOW: I’m not going to ask you about the bathroom thing. I want people
to know there.
I want to ask you about the presidents’ daily briefs, his daily
intelligence briefings. You report they are basically jerry-rigged so as
not to upset him with Russia intel that he won’t like. Russia news is
either not put in the oral briefing, it’s only put in the written brief or
it’s otherwise sort of buried so it won’t upset, wanted something so much
it derails the briefing.
Are the briefers concerned about this? Are they intelligence agencies
concerned about this in terms of the president not having access to this
MILLER: I mean, so the answer is sort of yes and no, I guess. So, the
intelligence officials we talked to emphasize that they are not holding
important developments out of the briefing. They are professionals. The
daily brief is written by career expert staff. They’re not going to do
that. This is their job, this is their mission, it’s a sworn duty, one
official told us.
But the way it’s structured undergoes – they think that through to avoid
upsetting Trump, to avoid getting the briefing off as you just read as one
of the people voted off the rails by raising something that’s going to
upset him directly. They do this in a couple ways. One is to put the
really sensitive stuff in print so that they can say yes, we delivered this
to the White House, we’re not withholding this from the White House, but
we’re not calling it out orally in his presence. But otherwise, there are
also, just sort of adjusting the order or adjusting sort of areas of
And, Rachel, this is not the only example in our story today of how senior
aids ors senior advisors tiptoe around Trump on this sensitive Russia
issues, and you may have seen in our story talks about what one advisor
calls the five and a half foot rule on really sensitive stuff that is
likely to upset him where you have a consensus among lower aides to avoid
carrying those decisions into the Oval Office out of fear you will get an
eruption from him or an overrule of something that others already agree is
MADDOW: Greg, let me ask you about another type of sensitivity in terms of
the president and Russia information. Back in June, I think you were one
of the reporters in “The Washington Post” story about an intelligence
bombshell that was delivered to then-President Obama that included sourcing
deep inside the Russian government that detailed President Vladimir Putin’s
direct involvement in the campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S.
presidential race. And that intel included Putin specific instructions.
Do we – has – the overarching sort of theme of your story is about the
president being unwilling to engage with this factual information that
Russia interfered in the election and that Putin was behind it. Do we know
if President Trump has seen that bombshell intelligence reporting detailing
specific orders from Putin?
MILLER: Yes, absolutely. That’s one of the things we reported today is
that when the senior intelligence officials travel to New York after Trump
won the election but before he was inaugurated on January 6th this year,
they laid out for him all of the most highly classified components of that
intelligence case. I mean, this was one of the most critical pieces of
evidence that they put on the table for the president.
And as we wrote, you know, these officials included former director of
national intelligence, Jim Clapper, were worried that they were going to be
thrown out of the room. They were prepared for a blowup. And weirdly,
that ends up being a very subdued meeting and Trump seems to go along with
this and seems sort of oddly acquiescent on this. His own officials hold
meetings with him after that, to try to cement this, they regard this as
progress. He’s coming around to accept this.
But as they over a period of several days continue to try to lock that in
with him, he gets very agitated, starts railing how the intelligence can’t
be trusted, that for him to admit this would be to fall into a trap. And
then, from there forward, they never recover what they felt they had in
that moment, that acceptance of the case.
MADDOW: Can I ask you just one follow up question on that particular point
about that very sensitive intel?: Obviously, there is a lot of drama
around the idea the CIA has access to information from deep inside the
Kremlin that reflects Putin’s, you know, actual words and actual
instructions in terms of ordering this campaign or discussing this
campaign, is there any concern among the intelligence community that
discussing sources and methods like that about somebody close enough to
Putin to get that information, that there might be a concern in a security
concern for that source in giving that information to the president, given
his relationship with Putin?
MILLER: You know, that’s a really difficult question. We’ve asked
intelligence officials about that. Frankly, I have heard intelligence
officials say they do have those concerns and there is that hesitation, but
that the president is the president and it’s not – and their job is to
inform the president, the elected president. So, that is their duty.
MADDOW: Very difficult stuff. Compelling, compelling story, but these are
very difficult national security issues. It’s kind of – the heart in your
“Washington Post” national security correspondent Greg Miller, again,
congratulations on this piece today. Thanks for being here.
MILLER: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right. A lot more to get to. Busy night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is what we call the horseshoe grab. This is current party
breakdown in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans control the
House. They have 239 seats which is shown in red. Democrats have 193
seats shown here in blue. There are three vacancies. Tthose are little
gray ones down front.
Of the 239 red seats in the House right now, though, a chunk of those
little red squares are Republicans who are nervous about next year’s
elections because a chunk of the red squares represent Republicans where
Hillary Clinton beat Trump. Voters picked the Republican for Congress, but
they picked the Democrat for president. That happened in 23 districts all
across the country.
And that must have been exciting on election night, but if you’re one of
the growing red squares thinking about election, that has to be worrying.
Anyone can concede that in those 23 districts, the political wins are
blowing in the direction for next year. Those are places that supported
Hillary Clinton anyway. So, Republicans understandably are worried about
But here is the chart part. Come election time, if the wins continue to
blow in Democrats direction the way they are right now, those 23 will not
be the only vulnerable seats that are keeping Republicans up at night.
Since the 2016 election, there have been 68 contested special elections
across the country for seats in state legislatures, in – there has been a
few U.S. House races and then, of course, there was the blockbuster U.S.
Senate race this week in Alabama.
And watching these races play out is fascinating on the individual level
but also fascinating in terms of the trend they represent. Turns out it’s
not just Alabama. If you look at the presidential results, a lot of races
all across the country show Democrats making really big gains. If you look
at the results in the special elections since November, on average,
Democrats have improved margins by ten points.
So, compared to November, if that ten-point swing means if they won by two
points in November, they’re winning by twelve points now on average. If
they lost by 15 points, they are within five points on average.
So, put the chart back up there. Come election time in 2018, when every
single one of these squares is up for reelection because the house is up
every two years. If the winds keep blowing in Democrats direction the way
they are blowing now, Democrats statistically would grab not just the 23
red seats where voters went for Hillary Clinton. A ten-point swing would
have Democrats flipping another 39 seats, as well.
If you apply the average ten-point swing Democrats have been enjoying in
special elections since November, if that momentum still applies to races,
the ten-point swing will have Nancy Pelosi measuring the drapes in Paul
Ryan’s office. A ten-point swing would cut Republicans in Washington off
at the knees.
So, if you are a Republican in Congress right now, what these special
elections are doing to you, they are giving you a horseshoe size lump in
your stomach right about now. I mean, if Republicans lose the house next
year, it would be a huge deal for their party. But we might not have to
wait until 2018 for a preview for that.
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: If you’ve been in politics as long as Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley
has, you tend to get pretty good at reading the political weather. The
same night the Democrats did the impossible and walked away with a Senate
seat in Alabama, Senator Grassley’s home state of Iowa also had a special
election for a legislative seat there and it presented a 31-point swing to
the Democrats, in a very conservative corner of Iowa.
If you’re Chuck Grassley, that counts as a change in the weather. The day
after those elections in Alabama and his home state, Chuck Grassley
announced he would no longer support two of President Trump’s controversial
nominees for judgeships. After that announcement from Grassley, those
nominees got pulled by the White House.
Then, a similar dynamic played out last night with another Trump nominee,
this time at the EPA. The president’s nominee to lead chemical safety at
the EPA spent his career fighting against chemical safety rules on behalf
by companies that are bound by them. Well, he’s gone now, too. He
withdrew after two Republican senators came forward, something changed
their minds. They decided they were no longer going to support it.
Outright rejection of the President’s nominees by members of his own party
is kind of a new thing in the Trump era. Turns out Alabama Senate
elections have consequences. If you’re a lawmaker and the president can
make or break you by offering or withholding his support, then yes, that
might factor into decisions for supporting some of his even really
embarrassing nominees. Now that the president’s chosen candidates keep
getting solidly rejected at the ballot box by voters, even in red states,
well, then, maybe the president’s opinion doesn’t matter to you as much.
Tonight, Republicans are racing toward a vote on the big tax bill that the
president is very much behind. In theory, they should be able to get this
thing passed with just their own votes. Tonight, that’s looking wobbly.
Senator Marco Rubio today announced he’ll oppose the Republican tax bill
unless it’s expanded – unless it expands a child tax credit. He was
followed by Utah Senator Mike Lee who says that he’s now undecided on the
bill, too. Senator Bob Corker voted against the bill the last time. A no
from Rubio and Lee would be it. It would be done.
Now, whether Rubio and Lee are ready to torpedo the bill remains unclear.
It doesn’t seem like they are the only Republican senators who are ready to
balk. Could this week’s Republican disaster in Alabama lead to further
bleeding among Republicans on Capitol Hill for a very, very unpopular piece
of legislation that the president nevertheless wants?
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: If you have been one of the people protesting against the
Republican tax bill, either out at your representative’s office in the
district or up in Capitol Hill, today brought news that the Republicans may
have lost the votes among their own senators to get this thing passed.
Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Mike Lee both Republicans said they will be
no votes on the tax bill unless it’s changed in ways they like. Is this
thing potentially really at risk?
Joining us now is “Wall Street Journal” reporter Siobhan Hughes. She’s
been covering this on the Hill.
Ms. Hughes, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for being with
SIOBHAN HUGHES, CAPITOL HILL REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Happy to be
MADDOW: So, I’m trying to do the Republican math here. We have questions
of Rubio and Lee. Three others as far as I know, Corker, Collins and Flake
haven’t committed to supporting it, and then we got the delicate issue of
Thad Cochran and McCain both having health issues right now, that seems
like a lot of wiggle room in terms of whether the Republicans have the
Do you think they have the votes?
HUGHES: The most likely scenario is that Republicans pass the bill but
today what we saw is that it is no longer impossible for this bill to be
sunk. The math you described is a problem for Republicans because they can
lose no more than two votes and still pass this bill. You have listed far
more than two Republicans who can potentially be against this bill.
MADDOW: In terms of the timing here, one of the things that I think is
frustrated people who are against the bill or worry about the implications
is they’re going very fast with it, this is a huge change to the tax code.
They didn’t spend time debating it and there’s no external constraint that
forces them to pass it so quickly.
Is it possible that they’re going to have to spend more time either waiting
for a score on this or horse trading on this that it might push it into the
New Year where the math would change against them after Doug Jones is sworn
HUGHES: It’s highly unlikely, but again, you can’t say. So far, the
Senate we expected to vote on this bill on Monday no longer has that on the
schedule. Vice President Mike Pence delayed a trip to the Middle East so
he could be here to cast a tiebreaking vote and there’s a delicate issue of
the health of Senator John McCain and Thad Cochran. And while they have
said they will be here next week, those clearly remained wild cards, X-
factors and then the question of how you come up with the money to make the
full extent of the change that Senators Rubio and Lee want. That’s $80
billion. That’s not easy to find.
MADDOW: They $80 billion change and the whole thing scored to add trillion
and a half dollars to the deficit anyway. Are they constrained fiscally
they can’t add more to the debt without changing something else fundamental
about the bill or put it on the tab?
HUGHES: No. You are right. They’re constraint is 1.5 trillion. They
held themselves to that and now stuck with that number. So they have to
take something away from somebody else and as you can imagine, that ruffles
feathers. And so, we still don’t know where they’ll get the money from to
MADDOW: We’ve been watching protesters and constituents making very
heartfelt, very compelling to my mind at least personal cases to senators
like Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Susan Collins in Maine, a lot of senators
who might conceivably be on the bubble about this with personal pressure.
Is there a sign they’re being moved by those kinds of appeals by
HUGHES: So far, there isn’t a sign they’re moves because the Republicans
are dedicated to the notion on balance, what they’re going is going to be
better for people. One little wrinkle that I saw today is Rod Blum, who is
a member of the freedom caucus, an Iowa Republican, put out a tweet saying
he was listening to his constituents and trying to make recommendations
about what should be in the tax bill. Seats are like that are looking at
risk. Mimi Walters of California is another person who has had jitters.
So, there’s some of that but maybe not enough in the Senate to change hues.
MADDOW: Siobhan Hughes, reporter for “The Wall Street Journal”, really
appreciate your time tonight. Super clarifying. Appreciate it.
HUGHES: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We’ll be right back.
MADDOW: Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net
neutrality regulations prohibiting Internet service providers picking and
choosing which traffic is fast online and which traffic slow online. If
providers choose to do this, choose to restrict things that way, it will
effectively put in their hands what content you have access to online. And
what Internet based services you can see and use.
Think about how much of your life is online. It will be up to Internet
service providers not up to you what you can see and what you can do
online. That vote today was strange for a couple of reasons. One is that
it directly overturned a decision that same commission made under three
years ago. The FCC reversed itself on a huge, huge issue with implications
for every Internet user which is almost every American. And huge
implications for every telecom company in the United States, reversed
itself in a span of less than 36 months.
The other reason this decision today was weird is because what they did
today is wildly unpopular. Like, toenail fungus unpopular. I should
mention here that MSNBC’s parent company Comcast is one of the nation’s
largest Internet service providers, but there are – when we’re talking
about human beings, there are no human beings who are in favor of what the
FCC did today. I mean, corporations are standing to profit for it, sure.
But actual humans, very few.
The FCC made the decision despite the massive unpopularity and the despite
that fact that yesterday, 19 state attorneys general asked them not to do
it, at least not year, after the documented revelation that in the public
comment period about this decision, millions of fake comments were
submitted to the FCC in favor of getting rid of net neutrality. Millions.
The New York state attorney general has been investigating. He estimates
as many as 2 million comments in the public comment period were posted
using stole identities. So, a huge of the information the commission was
supposed to use to make an informed decision to do a huge 180 on something
they decided just three years ago that’s gong to affect everybody in the
country, a huge amount of the information in which they base that decision
is bogus, is made up. We have no idea who submitted it or why.
And yes, the next place you will see this story is in court. Watch this
That does it for us. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it’s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O’DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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