Show: MTP Daily Date: March 28, 2017 Guest: Chris Collins, Ruth Marcus, Tom Delay, Evelyn Farkas, Yamiche Alcindor, Sara Fagen, Ruth Marcus
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Yes, it`s Tuesday.
It`s apparently Kremlin connections with dressing on the side. Tonight, word salad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that`s a Russian connection.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Can the White House breakthrough the ever-growing cloud of the kremlin?
Plus, web of ties. Connecting the dots between former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and pro-Russia power players.
A man on an island. Will the Congress throw the president a lifeline as his entire agenda hangs in the balance?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Some of those who are in the no camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.
Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to MTP DAILY.
The president`s agenda has arguably ground to a halt, so as the House probe into Russia. And neither is a good thing fort this White House at this moment. Folks, this White House needs a win and it needs one badly. And they need Democrats, probably, to help notch it.
But the Russian cloud is gunning up the works and it, apparently, is going to get worse. The House probe, led by now embattled Chairman Devin Nunes, has descended into chaos and the White House and GOP leadership are stuck playing defense and trying to put out fires.
You can sense the frustration today at the White House and Capitol Hill. Here`s what White House press secretary Sean Spicer did sparring with reporter April Ryan when she brought up said Russia cloud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that`s a Russian connection. Every single person who has been briefed on this situation, with respect to the situation with Russia, Republican, Democrat, Obama, appointee, career have all come to the same conclusion. At some point, April, you`re going to have to take no for an answer, with respect to whether or not there was collusion.
We`re going to keep doing everything we`re doing to make sure that the president -- that what the president told the American people he was going to do to fulfill those pledges and promises that he made, to bring back jobs, to grow the economy, to keep our nation safe, that`s what he`s been focused on since day. We`re going to keep focusing on that every single day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Well, there was a big falsehood in that statement from Sean Spicer. It is not true that everybody you take this to says you can`t take no for an answer on collusion. Because guess what? The FBI is currently investigating that issue and whether or not there was collusion and they haven`t finished their investigation.
And that investigation can drag on for months if not years. Additionally, you can argue that a lot of the drama that`s plaguing the White House has been totally self-inflicted. Like insisting that House investigators, led by Intel Chair Devin Nunes, finds something to back up the president`s baseless claims that President Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. So, with the White House looking for anything, Nunes found something which was arguably nothing and it`s now bogging down everything.
Today, House Speaker Paul Ryan faced more questions surrounding Nunes` ability to lead the investigation amid a flood of criticism, mostly from Democrats but now a handful of Republicans. Here`s Ryan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Devin Nunes recuse himself from the Russia investigation and two, do you know the source of his information?
RYAN: No and no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: So, there you go. Chairman Nunes today suggested that he`s not going anywhere, right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTFIED FEMALE: At this time, you are not considered --
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I`m asking -- well, look, I`d like to answer your question but I`d like to know like to know, first, what the purpose of that would be, why that would be. Because someone asks? I mean, that`s now how the -- that`s not how it`s safe (ph) for me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: All of this comes amid President Trump`s latest tweet storm. He`s calling on the House Intel Committee to investigate Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and John Podesta for work they did connected to Russian interests. President Trump also slammed the Russia cloud as a, quote, "hoax."
And there was more drama at the White House today. Sean Spicer pushed back on a report in "The Washington Post" that the administration had attempted to block former acting Attorney General Sally Yates from testifying to Congress about Russia. Spicer insisted that the White House dropped concern which, by the way, were originally flagged by the Department of Justice that Yates` testimony might be barred due to executive privilege.
Today, Spicer simply said, I hope she testifies. I look forward to it. Well, that testimony was supposed to happen today in front the House Intel Committee.
But under Chairman Nunes, the committee`s work is essentially frozen in place. The public hearing was scrapped so was the closed briefing, so were two committee hearings. All were originally scheduled for this week.
I`m joined by Republican Congressman Chris Collins of New York. He, of course, was a top adviser to the Trump transition and the first member of Congress to endorse then candidate Trump.
[17:05:02] Congressman, always good to see you, sir.
REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: Good to be with you, Chuck.
TODD: Let me start, first, with Russia before I get to the Congressional agenda. You have -- why should Devin Nunes, who was a member of the transition team, be trusted to help head this investigation on Russia?
COLLINS: Well, I mean it comes back to -- I know Devin Nunes and I certainly know him to be impartial, even though others may say otherwise.
In the case of my fellow members, I will generally say I will defer to their judgment. I`m not in a position to call that out one way or the other. I wouldn`t pretend to be in that position. Not unlike the situation with Attorney General Sessions who is made his decision to recuse himself.
I say, from where I sit, I will trust Devin Nunes will do the right thing and I would not suggest to him that I have an opinion one way or the other.
TODD: Well, you`re giving him more leeway than you gave to Department of Justice back during 2016. Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton -- in fact, let me play a sound bite of yours and get you to respond to it on the other side, sir.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: It was a Department of Justice`s decision whether to prosecute or not.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure.
COLLINS: We have to remember, Bill Clinton was on the airplane with the attorney general just a week ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
COLLINS: I think Loretta Lynch was intimidated by Bill Clinton on the airplane. Loretta Lynch does know that she would be more secure in her job if Hillary Clinton was president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Why shouldn`t your questions about her impartiality there -- why doesn`t that fit this Devin Nunes situation?
COLLINS: Well, first of all, the attorney general in that case, Loretta Lynch, reported into the president. In this case, Devin Nunes is a member of Congress independently elected. His job does not depend on the relationship to the administration. So, there is a difference here. And, again, --
TODD: But he also crossed a -- he also, sort of, called into question his potential impartiality maybe by accident. Same with saying Loretta Lynch claimed it wasn`t done intentionally. But, yet, it called into question.
Wouldn`t the investigation be more credible if either Devin Nunes did one of two things. Share everything he knows with his committee, both parties, all the sourcing and everything, or, say, have a Trey Gowdy lead this with Adam Schiff.
COLLINS: Well, I certainly understand the argument that you`re making, Chuck, but I`m not going to weigh in on this. He -- Devin Nunes does not report to me. And I`m just going to -- as a fellow member, I will leave it up to him to do the right thing and I`m sure he will.
TODD: OK and what is the right thing?
COLLINS: That`s for him to decide.
TODD: Let me move onto the agenda. It was interesting, Paul LePage said something earlier today and it was about health care. And he said this, on the idea of just letting Obamacare fail. He said, you`re telling people, let it fail, so the American people can get hurt more.
Does he have a point there that the idea of, quote, "we`re letting it fail" is actually -- while it may be a good political idea, if you truly believe it`s going to fail, that it actually is harmful to the public if you think this is going to harm the public that that`s not good public policy?
COLLINS: Well, I am not on the page of letting something fail to, quote, "hurt the American public." I mean, I think -- and I don`t believe my conference is either.
Unfortunately, Chuck, today, Obamacare is failing under its own weight. I`m certainly not going to pile on in any way to suggest anything should be done to expedite the failures that we`re already seeing. With insurance carriers simply saying, economically, I have so much uncertainty that I`m going to pull out of the exchanges which is what we`ve seen in literally a third of the counties across America.
And I would -- my message to America on the health subcommittee, on the Energy and Commerce Committee, is I do not, for a second, believe my fellow members of the Republican conference want to expedite the pain on America to prove a point. I mean, that`s -- you know, it would never happen.
But it will be and it is failing under its own weight and that`s an unfortunate reality.
TODD: Well, and I think there are different people that have different definitions of what a spiral -- death spiral is or failing.
But let me ask you this. Is it time to get rid of the repeal and replace rhetoric and just get into repair yet or are you not there yet?
COLLINS: I`m not there yet. But I can tell you, when we look at what we are doing under what we called repeal and replace, there was an awful lot of repair in that. And we were keeping things like the kids under 26 on their family policy. We were making sure we would never have lifetime limits ever again.
[17:10:00] We made sure that folks with debilitating conditions would have continuous coverage even as they change insurance programs. We were keeping the Medicaid exchanges or the enhancement, if you will. And we had just simply changing the reimbursement rate back to what it is, you know, for the same thing we have for the blind and disabled.
TODD: So, you acknowledge -- you believe the bill was more of a repair bill than a replace bill in the first place, don`t you?
COLLINS: Well, you could -- I think, to some extent, you use the words replace and repair somewhat interchangeably. And, you know, that`s certainly what had some of the folks in our freedom caucus as upset as they were. They did not want to see some of the repairs that we had in there.
I think, to some cases, Chuck, it is semantics.
COLLINS: And semantics can be important, don`t get me wrong. But these are some of the discussions we have to have within our Republican conference today. As we move forward in discussions we need to have with the White House as well.
Because, currently today, we`re in a very bad situation, almost lose-lose with certainly on the exchanges. All the insurance companies pulling out. What do you say to somebody who has 10 million people who are getting their insurance off the exchanges today and a third of them have no competition whatsoever, if they even have coverage.
And right now, I know for 2018, there`s a lot of insurance companies really scratching their head trying to decide, are they going to offer a plan or not? And that is 10 million Americans.
TODD: Let me -- I want to button one more thing up because I`m still replaying your answer in my head about Devin Nunes. So, let me ask you one more time on this. Do you think the investigation would be more credible if he cleared this up?
COLLINS: Oh, I do believe Devin Nunes does need to clear things up. I will agree with that and would certainly expect him, again, to do the right thing. You know, the controversy right now is not good and I certainly acknowledge that. But I will leave it up to Devin Nunes to do the right thing. I believe he will and, yes, we do need some clarity here.
TODD: All right. Congressman Chris Collins, always, sir, appreciate your --
COLLINS: Thank you.
TODD: -- frankness. And you don`t duck many questions. I appreciate that.
COLLINS: OK. Very good to be with you.
TODD: Well, let`s bring in tonight`s panel. Yamiche Alcindor, National Reporter for "The New York Times" and an MSNBC Contributor. Sara Fagen was Bush 43`s political director and is a CNBC contributor. And Ruth Marcus is a "Washington Post" columnist and deputy editorial page editor.
Sara Fagen, Devin Nunes needs to do the right thing. Was is that right thing? He wouldn`t quite outline what that was.
SARA FAGEN, CONTRIBUTOR, CNBC: Yes, and he doesn`t want to get ahead of the chairman. The chairman is going to have to determine what the best course of action is for the investigation and his role in it.
It could mean a lot of things. It could be opening up whatever information he may have gotten to the rest of the members of the committee. He could choose to step aside. I don`t -- I don`t know that he needs to step aside, though. I -- you know, because he saw some of the information, he needs to make it available to his fellow members. I don`t know that I would step aside, if I were him.
TODD: He was caught on camera saying, no, he wasn`t going to.
TODD: He had no interest in sharing any of the sourcing. It seems like that he`s sticking to his guns here.
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: He`s sticking to his guns and it means that it`s -- it really makes it hard for, I think, a lot of people who are watching this investigation to think that anything that`s chaired by him is going to somehow clear the cloud that is over the Trump presidency.
I mean, this Russia issue is not going away. And I think even Republicans are thinking, is this really in our best interest to have this go on like this?
TODD: And the other thing we`ve got to remember is Devin Nunes is trying to do the White House a favor here. The White House is who has caused this problem by being determined to try to prove a Trump tweet --
RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Once again.
TODD: -- factual.
TODD: Devin Nunes is caught in this vicious cycle. And, you know, yes, he made some judgment calls on people. But it`s because they`re trying to prove Trump right.
MARCUS: Trying to desperately prove right what is not, from all actual appearances, true. So, that can get you into trouble.
And the thing that`s really striking about all of this today is -- so, I can understand it`s not necessarily if there is smoke, there is fire. But now, you have a bunch of people trying to hide the fire extinguishers. Right? You go --
TODD: Uh oh, we`re going to get lost on metaphor row here.
FAGEN: It doesn`t seem that complicated. If he`s -- if he`s seen something share it -- valuable, share it with other -- the other people in the committee at least. Maybe it`s classified. I don`t know what he saw.
TODD: But the committee --
MARCUS: They have all that.
FAGEN: But the committee can have it, right. No, that`s right. The committee can have it, sure TODD: I guess it goes back to the why doesn`t the White House just say, we want to clear this up, too?
MARCUS: Because --
TODD: Well, all right.
FAGEN: I mean, why won`t they let -- why -- well, look, we are talking about this as opposed to health care, right?
TODD: Are you saying you prefer Russia over health care?
ALCINDOR: I mean, if you think about all the things that have happened, you think about where this -- the issues that this -- that this White House has had, I mean, it`s hard to think that you -- they would want this to be in the news, right? Because health care was an epic fail and because, I think, health care goes to policy and it goes to what they actually are going to accomplish. Maybe they do prefer this conversation instead of --
[17:15:03] FAGEN: And, in fair -- in fairness, we`re talking about a process. What a -- what an individual saw. Where he saw it. Who he saw it with. We`re not -- we`re not talking about -- specifics about what`s happening with respect to the Russian investigation. We`re talking about the process.
TODD: Is this -- is this -- is this a squirrel --
FAGEN: The process confuses everything.
TODD: -- has this turned into one of those squirrel moments?
FAGEN: Where is it?
MARCUS: You know, I -- it just seems to me to be double trouble for the White House. Either we`re talking about -- I mean, triple trouble actually. Either we`re talking about the health care failure or the impending issues with tax reform or we`re talking about the substance of the fact that we have this big, gray cloud over the presidency while this investigation is going on or we`re talking about their continuing efforts to try to work the spin in this very clumsy way that keeps on getting exposed to try to support these unsupportable tweets.
TODD: Well, I was just going to say, why did -- it seemed like Sean Spicer went too far in his denial on Russia when he said, nobody can take -- there`s no collusion for an answer here. You`re, like, well, wait a minute, that`s the heart of the investigation. Like, why over-deny right now?
FAGEN: Yes. I think, you know, you say is we`re confident that when the facts are out, that there`ll be nothing of substance to report. But we`ll let the committee do their investigation. To me, that`s the --
TODD: Shouldn`t that be the answer every single day? I mean, he`s a discipline writer, just -- Sean Spicer, every time he`s asked questions. You know what? There`s an investigation. We`re confident. And we`re confident that it`s going to prove nothing is there just like we`ve been telling you. But we want the investigation to continue.
TODD: He should say --
MARCUS: Well, because the president doesn`t want him to say that. The president wants him to --
ALCINDOR: I was going to say, it goes back to this idea that you have people who are jockeying for the president`s ear, jockeying for the president`s favor. And he wants to come out here and look like he is the person who is backing up the president the most.
And this idea that as long as he puts -- if he Russian dressing on it -- on his salad, that that means there is something -- it`s almost saying that we don`t believe anything. There is no collusion. It doesn`t matter what`s going on.
And he`s starting to, in some ways, to adopt the tone that is the Trump presidency. And that, really, the candidate himself could use and obviously become president with. But that really does not work for most of the other people that try to use it.
FAGEN: I think, at the end of the day, this is a big story inside the beltway. And I`m not saying it`s not going to have an impact outside the beltway eventually. But right now, you know, I think we`re -- the country is -- they`re focused on what happen -- why health care hasn`t been --
TODD: We do have 60 plus percent of people that think this should --
FAGEN: -- impact.
TODD: -- be an outside investigation. Right. The more you ask him -- nobody trusts Congress to do this.
FAGEN: Right, but they -- but you have to remember where voters start which is they think all of politics is corrupt. Everybody is corrupt.
TODD: So, they don`t trust anybody.
FAGEN: So, they look at this and they say this is just more of the same. You know, I think people are more focused on health care.
TODD: You may be right on that. Sorry, we`ve got to run.
MARCUS: The irony --
TODD: No, last word.
MARCUS: Oh. The irony is that I think that all of the behavior of the White House and its friend, Devin Nunes, is making it more likely we`re going to get an outside investigation, not less.
TODD: That, I think, is possibly true. Anyway, you guys are sticking around for the hour.
Coming up, jilted by the GOP. As President Trump pushes ahead on his agenda, will his own party come back to the table? And how should they deal with them the next time? Former GOP House majority leader, Tom, the hammer, Delay, joins me to discuss how House leadership should proceed. Stay tuned.
TODD: Welcome back.
President Trump took the first major step to unwinding Obama era environmental regulations today, signing an executive order that calls on the EPA to dismantle President Obama`s clean power plant which aimed to reduce carbon pollution.
This president said this executive order would revive the coal industry. But some experts say it does not necessarily mean a revival for coal jobs. The U.S. has steadily moved away from coal dependency. But (INAUDIBLE) directives make it nearly impossible for the U.S. to hold up its end of the climate change accord, known as the Paris Agreement.
And whining of these Obama air regulations would have been expected, by the way, from any Republican president. This is not something that`s just Trump-oriented. It`s something that is truly a divide between the two parties.
We`ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Moving from an opposition party to a governing party comes with growing pains. And, well, we`re feeling those growing pains today.
MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, U.S. OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: We haven`t been able to change Washington in the first 65 days. And I think if there`s anything that`s disappointing and, sort of, an educational process for the Trump administration was that this place was a lot more rotten than we thought it was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Welcome back.
As we`ve been talking about, the president and Congress find themselves in the midst of multiple predicaments. First, they`ve got to figure out whether they can govern after eight years of resisting former President Obama. Second, they`ve got a priorities` problem. The White House is reportedly interested in speeding ahead to do tax reform and infrastructure at the same time.
Today, though, House Speaker Paul Ryan said they were looking to give health care another try but would not offer any kind of time line.
Joining me now is former House majority leader Tom Delay, a Republican of Texas. Also, author of the new book, by the way, "Revival! Revolution! Rebirth!"
Mr. Delay, Mr. Hammer, it`s good to see you, sir.
TOM DELAY (R), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Hi, Chuck. How are you? It`s good to see you.
TODD: Your name came up a couple of times in conversations I had with some veteran Republican members of Congress over the weekend, who acknowledged that they wouldn`t have had a vote-counting problem for a must-pass bill had you been the one rounding up the votes. And the -- and the -- it wasn`t just about earmarks. It was about the idea of, you know, a committee chairman wouldn`t have been allowed to vote no on something like this, referring to one of the committee chairman that came out. Things like that.
Is there a -- not enough, sort of, sticks with the way leadership conducts votes these days and too many carrots?
DELAY: Well, first of all, Chuck, you misportrayed me as the hammer. I didn`t have to break legs or arms or --
TODD: That`s true.
DELAY: -- even use earmarks. Because I invented a new way of whipping the vote that nobody seems to want to use and I call it they grow the vote. And, basically, as you get it with your members and you work with your members before the bill is even written.
And once it`s written and introduced, you know which members have problems and you work with those members throughout the whole regular order process, real regular order, so that they have some ownership. When it gets to the floor, they want to vote for it.
TODD: So, your critique on this is the entire process from the beginning, that this was done -- was it too rushed, in your opinion? How would you have set about trying to do this?
DELAY: Well, Chuck, let me just put it in perspective. Before Obamacare, everybody got health care. But the Democrats wanted to control health care through health insurance and bring the federal government into this unconstitutionally. And they did it.
But right after that, the American people, and certainly Republicans and Tea Partiers, were screened about repealing Obamacare. They didn`t ask for replacement.
[17:25:05] The politicians did replacement in answer to the media and to the Democrats that said, well, if you repeal, what are you going to replace it with? So, they come up with a replacement. That was the beginning of the end.
And so, the American people --
TODD: You don`t accept the premise. You think the mistake was accepting the premise of a replacement?
DELAY: Exactly, because what that infers is that you`re going to -- you`re going to replace Obamacare with Obamacare light. And that`s what they did in this bill. The American people gave them -- in four different elections, kept giving the House, the Senate, and now our president to replace -- to repeal Obamacare, not replace it.
Now, you need to do something. You need to -- you need to create a free market by getting the government out of the health insurance industry and use the federal government to allow business across state lines.
But you don`t need to replace one bad system with another bad system. And that`s what they did with this bill. This bill was not repealed. And it left half of Obamacare foundation and architecture.
It had welfare in it. It had bailouts of insurance. It had the federal government mandating what kind of insurance you can buy. Everything that would be the same failure that Obamacare is now.
And that -- it`s going to fail again if they don`t change the way they do things. This is a great opportunity.
TODD: Well, let me -- well, let me ask you this, though.
DELAY: it`s a great opportunity.
TODD: So, you -- would you -- do you believe you -- that the Republican Party has a wider set of polls today, say between Charlie Dent and Mark Meadows? Or I had on the show Sunday, Charlie Dent and Mike Lee, sort of representing the two ends of -- wings of the Republican Party. Do you feel like those wings are further apart today than they were when you were running things?
DELAY: No, no. We had Mike Castle from Delaware. You can`t get more left than he was. A Republican from Delaware. And John Hostettler from Indiana. And we did Medicare reform with only a 10-vote margin.
I mean, so, no. No, it`s no different now than then. You just -- you just have to see the big picture and you have to write a strategy that works with the members and the votes that you have.
So, what they should have done -- if they wanted to go this route, what they should have done is start -- talk to their members, start on the right, writing a bill that gets you to 218 votes and then go to the floor. That`s all you have to do. And not -- and certainly not write a bill based -- in the House based on the Senate rules.
TODD: Well, --
DELAY: The 60 votes -- the 60-vote thing is an excuse that the Senate uses all the times -- all the time because they don`t want to do something. When they want to do something, they don`t -- they don`t have to have their 60 votes.
TODD: Well, it`s funny. You`re a reminder. What is it -- it`s, like, the -- what is it -- the -- in the House, it`s the Senate that`s the opposition, right? The Democrats are just simply the opposition.
DELAY: Absolutely, all the time.
TODD: But let me ask you one final question about the Senate issue. How do you ask a House member to vote for a bill that you know could get radically changed by the Senate and not be the same bill? Did that make it also that much harder? Should this have been a -- should the Senate have been forced to come up with their bill, sort of, simultaneously?
DELAY: Well, yes, or in different ways to do that. But, first of all, you write a bill that is a good, solid Republican bill. And don`t worry about the Senate. Send that bill over to the Senate. They can -- the Senate is the Senate. They`ll do whatever they want to.
They -- you know, they said they`re going to regular order. Well, they didn`t do regular order. They didn`t allow amendments. They didn`t allow members` input and all of that. And they wrote something with the Senate rules.
Let the Senate write a bill, then you go to conference and write the real bill. That`s the way it should work.
TODD: Well, Tom Delay, I can`t remember the last time we had a conference that actually worked in the last 10 years. But that`s -- you know, that`s the good old days.
DELAY: Well, I`ve been out for 10 years.
TODD: Anyway, Tom Delay, former House majority leader. All right, I won`t give you the hammer title but it`s a great nick name. Why wouldn`t you want it? You and Hank Aaron.
DELAY: Well, it`s fun. It`s fun. But "The Washington Post" gave me that in trying to discourage me. They thought I had to break arms in order to never lose a vote. I never lost a vote.
TODD: Well, it just -- the timing might get extended, that`s all. Anyway, there you go. Tom Delay, always a pleasure, sir. Thanks for coming on sharing your views.
DELAY: You bet.
TODD: Still ahead, untangling the web. I`m going to take an in-depth look at former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort`s complex network of Russian connections so stay with us.
TODD: Welcome back. The best regular season of the year, baseball season. It`s just around the corner. But President Trump will not be on hand to kick things off in any baseball stadium or here in the nation`s capital. The "Washington Post" reports that the Washington Nationals did ask the president to throw out the first pitch at the home opener on Monday, we like when president`s do that, but the White House declined they due to a scheduling issue.
The move is probably for the best for both sides. The Nationals owners, the Lerner family gets some good points with the Trump administration, fellow developer family by the way, for making the offer. And the White House is avoiding a potentially embarrassing crowd situation. To say that the people of Washington didn`t support President Trump in November`s election is an understatement. Just under 13,000 Washingtonians voted for president Trump.
The average attendance at Nats Park last year was almost 31,000 so, every Trump voter in this district could bring a friend and they`d be below the average there. The Nats by the way open with the Miami Marlins at home on Monday as they seek their first ever World Series appearance. It`s all about closers. Speaking of closing, still ahead on MTP Daily as Paul Manafort gets ready to face questions from the House intel committee and Senate intel committee on Russia. We`ll look at what we already know about Manafort`s web of ties to pro-Russia power players. But first, Hampton Pearson with today`s Market Wrap.
HAMPTON PEARSON, CORRESPONDENT, CNBC NEWS: Hey Chuck, while we had the Dow breaking its eight-day losing streak today closing 150 points higher. The S&P up by 60 and the Nasdaq rising by 34 points. Consumer confidence this month is at its highest level in over 50 years. A monthly survey shows people are more optimistic about the labor and business markets.
Fed chair Janet Yellen says better education and training programs are needed for low income and minority group. The counter what she call pockets of persistently high unemployment. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.
TODD: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." As we`ve said, the Russia cloud over the Trump White House seems to be darkening. Several former Trump campaign associates have now volunteered to be interviewed by the increasingly chaotic House Intelligence Committee including President Trump`s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort has also volunteered to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee. It`s not yet clear whether his testimony will be public in either case.
Manafort denies any involvement with Russia`s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election and says he has never spoken with Russian government officials or anyone who claimed to be involved in the DNC hack attack. After the FBI director testified last week, Manafort released a statement saying in part, "Despite the constant scrutiny and innuendo, there are no facts or evidence supporting these allegations, nor will there be." At the same time, the Trump White House is increasingly attempting to distance itself from Manafort.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The way that the term associates has gone around, I don`t understand what that means. You pull out a gentlemen who was employed by someone for five months and talk about a client that he had 10 years ago. There`s been this discussion of Paul Manafort who played a very limited for a very limited amount of time.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He was replaced long before the election. You know that, right? He was replaced long before the election. He was only there for a short period of time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: We know Paul Manafort because he was President Trump`s campaign chairman. He joined the Trump campaign in March 2016. He became chairman in May and ran the campaign from May until he resigned in August. Back in 2008, Manafort worked for a Russian billionaire named Oleg Deripaska. He is known to U.S. officials as a member of Putin`s inner circle. The Associated Press reported that Manafort secretly worked for Deripaska to advance the interest of Vladimir Putin. That report contradicts what`s been said by Manafort and the Trump administration.
Manafort also has deep ties to another Putin ally, pro-Russian former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych beginning in late 2004. When Yanukovych lost a presidential bid, he turned to Manafort to help rehabilitate his image. And Manafort continued working for him until 2012. Then there is Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash.
Manafort worked with Firtash him on a plan to redevelop New York`s famous Drake Hotel before the deal eventually fell through. Fiirtash got his start in business with the permission of Semyon Mogilevich, one of Russia`s most well-known organized crime bosses. These two oligarchs, Firtash and Deripaska are both allies of Yanukovych.
So, it is a web, but it is just that and there`s no -- it`s not necessarily as somehow indicative of something more nefarious, but it is being investigated. Now, Mr. Manafort responded to the Associated Press story telling NBC News his work did not involve representing Russian political interest and a statement said this in part, "I have always publicly acknowledged that I worked for Mr. Deripaska and his company, Rusal, to advance its interests. I did not work for the Russian government. Once again, smear and innuendo are being used to paint a false picture."
Joining me now is Evelyn Farkas. She was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine in the Obama administration and now she`s a senior fellow at the Atlanta Council and an NBC News national security analyst. OK, let`s go through who these people are. Let`s do Deripaska first and it`s one there, this idea, did Manafort know that his job was to advance Russian interests when representing him.
EVELYN FARKAS, NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST, NBC NEWS: Right. Well first of all, the thing you have to know about Deripaska is he made his money pretty young. The Soviet System collapsed when he was still a young man. And so he came of age as a business man making money, doing all kinds of deals when it was a free --
TODD: This is from a Yeltsin era.
FARKAS: Yeltsin era, exactly.
TODD: The 90`s.
FARKAS: He got close to Putin we believe. There are a lot of pictures of him. He`s reportedly a good friend or associate of Putin`s. So, if you`re doing business with a guy like that, you probably have to assume that whatever he`s having you do is in the interest or at least not going counter to Russia`s interest.
TODD: All right, let me play devil`s advocate here. Is it possible that Paul Manafort believes yes, he was there to serve the interests of the Russian government when it came to other countries but he believes he was not doing it here in the United States?
FARKAS: It`s possible. It`s possible. I mean the AP has some kind of report where they say they have documents that state unequivocally I guess. I mean you`d have to ask the AP but basically that Paul Manafort signed a document saying that he would work to influence the United States in order to help his client.
TODD: That would be --
FARKAS: Exactly. And if he was doing that, he would have to of course file as a foreign agent.
TODD: Let`s talk about Firtash.
TODD: Tell me about Firtash. This is a Ukranian --
FARKAS: Firtash is a Ukranian oligarch, not Russian, but Ukranian. But these guys all mix and meld because they are all operating in Ukraine, operating in Russia. Firtash is a guy who did business with Manafort. He also of course supported Yanukovych, the other, the former president of Ukraine who was basically the guy who was deposed more or less. Although I would say, actually I need to amend that.
He was faced by a mob, gunned down over about 130 of his citizens. Then when we brokered a compromise, he fled. So he fled to Russia. He`s still in Russia in exile. But of course since then, now we have a new elected president of Ukraine. So Firtash is an oligarch. He made a lot of money as you mentioned. He got his start with the help of organized crime and this is I think the underlying point to make Chuck. You know, people might be looking up to say who are these people? What are their names? What are they doing?
In Russia, if you`re dealing with Russian business people you have to understand that the business community in Russia is intertwined with the government and that`s the political folks but also the police, the internal security, secret service, and with the mob. There`s a real interconnected tangle here. There`s no separation. You can`t separate it out like in the United States.
TODD: I was just going to say, a CEO in the United States isn`t necessarily always going to have a relationship with the president of the United States.
FARKAS: Correct. Or with the mob.
TODD: Right. Is there a major Russian businessman who doesn`t have to have a relationship with Putin?
FARKAS: I would argue no because most of them first of all got their wealth, acquired their wealth because of the blessing of the Russian government, whether it was under Yeltsin or now under Putin. Certainly they kept it under Putin.
TODD: Either as a nationalized thing or semi-privatized to semi-national - -
FARKAS: It`s privatized, but the understanding is that if you have a lot of money, you got it because the government let you do whatever it was that you did business-wise, and a lot of it was brokering, buying aluminum for example or selling natural gas and then taking a cut. So a lot of these guys made money, Firtash for example, as a middle man selling gas. The gas was sold from Russia to Ukraine.
So, these middle men made a lot of money and they understood that they were doing it because the government, the Russian government let them engage in this business.
TODD: Do any of these guys have a political agenda or it`s ultimately it`s Putin with the political agenda and the rest of these guys are just motivated by money?
FARKAS: The rest of these guys are motivated by money. Where it gets political is if for some reason Putin thinks he can`t trust them, then of course they have quickly a personal political agenda and they have to duck for cover. Many of the oligarchs you were mentioning before we came on the air, you know, who supported Putin in the past, some of them have turned against them or he`s turned against them. Some of them have turned up dead you know of heart attacks and things of that nature. Others are living in exile and fear.
So, there is really kind of a pact that Putin made with the oligarchs. You can go ahead and make your money. And this is when he came to power in 2000. But understand that any money you have, if the state needs that money, we might call on you to give some of that money back to us. So for the Sochi Olympics, for example, you have to donate, you know, he opens the pot and they all have to put some money in.
TODD: And if you don`t donate, it`s noted on some sort of score card.
FARKAS: Exactly. Although they can also skim off the government and make some money off of Sochi too.
TODD: All right, Evelyn Farkas, there`s a lot more to dig into here. This was just trying to get at the Manafort angle because it`s confusing. There`s Russians, there`s Ukrainians and it`s a bunch of smoke, but it has no yet connectivity to the campaign.
FARKAS: Not yet.
TODD: All right, I`ll leave it there. Up next, teeing off on hypocrisy. Why I`m obsessed with the president`s time on the green. Stay tuned.
TODD: Tonight I`m obsessed with the president trying to take a mulligan on one of his longest standing critiques of president Obama -- his love of golf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might even be on one of my courses. I would invite him.
He plays more golf than the guys on the PGA Tour play. I love golf. I think it`s one of the greats but I don`t have time, 250 rounds, that`s more than a guy who plays in the PGA Tour plays. He played more golf last year than tiger woods.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Well, it was a silly argument when Mr. Trump was making it as a candidate and it`s gotten even sillier now. By our count, and his 68 days in office, President Trump has already taken in 13 golf outing. By comparison, President Obama had not yet hit the links once by this time in his presidency. But it`s not just that the president is playing a lot of golf or that it`s hypocritical that he`s doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for.
It`s that his staff feels like they need to hide the amount of golf the boss is playing. They put the pool (ph) in dark rooms. And then on various occasions a White House staff has told the press that the president is taking meetings that happen to be taking place at his golf clubs and then he may have stepped out and hit a few balls. And then of course it`s captured on social media wearing the golf club, wearing his golf cleats, clearly hitting the links, oh by the way, with one of the world`s top golfers. Thank you Rory McIlroy.
The presidency is the most stressful job in the world and it`s tough to get any privacy. Golf is actually one of the few ways any president can get out and get fresh air without getting accosted by the press or protesters in the public. There`s nothing wrong with the president playing golf. What`s ridiculous are the ridiculous are the cheap shots that politicians take at each other over it. Perhaps Mr. Trump now realizes it was silly what he said about President Obama back then. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Time for lid (ph) panel is back, Yamiche Alcindor, Sara Fagen, Ruth Marcus. There has been a growing list, we`re up to 30 Democrats that have come out against the Gorsuch nomination both in the filibuster, wanting to filibuster it and being against including five of the red state Democrats, Bill Nelson, Bob Casey, Tammy Baldwin, Sherrod Brown, Debbie Stabenow and others. Five other red state Democrats, one of them has come out for (inaudible), that`s Joe Manchin. So, do Democrats, Ruth, do they have the votes to force this change?
RUTH MARCUS, OP-ED COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Do democrat haves the votes to force this change?
TODD: To change and lose later. Do they have the votes?
MARCUS: Yes, the short answer to your complicated question. They, I think that Republicans will not be able to get 60 votes to stop the filibuster and that therefore, Mitch McConnell will be pushed to do something that he`d rather not have to do, but he probably going to happen eventually any way, which is so use this nuclear option to lower the threshold to 51 votes and that is --
TODD: And then they get --
MARCUS: Not only, this -- it`s not the question of whether they get this nominee. They get the next nominee.
SARA FAGEN, FORMER BUSH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This to me is the most interesting point about this debate which is that it doesn`t seem to me like Democrats are playing the long ball on the Supreme Court. You know, Neil Gorsuch is such a qualified person. People like him. He`s had I think less conflict than anyone on the Supreme Court that I can remember, at least any Republican nominee. Not that Alito or Roberts had a lot of conflict, but they had more than Gorsuch. And so why they don`t let him go through and use this when the court tips. I`m just thinking politically, I don`t understand the Democrat`s strategy.
TODD: Well, and the we have one more aspect to this Yamiche, they`ve drawn blood on health care, they`ve drawn blood on Russia, they`re drawing blood arguably even on the budget. They`ve got some momentum. This is going to be a loss. The question is how do they lose?
YAMICHE ALCINDOR, NATIONAL REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: It is how do they lose, but they`re facing a base that really wants them to do this. I`ve even talked to people who are both Hillary Clinton supporters and Bernie Sanders supporters. They do not want to see any Democratic senators` voting for somebody who they feel is really going to be sitting in a stolen seat. This goes back to the idea that there were protesters outside Chuck Schumer`s home when he voted for even someone who was going to be in the cabinet. So these are really --
TODD: Look at what happened to Elizabeth Warren on Ben Carson, right.
FAGEN: Yamiche makes a very good point which is the politics of primaries today make it very tough for anybody with future ambitions to support, you know, a qualified person for the Supreme Court. It makes it very tough.
TODD: Ruth Marcus, the U.S. Senate, you were the beat -- you`re a beat writer. I mean, you were the senate reporter that I -- I mean, Bob Casey and Bill Nelson are not the type of guys that are filibuster people. At least I wouldn`t --
TODD: Ten years ago and here they are doing it.
MARCUS: Well that is a sign of the times that we live in. I covered two of the most intense Supreme Court hearings of all time. Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Guess what did not happen in those hearings?
MARCUS: No filibusters.
TODD: There you go. Yamiche, Sara, Ruth, very nice, thank you. After the break, another place Republicans are making it harder to repeal Obamacare. Stay tuned.
TODD: In case you missed it, repeal and replace might be hitting another hurdle, far away from Capitol Hill. Some Republicans and state legislators are actually working to make Obamacare stronger. How do you ask mind you? Well there are currently 31 states participate in the Medicaid expansion part of Obamacare and that number could actually soon go up. Even in a few states President Trump won.
We`ve already know of at least three states with Republican controlled state legislators that are considering expanding Medicaid, Kansas, Georgia and Virginia. Add in Wisconsin, where Scott Walker has not exactly ruled it out either.
Folks, once you give people coverage, it becomes harder to take away and Republicans might find themselves even more boxed in the next time they try to repeal and replace. We already saw how much power these governors, Republican governors had in Medicaid expansion states over this process. So, if you`re in a state that didn`t do it, aren`t you now incentivized to hurry up and do it before the rules change? Yet, another piece of the fallout from the health care debacle.
That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP DAILY.
FOR THE RECORD with Greta, though, begins right now.
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