Show: MTP Daily Date: April 5, 2017 Guest: Bob Corker, Gillian Tett, Jeff Merkley, Faiz Shakira
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: -- Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley joins me.
And it looks like he made it. What I learned today about Barry Manilow and it is not what you think it is.
This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.
Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in New York and welcome to MTP DAILY. And welcome to the first real test of President Trump`s America first foreign policy which now confronts a one-two punch of international crises. One in Syria, the other in North Korea.
For President Trump, those crises mean confrontations with much larger powers, like Russia which backs Syria and China which backs North Korea. And all of this is chaos is churning on the day that the president`s top political advisor, Steve Bannon, was removed from the National Security Council.
We should warn you that some of the images out of Syria are extraordinarily disturbing. Last week, the administration said that ousting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad was no longer a priority. Now, Assad is being blamed for carrying out what appears to be a horrific chemical weapons attack on his own people. Russia says Assad, by the way, is not to blame.
Today, President Trump blasted the Assad regime during a press conference at the White House with Jordan`s King Abdullah.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I just quick as you if the chemical attack crosses a red line for you?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies, babies, little babies, with a chemical gas that is so lethal, that people were shocked to hear what gas it was, that crosses many, many lines beyond a red line.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: The president also leveled some blame at President Obama for not confronting Assad in 2013 after a similarly horrific chemical weapons` attack. For what it`s worth, though, Mr. Trump, himself, urged the president back then to, quote, "President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside."
But, today, President Trump said, point blank, that this attack has changed him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me. A big impact. That was a horrible, horrible thing. And I`ve been watching it and seeing it and it doesn`t get any worse than that. And I have that flexibility and it`s very, very possible, and I will tell you, it`s already happened, that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Meanwhile, at the U.N., Ambassador Nikki Haley delivered an emotional rebuke of Assad while also blaming Russia for this tragedy, in part because Russia promised to rid Syria of its chemical weapons` stockpiles back in 2013. Obviously, they didn`t get them all.
Here`s Ambassador Haley.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Look at those pictures. We cannot close our eyes to those pictures. We know that yesterday`s attack bears all the hallmarks of the Assad regime`s use of chemical weapons. Russia cannot escape responsibility for this. In fact, if Russia had been fulfilling its responsibility, there would not even be any chemical weapons left for the Syrian regime to use.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: She`s, of course, referring to that deal that kept the United States from attacking Syria back in 2013 when the Russians said they were going to do this. Now, this all comes amid growing pressure from Republicans today demanding that President Trump figure out a way to oust Assad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still believe policy is Assad`s got to go. That`s the only way we`ll bring stability to that region.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I don`t think there`s a future for Syria with Bashar Al Assad in existence. And I think that is something that this administration, you know, frankly like the last one, I think, failed to do. They did in words but not in deeds.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bashar Al Assad must ultimately go. It may not be tomorrow. It may not be next week. ISIS may be our more immediate threat from Syria but we cannot be safe as long as the Assad-Iran-Russia access is in charge in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And, of course, this is not the only crisis facing the president on the world stage this week. North Korea carried out another ballistic missile test last night. And new concerns of Kim Jong Un`s nuclear ambitions. All of this obviously timed ahead of President Trump`s meeting tomorrow with North Korea`s most important ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Folks, during the campaign and the transition there were serious questions about what exactly an America first foreign policy would look like and whether it would translate from a slogan into an actual foreign policy doctrine.
And let`s face it, ever since Washington`s farewell address, warning of foreign entanglements, presidents have, time and again pledged to avoid getting pulled into global conflicts. But if history is a guide, that`s easier said than done, especially when atrocities are involved.
[17:05:00] I`m joined now by Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is, of course, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Corker, talking to you about Syria. It feels as if we`ve done this quite a few times.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE, CHAIRMAN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We`ve done it several times for over the last four years, in particular.
TODD: Well, I want to get you to respond, in particular, what you thought of President Trump`s answer when he said the following. Look, what happened crossed a lot of lines for me. Crossed many, many lines beyond a red line. Many, many lines. And then, he said later, but I`m not saying I`m doing anything one way or another. A, your reaction to him on this. And, B, what`s your advice?
CORKER: Well, I`ve got to tell you, having been in the refugee camps, meeting with Syrians, even yesterday, seeing the photographs that Caesar has put forth of the torture, the absolute torture that Assad has put against his people. The chemical warfare, the bombing of hospitals.
I think it`s a very, very good thing that this has reached the consciousness of our president, if you will. Those of us, like you, who`ve been around this for many years want to see that moral clarity about Assad. Who, in my opinion, is a war criminal. And I think we ought to do everything we can to make sure that he`s convicted.
But, hopefully, this will go from a more sanitary approach to Syria, something that he`s inheriting, to something that is much more heart felt. So, I think this is a very positive development.
TODD: Now, it`s interesting. You interviewed -- you were one of the people that interviewed, or if you want to call it that, to be secretary of state or at least spoke to him about it. Could -- did he articulate what his Syria policy was to you or what he expected if --
TODD: -- what he expected of his secretary of state on Syria?
CORKER: You know, what a great point to bring up, Chuck. Because what I`ve seen under this president from the time, November, December time frame, where these kind of conversations were taking place until now, is an evolution. I mean, we`ve seen a very positive evolution on China. We`ve seen a positive evolution on Israel, a positive evolution on NATO.
And you`re right. I mean, in fairness, not to get into confidential conversations, but Syria was sort of a distraction, something that was being inherited. And now, I think you`re seeing full engagement.
I think this is the kind of thing that those of us who`ve watched this criminal Assad do what he`s doing with the assistance of Putin and Iran, this is a good development. I really do believe that. And something that should bring both aisle -- both sides of the aisle together.
But now, he`s focused on it in a different way and seems to have some ownership of it now, versus inheriting this mess that was -- that, let`s face it, has been mismanaged but now it`s his.
TODD: I`m curious. Do you he -- do you get the sense that maybe he realizes he made a mistake when they shifted U.S. policy on whether Assad should stay or go?
CORKER: I think that when -- that policy is something that can be easily reversed.
TODD: Do you think it should be?
CORKER: It`s not like -- it`s not like any action has been taken. Look, I -- you know, I think, you know, we`ve done a terrible job in our nation on regime change. I mean, we`ve ended up creating a lot of problems. I got that.
I think where we need to be pushing is ensuring this guy goes before criminal court on war crimes. I think that should be our focus. We`ve got plenty of work to do right now in Raqqa and other areas dealing with ISIS.
But I think -- I think working with others to ensure that this guy comes to trial and is convicted of all the dastardly --
CORKER: -- things he`s done to his own people is where we ought to go. And I think we can -- we can leave the other, if you will, to let it evolve a little bit.
TODD: Look, a big part of this is going to have to be dealing with Russia. You wrote a tough op-ed in August of 2014 under a headline, Obama is an unreliable ally. And on Syria, you wrote the following. You said, when faced with the difficult challenge of persuading the rest of Congress to support his policy, Obama reversed course and said he no longer wanted the authority.
Instead, the president jumped in the lap of Russian president Vladimir Putin who offered a way out for Assad to survive, even thrive, while turning --
TODD: -- over Syria`s declared stockpile of chemical weapons to the United Nations.
As you know, President Trump seems to have more confidence, potentially, in Putin doing the right thing in Syria than even President Obama did in your criticism there.
TODD: Do you think he will have his mind changed?
CORKER: I hope so. Look, I`ve seen him evolve in a positive way. We -- Chuck, we send as many foreign ministers and prime ministers over to the White House as we can, OK, because we think, you know, we`ve got a new president coming in. He hasn`t had a background in this area. All of that influences them in a positive way.
I think Rex Tillerson is a strategic thinker. He has the opportunity and I hope he will fulfill it, in my opinion, to be a historic figure with all the issues that are being dealt with right now and his ability to think in strategic terms. He`s impressed our committee in that regard.
[17:10:10] But I think what`s being added to this element, and it`s excited to me. I hate it that it`s happening with deaths to children and others. But what you`re beginning to see the administration feel is that moral clarity that Americans, you know, those of us in the foreign policy arena, care so much about it. And that some people have felt have been missing in some of the hearings that have been taking place.
So, again, I think he`s evolving on Russia. Look, there`s no way that he`s going to -- can even possibly attempt to achieve the relationship that he talked about before with Putin. I mean, we`ve helped poison the well there. Putin has poisoned the well.
But, again, hopefully, he`s going to begin to see the kind of people that Putin supports and --
CORKER: -- the efforts that he supports against innocent people. I mean, this is a terrible thing that`s happened but maybe a wake-up moment for this administration relative to Putin.
TODD: Are you at all concerned that within a week of the United States officially reversing its Assad policy, he does a kept weapons attack?
CORKER: I -- look, he`s been doing this for some time. I`m not sure that I can draw a relationship there. He`s been doing these kind of things. Look, they`ve been starving people on purpose.
CORKER: They hold envoys of medicines from people on purpose. They bomb hospitals on purpose. I mean, I don`t know that there`s any relationship between the two.
But, hopefully, this is going to mean that, again, the president --
CORKER: -- and the team around him is going to look at Assad for who he is and Putin for who he is.
TODD: Today, President Trump sounded like somebody -- frankly, it sounded very similar to me, to that period of that three or four-day window when both then President Obama, secretary of state Kerry, where they were preparing the country for a military response.
President Trump, today, sounded like that was on the table.
TODD: Do you believe he can do it without an authorization from Congress if he chose to do so?
CORKER: Well, the president has authorities that he can undertake for 60 days and then have a 30-day extension. I will say that I do hope -- unless there is some element of surprise that`s necessary for some reason I`m unaware of today, I hope he will, in fact, come to Congress. And I think he will find Congress very willing to authorize appropriate measures, in this particular case.
I have to say, I go back to the op-ed you referred to in 2014.
TODD: Yes, sir.
CORKER: Look, I`m sorry, Chuck, it was one of the lowest moments in U.S. foreign policy. When we didn`t even -- we didn`t even notify those that we were -- that were going in with us against Assad of what was happening. It hurt our credibility.
What I hope doesn`t happen here is we --
CORKER: -- lay out some rhetoric, if you will, that may sound like something`s going to happen when it isn`t. But, again, back to the base point you made. Hopefully, the president will come to Congress if this is what he wishes to do. And I think, again, if appropriate measures are being taken, he`s going to find support.
TODD: By the way, today -- final question. Today in "The New York Times," President Trump accused President Obama`s former national security adviser, Susan Rice, of committing a crime. The president said, do I think, asked if she committed with this supposed surveillance unmasking stuff. He says, do I think? Yes, I think. I think it`s going to be the biggest story. Appropriate for the president to accuse a former national security advisor of committing a crime without providing evidence?
CORKER: Well, look, I don`t know that should I speak to those comments, in particular. I do hope that the national security adviser Rice will come testify before Congress and clear up, if -- I think she should testify under oath before Congress.
TODD: Is the burden on her? Is the burden on her or the president who couldn`t -- who just went to "The New York Times" to accuse her of a crime?
CORKER: Well, no, I just think any -- yes, I mean, I think any official who`s, you know, been in this wide array of discussion that`s taking place, I mean, I encourage officials to come in and testify and clear things up. I think it`s good for the American trust for people to do that. And I hope in this case that will happen.
And I think, Chuck, you know I`m more prone to measured comments and I`m not that entertaining to your audience because I`m a more measured person and I apologize. But I don`t -- I don`t really want to respond to the other.
TODD: I actually understand on that. Senator Corker, --
CORKER: All right.
TODD: -- Republican of Tennessee, Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee. As always, sir, I appreciate it. Appreciate you coming on and sharing your views.
CORKER: Thanks a lot.
TODD: You got it.
Let me bring in tonight`s panel. Beth Fouhy, Senior Politics Editor for us right here at NBC News and MSNBC. Charlie Sykes, conservative author and radio host and now an MSNBC Contributor. And Gillian Tett, U.S. Managing Editor for "The Financial Times." She was, by the way, one of "The Financial Times" reporters who interviewed President Trump last weekend. Welcome, all.
[17:15:08] Let`s start with Syria. Julian Tech, we were talking here during one of our breaks. You know, one thing that I didn`t bring up with either in that interview was the person that President Trump was standing next to today. An important person on the Syria issue, King Abdullah, who is dealing with more Syrian refugees than perhaps any other nation in the world, the Jordanian king.
GILLIAN TETT, U.S. MANAGING EDITOR, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": Well, I think it`s very important. This statement from President Trump came out just a few hours after meeting him. Because King Abdullah is a very smooth operator. He exudes this air of credibility. He`s very persuasive. I would imagine he`s just the kind of person, if anybody could, who might actually be able to persuade Donald Trump to change his tune.
TODD: I have to say, though, Charlie, he campaigned -- and, frankly, his world view, I would argue, this is one of the consistencies of Donald Trump. Is, basically, hey, you do your business. We do ours. You leave us alone. We`re going to leave you alone.
Your sphere of influence over there, essentially, that`s what the Russians -- supposedly, that`s why the Russians did like Trump`s foreign policy views. That didn`t set -- President Trump today didn`t sound like candidate Trump anymore.
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You kind of wonder, though, what is the expiration date on the new Donald Trump because there was no Trump doctrine. And I think that it came out in your interview with Senator Corker that it`s obviously that, you know, Donald Trump hadn`t really given much thought to Syrian policy. But now, you have the reality check.
TODD: Bob Corker actually said it.
SYKES: He basically did say it. But now, here`s the reality check that every problem in the world cannot be solved by a tweet. He cannot continue to campaign against Barack Obama. He`s got to move ahead.
What we did not get was any sort of indication of what is he planning to actually do? And what does this mean for his bromance with Vladimir Putin? But maybe it`s time to pivot away from the silly season because this is why this relationship with Russia matters in the real world.
TODD: You know, I`ll tell you, he`s not the first president who campaigned, saying, boy, we get too involved around the world. And then, suddenly, they`re in the moment. And they realize, well, I don`t want America to be the world`s policeman. And then, you realize, well, America is the only police officer on the beat.
BETH FOUHY, SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR, MSNBC: Yes. And, you know, he`s learning this as other presidents have, as you said. But he made it so central to his campaign message. Far more than any other president. I mean, it`s all part of that nationalism, that populism. America first.
We`re not going to send people over into pointless wars in another continent where we don`t really have a vested interest. Our country, our interests are not directly threatened.
Look, it`s great that Donald Trump was moved and touched by these horrible images. (INAUDIBLE) shows he`s a human being. But to throw out, as you suggest, that suddenly adopt a whole new world view after, you know, basically being elected president on another one. When does that expiration date happen and what will make that change?
TETT: But can I say, there`s one person in all this who actually has been very consistent, and actually has been quite invisible within (INAUDIBLE) and that`s Nikki Haley. Because she`s been saying consistently in recent weeks that, first of all, Russia needed to recognize some of the problems it was causing.
And, secondly, she`d been raising Syria over and over again at the U.N. Security Council. Now, that`s caused --
TODD: What`s interesting there is her and Samantha Power have actually -- it -- nothing changed on that because Samantha Power was using her platform to do the same.
TETT: It`s quite fascinating. And, in fact, what she`s been saying has been largely drowned out by all the focus on Donald Trump. But, in many ways, what`s happened today is that Trump has actually come around nearer to her view and that`s causing a lot of discussion among the other members of the Security Council.
And one of the other very interesting things is even though Rex Tillerson has been almost entirely invisible, Nikki Haley is easily the person who`s actually empowered to go out and speak.
TODD: But here`s the question I have which is what the Obama team faced.
TODD: What members on Capitol Hill faced when suddenly they realized they were going to be asked to vote for this --
TODD: -- is do you really want to punish Assad?
TODD: But how?
SYKES: What are the options, actually?
TODD: Right. President Obama used to say, you have no idea. It is a series of, he used a four letter word with the words ti -- ty at the end of it. It`s a whole bunch of those options and none of them are good.
SYKES: And there was probably a time, so some years ago, when there were actually options. And those options kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And you wonder, you know, at what point, when they sit around, they go, what exactly are our options? What are the Russians going to think about this?
I`m slightly reassured, the fact that Steve Bannon is not going to be at the table when they`re discussing what -- you know, what kind of military force we use.
But we don`t know what the options are. And, again, I think it`s always a mistake to read too much into what Donald Trump`s words are on any given day. You point out the influence of King Abdullah.
TODD: Last person in the room.
SYKES: He leaves. Who is the next person in the room? Will it be Nikki Haley? Will it be Steven Bannon? Who`s it going be?
FOUHY: Well, and what -- he simplifies everything, of course, down to this brass tacks. And all along, it was never about Syria or the innocent civilians. It was always about ISIS.
FOUHY: We`ve got to fight ISIS.
FOUHY: If we just fight ISIS, we get rid of ISIS. If we get rid of --
FOUHY: -- Muslim terrorism in the Middle East, then that will take care of it. And we`ll leave and everything will be great. And suddenly, he`s realizing it`s a far more complex situation.
[17:20:05] TETT: I think one of the problems right now is that Donald Trump does not appear to be a man who`s blessed with a talent for multi- tasking. You know, he basically focuses on one issue at a time. It appears to have some likes of ADD.
And the problem right now is that he soon will be dealing with this incredibly important summit with the Chinese leadership, this bubbling crisis in North Korea. I mean, you know, if there`s anything that could knock North Korea off the front page of the day when it`s launched yet another missile is what`s happened in Syria.
And now, he has to look at the Middle East, too, and Russia.
TODD: Now, the irony on this issue, this North Korea gave the United States leverage on China on this issue. The timing of it was really bad for the Chinese, in this case. It will be interesting to see how he uses that leverage in this meeting that begins tomorrow.
TETT: Absolutely. And there`s a big difference in the tactics between the Chinese and the Americans right now. And the Chinese want to tread softly in order to not to provoke the North Koreans into doing something deadly and dangerous. The Americans appear to be increasingly rattling the sabre.
TODD: That`s fascinating. All right, we have a lot to get to. We didn`t get to the Susan Rice situation. I promise you we will get to that. So, you guys stick around.
Coming up, after he spent 15 straight hours speaking on the Senate floor, he says he`s still awake. I`ll spend a few minutes with Senator Jeff Merkley and the future of the filibuster and what he really thinks about breaking this Senate tradition.
TODD: Welcome back to MTP DAILY.
In that interview with "The New York Times," the president went out of his way to defend Fox News host and vocal Trump supporter, Bill O`Reilly, following a series of sexual harassment claims that keep coming out and becoming public.
"The New York Times" reported over the weekend that O`Reilly or Fox had paid five women, a collective $13 million to settle various sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior claims against the Fox News anchor.
O`Reilly has denied the claims have merit. And today, the president said about O`Reilly this. Quote, "He`s a person I know well. He is a good person. I think he shouldn`t have settled. I don`t think Bill did anything wrong."
Now, if you`re surprised by the president`s comments, maybe you shouldn`t be. One thing we know about Mr. Trump. He values loyalty. Here`s what he told me about former Fox News exec, Roger Ailes right at that moment when Ailes was being accused of various sexual harassment issues back in July.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Finally, Roger Ailes, is he helping you? Is he advising you?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I don`t want to comment. But he`s been a friend of mine for a long time. And I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he`s helped them. It`s very sad because he`s a very good person. I`ve always found him to be just a very, very good person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: At least 35 advertisers have pulled their ads from the "O`Reilly Factor" in the last few days. You should also note that just last week, the White House declared April national sexual assault awareness and prevention month.
We`ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back.
You`re looking live here at the Senate floor where all day long, members have been making their case for and against President Trump`s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch.
The most Democrats standing solidly against him, he won`t have enough votes to overcome a filibuster and despite bipartisan attempts to avert it, the Senate is feeding toward deploying the so-called nuclear option, another version of changing the rules so Supreme Court justices can be confirmed by a simple majority instead of 60 senators.
Last night, by the way, Politico published a report that accused Gorsuch of copying word structure from other sources and failing to cite source material in the 2006 book. Essentially, he`s being accused of plagiarism.
But while the White House and representatives for Gorsuch strongly refuted the charges and claimed they lacked foundation, that isn`t doing -- it doesn`t think -- it doesn`t appear to be doing anything to bring the Senate back from the brink here. And lawmakers are now blaming each other for their current predicament.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: It is not the tradition of the Senate to filibuster a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What we are poised to do at the end of this week will have tremendous consequences. And I fear that someday we will regret what we`re about to do. In fact, I`m confident we will.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, MINORITY LEADER: Even though each side thinks their side is more right than the other, neither side is happy with how we got here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley staged an all-night talk-a-thon last night, standing and speaking for a full 15 and a half hours. It didn`t delay any votes, by the way, but it did put him in the history books. Merkley`s speech was the eighth longest Senate floor speech since 1900. You see there. Basically, tying Huey Long.
So, joining me now, after a nap, is the one person in the U.S. Senate that may end up with my nickname that some people like the throw out there. Sleepy eyes. Anyway, Senator Merkley, welcome to MEET THE PRESS DAILY.
SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Thank you. Thank you. Good to be with you.
TODD: Let me start with the fact that you, sort of -- you have been one -- in 2013, you argued for that filibuster change at the time for the cabinet secretaries and lower court.
And, in fact, you said this on the floor. You said, today`s rule change is a victory for the American people. The endless abuse of the filibuster on nominations has done great damage to the independence of our courts. Nominees deserve an up or down vote.
Well, why doesn`t the same -- why doesn`t the same criteria apply today?
MERKLEY: Well, when we changed the rules, we did that after a year of trying to work with Republicans to end their attack on the Obama administration and the courts. They were leaving a tremendous number of district seats and surrogate court seats empty.
They basically said, we are going to stonewall this president in every possible way. Totally inconsistent with the concept of three co-equal branches.
And we negotiated. We went into the old Senate chamber and bared our souls and argued and came out of that with a deal. A deal the Republicans broke just a few weeks later when they said they would never allow a debate on three of the circuit court seats in the D.C. circuit.
It was an early phase of let`s steal these seats and send them to the next administration. And that was just unacceptable and that`s why we had to change it.
But we didn`t change the Supreme Court for a very good reason. That`s where the buck stops. Every other court can make decisions. But those decisions get reversed as the decisions move up.
And so, it`s the case of a lifelong appointment. A person may serve four or five decades and their views matter and the way they`re put on to the court matters. And that`s why it`s important to send a message to a president. It takes 60 votes to confirm a nominee for the Supreme Court.
And that is intended to say to the president, nominate somebody from the judicial main stream. But Gorsuch is not from the judicial main stream.
TODD: Well, Senator, there`s nothing in the Constitution that says it has to be 60 votes. it`s never been that way. And it`s -- so, I guess, if -- look, you just made a case about lifetime appointment. Well, there`s lifetime appointment for circuit judges as well, for federal judges as well. To many people this is a distinction without a difference.
Yes, it is the highest court, but once you go down this road for the lower courts, this was inevitable, which by the way was the point that many Republicans made four years ago. That you`re laying the ground work for a rationalization by the alt party at the time which is a Republican to essentially, you know, run roughshod.
MERKLEY: Well, first, it wasn`t the tradition of America. In fact, the early senate after the first year got rid of their motion to close debate because they didn`t need it. They always heard every one out which set the stage for the famous filibuster at the start of World War I.
MERKLEY: . over arming the civilian ships. And second of all, in this context, we are dealing with something that has never happened in U.S. history. A seat was stolen from one administration with no action by the senate. In 16 times, we`ve had an open seat during an election year. Fifteen times, every time until now, the senate took action, confirming 11, rejecting four.
But they always took action. So what happened? It is not inevitable. Where we are -- the result of where we are now is because last year for the first time in U.S. history, the majority decided to stone wall a nominee, take no action, steal the seat in an effort to pack the court.
TODD: Look, that`s the point. I mean the point is that there has been -- nobody has clean hands here. And each side uses, rationalizes their position based on the behavior of the other side. So, you know, that`s why it looks inevitable. Because it seems to me the next time, the next time you guys are in power, how do you not just say, okay, they changed the rules, we`ll keep going, and we`ll change the rules for the legislature filibuster. MERKLEY: Well, listen. I`m more concerned about the Supreme Court because if the theft of the Supreme Court seat succeeds for the first time in U.S. history, that means that all rules are off. It is pure partisanship from here forward. It fractures the integrity of the court. Every 5-4 decision that the stolen seat participates in will have a cloud over it.
There are other reasons that we shouldn`t be considering this nomination at this moment. The president`s team is under investigation for potentially having conspired with the Russians to undermine the elections. That is potentially treasonous conduct. We need to clear that cloud before this debate continues.
TODD: You know, I`m curious. Do you think that Democrats collectively, and I`m going from the White House on down to you guys in the senate, did you not fight hard enough for Merrick Garland in hindsight?
MERKLEY: Well, we fought pretty hard. We brought it up continuously. The challenge we had no.
TODD: Did President Obama fight hard enough for it?
MERKLEY: I certainly think he pushed it very hard. But again, there was no lever to be able to compel the senate to do something (inaudible). It had never been seen in U.S. history of stonewall in the seat. I wish we`ve found some way to force the debate to happen. But Mitch McConnell went to the floor within hours of the death of Scalia and said -- I`m adding a little bit, this is the intent of what he said.
We are going to do something different (inaudible) done. We are not going to consider this nomination, whoever it is, whoever it is, from the president. And we are going to stonewall it. We are going to steal the seat. Totally unprecedented. Incredibly damaging. Even now, the reason I spoke all night was to say this is so important to the future integrity of the court.
Stop what you`re doing. Take this train off the tracks. There`s a number of ideas that have been put forward that could be considered. Let`s find a way not to both destroy the integrity of the senate and fracture the court.
TODD: All right. We`ll see. Still 48 hours. You never know what might happen in this final debate. Get some sleep, sir. MERKLEY: Thank you.
TODD: You got it. Senator Merkley, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Still ahead, the Trump administration is reportedly eyeing some new extreme vetting measures for foreigners entering the United States. How far can they go legally in doing that? We`re gonna get a reality check on that. Stay tuned.
TODD: Just ahead on "MTP Daily," where are the legal lines? Can people be forced to hand over phones or social media passwords? Or maybe more at the airports who enter the United States. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Welcome back. President Trump`s executive order on travel is tied up in the courts. But "The Wall Street Journal" reports that the administration is considering new extreme vetting steps for visitors and visa seekers. Quote, the change would ask applicants for their social media handles and passwords so that officials could see information posted privately in addition to public posts. Homeland Security has already experimented with asking simply for people`s handles.
Now, this would reportedly even apply to visitors from countries in our visa waiver programs like the UK, Japan, and Australia. Order agents already have the legal right to search any object crossing the border and that includes your smartphone. By the way, that applies to U.S. citizens as well as foreigners. Here`s Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly earlier today.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: It won`t be done routinely for people coming from anywhere. It won`t be done routinely from anywhere. But if there`s a reason to do it, we will in fact do it. This is nothing new we could if we want to, and in some small numbers we do. We don`t send them to a place to be forensically taken apart.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: He is referring to phones there. A relatively small number of travelers to the U.S. get phone screening. The number is growing according to the H.S. The numbers between 2015 and 2016 have increased five fold. Faiz Shakir is the national political director for the American Civil Liberties Union. Good to see you, sir. All right. I guess I`m trying to understand the legal boundaries here.
FAIZ SHAKIR, NATIONAL POLITICAL DIRECTOR FOR THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION: Right.
TODD: You know, I don`t want this to be a debate about whether we should be doing it. I want to get to whether what`s legal and what`s not here.
SHAKIR: Can I raise a couple of issues? TODD: Yes. What are they?
SHAKIR: So one is in the questioning that customs will do of any person entering the United States. Are they asking about what is your faith? How often do you pray? What are your ideological views with regard to your religion? We`ve heard from the press that they are asking those which is a religious test. So if you go down that road, you`ve now violated the constitution principle.
TODD: You will ask for it, but if you avoided the religious test. SHAKIR: Yes, that`s one element.
TODD: Okay. If you avoid that.
TODD: . that would keep you off of what you believe would be a legal problem.
SHAKIR: Right. And the interrogation should be equally broad based. It shouldn`t know looking for Muslims only which appears to be the case. The second issue that you raise with social media is as you do you a search of the phone, are you conducting an unreasonable search for the amendment violation by accessing somebody`s e-mail, somebody`s private data? Are you going beyond something that should require a warrant is some cases? We believe the constitution applies to all people like.
TODD: (inaudible) United States (inaudible) U.S. citizen?
SHAKIR: Listen. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, guarantee of due process, those apply to everyone. Also, you know, we learn this through the military commissions, right, through the Guantanamo trials, that the Supreme Court also believed that non-citizens have rights that are afford under the constitution. We need to respect that. We need to operate according to that principle.
TODD: I understand that. So let`s go to the question of legality here.
TODD: You believe they run into legal trouble if they dip into religion. SHAKIR: And you know that`s what they`re doing. I mean, we`ve already learned in the past that they are asking about what is your faith, Muhammad Ali`s son.
SHAKIR: Why is he flagged? Because of his name. We learned that they are going through their apps on your phone to find oh, you have a prayer app on your phone. Why would you have prayer app? This is targeting of Muslims specifically. That is a religious test. TODD: And if you get there, then that is what would be considered to be a violation of the constitution. SHAKIR: For sure. That would be a Muslim Ban 3.0. TODD: All right. So what is an extreme measure that you believe they could do this legally? SHAKIR: Well, it has to be broad based, right? It has to apply to everyone. And as you`re entering the country, whatever procedures you have in place should not just apply to six countries, Muslims from this part of region. It should apply to everyone.
What we`re learning is the visa restrictions that are happening, the visa denials, they`re occurring largely amongst people who are Muslims, who have Muslim names who are coming from Muslim countries. TODD: Let me be devil`s advocate here. So if they say we`re going to ask everybody their religion when they come in here.
TODD: What would that say? Would that pass the constitutional test if you`re looking for it has to be.
SHAKIR: So here`s my next question for you, Chuck, is so who gets denied? Who is not allowed? TODD: Right. What is your -- do you think they have to provide that before you can find out?
SHAKIR: Right. So Chuck, I say yeah, I happen to be Christian. I say I happen to be Muslim. Hey, Chuck, you`re welcome to the United States. Sorry, we just didn`t have space for you.
TODD: What are the legal rights for somebody who is not a citizen, who has their phone seized? SHAKIR: So, as you go about that process, I think it is important to know that you do have rights and you need to ensure that there are certain things you don`t have to respond to. I think giving over your phone, making sure that you`ve eliminated some of the apps if you`re going to the security process, don`t have your e-mail on there, certain basic best practices that you should have to protect yourself.
Because they can -- as you said, they can take your phone, they can look at some of your social media stuff. So just delete that information. If we see that they`re trying to go into your Cloud and trying to dig up old stuff, that will get into the zone of unconstitutional search.
TODD: All right. But what if they`re making the argument this is about protecting the United States.
TODD: And so how far searching everybody`s phone then, if they`re searching everybody`s phone.
TODD: . looking for anything that may be, is that allow them to (inaudible) constitutional test here? SHAKIR: Let me.
TODD: I don`t know how they would actually do it. I don`t know how they would actually do it but I`m asking you.
SHAKIR: First, I would just ask you not to believe that this is about national security. We would not have Muslim Ban 1.0 and then 2.0 being delayed for press purposes if this was about national security. It is not about national security.
This is simply to enact President Trump`s political agenda to have a total and complete shut down of all Muslims entering the United States. That`s what this is about. And understanding that is the first principle upon understanding any of the stuff that they are trying to do.
TODD: Do you believe in any legal challenge to these vetting procedures, that that rhetoric that he said, you believe all of that is gonna be admissible and that should contribute to a judge`s decision on this? SHAKIR: It has already been admissible. The judges are already using it. They are already telling us that it matters. And I applaud all those judges because that does matter. It is an important context to understand his motives. And as he empowers federal agents, ICE agents, CBP agents to go about their process, I`m fearful that they also know what their mission is. Oh, it has to be Muslims because the president told me that.
TODD: And so you believe that eventually this will be struck down as unconstitutional?
SHARIK: Well, I think overtime, we`re gonna learn about cases that violate and go over the line and then we`ll build a case and then we`ll prepare to take President Trump to court as we have done before.
TODD: All right. Faiz Shakir from ACLU, thanks for coming in and sharing your views. Appreciate it.
SHAKIR: Thank you, Chuck.
TODD: All right. We`ll have more ahead. We`re gonna talk about Susan Rice and the president. We`ll be right back.
TODD: You`re looking live at the White House. We just learned Speaker Ryan and Leader McCarthy are there for a meeting. Is that about health care? We`ll be back in just a moment.
TODD: Time for "The Lid." Let`s bring back the panel. Beth Fouhy, Charlie Sykes, Gillian Tett. Beth Fouhy, president of the United States accused a former national security advisor to President Obama of committing a crime today and didn`t produce any evidence.
BETH FOUHY, NBC NEWS SENIOR POLITICS EDITOR: He`s getting awfully good at that. And it is utterly shocking that he would do such a thing. I mean, he`s sort of in this mode right now.
TODD: It`s so shocking it`s not the lead story right now.
(LAUGHTER) TODD: I mean, that`s.
FOUHY: True. And there is such a fire hose of news every day that things that would have like elevated to the level of DEFCON 10 in a normal administration that is just kind of like a secondary story in this one. How about the fact that Neil Gorsuch, our nominee for Supreme Court, was caught plagiarizing and that`s not even being discussed today.
Even Democrats haven`t brought this up. There are so many other things to be talking about. In terms of Susan Rice, yeah, I mean, he`s in a mode right now where, you know, the Obama administration, the president himself and his staff need to be blamed for the things that are going wrong in the White House.
Susan Rice is so radioactive on the Republican side. Trot her out, have a little bit of connection to reality, like the (inaudible) and suddenly she`s the story.
TODD: Lit up your radio back six months ago, right? Anything Susan Rice.
CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, absolutely. TODD: Susan Rice and all of a sudden you get calls. SYKES: Absolutely. That`s a hot button for all conservatives and Republicans. But not only did the president of the United States accuse someone of committing a crime without any evidence, but then he exonerated Bill O`Reilly without any evidence.
This is the new normal where the president of the United States weighs in on all of this and again throws it out. (inaudible) will explain it later. Don`t be surprised if you don`t get the explanation.
GILLIAN TETT, U.S. MANAGING EDITOR FOR THE FINANCIAL TIMES: Here`s the issue. It is the new normal. And when the Financial Times was in the White House last week, last Friday, I actually asked the president, do you regret any of your tweets? There have been crazy ones. He said no, I don`t regret them.
If you`re going to do hundreds of tweets, you may end up with a clinker from time to time, not with the court. But the point is this. He thinks tweeting and the off the cuff remarks are what enabled him to win the election last year. It connects him with the voters and makes him seem like a man of the people.
SYKES: Now he`s the president. Now he`s the chief magistrate of the country.
TETT: It is still the crucial thing that allowing him to basically wield power.
SYKES: It is giving him some conservative cover.
TODD: Just when conservatives were starting to stray, right? Not happy about health care, this Russia thing makes him feel uncomfortable, throws Susan Rice into the cauldron and oh, it may be temporary, Charlie.
TODD: Okay, you want Susan Rice to testify.
SYKES: Right. Exactly.
FOUHY: She knows a lot of things. TODD: She knows a lot of things. SYKES: It does not change the underlying dynamic. I think there ought to be an investigation. We`re in a post-truth world. At some point, let`s find out what the truth is. Let`s find out. Let`s get to the bottom of this. Let`s put everybody under oath. This keeps that story line alive that much longer. TODD: President of the United states accused now a private citizen of committing a crime and no evidence. This is -- it`s shocking.
TETT: It certainly is shocking. I can say that right now around the world people are looking at the White House and feeling completely lost how to deal with this, what to make of it. I mean, there are other authorities around the world who have entire desk monitoring these tweets. FOUHY: And here`s the thing. Chuck, you`re the polling guy. His poll numbers could not be worse. He basically is the president of the conservatives who hate Susan Rice. He needs to expand that. He`s not going to get anywhere in terms of a legislative agenda moving anything along he promised the people who voted for him if he`s only playing to that audience. He`s already, you know, inclined to believe that Susan Rice is a criminal.
TODD: This just felt like how to win a new cycle.
TODD: That`s all it felt like.
TETT: (inaudible) the first thing he said to Financial Times going into the White House was, I won, you didn`t. And that tells you everything you need to know.
TODD: When we began this day, some on my staff said it`s kind of a slow news day. Never say that. Beth, Charlie, Jillian. Thank you. After the break, the best bit of cocktail party trivia I`ve heard in ages. Just trust me. Stay tuned.
TODD: Well, in case you missed it, Barry Manilow is a music machine. He`s had 11 song in the Billboard Top Ten. He`s been selling out shows for decades. He even wrote the state farm jingle. And today, he opened up about why he hid his sexuality for years.
What I learned today about Barry Manilow is that while he is the writer or co-writer of plenty of his hit songs including "Copacabana," "This One`s For You," and "I Made it Through the Rain," the man who wrote the songs that made the whole world sing didn`t write that 1976 number one hit "I Write the Songs."
That was actually written by Bruce Johnston, a current member of the Beach Boys. There`s one to grow on. Who knew? Anyway, that`s all for tonight. "For the Record with Greta" starts right now. You like that bit of Barry Manilow trivia today?
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOR THE RECORD SHOW HOST: I have no idea about that.
TODD: Neither did I.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END
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