A day after Meet the Press host Chuck Todd tore into Republican Senator Ron Johnson, the panel on Monday’s edition of The 11th Hour With Brian Williams picked up where Todd left off by continuing to pile on the Wisconsin Senator. After playing a clip of the exchange, host Brian Williams brought in Never Trumpers Charlie Sykes and Bill Kristol to join him in bashing Johnson. Sykes’s commentary definitely exceeded Williams’s expectations; especially when he compared Johnson to one of the left’s favorite boogeymen: the late Senator Joe McCarthy.
At the beginning of the segment, Williams attempted to paint a narrative of President Trump losing support among Republican Senators by reading statements from Senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins expressing disapproval of the President’s “suggestion that China investigate Joe Biden.” Williams admitted that “most of the Republican Party” are “still defending the President” before teeing up the footage of Todd’s interview with Johnson.
As he introduced his panel of anti-Trump Republicans, Williams held up Sykes as an example of “the sturdy traditional kind of Republican you guys in Wisconsin have been producing for decades and generations.” Williams proceeded to ask Sykes, “Does Senator Johnson deserve to represent the people of Wisconsin?”
Sykes accused Johnson of “channeling the former Senator from the state of Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, in spinning out these various conspiracy theories” during his appearance on Meet the Press. Echoing Hillary Clinton’s talking points, Sykes expressed hope that more Republicans will act like the late Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith, who “took to the floor of the United States Senate” and “denounced the fear, ignorance, bigotry and smears of the McCarthy era.” According to Sykes, “You do wonder when other Senators are going to step up and, you know, form a critical mass to be able to say that kind of thing” about President Trump.”
McCarthy’s broad “conspiracy theory” -- that Soviet government agents penetrated the federal government after World War II -- is a historical truth. The journalists placing themselves on the “right side of history” can skip an awful lot of history.
The rest of the segment featured Kristol urging Republicans in the Senate to vote to remove President Trump from office; begging them to “face up to their institutional responsibilities here and really think hard about whether they are comfortable having this man in the oval office.”
A transcript of the relevant portion of Monday’s edition of The 11th Hour With Brian Williams is below. Click “expand” to read more.
The 11th Hour With Brian Williams
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney is learning what can happen when a Republican speaks out against this President. After Romney called Trump’s suggestion that China investigate Joe Biden wrong and appalling, that’s what he called it, wrong and appalling, the President responded; saying “Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous ‘a double Q’ who has been fighting me from the beginning, except when he begged me for my endorsement for his Senate run (I gave to it him), and when he begged me to be Secretary of State (I didn’t give it to him.) He’s so bad for Republicans!” Another Republican Senator is criticizing Trump’s China request. The Bangor Daily News reports Maine Senator Susan Collins as saying “the president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent…It’s completely inappropriate.” And remember, dear viewers, for Susan Collins, that’s scathing. Then there’s most of the Republican Party still defending the President. And on Meet the Press yesterday morning, Chuck Todd got into it with Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR RON JOHNSON: Chuck, I just want the truth. The American people want the truth.
CHUCK TODD: So, do you not trust the…do you not trust the FBI? You don’t trust the CIA?
JOHNSON: No, no…
TODD: I am just very…
JOHNSON: …I don’t.
TODD: …confused here.
JOHNSON: Absolutely not.
TODD: You don’t trust…
TODD: …either of those agencies?
JOHNSON: …Peter Strzok and Lisa Page?
JOHNSON: After James Comey.
TODD: You believe the FBI and the CIA…
JOHNSON: Peter Strzok, John Brennan…
TODD: These government agencies…
JOHNSON: No, I don’t trust any of these guys in the Obama…
JOHNSON: …administration. I don’t trust any of them.
TODD: You don’t trust them now? Do you trust them now?
JOHNSON: No. I didn’t trust them back then. Something pretty fishy happened during the 2016 campaign and in the transition…
JOHNSON: …the early, the early part of the Trump presidency, and we still don’t know. Robert Mueller was…
TODD: We do know the answers.
JOHNSON: He never…
TODD: You’re choosing…
JOHNSON: …he never looked into any of that.
TODD: You’re choosing not…
JOHNSON: And he should have.
TODD: You’re…you’re just making a choice.
JOHNSON: Hopefully, hopefully, William Barr will…
TODD: You’re…you’re making a choice not to believe…
JOHNSON: Hopefully, William Barr will get to the bottom of this.
TODD: You’re making a choice not to believe the investigations that have taken place. Multiple.
JOHNSON: No, I’m…
JOHNSON: …I’m trying to get to the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Here with us, two men on the masthead at The Bulwark, Charlie Sykes, founder and editor-at-large. He’s also the author of “How the Right Lost Its Mind.” And Bulwark editor-at-large Bill Kristol, also a veteran of the Reagan and Bush administrations. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Charlie Sykes, the minute I heard that interview, I thought of you and the sturdy traditional kind of Republican you guys in Wisconsin have been producing for decades and generations. And sadly, the question to you tonight is does Senator Johnson deserve to represent the people of Wisconsin? And should the Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the U.S. Senate feel the way he does about our FBI and CIA?
SYKES: Well, I’ve…I’ve known Ron Johnson for many years, and we have been friends. And that was a deeply embarrassing performance by…by the Senator. And to really…an example of the…of Trump Derangement Syndrome, the real Trump Derangement Syndrome, when you have somebody from a state like Wisconsin; who is channeling the former Senator from the State of Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, in spinning out these various conspiracy theories. So, it was…it was an indication of…of what happens if you go all in in defending someone like Donald Trump. But I…and I would remind people that it was, you know, about 70 years ago that Margaret Chase Smith of Maine took to the floor of the United States Senate for her declaration of…of conscience talking about a former Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy and she…and she denounced the fear, ignorance, bigotry and smears of the McCarthy era. And you…you do wonder when other Senators are going to step up and, you know, form a critical mass to be able to say that kind of thing because we…we know how history remembers Margaret Chase Smith. What is history’s verdict about the Joe McCarthy toadies, defenders and the Republicans who remained silent?
WILLIAMS: Bill, over to you on this front. Sooner or later, I guess we were due for this President to do something that would make some prominent Republicans in let’s say the Senate to break with him. On the Kurds, many of them have thus far. What are you seeing?
BILL KRISTOL: I think you said do something and I think that’s really important, Brian. You know, the President said all these things, and a lot of Republican elected officials were able to reassure themselves he’s sort of sit…sitting in the Oval Office giving ridiculous orders, saying ridiculous things, tweeting foolish and offensive things even, but those orders aren’t being carried out that often. The tweets don’t have much effect in reality. And so, we just kind of ignore it and go on. But now we’re seeing that the President’s policies are being effectuated by the Attorney General, by the Secretary of State. Rudy Giuliani’s traveling around, you know, trying to make things…I mean, Ukraine, it’s not that he said…I mean, the transcript of the conversation is bad enough, but what…what’s more interesting and more important I think is that he tried to do…he withheld the aid. He pressured them to actually find dirt on Joe Biden. He’s got people traveling around. The Attorney General’s going around the world, trying to get evidence against our own intelligence agencies. So, I think the…the movement from speech to deeds, you know, the fact that he’s got the administration…willing people, unfortunately in the administration in huge cabinet agencies, State and…and Justice, doing his bidding has got people much more alarmed. I’m struck by talking to people about that. And the other thing I would say is the Senate is not the House. Two-thirds of the Senators aren’t on the ballot this year. A lot of them will…some of them are retiring. There are some people who have been there a long time. I think at some point they might face up to their institutional responsibilities here and really think hard about whether they are comfortable having this man in the Oval Office. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. You know, in the past, I’ve been disappointed that they haven’t criticized Trump, or they’ve gone along with all of Trump’s appointments and all of his policies but that’s…that’s one thing, you know, choosing not to stick your head up, choosing to vote for policies that…well, whatever, they…they might have approved of those policies. If this…if Trump gets impeached, they will have an up or down vote in the Senate. Could we…is this acceptable what the President has done? Not just what he’s said, but what he has done; his use of the executive branch to further his private political interests at the expense of our national interests. And incidentally, is it safe to have the kind of reckless foreign policy we’ve seen in the last 24 hours with respect to Syria? So, I…I think the chances of the Republican…we’ve said this before, but I actually do think this time Republicans, especially in the Senate, really are looking at this differently than they have over the last couple of years.
WILLIAMS: All right, Bill. You’ve given us a lot to think about. We will do so over a break.