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Politics of running on impeachment. TRANSCRIPT: 9/12/19, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O'Donnell.

Guests: Mark Zandi, Rachel Bitecofer, John Autry, David Jolly, ClaireMcCaskill, Amy Klobuchar

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Rachel.   Thank you very much. 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  You’re welcome. 

O’DONNELL:  Well, for the history books, Thursday, September 12th, 2019, will be the day remembered as the first recorded vote of the possible impeachment of President Donald J. Trump.  The House Judiciary Committee voted on a party line vote to establish rules and guidelines to govern an impeachment inquiry. 

Some Democrats are worried about the politics of impeachment, but political scientist Rachel Bitecofer will make the case here tonight that the politics of impeachment work in the Democrats’ favor.  Rachel Bitecofer is the election analyst who predicted the big blue wave of 2018 right down to the number of House seats flipped from Republican to Democrat. 

Professor Bitecofer has studied how the impeachment issue affects voters, and she has much to say about the strong campaign Democrat Dan McCready ran in a North Carolina congressional district where he came in second Tuesday night, just two points behind the Republican winner.  Rachel Bitecofer will explain why she thinks that race was actually winnable for Democrats.  She’ll tell us what she believes the Democrat could have done differently in that race and that Democrats could make a difference in other races in dozens of other congressional races by approaching them differently.  Rachel Bitecofer will join us later in this hour. 

Also ahead tonight, the new political viral video star Deb Butler. 


STATE REP. DEB BUTLER (D), NORTH CAROLINA:  Process.  You shall not do this to -- you shall not do this to democracy in North Carolina, Mr. Speaker.  How dare you do this, Mr. Speaker?  I will not yield. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We’re not going to let anybody touch her. 

BUTLER:  I will not yield, Mr. Speaker.  I will not yield!


BUTLER:  You shall not disrupt the process, Mr. Speaker!


O’DONNELL:  Deb Butler was seen as a hero in North Carolina and much of the country today after fighting back against Republican dirty tricks in the statehouse yesterday.  She joined us here last night at THE LAST WORD, and we will show you what Deb Butler had to say today.  She has a new demand for the Republican speaker of the house in North Carolina. 

But we begin tonight with the Trump escape hatch.  Trump team rushes to find escape hatch for China tariffs.  That’s the headline on a new article in "Politico" which says, quote: President Donald Trump’s top advisers are rushing to find an escape hatch for a series of tariff increases in the coming months, worried about the potential for further economic damage. 

Donald Trump opened one of those escape hatches last night with a tweet saying he was delaying increased tariffs on Chinese goods scheduled for October 1st as quote, a gesture of goodwill, due to the fact that the People’s Republic of China will be celebrating their 70th anniversary. 

And that is the very first time a president of the United States has greeted the birthday of the communist dictatorship in China with such a gift.  According to "Politico’s" reporting, the change is all part of an effort by some Trump advisers who understand just how damaging the Trump trade war is to the United States and to Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.  "Politico" reports the goal of the internal administration discussions is to forestall October tariff increases and the next tariffs set to take effect in December with some advisers arguing that the economic hit is real and must be mitigated prior to the election year. 

The economic hit is real according to every economist not working in the Trump White House.  Yahoo Finance reports forecasting firm Moody’s analytics estimates that the Trump trade war with China has already reduced U.S. employment by 300,000 jobs compared with likely employment levels absent the trade war. 

That’s a combination of jobs eliminated by firms struggling with tariffs and other elements of the trade war and jobs that would have been created but haven’t because of reduced economic activity.  The firm’s chief economist Mark Zandi who will join us in a moment told Yahoo Finance that the job toll from the trade war will hit about 450,000 by the end of the year if there’s no change in policy by the end of 2020, the trade war will have killed 900,000 jobs on its current course.  The hardest hit sectors are manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, and retail. 

In other bad economic news for the Trump re-election campaign, President Trump’s own Treasury Department has been forced to admit that the U.S. annual budget deficit is now more than a trillion dollars a year.  Candidate Donald Trump ran for president promising to completely eliminate the budget deficit by balancing the federal budget every year, and then completely eliminate the national debt.

But in fact, President Trump has increased the national debt from $19 trillion to $22 trillion, and there are more troubling suggestions of the possibility of a recession hitting before the 2020 election.  Jeffrey Gundlach, chief executive officer of Double Line Capital said we should be on recession watch before the 2020 election.  Gundlach said Thursday in London, we’re getting closer but we’re not there yet.  The odds of a U.S. recession before the election are 75 percent, said Gundlach.

And leading up our discussion tonight, Mark Zandi, he’s chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.  He’s an economic adviser on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and is currently advising some of the Democratic presidential candidates on economic issues. 

And also joining us, Jonathan Alter, he’s columnist for "The Daily Beast" and an MSNBC political analyst.  Jonathan covered the economic problems of the 2008 presidential campaign, and President Obama’s efforts to bring the country out of recession in his first years. 

Mark Zandi, I want to start with you and your view of what the job loss, what the effects are of the Trump trade war. 

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY’S ANALYTICS:  It’s doing a lot of damage.  I think it’s fair to say that manufacturing, the ag sector, the transportation distribution sectors are already in recession and the problems are starting to broaden out.  We’re seeing job growth slow in many parts of the economy.  The slowdown has been very pronounced since this time last year when the trade war got going, and if growth slows any further, we’re going to see unemployment start to rise. 

And once unemployment starts to rise, that’s the fodder for an economic downturn because that spooks people.  You know, they sense the rising unemployment, fewer open job positions, less opportunity, smaller pay increases, less bonus.  They start to pull back a bit on their spending, businesses see that, they start pulling back more on their hiring.  You can see, Lawrence, how you get into that self-reinforcing negative cycle, which is a recession. 

So, we’re not there yet, but the trade war is doing a lot of damage.  If the president continues on the current course, we’ll get there pretty soon. 

O’DONNELL:  And, Jonathan, we saw Trump reaching for an escape hatch.  To commemorate the 70th birthday of a communist dictatorship, he has decided to delay, delay his tariffs, all of which are illegal, by the way.  They are -- he is using a clause inside trade law specifically for national security, and there’s not a single national security element in Chinese clothes washing machines being imported into the United States or Canadian steel being imported into the United States, so forth.

So, these are all illegal tariffs that the market seems to have assumed would go away as soon as they became a political problem.  But Donald Trump is still holding onto them. 

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, he’s the master of disaster, and he’s never consistent on any issue, and trade is among them.  He just goes back and forth, back and forth. 

The question now is whether he sees his re-election flashing before him, and if you look at Mark Zandi’s numbers, he says 900,000 jobs under the current tariffs if the new ones kicked in in October, it would go over a million jobs.  So that’s a pretty good talking point for Democratic candidate, right? 

O’DONNELL:  David Plouffe, who ran Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, urged all of the Democratic candidates, all of them to use exactly what you just said and to use Mark’s analysis tonight, only one of them did. 

ALTER:  Right.  But they would next year if the tariffs continue.  I think -- and I don’t want to make these sorts of predictions about Trump because he’s so unpredictable -- but because his re-election is the only thing he cares about, there are some signs in recent days that he is looking, as you said, for an escape hatch, and so, they’re going to put this all in reverse. 

But that then puts Xi Jinping in the driver’s seat, right?  Then he has Trump exactly where he wants him.  And you have another situation where this guy proves to be a disastrously bad negotiator. 

So, he will try to go back to the terms that they had in May when they came close to having a deal, we’ll see whether Xi Jinping accepts them.  He’s got his own problems in Hong Kong.  He has his own incentives to want to deal. 

And there’s some reporting out of China that, you know, insiders are saying that he doesn’t want to see Trump lose his temper, so he may be trying to placate him.  So, they may have kind of a fig leaf trade deal to reassure markets. 

O’DONNELL:  Mark, what about the Chinese economy and their ability to just hang on for 18 months and hope for a new president? 

ZANDI:  Yes, good point.  And the advantage the Chinese has, and I should say the trade war is doing a lot of damage here.  It’s doing obviously a lot of damage there. 

The Chinese economy is struggling, but the advantage they have is that they have a lot of room for monetary and fiscal stimulus.  They can lower interest rates.  They can ramp up infrastructure spending.  They can cut taxes and they’re doing all of the above, and they’re doing it very rapidly. 

I mean, they don’t have, you know, the problems we have as a democracy to get things done.  They just do it, and so that’s supporting their economy, and they’re still hitting their growth targets.  You know, a lot of questions about the validity of those targets, but they’re pretty close. 

So I think because they have that latitude on monitoring fiscal policy, they’re going to -- I think they’re going to play a little longer game here, and I don’t think they’re going to agree to anything substantive until after the election.  I mean, I think they’re going to wait and see how the election plays out. 

O’DONNELL:  Yes, Jonathan, just one word in there that Mark just said that I really want to emphasize for the audience.  You don’t want to get in a trade war with a dictatorship.  No one in China is worried about their approval ratings in government in this situation.  Donald Trump is the one who has political risk in this. 

ALTER:  But it -- you know, we’re not sure whether xi wants Trump out of there because he’s so easy to manipulate that he might want to do Trump a favor and come up with some kind of a deal because he could have his hands full, with President Warren or President Biden or somebody else who’s not as much of a sap and not as out of his depth in these negotiations. 

O’DONNELL:  Mark, there is, after all, a Republican primary now in the states that are allowing -- Republican states that are allowing primary elections.  I would expect the other Republican candidates to be making as much of this as they possibly can, and in certain situations in certain states, some of them might even get a better hearing on the Trump trade war than some of the Democrats get. 

ZANDI:  Yes, good point.  You know, the irony in all of this, at least from a political perspective for the president is that the damage that the trade war is creating is mostly in those parts of the country that have voted very heavily for the president.  You know, think about that -- agriculture, the farm sector.  Of course the president’s trying to mitigate the fallout of the trade war by $16 billion in aid, but that only goes so far. 

And, of course, manufacturing, I mean, he was all about manufacturing, and this is -- manufacturing’s on the front line of the trade war.  It’s in recession and starting to lose jobs.  So, you know, this is really hurting the parts of the country that voted for the president in the last election. 

O’DONNELL:  And one thing, Jonathan, that the president obviously doesn’t understand about agricultural markets is that farmers aren’t looking at a four-year horizon.  They’re looking at a lifetime horizon, and they’re looking at a horizon in which many of them hope that their children will be running the farm after them.  That means markets, having a market matters to them much more than getting a government handout because their market has been cut off.  And once a market is cut off, it means it’s been the source for that market has been replaced by some other country. 

ALTER:  Right, so remember, the farm belt is the only place that Trump has huge support.  He had 75 percent in some of these areas, so any kind of erosion there is really damaging to him politically, and your point is spot on, just to go to a Carter administration example.  When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Carter over Walter Mondale’s, vice president’s objection imposed a grain embargo, drying up all those Russian markets. 

O’DONNELL:  Us sending grain to the Soviet Union. 

ALTER:  And you know what happened?  Democrats got killed for 25 years.  They are still suffering from it. 

You can go and people will still be talking about the 1980 grain embargo because it’s their livelihood.  So if you wreck those export markets as you’re discussing, there can be really long-term consequences for Republicans. 

O’DONNELL:  And, Mark, talk about the recession outlook and no one wants it to happen.  No one’s encouraging it, but when you’re in the White House, you have to look at every possible warning sign, especially as you’re approaching re-election and be extra cautious about this. 

ZANDI:  Yes, good point.  I mean, I -- my sense is that if the president follows through on all of his tariffs threats an we got another round coming at the end of the year, if he actually goes through with that, then recession odds for next year in 2020 are better than even. 

And you know, I’m not the only one who thinks that.  I mean, just look at what’s going on in financial markets, the bond market, you know, the so- called yield curve, kind of a geeky thing, but it’s a very prescient leading indicator, and that indicator has been signaling very strongly that this time next year, the U.S. economy will be in recession. 

So, the collective wisdom of global investors are already concluding that recession is increasingly likely. 

So I think the president still has some time.  You know, I think he can -- if he can stand down, find some face saving arrangement to end this thing and not follow through on those threats.  I think the economy will navigate through barely. 

If he follows through, I think recession risks are better than even and they’re very, very high.  Of course, we’re not even considering all the other risks out there.  I mean, consider what’s going on in the U.K. around Brexit, think what’s going on in Hong Kong, think about what’s going on in the Middle East and Iran.  I mean, there are a lot of things that can derail an economy that is already weak with potentially rising unemployment. 

O’DONNELL:  Jonathan, what Mark just said about the trade war is what every president prior to Donald Trump heard from staff and from economists and experts.  Whenever that president might have wondered why don’t we just impose some retaliatory tariffs on China because of their behavior on X or Y, and the answer was always it’s complex.  It is likely to backfire on us, at least as much as it is to harm China? 

ALTER:  You know, the great tragedy might be too strong, but it’s really unfortunate that the TPP didn’t go through.  This was negotiated under President Obama.

O’DONNELL:  Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

ALTER:  Because what that did is it actually isolated China.  China was not part of it.  Trump when he was trashing it, made everybody think that China was, but they weren’t.  It was creating rules of the road that would make China play on our terms.

And so, the next president, if it’s a Democrat is going to have to get back to this tough, but smart trade policy where you don’t say things like, well, winning a trade war is easy, and you have very tough negotiations on technology transfer, intellectual property, agriculture -- genuine trade issues where the Chinese are taking advantage of us.  You come at it with our strength, not with protectionism that doesn’t work. 

O’DONNELL:  Yes, and you’ve touched on a larger subject that we don’t have time for tonight on international trade, which is that it has strategic importance beyond just economic policy, that it has a strategic importance in interlocking different countries and creating more of a security blanket in effect and eliminating different kinds of tensions that might otherwise arise. 

We’re going to have to leave it there.  Mark Zandi, Jonathan Alter, thank you both for starting us off tonight.  I really appreciate it. 

ALTER:  Thanks, Lawrence.

ZANDI:  Thank you.

O’DONNELL:  And when we come back, political scientist Rachel Bitecofer will join us once again to explain how the politics of impeachment could impact congressional campaigns. 

And Representative Deb Butler joined us here live on THE LAST WORD last night, and she described what it felt like when she grabbed the microphone to protest what the "Charlotte Observer" called a shameless theft of democracy by Republicans in North Carolina’s House of Representatives. 


BUTLER:  You shall not do this to -- you shall not do this to democracy in North Carolina, Mr. Speaker!  How dare you do this, Mr. Speaker! 


O’DONNELL:  The only reason we were able to see that is because of John Autry.  He is the representative who had the presence of mind to capture it all on his phone to show the world the shame of North Carolina Republicans.  North Carolina State Representative John Autry will join us coming up.


O’DONNELL:  Today, the House Judiciary Committee took its biggest procedural step forward in its impeachment investigation of President Trump.  This morning, the committee voted on a set of rules to empower their inquiry of the president. 

The impeachment inquiry rules allow the committee to rely on counsel to question witnesses publicly and privately.  The rules also establish a process for reviewing evidence like grand jury evidence, privately, and allows the president’s attorneys to respond in writing to evidence that the committee examines both in public and in private.  These are the same rules that have been used by the House Judiciary Committee in previous impeachment investigations of presidents.

During the vote, Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said this. 


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY):  This committee is engaged in an investigation that will allow us to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Trump.  That is what we are doing.  Some call this process an impeachment inquiry.  Some call it an impeachment investigation.  There’s no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature. 


O’DONNELL:  While some Democrats have worried about the politics of impeachment, and our next guest has studied voter reaction to impeachment.  Rachel Bitecofer is the assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.  She built a midterm forecast for the 2016 elections that was close to perfect, and she is this show’s official second favorite Rachel. 

Rachel, thank you very much for joining us again tonight.  Really appreciate it. 


O’DONNELL:  Talk to us about what you have found in voter reaction to the politics of impeachment for Democrats. 

BITECOFER:  Yes, let me explain how this is supposed to work.  I mean, we used to hear that Obama led from behind, right?  And certainly, we could watch Trump every day leading from incompetence.

But when we think about how Democrats have led this impeachment effort, it really is leading by ambivalence.  I mean, even today with this vote, we had Nancy Pelosi come and give a press conference where she seemed to assure everybody that it was a vote that was not for an impeachment inquiry, even though it kind of was, maybe, sort of, she isn’t sure. 

So, you know, it’s really difficult when you’re talking about political messaging when you don’t even know for sure what your own message is.  And that can be really disastrous electorally. 

Let me explain why because when we talk about public opinion, this perception that we should be seeing movement in the public and that would inspire Democrats then to take a leadership role on this issue, it’s just backwards.  I mean, certainly there are times when public opinion’s going to lead, gay marriage would be a great example of where public opinion was on a leading indicator and pushed elites, but it’s very rare. 

Generally speaking, it flows from the top down, and the Democrats really have mishandled the way the politics of this moment of impeachment. 

O’DONNELL:  And so, what is it that voters are looking for when they look at Washington, they look at Democrats facing the question of impeachment? 

BITECOFER:  Yes, so I think the voters spoke pretty clearly in the 2018 midterms.  As you know, we have discussed several times my election research, which shows that the House flips, especially in those marginal districts, really we’re a product of turnout surges, not just of Democratic voters but also of independents that didn’t vote in the 2014 midterms and were galvanized to the polls. 

You have to believe that some of that was motivated by fear of what Trump has been doing while in office, you know, certainly some of this impeachment inquiry involves Russia, but some of it involves other things, the emoluments clause issues, the effort to obstruct justice during the Russia investigation.  The Democrats speak in terms of the leadership anyway as if they were waiting for a message from the voters as to what they should do. 

But we just had a pretty big message, a 40-seat message.  I think the voters kind of spoke their case on that and even though the polls isn’t really, you know, saying oh, there’s this public outcry, that’s because the salience of the issue has been obscured. 

I mean, Democrats have not made this a major theme.  They didn’t make it a theme in the campaign.  They haven’t held public hearings, where they aired the evidence, although Mueller did have that one day of testimony, which a little bit of public exposure, but this idea that most people know what the Mueller report revealed, it’s ludicrous. 

I mean, I guarantee you that less than 1 percent of the American public has actually read the Mueller report. 

O’DONNELL:  You studied the districts and predicted the districts where the Democrats would flip Republican seats to the Democrats in the last election.  Those are the seats that some Democrats in leadership in the House have been trying to protect by immuting the subject of impeachment, but what we’ve started to see is some of the winners of those flipped seats themselves are coming outs in support of impeachment, and nose are the people who the Democratic leadership were trying to protect from having to take a position on impeachment. 

BITECOFER:  Yes, and it’s exactly a product of this.  I mean, here’s the question that the press likes to ask a lot.  Should Donald Trump be impeached?  OK, well, that’s a political question.

But when you ask the question, has Donald Trump committed impeachable crimes?  The answer is yes.  I mean, yes, maybe times 20, and a lot of these marginal districts, I think Katie Porter is a great example of this in California, how do you look your constituents in the face and say, we’re going to allow the commander-in-chief, the president to sit there day in and day out, run roughshod over the Constitution and not hold him to account, and the real trouble with that is that once you allow that to happen, it opens the flood gate to more intrusion and more outlandish behavior. 

And I think that that’s why we’re starting to see some of these marginal district members starting to stand up for the rule of law because it really does become politically dangerous to just simply ignore the behavior. 

O’DONNELL:  Rachel, before you go, what’s the lesson of Tuesday night’s election in North Carolina? 

BITECOFER:  So, the lesson there, Democrats of course had that natural turnout surge or it wouldn’t have been a competitive race.  We’re talking about a district that was safely Republican.  However, because they chose to not tap into the referendum effect that’s feeding that natural enthusiasm, particularly among those base voters, they came up short. 

So it was definitely a winnable election with a better strategy. 

O’DONNELL:  What’s the better strategy in that situation? 

BITECOFER:  So, when you look at how the Republicans ran, run these races, they make sure that share voters know there’s a national component.  They tie voting for Bishop as a vote for support of Trump.  You really never saw that relationship spelled out for Democratic voters on the other side, and that really does make a difference. 

I mean, Trump came in on election night and reminded voters to show up to vote.  That never happened on the other side. 

O’DONNELL:  Rachel Bitecofer, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  Really appreciate it. 

BITECOFER:  Thank you so much for having me. 

O’DONNELL:  Great to have you back. 

And when we come back, the North Carolina Democrat who made sure that the whole world was able to see what the Republicans were doing what was called a theft of democracy in the statehouse yesterday on 9/11.  John Autry’s video of his colleague Deb Butler calling out Republicans’ actions galvanized Democrats to protest today.  State Representative John Autry will be our next guest. 


CHORUS: Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!

O’DONNELL,: Protesters disrupted the North Carolina General Assembly’s prayer this morning to voice outrage after House Republicans called a surprise vote yesterday to override the Governor’s budget veto while most of the Democratic members were absent after they were told by the Republicans that there would be no votes.

Protesters gathered to call for the resignation of House Speaker Tim Moore. Democratic State Representative Deb Butler was there. On Twitter, she called for Speaker Moore’s resignation with the hashtag #iwillnotyield. "I will not yield" is the line that made her go viral after she confronted the House Speaker yesterday.



KANDIE SMITH (D), NORTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: We’re not going to let anybody touch her. We’re not going to let anybody touch her.

BUTLER: I will not yield, Mr. Speaker. I will not yield.


BUTLER: You shall not usurp the process, Mr. Speaker. How dare you subject this body to trickery, deceptive practices, hijacking the process. We have been here day and night for months defending what we believe, and you would submit this body to trickery, deception, deceit? It is so typical of the way you conduct yourself. How dare you, Mr. Speaker.


O’DONNELL: Deb Butler joined us as a guest here at THE LAST WORD last night, and today, this is what Deb Butler had to say.


BUTLER: North Carolina is better than this?




BUTLER: We deserve better than this?




BUTLER: Our citizens deserve Representatives with integrity, decency, respect for the rule of law. What happened yesterday was a shameful, shameful display. We will not yield.

CHORUS: We will not yield.

BUTLER: We demand more of our legislators and our elected Representatives.





BUTLER: And we will see you at the ballot box in 2020.



O’DONNELL: One of the heroes at Deb Butler’s side yesterday was Democratic State Representative John Autry. He is the one who had the presence of mind to grab his phone and capture that video of Deb Butler refusing to yield, and he joins us now.

Representative John Autry, North Carolina, thank you very much for joining us tonight. When Deb Butler was here last night, I asked her how it felt as police officers were closing in on her and then her colleagues, including you, surrounded her. You with the camera. Other colleagues, we could hear on your video, saying don’t let anyone touch her. You all immediately went into a mode of protection so that she could continue, and it didn’t seem like there was any real strategy to it. It seemed like it was just a natural impulse that you all felt.

JOHN AUTRY (D), NORTH CAROLINA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: I would - I have to agree with that. It seemed certainly appropriate. And once the Sergeant at Arms motioned for the Capitol police to be brought in, that’s what prompted Representative Kandie Smith to say "don’t let anybody touch her," and then we just all immediately started moving around her and circled her. I had already been shooting with my phone because once the Sergeant at Arms approached us, I says, OK, this is not going to go down the way they think it’s going to go down.

O’DONNELL: Yes. And we noticed that you were behind her at first, and then we saw that your camera and you hustle forward, get in front of her, so we ended up getting that more dramatic shot. But when you did that, we could also see the Capitol police officers coming in behind her. What did you think was going to happen at that point?

AUTRY: I had no idea what was going to happen. I knew she was going to have her say, and she was going to make her points, but they weren’t going to be taking her out of that chamber. She’s an elected member of that chamber and has the right to be on that floor and to express herself.

O’DONNELL: What was your own personal reaction when you discovered what had happened?

AUTRY: Well, I was a little suspicious when I first walked in. Usually in these kinds of skeletal sessions, you may have 10 to a dozen members of each party on the floor, but most of the other side of the aisle was in their seats, and that raised my antenna right away. And I recall mumbling to my seat-mate that he’s going to call that vote. And sure enough, that’s when he recognized one of the representatives for a motion to say that you’re going to recognize a member, you don’t know what they’re going to be rising for. But the Speaker was very explicit to say the Chair recognizes Representative Saine for a motion. So I figured this was all planned out ahead. And it really denied over half the population of North Carolina because last year Democrats in the legislature received 51 percent of the votes in North Carolina. So they basically denied a little over 5.5 million people, their representation, by pulling this stunt.

O’DONNELL: And your camera work was brilliant, and I’m sure there are cinematographers in Hollywood who were saying he captured everything in the room you needed because you did that shot when Deb Butler challenged the other side where you panned across to the other side, and we see all of the Republicans sitting there in a completely different mode from the Democrats. There’s just a tiny handful of Democrats who were standing around, but all those Republicans are organized in place. It’s like they were showing up for something completely different from why you were there.

AUTRY: I would have to agree with that. We were there to take the pledge and have the opening prayer, probably hear a couple of motions for other ancillary administrative purposes, and then gavel out to be coming back in at 1 o’clock for voting session. This happens a lot in the General Assembly. And we had an opportunity yesterday that - it was just - there was no media in the room. So I think being able to capture that on the phone to show people what it was like and where it happened and how it happened really was an important piece of the story of the legislative session this year.

O’DONNELL: The country is very grateful. North Carolina is very grateful. One final point - so the Senate has not voted to override the veto. So what’s happening in the Senate?

AUTRY: Well, the Senate has different rules than the House does. And in the Senate, they have to - once the measure is put on the calendar for the Senate, they are given their membership 24-hour notice of when they’re going to vote. And the Senate did break the super majority in that chamber last year during the election also.

O’DONNELL: So what is the likelihood of the Senate overriding the veto?

AUTRY: I think the likelihood is very strong. They would have to only peel away one Democrat to vote with them. But I think that after the way they exhibited themselves yesterday, we’re dealing with a group of people who aren’t really concerned about governing. They’re concerned with ruling. And that’s what they exhibited yesterday.

O’DONNELL: State Representative John Autry, thank you very much for going to work with that camera yesterday that told the story the way nothing else could.

AUTRY: Thank you, Lawrence. Thank you for having me on.

O’DONNELL: Really appreciate it. Thank you.

And when we come back, Ted Cruz, who had a real challenge last year from Beto O’Rourke for his Senate seat, is now very worried about Republicans in Texas. That’s next.


O’DONNELL: Joining our discussion now is former Republican Congressman David Jolly of Florida. He is an MSNBC political analyst. And Jonathan Alter is back with us. And Ted Cruz said something today that is noteworthy. He said at a speech, "I think the Texas election in 2018" - meaning his - "is powerful foreshadowing for what to expect across the country in 2020. The far left is pissed off, they hate the President, and that is a powerful motivator. If the left shows up in massive numbers and everybody else doesn’t, that’s how we end up with an incredibly damaging election."

And so, David, Ted Cruz is impressed with what Democrats have already achieved in Texas.

DAVID JOLLY (R-FL), FORMER U.S. HOUSE REPRESENTATIVE & MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Ted Cruz is coming after - off a real scare at the hands of Beto O’Rourke, somebody who tonight seemed to get his stride back, had his confidence back, and particularly on the issue of guns. And Ted Cruz, at the moment you were talking about, was talking about specifically guns and the issue of guns in Texas coming after El Paso and Sutherland Springs.

Look, at the end of the day, Texas may be another cycle from turning blue. If it goes blue, Republicans are done, and they’re done for a generation. But what Ted Cruz is failing to do is shape public opinion in Texas around guns. Beto was trying to do it, and Democrats are trying to do it nationwide. If they can shape public opinion instead of just following public opinion, Democrats could eventually flip Texas.

O’DONNELL: And Jonathan, latest Quinnipiac Poll showing 53 percent of Texans support new gun legislation.

JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Right. I mean, things are changing in the Lone Star State. People, for instance, they assume that it’s a conservative--

O’DONNELL: Oh. I’m sorry, we’ve got to cut you off. The Democratic debate has been completed. That means we’re going to go straight to Brian Williams for a live post-debate analysis. We didn’t watch the debate. So we can’t do it.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Well, thanks to Lawrence O’Donnell, and a welcome to all of those viewers joining us at the conclusion of the debate. Good evening from our NBC News headquarters in New York, Brian Williams along with Nicolle Wallace.

The third Democratic primary debate has just wrapped up at Houston’s Texas Southern University, among the largest historically black colleges and universities in our nation. Tonight’s was the first debate, as you know, with this crowded election cycle in which all 10 top contenders shared one stage.

It meant that front and center were Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders finally facing off for the first time in a showdown on the most important issue to Democratic voters. Among the most divisive topics of the evening, in fact, was health care.

More on that in a moment, but first, the night got underway with Senator Kamala Harris speaking directly to one viewer.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here’s what you don’t get. What you don’t get is that the American people are so much better than this. And we know that the vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us, regardless of our race, where we live, or the party with which we’re registered to vote. And I plan on focusing on our common issues, our common hopes and desires, and in that way, unifying our country, winning this election, and turning the page for America. And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News.



WILLIAMS: At the center of the stage tonight, the frontrunner and the biggest target of the evening, Joe Biden. At one point, Julian Castro appeared to take a swipe at Biden over what he seemed to regard as some sort of senior moment.


JULIAN CASTRO (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in, and I would not require them to opt in. They would automatically be enrolled. They wouldn’t have to buy in. That’s a big difference because Barack Obama’s vision was not to leave 10 million people uncovered. He wanted every single person in this country covered. My plan would do that. Your plan would not.

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They do not have to buy in.


BIDEN: They do not have to buy in.


CASTRO: You just said that.


CASTRO: You just said that two minutes ago. You just said two minutes ago--

BIDEN: You don’t have to buy in if you can’t afford it.

CASTRO: --that they would have to buy in. You said they would have to buy in.

BIDEN: Your grandmother would not have to buy in. If she qualifies for Medicaid, she’s automatically be in for it (ph).

CASTRO: Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago? Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago? I mean, I can’t believe that you said two minutes ago that they had to buy in and now you’re saying--


CASTRO: --they don’t have to buy - you’re forgetting that.

BIDEN: I said anyone--

CASTRO: I mean, look--

BIDEN: --like your grandmother who has no money--

CASTRO: Look, we need a health care system--

BIDEN: --you’re automatically enrolled.

CASTRO: --that automatic--


WILLIAMS: So you heard the crowd react in real-time. Controversial moment for sure. It will be interesting to find out what Sanders said to Biden there between the two men, but the accusation from Castro practically calls out for a fact check. It appears that in fact Biden did not say that Americans would "have to buy in to his health care policy." Here’s what he did say.


BIDEN: My health care plan does significantly cut the cost. If the largest out-of-pocket payment you’ll pay is a thousand dollars, you’ll be able to get into a - anyone who can afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have, et cetera. But guess what. Of the 160 million people who like their health care now, they can keep it. If they don’t like it, they can leave.


WILLIAMS: In-fighting was a topic on stage. And it called about - it brought about calls for unity and civility with Mayor Pete leading the charge.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, guys, come on.

BUTTIGIEG: --Presidential debates are becoming unwatchable.



BUTTIGIEG: This reminds everybody of what they cannot stand about Washington.


BUTTIGIEG: Scoring points against each other--


BUTTIGIEG: --poking at each other, and telling each other that your - my plan, your plan. Look, we all--


CASTRO: Yes. That’s called a Democratic primary election.


BUTTIGIEG: --what is better about--


CASTRO: That’s called election. That’s an election.


CASTRO: This is what we’re here for. It’s an election.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, but a house divided cannot stand.


WILLIAMS: So, airing a little bit of the laundry publicly on stage tonight, it was interesting. It was as if someone might have told them, prior to this event, here is the deal; Obama good, Trump bad.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR: Yes. I don’t know who that (inaudible) of the Democratic Party.


WALLACE: But look, if you had to stick one headline on this night, I think we showed the moment that Julian Castro was the skunk at the garden party. I don’t think there is an - I think if Joe Biden isn’t the nominee, if he falls from what have been months and months and months of an enduring lead, this race is not that fluid at the top. And I don’t think anything that happened tonight will move Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren out of those top three spots.

I think the only thing - if you’re looking for some sort of action or anyone that could be in motion after tonight, I think Beto O’Rourke who found his voice after the massacre in El Paso, he still has that voice. He still spoke with clarity. He seems to have gained some confidence between sort of matching those moments. He tends to use salty language. I work for John McCain. So I find that familiar and refreshing. Some people might not like it.

He still has that sort of clarity that he really showcased after El Paso. He had some moments. But whether it jostles him out of sort of the bottom of that top 10, I don’t know. And I think Pete Buttigieg was very much on brand tonight. Whoever merges as the nominee, Buttigieg will be named at a very early stage as someone who will be in his cabinet because he’s just so talented and so likeable.

WILLIAMS: Let’s go to our man in Houston, Texas. Chris Matthews in the spin room adjacent to the venue tonight. Chris, what was the view from there?

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Well, I thought - I agree with everything Nicolle said. I thought that the evening began with calls for unity. A very strong call by Amy Klobuchar for unity. I’m not intending to be President for half of the American people but for all the American people. I think it was a pushback against hard ideology of the Democratic left.

That was a theme for a while, but then I thought some of the strong ideologues, the people who have strong agendas like Warren and Bernie Sanders, were very clear where they stand. Certainly, Medicare for all, no more private insurance. Absolute position on that. Bernie and her competed on paying off all the student loans.

And then also on an ideological (inaudible) sort of purity test. Beto came along and said he’s going to not just buy back automatic - the semi- automatic assault rifles but demand that they sell them back. I don’t know where you get away with that.

I noticed that Kamala talked about an executive order. This would be an extraordinary ruling by the Supreme Court that would allow a president to use executive orders to demand the end of ownership by - automatic weapons by semi-automatic assault weapons. I think these are three or four cases of extreme ideological positions. But generally, I thought there was a pushback on that stage against the hard left.

I heard a lot of calls for unity. I thought there was a lot more pushback on all-out health care, the Medicare for all without any health insurance from the private sector. I thought there was a lot of pushback that wasn’t there before.

And on border issues, fascinating. Last time we were on, I think it was two debates ago or one debate ago, people were talking about, certainly Castro was, about decriminalizing illegal border crossings. None of that tonight. Very careful. And by the way, I’m glad you scooted against Castro and the issue of -attempted to blame the guy for having Alzheimer’s. I think that was a cheap shot. The fact is he got his facts wrong. And in terms of competency, he was the one that risked his position tonight, not Biden.

WILLIAMS: Chris Matthews, I can’t help but notice Senator Klobuchar over your right shoulder. And we will come back to you.

MATTHEWS: She’s right here as we speak.

WILLIAMS: We will come back to you.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Our frequent viewers know the drill. When Chris gets a candidate wired up and ready to go, we’ll go to Chris in Houston.

With us here, members of our family in our studio, Claire McCaskill, former Democratic Senator from the great State of Missouri; Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer prize winning columnist for "The Washington Post"; and Joy Reid, the host of "AM Joy" weekends here on MSNBC. At the big board tonight, our National Correspondent, Steve Kornacki. Good evening and welcome to you all.

Senator, by dint of your title, we’re going to begin with you. Were kings or queens made or destroyed on that stage tonight? What’s your headline?

CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D-MO), FORMER SENATOR: I think Castro is hurt. I think his - he was trying to swing for the fences.


MCCASKILL: People kept talking about the tension between Warren and Biden. The tension I felt on that stage were for the bottom five. This was their - really, in some ways, their last moment to make a lasting impression to try to get in to the kind of debate that will probably move the needle some down the line. But I’m not sure anything tonight moved the needle except I think Castro offended people the way he did that. And it won’t surprise me if it helps Biden.

EUGENE ROBINSON, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: I totally agree with Claire. For long stretches, the debate, to me, seemed like Biden versus the fringes, Biden versus the other. And they were trying to get some sort of purchase. I think you understate the damage that Castro did to himself tonight. He would have lost a lot of support if he had a lot of support to lose. He didn’t. He had a little support. I think it’s basically over. He took a shot. It was not a good shot. And it just really went over like a lead balloon. It was - that was a bad, bad moment for him.

I thought Cory Booker at times sort of looked wise and presidential. And he presents himself in a way that you could sort of imagine an internal watch (ph). And I think he might have done himself some good tonight in the debate. There were a number of issues he wasn’t pressed on that he might have been pressed on. Maybe he will be in future debates. Other than that, I didn’t see a lot of movement.


JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: Well, it’s interesting what our two colleagues here have said. And I actually we - the Senator and I watched the debate together, much of it.

WILLIAMS: Oh, we should have had a camera in that room.

REID: That would have been the place to be.

MCCASKILL: We had some fun.

REID: We did have a great time.

ROBINSON: Maybe not a microphone (inaudible).


REID: But I think because you run in campaigns you know that the likability argument in politics normally gets thrown at women. But when you’re running a campaign, just having worked out on the press side in a couple, you have to always remember who is likable among your opponents and why they’re likable.

And I think that going after Biden is smart in the sense that he is at the top. And if you want to get at the top, you have to eventually take him on. But you have to remember people like Joe Biden. Right? Joe Biden is not Donald Trump, who’s an unlikable figure to most Americans. People like Joe Biden. They may not know as enough about Joe Biden to know the dings in his past. And when they find him out, they may be disappointed. But fundamentally, Democrats like him. And so if you go after him in a way--

MCCASKILL: And this is the other piece, Joy. Democrats are fundamentally horrified and terrified and totally turned off by criticism of him--

REID: That’s right.

MCCASKILL: --should he emerge as the nominee.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

REID: For the same reason that they’re turned off by criticism of President Obama. They’re - I was just in an event last night with a lot of young progressive activists who are very critical of specific things about President Obama. But if you were to come for President Obama, they would defend him because President Obama is on their side fundamentally. And so I think when you’re trying to take out a frontrunner, you don’t do it in a way that presumes that people don’t like this person that you can go after him that harsh. So I think that was too harsh on his part.

For the other second-tier candidates, I thought Beto had a great night. This was his best night - best debate so far because now I can see in him the confidence of not really necessarily caring if he wins, he just wants to send a message that I think is authentic. I think he was authentic tonight.

And then my last is at Warren. No one touched her. She was strong on foreign policy. She’s been coherent on everything she said. I thought she had a great night.

WILLIAMS: Did she get enough air time?



REID: I think no one did. It’s still too many people. It’s the same number of people as the other debate.

WALLACE: Yes. I know we have to go to Chris. But no one - nobody said a word about Senator Harris. And I thought she had--



REID: She did have a great night.

WALLACE: She had a great night. And that attack on Trump is exactly--

REID: Yes, right.

WALLACE: what Democrats--

REID: Want to hear. Yes.

WALLACE: --anecdotally and in the polls want.

MCCASKILL: Absolutely.

REID: That was a mistake by my part because I wrote her down as well.

WALLACE: No, no. (inaudible) the other one--

REID: Yes. Yes.


MCCASKILL: And by the way, Mayor Pete had a good night, too.

REID: He did.

ROBINSON: He really did.


MCCASKILL: --it was very strong.


WILLIAMS: Chris Matthews is going to get the--

WALLACE: Sorry, Chris.

WILLIAMS: --honor and distinction of taking us over the top of the hour, what is normally "The 11th Hour." Tonight our special post-debate coverage, and Chris is standing by with the first of our special guests tonight. Chris.

MATTHEWS: Thank you. And hopefully, with some crossover appeal into 11 o’clock. Amy Klobuchar is a Senator.

KLOBUCHAR: Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS: I thought you started hitting (ph) by setting a kind of a keynote. You talked about - and this is an ideological debate in many ways, especially on the Democratic left against Trump. But you talked about -- you didn’t want to be President of half the country.