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MTP Daily, Transcript 3/29/2017

Guests: Debbie Stabenow, Anne Gearan, John Hagner, Chris Clayton

Show: MTP Daily Date: March 29, 2017 Guest: Debbie Stabenow, Anne Gearan, John Hagner, Chris Clayton

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Yes, it`s Wednesday. It`s all about that base.

(voice-over): Tonight, under obstruction.


SEAN SPICER, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Senate Democrats have begun justifying their opposition.


TODD: Have Democrats built a constructive plan to block the president`s agenda or could it come crashing down? Plus, the Senate intel panel pushes forward on Russia.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Vladimir Putin`s goal is a weaker United States.


TODD: But don`t dare conflate it with the House investigation.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA, CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Let me set the ground rules real quick. We will not take questions on the House Intelligence Committee.


TODD: And election blind spot. The surprising reasons why some Democratic pollsters could not see ahead to the Trump victory.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

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

And, tonight, Republicans in Congress and the president, they`re at their own impasse. That means Democrats have an opportunity but are also at a crossroads.

President Trump is running out of options within his own party. He was road blocked on health care in the House by both the left and right flanks of the GOP. And now, he`s realizing he might need to build a bridge to Democrats to get around it. A point he seemed to acknowledge last night at a reception of senators and their spouses at the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know that we`re all going to make a deal on health care. That`s such an easy one. So, I have no doubt that will happen very quickly. I think it will, actually. I think it`s going to happen.

We`re going to be doing a great job. And, hopefully, it`ll start being bipartisan because everybody really wants the same thing. We want greatness for this country that we love. So, I think we`re going to have some very good relationships. Right, Chuck? I see Chuck. Hello, Chuck.


TODD: But can the president find any willing partners across the aisle, like said Chuck Schumer? Democrats now have a moment of opportunity. Their base is fired up and calling for them to stand up to the president at every turn. And, for the most part, they have. Just look at how it`s worked with health care this last week.

But, then, there are all the president`s problems. The Russian investigation is gaining steam, causing headache for the White Houser and for the Republicans on the Hill. The president`s legislative agenda is stalled, not to mention there are two special elections coming up that might flip House seats from red to blue.

So, now, Democrats have to decide how they can best capitalize on this moment. Could they take advantage of the president`s perhaps desperation by cooperating with him in order to perhaps get some legislative wins? Maybe do an Obamacare fix that makes it permanent or do they let their base lead them and obstruct on everything that president the wants, no matter what, hoping that it`s good politics for them and maybe they win an election or two.

We might get a hint next week in the vote for the president`s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. Judge Gorsuch was on the Hill today meeting with undecided Democrats. According to our current NBC News count, 30 Democrats are opposing even bringing Gorsuch to the floor for a vote, including five Democrats who are up for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won.

And that could force Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell to decide he`s going to trigger the so-called nuclear option. Get rid of the filibuster altogether. Something the White House is already setting it up as a partisan showdown with Democrats to blame, calling it, quote, "blatant political obstruction."


SPICER: The Senate Democrats have begun justifying their opposition to Judge Gorsuch by claiming a 60-vote standard for his confirmation. That standard doesn`t exist and these claims continue to be false. A party line filibuster by the Senate minority is not a fair up or down vote.


TODD: Of course, this has less to do about that and a lot to do about what happened last year with Merrick Garland.

Folks, following the base, though, ushered Republicans into power, something Democrats are realizing. And it might be the best political strategy for the Democrats to win in 2018. Politics is often a zero sum game.

But once you get the majority, you have to figure out how to govern. Republicans are learning that isn`t so easy when you allow the base to elect everybody. And now, Democrats have to decide, is this how they want to gain power back by doing exactly what they criticized the other side for doing for nearly eight years?

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. One of those red state Democrats who is opposing Judge Gorsuch`s nomination. Senator Stabenow, welcome back to the show.


TODD: Let me start with -- give me your rationale. Why will you not bring him to the floor? Why will you not vote to bring his confirmation to the floor for a vote? I get opposing him on issue grounds but why not give him an up or down vote?

STABENOW: Well, Chuck, first of all, I`m going to take a step back and say that seven of the eight current Supreme Court justices had over 60 votes in their process. Both with every president who -- from President Clinton, George W. Bush, to President Obama.

[17:05:14] And so, this is about getting a nominee who can get 60 votes. Now, from my perspective, this is someone that has always sided with big institutions, big corporations, big entities.

You know the case of the truck driver in Michigan who unfairly was fired. Six different judges said he was unfairly fired and then it got Judge Gorsuch and he had sided with the company. When this was a gentleman who was essentially freezing to death in the cold and trying to get some help.

Or the child who is trying to get special education and their parents are concerned and the entire Supreme Court today ruled against a standard Judge Gorsuch set up in ruling against the child.

So, there is case after case after case. So, in my book, this is somebody out of the main stream. We should have a nominee that can get a bipartisan 60-vote threshold. That`s really what we said when we were in the majority. We didn`t change rules on the Supreme Court because we felt it should be 60 votes --

TODD: But, Senator, there is nothing --

STABENOW: -- main stream majority.

TODD: -- there is nothing written anywhere that says a Supreme Court justice has to be confirmed on a bipartisan vote.

STABENOW: That`s true. I think, in fact, if you ask the American people they wouldn`t say that though that in terms of what`s good for people. I know in Michigan, if I asked the people, what would you like to see? An extreme judge on one end or the other or somebody that can be main stream and get bipartisan. They want somebody in the main stream.

TODD: Well, as you know, one person`s main stream candidate is another person`s extreme candidate, for what it`s worth, these days the way.

But I want to go back to --

STABENOW: Right, right.

TODD: -- OK, you have made a case to me why you`re not voting for him. I get that. Why not go to the Senate floor, have this debate, maybe fund a campaign to try to convince three or four Republicans to join you in this. But why not give him an up or down vote?

STABENOW: Because, in my perspective, this is to say no. Go back to the drawing board. That`s what President Trump should be doing, working with the minority leader. That`s what Orrin Hatch did with President Clinton to get a main stream candidate. That`s what advice and consent means.

We have the capacity to say, no, we don`t want to bring this person forward. We don`t want to close debate. We think they`re out of the main stream.

And I`m doing that and I believe I`m doing it on behalf of the people of Michigan who want somebody who`s going to give the little guy a fair shot. And just not always be with the big corporation or the big institution.

TODD: Again, I get the case -- I get the case you`re making against him. I just don`t understand the case of not giving him an up or down vote. Because this was the complaint Democrats made to Mitch McConnell who made this decision not to give a qualified Supreme Court nominee a confirmation hearing or up or down vote. Why not give this person an up or down vote?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, Chuck, what we said was, with Merrick Garland, have the courtesy to meet with him, have hearings, do the reviews. And we never even got that far to talk about whether or not there`d be a 60-vote threshold because they left the court nonfunctioning for over a year by not even considering a nominee. So, to me, that`s something completely separate.

TODD: I hear you. But I guess what I`m saying is, do two wrongs make a right here? Or three wrongs or four wrongs or five wrongs?

STABENOW: It`s not about wrong or right. Chuck, it`s not about wrong or right. I have a right --

TODD: Why not give an up or down vote?

STABENOW: Because I believe that he is wrong for the people of Michigan, and I`m going to use the capacity that I have to say no at every level.

TODD: Now, as you know, this is probably going to trigger the so-called nuclear option. And we will no longer have the Senate as America`s cooling saucer, essentially.

STABENOW: There is no reason that has to happen. This is Mitch McConnell`s decision to make. When the Senate Democrats had that choice to make, we said, no. That there should be a 60-vote threshold so there`s a bipartisan vote on the U.S. Supreme Court.

TODD: All right, but under the Supreme Court,

STABENOW: So, this is -- well, that`s true.

TODD: Didn`t we get -- didn`t we go down the road of a slippery slope here when the decision was made by Harry Reid to say, well, you know what? We`re tired of the obstruction on the lower courts so we`re going to get rid of this filibuster.

It was inevitable that this was going to be the reaction of the other side once they got power which was the warning many people made to Senator Reid, including, I believe, your former colleague, Carl Levin.

STABENOW: Chuck, what I would say is that we made the decision, conscious decision, thoughtful, debated in our caucus that it was better for the country to keep the 60-vote threshold on the highest court in the land, lifetime appointment.

[17:10:05] And that`s something that Mitch McConnell can decide and his caucus can decide as well.

For me, the most important thing is having the right person on the bench. It`s not about process. And people at home in Michigan aren`t looking at process. They`re looking at, is this person going to make the right decision? Are they impartial? Do they have the right values?

And, for me, the answer is no on this particular nominee.

TODD: What do you make of the argument that says this. Understand the larger argument you`re making but this is one you may lose. And it`s -- at the end of the day, ideologically, Gorsuch isn`t going to change the make- up of the court, if you say because he`s replacing Scalia. And that you save the filibuster fire for a future potential opening.

STABENOW: Well, when you`re talking about process, I guess the big question is, is Mitch McConnell going to do this anyway at any time? I mean, I don`t know. He`s got to make that decision, at this point.

What ought to happen is that if you have a nominee that can`t get 60 votes, you should change the nominee and not change the rules. That`s the bottom line.

TODD: One question on President Trump and --


TODD: -- the rhetoric he`s putting out there about reaching out to Democrats. When will you take it seriously?

STABENOW: Well, I`ve reached out and said I have a Bring Jobs Home Act that I`ve -- that I`ve introduced several times to close loopholes to bring jobs back to America and said, I want to work with you on that. In the past, the Republicans have blocked it but President Trump is talking as if he supports those things and I`m willing to work with him.

If it`s jobs to rebuilding America, if it`s fair trade, if it`s lowering costs and improving health care, instead of taking it away from people, then I`m very happy and I know colleagues of mine are happy as well to work him.

TODD: Do you feel pressure from the base these days to be a little more skeptical of anything they`re offering?

STABENOW: Well, at this point, again, I see everything through the lens of Michigan. We need jobs. We need lower the cost of prescription drugs and health care and make sure people`s health care continues to improve.

I mean, I`m going to make decisions based on that. I understand. I`m excited about all the enthusiasm from people across the country. It`s amazing. Frankly, it resulted in what happened on Friday, people speaking out for themselves and their families about not wanting to lose the ability to see a doctor and have medical care.

So, I love that. Ultimately, for me, it`s about what`s best for Michigan.

TODD: All right. Senator Stabenow, as always, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Appreciate it.

STABENOW: Absolutely.

TODD: All right. So, let`s talk about what we just heard. Let me bring in tonight`s panel. Chris Clayton, Ag Policy Editor at DTN`s "Progressive Farmer." He`s usually based in Glenwood Isle. But, of course, when he gets here in D.C., we try to get him in here. Anne Gearan covers the State Department for "The Washington Post." And Michael Steele, former chairman of the RNC and an MSNBC Political Analyst.

Well, there you go. We`re breaking the filibuster. It`s going to happen and Republicans are going to say Harry Reid started and it did it. And you heard her there, this is on Mitch McConnell.


TODD: But the result is a result.

GEARAN: Right. And she actually finally gave you an answer there on why not have an up or down vote on bringing him to the floor. And, eventually, her answer was, I`m going to use the powers available to me to say no on every level.

And that`s the Demo -- that is the lesson, right or wrong, that Democrats have taken from this entire experience is that there is no percentage in it for them to -- you know, and Gorsuch should be -- should be that 60-vote candidate. Right?

TODD: In the old days, it would have been.


GEARAN: And in the old days, there would have been. And now, they`re thinking -- even on this guy, they`re thinking it`s not worth it.

TODD: This is a different time. Is the public going to -- do folks in Glenwood Isle are going care how it`s done? Is this where maybe the Republicans and Democrats are right that this idea of, oh, my God, there`s no filibuster anymore. It`s us in Washington are freaking out about and the rest of the country goes, whatever, they can`t do anything anyway.

CHRIS CLAYTON, AG POLICY EDITOR, DTN "PROGRESSIVE FARMER": How many times are you having a conversation just at your church or the coffee shop or whatever about Gorsuch?

TODD: Yes.

CLAYTON: None, right? Nobody is outraged about anything. Nobody has -- seems like a really nice, calm guy when he`s talking. This is just simply the Democrats obviously still fuming over Merrick Garland. And, you know, they`re going to push back as much as they can.

But in reality, for most people in the country, this is not a topic that inflaming anybody other than the true hardcore base that was mad over last year, right?

TODD: And, Michael Steele, this is why I think Democrats are doing what they`re doing and Mitch McConnell`s going to feel comfortable doing it.


TODD: And the unintended consequences of this, with the Senate is no longer America`s cooling saucer, is a -- I think, again, I get that the public isn`t fully --

[17:15:04] STEELE: Right (INAUDIBLE) but it`s a big deal.

TODD: But it`s a big deal. That`s a big deal.

STEELE: It`s a big deal. It`s a big deal that speaks to how Washington will function from that moment forward.

TODD: Yes, if you like polarization and partisanship, --

STEELE: You got it.

TODD: -- you`re going to get it in spades.

STEELE: You`re going to get it all day long.

GEARAN: And what kind of nominees follow from this? I mean, --

STEELE: Well, they`re all going to be extreme.

GEARAN: Right, exactly.

STEELE: Or they`re all going to play to the base --


TODD: In about 20 years, under this, are going to be -- I mean, they`re just -- it`s going to be as if -- I`m trying to come up with the analogy here. I mean, I guess it`s, like, --

STEELE: Well, the problem the Dems have is if the president gets two more picks during his term during the next three years, that shift in the balance of the court is profound. I mean, one would be important.

TODD: We don`t know.

STEELE: It could be.

TODD: You don`t know where the openings are. And I don`t think we should ever engage in the --

STEELE: You`ve got that list.

TODD: Yes.

STEELE: The Senate`s got that list.

TODD: I hear you.

STEELE: They`re going to be checking off that list. And Donald Trump is not going to be allowed to stray too far from that list.

TODD: Oh, that I agree. But it -- look, you`ve still got to see what the Senate`s looks like the next time. It could be that the Senate is different looking the next time.

STEELE: And if it is, boy, the look on the Republicans` face, at that point, right?

TODD: Yes, exactly.

GEARAN: And the openings could be different, too, right? I mean, this is a one for one, essentially, for replacing Scalia. But if the next opening is Kennedy, that`s consequential. If the next opening is Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that`s even more consequential, in terms of the courts.

TODD: You know, it`s interesting. If any member of the court was thinking about retiring, one thing these guys and gals all do, they see this process. I wonder, Chris Clayton, if some of them -- and they -- I -- we`ll never know for sure but I`ve always believed the nine after Bush said, we are not -- we are all going to stay until 2004 because we don`t want this. I wouldn`t be surprised if one of them was thinking about retirement. If they see this mess, that they feel a duty to stick. And wait until next presidential election, in general, just to clear up the air.

CLAYTON: Pretty much locked in, are they? Until -- unless there`s a real health situation that they`ve got to deal with.

TODD: I think so, too, because the politics of it is so ugly the closer you get to an election year.

CLAYTON: And it just seems like every single time we go through this, it does get nastier and nastier with every candidate.

TODD: This idea though, these red states, I don`t know if they`re going to get punished, are they?

STEELE: I don`t know. That --


STEELE: -- remains to be seen. It depends on how state parties and the national party use that politically. I mean, if they go back to some of the things that we did in 2010, you can -- you can, you know, really gain some ground.

But Democrats are looking at some of that strategy and how to take those seats. They can -- or save them. They can be smart about that, so I`m not sure on how this settles down.

To your point earlier about the residents out there in the public, it`s not that big now. But in an election had cycle, --

TODD: Yes.

STEELE: -- you know, Chuck, everything gets heightened.

TODD: I am curious, this idea of party of no. It worked politically for Republicans. They weren`t punished for this. Will Democrats get punished for it?

CLAYTON: Yes, I don`t think it works as well for Democrats to just be the party of no. They just don`t have that base necessarily that I believe that will allow them to continually gridlock and stop everything. Democrats are generally the party that gets government moving.

TODD: They like legislating.



TODD: It bothers them not to legislate.

GEARAN: It undermines their whole argument about why they would do a better job running things, right?

TODD: That`s what I wonder. It`s sort of, like, how does that play over time?

STEELE: Which is why they`re having a hard time reconciling with their progressive base right now.

TODD: Because, on the one hand, the base is winning.

STEELE: Right. And the guys on the Hill are going, ugh.

TODD: The base killed health care.

STEELE: I know, effectively.

STEELE: Effectively they did, yes.

We`re going to pause. You guys are here for the hour.

Coming up, while the House Intel Russian investigation is essentially stalled to borderline dead, the Senate moves forward. Details after the break.



TODD: Welcome back.

As the Senate Intelligence Committee gets ready to hold its first public hearing on Russia since President Trump`s inauguration, Congressman Devin Nunes, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says he will continue to head up the Russia inquiry on the House side if they hold any hearings. Despite all the controversy that`s surrounding him and even though all of the Democrats now on his committee have called on him to step down.

Well, Nunes fired back today.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA, CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I`m trying to figure out who is actually serious about the investigation because it appears like the Democrats aren`t really serious about this investigation. We have no idea who they even want to interview.

And, as far as I know, they`ve done very little to even look through the documents that the intelligence agencies have provided. We always want to keep the committee bipartisan but, at the end of the day, we`re going to do an investigation with or without them.


TODD: One Republican, Congressman Walter Jones, who usually is the one Republican on these stories who is not on the Intel Committee, says Nunes` credibility is in question and he should recuse himself.

Today, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Nunes` role on the committee is a House matter and the White House takes no issue with his actions.


SPICER: There is nothing that I see that`s problematic and him conducting an investigation that we have, both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

How he conducts himself with his members, when and where he shares things, et cetera, are issues for him and the committee and the House of Representatives, not for us.

There`s a process that has to take place and that process is taking place.


TODD: In fairness, it would have been news if the White House had an issue with how Devin Nunes was conducting himself.

Anyway, House Speaker Paul Ryan says he has no plans to ask Devin Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation. But wait until you see what the Senate is doing and you really maybe the House investigation may not be as relevant.

More MTP DAILY in 60 seconds.


TODD: Welcome back.

The House Intelligence Committee`s investigation into Russian interference in November`s election stalled this week. But the Senate Intelligence Committee is now revving up ahead of tomorrow`s public hearing.

Senators Burr and Warner, the committee`s top Republican and Democrat, held a joint press conference today. That, in itself, being news. Two, chairman and vice chairman, appearing together. That doesn`t happen on the House side.

But their overarching message was, we are not the House Intelligence Committee and this is not a witch hunt.


WARNER: What I`ve been remarkably proud of is that the committee on both sides of the aisle, virtually every member, the level of seriousness that they put into this work, the attention that they`ve given and the commitment as well to follow the intel wherever (INAUDIBLE.)

BURR: We`re not asking the House to play any role in our investigation. We don`t plan to play any role in their investigation.


TODD: The committee had said their staffers are pouring through thousands of documents and are in negotiations with the intelligence community for even more access.


BURR: The staff has been provided an unprecedented amount of documents. Those documents include documents that, up to this point, have only been shared with the gang of eight and staff directors on the House and Senate side.

[17:25:17] It`s safe to say that our staff currently is working through thousands of raw intelligence and analytic products.


TODD: Look, it is a big deal for the Senate Committee to have access to those gang of eight documents. Those kinds of secrets are usually only shown to the highest-ranking people in Congress. It`s the two top ranking officials on the Intelligence Committee plus the ranking members of each party`s committee. So, essentially, Schumer, McConnell, plus Burr and Warner, Pelosi and Ryan, plus Nunes and Schiff.

Now, the senators did not go into detail about their findings so far. However, take a listen to this.


WARNER: Some of the techniques that Russia used in this election, as we find more and more, I think would send a chill down anyone who believes in the Democratic process in this country or around the world.


TODD: The Intelligence Committee isn`t the only Senate entity focusing on Russia this week. An appropriations subcommittee heard testimony today from Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Putin critic who claims he was poisoned twice for speaking out against the Russian regime.

John McCain and Lindsay Graham, the Senate`s bash brothers on all things Russia-related, didn`t squander the opportunity to use this hearing to take on Putin.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It`s very clear that Vladimir Putin has decided that he will eliminate his opponents and anyone who stands up for democracy and freedom. And he does so with relative impunity.

SEN. LINDSAY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The Putin regime knows no boundaries. They will kill. They will steal. They will do whatever is necessary to stay in power.


TODD: I`m going to bring back the panel. Chris, Anne and Michael. Anne, I want to start with you. The State Department is part of your beat.

But it was interesting today, as we were just talking about how the Senate is about to, sort of, blow up and basically become a hundred-member version of the House. This was a case where the Senate looked like the adults in the room and that was, obviously, what Burr and Warner were trying to portray themselves as.

GEARAN: Yes, they were trying to, both of them, project the image that not only is their committee and the Senate, in general, competent to handle this very complicated, sprawling investigation, but the two of them could do it together. That was a consorted effort on their part to show a bipartisan approach to at least begin this investigation.

The main thing I took away from their press conference, though, is this is going to take a really long time. Reams of documents, unprecedented numbers of documents. I mean, it`s -- and as to your point, a whole lot more people looking at them. That`s going to take a long time.

TODD: No, it is. Chris, I have plenty of Republicans who come on this show and say, you know what? Nobody in America cares about this Russia investigation. You know, this is an obsession of the beltway. And maybe eventually they will. My always retort is, nobody cared about Watergate until they did. What say you?

CLAYTON: Can I just run away? It`s a difficult thing. If you -- I was talking with some people over the weekend who were very much part of Trump`s base and they do not care. This is all smoke and mirrors. It`s just, --

TODD: All noise.

CLAYTON: -- you know, trying to fry the fish for a scandal. But everybody else who is not part of that hard core Trump base looks at this with a lot more puzzlement.

And some fear, obviously, if you`re taking the situation seriously with Russia. There is this element of fear out there of just what exactly does Putin want and what exactly is going on? We don`t understand this. She just indicated how complicated this is. When you read an article about it, you`re trying to put together, first of all, all these really complex names -- Russian names.

TODD: Right.

CLAYTON: And what they did. Who got money from whom?

TODD: And you remembered why you had (INAUDIBLE.) You`re, like, oh, three names. Everybody is Nisha (ph).

CLAYTON: But you had this scratching at the end. All you know is all these guys had these ties somehow to Russia.

TODD: You know, it`s interesting, Michael Steele. The White House had a lot of allies in that House hearing. You could see it. And not just Devin Nunes but they had -- there was a lot of skeptics that were, essentially, channeling the Trump base.

STEELE: Right. Right

TODD: That`s not the case with the Senate Republicans that are on this Intel Committee. I mean, we saw that in early rounds here. This is a different set of Republicans who are not necessarily worried about just protecting the White House.

STEELE: Which is why -- I know a number of folks who are concerned about the blow-up at the House Intelligence community -- Committee because that was a safer play.

Now, you`re shifting a lot of the emphasis and focus and, as noted, they`re going to be a little bit more mature and adult about this process.

They come to the table with a higher degree of seriousness that they command. And when you have names like McCain and Rubio and others who are going to be pawning (ph) on this and digging into this, it does elevate the seriousness. And people then take it a little bit more to heart and pay attention. Now it will be interesting to see how it plays out around the country when you have senators from the party.

TODD: Right.

STEELE: . going out on shows like "Meet the Press" and talking.

TODD: And it`s really interesting that with these laws (ph) and that`s what -- that`s something -- there`s gonna be moments where it may be two or three weeks, and also there`s a public hearing and there`s Roger Stone. And that will be oh, and there`s Jared Kushner, oh, and Michael Flynn, right? There gonna be these moments. And this is where if you`re the Trump White House trying to get your legislative agenda off the ground, you know, Russia is just this 50,000-pound weight on your ankle. ANNE GEARAN, NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT FOR THE WASHINGTON POST: Yeah. I mean, they`re dragging this around behind them. And, I mean, politically they don`t seem to have an answer or a quick strategy to say, well, Spicer tried at the beginning basically, like, well, we`re going to let congress investigate, right. Now congress is investigating. So they have to have a different answer now. And it is more than half the White House briefing every day.

TODD: Right.

GEARAN: Questions about, you know, to your point, you know, complicated, you know, down.

TODD: Every day, there always like a new angle (ph). Wait a minute. Now Cyprus is involved?



TODD: The country, not a tree, right?


TODD: I know.

GEARAN: Yeah, and, I mean, but there are some democrats particularly and republicans as well who keep saying, no, keep your eye on the ball here. Russia tried to influence the outcome of the United States election for its own benefit is the central allegation.

TODD: It has nothing to do -- let`s get out of Trump versus Clinton. This is about what Putin wants.

GEARAN: Right.


GEARAN: And why.

STEELE: That will resonate much more with that Trump supporter in red America across the country than anything else. And that`s why all the distraction and diversionary conversation that has been sort of put up by the White House, and now with the House Intelligence Committee is kind of taking people`s eye off that particular point. TODD: All right. We`ll take another pause here. Guys, stick around. The next hour by the way in "For the Record with Greta," Senator Lindsey Graham will join Greta to talk about his hearing today and the latest on all things Russia. By the way, still ahead, shedding light on the surprising reasons behind the Democratic Party`s belief that they may have been polling blind in rural America. Stay tuned.


TODD: Welcome back. The United Kingdom has officially started that Brexit process. Unlike many divorces, the process will not be quick or easy. Britain`s envoy to the European Union delivered a letter to the council`s president, Donald Tusk, today triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

It is the beginning of a two-year process for the country to withdraw from the EU and provide a framework for a new relationship between the parties. By the way, speaking of Brexit, guess what entity of the United Kingdom is talking about independence again? Our friends in Scotland. The tumult in the UK may not be coming to an end very soon. Anyway, we`ll have more "MTP Daily" ahead. But first, Hampton Pearson with the "CNBC Market Wrap."

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Chuck. Stocks closing mostly higher as the UK begins that Brexit process. The Dow down by 42 points, the S&P up by 2, the Nasdaq up by 22 points. First look at "blue origin," a space capsule that could be taking you into space next year is from Amazon`s Jeff Bezos.

The cost of the ride is still unknown. The inventor of Android is teasing the release of his new smartphone saying it`s coming very soon. This is all we`ve seen of it. Android is the top money maker in mobile apps. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.


TODD: Welcome back. In two upcoming special elections, democrats will get the chance to test both the strength of voters, anti-Trump sentiment as well as the party`s ability to target voters in Trump`s America. President Trump rode a victory wave in November largely supported by strong margins of rural white voters. Many of them without college degrees.

Though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, much of her support came from the coastal and urban enclaves. The 403 counties that once voted for President Obama voted for Trump this time around. And 93 of those were in the critical states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania according to a report from the centrist democratic think tank, Third Way. Leading up to election day, most public surveys consistently showed Clinton leading in those states.

Today, some democratic pollsters are admitting that they had a blind spot with rural voters. Not necessarily missing where they would turn out, but missing their numbers and their polling altogether. I want to get deeper into this. Joining me now is John Hagner, the partner at the democratic analytics firm, Clarity Campaign Labs. He previously has done work for the DSCC and (inaudible). Mr. Hagner, welcome to the show, sir.


TODD: All right. So, when I heard this idea that you`re missing -- you had a rural blind spot. Explain what that blind spot was. It wasn`t as if you were trying to hold these people, were you?

HAGNER: Right.

TODD: Explain.

HAGNER: We know that rural vote is an important part of the electorate. The trouble we are running into is the surveys that we give to rural voters, what we give to voters in every state are designed in such a way that they -- a lot of rural white non-college voters just choose to opt out of the survey.

TODD: It`s not gonna participate.

HAGNER: They`re not gonna participate. There are a lot of folks who will tell you, I`m voting for Donald Trump, I`m voting for these candidates. But when you start to dig into why, when you ask, who do you think stands up for your values? Who do defends the middle class? When we start to scrutinize that behavior, there`s a group of people, it is small, it`s not the entire electorate. A lot of folks will happily tell you for hours and hours like they`re voting for Trump.

TODD: Is it 1 in 5?

HAGNER: It is about 1 in 10, I think.

TODD: Okay.

HAGNER: Folks that simply won`t engage. TODD: And this is concentrated in these rural counties. HAGNER: It is really concentrated in the rural non-college white voters. And I think you see that across the board, you know, when you`re talking to people at rallies and events, they`re kind of people who will talk to strangers about politics, just aren`t representatives of the ones who won`t. And it doesn`t mean that those folks won`t vote. But when you try to, you know, 15 minutes of a stranger on a land line telephone trying to understand why, is a process more and more people are just opting out of.

TODD: So we were concerned about this in our own polling and one of the things we decided to do due to qualitative researches, we make sure that no matter what the raw data was in on the rural vote, we upped the percentage of whatever the raw percentage it was of our survey, we upped that percentage a little bit going in the last two surveys.

It is why we got closer. We had it plus four at the end, and then a little over plus two. Really closer for our national poll than we were four years earlier. But it was because we knew we were on -- we didn`t want to understand poll, but we didn`t have as many completed interviews in rural America.

HAGNER: Yeah, and that`s a big part of it. And, you know, with every survey we`re doing for a political client, it is easy to cut corners, it`s easy for any pollster to do that. Just take the people or the happiest to talk to you which tends to be more coastal or more folks with college degrees. TODD: Or more -- or people who just love their candidate in either way and willing to defend. So it`s partisan. HAGNER: Exactly. But who were missing are conservative independents, not folks who are partisan republicans. Those people will be happy to tell you why they supported Trump. But folks that usually vote republican may not think of themselves in that term and don`t want to engage. TODD: So this just mean, is the big working theory right now this? That if you`re trying to test messages or trying to understand why Donald Trump is doing well or not well in a certain area, that you can`t do it with traditional polling anymore? That basically go to focus group land? HAGNER: Yeah.

TODD: That that`s the smarter way to go?

HAGNER: I think that`s right. We`ve assumed for a long time that you can talk to 800 people. Give them 20 minutes of message testing about a race six months out. They weren`t thinking about when we called them. We`ve assumed that was possible. And that those people would somehow magically be representative of the electorate. I think we got a lot of evidence that is just not true. TODD: And if you want to do survey work and you only care about the horse race. A five-question survey. HAGNER: Three if you can get away with that. TODD: Three if you can get away with, and that`s the only way that you will get a representative. HAGNER: Yeah, we`ve asked our polls to do two things for a long time, to tell us where the race is, and then what to do about that. As partisan pollster, we`re seeing increase and we got to separate that and have one survey to understand, are we winning in Wisconsin the way we think we are? And another one, are the people willing to talk to us about politics?

What do they think? But what we see is it is mostly partisan who will engage in that. That people on the extremes of both parties want to talk to strangers about politics. A lot of people in the middle, they have strong opinions, but they are not always willing to share about it.

TODD: I`ve wondered about this sort of center fatigue for a long time, anyway.


TODD: An interesting theory. John Hagner, I`m glad you`re willing to share.


HAGNER: Glad to be here. TODD: All right. We`ll check back.

HAGNER: All right.

TODD: Still ahead, why I`m obsessed with the ghost of Bridgegate. Stay tuned.


TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with the ghost of Bridgegate and the hunting of Chris Christie. This specter of the scandal will likely follow him for the rest of his career. He needed more evidence of that. He found out today. Even though he has tried to run away from it over and over again. It obviously helped (inaudible) presidential run. It arguably kept him out of the running to be Trump`s VP, a job that he secretly wanted.

Also, it hurt him to be AG. And after being (inaudible) of Trump`s transition effort. Today was supposed to be Governor Christie`s big day to finally be a member in some form of the Trump White House. The president tapped him to lead a commission on the nation`s opioid epidemic. But once again, he couldn`t get away from Bridgegate. Today was the sentencing day for two of Christie`s former allies and extraordinarily close aides who have been stuck taking the fall for the scandal.

Bill Baroni got two year behind bars and 500 hours of community service. His co-conspirator Bridget Kelly got 18 months in prison plus a year of probation. They`re both expected to appeal their sentences and may have a good shot of never having to actually serve time. Like I said, these were the fall guys. From the very beginning, Christie has done everything under the sun to pretend like he had nothing to do with this. Here`s a little sample.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people on my team. I delegate enormous authority to my staff. I had nothing to do with this. And I am so disappointed that this has happened. People who work for me made some significant mistakes and judgment. What happened in that circumstance is unacceptable. Not approved by me. Would never be approved by me. I can`t control everything.

As soon as I found out about it, I fired the people who were responsible. That`s what you expect from a leader.

They tried to blame somebody else. They tried to blame me. You know what? It wasn`t true then. It`s not true now. I`m done with this. This is over. The people of New Jersey know it`s over. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: One thing he has found out, it is never over. He did TV today (ph). And he found more questions about it. This probably won`t be over for him until he`s done being a politician. We`ll be right back.


TODD: Time now for "The Lid." The panel is back. Chris Clayton, Michael Steele, Anne Gearan. All right. Michael Steele, there is a new ad campaign out by the Trump super PAC. I think we have a quick clip of it. If we do, let`s play it.

(START VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: America must put its own citizens first, because only then can we truly make America great again.


TODD: He had another new low in Gallup today, so having his super PAC come out, this is the (inaudible) super PAC. I was gonna say, do you think it`s a good ad?

STEELE: That`s a good ad. The driving beat. It touts (ph). This is energy. This is a pulse that is reaching out across the country. TODD: Is it the opening to WWE Monday night raw?

STEELE: Yeah. TODD: Which is his voter.

STEELE: That`s his voter. That`s America. That`s the middle of the country. It is the reddest spot of the planet. And he plays right to it. TODD: But he`s touting 298,000 jobs. Okay, that`s like no different than the job numbers we`ve had over the last three years. There isn`t a lot -- I got out of TPP. Okay. I mean, there`s no new health care bill, there`s no new tax cuts, there`s no infrastructure spending yet. GEARAN: Right, to which they would say that, you know, we don`t -- you`re the problem that, you know, this ad is meant to bolster their argument that they are getting things done that they don`t get credit for. Yes, we would nitpick each one of those things and say that isn`t really a great job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s branding. TODD: How`s it going to play?

CHRIS CLAYTON, WRITER AND EDITOR FOR DTN/THE PROGRESSIVE FARMER: It`s going to play very well, honestly. It`s going to play very well with particularly in pretty much most of the states that he won. There`s a lot of optimism out there right now among people in rural America. And it might not have to do necessarily with the economy that some of the folks are facing, but there`s a lot of optimism mainly because we`re seeing the regulatory issues dealt with.

TODD: Are we just gonna say, what`s happening at the EPA is what makes the voters you cover more closely than any of us happier than anything.

CLAYTON: And they`re very excited about what they`ve seen out of getting rid of the waters of the U.S. rule, which is very complicated. A lot of them support getting rid of the clean power plan, except for the fact that most of the companies right now are supporting renewable energy more. Even as Trump made the announcement of the clean power plan, Anheuser-Busch announced all of its beer breweries are going to go 100 percent renewable energy in the next 10 years. TODD: I`m curious. What happens in rural America, particularly in farming country, when the trade upheaval begins? That`s where we`re going to start seeing some potential conflict, right? CLAYTON: Yeah, you`ve got Mexico trying to work out some deals now with Brazil and Argentina. Well, we send a lot of products to Mexico. They are our number one consumer for a lot of goods. And if we continue to push and prod on that and South America is going to come in and say, yeah, we can supply you on some of these things. And we will lose out. STEELE: Just real quick, reality and rhetoric, two very different things. In that area especially you`re going to see it. TODD: (inaudible) at 35 percent.


TODD: Kind of needs something. I mean, you know, what`s the good of having these outside super PAC if they`re not going to spend their money?

GEARAN: True. And the people watching the ad are not going to quibble as we would, you know, and that`s the point. TODD: All right, guys. Thank you. Another show almost in the books. After the break, a win for women`s hockey. Stay tuned.


TODD: All right. In case you missed it, the U.S. women`s hockey team members are winners on and off the ice. After 15 months of negotiations, the team struck a historic four-year deal with USA Hockey last night. The players have been threatening to boycott the world championships that start this Friday in Michigan. Unions from the NHL, NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball all voiced support for the players.

And according to an NHL agent, the U.S. men`s team was considering boycotting in solidarity if a deal could not be breached. The players on many of their demands met including what team captain, Meghan Duggan, called a living wage and benefits equal to what the men`s national team receives. Plus, the creation of a new advisory group that will help advance women and girls in the sport.

Now, the three-time defending world champion team USA will go up against reigning Olympic champion Canada this Friday. Always fun. We`ll be watching. But remember why this mattered and good for the men for sticking up for the women here. There`s a lot of opportunity for professional men hockey players to make money around the world. Not as many opportunities for women there on USA hockey. Why not make sure they are at least on equal footing there? That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." "For the Record with Greta."


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