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Trump destroyed notes of meetings. TRANSCRIPT: 1/16/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: John Brennan; Ben Cardin; Jason Johnson; Claire McCaskill

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

I guess it`s been a thing, the fake newspaper for almost a year or so.  The Harvard Lampoon putting out editions of "The Harvard Crimson," the campus newspaper, filled with that kind of stuff.  Then is it spread during the New York City newspaper strike one time and actually some lampoon graduates putting out, it was "The Daily News" -- one of the newspapers was down and I think they put out fake copies along with people from "The National Lampoon."  There is a rich comic history at work here. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS":  And, you know, I remember at the very start of the -- right after the election, the "Boston Globe," speaking of Massachusetts, the "Boston Globe" did its own not quite satirical, but another sort of thought experiment front page as to what might become of the United States, what might become of the news under a Trump presidency, trying to get people to imagine if the president kept to his word on some of his promises. 


MADDOW:  So, sometimes people do this to themselves, sometimes people punk other papers.  In this case, it`s an activist group punking "The Post", and "The Post" is not happy about it. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, for me, this isn`t the time because the real headlines are so strange.  I just don`t want to have to go through the process of trying to figure out, is this the joke one or is this the real -- not now. 

MADDOW:  This is not a time when we need to shock ourselves out of the idea these headlines are real.  Yes, I know the feeling. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes.  Thank you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  Thanks, my friend. 

O`DONNELL:  Well, Donald Trump discovered today that his job does not come with the same privileges that come with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez`s job.  Donald Trump doesn`t have floor privileges.  The president of the United States does not have the same floor privileges that a member of Congress has, a member of the House of Representatives can enter the House chamber at any time and a member of the House of Representatives can also enter the Senate chamber at any time. 

Donald Trump cannot.  The president of the United States needs an invitation.

And today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the president because of the government shutdown that he created, she cannot extend an invitation to him to deliver his State of the Union Address in the House of Representatives to a joint session of Congress. 

And Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez put the blame for the shutdown right where it belongs as of now, and that is in the United States Senate, and she did that by exercising her floor privileges and walking right in to the United States Senate chamber to deliver a letter to Mitch McConnell, telling him to bring the government funding bills that have already passed the House of Representatives to a vote in the United States Senate, where those bills would pass if Mitch McConnell would simply allow a vote. 

Now, House members entering the Senate chamber is a rare occurrence.  Most people working in the Senate never see it happen.  Most staff members never see that happen.  House members entering the Senate chamber in protest -- well, that`s even more rare. 

And the way the country discovered that that was possible, that House members have the Senate floor -- the Senate floor privileges to do that was when the then very few women members of the House of Representatives marched across the capitol campus and invaded the floor of the United States Senate to demand that the Senate Judiciary Committee re-open the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas so that they could hear testimony from Anita Hill about what she said was the sexual harassment she suffered from Clarence Thomas. 

And I was working in the Senate then at the time, and I can tell you that that hearing was not going to be re-opened.  That was not going to happen, if the women of the House didn`t do what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez decided to do today. 

Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez is the second most famous member of the House of Representatives.  Nancy Pelosi being the most famous member.  Now, we have not seen such a famous freshman member of the House since John Quincy Adams was elected to the House of Representatives after serving as our sixth president of the United States. 

And in modern politics, in social media politics, with fame comes power -- the power to direct media attention where you want it, the power to push a policy position into the national political debate.  And Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez did that today more effectively than any other member of the house of representatives could have done it because of that fame. 

And there is apparently no one in the House of Representatives who understands fame and knows how to use fame better than Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, who does not need a staff to explain Instagram to her or any other social media or mass communication tool, including how she should handle herself on Stephen Colbert`s show.  She went to the Senate chamber looking for Mitch McConnell, after she checked the majority leader`s office adjacent to the Senate floor and she was told he wasn`t there, but it`s a large office suite with plenty of places to hide, but what are you going to do?  The staff says the majority leader isn`t there. 

Every majority leader also has a separate Senate office that is granted to him as a regular member of the Senate representing his state, and so, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez took the Senate subway over to the Russell Senate office building where McConnell`s Kentucky Senate office, a place he rarely sets foot. 

Here she is on the Senate subway on the way to that office, #wheresmitch. 


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK:  OK, guys, we went to Mitch McConnell`s office where we went to the Senate cloak room, #wheresmitch. 


O`DONNELL:  Here is the congresswoman at the end of her search in the Russell Senate Office Building. 


OCASIO-CORTEZ:  He`s not in the cloak room.  He`s not in the capitol.  He`s not in the Russell building.  He`s not on the floor of the Senate and 800,000 people don`t have their paychecks, so where`s Mitch? 


O`DONNELL:  Where`s Mitch?  He wasn`t on the Senate floor.  He wasn`t in the cloak room.  He wasn`t in any of his offices. 

There is one other place congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez could have gone but it wouldn`t be easy to find.  There is no marking on the door.  It is Mitch McConnell`s hideaway.  That`s literally what it`s called, a hideaway. 

Senior senators like McConnell get an extra office, some of them smaller than their official office, some of them quite grand, and they are secret rooms in the capitol building near the Senate floor with no markings on the door and it is the one place where a senator can go and literally hide away. 

Today, Mitch McConnell might have actually been using his hideaway as the place to literally hide away from Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the place to hide away from the inescapable fact that this shutdown now belongs to Mitch McConnell.  Donald Trump started it and Mitch McConnell is doing everything he can to keep it going for Donald Trump.  He is not using the powers of his office the way Nancy Pelosi is to solve the problem that Donald Trump handed to them.  He is using the powers of his office to block a solution to the shutdown, and so the shutdown continues.

And because a State of the Union Address takes enormous planning by the speaker of the House and by the House sergeant at arms, and by the capitol police and hundreds and hundreds of government workers who have to coordinate to provide security and logistics for a 21st century State of the Union Address, many of whom are not currently being paid, those workers, Nancy Pelosi has decided she cannot demand that the federal workforce necessary to support a televised State of the Union Address from the House of Representatives be ordered to work without pay. 

And so, Speaker Pelosi sent a letter to the president today saying, quote, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union Address in writing to Congress on January 29th.

Now, actually most state of the union addresses delivered by most presidents have been delivered in writing only, but that changed in the 20th century when Woodrow Wilson delivered his State of the Union Addresses in person as a speech to a joint session of Congress, and every president after him has done the same thing.  Those speeches became ultimately delivered to national audiences on radio and then on television and then Donald Trump shut down the government and may have pushed the presidential State of the Union Address back into the 19th century. 

And comments to reporters today, Nancy Pelosi suggested the president had another option if he doesn`t want to just deliver his State of the Union Address in writing. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  He can make it from the Oval Office if he wants. 


O`DONNELL:  And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer supports Speaker Pelosi`s decision. 


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER:  Well, what is the State of the Union?  The government is closed because of President Trump.  If it continues to be closed on the 29th, I think it`s a good idea to delay it until the government is open. 


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Ron Klain, a former senior adviser to Joe Biden and President Obama and the former chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And Claire McCaskill, former Democratic senator from Missouri who is now an MSNBC political analyst. 

I won`t ask you where your hideaway was in the Senate. 

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  By the way, all senators have a mount.  Once they open the convention center. 

O`DONNELL:  It used to just be the seniors. 

MCCASKILL:  Right.  When they open the convention center, the new facility --

O`DONNELL:  There`s more space. 

MCCASKILL:  They moved a lot of offices out of the capitol, which gave space for every senator to have a hideaway. 

O`DONNELL:  Let`s just for a moment, it`s not as bad as it sounds. 

MCCASKILL:  No, it`s not. 

O`DONNELL:  A lot of productive work gets done by the senators in the hideaways.  It`s where you can read, it`s where you can think, and occasionally take a nap between those votes in the middle of the night.  So, it`s not --

MCCASKILL:  Most of the time it`s use when we`re voting late at night. 

O`DONNELL:  Because it`s close to the floor. 

MCCASKILL:  Right.  Or if you need to do a quick meeting and you can`t get all the way back over to your office in Hart and you need to stay in the capitol complex because of other things going on.  So, the name is really tacky.  We need to change the name.  It is weird because they won`t even tell senators where another senator`s hideaway is. 

O`DONNELL:  No, that`s right. 

MCCASKILL:  The only way you find out is if the senator tells you where it is. 

O`DONNELL:  If you get invited. 

MCCASKILL:  Right.  It is a culture that probably needs to be changed. 

O`DONNELL:  Some of them are quite magnificent.  We could go on and on about this. 

Ron Klain, after the break, we`re going to talk about what`s the most impressive hideaway we`ve seen in the Senate. 

But -- so this -- Nancy Pelosi, when the president shuts down the government, goes to work and she says our job is legislating, our job is funding the government.  It`s the Congress` job to fund the government. 

She goes to work.  She funds the government.  She passes bills to fund the government. 


O`DONNELL:  Those bills get sent to the United States Senate. 

MCCASKILL:  Correct. 

O`DONNELL:  Nothing happens.  That`s where the shutdown is now, isn`t it? 

MCCASKILL:  It`s Mitch McConnell.  He`s been looking at his shoes and hiding under his desk from day one. 

Remember, he got 100 votes for a bill to get the funding through, 100 votes, unanimous in the Senate.  Mitch McConnell did that.  He did that because he had gotten an agreement from the president. 

O`DONNELL:  Before the shutdown. 

MCCASKILL:  Right.  He had gotten an agreement from the president that he would sign it. 

Well, then a company of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter got on their shows and, you know, gave him what for, and he then reversed course.  He backed up the truck and said, no, I won`t sign it. 

So Mitch knew from the beginning this was going to have a bad ending.  So Mitch`s goal was very simple, I don`t want to be anywhere near this.  So, if you remember, he immediately started saying, this is about the Democrats and the president.  This is about the Democrats and the president. 

And you got to give him this, the polling shows that only about 5 percent to 6 percent or 7 percent are blaming the Republicans in Congress.  They`re blaming Trump. 

And what Mitch McConnell is doing is trying to protect his members, those that are up for election in 2020 in tough states.  He doesn`t want them to have to take this vote because he knows they`re going to have a tough road to run in terms of winning in 2020.  If we don`t put more pressure on him, and I applaud what the congresswoman did today, we all need to be putting pressure because this -- if Mitch McConnell wanted to get this done, he could get it done tomorrow. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, and Ron Klain, some of these individual senators are going to come under increasingly enormous pressure.  Johnny Isakson, Republican from Georgia, said an extraordinary thing today.  He said that the way to get this shutdown to end -- and he represents the -- one of our most important airports, the Atlanta airport obviously, major hub, major factor in all of the economy of Georgia.  He wants to see -- he`s advocating a strike by TSA agents, including at his airport, so that that will force the president. 

Now, let`s consider what this is.  He`s advocating an illegal strike --


O`DONNELL:  -- by federal workers because he is afraid, he is afraid of himself doing his own job that he`s paid to do and cast a vote in the United States Senate. 

KLAIN:  Yes, it`s crazy, Lawrence.  I mean, look, to win approval for his 14th century wall, President Trump may have backed himself into a 19th century State of the Union Address, as you said at the outset of the program. 

But, you know, look, Trump is kind of in some ways delivering on what he promised us.  He said he would run the government the way he ran the Trump Organization.  He`s got hundreds of thousands of workers who he`s nod paying, he`s got contractors who he`s stiffing.  He`s got a giant disaster, the Trump shutdown, that he`s put his name on top of. 

I mean, this is what we would have expected from Donald Trump.  He`s the most incompetent president in history.  His incompetence is kind of the driving force behind this shutdown. 

O`DONNELL:  I`ve just been handed the breaking news from "The New York Times" tonight, the latest inside the Trump White House report of what the president is thinking about this.  And I think you might be able to help the president with this, Senator McCaskill. 

This is Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni with their sources inside the White House reporting what Donald Trump is saying, and he is saying, we are getting crushed, Mr. Trump told his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney after watching some recent coverage of the shutdown.  According to one person familiar with the conversation, why can`t we get a deal? 

You want to answer that for the president? 

MCCASKILL:  Well, it`s pretty simple, you know, he should have taken yes for an answer.  His administration asked for $1.6 billion.  We gave them $1.6 billion.  That`s all they asked for. 

O`DONNELL:  When you say we, this was done before the shutdown, before Christmas, way back when Claire McCaskill was still a senator. 

MCCASKILL:  Still a senator, exactly. 

And so, you know, this is what`s nuts about this and, you know, good Nancy Pelosi, what a badass.  I mean, her realizing that she could make -- remove the invitation for the State of the Union, I think it was a brilliant political play.  It made sense.  It was reasonable.  I think most people think it`s reasonable. 

And it, once again, she has outmaneuvered him in terms of leveraging the situation.  He is not going to get $5 billion for his sea to shining sea wall.  And the sooner he realizes that and figures another way out of this, and Mitch McConnell is the guy who can do it. 

O`DONNELL:  And, Ron, another thing about withdrawing the invitation for the State of the Union, we`ve all seen -- you worked in the Senate and Senator McCaskill knows this.  We`ve all seen how many people go into overdrive and overtime to put together what it takes to deliver a State of the Union in the 21st century with all the security that that takes.  Most of those people aren`t being paid. 

KLAIN:  Yes. 

O`DONNELL:  Nancy Pelosi is saying this is not an emergency.  Under a shutdown work rules, it`s only supposed to be basically emergency critical personnel who are working.  We can`t say to them that this speech is the kind of emergency that must bring them out back from home into work for this.  I don`t see how she could actually justify it if she wanted to make the case that it is an emergency for us to hear from Donald Trump. 

KLAIN:  Yes, I mean, it`s a stunning thing to think about, the amount of security and logistics that go no the State of the Union Address.  You have sitting in one room obviously the president, all members of his cabinet except one, who is off in a secure location, the entire Supreme Court and obviously the entire House and Senate. 

Our entire government sits in one room for one night a year.  It is obviously the highest risk security event we have every single year.  So the number of people it takes to secure that, to deal with the transportation logistics of getting these people back and forth and all these things, it`s just an enormous number.  To ask those people to work for no pay, which is the Trump proposition right now, is ridiculous. 

I think Nancy Pelosi did something very smart as far as it went.  She should have gone the rest of the way.  She might as well have invited Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh to deliver the State of the Union Address because they appear to be running our country right now.  Whatever they say goes with Trump.  They appear to be the highest authority in the United States. 

O`DONNELL:  Claire, let me -- Senator McCaskill --

MCCASKILL:  Claire`s great. 

O`DONNELL:  I`m going back to before your Senate days when we first met. 

MCCASKILL:  Exactly. 

O`DONNELL:  When I use that. 

Just so I understand, Ron Klain is both possibly has the most -- one of the thickest resumes of anyone who appears on this show, having worked for a president and vice president, Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice Department, but he is our resident stand-up comedian. 

KLAIN:  I appreciate that. 

O`DONNELL:  He`s the one who is going to do the Ann Coulter give the State of the Union Address joke, I just want to make it clear because there is no, you know, laughing audience here. 

MCCASKILL:  OK.  Got it. 

O`DONNELL:  Senator Claire McCaskill in her debut as a former senator on THE LAST WORD, thank you for starting us off tonight. 

Ron Klain, thank you for joining us. 

And when we come back, Senator Ben Cardin, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will join us on the Senate`s important vote on Russian sanctions in which 11 Republicans voted against President Trump`s position on sanctions. 

And Michael Cohen reportedly plans to testify that his former close friend Donald Trump is, in Michael Cohen`s words, a madman.  Now imagine if you were a CIA director and you heard a former close friend of the president describe him as a madman, how would you feel?  I`ll ask former CIA Director John Brennan, next. 

And Jason Johnson will join us to discuss how Republicans have turned on Steve King for his racist comments and try to answer the question, why now?


O`DONNELL:  So, how do you feel when we first reported last night, maybe you heard it today, that President Trump`s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in testimony that he`s preparing for Congress next month, will call the president of the United States, quote, a madman.  How do you think former CIA Director John Brennan felt when he heard that?  I`ll ask him that in just a moment.

Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee is considering issuing a subpoena to Michael Cohen as part of the committee`s ongoing Russia investigation.  Senator Richard Burr, the chairman of the committee, confirmed to ABC News that a subpoena is possible. 

"Wall Street Journal" is reporting that Michael Cohen`s public testimony next month before the House Oversight Committee, quote, is expected to be highly restricted to avoid interfering with the special counsel`s Russia investigation, suggesting the hearing may be less revelatory on certain subjects than anticipated.  According to a person close to Michael Cohen, he will not be able to talk about some of the topics that he has discussed with special prosecutor Robert Mueller. 

But a source tells NBC News that Michael Cohen is still expected to give an explosive recounting of his experience working for Donald Trump.  This source who is familiar with Michael Cohen`s prepared remarks says that Cohen plans to describe the president of the United States as a, quote, madman.  The testimony will give you chills.

Joining our discussion now, John Brennan, former CIA director.  He`s a national security and intelligence analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.

As a former director of the CIA, knowing so much more than we can ever know about the actual weight of the responsibility of all the national security apparatus that the president controls, what is like to hear a comment like that from someone who knows Donald Trump better than anyone who`s working for him now?

JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  Well, first of all, I think it`s collaboration of what a lot of people have believed for so long, a belief that has been borne out by a lot of Mr. Trump`s actions and policies and statements over the last two years.  But I think more than that, it`s very worrisome, that this is a person who American citizens entrust with their national security, with their future prosperity, and somebody who is just so self-promoting, self-advancing, and is interested in self preservation at the expense of this country.

I think it really does underscore what Michael Cohen has witnessed over the course of many years.  So, I think many of us are going to be interested in hearing his first person representations of what it was like to see Donald Trump up close and personal.  Again, it`s very, very worrisome because he is in the Oval Office.  He`s the incumbent right now. 

And we all should be very worried about this lack of stability.

O`DONNELL:  There`s so much that`s developed recently this week that the president and information about Russia, including that he basically restricts anyone in the administration from really knowing what he has said in these conversations with Vladimir Putin.

And if you`re standing there as a CIA director and these things occurred that were -- no one else was allowed in the room or the translator`s notes were not available, the stories that we`ve been reading about how this has been handled, what would you do?  You would have an interest still in knowing what was said in that room, but you can`t find out from the president.  What would a CIA director do? 

BRENNAN:  Well, you`d need to know what transpired in that two-hour exchange, because the Russians know. 


BRENNAN:  And the Russians have internalized whatever message it was and the exchanges that Mr. Trump had with Mr. Putin.  And so, I would be very, very interested in pursuing avenues to try to have a better understand of it. 

First of all, I would go to the White House and, you know, try to insist that we need to know

O`DONNELL:  Would you try to go face-to-face with the president --

BRENNAN:  I would. 

O`DONNELL:  -- and say I need to know -- after he got back from Helsinki or -- 

BRENNAN:  I`ve never encountered a situation like this before, because the previous presidents I`ve worked for, both Democrat and Republican, would want to make sure that their senior staff and, you know, directors of the intelligence community would understand because that gives us a sense how the Russians might try to exploit whatever was discussed there.  So, it`s still -- you know, it`s inexplicable why Mr. Trump did not allow his national security adviser and secretary of state in that meeting.  And, clearly, he was trying to keep something from them.  What was he concealing and what did Mr. Putin come away with from that conversation? 

So, you know, intelligence agencies do not collect against the president of the United States or U.S. officials, but we do have this need to understand how the Russians are going to take advantage of whatever Mr. Trump might have said. 

O`DONNELL:  And so, this is the strange presidency where he actually does these things on TV.  And during the campaign, he asked the Russians to steal Hillary Clinton`s e-mail and provide them in effect to the Trump campaign or to leak them to the American public.  And because he did it on TV, the Republicans` defense was, oh, it`s a joke. 

I want to look at another piece of video.  There is no sound to this.  This is Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.  They`re at the G-20 dinner in Germany.  And Trump is highlighted there on one part of the screen.  Putin`s down there.  There`s this signal that he gives to Putin and we`re going to rerun it because we look at that and I`m wondering if you had picked this up as some kind of intelligence, that the American government picked up in a Russian restaurant of two people giving that kind of signal, and you know that these people are in positions of trust by their governments to -- essentially an adversarial position. 

I mean, what do you think you`re looking at when you see that? 

BRENNAN:  It really is quite curious.  I think it just reflects that there is a special relationship between those two individuals.  And if any previous president had done that, I wouldn`t, quite frankly, think twice about it because I`m sure we would have gotten the full readout. 

O`DONNELL:  Yes, right. 

BRENNAN:  The fact that Mr. Trump with all the baggage that he has on his relationship with the Russians and Mr. Putin and Russian interference, and the way that he has had this fawning attitude towards Mr. Putin and he has these very, you know, one-on-one conversations with him that he keeps from others, it really just continues to fuel the suspicions and the concerns about what is going on, and that`s why the -- I think the intelligence community agencies have a right to try to understand better, again, how the Russians may be taking advantage of somebody like Mr. Trump, who I don`t believe is an asset of Russia, you know, by the formal term, but I do believe that he is being manipulated and exploited.

And that Putin, who is a trained KGB intelligence officer, is a master puppeteer in many respects.  I just feel as though Mr. Trump is -- has fallen prey to what Mr. Putin is trying to do, undermining the national security of this country.  And when I hear Mr. Trump say that he is thinking about getting out of NATO, an alliance, an organization -- we celebrate the 70th anniversary of NATO this April 4th.  This the cornerstone of our national security and our partners and allies in Europe, and to think we`re going to remove ourselves from that alliance, that partnership that is so important as far giving the United States access to land bases in Europe, giving us overflight rights in Europe, preventing the expansion of first the Soviet Union and Russia. 

I can`t even begin to understand what is the basis of the logic behind it, other than he believes that he is doing this and he`s going to gain some favor from Mr. Putin and others.  It is just totally head-scratching. 

O`DONNELL:  And on NATO, what seems to be lost in it all, the one lesson you might be able to teach Donald Trump is remember World War I, remember World War II, they were 20 years apart.  Twenty years later, those same countries, those same European countries were all very strong allies thanks to, among other things, an organization called NATO. 

BRENNAN:  And American leadership. 


BRENNAN:  And we were not recoiling from our leadership responsibilities around the world.  And Mr. Trump is doing it every time, whether it be on Syria or whether it be on issues like our NATO alliance.

O`DONNELL:  John Brennan, thank you very very much.

BRENNAN:  Thank you so much.

O`DONNELL:  Really appreciate it.

And when we come back, 11 Republicans broke with the president today on Russian sanctions.  They voted against the president`s position.  We will be joined by a senator who was there.


O`DONNELL:  A majority of the Senate voted today to block President Trump`s removal of sanctions for companies associated with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.  But the blocking maneuver required 60 votes in the Senate, which it did not get, and so the president is now free to remove those sanctions.

Fifty-seven senators voted to block the president, including all Democrats and 11 Republicans.  Forty-two Republicans voted to support the president`s removal of sanctions.  Today, Senator Lindsey Graham said the latest ISIS attack in Syria that killed 19 people, including at least four Americans, proves that President Trump was very wrong when he said that he had defeated ISIS in Syria.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA:  ISIS claims responsibility.  If true, that shows that they`re not defeated and they have been emboldened.


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland who is a member of the Finance Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees.

Senator Cardin, that vote in the Senate today needed 60, got 57, but picked up 11 Republicans.  What does that tell you about Republican willingness to go against President Trump at this stage?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), FINANCE AND SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEES:  Well, it tells me that the clear majority of the United States Senate disagrees with President Trump.  This is not the time to ease sanctions on Russian entities.  Russia has done and continues to do its business against the U.S.  And it`s important that we let Mr. Putin know that we`re not going to be easing on sanctions.  We actually should be tightening sanctions.

So I think it was a very healthy vote.  It was an uphill battle to try to get it passed and then get over a president veto, but I think it`s a clear message we disagree with the president on how he`s managing the relationship with Russia.

O`DONNELL:  Is that an indication of what would happen if Mitch McConnell were to allow a Senate vote on the government funding bills that Nancy Pelosi has moved through the House of Representatives and sent to the Senate?

CARDIN:  There`s no question on my mind that the majority of senators would vote to open government.  This is clearly something that President Trump has done.  You remember, we did that once before, we did it in December by unanimous vote.  We voted for a continuing resolution and the appropriation bills that have nothing to do with the border security issues have already been acted on by the Senate.

So clearly, if Mitch McConnell allowed us to vote on the bills that passed the House, they would pass the Senate and we stand a good chance of opening government.

O`DONNELL:  And the -- another Senate piece of business I really want to get you on is confirmation hearing for William Barr as the president`s attorney general nominee.  It looks like he has no resistance from Senate Republicans.

And so that seems like he will definitely be moved out of the committee on to the Senate floor.  And after some debate, if nothing changes in these dynamics, it looks like he will be confirmed.  Do you expect that to be pretty much a party line vote?

CARDIN:  Well, I think we still want to get more information from Mr. Barr.  I know there are still meetings taking place with senators.  We are concerned about whether he will make available the full report from the Mueller investigation.

We also want to make sure that he will not impede the needs of the Mueller investigation.  So that`s of major concern.  There are other issues, including border security issues in which Mr. Barr`s comments have raised several questions.

So at this point, look, we`re not naive.  We know that there seems to be a rally by the Republicans behind this nominee, but we do think that we really need to get better answers before we have a vote on the floor of the Senate.

O`DONNELL:  And the -- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did that very rare thing today of walking into the Senate chamber where House members rarely do it, to bring the message that the Senate -- the shutdown now belongs to Mitch McConnell, in effect, in the Senate.

If he would simply bring up these bills, that would be the only way to test what is now only a theoretical threat by the president, that he would veto something.  And we`ve all seen presidents threaten to veto things that when they finally pass, depending on the vote count, they choose not to veto.  But there is no way to know that unless you put a bill in front of the president.

CARDIN:  You`re exactly right.  And we know that President Trump has caused this shutdown.  He said he would be proud to have this shutdown.  But now Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is denying the Senate the opportunity to act as a co-equal branch of government.

We can clearly act -- and let the president do what he wants to do.  We may override his veto.  He may sign it.  But it`s our responsibility to open government.  We have the votes, do it.

And the legislation we`re talking about is bipartisan legislation.  A lot crafted under Republican leadership of committees so this is not a partisan effort.  This is for the Congress to exercise its power as a co-equal branch of government, to do our work, take up the bills to open government, and if the majority -- I`m sure there is a clear majority, let that -- the will of the body go forward.  And Mitch McConnell is blocking that.

O`DONNELL:  I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking because you`re in Maryland, you represent more federal workers than other senators.  But senators in big states like Texas, New York, California represent really, big, big, big numbers of federal workers.  This is all over the country.

And the president`s council of economic advisers have come out today and said that this shutdown is actually affecting economic growth, it`s affecting the health of the economy.  We`re not sure what it takes to get through to Donald Trump, but what we are sure of is he sure doesn`t care about any of your constituents as government workers who aren`t getting paychecks.

CARDIN:  I`m very proud to represent really dedicated government workers who have been laid off, furloughed without pay, who are working without pay.  There`s also a lot of other people who have lost their jobs as a result of the federal agencies being closed.  The impact on our economy is billions of dollars a week.

Along with Senator Van Hollen and my colleagues from Virginia, we`ve asked President Trump to meet with these people, meet with the federal workforce because they`ll tell you they want to work and they want to get paid for what they`re doing.  The mission`s critically important.  Whether it`s airline safety or food safety or small business loans, the IRS and helping people with their tax refunds.

All of those critical missions that are now not being done as a result of President Trump closing -- partially closing government.  We never should have had it.  The shutdown needs to end.

O`DONNELL:  Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it.

CARDIN:  Thank you.

O`DONNELL:  And when we come back, Jason Johnson will be joining us, along with Claire McCaskill to discuss why Republicans have turned on Steve King and why Donald Trump has not turned on Steve King.


O`DONNELL:  Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush introduced a censure resolution against Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King today which was then read by the clerk on the House floor.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  July 13, 2006, on the floor of the House of Representatives, comparing immigrants to livestock.  Representative Steve King of Iowa stated, "we could also electrify this wire with this kind of current that would not kill somebody but it would simply be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it.  We do that with livestock all the time."


O`DONNELL:  The censure resolution was then referred to the House Ethics Committee for review.  On Monday, House Republicans stripped Steve King of his committee assignments.  Local newspapers in Steve King`s home state of Iowa are now calling for his resignation.

Yesterday "The Des Moines Register" editorial board wrote, "Steve King should resign.  He has lost even the potential to effectively represent his Iowa constituents."  The "Sioux City Journal" whose editorial board previously endorsed King wrote, "It`s time for Steve King to go."

Here is what Steve King said in a radio interview yesterday when asked if he would resign.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have no committees left.  Let me ask you this question, are you going to resign?

STEVE KING:  No.  No chance at all.  I`ll go out of this place dead before that happens.  And the lord will have to make that decision.


O`DONNELL:  Here`s what Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said when asked about Steve King and President Trump.


REPORTER:  You and also Senator Ernst Have condemned Representative King for his comments.  And I`m wondering why haven`t you also condemned the president for the many insensitive comments, racially tinged comments that he has made?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER:  Look, it`s been my practice for the last couple of years not to make sort of random observations about the president`s tweeting and other things.


O`DONNELL:  The one thing the House of Representatives is now united on is condemning Steve King.  Why now?  Republican Minority Leader of the House Kevin McCarthy seemed to suggest that Republicans should have condemned Steve King earlier under the leadership of Paul Ryan.

When we come back, former Senator Claire McCaskill and Jason Johnson will consider what has changed in the House of Representatives that has turned Republicans against Steve King.


O`DONNELL:  Here`s the Republican Minority Leader of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy talking about Steve King on a radio program in Kevin McCarthy`s district.


KEVIN MCCARTHY:  This wasn`t the first time that he used this language.


MCCARTHY:  When he used this, I came out directly and denounced it and was frustrated.  But I knew that I watched past leaders did not act.  And I just felt, I don`t care if it hurts me or not, I`ve got to just do the right thing.


MCCARTHY:  But when I had looked in the back of the things he had said even recently and done, it doesn`t reflect us and it can`t reflect us.


O`DONNELL:  Joining our discussion now, Jason Johnson, politics editor of, an MSNBC contributor and former Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill who is also now an MSNBC contributor is back with us.

Jason Johnson, who could Kevin McCarthy be talking about?  He`s talking about past leaders.  Apparently, recent past leaders of the House of Representatives.  I guess he couldn`t think of Paul Ryan`s name.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITICS EDITOR, THEROOT.COM:  Yes.  He couldn`t remember Paul Ryan.  He couldn`t remember Reince Priebus.  He couldn`t remember tons of other leaders of the Republican Party.

This is not new.  You know, Steve King has been a white nationalist for years.  He has said white nationalist things.  They have heard about them.   They have dismissed these statements in the past.

This newfound religion of the Republican Party, which is let`s condemn white nationalist talk but let`s not stop white nationalist policies, does not impress me at all.  So the idea that McCarthy can`t really remember and says this isn`t us, this is you.  This is the Republican Party.

If you have someone like that who is in your party who has felt comfortable behaving in this way for 10 years, and you have several other people that have the same belief system, they just know how to say it with sugar on top, that is a reflection of your party.

And until you make those fundamental changes in what you accept ideologically and policy-wise, censuring him, moving him from committees, none of that really matters.

O`DONNELL:  Senator McCaskill, every elected Republican in the House of Representatives voted against Steve King on that resolution about his language the other day including Steve King.  He voted against himself, saying you know, I shouldn`t have said it.  Donald Trump silent.  Donald Trump, the elected Republican in Washington has nothing to say about Steve King.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, FORMER SENATOR:  Yes.  Donald Trump this week said he hadn`t really followed it.  Now, he was up to the minute on Jeff Bezos`s divorce.


MCCASKILL:  But he hadn`t managed to follow a candidate for Congress that he supported in so many ways, said that they were on the same page together, they saw things -- by the way, Kevin McCarthy, talk about phony baloney.  He gave Steve King 10 grand last year out of his PAC.

So if this is something that has troubled him for a long time and he didn`t understand why Paul Ryan hadn`t acted, why did he write a $10,000 check to Steve King last year for his re-election?  All of these guys were there for Steve King, for his re-election last year.  So it really is phony.

O`DONNELL:  Jason Johnson, do you think it`s the election results in November that has changed their attitude toward this?

JOHNSON:  Part of it, yes.  You know, the Republicans are shook, right.  They`re like oh, my gosh, we lost a bunch of seats and the new faces of the Democratic Party are brown and young and millennial and I guess we need to clean up our act.

But the problem is, you know, cleaning up your act or healing or improving, you can`t heal if you can`t agree on the diagnosis.  And I have said this before, most of the Republicans and a lot of Democrats, they couldn`t even tell you what a white nationalist is.

So they`re condemning something because they`ve heard it`s a bad word, but they don`t know what it is.  They don`t know what white nationalism is.  And they`re not really trying to remove it.

White nationalism is the wall.  White nationalism leads to what happened with police in Ferguson.  White nationalism is what you have that killed people in South Carolina.  White nationalism is what killed people in Pittsburgh.  White nationalism leads to violence.

And until the Republican Party and the Democratic Party understands that white nationalism isn`t just mean words that make people feel bad but it results in domestic terrorism, all of this is a dog and pony show.

O`DONNELL:  Senator McCaskill, this is -- Steve King`s a mid-west member of the House.  You were a mid-west Senator.  Is there something in the political dynamics in that region that the Republicans were worried about?  Because now you have his local newspapers saying resign, you`re useless to us, they`ve kicked you off the committees, you can`t really represent us.

MCCASKILL:  Well, I just think what happened, there was obviously a cumulative effect.  And I think as time went on and no one really reined in Steve King, he just went further and further and further.  And then finally, he went so far that he really couldn`t look the other way anymore.

It was compelling even to his local newspaper.  But he`s from a very rural, red area.  I remember when Tom Vilsack`s wife ran against him for Congress.  She came I think within 10, which is amazing when you think about that.  That was a few cycles ago.  I think the guy that ran against him was a veteran or a former baseball player who came back and didn`t have much of a shot but he came closer than Christine Vilsack did.

So I think the Republicans maybe clean up on aisle five.  Let`s get rid of this guy so we can get another Republican in there so we don`t lose the seat.  Because if Steve King is their nominee, they`re probably going to lose the seat.

JOHNSON:  Right.

O`DONNELL:  Jason Johnson, thank you for joining us tonight.  And Senator McCaskill, I just want to say, I have seen United States senators leave the Senate when they decided to retire, and I`ve seen them leave when they involuntarily were retired.

MCCASKILL:  Correct.

O`DONNELL:  And what I`ve always noticed is about a month later, you can`t tell the difference because they`re just so happy to be out of that submarine.  And you look like you`re bearing it with both grace and dignity, which is just the way you entered the Senate.  And I want to thank you for your service there.

MCCASKILL:  Thank you so much, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL:  Thank you for joining us.  Really appreciate it.

MCCASKILL:  OK, you bet.

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


O`DONNELL:  Time for tonight`s last word.


SETH MEYERS, HOST, LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS:  Attorney General nominee William Barr said today that it would be a crime for the president to offer someone a pardon in exchange for a promise not to incriminate him.  And then Rudy Giuliani went on "CNN" to say "Crime isn`t even illegal."


O`DONNELL:  Seth Meyers` impression of Rudy Giuliani gets tonight`s last word.