MTP Daily, Transcript 8/2/2017

Guests: David Folkenflik, Steve Kornacki, Bill Cassidy

Show: MTP DAILY Date: August 2, 2017 Guest: David Folkenflik, Steve Kornacki, Bill Cassidy

NICOLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: It`s an ugly chapter. We`re going to pick this up tomorrow and keep having this conversation, because it`s an important one. Thank you very much, Charlie Sykes.

Thanks to my entire panel for being with me. We`re going to turn things over to "MTP DAILY" with Chuck Todd. Hi, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: How are you doing, Nicole? Boy, that credibility crisis, it keeps growing from our friends in Washington.

WALLACE: Sad.

TODD: Thank you.

If it`s Wednesday, we`ve come a long way from George Washington and that cherry tree.

(voice-over): Tonight, the White House credibility crisis deepens.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don`t think it`s appropriate to lie from the podium or any other place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: More cases of team Trump`s taste for fake news. But are they misstatements, misdirections or simply mistakes?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE GASTANZA, ACTOR, "SEINFELD": Jerry, just remember, it`s not a lie if you believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: A line between truth and fiction continues to get blurry.

Finally, President Trump punishes Putin. But he says little, signing Russian sanctions behind closed doors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The fact he does this quietly reinforces the narrative that the Trump administration is not serious about pushing back on Russia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

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

Tonight`s lead is one that we, as journalists, take no pleasure in writing. Folks, it`s one thing to evade. That`s common in politics. But it`s another when you mislead and get caught. And it`s a whole other animal if you flat out lie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you see any circumstances where it`s appropriate to lie from the podium?

HUCKABEE SANDERS: Absolutely not. I don`t think it`s appropriate to lie from the podium or any other place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: And it`s a question that had to be asked today of this White House.

But to cover this White House over the past few days, it has been a mind- numbing combination of shocking, frustrating and depressing. Because as bad as we thought the credibility crises was, it`s gotten much worse.

They`ve compounded misleading statements with misleading statements about those misleading statements. They`ve been caught in blatant contradictions and petty fabrications. Where to begin.

So, let`s start with that misleading statement that Donald Trump Jr. first gave the public about his meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. First, you`re going to hear what the president`s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told me on "MEET THE PRESS" a few weeks ago, followed by what the White House ended up saying yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY, DONALD TRUMP: The president was not involved in the drafting of the statement.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: He weighed in, offered a suggestion like any father would do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: So, was Sekulow lying to me? Was he just misinformed? That we don`t have -- we don`t know. And it`s a question he needs to answer.

But either way, what he said turned out not to be true. Then the White House made things worse by saying this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: The statement that Don Jr. issued is true. There`s no inaccuracy in the statement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: No inaccuracy? As John Macarro might end up saying, you cannot be serious. This is a meeting with a Russian lawyer, accompanied by at least four other people that the campaign took, because they were told it was part of a Russia government backed effort to incriminate Hillary Clinton.

Did Trump Jr.`s first statement mention any of that? Nope.

Consider this one. On Sunday, I spoke with one of the president`s top outside advisors, his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, about White House turmoil and the new chief of staff, John Kelly.

And out of nowhere, Corey Lewandowski brought up this person and topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COREY LEWANDOWSKI: I think the general should relook at firing Richard Cordray, the CFPB. It`s my recommendation to the president of the United States to fire Richard Cordray.

TODD: I have to ask this, considering that you brought this up. Do you -- do you have any business interests here? Do you have a client that wants to see this happen?

LEWANDOWSKI: No, no. I had no clients whatsoever --

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: I had no clients whatsoever. That turned out to be demonstrably false. According to a draft contract obtained by "The New York Times," one of Lewandowski`s clients, Community Choice Financial, a strong (ph) critic of Cordray`s office, offered him a $20,000 a month retainer to explicitly further their agenda.

Consider this one. Here`s what Sean Spicer told reporters back on May 16th when Fox News posted a story that ended up being retracted later, that attempted to link the death of a DNC staff to WikiLeaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sean, can we get a White House reaction or the president`s reaction to the report that Seth Rich was e-mailing WikiLeaks before his murder?

SEAN SPICER, FORMER U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don`t -- I`m not aware of -- generally, I don`t get updates on DNC, former DNC staffers. I`m not aware of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: At the time, we thought that was innocuous, honest answer. Turned out Spicer was aware, at that time. In fact, he ended up acknowledging in an MPR story yesterday after allegations were made in federal court that he personally met with the sources of that Fox News story in April.

So, Spicer has since confirmed. They were -- quote, "They were informing me of the Fox story," is how Spicer put it.

And that lawsuit, brought by a former homicide detective who was tasked with investigating Rich`s death, there also was the allegation that President Trump wanted the story out. The White House says those charges are absolutely untrue.

[17:05:08] Finally, consider this. In an interview that President Trump gave to "The Wall Street Journal" last week, he was pressed about the controversial speech he gave to the Boy Scouts which later prompted them to apologize on the president`s behalf.

Mr. Trump boasted to the journal, quote, "I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them." The reaction from the Boy Scouts, we are unaware of any such call.

As Chris Carter might say, come on, man. And these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Folks, the common question I get from folks in the White House from all levels is, how do we improve our relationship in the press? My answer, not like this.

If they`re going to potentially mislead us about everything from crowd sizes, to campaign meetings, to what was said at the Boy Scouts, throw out wildly unsubstantiated claims, like Obama wiretapped my phones, and 3 million illegal immigrants voted only for Hillary Clinton, and then blast reporters for so-called fake news, when they`re called out on this nonsense, why should we, or the public, or Congress, or the world take them at their word at anything? That`s their challenge.

Joining me now, David Folkenflik. He`s the media correspondent for NPR.

So, David, you and I were talking before the show, and I told you, not only do we not take any pleasure in this, it`s extraordinarily uncomfortable. As a journalist, we believe we`re referees. We`re calling balls and strikes.

When you get lied to as a human being, you immediately look at that person. Whoever lied to you, you look at them differently.

So, yes, I think us in the press corps, we`re sitting there going -- and we`re more skeptical at anything that comes out of the White House.

Trump`s base is very skeptical of us. Herein our dilemma.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, so, this is about credibility. I mean, one of the facets of this, when you think about it, is that reporters react badly. News organizations react badly when being lied to as you felt you were perhaps lied to by Jay Sekulow in that clip.

Because credibility is the currency of the realm here. Like, we`re not trading things. We`re not doing commodities here. This is what we`re trying to do. We`re trying to traffic in information, context and truth so people understand the world around them. And this defeats that purpose.

So, the press has a credibility issue, in part because of our failings, and in part because of the fact that we`ve been used as a political target to bludgeon for political purposes, by folks on both sides but particularly the right.

The Trump White House is almost uniquely situated for two reasons. One of which is, it seems, from the moment Sean Spicer went out, the first hours of the administration, to mislead the public about crowd sizes, that truth was not going to be a priority, in fact, it was almost discouraged.

And the second thing is that, you know, we have seen the press corps, at times, react with an intensity of coverage and an intensity of tone as they are covering this most unconventional administration.

TODD: Look, I think -- here`s the thing. Does the Boy Scouts lie? Which you and I talked -- it`s, like, this --

FOLKENFLIK: Why are you doing this?

TODD: Why are you doing it? It`s silly.

And, like, on one hand, I remember I had this back and forth with Kellyanne during the infamous alternative facts thing. When -- she goes, why did you say -- you`re saying -- it felt -- we both -- I felt ridiculous that we were have -- that we felt like we had to -- why are you misleading us on crowd sizes? And it seems silly.

But if you`re misleading us on that, what else are you -- I mean, that`s the -- that`s the dilemma we face. And we have to draw a line somewhere.

FOLKENFLIK: I think you hold things accountable. You do it in the moment and you do it for the record. You do it so the people know that the first six months of this administration, there is a record, like the one that you just provided, a little, small slice of just now.

I mean, this is a sample. This is not the full exhaustive back catalog of the list of things that are misleading, untrue or potentially lies.

TODD: The irony to all of this is -- let`s take the Corey Lewandowski example. It doesn`t change his opinion. It doesn`t change that he got it out there. Why mislead?

You know, obviously, in the moment, he felt -- maybe he felt uncomfortable that it looked like it was a client-driven decision. But you throw all the information out there, and then you let folks be the judge.

And then, you don`t have a second -- I mean, the irony is they -- these little stupid misleads have created more problems for them because then they get exposed literally 12 hours later.

FOLKENFLIK: So, let`s do a current day version of that. Sean Spicer has been badly compromised by the things that he`s had to go and say to the press corps that proved to be unraveled within days or hours at times.

In the case that you mentioned that we reported on yesterday on NPR, this case of whether -- in this instance, did the White House, in effect, collude --

TODD: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: -- with a vocal backer and Fox News in creating, essentially almost from whole cloth, a story complicating Democrats potentially in a cover-up of the murder of the young aide. Sean Spicer said, you know what? To my knowledge, the president had no knowledge of any stories before they emerged.

In this lawsuit, this Fox News -- paid Fox News contributor said that he was told by this other guy that they were -- that he had to get the story on the air because the president wanted it on the air. And, in fact, the president had reviewed drafts of the Fox News story in advance.

[17:10:00] Normally, you`d hear, the press secretary of the president of the United States saying, he didn`t get this. This didn`t happen.

TODD: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: Of course it didn`t happen. You`d say, fine.

Well, so many things have been undermined. The fact that we have this videotape of Sean Spicer saying, I don`t get briefed on what happened to a young Democratic aide where I, you know, have confirmed, through Sean Spicer and the two other participants, that he was briefed on April 20th about an investigation on that very fact, means that it`s much harder to take this at face value.

TODD: What do you -- I said this yesterday. There is some segment of the population that is, you know, watching, you know, what the politicians are saying, watching the press and thinks, I don`t know what to believe. And I don`t know who to believe. And they, sort of, throw up their hands and say, I give up.

And I`ve had that conversations with folks. And I`m, like, what, are you kidding me? I always want to say, I would be fired for lying.

FOLKENFLIK: You would be, but not everybody believes that.

TODD: I know.

FOLKENFLIK: There`s the rub. And part of the thing is this. People including -- you know, including Steve Bannon, who`s now the president`s chief political advisor, but you see the (INAUDIBLE) of Breitbart News.

People in certain parts of the media and certain parts of the larger Trump world are happy for that to be the case. That is part of the political campaign. That`s part of not just a tactic but a strategy --

TODD: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: -- is to undermine the credibility. Weirdly, it plays into the kind of Republican -- excuse me, Russian disinformation outlets, like R.T., like Sputnik News, that are happy to throw up enough chafe to create doubt.

It`s not that everything they publish is untrue. It`s that they are creating doubt about the veracity of things that other news organizations have done.

TODD: Here`s what`s happened. We`re turning American politics into -- ask any foreign correspondent who is based in the Middle East. Middle East politics is all on rumor and hearsay. Every -- unfortunately, wars almost start over it.

There is so -- and that`s -- and decisions get made on one side or the other of these disputes, based on rumor and innuendo. And that is a scary problem.

And we don`t like it when we see it in the Middle East. We have to spend so many times separating fact from fiction in the Middle East for those that sit at the table. And now we`re doing it.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, in the crisis that erupted, you know, in the Gulf states with Qatar more recently, it turns out or it appears to have been a result of a disinformation campaign by another one of the states.

You know, we have to, in the press, do the best we can to show our -- to live our values. To say, you know, we`re going to be fired if something goes wrong. Fox News hasn`t done that for had that Seth Rich story.

But most of the time, you`ve got to be able to show your homework in public, --

TODD: Right.

FOLKENFLIK: -- be as transparent as possible, be humble about these things. Sometimes people just aren`t going to believe you when you do it.

TODD: Right

FOLKENFLIK: But you have to consistently do that.

And then, it`s fair, I think. It doesn`t mean we need to shy away from our role of trying to hold the others accountable as well.

TODD: David Folkenflik, you have to cover our industry as a beat. It`s no fun sometimes. Thanks for coming on.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

TODD: Appreciate it.

As we`ve been talking about, misleading statements from the Trump administration have been adding up. Here are just a few more of them which were later contradicted by another member of the Trump administration were eventually corrected. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does the president fire Director Comey to impede the Russia investigation?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That`s not what this was about.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNTED STATES: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.

REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I had talked to General Flynn. None of that came up. The none -- the subject matter of sanctions or the actions taken by the Obama administration did not come up in the conversation.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER U.S. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fact President Obama got 365 --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE.)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- President Obama 333, George H.W. Bush 426 when he won as president. So, why should Americans trust --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, no, I was told -- I was given that information. I don`t know. I was just given. We had a very, very big margin.

PENCE: All the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people.

DONALD TRUMP JR., THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: As you can see from the e-mails, the pretext of the meeting was, hey, we have information. And there was even some ties -- I don`t even remember what it was. It just was, sort of, nonsensical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Let me bring in tonight`s panel. Steve Schmidt is an MSNBC Political Analyst who ran the day-to-day operations on McCain`s presidential campaign; Stephanie Ruhle, an MSNBC Anchor and, of course, an NBC News business correspondent; Steve Kornacki is NBC News national political correspondent. Two Steves and a Stephanie. Everybody is a ph on the Steph front here.

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC ANCHOR: No Vs.

TODD: That`s right. That`s right.

Steve Schmidt, the credibility crisis in this White House, I feel like you have given voice to this in some passionate ways, more so than any other Republican operative I`ve seen. But it`s just -- I have to say, I feel like we`re banging our heads against the walls as a press corps.

STEPHEN SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you have to -- you have to have a presumption that every statement that`s made from the White House, at this point, is a dishonest one. I mean, the honest statements --

TODD: Do you start from that premise?

SCHMIDT: Now I do, of course. I mean, I do think that there is a deficiency in the coverage. They don`t get a clean slate every day. I mean, what happened in January and February and March and April, it all -- it all matters in reality, in real life.

[17:15:02] The difference with Trump lies is the degree to which they`re lies of authority. They require obedience to the leader, to suspend disbelief, clearly what`s in front of your eyes. There is a different manner than most political lies in the level of lying, the pernicious of it. You just don`t see this in healthy Democratic societies. There is no healthy Democracy anywhere in the world where the lying is as frequent and obvious and unraveling like this. It`s bad for the country.

TODD: Stephanie, you`re like me. You`re on the receiving end of the either complaints or how can we make this better from the White House? There are people in the White House that know they`re in a bad place here and they don`t know what to do about it.

STEPHANIE RUHLE, MSNBC ANCHOR: They don`t know what to do about it, but they`re at-will employees who could quit. One thing that`s noteworthy is the president continuously touts the stock market and he says, these business leaders who believe in me. That`s nonsense. [ If you talk to investors, what they`re doing, at this point, is ignoring the Trump noise. Yes, there has been a rally. There`s excitement over deregulation. Deregulation might not even happen. From a market`s perspective, they know that we`re not getting more regulation.

But there are no more investors looking at the Trump administration and believing anything they say, at this point. They`re tuning them out.

TODD: Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: I think at a certain point, though, we have to step back and say, I don`t think there`s an interest here on Donald Trump`s part and this is reflective in everything the White House does. Him meeting the press halfway, I don`t think there`s going to be. I think it`s part of the strategy.

I don`t think that Donald Trump is somebody who sits back and has a grand design, but I think the effect of what he does. We are part of his strategy. Having the media stand up every day and say, this is a lie.

TODD: I know.

KORNACKI: This is wrong.

TODD: And this is my concern, right, which is we are playing into a strategy. Steve Bannon told it in one of the few interviews -- on the record quotes he gives. He gives plenty of background quotes. But on the record quotes he gave is that the press is, sort of, the opposition.

And, yes, we, quote, "fall into the trap." Because, at the end of the day, we`re charged with calling balls and strikes. And there`s a heck of a lot strikes that we know are really balls.

RUHLE: But, Charles, (INAUDIBLE) who the opposition is? Robert Mueller. And Robert Mueller`s at work. He`s continuing to forge ahead. So, he can delegitimize the press all day long.

TODD: Yes.

SCHMIDT: You know, he`s not lying to the press. He`s lying through the press. He`s lying to the American people. And without truth in a democracy, you can`t have accountability. The liberty requires truth. It`s authoritarian regimes where lying is main streamed and people were forced and fed information that they know not to be true.

TODD: I want you to share something with -- you were in Iraq working on behalf of the administration. You`ve been in the Middle East. And when I was just talking with David, the Middle East has had a culture of innuendo where -- for decades and it`s extraordinarily dangerous. It has started wars. It has potentially almost -- and that`s what it feels like -- Washington feels like no different than when I`m in the Middle East hearing all sorts of crazy.

SCHMIDT: You know, there`s a culture of conspiracy in all of those -- in all of the -- those countries.

TODD: None of them are full democracies outside of Israel.

SCHMIDT: 100 percent. And that`s why, in democracies, truth from government officials, right, reliability of information is essential. Because in democracies, democracies require informed citizens. And that means we have to be able to objectively look and say, this is true.

This is not. The sun rises in the east. It sets in the west. And the coarsening of these virtues by this administration has much bigger implications than the daily news story of, awe, we caught them lying again.

TODD: Get back to this issue. Look, it is a good political tactic for them.

KORNACKI: Here`s the uncomfortable thing and I don`t know how to address this from the media standpoint. But I just put the possibility out here because I think Donald Trump`s rise last year, his ability raises some uncomfortable questions about our politics.

And one of them is this and this is a hard thing to measure. How many of the people who are supporting him right now, how many of the people we`re talking about, it`s not that they are being fooled by misinformation. That they just need to hear about it. It`s that they recognize, they see on some level, this guy is kind of full of it.

But they like the posture. They don`t like the media. They don`t like popular culture, which I`ve never seen in my life. I mean, you know that, sort of, popular culture leans a bit to the left.

I`ve never seen it more unified, more built around a political figure and more just absolutely universal in its condemnation every day of that political figure. How many people supporting Trump recognize, on some level, feel on some level, yes, this guy is kind of a con man. But you know what? He`s our con man.

RUHLE: Well, Anthony Scaramucci --

TODD: That I do believe. Yes, I think (INAUDIBLE.)

RUHLE: -- he got a standing ovation when he arrived at LaGuardia Airport on Friday. There is some level out there where people like this.

But, at some point, they voted for President Trump because they said, enough is enough. I`m forgotten. I`m not paid more. I want to be heard. At some point, he has to deliver.

[17:20:01] And nothing has happened in this administration, from a legislative standpoint, where he will deliver to those angry Americans.

SCHMIDT: And down to a 33 percent approval level. I mean, if you`re -- if you`re a member of Congress, you understand that the last 118 years, we`ve had three elections where the incumbent party has picked up seats in the mid-term. You`re ready to hit the panic button here.

TODD: But I -- one reminder and Steve correct me if I`m wrong here. A vote for president is personal and you`re not going to admit you`re wrong this quickly.

KORNACKI: Also, usually what you say is when you look back -- like, look at Barack Obama who had -- you know, the mandate he won in 2008. The early -- you know, he had the honey man. He had the 70 percent approval very early. There was something to, kind of, come down from. There was a difference between what he campaigned on and then what happened when he started trying to govern.

With Donald Trump, what is -- we`ve been in the same crisis, panic, outrage mode from his candidacy to today. There`s a through line.

So, I think if you`re one of his votes, you knew all this when you voted for him.

RUHLE: Also, if you`re one of his voters, you can hate the press all you want. But Republicans control the government. Are they going to deliver on those promises?

TODD: All right. We`ve got multiple (INAUDIBLE) of Steve and (INAUDIBLE) of Stephanie anyway. Thank you. We`re going to pause here. You guys are sticking around.

Coming up, going alone didn`t work for Republicans on health care, so why are they thinking of doing the same thing on tax reform? That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back.

President Trump normally likes to sign things with some fan fair, shows us the signature. But today, the president signed a bill that imposed new sanctions on Russia without any cameras or reporters.

Afterwards, the White House simply released not one, not two, but three separate statements about the measure. The president fired multiple shots at Congress which overwhelmingly supported this bill saying, quote, "improperly encroaches on executive power, disadvantages American companies and remains seriously flawed."

While the president received praise from both sides of the aisle for at least signing the bill, Senator Lindsey Graham did not hold back his criticism of those signing statements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM: The fact he does this kind of quietly I think reinforces the narrative that the Trump administration is not really serious about pushing back on Russia. And I think that is a mistake, too, because Putin will see this as a sign of weakness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Well, meanwhile, the president has still not commented on President Putin`s decision to retaliate against the sanctions by ordering the U.S. to slash the diplomatic staff in Russia.

Meanwhile, though, you have the Russian, former Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev taunting the Trump administration for allowing Congress to dictate the terms of engagement with Russia.

We`ll have more with MTP DAILY in 60 seconds.

[17:24:46]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back.

Health care and tax reform. Tax reform and health care. Those were the two big legislative priorities for Republicans armed with the united government after the 2016 election. But part of that plan came to a crashing vote when Republicans could not muster 50 votes to move a health care bill forward last week.

So, what now? As we said in our political blog first read this morning, to modify the old saying, if at first you don`t succeed, try try again. But maybe try a different strategy while you`re at it.

But the White House and Republicans on the Hill starting to talk up tax reform. It`s still not exactly clear what strategy the GOP will use. They just failed trying to go it alone on health care. Will they try a bipartisan effort on taxes as a lesson learned?

Joining me now is Louisiana Republican Senator Bill Cassidy who, himself, is still trying to cobble together some votes and not give up on health care. Senator Cassidy, welcome back.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISANA: Thanks for having me.

TODD: Well, let me ask you this. Is it -- while you and Lindsey Graham are still trying to push your health care bill, where`s Mitch McConnell? Is the Senate leadership ready to move to tax reform or do you really have a window here to do something? And is it a two-week window, three-week window? What is it?

CASSIDY: Two things. One, Mitch McConnell says, until you have 50 votes in the Senate, he`s moving to tax reform. But the president continues to invest a heck of a lot of resources, personal and, kind of, putting people in the White House at our disposal, if you will, in order to come up with something that will get 50 votes.

So, if we do it, it`ll be because the White House has convened governors with their Medicaid directors to come up with a plan that gets to 50. I continue to work to that. Whether Mitch takes it up, totally depends on the whip count.

TODD: All right, let me start with then -- with -- go back to the original premise of this segment and how I kicked it off which is you were an advocate of trying to work across the aisle from the beginning. You know how the Senate works.

When you decide to say you`re going to do this -- do reconciliation, you`re sending a message to the other side, hey, don`t bother, OK? We`re not really -- you know, we`re going to try to go this alone.

It didn`t work with health care. Why do you expect a better outcome to use this strategy on taxes?

CASSIDY: Well, I think first, you have to say, why did it not work on health care? As I may have mentioned to you before, Chuck, I`ve reached out to probably 10 different Democrats.

And the consistent message I got was, we`re not going to help you. Even though the plan Susan Collins and I put forward was a plan designed to be - -

TODD: But, Senator Cassidy, in fairness, did you ask those Democrats, would you work with us if he took reconciliation off the table?

CASSIDY: Well, we didn`t mention process at all. We were just saying, can you -- because we thought we could drive the process. If, all of a sudden, we had Democrats coming on board our bill, frankly, we thought that would drive it. But it didn`t work.

And I can`t point fingers. I`m just describing what happened.

As it regards to taxes, we`re going to have an open committee process and that will be different than what was done on health care. There will be an open committee process.

I suspect that, at the end, it`s what do we wish to pass? How many votes do you need to pass it? And will we get cooperation from the other side? It`ll come down to, kind of, once more, a vote count.

TODD: I hear you. But, I guess, is there a part of this that -- well, I understand that it`s about vote count. Is there a part of this that says, you know, we`re all complaining about how broken the process was during health care. You were one of the people in line not happy about this process. So, why do it again?

And I say this from a totally crass political point. Why have the fight amongst yourselves? It becomes Republicans fighting Republicans over taxes. And you -- and you basically let the Democrats off the hook by doing reconciliation.

CASSIDY: I accept your premise. I think the concern is -- well, it takes two to tango. And I don`t know if -- I can`t speak for leader McConnell. But I suspect Mr. McConnell is concerned that he will never quite get the votes he needs to get to 60. It`ll always be one short. It`ll always be Lucy pulling the football.

And since he earnestly wishes to get some tax reform done, what pathway do you use to get there? I`m also told, before I came to the Senate, that there were these situations where you`re always just one short. And the person who wasn`t with you this time, might be with you next time. But not somebody else. A strategy, if you will, made to thwart.

Does that display a lack of trust in the institution? Absolutely. I`m not defending that. I`m not saying it`s truth, but I`m just describing it.

CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS DAILY SHOW HOST: Very quickly, a couple of other issues that hit the table today. The White House rolled out this idea of what they called merit-based immigration. Let me just ask as a whole, do you believe we have too much legal immigration in this country? Should we have -- should we slow down legal immigration in this country or not?

CASSIDY: No. I think appropriate legal immigration. In fact, Jeff Sessions who is probably the most -- when he was a senator was a strictest on immigration felt like our legal immigration was at an appropriate number. And so I think we`re at a good place there.

TODD: And so you don`t believe we need to contract this. There was some implication today we`re kind of contracting legal immigration and what the White House is considering. If that what it turns to be, is that something you could support?

CASSIDY: Well, I`ve not seen the chapter and verse. I`ll reserve kind of comment on that because I`d like to look at it. But I do think merit-based immigration actually benefits Americans who are already here. When you speak to the working American, he or she feels like folks coming in are taking their jobs.

You can argue it. That`s the perception. But if an entrepreneur comes in, someone with capital or skill that in turn creates jobs, there`s a totally different attitude. You want them to come to your depressed area because you want your depressed area to prosper.

I do think common ground could be inviting those folks in that makes life better for those who are already here. That would, I think, be a way forward.

TODD: And very quickly on North Korea. There`s been some charter of the idea of should the United States prepare perhaps a preemptive strike of some form or another. I`ve not heard anybody ready to have this debate in congress yet.

Is that -- is congress ready to punt tax reform for a couple of weeks and sit there and say, hey, let`s have this conversation about a preemptive strike before we see the debate percolate in public?

CASSIDY: Before we have that debate, there needs to be a briefing with CIA in an area in which they can reveal that which should not be made public. It will be from informers within North Korea as well as satellite photos that give us a true picture of their capability.

Now, it`s after that briefing that you decide whether you wish to have the public debate. We`ve had briefings on North Korea, but not to the level of of the informers think this, satellite pick ups think that. And until we have that, it`s a little bit hard to answer that question.

TODD: So you think it`s been premature to even have this debate about a preemptive strike of some sort?

CASSIDY: From my perspective, absolutely. There might be somebody who knows that which I just described needs to be known. But I don`t know it. And so I`m not about to engage in something which has potential terrible ramifications for South Korea, our major ally, potentially for Japan, another major ally, and potentially for us. We have to know the facts before we make the decision.

TODD: Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican from Louisiana. It has been (INAUDIBLE) on health care for some time now. Appreciate you coming on and sharing your views, sir. Always good to talk to you.

CASSIDY: Thank you.

TODD: Still ahead, the president signs off on new sanctions against Russia, but is the administration serious about holding Putin accountable? We`ll find out after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Coming on the big show today, TV screen meets silver screen, but first, an historic day for the markets. Hampton Pearson with the details. Apple, apple, apple. Go ahead, Hampton.

HAMPTON PEARSON, CNBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CORRESPONDENT: You got that right, Chuck. Apple in fact helped drive the Dow above the psychologically important 22,000 milestone for the first time ever. The rest of the market, however, remains sluggish.

The Dow gaining 52 points, the S&P adding a point, the Nasdaq shed a fraction of a point. Shares of Apple surging about 5 percent after reporting strong quarterly results. The iPhone maker reporting $45.4 billion in revenue.

A disappointing summer, however, at the box office. Most movie stocks and theater stocks down. AMC Entertainment falling 27 percent after giving a weak profit forecast. The chain says it will start implementing cost saving measures. That`s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back to "MTP Daily." As we mentioned, the U.S. slapped more sanctions on Russia, North Korea, and Iran today when President Trump signed that bill behind closed doors at the White House. The tough words on paper don`t necessarily match what the president has said out loud, especially when it comes to Russia.

So, what to believe? And if we`re want sure we can trust the White House these days, what are our allies or adversaries thinking right now?

Joining me now, Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Of course, author of the book, "A World In Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order" which was recently adopted into a vice documentary available on HBO. And of course, you wrote this before this administration took over. Mr. Haass, as always, sir, welcome.

RICHARD HAASS, PRESIDENT, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Thank you, Mr. Todd.

TODD: Let`s start with -- you talked to a lot of European leaders, a lot of European global activists. They saw the president today basically saying nothing about Putin and if anything criticize congress for how they went about doing these sanctions.

And let me add another, Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and I believe prime minister now, taunted President Trump in a tweet a few minutes ago. The Trump administration has shown its total weakness by handing over executive power to congress in the most humiliating way. How is all this playing in Europe?

HAASS: Well, not terribly well. The Europeans are worried that Mr. Trump is too benign or soft on Russia. Plus, they won`t particularly like these sanctions because a lot of them are aimed at European firms. So, this will cause across Atlantic tensions or friction as much as anything. It will stir in Moscow.

The Russians don`t like the sanctions simply because it shows that their preference for Mr. Trump has proved to be counterproductive or at least empty because congress has stepped into the void.

I think, Chuck, the most interesting thing on United States and Russia may be coming up with what we do about Ukraine and whether we`re prepared to provide them the sort of defensive arms that the Obama administration considered but never agreed to send and whether this administration will do it.

TODD: Should we be concerned that the president does not criticize Putin?

HAASS: Well, again, it adds to the unexplained mystery of why for two years this president, first as a candidate, now as president of the United States has what I would call a benign or sanguine view of Mr. Putin and Russian power.

And the fact that he again has missed an opportunity to tweet or speak when his shyness about doing either is not clear. Again, it reinforces the message or the question at least about what`s going on.

TODD: Lindsey Graham went as far as to say that Vladimir Putin, he`ll view it as a sign of weakness, the fact that the president signed it in the dark -- you know, behind closed doors and doesn`t support it, doesn`t appear to support it.

HAASS: Well, he`s clearly lost the opportunity to send a message that he stands behind it. But again, I`ll be looking closely at what is he prepared to do to strengthen NATO`s capability to withstand any sort of Russian behavior in the rest of Europe.

I`ll be interested to see what he does or doesn`t do to help Ukraine. That to me will probably be more significant than what he says, tweets or does in the way of signing into law sanctions.

TODD: I want to switch gears here to North Korea. Secretary Tillerson yesterday I thought made bigger news than what was given at the time when he said he was ready to have direct talks, ready to sit down.

Saying the United States wasn`t interested in regime change, wasn`t yet -- you know, put all these sort of -- and what I`m curious about was Secretary Tillerson speaking to North Korea or is he speaking to China?

HAASS: I thought he was speaking to potentially to both. The only thing that worked against his message, because you`re right, he talked about we weren`t interested in regime change and so forth, is that he seemed to condition or predicate the willingness to have direct talks on North Korea agreeing in advance or up front to get rid of its missiles and its nuclear weapons.

It`s simply not going to do that. So if that proves to be a precondition, then what he said yesterday was no policy departure whatsoever.

TODD: Do you buy -- there`s some that -- some foreign policy analysts, I think some Obama administration officials who are on background are saying they feel as if there is a drumbeat for preemptive action that`s taking place in the Trump administration. Do you see it that way?

HAASS: Well, drumbeat is disparaging or a bit strong. I would simply say, look, there`s only three options. We negotiate and that hasn`t really been tried. You have to be a little bit skeptical. You live with it. And that shall we say is a problem given the threat North Korea would pose to us directly. Or you use military force against it.

And the danger there is obviously you trigger a second Korea war. So we don`t have any options that are both attractive and promising. So now we`ve got to choose among clearly undesirable options, and that`s where we are.

TODD: Well, it`s going to be hopefully a debate congress will also take up.

HAASS: Oh, for sure.

TODD: Well, you say for sure, but as you know, congress is in the past had been hesitant to have these debates sometimes. They do run for cover. Richard Haass, as always, sir, thanks for coming on and sharing your views.

Still ahead, "Meet the Press" meets the silver screen.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with something pretty darn cool that we`re doing here at "Meet the Press." We announce today that "Meet the Press" is joining forces with the American Film Institute better known as AFI, for what we`re billing as a documentary film festival this November.

The festival will coincide with the 70th anniversary of "Meet the Press" and the 50th anniversary of AFI. So, hey, can`t beat the timing, right? The festival will feature at least seven documentaries that are 40 minutes or less, so they are shorter docs here that we want and we hope will focus on what are some of the lesser told or untold stories in American politics today.

It could mean a doc on anything from the rise of partisan media through history to growing connection between politics and celebrity, an idea that you and I haven`t thought of yet. "Meet the Press," we`d like to think has been the gold standard for Sunday morning news public affairs programming for 70 years.

We love that other shows want to be like "Meet the Press." Invitations in sincerest form of flattery because that`s what we`re doing here. That my hope is that over the years, we get to become the gold standard for political documentaries in the same way that ESPN has become the home for sports documentaries with its fabulous "30 for 30" series.

We hope we get even 10 percent of that. So, if you`re interested in participating, filmmakers are welcome to submit their work today through September 15th at AFI.com. Go check it out. Check out the top of the website ASAP. We look forward to it. We`ll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for "The Lid." The panel is back. Steve Schmidt, Steve Kornacki, plus Stephanie Ruhle.

I have to say we are now on 48 hours since Jeff Flake`s oped and the president is yet to react. John Kelly showing his ability to at least tame the Twitter beast?

STEPHANIE RUHLE, NBC NEWS POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: For the moment, but President Trump is 71 years old. Fine, you`re not going to get him tweeting yet, but he`s coming back. Just give it a day.

TODD: What`s interesting, Steve, though is that if you`re somebody to try to explain to him why actually not responding to Flake is a good idea. Yesterday, senators spent their time distancing themselves from Flake, not the president. Had the president attacked Flake, what do we think Republican senators would have done? Probably defended Flake.

STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, I don`t know, I think it`s interesting watching the news. You think about Jeff Flake`s book and the point that he`s making. We`ll see what the disposition Republican senators and members of congress is the president`s number is at 33, 32, 31 percent.

Politicians have a finely tuned instinct for self-preservation. We look at 23 seats that Hillary Clinton won represented by Republican for the 24th seat majority, historically that first midterm is a tough one for the incumbent president`s party. Give it a couple of months. I think we might see a fair number of new converts towards Flake`s point of view.

TODD: I hear you. But, Steve, there is something about -- I think we all expect what Flake did is going to invite a primary challenge --

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC NEWS NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right.

TODD: -- and a very serious one. It feels like this could be almost more of an impactful election than the midterms themselves potentially at least on the direction of the Republican Party.

KORNACKI: Here`s why I think we haven`t seen Republicans come out and join Flake yet. I`m not sure we`re going to. Let`s see what happens with this members if they really do. But I think what messes with the minds of Republican leaders, Republicans in congress is this, all the terrible numbers that Trump has racked up as president right now, he also racked up as candidate.

All of the emergency blaring alarms, oh my goodness, news cycles gone through as president, we went through with Trump as a candidate. Think of the Access Hollywood tape. The speaker of the house gave him up weeks before the election. Told Republicans save yourselves. He can`t win. You have to win this election for yourselves and then he won.

I think the message it sent to Republican office is wait a minute. Does this guy know the base of my own party better than I do? Does he had a bond with the base of my own party that I don`t have and I don`t understand? I think it paralyzes them. I think these numbers would scare off members of the party. I think they look at it and say what`s different from a year ago?

RUHLE: He proved to his party that he knew how to win. But in six months, he certainly hasn`t proven that he knows how to govern. Look at how health care turned out. Where is tax reform going to go? Those Republicans have to go back to their states where they`re hiding from town halls and deliver.

Tod: And, Steve, this is what I can`t get over going back to the tax reform. It seems to me -- why let Democrats off the hook? By deciding to do a reconciliation it means, let`s say for tax reform, Orrin Hatch and Susan Collins are going to fight with each other. All the coverage -- this is exercise for the Republican Party. That`s the irony here. While the Democrats say, well, you don`t want us here, fine.

SCHMIDT: One of the really interesting things about it is we`ve ceased to make arguments that this is good for America. There`s no persuasion involved. Backdoor dealing. We`re going to jam this through. Has low approval level. I would say with Senator Flake this, many members of congress and senators privately when they`re talking to you, no one I talk to disagrees with him on that. I mean, the point is they`re all scared to death.

TODD: Yes.

SCHMIDT: You saw with Flake is the rarest to politician showing no fear. His staff didn`t know. His consultants didn`t know. He wrote the book. He believes (INAUDIBLE). He courting it. He wants to have the fight. I think it`s great.

TODD: What does it say that he purposely didn`t let his staff know because he was worried they would talk him out of it.

KORNACKI: Here is the other thing with Flake. There was a recent poll of all the senators up for reelection next year. He`s the only one under water with general election voters. He`s got two interests he`s got to serve here.

TODD: Now, he is the ultimate canary in a coal mine both in primary and general. This was great. Steves and Stephanies, nothing wrong with their good use of all the "PHS" in all of your names.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: After the break, some love from across the aisle.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Well, in case you missed it, John McCain`s most recent move has made him extremely popular with Democrats. That`s right, the Arizona senator is a lot more popular with the left right now than he is with the right. That may not surprise some of you. A new Quinnipiac poll shows 72 percent of Democrats with a favorable opinion of the long-time Republican senator.

Some Bernie Sanders-esque (ph) numbers these days. It`s seems pretty likely those guys` high numbers are reaction to John McCain`s no vote last week that help derail the Republican effort on Obamacare. McCain`s numbers are also very high with independents, 60 percent of them have a favorable opinion on McCain. But among his own party, McCain`s favorability rating is underwater now.

Just 39 percent of Republicans fall on the favorable opinion of their one- time presidential nominee. So, in this age of the partisan divide, there`s something curious about a Republican who can get an overwhelming support from Democrats but can`t get it from his own party. Actually, it only explains polarization even better than we could.

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