IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Democrats pressure McConnell for vote. TRANSCRIPT: 1/15/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Elliot Williams; Lisa Graves; Jon Tester, Helene Cooper, David

Show: THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL Date: January 15, 2019 Guest: Elliot Williams; Lisa Graves; Jon Tester, Helene Cooper, David Frum

  LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Rachel.

And I have something on my show tonight that you haven`t had in a long time.  It`s a senator who is not running for president. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  Oh, where did you find one? 

O`DONNELL:  Actually, you did have Chuck Schumer earlier tonight.  He`s the leader, that doesn`t count.  So we have Jon Tester. 

MADDOW:  Oh, good.  I tried to get him to run. 

O`DONNELL:  I guess I could spend the whole time asking him which senator he`s going to endorse for president of the 27 Democratic senators.

MADDOW:  And even though he doesn`t want to run for president, if and when he`s tapped as a running mate for whoever is the nominee, on what grounds would he say no?  Or would he even consider?  I`m excited about even this. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, I do think, it`s pretty obvious his not running for president is just so obviously positioning himself for vice president, that I can do a good ten minutes on that. 

MADDOW:  The horse race will kill us all, my friend. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Lawrence. 

O`DONNELL:  We have breaking news tonight.  NBC News has confirmed that special prosecutor Robert Mueller in consultation with the House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings will likely restrict some of Michael Cohen`s testimony to that committee when Michael Cohen appears in a hearing on February 7th.  A person close to Michael Cohen and familiar with what Michael Cohen will tell the committee says he plans to describe President Trump as, quote, a madman.  And that person said the p testimony will give you chills, the source told NBC News.

Also tonight, "The New York Times" is reporting that Donald Trump is on the brink of announcing the withdrawal of the United States from NATO and he has been on that brink of doing exactly that for a year.  A year that has been apparently terrifying for senior Trump administration officials who have been working hard to prevent Donald Trump from giving Vladimir Putin what one source calls the gift of the century. 

NATO is the most successful peace keeping organization in the history of war and peace in this world.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization founded after World War II is always described as a military alliance, but the alliance was formed so that none of the country`s in it would ever have to use their militaries again.  That was the dream of NATO. 

And at the beginning, it was impossible to believe that that dream could come true.  Europe plunged into full-scale war twice in the first half of the 20th century.  There is only 20 years between World War I and World War II.  Some soldiers fought in both of those wars.  War in Europe is the normal condition throughout European history right up until with American leadership NATO was founded, turning European countries from declaring war on each other, to for the very first time being allies, real allies, durable allies over decades and decades.

And over the decades, as NATO slowly earned its success, more European countries wanted to be part of NATO especially after the collapse of the country most opposed to the very founding existence of NATO, the Soviet Union.  In the 21st century, Vladimir Putin has turned Russia back into an anti-NATO posture and Russia is NATO`s biggest adversary.  Vladimir Putin would love to weaken NATO.  He would love to infect NATO allies with dissension among themselves and in Vladimir Putin`s wildest dreams, he would love NATO to collapse the way the Soviet Union did. 

But the Soviet Union was a sprawling, imperialistic, messy, corrupt dictatorship rotting from within and NATO is a collection of modern democracies with relatively transparent governing processes that include free debate, healthy dissent and real democracy and those were earmarks of governments and countries that have thrived in this world since World War II.  And so, NATO, being the most successful peace organization in history, the organization that has kept the peace in Europe, has not been rotting from within for years like the Soviet Union was, and is not on the verge of collapse.  But NATO is now facing the greatest risk in its history and according to a new report in "The New York Times" tonight, that threat comes from within from the president of the United States.

Helene Cooper who will join our discussion in a moment teamed with Julian Barnes to deliver a riveting insider`s account of Donald Trump`s attempts to destroy the most successful peace-keeping organization in history under the headline Trump discussed pulling U.S. from NATO, aides say amid new concerns over Russia.  The sources cited for "The New York Times" report are senior administration officials.  That means they are currently working at the Trump administration at a senior level and very, very worried. 

Other sources for the article are referred to as former officials.  In the article, the former officials in the Trump administration and the current senior officials in the Trump administration seemed united in their fear that at any moment, Donald Trump could announce the withdrawal of the United States from NATO and we will discuss with Helene Cooper that may be the reason these Trump officials are talking to "The New York Times" now.  They may be the only way that they can stop Donald Trump from destroying NATO, is to go public with the story like this, and to create enough outrage and opposition in Washington in the Senate and the House, even Republicans, they are hoping that probably that Republicans will raise their voices in opposition to stop the president from doing what he apparently wants to do.

Helene Cooper`s report says senior administration officials told "The New York Times" that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance.  Now, the president`s repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump`s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides and an FBI investigation into administration`s Russia ties. 

The article quotes the former under secretary of defense under President Obama saying withdrawing from NATO, quote, would be one of the most damaging things any president could do to U.S. interests.  It would destroy 70-plus years of painstaking work across multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic, to create perhaps the most powerful and advantageous alliance in history.  And it would be the wildest success that Vladimir Putin could dream of.

Retired Admiral James Stavridis who was the supreme allied commander of NATO told "The New York Times" that withdrawing from NATO would be, quote, a geopolitical mistake of epic proportion, even discussing the idea of leaving NATO, let alone actually doing so would be the gift of the century for Putin.  The Trump administration official`s account as reported in "The Times" depicts the president of the United States who cannot comprehend why NATO is important and how other countries set their spending levels for defense. 

Quote: He appeared not to grasp the details when several tried to explain to him that spending levels were set by parliaments in individual countries.  In other words, they are set exactly the same way they are set here, by the Congress, not by the president, which is something the president still doesn`t seem to understand especially when it comes to his wall. 

The Trump officials told "The Times" that the president`s inability to understand the importance of NATO is like his inability to understand why the United States does not simply seize Iraq`s oil.  "The Times" says while officials have explained multiple times why the United States cannot take Iraq`s oil, Mr. Trump returns to the issue every few months.  On December 20th, when Defense Secretary James Mattis shocked Washington with his publicly released resignation letter to the president, Mattis put in writing his disagreements with the president emphasizing their disagreement about NATO and respect for allies. 

James Mattis wrote, while the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interest or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.  We must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense including providing effective leadership to our alliances.  NATO`s 29 democracies demonstrated that strength in their commitment to fighting alongside us following the 9/11 attack on America.

In his resignation letter, James Mattis said that in order to provide a full transition to a new confirmed secretary of defense, he would stay on the job through February so that he could attend NATO`s meeting of defense ministers at the end of February.  President Trump then took the position of in effect, you`re not resigning because I`m firing you, and he pushed James Mattis out of the Defense Department on July 1st.  On January 1st, sorry. 

At that NATO defense minister`s meeting in February, for the first time in history, NATO defense ministers will not be joined by an American secretary of defense who they can trust. 

Joining our discussion now, Helene Cooper, Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon correspondent for "The New York Times", and one of the reporters that wrote today`s piece on NATO.  Also joining us is Evelyn Farkas, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and MSNBC national security analyst, and David Frum is a senior editor at "The Atlantic". 

And, Helene Cooper, I want to start with you, and what I felt I was reading in your article is fear.  Every source from within ad administration, current senior officials and former officials sound afraid of what the president might do in terms of simply trying to remove the United States from NATO. 

HELENE COOPER, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Hi.  Well, I think there is certainly a lot of concern in the national security -- among President Trump`s national security advisors when he first raised this.  And, you know, each time that he`s raised this, they sort of brushed it aside and just moved on, not sure whether he was serious or not, but he`s returned to it again and again.

I think, though, that you would see both in Congress, in the Senate, in the House, and you`d see a widespread move to push back against this.  It`s something, if President Trump actually did propose this and let`s be clear that he hasn`t.  He`s discussed this and brought it up again and again with his national security advisers, but has not made an actual move to do so yet.  So, there`s a lot of hope that by surfacing some of this, that national security aides are hoping that they`ll be able to cut it off at the pass. 

O`DONNELL:  Helene, did get a feeling that some these sources were talking to you because the same kinds of things that they said to the president simply have not gotten through to him for over a year now, and they are hoping that that magic of it being on the front page of the "New York Times" breaks through to the president? 

COOPER:  I`m not sure I`m ready to prescribe motive yet as to why they talk us.  This is something that Julian and I have been working on for quite some time.  You recall that NATO summit meeting last summer, it was a huge deal.  I mean, it was in many ways a disaster.  President Trump berated all of these European leaders in the middle of the meeting.  He was angry then about not meeting specific defense spending targets and ever since that meeting, things have been dribbling out, you know, for instance John Bolton who`s then had just taken over as the national security advisor, Jim Mattis, the defense secretary had done a lot at the meeting to sort of shield the NATO from what many people viewed as the president`s, some, one word that one aide used was a tantrum.

But since then, you know, President Trump has according to these aides returned to the idea of withdrawing from NATO.  So, this is one of the things that nobody is quite sure how serious he is, and one administration official I spoke with said specifically, you know, whenever he brings this up, we sort of move on to something else and sort of act as if this isn`t ne really happening and move on and then there are other crisis to deal with. 

The problem now, though, is that you have Jim Mattis now gone.  You have one of the biggest defenders of NATO leaving administration.  You have this meeting that you just mentioned coming up and there`s fear that President Trump may return to this idea and then, the question becomes who within administration will stand up to him. 

O`DONNELL:  David Frum, your reaction to Helene Cooper`s reporting in "The Times" tonight? 

DAVID FRUM, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC:  Well, Helene, congratulations on that story that you co-authored, and it surfaces something that a lot of people have been worrying about for a long time. 

You can see not just inside the White House but in the conservative world, the mind being prepared to jettison NATO and to accept a Russian view of the world.  On other networks, you hear issues from Belarus and Montenegro and Ukraine, repetition of this Russian talking point, which is if anybody checks anything Vladimir Putin wants to do, they are voting for war.  The alternatives are, give Putin what he wants or else you`re for war.  That was a big theme of the 2016 election where a vote for Hillary Clinton was the Russian propaganda and other sources said it was a vote for war because she would sometimes t disagree with Vladimir Putin.

It`s also important to understand especially for peace-minded people that there is a bad habit of describing this discussion as want to be tough on Russia or soft on Russia.  The goal here is not to be tough on Russia.  The people are being tough on Russia are people who are pillaging that country to the point where 67 percent of urban Russians lack the basic amenities of modern life, indoor plumbing, hot water, heating.  That it is America who is trying to be soft on Russia by helping Russia to become a modern country. 

It is a poor place that is diverting a lot of its resources into corruption and confrontation.  And the goal of NATO is not to fight Russia but ready the way so Russia can be a proper European country, democratic, and inside the European Union. 

O`DONNELL:  In Helene`s reporting, there is certain kind of Brexit element to it which is that withdrawing from NATO requires basically a year`s notice to NATO, so if the president announced it tomorrow, it would take about a year to actually execute the withdrawal.  That would give Congress time to act to prevent it.

Let`s listen to what Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier said about what Congress should do if the president does this.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA:  I think that act would be so destructive to our country and to our ability to protect the national security of every American that it would be a ground for some profound effort by our part, whether it`s impeachment or the 25th Amendment.  He can`t do that. 


O`DONNELL:  Evelyn Farkas, so the resistance to this in Congress goes beyond the concept of just passing legislation that would tie the president`s hands and prevent him from doing it.  It`s seen as so grave and so grave a disservice that it again, raises the issue of possible impeachment.

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Yes, Lawrence, first of all, it`s important to note that there are a lot of people in this town who know what`s been going on behind the scenes and they are not talking.  Some of them were talking right in the aftermath of the summit last summer and some of them were talking to people like me.  And those people were senior administration officials, some of whom have since moved on. 

When Secretary Mattis resigned in light of what I had heard, I also started talking a little bit to reporters because frankly speaking, when you look at Secretary Mattis` letter, he puts in there, I`m resigning, as you he pointed out after February 28th; the date of the summit, because at that summit, I want to be able to be there to articulate and protect Department of Defense interests.  Department of defense interests, which really means American in national security interests. 

So, Secretary Mattis is signaling he`s afraid if he`s not there at the next summit, something bad might happen, the department`s interest might not be represented fully.  And the reason for that is because President Trump got awfully close at that last summit meeting to withdrawing and it required the intervention of cabinet level officials and it sounds like also some foreign officials to keep him from doing so.  And in fact, it was so bad when he went to give the press conference, not everybody knew -- most people didn`t know except for Donald Trump what he was going to say.

So, the Senate actually got word of this and if you recall in the last Senate, in the last House, they passed legislation tying the president`s hands.  So, the Graham-Menendez bill from the last Senate, it would have to be passed again, but it contains a provision that says the president cannot withdraw the United States from NATO without the approval and the consent of the Senate. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Helene Cooper, you spoke to Europeans, European sources in the article.  What do you expect their feeling to be at that next defense minister`s meeting without James Mattis there? 

COOPER:  There is a lot of worry among the Europeans.  I remember I was with Mattis -- with Defense Secretary Mattis when he first went right after the inauguration when he took his first foreign trip and we went to Munich to the security conference and we also went to Brussels, to NATO. 

And there was so much reassuring that Jim Mattis was doing with the Europeans.  It was a lot of don`t worry.  You know, we still have these institutions, this -- America is still America.  So, there was a lot of that. 

Most of the European diplomats I talked to love Jim Mattis and they tend to, they were pretty aghast -- this whole idea of Mattis as the last man standing sort of almost the last adult in the room sort of originated in Europe.  So I think there is going to be a lot of concern.  We don`t know yet how Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, I mean, he does support -- we believe he does support NATO but we`re not -- nobody is sure yet or how strong he is going to be on defending the alliance to President Trump. 

He has made a point of saying that he no longer -- he doesn`t feel that the Pentagon should be the department of no to President Trump, which is how the White House after awhile started to view the Pentagon under Jim Mattis. 

O`DONNELL:  Helene Cooper, thank you very much for joining us with your important reporting.  Really appreciate it.

And, Evelyn Farkas, David Frum, thank you for joining the discussion. 

And when we come back, everything that Attorney General Nominee William Barr said and prepared remarks about protecting the Mueller investigation sounded good to supporters of the Mueller investigation, but then came the questions and now, no one is really sure what William Barr would do as attorney general when it comes to some of the most important aspects of the Mueller investigation, including Robert Mueller`s final report.

And Senator Jon Tester is here and when the senator goes on TV these days, he must be announcing his exploration of his campaign for -- we`ll see.  We`ll see what Jon Tester wants to talk about. 


O`DONNELL:  The devil is in the details.  That means in Senate confirmation hearings, the devil is in the questions and today was a perfect example of that.  We knew last night that in the confirmation hearing today of William Barr for attorney general, William Barr would say that he believes that it is vitally important for special counsel Robert Mueller to complete his investigation. 

We had the written version of William Barr`s prepared testimony last night, so we knew he was going to say that he`s been friends personally and professionally with Bob Mueller for 30 years.  We knew he was going to say if confirmed, quote, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation.  And we knew he was going to say his friend Bob will be allowed to finish his work. 

And all of that sounded good to supporters of the Mueller investigation, then came today`s questions.  What will happen to Robert Mueller`s report when he hands it to Attorney General William Barr?  At first, William Barr seemed to say he would make the report public.  It was an important investigation, he said, and Americans needed to know about it.

But as the questions wore on, it became much less clear how transparent William Barr would be with the Mueller report after he repeatedly cited the Justice Department rule for special counsel reports.  That is a one- sentence rule, which says at the conclusion of the special counsel`s work, he or she shall provide the attorney general with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the special counsel. 

Declination just means the decision not to prosecute.

Here`s Senator Maize Hirono trying to figure out what William Barr would do with Robert Mueller`s report. 


SEN. MAIZE HIRONO (D), HAWAII:  You said that the Mueller report is confidential pursuant to whatever the regulations are that applies to him.  So, I`m just trying to get what you`re going to be transparent about. 

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE:  The -- as the rules stand now, people should be aware that the rules I think say that the independent -- the special counsel will prepare a summery report on any prosecutive or declination decisions, and that be treated as any other declination or prosecutive material within the department.  In addition, the attorney general is responsible for notifying and reporting certain information upon the conclusion of the investigation. 

Now, how these are going to fit together and what can be gotten out there, I have to wait -- I would have to wait.  I`d want to talk to Rod Rosenstein and say what he has discussed with Mueller. 


O`DONNELL:  So as of the completion of William Barr`s testimony today, we`re not really sure what will happen with whatever report or reports Robert Mueller hands over to the Justice Department if William Barr is confirmed as attorney general.  And it would seem ethically routine for an attorney general nominee of a president already under criminal investigation by the Justice Department to promise to recuse himself from supervising that investigation in his confirmation hearing, but that`s not what happened today. 

William Barr said he would consider any recusal recommendation made by Justice Department experts, but that final decision after hearing their advise on recusal would be his decision and his alone. 


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Under what scenario would you imagine that you would not follow the recommendations of the career ethics officials in the Department of Justice to recuse yourself from the Mueller investigation? 

BARR:  If I disagreed with them. 


O`DONNELL:  And that was that.  William Barr was not asked if he believes he could credibly explain to the American people why he did not recuse himself after Justice Department officials recommend that he recuse himself, if that happens. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar pressed William Barr on what line a president would have to cross to be guilty of obstruction of justice. 


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  The president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right? 

BARR:  Yes. 


BARR:  Any person who persuades another -- yes. 

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  You also said a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right? 

BARR:  Yes. 

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  And on page two, you said that a president deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction, is that correct? 

BARR:  Yes. 

KLOBUCHAR:  And what if a president told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon? 

BARR:  I`d have to know the specific -- I`d have to know the specific facts. 

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  And you wrote on page one that if a president knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction. 

BARR:  Yes. 

KLOBUCHAR:  OK.  So what if a president drafted a misleading statement to conceal a purpose of a meeting?  Would that be obstruction? 

BARR:  Again, I`d have to know the specifics. 


O`DONNELL:  After a break, we have analysis of today`s confirmation hearing from two experts, Elliot Williams, former Justice Department official, and Lisa Graves, former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 



BARR:  In my opinion, if he attempts -- if a president attempts to intervene in a matter that he has a stake in to protect himself, that should first be looked at as a breach of his constitutional duties.


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice.  He worked on the Senate confirmations of Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.  Also Lisa Graves, former chief counsel for nominations for the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And Lisa and Elliot, you`ve been on the opposite sides of this process.  Elliot with the nominee, Lisa on the side grilling the nominee.  Let me start with Elliott who`s been there with the nominee.  Your reaction to what you saw today and what do the supporters of the Mueller investigation have to feel good about, what do they have to worry about at the end of this testimony?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:  Well, look, Lawrence, if you like Matthew Whitaker, you`re going to love William Barr now because, on all of the matters that are of importance to the Mueller investigation, on the question of whether he would rely on the opinions of career attorneys at the Justice Department, he didn`t give answers.

Skilled attorneys and he`s a very skilled attorney, spend their entire career learning how not to answer questions.  And answering questions in a manner that sounds sort of good but really isn`t actually providing any meaningful information.

And he never said he would rely on the answers of -- the thoughts of career attorneys and he never said that he would commit to making the public -- the report public.  This is a matter of enormous public interest and not making a commitment to make the report public should be very troubling.

So across the board, he hasn`t proved -- he hasn`t shown himself to be much a departure from his predecessor.  So to answer your question, no, people should not be thrilled on this question of what to do with the Mueller investigation.

O`DONNELL:  Senator Chris Coons took one of the most important questions of the day, both from history and from his own observation and listening to Donald Trump for two years.  Let`s listen to Chris Coons`` question that got a strong answer from William Barr.


SEN. CHRIS COONS:  If the president directed you to change those regulations and then fire Mueller or simply directly fired Mueller, would you follow Richardson`s example and resign instead?

BARR:  Assuming there was no good cause.

COONS:  Assuming no good because?

BARR:  I would not carry out that instruction.


O`DONNELL:  And so Lisa Graves, William Barr essentially said there will be another Saturday night massacre if he is ordered to fire Robert Mueller by Donald Trump.

LISA GRAVES, FORMER STAFF MEMBER, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  That`s what he said but I`m not sure that that`s what he would do because, in other parts of his answers, he basically made himself out to be sort of the opposite of Elliott.

And in many ways, what we see with Barr is two people, the person who wrote that inflammatory memo basically siding with the president at every turn and mapping out an extreme position of extremely broad presidential power.  And then you saw the statement this morning prepared for the hearing which he tried to strike a more moderate tone.

He`s someone who has taken a lot of extreme positions over the years.  He has demonstrated a record of hostility towards women`s rights, toward LGBTQ rights, civil rights, civil liberties, immigrants` rights, and more.

But he also has this extremely troubling, extremely differential views towards the president and I think that he would unfortunately not take the Elliott Abrams approach in reality.  In fact, I think that he would be someone that might be more of an attorney enabler versus an attorney general really defending the rule of law for our country.

O`DONNELL:  We just mixed-up our Elliotts.  We`re talking about Elliott Richardson.  Lisa slipped it.

GRAVES:  Oh, Elliot Richardson.

O`DONNELL:  We have all three famous Elliotts in government are involved in this segment tonight, including Elliott Williams to who the next question goes.  Elliot, we are on the tip of the iceberg of what this hearing was about.

In fact, it was about a lot more than the Mueller investigation, some fascinating comments by William Barr about how he would treat states that have legal -- made marijuana legal, how he would not try to interfere with that from his position as attorney general which is something of a change from Jeff Sessions.

All of that we don`t have time for because we`re in an atmosphere where we are facing the urgency of the Mueller investigation.  And so the focus is entirely on that.  It seems like William Barr, barring any shocking surprise has the full support of all the Republicans certainly on the committee, will certainly have full support likely of all Republicans on the Senate floor.  And so it seems like this is Robert Mueller`s new boss.

WILLIAMS:  Yes.  It seems like it is Robert Mueller`s new boss.  But again, let`s be clear.  The mere fact that someone held a job 30 years ago doesn`t entitle him to it and doesn`t entitle him to get through without a full and complete vetting.

So a great example is on criminal justice matters, he expels a lot of views and Lisa -- the one thing that Lisa left out on her amazing list of places where he`s problematic.  But this sort of lock them all up views that were in favor in the late `80s and early 1990s that is carried in today, that even Republicans today, Senate Republicans and a Senate that voted 87 to 12 for a criminal justice reform just views that aren`t held.

And so yes, he`s likely to be confirmed but the Senate should still go through its full responsibility to dig up his record and really see what`s hiding back there.  And again, a lot of it is just out of touch and certainly, you know, certainly worthy of the second look from the rest of the senators.  But again, this process is flawed to the point that someone can get through a confirmation hearing without really answering questions in a meaningful manner.

O`DONNELL:  Elliott Williams and Lisa Graves, thank you both for joining us on what is so far the most important Senate hearing of the year soon to be outdone by surely dozens of hearings involving the Mueller investigation and other things.  Thank you very much for joining us.  Really appreciate it.

When we come back, a Democratic Senator who had to win a very tough campaign against Donald Trump effectively campaigning against him in Trump country will join us next.  Jon Tester of Montana is our next guest.


O`DONNELL:  It was a strange day of unity in the House of Representatives.  The likes of which we have not seen during the Trump era in Washington.

The House of Representatives finally united on something in a stunning bipartisan vote of 424-1.  The House of Representatives voted to condemn the language Republican Congressman Steve King used in "The New York Times" interview about white supremacy.

And the vote against that resolution, the one vote against it was not from Steve King.  The one vote against that resolution was from Congressman Bobby Rush who said he thought the resolution went too easy on Steve King and he proposed that the House vote to censure, formally censure Steve King.  Steve King obviously knows he is not fighting for his survival on the House of Representatives and so Steve King actually voted against Steve King today.


REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA:  I want to ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, let`s vote for this resolution.  I`m putting up a yes on the board here because what you state here is right and it`s true and it`s just.


O`DONNELL:  Before that, a massive show of unity in the House of Representatives, President Trump tried to divide and conquer the Democrats in the House of Representatives.  And once again, he discovered just how completely unified the Democrats are in their resistance to Donald Trump and the Trump wall.

Donald Trump bypassed the Democratic congressional leadership and invited at least six Democratic House members from swing districts to the White House along with about nine Republican members of the House for what the president hoped would be a bipartisan looking meaning that he could televise to show that he was reaching out to other side and trying to solve the shutdown.

But all six of the Democrats, including Abigail Spamberger who as a freshman has never been in a governing meeting in the White House, turned down the invitation from the president and stood solidly behind Nancy Pelosi`s simple negotiating position on the Trump wall which, of course, is just saying no to Donald Trump.

Everyone in the Senate now knows that what started as the Trump shutdown is now the Mitch McConnell shutdown because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could bring any of the House spending bills that have been passed to a vote in the Senate and they would pass the Senate.  Montana Senator Jon Tester is outraged by the Senate`s refusal to act in the shutdown.


SEN. JON TESTER (D), MONTANA:  I take an oath of office to protect this country first and we`re turning our back on this country.  We can continue to have the debate about the best way to secure the border, but it should not be done holding the American people hostage.

We`ve got a lot of work to do and that work starts with opening the government of the United States.  If we don`t do it or if we say we`re only going to do it with permission from the president, then we all ought to hold our head in shame.  I yield the floor.


O`DONNELL:  When we come back, Senator Jon Tester joins us.



SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER:  Republicans are feeling the heat.  Trump, some that he seems impervious to people`s pain, which is just disgusting.  But our Republican colleagues in the Senate, more and more of them are beginning to scramble.  If enough of them do and put pressure on McConnell to bring the six bills that the House passed to the floor, we can get the government open.


O`DONNELL:  Joining us now, Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana.  He is on the Appropriations Committee.  Senator Tester, is Chuck Schumer right?  Is that what you`re hearing from your Republican colleagues, you could pass these House spending bills if Mitch McConnell would simply put them to a vote?

TESTER:  I think if the Senate would do his job and act like the legislative branch, not the executive branch, and bring these bills up forward which passed unanimously back in September, Lawrence, I think there would be plenty of votes to pass them and the government would be open because the House has already passed them.

And I would say this.  If they put it on the president`s desk, I think the president would sign them.  I think he`s sick of the shutdown too.  And I think it would give them a way out.  And on the odd chance that he would veto them, bring them back and do what the legislative branch does and vote to override that veto.  And I think there are votes to do that.

So look, all I`m asking is that the Senate act like the greatest deliberative body in the world and take up the issue that`s most important to this country right now, and that`s reopening the government.  And if we`re able to get those bills on the floor, if Leader McConnell will put them on the floor, I think they pass and I think they pass handily.

O`DONNELL:  What has the shutdown meant to your constituents in Montana?

TESTER:  It`s been bad.  I mean we`ve got the second most government workers in Montana per capita in the country.  And so when it comes to getting on an airplane, we got TSA agents, which on Monday morning I jumped on the plane and they had smiles on their face but they were not happy.

This puts our country at security.  We have a 550-mile border with Canada.  It puts our security at risk in this country because quite frankly, all these people are working without pay.  They`re working and they`re not getting a paycheck.

And I`m telling you that like most Americans, that could mean losing a house.  It could mean losing a car, not sending your kid to college.  It means a lot of things.  And that`s just on the folks who aren`t getting paid.

We`ve got farm service agency offices that are closed, that are shuttered, they`re not open.  We just passed a farm bill.  I think it`s a pretty good farm bill.  Farmers can`t get access to the FSA offices.  Why?  Because they`re closed due to the shutdown.

We have businesses that have small business loans out there that can`t close on the small business loans because the SPA shut down.  The list goes on and on, Lawrence.  And the impacts are real to real families.

And I can`t talk enough about how irresponsible this is for Congress not to do its job, pass the bills, put them on the president`s desk.  If the president vetoes them, do our job, try to get a veto override.  But the ultimate thing here is this is not doing our economy any good, it`s not doing people any good.

We`ve got to recruit people to work in customs, in border protection, with TSA.  And quite frankly, this is going to push people away.  Who would work for a government who in the last year has been shut down three times?  This is crazy.

O`DONNELL:  And we have the president`s chairman of economic advisers saying it`s like a vacation for federal workers.  He seems to be ignoring that we have federal workers like you`re talking about TSA agents who are working.  The difference for them is they`re simply not being paid.  As no federal workers subjected to this are being paid.

TESTER:  Yes.  I mean this is not a vacation.  This creates a lot of uncertainty and anxiety and families in Montana and across this country, and that doesn`t do anybody any good.  And from a taxpayer standpoint, it is a gross waste of money because you`ve got folks who are basically locked out of their jobs, that can`t do their jobs.  They should be made whole in the end so they`re going to get paid for not working.

In the meantime, how do these folks pay their bills?  They don`t have access to that paycheck that is so critically important because so many families in this country live from paycheck to paycheck, and government workers are no exception in that.

O`DONNELL:  Senator Tester, you just got reelected to a six-year term in Montana.  You had to beat Donald Trump who went to Montana to beat you.  It wasn`t just -- you`re running against two people, the name on the ballot and Donald Trump.

With that win and with a six-year term, are you tempted to get into another electoral fight with Donald Trump and try to go one on one with him in 2020?  Because it seems every time one of your Democratic colleagues in the Senate goes on television, they announce that they`re exploring the possibility of taking on the president.

TESTER:  Well let me put it this way.  I think that we have got a lot of work to do in this country, starting with opening the government.  And I hope Mitch McConnell or Donald Trump sees the light and opens the government.  We can talk about border security because I think it`s important to talk about but let`s open the government first.

The second thing is we have got a lot of needs in this country.  There are a lot of folks, there`s no affordable housing to live in so we need to address that.  We need to address infrastructure.  We need to address health care costs.  The list goes on.

And we need to make sure we do right by our Veterans to make sure that they can get the health care while we build the VA to makes sure they can get access to the VA.  So the list goes on and on, Lawrence.  Look, I`m flattered that people would think that I would make a good opponent for President Trump.

You`re right, we took him on and we beat him in Montana.  But the end result here is that we need to move this country forward.  And there are so many things that Congress needs to do and the Senate needs to lead on.  And if we don`t do it, those things won`t get done, and that`s not the way you make America great again.

O`DONNELL:  What did you learn running against Donald Trump, as you had to in Montana, that the candidates who do decide to run are going to need to know?

TESTER:  Well, I think you`ve got to have a great ground game.  In other words, you got to hit all the communities that are out there and listen to people and listen to them.  Because the fact is that everybody has got good ideas, and if you can use some of those good ideas to help move the country forward, move the economy forward, that`s a good thing.

The other thing as I say that you have got to be yourself.  You can`t be something you`re not.  If you are, people see through that and they`ll vote you out of office or you`ll never get into that office you`re trying to aspire to.

So it`s just a lot of work, it`s a lot of hard work, and it`s a lot of listening.  My folks always say you have two ears and one mouth, act accordingly.  That`s very true.  I believe very true on the campaign trail.  You need to tell people what you stand for, but you also need to listen to them to find out what they`re concerned about so that you can help make a change in the country and keep this country the greatest country in the world.

O`DONNELL:  Senator Tester, I`m going to leave you with this thought to sleep on.  The last time we saw this many Democratic senators run for president was 1972.  And the guy who emerged from the field with the nomination was George McGovern from South Dakota.  So your region has done very well when it comes to highly contested nominations in the Democratic Party.

TESTER:  I would look at it from this perspective.  We had one of the greatest majority leaders that we`ve ever had.  His name was Mike Mansfield and he was a great majority leader because he got people together.  He didn`t divide them.

And if he was alive now, he would say this government shutdown is a huge mistake.  Legislative branch, do your job.  Open the government.

O`DONNELL:  The great Senator Mike Mansfield.  Senator Jon Tester, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  I really appreciate it.

TESTER:  Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  We`ll be right back.


O`DONNELL:  That`s tonight`s last word.