The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 6/20/17 AG Sessions hires Private Lawyer
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: June 20, 2017
Guest: Sam Stein
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: It`s going to be a late one, that does it for us
for now, we will be back here at midnight eastern time live with up-to-date
election results as our coverage continues now with THE LAST WORD with
Lawrence O`Donnell, good evening Lawrence.
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Rachel, so it looks like the message of
the night for Republicans in the House of Representatives is, if you won
your race by less than 20 points, you are in serious trouble.
MADDOW: Yes, it`s – I mean, you keep watching these swings, you know, and
like in the Montana race, there was that big swing in the Kansas race,
there was that big swing.
It appears like in South Carolina, that was that – there was that big
swing. We`ll see what it looks like tonight in Georgia.
But you know, Democrats have to be, you know, satisfied with how much
they`re moving the needle, but ultimately they`re not putting people on the
O`DONNELL: Yes, but when they`re looking at 2018, all of these districts
are districts that they don`t have to win –
MADDOW: Right, that`s very true –
O`DONNELL: In order for them to win the House of Representatives. But
they are now districts in which Republicans suddenly have to spend serious
money to hang on –
MADDOW: That`s right –
O`DONNELL: And they – Republicans never had to do that before.
MADDOW: That`s exactly right, and that`s part of why these people who were
chosen for these Trump administration jobs, why they were available to be
O`DONNELL: Yes –
MADDOW: Because their seats were seen as so safe, the Republican party
wouldn`t have to spend anything in order to hold on to them. That
certainly has been disproved.
O`DONNELL: Yes, maybe there`s no such thing as a safe seat in the
Republican side anymore. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Well, that sixth congressional district in Georgia has not
been represented by a Democrat since we had a Democratic president from
Most of Georgia has embraced the Republican Party since Jimmy Carter was
president, and the congressional election in this district in November, the
Republican won by 24 points.
That`s the race that`s locked in this virtual tie right now. Twenty four
points last time voters went to the polls there.
Polls showed that Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel in a
virtual tie coming into today`s election. The latest returns tonight show
that with 80 percent of the vote counted, Karen Handel leads with 52.4
percent to Jon Ossoff`s 47.6 percent of the vote.
The special election comes as President Trump`s support among Republicans
is falling according to a new “Cbs” poll today. In April, 83 percent of
Republicans approved of President Trump, now 73 percent of Republicans
approve of the president according to the “Cbs” poll.
Joining us now from Jon Ossoff`s headquarters in Atlanta is Garrett Haake;
MSNBC correspondent. Gareth, what`s the feeling there?
GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Lawrence, the bottom just fell out in
this room here. Another network just called this race for Ossoff`s
And what little energy had been in the room a few minutes ago completely
evaporated. It started to disappear about half an hour to 45 minutes ago
when the votes from today started to come in and we saw Ossoff`s lead in
the early votes start to slowly disappear.
About 30 minutes go, Ossoff`s fianc‚e came out and thanked the volunteers
and staff, started talking about small victories like volunteers that got
signed up, new voters here in the district.
Important stuff, sure, but not the kind of thing that was going to rally
this crowd. Lawrence, I think we`ll have plenty of time for smarter people
than me to debate and analyze what happened here.
But two, I think obvious takeaways so far. First, as fired up as Democrats
were in this district, and I don`t know if you can get a sense of the room
behind me and the scope of this, but I`ve not seen anything like this in a
House race I have ever covered.
I mean, hundreds of people here, they`ve been dancing and drinking for
hours, fired up about the House race.
Turns out the Republicans were just as fired up too, and the places she
needed to win, Karen Handel`s voters showed up and they cast the ballots.
And that`s sort of the second thing that I think is going to be note-worthy
about this is even having essentially more money than he can spend,
probably about $25 million in total.
Jon Ossoff couldn`t buy an extra 10,000 or so Democratic voters in this
very red district. The district that Tom Price won by more than 20.
So despite President Trump`s struggles, some of those conservatives are
going to still be conservatives and if Democrats are going to make those
big gains in 2018, they`re going to have to crack a code that they couldn`t
quite crack here despite being with the Democrats I talked to pretty
satisfied with their candidate and how they ran this race really right down
to the very end.
O`DONNELL: Garrett Haake, thank you very much for joining us, really
appreciate it. MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki is standing by at the board taking a
deep dive into what we know about these votes counted so far. Steve?
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, look, I don`t
think our networks called it, but frankly I can`t look at this and give you
a scenario where Jon Ossoff wins we can show you.
With Karen Handel leading by five points here, we can show you how she has
found herself in this position. There`s a couple of things that I would
key in on.
Number one, it was the early vote. Now think about this, all the emphasis
Democrats put on organizing on mobilizing all the attention, Democratic
activists paid and the general advantage we`ve seen Democrats tend to have
in early voting here and elsewhere.
Well, today in the early vote, Jon Ossoff did win the early vote, he won it
by 1.4 percent. The early vote, the in-person early vote.
He wanted to be well north of 50 percent there, because in the same day-
vote, the people actually turning out and voting today.
Looks like Karen Handel well over 55 percent of those and that`s the other
key here, it`s right here. DeKalb County, this is the Republican part of
the district, this is the core Republican part of the district.
Not much of an early vote there to speak of, but a very big same day vote
overwhelmingly for Karen Handel. So Democrats did not get what they wanted
out of the early vote.
The Republicans did better there than expected. And then when you got to
the same day, boy, those Republicans in the Republican heart of the
district, they were motivated.
And the bottom line, yes, you mentioned been a while since a Democrat won.
Since 1992 is when this district was basically created as a House district.
But also, this is a district where Donald Trump only won by a single point,
and that was the key for Democrats tonight.
Could they improve on what Hillary Clinton did in this district and what
would that mean for other districts nationwide.
Well, you look where Ossoff is right now, he basically hasn`t improved on
Hillary Clinton at all. This is pretty much where she landed last Fall –
O`DONNELL: Steve, let me interrupt you with Nbc`s call on this. Nbc is
now projecting that Karen Handel will be the winner in this race when all
the votes are counted. Steve?
KORNACKI: Yes – no, again, that was – this is one of those districts if
you look for national implications here. Look, symbolism is probably the
biggest thing here.
Republicans wanted to say, hey, we could defend this turf, Democrats wanted
to say, hey, we got a win on the board.
But a big thing Democrats are looking at in 2018, we hear about these all
the time, these districts where a Republican represents them, where Hillary
Clinton won, where Hillary Clinton came within five points.
Well, here is sort of that quintessential district, it`s filled with these
college-educated white Republican-leaning suburbanite voters.
Hillary Clinton almost beat Donald Trump off Mitt Romney had won this thing
by 20-plus points in 2012.
It was a district that didn`t really like Donald Trump that much, and yet
again, Republicans did get mobilized and did get activated here.
It looks like as much as Democrats were there, there were so much attention
on the Democratic mobilization.
It looks like when Democrats did that, Republicans got fired up too and we
basically have a result here that Ossoff number, that looks like Hillary
Clinton`s number from last November.
O`DONNELL: Steve Kornacki, thank you very much for joining us, really
appreciate it –
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Steve Schmidt; Republican strategist and MSNBC
political analyst. Also joining us Jason Johnson; politics editor at The
Root.com and MSNBC contributor.
And Steve Schmidt, there are two comparisons being made here on Ossoff`s
vote. His vote is being compared to Hillary Clinton`s vote which is a
choice for president not a House member.
And the vote is being compared to the last congressional race in that
district. Which one of those comparisons is the one that Republicans
should be looking at tonight to contemplate their strength in the
congressional election in 2018?
STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, Lawrence, if your house
campaign strategist, I think you`re sitting there tonight going, thank God
we pulled it out.
Just because the sea wall held doesn`t mean the storm wasn`t fierce and the
waves weren`t large. This is an overwhelmingly Republican district.
Mitt Romney getting 66 percent of the vote, Donald Trump coming down to 49
percent, Tom Price getting elected somewhere between 68 percent to 61
percent in his elections.
So this is an ominous win for Republicans. When you look at the $23
million raised by grassroots donors, where you see that energy, the
Democrats were tapping on the glass in this overwhelmingly Republican
And when you look at how the Democrats get into the majority, you have a
24-seat majority, 23 seats that Secretary Clinton carried that are
represented by a Republican.
And I think what you`re seeing is the new battle ground of American
politics or these suburbs where affluent white college-educated Republican
voters who were uncomfortable with Donald Trump, I think are likely to be
swing voters in 18, in 2020 as the Republican party has gotten more red,
it`s become more rural as the Democratic party`s become more blue, it`s
become more urban.
And that`s left the suburbs as a battlefield. And I think we saw one of
the early battles of it playing out in this race which was surprisingly
O`DONNELL: Jason Johnson, if you`re a Republican in the House of
Representatives and you won your seat with less than 20 percent of the
vote, what do you feel like tonight?
JASON JOHNSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You`re not all that encouraged. I mean,
you have to look at Karen Handel and think like they basically spent $23
million – they pretty much spent like Tom Brady`s salary to keep a seat
that had been in Republican hands for 20 years.
That`s not something that you want to have to think about if you`re a
Republican next year, heading into 2018, knowing that the public is going
to be more energized, more excited and possibly unhappy about the
healthcare bill. Look, at the end of the day, and I agree with Steve in
You know, this was a plus 9 percent registration district for the
Republicans. They should have won this. The fact that it was even close
and the fact that this much money had to be spent, I don`t think any
Republican is comfortable right now because most can`t raise $23 million to
stop someone who is challenging them.
O`DONNELL: And Steve Schmidt, we saw in South Carolina, a surprisingly
close race tonight in that special election that people did not have their
eye on expecting it to be that close.
SCHMIDT: If you go back to 1993, Lawrence, when Bill Clinton was pretty
unpopular in that first term, you had two special elections that dropped
into the Republican column out along the Mississippi River, the Kentucky
one, the Kentucky two districts.
And that showed us that something was brewing for 1994. I think when you
look right now, you consider the fact that the incumbent president`s party
has only picked up seats in that first midterm three times in the last 118
You look at the dispersion of those congressional districts that Hillary
Clinton carried, represented by Republican, you consider the president`s
approval numbers in the mid 30s.
The healthcare bill, the lack of an ability by this Republican leadership
to move an agenda forward.
There are a lot of ominous wins out there if you`re a competitive member of
Congress. And remember, most members of Congress are as likely to lose
their seat as a member of the old Soviet (INAUDIBLE).
But for that special category that are in competitive races, they probably
have a nauseous feeling tonight watching this Georgia 6 race.
O`DONNELL: Jason Johnson, what`s going to happen in this Georgia 6
district next year in the 2018 election? Will Jon Ossoff try to jump back
in and try to rerun this race?
JOHNSON: No one is going to admit that now, Lawrence, but that`s what`s
going to happen. Look, they`re just going to keep focusing on Karen
This is an important thing and I think this is key. This difference
between sort of being on the outside and really being here on the ground
and talking to some of the folks who are canvassing.
There wasn`t actually a tremendous amount of enthusiasm for either Karen
Handel or Jon Ossoff. This was really a referendum on Trump in a district
that more or less was still going to vote for him.
But within the year, as Karen Handel gets saddled with some of the same
policy issues that have made Trump unpopular, I think she is going to be a
number one target for Jon Ossoff next year.
He`s not fallen off the map, people are going to stay enthusiastic. I
wouldn`t be surprised if we get a rematch next year and the result may turn
out to be different.
O`DONNELL: And Steve Schmidt, in the 2018 congressional elections, the
Republicans in Congress are either going to be defending a bill that they
voted for on healthcare that has been signed into law or they`re going to
be defending to some constituents their failure to get a bill on healthcare
signed into law.
SCHMIDT: Yes, ultimately, it`s dammed if you do, dammed if you don`t.
Nobody has any idea of course what`s in it, what it costs, how many people
will lose their insurance, its impact.
Whether you think Obamacare is a good idea or a bad idea, should it be
repealed or not? Yes, certainly, the method that they`re following, no
public hearings, no public vetting of it, no ability for people who will be
affected by it to weigh in.
It`s not going to have a – it`s not going to have a good outcome, and
already the House bill has a 17 percent approval level out across the –
out across the country.
When you look at agenda and the degree to which it stuck, and you look at
how energized Democrats are at some of these districts.
You know, Republicans, you know, are going to have their work cut out for
them in 2018. They`re heading into a big head wind and they`re going to
have a difficult problem answering a pretty simple question which is, you
know, the first check we get at the polls of how is Donald Trump doing?
What are they going to say when people ask the question, do you think he`s
doing a good job as president? That`s tough for Republican candidates in
these marginal districts to answer in a way that doesn`t make them look
like fools or turn off Trump supporters.
So, they have some difficult hours ahead I suspect as we start to move into
this `18 cycle.
O`DONNELL: Let`s take a look at what Paul Ryan is going to be facing.
This is Randy Bryce who`s already announced that he wants to run as
Democrat against Paul Ryan.
Speaker`s seat is supposed to be a safe seat. But let`s take a look at how
Randy Bryce wants to run against Paul Ryan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Paul Ryan, come up and say a
few words. Congratulations on a job well done.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
This is repealing and replacing Obamacare. Everybody doesn`t get what they
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It`s a very painful condition. It`s like hot knives
going through. And you can`t talk, you can`t swallow. It`s terrible.
Look, I`m going to cry. I`m on 20 drugs and if I don`t take the one that
costs thousands of dollars, I don`t know what would happen.
RANDY BRYCE, IRON WORKER: I`m the best person to represent this district
because I`m a working person. If somebody falls behind and we`re so much
stronger, if we carry them with us, that`s the way I was raised.
You look out for each other. I think it`s time, let`s trade places. Paul
Ryan, you can come work the iron and I`ll go to D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Jason Johnson, it looks like every Republican might just have a
serious Democratic challenger.
JOHNSON: Yes, this is a kin to when Republicans were chasing after
Daschle(ph) a couple of years ago. You don`t usually see serious
challengers against party leadership.
But this is the thing, Lawrence. This is a big political science issue
that I think again is a sort of a big question that Republicans have to
The enthusiasm on the side of Democrats is attracting better candidates,
and better candidates are forcing people to have to defend a flank that
they couldn`t have to do before.
And so I think we are already going to see, I bet you later on in the
Summer, you`re going to see more and more Republicans decide, you know
what? I may retire.
I don`t want to have to spend the next 18 months raising a million and half
dollars to protect myself. And when you see something like this happening
in Paul Ryan`s own backyard, it`s really a shot across the (INAUDIBLE) for
any Republican out there to defend this administration which is sinking
faster than any poll number people are going to imagine.
O`DONNELL: Steve Schmidt and Jason Johnson, thank you very much for
joining us tonight, I really appreciate it.
JOHNSON: Thanks, Lawrence.
SCHMIDT: We could do it.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, voters are turning against votes the president in
the latest poll and the president`s – what is now, secret healthcare bill
being managed by Senator Mitch McConnell.
O`DONNELL: Here`s Karen Handel speaking to her supporters in Georgia
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN HANDEL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE, GEORGIA: OK, just a really quick
update. Things look very good.
I know a couple of the news outlets have called it, but we want to just
watch a couple more things –
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We won!
HANDEL: And do that –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We won!
HANDEL: Now, all of you know that I am a person who likes to always dot
every I and cross every T. So let`s just make sure we do that and I`ll be
back down in just a very short time. Thank you all for everything!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to promise you
that this administration is literally working around the clock with leaders
in the United States Senate to move forward legislation in the very near
future that will repeal and replace Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell protected the Republican
candidate Karen Handel in the Georgia congressional election by refusing to
release any details of the healthcare bill until after that election.
Senator McConnell says “voters in the Georgia 6 congressional district and
the rest of the country can find out what he has in mind for their
healthcare on Thursday of this week.
Joining us now, Ezra Klein; editor-in-chief of Vox.com and Sam Stein;
senior politics editor of “Huffington Post”, soon to be politics editor of
“The Daily Beast”.
He`s also an MSNBC contributor. Ezra, as of 10:21 p.m. tonight, what do we
know about the Senate bill?
EZRA KLEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: We don`t know a ton about its details, but
I think we know its broad outlines which is like the House bill, what the
Senate bill is going to do is take hundreds of billions of dollars we are
currently spending to provide health insurance to poor people and it is
going to move that to provide tax cuts to rich people.
That is the core of the first bill, it`s going to be the core from
everything we can tell of this bill as well. It`s going to cause massive
disruption in healthcare system.
And one point I want to make because I think this is being underplayed in
coverage. Republicans keep saying – and this is really what I hear when I
talk to them on the Hill, they need to pass this or something like it
because they promise to repeal and replace Obamacare.
When they promised that, they also told their voters and all voters that
they were going to get more coverage.
Donald Trump said everybody is going to be covered. Mitch McConnell said
the problem with Obamacare is at least 25 million people uncovered.
And they said they`d be lower deductibles and lower co-pays. And this bill
does none of those things. It`s going to have fewer people cover it,
higher deductibles, higher co-pays.
So there is a breaking of that promise, and there`s no reason to think the
Senate bill will be any different than the House bill on that score.
O`DONNELL: We know that Democrats are unsatisfied with the process. We
know that the Democrats are all complaining about being shut out and
having no information about this bill.
Republicans are making the same complaint. Let`s listen to Senator John
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator –
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Yes –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You must be very confident that this bill is going to
pass, number one. And number two, are you willing to burn a reconciliation
package if it`s not?
MCCONNELL: We`re going to make every effort to pass a bill that
dramatically changes the current healthcare law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that`s not confidence necessarily. I think you
wouldn`t bring a bill up unless you were confident, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you satisfied with this process –
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No –
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now?
MCCAIN: No, of course not.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not?
MCCAIN: For the obvious reason that no one has even shared it. We used to
complain like hell when the Democrats ran the Affordable Care Act, and now
they`re doing the same thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Sam Stein, at least one Republican is consistent about this.
SAM STEIN, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, yes, I think the
complaints about process that we`re hearing now though are a bit of a smoke
And in the end, a lot of these senators will end up voting for a bill even
if they have concerns of the process.
I think the one equip I would take, the one criticism I`m going to have
about McCain`s statement is that he said at the end of it that Republicans
are doing the same thing the Democrats did in 2009-2010.
In fact, the process in 2009-2010 while it was much maligned by Republicans
was objectively open and transparent with regards to any passage of major
legislation you can imagine.
There are dozens of committee hearings, dozens and dozens of them they
offer, I`m sure Ezra has the exact number probably in the back of his head.
But it was widely open. I mean, if you remember at this – roughly at this
point in time in constructing that healthcare bill, Barack Obama was
bringing Republican leaders to the Blair House so that he could hear their
ideas and then turn some of those ideas into legislative language in the
final part of the bill.
So it`s not the same as what`s happening in 2009-2010. It`s demonstrably
O`DONNELL: Mike Lee is one of the people who was on this – this quickly
assembled group of people. I don`t want to call it a committee because it
is not a Senate committee.
There is a Senate committee who has jurisdiction over this, but they`ve
been ignored. And let`s listen to Mike Lee`s complaints about this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: I`ve had a lot of people ask me specifically when
the healthcare bill is going to be released to the public.
Why it isn`t public? The short answer to the question is, I haven`t seen it
yet either. Even though I`ve been a member of this working group among
Senate Republicans assigned to help narrow some of the focus of this.
I haven`t seen the bill. And it has become increasingly apparent in the
last few days that even though we thought we were going to be in charge of
writing a bill within this working group, it`s not being written by us.
It is apparently being written by a small handful of staffers for members
of the Republican leadership in the Senate.
So if you`re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I
share your frustration. I share it wholeheartedly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ezra, how can senators makes statements like that and then find
their way to voting for this?
KLEIN: I think that`s been so amazing. I am part of the secret working
group. If you are frustrate by secret working groups, just know I am not
part of the super secret working group and I`ve now decided that you are
right and I share your frustration.
Look, I think there`s a big point to be made about all of this. Which is
that, there`s a reason Republicans have kept to a very secret process here.
Sam brought up I think properly the Blair House event in 2010, I think it
was. And at that moment what happened was the Affordable Care Act was
Its passage looked at the very least hazy. Barack Obama, President Obama
then, invited Republicans and Democrats to the Blair House for a nationally
televised multi-hour debate over the bill.
And the reason he did that was the Democrats believed then, and at every
point in time, that no matter what the poll said, if they could tell the
American people who was in their bill, that the American people would like
Republicans have exactly the opposite belief. They believe that the
American people have time to look at what is in their bill, they will not
And so the best thing to do is to pass it as quickly as possible with
little debate as possible and move on from it forever.
And that is an approach that just – it`s grotesque when you`re dealing
with a healthcare and the lives of this many people.
The possibility you know people are going to hate and keep a secret because
you know it wouldn`t survive if you didn`t, that`s just not a moral way to
O`DONNELL: Yes, Sam, there`s only one reason why you keep legislation
secret, and that is that you know from the moment you make it public you
are only going to lose votes.
STEIN: Yes, I mean, what I hear when I talk to any healthcare activist or
staffer on the Hill working on both sides of the aisle is that we`re
essentially witnessing a game of legislative hot potato.
No one wants to own this thing, and so they keep passing it along to
someone else. The House got it out of their chamber, thankfully to give it
to the Senate.
Now the Senate doesn`t want to be touching this thing, but they`re probably
in likelihood going to pass it, get into the conference committee.
At some point, if this thing either fails or it passes through, so Ezra was
right, they want to get it done, and they want to get it passed and move on
But at some point, it does become law, and at some point that law which is
pulling in roughly the mid to low 20s will have a tangible impact on people
and there will be a political price to pay presuming that they can`t get
those numbers up.
It`s just – no one wants to pay that price now and no one wants to see it
go down for defeat.
O`DONNELL: Ezra, as we know, for this to become a law, there have to be at
least, at least three more votes on this bill – on a bill.
One in a Senate, and then both the House and the Senate will each have to
have another vote on what would presumably be yet a third bill.
But that one has to be in identical form, pass both bodies in order to get
there. There are plenty of places for this legislation to die between here
and that finish line.
And I can`t help but wonder if Mitch McConnell wants to see it die after he
just squeaks a vote through the Senate so that the members of the Senate
who want to say I voted for something can say they voted for something.
Even though they won`t be able to say it became law.
KLEIN: I think that might be right. There`s been a lot of speculation,
but I`m not sure if it is right that means the bill won`t pass.
And it exist, we`ve seen it at every point there –
O`DONNELL: It might pass by mistake in other words?
KLEIN: It is like a collective action problem. Everybody wants to stop it
but nobody wants to be the one –
O`DONNELL: Right –
KLEIN: Who stopped it. Right, no faction wants to be blamed. No chamber
wants to be blamed. And so this thing keeps moving inexorably forward
because nobody wants to take the blame for destroying a bad bill but having
to go before Republican primary voters and say we are the reason we didn`t
repeal and replace Obamacare.
So yes, Mitch McConnell might just be trying to get it out of his hands for
now, but then you go right back to the same dynamics again. Again, it is
the worst possible way and the worst possible reason to craft or pass
legislation I have ever watched.
O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein and Sam Stein, thank you both for joining us –
STEIN: Thanks, Lawrence –
O`DONNELL: Tonight, I really appreciate it –
KLEIN: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: In Georgia, Jon Ossoff has just conceded the race to Karen
Handel. Coming up, a new poll shows some Republicans turning against the
president in significant numbers now.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, new poll shows some Republicans turning against the
President in significant numbers now.
O`DONNELL: Jon Ossoff just finished speaking in Georgia. We will bring
you some of his comments as soon as we have that video ready. Today,
Whitehouse press Secretary Sean Spicer continued to answer questions about
Russia as if he was a mafia foot soldier being asked about the family
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Does President Trump believe that the Russian government
interfered in the 2016 elections?
SEAN SPICER, WHITEHOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think I have not sat down and
talked about that specific thing. Obviously we have been dealing with a
lot of other issues today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us, Glenn Thrush, Whitehouse Correspondent for New
York Times and MSNBC Contributor and Ron Klain Former Chief of Staff to
Vice President Joe Biden and Al Gore and former Senior Aid to President
Obama. He`s also a former Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And he was chief of Staff to Attorney General Janet Reno.
Glenn Thrush, so I think Sean Spicer`s answer was a very good answer to be
able to give to the FBI if it is true. I have not discussed any of this
with the boss. That is the safest place to be on an FBI investigation if
GLENN THRUSH, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, one thing I will say, it
wasn`t a very satisfying or it didn`t seem especially credible to people
who are in the room at the time. But it is noteworthy that Spicer`s
elocution on this issue has changed dramatically, I would say, over the
last six weeks. And I think what it illustrates, Lawrence, is a
realization on the part of Trump`s staff and by the way, we should say,
people are beaten down, they`re demoralized, they feel like the boss
doesn`t have their back.
And I just think there is a sense now that people need to protect
themselves. And Spicer`s comments the way that he is talking about this
were a lot less constrained six weeks ago before things got much more
O`DONNELL: Glenn, you mean more defensive and more combative with the
THRUSH: He would assert things as if they were fact.
THRUSH: He would say – he is now saying things that we are used to
hearing from press secretaries. The president says, to the best of my
knowledge, I have not discussed that with him. These are, I don`t believe
Spicer lawyered up.
I think he will have to and I think many people in the West Wing will have
to, even if they haven`t come to that realization yet. But in general,
you`re hearing Spicer and other spokes people like Sarah Huckabee Sanders
being far more equivocal.
They are not saying things, not stating things as if they were uncontested
fact. the hyperbole has really tempered itself. I think it`s note worthy
to notice now that they are putting things in the arena of responsibility
of the President and other advisors and not taking it on themselves.
O`DONNELL: Ron Klain, Sean Spicer is under no public obligation to
disclose that he has consulting or hired a lawyer. But when you listen to
the distinctions that Glenn is showing us in way Shawn Spicer is speaks
now, it is the way a lawyer would tell him to speak.
RON KLAIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes I think it could be. He may have a
lawyer. He may have just gotten good advice.
But I think, you know, he also is supposed to be at the podium representing
the point of the view of the President and the President earlier months ago
had said - had acknowledged Russia intervened in our election. And I think
the biggest question for us as citizens is if you have Russia who
intervened in our election 2016 and is threatening to do so in 2018, 20,
how can we have confidence that our President is supposed to be defending
us from that when his Press Secretary can`t acknowledge that the threat
Press Secretary says he doesn`t know if the president believes the threat
exists. And his Attorney General testified last week he hasn`t been briefed
thon threat. So I think as Americans we should be concerned whether or not
we are protected from the threat to our democracy. Going forward if our
president and attorney general seems oblivious to the threat.
O`DONNELL: And Ron, the lawyer up news of the day is that the top lawyer
in the American government now has a lawyer. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
now has hired private outside counsel to represent t him in the
investigation. It has been a long time since the Attorney General of the
United States has had to hire outside private defense counsel.
KLAIN: It`s true. And it`s fascinating hire, Lawrence. So a man
named Charles Chuck Cooper. He`s from Alabama. He`s said to be a close
confidant to the Attorney General.
He`s one of the most distinguished conservative lawyers in Washington. Blue
Chip Lawyer but his specialty is arguing at the Supreme Court. In fact
early on, it was rumored he would be Trump administration Chief Lawyer for
Supreme Court. And so hiring him for this is like hiring a brain surgeon
when have you a hip problem.
It`s hard to explain, except for this, he is a close confidant of Attorney
General. He helped him get ready for confirmation hearings. And it`s
possible what hiring is about is extending attorney client privilege to
whatever Jeff Sessions told Chuck Cooper to make sure Chuck Cooper couldn`t
be asked about that. And that confidence, whatever confidences he shared
with Cooper are now shielded bit attorney/client privilege.
O`DONNELL: That`s a great point. And so Glenn, that leaves open the
possibility that the Attorney General could hire more experience
experienced criminal defense counsel to add to this team if he needs it.
But right now if you want it ask any questions of the person who helped
prepare Jeff Sessions for confirmation hearing testimony you can`t really
do that. And that testimony is the subject of a possible perjury
THRUSH: Yes. Well I have to say i am blown away by that point. I
forgotten that Ron was counsel of the judiciary committee. I guess we just
found out how he earned his money, right?
O`DONNELL: that`s why I`m always - it`s why I always include it in Ron`s
title. judiciary committee. I was on another committee when he was that
committee so I never forget it.
THRUSH: I would not have come up with that one. I think what is
interesting is to contrast the hires. Pence lawyered up. Sessions now has.
I think you`re totally right. These legal teams seem to be billowing.
I think the one interesting dynamic is Trump`s legal team seems to also be
sort of his PR team. Jay Sekulow has been on frankly every show throwing
bombs. I think tonight on Fox he said there aught to be a grand jury
investigating former FBI Director Comey. O think what is really odd about
Trump`s legal team is they seem to be just as involved doing sort of
communications work because I think there is a sense in the Whitehouse that
they have not been able to form a counter attack.
What was very interesting also, again, because can I speak to the Comp
Stuff a bit more than the legal stuff, is we had a situation today where we
were on day eight of Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee not giving an on-record
briefing in front of cameras. We sort of shamed - we kind of shamed them
into doing it, I believe. I don`t know that for a fact. but there is a
reason. They do not want to have people out there making more statements
that can ultimately relay to them in legal settings.
O`DONNELL: All right, we`re going to go live to Georgia now. Karen Handel
is giving a victory speech in the Special Congressional Election there.
Let`s listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KAREN HANDEL (R), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I`d like to take a
minute to acknowledge a new friend ways able to make over the course of
that campaign, this campaign, that is majority whip Steve Scalise. Right
up until that tragic day on the ball field, Steve would drop me a text
message every single week just to make sure I was doing okay and hanging
tough. I think he even called me the Terminator in one of them. Wasn`t sure
about that one, Steve but Asta La Vista. Let me just tell you.
But really and truly, what happened, on that ball field, was a terrible
tragedy. And we need to all continue to lift up Steve and others who were
injured that day. And we need to also lift up this nation so that we can
find a more civil way to deal with our disagreements because in these
United States of America, no one, no one should ever feel their life
threatened over their political beliefs and position.
And I say that ladies and gentlemen in regards to both sides of the
political aisle. Through this campaign I have had a really great joy of
getting to know any number of our leaders in Washington. And let me tell
you, even though within our own GOP family we sometimes have disagreements.
These are fine men and women who are doing their level best for this
I`m really honored to be able to stand before you tonight and so
extraordinarily humbled. But as most people know, most big things are not
accomplished by one person alone. And I add tremendous amount of support in
this campaign from each and every one of you, to a great campaign team.
They really are – yes, give them hand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That`s Karen Handel giving her victory speech in Georgia in the
special election here tonight. Here is what Jon Ossoff had to say a bit
earlier before Karen Handel came up to speak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON OSSOFF (D), GEORGIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Friends, I called
Secretary Handel. and, no, please - I commened on a hard-fought race and on
her victory this evening. Now let me address you, the more than 12,000 of
you who as darkness has crept across this planet, have provided a beacon of
hope for people here in Georgia, for people across the country, and for
people around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: No president has ever shown less interest in the actual job of
the presidency than Donald Trump, who according to all available evidence,
spends more time tweeting and playing golf than he does trying to pass
legislation or manage American interests in the world`s most difficult hot
spots like North Korea, that just in effect murdered one of our citizens on
President Trump`s watch.
And Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria where the president apparently abdicated
presidential decision making and left day-to-day operations to military
commanders. A Russian fighter intercepted a U.S. spy plane over the Baltic
Sea reportedly coming within just five feet of that aircraft Monday. That
incident happened on the same day the Russian defense ministry threatened
to treat any American planes fighting ISIS in Syria as targets if they fly
west of the Euphrates river.
There was no response whatsoever from the president of the United States on
that threat from the Russian defense ministry. Earlier today, an American
fighter jet shot down an Iranian-made armed drone that was headed in the
direction of American troops in southern Syria. This is the second such
drone that U.S. Military shot down this month. Foreign policy magazine is
reporting on the in-fighting within the Trump administration and the White
House on what to do in Syria.
The report says the two White House officials are pushing to take wider
action in Syria but according to that report Secretary of Defense James
Mattis has personally shot down their proposals more than once. A former
general has not had this much authority in the American government since
Dwight Eisenhower was president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I`m greatly concerned that we may be
slipping into a hot war with Assad`s forces, with Iran or even with Russia.
And we need a clear strategy from the Trump administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was Senator Chris Coons of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee speaking today on Capitol Hill. Joining us now Jeremy Bash,
MSNBC National Security Analyst and a former Chief of Staff to Leon Panetta
when he was the director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense at the Defense
Department, Jeremy what happens if the president simply says, you guys are
Defense Secretary, everybody else concerned with our assets in Syria,
Afghanistan, Iraq, it`s up to you. You don`t have to check with me. Make
any decisions you want.
JEREMY BASH, MSNBC NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well National Security is a
team sport, Lawrence. You need every player working together. You need the
State Department working in concert with the Defense Department, working in
concert with the uniform military, working in concert with the intelligence
community and should all be put together by the National Security Adviser
reporting up to the president as the Commander in Chief.
So when every player doesn`t work with each other, then there is a recipe
for miscommunication and ultimately failure. And I would say Lawrence that
there is - there is never been a time more tense than this in the skies
over Syria. Let`s just focus on what happened. The Russians declared a no
fly zone. That was going to be our strategy to deny Assad`s forces to deny
the Russians the ability to attack our forces on the ground.
And those we are supporting in the campaign against ISIS. Instead what they
basically said is you Americans you have to keep your planes grounded west
of the Euphrates. And it`s really unclear at this hour Lawrence whether or
not the president is going to stand for it to – to this minute we have
heard nothing from the president about this problem.
O`DONNELL: Well, who – who – who likes this situation? I mean I can
imagine in Henry Kissinger`s White House if the president were to say I
have absolutely no interest in anything that happens on your watch. Henry
Kissinger would have been thrilled. He would have been in effect president
of foreign policy, president of all defense policy because in what you just
described it all flows into the national security adviser.
And if the national security adviser doesn`t have to check with the
president, doesn`t the national security adviser on these matters in effect
BASH: Yes, but I don`t know any national security adviser or secretary of
defense and I would bet secretary Mattis and General McMaster are in this
category. They don`t want to operate as free agents. They don`t want to
operate without the input from the White House, the inner agency. They are
used to a normal orderly national security process.
They don`t like freelancing they want to have conversation. They want to
have an organized foreign policy process. And they want buy in from the
commander in chief. They want involvement by the president. So - so I
actually think that they would - they would want that. I think the problem
is really a policy problem which is that the president has to date been
unwilling to push Russia out of the way in the skies over Syria. And as a
result what you`ve seen is you`ve seen Iranian drones, you`ve seen Syrian
fighter aircraft coming to attack those forces on the ground that we are
And we have troops on the ground in Syria. This is a very dangerous and
delicate situation. And for the president basically to say we`re okay with
Russia pushing us out of the way, I think that`s unacceptable and harmful
to troops and our interests.
O`DONNELL: And we know when – according to reporting after the fact that
when we used the big bomb in Afghanistan that had never been used before,
the president had pre-delegated the authority to make that decision without
checking with him.
BASH: Yes but I got to say Lawrence my sources tell me the president was
not involved in that decision at all. He took credit for it later because I
think he - he thought it looked somehow macho but he was not involved in
the decision at all. Likewise he was not involved in the decision at all to
shoot down the Syrian Aircraft, the SU22 fighter that shot at the Syrian
Defense Forces on the ground.
The president wasn`t involved in that at all. That was a decision made by
the commander in the field, ultimately the central command commander
General Votel and ultimately the Secretary of Defense. And – and the
president again has not been taking on the – the Russian forces, the
Syrian air forces and the Iranian air forces in the skies over Syria.
O`DONNELL: Jeremy, how would it have changed your job at the defense
department working for the secretary of defense if you were sitting there
waiting for presidential decisions that`s simply were not coming?
BASH: That would have been unacceptable. I mean time matters. Again,
when lives are on the line you don`t have a lot of time to waste. Some of
this authority should be pre-delegated. The rules of engagement should be
set forth to the secretary of defense and the commanders on the ground.
And then if there are any adjustments to make you take that back to
national security councils have conversation in the inner agency group and
ultimately take things to the president.
If the president is not involved or more specifically if the president is
unwilling to take the fight to Russia in the skies over Syria again that is
a very dangerous situation.
O`DONNELL: Jeremy Bash thank you for sharing your expertise and experience
with us again tonight, really appreciate it.
BASH: Thanks Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s last word is next.
O`DONNELL: Here is more of what democrat Jon Ossoff had to say tonign
after his republican opponent Karen Handel was projected the winner of that
congressional special election in Georgia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OSSOFF: At a time when politics has been dominated by fear and hatred and
scapegoating and division. This community stood up. Women in this
community stood up. You did. You did. And you picked this campaign up
and you picked me up and you picked and you picked Alicia up and you
carried us on your shoulders.
And we showed the world that in places where no one thought it was even
possible to fight we could fight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Jon Ossoff gets tonight`s LAST WORD. “THE 11TH HOUR” with
Brian Williams starts now.
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