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Transcript: The ReidOut, 3/1/22

Guests: Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, Chrissy Houlahan, Steve Schmidt


Biden to deliver state of the union amid global crisis. Russia increasingly isolated after Ukraine invasion. Ukrainian leader accuses Russia of war crimes. Ukraine`s Zelenskyy hailed as hero.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, everyone. We begin THE REIDOUT tonight with a stark contract in leadership. In just two hours, President Joe Biden will deliver his first state of the union address as he faces major challenges here at home and a world transformed by war, as Ukrainians face down Vladimir Putin`s naked aggression.

According to excerpts released by the White House, Biden will tell the country Putin`s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the west and NATO wouldn`t respond. And he thought he could divide us here at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready.

And look, let`s just give Biden his credit. What he has done so far is remarkable. Not only using his experience and long-time relationships on the world stage to unify the west against Russia`s aggression, but also reinvigorating NATO and bringing to bear unprecedented sanctions.

And what amounts to a photo negative of the run-up to the Iraq war, Biden made the strategic choice to put it all out there, releasing what proved to be highly accurate U.S. intelligence to publicly reveal all of Putin`s intentions before and now during the invasion.

In doing so, Biden has fully and exposed Vladimir Putin for what he is, a brutal and maybe even mental dictator, who is incompatible with the free world. And let`s face it, a Republican president with the same facts on offer would surely have received immense credit, including in the press, for what Biden has accomplished.

Meanwhile, the Russian president is not only an international pariah but increasingly isolated, having badly underestimated Ukraine`s determination and discounting the possibility of a unified tough response from the west. NBC News has learned that U.S. intelligence agencies had determined that Putin is increasingly frustrated by his military struggles and he may see his only option as doubling down on violence, as well as lashing out at underlings over the state of a military campaign and the worldwide condemnation of his actions.

Tough sanctions have left Russia`s economy and the ruble in free fall with banks at risk of failure as Russian citizens try to withdrawal their savings. Russia`s stock market remains closed for the week.

The Russian dictator also badly miscalculate his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who made an emotional speech to the European parliament, delivered remotely from his beseech homeland. Zelenskyy accused Putin of war crimes and said Ukrainians will not be broken.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We have a desire to see our children alive. I think it`s a fair one. Yesterday, 16 children were killed. Again and again, President Putin is going to say that is some kind of operation and we`re hitting a military infrastructure. Where are our children, what kind of military factories do they work at? What tanks are they going with or launching cruise missiles?


REID: Zelenskyy received a standing ovation from the parliament, which later overwhelmingly approved a resolution in support of Ukraine. Zelenskyy also spoke with President Biden today and discussed Russia`s escalation of attacks on sites used by civilians in Ukraine. Zelenskyy told Routers that Russia must stop bombing Ukrainian cities before ceasefire talks can begin.

But we`re already seeing the results of an apparent scorched earth campaign by Putin, as he tries to regain the momentum he`s lost over the past five days, facing increasing humiliation on the battlefield. He now appears to be escalating his attacks indiscriminately, shelling residential neighborhoods.

Ukrainian officials say Russia also struck Freedom Square in Ukraine`s second largest city of Kharkiv, which has borne the blunt of the attacks. This comes amid unconfirmed accusation that Russia is using cluster bombs, which are known to pose a greater risk to civilian population than precision guided missiles.

The U.N. now estimates that in the first five days of an invasion, Russian forces killed 136 Ukrainian civilians and that number is expected to rise sharply. That includes 13 children, one of whom was a six-year-old who succumb to injuries of Russian shelling Saturday in the southern city of Mariupol.

And now before I proceed, I am just going to warn you that the video that you`re about to see is graphic and extremely difficult to watch. So, in this terrifying scene, medics worked tirelessly to save the injured child but were unsuccessful. And they tried to revive her, the doctor addressed the camera angrily saying show this to Putin. Show him the eyes of this child and crying doctors. Tragic scenes like that one are unfolding across Ukraine right now.


But despite being outnumbered and outgunned, the Ukrainian people have demonstrated uncanny resolve and resilience. We`ve seen them throw themselves in front of tanks to stop their advance. We`ve seen them taking up arms and stockpiling Molotov cocktails to rage a guerilla war. And in some case they have openly ridiculed the Russian invaders to their faces, like in the port city of Berdyans`k yesterday.

Another video that went viral on social media late last week appears to show a woman confronting a Russian soldier. And while NBC News can`t confirm exactly when and where this took place, the woman told the soldiers to take seeds so that sunflowers will grow when you die here.

Ukraine`s ministry of internal affairs has also been releasing interviews with some captured Russian soldiers, many of whom reportedly believe they were participating in military drills, not active combat. In other words, it appears Putin not only underestimated Ukraine resistance but also overestimated his own military`s capability.

That said, the column of Russian ground forces that is stalled outside of Kyiv is now estimated to be 40 miles long. And if that convoy is allowed to reach Kyiv, Putin could open an even barbaric new phase of this war.

Now, joining me now is NBC News Correspondent Cal Perry, who is in Lviv, Ukraine, and NBC News Senior International Correspondent Keir Simmons in Moscow.

I am going to start with you, Cal. Give us a sense what is going on the ground because the sense that I`ve gotten over the past five days is that the resistance has been much stronger and more effective as anyone thought it could be and certainly as Putin thought it could be and that the Russian forces have been much more ineffective and in some cases not even aware of what they were really getting themselves into. What are you seeing?

CAL PERRY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And I think that`s certainly the message that the Ukrainians are putting out. Look, it was late last week we heard from the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States who talk about this platoon of Russian soldiers who had surrendered to Ukrainian troops, not knowing really what they were doing there, thinking that they were on exercise.

And for four or five days I would wake up every morning here, I would turn on Ukrainian television and it would be a parade of one young Russian soldier after another being interviewed by Ukrainian soldiers, and it was always a similar variation of the same message, which is a young Russian soldier saying to his mother, I don`t know what I`m doing here. I want to be going home. I didn`t understand why I was sent here. And then today as you said, we had this missile strike on Ukrainian television, the transmission tower. And so all night, Ukrainian T.V. has been knocked off the air.

I have to say, it`s pretty surprising that this is happening on day six. All of this war games that we`ve heard from Pentagon where the communication systems would be taken out immediately. I think it is important because we`ve also seen the rise of Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the rise of this Ukrainian leader who uses not only social media but T.V. to get to the public.

Now, where I am in the west, there is a disintegrating and a humanitarian catastrophe that`s unfolding. 100,000 people each day have left this country. That does not include the internally displaced people. And when you see the faces of this folks as they get off the train here in the far west of the country, again, 350 miles from where the violence is, they are scared, they are terrified and they don`t know where to go because, in many cases, there is nowhere to go. So, people are starting to sleep outside. The Red Cross is here, UNHCR here, but those numbers are swelling. This city is swelling.

And for the first time, really since, I`ve been here, in the week that I`ve been here, you can see it. This war is reaching individual people. It`s no longer reaching everybody as a whole in the country. Every single person in this country is being affected, from the fathers and brothers who are between 18 and 60 and can`t leave, who take their families to the border and leave them, walking across the border and then headed back to the fight to the volunteers who are making the Molotov cocktails to send to the front. Everybody in this country is now engaged in this war.

REID: It is remarkable, absolutely remarkable.

I want to go to you, Keir, because it seems that the miscalculation were legion on the part of Vladimir Putin. He underestimated the west. He underestimated the Americans. He under -- clearly underestimated this young president in Ukraine. Is there any sense that there is anyone around him that is attempting to feed reality to him or should we expect that he doubles down and things just get worse and more violent?

KEIR SIMMONS, MSNBC SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think one thing, Joy, we have to turn to a phrase from a previous European war in another era and that is no plan survives first contact with the enemy. And what that means is that we are only in the first few days, the Russians will be rethinking. They may well be, and we`re seeing this planning to get bloodier and bloodier in order to win.

I think in terms of whether or not there is leadership here from Moscow, well, that convoy that we`ve seen heading towards Kyiv, I think that tells us two things. Firstly, it is astonishing that there is no camouflage. It looks disorganized. It does not reflect well on the Russian military organization and at the same time it does tells us something about the ability of the Ukrainians to fight back.


They clearly don`t appear to have the airpower to attack that convoy.

Now, looks like even back in 2014, the Russians have had trouble with organization with their command structure and it may be that that is why President Putin is getting so angry because this should have been fixed and it wasn`t fixed.

Perhaps we have to turn to another phrase from another European war, the First World War, and that is lions led by donkeys, because you know, Joy, this idea that we have had about President Putin is this clear-eyed tactician, this terrifying leader while we may be beginning get a different picture there.

One more thing, Joy, as we prepare to listen to President Biden talk to the Congress, to the American people, to the world, what we`re seeing is President Putin trying to close down the ability of his people to hear what is really happening in Ukraine. He`s closed down the radio echo Moscow radio station. That was an independent station. You can hear it still online but not on air and the Russian prosecutor according to the Wikipedia Russia page is threatening them, saying they`ll close down Wikipedia Russia because of a page called invasion of Ukraine 2022.

REID: Wow. Well, good luck with that. In the modern world Tim will find a way to get information. I don`t think that he can cover up this failure by trying to block the press. Cal Perry, Keir Simmons, thank you both very much. Please stay safe.

Let`s turn now to former CIA Director John Brennan, who is an MSNBC Senior National Security and Intelligence Analyst, and Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, Historian and PHD Student at the University of Pennsylvania Department of History.

Mr. Brennan, I want to start with you first, because everything about this, as I think about it, it is literally the inverse of the Iraq war. You know, it is clear that they were not going to be greeted as liberators. Our intelligence was pristine, really seemed to nail it 100 percent. Biden chose to release that information, which seemed to block every avenue and every tactical avenue that Putin could have tried.

You know the failure was almost baked in because this man clearly didn`t understand the people of Ukraine, that they wanted nothing to do with being an - of his country. It was failure, failure, failure. And I think I can`t look past the fact that the American president really seemed to understand it and did understand Europe.

Just give us your analysis of this, just an intelligence failure on Russia`s part and an intelligence success on the part of the United States.

JOHN BRENNAN, MSNBC SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Well, as you mentioned, Joy, Putin badly, badly underestimated the will of the Ukrainian people to resist, as well as the capabilities to resist this Russian war machine that`s moving in.

In addition, he underestimated the international community`s resolve with very, very stiff economic, financial and other types of sanctions and to lend support, intangible support, in terms of weapons and other things flowing into Ukraine to resist this unjust Russian invasion. And so, therefore, I give the U.S. Intelligence Community a lot of credit.

Clearly, that was behind what President Biden said over a week ago, which was he was confident and convinced that Russia was going to invade. And so, therefore, I think it reflects that Putin has had a distorted prism of Ukraine as well as of the world as a result of his increasing isolation brought on by not just COVID but also his increasing infuriousness as far as this Masonic complex he has. He believes that he is invincible.

But I must say, as I look at what is happening now in Ukraine, there is no exit ramp for Putin. I think he realizes that he has now gotten himself into a debacle. And so the question in my mind is whether or not the Russian military and Russian hierarchy are going to stand behind what is clearly Putin`s war.

REID: And very quickly, to stay with you for a second, John Brennan. Because the thing is of Putin escalates and just unleashes absolute violent hell on Ukraine, it makes it even more impossible to hold that country. Everyone there will despise him. The resistance will be endless. The insurgency will be endless.

And these are people that have access to outside information. They can get their perils out to the world. They have almost unanimous global support. It seems that getting in deeper and making his troops essentially kill potential family members and cousins, that seems insane, to be honest. Is that even possible that he`s lost his tether enough to try it?

BRENNAN: Well, I think now, for him, is the question of survival. And, unfortunately, I think he`s going to be increasingly desperate and will reach for some desperate options. And, again, the big question in my mind is whether or not other Russians are going to allow him to control their fate and to destroy Ukraine and to bring down this tremendous, tremendous tragedy upon the Ukrainian people.


And so, therefore, I am very worried right now, because I think as it was said earlier, we`re really in uncharted waters. And Putin sees the corners are closing in on him, both internationally, inside of Ukraine, as well but also I think the political culminations (ph) at home in Moscow are going to start to increasingly put pressure upon him.

REID: Let me go to you, Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon. The situation in the world -- the pressure is on all western nations to stand vigorously behind the Ukrainians. You saw some of that tension play out in Great Britain today when a Ukrainian-based journalist really confronted Boris Johnson. But there is also these potentials for fractures, that this is one thing Putin is good at, is trying to dig into the fractures, particularly racial fractures around the world.

There have been reports of Africans, of African students, particularly medical students and others who were in Ukraine studying, and also, you know, just non-Ukrainians from around the world to study in Ukraine, not being able to get out. We`re just showing some of those pictures right now. And it`s created an opportunity for disinformation and for fracturing the united support that there has been for the Ukrainian effort. What do you make of the potential for that to become a problem because we don`t know who is doing the denying?

KIMBERLY ST. JULIAN-VARNON, PH.D. STUDENT OF HISTORY, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: I think it`s a really good point and we are already starting to see the fracturing across social media, where people are saying Ukraine is racist, so why are we supporting them or Ukraine is a white country, this is a white problem. And that fundamentally misunderstands the Ukraine history and the ethnographic makeup of Ukraine. Ukraine has Afro- Ukrainians. And these African students are residents of Ukraine. There are Indian residents of Ukraine, Roma residents. Ukraine is a multicultural, multi-ethnic country and we have to keep that at the forefront.

And, yes, these The videos of the border are horrifying but we should focus on the fact that there are a lot of people on the ground helping, a lot of people including myself are marshalling our connections on the ground to help these students get through to get to safety. And many of them are getting through and getting to safety.

We have to be very careful of how we frame this question but also to the extent we allow our emotions drive our responses. The best thing to do is try to navigate this as well as we can and provide resources because Russia will take advantage of this and use it as disinformation, as we have seen with the George Floyd protest in 2020 and we`ve seen in the 2016 election.

REID: And, you know, it`s very important to say that, because we`ve been talking about this just in our meetings on the show. And what I said is that I want to hear from the African union. I want to hear from specific countries that have students and folks out there listen to official information that`s coming from these nations, not to somebody with lots of numbers after their title on Twitter, because that`s not the best source of information.

Just for your understanding of just sort of the way that has this played out, if there is an insurgency, in your view, in Ukraine, my sense just as a civilian not knowing anything about this is it would be long and bloody. These people are never going to submit to Vladimir Putin. How dangerous does that make this ongoing situation?

ST. JULIAN VARNON: You`re right on both counts. And as I`ve said, as a historian of Ukraine and the Soviet Union, Putin will not control Ukraine until the last Ukrainian has taken their last breath. So, I think that means we`re going to see a long, drawn-out struggle. And I`ve said this before in other interviews, that also means our ethnic minorities who are visible minorities are an increased threat. I mean, we have not seen anything about the Russian behavior that makes us think they will be nice or take care of anyone that they have been happen upon, especially visual and visible minorities.

So, I would think that we need to kind of garner our resources but also, and I`ve been saying this on social media, if you`re an African or Indian or Roma resident of Ukraine, the best thing to do right now is to stay put and try not to cross now, because, I mean, this is a war zone and it`s only going to get worse.

REID: Absolutely. And anything bad that happens to somebody of color at those borders will immediately be picked up by the Kremlin and use to try to bolster their utter failure thus far to try to take hold of a country that doesn`t want them. John Brennan, Kimberly St. Julian-Varnon, thank you both very much. We`ll have both of you back.

And up next on THE REIDOUT, Russia becomes a pariah state and a stunning scene in Geneva as diplomats walk out on the Russian foreign minister as Europe signals that tougher sanctions are on the way.

Plus, members of the Trump party are pretending they`ve been pro-Ukraine and tough on Putin all along when they were literally saying just the exact opposite a few days ago.

And Biden`s historic moment with enormous challenges abroad and here at home, what he`s likely to say in his state of the union speech tonight.

And MSNBC will bring you complete coverage of Biden`s speech. Join me and Rachel Maddow and Nicolle Wallace and Steve Kornacki at the top of the hour. You don`t want to miss it.

But more of THE REIDOUT after this.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Australia condemns in the strongest possible terms Russia`s unprovoked, egregious, and completely unjustified aggression against Ukraine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a blatant breach of Russia`s obligation under United Nations Charter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This armed conflict, like all others, will result in unnecessary human suffering and destruction.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hungary reaffirms its unwavering support for Ukraine`s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Samoa stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.


REID: The world is united against Putin, with more than 140 diplomats walking out of a speech that Russia`s foreign minister was giving to the United Nations Human Rights Council, an organization that Secretary of State Antony Blinken argued today that Russia shouldn`t even be a part of.


Meanwhile, the world is embracing the young Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who officially applied to make his country a member of the European Union yesterday.

And, today, he made an emotional plea to the E.U. Parliament.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Can you imagine, this morning, two cruise missiles hit this Freedom Square, dozens of killed ones?

This is the price of freedom. We`re fighting just for our land and for our freedom, despite the fact that all large cities of our country are now blocked.

We have proven our strength. We have proven that, at a minimum, we are exactly the same as you are. So, do prove that you are with us.


REID: The Parliament members gave President Zelensky a standing ovation after that stirring address, for which his interpreter got so choked up, he had to steel himself to continue translating.

I`m joined now by Democratic Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees and an Air Force veteran, and, I will add, somebody whose father was born -- I have here on my notes -- to Jewish parents in Ukraine.

You were tweeting today about the strike that damaged a Holocaust memorial in Kyiv tower, where the Nazis executed more than 33,000 people.

And if you wouldn`t mind, if I could indulge and just ask you to share, as you did in your tweets, how this feels for you, as somebody with family roots in that country, and as a member of our United States military, to see the resistance that the Ukrainians are putting up.


And my father was born in Lviv, which is a town, a part of Ukraine, but, actually, where it -- when he was born there, it was a town part of Poland. So, this is part of the history of this part of the world, that every generation or so, sadly, different autocrats and different dictators trounce over these people.

And you can understand why they have become very hardened and very hardy people, and very defiant, understandably. And so I`m enormously proud of my heritage and enormously devastated to see history repeating itself, literally, and very much thinking about the people whom I was with just a few weeks ago, and the places you have just been showing, Freedom Square.

I stood at Freedom Square about three-and-a-half weeks ago. And to know that people have shed blood there recently is just devastating.

REID: You know, and, as the great Keir Simmons, my colleague in London -- he`s now in Moscow -- brought us back to the quote that no war plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Just as somebody with a military background, what do you make of the seeming lack of preparation by the Russian forces, some of them whom didn`t even know that they were going into an actual war, and not war games, and the performance of basically non-military people who are just civilians in Ukraine to stand up to them?

HOULAHAN: So I am remembering back to when I was in Ukraine a few weeks ago, and I was able to sit with a young woman named Vaksana (ph), who took us, our congressional delegation, out to dinner, and ordered a bunch of different delicious Ukrainian dishes, like borscht and like golumpki (ph).

But, after that, we went out with a bunch of her friends. And they talked with great bravado about how they were going to stand and fight. And I sort of passed that off as just bravado. But now I understand. And now I`m thinking of them, hoping, hoping that they are OK and alive and fighting.

And I think that is what -- where my heart is right now, is hoping that that`s the case.

In terms of the preparation of the military -- Russian military, we should not underestimate the Russian military. There are many, many of them. And they far outnumber, in terms of their resources, the Ukrainian people. We should not underestimate Putin`s ability to wreak havoc on the people of Ukraine with, as we have seen, weapons that are, arguably, weapons of destruction that are not allowed to be levied on civilians.

So, please don`t underestimate him. Please, let`s not take joy in the fact that he`s seemingly stalled out, because all it takes is a good day.

REID: Yes.

HOULAHAN: And we have to continue to have strong days, the Ukrainian people, and our allies.

REID: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Well, we -- in our own experience, we know that, even as a far superior military, which we have, an insurgency is a hell of a thing. And you cannot always outlast a determined insurgency that`s indigenous.

Let`s talk about some of the -- I know you all are getting classified briefings. The Senate and House are getting classified briefings. I don`t want to disclose anything in that.

But can you give us a sense of -- so far, the intelligence -- the U.S. intelligence community has been quite spot on about what they have seen coming.

Is there a sense that you`re getting out of these briefings of whether or not people believe we`re in for a prolonged insurgency or something thing that could be extremely violent, but limited in duration?


HOULAHAN: So, I think we need to be planning for all of those things, for the optionality and for contingencies.

The speculation certainly is that we should be gearing up for -- the Congress and this administration in our nation should be gearing up for a longer insurgency and kind of getting our brains around what that means to be supportive and engaged.

But this is going to require the American people understand why this matters. And it`s also possibly going to require that the American people sacrifice. We may see increases in gas prices, if we haven`t already. We may see increases in food prices.

But we are part of this war. We can do our part by understanding that that`s our contribution. As well, we can do our part by taking care of things like cybersecurity and making sure that we`re attentive to that as well, because we`re all involved in this war.

REID: Very quickly -- and I have been told I`m out of time, but I`m going to indulge, and my producers are going to be mad at me.

But just to give us a, why is it important? I mean, we`re seeing even Monaco sort of cut itself financially by turning back Russian money and cutting off their access to that wealthy country. We`re seeing Europe actually go through sanctions on the oil and gas, which they desperately need. They actually depend on Russian oil and gas. They`re making that economic sacrifice, which will be significant.

Why should Americans understand that we might need to do it too, or maybe, I don`t know, get off oil and gas and maybe turn to other resources, so that we`re not dependent on it? Why should Americans be willing to do that?

HOULAHAN: So, we see Finland, we see Germany, we see Switzerland, all of the people, if you`re students of history, that have arguably not participated in the way that they are currently participating, demonstrating to us the importance of this very, very important country, Ukraine, and that they are very much the tip of the democratic spear.

If we hope to have democracy thrive in a European continent and in our -- on our continent and in the world in general, we have to understand that this is perilous to all of us at this point in time, and we need to be supportive of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

REID: Representative Chrissy Houlahan, thank you. Thank you for your service. Thank you for being here. We really appreciate you and for your personal story.

Still ahead: The party of Trump still cannot seem to figure out whose side they`re on in Putin`s war. Hey, come on, authoritarian aggression or the defense of democracy? Is it really that hard? Oh, wait. I see the problem. It`s the party of Trump.

We will be right back.



REID: OK, so back in 2016, a very weird thing happened. OK, let`s be honest, a lot of weird things happened.

But one of them was the Trump campaign, led by Paul Manafort, who Trump had put in charge, showing up at the Republican National Convention and demanding that the platform committee gut the Republican Party`s anti- Russia stance on Ukraine by eliminating references to arming that country in its ongoing conflict with Russia.

And even weirder was that that was the only change the Trump campaign made to the Republican platform. Again, weird, and also controversial. People scratched their heads at that, but then everyone kind of put it away.

And once Trump was the official nominee, he would go on to declare that NATO is obsolete, that the United Nations was a political game, and would take up other weirdly Putin-ish positions.

Fast forward to today and the Trump wing of the Republican Party has gone full Putin, anti-democracy at home and more at war with President Biden than with any foreign dictator. Even Republicans who declare themselves to be pro-Ukraine cannot bring themselves to stand united with the American president on this war.

They can`t condemn Trump by name. Or, even worse, two elected Republican trolls, Paul Gosar star and Marjorie Greene, this weekend attended a white nationalist group`s conference run by a white supremacist who praised Putin for invading Ukraine.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can we give a round of applause for Russia?



CROWD: Putin! Putin! Putin!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, absolutely.


REID: Now, those chants happened in the United States, not Moscow, in Orlando, Florida, to be exact, while others chose to air their Putin ambivalence or appreciation national television and at CPAC.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Why can`t you condemn Donald Trump for those comments?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): George, if you want to know what Donald Trump thinks about Vladimir Putin or any other topic, I`d encourage you to invite him on your show.

TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: It might be worth asking yourself, since it is getting pretty serious, what is this really about? Why do I hate Putin so much? Has Putin ever called me a racist?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The problem is not that Putin is smart, which, of course, he`s smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb.


TRUMP: Dumb.


TRUMP: So dumb.


REID: Joining me now is Steve Schmidt, former Republican strategist and co-founder of The Lincoln Project.

And I`m going to start by saying, wherever you are right now, Steve, I demand that you invite me, because I want to be there.


REID: But, secondly, let`s get into this a little bit, because I do -- and I have said this before. I said it just on Stephen Colbert`s show.

The one thing Donald Trump really brought to the Republican Party was he took this Reaganite party that was really much steeped in the anti- communism, anti-evil empire, anti-old Soviet Union, and he turned it into a party where there is a plurality -- it`s not a majority -- but that is more pro-Putin. They prefer Putin to the American president, to Joe Biden.

Fiona Hill was a former ambassador, and she wrote the following on Trump softening the Republican Party.

She wrote: "At home, Trump softened Republicans` once hawkish approach to Russia. Today, the leading FOX News hosts and other conservative voices, the ultimate -- are the ultimate stooges. She says: "They buttress Russian arguments as armed conflict looms."

What happened?

STEVE SCHMIDT, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Well, there`s always been a strain of the Republican Party, Joy, that`s been isolationists.

Colonel Robert McCormick, who ran "The Chicago Tribune," hated Franklin Roosevelt, a Murdoch of his time. He actually published the fact that the United States had broken Japanese codes that had allowed us to prevail in the decisive Battle of Midway.

In 1938,you had neo-Nazis selling out Madison Square Garden, filled to the rafters with Nazis, standing with a George Washington banner down center stage in Madison Square Garden.


So, look, we have always had this in the United States. The strain of Republicanism that was dominant, the Eisenhower strain, the Ronald Reagan strain, represented a continuity, a consensus that stretched from Ronald -- that stretched from Franklin Roosevelt of Placentia Bay with Winston Churchill in 1940 through Harry Truman, through John Kennedy, through Lyndon Johnson, through Jimmy Carter, through Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, to Donald Trump.

Who attacks what was the most successful military alliance in world history, degrades it, and fetishizes, who turns out to be the most dangerous person in the world, Vladimir Putin, a man who commands the world`s second most potent nuclear arsenal, and one of its largest militaries, in his barbarism, this war of aggression now against the Ukrainian -- the Ukrainian people.

So, look, that the Republican Party has abandoned Reaganism is not news here. It has embraced a toxic brand of American isolationism that has given aid and comfort to fascism before. The name of that movement was the America First movement. What it was, was an aid and comfort to fascism.

And what we need to understand is this, is that, all over the world, here`s who stands with Vladimir Putin: Cuba, Maduro in Venezuela, Belarus, and the American right...

REID: Yes.

SCHMIDT: ... the Trump MAGA right.

They fetishize this man, who is a war criminal, who has unleashed chaos in Europe. This is six days in. He has opened a hinge of history that has changed everything as decisively as the Berlin Wall collapsing in 1989 changed for us growing up, the world in an instant. It`s back on.

And everything that will come after this is going to be defined by this world-changing event that is in its very, very, very early hours.

REID: And what I -- notable about that, right, is, Donald Trump is the one calling Vladimir Putin a genius.

It`s clear he`s the opposite of a genius. This was an absolute, complete screw-up on -- in terms of intelligence, in terms of understanding who these neighbors of yours are and the way they would fight you. So that`s number one.

But when somebody like Tom Cotton is confronted with his -- with the former president`s praise of Putin, who`s made this colossal, historical error, as you have described it, he can`t name Trump. What is he afraid of? He`s in Arkansas. The likelihood that he could be defeated by -- who does he think is going to defeat him? He`s a right-wing candidate in a right-wing state.

But he can`t name Trump. Chris Christie tries to get out there and stick his chest out and say, well, anybody who would praise Putin has got to be a fool, but he won`t name the anybody.

What the heck are they afraid of? Is this monetary? I have been in a deep dive about some of the straw campaign donations from Russian oligarchs and their friends into the Republican Party. And the names that come up are people like Mitch McConnell for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund, Marco Rubio`s Conservative Solutions PAC.

Rubio now says he ain`t going to the State of the Union because blah, blah, blah. Scott Walker back in the day, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich, John McCain. These are -- there were -- there was all -- is it financial? Is it financial? Is it ideological? What is it?

SCHMIDT: Look, Tom Cotton volunteered for combat as a Harvard graduate. You can`t doubt Tom Cotton`s physical courage. You can question his moral courage.

He gave a political answer. What he`s basically saying is, hey, why are you asking me about Trump? Ask me about me.

But what he doesn`t get here is that Trump is the leader of a party, has basically said he will be a candidate. Uncontestably, he is the front- runner for the Republican nomination, and he is praising a war criminal as a genius.

So this has to be confronted as a moral dimension, right? And these Republican leaders over these years, when we see Zelensky and the bravery, it really shames the cowardice of so many in the United States who are terrified of a mean tweet by Donald Trump.

But, nevertheless, we have in the United States no other way to look at Tucker Carlson other than as a fifth columnist, any other way to look at him as the Lindbergh of our age, who, three weeks after Hitler declared war on the United States, gave a speech talking about how the United States should be fighting with Hitler.


So, look, what you have always seen is an affinity, right, on the American far right to look at these far right European dictators and autocrats with bloodthirsty ambitions and find genius. Hitler was called a genius. Putin is being hailed as a genius.

What he is, is a war criminal. What he has done is move the world closer to the abyss. And so we are at a very dangerous hour in Europe, as Vladimir Putin has Kyiv encircled.

REID: Yes.

SCHMIDT: We will see millions of refugees. We will see enormous costs.

And we will see a generation now shaped by the cost of the defense that`s required to protect the democratic West from the aggression of a Vladimir Putin.

REID: Yes.

Yes, and it is -- the other Venn diagram here -- and I am talking about Tucker as well -- is this sort of affinity with white nationalism, or at least an openness to talk about things like White Replacement Theory, these -- the Fuenteses of the world.

They`re all in that bunch too. And they...

SCHMIDT: He`s a neo-Nazi.

REID: It`s -- well, there you go.

Steve Schmidt, thank you.

SCHMIDT: He`s a neo-Nazi.

And I don`t -- and I don`t know what the rules are, right?

REID: Yes.

SCHMIDT: All neo-Nazis are white supremacists. Are all white supremacists neo-Nazis?

REID: Neo-Nazis. I...

SCHMIDT: He very specifically is one.

REID: Yes.

SCHMIDT: And you had two members of Congress with a legitimate neo-Nazi.

It`s despicable.

REID: And a Republican leader in the House who won`t say a damn thing about it.


REID: Steve Schmidt, thank you, man, very much.

Up next -- appreciate you.

We`re just a little bit more than an hour away from what could be the most consequential address of President Biden`s long political career.

Stay right there.



REID: President Biden`s State of the Union address is scheduled to start in a little more than an hour.

And we`re just now learning more of what the president`s plan -- what the president plans to say. A source familiar with the plan tells NBC News President Biden will announce that the U.S. will close its airspace to Russian aircraft due to its invasion of Ukraine.

I`m joined now by Michael Beschloss, NBC News presidential historian and host of "FIRESIDE HISTORY" on Peacock and I also will note the author of one of my favorite books, "Presidents of War."

So, I`m going to ask you about this closed airspace. What do you make of that? That`s a pretty significant announcement.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, NBC NEWS PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it`s basically saying, Russia, you are a pariah nation. We don`t want to do business with your banks. We don`t want your planes flying over our territory and dealing with us.

It is astounding, because if you and I were talking two weeks about this -- ago about this, Joy, could you have imagined that so many countries would have said to Russia, you have crossed a line and you have basically included yourself out of the family of nations?


I mean, the thing about it is, that is why I keep asking poor John Brennan and others that come on that are intelligence professionals, I keep trying to get them to tell me if this man is tethered to reality, if he`s fully sane, because it seems, like, if he had any understanding of this country that has so many deep ties to his own, if he had any inkling of who they are, it feels like this is a man, Putin, who is so in a box that he only sees what he wants to see.

That is doom for any leader, is it not?

BESCHLOSS: I think it is.

And the other thing is that you really can be too cynical. If you are as cynical and suspicious of people`s motives as Vladimir Putin is, he would have said, there`s no such thing as a desire for freedom among the people in Ukraine. They will not surrender their lives for this artificial country, as he calls it.

Turns out he was wrong.

REID: He was wrong.

Let`s talk about Joe Biden.

So, Biden is also a puzzle for me. This is a man who`s presided over record job growth. Let me talk about -- I have got the numbers here, 6.6 million jobs created in just 12 months. He is somebody who could brag about the CARES Act, having helped a lot of people stay out of poverty. This is somebody who is about to nominate the first black woman to the United States Supreme Court.

And yet he finds himself at approval ratings that mirror what Trump`s were after -- in his first State of the Union, who was the most divisive, openly racist, white nationalist president that we have had in my lifetime, like a George Wallace.

Can you explain where he stands, given that he has been quite successful, including in the run-up to what`s happening in Ukraine?

BESCHLOSS: I would say let`s talk about it a year ago -- from now. I would bet you his numbers have gone way up.

You know, what we forget is, presidential numbers go down and they do come up. Ronald Reagan in 1982, people were saying there`s no way he`s going to be reelected, he`s going to lose the midterms, his numbers are down. And they`re -- and they were. It was a very big recession.

But I think hovering above all of this, Joy, is the fact that our democracy is in danger tonight. And Joe Biden is the one person who is trying to protect it.

I keep on remembering that interview that Trump gave at the time of the Super Bowl, 2017, just after he came in, was talking to Bill O`Reilly, who says, Putin`s a killer. And Trump replies: There are lots of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent?

REID: Yes.

BESCHLOSS: That`s the person who was defending our children`s freedom.

Here we are, where not only is democracy in danger around the world, most immediately in Ukraine, but, in our own country, as we have discussed, there are fascists, there are authoritarians, there are other people who are on the fence who just don`t know how important democracy is.

If we lose our democracy, we could have a great economy, COVID could be over, but it`s not going to help.

REID: Yes.

You know what`s fascinating? This is the reason I love having you around. It`s always good to know a historian, or even just somebody who loves history, because the irony here is that the one thing that the...

BESCHLOSS: And we both do.

REID: The one thing that the Kremlin is good at is disinformation.

And they want to destabilize democracies all over the world. And how people don`t see that that`s literally what they tried to do, to put a puppet government, a soft, pliant government in Washington, in our country in 2016.


That`s why I used to argue you need to care about what Russia is doing, because they`re trying to put a puppet government, a pliant government in the United States. Now they`re doing it by force in Ukraine.

The symmetry, I see it. Do you see it?


And they have done it before, as you well know.

REID: Absolutely.

BESCHLOSS: They rolled the tanks through Prague 1968, Budapest 1956. In the late 1940s, they tried to take over Western Europe. This is something that we have seen. It`s a very consistent line.

But, you know, one thing -- could I raise something that may be a silver lining of the horrible last week and the brave people of Ukraine?

REID: Yes.

BESCHLOSS: Maybe it will allow Americans to value democracy a little bit more than they did a week ago and to see how important this is, and also be a lot more suspicious of a president of the United States who, for four years, did nothing but gush over and suck up to someone like Vladimir Putin.

REID: Absolutely.

And the Republicans who acquitted Trump of literally trying to bribe that same president in Ukraine to not defend that country against Russia, and then acquitted him again after the insurrection.

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely. Absolutely.

REID: Unbelievable.

BESCHLOSS: Absolutely.

REID: Michael Beschloss, one day, we`re going to do this at a dinner party. Appreciate you, man.

BESCHLOSS: I would love it.

REID: And that -- cheers.

And that is tonight`s REIDOUT.

Don`t go anywhere, though. After the break, I will be joined by my friends Rachel Maddow, Nicolle Wallace, and Steve Kornacki for complete coverage of President Biden`s State of the Union address.

Do not miss it right after this break.