IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

All in with Chris Hayes, Transcript 6/20/17 First results in Georgia Special Election

Guests: Chris Murphy, Jess Mcintosh, Cory Booker, Cornell Belcher, Rebecca Traister, Susan Glasser, Julia Ioffe

Show: ALL IN with CHRIS HAYES Date: June 20, 2017 Guest: Chris Murphy, Jess Mcintosh, Cory Booker, Cornell Belcher, Rebecca Traister, Susan Glasser, Julia Ioffe



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think this will be as but a transparent as it could be.

HAYES: Election night in America. Polls close in Georgia as Senate Republicans craft a healthcare bill so secret, even they don`t know what`s in it.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: I haven`t seen the bill.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No one has been shared it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have not seen a final proposal.

HAYES: Tonight, new reporting on what is in the bill, what`s being done to stop it, with Senators Cory Booker and Chris Murphy and how the elections results in Georgia could change politics in Washington? Then, Russia and the election. The Attorney General lawyers up as the White House pleads ignorance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does President Trump believe that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing.

HAYES: When ALL IN starts right now.


HAYES: Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes. At this hour, all eyes are on the Sixth Congressional District in Georgia where just 30 minutes ago the final polls closed in the most expensive House race in history. Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel competing in a special election to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. The district has been held by Republicans for almost 40 years, since 1978. But polls suggest that could change tonight.

I`m joined now by MSNBC Host and Political Correspondent Steve Kornacki. Steve, tell us about this district and what we should be watching for tonight.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST AND POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, look, this is quintessential. We talked all last year about the college educated white suburbanites, typically Republican, uncomfortable with Trump. Democrats targeted them last year. That`s the story of this district too. This district was basically created in its modern form in 1992. It was created by Democrats to throw Newt Gingrich who was then a Congressman into a district with suburban Republicans who`s might not be comfortable with his style. Sounded all familiar? So here what we have right now in terms of the results. Early on, you got Handel (INAUDIBLE) Republican leading this thing by 2 points over Ossoff. I want to take you though, a little close here to show you what these might mean. So here it is, right now those numbers are coming from one county, they`re coming from Fulton County. Almost half the district is Fulton County.

Now, remember what we just showed you. Jon Ossoff, 49 percent, we`re rounding up. He`s at 48.6 percent in Fulton County right now in those numbers I just showed you. That is the early vote. Those are the ballots that were cast before today in Fulton County. This is an ominous number if you`re Jon Ossoff`s supporter because if you want to win district-wide, as Jon Ossoff, as a Democrat, you probably need to be right at 50 percent in Fulton County. And again, 50 percent is your target. He`s getting 48.6 percent in the early vote. Remember the expectation, it certainly the talk from Democrats was that they would have an advantage in the early vote because of their superior motivation, enthusiasm, all the scenes, all those stories we`re hearing. So if the early vote landed him at 48.6 in Fulton and his target is 50, again, this is the first indication we`re going to get more numbers coming in. So the first indication we`re getting though is that`s not the number you want to be seeing if you`re Jon Ossoff right now.

HAYES: All right, Steve Kornacki, thanks for joining me. We`ll be checking in throughout the night. Appreciate it.

Not only will tonight`s result in Georgia have major implications for the perceptions of the democrat`s chances to take the House in 2018, there could also be big, concrete, immediate implications for Republican senators who are about to vote on their secret health care bill. In Georgia Six District, health care was the top issue for voters with more than 80 percent of voters saying it was an important to them. Notably, just one in four approved of the health care bill that was passed by the House. Today, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he would release a quote, "discussion draft of his secret bill on Thursday ahead of a likely vote next week."


MCCONNELL: I wouldn`t want to compare it to the House bill. It will speak for itself. It will be different. And big a different approach based upon these endless discussions we`ve had with the only people interested in changing the law, which is the Republican senators.


HAYES: Like the rest of America, I have not seen the bill, McConnell has been drafting them private without hearings or input from stakeholders to remake 1/6 of the U.S. economy. The only way he can pay, however, for a massive tax cut for the rich which is the central plank of the GOP health care effort certainly in the House is of course by reducing spending on health care coverage for millions of people. And that aspect of Republican plan though is not yet set in stone, is not going to change. The Senate bill has long been expected to be more moderate in other ways than the house version. Here`s the thing, there are late indications the opposite may be true. Axios is reporting tonight that the secret bill will go even further than the House bill and allowing states to opt out ObamaCare protections. Which would mean, for example, there could be no protection for essential health benefits in certain states or limits on how much health care companies can charge older Americans relative to younger ones. A number of Republican Senators today took issue, not with those policy plans but with the process by which the bill was drafted.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R) TENNESSEE: I would have liked, as you already know, for this to be a more open process and have committee hearings, but that`s not what we`re doing.

LEE: If you`re frustrated by the lack of transparency in this process, I share your frustration, I share it wholeheartedly.

MCCAIN: We used to complain like hell when Democrats ran the Affordable Care Act. Now we`re doing the same thing.


HAYES: All of these Senators could, of course, stand up to Mitch McConnell. Refuse to consider a bill has been pushed on the Senate and the country with unprecedented secrecy but that`s not what they`re doing.


CORKER: At the end of the day, that doesn`t preclude my responsibilities as Senator to either vote yes or no based on the substance that is in it and I certainly look forward to diving into that substance.


HAYES: At the White House today, during a rare press briefing, Sean Spicer echoed what President Trump reportedly said yesterday behind closed doors when he told Tech CEOs the Senate`s health care bill quote "needs more heart." That fits the pattern. Despite celebrating the passage of the House version of the bill in the rose garden last month, the President later decried it in private at one point describing it as quote, "mean, mean, mean." House Speaker Paul Ryan today said to ignore the President`s criticism.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don`t really think that accurately reflect the President`s sentiment about the House health care bill. I think that was some kind of a misinterpretation of a private meeting. I`ve spoken with the President many, many times. He`s exited on what we did in the House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you`re saying he is on board then.

RYAN: He is on board.


HAYES: I`m joined now by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Let me start with the procedural objections being made rhetorically by your Republican colleagues that they don`t like the process. It makes them a little queasy but will probably vote for it anyway. What do you say to that?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Give me a break. I mean, these are crocodile tears. Every single one of these Republicans could have stood up and told their leadership that they aren`t going to vote for a bill that is negotiated behind closed door, and they didn`t do that, right? In part, because you know, they`re very happy, sort of engaging these mild complaints to the press but celebrating the fact that all of this is being done quietly behind closed doors where no one can see because, in the end, they know what this product is going to like. They know that it is going to be very similar to the House bill, that it is going to cut health care for millions of Americans, drive rates up for millions more in order to muster enough money to pay for a massive tax cut for insurance companies, drug companies, and millionaires and they quite honestly don`t want that process to play out in public because they know the bill will become more unpopular than it already is. So I just don`t believe them. I think behind closed doors, they`re rooting Mitch McConnell on and publicly a few of the member being sent out to register these very mild (INAUDIBLE) objections

HAYES: Are they -- I`ve heard the interviews now with members. There`s a 13 senator working group, all men who are supposedly crafting the bill and I now heard interviews with the various members is that they haven`t seen the legislation, they haven`t seen the bill text. Are they -- are they telling the truth or is it actually just being written by a few staffers in McConnell`s office?

MURPHY: They might technically be telling the truth that they haven`t actually seen the bill text but they have been working in secret insidiously for weeks on the details of this legislation. So for them to suggest that they don`t know what`s in the bill is not true. These Republicans know. They have caucused it, all 52 of them have discussed it and I think they have a very good sense that they`re about to trot out a product that`s going to hurt a lot of Americans very badly.

HAYES: You know, there was this assumption always that the AHCA which is very unpopular piece of legislation, and not beloved even by say conservative policy wonks, we should note, that that piece of legislation that the Senate would moderate it, that the Senate moderates would make this bill less conservative, let`s say than the House bill. Reporting from Axios that shows some of the potential things being considered would be essentially a wholesale state by state deregulation of the some of the most central Affordable Care Act protections. What do you make of that?

MURPHY: Well, they have such a thin margin in the Senate. They have to get the support of people like Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz. And in order to do that, they arguably have to make the bill even crueler, even more evil than the House bill. And so they are doing that by giving more jurisdictions of the states to discriminate against poor people there are - - and sick people. There are reports that the Medicaid cuts actually might, in the end, be deeper in the Senate bill. They might push them off, postpone them three or five or seven years. But over the long term, be even more devastating than the House bill. So you have to remember that for all the credit they were getting early on for trying to bring a bill back to the center, it may be that in the end, to get the votes of these tea party senators, that they have to make the bill even worse than the House bill was.

HAYES: So explain this to me. You know, I`ve covered politics, I was in Washington for a while covering politics there and the last big domestic policy initiative by a Republican President before this one was Social Security privatization. And that was rolled out and it had a kind of more standard kind of period. You know, public debate, they President did events, people tried to sell it. There was this back and forth, ultimately have failed. But ultimately, like, the politicians I`ve interviewed throughout my career really do care if things are popular or not. I just don`t understand, I`m genuinely asking, I don`t understand the calculation. If the thing is not popular, why they don`t think that will hurt them?

MURPHY: I mean, I guess I only have two guesses. One is that they are so scared of the Republican primary base who they believe would pillory them if they didn`t follow through on this promise that they are going to anything just in order to tell that base that they did what they promised. They repealed ObamaCare. Second, I think that there`s a chance that they think this Russia story is going to be the dominant narrative over the course of 2017 and 2018. So if they get this thing done as quickly as possible with this little public debate, maybe the public`s attention and the media`s attention will very quickly shift off health care and over to Russia. Now, Russia is potentially also pretty damaging to them politically but maybe they believe it is less damaging than health care.

HAYES: Well, and they share it last presumably in certain ways. Final quick question, Senator Schumer was on Pod Save America and suggested that the motion to proceed might be the best shot at killing the AHCA. What`s that mean?

MURPHY: Well, ultimately the first motion is the motion to proceed to the bill, it is still a 50-vote margin but that will be the test vote to see if Mitch McConnell has his votes lined up. Again, this is a very narrow window here. And so for your -- for your viewers who are in places like --

HAYES: I think of them as my constituent Senator, thank you.

HAYES: Your constituents -- they like you a lot better than they like their senators. So yes, I think your listeners, your viewers, you know, have to continue to make those calls into Nevada, into Maine, into Alaska. Places where I really truly believe these Senators are still up their mind. If I had to guess, Mitch McConnell does not have the votes tonight. I think he`s going to put this bill up there for public viewing on Thursday and then modify it and it tweak it over the weekend to try to get the last few votes on board.

HAYES: Right, yes. I think you`re -- that is what the reporting indicates. You`re senator, you know better than I do. Senator Chris Murphy, thank you for joining me.

MURPHY: Thanks.

HAYES: Joining me now are Jess Mcintosh, Executive Editor for ShareBlue and former Senior Adviser of the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign and Steven Brill MSNBC Political Analyst, Lawyer, Author of America`s Bitter Pill, money, Politics, Backroom Deals and the Fight to Fix our Broken Health Care System.

Let me start with you, Steven. You know, there`s a relationship -- you want to think there`s a relationship between policy and politics. And one of the things that`s driven this process is it really doesn`t seem to be policy led. Like there are conservative health care wonks who have the vision of what they want. They all don`t like the House bill.


They`re very hard to find those people.

BRILL: Well, and the President doesn`t know what`s in either bill. So he`s hardly -- you know, he`s hardly a policy leader but you know, let`s look at what the Republicans ostensibly claim to want to do, the problem they want to solve which is the high cost of health insurance. Now, there are two ways you can solve the high cost of health insurance. One is you do something about the cost of health care. So you do you something about drug prices and hospital profits and profits of medical device makers. They`re doing none of that.

HAYES: Just to be clear, you would have to squeeze a lot of very powerful people making a lot of money to make that happen.

BRILL: Right. So they`re doing none of that. The second thing you can do is, I can sell you a very cheap health insurance policy if I put in clauses that say, well, you know, if you got cancer, that`s not covered. If you go to the emergency room, that`s not good. If your spouse gets pregnant, that`s not good. And then I can lower the price of the insurance. So that`s kind of what I think they say they`re doing plus they`re cutting off health care for millions and millions of people you know, who are covered now by the Medicaid expansion and by Medicaid generally. Because this is going to cut back on what used to be Medicaid.

HAYES: It has to -- it has to cut into (INAUDIBLE).

BRILL: You know, and they`re disguising it talks of, we`ll we`re going to substitute what we have now for block grants. You know, that`s just jargon. What they`re doing is cutting out health care for the poor. If they want to help the poor, they would do something about the price of drugs, the price of hospital care, the price of all the players in the health care industry. They`re not even purporting to do anything about that.

HAYES: Now the gamble here, it seems to me, and this is where I think Georgia Six comes into effect, right? Because the bill is not popular in that district from the polling we have.

BRILL: This is amazing if he loses with this going on.

HAYES: Well, that`s the question. They are basically saying, collisional politics, the gravity of our collisional politics are so powerful, they can overwhelm whether people do or do not like our central policy platform.

JESS MCINTOSH, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER OF 2016 HILLARY CLINTON CAMPAIGN: Well, I mean, I think that it`s true, this -- the health care repeal is deeply unpopular in deeply red districts. So that is why either on Georgia even more than they would normally be in a year like this. However, there are 93 seats currently held by Republicans in the House in District that are easier to win than Georgia Six. And every one of those 93 knows who they are. And the margin of this election is going to be applied to their own district. And they`ll know how vulnerable they are if they vote against it.

BRILL: And by the time you get to 2018, if they pass this law, people will have much better idea of what`s in it and what it`s going to do to them and what it is doing to them.

MCINTOSH: Absolutely.

HAYES: The idea that you -- that`s why I find it so remarkable about this thing. You`re going to actually live -- the thing is a law. You`re going to change the law of America in a very complicated system. You`re not just going to pass it and like move on to the calendar in the news cycle --


MCINTOSH: It`s not going to be the profit that takes them down, it`s going to be the substance.

HAYES: You`re going to do the thing.

BRILL: Senator Murphy is right though. I think it has to be that they`re afraid of -- that they`re afraid of you to know, opposition from the right in the primaries. That can be the only explanation.

HAYES: For the political.

MCINTOSH: I would -- I would say that that`s because the purpose of the bill is not to do something about health care prices, it`s not to do something about health insurance prices and it certainly not to help the poor. It`s to deny President Obama the key piece of his (INAUDIBLE). That`s why the right cares about it. That`s the sole purpose of health care repeal and that is a lousy reason to pass policy in America.

HAYES: Respectfully, I somewhat disagree with that because I think that at this point it`s about the tax cuts. I mean, there`s --

BRILL: It`s the same thing.

HAYES: Well, but it`s -- that`s real money. It`s $800 billion sitting there.

MCINTOSH: They were going to -- they were going to give tax giveaways to the rich by some vehicle. That they needed this vehicle to (INAUDIBLE)

BRILL: But it`s real money for a very small portion of people.

HAYES: A very small portion, a tiny percentage of people.


HAYES: That`s exactly right. Well, we will see what happens in Georgia but I do think that the political calculation that is being made by all parties here is -- it`s a remarkable moment in American political history. This process is a true innovation in certain ways.

BRILL: (INAUDIBLE) anybody pass the law that was so unpopular.

HAYES: The Senate parliamentary in terms of the process is that you have to go all the way back to World War I --


HAYES: -- and post-World War I to look at a process like that. In terms of popularity, it`s harder to find a precedent. Jess Mcintosh and Steven Brill, thank you, both for joining me.

MCINTOSH: Thank you.

BRILL: Sure.

HAYES: Ahead, a White House shrouded in the secrecy from crafting their signature piece of legislation to routine on-camera briefings. Senator Cory Booker joins in to talk about the Trump administration retreating behind closed doors after this two-minute break.



SPICER: We have done multiple more opportunities for people to interact with the President according to several folks who have been here for several administrations. We`ve looked at a lot of data that suggest that when you look at the number of availabilities and interviews that the President has given, it`s pretty significant compared to past administrations.


HAYES: Today White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer gave his first on- camera briefing in eight days. He did speak to the press yesterday but the White House refused to let anyone outside the briefing room to see or even hear what he had to say. They released a paper transcript instead which somewhat undercuts Spicer`s arguments today that they`ve given quote, pretty significant access to reporters. The President himself hasn`t given an on-camera interviews since May 13th and he hasn`t done a solo news conference since February 16th, 124 days ago. They Department of States has also cut back on press briefings. Last June for instance, the Department held one every single weekday. This month there have been two a week or only five so far. That`s not all. Among the routine pieces of information, this White House has seen fit to conceal are the White House Visitors Logs and the President`s tax returns. As the Washington Post notes, more and more in the Trump era, business in Washington is happening behind closed doors. The federal government`s leaders are hiding from public scrutiny. And perhaps nowhere is that more obvious of course than in the Senate where the Health Care bill spearheaded by Senator Mitch McConnell which will affect 1/6 of the country`s economy is being written in such secrecy that according to Sean Spicer, even the President of the United States has not seen it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has the President seen a draft of the Senate health care bill?

SPICER: I don`t know that. That`s -- I know that there was some chatter today. I know the President has been on the phone extensively with the leader and with key senators so I don`t know if he`s seen the legislation or not.


HAYES: One group who might have seen the bill, the Congressional Budget Office which according to Senate rules must score the bill before a vote. Well, today a group of Democratic Senators headed over to the CBO to see if they could sneak a peek.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: What we`re going to do in an outside chance. We`re probably not going to get the bill but we`re right now going to march into the CBO building and ask as nicely as possible, maybe they will show us a copy of the secret bill so that we can bring it out and send it out to the public.


MURPHY: News flash. We didn`t get the bill.


HAYES: One of those Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey joins me now. You know, I actually -- I went down a rabbit hole this morning when I saw this because at first, I thought, well that sort of was a clever stunt. But then it occurred to me like, who owns the thing that gets sent to the CBO? It`s not -- you know, this is not -- it`s not HPAA Medical Records. I mean, the thing should be public. Senators should have an equity in being able to see it. What is the deal with that?

BOOKER: Well, the folks of the CBO are incredible professionals who try desperately to resist the political -- the politics of the day and age. They actually aren`t allowed to share it with us. And we knew that going in. This was in a sense, an attempt to draw attention to the absurd that you have literally the most important piece of legislation to pass through Senate in years and years and years. Perhaps since the ObamaCare legislation being done all in secret behind closed doors where you have folks retreating. And I use that word very purposely because I think it is an act of cowardice. Not letting the public see what`s going on because you`re afraid of their reaction. And so this is an absurd moment in American history. And this was a chance for us to try -- to try to spotlight on the absurdity that three United States Senators had to get into a taxi cab, go down to the CBO on the off chance that they might share a bill that should be out in the public right now anyway.

HAYES: Well, and this -- the secrecy is sort of -- to me you know, as a reporter and as someone who sort of reported in different administrations and different settings, you know, one of the things I keep coming back here is the President of the United States hasn`t come out and given a speech about his health care bill. He hasn`t given a press conference where people ask questions. And Barack Obama at this point in his Presidency, I think have done five of six full press conferences. There`s the moment of course when he goes to a Republican retreat and takes questions from Republican members of Congress. It does seem to me there`s something really dangerously unraveling to the degree that that is not happening here.

BOOKER: Well, you know, this is another case where the President of the United States, a shameful cowardice hiding behind bluster and bravado. You hear his big talk but compare this a Barack Obama, I mean, something an act of political courage that you don`t see from Presidents often. When weeks before this bill was coming to a vote, President Obama on national TV invited Congressional Republicans into debate him about the merits of his bill standing by the Affordable Care Act and engaging in an incredible moment in American history where a President stands up and says I`m in the arena, this is the right thing for the American people. And so here you have President Trump hiding. Hiding from his legislation, hiding from the truth, not coming out and saying this is the plan that I have. He promised Americans health care with more access, more affordable, better health care. He said literally it would be terrific and yet he has not even talking to the public about the details of his bill. To me, it`s sort of an outrageous comparison and really a low moment when it comes to the process we have here of developing substantive legislation.

HAYES: But all of this -- I mean, what we`re learning, right? Is that none of that -- no one makes anyone be not secretive essentially, right? So there`s some requirements but -- we learned with the tax returns, everyone did -- all the candidates had given theirs and we didn`t get to see those because he just said no. Mitch McConnell is just saying, I don`t care about this, the press briefing which are generally every day on camera and State Department has been running on-camera briefings for years, those are just traditions. I mean, I guess the question is like, what is the limiting condition here? What bounds any sort of public exchange? What creates the conditions for that? Do they ultimately have to pay some tangible apolitical price?

BOOKER: Well, I mean, that`s going to -- remains to be seen. Look, Donald Trump is clearly decimating norms of that office that he holds. But this is the Senate and we`re supposed to be really as a founder saw, is a cooling saucer so to speak for the hot tea of the republic, that we are supposed to be the world`s greatest deliberative body. Where issues are supposed to be discussed and debated. They even admitted in the founding of the republic that this was going to be a slow body that was going to be considering things thoughtfully. It`s the reason why we have six-year terms so that we`re not necessarily subject to the sways of public sentiment. All of those norms and traditions in the short time that I`ve been sitting in the Senate, and especially under this leadership right now are being -- are being decimated. And this body is slowly creeping away from its historical intent. And this is probably one of the greatest outrages. In fact, the last time they debate the Affordable Care Act, it set a record for one of the longest continuous debates because it was health care. It goes to the core of what we say our country is about, fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So this is -- this is just a sad moment in Senate tradition and an erosion of what we are about and what we stand for as a body and what we`re -- what`s expected from us.

HAYES: All right. Senator Cory Booker, thank you for making some time tonight.

Coming up, the highest ranking Attorney in the country gets an attorney of his own. Jeff Sessions lawyers up amid the expanding Russia probe. Latest ahead.


HAYES: The nation`s top law enforcement officer now has a lawyer of his own. Attorney General Jeff Sessions who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week is the latest Trump associate to hire a personal lawyer amid the expanding Russia probe. Attorney Charles Cooper who sat right behind Sessions at the hearing confirm to NBC News that he`s representing Sessions in the investigation. Now Cooper is a well-known conservative litigator who defended California`s same-sex marriage ban and who is a finalist to be the new Solicitor General before withdrawing from consideration earlier this year. All associates of the President are busy hiring lawyers, so as Special Counsel Robert Mueller who`s leading the Russian investigation. Mueller brought on an experienced federal prosecutor named Andrew Weissmann who directed the Enron investigation who according to Reuters is an expert on flipping witnesses. This comes amid speculation that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn who is at the center of the Russia probe may already be cooperating with investigators. That`s according to Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal both former prosecutors.


SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D) RHODE ISLAND: All the signals are suggesting that he`s already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time. That`s the conclusion from all the evidence and some experience in dealing with this.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: I agree the likelihood of his cooperation is very high. If not right now, at some point very soon in the future because of the very, very heavy legal culpability and potential penalty that he faces.


HAYES: Amid multiple widening Russia probes and a daily drip, drip, drip of news, it`s easy to lose sight of the core event at the center of all of this. Russian operatives apparently engaged in criminal sabotage to disrupt the U.S. Presidential election and to help a specific candidate while harming the other. It seems the entire U.S. government recognizes that simple basic fact except for remarkably the President of the United States.

That`s next.


HAYES: Though he once said he accepted the intelligence community`s unanimous conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, the president since then has refused to acknowledge Russia`s role calling it fake news and suggesting other potential culprits. Asked about it point blank today, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he could not characterize the president`s view.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very plainly, a yes or no answer. Does President Trump believe the Russian government interfered in the 2016 elections?

SPICER: I have not sat down and talked to him about that specific thing. Obviously, we`ve been dealing with a lot of other issues today. I would be glad to tough base with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Generally speaking, I mean, this conversation about Russian interference in our elections, there`s16 intelligence agencies that say that they did. The former FBI director said that without a doubt the Russians...

SPICER: I understand. I`ve seen the reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president share those views?

SPICER: I have not asked him about his specific reaction to them, so I would be glad to touch base and get back to you.


HAYES: This follows a pattern by the president dating back to the campaign of going out of his way to avoid saying anything bad about Russia or its president, Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who received the Russian Order of Friendship Award when he was the CEO of Exxon Mobil, has reportedly put together a new plan for dealing with Russia, which includes engagement on, of all things, cyber security and cyber espionage after Russia hacked U.S. election systems.

And yet, at the same time, the Trump administration`s relations with Russia just got a whole lot more complicated. The president met in the Oval Office today with the president of Ukraine, Russia`s adversary next door where they are currently occupying, while the Treasury Department rolled out new sanctions tied to Russian military activity in Eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, tensions are escalating in the skies over Syria where Russia is threatening to retaliate after the U.S. on Sunday shot down a fighter plane belonging to the Syrian regime which is Russia`s ally.

NBC News reports that a Russian jet buzzed an American plane over the Baltic Sea coming as close as just five feet away.

I`m joined now by Julia Ioffe, national security and foreign policy reporter for The Atlantic, and Susan Glasser, chief international affairs columnist for Politico, host of the podcast and the global Politico.

Susan, let me start with you, I am very confused about the current state U.S./Russia relations. And they seem both strange and dangerous at the same time.

I mean, here`s Donald Trump who has got very nice things to say about Vladimir Putin, wouldn`t it be great if we could be friends with the Russians. Meanwhile the U.S. shooting down a Syrian jet fighter and this possible escalation there. What do you make of all this?

SUSAN GLASSER, POLITICO: Well, you know, I thought your report really captured just how sort of head spinning time it is. If you asked me or really anyone who closely follows this, what is our Russian policy right now? I think they would have to honestly say, I don`t know. And, you know, there is as much chance right now of real conflict as you pointed out as there is this new reset.

And, you know, this meeting today in the Oval Office with the Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, I think really underscored that. It was very awkward. There was none of the sort of yukking it up surround sound when President Trump just a few weeks ago met the Russian foreign minister.

Trump even mispronounced, you know, called it the Ukraine rather than Ukraine, which is something Ukrainians hate.

But at the same time, you have tensions escalating with the Russians. And so I think right now what it underscores is that Trump came into office with some sort of foreign policy gut instincts but not necessarily a strategy or a team of people who could actually put together a strategy.

HAYES: So, Julia, one theory here is that there is no core, right. And that on many different foreign policy issues, the Trump team is pulling in opposition directions. There`s all these different people.

The other, which I think is a plausible one, I`d like to you respond to, is the idea that Trump and his folks wanted to come in and be much more friendly towards Russia and essentially the political heat created by the investigation of the possibility of collusion, the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the pressure the president himself referred to when he fired him when talking to Kislyak and Lavrov, has created political conditions that essentially handcuffs them.

JULIA IOFFE, THE ATLANTIC: Well, I don`t think those two things are mutually exclusive. And what you should have mentioned, also, is what the Russians themselves did. Again, we think of Putin as this grand chess master, the strategist. He interfered in our elections and now he`s getting the blowback.

So, how smart was that?

But I think Susan is totally right. And I think the Russians kind of know that if whoever is the last person to talk to Trump is the one who kind of gets to carry the day. And the Ukrainians know it, too, because the Ukrainians were saying ahead of this visit that they`re trying to get Poroshenko in the White House even if it`s for -- they called it a drop-in today, like even if he stops by for two minutes, just to get in there before Trump meets with Putin, so just to preempt the, you know, any chemistry he might have with Trump -- with Putin.

HAYES: So all of this, I mean, the core of this -- and I want to sort of, I have to turn to this tweet, because I need to hear what you guys think about it. But at the core of this right is this of lack of center to what U.S. is, no idea what it is, and then on top of all of this we have this horrible story, this American who died at the hands of North Korea.

This is the president today tweeting on North Korea, "while I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi and China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!" Which is either earnest or sarcastic. I don`t know.

But Susan, what are we supposed to make of that? What are the Chinese supposed to make of that?

GLASSER: You know, I have to tell, right, I`m just thinking back in my head when you are reading this tweet outloud to last year. And we had written an article in Politico saying, you know, can you imagine the president making foreign policy by tweet? And I think this is a good example of it. You know, the world is -- forget Kremlinology, the sort of tweetology, we have no idea is the bottom line what it means.

But certainly when President Trump came into office, he suggested that he was going to try to find a way to work with the Chinese, even to link our trade policy with China to cooperation on North Korea which at the time raised many eyebrows among people who closely follow China affairs.

Now he seems to be declaring that path having failed to produce anything meaningful and there`s new talk today of course after that horrible death yesterday, there`s new talk of additional sanctions on North Korea, or a travel ban of some kind.

HAYES: And Julia, the thing that yanks -- that links them both in my mind is if you give a lot of mixed messages it seems to me you run a risk of increasing the risk of military conflict.

IOFFE: Or just irrelevance where people, you know, don`t bother dealing with you. I mean, he -- a few months ago, he said he is going to lean hard on China and make them, you know, -- make them get tough on Korea -- North Korea. And now it`s, well, you know, A for effort. They tried.

You know, it`s literally a couple months.

HAYES: Julia Ioffe and Susan Glasser, thank you both.

IOFFE: Thank you.

HAYES: A quick update on election night, which we are in. Results now coming in from Georgia Sixth and also another special election which in South Carolina`s fifth district. Let`s go to MSNBC`s Steve Kornacki for the very latest.

What do we know, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC: Interesting stuff going on here, Chris.

So, look, if you`re Jon Ossoff, if you`re a Democrat, the good news for you right now in Georgia is you are ahead. The margin less than 1,000 votes. Here is the question for you, though, is that enough to withstand what is still to come? Where that lead is coming from for Ossoff this is the Democratic heart of the district, De Kalb County, a lot of early vote there, over 60 percent for Ossoff.

Here`s what he`s got to withstand, a lot of same-day expected in Cobb. This is the Republican heart of the district. And the same-day vote that we have coming in int out of Fulton County right now is an advantage for Handel.

Right now, would that be enough to overcome his lead? That`s what should be making Democrats nervous or right now in Georgia.

In South Carolina, their candidate, the Democrat leads. Here`s the problem for Democrats there. The heavily African-American part of the district, Sumpter County, that is sort of overrepresented here. A lot of big Republican areas to come.

It looks like Democrats could improve on what they normally do in this district, but at this point, where these numbers are coming in from, it is better news for Republicans than for Democrats in terms of who wins.

HAYES: All right, Steve Kornacki, thanks for that update.

Still to come, President Trump`s approval rating falls by double digits among Republicans. That`s ahead. Plus, speaking the president`s language in tonight`s Thing One, Thing Two next.


HAYES: Thing One tonight, it has become oddly common for those around President Trump to effusively shower praise on him.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff, around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you`ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISOR: He just absorbs information. I`ve never seen a more brilliant communicator, a more natural connector.

SPICER: He is the decider.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no one better.

CONWAY: He is the ultimate dealmaker. He`s the most brilliant communicator and natural connector with people I`ve ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president in just 10 days has changed the geopolitical reality wherever he went.

TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICE SECRETARY: I can`t thank you enough for the privilege that you`ve given me, the leadership that you`ve shown.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to President Trump, America is back.


HAYES: Now, they might believe that this president can do no wrong, or just think this president likes hearing lavish compliments, but it`s not just White House staffers that have adopted the hail to the chief routine, one of America`s top CEOs just delivered perhaps the most Trumpian tribute to the president, and that`s thing two in 60 seconds.



TRUMP: My administration has already taken very historic steps to modernize critical IT systems and make government more transparent.


HAYES: President Trump noted the, quote, historic steps his administration has already taken in technology while speaking to a room of tech CEOs at the White House yesterday. But that bit of boasting was nothing compared to the effusive praise heaped on the president by Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Alphabet, Google`s parent company.

Well, several months ago Schmidt told employees the Trump administration will do evil things, his remark yesterday seemed like a 180.

As one Twitter user noted, Google probably literally had their team of language Ph.D.s craft a sentence specifically tailored to Trump`s speaking style.


ERIC SCHMIDT, CEO, ALPHABET: I`m absolutely convinced that during your administration there`s going to be a huge explosion in new opportunities because of the platforms that are getting built in our industry, those will create huge, very large new business opportunities for which we entrepreneurs, technical talent, immigration, and so forth, as you understand, it can drive America very, very positively forward and it is going to happen soon during your leadership.



HAYES: As we continue to watch returns in both Georgia and South Carolina tonight, brand-new national polling offers some context for those races. The president`s approval rating stands at just 36 percent nationwide. Among Republican voters, the president`s approval is much higher at 72 percent. But that`s an 11 point drop since April. Just 28 percent approve of the Russia`s -- the president`s handling of the Russia investigation, 73 percent believe the Senate Republicans should discuss their health care plan publicly and 56 percent of Republican voters agree. Early indications on tonight`s election results in Georgia, It`s a nail biter. Next.


HAYES: We`re watching results come in from Georgia`s Sixth where the race right now is tight. Joining me now from Jon Ossoff`s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Rebecca Traister, writer-at-large for New York Magazine, and author of All the Single Ladies.

Joining me from Washington, D.C., Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, President of Brillian Corners Research and Strategies.

Rebecca, let me go to you first. You`ve been doing reporting down there. What surprised you about what you`ve seen down there?

REBECCA TRAISTER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Well, I`ve been shocked by the kind of fervor and sort of awakened politicization of the predominately white affluent suburban women down here. It`s really -- I`d heard about it, I`d read about it, but when I got here I realized you kind of couldn`t swing a cat in Georgia`s sixth without hitting a woman who had previously been politically passive who now it`s her life`s mission not just to flip Georgia Sixth, but all of the red districts in Georgia.

There is a group of women here who are now rededicating and remaking their lives, so they say, to getting involved in progressive politics. And it`s just remarkable to talk to them.

HAYES: Cornell, the numbers coming in right now, it`s very tight. There is some early indications that Ossoff was a little off his targets, although it looks like maybe he sort of crept back closer to parity. As someone who was the pollster for the DNC at one point, what are the benchmarks that you`re looking at here?

BELCHER: You know, I`m looking at a couple of things. One is, look, Chris, I always thought this was a tough district. I mean, this was a district, it should be a 20-point Republican district, right. This shouldn`t even be close. When you look at what Democrats think they have been able to do in the early vote, the Republican here has to really dominate election day. And right now it doesn`t look like she`s dominating election day in a way that makes them comfortable, particularly when you look at Fulton, a place where she did particularly well in the primary. She doesn`t seem to be dominating that as well as she should right now.

This race is neck and neck on election day, I think Democrats like their opportunity given what they`ve done and their early vote efforts.

But look, you know, this is a district that again, this is the Trump effect, right? And Republicans can spin this however they want, but this is not a district that we should even be competing in, that this is a district that`s a tossup. You know, if you look at this going into the midterms, Democrats can put a lot of districts in play and in 2006 when we took back the House, it was because we were able to put so many districts in play. And if this district is in play, the Republicans have to be concerned.

HAYES: Phillip Bump of The Washington Post just made the point that South Carolina 5 and Georgia 6 are districts that seven months ago Republicans won by 23.4 points and 20.5 points. So, we`ve -- and the South Carolina race was a little bit of a sleeper.

So, I guess my question to you, Rebecca, when you talk about the sort of activist volunteer core, and I have read about them in other circumstances, I read your reporting. What is driving them? Is it Trump? Is it health care? What is the core of why folks who weren`t engaged feel engaged now?

TRAISTER: Well the women I`ve spoken to are talking about health care nonstop. They`re also talking about Trump. They`re also talking about kind of how the Trump election, it`s not so much anger at Trump, though that`s there, it`s that his election and the degree to which it took them by surprise snapped them out of political apathy. It`s something a little different than just we hate Trump. It`s like wait a minute, I have been sleepwalking through my life. I assumed politics was different from what I do. I assumed it wasn`t about me. And now what I understand is that participation is part of being in this country.

It`s like a real civic awakening, a very sophisticatedly articulated one. And it`s not quite as simple as Trump.

But they are talking about health care. They`re talking about representation. They`re talking about misogyny and racism. They`re talking about living wages. I mean, so they`re talking about a range of those policy and representational issues.

HAYES: You know, Cornell, this question about motivation, I mean, this is a kind key one, right? And it matters in these special elections, and it matters in mid-terms and Democrats have had a real mid-term problem in the last few rounds of mid-terms.

What signs are you take away about that from what we`ve seen in special elections thus far?

BELCHER: Well, you know -- and, Chris, you know this as well as I do, we tend to read too much into special elections. Now, that said, I`m going to read too much into this special election. When you look at the -- typically, we get a better than double digit drop-off when base -- when looking at base Democratic precincts for mid-terms and you don`t see the same drop off in the Republican precincts. Midterm elections aren`t necessarily voters changing their mind, they`re a different electorate in midterms than they are in presidential.

And that`s been the Democrats problem.

If Democrat -- if you see Democrats motivation and Democrat sort of voting doesn`t drop off 10, 15 points like it typically does in midterms, I think you see -- and that`s what we saw in 2006 -- you see a chance for Democrats to flip the House, even though gerrymandering has made it difficult.

HAYES: Let me just note down there, South Carolina 5, which no one was looking at is three points right now. It`s probably going to end up larger than that. But that in and of itself in terms of the signals being sent tonight is notable.

Rebecca Traister, Cornell Belcher, thank you both.

That is ALL IN for this evening.