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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 3/17/2017

Guests: Jonathan Finer, Evan Siegfried, David Corn, Robert Galucci, Erin Gloria Ryan, Zerlina Maxwel

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: March 17, 2017 Guest: Jonathan Finer, Evan Siegfried, David Corn, Robert Galucci, Erin Gloria Ryan, Zerlina Maxwel

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  So as you know, alongside the first public Trump-Russia hearings in the House on Monday morning, in the Senate on Monday morning will be the first Supreme Court nomination hearings for Neil Gorsuch.  To get ready for those Gorsuch hearings, Sunday night 5:00 p.m. Eastern, MSNBC is going to be doing a special look at Gorsuch and those hearings.  It`s going to be hosted by the one and only Ari Melber.  You should watch that Sunday night.  Ari is also sitting in for Lawrence tonight because he works too much. 

Good evening, Ari. 

ARI MELBER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Thank you.  Thank you for the plug, and as for working too much, the old saying, look who`s talking. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 


MADDOW:  I feel it.  Thanks, man. 

MELBER:  Thank you, Rachel.  Have a great weekend. 

MADDOW:  Thank you. 

MELBER:  Donald Trump has doubled down on his unsubstantiated accusation that President Obama wiretapped him.  Now the chickens are coming home to roost. 


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Why are you so scared of diversity in the news?  You speak so often of fake news. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president of the United States is using a pundit as a sourced fact. 

TRUMP:  You shouldn`t be talking to me.  You should be talking to FOX. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The president of the United States just said that they were relying on a FOX News analyst. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He just accused our closest ally, Britain, of spying on him. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We`re now seeing an exercise in damage limitation. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Certainly on the face of it, it`s awkward.  The Europeans are scratching their heads. 

SAMANTHA BEE, HOST, "FULL FRONTAL":  Believe it or not, Donald Trump has only been president for 7 1/2 weeks.  I know. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  The White House is also battling resistance to the budget, health care. 

TRUMP:  I`m 100 percent behind this. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A defeat on health care would really be demoralizing for this presidency. 

TRUMP:  We have done far more, I think maybe more than anybody`s done in this office, in 50 days.  That I could tell you. 

SETH MEYERS, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS":  Trump has done more in office the way a toddler helps out in the kitchen. 

CROWD:  Health care for all.  Health care for all. 


MELBER:  It`s hard for most people to run away from their problems because problems have a way of running with you.  That`s what Donald Trump found today as he tried to run away from his domestic problems by focusing on foreign affairs.  But that just put a global spotlight on Trump`s struggle to explain his baseless accusation that Obama wiretapped him, a performance that has shown Trump blustering, then nervous, and now full of righteous blame as he pretends his accusation was from other people. 


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Are there from time to time tweets that you regret in hindsight? 

TRUMP:  Very seldom. 


TRUMP:  We said nothing.  All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.  I didn`t make an opinion on it.  That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX.  And so you shouldn`t be talking to me, you should be talking to FOX. 


MELBER:  So Trump`s new defense of his discredited claim is that it`s not his claim.  He didn`t make an opinion on it, except then he did again, in the same presser, suggesting that the premise that the U.S. surveilled him was still operative, just like he claims it surveilled Angela Merkel in 2013. 


TRUMP:  As far as wiretapping, I guess, by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps. 


MELBER:  Perhaps.  That`s actually not true.  And while it was revealed that the U.S. did snoop on Merkel`s cell phone for a time, there is, of course, no evidence to support Trump`s claim that he was specifically targeted for wiretaps. 

All the latest news only reinforces that.  Intel committee leaders in both parties rebutting Trump.  Today we can report NBC News documenting that Trump`s own Justice Department provided materials to those committees and they do not support Trump`s claims.  Also the same DOJ confirming today that it had, quote, "complied with those congressional requests for proof." 

Here`s the bottom line right now.  There are only two types of government sources on this story.  Those who have rebutted Trump completely and those who haven`t spoken yet.  The first category includes virtually everyone in a position to know, while the second category includes one man holding his rhetorical fire, FBI Director James Comey, who will testify before Congress on Monday, a hearing that may even overshadow President Trump`s preferred Monday headline, those hearings for his Supreme Court nominee. 

The old theory was that all of this type of stuff, these Trump tweets, were clever distractions, deft moves of political chess to avoid negative headlines. 

[22:05:04] But this has become the negative headline.  It doesn`t look like political chess.  It looks increasingly like a game of political Russian roulette with Trump taking reckless shots that can easily wound his own administration.  The record shows that`s what Sean Spicer thought when he tried to muzzle Trump and shut down this story, that was two weeks ago, when he first responded to the wiretap tweet by telling reporters, quote, "neither the White House nor the president will comment further on the issue until Congress looks into it." 

Well, that statement proved inoperative because Trump keeps commenting and that ensures he keeps taking his problems with him wherever he goes. 

Joining me now is Jonathan Finer, former chief of staff to secretary of state, John Kerry, and a contributor to "Foreign Policy" magazine, Evan Siegfried, Republican strategist, the author of "GOP GPS," and David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and MSNBC political analyst. 

David, the record is voluminous.  The record shows this -- this claim of wiretap is false. 

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  Well, of course it does.  And it`s also true that the Justice Department has no evidence that there`s an Easter Bunny and there`s no evidence that Barack Obama mugged Donald Trump in the streets of New York in 1987.  He just says stuff.  You know, sometimes it pops into his head, sometimes it comes from Breitbart.  Today it came from FOX, from a guy he called a very talented legal mind who happens to be a 9/11 truther, Andrew Napolitano. 

MELBER:  Sure. 

CORN:  And when, you know, Trump gets caught head he says, well, it wasn`t me.  I`m just the president here.  You should go after FOX.  He`s essentially saying, they report, we repeat.  That`s it.  You know, and he doesn`t feel that he has any obligation to vet anything that he says or tweets, and you almost, you don`t but you almost have to feel sorry for the Sean Spicers, Kellyanne Conways, who are people who know better but pretend they don`t. 

MELBER:  Right.  That`s become part of their job is to pretend otherwise. 

CORN:  Yes. 

MELBER:  The wiretapping story here also causing international problems with Sean Spicer citing that debunked report claiming that Britain`s intelligence services wiretapped him as well. 

Jonathan, unpack that for us. 

JONATHAN FINER, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SECRETARY OF STATE, John Kerry:  Yes.  So look, I think that the president hit an unbelievably negative trifecta in his press availability with Chancellor Merkel today.  One, he reopened the wound with the UK that his team had tried to clean up earlier in the morning by again asserting that they had wiretapped him when we all know that that`s not the case.  He also dragged the chancellor and the German government into this fray, which I`m sure was the last thing they wanted when they`re trying to build a relationship with the United States. 

MELBER:  We didn`t book a body language expert, but she didn`t look into it. 

FINER:  Yes.  I think everybody -- 

MELBER:  She didn`t look like she liked it. 

FINER:  But the third piece of this, which I think is in some ways the most troubling, is he further drew down his own eroding credibility.  Now there`s going to be a time at some point when the president faces a crisis that`s not of his making and he will need that credibility to be able to go to allies and be able to go to the country and say, trust me, this is what is happening and this is what we need to do.  And he is undermining his ability to build up that trust. 

MELBER:  And Evan, take a listen to Donald Trump trying to say that this all comes back to whether or not he used air quotes. 


TRUMP:  Don`t forget, when I say wiretap, those words were in quotes.  That really covers --because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff.  But that really covers surveillance and many other things.  And nobody ever talks about the fact it was in quotes.  We have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn`t been submitted as of yet.  But it`s potentially a very serious situation. 

So all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.  I didn`t make an opinion on it.  That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. 


MELBER:  You see that MSNBC fact check on each of those claims.  These are falsehoods that he seems to think will still work with somebody? 

EVAN SIEGFRIED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  They`ll work with his base, who will buy anything he sells.  But it`s not factually true.  Every single organization has said it`s not true.  And it`s distracting.  And the fact that the president of the United States has gone out and basically thrown - - said the buck stops somewhere over there, and not with me, like Harry Truman once said, is very disturbing. 

The president of the United States is also accidentally admitting that if anybody puts something in front of him, he`s going to believe it.  So if I tell him I`m the creator of "Sesame Street" and he`s now want to believe it.  And as a Republican, I`m very concerned by that.  We have in one day, as Jonathan mentioned, upset our closest ally, and one of the closest allies we`ll need, especially in the fight on ISIS, as well as to deal with the refugee crisis that`s going on in Syria.  I don`t understand how today was a productive day and throwing somebody else under the bus and not taking personal responsibility and saying, I`m sorry, I messed up, that`s not presidential.  And that`s not something we need in a leader. 

[22:10:07] MELBER:  Right.  And David, there are larger politics on that.  I mean, Evan brings up "Sesame Street."  This is like when they were always telling Big Bird that Snuffleupagus, you know, was around the corner, and eventually Big Bird didn`t believe it because they never made contact and so there`s a credibility analogy to be made there.  But I don`t want to stretch it too far. 

I want you to listen to Tom Cole, a Republican here, talking about what should happen next.  Because it`s all well and good to say, well, Donald Trump does this and his base likes it and that`s the end of the story.  That`s not the end of the story.  The story is just starting.  He is a new president.  Here`s a Republican saying what should be done. 


REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA:?  Frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, I think the president, you know, President Obama is owed an apology in that regard because if he didn`t do it, we shouldn`t be reckless in accusations that he did. 


MELBER:  David? 

CORN:  Well, that`s at the very least.  You know, I don`t think we`ll ever see Donald Trump apologize for everything.  He has said, he was asked during the campaign, have you ever regretted anything, have you ever had to apologize, and he said, eh, after 70 years, no.  So there will be no apology. 

This is a fellow who can never concede really doing anything wrong from his bankruptcies to his lies.  It doesn`t matter.  But I do think Jonathan Finer`s point from early on is the dead-on thing.  Right now, you know, we have Rex Tillerson and others talking about going to war with North Korea and Jonathan`s right.  One day the president will have to say, listen, we have intelligence saying this or that, and because of that we took military action. 

And how can you believe Donald Trump on anything?  That intelligence could be something that he heard on Alex Jones` radio show that morning.  This is a guy who can`t tell the difference between real facts, alternative facts, and things he just makes up. 

FINER:  Yes, I mean, look, I obviously agree with that and I think one of the big problems that we have right now is there are too few people with credibility on these issues who are speaking on behalf of the United States.  And that starts frankly with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who thankfully has now started allowing briefings to be conducted from the State Department.  We didn`t have any between roughly January 19th and March 6th and he`s finally started to answer some questions of his own in a press availability in Asia. 

But, you know, what we need is policy statements, speeches, public diplomacy conducted by people other than the president and the press secretary who I don`t think are the best face for America to the world right now on these issues. 

MELBER:  David, on the confirmation of all of this, you know, in court, lawyers never want to ask a question they don`t know the answer to because you end up looking really stupid.  And here is Donald Trump out there not prepared and he says, well, just go ask FOX News.  Now the folks at FOX News he talks to all the time.  His staff talks to them, he talks to Tucker Carlson.  He could have checked this out, he clearly didn`t because after saying that here`s what happened.  Shep Smith. 


SHEP SMITH, FOX NEWS:  FOX News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano`s commentary.  FOX News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now- president of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way, full stop. 


MELBER:  Full stop, David. 

CORN:  Well, you know.  Kudos to Shep Smith and others at FOX who don`t want to be tarred by Donald Trump`s lies as much as others on the network have enabled him.  And, you know, we can never forget, Ari, and I know you don`t, that this was a guy who for three years ran around saying, I have evidence that the president wasn`t born in Hawaii.  I have my -- you know, I have my investigators -- you can`t believe what they`re reporting to me, you can`t believe the information I`m seeing, information that we never saw.  That even didn`t make to it Newsmax. 

So this is a fellow who again and again commits the same crime.  We shouldn`t be surprised.  And it`s too bad that so many people have fallen for it.  And now you see a lot of Republicans -- Tom Cole is an exception - - who still try to apologize for this or at least, you know, pretend it`s not a very serious matter.

  MELBER:  And David, I think you may have just coined a new standard.  The "not even Newsmax will touch it" standard for those who follow 

Evan, you wanted to get in. 

SIEGFRIED:  Well, I want to say that this isn`t just on foreign policy, we`ve seen a pattern here with the president since he took office where he`ll say or do something and make a promise that he won`t uphold.  And how is that going to help him when he`s negotiating with Congress over passing legislation and trying to strong arm them into passing the Affordable Healthcare Act Thursday in the House when he goes back on his word? 

He did it last weekend with Preet Bharara.  He did it with -- he`s now blaming other people and saying, oh, it was in scare quotes.  I don`t understand and from the Republicans I`ve spoken to on the Hill, they are nervous, they don`t think he can keep his word.  And you need to have that as a president of the United States. 

MELBER:  Absolutely.  Jonathan Finer, David Corn, Evan, thank you so much. 

Coming up, President Trump says the health care bill, going great.  Another Republican senator meanwhile saying it`s DOA. 

And later, a look at the cost of brinksmanship in Trump`s foreign policy. 


[22:17:10] Forget the tweets.  When it comes to governing, Monday is shaping up to be the most significant day of the Trump presidency so far.  FBI Director James Comey will testify for the first time since Trump`s election before the House Intelligence Committee.  He`ll be asked about probes into Russia and Trump`s wiretapping accusations.  The implications to that are large. 

And yet at the same time, the Senate will also hear its first testimony on one of the most far-reaching decisions Trump will make in office.  His selection of Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace that Supreme Court vacancy that arose during Obama`s term. 

What does Gorsuch stand for?  He says he wants to follow in Scalia`s footsteps.  What could that mean for civil rights, gay marriage, money, and politics, and Trump`s travel ban? 

Well, I`m excited to tell you that I am anchoring a two-hour special on that confirmation fight on the eve of the hearings, Sunday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern, joined by senators on the Judiciary Committee, leaders from the NAACP and Planned Parenthood, conservative legal scholars, we even have a former clerk to Judge Gorsuch himself. 

I`d like to think it`s the ultimate pregame for confirmation day.  I hope you all will tune in.  And I hope you`ll keep it locked right here on THE LAST WORD because next we`re reporting on that story, Trump saying the health care bill is all coming together, and now a key Republican senator saying he won`t even vote for it. 


MELBER:  President Trump says he has convinced some skeptical House Republicans to support his bill to replace Obamacare. 


TRUMP:  We met with 12 pretty much no`s in Congress.  You saw that a little while ago and they went from all no`s to all yeses. 

[22:20:06] And we have a lot of yeses coming in.  It`s all coming together.  It`s going to be passed, I believe, I think substantially and pretty quickly.  It`s coming together beautifully. 


MELBER:  Are the yeses coming in?  Some of the most outspoken Republican opponents of the bill say they`re not changing their minds.  16 House Republicans publicly saying they`ll vote no or at least leaning towards it.  None of them, by the way, meeting with President Trump.  Congressman Justin Amash tweeting, "Absolutely not true that conservatives have flipped to yes on the health care bill.  It doesn`t repeal Obamacare, it remains a disaster." 

The bill faces a bigger problem, of course, in the Senate where it can lose no more than just two Republican votes to pass.  Republican Senators Rand Paul and Susan Collins already saying they won`t vote for this bill.  And now a third Republican senator, this is big, Dean Heller of Nevada, says he also will not vote for the bill.  He told Bloomberg News, "I don`t support the House bill in its current form." 

Joining us now is Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, a former chief economist to Vice President Biden and MSNBC contributor, and Evan Siegfried, Republican strategist back with us, the author of "GOP GPS." 

Jared, let`s start with politics.  I know you want to get, you know, deep into insurance rates and all that.  But -- 


MELBER:  You know this Congress.  On a scale of definitely passing to "oh my god, we have a problem," what does it mean when this early in the push they`re losing these many Republicans?

  BERNSTEIN:  Much closer to "we have a problem."  But I wouldn`t say that the likelihood that this gets out of the House is zero.  You know, there -- 

MELBER:  Sure. 

BERNSTEIN:  There`s a chance that they`re going to be able to muster votes.  The hard part is that you just heard the hard-right Republican say that this draconian bill, and I won`t go into the numbers other than to say it unwinds the coverage benefits of Obamacare in part by really gutting the Medicaid program and -- 

MELBER:  Yes.  And Jared, you know, it`s Friday night, so you keep that calculator in your pocket. 

BERNSTEIN:  Yes.  Yes.  Well, and transferring all of those hundreds of billions of benefits to rich people.  So, you know, that`s not far-right enough for some of this caucus.  And meanwhile there`s moderates, many of whom have the Medicaid expansion in their states, and they`re hard pressed to vote for a bill that`s going to take 14 million people off the rolls.  But it could come out of the House.  It could go over to the Senate.  Something very different could come out of the Senate.  And then you`d have this collision in conference.  And I have a hard time seeing what that produces. 

MELBER:  And Evan, the politics here, of course, most senators in the Republican Party are on the record being against Obamacare.  That`s the easy part politically.  Look at Senator Joni Ernst in Iowa, which is a state that can go either way, trying to make her case to her own constituents here on this fight. 


SEN. JONI ERNST (R), IOWA:  We can`t maintain the current status of the law because we know that it is -- it`s failing already. 


ERNST:  What -- what will happen -- 



MELBER:  That`s the grassroots.  Here`s the quote of the senator, to give her her due.  Senator Ernst telling "The Des Moines Register" hometown paper, "After that health care town hall I can`t say today whether I support it or I don`t support it, this Republican bill.  We have to know how it`s going to impact Iowa families.  We were able to hear some of that today." 

SIEGFRIED:  Well, I`m a conservative and I didn`t like Obamacare, I didn`t think that it should go in.  But now -- affordable health coverage is a right.  And people don`t like it when you try and take away a right.  Be you on the right or the left.  And when you actually look at what`s in this bill and what it does, it takes a top-down approach which most conservatives massively object to.  And it`s -- all we`re giving a family of four is a $4,000 tax credit no matter where they are.  And family, say, in a place in southwest Pennsylvania that voted for Donald Trump under Obamacare right now gets $11,000 paid toward health insurance.  Under this it would only be $4,000. 

Additionally areas such as Appalachia that went very heavily for Donald Trump, and Donald Trump has talked about how there`s an opioid epidemic which he wants to fix, this bill allows people to impose a cap on coverage, be it treatment for addiction, mental illness, or even chemotherapy.  And they could literally yank the needle out of your arm. 

MELBER:  You`re basically saying this bill probably isn`t good for the working class, white or not white? 

SIEGFRIED:  It`s not good for anyone.  I don`t think I`ve seen a health care bill like this unite both Republicans and Democrats in opposition, but it`s for different reasons.  There`s only -- 

BERNSTEIN:  So I think -- I think Evan is making a really critical point that has kind of gotten lost in the mix because we`ve been so focused on the Republican plan.  And the point is, Obamacare has created a baseline.  It is a new baseline that it is going to be extremely hard to come in this far under. 

[22:25:08] If you had a bill that sort of tweaked things away in a way that the CBO said might be a little worse, you know, maybe you could bend yourself into believing that this could really meet that baseline.  But what they`ve come up with is miles below the baseline.  And precisely the way Evan is prescribing.  And it`s not just that Democrats aren`t supporting it, it`s losing Republicans, senators, governors, and members of the House. 

MELBER:  Well, and to that point, Evan, look at Republican Governor Kasich from Ohio, Hutchison in Arkansas, Snyder in Michigan, and Sandoval, who wrote this letter to Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.  And they say, look, "This bill provides almost no flexibility for states and doesn`t assure the resources necessary to make sure no one`s left out and," excuse me, "shifts significant new costs to states." 

It`s one thing to have a libertarian ideology, another thing to say, we have an obligation as governors do day to day to make this work. 

SIEGFRIED:  Yes, I think that you`re seeing governors recognize that this is going to be an unsustainable budget crunch on them, in Ohio and throughout the country.  Especially in Michigan.  And I think we`re seeing a lot of people recoil.  This bill is a very bad bill.  The president has married himself to it and is refusing to divorce it, which is the first time he`s ever refused to divorce anything.  So we`re seeing the president of the United States, who didn`t even get in this bill what he wanted, which was eliminating state lines, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do to create competition that even Democrats could get behind.  And nobody loves it.  The only thing that is actually good, and it`s only good for millennials, are the health savings accounts because they`re the most fiscally conservative generation and they save for that. 

MELBER:  Jared -- Jared, Evan is a very nice guy, a nice country club Republican.  So when he`s busting out a sick burn like that, you know that he`s clearly passionate. 


MELBER:  Final word to you, though, on the road ahead. 


MELBER:  If this is the only thing, which is what Paul Ryan says, and this can`t get through the Senate by the rough count, then what? 

BERNSTEIN:  Then probably what happens is all those people, all those hard- right Republicans who -- and Donald Trump who ran on replacing Obamacare, go back to their districts and say, we tried, folks, but that damn Senate won`t let us do it.  And, you know, it goes back to business as usual.  That doesn`t mean Obamacare is out of the woods because, you know, once this government stops supporting the measure, it`s obviously going to be harder to sustain.  But Obamacare may be in better shape than many of us thought it was on election night. 

MELBER:  Yes.  It is an extraordinary set of developments and it seems to relate in part to the White House`s choice or inability to actually do detailed negotiating even though we have heard a lot about -- 

BERNSTEIN:  Well -- 

MELBER:  Briefly, Jared. 

BERNSTEIN:  Never underestimate how lousy this White House is at governing thus far. 

SIEGFRIED:  So you`re not accusing the administration of competence? 

MELBER:  You said it better and quicker than I could, which is a skill. 

Jared Bernstein and Evan Siegfried, thanks both for joining.  Appreciate it. 

Coming up, this is a whole another story you got it here.  Donald Trump`s top diplomat saying all options, including military force, now on the table if North Korea doesn`t back off and denuclearize.  The last time the U.S. was on this brink with North Korea was back during the Clinton presidency.  I`ll talk to the lead negotiator of the deal that averted what some feared a war with North Korea.  That`s straight ahead. 


[22:31:56] MELBER:  Turning to an important story that may have been overshadowed this week, Trump`s foreign policy brinksmanship.  On his first trip to Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he wanted to be clear that the Trump administration would consider a military first strike option against North Korea. 


REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  So let me be very clear.  The policy of strategic patience has ended.  All the options are on the table.  Certainly we do not want to -- for things to get to a military conflict, we`re quite clear on that in our communications.  But obviously if North Korea takes actions that threaten the South Korean forces or our own forces then that will be met with an appropriate response.  If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action that option is on the table. 


MELBER:  Tillerson also toured the heavily guarded demilitarized zone where North and South Korean forces stand just feet from each other.  A North Korean soldier even was seen snapping a picture of Tillerson right there through a window. 

Now there is a context for these threats.  In recent weeks North Korea has conducted a series of ballistic missile tests.  Experts tracking whether they`re proceeding towards the capacity to achieve nuclear-tipped missiles that could reach Japan or the U.S. 

Tillerson`s comments reflect an intentional escalation of sorts of pressure designed by the State Department.  President Trump meanwhile striking a similar note but in bumper sticker form tweeting, quote, "North Korea is behaving very badly.  They have been playing the U.S. for years.  China has done little to help." 

For a simple response to that simple message, consider China is North Korea`s strongest ally and largest trading partner.  They`re not known for helping that much in this arena.  Tillerson, meanwhile, will be in China on Saturday. 

Former members of the Clinton administration have said the U.S. considered a strike on a North Korean facility in `94 when it was on the brink of producing weapons-grade material.  Ambassador Robert Gallucci was the chief negotiator during that crisis in `94.  He`s a distinguished professor of diplomacy at Georgetown. 

Let me start with the interpretive question.  Nothing new about the U.S. trying to be strong while leaving some options open.  What did you hear in Tillerson`s statement there?  Is it normal or different? 

ROBERT GALLUCCI, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR OF DIPLOMACY, GEORGETOWN:  Ari, it may have been normal in the sense that there`s nothing new, there`s no news.  If all the secretary meant was that all options are on the table when we consider what to do about North Korea and a policy review, then he`s said what other administrations have said in this context and others.  If all he meant, if all he meant was that if North Korea was about to strike one of our treaty allies, republic of Korea or Japan, or the United States of America, that in that case we would feel free to preempt that strike, that`s still nothing new. 

[22:35:03] We would expect nothing less from our president.  However, if he meant something else, if he meant that we were not going to allow that North Koreans to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile as you say that could be mated with a nuclear weapon, and if they went to test such a missile, not attack but test such a missile, we would contemplate at least striking it, striking North Korea to destroy that missile, that would be new.  That wouldn`t be a preemptive strike.  That would be preventive war. 

MELBER:  Well, Ambassador, this is diplomatic speech.  Are you saying it was vague and open to those interpretations?  And if so, was it strategically vague? 

GALLUCCI:  I think it was vague.  And I don`t know whether it was strategic, whether the secretary intended to leave that ambiguity there.  I`d simply don`t know.  I do know, though, that one should not expect, we should not expect, the United States should not expect to strike North Korea kinetically with a military strike and have no response from North Korea.  That means we would have to be ready for military engagement, for war.  And so would our allies in Japan and South Korea. 

MELBER:  What about President Trump`s belief that on this, like on trade issues, China can be bent in some way? 

GALLUCCI:  We have had a theory of dealing with North Korea by going to Beijing and having the principal supporter of North Korea use its influence in Pyongyang to bring the North Koreans around.  That we tried in the Clinton administration.  It has been tried in the Bush administration, the Obama administration.  And is every reason why we should keep trying.  This is something of a Chinese phenomenon in that sanctions are limited in their impact because China makes sure they`re limited in their impact.  But going to China is not really a policy.  It is something that should be part of an overall approach to North Korea, but we shouldn`t expect now it will start working where before it hadn`t. 

MELBER:  Ambassador and Professor Robert Gallucci, thank you for your guidance and expertise tonight. 

GALLUCCI:  Thank you. 

MELBER:  Coming up, the Trump White House wanted to make sure everyone read the positive coverage in "The Washington Post" about its budget.  It included the link at the top of an e-mail to reporters.  But there was a really embarrassing problem.  That`s next. 


[22:40:35] MELBER:  Welcome back.  Be careful what you eat.  Be careful what you tweet.  Like if you`re sharing an article, read more than the headline.  The Trump White House was reminded of that basic lesson when it sent out a link -- this is real -- to an article that was trashing Trump`s budget, a "Washington Post" article that was headlined "Trump`s Budget Makes Perfect Sense and Will Fix America and I`ll Tell You Why."  Solid headline. 

But this piece was a satire by a humor writer, Alexandra Petrie.  She was using a Trump-style fan fiction voice to say, quote, "This budget will make America a lean, mean fighting machine.  With bulging, ripping muscles, not an ounce of fat.  But how will I survive on this budget, you may be wondering?  I am a human child, not a costly fighter jet.  Well, you may not survive.  But that is because you are soft and weak.  Something this budget is designed to eliminate." 

Now that article has since been removed from the online version of the White House`s daily newsletter. 

Here for more on all things budget and Trump, Zerlina Maxwell, director of Progressive Programming for Sirius XM and a former official with the Hillary Clinton campaign, as well as Erin Gloria Ryan, a senior editor for "The Daily Beast." 

Erin, is this a mistake that anyone could make?  I mean, you know, anyone`s friend, mom, dad, brother, could post on Facebook something having not read it. 

ERIN GLORIA RYAN, THE DAILY BEAST:  Sure, absolutely.  But I`m really glad that my friend, mom, dad and brother are not the president of the United States. 



RYAN:  I think that the sort of person that doesn`t take care to read past the deadline is maybe not the sort of person you want in charge of anything important. 

MELBER:  Of anything, OK. 

RYAN:  But -- yes.  But, you know, here we are. 

MELBER:  Here we are. 

MAXWELL:  Yes.  Especially when it`s something as consequential as the budget.  You have an anti-poverty budget that`s really going to impact people in their real lives.  And so you want a White House who`s going to pay attention to the details.  And they didn`t do that here. 

MELBER:  Let me give you an article headline you don`t have to read because it matches the content of the article.  "The New York Daily News," which is one of our hometown tabloids, and they make it pretty clear.  "Trump Budget Axes Terror Funds."  They call it "madness."  You see that provocative -- that provocative cover.  And they say NYPD security aid slashed, mayor saying the president`s putting us in the crosshairs.  And NYPD chief who doesn`t do a ton of national politicking also just put out online the statement, how do you say you`re pro-cop and anti-terror, and you slash us completely, Zerlina? 

MAXWELL:  Well, I mean, I think that the president and his administration talk all the time about how we need to keep Americans safe.  But this demonstrates that they aren`t, you know, putting any meat on the bones of their rhetoric in terms of policies that would actually go to do that.  They put forward a Muslim ban which has been knocked down again by the courts.  And so I think they`re going to have to come up with some more detailed strategies on how to actually combat terrorism that aren`t banning an entire religion from entering the country. 

MELBER:  Well, and Erin, you know, to take it seriously, is the president counting on the fact that cops in New York won`t read "The Daily News" or listen to their chief?  I mean, at what point do they say, oh, he campaigned on being for us. 

RYAN:  Yes. 


MELBER:  And it`s not like a 5 percent haircut, it`s the federal government bailing on the police department in obviously one of the largest terror targets in the country. 

RYAN:  Well, there`s two -- but there`s a couple of possibilities and there`s a range of possibilities between these two extremes.  Right?  So, A, it could be that it was just an oversight, that maybe got somebody got a little bit too happy with the pen and crossed something out they shouldn`t crossed out.  I mean, they did tweet out an article that was a satirical takedown of their budget as praise, so it is possible somebody made a mistake. 

But I also -- you know, there`s a part of my brain that sees Trump as sort of somebody that`s driven by fear and spite.  And it`s seeing as though he`s really hated in his hometown of New York City, across all different types of people.  It doesn`t seem that out of line to me to imagine that he`d be somebody that maybe doesn`t really care as much about New York City because they haven`t cared about him. 

MELBER:  Right.  That it`s all about where he`s getting the love. 

RYAN:  Right. 

MELBER:  Zerlina, As Jay-Z would say, either love me or leave me alone.  If he`s not feeling the love, then it may not be there.  Listen to Tom Cole from the Budget Committee here talking about how these budgets work because to be clear to viewers as folks probably know, this is the beginning, not the end, and Congress makes a lot more decisions. 


COLE:  Budgets are all tradeoffs.  And in the end, the president proposes a budget, he did exactly what he`s required to do by law. 

[22:45:02] But Congress has to work through it.  And I would actually be tougher on Congress here.  And I`d be tough on the president, too. 


MELBER:  Zerlina, how about that?  Sometimes it is a Trump-fixated world. 

MAXWELL:  Right. 

MELBER:  I`m fully guilty as a member of the media being sometimes a part of that.  But this is the Congress` constitutional responsibility. 

MAXWELL:  Right. 

MELBER:  They`re going to have to decide whether they see this as a blueprint at all, or whether they say wow, doesn`t square, too hard to cut, even budget hawks say you can`t just cut 30 percent out in one year and expect things to work. 

MAXWELL:  Well, I think this is going to be an interesting test for congressional Republicans to see if they`re actually going to oppose things that the president`s putting forward.  I think in terms of budgets, budgets are moral documents.  Budgets set the -- you know, essentially tell the country what your priorities are, which groups of Americans are priorities for your administration.  In this administration and this document that came out, it`s clear that, you know, poor people, elderly people, people of color, are not high up on the list of the Trump administration`s priorities. 

Now that may or may not be true for congressional Republicans who have to run every two years in the House, then every six years in the Senate.  So they have a different calculus when -- as far as that goes. 


MELBER:  Right.  Yes.  You make a great point, which is it comes back to choices.  I will end with a quick excerpt from that satire article because there are arts cuts.  But the article explained the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts, will be destroyed but replaced with an armored helicopter with a shark painted on it. 

MAXWELL:  Great. 

RYAN:  Great. 

MELBER:  Which is art.  That`s art, too. 

RYAN:  Excellent.  I love that. 

MELBER:  You guys stay.  Panel stays.  We`re going to take a quick break.  On Monday we`re going to hear from FBI Director James Comey as I mentioned for the first time in public remarks about Russia`s interference in the 2016 election and any related investigations.  He`s also of course going to be asked about Trump`s claim that he was personally wiretapped by Barack Obama and any attendant proof.  The panel weighs in after the break. 


MELBER:  There`s no denying next week will be big for Congress and could be a mixed bag on how it all unfolds. 

[22:50:04] Monday confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch in the Senate.  Also Monday, FBI Director Jim Comey testifying for the first time before the House Intel Committee about any Russian interference in the presidential election and Trump`s wiretapping claims, get your popcorn. 

And also as if that wasn`t enough, House Republicans now saying they think they`ll have enough support for a full vote on health care repeal as soon as Thursday.  Today some members of the Republican Study Committee, though, were saying they will support the bill after some alleged concessions from the president. 

Our panel is back.  And what a panel it is.  Zerlina and Erin.  This was a big issue in the campaign.  I mentioned you worked for Hillary. 


MELBER:  Donald Trump didn`t win more votes but he did win the thing that matters, electoral college. 


MELBER:  And he ran 100 percent on repealing Obamacare. 


MELBER:  It is proving harder, though. 

MAXWELL:  Yes, and I think that one of the reasons it`s proving harder is because it`s a lot easier to say I`m going to repeal and replace Obamacare as a talking point than it is to actually take away health insurance from Americans who are benefiting from it right now. 

The old saying is, people don`t know who gave you health insurance, perhaps, but they`re going to know exactly who took it away from them.  And they`re going to know that when they go to the doctor and they ask for a much larger co-pay than they`re used to paying, who is to blame for that?  And I think that that`s the damage for Republicans is that they`re taking away something from people. 

MELBER:  Let me push back on that, Erin.  Let me put forward a different theory which is that everything Trump`s doing is great and the press hasn`t been speaking properly about it.  And under that theory, it`s not so much what he`s doing but the improper words of the press.  Here is the president on that point today. 


TRUMP:  I want everyone to know I`m 100 percent behind us.  I want everybody to know that the press has not been speaking properly about how great this is going to be.  They have not been giving it a fair press.  The press is, well, as you know, in many cases, I call it the fake news.  It`s fake news.  This is going to be great for people.  So I just want to let the world know I am 100 percent in favor. 


MELBER:  If you could respond without speaking improperly, I would appreciate it. 

RYAN:  Sure.  Sorry, as a member of the press, it`s very difficult for me to not speak improperly.  One thing I do want to say is, you know, Donald Trump right now is coming up with -- coming up on a real-life confrontation between his words and reality.  People who in the middle of the country, who maybe voted for him, who don`t really care about Russia, don`t really care about the integrity of Europe, don`t really have time to think about that in their day-to-day lives, do care about their health and they care about how much of their money is going to pay for health care. 

And if Donald Trump can`t follow through on his promise, this is something that`s going to affect them and the proof will be in the pudding.  Regardless of what Donald Trump says, these people will still have to pay more for health care.  And it`s not the press that`s saying it, it`s the Congressional Budget Office.  It`s individual analysis of what the impact on families would be. 

MELBER:  Well, and Zerlina, to that point, I mean, it`s like Hillary Clinton throwing some shade at President Trump and saying, oh, you`ve just discovered that health care is complicated. 

MAXWELL:  Health care is complicated. 

MELBER:  That`s a real quote.  Diplomacy is exhausting.  She`s travelled a lot, right. 

MAXWELL:  Right. 

MELBER:  And then getting things through Congress, right?  You could -- it`s not about strong or weak. 

MAXWELL:  Right. 

MELBER:  I work -- I worked in the Senate, Lawrence worked in the Senate.  It`s not about whether people are aggressive. 

MAXWELL:  Right. 

MELBER:  They`re all aggressive. 

MAXWELL:  Right. 

MELBER:  They made to it the U.S. Senate.  And just like people who tend to be president are aggressive.  That doesn`t get you over the line. 

MAXWELL:  Right. 

MELBER:  There`s a lot more nuance and collaboration that`s required.  Do you think he`s evincing it yet? 

MAXWELL:  No, I don`t think so.  I mean, I think he`s going to have a tough time, one, because he`s never held elected office and so just understanding how politics works just in a really basic level is going to be -- it`s been difficult for him, and it will continue to be difficult for him.  But also, you just can`t strong-arm your way to passing a legislative agenda.  That`s not how this works. 

And, you know, the guy who sold Trump University to people and stole their money should -- you know, he`s not the one that I`m going to believe when he`s saying, you`re going to like this plan, Trumpcare is going to make you -- save you so much money. 

MELBER:  Well, Zerlina -- 

MAXWELL:  I don`t know if I can believe him. 

MELBER:  You`re saying he stole the money.  In fairness, he did give $25 million of it back when he was forced to in court. 


MAXWELL:  Right.  I mean, listen.  This guy -- 

MELBER:  If you`re going to be fair. 

MAXWELL:  Yes, totally.  Thank you for being fair, Ari. 

RYAN:  I mean, I think, like, you know, like I was saying, I think that Donald Trump can`t say something when people are experiencing something else.  Like their reality is going to "Trump" his words. 

MAXWELL:  Right.  Right. 

RYAN:  And like -- and what`s also interesting is that Donald Trump`s idea that he can kind of strongman his way through things.  It`s really an extension of how he`s always operated as this extremely masculine, aggressive, flashy person.  And that`s not something, like, that outwardly manifested as a way to run the country. 

MELBER:  Well, right.  And it may have been popular in certain parts of the country so everybody goes, oh, people like this.  Right?  And the question now is do people like what the results are if that`s a governing strategy.  It is young, just Samantha Bee said, we`re just 7 1/2 weeks in. 

[22:55:04] We`ll see what the results are.  Our job is just to report them. 

Erin Gloria Ryan and Zerlina Maxwell, thank you for your insights tonight. 

RYAN:  Thank you. 

MAXWELL:  Thank you. 

MELBER:  Always fun. 

Now coming up, the LAST WORD of the week which is kind of, sort of related to that video right there. 


MELBER:  A Secret Service laptop that was stolen from an agent`s car in New York yesterday we can report tonight is still missing.  Politico noting that it allegedly contains information about the layout of Trump Tower as well as other security materials.  In a statement today that did confirm the theft, the agency stressed that the Secret Service laptops are generally highly secure, require multiple authorizations to protect their contents. 

We`ll bring you more on that story as we have it.  And we will be right back. 



MEYERS:  Cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency?  Saw that coming.  The only environments you care for are fairways and greens and that endangered marshland you call a haircut.  Cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts?  Again not surprised.  The only art you like are paintings of yourself where they take out the neck fat. 

But Meals on Wheels?  Meals on Wheels?  How dead inside do you have to be to not want old people to get food?  Your heart is so small it makes your tiny hands look like catcher mitts. 

Old people voted for you.  Your key demographics were old people and older people.  They believed you when you said you cared about them.  There`s nothing more lowlife than lying to the elderly. 

[23:00:03] You should know that, you`re 70.  Don`t you hate it when people lie to you and say things like, "I`ll try to make it down next week.  It`s just -- I`m on kayak and there are just no flights." 


MELBER:  Seth Meyers` point of view right there.  That is THE LAST WORD for tonight.  I`m Ari Melber.  Appreciate you watching and my special two-hour preview of the confirmation hearing to the Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is this Sunday, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.  I hope you`ll join us.  Lots to talk about. 

Now stay tuned.  "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes is next.