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WH scrambling to blame democrats for a shutdown Transcript 1/19/18 The Beat with Ari Melber

Guests: Natasha Bertrand, George Lakoff Jeff Markley; Joe Crowley

Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: January 19, 2018 Guest: Natasha Bertrand, George Lakoff Jeff Markley; Joe Crowley

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: That`s all for tonight. We will be back Monday with more of "MTP Daily." And of course, if it Sunday, we will be open "Meet the Press on NBC."

"The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now.

And I can tell you this, Ari Melber isn`t shut anything down.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We are not shutting anything down, but we are keeping an eye on it. Thank you, Chuck.

What a busy evening we are heading for. We are just six hours away from something that would actually be a first in U.S. history, a government shutdown at a time when one party controls the House, the Senate and the presidency. The pressure building on a President who of course sold himself as a deal maker.

Now here is the state of play right now. The House passed that funding of the government for one month. The Senate hasn`t acted on that bill all day, but at this hour, no word on when the Senate would actually hold that vote. Donald Trump calling for a last-minute meeting today with Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: We had a long and detailed meeting. We discussed all of the major outstanding issues. We made some progress. But we still have a good number of disagreements. The discussions will continue. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will there be a shutdown tonight, sir? Are you going to shut down?


MELBER: That`s Schumer.

Meanwhile, Trump tweeting that that meeting was excellent and he talks about solutions, a one month extension he adds would be best.

Also, this hour, Donald Trump and Paul Ryan reportedly talking by phone. Now standoff tonight is a debate essentially over hardball tactics on the faith of the DREAMers. Trump had demanded Congress act on DREAMers by his deadline, Senate Democrats say that is what they are doing. They are acting now. But Republicans say hey, fund the government now, debate DREAMers later. Here`s one Republican calling on Trump to step up.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like that is the sticking point here, that the president is not on board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can say the president is got on the side where he (INAUDIBLE). One side of the ten-yard line. We need a White House that can make a decision and stick to it.


MELBER: In a moment, I`m going to speak to a Democratic senator who says the President would be the one to blame if there`s a shutdown tonight.

Now all eyes are on Washington. We have our special coverage out here in San Francisco. And with so much at stake, we bring in a co-host for a special edition of "the Beat," Eugene Robinson. I have also got MSNBC`s Garrett Haake on location at Capitol Hill. Howard Fineman, a contributor to and Jennifer Rubin, a conservative opinion writer for "the Washington Post."

Garrett, the latest right now?

GARRETT HAAKE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Ari, it is interesting. Discussion and negotiations continue up here on Capitol Hill but with the exception of the meeting between Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump earlier today. They are mostly between members of their own parties.

Democrats have been talking amongst themselves throughout the course of the day and the evening about what they are willing to accept here. What a deal might look like. How - what if anything they would be willing to take beyond the DREAM act being involved, or beyond a fixed DACA, if that can`t be done tonight. How do they get to victory.

Republicans are talking amongst themselves. Marc Short, the president`s legislative affairs director just left John Cornyn`s office over my shoulder, shuffled through a hallway pack with reporters, not giving much information except of course that they do expect a vote tonight.

Then later of the hour gross the less likely it seems that there will be some big all-encompassing deal here tonight. Republicans are saying they have got a house passed bill. They are ready to put it on the floor. They think perhaps they can urge more red state Democrats like Joe Donnelly from Indiana, who came out today, and said he would support this continuing resolution, perhaps they can pull more folks like that across the aisle.

But more concerningly for people who want to see the government open, senators I have talked to in both parties today have seemed increasingly comfortable with their own political arguments about who would be to blame if it should shut than they were comfortable with what a possible solution could look like in the next six hours. It`s not clear what the President wants and it`s not entirely clear what Democrats would be willing to accept. And that`s where we stand with just a few hours to go before this deadline.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Garrett, talk a minute about Republicans. Is there a sense that Mitch McConnell has his entire caucus behind this House bill, with I guess 50 probably present - with all 50 Republican senators vote for it or do they even lack a few votes there?

HAAKE: They still lack some voted on the Republican side. They couldn`t get to 50 if they put this on the floor right now. Lindsey Graham who I talked to earlier today has said another continuing resolution is not acceptable to him. He won`t vote for it.

Ironically, his sometimes nemesis Rand Paul is another hard no. And you have got Mike Lee out there who is someone who has never voted for a continuing resolution and his folks say he is unlikely to start doing that now. So no, Republicans don`t entirely have their House in order. It just emphasizes how much they need Democrats to try to get something over the finish line.

MELBER: Garrett Haake, I know you have got to keep reporting, so we are going to let you go and check back with you. Please call the control room the moment you hear anything because this is unfolding as we go.

Jennifer Rubin, I turn to you and I turn to Donald Trump`s own words. Here he was in a 2013 interview.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is going to take the blame? Board room here, who is going to getting fired? Who is going to bear the brunt of the responsibility if indeed there`s a shutdown of the government?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, let me say who gets fired, it always has to be the top. I mean, problems start from the top and they have to get solve from the top. And the president is the leader. And he has got to get everybody in a room and he has got to lead.


MELBER: Jennifer, is Trump failing the Trump test, or one of the old Trump tests.

JENNIFER RUBIN, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: This is one of the few time I agree with Donald Trump, the Donald Trump of 2013. It really is. And you see this vacuum where the presidency should be. This is the time when it really hurts that you have a President who doesn`t care about substance, doesn`t really understand the substance, isn`t really following the arguments, he bounces around like a ping pong ball in a wind chamber.

And the two sides are so polarized there`s no cohesive vision for the Republicans. There`s no incentive for the Democrats to get in the room with them. And so you have this chaotic situation. And what`s bizarre is you don`t have those joint meetings today. You don`t have meetings shuffling back and forth between the Senate side and the House side. You have kind of quiet. And frankly the fact that they haven`t taken a vote with six hours to go, tells me that the Republicans would be embarrassed if they put something on the floor at this point.

MELBER: Yes. And Howard, I want to play for you a Mick Mulvaney today. It`s not just reporters who are digging through old statements. Everyone wants to party like it is 2013, maybe five years ago was a nicer time to reflect on than tonight. But here`s Mick Mulvaney trying to talk Obama that year.


MICH MULVANEY, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET DIRECTOR: The Obama administration weaponized the shutdown in 2013. What they didn`t tell you was that they did not encourage agencies to use carry forward funds, carry forward funds that they were sitting on. They chose to make it worse, the only conclusion I can draw is they did so for political purposes.


MELBER: Howard, we have all been in arguments before where the next day or the next week, you think of a comeback, you know? Five years seems like a long time for Mulvaney to come up with his comeback. But why is this what the White House is talking about today?

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBCNEWS.COM CONTRIBUTOR: Political motives, I`m just shocked in this situation that there would be political motives. I think you need in this situation, which is the very epitome of hypocrisy in Washington, all around. To look at what people do and not what they say. You know, the Republicans here sweeten the deal on the continuing, by putting in authorization for six years for the children`s health program, which is very important all across the country. What that says to me, is that they -- they`re afraid of looking heartless and weak, as well as looking for ways to divide the Democrats with the wedge issue. So now you have a situation today.

I just was up in the Senate listening to senators on the floor. Republican senators just crying, crocodile tears about the health of children that they want to save and that the Democrats don`t. What all that says to me is that that the Republicans very aware of the risks of the shutdown and also not dealing with the DACA issue, not dealing with it right now.


Panel hang with me. My understanding that Democratic senator Jeff Merkley doesn`t have all night which I understand given the way the night is unfolding. He did tweet today, if we shut down, it will be a Trump shutdown, the only person who said he wants a shutdown is Trump.

Senator, is there any way or any length of time that you would consider a funding bill that does not resolve the DREAMers?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Absolutely. Last night we attempted to put on the floor a very short CR, Continuing Resolution in order to force all of the leaders into the same room to have this negotiation.

What we have seen from Mitch McConnell, is that there`s two months, he will wait until the last day before it is up before he once negotiated. If there`s two weeks, he is going to wait until one day out.

We have to get Mitch McConnell out of the mode of trying to do tax changes for the best offer to society and trying to crush health care for the worst off in our society and actually get to the fundamentals of governing which is a budget.

ROBINSON: Senator, this is Gene Robinson. What happened in that meeting between chuck Schumer and the President today?

MERKLEY: Well, I think Chuck described it pretty well. I mean, it was a long meeting. They went through a whole series of issues. I don`t believe that as Chuck said that they didn`t reach a point where they can lay out a clear plan, but the fact that they are now both engaged is terrific. And I think a lot of phone calling are being made outside of -- after that meeting. They are continuing this work.

Here`s the thing. Republicans know that we have offered to keep the government open as long as there`s intense negotiations taking place. So given that, and given that they have delayed so long in addressing the fundamentals of governing and given also the fact that they control the Senate and the House and the presidency, all roads lead back to the Republican leadership for why we are in this place.

MELBER: Senator, as you know, there are many references to a deadline on DREAMers. As I understand it, this is a made up deadline that President Trump created. Would you be open to a negotiated funding agreement if he extended a deadline that is of his creation, so presumably, he could delay the lifting of DACA if he wanted?

MERKLEY: It would be a very poor way to go and I`ll tell you why. These are members of our community that went to our elementary schools, they went to our high schools, our community colleges, they are working, they are contributing to their communities and leaving them with an unsure status as participants in our society. It`s fundamentally unfair, it`s fundamentally abusive. This should have been resolved a long time ago, we have a bipartisan bill, let`s get it done.

MELBER: Senator, I understand that you are making an ethical argument about what should happen here. My final question here though is, is there any way you would take a long-term funding deal without resolving the DREAMers? Is there any way the Democrats would hold a shutdown until that gets resolved?

MERKLEY: The DREAMers and the community, health clinics and opioids, these issues should all be in this. This is bipartisan work ready for the taking. The President has an easy job before him. He needs to pay attention and get the job done.

MELBER: Senator Jeff Merkley, I want to thank you for joining us. And we will appreciate and keep an eye on what happens tonight.

I want to turn back to Gene Robinson, because what we heard there is something that in the sort of fan fiction political observation community out there. This be tough or be strong and then let`s fix things. What I just heard from the senator is, no, they are not going to let this be define this as simply funding which is what the Republicans have said. And even though they are in the minority, they are drawing lines. He just said that opioids, healthcare and DREAMers should all be resolved on this. That would be demanding more or less the Democratic victory in a Republican majority.

ROBINSON: Right. It sounded as if the Democrats feel they are in a powerful position here. And they can continue to seek a more comprehensive bill that takes care of these issues, on which there is as the senator said, a lot of bipartisan agreement. If you listen to the way the Republicans today are talking about children`s health, for example, you would think they were left of the Democrats. I mean they are just weeping and wailing over --

MELBER: Which is a weird kind of echo of a democratic victory, it`s rhetorically only.

ROBINSON: Exactly. It`s very strange. Strange times.

MELBER: Jennifer, what do you think?

RUBIN: I agree with Eugene, which is a good thing to do, by the way. The Republicans have dug themselves a hole here. They had that meeting on camera. The President said bring me a DACA fix and I will sign it. I don`t care what is in it as long as you guys agree. They brought it to him, he blew it up. So that is one problem for them.

Second problem is as the senator said, the artificial deadline of tonight is one of many artificial deadlines. And Mitch McConnell has been trying over and over again to create this cliff over which we will fall over as a means of pressuring the Democrats. And the Democrats are simply saying, we think we got the voters with us. DREAMers have very high approval. The wall has very low approval. And we think we can sit tight and besides you have a solution, we can just extend the deadline a day or so at a time. It has been done in the past.

So I think right now the Democrats do feel like they have the upper hand. And I think, unless they are soon to be portrayed as intransient in some fashion, and that would require a counter offer from the Republicans, that would require actual meetings, that they are going to be where they are.

I have seen the Republicans pivot very quickly to the -- it`s the Democrats` fault, but they haven`t set the narrative. They haven`t been able to show that they are actually working hard to resolve that. And that`s going to be a problem for them as time goes on.

MELBER: Right. They are sort of the closer you get to this story and when shutdowns come close to the deadline, the public tends to learn more and more, the more that`s revealed, Jennifer there. At least at this hour hasn`t been much of the counter offer, which goes to weather the White House is going to lead.

Now Howard, I want to play some Kellyanne Conway for you because she has a different view of this. Take a listen.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: This is what leadership looks like, the President inviting people from both parties and from both chambers again and again to this White House to discuss the matters of the day.


MELBER: Howard, this is what leadership looks like.

FINEMAN: Well, here is the thing, Donald Trump`s whole theory of politics is a base to make a pun theory, which is that he`s got to constantly secure and play to and invigorate his base. That`s how he operates. That`s how he got elected. To the extent that he has a governing theory, that seems to be it. He makes occasional pledges in the direction of bipartisanship and getting people in the room, but he flinches every time that is a real possibility. And that`s what`s going on right here.

He wants, you know, in the musical "Hamilton" there`s a song about being in the room where it happens. He claims to want to be in the room where it happens, but when he gets in there, there`s no deal. And that`s because the room is actually inside his head and we don`t know what`s in there.


MELBER: I appreciate that, Howard. And as they said in "Hamilton" and as they say in Brooklyn, you could have been anywhere in the world tonight but you are here with us. And we appreciate that of your presence, Jennifer`s presence. Eugene stays for the hour.

Up ahead, Donald Trump to shut down the blame game, the White House scrambling. New details on what Americans are saying.

Also, with a shutdown looming, Trump spikes his own trip to Mar-a-Lago. And that is not usual.

Also, a developing story tonight, apart from the shutdown there`s an adult film star who has got an explosive full tell all of her alleged 2006 affair with Donald Trump and related hush money. A new "Wall Street Journal" report about what Trump`s lawyer reportedly did to get her silenced. I have a guest on why Mueller may be interested.

I`m Ari Melber. You are watching "the Beat" live from San Francisco on MSNBC.


MELBER: Our breaking news coverage continues. We are now formally six hours away from a potential government shutdown and not a lot of action suggesting it won`t happen. A blame game instead is in full swing. Take the leader of the conservative House freedom caucus saying this today.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: It sure looks like they`re going to have a shutdown because they actually think that it`s more important to give folks who came here illegally amnesty. That`s more important than funding the troops.


MELBER: I`m joined now by the fourth ranking Democrat in the House, Congressman Joe Crowley, in the middle of the storm.

Congressman, I`m out here in San Francisco with Gene Robinson who has got a question for you as well. We are trying to keep track of what you guys are up to. I know you are going to tell me the house took a step. But quite frankly does it confuse you, nicest way to put it, that we are barreling towards this deadline and all day the Senate hasn`t done a thing?

REP. JOE CROWLEY (D-NY), CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: Well, it certainly is disconcerting to say the least I think for all of us as we seem to be moving towards and closer to a shutdown.

Reality is, though, Ari, I have never seen such a rush to the creation of websites or hash tags as I have over the past couple of days to cast dispersions and blame us to who has failed here in terms of government. And clearly, Republicans have control of the presidency. They have control over the House of Representatives and the Senate.

It`s really their job to govern right now. The American people have given them this opportunity, and they have failed to do so. They continue to fail to do it. This is not the first but the fourth time we will be voting on a continuing resolution. This is not the way in which we should be governing. It is not the way we can ensure a military household resources that we can do everything here to protect Americans both abroad and here at home as well as take care of the needs of the American people. And that`s what Democrats have been calling for this past half a year.

ROBINSON: Congressman, the frustrating thing I think for a lot of Americans is that there`s a majority in probably both Houses to help the DREAMers. There`s a majority in both houses for children`s health. There`s not the sort of crazy disagreement, at least you could get legislation through both houses, yet it doesn`t happen. Why is that? And how could Congress justify to the American people not going something that most of Congress agrees and wants to do?

CROWLEY: You`re right. I mean there is clearly support within the Democratic caucus, at about 25 to 35 members of the Republican caucus, to bring a clean DREAM act to the floor right now. The problem is, as you well know, Republican majority leadership will not allow that bill to come to the floor, placating the far right wing of the Republican Party, the tea party or the freedom caucus themselves. That`s why -- yes, there is broad support for chip, there`s broad support I believe for community health centers. I think there`s even broad support to help out veterans. The problem once again is that the freedom caucus throws down the gauntlet and says they will not support a more expansive budget.

MELBER: If this does goes to the blame game, here is your leader Nancy Pelosi on the strategy the Democrats are pushing, take a listen.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What our country needs is a good shutdown, as President, he said that. No, there`s no such thing as a good shutdown. That`s an oxymoron. Democrats have never been for it.


MELBER: Is there a part of Nancy Pelosi`s thinking here that this is, while something the Democrats say they don`t want to happen, politically, a proof point for what you have long argued that Donald Trump doesn`t really care about government?

CROWLEY: Well, I do believe that that`s the case. I don`t think this President really cares, nor does he understand how government operates. He really does not have a grasp of negotiating when it comes to budgets or other legislative deals. He doesn`t have a grasp of the issues.

But I do take Nancy Pelosi sincerely. I think Democrats as a whole, we don`t believe in shutdowns. We believe in government. We believe as the growth for the American people, to keep us safe, and to ensure that those programs are intact that help people get a hand up. That`s what Democrats have always been for, we have never been for a shutdown. We never have and never will be. Whatever there has been a shutdown, it been brought about by Republicans of year. For the first time they control everything and yet we still have are moving towards a shutdown under their watch.

MELBER: Congressman Crowley in the middle of the fight there on the Hill, thank you.

I want to turn to now to NBC`s national political correspondent, my friend Steve Kornacki.

Steve, we had a hunch, not that we can see the future, but we had a hunch there would be talk about who this hurts and what the polling means and we needed your expertise, especially tonight. I will read one number, obviously subject to change from "the Washington Post," when the question is, who would you blame if this happens, government shutdown, 48 percent, Trump GOP, 28 percent Dems. Do you buy that the margin is that wide, or does it depend on what happens in the coming days?

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, right now, yes. And there`s been several polls that have shown about a 15 to 20 point spread, just like you are showing right there. So right now, that seems to be the reading in anticipation of this. That the blame would go more against Trump and the Republicans than the Democrats.

I think the two questions there are raised is number one, does that sort of withstand the blowback and if shut down actually occurs. And what I mean is you have got Republicans who are basically going to say, look, we put an opportunity there on the floor, presumably tonight they might put that opportunity on the floor for Democrats to vote to keep the government open for some period of time.

The Democrats didn`t vote for it. They wanted to prioritize DACA over that. Does that argument have some resonance if the governments actually shuts down? Does it move those polls? And that`s the first question.

If it doesn`t though and we continue to see that spread, then the second question that`s raised is, what is the staying power of this perception? Is this something that in November, voters are still going to be feelings, still going to be thinking about, still going to be sort of factoring into their decision in the midterm elections, and the sort of cautionary note there, if you think back to the last major government shutdown. That was in 2013, five years ago.

Same kind of spread right there where voters by about 20 point margin were blaming the Republicans instead of Obama and the Democrats. And yet in the next election, that was the 2014 midterm election, Republicans actually gained 13 seats in the House. So all of the damage in the moment to Republicans from that shutdown in 2013, didn`t really translate in anything in the midterm election. You think about that pace of news right now, you do wonder even if something as dramatic as a shutdown now would even be on people`s minds in November.

ROBINSON: Steve, are there Republican senators, specific senators or House members, excuse me, Democratic senators or House members who are particularly vulnerable on this issue, do you think? Or who think themselves vulnerable?

KORNACKI: Yes. I mean, where I`m looking tonight is if there`s no break through here and then the Republicans sort of press ahead with this house passed bill and try to get it to the Senate, the movement you have seen among Democrats, the extent you see is Donnelly in Indiana and Manchin in West Virginia. Not a coincidence there. Those are two Democrats who are from states that Donald Trump won. In Manchin`s case, won them big. And these are both Democrats who are running for reelection in 2018.

They now say look, I will vote for that House version if they put it on the floor in the senate. I think it is more important to keep the government open. Now, Democrats - excuse me, Republicans need more than just those two Democrats but you have got ten Democrats there in the Senate who represent Trump states and who are running for re-election in 2018.

So the question in becomes, do you have more than just Donnelly and more than just Manchin? Does it turn into (INAUDIBLE) North Dakota, tester in Montana, you know, Casey in Pennsylvania? That`s where you start to look. Because again, if you`re Republicans and you are trying to pick up basically a dozen Democrats, the first place you look at are those Democrats up for re-election in Trump states.

MELBER: You mention Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania. And he on the floor right now. We can show that to viewers. One of the people as you said that may be under pressure in trying to make the case. There he is with his branding, "the Trump shutdown," quote-unquote. Democrats call it though the Schumer shutdown, Republicans, rather, take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There`s no reason for senator Schumer and the Democrats to short circuit that and shut down the government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope that Senator Schumer will realize that now is not the time to play shutdown politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no reason on God`s green earth for the Democrats to insist on shutting down vital government services.


MELBER: When you listen to that messaging, Steve, and this is the last big question, do you think that politically that can take hold around the country, or does it cut against what everyone`s been hearing for a year from Donald Trump, which is that he`s the boss, he`s the deal maker, he is in charge? For that blame game to work, it would seem to have to convince people at a basic level that the Democrats are suddenly very powerful.

KORNACKI: Yes. Well, here`s the polling that Republicans I think are looking at when they make that kind of argument and when they hope it works is if you ask the question this way. A new poll out tonight. They does that if you say what is more important voters, keeping government open or getting DACA addressed? Ultimately if you get to choose, what is your priority?

And there by about 22-point margin voters are saying that it`s keeping the government open, not DACA. And even among Democrats, it`s almost a 50/50 split among Democrats on that question. So Republicans hope is that somehow if you have got Democrats ultimately saying, you know, we are not going to vote for a 28-day or whatever it is, the 28-day extension because we want the DACA protection, the Republican hope is that voters then look that and they say, well, these are Democrats who are prioritizing DACA over keeping the government open and we disagree with that. There is a lot of other occurrence, a lot of other factors. But I think that is the one that the Republicans are hoping for.

MELBER: Well, you make such good points and one of your points is being proven right now, because I have breaking news in my hands from three minutes ago, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp joining Donnelly and Manchin as a Democratic yes vote. Again, that raises to the number of three public yes votes for Democrats who would appear to break with the hardline strategy. Of course, many more Democrats still holding the line barreling towards what looks like a shutdown. That is the Breaking news here at NBC. Steve Kornacki in New York, thank you. Eugene Robinson stays with me as we continue our special show.

Ahead, Washington bracing for a shutdown, what else do we know about what Americans would do with this information heading into the midterms and is Russia still a big issue at the polls? Also follow the money, these details about how Donald Trump`s lawyer paid off an adult actress weeks before the election and apparently try to hide it. Also, both sides pointing fingers about the shutdown and that breaking news I just mentioned. A lot more from the Hill after we fit in this break.


MELBER: Welcome back to our breaking coverage. You`re looking at live footage of the Senate Floor, at 6:33 p.m., where as I reported just before we took break, a third Senate Democrat peeled away from the party`s position, trying to push Donald Trump into a corner on DREAMers. No vote though has been scheduled. We are of course six hours away from a shutdown and many are asking if this happens which party does it actually benefit. We have scheduled a special breakdown with that with an eye on the midterms with NBC Senior Political Editor Mark Murray. Mark, you have been tracking all of this, number one, your analysis on the shutdown which Americans all of the country now are really tuning into, and number two, the midterms.

MARK MURRAY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR: Yes, Ari, I think what this ends up doing is introducing some potential uncertainty. Look, this midterm environment is set up for big potential gains for the Democratic Party. You look at history where the opposition party normally picks up seats, sometimes significant seats, you look at President Trump`s unpopularity in our new NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll, he`s sitting at a 39 percent approval rating which normally means big gains for the opposition. And then you look at the enthusiasm that has benefited Democrats in elections like we saw in Alabama last month as well as even in Wisconsin State Senate race this week. But the uncertainty factor wouldn`t stop happening in a shutdown.

Back in 1995-96, the opposition led by Newt Gingrich ended up shutting down the government and that actually ended up helping Bill Clinton in his re- election bid in that 1996 Presidential election. But then you end up looking at the last government shutdown in 2013 where the opposition party, the Republican in that time really didn`t get hit at all. It was just a blip in that 2014 midterm environment that will end up leading for very big gains for the Republican Party. So again, we have to see one, if there is a government shutdown, and two, we`ll have to actually see how it plays out, what the P.R. snafus are and all the other issues that may end up playing out.

MELBER: Donald Trump likes to make campaign-style appearances. Here is his new prediction.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we can keep it like this, we`re going to win a lot of elections, that I can tell you. It`s something. No, it`s something.


MELBER: Do these appearances do you think help him? We`re also reporting he canceled his planned trip to Mar-a-Lago this weekend to work on the shutdown unless it`s fixed. Does he have the ability that other first-year presidents, second-year presidents have had to rally the base or is he really not very effective at that piece of this?

MURRAY: Well, he`s going to try to rally his base. And Ari, there`s still is a substantial base that could help Republicans and in particular the Congressional districts. But when you look at it, even Barack Obama who had a big base, you can actually even argue a bigger base was campaigning on behalf of Congressional candidates since 2010-2014. It is sometimes very hard to translate your own popularity that other congressional candidates across the country. What we have often seen through our history is that these midterm elections are often dependent upon the popularity of the President, and right now President Trump is very unpopular and that normally sets up for a big potential gain.

But again, we`re 300 days away from the midterm elections, it is going to be fought really, really in all places across the country. And in some places, Trump will be an asset, and some places he won`t be. But again, you know, tell me what -- I think you and I having this conversation four or five months from now is going to create a lot more clarity on what the election is going to end up looking like. We got to see how the next few months play out.

MELBER: If I`m hearing you right, what you`re saying is you`re willing to come back on the show.

MURRAY: Always, Ari.

MELBER: Mark Murray, I`ll see you in five months, hopefully, sooner. Thanks for your analysis. We have more breaking news on what`s coming out of the Congress, but another big story I want to get to you tonight that`s next. New details about how Donald Trump`s lawyer secretly paid off an adult film star and its link potentially to allegations in the Russia probe.


MELBER: Right now, we are hours away from this potential government shutdown. A frenzy in Washington on how this plays out tonight and for all of the political players. But we have more than just those updates on this breaking news evening because there`s a very important story that continues to dribble out updates from that Wall Street Journal reporting on Trump`s lawyer arranging a secret payment to a porn star by the name of Stormy Daniels.

This was just weeks before the 2016 election. The goal, to try to silence her about an alleged consensual relationship with Donald Trump. The report, according to corporate records and other sources is that this lawyer, Michael Cohen, actually created a new private company, he called it, "Essential Consultants." And he did this in the State of Delaware which does not require companies to publicly disclose all the names of their managers. My colleague, Rachel Maddow was talking to a reporter about this last night.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: So now following the money further back, you say that you have identified the bank account associated with the company that made the payment. Can you figure out who put the money in the bank account?

MICHAEL ROTHFELD, REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Not at this point. We`d certainly like to be able to do that and we`re continuing to report on the story to figure out whether Cohen used his own money or used someone else`s money or was he reimbursed later on for that. Those are questions we`re still reporting on.


MELBER: They`re still reporting on that and their reporting has gotten a lot of answers that team Trump wanted secret so stay tuned on that part. But that`s not the only part of this story that continues to add layers and questions to the Russia case. In Touch Magazine has a new interview with Daniels. Now, this came originally five years before she got that $130,000 payment. She confirms in the article what she says was this relationship, and then also puts forward some salacious allegations about their time together and the magazine claims they were corroborated by others at the time.

We`re not getting into all of those, but I will note this. NBC News has reached out to Cohen for a new comment given all these new revelations. Now last week, before all the denials from the team on Trump`s side about this, there wasn`t a clear comment on the actual reported $130,000 payment.

I want to turn now to Natasha Bertrand, a Staff Writer at the Atlantic who covers investigations and the Russia probe. Natasha, there are aspects of this story that are in their nature, personal and many people would say irrelevant particularly after a candidate wins office with similar allegations having circulated. And that is a fair point on the side of the Trump team. Then there is something that has really touched off a lot of alarm bells with the national security community and those looking at the Russia probe which is whether anything in here corroborates other allegations that relate to the potential vulnerability of the President of the United States to kompromat or blackmail? You`re analysis?

NATASHA BERTRAND, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, that`s exactly right. I mean, sources that I`ve been speaking to all day say that this is really a sign of the extent to which the President and all his men will go to cover up potential misbehavior. Now, I think why this might be relevant to Mueller, is because as he`s investigating whether or not the Trump campaign and Trump associates had any dealings with the Russians, he`s going to say well, is there any effort to conceal these dealings perhaps in the way that Michael Cohen tried to conceal the way that he allegedly paid off this porn star Stormy Daniels in order to not speak publicly about her relationship with Trump.

So this is something that the national security community is saying could help Mueller build a case and say you know, perhaps that there were some tactics here that were designed to evade scrutiny. And also, of course, the basic -- you know, the basic fact that this is blackmailable. I mean Michael Cohen, you know --

MELBER: Well, that`s something I want to actually add some reporting on because Jacob Weisberg had some early leads on this story and said he didn`t go with them in 2016, because he wanted to be fair to Trump and he hadn`t been able to nail them down. He came on THE BEAT recently and explained the Russia link as well.


JACOB WEISBERG, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SLATE GROUP: And then the other point is also you know, I think people have been very skeptical of some of the claims in the dossier about Trump allegedly consorting with prostitutes in Russia and his response to that is are you kidding me? I would never do that. Well, I mean, with the count is growing higher and higher of porn actresses, one claims that he offered her money to have sex with him. So, you know, the whole -- the whole picture starts to be more plausible, the picture that`s painted in the dossier.


BERTRAND: That`s exactly --

MELBER: Natasha?

BERTRAND: That`s exactly right. I think that this whole story, what happens from it is that it makes it much more plausible that Trump did go to Russia and he did have these kinds of sexual escapades with prostitutes. I mean, Stormy Daniels was talking to magazines about this as early as 2011. And as we know, Trump has been traveling to Moscow for quite some time and it just makes it all the more plausible that what the dossier says he did actually did occur.

MELBER: Natasha Bertrand, a familiar analyst for us, and now with the Atlantic, congratulations on that and thanks for joining our coverage. We are five hours away from the government shutdown. It`s also about to be the one year anniversary of Donald Trump`s inauguration. NBC`s Hallie Jackson is at the White House with some new reporting about where we go next. That`s straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MELBER: More now on the breaking news this evening. And I just got in my hand Senate Democrats holding an 8:30 p.m. caucus meeting. Whether that is a good or bad sign is TBD. Hallie Jackson keeping an eye on the other side of all this negotiations and planning at the White House. Hallie, what`s the latest?

HALLIE JACKSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It`s a sign of movement, Ari, right? The Senate Dems Caucus meeting that is set to happen in just a little bit from now. So that is at least something, I guess, you could say because we didn`t see much movement for most of the day. Although I will tell you from my vantage point here next to the west wing, we did start to see that change right around I think 5:00 or so, when there was a lot of activity, some rumors that started flying around. We had White House officials telling us, listen, coming out proactively and saying we`re not going to accept a five-day extension. OK, well, that had been on the table for like 24 hours.

So what changed two hours ago to sort of make them be pushing this as a negotiating tactic. You can kind of read the tea leaves there. There is some action, there is some activity. I will tell you at this point, Marc Short, who is the Director of Legislative Affairs and is running point on a lot of this, along with Chief of Staff John Kelly who`s taken a very prominent role in this, Short is over on the Hill, has been over on the Hill tonight, talking with Republican leadership trying to hammer out something. Will the White House accept if there is a shorter term, for example, as sources are talking about, maybe like a three-week or two-week continuing resolution basically kicking the can down the road another couple week? Would the White House support that? That is one of the things that we`re working on.

I would also point out that the President, we were told tonight by Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Budget -- Management and Budget, excuse me, that he knows that the President not going to Mar-a-Lago until the shutdown drama is resolved. Keep in mind, what else happens at midnight, Ari, it`s not just the shutdown, it`s also officially January 20th which is the one year anniversary of Donald Trump`s inauguration. He wanted to be down at Mar-a-Lago celebrating at his private resort. That is not going to happen. He is not going to go to Florida, we are told until this get finished.

So there`s an incentive I think for the President to not just be able to go and celebrate, but also to not have the optics of celebrating your inaugural anniversary by presiding over a government shutdown regardless of whether you think you deserve the blame or not. And the President clearly thinks he does not deserves the blame, although that`s different than what he said in 2013, Ari. You know, it`s just not good political optics for him. And so I do think there is some movement here happening tonight. It will be a late night for sure.

MELBER: Hallie Jackson, connecting the dots and raising the age-old question, are terrible headlines a good anniversary present?


MELBER: We will keep an eye on everything at the building behind you. I turn now to George Lakoff, he`s an expert in framing in linguistics, a former Berkley Professor and the author of the widely read Don`t Think of an Elephant. The work you do is central to both parties clashing and playing some blame games before the deadline even runs. I want to get to the blame frame, but first, as often when we`re privileged to have you on the show, I want to start with the substance and the ethics. What is the frame for why it would matter if the government shuts down?

GEORGE LAKOFF, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKLEY: Well, the first thing is what the Democrats are not saying about what -- why they`re sticking to what they`re doing. Namely, being a Democrat is about promoting the freedom and wellbeing of everybody. That`s the general thing. And the three cases are freedom, in the case of DACA, wellbeing in the case of children`s health, and the case of opioids. There are people being harmed, people being possibly, you know, thrown out for life. This is serious harm and they`re trying to prevent it. That`s what they should be saying. They`re just giving a list.

MELBER: You`re saying the Democrats still sound like they`re referring to policy names instead of values?

LAKOFF: Exactly. They`re not saying what they`re about as Democrats. It`s easy to say. I could say it in less than ten seconds, but they`re not doing it. And once you see it, that the issue is really deep harm that they`re trying to prevent and promote wellbeing and freedom, that is crucial. That`s what this is about. And they`re willing to say, look, let`s take this very seriously and do it because we`re trying to prevent harm in general. Not just on this issue, but across a whole bunch of other issues.

MELBER: Anytime you have this kind of standoff that they blow through the deadline tonight, there are many people around the country who basically blame both sides and they Washington should figure out how to work together. Is there, from your brain science and the research you do, a way to actually frame against that premise, if it`s not both sides?

LAKOFF: It`s not. We have a real division in worldview in the country. Conservatives have what I call a strict father worldview, where right now, Trump is the strictest strict father in the world. That`s what he wants to be. He wants to be the person in charge and to say what`s right and wrong, you know. The Democrats have a world view of that they`re interested in the world being of everyone. They have a view of care. This came out in the recent election in Wisconsin where you get Patty Schachtner, who shocked the Republicans. Why? Because her life was dedicated to care. She was an emergency medical person who went out when people were injured and sick and helpless and helped them every day. She lived it. She lived the care and came across in everything she said, and she got elected. That scared the Republicans for a very good reason.

MELBER: And the last thing I wanted to ask you about is Twitter. In a sense or two, you say the antidote to Trump Twitter?

LAKOFF: The antidote is simple. When he`s twittering, he`s trying to take the divert attention in general or frame things first in his perspective. But basically, there are things he doesn`t want out there. Truths, truths are not just simple facts. They have to do with lot of things --

MELBER: Because I have heard you say it. Don`t think you`re helping by rebutting and retweeting but put out your own truth. George Lakoff, I got to fit in a break. Thanks for being here. We`ll be right back.


MELBER: That`s our show. "HARDBALL" starts now.



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