Trump gets potential challenge. TRANSCRIPT: 2/15/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: David Cicilline, Cristina Beltran, Nelson Cunningham, Larry Sabato;Tom Nichols; Jennifer Rubin

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again on Monday. Now, it`s time for "The Last Word" where Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight. Good evening, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, MSNBC:  I feel like the last two and half years has been junior law school --

MADDOW:  Seriously.

VELSHI:  -- for me. That`s what I`m going to do when this is all over. I`m going to go actually study the law. Rachel, have yourself a great weekend. Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Ali.

VELSHI:  President Trump`s national emergency declaration has its first legal challenge tonight just hours after the president declared it. The watchdog group Public Citizen filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington challenging the president`s announcement today that he will redirect billions of dollars of federal funding to build a border wall because of his so-called national emergency. Democrats in Congress are also making plans to fight the president`s declaration.

Our first guest tonight is a member of the Judiciary Committee, which is now planning an investigation of the emergency declaration. Even Donald Trump is having a hard time pretending that this is an actual emergency. For one thing, he flew to Mar-a-Lago right after declaring the national emergency. And look at how he started his big speech, issuing the national emergency declaration. Notice what he doesn`t mention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Before we begin, I`d like to just say that we have a large team of very talented people in China. We`ve had a negotiation going on for about two days. It`s going extremely well. Who knows what that means? You know all of the situations with respect to Brexit. We have a very good trading relationship with U.K.

We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria. We`re working on a summit, and you know all about the summit. It will be in Vietnam, Hanoi. We`ve been working very closely with South Korea, with Japan, but China, Russia on the border have really been at least partially living up to what they`re supposed to be doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  If there is a real emergency at the southern border, you`d think Trump might have started his announcement by actually talking about it. Instead, the first border he mentioned was the one in North Korea. When he finally talked about the U.S. border, he announced his national emergency and made this strange prediction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We will have a national emergency and we will then be sued and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn`t be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we`ll get another bad ruling, and then we`ll end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we`ll get a fair shake, and we`ll win in the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  Today the ACLU and the State of California said they also plan to challenge the president in court. If the president is hoping to win those court battles, his administration will probably need a better explanation for ignoring Congress to build the wall than the one that he gave to NBC`s Peter Alexander.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  In the past when President Obama tried to use executive action as it related to immigration, you said, the whole concept of executive order, it`s not the way the country is supposed to be run. You said you`re supposed to go through Congress and make a deal.

Will you concede that you were unable to make the deal that you had promised in the past and that the deal you`re ending up with now from Congress is less than what you could have had before a 35-day shut down?

TRUMP:  I went through Congress. I made a deal, but I want to do it faster. I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn`t need to do this, but I`d rather do it much faster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  I didn`t need to do this, said the president, who is ultimately going to have to justify why he declared a national emergency.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to that with this tweet. "Clearest sign that real Donald Trump`s Fake Trump Emergency is not legitimate? The president himself says he didn`t need to declare a national emergency. It`s just a faster way to force taxpayers to foot the bill after Congress wouldn`t let him have his way."

Another strange moment today was when the president explicitly tied his so- called national emergency to the 2020 election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  And I don`t have to do it for the election. I`ve already done a lot of wall for the election. 2020. And the only reason we`re up here talking about this is because of the election. Because they want to try and win an election, which it looks like they`re not going to be able to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  I don`t know what I`ve already done a lot of wall actually means, but just to be clear, not a single mile of new wall construction has happened. Trump also had a lot to say about conservative talk radio hosts, including Ann Coulter, who called him an idiot today.

And today House Democrats responded to the president. Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez and Joaquin Castro said they will introduce a resolution to terminate the emergency declaration.

And the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, sent a letter to the president saying his committee "is commencing an immediate investigation into this matter, which raises both serious constitutional and statutory issues. We ask that you make those individuals involved in this declaration available to us for a hearing in the coming days."

All right, joining us now is Democratic Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. He is on the Judiciary Committee, and he is the chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. He has visited the U.S.- Mexico border multiple times. Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for joining us tonight.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI), CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC POLICY AND COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE:  Good to see you. My pleasure.

VELSHI:  The president was having trouble making a clear justification for why he declared this national emergency. He did mention Ann Coulter. He mentioned Rush Limbaugh. He mentioned Sean Hannity. But in the end, he may be diverting funds that would otherwise be used for legitimate military purposes. I want to just play for you quickly what Donald Trump said about why he would do that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion of generals, at the discretion of the military. Some of them haven`t been allocated yet, and some of the generals think that this is more important. I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said what were you going to use it for? I won`t go into details, but didn`t sound too important to me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  Congressman, that sounds weird. You`ve been down to the border. I haven`t spoken to any generals who have suggested that the things that they`re doing with their money would be less useful than spending it on a border wall. But this is F-35 training. This is real construction work at bases. This is -- this is kind of hard to believe, what the president just said.

CICILLINE:  Yeah, I mean, the president is suggesting he`s going to take money from critical military construction and counternarcotics work. I mean, it`s kind of ironic when he`s claiming he needs to build a wall for both of those purposes. But, look, there is no emergency at the border. I`ve been there two times in the last year. The border crossings, illegal border crossings are down to a 40-year low.

His own Intelligence Community when they do the World Threat Assessment that identifies the greatest threats to the United States didn`t even reference the southern border and certainly never said there was an emergency. So, there is no emergency at the border. And the president`s statutory authorization that he`s referring to relates to military construction to support the armed forces, which is clearly not immigration- related.

So, there is no basis for this. This is the president attempting to circumvent the will of the American people, as reflected through decisions in Congress. This is really disrespectful to the rule of law, to the separation of powers between the branches of government, and we have a democracy.

The president, just because he`s frustrated that he didn`t get what he wants, isn`t allowed to just circumvent the democratic process. He`s not an imperial king where he can just issue an edict. We have a functioning democracy and he failed to convince the Congress and the American people of the necessity of this wall. He just can`t do what he`s purporting or proposing to do.

VELSHI:  You know, the president is trying to get $8 billion for this. It more than the $5.7 billion he was asking for in the first place. But the $5.7, as we know, was a red herring to start with because even the most conservative estimates about the wall that the president wants to build was in the 20 to 25. Their estimates are close to double that.

But at that point, you as a representative have to deal with the fact that $8 billion is a lot of money. An $8 billion for technology that is not deemed by the experts to say the thing that is going to keep our border more secure is a waste of American money. And as Nancy Pelosi said, this is one way or the other taxpayer money.

CICILLINE:  No, absolutely. Look, we have a responsibility to make certain that we secure the border in this country, but we need to do it in a way that actually achieves the objective, using the best technology, doing cargo inspections, using drones, using satellites, additional personnel. The things that the experts say will actually work, rather than this sort of monument to the Trump campaign promise that he said Mexico was going to pay for.

It`s ineffective. It`s wasteful. It will not achieve the objective he claims it will. And that`s why a bipartisan group of Congress negotiated a resolution of this issue and passed it overwhelmingly because we settled on smart, tough, effective border security and not this campaign promise that the president made.

VELSHI:  Congressman, the chairman of your committee, Jerry Nadler, has sent this letter to the president saying make people who were involved in this decision available because you`re going to investigate. On what basis are you going to investigate? What are you looking for?

CICILLINE:  Well, we`re looking for the president to come forward and the president`s team to make clear what is the basis of this determination. How do they come to the conclusion that there was a national emergency which, of course, there is not? What advice he got with respect to whether or not that was appropriate? What authority he thinks he has to reallocate funds?

We want to understand kind of how the president came to this decision, what influenced his ultimate decision to do this, because what we really believe is that this part, as he mentioned in the press conference, this is about a campaign. This is about keeping this issue alive so that he can claim he`s fighting to secure the border and nobody else will do it and no one else wants to get it done but him.

He`s going to continue with this narrative. He wants this fight because he thinks it`s politically advantageous, but it`s dangerous to allow the president of the United States to circumvent the will of Congress, the rule of law in this country, the separation of powers and just decide that he thinks this is important, this policy disagreement.

And he`s going to go ahead without congressional authorization, undermines rule of law in this country, and undermines our democracy. The Judiciary Committee is going to have a full investigation of this so that we can let the American people see what has really happened here.

VELSHI:  Congressman, thank you for joining me tonight, Congressman David Cicilline of Rhode Island. Let`s bring in our panel. Dara Lind is a senior correspondent for Vox.com, covering immigration. Cristina Beltran is an associate professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. She is also the author of "The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity." Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being with us.

Dara, let me start with you. This was a fact checker`s dream today, the president`s rambling unscripted conversation, in which he talked about kind of anything that came into his mind. But the fact is he kept on going at journalists who were asking him fact-based questions about the truth about immigration, about the people who come across the border, about drugs. The president was creating and crafting and discussing his own reality today.

DARA LIND, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, VOX.COM:  Yes, that`s absolutely true. It`s also not the first time we`ve heard this. I mean, so much of what he said today, he said during his prime time speech in January, during the State of the Union.

The problem with talking about the border right now is that Donald Trump takes up so much oxygen, talking about this kind of fever dream of this lawless environment, talking about the actual difficulties that there are with, you know, unprecedented numbers of children and families coming in, whether border patrol is equipped to handle that, you know, serious concerns about the conditions that people are being kept in aren`t coming to the fore --

VELSHI:  Right.

LIND:  -- because it`s entirely determined by Donald Trump says there is a crisis and therefore that`s all anyone can talk about.

VELSHI:  And all of the energy -- you`re right, it takes all the oxygen, anybody who could be working on other things. I think you can get 100 percent agreement in this country that there are issues with immigration. But to different people, those are different things.

Cristina, this is the problem, right? Donald Trump has for better or worse created a narrative around bad people coming over the southern border and that`s our immigration problem.

CRISTINA BELTRAN, AUTHOR, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ANALYSIS, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY:  Right. I mean, there are actual realities. We can have really important and interesting discussions around immigration.

Instead, we`re sort of caught up in Donald Trump`s sort of racist dystopian fever dream. And I think a lot of it that we really have to think about is that his base and the nativist portion of his base are really informed by that fantasy.

So reality doesn`t change it. It`s a constant reference. I think one thing that is important to think about is this has a long history. Since the 19th century, there have been certain characterizations of Mexicans as beastial, as savage.

And so there is a kind of historical resonance here with the way he constantly takes an almost -- at times almost pornographic pleasure you heard today where he describes these lured discussions of migrant women being tied up with duct tape and brutalized. There is a kind of compulsion he has to tell this story. It`s like misogyny disguised as compassion.

VELSHI:  Let me just play that. In a weird thing, that was even weirder, when he started talking about this.

BELTRAN:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  I want to get to the bottom of this one. Donald Trump was describing, as you say, human trafficking today. Let`s listen together.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  They can`t see three women with tape on their mouth or three women whose hands are tied. They go through areas where you have no wall. Everybody knows that. Nancy knows it. Chuck knows it. They all know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  The danger here, Cristina, is that human trafficking is a really problem.

BELTRAN:  Right.

VELSHI:  Lots of women get brought into this country and are trafficked.

BELTRAN:  Yeah.

VELSHI:  Most of them with passports through border crossings. To suggest that`s how we`re dealing with the problem of human trafficking is misleading and detrimental to our fight against human trafficking.

BELTRAN:  Yeah. It`s actually completely unhelpful in every way. And it also is really tied to this idea of migrant women being brutalized because Mexican men or Latin-American men are monsters, right? And so it`s a constant exercise in displacement.

It`s always this story that -- we have real problems in this country. We have problems with drugs, right? We have real issues with economic inequality. But rather than have conversations about the reality of economic inequality, lower wages, drug use, instead we have this conversation in which all the issues are displaced --

VELSHI:  Right.

BELTRAN:  -- on to migrants as this sort of savage criminals. And so if we have walls, then those problems will not be here.

VELSHI:  That`s one problem. Dara, the other problem is that it`s not clear whether this is just a base or just nativist supporters of the Donald Trump. Kelly O`Donnell got into a conversation with the president today about whether or not his policies are being determined by right-wing media hosts. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY O`DONNELL, NBC NEWS WHITE HOUSE AND CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT:  Mr. President, could you tell us to what degree some of the outside conservative voices help to shape your views on this national emergency?

TRUMP:  I will talk about it. Look, Sean Hannity has been a terrific, terrific supporter of what I do. Rush Limbaugh, I think he`s a great guy. He`s a guy who can speak for three hours without a phone call. Try doing that sometime.

O`DONNELL:  Maybe deciding policy, sir?

TRUMP:  They don`t decide policy. Ann Coulter, I don`t know her. I hardly know her. I haven`t spoken to her in way over a year. But the press loves saying Ann Coulter. I like her. But she`s off the reservation. But anybody that knows her understands that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  Dara, I mean, that was just weird. The president was asked about influences and he named the three people who most observers think he is building his immigration policy for.

LIND:  Yeah, although it`s always hard to know with this president whether he`s saying that because he actually does have relationships with them or whether he`s saying that because he watches a whole lot of television. And so if those are the names that are coming up as influencers, he`s going to interpret that.

But it`s definitely clear that Trump is very afraid of any fight with people who he thinks of as mediating between him and his base, even to point where, you know, he`s been saying for years at this point that any border barrier that is built needs to be steel poles or steel bollards or slats. But when he posted a sketch of a design in December and the right wing freaked out to a certain extent because they were still expecting a concrete wall, he had to backtrack on that.

Even though that`s exactly what his DHS has said they want to build, the stuff that`s authorized in the funding bill Congress just passed is identical to the stuff that they want to build with emergency money. The definition of a wall is like gotten caught up in this dynamic between Trump and the right wing media because it is not clear which one of them, if there were a fight, would be the one to take the base.

VELSHI:  And the sad part is after throwing out the line about Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter, Ann Coulter responded today by saying, look, the only national emergency is that our president is an idiot. I hope that if I called somebody out, they`d be nice to me. Thanks to both of you, Dara Lind and Cristina Beltran. Thank you.

All right, coming up, more breaking news. Special counsel Robert Mueller`s team tells the court they have no objection to Paul Manafort spending two decades in jail. Is that going to change Manafort`s mind about cooperating? We`ll have that, next.

And later, many Republican names have been bandied about as potential primary challengers to Donald Trump. But today, a veteran Republican finally took the first official step to challenge Donald Trump in the 2020 Republican primary.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  Breaking news. President Trump`s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, could be spending the rest of his life in jail. In a new court filing tonight in the eastern district of Virginia, special counsel Robert Mueller`s prosecutors note that sentencing guidelines call for Manafort to spend 19 to 24 years in prison for his conviction on multiple financial fraud charges.

"Manafort acted for more than a decade as if he were above the law, and deprived the federal government and various financial institutions of millions of dollars," Mueller`s prosecutors wrote. "The sentence here should reflect the seriousness of these crimes, and serve to both deter Manafort and others from engaging in such conduct."

Prosecutors also indicated that Paul Manafort should be held liable for restitution and forfeited properties totalling up to $30 million. Manafort`s sentencing has been on hold while prosecutors and his lawyers argued over whether he violated an agreement to assist in the Russia investigation. Manafort could have been eligible for a lesser sentence had he fulfilled his obligation to assist investigators.

Also breaking tonight, and separately, prosecutors have now said for the first time that they have evidence of Trump associate, Roger Stone, communicating with WikiLeaks.

In a separate court filing, Mueller`s team writes that as part of the investigation into the Russians, who hacked the DNC and Clinton campaign, "The government obtained and executed dozens of search warrants on various accounts used to facilitate the transfer of stolen documents for release. Several of those search warrants were executed on accounts that contained Roger Stone`s communications with Guccifer 2.0 and with Organization 1."

This is important. Organization 1 is widely believed to be WikiLeaks. In other words, search warrants uncovered communications connecting Roger Stone to Russian hackers and the organization that disseminated those hacked materials. Mueller`s team said the evidence obtained from those warrants resulted in the hacking charges unsealed against 12 Russian GRU officers, intelligence officers. And later, the charges against Roger Stone himself.

And developing tonight, NBC News has confirmed that White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders has been interviewed by Mueller`s office. Sanders said she was "happy to voluntarily sit down with them." A source familiar with the matter tells NBC News that the interview took place late last year around the same time that then chief of staff John Kelly met with Mueller`s team.

OK, this is where we need a legal expert to interpret tonight`s breaking news. We have former federal prosecutor Nelson Cunningham to do just that. He`s got invaluable experience as the general counsel of the Senate Judiciary committee under then Senator Biden. And here to tell us what this means politically for the president and his associates, The Washington Post`s Jennifer Rubin. She is an MSNBC contributor. Welcome to both of you tonight.

Nelson, let`s start with you. We`ve got a number of legal matters. The first one, the prosecution is comfortable having the book thrown at Paul Manafort. Let`s start with that.

NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  This was Paul Manafort`s no good, very bad, terrible week. He had two terrible things happened to him. First, earlier this week, the judge in Washington, D.C. ruled that, in fact, he had lied to the prosecutors after he -- after he said he would cooperate with them and agreed that the prosecutors could throw out his cooperation agreement. That means that he loses his chance to have a reduced sentence because of his cooperation.

The second terrible thing that happened to Manafort is what happened today, and it`s interesting. It`s not so much that Mueller argued that he should have a high sentence. The hidden story here is it`s the probation office that argued this, the way we sentence criminals in federal court. The probation office which is an expert at dealing with defendants and sentencing matters, studies the matter, writes a report, and then calculates how much time the defendant should do under the sentencing guidelines.

Here, the probation office report was devastating, asserting that because of the range of his actions and crimes, he should be in jail for 20 years or more. What Mueller did was simply say, yeah, I agree with that. So this not Mueller --

VELSHI:  Right.

CUNNINGHAM:  -- arguing, stretching. It`s the probation office saying this -- and Mueller saying absolutely so.

VELSHI:  Jennifer, what do you make of this politically? At some point, the judge said several times, this guy`s, you know, he`s a bad apple. When he started to run out of money, he continued to defraud banks and just had to keep up his lifestyle. But to the extent that the president continues to defend Manafort, he is the one guy the president hasn`t thrown under the bus, what do you think is going on here?

JENNIFER RUBIN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR, OPINION WRITER, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think what`s significant is, going back to the earlier ruling during the week, is what was it that Manafort was telling the prosecutors that wasn`t true? He was lying about his cooperation, meeting, coordination, exchange of information --

VELSHI:  Yep.

RUBIN:  -- with Konstantin Kilimnik --

VELSHI:  Yep.

RUBIN:  -- who is a Russian oligarch connected to Russian intelligence. What we are talking about there is collusion. We are talking about the chief person on the Trump campaign at that time, Paul Manafort, giving private polling data essentially to the Russians. It`s funny, isn`t it, that we now learn at the other end of the scale that we now have Roger Stone communicating with Guccifer 2, communicating with WikiLeaks.

Again, collusion. We are beginning to see the knitted links in the chain between members of the Trump Organization and the Russians. And the question will then be, the old Watergate question, what did Trump know and when did he know it?

VELSHI:  And this is important. You`ve put it together, Jennifer. Tom, what we`re looking is -- Nelson, I`m sorry. What we`re looking at are two guys who have had longtime relationships with Donald Trump, as much as Donald Trump likes to say that Manafort wasn`t all that involved in the campaign.

Both separately are having conversations with people about information that could be detrimental to Hillary Clinton`s campaign or ultimately helpful to Donald Trump`s campaign. Who puts that all together?

CUNNINGHAM:  Well, we`re widely expecting that Mueller will put this together in a report for us. We don`t know that. He hasn`t confirmed that. He`s been famously close-mouthed here. We do know now that we`ve got Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler and others in the House who are beginning to put the pieces together themselves.

Whatever Mueller does not give them, is not able to give them, they`re going to be working to assemble into, I think, what will be by the end of this year a very coherent story that I think will be quite -- quite conclusive as to what was going on in this campaign.

VELSHI:  Nelson, thank you for joining us tonight. Nelson Cunningham. Jennifer Rubin, stay with us. Coming up, a veteran Republican steps forward to challenge Donald Trump in the Republican primary in 2020. That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL WELD, FORMER GOVERNOR:  Our president is simply too unstable to carry out the duties of the highest executive office in the land.  They say the president has captured the Republican Party in Washington.  As he himself might tweet, sad.

It`s even sadder that Republicans in Washington, many of them, exhibit all the symptoms of Stockholm syndrome, identifying with their captor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  That was former Massachusetts Republican Governor Bill Weld today, not holding back on Trump or his Republican allies in Congress, but even that probably didn`t make Donald Trump as angry as when Governor Weld said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WELD:  Because of the many concerns I`ve talked about today, I have established an exploratory committee to pursue the possibility of my running for the presidency of the United States as a Republican in the 2020 election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  All right.  That is a former Republican governor officially announcing that he is taking the first steps to primary Donald Trump in 2020.  Weld actually has run on a presidential ticket before.  In 2016, he ran as the vice presidential candidate on the libertarian ticket alongside Gary Johnson.

But this time around, Weld is preparing to run as a Republican for what could turn out to be the first viable primary challenge against an incumbent since Pat Buchanan challenged George H.W. Bush back in 1992.  The Trump presidency has caused a major rift among many of the Republican Party`s longtime stalwarts, some of whom have left the party all together in protest.

Now, that could be an opportunity for Weld, but despite some high-profile dissenters, Trump remains historically popular among self-identified Republican voters, at least right now.

Joining me now, someone who knows better than anyone else what this means for President Trump in 2020, Larry Sabato is the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and the founder of Sabato`s Crystal Ball Weekly Political Analyst.  Larry, good to see you again.  Thank you for joining me.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA:  Thank you, Ali.

VELSHI:  When we talk about a viable potential challenge, there have been names that have come up.  Larry Hogan of Maryland.  John Kasich gets talked about.  A lot of people wondering whether Mitt Romney`s is reentering the politics is about this.  Where does Weld sit in that pantheon?

SABATO:  Where he sits is he`s serious about it.  The other ones, I haven`t seen any real signs they`re serious or that they`re making moves to do it.  Maybe they`re all waiting for the Mueller report, Ali.  That may be the trigger for some of them to get in or not.

But, look, it`s more significant than people think.  Because since Eisenhower, if an incumbent is seriously challenged by somebody who is vigorous and who ends up getting a decent percentage of the vote, even in New Hampshire, it signals that that incumbent is in trouble in the fall.

On the other hand, if you`re unopposed, if you have no serious challenger, all of them in modern history have in fact gotten the second term.  So it`s a great signal.

VELSHI:  Let`s talk about the politics of it, though.  Because Donald Trump continues to maintain a base somewhere between 30 percent and 40 percent.  Some of those people are Conservatives who like low taxes.  Some are people whose main concern is the Second Amendment.  And some are people for whom their main concern is abortion.

If a guy like Weld or any other Moderate Republican comes into the race and siphons off some of those people and siphons off maybe some Democrats, it still leaves Donald Trump with a solid base of people who tend to be the people who turn out for primaries.

SABATO:  Oh, absolutely.  You wouldn`t expect any challenger to win.  No modern challenger has beaten an incumbent.  Although Ronald Reagan came awfully close to Gerald Ford in 1976, so it`s possible but I think it`s very unlikely.

But, again, once you have that challenger in there making points -- and Bill Weld is a good public speaker.  He`s got a sharp tongue.  He`s experienced.  Two terms winning as governor in Massachusetts.  And other are losing races but he`s been out there on the trail.

This guy`s too liberal to be nominated by the Republican Party.  But he`s a good opponent for Trump if in fact, he runs.

VELSHI:  What happens for never Trumpers, for Republicans who have foresworn Donald Trump or who want some other solution but they`d like a Republican, they`d like maybe a Conservative candidate, what`s the best scenario, a bunch of guys, a bunch of people like William Weld getting into the race or one?

SABATO:  Well, it can happen.  Nixon in 1972 had a Conservative congressman run against him, Republican Congressman John Ashbrook and a Liberal Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey who was anti-war.  So he was -- he had the shots coming at him from both sides.

It`s possible that that will happen but it`s also possible that Trump will end up with a minor opponent who will end up doing surprisingly well in New Hampshire.  They love to stir the pot.  They often give 20, 25, 30 percent or more to a challenger to an incumbent president, but then it tends to fade.

VELSHI:  Larry, always good to talk to you.  Thank you, sir.  Larry Sabato is the director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and the founder of Sabato`s Crystal Ball.

Coming up, more than a few people watched today`s national emergency presser and concluded that Donald Trump is the national emergency.  That`s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VELSHI:  "The Washington Post" reported that efforts to get Donald Trump to sign the bipartisan bill -- spending bill last night went off the rails when he realized how much he was losing to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Today, we saw Donald Trump go off the rails.  Donald Trump undermining his own case for declaring a national emergency to fund his border wall in one of the most bizarre speeches to date from this president.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP:  You know I never did politics before.  Now I do politics.  There`s rarely been a problem.  They sign it.  Nobody cares.  I guess they weren`t very exciting.  I use many stats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Could you share those stats with us?

TRUMP:  Let me tell you, you have stats that are far worse than the ones that I use.  We would make up for the cost of the wall just in the cost of the fact that I would be able to have fewer people.  I want to wish our new attorney general great luck and speed and enjoy your life.

We have all the records.  We have every record.  My button is bigger than yours and my button works, remember that?  People said Trump is crazy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI:  His puzzling stream of consciousness speech declaring a national emergency led many to one conclusion, that Donald Trump is the national emergency.

Congressional Historian Norm Ornstein tweeted, "Trump is providing the most powerful argument for invoking the 25th Amendment that we have yet seen."  Republican Strategist Rick Wilson tweeted, "That was like a long visit to please apply the 25th Amendment land."

And former Labor Secretary Robert Reich tweeted, "As I watched Trump`s bizarre performance this morning, his sing-song recitation about the courts, his paranoid illusions to media reporting about his ban, his weird "I didn`t need to do this" concession that there`s really no emergency.  I kept thinking the 25th Amendment."

After the break, we`ll discuss what Trump`s speech reveals as the first Republican announces that he is willing to challenge his re-election from a national security perspective and a political perspective.  That`s next.

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TRUMP:  We`re going to do it.  One way or the other, we have to do it.  Not because it was a campaign promise, which it is.  It was one of many, by the way, not my only one.  If we had a wall, we don`t need the military because we`d have a wall.  Nobody`s done the job that we`ve done on the border.

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VELSHI:  There is a crisis at the border but he`s done the best job.  Joining us now with their reactions, Tom Nichols, a national security expert and former Republican Senate staffer who tweeted today that he is, "more worried about the emotional stability of the president than at any time before this."  Jennifer Rubin is back with us as well.

Tom, talk to me about that because a number of people I`ve spoken to today since the speech said, oh, you know, Trump gives crazy speeches all the time.  This one had a different feel to it, for whatever reason.  It was the confluence of nonsense and nonsense and incoherence.

But it was dangerous because he`s talking about using funds that are going to the military.  He`s talking about using the funds that were meant for drug interdiction.  He`s talking about using the military in a way that some argue is not even legal in this country.  There was more to it than some of the speeches he normally gives

TOM NICHOLS, NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERT:  And even people that are normally a lot more forgiving of the president`s unusual speeches and statements were scratching their heads at this one.  There were people I think even normally more supportive of the president who found this one unsettling.

And mostly I would say not because of the things related to this fake emergency that we`re all talking about all day.  But the other stuff, things like, you know, President Obama told me we were on the edge of a big war and, you know, the Japanese prime minister was going to nominate me for a Nobel --

VELSHI:  A Nobel peace prize.  What`s that about?  Have you heard anything about this before?

NICHOLS:  No, I haven`t talked with the prime minister of Japan as recently as the president has, and, you know, I just kind of stopped and said, wow, I hadn`t -- I couldn`t figure that one out.  And it just kept going.  And it`s like he was building up a momentum.

And I really did, I thought this is really, you know, I don`t like the president`s speeches in general because they`re so extemporaneous and I think sometimes recklessly unstructured, but this one had me worried.  I mean, this time I was really concerned about president`s, you know, where his head was at this morning.

VELSHI:  Jennifer Rubin, you know what was also -- there were so many if you have a list of things that were concerning about this morning`s comments.  One was just the image that we showed TV, the picture of the president walking out as he went to the mike accompanied by Mitch McConnell.

RUBIN:  Yes.  You know, at least he didn`t have him on a leash this time.  But the behavior of Mitch McConnell I think will go down as one of the most shameful chapters in a very shameful book about the Republican Party.  You`ll recall that when this idea came up a few months ago, Mitch McConnell was saying, "No, we shouldn`t go there, bad idea."

Of course, as soon as the president does it, Mitch McConnell is back on his team and cheering this along.  He is cheering the destruction of his own branch of government, the legislative branch.  He is destroying the United States Senate.  And he is setting up a huge battle within the Republican Party.

The Senate`s going to have to take a vote, I would suspect, on this resolution.  It will pass the House to end the national emergency.  And there will be Republicans who are going to be divided on this.

I do not see that this is a shining moment for Mitch McConnell.  And I think his game of simply buttering up the president and following him down every little rabbit hole is going to come back to haunt him.

And you know what?  Perhaps there should be a real Conservative in Kentucky in 2020 to primary him, because after all Mitch McConnell was supposed to be the great defender of the Constitution, was supposed to be a Constitutional Conservative.  Perhaps there is somebody in the great State of Kentucky who will actually adopt that role.

And, frankly, for a lot of other senators in a lot of other states.  South Carolina against Lindsey Graham.

VELSHI:  But that is -- that really is the story.  I think that the thing - - the real story from today.  Because we`ve gotten used to the president, you know, being extemporaneously unsettling, but the fact that the Senate and McConnell and the Republican Party are basically saying we`re good with this.

So this is interesting that you`re saying that.

NICHOLS:  No problems with any of this.

VELSHI:  Strangely, Mitch McConnell was reported to have told the president earlier in the week don`t do this because you`ll get this resolution and then you`ll get into trouble.  And then yesterday he announces on the Senate floor the president is going to sign the bill and declare a national emergency and I support that national emergency.

There are a number -- I want to just put up a screen of comments made by Republican senators who don`t seem to be in line with this.  Grassley says, "I wish he wouldn`t have done it."  Paul says, "I`m not really for it."  I can imagine Rand Paul is not for it.  Rubio says, "Bad idea."  Alexander says, "Unnecessary."  Collins says, "A mistake."  Toomey says, "I`m not enthusiastic about it."  Blunt says, "I have some concerns."

But here is the worrisome part, Jennifer.  We have heard from so many of these people so many times about where they are saying this is my line.  Trump is crossing it.  That`s against the Constitution.  That`s against the responsibilities and obligations that Congress has.  But somehow Trump gets them in the end.

RUBIN:  That`s right.  They are utterly spineless.  They have decided for whatever reason that it`s easier to just to go along and keep their heads down.  And as a result, they have lost all intellectual, moral authority.

And this was precisely what tom and I predicted was going to happen if Donald Trump was elected, that he would slowly corrode and have the party degenerate on his watch because he sucks people into supporting this nonsense.  He creates an atmosphere in which facts don`t matter.  He attacks the underpinnings of our democracy.

And as a result, the entire party is now going down the tubes, going down this frightful road with a limb.  And we`re left --

VELSHI:  And a Conservative movement with it.

RUBIN:  Correct.

VELSHI:  Here`s the interesting part about that, Tom.  In theory, Donald Trump is serving some master.  Possibly his base.  Possibly Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter.

But then Ann Coulter`s tweet pops up today about the president and talking about a national emergency.  And she says, "No.  The goal of a national emergency is for Trump to scam the stupidest people in his base for two more years, " which is after she called him an idiot.

NICHOLS:  And I think she called them rubes.

VELSHI:  This is not working out for Trump on any level here.  How does the Conservative movement reclaim itself so that it can at least be relevant in the discussion about what the future of this country, and the power of Congress, and the power of the president should be?

NICHOLS:  Well, they are trying to goad him into doing the things they want him to do.  But because he doesn`t understand how government works, because he doesn`t understand how the Constitution works, because he doesn`t read any of the legislation that he`s dealing with, he keeps missing the target.

They keep trying to push him toward the thing they want and he reacts instinctively and reflexively and thinks that he`s doing what they are telling him to do and then he misses that one and then they chew him out again.  And the whole thing starts all over again.

RUBIN:  I would --

NICHOLS:  He -

RUBIN: Yes. I would say also that Ann Coulter was one of the rubes because she, of course, was supporting his presidency and saying he was going to build the wall.  So I guess she was scammed just like the rest of his base.

VELSHI:  We`ll leave it there.  Thanks to both of you.  Tom Nichols and Jennifer Rubin, I appreciate you spending the Friday evening with us.  Tonight`s last word is next.

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VELSHI:  Time for tonight`s last word.  You have to be tough to make it in New York City.  That`s what New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said after Amazon`s stunning decision to cancel its planned headquarters in New York.

Amazon spent over a year conducting a nationwide search for its new headquarters before announcing it would land in New York City and Northern Virginia, just outside of D.C.  The initial decision to expand into New York City fueled protests and a fierce debate between the locals, and city, and state leaders.

On one side, proponents like De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo who felt that the incentives provided to Amazon would be returned in high paying tech jobs and many jobs created indirectly.  On the other side were powerful politicians who decried corporate welfare being given to one of the world`s biggest and most successful and powerful corporations.

Yesterday, Amazon released a statement saying, "After much thought and deliberation, we`ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens.  While polls show that 70 percent of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the types of relationships that are required to go forward with this project."

Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who represents a neighboring district in New York City was a vocal opponent of Amazon`s plan citing the $3 billion incentive agreement used to lure the company to the city.  Here is how Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez reacted to the news that Amazon would no longer build HQ2 in New York.

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REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), YORK:  I think it`s incredible.  I mean it shows that every day Americans still have the power to organize and fight for their communities and they can have more say in this country than the richest man in the world.

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VELSHI:  Of course, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is referring to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the owner of "The Washington Post".  When Bezos bought "The Washington Post" in 2013, he adopted the role of a hands- off leader.

But when Donald Trump began his campaign for the White House, Trump blamed Jeff Bezos for the newspaper`s negative coverage of him and continues to attack Bezos to this day.  Here is look at the new documentary Headliners Jeff Bezos which will air on MSNBC this Sunday at 9 p.m.

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TRUMP:  "The Washington Post" which I call a lobbying tool for Amazon.

DON GRAHAM, PUBLISHER, THE WASHINGTON POST (1979-2000):  The president has called the media the enemy of the people and it`s not, but it`s not the friend of any politician.  If the media is doing its job, it`s asking tough questions.

GABRIEL SHERMAN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, VANITY FAIR:  Donald Trump believes that media exists to serve the interests of its owners.  He doesn`t believe that an owner could just believe that it`s important to have a well-funded free press. And so after particularly damaging article that was published about him in "The Washington Post", he took to Twitter and called out Jeff Bezos by name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bezos basically laughed off Trump`s tirade with a tweet of his own, a tongue and cheek offer to personally send the president hopeful into orbit on one of his rockets.  But what Bezos didn`t know at the time was that this was only the beginning of a sustained attack.

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VELSHI:  You can watch "Headliners, Jeff Bezos" this Sunday, 9 p.m. only on MSNBC.  And that is tonight`s last word.  I`m Ali Velshi.

"THE 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS" starts now.

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