CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: You get to hear her actual voice.
We have a lot of big plans this year. Great new guests and we also have the possibilities from road shows. A lot of you have been telling us where you are and whether you would come out to a road show. We are collating all that feedback. You`re going to hear from us more on that.
And that is ALL IN for this evening.
"THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Welcome back, my friend. Good to see you.
HAYES: You too. Good to see you.
MADDOW: And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. Very happy to have you here tonight. Very happy to be back from the holidays. Happy New Year.
On New Year`s Eve, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren announced that she is forming an exploratory committee to prepare for a presidential campaign. Tonight, in just a couple of minutes, Senator Elizabeth Warren will be here live for her first interview since that announcement.
2019 is going to be a whole lot of things in American news and politics. I think there was good reason for this year`s New Year`s Eve to be a little more, sort of nervous making than usual. I think everybody is sensing that 2019 is going to be a wear-your-seat belt kind of year in American government. It helps that impression that we are starting the New Year with the government already shut down.
But one of the many things that we know 2019 is going to be is a huge year for the Democratic Party. 2017 saw the Democrats in shock at their loss of the White House, and their across the board relegation from power. 2018 saw the Democrats regroup and find their footing and organize their butts off to win back control of the House, to actually win more seats than they have won in any midterm election since the one that happened just a few weeks after Nixon resigned in 1974.
Now, 2019 is going to be a huge year in the history of the Democratic Party for two reasons. One, because Democrats are about to have an epic, national, all hands on deck competition to decide how they want to oust Donald Trump from power next year, and with whom as their candidate. Senator Elizabeth Warren is the first real Democratic heavyweight to formally enter that competition. So, I`m really excited that we have her here live tonight to start that conversation. I`ve been looking forward to that for a very, very long time.
But the second reason this is going to be a huge year for the Democratic Party is because right alongside that big national presidential competition that the Democrats are starting right now, right alongside that, tomorrow at noon, Nancy Pelosi will take up that big gavel as speaker of the house, which will put her second in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency, after only the vice president himself. The Democrats tomorrow will take over the House under Pelosi`s leadership. But not the Senate, which means they will not be in a position to make policy on their own.
For all legislation, big and small, they will find themselves in a necessary but not sufficient role, which means they could do nothing by themselves, but nothing can be done without them, either. Where they will have control of their own destiny and the ability to govern as they see fit, will be inside Congress, when Democrats tomorrow take control of every committee in the house, with all that implies, in terms of the investigative powers of Congress and their subpoena powers, and their oversight powers and responsibilities.
That, of course, will have special significance for the president himself, given the existentially threatening serious scandals that plague him like no other president in U.S. history. But I think we should expect the Democrat`s control of the House should change the Trump administration more broadly, as well, beyond just the president himself, because even in these last couple of years, with Republicans in charge, and with Republicans not playing any role at all in terms of watch dogging and exercising oversight of the new administration, still, over the last couple of years in that environment, the Trump cabinet was like a carousel that somebody turned up to a 300-mile-an-hour spin cycle.
I mean, cabinet officials and cabinet nominees regularly and spectacularly being flung off into space. Ahh, right? There`s almost every single one of them faced significant ethical allegations and scandals.
I mean, Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, Ronny Jackson, Andy Puzder. Remember Ben Carson`s dining set? How is Wilbur Ross still there? I mean, that is with the Republicans in Congress doing everything they could to make sure nobody knew, or noticed or cared, let alone did anything about any of it.
I mean, today we got just a little snapshot, a little taste of that. President Trump today hosted a cabinet meeting today. There are a lot of weird things about it. He did -- he sort of went on a rift for a while on the wisdom of the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan. Somebody has apparently given President Trump the old Soviet Union talking points on why that invasion was an awesome idea. And so, President Trump decided to wheel out those Soviet era talking points for the cameras in front of his somewhat bewildered cabinet today.
So, you`re the Republican president arguing that it`s a good idea for the Soviet Union to have invaded Afghanistan -- people are like, please, nobody ask him about the gulag, right? But this cabinet meeting today was the first of the year, the day after New Year`s Day. And in addition to all the weirdness in the room, the timing and the nature of who was there, there`s a very weird spotlight on the cast of characters surrounding the president today, right?
Yesterday, New Year`s Day, is when Ryan Zinke left as interior secretary, under an ethics and corruption cloud. Today, we got a nice reminder that the acting replacement for him at the Interior Department is an oil industry lobbyist.
Yesterday, New Year`s Day, was also departure day for Defense Secretary James Mattis. The acting replacement for him we got spotlighted today is an executive from Boeing, a major defense contractor. He sat right next to the president today. At one point, I thought he swallowed his tongue and might need physical help, but I think he`s OK.
Yesterday, New Year`s Day, was also departure day for U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Today was a good reminder that her designated successor is a host from "Fox and Friends."
Yesterday, New Year`s Day, was also departure day for White House chief of staff John Kelly, whose acting replacement is -- first of all, that`s a weird thing in itself. There`s not such thing as an acting White House chief of staff. White House chief of staff is a job that the president picks somebody for. It`s not like there`s a confirmation process that makes someone graduate from acting in the role to really holding the job. You either have the job or you don`t.
But nevertheless, we`re supposed to say now that the acting chief of staff at the White House will be Mick Mulvaney. Mick Mulvaney was a Republican congressman when President Trump nominated him to run the White House Budget Office. At that point during his confirmation process, Mr. Mulvaney was discovered to have not paid payroll taxes on his family`s nanny.
He nevertheless was confirmed to run the budget office and he thereafter took it upon himself to seize control of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau so he could commence choking all life out of it. He requested immediately that its budget go to zero and then quickly stopped the agency`s enforcement actions against payday lenders, loan sharks and financial scams that preyed specifically on members of the U.S. military and their families. He will now be the new acting White House chief of staff.
So, again, that`s just in terms of just today`s transitions. That`s the oil lobbyist at the Interior Department, the defense contractor executive at the Pentagon, the "Fox and Friends" host at the U.N., and the guy underpaying his nanny that has made it his life`s work to destroy the life`s work of Elizabeth Warren in protecting normal Americans from the financial scams and bankrupting them, those are literally just the people who at their first day of work today in the Trump cabinet, while over 400,000 normal government workers today were forced to work for free, indefinitely, as the shutdown continues and another 400,000 normal federal workers have been sent home without pay.
This is the environment which the Democrats are being handed subpoena and oversight power. This is also the environment in which Elizabeth Warren now says she will run for president herself, thank you very much.
But before we bring on Senator Warren tonight, I also want to just briefly let you know about one other thing that we`re watching closely in our newsroom tonight. We`re not sure when we`re going to get an answer to this, so you should know about it tonight in case it happens tonight. Actually, there are two things like that.
The first one you definitely heard about already, which is the arrest in Russia of an American named Paul Whelan. Russia apparently arrested Paul Whelan on Friday of last week, on the 28th. They say that he`s a spy. They say they caught him in the act of some kind of espionage.
Paul Whelan is 48 years old. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps, deployed twice to Iraq in 2004 and 2006. He was a staff sergeant in 2008 when he was court-martialed on larceny charges, stripped of his rank, given a bad conduct discharge from the Marine Corps.
He now works for an auto parts company in the Midwest. Nobody quite understands what his connection is to Russia. It`s been reported today that he did have an active presence on at least one Russian social media outlet. His family has said he has traveled to Russia repeatedly, but they also say he was there this time for a purely social occasion, a friend`s wedding, and that there`s no chance that he was spying, which is what Russia is alleging.
Well, after being arrested on Friday, Russia should have provided Mr. Whelan with consular access. They should have provided him with access to American embassy officials within 72 hours. That did not happen, though, until today. When U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, was allowed to visit with him. That is unusual that the ambassador himself would take this kind of meeting.
But the U.S. government is being quiet and acting a little strangely about this. Number one, it is strange for Huntsman to have taken the meeting. Also, the U.S. secretary of state, Huntsman`s boss, Mike Pompeo is being very, very quiet about this. He`s saying only that the U.S. wants more information in this case.
And who knows what is really going on in this case? Honestly, I mean, who knows what is going on with this American who has been arrested, Paul Whelan? Who knows what is going on in the Trump administration when it comes to dealing with Russia?
But this American guy is now five days and counting in Russian custody. He`s facing decades in prison there if they convict him on espionage charges. And so, one thing to watch here is the possibility, and it is just a possibility, but it is worth watching for the possibility that Russia has arrested this guy, that Russia has picked this American guy up because they want a swap.
One trailing end of the Mueller investigation is the indictment of Russian citizen Maria Butina. She was criminally charged for allegedly acting in this country as a secret agent of the Russian Federation, allegedly sent here by Russian officials to infiltrate and influence the Republican Party in the 2016 presidential campaign through the NRA and other connections that she cultivated with American conservatives. Maria Butina initially pled not guilty, but has since pled guilty and entered into a new cooperation agreement that requires her to cooperate with local, state, and federal prosecutors.
Now, we know from an accidentally, momentarily unsealed court filing that her cooperation has already include Maria Butina secretly testifying to a grand jury in Washington, D.C. About what, we do not know.
We also know from publicly facing court filings that prosecutors in her case have urged the judge in her case to leave in place a gag order that prevents Butina`s lawyers from talking publicly about her case. They made that case to the judge. They made that argument about the gag order, saying that that gag order should remain in place so as to not prejudice any forthcoming criminal trials involving new defendants we haven`t met yet, who may be indicted in part based on testimony and evidence provided by Maria Butina, now that she`s cooperating with prosecutors.
If you`re Russia, how do you feel about that? If she was, in fact, as prosecutors allege, acting as an agent of the Russian government to influence the U.S. presidential election and the Republican Party, how do you, in Russian government, feel about the fact that she`s now pled guilty and agreed to cooperate and is testifying to a grand jury and prosecutors are hinting it may result in yet more indictments?
There is historical precedent for Russia -- actually, for the Soviet Union, there is historical precedent for the Soviet Union arresting somewhat random Americans in Russia, specifically so they could swap those random Americans for a valuable Russian, who is being held in U.S. custody, who the Russians desperately wanted to get back home. "The Washington Post" today notes that it happened in 1986, after an FBI sting operation in New York resulted in the arrest of a Soviet physicist named Gennadi Zakharov for allegedly spying on behalf of the Soviet Union.
So, Zakharov gets arrested here, he`s a Soviet physicist. He`s charged as a spy. To get Zakharov back, the Soviets, three days later, arrested an American journalist in Moscow, an American journalist named Nicholas Daniloff. He worked for "U.S. News and World Report" at the time.
And the point of arresting this American journalist had much less to do with him than it did with the fact that they wanted that Soviet physicist back out of U.S. custody. And sure enough, the Soviets ended up swapping the American journalist in Moscow for the Russian physicist in New York. They had something to trade, see?
And it wasn`t quite that simple, there was other retaliation on both sides. It was a big diplomatic standoff. But the principle is worth knowing from history, right? As one Russian accused foreign agent right now sits here in an American jail with a cooperation agreement, for God`s sakes, and one American, now newly sits in jail over there.
So, again, the State Department and the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo do not seem at least publicly exercised about this newly arrested American in Moscow. But this thing I think is worth watching closely. If it does turn out to be a Russian effort to get somebody to swap for Maria Butina, this may be a very interesting, sort of thing to weigh between what the Trump administration, the executive branch wants to do with Maria Butina, and how valuable U.S. prosecutors, including the Mueller investigation, is finding her as a cooperating witness.
And also, one last thing that we`re watching. I`m surprised to say it, but we`re watching the U.S. Supreme Court tonight, because for the first time, what appears to be an element of the Mueller investigation has gone to the Supreme Court of the United States. And we could get a ruling from them literally any time now. So you should know this is going on.
Now, the fuse on this one got lit over the holiday break. It`s been shrouded in secrecy, so you are forgiven if this hasn`t been on your radar for the past few days, but you should have a heads up about this, because we really are watching for this and we don`t know when this is going to happen.
You know, you will remember that there is a case, a mystery case, that has been handled almost entirely under seal in federal court in Washington. And we know it relates to the Mueller investigation because of sharp-eyed reporters at "Politico" and CNN who have been watching the clerk`s office in D.C. federal court and watching the building where Mueller`s team works from, and those reporters have piece it together that the sealed case does involve Mueller`s prosecutors.
From the one public-facing court order in this case, we think we can surmise that what this case is about is Mueller and his team issuing a subpoena to a company, and that company is owned by a foreign country`s government. So we don`t know what country, it`s just called country A, we don`t know the name of the company, it`s just called the corporation. But this corporation, this foreign company, they don`t want to obey the subpoena they got from Mueller.
And so, initially, they went to federal court in Washington, D.C. to argue they shouldn`t have to obey the subpoena, basically because of their ownership structure, basically arguing that because they`re a corporation owned by a foreign company, they shouldn`t be subject to American law at least in this way. So, the first level federal court in D.C., district court in D.C., heard that challenge from the company and said, no, no way, that`s no reason for you to get to ignore the subpoena. You have to obey the subpoena.
The company appealed to the appeals court in D.C. and the appeals court in D.C. also heard that appeal, they heard the case, and they too said, nope, no way. We agree with the lower court. Your argument doesn`t hold water. The lower court ruling stands, you have to obey that subpoena.
The company then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is a total Hail Mary, right? Everybody appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court. The odds of them taking up their appeal are like, it`s not like mega millions or Powerball, but like, really, it`s really long odds. Surprise, though, the Sunday before Christmas, yes, on a Sunday, the Supreme Court justice, who was basically responsible for cases from the D.C. Circuit happens to be the Chief Justice John Roberts. He decided last Sunday, yes, we might take up this appeal.
And Chief Justice John Roberts asked for briefs from the government, which in this case means Mueller`s prosecutors. He got that brief a few days ago. And then this afternoon, he got a response brief from whatever this mystery foreign state-owned company is.
And so, now, the Supreme Court of the United States is weighing this. They are, right now, most unexpectedly, wading around in this totally secret, totally intriguing part of the Mueller investigation, which we really don`t know anything about at all. But they`ve got the briefs from both sides, and so, they could rule now at any time, and I will just say, if the Supreme Court does decide to take up this case, if they do decide to hear this appeal from this foreign company, they would also have to decide if this whole thing is going to continue to happen completely in secret, which itself is amazing, because I`m not a lawyer, and I may be wrong here, but I don`t know of any other Supreme Court case ever in the history of this country where the parties involved are all being kept secret, and the arguments in this case are all being kept secret, too.
But that is how this case has been conducted this far in the lower courts. And if the Supreme Court takes it up on those terms, we are going to see something at the Supreme Court that has never happened before in this country, and it will be happening for the first time on a case that is derived from the Mueller investigation into the weighty matter of whether or not the president of the United States was elected as a knowing participant in a hostile foreign intelligence operation.
So, we`re waiting on that tonight, day one. Other than that, this is shaping up to be a normal year, right?
Senator Elizabeth Warren has just announced she`s opening an exploratory committee to run for president. She joins us live here in studio, next.
MADDOW: It was September 1998, President Bill Clinton was arguing to the public that he should not have to resign. Google was barely two weeks ago and the next generation of young adults was getting prematurely saddled with ridiculous amounts of debt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: College for many, the first taste of freedom, and responsibility. And for some, easy money and big debt.
Lured by cheap giveaways, pens, CD holders, college kids can get credit cards easily.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn`t have to put anything down that I had a job or was able to pay it.
REPORTER: That can lead to big trouble. The average credit card dealt for students is $1,800. A recent study by a Harvard law professor shows a quarter of a million of young people filed for personal bankruptcy before they`re even 25.
ELIZABETH WARREN, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: We`re talking about young people who are beginning their lives, their professional careers and starting families by declaring themselves financial failure because of the debt they have run up while in college.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Recognize that familiar face? Elizabeth Warren was a professor at Harvard Law School, and an expert in bankruptcy law. But at this point in her career, she had not only gained a reputation for being able to explain the financial industry and the financial system in a way that made sense to regular people at home, she also specifically gained a reputation for telling you things that were helpful to your own life, but that the financial industry really didn`t want you to hear.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: When credit card companies prey on the vulnerable, it`s just a way to fleece the young people of America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Elizabeth Warren has long had a knack for explaining what regular middle class people in America were feeling on a very personal level, what was happening to them, and importantly, explaining why it was not necessarily their fault. A side effect of Elizabeth Warren`s public profile before she became a figure in American politics was that she took the shame out of the financial struggle that regular working Americans have faced as the system has served them less and less well over time.
The title of her 2003 book about why things were so tough for middle class families was plain. She called it "The Two-Income Trap." It`s a blockbuster for good reason. She based it on research she had done with her daughter that showed middle class families not struggling because of outlandish spending on things they couldn`t afford. They were struggling because they had, in many ways, been set up for failure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: What we discovered is that what we think of as ordinary consumer spending, families are spending less. So the question became, why are they going broke? And the answer is: the basic expenses. The things it takes to raise a family in the middle class: mortgage, health insurance, a second car so that mom can get to work, tuition for preschool, tuition for college. Those are the expenses, those core expenses that are slamming families against the wall financially.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Getting out there, speaking plainly, telling regular people at home, understand the system that`s gotten you where you are. This is not of your own making.
The system is stacked against you, and here is why. That was Elizabeth Warren`s public profile, spoke to people at home watching TV, spoke to Democrats as they pursued new ways to protect middle class families and consumers at the federal level, particularly in the context of the Wall Street collapse in 2008 and 2009. Now, it is the centerpiece of her potential bid for the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN: In our country, if you work hard and play by the rules, you ought to be able to take care of yourself and the people you love. That`s a fundamental promise of America, a promise that should be true for everyone. I`ve spent my career getting to the bottom of why America`s promise works for some families, but others who work just as hard slip through the cracks into disaster. What I found is terrifying. These aren`t cracks that families are falling into, they`re traps. America`s middle class is under attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: They are traps. This is the -- talk about consistency. This is the message that, for decades, has made Elizabeth Warren a fairly terrifying specter to Wall Street and to the people who benefit from how the system works now and the way the system is stacked against regular meshes. Those attacks sharpened when she decided she herself would jump into politics in 2012 when she unseated one of the coziest and best paid friends of the financial industry, Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts. He was an incumbent Republican senator at the time and she beat him by eight points. Now, she just got re-elected senator in Massachusetts by 24 points and now she`s announced her exploration of a run for the White House.
Joining us now for the interview is Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts.
WARREN: Thank you. It`s good to be here.
WARREN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Why -- a lot of people are considering running, a few people have already stuck a toe in the water. You are the first household name Democrat, the first heavyweight to announce that you are going to go ahead with this exploratory committee. Why are you going first?
WARREN: Well, look, I want to be in this fight, because this is, in my view, the fundamental question that faces our country. And it`s so -- who does Washington work for? You can see what the trap is. Why does the trap continue year after year after year?
And the answer is, because Washington is working great, fabulously, for the wealthy and the well-connected. They have bought the government they want. They have bought the rules that they want.
I think that Washington ought to work for everybody else. And I think that`s what this fight out to be about. We`re talking about a system that is fundamentally corrupt. That the money that flows through Washington is how it is, that this whole system just stays rigged. And the folks at the top are doing great, and everybody else just sliding further and further.
MADDOW: You -- I live in Massachusetts, I`m one of your constituents.
WARREN: Yes, good.
MADDOW: You were just re-elected.
MADDOW: You just won in a landslide. I can see a future for you where, if you could live to be 300 years old, Massachusetts would continue electing you until you were 300.
WARREN: Thank you.
MADDOW: I could imagine you, because of what I know about Massachusetts and because of what I know about you as a politician and your beliefs and skills, that you could go back -- you could build a life long rest of your career in the Senate and become the liberal economic populist lion of the Senate, and I can imagine you doing a lot of good in that role. I don`t know if I were you why I would prefer to try to achieve those goals as president rather than trying to continue to achieve them and build on what you`ve already done in the Senate.
WARREN: So, look, this isn`t about me. This is about tens of millions of families across this country who are getting cheated, and they`re getting cheated on financial products, they`re getting cheated on prescription drugs, a Washington that works great for drug companies, not people trying to fill prescriptions.
You can just keep going through the list. It`s working great for oil companies that want to drill everywhere, not for families, who have children that want to breathe the air. This is truly about what kind of country we`re going to be.
And look, I never thought I was going to get in politics. Never in a million years. But I got in this because I believe this is the fight that we must fight. And I can`t tell others to go fight it. I have to be in there right alongside them.
We are building a movement across this country. You saw it. You saw it in 2018. Look at all the people who came off the sidelines. Look at all the people who said -- look at all the women who said, never thought I was going to be called on to do this.
But they stood up and they said, I`m part of this. This is my country, my voice will be heard. And my government will reflect my values. That`s what I believe. And I think the best place to fight that is right there from the presidency of the United States of America.
MADDOW: In terms of the Democratic Party right now, this is going to be a huge year in Democratic politics. I mean, it`s been -- it has been sort of the Trump show--
MADDOW: -- since the 2016 election, because it`s been honestly a bizarre spectacle to have somebody of this caliber behaving the way that he is in that office. This will be the Democratic Party show this year, and there will be incredible competition to be the candidate to take him on in 2020 and the Democrats get to show what they`re made of in terms of having control of the House.
How do you fit into this year`s Democratic Party? We`ve got this new class of house lawmakers coming in, with outspoken lefties and socialists --
WARREN: I know.
MADDOW: -- and environmentalists and feminists and all sorts of up-enders of the status quo.
MADDOW: I know that you`re a progressive. You voted 13 percent of the time with Donald Trump, which is one of the lowest percentages of anybody in the Senate. How do you fit in with the Democratic Party? And where do you see your party right now?
WARREN: Look, I don`t think of this so much in terms of party. I think of this as people who want to see change. And the kind of change they want to see.
This is going to be the fish or cut bait year for the Democrats. And it`s going to be how do we think government should work and who do we think government should work for?
In fact, let me give you an example of that. Just think about this upcoming Democratic primary. Is this going to be a Democratic primary that truly is a grassroots movement that is funded by the grassroots, that`s done with grassroots volunteers, or is this going to be something that`s just one more play thing that billionaires can buy?
So I think this is a moment for all of the Democratic nominees, as they come into the race, to say, in a Democratic primary, we are going to link arms, and we`re going to say grassroots funding, no to the billionaires. No to the billionaires, whether they are self-funding or whether they`re funding PACs. We are the Democratic Party, and that`s the party of the people.
That`s how we not only win elections, that`s how we build movements that make real change. And that`s what we`ve got to do. We`ve got to win, but we`ve got to produce. And that`s only going to happen if we`ve got a whole movement underway.
MADDOW: When you talk about billionaires and the Democratic primary, Tom Steyer is considering running. Michael Bloomberg is apparently considering running. Do you specifically mean that anybody who`s a billionaire should be precluded from running? Or --
WARREN: Of course not. I just mean people should not be self-funding. And they should not be funded from PACs from other billionaires. That a primary is an opportunity to hear from the grassroots, to see what you can build, to see what kind of energy is out there.
Get out there, trust your message, trust what it is that you`re fighting for. And if someone else wants to fight for something different, trust them to get out there and fight it.
And then let`s see where grassroots America is. Let`s see where people across this country say, you know what? I want to be part of this. I am in this fight all the way.
MADDOW: Senator Elizabeth Warren is our guest.
Senator, I`m not going to let you leave a good long time. Stay right there.
We`ll be right back with Senator Elizabeth Warren.
MADDOW: We`re back now live with Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has announced the formation of an exploratory committee to run for president.
Senator, thank you again for being here.
WARREN: It`s good to be here.
MADDOW: In June 2016, when it was reported that you were being considered as a potential rubbing mate for Hillary Clinton --
MADDOW: -- I asked you in an interview what I thought was the most important question for potential V.P., I asked you if you believed you were ready to be president right then, right now if it came to that. You looked me right in the eye and said one-word answer, you said "yes", without equivocation.
It made me wonder, thinking back on that today, if you`ve been planning on running yourself ever since, or if you knew then that actually you could have run in 2016, that maybe you were ready for this all along.
WARREN: Yes, it`s not a question of are you ready, it`s a question of what the country needs. At that moment, we were already down to the wire, we knew who our candidates were, and we were in the fight.
And now, we`re in a very different place. We`ve lived through two years of Donald Trump as president. And we`re to the point, we have lived through two years of one scammer and grifter after another, running federal agencies, running our federal government.
And we have lived through two more years of giant tax giveaways to the billionaires, to big corporations. And a harder and harder squeeze on working families. Student loan debt is up another $100 billion since over just the last year.
You know, it`s like the thing is tilted badly in favor of the rich and the powerful, and against everyone else. And the tilt is getting steeper and steeper, and that`s why we have to be in this fight.
MADDOW: I highlighted when I brought you on before the break, I highlighted the consistency of your message and how you were an academic expert before you were efficient a political figure. You were a policy person in Washington on that issue before you were ever an elected official campaigning on those issues.
WARREN: Long before.
MADDOW: Long before. This has been your life`s work, to undo the tilt of the system.
And yet, when people go to the ballot box, vote for the Democratic primary in 2020 and for the general election in 2020, there will be one very big thing different that was not true when you were doing that previous work, which is Donald Trump.
MADDOW: And is Donald Trump a qualitatively different thing that either changes your analysis or that has made you feel more urgent about these issues that you worked on? Is he just a continuation of what the other Republicans have done (ph)?
WARREN: Donald Trump is an accelerant. He takes a problem that has been growing and growing and growing, and he just sets it off and makes it worse than ever.
MADDOW: Because of corruption?
WARREN: Because of corruption. Just look at it that way. That`s what this is about. He takes this government, and he`s pretty damned open about it, and says this government works for the rich.
What was the first order of business? What did it take? First, they tried to take away health care from tens of millions of Americans, came within one vote of doing it. In fact, when it passed the House, what did they all do? They all went off and celebrated, high-fived over taking away health care.
MADDOW: Any Republican president would have done that.
WARREN: Hold them together and what was the next thing to do? And the big one that they held every single Republican together for, so it`s Republicans, was give a tax break to the rich. Give $1.5 trillion giveaway to billionaires and giant corporations.
And notice what Republicans have said, as long as he can keep delivering on those tax breaks. Yes, he kind of says some things that make us a little uncomfortable and he`s a little louder and don`t like the tweet thing and the whole foreign policy seems to be a disaster. But hey, the rich folks got $1.5 trillion.
And who is supposed to pay for that? People who get Social Security, our students who have to pay the interest rate on student loans and can`t refinance those loans. Every part of this is angled over and over to pay off the big donors, make sure they get their part, and leave everybody else behind. That`s what this is about.
MADDOW: When I look at those things, those specific things you just mentioned, repealing health care, the tax cuts, and I would also include in there, the choice of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court.
WARREN: Oh, yes.
MADDOW: Those are all things I can imagine a President Romney doing or a President Paul Ryan or a President Mitch McConnell or a President --
WARREN: In fact, didn`t soon-to-be Senator Romney just say that in an op- ed today? He said, I don`t like how he behaves, but look at all those great things he`s done.
WARREN: Love those taxes, love those judges.
MADDOW: But for a lot of Americans, both -- I think conservative Americans and liberal Americans, and people who don`t like to align themselves with politics at all but are worried right now, Donald Trump is not just the next Republican president, he`s a special kind of crisis. He`s a special kind of departure from what even had been Republican politics in the past.
Do you see that or do you see him just the next Republican?
WARREN: I see him as what happens when corruption invades a system, that it gets a little bit corrupt and it gets a little more corrupt and it gets a little more corrupt, and then it gets bigger and they get bolder and bolder. And then you end up with someone like Donald Trump, somebody who isn`t even coy about it.
WARREN: Someone whose cabinet appointees don`t know about whatever is the subject area that they`re supposed to be in charge of. Cabinet officials that get caught for just -- for trading in stocks in the areas that they are supposed to oversee. Cabinet officials who don`t even pay their taxes.
And no shame, just keep it up, because now they`re wallowing in the corruption. But the problem is a long, systemic problem.
You know, you described this as my life`s work, but it truly is my whole life`s work. I`m a kid who had a dream when I was a little tiny girl. I wanted to be a public schoolteacher. All three of my old brothers went off. They joined the military.
I just wanted to teach school. But that meant I needed a college diploma. By the time I graduated from school, no chance for something like that. My folks didn`t have the money for that.
And so, I ended up, it`s a bumpy path. I drop out of school at 19, I got married. I found a commuter college, $50 a semester. And I got a four- year diploma that I could go become a public schoolteacher on a price that I could pay for on a part-time waitressing job.
That`s how you build a middle class. That catapulted me into the middle class. I am the daughter of a man who ended up as a janitor. And I got a chance to be a public schoolteacher, a college professor, and ultimately, a senator, because America made an investment in a kid like me.
My life`s work is for every kid to have an opportunity, every kid. Right now, those opportunities are shrinking. And they`re shrinking even harder for people of color, people who have just always caught the wrong end of the stick in this country.
And this is a democracy. There`s more of us than there is of them. We get organized and we put it together and we can make real change. And for me, that`s what this is all about.
People told me we couldn`t build a consumer agency. We got organized and we made it happen. People told me I couldn`t beat a popular Republican incumbent, but we got organized and made it happen.
Shoot, people told me you couldn`t get any accountability after Wells Fargo ended up cheating millions of their own customers. But I said in an open hearing that I thought the CEO of Wells Fargo ought to lose his job, and a few weeks later, that`s what happened. You get into these fights and that`s how your win them.
MADDOW: Senator Elizabeth Warren is our guest. Stay right there. We`ll be right back with her. She`s just announced her exploratory committee for her presidential bid. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Joining us once again is Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democratic of Massachusetts.
Senator Warren, thank you again for being here.
WARREN: Thank you.
MADDOW: Really appreciate it.
You were on the Armed Services Committee.
WARREN: Yes, I am.
MADDOW: And you are best known as somebody -- you have a very clear policy platform. You have been fighting as we`ve been talking about your whole life, your whole career for people who are regular folks who are getting screwed by the financial system.
MADDOW: But if you are going to be president, you`re going to be in charge of all of it. And I realized, even though I`ve interviewed you a bunch of times, I don`t know a lot about your foreign policy positions. I know that you have traveled to Afghanistan. I know that you`ve done your work as an Armed Services Committee member.
MADDOW: I wanted to ask you about the president`s recent decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. I know you voted against supporting Syrian rebels with arms and training.
MADDOW: And now that the president made this decision the way he made it, do you agree with him?
WARREN: So, I think it is right to get our troops out of Syria and let me add, I think it`s right to get our troops out of Afghanistan. I think that everybody who keeps saying, no, no, no, we can`t do that in defense establishment needs to explain what they think winning in those wars look like and where the metrics are.
We`re now 17 years in Afghanistan, and we control, what is it -- that the government controls less than 60 percent of the all the land. It doesn`t have the support of the people. The heroin trafficking is up. There are multiple groups that are terrorist groups throughout Afghanistan.
Lots of different problems in Afghanistan. And what seems to be the answer from the foreign policy establishment -- stay forever.
That is not a policy. We can`t do that.
Now, having said that, we can withdraw, you`ve got to withdraw as part of the plan. You`ve got to know what you`re trying to accomplish throughout the Middle East, and the pieces need to be coordinated. And they need to be coordinated not just in our activities, but this is why we need allies. This is why we build alliances.
MADDOW: Are you troubled by the nature of the president`s process around the Syria (ph) --
WARREN: Are you asking me whether or not I think foreign policy ought to be conducted by tweet? The answer is no. It should not. We actually need to plan this out and talk about it with our allies, how we ensure more safety and stability in the region.
But the idea that the way we`re going to do that is just to continue to keep troops and more troops forever and ever and ever in that part of the world is not -- it is not working. And pretending that somehow in the future it is going to work by some unmeasured version of it, it`s a form fantasy that we simply can`t afford to continue to engage in.
MADDOW: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, as I mentioned member of the Armed Services Committee, first household name Democrat to announce that you are forming an exploratory committee for president. I think that your campaign is going to be formidable, from what we have seen already. I hope throughout the process, you will keep us apprised and keep coming back.
WARREN: Look, just go to elizabethwarren.com, and you`ll find out all about it.
MADDOW: See, I told you you`re going to be good at this.
WARREN: It`s so good to see.
MADDOW: Thank you, Senator. Thanks.
We`ll be right back. Stay with us.
MADDOW: Congressman Sam Rayburn, Democrat from the great state of Texas, he was speaker of the House for 17 years. During these years, his speakership was interrupted twice when the other party, when Republicans took control of the House. But when Democrats would get back in control, he would keep getting re-elected as speaker.
Well, tomorrow at noon Eastern Time, Nancy Pelosi will take up the gavel as speaker. It will be her second stint in that job, and that will make her the first speaker of the House since Sam Rayburn, to become speaker again after having lost that job.
Interestingly watch for this. Don Young of Alaska, who was the longest serving current member of the House, he therefore will be performing Nancy Pelosi`s swearing in ceremony. Congressman Young is probably the most cantankerous member of the entire House. Something tells me he will make this a bit of a spectacle tomorrow. So, watch him.
But then Nancy Pelosi will move on to swear in the other members of the House. And tomorrow is day one.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow.
Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".
Good evening, Lawrence.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END