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Transcript 12/26/17 MTP Daily

Guests: Christopher Hill, Kimberly Atkins, Rick Tyler, Steve McMahon

Show: MTP DAILY Date: December 26, 2017 Guest: Christopher Hill, Kimberly Atkins, Rick Tyler, Steve McMahon

DAVID JOLLY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Katy Tur, she is in for Chuck Todd.

Hi, Katy.

KATY TUR, MSNBC ANCHOR: David, are we going to have our awkward handoff?

JOLLY: Right here. Telephonically.

TUR: Telephonically. We`ve talked about awkward handoffs in the hallway and now we`re bringing it to you live.

JOLLY: Live. Right here.

TUR: At home.

David, thank you.

JOLLY: Thank you.

TUR: If it`s Tuesday, what happened in 2017 won`t stay if 2017.

Good evening, I`m Katy Tur in New York, in for Chuck Todd. Welcome to MTP DAILY.

A new year coming along with a new political reality, but the same president calling it a bunch of fake news. President Trump is heading into 2018 talking about a political landscape that arguably doesn`t exist. In the last few days, he`s dismissed the toxic political environment as "fake polls." He claimed his insider polls are strong, that good Republican candidates will win big, and nobody is going to beat us.

He says the GOP tax plan is very popular and that Democrats are going to get on board with him on health care and infrastructure. And by all accounts, he thinks the Russia probe is going to be over soon. That, too, he argues, is a big phony hoax based on a big phony dossier.

But, guys, the polls aren`t fake. The president is historically unpopular. He`s dragging down Republican candidates as the party enters an election season that is historically very bad for the party in power anyway. His tax plan is not popular. There are seemingly more Democrats supporting impeachment than supporting his agenda, and the Russia probe is only getting hotter.

To be sure, there are a lot of questions heading into 2018. We don`t know what`s going to happen in the Russia probe. What does Bob Mueller find? Does he keep his job? Does Putin try to meddle in the midterms?

We don`t know what`s going to happen in those midterms because there are too many political questions to count. Does the GOP tax plan sell with voters? Does the economy keep humming? Does the government stay open? Do Democrats find a message? Do they run on impeachment?

There`s a lot we don`t know, but we do know this. The two biggest political stories as we end 2017 are shaping up to be the two biggest stories in 2018. The first is the toxic political environment for Republicans under President Trump, and the second is the Russia investigation which brings me back to the president`s recent comments. It seems either he has no clue about the reality he`s facing or he knows it better than anyone.

We`ve got both stories covered tonight. Evelyn Farkas was the Pentagon`s top Russia expert, and Tom Davis ran the Republican National Congressional Committee.

Let`s start with Tom. He also served as a Republican congressman from Virginia.

Tom, good to see you.


TUR: Do you think the president realizes the political reality that he`s facing?

DAVIS: I think so. Look, he won a presidential race nobody thought he had a shot at. I think he understands it, but I don`t think -- I don`t want to say anything out front to undermine, but I think deep down he understands it. You can`t look at the Virginia results and come to any other conclusion.

TUR: Do you think that he sees 2016 in a way that makes him ignore the polling that`s out there, ignore the traditional political reality that`s out there? By that I mean ignore what would normally amount to a very bad year for the president in the midterms?

DAVIS: Yes, Katy, you make a good point. This is normal. And particularly when one party controls the presidency, the House and the Senate, the midterm losses get exaggerated. The last three times -- 1994, 2006, 2010 -- the House flipped in all of those occasions, so this is, you know, historically that`s where you would be anyway at this point no matter who is president.

He`s got smart people around him, I think, that tell him this as well, but the Virginia results were absolutely devastating. And the suburban losses in the northeast and a lot of local races in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and New York. The good news for Republicans is they are in control, to some extent, and have an opportunity basically to change that trajectory if they can get their act together.

TUR: Not to mention the Alabama results where the Republican candidate lost and the president had a net zero rating for approval in the exit polls down in ruby red Alabama.

DAVIS: Right.

TUR: So if you`re a Republican and you`re running in 2018, do you run towards the president or do you run away from him?

DAVIS: I think it depends where you are. I think the president is still pretty popular in most -- among Republicans so if you`re from a safe Republican seat where the Republican primary is your only race, you want to stay with him, and that`s a majority of the conference. But if you`re a Republican running in a suburban or urban area around this country, as we saw in Virginia, you need to be careful. The irony here is that the president`s getting good outcomes.

[17:05:03] You look at the stock market, you take a look at the unemployment, the productivity, all of these things are good but he remains very toxic to some of these suburban voters and, you know, you`ve got about six, eight months to turn this around.

TUR: What happens if Steve Bannon is backing a candidate in a race and pulling that candidate far to the right then pulling that candidate to blind loyalty of the president no matter what he says?

DAVIS: Well, it makes an uphill race even more uphill. One thing the Republicans need to understand is that even when they`re united right now in some of these races it`s hard to win. Like in Virginia Republicans were united behind Ed Gillespie. But when they`re divided as they were in Alabama it puts a lot of seats at risk that don`t need to be there.

So, look, the Republicans passing this tax bill at the end, finally getting their act together, getting out of the end of the year -- it`s not a big accomplishment but without a government shutdown moving ahead, if they can keep their act together, it will mitigate to some extent their midterm losses. But they`re going to lose seats.

TUR: We`ll see. And we`ll see whether or not they can run up this tax plan being good or if the Democrats win up an argument that it is good but it`s mostly good for the wealthy.

DAVIS: Right.

TUR: The president is talking about being able to work with Democrats in 2018 on infrastructure, on health care, perhaps maybe that is an indication that he sees the reality is not so great, that he`s going to have to move more towards the center. I don`t know, I haven`t seen him do that in the past regardless of political realities.

But if you are a Democrat, Tom, and I know you`re not a Democrat, but if you were a Democrat, is there any incentive right now to work with Donald Trump on anything?

DAVIS: Well, it`s a high ante. If you`re a Democrat your base is -- Donald Trump is not popular with your base at all. He`s absolutely radioactive. Popular with the Republican base, very unpopular with Democrats. So for a Democrat to be able to move across the aisle and work, it`s got to be something worthwhile. It raises the ante on issues like immigration, on issues like infrastructure.

But let me just say one thing on this narrative on the tax bill because I think this is important. Nobody`s read this tax bill, including I`m sure a lot of members. Everybody has an opinion on it. Reminds me of the Medicare part D which we passed on a party line vote which ended up being very popular but we lost the immediate narrative and we lost the narrative going into the election cycle.

This narrative will be won or lost over the next six, eight months as people find out what their actual tax bills are and how the economy performs. But Republicans need to stay on that message because currently they`re losing that debate.

TUR: The Democrats are divided on the issue of impeachment. Some believe that Donald Trump should be impeached or they`re already trying to introduce the Articles of Impeachment. There are some that say it`s too soon, it`s a bad idea.

If you are a Republican, do you want the Democrats to run on impeachment?

DAVIS: Absolutely. I go back to 1998 when I think we were poised to pick up about 15 seats in the House. Ken Starr`s report came out, you had the blue dress and Monica Lewinsky, Democratic workers basically stayed away, their volunteers stayed away and all of a sudden Republicans started using the I word, talking about impeachment. It woke up the Democratic base. We ended up losing five or six seats in that midterm instead of picking up 10 or 15.

Democrats overplayed their hand -- could overplay their hand this time. Republicans overplayed their hand in 1998. It will awaken the Republican base and they will come out. Look, so I think if you`re a Republican and Democrats go that direction, I think it`s dangerous for them. We`ve seen this before in American history.

TUR: As the former NRCC chairman from `98 to `02, you would know best.

Tom Davis, thank you very much for being here. Happy New Year.

DAVIS: Thank you. Thanks.

TUR: And as I mentioned, Evelyn Farkas was a Pentagon top Russia expert, who`s also an MSNBC national security analyst. She served as well as the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia under President Obama. Again top Russia expert, that`s what that all means.

We`re talking about 2018 midterms. Politically obviously there`s a lot of unknown but also Russia, there`s a ton of unknown about what`s going to happen with Russia. They meddled in 2016, according to our intelligence apparatus. Are they going to do so in 2018?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Yes, because they haven`t left. I mean, I hated when, you know, former Director Comey said the Russians are going to come back because as far as I can tell they never left. They`re still planting all kinds of stories and disinformation. There was an op-ed just this weekend by one of my friends and former colleagues, Mike Morrell, who was the number two at CIA, you know, basically saying that they took out ads, they took out fake bots, fake bots attacked Keurig and I can`t remember now what the reason was but in any event --

TUR: The coffee company?

FARKAS: Yes, the coffee company. And, you know -- but the point is, regardless of why they did it, the Russian bots are out there doing things to change U.S. Well, basically to affect the U.S. electorate. But more than anything else, it`s not really aimed at getting you to vote this way or that way.

[17:10:05] It`s aimed at showing that we have a hot mess of a democracy, that we`re fighting one another, that it doesn`t matter, that democracy is bad, that it`s better to have this really organized dictatorship like they have in Russia, for example.

TUR: To sow division essentially.


TUR: To make us doubt our institutions, to make us fight with each other and doubt our electoral process.

FARKAS: Yes. Yes.

TUR: So if Russia does -- and the op-ed you were referring to, we should mention it, was by Mike Morrell but also by Mike Rogers who was the intel committee chairman, Republican.


TUR: And they both argue that they haven`t stopped.


TUR: But if Russia does do that, if they throw a bunch of fake news at us, infect our Twitter feeds with propaganda, fake stories, fake links, infect Facebook with the same thing, all of our social media, basically exploit our connectivity against us, exploit our free speech against us, what can we do?

FARKAS: I think it has to start at the grassroots so a lot of the attacks they make -- I mean, if they can -- they can get away with a lot at the national level. But if you`re a member of Congress running in a district, you have to know, especially if you`ve been strong and forceful defending the U.S. against Russia, that you are probably going to be in the sights of the Russians.

So therefore you have to get out there and make sure that you and your, you know, workers are basically putting out the word about who you are. There`s no other way to fight. I mean, I think the best way to fight it anyway is at the grassroots.

However, Facebook, Twitter, all these social media companies and the regular media companies, including ours, have a responsibility to make sure we vet all of the information we get and that we provide the most accurate news out there and we know that Facebook and those other, you know, social media outlets that don`t have editorial boards like television and print media do, that they are way behind the curve.

And I am not confident that they are ready yet. Some of them I know Facebook said they`re going to put kind of like election in a box, you know, they`re going to help, they`re going to consult, they`re going to help the people running for office, the candidates, but I`m still a little bit worried whether we`re ready for this.

And the other thing is that the Russians innovate. You know, so it`s not like they`re going to do exactly what they did in the presidential election.

TUR: The "Washington Post" has a really great article, not the op-ed, but an article really detailing Russian influence, Russian disinformation in the campaign that they`ve been waging and how American officials miscalculated for decades, ignored Russia for decades, thought the Cold War was over and they didn`t matter and that there was a wakeup call in 2016 with President Obama, the end of 2016.

And there were a number of initiatives that they tried to put in place, an idea that potentially launch an RT-style channel that would spread pro-West propaganda. There was an idea that Hollywood needs to give that channel American movies, pro-American movies or documentaries to play those overseas, improve how you track and counter Russian influencers in real- time on social media, arm our spies with counterpropaganda, zap Russian servers used to control fake news and Russian personas.

Those were all ideas. None of them got implemented. Why were none of them put in place?

FARKAS: I don`t know that none of them were put in place. I do know -- because some things may have happened or may be happening that you and I don`t know about and I will say I was out of government at the end of October, 2015, so this all occurred after I left. Nevertheless, I was there when we debated whether we should counter Russian propaganda with our own Russian language, you know, television and radio across Europe. And we decided it was too expensive.

We just -- we had USIA in the past, during the Cold War of the U.S. information agency. That was dismantled whether you think it was a good idea or not.

TUR: Well, was it a good idea?

FARKAS: I would say no because we failed to understand that the Cold War - - it wasn`t a Cold War, it was actually a standoff between dictatorship and democracy that`s ongoing and we shouldn`t have given up until we knew we really had turned the corner. And we certainly hadn`t turned the coroner in Russia, but sadly we haven`t turned the corner in Eastern Europe yet either.

Just look at Hungary, which my parents fled in the 1950s. You know, they fled communism and totalitarianism and it`s not a liberal democracy their own prime minister very proudly proclaims. So we left too soon. We dismantled those things. It`s too expensive to recreate them. So I do think the private sector can step in. Some of the Baltic States, for example, have a few TV stations, they work together, but it`s also going to be a lot of grassroots and maybe we can do that now that we have social media, we can turn Facebook around and individuals can tell the truth about what`s happening.

TUR: Evelyn Farkas, longer conversation to have on this and the ways to combat it. I know it`s not so simple and not so easy. Thank you very much. Happy New Year.

FARKAS: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

[17:15:01] TUR: Let`s go to tonight`s panel. Rick Tyler is an MSNBC political analyst who was the communications director for the Cruz campaign, Kimberly Atkins is the chief Washington reporter for the "Boston Herald" and an MSNBC contributor, and Steve McMahon is a Democratic strategist.

Guys, welcome. Let`s start with the politics of this and leave Russia to the second beat. Politics of this. Tom Davis was talking about, Rick, some Republicans should run towards the president, others should run away from him. Is that sound advice?

RICK TYLER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, it`s good advice but I`m not sure what the application is because if you`re -- as he said, if you`re in a strong Republican district, you already hold the seat, then you would probably keep your seat anyway. The problem is, Republicans need to hold seats that are vulnerable and that are in swing states and those are the districts that are going to run from Donald Trump and you don`t want to be seen with Trump, and especially the suburban areas, urban areas and areas that have lots of women voters. So I think the Republicans are in a very precarious situation going into 2018.

TUR: Should Democrats run on impeachment, Steve?

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I think -- I don`t think Democrats do run on impeachment. I think Rick`s right. I mean, Democrats are going to run against Donald Trump. There`s plenty to run on here. You`ve got tax reform, you`ve got what`s going on with health care, they continue to dismantle it even though the evidence suggests that people are embracing Obamacare more than ever.

And you`ve got an incredibly historically unpopular president. So you don`t even really need to go near impeachment. Now I do think if Trump tries to fire Bob Mueller he changes not just the facts but also the politics of this, but I don`t even think he`s stupid enough to do that. And I think this election right now, if you look at the generic ballot or all the evidence that`s out there right now, Republicans are worried, they should be worried, and it`s going to be a long year.

TUR: Well, fun fact about Obamacare. For the open enrollment season this year, nine million people signed up, the majority of those signups in the states with the largest signups were four states that Donald Trump won.

So, Kimberly, does the president and this administration, do they see the political realities in front of them or are they willfully ignorant of them?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It`s hard to tell. I mean, just on the issue of Obamacare alone you have the president both proclaiming that it`s dead with the tax bill that repealed the individual mandate which, of course, did not kill Obamacare but cut a key part of it. But then today tweeting about how he wants some sort of bipartisan deal to fix Obamacare. He seems to be all over the place on that issue.

The issue with Obamacare specifically is that the more it has been -- the longer it`s been in place, the more popular it has become so that`s not -- that`s no longer this election rallying cry that it was four or five years ago for Republicans to campaign on. But on the other hand, while Democrats do have this momentum, I think 2016 taught us that just running against Donald Trump isn`t enough to work.

The Democrats need to tie this to policy and really make a case to voters as to why Democrats are in a better space. I hate the term hearts and minds but the Democrats really do have to figure out how to win the hearts and minds of voters. Just campaigning against Donald Trump won`t be enough.

TUR: Getting rid of the individual mandate, according to the experts, is probably going to make premiums rise about 10 percent. When average users of Obamacare see that, who owns it then, Rick? Is it the Republicans that own it or the Democrats that own it?

TYLER: It`s Republicans will own it because Donald Trump is president, he`s Republican and Republicans control the Congress. But I want to make a point about Obamacare because I don`t think it`s a winning issue for either party. So, yes, nine million people signed up for Obamacare but it`s a little like you have one grocery store in town and it`s not very good but, you know, what are you going drive 20 miles to go to a better grocery store?

And then a new grocery store comes in town with much higher quality products and better prices and more selection, everybody will immediately switch over to the better grocery store. So that`s kind of where we are with Obamacare. Don`t miss -- I just don`t think people -- the Democrats should misunderstand that just because nine million people signed up doesn`t mean they like it. There`s lots of room for improvement in Obamacare, especially with the premiums.

And while it is true that premiums will go up, they`ll go up on people like me, but they won`t go up on the poor because the law says that the poor will get commensurate subsidies to offset those premium rises so it will be the middle class who gets hurt.

TUR: Let`s talk about Russia. Is that going to be a bigger headache for Republicans in the political environment in 2018, Steve?

MCMAHON: Well, I mean, it`s a nuisance for Republicans, particularly mainstream Republicans, who, you know, have been very critical of Russia and taken a hard line on Russia for their entire political careers and now they`re suddenly having to kind of appease Russian involvement in American elections and defend the president who denies it`s occurring even though every intelligence agency and every piece of evidence that we`ve seen suggests it was occurring and that it`s continuing to occur.

So I think it puts Republican in a very, very difficult spot and the more Donald Trump sort of ignores reality and ignores the intelligence, the more difficult the spot becomes for Republicans.

[17:20:03] So I don`t think -- you know, mainstream Republicans who have to run in 2018 are looking forward to talking about Russia because it`s a loser for them and I think they hope this investigation is long over by then. I suspect it will not be.

TUR: Kimberly, last question, what`s the biggest headache for the Trump campaign -- I`m sorry, administration in 2018?

ATKINS: I mean, I think for them it`s the ongoing Robert Mueller investigation. Not only is that hanging over this investigation, it won`t be wrapped up soon no matter what President Trump`s lawyers tell him. But it`s the one thing that will cause him to explode on Twitter, really stepping over what could be otherwise good news for the president.

The economy is going well. He wants to push an infrastructure bill which is very likely to be supported by voters but as long as it remains there, it gives him -- it`s -- it`s too great of a tendency for the president to really swipe out against that and hit against the FBI and really do a lot of things that might turn voters off so I think it`s his worst enemy.

TUR: Kimberly Atkins, Rick Tyler, Steve McMahon, stay with us. We`ll see you a little bit later in the show.

Ahead, though, 2018`s nuclear standoff. Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea are at an all-time high. Is there any chance for diplomacy in the new year?


TUR: Welcome back. We`ve got another twist in that Virginia statehouse race that we`ve been watching. You may remember last week one day after a Democrat appeared to win a recount by a single vote, ending Republican control of the Virginia House of Delegates, a court in Virginia certified the vote as a tie.

Well, tomorrow that`s when members of the State Board of Election are supposed to meet to draw the winner`s name out of a container. A 180-year- old turquoise pitcher, to be precise. But before that happens, according to the "Washington Post," a Democrat is planning on taking the whole thing to court.

At issue, this ballot. It was initially thrown out because, well, look at it, giving the Democrat a victory and deadlocking the Virginia House of Delegates but then the district court determined that it should count as a vote for the Republican, making that race a tie. That means this -- God, that ballot is confusing. What in the world was that person thinking?

This is the ballot that could decide control of the Virginia House of Delegates. According to the "Post," the Democrat will ask the court to reverse its decision to count it for the Republican, but no matter what happens, this race isn`t likely to be over soon. The loser of tomorrow`s drawing could also seek a second recount.


[17:25:49] TUR: Welcome back. Maybe one of the biggest surprises of 2017 was how far and how fast North Korea`s weapons program advance. 2017 saw North Korea greatly increase its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile capabilities. They launched three intercontinental ballistic missiles this year. The last of which Pyongyang said could reach mainland United States.

And they concluded -- I`m sorry, they conducted their most powerful nuclear test ever, claiming it was a hydrogen bomb that could put on those -- that they could put on those intercontinental ballistic missiles which could potentially put the entire U.S. mainland within reach of a North Korean nuclear weapon.

All of that has happened despite President Trump mocking the North Korean leader and repeatedly threatening military action.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.

The United States has great strength and patience but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea. Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.


TUR: So what happens next in 2018?

Joining me now is Chris Hill, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and an NBC News diplomacy expert.

Chris, welcome. Thank you for being here. Happy New Year. 2017 saw a lot of ramping up, a lot of heated rhetoric on both sides but at the same time North Korea has still continued with its nuclear program and they, by all accounts, seem to be making progress on that. So what happens in 2018?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SOUTH KOREA: Well, I think it`s going to be a really critical year because as you suggest they have gone further and faster than anyone thought. Certainly the idea of having a deliverable nuclear weapon, that is a nuclear weapon that could be delivered on a long-range missile, was felt to be three, four years away and, you know, there can certainly be glitches to this.

This may not be a situation where they really have it all but it`s pretty close and I think we`re going to have to decide what we want to do about it. I think the Trump administration has done the right thing to ramp up sanctions, I think that`s been critical. I think the latest batch of sanctions out in New York which has huge cutback in their energy source, and remember, they don`t have any refined gasoline.

Gasoline has to be imported and that`s being hit now so that can be very helpful. That can kind of bring them perhaps to their senses but I think overall they have made this a question of national will. I think our president has just been completely taken by surprise on this issue, he could not believe that it couldn`t be solved. He`s so despairing of his predecessors, whether it`s Obama or Clinton or George W. Bush that he really -- he seeks no advice from anyone.

And I think by the end of 2018 it`s not going to look very good and he`s going to have some explaining for the American people.

TUR: Is there room for more ramping up, though, without military engagement?

HILL: Well, I think the margin of error is pretty small at this point. I mean, if we`re going to send bombers up the coast of North Korea and someone tries to take a pot shot at one of them and hits one of them it could happen. I mean, that could be a -- these kind of miscalculations, these accidental encounters could be very, very serious. So I`m not sure there`s a lot that can be done.

Certainly the sanctions we can keep doing it but it`s not clear that North Korea is prepared to back down with sanctions. So I think a key ingredient, of course, is to make sure China sees this the way we see this and there`s been some progress, mainly due to the behavior of the North Koreans and in spite of the behavior of our president who seems to me this is something he can trade for intellectual property rights or something.

So I think we have some real work to do and I think what has been most discouraging in this year in addition to the fact that North Korea has made so much progress is the fact that we have a State Department that is just collapsing in front of our eyes, we don`t have any diplomacy going. And unfortunately the worst thing is we have a secretary of state who doesn`t seem to know what or much less care. KATY TUR, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: And there seems to be no communication between the secretary of state and the ambassador to the U.N. That`s another issue. North Korea says it`s a pipe dream that they`re going to give up their nuclear ambitions. Can the United States co-exists with a nuclear North Korea?

HILL: Well, I would say no, we can`t, because I think it`s extremely dangerous and I think their purpose is not to get into a war with us in the next year, their purpose is to gradually loosen the bonds between the United States and our allies in Northeast Asia, that is to create a situation where those allies don`t have the U.S. support and gradually kind of come around to accepting North Korea as it is.

And I just don`t see how we can accept that situation. And if they succeed in decoupling us from our allies in Northeast Asia, I think it speaks to the issue of our other allies, our other relationships around the world. So I don`t think we can really back down from this.

And frankly speaking, I don`t think it`s helpful in the United States when people talk about ideas, well, we need to accept this and then somehow contain it, because what it says to the Japanese and South Koreans is at the end of the day, we as a country are really not serious about sticking with this issue. So, a lot of things to worry about in this coming year, especially that North Korea continues to make progress. TUR: We might just say there`s nothing we can do. Ambassador Chris Hill, thank you very much, appreciate your time. HILL: Thank you.

TUR: And still to come, they may not sit in the oval, but they`re the ones really running the west wing. We will go inside the chaotic world of the White House chiefs of staff, next.


TUR: Ahead, the west wing gatekeepers, White House chiefs of staff talk about what`s really going on behind closed doors.


TUR: Welcome back. Chief of staff changes in the White House are like coaching changes in the NFL. A new hire signals a change of philosophy and a fresh playbook to get the team on track. That`s what the Trump White House opted for this summer, bringing in John Kelly to replace Reince Priebus. Here`s how Kelly described his role back in October.

(START VIDEO CLIP) JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I was not brought to this job to control anything but the flow of information to our president so that he can make the best decisions. I restrict no one, by the way, from going into see him. But when we go in to see him now, rather than onesies and twosies, we go in and help him collectively understand what he needs to understand to make these vital decisions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TUR: That power of controlling who gets to be in which meetings and who gets the president`s ear when, that`s a big part of what makes the White House chief of staff so influential. In his book, "The Gatekeepers," author Chris Whipple talked to 17 former White House chiefs of staff on their experiences running the west wing. I sat down with Chris Whipple recently and I started by asking him what he learned from those conversations.


CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR: You know, for me, the really overarching lesson is that every president learns often the hard way that you cannot govern effectively without empowering a White House chief of staff as first among equals in the White House to execute your agenda and even more importantly tell you what you don`t want to hear.

And you know how they say in Hollywood nobody knows anything? What struck me is that in Washington, nobody learns anything. Time and time again, presidents make the mistake of coming into the Oval Office and thinking that they have all the answers, full of hubris, sound familiar?

TUR: They just won an election.

WHIPPLE: And they think they can run the White House --

TUR: Yes.

WHIPPLE: -- by themselves. It`s a little bit like the model of the 26th floor of Trump Tower. It does not work.

TUR: Yes.

WHIPPLE: You cannot run the White House the way you run a Manhattan real estate firm with people coming and going, nobody empowered to speak hard truths.

TUR: You know, I want to get to how this -- how this stacks up to the Trump presidency and what your take is on it after interviewing all these men. But I want to talk a little bit more about what`s in the book. Who is the first modern version of a chief of staff?

WHIPPLE: I think it really begins with H.R. Bob Haldeman under Richard Nixon. And of course the great irony about Haldeman, he`s a fascinating character because on the one hand, he went to prison for the biggest scandal in American history, Watergate, and yet he wrote the template for the modern empowered White House chief of staff as we now know him.

The gatekeeper who gives the president time and space to think, the honest broker who controls the information on every side of a key decision. TUR: But was he really an honest broker to Nixon?

WHIPPLE: Well, again, part of the fascination of Haldeman, of course, is that he created a template and yet he failed spectacularly in Watergate --

TUR: Yes.

WHIPPLE: -- to tell Richard Nixon hard truths.

TUR: Yes. Leon Panetta said always tell the president what he may not want to hear because frankly a lot of people in the White House will tell the president what he does want to here. How hard is it to tell a president, a man sitting in the Oval Office, sitting at the resolute desk, that they are wrong?

WHIPPLE: Every White House chief will tell you that if the easy part is making the trains run on time in the west wing. You know, John Kelly, of course, has brought more discipline to the White House, but that`s the easy part. The hard part is walking into the Oval Office, closing the door behind you, and telling the president what he doesn`t want to hear.

James Baker III under Reagan was one of the best at that. Leon Panetta, another example of somebody who was terrific at that. And those guys shared something. I mean, they were grounded, they had been around the block, they knew the White House, they knew Capitol Hill, but most importantly they were comfortable in their own skin. They had nothing to prove and they could go in and they could tell the president hard truths.

TUR: You`re now the expert after writing this book. Is John Kelly doing a good job?

WHIPPLE: You know, Kelly -- somebody very close to Donald Trump told me that John Kelly is Fred Trump reaching from beyond the grave. This is the son that Fred Trump wished he`d had. Gary Cooper, he commands respect. He`s made the Oval Office -- he`s made the west wing much more efficient and disciplined. But that`s the easy part.

The really tough question is can he tell Donald Trump hard truths? And the evidence on that is really mixed when you look at Charlottesville, when you look at the unhinged Twitter tirades that continue, when you look at how the phrase "little rocket man" got on the teleprompter at the U.N. General Assembly, that`s chief of staff malpractice.

TUR: Can anyone take this presidency out of a nosedive?

WHIPPLE: Well, you know, Don Rumsfeld came in when Gerald Ford had just plunged 40 points in the polls after pardoning Richard Nixon. He compared it to climbing into the cockpit of a crippled airliner hitting straight towards the ground. Rumsfeld with help from an assistant named Dick Cheney managed to really pull the presidency out of the nosedive. It wasn`t enough to catch Jimmy Carter. TUR: But Gerald Ford was a much different man than Donald Trump. Donald trump is impulsive. He goes by the gut. He doesn`t like listening to anybody. We`re already hearing stories about how people get around John Kelly. They call Melania and ask her to pass him information or he calls people from the residence and says don`t say anything to the chief of staff, this is according to other reports that are out there. WHIPPLE: There`s no question about it. Donald Trump is a completely unique animal. He is very difficult to discipline. It could well be mission impossible. But at the same time, it makes Kelly`s responsibility even more important. You know, this White House chief of staff more than any of his predecessors is the thin line between the president and disaster for us all.

When you look at his impulsive, when the president`s impulsive nature and the tweets taunting North Korean dictators, we could go on and on.

TUR: Yes.

WHIPPLE: That`s -- those are the stakes for this White House chief of staff.


TUR: Coming up, a top Utah newspaper tries to bring down Republican Orrin Hatch. Why a scathing editorial is calling on the state`s senior senator to resign.


TUR: Welcome back. The tug of war for Senator Orrin Hatch`s senate seat got another yank today. Senator Hatch was named the Salt Lake Tribune`s Utahn of the Year. And while Hatch wrote on Twitter that he is "grateful" for this great Christmas honor from the Salt Lake Tribune, it seemed like he might not a read behind the headline. It was not intended as a compliment.

The blistering editorial calls for Hatch to retire from the senate citing a "utter lack of integrity that rises from his unquenchable thirst for power." Editorial goes on to say that since Senator Hatch promised his 2012 campaign would be his last, that his move to run for another senate term is "basically a theft from the Utah electorate."

And that if Hatch doesn`t choose to end his senate career, the voters should "end it for him." A spokesman to the senator later tweeted that Hatch`s response was "tongue in cheek." More "MTP Daily" right after this quick break.


TUR: Time for "The Lid." The panel is back. Steve McMahon, Rick Tyler, Kimberly Atkins. Guys, welcome. Kimberly, let`s start with you. Orrin Hatch, running for re-election potentially, all signs pointing to that. It seems the moment. How much would Donald Trump have to do with that if it is the case?

KIMBERLY ATKINS, CHIEF WASHINGTON REPORTER AND COLUMNIST FOR BOSTON HERALD, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think that`s what he wanted in the end was for him to come back. There was this flirtation with Mitt Romney taking that seat and clearly the president was unhappy with that prospect.

It just created quite an interesting situation where the president has wanted Roy Moore to go to the senate but not Mitt Romney. But I think the president will see this as a win. Orrin Hatch is somebody who has been very strongly supportive of the president in his agenda.

TUR: He said he loved him after the tax bill. Rick, what`s the issue with Mitt Romney going to the Senate to represent Utah? RICK TYLER, REPUBLICAN PUBLIC RELATIONS AND POLITICAL STRATEGY ADVISOR: I don`t know. I think Mitt Romney would win that seat. It was an open seat. You know, the Senate can be says that Orrin Hatch is waiting as long as possible so that his chosen successor will be in a position to take that seat easily and prevent competitors from building clinical capital and money to run against it, run for it. TUR: Sorry. I just lost all my audio, guys. Hopefully, I can hear you again. TYLER: Steve -- small issues on television. Steve, Mitt Romney potentially going to the Senate if Orrin Hatch does not run again or maybe Mitt Romney runs against Orrin Hatch. Who knows? But the Salt Lake Tribune is not going easy on him, Orrin Hatch.

They`re saying that -- they`re using lines that he used against against them. Back in 1976, there`s campaign to push out Senator Frank Moss. Hatch said, you should not fall in love with D.C. I`m sorry, he told his interns in 1983 --


TUR: -- you should not fall in love with D.C. Elected politician shouldn`t stay here too long. If he runs again, it would be the longest amount of time that any senator has -- any Utah senator has stayed in Washington.

MCMAHON: Apparently, there are a lot of Republicans who have been looking to run there for quite some time and Orrin Hatch has said, just wait, just wait, this will be my last term. He actually had another great line when he first ran, and that was, what do you call an 18-year senator? TUR: You call him home. That`s what I was trying to say a second ago.

MCMAHON: Yes. That`s exactly what the Salt Lake newspaper is trying to do. I think Donald Trump doesn`t want Mitt Romney around because Mitt Romney is competition. He is a thoughtful reasonable-sounding Republican who, you know, ran for president and was nearly elected. And frankly makes a lot of Republicans pine for somebody who is normal.

TUR: He`s a Republican who went after Donald Trump viciously in the general election, when Donald Trump was making all sorts of enemies, when he was saying all sorts of outrageous things, when the Republican Party didn`t really feel like he was representing them, Mitt Romney went out there and gave a speech.

I believe it was somewhere in Utah. I think it was at BYU, I could be wrong about that, where he just mocks Donald Trump. He said he was very, very not smart. He mocked him for all of his failed businesses.

I mean , this caused Donald Trump as a candidate to come back later and gave one of the most surreal news conferences I think anyone has ever seen in their life, where he basically had a QVC-esque press conference where he was touting his planes and his water and his wine and his steaks, none of which he actually owned or manufactured.

Sorry, I got off on a rant. So, Mitt Romney, even though the president, Steve, had a dinner with him back last December, a year ago at the 21 Club, it seems like their differences have not, they haven`t solved their differences.

MCMAHON: They have not. And there are a lot of Republicans who look at Mitt Romney and a lot of swing voters frankly who look at Mitt Romney and say that`s what I thought a Republican was. That`s exactly what I though a Republican would say about someone like Donald Trump.

And when Mitt Romney said it, there were a lot of people in America who thought that`s why, you know, he almost was president of the United States. And of course, the president, you know, drags him through this process for secretary of state, has him come to dinner, says nice things about him and dumps him.

And, you know, that`s just the way Donald Trump behaves. I think Mitt Romney -- I didn`t vote for him. I don`t agree with him on the issues, but he has got a dignity about him. That is something I miss in so many Republicans in Washington today.

TUR: Kimberly, real quick. What will the president think about a Flake run for president? ATKINS: I think it would give him endless Twitter commentary on that. I think that would be a battle that maybe -- TUR: Fodder. ATKINS: Fodder. Thank you. That`s the word I`m looking for. I need more coffee. I think probably no one, but Hillary Clinton would he enjoy tweeting against more than Jeff Flake.

TUR: It`s the day after a holiday. We all get an excuse for our sound, for our rants, for our forgetting of words. Guys, wonderful to see you. Happy new year. Rick Tyler, Kimberly Atkins, Steve McMahon. Thank you, guys.

Ahead, a holiday that is devoted to returning all the gifts you don`t like.


TUR: In case you missed it, with Christmas day 2017 behind us, we turn our attention to the other big holiday that everyone is talking about. No, not new years eve. That`s almost a week away. I`m talking of course about boxing day. Not that kind of boxing. This kind of boxing.

In case you missed it, on December 26th, the United Kingdom and Canada celebrate a tradition but its name and origin are a bit of a mystery. A widely accepted explanation is that boxing day started as a tradition when the wealthy elite gave so-called Christmas boxes to their services for a reward for their work.

These days, boxing day in the U.K. is all about shopping. Sort of like black Friday in the U.S. Shoppers flock the stores, scrambling to get their hands on post holiday bargains. There`s also plenty of football on TV as well. No, not that football. This football.

So Great Britain, we wish you a very happy boxing day. The holiday may be mysterious to us, but the way you celebrate it makes perfect sense. And to that, we say, carry on.

That`s all for tonight. We will be back tomorrow with more "MTP Daily." "The Beat" with Ari Melber starts right now. Hi, Ari.

ARI MELBER, THE BEAT SHOW HOST: Katy, how was your Christmas?

TUR: It was lovely. I got a (INAUDIBLE) for Christmas.


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