Republicans brace for "Trumpcare" backlash Transcript 10/16/17 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Perry Bacon, Jeff Weaver, Lenny Bernstein, Jay Rosen, Hannah Seligson, George Will

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: October 16, 2017 Guest: Perry Bacon, Jeff Weaver, Lenny Bernstein, Jay Rosen, Hannah Seligson, George Will

KATY TUR, MSNBC HOST, "MTP DAILY": - awkward silence now.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST, THE BEAT: What I was going to say is that you're passing it early. And I didn't know if that was because you wanted extra time for that.

TUR: I went a little long with the panel. We had to kill our own (INAUDIBLE) and blah blah blah.

MELBER: Insider talk. You know what you're doing? And I'm going to wrap it up. You're letting people behind the curtain into what the nerds do on the set and I know that's always moderately interesting.

Katy Tur -

TUR: I think so too.

MELBER: Thank you.

TUR: You too. See you.

MELBER: We've got a big show. It is no secret that Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell don't get along. In fact, they rarely pretend to. But they did strike a happy note in the Rose Garden today as Trump made it official and asserted Obamacare no longer exists. More on what he meant in a moment.

Tonight, we also have a report about how the Harvey Weinstein controversy, with new accusers emerging, is renewing discussion of why Donald Trump's accusers speaking out had such different results.

And did Republicans like Bob Corker wait too long to confront Trump? If you thought Eminem was tough on Trump, wait till you hear why George Will is calling Mike Pence a "sycophantic poodle" who no longer realizes the extent of his own degradation.

All that tonight. And I want to give you a special programming note. Rachel Maddow will be here with me on THE BEAT tomorrow night to talk about a special exclusive report we have on one of Vladimir Putin's most influential foes.

So, we have, I think, a lot of important topics.

But now to our top story. Donald Trump holding this impromptu press conference today, quickly igniting some new political controversies. Mitch McConnell and Trump putting their past difficulties on hold.

Trump made news and he made some drama. He served up, as you may have heard, this false claim that President Obama did not call families of fallen soldiers and then he taunted Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, I hope Hillary runs. Is she going to run? I hope - Hillary, please run again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Earlier in the day, Trump talking about the stalled GOP agenda in Congress and who should be blamed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I have great relationships with actually many senator, but in particular with most Republican senators, but we're not getting the job done. And I'm not going to blame myself. I'll be honest. They are not getting the job done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Please be honest. Trump also pushing the blame wherever he could get it. And then, later in the joint appearance with McConnell who he was blaming, the highest-ranking Senate Republican, well, Trump turned around and gave a thumbs up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We've been friends for a long time. We are probably now, despite what we read, we're probably now, I think - at least as far as I'm concerned, closer than ever before. And the relationship is very good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: The relationship. What Trump did not mention about talking about that outstanding bond is, of course, there has been a pretty clear feud that's been playing out in public for months.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITCH MCCONNELL, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before. And I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Then Trump landed on something that actually impacts millions of people's lives, something we've been covering a lot here - healthcare. And he made a claim that's partly true. He's undercutting Obamacare to the point it may not be recognizable and partly falls, so Obamacare does remain federal law because, of course, Republicans failed to repeal it.

Either way, this was the moment that mattered. Trump heralding day one of Trumpcare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Obamacare is finished. It's dead. It's gone. It's no longer - you shouldn't even mention. It's gone. There is no such thing as Obamacare anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Shelby Holliday is a business and politics reporter for "The Wall Street Journal"; Francesca Chambers, White House correspondent, for "The Daily Mail" and joins us from the White House; and the original Beatnik, John Harwood, CNBC's editor-at-large.

Francesca, going to you first because you're there. This was a doozy on process. How prepared did Mitch McConnell look for what was the first joint Senate-White House press conference and what else can you tell us from being there?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE DAILY MAIL": Well, the first time that we've ever been called to the Rose Garden so suddenly to have a press conference like that, especially with the Senate Republican leader.

And you had mentioned earlier that Trump said that it was the closest they've ever been. But it wouldn't too hard for them to - these two have been the closest they've ever been, Ari.

As you mentioned, they have been feuding for quite some time. President Trump has blamed Mitch McConnell for not getting repeal and replace passed in the Senate.

Today, they were putting on sort of a buddy cop show, saying that they've been friends for a long time. But that's not quite exactly true.

MELBER: No, it's not true. And, John Harwood, I don't want to try to pick the one weirdest moment from this presser. And as I mentioned -

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC EDITOR-AT-LARGE: That would be tough.

MELBER: It would be hard. I mean, parts of this presser matter in the sense of the news that was made. Picking the weirdest moment is sort of like trying to pick the best member of Wu-Tang Clan. You can't do it. It's not doable.

But I will play for you Donald Trump, after everything we've heard, saying he has the votes on healthcare. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We'll have a short-term fix with Republicans and Democrats getting together. I think we have the votes right now. As soon as we have the next reconciliation, I think we'll get the vote for healthcare. I feel very confident. I think we already have the votes for healthcare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: John, it's 2017. So, part of my job and part of your job is for us to have this exchange. I'll ask you the question. Does he have the votes right now?

HARWOOD: Well, Ari, to use Donald Trump's phraseology, I'll be honest, he does not have the votes. He is not closer than ever before with Mitch McConnell.

And Obamacare is not dead, in particular - to me, this is the oddest thing about the - both the pool spray, at the cabinet meeting and the press conference.

He declared Obamacare dead, but then he said that we are making a bipartisan fix. Well, the bipartisan sex is in large part to restore the very payments that he stopped. And he made the assertion that because of what I did, I'm causing bipartisan talks to happen.

That's not true. The bipartisan talks have been going on for some time, but it's potentially significant because if, in fact, he follows through on this, that opens the door to the president in effect coming out, embracing a deal that props up the Obamacare exchanges and takes credit for it, and says because I'm doing this, I'm going to bring your premiums and deductibles down. And that would be a true statement compared with what he did last week.

MELBER: Right. And that's a big if. Shelby, listen to Congresswoman Norton who said on Friday what basically Donald Trump started saying today. Whether by political malpractice or just plain old brainstorming, Donald Trump seems to be walking into the Democratic buzz saw. The message here, which is owning this as Trumpcare. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON (D), WASHINGTON: Well, he has broken it now. And so, it's on his watch. He can no longer talk about Obamacare.

This is now Trumpcare.

Trump, you own it. If this was a bluff, it was a bad bluff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHELBY HOLLIDAY, BUSINESS AND POLITICS REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes. I mean, Democrats are definitely looking at this and saying, hey, if you break it, you own it. Trump doesn't want to own it, but he doesn't want Obamacare to exist. We just heard him say stop talking about it, stop referring to it.

When he said we have the votes -

MELBER: If we stopped talking about it, it just goes away, right?

HOLLIDAY: Right. We don't even know what he means when he says we have the votes. We don't know what he would have the votes for.

Multiple bills have been shot down. We just heard Sen. Collins this weekend reaffirmed her opposition to the latest bill and to the whole process by which these bills have come up in the first place.

But this is serious stuff. Insurers have already filed their paperwork with states. Many of them are saying they would have to raise premiums by as much as 20 percent.

Trump hammered healthcare companies today, hammered pharmaceuticals. Actually, applauded the fact that their stocks have gone down. So, he's injecting more and more uncertainty every single day. And when you really take a look at the big picture here, this is not about healthcare stocks, this is not about pharmaceuticals, this is about American people and the health care of American people.

And right now, we don't know a whole lot about how that healthcare system is going to play out. So, it's, obviously, very scary for a lot of people watching the show.

MELBER: Right. And, Shelby, staying on that point on the politics, when you look at the Kaiser Family Foundation, we have a new poll here. And this is all just breaking. I think we're looking at indicators that could continue to trend even worse for the Republicans.

Sixty-four percent saying, yes, OK, you say it's yours now, Trump and the Republicans responsible for these problems on Obamacare moving forward, Shelby.

HOLLIDAY: Right. Well, as John said, Trump will say I pledged to dismantle Obamacare, I'm doing it. Democrats have no choice, they have to come to the table.

They may come to the table, in the sense that if Republicans and Democrats agreed to fund cost-sharing subsidies, maybe they would give states more flexibility, maybe they would repeal the employer mandate. We don't know what they would be willing to concede.

And at this point, again, it's just a whole lot of uncertainty. We're not sure where they could find a compromise.

MELBER: Right. And, John, the only thing that's changed since August when Trump was blasting McConnell is they've had more public failures to, as we say, get the votes on Obamacare.

I want to play for you, John, the genesis of that. When Donald Trump was holding himself out there, as he so often does, in his appeals to, I guess, a diminishing share of the country, a share of the country that looks at this, oh, look, he's being tough, he's threatening to find people, this, that and the other.

When you watch this after today's presser, you wonder, well, what kind of swamp draining is this. Trump in August.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I'm very disappointed in Mitch, but if these bills passed, I'll be very happy with him. I'll be the first to admit it. But, honestly, repeal and replace of Obamacare should have taken place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: John, today, he claimed he was happy with Mitch regardless.

HARWOOD: Well, yes. He claimed that. He claimed a lot of things. But he also praised Steve Bannon, his former strategist, both in the cabinet pool spray and, to some extent, later, saying he understands why Steve Bannon is going after Mitch McConnell and his allies.

Steve Bannon said over the weekend, I'm cutting off Mitch McConnell's money. He said that he's challenging members who are loyal Trump voters, 95 percent of the time voting for Trump, he's going to primary them and try to take down McConnell and the global establishment clique as he calls it.

The president did not repudiate those comments. He did say in the press conference, well, maybe I'll talk to Steve and maybe some of the people he's going after are actually good guys, but he didn't disavow that effort. And that's something that is, to me, more important substantively.

If, in fact, Steve Bannon prosecutes with big donor money, that campaign, that's going to be a real problem for healthcare, for tax reform and everything else the president wants to do.

MELBER: And, Francesca, briefly, you were there. What did you see that we might not have seen here in New York studios or folks watching at home. It looked chaotic, but what did you see?

CHAMBERS: Well, I think the main thing that people should pay attention to is what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ended up saying, which is the people who are in Congress get to make the policy and winners get to make policy, losers get to go home.

And I think that's the moral of the story. The president seems to have tempered his expectations on Obamacare as he realizes that, look, it Barack Obama how many years to get there. Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton never got healthcare reform.

And so, at this point, if it takes Republicans until the beginning of next year, that would still be quicker than some past administrations have gotten there, Ari.

MELBER: That was a while as far - what Mitch McConnell said, hey, give Barack Obama a break, he didn't get stuff done until year two. And it was like, I think that's because you made it take a really long time.

But politics is cyclical and it knows no factual boundaries, except for when we put them on, which we're going to do later in the show.

Shelby Holliday and John Harwood, thank you both for being here. Francesca, please keep hanging out on THE BEAT.

Coming up, Trump responding to the reports of requests for information in that groping lawsuit, which went all the way back to "The Apprentice" days. We'll explain why this is coming up now.

And legal bills adding up for Trump in the Russia inquiry. New questions today about if he would consider firing Bob Mueller. And as I mentioned, our fact-check on Trump's comments about claiming Obama didn't call the parents of dead soldiers as well as other people who served in that hallowed office.

I'm Ari Melber and you're watching THE BEAT on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it would help Special counsel Robert Mueller get to the end of the Russia investigation -

TRUMP: Well, I'd like to see it end. Look, the whole Russia thing was an excuse - excuse me, excuse me. The whole Russia thing was an excuse for the Democrats losing the election. There has been absolutely no collusion. It's been stated that they have no collusion. They ought to get to the end of it because I think the American public is sick of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: President Trump today over-talking a reporter who was asking about that potential interview with Bob Mueller. There were leaks last week that Trump's own lawyers could offer such an interview. Trump also knocked down any threats to Mueller's job.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You discussed the special counsel and the investigation currently, are you considering firing Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: No. Not at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That is the White House message and that's about all Trump said on the matter, which if you think about it is kind of an uncharacteristic restraint, which shows the White House wants to speak less.

There are some problems with that, though. The law can require you to speak more. That is why, for example, Reince Priebus agreed to that lengthy interview with Mueller's team on Friday because there is an obligation to talk to investigators on a separate one.

Another federal law which forces Trump to disclose what he's spending on lawyers. A new filing says he's using $1 million in campaign donations for legal fees. That's over several months including a quarter million defending Don, Jr., which is notable because Don, Jr. is not serving in the administration. He is not in government. He was at that Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

I'm joined by former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman, now a partner at Dorsey & Whitney. And back with me, Francesca Chambers, live from the White House, reporting for "The Daily Mail."

Nick, this is something that lawyers take for granted, I think, to some degree, but people often forget the law does make you talk, you have a right to silence in certain situations, you have a right to a lawyer, but as I just showed, there are things they have to share.

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, that's right. I mean, they have - ultimately, Mueller has the power of subpoena. And so, if you don't come in and agree to have a conversation, then they'll just give you a grand jury subpoena, and you have to go into a grand jury. And if you don't show up, you can be held in contempt, which means you can be put in jail for the life of the grand jury, which is 18 months.

MELBER: Right. And there weren't any big surprises to my eye - I'm curious what you thought - in the filings. But I think the most striking thing is with all the attention on Donald Trump, the aides, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, you see a significant sum. I mean, it's literally about a quarter of the total spend of the Trump lawyers going to Don, Jr. defense.

AKERMAN: Which is quite amazing. I mean, 25 percent of your campaign funds going for a legal defense fund, including people who do not work in the White House.

I mean, you wonder what they're doing with the lower-level people who work there, the secretaries and people who probably know the most about anything, you wonder what kind of legal representation they are getting.

MELBER: Yes. Francesca, give us your view. It seemed - we showed Donald Trump over-talking, sort of Russia-splaining, if you will. But he was, by the standard of his public statements since the campaign, as concise as we've probably seen him in an adversarial press conversation about this issue. Is he getting more disciplined on Russia? And if so, why?

CHAMBERS: Well, he was pretty clear. He thinks that - but that's nothing to do with - the White House has been saying that for some time now.

I think the real question as we go forward is whether or not, as you guys were talking about, there is a subpoena here for the president or other people who are still working in the White House, whether there are more voluntary interviews.

The president has already said, earlier in the summer, that he would be willing to talk to the special counsel, to Bob Mueller.

So, will his counsel volunteer him to go forward. That is not something that we heard from him today. It's unclear whether or not the president heard that part of the question. As you can see there, he was interjecting as she was talking at that point.

So, it's very unclear whether or not he was just refusing to answer that part of the question, about whether he would volunteer his time or he just didn't hear that that's where she was going with it.

MELBER: Let me play for you another legal issue that came up in the press conference today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the wake of the avalanche of allegations made against Harvey Weinstein, your campaign is being subpoenaed for any documents related to sexual harassment allegations made against you. Do you have a response to that?

TRUMP: All I can say is it's totally fake news. It's just fake. It's fake. It's made-up stuff. It's disgraceful what happens, but that happens in the world of politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: And, Francesca, I want to cut that into two pieces. Legally, it's not that they're being subpoenaed by prosecutors or anything like that. This is a request for information and discovery in one of these suits.

Donald Trump had famously claimed that he was going to sue all the female accusers. He didn't. He never made good on that threat or promise or whatever it was.

But there is this litigation here. And these are older court documents about a request for information, which, again, to be fair, is fairly standard. Having said that, when he goes on in this climate in this week with all the discussion of accusers and says it's "fake, fake, fake," last time I checked, these people are real. These women are real.

They have claimed, some of which they are seeking to be adjudicated in a court of law. What did you make of that response there? And is that something that you think the press - the White House press corps (INAUDIBLE) is going to stay on? Or do they see that as kind of a closed issue?

CHAMBERS: No, I think this is something that will keep coming up because we didn't hear a very complete answer from the president. That was just a few words when he called it fake news.

I think what he was saying is that their claims are false, that they are untrue, and that he didn't really think that there was much else to say about them for that reason. But that issue is not going to go away, of course. And I think there will be more questions about that.

MELBER: Nick?

AKERMAN: Yes. I think he's going to wind up being subpoenaed. And he's going to have to testify in a deposition. As opposed to a criminal proceeding, where you go into a grand jury, in a civil proceeding like this, you go in, there's a court reporter, there's a lawyer who represents the plaintiff and they ask you questions.

And I think he's going to have to do the same thing that ultimately Bill Clinton did with the Monica Lewinsky matter. He's going to have to answer questions on all of these matters.

MELBER: And I want to read John Dowd, the president's criminal defense attorney said, basically, this has all been delayed, giving us a statement that said subpoena was stayed by the court months ago. Stayed doesn't mean over. Stayed means not right now. So, it's a case where there could be further developments.

Nick Ackerman and Francesca Chambers, thank you both.

Still ahead, some new reaction to this really bizarre claim from Donald Trump that other presidents, including Barack Obama, did not call the parents of fallen soldiers.

And what does a Goldman Sachs millionaire know about populism? We're going to talk to the man who ran the Bernie Sanders campaign about responding to Bannon.

And I want to mention a program note. Tomorrow, on THE BEAT, we have a special report on one of Putin's top foes, a man with unique insights into that special meeting I just showed there between Jared Kushner and the top Russian banker. And afterwards, I will be joined by Rachel Maddow, making her debut on THE BEAT tomorrow at 6 PM.

And we will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: The reason we need populism and we need to get it formed up is that there is bigger and more crucial decisions coming down the road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Steve Bannon did not drain the swamp while he worked in the White House. You may have noticed. The former Goldman Sachs banker is still talking about it, railing against elites and promising he will be a populist leader against capitalism, now that he is out of government.

He is also one of the only Trump insiders to directly respond to Eminem, telling a reporter he doesn't give an expletive, which Breitbart posted. Bannon clearly relishes being a villain to the left. And his message now appears to be I am whatever you say I am, and if I wasn't, then why would I say I am.

That, plus attacking Wall Street, where he used to work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BANNON: You guys have more common sense, more understanding of what we need to do and more decency than the elites. And the first order of business is to undo all the damage of globalism, right, that allowed Silicon Valley and Wall Street and Hollywood and the imperial capital right here in Washington DC.

If you think that the elites that got the world into the situation it is today are going to make the right judgments 20 years from now, you're sadly mistaken.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That attack also comes as another Trump cabinet member under fire for hiding up to $2 billion, not million, $2 billion, during the Trump transition, raising a question of what populism even means.

Some Democratic strategists say Trump's hypocrisy in failing to drain the swamp is actually an opportunity and to own real populism on the economy and healthcare as Jeff Weaver is arguing in a new piece that's making the rounds about the real populist revolution. He says it's on the left.

With me, the man who wrote that piece, Jeff Weaver, former senior advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders and other Democrats, as well as Perry Bacon, a political writer for "FiveThirtyEight".

Jeff, how do you go from the frustration with the Trump team getting away everything from the private jets to the missing $2 billion I just showed, how do you get that over to what you're calling, this revolution?

JEFF WEAVER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR TO SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, look, Steve Bannon is a very skilled snake oil salesman, along with Donald Trump.

Both of them pledged during the campaign they were going to help working people in this country, middle-income people. And what we've seen from this administration is an unrelenting attack on the financial and frankly the physical health, with their attacks on the ACA, of working-class and middle-class people across this country.

If you look at the administration, it is really a joke. George W. Bush would never have had the guts to pack so many Wall Street types and billionaires in his administration.

What is going on here is really a travesty. And folks who are talking about the Trump hypocrisy are absolutely right. And Bannon is part of that hypocrisy clearly.

MELBER: And, Perry, let me play for you what Donald Trump said today when asked about Steve Bannon. They have this day out. I mean, he seems to have a much more immediate big public profile than the typical departing advisor. Here was the president today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, do you approve of Steve Bannon's war on Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment?

TRUMP: Well, Steve is very committed. He's a friend of mine and he is very committed to getting things passed. We're not getting the job done. And I'm not going to blame myself. I've been honest. They are not getting the job done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: As you see, Perry, it's hard for Donald Trump to answer a question about Steve Bannon without talking about himself. But what do you think of what's going on here?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": I think that Steve Bannon, he left the White House - by the way, Steve Bannon helped pick most of the cabinet. So, his version of populism doesn't include billionaire cabinet members.

But I should note that I think that Steve Bannon left the white house and said I'm going to support the Trump agenda from outside the White House. And I would argue the Trump agenda does include taking on Mitch McConnell, taking on Jeff Flake, taking on kind of the establishment part of the Republican Party.

And I think Steve Bannon is probably doing that in that role. Like I would actually argue at this point Steve Bannon is probably doing Donald Trump more good outside the White House than inside the White House because Bannon was very ineffective in the White House itself.

ARI MELBER: Yes. I mean, right. The comparison there is telling. He's less harmful when he has less power is another way to make the point. I want to turn from this. So this is sort of the abstract because you know, Jeff Weaver writes op-ed, everyone forwards it and talks about it, Jeff. You know, you got that power like your old boss. I'm trying to get Jeff Weaver to smile but it's hard to do.

JEFF WEAVER, DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL ADVISOR: Thank you. Thank you. There you go. There you go. All right, I'll take the compliment. Thank you.

MELBER: So this is all kind of up in the clouds, right? We want to zero in on another piece of this that really affects people which is the opioid crisis, which is something that Donald Trump talked a lot about on the campaign trail and yet again, a major expose from the Washington Post and 60 Minutes which reports on how in this Republican environment in Washington, the DEA has been stripped of the power to stop drug companies from spilling narcotics out into American streets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

These were professionals who were doing it. They were just drug dealers in lab coats. I think that the drug industry, the manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and chain drug stores have an influence over Congress that has never been seen before. And these people came in with their influence and money and got a whole statute changed because they didn't like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: OK, so who did it? Well, the sponsor of that move in Congress, according to this reporting, very exhaustive, is Republican Congressman Tom Marino. And what's he doing now? He is Donald Trump's nominee to be Drug Czar. Adding to our discussion is Lenny Bernstein, one of the team of investigative reporters who broke that story. Take it away Lenny. What should people know about this and how do you deal with opioid crisis that has a corporate or capitalist component in this environment?

LENNY BERNSTEIN, HEALTH AND MEDICINE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, if you want to talk swamp, talk about this story. This is the swampiest thing that we've seen in a long time. You've got you know, the U.S. Congress, the drug industry, the Justice Department, the DEA, all of these thrown into a big stew and end result, at time when 60,000 people are dying of drug overdoses, is that the DEA loses its most potent weapon against large drug companies that are letting pills, hundreds of millions of pills spill out onto the street. If that's not swampiest thing that affects average folks, I don't know what is.

MELBER: Yes, and Lenny, this goes to one of the many parts of it. It's an attractable crisis, but this is one of the many parts of it that you don't blame on some other country or some foreign element, right? I mean, this is -- you're talking about companies that operate in America under American law that are dealing with the American Congress and that your reporting shows are basically getting a sweetheart deal to make money, right? And that then Donald Trump's administration seems to think either they don't care or it's perfectly fine because they're promoting the guy behind it.

BERNSTEIN: Correct. Let's remember that McKesson, AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal Health, the three distributors that control 85 percent of the drug flow in this country are all in the top 25 corporations in America by size. McKesson is fifth largest corporation in America, not the fifth largest drug company but the fifth largest company. They make billions of -- billions of dollars off opioids and they did not like this law. And they did not because the DEA was using it to stop them from breaking the law. The DEA was sanctioning them when they refused or declined or neglected to report suspicious orders of painkillers spilling out to users and dealers. So they went and got the law changed. That's the basics here. And if the guy who carried that very onerous law, Tom Marino becomes Drug Czar, I would argue that's pretty swampy.

MELBER: Pretty swampy. And Perry, this isn't just an important issue. If you care about Americans, you care about what's going on out there, it's also literally one of the key things that Donald Trump campaigned on. It's what we know from leaked transcripts told foreign leaders, he won New Hampshire because he called it you know, a "drug opioid-filled den" and what do we make of this?

BACON: And his staff right now has an opioid initiative that was being worked on by among others by Kellyanne Conway. So they talked a lot about you know, dealing with this issue but in reality, this pick shows you -- it's part -- it's part of a broader thing in the administration, which is often the cabinet nominees who are picked are people who are very, very close to the industry they're in. You look at Tom Price and HHS. You look at Scott Pruitt, EPA, Marino here is that people are basically appointed to regulate agencies but really they're very close to the business communities that sponsor those agencies and who donate money and so on.

It's hard to see them as likely to be effective regulators because they -- that's not what they're there for. Pruitt is very pro company, it looks like Marino will behave in that same way. So it's odd pick to run -- to be the Drug Czar. And my sense is on Capitol Hill, this will be a hard person to confirm because states that's affected by opioids, places like West Virginia and Ohio have Republican Senators who I think may have a hard time voting for Marino after this story came out.

MELBER: Right, and this story is part of the investigative work that as I mentioned Washington Post and 60 Minutes did and a lot of reporters are doing. It's not about the tweets, it's not about the NFL, it's a lot of deep shoe-leather reporting. Lenny Bernstein, I know you were part of that team there so we really appreciate you making time. Perry Bacon and Jeff Weaver, thank you, both.

BACON: Thanks so much Ari.

WEAVER: Thanks for having me.

MELBER: Coming up, President Trump accusing past Presidents of ignoring the families of fallen soldiers and he was fact-checked live. We'll show you what happens. And later, some Republican leaders starting to speak out against Trump, but George Will is here and he's says folks, it is way too late. He'll explain live coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: President Trump got fact-checked in real time during today's press conference for this false and outrageous claim about former presidents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls, a lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate when think I'm able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice. So generally, I would say that I like to call. I'm going to be calling them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: President Trump there, discussing about whether and how other Presidents make calls or contact with families of fallen soldiers. So that was claim. Then all of a sudden, NBC's Peter Alexander followed up and Trump fell back sort of.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Early said that President Obama never called the families of fallen soldiers. How could you make that claim?

TRUMP: I don't know if he did. No, no, no.

ALEXANDER: (INAUDIBLE)

TRUMP: I was -- I was told that he didn't often, and a lot of presidents don't. They write letters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Trump appears to think not knowing is a defense to a false accusation. It is not. if anything suggests a reckless in the face of what is obviously a serious matter, how our presidents honor fallen soldiers regardless of party. One example George W. Bush here presenting the medal of honor to the parents of fallen Navy SEAL. President Obama visited Dover for example to receive the remains of troops who died in Afghanistan. You see there. Now, when the body of the soldier killed in Niger recently came to Dover, President Trump was golfing.

Now, today's fact check fight comes amidst new scrutiny on how the Trump administration approaches the press in general. There was that threat recently to revoke broadcast licenses including that of this station, as well as a new exhaustive account in a Columbian (INAUDIBLE) journalism review, the Queen of Spin scrutinizing Ivanka Trump her approach to the press and whether she gets pass too often. Joining me is the reporter who wrote that piece, Hannah Seligson as well as Jay Rosen, Journalism Professor at NYU, also runs the PressThink blog. Professor, I'll start with you on that fact check exchange today. And the habit of mind we've seen with Donald Trump a lot. He says, well, I don't know, or nobody knows when the knowledge is available and he's very clearly either misrepresenting it or lying about it.

JAY ROSEN, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: This fits into category of shocking but not surprising. I think what we're seeing Ari, might be described as the infantilization of the American Presidency in which the President, instead of being seen as the most powerful person in the world with the best information at the world and the most -- the best staff is treated as a kind of boy king whose not expected to know anything because he's too immature and doesn't really know what he's doing. And I think we're becoming conditioned to that which is itself shocking but not surprising.

MELBER: Well, you look at that intersecting with something you've been writing about because this goes to sense of patriotism. Journalists are allowed to be objective, fair, and factual and also feel patriotism, I think. You've written about why it's painful though, for patriotic journalists to see this situation of the boy king and what more perfect demonstration in this very serious discussion about how we deal with fallen soldiers, something a lot of us care about. And yet as you saw, as you described, the reporters almost want to feedback to the President this information because it's not clear that he does know that he's lying.

ROSEN: I think it's embarrassing to report on a president like this. It's kind of humiliating in way to the entire institution. And that institution, the presidency includes the White House Press Corp. And so, instead of fund of facing full frontal that fact, I think journalists try to make it seem a little bit more normal than it really is.

MELBER: Right. And that -- and that -- there's a theory of normalization that is the press is normalizing Trump for sinister reason. I mean, what - - some of what you've argued is, will not a good thing if you're normalizing attacks on the press or lying or other behavior, it's sometimes for much more understandable reasons, right, although they're not -- they're not reasons we should be acting on. Hannah, I want to ask you about your piece. Do you have anything to say about his before we turn to your piece?

HANNAH SELIGSON, JOURNALIST, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: Well, that's sort of a bridge here between my piece and what other people in the administration is Trump implicating to lie for him and stand in for him? And I think this sort of gets to Ivanka to some degree. How much is she lying for her father? How much does she have to sort of put on a front to hold up Trump's lies?

MELBER: Well, here she was in June trying out a defense that you argue some reporters have given too much credence too. Take a look here on Fox News.

IVANKA TRUMP, ADVISER, PRESIDENT TRUMP: I try to stay out of politics. I fell blessed with being part of the ride from day one and before but I don't profess to be a political savant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What did you find in your reporting when members of the media get access to her and confront that which is clearly a false statement by someone working in a political administration, at senior level, making decisions every day about policy and politics?

SELIGSON: Right. And let's just also state for the record that her lawyer had said she was going to be the eyes and ears of the administration, that her job really had no limits to it. Now she's sort of backed away from that and said I'm going to stay in my lane. What I hear from other reporters is that they have to get through army of lawyers and P.R. people to really get access to Ivanka. And that's the difficulty in covering her. And she has been covered to some degree about her stances on climate change and gender and other issues but haven't looked into her shady business dealings as much as we should have and does she really have the interests of American people at heart?

ROSEN: I think it's extraordinary that not only do we not know what Ivanka's qualifications for serving in White House are but we really have no idea what her job description is. And in Hannah's article, she asked the White House, can you just tell us what Ivanka does? And they refused to reply. That is kind of amazing. It's like a palace.

SELIGSON: No one would go on the record to tell me what Ivanka's job description is.

MELBER: It's yes -- totally -- it's ridiculous.

ROSEN: It's a mystery.

MELBER: It's ridiculous. She's invited on THE BEAT. If she wants to come on THE BEAT, but we would ask what she does for a living or not for living I guess if it's unpaid.

ROSEN: Yes, that's a good point.

SELIGSON: But, I also just want to be clear that she has been covered in some capacities but there is a big and I go into this (INAUDIBLE) in my piece and everyone should read out Davidson's New Yorker piece called Trump's Worst Deal. And their major questions about what role she played in this Baku deal that is now being investigated by three Senators have asked for to be investigated.

MELBER: Right. It's a huge issue.

SELIGSON: What did she know?

MELBER: Hannah Seligson joining us with your reporting, Jay Rose, thanks for coming back on THE BEAT. Still ahead, is it better late than never? The Republicans criticizing Trump, George Will has a really tough column. You got to hear this next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: More top Republicans are slamming Donald Trump. senator Bob Corker made waves for confronting Trump after announcing he would not seek re-election. But a leading conservative notes Corker's new courage is undercut by the way he backed Trump during the campaign when it mattered most.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. BOB CORKER (R-TN), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I have been repulsed by those who try to direct the electoral process in a certain direction and say, well, no matter what people do, we're going to cause this to happen at the convention. To me that's inappropriate. At the same time I have a plan to support our nominee --

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MELBER: Nominee being Donald Trump. But in a blistering new column, Conservative George Will calls out Corker and other Republicans who are speaking out now, Will has strong credentials here, he left the GOP over Trump and was clearer than these other folks about nowadays. George Will was clear in warning voters about Trump before election day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: After Trump went after the Mexican judge from Northern Indiana, then Paul Ryan endorsed him. And I decided that in fact, this is not my party anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can the Republican Party withstand Trump actually being their standard bearer?

WILL: No. It will -- well, there'll still be a husk of the Republican Party.

He has an advantage on me because he can say everything he knows about any subject in 140 characters and I can't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: In this new piece, George Will laments Mike Pence becoming a "leashed poodle, too sycophantic to recognize his degradations from Trump" and writes, Pence is a reminder that no one can have sustained transactions with Trump without becoming too soiled for subsequent scrubbing. Those Republicans who only now warn about Trump after he won and is in charge bring to mind the mythology of the Owl of Minerva. You know, some say the owl flies to warn against getting lost in the forest when it gets dark. But because the owl only flies at dusk when you see her, you know darkness is coming, but it is too late to save yourself. With me now is George Will, who wrote that column. George, are we like the owl when we hear from these Republicans? Did they act too late and what were you trying to achieve in this new piece?

WILL: Well, they did act too late. The President remembered before he was president said it's not called the Conservative Party, it's the Republican Party, meaning a not Conservative Party in his judgment. He has trafficked with members of the alt-right. They are honestly labeled. They are an alternative to conservatism. An alternative to conservatism understood as limited government founded with reference to the founder's doctrine of natural rights. The alt-right with which Mr. Trump is flirting and Mr. Bannon is actively embracing says that in fact the tribalism to which we as human beings are subject to temptation should not be transcended, it should be celebrated.

It's a kind of right-wing version of the identity politics that some on the left practice. And we're now seeing in Mr. Corker the kind of emancipation of someone who's walking out the door and is free to say what he wants without being afraid of offending the Republican constituency. Some people in the Senate sometimes speak of the six-year smile of someone who had recently been reelected and doesn't have to face the voters for another six years. Mr. Corker may never have to face them again and is therefore emancipated.

MELBER: And George, do you think these Republicans who went along with Trump during the campaign were expecting him to lose and were surprised that they'd actually signed up for what some of them is four years of serious pain?

WILL: I think they were expecting him to lose. A lot of Trump staffer expected him to lose. There's evidence Mr. Trump, regardless of what he says now, was expecting to lose. But in fact, they're now in quite untenable position and you to have some empathy for them. They are -- they are at odds with half the base no matter which way they jump. If they decide to support the President, then traditional Republicans will find them unacceptable. If they adhere to traditional Republican principles, then the President in his -- with his -- as a fellow traveler now of Mr. Bannon will be with 30 or 40 or 50 percent of the Republican Party opposed to them. They're in an untenable position. But then, who allowed this to happen and who once it happened normalized him to get to the point where we are today?

MELBER: And briefly, you call out Stephen Miller and some of these other individuals as having "dominated by those who explicitly repudiate America's premises," that there is something concerning in their challenges to the constitutional order itself.

WILL: These are not conservatives and they don't to their credit really claim to be conservatives. They are importing, these people who want to make America great again are importing continental European ethno-tribal blood and soil right-wingery, which is not just not the founder's version, it's the antithesis of the founder's version. Therefore those who are sailing under the flag of Make America Great Again are actually trying to make America into something that never was and shouldn't be.

MELBER: You make such an important point so rooted in history, like a lot of your arguments that this was not a country built on heritage and when it responds to its better angel, it's a country of laws and rules and unity. George Will, as always, thanks for being here.

WILL: Glad to be with you.

MELBER: Up next, I'm going to talk about a BEAT special report on Vladimir Putin from the man who once risked everything to confront him. I'll tell you more about it, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: Did Vladimir Putin try to tip our election? And if so, did he use state-owned banks to bribe Americans? Most of what we know about all of these questions tend to come from Americans, from American investigators and Congressional hearings and from American journalists doggedly working the story. But what about the people who actually know Vladimir Putin best or have even tangled directly with him? I want to tell you that tomorrow I have an exclusive interview with one of the foremost Putin experts and critics, the man who literally risked his life to speak out against Putin in Russia and around the world. He is a Putin foe. And afterwards, Rachel Maddow will join me for a very special discussion on THE BEAT. I'm very excited to have her. That's tomorrow 6:00 p.m. Eastern. Now that is our show, I'll see you back here tomorrow as I said 6:00 p.m. Eastern with Rachel and that story. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews starts now.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: It's not my fault. Let's play HARDBALL.

END

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