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Transcript 1/25/18 MTP Daily

Guests: Ramesh Ponnuru, Susan Glasser, Steve McMahon, Richard Pildes

Show: MTP DAILY Date: January 25, 2018 Guest: Ramesh Ponnuru, Susan Glasser, Steve McMahon, Richard Pildes


STEVE SCHMIDT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, not really. It`s going to be very contentious, and I don`t think Trump will resist his base.

WALLACE: All right. My thanks to Steve Schmidt, Bill Kristol, Elise Jordan, Eli Stokols. That does it for our hour. I`m Nicolle Wallace.

MTP DAILY starts right now. Hi, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: How are you doing, Nicolle? Well done.

If it`s Thursday, the President will definitely maybe talk to the Special Counsel.


TODD: Tonight, it`s a trap! Fears of a perjury trap. Would Bob Mueller take the President literally or seriously?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I will say, if this talk is real and the interview is coming up, that Bob Mueller is probably a lot farther along in the investigation than some might have imagined.

TODD: Plus, what`s the deal on immigration talks?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: I think the more you do an immigration all at once, the harder it is to pass.

TODD: And dividing lines. How more states are changing the 2018 election game by striking down partisan gerrymandering.

This is MTP DAILY and it starts right now.


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

Did the White House just buck the Trump base? They`re backing citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants, but it will come at a steep cost for Democrats.

We`re going to get to that story in a moment, but we`re going to begin tonight with the President running towards a showdown with Bob Mueller, as his allies beg him to run away from sitting down with Bob Mueller. See if you notice a pattern.


ROGER STONE, FORMER CAMPAIGN ADVISER TO DONALD TRUMP: Under no circumstances should he grant Mr. Mueller an interview. It`s a suicide mission. It`s a very clear perjury trap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that`s a good move for him?

GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS ROAMING CORRESPONDENT-AT-LARGE: Horrible. If I were his attorney, I would grab him by the ankle to prevent him from going into a room and giving sworn testimony, walk into a perjury trap.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": I wouldn`t let him get anywhere near this. Trump improvises as he goes. And I just think it`s a rotten idea. I think this is a perjury trap. Even if Mueller is not setting it up as a perjury trap, it still is one.


TODD: The perjury trap alarm has also been sounded by the President`s own legal team.


TY COBB, ATTORNEY OF PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would hope that a fair- minded Office of Special Counsel would approach it in a dutiful way consistent with precedent, and it wouldn`t be a mere perjury trap. I believe in --

MAJOR GARRETT, CBS NEWS HOST: Do you have any fear of a perjury trap?

COBB: No, but I think it`d be -- I think it would be foolish to, you know, not proceed without considering that possibility.


TODD: Another attorney, Admiral Ackbar, also said it`s a trap.

Now, folks, the President`s allies might argue that they`re worried about a conspiracy where Bob Mueller`s team rigs the outcome of this interview to somehow catch the President in a lie, but you could argue that there are actual concerns that are much more grounded in reality. It more goes to what Rush Limbaugh was talking about.

They`re worried that Mr. Trump is going to willingly mislead Mueller. Because if you want to talk about a trap, the President`s best defense in an interview with Mueller may be, don`t take me seriously.

The President`s biggest problems may be that he`s been telling the truth so far. Maybe. In which case, he`s got more than perjury to worry about.

For instance, if you ask Mr. Trump, would you have taken dirt on Clinton from the Russians? His answer has been, sure!


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It`s called opposition research or even research into your opponent. It`s very standard where they have information, and you take the information.


TODD: If you ask, did you fire the FBI director because of the Russia investigation? His answer has been, you betcha.


TRUMP: In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It`s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election.


TODD: And if you ask, did you know Michael Flynn lied to the FBI when you fired Comey? His tweets have all but said I did. Quote, I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to Vice -- to the Vice President and the FBI.

Folks, we`ve been told time and time again not to treat the President`s words like sworn statements. Not even when he commits to giving, you guessed it, sworn statements.

Here he is yesterday speaking with reporters about being interviewed by federal investigators.


TRUMP: Did Hillary do it under oath?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have no idea, but I`m not asking --

TRUMP: I think you have an idea. Don`t you have an idea?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he`ll be fair to you? Do you he will be fair --

TRUMP: Wait a minute. Wait, wait, wait. Do you not have an idea? Do you really not have an idea?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really don`t remember.

TRUMP: I`ll give you an idea. She didn`t do it under oath, but I would do it under oath.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To reach a higher standard, you would do it under oath?

TRUMP: Oh, I would do it under oath, yes.


TODD: The President`s lawyer quickly noted that the President was speaking to reporters hurriedly before leaving for Davos, and the subject of the terms of that interview are still being negotiated.

I`m joined now by one of the better legal journalists there is in the business these days, Stuart Taylor. He has focused his career on legal issues. He`s an author, freelance journalist, and a contributing editor at my old stomping grounds, "National Journal."

Stuart, it`s good to you.


TODD: OK. We have heard this "it`s a trap, it`s a trap, it`s a trap," and we`ve heard all these friends of the President say, "don`t do this, don`t do this." Is it a perjury trap? And what is the trap that his friends are worried about, in your view?

TAYLOR: Well, first, I think the perjury trap alarmists are missing something big. He can`t avoid testifying.

TODD: This is not a choice.

TAYLOR: He has to testify.

TODD: He doesn`t a choice.

TAYLOR: This is not a choice.

TODD: Yes.

TAYLOR: And so he can -- you know, he can put it off. And so they`re alarmed by the fact he is saying, yes, bring it on, I want to do it right away. But, you know, Bill Clinton had to testify. You don`t think he wanted to, do you, when he was president?

TODD: He didn`t do this by choice.

TAYLOR: The President may be able to avoid testifying in a civil case while he`s president but not in a criminal case. Not at least a case as big as this one. And so it`s not so much when he testifies, it`s the conditions under which he -- I`m sorry, whether, it`s the condition -- it`s when and on what conditions.

As for a trap, well, there is such a thing as a perjury trap in the legal sense.


TAYLOR: It means when the prosecutor is improperly bringing someone in front of the grand jury solely for the purpose of trying to catch him in a lie and charge him with perjury.

Bob Mueller would be violating his obligations if he tried to do that. I don`t think he`s going to do it.

What these people are really worried about -- and Ty Cobb knows he`s going to have to testify someday -- is that whenever he testifies, you`ve got a guy who is known, I think, universally, for saying lot and lots and lots of things that aren`t true.

TODD: Right.

TAYLOR: Whether he`s deliberately lying or he`s having fun or he`s just a little confused or he`s -- you know, he is -- you shouldn`t take him literally. You can argue about that, but you get in trouble when you say things that aren`t true in front of a prosecutor, especially if you`re already on the record saying all kinds of things that look pretty bad to a prosecutor.

TODD: What do those statements mean? I mean, when he -- you know, he has said I was joking when I say, hey, Russia, if you can find her e-mails, and yet here he is in an investigation.

Is it prosecutorial discretion that makes those decisions about whether those statements are relevant or not? I mean, who decides whether his statements that we`ve -- some of which we played, and some not -- are part of the investigation?

TAYLOR: Well, initially, Mueller does. Now, not many people think he could just be indicted based on the public record so far, right?

TODD: Right. Right.

TAYLOR: So there seems to be kind of a consensus. In a way, if you don`t do it secretly, then it doesn`t seem like collusion, right? You just do it on national T.V. How can it be collusion?

TODD: Right.

TAYLOR: Well, maybe it can be collusion, but I think Mueller would recognize that that`s a hard sell, what he said to -- what he said on national T.V. was, you know, was going to be collusion or conspiracy, but that still doesn`t make it easy for Trump to handle that question.

What did you mean, exactly, when you invited the Russians? That`s a very hard question for him to answer, which is why I think any lawyer representing him would look upon the prospect of his testimony as a nightmare. But it`s a nightmare they know is coming sooner or later so they`re playing it strategically.

TODD: All right, as you said, Mueller will decide whether he wants to interview the President or not. It`s likely he`s going to want to. And if you look at the scope of his investigation, there`s sort of two fronts which we assume he wants to interview the President on.

One has to do with this obstruction of justice issue, the Comey firing, the Flynn issue, and all of that. That is a cleaner part of his investigation.

The other is more complicated and has to do with, perhaps, the Trump Organization and things like that. It sounds like Mueller is simply wanting to talk to him about this and punting that.

If you`re the President`s lawyers, do you say to Mueller, you get him once, let`s do this only once or not?

TAYLOR: I`d say that I`d give that a try.

TODD: You would give it a try.


TODD: What you`re saying is --

TAYLOR: And then if Mueller said --

TODD: Sorry, buddy.

TAYLOR: -- you sure you want it that way? You`re not going to like it if we do it once.

TODD: You think it would be --

TAYLOR: He is -- I think that Mueller would have the leverage to say, I reserve the right to come back and ask more questions, either about the same subject or another subject. And if they say no, well, then you get a P.R. war, but I think it`s probably a war that Mueller wins.

Obviously, he can`t be dragging the President up there and wasting his time over and over again without a good reason. But maybe he`ll say to Trump`s lawyers, you know, we`re not claiming yet that we have a lot -- you know, that we have a case on collusion and conspiracy. We`re looking right now at obstruction of justice.

TODD: And we need to do this part first.

TAYLOR: And that`s why want to talk -- and if you want to get that behind you, let`s do it, and we can talk about the other stuff later.

TODD: I just got handed a note here.

John Dowd, one of the President`s lawyers, confirms to NBC News that he will be the one to decide whether or not he sits down for an interview with Special Counsel Mueller. Dowd also says he hasn`t made any decision on whether or not an interview with Mueller will happen.

Again, you would say, Mr. Dowd, that`s not your decision?

TAYLOR: Well, he could plead the Fifth Amendment. That would be a reason to say I`m not going to testify. But they --

TODD: Is that the only way he could refuse to --

TAYLOR: I think it is. I mean, who knows what someone could come up with, but --

TODD: But pleading the Fifth is the only way out of this?

TAYLOR: I think so, and I`m not sure that`s a way out of it.

TODD: P.R. wise, that`s a terrible idea.

TAYLOR: A, and, B, I don`t know if Trump -- Mueller would do this, but he could say, OK, you`ve got immunity. We won`t criminally prosecute you for anything you say to the grand jury.

TODD: Right.

TAYLOR: But, of course, Congress is watching, and they can impeach you for what you say to the grand jury. And if you lie to the grand jury, we can prosecute you for that. So Mueller has a lot of leverage here.

TODD: It sounds like what you`re saying is, we, in the press corps, we shouldn`t even bother worrying about what the White House thinks they can do with Mueller. This is all in Mueller`s court.

TAYLOR: Well, it`s always interesting to see what the White House thinks they can do, but I think this is Mueller`s call. Unless Trump has something up his sleeve, that I`m having trouble imagining, and it wouldn`t be the first time he did.

TODD: Fair enough. Stuart Taylor, probably the best legal journalist that I know. So it`s good to so you, sir.

TAYLOR: Good to see you.

TODD: All right. Thanks for being on.

TAYLOR: Thanks.

TODD: Mueller`s team will have plenty to talk about with the President. Over the months, the allegations have piled up, and the President has denied most of them.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: According to "The Washington Post," the CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the election to help you win the presidency. Your reaction?

TRUMP: I think it`s ridiculous. I think it`s just another excuse. I don`t believe it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did say, under oath, that you told him to let the Flynn -- you said you hoped the Flynn investigation, you could let go -- he could let go.

TRUMP: I didn`t say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So he lied about that?

TRUMP: Well, I didn`t say that. I mean, I will tell you, I didn`t say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And did he ask you to pledge his loyalty --

TRUMP: And there`d be nothing wrong if I did say it according to everybody that I`ve read today.

I think that looking into me and the campaign -- look, I have nothing to do -- this was set up by the Democrats. There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.

And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don`t have any deals in Russia.

Everything that I have done is a hundred percent proper. That`s what I do, is I do things proper.


TODD: Let`s bring in tonight`s panel -- Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "National Review"; Susan Glasser, POLITICO`s chief international affairs columnist; and Steve McMahon, a Democratic strategist. Welcome, all.

All right. Ramesh, the President`s friends are publicly getting into this about "don`t do this with Mueller." As Stuart correctly points out, it seems like, why are they -- they almost want to force Mueller`s hand to issue the subpoena. You would think that`s the worst outcome for this President, to publicly be forced to come before Mueller.

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: And the argument that they`re making, which is that this would be a so-called perjury trap for the President, is the exact same one that Bill Clinton`s defenders made of him in 1998.

And then, as now, it seems to me to be a little bit self-undermining because, in fact, the President can`t be trapped into lying under oath. That is entirely his decision.


PONNURU: And these allies are expressing their own concern that this President is not an honest man, even under the most serious of circumstances.

TODD: I am not surprised, by John Dowd`s reputation, he said, I`ll be the one to decide when he talks to Mr. Mueller. That is, John Dowd is known to be a -- very boisterous on some of these things. But it isn`t his decision.

I do think it sounds like they`re trying to get the President to stop talking about this. That, I guess, is what maybe that John Dowd statement is trying to say.

SUSAN GLASSER, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, POLITICO: Well, look, the reporting suggests that his aides as well as, apparently, his legal team were surprised once again when the President unexpectedly walked in and made this announcement to a group of reporters yesterday.

So is this the first time and will it be the last time that Donald Trump says something that surprises his own legal team? Absolutely not.

But I think Ramesh`s point is one that`s worth remembering here. Listening to the clips you teed up for us, these are his own supporters basically saying we don`t want the President of the United States to testify because we think he lies so much that he might get in trouble.

TODD: Rush Limbaugh`s was the most -- and you`re like, and I don`t even think he would be setting a trap.


TODD: I mean, basically saying --

GLASSER: He thinks Mueller isn`t setting a trap. Like, Trump himself could walk into --

TODD: Will light himself on fire. And it was what --

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Can you believe that this is the time we`re living in where the President`s own supporters are basically saying he`s a pathological liar?

TODD: He can`t be trusted.

MCMAHON: And that`s their defense, or that`s their shield against going in to talk to Bob Mueller. I think Stuart`s observation is absolutely right, though. Bob Mueller is going to get him in there.

TODD: Speaking of Bob Mueller, this little tidbit we saw with Mike Allen, with Axios, and it noted, a longtime Trump political associate said the following, using the Clinton-Starr playbook, kill the special investigator, obfuscate the charge. This is the government against the people`s president. It`s an easy narrative.

We`ve seen -- Steve, I`m going to start with you, since perhaps you participated in that narrative in 1998 or perhaps not as a Democratic strategist, and we all remember --

MCMAHON: I participated.

TODD: -- yes, some of those. It seems like -- in many ways, you look at House Republicans. It was House Democrats back in the day that did it on behalf of the President as you have some of this handful of House Republicans, the true partisans, the ones that have nothing to fear politically, you know, going after Mueller, going after the FBI, muddying things up.

Is it going to work?

MCMAHON: Well, so I`d say the playbook is similar, if not exactly the same, that -- we`ll give them that. But the underlying -- one of the reasons that the outrage on the left was so severe in that case was you were talking about consensual sex in the Oval Office.

Now, it was inappropriate, it was sexual harassment, it was all those things, but it wasn`t the Russians coming in and trying to change the outcome of an election. It wasn`t obstruction of justice in the White House. It wasn`t all the things that we see here that, you know, are criminal. And they`re not civil and they`re not private and consensual.

So it`s a different scale, I think. We`re investigating serious crimes here, felonies. Bill Clinton tripped over it in his deposition, there`s no question. And he -- it was an -- it was a perjury trap for him. But I just think what we`re talking about here, the underlying crime or the underlying accusations, are much, much different.

TODD: Ramesh, today, we found out more from the text messages and Ron Johnson`s had to walk back things even further. But was the damage already done?

You know, two days. Two days of this allusion of these text messages and all of a sudden, here`s the -- we find out, yes, it was just a stupid joke.

And everybody realizes they over read them and they went over their skis, but I`m guessing no one -- that those that were trying to muddy the waters don`t care.

PONNURU: I think that we have seen an escalation of charges and countercharges and that most people who are trying to follow this with some degree of diligence but are not junkies are having a hard time sorting through the claims and the counterclaims.

And I think, actually, in a way, that ends up helping the Republicans toward the conclusion to just release as much of this as possible. Release the Republican memo, release the Democratic memo, release the source documents.

I do think that they`ve got a reasonable point here in that the FBI, the Department of Justice, the American government, in general, has a bias towards overclassification.

TODD: Well, look, you`re echoing David French today in "National Review." I read his piece today where he makes the argument -- look, this memo, they sound absurd by saying release the memo; oh, by the way, we won`t show the memo.

And he is like, don`t just release the memo, release the source material that you -- helped produce that memo, which is the -- you know, were FISA subpoenas used essentially based on the Steele dossier, things like that. That`s what they`re -- that`s what the allegation seems to be, Susan.

GLASSER: Right. So now, we`re going to be in a situation that is very almost Orwellian where you have the Democrats saying, in effect, well, the underlying classified material is being misused or distorted, but we can`t tell you what that is.

TODD: Right.

GLASSER: And now, the Department of Justice is basically making the exact same argument. This would damage potentially national security, but we can`t tell you why, but you should send this memo to us.

I think the political point here, though, is one that we need to come back to. It is the Bill Clinton playbook, which is muddy the waters --

TODD: On both sides.

GLASSER: -- overwhelm. Bill Clinton showed, as a political matter, that lying was an effective public defense for him. It bought him time.

TODD: That`s right.

GLASSER: And then, you know, when he then perceived that he was in legal jeopardy, he changed his testimony when he went to the grand jury. He lied in the Paula Jones deposition. This was, you know, vividly recalled by all of us 20 years ago exactly last week.

There`s no way that Donald Trump and his team have not looked at that playbook and understood very clearly what the jeopardy is.

MCMAHON: But I would submit to you, though, that Bill Clinton and Donald Trump are completely different in terms of going into a deposition. Who would you rather take in as a client, Bill Clinton or a pathological liar?


PONNURU: You know, we`ve had every parallel in this case to the Clinton case except we haven`t had Trump get up there and say, I did not have treasonous relationships with that country.

TODD: Well, actually, no.

GLASSER: But he has said that.


TODD: Actually no.

PONNURU: Well, not in those --

TODD: Actually he did. He did say that.

PONNURU: Not in those exact words.

TODD: No, but on the Russians --


TODD: -- I have no this in Russia, I have no that in Russia. Oh, by the way, Russia, can you find the e-mails?

PONNURU: But the other parallel we can have, you know, it is true that this is a more serious underlying accusation. But if you end up with perjury but you don`t actually have a charge of obstruction, you don`t have a charge of this kind of corruption and this kind of collusion, it`s going to play the same way.

TODD: See, I`m with -- look, I don`t think Mueller is going to be referring obstruction of justice and perjury to Congress. If he`s referring stuff to Congress, it`s going to be bigger than those two issues. And I do think what we`re discussing here is actually a much smaller part of Mueller`s probe than we think.

I`m going to pause it here. Stick around. We got some DACA to talk about.

We just launched an interactive timeline, by the way, of the Russia investigation. It`s fantastic. You can check out all the major events, key figures, how it all played out. It`s actual facts, no innuendo.

Up ahead, the White House backs a path to citizenship for Dreamers. We`ll have all the new developments on this DACA deal next.


TODD: Welcome back. Breaking news this last hour. President Trump reportedly will indeed support a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and, quote, Dreamers who were eligible for DACA but did not apply.

That`s a big new chunk of folks that they`re willing to support here. That`s according to a senior administration official in a phone call between White House adviser Stephen Miller and House Republican staff.

That puts the number at 1.8 million people who would be eligible. And it also is included in the immigration proposal from Senators Graham and Durbin. But the White House also wants a vote on this by the week of February 6th, the same week government funding runs out.

They`re calling this a compromise that could get 60 votes. It actually confirms exactly what President Trump told reporters last night.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you want citizenship for Dreamers?

TRUMP: We`re going to morph into it. It`s going to happen. It`s an important feature --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What does that mean, morph into it? What does that mean?

TRUMP: Over a period of 10 to 12 years, somebody does a great job, they`ve worked hard. It gives incentive to do a great job.


TODD: Citizenship for Dreamers is a far cry from August 2015 when then- candidate Trump told me he wanted every undocumented person deported.

As "The New York Times" reports, the remarks last night supposedly sent the White House staff scrambling in what one official called a fire drill.

And, of course, Breitbart responded with a headline on their homepage like this, "Immigration Shock: Amnesty Don Suggests Citizenship for Illegal Aliens."

Over the last several days, a bipartisan group of dozens of senators have been trying to reach an immigration compromise, but what could pass the Senate on immigration might not be able to past the House and vice versa. But this announcement from the White House today is sure to change the contours of their debate.

We`re going to talk about it more in 60 seconds.


TODD: Welcome back to MTP DAILY. Let`s bring back the panel, Ramesh, Susan, and Steve.

OK. Here`s a few more things about this deal. I gave you the 1.8 million. They also want $25 billion trust fund for the border wall, ending what they`re calling chain migration, family-based -- the idea of sponsoring family members to come in once you get into the country, and then getting rid of the visa lottery altogether.

I can tell you the issue that some Democrats are going to have an issue with, Steve, and that is making a permanent immigration change for the entire system for DACA. That has been among the disputes between the two, where the White House has been saying, fine, we`ll do the DACA thing, but we want to end chain migration for everybody.


TODD: Democrats don`t want to do that.

MCMAHON: I don`t often normally agree with Marco Rubio, but, earlier, you rolled a tape where he said the more you try to do in one of these immigration deals, the harder it gets to do it.

TODD: That`s been the case.


PONNURU: That is a man who knows what he speaks of.

TODD: Yes.


TODD: Yes.

MCMAHON: And, you know, of course, you need to get 60 votes in the Senate, which means the Steve King approach that the hard right --

TODD: By the way, it`s not 60. I`d argue you need 80.

MCMAHON: Well --

TODD: If you`re going to truly force the House to do what they need to do, you need 60 technically, but, politically, you need 80.

MCMAHON: And I think they got 68 last time.

TODD: That`s right, and 68 weren`t enough.

MCMAHON: Sixty-eight and Donald Trump pounding on the House Republicans might be enough. I`m not sure it will be.

TODD: What do you make of the amnesty issue? Is the Breitbart wing or that crowd going to accept this if they somehow got an end to chain migration, the so-called?

PONNURU: If you got a wall, you got the reduction in chain migration, then I don`t think you`d get everybody on the Republican side. You`d get a lot of them. I think you`d lose a lot of Democrats. It`s hard for me to see that deal.

MCMAHON: I agree.

PONNURU: The other thing that anybody who is trying to figure out whether they want to go ahead with this deal has to figure out is, is the White House on the same page tomorrow?

TODD: Right.


PONNURU: Because this is today`s White House.

TODD: But this is the first time, in fairness, it actually -- what Donald Trump said yesterday is now backed up by a conference call that we are well aware of here at NBC News that Stephen Miller had. So this is the first time that Stephen Miller`s words and the President`s words line up, Susan.

GLASSER: Well, again, I do think that Ramesh is right that President has changed his position so he could easily decide that this doesn`t work when he hears an earful from his friends in the House. And I think you raise this issue of what do you need to get the House Republicans -- in particular, the hard right, the Freedom Caucus -- to go along with it.

When we were here -- last time I was here with you, you had Congressman Mark Meadows on. And, you know, on the one hand, he has been a pretty reliable sort of Trump mouthpiece. On the other hand, this doesn`t comport with anything that we have heard from that House Republicans around immigration issue.

TODD: All right. Speaking of House Republicans and before you -- there was a congressional debate last night in Arizona`s Eighth Congressional District, Republican side. Let me just give you a taste.


DEBBIE LESKO, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS, ARIZONA: Basically, I agree with President Trump`s agenda. We need to build the wall.

PHIL LOVAS, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS, ARIZONA: It`s time to build a wall. When it comes to DACA, I oppose DACA. President Obama created DACA with the stroke of a pen and rewrote immigration law. We should just do away with DACA and go back to have -- letting immigration judge each case individually.

CLAIR VAN STEENWYK, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS, ARIZONA: I`ve been at the border a number of times, and I have suffered being robbed by illegals a couple time in L.A. and getting hit by one in a car accident. And I never got a dime from anybody because they took off.

All this nonsense about the poor people, the poor people, what about the poor kids in our country that are getting uneducated or ill-educated and all the people that are out of work?

BOB STUMP, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS, ARIZONA: DACA is misguided. Its criteria is misguided. You can be a 15-year-old, travel to the U.S. illegally, and get a work permit within five years.

STEVE MONTENEGRO, REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS, ARIZONA: I can, with certainty, tell you and with confidence tell you that I have done more than anyone on this stage to fight against illegal immigration.


TODD: All of those, by the way, these are the Republicans trying and vying to replace Trent Franks, who resigned his seat. So this is for that.

That`s all the Republican candidates running. None of those sound like people that would vote to give amnesty to 1.8 million DACA recipients.

MCMAHON: And, of course, when they`re standing on a stage in a Republican primary, they`re not going to sound that way. But Donald Trump didn`t sound that way when he was standing on the same stage just a year or so ago. And what happens, you know, when you get to Washington is you want to get things done. If you`re -- especially if you`re Mr. Deal Maker, you want to get things done.

I do think, though, that what they represent and what you heard from them is similar to what the Freedom Caucus believes, to what the people like Steve King, the hard right, believe.

TODD: Right.

MCMAHON: But, you know, they all caved on tax reform. They were big --

TODD: Taxes is not immigration, man.

MCMAHON: Deficits and debt were really important.

TODD: I don`t know.

Ramesh, you`ve seen this firsthand. Like, I mean, I look at "National Review," and you guys have been trying to be compromising conservatives for some time. And on immigration, you guys get the heck beat out of you, don`t you?

PONNURU: Well, we take it from both sides on this issue because we are moderate restrictionists on immigration.

Look, I do think that if this deal -- if something close to this deal ends up being what people vote on, I think a lot of Republicans would be able to go back to their voters and say, hey, we got a wall. We got a kind of reform to the legal immigration system that nobody`s even been talking about before this year. But the terms of the deal matter a lot. People have a lot of distrust, especially Republican primary voters --


PONNURU: -- that you`re really going to enforce the laws going forward. TODD: And we know there`s so many ways that wall, you can fund the wall, it may never get built. Going to be hard to get it built in some of these places. There is not much federal land that the federal government truly controls to build this wall. SUSAN GLASSER, CHIEF INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, POLITICO: And what about Mexico paying for it? STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What happened to that? TODD: That`s -- we`re going back into the GPP and we`re not going to kill NAFTA. Anyway, guys, stick around.

Up ahead, what does this look like to you? It`s not a Rorschach test. That`s Maryland`s third congressional district. Gerrymandering has drawn outrage for decades, but things may be about to change, and that could have a real impact on who controls Congress.


TODD: A quick program to note. Join Kara Swisher and Ari Melber this Sunday for a special town hall event. They are going to sit down with CEOs of Google and You Tube to talk about how we deal with technology`s rapid pace of change. Watch "Revolution: Google and You Tube Changing the World" this Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on MSNBC. We`ll be back in a moment.


TODD: Welcome back. There is an electoral wave underway across the country right now. We are not talking about the Democratic Party`s hopes for 2018. I`m talking about the growing wave of court decisions striking down electoral district maps drawn for partisan gains.

This is not a new thing, but the courts are weighing in. The latest decision came just this week in Pennsylvania. The state supreme court ruled that congressional district maps adopted by the state legislature in 2011, quote, clearly, plainly, and palpably violate the state`s constitution.

The court also said the state can`t use the gerrymandered districts for the upcoming 2018 elections. North Carolina, Wisconsin, Maryland are all also seeing partisan district maps being challenged in court.

Look, both parties are guilty of this, whenever they can. And just so happens that Republicans controlled more state legislatures the last time, maps were redrawn.

Joining me is Richard Pildes. He is an expert in election electoral laws and voting rights and is a professor at NYU`s law school. Professor, welcome to the show.


TODD: All right. Let`s start with what has changed in the last two or three years that has suddenly brought a whole bunch of these maps before state supreme courts that have essentially, you know, gotten -- gotten this far in the legal system? Obviously, there is some activity around the country. PILDES: A lot of federal judges and state judges, I think, are aware of how much more aggressive partisan gerrymandering has become in the last decade. It`s always been a problem. There`s no question about that.

But the incentives to do it are so much greater now than they have been in the past because of the way in which the House is on the margin of a knife`s edge, and partisan control is at stake constantly.

The technology has made it much more effective to engage in these gerrymanders. And you had many more state legislatures with unified party control in this decade of districting than in prior decades. And I think judges at some level understand all of this.

They have a sense that the system has really gotten to a point of being hard to legitimate. A lot of newspaper stories point this out to the public. And so you`re seeing a lot of action. You`re seeing a dam burst in many ways in the courts on this issue in a way that we have not seen in prior decades.

TODD: I guess my question, though, is how do you define what`s partisan? I mean, I think that`s -- you know, one person`s partisan map is another person`s just sort of like, well, you know, do I know for sure how this community is going to vote the next time? I mean, this is not an easy thing to decipher.

PILDES: Well, one of the things that`s interesting about some of these cases is that the partisan intent has been proclaimed very baldly and without any equivocation by the redistricters. So I think that`s one of the things the courts are seeing. In fact, the legislature -- TODD: So the motivation behind -- so if basically the House majority leader, you know, pick the House, let`s say Pennsylvania said, boy, we are going to make a map that`s going to pick up three Republican seats, then that is how the state supreme court said, ah, see, aha?

PILDES: Well, it`s a combination of whether there`s a very clear partisan intent and then what is the effect of the map. How extreme are the partisan disadvantage imposed by the opposing party?

And what the courts have struggled with for many decades on this issue is exactly this problem. If legislators are going to be doing this, it`s hard to be shocked that political considerations are going to be part of the process.

So the question for the courts has been, well, at what point do we say this is just too much? This is too extreme, this is too much of a corruption of the basic idea that voters are supposed to be choosing politicians who are accountable to them.

TODD: If a state decides, so for instance, like I thought about different remedies for this.

So let`s say a state decides -- you know, can they decide we will use the average of the last two gubernatorial elections, the partisan breakdown, whatever that average is, and say, OK, if it`s 55/45 in favor of one party, well then no party can have a congressional district that`s more than, say, 60 percent or something like that.

Is that what we`re going to need, maybe state laws or state constitutions to draw parameters about defining what`s partisan and defining sort of the outer edge of partisanship?

PILDES: Well, many of us think that the real solution here ultimately is a change of institutions doing the drawing of the districts. So when you put this in the hands of politicians, it`s inevitable that they`re going to be tempted to protect themselves and their partisan allies.

The solution is to take it out of the hands of self-interested political actors, create commissions which a number of states have been moving to in recent years, give them transparent criteria, specify in advance what the rules are, what the priorities are, and then let them draw the districts according to those kinds of criteria.

You can tell the redistricters they have to maximize the competitiveness of districts.

TODD: Right.

PILDES: You can tell them they can`t take political considerations into account when they draw the districts. You can tell them to pay attention to respecting county boundaries, city boundaries, town boundaries.

TODD: Right.

PILDES: So there are a variety of ways of doing this, but the fundamental change is to take it out of the hands of self-interested politicians.

TODD: Answer me this last question, though. Who -- who decides what`s partisan? Is it the supreme court here? Or at what point do they say, look, we know this is out of whack, but we`re not going to tell you what parameters to use. That is a state rights issue. PILDES: Well, the supreme court, a majority of the court has said that extreme partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. The court has recognized that idea. The problem is figuring out, can the courts develop a remedy that`s consistent and the courts are comfortable applying?

So, there are difficult issues here, to be sure. But knowing that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional when taken to an extreme is something that a majority of the justices have been saying for long time now.

TODD: OK, but they still can`t post the speed limit. They haven`t told me what defines an extreme partisanship, right? What is that? Is that 80 percent? Is that 70 percent? What`s the speed limit sign?

PILDES: So without getting too technical here, the key notion is, does a plan treat the two parties symmetrically? So for example, if 45 percent of the votes go to Democrats and they get 55 percent of the seats, that may be fine as long as if 45 percent of the votes went to Republicans, they get 55 percent of the seats.

So that`s a standard measure that a lot of social scientists have used and it`s a key part of the litigation taking place right now.

TODD: That was a terrific way to end this. That`s what I was looking for. Explain to me the speed limit sign. Anyway, Richard Pildes, thank you, sir. That was great. PILDES: Thank you, Chuck. TODD: Up ahead, are we really closing in on doomsday, or is it time to just stop this clock?


TODD: Welcome back. Tonight, I`m obsessed with the end of the world. And I feel fine. That`s why you should be converting all of your assets into gold right now. Just kidding. Make it all bitcoin. The bulletin of atomic scientists just moved their doomsday clock up by 30 seconds.

They say it`s now two minutes to midnight, perilously close to a man-made apocalypse. The scientists are blaming among other things President Trump`s comments supporting nuclear weapons as well as his war of words with North Korea`s Kim Jong-un.

The scientists also add hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions on both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation. Point taken. Bulletin of atomic scientists. But I have a feeling your time may be off.

Since this clock came into existence in 1947, it`s never been more than 17 so-called minutes away from midnight. That`s still a quarter to catastrophe. So maybe it`s time to stop the clock. Do we really need an apocalyptic alarm ringing frantically every single year, doing chicken little for us?

Maybe we should hit the snooze and chill out for a minute or two. Seriously, a time-out from this time freak out might do everything some good. We`ll be back.


TODD: Time for "The Lid." Panel is back. Ramesh Ponnuru, Steve McMahon, Susan Glasser. All right, we have -- I showed you some clips from one special election, debate, Arizona eight. Very substantive. Obviously, this is not immigration. Made a point that we wanted to make about Republican primary.

There also a special election in Pennsylvania. Western Pennsylvania. It is a race that Republicans are favored in, but they`re a little bit nervous. They`re nervous enough that the NRCC is out with an interesting attack out on the Democrats. To shot this up, you do need to know that the Democrat nominee`s name is Connor Lamb. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nancy had a little lamb. His views were left like hers.


TODD: If I play the whole ad, it will be even worse, your TV will crack. It was -- it was not well done. For what it`s worth, though, Connor Lamb is actually one of the first congressional candidates who announced he`s not going to support Nancy Pelosi.

I think I have a poll screen of that. He said he wants to see new leadership. Steve McMahon, will the Nancy Pelosi attack ad work in a district like this special election in Pennsylvania in 2018? MCMAHON: Well, it depends on what the president`s approval numbers are because usually these are a referendum on the incumbent president which is why the Republicans are so nervous.

I suspect if his approval rating is 35 percent, you`re going to hear a lot more about Donald Trump, his immigration plan, and some of the other things that we have been dealing with lately, and you`re going to be hearing about Nancy Pelosi. It usually doesn`t work very well.

TODD: There is no doubt they want to try it. It is curious. I think that this is the NRCC attempt to say, can we can we trot this out one more time?

PONNURU: And apparently can we do it on a shoe string budget.


TODD: Demon sheep, this was not. If you need to know what demon sheep is, just Google it. Anyway.

PONNURU: Look, I think the fact that the democratic congressional candidate there is distancing himself from Pelosi suggests that there is something to the idea that this might work. But in most districts around the country, voters are more concerned about Donald Trump than Nancy Pelosi.

There are more voters who are polarized about Trump than are polarized about Pelosi. This might work in some of your redder districts, but in the districts that really make the difference for the House Republican majority which are districts that went for Mitt Romney in 2012 --

TODD: Right.

PONNURU: -- and then went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, I don`t see that tactic working.

TODD: Yes, Susan, look, it`s funny you say that. Look, they did use Pelosi in Georgia Six. And this is a red leaning district, that it would be a disaster if Republicans lost this because Donald Trump actually visited the district.

GLASSER: You know, I think the view generally is that if it`s a nationalized election at the House level or even sometimes at the Senate level, that`s not going to be good for Donald Trump, that means that the president is the focus of scrutiny.

And it`s hard to say that Republicans tried this with Ted Kennedy, it didn`t work. It is hard to see that this is going to be a national referendum on Nancy Pelosi.

TODD: That`s an interesting point because Democrats have been running away from nationalizing races up until the cycle. Now if you make the Pelosi attack decision as a Republican, then you are inviting -- MCMAHON: Walking into a punch as we would say in a business. And you don`t want to do that. I mean, you do not want to make this a race about Donald Trump when he`s got a 35 percent approval rating.

You want to make it about local concerns, you want to actually have the candidate distance himself not just from Donald Trump but from national Republicans and run a race that`s very localized. That`s how both sides can win this thing.

TODD: Mitt Romney apparently is finally going to unveil his papers and start doing the things you have to do to run a Senate campaign. I don`t know if you can win by acclimation in Utah, but I am guessing it`s possible.

You know, I joked about that, but, Ramesh, I have a feeling somebody who is pretty, you know, pro- Trump, maybe just for publicity sake decides to primary Romney just to get the attention.

PONNURU: I think there are a lot of Trump supporters around the country who would be really happy to see somebody at least punch him in the nose, whether or not Romney ends up winning. And I don`t think that whoever challenges him would have a great chance of knocking him off, but at least make him fight for it a little bit.

TODD: It`s interesting when you see this former presidential -- in this case presidential nominee, is it Hubert Humphrey the last one nominee to then go and ran for a seat? I think he did in 70, does that sound right to you?

But, you know, we have former presidential Lamar Alexander, Elizabeth Dole, but this is something we haven`t seen before.

GLASSER: Well, I think, look, a lot of people are wondering how much of an opponent of Trump is Mitt Romney going to be. Is he going to slide into the John McCain kind of like principled voice of the Republican opposition. Mitt Romney`s personality is not that.

But I do think that we have skipped over the election and we`ve gone directly to it. Steve Bannon remember was very focused on Romney, not wanting him to be in there. Donald Trump personally intervened basically to see if he could get Hatch to stay in.

TODD: To me, they told him -- they know that he runs --


TODD: No, no, no, that he is going to win by acclimation.

MCMAHON: I`m pinning for Mitt Romney. I can`t believe I`m saying this, I want Mitt Romney.

TODD: You have told me that. All right, guys, thanks much. Could actually do multiple stories today. It`s amazing. When the president is in Davos, look what happens. Anyway, Ramesh, Susan, Steve, many thanks.

Up ahead, potty politics.


TODD: Well, in case you missed it, art is all about expressing yourself. Just ask New York`s famed Guggenheim Museum which had no problem expressing itself to the Trump administration in one of the most I guess artistic trolls we have witnessed ever.

The Washington Post reports late last year, the White House asked to borrow a priceless work of art for president Trump`s private quarter. It is called "Landscape With Snow." It is an 1888 painting by Vincent Van Gogh.

The Guggenheim chief curator would not part with it but suggested an alternative. An 18-karat gold toilet titled "America" by Maurizio Cattelan. But at least they got the gold part, right? The Guggenheim refers to it as an interactive exhibit, which I am going to just leave right there. You can imagine what that means.

They say it, quote, offers a wink to the accesses of the art market but also evokes the American dream of opportunity for all. Its utility ultimately reminding us of the inescapable physical realities of our shared humanity. Again, this was the e-mail response back to the White House.

OK, the White House did not respond to the offer from the Guggenheim Museum, but I think we know somebody who might.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want a toilet made out of solid gold which is not (INAUDIBLE), is it?


TODD: Oh, but it could be Austin if the price is right. Seems even the stuffy Guggenheim Museum is not above a little toilet humor.

That`s all for tonight. We`ll be back tomorrow with more MTP Daily.

The Beat with Ari Melber starts right now.


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