The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donell, transcript 3/24/2017

Guests: Ezra Klein, Rick Wilson, Indira Lakshmanan, Nick Kristof, David Corn, Jim Himes

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: March 24, 2017 Guest: Ezra Klein, Rick Wilson, Indira Lakshmanan, Nick Kristof, David Corn, Jim Himes

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us tonight.  We will see you again on Monday.  Have an excellent weekend.  Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL." 

Good evening, Lawrence. 

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Rachel, so important for the last two nights that you have been emphasizing how this happened, that it was those protests.  It was that citizen activism that all has been ignited in the last 60 days that turned this around. 

MADDOW:  And it`s -- I think it`s been really easy to focus on this as a beltway story and the various caucuses and the discussions that happen in hallways and meeting rooms, but I really believe with all my heart what moved this is the discussions that happened in those town halls and those constituent offices all around the country.  It`s like nothing I have ever seen. 

O`DONNELL:  Hundred percent.  And Rodney Frelinghuysen is the -- he`s the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. 

MADDOW:  The Appropriations Committee. 

O`DONNELL:  When I saw that tweet that he put out, that`s when I upped my bet that this thing was dead.  If the chairman of appropriations, this is the third most important job in the House, if he`s voting against his speaker on this, then the whole world is, if you actually record this vote, I mean, I`m not sure that they would have gotten 50 percent of the vote if they actually recorded it. 

MADDOW:  I know.  People are talking about how bad Paul Ryan looks now.  The one really good thing that Paul Ryan might have done just as a politician and a legislative leader today is not make his members commit themselves one way or the other because they`d all be paying for it one way or another with nobody winning. 

O`DONNELL:  Well -- exactly.  And Tom Cotton and other Republican senators kept using that phrase, walk the plank, walking the planks.  So Ryan didn`t let his people walk the plank, take a vote that they would pay for in the next election and never get it the thing through the Senate anyway, or even have it fail in the House today. 

MADDOW:  That`s right. 

O`DONNELL:  Incredibly dramatic day, but really, your point is so important.  It all started with those people.  Without those town halls, the video you showed last night, without those people in those town halls telling their real stories to those legislatures who had clearly never heard them before.  Wasn`t that the amazing part in the video?  You could tell this was news to them. 

MADDOW:  Yes.  And you know what legislators, even if -- even if the ones you don`t like them, they`re human beings.  And when you get confronted by something like eye-to-eye with somebody who you at the base level are responsible for, and it`s within your power to either do something that they say is going to kill them or not, it`s -- I mean, no matter how heartless you think your public servant is, every human being has to live with themselves at the end of the day. 

And having had those personal testimonies, at so many levels, especially in their home districts, in their hometowns, it`s -- there`s nothing else like it in politics.  And I remain convinced that the next big act, whatever those mobilized Americans decide to do next, is similarly going to blow everybody away in terms of what -- what supposedly inevitable thing they stopped from happening. 

O`DONNELL:  I think it`s going to have a lot to do with resistance to the Trump budget, which seems pretty dead in the water tonight. 

MADDOW:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Lawrence.  Appreciate it. 

O`DONNELL:  Another great night of coverage.  Really appreciate it.  Thank you. 

So today was a big win, big win for the president.  The 44th president, Barack Obama.  And it was, to put it in Trump speak, a complete disaster for the current president.  What Donald Trump and the Republicans learned today is that President Obama really did bring change to America.  President Obama changed the way Americans think about health care and most Americans now believe health care is a right, not a privilege.  And it`s a right that Donald Trump cannot take away. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER:  Doing big things is hard. 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  With no Democrat support, we couldn`t quite get there. 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER:  We`ll take credit for that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They didn`t pass because they couldn`t get 215 from their own party. 

RYAN:  The president gave his all in this effort. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He did everything wrong here.  He paid no attention to the details.  I don`t even know if he cared about the details. 

TRUMP:  I don`t want to speak about specifics. 

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  At the end of the day, this isn`t a dictatorship. 

TRUMP:  I, alone, can fix it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Donald Trump is a 70-year-old rookie. 

TRUMP:  Because I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days.  My first day in office, I`m going to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk.  We will be able to repeal and replace Obamacare.  Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated. 

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  The big picture, I think, is that it`s a victory for -- philosophically, for Obama. 

RYAN:  Obamacare is the law of the land, it`s going to remain the law of the land. 

[22:05:03] JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT:  This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal. 

PELOSI:  Let`s just for a moment breathe a sigh of relief. 

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The Affordable Care Act is here to stay. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  OK.  It`s time to discuss the legislative leadership and powers of the presidency.  And it is impossible, impossible, to exaggerate the enormity of what happened to Donald Trump today.  His presidency effectively ended today.  He will retain the office, of course, but not the powers because he demonstrated today that he has none.  He is a powerless president. 

The president will, of course, still have commander-in-chief authority over the machinery of war, but he has exercised more authority over the machinery of golf since becoming president than he has military activities. 

The rest of the presidency is about international relations in which this president is already an abject failure, unwilling to even shake hands with one of our most important allies. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Handshake? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  The president`s most important executive orders have been blocked by federal courts and now, now, the president has lost his first big legislative battle.  And that is a sentence I have never said before.  The president has lost his first big legislative battle.  They all win those battles and they win them because their parties unify behind the president.  That`s the way it always works on the first big bill.  And usually for most of the first year, at least, not now. 

The members of Donald Trump`s own party in the House of Representatives and the Senate do not care what he thinks.  They do not care what he wants.  He has proved himself incapable of changing their minds, incapable of commanding their loyalty, incapable of commanding their respect.  And why would they respect him? 

Here is what he was doing yesterday after he publicly gave up trying to win support for his own bill. 

And so tonight, the president, who has already proven himself to be the laziest, most ignorant president in history is now the weakest.  Nothing, nothing will get through Congress because Donald Trump wants it to get through Congress.  The Republicans will probably get a tax cut through Congress because they`ve had a tax cut ready to go since before Donald Trump ran for president.  And tax cutting is the one, one kind of legislation that Republicans do know how to get done.  But it won`t be Donald Trump`s tax cut.  He will be completely irrelevant to the process.  It will be Paul Ryan`s tax cut negotiated with Mitch McConnell.  And Donald Trump will sign it because all Donald Trump is now to this Congress is the rubber stamp for what they choose to pass. 

Mitch McConnell will do everything he can to confirm a Supreme Court justice who was not chosen by Donald Trump, but was simple a name on a list handed to Donald Trump during the campaign.  A list of names Donald Trump had never seen before.  He was told that you get to pick one of these.  That`s it. 

Donald Trump is the most powerless president we have ever seen and nothing can change that because it is who he is.  He is a weak president because he is a weak person.  Weak of mind, lazy, undisciplined, reckless and ignorant to the point that he amazed Republican House members in private conversations.  And remember, Republican members of the House of Representatives are the least knowledgeable people in government about health care policy. 

And one of them told Ryan Lizza at the "New Yorker," "R`s astonished, how in over his head Trump is.  He seems to neither get the politics nor the policy of this."  That was the word from inside a private Republican meeting with the president on the health care bill. 

Republicans in the House have now seen Donald Trump up close trying to make the deal.  And it was very clear to every one of them that he did not understand a single word of the deal.  He had no idea what he was talking about.  Some members of the Trump staff whispered to reporters that it was easier to negotiate with Congress without Trump. 

Of course it was, because Trump was telling everyone who came through the door what they wanted to hear.  And in congress, that means you can never, ever get a deal because you are going to have to be able to say no to someone on what he or she wants and still, still, get that person to vote for your bill. 

[22:10:03] That is the only way bills like this get passed.  Members of Congress vote for a bill that they don`t like very much because their president needs them to do it.  That`s how Bill Clinton got his first bill passed by exactly one vote in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.  There was very little in it for Democrats to like.  It was a big tax increase along with big spending cuts in Medicare and Medicaid all to reduce the deficit.  Democrats voted for it in the end. 

And what put the bill over the top was the belief among Democrats in the House and Senate that if their president lost on his first big bill, his presidency would be instantly irrelevant.  That`s how Bill Clinton got to 51 votes in the Senate.  The last 10 Democrats to come on that bill did so only to save Bill Clinton`s presidency.  It was a hard vote for them.  But that argument always works. 

Whenever Democrats or Republicans in Congress need it, we have to pass the president`s first big bill or his presidency will be irrelevant.  That argument has always been right and that argument has always worked.  Until today.  Republicans in the House do not care about the Trump presidency and they proved that today by crushing the Trump presidency into irrelevance.  Today the resistance against President Trump won and the resistance this time on this day was completely Republican. 

President Trump is now a man without a party in a government that only has two parties.  Trump voters were convinced that Donald Trump could push Congress around, that any member of Congress that crossed Donald Trump would have his or her political career instantly destroyed by a Trump tweet.  Trump would fire off those tweets like drone strikes into the congressional districts of those members.  The Congress would live in fear of Donald Trump. 

When the president got tired of negotiating on the health care bill, he issued the ultimatum to the Republican House that it was time to vote.  It was time to shut up and vote.  And if they didn`t vote for the Trump bill this time, they would not get another chance.  The ultimatum laid it all on the line for President Trump and now we know what a Donald Trump ultimatum means to congressional Republicans.  Absolutely nothing. 

President Trump has the lowest approval rating of any president in the first two months at 37 percent in the latest poll.  And that is now a higher job approval rating than President Trump has with his own Republican Congress. 

Today Donald Trump did what no president before him has publicly done on health care reform -- he quit.  He gave up.  He could have said, we are going to spend the weekend working on this bill and see if we can bring it to a vote next week.  And if we can`t, we`ll keep working on it until we can bring it to a vote.  That`s what you`re supposed to say. 

The last big health care legislation ended in a signing ceremony at the White House.  The one before that ended in 1994 with no bill.  President Clinton`s bill managed by Hillary Clinton didn`t make it through Congress.  It made it through the relevant committees, but it never came to a vote on the floor of the House and the Senate. 

Remember Bill Clinton`s speech the day he surrenders on health care the way Donald Trump did today?  Do you remember Hillary Clinton`s speech the day that the Clintons surrendered to Congress on their health care crusade?  No, you don`t.  Because they never surrendered.  Not publicly. 

The Democrats kept drafting alternative compromises that they thought might be able to get through the House and the Senate well into September of that session.  But no one ever publicly gave up on the Democratic side and the truth is, you never have to admit complete defeat in Congress if you are willing to at least, at least, go through the motions of continuing to try because the door never actually closes on legislation, but Donald Trump just gave up today, and that forced Paul Ryan to admit that they were giving up. 

We have been wondering since the election what it would take for Trump voters to realize the size of the fraud that they voted for.  Donald Trump, the guy who said repealing and replacing Obamacare would be easy, spent less than 60 days trying to do it, and many of those days on the golf course before quitting because, as he had to admit along the way, it was just too complicated.  And more importantly because he is the laziest, most ignorant, most incompetent, and now the most irrelevant president in history. 

Joining us now, Ezra Klein, the editor-in-chief of VOX.com.  Also Rick Wilson, Republican strategist and contributor to the "Daily Beast." 

[22:15:07] Ezra, Donald Trump realized it seemed, you know, two or three weeks ago that this is complicated.  And to the end, he apparently never understood just how complicated. 

EZRA KLEIN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, VOX.COM:  And this turned out to be a huge problem.  One of the things that I kept hearing from people who`ve been in meetings with him, who`ve been part of his big ultimate closer push is he`d walk into meeting and it was clear he had no idea how the bill worked.  And I think when people hear that, it does, it sounds funny.  But it actually matters when you are doing this kind of big thing, when you are asking members of Congress to take a dangerous vote, you actually have to get them committed to something bigger than themselves.  You have to convince them this is a big deal.  That this is worth losing your seat over. 

That`s what Obama did.  He gave a speech to the Democrats at the end of the Obamacare push.  He said this bill is worth losing your seat over.  And Trump did not understand the bill.  Did not seem to like it very much, did not like to talk about it and came in with a cynical, political closing argument.  If you don`t vote for it, you`ll lose your seat.  And that is not enough to get people to vote for a bill that only has a 17 percent approval rating. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  That`s -- Ezra, I mean, the polls show exactly the opposite of the Trump threat, and Rick Wilson, everybody has the same access to those polls that Ezra just mentioned.  You know, if you don`t vote for this, you lose your seat.  The polls said exactly the opposite.  If you vote for this, you are taking an extreme risk with your seat. 

RICK WILSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes.  This was an existential choice for a lot of these guys particularly in seats where Donald Trump did not, you know, over-perform.  These guys were looking at number where this bill was in the mid-20s to high teens in almost every case for approval.  And the fact of the matter was, the pressure on these folks from Donald Trump`s minions and Donald Trump`s the fear of the mean tweet, it diminished as the political reality set in, that no matter what you think about Obamacare, there was no way that Donald Trump is going to be a guy who could go out either in private or in public and articulate an argument for this bill that would move the numbers that would make sense. 

I mean, the emperor has been buck naked from the very beginning.  But, you know, as Ezra noted, I`ve talked to members who`ve been in these meetings, and they have said basically, this guy has no clue whatsoever what he`s talking about.  He`s easily overcome by inanimate objects than is much more comfortable being a -- to the presidential truck driver rather than somebody who can argue about a serious consequential, complex bill like this. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, Ezra, historically in legislation like this or any of the complex legislation, you don`t let anyone do any negotiating who isn`t in complete command of the details.  That`s why a lot -- most of this negotiating historically has been left to chairmen of the committees who know the material best, the congressional leaders and very rarely the president on specific issues because the president is always -- and this is no fault of the president -- going to be less informed of the details than Congress is. 

And it certainly looked like some members were having conversations with Paul Ryan that were unsatisfactory, and then they would go down to the White House and have conversations with the president and the president would say, yes, I think you`re right, I think we should try to do that, thereby undermining whatever Paul Ryan had just said to them.  And you have this two-headed monster of negotiations going on. 

KLEIN:  I think that`s true.  But I also think we shouldn`t lose sight of the larger picture here.  This was an atrocious bill. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes. 

KLEIN:  The reason -- it was not just that Donald Trump did not know enough to make a good case for it.  There wasn`t a good case that could be made for it.  If there was, somebody else could have been out there doing it.  Paul Ryan could have been out there doing it.  Secretary Tom Price could have been out there doing it.  Secretary Tom Price could have been out there.  Mike Pence could have been out there.  Reince Priebus could have been out there.  But there wasn`t. 

When Heritage Action came out against the bill today, and Heritage Action, it`s a conservative group.  I mean, we are not talking about liberals here.  They said you`ve got to vote against this bill because not a single conservative health care policy on the list is for it. 

This was a bill opposed not just by AARP, but the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, anybody who knew anything about health care said it was terrible. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes. 

KLEIN:  And not only was it bad, but it broke all of their promises.  It broke Donald Trump`s promises to give everybody health care and to make sure health care had lower deductibles.  This was not what anybody wanted.  And so even if Trump had known more about it, I think what that mainly would have done would have been to  make him uncomfortable with the fact that this didn`t go with anything that he had said on health care. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, Ezra, that is such an important point to get us back focusing on what was actually in the bill.  It was a disaster on its face. 

And Rick Wilson, I would add that to the issue of competence.  The pushing a terrible bill is one of the signs of incompetence. 

WILSON:  You know, if you are a conservative, this bill looked -- if you are a fiscal conservative, this bill looked like a disaster.  If you are a market conservative, you look at this bill, and say, wow, we just reconfigured the giveaways to the insurance industry and pharma a little bit.  We haven`t done anything that`s going to bring market forces in to reduce the premiums and to reduce the deductibles, to reduce the burdens that have been imposed on people by Obamacare. 

[22:20:08] It doesn`t fix anything and it also, just from the look and feel of the thing, it`s a disaster.  It gives you every hook.  If you`re a Democrat, it gave you every hook to go after this bill, about putting people off their insurance and maternity and mental health care, all these other things that just were immediate news hooks and people understood them viscerally.  And there was no effort to market this bill beyond the thought that Donald Trump would sell it to the public. 

I mean, that`s like saying we are going to outsource, you know, a daycare center to a team of serial killer clowns.  It`s ridiculous.  You can`t -- you can`t outsource something like this, you know, where it needs some heart and soul and some feel, that it isn`t some heartless mechanism that throw people off their insurance to Donald Trump, the guy with the least sympathetic affect of any human being. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  So they came up with a bill that couldn`t be sold, and then did everything wrong after that, too. 

Ezra Klein, Rick Wilson, thank you both for joining us, really appreciate it. 

KLEIN:  Thank you. 

WILSON:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  Coming up, we have an expert panel on the chaos in the White House.  What we have already seen in these first 60 days and what we can expect to see in what`s left of what we call the Trump presidency. 

And also, we are going to be joined by an intelligence -- House Intelligence Committee member, Jim Himes.  He will join us with the latest on exactly what has happened with congressman -- with Chairman Nunes today, who has changed his story.  He is now telling a completely different story of the intelligence information that was brought to him this week that he rushed over to Paul Ryan, and then rushed down to the White House. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL:  This just in, the front page of tomorrow`s "New York Post," Rupert Murdoch`s own newspaper.  Even they realized this was a devastating day for Donald Trump.  The "Post" says, "After conservative revolt, President Trump was forced to drop a House vote on legislation to replace Obamacare.  It was a harsh defeat for the GOP which has long campaigned against the law." 

So much for Donald Trump`s attempt to blame the Democrats.  I`ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:25:41] O`DONNELL:  And so with today`s crushing defeat, the superman who Trump voters seem to believe that they`re sending to the White House has now met his kryptonite at the end of two months of sheer chaos, incompetence and weakness. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  With no Democrat support, we couldn`t quite get there with just a very small number of votes short in terms of getting our bill passed. 

PAUL:  I will not sugar coat this, this is a disappointing day for us. 

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR:  With respect to the president`s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets. 

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Retired U.S. army, three-star general, an intelligence specialist had resigned as National Security adviser. 

LESTER HOLT:  Breaking news, a short time ago, a federal appeals court here in California ruled against the government, refusing to reinstate President Trump`s ban against travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  We`re joined now by Indira Lakshmanan, Washington columnist for "The Boston Globe," also Nicholas Kristof, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the "New York Times," and David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" and an MSNBC political analyst. 

I want to take a quick look at what Charles Krauthammer said this evening on FOX News about what happened today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRAUTHAMMER:  The big picture, I think, is that it`s a victory for -- philosophically for Obama.  He -- it is now seven years since the act was put into place.  The country is changed.  There is now the generalized expectation that there is an entitlement to universal health care. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  Nick Kristof, it took a long time for Republicans to grasp that concept. 

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES:  That`s right.  It took them seven years of trying desperately to overturn this and then 18 days of their own effort that they also spectacularly and let`s hope this is behind it but, I mean, frankly, my concern, and President Trump articulated is now he`s going to try to kill Obamacare and he can certainly sabotage it and then blame it on its intrinsic difficulties, saying that it`s dying when in fact he`s stepping on the oxygen hose.  And I think that`s one of the main risks ahead.  That`s one power he still does have, to sabotage it. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, Indira, that would then fall to the Democrats to try to identify that, where they see that happening as much as possible, basically rush to the scene of that crime to bring attention to it. 

INDIRA LAKSHMANAN, BOSTON GLOBE WASHINGTON COLUMNIST:  You are right.  The thing about President Trump here is, let`s not forget, though, this is a man who loves to win.  His entire brand is all about winning.  And today was about a spectacular, colossal failure.  And this is on top of a number of failures in the first two months.  You know, we`ve talked on this show before about his travel ban that failed not once, but twice already now, about all sorts of questions about intelligence and this on top of it. 

And it seems as if Trump just didn`t really realize how difficult health care was.  He said things like we didn`t know how difficult it was.  Well, actually everyone in Washington already knew how difficult it was.  So, you know, I think it was kind of Chuck Schumer, the minority leader in the Senate, who had the last laugh today when he said that this is the most incompetent White House he has ever seen, and so much for the art of the deal. 

I think, unfortunately, a lot of Trump supporters may be thinking that, too, if they thought they were going to get some kind of better health care deal out of it.  And now this has just been shelved to be forgotten. 

O`DONNELL:  Let`s listen to one of the lies Donald Trump told today when he was making excuses about this, saying that he never said he could do this in just 64 days.  Let`s listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  I never said -- I guess I`m here, what, 64 days?  I never said repeal and replace Obamacare.  You`ve all heard my speeches.  I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days.  I have a long time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  All right.  David Corn, he did say he would get it done on the first day. 

DAVID CORN, MOTHER JONES:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  And other timeframes.  But I don`t think he ever specifically said 64 days, he might be right about that. 

CORN:  No, no, no.  He didn`t say 64 days, he said would do it immediately. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes. 

CORN:  He said he was the only guy who could do it and we had a video up on "Mother Jones" today in which he said it would be easy. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes. 

CORN:  Easy, easy.  So he clearly doesn`t remember what he said.  But it`s such a situation where he doesn`t know what he said 10 seconds ago.  It`s all about the moment. 

[22:30:06] I will say this to Nick`s point about stepping on the oxygen hose, a very apt metaphor here. That the one thing we know about Donald Trump, when he does these speeches for 50,000 bucks and tells people the secret to being Donald Trump, how you`d make money like Donald Trump, he says the most important rule he can teach anybody in business, they won`t teach you this at Wharton, they won`t teach you this at Harvard, that if somebody screws you, you screw them back and you screw them back 10 times over, 15 times over. 

So this is a guy who looked kind of defeated now, and kind of was, you know, low key about it.  But I believe this obsessive need for revenge will cause him to lash out and do all sorts of things at Republicans, at Obamacare, maybe at everyone. 

O`DONNELL:  But, Nick, Republican congressmen are very sensitive to the idea of revenge and about Trump being revenge.  Not one of them, not one of them seems to fear that. 

KRISTOF:  Well, I think they fear voters maybe more than they fear Trump, but, I mean, my greatest concern about revenge is ultimately his the revenge against Obamacare and we`re going to see one test of that very soon when we have the House of Representatives lawsuit against the extra subsidies on Obamacare. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes. 

KRISTOF:  And if the Trump administration does not defend against that suit, then Obamacare is deeply sabotaged and President Obama has said today that the Democrats now own Obamacare, that it`s going to die.  I fear that he is signaling that he is not going to defend that suit and that he wants to see it succumb and then blame it on Obama. 

O`DONNELL:  Right. 

KRISTOF:  Which, you know, would be a catastrophe to go from great victory today to seeing it cover less people because of his own ineptitude. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  Indira, one of the mysteries that I have been waiting to see unfold is what was Donald Trump`s legislative power going to be?  And we have now seen a defeat like nothing else we have ever seen on the first bill of a president.  And this -- things get more difficult from here.  They will probably get tax reform because the Republican Congress knows how to do it.  But Donald Trump wants to do individual trade deals with individual countries around the world.  This shows today that he won`t get -- he won`t do a single one because the only thing more complex than health care legislation is a trade deal with one country or multiple countries. 

LAKSHMANAN:  Not to mention, legislation and whipping things through Congress takes an attention span.  You know, you can`t just -- 

O`DONNELL:  Right. 

LAKSHMANAN:  You know, Nick Kristof was saying 18 days.  I mean, look, Obama spent 18 months on Obamacare and even then it was so hard to get it through.  He said after 18 days, that`s it, I`m done.  I`m done with this.  You know, that`s all he had the attention span for?  It really doesn`t make sense.  He spent the day deflecting blame and saying this is the Democrats` fault. 

But the bottom line is that he got, what was it?  He needed three dozen -- there was something like three dozen Republican deflections here.  So the point that he was unable to get his own party in line because of deep, deep divisions within the Republican Party.  If he couldn`t do that over Obamacare, which was something which was universally hated by Republicans, then it`s hard to see how he`s going to do it on many other issues that remain on the agenda and beginning with a loss is not the great way to begin. 

O`DONNELL:  And the previous presidencies that worked on this subject, Obama, and then the Clintons before him, they each spent two years on the presidential campaign trail studying health care policy and working on the details of it in debates before even getting to the White House.  Donald Trump obviously -- we`ve got to squeeze in a break right here.  We`re going to come back with our panel. 

The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, now admits what he said Wednesday is not true.  He has a brand-new story.  You`re going to hear that when we come back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:37:40] O`DONNELL:  Devin Nunes is running scared.  The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee did two things today.  First he canceled a hearing scheduled for next week creating outrage once again among Democrats and the intelligence community and, second, he changed his story about what was in the intelligence reports that he says he brought first to Speaker Paul Ryan, and then to the president on Wednesday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Can you clarify whether Trump associates were monitored or just mentioned in the intelligence report? 

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  We don`t know until -- we won`t know that until we`ve actually received all of the documentation. 

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O`DONNELL:  That`s what he said today and here is what he said about that on Wednesday. 

NUNES:  This is information that was brought to me that I thought the president needed to know about incidental collection where the president himself and others in the Trump transition team were clearly put into intelligence reports. 

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O`DONNELL:  The president, himself, was clearly in the reports on Wednesday in the White House driveway, and now he`s not.  Now Devin Nunes doesn`t know.  So I guess that means that he now doesn`t know why he ran to tell Paul Ryan about those reports, and then ran down to the White House to tell the president. 

On FOX News last night Devin Nunes gave yet another reason for running down to the White House. 

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NUNES:  I felt like I had a duty and obligation to tell him because as you know he`s been taking a lot of heat in the news media. 

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O`DONNELL:  So Devin Nunes thought he could help the president out with the heat he`s taking in the news media.  There is no governmental reason to go to the White House in what you just heard Devin Nunes say on FOX News last night.  Absolutely none. 

On FOX News last night, Devin Nunes is admitting he did it for nothing but public relations reasons to help the sunken credibility of the pathological liar in the White House whose credibility can never be helped because he has lied his way through his life. 

Devin Nunes is in way over his head.  He is obviously incompetent.  He has no idea how to properly handle intelligence and is now trying to publicly block his own committee`s progress by cancelling next week`s hearing. 

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[22:35:05] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER:  I think that there must have been a very strong pushback, you know, from the White House about the nature of Monday`s hearing.  It`s hard for me to come to any other conclusion about why an agreed-upon hearing would be canceled. 

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O`DONNELL:  Congress Jim Himes who is on that Intelligence Committee will join us next. 

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O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes from Connecticut.  He`s a member of the House Intelligence Committee. 

Congressman, thank you for joining us tonight.  First of all, can you tell us what you were hoping to accomplish in next week`s hearing?  What that testimony would have been and why you believe the chairman canceled that hearing? 

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT:  Sure, thanks, Lawrence.  I was really looking forward to Tuesday`s hearing because, remember, the vast bulk of the work that we do as an investigative committee in this particularly arena is not likely to be able to happen in public.  We are dealing with classified information, very sensitive surveillance, that sort of thing.  So like Monday`s hearing, next Tuesday was to be an opportunity for us to hear from the former director of the CIA and the former director of National Intelligence, as well of course as from Sally Yates, the deputy attorney general. 

All of whom would have known a lot about the investigation which as FBI Director Comey told us has been on for nine months.  They would have known a lot about that investigation prior to their leaving office in January.  So this was a great opportunity for the American public to hear a little bit more but also to learn more generally from professionals about what it looks like when Russians seek to influence an election.  So the cancellation of this Tuesday open hearing was really -- a real blow not just to the investigation, but to an awful lot of very curious Americans. 

O`DONNELL:  And what do you make of the chairman`s reason for doing it? 

HIMES:  Well, to me it`s clear as day.  The Monday open hearing, in which we had the FBI director and the head of the NSA, was a pretty rough five hours for the president in which the FBI director acknowledged a lengthy investigation in which, to use his words, he`s looking into links and coordination between Trump associates and the Russians. 

And of course both of them knocked down the absurd tweet of the president saying that President Barack Obama had wiretapped him.  And then, of course, the Democrats, we ran through all kinds of questions which painted a little bit of a picture of the bizarre connections of people like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and Michael Flynn with the Russians and the fact that they have consistently hidden those connections. 

[22:45:09] And that`s not normal for a presidential campaign.  So suffice it to say that that was a very painful five hours for the White House.  And my best guess is that the White House called up Chairman Devin Nunes and said we`re not doing that again and here we are. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  I guess I was impressed with the chairman on Monday in that he allowed the hearing.  And no, he didn`t actively agree with anything you were saying, but more importantly, to experienced watchers, he didn`t try to contradict anything you were saying.  They changed the subject to an irrelevant point about leaks and unrelated matter.  And I thought wow, this is a Republican chairman letting this happen, letting all this damage occur to the president and I was kind of impressed with that until he, apparently, couldn`t take it anymore. 

HIMES:  Yes.  Well, whether he could take it or not, it`s pretty clear that some people in the White House said this is really going in a very bad way for us.  And of course it wasn`t just the cancellation of the open hearing next week, it was just the bizarre, as we have come to call it, the midnight run.  You were talking about it earlier in the show.  You know, that you would get some intelligence that you wouldn`t tell the rest of the committee members, that wouldn`t tell the staff of the committee but you would somehow feel a sense of obligation, and you played the quote, to somehow help this president with heat in the media. 

I mean, you know, third grade civics, we all remember that the Congress is a check and a balance on the president.  We are not their public relations people.  And so that, of course, cast a huge question on Devin`s objectivity and, you know, created a problem for us two days ago.  And of course today we get the cancellation of the hearing.  So suffice it to say that we Democrats really do want a meaningful and objective investigation.  We are in a tough place today. 

O`DONNELL:  You know the chairman personally, how surprised are you by his erratic and unpredictable behavior this week? 

HIMES:  Well, I`ll tell you, I do know him and I respect him and I count him as a friend.  And, you know, this is not the first time we`ve had a week like this one.  You`ll recall a couple of weeks ago he and Senator Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, admitted to have the behest of the White House tried to knock down a "New York Times" story that the White House didn`t much like. 

We`ve seen this sort of thing before.  What makes it confusing is, that yes, I do know him.  And in fact, inside, behind closed doors, he`s been very constructive about this investigation.  You know, we`re working on a witness list right now, as you pointed out.  He allowed that open hearing on Monday.  So we`ve seen a lot of inside cooperation.  But of course that changed this week. 

And it`s put us in a terrible spot because on the one hand, you know, you sort of say to yourself, what are we here for if we`re not going to -- if we`re going to be cancelling open hearings.  The fact of the matter is that because we don`t have an outside bipartisan commission we`re kind of the only show in town.  So we walk away from this investigation and I`ll tell you, there are some people who are under suspicion who probably popped the champagne corks that evening. 

O`DONNELL:  Congressman Himes, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it. 

HIMES:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  Coming up, more with our panel on this whole Devin Nunes and House Intelligence Committee investigation and other Trump messes. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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[22:51:14] NUNES:  This is not an easy process because the -- you know, there`s politics on both sides of this and I`m trying to navigate this best as I can.  I would say that what we have been very successful at is we have people that continue to come forward to provide us information and we want that to continue. 

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O`DONNELL:  We are back with our panel, Indira Lakshmanan, Nick Kristof and David Corn. 

David Corn, he -- Devin Nunes admits there`s politics on both sides of this.  The politics on his side of it got out of control this week. 

CORN:  Yes, I expect him to say, who knew that intelligence oversight could be so complicated. 

O`DONNELL:  Right. 

CORN:  I mean, everybody on the committee that I have spoken to, the Democrats, all think that, you know, the hearing was canceled because Trump just took a thumping from the hearing held earlier this week.  And if Brennan and Clapper came on there, and Sally Yates stars talking about what the administration did and didn`t do about Michael Flynn lying to the vice president and his connections with Ambassador Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in the U.S., it would just again define the week -- you know, the day and just give more ammunition to people who are investigating the Trump-Russia scandal. 

But also, you know, another weird press briefing today, he essentially conceded that he`d gone off a few days ago without acknowledging that.  He said he hadn`t seen all the documents, he heard about it earlier in the week, and by Wednesday afternoon, he was rushing to the microphones.  It was incredibly reckless and he was telling us he had been incredibly reckless. 

O`DONNELL:  Nick, I want to go to a quote from your column yesterday.  It was entitled "There`s a Smell of Treason in the Air."  It says, "I am also told, not by a Democrat, that there`s a persuasive piece of intelligence on ties between Russia and a member of the Trump team that isn`t yet public."  So another Trump team person. 

KRISTOF:  I believe that there are, you know, more shoes to drop.  And I think this is going to continue to stagger along.  I mean, my sense of this is that there is going to be evidence of what we might call soft collusion, not a hard, quid pro quo between the Trump team and the Russians, but advanced knowledge, some degree of cooperation. 

I think that the challenge is going to be to connect that soft collusion by members of the Trump team to President Trump himself, and I think that may be very, very difficult and for those people who are counting the days toward impeachment, I think that is going to be a critical obstacle.  I think we may see a president enormously weakened by this. 

I mean, we talked earlier about health care.  This is another blow that is going to, you know, innervate the presidency as we go ahead.  But I think it`s going to be very hard to connect it to show his knowledge. 

O`DONNELL:  Indira, I was watching that hearing on Monday in the House Intelligence Committee, and thinking how did they let this happen?  How did the Republicans allow this hearing to go on?  Because it`s completely, as people now realized, it`s completely up to the chairman to have this hearing.  How did the White House allow the chairman to have this hearing?  And it looks like this is another case of incompetence all around where they apparently did not understand ahead of time how devastating this well advertised hearing was going to be to the president. 

LAKSHMANAN:  Well, there`s another thing, Lawrence, let`s not forget, called the separation of powers.  And the whole point of the House Select Committee on Intelligence is that they are supposed to be an oversight committee providing bipartisan independent oversight on the intelligence community and also, in this case, investigating Russian interference in the U.S. election and any potential collusion that we have been talking about between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. 

And the point here, and I think the most important bottom line question going forward is, can an investigation by this committee be considered impartial, independent and credible? 

[22:55:12] And after what Devin Nunes did on Wednesday, it`s really hard to see how it can be.  Because even if you are a Republican, even if you are a member of the Trump transition team, as he was, his job is to lead a bipartisan probe, an investigation which he has said he would do independently.  So to then go run to the president and brief the president on a probe of which he is one of the subjects, very, very strange behavior indeed.  Including what you referred to.  The late-night disappearance. 

O`DONNELL:  We`re going to have to leave it there for tonight. 

Indira Lakshmanan, Nick Kristof, David Corn, thank you all for joining us, really appreciate it. 

Coming up in tonight`s LAST WORD, a very special LAST WORD by President Barack Obama. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  There are all kind of things that many of you would like to see that isn`t in this legislation.  There`s some things I`d like to see that`s not in this legislation.  But is this the single most important step that we have taken on health care since Medicare?  Absolutely.  Is this the most important piece of domestic legislation in terms of giving a break to hard- working middle class families out there since Medicare?  Absolutely. 

We have been debating health care for decades.  It has now been debated for a year.  It is in your hands.  It is time to pass health care reform for America. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL:  That`s what it looks like when a president is fighting for his health care legislation until the last minute.  That was President Obama the day before the House of Representatives cast its first vote on the Affordable Care Act. 

Barack Obama gets tonight`s LAST WORD. 

The "ELEVENTH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" is next. 

 

END