Show: THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER Date: February 5, 2019 Guest: Alicia Menendez, Ilyse Hogue, Earl Blumenauer, Jason Johnson
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free these people.
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CHUCK TODD, HOST, MTP DAILY: Come on. It was right there for the taking.
That's all for MTP DAILY tonight. Don't forget MSNBC's coverage of the State of the Union, the Democratic response begins at 8:00 p.m. Pop your popcorn. Stay with us all night.
"THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER" starts right now. Good evening, Ari.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chuck. I guess my big question, what are you watching for tonight and what do you like to drink with your State of the Union?
TODD: Well, I'm on air so I like to drink a lot of black coffee.
TODD: And a lot of water in that front. Look, I'm curious in all seriousness, is it -- how much does he spend on the wall? The more time he spends on the wall, the more it's about 2020. The less time he spends on the wall to me, the more about 2019. For me, it's as simple as that.
MELBER: Yes. And that's something that comes into the fact the whole thing --
MELBER: -- was delayed because of the wall which didn't ultimately resolve you know in the compromise that he can tout at the very speech that he so wanted to give.
TODD: He's got to explain why we shut down the government for 35 days. I actually think he's got to offer up a plausible explanation for why we did it and where we're going from here.
MELBER: Well, he's got the audience. People know the government was shut down. They know it's reopened. This will be the night to do it. Very interesting stuff. We'll be watching your coverage, Chuck.
TODD: Thank you, brother.
MELBER: I'll see you tonight.
MELBER: Welcome to this very special edition of THE BEAT. And let me start like this, the State of our Union is delayed. I think we all know that. We are three hours out from Donald Trump's rescheduled State of the Union. The later date came after Speaker Pelosi famously took away Trump's prime time address.
She will be standing behind him and visible to the nation throughout tonight's speech. A reminder, a divided government and a Democratic resurgence from these midterms. The Dems say they're riding high after forcing Trump to reopen the government without wall funding. And they are touting the other big speech tonight.
Democrats tapping Stacey Abrams for this high profile job of rebutting President Trump. She'll balance the goals of countering a president, who we know lies more than any in history and also providing an affirmative vision for her party.
Now, early clues are tonight that Trump may dig in on the border wall, as I was just discussing with Chuck. And that's already drawing pushback from some top Republicans. Loyal Trump ally Lindsey Graham worrying there could be a war within the party over any Trump attempt to build the wall through emergency powers and some in the GOP are saying just don't do it.
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SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: This would just be another erosion of congressional authority in this particular area.
SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I think it would be a mistake for the president to invoke his national emergency powers for this purpose and that it would be a dubious constitutionality.
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MELBER: His speech comes one day after aides suspect that one of Donald Trump's own White House staff leaked secret schedules revealing that Trump does not do much traditional work. Sixty percent of his calendar in this newly leaked schedule is devoted to executive time, which is a bit of a PR problem for the president.
Tonight, Trump also addresses a nation that we can see is skeptical of him, approval at a pretty low 43 percent and lower on other personal characteristics. This is also his first State of the Union before a Democratic House. There are 40 more Democrats in the House since his last such address.
Also, we should note tonight, new legal heat on Trump and it's not from Bob Mueller. News breaking in the last day, federal prosecutors in New York issuing a subpoena to probe potential misconduct at Trump's 2017 inaugural.
I'm going to kick off our special coverage right now with retired four-star General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme allied commander. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation Magazine". "Theroot.com's" Jason Johnson. Political science professor and former Georgia congressman, a Republican Trump surrogate Jack Kingston. Thanks to all of you.
There is no way to pick according to rankings, we got a lot of different titles here as I list. I'll start with the general though. These nights are big. They're pageantry. The presidents that you have served have stepped up in different ways. Donald Trump is not a traditional president. What are you looking for him to do tonight?
WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Well, what I expect him to do is take credit for what he's tried to get done and try to be cooperative and say that he's trying to lead the whole country. But he's going to have to do that while protecting his base and he's going to do it in the face of a pretty hostile congressional majority by the Democrats.
So he's not going to get a lot of stand-up applause lines. And when you look at the accomplishments, they're pretty thin, actually.
MELBER: Pretty thin? Meaning, you don't think he has much to say?
CLARK: Well, let's take Korea, for example. So he's at a summit but actually, the evidence shows that Kim Jong-Un is still building his program. Take Syria, he said we were going to pull out. A lot of people are ready to get out of the Middle East and Afghanistan.
But the point is, there wasn't any strategic rationale and the people who worked for him say it's a really bad idea and there is a congressional resolution against it. Take Afghanistan, essentially, that's going to be, yes, we may get a peace agreement, but it will be a fig leaf because it looks like this is a way of sort of blessing the Taliban taking over. As they promised, ISIS won't be there.
And if you look at NATO, yes, there have been some promises to spend more money. But the alliance is suffering from a lack of presidential leadership. So there is a lot -- there is not much there, actually.
MELBER: Jason, on that point and thinking about the way that Donald Trump prepares for this, I can read that he spent two hours going over with Steven Miller who is his -- one of his right-wing narrators, practicing the map from the White House.
We are told, he will do another teleprompter-and-lectern promise today. And all of this comes amidst the republic reporting that the government reopened partly from the bad news, partly to distract from the Roger Stone indictment, and partly because Donald Trump wanted this TV address back.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Yes. Ari, I'm not expecting that much tonight. And as much as I'd like to envision this sort of musical montage of Trump working out and scratching and rewriting paper and going back and forth with Steven Miller, I don't think that's going to happen.
It's going to be what big speeches tend to be from this president. He's going to start off by reading exactly what he's supposed to say and there will come a point where he begins to freestyle. And that's where we find out where Donald Trump really is.
The interesting thing is going to be the first time the Democrats laugh at him, the first time they don't clap at a moment that he thinks they are supposed to be clapping. The moment that Nancy Pelosi says something or motions in some way that he notices how the people aren't responding to him, that's where we're going to the real Donald Trump.
Is he humbled by having this delayed by a week and having the government shutdown blow up in his face or is he just going to bring the wrath? And that's what I'm going to be seeing tonight.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, THE NATION: You know I think what we're going to see in this chamber, which is interesting, is a display of the new checks and balances. There is a new House and that has constrained Trump. Though I do think he's likely to double down tonight and try to lay the groundwork for a national emergency around the immigration issue.
I just received e-mail from talking points from the Democratic staff of the House Judiciary Committee. Not only are the Republicans teed up. The Democrats are teed up to take that on.
But I think we have seen a take issue a little with General Clark. This is a president who just the other day reignited a nuclear arms race by withdrawing from the international -- the INF. On the other hand, I think there is a hunger in this country, not for the crudeness of Donald Trump's approach, but among many Americans for a foreign policy of restraint and realism and an end to the endless wars of Afghanistan and Syria.
And I think it's important to see in the body politic of the House and the Senate, that Democrats have begun to stand up. Chris Murphy, Bernie Sanders, Representative Ro Khanna to say enough and Congress will take back matters of --
MELBER: So how do you --
HEUVEL: -- the War Powers Act. So I think that's important. And I have to say, the last thing I would say is that Donald Trump, as crude and vulgar as he is, is not wrong. He's doing it the wrong way but there is a skepticism that should be applied to the intelligence and military community often. And I think the valorization of those communities by a progressive left is against the fundamental first principles.
MELBER: So that's interesting. You say that as you take seriously what it means to think about tonight as a chance to look at the record. I mean are you saying as a very well-known progressive leader that part of what Trump is doing both in his attitude on Intel and the way that he is withdrawing from these fields of battle, there are good takeaways there, even if he is not doing it the right way?
HEUVEL: I think that there is often a reflexive anti-principle because Trump is so odious and he's such a crude, incoherent person, who has gathered around him these neocons. But on the other hand, there is a first principle. It's time to withdraw from these endless wars which have maimed and killed thousands of Americans and looted our Treasury.
And as a progressive, and I'll stop, we need the funding to rebuild our country, something I hope Stacey Abrams will speak to in her reply.
MELBER: Well, it's fascinating to hear you say it. I want to get Clark in --
CLARK: OK. Can I come --
MELBER: General Clark made check but --
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: You may have some disagreement here, Ari.
MELBER: Here's what I got to do. Look, everyone is excited. Hold on a second. This is what I'm going to do.
JOHNSON: So much to respond to.
MELBER: General Clark was made check and he gets a rebuttal. But I have not even yet got in the Congressman. So, Congressman Kingston, I wonder what you think, hearing things that I'm sure you disagree with and Katrina describing the president with some of those words. And yet it sounds like you and Katrina may overlap with regard to aspects of the foreign policy results here?
KINGSTON: Well, absolutely. I think Congress, if you look at, has been remiss and not reauthorize, and then not debating the War Powers Act, the use of force abroad. I mean -- and everybody, Democratic and Republican will admit that the Congress has taken a pass and they're relying on I'd say a legalistic approach to the existing use of force.
So I think there is a legitimate debate. And I do want to point out when the president talked about pulling out of Syria, the only thing you heard from the Democrats is, "I didn't like the process."
Well, good gosh, sorry about that. They're not going to like anything Donald Trump does. But what about the result? Where was the Democrat leadership saying, "You know what, it is time. We have been in Afghanistan for 17 years. Let's reassess that policy."
MELBER: So are you saying -- you're saying elected President didn't give the president credit. But you just heard a progressive voice here give some credit?
KINGSTON: You know, and I think it's a step in the right direction. And I want to say this, too, Ari. The president is going to talk about the incredible economy which we are enjoying. He is going to talk about the low unemployment numbers for Hispanics and African-Americans. He is going to talk about --
MELBER: Do you think he'll talk about them in the context of how they've been extended from the Obama years or he'll -- not that part?
KINGSTON: Well, Ari, I got a Degree in Economics here. And I got to say that the Obama recovery was very slow, very anemic. When Trump came in there and cut taxes and deregulated the business community suddenly changed their whole attitude.
MELBER: See, you had me right up to there. Now I feel like you have a Degree in Economic partisan talking points. But I want to highlight --
KINGSTON: Looking back into our home turf.
MELBER: I want to highlight I think the very intellectually honest exchange that you and Katrina were having which is interesting foreign policy. As promised, General Clark, your view.
CLARK: So Katrina, I just want to remind you and all my friends who are watching that I ran for president in 2003 because I was against the war in Vietnam.
HEUVEL: Iraq, excuse me.
CLARK: Yes, I did. And I was against the war in Iraq. And so when you look at this and you think about what I'm saying, please don't confuse the title of general retired with someone who is always pushing for more military adventures. I'm not.
I do think, however, that when you make the decisions to pull out, you do need consultations, you need a plan and you need to figure out what happens next. So I would have wanted us to be out of Afghanistan long ago because we haven't had a success strategy in there for years and years and years.
As far as ISIS is concerned, it's fine if we're going to pull back from Syria. But we have to understand that ISIS actually hasn't been broken. So it's the responsibility of the intelligence community and those in uniform to remind the president of what the obligations are. He makes the decisions.
So -- but not all of us who have worn the uniform are simply pushing for more and more and more and more.
MELBER: Let me go to Katrina. Katrina -- everyone is so excited. Katrina first.
HEUVEL: General Clark, I wasn't speaking specifically of you. However, it is the case that we hear too -- we hear quite often from generals, from intelligence community officials on television around matters of war and not enough about peace. And I think that's of real concern because too many have an investment in continuing the conflict.
I mean I think Bill Larkin, who was a consultant to this network, who resigned the other day because he felt that there were too many military officials and intelligence officials who did have this vested stake in promoting conflict. So we need to hear from more diversity. And I think Ari Melber show does bring on more diverse voices and I think that's important.
KINGSTON: And -- but Ari, one of the things --
HEUVEL: But I also think when --
CLARK: I think that's good. But the reason I came back to you is because you mentioned me by name, Katrina. And so I don't have a stake.
MELBER: So let me elevate. All right. I love passion. That's why we have -- we've got, you know, this is not a panel where everyone agrees. What I want to do is go forward. I think that point has been made.
And I also think Katrina is highlighting the fact that we always have to balance how we rely on the expertise of people who have served and honor and respect and know they know more about certain things, but then not automatic deference.
I actually don't think you guys were disagreeing quite as much as it may appear. But I will rebook both of you to continue to debate.
I got to ask the congressman who is a Trump supporter about something that I hope you will come honestly on, which it doesn't look good for the president, which may be why they kept it secret, which was these schedules that reveal, Congressman, that he was spending according to "Axios" leaks 60 percent of his time in executive time which involves no other humans in the room, watching television according to White House aides, tweeting which we know from the public record.
I want, for your response, get AOC up on the screen. She posted about this after our report among others last night. She said, look, "Netflix and chill is not a management style." Basically accusing the president of watching TV and Netflix and not working.
And since our viewers care about all sides and you're a Trump surrogate, what is your response? Surely -wait, let me finish the question. I know it's a long one. I'm a lawyer. Surely you can't say that this is normal presidential scheduling. Your response?
KINGSTON: Ari, let me say, number one, here we have a 29-year-old coffee barrister telling a man who's made billions of dollars running management, and enterprises, investments, and real estate all over the globe but she's going to tell him how to manage the world.
MELBER: She's not -- well, sure, she -- she's not -- I want to go back to you. But she's not being quoted today based on the fact that she worked in retail or in service. She's being quoted as a member of Congress the same title of yours. Do you not give her the same respect of the title you held?
KINGSTON: I'm saying when it comes to managing and running affairs and big corporations, I'm going to go with Donald Trump over somebody who doesn't have a track record of anything outside of Congress. But let me say this, we don't know. I think some of this is just this picky stuff that, oh, one more reason to get mad at Donald Trump.
Jimmy Carter, as we all know, was a workaholic. Look at that economy. Ronald Reagan was accused of napping yet look at the peace and the prosperity that we enjoyed under him. Barack Obama, we as Republicans criticized for playing too much golf but I think he was an effective president.
MELBER: Well, record shows that, for example, Trump plays more golf than Obama did. So does that concern you?
KINGSTON: Listen, I'm just saying that we criticized Obama for playing golf but I think for those people who -- why don't they just really talk about real issues like Medicare for all and a $7 trillion price tag, how are they going to pay for it? If they're worried about the president having too much downtime, why don't they get an appointment with him and go over there and talk to him about how to reduce the footprint.
MELBER: I want to fit in a break. I could tell you are a good debater because you avoided talking at all about Donald Trump's schedules.
KINGSTON: I was absolutely answering the question.
MELBER: But I got to fit in a break. Jason stays. You didn't speak as much as this block. We're going to speak more later.
My special thanks to General Wesley Clark, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, and former Congressman Jack Kingston. Thanks to each of you.
We have a lot more in the show tonight, including these developments in the investigations that are the background for this speech. New federal subpoenas regarding the Inaugural Committee.
And I'm going to speak to an official who ran Obama's inaugurations. And Trump's new reality tonight, the power politics by Nancy Pelosi and the live rebuttal from Stacey Abrams.
We're going to look ahead to all of that. And then I'll tell you how lawmakers like AOC who is a lawmaker are making more arguments bringing special guests.
It's all part of a big night here on MSNBC. I'll be fact-checking later on during our special coverage that begins at 8:00 p.m. And if you are up late, 1:00 a.m. Eastern, 10:00 p.m. Pacific, a full hour of coverage I'm anchoring with, yes, also Jason Johnson.
It's a big night. I'm Ari Melber. You are watching a special edition of THE BEAT on MSNBC.
MELBER: We are now three hours out from Donald Trump's biggest speech of the year. But while he may want to focus on the State of the Union, I can tell you there is a lot of other news tonight. Rarely do presidents address the nation under this kind of cloud.
The White House and campaign effectively under investigation but also probes into Trump's business, foundation, and now the transition team, and the committee that planned his inauguration. Federal prosecutors subpoenaing the Inaugural Committee, demanding documents on donors and spending, these subpoenas are coming from the federal prosecutors in New York.
It's an offshoot of the investigation into Trump's guilty former lawyer Michael Cohen. Some of his closest allies have long warned this could be more damaging, carry more risk than even the Mueller probe.
I am joined by former Federal Prosecutor Guy Lewis who has worked with Mueller, Comey, Rosenstein, and more at the DOJ. And Steve Kerrigan who is president and CEO of both of President Obama's Inaugural Committees.
So before we get to what the feds are looking for, I just want to ask you based on what is publicly known about the way this committee ran and the way it raises and spends money, does it look normal to you? Does it look clean? Or does it look problematic?
STEVE KERRIGAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, OBAMA INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: It doesn't look normal from day one. I mean the way they set up their inaugural committee, how much they raised, how they seemingly raised it, and frankly how they -- how much they've spent was really a recipe for corruption from the very beginning.
And the structure, how they were able to overspend at the Trump Hotel, how they don't frankly -- under law, they don't report their expenditures allows for a real opportunity for corruption, for illegal activity, for -- there's really to be an inaugural slush fund really because when you run for president, not under the normal Republican system which he did really without raising normal Republican dollars, the best way to ingratiate yourself to a new president is to give unlimited unfettered amounts of money.
MELBER: Right. So there is a concern about potential corruption even if it wasn't felonies yet which we'll get to. Listen to Chris Christie really blasting the people who were Trump's version of you except you have so far not been accused of anything like this. Take a look.
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CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR: Rick Gates was running the inaugural.
CHRIS HAYES, HOST, ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES: Inaugural, right.
CHRISTIE: Rick Gates was running the inaugural and Rick Dearborn was running the day-to-day of the transition. I mean you couldn't have found two worse people. Gates is now a criminal and cooperating with the federal government.
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MELBER: Guy, that's a former prosecutor like yourself talking about the people. What's important here in this story?
GUY LEWIS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, you got to look at it, Ari. Take a step back. Follow the money. I mean, that's what the prosecutors in Manhattan are going to be doing, follow the money.
And when you put a hundred million dollars through a system and as Steve was talking about, very few checks and balances, you're going to see problems. Whether it's corruption or not, it remains to be seen.
But look what they've done, they've gotten Cohen, a former lawyer whose testified. He certainly knows some secrets, right? They've immunized Alan Weisselberg who's the CFO at the Trump Organization. Ari, why did they immunized him? Why did he need immunity? There's got to be issues there.
And now, these fastballs to the head, the subpoenas where they are giving out -- they're getting documents, they're interviewing witnesses. There's going to be more issues come up. And I think it's problem for Trump and Trump's lawyers.
MELBER: Take a look at one example which is that Gates allegedly was asking people could you just route around the structure and just give money directly from donors, which would apparently violate at least disclosure rules. Do you see that as a kind of thing that anyone can be indicted for, Guy?
LEWIS: Absolutely. In fact, if you look at the subpoena, that was first I think "CNN" got a hold of, it lists the crimes, some of the crimes, Ari, that they are investigating. Conspiracy, financial crimes. And look, these guys in Manhattan, you don't think they know how to investigate, look at a financial balance sheet and investigate financial crimes. That's their bread and butter.
LEWIS: That's what they do every day.
MELBER: And Steve --
LEWIS: And so again, I think it's big problems.
MELBER: Yes. And Steve, just look at the amount of money spent $40 and $50 million ran him for Bush and Obama. Trump, $107 million. Why so much more money?
KERRIGAN: The only reason for that is either colossal mismanagement which this president is supposed to be great at managing and all these people are supposed to be or there is a colossal amount of graft involved in this.
Their concert at the Lincoln Memorial cost five times what our concert costs in 2009 and we had almost a million people attended. It really is -- it amounts to either colossal --
MELBER: You are drawing attention to the fact that more people attended your inaugural than Trump.
KERRIGAN: Both of our inaugurations.
MELBER: Do you do that just to bother him or to make yourself feel good?
KERRIGAN: Can it be both?
MELBER: I don't know.
KERRIGAN: Can it be both reasons? Really, this is a matter, he did probably a quarter of the events that we did and the Bush inaugurals did for twice as much money, with about a third of the staff that we've had. I mean there is something there.
And I'm glad that the SDNY and others and frankly shows like yours aren't letting up on this because I have been talking about this on Twitter for 746 days that if you spend $107 million on an inauguration of that calendar, there's something wrong.
MELBER: Right. Well, you have been all over it but I heard most people don't read your tweets.
KERRIGAN: Well, if you do, that would be helpful.
MELBER: Well, we listen to you. We read longer than tweet length. It always sounds a little plaintiff when someone's like, "I tweeted"--
KERRIGAN: I seriously -- you never know. Not 746 times, not good.
MELBER: Many times. Guy on the law, Steve having been there, thanks to both of you.
KERRIGAN: Thank you.
MELBER: Appreciate it on a big night.
Now, we got a Democratic lawmaker who is boycotting Trump's State of the Union, joining me tonight to explain why. First, though, Speaker Pelosi and tonight's Democratic response when we're back in 30 seconds.
MELBER: Tonight for the first time, Donald Trump delivers a State of the Union to a divided Congress. On these big nights, there are many pundits who tend to focus only on the speech given by the president. In the Trump era, that can often mean that even a typical speech gets praised as some sort of accomplishment.
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VAN JONES, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: He became president of the United States in that moment, period. There are a lot of people who, have a lot of reason to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad at him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period
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MELBER: High praise for what was then a pretty traditional address to Congress. And we want to go beyond what some pundits do because there are really two speeches tonight that represent two co-equal branches of government.
And Democrats here have made a big statement already by tapping Stacey Abrams, whose electric campaign for Georgia governor nearly brought her to what was going to be a historic victory. She will deliver the rebuttal to Trump tonight. And there is much talk about her running for the Senate.
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STACEY ABRAMS, FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: We are writing the next chapter of Georgia's future where no one is unseen, no one is unheard, and no one is uninspired. Democracy only works when we work for it, when we fight for it, when we demand it. We can show the old guard something new and we can fight together for the good of all.
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MELBER: That's the fighting spirit many are expecting in tonight's Democratic rebuttal. I am joined by Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro- Choice America. Alicia Menendez, host of the "Amanpour & Company show on PBS", host of the "Latino to Latina Podcast", and a contributing editor at "Bustle". And "POLITICSNATION" host Reverend Al Sharpton who also leads the National Action Network.
Hello, everyone. Rev, you are sitting with me at our New York headquarters as we prepare for this night. The Democrats picking Stacy Abrams means what?
REV. AL SHARPTON, HOST, POLITICSNATION: I think it means that they are showing the other face that Donald Trump and his political crowd does not show and that is women, a black, a victim in my opinion of voter suppression in her election in Georgia. And she represents the new America.
We are looking at the new America versus the old America and I think that she personifies that. I think she'll be eloquent and forceful and her presence itself represents some of the political as well as voting abuses that this president represent.
ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Alicia?
ALICIA MENENDEZ, COHOST, AMANPOUR & CO.: I think it means a few things as the Reverend said. You know, there was some pushback after this last election about the fact that black women voters are the bedrock of the Democratic Party. They don't always feel that the party infrastructure the party establishment has supported them in the ways that they should expect given the level of support that they showed the Democrats during elections.
This, of course, is an indicator that they have been heard. Beyond that, I think Stacey Abrams' message is going to stand in sharp contrast to the president. She's going to talk about an America and in an economy that works for everyone. I think she's going to poke some holes in the victory lap that the President intends to take around the State of the U.S. economy specifically how middle-class and working-class Americans have not fared as well under this tax plan as America's wealthiest.
MELBER: Ilyse, take a listen to the preview we've gotten from a President Trump advisor saying this will be all about compromise tonight.
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KELLYANNE CONWAY, ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: The Speaker went from disinviting the President to State of the Union -- to the State of the Union to now needing to sit behind him and resist the usual raised eyebrows and rolling eyes and all. I'm very curious to see how she's going to react, sort of when she'll applaud, when she'll stand up.
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MELBER: Discussing specifically the back and forth with Pelosi, your views, Ilyse.
ILYSE HOGUE, PRESIDENT, NARAL PRO-CHOICE AMERICA: Well, I think that Speaker Pelosi has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that she can get under the President's skin. But she does that because she actually brings the comedy that he claims to bring and yet it eludes him.
She has led a very diverse caucus to unity around very common American principles and she has actually successfully stood up to the president with broad support from across the nation. I think she gets under his skin. She is the picture of class and grace and everything she does and I expect no less from her this evening.
MELBER: And Ilyse, do you -- do you think the President has some obligation here to try to explain what the shutdown was about?
HOGUE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I don't expect that he will. One of the things that we've seen is when he's in trouble he tends to divert and deflect and throw red meat to get his base riled up. So we're expecting that from him. But I think that as Alicia said, we're going to see a sharp contrast not just from Pelosi his demeanor but from Stacie's response where we are going to see the broad face of what America looks like on display from the women in the Democratic Party and I think it's going to be appealing to people all around the country and across the aisle.
MELBER: Alicia, on the point about what Donald Trump's going to be looking at, I want to play a little bit of the very infamous Republican push back to Obama when it was sort of the fringe part of their caucus getting loud, getting in his face at his speech, and think about not a false equivalence but -- we don't have it, I'm told, but you all remember it. I'll just read it.
MENENDEZ: I remember it.
MELBER: Obama said the reforms I'm proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. And then a Republican Congressman Wilson screamed, you lie. And then Obama said, not true. Who could forget it? My reading as dramatic is the sound bite for sure. Walk us through, Alicia, what it means to have so many young people, Democrats, and more women frankly in the chamber. Do you think that could affect what is one of the rare in- person performances in our politics tonight?
MENENDEZ: And let's add to the dynamic that you just laid out, Ari. The fact that he's also going to have multiple presidential hopefuls who want to run against him in the 2020 general sitting in that audience, they're going to be some of the most watched cutaway shots from that speech. It does. Of course, it's not a pep rally this time. It's definitely a much more hostile audience.
But I also want to add another dimension into this which is it's not just how Democrats are going to be responding to his speech. There are also elements of what we believe the President is going to be talking about tonight that have spurred division within his own party, right?
So whether that's him talking about his relationship with North Korea, and the possibility of continued talks with Kim Jong-un or whether it's him talking about revisions to NATO, both of those issues make members of his own party incredibly nervous and so it's going to be interesting to watch tonight how they react to some of those declarations.
MELBER: Yes. Rev, what do you think specifically Stacey Abrams' ratio should be in attacking and rebutting Donald Trump and laying out the alternative vision? You are someone who when you ran for president, you were often accused of being all on the big alternative side making your points and not always coming in and affirming what the Democratic Party should be for. You were thought of as a critic or an advocate, you could rebut me if I'm wrong, it's -- does she do that or does she position herself on par with the president with a vision for America.
SHARPTON: I think she has to do somewhat of both. I think that unlike when I ran and you and Democratic primaries running against someone to get votes, she's not there to get votes tonight. She's there to one rebut what he lays out and say why it is not right but also give a vision that is in more in line with most of what Americans would want that she represents and I think what most Americans want in general.
I think that the real test tonight -- I don't think Nancy Pelosi as has been said, he's going to lose her grace and play in any juvenile way like the president. I don't know whether there'll be an outburst from any of the young members of Congress. The real question is, can Donald Trump handle it as gracefully as Barack Obama did.
I think that you will probably have more of a test on how much President Trump can take and what somebody can give. I don't think he can contain himself.
MELBER: Very interesting. Reverend Al Sharpton, Ilyse Hogue and Alicia Menendez, thanks to each of you. And be sure to watch Rev on "POLITICS NATION" every weekend 5:00 p.m. Eastern right here on MSNBC.
Up ahead as promised, as the Democrats take aim at Trump, their State of the Union Guests tell a whole bunch of stories including undocumented workers fired from Trump's own golf clubs and others who say it's not worth even going. I'll talk to a Democrat who is formally boycotting the speech. Also glowing scandals and golfing Trump as he addresses the nation, will he address any of them?
MELBER: No doubt Donald Trump addresses a polarized nation tonight and there are already signs of dramatic polarization and tension in who is heading to the speech inside the House. Both sides are featuring guests to make different kinds of points. Trump bringing victim's families to draw attention to crime committed by undocumented immigrants, also bringing a child named Trump who was bullied for his name.
Speaker Pelosi bringing the new president of Planned Parenthood, other Democrats bringing an undocumented woman who recently worked at Trump's golf course, and at least five transgender service members are there. He rebuked from Democrats to Trump's executive ban.
Meanwhile, freshman star AOC doubling down on confrontational politics by bringing the very activists who stepped to Jeff Flake over the Kavanaugh battle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: And says, well-behaved women rarely make history.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well-behaved women rarely make history. That's right.
CORTEZ: That's right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for not being a well-behaved woman ever, OK?
CORTEZ: Of course. And you, either. Thank you. Cheers!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I'm joined now by Congressman Earl Blumenauer who says he is boycotting Trump speech tonight, the second year in a row he has done so announcing in a statement that he will skip a speech that he expects to be filled with little more than "lies, deception, and divisiveness." And back along for the ride Jason Johnson who may have a question for the Congressman.
Let me start here, sir. A lot of people agree with and understand what you're doing. What do you say to critics who argue, well, why not go in there one night a year at least and be in the same room and hear each other out or in this case you hearing him?
REP. EARL BLUMENAUER (D), OREGON: I think it's important not to dignify what should be a very important event for our nation. I've been to 20 State of the Union speeches, Republican and Democrat alike whether I agreed or disagreed but they accorded the respect for the office, dignity, and at least attempted to bring this country together. Donald Trump has not done that at all.
We've just concluded a six-week shutdown that is essentially a temper tantrum on his part inflicting damage on the country and 800,000 federal employees. He has been in a very public argument with his own security officials disputing what they said on television and in transcripts. The man is untethered from the truth and I think this ritual that he's a part of regardless of what's on the teleprompter, he has demean the presidency and I'm not going to dignify it with my presence.
MELBER: What would you like to see given the Constitution's statement that there is a State of the Union although it need not be given in person? Would you think it would be fitting if the entire Hall was effectively empty and he had to address an empty Hall if you convinced enough of your colleagues to go along with you?
BLUMENAUER: Well, it would be I think fitting. I mean, look at the manufactured crisis. If he was being honest, he would admit that the crisis at the border is one that he created, that we could just treat people according to the law not separating families if the border is more secure today than it has been in decades.
The notion that he's having this assault on the environment that he picks fights that we don't need to have. And I personally welcome someday him coming clean with the American public earning our trust and I'll be happy to show up if he comes clean with the American public.
MELBER: My colleague Jason Johnson has a question.
JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM: Congressman, I have a question. So clearly you've been an advocate for marijuana legalization. That's something you've been pushing through. But the guests that you pick tonight to go in your place is about sort of feeding the hungry. Why did you make that selection for somebody to come in and sit in for you and be at the speech that you don't want to see?
BLUMENAUER: Well, it is -- what the World Relief Kitchen has done and my guest, they provided five million meals for people in the United States and around the world that are hungry. It illustrates the need that we have. In fact, they gave thousands and thousands of meals to furloughed federal employees who Trump locked out and denied a paycheck.
I thought this symbolized the type of America that I believe in and I think is representative of what most of my constituents believe in. It's a powerful symbol for what's right about America, not the division and discord.
MELBER: Well, it's interesting to get your perspective particularly given the fact that you've attended as you mentioned the States of the Union by presidents in both parties and a lot of Americans like you are wondering how do you speak out and protest against some of what this presidents done.
On the flip side, we heard earlier tonight from a former colleague of yours, Republican Congressman with big support of the president. So getting a lot of different views about what is clearly a polarized address, Congressman Blumenauer, thanks for joining me, Jason Johnson as well.
BLUMENAUER: My pleasure.
MELBER: And Jason, I'll see you at 1:00 in the morning on the East Coast. Up ahead, investigations also swirling around Donald Trump as he prepares this address. How have other presidents confronted scandals and criminal probes or tried to ignore them? This is really interesting as we get ready for tonight. I'm going to show you exactly what we mean next.
MELBER: One thing to watch for tonight, Donald Trump facing a test in how he will handle something everyone knows about the cloud of the Russia probe that hangs over tonight's speech. Now, past presidents have handled these kinds of open criminal probes and scandals in very different ways.
In 1998, it was only weeks after Monica Lewinsky's allegations first became public that Bill Clinton took the tack of ignoring the issue entirely. Many years earlier, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan both in their own ways did bring up of their own volition the Watergate and Iran-Contra investigations to different ends.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe the time has come to bring that investigation and the other investigations of this matter to an end. One year of Watergate there's enough.
RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have one major regret. I took a risk with regard to our action in Iran. It did not work and for that, I assume full responsibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: I am joined by my colleague Jonathan Alter, the author of many books including Biographies of Roosevelt and Obama, and I want to give a special shout out. He's got a brand new HBO documentary called Breslin And Hamill: Deadline Artists about the legendary New York Journalist Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill available on HBO. Congratulations on that and thanks for being with us and a big night.
JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Thanks, Ari.
MELBER: You look at Reagan and Nixon, obviously no one expects Donald Trump to "take responsibility" for anything related to these probes and yet they do hangover, they are intensifying. Your view on what he might do and also what a president should do.
ALTER: Well, I don't have any clue as to what he's doing. All we know in advance of the speech is that he's angry about the drafts that have been given to him and that they're not combative enough the New York Times reported earlier this evening. But my prediction which is worth what you're paying for it is that he avoids the topic entirely and you know doesn't really touch it.
He sort of moved away a little bit from these broad-based attacks on Mueller because for instance when Mueller criticized the BuzzFeed article a couple of weeks ago, the White House said, oh well, Mueller criticized the BuzzFeed article, must be no good, like they were investing Mueller with credibility knocking down this story.
MELBER: Right, exactly. They got to be careful.
ALTER: So I'm not -- I'm doubtful that he will actually go there.
MELBER: What can we learn if I can be a little -- a little broader and optimistic here in our final segment on the beat here going into this speech, from the Reagan example a person who was very ideologically polarizing, ultimately by the judgment of history, although roundly reelected, Iran-Contra of being a huge scandal. What does it mean no to have a president decide to stand up in that lectern and actually take responsibility? What does that mean for America?
ALTER: Well, it's very -- it's very significant when they do. It just doesn't happen very often. I mean, eventually Bill Clinton had to take responsibility for the Lewinsky scandal. John F. Kennedy took responsibility for the Bay of Pigs when that turned into a fiasco. Barack Obama took responsibility when healthcare.gov was a failure. But this president has literally never admitted a mistake on any threat.
One exception, in the recent New York Times interview he had admitted as I think you pointed out that he should have talked to Bob Woodward.
MELBER: Yes, P.R. mistake. It was an incredible thing. Before I let you go. You look at law and order here and the way that he's dealing with the Mueller probe or criticizing the treatment of Roger Stone and you contrast that to something you and others have reported on. I'm going to play a little bit of this from the documentary Trump dealing with the infamous Central Park Five. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must reinstitute the death penalty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So outraged by the brutal rape attack of the young jogger in New York Central Park, Trump took out full-page ads in four City newspapers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was an ad that suggested that there was no mercy necessary, no justice as we know it necessary. He thought they just should be killed. Trump inflamed race hate in New York City.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MELBER: Law and order as a slogan, can he use it as well tonight given the probes.
ALTER: He's going to try with stories about the border. And you know, one point on that incident that happened 30 years ago, and Spike Lee points out in Breslin and Hamill, another person committed that rape.
ALTER: DNA evidence established that. If Donald Trump had had his way, five young black men would have been executed for a crime they did not commit. So this is the way this man uses hate, lies --
ALTER: -- resentment of the other for his own political ends and he will do that again tonight.
MELBER: It's an important context particularly as we're going to hear about crime tonight. We know at least from some of the angel mobs that he's bringing. Jonathan Alter, congratulations a the documentary, MSNBC Analyst, colleague here. Thank you for being here. And we'll be back with one more thing.
MELBER: That does it for me, but stick around for full MSNBC coverage of the State of the Union starting 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight with Rachel Maddow and Brian Williams. I'll also be fact-checking parts of the speech along with them and I'll be back for more special coverage of tonight's speeches at 1:00 a.m. Eastern, 10:00 p.m. Pacific.
Our lineup includes John Harwood, Jason Johnson, Mara Gay, Reverend William Barber and many more. I hope you'll join us. "HARDBALL" with Chris Matthews is up next.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END