Show: MTP DAILY Date: January 23, 2018 Guest: Ben Wikler, Ruth Marcus, Sahil Kapur, Sara Fagen
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: -- just trying to stay --
NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC HOST: Just another Tuesday.
TODD: -- head above water.
TODD: Well, all right, if it`s Tuesday, we know that Bob Mueller is getting ever closer for a sit down with the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Tonight, are we nearing the end of the Mueller probe. New reports indicate he wants to interview President Trump in coming weeks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you concerned about what the Attorney General told the Special Counsel?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I`m not at all concerned. Not at all.
TODD: Plus, did the end of the shutdown shut the door on the Democrats` demands?
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER OF THE SENATE: We`ve gotten a commitment from Senator McConnell. Trust but verify.
TODD: This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Good evening and welcome to MTP DAILY. I`m Chuck Todd, here in Washington.
We do have some breaking news on multiple fronts in the Special Counsel Russia investigation, so that`s where we`re ending up leading tonight.
The President could end up sitting down with the Special Counsel, Bob Mueller, in weeks according to "The Washington Post."
Mueller`s team already sat down with a member of the President`s cabinet and with the President`s top antagonist, James Comey. We learned all of this today! All of these while Mr. Trump calls for changes in the FBI, the agency tasked with investigating him.
We got to follow all of this in the hour. First, let`s go to "The Washington Post" report. They claim that Mueller wants to question the President in the coming weeks about his decisions to fire former national security adviser Mike Flynn and former FBI Director James Comey.
That`s an indication that Mueller is focusing on allegations of obstruction of justice. That doesn`t mean that`s the only thing his investigation is about, but we know that`s at least part of it.
And there`s also new information about what a presidential interview could entail. I`ll speak to one of the reporters who broke that story in just a moment.
That news comes amid a day of Russia related developments, all of which hints at a ramped up investigation in at least the obstruction of justice part of things.
Today, we learned, for instance, that Mueller`s team has already interviewed Comey -- and he did so last year -- focusing on his now infamous memos detailing his interactions with the President and what the President said about Mike Flynn.
The Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, the first member of the President`s cabinet to face the Special Counsel, was interviewed apparently just last week for hours. Now, remember, Sessions was a campaign surrogate so that would make some sense.
Axios, by the way, is reporting today that Sessions is pressuring the Trump-appointed FBI Director, Christopher Wray, to fire his deputy, Andrew McCabe, and that Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed.
Now, the President was asked about that report earlier today by my colleague, Kristen Welker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did Christopher Wray threaten to resign, Mr. President?
TRUMP: No, he didn`t at all.
WELKER: He did not threaten?
TRUMP: He did not, even a little bit. Nope. And he`s going to do a good job.
WELKER: Are you concerned about the senior leadership at the FBI?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, everyone.
TRUMP: Let`s see how it all works out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: However, folks, the White House is denying the story, but in their denial, they released a statement calling Comey and other senior-level FBI officials, quote, politically motivated and said they appointed Director Wray to, quote, clean up the misconduct at the highest level.
You decide what part of that story is true.
That`s what some might see as a confirmation veiled in a denial. Again, on the record from the White House.
If it is true, this is the President who is being investigated by the Special Counsel for obstruction of justice demanding changes to the FBI while the agency investigates his campaign.
Let`s dig into this a little bit. Joining me now is Carol Leonnig. She was one of the reporters who broke "The Post" story this afternoon, so I want to square in on this first.
So, Carol, start me with the Mueller interview news which is -- it says weeks. We have been told that if Mueller sits down with the President, it is a sign that, perhaps, the investigating part of him is over.
CAROL LEONNIG, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. When we first reported about this, Chuck, in December, that -- sorry. I want to --
TODD: I know.
LEONNIG: -- that in December -- doesn`t it feel like a year ago? But it was only a few weeks. When we were first reported on this, we were told by several legal experts that, yes, if the President is getting interviewed, that`s a sign that this could be wrapping up.
That`s not always the case. Keep in mind that President George H.W. Bush was interviewed squarely in the middle of the CIA leak probe as the investigator in that case kept gathering information.
However, this thing is moving really quickly as evidenced by the fact that Sessions was interviewed for hours last week.
LEONNIG: And now, we know that Trump`s lawyers have been squaring off with how to set sort of parameters and terms for an interview with the President of the United States.
TODD: Well, what are some of those parameters? I mean, I`ve gone through this with others before. There`s how Bill Clinton did it, which is he appeared before the grand jury via video, got to keep his lawyers.
What are the different ways they`re couching this? What are the different ideas they have about making this interview happen?
LEONNIG: So two of the things that I have heard in my reporting that both of the lawyers for the President are interested in is figuring out, when there is a lot of the luminous record already -- meaning e-mails and documents and memorandum -- when there are already a lot of documents available on a particular period of history, can the President please answer some questions about this in writing?
In other words, can he make a written submission for some portion of the interview? And can he be interviewed face-to-face with the investigators for another portion that, maybe, is not as well documented and really goes to the heart of what the President was thinking and deciding and which may not be rendered in some e-mail or record? As you know, the President doesn`t use e-mail.
TODD: So it sounds like -- so this is coming -- what is your sense of what the Special Counsel side wants? I mean, I think we all understand the motivation of the President`s lawyers. They don`t want him walking into a perjury trap.
LEONNIG: Absolutely. And Roger Stone told my colleague, Josh Dawsey, that today on the record, which was he would strongly advise President Trump, who he still speaks with, to not do this interview. He feels like it could be exactly that, in his words, a perjury trap.
However, you know, what does the Special Counsel want? The Special Counsel wants the unvarnished recollections and memories of the President.
Why were you planning on firing Michael Flynn? What were the events leading up to that?
Was it really that Michael Flynn, in your view, had lied to Vice President Pence, as was your public story, or was there something else? Was it "The Washington Post" story publishing that same week that showed that Flynn had not been honest with the FBI about this information?
TODD: I want to put up a graphic here because I think, probably, all their lawyers -- all the folks around the President that have already talked to the Special Counsel. I think we got Comey, Sessions, Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn.
In all of those cases, with the exception of Kushner, we know they`ve all been questioned about the issue of both Flynn`s dismissal and the Comey interactions there. I would assume the President`s team wants to know what Mike Flynn said more than any of them.
LEONNIG: And actually, I`m so glad you zeroed in on that, Chuck, because it strikes me that what Michael Flynn told Bob Mueller is probably what is most worrisome to the White House and to the -- if not the President, to the White House and the President`s lawyers.
Because imagine a scenario in which Michael Flynn explained exactly the conversations he had with the President before he spoke to the Russian Ambassador and after, both things we do not know much about right now.
TODD: All right. Carol Leonnig, as always, thank you very much. I know you`ve got more leads to follow. I`ll let you go and go do your job.
LEONNIG: Thanks, Chuck.
TODD: Thank you for spending a few minutes with us.
Joining me now, Ben Wittes. He`s a senior fellow at Brookings, editor-in- chief of "Lawfare," and now -- we like to say -- an NBC News and MSNBC legal analyst. Nobody lives and breathes this investigation better than you, I think. Kudos for that.
BENJAMIN WITTES, SENIOR FELLOW IN GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Thanks.
TODD: All right.
TODD: All right. Let`s start.
Significance -- I want to break things down, significance that we are closer on the obstruction of justice things. If you`re trying to be zeroing in on an interview with him, it means he thinks he has all the information he needs to finally question the President, who may be here.
How do you read this? Does it mean that that part of the investigation is coming to a close?
WITTES: Well, so I think there is two possible -- it may be more but at least two possible ways to read it.
One is to say, look, you interview the principal at the end of an investigation. Think of the obstruction investigation as a relatively discreet part of the Mueller investigation.
We know from other news reporting today that he interviewed Comey and Jeff Sessions who were other principals in these interactions, and now he wants to interview the President. That could really be a sign that the Mueller investigation, on this point, anyway, is wrapping up.
The other way to look at it is that this is a big, sprawling mess of an investigation. And as Carol indicated, sometimes you do interviews in the middle of things, get people on the record, and then see what other leads that may open up.
TODD: You and I were talking beforehand about, I said, is it possible there are sort of three or four sort of separate subparts of the investigation? You have the large Special Counsel but you`ve got obstruction of justice. You now -- you`ve got the Trump Organization.
Perhaps he`s got -- he`s already got a Paul Manafort angle. Maybe there`s a Jared -- you know, there`s all sorts of -- how many sort of separate, narrow investigations could there be under this umbrella of Mueller?
WITTES: So it depends on how you mean the word "separate," but let`s assume that these are at least --
TODD: Use Ken Starr.
WITTES: Just --
TODD: Lets` go back. Ken Starr had a similar issue, right?
WITTES: Right. But, look, Ken Starr had totally different discreet investigations. He had an FBI files matter, he had a White House travel office matter, he had the underlying Whitewater matter, and he had the Monica Lewinsky matter. These were separate investigations --
TODD: But he would close one out while still have others open? That`s the point, yes?
WITTES: And he even had final reports on some of them.
WITTES: So these investigations, I think, are a bit more integrated than that. They`re related, but I think there are at least three or four different clusters.
So one is the underlying collusion question, right? Was there cooperation between Russia and anybody in the Trump campaign?
One is a set of underlying business transactions that they have clearly taken a look at. Now, the relationship there is that if you`re doing these business transactions that involve large amounts of Russian or central Asian money, that could be a form of leverage that then plays in the game.
So it`s not that they`re unrelated, but they are presumably at least somewhat separate clusters of investigative material.
Third area is the bad acts by individuals who are associated with the campaign. So, for example, Paul Manafort gets indicted --
WITTES: -- for a whole lot of money laundering.
TODD: And it has nothing to do with the initial part but they found crimes.
WITTES: Right. They found crimes, right. And then, of course, the other two people who are prosecuted other than Manafort`s co-defendant are both charged with lying to the investigators, which are sort of discrete bad acts in the course of investigating these other things.
And then the final element is the obstruction stuff. And I think you can think of those as four discrete baskets of activity.
TODD: All right. I want to talk about the Christopher Wray news here. We have the President denying that Christopher Wray threatened a resignation, but it`s in the denial. Like a White House statement sort of reaffirmed this idea that the President does want a change in senior leadership and does believe these were political actors.
Does that statement in itself reinforce the obstruction -- I don`t want to say charge but obstruction, like, analysis here?
WITTES: So I -- whether it`s obstruction or not, it`s a criminal question, and I think that`s probably the wrong rubric. The right rubric to understand it is this is a completely, unacceptable way for the President do be interacting with the senior law enforcement leadership.
WITTES: And you know, the -- and we don`t actually -- it doesn`t actually matter what the White House said last night. We know that the President is demanding Andy McCabe`s head because the President tweets about it on a, you know, semi-regular basis.
TODD: Regular basis. Yes.
WITTES: He evidently hates Andrew McCabe, and, by the way, the reason he hates him seemed to be that Andy McCabe is married to a Democrat.
WITTES: I am also married to a Democrat.
TODD: No, no, no.
WITTES: Don`t consider that the worst crime in the world.
TODD: Who once stood next to Terry McAuliffe. Don`t forget.
WITTES: Yes, that`s right. I --
TODD: Who then knows the Clintons, who then, of -- I mean, we see where this could spin. I mean, I`ve never seen somebody sort of pilloried the way this Deputy FBI Director has been pilloried with no evidence. It`s McCarthyism.
WITTES: It is one of the most appalling spectacles I can remember, just in terms of the President reaching down within the bureaucracy in order to attack a career FBI agent. It`s an astonishing thing, and it`s astonishing that it`s not more scandalous than anything.
TODD: It`s astonishing that people -- more people aren`t astonished.
TODD: Right, yes.
WITTES: And, look, as to Chris Wray, I think we did learn something very important about Chris Wray last night when Axios broke that story, which is that this is somebody who, at the end of the day, is working to protect the institutional integrity of the FBI.
That doesn`t mean he hasn`t made mistakes. It doesn`t mean he`s -- he`s wedged in an impossible possible. And, you know, I`m not going to sit here and say I support every single thing he has done, but I think that was a very encouraging thing.
TODD: How do you view these text messages which are -- it feels like it`s becoming sort of this almost holy -- you know, this sort of mythical Holy Grail of, I think, missing information that some of the President`s supporters are hoping somehow is going to prove that it`s the Clintons that created this whole thing.
WITTES: Look, I have no reason -- you know, government documents do not always get preserved as they are supposed to be preserved.
I have no doubt that, you know, if messages disappeared that are not supposed to be -- they`re supposed to be available, we should find out what happened there and verify that there was no misconduct and any illicit destruction of those messages.
The story here is not about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. They were removed from the investigation the moment Bob Mueller learned that there was an issue.
WITTES: And this is a mammoth effort to distract from what this investigation is actually about.
TODD: All right. Ben Wittes, I`m going to leave it there. It`s good to have you onboard, by the way.
WITTES: Thanks. It`s good to be here.
TODD: And which also means, I`m going to make you be on set a lot more often. Bye, brother.
TODD: All right. Ben Wittes, thanks very much.
Up ahead, the other story we were going to focused on today, the story we would have lead with a couple of hours ago. The Democratic base is outraged at how their party`s leadership handled the shutdown. Why Chuck Schumer is taking it on the chin and how he`s attempting to fight back.
TODD: Welcome back. The Senate`s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, spoke publicly today for the first time since being skewered by some in the Democratic base for striking a deal with Republicans to end the government shutdown yesterday but not getting much in return.
Some aggressive groups are furious that his strategy failed to deliver a DACA deal. One group told him, quote, the worst negotiator in Washington. And that`s obviously saying something these days.
Today, Schumer had a message for his anxious base: keep the faith.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHUMER: We`ve gotten a commitment from Senator McConnell. Trust, but verify. And I think we have a renewed momentum.
You`re not going to get it all at once, but we`re going to keep fighting and we believe we will have a good victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: He also said the offer he gave the President to fund the wall is now off the table. We`ll have much more on the brewing rebellion inside the party, including this question: do some Democrats fear the GOP`s base more than their own?
We`ll have that discussion later in the show, but we`re coming back in 60 seconds with more on today`s big Russia developments.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Is the President saying that James Comey lied when he said Trump, the President, asked for his loyalty and suggested he should drop the Flynn investigation?
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, out of respect of the Special Counsel, I`m not going to weigh in to any matters beyond that and would refer you to that counsel that --
ALEXANDER: The President has been public about this. I just want to be clear so it`s clear for the American people, not just with investigators.
SANDERS: I understand that he has been public about that, and there`s nothing else to add at this point beyond his comments.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Welcome back to MTP DAILY. Let`s bring in our panel and former White House political director under George W. Bush and current CNBC contributor, Sara Fagen; Bloomberg national political reporter, Sahil Kapur; and "Washington Post" deputy editorial page editor, Ruth Marcus.
All right, Sahil, we have these days of the Russia story where you`re like this -- whoa, this feels bigger than most. And obviously, Mueller, being weeks away from having an interview with the President, feels like a big deal. But we`ve been before and it`s like -- every time, you`re like, oh, nah, probably another month, probably another two months.
SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: The latest of many -- a series of developments, Chuck, I think, in the Russia investigation. And I think this is something that Mueller wants to, at the very least, get out of the way, collect all the evidence he can on the question of obstruction.
Which seems to be the pattern here as it relates to Comey and as it relates to Michael Flynn because of things the President has said, things that the President has tweeted, that lead -- you know, that would at least raise the question of obstruction.
Now, as legal experts have said, it`s an extremely difficult thing to prove.
KAPUR: It`s a very, very high bar. And Supreme Court decisions have kind of restricted the applicability of the law there, so it`s a, you know, a lot that needs to be collected before this can move forward. But it sounds like Mueller is very interested in it and that`s the big news today.
TODD: Sara, take me inside a White House a little bit because I think during the Scooter Libby investigations and all that --
SARA FAGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Oh, yes.
TODD: -- obviously, you`ve worked for presidents that`s had interactions with a special counsel who wants to do interviews. Take me behind. How does that -- take us behind the scenes in there.
FAGEN: You know, so when the Trump team says that it`s not distracting, you know, there is an element of that that`s true because you`re so busy that, as you`re going through your day, you don`t realize that it really is very distracting. Because, you know, what it is it plays on people`s stress, it plays on the tension that you experience on other issues, and that`s where you`re seeing it.
So some of these things that play out in the press where, you know, aides aren`t getting along, maybe that some aide was questioned and nobody knows about it and they`re under enormous stress.
TODD: And that`s --
FAGEN: That`s where you --
TODD: That`s what it feels.
FAGEN: -- have more of the pressure that -- from these investigations than the fact that people aren`t -- you know, that they`re sitting there talking about it all day.
TODD: And now, tell me, what do -- how did George W. Bush deal with Patrick Fitzgerald?
FAGEN: So that is not one I was interviewed in, but I -- my superiors were all interviewed in and had to deal with it. And so the way that we tried to deal with it as an administration was to do as the Trump team is trying to do, which is to completely isolate it.
TODD: Try to compartmentalize.
FAGEN: Compartmentalize it.
TODD: Did you have somebody in-house that was sort of in charge of it with all these --
FAGEN: Yes, yes. Certainly, there`s in-house counsel that is dealing with the -- you know, with the outside investigators.
FAGEN: But, you know, toward the end, there were multiple investigations which this administration, I think, is going to -- is facing multiple investigations and will face many more probably before the end of their term.
TODD: All right, Ruth, the significance of today in your mind?
RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, to me, today is the day that maybe President Trump didn`t know it was coming because he told us a few weeks ago that he didn`t see -- since everybody understood there was no collusion, it wouldn`t make any sense to speak with the --
TODD: He sort of backed out of a commitment to want to talk to him, yes.
MARCUS: It wouldn`t -- why would the Special Counsel need to investigate him or even -- not investigate him but interview him if there is nothing really to talk about?
Anybody who has ever watched one of these investigations, certainly anybody who spent even a little bit of time, you know, not being in law school, watching law kind of cases on T.V., would understand that there is no way that Bob Mueller was going to conclude this investigation, however it concludes, without at least one interview with the President. A sworn interview, not answers to written questions.
So we knew this day was going to come all along and yet it feels momentous because it sets up -- I mean, among other things, it sets up this showdown that is in itself perilous to a president who needs to be very careful about what he says in this interview.
FAGEN: And regardless of the outcome of the investigation, whether Trump is, himself, you know, directly impacted or his aides or family members, the fact that you`re being interviewed is a really bad day.
KAPUR: And to Sara`s point, he`s not doing a particularly good job compartmentalizing. We can see from his Twitter feed, as a President, he`s been pretty consumed with this. I mean, a lot of -- lots and lots of early morning tweets about this.
KAPUR: And I think the fact that Mueller is getting closer and closer to his inner circle, pretty much in the inner circle now --
FAGEN: Which he really should be.
KAPUR: -- looking at his son, the son-in-law. We learned that last week he spoke or his team spoke at length with Attorney General Sessions. This is getting very close to him.
TODD: I want to get to this Andrew McCabe situation because it does feel as if -- I`m with Ben Wittes here. I`m astonished that people aren`t more outraged.
FAGEN: Well, to your earlier question about how did President Bush handle it, President Bush expressed no opinions on anything. And I`m sure he had them, but he was so careful.
FAGEN: He didn`t even say it in chitchat around the office.
FAGEN: And so, you know, everybody has an opinion whether it`s Sessions trying to gain favor with Trump --
FAGEN: -- Trump telling the nation what he thinks. And that does, you know, allow an investigator many more opportunities to ask you questions from many different angles, and I think that is where Trump really harms himself.
MARCUS: I mean --
TODD: I feel like McCabe -- I feel like he is, like, only confirming the obstruction charges.
MARCUS: Well, whether he is confirming the obstruction charges or not, I am with you on -- and Ben on the outrage of it all. And it`s part of a phenomenon that we`re seeing in this administration which is outrage overload. There is so much going on that we forget to tear our hair out because we`d be completely bald over --
TODD: When it actually is necessary.
MARCUS: No, over --
TODD: Because we`ve turned too many things to 11.
MARCUS: Over everything, right?
MARCUS: And so pretty -- a few weeks ago, the President described this was not his attack on McCabe, this was an attack on Peter Strzok, the texting FBI agent.
He described him as having committed treason. He said it was a treasonous act. Can you -- that is such an outrageous thing to say about somebody how has devoted his life to serving his country, and yet it went by.
FAGEN: But think about the timeline here. And so, you know, perhaps, you know, the -- Bob Mueller has asked him about this, but now it`s a reason to get called back and asked more questions.
Again, like, the way that this is being handled by the top-level officials in this government, to me, is stunning. You -- this is 101 Investigation. As a junior aide in the White House, I learned very quickly, you know --
TODD: Stay in your lane?
FAGEN: Stay in your lane. Don`t say things. Don`t put things in e-mail. Don`t talk about him. And they`re doing it in the most public fashion.
KAPUR: And it seems like that in on-force ways, the President has not helped himself on the obstruction question, starting with --
MARCUS: You think? He created the obstruction question.
KAPUR: Exactly. Starting with the "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS" interview where --
KAPUR: -- he drew a correction from -- between the Russia investigation and firing James Comey. I don`t quite know, you know, if he is thinking strategically here. It seems to be -- it seems to me he is doing what he usually does, which is acting on impulse. He is mad at somebody, he lashes out. He`s usually gotten away with that.
TODD: Whatever they did to him for 72 hours during the weekend shutdown, perhaps they ought to do that for the Russia investigation if you`re Ty Cobb.
MARCUS: Perhaps --
TODD: Because they somehow kept him off of Twitter. I don`t believe he tweeted anyone of those tweets over the weekend. Those words could be now tweets.
MARCUS: Perhaps they should have done that months ago.
TODD: Yes, we shall see. Anyway, you guys are sticking around. We`re going to talk about the shutdown story on the other side of the break.
Still ahead, that other big story, why so many Democrats are angry over how their party has handled the government shutdown.
CHUCK TODD, MEET THE PRESS DAILY SHOW HOST: Welcome back. We are following a lot of breaking news today. Any moment now, the Senate is expected to confirm Jerome Powell as the next chair of the Federal Reserve. Powell will replace Janet Yellen at the Central Bank. We will be right back with the Yellen and the backlash on the left following the government shutdown.
TODD: Welcome back. They`re slamming him as a bad deal maker. The worst negotiator in Washington. They`re ticked off because he cozied up to the GOP base. Folks, those are not progressive attacks on President Trump for shutting down the government. They`re progressive attacks on Chuck Schumer for reopening it.
Schumer led the democratic base into a shutdown then quickly bucked them two days later after red state Democrats reportedly started getting pounded by the Republican base in their states and that has some Democrats wondering, their leadership fears the Republican base more than it fears them.
Either way, democratic groups are not happy that Schumer reopened the government without a DACA deal or frankly without anything other than a McConnell promise. One progressive group is slamming democratic leadership for making a "bad, outrageous deal. A kick in the stomach" Others are saying, yesterday`s cave by Senate Democrats, led by weak-knead, right-of- center Democrats, is why people don`t believe the Democratic Party stands for anything.
Heck, one is even saying "Chuck Schumer is the worst negotiator in Washington, even worse than Trump."
Today, it seems as if Schumer was in a bit of damage control mode. He told the base that they got a good deal out of the shutdown and he also withdrew earlier offer to give the president the money he wanted to build the wall.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The thought was that we could come to an agreement that afternoon, the president would announce his support, and then the Senate and the House would get it done and it will be on the president`s desk. He didn`t do that, so we`re going to have to start on a new basis, and the wall offer is off of the table.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: So what happens next for Democrats? Well, you can`t answer that question until you answer this one. Who is leading the Democrats? Is is Schumer or is it the progressive base? Let`s bring in a couple voices on the democratic side of the aisle. Cornell Belcher, former pollster for the DNC, President Obama and an NBC News political analyst. And Ben Wikler, Washington director of the progressive group MoveOn.org.
All right, Ben, you`re on the side of I`m not going to take it any more, but democratic leadership weighing of things. So, do you concur with some of these progressive frustrations?
BEN WIKLER, WASHINGTON DIRECTOR, MOVEON.ORG: I tweeted, it felt like a kick in the stomach. This is a bad deal. It is not literally nothing, but a single proton floating through the internet void is not literally nothing. This is a very, very small deal.
And the problem is Democrats have the public on their side. Eight-six percent of people want protection for "dreamers." MoveOn helped commissioned a poll in the red states where Democrats are the senators and found that 81 percent of people want a deal for "dreamers" in the spending bill.
The public wants this. And during the shutdown, the public actually moved toward the democratic position. Dems don`t realize how strong their hand is and they don`t realize that Republicans are paper tiger on this thing.
TODD: Shutdown is very tactic. So let me ask you this. Why push Schumer -- for what it`s worth, Schumer felt as if it was -- the progressive base was pushing him into this. Why not accept the idea that this should have been a tactic trotted out in a month from now?
WIKLER: Every time Democrats vote for continuing resolution, that does not provide protection for "dreamers." Republicans think, free date, no problem. There is no fight in the Democratic Party, they can get rolled. So Democrats have to show that they are willing to stand and fight for what not only Democrats but also most Republican voters want.
Now on the Republican side, right now they are skating free and easy, but they now made a promise and they actually have to stand and deliver. The public will know how much they are falling down on the job.
So, we are only redoubling our efforts now. You`re right that votes this way or that way in the C.R. are a tactic, but the ultimate strategy is to make an overwhelming political force that demands protections for "dreamers."
TODD: Cornell, is the base panicking too soon?
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER, NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I think so that (INAUDIBLE) of the base is panicking too soon. (INAUDIBLE) defending the establishment.
TODD: I enjoyed booking you on this, because I know you are a guy who also wants Claire McCaskill in the Senate, right?
TODD: I mean you`re a progressive who says you have to fight for Heidi Heitkamp.
BELCHER: Right. Look, I didn`t come here this afternoon to bury Schumer, I came to praise him, right? And I think there is some praise that is worth to hear. Look, for the first time, this is why I am proud, for the first time, you had Senate Democrats go to the (INAUDIBLE) as it were for immigrants, but it has never been happened.
BELCHER: It never happened before. They say, OK, we`ll shut it down for immigrants because it is important. It was a tactical move to reopen the government. I think he did -- look, CHIP is now off the table. And for those millions of children who are in threat of losing their health insurance, that is not nothing.
But long-term, Chuck, we are not going to get to a tactical victory on immigration reform, it just not. We are going to have to get a political victory on immigration reform and that is going to be through the ballot box, that is going to be turned over in the Senate and keeping those Senate seats that we hold (INAUDIBLE) like Missouri and turning over stuff, turning over House seats.
TODD: Let me ask you one other question, does it look -- into that riddle, are Democrats more afraid of the republican base than the democratic base?
BELCHER: I think Democrats have -- especially Democrats in red areas have historically been afraid of riling up the republican base. Look, rightfully so, you know Senate map, that is a tough map through some Trump territory, right?
We got to hit all the right notes. We cannot run up their base because right now, if you look at happened in Virginia and what happened in Alabama, Democrats certainly have enthusiasm on their side, Republicans do not. We don`t want to give them anything to energize their base.
TODD: So, what do you say to that? Does this make Claire McCaskill weaker?
WIKLER: Look at Virginia. It is a perfect case study for why it makes sense for Dems to fight on this and not cower in the face of this kind of them to fight and not cower of this kind of, you know, white supremacist ads and Willie Horton (ph) against immigrant attacks. The Trump campaign put out an ad that looks like an Ed Gillespie campaign ad. BELCHER: Absolutely.
WIKLER: Try to make people afraid of illegal aliens. And you only have to look at Virginia to see how that is not working for Republicans this year.
TODD: Is it possible Virginia suddenly feels more like Connecticut and New York? I mean it`s possible Virginia is not the Virginia you wanted to be.
WIKLER: In our polling, in states where Trump won by an average of 11 points, again, 89 percent of people want protection for "dreamers," 81 percent say it should be in spending bill. This is as as close as you get to a consensus issue in the United States. (INAUDIBLE) fighting for something that is broadly popular (INAUDIBLE).
BELCHER: I agree with Ben on what the Republican taxes are, but what I would say is that this was a tactic that he used to open up the government because they want the government back open. But long term, look, you know this is a 80-20 proposition. And I love the idea of Democrats being able to go into November, wedging Republicans against this, where independents are. It is overwhelming where independents are on this issue.
TODD: Let me ask you this question. It seems like it is a larger problem for the Democrats. Right now the Republicans are painting the Democrats as a party of open borders.
TODD: OK. And this is what has I think the testers and even the shared -- these folks go, wait a minute, we believe in tightening the borders too, but it seems doesn`t that undo this?
BELCHER: That is why the wall is probably going to be back on the table.
BELCHER: Probably coming back to the table.
TODD: You think Jon Tester needs that wall?
BELCHER: We think we got to be for security, but we also have to be for immigration reform. We have to be for security. One quick thing, in the polling -- in NBC SurveyMonkey polling, Republicans are more divided on DACA, right? That is why it is more problematic for Mitch McConnell and Trump in the White House because their base is not where the rest of the country is on this.
WIKLER: This unites Democrats and divides Republicans. That`s the trend you always want to --
TODD: So what you`re saying is that`s why Democrats should fight this because ultimately in long term, you`re still splitting their party more than --
WIKLER: And frankly, the Republican Party would be smart to cut a deal now because if they don`t, Democrats retake Congress. You know they`re going to pass this without any concessions to Republicans.
BELCHER: But there were about primaries. That`s the core, that rabid core Trump base, they take them on in primaries, not general elections.
TODD: OK. What does February 8th mean? At this point, OK, I sort of see Schumer created a false start, all right? He jumped the gun. You know, I think in hindsight, we get this. But now, February 8th, what does he owe the base?
WIKLER: I don`t think he owes the base. I think he owes the public.
WIKLER: And especially, he owes the young people who have been serving in our military, who have been treating patients of all parties as doctors who are just asking for the protections that they were guaranteed when they gave their contact information to the federal government.
Can you imagine, you know, handing over all your contact info on the basis of a promise of protection and then the president says actually we`ll deport you. Democrats need to stand and hold the line and Republicans need to do the right thing and make a deal. TODD: Let`s move on, what are they going to do if they make a deal -- Democrats make a deal, save DACA, but they give the wall?
WIKLER: I`m not going to pre-negotiate the deal. I`m here to say --
WIKLER: MoveOn members want (INAUDIBLE). We don`t understand why it should be anything buckling, Republicans have to (INAUDIBLE) ideas and we will be fighting to make sure the "dreamers" know they are here to stay.
BELCHER: They`re going to give all security.
TODD: That`s what it sounds like to me, Cornell. All right, guys, I`m going to leave it there. Fascinating conversation. To my friends at SurveyMonkey, we kid. I love the name. Come on.
When we come back, why shutting down the government is not what it used to be.
TODD: Welcome back. Tonight I`m obsessed with how easy it is become to shut down the government. Shutting down the government should be a (INAUDIBLE) move, a last result, that inflicts pain on all sides. Instead, the government is increasingly taking the shut out of shutdown and made it a slow down (INAUDIBLE).
Thanks to new legislation all over the years. National parks, open. Washington D.C. war memorials, open. Social security, Medicare, non- employment benefits, still paid. Vets, checks still on the way. Border patrol on duty, military, hard at work. Food aide programs, still serving.
Hello, it`s no longer a shut down. Nobody wants to see school kids go without breakfast or the military sent home based on stupid politics. Back and forth, no matter where your position is. But it does seem that when the government closes, a lot of it stays open, making it a little too easy to shut down the government and use the stupid (INAUDIBLE).
And if you are a Democrat, consider this. Now much of what remains open, the military, law enforcement, homeland security stuff that conservatives love anyway. Much of the so-called deep states which the conservatives hate. They are the ones who get furloughed.
All of which may explain why Republicans, today even, have been handing this t-shirt out. I shout down the government and all I got was this lousy t-shirt. The point is stop making it so easy to make this political point. Make it harder, Congress. We`ll be right back.
TODD: Time for "The Lid." The panel is back. Sara Fagen, Sahil Kapur, Ruth Marcus. Ruth, we were just joking (INAUDIBLE) like just be a spectator now for an intra-party panel. It seems like normally, we`re talking about Bannon and Trump versus the establishment.
RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: It`s so nice to be at other people`s holiday tables and watch other dysfunctional families. TODD: What do you make of this? What do you make of what you heard there from MoveOn and Cornell?
MARCUS: You know, I said in the last segment that we knew this day was coming with the special council and kind of we knew this day was coming also that you are going to have competing imperatives within the party.
And this one, I think that Democrats had to play the hand that they were dealt, so that they have failed to or they decided in previous iterations of the continuing resolution not to push it to the max.
They had told MoveOn, liberal groups, Hispanic groups that they needed to just wait it out and they deal with DACA. That wasn`t going to play this time around, so they had to play what turned out not to be a very strong hand.
TODD: Sahil, what would you say? You`re all over Capitol Hill. What would you say was Schumer`s biggest miscalculation here?
SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I think in December, there were two continuing resolutions where the Democrats said we`re not going to fight this time, we`re going to fight later. I think there was a miscalculation.
It was the idea that Democrats could force this by filibustering a government funding bill and eventually get Republicans to buckle on something like immigration, which is so explicitly divisive in their party, which is such a tough issue for them. They were never going to cave on this I think in the context of a shutdown. I think it made it less likely for them to do that.
Going forward, only piece of leverage that is meaningful that I think Democrats do have is that House Republicans want higher military funding and Democrats can block a deal on caps, on domestic and non-defense caps on a long-term budget deal unless they get some sort of a DACA solution.
So I think we`re going to see more brinkmanship going up to February 8th where Democrats can do is just deny that deal and make it difficult for House Republicans to put off DACA.
SARA FAGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR FOR GEORGE W. BUSH: They can try, but I don`t think the tectonic plates shift that much in three weeks which is that in a funding argument, immigration is hard for many members in the Rust Belt and many of these democratic senators who live in these ruby red states, you know, to stand in the way of the government shutdown, to support it, for immigration.
I think there are a lot of Americans that don`t like Trump, don`t like where he is on immigration and other issues, but say, you know what? We should not conflate these issues. And I don`t know how they block -- I don`t know what changes between now and then.
MARCUS: One thing that has strengthened the Democrats` hand a little bit, it seems to me, is that the American people have, first of all been reintroduced to this DACA debate in a very intense way, and they have listened to Mitch McConnell say, I`m going to get this on the floor.
They have listened to the president say, I want a bill of love. They have concluded, of course, these innocent children brought here should be able to stay here. So, the imperative to get -- I mean nobody wants to look like they`re the obstreperous party.
The Democrats looked like they were the people who are being the obstreperous party this time around with the shutdown. But it puts a little bit more pressure even on House Republicans and I understand all the pressures around them.
KAPUR: The (INAUDIBLE) that Democrats see now is to get an overwhelming vote in the Senate, not 60 votes --
TODD: Yes, they need like 80.
KAPUR: -- but 70, 75 votes and put it on Speaker Ryan`s plate and make it extremely difficult for him to say no. TODD: You think it almost needs to be in the 80s for Ryan to have this kind of pressure?
FAGEN: It has to be overwhelming. I don`t know if it`s got to be 70s or 80s, but it got to be --
TODD: I know it doesn`t work. Sixty --
FAGEN: Sixty-two doesn`t work.
TODD: Sixty-two or 68. I know 68 doesn`t work.
FAGEN: Look, DACA is the right thing, fixing DACA is the right thing to do. Most Republicans agree with that. And most even in the House agree with that. TODD: In principle.
FAGEN: The politics are tough in some parts of the country, no doubt. And -- but, you know, this in some ways is not that complicated, even though it`s become very complicated. You have most people who agree that DACA needs to be fixed. The majority of Republicans.
Trump wants border security, wants the wall, wants the structure, call it whatever you want, and the government needs to operate and we got to deal with the debt issue. These things should be able to come together. TODD: I want to drill down on something here. If you registered with DACA, should you feel better than if you never registered? Or not, Sahil?
KAPUR: We don`t know --
TODD: Like we know that the White House is willing to fix, basically protect 750,000 "dreamers."
TODD: What about all the "dreamers?"
TODD: At least they pledged to. Marc Short said to. And even maybe did expand that pool. Seems like the biggest debate is, I think the House Republicans will do the most narrow protection. What do Democrats do then?
KAPUR: Well, one of the key issues is of course what you do with the "dreamer" population? So they want some sort of legal status there, maybe a path to citizenship. One of the biggest and most thorniest issues here I think that could derail this whole thing is what to do with the parents of "dreamers."
Democrats and Senator Durbin who I spoke to about an hour ago asking this question said they must be part of this deal. House Republicans don`t want that to them. That is just expanding it. It could end up being millions of people. Big problem.
TODD: I think it is defining the different groups of folks in what they are. Anyway, I`m told I have to go. I got to leave it there. Up ahead, the Oscar goes to our MTP film festival movies. We hope. Stay tuned.
TODD: In case you missed it, the Academy Award nominations are out and three movies from our "Meet the Press" film festival made the cut for best short documentary. So, for your consideration, the first is "Heroin" which explores how a small west Virginia town is coping with the crisis of opioid addiction.
(START VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m not really sure what a plateau is going to look like. You know, I see this is a country-wide problem that has the potential to bankrupt the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: By the way, Jane Raider (ph) reports last weekend they actually went 24 hours without an overdose, which is a big deal there.
By the way, also getting a (INAUDIBLE), "Knife Skills." The movie documents the launch of a French restaurant in Cleveland, staffed almost entirely by people who served time in prison.
(START VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): We`re going to be out of carrots.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: And the third nominee, "Edith and Eddie." It was about of course the oldest generational couple in America. Their love story and their struggles together.
(START VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): Yes, it was love at first sight. It was. See that little old bird up there? Little bird. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It flew away now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Beautiful.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: That documentary took a twist. It was about one thing and it ended up being about elder rights. A fascinating documentary.
You can have more about all of that of course at NBCNews.com/MTPFilm. I can tell you, all of them are definitely --
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