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All in with Chris Hayes, Transcript 2/20/2017

Guests: Mark Sanford, Erin Gloria Ryan, Sabrina Tavernise, Howard Dean, Tim O`Brien, Rosalind Helderman, Robby Mook, Eliot Cohen




DEAN:  A little bit.

HAYES:  Good.  He got an endorsement.  Thank you, Ed Goeas.  Thank you, Jay Newton-Small.  Thank you, Howard Dean.  That`s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:  We`ve been working all weekend very diligently, very hard.

HAYES:  The President tries to turn the page.  But tonight, new reporting from the New York Times and the Washington Post on Donald Trump`s alleged back channels to probe Putin forces in Ukraine and financial ties to Russia.

TRUMP:  I have nothing to do with Russia.  To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

HAYES:  Then .

TRUMP:  You look at what`s happening last night in Sweden.

HAYES:  Sweden corrects the record.

TRUMP:  We should have taken the oil.

HAYES:  As the Trump administration refutes itself.

JAMES MATTIS, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  We`re not in Iraq to seize anybody`s oil.

HAYES:  And as the resistance takes to the streets again.  The Town Hall explosion continues across America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ever since the election, I have felt like a passenger in a car that`s being driven by a drunk driver.


HAYES:  When ALL IN starts right now.

Good evening from New York.  I`m Chris Hayes.  Exactly one month into his Presidency, Donald Trump has a new National Security Adviser.  The second one.  Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, a career Army officer, widely respected on both sides of the aisle.  McMaster of course replaces Michael Flynn who was ousted a week ago ostensibly for lying about his contacts and the subject of his conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the Presidential transition, lying, including to Mike Pence.  Now with the new appointment, the White House hopes to close the door on that particular chapter of its ongoing Russia scandal.  But, with every door that closes, another seems to open. 

Enter, the New York Times front page story on a secret plan by Trump associates said to be backed by Kremlin to end Ukraine`s ongoing armed conflict with Russian allied forces within its own borders.  In other words, while the FBI is investigating an alleged back channel during the election between Russia and the Trump campaign, there may be another previously undisclosed back channel between Russia and known Trump associates.  But before we dive into the Times report, a little context.  Throughout the entire Russia controversy, as late as last week, the President has repeatedly denied having any Russian business ties.


TRUMP:  I own nothing in Russia.  I have no loans in Russia.  I don`t have any deals in Russia.  Russia is fake news.


HAYES:  Russia is fake news.  But that`s a relatively recent claim.  In 2008, for instance, Donald Trump, Jr. told in an interviewer, and I quote here, "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets, say in Dubai and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York.  You -- we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."  Trump SoHo in particular was accused in a lawsuit of receiving financing from questionable sources in both Russia and Kazakhstan.  Before the Russia controversy, Donald Trump claimed to have close business ties to Russia and a personal relationship with Vladimir Putin.


DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN HOST:  Have you had any dealings with the Russians?

TRUMP:  Well, I`ve done a lot of business with the Russians.

LETTERMAN:  They`re commies, you know that.  They`re commies?

TRUMP:  They`re smart and they`re tough and they`re not looking so dumb right now, are they?

I do have a relationship and I can tell you that he`s very interested in what we`re doing here today.  He`s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today.


HAYES:  Since he never released his tax returns, it remains impossible to determine what if any financial ties had existed between Russia and the President of the United States.  This brings us back to New York Times` report labor -- later corroborated by a reporting of the Washington Post that associates of the President were working on a back channel Ukraine deal, one that would allow President Trump to lift sanctions against Russia.  The White House says it hasn`t had any kind of communication about the proposal.  The idea was reportedly hatched by a Ukrainian politician who is aligned with the pro-Russia opposition movement shaped in part by Trump`s former Campaign Manager, Paul Manafort.  But even more significant are the two Americans involved in the deal.  One is Michael Cohen, Donald Trump`s personal lawyer who has no past experience resolving international crisis. 

This is not the first time Cohen`s name has come up around back-channel talks involving Russia.  In that explosive dossier on Trump`s alleged Russia connections and unverified dossier, we should note, Cohen was said to have met secretly with Kremlin officials in Prague last August.  Now, Cohen responded by tweeting the front cover of his passport, quote "I have never been to Prague in my life" #fakenews.  Then there`s Felix Sater a Russian-born, American businessman who`s had multiple run-ins with the law.  Serving time two decades ago for stabbing a man in the face with a broken margarita glass and later pleading guilty to a stock manipulation scheme involving the Mafia.  He went on to serve as an FBI informant.  And no, you cannot make this up.  Sater worked for the President to develop the Trump`s SoHo, the same project alleged to have involved with Russian money, and he later became a Senior Adviser to Donald Trump himself, printing up some very snazzy and official-looking business cards with those big five letters on the front.  But when Trump was asked about Sater in the 2013 interview, this was his response.


TRUMP:  They tell me about Felix Sater.  I know who he is.

JOHN SWEENEY, BRITISH JOURNALIST:  But for a year, you stayed in bed with Felix Sater and he was connected with the mafia.

TRUMP:  Again, John, maybe you`re thick, but when you have a signed contract, you can`t in this country just break it.  And by the way, John, I hate to do this, but I do have that big group of people waiting so I have to -

SWEENEY:  OK.  No, hold on.  One last question, please, sir.

TRUMP:  I have to leave.


HAYES:  Time`s up.  I`m joined now by Tim O`Brien, Executive Editor of Bloomberg View, author of "TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald" and someone who`s done some reporting on Felix Sater.  All right.  So, I have to say, I saw this article, I read it five times. 


HAYES:  Wait, what?  And Sater was a figure I`ve been familiar with primarily from your reporting.  Who is this guy?

O`BRIEN:  Felix Sater is a low level, essentially street hood who have Russian descendants.  He came to the United States with his family, settled down in New York and proceeded to get in a lot of trouble.  He got - he did some prison time for assaulting someone in the face with the famously, with the stem of a margarita glass.  In the late 1990s, he was involved in some boiler room stock manipulation schemes with organized crime members in the New York area.  And then in the early knots, he falls in with the Bayrock group, a real estate development group that has offices in Trump Tower, one floor below Donald Trump`s offices.

HAYES:  And he was - I mean, it`s not - there`s no question as to whether he was involved in the SoHo Trump deal?

O`BRIEN:  No, no.  He was a primary player in it along with another, with Tevfik Arif.  The two of them and Donald put the deal together.  Trump put no money into it, which is typical of many of these deals from that period.  Because he was a little bit tight for cash.  So he essentially lent his name to the project, they gave him a piece of the action.  I think he got about 16 percent of the Trump SoHo.  He put his name on it, but he was a minority partner.  And these guys funded it and built it.

HAYES: So, Sater also appears to have Russian connections.  I mean, he`s of a Russian birth but grew up here but got - apparently is someone who maintains business relationships there.  Took the Trump kids over to Moscow at one point?

O`BRIEN:  He joined Ivanka and Don Jr. in Moscow in February 2006.  The primary partner of his at Bayrock was a former Soviet official, a Kazakh.  So there`s multiple Russian connections here.  I think what`s important to remember though here is, Trump for all this (INAUDIBLE) everything that he did in Russia over the years never got anything built there.  The most he ever got done was a beauty pageant.  I think it`s unlikely that you`re going to find humongous financial relationships between Trump and Russia.  But I don`t think that`s the troubling element of it.  The troubling element is he`s opened the door to Russia using him or playing him as a pawn around very serious issues.  He`s invited the Russians that - he invited the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton`s campaign.  We now know that a number of Federal Agencies are looking at the Trump campaign around improper communications with the Russians including Michael Cohen, who is the broker of this new -

HAYES:  Well -

O`BRIEN:  Go ahead.

HAYES:  Yes.  I mean, that`s - to me, part of it is, let`s just throw out everything having to do with the ongoing smoke billowing out of the sort of Trump/Russia story and just focus on the idea of Felix Sater and Michael Cohen, the President`s personal lawyer and a business associate with Mafia ties freelancing a peace deal through some back channels unspecified.  Which is crazier than -

O`BRIEN:  With former members of the opposition party in the Ukraine.

That`s the third member of that trio, who has claimed that he`s got corruption - evidence of corruption against Poroshenko, the Ukrainian leader, and has openly said that he`s got Putin`s backing or high aides of Putin have supported his opposition role in Ukraine.  So, why the three of them are suddenly putting together a plan like this --

HAYES:  It just makes you think like, what the heck else are people talking about and meeting about? 

O`BRIEN:  And as Michael -

HAYES:  If these three guys are getting together for a Ukraine peace deal.

O`BRIEN:  And why do they have this kind of proximity to Donald Trump.  Michael Cohen is Trump`s personal lawyer.  He was with the Trump organization for a decade.  He left in January.  He now appears to have this almost like Clark Clifford role, an adviser to the President on sensitive matters.  But if he`s a gatekeeper, he then - he asked for the people like Felix Sater from getting into the President`s orbit.

HAYES:  Yes.  I think that`s a probably a pretty good -

O`BRIEN:  Yes.

HAYES:  - piece of advice from Tim O`Brien if you`re watching, Mr. President.  Thank you.  Appreciate that.

O`BRIEN:  Sure, Chris.

HAYES:  Joining me now, Rosalind Helderman, she`s a Political Investigations and Enterprise Reporter for the Washington Post.  And how did - according to your reporting, Rosalind, and I should say the White House is basically saying that there`s no paper on this, that they have a record of the National Security Council, they - you know - it`s fake news, et cetera.  What does your reporting suggest about how the heck this even started to come together?

ROSALIND HELDERMAN, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER:  It`s a little bit of a mystery.  Felix Sater who you`ve been talking about says that he is an acquaintance of this Ukrainian Lawmaker.  And the Lawmaker brought him the plan and he brought it to Michael Cohen.  I spoke with Michael Cohen just today who described a phone call from Felix, his old friend Felix who had he known through business from the Trump organization.  Who said, "Come meet me for coffee, I`m going to have a friend there".  And he arrived at a hotel to have coffee with Felix and there was this Ukrainian Parliamentarian and his Peace Plan.

HAYES:  Right.  And so, this peace plan, which the Ukrainian Parliamentary says is - has the tacit or explicit ascent of Putin`s regime in Russia.  A peace plan by the way, we should say to stop essentially Russian-backed forces within Ukraine`s borders properly using military force and a kind of low level bit of separatist agitation, right?

HELDERMAN:  Yes.  The Peace Plan as we understand, and obviously, we haven`t seen the document itself.  But it would call for an end to Russian hostilities, but then the other thing it would do is have a referendum on the future of Crimea, which is the portion Ukraine that Russia seized in 2014.  And apparently, the referendum would offer two choices.  One would lease Crimea to Russia for 50 years and the other would lease Crimea to Russia for 100 years.  In either instance, they would - they would get Crimea, which is a - which is a top priority of the Russians.

HAYES:  Wait a second.  Wait a second.  The Peace Deal - one of the planks of the Peace Deal is a referendum to the people of Crimea about whether they want to be leased to Russia for 50 or 100 years?

HELDERMAN:  That`s correct.  And it should be noted that the Kremlin feels so strongly about Crimea that when asked about this today, they also dismissed this because they said how could we lease something that is ours?  How could we lease something to ourselves?  So their position is that Crimea is part of Russia.

HAYES:  I`m not familiar with countries being leased.  It`s such a general form construct.  But here`s the other question, my other understanding about the contours of this is that, you know, there`s different rounds of sanctions that have been posed on Russia but the most - the most - the strongest and the ones that there`s - the most buy-in for across the E.U. are the ones in response to the seizure of Crimea.  Those would be lifted under this plan, right?

HELDERMAN:  Well, it`s a little unclear if the plan itself called for the lifting of sanctions.  But of course, if there were peace in Ukraine, if there was an organic Ukrainian accepted peace deal, there would no longer be a need for sanctions.  And so, the idea is that a Peace Plan would lead to the end of hostilities but also the lifting of sanctions.

HAYES:  All right.  Rosalind Helderman, thanks for your time tonight.  Appreciate it.

HELDERMAN:  Thank you.

HAYES:  I`m joined by Robby Mook, who was Hillary Clinton`s campaign manager.  And you guys talked a lot about Russia during the campaign and I think invited political criticism for it.  Partly because, I think, whatever your substantive feelings about the nature of the thing, there is a sense in which it was - it felt off topic given what was at stake.  I`m sort of curious about how you think about that in retrospect given the news that we have now.

ROBBY MOOK, CLINTON`S CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  Well, it`s frustrating, Chris.  I mean, a lot of the topics that we brought up, including Felix Sater and the fact that there appeared to be financial connections between the Trump campaign and that there were conversations going on between the Trump campaign and Russia.  Yes it`s frustrating that that didn`t get covered.  But I think what matters now is the future, and I think what`s kind of hard for people to grasp in general about this entire situation is how it just feels like fiction.  It`s so strange.  You know, these shady characters, the idea that there`s you know, the financial connections, secret meetings going on and I think it`s very easy, because it`s so strange, because it`s so bizarre to just cast it aside.  And what we`re asking for now is for everybody to take this very seriously. 

We`re looking at a situation where a foreign government, A, broke into the DNC and tried to influence the election and now, B, that potentially with money, they are trying to influence the affairs of our government and foreign policy and the idea that now a plan was able to get directly to the President bypassing our entire Diplomatic and National Security Apparatus is really alarming.  And that`s why we need an Independent Bipartisan Commission to look into this.  And I`m just calling on every American -- let`s put aside democrat or republican -- every American needs to demand that we see Donald Trump`s taxes and that we get to the bottom of what happened here.

HAYES:  But you and I both know, right?  That - I mean, I understand your calling for every American.  But obviously, the prism for all of this is deeply partisan.  It`s sort of deeply shot through with the sort of tribal affiliations of American politics and people`s trust and belief.  Is there any reason to suppose that, say, the Republican Party has any interest in actually getting to the bottom of this?

MOOK:  They do.  I really believe that they do.  And I think Lindsey Graham, John McCain and others have surfaced this issue.  It was the Democrats that Putin went after today.  It could be the Republicans tomorrow.  And I think Republicans should be particularly afraid as we approach these midterm elections.  The Russians can do to them what they did to Hillary.  And so, to see this as partisan in any way is looking at this in such a short-term mind set that`s really scary.  And what I`m particularly afraid of is that the network that the Russians have built, be it the financial ties to Donald Trump or this network of fake Twitter accounts and media outlets that they`ve set up, that they will permeate our political and process and dialogue so deeply -

HAYES:  But that - let me just stop you right there.

MOOK:  - that we won`t be able to have an honest dialogue anymore.

HAYES:  Let me stop you right there, because that seems to be part of the problem about this sort of - the category we`re creating here, right?  So it`s - one end of the spectrum you have what appears to be criminal intrusion into an e-mail server, right?  The other, it`s like, there`s fake Twitter accounts, right?  So this - there were financial ties.  There`s a big spectrum in terms of how objectionable and influential those things are and it seems to me like sometimes a lot of things get rolled up together into the same category.

MOOK:  Well, but I think - but I think Chris, we need to see this as a singular effort on the part of Putin to influence America, to influence our dialogue, to influence our decision making.  Look at the radical change we have now seen just in a month since Donald Trump took office.  We`re now discussing whether to take away sanctions from Russia.  We`ve now got back channeling going on for pro-Putin Peace Deals in the Ukraine.  I mean, this is a totally different situation than we had just a month ago.  We had the - you know, the head of the National Security Council, the National Security Adviser was someone who bid on the payroll of R.T., which is a Russian propaganda arm. 

I mean, it`s incredible when you step back and think about it.  And I think at the crux of this is the fact that - I actually want to take a little issue with what was said earlier.  I don`t think it`s the Donald Trump is invested in Russia.  I think it`s Russia is invested in Donald Trump.  That`s why he doesn`t want to show the taxes, and that`s why he`s so afraid to upset the Russians.  I don`t think Donald Trump has somehow become you know, a Russian disciple.  I just think he has deep financial interests that are at stake.  He - if he gets them angry, they`re going to pull out their money.  Well, that`s a big problem.

HAYES:  That is - obviously that`s an - that`s an accusation or an allegation that of course we cannot in any way verify, and there are - there`s one way essentially we could definitively rule it out.  Robby Mook, thanks for your time.  Appreciate it.

MOOK:  Thank you, Chris.

HAYES:  All right.  Coming up, from trying to explain phantom terror in Sweden to the Secretary of Defense, reassuring Iraqis, "No, we are not reinvading the country to take their oil."  The confused and confusing world of Donald Trump is next.

Plus, Congress Members on recess meet the resistance.  Ahead, the latest explosion of Town Hall protests this weekend and one Republican Member who isn`t backing down from his constituents.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Representative, I don`t want to hear a canned answer of talking (INAUDIBLE) yes or no, yes or no, (INAUDIBLE)



TRUMP:  You look at what`s happening last night in Sweden.  Sweden, who would believe this?  Sweden.  They took in large numbers, they`re having problems like they never thought possible.


HAYES:  As you no doubt know by now, or I hope you do.  There was no incident in Sweden Friday night as the President claimed during that Saturday rally.  The Governor of Sweden had to point that out.  The Swedish Embassy in Washington even asking the U.S. State Department to explain.  President Trump later clarified saying his tweets his comments were in reference to a Fox News segment he had been watching that night.  A segment that was - we should note, wildly misleading inflammatory and had nothing to do with a non-existent Friday night attack in Sweden.  Meanwhile, in Belgium today, the Vice President was trying to calm the nervous NATO Allies about a range of issues including the United States commitment to the European Union.  And in Abu Dhabi, ahead of his first visit to Iraq, the Secretary of Defense was forced to clean up the President`s prior musings, repeated musings we should note, about going back in and taking Iraq`s oil.


TRUMP:  So we should have kept the oil.  But OK.  Maybe we`ll have another chance.  But the fact is, should have kept the oil.

MATTIS:  All of us in America have generally paid for our gas and oil all along and I`m sure that we will continue to do so in the future.  We`re not in Iraq to seize anybody`s oil.


HAYES:  Joining me now, Eliott Cohen, Professor at Johns Hopkins University, former counselor at the State Department of Under Condoleezza Rice, author of the book "The Big Stick: The limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force".  And perhaps you can tell by that, a republican, a conservative, also a Never Trumper.  Mr. Cohen, first of all, how tenable is it to essentially have American Foreign Policy pretend that the President`s pronouncements don`t exist or to have various members of his cabinet explicitly rebutting them all the time?

ELIOT COHEN, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR:  Well, it`s not tenable.  I mean, there are a number of problems with it.  First, it is really important in the contact American Foreign Policy if that - people know that they can take the President at his word.  And if people just get used to the idea that you don`t believe a word that he says, there are real consequences that flow from that.  The other problem that you`ve got, is an awful lot of the effort now of his National Security team, Secretary Mattis, Secretary Tillerson and so on, is devoted to cleaning up messes.  And when you`re cleaning up messes, you`re not actually able to kind of, take the initiative in dealing with a wide range of very difficult issues that we`re going to be facing in the years ahead.

HAYES:  You said this, which I have keep thinking about this quote.  I`ve been in this town for 26 years.  I`ve never seen anything like this, referring to the President.  I genuinely don`t think this is a mentally healthy President.  What did you mean by that?

COHEN:  Well, if you look at DSM-four, DSM-five, which the standard list of disorders.  Look at narcissistic personality disorder, and you know, I`m not the  psychologists and psychiatrists, don`t like to do remote diagnoses, but you just can`t go through it and not say check, check, check, check.  I think the President is a narcissist.  That doesn`t mean that he`s unable to function but it is very, very troubling.  It means he has trouble with empathy.  It means he interprets everything absolutely personally, it means he`s susceptible to flattery.  It`s unfortunately it is in many ways disabling from the conduct of effective certainly foreign policy, I think probably domestic policy as well.  Now, what I will say is, you know, he`s appointed some capable people and the question is whether they be able to contain him.  But even if they do that, you know, we still need more.  It is a dangerous world out there.

HAYES:  Yes, the containment, I mean, I thought of H.R. McMaster today, who`s a - the individual who has just been named Active Officer, Active Duty Officer who has been named to run the NSA to replace Michael Flynn.  From what I can tell, people I`ve talked to respect him a tremendous amount.  He wrote a fascinating book about the Vietnam war and sort of descent among the Joint Chief of Staff and why they weren`t able to tell the President the truth, which seems Germaine in this context.  But, really, I mean the (INAUDIBLE) work for bizarre as they say.  Right?  I mean, how much can you expect if everyone is trying to clean up whatever the latest tweet is?

COHEN:  Well, I agree with that.  H.R. McMaster is a wonderful officer.  He`s a terrific commander.  He`s a sober scholar.  Above all, he`s a man of complete integrity.  I wish him an enormous amount of luck because he`s going to need it.  The difficulty that he`s going to have is he`s really got a three-fold problem.  First and foremost, he has to deal with his boss who is a deeply erratic guy and as we`ve seen now in a number of occasions.  Secondly - and I people need to focus on this.  There is a sort parallel National Security Council staff under Steve Bannon.  And that really is not tolerable.  And then the third thing is actually the substantive problems of the world.  You know, we can be so absorbed with our own internal fighting and managing our President and so on. 

HAYES:  Yes.

COHEN:  We`re not going to tackle the problems that out there for us.

HAYES:  Yes.  North Korean - you know, the North Korean regime, are on this, probably don`t care that much about the tweets of the President but they have - they have bigger fish to fry but ultimately those are going to be crises that could possibly land on America`s doorstep.

COHEN:  Absolutely.  And you know, the tweets do matter.  And people do pay attention to what a President says and they will act.

HAYES:  All right Eliot Cohen, thanks for your time tonight.  Appreciate it.

Still to come.  People across the country take to the streets to protest the Trump agenda but some republican lawmakers don`t want to hear it, literally.  They are avoiding their constituents.  More on that after this quick break.


HAYES:  Across the country on this Presidents` day, thousands of people in at least 25 different cities participated in not my Presidents` day rallies.  When they spoke out against the President Trump policies of this new administration, one month old.  It was the latest example of the sort of constant street protests has become regular visible, visceral illustration of resistance to this President during just his first month in office.  And many have thought to take their concerns straight to their members of congress at Town Hall meetings but there`s a catch.  Many republicans are just simply refusing to face their constituents.  In the first two months of the last congress, republicans held 222 in person Town Hall events.  For the first two months of these congress, Republicans scheduled just 88 Town Hall events as of last week, which we should note, 35 of them are by a single brave number of congress.  Republicans who have held Town Halls have gotten an earful.  Representative Jason Chaffetz faced chants of "do your job" at a Town Hall ten days ago.  Not long after Representative Mike Kaufman was caught sneaking out the back door of a community event early while more than 100 people waited to talk to him.  Today, Representative Jim Jordan planned to hold two public events, neither of which was billed as a Town Hall.  So constituents effectively brought the Town Hall to him, forcing Jordan to take questions at what was supposed to be a sleepy Presidents` day event at the one-time home of President Warren Harding.


CROWD:  Town Hall now!  Town Hall now!  Town Hall now!


HAYES:  You can run but you can`t hide.  Attendees have been organized through websites like Resistance Recess and the Indivisible Guide and the Town Hall Project which keep track of where and when Town Halls are being held and pressure lawmakers to face their constituents.  On Saturday, hundreds showed up to town Hall Hosted by New York republican Tom Reed whose events normally just bring out a handful of people.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would like to know why you want to get rid of the EPA.

TOM REED:  Madison, let me look you in the eye and tell you, we`re no - I do not support removing and repealing the EPA.


HAYES:  Progress.  This was a scene in South Carolina Saturday, where representative Mark Sanford spoke to constituents for more than three hours, stabling himself as the few republicans willing to face his constituents head on.  And we`ll ask him why, right after this break.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you support an individual mandate, yes or now?

SANFORD:  I don`t support an individual mandate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So, how are you going to cover preexisting conditions without an individual mandate?  What is your plans...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Medicare for all.

SANFORD:  I think it is a political reality that irregardless of what comes next - we`re already won at several different levels.


HAYES:  That question was posed Saturday to Republican Representative Mark Sanford of South Carolina who, unlike many of his GOP colleagues is holding town hall events to answer questions from his constituents.  And joining me now is Representative Mark Sanford.

Congressman, I`m curious what you learned from talking to folks.

SANFORD:  Well, you learn a lot.  I mean, it was a full smorgasbord, if you want to call it that, of different issues ranging from the environment to what comes next in the debt and the deficit to what comes next on health care.

I mean, it was a fairly exhaustive list of different issues that we talked about.  I don`t know that there was any one single one, other than probably health care, if I to pick one single issue, that got talked about more than any other it would be health care.

HAYES:  So, it`s interesting in that clip there, and a lot of the focus I think a these townhalls really has been health care.  And it`s been specific in this way, right.  There`s a bunch of stuff in the Affordable Care Act that is popular, broadly popular, things like getting rid of lifetime caps, getting rid of the ban on preexisting conditions, right.  And you saw that guy asking you about it.

And the worry is what are you, the Republicans in congress, going to do that is going to get rid of Obamacare, but keep the stuff that`s popular.  And is that even feasible.  What is your answer to that?

SANFORD:  I couldn`t hear all the clip that played, but I think I was saying you`ve already won, which I would stand by.  I think that if you looked at the reality of the political heat that`s been generated, there`s been overwhelming support.  I mean, for instance, the plan that Senator Paul and I have introduced keeps young people on their plan until the age of 26 and it covers pre-existing conditions. 

We had four meeting in the Republican conference this last week on the issue of health care.  And I think there is a broad consensus that in some form or fashion pre-existing conditions is going to be covered.

So I think to your point, a number of the popular elements are going to be kept in.  The problem will be to pay for it.

HAYES:  Right, exactly.  I mean, the problem right is from an actuarial perspective, right, the discrimination against pre-existing conditions existed for an actuarial reason.  Those folks are very expensive.  A small percentage of the very sick make up the vast majority of costs in any kind of system.


HAYES:  How do you preserve these sort of popular reforms and get rid of the other stuff, you know, while adhering to some of your kind of principles and precepts?

SANFORD:  Well, that`s, a, the $94 question, and b, it`s going to be a tough dance.  But I would say is, for instance, on the plan that Senator Paul and I have introduced, we tackle the issue of pre-existing conditions, but we do it in a different way as the Affordable Care Act.  The Affordable Care Act is, as you know, you can go to the doctor`s office evening and be unfortunately diagnosed with cancer and then you can go tomorrow morning to sign up for insurance.  That undermines every single mathematic reality of the whole notion of insurance.  You don`t wait until your house is burning to go and get homeowners policy.  And you don`t wait until your car is wrecked to get an auto-policy.

HAYES:  But let me just say something, this gets back to the I thought quite informed question you were facing from one of your constituents, which is the whole idea of the mandate, right, is to prevent that from happening as much as it would without it.  So, the idea of the mandate is to get everyone in the actuarial pool for precisely the reason that you`re specifying.

SANFORD:  Correct.  But the reality, as we both know, is that hasn`t happened.  And so the question is what do we do to make sure that it does. 

And so we take a market approach, which might be different than your approach, or some of the viewers, but what we say is, one, it was during the wage and price of controls of World War II, in 1948, that employment and health care became linked.  And that really needn`t be the case.  It really hampers this notion of portability of one`s insurance going where they do.

And so what we do is take a couple bites at the apple to say, wait, if your insurance goes with you, might we not approach the issue of pre-existing conditions a bit differently and that is to say we give you a two-year phase-in.  After that, you have to have continuous coverage.  We do some things to make it more affordable.  We do some things to make sure your insurance goes with you.

And the problem right now that I think the Affordable Care Act has been contending with has been young people have not enrolled as they expected and we still have an affordability issue with regard to employment linkage.

HAYES:  So, let me ask you this, though, I mean, the big question right.  I remember Republicans, I remember covering the first Affordable Care Act fight.  And a huge problem for Democrats was the sort of status quo bias, right.  Folks are scared about something new and uncertain when it comes to health care.

You guys are on the opposite side of that same kind of status quo bias.

  So, the question is, can you look your constituents in the eye and across the sort of bell curve of the different kinds of ways that people might be affected by the system, look them in the eye and say you will be better off, I guarantee you, you`re going to have care, you`re going to have coverage if you have it now?

SANFORD:  I hate the issue of political guarantees, because they are ripped apart so quickly.

HAYES:  Right.  I mean, the answer to that is no right?

SANFORD:  Yes.  Well, the answer is we don`t know with precision what we believe is mathematical.  I mean, in South Carolina, our premiums increased by 29 percent last year.  We`ve gone from three providers down to one.  And so it`s something of a mathematical spiral.  And you can either sit on the sidelines and say let it fail of its owe volition, leave it alone, which I think is probably the politically would be the easier  thing to do.  Or you can say, hey, here are some other remedies.

And what I think what`s going to happen is the two ideas are going to get melded.  You`re probably going to have a bit of Obamacare and you`re probably going to have a bit more in the way of free market.

HAYES:  What I thought was interesting here is where that sort of line is being pushed, particularly when you talk about the victories that folks have won.  And I think that`s indicative of the direction that the way things are moving right now.  Representative Mark Sanford, I really appreciate you taking the time tonight.  Come back any time.

SANFORD:  My pleasure.  Thanks.

Coming up, as a vocal opposition to President Trump continues to gain strength, does it come at the expense of finding middle ground between the polarized portions of our electorate?  We`ll talk about that ahead.

Plus, tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two right after this break.


HAYES:  Thing One tonight, a story out of Texas, two hunters who called 911 in early January saying they were attacked by, quote, illegals, during which one man was shot in the arm, another in the abdomen.  A Gofundme page set up for one of the men, Walker Dougherty, stated they were involved in a shootout with some illegals when the illegals tried to steal Walker`s RV with him still inside.

The story spread throughout conservative website, aided by a Facebook post by this guy, Texas agricultural commissioner Sid Miller, seen here speaking at a Trump rally, a man who Donald Trump reportedly considered for a cabinet position and who posted a photo of one of the hunters in the hospital along with the message "the aliens were ambushing the RV that Walker and his wife.  He was shot while trying to protect his hunters from the attack.  Walker is a man of god and is now a hero.  This is why we need the wall and to secure our borders."

Pretty dramatic stuff.

Today, an important update to this story that you`re going to want to stick around for.  I`ll give you a hint, two guys in that group shot at each other by accident and made up the whole story.  That`s Thing Two in 60 seconds.


HAYES:  Two hunters in Texas claimed unauthorized immigrants crossing the border had ambushed their RV and shot them.  There`s just one detail about this story that didn`t seem to check out. The whole idea they were ambushed by illegal immigrants crossing the border.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By the looks of it right now, we think -- we believe that during the shooting when all of the commotion and confusion going on, we believe Michael shot Walker and Walker had shot Edwin.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here`s how investigators believe the shooting happened.  Walker claims he thought illegals were inside the RV, but Edwin and his wife were in an intent to kidnap them.

Instead of announcing himself, Walker allegedly tried entering the RV.  That`s when Edwin fired a round from inside the RV missing Walker.  Walker immediately ran inside his cabin to grab his gun and to get backup from Michael.


HAYES:  OK.  So just to distill that down to its essence, basically, two hunters just shot at each other. 

Following a month-long investigation, the two hunters who fired the shots have now been indicted by a grand jury for one charge each of using deadly conduct by discharging firearms in the direction of others, a third degree felony.

As for Texas agricultural commissioner Sid Miller, who posted the story on Facebook as justification for Trump`s border wall, well, it seems a group of hunters shooting each other in Texas exactly doesn`t prove his point. Miller`s post has disappeared.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, I`ve been with you for two years.  You`ve probably heard this.  Every single second, every day, I`m with you.  I`ve got a 6-foot cardboard box of President Trump in my house   And I salute that every single day and I pray -- and tell him, Mr. President, I pray for your safety today and I`m not lying.  I do that every single day to the president of this cardboard.


HAYES:  After a rocky and scandal-plagued first month in office, the president went back to his base.  He was back in Florida on Saturday speaking inside an airport hangar to a large fervent crowd of supporters in an event that had all of the makings of a campaign rally.

The White House even called it a, quote, campaign rally for America.

And after telling the Washington Post last week that Air Force One will not be used as a prop at a political rally, there it was, Air Force One, as a prop in a political rally.

The campaign atmosphere is fitting, because in terms of public opinion, the basic underlying structure of the campaign has never actually ended.  Since taking office, the president`s job approval in the average of polls has been remarkably stable, hovered around 44 percent, which again makes sense since the president only received about 46 percent of the vote.

And though the polling average of his approval is remarkably consistent, according to Gallup`s figure, the president also has the worst job approval rating at this point, meaning mid-February, than any other president since Dwight Eisenhower, which is when Gallup started measuring these things.

But here is the thing, among Republicans, Trump`s approval rating of 87 percent is higher than the  historical average presidents have received from supporters of their own party at this point in their administration.

So with such remarkably polarizing numbers, the question becomes, for those opposed to Trump, how much should they mobilize and organize the people who already don`t like Trump, and how much do they focus on converting those who do support him?

We`ll talk about that next.



SHEELA SHNEEZAI, PROTESTER:  I`m a woman.  I`m a refugee.  I`m an immigrant.  I`m a health care worker.  And I`m here to support the LGBT community.  I am here for every American who feels scared for this administration.  Let`s just put it this way.


HAYES:  That`s one of the thousands of people who showed up to Not My President`s Day rallies across the country to oppose the president today.

A somewhat provocative op-ed in the New York Times this weekend asked whether the opposition is deepening the political divide.  Sabrina Tavernise writes, quote, "if political action is meant to persuade people that Mr. Trump is bad for the country, then people on the fence would seem a logical place to start.  Yet many seemingly persuadable conservatives say that liberals are burning bridges rather than building them."

Joining me now is Sabrina Tavernise, national correspondent for The New York Times who wrote that piece, and Erin Gloria Ryan, senior editor at The Daily Beast.

And Sabrina, let me start with you, that this piece was all over the place this weekend.  And it got a lot of people very angry.

And so my question to you is, like, how - the folks that you interviewed, how persuadable ar they?  Because I sort of have this sinking suspicion that no matter what liberals did, they wouldn`t be happy about it.

SABRINA TAVERNISE, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  So, the fellow in California and the fellow in South Carolina, they were both -- you know, the California guy said, look, you know, if there`s something that, say, for example, if Trump ditches the health care law and suddenly there are 18 million people without health insurance, I`d be really mad at Trump and I wouldn`t support him after that.  That would make me really change my mind about this guy and his presidency.

We are in a really, really, really polarized time and everybody is kind of, you know, in their sort of team colors camp, if you will.  But I do think that these people were not flag-waving supporters at all.  In fact, they kept saying, you keep saying to me I`m a Trump supporter.  I voted for the guy, that doesn`t mean that I support him.  That doesn`t mean that I`m going to kind of check my brain at the door and not care about any of the policies that he`s doing.

HAYES:  I`ve seen versions -- Erin, I`ve seen versions of this argument.  I`ve seen a lot of hand-wringing generally, across the spectrum of like, you`re doing it wrong hand-wringing.  Like, oh, you`re going to make them more angry, you`re not sufficiently solicitous of these folks.  What is your feeling about that?

ERIN GLORIA RYAN, THE DAILY BEAST:  Well, I thought that a really - a lot of the reaction that I was seeing was to the headline, which was a provocative, like headlines are supposed to be.

But what I is a really interesting question in the follow-up is, are Trump supporters hurting Trump?  Because the way that they were depicted in the piece - the quotes that they gave Sabrina are like completely myopic.  Like, there are people that are concerned about their Facebook wall when Ice raids are breaking up families.  There are people who are worried about whether they can put bumper sticker on their car when rivers are about to be poisoned.

And I think that - I really don`t have any sympathy and I don`t think many people on the left have sympathy for a guy whose feelings are being hurt because he can`t wear his MAGA hat on a Tinder date.

HAYES:  Which was one of the anecdotes.

And, also, Sabrina, I mean, the other thing I thought about while reading that piece was, there`s a deeper question about the degree to which persuasion is really the point here, right?  Which gets to the kind of structural question here.

Is it actually the job of folks who are mobilizing right now?  Should they be thinking about  persuading that sort of persuadable group of voters, right, or is the nature of polarization such that like the lesson that we`ve all learned in some sense is from the Tea Party, from CPAC, from Donald Trump himself mobilize, activate the folks that already support you.

TAVERNISE:  You know, I mean, the only thing I was really trying to lay out in that piece was just that there is kind of an equal and opposite reaction on the other side.

HAYES:  right.

TAVERNISE:  I`m not saying no one should be protesting.  I`m not saying -- I`m not making any value judgment on what the strategy is, but I`m just saying I`m seeing this really strongly among these people who really aren`t, you know, inclined to embrace the guy...

RYAN:  Can I tell you for a really quick second?

HAYES:  Yeah, yeah, please.

RYAN:  So, first of all, Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes.  And the people that were spoken to in the piece are from South Carolina, California, New York, states that are not states that handed Donald Trump the presidency.

So, I think there is something to be said for trying to persuade people who are persuadable.  But right now, like Chris mentioned, this is about activation, this is about getting people organized.  And this is about getting people who didn`t show up to vote to actually show up to protest, which is what they were doing.

HAYES:  And the other thing, Sabrina, that Is thought was so interesting is so much of the political reasoning that happens is like enemy of my enemy kind of reasoning, which I think like sort of what the piece, I thought, captured really interestingly, right.  I don`t like him, but I hate the people that hate him more than I hate him, which is kind of the way we end up doing a lot of political reasoning and in some ways you watch that web spin out in all kinds of directions in this current political  environment, which is like the feeling that conservatives and Republicans have about Trump.  However they are, they hate liberals more than they are ever going to hate Donald Trump.

TAVERNISE:  Well, I feel like they have this - again, this is, you know, among moderates, they feel that there`s this kind of contempt that is kind of flowing in their general direction and that that is imbibed through social media, through everything that is happening everywhere, online and, you know, to a certain extent with the protests and with just sort of political action not online, but I think that there`s a lot of polarization, liberals hate conservatives, conservatives hate liberals. 

But all I was saying was, you know, these folks who aren`t necessarily -- they are not flag wavers for Trump and, you know, we do need a middle ground.  We do need a middle space.  We need moderates.  You know, this is like -- I don`t know.  It`s for the political operatives to decide whether -- OK.

HAYES:  I think that middle ground is vanishing.  And I think one of the lessons I`ve learned, actually, from watching the Tea Party and watching the sort of rise of Donald Trump is like there`s nothing there left.

RYAN:  Well, I think that on the left the reaction has been cry me a river.

HAYES:  Right.  Well, and also I learned it from watching you, dad.

Erin Gloria Ryan and Sabrina Tavernise, thanks for joining us.  Appreciate it.