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Meet the Press - March 20, 2016

Meet The Press - March 20, 2016

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Republican establishment has tried persuasion.

MITT ROMNEY:

Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake.

CHUCK TODD:

It's tried schoolyard tactics.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

And you know what they say about men with small hands.

CHUCK TODD:

And still, Donald Trump keeps winning. But last night, more ugliness at a rally. As Trump warns of violence if he's denied the nomination.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots.

CHUCK TODD:

But can he be stopped at a convention? John Kasich, the last establishment candidate standing, joins me. Plus, the battle over the Supreme Court. The Republicans say, "No hearings for Merrick Garland." Democrats cry foul.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

The Senate will continue to observe the Biden Rule so that the American people have a voice in this momentous decision.

SEN. HARRY REID:

Why can't they then just what they're supposed to? Just to do their jobs.

CHUCK TODD:

Both the Senate leaders, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid exclusively join me. And do you like buzzer beaters, like this one from Friday night? Well, we've got the Trump-a-tology buzzer beater possibilities for what could be a wild Republican National Convention. Joining me for insight and analysis are Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo and NBC News, The Atlantic's Molly Ball, MSNBC's Joy-Ann Reid, and Robert Costa of The Washington Post. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. Let's agree on this much about the 2016 campaign. The rise of Donald Trump has basically paralleled the fall of the Republican establishment. The more the establishment cries, "Never Trump," the more the voters snub them. On Tuesday night, in spite of millions of dollars of negative ads and high-profile criticism by Mitt Romney and others, Trump won four of five primaries and he nearly tripled his delegate lead over Ted Cruz.

Establishment republicans are desperate to use any means necessary, candidate collusion, delegate jujitsu, rules changes, anything to deny Trump, in part, because of scenes like this. Last night in Tucson, Arizona. An anti-Trump protester was set upon and beaten up as he was being escorted out of the rally. Now, police arrested and charged the man who assaulted the protester that you see there in that video.

And then this was the scene earlier in the day yesterday in Arizona, where protesters blocked a road to a Trump rally. So the rise of Trumpism and the undoing of the Republican establishment has been years in the making. It began in 2007 when conservatives killed President Bush's push for immigration reform, in 2008 when establishment favorite John McCain was clobbered by Barack Obama, in 2010, that came the Tea Party revolt.

The party lost control of the primary process, but they won so many seats, they chose to ride the tiger instead of fight it. More recently came the falls of Cantor, Boehner, and even the prevention of Kevin McCarthy getting a promotion. All at the hands of a resurgent, populist, conservative movement. And now, many in the party are trying to stop Donald Trump. But how?

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

Go forward, you have the establishment, they don't know what they're doing, they have no clue.

CHUCK TODD:

The Stop Trump Movement is limping forward. But though Republican opponents have the will to defeat the frontrunner, it's not clear they have a game plan. There have been meetings, a confab in Washington, two blocks from the White House, calling for a unity ticket. Another meeting of big donors in Florida, and new ads from outside groups.

FEMALE NARRATOR:

Ask Donald Trump why he sides with Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

But Stop Trump groups spent 13 million dollars in primaries this week and Trump nearly tripled his delegate lead.

DONALD TRUMP:

My numbers went up.

CHUCK TODD:

Still, many Republican voters are not comfortable with Trump. 29 percent of primary voters in Florida said they would seriously consider a third-party candidate. So did 39 percent in battleground North Carolina, and 45 percent in battleground Ohio. But what's the alternative?

TED CRUZ:

For me to win 1,237 delegates, I've got to win 78 percent of the remaining delegates. That sounds like a high bar.

CHUCK TODD:

Mitt Romney is encouraging Republicans to vote for Cruz.

DONALD TRUMP:

Are you sure he's a Mormon? Are we sure? He choked, he choked. It was so sad.

CHUCK TODD:

But only to force an open convention.

TED CRUZ:

A vote for John Kasich is a vote for Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

But John Kasich is only stepping up efforts to challenge Cruz in Utah, which holds its caucus on Tuesday. Now, many Trump opponents are turning to the convention, hoping to deprive Trump of a clear, 1,237 delegate majority.

PAUL RYAN:

Nothing has changed other than the perception that this is more likely to become an open convention than we thought before.

CHUCK TODD:

Trump warns of violence if a floor fight produces another nominee.

DONALD TRUMP:

I think you'd have riots. I think you'd have riots.

CHUCK TODD:

But for many Republican, denial and anger, bargaining and depression are turning into acceptance.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:

If Mr. Trump does become the president of the United States, he's going to need a Republican majority to govern. And I think he would welcome working with Republican majorities in the House and the Senate.

CHUCK TODD:

That's an admission that the Republican establishment, long and life support, may officially be dead.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Just a reminder, John Cornyn is a Ted Cruz supporter, we think. Joining me now to talk about the Republican establishment's efforts to stop Trump, I'm joined by the men who ran the last two Republican presidential campaigns, Stuart Stevens served as chief strategist to Mitt Romney in 2012, and Steve Schmidt was chief strategist to John McCain in 2008. Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Stu, let me start with you. Prior to last Tuesday, you wrote there was still time to stop Trump. Do you still believe that a week later?

STUART STEVENS:

Sure, I mean, 40 percent of the people haven't voted. So, you know, we got upset in 2000 when they closed the polls in Florida and they announced it when the panhandle was still open, so I think the 40 percent is still out there, we have to say. I think it's going to be very difficult for anybody else other than Donald Trump to get to 1,237.

But there's credible scenarios out there, with 40 percent of the vote out there, that you could easily have Donald Trump, you know, 1,000, 1,100 votes, and Ted Cruz up there around 900, 950. We've done this before. I mean, this was the Ronald Reagan strategy. I mean, he became in 1976, he gets the sitting Republican president.

CHUCK TODD:

But, you know, Steve, the most expedient way to do this would be to rally around Ted Cruz. And that seems to be something that Washington Republicans can't bring themselves to do.

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Look, Ted Cruz is exactly right, a vote at this point for John Kasich is in fact a vote for Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

So, why isn't the cavalry rallying around Cruz?

STEVE SCHMIDT:

If you look now, Donald Trump is well on his way to securing 1,237 delegates to be nominated on the first ballot. If Donald Trump gets to 1,237 delegates, he'll be nominated on the first ballot. If he does not, it goes to an open convention. Anything of course can happen.

But if you look at the amount of new voters coming into the process this year, for them to be denied what they view as a small-D democratic process, and in fact, these parties, they are the vessels that we advance democracy in America, are not themselves democratic, small-D institutions. So I think the rules would play out, and there was a denial of it, dire consequences for the party and for the Senate majority.

CHUCK TODD:

Now look, there is a way to do this. And Stuart, you are on the receiving end of some delegate manipulation that could talk place. Ron Paul never won any states, but he came to the convention with majorities of delegates. Let me show some results in Iowa just to show people, this was the Iowa results in 2012. Santorum and Romney first and second, depending on the day they announced their vote.

But look at this, Ron Paul had a majority of the delegates by the time the convention rolled around. Louisiana, we had a similar finding here. Ron Paul ended up with 6 percent of the vote in the primary, but look at this, he ended up with nearly I think 40 percent of the delegates once he got to the convention. There is a -and this happened last night in Louisiana. There is a way to elect delegates that are more supportive of Cruz, if you're the Cruz campaign, to deny Trump this. But then it does undermine what Steve was talking about.

STUART STEVENS:

You know, I think what we're going to have here is a period where the candidates are really going to be looked at very closely, more closely than they have been before, because there's fewer of them. You're going to have a different threshold for it. I think there's going to be a lot of pressure on Donald Trump to really behave as a frontrunner, as someone who could lead a party.

And look, had the Democrats gone through this and John Edwards was leading, and then we discovered this about John Edwards, people would have had second thoughts about going into a party with John Edwards. So I think that it's a real test here. And we're going to have to see how these candidates perform under this test.

CHUCK TODD:

But Steve, it seems as if, and you'll see, and Mitch McConnell is sticking by the nominee, Paul Ryan, who some people believe right now is the titular head of the Republican party, given his position, he's getting criticized this morning by Ross Douthat, a conservative columnist in The Times going, "Hey, you know, where are you? You can make a difference here, it seems hesitant."

STEVE SCHMIDT:

Look, for a lot of the Republican leaders, they may well come to a moment where it's country over party, given their--

CHUCK TODD:

But we're not there yet?

STEVE SCHMIDT:

--about a perspective Trump nomination. So you have people out there saying, "Anybody but Trump," but are also saying, "I'm going to support the Republican nominee for president." They've not yet crossed that Rubicon. And so as we go through the next couple of weeks of contests, as Donald Trump I suspect continues to win at the proportion that he has been winning at, and he moves closer to 1,237, it will be interesting to see what the leaders of the Republican party say.

Now, what the consequence of it would be, for them to peel off the Republican nomination is to forfeit the election to Hillary Clinton, there would be multiple Supreme Court nominations made by her if she's the next president of the United States, and of course, also, the Republican Senate Majority hangs in the balance here. And it's tough to see how Senate Republicans maintain that majority if the 35 to 40 percent of these Trump voters are feeling disenfranchised from the process and they take a walk.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, but then you have 10 percent to 15 percent of the party, maybe more of that, look at those numbers that I showed in the exit polls in battlegrounds Ohio, Florida, North Carolina. These were Republican primary voters, Stuart, who said they'd prefer a third-party option than pick between Trump and Clinton.

STUART STEVENS:

Yeah, Trump is a disaster. You know, politics ultimately is about addition, not subtraction. And the whole idea of Trump is not that he's going to take these Romney voters and add to them, he's losing Romney voters. Just look at Republican Hispanics.

There's not tons of Hispanics in the Republican party. He already has a 60 percent negative with Republican Hispanics. Romney won white women by 12 points. It's going to be very tough for any number to do better than that, but it's going to be necessary for him to do better against Hillary.

CHUCK TODD:

Steve, I went ahead--

STUART STEVENS:

He's going to do worse.

CHUCK TODD:

We went ahead and ran the numbers on the exit polls, but using the exit polls from 2012 in Ohio and Wisconsin, just on the white vote. And assuming all things were equal, and here's Wisconsin first, Trump would have to increase the Romney share by 5 percent if he wants to go from 51 percent of the white vote, which by the way, Romney got and still lost this state, 56 percent of the white vote is what Trump would need to flip it. In Ohio, to flip Ohio, he would have to move the Romney white vote number from 57 percent to 61 percent. This assumes that the non-white vote doesn't move at all. This seems like an impossibility.

STEVE SCHMIDT:

I'm not sure it is an impossibility. I think it's a very difficult task. But he is an asymmetrical candidate. He is so unconventional, we've never seen anything like it. And so when you began the program today, you set looking back from 2007 the rise of the movement that led us to this. But it's more expansive than that. We live in an era where trust has collapsed in every single institution in the country, with the exception of the military. And it's not without cause. An era of systemic fraud in business, in politics, in the culture, sports--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

STEVE SCHMIDT:

--in religion. All of it accumulating to this moment in time where someone has come forward with profound communication skills offering easy answers to people who through these wave elections, have seen no changes.

CHUCK TODD:

Stuart, last point.

But 37 percent of the people don't trust Hillary Clinton. Huge opportunity for Republicans. So now we're turning to a guy who has 27 percent of the people don't trust him. He's one of the few people in America that is trusted less than Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

You mean to say only 27 percent trust.

STUART STEVENS:

Only 27 percent trust Donald Trump compared to 37 percent for Hillary Clinton. He's trusted less than Hillary Clinton, which is hard to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I'm trying to figure out what turnout is going to look like if the two candidates are the two most unpopular among swing voters right now, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I'm going to leave it there, Stuart Stevens, Steve Schmidt, appreciate you both. One man who's still in the race though against Trump is Ohio Governor John Kasich, whose win in his home state on Tuesday did keep his hopes alive and the hopes of the anti-Trump movement alive in trying to get a contested convention. John Kasich joined me yesterday from Salt Lake City.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Why are you in Utah? And I ask that because if you didn't campaign in Utah and Ted Cruz won 50 percent of the vote, then you deny Donald Trump any delegates, which actually helps your path to getting to Cleveland in a contested convention.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Hey, Chuck.Chuck, look, I'm in Utah. You know why? Because I'm running for president and because I want people to understand what is a good positive message with a record of accomplishment.

CHUCK TODD:

But do you want to win?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

I mean, but Chuck, I'm going to compete across the country and tell people who I am and let the chips fall where they may. And let me also tell you, no one-- no one is going to that convention with enough delegates. I will have more delegates moving in there that will give me momentum.

And then the delegates are going to decide who can win in the fall. Because the other guys can't win in the fall. Hillary will be president. And secondly, I've got the record, the experience, and the vision and the ability to bring people together to be a good president. That's why I'm doing this--

CHUCK TODD:

We saw, well, we saw the evidence though of what happens when there's three people in and two anti-Trump candidates split the vote. Missouri and Illinois. Donald Trump cleaned up on delegates. If you go about this in New York and Pennsylvania and some of these other states, you and Cruz could end up handing more delegates to Trump inadvertently.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, maybe Ted ought to get out because he can't win in the fall. And maybe these people that are hot on that, you know, ought to tell him to do it. You know, they tried to tell me to get out of the race how many times, Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:

You're right. Quite a few--

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

And now they should be thanking me for staying in. Because if Trump had win Ohio, it would be over.

I have a record of accomplishment, a record of bringing people together, a vision for the future of this country. And guess what? In the grassroots, people are getting it. Now, they didn't get it because, frankly, you put me on the tube a lot. But Trump got, you know, $1.8 billion worth of free media. I got none. Okay? So now people are start--

CHUCK TODD:

Well, not all of his free media was very positive--

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

People are starting to hear me, and we're starting to rise. Look at what our numbers are.

CHUCK TODD:

If you thought your candidacy were helping Trump, not hurting him, would you get out?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Chuck, I'm running for president. This isn't a parlor game of who gets this or who gets that.

CHUCK TODD:

But you're stuck with a parlor game--

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

I believe-- I want to tell you--

CHUCK TODD:

But you're stuck having to play a parlor game because your only path-- is the convention--

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

No, Chuck. How's that--

CHUCK TODD:

That's the ultimate parlor game.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

I am not playing a parlor game. The convention is an extension of the process of nominating somebody. I was there in '76 when Reagan challenged the sitting president. They didn't like him doing it either. But you know what? His vision, his message mattered. Listen, nobody's going to that convention with enough delegates. And at the end, do you know why I'll get picked? Because I can win in the fall. And secondly, because I have the experience and the record to lead this country. You know, and Chuck, if I didn't think that, I wouldn't be running.

CHUCK TODD:

Yesterday, earlier in the week, you totally ruled out ever being Donald Trump's running mate.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Yeah. Under no circumstances.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, I understand.

JOHN KASICH:

Are you people kidding me?

CHUCK TODD:

All right. What about Ted Cruz?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

No. I'm not going to be anybody's-- I'm running for president--

CHUCK TODD:

Under no circumstances. Just as Shermanesque with Ted Cruz as it is with Donald Trump. No chance, no how--

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Absolutely. You know what? You folks gotta get-- You know, look. You're a great guy. I like you very much. But you guys-- you pundits got to get out of Washington. You don't understand me. You know, the problem is that a lot of people just can't figure that, how could this guy mean what he says? How is it that he's no different than what he appears? You can't figure that out. People are like, "What's his calculation? What's this or that?" Folks, I don't have time for that.

CHUCK TODD:

As you know, Ted Cruz is going to use two issues to try to wedge if it's even a delegate fight. And that's Common Core and immigration.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Well, let me just say this. I'll tell you what Common Core is in my state. Our state board of education has approved high standards, and our local school boards are the ones that devised the curriculum. We need high standards for our children in the 21st century. I am for shipping all the federal education programs out of Washington to the states. So look, I'm telling you what we do in Ohio. And at the end of the day, presidents should not run K through 12.

Secondly, on immigration, I do not believe it is practical nor doable to search in the neighborhoods and yank the people who came here illegally who have not committed a crime since they've been here and ship them out of this country. That is not going to happen.

The plan that I support: Finishing the border, making sure you have a guest worker program, and having the 11 and a half million who came here illegally who have not committed a crime pay back taxes, pay a fine. Let me tell you, they then can have a path to legalization and not citizenship. And any other position than that just isn't going to work, Chuck. I hate to tell you that. It isn't going to work.

CHUCK TODD:

You talk about yourself as a consensus builder, so I'm curious. What do you make of the Republican Senate strategy on the Supreme Court pick, Merrick Garland? Should the senate at least hold hearings?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

You know, Chuck. Look, this is one I'm not going to actually answer directly. Because I don't think the senate is waiting there with bated breath for my opinion. But the fact is, I never thought the president should have sent it up.

I think they can go ahead and have a meeting with him. The senators can meet with this gentleman. And then maybe ultimately, if I'm president, which I think we have a good shot at being, maybe he'll be under consideration for the Supreme Court. I don't know. But they ought to meet with him. Show him that amount of respect.

CHUCK TODD:

But what about hearings and all that?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Look, the hearings aren't going to mean anything, Chuck. But that's up to them to decide. Ask them.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Governor John Kasich, I'll leave it there. Good luck on the next--

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

Always a pleasure.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, stay safe on the trail. Thank you, sir.

GOV. JOHN KASICH:

And you know what? If it's Sunday, it must be Meet The Press.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, there you go. You can always get extra time by saying that.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, following that interview with John Kasich, he walked back his comments on Merrick Garland saying he would not consider Merrick Garland as a potential replacement to Justice Scalia if he's elected president.

All right, coming up, we've got a lot more on the 2016 race, but first, the fight over the Supreme Court-- both senate leaders, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid exclusively right here on Meet the Press. And later, the debate over Hillary Clinton's speaking style .

(BEGIN TAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON:

I've never had more faith in our future and if we work together, if we go...

CHUCK TODD:

We've heard the criticism before-- that she sounds shrill, that she shouts, that she doesn't smile enough. The question: Is this just sexism masquerading as honest criticism?

HILLARY CLINTON:

Thank you all so very much!

(END TAPE)

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD: It is time for our Meet the Press Data Download. With March Madness in full swing, we wanted to share some brackets on our own. No I'm not here to brag about Middle Tennessee State and that pick. Instead, here are three scenarios for winning the Republican nomination. Welcome to the Meet the Press big dance and what we're calling Trump-A-Tology.

In bracket 1 it's Donald Trump receiving a bye while Ted Cruz and John Kasich fight it out through the rest of the primary season. They end up splitting the anti-Trump vote but Trump is able to come away with the majority he needs and hits that magic number of 1237 and he wins the nomination and game over.

In bracket number 2 we start with the same standings. But in this scenario Cruz catches fire and wins enough delegates to deny Trump the 1237 that he needs. So we move to an overtime and an open convention. Trump delegates eventually abandon Trump and Cruz emerges as the conservative compromise choice in a buzzer beater.

In bracket number 3, this is our cinderella story. It looks familiar at the beginning, Cruz, Kasich, Trump they all compete. And again Trump ends up short of his magic number of 1237, and again we head to an open convention. But in this scenario we go to overtime, and we go to multiple ballots. We go to double overtime actually. Neither Kasich nor Cruz can win the majority and the nomination ends up going to, how about that somebody not running, probably House Speaker Paul Ryan.

More Possible than you might think, so who is going to have their one shining moment in Cleveland this July? It's something that we have a whole rest of a primary season to figure out. We'll be back in a moment with the battle over the Supreme Court, and the two leaders of the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid.

ANNOUNCER:

If you missed Meet the Press, catch highlights in two minutes on Compressed at meet-the-press-nbc-dot-com. Brought to you by Hewlett Parckard Enterprise, accelerating next.

***Commercial Break***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The expression, "Elections have consequences" usually refers to the fact that presidents get to choose who sits on the Supreme Court. Well, when President Obama named Merrick Garland this week to be his nomination to replace Antonin Scalia, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell immediately announced that Republicans would not even give Garland a hearing. McConnell said the choice should be made by the next president.

Well, Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid immediately criticized McConnell's move, saying the senate was abdicating its responsibilities. I spoke to both Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid, and I began with a conversation with Senator Reid that took place yesterday.

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with a piece of sound on judges that you said over ten years ago. Let me play it and get you to react on the other side.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. HARRY REID:

The duties of the United States Senate are set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere in that document does it say the senate has a duty to give presidential nominees a vote.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And yet, 11 years later, you wrote this: "The Senate's constitutional duty to give a fair and timely hearing and a floor vote to the president's Supreme Court nominee has remained inviolable." I guess I'm confused. Which is it? What has changed from 2005 when you said, "There was nothing in the Constitution that said a vote," to 2016?

SEN. HARRY REID:

This is the same thing as you guys talk about the "Biden rule." There is no Biden rule. What happened then was it worked out, and it was an effort to try to get something done. What I have tried to do during my entire career in Congress and in the Senate is to get rid of obstruction.

And what we've found the last eight years especially with Republicans, Boehner first and McConnell, is everything was obstructed. That was what they set out to do. And they've done a good job of it. But we have always tried, and I have been part of that for many years, to get rid of obstruction. I don't believe in it.

CHUCK TODD:

Well then what happened in 2005? I can quote you during the Miguel Estrada hearing. You said, "There's no reason to mince words around here. We're not going to allow an up or down vote on Miguel Estrada." That's a form of obstruction back when President Bush was in office.

SEN. HARRY REID:

But remember, this man had a full hearing and came to the Senate floor. And all we ask is that if you worked in the White House, you had a lot of legal opinions, we're entitled to see them. That was reasonable. And the White House instructed this good man not to do it. It was unfair to him, but that's what happened. We and the American people were entitled to what he had written in those legal opinions.

CHUCK TODD:

But I guess I'm going back to, what part of-- what has changed, other than the political party affiliation of the White House?

SEN. HARRY REID:

What has changed is, you have to look at what has happened. We have never held up a Supreme Court nomination. Since 1900 in a lame duck session, there have been six they've all been approved.

CHUCK TODD:

But wait a minute. Alito. You did a filibuster for Alito and Roberts.

SEN. HARRY REID:

Where is Alito today? He's on the Supreme Court. That's the point--

CHUCK TODD:

It failed. It failed, but you wanted one.

SEN. HARRY REID:

But that's the point. You can draw all these extracurricular activities that took place, but look at what's happened. For example, let's look at two very famous cases that came before the Senate. Bork. Bork didn't get enough votes in committee. Neither did Thomas. But we brought them to the floor anyway. We met with them. We had hearings, and even though they didn't get it, it could have been killed in the committee. We believed there should be a full vote. And that's what we should do now.

I don't know why McConnell has done this to his senators. He's marching these men, women over a cliff. I don't think they're going to go. He said, "We're not going to meet with them. We're not going to hold hearings, we're not going to have a vote." But that fa├žade is breaking as we speak. We now have about eight or nine senators who say, "Oh, yeah, I guess we will meet with him." We had a senator the day before yesterday that said, "Let's man up here. We are elected to take votes. We should be voting." And there's going to be a breakthrough here. I told Merrick Garland I want to meet with him--

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think they're going to get a hearing? How are you going to get a hearing? Mitch McConnell has said, "No hearing at all." So why do you think you're going to get a hearing?

SEN. HARRY REID:

Mitch McConnell has said a lot of things. But his Republican senators are not going to go over that cliff with him. They're not going to do it. As I told Merrick Garland. "This is going to break. You're going to become a Supreme Court justice."

And in addition to the people agreeing to meet, we have Republican senators who are veteran senators who said, "Well, maybe what we should do is do it in a lame duck." Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, others have said that. But if they're going to do it in lame duck, do it now.

CHUCK TODD:

Four years from now, and I know you're not going to be Senate Democratic leader four years from now. But four years from now, if you're in the fourth year of a Republican presidency, you don't think the Democrats should do whatever it takes to prevent that Republican president from appointing a Supreme Court justice in a presidential year before the election?

SEN. HARRY REID:

Not only do I think they shouldn't do it, they wouldn't do it. Whoever is elected president is elected for four years. Obama was elected for four years. He filled that duty on behalf of the American people. He was re-elected. He has an obligation to do his job for four years, not three years. Senators have an obligation to do their constitutional duty for the time the President is in his lame duck session--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you blame Republicans though for wanting to do whatever it takes? This is going to change the makeup of the court. And they believe this is worth fighting for. Do you blame them for doing this?

SEN. HARRY REID:

Absolutely. When you have Orrin Hatch, who was a Chairman of the Judicial Committee, now is Chairman of the Finance Committee, said, "You could not pick as finer nominee than Garland. Why didn't you do that?" He's complaining to Obama. Of course I blame them. Of course I do. Here is a fine man with a record that's--

CHUCK TODD:

You don't think they should fight to prevent the change in the makeup as hard as they possibly can?

SEN. HARRY REID:

No. It's not been done in the past. And their excuses are lame. They're going to wind up as a result of this foolishness losing Senate seats they shouldn't have lost. I'm kind of glad they're doing it, but it's so foolish. He is-- McConnell is leading his senators over the cliff. And I am telling everybody that's watching this, the senators aren't going to allow that.

CHUCK TODD:

And a little earlier this morning, I was joined the Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Senator McConnell, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Good morning. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to start with something you said in 2008 about judicial vacancies. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Our Democratic colleagues continually talk about the so-called Thurmond Rule, under which the Senate supposedly stops confirming judges in a presidential election year. This seeming obsession with this rule that doesn't exist is just an excuse for our colleagues to run out the clock on qualified nominees who are waiting to fill badly-needed vacancies.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Now Senator McConnell, I started my interview with Harry Reid with a similar quote from him, back during the Bush years too. Essentially, you guys have changed places in your position on Supreme Court vacancies. And it seems to me, the only difference is the political party affiliation of the White House.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Well, there was no Supreme Court vacancy in 2008. And that's what we're talking about here, Chuck. You have to go back 80 years to find the last time a vacancy on the Supreme Court created during a presidential election year was filled. You have to go back to Grover Cleveland in 1888 to find the last time a presidential appointment was confirmed by a Senate of the opposite party when the vacancy occurred in a presidential year.

We're talking about the Supreme Court here. The election is underway. And what we are using is the Biden Rule in 1992, when Joe Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He made the point that a vacancy, had it occurred in 1992, would not be filled. Harry Reid, when he was leader in 2005, pointed out the Senate had no obligation under the Constitution to give a nominee a vote. And Chuck Schumer, in 2007, 18 months before Bush's term was up, said if a vacancy occurred, they wouldn't fill it. So we're talking about Supreme Court vacancy.

CHUCK TODD:

But Senator, in each of those occasions, Republicans at the time criticized those Senate Democrats for having that position. And frankly, that's what we're seeing here. There feels like there's hypocrisy on both sides. Democrats essentially don't want to confirm a Supreme Court justice if a Republican's doing it, and Republicans don't want to confirm a Supreme Court justice if a Democrat is doing it. Isn't that what we're staring at here?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Nobody's been entirely consistent. So let's just look at the history of it. It hasn't happened in 80 years, and it won't happen this year. The principle involved here, Chuck, when an election is underway, as Joe Biden was talking in 1992, an election's underway, the American people are about to weigh in on who's going to be the president. And that's the person, whoever that may be, who ought to be making this appointment.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, you said something though, about three months ago you said this: "My view is, just because there's an election coming up, doesn't mean you're not supposed to do anything." You even noted, "We've had an election every two years right on schedule since 1788." So, I guess, when does a presidential term run out? When does the president lose his authority to make appointments in your view?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Oh, well, the Senate has been quite active. I mean, we had an incredible year last year. This year, we're going to have another year. We've got a great chance at passing every single appropriation bill for the first time since 1994. The Senate's not doing nothing during this election season. But we're not giving lifetime appointment to this president on the way out the door to change the Supreme Court for the next 25 or 30 years.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me get you to respond to a criticism that George Will has that's all over papers today. And you've probably seen it. But he doesn't much care for your strategy here. He writes this, conservative George Will, "The Republican party's incoherent response to the Supreme Court vacancy is a partisan reflex in search of a justifying principle. The multiplicity of Republican rationalizations for their refusal to even consider Merrick B. Garland radiates insincerity." What do you say to George Will?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Well, I just disagree with him. I think when you've got a nominee that MoveOn.org is extremely enthusiastic about, and multiple articles pointing out that if Judge Merrick were in fact confirmed, he would move the court dramatically to the left. I just disagree with George Will. I don't think it's a good idea to move the court to the left. But that's not really the issue here. It's not the person. It's the principle. Who ought to make this lifetime appointment? It's the next president, not this one.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you completely ruling out a lame-duck scenario if Hillary Clinton wins the November election?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Yes. We're not going to be confirming a judge to the Supreme Court under this president.

CHUCK TODD:

Even if it means Hillary Clinton nominates somebody even more liberal than Merrick Garland?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Well, it's my hope, it'd be hard to be more liberal than Merrick Garland, but it's my hope that she will not be making the appointment.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about who could be facing her in the fall. Are you comfortable with Donald Trump as your party's standard bearer?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Well, I'm going to support the nominee. I've got an obligation to my colleagues and to my party to support the nominee and I fully intend to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

But what did you mean when you told them privately you could "drop him like a hot rock?" Do you think it's appropriate for any of your Republican senators to run against him if necessary?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Well, I think we've got a bunch of Senate races in purple states that are very competitive. And each of those races will be crafted very differently to try to appeal to the people in New Hampshire or Pennsylvania or Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Illinois. Every one of those races are going to be individual, standalone contests with people who we think have a great chance of winning in November.

CHUCK TODD:

And if that means running away from Donald Trump, that should be their strategy?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Oh, I think every campaign will have a different strategy to appeal to different kind of voters that we have in different parts of the country.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going-- and one other final thing. Donald Trump is having a meeting with various Republican leaders tomorrow in Washington before he speaks to AIPAC. Are you going to participate in that meeting, sir?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

No, I'm in Kentucky. He did call me last week. We had a good conversation.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Mitch McConnell, I will leave it there. Thanks for coming on, sir. Appreciate it.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Thank you, Chuck.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, when male pundits say Hillary Clinton is shrill or yells too much, is that legitimate criticism or is it sexist?

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Take a listen to a moment from Hillary Clinton's victory speech on Tuesday night, when she swept all five primaries.

(BEGIN TAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON:

I've never had more faith in our future, and if we work together, if we go forward in this campaign, if we win in November, I know our future will be brighter tomorrow than yesterday. Thank you all so very much!

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

So some people saw and heard, they heard a presidential candidate celebrating a huge night in which she took a huge step in winning the Democratic presidential nomination. But when others heard it many of whom were men, when they heard her speak, they called her "a bit shrill, loud, hyper aggressive." Some even said she "lacked grace."

And then there was the admonition that Clinton should smile more, which many women found particularly insulting. When we come back, we're going to talk to the panel about whether male candidates would be subject to the same type of criticism.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, the panel is here to talk about 2016. Jose Diaz-Balart of Telemundo and NBC News, Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Joy-Ann Reid, MSNBC's national correspondent, and Robert Costa, political reporter for The Washington Post. I want to pick up on what I teased before.

Molly, here's what Dana Milbank wrote, "The criticism is the same as in 2008: She doesn't connect. She isn't likeable. She doesn't inspire. She seems shrill ... This is the essence of Clinton's trouble: If she can't plausibly offer pie in the sky and she can't raise her voice, how does she inspire people? This hurts particularly with young voters, the same segment that shunned Clinton in 2008." But in some ways, and this is a male writing this, but in some ways, that she's being graded on a different set of rules, and her style, that this holds her back. Fair?

MOLLY BALL:

I think it's very difficult to parse what qualities are specific to Hillary Clinton and what qualities have to do with her gender. And, you know, I've looked into some of the political science research on this, which is really interesting.

There's been this criticism, for example, that women are more subject to commentary on their appearance. The political scientists studied it and it's not true. Men and women get comments on their appearance at the same rate, and it doesn't hurt women to have their comments on their appearance or in news articles, for example.

Women are actually viewed, a default woman, a neutral woman, a made-up woman in political science experiment, is viewed a little bit more trustworthy than a man, because they're seen as outsiders. They're not seen as being part of the system, and there's some sort of positive stereotyping about women. But look, we've never had a woman president. And so I think there's not a mold there. There's not a stereotype that you can fit Hillary Clinton into. And that makes it difficult.

CHUCK TODD:

And I think particularly older women, Joy, see some of the criticism against Hillary Clinton and truly get offended. Look, here's Barbara Mikulski, she said the following: "Many of we women feel that there's a double standard. What's being said about Hillary is what women have heard for centuries. You're too loud, you're too aggressive, you're too pushy. Why do you want the vote?"

Senator Feinstein: "I think women go through a magnifying glass that men do not. Look at Trump. Trump, talk about braggadocio, talk about arrogance, talk about shouting, talk about demeaning, talk about insulting. It's all there."

JOY-ANN REID:

Yeah. And I think out on the campaign trail, particularly when I was in the Midwest, where I actually finally heard a lot of people who sound like Hillary Clinton. Who have that same Midwestern twang. And I can tell you, you can almost pick them out, whether they like Hillary Clinton or not, particularly if they're women over the age of 60, this really bothers them.

This sense that she's being judged differently, because they're also taking in their experiences at the office, where if you're a woman boss, you're judged as being something that rhymes with witch if you are a strong person, whereas a man can be strong.

Women who feel undervalued themselves, in their own career path, so younger women who have not maybe experienced that in the workplace yet, and their experience is more in the collegiate world where they predominate, they don't necessarily respond to that argument. But I can tell you, women who have had some years in the workforce and who have dealt with these biases, they definitely feel incensed.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Jose, so does this mean any criticism of Hillary Clinton is going to be, is the Clinton campaign going to automatically go, I mean, Emily's List is stoking this right now, almost as a way they're hoping to galvanize women.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

When was the last time that we heard a criticism of a man screaming too much?

CHUCK TODD:

Howard Dean.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

Yeah, well, I mean, and look what happened. I mean, that was just one moment in time. And I was just looking at Joy right now. Joy, you and I use our hands a lot more. I mean, that's a fact of life. I can't tell you how many times I've been told, you know, "Latinos, you guys are a lot louder, you know, in a public setting."

And, you know, probably we are in a lot of ways. But I'm going to tell you something. I don't understand why Hillary Clinton has to be said she's screaming, she has to smile more. I don't hear men being asked that in the same way.

ROBERT COSTA:

Talking to top Republicans, there's a real fear when it comes to how Donald Trump may approach Secretary Clinton's delivery. They look at the Instagram video he put out this past week which featured Secretary Clinton barking as part of a joke on the campaign trail. And they worry, if you're Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, you're Mark Kirk in Illinois, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, all these senators up in blue states, purple states, how is it going to help you when the party frontrunner is going after Secretary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and then look at the most prominent woman, he attacks that's not named Hillary Clinton, Megyn Kelly. Right? Which, Molly, got Fox News to do something. When you ever see an unnamed statement from Fox News, you might as well say it's in the name of Roger Ailes, he attacked him in a way that I have never seen a news organization attack a presidential candidate.

MOLLY BALL:

It was very striking. To accuse him of having a sick obsession. Which, you know, may be true. It's very bizarre, the feud between those two. And it's interesting that Trump keeps picking these fights with the most prominent organ of journalism on the right. I mean, but to your point about the general election and the gender politics there, I think to this point, Hillary Clinton has tried very hard to turn herself into a sort of feminist-identity politics candidate, right? She has really leaned into the woman thing this year, and it hasn't worked.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say, that hasn't worked, Joy, yet. Yeah, maybe it would.

MOLLY BALL:

But if Trump is her opponent in the general election, that really turns the tables and that makes this gender politics really intense.

JOY-ANN REID:

Yeah. And Hillary Clinton I think very deliberately ran against the sort of feminist ideal in 2008 because she was trying to be a commander in chief and be credible on that scale. But this time, yeah, she's trying to lean into that part of it. And Donald Trump is a candidate who explicitly uses women's looks and appearance to attack them, the Rosie O'Donnell stuff, the stuff that he did even with Carly Fiorina.

He uses this ideal of sort of a young, silent woman as the ideal. And he is stoking a certain base that wants that male, white male primacy back. And that is a core part of his message. Hillary Clinton is in an excellent position to counter that.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, and it goes back to this Trump issue. And I think that that's, you know, that one ad that was run that hasn't had any money behind it, of women reading the things Trump has said about women-- Can you imagine if they put money behind that ad and ran it for two weeks?

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

Yeah, it's devastating.

CHUCK TODD:

Northern Virginia, we're going to see a lot, aren't we?

ROBERT COSTA:

Oh, you're going to see a lot of it. And that's the real concern for Republicans. How does Trump play in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, these swing areas where the Trump campaign believes they can really rouse the white working-class vote. But they still need to win the suburban voters who went for Mitt Romney.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I'm going to take a pause there. We're going to be back in a moment with our endgame segment and talk about something that hasn't happened in nearly 90 years. Not a contested convention, it's when Calvin Coolidge was in office. It's a visit to Cuba by the sitting president of the United States. And it's happening today.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Endgame time and the panel is here, Jose, history being made. I have a feeling the Cuban people are going to be more excited about this trip in Cuba than necessarily the entire Cuban population in South Florida.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

But everybody's looking at this trip. I think it's an important trip, it's a historic trip, let's put a little context in it. The United States, when Castro took power in 1959 had 48 states. Hawaii and Alaska weren't states. Mick Jagger hadn't even gotten any satisfaction, he was 15 years old--

CHUCK TODD:

Look at you. Oh, I love this.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

--when the Castro brothers took power. A lot of people in South Florida think that the Castro brothers as Kim Jong Il with a guayabera. The president going in there now, and he is going to be seen as someone by the Cuban people who can speak to them. Let's hope that he uses those words to inspire people.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting, Joy, I've been to Cuba. And Cuban people love America. They love America. They all want to come, all right? They love America, many of them not happy living under the regime they lived in. But the criticism of the President is, too soon for you to be going. Let the vice president go, let Secretary Kerry go. But until those guys release all those political prisoners, don't do it yet.

JOY-ANN REID:

Yeah, and I think there's going to be significant pressure on President Obama to meet with dissidents. There's already been sort of an edict from the Cuban government not to do so. But I think it's going to be really important that he do it. In the same way--

CHUCK TODD:

Boy, if he doesn't, I think it'll hurt.

JOY-ANN REID:

It'll be very difficult. And I think he's going to do the baseball game, and I think sports has been really a unifying, along with music, because I know that particularly in South Florida, there's been a lot of unity there. But yeah, I think that the president has to walk a line. The openness to the United States is there. There's been a great Bendixen Amandi Poll that showed that there is a tremendous openness on the island to us, right? And wanting to have--

CHUCK TODD:

100%.

JOY-ANN REID:

But we cannot ignore the issue of dissidence and we cannot ignore the issue of oppression. You have to do both.

CHUCK TODD:

And this is what's making, I think, the Cuban community in South Florida just anxious. I don't know how else to put it. Is that the fairest way to describe it?

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

There hasn't been an election there since before 1959. People want to see change. Hopefully, there will be change and hopefully the president will help that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Speaking of change, the Republican party is still hoping to change the trajectory of this race. Molly and Robert, you two cover this. The New York Times today claims it's a hundred-day campaign now to deny him. But you just heard, there is no strategy that they can unite around.

MOLLY BALL:

Well, and this whole thing has been a Keystone-Cops operation from the start. I mean, if there were a Republican establishment that had its stuff together and really wanted to make sure Donald Trump didn't get the nomination, the time would have been six months ago. Instead, they've been running around like chickens with their heads cut off, going in different directions.

Even now, this is not unified. And the chances of stopping him are very, very small. And as Donald Trump said, you know, he's gotten a lot of flak for saying, "Oh, there'll be riots." But I think it's true that you can't just say to his voters, this large so-far plurality of the Republican party that you don't count, and that we're not going to listen to you. Donald Trump doesn't go away if there's some kind of weird contested convention and they take it away from him.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Robert, the thing with all these anti-Trump strategies, none of them talk about how they're going to woo the Trump voter.

ROBERT COSTA:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

Forget Trump, but the Trump voter.

ROBERT COSTA:

I hope they can eventually bring the party together on the convention floor. I spent Thursday staking out this anti-Trump meeting, and every person who left the Army Navy Club seemed depressed. The downbeat because they had a presentation about a possible third-party bid.

And I realize logistically and financially, as much as they have all these different names they're considering, it's very difficult to do. And the other meeting that bothers them-- Monday at Jones Day, Trump's going to be meeting with some Republicans from Capitol Hill, some long-time party consultants. And there's a fear that as the more it moves closer to nomination, the more the party could rally behind him.

JOY-ANN REID:

But you heard them today--

CHUCK TODD:

It's all Ted Cruz, yeah.

JOY-ANN REID:

--in your interviews today with Republicans, what you heard was a capitulation to the idea that Donald Trump can lead their party and lead this country. Other than Governor Kasich, there is a complete capitulation that you're seeing in terms of the Republicans.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

You're talking relationship to Cruz, right? I mean, the relationship with Cruz has been so severed since the 2013 shutdown, that Cruz doesn't have the political capital he needs with the establishment to really get them to coalesce.

CHUCK TODD:

Hey, let me close quickly with the Supreme Court. Do you think we'll get hearings? Does anybody here think we'll get hearings?

JOY-ANN REID:

I'm very dubious. But I think that those eight very vulnerable, swing-state Republican senators are going to be in a world of hurt, particularly during this recess.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think we'll get hearings though?

ROBERT COSTA:

I think we're going to get meetings, hearings hard to say, because no one wants to get those conservatives, they need the conservatives to come out in a general election.

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

No way they're getting hearings. They're going to get some, I guess, meetings, but no way they're getting hearings.

CHUCK TODD:

Molly?

MOLLY BALL:

Yeah, Mitch McConnell's very determined. And when Mitch McConnell makes up his mind, I think it stays--

CHUCK TODD:

That is true. But Chuck Grassley, if a poll comes back and he's under 50 in his election. I think that's the one way that we could see--

JOSE DIAZ-BALART:

So you're saying that you could see him?

CHUCK TODD:

I think there's more of a chance for hearings than you realize, but it's in the hands of the political-- uh, what-- the political standing of Chuck Grassley in the next six weeks. We'll see if these work. Anyway, great panel, great discussions. That's all we have for this week. We'll be back next week after more primaries. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

***END OF TRANSCRIPT***