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The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, Transcript 9/28/17 Trump skeptical of his own tax plan

Guests: Joy Reid, Tim O'Brien, Mariana Atencio

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL Date: September 28, 2017 Guest: Joy Reid, Tim O'Brien, Mariana Atencio

MADDOW: That does it for us tonight -- tell you, this inaugural committee thing is -- it doesn't keep me up at night but when I wake up at night for other more worthy reasons, it's definitely the second or third thing I think about every single night.

We're going to figure it out. I'll see you again tomorrow, now it's time for THE LAST WORD with Lawrence O'Donnell, good evening Lawrence.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, HOST, THE LAST WORD: Good evening Rachel, you know what you left there.

MADDOW: What do you mean?

O'DONNELL: I mean, there's some hooks there, how am I supposed to -- so something more worthy than --


But the inauguration fund awakens you at night.

MADDOW: I would just say that --

O'DONNELL: Question mark --

MADDOW: A, I have a bad back, so usually, that's what wakes me up. B, I work on stuff that I like to keep secret, and C, I sometimes lie about that to make people think that I'm more interesting than I am.

O'DONNELL: All right, well, we will leave it there for TV anyway, we're going to leave it right there, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel. Well, it finally happened. Even "Fox & Friends" is dumbfounded by Donald Trump.

We will show you that historic moment as it happened this morning on "Fox & Friends". And today is only day two of the Trump tax cut crusade and one of the key players in the Trump tax cut crusade is already skeptical about the Trump tax proposal.

Any guesses who that might be? We're going to give you about a minute, maybe a little more to tweet us your guesses about who on team Trump is already skeptical of the Trump tax cut, and the one hint that I can give you is the last name begins with a "T".


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Tax reform is going to make health care look like a piece of cake.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you've ever seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not a table in here, it's unbelievable, they don't have the numbers.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: This is not again, a tax reform. It's a tax giveaway.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a tax cut for the rich.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea that the rich don't benefit from this is patently false.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, JOURNALIST: There will be middle class families you got to tax in for (INAUDIBLE) plan, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's an exception to every rule.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that's a yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, look, I can't guarantee anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is shambolic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's unbelievable.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D), CONNECTICUT: Another big trickle down tax cut.


TRUMP: It's going to be something very special.


O'DONNELL: We are at day two of President Trump's massive tax cut crusade. That's his phrase for it -- massive tax cuts.

And already two Republican roadblocks have appeared in the Senate, and one very serious speed bump has appeared in the White House itself.

Today, Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan at "Axios" are reporting that the biggest doubter of the Trump tax plan in the Trump White House is of course none other than Donald Trump.

"Axios" reports that on Monday, Republicans on the Hill were genuinely uneasy and thought there was a chance POTUS wouldn't sign off.

The president had spotted something that he really did not like in the tax plan that was actually written by the Republican congressional leadership.

And the president was right. He is right to be worried about something that the congressional leadership apparently is not worried about.

"Axios" reports Trump was also attuned to the political risks of raising the bottom rate from 10 percent to 12 percent while cutting the top individual tax rate.

And this is something that I talked about here on this program last night. This raising of the bottom rate. The Trump tax plan cuts every income tax rate except the bottom tax rate.

Not cutting the bottom tax rate along with the other rates would be politically problematic enough, but the Republican plan that President Trump is now the front man for does something much worse than that.

It actually raises the bottom tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent. That's a 2 percentage point bracket increase for the people who can least afford to pay income taxes while the people who can most afford to pay income taxes get a 4.6 percentage point bracket reduction.

The bracket reduction for the rich is more than double the bracket increase for the poorest income tax filers.

Is Donald Trump really the only Republican who knows how bad that looks? Or is Donald Trump just the first Republican in Washington to recognize how bad that looks, and how bad that policy actually is?

It wasn't always this way for Republicans. When President George W. Bush did his deficit exploding tax cuts, he included the political master stroke of cutting the bottom tax bracket the most.

President George W. Bush cut the bottom tax rate from 15 percent to 10 percent. Five full percentage points.

And so, in the years after that, when you heard the Democrats railing against the damage the Bush tax cuts did to the deficit and the debt and when the Democrats got their chance during the Obama presidency to restore the Clinton tax rates under which the economy thrived in the 1990s, the Democrats never considered restoring the bottom Clinton tax rate of 15 percent.

The Democrats weren't going to touch that 10 percent rate at the bottom created by George W. Bush.

The Democrats wanted the top rates to go back to the Clinton levels, but never that bottom rate. It seems like elementary politics to understand that you don't want to be the party caught raising the bottom income tax rate.

Donald Trump knew none of that tax history, of course, but his political instincts were good enough to know that raising the bottom tax rate is a very bad idea.

But in order to help the taxpayers who the Trump tax bill is trying to help, you have to take something away from other taxpayers, and so when you're trying to cut the corporate tax rate by a whopping 15 percent and when you're trying to completely eliminate the estate tax for estates over $10 million, you have to take money from someone else to try to pay for that or pay for at least some of that so you can then try to make the claim that this massive tax cut does not spiral the deficit out of control as massive tax cuts always have in the past.

And so, if Ivanka Trump and her brothers are going to pay zero estate tax on their inheritance, someone else is going to have to pay more somewhere else in the tax code.

And President Trump doesn't like where the Republicans reached for some of that money and he's right. So congressional Republicans are worried.

They are very worried about President Trump again. "Axios" reports if Trump shows the fickleness he showed on repeal and replace championing the House plan then later calling it mean, that could increase the chances the plan sinks with him blaming Congress.

And so, there we are on day two with the congressional Republicans worrying once again that Donald Trump can turn on their plan, turn this time on their tax plan or support every element of the tax plan as it's moving through the House of Representatives, but then when it gets to the Senate tell America that it's mean.

That it was mean of the House of Representatives to raise the bottom tax bracket or that it was mean to eliminate the deductibility of state and local taxes which is the same thing as a very big tax increase on the people who deduct state and local income taxes, and property taxes.

That is a huge issue for Republican members of the House and states like New York, New Jersey, California passing a tax bill in the House without their votes is virtually impossible.

If the Republicans do manage to get what the president calls his massive tax cuts bill through the House, two senior Republicans in the Senate have already made demands that would make it impossible for the massive tax cuts bill to get those senators' votes in the Senate.

Senator Bob Corker said there's no way that a tax cut bill that adds to the deficit will pass and there's no way that he, Bob Corker, will vote for it.

There is absolutely no doubt that the Trump tax plan that was announced yesterday would massively increase the deficit.

Which is why some Republicans will be changing their tune on the deficit. Here's what Republican Congressman Mark Walker of North Carolina told the "New York Times" about the deficit and Republican rhetoric about the deficit.

It's a great talking point when you have an administration that's Democrat- led, it's a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.

We've seen this before. Republicans who ignore the deficit when it's Republican legislation that is increasing the deficit.

John McCain is taking a similar position on tax cuts to the position he took on the Republican healthcare bills.

John McCain said "we need to do it in a bipartisan fashion." And if John McCain holds to that principle, then he cannot vote for the Trump tax cuts.

A bipartisan bill would be a very different bill from the one President Trump is pushing now. The Democrats would insist that the bill not increase the deficit.

That would mean a much smaller corporate tax cut if any tax cut at all. It will also mean the elimination of more corporate tax breaks.

The Democrats would also insist on preserving the deductibility of state and local taxes and preserving some form of the estate tax perhaps at a higher threshold, perhaps on all estates about say $20 million.

That's all negotiable. And of course, Democrats would insist on no increase in the bottom tax bracket and they already know that Donald Trump is ready to agree with them on that bottom tax bracket.

There's always a deal to be done with tax legislation. It is numbers. It can be compromised. There's always a set of compromises to make to achieve real bipartisan tax reform and senators like Bob Corker and John McCain just might force the Republicans to make those compromises.

Joining us now, Jared Bernstein; senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, she was chief economist to Vice President Biden, he's also an Msnbc contributor.

And also with us Joy Reid; Msnbc national correspondent and the host of "A.M. JOY" on the weekends here at Msnbc.

And Joy, raising the bottom tax rate -- I'm telling you, the second I saw it, I went -- you know, because when George W. Bush got that right in --


O'DONNELL: In 2000, I thought, wow --

REID: Yes --

O'DONNELL: The Republicans have figured out.

REID: They figured out, yes --

O'DONNELL: This particular piece --

REID: Yes --

O'DONNELL: Of the talking points --

REID: Yes --

O'DONNELL: Not now.

REID: Can I just say that, by the way, in your earlier poll when we first came on, he said who is skeptical, I voted for Tiffany, so I hope you'll retweet me --

O'DONNELL: Oh, you did, yes, OK --

REID: Yes, I voted for Tiffany --


REID: So please retweet me. You know, it's interesting, Donald Trump has this way of exposing his party, an elements of it that the party had worked for decades to try to hide, right?

So Republicans for decades have tried to obscure this idea that they're just monical-wearing monopoly man party that just wants to give the rich everything and hurt the poor.

But Donald Trump keeps exposing them for being exactly that. So here you have Donald Trump who's essentially because he doesn't really know anything kind of captive to the monical-wearing part of the party.

The Paul Ryans of the world who really do just want to take the tax code and transfer as much money as possible to the very rich, give all the money to the very rich, get rid of the estate tax, essentially reinstitute the sort of futile system.

And Donald Trump at least has the decent-enough political instinct because he's a salesman. And he understands --

O'DONNELL: Right --

REID: The people he's selling $40 hats to, it's not those guys --


REID: The people he is selling low rate hotels to, it's not those guys. So he at least understands, wait a minute, if we soak the poor right off the bat, we're exposing ourselves as the Goldman Sachs party.

So at least he knows that. the sort of funny thing about it is, the Republicans just think they can use Donald Trump to do the monopoly man monical-wearing thing and have him sell it to the broke people.

O'DONNELL: It's what Grover Norquist has always said. We just want a Republican president to sign this stuff --

REID: Yes --

O'DONNELL: Is to sign it. And Jared Bernstein, it should be remembered that none of the current Republican congressional leadership on tax policy had any of these jobs when the Bush tax cuts were going through as have them now.

So none of them actually have experience with any of this. And the president himself being the one to spot that bottom tax rate and say, what are we doing?

It is by the way also the simplest thing in the bill to spot. It's not one of the more complicated ones.

JARED BERNSTEIN, CHIEF ECONOMIST & SENIOR FELLOW AT THE CENTER ON BUDGET & POLICY PRIORITIES: Yes, I have been astounded to hear the commentary coming out of these rookies.

So for example, today, Steve Munchin; Treasury Secretary, he didn't just go out and say this tax cut is going to be deficit neutral.

It's not going to increase the deficit. We heard that lie already. And I guarantee you as would any other economist on both sides of the aisle who is not getting paid by the Trump administration would guarantee you the same thing .

Of course, the deficit is going to go up if you cut taxes this deeply. So they used to say, no, it's not going to increase the deficit.

Today, Mnuchin went out and said, not only are we going to pay for the tax cut, a couple of trillion dollars in tax cut, but we're going to end up with a revenue positive outcome.

This is going to raise another trillion dollars. So it's almost as if they're saying, you know, we told them that it's not going to cut taxes on the rich and you know, that isn't really working.

We told them it's going to be deficit neutral and that isn't working, so let's see what else we have in our -- you know, in our back pocket here.

And so, they're just kind of shuffling through the deck to try to sell this thing, and I think you and Joy are exactly right.

Trump may not know what the heck he's talking about -- doesn't understand tax policy. But boy, he can sniff out the kind of thing that's not going to work with his base, and we saw that with healthcare.

It does seem to be morphing in a similar way. The administration tells you, hey, everybody, this is going to be great for you.

And then the score-keepers start getting a hold of it and it looks extremely different.

O'DONNELL: You know, I never thought I'd say this, and this could change. But so far, Donald Trump is the best sales person -- he's the best sales person they have on the tax bill so far.

Listen to Gary Cohn in the White House press briefing today, telling you what not to look at in the tax bill. Please, don't look at the details, listen to this.


GARY COHN, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: The one thing I would beg you all to do is don't look at any one piece.

Look at the plan and its entirety. That's how we're looking at tax reform. We're looking at it in its entirety.


O'DONNELL: Joy, don't look at what I have in this hand --

REID: Look at that --


O'DONNELL: Just look at what I have in this --

REID: Yes --

O'DONNELL: Hand here, don't -- please, no details.

REID: Donald Trump -- Donald Trump knows he is the guy who's got to go sell this --


REID: To the base. So he knows, Gary Cohn doesn't have to do it. Steve Mnuchin is too busy flying his actress wife to sit on the roof of whatever, you know, Treasury building he's flying on.

He is surrounded by people, who he hired by the way --


REID: Who fly around --

O'DONNELL: The best people --

REID: In corporate jets, the best people, who fly around in corporate jets when they could take commercial.

Who are using these government jobs to live fabulous life styles of the rich and famous. They're not the ones who have to go sell this in Poughkeepsie.

They are the ones who have to go to --

O'DONNELL: Right --

REID: Cheboygan and convince the Trump voter that this is OK, he's got to do that. So Donald Trump understands that all of these things that Republicans keeps saying, which we all know are lies.

Deficit --


REID: Neutral, that's a lie. Not going to raise -- not going to lower taxes on the super rich, that's a lie. All of these lies, Trump has to sell them.

Well, since he's a salesman, and that's the one thing he's really actually kind of good at, he knows he can't sell that. Even he cannot sell that to the base.

BERNSTEIN: Let me -- let me tell you that --

O'DONNELL: Jared, are you surprised that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and the others have not been better sales men for this, and Trump is the best one they have --

BERNSTEIN: I mean --

O'DONNELL: So far?

BERNSTEIN: What can you sell? I mean --

O'DONNELL: Yes, OK, yes --

BERNSTEIN: But let me -- and I actually -- is the point I wanted the make. What I think Gary Cohn was talking about there was the middle class.

So they say it's not going to cut taxes on the rich. That's patently -- I mean, that may be the biggest lie of all because --


BERNSTEIN: You get rid of the estate tax -- remember the estate tax only hits the top .2, the richest .2 percent of estates.

You cut the corporate rate, well, who does that help? You get rid of the AMT, that's 31 million for Trump according to the "New York Times" tonight.

But the middle class, now they're trying to tell you that this is actually going to help the middle class. Well, people are starting now to crunch the numbers.

The details are coming out, we don't have all of them yet, we need more. But it looks like taxes will actually go up for some middle class families and the reason is that they're getting rid of the personal deduction -- the personal exemption.

They double the standard deduction and that helps a lot of low income families, but they get rid of the personal exemption which is about $4,000 per person for people who take that exemption.

I'm not going to get into the gnarly bits of the code, but people are starting to crunch numbers and figuring out that there are some families, typically with a couple of kids in the upper part of the middle class who look like based on what we know so far, they're going to get a tax increase.

So yes, that's the kind of thing you don't want people looking at if you're Gary Cohn.

O'DONNELL: Steve Mnuchin and possibly Gary Cohn are going to find themselves testifying to the Senate Finance Committee about this, and they are going to get shredded in there.

With the way this bill stands right now. With the way this bill stands right now, and with what they're trying to push right now, we're going to have to leave it there for tonight.

Jared Bernstein, thank you very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate it. Coming up, the president managed to stump the cast of "Fox & Friends", just completely flummoxed them for the first time in history.

We're going to show you that. And the president is complaining that he is not getting enough credit for what he has been doing for Puerto Rico, of course, he's been doing a lot of other things instead like attacking football players.


O'DONNELL: On "Fox News" this morning, President Trump tried to explain why the Republican healthcare bill did not pass the Senate.


TRUMP: The healthcare bill didn't go down, we have the votes, but reconciliation is a disaster. But as you know, it ends on Friday, so we don't have enough time because we have one senator who is a yes vote, a great person, but he is in the hospital.

And he's a yes vote, so we can't do it by Friday.


O'DONNELL: For once, even "Fox & Friends" were dumbfounded.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what he means when he says he has the votes, one guy in the hospital, I don't know what that means, do you?


O'DONNELL: No, I don't, especially since no senator is in the hospital. And as all of the Republicans in the Senate have admitted, they don't have the votes.

The president was also asked about his public dissatisfactions with Mitch McConnell which, of course were made public by the president himself.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you still have confidence in Mitch McConnell?

TRUMP: I do. I mean, look, I've dealt with Mitch for a long time, and I think he has to get rid of the filibuster rule, I think it's just a disaster for the Republican Party because it means you need 60 votes on most pieces of legislation and you're not going to get it, so they have to get rid of the filibuster rule otherwise it's -- they're just making a mistake.


O'DONNELL: Of course, the Republicans did not need 60 votes for the healthcare bill, they only needed 50 senators to vote for the healthcare bill, and then Vice President Pence would be allowed to cast the tie- breaking vote to pass it.

But McConnell's refusal to try to get rid of the filibuster rules is one of the reasons the president has repeatedly portrayed Mitch McConnell as weak.

Ken Vogel and Jeremy Peters are reporting in the "New York Times" tonight that Steve Bannon and two of his long time benefactors are putting together a political coalition designed to ensure that the victory of a Republican insurgent in the Alabama Senate primary this week was just the beginning of the surprises that await the party establishment.

The head of the Super PAC allied with the Bannon efforts said, quote, "our efforts are about replacing the GOP establishment."

Joining us now, Ron Klain; former chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden and a former senior aide to President Obama.

And also with us, Ken Vogel, "New York Times" reporter. Ken, your report is really extraordinary. It's been inching toward this every day of the Trump administration.

But there has never been a party in chaos in Washington like we are seeing as reported by you tonight in the "Times" about this Republican Party.

KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, that's right because, Lawrence, it's not just Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump, the establishment and the sort of anti-establishment president.

Even the folks who supported Trump during the campaign and were kind of leaders of this anti-establishment sentiment, I'm talking about Steve Bannon, are now suspicious of the president, and don't think that he has this America first populist, nationalist, anti-establishment sort of bearing.

They think he's lost that, and drifted away from that. So they are taking matters into their own hands. They are starting sort of a third prong of this Republican Party and chaos that is both anti-establishment and trying to enforce from the right or from the sort of populist, nationalist right to try to keep Trump on track.

That's potentially going to cause problems for both Mitch McConnell as we'll see if Roy Moore ends up being the senator from Alabama.

And also potentially for Donald Trump in some of these contested GOP primaries where incumbents, Republican incumbents in the Senate are going to get challenges from this Bannon-led coalition.

That is the recipe for a real civil war.

O'DONNELL: The pro-Trump faction in all of this works on the principle that Donald Trump can never be wrong, can never do anything wrong.

Therefore, if something goes wrong, someone else has to be blamed and that has been either Paul Ryan on one day or Mitch McConnell on another. Let's listen to the way Rush Limbaugh talks about this.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: They don't want Trump to succeed with his agenda. They can't afford that. I'm not exaggerating here.

They can't afford for him to succeed with his agenda, they can't afford it. The lid's blown, the gig is over. The joke is revealed.

If an outsider with no prior political experience can come in and fix messes that people have been promised would be fixed for 30 years, how does that make them look? They can't allow that to happen.


O'DONNELL: Ron, the striking thing about the media defenders of Donald Trump and his agenda is there is no Trump agenda.

There -- he has simply adopted the Republican Party's --


O'DONNELL: Agenda in the Congress with a flourish here or there about a wall and a travel ban. What Trump agenda is Rush Limbaugh talking about?

KLAIN: No idea nor does Rush know what he's talking about. Look, Trump himself every other day says, well, it's up to the Republicans in Congress to deliver --


KLAIN: This healthcare bill.


KLAIN: They're supposed to deliver this -- I'm just suppose to sit here and sign this stuff when it shows up. And, you know, the problem they have is, Lawrence, you worked on the issues on the Hill too.

This legislation is hard. It's complicated. It requires presidential leadership. I mean, you know, President Obama called senators and congressmen every hour to get the --


KLAIN: Affordable Care Act, plus --


KLAIN: Deep in the detail, and on the weekend before Cassidy-Graham went down, Donald Trump sat at his golf club and tweeted about the NFL.

And they are never going to get anything done in this Congress if that's the kind of presidential, quote, "leadership they're going to see from Donald Trump.

O'DONNELL: And Ken, the people who are talking about going to war with the congressional leadership, the Republican establishment, do they consider that that might actually lead to Democratic wins in the House and the Senate?

VOGEL: I don't think they really care, for them it's all about blowing things out --

O'DONNELL: Can we stop you for a second, Ken? Here's the part. Why would they not care? Why would it not be at least important to them to prevent the Democrats from taking over a Senate seat or a House seat?

VOGEL: Because their enmity is towards the establishment writ large. And they are conservatives, so they are sort of most directly able to take on the Republican establishment.

But if their efforts to blow up the Republican establishment ultimately hurt Republicans and the Republican Party and help Democrats, they would see that as to some extent mission accomplished.

It's like with the tea party, when you had these folks like Christine O'Donnell in 2010, Sharron Angle who went down, who won Republican primaries because they rode a tea party wave and then went down to overwhelming defeat sometimes in seats that were thought were -- that were thought to be winnable in the general election.

Some of the tea party folks said, we'd rather lose with principled candidates than win with these moderates, with these rhinos.

I think we're seeing a similar sentiment, howbeit from a slightly different place on the philosophical spectrum from Steve Bannon, from the mercers and from some of the folks who feel that Donald Trump has drifted from the America first agenda that he laid out during the campaign.

And I disagree to some extent with Ron and you, Lawrence, say that there's no agenda. I think that he did hit on some themes that were -- that did resonate with people that he's largely abandoned, not completely but largely abandoned because of his desire to get a win and he's thinking that the Republican establishment has the best -- the best chance of getting a win.

So he would sign a bill, a health care bill that wasn't sufficiently -- that didn't sufficiently repeal Obamacare because it was a win, obviously, that hasn't worked out but it also has inflamed his base.

O'DONNELL: Ron Klain, a quick last word here.

KLAIN: Yes, I mean, he made a lot of promises during the campaign, Ken is right about that. Bu he wasn't serious about when he made them.

He's not doing the work to get them done now, and he's not going to get them done because he doesn't know how. He's the most incompetent president we've ever had.

So I agree with Ken, he made a bunch of promises on the campaign trail, he's farther from keeping them today than he ever has been.

O'DONNELL: Ron Klain and Ken Vogel, and Ken, your article tonight describes a party unlike anything we have ever seen in Washington, a mandatory reading.

Thank you very much, both of you, really appreciate it.

VOGEL: Thanks, Lawrence.

KLAIN: Thanks Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, the president defended his attacks on football players today. And, of course, the president managed to at least tweet about Puerto Rico.


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Tonight, in NFL news, the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers, team members, linked arms during the National Anthem before the NFL game in Green Bay, Wisconsin. No player on either team kneeled tonight. Today, president trump said this about the NFL.


DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: The NFL cannot disrespect our country. They cannot disrespect our flag or our national anthem. And they can't have people sitting down or kneeling down during our national anthem.

And I saw this a year ago with Kaepernick. I said this is a terrible thing. I have so many friends that are owners and they're in a box. I mean I had spoken to a couple of them.

They say we are in a situation where we have to do something. I think they're afraid of their players, you want to know the truth and I think it's disgraceful.


O'DONNELL: Today in the Whitehouse Press Briefing Room, reporter April Ryan nowhere in the attempt to clarify whether the President thinks protest has ever been a positive force in this country.


APRIL RYAN, REPORTER: The NFL players, what we're hearing, not about having not pride. They're saying their patriots. They love this country. What does the President say when you look at history and see how people love this country but wanted to challenge the system to make it better?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITEHOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think if we look at history, look at thousands of Americans who have given their life to protect that flag, to protect that anthem. The President is simply talking about what we're for and not about what we're against and certainly this administration will always be for protection and celebration of the flag and the national anthem and that's not going to change.

RYAN: Just a follow-up. Wait a minute. Just to clarify on this.

HUCKABEE: I don't think there's much to clarify. I think it was pretty, pretty black and white there.

RYAN: People are very divided on this issue. It is a racial issue for some people and the question is, when the military issue is brought in, the military goes and fights for the freedoms of this nation and the players are saying they're thankful for the military's service to allow them -

HUCKABEE: As we all are.

RYAN: To allow - we have the freedom to do this. I mean, is there some kind of confusion here or is it us versus them scenario?

HUCKABEE: It certainly should be. As I've said several times before, this isn't a us versus them. This would be something that brings our country together. These are symbols of what our country stands for and should be the opposite of what this is and a unifying moment when the national anthem plays, all Americans should be proud to stand up, salute that flag, salute that anthem and be part of that process.


O'DONNELL: Joining the discussion now, Tim O'Brien, Executive Editor of Bloomberg View, the author of Trump Nation, the Art of being the Donald. And back with us MSNBC'S Joy Reid. Joy, I haven't heard a bit of evidence that there's anyone working in the white house who thinks that protests in this country has ever been a positive thing.

JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: No, because I think Donald Trump sees this from the point of view of the NFL team owners. right? And that they should be able to order the players to do what they say. And I think you know now that we have unpacked a lot of this, we know there's a defense department deal that forced these players to go out on the field and sort of make a patriotic display of themselves.

You got a couple of players starting with Eric Reid and of course Colin Kaepernick who decided to use that moment when they're basically the NFL'S being paid to do the patriotic display by the defense department to make a statement, not about patriotism if the flag but about police brutality, of the killing of black people by police with impunity. That is what the protests area about.

Donald Trump wants to make it about him. He wants to wrap himself in the flag. Well, you know, he had a chance to wrap himself in the flag and fight in Vietnam and he got deferments so he didn't have to do that. So he didn't have to fight for the anthem or the flag. Donald Trump is the wrong person to lecture anybody about their duties to their country.

O'DONNELL: Tim, you studied Donald Trump and the family. I haven't found any member of the Trump family who's ever served in the military. Is that correct?

TIM O'BRIEN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: That is correct. That is correct. you know, he's very proud of his uncle who did some government work as a scientist during World War II. But that's about the extent of it. You know Sarah Sanders said a revealing thing duing that press conference, she said I think this is a very black and white issue. And on the whole NFL debate.

I mean I think she is right. It is. The President keeps trying to make this about the flag. and patriotism when what's really at play here and has been at play since the Charlottesville Protest is the President historically has been a profound and fairly flagrant race baiter. It goes back to, you know, his family's record with discriminating against people of color in their housing projects. We get the Central Park Jogger case in the late '80s when he, you know, basically invaded an issue and baited people racially so he could be part of that. It continued in news campaign.

We saw it after Charlottesville and it happened again last Friday and I think what he is trying to do now is say it's about the flag. It's about military service, about patriotism because I think he realized he stepped in it and Kobe Bryant and others were, you know, hold our beer.

O'DONNELL: But Joy, he seems to relish every one of the questions every time it comes up. He seems eager to talk about it.

REID: He thinks he got to talk about it because he understands that the base that he's talking to, who are the only people, let's just be honest, Donald Trump is not talking to the country, not President of the United States. He's the President of one third of the voting population of the United States. He's about one third of one half of the adult population of the United States. And he's only talking to them.

And he understands that that trigger, especially since it's a racial trigger. He only goes after the black ESPN reporter, the black football players. He has this thing because he understands that there's a part of his base, not all of his base. But there's a part of his base that wants to say those entitled, rich, black athletes needs to shut up and entertain me, get out on the field and rub up and down the field and entertain me while I sit and watch the anthem eating Doritos.

I want them to stand up and perform patriotism because I said so, because the owners said so. And he knows that is there's a part of his base that has that racial grievance that Donald Trump shares. That he's been using to elevate himself since the 1980s. He's doing it on purpose because that's part of who he is and he knows that it makes his base happy.

O'BRIEN: And the owners aren't in a box. He keeps saying they're in a box. They're not. Actually some of the owners stood up and said we believe in the right to express themselves and in solidarity we will support that. There's wrong with it. He's saying they're in a box because he' petrified of the fact that his campaign donors don't agree with him. And that other white men in charge don't agree with him.

O'DONNELL: And Joy, does he do the math that you just did that the stuff he is talking about is aimed at one third of the voters? And does he understand how many more voters he needs in order to actually get re- elected if that's what he wants to do or how much more voter support he needs if, say, he wants to pass a tax bill?

REID: I think don't think Donald Trump thinks that way. I think that he sees the entire universe as two groups of people. People who love Donald Trump and everybody else and none of those people matter. And Donald Trump is laser focused on whoever loves Trump because that's who he's selling $40 hats to, that's who he's selling the gold cards when he text out buy a gold card with my face on it.

He knows that who he's marketing to. Donald Trump is a marketer. He's selling things to one particular group of people and that's the only people that he cares about.

O'DONNELL: And, Tim, this would make perfect sense to me as a Trump strategy if you show me the poll of 51 percent support. If he had 51 percent support and he was never doing a thing to try to change any minds, I would go, okay. That could work.

O'BRIEN: And - and, you know, his base isn't just the post industrial working class white voter. He also pulled in affluent Republicans who I think he's starting to shred. I think he's starting to lose -- we'll know in the midterms but his playing with fire around this. I don't - but I don't think he's ever actually cared about electoral math. He cares about his ego.

O'DONNELL: To your point, Joy, how this is perceived, Quinnipiac Poll, Trump's handling of race relations, approve, 32 percent. disapprove, 62 percent. And that approve of 32 percent is worth staring at. That's right around where Donald Trump's support number is now, 32 percent, 35 percent.

REID: Yeah. He got elected, remember, Donald Trump became President with about that level of support. So in his experience, being tremendously unpopular with the vast majority of Americans doesn't matter. And he won't admit that he got into office because he had a leg up with the help from the Russians, because he had a leg up with all sort of external factors.

He thinks that just the power of his personality gets him over the finish line even with 32 percent support. So he honestly I don't think does math or not does he care.

O'DONNELL: Tim, the public, of course, overwhelmingly believes that no player should be fired. Donald Trump says they should be fired. And he makes these declarations that I don't -- obviously, he doesn't understand what presidential language is supposed to be. But he's in there saying they cannot do this.

They cannot do this. No, yes, they can. That's kind of the point. Its one thing for you to say I don't like it when they do that but it's the president saying they cannot do this.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, he came to Washington I think with a great misconception that everyone's going to step and fetch it on any number of issues, public protests or health care bill through, and the great education of Donald Trump is that no matter how much he shake it is rattle in the playpen, he is not getting his way.

O'DONNELL: Tim O'Brien and Joy Reid, thank you both for joining us tonight, really appreciate it.

REID: Thank you.

O'DONNELL: Coming up, the President's finally worried about Puerto Rico. But he mostly seems to be worried about the media coverage of his response to the crisis in Puerto Rico.


O'DONNELL: In the eight days since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, the President Tweeted 23 times about the NFL and 12 times about Puerto Rico. And many of those Tweets about Puerto Rico are actually complaints about the media's coverage of the President's slow response to the crisis in Puerto Rico.

President Trump Tweeted tonight, FEMA and first responders are doing a great job in Puerto Rico. Massive food and water delivered, docks and electric grid dead, locals trying really hard to help but many have lost their homes. Military is now on site. And I will be there Tuesday and this is the most important part, wish press would treat fairly.

Today, Rihanna, that who has twice as many followers on Twitter as President Trump Tweeted at the President saying, dear Donald Trump, I know you've probably already seen this but I just wanted to make sure. Don't let your people die like this.

And, of course, citizens of Puerto Rico are citizens of the United States. Today, the Trump Administration finally waived the Jones Act allowing foreign ships to deliver food, water and supplies, something President Trump did immediately in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. And Tom Bossert, President Trump's Homeland Security Adviser asked about the slow response.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why has it taken eight days to get three-star general on the ground to start organizing this? we know the island situation. Why eight days?

Tom Bossert, Homeland Security Adviser: Yes, well because it didn't ever require a three-star general eight days ago.


O'DONNELL: Speaking to reporters outside the Whitehouse acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke responded to questions regarding her satisfaction level with the government's response to Hurricane Maria.


ELAINE DUKE, ACTING HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I am very satisfied. I know it's a hard storm to recover from. But the amount of progress that's been made and I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.


O'DONNELL: So for the acting Homeland Security Secretary, Puerto Rico is a good news story as you just heard her say while the New York Daily News calls it an American tragedy. We'll speak with reporters in Puerto Rico and get an assessment, next.



JOSE AYALA, CROWLEY'S VICE PRESIDENT: So far, the people from FEMA here on the island, they're doing what they can. But we need more resources. And the President has to send much more resources. This is not going to be resolved with a waiver of the Jones Act.

Send people here, send the military here, send heavy equipment to open our roads, to clean our roads. Send more resources so we can distribute all these goods to the people of Puerto Rico.


O'DONNELL: Puerto Rico's shipping harbor are now open and there are thousands of containers filled with fuel, water, medicine and supplies. But the problem is now getting all of those supplies to the people who need them. MSNBC'S Mariana Atencio joins us live from San Juan. And Mariana, what are the problems they're facing now with trying to move those containers?

MARIANA ATENCIO, MSNBC REPORTER: Lawrence, so as we were watching these long lines of people all over the island, they kept telling us, the supplies are here, they're just not getting to us. So we went to the port ourselves to check it out. And immediately we saw these thousands of containers with those life-saving supplies at the port.

We spoke to the Vice President of Crowley, they it's a company that handles almost half of the operations at the ports on the island. And this man, Jose Ayala whose sound byte you just played here on the show, he said, listen, first of all, we don't have the drivers to be able to take the supplies to the people of Puerto Rico.

Secondly, the infrastructure of the island is completely devastated. Thirdly, there is a problem with cell signal. 91 percent of Puerto Rico does not have any cell phone reception and the fourth, you have a problem with access to fuel. So it's almost what I've been calling the perfect storm after the storm.

And you can just imagine how frustrating it is to know that that fuel, that medicine, that building material, that gas that people need is just sitting there at the port, stranded since Saturday, thousands of containers and they're not being able to be moved for the people of Puerto Rico. I also checked up with him later after the Whitehouse said that that wasn't really the information that they were handling.

And they said that they had seen some movement but that only today, according to Crowley, 250 of those containers had been moved, 250 out of thousands, Lawrence. And then finally, you know, Jose Ayala, the Vice President of this company, told me, Mariana, the people of Puerto Rico they're not any different than the people who suffered during Harvey and during Hurricane Irma. I want to play that sound byte for you, Lawrence, right now.


AYALA: He is our president as well. And we deserve the same attention and the same support that everybody else in the mainland.


ATENCIO: I wanted to hear the other sides to the story as well. So I contacted the COMS person of the port. This is a government person, nothing to do with this company, Juan Carlos Hernandez and he said the same thing, for them it's the drivers. Only 20 percent of them have reported to work so they just urgently really need these supplies moved as soon as possible, Lawrence.

O'DONNELL: Mariana Atencio thank you very much for that live report, really appreciate it. Tonight's Last Word is next.



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