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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 7/28/2017

Guests: Peter Wehner, Eugene Robinson, Chris Ripple, Ana Marie Cox, John McLaughlin

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: July 28, 2017 Guest: Peter Wehner, Eugene Robinson, Chris Ripple, Ana Marie Cox, John McLaughlin

Good evening, Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Richard. The president -- the White House has announced tonight that the president will sign the Russia sanctions bill. So I imagine we will have more of a reaction tomorrow from Moscow.

ENGEL: Well, we already saw the reaction today with Russia putting a cap on the number of Americans who can serve here diplomatically, seizing the American compound outside of Moscow, and a warehouse in the city. Moscow says it may reciprocate with economic sanctions. So this is definitely an escalation.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Richard. Really appreciate it.

ENGEL: Absolutely.

O`DONNELL: Good evening. I`m Lawrence O`Donnell, and I didn`t get fired today. And if you didn`t get fired today, you had a better day than Reince Priebus.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Reince is doing a fantastic job at the White House, and I believe he has the president`s confidence.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Reince is a good man. John Kelly will do a fantastic job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That war of words between Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci ending very well for Mr. Scaramucci. His promise that Reince would be out by the end of the week coming true.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I`m beginning to believe that Scaramucci was brought in for a purpose, and it was to humiliate Reince.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was called Reincy by the president as though he were a pet and not the chief of staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president has a comfort level with and has confidence in General Kelly, and he has to have a person around him that he has that type of confidence in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At no turn has his White House demonstrated functionality, and I don`t think that introducing one competent person is going to change that.

TRUMP: They should have approved health care last night, but you can`t have everything. Boy, oh boy. They`ve been working on that one for seven years. Can you believe that?

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: The credit goes to a lot of people, but at the top of the list are the three who showed amazing courage to resist the pressure and do what`s good for the country.


O`DONNELL: At the end of the worst week for the Trump presidency, Donald Trump has a new White House chief of staff, which is the absolute proof that even he knows that it was the worst week for the Trump presidency.

Firing a White House chief of staff and bringing in a new one is always the act of a presidency desperately out of control. Reince Priebus was fired faster than any previously fired White House chief of staff in history. He lasted 189 days.

Reince Priebus` last week on the job began with his failure to prevent the president from attacking his own attorney general. White House chief of staff is supposed to control that. The White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also failed to organize a Trump administration announcement that transgender people would be banned from service in the military.

The reason Reince Priebus failed to organize that administration announcement was because it was not an administration announcement. It was simply a tweet by an out-of-control president that the White House chief of staff is supposed to control.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus failed to control the text of a speech that the president delivered to the Boy Scouts of America. It is the only presidential speech in history that the Boy Scouts of America had to officially apologize for. The Boy Scouts of America had to apologize for subjecting the Boy Scouts to a speech by the president of the United States.

The president, who the White House chief of staff is supposed to control.

The White House chief of staff failed to control Anthony Scaramucci, who has been offered the job of director of communications in the White House and waged a public profane war with presidential adviser Steve Bannon and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, promising publicly that Reince Priebus would soon be fired.

Every single thing that happened to the Trump White House this week was negative and every one of those things should have been controllable by the White House chief of staff.

Then, then came the humiliating defeat of the Trump-McConnell repeal of Obamacare in the Senate last night, something the president had said he could do in a day. Something the president said would be easy. It was the president`s first major piece of legislation and no one can remember the last time a president`s first major piece of legislation was defeated by the Congress.

And so at the end of a week of humiliation and chaos in the White House, the president had had enough and decided the solution was to bring in former General John Kelly, now the secretary of Homeland Security.

But what everyone in Washington knows is that if General Kelly had been the White House chief of staff every day this week, all those same things would have happened, and it would still be the worst week in the history of the Trump presidency.

[22:05:12] And the best, most decisive victory for the resistance against the Trump presidency, the resistance crushed the Trump presidency on the Senate floor. The Congress now knows that they are not working with a functional presidency.

Donald Trump was irrelevant to what happened on the Senate floor. He had no capacity to influence the outcome. He tried to get Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski to vote his way, but everyone knows Lisa Murkowski now is much, much tougher than Donald Trump.

In a "Wall Street Journal" op-ed piece today, former Reagan White House speech writer Peggy Noonan said, Trump is, quote, "weak and sniveling." She wrote, "Half the president`s tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn."

The historian Joshua Zeitz this week described the White House this way. "It`s a team of rivals but for morons."

General Kelly has never tried to manage a team of morons before.

In "The Washington Post" today, Eugene Robinson captured the essence of the Trump presidency that General Kelly will now be asked to manage. Gene wrote, "The court of Mad King Donald is not a presidency. It is an affliction, one that saps the life out of our democratic institutions and it must be fiercely resisted if the nation as we know it is to survive."

Joining us now, Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He worked in the last three Republican administrations and was a senior aide to President George W. Bush.

Also with us, Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning opinion writer for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political analyst.

And joining us, Chris Whipple, the author of "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency."

Eugene, the presidency you described today so fully and eloquently in "The Washington Post" seems to be one that no White House chief of staff can control.

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, not without the authority to control it. That`s what Reince Priebus always lacked. He was never given anywhere near the authority that a chief of staff usually has. You know, there was no organization chart. Everybody just sort of reported directly to the president. He couldn`t be a gatekeeper. He couldn`t manage anything.

And, you know, so whether or not he was talented at managing or knew politics or whatever really didn`t matter. And so the question going forward is whether General Kelly gets any more authority, actual, real authority, not to reorganize the White House, but to organize it since it`s never been organized and to control the flow of information and control the people into the Oval Office and act like a chief of staff. And you know, my bets are that he probably won`t get it, but we`ll see.

O`DONNELL: Yes, Peter Wehner, am I being premature in betting everything I have that he won`t get that authority in the White House?

PETER WEHNER, SENIOR FELLOW, ETHICS AND PUBLIC POLICY CENTER: No, I`d lay that bet as well. Look, we`ve seen Donald Trump enough to know that he`s fundamentally uncontrollable and uncontainable, and it doesn`t matter if James Baker was chief of staff.

The personnel at the White House is mediocre. There`s no question about that. But the problem at its core is Donald Trump, and it is at its core that he is a person who thrives on chaos and manages with chaos.

But it`s really deeper than that, Lawrence. It is a psychological and emotional affliction. He has a disoriented and disordered mind, and there is no controlling or containing that. And what I`d also emphasize, we`re 185 days in to this White House, and this chaos is unlike anything that we`ve ever seen, and they haven`t faced a genuine crisis yet.

Can you imagine if you had a 9/11-type situation or a financial meltdown or a war, a military collision happen with this crew and with this commander- in-chief? That`s the really frightening prospect.

This is not going to change. It`s his worst week, but it`s not going to be the worst week of the Trump presidency. There`s no bottom with these guys.

O`DONNELL: Chris Whipple, you have written a book about White House chiefs of staff. The job has grown over time. It used to be called appointment secretary. It was Richard Nixon, correct me if I`m wrong in my memory, who decided to militarize the title to chief of staff and thereby create this image around the job itself. And yet the job has become the image in so many ways with so many people who`ve had it.

This White House, it seems to me, is going to require a new chapter in your book because your book is how the chiefs of staff define every presidency. Is it possible for any chief of staff to define this presidency in the way you`ve said others have?

[22:10:06] CHRIS WHIPPLE, AUTHOR, "THE GATEKEEPERS": Well, you know, as you pointed out, it really began with Nixon and Haldeman.


WHIPPLE: And Haldeman became famously the Lord High Executioner.


WHIPPLE: And that`s what -- I mean, every president finds out sometimes the hard way that you cannot govern without empowering a White House chief of staff as first among equals to execute your agenda and most importantly to tell you things you do not want to hear.

Now that`s the big challenge obviously with Donald Trump. You know, with Kelly, I think Trump has a shot at a reset here. But it may be a long shot. Generals have not done well. Al Hague lasted a little bit more than a month with Gerry Ford after Nixon resigned. You can`t just order people around or strap them up to lie detector tests to try to ferret out leakers. I mean, it`s a skill set that requires diplomacy, and there aren`t a lot of Jim Bakers or Leon Panettas around.

O`DONNELL: Gene Robinson, one reason why a general would struggle in this job is, number one, they are accustomed to having people have to obey them. When they speak, what they`re giving are orders that must be obeyed in the chain of command. So that`s their behavioral history going into it.

The other is that the generals usually know what you could really classify within White House terms as nothing about politics. General Kelly knows absolutely nothing about the contents or the politics of health care legislation, about the tax legislation that`s going to be coming up, about the budget legislation. He knows nothing about it. And managing the politics within the White House has been a White House chief of staff`s primary function.

ROBINSON: Yes. Well, you`re not getting that with Kelly. You know, look, most of the generals of that rank that I`ve met are sophisticated people and they`re not strangers at least to the Hill in terms of national security matters at least. So he`s got that. Of course, you know, there`s no shortage of generals in this administration who are experts on national security.

The problem is that there`s nobody who can control the administration`s approach toward domestic policy. And certainly General Kelly would not be expected to step into that role, at least not easily. I mean it would be a steep learning curve. But do we even get there? I mean is he even empowered to do anything or to try to do anything without the president undercutting him with an early-morning tweet? And that`s what I just can`t see past.

O`DONNELL: In the White House that is being driven mad, apparently, by leaks, it has flawlessly leaked tonight to "The Washington Post" this about the history of this job offer. Trump first tried to offer the chief of staff job to Kelly in mid-May. Kelly told the president that he was flattered but declined, saying he still had more to accomplish beefing up national security and improving immigration enforcement.

The president has tried to convince the general multiple times and the general has politely declined several times, said one administration official who requested anonymity because he was leaking. You know --


O`DONNELL: So there it begins. He`s been asking for months and for some strange reason, General Kelly got the answer right repeatedly and this week got the answer wrong.

WEHNER: Yes. I think General Kelly is going to look back and wish he had said no again. I feel for him. He`s an honorable man. He`s obviously a courageous man, and I think he`s a competent man. But, again, he`s in a situation that is impossible. And one of the things that we have seen about Donald Trump is that he ends up humiliating and diminishing everybody around him.

It doesn`t matter. Anybody within his orbit leaves that orbit a reduced human being. And I`m afraid it`s going to happen to General Kelly, too.

And by the way, I do think that Republicans -- there is a kind of resignation now within the Republican Party. They`ve been in this delusional world thinking that at some point they would be able to keep Donald Trump on track. And I think that they`ve finally figured out long - - much after they should have that that is an impossible task.

And General Kelly, no matter how impressive he is, isn`t going to be able to do what`s impossible.

O`DONNELL: Chris Whipple, in your study of the history of this job, it has only grown increasingly complex over time because governing has grown increasingly complex, and the range of subjects that the White House chief of staff has to be fluent in have just exploded exponentially.

The person who probably had the widest command of all of that in my experience was Leon Panetta because he was on the Budget Committee in the House of Representatives, which has jurisdiction over, in its way, almost everything.

[22:15:10] He had worked in the Office of Management and Budget of the entire federal budget. So he had to look into every single thing the government was doing before he walked into that White House. And he was himself a politician elected to office in the Congress. He had everything you need.

Is that kind of just as a bio -- is that what you`re looking for and everything off of that is a compromise?

WHIPPLE: And even more so, you`re looking for somebody who is grounded like Panetta or Baker, who can walk into the Oval Office, close the door, and tell the president what he doesn`t want to hear. That`s critical. The other thing Panetta had was Haldeman-like authority. He had the power. And one other thing -- I mean, this cannot work if unless the chief of staff has authority as first among equals. He has to be the gatekeeper. There`s no way that the Moocher can report directly to Donald Trump, or this will be -- this will fail.

O`DONNELL: Well, look, I mean, Gene, I think we have a test for General Kelly on day one, and that is exactly how many minutes does it take him to yank those White House credentials off the neck of Anthony Scaramucci because if Scaramucci works in that White House, by definition General Kelly has failed to control that White House.

ROBINSON: I actually believe that`s true. I -- certainly he can`t report directly to the president. If Scaramucci is around, he`s going to push it. He`s going to take liberties. And even if on an organization chart he`s below General Kelly, he`s going to try to get around him. He`s going to have to be slapped down. And Trump is going to have back Kelly up in those instances. And who knows if he will.

I kind of think he probably won`t. But there`s an even bigger problem named Jared Kushner, who is also in the White House, who is the president`s son-in-law, who has this impossibly broad portfolio of domestic and foreign policy issues. And, oh, yes, and peace in the Middle East and everything else that he`s supposed to be doing. And so will he now report through General Kelly to President Trump? He should. I doubt he will.

O`DONNELL: Peter Wehner, is there another chief of staff in history that you`re aware of who would have tolerated an Anthony Scaramucci in the White House for a day?

WEHNER: Boy, you know, I thought that as well. I worked in the White House for seven years, three administrations. If anybody had done what Scaramucci did, they would have been fired within an hour. And it`s not only he wasn`t fired. It` that he was vindicated. That he got the trophy on the wall. Priebus is out. Scaramucci is there.

And that kind of style, that kind of approach has been validated, and it`s been validated by Donald Trump, which gets us back to the original point. This is what is fundamentally -- the core problem with the Trump White House is Donald Trump himself. And, boy, if Scaramucci had done this in any other White House, he would been out on the curb in no time.

WHIPPLE: Can I add one other non-negotiable demand that Kelly should make, and that is he can say, Mr. President, you may tweet all you like, but I`m going to check them out in advance.


WHIPPLE: He should have control --

O`DONNELL: Tweet approval.

WHIPPLE: Tweet approval should be a non-negotiable thing.

O`DONNELL: Absolutely. Well, every White House chief of staff has had a final say in any White House communication that`s going out historically. It`s not unusual.

Chris Whipple, who has to add a chapter to his book, "The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency," except one. You`re going to do a little adjustment on that title. Thank you for joining us.

Eugene Robinson, brilliant column today, thank you very for joining us. Really appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thanks so much.

O`DONNELL: And Peter Wehner, stay with us. We`re going to talk about some more things coming up.

Coming up, the "Profiles in Courage." The real profiles in courage who stopped the Trump-McConnell health care bill, taking health care coverage away from tens of millions of people. The real people who stopped that. That`s coming up.



[22:21:44] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you need to take that call?



KELLY: It might be the president, so I do want to miss the call.



O`DONNELL: Nice. That was the next White House chief of staff, General John Kelly, at the Aspen Security Forum with NBC`s Pete Williams last week.

Joining us now, Charlie Sykes, editor-in-chief of Right Wisconsin and MSNBC contributor, and joining us by phone, Steve Schmidt, Republican strategist and an MSNBC political analyst.

So I want to give you both free rein to talk about this stunning day of news, but let me just tee this up. And that is who I think may be the big turf winner in what`s happened in the White House today, and that is Vice President Pence because we now have a White House chief of staff who does not know anything about the legislative process, does not know anything about the contents of tax legislation, about how to move a senator or a House member one way or another on budget bills, on any of this stuff.

Vice President Pence now can step forward and say, leave all the legislating to me. In effect, leave all the governing to me, the domestic governance in this White House.

Steve Schmidt, might that be the biggest turf grab that we see?

STEVE SCHMIDT, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Lawrence, I don`t often disagree with you on these questions of process and analysis. But certainly I think it`s the case that it`s not possible that General Kelly could be any more ignorant of these things than Reince Priebus was. You know, he had no idea how to build coalitions, how to deal with Congress, that you have the Interior secretary illegally threatening the senior senator from the state of Alaska, and across the board on all sorts of different issues.

I mean, to your last segment on the show, we`re going to know very quickly whether General Kelly will have any effective control in the White House. And I do think that, you know, for partisans watching General Kelly is a great American, served his entire life in service to the country. He lost a son in the Iraq war.

But will General Kelly tolerate a Scaramucci in the West Wing of the White House? And for sure a life-long U.S. Marine Corps officer has to be completely revolted by the language, by the disposition of Scaramucci in these interviews. And so if Scaramucci ever enters the White House with a hard pass as the actual communications director, it`s a signal failure for the general in his ability to assert control in the White House.

If Jared Kushner isn`t out of there within the next couple of months, if Ivanka isn`t out of the West Wing office in the next couple of months, if he doesn`t have that power, if he doesn`t have that authority, then he will wind up like every other person who is in close proximity to Donald Trump winds up, which is severely diminished over time. And so we`ll see that play out over the next couple of months.

[22:25:03] O`DONNELL: Charlie Sykes, I got to say I agree with Steve Schmidt word for word on that. I don`t think we`ve ever had an incoming White House chief of staff where the success and failure markers are so clear.

CHARLIE SYKES, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and absolutely none of those things are going to happen. Look, Anthony Scaramucci is Donald Trump`s id. He didn`t go out and -- you know, that storm of profanity, obscenity and humiliation on his own aimed at Reince Priebus. As of today, the Mooch is the guy who is riding high at the moment General Kelly is coming in. So, look, you know, a little bit earlier -- you know, a little bit earlier you were running it through all of the reasons why this was Donald Trump`s worst week.

And every single thing you mentioned comes back to Donald Trump. Donald Trump is the heart of this administration. Donald Trump is the cause of the dysfunction of this administration. He is the architect of his own disasters. Nothing changes there. Anyone who is -- who thinks that any personnel change is going to change the trajectory of this administration is just ignoring the fact that we have a dysfunctional presidency because we have a dysfunctional president.

And can I just say something about Reince Priebus? I mean who I`ve considered a friend for 15 years. I think he`s a tragic figure in my mind. I think he`s a good and decent man who is very effective, who made a seriously bad choice, a choice very similar to the choice a lot of Republicans made, which was to capitulate to Donald Trump, to empower and enable Donald Trump because they believed somehow that they could, what, contain him in some particular way, that they could control him? And obviously this has ended in tears as I think it was completely predictable that it would.

O`DONNELL: Steve Schmidt, the point of tweet control, White House chief of staff is usually the final eyes on any important communication, written communication going out of the White House, be it a speech, be it a press release, whatever it might be, anything of any importance. We know this president tweets without anyone looking over his shoulder at least some of the time. What about General Kelly and tweet control?

SCHMIDT: Well, it`s an extraordinary concept, right, that the White House chief of staff has to police the phone of the president of the United States. And I`m going to disagree with Charlie Sykes and have a little bit of a harder edge on his evaluation of Reince Priebus.

Reince Priebus grabbed the power. He grabbed the glory. He wanted the power. He wanted the job. And he wanted to be White House chief of staff and he abetted a president and a movement that is destroying conservatism as a coherent, intellectual philosophy, number one, that will do grave damage to the Republican Party over time.

But this White House, this administration, on a day-to-day basis as it assaults and degrades the Office of President of the United States, it`s doing real damage to the country. General Kelly has spent his whole life in service to America. And now he serves an administration where all of the boundaries of proprietous behavior where we look at the guardrails in a democratic society, where the norms of democratic behavior are under assault.

And General Kelly is going to have to make a decision ultimately, will he be in an abettor of the degradation of our democratic institutions? Will he try to control the president`s worst impulses? You know, will he stand opposed to it?

We know about Reince Priebus is that Reince Priebus from day one, from the instant that Sean Spicer in Orwellian fashion demanded that we believe that the president`s crowd sizes were bigger than his predecessor`s and the lying and the mainstreaming of the lying that emanates from this White House, what will General Kelly do about it?

Will he insist on a return to the norms of honesty and dignity that, you know, have typically, you know, been found around the Office of President of the United States. We just don`t know the answer to that at this hour.

SYKES: He won`t be able to do that. What we`ve seen is that everybody that comes into the Trump orbit is diminished, is corrupted by it. Even good and decent people who rationalize in a variety of ways do aid and abet exactly what Steve was talking about there. And I got to tell you, no, I don`t fully disagree with you about it because watching what Reince Priebus did was heartbreaking for me.

O`DONNELL: We`re going to have to leave it there. And we will know what General Kelly`s choice is in the question that Steve Schmidt has posed I think fairly soon, and the option is always the principled resignation if that is what he is driven to.

[22:30:04] Charlie Sykes and Steve Schmidt, thank you both very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

SCHMIDT: Thank you, Lawrence.

SYKES: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, the president`s week could not have been worse, including his well-deserved public humiliation on the Senate floor last night delivered by more than one profile in courage.


O`DONNELL: The resistance to President Trump had its biggest victory yet at 1:29 a.m. when John McCain walked onto the Senate floor and said one word, No.






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Portman. Mr. Reid.


O`DONNELL: I have never heard senators gasp and applaud with so much surprise when a senator cast a vote. You could hear how surprised the Democrats were when John McCain voted with them to kill the Trump-McConnell health care bill in the Senate. But there was no surprise on the Republican side, none. They all knew that this vote was coming. Everyone had every right to believe that this vote was coming after John McCain`s speech in the Senate on Tuesday, which seemed to indicate that he was opposed to any version of a health care bill that was not produced through what he called regular order of the Senate.

[22:35:06] In other words, through committee hearings and bipartisan input in committees, and on the floor of the Senate. Democrats interrupted that McCain speech on Tuesday on the Senate floor with applause. Republicans did not because they knew what that speech meant. It meant McCain would vote no on what Majority Leader McConnell was trying to do. But then he confused most observers outside of the Senate.

He voted yes on the motion to proceed to the debate. And so John McCain was then immediately accused of voting to take health care away from millions of people. But that`s not what happened. John McCain was following an old tradition of the Senate in which no one used to oppose the beginning of simply having a debate. And as I said at that time, it still appeared that John McCain was going to vote with the Republicans on the procedural votes.

But the real test would be how he voted on the actual legislation that Mitch McConnell presented. So John McCain voted yes on two procedural votes and then no on both of the legislative votes that Mitch McConnell brought to the Senate.

After John McCain`s dramatic moment on the Senate floor, Twitter was instantly filled with the phrase "profile in courage" for John McCain. And that`s the way it always is in the Senate on close votes. That senator who casts that last vote that decides the issue gets the glory just as the player who scored the winning touchdown gets the glory no matter how many touchdowns were scored before that.

John McCain`s vote would have been meaningless if Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were not consistently strong and unwavering in their opposition to the Republican legislation.

Twitter caught up with that fact quickly and the profiles in courage were extended to include Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. But many, many more people showed more courage in the resistance to the Republican plans to take health coverage away from millions of people.

The senators who voted against the McConnell plan were simply doing their jobs, voting against something they believed would be bad for their states and bad for the country. But is that -- that is the way they should have voted. They know that. But how would they have voted? How would those senators have voted if the resistance had not taken to the streets starting the day after Trump`s inauguration?

What did Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski think when they saw the unprecedented historic scale of the opposition to this newly inaugurated president, not just in the United States that day but around the world? What did they think when they saw people on television at town halls around the country held by Republican members of the House of Representatives when they were trying to pass a bill?

The resistance rising up at Republican town halls made every Republican senator take a closer look at this legislation. Senators always want to find a way to vote with their party. It is democracy`s job, the people`s job, to show them the way to vote against their party. The resistance showed Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and finally John McCain the way.

These people showed those senators the way. These are the real profiles in courage. These are the real winners of the legislative battle that came to an end in the Senate. The Senate had never seen anything like this before. People in wheelchairs being arrested at the majority leader`s office. Those people being arrested were not doing their jobs. They were not being paid to get arrested.

They were taking chances with their lives. They were taking risks all to help 23 million people hold on to their health coverage. And they won. And they are the profiles in courage that America should be honoring tonight for what they did to remind the Congress day in and day out all year that this is a government of the people, by the people, for the people.


[22:42:52] O`DONNELL: Here`s what the president had to say about the health care defeat today.


TRUMP: I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode and then do it. I turned out to be right. Let Obamacare implode.



O`DONNELL: Every one of those police officers in New York applauding the president`s attack on Obamacare today enjoys government-funded health insurance for themselves and for their families at very considerable cost to taxpayers, including taxpayers who cannot afford health insurance for themselves.

Joining us now, Ana Marie Cox, a contributor to "The New York Times" magazine and the host of the podcast, "With Friends Like These." And back with us, Peter Wehner.

Ana, the play on the Senate turned out for me, anyway, the way I expected it to. I never saw a way Mitch McConnell could pass a bill with this much opposition out there. And Mitch McConnell at the end of the night got to say the thing he`s been dying to say since this health care bill showed up. His final words to the Senate last night were, it`s time to move on, which he seems very happy to be doing.

ANA MARIE COX, CONTRIBUTOR, NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE: Yes. I mean, yes. I think that everyone there would like to move on, that this was unworkable for them in many ways, although I have to say there`s something kind of perverse about congratulating people for the courage to vote against this bill when, you know, it was more unpopular than Nickelback or telemarketers.

O`DONNELL: Yes. Yes. Yes.

COX: Right? Like -- I mean, it took real courage to vote for this bill in some ways. I also wanted to add -- I mean, you did a great list of everyone we should be congratulating in the resistance, but specifically I want to say National Adapt, which is the disability rights group, were the people that did the using their physical bodies as protest vehicles. And they did protests not just in the Capitol but around the country.

And then of course you`ve probably seen pictures of the little lobbyists, who were the mothers and their children who were there to actually again show these senators and these congressmen what they were voting against in terms of lifetime caps.

[22:45:08] So people around the country really did incredible work, and I have to say disability rights activists led the way for a lot of people. So I really want to honor them tonight.

O`DONNELL: That`s a good point.

Republican House member Tom Cole made a point that I`ve been making, too, which is that I think there was more Republican opposition to it than was recorded in the vote. Many of those senators wanted to be recorded as voting with their party but were hoping it didn`t pass.

Let`s listen what Tom Cole says.


SEN. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I actually think there was a number of other senators who probably took the hit as John McCain does for several others. It was clear they weren`t at 50. You know, they probably weren`t at 49 quite frankly. So John McCain did what he always does. He stepped forward, took responsibility that probably other people needed to bear in addition to him.


O`DONNELL: Peter Wehner, how do you read the politics of this in the Senate? Do you think there was actually more opposition to it within the Republican Party than showed up in the vote count?

WEHNER: I do because it was a historically unpopular bill being pushed by a historically unpopular president. And the bill itself is incoherent. I mean, the rallying cry at the end was vote for this bill because it won`t become law, which is insane.


WEHNER: And I think that a lot of Republicans were very, very wary about it and wanted to get away. I do want to make a broader point because I think that this calamity for Republicans, legislative calamity, is part of -- it`s really a manifestation and crystallization of certain mental habits that have developed over years with Republicans.

What I mean by that is there`s been both the devaluation of ideas and almost an allergy to governing, that politics became theatrics, not seriousness about governing. And what that meant is that for seven years they said we`re going to repeal and replace Obamacare, and they had no idea how they were going to do it. And then they elected Donald Trump as president, the most ignorant and out of his depth president ever.

And so this is a very big moment, and I think it`s going to have real damage politically to the Republican Party because the base is going to be enraged. But I think it needs to be seen in the longer arc of events, and I think this speaks quite poorly of the intellectual state of the Republican Party.

O`DONNELL: The Senate doesn`t have the experts on health care that it used to have like Jay Rockefeller, Ted Kennedy, John Chaffy on the Republican side. Pat Moynihan and others who really made a study of it.

And so, Ana, these senators, their attention is drawn to thinks either through their committee assignments or it`s forced by the public. Those are the only two ways these people pay attention to things, and I want to keep coming back to the people out there who basically started saying to these senators right after the inauguration, you better take a look at what this legislation is because you`re going to hear from us.

COX: Yes. Using their bodies and their stories to draw attention to the help that the ACA has given them, particularly through Medicaid expansion. You know, it was incredibly devious thing that the Republicans did to put Medicaid on the table at all in what they were calling the repeal of Obamacare because, you know, Medicaid wasn`t something that people were clamoring to get rid of except if you were Paul Ryan at a keg party 20 years ago.

You know, I have to say that, you know, lost in all this, I mean, I think Peter made a great point, that the Republican Party sort of ceded politics to theatrics. They elected an incredibly theatrical president. And lost in all this is the fact that the ACA is actually an incredible conservative and market-driven bill. It`s actually the place that Republicans should start if they want a market-driven reform to what everyone agrees what was pre-ACA a pretty bad deal.

They`ve now kind of vacated a lot of the intellectual arguments they have for market-driven reforms. And that gives Democrats an opportunity, I have to say. I mean, some ways I feel like we`re more primed for Medicare for all than we were, you know, eight years ago, which is kind of an incredible thing to say. So, you know, thanks, I guess.

O`DONNELL: And that`s where it stands tonight.

Ana Marie Cox, Peter Wehner, thank you both for joining us at the end of this historic week in Washington. Thank you very much.

WEHNER: Thanks a lot, Lawrence.

COX: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, we have breaking news tonight. The president has decided to sign the Russia sanctions bill after Congress threatened to override a Trump veto of that bill.


[22:53:13] O`DONNELL: Tonight the White House announced that the president intends to sign the tough new package of sanctions against Russia passed by Congress. The bill that the president intends to sign also includes sanctions against North Korea which today launched another intercontinental ballistic missile. Some experts say that that missile poses the biggest threat yet to the United States.

Former acting CIA director John McLaughlin joins us after this break.



[22:56:42] GEN. MARK A. MILLEY, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: It`s the only country on earth that represents of an existential threat to the United States. Only Russia has the actual capability to destroy the United States. It is my belief that Russian aggression, if you will, or further aggression can be deterred through the proper use of tools.


O`DONNELL: That`s U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley. Joining us now John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA and a 32-year veteran of the agency. He`s an MSNBC national security analyst.

John, your reaction to president`s agreement to sign the Russia sanctions bill and also include sanctions against North Korea.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: It`s a good thing, Lawrence. I`m glad the president will do that. I think he will. The Congress hemmed him in. These sanctions are a good thing. One thing I`ve learned in dealing with Russians is that if you don`t push back, they don`t respect you. If they feel mush, they just push harder, they need to feel steel and the Congress has given them some. So this is all a good thing. It won`t necessarily make relations worse. In fact the Russians understand this, they get this, they respect you.

O`DONNELL: Have you worked with General John Kelly, the incoming White House chief of staff? And what do you think his advice to the president will now be on North Korea given this latest missile test, given that he`s now having moved from Homeland Security, in the position of advising the president on everything?

MCLAUGHLIN: I`ve been an adviser to General Kelly in his Homeland Security job. I think his advice will be very considered here. In other words, I don`t think he is going to recommend a military response. I think he is going to recommend one that coordinates all of the tools of the U.S. government, diplomacy, showing a little military leg short of a preemptive strike, deterrents, possibly use of cyber, coordinating with our allies, the South Koreans, the Japanese, bringing in the Chinese.

This will be a complex operation. The thing I worry about is this government, this administration is not well prepared to orchestrate something that complicated. General Kelly can help here I think.

O`DONNELL: Talk about what you -- what you think General Kelly is walking into. You`ve worked with many White Houses over the years.


O`DONNELL: You have a sense how it operates, how it should operate, what an efficient White House feels like, what an inefficient White House feels like. This is an utterly chaotic White House unlike anything we`ve ever seen and in walks General Kelly Monday morning.

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, you know, I feel bad for him. He is an honorable man. I`m sure he did this because public service is in his DNA. He`s a 45-year Marine veteran. He`ll tell you in his 45 years he never had a political moment. He is a public servant, very serious person, very disciplined.

So he is walking into a terrible situation. Certainly the most chaotic White House that I`ve ever heard of and I`ve served seven presidents and known the White House interior pretty well in three or four of those administrations. So I think he`s got his job cut out for him.

One thing that`s worth thinking about here is I think he and H.R. McMaster have a natural alliance. And so I think to the extent that McMaster has been trying to bring some traction to this mess in the White House he gains a little help here from Kelly. But Kelly is walking into the most challenging situation the chief of staff can be in.

O`DONNELL: So that`s a good point, General McMaster is going to be one of the happiest people to see who comes to work on Monday morning it sounds like.

John McLaughlin gets the LAST WORD tonight. Thank you very much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

MCLAUGHLIN: You bet, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: The "11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.