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Transcript MTP Daily 1/2/18

Guests: Mark Meadows, Ramesh Ponnuru, Susan Glasser, Ruth Marcus

Show: MTP DAILY Date: January 2, 2018 Guest: Mark Meadows, Ramesh Ponnuru, Susan Glasser, Ruth Marcus

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: I could talk at this table for hours, but we`re out of time. My thanks to Jeremy Peters, John Heilemann, Donna Evers, and Charlie Sykes. That does it for our hour.

I`m Nicolle Wallace. MTP DAILY starts right now with my friend, Chuck Todd. Hi, Chuck. Happy New Year.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: Happy New Year to you, Nicolle. It`s nice to start 2018 this way.

WALLACE: Here we go.

TODD: Here we go. If it`s Tuesday, will this New Year unleash a new president?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Tonight, New Year`s resolution. Why the President appears to be ringing in 2018 unleashed like never before.

Plus, Hatch is out. Could this mean Senator Romney?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I have decided to retire at the end of this term.

TODD: As Orrin Hatch closes out his decades-long career, Mitt Romney now has an opening to come to Washington.

And finally, protests rock Iran.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Iranian people are angry at the rising tide of corruption in their daily lives.

TODD: President Trump warns the U.S. is watching. What`s the next move?

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Good evening. I`m Chuck Todd here in Washington and welcome to MTP DAILY. And welcome to 2018.

We begin the year with a President who probably feels like he can do everything, but we could end the year with a midterm wave that prevents him from doing anything. The big question right now, how far is this President willing to go in 2018 to get what he wants?

At this moment, this looks like a presidency a bit unleashed and on the clock, making Mr. Trump a wild card of epic proportions as Washington confronts an epic to-do list.

He was unleashed in that impromptu year-end interview with the "New York Times," which its own staff didn`t know about until after the fact at Mar- a-Lago.

He told them he can do whatever he wants with the Justice Department. He spouted a few conspiracy theories on Russia, and he claimed that he killed ObamaCare.

Now, today, he is talking about building a wall, cracking down on North Korea, jailing Hillary Clinton`s top deputy, Huma Abedin, and the deep state Justice Department. That`s a quote.

And this is how we rung in the first press briefing of the New Year, with the White House being pressed to explain some of those recent presidential statements.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Does this administration believe that the deep state is a real thing, that there is this shadow government out there actively plotting to sabotage him?

SANDERS: Look, the President finds some of those actions very disturbing, and he thinks that we need to make sure, if there is an issue, that it`s looked at.

MATTHEW NUSSBAUM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Is the President requesting that the Department of Justice investigate Huma Abedin? And how did he reach this conclusion that she should be in jail given that she hasn`t been indicted or convicted of any crime?

SANDERS: Look, obviously, the facts of that case are very disturbing, and I think the President wants to make clear that he doesn`t feel that anyone should be above the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Mr. Trump and this White House are seemingly emboldened after their big legislative win on taxes. And the President is seemingly living in a conservative echo chamber cheering the tax win and his appointments of conservative judges and the rollback of some Obama era regulations.

So with his right flank behind him, how far will the President go to get what he wants? On immigration, he says he wants this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I got elected partially because of a border wall.

Oh, we are going to have the wall. Don`t worry.

CROWD: Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: On the Russia probe, he wants it finished and/or discredited.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: That was a Democrat hoax. It was an excuse for losing the election, and it should have never been this way where they spent all these millions of dollars. It`s a shame what`s happened with the FBI. Really, really disgraceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: On trade, he wants China to pay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We can`t continue to allow China to rape our country. And that`s what they are doing. It`s the greatest theft in the history of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Ah. But what he says on the campaign trail and what he does in the Oval Office on China is sometimes two different things.

Bottom line, January is shaping up to be a legislative and executive logjam that includes those and other issues, whether it is government funding, DACA, health care, or trade with China, as the Russia investigation hangs over everything.

Top White House officials are meeting with the big four congressional leaders tomorrow to begin talks in the new year at a moment when neither party seems very interested in working together under this President.

The core of the Democratic Party wants to begin impeachment proceedings, and the core of the Republican Party seemingly wants whatever this President`s wants.

Joining me now is Republican Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. He`s the chairman of the powerful House Freedom Caucus, which has more than 30 current members.

I think, Congressman Meadows, you would say, you don`t control any of their votes.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: I think it`s fair to say a good 25 to 35 votes are representative of your caucus. Fair?

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Yes, we try to get together and make sure that we have a united front when it comes to the conservative voice, and -- but more importantly, it`s not about the 35 members, Chuck.

TODD: Yes.

MEADOWS: It`s really about the millions of people who feel like Washington, D.C. has forgotten them. And so that`s why the caucus was formed. Certainly, it`s why we stay with influence here on Capitol Hill.

TODD: And you definitely have influence in these building blocks to get these deals, these compromises, done.

MEADOWS: Right.

TODD: And let`s be realistic.

MEADOWS: Yes.

TODD: You`re not going to get everything you want. Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi aren`t getting everything they want.

MEADOWS: I`m shocked.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: I know. And Donald Trump is not going to get it. So the question is, what`s fatalistic and what`s possible?

Let`s start with DACA and the deferred action for these Dreamers. Is this going to be a narrow deal, or you -- or, first of all, are you supportive of some form of protection for these folks?

MEADOWS: You know, we`ve been working very closely with the administration and some of my Democrat colleagues, even some Republicans that are, perhaps, a lot more moderate on immigration than I would be, because the President has set a deadline in March to deal with these 674,000 people that were -- had deferred action.

TODD: Right.

MEADOWS: And so we`re going to get a deal. We`ve actually been working behind the scenes, not only with members but with the White House as well, to try to do that. But the President has been very specific on what he wants to see.

TODD: Right.

MEADOWS: You had it there in the lead-up. And it`s --

TODD: The wall is everything to him.

MEADOWS: Well, it`s border security. And so let`s, you know --

TODD: Well, I ask that because --

MEADOWS: There were chants --

TODD: You`ve heard the rhetoric.

MEADOWS: There were chants of border wall.

TODD: Right. You`ve heard from Democrats saying --

MEADOWS: Yes.

TODD: -- they`ll support any compromise on DACA as long as the wall is not a part of it. They would --

MEADOWS: I mean -- yes. The question is, Chuck, why?

TODD: -- they would support border security --

MEADOWS: I mean, why would they not want border security? His -- so they`re going to come down to a fundamental decision. Are they willing to protect these individuals, some 600,000 or 700,000 individuals, from deportation in exchange for a secure border --

TODD: Right.

MEADOWS: -- and really enforcement that all Americans, whether it`s the 674,000 or the 318 million, should enjoy? I mean -- so why is it this without the other?

TODD: So what you`re telling me is you think the wall is very much a part of this conversation?

MEADOWS: I think it is very much --

TODD: It`s not been taken off the table?

MEADOWS: It has not been taken off the table, chain migration. Making sure that we end chain migration. And the other that is critically important, we`ve seen the last two terror attacks with this visa lottery program somehow, you know, being a factor, along with chain migration. And so those three components are critically important to the President and something that we`ve got to discuss.

TODD: Is there a chance that you just see, since you might not be able to come into agreement on all of the other things -- there seems to be consensus over protecting the 700,000 folks. Is there somehow -- is that the last-minute scenario here?

MEADOWS: Well, I don`t see it being a last-minute scenario by itself, and here`s the reason why. If you deal with those 600,000 or 700,000 individuals without changing the fundamental reason why they`re here and the fact that we -- we`ll just be dealing with it again.

You`ve seen previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican, try to deal with it. And they`ve never been able to deal with it. So let`s go ahead. Once and for all, let`s do something historic and make sure that we address it.

TODD: You want this bill to be big?

MEADOWS: You know, I would --

TODD: When I say big, it`s expansive.

MEADOWS: Yes, I would.

TODD: Deal with the entire immigration law, like Gang of Eight style? Not saying the Gang of Eight bill but that comprehensive?

MEADOWS: Well, I think I would like to see it bigger in terms of border security and dealing with this deportation issue. That being said, I want to be real truthful.

TODD: Yes.

MEADOWS: I mean there have been a number of discussions. Do you do something really small, do you do something in the middle, or something really big? There has been more of an appetite to do it either big or in the middle than something very skinny.

TODD: How connected to the government funding bill is DACA now? This January 19th expiration date, DACA have to be agreed on before that. Is that your neutral (ph)?

MEADOWS: Well, I think no. I think if you talk to Democrats, they`re going to want to attach to it that funding. Conservatives have said let`s keep as a separate issue. I`m hopeful that --

TODD: Do you think March is the real deadline for that?

MEADOWS: No, March is the real deadline. You`re not even talking about any deportation until months after that even if we hit that deadline, but I`m really looking at March.

But the other part of that is I`m encouraging our leadership to go ahead and do something bold in the next two weeks. Let`s go ahead and have the debates and start to discuss it, see if we can get a bipartisan agreement.

TODD: You want to try it this month?

MEADOWS: Yes, I want to try in House because, you know, the --

TODD: Before infrastructure?

MEADOWS: -- the Senate is slower to act. And so, yes, I see it being dealt with long before infrastructure.

TODD: What`s the -- what should be the priority for 2018? You guys got taxes out of the way. You`ve got to keep the lights on, OK, so let`s separate that.

MEADOWS: Yes.

TODD: DACA has to be dealt with because you have this deal, but let`s talk about what you could do. Right? There`s some talk of welfare reform. There`s some talk of infrastructure.

But let`s be realistic, it`s an election year. You get one more -- you might not get one more bite. You might not get any bites. What`s the priority?

MEADOWS: Yes. So I think from a priority standpoint, what`s doable? I think infrastructure is doable. I can tell you -- I`m on the infrastructure committee -- we`ve been working on that for months.

That`s something that, honestly, when you talk about bridges and roads and transit, it actually brings Democrats and Republicans together --

TODD: Sure.

MEADOWS: -- because everybody has a road or a bridge in their district. And so I think that we can get a deal there.

Now, the size of that deal becomes critically important because, you know, if you`re talking about a trillion dollars in infrastructure spending which this President has committed to do, how --

TODD: Yes. Is that a real trillion or is that government trillion dollars or is there some talk --

MEADOWS: Oh, are you suggesting that --

TODD: Yes.

MEADOWS: -- there is math in Washington --

TODD: No, I know.

MEADOWS: -- and math on Main Street?

TODD: I`m just asking, is that --

MEADOWS: Yes.

TODD: No. Is that a trillion dollars of taxpayer money, or is it 50 cents on the dollar?

MEADOWS: I think it`s a trillion dollars of investment. So whether that`s taxpayer dollars or whether that`s a public/private partnership or some other type, it`s a trillion dollars of investment that will go a long way. So that`s a priority.

The welfare reform aspect, I think it`s a small bite on welfare reform. And it really gets down to this, Chuck. Should able-bodied adults with non-dependent children have a work requirement?

And by that work requirement, either 20 hours of work or 20 hours at school or 20 hours volunteering for a local municipality. Should they be required to do that in order to get some type of welfare?

TODD: Modelled after the Georgia system, by the way. Is that --

MEADOWS: You know, there`s a Maine system that has that, and so when you - - you see that. But it`s not new, and we`ve had this under Democrat administrations.

TODD: There has been work requirements.

MEADOWS: There has been.

TODD: Plenty of times, yes.

MEADOWS: And we`ve waived those. I think it`s time that we put the value back in work. So I think those two things, but I think infrastructure comes before welfare reform.

TODD: All right. You seem to be a little nervous about the political climate, and you used -- you were very careful on what you said about this and about the White House. You seem to say, well, their political shop could use some work and they`re going to -- essentially you think they`re improving.

What do you mean? What could they improve upon? Is it decision-making? How do you best allocate the President`s time?

MEADOWS: No, I -- you know, listen, the President has been a celebrity when he ran for office. He is now elected in office. Now, he has become a historical figure in terms of he`s gotten tax reform done. He`s moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, you know.

So when people are looking historically, they`re going to look at his name attached to those two things. But when we really look at the political operation, it`s not what the President does.

It`s all about making sure that -- on this very thing of tax reform, we just passed it historically. Nine out of 10 viewers watching right now are getting more of their money back in this new tax bill. Now, that`s not actually being communicated very effectively, so we`ve got to do a better job of that.

TODD: It`s interesting. So 10 percent are getting -- you are admitting about 10 percent are getting a tax hike.

MEADOWS: I mean -- well, depending on which --

TODD: On where you live.

MEADOWS: -- where you live.

TODD: Yes.

MEADOWS: New York, California, New Jersey. It`s not as great in those -- and it`s actually, depending on which study, it could be 95 percent. But certainly, there are some who will pay more taxes. You have to be intellectually honest about these things.

TODD: Your -- one of your retiring Republican colleagues, Charlie Dent, said this over the break about loyalty to the President.

And he said, you know, before Donald Trump became president, the litmus test for Republicans was, it was really about the ideological purity and conformity. Now, the litmus test has changed. The issue is loyalty to the man, to the President.

Is he right?

MEADOWS: Well, you`re talking about one of the few guys that has disagreed with this President. And now, some would say I`m one of his biggest defenders. And certainly on certain issues, they`re right, but I`m --

TODD: You have his ear. He loves calling you out by name.

MEADOWS: Well, he does call me out by name.

TODD: Yes.

MEADOWS: But you know what, I always take his call, too, and --

TODD: Yes.

MEADOWS: But here`s the other thing is. I`m one of the few members that he tweeted about when I had a disagreement on health care. You know, I don`t like to bring that back up. You don`t ever want to bring it up.

TODD: Sure.

MEADOWS: But this is not about loyalty to the President.

TODD: Do you think the party --

MEADOWS: This is about loyalty --

TODD: Do you think there are too many people that worry about that he views loyalty as simply loyalty to him and not to something larger?

MEADOWS: No, I don`t think -- I think this is about loyalty to the American people. You know, my voting card and Charlie Dent`s voting card has our pictures on it, but it didn`t belong to us. It belongs to the people we represent.

TODD: Do you think the FBI is biased against the President?

MEADOWS: You know, I think the FBI has engaged in activities that they shouldn`t be engaged in. And so let`s take the most recent "New York Times" report that came out over the last few days.

In that report, you have six reporters reporting anonymous sources. But in that actual report, they talked about the fact that they have interviewed agents, both current and former agents, FBI/ DOJ agents, for their story.

Now, what agent would actually opine or give a reporter information on an ongoing investigation? It is a cardinal sin, and they can`t do that.

TODD: This is an issue all the time, but let me --

MEADOWS: I do think there are people at the very top of the FBI that are not carrying out their constitutional duty without bias.

TODD: OK. But let me ask you this. If they were so anti-Trump, why did they keep the investigation into the President as a candidate secret, and why did they reopen an investigation into the President`s opponent?

MEADOWS: Well --

TODD: I mean, I`d just throw that out, like --

MEADOWS: Yes, OK. So --

TODD: -- this is where the facts don`t --

MEADOWS: So let`s --

TODD: -- don`t fit the charges.

MEADOWS: Well, you know me. I`m one that will go to the facts. So we also know that there was conversations and -- actually within DOJ and the FBI where, actually, documents or conversations were shared with the media prior to November 8th of 2016.

TODD: Right. But I --

MEADOWS: And that`s all going to come out.

TODD: I understand that, but what I`m trying to understand is what part of the investigation itself -- I mean has any, like, falsified fact been found yet? Like there is an implication here that there`s these rogue agents running around --

MEADOWS: Oh, there`s all kinds of --

TODD: -- creating fake --

MEADOWS: Well --

TODD: -- creating, like, fake investigations.

MEADOWS: Well, there`s all kinds of falsified facts, Chuck. If you look at what we`ve got from --

TODD: I`m trying to find one on --

MEADOWS: Well, let`s at the dossier.

TODD: -- on some of these accusations that are out there.

MEADOWS: Let`s look at the dossier.

TODD: The dossier is not an FBI product.

MEADOWS: You`re right. You`re exactly right. It`s a $12 million Democrat product --

TODD: All right. Look --

MEADOWS: -- of which the FBI coopted and -- listen, we don`t have to look any further than Bruce Ohr.

TODD: I understand that, but --

MEADOWS: No, but why would Bruce Ohr be meeting --

TODD: But let me ask you something, if there`s nothing --

MEADOWS: -- with the person who wrote the dossier?

TODD: If there`s wrong that happened, why is everybody so worried about the investigators?

MEADOWS: Here`s why they`re worried about the investigators and why I believe that we need to investigate the investigators with a Special Prosecutor. When you have FBI agents --

TODD: Through the looking glass type of stuff.

MEADOWS: When you have FBI agents sharing with the media internal documents and internal conversations with the media on an ongoing investigation, that is not supposed to happen.

TODD: Under that scenario then, everything that Washington has reported on for the last 50 years deserves a Special Prosecutor, sir.

MEADOWS: No, no, no, no.

TODD: I mean, are you saying that you are --

MEADOWS: No. No. I`m not saying that you and I can`t talk to -- but law enforcement is held to a different standard.

TODD: I understand that, but we`re -- anyway, we`re going to go round and round, and I`m going to run out of time.

MEADOWS: We won`t go round and round, Chuck.

TODD: Congressman Meadows, I`m going to leave it there. Thanks for coming in. Thank you, sir.

MEADOWS: No. Thank you, Chuck.

TODD: Appreciate it.

MEADOWS: Yes.

TODD: Up next. President Trump asked Senator Hatch to stay. Today, he said no.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Senator Orrin Hatch, the longest serving Senate Republican, announced today he`s retiring at the end of this term.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HATCH: I`ve always been a fighter. I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Senator Hatch`s decision not to run for an eighth term comes despite late pressure from President Trump who, last month, said he had hoped Hatch would stay in the Senate to, quote, for a very long time to come.

Why is that? That`s because Senator Hatch`s retirement could very well lead to a Senator Mitt Romney. The former Republican presidential nominee and Massachusetts governor has long been expected to mount a bid if Hatch retired.

And if Romney runs, he`s all but a sure thing to win in Utah, a state where he has deep personal and business ties. And what that means -- what do all that means? We could see the Utah seat going from this --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HATCH: Mr. President, I have to say that you`re living up to every -- everything I thought you would. You`re one heck of a leader, and we`re all benefiting from it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: -- to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Donald Trump is a phony, a fraud. His promises are as worthless as a degree from Trump University.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Two former Romney advisors tell NBC News we should not expect Romney -- a Romney run as a pure anti-Trump Republican campaign and that people will probably be surprised at his willingness to support the President.

We`re back with more MTP DAILY in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. While you were celebrating the holidays and watching bowl games, President Trump was continuing his reshaping of the federal government.

"The Washington Post`s" James Hohmann rounded up some big very recent White House moves that you may have missed such as rescinding an Obama era directive that tightened fracking standards, watering down some regulations that were intended to prevent big oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon. You remember that from 2010.

New medicine guidelines scaling back fines for nursing homes that harm residents and scrapping an Obama era proposal to pay for half of a massive Amtrak tunnel connecting New Jersey to Manhattan`s Penn Station. And then there was the firing of every member of the President`s advisory on HIV/AIDS.

Let`s bring in tonight`s panel: Susan Glasser, chief international affairs correspondent for POLITICO; Ramesh Ponnuru, senior fellow at the National Review Institute; and Ruth Marcus, columnist and deputy editorial page editor of "The Washington Post."

Welcome, all. I want to unpack the Meadows interview in a minute, but, quickly, let`s go through this.

Ramesh, it seems as if passage of the tax bill has now allowed everybody to sort of look at the first year of the Trump presidency and look at what he has done on the executive level now and see big changes, and this reshaping of the federal government as an institution is something that hasn`t gotten enough attention.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR FELLOW, NATIONAL INSTITUTE REVIEW: Well, I think that everybody`s assessment of the Trump presidency`s first year changed because a lot of its major accomplishments happened at the back end, really in the last few days of 2017.

And it looks like a much stronger record of accomplishment than it did, say, going into December where it looked like there was the chance that it would be dominated by the failure of health care legislation, and --

TODD: Right. And the failure of tax reform if that had happened like that.

PONNURU: Right, exactly.

TODD: This reshaping of the federal government, there is lot of doom and gloom I`ve heard. I remember -- I`m old enough to remember the doom and gloom of when Reagan did something similar in trying to shrink the government in. Is this as doom and gloom as some believe it is, Susan?

SUSAN GLASSER, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, POLITICO: Well, you know, I mean, you`re giving --

TODD: Or does it depend on the department?

GLASSER: You know, we were in high school, right, during Reagan, so, you know, fair enough. We might have gotten a few things wrong back --

TODD: I have no doubt that might -- yes, I wasn`t getting "The New York Times" at the day.

GLASSER: You weren`t?

TODD: Or "The Washington Post," no offence.

GLASSER: No, but, listen, it`s -- I`m glad you made that point because I do think that people underrate the significance of this, both domestically and internationally. And I think that, you know, obviously, one year is an opening bid in any kind of a presidency.

And in many ways, you know, certainly internationally, you can say Trump was very lucky he didn`t have any kind of major external crisis that virtually all of his predecessors, including Ronald Reagan, faced.

TODD: Yes.

GLASSER: I think that we will come back and look at all of these things as very significant. Whether you like them or not is a different issue, but I wouldn`t undersell Trump on either international or domestic issues.

TODD: What`s interesting about this, Ruth, is I get the sense of you know when we`re going to -- you know when the public is going to care about these decisions? When something bad happens?

RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: As always.

TODD: As always. And they are like, oh, it turns out they rolled back that regulation, or there used to be this.

MARCUS: Right, so that`s the oilrig spill.

TODD: Yes.

MARCUS: The -- when --

TODD: That`s the risk here for that.

MARCUS: When it happens to your grandmother in the nursing home.

TODD: Right. Right.

MARCUS: That is the risk. I was actually here for Reagan. I was a fresh out of college reporter. And it`s a really interesting comparison, right, because Reagan came in with a very deliberate and, I would say, Trumpian in the sense of wanting to roll back -- really, actually classic Republican effort to roll --

TODD: I was going to say this should be credited to Mike Pence.

MARCUS: Yes, to --

TODD: Mike Pence is the one who populated the senior leadership of many of these agencies.

MARCUS: -- to roll back government. Reagan`s was more effective. And this goes to we didn`t really notice it while it was happening, or we didn`t start noticing it until our perspective was suddenly shifted by the passage of the tax bill, which allowed us to say, whoa, he has done a lot of other things as well.

There is a kind of sense -- two things are going on simultaneously. He has been really ineffective in some parts of government in terms of staffing it, in terms of getting his people in there in a way that Reagan was totally effective, I think, in that.

TODD: Right.

MARCUS: He has just been either deliberately negligent as with the State Department or just unable to get people staffed. But there has been this Pence-helped-driven-fueled effort to get things done elsewhere. EPA is a classic example of that. We`ve been a little bit too distracted by tweets to pay enough attention to that.

TODD: No, that`s true.

PONNURU: But, I mean, I think that`s an interesting parallel because the difference between the Reagan administration and the Trump administration is Reagan set the direction of the Republican Party.

TODD: Yes.

PONNURU: Trump has accepted the direction of the Republican Party.

GLASSER: Or has he?

PONNURU: It was not George H.W. Bush who was setting the agenda for the Reagan administration.

TODD: Right. Yes.

PONNURU: It wasn`t his people.

TODD: Yes.

PONNURU: It wasn`t his agenda. It was a Reaganite agenda, but the --

MARCUS: It was kind of the Heritage Foundation agenda --

(CROSSTALK)

PONNURU: But the Trump agenda has largely been a pre-Trump agenda as well.

GLASSER: Well, and I do think that`s where, in 2018, we`re really going to be looking, certainly, internationally, but I think domestically as well, at this question of, does Donald Trump believe in Trumpism? And I don`t think that we know the answer to that yet really.

TODD: All right. Let`s unpack Mark Meadows there. What did you learn about DACA?

He wants big -- he wants it -- it sounded like, to me, they want a big -- and, for them, comprehensive is defined by a lot of border security money, and, yes, the wall.

MARCUS: And chain migration.

TODD: But the wall.

MARCUS: Yes.

TODD: And symbolically, how are -- Democrats will walk away from anything that`s a wall.

MARCUS: I think they will. I think many of them will.

TODD: How can they get anything done?

MARCUS: It`s going to be a big blow up. And his desire to push this off until March and to not have it be part of the spending fight, I think that that`s what I would do if I was Mark Meadows.

But it`s not -- I wouldn`t necessarily give my vote to other things if I were the Democrats. And they`ve got a very cranky Hispanic part of the party who waited for too long to get this done from their point of view.

TODD: Ramesh?

PONNURU: It does seem to me as though both sides are retreating to maximalist positions.

TODD: That`s a great way of putting it.

PONNURU: That`s going to make it extremely hard to make the deal that you would think, in theory, is there to be made.

TODD: I feel like we could make this deal. I feel like this deal was done in mid-November frankly.

MARCUS: Yes, but you know why we could make this deal? Because we don`t have to get elected.

TODD: That`s right.

MARCUS: Yes.

TODD: No, that`s true. And this is such a powerful issue in certain constituencies.

GLASSER: Well, and that`s exactly why those Democratic, you know, Hispanic constituencies that Ruth mentioned are so upset because they knew that if you kicked it from 2017 into 2018, you became of the election year politics. And I thought it was significant as well that Meadows was talking about March and, you know, pushing it outside of the current crisis that they constructed for themselves.

TODD: The Freedom Caucus has been sort of the core of late of the President`s biggest defenders on Russia. So you heard it there. Mark Meadows says he wants a Special Prosecutor for the investigators.

MARCUS: Investigate the investigators. So on --

TODD: He was clear-eyed about this. I`m just trying to -- don`t you need to find a falsified fact before you even open that?

MARCUS: And I thought -- I just -- the hair stood up on the back of my neck at investigate the investigators. That is not what we do in America unless there is a really good reason to do that.

And if there is a really good reason to do that, if there is worry about leaks -- he was sort of talking about leaks as if no one in the FBI has ever talked to a reporter before --

TODD: Like I said, I brought up this --

MARCUS: -- without identifying specifically --

TODD: -- perhaps 50 years of investigations is going to take place.

MARCUS: There are internal ethical mechanisms to do that within the FBI and within the Justice Department. There`s -- but the notion -- and you asked a good question, if this is not a problem, why is everybody so upset about letting this investigation go forward? Waiting for an answer.

TODD: Is there a long-term penalty here for the Republican Party to be looked -- to look like anti-FBI?

PONNURU: There could be. And there`ve certainly been times -- you know, if you think about the Clinton administration, there was a brief period where it looked like the Democrats were actually getting the right of the Republicans on questions of law and order even, and national law enforcement, but they don`t tend to last very long because there is this deep seated public sentiment that the Republicans are the party that`s more pro-law enforcement.

Look, I think that the campaign from President Trump on down to delegitimize the Mueller investigation has succeeded in its principal aim - -

CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS DAILY SHOW HOST: It succeeded politically for his base.

PONNURU: That`s right. I think all it is intended to accomplish, right? To keep the base. That`s all anything politically has been intended to accomplish under this administration. It is keeping his team on side.

TODD: We got to pause it here. We will -- I will get you in on Mitt Romney and on Iran, I promise. Anyway, Glasser, Ramesh, Ruth Marcus, stick around. Coming up, the chaos has been erupting in Iran for over a week now. The biggest anti-government protests in years have turned deadly. And President Trump appears to be pouring more fuel on this geopolitical inferno. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Up ahead, the 2018 Republican candidates who could end up being the Democratic Party`s best friends.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(START VIDEO CLIP)

NIKKI HALEY, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: It takes great bravery for the Iranian people to use the power of their voice against their government, especially when their government has a long history of murdering its own people who dare to speak the truth. (END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: The Trump administration is applauding demonstrators in Iran on a sixth day of violent protests across that country. More than 20 people have died and hundreds have been arrested in the largest anti-government protests in Iran in eight years.

President Trump tweeted repeatedly about the protests over the past few days saying, it`s quote, time for change. But today, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn`t specify if that was specifically a call for regime change.

The demonstrations began as protests against high inflation and rising prices of everyday goods, but they have turned sharply political and anti- government. Iranians expected economic relief after the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which included some sanctions relief in exchange for a limit on the country`s Iranian enrichment program. But demonstrators say the improved economy hasn`t trickled down to ordinary citizens.

Joining me now is Jason Rezaian. He is a staff writer at The Washington Post and is serving as a distinguished fellow at GWU School of Media and Public Affairs. He of course was the Tehran bureau chief for The Washington Post.

He spent 18 months in prison in Iran before he was freed a year ago this month. He is currently suing the Iranian government and the revolutionary guard. Jason, it is good to see you.

JASON REZAIAN, STAFF WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Chuck, thanks for having me on.

TODD: All right. Happy new year to you. What is the crack down look like? You have family there. You have sources there. The impression is the Iranian government wants to crack down on these protesters and way is to do it digitally. Have they succeeded in cracking down?

REZAIAN: I don`t think they have succeeded completely. In the last couple of hours, I`ve been communicating with people on the ground in Iran via social media and messaging aps.

TODD: Those things are still working. REZAIAN: To a certain extent. TODD: They have not shut down (INAUDIBLE) completely.

REZAIAN: Not completely. And I couldn`t say if they are trying to shut it down completely or leave it open just a crack, but there are still images, sounds, messages getting out to the rest of the world. I think that the crack down that took place in 2009 following the contested re-election -- TODD: Right.

REZAIAN: -- of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the digital crack down, and the suppressing of different communication tools was much more effective at that time if that`s what they`re going for.

TODD: Walk me through this because you and I were talking about this. You said in 2009 --

REZAIAN: Yes.

TODD: We don`t know the exact numbers, but let`s say 15 percent of the country was connected on social media.

REZAIAN: Right.

TODD: Let`s say that was the number. Now, it`s somewhat 60, 70 -- who is not on social media on Iran?

REZAIAN: It`s hard to put a precise number on --

TODD: But it is a different situation.

REZAIAN: But it is completely different situation. You know, I think at that time, I knew people in their 20s and 30s who might have had a Facebook account but didn`t use it regularly. Now I don`t know anybody on the ground in Iran including senior citizens who aren`t using messaging apps like Skype and Viber and these sorts of things.

TODD: This means if the government does fully shut the (INAUDIBLE) --

REZAIAN: Yes.

TODD: -- that -- they are taking away a personal freedom here that will never be accepted.

REZAIAN: Right. I think that it wasn`t that they were giving people access to these information tools willingly in a way that they wanted to, but in the way that technology is spreading across the world, Iranian people have expectations and desires to connect just like everybody else.

And in a moment like this, when the system really tries to shut it down, those sort of the concerns and desires to stay connected become amplified.

TODD: What`s the relief valve here? Rouhani was the relief valve last time.

REZAIAN: Right.

TODD: You had the green revolution. At least it looked like rhetorically they said all right, we better find more acceptable presidential candidates to approve, whatever. That worked for a bit.

REZAIAN: Right. TODD: They get this Iran deal. They think economic relief is coming. What`s the relief valve this time?

REZAIAN: Well, I think they have to deliver on some of those economic promises of recovery that were supposed to follow the implementation of the nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions. TODD: Have anything -- what was it? Did they try anything and it just hasn`t worked?

REZAIAN: The economy is growing. Oil prices, as we know, are up. They are increasing their oil production again, but, you know, normal people on the street aren`t seeing the results of that.

And it`s hard to say if that`s the revolutionary guard getting in the way of the implementation of the nuclear deal or if it is a question of Rouhani and his team not following through or just poor management.

It`s hard to say. But the reality is that people are not feeling -- everyday people are not feeling positive results from this deal.

TODD: My executive producer and I were talking about this. It feels different. This doesn`t feel like one that they can easily shut down this time. So it doesn`t look like an end game is visible yet. REZAIAN: I don`t think an end game is visible. I think that what we`ve learned from past protests in Iran is that they could subside, they could be quieted temporarily, but those embers of discontent are still there and will be until the state addresses some of the legitimate concerns of people, and mostly about bringing their daily lives back to where they were several years ago.

TODD: This seems it comes at a time when you have what it feels like the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel creating a new anti-Iran alliance of sorts.

REZAIAN: Right.

TODD: Sort of bringing the Sunnis and Israel together is probably something that the Iranians never expected.

REZAIAN: Right.

Todd: Now, what kind of pressure is that adding to the government? So on one hand, they are trying to take all this money and spend it militarily while they have a domestic situation that says wait a minute, bring that money here.

REZAIAN: I mean, I think that the fact is they can`t do all of it, right? And to address the problems outside of their borders and ignore the ones going on right inside the country is sort of a recipe for disaster for them. But I think that they have proven themselves adept at maintaining power for a very long time.

TODD: Is this a time -- if the United States never says officially regime change is our policy, but is this the time, are the mullahs weak enough where it`s worth pursuing the strategy? REZAIAN: You know, I would like to not chime in on that particular argument. TODD: I guess how vulnerable are the mullahs? REZAIAN: I think there is always some vulnerability, but this is a system that has lasted almost 40 years, has a strong grip on all levers of power in the country, including almost all aspects of the economy.

But what I would say is that, you know, I have heard from a lot of people on the ground who are saying that they think these calls from President Trump are a little bit disingenuous, especially at a time when he`s pursuing policies that would ban them from entering the United States. So, I think --

TODD: (INAUDIBLE) side of that.

REZAIAN: Yes, exactly.

TODD: All right. Jason, I got to leave it there. It`s good to see you. You`re two weeks away from going back full time to the Post.

REZAIAN: That`s what we hear.

TODD: All right. Marty Baron (ph), you are a lucky man.

REZAIAN: Thanks so much.

TODD: When we come back, are Republicans resolving to make the same mistakes in 2018 that politically they made in 2017? We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Welcome back. Tonight I`m obsessed with what seems to be a Republican new year`s resolution, at least for some. Run as many fringe candidates as possible and see what happens.

In Virginia, where Senate Democrat Tim Kaine is up for re-election, Republican E.W. Jackson, a reverend, is running. He says, by the way, gays and lesbians are quote, very sick people and suggested that yoga might invite the devil into your soul.

It`s made local politician Corey Stewart, an outspoken supporter of confederate monuments, who also pledged to hunt down illegal immigrants, the moderate in this Republican primary.

Then there is Mississippi`s Chris McDaniel, a Roy Moore-style conservative, if you will, minus the molestation charges, where possible nomination could give Democrats another shot at a Roy Moore-style upset in a red state.

In Arizona State, Senator Kelli Ward is running for Jeff Flake`s Senate seat, as the build the wall, stop the illegal immigration Americanist. In Nevada, perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian is challenging the most endangered Republican in the Senate in a primary, Dean Heller.

And then there is Arkansas, which is the impetus for this over the weekend. A gun range owner who declared her business a Muslim free zone, Jan Morgan, is now entering the governor`s race in that one which is likely to be an open seat race there for that race.

For Republicans, this is all a gamble, of course. Some of these candidates could loose winnable races as Roy Moore did, but some will win. Good in the short-term for the GOP. Yet if you elect too many of these candidates, pretty soon you run the risk of having a party with the fringe on top.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: Time for "The Lid." Panel is back. Susan, Ramesh, and Ruth. All right. I want to try to get two things done here. First, we are going to go to Mitt Romney quickly. Does Bannon play? Does Trump run away? Or does Romney basically acquiesce to the Trump world? RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, which Romney are we going to see? Are we going to see the Romney worthy of Trump university degree? Or are we going to see the Romney who ate frogs legs with the president, then president-elect when he was trying to become secretary of state and then was humiliated by him?

I got to say I`m hoping for the former because it will be a lot more fun to watch. And Romney having had not the greatest experience with Trump all along, I think it could be a real thorn in his side.

TODD: I don`t -- he`s the first executive I`ve ever met that wants to be in the Senate.

MARCUS: He wants to be in the game.

TODD: He wants to be in the game.

PONNURU: And in the Senate at this moment which is not necessarily the most fun time to be a member of Congress.

TODD: Yes.

PONNURU: I say if he runs, he is not going to try to define himself as a one-dimensional Trump critic or as a Trump-enabler. He is going to be somebody who agrees with Trump on some things but has an independent identity and can push back when needed.

TODD: Susan, I`m going to pivot to Iran with you because I believe now you`re an award winning national podcaster of -- right? Congratulations on that. The best podcast, I think, of 2017, which I concur with other than 1947.

SUSAN GLASSER, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, POLITICO: Other than yours.

TODD: Of course.

GLASSER: Yes.

TODD: This -- how different does this feel to you in Iran?

GLASSER: You know, every year is different, right? Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. They`re unhappy in Iran. They`re unhappy everywhere in the Middle East. You know, you see a lot of people pedaling their hot takes on how, you know, Obama screwed up in 2009 and we should have done something differently.

The world is different than it was in 2009. This is the most sweeping not only protest (INAUDIBLE) the most broad based protest movement you`ve seen in Iran really in recent times. Where does it go from here? We don`t know.

Sitting here in Washington as we are, I think it is striking that basically Trump once again appears determined to do what I would call the not Obama playbook. When in doubt -- TODD: Right. Whatever he did, do the opposite.

GLASSER: Exactly.

TODD: Yes.

GLASSER: So what can we say about Trump and Iran? We really basically know that he is very, very against Iran without actually knowing what their policy is. They`ve never defined it. And I think they are struggling right now to say anything other than we`re going to tweet very aggressively against it.

MARCUS: It is hard to know what to do or to do something effective. It is also hard to the not Obama playbook which is totally his instinct when you got a travel ban that doesn`t allow people from the country. TODD: That`s what Jason brought up.

MARCUS: Yes.

TODD: At this point, it`s dual point. At one hand, is he really helping the situation or let my people in, you know, that type of thing. That`s an interesting --

PONNURU: One of the arguments that prevailed in 2009 and kept the Obama administration from giving vocal support to protesters was that that would play into the regime`s hands, that that would make it easier to dismiss protesters as being outside agitators, that people want to undermine the government.

TODD: Something the Iranians did quite effectively in 1979.

PONNURU: Right. TODD: OK.

PONNURU: But I think the argument that has prevailed this time is they`re going to say that anyway.

TODD: Yes.

PONNURU: And meanwhile, you can give them that support.

TODD: I think, to me, the technology thing is the most amazing different game-changer here. Jason brought it up a million times to me. (INAUDIBLE) about this. Susan, what`s different from `09 to this, everybody has (INAUDIBLE).

GLASSER: That`s right. And there was only about one million people according to (INAUDIBLE), really excellent piece in the Atlantic on this. Only one million people actually had smart phones back in 2009.

But remember, we talked about the not Obama play book. Colored by that 2009 experience. Remember that Obama handled it very differently in the Arab spring revolution that broke out --

TODD: He got very involved.

GLASSER: Exactly. And he came out very early and really pushed the Egyptian leader to leave. And then owned the unintended consequences. We`re still dealing with the unintended consequences of the revolution in Syria next door.

TODD: Can I bring up another point here. We have this president here who very much wants to get involved on the domestic problems and the values that he doesn`t agree with Iran. He`s not done that with Turkey. He`s not done that with Russia. He`s not doen that with Saudi Arabia. He`s not done that with China.

GLASSER: This is a president who has no credibility to talk about human rights and democracy promotion anywhere. And I think that one of the risks that we are going to see in 2018 is the emptiness of some of Trump`s rhetoric and promises coming home to roost.

You know, he talks a lot about the red line. Trump has made his own series of red lines and one of those, by the way, is consistently lavishing praise on dictators. Going to Saudi Arabia and saying in his very fist overseas trip, we are not going to lecture you anymore.

What is he doing with the mullahs but lecturing them? So I think that`s a huge risk factor looking in 2018 is the emptiness of Trump`s rhetoric or else being forced to put up basically. MARCUS: This is to see it`s not Donald Trump`s strong point. I think I`ve said that before. But it`s also true that he is not the first president to have different standards on human rights depending on different countries.

TODD: That is a fair point. It is through eye of the allied beholder, I guess, on that front or whatever your personal allies say. All right, guys, I got to leave it there.

MARCUS: Happy new year.

TODD: Happy new year.

GLASSER: Happy new year.

TODD: (INAUDIBLE) brought the A game. Brought B plus.

(LAUGHTER)

TODD: Appreciate it. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD: That`s all we have for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with a lot more "MTP Daily." I promise you that. "The Beat" though with Ari Melber starts right now. Happy new year.

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

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