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Transcript: The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, 11/23/21

Guests: Dahlia Lithwick, Jocelyn Benson

Summary

Today, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol issued five new subpoenas to organizations and individuals reportedly involved with planning the attacks. Interview with Michigan`s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson.

Transcript

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Rachel.

You`ve got us in suspense on that one, that`s for sure.

Rachel, I know --

(LAUGHTER)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST, "TRMS": Can we steer them or not? Yes.

O`DONNELL: I know how much you love local TV. I know. You just cannot take your eyes off it.

At the end of the hour tonight, we`re going to have a local TV segment, and it`s Montana local TV.

MADDOW: Okay.

O`DONNELL: And it is starring a guy named Jon Tester. And we see Senator Jon Tester. He comes on your show. He comes on my show. Montana Jon Tester, when he is doing local TV in Montana, it`s a whole other thing.

And we`re going to -- we`re going bring that to America, to all 50 states and beyond at the end of this hour. A little piece of local TV.

MADDOW: Does it or does it not involve, A, a tractor, or B, a live animal?

O`DONNELL: I`d say the big -- the big difference is the wardrobe. The big difference.

MADDOW: Okay.

O`DONNELL: Is the dress code on local Montana TV versus the Dirksen Senate office building.

MADDOW: Right on.

O`DONNELL: Rachel, before you go, I hope you can help me with something. We`re dealing with a very serious case of what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, former Harvard professor Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to call semantic infiltration, which -- it wasn`t his term. He got it from a sociologist in the 1970s. But it`s a brilliant notion. It`s -- the notion is if you use -- if we can get them to use our language, we have won half of the battle of the presentation.

MADDOW: Okay.

O`DONNELL: And so an example for me of semantic infiltration, which is driving me crazy is a couple of words that I am going to say and really don`t want to say in the next few minutes, and those words are Proud Boys, which I do not want to say.

MADDOW: Ah.

O`DONNELL: And Oath Keepers, which I do not want to say, because I think both of those are cases of semantic infiltration. Those boys have nothing to be proud of. But that`s what they`re called in their subpoenas. And the Oath Keepers don`t believe in oaths that matter.

And so, I`m trying to find language for them that isn`t what they want, that isn`t the title they want.

MADDOW: I will say that with both of those groups, particularly the Proud Boys, but also a little bit with the Oath Keepers, I have always found them to be inadvertently funny, those names. Not only because they defy reality, as you`re describing, but because they both sound really gay. They both seem like they`re referring to gay stuff.

Whether it`s the Proud Boys in terms of gay pride or the Oath Keepers thing around a lot of the gay politics around gay marriage and about being able to say your I do`s with your beloved. Both of those things have such a poorly derived sense of camp and understanding about American subcultural text that they both ended up naming themselves something that could have been a `90s affinity group of like the Lesbian Avengers.

And so, I`ve always felt like they`re kind of playing themselves, but I probably am in the minority on that.

O`DONNELL: Yeah, it`s a -- I just -- I just want different titles for them. But I`m going to -- I`m apologizing.

MADDOW: Feel free to call them the Lesbian Avengers if you want.

O`DONNELL: All right. We`ll try that. We won`t try it tonight because that`s not what`s in the teleprompter. But we will try something in the future.

MADDOW: I`m going to go before I get you in more trouble.

[22:05:01]

Bye, Lawrence.

(LAUGHTER)

O`DONNELL: Thank you, Rachel.

So on with it. Today, the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol issued five new subpoenas to organizations and individuals reportedly involved with planning the attacks.

Subpoenas were issued to the Proud Boys International LLC and its chairman, Henry Enrique Tarrio. At least 34 individuals affiliated with the Proud Boys have been indicted by the Department of Justice in relation to the January 6 attack on the Capitol according to the committee`s letter to the Proud Boys who have nothing to be proud of, quote, indictments returned by the federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. indicate that Proud Boys engaged in extensive calls for violence leading up to January 6, 2021.

Certain indictments returned against Proud Boys members describe prior planning and coordination, including efforts to fund raise for protective gear and communications. Furthermore, video evidence plainly demonstrates that Proud Boys members are involved in the January 6 attack.

Subpoenas were issued to the Oath Keepers and its president Elmer Stewart Rhodes. The group calling itself the Oath Keepers does not belief keeping an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The oath that Donald Trump took and repeatedly violated.

According to the committee`s letter to the so-called Oath Keepers, quote, an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. described a conspiracy among at least 18 Oath Keepers in which members of the Oath Keepers planned to move together in coordination and with regular communication to storm the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, including by traveling to Washington, D.C. with paramilitary gear, supplies, including firearms, tactical vests, with plates, helmets and radio equipment.

Moments after the attack, Mr. Rhodes gathered approximately 100 feet from the Capitol with the Oath Keeper members who had just breached the building.

Subpoenas were issued to the First Amendment Praetorian, an organization involved with multiple rallies leading up to the January 6, and its chairman, Robert Patrick Lewis in January, Robert Patrick Lewis tweeted today is the day the true battles begin.

The committee states that Lewis claims to be involved with war gaming to continue efforts to overturn the election results. Today in federal court in Charlottesville, Virginia, a jury delivered a $25 million civil verdict against 24 Nazis and white supremacists who organized the deadly rally in 2017 that killed Heather Heyer and left more than 50 others wounded. A federal jury found those organizers liable for the violence of those events.

Tonight, lawyers for the winning plaintiffs in the case discussed the case with Rachel Maddow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTA KAPLAN, CO-LEAD COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFFS IN CHARLOTTESVILLE TRIAL: The jury saw and hopefully the country saw the truth of who these people are and what they did and what they believe, and how incredibly dangerous it is to our society, to us having a civil society. This was four weeks of hearing about "Mein Kampf" and Hitler and the ethno state and the race war. And we persuaded a jury of the truth, which is these guys planned based on their hateful beliefs to come and commit violence against racial and religious minorities, and that`s what they did, and then they celebrated it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Leading off our discussion tonight, Paul Butler, law professor at Georgetown University and a former federal prosecutor. He is an MSNBC legal analyst. Also with us, Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor slate.com and host of the podcast "Amicus".

Dahlia, you have been following that Charlottesville trial closely. What was your reaction to this $25 million verdict today?

DAHLIA LITHWICK, SENIOR EDITOR, SLATE.COM: I mean, I was moved. I think we were beginning to doubt, Lawrence, that anyone was ever going to hold these folks to account. I think that there is this theme that you really flicked at, that it`s all fun and it`s game, and it`s war games and it`s comedy, and you can`t make anything stick.

And it was profoundly, profound profoundly moving to see a jury say, you know what? It wasn`t funny. Nazism isn`t cool. You guys can call yourselves the alt-right, but you`re still Nazis. And by the way, you owe us $26 million. And I think for my purposes, having waited for four years to see some kind of vindication, this is a really, really powerful signal that sometimes, sometimes you get to really tag them for what they did.

O`DONNELL: And Paul Butler, this is a novel piece of civil litigation. We haven`t really seen this approach to this. What is it going to mean going forward?

PAUL BUTLER, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You know, Lawrence, in the era of black lives matter, there is so much attention to high profile cases involving police when they`re on trial for shooting unarmed African Americans, but this case actually has much more potential for racial justice. Criminal trials are poor instruments of social transformation.

They`re about holding individual wrongdoers to justice. But this is called impact litigation, and in this case, it has the potential to bankrupt some of the worst Nazi and white supremacist and anti-Semitic organizations in this country.

O`DONNELL: Dahlia, I assume they can use GoFundMe and other devices to try to pay these judgments or get out from this potential bankruptcy, but 25 -- $26 million is an awful lot of money. It sounds like these judgments are going to follow these people around for a very long time.

LITHWICK: I mean, to be fair, some of them are already bankrupt. Richard Spencer has already said this trial has wrecked his life. There are others who are absolutely impecunious. If they find money, if they rattle around in the Nazi couch cushions and they find some money, that will all go to the plaintiffs who are very much deserving of it.

But I think the larger point is this trial was meant to really surface and smoke out the interactions between these groups, the funding sources, the planning. All of that absent the money judgment has been really surfaced. And as I said, none of them look cool. None of them look glamorous. They just look like a bunch of losers. And if they can scrape up the cash to pay the judgments, awesome, but even if they don`t, they still just look like losers.

O`DONNELL: Paul Butler, what do you make of the subpoenas issued today by the January 6 committee? They seem to be now working off what has been found the prosecutors in the attack on the Capitol?

BUTLER: You know, Lawrence, it`s kind of what dahlia just said. Investigators are also looking for interactions, relationships between these groups, funding, money sources. It`s starting to look like everybody knew that a violent insurrection was going to happen on January 6 except the Capitol police. On December 12th, the leader of the Oath Keepers said if Trump didn`t invoke the Insurrection Act, they would mount a much more bloody war, and this weird shadowy First Amendment Praetorian, on January 4th, they said violence was imminent. Then its leader said the members of group were going to have to make some very tough choices on January 6.

And the line soldiers, if you will, have been held accountable. 34 Proud Boys indicted, 18 Oath Keepers. But now the leaders of these organizations will have to come clean or take the 5th.

O`DONNELL: And, Dahlia, when you have that many defendants within a group, invariably, the prosecutors get some cooperation from some of them.

LITHWICK: Yeah. And one of the real lessons, at least I took from Charlottesville is the minute you put the defendants on the hook, they really are kind of scorpions in a bottle. They all go after each other. They all turn on each other. There is not a ton of loyalty here. There is an immense instinct for self-preservation.

So I think we`re already seeing that happening both in reference to January 6. We certainly saw it happen in Charlottesville, where there is not a tremendous amount of honor among the thieves here. Everybody at the end of the day wants to save their skin, and that only redounds to the benefit of in this case of the committee.

O`DONNELL: Dahlia Lithwick, thank you very much for your guidance throughout the Charlottesville trial on this program. We really appreciate it.

And, Paul Butler, thank you as always for joining us with your legal guidance. We really appreciate it. Thank you.

And joining us now is Noah Goldberg, a court reporter for "The New York Daily News". He has covered the trial of Brendan Hunt, who was sentenced to 19 months in prison for posting a video threatening to kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer, and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Hunt has already served ten months in prison and has nine months left to serve in his sentence.

Noah, thank you very much for joining us tonight. One of the really peculiar biographical facts of this particular defendant is that his father is a judge -- was or is a judge in the Brooklyn court.

NOAH GOLDBERG, COURT REPORTER, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Yeah, his dad -- thanks for having me. His dad was a judge in family court out in Queens actually, you know, not the only New York City judge to have a nexus to the Jan 6 Capitol riots as there was also the son of a Brooklyn judge who was at the Capitol that day.

And, you know, his father, Brendan Hunt`s father actually came into the case a little bit because text messages were revealed during the case between Hunt and his father which revealed hunt`s more unsavory beliefs and racist beliefs. He referred to immigrants as low IQ mongoloids and he called New York Jew York City in some of the texts with his father who he had a pretty intense relationship.

His father did come to the trial and sentencing to support his son. So he was there for him at the end of the day.

O`DONNELL: These threats were made from his home in New York City, and the trial was in New York City. He never went to Washington to bring these threats closer to the people he was threatening?

GOLDBERG: Right. An his lawyers definitely stressed that a lot. I mean, he never went to the Capitol riots. They say he had no ride. No one wanted to take him to the Capitol riots. He didn`t have any weapons is something they really stressed.

He posted the video two days after the Capitol riots, and actually, it`s not the video about AOC and Schumer. This one is just a more broad, he said kill your senators, slaughter them all, and he talked about spraying bullets at Congress members. So, yeah, he never actually made it down.

But with the inauguration coming up on January 20th, I think there was a sense that this threat was -- even though they didn`t know whether he had weapons, they wanted to, you know, the fbi wanted to get him before anything worse happened.

O`DONNELL: So the guy who couldn`t get a ride down to Washington for January 6 is now sentenced to 19 months.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. And he already served ten. While he was in jail at Brooklyn`s metropolitan detention center, he was a cellmate of Robert Sylvester Kelly, the R&B superstar who was awaiting trial for sex trafficking. And Hunt is actually a musician himself. And he and R. Kelly became kind of unlikely friends at Brooklyn federal jail.

And his lawyer told me, hunt`s lawyer told me that when R. Kelly sang, it was like Hunt wasn`t even in jail anymore. You know, it wasn`t all bad times at the MDC, but he also said he was targeted and beaten by jail guards and was not having a great time.

So they hoped that he would get time served and be released after the ten months he already served, but the judge decided he actually needs a little more time in. So he`ll get another nine months. And she says he has to learn to grow up because he is not a child. He is 37 years old. And we`ll see.

O`DONNELL: I did not see the R. Kelly chapter of this story coming.

Noah Goldberg, thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

GOLDBERG: Thanks for having me, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And coming up, two Trump fanatics lied in court about election fraud in 2020, and now they are facing swift and severe penalties from a judge.

And a Trump fanatic is running to be Michigan`s top election official. Someone who has lied about election fraud in 2020, and of course that person is now endorsed by Donald Trump. Michigan`s top election official, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson will join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:22:56]

O`DONNELL: An abuse of the legal system. That`s what Federal Judge Reid Neureiter called a lawsuit filed by two Colorado lawyers, Gary Fielder and Ernest Walker, that tried to overturn the presidential election. The judge dismissed the lawsuit and found that the lawyers violated federal rules on filing frivolous lawsuits.

So today the judge ordered those lawyers to pay $187,000 in attorneys fees for the defendants who they sued including the states of Michigan and Pennsylvania, along with Facebook and the voting machine company, Dominion Voting Systems.

The judge wrote: As officers of the court, these attorneys have a higher duty and calling that requires meaningful investigation before prematurely repeating in court pleadings unverified and uninvestigated, defamatory rumors that strike at the heart of our democratic system and were used by others to foment a violent insurrection that threatened our system of government. They need to take responsibility for their misconduct.

The Republican strategy for future elections seems to be to avoid fighting elections in court by taking control of the counting of the votes. Fanatical supporter of Donald Trump`s big lie about the 2020 election Kristina Karamo is running to become Michigan`s secretary of state in next year`s election. He has not only claimed that Donald Trump won Michigan last year, a state that Donald Trump lost by 154,188 votes, but she has also said that the January 6 attack on the Capitol was carried out by, quote, Antifa posing as Trump supporters.

Donald Trump has, of course, endorsed this pathological Trump liar in her campaign for secretary of state of Michigan.

And joining us now is Michigan`s secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson.

Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

[22:25:02]

Really appreciate it.

I want to begin with what we`re seeing today in these civil penalties, civil judgment, a $25 million judgment in Charlottesville, and now this $187,000 attorneys fees basically fine against these lawyers for bringing one of these crazy frivolous Donald Trump-type challenges of the election.

JOCELYN BENSON, MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, yes, thanks, first, Lawrence, for having me. Always a pleasure and really appreciate you focusing and turning a light on these very real threats to democracy.

You know, the sanctions awarded today, they send an important message that if you blatantly misuse your authority and abuse the legal system to manipulate the public into thinking that our elections are anything but safe and secure, you`ll face consequences. And I think we are going to see more of this happening. I hope in the months ahead.

Otherwise, we risk this legal strategy, which was really a pr strategy becoming more of the norm in the future. And we can`t have that if we have a safe and secure democracy.

O`DONNELL: The state of Michigan was one of the defendants that they were suing, which in effect means that you were one of the defendants. And I`m imagining if there is a Trump follower who is elected secretary of state in Michigan in the future, and this kind of lawsuit came up, would that Trump secretary of state simply not fight it? Like just let them have their way?

BENSON: It`s important to know we also have a great attorney general here in Michigan as well who represented the state of Michigan, the governor and I in this lawsuit really effectively, and with truth and facts.

And it`s also important to note that in 2020, democracy ultimately prevailed. The will of the people was protected, because good people on both sides of the aisle did the right thing and they followed the truth and the facts and they stood up to the conspiracy theorists.

So, now, what we`ve seen over the past year is a national coordinated campaign led by conspiracy theorists that first tried to overturn the results of the last election, now laying the groundwork to potentially overturn the next one. And we`re seeing that in Michigan with people seeking to be the state`s chief election officer. We`re seeing that in other states as well.

So I think we have to all look at votes and all these states need to look very closely at those seeking to fill these critical roles in the future, because our democracy depends on good people, people of faith, people of following the truth, people following the facts, people following the law, doing the right thing to protect the will of the people, and not following or furthering a political agenda or the will of people who are supporting them, asking them to do wrong by the people and further their partisan goals instead.

O`DONNELL: Have you decided about running for reelection yourself next year which could mean running against a Trump-endorsed candidate who lies about everything that you`re campaigning on?

BENSON: Well, I`m committed to this work. I`m committed to ensuring that these attacks on democracy are unsuccessful, both in 2022 and beyond.

And so, I hope to continue serving in this role and look forward to bringing that real choice to voters in November 2022. And also, I hope continuing to serve in this role on 2024, where the attacks we saw in 2020 will be back the threats will I believe come back in a more strategic and even serious way, and we`ll need people who are experienced in protecting democracy in 2020, as I am, back in `24 to protect against another potential coup or other attacks in our democracy in that election and in others.

O`DONNELL: Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

BENSON: Thanks for having me.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

Coming up, Joe Biden took action today to respond the high gas prices. Congressman Ro Khanna joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[22:33:08]

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We made historic progress over the last ten months. Unemployment is down to 4.6 percent, two years faster than everyone expected. When we started this job, it was over 14 percent.

Wages are rising. Disposable income is up. More people are starting small businesses than ever before. And our economy has created a record 5.6 million jobs since I became president on January 20th.

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC HOST: The voters who need to hear that were not listening to Joe Biden today when he said that, and do not know any of those facts. That`s according to a focus group of Virginia voters who voted for Joe Biden for president and then voted Republican in the last governor`s election.

That focus group of Virginia swing voters showed that they do not pay close attention to what President Biden and the Democrats in Washington are accomplishing, and they do not think the president is seriously fighting inflation.

In an attempt to stop the rising price of gasoline, or at least appear to be trying to, today President Biden announced that the United States and five other countries experiencing gasoline price increases will release oil into the marketplace from their strategic reserves. The five countries joining President Biden`s effort are the United Kingdom, China, India, Japan, and South Korea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: The price of gasoline in the wholesale market has fallen by about 10 percent over the last few weeks. But the price at the pump hasn`t budged a penny.

In other words, gas supply companies are paying less and making a lot more. They do not seem to be passing that on to the consumers at the pump. Instead companies are pocketing the difference as profit. That`s unacceptable.

[22:34:54]

BIDEN: That`s why I`ve asked the Federal Trade Commission to consider whether potentially illegal and anti-competitive behavior in the oil and gas industry is causing higher prices for consumers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna of California. He is a member of the House Oversight Committee and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate it.

REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): Lawrence, it`s always great to be on.

O`DONNELL: And so here we are in this repeating cycle of I guess a lot of people, possibly even a majority of people in America believing that the president of the United States controls the price of gasoline.

You have a worldwide price increase in gasoline in every country in the world, but somehow the president of the United States is supposed to reverse that.

KHANNA: You`re absolutely right. It`s a world oil price that is set largely by OPEC. 60 percent of world oil is provided by them.

The president is doing whatever he can. I mean, he has called for the largest reserve tap of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He has shown leadership by getting five other countries to release their reserves. That will help.

And then he is saying look, these oil companies -- Chevron, Exxon -- that are making record profits, billions and billions of dollars, they need to lower the price. I mean they didn`t invest in increased production when oil was $22 a barrel. Now when it`s $80, they`re making the profits. And that`s the real problem.

O`DONNELL: The European gas prices, of course, are, as they always are, double the American gas prices. And so the truth of it in world terms is that gasoline in America has always been cheaper, and cheaper to comparable countries.

And there is a dilemma in here for Democrats who are interested in environmental policy, of course, because the higher the gasoline price, the better the environmental outcomes. Increasing gasoline prices has always been one theory about better environmental outcomes.

KHANNA: Lawrence, I don`t think we have to do that, because that disproportionately hurts the working class and the middle class. But what we should do is invest massively in electric vehicles, invest in renewable energy. And over the medium and long-term, that would reduce the demand for oil. It would stabilize the price of gas. And it would be good for climate.

The problem is the last four years there were none of those investments. Now President Biden with Build Back Better is doing that. And that in my view would actually have long-term price stability on gas and be good for climate.

O`DONNELL: I don`t know if you`ve seen this report from this swing voter focus group in Virginia, and it`s a very narrow slice of the electorate. It`s not normal Democratic supporters. It`s people who can go either way.

They went for Biden in the presidential election, then they went for the Republican in the governor`s race. And it indicates that those people do not hear these things.

They don`t hear the things that President Biden said today. It doesn`t matter how clearly he says it. It doesn`t matter if he comes up with a clever way of saying it. They do not hear it. They don`t tune into it.

And so is there any way, in fact, to change the poll numbers surrounding these issues if it`s about trying to reach people who simply don`t pay attention at this stage to what is actually happening?

KHANNA: So look, I think the president is an extraordinary messenger and connects. So the more he is out there as the voice of the party, the better.

Second, we need to acknowledge that people are still frustrated, that they`re frustrated with higher gas prices, with higher food prices. And that they`re frustrated that there is a hiring shortage and people aren`t being able to hire folks to small businesses.

And Build Back Better exactly addresses that. It`s going to be lower costs on prescription drugs, lower costs per child care, lower cost for insurance. It`s going to be more money in the pockets of working families to pay for groceries. And it`s going to be an incentive for people to get back in the workforce with the expansion of the earned income tax credit.

We just need to keep making that case, and the president needs to make that case. I think eventually people will see the results.

O`DONNELL: Congressman Ro Khanna, I appreciate your optimism in hoping people will actually listen. Thank you very much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

KHANNA: Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your viewers.

O`DONNELL: Thank you. You too.

And coming up, you would think that most Americans would simply be thankful to have a normal president again. But memories are short, and Joe Biden`s poll numbers are slumping. Our next guest Molly Jong-Fast has a theory of the case announced in the title of her new piece for "The Atlantic", "Biden needs an enemy". That`s next.

[22:39:45]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What are you thankful for?

BIDEN: The people I`m standing next to. That`s what I`m thankful for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was President Joe Biden thanking Dawain Arrington (ph), the general manager at D.C. Central Kitchen, which prepares more than 5,000 meals a day for people in need. Thanksgiving is a huge day for D.C. Central Kitchen. And today the president and first lady, along with the vice president and her husband, helped prepare Thanksgiving meals at the community kitchen.

For the previous four years, Thanksgiving was not a time for presidential thanks and good will. It was a time like every other day of the year for presidential anger and pathological lies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we gather together for Thanksgiving, you know, some people want to change the name Thanksgiving. They don`t want to use the term Thanksgiving.

People have different ideas why it shouldn`t be called Thanksgiving, but everybody in this room I know loves the name Thanksgiving. And we`re not changing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[22:44:56]

O`DONNELL: Today in "The Atlantic", Molly Jong-Fast writes, "Less than a year ago, America was led by a man who governed to please the Fox News host Tucker Carlson and toyed with the idea of imposing martial law. After Donald Trump, you`d think the American people would just enjoy having a normal president who doesn`t use his Twitter account to threaten neighboring countries or corporations. But they don`t.

Take one look at national polling numbers, and you`ll see that Americans are unhappy with Joe Biden. According to FiveThirtyEight, 51.7 percent of Americans disapprove of his job performance. A recent Quinnipiac University poll showed that 50 percent disapprove of Biden`s handling of the pandemic and 59 percent disapprove of his handling of the economy."

The remedy for the president`s slumping poll numbers is proposed in the title of Molly Jong-Fast`s article which is "Biden Needs an Enemy".

And joining us now are Molly Jong-Fast, contributing writer at "The Atlantic" and author of the newsletter cleverly called "Wait, What?" And Jonathan Alter, columnist for the "Daily Beast" and an MSNBC political analyst.

Molly, first of all, how was my reading of the title of your newsletter? It`s kind of tricky for an anchorman, you know.

MOLLY JONG-FAST, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, "THE ATLANTIC": I think you got it just right. Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Ok. I thought that was the rhythm of it. Ok.

So make your case that Biden needs an enemy and what kind of enemy?

JONG-FAST: It could be anyone. I mean, it could be childhood poverty, right. They have this tax credit, this childhood tax that is very popular and that has taken all of these children out of poverty. It could be FDR used rich people.

I mean it could be anything. I think it`s important that it`s a narrative that gets out there and that he uses again and again.

I mean, you don`t want -- you don`t want an enemy with like wag the dog. You don`t want people to get hurt. You don`t want a war. You want to take down the temperature.

But I mean disinformation, misinformation -- there is a lot of problems out there.

O`DONNELL: You cite a couple of enemies that different presidents used, and I guess maybe the most brilliant being Ronald Reagan`s. And you say, "Ronald Reagan pitted his supporters against the government itself, announcing in the first line of his first inaugural address government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.

This was ingenious, because it allowed Reagan to avoid taking responsibility for just about everything. If his administration messed up, he could just nod along as if to say I told you so."

And Jonathan Alter, that is possibly the politically most effective enemy a president could have picked.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that worked very well for Reagan. I agree that you need a president be seen as fighting for something, and often fighting against something.

And Democrats in particular want their president to be a fighter. That doesn`t mean he has to be Trump, but he doesn`t have to be irritating, he doesn`t have to be engaged in fisticuffs all the time. He can be a healer and a fighter, depending on the venue.

But what he`s not doing is he`s not being the leader of the Democratic party. And they`re not doing any brand damage to the Republican Party, even though there are many opportunities.

You know, the conservatives meet in Hungary, and just like a big fat one over the plate for Biden. He doesn`t swing at it. He doesn`t really swing at anything and he needs to. Because his party, which is where most of the erosion is, he didn`t have any Republican support so the erosion has been among Democrats and Independents, and many of them want to see him get out there and do what politicians are supposed to do, mix it up.

Now FDR didn`t have just one enemy -- the rich. That was mostly in just a couple of speeches. He always had different, different targets. So sometimes he`d use ridicule, you know. There were these members of congress. He called them Martin, Barton, and Fish. And it was funny and denigrating.

Where is the mean Marjorie Greene, leader of the Republicans? You know, stigmatizing the opposition is very much a part of politics.

O`DONNELL: And you know, like in today`s situation with these gas prices, the president seems to be blaming the oil companies, the American oil companies, but he doesn`t slam them, go after them the way I think Jonathan, FDR would have.

[22:49:48]

O`DONNELL: You wrote the book on FDR`s first 100 days. And he, when it came to it, as I read in your book and others, he would smack right at the big industrialists who he thought should be the target.

ALTER: Yes.

O`DONNELL: Let`s listen to the way Joe Biden talked about gas prices today. And I`m picking a part of this where he was particularly defensive about it instead of aggressive toward the oil companies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: It will take time, but before long, you should see the price of gas drop. I want to briefly address one myth about inflated gas prices. They`re not due to environmental measures. My effort to combat climate change is not raising the price of gas or increasing the availability. What it`s doing is increasing the availability of jobs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: I would submit for voters who don`t already believe Joe Biden, voters who are swing voters, who could vote for the Republican governor of Virginia or for Joe Biden.

I would submit that him saying that is basically saying, my environmental policies are the problem. He`s phrasing it in this defensive language that coming from a politician, they`re simply not going to believe. And he does have the option instead of smacking the oil companies.

JONG-FAST: Especially OPEC, which is, like a cabal. I mean basically completely corrupt the way they do it. Yes, I do think, and I always sort of feel like if you`re defending yourself, you`re losing, right?

O`DONNELL: Yes. Yes.

JONG-FAST: I mean you saw -- I mean Trump was, I mean, a terrible person, a terrible president. But very good at, you know, he would never -- you know, he`d just change the subject.

You would never hear, you know, I mean right now, the RNC is paying for Trump`s lawyers. Like how is Biden not all over this? And I think, you know, the stakes are so high.

O`DONNELL: Jonathan, what are the lessons that you see in previous presidents in addition to what we`ve mentioned in the way that they have chosen their enemy? And the enemy doesn`t have to be a human being. It can be a force that you`re up against, it can be something that isn`t necessarily an individual.

ALTER: One that comes to mind is Harry Truman, who was horribly unpopular after he became president. And, you know, he succeeded Roosevelt upon his death. And then he was expected to lose in 1948. He was way behind.

And he came out swinging against what he called the do-nothing congress. Now, you know, next year, there`s a pretty good likelihood that we`re have a do nothing Republican congress. They`re already the party of Dr. No.

Their unwillingness to do anything on behalf of the American people is just like low-hanging fruit. You know, where are the lines? Not just from Biden, but from the whole Democratic Party?

We`re the party of raising taxes on billionaires, they`re the party of lowering taxes on billionaires. We`re the party of making it easier to vote. They`re the party of making it harder to vote. Politics is about accentuating the differences and going after your opposition.

So in answer to the question, who are the villains? If you`re a Democrat, the bad guys are Republicans. And this is something that Democrats right on down through the Democratic National Committee have forgotten that it`s a he context for it.

O`DONNELL: Molly, it seems to me that President Biden wants the contrast with Donald Trump, that he doesn`t actually attack the other side.

JONG-FAST: Yes. I think that`s right. And I think he`s worried about taking up the temperature. And I mean the stakes are very high, right. We`re a very divided country, with a lot of, I mean, there are people in the Republican Party who are trying to get a national divorce.

So, yes, it`s a very scary time. But if Biden doesn`t do something, I mean Republicans are consolidating power, right and working on making it harder for them to lose elections.

I mean these statehouses, you know, the litmus test is, will you overturn an election for Donald Trump? So if Biden doesn`t do this, we could end up, I mean, we`re already a country that`s backsliding. We could end up losing democracy. I think the stakes are very high.

O`DONNELL: Molly Jong-Fast`s article is in "The Atlantic. Read it. Molly, thank you for joining us. Jonathan Alter, thank you for joining this discussion. Really appreciate it.

ALTER: Thanks, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Thank you.

And tonight`s LAST WORD is next. And it includes a peek at local TV in Montana.

[22:54:37]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: In 2016, 55.6 percent of Montana voters voted for Donald Trump for president and then watched for four years as he repeatedly scheduled the infrastructure week that never came.

Donald Trump never introduced an infrastructure bill. Donald Trump never got a vote in any congressional committee or in the House or in the Senate on infrastructure.

And when he ran for re-election, Donald Trump got even more votes in Montana, 56.9 percent of the vote.

Today, on "NBC MONTANA TODAY", the state`s Democratic Senator Jon Tester told the voters who voted against Joe Biden what they will be getting in the bipartisan Biden infrastructure bill that the president signed into law last week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JON TESTER (D-MT): It deals with infrastructure like roads and bridges and water systems and electrical transmission and broadband. It`s a big bill, it`s the biggest investment in infrastructure ever in this country. and it`s going to do some great things for Montana. It`s going to help us push our economy forward and reduce the cost of doing business.

[22:59:56]

TESTER: So it`s a very good bill. It was -- I helped negotiate it over eight months. And it`s good to see it get signed into law. Now we`ll be looking forward to the projects when they hit the ground here in Montana.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Montana`s senior Senator Jon Tester gets tonight`s LAST WORD.

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