The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, Transcript 7/26/2017 WaPo: Trump considering firing AG
Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: July 26, 2017
Guest: Max Boot, Ana Marie Cox, Julie Rovner, Wendy Sherman
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Good evening, Rachel. Rachel, I
really liked your point earlier in the show tonight about the Trump
tweeting, about the transgender policy in the military going straight to
the supporters of Jeff Sessions.
MADDOW: Yes –
O`DONNELL: So the Jeff Sessions base, which by the way existed politically
before there was ever a Trump base. And I hadn`t considered that today.
I hadn`t linked that up. That – there`s the – when you try to make sense
of a Trump tweet, at first it feels impossible. It always does.
But I think you might have found the light in there that –
MADDOW: Well –
O`DONNELL: Makes sense.
MADDOW: You know, the – I try to avoid the president`s tweets except when
he tries to change major policies affecting the largest military in the
world with them.
But I think both the transgender policy stuff that he tweeted and also that
super like bordering on violent by (INAUDIBLE) anti-immigrant stuff that he
has been doing, I mean, you put those two things together and you`re pretty
close to a portrait of the things that matter to Jeff Sessions as a
politician and the things that might excite a pro-Jeff Sessions, Trump-
supporting base members.
So I think especially if you see those two things together, I think he`s
trying to make up for angering people about his attacks on Jeff Sessions.
O`DONNELL: And the attacks on Jeff Sessions seem to be the first thing
that have, in any way, caused him any bumps from people like Rush Limbaugh,
Rush Limbaugh`s audience –
MADDOW: Right –
O`DONNELL: Republican senators. This is – he`s getting a first sensation
of real resistance from those people.
MADDOW: And you can see him trying to throw them a bone, trying to buy
them off, trying to both distract them and please them with something
unrelated because he – those are the kinds of folks that he really can`t
bear criticism from for long.
O`DONNELL: What I got was a very important insight that you had and I
learned only by watching your show.
MADDOW: Thank you, my friend, you`re very kind.
O`DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: So last night on this program, I speculated – it was pure
speculation, just speculated with Senator Al Franken that the president
might try to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a recess
appointment during the August recess.
And now of course – of course, tonight the breaking news is that the
president is discussing replacing Jeff Sessions with a recess appointment
during the August recess.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told you before, I`m very
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You can be
disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He`s trying to get Sessions to
quit and I hope Sessions doesn`t quit.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE OF THE UNITED STATES: Jeff
has been very loyal to the president, and I think he deserves loyalty back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did what I believe any ethical attorney general
would do under the circumstances.
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES: I personally would
strongly recommend against firing Sessions.
TRUMP: But we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER, SENATE: We want to get
legislation to finally end the failed Obamacare status quo.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Make no mistake about it, skinny repeal
is equal to full repeal.
TRUMP: We better get that done, fellas, please, Mike.
TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, UNITED STATES: What we
need to do in the Senate is figure out what the lowest common denominator
TRUMP: It`s going to be so easy.
MCCONNELL: It certainly won`t be easy.
TRUMP: Please, Mike.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about just doing a little bit of governing around
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the president is demonstrating weakness by
his handling of Sessions?
TRUMP: You got the last word.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The breaking news tonight from “The Washington Post” is that
the president is discussing with his advisors the possibility of replacing
Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a recess appointment during the August
recess that would bypass Senate confirmation and allow the new attorney
general to serve without being confirmed by the Senate until the end of
“The Washington Post” reports some advisors have come away convinced that
Trump is determined to ultimately remove Sessions and is seriously
considering a recess appointment to replace him.
An idea that has been discussed on some of the cable news shows he watches.
And it was discussed here last night when I brought it up with Senator Al
That might have been the first time that President Trump discovered there
is such a thing as a recess appointment.
And I`ve been raising the question about a recess appointment for Attorney
General on Twitter before last night. My raising the question of a recess
appointment was purely speculation.
As I said, I was just speculating. I had no sources in the White House
telling me any of that. But the man who now occupies the presidency is so
fully transparent that speculation about what he might be thinking about
could not be easier.
And of course, once he learned there was something called a recess
appointment, President Trump was going to start thinking about it and
talking about it, which brings us to what might be our most interesting
cross-roads yet for the president and Republican senators.
It has finally happened. Republican senators are finally up in arms
against President Trump. Finally, they have found their voice.
The president has finally gone too far for even Republican senators. Now,
before we consider what the president has finally done that Republican
senators just cannot accept, we should – we really do owe ourselves for
perspective a minute to remember just some of the things that Republican
senators have had no problem accepting from their Republican president.
When Donald Trump said John McCain was not a war hero because he got
captured, Republican senators accepted that.
When Donald Trump made the unconstitutional campaign promise to ban all
Muslims from entering this country, Republican senators accepted that.
When Donald Trump attacked Senator Ted Cruz`s wife and suggested that Ted
Cruz`s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, Republican
senators accepted that and then, in the most horrific turn that we have
ever seen in a senator`s career, Ted Cruz himself retroactively accepted
that and actually brought his wife and his children to the Trump White
House to bow down before their new president.
And when Donald Trump attacked Rosie O`Donnell and Megyn Kelly and talked
about blood coming out of Megyn Kelly, Republican senators accepted that.
And of course, who can forget that when Donald Trump attacked Khizr Kahn
and his wife Ghazala, the parents of United States Army Captain Humayun
Kahn who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq, a heroic moment that saved
the lives of his men and many others.
When Donald Trump attacked them, Republican senators accepted Donald
Trump`s attacks on the Khan family. He was their nominee for president by
then, and Republican senators made it clear that they would accept anything
their nominee said or did.
When Donald Trump was revealed on a video recording to have bragged about
sexual assault and described his own technique of sexual assault,
Republican senators accepted that.
Republican senators with daughters accepted that. Republican senators with
wives and mothers and sisters accepted that.
Donald Trump describing himself as a sexual assaulter was something that
Republican senators had no problem accepting.
President Trump woke up one morning and tweeted lies about President Obama
illegally wiretapping Trump Tower, and Republican senators accepted that
and let`s never, ever forget that Republican senators accepted Donald Trump
lying about President Obama`s birth for over five years.
Now, what I would love to be able to do right here is just sit here in
silence with you as we all just let it sink in. What Republicans and
Republican senators in particular have accepted from Donald Trump, and in
that silence we could think of dozens and dozens of more outrageous things
that Republican senators have accepted from Donald Trump.
But this is TV, and if I go silent, they`ll pop a commercial in here, so
let`s move on to the outrage. The final outrage that has provoked some
Republican senators to reach into what`s left of their conscience and
object, object to President Trump.
And that outrage of course is the president`s treatment of a Republican
senator. Senator Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse the
candidacy of Donald Trump.
Senator Jeff Sessions was the only Republican senator who endorsed the
candidacy of Donald Trump before Donald Trump won the Republican
And this week, Senator Jeff Sessions has become the new Trump enemy, the
new Hillary, the new Obama, the new lying Ted, the new little Marco.
We now have the beleaguered Attorney General Jeff Sessions according to
Donald Trump. And so for Republican senators, Donald Trump has finally
crossed the line that he crossed with a majority of Americans during the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff Sessions is an honorable man. He did what I
believe any ethical attorney general would do under the circumstances.
HATCH: Jeff has been very loyal to the president, and I think he deserves
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is one of the most honest people you would ever
know. He is a man of very high integrity, Jeff Sessions has my confidence.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that his independence has been proven by his
willingness to recuse himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Kenneth Starr; the special prosecutor who investigated Bill
Clinton has just published an op-ed piece in “The Washington Post” saying
that the president`s attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is, quote,
“one of the most outrageous and profoundly misguided courses of
presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the
The “New York Times” conservative columnist Ross Douthat has written
tonight in a column that will appear in tomorrow`s print edition, quote,
“Donald Trump`s campaign against his Attorney General Jeff Sessions in
which he is seemingly attempting to insult and humiliate and tweet shame
Sessions into resignation is an insanely stupid exercise.”
The column goes on to describe the president`s actions as a multi-tiered
tower of political idiocy, moronic madness and proof that the president is,
quote, “gravely deficient, somewhere at the intersection of reason and
judgment and conscience and self-control.”
The last line is of this conservative op-ed piece is simply, “this
president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the
Joining us now, John Heilemann; national affairs analyst for Nbc News and
Msnbc. Max Boot; Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the
Council on Foreign Relations and a former foreign policy adviser to
Also Mieke Eoyang; a former House Intelligence Committee staff member and
vice president for the National Security Program at the Third Way.
And John Heilemann, the attack that we`re seeing here is, of course,
unprecedented. And something else that conservatives are pointing out is
it proves that Donald Trump cares nothing about policy because no one is a
more faithful deliverer of Donald Trump policy than Jeff Sessions in the
JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, NBC NEWS: Yes, I was going to
say thank you for having me on tonight, even though we`re discussing an
insanely stupid exercise.
I`m an expert on those matters so I feel highly qualified to comment here.
It`s the case that`s extraordinary. In the same way that Donald Trump
firing Jim Comey caused liberals to suddenly rally around Jim Comey who
they previously hated because of his role in the 2016 campaign and hurting
Now you`ve got not just Republican senators, but even people on the left
who are suddenly rallying around Jeff Sessions of all people, who is
prosecuting the most conservative, aggressive, retrograde, pro-law and
order at the extreme hyperbolic version of that part of Trump`s agenda that
you could possibly imagine.
He is – it`s part of the thing that gives him some political cover with
the administration in addition to the senators and the Republicans who are
institutionally and personally fond of him.
He`s also someone who has this wiggle room to fight Trump because the
reality is that the Trump base loves Jeff Sessions on the merits that they
care about, on immigration, on these law enforcement issues, right?
But it is certainly the case that Trump seems to be – just does not seem
to care about any of that, at least so far.
There is some reporting that suggests that he may be moderating. He may
have spent his rage over the last couple of days.
But when I read, as I`ve now read in “The Washington Post” and the “New
York Times” tonight that Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are telling him,
don`t do this –
O`DONNELL: Yes –
HEILEMANN: I remember the last time that Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon
told him not to do something, which was don`t install Anthony Scaramucci as
He did that, and the fact that they are arguing that he shouldn`t do this,
I would not –
O`DONNELL: Yes –
HEILEMANN: Say that it`s necessarily a good sign, all goes well for the
career of Jeff Sessions.
O`DONNELL: Yes, Mieke, you worked in the House of Representatives, close
experience working with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.
How surprised are you that the line that the president crossed that finally
turned Republican senators against what he`s been thinking about is
basically that he attacked a former Republican senator?
MIEKE EOYANG, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, THIRD WAY: Well,
Lawrence, I also worked for Senator Kennedy in the Senate, and it was a
very collegial place then.
So this is absolutely expected. The Senate is very much a club. And while
Senator Sessions was one of the most conservative senators there was, he
was very popular among his colleagues.
And so it`s unsurprising that they would take up a strong defense of him.
O`DONNELL: Max Boot, you`re a conservative Republican who turned against
Donald Trump before he managed to insult a former Republican senator.
I want to read you something that Chuck Grassley tweeted tonight. And in
terms of all of the defenses of Jeff Sessions mounted today by Republican
senators, this might actually, technically be the most forceful one.
He said, “everybody in D.C. should be warned that the agenda for the
Judiciary Committee is set for the rest of the year, for the rest of 2017.
Judges first, sub cabinet second, attorney general no way.” And so, Max,
there`s the guy who would be running a confirmation hearing for the next
attorney general saying, I will not schedule a confirmation hearing for
another attorney general in this year.
But of course that all becomes meaningless if the president does a recess
MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN
RELATIONS: Well, just to correct first the way you described me, Lawrence.
I have to point out I am a conservative ex-Republican, I became an ex-
Republican because I was so disgusted with Donald Trump and it`s very
interesting to me to see as you`re pointing out what it is that makes
Republicans finally turn against Trump.
And he can insult the FBI, the CIA, minorities, women, transgendered
people, anybody in the world, but, no, he starts insulting Jeff Sessions
and all of a sudden they get offended.
And of course, I am feeling a little bit conflicted here because I am no
fan of Jeff Sessions. Remember that he lied about his meetings with the
Last week, we found out that according to these intelligence intercepts
that they actually discussed campaign material which he had refused to
admit in the past.
So on the merits you can make a strong case that Jeff Sessions ought to
resign, but of course, if his resignation leads Trump to appoints a stooge
who then fires Bob Mueller, of course, I will join the consensus in
Washington and say please, Jeff Sessions, stay right where you are.
But it`s an uneasy place to be, and I think what we have to keep in mind
here and not lose sight of is that, what this is all about is how scared
that Donald Trump is of the Bob Mueller probe.
How scared he is that Mueller is going to uncover more collusion with
Russia, how scared he is of what Mueller will find in his taxes and his
So much so that he is willing to basically trash one of his closest allies
and take on the entire establishment in Washington because he thinks that
might be a better course for him than allowing the Mueller probe to
continue. That`s a very telling indicator.
O`DONNELL: John, Max`s point couldn`t be more important. Everything that
the president does in this arena is the behavior of someone who is
If you`re looking for a logic to it, it is logical that he gets rid of
Comey. It`s logical that he tries to fire the special prosecutor if he`s
HEILEMANN: Logical that he explores pardons if he`s guilty.
O`DONNELL: Yes –
HEILEMANN: All of that is right. The one thing that`s not rational, and
it`s interesting right now because I`m told that allies of Sessions are
trying to argue to the White House, trying to say, you know, if you want to
get rid of Mueller, you don`t have to fire Sessions.
Just go fire Rod Rosenstein. The president can fire the deputy attorney
general. He doesn`t have to – he doesn`t have to do this two-step if he
wants to get to Mueller, he can get rid of the guy.
Sessions would – you know, be able to just go and install a new deputy
attorney general, you could get this done in a different way.
It speaks to, yes, there`s a lot of indications the way he`s behaving that
he is a man who is afraid and a man who, again – our behavior is that he`s
But there`s also this core of irrationality to it, he`s angry at Sessions
for having done this recusal. And his anger even seems to be clouding his
judgment about how to get to the kind of movement that he really wants,
which is the ultimate end game here, which is to fire Mueller, I think.
O`DONNELL: And in a tweet today, the president found fault with Jeff
Sessions for not doing something that is not within Jeff Sessions` power,
but is within Donald Trump`s power.
He said, “why didn`t AG Sessions replace acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe;
a Comey friend who was in charge of the Clinton investigation and so forth?
And Mieke, of course, that is a presidential power. That is not the
attorney general`s power.
EOYANG: That`s absolutely right. And it`s sort of ironic that Donald
Trump is complaining about Andrew McCabe`s wife receiving political
contributions from Democrats when Donald Trump himself has given
excessively to Democrats in campaign contributions over the years.
And so all of these critiques of the Mueller team and their past campaign
contributions, suggesting that they are unable to be objective when they
have been professional lawyers throughout, is really stunning given his own
political contribution history.
O`DONNELL: So, Max, when – there`s been a lot of – been a lot of
speculation in the past about what will Republicans do if/or where is the
The Republicans who are kind of suggesting that their breaking point would
be the firing of Jeff Sessions, but scheme it out for us.
Let`s assume that the president either forces a Sessions` resignation in
August or fires him in August and does a recess appointment.
Would these Republicans who are saying we don`t like this today – would
they really when the moment came, stand up against the president for this?
BOOT: Well, that`s the big question, Lawrence, and they have not really
stood up to the president on just about any issue to date.
So the question is would this be different? And I think one way you could
maybe avoid this is by not having the Senate go into recess, so at least
not give him the opportunity for a recess appointment.
But what`s kind of troubling to me here is that, all these senators are
drawing the red line around Jeff Sessions` job, whereas to my mind, the
actual red line is trying to fire Bob Mueller.
And as Mieke just pointed out, there`s other ways that Trump can do that
other than actually replacing Sessions. He can try to go around Rosenstein
and find somebody else at the Justice Department who will fire Mueller for
And that to me should be the red line just as he crossed a red line by
firing Jim Comey, and it`s amazing to me that Republicans didn`t seem to
care about that.
Now, we have to – they have to make clear to him that if he gets rid of
Mueller, that they will instantly pass an independent counsel statute so
the investigation will not end.
That there will be a complete and independent counsel as there was prior to
1999. That is what Republicans ought to be saying.
You know, the issue with Sessions is only part of it. I think the red line
really ought to be Mueller and I wish they would speak out more on that
O`DONNELL: John, quickly before we get a break in.
HEILEMANN: Well, here`s a question for you as a Senate expert, right?
There`s a line in the “New York Times” report tonight that says that Senate
leaders made clear that they would block Mr. Trump in replacing Mr.
Sessions if he tried to do so during a recess.
One of the – one of the mechanisms that the Senate has, you know way more
about the Senate than pretty much anyone alive, what could be done about
O`DONNELL: Oh, yes –
HEILEMANN: To stop it –
O`DONNELL: The recess is a mirage. I mean, you can basically send
everybody home and technically keep the Senate in session, but it will look
like a recess but it`s technically in session so that you can`t do recess
Mitch McConnell has done that – did that in fact, so that President Obama
couldn`t do recess appointments at certain points. So that`s definitely a
strategy, and that would be completely up to Mitch McConnell to do that.
There`s a very tricky way that the Democrats might also –
HEILEMANN: Right –
O`DONNELL: Be able to keep the recess from actually becoming a formal
recess that opens up this whole –
HEILEMANN: So this may be the answer to your question, and which is they
might be able to stand up to Trump without actually having to stand up to
O`DONNELL: The passive standing up to Trump –
HEILEMANN: Right –
O`DONNELL: There, that could be it –
HEILEMANN: Yes –
O`DONNELL: John Heilemann gets the last word on standing up to Trump with
Republicans tonight, really appreciate it, John. Mieke Eoyang, thank you
for joining us. Max, we`re going to need you in another segment. Thank
Coming up, presidential chaos reached the Defense Department today, and
Senator John McCain voted against the Republican healthcare bill today, a
vote that was consistent with the dramatic speech that he gave in the
O`DONNELL: Chaos reigned today in the Trump administration once again when
the president tweeted an announcement about a new policy in the military
that no one in the military or the Pentagon knew about and therefore is not
a new policy in the military.
This is the same president who celebrated the passage of the Trump-Ryan
healthcare bill in the House of Representatives in a Rose Garden gathering
and then later called the bill “mean”.
Senators voting on healthcare legislation know for certain that if they
pass a bill, at some point after they pass a bill, the president will
criticize the bill that they passed at his urging.
Today`s trump administration chaos appeared to be an attempt by the
president to distract attention from the real business of Washington today,
healthcare legislation and the investigation of Trump-Russia connections.
This morning the president tweeted, “after consultation with my generals
and military experts, please be advised that the United States government
will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity
in the U.S. military.
Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and
cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that
transgender in the military would entail.”
There was apparently no consultation with his generals. Secretary of
Defense, former General James Mattis is on vacation and made no response to
the president`s tweet.
The Defense Department released this response. “We refer all questions
about the president`s statements to the White House.” And here is what the
White House said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: This was a military decision. This was about military readiness.
This was about unit cohesion. This was about resources within the military
and nothing more.
Guys, I really don`t have anything else to add on that topic. As I do,
I`ll keep you posted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: So the Pentagon knows nothing about this military decision, and
the White House is obviously lying when calling it a military decision.
And as of tonight, nothing has changed for anyone serving or wishing to
serve in the United States military.
Joining us now, Ana Marie Cox; contributor to the “New York Times Magazine”
and the host of the podcast “With Friends Like These”.
And back with us, Max Boot. And Ana, Rachel made a great point in the
previous hour about how perfectly this presidential statement via tweet
this morning fits with the Jeff Sessions constituency out there who now
might be a little bit alienated from President Trump.
ANA MARIE COX, CONTRIBUTOR TO THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Oh, it`s
definitely like this has the stench of Bannon upon it, right?
I mean, it`s definitely some – an attempt to kind of shore up that part of
his base. I have to say that`s one of the things that makes it
particularly grotesque, right?
And he`s transparently playing politics with our national defense and he`s
doing so at the expense of real men and women who are serving honorably and
beyond those men and women in the military, he`s sort of putting a target
on the back of a lot of trans-people who already feel victimized, you know,
by this presidency already feel like their physical person is at risk.
It adds just a new category to the number of people who feel unsafe in this
country because of this president. If I can add on the distraction a bit.
Someone once compared this White House – covering this White House to
watching 5-year-olds play soccer.
You know, they run around, they just go wherever the ball is, and that is
of course an insult to 5-year-olds. But if I can extend the metaphor just
a bit, this is like watching 5-year-olds play soccer on a field filled with
Everything they do is fraught with danger. There is something bad that
might happen at each moment. And today`s tweet storm actually revealed
I`m sure you saw the story that said for nine minutes at the Pentagon, the
generals there thought that he might be declaring a preemptive strike on
They believed that that was within the realm of possibility. I mean, there
are so many things wrong with everything that happened today.
I want to make sure that that doesn`t get lost. Like we have been very
fortunate as a country that no true, you know, national disaster,
international disaster has befallen us while this, you know, chaos
profiteer is in charge.
But you know, that luck – you know, statistically, I don`t know if it can
hold, and I`m frightened, I really am –
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Senator Orrin Hatch said today. Senator
Hatch took some time off from trying to take healthcare insurance away from
20 million people and said this about the president`s statement today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HATCH: And I`ve said, look, people who are transgender, they don`t choose
to be transgender, they`re born that way. And why should we hold that
They`re human beings. And many of them are extremely talented human
beings. So, you know, we should be open to everybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Senator John McCain issued this statement today. The
President`s Tweet, this is yet another example of why major policy
announcements should not be made via Twitter. The statement was unclear.
The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently serving
transgender individuals to stay in the military. And many are serving
honorably today. Max Boot, did the white house expect a surge of public
Republican Congressional support for this?
MAX BOOT, MSNBC CONTRINBUTOR: They probably did. But I think as much as
anything, what Trump really wanted was just us talking about this issue.
He wanted the controversy to distract from the other controversies, right?
Because everything crazy thing that the Trump Administration does is
basically a distraction from the 300 previous crazy thinks they`ve done.
And he`s really been hammered on the Jeff Sessions thing for the last few
days, including by his allies. So I think this is an example of what in the
Clinton Administration was called boo bait for bubbas. I mean he`s
throwing it out there. He`s throwing out some red meat to the base.
So that they`ll be happy and so they`ll ignore the fact he`s trashing their
champion, Jeff Sessions. But is as Ana Marie so eloquently put it I mean
this is a lousy way to run a Presidency. This is no way to run a serious
This really came out of left field. I mean it`s blindsided, I`m sure, Jim
Mattis who is on vacation, it blindsided the generals because nobody was
acting for all trans individuals to be banned from the service. That`s not
something that the military is asking for.
They don`t want to deal with it because these individuals are serving
honorably and bravely. Why do you want to kick them out? Even the right-
wing Republicans on the Hill who are trying to block money for gender
reassignment surgery, they weren`t trying to kick out all these Trans
individuals who are already in the military.
This is Trump getting to the right of Orrin Hatch. That`s not a place you
really want to be. And he`s just doing it for transparently cynical
political reasons. I mean does anybody really think that Trump is actually
a member of the religious right, that he`s actually a social conservative?
I mean give me a break. This is the most brazen political opportunism and
cynicism. And it`s a truly sad commentary on a lot of religious right that
it may well work, that they`re falling for it.
ANA MARIE COX, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And they admitted this, right? They
admitted this to I think Axios that this was a political ploy. That they
were going to – they were cleverly going to try to force Democrats to
defend because they think blue collar voters will just eat this up.
And I have to say I think they are underestimating America`s working class.
You know, trans people are working class too, and people who are working
class aren`t necessarily close-minded bigots like other people in the
administration I could name.
BOOT : Well, I would hope that Ana Marie, I would hope you`re right.
Unfortunately up till now we we`ve seen that those that think the public
will turn against Trump decisively have been over estimating the public or
at least over estimating his base and unfortunately they`ve remained with
him through all this. And who knows what it will take to make them wake up
and smell the coffee. Maybe his attack on Sessions will finally do the
trick but even there I`m doubtful.
O`DONNELL: Well a majority of the public has been standing against this
President since before his inauguration. And so the majority is still
opposed to Trump. It`s that base that sticks with him where the question
marks still remain.
Ana Marie Cox, Max Boot, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really
BOOT: Thank you.
COX: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, another Republican plan to completely repeal the
Affordable Care Act failed in the Senate. And this time John McCain voted
with the Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Repealing and
replacing Obamacare, we better get that done, fellas. Please, Mike. We
need that so badly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The latest Trump/Pence/Ryan/McConnell health care plan was
defeated in a vote of 55-45. Seven Republicans joined every Democrat in
voting against the so-called repeal only proposal that would have
completely repealed the Affordable Care Act without a replacement. Six of
the Republicans who voted against it voted for a nearly identical repeal
bill in 2015 that was vetoed by President Obama.
Senator John McCain was one of the Republican Senators who voted against
the bill today. And that vote by Senator McCain made clearer what he meant
yesterday in his speech objecting to legislation written by the leadership
behind closed doors. Senator McCain cast two procedural votes supporting
Mitch McConnell yesterday. But this was the first vote that was directly
on the substance of the legislation, and that`s the one that Senator McCain
Based on what Senator McCain said yesterday, this may mean that Senator
McCain will vote against any other actual legislative proposal offered by
the Majority Leader. Reports indicate that Mitch McConnell legislative end
game is to get something that Republicans are calling skinny repeal that
would leave most of the Affordable Care Act intact. It would repeal the
individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the medical device tax.
The Congressional Budget Office says that that legislation would result in
16 million Americans losing health insurance and a 20 percent increase in
premiums. Joining us now is Julie Rovner, Chief Washington Correspondent at
Kaiser Health News. Julie, So finally the McCain statement of yesterday is
starting to come into view and make sense.
I speculated last night that his vote yesterday, he would say, were
procedural but when he got to the substance. He voted against Mitch
McConnell`s piece of legislation. Does that mean if you add McCain to what
feel like the no votes upcoming, that the republicans might not be able to
JULIE ROVNER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It might mean that the Republicans
couldn`t pass anything. That was always a possibility going into this. What
they were able to do to cobble together the 50 that they need to proceed
with the debate was basically promise the moderates that they would give
them what they want, a chance to vote on that, promise the conservatives
they could have a chance to vote on what they wanted. But there was no
piece of legislation where you were going to get both the moderates and the
conservatives together. At this point we`re waiting for what that piece of
legislation might look like that they could get everybody on board.
Perhaps it`s this skinny bill, but not necessarily.
O`DONNELL: It turns out the skinny bill has a very big effect on people.
When you hear skinny bill, oh, they`re not changing too much. Well, 16
million people lose health insurance under the so-called skinny bill.
ROVNER: That`s right. The skinny bill would take away the requirement for
most people to have insurance, but it would leave the requirements that
insurers sell to sick people. So basically what the Congressional Budget
Office is that there will only be sick people left in the pool.
Insurers are not going to want to participate in those markets. you`re
going to end up with a 20 percent premium increase, but you`re also likely
to end up with lots more places where there is no insurance available for
sick or healthy people. That`s a big problem. That`s a problem with several
of these bills, and it`s a problem that none of them really address.
O`DONNELL: There are about 15 taxes in the Affordable Care Act and in the
so-called skinny bill, only one of them gets repealed – the medical device
tax. That`s an interesting one to target because the repeal of that tax
does have some Democratic support, liberal Democratic support from
Elizabeth Warren, from the Democratic Senators from Minnesota, and at least
10 or so Democrats.
ROVNER: That`s right. There are big medical device makers in Massachusetts
and in Minnesota as you point out, and those senators have voted for repeal
of this particular tax in the past. There`s also – there`s some thought
there will also be some kind of delay or repeal of the Cadillac tax, which
is this very unpopular tax on very high-end health insurance that`s already
But that`s one other possible tax that could be in that package. But those
are pretty much the only taxes that would be addressed in this very small
O`DONNELL: And that tax is left – is in the package specifically to try
to tempt these democrats or make the vote very difficult for them. but they
seem to be hanging together. Democrats seem to be having no trouble hanging
ROVNER: No, I don`t think the Democrats are having any trouble hanging
together, though it`s interesting there may be a vote tomorrow that`s being
forced by the Republicans to try to get the democrats to say whether or not
they support single payer. Although at this point the democrats are not
really having that.
O`DONNELL: Julie, thanks for covering for us.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, the Russian government is now threatening the United
States over the sanctions bill that is going through the congress and
headed for the President`s signature or veto. Former Undersecretary of
State Wendy Sherman will join us next.
O`DONNELL: Russian legislators are calling for what they call a painful
response to the Russia Sanctions Bill the House of Representatives passed
yesterday. According to the Washington Post, the sanctions passage cemented
views in Moscow that Trump`s election has provided few deliverables for the
Kremlin and that the American President is being held hostage by a foreign
policy establishment that seeks conflict with Russia.
The Post also reports the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister told a Russian
state-run news agency, Washington is a source of danger. Essentially the
possibilities for normalization of relations in the foreseeable future are
closed. Yesterday, the House voted 419-3 in support of the Russia sanctions
Tonight Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, announced Congressional leaders reached an agreement that allows
the Senate to pass a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and
North Korea as soon as this week. Today the Chairman of the House Foreign
Affairs Committee told Chuck Todd, Congress is prepared to override a
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHUCK TODD, JOURNALIST: Let me ask you this. If he did veto it, you guys
passed this with veto proof majorities, could that likely –
ED ROYCE, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: Yes.
TODD: He almost has to accept it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Former Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman joins us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The President has had almost 24 hours to review the Russia
sanctions legislation. Has he decided if he`s going to sign that?
SARAH SANDERS, WHITEHOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We`re going to see what that
looks like before we make a final decision. I can tell you that the
Whitehouse, the President and the entire administration as we`ve said many
times before strongly supports sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now Ambassador Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary
of State and now a Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group, also an
NBC News and MSNBC Global Affairs Contributor. Ambassador Sherman I just
want to point out to the audience that everything that moves through
Congress has normally is accompanied by a letter from the Whitehouse saying
what the Whitehouse`s position is on everything that moves through
Congress, including we will – the President will veto X or Y.
To be at this stage of the sanctions bill and to have the Whitehouse not
note, not be able to say the president will sign or veto this is
extraordinary. But in the mountain of extraordinary things coming out of
the Whitehouse, these are the kinds of things that get ignored.
WENDY SHERMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Indeed it`s called a statement of
administrative position, better known as the S.A.P.
SHERMAN: It seems apropos for the moment. You know it`s interesting your
promo coming into this talking about the Russians saying this is going to
destroy the relationship. I think that happened when they tried to destroy
I know Sergei Lavrov quite well. He was my counterpart when I was
undersecretary. We did Syria chemical weapons together. We did the Iran
And, you know, in the midst of the Iran negotiation Ukraine happened. And
we sanctioned the hell out of Russia and it didn`t destroy the relationship
and it didn`t destroy the negotiation. I think what Congress is doing is
I hope the President signs it. And if he doesn`t, I hope Chairman Royce is
good for his word and I believe he is. And it will be overridden.
O`DONNELL: the point you just made about these sanctions being imposed and
activated during a negotiation over Iran where you`re trying to hold Russia
as close to you as you possibly can, but at the same time, you dealt with
that other issue and so in that, there is always hope for continued
positive dealing with Russia wherever possible.
SHERMAN: Well, you know, countries do what`s in their interests. And
Russia didn`t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon any more than we wanted
them to have a nuclear weapon. And so that remained in their interest. Now
what else is it in their interest is in ours?
That remains to be seen. We clearly haven`t come to terms on Syria. We
haven`t come to terms on Ukraine. We haven`t come to terms on their
aggressive behavior in Europe. We haven`t come to terms on what had he did
in our election, on what they do around cyber security.
O`DONNELL: The way the Washington Post phrase this the Kremlin coming to
the realization that they aren`t getting any deliverables from President
Trump. Well, if you`ve made the American President a suspect in a Russian
conspiracy, it becomes very difficult for the American President to deliver
on Russian interests.
SHERMAN: Right, They delivered their Ambassador Kislyak back to Moscow.
They delivered making Russia really part of our everyday news. You all
talk about it every single day because it has become a centerpiece in this
administration, one that the President wants to go away but he doesn`t seem
to want to do anything to make that happen.
O`DONNELL: After – what would a competent administration do after passage
and signing of a sanctions bill?
SHERMAN: Well, you know, Putin understands power. He will have some
newfound respect for the fact that in fact, we have followed through. And
then you would want to hopefully have an Ambassador in Russia. But of
course, we are now six months into this administration.
There is no ambassador to Russia. Jon Huntsman has finally been nominated.
We don`t have assistant secretary for European Affairs at the State
We don`t have all of the undersecretaries in place. we don`t have the team
we need to get the job done, but you would hope that you would maintain
dialogue wherever you can and work on those issues of equal importance.
O`DONNELL: And you have a Secretary of State being asked today and will be
asked in the future are you quitting today.
SHERMAN: Indeed. Well I think Secretary Tillerson tried to tell the world
he wasn`t leaving anytime soon today. But in fact, he`s got a lot in front
of him and he also said he`ll be there until the president decides
otherwise. We`ve seen what the President`s done about the Attorney General.
I think it would make me quake in my boots if I were Secretary of State.
O`DONNELL: You don`t hang a lot of family pictures in your Cabinet Office
if you`re in this Cabinet. Ambassador Wendy Sherman thank you very much for
joining us tonight, really appreciate it.
SHERMAN: Thank you Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: Tonight`s last word is next.
O`DONNELL: OK. I want you to listen very carefully to Georgia Republican
Congressman Buddy Carter who recommends an action here that I don`t
understand. I`ve never heard of what he`s recommending. I don`t know if
it`s a Georgia thing or a republican House of Representatives thing,
something they do in the gym. I don`t know. if you understand it, please
explain it to me on Twitter @lawrence after the show. Listen carefully.
Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUDDY CARTER, CONGRESSMAN: Let me tell you somebody needs to go over there
to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass. I`m telling you, it has
gotten to the point when how can you say I voted for this last year. But
not going to vote for it this year. This is frustrating for those of us who
have put so much into this effort
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Snatch – I have no idea. I have no idea what he just said.
That`s tonight`s Last Word. The 11th hour with Brian Williams is next.
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