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Transcript: MSNBC Live, 4/28/21

Guests: Andrew Weissmann, Katie Benner


Federal investigators raid Rudy Giuliani`s apartment. We are just moments away from President Biden`s first address before the Joint Session of Congress on his 99th day in office.



BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST: Live picture of the U.S. Capitol where in just under an hour, Joe Biden, who spent 36 years in the audience on nights like this, we`ll get his chance to deliver his very first address to a joint session of Congress as President of the United States.

Great good evening to you. Brian Williams here with you from our headquarters in New York along with my colleague and friend Rachel Maddow. First time in months, we`ve been allowed and able to share a zip code and say nothing of an entire television studio.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Brian, it is great to be with you in person tonight. It`s fantastic to be together, joined, of course, by our beloved colleagues, Nicolle Wallace and Joy Reid who are here at my sides, my sisters in full vaccination status. It is good to be together, you guys, with the band all back together again. We are awaiting President Biden`s joint address to Congress.

This is a speech that we are not supposed to call a state of the union, although that`s effectively what it will be. Modern presidents have generally given this speech in February just about one month after being inaugurated. President Biden has waited much later until now late April. Today is his 99th day in office.

WILLIAMS: Indeed, this president will address the nation tonight over a year into our pandemic which of course has claimed the lives of over 570,000 of our fellow citizens. Given the ongoing public health crisis, tonight is going to look very different. The chamber built to hold 1600 people will instead tonight seat just 200.

Most of the cabinet stays home except for the Secretaries of State and Defense. Most of the Supreme Court stays home except for the Chief Justice. Visually there will be two women behind the president during the speech, the Vice President and the House Speaker. That`s a first as is the fact that we`re expecting both to be masked for the duration of the speech.

We expect to hear a lot tonight about the President`s big legislative goals and the big price tags that come along with them, also social justice and the urgent topic of policing in our country. Police bodycam footage showing people of color dying at the hands of police dominated the news today in multiple American cities.

Tonight will mark the first joint session of Congress, of course, since January 6th, the day of the deadly attack, the looting, the insurrection inside our U.S. Capitol. We`ll be here to watch it all. But first, the breaking news from today, the raid on Rudy Giuliani by the feds which cuts deep into the circle of the last president.

And Rachel, of course, you were one of the first to report on the escalation of this investigation back in December of last year.

MADDOW: That`s right, Brian. It was -- it was four months ago that we and our colleagues at NBC News were first to report that federal prosecutors in New York were seeking a warrant to obtain Rudy Giuliani`s electronic communications. We were first to report that they had discussed that possibility with officials at Justice Department headquarters in Washington.

It was nearly two months after that, weeks after Donald Trump had left office, that CNN and the New York Times were reporting that those prosecutors in the Southern District of New York were repeatedly blocked from getting that search warrant by Trump-appointed officials at the U.S. Justice Department.

Well, Trump-appointed officials are no longer running the U.S. Justice Department. The new U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland, was sworn in last month. Lisa Monaco, the Deputy Attorney General, which is the official who really runs the day-to-day operations of the Justice Department, Ms. Monaco was sworn in one week ago today.

And today, the New York Times was first to report that federal investigators at 6:00 a.m. today executed search warrants that Rudy Giuliani`s Manhattan apartment and his office. Agents seized Mr. Giuliani`s electronic devices. One source close to Mr. Giuliani tells NBC News that those devices included a mobile phone, a laptop, and an iPad.

The investigation reportedly revolves around Mr. Giuliani`s dealings in Ukraine. You will recall that before he was peddling conspiracy theories about the November election being stolen. He was peddling conspiracy theories about Joe Biden and the Biden family and supposedly nefarious dealings in the nation of Ukraine.

Donald Trump, of course, was impeached for pressuring Ukraine`s president to announce an investigation into the made-up Biden scandals that Giuliani was promoting. At least two of the people Giuliani worked with on his efforts to manufacture Biden-related scandals have since been sanctioned by the U.S. government as foreign agents working on behalf of Russia.

Another of Giuliani`s sources for his Get Biden Project was a Ukrainian oligarch named Dmitry Firtash was wanted in the U.S. on multiple count felony indictment for bribery and corruption charges. One American lawyer and Fox News pundit, a lawyer named Victoria Toensing who represented Mr. Firtash at the time, was also reportedly served with a search warrant this morning. She also briefly appeared as one of the cast of characters pushing the fantasy after the election that Trump actually won and Biden lost and it was all somehow stolen.

I should mention that Mr. Giuliani`s lawyer released a lengthy, rambling new statement this evening saying this is all a travesty and a hoax. And also, what about the Biden crime family? And what about Hillary Clinton? Indeed, what about Hillary Clinton? Seriously, what about Hillary Clinton?

Joining us now is Andrew Weissmann who was a senior member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s investigative team. He was also former general counsel at the FBI. Also joining us tonight is Katie Benner, Justice Department reporter for The New York Times. Katie and Andrew, it`s nice to see both of you. Thanks for both being here.

Andrew, let me start with you. The execution of the search warrants today at Mr. Giuliani`s home and business, a lot of observers are telling us that an overt act like that which is not something you`re trying to hide from the person who is the subject of these warrants, can sometimes tell you at what stage the investigation is.

Is it fair to read into those actions today by FBI agents in terms of telling us where we are in the investigation?

ANDREW WEISSMANN, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: Yes and no, Rachel. The yes is in order to have the authority to do what happened today, a court had to find that there was probable cause to believe that there was evidence on those devices of a crime. So, that means that they`re certainly further than just issuing a grand jury subpoena for what you don`t need to make any showing at all other than relevant.

But it`s also important to know that there really is no way for the government to get this data other than through a search warrant. In other words, if you issued a subpoena to a target like Rudy Giuliani, or we would have done in the special counsel to somebody like Paul Manafort, they are extremely likely to assert the Fifth Amendment and to not voluntarily produce incriminating evidence.

And of course, that`s everyone`s right in America to do that. So, this is a relatively routine way to get evidence when you believe it`s in the hands of somebody who is the real target and subject to of the investigation.

MADDOW: And, Katie, let me ask you from your reporting on the Justice Department. Let me just ask if you can talk to us all about the timing of these raids. I mean, it is four months ago that we first reported on what was then a month-old story that the -- when we learned that SDNY prosecutors were seeking this search warrant on Mr. Giuliani, he, because of public reporting has known for a long time that this was coming. There has been further reporting that Justice Department appointees from President Trump blocked these warrants from being executed. What do we know about the timing here why this happened today?

KATIE BENNER, JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: What we know is that at least twice, prosecutors in Manhattan wanted to execute a search warrant on Rudy Giuliani and at least twice they were rebuffed. Both times, officials under the Trump administration cited the idea of the election and that it could sway the election, both before November when they wanted to execute a search warrant and they were told, listen, doing so could really impact the election. It could sway voters and it could -- it could, you know, create a portrait that`s very damning for Donald Trump as he runs for office.

And then even after the election, officials continue to say, because this election is still being argued, because the president is still arguing that he may have won and Rudy Giuliani is the lawyer behind that effort, we still cannot act. But we saw for reasons that people inside of the Justice Department in the previous administration continue to claim are very credible, we saw that actually stymied.

I think what we`re seeing now is we`re seeing a very aggressive prosecutor`s office, finally unleashed, able to do what it would like to, what it wanted to do that also feels that it`s necessary in part because of what you say that Giuliani has known about this investigation, and they`re not convinced that evidence that exists in his possession will just continue to stick around forever.

NICOLLE WALLACE, MSNBC ANCHOR: Andrew Weissmann, two questions for you. One, what exactly are they looking for to prove guilt in a FARA which is basically a foreign agent investigation? And what if some of that evidence leads into Donald Trump?

WEISSMANN: Great question. So, the statute is -- the Foreign Agents Registration Act is enacted so that the American public knows whether foreign government or foreign principal, it doesn`t have to be a state actor overseas, just any foreigner is trying to lobby people in the United States or is seeking to influence public opinion.

This is actually a relatively easy investigation. What you want to find out is who were Rudy Giuliani`s client, were any of them foreign principals, either state actors or not state actors. And you can look at telephone records, you can follow the money. I assume that is why they are looking at Victoria Toensing because she had a foreign client who reportedly was retained at the behest of Rudy Giuliani.

And then you`re going to look to see what it is that Rudy Giuliani did in the United States. One of the more interesting aspects of this investigation would be who did Rudy Giuliani meet with in the Trump administration, either in person or on the phone, to import tune. And that if he was doing it for foreign principal is a crime because he did not report it to the Department of Justice, which is what is required. And that, as you`ll recall, are some of the crimes that Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Flynn were all charged with.

JOY REID, MSNBC HOST: A question to that very point. Rachel Maddow, the great Rachel Maddow, gave an inner did an interview with Lev Parnas, of Lev and Igor fame back in January of 2020 in which he named the people he said were "on the team." And he named William Barr. He said that Bill Barr was in full knowledge of what was happening in terms of this attempt sort of concoct a fake scandal related to Joe Biden.

He named Joe DiGenova. He named Victoria Toensing, and he named Donald Trump. So, I wonder how broad either of you think that this witness list might go and whether or not to that very point any of those people should be concerned about becoming targets of this investigation too are right up into Donald Trump?

WEISSMAN: Well, I`ll start off to say, Rudy Giuliani has said publicly that he couldn`t have committed FARA because the ultimate client was the former president. If it was to be proved that is his only client, and he was only doing this for the former president, that would not be a Foreign Agent Registration Act problem, because his client would be an American, not a foreigner.

But I suspect that the reason that a judge sign these search warrants is because there is at least probable cause to believe that Rudy Giuliani had foreign clients in Ukraine, possibly elsewhere, that he was acting for. And if that`s the case, then I think that people like Donald Trump and many other people in the administration who met with Rudy Giuliani are going to be potential witnesses as to what it is that Rudy Giuliani was asking for.

MADDOW: Katie, let me also ask you about -- to the process here. The response from sort of team Giuliani today has been to derive this as a politicized act, as some sort of active revenge or partisan score-settling by the Biden administration. Obviously, those kinds of charges feel different now after four years of the Trump administration in which those questions about how the Justice Department was running under President Trump were very much live wires.

Andrew Weissmann wrote a fascinating book on the subject which I -- to which I commend to all of our viewers. It`s, I think, not going without notice that this is a week after Lisa Monaco has been sworn in as the new Deputy Attorney General. I mean, how much does the change in administration make a difference as to the actions of the independent Justice Department on a case like this?

BENNER: So, I think that the change image in administration, it is fair to say, would have an impact and that the prosecutors would feel that they no longer have pressure from Washington not to take investigative steps into Rudy Giuliani. It`s interesting that Giuliani`s lawyer talked about the politicization of this investigation. And he -- and he said it to infer that the Biden administration is politicizing it when we know from our reporting that this is a two-year-old investigation, that the bulk of the investigation actually happened while Donald Trump was president.

And there were political pressures, but the political pressure seemed to be to slow the investigation, which had the effect of not killing it, but pushing it forward into a new administration. We also know that people inside of the Trump administration were really convinced that Donald Trump would in fact, win the election, and that that would have all sorts of implications, including for these very politically charged investigations that they would continue under his leadership, which, unfortunately for Mr. Trump, did not happen.

MADDOW: Katie Benner, New York Times Justice Department Reporter and Andrew Weissmann, former FBI General Counsel and Senior Member of Special Counsel Robert Mueller`s team, we`re grateful to both you for being here tonight. Thank you so much.

I will -- Nicole, I will just say before -- I have to give it back to Brian, but I will just say, when Jeffrey Berman got fired as SDNY -- the U.S. Attorney at SDNY, one of the things that we now know from reporting was on his plate was this investigation of Giuliani which was being stymied by main Justice. And William Barr pushed him out under weird circumstances. And SDNY appears to have held on to this case for all that time.

WALLACE: So, that was June of 2020. And it was -- Bill Barr didn`t fire him because Bill Barr couldn`t fire him. So, he faked fired him. He incompetently fired him. It was so badly botched that then he had to call Trump. It was sort of the only like inverted time where he had to call Trump and get Trump to do his dirty work.

So, Trump had to fire Berman, then they had another mess. They tried to install his deputy. I mean, it was a huge mess. And the timeline will not lie. I think the other thing to keep in mind is some of the Times` great reporting on the story was around this intake that was set up. The U.S. Department of Justice set up an intake process for Rudy Giuliani`s crazy stuff --

MADDOW: Junk on Ukraine.

WALLACE: -- that we may find out for this investigation was funded by maybe Ukraine, maybe Russia. I mean, it`s really an important investigation in terms of understanding what was flowing into the United States Justice Department. That wasn`t Trump`s Justice Department, that was the -- that was the U.S. Justice Department.

REID: But can I -- at some point, does William Barr then pay some price for obstruction? Does it feel like that -- you know, his name keeps coming up and it is --

MADDOW: If he created a special channel to funnel information, right that is from an indicted Ukrainian oligarch guy to people who have now been sanctioned as Russian agents and created a channel for that not to isolate it and protect it from infecting -- prevent it from infecting the real Justice Department price but instead to stovepipe it into right prosecutions, that`s going to be a problem for him.

REID: Right.

MADDOW: But we won`t -- we won`t know about that until we get further into this -- into this case. Brian, back over to you.

WILLIAMS: All right. We`re inside 45 minutes. The vice president has arrived at the U.S. Capitol, we are told. The President will be arriving next. And we mentioned most of the cabinet sitting this one out staying home. Usually, it`s just one member.

Luckily for us, the man who went from being Mayor Pete to Secretary Pete, the Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg will join us right after this. Our live coverage continues after this break.


WILLIAMS: Live picture of the White House around back on the South Lawn just outside the South Portico. The motorcade has formed which will be taking the president down to the Hill. Tonight has been declared a national security event which just adds another layer of security, but something they are used to for these events. There are elements of the motorcade snake through there. The National Guard and the fencing remains at the U.S. Capitol.

Also, in keeping with custom, the White House has strategically released portions of the President`s address in advance. President Biden is expected tonight to make a direct appeal to the American people to sell them on his massive infrastructure proposal. Again, here is an advanced look at language and part of the speech that the President will use to highlight the millions of jobs, his infrastructure plan in his view would create.

He`s going to say, "I know some of you at home wonder whether these jobs are for you. You feel left behind and forgotten in an economy that`s rapidly changing. Let me speak directly to you. Independent experts estimate the American jobs plan will add millions of jobs and trillions of dollars in economic growth for years to come. The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America."

Indeed there`s another portion where the President is going to say "The middle class build our country. Unions built the middle class. So, going deep, going old school, back to his roots." Rachel is standing by with a special guest.

MADDOW: Indeed. Joining us now is the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mr. Pete Buttigieg. Secretary Buttigieg, it`s great to see you. Thank you for joining us this evening.


MADDOW: How do you like being Transportation Secretary? How is life in Washington?

BUTTIGIEG: I love it. It`s an interesting job in any season. But right now, when we`re on the cusp of what might be the most transformative thing that`s happened to transportation in my lifetime, it`s thrilling. Of course, we got a lot of work to do to get from here to there. But I`m thrilled to be working on these issues and really honored to be part of this cabinet. It`s just an incredible team.

MADDOW: In terms of those transformative proposals, one of the things that we`ve noticed in these first 100 days is that you`ve emerged as one of the administration`s most articulate advocates for the President`s plans, especially when it comes to somewhat hostile audiences.

And so I have to ask if all the conversations you have been having with Republicans and with the folks at Fox News and other entities like that, have they taught you anything about this emerging political reality where Republican voters seem to like what President Biden is proposing or what he`s doing, even while Republican members of Congress, Republican senators, won`t go along with any of it?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, you`re putting your finger on I think the defining dynamic at the moment, at least when it comes to domestic policy, which is we have policies that have such extraordinary strong bipartisan support out among the American people. But just because that`s true, doesn`t mean it`s reflected here in Washington.

And that`s where I`m trying to earn my paycheck engaging with members on both sides of the aisle, reminding that this is not one of those moments when we`re asking them, as administration`s sometimes do, to vote for something that`s unpopular and that the American people don`t understand or want.

This is something that is popular, and it`s popular for the very good reason that it`s going to create millions of jobs. And as the President will remind Americans tonight, those are jobs that are available to people whether you got a college degree or not. You know, the plan revolves around infrastructure. But fundamentally it`s a jobs plan and coupled with the family`s plan that the President is rolling out tonight.

We`re asking Congress to support something that the American people have long known we need to do.

REID: Secretary Pete, can we call you Secretary Pete? I`m so used to calling you, Mayor Pete. Secretary Pete kind of seems like it works. So, there has been some movement in terms of Republicans coming to the White House having conversations about a smaller infrastructure plan. They want to get rid of human infrastructure and just have it be like bridges and roads and things that are traditional infrastructure.

Do you have in your mind both a deadline for when you stop talking and stop negotiating and sort of an amount that you`re willing to reduce what is a very ambitious, very large infrastructure plan that the White House has in mind? How far are you willing to reduce it? Because Republicans are talking about, you know, in the $500 billion area, and you know, obviously, the President is much, much higher?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, we believe we need to go big. And that means also going big above the baseline of what would have happened anyway, which is really important when you`re looking at these different proposals and trying to get an apples-to-apples comparison. Because you know, the President is a big believer in a bipartisan approach.

I`ve been in meeting after meeting where I`ve been talking to people in both parties in both chambers. We`ve had Oval Office conversations, good conversations with both parties. I think the President really wants to make sure that we engage in that process. But he`s also been clear that doing nothing is not an option, that he wants to see real progress by Memorial Day, which is going to be on us before we know it. And that we have to do something that`s really going to rise to meet the moment.

So, yes, we welcome the fact that the other side is coming to the table with specific proposals. We need to make sure that we have something that`s really going to answer. The fact that, you know, America has fallen to 13th place in the infrastructure, headed in the wrong direction. And we really stand at a crossroads here. Are we or are we not ready to make a future generation proud of what we hear in the early 2020s did to make sure that America could thrive going into the rest of this century?

WALLACE: Mr. Secretary, as sort of the designee to what Rachel described as hostile, I would say, slash skeptical audiences, I want to ask you how -- first of all, the superpower of this White House seems to be the redefinition of bipartisanship to legislation and policies that are wildly popular among Democratic and Republican Americans and sort of leaving the Washington equation to fester in whatever way it will.

But how important is the messaging around how we`re going to pay for really transformative policies in keeping those high levels of bipartisan support in the country among the public?

BUTTIGIEG: You know what, I think it is important. Again, a little bit different when you`re engaging with the members on Capitol Hill. But among the American people, the way we`re going to pay for it actually makes it even more popular because people have known for a long time that having major corporations sometimes making billions of dollars in profits, paying zero in taxes doesn`t make any sense.

I think most people -- if you think about it, corporate taxes in this country, they`re either too high or too low, or they`re just right. And I think most Americans agree that they`re not just right. And they`re not too high when some companies are paying literally nothing at all.

Tonight, you`ll be hearing about how the family`s plan is going to be paid for. And that again involves a tax code that rewards work not wealth. We`re not calling for high taxes. We`re calling for fair taxes. And that actually reinforces the support that this among the American people.

And you know, the President`s proposed plans that are paid for, if the other side has different views on how to pay for things, let`s have them bring that forward and we can talk about it. But this is about making sure that we collect the revenue we need on a fair basis in a way that`s good for the economy and make investments that are even better for the economy, which is why independent forecasters see these steps adding trillions of dollars in value and millions of jobs to the American economy.

MADDOW: Mr. Secretary, I have to say, speaking of transportation, we have been watching tail lights on the other side of the screen while we have been talking to you because we are watching that motorcade stage itself and get ready to head from the White House over to the Capitol just so our audience knows we are seeing that.

Let me ask you a question about a major portion of the infrastructure proposal. And one that gets always included whenever anybody does even a short list of bullet points about what it`s in. One of the things that everybody always makes sure to mention is that there`s going to be a big investment in broadband, that we`re going to get high-speed broadband to everybody in the country, including rural and underserved areas.

And nobody`s against that. I live in a part of the country that has had real trouble getting broadband. And I feel like I have been hearing this proposal for a long time. I`ve been hearing this proposal since almost the days of dial-up -- dial-up Internet. And certainly, through my experience of satellite internet and all of the other terrible things that don`t work if you don`t have fiber, why is it doable now when previous administrations have said they were going to do it, have said they were committing to it, and it just never seems to advance. Why now?

BUTTIGIEG: Yes, everybody is for it. Everybody always says in their campaign they want to do it. What`s different this time is a plan that`s going to include the money to get it done, the will to get it done. And a lot of its funding, some of it`s just about what`s going on in terms of the structure of, you know, the way we look at telecommunications in this country and ensuring that they`re we`re tearing down any barriers to getting good quality and affordable broadband to every American.

But it`s not like there`s some cosmic barrier making it impossible to do this. It`s a set of decisions. It`s a set of policies. And the President is proposing the policies that will actually make it happen. And I think it`s important that this is not just saying we`re going to add broadband or increase it by a certain percentage. He`s saying 100 percent and he means it.

And by the way, that last couple percent is going to be hard. But he believes in rising to do hard things. And you know, in a way, it sounds counterintuitive, but I actually think that it`s the broadband piece that may be in the finest tradition of American infrastructure. What I mean -- what I mean by that is all the great moments in big choices and era defining decisions about infrastructure here, from the Erie Canal, through the transcontinental railroad, to the interstate highway system, part of that great tradition was actually that each one of those decisions expanded the traditional vision of what infrastructure is.

We`re living in a time where being connected to the Internet is just as important as being connected to the interstate highway system. You need both. And after years and years of talk, the President is laying out a way to actually get it done.

MADDOW: U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. Mr. Secretary, we really appreciate you being here on this big night. Thank you so much for your time.

BUTTIGIEG: Same here. Thank you.

MADDOW: It`s interesting to see. Obviously, we`re looking at the shot here in terms of the motorcade and the drive from the White House over to the Capitol. But I will say just before I hand it back to Brian, it is interesting to be talking to a cabinet secretary tonight with his normal Zoom background.

REID: I know.

MADDOW: And it`s because it`s just the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense who were there. The rest of them are watching from home. No Designated Survivor tonight, as Brian was saying earlier. Brian?

WILLIAMS: Indeed, Rachel. Mark Milley is going to be the one general among the Joint Chiefs as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to represent all of them. An explanation as to why this shot as so much video breakup. This is from the moving van that has the pool television camera. They`re about to clear the exit of the White House grounds which Nicole Wallace can confirm is 18 acres, and then take a right and go along the most heavily traveled motorcade route in the United States.

I am told Nancy Pelosi, Speaker Pelosi is at the dais in the House Chamber. She will be gaveling what is a limited House session into order so they can in effect receive the president. We are under 30 minutes until the start time. The motorcade has a quick drive across town. We will be back to show you the President`s arrival on Capitol Hill as our live coverage continues.


WILLIAMS: Without delay, we witnessed a history-making moment, the elbow to elbow greeting from the Speaker of the House to the Vice President. Kamala Harris just took her place at the desk. Applause going on in the House chamber, even given the limited number of seats that are filled.

Kasie Hunt is our correspondent inside the House chamber tonight. We can`t see her because we aren`t allowed a dedicated camera in keeping with the health guidelines. Thankfully, we can hear her. And Kasie can explain the white sheets of paper on the seats and she can perhaps tell us since it`s only 200 guests in a chamber build for 1600, as we see Lindsey Graham. Kasie, what determined getting a ticket to this tonight?

KASIE HUNT, MSNBC CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brian, it`s good to be with you. And I have to say, it feels surreal being in here for a joint address. In other years, they`re referred to it obviously as the State of the Union, and to have so few people on the floor of the House. I mean, I have stood in this gallery where I`m standing now. I`m right above the House floor hundreds of times and this feels much more like any one of those random days when I might be up here covering this place than it does like the kind of celebratory atmosphere that the packed rows that a normal state of the union or join a dress would lend itself to.

Now, there`s a little more activity here now that the senators have come across the aisle. But to try to answer your question about tickets, it`s still a little bit of a mystery. They were split in half by party and then some of it was determined simply by who wanted to be here.

You`re going to see more freshmen members of the House and Senate, people who`ve never been able to attend one of these things before. I mean, it is let`s not forget a history-making moment for all of the human beings who are now here in Congress and who want to have this experience with the President the United States regardless of which party they may be a member of.

But to describe a little bit to our audience what they`re seeing, if you see a white piece of paper sitting on top of a chair, it means you`re not allowed to sit there, it`s blocked off for COVID reasons. If you see a name card that`s taped to the back, that`s the assigned seats. Every seat here is a sign that is entirely atypical.

This is normally as you remember, Brian, from covering so many of these a free for all. You`d have Congressman -- members of Congress, notably people like Eliot Engel who would spend literally their entire day camping out to try to get a seat on the aisle to get a chance to shake hands with the President of the United States. And that of course, is not what happened this year.

And in fact, Brian, there are two things at play here that are really changing the field. Obviously, the pandemic, you can see that every time you look at this chamber. That`s why we`re distanced. That`s why there`s so many fewer people here. And people who are attending every single person had to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test in order to enter the room where I am standing. That applies to members of Congress and members of the press.

The second piece of this, though, is, of course, what happened in the aftermath of January 6th and the insurrection. And there were members of Congress tonight, at least on the House side, we are still trying to figure out more details about what happened with the senators who came in here. But members of the House were required to go through magnetometers to come on to the floor tonight to view this speech.

Now, that is, of course, in line with new rules to get onto the House floor in the first place, if you`re a member of the House, that were put in place after the January 6th insurrection, but it`s never been part of the process before. There has never been this line of thinking that perhaps a member of Congress could be a threat to the U.S. president.

That is really a very stunning reality. And of course, guests have always been screened. I every time I`ve come in, this is my fourth president, I`ve seen one of these addresses before and I`ve been here in the chamber for at least six of these types of speeches. Guests, reporters always go through magnetometers, anyone who is a member of the public but is invited to attend typically would be screened, but never before were members of Congress screened.

So, like I said, we`re still trying to figure out what the process was for senators. They in many ways do things their own way. But we`ve now entered this very strange period where people are milling around sort of waiting to see what happens next. Normally, this room would be full, you would see cabinet secretaries, the Supreme Court justices.

I mean, we`ll see that the cabinet, of course, the members that are going to attend is escorted in here in a minute. But it`s fascinating how you can really see individual interactions on the floor in a way that you can`t under different circumstances.

I watched Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan who, of course, often is with our viewers on MSNBC. She crossed all the way across the floor which is a relatively rare thing in these circumstances, especially considering how divided we are. And she spoke first to Lauren Boebert who is, of course, the Congresswoman from Colorado who has been at the center of some of these controversies around security.

And then she walked over and she had a pretty extended conversation with Congresswoman Liz Cheney who actually does have one of those seats right on the aisle or as close to the aisle as you can be. The aisle seats are actually three seats off the aisle this time, but she may be able to get an elbow bump with President Biden when he walks down the aisle if that`s what he decides to stop for.

Now, I saw Liz Cheney chatting with Congresswoman Dingell and with some others of her colleagues. She is two people away -- it`s about seven seats away but two people away from Leader Kevin McCarthy who is seated at the table. The two of them, I have not seen them speak since they walked in here.

Now, I -- it is entirely possible I have missed something but I`ve been trying to keep a really close eye on the two of them. And so far, there`s been no interaction. We know that there`s been a very chilly air between the two of them as they of course returned from their retreat in Orlando to come back up here for this joint address.

So, again, Brian, this sort of casual feeling in here, it`s just utterly bizarre and surreal heading into such a historic moment.

WILLIAMS: Kasie, while you were talking, our cameras were able to zoom in on some moments, including a Boebert-Cruz conversation. Senator John, no relation, Kennedy of Louisiana using his mask as a handy chinstraps. So much to talk about, so little time, but a decidedly, as Kasie was saying, casual atmosphere born of necessity during a pandemic.

Rachel, I know you have a special guest who happens to be standing at the big board.

MADDOW: Standing by in his trademark, khakis, I would note. Steve Kornacki is here with us tonight. Steve, I know that you`ve been taking a look at where President Biden`s popularity stands at this point compared with other presidencies at this point.

It`s a little complicated this year because usually the first not State of the Union address like this is in February. In this case, we`ve waited until almost 100 days.

STEVE KORNACKI, MSNBC NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There are some different variables with different presidencies. We`ll take a look here. But a couple of different ways of looking at the numbers here, so let`s start with the bottom line here. This is the average approval rating for all the polls that are out there at the 100 day mark. The average approval rating for Joe Biden is 53 percent.

Now, to put this in perspective, as I say, a couple ways to do it. Here`s number one. Let`s compare him to his immediate predecessor, Donald Trump. Where was Trump? Where was his average at this same point? There`s a 10 point difference there, Biden 53, Trump was 43 at this point.

So -- and this has been consistent for the first 100 days or so. Biden has been running north of where Trump was. In fact, Trump, for four years as president could not break, failed to break 50 percent in his approval rating the entire four years as president. It`s the first time that had happened since polling came around.

So, Biden`s number is above Trump`s number. If you took it a level further, I think this is interesting. Their disapproval rating, Biden`s average disapproval is 42. Trump`s average disapproval rating at this point was 52. This is not a near-perfect trade-off. But a general rule of thumb when you look at these poll numbers is the folks who approved of Trump disapprove of Biden, the folks who disapproved of Trump approve of Biden. There`s an awful lot of that going on when you look at these numbers here.

So, again, compared to Trump, higher than Trump started off as president, higher than Trump ever got as President. Now, if we take a step back at all modern presidents, were going back here to Gerald Ford, basically, since after Watergate. Here`s how they stacked up 100 days in, this is the average approval rating.

And here, the Biden number falls near the bottom of the list. The Trump number is at the very bottom. The only one in between is Gerald Ford. Now, Gerald Ford, remember, came in the summer of `74. And in those first 100 days, he pardoned Richard Nixon, and that`s why his number was so low at that point. But otherwise, it`s Biden, Trump.

And one thing you see here is Carter, a Democrat, Reagan a Republican. You used to have just in general more robust approval ratings early on in the presidency. One thing that`s changed over time when you dig into these numbers, check this out. This is the approval rating from members of the other party. Meaning, if you look at Biden right now, on average, 11 percent of Republicans say they approve of the job he`s doing as President.

When you look at Donald Trump, it was nine percent of Democrats, very few, basically, around 10 percent members of the other party approving of the President. It didn`t used to always be this polarized. Take a look at every other modern president.

Just go back to Obama. At this point of his presidency, nearly 30 percent of Republicans approved of the job he was doing as President. Go back to the Reagan and Carter years. Look, it`s getting near 50 percent members of the other party. It used to be, especially in those early days, early months of the presidency, there was a little bit more, I think, bipartisan goodwill, goodwill from members of the other party toward the new president. It wouldn`t always last. That`s for certain. But it tended to exist in the early days.

And you can see here, it kind of dwindled from where it was in the 70s and 80s, into where it was probably about 20 -- 10, 20 years ago. And with Donald Trump, it took another big jump in terms of polarization. And that`s where it still seems to be, that polarization, that seems to be the word that describes a lot when it comes to presidential approval ratings.

MADDOW: And listen, the lived experience of this, Steve. I mean, the fascinating look and I think counterintuitive for a lot of people who`ve been watching the news. But that the lived experience, if you are old enough to have lived through the change in American politics in the 90s, both in terms of what was happening in Republican politics in Congress, and in terms of the way that the Clinton administration was in the permanent campaign and the way that the two parties existed there, the whole Newt Gingrich era, it felt like there was a change where partisanship became the polar -- the magnetic pole that organized everything in political life.

And that`s exactly what Steve is documenting. I mean, those -- that approval rating among the opposite party, it just feels exactly maps to our lived experience.

WALLACE: Yes. And that Republicans sort of reverted. I mean, it`s stunning to me having been there that 31 percent of Democrats approved of my old boss, George W. Bush. We certainly heard a lot more than the 69 percent who didn`t. It never -- it never felt like that.

MADDOW: Well, that was only 100 days in.

WALLACE: Exactly.

MADDOW: It`s not some of his worst ideas.

WALLACE: But frankly, after 911, he sustained very high approval ratings. So, it is a sign of how the Republicans and that some of the same individuals really did road tests sort of their personal politics with the Clintons. And that is what the Republicans reverted to. That became the model or sort of the permanent slash and burn.

MADDOW: And even though Biden says he wants to -- he wants to reset that in American politics, he`s certainly not benefiting but it yet.

REID: But I`m just surprised a little bit, honestly, buy it only because it feels like Biden`s policies do reset it a little bit.

WALLACE: His policies poll is higher than he does.

REID: That`s right, and that people will like what he`s doing, but still registered disapproval, extreme disapproval because he`s Joe Biden.

MADDOW: Well, Steve, can you fact check that for us, Steve. In terms of the polling for his policies versus pulling for him personally, do we have anything on that right now?

KORNACKI: Yes. And that`s exactly -- the dynamic you`re getting at there is exactly what you`re seeing. Take a look at some of the stuff we`re probably going to hear about tonight. For instance, this is a poll in the past week here from Monmouth. The infrastructure plan for Biden, 68 support 29 percent oppose. The paid leave college tuition 64-34, basically two to one on these questions.

That pay fors her, taxes on corporations, taxes on wealthy individuals, basically consistently two to one. And in fact, if you look at what was the signature item of Biden`s first 100 days was probably that stimulus. But when that stimulus passed, again, here`s the Monmouth poll, it was basically close to a two to one support or oppose.

But again, I keep coming to that word polarization. I don`t mean to sound like a broken record, but you see when you look at the overall assessment of Biden as President, you probably see, and this is true of politicians in both parties today, polarization will kick in, and maybe it counts for more than any individual issue.

MADDOW: But you can`t get to a 62 percent support number with only Democrats.

REID: Right.


MADDOW: You have to be bringing along some independence and some Republicans into a 62 percent positive number on, for example, the COVID relief bill. It`s fascinating.

WALLACE: And I would say, the thing that they spent the most time and effort on is the shots in arms, and that poll is even higher.

REID: Yes.

WALLACE: The infrastructure or the or the -- or the total package at highs -- polls close to 70 percent, 69 to 72 in the most recent polls.

REID: You add on to Miller earlier, who I think was a brilliant piece in the Bulwark that talked about what Democrats should be doing. My initial thought when I -- before I even started reading word of it was, well, you know, Biden seems like such a -- he diffuses people`s rage. I mean, he`s an older white guy. He`s sort of what presidents used to look like. It`s sort of it felt like he`s diffusional. That`s not what I`m hearing in these polls.

But I wonder if that means that Democrats have to almost -- do they have to divorce Biden from the Biden policies in order to sort of reset themselves in the midterms, because I thought Biden was a net plus. It was just my assumption because he is a diffuser of rage just in his bearing.

MADDOW: I will tell you, I`ll hand it back over to Brian here. But obviously, we haven`t noted in this photo, this is this -- these images are historic to have two women there. And as a -- as a woman, as Nicolle is from Northern California, to have Kamala Harris of Oakland and Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco there, it sort of hits you in the pride. It hits you a little bit of -- a little East Bay pride.

REID: Come on, Cali.

WALLACE: And I mean, I`m sure you`ve all heard this in your own calls. You know, and I think Kamala Harris just said -- Vice President Harris just said this is someone -- what should people think about this historic night, she said it should be normal.

REID: Yes, that is their big pitch. Their big message is this is just normal. This is just the way it should be.

MADDOW: Brian, back over to you.

WILLIAMS: How strange it`s going to look when we grab tape of this event years from now, the mask wearing them, the distance crowd of 200 --

REID: Yes.

WILLIAMS: -- Just a scene like that. By the way, the President is in the building. He is in the holding room. We are going to see First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentlemen Doug Emhoff get escorted into the guests gallery. We saw a shot just a bit ago of the door.

Something to think about when we do see Joe Biden come down this aisle. Again, a 36-year veteran of the Senate, but so far because of the pandemic, and he`s never used terms of victimization, he has been robbed of so much of the majesty and pump of the job, campaign stops, convention speech after he won, giving his acceptance in a parking lot in Wilmington, and inaugural address before a an empty mall in Washington, D.C.

These are the representatives of the diplomatic corps coming in. Again, it is vast, they are sparse, but that is the nature of what we`re doing. And the parliamentary word for what you`re watching is we`re stalling until the top of the hour when the Speaker of the House will cue the Sergeant at Arms who will announce the President of the United States.

Luckily for us -- there is Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff coming into the honored guest gallery. Luckily for us, we have former U.S. Senator from the great state of Missouri, Claire McCaskill, former chairman of the National Republican Party, Michael Steele. Two of our friends along with us for this.

Claire, this must be highly unusual for you. And I`m hoping you have text traffic to share with us of your former colleagues and how highly unusual this is for them to be sitting there tonight.

CLAIRE MCCASKILL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, this is really weird. This is one night in Washington, where everyone -- there`s a dinner that`s held for all the senators, the spouses are always in town. So, there`s a lot of social interaction before going down to this speech.

I remember watching the Diplomatic Corps walk in that I used to favor a seat close to the Diplomatic Corps on the very edge. And my secret was, Brian, that meant I could get out of there quickly when it was over, because I wouldn`t have to wait for everyone to go down the front aisles.

But this is very different. But tonight is going to emphasize what we all knew even when we were sitting in that chamber and listen to the speech. This speech is not about who`s in the chamber. This speech is a speech to the American public. And Joe Biden will know that clearly because when he looks out he will not see all of his friends that he expected to see in his first speech to Congress.

WILLIAMS: Michael Steele, we`re watching the Chief Justice come in. Your analysis of this strange scene thus far.

MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, it`s strange but in one sense it`s also transitional. We know what lies ahead. I think the President`s going to lay a lot of that out tonight for the American people.

Here in the great state of Maryland, Governor Hogan has announced that starting this weekend, we`re open, you know. That we can go back out and begin to, you know, restart those things that we`re most familiar with.

So, I think, you know, I look in that room. And yes, you know, it`s got this tapes on the seats and folks are wearing masks. But it is a reminder of where we`ve been as much as it is a statement about where we`re going. And I think that is something that Joe Biden wants us to really take to heart tonight in his message to the country.

I think it is important to note that the chamber is somewhat empty. And that is appropriately reflecting of Joe`s intent, I think in a in an interesting way, to speak more directly to the American people and not necessarily get caught up in who`s not applauding, who`s standing up, who`s sitting down, but rather having a straightforward conversation that we can all internalize ourselves, and then see how we move forward from there.

WILLIAMS: The First Lady being escorted to her seat of honor in the visitor`s gallery. Claire, let`s be honest about something here. Most members of the Supreme Court loathed attending this speech. Some of them have famously fallen asleep, some of them into a kind of deep REM sleep during this speech.

The members of the Cabinet have been split on attending traditionally. We`re going to see the Secretaries of State and Defense representing the entire cabinet. Did all the lawmakers who may enjoy the event, may have sincerely wanted to be there tonight but didn`t make the cut of the black tape that is roping off these seats?

MCCASKILL: You know, when all the judges and all of the diplomatic corps and all of the members of Congress have in common is they`re not used to sitting and listening to somebody else talk. They`re the talkers. And so, it is painfully obvious during this speech that everyone is fidgety.

And you know, you`ve got the speech in front of you. It`s all typed out, you could read along, and there really is and almost once it begins, let`s get on with it kind of sense in the room. These are all people who think highly of themselves and are not used to sitting for an hour listening to someone talk to them.

On the other hand, this is a special night particularly for the women of Congress to look up and see those two women on the dais. I`m very jealous of them for that opportunity. And to remember, Brian, famously, the Supreme Court, some of them quit coming after Barack Obama confronted them about Citizens United during his State of the Union speech. And Alito famously nodding his head no when Barack Obama said exactly what was going to happen with that decision in terms of dark money flooding the airwaves during political campaigns.

WALLACE: Michael Steele, I wonder if there isn`t some benefit. And I agree with you. I think this is a transitional moment. I think this is very Biden he`s doing. He`s adhering to the tradition and he`s doing it in a safe way. I think it`s like his campaign, the safety procedure is almost become part of the message.

But I wonder if he isn`t also doing another end around the Republican high jinks and theatrics. I mean, they`re not -- they`re literally not in the room.

STEELE: Yes. And I think a lot -- a lot of folks are taking note of that. You know, the story earlier in the week where, you know, it was about Democrats who trying to get the tickets, and then the story was about the Republicans who didn`t want it, and everybody kind of yawn.


STEELE: It`s like, who cares if they`re there or not. You know, really, it don`t -- it doesn`t matter if they`re in the room or not because they`re not about governing. They`re not about being the loyal opposition in the most, you know, Republican and I mean, you know, small R use of the word.

And the reality of it is, Joe Biden is aware of that. And he knows he`ll make whatever relationship -- relational deal he needs to make on the back end with whoever he wants to make it with who`s ever willing to make it with him. But he`s moving forward. And I think that`s the stunning thing about these last 100 days is that despite the obstacles, the President has led, and he stood firm in his leadership.

And I think that`s reflected in all these polls that you see whether they like the man personally or believe he`s Uncle Joe or whatever, they`re buying what he`s offering the country right now. And for Republicans, it`s hard for them to come back and say, well, you really don`t want that. Really, you don`t want infrastructure, you don`t want COVID shots, you don`t want to open up your communities again? Tell me what it is you don`t want.

And I don`t know how you make that, you know, an easy winning narrative with Americans when they`re liking what they`re hearing from Joe.

MADDOW: The wide shot, of course, that we are seeing is undercard -- underlying -- or undergirding sort of the strangeness of what it means to have this big chamber with all this social distancing and all the COVID protocols and so few people there compared to what we`re used to about an eighth of the number of people we`re used to seeing in this chamber.