House Democrats hold votes. TRANSCRIPT: 1/3/2019, The Rachel Maddow Show.
Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: January 3, 2019
Guest: Hakeem Jeffries
CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right
now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Super fascinating show tonight, Chris.
MADDOW: And exciting to have like traffic noise and nighttime noise around
you. It gives a sort of urgent feeling.
HAYES: A lot of bustling. There is a lot of bustling today.
MADDOW: Well done, my friend. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Happy Thursday. It is
a historic day.
Today, the 116th Congress was officially sworn in two years after being
exiled from power in a shocking election result that they did not expect
and the Republicans did not expect, and pollsters did not expect, Democrats
have now come roaring back with their biggest midterm election victory in
modern history, and they now as of today have the majority in the House of
Representatives. The 116th Congress is the most diverse class of lawmakers
in the history of our country.
Today, both the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Black
Caucus swore in their largest numbers ever. The Progressive Caucus,
members of Congress who proudly identify themselves as liberals or
progressives, the Progressive Caucus is now on track to include about half
the entire Democratic Caucus in the House.
A record 102 women were sworn in today to serve in this Congress, 35 of
those 102 women will be serving in Congress for the very first time.
Today, the youngest African-American woman ever to serve in Congress took
her seat. So did the first Muslim women, plural, as did the first Native
American women, plural.
There were a lot of firsts as the 116th Congress took their seats today.
But I want to start with something today that has happened once before.
Today, Nancy Pelosi took back the gavel to become speaker of the House.
That puts her third in line to the presidency, second in the line of
presidential succession after the vice president.
Nancy Pelosi, of course, has already been speaker of the House. She is the
first person in more than 60 years to return to the speakership for a
second time. Still, though, she is the only woman to ever hold the
speakership, to ever hold the gavel.
And if little girl watching at home, if by some chance you ever find
yourself in a similar position as Nancy Pelosi, God willing, may you be so
lucky as to have a guy like this get the honor of introducing you and
putting your name in nomination.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: The scripture says that weeping may
endure during the long night, but joy will come in the morning.
Madam Clerk, it is with great joy that I rise today as directed by the
House Democratic Caucus to place the name of Nancy Pelosi in nomination to
be the next speaker of the United States House of Representatives.
JEFFRIES: Nancy Pelosi captained the ship that defeated the effort to
privatize Social Security, rescued our economy in the midst of the Great
Recession, saved the American automobile industry, provided affordable
health care to more than 20 million Americans.
In the 116th Congress, she will continue to fight hard for the people.
Nancy Pelosi will fight to lower health care costs, strengthen the
Affordable Care Act, protect people with preexisting conditions, increase
pay for everyday Americans, and enact a real infrastructure plan, clean up
corruption, defend the Dreamers, fix the Voting Rights Act, and end the era
of voter suppression once and for all.
JEFFRIES: We`ll fight for a country that provides for the poor, works for
working families, makes sense for the middle class, stands up for senior
citizens, innovates in the inner city and strengthens suburban communities.
Nancy Pelosi is a woman of faith, a loving wife, a mother of five, a
grandmother of nine, a sophisticated strategist, a legendary legislator, a
voice for the voiceless, a defender of the disenfranchised, a powerful,
profound, prophetic public servant, and that`s why we stand squarely behind
Let me be clear, House Democrats are down with NDP. Nancy D`Alesandro
Pelosi, the once and future speaker of the United States House of
Representatives. I proudly place her name in nomination. May God bless
her. May God bless the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, placing in
nomination the name of Nancy Pelosi to be speaker of the House, and getting
a bunch of standing ovations for her and one for himself I think in the
process. One for himself for placing her name in nomination in a way that
multiple times brought people to their feet.
Honestly, though, the whole shebang today of swearing in this new Congress,
of transferring power in Congress from the Republicans to the Democrats, it
was kind of like that. Lots of lawmakers today wore these blue buttons to
support Pelosi during the vote, madam speaker. People crowded around and
took photos as the new plaque was installed over her office, naming her
once again as speaker of the house.
When it came time for the official swearing in, lawmakers had a whole table
of bibles and other holy books and law books and Constitutions to choose
from. Freshmen lawmakers took selfies with each other as they stepped on
to the House floor as lawmakers for the very first time, freshmen lawmakers
and not so freshmen lawmakers.
When Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland, the first native American women in the
House were sworn in, they embraced, wiped away tears. Eric Swalwell held
his 4-month-old daughter while he cast his vote for Nancy Pelosi. Had to
kind of dance while he did it to keep her happy.
Ilhan Omar celebrated with her kids once she took the oath of office today.
Abigail Spanberger showed her daughter today a scarf with pictures of all
the different women who`d been on the ballot this year. I should mention
thereafter, they were also spotted taking pictures with Flat Stanley.
One of Nancy Pelosi`s granddaughters almost stole the show herself today.
She was so stoked to be there, so stoked to watch members of Congress vote
for her grandma to be speaker.
When it was Nancy Pelosi`s own turn to vote for speaker, there was a little
confusion at first. She did not realize right away that it was her turn.
There was a lot going on. But her grandkids came in for the assist to make
sure she would make her vote.
When Pelosi officially took the oath to become speaker, she did it
surrounded not only by her own grandkids, but the kids and grandkids of all
the other lawmakers who were there in the chamber today, all of whom she
invited up to the dais with her when she called the Congress to order for
the first time today, saying she was doing so on behalf of all of America`s
children. Her granddaughter gave her a kiss at the moment she officially
took back the gavel.
What happened today is something that a lot of people thought as recently
as a year ago or less than a year ago, might be mathematically impossible
because the House has been so gerrymandered in terms of congressional
districts to ensure an almost unassailable Republican advantage and an
almost locked in Republican majority. Also, Republicans had a sizable
majority heading into this past election. Not that long ago, it seemed
mathematically impossible for the Democrats to take back the House.
But the Democrats blew through those perceived constraints at a thousand
miles an hour in this past election. They needed to flip a couple dozen
seats in order to win the speakership and win the majority. No one knew
until the very last minute if they would be able to do it at all. They
ended up blowing past that and flipping 40 seats, more than they flipped in
any election since Watergate.
And so now, today, power has been peacefully transferred. This is what it
boils down to.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The tellers agree in their tallies that the total
number of votes cast is 430, of which the Honorable Nancy Pelosi of the
state of California has received the 220.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The applause at that point went on for two minutes. Before they
announced the runners up, the other people who received votes for
speakership today behind Nancy Pelosi as she secured her place in history
In terms of getting to work today, the dynamics and the activism, the shoe
leather work that got these members of Congress to this moment in the first
place, those things are still at work right now across the country.
In Connecticut today, members of the local Indivisible group, they showed
up with donuts and coffee at the office of Democratic Congressman John
Larson. They ended up meeting with him by phone for about 50 minutes.
In Los Angeles, Indivisible activists dropped by Maxine Waters` office,
leaving a message that she should not give $1 for the president`s southern
In Irving, Texas, Indivisible members were out in the rain to tell
Republican Congressman Kenny Marchant that they are aiming to flip his seat
in 2020. They`re saying “whose house? Our house.”
In Bar Harbor, Maine, it was 29 degrees today and snowing. The Indivisible
team there made a stand in the snow. Also in amine, because freshmen
Republican Congressman Jim Hagedorn is not set up in office yet, his
constituents did have a place to send him letters, so they literally made
him a mailbox so they could drop off the mail they have prepared for him.
That`s the way Indivisible works. We have covered them over this very
fascinating past couple of years in Democratic and progressive politics.
The principle behind the Indivisible movement is that you talk to your own
member of Congress, your own representative, regardless of whether your
representative is generally someone you agree with or disagree, regardless
of their party. That basic operating principle has meant that Indivisible
groups across the country have pet pretty persistent and creative pressure
on Democratic and Republican offices all around the country, especially
targeting district offices of incumbent members, right?
Well, Indivisible turned the pressure on again today, hitting all of these
district offices of Democratic members and Republican members. The only
difference is this time, they are pushing in the context of a Democratic
majority. And this time they are pushing not for Democrats to stay on
defense, but a hard line on defense against what the Republicans in the
Trump White House want to do. This time they`re pushing for the Democrats
to be offense on policy.
The new Democratic majority will hold the nation`s first hearings on the
idea of Medicare for all. You can see evidence of pressure on that account
today as well. A reporter with Think Progress today followed supporters of
Medicare for all as they showed up too at the Capitol Hill offices of
freshmen members of Congress who had run saying they supported Medicare for
all. Now is the time for activists to hold them to it.
This means new congresswoman like Ayanna Pressley from Pennsylvania and
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York. When activists supporting the same
goal showed up last year in support of the Affordable Care Act, they were
escorted out by police. This time, new day. They were welcomed in.
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley`s staff telling these activists today to,
quote, please count us as allies.
So things change, but then other changes follow. And I think in this era
of Democratic and progressive policy, you will see the pressure continue.
Now that Democrats are in control, it just means that they`ll be feeling
the pressure too from some of the same activists and base voters and
organizers who got them there. As of today, Democrats officially control
the House. They are that much in power. One-half of Congress, which is
necessary but not sufficient to get policy passed.
But in addition to the question of Democrats and policy, it was also an
intriguing development today on the issue of Democrats and oversight,
which, of course, is the other great responsibility and opportunity that
the Democrats are in with this new majority. A couple of weeks ago, the
top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, the man in line to be the
new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he took objection to the
conventional wisdom that a sitting president can`t be indicted.
Congressman Jerry Nadler of New York is now chair of the Judiciary
Committee, and he is openly saying that he does not believe the Justice
Department internal guidance which says that a sitting president should be
considered immune from prosecution. Now, whether those internal Justice
Department legal memos from the 1970s and from 2000, whether or not those
OLC memos about the possibility of indicting the president, whether or not
those are binding, whether or not those would stand any sort of real test
has been hotly debated by lawyers and constitutional scholars as the
scandal surrounding this president have achieved unprecedented heights and
levels of concern.
Two weeks ago on this show, Congressman Nadler raised eyebrows when he laid
down that marker, though. He called that internal Justice Department
guidance that a sitting president can`t be indicted, he called it, quote, a
deeply un-American decision. He said on this show no one should be both
the law, and if the framers of the Constitution had wanted to make the
president immune from indictment, they would have said so in the American
Constitution. He said that here to us a couple of weeks ago, and that is
the head of the Judiciary Committee saying that.
And that, I mean, we`ll find out eventually, but to my mind, that means
don`t give up on the possibility of the potential indictment of the
president by prosecutors or the special counsel. Don`t necessarily focus
only on the possibility of impeachment by Jerry Nadler`s House Judiciary
Committee. Leave open, leave your mind open to the possibility of
indictment as well.
Now, whether or not as a legal matter that is a bluff, whether or not that
is something they`re going to pursue as a matter of policy or with
hearings, whether or not that is something they`re going to pursue with the
Justice Department, or whether or not this is a political stand that
they`re taking on this issue, that is an important marker that has been
laid down already by that really important member of Congress. It`s really
important to know that Jerry Nadler thinks that, if you`re considering the
potential fate this president over the next couple of years.
But now today, Chairman Nadler got some very important company in making
that provocative argument.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS HOST: Do you believe the special counsel should
honor and observe the Department of Justice guidance that states a sitting
president cannot be indicted?
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I do not think that that
is conclusive, no, I do not.
GUTHRIE: So you think it`s possible that special counsel Mueller could
legally indict a sitting president?
PELOSI: Let`s just see what Mueller does.
GUTHRIE: Could Robert Mueller come back and say I am seeking an
PELOSI: I think that is an open discussion. I think that is an open
discussion in terms of the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I think that is an open discussion in terms of the law. I do not
believe that that Justice Department guidance is conclusive.
So, first, the new Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee,
and now the newly elected Democratic speaker of the house are signaling do
not rule out an indictment for the president. That could have really big
consequences for the whole question of whether or not Democrats would ever
take up impeachment or whether they will work to keep the focus on federal
prosecutors or the special counsel when it comes to the president`s
accountability for the various scandals that surround him and the entities
that bear his name.
So, we`re going to be talking in days and weeks ahead I am sure about this
decision by House Democratic leaders to start making this point about the
potential indictability of a president. But they definitely stuck a flag
in that point today. Day one of the new Congress, and that is going to end
up being really important down the road.
That said, there is stuff to get to before then. In the very short term,
Democrats` first priority is to try to reopen the federal government.
Tonight, Speaker Pelosi held a press conference in which she called the
president`s proposed wall on the southern border an immorality. She said
it is not who we are as a nation.
The speaker said, quote: The president cannot hold public employees hostage
because he wants to have a wall. This is a live look at the floor of the
House of Representatives right now. Democrats are about to hold two votes
to reopen the federal government current funding levels. President Trump
has vowed to veto any measures that do not contain funding for physical
wall on the southern border. The Democrats are now holding votes.
Democrats are holding these votes. We`ll see what Nancy Pelosi is able to
pull off in terms of what she is able to pass through the House. Her past
record of legislative achievement as you heard Hakeem Jeffries say there,
as he was putting her name for nomination today, her past record as a
person, as a legislator and a legislative leader is somebody who can count
votes exactly, and who is not embarrassed by her own caucus, who can bring
things forward on her own say so, knowing exactly how they will go because
she understands her caucus when she puts things forward in public. We will
see that in action now again with Nancy Pelosi as speaker.
That said, she cannot control the Senate, and Mitch McConnell has never
been inclined to put forward anything that would put Donald Trump in any
sort of a spot. And so, a new era begins, with Democratic control of the
House. As of today, they will have to show what they can do for the people
and the activists who helped put them back in power, despite amazing odds
against them. They will also be looking to see what they can deliver for
our country that wants to know if Democrats holding half of Congress can
change this country, can change Washington even at all. More on that next.
MADDOW: As the Democrats had their big day swearing in Nancy Pelosi as
speaker of the house and taking control of the House of Representatives
today, the president today did his best to try to seize back the spotlight
when he pulled this sort of unusual stunt. He declared a surprise press
briefing that he himself would conduct in the White House briefing room
today for the first time ever.
This was not, in fact, a press briefing, despite that announcement from the
White House because the president took no questions from the assembled
press. He just talked and left. It`s not a press briefing if the press is
just there as an audience.
Still, though, now that the Democrats have seized back partial control in
Washington and a lot of the press attention that goes with that, it`s going
to be interesting to see how the president tries to keep control of the
narrative and tries to make sure that he is the center of all the
attention, that he is the thing at which all news cameras must be pointed
at all times. Yesterday, we saw that with his sort of Potemkin cabinet
meeting, where a normal president might have been expected to invite in
cameras to show a spray of the room as the president convene a cabinet
meeting. Maybe some initial remarks off the top, but then a normal
president would kick reporters out so the actual work of the cabinet, the
actual substance of the meeting could take place behind closed doors.
Instead, what President Trump did yesterday was invite cameras in to stay
the whole time while he invited each of his mostly acting cabinet
secretaries one after the other to say nice things to him. And then he
sort of talked for an hour and a half with the cameras there for the whole
time, for the whole time. It was like an endurance test for the camera
crews. And nobody`s quite sure what the point of that was, other than to
keep those camera crews from potentially being otherwise occupied with
other people in Washington who are not named Donald Trump.
But here is something maybe important that happened at that otherwise
surreal and sort of meaningless exercise with the cabinet meeting, would-be
cabinet meeting that was instead him talking in front of the press. We
mention this on the show last night, that there was an odd topic that the
president raised at that all for show cabinet meeting. It was not only a
topic that was expected to be a topic of conversation, it was something
that really appeared to take everybody in the room by surprise when the
president went there out of the blue.
I mentioned it on last night`s show. Tonight, we actually need to update
that story, because what last night seemed like just an odd riff by the
president yesterday, now turns out to be something maybe more worrying,
maybe even worrying to the point where the new Democratic Congress might
end up taking a look at this.
Here is where the story starts. Right after the president was inaugurated,
about two and a half weeks into the new Trump administration, there was a
lot that was going wrong already, particularly on issues of foreign policy
and international relations and national security stuff. There was that
gigantic mess over the supposed Muslim ban. There was lots of breaking of
protocol and screwing things up, including very awkward calls and missed
calls with leaders of countries that are supposed to be our closest allies.
The White House doing really dumb, insulting stuff like getting the names
wrong of foreign leaders, even our supposed best friends. They were
getting their names wrong. But just two and a half weeks into the new
administration, “Associated Press” published this story, which rounded up
some of the bad news about all those things that were being screwed up and
mishandled in the young administration.
And at the very end of that story, they tacked on a specific detail, which
was a little bit like one of these things is not like the others. The
thing they tacked on at the end of that story was something that actually
didn`t seem like a mistake. It didn`t seem like a screw-up or a typo. It
seemed like a point of intrigue.
The “A.P.” reported this just two and a half weeks into the Trump
administration. Quote, according to one U.S. official, Trump
administration national security aides have sought information about Polish
incursions in Belarus, an eyebrow-raising request because little evidence
of such activities appears to exist.
And I remember two and a half weeks into the Trump administration, I was up
in Boston, I think. See how the background kind of looks different there.
I was not in our normal studio.
It`s two and a half weeks into the new administration. I remember doing
this big long segment that night on this show trying to raise a red flag
about how worrying that line was in that “Associated Press” piece, right?
Even though that seemed like some sort of arcane national security matter
about countries we don`t think about that much, the reason that leapt out
at me at the time as so strange and potentially very worrying is because
the only people in the whole world who were saying at that time that there
was any risk that, what was it, that Poland might invade Belarus? The only
people in the whole world who were saying that was a potential problem that
people ought to look out for, the only people who were talking about that
as a possibility were Vladimir Putin`s government.
Putin`s government at that time was running a military intelligence
disinformation campaign to try to mess with Belarus by convincing Belarus
that Poland was about to invade them. This was not something that was a
real threat. This was not something that was a real potential.
Poland really wasn`t going to do that. It wasn`t something of concern to
anybody in the Western world, most particularly not the brand-new Trump
administration who literally didn`t know that the prime minister of Britain
has the first name Theresa. They honestly couldn`t even figure out if
Taiwan and China were the same thing, but they knew to be worried about the
possibility of Poland invading Belarus?
That was a made-up thing that Vladimir Putin was pushing as part of an
information warfare offensive against a country that Russia wanted in its
orbit, absolutely obscure and in fact made up anywhere outside of Putin`s
immediate propaganda orbit. And that is something that senior level Trump
national security aides took up at the highest level within the first two
weeks of them arriving at the White House? Like as one of the major things
America needed to have on its radar on the world?
It was such a weirdly revealing and worrying moment. It was like – you
remember during the Republican primary when Trump started telling reporter
that he had seen information, pretty good proof, that Ted Cruz`s dad
assassinated JFK. Do you remember that moment? On the one hand, it was oh
my god, I can`t believe he just said that about Ted Cruz or Ted Cruz`s dad
But on the other hand, it was oh, this is the proof we needed that Trump
reads the “National Enquirer”: and believes the thing is in it are true,
because that`s where this story came. Senior officials were apparently
trying to track down in the first two weeks of the Trump administration,
what they were trying to track down was something that was completely
foreign to and external to the United States in every way. It was only a
Russian propaganda campaign. It wasn`t a real thing. How did they even
know that propaganda campaign existed?
So that was an early sign. That was two and a half weeks into this
administration. But that was kind of the first hole in a nine-hole golf
course. Things like this have happened numerous times now. There was
another weird moment we had as a country last summer where again the
president brought up something super obscure and utterly foreign to all
American political discourse when he volunteered to the Fox News Channel
that the people of Montenegro, where?
Montenegro, stay with me here, President Trump volunteered to the Fox News
Channel last year that the people of Montenegro are an unusually aggressive
people, and we should fear that they might start World War III, the
Montenegrins. I know you think I`m making this up that somebody like
president Trump couldn`t even say the name of that count without really
embarrassingly mispronouncing it, but no, I swear, he absolutely did this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Montenegro is a tiny country
with very strong people. By the way, they`re very strong people. They
have aggressive people. They may get aggressive, and congratulations,
you`re in World War III.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Where did that come from? I mean, ask yourself in your heart of
hearts, do you believe that President Donald Trump has such a nuanced
understanding that he has detailed heartfelt opinions about the innate
characteristics of these specific and divisible populations of each of the
Balkan states so he can just drop into conversation casually the inherent
national characteristics of the Macedonians versus the Montenegrins versus
the multiple slices of the Albanian populations he could temporize on if
you like him to. Where did that come from?
Montenegro is a small country in the Balkans. It`s roughly the size of
Connecticut. It has a population near a million people. One thing you
might know about Montenegro, in 2016, there was almost a coup in that tiny
The same day that country was holding a parliamentary election, the coup
plotters planned to take over, they planned to storm the building where
everybody was voting. They planned to arrest the prime minister, if they
couldn`t and arrest the prime minister, they planned to kill him. That was
But a few days before that coup was supposed to kick off, one of the people
who was supposed to be part of it got cold feet, turned himself into
authorities. That`s how we know what the coup plan consisted of.
Montenegro arrested more than a dozen people in that alleged plot to
overthrow their government and assassinate their prime minister.
As a result of that foiled coup, as the result of the investigation that
followed into how that country`s democratically elected prime minister
almost got himself murdered, we got to know quite a lot about how that plot
came together, what Montenegro ultimately discovered was it wasn`t just a
random group of upstarts who one day decide they were going to grab a bunch
of guns and take over the Montenegran parliament and kill the prime
minister. What they discovered was this whole coup effort had been backed
by Russian military intelligence. The coup plotters were allegedly
recruited and funded by Russian military intelligence, by the GRU.
And Russia`s apparent goal in supporting that coup was to stop Montenegro
from deciding to join NATO. Russia is fixated on NATO. They do not want
NATO any bigger than it is, right?
Russia sees NATO as its main military adversary in the world. They want
NATO dismantled. They certainly don`t want any new members. We since
learned more about how in addition to Russian military intelligence trying
to foment a coup in Montenegro, Russian oligarchs close to the Kremlin also
funded pro-Russian political opposition in that country in an effort to
block them from deciding to join NATO.
The coup failed. Montenegro ultimately did decide to join NATO, and the
Montenegran prime minister who was not assassinated, he got to go to his
first NATO summit in 2017. He is obviously stoked to be there as you can
see from the look on his face there.
I will interject for a second right now. If you are watching dishes or
grooming the dog or doing something else while you are listening to this
and you`re not actually looking at the TV, you may want to look up at the
TV for this next piece of tape, because at that first NATO summit with the
new Montenegran prime minister, this is what our new president did to him.
Watch. Watch Trump. What did he do? He literally shoved the prime
minister of Montenegro, look, watch again, he shoved him out of the way on
the main stage at the NATO summit. Welcome to NATO. Get out of my way.
What`s he doing? He grabs him and shoves him behind himself. That was a
super weird moment for our new president. What the heck does he care about
this guy from Montenegro. Why does he push him and none of the other guys?
What has he got against Montenegro?
And then this summer, that same American president randomly volunteers to
Fox News that Montenegro is a nation of aggressive people who are going to
start World War III since they are part of NATO now. It was a truly
bizarre, out of the blue thing for this American president to say. And I
mean that in a specific sense.
I mean, calling Montenegro and Montenegrins a threat is not part of
American foreign policy. It`s not part of conservative American policy,
liberal foreign policy, the moon is made of green cheese American foreign
policy. I mean, the president is not reading that in his briefing books,
no matter who is writing them. He is not hearing that from anybody in the
American Congress. His advisers are not whispering in his ear about the
aggressive Montenegrins and the threat of World War III.
The only place on earth that has been pushing any line like that Montenegro
is unusually aggressive and will start World War III if they`re allowed to
join NATO, the only place on earth articulating that is the Kremlin under
Vladimir Putin. So where did he get that from, right? Who planted that?
Poland`s going to invade Belarus? No, they`re not. Putin made that up.
Montenegrins are unusually aggressive if they`re allowed to join NATO? No,
they`re not. Putin made that up. Where are you hearing this stuff?
Seeing this happen a few times now over this Trump administration, and now
it has just happened again. It`s next.
MADDOW: This is a thing that happened. Just tell me why you think this
happened. The president yesterday in front of the assembled cameras in the
cabinet room, he volunteered to the assembled press and to the somewhat
bewildered members of his cabinet that he believed it was a good thing that
the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan back in 1979. His exact quotes on the
subject were, quote, they were right to be there, meaning the Soviet Union
was right to invade Afghanistan. He said, quote, the reason Russia was in
Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia.
That is what the president said yesterday in the cabinet room. And you may
not care at all why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. That is
fine. But the president randomly volunteering that analytical take on that
matter that day ought to pique your interest, because that view does not
exist in nature in this country.
No one, no liberal, no conservative, no contrary out-of-the-box policy
foreign thinker, nobody in American politics, in American academia, in
American media, in American fantasy football chat rooms – look, I spent
the day looking. This is not a live issue anywhere in U.S. politics. It
is not a live issue among weird conservative fringe media figures that you
might not know about that the president might love. There is no Fox pay-
per-view podcast where Judge Jeanine sits around in the studio with other
pals cooking up revisionist history justifications about why Soviet special
operators needed to raid the presidential palace in Kabul in Christmas
I mean, nobody thinks Russia invading Afghanistan in 1979 was good move.
Yes, they had to do that because of the terrorism. It`s not what happened.
And there is nowhere in America, nowhere where President Trump might have
picked up this idea. But there is one place not in America.
Next month, the United Russia Party of – which is the party of Russian
President Vladimir Putin, that party will sponsor an official resolution to
rehabilitate this infamous part of the history of the Soviet Union. They
will introduce a resolution to make the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan
retroactively no longer a mistake. This new regulation on the 30th
anniversary of the withdrawal of Afghan troops – excuse me, of Soviet
troops from Afghanistan will call the invasion justified looking back at it
now because of the threat of terrorism.
I mean, that is the only place in nature where that idea even exists.
President Putin`s party and the communist party in Russia who are jointly
supporting that resolution to rehabilitate the whole idea of the Soviet
Union waging a war in Afghanistan. That`s the only place in nature that
idea exists in the Kremlin. And it just came out of our president`s mouth
in this country, in the cabinet room where he brought it up unprompted,
apropos of nothing.
Where is the president getting this stuff? It is possible that contrary to
popular perceptions, he is a wide-reaching reader of what you and I might
think of as obscure or even picayune international conflicts and historical
inflection points in your recent history. Maybe. Or someone is stove
piping this stuff into the president`s ears so it pops out of his mouth at
the most unexpected times.
What do we do with that?
Joining us now is Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia under
Mr. Ambassador, it`s a real pleasure to have you here tonight. Thank you
for being here.
MICHAEL MCFAUL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA:
Sure. Thanks for having me. Happy New Year.
MADDOW: Happy New Year.
You are a Russian expert, and I am not. And it is my perception as I just
explained that the view that the Soviet Union had to invade Afghanistan
because there was a threat of terrorism and it was actually a good move, it
is my perception that that is an idea that doesn`t exist in nature in the
United States, that there isn`t anybody who espouses that view. Is that
MCFAUL: To the best of my knowledge, Rachel, that is correct. But I have
to say what an incredible team you have to have found where it does exist
in nature, because I didn`t know what you just reported about, the United
Russia resolution coming. That`s an incredible investigative work.
Congratulations to your team.
MADDOW: No, it`s not me. Actually, let me give credit where secret is due
MCFAUL: OK, where did you find it.
MADDOW: Jonathan Chait of “New York Magazine” wrote about this because
Vladimir Kara-Murza, who, you know, a Soviet dissident, a guy who almost
died for being a dissident in Putin`s Russia.
MADDOW: He wrote a piece about it in the first week of December for “The
Washington Post`s” world politics section saying, hey, you should know that
Russia is trying to revise this part of history. Kara-Murza reported it.
Jonathan Chait picked it up, Steve Benen picked it up for our staff, and
that`s the reason I`m able to bring it.
But it is – that shows you how obscure it is.
MADDOW: It`s not the sort of thing the president would stumble upon in his
MCFAUL: Of course. I mean, of course. I mean, it`s remarkable.
I mean, just to be clear, everything he said was false about what happened
and causality here. The Soviets did not invade Afghanistan to stop
terrorism. You know, as an educator, it just embarrasses me when I hear
the president say things like that.
But to your point, it is striking that he does pick up on these very
strange ideas in conversations with leaders, most certainly Vladimir Putin.
I know because I remember an idea that Putin floated to him last July when
he said wouldn`t it be a great idea to interrogator a bunch of Americans in
response to the Mueller indictment – if you remember that story.
And, you know, President Trump came out and said that`s a great idea. So,
there is a pattern here of him picking up these very strange ideas from
people like Putin and then stating them as if they are facts.
MADDOW: And you were one of the Americans who President Putin thought
should be allowed to interrogate.
MCFAUL: Yes. That one I caught. That one caught my attention, believe
MADDOW: Well, I`m – does this happen with other presidents? Is this not
Obviously, world leaders do have conversations. They meet at summits.
They have phone conversations maybe that we don`t necessarily know about.
Presumably there are leader-to-leader communications where these sorts of
things might be picked up.
To me, it is striking because I feel there have been a number of iterations
now where the president has volunteered something, sort of injected
something into the American bloodstream that no other American would ever
articulate, and it seems to only make sense in a sort of Russian mindset,
in a Kremlin mindset.
Have you ever seen this with any other president?
MCFAUL: No. I`ve worked for one president for five years. I worked at
the White House for President Obama.
Sometimes, there were strange things said, but, of course, somebody like
President Obama would then ask his staff. He would ask somebody like me
about the validity of this.
So, there are two things I think are striking here. One, that other
leaders have figured out that this is a way to work with President Trump.
You know, the pull-out of Syria allegedly is through a phone call he had
with President Erdogan.
But secondly, where is the staff? Where is John Bolton? John Bolton knows
that that`s not true. Why is he not pushing that stuff aside? Why isn`t
there better staffing for the president so he doesn`t say things that are
just factually untrue?
So, I think we need to wonder about what kind of process is going on within
the White House as well.
MADDOW: And wondering if that staff will ever have to give us the American
people any sort of account of the ex-parte communications from others that
are stove piping this stuff to him.
MADDOW: I find it very unsettling.
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, thank you for joining us
tonight, sir. It`s very nice to see you.
MCFAUL: Sure. Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFFRIES: Let me clear, House Democrats are down with NDP, Nancy
D`Alesandro Pelosi, the once and future speaker of the United States House
of Representatives, I proudly place her name in nomination. May God bless
her. May God bless the United States of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That was the get up off your seat, get up on your feet crescendo
ending to Congressman Hakeem Jeffries formally nominating Nancy Pelosi to
be speaker of the House today. Congressman Jeffries is himself number five
in House Democratic leadership now for this new Congress. He`s been
elected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
And Congressman Jeffries joins us live from Capitol Hill tonight.
Sir, thank you so much for your time. I know this a very busy night.
JEFFRIES: Good evening. Great to be on with you.
MADDOW: First of all, I have to get to the urgent business. I know you
have to go vote in a second. Can you tell us what`s going on right now
with the votes to try to reopen the government?
JEFFRIES: Well, we successfully passed a continuing resolution to fund the
Department of Homeland Security through February 8th. That vote passed
with four or five Republicans actually joining Democrats in a bipartisan
way to do that, which was a very positive step forward.
And currently, we have successfully reached the 218 number in terms of
passing the other six bipartisan appropriations bills that would reopen the
government with respect to all the other departments aside from the
Department of Homeland Security. And so, we expect that in short order,
that vote will close, and we`ll send that bill over to the Senate where
hopefully they will act.
MADDOW: In terms of that hopefulness, Senator McConnell has not signaled
he is likely to act on these bills, saying that the president won`t sign
these bills because they don`t have funding for the president`s southern
border wall. And if the president isn`t going to sign these bills, then
Senator McConnell won`t pick them up. What`s your take on that?
JEFFRIES: Well, here`s the thing, the House and the Senate are separate
but coequal branches of the government. The Senate is not a wholly owned
subsidiary of the Trump administration and it shouldn`t function as such.
And the bills that we`re sending over to the Senate are bills that they
themselves have already signed off on in terms of adequate funding for the
departments that are currently closed.
We need to reopen the government, and then we can work out the issues that
exist as it relates to border security and our broken immigration system.
But we should not hold 800,000 federal workers hostage because Donald Trump
wants to build a medieval border wall that will be ineffective. It`s a 5th
century solution to a 21st century problem.
MADDOW: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, I know that you are squeezed right
now and you have to go vote. I`m going to let you go, but not without a
promise that you`ll come back soon to talk about your plans for a new
JEFFRIES: It would be an honor to do so. And thank you for all that you
MADDOW: I appreciate it. Thank you very much, sir.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, as I mentioned, has a new leadership role.
He`ll be number five in House Democratic leadership. He`ll be chairman of
the House Democratic Caucus. He brought the House to its feet today
putting Nancy Pelosi`s name in nomination to be speaker.
We`ve got one more really good story to get to tonight on this big news of
the news. Stay with us.
MADDOW: A third of the Senate runs in the midterm election, so about third
of our nation`s U.S. senators got sworn in today in batches of four on the
Senate floor. And afterwards, they posed one-on-one for a reenactment with
the vice president, sort of a ceremonial swearing in. That`s when you get
your pictures with the V.P. and with your family members.
That led to kind of an amazing moment with Arizona`s new Democratic senator
today, Kyrsten Sinema. Just watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (D), ARIZONA: Can we get a spouse? Just kidding.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Can we get a spouse?
Senator Kyrsten Sinema, incidentally, the first openly bisexual U.S.
senator in U.S. history. She went on to swear the oath of office today,
with her hand on a law book containing the Constitution of the United
States in her home state in Arizona.
And Mike Pence had to smile for the cameras through all of it. Absolutely
MADDOW: Just in the last few moments the votes have officially closed, so
now we can say that as the first two official acts of business in the new
Democratic House of Representatives, the House has passed two bills to
reopen the federal government without funding for a wall on the southern
border. Your move, Republican Senate.
That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL”.
Good evening, Lawrence.
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