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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 7/26/2017 WaPo: Trump considering firing AG

Guests: Max Boot, Ana Marie Cox, Julie Rovner, Wendy Sherman

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: July 26, 2017 Guest: Max Boot, Ana Marie Cox, Julie Rovner, Wendy Sherman

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Good evening, Rachel. Rachel, I really liked your point earlier in the show tonight about the Trump tweeting, about the transgender policy in the military going straight to the supporters of Jeff Sessions.

MADDOW: Yes --

O`DONNELL: So the Jeff Sessions base, which by the way existed politically before there was ever a Trump base. And I hadn`t considered that today.

I hadn`t linked that up. That -- there`s the -- when you try to make sense of a Trump tweet, at first it feels impossible. It always does.

But I think you might have found the light in there that --

MADDOW: Well --

O`DONNELL: Makes sense.

MADDOW: You know, the -- I try to avoid the president`s tweets except when he tries to change major policies affecting the largest military in the world with them.

But I think both the transgender policy stuff that he tweeted and also that super like bordering on violent by (INAUDIBLE) anti-immigrant stuff that he has been doing, I mean, you put those two things together and you`re pretty close to a portrait of the things that matter to Jeff Sessions as a politician and the things that might excite a pro-Jeff Sessions, Trump- supporting base members.

So I think especially if you see those two things together, I think he`s trying to make up for angering people about his attacks on Jeff Sessions.

O`DONNELL: And the attacks on Jeff Sessions seem to be the first thing that have, in any way, caused him any bumps from people like Rush Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh`s audience --

MADDOW: Right --

O`DONNELL: Republican senators. This is -- he`s getting a first sensation of real resistance from those people.

MADDOW: And you can see him trying to throw them a bone, trying to buy them off, trying to both distract them and please them with something unrelated because he -- those are the kinds of folks that he really can`t bear criticism from for long.

O`DONNELL: What I got was a very important insight that you had and I learned only by watching your show.

MADDOW: Thank you, my friend, you`re very kind.

O`DONNELL: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: So last night on this program, I speculated -- it was pure speculation, just speculated with Senator Al Franken that the president might try to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a recess appointment during the August recess.

And now of course -- of course, tonight the breaking news is that the president is discussing replacing Jeff Sessions with a recess appointment during the August recess.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I told you before, I`m very disappointed.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You can be disappointed in someone but still want them to continue to do their job.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He`s trying to get Sessions to quit and I hope Sessions doesn`t quit.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT), PRESIDENT PRO TEMPORE OF THE UNITED STATES: Jeff has been very loyal to the president, and I think he deserves loyalty back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did what I believe any ethical attorney general would do under the circumstances.

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES: I personally would strongly recommend against firing Sessions.

TRUMP: But we will see what happens. Time will tell. Time will tell.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER, SENATE: We want to get legislation to finally end the failed Obamacare status quo.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Make no mistake about it, skinny repeal is equal to full repeal.

TRUMP: We better get that done, fellas, please, Mike.

TOM PRICE, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, UNITED STATES: What we need to do in the Senate is figure out what the lowest common denominator is.

TRUMP: It`s going to be so easy.

MCCONNELL: It certainly won`t be easy.

TRUMP: Please, Mike.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How about just doing a little bit of governing around here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the president is demonstrating weakness by his handling of Sessions?

GRAHAM: Absolutely.

TRUMP: You got the last word.




O`DONNELL: The breaking news tonight from "The Washington Post" is that the president is discussing with his advisors the possibility of replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with a recess appointment during the August recess that would bypass Senate confirmation and allow the new attorney general to serve without being confirmed by the Senate until the end of this Congress.

"The Washington Post" reports some advisors have come away convinced that Trump is determined to ultimately remove Sessions and is seriously considering a recess appointment to replace him.

An idea that has been discussed on some of the cable news shows he watches. And it was discussed here last night when I brought it up with Senator Al Franken.

That might have been the first time that President Trump discovered there is such a thing as a recess appointment.

And I`ve been raising the question about a recess appointment for Attorney General on Twitter before last night. My raising the question of a recess appointment was purely speculation.

As I said, I was just speculating. I had no sources in the White House telling me any of that. But the man who now occupies the presidency is so fully transparent that speculation about what he might be thinking about could not be easier.

And of course, once he learned there was something called a recess appointment, President Trump was going to start thinking about it and talking about it, which brings us to what might be our most interesting cross-roads yet for the president and Republican senators.

It has finally happened. Republican senators are finally up in arms against President Trump. Finally, they have found their voice.

The president has finally gone too far for even Republican senators. Now, before we consider what the president has finally done that Republican senators just cannot accept, we should -- we really do owe ourselves for perspective a minute to remember just some of the things that Republican senators have had no problem accepting from their Republican president.

When Donald Trump said John McCain was not a war hero because he got captured, Republican senators accepted that.

When Donald Trump made the unconstitutional campaign promise to ban all Muslims from entering this country, Republican senators accepted that.

When Donald Trump attacked Senator Ted Cruz`s wife and suggested that Ted Cruz`s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination, Republican senators accepted that and then, in the most horrific turn that we have ever seen in a senator`s career, Ted Cruz himself retroactively accepted that and actually brought his wife and his children to the Trump White House to bow down before their new president.

And when Donald Trump attacked Rosie O`Donnell and Megyn Kelly and talked about blood coming out of Megyn Kelly, Republican senators accepted that.

And of course, who can forget that when Donald Trump attacked Khizr Kahn and his wife Ghazala, the parents of United States Army Captain Humayun Kahn who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq, a heroic moment that saved the lives of his men and many others.

When Donald Trump attacked them, Republican senators accepted Donald Trump`s attacks on the Khan family. He was their nominee for president by then, and Republican senators made it clear that they would accept anything their nominee said or did.

When Donald Trump was revealed on a video recording to have bragged about sexual assault and described his own technique of sexual assault, Republican senators accepted that.

Republican senators with daughters accepted that. Republican senators with wives and mothers and sisters accepted that.

Donald Trump describing himself as a sexual assaulter was something that Republican senators had no problem accepting.

President Trump woke up one morning and tweeted lies about President Obama illegally wiretapping Trump Tower, and Republican senators accepted that and let`s never, ever forget that Republican senators accepted Donald Trump lying about President Obama`s birth for over five years.

Now, what I would love to be able to do right here is just sit here in silence with you as we all just let it sink in. What Republicans and Republican senators in particular have accepted from Donald Trump, and in that silence we could think of dozens and dozens of more outrageous things that Republican senators have accepted from Donald Trump.

But this is TV, and if I go silent, they`ll pop a commercial in here, so let`s move on to the outrage. The final outrage that has provoked some Republican senators to reach into what`s left of their conscience and object, object to President Trump.

And that outrage of course is the president`s treatment of a Republican senator. Senator Jeff Sessions was the first senator to endorse the candidacy of Donald Trump.

Senator Jeff Sessions was the only Republican senator who endorsed the candidacy of Donald Trump before Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination.

And this week, Senator Jeff Sessions has become the new Trump enemy, the new Hillary, the new Obama, the new lying Ted, the new little Marco.

We now have the beleaguered Attorney General Jeff Sessions according to Donald Trump. And so for Republican senators, Donald Trump has finally crossed the line that he crossed with a majority of Americans during the presidential campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jeff Sessions is an honorable man. He did what I believe any ethical attorney general would do under the circumstances.

HATCH: Jeff has been very loyal to the president, and I think he deserves loyalty back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is one of the most honest people you would ever know. He is a man of very high integrity, Jeff Sessions has my confidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that his independence has been proven by his willingness to recuse himself.


O`DONNELL: Kenneth Starr; the special prosecutor who investigated Bill Clinton has just published an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post" saying that the president`s attack on Attorney General Jeff Sessions is, quote, "one of the most outrageous and profoundly misguided courses of presidential conduct I have witnessed in five decades in and around the nation`s capital."

The "New York Times" conservative columnist Ross Douthat has written tonight in a column that will appear in tomorrow`s print edition, quote, "Donald Trump`s campaign against his Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which he is seemingly attempting to insult and humiliate and tweet shame Sessions into resignation is an insanely stupid exercise."

The column goes on to describe the president`s actions as a multi-tiered tower of political idiocy, moronic madness and proof that the president is, quote, "gravely deficient, somewhere at the intersection of reason and judgment and conscience and self-control."

The last line is of this conservative op-ed piece is simply, "this president should not be the president, and the sooner he is not, the better."

Joining us now, John Heilemann; national affairs analyst for Nbc News and Msnbc. Max Boot; Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former foreign policy adviser to presidential campaigns.

Also Mieke Eoyang; a former House Intelligence Committee staff member and vice president for the National Security Program at the Third Way.

And John Heilemann, the attack that we`re seeing here is, of course, unprecedented. And something else that conservatives are pointing out is it proves that Donald Trump cares nothing about policy because no one is a more faithful deliverer of Donald Trump policy than Jeff Sessions in the Justice Department.

JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, NBC NEWS: Yes, I was going to say thank you for having me on tonight, even though we`re discussing an insanely stupid exercise.

I`m an expert on those matters so I feel highly qualified to comment here. It`s the case that`s extraordinary. In the same way that Donald Trump firing Jim Comey caused liberals to suddenly rally around Jim Comey who they previously hated because of his role in the 2016 campaign and hurting Hillary Clinton.

Now you`ve got not just Republican senators, but even people on the left who are suddenly rallying around Jeff Sessions of all people, who is prosecuting the most conservative, aggressive, retrograde, pro-law and order at the extreme hyperbolic version of that part of Trump`s agenda that you could possibly imagine.

He is -- it`s part of the thing that gives him some political cover with the administration in addition to the senators and the Republicans who are institutionally and personally fond of him.

He`s also someone who has this wiggle room to fight Trump because the reality is that the Trump base loves Jeff Sessions on the merits that they care about, on immigration, on these law enforcement issues, right?

But it is certainly the case that Trump seems to be -- just does not seem to care about any of that, at least so far.

There is some reporting that suggests that he may be moderating. He may have spent his rage over the last couple of days.

But when I read, as I`ve now read in "The Washington Post" and the "New York Times" tonight that Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon are telling him, don`t do this --


HEILEMANN: I remember the last time that Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon told him not to do something, which was don`t install Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

He did that, and the fact that they are arguing that he shouldn`t do this, I would not --


HEILEMANN: Say that it`s necessarily a good sign, all goes well for the career of Jeff Sessions.

O`DONNELL: Yes, Mieke, you worked in the House of Representatives, close experience working with Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee.

How surprised are you that the line that the president crossed that finally turned Republican senators against what he`s been thinking about is basically that he attacked a former Republican senator?

MIEKE EOYANG, VICE PRESIDENT, NATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, THIRD WAY: Well, Lawrence, I also worked for Senator Kennedy in the Senate, and it was a very collegial place then.

So this is absolutely expected. The Senate is very much a club. And while Senator Sessions was one of the most conservative senators there was, he was very popular among his colleagues.

And so it`s unsurprising that they would take up a strong defense of him.

O`DONNELL: Max Boot, you`re a conservative Republican who turned against Donald Trump before he managed to insult a former Republican senator.

I want to read you something that Chuck Grassley tweeted tonight. And in terms of all of the defenses of Jeff Sessions mounted today by Republican senators, this might actually, technically be the most forceful one.

He said, "everybody in D.C. should be warned that the agenda for the Judiciary Committee is set for the rest of the year, for the rest of 2017.

Judges first, sub cabinet second, attorney general no way." And so, Max, there`s the guy who would be running a confirmation hearing for the next attorney general saying, I will not schedule a confirmation hearing for another attorney general in this year.

But of course that all becomes meaningless if the president does a recess appointment.

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, just to correct first the way you described me, Lawrence.

I have to point out I am a conservative ex-Republican, I became an ex- Republican because I was so disgusted with Donald Trump and it`s very interesting to me to see as you`re pointing out what it is that makes Republicans finally turn against Trump.

And he can insult the FBI, the CIA, minorities, women, transgendered people, anybody in the world, but, no, he starts insulting Jeff Sessions and all of a sudden they get offended.

And of course, I am feeling a little bit conflicted here because I am no fan of Jeff Sessions. Remember that he lied about his meetings with the Russian ambassador.

Last week, we found out that according to these intelligence intercepts that they actually discussed campaign material which he had refused to admit in the past.

So on the merits you can make a strong case that Jeff Sessions ought to resign, but of course, if his resignation leads Trump to appoints a stooge who then fires Bob Mueller, of course, I will join the consensus in Washington and say please, Jeff Sessions, stay right where you are.

But it`s an uneasy place to be, and I think what we have to keep in mind here and not lose sight of is that, what this is all about is how scared that Donald Trump is of the Bob Mueller probe.

How scared he is that Mueller is going to uncover more collusion with Russia, how scared he is of what Mueller will find in his taxes and his business practices.

So much so that he is willing to basically trash one of his closest allies and take on the entire establishment in Washington because he thinks that might be a better course for him than allowing the Mueller probe to continue. That`s a very telling indicator.

O`DONNELL: John, Max`s point couldn`t be more important. Everything that the president does in this arena is the behavior of someone who is completely guilty.

If you`re looking for a logic to it, it is logical that he gets rid of Comey. It`s logical that he tries to fire the special prosecutor if he`s guilty.

HEILEMANN: Logical that he explores pardons if he`s guilty.


HEILEMANN: All of that is right. The one thing that`s not rational, and it`s interesting right now because I`m told that allies of Sessions are trying to argue to the White House, trying to say, you know, if you want to get rid of Mueller, you don`t have to fire Sessions.

Just go fire Rod Rosenstein. The president can fire the deputy attorney general. He doesn`t have to -- he doesn`t have to do this two-step if he wants to get to Mueller, he can get rid of the guy.

Sessions would -- you know, be able to just go and install a new deputy attorney general, you could get this done in a different way.

It speaks to, yes, there`s a lot of indications the way he`s behaving that he is a man who is afraid and a man who, again -- our behavior is that he`s guilty.

But there`s also this core of irrationality to it, he`s angry at Sessions for having done this recusal. And his anger even seems to be clouding his judgment about how to get to the kind of movement that he really wants, which is the ultimate end game here, which is to fire Mueller, I think.

O`DONNELL: And in a tweet today, the president found fault with Jeff Sessions for not doing something that is not within Jeff Sessions` power, but is within Donald Trump`s power.

He said, "why didn`t AG Sessions replace acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe; a Comey friend who was in charge of the Clinton investigation and so forth? "

And Mieke, of course, that is a presidential power. That is not the attorney general`s power.

EOYANG: That`s absolutely right. And it`s sort of ironic that Donald Trump is complaining about Andrew McCabe`s wife receiving political contributions from Democrats when Donald Trump himself has given excessively to Democrats in campaign contributions over the years.

And so all of these critiques of the Mueller team and their past campaign contributions, suggesting that they are unable to be objective when they have been professional lawyers throughout, is really stunning given his own political contribution history.

O`DONNELL: So, Max, when -- there`s been a lot of -- been a lot of speculation in the past about what will Republicans do if/or where is the breaking point?

The Republicans who are kind of suggesting that their breaking point would be the firing of Jeff Sessions, but scheme it out for us.

Let`s assume that the president either forces a Sessions` resignation in August or fires him in August and does a recess appointment.

Would these Republicans who are saying we don`t like this today -- would they really when the moment came, stand up against the president for this?

BOOT: Well, that`s the big question, Lawrence, and they have not really stood up to the president on just about any issue to date.

So the question is would this be different? And I think one way you could maybe avoid this is by not having the Senate go into recess, so at least not give him the opportunity for a recess appointment.

But what`s kind of troubling to me here is that, all these senators are drawing the red line around Jeff Sessions` job, whereas to my mind, the actual red line is trying to fire Bob Mueller.

And as Mieke just pointed out, there`s other ways that Trump can do that other than actually replacing Sessions. He can try to go around Rosenstein and find somebody else at the Justice Department who will fire Mueller for him.

And that to me should be the red line just as he crossed a red line by firing Jim Comey, and it`s amazing to me that Republicans didn`t seem to care about that.

Now, we have to -- they have to make clear to him that if he gets rid of Mueller, that they will instantly pass an independent counsel statute so the investigation will not end.

That there will be a complete and independent counsel as there was prior to 1999. That is what Republicans ought to be saying.

You know, the issue with Sessions is only part of it. I think the red line really ought to be Mueller and I wish they would speak out more on that subject.

O`DONNELL: John, quickly before we get a break in.

HEILEMANN: Well, here`s a question for you as a Senate expert, right? There`s a line in the "New York Times" report tonight that says that Senate leaders made clear that they would block Mr. Trump in replacing Mr. Sessions if he tried to do so during a recess.

One of the -- one of the mechanisms that the Senate has, you know way more about the Senate than pretty much anyone alive, what could be done about that --

O`DONNELL: Oh, yes --

HEILEMANN: To stop it --

O`DONNELL: The recess is a mirage. I mean, you can basically send everybody home and technically keep the Senate in session, but it will look like a recess but it`s technically in session so that you can`t do recess appointments.

Mitch McConnell has done that -- did that in fact, so that President Obama couldn`t do recess appointments at certain points. So that`s definitely a strategy, and that would be completely up to Mitch McConnell to do that.

There`s a very tricky way that the Democrats might also --


O`DONNELL: Be able to keep the recess from actually becoming a formal recess that opens up this whole --

HEILEMANN: So this may be the answer to your question, and which is they might be able to stand up to Trump without actually having to stand up to Trump --

O`DONNELL: The passive standing up to Trump --


O`DONNELL: There, that could be it --


O`DONNELL: John Heilemann gets the last word on standing up to Trump with Republicans tonight, really appreciate it, John. Mieke Eoyang, thank you for joining us. Max, we`re going to need you in another segment. Thank you.

Coming up, presidential chaos reached the Defense Department today, and Senator John McCain voted against the Republican healthcare bill today, a vote that was consistent with the dramatic speech that he gave in the Senate yesterday.


O`DONNELL: Chaos reigned today in the Trump administration once again when the president tweeted an announcement about a new policy in the military that no one in the military or the Pentagon knew about and therefore is not a new policy in the military.

This is the same president who celebrated the passage of the Trump-Ryan healthcare bill in the House of Representatives in a Rose Garden gathering and then later called the bill "mean".

Senators voting on healthcare legislation know for certain that if they pass a bill, at some point after they pass a bill, the president will criticize the bill that they passed at his urging.

Today`s trump administration chaos appeared to be an attempt by the president to distract attention from the real business of Washington today, healthcare legislation and the investigation of Trump-Russia connections.

This morning the president tweeted, "after consultation with my generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.

Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."

There was apparently no consultation with his generals. Secretary of Defense, former General James Mattis is on vacation and made no response to the president`s tweet.

The Defense Department released this response. "We refer all questions about the president`s statements to the White House." And here is what the White House said.


SANDERS: This was a military decision. This was about military readiness. This was about unit cohesion. This was about resources within the military and nothing more.

Guys, I really don`t have anything else to add on that topic. As I do, I`ll keep you posted.


O`DONNELL: So the Pentagon knows nothing about this military decision, and the White House is obviously lying when calling it a military decision.

And as of tonight, nothing has changed for anyone serving or wishing to serve in the United States military.

Joining us now, Ana Marie Cox; contributor to the "New York Times Magazine" and the host of the podcast "With Friends Like These".

And back with us, Max Boot. And Ana, Rachel made a great point in the previous hour about how perfectly this presidential statement via tweet this morning fits with the Jeff Sessions constituency out there who now might be a little bit alienated from President Trump.

ANA MARIE COX, CONTRIBUTOR TO THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Oh, it`s definitely like this has the stench of Bannon upon it, right?

I mean, it`s definitely some -- an attempt to kind of shore up that part of his base. I have to say that`s one of the things that makes it particularly grotesque, right?

And he`s transparently playing politics with our national defense and he`s doing so at the expense of real men and women who are serving honorably and beyond those men and women in the military, he`s sort of putting a target on the back of a lot of trans-people who already feel victimized, you know, by this presidency already feel like their physical person is at risk.

It adds just a new category to the number of people who feel unsafe in this country because of this president. If I can add on the distraction a bit. Someone once compared this White House -- covering this White House to watching 5-year-olds play soccer.

You know, they run around, they just go wherever the ball is, and that is of course an insult to 5-year-olds. But if I can extend the metaphor just a bit, this is like watching 5-year-olds play soccer on a field filled with land mines.

Everything they do is fraught with danger. There is something bad that might happen at each moment. And today`s tweet storm actually revealed that.

I`m sure you saw the story that said for nine minutes at the Pentagon, the generals there thought that he might be declaring a preemptive strike on Korea.

They believed that that was within the realm of possibility. I mean, there are so many things wrong with everything that happened today.

I want to make sure that that doesn`t get lost. Like we have been very fortunate as a country that no true, you know, national disaster, international disaster has befallen us while this, you know, chaos profiteer is in charge.

But you know, that luck -- you know, statistically, I don`t know if it can hold, and I`m frightened, I really am --

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Senator Orrin Hatch said today. Senator Hatch took some time off from trying to take healthcare insurance away from 20 million people and said this about the president`s statement today.


HATCH: And I`ve said, look, people who are transgender, they don`t choose to be transgender, they`re born that way. And why should we hold that against them?

They`re human beings. And many of them are extremely talented human beings. So, you know, we should be open to everybody.


O`DONNELL: Senator John McCain issued this statement today. The President`s Tweet, this is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter. The statement was unclear.

The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently serving transgender individuals to stay in the military. And many are serving honorably today. Max Boot, did the white house expect a surge of public Republican Congressional support for this?

MAX BOOT, MSNBC CONTRINBUTOR: They probably did. But I think as much as anything, what Trump really wanted was just us talking about this issue. He wanted the controversy to distract from the other controversies, right? Because everything crazy thing that the Trump Administration does is basically a distraction from the 300 previous crazy thinks they`ve done.

And he`s really been hammered on the Jeff Sessions thing for the last few days, including by his allies. So I think this is an example of what in the Clinton Administration was called boo bait for bubbas. I mean he`s throwing it out there. He`s throwing out some red meat to the base.

So that they`ll be happy and so they`ll ignore the fact he`s trashing their champion, Jeff Sessions. But is as Ana Marie so eloquently put it I mean this is a lousy way to run a Presidency. This is no way to run a serious enterprise.

This really came out of left field. I mean it`s blindsided, I`m sure, Jim Mattis who is on vacation, it blindsided the generals because nobody was acting for all trans individuals to be banned from the service. That`s not something that the military is asking for.

They don`t want to deal with it because these individuals are serving honorably and bravely. Why do you want to kick them out? Even the right- wing Republicans on the Hill who are trying to block money for gender reassignment surgery, they weren`t trying to kick out all these Trans individuals who are already in the military.

This is Trump getting to the right of Orrin Hatch. That`s not a place you really want to be. And he`s just doing it for transparently cynical political reasons. I mean does anybody really think that Trump is actually a member of the religious right, that he`s actually a social conservative?

I mean give me a break. This is the most brazen political opportunism and cynicism. And it`s a truly sad commentary on a lot of religious right that it may well work, that they`re falling for it.

ANA MARIE COX, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And they admitted this, right? They admitted this to I think Axios that this was a political ploy. That they were going to -- they were cleverly going to try to force Democrats to defend because they think blue collar voters will just eat this up.

And I have to say I think they are underestimating America`s working class. You know, trans people are working class too, and people who are working class aren`t necessarily close-minded bigots like other people in the administration I could name.

BOOT : Well, I would hope that Ana Marie, I would hope you`re right. Unfortunately up till now we we`ve seen that those that think the public will turn against Trump decisively have been over estimating the public or at least over estimating his base and unfortunately they`ve remained with him through all this. And who knows what it will take to make them wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe his attack on Sessions will finally do the trick but even there I`m doubtful.

O`DONNELL: Well a majority of the public has been standing against this President since before his inauguration. And so the majority is still opposed to Trump. It`s that base that sticks with him where the question marks still remain.

Ana Marie Cox, Max Boot, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate that.

BOOT: Thank you.

COX: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, another Republican plan to completely repeal the Affordable Care Act failed in the Senate. And this time John McCain voted with the Democrats.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Repealing and replacing Obamacare, we better get that done, fellas. Please, Mike. We need that so badly.


O`DONNELL: The latest Trump/Pence/Ryan/McConnell health care plan was defeated in a vote of 55-45. Seven Republicans joined every Democrat in voting against the so-called repeal only proposal that would have completely repealed the Affordable Care Act without a replacement. Six of the Republicans who voted against it voted for a nearly identical repeal bill in 2015 that was vetoed by President Obama.

Senator John McCain was one of the Republican Senators who voted against the bill today. And that vote by Senator McCain made clearer what he meant yesterday in his speech objecting to legislation written by the leadership behind closed doors. Senator McCain cast two procedural votes supporting Mitch McConnell yesterday. But this was the first vote that was directly on the substance of the legislation, and that`s the one that Senator McCain voted against.

Based on what Senator McCain said yesterday, this may mean that Senator McCain will vote against any other actual legislative proposal offered by the Majority Leader. Reports indicate that Mitch McConnell legislative end game is to get something that Republicans are calling skinny repeal that would leave most of the Affordable Care Act intact. It would repeal the individual mandate, the employer mandate, and the medical device tax.

The Congressional Budget Office says that that legislation would result in 16 million Americans losing health insurance and a 20 percent increase in premiums. Joining us now is Julie Rovner, Chief Washington Correspondent at Kaiser Health News. Julie, So finally the McCain statement of yesterday is starting to come into view and make sense.

I speculated last night that his vote yesterday, he would say, were procedural but when he got to the substance. He voted against Mitch McConnell`s piece of legislation. Does that mean if you add McCain to what feel like the no votes upcoming, that the republicans might not be able to pass anything?

JULIE ROVNER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It might mean that the Republicans couldn`t pass anything. That was always a possibility going into this. What they were able to do to cobble together the 50 that they need to proceed with the debate was basically promise the moderates that they would give them what they want, a chance to vote on that, promise the conservatives they could have a chance to vote on what they wanted. But there was no piece of legislation where you were going to get both the moderates and the conservatives together. At this point we`re waiting for what that piece of legislation might look like that they could get everybody on board. Perhaps it`s this skinny bill, but not necessarily.

O`DONNELL: It turns out the skinny bill has a very big effect on people. When you hear skinny bill, oh, they`re not changing too much. Well, 16 million people lose health insurance under the so-called skinny bill.

ROVNER: That`s right. The skinny bill would take away the requirement for most people to have insurance, but it would leave the requirements that insurers sell to sick people. So basically what the Congressional Budget Office is that there will only be sick people left in the pool.

Insurers are not going to want to participate in those markets. you`re going to end up with a 20 percent premium increase, but you`re also likely to end up with lots more places where there is no insurance available for sick or healthy people. That`s a big problem. That`s a problem with several of these bills, and it`s a problem that none of them really address.

O`DONNELL: There are about 15 taxes in the Affordable Care Act and in the so-called skinny bill, only one of them gets repealed -- the medical device tax. That`s an interesting one to target because the repeal of that tax does have some Democratic support, liberal Democratic support from Elizabeth Warren, from the Democratic Senators from Minnesota, and at least 10 or so Democrats.

ROVNER: That`s right. There are big medical device makers in Massachusetts and in Minnesota as you point out, and those senators have voted for repeal of this particular tax in the past. There`s also -- there`s some thought there will also be some kind of delay or repeal of the Cadillac tax, which is this very unpopular tax on very high-end health insurance that`s already been delayed.

But that`s one other possible tax that could be in that package. But those are pretty much the only taxes that would be addressed in this very small package.

O`DONNELL: And that tax is left -- is in the package specifically to try to tempt these democrats or make the vote very difficult for them. but they seem to be hanging together. Democrats seem to be having no trouble hanging together.

ROVNER: No, I don`t think the Democrats are having any trouble hanging together, though it`s interesting there may be a vote tomorrow that`s being forced by the Republicans to try to get the democrats to say whether or not they support single payer. Although at this point the democrats are not really having that.

O`DONNELL: Julie, thanks for covering for us.


O`DONNELL: Coming up, the Russian government is now threatening the United States over the sanctions bill that is going through the congress and headed for the President`s signature or veto. Former Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman will join us next.


O`DONNELL: Russian legislators are calling for what they call a painful response to the Russia Sanctions Bill the House of Representatives passed yesterday. According to the Washington Post, the sanctions passage cemented views in Moscow that Trump`s election has provided few deliverables for the Kremlin and that the American President is being held hostage by a foreign policy establishment that seeks conflict with Russia.

The Post also reports the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister told a Russian state-run news agency, Washington is a source of danger. Essentially the possibilities for normalization of relations in the foreseeable future are closed. Yesterday, the House voted 419-3 in support of the Russia sanctions bill.

Tonight Senator Bob Corker, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, announced Congressional leaders reached an agreement that allows the Senate to pass a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea as soon as this week. Today the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Chuck Todd, Congress is prepared to override a presidential veto.


CHUCK TODD, JOURNALIST: Let me ask you this. If he did veto it, you guys passed this with veto proof majorities, could that likely --


TODD: He almost has to accept it?

ROYCE: Correct.


O`DONNELL: Former Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman joins us next.



REPORTER: The President has had almost 24 hours to review the Russia sanctions legislation. Has he decided if he`s going to sign that?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITEHOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We`re going to see what that looks like before we make a final decision. I can tell you that the Whitehouse, the President and the entire administration as we`ve said many times before strongly supports sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.


O`DONNELL: Joining us now Ambassador Wendy Sherman, former Undersecretary of State and now a Senior Counselor at Albright Stonebridge Group, also an NBC News and MSNBC Global Affairs Contributor. Ambassador Sherman I just want to point out to the audience that everything that moves through Congress has normally is accompanied by a letter from the Whitehouse saying what the Whitehouse`s position is on everything that moves through Congress, including we will -- the President will veto X or Y. To be at this stage of the sanctions bill and to have the Whitehouse not note, not be able to say the president will sign or veto this is extraordinary. But in the mountain of extraordinary things coming out of the Whitehouse, these are the kinds of things that get ignored.

WENDY SHERMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Indeed it`s called a statement of administrative position, better known as the S.A.P.


SHERMAN: It seems apropos for the moment. You know it`s interesting your promo coming into this talking about the Russians saying this is going to destroy the relationship. I think that happened when they tried to destroy our election.

I know Sergei Lavrov quite well. He was my counterpart when I was undersecretary. We did Syria chemical weapons together. We did the Iran negotiation together.

And, you know, in the midst of the Iran negotiation Ukraine happened. And we sanctioned the hell out of Russia and it didn`t destroy the relationship and it didn`t destroy the negotiation. I think what Congress is doing is exactly right.

I hope the President signs it. And if he doesn`t, I hope Chairman Royce is good for his word and I believe he is. And it will be overridden.

O`DONNELL: the point you just made about these sanctions being imposed and activated during a negotiation over Iran where you`re trying to hold Russia as close to you as you possibly can, but at the same time, you dealt with that other issue and so in that, there is always hope for continued positive dealing with Russia wherever possible.

SHERMAN: Well, you know, countries do what`s in their interests. And Russia didn`t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon any more than we wanted them to have a nuclear weapon. And so that remained in their interest. Now what else is it in their interest is in ours?

That remains to be seen. We clearly haven`t come to terms on Syria. We haven`t come to terms on Ukraine. We haven`t come to terms on their aggressive behavior in Europe. We haven`t come to terms on what had he did in our election, on what they do around cyber security.

O`DONNELL: The way the Washington Post phrase this the Kremlin coming to the realization that they aren`t getting any deliverables from President Trump. Well, if you`ve made the American President a suspect in a Russian conspiracy, it becomes very difficult for the American President to deliver on Russian interests.

SHERMAN: Right, They delivered their Ambassador Kislyak back to Moscow. They delivered making Russia really part of our everyday news. You all talk about it every single day because it has become a centerpiece in this administration, one that the President wants to go away but he doesn`t seem to want to do anything to make that happen.

O`DONNELL: After -- what would a competent administration do after passage and signing of a sanctions bill?

SHERMAN: Well, you know, Putin understands power. He will have some newfound respect for the fact that in fact, we have followed through. And then you would want to hopefully have an Ambassador in Russia. But of course, we are now six months into this administration.

There is no ambassador to Russia. Jon Huntsman has finally been nominated. We don`t have assistant secretary for European Affairs at the State Department.

We don`t have all of the undersecretaries in place. we don`t have the team we need to get the job done, but you would hope that you would maintain dialogue wherever you can and work on those issues of equal importance.

O`DONNELL: And you have a Secretary of State being asked today and will be asked in the future are you quitting today.

SHERMAN: Indeed. Well I think Secretary Tillerson tried to tell the world he wasn`t leaving anytime soon today. But in fact, he`s got a lot in front of him and he also said he`ll be there until the president decides otherwise. We`ve seen what the President`s done about the Attorney General. I think it would make me quake in my boots if I were Secretary of State.

O`DONNELL: You don`t hang a lot of family pictures in your Cabinet Office if you`re in this Cabinet. Ambassador Wendy Sherman thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate it.

SHERMAN: Thank you Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Tonight`s last word is next.


O`DONNELL: OK. I want you to listen very carefully to Georgia Republican Congressman Buddy Carter who recommends an action here that I don`t understand. I`ve never heard of what he`s recommending. I don`t know if it`s a Georgia thing or a republican House of Representatives thing, something they do in the gym. I don`t know. if you understand it, please explain it to me on Twitter @lawrence after the show. Listen carefully. Here it is.


BUDDY CARTER, CONGRESSMAN: Let me tell you somebody needs to go over there to that Senate and snatch a knot in their ass. I`m telling you, it has gotten to the point when how can you say I voted for this last year. But not going to vote for it this year. This is frustrating for those of us who have put so much into this effort


O`DONNELL: Snatch -- I have no idea. I have no idea what he just said. That`s tonight`s Last Word. The 11th hour with Brian Williams is next.