Dems question AG Barr’s credibility. TRANSCRIPT: 4/12/19. The Last Word w/ Lawrence O’Donnell.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Now it`s time for “The Last Word” with Ali
Velshi in for Lawrence tonight.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: He`s surging. He`s surging because people now know
how to pronounce his name or at least they`re getting there. I think people
can say you know who I really like, until then they were struggling because
they liked him but couldn`t say they liked him because they couldn`t say
MADDOW: That`s right. And you have a choice of mnemonics. You can either
do Buddha judge or you can do boot edge, edge, whether you`re a two-person
mnemonic or a three-person, it just depends.
VELSHI: It fits everybody. All right, I`m looking forward to your
conversation with him, Rachel. You have a great weekend.
MADDOW: Appreciate it, Ali. Thank you.
VELSHI: it. I`m Ali Velshi in for Lawrence O`Donnell. It`s been 100 days
since everything changed for Donald Trump because the Democrats took
control of the House of Representatives. Tonight, I`ll be joined by several
freshmen Democrats who have already made a big impact on the Trump
Abby Finkenauer and Abigail Spanberger and Congressman Harley Rouda will
all join us and we`re looking ahead to 2020 in tonight`s “Last Word” with
the policies from one of the Democrats making waves in the race, but we
begin with the imminent release of the Mueller report.
Attorney General William Barr told senators that he will release a redacted
version of the report next week. The report could tell us a lot about the
president and it could tell us a lot about Russian interference.
Bloomberg reports that Rod Rosenstein said in a speech that the report
describes Russian cyber crimes during the 2016 election, but the Mueller
report might tell us the most about the man in charge of its release,
Attorney General William Barr, who some are now comparing to Roy Cohn,
Donald Trump`s personal lawyer in the `70s and `80s, who loyally and
ruthlessly protected him.
The comparison comes as Democrats have questioned Barr`s independence after
Barr used the term spying this week to describe the FBI`s lawful
surveillance of the Trump campaign. Barr admitted he had no evidence to
support his claim but that hasn`t stopped the president from repeating it.
Barr`s statements are continuing to anger Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): And I think when he used the obviously
political charged expression of spying, he lost whatever credibility he may
have had, because that was again music to President Trump`s ears. Trump
immediately tweets it out. He says, you know, “attaboy Attorney General
Barr.” Unfortunately in the process, the attorney general further
undermined his credibility as an independent, you know, arbiter of justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now this week, Barr also refused to answer whether anyone at the
White House had been briefed on the Mueller report and indicated he won`t
agree to Democrats demand for the full unredacted report and underlying
And he has been making political statements that have been raising eyebrows
including this implausible defense of Donald Trump`s effort to destroy the
Affordable Care Act in court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): – millions of Americans who currently receive
health insurance coverage under the law are at risk of losing that
coverage. Am I correct in that?
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the president has made clear
that he favors not only preexisting conditions, but would like action on a
broad health plan. So he is proposing a substitute for Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: So is William Barr the independent attorney general he promised to
be in his confirmation hearings or is he like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let me just say how very, very
dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our
country is going off the rails yesterday and today. He is the attorney
general of the United States of America not the attorney general of Donald
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: So that may be the question. Is William Barr the attorney general
of Donald Trump? Boston Globe columnist Michael A. Cohen wrote this week,
“Barr is protecting the president. Barr`s summary quickly created a public
narrative on the report that provided huge political benefits to Trump.
Barr now appears to be purposely dragging his feet on releasing the full
report for fear that it will embarrass the president.”
Joining me now, Michael A. Cohen, columnist for the Boston Globe and the
author of the new book, “Clear and Present Safety.” And Mimi Rocah, former
federal prosecutor and former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern
District of New York, also an MSNBC legal contributor. Welcome to both of
you. Thank you for being here.
Michael, I want to just read a little bit more from your story in “The
Boston Globe” about William Barr in which you say, “If you skewed the
report, he is yet one more Trump administration figure openly surrendering
his integrity and ethical core to a man utterly devoid of either.
That`s not quite a surprise at this point. Such obsequiousness is the
defining characteristic of this administration and its retinue of hangers-
on and enablers.” Why would a man like William Barr who has a reputation,
some people like him, some don`t, but he has a reputation. Why would he
need to join these cabal of people who engage in obsequiousness with the
MICHAEL A. COHEN, COLUMNIST, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I really have no idea. I`m
not sure why he`s doing it. I mean, he at least had a pretty good
reputation before. He became attorney general again. Probably had a pretty
good career, you know, he did pretty well as a lawyer, I`m sure.
So, I don`t know why he`s doing this but it`s pretty clear that he is doing
this. It`s pretty clear that he has decided to put his thumb on the scale
to help President Trump and, at least to narrow how bad this is going to be
when the Mueller report finally does comes out.
VELSHI: Is that, Mimi, what you think is going on? He`s limiting the
damage because the report is the report, it`s written. Congress is going to
see some version of it if it doesn`t see enough of it. It will continue to
fight with him until it sees more. So what impact is William Barr having?
Is he just giving Donald Trump a narrative that it can run with for a few
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK:
Absolutely. And that`s a big deal. I mean, it`s been a simple narrative,
right? I mean, the narrative for the past three weeks has been, and I`m
quoting in their words, “no collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration.”
That isn`t even actually what Barr`s letter said, but the way that it was
written, it was boiled down to that. And when given a chance at the hearing
the other day, they said, this is how the president is spinning your
letter. This is what he`s saying. He didn`t even correct it then and say,
well, that`s not actually what I said because it is. I mean, he said no
obstruction in his words but there were many ways he could have – there
were many nuances to it that he could have put out there but of course, he
And then by interjecting this new narrative or adopting it, you know, the
Trump narrative of the spies and, you know, the corrupt way the
investigation began, he`s further giving legitimacy to this argument that
even what does come out of the Mueller probe that is damaging to Trump, it
doesn`t really matter because the whole investigation was corrupt.
So he`s helped it in two ways and he`s in a powerful position. It`s
different when Barr says it than when an elected official says it. It gives
it even more credence, these arguments. And that`s what`s so damaging. Is
it`s someone who we are supposed to see as independent and supposed to be
independent and it is considered not in the same vein as an elected
official is making those comments. It is so dangerous.
VELSHI: Michael, floating the idea that there was spying on the campaign,
not surveillance of individuals in the campaign, which is a man like
William Barr who trades in the business of words would know the difference,
but he said it. He`s the attorney general of the United States. If there
was something improper going on in terms of surveillance, he would be the
first to know and he could provide evidence to Congress of that, but he
didn`t. He just offered conjecture.
COHEN: Well, I mean, he said he wants to open an investigation but then
said ahead of time, he thinks spying actually occurred. I`m not a lawyer,
but it seems to me that you shouldn`t be sort of (inaudible) with the
investigation, going to find out before it actually occurs.
And I find it striking that during the hearing, he kept avoiding saying
anything about the Mueller report, that we`re all going to see hopefully in
a week or so or maybe sooner. And yet, at the same time, felt comfortable
making this accusation with no evidence before an investigation has even
And look, I don`t see any way to read that comment about spying as
something that was done as a political favor to the president. I mean, it`s
clearly present (ph), its rhetoric is clearly his talking points about the
investigation. I think he`s trying to help him by making comments like this
and again, I don`t know why he`s doing it, why he wants to help him so
much, but it`s clear that`s what is happening right here.
VELSHI: You are a lawyer and you were a prosecutor and you worked under
the Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York so you know
what you`re supposed to do and what you`re not supposed to do if you think
somebody`s done something and where you`re supposed to come with evidence.
Did it surprise you that William Barr would – never mind the words that he
was using, the fact that it`s surveillance and that`s how we think of it –
but the idea that he put it out there for everybody to digest without
ROCAH: Ye. Look, it`s the same problem that he had during his confirmation
hearing where he had put out this memo saying in advance, well, I don`t
think there`s obstruction. And guess what? That`s the conclusion he came
Prosecutors should not, I mean, you don`t have the end result before you
find the facts and do the investigation. That`s exactly the opposite of
what you should do. You`re not being an unbiased investigator. You`re not
being a neutral investigator.
And in fact, you know, there would be an argument perhaps that he shouldn`t
recuse himself from any – overseeing any investigation because he`s
already prejudged it. That`s probably not going to happen. I realize in
this administration, you know, you`re recused, you get fired, but that is
how sort of tainted I see it. It would be as if I were investigating a
defendant and I had said ahead of time well I know he`s guilty, let me go
find the facts.
ROCAH: You know, that`s just not how –
VELSHI: The irony is that unlike so many people in the Trump
administration, Bill Barr comes with all of that expertise and experience
to know that. He`s not learning on the job which is ironic. Thanks to both
of you. Hang on for a second.
In addition to seeking the full release of the Mueller report, Democrats on
the House Ways and Means Committee are fighting to obtain Donald Trump`s
tax returns from the IRS. I`m joined now by a member of the Ways and Means
Committee, Congressman Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey.
Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.
REP. BILL PASCRELL (D-NJ): Ali, thanks for upholding the principles of
Peter Zenger and the freedom of the press. It means a lot to most of us.
VELSHI: It is what we need to do these days. I want to quote what you told
“Politico” about the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin`s failure to turn
over Donald Trump`s tax returns as requested by Congress. You said, “I want
to take a look at contempt of Congress here because the way Mnuchin talked
and the way he writes, he`s very dismissive of the legislative branch of
government particularly, if that part of the legislative branch of
government is controlled by the Democratic Party.”
Now, I want to ask you about this because this comes down, maybe to a
question of law. Richard Neal has made a request of the IRS for the
president`s tax returns because he says, “it serves a legislative purpose.”
The president`s lawyers have said it doesn`t and the treasury secretary
says we`re not handing his documents over to Congress. What`s your take?
PASCRELL: Well, Mnuchin is insignificant in this deal. The letter was sent
to the Commissioner Rettig of the IRS department. I realize that the IRS is
under Treasury, but also the IRS is under Ways and Means Committee too. We
have oversight over that committee.
And it`s very clear in the law, whether you`re talking about 6103, which
got us here, there is the reason why we are investigating, or you go to
7214 – I want to make sure I get it right, which lays out very clearly,
what happens if anybody interferes or obstructs when you`re trying to get
So, they`re on shaky grounds here and in fact, they`re going down. They
decided to ignore the law as it was written, Ali, and what they`re doing is
trying to distract and get into other areas. So when the president says or
where Nick says his hand maiden (ph) or when anyone says, and Mnuchin says,
we`re not going to give it to you.
They don`t understand the law. The law is on our side. The law is very
clear whether he is Democrat or Republican. This is not a witch hunt. I
started this in February 1st, 2017, wrote a letter to the chairman at that
time who was a Republican, Kevin Brady, saying let`s do this together,
Democrats and Republicans.
So, it`s not partisan. It shows to just, you know, shove it off and we won
18 times to the well (ph) to get the resolution passed to give us the
opportunity. Now we`re in the majority.
VELSHI: Let me ask you. I`d like to tell you what reporter David Cay
Johnston, who studies taxes better than most of us do. He argues that Trump
officials who don`t comply with the request could face time in prison.
VELSHI: He wrote in the “Daily Beast” that “Treasury Secretary Steve
Mnuchin and Charles Rettig, the IRS commissioner do not want to be removed
from office and sent to prison for five years just for doing Trump`s
bidding. There is a law requiring every federal employee who touches the
tax system to do their duty or be removed from office.
The crystal clear language of the law applies to Trump, acting White House
Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mnuchin and Rettig, federal employees all.
The law says all of them shall be removed from office if they fail to
comply with the request from Representative Richard Neal, the
Massachusetts` Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
I tend to believe what David says.
PASCRELL: I do too.
VELSHI: But nobody removes anybody from office these days certainly under
the spectrum of the law. I mean, this is – they`ve said they`re not giving
you this stuff. What happens next?
PASCRELL: Well, the law has become utilitarian under this particular
administration and what they don`t realize is we are in the legislative
branch of government as article one. They`re in article two. If you read
what article one and article two, which you should, if you`re the president
of the United States or a congressman, then you know that the legislature
has responsibilities of oversight over whether – and Richie Neal did it
He narrowed the reason why he was doing it. We`re talking about an audit.
This president has been audited so many times for crying out loud, he set
the record, I believe. And the fact of the matter is we want to know if
he`s being audited really at this point and whether that`s reason enough
not to give us the taxes. He promised this in 2016 when he was running.
What is he hiding?
VELSHI: I spoke to Kevin Brady, who as you said was the chairman when the
Republicans were in charge of Congress. He worried that this could set an
example whereby congress can start going after Americans because of their
Secretary Mnuchin wrote in his response to Chairman Richard Neal`s request,
“The committee request raises serious issues concerning the constitutional
scope of Congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the
asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American
So their argument is that if you can go after the president`s tax returns,
then you can go after anybody`s tax returns whom you don`t like or whose
politics you don`t like.
PASCRELL: These guys are the biggest hypocrites I`ve ever seen in
government. It has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican. You go back
when – four years ago. They insisted when they were the majority to
investigate, if you remember, the head of the IRS, Ms. Lerner. And in order
to do that, they chose 50 “liberal organizations” and their leaders to look
at their tax returns.
They weren`t worrying about privacy then. In fact, when they examined it
and exposed their names and everything else, they found nothing. They found
zero. For Kevin Brady to say to me or to Mr. Mnuchin to infer, they don`t
know what they`re talking about. I`ll debate them any time on this issue.
They`re a bunch of hypocrites. They went after those 54 people that had
nothing to do with the politics of anything in Washington. This is not a
Democrat or Republican issue. This is at the very heart and soul of what
the law says.
VELSHI: I`m inclined to take you up on your offer and invite Kevin Brady
and you to have this conversation with us.
VELSHI: Thank you, sir. Congressman Bill Pascrell, thanks for joining us.
Mimi Rocah and Michael Cohen, thank you both for joining us. Coming up
today, today marks 100 days since the blue wave came to Congress. We`re
going to talk to three freshmen Democrats who turned their districts from
red to blue in November and I`ll ask them about the work in the House and
how their constituents feel the new Congress is doing.
And at the end of the hour, a butta-bump (ph)? A butt of momentum? Whatever
you call it, Mayor Pete Buttegieg is rising in the Democratic primary
polls. John Harwood talked to him about the need for a wealth tax and what
Mayor Pete calls the pick your poison of the Trump administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): And to the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi,
I extend to you this gavel.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: – or Nancy, as I call her.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): He asked Speaker Pelosi, will you agree to my
wall? She said no.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Nancy is not going to give you that wall.
TRUMP: Women who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): This is a new way. This is a new day.
REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): This Congress will not allow protections for
people with preexisting conditions to go back to the bad old days.
REP. CINDY AXNE (D-IA): I think we all know that you profited tremendously
from the tax cuts.
REP. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-NJ): The White House says that sanctions decisions
are based on liking Kim Jong-un. So what`s to like?
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Science should not be partisan. We
are facing a national crisis.
REP. MELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): When you saw those pictures of babies in
cages, what did you do?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMING (D-MD): Is there any doubt in your mind that President
Trump knew exactly what he was paying for?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: There is no doubt in my
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We will demand the release of the full report.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I do not think that conduct criminal or not is
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Show us the Mueller report. Show us the tax
returns. We`re not walking away.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
VELSHI: It has been a momentous 100 days for the newly democratically
controlled House of Representatives. A historic blue wave of 2018 has
become accountability in 2019 with the new majority conducting oversight of
the Trump administration`s policies as well as of the president himself and
the biggest surprise is how the new members of Congress, the freshmen, who
in previous Congresses have taken a backseat to the old guard, are leading
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OCASIO-CORTEZ: To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated
assets to an insurance company?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?
COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.
OCASIO-CORTEZ: And where would the committee find more information on
this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax
returns in order to compare them?
COHEN: Yes, and you`d find it at the Trump.org.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: This freshmen class is the most diverse in history. It includes
more women than ever before and they have a diversity of experiences and
they are bringing that perspective into their oversight role.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): I`m a former intelligence officer. I am
deeply concerned about what appears to be a growing disconnect between our
political and intelligence leaders.
REP. LUCY MCBATH (D-GA): The pain of losing a child to gun violence never
ends. And it`s in that pain that drives me to do this work to prevent gun
REP. LAUREN UNDERWOOD (D-IL): I`m not a lawyer. I`m a nurse. Madam
Secretary, I want to be very clear about what the family separation policy
is doing to children`s mental and physical health. Were you aware the
traumatic effects don`t go away even if a child is reunited with their
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I understand that
they are, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: That was a no. The freshmen Democrats have shown themselves
willing to challenge members of the Trump administration in any and all
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOSH HARDER (D-CA): Can you help explain to me why the budget that
you proposed eliminates every single dedicated federal literacy program?
BETSY DEVOS: Continued federal funding to try to fix problems has not
yielded the results that we all hoped for. Those solutions are best done at
the state and local level.
HARDER: One of the programs that you cut, the LEARN program, helps those
states and local districts develop comprehensive literacy programs to
actually solve this problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And this freshmen class is not afraid to throw the book at them or
at least hold it up in a hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Ms. Kraninger, the annual percentage rate and
I`ll be happy to send you a copy of the textbook that I wrote, explains
that the APR is derived from the finance charge, the amount financed, and
the payment schedule. It`s a mathematical transformation of those three
numbers into the cost of credit expressed at a yearly rate.
KATHERINE KRANINGER, DIRECTOR, CFPB: Yes. A simplification, I understand
that you know well.
PORTER: Well, my concern is whether you know well, ma`am because you are
the one responsible for making sure that American consumers know well when
they take out loans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Oh, snap, as they say. Up next, we will be joined by three
freshmen Democrats who are helping to put a check on the Trump
administration right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: In this class, 18 freshmen have gavels or subcommittee chairs. Ten
of them are women. We have seven women chairs, a full committee, 39 women
at chairs – 39 women with gavels of chairs and subcommittees and maybe
And so it is pretty exciting. This caucus which is a 60 percent or more
women, people of color, LGBTQ, comes together. Let`s say to them, our
diversity is our strength, our unity is our power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: The most diverse freshmen class of the House of Representatives
has been busy on its first 100 days in the majority. The group of more than
60 new Democratic members have captured national attention and tested the
Trump administration`s leadership.
Joining me now, three freshmen Democratic members of the House of
Representatives – Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia`s 7th
District. She is a former CIA officer and sits on the House Foreign Affairs
and Agricultural Committee.
Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer of Iowa`s 1s District – she is a member of
the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Congressman Harley
Rouda of the California`s 48th District. He is a member of the House
Oversight Committee. All three flipped their districts from red to blue.
Welcome to all of you. Congratulations on your first 100 days.
Representative Spanberger, let me start with you. You have deep expertise
in this country`s intelligence. You have walked into a government that has
probably been disrespecting our intelligence community more than in recent
history and you have to go there and share with your colleagues what you
and your colleagues in the CIA and elsewhere in the intelligence community
actually do, how so many of you worked without recognition, how many of
your colleagues have died without recognition. How has that been for you?
SPANBERGER: Well, what`s been really tremendous is having the experience
of talking with my colleagues particularly the freshmen and being a
resource for them, talking about the experiences of what it is to be an
intelligence officer. How it is that the intelligence community works to
ensure that we`re providing good and well-sourced information to leadership
in Washington so that they can make good and informed decisions.
It`s been a real challenge watching the way the administration has
disrespected or not acknowledged the value of intelligence and the
intelligence community because truly at its core, the goal of any
intelligence officer is to collect really good information to help inform
the decisions that policy makers are making, that the administration is
And I hope we move towards a place where we see leadership valuing all of
the information that they possibly can obtain so that we can make good
decisions for this country and for the American people.
VELSHI: We know that when there are scientists in Congress, there`s better
science policy. We know when there are doctors in Congress there is better
medical policy. Will we understand intelligence better because of people
SPANBERGER: Well, I think it`s understanding the work of the intelligence
community, understanding intelligence, but also understanding the risks
we`re facing as a country when we look at, you know, threats against our
infrastructure, threats against our elections and just some of the concerns
that people have with cyberattacks and, you know, what third – what state
and non-state actors might try and how they might try and aggress against
It`s incredibly important that we have people who really understand the
types of threats that exist, who have worked to thwart them, worked to
understand them. And I think that that skillset and that knowledge base is
very beneficial to the new Congress and to the country.
VELSHI: Representative Finkenauer, you are from Iowa. You are the second
youngest member of Congress, second youngest woman in Congress.
You, obviously being from Iowa, you have great interest in some of the
things that are going on today as it relates to agriculture, as it relates
to trade, as it relates to small business because some of the farmers in
your state are small business people and matters as they relate to climate,
and it all comes together for you. What`s your experience been like on
those matters that are so important to your constituents?
REP. ABBY FINKENAUER (D-IA), CHAIR, TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE
COMMITTEE: Well, I`m lucky now to be able to chair the subcommittee of
Rural Development Agriculture Trade and Entrepreneurship. And so what I`ve
really tried to focus on these first 100 days is actually bring Iowians to
Washington so that they`re actually heard through all of the chaos that`s
often going on when it comes to trade.
So that has been just truly a huge honor. But also, heartbreaking at the
same time. You know, oftentimes, you hear a lot of stats about the money
being lost, all of that, but you`re not hearing it from folks who are
actually living it day-to-day.
I mean we had a woman come in and testify who told me that she`s telling
her three sons not to go into farming because she`s worried about that
future. That`s terrifying when you`re talking about my state.
And on top of it, you had another farmer as well who, you know, he`s a pork
producer and worried about all of the retaliatory tariffs really coming
down on them hard. I had somebody telling me that he`s dipping into his
401(k), a 16-year-old telling me that he`s worried about even being able to
have his friends want to stay in the area. He`s not thinking of going into
farming either now.
I mean, we`re talking about the future of my state on the line here. So
every day that I`m in Congress right now, it`s about stepping up for the
folks that I hear from every day and making sure folks in Washington are
finally hearing them as well.
VELSHI: Representative Rouda, you and I spoke when it wasn`t clear. You
had seemed like you had won the election but it took a longer than it did
for some other folks.
You are a man who has come out of a family business. You have a lot of
regard for family businesses but one of the things you`re passionate about
as are your colleagues here is health care.
In fact, you don`t all share a view on how to solve this. You have got –
you have different views between the three of you, which is fine. But you
all share a view that we need better, more accessible, more affordable
health care with a better outcome for all Americans.
REP. HARLEY ROUDA (D-CA): Absolutely. Thanks for having me on the show.
And hi, Abigail. Hi, Abby.
SPANBERGER: Hi, Harley.
ROUDA: We`re usually together in D.C. but it`s nice to be together with
you on T.V. here.
FINKENAUER: Hi, Harley.
ROUDA: Health care is, obviously, a key issue, not just for the
constituents in Orange County that I represent but across America. We have
almost 30 million Americans who do not have insurance and we have a very
convoluted insurance system.
We spend 18 and a half percent of our GDP on health care. That`s about
twice as much as the other industrialized developed countries in the world.
We have some of the worst metrics when you look at our health care vis-a-
vis those same countries.
So we know we`ve got a broken system. We know we have to have a better
system. And I`m prepared to work with not just my fellow members in the
Democratic Caucus, but reaching across the aisle and working with
Republicans as well.
Because ultimately, we`re all paying for this dysfunctional health care
system one way or another. We need to make it better.
VELSHI: All of you, hold on right there. We`re going to take a quick
break and we`ll be back with our freshmen Democrats right after this.
VELSHI: All right. We`re back with our three freshmen members of the
House of Representatives. Abigail Spanberger, Abbey Finkenauer, and Harley
Rouda. Thanks to you for spending the Friday evening with me.
Let me start with you, Representative Spanberger. There are so many –
there are a few self-inflicted things going on in Washington, the trade war
and the border wall but there are big issues. And whether –
VELSHI: – the big issues for you are national security or climate or
health care or immigration or income inequality, and when I say
immigration, I mean the real immigration issues we`ve got in this country.
What do you feel you could achieve? What are you putting your heart
behind? And what do you want to look at in terms of a measurement of
success come the next election?
SPANBERGER: So I`m focused on the things that are important to the people
of Central Virginia, the people who sent me to Washington. And that is
addressing the rising cost of prescription drugs. That is ensuring that
our broadband Internet infrastructure allows our rural communities to
connect the same way our suburban communities can.
And that means bringing, restoring faith in our political system overall.
And I`m really proud that this freshmen class has been focused on the
issues that are important to their home districts, on the prescription drug
You know, I have led on the bill that would provide greater transparency to
pharmacy benefit managers and the pricing of prescription drugs. I`ve co-
sponsored the Medicare Price Negotiation Act that would require Medicare
Part D to negotiate these prescriptions drugs.
On the broadband Internet side of things, I`ve partnered with my Republican
colleagues and many of my Democratic colleagues to ensure that when we`re
moving towards appropriations season, we are fully funding the broadband
and Internet-focused programs that were in the 2018 Farm Bill, and also
existing programs that have been vital to so many of our communities across
And, of course, there was our Campaign Finance and Good Governance Bill
that so many of us joined together on because across our campaigns, we
heard that people just don`t necessarily have a strong faith in those who
And for me, back in Central Virginia, it`s also about being accountable.
So we`ve done three town halls so far. I`ve got two on this district
break, upcoming this week and the week after. And I want to continue being
engaged directly with the people who sent me to Washington so that I make
sure I`m addressing the issues that are important to them.
VELSHI: Representative Finkenauer, I know you`re obviously interested in
the issues that you are on the subcommittee for, that you`re chairing a
subcommittee for on Agriculture and Entrepreneurship. When you go back,
when you are in your constituency, how do people, how are they responding
to this new Congress?
Because so many people in this country are frustrated with politics in
general. Are they excited by the idea that something different might be
FINKENAUER: They are. A lot of people talk about what did 2018 mean. And
a lot of folks think it was a referendum on the president.
And I think very specifically in my district, it was a referendum on the
chaos and dysfunction of Washington, D.C. So when folks are coming to talk
to me when we`re doing conversations with Congress, when we`re literally
having kitchen table-like conversations, where we`re going back and forth
sharing ideas just like I did as a little girl where I`d sit with my
grandpa who was a Democrat and an uncle who was a Republican and we`d have
these ideas and we could, you know, disagree but still respect each other
at the end of the day.
And I think that`s what they`re starting to see, especially from this new
freshmen class and a lot of the members of that helped flipped these seats.
We listen to what folks wanted in our district and what they want is us to
go get something done.
And so we`re talking about investing in transportation and infrastructure
which is desperately needed. You know, when you`re talking about Iowa in
particular, we`ve got the most structurally deficient bridges in the entire
That`s not a Republican or Democratic issue. That`s just a good government
issue. We`re talking about broadband and making sure that we have that in
every corner of our state, for our farmers with the (INAUDIBLE) that`s new
and obviously, a big part of the future of agriculture in our state and in
But also, for entrepreneurs, so that they can come home and live in small
towns and be able to start a business. I mean, these are things that we
can actually get done and we need to, again, find that common ground to do
I`m excited every day because of the subcommittee that I chair. I actually
really enjoy working with my ranking member, Dr. Joyce. We`re able to find
that common ground and we`re able to move things forward.
And that`s what I think we need to continue to do for the next year and a
half and hopefully, years to come as well because that`s what folks
VELSHI: Congresswoman Rouda, you are in Southern California. To the south
of you is a border that is the focus of it seems all discussions and all
discussions having to do with the Department of Homeland Security which was
formed to keep America safe from serious external threats, wasn`t formed as
an immigration agency.
To the north of you in Northern California, you have Silicon Valley, which
is desperate for more talent and puzzled by the fact that people who they
think, the break in immigration is something entirely different than Donald
Trump does. How do you go and deal with the issues of immigration in your
ROUDA: Yes, the big challenge is the political rhetoric that has entered
the discussion, driven mostly by the president. There really is an
opportunity for bipartisan support in addressing our immigration issues.
Everybody wants secure borders. Everybody wants secure ports. Everybody
wants to stop the interdiction of drugs coming into our country.
But we also want to have a fair process and we also want to make sure that
we`re having individuals come who can help create businesses and fill
needed jobs here in the U.S. But when the rhetoric becomes so politicized
as President Trump does by build the wall and make Mexico pay for it, it`s
difficult for us on either side of the aisle to get together and sit down
and look for those proactive solutions.
And that`s why I have been committed all along in my time there. We need
to find common ground. We need to find decency in how we talk to each
other and discuss these issues. We need to reach across the aisle and find
bipartisan support for these issues.
And if we do that, we really can address these big issues facing our
country. But we can`t do it as long as our leaders are pitting Americans
VELSHI: Let me ask you, quickly, Representative Spanberger about our
foreign policy. You deal with national security, you as an – as part of
what you did in your life, your career. You dealt with national security.
Are you concerned about our foreign policy direction right now?
SPANBERGER: Deeply. I am deeply concerned about where we`re headed from a
foreign policy perspective. We, from the fact that we have pulled out of
agreements with other countries, with partner nations from the Paris Accord
to the Iranian Nuclear Deal.
We have demonstrated that we will go back on our commitments. We have a
president who routinely undermines and talks negatively about the value of
NATO. We just had the 70th anniversary of NATO.
And this is deeply disturbing because the peace throughout Europe and the
stabilization and growth that we`ve seen in the United States is built on
this notion of our cooperation with our NATO allies. We have created
antagonistic relationships with our trading partners and friends
internationally through the trade war that we as a nation have begun.
And I think it`s incredibly troubling the path that we`re on. But I will
say that I`m also heartened because we have many members of Congress who
are taking an active role in demonstrating and showing our work on the
Foreign Affairs Committee, on the Armed Services Committee, that we
recognize the value of the relationships that our country has forged with
our allies and our partners over decades and decades.
And we continue to reform the value and the role that the United States
should play in the world. I`m troubled by the budget that the
administration put out, the budget proposal cuts a tremendous amount of
money from our foreign aid and development budget which is I think very
troubling, particularly from counterterrorism and a kind of stabilization
point of view.
But I don`t think that we have reached a point where we can`t come back
from the problems that we`ve created. But I do think that we need to make
sure that we are firmly grounded and rooted and pursuing informed policy,
rooted in our values and that we are keeping our promises and moving
forward with our partner nations.
VELSHI: Well, I am optimistic and heartened for the conversation with the
three of you. Thank you for spending your Friday evening with me.
Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, Congresswoman Abby Finkenhauer, and
Congressman Harley Rouda, thank you for joining us.
Coming up, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on taxing the rich and the pick your poison
of the Trump administration.
VELSHI: In the sprawling 2020 field, Pete Buttigieg may be the unlikeliest
serious contending of all. He`s just 37-years-old. He`s the mayor of
South Bend, Indiana. A city of 100,000 people.
If elected, he`d be the youngest president in American history and the
first to be openly gay. But Mayor Pete, as he`s known, is having a moment.
He`s just announced an impressive fundraising haul for the first quarter of
the year outraising officials with far larger national profiles. And
polling suggests he`s already made an impact in early voting states.
This weekend, Mayor Pete is expected to officially kick off his
presidential campaign. Ahead of that, he sat down with CNBC Editor-at-
Large John Harwood at the beginning of the week to talk about the economy,
taxing the rich, and the future of American capitalism.
I`m going to show you that in a moment. But first, here`s what Mayor Pete
had to say about the turmoil in the Trump administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HARWOOD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNBC: The Homeland Security secretary
resigned abruptly. This morning, we learned that the director of the
Secret Service has been fired by the president. We have an acting White
House chief of staff, an acting defense secretary, acting interior
Do you feel anything different about this moment? Do you think that the
government itself is in a state of crisis?
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the government`s
been in some kind of crisis ever since this president arrived. Not just
when you have a vacancy, but frankly, sometimes when you have an appointee
who is hostile to the mission of the agency that he or she is heading up.
In the case of DHS, it`s a little bit different. Many of the concerns
around DHS are not so much about the personnel but about the policies. And
when you talk about family separation or just unpreparedness for some of
the issues at the border, that`s a concern.
But one thing we are seeing more and more is Americans need our government
to work. We can argue over how big it ought to be or how small it ought to
be, what functions it ought to take on.
But fundamentally, I mean I`d be run out of town on a rail if I couldn`t
run a government. And what we`re seeing in Washington, it`s hard to sink a
ship but they seem to be doing their best and these vacancies are going to
be more and more of a problem.
So I think for those of us who are opposed to this administration`s
policies, it`s kind of a choose your poison thing. I don`t know what`s
worse, them being well-staffed and pursuing policies that are destructive
or them being hamstrung by the ability to do much at all because there are
so many key positions that are vacant.
VELSHI: More now of John Harwood`s conversation with Presidential
Candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The two discussed Buttigieg`s approach to
economic change and why he says the U.S. needs a new 21st Century economic
approach to taxation, spending, and balance between fairness and growth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARWOOD: What`s right about American capitalism?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, American capitalism is one of the most productive forces
ever known to man. There`s so much that this country has been able to
unlock, especially in the last century in terms of technology, in terms of
Now, where it goes wrong is when it`s only being experienced in certain
parts of the country or by certain kinds of people. I think it goes to
show just how important for capitalism to work that it be backed by all of
the other pieces that business alone can`t solve.
But when it`s working right, there`s nothing like it. You think about the
changes that have happened, the advancements in health, in communications,
in every field that have been led by our country, what frightens me is it`s
no longer obvious that our country will lead the most important
advancements of human kind in the 21st Century, not unless we do some
HARWOOD: Is that because you think the system is in some way rigged?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, it`s pretty typical human behavior for people to try to
make sure the rules work to their benefit. That`s why the U.S. is based on
the idea of a robust legal system and constraints on the accesses of
anybody, especially concentrated wealth. And yet we`re at this moment
where the concentrated wealth has begun to turn into concentrated power.
More than begun, it`s well underway.
The thing that makes capitalism capitalism is competition. But you have
more and more cooperative glomerations of power. You`re going to see less
and less competition.
HARWOOD: But is that a reason why you think we have expanding income
BUTTIGIEG: I think it`s a vicious cycle. The economy is not some creature
that just lumbers along on its own. It`s an interaction between the
private sector and public sector.
And public sector policies for basically as long as I`ve been alive have
been skewed in a direction that`s increasing inequality. The fundamental
truth is it turns out a rising tide does not lift all votes, not on its
own. Especially if some of the votes are sort of tethered to the ocean
floor. And that`s the kind of pattern that we`ve been on.
HARWOOD: So how do you fix what`s wrong without slowing down or harming
BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, we`ve got to define what success looks
like. Is success just the number, the GDP, or success that more Americans
When you have that definition, it tells you that you have to rate this kind
of exchanges between distribution and growth a little more evenly.
HARWOOD: So there is an efficiency-equity tradeoff and you`re willing to
BUTTIGIEG: There may be. Yes. I mean look, it`s great to say that it`s
all win-wins. And to some extent, it is. Actually, I think in an economy
that`s more equitable also tends to grow better.
But if there`s a win-lose equation, we shouldn`t shy away from that. We
shouldn`t pretend that all of this stuff can be done, that you can make
everybody off while making some – while making nobody worse.
The reality is there are some people who are not paying their share. There
are some corporations that are not contributing to the way that they
should. Until we recalibrate that, until we invest in things like
education and infrastructure and health, investments that do in fact pay
for themselves overall.
But some people may have to pay more than others because some people
frankly are getting a bit of a free ride on the productive energy of this
country and this economy. That`s going to take a real choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: CNBC`s John Harwood with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Again, this program
reminder which you heard from Rachel earlier, Mayor Pete will be Rachel`s
special guest on Monday night.
And that`s “Tonight`s Last Word.” “The 11th Hour” with Brian Williams
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Copyright 2019 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the