RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Now it`s time for "The Last Word" with Ali Velshi in for Lawrence tonight.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: He`s surging. He`s surging because people now know how to pronounce his name or at least they`re getting there. I think people can say you know who I really like, until then they were struggling because they liked him but couldn`t say they liked him because they couldn`t say his name.
MADDOW: That`s right. And you have a choice of mnemonics. You can either do Buddha judge or you can do boot edge, edge, whether you`re a two-person mnemonic or a three-person, it just depends.
VELSHI: It fits everybody. All right, I`m looking forward to your conversation with him, Rachel. You have a great weekend.
MADDOW: Appreciate it, Ali. Thank you.
VELSHI: it. I`m Ali Velshi in for Lawrence O`Donnell. It`s been 100 days since everything changed for Donald Trump because the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. Tonight, I`ll be joined by several freshmen Democrats who have already made a big impact on the Trump presidency.
Abby Finkenauer and Abigail Spanberger and Congressman Harley Rouda will all join us and we`re looking ahead to 2020 in tonight`s "Last Word" with the policies from one of the Democrats making waves in the race, but we begin with the imminent release of the Mueller report.
Attorney General William Barr told senators that he will release a redacted version of the report next week. The report could tell us a lot about the president and it could tell us a lot about Russian interference.
Bloomberg reports that Rod Rosenstein said in a speech that the report describes Russian cyber crimes during the 2016 election, but the Mueller report might tell us the most about the man in charge of its release, Attorney General William Barr, who some are now comparing to Roy Cohn, Donald Trump`s personal lawyer in the `70s and `80s, who loyally and ruthlessly protected him.
The comparison comes as Democrats have questioned Barr`s independence after Barr used the term spying this week to describe the FBI`s lawful surveillance of the Trump campaign. Barr admitted he had no evidence to support his claim but that hasn`t stopped the president from repeating it. Barr`s statements are continuing to anger Democrats.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): And I think when he used the obviously political charged expression of spying, he lost whatever credibility he may have had, because that was again music to President Trump`s ears. Trump immediately tweets it out. He says, you know, "attaboy Attorney General Barr." Unfortunately in the process, the attorney general further undermined his credibility as an independent, you know, arbiter of justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Now this week, Barr also refused to answer whether anyone at the White House had been briefed on the Mueller report and indicated he won`t agree to Democrats demand for the full unredacted report and underlying information.
And he has been making political statements that have been raising eyebrows including this implausible defense of Donald Trump`s effort to destroy the Affordable Care Act in court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MATT CARTWRIGHT (D-PA): -- millions of Americans who currently receive health insurance coverage under the law are at risk of losing that coverage. Am I correct in that?
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think the president has made clear that he favors not only preexisting conditions, but would like action on a broad health plan. So he is proposing a substitute for Obamacare.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: So is William Barr the independent attorney general he promised to be in his confirmation hearings or is he like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described him?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let me just say how very, very dismaying and disappointing that the chief law enforcement officer of our country is going off the rails yesterday and today. He is the attorney general of the United States of America not the attorney general of Donald Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: So that may be the question. Is William Barr the attorney general of Donald Trump? Boston Globe columnist Michael A. Cohen wrote this week, "Barr is protecting the president. Barr`s summary quickly created a public narrative on the report that provided huge political benefits to Trump. Barr now appears to be purposely dragging his feet on releasing the full report for fear that it will embarrass the president."
Joining me now, Michael A. Cohen, columnist for the Boston Globe and the author of the new book, "Clear and Present Safety." And Mimi Rocah, former federal prosecutor and former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, also an MSNBC legal contributor. Welcome to both of you. Thank you for being here.
Michael, I want to just read a little bit more from your story in "The Boston Globe" about William Barr in which you say, "If you skewed the report, he is yet one more Trump administration figure openly surrendering his integrity and ethical core to a man utterly devoid of either.
That`s not quite a surprise at this point. Such obsequiousness is the defining characteristic of this administration and its retinue of hangers- on and enablers." Why would a man like William Barr who has a reputation, some people like him, some don`t, but he has a reputation. Why would he need to join these cabal of people who engage in obsequiousness with the president?
MICHAEL A. COHEN, COLUMNIST, THE BOSTON GLOBE: I really have no idea. I`m not sure why he`s doing it. I mean, he at least had a pretty good reputation before. He became attorney general again. Probably had a pretty good career, you know, he did pretty well as a lawyer, I`m sure.
So, I don`t know why he`s doing this but it`s pretty clear that he is doing this. It`s pretty clear that he has decided to put his thumb on the scale to help President Trump and, at least to narrow how bad this is going to be when the Mueller report finally does comes out.
VELSHI: Is that, Mimi, what you think is going on? He`s limiting the damage because the report is the report, it`s written. Congress is going to see some version of it if it doesn`t see enough of it. It will continue to fight with him until it sees more. So what impact is William Barr having? Is he just giving Donald Trump a narrative that it can run with for a few weeks?
MIMI ROCAH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: Absolutely. And that`s a big deal. I mean, it`s been a simple narrative, right? I mean, the narrative for the past three weeks has been, and I`m quoting in their words, "no collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration."
That isn`t even actually what Barr`s letter said, but the way that it was written, it was boiled down to that. And when given a chance at the hearing the other day, they said, this is how the president is spinning your letter. This is what he`s saying. He didn`t even correct it then and say, well, that`s not actually what I said because it is. I mean, he said no obstruction in his words but there were many ways he could have -- there were many nuances to it that he could have put out there but of course, he didn`t.
And then by interjecting this new narrative or adopting it, you know, the Trump narrative of the spies and, you know, the corrupt way the investigation began, he`s further giving legitimacy to this argument that even what does come out of the Mueller probe that is damaging to Trump, it doesn`t really matter because the whole investigation was corrupt.
So he`s helped it in two ways and he`s in a powerful position. It`s different when Barr says it than when an elected official says it. It gives it even more credence, these arguments. And that`s what`s so damaging. Is it`s someone who we are supposed to see as independent and supposed to be independent and it is considered not in the same vein as an elected official is making those comments. It is so dangerous.
VELSHI: Michael, floating the idea that there was spying on the campaign, not surveillance of individuals in the campaign, which is a man like William Barr who trades in the business of words would know the difference, but he said it. He`s the attorney general of the United States. If there was something improper going on in terms of surveillance, he would be the first to know and he could provide evidence to Congress of that, but he didn`t. He just offered conjecture.
COHEN: Well, I mean, he said he wants to open an investigation but then said ahead of time, he thinks spying actually occurred. I`m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that you shouldn`t be sort of (inaudible) with the investigation, going to find out before it actually occurs.
And I find it striking that during the hearing, he kept avoiding saying anything about the Mueller report, that we`re all going to see hopefully in a week or so or maybe sooner. And yet, at the same time, felt comfortable making this accusation with no evidence before an investigation has even taken place.
And look, I don`t see any way to read that comment about spying as something that was done as a political favor to the president. I mean, it`s clearly present (ph), its rhetoric is clearly his talking points about the investigation. I think he`s trying to help him by making comments like this and again, I don`t know why he`s doing it, why he wants to help him so much, but it`s clear that`s what is happening right here.
VELSHI: You are a lawyer and you were a prosecutor and you worked under the Department of Justice in the Southern District of New York so you know what you`re supposed to do and what you`re not supposed to do if you think somebody`s done something and where you`re supposed to come with evidence.
Did it surprise you that William Barr would -- never mind the words that he was using, the fact that it`s surveillance and that`s how we think of it -- but the idea that he put it out there for everybody to digest without providing evidence?
ROCAH: Ye. Look, it`s the same problem that he had during his confirmation hearing where he had put out this memo saying in advance, well, I don`t think there`s obstruction. And guess what? That`s the conclusion he came to.
Prosecutors should not, I mean, you don`t have the end result before you find the facts and do the investigation. That`s exactly the opposite of what you should do. You`re not being an unbiased investigator. You`re not being a neutral investigator.
And in fact, you know, there would be an argument perhaps that he shouldn`t recuse himself from any -- overseeing any investigation because he`s already prejudged it. That`s probably not going to happen. I realize in this administration, you know, you`re recused, you get fired, but that is how sort of tainted I see it. It would be as if I were investigating a defendant and I had said ahead of time well I know he`s guilty, let me go find the facts.
ROCAH: You know, that`s just not how --
VELSHI: The irony is that unlike so many people in the Trump administration, Bill Barr comes with all of that expertise and experience to know that. He`s not learning on the job which is ironic. Thanks to both of you. Hang on for a second.
In addition to seeking the full release of the Mueller report, Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee are fighting to obtain Donald Trump`s tax returns from the IRS. I`m joined now by a member of the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Bill Pascrell, a Democrat from New Jersey. Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.
REP. BILL PASCRELL (D-NJ): Ali, thanks for upholding the principles of Peter Zenger and the freedom of the press. It means a lot to most of us.
VELSHI: It is what we need to do these days. I want to quote what you told "Politico" about the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin`s failure to turn over Donald Trump`s tax returns as requested by Congress. You said, "I want to take a look at contempt of Congress here because the way Mnuchin talked and the way he writes, he`s very dismissive of the legislative branch of government particularly, if that part of the legislative branch of government is controlled by the Democratic Party."
Now, I want to ask you about this because this comes down, maybe to a question of law. Richard Neal has made a request of the IRS for the president`s tax returns because he says, "it serves a legislative purpose." The president`s lawyers have said it doesn`t and the treasury secretary says we`re not handing his documents over to Congress. What`s your take?
PASCRELL: Well, Mnuchin is insignificant in this deal. The letter was sent to the Commissioner Rettig of the IRS department. I realize that the IRS is under Treasury, but also the IRS is under Ways and Means Committee too. We have oversight over that committee.
And it`s very clear in the law, whether you`re talking about 6103, which got us here, there is the reason why we are investigating, or you go to 7214 -- I want to make sure I get it right, which lays out very clearly, what happens if anybody interferes or obstructs when you`re trying to get those returns?
So, they`re on shaky grounds here and in fact, they`re going down. They decided to ignore the law as it was written, Ali, and what they`re doing is trying to distract and get into other areas. So when the president says or where Nick says his hand maiden (ph) or when anyone says, and Mnuchin says, we`re not going to give it to you.
They don`t understand the law. The law is on our side. The law is very clear whether he is Democrat or Republican. This is not a witch hunt. I started this in February 1st, 2017, wrote a letter to the chairman at that time who was a Republican, Kevin Brady, saying let`s do this together, Democrats and Republicans.
So, it`s not partisan. It shows to just, you know, shove it off and we won 18 times to the well (ph) to get the resolution passed to give us the opportunity. Now we`re in the majority.
VELSHI: Let me ask you. I`d like to tell you what reporter David Cay Johnston, who studies taxes better than most of us do. He argues that Trump officials who don`t comply with the request could face time in prison.
VELSHI: He wrote in the "Daily Beast" that "Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Charles Rettig, the IRS commissioner do not want to be removed from office and sent to prison for five years just for doing Trump`s bidding. There is a law requiring every federal employee who touches the tax system to do their duty or be removed from office.
The crystal clear language of the law applies to Trump, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, Mnuchin and Rettig, federal employees all. The law says all of them shall be removed from office if they fail to comply with the request from Representative Richard Neal, the Massachusetts` Democrat who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
I tend to believe what David says.
PASCRELL: I do too.
VELSHI: But nobody removes anybody from office these days certainly under the spectrum of the law. I mean, this is -- they`ve said they`re not giving you this stuff. What happens next?
PASCRELL: Well, the law has become utilitarian under this particular administration and what they don`t realize is we are in the legislative branch of government as article one. They`re in article two. If you read what article one and article two, which you should, if you`re the president of the United States or a congressman, then you know that the legislature has responsibilities of oversight over whether -- and Richie Neal did it perfectly.
He narrowed the reason why he was doing it. We`re talking about an audit. This president has been audited so many times for crying out loud, he set the record, I believe. And the fact of the matter is we want to know if he`s being audited really at this point and whether that`s reason enough not to give us the taxes. He promised this in 2016 when he was running. What is he hiding?
VELSHI: I spoke to Kevin Brady, who as you said was the chairman when the Republicans were in charge of Congress. He worried that this could set an example whereby congress can start going after Americans because of their beliefs.
Secretary Mnuchin wrote in his response to Chairman Richard Neal`s request, "The committee request raises serious issues concerning the constitutional scope of Congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American citizens"
So their argument is that if you can go after the president`s tax returns, then you can go after anybody`s tax returns whom you don`t like or whose politics you don`t like.
PASCRELL: These guys are the biggest hypocrites I`ve ever seen in government. It has nothing to do with Democrat or Republican. You go back when -- four years ago. They insisted when they were the majority to investigate, if you remember, the head of the IRS, Ms. Lerner. And in order to do that, they chose 50 "liberal organizations" and their leaders to look at their tax returns.
They weren`t worrying about privacy then. In fact, when they examined it and exposed their names and everything else, they found nothing. They found zero. For Kevin Brady to say to me or to Mr. Mnuchin to infer, they don`t know what they`re talking about. I`ll debate them any time on this issue.
They`re a bunch of hypocrites. They went after those 54 people that had nothing to do with the politics of anything in Washington. This is not a Democrat or Republican issue. This is at the very heart and soul of what the law says.
VELSHI: I`m inclined to take you up on your offer and invite Kevin Brady and you to have this conversation with us.
VELSHI: Thank you, sir. Congressman Bill Pascrell, thanks for joining us. Mimi Rocah and Michael Cohen, thank you both for joining us. Coming up today, today marks 100 days since the blue wave came to Congress. We`re going to talk to three freshmen Democrats who turned their districts from red to blue in November and I`ll ask them about the work in the House and how their constituents feel the new Congress is doing.
And at the end of the hour, a butta-bump (ph)? A butt of momentum? Whatever you call it, Mayor Pete Buttegieg is rising in the Democratic primary polls. John Harwood talked to him about the need for a wealth tax and what Mayor Pete calls the pick your poison of the Trump administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): And to the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi, I extend to you this gavel.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- or Nancy, as I call her.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): He asked Speaker Pelosi, will you agree to my wall? She said no.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ms. Nancy is not going to give you that wall.
TRUMP: Women who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year.
REP. MAXINE WATERS (D-CA): This is a new way. This is a new day.
REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): This Congress will not allow protections for people with preexisting conditions to go back to the bad old days.
REP. CINDY AXNE (D-IA): I think we all know that you profited tremendously from the tax cuts.
REP. TOM MALINOWSKI (D-NJ): The White House says that sanctions decisions are based on liking Kim Jong-un. So what`s to like?
REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Science should not be partisan. We are facing a national crisis.
REP. MELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): When you saw those pictures of babies in cages, what did you do?
REP. ELIJAH CUMMING (D-MD): Is there any doubt in your mind that President Trump knew exactly what he was paying for?
MICHAEL COHEN, FORMER ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: There is no doubt in my mind.
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): We will demand the release of the full report.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): I do not think that conduct criminal or not is okay.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Show us the Mueller report. Show us the tax returns. We`re not walking away.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
VELSHI: It has been a momentous 100 days for the newly democratically controlled House of Representatives. A historic blue wave of 2018 has become accountability in 2019 with the new majority conducting oversight of the Trump administration`s policies as well as of the president himself and the biggest surprise is how the new members of Congress, the freshmen, who in previous Congresses have taken a backseat to the old guard, are leading the charge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OCASIO-CORTEZ: To your knowledge, did the president ever provide inflated assets to an insurance company?
OCASIO-CORTEZ: Who else knows that the president did this?
COHEN: Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.
OCASIO-CORTEZ: And where would the committee find more information on this? Do you think we need to review his financial statements and his tax returns in order to compare them?
COHEN: Yes, and you`d find it at the Trump.org.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: This freshmen class is the most diverse in history. It includes more women than ever before and they have a diversity of experiences and they are bringing that perspective into their oversight role.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ABIGAIL SPANBERGER (D-VA): I`m a former intelligence officer. I am deeply concerned about what appears to be a growing disconnect between our political and intelligence leaders.
REP. LUCY MCBATH (D-GA): The pain of losing a child to gun violence never ends. And it`s in that pain that drives me to do this work to prevent gun violence.
REP. LAUREN UNDERWOOD (D-IL): I`m not a lawyer. I`m a nurse. Madam Secretary, I want to be very clear about what the family separation policy is doing to children`s mental and physical health. Were you aware the traumatic effects don`t go away even if a child is reunited with their family?
KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: I understand that they are, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: That was a no. The freshmen Democrats have shown themselves willing to challenge members of the Trump administration in any and all areas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOSH HARDER (D-CA): Can you help explain to me why the budget that you proposed eliminates every single dedicated federal literacy program?
BETSY DEVOS: Continued federal funding to try to fix problems has not yielded the results that we all hoped for. Those solutions are best done at the state and local level.
HARDER: One of the programs that you cut, the LEARN program, helps those states and local districts develop comprehensive literacy programs to actually solve this problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: And this freshmen class is not afraid to throw the book at them or at least hold it up in a hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Ms. Kraninger, the annual percentage rate and I`ll be happy to send you a copy of the textbook that I wrote, explains that the APR is derived from the finance charge, the amount financed, and the payment schedule. It`s a mathematical transformation of those three numbers into the cost of credit expressed at a yearly rate.
KATHERINE KRANINGER, DIRECTOR, CFPB: Yes. A simplification, I understand that you know well.
PORTER: Well, my concern is whether you know well, ma`am because you are the one responsible for making sure that American consumers know well when they take out loans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Oh, snap, as they say. Up next, we will be joined by three freshmen Democrats who are helping to put a check on the Trump administration right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: In this class, 18 freshmen have gavels or subcommittee chairs. Ten of them are women. We have seven women chairs, a full committee, 39 women at chairs -- 39 women with gavels of chairs and subcommittees and maybe even more.
And so it is pretty exciting. This caucus which is a 60 percent or more women, people of color, LGBTQ, comes together. Let`s say to them, our diversity is our strength, our unity is our power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: The most diverse freshmen class of the House of Representatives has been busy on its first 100 days in the majority. The group of more than 60 new Democratic members have captured national attention and tested the Trump administration`s leadership.
Joining me now, three freshmen Democratic members of the House of Representatives -- Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger of Virginia`s 7th District. She is a former CIA officer and sits on the House Foreign Affairs and Agricultural Committee.
Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer of Iowa`s 1s District -- she is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Congressman Harley Rouda of the California`s 48th District. He is a member of the House Oversight Committee. All three flipped their districts from red to blue. Welcome to all of you. Congratulations on your first 100 days.
Representative Spanberger, let me start with you. You have deep expertise in this country`s intelligence. You have walked into a government that has probably been disrespecting our intelligence community more than in recent history and you have to go there and share with your colleagues what you and your colleagues in the CIA and elsewhere in the intelligence community actually do, how so many of you worked without recognition, how many of your colleagues have died without recognition. How has that been for you?
SPANBERGER: Well, what`s been really tremendous is having the experience of talking with my colleagues particularly the freshmen and being a resource for them, talking about the experiences of what it is to be an intelligence officer. How it is that the intelligence community works to ensure that we`re providing good and well-sourced information to leadership in Washington so that they can make good and informed decisions.
It`s been a real challenge watching the way the administration has disrespected or not acknowledged the value of intelligence and the intelligence community because truly at its core, the goal of any intelligence officer is to collect really good information to help inform the decisions that policy makers are making, that the administration is making.
And I hope we move towards a place where we see leadership valuing all of the information that they possibly can obtain so that we can make good decisions for this country and for the American people.
VELSHI: We know that when there are scientists in Congress, there`s better science policy. We know when there are doctors in Congress there is better medical policy. Will we understand intelligence better because of people like you?
SPANBERGER: Well, I think it`s understanding the work of the intelligence community, understanding intelligence, but also understanding the risks we`re facing as a country when we look at, you know, threats against our infrastructure, threats against our elections and just some of the concerns that people have with cyberattacks and, you know, what third -- what state and non-state actors might try and how they might try and aggress against our country.
It`s incredibly important that we have people who really understand the types of threats that exist, who have worked to thwart them, worked to understand them. And I think that that skillset and that knowledge base is very beneficial to the new Congress and to the country.
VELSHI: Representative Finkenauer, you are from Iowa. You are the second youngest member of Congress, second youngest woman in Congress.
You, obviously being from Iowa, you have great interest in some of the things that are going on today as it relates to agriculture, as it relates to trade, as it relates to small business because some of the farmers in your state are small business people and matters as they relate to climate, and it all comes together for you. What`s your experience been like on those matters that are so important to your constituents?
REP. ABBY FINKENAUER (D-IA), CHAIR, TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE COMMITTEE: Well, I`m lucky now to be able to chair the subcommittee of Rural Development Agriculture Trade and Entrepreneurship. And so what I`ve really tried to focus on these first 100 days is actually bring Iowians to Washington so that they`re actually heard through all of the chaos that`s often going on when it comes to trade.
So that has been just truly a huge honor. But also, heartbreaking at the same time. You know, oftentimes, you hear a lot of stats about the money being lost, all of that, but you`re not hearing it from folks who are actually living it day-to-day.
I mean we had a woman come in and testify who told me that she`s telling her three sons not to go into farming because she`s worried about that future. That`s terrifying when you`re talking about my state.
And on top of it, you had another farmer as well who, you know, he`s a pork producer and worried about all of the retaliatory tariffs really coming down on them hard. I had somebody telling me that he`s dipping into his 401(k), a 16-year-old telling me that he`s worried about even being able to have his friends want to stay in the area. He`s not thinking of going into farming either now.
I mean, we`re talking about the future of my state on the line here. So every day that I`m in Congress right now, it`s about stepping up for the folks that I hear from every day and making sure folks in Washington are finally hearing them as well.
VELSHI: Representative Rouda, you and I spoke when it wasn`t clear. You had seemed like you had won the election but it took a longer than it did for some other folks.
You are a man who has come out of a family business. You have a lot of regard for family businesses but one of the things you`re passionate about as are your colleagues here is health care.
In fact, you don`t all share a view on how to solve this. You have got -- you have different views between the three of you, which is fine. But you all share a view that we need better, more accessible, more affordable health care with a better outcome for all Americans.
REP. HARLEY ROUDA (D-CA): Absolutely. Thanks for having me on the show. And hi, Abigail. Hi, Abby.
SPANBERGER: Hi, Harley.
ROUDA: We`re usually together in D.C. but it`s nice to be together with you on T.V. here.
FINKENAUER: Hi, Harley.
ROUDA: Health care is, obviously, a key issue, not just for the constituents in Orange County that I represent but across America. We have almost 30 million Americans who do not have insurance and we have a very convoluted insurance system.
We spend 18 and a half percent of our GDP on health care. That`s about twice as much as the other industrialized developed countries in the world. We have some of the worst metrics when you look at our health care vis-a- vis those same countries.
So we know we`ve got a broken system. We know we have to have a better system. And I`m prepared to work with not just my fellow members in the Democratic Caucus, but reaching across the aisle and working with Republicans as well.
Because ultimately, we`re all paying for this dysfunctional health care system one way or another. We need to make it better.
VELSHI: All of you, hold on right there. We`re going to take a quick break and we`ll be back with our freshmen Democrats right after this.
VELSHI: All right. We`re back with our three freshmen members of the House of Representatives. Abigail Spanberger, Abbey Finkenauer, and Harley Rouda. Thanks to you for spending the Friday evening with me.
Let me start with you, Representative Spanberger. There are so many -- there are a few self-inflicted things going on in Washington, the trade war and the border wall but there are big issues. And whether --
VELSHI: -- the big issues for you are national security or climate or health care or immigration or income inequality, and when I say immigration, I mean the real immigration issues we`ve got in this country. What do you feel you could achieve? What are you putting your heart behind? And what do you want to look at in terms of a measurement of success come the next election?
SPANBERGER: So I`m focused on the things that are important to the people of Central Virginia, the people who sent me to Washington. And that is addressing the rising cost of prescription drugs. That is ensuring that our broadband Internet infrastructure allows our rural communities to connect the same way our suburban communities can.
And that means bringing, restoring faith in our political system overall. And I`m really proud that this freshmen class has been focused on the issues that are important to their home districts, on the prescription drug front.
You know, I have led on the bill that would provide greater transparency to pharmacy benefit managers and the pricing of prescription drugs. I`ve co- sponsored the Medicare Price Negotiation Act that would require Medicare Part D to negotiate these prescriptions drugs.
On the broadband Internet side of things, I`ve partnered with my Republican colleagues and many of my Democratic colleagues to ensure that when we`re moving towards appropriations season, we are fully funding the broadband and Internet-focused programs that were in the 2018 Farm Bill, and also existing programs that have been vital to so many of our communities across the country.
And, of course, there was our Campaign Finance and Good Governance Bill that so many of us joined together on because across our campaigns, we heard that people just don`t necessarily have a strong faith in those who represent them.
And for me, back in Central Virginia, it`s also about being accountable. So we`ve done three town halls so far. I`ve got two on this district break, upcoming this week and the week after. And I want to continue being engaged directly with the people who sent me to Washington so that I make sure I`m addressing the issues that are important to them.
VELSHI: Representative Finkenauer, I know you`re obviously interested in the issues that you are on the subcommittee for, that you`re chairing a subcommittee for on Agriculture and Entrepreneurship. When you go back, when you are in your constituency, how do people, how are they responding to this new Congress?
Because so many people in this country are frustrated with politics in general. Are they excited by the idea that something different might be happening?
FINKENAUER: They are. A lot of people talk about what did 2018 mean. And a lot of folks think it was a referendum on the president.
And I think very specifically in my district, it was a referendum on the chaos and dysfunction of Washington, D.C. So when folks are coming to talk to me when we`re doing conversations with Congress, when we`re literally having kitchen table-like conversations, where we`re going back and forth sharing ideas just like I did as a little girl where I`d sit with my grandpa who was a Democrat and an uncle who was a Republican and we`d have these ideas and we could, you know, disagree but still respect each other at the end of the day.
And I think that`s what they`re starting to see, especially from this new freshmen class and a lot of the members of that helped flipped these seats. We listen to what folks wanted in our district and what they want is us to go get something done.
And so we`re talking about investing in transportation and infrastructure which is desperately needed. You know, when you`re talking about Iowa in particular, we`ve got the most structurally deficient bridges in the entire country.
That`s not a Republican or Democratic issue. That`s just a good government issue. We`re talking about broadband and making sure that we have that in every corner of our state, for our farmers with the (INAUDIBLE) that`s new and obviously, a big part of the future of agriculture in our state and in the country.
But also, for entrepreneurs, so that they can come home and live in small towns and be able to start a business. I mean, these are things that we can actually get done and we need to, again, find that common ground to do it.
I`m excited every day because of the subcommittee that I chair. I actually really enjoy working with my ranking member, Dr. Joyce. We`re able to find that common ground and we`re able to move things forward.
And that`s what I think we need to continue to do for the next year and a half and hopefully, years to come as well because that`s what folks deserve.
VELSHI: Congresswoman Rouda, you are in Southern California. To the south of you is a border that is the focus of it seems all discussions and all discussions having to do with the Department of Homeland Security which was formed to keep America safe from serious external threats, wasn`t formed as an immigration agency.
To the north of you in Northern California, you have Silicon Valley, which is desperate for more talent and puzzled by the fact that people who they think, the break in immigration is something entirely different than Donald Trump does. How do you go and deal with the issues of immigration in your constituency?
ROUDA: Yes, the big challenge is the political rhetoric that has entered the discussion, driven mostly by the president. There really is an opportunity for bipartisan support in addressing our immigration issues.
Everybody wants secure borders. Everybody wants secure ports. Everybody wants to stop the interdiction of drugs coming into our country.
But we also want to have a fair process and we also want to make sure that we`re having individuals come who can help create businesses and fill needed jobs here in the U.S. But when the rhetoric becomes so politicized as President Trump does by build the wall and make Mexico pay for it, it`s difficult for us on either side of the aisle to get together and sit down and look for those proactive solutions.
And that`s why I have been committed all along in my time there. We need to find common ground. We need to find decency in how we talk to each other and discuss these issues. We need to reach across the aisle and find bipartisan support for these issues.
And if we do that, we really can address these big issues facing our country. But we can`t do it as long as our leaders are pitting Americans against Americans.
VELSHI: Let me ask you, quickly, Representative Spanberger about our foreign policy. You deal with national security, you as an -- as part of what you did in your life, your career. You dealt with national security. Are you concerned about our foreign policy direction right now?
SPANBERGER: Deeply. I am deeply concerned about where we`re headed from a foreign policy perspective. We, from the fact that we have pulled out of agreements with other countries, with partner nations from the Paris Accord to the Iranian Nuclear Deal.
We have demonstrated that we will go back on our commitments. We have a president who routinely undermines and talks negatively about the value of NATO. We just had the 70th anniversary of NATO.
And this is deeply disturbing because the peace throughout Europe and the stabilization and growth that we`ve seen in the United States is built on this notion of our cooperation with our NATO allies. We have created antagonistic relationships with our trading partners and friends internationally through the trade war that we as a nation have begun.
And I think it`s incredibly troubling the path that we`re on. But I will say that I`m also heartened because we have many members of Congress who are taking an active role in demonstrating and showing our work on the Foreign Affairs Committee, on the Armed Services Committee, that we recognize the value of the relationships that our country has forged with our allies and our partners over decades and decades.
And we continue to reform the value and the role that the United States should play in the world. I`m troubled by the budget that the administration put out, the budget proposal cuts a tremendous amount of money from our foreign aid and development budget which is I think very troubling, particularly from counterterrorism and a kind of stabilization point of view.
But I don`t think that we have reached a point where we can`t come back from the problems that we`ve created. But I do think that we need to make sure that we are firmly grounded and rooted and pursuing informed policy, rooted in our values and that we are keeping our promises and moving forward with our partner nations.
VELSHI: Well, I am optimistic and heartened for the conversation with the three of you. Thank you for spending your Friday evening with me. Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, Congresswoman Abby Finkenhauer, and Congressman Harley Rouda, thank you for joining us.
Coming up, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on taxing the rich and the pick your poison of the Trump administration.
VELSHI: In the sprawling 2020 field, Pete Buttigieg may be the unlikeliest serious contending of all. He`s just 37-years-old. He`s the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. A city of 100,000 people.
If elected, he`d be the youngest president in American history and the first to be openly gay. But Mayor Pete, as he`s known, is having a moment.
He`s just announced an impressive fundraising haul for the first quarter of the year outraising officials with far larger national profiles. And polling suggests he`s already made an impact in early voting states.
This weekend, Mayor Pete is expected to officially kick off his presidential campaign. Ahead of that, he sat down with CNBC Editor-at- Large John Harwood at the beginning of the week to talk about the economy, taxing the rich, and the future of American capitalism.
I`m going to show you that in a moment. But first, here`s what Mayor Pete had to say about the turmoil in the Trump administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN HARWOOD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, CNBC: The Homeland Security secretary resigned abruptly. This morning, we learned that the director of the Secret Service has been fired by the president. We have an acting White House chief of staff, an acting defense secretary, acting interior secretary.
Do you feel anything different about this moment? Do you think that the government itself is in a state of crisis?
PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the government`s been in some kind of crisis ever since this president arrived. Not just when you have a vacancy, but frankly, sometimes when you have an appointee who is hostile to the mission of the agency that he or she is heading up.
In the case of DHS, it`s a little bit different. Many of the concerns around DHS are not so much about the personnel but about the policies. And when you talk about family separation or just unpreparedness for some of the issues at the border, that`s a concern.
But one thing we are seeing more and more is Americans need our government to work. We can argue over how big it ought to be or how small it ought to be, what functions it ought to take on.
But fundamentally, I mean I`d be run out of town on a rail if I couldn`t run a government. And what we`re seeing in Washington, it`s hard to sink a ship but they seem to be doing their best and these vacancies are going to be more and more of a problem.
So I think for those of us who are opposed to this administration`s policies, it`s kind of a choose your poison thing. I don`t know what`s worse, them being well-staffed and pursuing policies that are destructive or them being hamstrung by the ability to do much at all because there are so many key positions that are vacant.
VELSHI: More now of John Harwood`s conversation with Presidential Candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The two discussed Buttigieg`s approach to economic change and why he says the U.S. needs a new 21st Century economic approach to taxation, spending, and balance between fairness and growth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARWOOD: What`s right about American capitalism?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, American capitalism is one of the most productive forces ever known to man. There`s so much that this country has been able to unlock, especially in the last century in terms of technology, in terms of prosperity.
Now, where it goes wrong is when it`s only being experienced in certain parts of the country or by certain kinds of people. I think it goes to show just how important for capitalism to work that it be backed by all of the other pieces that business alone can`t solve.
But when it`s working right, there`s nothing like it. You think about the changes that have happened, the advancements in health, in communications, in every field that have been led by our country, what frightens me is it`s no longer obvious that our country will lead the most important advancements of human kind in the 21st Century, not unless we do some things differently.
HARWOOD: Is that because you think the system is in some way rigged?
BUTTIGIEG: Yes, it`s pretty typical human behavior for people to try to make sure the rules work to their benefit. That`s why the U.S. is based on the idea of a robust legal system and constraints on the accesses of anybody, especially concentrated wealth. And yet we`re at this moment where the concentrated wealth has begun to turn into concentrated power. More than begun, it`s well underway.
The thing that makes capitalism capitalism is competition. But you have more and more cooperative glomerations of power. You`re going to see less and less competition.
HARWOOD: But is that a reason why you think we have expanding income equality?
BUTTIGIEG: I think it`s a vicious cycle. The economy is not some creature that just lumbers along on its own. It`s an interaction between the private sector and public sector.
And public sector policies for basically as long as I`ve been alive have been skewed in a direction that`s increasing inequality. The fundamental truth is it turns out a rising tide does not lift all votes, not on its own. Especially if some of the votes are sort of tethered to the ocean floor. And that`s the kind of pattern that we`ve been on.
HARWOOD: So how do you fix what`s wrong without slowing down or harming what`s right?
BUTTIGIEG: Well, first of all, we`ve got to define what success looks like. Is success just the number, the GDP, or success that more Americans are prospering?
When you have that definition, it tells you that you have to rate this kind of exchanges between distribution and growth a little more evenly.
HARWOOD: So there is an efficiency-equity tradeoff and you`re willing to make it?
BUTTIGIEG: There may be. Yes. I mean look, it`s great to say that it`s all win-wins. And to some extent, it is. Actually, I think in an economy that`s more equitable also tends to grow better.
But if there`s a win-lose equation, we shouldn`t shy away from that. We shouldn`t pretend that all of this stuff can be done, that you can make everybody off while making some -- while making nobody worse.
The reality is there are some people who are not paying their share. There are some corporations that are not contributing to the way that they should. Until we recalibrate that, until we invest in things like education and infrastructure and health, investments that do in fact pay for themselves overall.
But some people may have to pay more than others because some people frankly are getting a bit of a free ride on the productive energy of this country and this economy. That`s going to take a real choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: CNBC`s John Harwood with Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Again, this program reminder which you heard from Rachel earlier, Mayor Pete will be Rachel`s special guest on Monday night.
And that`s "Tonight`s Last Word." "The 11th Hour" with Brian Williams starts now.