MTP Daily, Transcript 3/8/2017

Guests: Garry Kasparov, Christine Todd Whitman, Joel Benenson, Charlie Sykes, John Barrasso

Show: MTP Daily Date: March 8, 2017 Guest: Garry Kasparov, Christine Todd Whitman, Joel Benenson, Charlie Sykes, John Barrasso

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: All right, the vote in the House. We are a week away. A major test.

Caitlin Huey-Burns, Betsy Woodruff, thanks for joining us.

"MTP DAILY" starts now.

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

Who knew health care so was complicated?

(voice-over): Tonight, who`s plan is it anyway? The GOP`s identity crisis seeps into the health care debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR, DONALD TRUMP: I`ll call it Trumpcare if you want to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a team sport.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Surgeon turned Republican Senator John Barrasso joins me to discuss.

Plus, political chess. We`ll talk to Russian dissident and chess master, Garry Kasparov, about what Vladimir Putin`s end game really is.

And awkward double date. Guess who`s coming to dinner at the White House?

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

(on camera): Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in New York City and welcome to MTP DAILY.

Folks, the Republican health care plan already has an identity crisis because the Republican Party still has an identity crisis, at least when it comes to ideology. The health care fight has exposed the growing divide between the party`s old-fashioned movement conservative base and its new nationalist president. Right now, the White House and GOP leaders are aggressively trying to unite those two warring factions. And, in fact, in just a few minutes at the White House, President Trump is scheduled to meet with conservative groups who are bashing the current plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Some on the right are -- slam it as Trumpcare, others are slamming it as Ryancare. No matter what they`re calling it, others even call it Obamacare light, they don`t like it. It seems as if the Republican Party isn`t quite sure what the bill is supposed to do. Why? Because the party isn`t quite sure what it`s supposed to be in this new era of Trumpism. Their political goal is clear, keep the promise to repeal and replace. The policy goal, unclear. Is the goal to cover more people in the mold of a nationalist or to lower cost in the mold of a conservative? There are some health care experts who say this plan won`t do either. Or, is the goal merely to keep Mr. Trump`s campaign promise to do something? That seems to be House speaker Paul Ryan`s argument today. Now, here`s the problem. Right now, the conservative opposition to this health care plan appears to be hardening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: The bill, as written, is not going to pass the Senate.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: This is smoke in mirrors when we suggest that we`re going to dupe the American people. This is just Obamacare with a different label.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this proposal dead?

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Yes. It`s dead on arrival. This is not what conservatives want.

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: It appears to be the largest welfare program ever proposed by Republicans in the history of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And, if you recall, Mo Brooks began that answer by telling me he was undecided on the bill. When House speaker Paul Ryan held his press conference today, he was insistent that Republicans will get on board. But his argument didn`t seem to be rooted in policy, instead his message boiled down to one word, promises.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have no doubt we`ll pass this, because we`re going to keep our promises. Every House Republican, every -- I think every Republican in Congress, including the president of the United States, made a promise to the American people. And the promise we made to the American people is we`re going to repeal and replace Obamacare. Because we made that promise, I am confident we`re going to make good on that promise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: There you go. Here`s the other big question right now amid the conservative backlash, who owns this bill? When House speaker Paul Ryan met behind closed doors with his caucus today, his message was clear. According to a source who spoke to NBC News, the message was this, this is the president`s plan. But yesterday at the White House, President Trump was clear, this is the House plan. According to the "Associated Press," Vice President Pence just said, the House proposal can be improved. And there is disagreement inside the White House about how willing they are to stamp this as certified Trump when it comes to this plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How does the White House and you feel about the label Trumpcare?

TOM PRICE, SECRETARY, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Oh, I`ll let others provide a description for it. I prefer to call it patientcare.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR, DONALD TRUMP: I`ll call it the Trumpcare if you want to, but I don`t -- I didn`t hear President Trump say to any of us, hey, I want my name on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Here`s the big problem. The party doesn`t have the luxury of time to figure any of this out. They`ve created an intense sense of urgency on the issue of health care. So, it`s either now or never. I`m joined now by Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, who is a member of the Republican leadership on the Senate side. He serves as the Republican policy committee chair. Also a Medical doctor. Senator Barrasso, see, I had a lot of introductory titles for you there, so my apologies.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING, CHAIRMAN, POLICY COMMITTEE: Thanks, Chuck. No, good to be with you.

TODD: Senator, I know you are -- you came out yesterday supportive of this plan. You are well aware of where many conservatives whom you share a lot of views with, many of these conservative senators, but not on this issue. What do you say to rand Paul who says, this plan is dead on arrival in the United States Senate?

[17:05:00] BARRASSO: Rand has a lot of good ideas. All of these members have a lot of good ideas that we`re considering and working through.

And, Chuck, I will tell you, the reason there`s a sense of urgency is Obamacare is collapsing. In my home state of Wyoming, they`re basically down to one choice for buying insurance under the exchange. And it continues to go up, over 25 percent last year, the year before. The huge double digit increases with huge co-pays. And by next year, there`s going to be places all around the country where nobody is selling on the exchange. Obamacare is collapsing. We need to do something. That`s the sense of the urgency.

TODD: Well, some would argue, Senator, that it`s a chicken and egg thing. That if you believe it`s collapsing, it`s because many insurers hear that you guys are going to repeal and replace it.

I -- so, let`s set that chicken and egg -- you guys have made it you have to do this first. You`ve made is statutorily that you have to deal with this first. So, I guess, walk me through how you`re going to get these factions together, at this point. Especially since I think you have to do this without a single Democratic vote.

BARRASSO: Well, first of all, this was collapsing way before the presidential election. So, either whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump was elected president, we would be having to do this right now, no matter who won the presidential election. Because insurance companies had pulled out. Young people were not buying. And, what, half of the people that were thought to have been ready to sign up by last year, only half of them actually did sign up.

So, this has been an ongoing problem with Obamacare. So, we believe we have a responsibility, and I have a commitment, to try to provide affordable health care for the American people, and that`s what this is aimed at doing. I think this is a monumental shift away from Obamacare. It`s a significant improvement over Obamacare. Is it perfect? No. Are they going to have debate, discussion, amendments? Absolutely.

TODD: You know, one of the critiques on the right has been this is an Obamacare-lite. And the argument is this, Senator. I understand there`s many parts of it that change. But that the architecture is, essentially, very similar to Obamacare. Because, frankly, if you`re going to have this mix of a public-private partnership, it`s going to be structured at least, you know, from 30,000 feet, somewhat like this.

Do you accept that, what one might say critiques, others might say a compliment, that this is a form of Obamacare light?

BARRASSO: No, to me, this is lights out on Obamacare. The opportunity to actually reform, update, modernize, Medicaid, an entitlement program that is dysfunctional. But has been what basically Obamacare has been all about because over half of the additional people covered under Obamacare got that way by being on Medicaid.

This is our opportunity, the first time in 50 years, to do fundamental entitlement reform. And I want to embrace that opportunity and get the job done.

TODD: Is the goal of this bill -- is what? Is the primary goal to lower costs? Is the primary goal more coverage?

BARRASSO: It`s affordability so that more people can actually get coverage. Many people have been priced out of the market under Obamacare. Even with the subsidies, people weren`t signing up because they felt it was a bad deal.

So many people that had Obamacare coverage, the co-pay was so high, they said, I have coverage, but I can`t go and actually see a doctor. It was coverage without care. The networks were so narrow. So, my goal is to provide access to affordable insurance so they can have affordable care. And then, that way, you want more people to be able to have it.

TODD: You say access to it but it may come with less dollars to buy it.

BARRASSO: Well, if you actually are successful in lowering the cost of care, no one would need as many dollars to buy it.

TODD: All right. But, Senator --

BARRASSO: That`s the whole idea behind it.

TODD: -- but, Senator, that`s a promise that seemed to be a reach when President Obama made it. And, frankly, what -- when has any prediction that somehow the cost of health care is going to go down -- based on some intervention by the government, when has that prediction ever come true?

BARRASSO: That`s why I`m trying to get the decisions, Chuck, out of Washington and to the states. Get this out of government control and into patient control. Make -- let people at home make the decisions that`s best for them. And part of that is letting them buy what works for them and they can afford.

You know, under Obamacare, people have had to buy this so-called essential health benefits which was a huge basket of insurance for many people. And, certainly, I hear about it every weekend in Wyoming. I heard about it at a health fair in Buffalo, Wyoming this past weekend. They said, look, it was insurance. I didn`t want it. Couldn`t afford it. Didn`t need it. It was too much. It wasn`t right for me. The president said I had to buy it. But it wasn`t right for me -- TODD: All right. Let me ask -- BARRASSO: -- and my family. And we to want have people have that choice.

[17:10:00] TODD: Let me close with this. The bill that you pass through the Senate, are you going to be able to promise the American people that it means you can get more insurance for a lower cost?

BARRASSO: Well, you can get insurance that`s better for you at a lower cost. That`s the goal. But we`ve got to see what comes out of the House, comes to the Senate, get passed the Senate and then is put on President Trump`s desk.

But I am committed to long-term solutions for affordable care. That`s what I want to work on as a doctor as well as a senator.

TODD: All right. Senator John Barrasso, member of the leadership and the Senate side, from Wyoming. Always a pleasure, sir. Thanks for coming on.

BARRASSO: Thanks, Chuck.

TODD: You got it.

Let me bring in tonight`s panel. Charlie Sykes, an MSNBC Political Analyst and host of NYC`s Indivisible. Katie Tur, of course, has been covering the Trump camp -- now White House, and campaign throughout the last couple of years. And Joel Benenson was a senior strategist to Hillary Clinton`s presidential campaign and now is also an MSNBC Analyst. Welcome all. Charlie, this is your party. And so, I -- we looked at this health care, that it feels as if it`s exposing the identity crisis. Look, both parties have identity crisis. One`s in charge. It`s the Republicans. And this is exposing it.

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, if you didn`t know any better, you might think that after eight years in opposition, they don`t really have a governing philosophy that, you know, being in charge is harder than being in opposition.

But, yes, you are seeing that. And I think that you`re going to be seeing this push-pull come between -- is it -- are you going to call this Ryancare? Are you going to call this Trumpcare? And I would suggest keep your eye on all of that because we`re in early days now. And, like, a lot of what the senator had to say is absolutely true about Obamacare. But the problem is it`s very unclear. Does the Republican plan, does the Trump-Ryan plan -- will it fix any of those problems? Will it make it any better? Nobody`s knows what`s actually in those plans. They`re going to be trying to ram it through in three weeks, at a time when people are going looking over their shoulder and going, OK, this is -- this is real stuff. This is real life. This is, you know -- there are real winners and losers in all of this. So, this is going to be a real test of political clout and whether there`s any principle left in the Republican Party.

TODD: Joel, let me go and get on the partisan side before I bring Katie in which is I go back to, I hear the promises that the Republicans are making about health care. And, I`m sorry, I heard the same promises from the Obama administration.

You know, there was -- there is this belief -- and I have to say, there were a lot of cynics going, really, you think you`re going to cover more people and it`s going to bring the cost of health care down and all of this? Then, yes, I saw the, oh, you bend the cost curve over time and we`d hear all that.

And now, I hear Republicans, now in leadership, trying to twist themselves into a pretzel, making the same claims. That are probably not going to be true.

JOEL BENENSON, MSNBC ANALYST: Well, look, the one thing we do know Obamacare did is it reduced the number of uninsured by millions of people, I think 11 to 12 million more people got coverage under Obamacare. Bending the cost curve --

TODD: The criticism would be you have mostly on Medicaid.

BENENSON: OK. But then, let`s take Medicaid and you can see the difficulty that Senator Barrasso has. You know, giving states block grants in Medicaid doesn`t expand health care coverage. What it does, it expands emergency room use in all of these states which are going to drive up the costs even more.

No one would sit here, I certainly won`t, and say Obamacare did everything it need to do in six years on bending the cost curve, we didn`t. The cost is still too high. But, look, this was a bill. It was difficult to pass. It took 14 months. I love when I hear Republicans say it was jammed down people`s throats. And now, they want to have committees voting. And here`s what you know about the weakness of this plan is. They want people to vote on it before the CBO scores this on how much it will cost and how many people will lose coverage.

TODD: Katy, I want to get at a topic that you know well which is Trump`s level of patience for all of this. And this is patience. Not the patients that see a doctor but the other patience. First, I want to play a little montage of all the promises that candidate Trump made about health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Universal health care.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to take care of everybody. I`m -- I don`t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody is going to be taken care of much better than they are taken care of now.

I like the mandate (ph). OK, so, here`s where I`m a little bit different. I don`t want people dying on the streets. And I say this all the time. If somebody is sick and really sick and they don`t have housing and they don`t have all the -- we can`t let them die.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, all Americans will get health care of some sort.

TRUMP: We`re going to take care of them. We have to take care of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Katy, he is not where the House conservatives are, philosophically. That is pretty clear. The question is when does that -- when does he --

KATY TUR, NBC NEWS: When does that clash?

TODD: When does that clash?

TUR: That`s unclear because if you watched the White House briefing today, you would have noticed Sean Spicer say this which is, we shouldn`t be talking about how many people are covered. We should be talking about the quality of the coverage that is being offered, which seems to say, we`re going to realize that --

TODD: We`re going to lose that number`s game, yes.

TUR: -- we`re not going to be able -- we`re going lose that number`s game. We`re not going to be able to cover quite as many people. And the talk about not letting people die on the streets, and he was certainly more on the, I guess you could say, liberal end of the spectrum when he was talking about health care in that regard on the campaign trail. With their taking away a certain amount of coverage and if you`re -- there`s no mandate for requiring you to pay in if you`re not going to get health care. [17:15:00] But if you suddenly need health care, the money that you`re going to need to pay, if there is some sort of lapse, is astronomical which will be completely prohibited. So, people will end up going to those emergency rooms. They will end up not being able to afford those bills, and that will end up being put on the backs of everybody else.

TODD: Right.

SYKES: And what does he do when the CBO score eventually does come out and showing, what, 10 to 15 million people are going to, you know, lose health care?

TUR: The White House discredits it.

SYKES: You know, well, I mean, yes. That would be -- that would be number one.

TUR: Which is what they did today.

SYKES: But also, you know, this is something that you have to watch, and this is why I would suggest keeping a very close eye on the conservative media, with the Breitbarts and the drudges, to the extent to which they try to separate Trump to give him an escape hatch.

TODD: Yes. SYKES: Because he is, clearly, not I`d logically committed to this plan because he`s not ideologically committed to anything, really.

TODD: Breitbart has been referring to it has it as Ryancare.

SYKES: Which I think is a tell. TODD: That`s a tell.

SYKES: That`s very much a tell.

TODD: But, you know, what`s interesting here, Joel, is that, at some point, I feel as if -- I could picture Joe Manchin, and Shelley Moore Capito, and Rob Portman, and Sherrod Brown going to him and saying, don`t block grant Medicaid. My states that voted for you are not going to like that. And I think that can have an effect on Trump.

The question is when does that moment happen?

SYKES: Well, A, I don`t know if that moment ever happens. I think they`re hearing that loudly and clearly from a lot of folks who are in Medicaid states, where they expanded it and it`s helped coverage.

But I think it`s going to be difficult for Trump to separate himself from this, at some point, only because he`s the president of the United States. There`s this guy, named Harry Truman, who had the sign on his desk that says, the buck stops here.

TODD: And it`s going to be Trumpcare (ph). President Obama tried to blame -- there was a moment, they were, like, oh, it`s Congress that`s holding this up. The Congress health care plan. No, no, no, no. Buddy, it all ends up on the president`s desk.

TUR: Can I disagree with that? I`m going to disagree with that just because I -- we haven`t seen a circumstance where he has been blamed for something that did not work, among his supporters and among those who want to see him succeed. He also campaigned on Congress not being able to do anything.

BENENSON: But they (INAUDIBLE) have a bill, Katy. He`s going to have to take ownership and put something out there. He said, in all of those clips, we`re going to cover everybody.

SYKES: If he wins, he owns it.

BENENSON: If he shoots this down, he`s got to have an alternative.

TUR: I just haven`t -- I haven`t seen political gravity apply to Donald Trump yet and I will be surprised the day it does.

TODD: She makes a fair point on this.

BENENSON: Yes. His approval ratings sink pretty well after -- for a first term president.

TUR: His disapproval ratings during the campaign were certainly high then.

BENENSON: No, no, I understand. But now, you`re comparing him to previous presidents.

(CROSSTALK)

SYKES: Health care is different. It`s personal.

TODD: Yes. SYKES: There are winners and losers. It affects people`s lives. It`s not like a debate about, you know, the border tax or about infrastructure which is intellectual. This goes right to the heart of his constituents. And you are absolutely right. We haven`t seen it yet. But what happens when you have people in rural Ohio begin to realize, OK, this is my health care. This is the uncertainty. Look, and there`s a reason why almost everybody`s been destroyed when they touch health care. And I don`t know that that`s going to change.

TODD: And I have to tell you -- and I`m going to stop it here. But when I hear, oh, wait until phase two and phase three, we`re going to -- you`re, like, I heard that from the Obamacare world. Wait until phase two or phase -- once you change it, it`s yours. You own all of it.

Anyway, Charlie, Katy, Joel, you guys are here for the hour.

Coming up, it`s no secret the Russians were thrilled to see Donald Trump elected. They wanted him to win, after all. But what does Vladimir Putin now want? I`ll ask Russian chess grand master, Garry Kasparov, when become back.

[17:18:25]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TODD: You`re looking live at what we expected to be a bipartisan group of senators making a coordinated push to condemn Russia for medaling in the election. But it`s been going for about an hour or so and we`ve only, so far, heard from Democrats. No Republicans yet. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) Russia attacked the United States of America and our free election system. That`s not subject to any dispute today. They attacked America. They interfered with our internal affairs. They tried to influence our election. (END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Just yesterday, House intel chair, Devin Nunes, announced that the first public hearing of this committee will be March 20th. They`ve invited FBI director, James Comey, to testify. Comey, by the way, told a cyber security conference at Boston College today, quote, "You`re stuck with me." Unquote. Pointing out that he has another six and a half years on the job. That first public House intel hearing, by the way, we should note will happen the same day as the first confirmation hearing for President Trump`s nominee to be the U.S. Supreme Court Justice that replaces Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch. Hmm, I wonder if that timing was coordinated. It`s worth considering whether it is an attempt to bury the Russia story a little bit. Hmm. When we come back, we`ll dig into what Vladimir Putin`s end game may be. I`ll speak to one of the Kremlin`s most outspoken critics, when we come back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) TODD: Welcome back to MTP DAILY. As we saw before the break, the cloud of Russia continues to hang over President Trump`s first month and a half in office. And though in Russia, his election was mostly met with fanfare, at least in Kremlin-run media. But recently, that honeymoon appears to be coming to an end. And questions remain about whether or not Vladimir Putin could turn on President Trump and what happens if he does that? Joining me now is Garry Kasparov. He`s chairman of the Human Rights Foundation, a Russian pro-democracy leader and a former world chess champion. He`s run for the presidency in Russia. He`s also author of the book "Winter is Coming" why Vladimir Putin and the enemies of the free world must be stopped. Mr. Kasparov, always a pleasure, sir.

GARRY KASPAROV, CHAIRMAN, HUMAN RIGHTS FOUNDATION: Thank you.

TODD: So, let`s start with that. We`ve all determined that it seems like the large motivation of Vladimir Putin to mess with western elections is simply to destabilize the west. Fair?

KASPAROV: Absolutely.

TODD: What is --

KASPAROV: And America is not, you know, an exception. So, he has been doing it and still doing it in Europe because he wants the undermine the very council of democracy. Those for people in Russia and outside.

TODD: So, now that he`s watching the first month and a half of this new President Trump, and on one hand, he thought, this is great. Because he`s -- foreign policy wise, he`s a nationalist, I`m a nationalist. But now word is, he`s turning on him. Why would he be?

KASPAROV: No, he`s not turning on him. Russian propaganda. It`s Russian media they call under total control of Vladimir Putin is viciously anti- American. But despite being anti-American, they do not criticize Donald Trump, personally. They go off --

TODD: They separate him.

KASPAROV: Exactly. They go after Obama. They go after Obama`s loyalists. They harshly criticize the deep state, the FBI, CIA. I mean, all the forces in the United States who are, according to them, conspiring against Donald Trump, preventing Donald Trump to make grand bargains with Vladimir Putin.

Coincidentally, you know, this is in the same line taken by Breitbart. And, eventually, you know, it`s used by Trump and his supporters.

TODD: There`s always been this other concern that I think that, perhaps, folks close to the President Trump have never accepted. Which is this idea that, look, Putin was going to destabilize any presidency that happened. His goal was to destabilize our democracy, regardless of who won.

[17:25:05] KASPAROV: Absolutely.

TODD: So, in that respect, if he -- is this a case where if Trump gets too stable in the job that he`ll try to undermine him?

KASPAROV: Look, if Trump wanted and still wants relations with Putin, why to lie about all Russian contacts? Because it`s always Russia and all the news about ties between Russia and Trump and his staff met with counterattacks with lies and denials. It`s always Russia, not Saudi Arabia, not China, not Brazil. It`s always Russia and it`s always lies and denials.

Now, Trump is blaming Obama for everything that went wrong. Hey, I can meet you half way. So, I believe that Obama --

TODD: You were a tough critic. You thought he was way too weak on Putin.

KASPAROV: Exactly. TODD: By the way, my guess is he may think that now.

KASPAROV: Yes, maybe. But I think this is -- Obama`s weak policies, one of the -- of the main reasons why U.S. elections has been hacked and we have an American administration with more Russian connections than ever was.

And, you know, if you like this consistently, TODD: Yes. KASPAROV: -- it means you have something to hide. And Trump lied about him not being involved in changing (INAUDIBLE) over support of Ukraine. Michael Flynn lied about speaking about Russian ambassador about sanctions. Jeff Sessions lied about meeting Russians. Carter Page doesn`t even seem to remember his own name. So, why do you lie all the time? And I think, you know, we have to insist, you know, on a full investigation of these ties because otherwise, you know, we`ll never -- we`ll never find whether there is something, you know, much more sinister than simple, you know, mutual admiration of two leaders.

TODD: We were showing earlier and there is -- there is bipartisan criticism of Vladimir Putin in the United States Congress. And there is a good chunk of the Republican Party that is -- was with you for the longest time. In fact, would champion your criticism of Barack Obama being too weak on Putin.

Has this oddly back -- was Putin too successful, in some cases, and the -- now the reaction to Trump. The fear of being seen as too close to Russia that it`s actually -- is now going to make it harder for Putin ever to find allies in the United States?

KASPAROV: You know, it will have temporary success. As always, you know, dictators, they do much better tactically. I think it was a tactical success for Putin. Strategically, I think it`s his loss.

TODD: Yes. KASPAROV: Because now, we could see bipartisan correlation. And sooner or later, we`ll -- you know, we`ll see the United States changing its policy quite dramatically and, you know, countering Putin`s efforts to destabilize the world.

TODD: Where -- what you`re seeing in Europe right now with what he`s doing, in France what is happening, in Germany, what is next for him? Is this going to continue to be this strategy?

KASPAROV: No, actually the -- what`s next for Putin depends very much on what happens here. Because, right now, people in the Baltic states, in Ukraine, in Eastern Europe, in western Europe, they all, you know -- just they all contemplated what U.S. foreign policy is. Is it what serious guys like General Mattis are saying to E.U., European Union, and NATO on the weekday? Or is what Donald Trump tweets with four exclamation marks at 6:00 a.m. on Saturday?

TODD: Right. I want to get your expertise on something here. Over the last few months, there have been a ton of mysterious deaths of high-ranking Russian officials. Some of whom may or may -- is this a coincidence? There have been heart attacks. There have been, you know, natural cause -- but it all seems to be inside --

KASPAROV: They are somehow connected.

TODD: Yes.

KASPAROV: Connected to the United States.

TODD: Yes.

KASPAROV: Maybe to --

TODD: What do you read. There`s a whole list -- KASPAROV: -- Comstock. TODD: Right. There`s no direct connection. Is this a coincidence or are you suspicious?

KASPAROV: I always say, I do believe in coincidences but I also believe in KGB. We`re dealing with Vladimir Putin and his ruthless organization that is willing to do anything to protect their lead percent (ph).

TODD: Because the total cynic would look at that, look at this list of mysterious deaths in the last -- and say, huh, I wonder if this is them getting rid of anybody that was involved in this operation.

KASPAROV: You know, again, if we`re in a court of law, of course, you know, you can disregard everything as big conspiratorial.

TODD: Right. KASPAROV: But, you know, there`s too much of circumstantial evidence. You know, you start looking, you know, at all the conflicts between Trump and his people and with Russian authorities. Then look at all of these, you know, dossiers, whether they`re true or not. Then, you are -- as you mentioned now, you`re talking about this mysterious death of many Russian officials. So, when you start adding it up, I mean, it`s a very, you know, disturbing picture. And again, you know, United States Congress -- United States must, you know, start a full-scale investigation because it`s American national interest. It`s a fate of democracy, not only in this country, but worldwide. And unless we go to the bottom of that, you know, it will be -- we`ll all be -- you know, we`ll be on the threat.

TODD: We have heard the ambassador that Russia`s ambassador of the United States, Kislyak, be described as a spy master. Is that -- is that overdoing it?

KASPAROV: I don`t know. But, again, it doesn`t matter. You know, definitely Kislyak he has been reporting to -- back to Moscow and if he has another spy master in the embassy, it doesn`t change the equation. What is very important if we go back to this conversation between Michael Flynn and Kislyak is that Vladimir Putin immediately responded by overruling Lavrov, his foreign minister.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR, "MEET THE PRESS DAILY" SHOW HOST: Who wanted to punish the United States.

KASPAROV: Which is normal diplomatic practice, you know. You said of 35 guys, you know, from Washington would do the same for Moscow. Putin didn`t do it which is highly unusual for a strong man because he cannot show weakness. That`s against Putin`s nature, Putin`s dictator`s rule. He did it which means to me there is only one thing. He trusted Michael Flynn. That Michael Flynn spoke on behalf of Donald Trump, and he expected Trump to do something, lifting sanctions and improving relations. TODD: It gets pretty clear. Garry Kasparov, you know a lot more about what`s going on in Russian government than many people in this country.

KASPAROV: A never ending story. Thank you.

TODD: A never ending story, that`s for sure. Always a pleasure, sir. Thank you. Stay with MSNBC by the way for a special edition of the "Rachel Maddow Show." She is taking a closer look at Russia`s influence in American politics. It`s titled "The Russia Connection." And it airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. eastern.

Still ahead here on "MTP Daily," consider these two facts. Fact one, Donald Trump campaign promising clean air and clean water. Fact two, he has called for the largest cuts ever in the EPA. How do you square fact one with fact two? I`m going to ask a former EPA administrator of republican administration, Christine Todd Whitman, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. If you haven`t been on social media, then you probably don`t realize this, but today is International Women`s Day with events worldwide calling for equal rights and attention to women`s issues and you are looking live right now at the day without women march in New York City. It is part of a nationwide strike of sorts organized by the same people who put together the massive women`s marches the day after President Trump`s inauguration.

Still ahead, were President Trump`s campaign promises on the environment nothing but hot air? But first, here`s Hampton Pearson with the "CNBC Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, JOURNALIST, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chuck. We had stock closing mostly lower. Oil posting its biggest one day decline in more than a year. The Dow down by 69 points, the S&P off by 5, the Nasdaq up by just 3 points.

A win for Chipotle with a judge dismissing a lawsuit claiming the chain defrauded shareholders during outbreaks of E. coli and Salmonella. Starbucks decision to hire thousands of refugees may be hurting the brand according to credit Swiss analysts who cited customer-backlash and giving the company a hold rating. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. President Trump`s budget blueprint plans to cut a lot from domestic programs. "The Washington Post" reports today that the White House is planning double digit cuts to the coast guard, the TSA, and FEMA to pay for his proposed border wall. And that`s just a fraction of what President Trump may have in store for the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to reports from AP and Reuters, EPA could soon see a 25 percent budget cut including removing 3,000 staffers. The budget for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup project would go to from $73 million to $5 million. The Great Lakes cleanup project would lose 97 percent of its funding. Also on the chopping block, funding to help cut emissions of Greenhouse gas and 30 percent of the budget for giving grants to state governments to better air quality.

Now, President Trump says he wants clean air and clean water, but he also wants to dismantle the regulations that help clean some of the air and clean some of that water. Take a listen.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want clean air and we want clean water and other things, but it`s gotten to a point, people are making a fortune of this stuff. And our businesses are being hurt, our manufacturers can`t compete, China is over there right now laughing like hell at Barack Obama because we are stopping our plants from functioning and making it so expensive and not any better pollution wise. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Well, joining me now is a former EPA administrator under President George W. Bush and a former New Jersey governor, Christine Todd Whitman. Governor Whitman, nice to see you.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, FORMER EPA ADMINISTRATOR, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Always a pleasure. Good to see you. Well, I don`t really see you.

TODD: Fair enough. Good to stare at you in a camera, right? Let me start with responding to the president`s critiques there. Forget -- before we get into the details of the EPA budget.

TODD WHITMAN: All right.

TODD: . did you generally agree with that critique that the EPA had become too bloated, to big, too much regulation and environmental protection was too much of a priority in the Obama administration? Do you accept that critique? TODD WHITMAN: No, not the whole ball of wax as he said. I mean, we have seen over time that we can grow our economy, grow our energy demand, see our population increase and still double our GDP. I mean, we see that, we have facts that show that. So it`s not environmental protection or a clean, green environment or a healthy growing economy. We can do both.

And we`ve got to do both because quite frankly you can`t have a healthy economy if you don`t have a clean and green environment, if people don`t have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. So you need to have all of those things. And while you can say the Obama administration certainly used the executive power more than in the past, that`s true. And you need to take a look at that. That`s okay. There`s nothing wrong with that.

But to go in and say I want clean air and clean water, but I`m not going to give the agency any money to do that, and I`m not going give the states any money to do that, when I want to send power back to the states, I want them to do more, but I`m going to give them a lot less, it just doesn`t compute.

TODD: You know, it`s interesting when looking at the proposed budget cuts of EPA, it feels like it was a political strategist that made the budget, right, and say okay, you know, you`ll never be -- you`ll never make a conservative mad by just whacking at the EPA, and it also feels as if it`s not serious.

That it was such a whack at EPA`s budget that it`s almost designed that they know that it`s never going to be accepted, but they really want 20 or 30 percent cuts, so they`re going to ask for some extreme number like 97 percent. Do you think that`s what this document is about?

TODD WHITMAN: Um, I don`t think entirely. I mean, certainly they`re sending a message to their base. This is what he campaigned on. It`s one of the easiest places to go because everybody hates regulation.

TODD: Right.

TODD WHITMAN: . causing them to spend money or change behavior.

TODD: They hate regulation.

TODD WHITMAN: . the issue exists.

TODD: . they hate regulation and so there`s lead in the water.

TODD WHITMAN: Yeah, they like the outcome.

TODD: Yeah. TODD WHITMAN: Exactly. They like the outcome of regulation. So it`s one or the other. But they do know that a lot of the programs will be restored. Congress will not let it go through this way because it`s their home district for many of them. You talked about the Chesapeake Bay, you talked about the Great Lakes cleanup, I mean, those are things that are very important to a whole bunch of constituents of a number of those who are in the congress today.

And so, they`re going to push back. They will restore. Let the magnitude of the cuts that they`re putting in with this budget means it`s still going to be a largely crippled agency. And it sends you a bit of an understanding of what they`re going to do even with what they have left, which is to draw back on reinforcement, probably no new regulations, and they are still going to go after the clean power plan.

TODD: Have you met with the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt?

TODD WHITMAN: No. No. I`m not exactly on the list.

TODD: Well, I guess -- as a former EPA administrator and he doesn`t have any experience, as much experience as you had doing it, and you know, here he`s got -- you`re in a republican administration and some at the time thought you weren`t pro-business enough because of what you were advocating at the EPA. What would you tell Scott Pruitt to say you know what, this is what you`re going learn what the EPA really is. You may think it`s X, but it`s really Y. What is that Y that you would tell Scott Pruitt?

TODD WHITMAN: Well, the Y is it`s really about public health and the environment. And what he needs to do as I`ve said repeatedly is just take a deep breath, get to know the agency, get to understand how much the agency is controlled, what it does by the laws that established it, that congress wrote. I mean, the EPA has to consider certain things relative to clean air within certain time frames. They don`t have a choice.

And on the clean power plan, as far as carbon goes, that`s been adjudicated in the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court found that in fact it`s called a finding of endangerment, but they found that this was bad for human health which triggers a responsibility on the EPA`s part to do something about it to set a regulation. So, he has to understand, truly understand, that the people there are not all wild tree huggers who can`t stand, isn`t enough regulation for them anywhere.

There are people who want to do their job. They want to protect public health. They want to protect the environment. They`ll do it the way you want them to do is as long as they`re convinced that you`re really trying to make things better. They understand budget cuts. They`ve been through it before. They understand the challenges that we face, but when they seem nonsense to go, when they seem so broad-based that there`s no thought behind them, that`s when you`re going to get real pressure.

TODD: What do you hear moral wise in the agency?

TODD WHITMAN: It`s pretty low. It`s pretty low. They`re scared, they`re not entirely sure what to expect. And they`re not particularly happy with where they find themselves now. TODD: All right. Christine Todd Whitman, former EPA administrator under Bush administration, former governor of New Jersey. Nice to see you through a camera lens. Appreciate you coming on and sharing your views.

TODD WHITMAN: Good to talk to you.

TODD: All right. Up next, why I think some of our friends at the nation`s biggest colleges need a geography lesson. And then next Tuesday, I`m gonna be in Austin. Who doesn`t want to be in Austin? Some days of the week, right? We`re going to south by southwest because nobody does that anymore. I`ll be hosting a discussion on whether big data is destroying the U.S. political system. If you`re in Austin, we`d love to see you there, so stop by. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with geography or more specifically the integrity of geography when it comes to college athletics. It`s of course conference tournament week in college basketball. A solid appetizer for the upcoming feast of March madness. These games are played at neutral sites of course, the Atlantic Coast Conference, better known as the ACC, the king of college basketball.

It is holding its tournament subway ride away from here at the Barkley Center in Brooklyn. You probably are assuming that`s why I`m here today. My feelings about New York City are well known, but I`ll concede that it is a great basketball town. Hard stop. Let`s be real, Brooklyn has absolutely nothing to do with the ACC. Where in Brooklyn do you find tobacco road? Is Cameron indoor, the name of a warehouse bar in Park Slope?

None of the colleges that play basketball in the ACC are within 200 miles of New York City. The closest one is not even in New York state. It`s Boston College. And that is at least a four and a half hour drive without traffic. Look, we already sacrificed a lot when it comes to geographic integrity in college sports.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has colleges in three states that don`t border the Atlantic Ocean and only one of those three touch Salt Water, Pennsylvania. The Big East features a college in Nebraska, and the Big Ten has 14 members and the Big Twelve has 10.

I think you should play your conference tournament in a city with maybe the tiniest bit of connection to your colleges or at the very least somewhere relatively nearby. You may even get a few more people in the seats for the weekday afternoon games. That said, ACC, there`s ACC tournament and there`s everybody else. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for "The Lid." Panel is back. Charlie Sykes, Katy Tur, Joel Benenson. Let me wrap up, you guys have enjoyed a little Garry Kasparov time off camera, heard what he said. Look, Katy, he`s pretty sure exactly how Putin operates and he is sort of more definitive about what happened in his mind probably because he`s witnessed Russia doing these things, oh by the way, he`s had his own life threatened by Putin over the years. There isn`t that definitiveness here in the United States yet. KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: No.

TODD: There is a lot to glean from him.

TUR: There`s not that definitiveness. There is a lot of smoke here, so far no fire. There is one group of people who say, listen, with all this smoke, by now you should have found a fire. You can`t just keep saying and saying and saying it.

TODD: The best spin the Trump people have right now.

TUR: The best spin the Trump people have right now and there`s a whole another group that says, listen, you can`t have all this smoke without something going on and if there is all this smoke, why would the Trump campaign not go above and beyond to be as clear about their connections to Russia as they possibly can?

And there are others who say because there is so much confusion that people like FBI Director James Comey need to come out publicly and say we are doing an investigation, we are not doing an investigation. Here is what we know, here is what we don`t know, because there is trust that has been degraded across the board.

TODD: In fact, Lindsey Graham almost spoke to that very point earlier today. Take a listen.

(START VIDEO CLIP) LINDSEY GRAHAM, SENIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM SOUTH CAROLINA: I want to find out, was a warrant issued against the trump campaign for illegal activity? That`s not too much to ask. The answer is either yes or no. If the answer is no, then I think we can move on and say that there was no surveillance by the obama administration through the warrant process, then the question is did they do something illegally? I highly doubt that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Now, Jim Clapper on Sunday on "Meet the Press" said, made it about Trump Tower. Said nothing that was associated with Trump Tower. Some people have said is he drawing a distinction there or not? And it seems as if Lindsey Graham thinks there`s a distinction there.

That I find -- I think that`s worth noting that some people read what Clapper said to me as a total, there`s no warrants, there was nothing, no surveillance. Lindsey Graham is hinting that he still thinks there may be some surveillance of something or someone. JOEL BENENSON, POLLSTER AND CONSULTANT, STRATEGIST FOR BARACK OBAMA`S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS: I think the issue was about Trump Tower. That`s what Donald Trump raised himself.

TODD: Correct.

BENENSON: So I think Mr. Clapper, Jim Clapper, was being very careful. He was addressing only what was put out there. And you know if you`re in any kind of enforcement, intelligence agency, you don`t go beyond what you have to deal within that moment. So I think he was being very careful. As to the point about whether there`s so much smoke, you already know fire, I think that`s baloney.

We are at the tip of the iceberg of something unprecedented whether it`s true or not here. There are enough things out there that this will take time, it will take an investigation, it will take someone with subpoena power to get to the bottom.

TODD: You know, Charlie, there was a republican operative that was quoted if the Axios Mike Allen, I think last week, I love this quote, he says you don`t know the smoke is the fire, that the way they`re handling it, they actually created a fire with all the smoke. CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: None of it makes sense if there`s nothing there. Why did they lie about their contacts? Why has nobody come forward and say, yes, we did meet with the Russians and told them to stop hacking. What is going to be going on here?

Also, why does the president then escalate this basically into a constitutional crisis level by accusing the previous president of committing a felony? So if he wants this to go away, they`re doing it in the worst possible way.

TODD: Katy, who`s spinning the president up on this? Somebody intentionally wanted him to see the Mark Levin/Breitbart stuff. I`m sorry, somebody spun him up. They could have kept that from him. TUR: You know, I had a conversation with somebody who spoke to Donald Trump over the weekend about exactly where he got this information. And the person said it was -- it was the Breitbart article and then he brought up Levin and he asked, you know, what do you think of this? Is Donald Trump -- was Barack Obama wiretapping me? I don`t think it`s anybody. I think he woke up on that morning and did his Google search, he found that Breitbart article, well off.

TODD: All right. There it is. One way to govern. Joel, Charlie, Katy, thank you very much. After the break, love, hate and a dinner date, all at the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. In case you missed it, during the campaign, Senator Ted Cruz had some unkind things to say about Donald Trump after Mr. Trump criticized Senator Cruz`s wife, Heidi.

(START VIDEO CLIP)

TED CRUZ, JUNIOR U.S. SENATOR FROM TEXAS: I don`t get angry often, but you mess with my wife, you mess with my kids, that will do it every time, Donald, you`re a sniveling coward, leave Heidi the hell alone.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: Guess who`s come to dinner? That right, Texas senator, Ted Cruz and wife, Heidi, will dine with President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump tonight. This is actually the latest in a string of meetings between the president and his former rivals. It`s not just as he called him Lion Ted.

On Friday, little Marco hopping on Air Force One as they flew from D.C. to Florida. At a dinner a week before, 1-for-38 John Kasich, as he called him, was recently at the White House. And just yesterday, 1 percent Lindsey Graham had lunch with the president and it was so good, Lindsey Graham gave him his new cell phone number.

How about that. We`ll see, though, how Heidi and Ted handle tonight.

That`s all for tonight. FOR THE RECORED, though, with Greta, starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END

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