Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: December 7, 2017 Guest: Dahlia Lithwick, Ruth Marcus
LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel. Too late on that being weird thing.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, TRMS: Yes.
O`DONNELL: What happened to the team work? I`m the one to say it`s great. And then 9:00 special tomorrow night is really great and sitting here live right after it to cover whatever breaking big stories of the day there will be, and I have a feeling there might be some news tomorrow because it`s tomorrow.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly. It`s a day that ends in "Y" in the Trump era.
MADDOW: That`s exactly right.
Well, thank you, my friend. You know, I don`t like tooting my own horn about stuff like this, but I think the dossier special we have done is -- I`m really proud of it. I think it`s really good and I think people are going to really learn a lot and dig it. So, I hope lots of people watch.
O`DONNELL: And I will be taking notes when I`m watching. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thank you, my friend. Thanks.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
Well, as cable news unofficial Senate historian, I`m going to try to put what happened in the Senate today into some kind of historical perspective and I`m not sure what that`s worth anymore and I don`t mean to try to litigate the particulars of the Al Franken case, all though our guests tonight are welcome to do that or discuss any other part of this they want to.
I simply want to try to place what we saw today in the context in Senate history exclusively which is just one very, very small perspective on what we witnessed today. The country is finding its way to a new place, a better place, and women are leading that way beginning with the heroic women who "Time" magazine has made the persons of the year, and the Senate -- at least the Democratic side of the Senate, is rushing to try to keep up to where those heroic women have been leading us.
But politics moves in very strange ways. It doesn`t walk smoothly. It usually stumbles. And that`s part of what we saw today.
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was driven out by members of his own party and by his own conscience.
REPORTER: Do you think it was the right thing to do?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: I think it was.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is one party that`s listening to the culture in the country right now and it`s the Democrats.
FRANKEN: I am leaving while a man who`s bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
REPORTER: What`s the White House`s stance on sexual harassment?
TRUMP: Thank you.
FRANKEN: And a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigned for the Senate with a full support of his party.
TRUMP: I think he`s going to do very well. We don`t want to have a liberal Democrat in Alabama. Believe me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don`t know where the bottom is anymore.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I wish the RNC wasn`t supporting Roy Moore.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: This is not our best foot forward. I hope that he`s not elected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`ve got to decide as an institution of governing where are the lines about all of this? Because it`s not going away.
FRANKEN: With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.
O`DONNELL: It was a historic day in the United States Senate. On this day, in the United States Senate history, Senator Al Franken announced his resignation from the Senate and Senator Bob Menendez was giving the honor of being a Senate conferee on the most important legislation of the year, the tax bill that is being negotiated between the House and the Senate in the conference committee, composed of Republican and Democrat conferees.
Bob Menendez will be the only conferee under indictment on federal corruption and bribery charges. In fact, Democrat Senator Bob Menendez will be the only Senate conferee in the history of important tax legislation who has just emerged from a hung verdict in his federal corruption trial and is awaiting the federal prosecutor`s decision on whether to retry him. Such are the complications of life for a political party that`s trying to take the moral high ground on matters of sexual misconduct.
No matter what ground politicians think they`re standing on, no matter what ground politicians want to stand on, their occupations always leave them standing on political ground. As the cases of Senator Al Franken and Senator Bob Menendez demonstrate so vividly today.
First, to Senator Franken. After nine solid years of work in the United States Senate, he took his place today on the very short list of senators who have been resigned because of charges of sexual harassment. Franken is only the second name on that list. The first is Republican Senator Bob Packwood who was first accused by ten women in a Sunday "Washington Post" front page expose on November 22, 1992.
"The Post" reported that during Packwood`s 24 years in the Senate beginning in 1969, he has made uninvited sexual advances to women who have worked for him or with him according to former staff members and lobbyists, including ten women who independently of each other have given specific accounts of Packwood`s behavior toward them. After "The Washington Post" article came out, more women came forward to tell their stories. Soon, there were 24 women who accused Senator Packwood of some form of sexual harassment.
A 21-year-old recent graduate who has just joined the Packwood staff in 1976 told "The Washington Post" that the senator locked the door behind her when she came in to the office one day, and then embraced her running his fingers through her hair and forcefully kissing her on the lips. He told her how much he likes her wholesome good looks. It was very clear that it was a sexual thing. It was very hard to get him to let go of me. She pulled away and talked her way out of his office.
That was typical of the stories about Senator Packwood. Many of them included the possibility that the senator was drunk.
When Bob Packwood faced reporters about this, his performance was very unsteady.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you believe you had a problem with alcohol in the past if not now?
SEN. BOB PACKWOOD (R), OREGON: Well, I don`t -- it`s hard to ask a person who uses alcohol. I don`t think so. But in any event, I`m going to seek counseling in that area, also.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: The Senate ethics committee immediately begun an investigation of Senator Packwood. I was working in the United States Senate at the time and I can tell you that not one senator believed that Bob Packwood would be forced to resign over these charges, when the ethics committee began its investigation.
The Senate Ethics Committee investigation took three years. That`s right. Three years and the Senate`s attitude towards Senator Packwood`s actions changed slowly but ever so surely during those three years. When the Senate ethics committee led by the Chairman Mitch McConnell then recommended to the Senate that Packwood be expelled, Senator Bob Packwood did what Senator Franken did today and announced his resignation in 1995. To Bob Packwood, it seemed unfair. He knew much worse stories about other members of the Senate who never found themselves in ethics committee investigations.
Every senator probably knew worse stories about some other senators than the stories that cost Bob Packwood his career. I witnessed what was one of the sharpest points of pain for Bob Packwood during that three-year investigation. It might have been the moment that felt most unfair to Bob Packwood. It was a very nasty encounter with Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor outside of the reach of the Senate microphones.
Packwood was newly elected senator in 1969 when Ted Kennedy was involved in a fatal driving accident on the part of Martha`s Vineyard Island of Chappaquiddick. Ted Kennedy`s car went off the road, into a creek and was mostly underwater when he escaped, leaving one of his campaign staffers, 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne in the car where she drowned.
Senator Kennedy pleaded guilty in a Massachusetts court to leaving the scene of the accident. He was sentenced to one year probation and his driver`s license was suspended for a year. There was no Senate Ethics Committee investigation of that incident because the Senate Ethics Committee had not yet been invented.
It is hard to imagine a senator surviving an ethics investigation of a case like that today and it was hard to imagine a senator surviving an ethics investigation of the case like that in the summer of 1994 when Bob Packwood as the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee was serving as the Republican floor manager of a finance committee bill on the Senate floor while my boss, the chairman of the committee, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was serving as the Democratic floor manager of that bill.
Ted Kennedy became bitterly disappointed in what was happening to us and to that bill on the floor, thanks to the strategic roadblocks that Bob Packwood was expertly putting in front of us. During a lull in the action, Ted Kennedy approached Bob Packwood, a few feet from me, and in the angriest tone I ever heard one senator used to another on the Senate floor and in the most profane language possible, Ted Kennedy told Bob Packwood that he couldn`t wait to vote the expel him.
Bob Packwood was shaken and speechless and no doubt had to be thinking, Ted Kennedy of all people.
Now, I loved Ted Kennedy and loved being on the same team with Ted Kennedy on the Senate floor but I wasn`t proud of that moment. Politics isn`t fair because all politics is politics. Politics does not administer its rewards and its penalties consistently.
And so, for Bob Packwood, it took 24 accusers and a 3-year investigation to drive him out of the Senate and for Al Franken, it took eight accusers over three weeks and no investigation to drive him out of the Senate.
But these are different times. We are in the middle of a hugely important wave that began the day Harvey Weinstein found himself on the front page of "The New York Times" two months ago, convincingly accused of horrible sexual misconduct, including rape over a 30-year period. That first Harvey Weinstein "the New York Times" story was just two months ago and it seems like two years ago, because a newly accused man has been appearing virtually every day and the wave seems to gain more force and strength and urgency every day and the wave is flattening every career it hits from Weinstein to Franken.
Every penalty is the same. Every penalty is quick. Every penalty is final. And so, what might have been a survivable ethics committee investigation for Al Franken a couple of years ago was impossible to navigate this year, at this time, in the middle of this very important and very valuable wave.
But to the remaining Franken supporters tonight, who believe that not all of these cases are the same and not all penalties should be the same, it can feel unfair. But this is politics. And politics is unfair. And a political party trying to find its way to the moral high ground cannot step up to that high ground as clearly and precisely as it might want to because politics is always complicated and politics is always unfair, which brings us back to Senator Menendez, who was given an honor today by Chuck Schumer, Democratic leader of the Senate on the very same day that Chuck Schumer eagerly accepted Al Franken`s resignation after publicly urging him to resign.
Bob Menendez is a member of the Senate Finance Committee and conferees to tax legislation are supposed to be members of the Senate Finance Committee, so he has the basic qualification for it. Conferees are most commonly, but not always appointed by seniority on the Finance Committee.
But Chuck Schumer did not exactly follow that tradition this time. He actually skipped over one of the Finance Committee members in seniority to get to Bob Menendez. But he could have just as easily skipped over Bob Menendez and given that conferee spot to Finance Committee member McCaskill, for example. But he gave it to Bob Menendez for no good reason.
Bob Menendez has no taxation expertise to the bring to the conference committee and the Republicans are running the conference and have no intention of listening to a word that any Democrat says, with the possible occasional exception to Senator Ron Wyden, who was the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and knows more about any other taxation than any other Democrat in that conference. But the truth of a conference committee is they have only one public meeting at the beginning of the conference, which is an entirely fake meeting and then the Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee get together secretly and work out the compromise bill, usually without ever speaking to the conferees.
And I go through this detail just to point out that the whole point of being a conferee is that it is just an honor, an honor with no real function. And that`s what makes it so strange today of all days that Bob Menendez is a conferee. Senators like to brag back home about their power in the Senate and noting that they`re on a conference committee from time to time helps them do that brag. Bob Menendez can not longer brag that he is a senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee because he was stripped of that honor when he was indicted.
But now that he got a hung jury in New Jersey in a federal court, Bob Menendez is worthy of honors again? From the Democrats in the Senate?
Yesterday, the junior senator from New Jersey said this about Al Franken. It is right that he should step down at this point. That was Corey booker yesterday.
On the same day that Al Franken`s first accuser went public, New Jersey`s senior Senator Bob Menendez got the hung jury in federal court in New Jersey, and immediately after that, Corey Booker endorsed Bob Menendez for re-election in 2018, as did the entire New Jersey Democratic power structure. And so the Democratic Party is now committed to trying to re- elect Bob Menendez in 2018 when he might or might not be facing another trial on federal corruption and bribery charges.
Democratic Senator Feinstein said that Al Franken should resign. The day Bob Menendez got a hung jury, Senator Feinstein said, I think he went through hell with this and that`s enough, and the charges were not proven and therefore he should be able to come back and carry on.
Yesterday, Senator Dick Durbin said that Al Franken should resign. After Bob Menendez got a hung jury, "The New York Times" asked Senator Durbin if the Democrats would be welcoming Senator Menendez back to the Senate. Dick Durbin said, why wouldn`t we?
And so, tonight, in the painful steps that the Democratic Party is bravely taking in the Senate to reach the high moral ground, they have one foot on the higher moral ground and the other foot is still standing on that same ground that Bob Menendez is standing on. And if you think that result is accidental and nothing to do with politics, consider that Al Franken will be replaced in the Senate by the Democratic governor of Minnesota who will appoint a Democrat for the seat.
And that if the Democrats who convinced Al Franken to resign also convinced Bob Menendez to resign, Bob Menendez`s successor in the Senate would be appointed by this guy, the Republican governor of New Jersey.
But no one articulated the most important unfairness of the day better than Senator Al Franken and he was not talking about any unfairness to himself. He accepted the way his story is ending in the Senate today. But he did point out the unfairness of who continues to occupy the office of the presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKEN: I have all people am aware there`s some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who`s bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who`s repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with a full support of his party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining the discussion now, Dahlia Lithwick who writes about the courts and the law for "Slate" and host of the podcast "Amicus". And also with us, Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and columnist at "The Washington Post."
And, Dahlia and Ruth, I have said quite enough. I just want to hand this discussion over to you with your reactions to this day.
DAHLIA LITHWICK, PODCAST HOST, "AMICUS": I think that you make exactly the right point which is that there is this notion that there`s this thing, this fixed and finite thing called the moral high ground.
LITHWICK: And we all know what it is, and we all agree on it, and we all agree on the process of how to seize it, and this was emblematic of that step.
And I think that and I think Ruth and I effectively wrote the same piece about this saying, you know, we`re a bunch of process people and we want to talk about process and I`m quite conflicted both about the process of how this went forth, but also deeply conflicted about what Franken is calling an irony. I`m actually calling a travesty which is as Franken loses his seat, we stand poised to elect Roy Moore in Alabama. Nobody`s saying that Donald Trump loses his seat.
And so, the asymmetry here that not just within the party as you point out, but the profound asymmetry of seizing moral high ground and losing so much at the same time doesn`t seem to be in the cards.
O`DONNELL: Ruth Marcus, please go ahead.
RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, the Democrats needed to do this for the political reasons that you laid out. They didn`t need to do the same thing with Senator Menendez, actually kind of amazing that we have had a senator under indictment and under trial and paid so little attention to it.
But as you say, we are in the middle of this revolution and we`re sort of writing the rules for how to conduct the revolution as it`s occurring. We need to figure out a -- Dahlia and I are both process people. You probably are, too. We need to figure out a way that does not take three years because the public mood does not -- you know, we are in the age of the iPhone and instant access to everything and instant gratification. We need to figure out an ethics process that doesn`t take three years but that also doesn`t -- never even occurs within three weeks where you have unnamed accusers who are believed maybe they should be believed but we don`t know because we don`t know who they are, you have allegations that involve conduct that occurred, before allegedly occurred before Senator Franken took office.
You have conduct that`s very different, for example, from the conduct that the president of the United States is alleged to have engaged in and that Roy Moore is very credibly -- both the president and Roy Moore very credibly alleged to have engaged in conduct -- their conduct much more serious and troubling than Senator Franken`s.
And so, Senator Gillibrand had a very intelligent and powerful statement the other day that I found myself completely disagreeing with, where she said, enough is enough, I agree with that part. But she said, we can`t be making distinctions between what`s sexual assault and what`s sexual harassment and whether this is bad, but this is less bad.
I think it`s incumbent on us not -- it`s not incumbent on Democrats -- it`s incumbent on Democrats to figure out what`s best for the party and how to retain and grow, you know, get back the Senate majority and everything else. But it`s incumbent on people like us who observe and comment on the way the world should work to say, hey, we need to be doing this in little bit of a fairer and more judicious way.
O`DONNELL: And, Dahlia, I literally do not know how to talk about this. Meaning I know all the precedents and I know -- I feel that they don`t mean anything. And so, I`m even reluctant to bring them up, but I brought up some history tonight because there is only one previous case in all of Senate history. And so, this is what we have come to over that period of time.
But there`s so much about this that I don`t -- I don`t even know how to discuss. And you talk about the tensions you have with the process, the tensions you have with where we are tonight. I feel some of those but the most important thing I`m feeling is the wave and I`m feeling somewhere in the wave in its -- there`s a wisdom in the wave -- and I`m just kind of surrendering to it. I don`t know what else to do.
LITHWICK: First of all, every single person who read, Ruth, who read me, in the last 24 hours sent some iteration of the following e-mail or post. Aah! Cri du Coeur. You know? People are in such pain.
And I think we have to honor -- profoundly honor that the systems that we thought existed for reporting, ferreting out, fact finding about abuse of women are fundamentally flawed in this country and I think we have to start from the proposition that all the inquiries and the HR and everything we thought we had done post-Anita Hill are broken. And we see it with Harvey Weinstein. We see it with Roy Moore. We see it with the president.
I think that we can stipulate to the fact that the existing systems are broken without turning around and taking a torch to them and saying, therefore, some other thing is going to happen. And whatever that other thing is, it feels a little bit like trial by Twitter. It feels a little bit as Ruth as just pointed out like something had to happen quickly and made something happen quickly and that was the best thing.
And I`m just such a traditionalist. I really feel, Lawrence, that when we burn institutions down what rushes into the place are not necessarily systems that privilege the poor and the voiceless and minorities. Often when we burn institutions down what rushes in is another kind of unfairness.
And so, I think when we talk about it we have to hold in our heads these two conflicting notions and very hard. One is I don`t want to be a monster when they go low. We go high. Stipulated. But, two, I cannot aid and abet in the destruction of democracy as I know it. And so, there`s a middle place and I don`t know what that is.
O`DONNELL: I`m glad I`m not the only confused one.
Ruth Marcus, a last word before our commercial break here?
MARCUS: I think you`re totally right about the wave, Lawrence, and it`s a powerful wave. I lived through Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. I lived through Monica Lewinski and Bill Clinton.
This moment feels very different, but it`s also a moment that`s going to require a lot of complicated judgments from us as it evolves.
O`DONNELL: Ruth Marcus and Dahlia Lithwick, thank you for joining us tonight. Really, really appreciate it. Thank you.
Coming up, Fox News attacks on special prosecutor Robert Mueller, they`re getting serious. They`re trying to drive him out.
And tonight, what will President Trump do when Paul Ryan asks him to cut Medicare and Social Security? Remember, the campaign promise?
O`DONNELL: (AUDIO GAP) increasing their attacks on special prosecutor Robert Mueller involving the Russia probe, according to "The Washington Post". Trying to stop or curtail the investigation as it moves further into Trump`s inner circle. For months, the president and his allies have been seizing on any whiff of possible impropriety by Mueller`s team or the FBI to argue that the Russia probe is stacked against Trump, potentially building the political support needed to dismiss the special counsel.
Fox News is now making the case against Robert Mueller for the president. Here`s Sean Hannity and Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett just last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: This entire witch hunt needs to be shut down and shut down immediately. What is beyond clear tonight is that Robert Mueller has assembled the most partisan special counsel in history and disgraced in terms of equal justice under the law. The rule of law and, of course, that means our constitution.
GREGG JARRETT, FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: Mueller has been using the FBI as a political weapon and the FBI has become America`s secret police, secret surveillance, wiretapping, intimidation, harassment and threats. It`s like the old KGB that comes for you in the dark of the night banging through your door.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And so, the FBI is now the secret police. The FBI is now the KGB in Republican language.
"The Washington Post" reports several law enforcement officials said they are concerned that the constant drum beat of conservative criticisms seems designed to erode Mueller`s credibility, making it more politically palatable to remove, restrict, or simply ignore his recommendations, as his investigation progresses.
And today, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee where Republicans on the committee went at the special prosecutor`s investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: We`ll also investigate the unprecedented bias against president Trump that exists when we allow people who hate the president to participate in the investigations against him.
REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: We do not know the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller`s team.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: If he kicked everybody off Mueller`s team who is anti-Trump, I don`t think there`s anybody else.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: The question really is if Mueller was doing such a great job on investigating the Russian collusion, why could he have not found the conflict of interest within their own agency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now, David Frum, Senior Editor of The Atlantic and Daniel Dale, Washington Correspondent for the Toronto Star. And David, what do you make of this Republican undermining effort where they go to the point of saying the FBI is the KGB?
DAVID FRUM, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: It seems like this is building to a crescendo because there`s relatively limited time here. There is a point at which point the Mueller process is a legal process. Once indictments are actually filed, once things go in front of the courts, then even if the President were to somehow find some way to terminate Mueller, the indictments continue to grind. And as indictments come closer and closer to the inner circle and maybe reaching into the family, you know, while you`re talking before about politics versus the law.
I mean with the President has just as power to pardon 20 people as he does to pardon 2 but it looks dark pardoning if you`re pardoning 20 people including your son-in-law. So this has to happen soon and locks like the republicans are working themselves into the moon and not just the people on Fox from whom you expect this. But actually members of the House of Representatives.
O`DONNELL: Daniel Dale, in a country where 60 percent disapprove of President Trump, it is somehow surprising to Republicans that some of those 60 percent might actually work at the FBI.
DANIEL DALE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it`s probably not surprising to them. But they see an opportunity here. You know, it is no mystery. They know even if they`re not privy to the details of the investigation they know this is bad and it`s going to get worse with Michael Flynn`s deal and a bunch of other stuff we know from reporting and the public record.
I think you know what`s important to remember is that usually you`d say it`s stupid to attack the prosecutor who has so much power over the President`s future and your party`s future. But what their doing is building a political case because, you know, impeachment is a political process. And so what their doing is laying the groundwork to say even if, for example, the President faced serious charges, they`re building a political case to their voters, to their base that those charges should not result in their removal of the President because they`re the product of a, you know, a poisoned tree so I think that`s what`s happening here.
O`DONNELL: David Frum, I can`t understand the long-term strategy here because if you had someone who you think maybe involved in or near just one particular subject that was being investigated, and all you need to do was get that politician beyond that point and then everything would be OK. I can understand some of this strategy but if they do this and if they somehow managed to discredit Robert Mueller, they still have Donald Trump in the Whitehouse. They still have the most unpopular President that any political party is saddled with.
And he`s not going to get better. They know, don`t they, that he is going to be as reckless and embarrassing to them next year as he is now?
FRUM: Yeah. But this is not a long-term strategy. To the extent there`s a strategy and I`m only guessing here. I don`t know. But let me point to two things that make this rational.
The first is, with the greatest respect to Daniel, I don`t think -- once you get to the point where you`re actually debating an impeachment it won`t matter whether some FBI Agent said something about Donald Trump that two thirds of America would agree with. What matters is stopping this investigation from getting that point. They don`t have a lot of time.
You know, Manafort indicted, Flynn with his deal but if it comes closer to the President even than that this becomes unstoppable. It needs to be stopped now. The second thing to remember here`s what is going to happen to the Republican Party. One this tax go through, should it go through at that point the donors to the Republicans Party don`t need Congress anymore,
They just need one instrument because even if there`s two Democratic Houses they cannot repeal the tax cut or limit it without the president`s say so, a concurrence. So the party will be even more all in for Trump after losses in November 2018 than it is now.
O`DONNELL: And with the polls are against the Republicans on any move they want to make here. We have a new poll saying 59 percent believe that or either definitely or probably that Trump officials had improper contact with Russia in the election. 30 percent definitely probably did not. Also, confidence in Mueller to conduct a fair probe, 55 percent are confident. 36 percent are not confident. And, Daniel, I don`t understand a party that wants to go up against those poll numbers.
DALE: Well, they`ve -- you know, all of their -- everything they`re doing has poll numbers like that or worse. You know, they were trying to pass a health care plan in the 20s or lower. They just passed a tax bill that`s in the 20s. And so, everything Republicans have done in 2017 polls very badly.
I think their conclusion is that they have no good options here, that this Mueller train is heading somewhere they really don`t want to be. And so they`re going to do everything they can to try to, you know, if not bring up a positive bring down everyone else`s negatives so it`s, you know, it`s overwhelmingly negative strategy but this is what people backed into a corner in politics sometimes do.
O`DONNELL: Daniel Dale and David Frum, thank you both for joining us tonight.
FRUM: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
DALE: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Coming up, Republicans haven`t passed their tax bill yet. But as soon as they do, if they do, they have plans to cut Medicare. Does Donald Trump know about those plans? He promised he would never do that. And, the little secret in the tax bill that is harmful to the victims of the California fire. It is an amazing provision of the tax bill that affects the victims of this fire.
O`DONNELL: After passing a tax cut package, they hope they pass it, a tax cut package that wildly increases the Federal deficit and the debt. The Republicans have a plan to fix that. They intend to violate Donald Trump`s campaign promise and sharply cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Here`s Paul Ryan on this yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: We`re going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit. But you have two things you`ve got to do. Reform entitlement programs, grow the economy. Tax reform grows the economy. So we basically planned in this term throw big budget bills.
Two entitlement reform bills, one economic growth tax reform bill. The first one, passed the House, failed the Senate. This one, both tax bill has passed the House and the Senate. We are on track with that and then next year were going to have to get back at entitlement reform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Who could forget candidate Trump saying the opposite of what Paul Ryan just said?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: We`re not going to cut your Social Security and we`re not cutting your Medicare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Up next, Republicans are going to try to cut Medicare and Social Security and their biggest opponent should be Donald Trump if his campaign promise means anything. Also coming up, a provision in the tax cut bill that hurts victims of the California fires. And the most shocking thing about that provision is California House Republicans voted for it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN: Medicaid, setting it back to the states, capping the growth rate. We have been dreaming of this since I`ve been around. Since you and I were drinking at a keg. You know?
RICH LOWRY, REPORTER: I was thinking about something else. He was thinking about reforming Medicaid.
RYAN: I was, I was. Yeah. I`ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We are on the cusp of doing something that we have been long believed in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Ah, to be young and Republican and drinking out of a keg. Joining us now, Bruce Bartlett, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury under President George H.W. Bush and the author of the book the Truth Matters, also with us Norm Orinstein a Congressional Scholar with the American Enterprises and co-author of the book One Nation after Trump. And Bruce, you produced this. It was an easy prediction I think we can all agree that these Republicans would absolutely violate the Trump campaign pledge not to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And here we are. That`s their plan for next year.
BRUCE BARTLETT, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it`s been their plan for 40 years. The term starve the beast was I believe coined by your old boss, Senator Moynihan. I`m not sure about that. But the plan has always been you blow up the deficit, you blow up the debt with huge tax cuts and then you say, oh, the deficit is so large we have to cut spending.
And of course, you have people like Grover Norquist who has a tax pledge which means you can never raise taxes to deal with any deficit, no matter how large and all you`re left with is cutting entitlement programs because, of course, defense is also off the table. And there`s simply doing what they`ve been telegraphing the world that they`re going to do for years.
O`DONNELL: Yes, that`s right. Senator Moynihan stared that the in the early stages of the early `80s and finally figured it out that way. Norm, this is such a clear violation of a Trump campaign promise. It is -- it is hard to see how Donald Trump works his way around this one because Social Security recipients, Medicare beneficiaries, they understood very clearly what he was saying in the campaign.
NORM ORINSTEIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And they are Trump voters. Many, many of them. By the end of Donald Trump`s tenure in the Whitehouse, Lawrence, it`s going to be much easier to count the promises that he kept than the ones that he`s violated. And my guess is he`ll be saying I didn`t make that promise before we`re done. What`s so striking to me is the in your face nature of what Paul Ryan and what so many Republicans in Congress have now been saying.
They`ve almost abandoned the notion that the tax cuts are designed to pay for themselves and basically they`re making clear what the strategy is. And all along it`s been Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security and not just cutting but transforming and privatizing. You put those together with some of the other elements in the bill including, you know, taking away protection for people who are subject to fires, the state and local taxes, you look at number of Republicans in California, New Jersey, New York who are enough to kill this Bill in the House of Representatives. .
Susan Collins who is and Paul Ryan basically said forget any promises that were made to you. And if they still vote for this bill, I think there`s a Machiavellian reason that Trump kept all of the ambassadorships and other top government positions vacant to give them to people falling on the grenades for the greater good of privatizing Social Security and blowing up the debt.
O`DONNELL: And Bruce, passing this tax bill is by no means a sure thing. There`s a real struggle in the differences between the house and the senate.
BARTLETT: Well, That`s true, but on the other hand, they have a lot of flexibility as you know in Conference Committees to jigger things around and write stuff, new stuff, in -- not even in either the house or the senate bills and I`m guessing that a tremendous number of deals are being worked on as we speak.
O`DONNELL: And, Norm, we`ve seen bills get this far and not ever make it out of Conference Committee but we`ve also never seen a republican tax cut bill struggle this way. They usually clear easily and they usually have Democratic votes coming with them.
ORINSTEIN: Yeah. Of course, part of the problem that they have got is having to do this through reconciliation in the Senate. And they don`t have the kind of support that George W. Bush had from Max Baucus and others in 19 -- in 2001 and again to a lesser extent in 2003. But I think they`ve created big problems for themselves in part by crafting a bill designed to punish blue states without understanding that they`re going to be some Republicans who are placed in a very uncomfortable position by that and by making it clear they`re taking on programs that are very popular in those states.
O`DONNELL: We will have more on the punishment to blue states, especially the blue State of California coming up. There`s a provision in there that hurt it is victims of the fires that are raging there tonight. Bruce Bartlett, Norm Ornstein, thank you both very much for joining us tonight, really appreciate it.
ORNSTEIN: Thanks Lawrence.
O`DONNELL: And as I just said those wildfires in California are actually a factor in the tax bill and could possibly switch some California Republican Congressmen`s` vote on that tax bill.
O`DONNELL: Out of control wildfires continue to burn in Southern California, including in the city of Los Angeles, as officials today raised the wildfire threat index to purple for the first time in history, indicating extreme fire danger and wind gusts up to 80 miles an hour. And those winds are what are spreading the fire at shockingly high speed. The fires have now covered more than 116,000 acres.
Fires shut down the Getty Center Museum in Los Angeles and damaged the nearby home of Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch. One thing that could make the recovery much harder for Californians is the Republican Tax Cut Bill. According to the Los Angeles Times, the House Republican Tax Cut Bill would eliminate the deduction for personal losses from wildfires and earthquakes, a provision that seems targeted at California. 11 California Republicans actually voted for that tax bill with that provision in it in the House of Representatives. Those congressmen will have another chance to vote on the bill for final passage. Their constituents have already been busy protesting that go tax legislation. NBC News Correspondent Jay Gray joins from us Ventura, California with the latest on the wildfires. Jay?
JAY GRAY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Lawrence. A lot of unfolding this evening across Southern California. We`ve got some new numbers. We`ll get to those. But I want to show you what this fire has already done.
This is a graphic representation of how it`s affecting these neighborhoods. shells of cars and homes, able just rubble and ash left behind here, as these fires grows six across Southern California tonight, from Los Angeles all the way to San Diego. Firefighters, more than 5,500, are on the front lines battling these blazes. We now know that here we`ve lost more than 400 homes.
That`s a number that`s expected to climb more than 200,000 people have been evacuated. Authorities think that number will go up as well. Firefighters when you talk to them they say these flames aren`t going to stop until they get help from Mother Nature. They need the dry conditions and severe winds to die down. That`s not likely to happen until late this weekend. That`s the latest here in Ventura, Lawrence, back to you now.
O`DONNELL: NBC`S Jay Gray, thank you very much for that report. Tonight`s Last Word is next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: Towards the end of the speech on Israel today, President Trump began to slur his words, leading some to speculate he may have been wearing dentures. The Whitehouse insists it`s nothing unusual and that most of his words are slurs. Take a look.
TRUMP: God bless the United States. Thank you very much.
SETH MEYERS, COMEDIAN: I can`t believe both our first and our last President had fake teeth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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