LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
And in everything we`ve heard in the last 24 hours, first, Nancy Pelosi kind of shocking us last night by saying she`s not going to immediately send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, that opened this whole thing up, and then Mitch McConnell at 9:30 this morning and Chuck Schumer this morning on the Senate floor and Nancy Pelosi -- the most important thing by far that we`ve learned in all of this is your interview with Chuck Schumer and what you just summarized there where he`s telling us all of the Democrats are with him. That is not an easy thing to achieve.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Right. Yes.
O`DONNELL: And he`s got that, and that`s very powerful in dealing with Mitch McConnell. He needs four as he kept saying to you.
MADDOW: He needs four Republicans, and what he`s asking for is something that a lot of Republicans are going to see lines up with public opinion, which is that the trial should have witnesses. I mean, 71 percent of the public including two thirds of Republican voters say that there ought to be witnesses at the trial. McConnell`s trying to have some sort of fake trial that has no witnesses at it.
Schumer will see that with public opinion on his side and a unified caucus behind him. He`s going to have momentum in terms of trying to get that rule in place.
I was also very interested to hear him say he`s supportive of what Pelosi is doing with those articles. He wouldn`t be specific in terms of how long the standoff should go, but he`s supportive about it, and he said that in terms of peeling off those Republican senators, those discussions have started. Those are ongoing already.
O`DONNELL: Yes, and time will actually help in that process of reaching Republican senators.
O`DONNELL: And I think I heard this correctly, but Senator Schumer, I believe, told you this isn`t just going to be one vote on should we do it this way. He`s going to make them vote on each one of these witnesses. Here`s your John Bolton vote. Here`s your Mulvaney vote.
Here`s your documents vote. Is that the way he explained it to you?
MADDOW: As far, I think that`s what he`s getting at it, but I think maybe even more importantly than that he said as these discussions are happening, everything is open for discussion. That he`s willing to -- you know, he`s put forward these four witnesses that he thinks should be brought forward, that`s what the Democrats are proposing.
If there are four Republican senators who will side with them, if it`s six witnesses or, if it`s -- you know, two witnesses or ten witness, those conversations are things he`s willing to have. And so, I think that`s -- I mean, I think those negotiations are going to be for real, particularly given the public support for having a real trial. And the White House support for having a trial.
O`DONNELL: Yes, thank you, Rachel. Really appreciate it.
MADDOW: Thanks, Lawrence. Appreciate it.
O`DONNELL: Well, one of the breaking news items of the hour comes from a magazine founded by the Reverend Billy Graham called "Christianity Today". It`s one of the most influential publications in the evangelical community and it published a rare editorial about politics tonight, with the headline: Trump should be removed from office.
This editorial will be more influential with more Trump voters than any editorial run by "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "The L.A. Times" or any of those newspapers. We`ll get into the specifics of that editorial and the political implications of it later in this hour.
Our first guest tonight will be Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe who wrote the most influential op-ed piece yet about impeachment. On Monday, he published an op-ed piece in "The Washington Post" suggesting that Democrats should consider not sending the articles of impeachment directly to the Senate after they passed them, which is exactly where we are tonight.
The impeachment action resumed at 9:30 a.m. this morning as promised by Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell announced last night he would make a statement about the impeachment trial on the Senate floor at 30 a.m. after Nancy Pelosi`s dramatic announcement last night that she was not ready to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate because McConnell was still promising an unfair trial, a rigged trial for Donald Trump.
Here`s the way Mitch McConnell characterized the speaker`s position when he went to the Senate floor this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Speaker Pelosi suggested that house Democrats may be too afraid -- too afraid to even transmit their shoddy work product to the Senate. Mr. President, looks like the prosecutors are getting cold feet in front of the entire country, and second guessing whether they even want to go to trial. They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process, but now they`re content to sit on their hands. This is really comical.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And less than an hour after that, Speaker Pelosi said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): We would hope there would be a fair process just as we`d hope they would honor the Constitution. By the way, I saw some of it -- I didn`t see it but I heard some of what Mitch McConnell said today, and it reminded that our Founders when they wrote the Constitution, they suspected there could be a rogue president. I don`t think they suspected that we`d have a rogue president and a rogue leader in the Senate at the same time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And here`s another look at Mitch McConnell going rogue the day before the president was impeached by the House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: I`m not an impartial juror. This is a political process. There`s nothing judicial about it. Impeachment is a political decision. The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I`m not impartial about this at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: And here are the words of the oath that Mitch McConnell will take as a juror in the Senate impeachment trial.
I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws so help me God.
Impartial, that word is actually in the oath. And that is the specific word Mitch McConnell used when saying he would violate that oath. He said he would not be an impartial juror. Here`s what the Senate`s Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said before going into a negotiating session with Mitch McConnell today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Will Leader McConnell breaking precedent strong arm his caucus into making this the first Senate impeachment trial of the president in his history that heard no, no witnesses? We ask, is the president`s case so weak that none of the president`s men can defend him under oath? If the House case is so weak, why is Leader McConnell so afraid of witnesses and documents?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Then, Mitch McConnell announced the results of their negotiation after their meeting on the Senate floor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCONNELL: We remain at an impasse, because my friend the Democratic leader continues to demand a new and different set of rules for President Trump.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: By different, he meant different from the rules in the Bill Clinton -- President Clinton impeachment trial. Senator McConnell said he was willing to make the same agreement the Republican and Democratic leaders made in the Senate before Bill Clinton`s impeachment trial. During the Clinton impeachment trial, the Senate reached a bipartisan agreement to take testimony from witnesses.
Senator McConnell seems to be technically leaving open the possibility of reaching an agreement to hear witnesses during the trial. But Democrats believe once the trial is under way, Mitch McConnell will do everything he possibly can to block any witness testimony.
In the Clinton impeachment trial, the agreement was to begin the trial without any consideration of witnesses. And what Mitch McConnell is pointing out it was during the Clinton trial that the Senate decided collectively to hear from some witnesses. And that is the distinction he`s making, that it was two-stage decision at that time, and Chuck Schumer wants an immediate one-stage decision on the same elements.
On Monday, Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe wrote an op-ed piece on "The Washington Post" that first foresaw precisely where we are tonight. On Monday, professor Tribe suggested that House Democrats consider, quote, voting for articles of impeachment but holding off for the time being on transmitting them to the Senate. This option needs to be taken seriously now that Majority Leader McConnell has announced his intention to conduct not a real trial but a whitewash, letting the president and his legal team call the shots.
And leading off our discussion tonight is professor Laurence Tribe, Harvard law professor of constitutional law. He`s the coauthor of "To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment."
Professor Tribe, from your op-ed pieces apparently to the House Representatives` ears, is this where you hoped we would be at this stage after passing the articles of impeachment?
LAURENCE TRIBE, HARVARD UNIVERSITY CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR: Exactly. I hoped that my op-ed would encourage a dialogue generated by the fact that for the first time we have a majority leader who is going to be essentially the foreman of the jury and who promises to have his fingers crossed when he takes the oath. And I wanted not to leave that situation as it stood. I wanted to shake it up a little, and I think this has done that.
O`DONNELL: As you see what`s unfolded so far, where do you think this is going? What do you -- do you have a suggestion now to Nancy Pelosi about how to proceed?
TRIBE: Well, Nancy Pelosi is a far better politician than I could ever be, so I`m hesitant to make any suggestion. If I had one, I wouldn`t do it on- air, but I do think she`s handled it just brilliantly, as has Schumer.
I think even though what the majority leader said this morning was nonsense and he didn`t discuss any of the facts, it was a pretty hard act to follow because to somebody who hasn`t been in the weeds, it may have sounded reasonable. But I think Chuck Schumer really was up to the occasion. And what he said made a lot of sense.
What are they afraid of? You know, if they think our case is so weak. And I say our case because I`m very much in favor of these articles of impeachment. Then why don`t they want Bolton and Mulvaney to testify?
Even the president says he wants people to testify, he wants a trial. So let`s have a trial.
O`DONNELL: You`ve written a book about impeachment. You`ve listened to Mitch McConnell saying and other Republicans on the House floor yesterday saying these are the weakest articles of impeachment that have ever been brought to the House of Representatives.
Having looked at all the other articles of impeachment that have come to and through the House of Representatives, how would you characterize these two articles of impeachment?
TRIBE: I think honestly they are the strongest. Certainly stronger than the ones involving Andrew Johnson where he was accused of violating the Tenure of Office Act, which was unconstitutional and struck down by the Supreme Court.
Certainly stronger than the ones involving Bill Clinton which involved, you know, a sexual affair and lying about a sexual affair but not misusing the powers of the presidency, which is what the whole impeachment power was about, not violating his oath of office, although, technically, sure, he committed perjury. But he wasn`t endangering the nation.
And if you look at what Nixon did, it was really kind of tiny stuff compared to this. He didn`t endanger the security of the country by basically shaking down a vulnerable ally in order to help an adversary that`s involved not only in messing around in our elections but that is authoring huge versions of cyber warfare. I mean, we really don`t know what Putin is going to do to the infrastructure of this country. And he`s basically being invited to turn off our lights, turn off our power. You know, if he can turn off voting machines, and he`s shown he can do that in Estonia, and perhaps in 13 American states.
Who knows what he`ll do? But we`ve got a president who`s somehow enthralled to Vladimir Putin. It`s scary. It`s dangerous to all of us.
O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to what Chuck Schumer told Rachel Maddow in the last hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHUMER: All we need is four Republican senators to side with us to get 51, because I have all 47 -- all 47 Democrats are totally onboard with it. If McConnell doesn`t come to an agreement, you don`t have many powers as minority leader. But the power I do have is to force a vote, and we will force a vote on all the witnesses and all the documents. And my guess is those Republican colleagues do not want to vote against witnesses and documents because they know how bad it looks back home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Professor Tribe, that`s -- as I said to Rachel, that sounded to me like he intends to force a vote, a series of votes as would be the standard kind of strategic practice on something like this in the Senate. Here`s the vote on Mick Mulvaney, here`s the vote on John Bolton, and possibly hours of argument about why we should hear from John Bolton before we then hear that vote, and then similarly with all the documents he might want to enter.
So that could be maybe a week of procedure right there.
TRIBE: I think it`s very important because there are no good arguments against hearing from Bolton. There are no arguments at all from hearing from Mulvaney. So, I`d be interested in hearing what kind of process objections are made when they are invited to hear the very witnesses that have the first-hand evidence that they want.
I mean, the evidence supporting the impeachment articles was extremely strong. But some of the I`s could be dotted, some of the T`s could be crossed. And there are no reasons not to hear from these people. They were in the room when it happened.
And I`d be amazed if people like Susan Collins and Murkowski and Cory Gardner and Romney can stand up in way that makes any sense at all, no, we shouldn`t hear from these witnesses. I don`t think their own constituents, in the case of those who are up for reelection, they`re going to stand for it. They`re not going to stand for it.
And we`ve seen as you said at the opening, something like two thirds, I think it was the end of Rachel`s show, two thirds of the Republicans are in favor of hearing witness. After all, that`s what a trial is.
O`DONNELL: I want to read something that Tom Daschle and Trent Lott published in October actually in "The Washington Post." They were the Senate leaders, Democrat and Republican Senate leaders for the Bill Clinton impeachment trial, and there was not a moment -- not a moment of procedural disagreement between them.
They wrote -- they co-wrote this piece saying: While we were committed to do impartial justice as our impeachment trial both oath required, we had very different perspectives on key questions, as did our caucuses and indeed those differences remained throughout the trial and the final vote. But from the outset of our negotiations, we both understood how vitally important it was to rise above those differences in order to conduct a trial that would inspire the confidence of the public and withstand the unsparing scrutiny of history.
And the one personal note I would add to that, Professor Tribe, at the time since I worked in the Senate in the `90s with all these people, that is what everyone in the Senate expected both of them to do. There wasn`t anyone in the Senate arguing, no, no, no, we should be fighting this out -- even the procedural agreement should be fought out in a partisan way.
TRIBE: You know, those were the days. It seems to me even though there were a lot of people who hated Bill Clinton and there have been a lot of people who hate every president, at least then we were living on the same planet. At least then even the people who supported Clinton and didn`t want to see a trial that would besmirch his name and risk removing him, people like Tom Daschle, thought that the country was important, the Constitution was important. It was important to take our oath seriously.
Nobody in those days would have dreamed of saying, I`m not going to be impartial, I don`t care that I`m swearing an oath to be impartial. You know, we`re not naive. We realize that people have points of view.
But if any Democrat were to say, I`m not going to listen to the evidence even if it exonerates the president, I`d be the first to attacking that Democrat, and there are some Democrats who have said my mind is made up.
That`s not right. Nobody`s mind should be completely made up. The evidence is strong, but there might be exonerating evidence. After all, Mulvaney might though I doubt it, might have some explanation why the money was held up, that it really was not to put pressure on Zelensky in order to announce that he was going to investigate Biden.
If there is such evidence, let them bring it forward. If there is not such evidence, then we`ve got to remove this guy. He`s dangerous.
O`DONNELL: Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, always an honor to have you join us. Really appreciated. Thank you, professor.
TRIBE: Thanks, great to be here.
O`DONNELL: And when we come back, one of the jurors in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump will join us. Hawaii`s Senator Mazie Hirono is with us. We`ll get her reaction to Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard voting present in the articles of impeachment in the House last night.
But, first, a quick reminder if you`re still shocking for holiday gifts, yes, please consider Kids in Need of Desks. You can go to lastwordesks.msnbc.com, and donate a desk to schools in Malawi in the name of anyone on your holiday gift list and UNICEF will send that person a notification of the gift you`ve given in their name. You can choose to contribute any amount to the purchase of a desk or a scholarship fund for girls to attend high school in Malawi where public high school is not free.
No contribution is too small. Thank you for your kindness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: We have legislation approved by the rules committee that will enable us to decide how we will send over the article of impeachment. We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side. So far, we haven`t seen anything that looks fair to us, so hopefully it will be fairer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: That was Speaker Nancy Pelosi last night after the House of Representatives cast the historic vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
But what exactly constitutes a fair trial in the Senate? Senator Mitch McConnell has admitted he has no intention of acting as an impartial juror of President Trump in the Senate trial.
Here is what Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass said today about Mitch McConnell`s role as a juror.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): He`s basically saying they`re not going to deliberate because he`s put his foot on the scale. He knows the outcome. The impeachment processes, we indict in the House and they have a trial in the Senate. You don`t have the foreman of the jury deliberating with the defendant, which is, you know, a way of describing what his role is. So it`s corrupt, and it`s hypocritical.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Joining us now is one of those jurors in the Trump impeachment trial, Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii. She`s a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.
SEN. MAZIE HIRONO (D-HI): Good evening.
O`DONNELL: I have to ask you a Hawaii question first, and that was the extraordinary vote by Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. She basically declined to vote on the articles of impeachment. She`s the only one who voted present instead of yes or no.
What was your reaction to that?
HIRONO: I take it that she couldn`t decide whether or not it was OK for the president to shakedown the president of another country for his own political ends using $400 million in taxpayer money as a bribe. I guess she decided she couldn`t make up her mind on that. So that`s enough said about that.
O`DONNELL: Senator, what can you tell us about Hawaii`s reaction to that vote? How is that playing in Hawaii today?
HIRONO: I`m not so sure. I think there are some people that are critical of her, but at the same time, Tulsi does what she does and I think we should just move on. Really.
O`DONNELL: Yes, believe me I want to, it`s just that it -- I thought you might know something --
HIRONO: It kind of sticks out.
O`DONNELL: It`s a very strange vote.
O`DONNELL: And I`m fascinated by what her constituents might be saying about it.
So, your reaction to how things preceded today, an impasse is how Mitch McConnell now describes it between him and Senator Schumer.
HIRONO: Mitch McConnell has a way of framing things in which he really projects a lot, and, you know, his fondest wish is for the House articles of impeachment to be so weak it`s actually to the contrary, but there he is going off. And notice that there`s never any recognition facing the actual act that the president -- the series of events surrounding the withholding of aid to Ukraine. They don`t want to get to that so they`re constantly talking about this, that and the other thing.
And so, you know, it`s going to be up to negotiations between Chuck -- Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell as to what they process and rules of the road will be so that Speaker Pelosi can appoint her managers. I think it`s perfectly reasonable on her part to wait until we know what kind of rules we`re going to have. And if we can find the four courageous Republicans to ask for the kind of witnesses that could actually possibly exonerate the president, then we`re going to get somewhere.
But short of that, we would end up with probably a 51 Republicans going one way and the Democrats wanting another kind of process.
O`DONNELL: Yes, one of the striking things about the witnesses that Senator Schumer is asking for and you Democrats want to hear from is you do not know what they are going to say. It is possible that John Bolton won`t offer any incriminating evidence against the president at all, and that alone if it was just not incriminating, would it at this point be helpful to the president in this trial.
And so, it`s -- it`s a fascinating thing for the Republicans to try to stop evidence when they don`t even know what that evidence would be.
HIRONO: Apparently, they`re afraid of the evidence, and, of course, we already have Mulvaney saying, quid pro quo, yes, this is how we do it, get over it. These actions by the president and the people around him to stonewall, this is nothing to get over. So I think Mitch is quite concerned about the witnesses testifying.
I hope that we can find some Republicans -- for example, I noticed that Susan Collins during the Clinton impeachment said that it`s very important to have witnesses. So perhaps she`s one of the people that can be persuaded to support having witnesses.
O`DONNELL: Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, thank you very much for joining us tonight. We really appreciate it.
HIRONO: Thank you.
O`DONNELL: Thank you.
HIRONO: Happy holidays.
O`DONNELL: Thank you and happy holidays to you. We`re all very jealous where you get to spend your holidays.
HIRONO: Lucky me.
O`DONNELL: Thank you, Senator.
And when we come back, what might be the most important and influential editorial calling for the conviction and removal from office of President Trump. It comes from "Christianity Today", which serves the evangelical community, one of President Trump`s most loyal bases. The editorial describes the president as, quote, a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O`DONNELL: Christianity Today was founded in 1956 by Reverend Billy Graham. The magazine rarely makes political statements. 21 years ago, Christianity Today came out in favor of the impeachment removal from office of President Bill Clinton and today, Christianity Today has published an editorial saying about the Trump impeachment, the facts in this instance are unambiguous.
The President of United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the President`s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the constitution. More importantly it is profoundly immoral.
We are joined by Jonathan Alter and Ruth Marcus on this and other subjects. Jonathan, this is - the evangelical base is Donald Trump`s strongest base. Christianity Today reaches them with much more influence than the New York Times does.
JONATHAN ALTER, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST & MSNBC ANALYST: Absolutely. Look, why did they like Trump? They know he doesn`t have a religious bone in his body in these moral reprobate. They like him because of the judges. But if he goes Pence is President, their guy.
They still get their judges. They still get everything on the issues and they have somebody they consider to be a moral man as President. Is this going to flip the Senate? No. Is it possible that if it becomes a prairie fire and yet the Southern Baptist Convention and some of these other big evangelical groups are on the same page then maybe 1-2-3-4 Republicans of religious conscience might vote for conviction. That`s the hope here.
O`DONNELL: Ruth Marcus, is this - does Christian Today represent a crack in the wall, that kind of flawless wall of Trump evangelical support?
RUTH MARCUS, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, if it represents a crack in the wall, it`s the very, very minor beginnings of a crack because we have not seen any erosion of the President`s support among the evangelical base which and I write about this in my book about the Kavanaugh nominations, supreme ambition.
Jonathan`s exactly right. It`s there for one reason because of the Supreme Court evangelical leaders and evangelical voters have been solidly with Trump but this is a remarkable - and they`ve held their nose for so many years that everything the President has done.
But this is a remarkable emperor has no clothes editorial, not just the emperor has no clothes but the emperor is constitutionally unfit and morally unfit for office, not any indication so far from other evangelical leaders that they are going to follow this lead.
But it`s a very, very powerful piece and just a remarkable piece of journalism and argumentation.
O`DONNELL: Another line from the Christianity Today editorial, "To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve." Putting it in religious terms, Jonathan.
ALTER: Well, when there is a moral imperative, then it gives the entire conversation a new coloration so you could see a situation where the other big evangelical organizations and they were - unfortunately the circulation of the magazine is not big but 14 million members of the Southern Baptist Convention and I`m not suggesting that their training in this direction but journalists and other people in their community can use this editorial to ask them questions.
To say we you know, aren`t we being hypocritical if we don`t go along with what`s laid out in this editorial? It is unjustifiable on their own terms for them to be supporting Donald Trump. It`s morally indefensible in their terms and maybe a moral imperative can start to take hold.
These things can move very quickly. I`m not Pollyannish about this. I`m not saying, this is going to change the evangelical world or there`s going to be a schism but this crack could get bigger as next year wears on.
O`DONNELL: And - and just generically what editorial represents is an influential publication with an important part of Trump base, that is basically saying, face the reality, face the reality of who this President is.
That`s a contagion that Donald Trump cannot let loose. If more areas in Republican support, in his base support starts saying, let`s really face the reality of who this person is. That`s a big problem for Donald Trump.
MARCUS: It could be. One of the things I thought was most compelling about this editorial which is a piece of intellectual honesty. We have not seen from other parts of the President`s base or from elsewhere among his ordinary supporters is the argument that look, we supported the impeachment and removal of President Clinton, 21 years ago because we thought he had lied to the American - lied and was morally unfit to serve.
And it can`t be that we supported Clinton`s impeachment then and removal then and don`t support Trump`s impeachment and removal now. That kind of intellectual consistency has been essentially absent among Republican senators who voted in support of Clinton`s impeachment and removal - the fifth - the 14 of the 15 who were serving at the time.
O`DONNELL: I`ve got to interrupt you. I`m being told that the Democratic Presidential debate has just come to an end in Los Angeles. MSNBC`s post- debate analysis will begin right now with Brian Williams.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Well, good evening once again from our NBC news headquarters here in New York. These democratic debates just finished in Los Angeles, a little more than 24 after hours after the President was impeached by the House of Representatives.
This was the smallest, smallest debate stage of the year yet. Seven candidates on stage and we are safely able to report it is the last democratic debate of 2019. It was to be candid and more like a student council debate for well over the first hour and after an earnest discussion about politics and the economy, suddenly the gloves came off during some spirited and at times biting exchanges between different pairs of candidates.
Things got down right sharp between Pete Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren for example in a way we will go into in a bit. We have a full complement, our extended family and friends here in the studio and in Los Angeles to help us cover just what we have witnessed here tonight.
With us here in New York, Claire McCaskill, former Democratic senator from the great state of Missouri; Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for The Washington Post; Jason Johnson, Politics Editor over at The Root and at the big board tonight, our national political correspondent, Steve Kornacki. Good evening and welcome to you all.
Senator, it occurs to me you served with three out of seven people on that stage tonight. Your impressions of what you saw.
CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), FORMER UNITED STATES SENATOR: Well, actually four because I served with Biden also.
MCCASKILL: By the end of Biden`s - the last two years of Biden`s.
MCCASKILL: Four out of seven.
WILLIAMS: Better than three out seven.
MCCASKILL: You know, here`s what my overriding impression was. It felt like a bucket of cold water on a hot day because we have been so obsessed in the chaos and the drama of this mess in the Oval Office when we go from one night where the President of United States is saying is that a revered congressman is in hell because his wife voted for impeachment to a very strong field on the stage tonight.
I thought all of them did well. I don`t think anyone made a major mistake. There was some fighting, back and forth and we can talk about that. If I had to pick who won, I think Joe Biden won because he didn`t lose. He is in the strongest position and he seemed like he was more comfortable tonight.
He`s - he didn`t stumble as much. He seemed in command, he had some strong answers and nobody really went after him, not like they went after Mayor Pete but it certainly was refreshing to spend a night, talking about the things we should be focused on in this country like climate change like immigration reform instead of what is the latest insult or untruth that the President has hurled across the transom.
WILLIAMSON: True, now to see 60 year veteran of the House of Representatives, Eugene, same question.
EUGENE ROBINSON, COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think maybe if anyone lost the debate tonight, it would have been Mayor Pete simply because he was the brunt of the attacks. I mean Elizabeth Warren really went after him on how he has financed his campaign on the - there was a famous recent photo of a fancy wine cave in Napa when -.
And so wine cave became a thing tonight. I`ve never been to a wine cave.
WILLIAMSON: I didn`t know what one was until this evening.
ROBINSON: Like Amy Klobuchar told us I`ve never been to a wine cave Brian but Pete Buttigieg has and that was an issue and there was an edge to the way it was with Warren went after him, there was an edge to the Amy Klobuchar went after him and I think scored some points on the question of his experience.
You know, all the rest of us here have actually done things and what have you done and it was basically, her line of questioning and so just because he had to be on the defensive more than the others, I think it was not a great night for him.
WILLIAMSON: Jason, one second. I have to interrupt before even getting to you. Amy Klobuchar is standing by with our own Vaughn Hillyard in the Spin Room. Vaughn.
VAUGHN HILLYARD, MSNBC CORRESPODNENT: Yes, good evening Brian. Senator Klobuchar is joining us here in the Spin room here. I`ve got to ask you, you were drawing a contrast with Pete Buttigieg up on stage and when folks were looking, we have conversations with folks in Iowa that were mentioning their name, at the same time are you guys really that far off when it comes to actual policy though?
SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There`s a lot of similarities with policy. There are some differences but I think the main thing like look at Medicare for all and that issue. You know for me, I have been a strong supporter about - for the public option from the beginning and Mayor Pete, way back when he was running for D&C Chair actually sent out a tweet that was very clear that he supported Medicare for all.
That`s fine but now he`s changed his positions so I do think that I have the experience, I have that consistency over time and the thing that I wanted to point out today is I have a lot of respect for him but we are picking a candidate to lead a ticket and I think the fact that you have someone who has not won state-wide, that`s a major thing.
And I`m someone that one not just state wide in a state that includes some really red districts rural and consistently won them without missing one and purple districts and I also have a good ideas.
HILLYARD: At the same time has Pete Buttigieg not demonstrated, he has thousands of folks that are showing up for events. He has outfund you by about five times. You`re 46 days away from the Iowa caucus. Why not back Pete Buttigieg? Why not Pete Buttigieg?
KLOBUCHAR: First of all, if you`re talking about Iowa, I am the one that has negotiated three farm bills. I am very focused on the rural economy. It`s not just talking points to me. I`ve actually gotten things done.
HILLYARD: Are they talking points for Pete Buttigieg?
KLOBUCHAR: Ask him. The second thing, 46 days left. That`s a long time in politics. When you look at who is ahead right now before the Iowa caucus, it wasn`t Barack Obama, it was not Jimmy Carter, it was not Bill Clinton. All of them ended up being our President.
And so I think it is really important to realize that I may not have as much money as he does. OK, fine but we have a grassroots operation like no other. We are doubling our staff because of the contributions that we`re getting in and I know how to win. People need to know me more. Beating him big time Trump in Minnesota, that`s because they know me more than the Vice President, more than Pete Buttigieg in a big way.
Once they know me, maybe they should call everyone they know in Minnesota. Not everyone voted for me but they`re going to tell you that I know how to get things done, I`m hard working and I have people`s back.
HILLYARD: And when you`re talking about the Vice President of United States, he`s held on to strong standing in national polls here. At some point, we say we`re 46 days away so the folks that say that they believe that he is the most reliable to be able to go into the south, go into the southwest, go up into the likes of Pennsylvania there. Again, tell folks why not Vice President Joe Biden.
KLOBUCHAR: I`m making the case for me. You can listen to the Vice President if he comes on tonight. For me, it is about having someone from the Midwest at the top of the ticket. Someone who has been a leader through the Trump few years because I think that`s also important because I`ve seen what`s happened to our country first hand on the front line.
And yes, someone who`s in a new generation and I would say to the Mayor, to Mayor Buttigieg that 59 is the new 37.
HILLYARD: Mayor - Senator, excuse me.
KLOBUCHAR: That`s OK.
HILLYARD: Brian. Senator Klobuchar.
WILLIAMSON: We`re having that kind of a night. Vaughn, thank you. Senator, thank you. Just to our viewers, we want to play two of the chief exchanges on the stage that got everybody`s attention tonight.
The first you`ll see is Klobuchar-Buttigieg. The second you`ll see is Buttigieg-Warren.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KLOBUCHAR: I want to be President of the United States and the point is we should have someone heading up this ticket that is actually won.
MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG (D-IN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator, I know that if you just go by vote totals, maybe what goes on in my city seems small to you. If you want to talk about the capacity to win, try putting together a coalition to bring you back to office with 80 percent of the vote as a gay dude in Mike Pence`s Indiana.
KLOBUCHAR: Again, I would - Mayor, if you - if you had won in Indiana, that would be one thing. You tried and you lost by 20 points.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Mayor just recently had a fundraiser that was held in a wine cave full of crystals and served $900, a bottle wine. Think about who comes to that. He had promised that every fundraiser he would do would be open door but this one was closed door.
We made the decision many years ago that rich people in smoke filled rooms would not pick the next President of the United States. Billionaires in wine caves should not pick the next President of the United States.
BUTTIGIEG: This is the problem with issuing purity tests you cannot yourself pass. If I pledge - of I pledge never to be in the company of the progressive democratic donor, I couldn`t be up here. Senator, your net worth is 100 times mine.
WARREN: I do not sell access to my time. I don`t do call time with billionaires and millionaires.
BUTTIGIEG: Sorry, as of when Senator?
WARREN: I don`t meet--
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMSON: That is about how that went. It went on from there. Jason, this comes to you. First of all, our holiday outing in office was bowling night last week. I`m now regretting that we didn`t look for a wine cave.
JASON JOHNSON. POLITICS EDITOR, "THE ROOT": Wine caves are going to be exploding all over D.C. and all over New York as we figure out what they are.
WILLIAMSON: Yes, exactly.
MCCASKILL: There are a lot of caves, no wine.
JOHNSON: May not be.
MCCASKILL: We got a lot of caves.
MCCASKILL: We got bridle cave, we have Merrimack caverns. I don`t think we have wine caves.
JOHNSON: I`m amazed.
WILLIAMSON: This is a wine cave by the way.
JOHNSON: Thank you. This is going to be - this is going to be like Romney`s binders of women like I just think wine cave is going to sell. This is going to stick to Mayor Pete.
WILLIAMSON: Don`t forget the car elevator.
JOHNSON: Exactly and the car elevator. You know, for the - for the people who`ve been criticizing him as being this sort of young rich McKenzie guy who`s out of touch, this is the kind of thing that`s going to hit on him and it`ll be something difficult for him to sort of push past at least in the next 30 days or so before we get to our next debate, till we get to the voting.
I would say that tonight, with anybody else, Amy Klobuchar won the night and she won the night for two basic reasons. One, she actually presented herself to the audience in a very good way. Two, she literally handled everybody else on stage when she stopped this sort of tomato fight between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, that was demonstrating strength and control.
When she explained to Mayor Pete, look, I think you`re perfectly nice. I`ve never heard someone say the term `mayor` with such disdain and I live in DC. When she said Mayor, local politician, she was killing him with kindness. I thought this was a fantastic night for her and indicative that in many cases and this is also why it said that we didn`t have Castro, that we didn`t have somebody like Cory Booker, a smaller debate table allows people to present their strengths and that`s what we saw with Klobuchar tonight.
WILLIAMSON: I insist, American viewers like to see people get along and at that one point she stopped to point out the achievements of the senators and the former Vice President on the stage with her.
JOHNSON: Yes, yes and that`s the thing like you can disagree with people without diminishing what they`ve accomplished and that what I thought why her critique of Mayor Pete was so affective. She`s like, look, everybody up here has done the work, Pete. Now we can disagree with how you`ve done what you`ve done but you can`t say that Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and everybody else up here hasn`t been dedicated to these issues.
I thought she was fantastic.
ROBINSON: She was - she was nice to everybody else as a way of attacking Buttigieg.
MCCASKILL: Yes, yes. I mean what Pete was trying to do is be a legitimate outsider and you can`t blame him for campaigning against Washington. I mean everybody in the country thinks Washington cannot figure it out and so that`s the dynamic that was set up here but I actually thought Pete did a good job with Elizabeth.
I mean, Elizabeth raised money just like he`s raising it for her campaign that she won last year in 2018. She raised it - she had fund raisers. She had small groups. She raised $10 million that way and then gave it to her Presidential campaign.
And he was very effective at pointing out, wait a minute, you know let`s just ditch the purity test, you`re not corrupt because you raised money that way. I`m not corrupt. Nobody can give me more than $2800 and I think Biden did a good job of pointing that out.
So I`m not sure that he did a terrible job handling all the incoming but no question about it, Pete was the target of both Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar tonight.
WILLIAMSON: Steve Kornacki, you have an important question before you and that is what we keep hearing about Joe Biden, the E word, electability. Tell us about numbers to either prove or deny that.
STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC HOST: Yes, this is one of the lenses I was watching the debate tonight. We know that Biden is the front runner nationally. He has been consistently the front runner for months. I think this is what is undergirding this. This is the recent Quinnipiac poll just last week. They`ve been asking the question. Who of these democratic candidates regardless of who you support who has the best chance of beating Donald Trump?
It`s an overwhelming basically 3 to one advantage for Joe Biden. 44 percent. Next closest is Sanders at 15. Warren at 9. By the way, two months ago when Warren was moving up in the polls nationally, threatening Biden for the lead, this number was in the twenties.
Faith in her confidence, in her electability has dropped among Democrats to look at these numbers and Biden continues to be head and shoulders above the field on that and I think if you look at his performance, now you were talking about this, it was a much sharper, much more focused delivery from Biden.
He was not struggling for words like we`ve seen earlier in the year. He did not take a lot of incoming from his opponents. When democratic voters are as focused on electability as they seem to be and Biden has that kind of advantage, that`s the kind of night he needed probably.
WILLIAMSON: All right, Steve Kornacki, thank you for that. Vaughn Hillyard is standing by with another candidate from that stage tonight. Vaughn.
HILLYARD: Brian, we`re here with Tom Steyer and I`ve got to ask you because folks were able to watch the debate and hear the policy conversation. At the same time there`s a real reality check. We`re 46 days away from the Iowa caucus and you`re still in single digits in the polls.
What makes that change and why has it not happened today because if I`m not mistaken, you`ve already spent more than $85 million at this point?
TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I think you`re actually looking at the wrong polls if you excuse me saying so. This is not a national election. You`re looking at national polls. This is a series of state elections and we start with the four early primary states and if you look at the four early primary state which is where I`ve been spending my time, where I`ve been actually trying to speak to people directly, to get out my message, I`m somewhere between fifth and second place in those states.
So in fact in the places where I have been going and talking to people, we`ve got nothing but move up the whole time. We keep moving up and that`s where we are right now. So in fact, national polls because I`m not a famous person don`t really matter that much at this point.
HILLYARD: So what changes over the 46 days because you`ve been in this for six months with all due respect. You`ve been on television since 2017 in places like Iowa. Anybody that`s been in Iowa, they`ve been able to see your ads, starting for the impeachment effort there to now.
What changes that 46 days - you know, folks would say that Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders are their choice. Why are those two individuals--
STEYER: I think the funny thing is the number of people who are undecided now is higher than the number of people three months ago. The way this race is going to go is the way political races always go which is people are going to start thinking about it actually about a month before they have to make up their mind.
People in Iowa have been shopping for a year. In fact, what we`re going to see is polls move a lot. If you go back and look to history, they`ve moved unbelievably over the last month. I think people are going to get here and they`re going to realize, oh my goodness, we`ve had a year worth of conversation and now we have to decide a couple of very serious things.
Who can beat Trump and who can actually do a good job as President with the economy and so I think all the polls you`re looking at are going to move a lot. Those are the two questions people are going to want to answer and I think people are going to change a lot.
HILLYARD: Real fast, resources wise, what do you need to do that in Iowa over the next 46 days? How much money do you put in? What does that look like?
STEYER: The real question is how many people can I see face to face? We opened eight offices.
HILLYARD: How many faces are you going to see in Iowa in the next 46 days?
STEYER: I`m sure - but I - but I think that`s a different - there`s a different question here which is how many - we opened eight offices last week. Question is in Iowa, how many people can hear my message because when they hear and I do it really well.
I`m just not a famous person and we`re doing nothing but build. Wait and see.
HILLYARD: Thank you. I appreciate it. Brian. Tom Steyer.
WILLIAMSON: All right, thank you Vaughn. Thank you Mr. Steyer. Jason, is it - is it possible that his role, as frustrating as it is for him, his role may end up being hey I got the impeachment subject out there and spent my own money to continue to hammer it home?
JOHNSON: That maybe his role. Look, Tom Steyer has a lonesome activist history. He really does spend enough time on. I mean, it`s not impeachment, he even spent a month with the dream defenders, he was spending money for getting out the vote 2018.
Like he - for him to claim that he`s not known, that`s like no, he`s known by some people on the ground. The real issue is how are you going to make up that time and space. Those are actually very sort of functional questions and it falls on this sort of larger conversation of you basically kind of bought your way in and there are other people who have done better, who don`t have $85 million to spend that could have been on this debate stage this evening.
So now as far as actual performance, I think Tom Steyer did well. He talked about minority issues, when it comes to climate change. He talked about all sorts of important things, one way or another but is that going to be enough in the next 46 days? Highly unlikely and the money that he spends could be spent in Michigan.
It could be spent in Georgia, it could be spent in lots of different places to improve getting out the vote opportunities for somebody who`s actually going to win this nomination.
WILLIAMSON: Eugene, how did the Democratic Party and up with the stage with these 7 people on?
ROBINSON: That`s a question you know, they set up the rules with so many you know, contributors. You have to have so much standing in the polls. You have to reach magic number in so many polls and as a result you know, Julian Castro is not there. Cory Booker is not there. Andrew Yang is there and so there is something wrong with that process, it seems to me.
It was - this was an interesting debate because when you`re down to seven candidates, they can mix it up and I think we learned - we learned a lot, we saw a lot, it was the second half of the debate, especially was lively. It was good. It was - it was entertaining is not the word but it - but it was - it was - it was a good debate but there were people who were missing who should have been there.
And it`s too late to change the rules now.
WILLIAMSON: Senator, does Mike Bloomberg deserve to be on the stage for the next one?
MCCASKILL: You know, I think this is really - maybe this is a confession. You know, I can argue both sides here. If we let everybody stay on the stage then the debates become unwatchable because you have four nights or three nights.
So you have to figure out a way to winnow it down and how do you winnow it down fairly? They tried to winnow it down by doing a combination of things. A bare minimum polling in a number of polls, four polls and low - low dollar donations, you don`t have to make a certain amount of money but you have to make it from a lot of different states.
So it was trying to take away that if you`re just doing well in Iowa and one other state, it really was testing these campaigns on how well they could spread their message and garner support. And I frankly think this debate was a lot better because there were fewer people on it.
Now we got a lot of debates coming up. We`ve got another debate in January. We have three debates in February. So this stage is probably going to shrink even more and I don`t think anybody is going to be competitive unless it`s someone who thinks they can get past being a billionaire if they don`t do well in one of the four early states.
I think the Bloomberg strategy is to let the four states play out and then just to dump a ton of money in California and Texas where they have big delegate counts and try to get in the game that way but I think Tom Steyer shows it`s very hard for the Democratic Party to go yes, we`re for the billionaire who`ll buy his way in.
ROBINSON: To Bloomberg`s strategy, I mean he`s gone from 0 to 5 in some polls.
WILLIAMSON: He has leap frogged some big names.
ROBINSON: In no time, he`s leap frogged a lot of people. It shows that you know, money isn`t everything in politics but money can buy you some love, it`s bought him some love.
MCCASKILL: It`s bought enough to make him relevant.
JOHNSON: That`s the problem. I mean look, the fact that you`ve got Tom Steyer on the stage. The fact that Bloomberg might be able to buy his way on state. That is the issue. There`s a part of it - kind of like when we talk about impeachment, yes, it`s political but also it`s constitutional.
Yes, there is a process, it`s a political process and there`s ratings issues but at the end of the day, we`re trying to pick the President of United States or at least the nominee for part of the challenge the President.
You have an obligation as a party to give as many people as many options as possible. If you have to have a JV at a varsity table then that`s what you got to do. I just don`t think - I don`t think it benefits any voters out there for people to be sort of pushed out by these arbitrary rules one way or another.
If you want to have a secondary - if you want to have a kids table like a Thanksgiving where that`s where you put Cory and Castro and Marianne Williamson until she decides she wants to show up, that`s fine, right?
I think that`s better than - than having them knocked out by the rules.
WILLIAMSON: Please remind me to find some time to talk about Ms. Gabbard later on.
MCCASKILL: Don`t ask me.
WILLIAMSON: Last discussed in this studio when she voted present after being missing in action for a lot of the say of debate.