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MTP Daily, Transcript 8/1/2017

Guests: Leon Panetta, Marc Caputo, Philip Bump, Joy Reid, John Podhoretz

Show: MTP DAILY Date: August 1, 2017 Guest: Leon Panetta, Marc Caputo, Philip Bump, Joy Reid, John Podhoretz

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Any day we will debate reigning in presidential tweets. I hope he never does it.

My thanks to Jonathan Lemire, Matt Schlapp, Elise Jordan and Rick Stengel.

That does it for this hour. I`m Nicolle Wallace. "MTP DAILY" starts right now with Chuck Todd. Hi, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: How`re doing Nicole? Good luck to that person who wants to be the Twitter editor.

WALLACE: The chief of police.

TODD: Yes, not a good place. Not job security in the White House.

If it`s Tuesday, does the White House have a Flake news problem?

(voice-over): Tonight, taking on Trump.


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: To be conservative, you can`t embrace conspiracy theories or to talk about alternative facts.


TODD: Is this just one senator`s searing indictment of the president and his party or is it a canary in the Republican coal mine?

Plus, pipe (ph) checks.


JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY: But I do want to be clear that the president was not involved in the drafting of the statement and did not issue the statement.


TODD: The story out of the White House on that Don Jr.-Russian meeting has changed, again. Why is it so difficult for this administration to tell the truth the first time?

And controlling the chaos.


LEON PANETTA, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF, CLINTON ADMINISTRATION: Somehow, they`ve got to restore some sense of discipline. And, frankly, the chief of staff has a responsibility to do that.


TODD: I`ll speak to the man who, among a lot of other things, is a former White House chief of staff brought in to right a ship.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

(on camera): Good evening, I`m Chuck Todd here in New York and welcome to MTP DAILY. And welcome to the ultimate test of loyalty for conservatives. And the ultimate test of discipline for the president.

Just whose Republican Party is this right now? Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is out there, publicly torching the Trump presidency, as it falls deeper into crises of its own making like it did today, when Press Secretary Sarah Sanders acknowledged that, yes, indeed, President Trump was involved in drafting that misleading statement about his son`s campaign meeting with the Russians which ended up being in direct contrast to what his lawyer told me on "MEET THE PRESS." We`re going to have more on that in a moment.

Senator Flake is trying to shame his Republican colleagues for what he says is an enabling of this president.


FLAKE: I think to be conservative, it can`t be to embrace conspiracy theories or to talk about alternative facts. There are truths that are self-evident.

Isolationism, that`s not conservative. Conservatives have always been more -- you know, more steady in demeanor and in comportment. And that means something. It`s not just conservative policy. Weekend chaos is not a good principle.

The party has lost its way. We`ve given in to nativism and protectionism.


TODD: In his new book, Senator Flake goes even further. He says his party is, quote, "in denial." That they created this mess. They`re cow towering (ph) to the base. They`re selling their souls for policy victories that won`t last.

They`re backing a, quote, "erratic" president whose base politics are, quote, "the spasms of a dying party." And he says it`s time to do something about it.

Flake demanded his party grow some backbone. Well, here`s the reaction from some of his Senate colleagues, all of whom have been critical of this president at one time or another. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He`s essentially saying that all of you are in denial about President Trump.

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: Well, look, I mean, everybody has different opinions about President Trump. But he won an election. He won it fair and square.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are Republicans afraid of President Trump?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, (R) TEXAS: You know, we`re here trying to do our duty. Thanks.


CORNYN: I don`t really have any response.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY, MAJORITY LEADER: I haven`t had a chance to read Jeff Flake`s book, but I`m going to do that.

SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: I think we`ve all expressed where we disagree with the president and where we`ve agreed. But I think it`s our job to make sure we`re representing the people of our states and that`s what Jeff Flake continues to do.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: No, I don`t agree with that. I think the president is -- he has much to commend and he`s getting better all the time.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We didn`t create him. The American people chose him. And I like Jeff Flake. He`s a good guy. But he beat me and 16 other Republicans and the former secretary of state.


TODD: We`re a long way from a mutiny, if you are looking for that. And if you have any doubts where House Speaker Paul Ryan stood today, he tweeted the following. It is time for the wall. And he did that today.

But, folks, Senator Flake`s break with his party and his president which comes as he faces re-election in Arizona is going to be a canary in a coal mine. But we just don`t know yet for whom.

Can Flake`s conservative survive in the chaos of Trumpism or should we be asking it the other way around? Can Trump and all of his chaos survive a conservatism?

There are plenty of folks on the right who seem fed up with both approaches which is perhaps why we saw so many senators today unwilling to aggressively defend either approach.

What we`re left with is a toxic collision between a party that`s losing faith in a leader they see as increasingly feckless, a leader who`s losing faith in a party he sees as increasingly disloyal.

[17:05:05] In fact, he just purged the RNC from inside the White House and both sides are arguing over where it all went wrong.


ERIC TRUMP, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: My father said it. I mean, he said it a couple of weeks ago in a tweet. He said, you know, am I going to have to carry this whole weight on my shoulder? I mean, when are some of the people in my own party going to start protecting me?

I want somebody to start fighting for him.

GRAHAM: We should honor his win but he has an obligation to be president for all of us and to stop the chaos. Most of the chaos is generated by him and no one else.


TODD: If you`re looking ahead to the next fight, you don`t have to look very far. Republicans might be negotiating against themselves again when they try to overhaul the tax code through reconciliation. The same vehicle they tried and failed to repeal Obamacare with.

And although some in the White House sound like they`re not sold on the Republican-only approach just yet, it is where things seem to be going for now.

I`m joined now by our own Kristen Welker from the White House and Kasie Hunt from Capitol Hill. Kristen, let me start with you because we`ve been hearing a lot from the Congressional side. I`m going to spend a little time with Kasie on that question in a moment.

But I have to say, I think a lot of folks are surprised, myself included, that we have not heard the president respond to Jeff Flake today which is somewhat unique and remarkable, given his history when it comes to criticism from within the party.

KRISTEN WELKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: I think that`s right, Chuck. And if you take a look at his tweets in total today, they`ve been pretty on message mostly about the economy. There was one tweet defending his views of Twitter.

But we were all expecting an early-morning tweet storm against Jeff Flake. It didn`t come. Likely the influence of the new chief of staff here, retired General John Kelly, who`s been very clear, essentially trying to send a signal that there is a new sheriff in town. That he`s not going to tolerate discord. He`s not going to tolerate some of these tweets that are off message.

But will we see this over the course of time? That remains to be seen. Remember, we`ve had, sort of, the pockets of the president being very restrained when it comes to his messaging.

I think when it comes to the relationship on Capitol Hill, though, Chuck, and this next battle that you talk about, the challenges, not only do you have Republicans, conservatives like Jeff Flake speaking out. I mean, obviously, he`s been critical of then candidate Trump all the way back to the campaign trail, but Republicans just don`t seem that afraid of him.

That`s why you have Lisa Murkowski saying, I`m going to vote against you in the health care fight.

How does he get Republicans on board to get tax reform done? Based on my conversations here, the reality may be that they`re looking at a series of tax cuts, because they don`t have that big, broad support. And, of course, they didn`t get health care reform passed or at least they haven`t yet.

TODD: Very quickly, I`m curious, was there any chatter, you know, sort of, off camera or any chatter that, hey, this president plans to make Jeff Flake pay a political price at the ballot box in 2018? Any of that chatter today?

WELKER: I think that there`s not that chatter today. There was more of a dismissing Jeff Flake today, saying, hey, is someone who`s always been critical of the president. We`re not going to worry about him.

TODD: Right.

WELKER: But I think more broadly, there`s a sense that that`s the direction the president could go in, as we get closer to 2018, not just against Jeff Flake but others who`ve been critical of him -- Chuck.

TODD: I have to say, the lack of response from him, that is very -- shall we deem it a very conventional and mature way to respond to a critic within your own party.

Kristen, I`m going to pause there. Let me go to the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue and Kasie Hunt.

So, Kasie, you went through, you talked to any member you could find today, none of them willing to back up Jeff Flake. Is he a man on an island or is he a man on a public island, but if there were a private island, he would have a lot of company on this -- on this run?

KASIE HUNT, CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: I think he has a lot of company on his private island, but nobody wants to be seen showing up by private a plane on the island.

If you want to continue this metaphor, I mean, I think, you know, I spoke to a number of Republicans today. You saw there, John Cornyn responding to his question. Hey, are you afraid of President Trump? They all insist that they`re not.

But there is this, kind of, pervasive fear of President Trump`s fate. They still don`t fully understand how that`s going to play out in their own elections.

And I think that`s really driving a lot of these dynamics because look at, you know, the actual on paper progress that this Congress has made on behalf of President Trump.

They are ignoring his plea to take up health care back up. They are ignoring his insistence that they eliminate the filibuster. Mitch McConnell today said, you know, absolutely not.

And, frankly, they`re ignoring his frustration with Jeff Flake. We have a new statement from the NRSC tonight that unequivocally says the NRSC supports Senator Flake, as we do all of our incumbent members.

So, despite all this criticism of the party, not just the party but also the Republican Party and their approach to the president, they`re still standing by him.

TODD: Yes. And I know you just caught up with him. And I think we have a quote to turn. Tell me about the quick interview you just had with Jeff Flake.

HUNT: Yes. So, I talked to him a little bit about this. And one thing I will say, Chuck, is I think to what Kristen was saying about the White House not really responding. This has been a critic -- a long-time critic. I think Senator Flake, to a certain extent, has been a little taken aback by the level of focus on what he had to say.

[17:10:13] And I think he`s been a little bit -- he`s not said -- used the same strong words that he used in the op-ed in the book on camera necessarily. But he did have one, I think, noteworthy thing I wanted to show you, talking about populism and the president`s impact on the country. Take a look.


FLAKE: Populism is -- you know, you can win elections with it. It`s popular. It`s populism. But it`s not a governing philosophy.

It`s kind of a sugar high. And if you -- if you continue in that vein, then we`ll lose elections.


HUNT: And I think it`s noteworthy that I didn`t use the word populism in a question. He brought that up on his own by himself.

So, look, I think Flake also is pretty confident that McConnell will stand by him. He also said, hey, look, you know, I have won tough re-elections in Arizona before. He does not seem to be afraid of it.

TODD: All right, Kasie Hunt, Kristen Welker, thank you both. And, Kristen, give a special shutout to my buddy, Dennis Gaffney. I think this is his last live shot on our show`s behalf today. I know he`s got to keep working a couple more hours to you.

HUNT: It is, indeed, Chuck. We just had some cupcakes, toasting him for an incredible legacy. Dennis Gaffney, certainly one of the great.

TODD: He did plenty of my live shots and made me look at least less ugly than I normally am.

HUNT: He makes us all look good, that`s for sure.


TODD: Excellent.

HUNT: He`s smiling -- he`s smiling from ear to ear right now.

TODD: Thank you both.

Let me bring in my panel. John Podhoretz, he`s a columnist for "The New York Post," and contributing editor at "The Weekly Standard," plus "Commentary Magazine." I think I got that right (ph). Philip Bump is National Correspondent for "The Washington Post." And Joy Reed, of course, is host of "AM JOY" on MSNBC. Welcome, all.


TODD: This -- John, I`m going to start with you because this feels like we are -- this, as we said, Canary and the coal miner, Jeff Flake, we criticize politicians all the time for not taking a risk. Well, he`s doing this -- Arizona -- he`s putting his political career on the line with this criticism. No one can say he`s not doing that.

JOHN PODHORETZ, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK POST": Well, I believe that. And I believe that he saw something in the tea leaves three or four months ago from when he started writing the book. Which is that Trump has hated him since the fall of 2015.

They had a confrontation. Had a meeting. Trump`s first meeting with the Senate on Capitol Hill where Flake said, your behavior is appalling. And Trump said, I really hope you lose next year.

TODD: That`s right.

PODHORETZ: And Flake said, I`m not up next year. And there are -- you know, there are noises about someone running -- primarying him in Arizona.

And then, this question would be whether Flake would find himself in a primary race for his life in which Trump would be winking and nodding at -- that people could vote for his opponent.

So, he may have nothing to lose. He may think that he has nothing to lose. Having said all of that, this is an extraordinary thing that he did. And he is reflecting opinion inside the Republican Party about -- an opinion that was expressed freely during 2016.

TODD: Yes.

PODHORETZ: That an id (ph) had been loosed (ph) in the Republican electorate by all, like, 10 or 15 different cross-vailing pressures that had made Trump possible.

And Trump has brought the same spirit from the campaign to the presidency. And as last week`s hijinks with Anthony Scaramucci indicate, that is a terrifying thing for anybody who wants the country to be managed effectively.

Not just Scaramucci but the failure to pass a health care bill which is a sign of not only his weakness, the president`s weakness. He can`t scare Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and McCain into voting for the -- for whatever health care bill he wanted, then, you know, he`s a -- he`s -- it`s not that he is a lame duck. But he`s pretty lame for somebody who`s only seven months into office.

TODD: Right. Look, there`s a bunch of other quotes here and, in some ways, he blames the base. Let me pull this one, Joy. We have given into politics of anger. The belief that riling up the base can make up the failed attempts to broaden the electorate.

These are the spasms of a dying party. Anger and resentment and blaming groups of people for our problems might work politically in the short term, but it`s a dangerous impulse in a pluralistic society.

The state of Arizona gave us Joe Arpaio. The Republican Party in Arizona has always been schizophrenic, in some ways. It`s given us people like Jeff Flake and John McCain, on one hand.

And then, at the other hand, it`s given us people -- and this goes way back, a guy like Evan Mecham. Back in the day who was, sort of, like, as somebody said, it`s like people that have just been in the sun too long and their brain has shrunk. Like it had too much sun on him and they ended up electing that man.

The point is there`s always been -- he really is putting himself and this issue front and center for his primary.

REID: Yes, but we are one of the last states to recognize the King holiday. I mean, so, it`s a certain kind of thing.

Look, the reality is, you know, you have to ask yourself, sort of, what was Donald Trump`s crime in the minds of Republican elites? I went and I looked up Jeff Flake`s voting record. He has voted 95.5 percent with Donald Trump.

Trump`s margin in Arizona was 3.5 percent, so 538 (INAUDIBLE) predictive score would be that he would have voted with Trump about 61 percent of the time. He superseded that by 30 points.

[17:15:02] So, this is not a difference in content or in what they want to do. It is, really to me, about the gap between the text and the subtext.

And if Donald Trump committed a crime among Republican elites, is that he made the long-term subtext of Republicanism into text. Meaning if you`ve been listening to right wing talk radio over the last 20 something years, the same anger and rage and anger at the changes in the country, the same ethic, the same, sort of, you know, sometime vulgarity existed. It`s just that elites in the Republican Party didn`t accept that as the way to market the party to the world.

Donald Trump recognized better than they did, better than Jeff Flake did, better than John McCain did, that he could simply identify with the text of what people were saying on talk radio or listening to when they heard Rush Limbaugh. The anger and rage that they felt all the time. The sense of political correctness, meaning I can`t say these things because I can`t keep my job or be in polite society.

Trump said, yes, you can or I can say them for you. So, all Trump did was take a lot of the subtext and anger that was already there. He didn`t invent this.

Trump is just making it open and obvious. And the Republican elites can`t stand it. They, too, want to get -- they want to get rid of Medicaid. Trump`s instinct is to say, that`s mean. Trump knows more about the Republican base than Jeff Flake does.

So, I think that`s the problem and that`s their problem with him.

TODD: She brought up an interesting point in the 95 percent of the time. Like, how does Jeff Flake square that? Right, square voting with him?

And I`ve always -- like, what is that line between where -- it`s clear Jeff Flake`s problem is more in character than anything. Character and (INAUDIBLE.) There`s no doubt about it.

When does that trump ideology? He hasn`t made that decision yet. He`s spoken out but he doesn`t vote that way.

PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. No, exactly. But let me -- Jeff Flake is essentially doing what Donald Trump is doing except in reverse which is making a statement about what he sees the values and the tone of the Republican Party should be, right?

Donald Trump has a very specific tone that he thinks should be the tone of the Republican Party. Jeff Flake, I mean, when I watch those clips, the person he reminded me of was Mitt Romney. He seemed like Mitt Romney up there saying Mitt Romney asks sort of things. And that was a very particular (INAUDIBLE.)

TODD: Dare I use the phrase compassionate conservative. I mean, you know, which is what I think Mitt Romney, George W. Bush, Jeff Flake more identify with.

BUMP: Exactly. And so, when Mitch McConnell brings forward a bill, which reflects the essence of what it is the Republicans in the Senate want to see, of course Jeff Flake is going to vote for that.

Donald Trump has no policy ideology. He doesn`t have any policies he wants to advance. He was brazen and bold in saying, I don`t think people care that much about policy on the campaign trail.

He`s not coming to this with an idea of what he wants to see accomplished. So, yes, Jeff Flake is going to vote with the policy that advanced by Mitch McConnell.

TODD: Right. I`ll give you the last word.

PODHORETZ: Jeff Flake is a conventional Republican conservative. Donald Trump is an unconventional, non-Republican, non-conservative.

REID: And most base -- most of the base of the Republican Party --

PODHORETZ: Well, no --

REID: -- agreed with Donald Trump because that`s why they picked him over 16 other Republicans.

PODHORETZ: And most of the base Republican Party also agrees with Jeff Flake. They like Trump. They have no trouble with Flake`s voting record. They have no problem with the way Flake views things.

TODD: How does this play out in today?

PODHORETZ: It`s about character. Like you said, it`s about compointment (ph). As he says, it`s about behavior.

REID: If that mattered, Donald Trump would not be the -- have been the nominee of the Republican Party. He ran against the, sort of, tin dolls of the beltway media. He ran against Marco Rubio. He ran against --

PODHORETZ: It sounds like you`re contradicting yourself.

REID: No, I`m not.

PODHORETZ: Yes, you are because you said -- you said Trump is nice on Medicaid.

REID: No, no. I didn`t say nice on Medicaid. I said he understands the base of your party better than the elites do. The elites say that the ordinary --

PODHORETZ: It`s not my party.

REID: Well, OK. The elites of the Republican Party think that the base agrees with them on eviscerating Medicaid, for instance. Donald Trump understands that the base of the party is fine with big government.

They don`t like that certain people are getting it. They`re fine with big government conservatism, as long as they`re the beneficiaries.

PODHORETZ: OK. Well, that`s fantastic caricature of the (INAUDIBLE) of half the country.

REID: Donald Trump gets them and the elites of the Republican Party clearly don`t. That`s why they lost (ph) him.

TODD: I was going to let (INAUDIBLE.) Philip, quickly last word and then I`m going to pause.

BUMP: That`s a very good point which is this makes very clear that Jeff Flake does not agree with Donald Trump. That Donald Trump is someone to be feared in 2018. That all of this rhetoric about how the Republicans --

TODD: That`s a big, important point.

BUMP: - you need to look out for. That definitely -- he`s not about that. No.

TODD: All right, guys, we`ll pause the conversation. I promise, you guys will come back and talk. I promise.

But stick with us. Coming up, can Chief of Staff John Kelly bring some much-needed direction to the Trump White House? I`m going to talk to someone who`s been in Kelly`s shoes. Former Clinton chief of staff, William Panetta. He joins me just ahead.



TODD: We are looking live on the Senate floor, where the Senate is working to confirm Christopher Wray as the new FBI director. He needed 50 yes votes. He got them pretty easily. He ended up at 92, it looks like, at the final score there.

Wray received overwhelmingly -- overwhelming bipartisan support. It`s been 84 days since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and 55 days since the president nominated Ray to replace Comey. Andrew McCabe has been serving as the acting FBI director in the interim.

So, now, Mr. Wray will get sworn in, presumably in the next 24 hours. By the way, this is now the first time any FBI director is getting more than one no vote. There`s five.

Four of them we can tell you, Gillibrand, Merkley and Wyden, both of Oregon. So, the entire state of Oregon is a no on Wray and Gillibrand will get you the fifth vote win when we have it.

We`re back in 60 seconds.


TODD: Welcome back.

The new White House chief of staff, John Kelly, did not waste any time yesterday asserting himself in his new role.

Kelly is the latest in a long line in White House chiefs of staff brought in by presidents to right the ship in tumultuous times.

Almost exactly 23 years ago, another president, Bill Clinton, made one of those moves bringing in his budget director, Leon Panetta, to serve as chief of staff to calm a jittery Capitol Hill and jittery party and a jittery White House staff.

Presidents Clinton and Trump were in similar positions in the polls when they had to make their first chief of staff switch. Both were around 40 percent in the Gallup national poll.

I`m joined now by Bill Clinton`s former White House chief of staff and the second one of his presidency. Of course, he went on to have many other titles, including CIA director and secretary of defense.

Mr. Panetta, I don`t even know what to say. The honorable -- and which title to use today. But I need the chief title today, sir.

PANETTA: It`s whichever one you want to use, Chuck. Normally, it`s Secretary Panetta, at this point.

TODD: You will love this lead. This was in "The New York Times" the day you started. The announcement came at a time which Mr. Clinton is being strongly buffeted by political cross currents at home and abroad. His standing with the public has not substantially improved since his 1992 election with 43 percent of the vote.

His health reform effort is being picked apart in Congress and he`s increasingly being accused of indecisiveness in foreign affairs.

So, you do know what John Kelly is going through. Obviously, there are some differences between perhaps the public discipline of Donald Trump and the public discipline of Bill Clinton.

But let`s focus on the similarities. Explain what you think John Kelly is going through right now that you remember.

PANETTA: Well, I think the big challenge is to walk into the White House and really be able to get your arms around the operations within the White House.

[17:25:09] It`s really critical that he establish relationships, first and foremost, obviously with the president. There has to be a relationship of trust between the president and the chief of staff.

Now, in addition to that, he`s got to be able to establish a relationship with the staff that`s there and make them understand that he is going to be chief of staff and that they`re going to have to go through him.

So, I think the real challenge for John right now is to be able to put in place elements of discipline, a strong chain of command, the ability to develop some kind of orderly process of developing policy. Those are, kind of, the big challenges that he faces from the get go.

TODD: And you had a -- you had to create a personal rapport with Bill Clinton that wasn`t there at the beginning, because you were a Washington and California guy, less an Arkansas Democrat. How do you --and you`re brought in to fix things.

So, on one hand, you may -- you have a honeymoon period. How much advice do you give to John Kelly? Say, if you got tough decisions to make, make as many as you can in the first couple of weeks. How do you get yourself in a mode to identify it, to basically take advantage of your honeymoon period with your boss?

PANETTA: Well, it`s very important that -- first and foremost, that John Kelly and the president, kind of, understand each other in what needs to be done. And that the president is willing to delegate that authority to his new chief of staff. That has to take place.

Bill Clinton understood the problems that were in the White House. He was willing to delegate authority to me as chief of staff, to be able to reorganize the White House and develop the kind of chain of command that was important there.

And so, the most important ingredient is to have a president who`s willing not only to give you the authority you need, but is willing to back you up and to trust you in that process. That`s going to be fundamental to John Kelly`s ability to be able to get his job done.

TODD: Now, you don`t have just a unique insight of the job. You know John Kelly very well. He was your -- correct me if I`m wrong. I believe he was one of your chief military aides during part of your tenure at the Pentagon.

What`s a skillset that he has that you wish you had going into being chief of staff?

PANETTA: Well, I do know John. He was my military aide when I was secretary of the Department of Defense.

He`s a tough Marine. He understands what discipline is all about. He understands what a strong chain of command is all about. He understands what an orderly process is all about. He understands that you have to stay focused on accomplishing the mission.

Those are all important ingredients that go to his experience as a Marine and those are good qualities.

I think the important thing he`s going to have to pick up on is the politics of operating within the White House. The politics of understanding where the staff is, what the relationships are, and also the politics of dealing with Capitol Hill.

Because, in the end, if this president is going to survive, it isn`t enough just to change your chief of staff. You`ve got to be able to get some things done for the country. And the chief of staff is going to be very important to whether or not that happens.

TODD: Before I let you go, there`s two developments on the international front that I want to get your take on. Secretary Tillerson made, sort of, the most remarks he`s made yet about North Korea.

And he said the following in a -- in a briefing to reporters. He said he wants a dialogue with North Korea, that he doesn`t want regime change. And he said we are not the enemy, but they are threatening us.

He`s not asking for reunification of the peninsula. He does not want to move our military above the 38th parallel but will have to take some action.

To me, he`s trying to send a message here that they want to talk, negotiate. Is -- it seemed to be a contradiction of where we were headed before. Frankly, I am confused about what is our policy when it comes to North Korea and that leadership.

PANETTA: Well, that`s the first thing that I think the administration has to focus on is one of the things that John Kelly and general McMaster are going to have to focus on is what is the strategy here? Obviously, there has to be containment.

Obviously, we have to be tough, in terms of our military presence. Obviously, we have to be tough, in terms of making clear that the North Koreans cannot develop an intercontinental ballistic missile that could threaten our country. And we have to take strong steps to deal with that.

But, at the same time, we`ve got to reach out diplomatically to try to see whether there is an opportunity to engage in negotiations.

But it`s going to take both efforts. You need a strong military effort. You need a strong diplomatic effort if there`s going to be any hope of dealing with North Korea.

CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS DAILY SHOW HOST: And then finally there`s been some reports, there was a "Washington Post" report and no final decision has been made, but the department of state is thinking about editing the mission statement that would eliminates any mention of promoting democracy, essentially promoting democratic values around the world.

Are you concerned about that? I mean, some could argue that hey, American foreign policy has got to be more pragmatic, more realistic, and so, you know, take that out of the mission. What say you?

PANETTA: America`s diplomacy in the world has been based on our values and our principle value is our respect for our democracy, our freedoms, and our ability to be able to engage in self-government. Those are the critical features of what makes us a strong country in the world, what makes us the world leader.

If we eliminate reference to democracy, if we eliminate reference to the basic freedoms and liberties that are critical, not only for our country, but the rest of the world, then I think it undermines our ability to exert world leadership. It makes us weaker.

TODD: So, you would advise Secretary Tillerson don`t make any changes to this?

PANETTA: Don`t mess with that. You don`t need to mess with that. What you need to do is to get more diplomats in the state department to do the job that you have to do, which is to reach out to the world and engage in diplomatic relationships that can help our country provide security to the world.

TODD: Secretary Panetta, I wish we had more time with you. But I appreciate you coming on and sharing your views, sir.

PANETTA: Good to be with you, Chuck.

TODD: All right. Still ahead, why a power grab in Venezuela could have a significant impact on our politics here at home, coming up next.


TODD: I promised you some quick Christopher Wray news. The three senators didn`t vote at all. They missed the vote. McCain, as you know, is getting treatment. Al Franken and Richard Burr. The five Democratic no votes were the Oregon delegation, Merkley and Wyden. The Massachusetts delegation, Warren and Markey. And Gillibrand of New York. So, there you have it.

Coming up, the Trump administration`s own version of fake news, how are they delivering it. We`ll be right back.



REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we would want to see is for Venezuela to return to its constitution, return to its scheduled elections, and allow the people of Venezuela to have a voice in their government they deserve.


TODD: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." The Trump administration says all policy options are on the table when it comes to dealing with President Maduro of Venezuela. It comes after a move by Maduro to change the country`s constitution and grant himself more power, right out of the strongman playbook, if you will.

It was after weeks of violent protests and after two opposition leaders were arrested in overnight raids. U.S. Treasury Department put heavy sanctions on the president of Venezuela this week, accusing him of widespread human rights abuses and calling him a dictator, who is disregarding the will of his people.

Joining me now is Marc Caputo, a senior political reporter for "Politico" and author of the "Florida Playbook" and actually has been covering this issue of sort of the rising strength of sort of Venezuela interests in American politics from the south border (ph) point of view. Mr. Caputo, good to see you, sir.


TODD: All right. Let me start with the fact that Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, the two senators from Florida here, Democrat and Republican, lockstep on what to do about Venezuela and what action they want to see taken. It reminds me of how lockstep the two parties were when it came to Cuba policy saying the state of Florida, oh, I want to say circuit 25 years ago.

CAPUTO: Yes, this had been said before Marco Rubio originally coined the term a few years ago, but Venezuela is basically the new Cuba, its government and its dictatorial style of governance is not only reminiscent of Cuba, but has been heavily influenced by it.

And what you are seeing right now is a pretty united front in the belief in Florida, whether you are Republican or Democrat, that what Maduro is doing and what Chavez before him is doing is seriously destabilizing the region. What we`re starting to see in Florida is more and more of an influx of Venezuelans of expats who are coming here. This being Florida is a home of expats.

TODD: Right.

CAPUTO: And the latest wave are the Venezuelans. There`s at least 117,000 who now live here. They grew that much between 2000 and 2012. It`s probably about 36,000 Venezuelan-born voters who are on the Florida voter rolls. That`s according to the University of Florida`s (INAUDIBLE) who ran the numbers for me.

TODD: And let`s take a look at -- I mean, let`s remember the way this works. I mean, this is -- basically this new exodus out of Venezuela began with Hugo Chavez, and obviously has accelerated of late with Maduro. But the Venezuelans that have come over, they were the ones that had the means to do it, that had the connections to do it.

So almost by the definition, these new Venezuelan residents and soon perhaps to be voters and citizens, they come in extraordinarily engaged in the political process as it is, which I assume makes them even more persuasive to the Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.

CAPUTO: Well, what`s really interesting, again, referencing (INAUDIBLE) numbers in the University of Florida, is that of the 35,000 Venezuelan-born voters in Florida, their turnout rate in the last election was 80.4 percent.

That`s astronomical compared -- that`s very high compared to the rest of the state which is 75 percent. However, it`s an up for grabs electorate. We don`t know exactly how they voted. But of them 17,000, about half, are registered as no party affiliation or independent voters.

They don`t belong to other party. About 12,000 are registered as Democrats. About 6,000 are registered as Republicans. Obviously, they appear to lean a little more left than right. But, you know, half of the population is a no party affiliation voters.

It`s really not very clear which way they broke, right or left. And they certainly seem to be up for grabs and both parties are trying to grab them.

TODD: I have noticed in my visits back home pockets of the influence of Venezuelan exiles and Venezuelan culture. But is it -- are you starting to see like larger communities being built in south Florida or sort of just in the same way we have a little Havana or a little (INAUDIBLE), you`re going to have a little Caracas?

CAPUTO: You`re not quite seeing that, but the city of Doral, which is where Donald Trump has his golf course, for instance in Miami-Dade County, it`s nicknamed Doralzuela. In Weston, up in Broward County, just north of the county line, peopel call Westonzuela.

You`re starting to see these bigger and bigger pockets grow in influence and in numbers. It just seems like you`re going to see more and more of that as the Maduro regime appears to crack down more and more.

You know, one of the lessons I think we should learn from Cuba is that if you`re going to do sanctions, whether they`re individual or entire nation, don`t really expect them to change a dictator or a regime`s behavior, do it because you think it`s necessarily the right thing to do.

But I don`t have much faith, considering our Cuban history, in Venezuela or in Maduro changing his behavior to the degree we want it to change.

TODD: And as history repeating itself, where the folks that can make the change in Venezuela or make the change in Cuba are the ones that have the means to flee and come here and that of course then becomes a cycle down there.

CAPUTO: You know, (INAUDIBLE) said all political power comes from the barrel of a gun, and Maduro seems to be intent on exercising that political power right now.

TODD: All right. Marc Caputo, a pleasure to have you on, sir. I think we are 26 days from what really matters in Miami. Go, canes. Still ahead, why so many statements by this administration require a sequel?


TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with this administration`s apparent inability or refusal to tell the truth the first time they`re asked. All presidents and all administrations shade and shape the truth to their own advantage. But what we`re seeing now is of a different order of magnitude.

And today`s grudging acknowledgment that President Trump did help draft his son`s statement about his meeting with a group of Russians after denying exactly that, it`s just the latest example of this administration`s taste for fake news. The following statements are simply from recent appearances on the Sunday version of "Meet the Press."


TODD: Can you tell me about the reports that the president was involved in the initial response that Donald Trump, Jr. gave "The New York Times"?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I read those reports as well. And the president was not -- did not draft the response. The response was -- came from Donald Trump, Jr.

TODD: But I noticed you ducked the aspect of whether you can guarantee that nobody will be worse off financially.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we`re going through, understanding that they`ll have choices that they can select the kind of coverage that they want for themselves and for their families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have talked to General Flynn. None of that came up, none of the subject matter of sanctions or the actions taken by the Obama administration did not come up in the conversation.

TODD: There was no challenge of American policy currently by Mr. Flynn with the Russians?


TODD: Answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood. Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don`t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What you`re saying is a falsehood. They`re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.


TODD: Look in these and other cases what the administration said ended up being demonstrably wrong. Not a shade of it, not a way to spin it, it was just flat out wrong. Did the people say what they believed to be true at the time? Did they mislead unintentionally? Did they mislead intentionally? Was it a lie? Was it that kind of motivation?

We don`t know that, but at this point, they have accumulated a ton of instances where it appears they owe us at least that explanation in that front. It`s a reminder why young journalists are taught the following. If your mother says she loves you, go get a second source. We`ll be right back.


TODD: "Lid" time. Panel is back. John Podhoretz, Philip Bump, Joy Reid. Philip, let me start with you. This issue of boy, the White House just keeps -- keeps getting caught not telling the truth. They seem to be okay with it in the moment. It`s like everything is short term. Get out of the moment, avoid a bad story in the moment, and hope it just never pops up later.

We go with this idea. Did the president get involved in Donald Trump Jr.`s statement? "New York Times" at the original report said, yes, he had a hand in that statement. Jay Sekulow said to me as we just showed, no. No part of it at all. Now, Sarah Huckabee Sanders today is saying, well, you know, he took an interest in the way any father would.


PHILIP BUMP, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Anything further, the thing that really struck me about what Sanders said is she also said that his original statement is true which is deceptive and misleading.

TODD: Well, you want to define true -- the part -- there was no -- nothing in there was fault.


TODD: Yes.

BUMP: Exactly right. You know, I mean, here`s the thing to keep in mind about Donald Trump is his experience in politics is you go out, you say whatever you want to say, later you backtrack on it, see what happens, probably nothing, then he got elected president.

TODD: You just said his experience in politics. I would -- Joy and you guys are both New Yorkers here and John, which is no, that`s his experience dealing with tabloids.


TODD: You could just say whatever you need to do to get through page 6 today and then worry about new evidence later.

REID: Yes, or in the real estate market. You`re right, when you`re up, you`re down. You know, you said it was going to be a three million condo, then it`s going to cost eight million.

TODD: Market change.

REID: Market change. You know, Trump is used to doing that, getting out of deals, getting out of contracts. He is used to dealing that way. I sort of wonder what does Don McGahn do all day. The reason White House Counsel Office, you know, that should be advising these guys on how to conduct themselves in a way that doesn`t put them in legal jeopardy.

But you know, the reality is we have learned this time and time again with presidential administrations, in other words for the team to tell the truth, they have to be told the truth by the principle. We don`t know what Donald Trump is telling them.

JOHN PODHORETZ, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK POST: I think something happened that first week after his election when it was laid out to him by lawyers that he would not have to denude himself of the Trump organization and that there was this body of law that suggested that a president could not be indicted or sued or be the subject of criminal action while in office and he was like, get out of jail free card.


PODHORETZ: Nixon was right. I`m free. I`m not kidding about this like, you could it when he said three or four times in November or December. It`s like this light bulb is over his head. You know, I`ve been handed a free pass.

TODD: Right.

PODHORETZ: Problem is, nobody else has that free pass. His son doesn`t have a free pass. Jared Kushner now working there doesn`t have a free pass. His daughter on the staff doesn`t have a free pass. All these people are lawyered up. They`re going to be interviewed.

TODD: It`s really just he and Mike Pence. If you read that literally, you would just say, the two heads of the executive branch.

BUMP: But also remember the fact that he was told repeatedly for a year and a half, you can`t do this. You`re going to loose. You can`t lie. You have to be honest. And then he won. He was validated, obviously, he spends a lot of time thinking about how he`s validated by having won the election, but this in particular he feels that way.

TODD: To me, this gets at the challenge that you know, the press, we all get accused of bias, bias, bias. But when somebody is this blatant in their contradiction, it does make you question everything else they say.

REID: Yes.

TODD: Now, the public isn`t where I think the press corps is, which creates that disconnect and frankly the uncomfortable -- the press is out of touch. You don`t understand this Trump base and that I think --

REID: I think beyond just Trump`s legal jeopardy, the problem is it starts to call into question where the mundane information coming out of the administration. I mean, you`re supposed to able to track the data that comes out of government. You`re supposed to be able to track the sort of basic pronouncement.

But there has been so much lying. So much extravagant lying that`s easy to check. It becomes difficult then to trust the government writ large. We`re back at sort of that Nixon moment where you begin to distrust everything because minor things they say are lies.

TODD: Here`s what I had people come up to me, John. I don`t know. I can`t (INAUDIBLE).

PODHORETZ: Right. By the way, all White Houses do this. You know, this is a particularly (INAUDIBLE) one I think. But all white houses spin, you know, through news story, try to change focus. You know, say we`re moving forward for a year when Bill Clinton became president. Mack McLarty is going to say, it`s time to move forward from this story. You know, the story just been out for an hour. You know, that`s a classic thing.

TODD: Right.

PODHORETZ: But, you know, if you lie about everything --

TODD: Then what? All right. We`ll leave it there. Thank you all. By the way, you can catch Joy Reid tonight and all this weekend at 9 p.m. Eastern. She is filling in for Rachel Maddow. After the break, you won`t believe who is running for the senate now. Good stuff. We`ll be right back.


TODD: In case you missed it, Bobby Kennedy is running for the U.S. senate. No, not this Bobby Kennedy. An Alabama Democrat is running in the race to fill Attorney General Sessions` vacated senate seat. And his name is Robert Kennedy Jr. And no, he`s not this Robert Kennedy Jr. either. It`s this Robert Kennedy. Robert Kennedy Jr. actually. And he goes by the name Bobby. He`s not related to the Massachusetts` Kennedys.

The political novice (ph) is relatively unknown in the state, but if lightning strikes twice and Kennedy makes it through the primary and somehow win the general election, this Robert Kennedy would join John Kennedy in the U.S. senate. No, not this former Senator John Kennedy. This John Kennedy, the Republican senator from Louisiana. And guess what, again, no relation to any of the Kennedys that have been mentioned.

That`s all for tonight. The Beat, with Ari Melber starts right now.