Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Date: December 14, 2017 Guest: Greg Miller, Siobhan Hughes
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.
It's been a busy news day. The FCC today, as expected, voted to end net neutrality, which in theory will give Internet service providers the ability to essentially control what you're allowed to see on the Internet and what sort of Internet based applications and services you will be allowed to use. They will decide, not you.
If Internet service providers elect to speed up or slow down certain traffic for commercial purposes, that will put the whole online world, your access to the whole online world in their hands. As I say, today's vote was expected. It did end up being a more controversial vote than I think the FCC has expected for some very specific reasons, including some stuff that has just broken in the last 24 to 48 hours. So, we're going to have more on that vote and its consequences coming up this hour.
Also today, Republicans appear to have lost control of their big tax bill as Senator Barbara Boxer was just saying to Chris Hayes moments ago, she was saying that she praised that they lose this thing. It looks like that's possible.
Yesterday, we talked about the fact Republicans appeared to be speeding up the approach to the tax bill in the wake of the big loss in the Alabama Senate race Tuesday night. I think the idea is once the wheels start coming off your car, you should probably make the race your car is in end sooner than you were previously planning. We'll just call it a day here.
Today, though, that effort to get to the finish line sooner than planning appears to have cost them the support of some of their own senators who were previously planning on voting for this thing. Now, this is a very dynamic situation. It's fascinating, given this is happening right at the very end of the process for a bill that would be the biggest changes to the tax code in 30 years and nobody involved in trying to pass this thing appears to have a complete handle what is in it.
So, we're going to have more on that, including a live update on the very fluid situation tonight. That is still a developing story tonight. If you were one of the people whose been protesting against the tax bill around the country or on Capitol Hill, you want to see the report on that tonight. It's possible your efforts are paying off more than you might have expected them to.
We also mentioned last night one of the consequences of not just the Republican Party's failure in Alabama but specifically the president's embarrassment in Alabama is the question of what Republican senators are willing to do for the president in Washington, and whether that may be changing now. If the president is trying to use his own personal political power to bring Republican senators along to do things that they would be otherwise disinclined to do, well, that personal power, that personal influence on his part has just been weakened by what has happened in these last few elections where he has played a role.
Just in the last couple of months, the president has put his name behind and endorsed Ed Gillespie for Virginia governor who then lost. The president vigorously campaigned for and endorsed Luther Strange in the Alabama Senate primary, who then lost. The president then campaigned for and endorsed Roy Moore for Alabama senator who then lost.
And if the president had never gotten involved in those elections, the outcome would still be important for the Republican Party and the country, but they wouldn't have weakened him in Washington, vis-a-vis other Republicans. They wouldn't have weakened him in Washington on the question of whether other Republican lawmakers fear him or hope to benefit from his favor. I mean, who fears him or worries about him at this point? He doesn't appear to have much political juice right now.
So, there has been this bad run for the president politically. And after that, we mentioned last night, one of the consequences may have been the yanking of two Trump judicial nominations yesterday afternoon, hours after the Roy Moore results came in, those two judge nominations were pulled. Republicans decided they did not want to go to bat for those two particularly embarrassing nominees. After the nominees were yanked, Republican senators have also yanked another major and fairly high-profile Trump nominee.
And whether or not you care about the individual nominations that are being pulled, this is an important dynamic to watch. As the president loses juice, right, as he loses popularity in supposedly pro-Trump areas of the country, that will result in Republicans on Capitol Hill not wanting to go to bat for him. Not wanting to go to bat for the more embarrassing things the president and his administration are trying to get them to do.
So, we're going to have more on that story ahead. I think that's an important thing going on in Washington.
We also got word tonight from, where else? The Kremlin, that our president, Donald Trump, and the Russian President Vladimir Putin have had yet another meeting. They had yet another one-on-one call today.
And one thing this means is that Trump and Putin continue to have lots and lots of calls and meetings. But this is also at least the fourth time where there has been a meeting or call between our president and Russia but we have had to learn about it first from Russia. This is such a weird dynamic and it keeps happening.
There is a big robust White House communications department we pay for and every day that they give us reams of information who the president will be speaking with, who he will be meeting with, and what the points of his daily schedule. We have White House briefings and we have White House communications advisers who call and you get data from who let you know when something is about to happen.
That's all true about this White House but none of that apparently applies when it comes to Trump talking to Russia. In that case, notification comes from Moscow. The last time Trump talked to Putin, which -- well, at least as far as I know, was November 21st. The first notification there was of that in the English language that Trump would be speaking to Putin that day, first English language notification is when "Reuters" translated a notice from a Russian-based news agency which had reported that Trump and Putin would be speaking that day, and it was the first any of us in this country heard of it.
Two weeks before that, it was Trump's big Asia trip where the people of United States of America learned the president would be meeting on the sidelines of the Asian summit, one-on-one with Vladimir Putin, and we learned that from a Kremlin staffer who announced those planned meetings, and then American reporters were able to take that information from the Kremlin and bring it to the White House and asked them to confirm and then, yes, they confirm.
Before that, it was the Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador. That was the meeting where not only did Russian state media have the honor of informing us in our country that event took place, American media was actually banned from that event, while a Russian state media photographer was invited into the Oval Office to snap happy pictures, and then distribute them. So, that's how we got our record of those meetings.
And then again today, we got a nice readout from Vladimir Putin's office, from the Kremlin, about a conversation that took place today between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Thereafter, the White House confirmed that, oh, yes, that happened. Why does this keep happening? Why do we consistently have to get news about the behavior and the meetings and the conversations of the American president from the Russian government? It is very strange.
And while we're on the subject, we also got late word tonight from a new report in "The Washington Post" that right after Trump announced he was running for president, he announced in June 2015 this happened in July 2015, there was yet another instance when he was offered a one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, according Rosalind Haldeman and Tom Hamburger at "The Washington Post" tonight, the same Russia connected publicist who later set up the Trump tower meeting where he promised Russian government dirt on Hillary Clinton to the top levels of the Trump campaign.
A year before the meeting happened, he made a direct offer via e-mail to Donald Trump's assistant at Trump Tower, telling her that he would be happy to set up a Putin meeting for this new presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump's assistant is a woman named Rhona Graff, I have spoken with her in the process of trying to set up Trump interviews. She's very, very nice. She's very efficient.
We had known for a while that Rhona Graff is on the witness list for the house intelligence committee looking into the Russia scandal. Well, "The Wall Street Journal" reported tonight that for the House Intelligence Committee interview with her, Trump's assistant and also and House Intelligence interview with Felix Sater, who is a Russian born ex-con who was part of the Trump organization, and who worked on the secret Trump Tower Moscow project during the Trump campaign.
Republicans in the Intelligence Committee for some reason decided that for those who interviews for Rhona Graff and Felix Sater, they would not do those interviews on Capitol Hill. Instead, according to "The Journal" tonight, they decided to send their own intelligence committee staffers to New York City to do those interviews in the setting that would be more convenient for Ms. Graff and apparently also for Mr. Sater.
Now, having staff conduct the interviews in New York, while actual members of Congress are stuck back in Washington for votes, I'm sure that is very convenient for those witnesses, but it has the knock-on effect of preventing any members of Congress, including Democrats, from sitting in on any of that questioning. Democrats on the Intelligence Committee are reportedly not that happy about it.
And you've got to imagine Donald Trump, Jr., right, being like, wait a second, I run the Trump Organization. My dad's assistant gets them to come here and I have to go down -- I can imagine it's awkward.
So, as I said, there's a lot going on tonight. But one of the things that we have to tried to keep track of on the show is who works at the White House?
This administration is 328 days old. In that time there has been an unusually large number of people who have turned over, who have served in the Trump White House for sometime, some of them in very senior roles but then they either got fired or chose to leave for some reason or another and I'm sure that we have missed some but just in terms of high profile jobs, we try to keep a running tally of significant notable officials who have fled or been fired from the Trump White House.
The vice president's chief of staff for example has left as has the White House chief of staff, as has the deputy White House chief of staff, as has the first White House communications director and the second White House communications director, and the White House press secretary, and the assistant White House press secretary, and the vice president's press secretary, and the national security adviser, famously. Also, the deputy national security advisor, the deputy chief of staff on the National Security Council, the head of the intelligence of the National Security Council, the head of the Office of Government Ethics, the White House chief strategist, the White House chief strategist deputy, the special adviser to the president on regulatory reform, hi, Carl.
Also, that deputy assistant to the president who goes on Fox News all the time and seemed to be very important, but nobody really knew what he did, and then we found out he couldn't get a security clearance, he left, too. And also, the secretary of health and human services, he left. I mean, that's not even counting the high-profile law enforcement people that have been flung out like Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and the FBI Director James Comey and the dozens of U.S. attorneys they fired on no notice, get out tonight by midnight tonight.
I mean, it's a very long list of people who have served in pretty significant roles who are already gone. Well, this week we got two more names to add to the list. One of whom got a lot of media attention for her departure. Her name is Omarosa Manigault Newman. Her title, I looked it up, was that she was the communications director for the office of public liaison, which reminds me the director of the office of public liaison, that's another person who -- that's another person who left. Can we add that guy to the list, too? Yes, thank you. Guy's name is George Sifakis, I'm told.
Anyway, Mrs. Manigault Newman was the communications director for the office of public liaison, which is not a high-profile office, let alone is that a high profile job in that office. The beef with her among White House reporters is that nobody was quite sure what she did at all but she is personally a high-profile person because of her reality show career.
So, her departure this week attracted a lot of attention but there's been one other departure from the White House this week that's attracted comparatively very little attention. But it's for somebody with a much bigger job. Her name is Dina Powell.
Immediately before her appointment to the White House, she was working at Goldman Sachs. Gary Cohn, the president's chief economic adviser, was previously the president of Goldman Sachs. So when Dina Powell came on board, it was thought that maybe she would be in Gary Cohn's orbit.
But where she actually ended up was at the National Security Council. She was named the deputy national security advisor for strategy. And in that role, a lot of normal Republicans, forgive me, or even like never-Trump Republicans, they put faith in her, thinking she might be a potentially moderating influence in the administration more broadly, but in the National Security Council specifically.
And the National Security Counsel and policy making in this administration is of particular concern. Remember the National Security Council initially was set up by Mike Flynn and we all know how well that worked out.
And remember, after Flynn got appointed, after Flynn being appointed national security advisor, the next shutter of fear that went through national security circles was when Trump campaign CEO and White House senior -- the Trump campaign CEO arranged to get himself a seat on the National Security Council, as well. Remember that?
People are like really, Steve Bannon has a permanent seat on the National Security Council? This is a guy who runs a right wing Website and makes movies how the "Duck Dynasty" guy looks like Jesus. I mean, really? Permanent seat on the National Security Council alongside Michael Flynn running it?
I mean, I don't mean to pick on Mr. Bannon. I know he has had a bad week. Alabama was as much his humiliation as it was the president's. Remember, the whole point of Bannon stoking the Roy Moore candidacy was to flex his Steve Bannon muscles and prepare the country for his global domination plan where he was going to run primary challengers against every single sitting Republican senator, just like he did with Roy Moore.
Well, given how that worked out, the only people that may want to pay Steve Bannon to enact that plan now are probably Democrats. So, Steve Bannon is having a bad week. Everybody thought he might be this fierce specter in Trump era politics in some continuing way.
But, you know, if you think about it, before this disastrous failure he had in Alabama this week, really the last big round of attention he got was when he was fired from the White House. Before that, it was the time he was fired not from the White House but from National Security Council. They demoted him from the National Security Council, then they fired him from the White House. Flynn and Bannon were a weird idea for the National Security Council. Both of them.
Flynn ended up resigning in the Russia scandal for things that resulted in him pleading guilty. Now, he's looking at a potential prison sentence. Bannon left not that long after but those guys had really set up the National Security Council in the first place. And once they were gone, it raised the question of what would happen to the whackakos they had installed, forgive me, it's not kind. What would happen to the eccentric odd balls that they had installed? What would happen to the free thinkers they had installed at very senior levels of the National Security Council, which is a very important thing?
And in particular, when it came to Dina Powell, there was speculation on the National Security Council she might replace this guy. Dina Powell's title was deputy national security advisor for strategy. His title was deputy assistant to the president for strategic planning, right? I mean, come on, those two are a match.
That would be like if I came to work every day and I was the host of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, but there was somebody else on staff in an equally senior position who was the host of RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, right? Basically we have the same show. I expect there would be a fight to death and only one of us would keep the job in the long run.
So, Dina Powell was expected to replace this man Kevin Harrington, who was one of the original let's call them free thinkers who was installed in a very important National Security position back when Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn were in charge of that sort of thing. He came to this very senior job at the National Security Council with zero experience in foreign policy. Zero.
Now, he's supposed to be directing strategy for national security for the United States of America? Never worked in foreign policy a day in his life, however, he had worked at one of Peter Teal's hedge funds. Peter Teal, the eccentric, anti-democracy German-born billionaire who made his money at PayPal, who famously bankrupted the Gawker Website for printing things about him he did not like.
This guy in his senior job at the National Security Council, his work experience for running strategy at the National Security Council is he worked at a Peter Teal hedge fund and before that worked at a different Peter Teal hedge fund.
Well, this week, we learned that not only did Dina Powell not end up replacing him, she is now leaving the administration, and he is still at the National Security Council. And we know that in part because "The Washington Post" reports today in the remarkable epic 50-source story that he, Kevin Harrington, is one of the pro-Russia officials remaining in the White House who actually supports President Trump's compulsive submissiveness toward Russia and toward Putin in particular.
For Kevin Harrington, though, his motivation for his pro-Russia positions is reportedly a little -- it's free thinking? Is that the word we're using? Idiosyncratic, let's call it that. Quote, Kevin Harrington, a former associate at Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Teal brought into shape national security strategy saw close ties with oil and gas rich Russia as critical to surviving an energy apocalypse, a fate the officials who worked with him said he discussed frequently and the depicted as inevitable.
I can't believe this guy is still there. I remember being amazed at Peter Teal people who are being considered at the beginning for high level jobs. They were reportedly going to put a guy in charge of the FDA who came from Peter Teal land, and the reason he wanted the job running the FDA is because he believe we could all become immortal. Or at least some of us could and he was working on that. So, that's why he wanted to run the FDA.
This guy at the National Security Council is from the same crisper drawer in the same fridge and he is still there and Dina Powell is leaving. As Dina Powell leaves, the person left running strategy at the National Security Council is somebody who believes the end is near and only Putin can save us.
And this is like point 34 that we learn today out of new 100 pieces of information the Washington broke with this big story. According to "The Post" today in this remarkable story by Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker, there's an important national security story to tell about the consequences of Trump refusing to admit to or grapple with in any meaningful way the fact that Russia interfered meaningfully in the election that made him president.
Quote: The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president, his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality has impaired the government's response to a national security threat. According to "The Post" reporting, these are some of the other important pieces of news they broke today, according to "The Post" today, the presidents' daily intelligence brief is structured by his briefers to avoid upsetting him with any information he might not like to hear about Russia.
And I have to say this is a piece of reporting that raises troubling concerns whether or not the president actually reads, whether he reads intelligence briefings. Quote, a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter says Russia related intelligence that might draw Trump's ire is in some cases included in the written assessment and not raised orally because then you can be sure he won't see it because it's written?
"The Post" also in this new piece today describes an extraordinary, what they call extraordinary CIA stream of intelligence that have captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation to attack our election last year. The stream of post-election intelligence about Putin apparently has given the intelligence community information that Putin believes the operation to go after the election last year was, quote, more than worth the effort. That would suggest Russia will keep trying to do more of it.
But "The Post" also reports that Trump has never convened a cabinet level meeting on Russian interference or what to do about it.
In terms of the National Security Council, quote, one official said there is an unspoken understanding within the NSA that to raise the matter of Russia is to acknowledge its validity, which the president would see as an affront.
After the new national security advisor, H.R. McMaster brought in a legit Russia expert to helm that part of the National Security Council, Fiona Hill, Trump demeaned and insulted her in a way hard to believe for what we know about this president and his White House. Quote, in one of her first encounters with the president, an Oval Office meeting for a call with Putin on Syria, Trump appeared to mistake Fiona Hill for a member of the clerical staff, handing her a memo he had marked up and instructing to rewrite.
When Hill responded with a perplexed look, Trump became irritated with what he interpreted as insubordination, according to officials who witnessed the exchanged, as she walked in confusion, Trump exploded and motion to McMaster to intervene. McMaster then followed Fiona Hill out the door and scolded her.
Fiona Hill is the Russian expert on the National Security Council, a legit Russia expert, who was brought into the National Security Council post the Flynn and Bannon debacle. Just remarkable.
We've got Greg Miller here to talk about remarkable reporting, including the damming and brand-new revelation even though they got caught planning to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia and Congress alerted of the fact and blocked them from doing it even after those efforts were exposed by Congress and exposed in the press and who became a subject of great scandal and great consternation in Washington, even after all that, the administration and specifically Secretary of Stat Rex Tillerson reportedly continued to offer the Russians in secret that the Trump administrations would help them out on sanctions. That they were happy to give them back some of what Obama had taken away in punishment for them hacking our election.
Just remarkable, remarkable reporting today from "The Washington Post." Greg Miller joins us next.
MADDOW: Here is the great Dan Rather just last week talking about his time covering the LBJ presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONAN O'BRIEN, LATE NIGHT HOST: There was a story that Lyndon Johnson, he was a very earthty guy, and he would -- he was very comfortable talking to aides and reporters sometimes in the Oval Office while using the bathroom while they were physically there. Not on the phone, but physically there. Is that -- is that true?
DAN RATHER, TV ANCHOR: That is true and I can be eyewitness testimony to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Bathroom diplomacy.
And thanks to extraordinary fly on the wall, fly on the wall, reporting from "The Washington Post" we know that LBJ is not the only American president known to mix business with bathroom. This is a section from today's reporting that's about the president's negativity toward NATO and our NATO allies, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Quote, his demeanor with the German leader was in striking contrast with the encounters with Putin and authoritarian figures. Who were the three guys in the world he most admires? President Xi of China, the president of Turkey, Erdogan, and Putin, said one Trump adviser, they're all the same guy.
Merkel has never fit into that Trump pantheon. Before her arrival, senior White House aides witnessed an odd scene that some saw for the visit. As National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and a dozen other top aides met with Trump in the Oval Office, to outline issues that Merkel was likely to raise, the president grew inpatient, he stood up and walked into an adjoining bathroom. Trump left the bathroom door open, according to officials familiar with the incident, instructing H.R. McMaster to raise his voice and keep talking.
That is not the most important revelation from this new reporting from "The Washington Post", but, boy, is it the thing I can't get out of my head. So, I wasn't hungry all day. Didn't eat lunch. Didn't eat dinner. I'm fine.
Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker interviewed more than 50 current and former U.S. officials for this piece. Mr. Miller joins us now.
Greg, thank you for joining us. Congratulations on this reporting.
GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: I'm not going to ask you about the bathroom thing. I want people to know there.
I want to ask you about the presidents' daily briefs, his daily intelligence briefings. You report they are basically jerry-rigged so as not to upset him with Russia intel that he won't like. Russia news is either not put in the oral briefing, it's only put in the written brief or it's otherwise sort of buried so it won't upset, wanted something so much it derails the briefing.
Are the briefers concerned about this? Are they intelligence agencies concerned about this in terms of the president not having access to this information?
MILLER: I mean, so the answer is sort of yes and no, I guess. So, the intelligence officials we talked to emphasize that they are not holding important developments out of the briefing. They are professionals. The daily brief is written by career expert staff. They're not going to do that. This is their job, this is their mission, it's a sworn duty, one official told us.
But the way it's structured undergoes -- they think that through to avoid upsetting Trump, to avoid getting the briefing off as you just read as one of the people voted off the rails by raising something that's going to upset him directly. They do this in a couple ways. One is to put the really sensitive stuff in print so that they can say yes, we delivered this to the White House, we're not withholding this from the White House, but we're not calling it out orally in his presence. But otherwise, there are also, just sort of adjusting the order or adjusting sort of areas of emphasis.
And, Rachel, this is not the only example in our story today of how senior aids ors senior advisors tiptoe around Trump on this sensitive Russia issues, and you may have seen in our story talks about what one advisor calls the five and a half foot rule on really sensitive stuff that is likely to upset him where you have a consensus among lower aides to avoid carrying those decisions into the Oval Office out of fear you will get an eruption from him or an overrule of something that others already agree is sensible policy.
MADDOW: Greg, let me ask you about another type of sensitivity in terms of the president and Russia information. Back in June, I think you were one of the reporters in "The Washington Post" story about an intelligence bombshell that was delivered to then-President Obama that included sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed President Vladimir Putin's direct involvement in the campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. And that intel included Putin specific instructions.
Do we -- has -- the overarching sort of theme of your story is about the president being unwilling to engage with this factual information that Russia interfered in the election and that Putin was behind it. Do we know if President Trump has seen that bombshell intelligence reporting detailing specific orders from Putin?
MILLER: Yes, absolutely. That's one of the things we reported today is that when the senior intelligence officials travel to New York after Trump won the election but before he was inaugurated on January 6th this year, they laid out for him all of the most highly classified components of that intelligence case. I mean, this was one of the most critical pieces of evidence that they put on the table for the president.
And as we wrote, you know, these officials included former director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper, were worried that they were going to be thrown out of the room. They were prepared for a blowup. And weirdly, that ends up being a very subdued meeting and Trump seems to go along with this and seems sort of oddly acquiescent on this. His own officials hold meetings with him after that, to try to cement this, they regard this as progress. He's coming around to accept this.
But as they over a period of several days continue to try to lock that in with him, he gets very agitated, starts railing how the intelligence can't be trusted, that for him to admit this would be to fall into a trap. And then, from there forward, they never recover what they felt they had in that moment, that acceptance of the case.
MADDOW: Can I ask you just one follow up question on that particular point about that very sensitive intel?: Obviously, there is a lot of drama around the idea the CIA has access to information from deep inside the Kremlin that reflects Putin's, you know, actual words and actual instructions in terms of ordering this campaign or discussing this campaign, is there any concern among the intelligence community that discussing sources and methods like that about somebody close enough to Putin to get that information, that there might be a concern in a security concern for that source in giving that information to the president, given his relationship with Putin?
MILLER: You know, that's a really difficult question. We've asked intelligence officials about that. Frankly, I have heard intelligence officials say they do have those concerns and there is that hesitation, but that the president is the president and it's not -- and their job is to inform the president, the elected president. So, that is their duty.
MADDOW: Very difficult stuff. Compelling, compelling story, but these are very difficult national security issues. It's kind of -- the heart in your throat stuff.
"Washington Post" national security correspondent Greg Miller, again, congratulations on this piece today. Thanks for being here.
MILLER: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right. A lot more to get to. Busy night. Stay with us.
MADDOW: This is what we call the horseshoe grab. This is current party breakdown in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans control the House. They have 239 seats which is shown in red. Democrats have 193 seats shown here in blue. There are three vacancies. Tthose are little gray ones down front.
Of the 239 red seats in the House right now, though, a chunk of those little red squares are Republicans who are nervous about next year's elections because a chunk of the red squares represent Republicans where Hillary Clinton beat Trump. Voters picked the Republican for Congress, but they picked the Democrat for president. That happened in 23 districts all across the country.
And that must have been exciting on election night, but if you're one of the growing red squares thinking about election, that has to be worrying. Anyone can concede that in those 23 districts, the political wins are blowing in the direction for next year. Those are places that supported Hillary Clinton anyway. So, Republicans understandably are worried about those seats.
But here is the chart part. Come election time, if the wins continue to blow in Democrats direction the way they are right now, those 23 will not be the only vulnerable seats that are keeping Republicans up at night. Since the 2016 election, there have been 68 contested special elections across the country for seats in state legislatures, in -- there has been a few U.S. House races and then, of course, there was the blockbuster U.S. Senate race this week in Alabama.
And watching these races play out is fascinating on the individual level but also fascinating in terms of the trend they represent. Turns out it's not just Alabama. If you look at the presidential results, a lot of races all across the country show Democrats making really big gains. If you look at the results in the special elections since November, on average, Democrats have improved margins by ten points.
So, compared to November, if that ten-point swing means if they won by two points in November, they're winning by twelve points now on average. If they lost by 15 points, they are within five points on average.
So, put the chart back up there. Come election time in 2018, when every single one of these squares is up for reelection because the house is up every two years. If the winds keep blowing in Democrats direction the way they are blowing now, Democrats statistically would grab not just the 23 red seats where voters went for Hillary Clinton. A ten-point swing would have Democrats flipping another 39 seats, as well.
If you apply the average ten-point swing Democrats have been enjoying in special elections since November, if that momentum still applies to races, the ten-point swing will have Nancy Pelosi measuring the drapes in Paul Ryan's office. A ten-point swing would cut Republicans in Washington off at the knees.
So, if you are a Republican in Congress right now, what these special elections are doing to you, they are giving you a horseshoe size lump in your stomach right about now. I mean, if Republicans lose the house next year, it would be a huge deal for their party. But we might not have to wait until 2018 for a preview for that.
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: If you've been in politics as long as Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley has, you tend to get pretty good at reading the political weather. The same night the Democrats did the impossible and walked away with a Senate seat in Alabama, Senator Grassley's home state of Iowa also had a special election for a legislative seat there and it presented a 31-point swing to the Democrats, in a very conservative corner of Iowa.
If you're Chuck Grassley, that counts as a change in the weather. The day after those elections in Alabama and his home state, Chuck Grassley announced he would no longer support two of President Trump's controversial nominees for judgeships. After that announcement from Grassley, those nominees got pulled by the White House.
Then, a similar dynamic played out last night with another Trump nominee, this time at the EPA. The president's nominee to lead chemical safety at the EPA spent his career fighting against chemical safety rules on behalf by companies that are bound by them. Well, he's gone now, too. He withdrew after two Republican senators came forward, something changed their minds. They decided they were no longer going to support it.
Outright rejection of the President's nominees by members of his own party is kind of a new thing in the Trump era. Turns out Alabama Senate elections have consequences. If you're a lawmaker and the president can make or break you by offering or withholding his support, then yes, that might factor into decisions for supporting some of his even really embarrassing nominees. Now that the president's chosen candidates keep getting solidly rejected at the ballot box by voters, even in red states, well, then, maybe the president's opinion doesn't matter to you as much.
Tonight, Republicans are racing toward a vote on the big tax bill that the president is very much behind. In theory, they should be able to get this thing passed with just their own votes. Tonight, that's looking wobbly.
Senator Marco Rubio today announced he'll oppose the Republican tax bill unless it's expanded -- unless it expands a child tax credit. He was followed by Utah Senator Mike Lee who says that he's now undecided on the bill, too. Senator Bob Corker voted against the bill the last time. A no from Rubio and Lee would be it. It would be done.
Now, whether Rubio and Lee are ready to torpedo the bill remains unclear. It doesn't seem like they are the only Republican senators who are ready to balk. Could this week's Republican disaster in Alabama lead to further bleeding among Republicans on Capitol Hill for a very, very unpopular piece of legislation that the president nevertheless wants?
Hold that thought.
MADDOW: If you have been one of the people protesting against the Republican tax bill, either out at your representative's office in the district or up in Capitol Hill, today brought news that the Republicans may have lost the votes among their own senators to get this thing passed.
Senator Marco Rubio and Senator Mike Lee both Republicans said they will be no votes on the tax bill unless it's changed in ways they like. Is this thing potentially really at risk?
Joining us now is "Wall Street Journal" reporter Siobhan Hughes. She's been covering this on the Hill.
Ms. Hughes, I really appreciate your time tonight. Thanks for being with us.
SIOBHAN HUGHES, CAPITOL HILL REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Happy to be here.
MADDOW: So, I'm trying to do the Republican math here. We have questions of Rubio and Lee. Three others as far as I know, Corker, Collins and Flake haven't committed to supporting it, and then we got the delicate issue of Thad Cochran and McCain both having health issues right now, that seems like a lot of wiggle room in terms of whether the Republicans have the votes.
Do you think they have the votes?
HUGHES: The most likely scenario is that Republicans pass the bill but today what we saw is that it is no longer impossible for this bill to be sunk. The math you described is a problem for Republicans because they can lose no more than two votes and still pass this bill. You have listed far more than two Republicans who can potentially be against this bill.
MADDOW: In terms of the timing here, one of the things that I think is frustrated people who are against the bill or worry about the implications is they're going very fast with it, this is a huge change to the tax code. They didn't spend time debating it and there's no external constraint that forces them to pass it so quickly.
Is it possible that they're going to have to spend more time either waiting for a score on this or horse trading on this that it might push it into the New Year where the math would change against them after Doug Jones is sworn in?
HUGHES: It's highly unlikely, but again, you can't say. So far, the Senate we expected to vote on this bill on Monday no longer has that on the schedule. Vice President Mike Pence delayed a trip to the Middle East so he could be here to cast a tiebreaking vote and there's a delicate issue of the health of Senator John McCain and Thad Cochran. And while they have said they will be here next week, those clearly remained wild cards, X- factors and then the question of how you come up with the money to make the full extent of the change that Senators Rubio and Lee want. That's $80 billion. That's not easy to find.
MADDOW: They $80 billion change and the whole thing scored to add trillion and a half dollars to the deficit anyway. Are they constrained fiscally they can't add more to the debt without changing something else fundamental about the bill or put it on the tab?
HUGHES: No. You are right. They're constraint is 1.5 trillion. They held themselves to that and now stuck with that number. So they have to take something away from somebody else and as you can imagine, that ruffles feathers. And so, we still don't know where they'll get the money from to appease people.
MADDOW: We've been watching protesters and constituents making very heartfelt, very compelling to my mind at least personal cases to senators like Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Susan Collins in Maine, a lot of senators who might conceivably be on the bubble about this with personal pressure.
Is there a sign they're being moved by those kinds of appeals by constituents?
HUGHES: So far, there isn't a sign they're moves because the Republicans are dedicated to the notion on balance, what they're going is going to be better for people. One little wrinkle that I saw today is Rod Blum, who is a member of the freedom caucus, an Iowa Republican, put out a tweet saying he was listening to his constituents and trying to make recommendations about what should be in the tax bill. Seats are like that are looking at risk. Mimi Walters of California is another person who has had jitters.
So, there's some of that but maybe not enough in the Senate to change hues.
MADDOW: Siobhan Hughes, reporter for "The Wall Street Journal", really appreciate your time tonight. Super clarifying. Appreciate it.
HUGHES: Thank you.
MADDOW: All right. We'll be right back.
MADDOW: Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net neutrality regulations prohibiting Internet service providers picking and choosing which traffic is fast online and which traffic slow online. If providers choose to do this, choose to restrict things that way, it will effectively put in their hands what content you have access to online. And what Internet based services you can see and use.
Think about how much of your life is online. It will be up to Internet service providers not up to you what you can see and what you can do online. That vote today was strange for a couple of reasons. One is that it directly overturned a decision that same commission made under three years ago. The FCC reversed itself on a huge, huge issue with implications for every Internet user which is almost every American. And huge implications for every telecom company in the United States, reversed itself in a span of less than 36 months.
The other reason this decision today was weird is because what they did today is wildly unpopular. Like, toenail fungus unpopular. I should mention here that MSNBC's parent company Comcast is one of the nation's largest Internet service providers, but there are -- when we're talking about human beings, there are no human beings who are in favor of what the FCC did today. I mean, corporations are standing to profit for it, sure. But actual humans, very few.
The FCC made the decision despite the massive unpopularity and the despite that fact that yesterday, 19 state attorneys general asked them not to do it, at least not year, after the documented revelation that in the public comment period about this decision, millions of fake comments were submitted to the FCC in favor of getting rid of net neutrality. Millions.
The New York state attorney general has been investigating. He estimates as many as 2 million comments in the public comment period were posted using stole identities. So, a huge of the information the commission was supposed to use to make an informed decision to do a huge 180 on something they decided just three years ago that's gong to affect everybody in the country, a huge amount of the information in which they base that decision is bogus, is made up. We have no idea who submitted it or why.
And yes, the next place you will see this story is in court. Watch this space.
That does it for us. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it's time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
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