Thanksgiving Edition Transcript 11/24/17 The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell

Steve Schmidt, Ezra Klein, Lawrence Summers, Ashley Bennett

Date: November 24, 2017
Guest: Steve Schmidt, Ezra Klein, Lawrence Summers, Ashley Bennett

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, I`m Lawrence O`Donnell, and
this is our special Thanksgiving week edition of THE LAST WORD, featuring
conversations with Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert, as well as the
economist who I most want to hear from about the impact of the Trump tax

But first, as President Trump gets ready for his first semester final exam
on tax cuts, how does the rest of his report card look?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In just 24 hours after Donald Trump`s presidential
inauguration, people fill the streets of America`s cities and capitals
around the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Far more people marching for women`s rights than
attended his inauguration.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: The President, late today, is signing an
order for what he calls extreme vetting.

airports all across the country as more than a hundred people were

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: When somebody attacks Muslim Americans,
they attack all of us.

investigating whether there was any coordination between the campaign and
Russia`s efforts.

knowing there was no good time to do it.

HOLT: The Justice Department has just announced a special counsel to lead
a new investigation.

STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Bob Mueller will find out everything
that happened here.

REPRESENTATIVES: This bill keeps our promise to repeal and replace

CROWD: Save our healthcare. Save our lives.

Kimmel test, I think, should be no family should be denied medical care,
emergency or otherwise, because they can`t afford it.

TRUMP: With no Democrat support, we couldn`t quite get there.

REPRESENTATIVES: We`ll take credit for that.

CROWD: No to Medicaid! Save our liberty!

President and his party overnight, stepping up and voting no.

This is, you know, clearly a disappointing moment.

GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D), VIRGINIA: We are back by popular demand!


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: The margins of these victories,
the turnout, the energy are astonishing.

Republican friends better look out.


O`DONNELL: So how was your Thanksgiving dinner this year? A little better
than last year?

Did your Trump-voting uncle have more to say last year than this year? How
happy is he this year?

What did he want to talk about this year? The unpopular, endangered tax
cut bill that raises taxes on working people and cuts them on the Trump
kids` inheritance? The healthcare repeal that didn`t happen? The
President`s poll numbers, the big, beautiful border wall that Donald Trump
built and Mexico paid for – or didn`t?

He probably didn`t want to talk about this year`s election results in
Virginia and around the country and what they could mean for 2018. But
Donald Trump claims there`s much to brag about in his first year in office.


TRUMP: We have done more they say than any president in history.


O`DONNELL: No, they don`t say that. No president has mobilized so many
Americans in opposition to him in his first year in office.

On the first full day of the Trump presidency, millions of women, men, and
children across the country marched in the streets to protest Donald
Trump`s election. The biggest inauguration protest in United States
history. The biggest single day protest of any kind in the United States

Every day of the Trump presidency has continued to mobilize outraged
citizens. A week after his inauguration, people spontaneously showed up at
airports to protest the Trump travel ban.

In the spring, people packed the town halls of Republican members of
Congress to protest repealing ObamaCare.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Do your job! Do your job!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it`s time to repeal and replace you in 2020.



O`DONNELL: And all of that was before Jimmy Kimmel joined the fight.


KIMMEL: A little over a week ago on Friday, April 21st, my wife, Molly,
gave birth to a boy – a baby boy. His name is William John Kimmel.


KIMMEL: And he appeared to be in a normal, healthy baby until about three
hours after he was born. They did an echocardiogram, which is a sonogram
of the heart, and found that Billy was born with a heart disease.

And I saw a lot of families there, and no parent should ever have to decide
if they can afford to save their child`s life. It just shouldn`t happen.
Not here. So –


O`DONNELL: That was the same week that Donald Trump invited the House
Republicans over to the White House for beer and a premature celebration.

They underestimated the protesters and patients and healthcare advocates
and moms and dads, like Jimmy Kimmel, who talked about healthcare on his
late night show over the summer and into the fall.

Jimmy Kimmel shamed Republican senators who lied about the impact of their
repeal, and he thanked the ones – Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John
McCain – who did the right thing.


KIMMEL: To all the senators and representatives who stopped this bill,
thank you for being reasonable and know that we`re paying attention now and
you`ll be hearing from us again.


O`DONNELL: Tonight, not only is ObamaCare still a law of the land, but
more than 1.5 million people have signed up for health insurance on the
exchanges so far this month.

Donald Trump`s job approval rating currently stands at 35 percent,
according to a recent Quinnipiac poll.

If you think Donald Trump does not share your values and is not honest and
is not fit to serve as President, you are not alone. You are the majority.

Sixty-two percent say Donald Trump does not share their values. Fifty-
eight percent say Donald Trump is not honest. Fifty-seven percent say
Donald Trump is not fit to serve as president.

But the only poll that matters is at the ballot box, unless, of course, it
is a presidential election, in which case a woman can get 3 million more
votes than Donald Trump and not win.

In Virginia, the Democrat easily defeated the Trump-endorsed candidate.
And exit polls showed that 57 percent of people who came out to vote
disapprove of Donald Trump.

In New Jersey, voters elected a Democrat to succeed Chris Christie, who was
the first Republican governor to endorse the Trump presidential campaign.

In Maine, voters defied their Trump supporting governor and voted for a
ballot initiative to expand Medicaid.

In the Virginia election, Danica Roem made history as the first transgender
state representative in the United States.

And Ashley Bennett, who you will hear from later this hour, challenged her
local Republican officeholder after he mocked the women`s march. She ran
against him and won.

The latest poll finds that 52 percent want Democrats to control Congress
next year. Democrats might have much more to be thankful about a year from

Joining us now, Ezra Klein, editor-at-large at “Vox,” and the host of the
podcast, “The Ezra Klein Show.”

Also with us, Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and an MSNBC political

And, Steve, there`s so many items on the report card to cover, but first of
all, when we sit here in November, having looked at election night this
November, what does that tell us about the Trump and the Republican Party
political report card?

SCHMIDT: Well, the magnitude of the failure a year on after the election
is hard to overstate.

You have the most unpopular president in the history of polling this soon
into his election. Just faced his first off-year election and was rebuked,
all across the country, a Democratic tidal wave that well may be a
harbinger of the tidal wave to come in 2018.

We see a president under investigation. An investigation moving closer all
the time to the Oval Office.

We see a president of the United States who has diminished America`s
standing in the world, who has degraded the office of the presidency, who
has been rebuked by the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
as unfit, stating that he`s worried about his capacity to fulfill his
responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief and to be entrusted with the
nation`s nuclear arsenal.

We have thousands and thousands and thousands of Americans suffering on the
Virgin Islands and in Puerto Rico after a maleficent and incompetent

We`ve seen a collapse for all time of the moral authority of a president of
the United States after he talked about the good people neo-Nazis marching
in a hate march where an innocent young woman was killed.

And we see the lack of rectitude and probity in his cabinet, the
corruption, the dishonesty, the lying.

It`s been a tough year for the country. But a year on, it seems that a
coalition is forming, and it`s made up of all the Democrats, 65 to 70
percent of the independents, and about 25 percent of the Republicans that
are saying enough of all of this.

And as we head into the Christmas season, the Republican Party is stained
and diminished. Its moral collapse, its intellectual rot completely
exposed through this tax cut, and its wavering around support for the
pedophile nominee in the Alabama Senate race.

O`DONNELL: Let`s take a look at a couple of the best-known Trump campaign
promises, the absolutely clearest ones, the ones he could say quickest and
easiest. First of all, on ObamaCare. Let`s listen to that promise.


TRUMP: We will repeal the disaster known as ObamaCare and create new
healthcare. All sorts of reforms that work for you and your family.


O`DONNELL: And then, of course, the primal scream of the campaign, build
the wall. Let`s listen to the Trump promise on that.


TRUMP: I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will
have Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.


O`DONNELL: Ezra Klein, the report card doesn`t look good on those two

EZRA KLEIN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE AND FOUNDER, VOX: No, it doesn`t look good on
virtually any of his policy promises. This is, I think, something we
really have learned about Trump. It`s something that people didn`t quite
realize about him coming in.

Everybody knew Trump wasn`t a policy details guy. They knew he wasn`t –
he wasn`t exactly a wonk, but there was a view that what Trump had were
strong policy intuitions.

He had a core philosophy. He cared about the wall. When he said that he
was not going to touch Medicare or Medicaid or Social Security, he meant
it. He maybe didn`t know how he would not to touch them but he meant it.

When he said that he was going to repeal and replace ObamaCare, redo with
something that gave more people insurance, gave them lower deductibles,
make sure everyone was covered, that he meant it.

And so what Trump would be was a manager. He would have people who would
carry out his views about policy. They would figure out the details. They
would write the legislation. They would write the proposals.

And then he came in and it turned out, he just didn`t care. He doesn`t
really care about the wall. He didn`t care about any of his promises on
ObamaCare. He wants anything that someone will tell him is a win.

If that win contradicts everything he promised his voters, if that win has
nothing to do with the Republican populism he was believed to be bringing
into office, it doesn`t matter.

And in part because he doesn`t care about anything but a win and he doesn`t
understand any of the policy details and he doesn`t keep to any of the
actual things that he promised, he doesn`t make good arguments for them.

He has not gotten any of them passed. When he goes down to the Hill to try
to tell Republicans to vote for what he wants, it`s a disaster every single
time because he`s not able to answer any of their questions.

The fact that at the absolute core of the American presidency is someone
who doesn`t know, care, or understand any of the policy he is trying to
make has been a huge problem. But for Democrats who want to see Donald
Trump get nothing done, it has been an incredible boon.

O`DONNELL: And, Steve Schmidt, during the campaign, Donald Trump praised
James Comey and the FBI when they were investigating Hillary Clinton`s
State Department e-mail. And now, fires – this year, fires James Comey in
what appeared to be an attempt to shut down an FBI investigation.

SCHMIDT: Well, the extraordinary aspect about that is if you were advising
Donald Trump, you would go into the office every morning and say, Mr.
President, the one thing we can never let happen is for there to be the
appointment of a Special Counsel. And like so many of Trump`s afflictions,
they`re self-inflicted, and the James Comey debacle, chief among them.

And so what we have now, a year later, over and over and over again, 100
percent of the time, 100 percent of the people around Donald Trump, around
the campaign, they have lied about their connections to Russians during the
course of the campaign.

And we all expect that there will be more indictments, that the noose will
tighten, and this will be a major drama in 2018. We`ve never seen a level
of investigation and corruption amongst the cabinet officials in the modern
era like we`re seeing around this president.

O`DONNELL: Steve Schmidt and Ezra Klein, thank you both very much for
joining us on this special edition of THE LAST WORD. Really appreciate it.

KLEIN: Thank you.

SCHMIDT: A pleasure.

O`DONNELL: Coming up. Passing tax cuts is usually the easiest thing a
Republican Congress can do but the Republicans are struggling to get it
done in the Senate.

We will be joined by the last Secretary of the Treasury who left office
with a budget surplus.

And later, my conversations with Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert.


O`DONNELL: Now that we`ve all enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday, the
Christmas shopping season is officially under way, and number one on
President Trump`s gift list is a giant corporate tax cut.


TRUMP: We`re going to give the American people a huge tax cut for
Christmas. Hopefully, that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas


O`DONNELL: The Republicans don`t yet have enough votes in the Senate to
pass the Trump tax cuts. All the undecided Republican senators are worried
how much the tax cuts will increase the deficit and the debt.

That could be the issue that kills the Trump tax bill, and so the Trump
administration is trying to create new math. They are insisting that the
official estimate that the tax cuts will increase the national debt by $1.5
trillion is wrong because wages will increase so dramatically that the new
tax revenue on those increased wages will save us from an increase in the

And for most economists, this is a little bit like hearing your pilot
announce at takeoff from New York that you`ll be in Paris in an hour.


TRUMP: My Council of Economic Advisers estimates that this is change,
along with a lower tax rate, would likely give the typical American
household a $4,000 pay raise.


TRUMP: It could be a lot more than that, too. You haven`t heard this. So
about a $4,000 amount of money additional for the American family to spend.
That`s very exciting.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now, Harvard professor of economics Lawrence

And, Professor Summers, if you don`t mind, I`m going to spend a bit longer
than usual on your introduction because you served as the head of the White
House Economic Council in the Obama administration.

And you served as the Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration
during the longest period of sustained economic growth in the United States
history. And most importantly, you were the last Treasury Secretary to
leave office with a federal budget surplus.

And somewhere in the middle of all of that, you managed to serve as
President of Harvard University. And so I don`t know exactly which of
these titles I should be using, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, Professor,
but there`s no one whose analysis of this bill I value more than yours.

And so let`s just begin with this pay raise, this $4,000 pay raise to
possibly $9,000 pay raise, that the President is promising because of a
corporate tax cut. And that`s what his economic advisers seem to be
telling him to say.

HARVARD UNIVERSITY: It`s a nonsense number. It`s true that if you cut
corporate taxes, you don`t think at all about the deficits, that there
probably will be some increased investment and they`ll be some increase in
wages. But to suggest that it`s $4,000 to $9,000 as they have is to be

To do the calculation, taking no account of the adverse consequences of the
budget deficit, is professional malpractice.

To do the calculation, not recognizing the many complex features of the
bill, the aspects involving the incentives that are already present for new
investment, is to do it at a level that would not pass in an undergraduate
course. This is not serious stuff.

You know, the University of Chicago – the University of Chicago business
school, which is traditionally thought of as a readout of conservatism,
surveys a group of several dozen major professional economists in both
political parties on public policy issues of the day.

They did their survey and only two percent agreed with the proposition that
it would substantially raise the GDP after a decade, and no one professed
to be confident that the tax cut would pay for itself. So their analysis
isn`t just inconsistent with what former Democratic officials say, it`s out
of the range of reasonable professional opinion.

You know, if you had to make a forecast as to what the weather was going to
be next Thanksgiving, nobody knows. It could turn out that the weather in
Washington is 70 degrees, but it would be a crazy forecast to make. You
want to make a forecast that was based on the recent experience.

In the same way, there is nothing in the experience of the Reagan tax cut,
the experience of the Bush tax cut, in the experience of the tax cuts
increases that took place in 1993, to support the kind of claims that are
being made here. Nothing.

O`DONNELL: And the part of the reason, it seems to me, politically, why
they`re arguing that there will be this big wage increase is because the
people they are talking to about the wage increase are not really getting
any significant tax cuts. So they have to tell them their tax – their
benefit is going to come through an increase in their paycheck.

SUMMERS: It`s two points, Lawrence. One, many of them aren`t even going
to get a tax cut next year. But, two, the bill is designed to phase out
the tax cuts for the middle class while it`s fazing in the tax cuts for the
very wealthy.

So if you look at middle class people, nearly half of them are getting tax
increases by the time you get to the end of the 10-year window. This is a
– I don`t know if conspiracy is the right word.

This is responsive to the interests of the people who have supported many
who are in the Congress and who have supported the President. This is not
tax legislation that is in the interest of the vast majority of Americans.

They`re going to be saddled with debt. They`re going to be at risk of
losing vital health insurance. They`re, in many cases, going to see tax
increases. And for what?

So we can try to win a race to the bottom to bring corporations home from
the Cayman Islands rather than having stricter, more appropriate rules that
assure that you can`t move your income to the Cayman Islands? In order to
give a tax break to the two-tenths of one percent of Americans who now pay
the estate tax?

That`s right. Nine hundred and 98 out of a thousand Americans do not pay
the estate tax. Are the two who pay it the group in our society that`s
most in need of a tax cut right now? I don`t think so.

In order that they can have a comprehensive tax reform and leave largely
unaltered the famous carried interest loophole that politicians of both
parties have been railing against for a decade?

This is really an almost completely misguided bill. It is a prostitution
of the concept of tax reform.

We did tax reform very effectively in 1986. There were three principles.
The first principle was revenue neutrality. We weren`t going to bloat the
budget deficit.

The second principle was preserve distribution. We`re not using it as an
opportunity to soak the rich, but we`re certainly not using it as an
opportunity to tilt the playing field towards those who are most fortunate.

And the third principle was close shelters. Don`t open them.

This bill raises the deficit, tilts towards the rich, and creates a massive
new set of tax shelters with its provisions on so-called pass throughs.

O`DONNELL: Professor Lawrence Summers, thank you very much for joining us
tonight. I could listen to you go on and on about this, and I hope we can
get you back. Thank you very much.

SUMMERS: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Up next, it was a big sweep for Democrats on election night
earlier this month on November 7th. And some of the dramas that night
could have been written by Hollywood screenwriters. One of the winners
will join us to tell her dramatic story in her own words.

And later, my conversation with Rachel Maddow.



MADDOW: – country to have our first-ever elected state legislator who is
openly transgender. That is an achievement for American civil rights that
will stand no matter – despite the rest of the circumstances of that

But for Danica Roem to have beaten Bob Marshall –


MADDOW: – the guy who authored the Virginia bathroom trans ban, the guy
who called himself Virginia`s homophobia-in-chief, the guy who has ridden
prejudice against the LGBT community to a 25-year career in the Virginia
House of Delegates.

For Danica Roem to beat him, it shows you that sometimes history is written
with the caps lock key on, right? It tells you that sometimes history is
not subtle about these achievements.

And she`s going to go down in history tonight for this victory, but she`s
going to be a big, big, big change for Virginia, just because she`s the one
who showed to Bob Marshall the door. And not by a small margin either.


MADDOW: It looks like she beat him by double digits.

O`DONNELL: Yes. No, it feels like tonight`s history is being written by
movie writers.


O`DONNELL: It is so dramatic.


O`DONNELL: That, of course, was Rachel Maddow on election night earlier
this month, reacting to the stunning wins that we were learning about as
the votes were being counted in Virginia and across the country.

Danica Roem was just one of the dramatic wins democracy brought us on
November 7th. The following night, we brought you some of the other
extraordinary candidates who had winning stories to tell that seemed as
though they were written by Hollywood screenwriters.


O`DONNELL: Virginia voters chose Chris Hurst, a former local T.V. news
anchor who quit his job and became a gun safety advocate after his
girlfriend, Alison Parker, was shot and killed on live television as she
was doing a report.

Last night, he won a seat in the House of Delegates over an opponent who
had an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. Here is what he
said today.

with Alison, was still a journalist working at the television station that
we worked at together. But that wasn`t the plan that God had intended for
me and for her, and so I sought about trying to forge a new path and create
a new plan.

O`DONNELL: In Helena, Montana, voters elected a refugee from Liberia,
Democrat Wilmot Collins, as their first African-American mayor.

In New Jersey, voters replaced Republican freeholder John Carman, who got
national attention in January when he posted this on Facebook – will the
woman`s protest be over in time for them to cook dinner?

John Carman then said this when asked to apologize.

Women who are sure of themselves, they didn`t get offended by this. If it
hurts your feelings, it wasn`t intended. It wasn`t posted with any malice.
It was posted as humor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Excuse me, everyone. OK. We`re leaving.


O`DONNELL: Ashley Bennett was one of the women who walked out of that
meeting in protest. She decided that she was going to run against John
Carman for Atlantic County Freeholder. And last night, she beat him.

Ashley Bennett drove Republican John Carman out of office because he
insulted her and the millions of Americans who joined the women`s march all
over the country.

And joining us now for an exclusive interview is Ashley Bennett.

Ashley, tell us about that moment when you decided to do this.

Lawrence. Thank you so much for having me.

Well, that moment was just a moment of pure shock. I just couldn`t believe
that in 2017, we were actually seeing this.

And I went to the Freeholder meeting after writing him a letter. I didn`t
get a response, and I waited to see what kind of a response he was going to
give. And as you just showed in the clip, that was the response.

And I took off of work. I used vacation time to go to that meeting, and I
felt like it was a waste and so I walked out. And for all the people who
felt like their voice wasn`t heard, I said I`ll run and I`ll be your voice.

O`DONNELL: Did you say it that day, Ashley? Did you say it walking out of
that meeting, I will run?

BENNETT: I went home and I said to my family how upset I was, and they
said, why don`t you run? And I said, why – well, I will run.

O`DONNELL: And how did you find the time to do that? To mount a campaign,
not an easy thing to do. You`re – you were holding down your own job, and
you have other responsibilities. How did you change your life to do that?

BENNETT: Sure. It was not an easy balance by any stretch, but I had a lot
of support. I had support from friends and family members and my co-
workers and my supervisors.

Everyone was excited. And they really just pitched in to try to help me
where they could, whether it was switching shifts, whether it was I`ll stay
late so you can come in late, or I`ll stay later for you so that you can
leave early to be somewhere.

It was just – it`s not just me. It was a movement of people. And I`m
just really thankful.

O`DONNELL: And have you spoken to John Carman since the election last

BENNETT: I have not. And I understand. That`s fine. I did see a post on
Facebook. And at this point, the voters have spoken. And I haven`t spoken
to him but I understand.

So I`m just happy to have the support of all the voters who came out in
this election, and it means so much to me. I`m so humbled and so grateful
to be able to run in the community where I`ve been born and raised and went
to high school. It means everything to me.

O`DONNELL: Ashley Bennett, you are what American democracy is supposed to
be all about. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really
appreciate it.

BENNETT: Thank you so much and thank you to everyone who came out.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, more of Rachel and me. That`s next.

And later, Stephen Colbert and I discuss how the “West Wing” T.V. series
compares to the Trump West Wing.


O`DONNELL: Wow. This month of November has been a crazy month in the
news, and it`s been a very busy month for me personally.

I`ve been meeting LAST WORD viewers from Boston to Miami, from Seattle to
Los Angeles, as I talk about my new book, “Playing with Fire: The 1968
Election and the Transformation of American Politics.”

My very first televised interview about my book was with my friend, Rachel
Maddow. Here now is how Rachel introduced “Playing with Fire” on her show
and our conversation about it at the very beginning of my book tour.


MADDOW: On the last day of March in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson gave a
speech about Vietnam.

War was creeping into its 13th year. It was wildly unpopular. And while
he was in the middle of waging that war, LBJ was also running for re-
election as president.

His campaign was not going well. And on March 31, 1968, he gave that
address to the nation about Vietnam. And he tacked something unexpected
onto the very end of that speech.


and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your
president. Thank you for listening. Good night and God bless all of you.


MADDOW: That revelation in the middle of the Democratic primary and that
speech about the war had “The New York Times” the next day breaking out not
one but two giant semicolons.

Look – Johnson says he won`t run; halts North Vietnam raids; bids Hanoi
join peace moves. I think they ran out of steam by the end of that

But right, which thing to look at first, though? The American disaster in
Vietnam? The shock of a president not seeking a second term? A potential
path to peace?

In any other election year, a sitting president dropping out of the race
would have been the only thing in that line. No semicolons, right?

I mean, whole books would have been written about that one sentence at the
end of that speech. Instead that becomes this interesting footnote, a
thing that happened one day in what was an absolutely wild election in

Four days after LBJ dropped out, Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Riots happened all over the country, from Kansas City to Chicago, to
Baltimore, to D.C.

Two months after that, the guy who was supposed to win the Democratic
primary, Bobby Kennedy, was assassinated in California.

When the Democratic convention rolled around that summer, the guy who ended
up clinching the nomination had never been on the ballot during any of the
state primaries.

And while Hubert Humphrey was twisting arms at the convention to lock up
the nomination, Chicago police and the National Troop – Guard were
outside, using teargas and batons against the protesters in the streets.

1968 was madness, particularly on the Democratic side. And 1968 was also
the year that we got this guy on the Republican side.

And thanks in part to the chaos and the implosion of the Democrats, Richard
Nixon won the presidency that year. Not easily, but he won. And we all
know what happened next.

We are a year out from the last presidential election as of tomorrow. An
election that is still testing the stitching in our democracy right now.

At times like this, I find it helpful, I find it illuminating, even, to
remember that even if we`ve never quite been through this before, we have
been through a lot. We have been through way more than you might think.

And I have a really good way for you to marinate yourself in that because
joining us right now is my colleague and the host of THE LAST WORD,
Lawrence O`Donnell, who is very well-versed in that rich history because he
just wrote the book on it.

It`s called “Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of
American Politics.” And I have read it and it`s riveting.


O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel, and thank you for giving us some nice words
on the back of it.

You know, I was a high school eyewitness to these things. I shall not seek
and will not accept. We had the words memorized instantly, everyone in the
country, when LBJ said that.

No one knew he was going to say it. Almost no one in the White House knew.
The one person who definitely did know was Lady Bird and he had a hand
signal with her.

He said – he told her he wasn`t decided because whether he was – because
it was right at the end of the speech. After he gave the speech about
Vietnam policy and how he was going to try to change things and to try to -
- and try to depoliticize, as he put it, Vietnam policy, he`s not going to

And he had a hand signal that he gave to Lady Bird warning her, I`m going
to do it. I`m going to drop out. And the fascinating thing that I
discovered, only in working on the book is, yes, he dropped out. It was
over. LBJ had been dumped in effect by the Dump Johnson movement.

But as the convention was approaching, it wasn`t over in his head. He was
still thinking after the Bobby Kennedy assassination, maybe I can go into
Chicago. He was actually making plans to travel to Chicago.


O`DONNELL: The riots broke out. It was very clear to him there was no way
to pull this out. But he actually started to think, maybe I`m the
solution, and I`m the surprise nominee in Chicago.

MADDOW: The thing that I found reading your book is that it`s the only
thing that I have read, in the past year, that made me feel the same way
that I felt about the overwhelming nature of the news in the past year and
a half.


MADDOW: The past year and a half in our politics, it`s not like we`re not
all aware that something big has happened, that a series of large things
have happened.

But so many things have happened that were previously unimaginable in quick
succession that we keep feeling like we`ve got to sort of the end, that
we`ve got to the big point. We have got to the most scandalous thing. And
then it`s just –


MADDOW: – immediately subsumed by something else that`s bigger and also

Your book about `68, particularly on the Democratic side, is the only other
thing that has made me feel like, oh, right, we`ve done this before as a
country. We`ve been this overwhelmed.

O`DONNELL: And we`ve been in a worse place because as difficult as this is
for people who didn`t want to see a Trump presidency – and we now have a
very significant majority of the country disapproving of the Trump
presidency –

MADDOW: Most ever.

O`DONNELL: – and this movement that we call the resistance. We had a
resistance this big before, and it was in 1968 and it was against both the
Johnson presidency. And then following, it was against the Nixon
presidency. And it was an anti-war resistance.

And the – what was at stake was nothing other than life and death.
Everyone over 18, every male, had to have his draft card in his pocket. It
was a crime to even be without it, and – a federal crime to not have it on
your person.

Kids suddenly started burning these things. Publicly. In 1964, they had
to pass a federal law to make destroying it a crime because they hadn`t
made it a crime yet. People were getting sentenced two years, six years,
for burning the draft cards.

I told you Nadya from Pussy Riot was on my show Friday night. She told us,
Friday night, on the show, that 1968 in America was one of her great

She – and she didn`t even know I had written a book about it. But she
said the things we saw here in 1968 gave them the energy and a lot of the
spirit that they bring to it now.

And a lot of it was very kind of – had elements of anarchy, you know, with
the yippies and Jerry Rubin and a lot of the fun and – that Pussy Riot
throws in its very serious demonstrations and protests now.

And so, so much of what we`re going through today, we`ve been through
before. And just as a reminder, 1968, 16,000 American soldiers killed in
1968 alone.

MADDOW: Alone.

O`DONNELL: Over 500 in one month of 1968. There`s something like 2,600
total right now in Afghanistan in the 16 years of that. And without a
draft, very, very, very small percentage of the country actually feels that
risk of life in Afghanistan and Iraq.

And so, the tensions that this country was feeling every single day in 1968
were way more powerful than what we are feeling now.

MADDOW: Lawrence O`Donnell has just written a new book. It comes out
tomorrow. It`s called “Playing with Fire: The 1968 Election and the
Transformation of American Politics.”

Lawrence, again, congratulations. Really, it`s really good. I`m very
proud of you. I`m always happy that you are my colleague, but I really
enjoyed it.

And I will just say this to our viewers. I will just say this. You have
heard way too many Watergate discussions in the past year because we`ve got
a very scandal-ridden administration.

You`ve heard way too much discussion of Watergate. You can learn about
Watergate by learning about what Richard Nixon did.

But if you really want to learn about Watergate, learn about what the
country was like and what was going on in the country at the time Watergate
happened, which allowed Watergate to end the way it did. And the way to
start understanding that is to understand `68.

Go ahead.

O`DONNELL: Oh, and there`s a little bit of collusion –


O`DONNELL: – in the victory in the end that is worth – it`s actually
Richard Nixon used collusion with a foreign government, the South
Vietnamese, in order to win in the end.

MADDOW: See? And that makes it homework.


MADDOW: Well done, Lawrence.


O`DONNELL: Up next, my chat with Stephen Colbert.


O`DONNELL: One word to describe the Trump presidency, so far, is chaotic.
Chaos inside the White House and chaos inside most newsrooms as they react
to the twists and turns of the Trump administration.

When I stopped by “The Late Show” to talk about my new book, Stephen
Colbert also wanted to know how keeping up with the headlines on THE LAST
WORD every night compares to writing fictional drama on the “West Wing.”


day, it was like liberal government fantasy porn. But they were
extraordinary, like some of the crazy story lines in that. Was there
anything that you guys wrote that was anything as crazy as the story lines
we`re getting now?

O`DONNELL: Oh, no. This would – you know, every single that`s happened,
probably within the last two years of our politics, I would have been
sitting in the “West Wing” writer`s room saying, no, no, that can`t happen.
I would have shut down every one of them.

You know, game show – you know, reality show guy runs for president. I`d
be like, oh, no, no, it can`t happen. You know –

COLBERT: Runs? Wins!

O`DONNELL: Right. And so now –


O`DONNELL: Yes. So guess what that does?


O`DONNELL: That destroys drama. Fictional television drama about a White
House is now destroyed because there`s absolutely no gravity to it.

COLBERT: It`s pretty good –

O`DONNELL: You know, there`s not -

COLBERT: It`s pretty good –

O`DONNELL: There`s no –

COLBERT: Lawrence, it`s pretty good for comedy though.

O`DONNELL: It`s very good.



O`DONNELL: Not fair.

COLBERT: And you have a badge of honor, if that`s what it is, in that you
were one of first T.V. political pundits, if you don`t mind that term, to
be attacked –

O`DONNELL: I`ll take it.

COLBERT: – to be attacked by the President before he was the President.
This is in 2015.

I hear that dopey political pundit Lawrence O`Donnell, one of the dumber
people on television, is about to lose his show. No ratings? Too bad.

And then this is even better – I heard, because his show is unwatchable,
that Lawrence has made many false statements last night about me. Maybe I
should sue him?

O`DONNELL: That`s my space in Twitter history. I`m the first person, I
think the only T.V. person, that he threatened to sue on Twitter. On

COLBERT: Really? Did he –

O`DONNELL: Yes, he actually did sue.


COLBERT: Did he sue you?

O`DONNELL: He sadly – he didn`t sue me. He saved up all that lawyer`s
fees to sue Bill Maher. Remember, he sued Bill Maher very –

COLBERT: Did he actually sue Bill Maher?

O`DONNELL: Very briefly sued Bill Maher. And then, of course, the suit
was thrown out by a judge who said this is silly. But I –


O`DONNELL: – I didn`t get sued. I wanted to get sued. I begged him to
sue me actually after he did that.

COLBERT: I`m in – I`m next. Now –


COLBERT: I can`t even – he won`t even tweet about me.

O`DONNELL: Yes. No, well –

COLBERT: He won`t even tweet about me.

O`DONNELL: That`s fascinating. It`s fascinating that he won`t tweet about
you. What do you have to do to get him to tweet about you? You haven`t
gone far enough. You just have –

COLBERT: Say something nice about him.


O`DONNELL: That would do it.

COLBERT: Not going happen.

O`DONNELL: That would do it.


O`DONNELL: Up next, what happened backstage after the Stephen Colbert


O`DONNELL: What do John Oliver and Jon Stewart and me all have in common?
We are all inductees into a very special hall of fame, thanks to Stephen


O`DONNELL: This really is an incredible honor to be inducted into the
Trump Attacked Me on Twitter Hall of Fame. It`s my first hall of fame, and
I think it`s the one that matters to me the most.

This tweet that got me in the hall of fame is 2011. And it`s really
shortly after Donald Trump first started talking about President Obama`s
birth certificate, every word of which, of course, was a lie.

And so that is what I said on T.V., on my show, which provoked – I heard,
because his show is unwatchable, that Lawrence has made many false
statements last night about me. Maybe I should sue him?

I wasn`t expecting this. This is just a surprise and a joy and an honor.
And I`ve never won anything since the last “West Wing” Emmy. And I`ve been
nominated for some stuff, but it`s the only thing I have really can
treasure since that last Emmy, which is now going to be blocked by this in
the display case, which is fine, because it`s a little – yes, it`s like
it`s turning colors.

This is a beautiful thing and a great honor. Thank you very much.


O`DONNELL: You can follow my tweets, @Lawrence. You can follow the show
@thelastword. And that is tonight`s LAST WORD.


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