Trump demands wall funding. TRANSCRIPT: 12/27/2018, The Last Word w. Lawrence O’Donnell.

Guests:
Aisha Moodie-Mills; Jason Johnson; Gerry Cohen
Transcript:

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
Date: December 27, 2018
Guest: Aisha Moodie-Mills; Jason Johnson; Gerry Cohen


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Joy. Thank you very much.

As mentioned, I am Ari Melber, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.

We begin tonight with a basic truth. This is not normal. The federal
government entering its sixth day of a shutdown that the president said
would be his fault. The stock market continuing wild swings down and back
up today which is at least partly linked to the chaos in Washington. And
as Democrats ready to take over the House next week, polling shows
opposition to Trump and a widespread view he does indeed own this shutdown.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will take the mantle. I
will be the one to shut it down. I`m not going to blame you for it. The
last time you shut it down, it didn`t work. I will take the mantel for
shutting it down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And here`s your report card, Mr. President, tonight, Americans
agreed by a 14-point margin, saying Trump is to blame for this young
shutdown. Here are the new numbers from “Reuters”. The poll shows 47
percent say Trump deserves most of the blame, 33 percent blame the
Democrats, 7 percent blame the remaining Republicans in Congress. Another
poll finding another 43 percent blaming Trump, and those bad vibes for the
shutdown, well, they`re spreading and contaminating Trump`s overall
approval, because it`s plummeted to just 39 percent with 56 percent
disapproval.

Now, that is bad. You hear these numbers a lot in politics and it`s easy
for them to kind of, like, blend together to serve a point. But stop and
think about it like this: the Democrats just won the mid-terms by a larger
margin, 8 percent, than the national margin for other widely celebrated
waves like the Republicans` 1994 revolution which made Newt Gingrich
speaker, 8 percent.

This new approval polls show Trump under water, though, by 17 percent
tonight. That is way worse than that midterm stomping which as we just
showed was itself a historic margin. Donald Trump is dealing with this by
– well, no, by not dealing with it. He offered several statements and
tweets today that basically claimed the shutdown would help his reelection,
lied about who was impacted by the shutdown, and we`re not going to show
you the tweet of the president lying about the shutdown because it`s not
true and doesn`t merit any further amplification here.

But we will show you Donald Trump, this is just two days ago, claiming
federal workers want him to shutdown their place of work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, I think they understand what`s happening. They want border
security. The people of this country want border security. Many of those
workers have said to me and communicated, stay out until you get the
funding for the wall. These federal workers want the wall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A, it`s not true. B, a more minor point, how are all these
federal workers communicating directly with Donald Trump about their policy
views? I mean, by what mechanism did he gather that or claim to gather
that opinion?

Now, let`s show you some facts about the public opinion, since that is part
of any shutdown debate. Most Americans oppose Trump`s shutdown and just 35
percent of those surveyed in this “Reuters” poll say they backed including
money for the wall in the first place for the bill. Only 25 percent took
the more extreme bargaining position here they would support both the wall
and the mechanism of Donald Trump shutting down the entire federal
government, quote, over the matter.

And a lame duck Congress hasn`t done much this week to move the ball in any
which way. Mitch McConnell`s Senate back in session today for a grand
total of 4 minutes before adjourning, a symbolic number that was echoed by
the lower chamber. Paul Ryan`s House was in session for two minutes and 43
seconds.

Now, one Democratic congressman tried to use those moments, literally
moments to force a vote to fund the government without getting into the
wall debate. Now, the next time you`ll see any of those politicians you
just saw on your screen there either to do nothing, the next time we see
that will be Monday. So, government stays closed at least until then.

And meanwhile, the expected incoming speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi,
making it clear she does not intend to blink and she`ll only send-up
spending bills when she takes charge that fund the government but not
Trump`s wall. The reporting from “Politico” here is that House Democrats
believe that move would put pressure on Mitch McConnell to follow suit, and
they`re confident that political leverage will only increase the longer the
shutdown lasts, the notion that some GOP leaders agree with privately.

How long will congressional Republicans back up Trump on the task that may
continue to hurt their party? Well, a normal president would take any
sustained push back from his own party seriously on a fight that by
definition cannot last forever because the government cannot stay closed
forever. But I`ll tell you this because I like to keep it real with you
guys, that normal premise is a thin foundation to work off of because as we
all know now, there is nothing normal about this.

Now let`s get into it. I`ve got Jason Johnson here, politics editor of
TheRoot.com, Mara Gay, member of “New York Times” editorial board, and
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative opinion writer at “The Washington Post,” all
MSNBC contributors.

Jennifer, where do we go from here?

JENNIFER RUBIN, CONSERVATIVE OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: There is
no good solution for Donald Trump because as you mentioned, Ari, Nancy
Pelosi is going to send a clean CR, clean continuing resolution back to the
Senate. The Senate already passed one of these. So, what do they say now?
Well, we voted for it before but we`re not going to vote for it now?

Perhaps they added a few hundred million dollars but not directly for the
wall, that`s a loss for Trump. Maybe someone gets really creative, follows
Newt Gingrich`s advice which is to give him $5 billion but give full
legalization for the Dreamers. That will really drive his base crazy.

So, there`s really three or four ways out of this, and none of them are
getting Trump what he wants. So he`s looking for some deus ex machina to
come down and save him perhaps, or he`s just thinking moment to moment, TV
shot to TV shot, and really hasn`t figured out to get out of this.

But there`s no good end for this and at some point Republicans are going to
throw up their hands and say we need to get back to work.

MELBER: You say at some point, I that`s a big part of this. There were
some Republicans on MSNBC just earlier this evening, Jason, still making
the delay argument, that, yes, it looks like Mexico is not paying for it
and it looks like Donald Trump literally shutdown the government in order
to break his promise because his promise was the U.S. wouldn`t pay for the
wall and he`s shutdown the government now to try and make the U.S. pay for
the wall.

Viewers on MSNBC may note I said that before, I will never stop reporting
that fact. It`s amazing to me people talk about this and claim the
president`s trying to hold a campaign promise. He`s trying to break a
campaign promise.

So, for your analysis take a look at connecting Jennifer`s point of what
Republicans are doing. Here how they are holding the line tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Why are we shutting down our government to pay
for the wall that Mexico`s going to pay for?

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: Well, first of all, this is not the final
act in this drama and the wall is the first step. The pay for-it part may
well come later. Right now, the issue is border security and the president
is exactly correct, exactly correct –

HAYES: What you`re saying is you keep asking the American people to pay
for something that the president promised them –

(CROSSTALK)

HAYES: Get Mexico to pay for the wall if you want a wall so bad. It`s
very clear.

BURGESS: And they will. That`s the final step in this process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: I love this 12-step process
that the Republicans are in where apparently we pay for the wall, our tax
money pays for the wall and somewhere down the line, open the door and
decides to get the Mexican government to pay for a wall that they never
wanted to pay for and that the last two including the former president of
Mexico, Vicente Fox, used many words of profanity to say that Mexico will
never pay for.

Here`s the issue. At the end of the day, the president has absolutely no
leverage. The Senate doesn`t have any leverage. And once we hit January
3rd and the Democrats take over the House, they`re just going to keep
pushing the bill over and over. Eventually, the president of the United
States is going to blink.

Eventually, people are going to start getting angry. Eventually FEMA`s
inability to process insurance forms, people are going to get concerned
about tax season, the president is eventually just going to have to break
on this issue. And here`s a thing – and a lot of political science has
shown this, as much as President Trump wants to say this wall is very
important, the wall has been symbolic. His supporters are going to support
them no matter.

And if the wall doesn`t get built, they`ll just say it`s because of the
evil liberal Democrat. So, he kind of wins regardless. But he`s not going
to get anything built, and there`s nobody in Washington, D.C. right here
right now that thinks that anything, even if it`s just a bunch of spiky
slats are ever going to get put up on our border.

MARA GAY, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I can`t agree
anymore. I think ultimately the president needs to say he won something,
he needs to be able to turn to his base in good faith, whatever that means
with that weird relationship he has with his base and say, listen, I had a
win, I`m a fighter. You know, he can make a win out of anything because
he`s a con-artist, so that`s really his job here.

I think Mitch McConnell has a more serious job to play which is finding out
how to negotiate that without putting the American people through anymore
suffering.

MELBER: Right, and that really goes back to what the Congress wants to put
up with as we were explaining in our lead.

And, Jennifer, I don`t know how much Naughty By Nature you ever listen to -
- you remember them?

RUBIN: Yes.

MELBER: But the big hit was “OPP”, “Other People`s Property”. And it does
seem if the president as the so-called master negotiator got other people`s
property or cash invested in the wall it would be less of an issue. At
what point does the Republican Party say we`re shining a giant spotlight on
the ultimate failure of his inability to negotiate as commander in chief,
president of the United States, to get other people`s money to fund the
wall?

RUBIN: Yes. I see a whole bunch of ways in which there are going to be
Republicans out there actually getting to Donald Trump`s right, whether on
this issue, whether people like Liz Cheney bashing the president for
pulling troops out of Syria, he`s not on a roll these days and he`s not on
a roll with Republicans. And that`s a bit different than what we saw for
the past two years. He`s now in the realm of making himself look like the
dreaded Barack Obama from the perspective of Republicans than the tough guy
who is making America respected in the world.

And even things like his support for Israel are now really under scrutiny
by the religious right who love Israel for a whole variety of reasons.
He`s putting them in harms way now by pulling troops out of Syria, by
putting Iran right on the doorstep of Israel. Whether it`s that, whether
it`s the wall, whether it`s the shutdown, whether it`s donors money in the
markets, which is going up and down like a yo-yo, you do wonder just how
much patience they`re going to have with this guy when its there money,
when its their interest suddenly are at issue.

MELBER: Yes, I think that`s what`s challenging about your job, about all
our jobs is we report and analyze in this era, right, it`s sort of like how
much mushier can oatmeal get. It`s oatmeal. It`s already mushy, right?

GAY: Right, sure.

MELBER: This is very, very impulsive president. But do you see, at “The
New York Times”, as you guys chart all this, do you see evidence of even
more chaos and impulsiveness as the president goes into what will be a more
difficult period for him? I mean, the days of united government are over.
He has to win another election, which is full two years away to ever get
back to where he was.

Everything now starting next week is harder for him.

GAY: Oh, absolutely. My colleague Kara Fisher (ph) had a great column
about the president`s increasingly bad addiction to Twitter. And the basic
concept being that he`s essentially in a meltdown and that as the walls are
closing in with the Russia investigation but also of course with the loss,
the historic loss that Republicans suffered in the midterms that he`s
essentially freaking out and, you know, caged animals can be very
dangerous.

So I`m actually a little bit concerned about what we might see as the
president is, you know, not getting his way. And he`s used to getting his
way. I mean, before he was president, he suffered no consequences for his
behavior in real estate. And now as President up until the midterms, he`s
really not seen the consequences of his behavior.

He`s crossed every single line, ethical, moral line that the American
people have put out for their presidents and suffered no consequences until
now. So what happens when he doesn`t get his way?

I mean, he`s completely erratic when he wins. What`s he going to be like
when he loses? Is he going to be a good loser? I don`t think so.

MELBER: I don`t think so.

Jason?

JOHNSON: And this goes to the whole approval ratings. I mean, he`s at 39
percent. He doesn`t have the ability to sort of use the bully pulpit at
the White House.

I mean, the president is upset. He`s under 50 percent, right? I mean, he
can`t do anything to convince members of his own party or anybody else that
this is somebody you have to listen to, that he`s got some sort of
influence one way or another.

But here is where it becomes sort of an issue long-term. Look, the
Democrats are going to start running their primary around February, March.
If the president cannot put more control over members of his own party, if
he can`t convince them that that 39 percent can somehow translate into
power for their bases, they`re going to abandon him.

I mean, if you look at his approval numbers, these are the numbers he had
after Charlottesville. That means the president is as unpopular now as he
was when a terrorist attack killed a young white woman in Virginia and his
own wife. He`s at 43 percent. And usually, the first lady is 10 to 12
percent higher than her husband.

So, he`s not only bad for himself, he`s bad for his party, he`s even bad
for the people he`s married to.

MELBER: Well, as they say, snap.

GAY: I think there`s nothing really to say after that. It`s true.

MELBER: Jason, Mara has decided we`re ending the show. We may end all
news coverage for the night or the week. There is nothing else to say.

Look, in fairness to Melania Trump and I think what you`re saying may speak
to this, it may be a lot more of his problems rubbing off on her than
anything she`s doing or not doing. She keeps a lighter schedule. But a
woman that Joy Reid was speaking about, former First Lady Michelle Obama
famously kept a lighter schedule than former first ladies and was much more
beloved than was the administration she was a part of.

Final thought, Jennifer?

RUBIN: Listen, we went through this year through the funerals of George
H.W. Bush, Barbara Bush, John McCain. These were giants, these were
heroes, these were dedicated public servants. And I think even that, the
comparison of what we had in the past and what we have now is jarring,
upsetting and disillusioning for Americans.

MELBER: Well, it`s disillusioning and yet the larger point you`re
appealing to is something positive –

RUBIN: Yes.

MELBER: – which is not just partisan comparisons, not just team red or
blue. The outpouring for Bush Sr., whether one, agree or disagree with
some of his policies, the respect for him as a person of public service and
dignity in contrast to what you`re seeing today is at least the – well,
the silver lining to (INAUDIBLE) would say, touch of grey.

Jennifer and Jason, come back.

Mara, we thank you for joining us at the top of the show.

Coming up, as I was just discussing with the panel, the Obama factor.
Former President Obama useful for Democrats in the midterms, the numbers
show, which, of course, helped that historic number of seats they gained.
Now heading into 2020, we`re going to look at how his support could impact
this crowded Democratic field that`s widely expected.

And also, conflicting answers about Trump`s willingness to take anymore
questions from Bob Mueller. Why is Rudy Giuliani piping up about this
today? We`ll get into that tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Donald Trump`s lawyer walking back comments he recently made
suggesting that the president could agree to take more questions if it
becomes necessary from special counsel Mueller.

Today though in a new interview with Hill TV, Rudy Giuliani says Mueller`s
team won`t get anymore answers from Trump.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

THE HILL: Do you expect he`s going to have to answer more questions in
writing?

RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, I think I announced about 10 days
ago, over my dead body, and I`m not dead yet, so.

THE HILL: That answers that. As a former federal –

GIULIANI: He is not answering any more questions from these people. They
are outrageous activity. I`m, I`m, you know, we did enough.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Talking tough. Did enough.

But Giuliani also said a day earlier something a little different, speaking
to “The Daily Beast” because, you know, as a lawyer he`s constantly talking
to reporters. He outlined over negotiations whether Mueller could question
the president actually remained open. He was asked was he understanding
was Mueller could still look to interview Trump whether over the phone, in
person, or et cetera.

And Giuliani says, well, it hasn`t been formally closed yet. Trump`s legal
team submitted those written answers to Mueller`s team last month. Now,
those questions, according to all public accounts that we know about,
Mueller`s team hasn`t confirmed it or anything, but they were allegedly
linked to Russian interference. That was the focus. So, things could
change if Mueller subpoenas the president to talk about follow-up questions
or other topics entirely.

Giuliani did one other thing today that lawyers don`t usually do for their
clients. He went from making a legal defense, which is totally kosher, to
explain your client`s position within the eyes of the law, to making a
personal defense, literally offering a personal alibi for Trump`s conduct
during the end of the campaign.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GIULIANI: I was with the president over the last four months of the
campaign, virtually all day and into the night until he went back to his
home. And there was no contact with WikiLeaks. None.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: I`m joined my former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance and Jennifer
Rubin back with me.

Joyce, have you ever seen a lawyer make that kind of argument? Not only do
I have kind of a legal case for my client, but by the way, I spend all my
time with him and I know he couldn`t have done anything wrong?

JOYCE VANCE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: A lawyer who makes that sorts of
allegations particularly a lawyer who doesn`t appear to be actively engaged
in lawyering with this particular client really runs perilously close to
becoming a fact witness which prosecutors might want to question. And that
seems to be what Giuliani does here.

MELBER: I mean, yes. When you say fact witness, that`s one of the things
lawyers talk about. It`s like the way that Rod Rosenstein, who is
Mueller`s boss, ultimately might be called in to confirm or deny certain
underlying facts, right? You`re suggesting that Rudy opens himself up to
that if his claim is, oh, I watched everything and we never contacted
WikiLeaks?

VANCE: You know, the lawyer-client privilege would protect legal
communications between an attorney and his client, but this looks to be an
entirely different realm that sort of vouching that Rudy is engaging in.

MELBER: So, I think what you`re saying in your normally careful and even
nice way is, this is mad sloppy and Rudy was not retained as a lawyer in
that period, he was a campaign surrogate and so he`s sort of cracked the
door. Whether he gets in trouble for it or whether Mueller doesn`t care
about the 87th interview is an open question.

Jennifer, we heard earlier today on MSNBC from Walter Dellinger, who was
the solicitor-general who argued the Jones-Clinton case which has some
precedent that tends to cut against precedents in terms of their efforts to
avoid interviews with prosecutors and such, and here`s what he said to me
earlier tonight about the idea that Mueller may ultimately subpoena Trump
in 2019.

(BEGN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTER DELLINGER, FORMER ACTING SOLICITOR GENERAL UNDER CLINTON: What the
special counsel wants to know about what Donald Trump`s state of mind is,
if he`s considering perhaps even just naming him an unindicted conspirator,
he needs I think he could easily take an expedited case from the grand jury
of the president up to the Supreme Court and they could hear that case.
They could also hear a case involving the House`s decision if it comes to
that subpoena the Mueller report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Jennifer, do you think this is something that the White House is
still worried would be on the table?

RUBIN: I think so. Listen, Rudy is not the real lawyer. Trump does have
real lawyers. They`re not very good, but he does have real lawyers back
there.

And they are smart enough, even they to understand that the law is not on
their side. Between U.S. v. Nixon and the Paula Jones case, the judicial
system`s right to obtain evidence from a president, to put him under oath,
to get information is on fairly solid ground.

Now, could he take an appeal to the Supreme Court and with his two
appointees perhaps get a different ruling? Perhaps. But he`s not out of
the woods yet.

I disagree slightly with Walter on one thing and that is Trump may actually
may have revealed a good deal of the state of his mind through his tweets,
through his actions and in those written questions. So, Trump has a way of
telling us exactly what he`s thinking and what he`s doing and why. So, it
may be it`s not as important as it may be with another to get Trump under
oath.

But, frankly, I think if Mueller feels there`s a sense of completeness or
if he`s really lacking some facts that he needs to put him under oath and
take his testimony, I don`t think he has to do it at all.

MELBER: Joyce, another story that`s making waves today which Michael Cohen
was quick to publicly and unequivocally deny is this reporting that maybe
there were cellphone pings that would somehow link him back to Prague.
He`s denied it. Those reporters standby their story, McClatchy. Some of
them have been out discussing their story tonight.

Take a listen to how one of the reporters described it on “ALL IN.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER STONE, MCCLATCHY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: This is a part of a large,
wide-ranging investigation. And this part could well be or it seems to us
to be still under scrutiny.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: I see.

STONE: And therefore, if he didn`t have it all nailed down – I mean, it`s
one thing to nail down certain details which he obviously did in regard to
the lies to Congress about the Trump Tower, where Cohen acknowledged the
contact continued for six months after what he previously told Congress.
Our understanding is that this part is once again still under scrutiny.

HAYES: I see.

STONE: And, you know, it`s taking more time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Joyce, do you buy that, because the quick counter argument to that
is Mueller knows what he`s doing and Cohen is at a different place now
having been credited with incredible testimony?

VANCE: Yes, it`s really hard what to make of this story with Cohen jumping
quickly onto Twitter to deny it. I think it`s possible Michael Cohen`s
phone could have been in Prague and Michael Cohen could have been somewhere
else.

He has this interesting drop line on his Twitter feed where he says, you
know, I`m told that Prague is beautiful in the spring, or whatever it is
that he says, maybe whoever had his phone is the person who conveyed that
to him. One has the feeling here that this is sort of a pregnant pause,
that there`s more to this story. Clearly Mueller knows where this is
headed and we don`t. And I think for now, I think it has to be a
tantalizing, unfinished detail.

MELBER: Joyce Vance, and Jennifer Rubin, thanks to both of you.

Up ahead, the new Congress will be seated in days but it`s almost certain
one seat in the North Carolina 9th congressional district will be empty.
There`s more evidence of a pretty brazen vote tampering scheme piling up.
We`re going to have that story coming up.

For the first time in 17 years, Hillary Clinton no longer the most admired
woman in America. We`ll tell you who, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Donald Trump famously watches a lot of the news. But for his sake
maybe it would be good if he doesn`t watch this particular segment because
we can tell you the votes are in and we now know the most admired Americans
of the year.

Here we are at the end of 2018. And topping the list are two very famous
individuals who happen to be Democrats. Former first lady Michelle Obama
has been formally voted America`s most admired woman. This is in Gallup`s
nonpartisan annual poll. Her husband, former President Barack Obama,
America`s most admired man, a title he`s held for 11 consecutive years.

So while president and now while post-president, not displaced by the
current president. Now, both the former president and first lady were
active in the 2018 campaigns and the midterms speaking at over a dozen
rallies around the nation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can choose hope
over fear. You can choose a bigger more prosperous, more generous, kinder
version of America.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: What we need to do
is bridge the gap between caring about that kind of stuff and actually
doing something about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Michelle Obama`s activities have stayed fairly civic but Barack
Obama is looking political. “Vanity Affair” reports that he`s already been
meeting with presidential hopefuls including people like Beto O`Rourke, of
course his former running mate Joe Biden who may run this time, we just
don`t know.

Meanwhile, a former Obama advisor saying his position this time is if
you`re serious and you want to talk, I`ll talk to you. As things unfold,
he might say let`s all stay focused but, and it`s a big but, he`s not going
to pick a winner.

I`m joined by Democratic Strategist Aisha Moodie-Mills and Jason Johnson,
back with us.

We`ll get to those politics. But what does it tell you to see these people
on the most admired list here at the end of this very, very divided 2018?

AISHA MOODIE-MILLS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It tells us that first of all
Americans are tired of being divided. I mean the fact that Barack and
Michelle are both aspirational. They`re about hope. They`re about change.
They`re about moving people to be their best selves is really telling about
like where we are right now as Americans and where the appetite is for the
mess that`s going on in politics.

The other thing that I would add that`s interesting, I appreciate your lead
in talking about how Michelle Obama has been really civic. This lady right
now is literally selling out stadiums with her book tour. She has sold so
many books right now. She`s literally broken records.

I don`t want to undercount and support to underscore the impact that she`s
actually going to have in mobilizing the Democratic base to come out and
support whoever the candidate is. Because I think that she`s actually
going to rally the troops in a more urgent way than perhaps the president.

MELBER: Jason?

JOHNSON: You can`t get much bigger than this, OK? Michelle Obama is going
to be taking her Becoming Tour to London in April this year. And the
special guest might be Meghan Markle. Do you know how popular you have to
be, not just in America but on the entire planet, when the Duchess of
Sussex is maybe your kind of opening act, right?

Michelle Obama has always run, you know, 5 to 10 points of Barack Obama.
But this Becoming book has turned her into a cultural phenomenon, the likes
of which we haven`t seen since Oprah probably 20 to 25 years ago.

And I think that her very existence had always been political as the first
African-American first lady, as a woman who had her own career, as a woman
who dared to actually occasionally be critical and talk about her husband
in humanizing ways. So she is going to be a dynamic force.

Look, if I was running for office in 2020, which obviously I`m not, but if
I was, after I talk to Barack, I would talk to Michelle. Because in all
honesty, she`s going to be the person that you`re going to hit on the
ground in South Carolina. She`s going to be the person you`re going to hit
on the ground in Georgia if you`re going to be competitive in 2020 as much
as Barack.

MELBER: Well, you`re saying she might be going to the U.K. with Meghan
Markle. As you know, Jason, no greater authority on doing what you want
and the rapper Future said, “You do what you want when you pop in.”

JOHNSON: Yes.

MOODIE-MILLS: Let`s not forget who`s number – who`s also number three on
the list, who`s number two right behind Michelle Obama is Oprah Winfrey,
right. So we also have two black women who are at the top of that list.
Again mobilizing women to come out and vote. I think that that`s going to
be huge because they`re both rock stars.

MELBER: So let`s get into that a little bit since you bring that up.

MOODIE-MILLS: Yes.

MELBER: We can get into it, right?

MOODIE-MILLS: Yes.

MELBER: How do you deal with America`s clear excitement about some black
women, Oprah and Michelle, while America also still struggles with putting
women in positions of power? In other words, would America love Oprah as
much if she said I want to be president?

MOODIE-MILLS: Well, the 2018 midterms showed us that America actually does
love women. We see a record number of women coming to Congress right now
and a record number of women of color. So I think all those tides are
changing.

And I also have to add the fact that Donald Trump only gets nine percent on
this list. Yes, it makes him number two but it`s only nine percent.

MELBER: Are you sure –

MOODIE-MILLS: So we`re talking about America generally –

MELBER: Are you sure you`re not in a Trump segment? We`re talking about
Trump earlier –

MOODIE-MILLS: We are talking about America generally.

MELBER: Why are you trying to bring Trump into the Obama Oprah segment?

JOHNSON: This is –

MOODIE-MILLS: Michelle Obama, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey are the majority
of the love and the passion of all Americans. The three of them, that`s
all we need to move the needle, period.

MELBER: I mean, look, everyone understands at home we`re all independent
here so everyone can say anything. I`m not going to stop you. But, Jason,
this was an Obama Oprah segment and now we`ve got the man in here.

JOHNSON: For a long time – and everybody`s going to be saying this until
someone becomes more popular than Barack Obama. Our president is black and
probably will be its represent for probably good 8 to 10 years. I mean the
outgoing president, if you leave relatively popular, you`re going to stay
that popular.

What I do think is this though. We can`t forget that going into 2020,
whether it`s Ocasio-Cortez, whether it`s Stacey Abrams in Georgia, there
are going to be other popular black women. Remember, she`s not on the
Gallup list but Stacey Abrams was the most Googled politician in the
midterms in 2018.

So there are a plenty of powerful African-American men and women who are
going to be the key decision makers in 2020. And as unhappy as Joe Biden
may happen to be at this point because Barack hasn`t had a conversation
with him, look he picked the wrong side in Georgia too.

So I think there are a lot of people going to be on that short list of
people that the president may sort of let it leak that he had a
conversation with. Joe Biden is not going to be one of those people
because he can`t win.

MOODIE-MILLS: Kamala Harris, just saying.

JOHNSON: I don`t think she can win either but we`ll see.

MELBER: Why don`t you think she can win? This is a feisty segment. I`m
just talking about who`s admired and now it`s just all over the place. Go
ahead, sir.

JOHNSON: Well, I think that the criminal justice background of Senator
Harris from the State of California is going to present some real problems
when she gets to the primary. I think that the idea that you have prison
labor that are fighting the wild fires out there, these are all things that
occurred during the time when she was A.G.

It doesn`t mean that the things that she`s done in the Senate haven`t been
great. It doesn`t mean that she hasn`t been very active in criminal
justice since she`s got to the Senate.

But I think in a Democratic primary where what you did at the state level
is going to matter, I think she`s going to have a lot of difficulty. And
if she doesn`t end up winning one of the first three primaries by the time
he gets to South Carolina, she`ll be done by super Tuesday.

MOODIE-MILLS: Perhaps.

JOHNSON: I know the K hive is going to come after me but.

MOODIE-MILLS: They are. And so here`s the thing. Even if she doesn`t
win, I think that she`s going to have a huge factor in bringing people out.
At the end of the day, 2020 is going to be about the mobilization of the
base. And all the people that we`re talking about and we – you know,
we`re talking about the Obamas. We`re talking about Kamala Harris. Those
are the people who are really inspiring the people who show up and push
whoever the candidate is over the edge.

So we can`t discount her because her power is going to matter. And the
fact that she`s in that field is absolutely going to matter.

MELBER: Also, Jason, we`re writing down your prediction because pundit
predictions about these races, well, they`re usually not right. We`ll run
it back for you someday.

Jason, Aisha, my thanks to both of you.

Up next, there`s actually breaking news in another midterm story. This is
the outstanding race in North Carolina 9th Congressional district.

But first, Christmas may be over but we want to tell you on behalf of
Lawrence, you can still donate to the K.I.N.D. fund. That`s Kids In Need
of Desks, a partnership that Lawrence created with MSNBC and UNICEF to
provide desks to schools in Malawi that had never had desks and
scholarships for girls and young women to attend high school in Malawi
where public high school is not free. And the graduation rate there for
young girls is much lower than it is for boys.

You can contribute any amount at lastworddesks.msnbc.com. That`s
lastworddesks.msnbc.com. You can also make donations in honor of friends
and family and UNICEF will send them an acknowledgement of your gift.
Anything you can do to contribute does make a difference for these people.

Now, we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: One week from today, the winners of the 2018 midterm elections
will formally take their seats in the new 116th Congress. But get this,
for the first time, and we checked, 34 years, Congress will enter its next
session with one election still outstanding because the race you may have
heard about, North Carolina`s 9th district continues to be plagued by what
are now quite clearly credible allegations of election rigging that were
made on behalf of the GOP candidate Mark Harris.

An operative named McCray Dowless who worked for the Harris campaign and
was hired at the direction of Harris himself accused of having paid people
to collect absentee ballots from voters and bring them to him. Now sworn
affidavits claim that he told people in the community that they basically
destroyed whatever would have been potential ballots voting for Democrats.

Now, others have claimed that this team call it a sort of Republican fraud
team, was filling out ballots on behalf of voters. Now, Dowless`s lawyers
still claim, we want to report for you, they say he did nothing illegal
whatsoever.

Now, the North Carolina Board of Elections refuse to certify this election
results because Harris won by just 905 votes. And under state law, they
could soon decide to hold a whole new election for this seat. Now, the
fight for that election moves into the state legislature and there`s a bill
passed by the Republican controlled North Carolina House and Senate
mandating that should the elections board decide to hold a new
congressional election, they would also have to hold a new primary as well.

And then it includes a provision that would make future boards on election
investigations secret. A lot of people don`t like the way this smells.
Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoing the bill saying it would basically
“protect politicians” who commit fraud. Now, the Republican controlled
legislature then overruled that veto today.

So this is all unfolding before our eyes in what would otherwise be a
sleepy holiday week. And tonight, there is now brand new breaking news on
this story that opens up a new possibility. Could Speaker Pelosi
ultimately decide what happens to this House seat? Well, we have the
latest from North Carolina elections law expert on all of this straight
ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: One week after the midterm elections, North Carolina congressional
candidate Mark Harris tweeted this picture of himself in freshman
orientation with other newly elected members of Congress, the freshmen
class.

But now, Mr. Harris may find himself in Washington next year not as a
member of Congress but, well, frankly the subject of a looming
investigation into possible election fraud.

As promised, I`m joined now by phone, by Gerry Cohen, a former special
counsel for the North Carolina general assembly and an expert on election
law, Jason Johnson will join me in a moment.

But let me start with you, Gerry Cohen. What is going on in North
Carolina? What is new in light of this action by the legislature?

GERRY COHEN, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, NORTH CAROLINA GENERAL ASSEMBLY (via
phone): Well, it`s a whole labyrinth that runs back two years when the
legislature tried to strip powers from incoming Democratic Governor Roy
Cooper. He won two or three times in the state Supreme Court. And that
was being resolved today with a new structure that restored powers to the
governor effective January 31.

We had an ongoing investigation that a three-judge court, state court had
been supervising, and extending its length repeatedly. And today, about 15
minutes after the legislature adjourned, it decided it wasn`t extending its
stay any longer, and the current state board of elections will expire
tomorrow at noon, which may leave a 34-day hiatus while we try to resolve
everything.

MELBER: Which then in plain English means what? A month goes by and then
eventually it`s most likely the House Democrats in Washington will have the
final say?

COHEN: Well, there will be 34 days without – potentially without a state
board of elections, thus the January 11 hearing might not happen. It might
leave the house to conduct its own investigation next week and not seat
anyone.

But there`s a lot of research going on about other laws that might let the
governor appoint the board under like an 1869 Statute that deals with
situations where there`s offices and no provision for their appointment.
So people were busy scratching their heads today, but everything was –
from this court order, 15 minutes after adjournment of the legislature for
the year, took everyone by total surprise.

MELBER: I think our viewers are pretty familiar with some of the battles
that have been waged in other states where there have been these so-called
power grabs, Wisconsin, et cetera. Is this, in your view as an – the
analysis that you`ve done, is this a similar power grab where basically you
have otherwise duly authorized body dissolved because the legislature
doesn`t like what they were up to?

COHEN: Well, this is – you know, the 2016 action right after the election
was very similar to what went on in Wisconsin and Michigan. This year, but
the difference here, and I hate to cast it in a partisan tent, but our
state Supreme Court was four to three Democratic as a result of the 2016
election, a reversal.

And now, starting next Wednesday, will be five to two Democratic because
the Democrats have been carrying statewide elections. So our court struck
down those power grabs two or three times in state court over the last two
years. So it`s put this back in balance.

MELBER: But I mean, I guess what I`m asking you is, is there any good
reason for the elections board to be, as you put it, on a month hiatus or
eliminated?

COHEN: No, the court complained. The three-judge court order complained
that the state board, by delaying its hearing until January 11 from the
previous December 28 was delaying any certification or resolution of the
9th district election.

But by putting in a 34-day hiatus, it`s delaying it even more unless the
U.S. House steps in perhaps on Wednesday and takes over the investigation.

MELBER: Gerry Cohen has been all over this. And as you said, folks are
scratching their heads who studied this for a living in North Carolina, let
alone the rest of us we`re wondering if it`s going to affect the actual
balance of the power in the House as well as, of course, the larger issues,
whether these votes are being properly counted.

You`ve been a great help to us tonight. So thank you, Gerry.

I want to bring back in as promised Jason Johnson. You and I have the easy
part because Gerry did the hard part and it is certainly complex. But at
bottom, what do you see happening here? And if it does look like a kind of
a standstill with a lot of recriminating, you know, fights back and forth
inside the state, what do you see Pelosi and the House Democrats doing?

JOHNSON: Ari, this is the stuff that I love. My doctorate is out of
Capitol Hill. So I was like I was steeped in North Carolina politics for
my entire process.

What this basically boils down to is this. There are two things that can
happen. Either we wait 34 days, Governor Cooper of North Carolina puts a
brand new elections committee together, they call for a new election. And
you end up probably with McReady, the Democrat ends up winning, he ends up
getting seated in the Congress sometime over the summer. That could happen
if people are willing to wait that long.

Or Nancy Pelosi next Wednesday when she gets in office, if this is
something that she cares about on her agenda could say, “Look, we have
reason to believe that this was a fraudulent election. We will not Seat
anybody that you have from North Carolina`s 9th district unless we get to
conduct an investigation as the House and then we may suggest that you have
to have another election.”

So one way or another, I think we`re going to have another election. It
could come from Congress or it could end up coming from the governor of
North Carolina.

MELBER: Yes. And it`s a fascinating one given that it is a one
outstanding seat out there.

Jason Johnson, thanks for riding along tonight.

And tonight`s last word is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: We`ll have to show you something pretty unusual here in New York.
La Guardia Airport right now is only operating on a partial basis because
of a transformer explosion at a power plant in Queens, which lit up the sky
an eerie and bright blue tonight.

People are talking about what you see right here, a New York City based
energy company Con Ed saying that basically what happened here that create
this spectacle was a couple of transformers tripped off line sparking a
fire, and that explosion lit the sky basically so brightly that it kind of
looks, as you can see, like it`s daytime, or at least a sort of a blue
daytime in several neighborhoods like Astoria and Woodside near Queens.

Now, smoker roast in the source of the blue light, visible from as far away
as Manhattan. And get this. The New York Police Department officially
saying, not only were there no injuries, but they add, with a tweet that
contrary to some people`s fears.


END

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