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Sen. Merkley on impeachment proceedings. TRANSCRIPT: 11/4/19, All In w/ Chris Hayes.

Guests: Zoe Tillman, Ted Lieu, Norm Ornstein, Jeff Merkley, Celinda Lake,Jelani Cobb

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Tune in all week to catch more exciting moments to the past two decades.  Be sure to follow HARDBALL on Twitter and enter to win exclusive HARDBALL 20th anniversary commemorative prizes.  I`m not kidding.  You got some prizes out there.

And that`s HARDBALL for now.  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes starts right now.



REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH):  Why not release the transcripts?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Release the darn transcripts.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL):  We want to know what`s going on.

HAYES:  Here come the transcripts.

JORDAN:  Yes, they`re going to release the real transcripts.

HAYES:  The first impeachment inquiry transcripts have been released.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Mr. President, was Marie Yovanovitch the target of a smear campaign by your allies?

HAYES:  Tonight, what we learn from Marie Yovanovitch about Igor and Lev and Rudy and Hannity.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL:  I was kind of dragged in a little bit.

HAYES:  As the White House blocked more key witnesses.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA):  We have seen a series of shifting, ever-changing rationales for this campaign of obstruction.

HAYES:  Plus, the mutating Republican logic defending the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If there was a quid pro quo, it certainly weren`t a very effectively one.

HAYES:  And making sense of new battleground polling that shows 2020 could look a lot like 2016.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You`re reading the wrong polls.  You`re reading the wrong polls.

HAYES:  When ALL IN starts right now.

TRUMP:  Let me just tell you.  I have the real polls.


HAYES:  Good evening from New York, I`m Chris Hayes.  We are now starting to see the actual testimony from the depositions in the impeachment inquiry so far, the transcripts, and they are as damning as expected for the President and his allies.

The Republicans whined for weeks and weeks about the fact that depositions were being held behind closed doors, despite the fact that many of them were actually attending those very same hearings.  The President tried to get out ahead of the release of the word-for-word transcripts today by saying they would be faked and that Republicans should release their own indicating that he was clearly not happy with what was about to come out.

Well, today, we got the first two transcripts from former top State Department official Michael McKinley and crucially former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.  We already know a lot about what McKinley testified about including that he said he resigned his post in part because of "the failure of the State Department to offer support to foreign service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry."

McKinley who was senior advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also testified again under oath in this deposition that he told Mike Pompeo about his concerns multiple times before he resigned, which makes what Pompeo said last month so much more interesting.  Listen to the way that Pompeo gives himself absolutely no wiggle room on this question.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES:  Mike McKinley served me well for a year and a half.  I chose him.  I had -- people tell me he was a great foreign service officer.  In fact, he served America wonderfully for 37 years.  He, in fact, had the office that was just behind mine.  I had a door that he could walk in any time and say whatever he wanted.

You know, from the time that Ambassador Yovanovitch departed Ukraine until the time that he came to tell me that he was departing, I never heard him say a single thing about his concerns with respected the decisions made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Si you were never asked to put out --

POMPEO:  Not once, not once, George, did Ambassador McKinley say something to me during that entire time period.


HAYES:  That`s interesting.  So maybe he said it outside that time period or maybe McKinley is lying or maybe Pompeo is lying.  The story though that is told in these depositions is of someone who was in the way of the corrupt quid pro quo abuse of office that the President and Rudy Guiliani we`re running to try and squeeze Ukraine to manufacture dirt in the President`s political rival, particularly in that of the ousted U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch of Ukraine whose career was a casualty of that scheme.

She testified that she learned from Ukrainian officials that Rudy Giuliani planned to target her.  Yovanovitch was asked what she thought President Trump meant when he said on the phone call with the Ukrainian president that she was "going to go through some things."  Yovanovitch said, I didn`t know what it meant.  I was very concerned.  I still am.

She testified that a concern senior Ukrainian official told thee -- told me, "I really needed to watch my back."  The former ambassador also told Congress the same Ukrainian official warned her about "Two individuals from Florida Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman who were working with Mayor Giuliani.  They were interested in having a different ambassador at the post I guess because they wanted to have business dealings in Ukraine or additional business dealings.  I didn`t understand that because nobody at the embassy had ever met these two individuals."

Now, the President gets to appoint ambassadors and he gets to recall them.  But in the case of Ambassador Yovanovitch, let`s remember her position and removal are also at the center of a criminal case that`s currently being brought by the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York against two men or associates the of the President`s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who reportedly paid Giuliani at least half a million dollars, who hung out a Yankee games among other places with Rudy, who got prime seats at a 2018 Trump rally, and who represented themselves to Congress in an official letter as members of the president`s legal team.

And let`s remember that part of the charges against these two men Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman is that they were giving donations to a member of Congress as part of this sprawling effort to get rid of Ambassador Yovanovitch so that they could corruptly install friendly associates to promote their business interests in Ukraine.

Yovanovitch was standing in the way of making Ukraine more corrupt on behalf of President Trump and Rudy Giuliani.  And I should tell you, we just learned tonight that one of these guys Lev Parnas seems to be ready to cooperate with Congressional impeachment investigators.

Reuters reports Parnas is prepared to comply with requests for records and testimony from congressional impeachment investigators.  And Parnas` lawyer has confirmed that to NBC News.  Joining me now for more on what we learned today, Zoe Tillman Legal Reporter for BuzzFeed News and Natasha Bertrand, National Security Correspondent at Politico and an MSNBC Contributor.

And Natasha, let me start with you on the Parnas news.  His old lawyer had been the President`s old lawyer John Dowd who had written a letter being like he`s part of the team and he`s not going to show up and do anything.  He`s now jumped dunked John Dowd and now he`s going to cooperate?  Is that what`s happening?

NATASHA BERTRAND, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, Chris.  I mean, it certainly seems like Parnas is angry.  He`s angry that the President has said that he doesn`t know who he is.  He feels like the President has completely mischaracterized their relationship.  And you have to be inclined to believe Parnas a bit because there are so many photos of them together over the last two or so years, at political events, at galas, at fundraisers.

Parnas and Fruman were everywhere, and they surrounded the President at many pivotal moments.  So what we`re seeing now is they`ve opened the door to cooperation with the congressional committees.  That doesn`t necessarily mean of course that it`s going to happen because a lot of the documents that the congressional committees want are in the hands of the FBI which of course raided Parnas and Fruman`s you know, belongings as part of their indictment.

It also is remains to be seen whether or not their lawyers are even going to -- or his lawyer in this case, is even going to let him testify because he`s in the middle of a criminal probe.  But this does indicate at least a shift for now in how he perceives the president.  And Trump really hasn`t learned this lesson that you know, when these people are under scrutiny and he continues to criticize them, his former allies, and says I don`t know them, well they usually have receipts.

HAYES:  Yes.  Zoe, what do we learn today in the Yovanovitch testimony in terms of the nexus between this sort of strange plot that was hatched by Parnas and Fruman for I think a variety of reasons, perhaps personal business reasons, as well as ingratiating themselves, the President, and the President and Rudy Giuliani`s attempt to squeeze the Ukrainian government for dirt on their political rival?

ZOE TILLMAN, LEGAL REPORTER, BUZZFEED:  What we saw was perspective from yet another witness in the impeachment inquiry sort of explaining how they learned that there was this other channel between the White House and Ukraine that was unofficial, not sanctioned, and involved a cohort of non- government officials, in this case Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, and Igor Fruman who for months had been traveling around trying to set up connections in Ukraine in an effort to dig up dirt on Joe Biden, trying to discredit the Mueller investigation, but all while making entrees into very official circles in Ukraine to the dismay of the career civil servants who you know, whose job it was to establish those formal channels between the administration and these foreign government entities.

And what we heard what we saw on the transcript was the former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch saying you know, learning about this back-channel and being perplexed and concerned by it but not really seeing a way out.  And being told that if she wanted to keep her job she needed to ingratiate herself with the President and not make waves about this.

HAYES:  Yes.  Then at one -- at one point she testified she was told to tweet support for the president.  I mean, what`s fascinating here, Natasha, is you have these sort of comparative means of conducting yourself.  Marie Yovanovitch, the lifelong foreign service officer who is there who`s trying to like steer American policy and then the Parnas, Fruman, and Giuliani`s of the world who are wheeling and dealing and taking meetings and doing God-knows-what and God knows whose behest.  And those are the people the President is listening to and who have the imprimatur of the entire American state behind him.

BERTRAND:  Exactly, Chris. And Marie Yovanovitch testified that this wasn`t something that the State Department could just ignore.  They felt really hamstrung by the fact that this dual foreign policy track was taking place.

And at one point she said the Ukrainians didn`t know who to talk to.  They didn`t know whether we represented U.S. policy, whether they should be listening to Giuliani, and Parnas, and Fruman.  And the rug really felt like it was being pulled out from beneath us.

We have to remember also that this is a very sensitive moment.  Well, it has been a very sensitive moment in Ukraine for the last five years since the Russians invaded eastern Ukraine.  And at this moment, they`re trying to negotiate peace in the East with the Russian backed separatists.

So for the aid to be withheld at the sensitive time was extremely troubling to the Ukrainians.  And on top of that, they didn`t even know who the interlocutors were they were supposed to be communicating with.

Fast-forward to Marie Yovanovitch getting removed, were called from Ukraine, someone that they really trusted, now they have no choice really but to try to negotiate with the President in the best way that they can which is Zelensky, you saw in that phone call kind of saying to the president yes, we`ll investigate, yes, we`ll do what you want essentially to try to appease him.

Because again, Ukraine faces an existential threat to its east and they`re trying to navigate that right now the best way they can.

HAYES:  We`re also getting a lot more backstory on the origins of this I think deranged and insane conspiracy theory, Zoe, about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election, the idea that actually the DNC hack was a Ukrainian op that they conspired to frame Russia for.  It doesn`t actually make sense when you sort of square it up.

But this article in the New York Times that Manafort was actually spreading that back in 2016 it`s been germinating and sold to the President time and time again.  What do we know about that?

TILLMAN:  So over the weekend, BuzzFeed and CNN received a new cache of documents from the Justice Department.  It was hundreds of pages of records of notes that were taken during the Mueller investigation.  And in one set of notes from Rick Gates who had been the deputy campaign manager, he`d been Paul manna force right-hand man, Rick Gates told investigators that basically as soon as news broke in 2016 the DNC had been hacked, that WikiLeaks had these messages and they were going to release them, Paul Manafort was immediately saying it wasn`t Russia, it was Ukraine.

And Michael Flynn who was at the time a senior adviser to the campaign later became Trump`s short-lived first national security adviser also was immediately saying adamantly it wasn`t Russia, it wasn`t Russia.  Look at Ukraine.  So we had at the time you know, three years ago, two senior officials in the Trump campaign trying to direct the narrative away from Russia towards Ukraine.

It raises all sorts of questions of who they were talking to, who`s ear they had.  And it`s a theory that has really persisted notwithstanding the findings of the U.S. Intelligence Community that it was Russia that orchestrated the hack of the DNC that was responsible for coordinating with WikiLeaks, but this is a narrative that has persisted.  It`s persisted in far-right corners of the internet.  And it`s a narrative that`s persisted with the President.

And we heard him or we saw a record of him saying to the Ukrainian president in July that he wanted him to look into this Ukraine issue and look into the server and still pushing this narrative.

HAYES:  Yes.  It`s -- I mean, it is a Kremlin-friendly line of disinformation that has ascended to the highest commanding heights of American power and as a formal asked by the President to another nation.  Zoe Tillman and Natasha Bertrand, thank you both.

TILLMAN:  Thank you.

BERTRAND:  Thank you.

HAYES:  Joining me now, one of the members of Congress investigating the President`s abuse of power, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu of California.  He`s a member of both the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committee which are part of the committee that are undertaking the impeachment inquiry.

Congressman, let me start today with the no-shows from that White House.  Four officials I believe did not appear today citing I think executive privilege.  The White House not wanting them to appear.  What`s your reaction to that?

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA):  Thank you, Chris, for your question.  The American people should be asking what is the White House trying to hide?  If they really thought that this was a perfect phone call as Donald Trump alleges, then they would be happy to have the White House officials come and explain about that phone call, explain what the message was doing with regard to Ukraine.  Instead, they`re obstructing witnesses, they`re telling them not to come.  And it`s very unfortunate we`re not going to hear their stories today.

HAYES:  What do you make about the revelations in Marie Yovanovitch`s testimony that at one point the Secretary of State says that he will call Sean Hannity to try to find out what the deal is with this whisper campaign of slander that is being directed at her to get her removed?

LIEU:  So all these witness depositions being released, they`re going to show one central narrative which is that Donald Trump was using the levers of governmental power to benefit himself personally and politically instead of benefitting U.S. National Security.  In addition, he was trying to run the shadow foreign policy using people like Rudy Giuliani and people outside the government to try to pressure Ukraine to launch these bogus investigations.

One of those folks that got caught up may have been Sean Hannity.  And it is quite disturbing that his name would even be involved in any of this.

HAYES:  Well, what do you -- what do you make of Mike Pompeo and how he comes across in the testimony that was released today by both his sort of closest deputy who resigned essentially in protest of Pompeo`s inability to protect folks at the State Department and Yovanovitch`s testimony?

LIEU:  I believe Secretary Pompeo is going to go down in history as one of the worst Secretaries of State ever.  He is not backing and sticking up for his foreign career service officers.  He has completely taken the ministrations line of obstruction.  He has, in fact, tried to cover up what Donald Trump has done by preventing his officials from coming to Congress.  Thank goodness many of them are ignoring him and coming in Congress and telling their stories.

HAYES:  Do you think that the Republicans, your colleagues who`ve been sitting in these depositions are going to change their tune now that the deposition, transcripts are being released?

LIEU:  Absolutely.  They`ve changed their defenses multiple times.  First, they started with hearsay, then they started with a process attack, then they started blaming Adam Schiff, then they said all this stuff is behind closed doors.

Now that the witness deposition testimonies are coming out, they`re shifting again.  I think now to really saying the quid pro quo is OK, and with that they`re going to lose their last shreds of integrity.

HAYES:  The President has targeted some of the folks who have testified including Lieutenant Colonel Vindman.  He has called for unmasking the name or revealing the identity of the whistleblower which is protected by the law.  How much do you take this seriously and how much do you think it`s actually a sort of concrete threat to these proceedings?

LIEU:  So we know that the whistleblower`s identity is no longer relevant because everything he said has now been corroborated by other witnesses.  And the White House has released their call transcript, the summarized version of it.  We don`t need to have a whistleblower tell us what was on that phone call because the American people already know.

In addition, the Trump`s -- President Trump`s attacks on Colonel Vindman are very unfortunate.  Lieutenant Colonel Vindman served in Iraq.  He shed his blood.  He had got a Purple Heart.  He is an American hero.  And he told her story to Congress.  He should not be attacked.

HAYES:  All right, Congressman Ted Lieu, thank you very much.

LIEU:  Thank you, Chris.

HAYES:  Next, new reporting Republicans realize that they are out of runway, on the whole, no quid pro quo argument.  Their new strategy in defending the indefensible in two minutes.


HAYES:  Last week at a private lunch, Republican senators tried to come to some consensus on how to defend the President`s increasingly indefensible actions.  Some inside the Republican caucus argued they had to give up the ghost on the no quid pro quo argument because the facts so clearly show a quid pro quo.

The Washington Post reporting that Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana himself a quite practice trial lawyer told his colleagues that there may have been a quid pro quo, but the government often attaches conditions to foreign aid.  Kennedy saying, "To me, it all turns on intent, motive.  Did the President have a culpable state of mind.  Based on the evidence that I see that I have been allowed to see, the president does not have a culpable state of mind."

Texas Senator Ted Cruz reportedly echoed Kennedy`s argument saying, a quid pro quo is not illegal unless there`s "corrupt intent."  Now, there is, I should note, plenty evidence of corrupt intent on the part of the president.  That said, Republican senators would clearly like to find an argument that they can at the very least make with a straight face in front of cameras defend the president.

The President, however, is not going to make that easy on them.  This weekend he tweeted, "False stories are being reported that a few Republican senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo but it doesn`t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event.  Perhaps so but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo."

The President does not care about making arguments with a straight face.  It`s his political superpower.  And he`s going to make the Republican caucus do what he does, just throw out a bunch of nonsensical arguments all in tandem.

For more on how Republicans will deal with the impeachment inquiries it enters the Republic phase, I`m joined by Norm Ornstein resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, co-author of One Nation After Trump, and former RNC Chairman Michael Steele who is an MSNBC Analyst.

Michael, let me start with you.  I do think we`ve arrived the point where just the facts show there was -- there was a quid pro quo.  There was an attempted extortion.  It just -- and that even folks that want to defend the President are going to have to concede that factual basis.  Do you agree?

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC ANALYST:  Oh, absolutely.  And yet they`ve already begun to do that by saying yes, well, there was a quid pro quo, but it didn`t amount to anything.  We do this all the time.  It`s the normal course of a governmental business.  And all of that very well may be true except to the extent that it is done to benefit the President personally --

HAYES:  Right.  Yes.

STEELE:  -- and politically.  That`s the catch.

HAYES:  Well, and I think the corrupt intent thing is interesting because I think that actually -- here`s what I -- here`s how I see what they`re doing right now, Norm.  The Presidents tonight is at a rally.

And there`s a bunch of people in T-shirts wearing t-shirts that say read the transcript which I agree with them.  Everyone should read the transcript because it shows the president corruptly of leaving his office to coerce an occupied nation and digging up dirt.

But what I think they`re trying to do here is if he tells people to read the transcript, it`s like the Russia if you`re listening moment.  If he does it in public, if he doesn`t -- if he essentially just owns the crime that that`s somehow retroactively washes it of its corrupt intent.  What do you think?

NORM ORNSTEIN, RESIDENT SCHOLAR, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE:  Absolutely.  We`re seeing all kinds of ploys here used by the President and others being picked up by the Republicans in Congress.  Part of it is the tried and true Chico Marx defense who are you going to believe me or your own eyes when we look at the transcript.

Part of it is well even if it happened, it happens all the time, and if it happened it`s not impeachable regardless.  And what we`re seeing of course with not just Republicans in Congress but with outside lackeys and acolytes like Bill Bennett is saying quid pro -- quid pro quo happen all the time and what`s wrong with those.

What we know is that whether there was intent or not.  There was a woman in Texas who voted not knowing she couldn`t vote who was sentenced to many years in prison because she violated the law whether she knew it or not.  The idea that attempted murder, attempted rape, attempted robbery, are okay if nothing happens or because he didn`t really know that it was illegal is almost laughable.  But that`s what they`ve been reduced to because the evidence is so powerful.

HAYES:  That point, I`ve seen this now trotted out as well, Michael, that the attempted notion.  The Wall Street Journal has sort of tried, this Rush Limbaugh has tried this.  This is -- this is Tom Cole Republican of Oklahoma saying the same thing.  Take a listen.


REP. TOM COLE (R-OK):  I look at it this way.  The aid is there and the investigations didn`t happened.  So if there was a quid pro quo, it certainly wasn`t a very effective one.


HAYES:  I mean, I have to note that the -- that the white -- that the Watergate wiretaps that the plumbers broken to fix didn`t end up getting fixed because they got nabbed so no crime.

STEELE:  Right.  So, the aid is there now.  So clearly there was nothing illegal or you know, impeachable done.  Yes, when did the aide get there?  I mean, the aide was not there at the time it was supposed to have been released and there was a reason for that.  And what was the reason?

Well, the President had a conversation with President Zelensky in which he said I have a favor though. 

HAYES:  Right.

STEELE:  I`ll give you what you want but I have a favor though.  Come on, this is -- this is not rocket science.  It`s not complicated.  What you`re seeing is the shucking and jiving by Republicans to give this president as much runway, as much quarter as they can.  But the space is getting smaller and smaller in which they can do that because the facts and the testimony and the evidence is incontrovertible at this point.

HAYES:  I agree with that.  And I think that ultimately there`s two end points to this norm.  One is just that what the president I think and others are going to try to do which is just essentially create an alternate reality in which the facts are not the facts, in which the transcript says something different than it -- than it does.

I mean, the President on Friday tweeted about 300,000 jobs created when the numbers like 150.  He doesn`t care.  He`ll just, you know, make up.  The other -- the other intellectually honest place to go that I think we will see some in the House Republican caucus go, Norm, is I don`t care.  The President can do whatever he wants.

And honestly, that`s the intellectually argument -- honest argument to make.  And I think we`ll get there with some House Republicans, Norm.

ORNSTEIN:  I think there`s no doubt about that.  I`m still -- I`m stunned in many ways, Chris.  Tom Cole has been a very good, smart member of Congress.  I was around at the Watergate time and I knew people like Caldwell Butler, and Bill Cohen, and Tom Railsback, and Lowell Weicker.

When they saw facts, even if it was a party and a president they felt loyal to, they went with their moral standards.  And that almost none of these Republicans who might have been in that category a long time ago will take that perspective and instead may fall back on simply he`s the president, he`s dear leader, he could whatever he wants.  It`s a sad reflection of a party becoming more like a cult.

HAYES:  The final thing here, the polling which I think is fascinating, Michael.  There`s two things happening in the polling.  And I think one sort of good for Democrats, one good for Trump.  One is the polls -- the questioners should the president be you know, in impeach or impeachment inquiry are essentially trending towards approval disapproval, right?

Majority of the country thinks the guy should be investigated at the very least, removed perhaps.  But those 42, 43 percent opposing, that`s the Trump base that approves of him.  And unless that number starts to crack, I don`t think there`s a political signal being sent to many Republicans other than the sort of Cory Gardner`s that they have to worry.  What do you think?

STEELE:  Well, I think there`s -- I think that on its face, Chris, that`s correct.  But from what I understand from some of the internal polling that`s being done right now, that there is a softening of some of those numbers.  There has been a lessening.  In one number that I heard was an 18-point drop for the President from something in the high 90s to the -- to the high 70s.

So there is -- there is this kind of softening as this narrative unfolds which is why it`s so important for Democrats not to do the partisan thing here, but to stick with the strictly political.  And that`s what the impeachment process is.  That`s not said as a pejorative.  This is an inherently political process.  We know that.

It`s -- but the way you handle it, if you take it into the partisan space, that`s when you start to lose the American people.  If they stay correct on that, they should -- they should make the case --

HAYES:  It`s interesting you make that point because one thing I think is very interesting in the strategy so far is these witnesses like Vindman and Yovanovitch, these very nonpartisan figures, those essentially stand-ins Taylor, Yovanovitch, then who don`t -- who are not, you know, partisan warriors.

They`re -- they are sort of the ultimate non-partisan and we will see how that plays out in the public face.  Norm Ornstein and Michael Steele, thank you, gentlemen both.

ORNSTEIN:  Thank you, Chris.

STEELE:  All right.

HAYES:  Coming up Senator Jeff Merkley on the President leaving the door open to a government shutdown over impeachment and the administration`s obstruction of Congress.  The Senator joins me next.


HAYES:  It seems pretty clear that the White House and the Republican National Committees have some polling indicating that going after House Democrats for, quote, getting nothing done in congress or failing to legislate has some kind of political upside. 

But the problem is that talking point is basically the opposite of the truth.  House Democrats have passed more than 250 pieces of legislation, some of those are the small stuff they do like post offices, but it also includes big substantive issues, legislation to protect DREAMers, election security, a prescription drug pricing plan, the first climate bill in nearly a decade, multiple pieces of gun safety legislation. 

And none of that, not one piece of legislation, has even gotten an airing in the Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the self-described grim reaper, has essentially shut the entire body down, which means it is just a very weird and frustrating time to be an American Senator, frankly of either party.

Joining me now is one of those people who has that weird job, Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat from Oregon.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, (D) OREGON:  I am one of those very frustrated senators.

HAYES:  Yeah, I mean, it`s funny.  I`ve now had a bunch of conversations with members of the U.S. senate and they all said the same thing, that it`s hard for them to communicate to folks just how abnormal the last year has been under McConnell`s reign.  Why?  What?

MERKLEY:  Well, not very long ago if you remember the Senate, you could force a debate on any topic you wanted.  Bills were open for amendment, you could put an amendment forward and therefore you could force a debate on how to control the price of drugs, or how to take on gun safety, or how to prevent Moscow from getting involved in our 2020 elections, but now what Mitch McConnell has done is taken the privilege of the majority leader and completely shut down the ability of members to raise topics through debate and a vote.

Which means folks back home don`t see any accountability for us, because they can`t judge where we stand because we haven`t taken votes on these issues.

HAYES:  I mean, you`re just -- am I -- you just not voting anything that isn`t confirmations of judicial nominees.

MERKLEY:  I mean, it is essentially that and executive branch nominees and appropriations bills are now starting to...

HAYES: So the approps (ph) bill.  It`s clear that McConnell wants to fund the government, right, he wants to keep the government open and he wants to confirm judges, and there`s nothing else, even something like prescription drug pricing, Chuck Grassley today tweeted about he and Ron Wyden have a bipartisan  bill.  There`s a bill in the House.  Like presumably you guys can work something out on that in the senate, right?

MERKLEY:  Well, and even the president said he wanted to have a (inaudible) pricing bill.  And it would probably be great election politics for him to do it, but he`s not willing to take on the drug manufacturers who are a very powerful special interest, and Mitch McConnell is not willing to take them on, so therefore...

HAYES:  So, that`s the reason.  So is just dies.

This is the one thing that I think McConnell really has passion about is those judicial nominees.  I want to play you some sound tonight.  He was at a rally in Kentucky where there`s a gubernatorial  election tomorrow.  The president is there.

This is what McConnell had to say about judges.  Take a listen.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) KENTUCKY:  Matt Bevin is making Kentucky great again thanks to your help tonight.  And working together we`re changing the federal courts forever.  Nobody`s done more to change the court system in the history of our country than Donald Trump.

And, Mr. President, we`re going to keep on doing it.  My motto is leave no vacancy behind.


HAYES:  They have changed the rules in terms of how these nominees happen.  There used to be this system called the blue slip process, which sort of granted the home state senators a kind of veto, particularly district court nominees.  That`s gone now.  It existed under Obama and under Democratic rule, McConnell has gotten rid of it.  What are the implications of that?

MERKLEY:  Well, it`s being left in place on circuit -- on district, but not circuit judges.

HAYES:  I`m sorry, right.

MERKLEY:  And but what they did is they changed the number of hours of deliberation from 30 hours to 2 hours so they can just put through so many judges so quickly, taking away any ability to create real opposition.

So, McConnell is looking at the fact that between his partnership with Trump, they`ve put through about 100 district judges, and a quarter of the active appeal judges, which have far more decision making ability than the Supreme Court, because the Supreme Court takes just a limited number of cases.

So, they are reshaping the judiciary.  And they`re doing it for the powerful.  The whole federal society approach is let`s super size the first amendment so the powerful can spend hundreds of millions of dollars and take control of the government by and for the privileged and powerful.

This is the exact evisceration of the we the people vision of our constitution.  That`s what Mitch McConnell is doing, that`s what Trump is doing.  It`s not for ordinary Americans, it`s for the rich and powerful.  And we have to stop them and that`s going to be the elections next year.

HAYES:  There`s also the idea of the -- you talked about the appropriations legislation.  I mean, the one thing that I think McConnell wants to do, I don`t think McConnell wants a shutdown.  Do you agree with that?

MERKLEY:  I agree with that.

HAYES:  Yeah, he didn`t wanting the first one around.  He talked about the no wisdom and the no learning of the second kick of the donkey, right, and then he got kicked.

This is the president leaving open the possibility of a shutdown over impeachment.  Take a listen to what he had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can you commit to no government shutdown?  I mean, people that...

TRUMP:  It depends on what the negotiation -- I wouldn`t commit to anything, it depends on what the negotiation is.


HAYES:  Can you imagine a situation in which the president shut down the government with the demand that the impeachment inquiry stop?

MERKLEY:  Well, I don`t see him connecting it directly, but in terms of a distraction for the American people, change the news stories to what is not happening, you can`t get into your national parks, or et cetera, et cetera, all the things that happen when we shut down the government.  The American people hate the government being shut down, however.

HAYES:  Yes.

MERKLEY:  So I`m not sure that this is a smart political move.

HAYES:  It`s swallowing the grenade to keep it from going off.

MERKLEY:  Yeah, well, that`s a vivid way to put it.

HAYES:  I don`t think that -- yeah, the last time that his approval ratings really tanked was during the shutdown.

But they do seem intent on finding some ways to try to gum up the works on impeachment.  It`s coming to your House of congress almost certainly.

What do you think about the reporting on your senate colleagues that we were just talking about, trying to come up with an argument they can use to defend the president?

MERKLEY:  Well, they are really searching for a way to give a consistent message, and they`re all over the map right now.  Some are saying let`s just echo what the president says, there was no quid pro quo.  Others are saying, well, there wasn`t effectively a quid pro quo, because it was never completed.  Eventually Ukraine got the aid without producing the goods on the Bidens.  Others are saying, you know what, there was a quo, but it was a meritorious quo, simply the president pursuing corruption.

And so the list goes on and on.  And at the heart of it is a sense that they are basically losing their integrity on this issue.  They`re not putting country before party.  They`re strategizing together over a political message that will let the president off the hook rather than thinking about what is the real evidence, what does it imply about a president soliciting interference in the 2020 election, let alone the four cases of obstruction of justice that were in the Mueller report and hugely documented. 

And that is a problem.  One of my colleagues said you`ve got to think about this, this is a Republican colleague, you`ve got to think about this as if the president was in the opposite party.  How would you act?  That`s integrity.

And so I think there may be a small group of Republicans who are thinking I want to act with integrity.  But the pressure is so high, because my political base is hearing from Fox News, they`re hearing...

HAYES:  My favorite thing about that is that the very same senators who are doing that will then go on Twitter to blast an NBA player who won`t speak out against China.  It`s like, look in the mirror.

Senator Jeff Merkley, it`s great to have you here in the studio.  Thanks a lot.

Still to come, in key polling in battleground states that has echoes of the 2016 election.  What Democrats plan to do about it, ahead.


HAYES:  All right, we`ve got some great news about our next live WITH Pod tour date, which is November 12 in Chicago.  We`ve added some extra tickets.  I`ll be talking to author and historian Ibram Kendi, author of most recently "How to be an Anti-Racist," a MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient, and New York Times Magazine domestic correspondent Nicole Hannah-Jones, who is the mastermind who conceived the 1619 project about the legacy of slavery in the U.S. 

We`re going to be talking about topic of slavery and anti-racism in the Trump era.  It`s going to be a great discussion.  Tickets to that event sold out extremely quickly, but the extra standing room only tickets mean you can still join us.  You can get those by going to  We look forward to seeing you in Chicago.

As for all you New Yorkers who have been asking me and want in on the WITH Pod tour, we can tell you tonight you should circle Sunday, December 8, on your calendars.  Our big announcement of the guests and all info on ticket sales is coming in the next few days.  It is a very good one, so stay tuned.


HAYES:  It is election day tomorrow.  One of the most fascinating races is the gubernatorial race in Mississippi.  There, are a popular Democratic incumbent state attorney general, Jim Hood, is running against Republican lieutenant governor Tate Reeves.  And the polling has them essentially neck in neck.

But here`s the problem, neck in neck isn`t good enough in the state of Mississippi.  Even if Hood were to eke out a narrow victory in deep red Mississippi, which in these polarized times itself would be  amazing, he probably will not be governor.  In fact, the estimates are that the Republican lieutenant governor, the Republican candidate, could lose by up to nine points in the popular vote and still be named the next governor.

How you ask is that possible?  Well, it turns out the state constitution of Mississippi has its own version of something like the electoral college.  In order to be elected governor, a candidate has to win an outright majority in the statewide vote, but also carry the most votes in a majority of Mississippi`s 122 house districts.

So let`s just say your support is concentrated in heavily black districts in the very segregated environments in Mississippi, it`s going to be real hard to carry a majority of the House districts.  And if a candidate doesn`t win both the majority of the popular vote and a majority of those districts, well, then the Mississippi House of Representatives, which is overwhelmingly Republican and massively gerrymandered gets to pick the governor.

So why on earth would the framers of the Mississippi state constitution of 1890 have done this?  Luckily, they were extremely explicit about their intentions at the time.  In 1889, Senator James George was predicting that African-Americans would soon outnumber white voters in the state 2-1 so he called for a new constitution that would ensure, quote, home government under the control of the white people of the state.

One of the framers of that new constitution was a man named James K. Vardaman who would go on to become a U.S. Senator and governor of Mississippi.  Here is how he put it, quote, "there is no use to equivocate or lie about the matter, Mississippi`s constitutional convention of 1890 was held for no other purpose than to eliminate the "N-word" from politics.

In other words, after white supremacists in the south used violence and terrorism to beat back universal male suffrage for everyone, black and white, during reconstruction, they then put into place explicitly white supremacist anti-majoritarian governing structures to preserve white control of the state at all costs, that included as well poll taxes and literary tests designed to suppress the white vote, which have since been struck down.

But despite the fact that the gubernatorial voting system is pretty clearly unconstitutional, it has not been struck down.  It is still the law 129 years later.  Now, it turns out there`s another place where one person, on e vote doesn`t apply in U.S. elections, and winning a majority of the vote, if too heavily concentrated in certain areas, doesn`t mean you win the election.  And there are some new and sobering battleground state polling in the U.S. presidential election.  And we`re going to discuss that  right after this.


HAYES:  The national polling for the president continues to be bad.  Right now, his approval rating is about 41 percent nationally with 55 percent disapproval and if this were any other president or any other time or the electoral college did not exist, you would think he is clearly not favored for re-election despite the advantages of incumbency, which are considerable.

But, of course, as we were reminded in 2016 the electoral college does exist.  And the spatial distribution of votes in a diversifying America make it possible to eke out an electoral college victory while losing the popular vote substantially, as Trump did by more than 2.8 million votes.

So, in that vain The New York Times working with Siena College, has a big new poll of six key battleground states: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, which finds basically a razor-thin race within the margin of error.

Among registered voters, the poll finds that Trump trails Joe Biden by an average of two points.  He is tied with Bernie Sanders and leads he leads Elizabeth Warren by two points.  All of which is to say that the same structures that got Trump elected in 2016 are still very much present.  So, what`s that mean for Democratic strategy? 

To help answer that question I`m joined by Democratic pollster and strategist Celinda Lake as well as New Yorker staff writer Jelani Cobb, who is a professor at the Columbia University School of Journalism.

So, Celinda, let me start with you.  I should note on things like some of these poll numbers from The New York Times are a bit of an outlier is you compare what they found for Michigan where they were a very small sample size to Emerson, it`s a huge, huge spread.  Emerson has Joe Biden winning Michigan by 12 points. 

But the overall picture they paint is basically there are a ton of white non-college voters in this country, they`re half the voters in these battleground states, and they`re basically still with the president.  It`s similar margins to 2016.  How does that story sound to you as a pollster yourself?

CELINDA LAKE, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER:  It sounds absolutely terrifying.

And I think that one of the things that`s really, really important to Democrats right now is who can beat Donald Trump.  49 percent of voters think that that is their number-one criteria.  And  right now, Joe Biden is the strongest with those voters, but he is showing real strength in these polls with blue-collar voters and with men and with older voters, all of which we can`t lose by too much.

HAYES:  I should note that, like, the margins here, it is the case that Biden...

LAKE:  Right.

HAYES:  ...does best and then Sanders then and then Warren, the margins are all within the margin of error, so it`s hard to get too like obsessively granular.

Although, one of the cases that they make in the kind of article is that they sort of imply, if not state outright, that Elizabeth Warren is paying a little bit of a gender tax.


HAYES:  Among certain voters.

COBB:  Sure.  And I mean, it`s right there.  But I also think what`s instructive about that is this: with Hillary Clinton, it`s beyond question that she faced the headwind of sexism.  And, you know, we saw evidence of this in lots of different places, lots of different times.

But at the same time, it was hard to disaggregate that from the baggage of the Clintons.  From the Clinton era, she had a very long political history.  There were people who had hated her from the Arkansas days for whatever grievances they had.

HAYES:  And there`d been 20 years of essentially right-wing...

COBB:  That`s right.

HAYES:  ...coverage of her that produced a whole...

COBB:  It was policy.  There was conspiratoria.  There was sexism.  There was all this kind of ugly melange of all of it. 

When you pull that apart, and you have a candidate who does not have that track record, who does not have the baggage of the Clintons and the Clinton administration like Elizabeth Warren, you then start saying, OK, this is where we see the thread.  This is actually the through line that we can see the way that gender and sexism in this country still affect politics.

HAYES:  You know, Celinda, one of the things that there`s a lot of consternation about in sort of Democratic center-left circles and the sort of debates after 2016 is the sort of obsession with white non-college voters.  And I think that - - I get that.  But it`s also the case that I think people sometimes don`t quite recognize how many there are and how much they`re spread around the country, right?

So every state has white non-college voters, not every state is particularly diverse.  So, if you`re trying to build a national party, particularly in battleground states -- that said, I do think this data is  interesting, that the margins among those voters, those voters that we have talked a lot about and have  been much studied and reported about, they don`t change a ton between these three candidates -- Biden, Sanders, and Warren.  The changes are much for with other voters.  And I wonder what you think of that.

LAKE:  i think that there are a couple of things.  First of all, even a couple points can make the difference.

HAYES: Right.

LAKE:  And that`s what this margin -- it`s going to be a very close race, those couple of points are very, very important.  But you also see Joe Biden as the candidate with the most diverse coalition.  And the most support, for example, among African-American voters doing very well leading with Latino voters, but i think that Jelani made a very, very important point and that it is that it is very  difficult to elect a woman as executive.  And the Barbara Lee Family Foundation has documented this over two decades as we`ve looked at women governors, women mayors.  W e are just barely breaking  through.  It`s nothing like the kind of victories we`ve seen in state legislative offices and in congressional offices.

HAYES:  That`s a really important point that the data suggests that that sort of headwind of  sexism is much stronger against women running for executive positions than it is in sort of...

COBB:  And the congress of Obama, because remember when Obama got elected in 2008, we saw very little in terms of African-Americans in the Senate, African-Americans in governorships.  He just kind of leapfrogged that entire thing.

HAYES:  That`s true.

COBB:  And so we`re seeing the opposite.

And one thing I do want to add to this, though, is that this is a snapshot, sure, but there are two huge contingencies.  The House just voted to start having these public hearings.  Nobody knows...

HAYES:  That`s true.

COBBB:  ...where the impeachment information is going to go.  And the other, which I think really makes it a real caveat on putting too much faith in anything that we know is, like, what direction is the economy going to go in in the next six months?

HAYES:  And to me, I think that`s in someways the most important thing here.  We have seen it trending in the wrong direction over the last quarter or so.  If that continues, I think that changes these numbers.

Celinda Lake, Jelani Cobb, thank you for being with.

LAKE:  Thank you so much.

HAYES:  That is ALL IN for this evening.  "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now if. 

Good evening, Rachel.