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MTP Daily, Transcript 2/21/2017

Guests: David Ignatius, Masha Gessen, Israel Ortega, Eugene Robinson, Susan Page, Kristen Welker, Robert Costa, Susan Page, Eugene Robertson, Israel Ortega, David Ignatius

Show: MTP Daily Date: February 21, 2017 Guest: David Ignatius, Masha Gessen, Israel Ortega, Eugene Robinson, Susan Page, Kristen Welker, Robert Costa, Susan Page, Eugene Robertson, Israel Ortega, David Ignatius

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us this hour. I`m Steve Kornacki here in New York. "MTP DAILY" with Chuck Todd starts right now.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Yes, it`s Tuesday.

Must be time for a reset.

(voice-over): Tonight, pivot point? The White House works to regain momentum after a month of chaos.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms.


TODD: Plus, diplomatic intrigue. What a rogue Ukraine-Russia diplomatic deal could tell us about the White House`s back channel connections with the Kremlin. And how pandas have been at the center of political intrigue for decades.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Panda watch. The mood is tense. I have been on some serious, serious reports but nothing quite like this.


TODD: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

(on camera): Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington.

Paul Ruud (ph) is on the scene at national zoo. Anyway, and welcome to MTP DAILY.

After calling the press the enemy, the courts a threat to national security, the popular vote a fraud, protesters paid thugs, bad polls, fake news, and leakers criminals, after fumbling questions about anti-Semitism and racism, after all the staffing chaos, the travel ban rollout mess, the Flynn firing, the tweet storms and the disinformation, you might believe that now would be a good time for a reset of the Trump administration, in month two.

And there are what you might call green chutes, signaling a potential shift in tone and tenor inside Trump`s White House right now. But will it last? If the past 16 months are a guide, there`s ample reason to be skeptical that this is just a moment and nothing more.

Today, President Trump toured the National Museum of African-American History and Culture where he made some unexpected remarks about the recent surge of reported anti-Semitic threats and vandalism occurring right here in the United States.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This (INAUDIBLE) is a meaningful reminder of why we have to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms. The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to rout out hate and prejudice and evil.


TODD: A much different President Trump than the one from last Thursday, when he was asked, basically, that question.

Now, the president also spoke with my colleague, Craig Melvin, about the state of bomb threats made to Jewish centers across the country. Again, from that Thursday press conference question. Here it is.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I certainly hope they catch the people. I think you maybe have had it for longer than people think and maybe it gets brought up a little bit more. But I will tell you that anti- Semitism is horrible and it`s going to stop and it has to stop.

CRAIG MELVIN, MSNBC HOST: So, you`re denouncing now, once and for all --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course and I do it -- wherever I get a chance, I do it.


TODD: Folks, President Trump has arguably dug himself into a Trump Tower sized hole with a large swath of the American public. And after a month of Oval Office chaos, which the president and his staff dispute, and 15 months of what some might call scorched earth campaigning, there are going to be plenty of people that are very, very leery of the president`s ability to essentially be presidential.

And that includes the folks at the Anne Frank Center, for mutual respect, who put out this scathing statement. Even after the president spoke his words today.

And the statement read, in part, this: The president`s sudden acknowledgement of anti-Semitism is a band-aid on the cancer of anti- Semitism that has infected his own administration.

His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condensation after weeks in which he and his staff has committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting anti-Semitism. Yet, day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.

Folks, right now might be the best shot the president is going to have, at least for a while, if he`s serious about a reset. Congress is home and it`s a holiday-shortened week here in Washington which is, perhaps, the reason why we`ve seen some indications that Mr. Trump, or at least the people around him, recognize that this is a good time to try to attempt a pivot.

The White House has gone back to the drawing board after a disastrous travel ban rollout. We`re expecting a new executive order sometime this week.

The president fired a divisive national security advisor, and yesterday replaced him with a highly-respected general, H.R. McMaster. And Vice President Pence was in Munich this weekend trying to reassure anxious European allies who are leery of President Trump`s commitment.

But how many times have we talked about a possible Trump reset? Many times. The difference is, this time, Mr. Trump is president.

I`m joined now by Robert Costa, "Washington Post" reporter and NBC News Political Analyst, as well as Kristen Welker, NBC White House Correspondent. Both have covered the ups and downs of Trump pivots in the past.

[17:05:09] Kristen, let me start here at the White House. Does the White House acknowledge that this looks like a pivot?

KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, they do acknowledge that it`s been a rocky couple of weeks here and that this is, sort of, the first step in trying to reset on a whole host of issues, Chuck.

He laid out a number of them. Mike Flynn, the ouster of Mike Flynn, and replacing him with Lieutenant General McMaster who has gotten bi-partisan praise. Someone who served in both Iraq wars and in Afghanistan. So, that was a critical choice for President Trump. So far, it appears as though both sides of the aisle think he got that pick right.

And then, of course today, in denouncing the uptick in anti-Semitism and in these threats against Jewish community centers in his strongest terms yet.

But the question and the challenge, I think, for the White House is, what happens next? What`s the follow through? That`s a question that Sean Spicer couldn`t really answer today in the briefing when he was pressed on this.

Yes, he denounced anti-Semitism today. But how is he going to follow through with that and make it clear to the American public that he`s not going to tolerate it as president?

As a part of his resent, Chuck, I would also just point to the fact that he`s sending his DHS secretary of secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to Mexico tomorrow to try to turn the page, after some very rocky relations with Mexico, that tough phone call that he had. And, of course, the president of Mexico cancelling his visit.

So, the follow through remains a question mark. But I think there is some acknowledgment here at the White House that they do need to turn the page - - Chuck.

TODD: Robert Costa, you`ve been through these with Trump world for some time, sort of this idea of pivots and staff might want to push him in one way and then he doesn`t. Is this different this time?

ROBERT COSTA, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It`s a little different because my reporting tells me that this whole whirlwind of the first few weeks, getting the cabinet through, having all of these different controversies with General Flynn, as Kristen ably laid out, has now passed.

It`s a different phase. He`s facing a major Congressional speech next week. He actually has to start to get things done on tax reform, on health care.

He`s going to CPAC which has had this controversy with milanopolis (ph) and the alt-right. And he has to try to really now define himself as a president and that`s what people inside the White House are telling me. This is a chance, a new phase, at C-PAC, Congress next week and these appearances to try to strike a different tune. We`ll see if it`s -- if it`s actually successful.

TODD: Well, Robert, let me follow up with you a second on here before Kristen which is, look, a lot of the tone setting gets done by the president sometimes just on social media. Does he acknowledge that he is the tone setter here and if they want a sort of clean shot between now and a week from today in that Congressional speech that he`s got to be a different guy on Twitter?

COSTA: Twitter, specifically, I have not heard of something that`s ever really been addressed or is going to be addressed. Because it`s somewhat of an understood fact, within this White House, that no one`s going to have a candid conversation with President Trump about his use of Twitter. Maybe about some of the phrasings of his tweets.

But you see the White House, right now, trying to pair back some of its messaging. Let Trump speak for himself. And it was Trump, himself, who pushed for that press conference last week because he wants to be the message.

TODD: Kristen, is that -- is there already a new media strategy that you see formed that they`ve decided, let him take more of the lead on this, put him out more? I mean, in some ways, today felt like it was -- they wanted to make sure he was the final word on this and not Sean Spicer.

KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Well, I think that it`s coming from the president, to a large extent, Chuck, that he felt like, last week, he wanted to take the reins of his own messaging. And then, you`re right, he set the tone again today.

The question that we have for the White House is, are we going to see more of these impromptu press conferences as he tries to set the tone here? And they didn`t rule that out. They thought it was effective.

Of course, as you know, it was a controversial press conference, some people thought it was all over the place and it did more harm than good. But the president felt as though he was getting his message out in the way that he wants to. And he still thinks he`s the best messenger here at the White House to do that.

TODD: Right.

WELKER: And so, I do think that that is going to be part of the narrative moving forward.

I also think, and that we can`t stress enough, the point that Robert was making. This speech next week to a joint session of Congress is critically important for the president as he tries to reset things here at the White House. And we are told he`s already started to work on it.

TODD: All right, Robert Costa, Kristen Welker on the Trump beat for us. Thank you both.

Let me bring in tonight`s the panel. Eugene Robertson, of course, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist with "The Washington Post" and an NBC News political analyst. Susan Page is "USA Today`s" Washington Bureau Chief. And Israel Ortega is a senior writer with "Opportunity Lives." Hello to all of you.

[17:10:03] Susan, is this -- what do you make of what we`re seeing? Is this just today? Is this after a realization. What do you make what have you`ve seen?

SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "USA TODAY": So, we talk about this being a good week. Let`s remember, it`s Tuesday and Monday was a holiday.

TODD: Yes.

PAGE: So, we`ve got some time to go --

TODD: He being graded -- you`re saying we`re grading him on a curve?

PAGE: Well, that may be the case. But I do think you cannot overestimate the impact that the appointment of General McMaster has had on people, generally. To replace Mike Flynn with him has been greatly reassuring to people in the national security mainstream, Democrats and Republicans.

And it means that there are a lot of critics, like John McCain, who now feel the team around President Trump on national security affairs is one that you can trust to have good advice and strong advice.

TODD: Now, the issue is, now, they want to get President Trump to say the same things as President -- as Vice President Pence did in Europe.

But, in fact, Israel, I want to get -- this almost feels as if they realized, we were -- we were creating ourselves problems on Capitol Hill. And, oh, by the way, we still haven`t even started legislative process.

ISRAEL ORTEGA, SENIOR WRITER, "OPPORTUNITY LIVES": That`s right. I think that there`s an understanding that you can`t upset the base that essentially helped you win this election.

And so, I`m looking at Obamacare, for example. How are they going to address an issue that Republicans campaigned on repealing, right? And as we know, there are if fissures within the Republican Party on how to do that.

And I think that Donald Trump has to be able to say, look, I`m going to step in and play a part in this because, otherwise, to your point, that`s going to upset the base.

TODD: No. And then, it goes -- if he -- I mean, I felt like they were going down a really bad road with Capitol Hill.


TODD: Toward the end of last week.

ROBERTSON: No, they were.

TODD: It wasn`t going to just be John McCain and Lindsey Graham --


TODD: -- with the Republican world.

ROBERTSON: People were worried. And now, let`s be careful about (INAUDIBLE.)

TODD: Well, and that`s what I mean.



TODD: Right. Like, be a skeptic here.

ROBERTSON: We saw -- for several weeks, we saw several during the campaign. And so, you know, I don`t think 70-year-old men fundamentally change very often.

And so, look back at the campaign. At the beginning of the campaign, it was utter chaos, right. There, kind of, wasn`t a campaign. There were just rallies. But it was kind of working but it was crazy. Eventually, they did get a campaign together.

TODD: Right.

ROBERTSON: It was a real campaign. There was a -- but there was a layer of chaos on top of a campaign, but there was a campaign under there.

And so, I think maybe this is that kind of transition. I don`t think that the, sort of, chaotic nature of communications and what gets said and what gets tweeted, I don`t think that`s going to change.

TODD: See, I don`t either and I think this is -- but I think it`s part strategy, guys. I think this is, sort of, Trump`s way he`s done business his whole life. Shock and awe at the top. Be ridiculous.


TODD: And then, pull back.

PAGE: Well, that`s right. He`s very comfortable with chaos. And it`s a technique that keeps his opponents or the people he sees as his opponents off guard.

And actually, you know, one thing you`ll hear from White House people is that while his approval ratings are an historic low for a new president, you know, after one month, he is at -- he was at 40 percent in the Gallup daily tracking poll. His strength, among Republicans, is equal to that of Ronald Reagan or equal Barack Obama among Democrats.

So, when you talk -- he`s lost Democrats for sure. He`s in -- he doesn`t have very good standing among independents.

But when you talk about the Republicans, he`s in real good shape with them. And that matters a lot when you`re talking to the Republican-controlled Congress.

TODD: You know, but he`s still -- he`s still -- the other -- the issue goes back to, when is he going to say these things? Now today, he said it on anti-Semitism. And that was an important moment. It wasn`t a statement and all this stuff.

But look at Jim Mattis had to go to say, no, we`re not going to take the oil in Iraq. And he had to answer that question. And, yes, you know, he believes in NATO.

ROBERTSON: We still like NATO.

TODD: Yes. He has to do those things himself.

ORTEGA: No, absolutely and we need more of that. I mean, I think what President Trump did today, going to the African-American museum, I think was a good sign. But he`s got to do more. I mean, when he talks about -- last week, he talked about how the inner cities are in decay or -- I forget the language he used. But, I mean, he`s got to go out into these communities and meet with the local leaders.

He`s got to -- he`s got to be doing more of that because, I think, you know, he`s doing so much that if he doesn`t, you know, actually show the American people that he also has a heart and that he has compassion for all these things he`s talking about, it`s going to be problematic.

TODD: I want to go back to the Anne Frank Center statement because, Gene, I thought -- look, it was pretty rough. Because on one hand, you sit there and say, gee, the president was -- you know, he did everything that people have been asking him to do.


TODD: Now, that said, he should have done this --

ROBERTSON: He should have --

TODD: -- Thursday. He should have done it sooner.


TODD: All of those things. But that gets to the skepticism that`s out there. So, he --

ROBERTSON: Well, exactly.

TODD: He can`t just hope one day wipes it all away.

ROBERTSON: Exactly, one day is just not wiping away. There`s a lot of skepticism of President Trump. There`s a lot of skepticism of the people around him and the people who supported him and helped him get elected president.

And the skepticism of some of those people is not going to go away no matter what President Trump says, right? Until he repudiates the -- some of the, sort of, alt-right support that he got.

TODD: But, Susan, watching this reset, I was reminded, you know, his 11 most disciplined days were the last 11 days of the campaign.

[17:15:00] PAGE: Yes.

TODD: And it was when you didn`t seem him really tweet all that much. He kept his stuff to a minimum. And you do have a public out there that is -- you know, who knows how much patience they have for the resets but they are open to them.

PAGE: Yes. And does he, then, -- I do think the public, now, even if they don`t like the tweets, accept the idea that this is a guy that`s going to tweet provocative things, kind of a window into his soul for good or for ill.

But will he deliver? Will he -- will he end up with a health care plan that makes -- that people feel, yes, this saves me some money, but it provides good enough care. Will he come through with the tax plan he`s promised? Will there be an infrastructure bill?

I do think reality, eventually, takes over from rhetoric with Donald Trump. And the farther you go along and after -- and I think the speech next Tuesday is important on whether he has -- seems to have a plan that he can -- that he can pursue and get enacted.

TODD: Israel, I want you have the last word on this. Does he -- does this speech next week need to sort of -- because everybody is waiting to see, where is the president on the border adjustment tax? Or where is the president on Medicaid expansion when it comes to health care? Does he need to give answers in that speech? Is that the expectation?

ORTEGA: Some. I mean, obviously, in a speech like that, you`re not going to get into the nitty-gritty. But he has to be more detailed about it.

TODD: Give some guidance.

ORTEGA: And give some guidance because, at the end of the day, as we said, I mean, it`s Republicans who have to carry the water for the president. And they need guidance on this. They want to support the president, but they also need to figure out what exactly he`s behind.

TODD: In some ways, the president needs to play referee on Capitol Hill.

ORTEGA: Because there`s all this competing.

TODD: At least when it comes to the policy.


TODD: All right. Eugene, Susan, Israel, you guys are sticking around for the hour.

Coming up, another day, another story connecting the kremlin to the Trump administration. Another denial from the White House. A lot of smoke there. Is there a fire? We`ll talk to somebody who might have an idea.

Plus, behind the scenes of panda diplomacy, as the national zoo said bye- bye to Bao Bao.


TODD: Welcome back.

With Congress on break this week, lawmakers are back home. And many are feeling the heat from people in their states and districts, including Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell who is in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, facing questioners and protesters today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The last I heard, these coal jobs are not coming back and now these people don`t have the insurance they need because they`re poor. And they work those coal mines. And they`re sick. The veterans are sick. The veterans are broken down. They`re not getting what they need.

If you can answer any of that, I`ll sit down and shut up like Elizabeth Warren.


TODD: So, while people are upset about the slew of issues, questions and concerns about repealing Obamacare is the recurring theme at these town halls. In fact, here`s a little bit of what Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley heard today.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don`t repeal Obamacare. Improve it! For god sakes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of all the people, --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you support her?

[17:20:00] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- why didn`t you pick someone with a commitment to quality public education, instead of just making money for private schools?



TODD: Now, of course, Grassley is no stranger to town halls on health care, holding them regularly around his state all the time. But no politician may have allowed town halls to move them or seeing the power of them than Grassley in 2009.

If you recall, he went from a potential Republican crossover partner on health care with Obama and the Democrats to an opponent in a hurry.

After he faced resistance from constituents and other members of his party at those town halls, Grassley was asked, after the event today, how town halls that year compared to what he`s going through this year.


SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: It`s nothing compared to 2009. Well, 2009 -- in the summer of 2009.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You said that was more intense than this?

GRASSLEY: Oh yes. Oh yes.


TODD: There you go. Politically, Grassley was right. Had he worked with Obama, he probably would have been primaried and he probably would have lost.

We`ll be right back.


TODD: Welcome back. President Trump met with his national security council today. The day after installing Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as his new national security advisor. The meeting comes as the White House is dealing with a cloud of negative headlines and accusations about the administration`s dealings with anything Russia.

Including this one. From the "New York Times," about a possible back channel peace deal, or at least offer, between Ukraine and Russia. That if true, would greatly favor Russian interests. There are a lot of questions surrounding this story. And there is a Motley Crew of folks involved.

So, here`s a quick summation. NBC News confirms the following, that President Trump`s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, met last month with Felix Sater, a former business associate of President Trump`s who was born in Russia and once pled guilty to stock manipulation.

And there is Andriy Artemenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament who is associated with pro-Russian politicians.

According to "The New York Times," after that meeting, Cohen hand delivered the proposed peace plan to the White -- to the White House in a sealed envelope. "The Washington Post" says Cohen told them that while he left the meeting with a peace proposal in hand, he did not deliver it to the White House or discuss it with anyone.

And for the record, Cohen told NBC News, quote, "I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House or to General Flynn."

All right. So, Trump`s personal lawyer is telling three different versions of this story to three different news outlets. And the White House says no one has talked to Cohen about a peace proposal and no one has talked to Artemenko at all.

Joining me now is "The Washington Post" foreign affairs columnist, David Ignatius and is well aware of some of these Motley Crew of people. David, welcome back, sir.


TODD: So, first of all, what do you make of this story? And as you just heard and I know you guys are dealing with the same thing. We`re getting three different versions from the same source.

IGNATIUS: This needs to be unraveled. This is why it`s important to have investigations conducted by FBI or other law enforcement agencies, if there`s a question of violation of law or by committees of Congress. Just to get -- to get a clear account.

This is the kind of thing that`s alleged. The meeting, people trying to influence U.S. policy flow, the peace plan for Ukraine through the president`s friends of former business associates, that happens in almost every presidency.

I can remember in the Carter administration, Clinton administration, Reagan administration, attempts to pass messages, do deals, have back channels. That they`re often troubling, sometimes involve president`s relatives.


[17:25:03] TODD: Well, I was just going to say, remember, we had the Billy Carter incident. I think back in the late 1970s. That`s one you`re referring to.

And let`s remember Sidney Blumenthal and those e-mails in the -- in the Hillary Clinton, where all of his Libyan intel that turned out not to be true. But that created a back-channel situation.

IGNATIUS: So, I think that`s really the point, Chuck, is that people always are wanting to use their connections with the president, with the White House, with the president`s former associates. To pass messages, to do deals. It`s just a feature of life in Washington or any other capital, for that matter.

That`s why it`s important to get a clearly-established factual record. Really, as a deterrent to all the other people who`d like to do similar things. I`m not speaking here of any issue of the White House`s involvement because we don`t really know that there was any.

I`m talking about attempts to use the president`s network of friends and associates, because Donald Trump has had so many business deals around the world. That`s what he really ran on. I`m a deal maker. I know people all over.

He`s going to be especially vulnerable, I think, to this kind of thing. And it`s good at the start, even as angry as he seems to be about any discussion of Russian contacts, to get this examined clearly and on the record.

TODD: Let me -- I was just going to say. Wait. Wait. Just so I get your point clear. It sounds like you`re concerned that there is going to be a lot of people who will claim Trump ties, maybe use it to curry favor with some foreign government to make a buck.

And it may get nowhere but that is a dangerous thing to have all these people running around thinking that they can somehow curry favor or at least pitch themselves as somebody who can curry favor with the president.

So, how do you shut that down?

IGNATIUS: So, I think the way -- the only way you can shut it down is by the White House taking a strong line, calling for investigation of any allegation. It`s in the White House`s interest to shut this down so people don`t play games. This kind of private diplomacy can get very complicated.

Take a look at this example. Andriy Artemenko, the Ukrainian parliamentarian who it`s alleged met with Michael Cohen, President Trump`s personal lawyer, to deliver this peace plan. It was announced today in Ukraine, is under investigation in Ukraine for treason, for passing along a peace plan that`s contrary to the interests of his government.

So, you know, these things get very tangled very quickly. And the only way to stop them is a firm line, I think, from the White House.

TODD: All right, let`s get to the substance here a second. Where are we on negotiations here in Ukraine?

IGNATIUS: So, the framework for negotiations is the so-called Minsk agreement which calls for compromises on both sides. It calls for the Ukrainian parliament to pass legislation that gives greater rights to people in the southeastern area, the Donetsk area of Ukraine that`s now under Quazi-Russian occupation.

That Minsk program, the Minsk plan, is nominally supported by both the U.S. and Russia. In Munich this weekend, I heard the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavra (ph), say that he -- Russia supports the Minsk plan.

The problem is that this is absolutely frozen on both sides. It`s an area where if there was an improvement in relations between the Trump administration and Russia, to Trump and Vladimir Putin, there might be an opening to make this Minsk Agreement actually work. That would be a good thing. I think every person that looks at Ukraine thinks some kind of a compromise is necessary.

The problem, I think, is this, sort of, aura of mystery, and back dealing, double dealing, that`s going to make it harder to do the diplomacy that President Trump has said he wants to do.

TODD: Hey, very quickly, General McMaster, it`s got bipartisan praise, a lot of -- and all this. What is the upside and downside for having an active member of the military as national security advisor?

IGNATIUS: Well, I mean, I think, the -- generally, it`s not a good idea to have -- to have active duty officers in positions like this. So, it`s hard to see an upside, per se. The upside about H.R. McMaster is that he`s an outstanding officer, intellectual.

He`s a person who truly has thought about America`s difficulties in the Middle east. He has a history of challenging his superiors. He was passed over twice to be promoted to general. So, the upside is he`s a terrific person.

The downside, I think, is these White House jobs involve political skills that military officers shouldn`t develop. Politicized military officers, I think, are a bad idea.

You know, we have a history with Al Haig, comes to mind of getting into problems with that. So he doesn`t have those political skills, and I think it`s going to be hard for him to run an interagency process that`s supple, that represents all the parties, all the different cabinet agencies. That said, the McMaster appointment is I think the first thing in some weeks that got almost universal praise.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: Yes. IGNATIUS: He is so well known, so well respected, he`s a rare person that everybody basically has something good to say about.

TODD: All right. David Ignatius. It`s hard to find attracters of you around here. But I`ll try.

IGNATIUS: Don`t look too far.

TODD: All right.

IGNATIUS: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: David Ignatius of Washington Post, always appreciate you coming on and sharing your views. Appreciate it. Coming up, here`s a frightening thought. What if western powers no longer have an agreed upon set of moral values? What if there is no more right and wrong? Just winners and losers. What happens to the global world order event? Stay with us.


TODD: Still ahead on "MTP Daily," the complicated global politics of pandas. But first, Hampton Pearson has the "CNBC Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chuck. The markets all hit new highs today. The Dow rising 119 points, the S&P up 14, the Nasdaq gaining 27 points. UPS is rolling out Saturday ground delivery in the country`s biggest metro areas and expects to expand the service to half the U.S. population by the end of 2017.

The move comes as the company looks to keep up with rival carriers, FedEx and Amazon. And Tyson food says its chicken products will be free of antibiotics by June. Move will make the company the world`s leading producers of chickens raised without those antibiotics. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.


TODD: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." We want to turn now to a question that`s been on a lot of our minds recently. As President Trump rewrites the rules of political norms, is he also flirting with something a bit more dangerous? The loss of America`s moral high ground. President created a stir on Super Bowl Sunday when he seemed to elude to an equivalency between United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia when he said the following.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you respect Putin?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do respect him. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s a killer though. Putin is a killer.

TRUMP: There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent? Do you think our country is so innocent?


TODD: Folks, comments like these are reminding some people of an old Soviet tactic known as whataboutism. Here`s how it was defined by Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen in "The New York Times" over the weekend. Whataboutism is the trick of turning any argument against the opponent when faced with accusations of corruption, they claim the entire world is corrupt.

So much of American foreign policy is based on agreed upon, sometimes aspirational moral values. Those values are shared with other small L, small D liberal democratic societies around the world. Sure, America isn`t perfect, but the United States has repeatedly fought for freedom and democracy around the world in its most idealistic form.

If the U.S. president seeds this moral high ground, it can indicate a huge shift in America`s world view and one that could have serious repercussions around the globe. Joining me now is the said journalist, Masha Gessen. She is a contributing opinion writer to "The New York Times". Masha, it was a pretty powerful op-ed that you wrote.


TODD: And I thought it was interesting in this idea of -- the biggest criticism of the Bush years was that he viewed everything as good versus evil. And some people did not (inaudible) the nuance. The criticism of Barack Obama is too much nuance sometimes and some even said he was too accommodating to America`s critics around the world. And then you have Donald Trump with winners and losers. And it`s the winners and losers aspect that you seem concerned about. Explain some more.

GESSEN: Well, it`s funny to feel nostalgic for the duration (ph) of the Bush administration, isn`t it? But it seems happening more and more. And there`s a nihilistic viewpoint that`s actually quite familiar to me coming from Russia. It`s familiar to Hungarians under the (inaudible) administration. It was familiar to Europeans living through the destruction of democracies in Europe in the 1920s and `30s.

And it`s this view that there is no such thing as good and bad, good and evil. There is only winners and losers. And it`s impossible to argue politics with somebody who takes that position because you have nothing to rest on. It basically if you are right as long as you win, that you -- then you have no way of speaking back to power ever, and that`s the position that Trump seems to be sticking at.

TODD: So what do you say though to a Vladimir Putin when he does that, right, which is this idea of okay, the United States wants to lecture us about crimes against humanity, but, you know, then somebody as you said the whataboutism, you know, somebody might go as far back as bringing up slavery or the Japanese internment camps or segregation. You go through some of these and certainly that was something, a constant sort of Soviet propaganda push back. How would you advise an American president to push back on something like that?

GESSEN: Well, basically two approaches. One is to say it is possible to be opposed to two bad things at the same time. It is possible to be quite aware of the sense of slavery and yet be opposed to Soviet human rights or Russian human rights violations at the same time. The other response, the more nuance response is, you know, the different human rights violations are not actually the same, not everything is equivalent.

The fact that you have done something wrong doesn`t mean that I can`t also have done something wrong, but it also doesn`t mean that the things that we have done wrong are exactly the same. And so in that sense, you know, when Trump says are we so innocent, no. The United States is not innocent. No intelligent person in this country thinks that the United States is innocent. And yet, no intelligent person in this country, I hope, thinks that the United States is exactly the same as Russia.

TODD: Could we be headed to an end of a humanitarian-based military interventions if this is where -- if the leader of the free world being the American president goes down this road? That means the idea of doing something because it`s morally the right thing to do, but there really is no other than goodwill or in that area or, you know, there`s no tangible gain for the United States or for the western world. What does that mean, it means never intervening in a humanitarian crisis?

GESSEN: Right, unless we can take the oil. I mean that seems to be Trump`s response to most foreign policy questions. What`s in it for us? And why should we be -- why should we be participating in NATO? Are they paying their part? That shows a basic lack of -- not just a basic lack of knowledge about NATO which is evident, but also basic lack of understanding of what the basis of American foreign policy has been, at least since World War II.

TODD: Is there any part of this that you could read as a negotiating ploy on the president`s part?

GESSEN: Oh, I`m sure he thinks it`s a negotiating point. I mean, he thinks of himself as a great deal maker. And I think that he still envisions himself making wonderful deals with Putin that his predecessors failed to make for whatever reason because they`re not as good as he is in deal making, but also because they don`t understand how the world works. He knows that the world is made up of winners and losers, and they don`t.

TODD: And let me ask you in this final question. After 15 or 16 years of this Putinism, the Russian populist sort of believe in this that there is really nobody in the world has a moral high ground?

GESSEN: Absolutely. The Russian population I think deeply believes at this point that the world is rotten to the core. And this idea that the world is rotten to the core is a basic tenant of fascism. I think this is something that Americans really don`t understand. They think that, you know, fascism was driven by grand ideology, which isn`t exactly true. But the core belief that sort of led to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 20th century was this belief that the world is rotten to the core and we need to expose our true nature and look only for winners and losers.

TODD: Like I said in the start, it was a very provocative column, but you do that quite a bit and it`s always a very interesting week. Masha Gessen, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, appreciate it.

GESSEN: Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: All right. Up ahead in "The Lid," a major shift in enforcing the country`s immigration laws. Stay tuned.


TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with someone many people in Washington are talking about who`s just not worth talking about. And I`m telling you right now, I`m not naming names. You want to troll for attention, pull a few muscles, trying to become click bait, make yourself an alt-right hero, then knock yourself out. But please, can we all just stop paying attention to this nonsense? What`s the point of giving time and space to someone who, as one conservative commentator put it, is just pointlessly provocative.

When you`re saying things just to get a book deal, and gee, sorry that that book deal just went south, and it`s our job to sometimes stop listening. And no, it did not require nuance to understand what you meant when endorse adults having sex with 13-year-olds regards the rest of us to realize it`s a bunch of nonsense and you`re not somebody that`s worth listening to.

So now that the conservative political action conferences swiped back it`s invitation to you to speak at the CPAC meeting, is some extra time on your hands this weekend to think, and we in the media have time on our hands to consider that free speech does not mean giving someone a free platform to spread hate or nonsense even if it does mean more clicks. We`ll be right back.


TODD: Time now for "The Lid." The panel is back. Eugene Robinson, Susan Page, Israel Ortega. Okay, so we have some new DHS guidelines that came out on immigration executive order. There is hiring of 10,000 more agents, expediting removal of undocumented immigrants, enlisting help from local law enforcement, enforce penalties for parents who brought in their children illegally. But, it does obviously for those children, they are not to be deported. Israel, where is all this headed? It seems as if Trump is not doing anything that he did say he was gonna do.


TODD: At the same time, you have immigration rights groups that are very concerned that this is turning into "mass deportation." Where are we?

ORTEGA: I would hope that one of the headlines tomorrow is that President Trump went back on his promise on immigration, and actually is gonna at least keep DACA. I mean, that`s significant to me. I mean, this is something that a lot of hardliners gonna upset about, but I`m glad he`s doing that. To your point, I think this is a review process.

I mean, other agencies are going to take a look at this. I wouldn`t be surprised if it`s at least adjusted in some way. But to me, the big thing is congress has a responsibility to do this, and frankly I don`t see that happening. TODD: That`s the thing here, if you do this by executive order, we`re going to have a constant fight. It`s like, for instance, how do you make the argument -- if you`re an immigration rights, you feel as if this is harsh, nothing is being done that is against the law. It`s harsh. They are enforcing the law now than they did in the last five years.

EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, FORMER ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR OF THE WASHINGTON POST: Exactly. And what we have been saying for many years is that comprehensive reform of law is needed, right? The comprehensive immigration reform that has not happened. I`m not sure it will happen. So, no, this is consistent with existing law. But it`s also happening in the real world, right?

In the real world, they have to have money for those extra 10,000 agents, and they don`t have the money now. In the real world, they don`t have the resources or the ability to around up 11 million people. They really don`t. What it means is that more people who perhaps could have been relatively secure could, you know, rather soundly before cannot now because they, you know, almost luck of the draw. I mean, they could have a traffic accident.

TODD: Right.

ROBINSON: And boom, you`re out of the country. SUSAN PAGE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF FOR USA TODAY: Or you can have an enforcement agent believe that you`re a threat to public safety and that puts in a position for immediate deportation. You know, the law hasn`t changed to avoid the tone and the policy approach has certainly shifted not just from under President Obama but from the policy under George W. Bush.

And there are two economic consequences. One is the cost of enforcing this. The other is economic consequence of deporting millions of people. If they in fact move ahead with deporting millions of people who are now working here and many of them in jobs that a lot of Americans don`t want to have. What are the economic consequences for farmers and for others, for some people in manufacturing?

ORTEGA: As a conservative, I mean, it just seems to me like when it comes to immigration, Donald Trump and some republicans in congress have no problem breaking the bank when it comes to this. I mean, we have talked about President Trump`s plan to build the border wall with Mexico.

TODD: It seems fiscally.

ORTEGA: Right.

TODD: . like a crazy idea if you`re a fiscal (inaudible).

ORTEGA: Precisely.

TODD: . but you`re right, there seems to be an endless appetite, political appetite.

ORTEGA: Right. I mean, I happen to think that our immigration laws are too strict on this. I mean, I want more liberal in generous laws but at the end of the day until those laws are changed, we are also -- our county has to follow laws.

TODD: I think the hardest trick here is gonna be, what do you do with kids who are minors whose parents are getting deported?


TODD: Right. That was the whole DAPA and DACA. That to me is the challenge for these ICE agents.

ROBINSON: Yeah, and we don`t have an answer there. I mean, I think there`s a whole bunch of discretion built into these guidelines or these rules. And they will have to be interpreted I think by ICE. And, you know, if the president doesn`t make that decision on case by case, but they have to make the decision, right? Do we go through with this or not?

PAGE: Political consequences too.

TODD: Yeah.

PAGE: You know, we know that Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. electorate. What is gonna be the reaction in four years to a much harsher immigration policy and a much more sweeping deportation policy? ORTEGA: 30 percent of Hispanics (inaudible) Donald Trump. So, there is a ceiling or floor rather for when it comes to.

ROBINSON: Let`s see what they actually do. Let`s see how the deportation number.

TODD: How it works and how it is sort of as high as the hype around all of that stuff anyway. You guys are great. Thank you very much. After the break, diplomacy in black and white. Stay tuned.


TODD: In case you missed it, Paul Rudd (ph) is a no show today at the National Zoo, so we will have to fill you in here. When a panda flies they fly as FedEx, and they call it the Panda Express. I wish we were making this up. The Washington D.C. born giant panda Bao Bao (inaudible) style to its new home in China today. In case you missed it, politics is at the very center of of the each and every panda placement in any zoo in the world.

Panda diplomacy has actually been going on for centuries as a source of diplomatic gratitude or political pressure. In modern times, China selectively runs out the popular zoo attractions often surrounding favorable trade deals. Adult pandas typically spend about 10 years on loan. And as part of the agreement, the rare form born baby panda has to be sent to China around age 4, as is the case with Bao Bao.

Here in the United States, panda diplomacy began in 1972 with the arrival of Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing at the National Zoo. They followed President Richard Nixon`s historic visit to China. Want to know what the Chinese communist got in the deal? Two musk ox babies, Matilda and Milton, owing their recognition as legitimate actors on the global stage. Very good deal for the Chinese actually and we got those weird studies of how pandas can`t procreate as an exhibit at the zoo for too long.