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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 1/12/22

Guests: Jamie Raskin, Ezra Klein, Steve Schmidt


GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy is now refusing to cooperate with the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. Interview with Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. Today the leader of the Republican Party said America`s highest-ranking Republican elected official, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is a loser. House members are voting to end debate on the rules to proceed to the passage of the Freedom to Vote John R. Lewis Act.



And tonight`s breaking news is not exactly shocking news. That is the breaking news that Kevin McCarthy is now refusing to cooperate with the House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. After just months ago saying, sure, I`ll cooperate.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: He literally in May said, sure. Just a couple of weeks ago in mid-December he told a California news outlet that he had nothing to hide, and that there was no -- that he wouldn`t hide from the committee, that he`s been very public. But now, of course, he`s not.

The committee`s going to have to decide if they`re going to start subpoenaing members of Congress.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, and that`s the toughest -- in many ways the toughest decision of all. Because there are precedents there that are difficult for them to have to consider.

And, you know, in the past, the House Ethics Committee would handle investigations of members of congress. But the House Ethics Committee has recently become an ineffectual vehicle for any of this. And so they are really in a jam on how to handle this.

MADDOW: Yeah, and I mean, meanwhile, sort of looming over all of this, is to the extent the committee has used the compulsory process, it`s resulted in federal criminal charges against Steve Bannon already for defying them.

And the Justice Department is still sitting on the question of whether or not they`re going to bring a federal criminal prosecution insurgency a former member of Congress, Trump`s White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, for also defying their compulsory process.

So, they have to decide whether to use compulsory means against sitting members. But they`re also still waiting to see whether compulsory means can even be enacted, can even be effectuated against people like Bannon and meadows, who don`t have that same special category of being serving members.

O`DONNELL: Rachel, can we rewind the tape just to the spot where you were quoting Kevin McCarthy? Using those famous words, "I have nothing to hide."


O`DONNELL: And what I wonder about, on the choice of that sentence "I have nothing to hide," I`ve been trying to think of, who`s the last person, if ever, who used the sentence "I have nothing to hide" who actually --

MADDOW: Actually had nothing to hide.

O`DONNELL: Actually had nothing to hide. I can`t think of anymore.

MADDOW: Literally, unless you are a nudist and the issue at hand is something about frisking, it`s never a good idea. If you cannot speak categorically on the matter, then -- you know.

O`DONNELL: It has just become the guiltiest-sounding sentence that you can say. It`s just --

MADDOW: It`s true. It as guarantee. It`s like proclaiming, "I am modest!" By virtue of the fact that you said it, no, dude.

Anyway, thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel. Thank you.

Well, our first guest tonight is Jamie Raskin, whose book is titled "Unthinkable." There`s the book title.

And, you know, it used to be unthinkable in the House of Representatives that any member of the house -- certainly any leader of the House, of the minority party, the majority party -- would say, sure, sure, I will absolutely do X. And then a few months later say, no, I`m never going to do that, not going to do it, absolutely never.

That`s the kind of thing that actually used to be unthinkable. But now is a minor development with no surprise value at all in Washington. And things have changed there in ways that we lose track of because they`ve changed in so many ways.

Val Demings is going to be joining us later this hour, as is Ezra Klein with his remarkable piece about -- important distinction -- the distinction between gaining in politics and engaging in political hobbyism. You are going to want to hear what Ezra Klein has to say about that.

And our last guest tonight is Steve Schmidt. Steve Schmidt will be given an open microphone to react to what the news of the day is that we are getting here tonight. But also this drop, this measurable drop in support for Donald Trump among Republican voters.


All of that is coming up.

But the breaking news of the night is that Kevin McCarthy has proved himself a liar once again. After last year saying he would testify to a committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, tonight, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy is refusing to testify to the committee.

In a written statement tonight, Kevin McCarthy said he is refusing to cooperate with the committee because the committee, quote, wants to interview me about public statements that have been shared with the world and private conversations not remotely related to the violence that unfolded at the capitol. I have nothing else to add.

Politicians rarely give one-word answers, because giving a simple yes-or-no answer to a question makes it much more difficult to change your answer to that question in the future. So it was surprising, on May 20th, when Kevin McCarthy gave this one-word answer.


REPORTER: Would you be willing to testify about your conversation with Donald Trump on January 6th if you were asked by an outside commission --

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Sure. Next question?


O`DONNELL: Sure. And today, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol sent a letter to Kevin McCarthy asking him to testify. Tonight, Kevin McCarthy completely contradicted his previous one-word answer and refused to testify to the committee in a written statement that is several dozen words examination filled with lies about the committee.

The committee says they want to ask Kevin McCarthy about his conversations with Donald Trump before, during, and after the attack on the Capitol. You have acknowledged speaking directly with the former president while the violence was under way on January 6th, and you summarized your conclusions regarding President Trump`s conduct on January 6th in a speech you made January 13th on the House floor.


MCCARTHY: The president bears responsibility for Wednesday`s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump, accept to share responsibility, quell the unrest, and ensure President-elect Biden is able to successfully begin his term.


O`DONNELL: The committee says they want to question Kevin McCarthy about his communications with Donald Trump, Congressman Jim Jordan, and others, about challenging electoral votes in the House of Representatives. The committee`s letter says that after the attack on the capitol, they have evidence indicating that Kevin McCarthy discussed with President Trump the potential that he would face a censure resolution, impeachment, or removal under the 25th Amendment.

The committee noted that two weeks after Kevin McCarthy said Donald Trump bears responsibility for the attack on the Capitol, Kevin McCarthy went to Florida to meet with Donald Trump. Quote: The select committee does wish to discuss any communications you had with President Trump at that time regarding your account of what actually happened on January 6th. Your public statements regarding January 6th have changed markedly since you met with Trump. At that meeting, or at any other time, did President Trump or his representatives discuss or suggest what you should say publicly during the impeachment trial, if called as a witness, or in any later investigation about your conversations with him on January 6th?

Here`s what Kevin McCarthy said on January 6th, in an interview with Norah O`Donnell of CBS News while the Capitol was still being attacked.


NORAH O`DONNELL, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: You said you spoke with the president. What did the president say he would do?

MCCARTHY: I know he had put a tweet out there. I told him he needed to talk to the nation. I told him what was happening right then. I was very clear with the president when I called him, this has to stop, he has to -- he`s got to go to the American public and tell them to stop this.

O`DONNELL: Leader McCarthy, the president of the United States has a briefing room steps from the Oval Office. It is -- the cameras are hot 24/7, as you know. Why hasn`t he walked down and said that now?

MCCARTHY: I conveyed to the president what I think is best to do, and I`m hopeful the president will do it.

O`DONNELL: Have you spoken with his chief of staff?

MCCARTHY: I`ve spoken to the president, I`ve spoken to other people in there, and the White House as well.


O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight is Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland. He`s a member of the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the Capitol, and served as the lead impeachment manager in the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.


He is the author of the new book "Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy."

Congressman Raskin, let me get your reaction to Leader McCarthy refusing to submit to an interview with the committee.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): Good evening, Lawrence.

You know, what comes to mind is that I am guessing only that he could be hiding two things. One is hiding from the Trump base which he has now tried to dive into. The fact that he did express outrage and some measure of independent critical thinking at that point. So, he`s trying to conceal the fact that he considered at least the violent insurrection part of the day`s activities a major threat to human life and limb and to our democracy.

But he also may be trying to hide the fact that he was implicated in the political coup dimension of the day`s activities. That is, he may have been totally with the program in terms of trying to get Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally reject Electoral College votes, invoking essentially lawless powers to do that.

So we don`t know. This is why we need him to come in because we have to give a complete accounting to the American people about what took place.

O`DONNELL: By my count in your letter there`s more than one suggestion of possible criminal behavior by Kevin McCarthy, including voluntarily, in effect, possibly engaging in witness tampering, allowing Donald Trump to possibly tell him how he wanted Kevin McCarthy to talk about the attack on the Capitol. While before the impeachment trial that you conducted in the Senate, in addition to that, what you were just suggesting, which is Kevin McCarthy`s possible participation in what could be a criminal conspiracy to violate election law by blocking the electoral vote in the House of Representatives, illegally and criminally conspiring to block that vote.

And there`s -- there seems to be other suggestions that the parts in there where the letter is talking about all of those minor things that seem to lead up to these possible conspiratorial moments.

RASKIN: Yeah, I mean, what`s interesting to me is there were clearly people who were in on the John Eastman memo, the Green Bay sweep, all of that stuff, the ones who thought they could simply pull the rug out from beneath Joe Biden`s majority in the Electoral College by getting Mike Pence to assert these new powers, then kicking the whole contest into the House of Representatives for a contingent election where we would vote by state rather than by member. But those people were shocked that perhaps other elements of the Trump operation, which is always huge and sprawling and franchised out to different elements, some more violent and some less violent -- but that there may have been other people who were intent to simply stopping the vote count, shutting down the Congress, stopping the steal by overthrowing the election.

And so I don`t know exactly where Kevin McCarthy was with respect to that. I mean, I have my suspicions that he was with the program when it came to trying to do an end run around Joe Biden`s Electoral College majority, and to snatch the election that way, pulling a rabbit out of the hat. But I think he was shocked when people were getting injured, killed, police officers getting speared by American flags, beat over the head with steel pipes and baseball bats and all that stuff.

And so, you heard him in that little segment you played. A lot of Republicans were outraged on that day. In other words, they reacted like human beings and not like the cultish sycophants they have become or returned to being in the wake of January 6th.

O`DONNELL: And, Kevin McCarthy, actually -- when he kept going in that speech, he said that he was not in favor of impeachment because of this, but he was in favor of censure. He was ready to censure the president of the United States, Donald Trump, which is something he wants all of his Trump supporters to forget.


Your letter says that you wanted to talk to Kevin McCarthy about discussions he had with Donald Trump about the potential that Donald Trump would face a censure resolution, impeachment, or removal under the 25th Amendment.

Kevin McCarthy discussed with Donald Trump the possibility of him being not just censured by the House but removed under the 25th Amendment?

RASKIN: There are multiple indications that there were a lot of administration officials and even cabinet officials who were broaching the subject within the administration. And remember, there was a pervasive sense around January 6th that this was the straw that broke the camel`s back. Something needed to be done. And we were, you know, facing a clear and present danger just by the continuation of Trump for his final two weeks in office.

So, everybody across the political spectrum was talking about these different possibilities. Censure, impeachment, 25th Amendment, something to try to harness the ferocity of Donald Trump`s temper and outrage about being ousted by the American people.

O`DONNELL: Congressman, your now best-selling book is entitled "Unthinkable." It is a moving and beautiful account of personal strength, to put it mildly, in your life, and the strain of your day-to-day job now. But as I look at it tonight, I think of it as "Unthinkable volume 1", because your every day in this committee is discovering the new, previously unthinkables of political conduct in Washington.

RASKIN: Well, I think that`s right. What we had was a coterie of officials who were enabling Donald Trump. And that top echelon of the Trump administration was in league with extreme right-wing elements, right nationalist elements. I mean, it was the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Aryan Nations, the First Amendment Praetorian, the various militia groups, the QAnon networks, the Unification Church.

I mean, there were authoritarian, political, and religious cults that assembled there with the idea of smashing our windows, attacking the Capitol, laying siege to the Congress of the United States, and leading this crowd that Donald Trump had assembled and turning it into a mob, unleashing violence on our police officers, leaving them with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress syndrome, broken arms, legs, ribs, vertebrae, necks.

I still have constituents who are officers who are in physical therapy and psychological therapy because of what they did on that day. So this is an unthinkable situation that there would be this attack on American democracy like this. And an entire political party, with the honorable exception of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger and a handful of others, but an entire political party would wrap itself around lies. Continue to slavishly bow down to a man who continues to tell lies, including on the anniversary of the attack.

They`re operating not like a modern political party in a Democratic constitution at order, they`re positioned outside of the constitutional order and they`re operating like a religious political cult of personality.

O`DONNELL: Congressman Jamie Raskin, now best-selling author Jamie Raskin, whose new book is titled "Unthinkable" -- thank you very much for joining us again tonight. It`s always an honor to have you.

RASKIN: Thanks so much for having me, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, here`s a live look at the House floor where lawmakers are preparing to vote to send the freedom to vote John R. Lewis Act to the Senate. More on that coming up.

But, next, Ezra Klein has written the new must-read piece for anyone who is worried about the midterms, voting access, state of democracy, and the message is, stop worrying and start working. Ezra Klein will join us next.



O`DONNELL: Are you engaged in politics or are you engaged in what political scientist Etan Hirsch called political hobbyism?

Here is Professor Hirsch`s description of political hobbyism. I refresh my Twitter feed to keep up on the latest political crisis, then toggle over to Facebook to read click bait news stories, then YouTube to see a montage of juicy clips from the latest congressional hearing. I then complain to my family about all things I don`t like that I have seen.

That is quoted in our next guest, Ezra Klein`s, brilliant new article about what real political engagement requires. It requires direct support of candidates through contributions or knocking on doors. It requires voting and helping others vote.

And it requires running for office and understanding that no elected office is unimportant. Ezra Klein reports on Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, who, quote, spends his days obsessing over mayoral races in 20,000-person towns because those mayors appoint the city clerks who decide whether to pull the drop boxes for mail-in ballots and small changes to electoral administration could be the difference between winning Senator Ron Johnson`s seat in 2022 and losing the race and the senate.

Wikler adds, if you want to fight for the future of American democracy, you shouldn`t spend all day talking about the future of American democracy. These local races that determine the mechanics of American democracy, these races get zero national attention. They hardly get local attention. Turnout is often lower than 20 percent.

That means people who actually engage have a superpower. You as a single dedicated volunteer might be able to call and knock on the doors of enough voters to win a local election.

Amanda Litman, cofounder of Run for Something, told Ezra Klein, Democratic major donors like to fund the flashy things -- presidential races, Senate races, super PACs, TV ads. Amy McGrath can raise $90 million to run against Mitch McConnell in a doomed race, but the number of city council and school board candidates in Kentucky who can raise what they need is -- she trailed off in frustration.

Gabriela Cazares-Kelly discovered the county recorder`s office in Pima County, Arizona, maintains voter registration records. She eventually decided to run for that office herself.


And she won.

Ezra Klein reports, now she`s the county recorder for a jurisdiction with nearly 1 million people and more than 600,000 registered voters in a swing state. She told Ezra Klein: One thing I was really struck by when I first started getting involved in politics is how much power there is in just showing up to things. If you want to get involved, there`s always a way.

Ezra Klein, opinion columnist for "The New York Times", where he hosts the podcast "The Ezra Klein Show."

Ezra, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

Your article carries the provocative title, "Steve Bannon is on to something." And it was actually a friend of mine who`s not a regular reader of yours, not a regular reader of political material, said, hey, I just read this thing about Steve Bannon and I think it`s right.

And I said, what? I said, who wrote it? He said, Ezra Klein. I said, oh, it`s right. I hadn`t read a word of it yet.


O`DONNELL: So, Ezra, what is Steve Bannon right about?

KLEIN: So one of the things I use in there, truthfully because he`s really doing it, a little bit as a rhetorical device, is Steve Bannon on his podcast and other things has been pushing Trumpists to volunteer as local polling volunteers, to run for local office, become precinct volunteers. One thing he understands and has been arguing, because it is literally true, it`s not a theory, is elections are fundamentally administered at the local level.

Amanda Litman in a speech who you quoted so beautifully there, saying, look, we don`t have a national election, we have 50 state elections and D.C., and other territories. And in those places, they devolve the power to county level, so 3,000-ish county elections. That means there are all of these different counties where different people are making different rules about how the election is actually run.

So one thing that I`m trying to push liberals ales towards in this piece, actually, not just liberals, anybody who cares about democracy, I want to see HR-1 passed, I want to see the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act passed. But I think liberals have talked themselves into the idea, this is a national battle and you win or lose it nationally -- something bad because they lost power in 2020. Republicans don`t have the White House, Senate, and the House. They have to organize at the local and state level, they don`t have a choice.

So they are. And if they are doing that alone, then you`re going to have a lot of people in a position to mal-administer elections. And so, liberals and people who care about democracy who want to get involved need to contest that local level, just as and in fact far more vigorously.

O`DONNELL: The national legislative body in the House of Representatives is shaped not so much by national politics or national political trends as it is by the local drawing of the borders of congressional districts.

KLEIN: Yeah. It`s infuriating. But as you say, it`s completely true.

And one of the things that I am trying to get at in this is -- you read this quote sort of about this -- the fight for democracy is not entirely going to feel like a fight for democracy. It is not going to be one big national show down with a lot of speeches about democracy. It is going to be winning a lot of elections that do not take place on on the ground of what you think of democracy or Trump`s big lies about 2020. It`s going to be winning elections that about flooding in a local area.

We talk about Lena Hidalgo, the county judge in Texas, in Harris County, Texas, county judges there, they run the budget. After 2016, she got involved because she was appalled by Donald Trump and she wanted to make a difference somehow. She found this position people didn`t pay much attention did, county judge. But that group of county judges there, they control a $5 billion budget in Harris County, Texas. That budget includes election administration.

And so, when it came down to it, they could choose to spent $13 million more, which they did on voting administration, let people vote where it was convenient for them, not just the one they were assigned to, where they may not be at the end of the day because of their job or whatever else. And she ran on flooding. She ran on the point that Harris County kept getting flooded because of these huge climate change-accelerated storms.

So, to win these races from Ron Johnson in Wisconsin for Senate, all the way down to mayorships and county clerk levels, you`re often fighting about just roads, bridges, local administration, the budget. So you`re not always going to be engaged in the big fight for democracy, you`re going to be engaged in the small work, the small "D" work of democracy.

O`DONNELL: Now Ezra, we learned something about you in the confessional section of this article. You present as the dispassionate social scientist, always calmly analyzing these things.

But I discover in here that you are capable of fury. And you talk about how you, in fact, get as angry as everyone else about the latest rage of the day. But you make the point that fury is useful only as fuel. What did you mean?

KLEIN: The quote for (INAUDIBLE), Lawrence, the secret is, I`m always angry. But in this case, the point I`m making which relates to Anton Hirsch`s points on hobbyism (ph), is it`s really easy to just sit around being angry. It`s really easy.

And you have to decide -- and I`m not telling people not to sit around being angry. -- but you have to decide between whether or not you are engaging emotionally in politics or whether or not you are engaged in the strategic -- in taking strategic actions for power, right.

And that is on some level the definition of politics. You have to decide whether or not the emotional work you`re putting into politics is simply because you enjoy following it or you like to be informed, which is fine. That`s a fine thing to do and I appreciate you listening to my podcast if you do.

But if you actually want to save democracy, if that is what you feel like you are doing, then simply reading Twitter or reading me or watching you or all the other things you do, it has to get somewhere, right? It has to motivate you to take some action.

And what I`m trying to say in this piece is there are a lot of actions at the local level people really underestimate. Just a huge mismatch between the amount of time people spend on national politics more or less cannot affect local politics if they really can.

And by the way, not just effect in terms of the fact that there is a local election administration. Plus it is all kinds of things happen at the local level. It`s important. You can make your life better, the lives of your neighbors better. It`s a much more affirming way to be in politics. I always try to tell people, if their political diet and political action, to the extent they take it, and donations, are 100 - zero, or 90 to 10 national - local, you really need to rebalance that.

You know, you really want to be engaging at the local -- at the level where you can have influence. Not only the levels where you can only have outrage and frustration.

O`DONNELL: And as never before, we now see Republicans leveraging, of all things, local school board meetings into national political attention. It is a very, very important political level that we ignore so often.

Ezra Klein, I should say, the always angry Ezra Klein, pretending not to be. Thank you very much for joining us tonight and performing the non-angry version so well.

KLEIN: Thank you. It`s a Zen aesthetic.

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Ezra.

And coming up, it`s not just Republican senators from the Dakotas. A new poll shows that a significant number of Republican voters have decided in the last few months to break up with their boy, Donald Trump.

Steve Schmidt will join us.



O`DONNELL: Today the leader of the Republican Party said this about America`s highest-ranking Republican elected official, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.




O`DONNELL: That was Donald Trump in a radio interview with Steve Inskeep on NPR this morning. It was as incoherent, rambling, and untrue as every Trump interview but it had the welcome feature of Steve Inskeep repeatedly telling Donald Trump that his answer was not true.

A new poll shows that only 33 percent of voters would like to see Donald Trump run for president again. Support for Donald Trump running for president again has dropped 10 points among Republican voters.

Donald Trump called Mitch McConnell a loser in response to Steve Inskeep`s question about why some Senate Republicans like Mike Rounds do not support Donald Trump`s lies about the 2020 presidential election. Then Steve Inskeep asked this question.


STEVE INSKEEP, RADIO HOST, NPR: Is it a disadvantage for Republicans to keep talking about the 2020 election in 2022?

TRUMP: No, I think it`s an advantage.

And with Donald Trump as the Republican party`s chief strategist, they have lost control of, in this order, the House of Representatives, the presidency, and the United States Senate.

Joining us now is Steve Schmidt, a former Republican presidential campaign strategist and co-founder of The Lincoln Project. Steve, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

There`s this movement that`s becoming -- it feels slightly more vocal just at the edge in the United States Senate. Senators from the Dakotas, Mitch McConnell this week willing to say publicly, no, Donald Trump is wrong. I mean, they don`t say he`s wrong, they just say, the election was fair. They try not to pin this on the president, but they say -- President Trump, but they say the election was fair and Joe Biden actually really did win.

It`s almost as if they want to, by saying that, they`re trying to keep Donald Trump talking about 2020.

STEVE SCHMIDT, CO-FOUNDER, THE LINCOLN PROJET: Well, Donald Trump is an exhausting figure. I think you see that playing out with some of the United States senators, number one, in some of the polls. But it doesn`t change the fact that Donald Trump controls the Republican party at the mechanical level -- lock, stock, and barrel.

He controls the state parties. He controls the national party. And if there was a nominating contest that started tomorrow, Donald Trump would be the front-runner within that contest and is the likely Republican nominee. But everything that`s happening in America is no longer about this past election.


SCHMIDT: It`s about the moment that the Republican candidate -- there will be a Republican candidate -- regardless of the outcome, this person is likely to be Trump, or more likely to be Trump than any other person -- is going to say, I have won the election that I just lost.

And what will be different next time than was from last time, as was described by Congressman Raskin, is that with these years of preparation at the local level and a spreading metastasis, autocratic conspiracy, those levers will be thrown next time by people who don`t defend democracy, and we could have a real crisis. And when we look at the extremist groups and the intimations to violence that are now a regular part of the American political discourse coming from the Trump extremist right, we`re in a very dangerous territory.

The next election will not be like the last election. It will not be about Donald Trump, even if he`s on the ballot. It`s going to be about something much bigger. It`s going to be about democracy.

And everything that the congressman said and everything that Ezra Klein said are things that everybody within sound of their voice and yours tonight that I hope people will take heed of. Because they couldn`t be more correct.

O`DONNELL: What`s your reaction to Donald Trump as a political strategist for his Republican Party saying he thinks it`s an advantage for the candidates this year to be talking about the presidential election in 2020?

SCHMIDT: Well, I think when you look at the election this year, you know, a couple of things. There`s been three occasions in the last 120 years where the incumbent president`s party has picked up seats in that first midterm and Democrats have the added burden of being in a position where they will lose seats in totality from redistricting.

So when you look at everything that`s happened, the pro-democracy side has not had a very good year. What Trump is saying has nothing to do with strategy, it`s nihilistic. It`s about his vanity, it`s about his ego, it`s about obedience.

I think what Trump intuits is that he can force a contest, a clash, where he can scare enough people potentially. Biden won by 44,000 votes across three states.

You have this middle, small, swinging part of the electorate that`s looking at the Democratic side, that`s looking at the Republican side. And on an election-by-election basis is determining, well, I`m more afraid of that group than I am of this group. And they`re moving back and forth.

And the issue is, that that small slice of the electorate is largely going to determine whether we get to continue to live in a democracy.

And what Trump is saying is, look, people don`t have to like me, in fact, they can think I`m a loathsome pig. What they have to believe is that I`m the only thing that protects them from this group of people over here who hate those people and look to me for protection.

He`s in the rackets business. And in an election where you have an evenly- divided country where the last two elections have been decided across a handful of states in the tens of thousands of total votes, we`re in a very, very precarious situation. And that`s where we are with all of this tonight.

So yes, Donald Trump is tiresome. He`s loathsome. He`s boring. But in the end, whether people want him to run has nothing to do with whether he will run. And if he does run, who`s going to stop him in the nominating contest, A. And then as you look into a general election, does Donald Trump have a path to win? And he sure does, against an incumbent president heading into his fourth year who will be 82 years old. And we should be realistic about that.

O`DONNELL: Is it meaningful that Donald Trump`s support for running again has dropped 10 points among Republican voters?

SCHMIDT: I think it shows fatigue. I think it`s a wish. It`s a hope. But I think if he runs, that hope abandoned doesn`t necessarily translate into a diminishment of support or chances of him winning the nomination. Who is the person in five years` time in the whole constellation of possible people who will run for president that will stand up and confront Donald Trump?

Who`s it going to be? Would it be Greg Abbott? Is it going to be Ron DeSantis? Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Donald Trump is the boss until he`s not.


SCHMIDT: There is a competitive court below him that hates each other, that`s constantly scheming, that has one eye on Trump`s health, on his fitness, wondering what he`s going to do. So there will be a lot of people quickly out of the gates. But nothing will happen until Trump makes his decision.

He`s got the party as a hostage. They`re willful in the sense that most of them aren`t hostages anymore, they`re accomplices. But in totality, it`s what holds the whole country hostage right now as we wait to see what Donald Trump does heading into 2024.

But as you look right now, Democrats have a lot of work to do and have to change the terrain they`re fighting on immediately to be in a position to prevail in these 2022 midterms. Because the trajectory they`re on, the lane that they`re in is headed towards defeat. And to see a Republican speaker in the constitutional line of succession which will set off two years of chaos, nihilism and sabotage of the public good, the public interest, and the Biden presidency.

O`DONNELL: Steve Schmidt, thank you very much for joining us again tonight. Always appreciate it.

SCHMIDT: Good to be with you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, the showdown on voting rights could come, probably will come, in the Senate tomorrow, and Joe Manchin now sounds like he is undecided.



O`DONNELL: A live look now at the House floor where members are voting to end debate on the rules to proceed to the passage of the Freedom to Vote John R. Lewis Act. Passage of this new legislative vehicle is expected tomorrow in the House. That will then head to the Senate where Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning to use this new legislative vehicle from the House in a special way that will allow the Senate to begin debate on voting rights without having to reach a 60-vote threshold just to begin that debate.

Earlier today Chuck Schumer said this:


SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We`re having a lot of serious, long and intense meetings with Senators Manchin and Sinema. We are trying to come to a place, we`re not there yet, I wouldn`t want to delude anybody to think that this is easy, but we`re trying to come to a place where 50 senators can support two bills, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Act and with their change in the rules.


O`DONNELL: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could begin the voting rights debate on the Senate floor as early as tomorrow. It looks like that will happen because he will take up the message that the House will send to the Senate tomorrow. It`s called a message in this situation.

Senator Schumer plans to employ a rarely used Senate maneuver that will allow debate to begin on that message from the House without having to clear a 60-vote threshold just to permit the debate.

It is the same procedure that Senator Schumer used to speed a debt ceiling increase through the Senate in December. Now that Senator Schumer has publicly named the problem that the Democrats are facing in the Senate, when he has repeatedly named Senators Manchin and Sinema as the two who must be convinced to change the Senate rule, Senator Manchin and Sinema do seem to be responding to that public pressure.

Last night Senator Sinema met for two and a half hours with a group of Democratic senators who urged her to support a change in Senate rules that will allow the voting rights legislation to be passed with a simple majority vote of the Senate instead of having to clear a 60-vote procedural threshold.

And this morning Senator Schumer and nine Democratic senators met with Senator Joe Manchin for an hour to urge him to support that rules change. After that meeting, Joe Manchin appeared to be undecided about supporting a rules change.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you make of the president`s speech last night?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): It was a good speech. He gave a good speech.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did it change your opinion at all on the any of these senate rules changes?

MANCHIN: We`re talking. Everyone`s talking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said when it comes to a majority rule in the country, a majority should rule on the senate. Do you agree with that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Please remove your mike.

MANCHIN: He understands. We all understand how the Senate works.



O`DONNELL: I know what you`re thinking but that is not the same old same old from Joe Manchin. Joe Manchin knows that the president of the United States and Chuck Schumer and everyone in the Senate are now hanging on every single word he says and every word that he does not say. And the most important word Joe Manchin did not say today is no.

When Garrett Haake asked him if Joe Biden`s speech changed his opinion on a Senate rules change, Joe Manchin could have easily said, no, didn`t change my mind. And that would have been very bad news for the president and the Democrats.

But Joe Manchin could have also said yes, I changed my opinion and I now support a rules change and that would have been great news for the president and the Democrats.

But when you`re watching senators in these situations, you watch what words they are choose to say and what Joe Manchin chose to say was nothing, nothing. And the way he said it was to simply say we`re still talking, everyone`s talking.

And the way everyone in the Senate reads that kind of response means that it is still possible, possible, just possible to get Joe Manchin`s vote.


O`DONNELL: NBC News is reporting that President Biden will do something most presidents never do. He will attend tomorrow`s Senate Democratic Caucus lunch to press the case in person with all of the Democratic senators for changing the Senate rules to pass voting rights.

Joe Biden has attended literally thousands of those Senate luncheons as a senator. No one knows how to work that room better than Joe Biden. And tomorrow`s Senate lunch meeting is the most important one of Joe Biden`s 45-year career in Washington.

Tonight`s LAST WORD is next.



O`DONNELL: Time for tonight`s LAST WORD.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president bears responsibility for Wednesday`s attack on Congress by mob rioters.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There`s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.


O`DONNELL: Republican leaders of the House and Senate get tonight`s LAST WORDS.

"THE 11TH HOUR" starts now.