NBC NEWS - MEET THE PRESS
This Sunday, Trump, Putin, and Russia election interference. Rex Tillerson says President Trump pressed Vladimir Putin on Russian hacking, but that it's now in the past.
REX TILLERSON: Let's talk about how do we go forward.
CHUCK TODD: The Russians say the president accepted Putin's denial.
SERGEI LAVROV: And he accepts the things that Mr. Putin has said.
CHUCK TODD: So was it President Trump or Putin who got what he wanted out of their first meeting? My guests this morning: former C.I.A. director John Brennan and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. Plus North Korea's growing nuclear ambition.
VOICE OF SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: The alarming escalation with North Korea, a never before seen missile capable of hitting the U.S..
CHUCK TODD: Does the world have any good options to stop North Korea's nuclear program? Also, want to know why Republicans can't agree yet on replacing Obamacare? Just ask Senator Pat Toomey.
PAT TOOMEY: I didn't expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn't. So we didn't expect to be in this situation.
CHUCK TODD: They're in this situation now. Can the Republican repeal-and-replace plan be saved? Finally, will our political parties help mend our increasingly polarized society or are they part of the problem? I'll ask the two party leaders Democrat Tom Perez and Republican Ronna McDaniel in their first-ever joint appearance.
Joining me for insight and analysis are Robert Costa of The Washington Post, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review, and Ruth Marcus, columnist for The Washington Post. Welcome to Sunday, it's Meet the Press.
ANNOUNCER: From NBC News in Washington, the longest running show in television history, celebrating its 70th year, This is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.
CHUCK TODD: Good Sunday morning. To quote from the musical Hamilton, "No one else was in the room where it happened." The "it" in this case is Friday's meeting between President Trump and Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, which, after this photo op, took place behind closed doors, which is for the people present, including two translators.
The big question: how forcefully did President Trump press Putin on Russian interference in the election? The competing accounts from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and later, Mr. Putin, has done little to erase doubts about Mr. Trump's eagerness to pursue the issue. Neither did the fact that the U.S. side announced neither sanctions nor skepticism of Putin's ritual denial and insisted it was time to move on.
In fact, this morning, President Trump tweeted the following: "I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion. We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria, which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia."
Still at a time when the world is facing an unambiguous threat from North Korea's growing nuclear ambitions, it is President Trump's ambiguous relationship with America's chief adversary that has captured so much attention.
FEMALE REPORTER VOICE: Mr. President, did the Russians lie about your meeting yesterday?
CHUCK TODD: On Friday, President Trump finally met face to face with the Russian president, who orchestrated a series of cyber attacks to interfere with the U.S. election and boost Trump's campaign.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: It's an honor to be with you.
CHUCK TODD: Instead of hostility, the sit-down began with Putin, who kills and imprisons journalists, commiserating with Mr. Trump about the American press, saying, "These are the ones who insulted you?"
SECY. REX TILLERSON: There was -- a very clear, positive chemistry between the two.
CHUCK TODD: Because the meeting took place behind closed doors without a single Putin skeptic on the American side, we may never know to what degree Mr. Trump pressed Putin on Russian interference in the election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded nine months ago with high confidence that Russia interfered.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson argued the president pressed Putin on more than one occasion. But he also made it clear that Mr. Trump was eager to put election meddling in the rearview mirror.
SECY. REX TILLERSON: There was not a lot of re-litigating of the past.
CHUCK TODD: But Putin himself said President Trump accepted his assurances that Russia was not involved.
PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN: He asked me questions, I answered. I clarified. And I think that he was satisfied with my answers.
MATTHEW ROJANSKY: Fact that he didn't lay out an explicit, deterrent calculus that says, "Russia, this is what we know that you did. Here is the evidence that you did it. And oh, by the way, this is now going to be publicly reported because I, the president of the United States, have ordered it to be publicly reported. And here are the consequences for it." The fact is, we haven't heard that he did that.
CHUCK TODD: In fact, Tillerson says the U.S. and the Russians will form a working group on election interference. The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said, "That's akin to inviting the North Koreans to participate in a commission on non-proliferation." Far from pressing Putin in public, just 24 hours behind his meeting, Mr. Trump yet again questioned whether Russia was even behind the attacks on the United States."
PRESIDENT TRUMP: I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries. And I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows.
CHUCK TODD: And he attacked his own intelligence community on foreign soil.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: "Everybody was 100 percent sure that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Guess what? That led to one big mess."
CHUCK TODD: Joining me now is the former head of the C.I.A John Brennan. Mr. Brennan, welcome back to Meet the Press.
JOHN BRENNAN: Good morning, Chuck. Thanks for having me on.
CHUCK TODD: The president also tweeted a few other things this morning, specifically about the intel community. I want to start off by getting you to respond to these. He tweeted "Putin and I discussed forming an impenetrable cyber security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things will be guarded and safe. Questions were asked about why the C.I.A and F.B.I had to ask the DNC 13 times for their server and were rejected, still don't have it. Fake news said 17 intel agencies when actually 4, had to apologize. Why did Obama do nothing when he had info before the election? Alright, there's a lot to unpack in here but let’s start with, do you interpret this as President Trump taking the word of Vladimir Putin over the word of the--America's intelligence community?
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, it certainly indicates he doesn't take the word of the intelligence community and that's what he's been doing repeatedly, in terms of his public comments. Two days before the G20 summit, in Warsaw, he continued to question the intelligence community's high confidence assessment that Russia interfered in the election. He also raised questions about the integrity and capabilities of the US intelligence community. And so therefore, I seriously question whether or not Mr. Putin heard from Mr. Trump what he needed to about the assault on our democratic institutions of the election.
CHUCK TODD: You seemed particularly upset about him questioning the intelligence community on foreign soil. What's wrong--he brought up the Iraq WMD issue--what's wrong with him expressing public skepticism?
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, first of all, it shows that--I don't think he demonstrates good negotiating skills when it comes to Mr. Putin. Again, two days before in Warsaw, he gives Mr. Putin the opportunity to, to point to the failures of U.S. intelligence. To me, I think he ceded that ground. And also, right before he met with Mr. Putin and talked with him at some length, which I'm glad he did, he said it's an honor to meet President Putin. An honor to meet the individual who carried out the assault against our election? To me, it was a dishonorable thing to say.
CHUCK TODD: Let me unpack something else he said in here too. He says "questions were asked about why the C.I.A and F.B.I had to ask the DNC 13 times for their server and were rejected." It's new to me about the C.I.A--
JOHN BRENNAN: It's new to me as well. If the C.I.A would ever ask for something like that. We have no domestic intelligence authorities. That's what the F.B.I. does and Mr. Trump has pointed to the C.I.A. asking DNC and then Mr. Podesta. That is absolutely wrong.
CHUCK TODD: You know, one of the things you said in your hearing, and I want to go into this, is--you made a comment about treason. Let me play it here and then get you to explain it further on the other side.
JOHN BRENNAN: Frequently individuals who go along the treasonous path do not even realize they are along that path until it gets to be a bit too late.
CHUCK TODD: Alright, with so many stories about various meetings with Russians, there's a new one this morning about--and i think, i think the Trump campaign response essentially is they didn't know this Russian lawyer's background with the Kremlin, that it was unwitting. Is that what you're referring to? Was it meetings like that, of the information your folks collected at the C.I.A, that raised your suspicions?
JOHN BRENNAN: I will give the Russian intelligence services their due. They are capable and aggressive intelligence services. They will do whatever they can to be able to get information they need, in their view, for their national security. And so they'll interact with people and frequently play people and a lot of times individuals who are interacting with Russians, not even Russians, others that the Russian intelligence services are using, are being exploited for Russian intelligence purposes. So again, the process of committing treason against one's country frequently takes place in an unwitting fashion in the early stages.
CHUCK TODD: And what I'm curious about that, is when--what role do you believe the intelligence community should play when this first--when you first see it. If you see that there is somebody that could be compromised and they don't know it, do you go and warn these folks? Do you say hey, be careful with this relationship? Or do you--what is that line there? I mean, isn't there a point where you want to warn an American, hey, don't do business with them?
JOHN BRENNAN: It--there are a lot of unique circumstances that will determine how we proceed. If we believe that the Russians are seeking to exploit an individual, we will work with the FBI, making sure the FBI is aware of this. There may be other parts of this puzzle that we're unaware of. And so we have an obligation, because of our very important counter-intelligence responsibilities, to make sure the FBI is informed about all of these possibly suspicious counter-intelligence concerns that we have.
CHUCK TODD: When you were collecting this data, at the time, and you were raising alarm bells, we now know back in I believe it's June now of 2016, a little bit before, I think, the FBI was told, why did it seem--why is it, in hindsight, did it seem it took a while for the rest of the intelligence community to come around to your assessment?
JOHN BRENNAN: We were working very closely with the FBI, as well as with NSA. As you can understand, there are some very, very sensitive source and methods involved. And so we had to be particularly careful about how we handled this information, who we talked to. I went down and spoke to the officials at the white house, the president about it. I spoke to Jim Comey as well. And so, what we need to do is to make sure that, as an ongoing investigation is moving forward, we don't want to do anything at all that could compromise the ability of the bureau, as well as CIA and the rest of the intelligence community, to collect additional information. So it has to be handled very carefully.
CHUCK TODD: When, when, when it was finally exposed and you met with folks and there was a debate about what to do. Obviously there's been a tick-tock and one of the infamous quotes about there in the Washington Post tick-tock on what happened in the end of the Obama term. And this is what one anonymous Obama official said. "It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend, said a former senior Obama administration official involved in White House deliberations on Russia. I feel like we sort of choked." The idea is that enough wasn't done before the election, and I understand the political impact of that, but there's been complaints that enough wasn't done after the election. What do you say to that? Did you choke?
JOHN BRENNAN: That was a really brave comment by an anonymous source. They should be willing to say that on the record, first of all. No, I don't believe that the Obama administration choked. I think we can look at the actions that were taken prior to the election and after the election. I confronted my main Russian counterpart, and--on August 4th--and told him if you go down this road, it's going to have serious consequences, not only for the bilateral relationship, but for our ability to work with Russia on any issue, because it is an assault on our democracy. And, President Obama confronted President Putin in September. Jim Clapper and Jeh Johnson announced publicly in October about Russian efforts. So, after we did that, I wonder whether or not the Russians then took a step back and said wait a minute now, we're not gonna be as aggressive as we may have been otherwise.
CHUCK TODD: Did you see evidence of that?
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, I didn't see evidence that they continued to do some of the things that we were concerned about, such as manipulating election tallies and other types of things. They were mapping the architecture of a lot of the state systems. So they could have done more. They didn't do more. I don't know whether or not the things that we did vis-a-vie the Russians had a--an impact on them in terms of not pursuing it.
CHUCK TODD: Let me ask about the issue of leaks. Obviously the Trump administration believes the leak issue is tantamount to this that it, sort of, that the leaks are unfair. Number one, there's been some studies that there are more leaks coming out of this white house, this national security team then we've ever seen before. But some of it, according to the Trump administration, is coming from career folks. Some of it--they blame you for some of these leaks. First of all, how damaging are these leaks?
JOHN BRENNAN: Well, there are two different types of leaks. One type is revealing very sensitive classified information. They are appalling. They need to stop. They need to be investigated and people need to be held account. But then there are also leaks about conversations and internal white house intrigue. That is something that i think the white house is gonna have to get control of. But clearly, as you point out, I think there's a lot that's hemorrhaging out from this administration.
CHUCK TODD: How much of it is, and let me ask you your line. Is there information that's currently classified about this investigation that you think should be put into the public record that isn't yet?
JOHN BRENNAN: I am deferring to Bob Muller, who has impeccable credentials as far as doing this investigation in the best way possible, to determine exactly how the information related to this investigation should be coming out publicly. Any ongoing investigation, the bureau and those investigators, are going to be very careful about exposing information that could compromise their ability to gain additional information.
CHUCK TODD: You brought up the Special Counsel Bob Mueller. Have you been interviewed by him yet?
JOHN BRENNAN: No, I have not.
CHUCK TODD: Are you going to be? Is it on the schedule?
JOHN BRENNAN: I don't know. I haven't been contacted.
CHUCK TODD: All right. John Brennan, I'm going to leave it there. Appreciate you coming on.
JOHN BRENNAN: Okay. Thank you, Chuck.
CHUCK TODD: Thanks for your time.
JOHN BRENNAN: Thank you.
CHUCK TODD: Joining me now is Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator Graham, welcome back to the show, sir.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Good morning.
CHUCK TODD: Well, let me start with Russia and the president and this cyber-security statement he put out there. He wants to work with Vladimir Putin, claiming that this cyber-security unit will prevent future “election hacking & many other negative things, will be guarded.” What say you sir?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close. He gave a really good speech in Poland, President Trump did, and he had what I think is a disastrous meeting with President Putin. Two hours and fifteen minutes of meetings; Tillerson and Trump are ready to forgive and forget when it comes to cyber-attacks on the American election of 2016. Nobody’s saying, Mr. President, the Russians changed the outcome. You won fair and square. But they did try to attack our election system. They were successful in many ways and the more you do this, the more people are suspicious about you and Russia. He’s got a great national security team around him. He’s doing a good job in Afghanistan, North Korea and ISIL. But when it comes to Russia, he’s got a blind spot. And to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyber-attacks is to empower Putin and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
CHUCK TODD: Well, here we are, though, you have said similar things before. Other republicans have had similar things before that he only invokes more suspicious. What he did this morning – is he putting more faith in Putin’s word than in the word of the American Intel community?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I wouldn’t look at it that way. He seems to be willing to forgive and forget Putin. Even if he brought it up, he’s not willing to do anything about it. So it makes me more committed than ever to get sanctions on President Trump’s desk punishing Putin. There’s only one person in Washington - that I know of - that has any doubt about what Russia did in our election, and it’s President Trump. And I hate that because I really like what he’s doing regarding North Korea, putting them on notice about no missile will ever be used to hit America. I like what he’s doing in Afghanistan. He took on Assad. He’s got a good plan regarding ISIL. But when it comes to Russia, I am dumbfounded, I am disappointed and, at the end of the day, he’s hurting his presidency by not embracing the fact that Putin’s a bad guy who tried to undercut our democracy and he’s doing it all over the world.
CHUCK TODD: You know, one of the things that the president said is sanctions did not come up and it wouldn’t come up until Ukraine and Syria problems are solved. How do you take that tweet? Do you take that as a positive sign that he doesn’t want to lift sanctions or do you take that as a negative sign that he doesn’t want to put new ones on?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I take it as a positive sign he doesn't want to lift sanctions against Russia for dismembering the Ukraine. I take all the other tweets as a blind spot about Russia. He needs to sit down with his F.B.I. director, his C.I.A. director, the N.S.A. and the D.N.I., all people he's appointed. And they will tell him, if he will listen, that the Russians did it, and they're still involved in our election process.
I worry about what they're going to do in Germany in September and what they'll do in 2018. He is literally the only person I know of who has any doubt about where Russia attacked our election in 2016. And it didn't change the outcome. It creates suspicion. There is no evidence of collusion that I've seen.
But the more he talks about this in terms of not being sure, the more he throws our intelligence communities under the bus, the more he's willing to forgive and forget Putin, the more suspicion. And I think it's going to dog his presidency until he breaks this cycle.
CHUCK TODD: Is there a point where it makes it harder to do other business with him if he continues to do this, as far as you're concerned?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I may be the test case of that, because I really do believe he's come up with the right strategy in Afghanistan. He's empowering the military. He's got the right attitude about ISIL. He's trying to rally the world to fight ISIL.
And when it comes to North Korea, he's told me to my face, "Lindsey, I will not let them have a missile to hit our homeland." Kim Jong-un doesn't want a nuclear weapon. He's already got one. He wants a missile to hit America. And President Trump told me to my face, "I will never let that happen."
And the only thing between war between the United States and North Korea over this missile program is China. He understands the world pretty damn well except for Russia. Mr. President, you're hurting your ability to govern this nation by forgiving and forgetting and empowering, forgiving and forgetting when it comes to Russia, and actually empowering a nemesis of democracy, Putin. I just don't get it.
CHUCK TODD: Look, you have talked about this new Russian sanctions bill that passed through the Senate, 98 to two. It is now in the House. Some say it's—
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Right.
CHUCK TODD: --being stalled in the House. There's been reports Trump administration's trying to water down the sanctions. You have said, "If he doesn't pass the Senate version, if he doesn't sign that bill," you called it, "He said he will be betraying the democracy." Is that your red line for working with President Trump?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: At the end of the day, the House needs to pass a bill. If you don't like our bill word for word, you can change it. But I'm not going to gut the bill. I am intent on punishing the Russians for interfering in our election. They did it in France. They're going to do it in Germany. They're doing it all over the world. They're doing it in the Baltics, Balkan states, their neighbors.
So I want a clear message to Russia that, "You'll pay a price for undercutting democracy." And if President Trump doesn't embrace this, I think he will be empowering the Russians and betraying democracy. I can't say it any clearer than that. His speech in Poland was terrific, that we, as a nation, are more secure when you have European democracies working jointly with us, that civilization needs to push back against ISIL, that Russia needs to stop. The speech was great, but this whole idea about moving forward without punishing Russia is undercutting his entire presidency.
CHUCK TODD: I've got to ask you all, the deal with Syria, between Russia and the United States and the ceasefire. We've been through these ceasefires before. But the secretary of state seemed to imply that, "You know what? Maybe they've got the right approach and we've got the wrong approach when it comes to Syria." I'm curious what you thought of that comment from the secretary of state.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I was just dismayed. I like Secretary Tillerson. But I just got back from Afghanistan. We have a good military strategy to turn the war around. We're going to be more aggressive against Taliban and international terrorists. But on the Department of State front, there was no focus and no resources.
We don't have an ambassador in Afghanistan. We don't have one in Pakistan. There is no effort on Tillerson's part to be part of the team to turn around Afghanistan. And his statements about Syria really disturbed me. No, Putin does not have it right when it comes to Syria. And this ceasefire is going to help Assad.
There'll never be an end to this war as long as Assad's in power. So we're empowering the Russians in Syria. This is a comp-- Secretary Tillerson needs to staff up the State Department and use it wisely. They're completely AWOL when it comes to their part of the strategy in Afghanistan. I'm so worried about the State Department.
CHUCK TODD: All right. Before I let you go, health care on the domestic front. Are you ready to support this bill? And be realistic here, is there even a vote on health care in the next two weeks in the U.S. Senate?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I think this bill is better than Obamacare. In South Carolina, we're down to one exchange. 70 percent of the counties in the nation only have one exchange. Obamacare is failing. Whether or not we can come together, I don't know. Mitch is trying. I would support the proposal before us.
But you got different camps in the Republican Party. But Obamacare is going to fail. My advice is, if it does fail, work together in a bipartisan fashion to replace it. I don't know what the outcome will be.
CHUCK TODD: All right.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: But Mitch is trying really hard.
CHUCK TODD: Senator Graham, I'll leave it there. Only you--
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Thank you.
CHUCK TODD: --are willing to spend your birthday with us on Sunday morning. Happy birthday, Senator.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:Thank you. I can get a reverse mortgage now.
CHUCK TODD: Very nice. Okay. When we come back, more on that Trump-Putin meeting, and then that North Korean test of a missile that could now reach the United States. Are there any good options for the U.S. to stop North Korea's nuclear ambitions?
Welcome back. Panel is here. Robert Costa who, among other things, is the new host of Washington Week on PBS, NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, Ruth Marcus, the deputy editorial page editor and columnist for The Washington Post, and Rich Lowry, editor of The National Review. Welcome all.
Whether we know what the White House wants to push or not, Rick Lowry, President Trump made it clear this morning he wants to make sure we're all talking about Russia and Putin. And it always is a head scratcher to me. The news isn't good. He just had Lindsey Graham, a Republican Senator who, look, he's an on again, off again supporter and critic. But he was in full critic mode because of the President's tweets.
Yeah. I think what's going on here is the president believes, not unreasonably, that a lot of the focus on the Russian narrative is from people who want to undercut him and undermine the legitimacy of his election. And this is a guy who never makes a concession against interest. So he's just not going to give in to that. The problem is now he's in a position where that position has him implicitly accepting the bald-face lies that Vladimir Putin told him in this one on one meeting.
Marco Rubio tweeted this morning, Ruth Marcus. "Partnering with Putin on a cyber security unit is akin to partnering with Assad on a chemical weapons unit." Again, it's one thing that he's getting a lot of criticism from Democrats. When he does this, there's a whole slew of Republicans that just don't have the stomach for the Putin stuff.
Nor should they. I mean this is really outrageous. And let's go through it. First of all, we were on tenterhooks about whether he would even bring this up. So let's not define presidential responsibility down. He needed to bring this up. But he also clearly needed to bring it up in a way much more forceful than as what he has described himself as doing. My opinion is known. Well what do we know about his opinion? What we know is that he says that nobody really knows for sure. That is as Lindsey Graham says empowering and it is in fact I’m going to use Director Brendon’s words dishonorable. That he is not standing up really for the assault on American democracy.
KRISTEN WELKER: When you talk to Republicans and Democrats, but one of the things that infuriates them, concerns them about the meeting, is that President Trump said he was honored to meet Vladimir Putin, the optics of it. They feel like it was too chummy.
And the question now becomes what is going to happen? Is the White House considering lifting sanctions? Are they considering restoring those diplomatic posts? I spoke to a senior administration official who said that it didn't come up during the meeting, that Putin didn't raise it. But that is one of the things that Republicans and Democrats alike are quite concerned about, moving forward.
CHUCK TODD: Let's talk about, Robert, the fact is there are policy consequences to this deal with Russia. Steve Hayes, editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote this: "Trump caves to Putin. A framework for understanding not consequences, not sanctions, not even the threat of retaliation from the United States? There's no need for a framework of understanding. Vladimir Putin understands what this diplo-feculence means. "The Trump administration will not punish him in any way for his aggressive attempts to interfere in the 2016 election." And yes, by the way, feculence means what you think it means. But also, in the deal with Syria, Russia got its way on Syria. Russia's getting its way on the Russia investigation in this country.
ROBERT COSTA: As Kristen said, there's a consensus within both parties that Putin is bad and that there's a hawkish view on Russia in both parties. But you're really seeing, inside of the West Wing right now, a re-imagination of U.S.-Russia relations. Trump actually considers Russia to be part of the West. And he wants to build new policy with them.
And it's just so striking and alarm, especially Republicans, in this post-Cold War mentality, to have that kind of approach to Russia. But that's truly Trump's aim, not just a tweet, but to build a new kind of relationship with Russia.
CHUCK TODD: If he doesn't meet with Putin, Rick Lowry, and he doesn't tweet this morning about Russia, there's a lot of talk that says, "Hey, he was saying tough words against Russia--
RICH LOWRY: Right.
CHUCK TODD: --in the Warsaw speech."
RICH LOWRY: Right.
CHUCK TODD: The printed word, the written word, the official speech, there's one policy. And then Donald Trump tweets.
RICH LOWRY: Right. The Warsaw speech was easily the best speech of his presidency. I believe it was brilliantly conceived, very well written a moving narrative about Polish history, and also, moving defense of Western civilization and values. The irony is, for this guy that's supposed to be a radical disruptor, the Syria policy is a direct steal from the Obama administration, which was obsessed with the idea that he could cut a deal with Russia, somehow that would serve our interests in Syria. It failed with Obama, and I believe it'll fail with President Trump, as well.
RUTH MARCUS: Well, there's teleprompter Trump, and we could disagree somewhat about the impact of the speech and the message that was sent. Because I think there were good messages there. For example, to reaffirm Article Five of N.A.T.O.. But there were--
CHUCK TODD: for the eastern European--
RUTH MARCUS: Yes.
CHUCK TODD: --countries that are wary of Putin.
RUTH MARCUS: But there was also a kind of insular, "only we in the West understand how to do these things correctly," and talking about radical Islam, which he hadn't raised before. But leaving that aside, teleprompter Trump is one thing. And that's fine. And it's important what you say when you're reading a prepared speech. But we know who the real Trump is, and that's Tweet Trump and press conference, on-the-rare-occasions-when-he-answers-questions Trump.
ROBERT COSTA: And it was not just Russia at the G20. I mean you saw America isolated at the G20 on climate change, on trade. He was so against the West in the usual way of America going about those policies.
CHUCK TODD: But Kristen, they seem to be-- the first European trip, they were taken aback by the criticism.
KRISTEN WELKER: Right.
CHUCK TODD: This one, he was sort of like, "Yeah, I'm the bad guy, I'm wearing the black hat. Come on, bring it on."
KRISTEN WELKER: Right. Well, and they feel, the White House feels as though it was a success because, look, they say he was leading in a number of areas like fighting ISIS. But as you point out, Robert, you're absolutely right, the United States seemed isolated on a whole host of issues from the environment to trade.
When you talk about Teleprompter Trump, though, versus Press Conference Trump, remember, he undercut the message of that speech in Poland, the very next day, by essentially questioned whether Russia stood alone in trying to meddle in the U.S. election. So a lot of competing messages, I think, that he was sending out--
ROBERT COSTA: White House doesn't even see a cost. They don't see a cost to going against Senator Rubio and Senator Graham. That view of Russia, they feel like they beat.
RUTH MARCUS: Well, that might not be a cost. But who wins in this showdown? Who is empowered, Putin or Trump? I think the answer is clearly Putin.
CHUCK TODD: Anybody think Putin didn't get the better end of this deal?
RICH LOWRY: Yeah. I mean Putin goes into the meeting with a clear sense of what he wants to get, and mostly gets it.
CHUCK TODD: Yeah. Well, and that's the big conclusion, I think, for a lot of people. All right. We're going to take a pause here. When we come back, I'm going to be joined by the Democrat and Republican Party leaders. I'm going to ask them what happens if you throw a political party and nobody shows.
CHUCK TODD: Welcome back, if it seems there's not enough open dialogue between members of our two political parties, you’re right, there isn’t. But, dating back to the sixties, ‘Meet the Press’ has been a place where some of those conversations have taken place by having the chairs of the DNC and RNC on the show together. Today, the parties are losing ground to their activist wings, chasing after the very voters they’re supposed to lead. And, joining me now in their first joint appearance since starting their new jobs, DNC Tom Perez, RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel—welcome.
TOM PEREZ: Great to be here
RONNA MCDANIEL: Great to be here, it’s our first time meeting each other
CHUCK TODD: Is that right?
RONNA MCDANIEL: Yeah.
CHUCK TODD: Well, see we can broker a case right here
RONNA MCDANIEL: I gave him a Detroit Tigers cap.
TOM PEREZ: That’s right.
CHUCK TODD: I want to start with this, and it goes to this issue of why people are so angry. Pew Research, in the spring of last year said, and the question of whether, “does the other political party make me afraid?”—55 percent of Democrats said that about Republicans, and, 49 percent of Republicans said about this.
I don’t think things have gotten better since this poll was done. Why do you think Republicans are afraid of Democrats? And same question to you, and I’ll let you start.
RONNA MCDANIEL: I’m not afraid of Democrats, and as Michigan char especially this election, we had a lot of Democrat crossover for President Trump. Union Democrats, people who hadn’t traditionally voted Republican. I think we do have to have more of a dialogue, talk about our differences in a respectful way. Sometimes it gets elevated too much. But, we have Democrats in our family. I have Democrats in my family, I’m sure—I hope you have Republicans in your family. But, I think that’s part of our job as leaders—it’s to tone down rhetoric and have a discussion about ideas.
CHUCK TODD: Why do you think we’ve gotten to this point.
TOM PEREZ: Well, I think we need to lead with our values, Chuck. And, health care is a right for all, not a privilege for a few. We are the party of opportunity for everyone, not just opportunity for a few at the top. And, I think when we lead with our values we can command the respect and support of the majority of the American people. Because, I think people want a good job for everyone, they want secure retirement, they want health care, they want a roof over their head. Those are not just Democratic values, those are American values.
CHUCK TODD: It’s interesting you bring up values though, because I had, it was funny, our pollsters said that they were doing a focus group and it was one of those focus groups that had a third, a third, a third—Dems, R’s, Indies—and said what is a common American value, what is a value that you think both parties would share—a shared American value, and the room went silent. The room went silent. There is this belief that somehow Democrats and Republicans don’t share any common values anymore. How did we get to that point? That’s what I’m trying to get at. Go ahead.
RONNA MCDANIEL: I think we do share common values.
CHUCK TODD: What is it? Give me one.
RONNA MCDANIEL: We want better jobs for people, we want better wages. Listen, the Republican party is not the party for the wealthy. We care about everyone. I think there is a different way to get to those things. I just disagree with their path. I don’t think bigger government is the way to get things better. I don’t think a failing Obamacare that’s collapsing, and insurers are pulling out of the marketplace is the right way to do it. I do think we’d be better having a dialogue, talking about our different paths and how we get to the same solution. But, I think everybody wants a better life for our kids, better jobs, better wages, better economy, national security and a strong country.
TOM PEREZ: Well, I think the debate on the Trumpcare bill is a perfect example of our differences. WE believe as democrats that health care is a right for all, not a privilege for a few. And, the Affordable Care Act cut the ranks of the uninsured by almost 50 percent. Was it perfect? No. And the North Star for us is are we helping people get access to quality, affordable health care. Can we do better? The challenge that we have now is that the Trumpcare is not a health care bill, it’s a tax cut for very wealthy people and it really exposes this fissure.
CHUCK TODD: Let me follow up--
RONNA MCDANIEL: Let me step in really quick, because if you’re concerned about health. I think health insurance is one thing, but right now you have health insurance costs that are doubling, you have deductibles that are so high and you have insurers pulling out of the market place. But, that’s not health care. Okay? So, Obamacare didn’t get people health care, it got them higher and higher health insurance that they can’t access health care with. And, so we have to find a way. And, you know what, Republicans are sitting at the table and we’re saying “Democrats come over, talk with us. You put this in place, be part of the solution, it’s failing.”
CHUCK TODD: Alright, let me let you respond to that.
TOM PEREZ: Chuck, I mean this is really important. The Affordable Care Act saved lives. I spoke to people; I get approached by people every day. My son is on the autism spectrum, and if I lose the coverage under
Medicaid, I’m going to have to institutionalize him. We talk about the opioid epidemic, and roughly a third of the coverage for opioid victims is through Medicaid. And, they want to change Medicaid as we know it. This week, or so, you’ll see a bill to add $45 billion to combat opioid abuse. That’s like taking a dollar away, and then saying I’ll give you 20 cents back. That’s not going to help people. That’s like going to a five alarm fire, Chuck.
RONNA MCDANIEL: The Affordable Care Act was not affordable. The Affordable Care Act is not affordable. Premiums have gone up 105-percent.
CHUCK TODD: I have no doubt that the two of you disagree on the direction to go to Obamacare.
RONNA MCDANIEL: Tell me that it’s doing well. Our marketplaces, insurers are pulling out of the marketplaces. Are there 49 counties that won’t have an insurer next year? Are there 40-percent of the counties that will have only one? Are premiums doubling? It’s failing.
TOM PEREZ: Talk to the person who has been confronting the opioid epidemic, and the Affordable Care Act has helped them get access to care
RONNA MCDANIEL: And we’re trying to find solutions to keep that in place.
CHUCK TODD: I want to pause the health care debate here a minute. Because, I know where you guys are on this, but I want to ask a larger question here that has to do with this fight a little bit. There’s a lot of people that are in the middle on this—okay. They hear a little bit from you and think yeah, this is a little too expensive. And, they hear what you have to say and think you know what this is a right. We need to figure this out. But, they feel as if the two parties don’t give them an opportunity to be, sort of, center-left or center-right, whether it’s on this solution or that. Do you accept this premise that both of your parties are captured by the bases right now? I’ll let you answer it on this one.
TOM PEREZ: No I don’t, and here’s—Chuck, again, let’s talk about the access to health care. I believe, again, that access to health care is a right for all and not a privilege for a few. When we debated the Affordable Care Act in 2009 in the Senate, there were 100 hearings in the Senate. There were 143 amendments to the final Senate bill, that were republican amendments. If this hadn’t been done in secret, as the recent bill had been done, we could’ve come together. Chuck Schumer has said, ‘President Trump, convene us the way that President Obama did,’ because I’m confident that we can come together if our North Star is, we’re going to help increase access to quality, affordable health care.
RONNA McDANIEL:Then where are you? Then where are you right now? Their democrats are sitting on their hands. They’re watching this thing that they’ve crafted collapse and they’re saying, ‘we’re not coming to the table,’ but I’ll…
CHUCK TODD: But answer my question...
RONNA McDANIEL: to answer your question, I…
CHUCK TODD: Like, the centrists don’t feel welcome in either party right now.
RONNA McDANIEL: With all due respect, when Tom’s saying republicans don’t give a blank about anyone, when he goes around and says that about the other party, I know democrats care about other people. We just have a difference of opinion on the path to get there, but that type of rhetoric doesn’t bring people to our party. We have to have reasonable discussions. Have a dialogue, be respectful of each other. But, share our opinions of what the best path is to get to the same place we both wanna go, which is a better life for our kids, for our grandkids.
CHUCK TODD: She brought up a line that you said, that you were quoted as saying. Do you regret saying that?
TOM PEREZ: Chuck here’s the problem. I meet people who are worried to death because this republican repeal bill is not a health care bill. It’s a tax cut bill for the mega-wealthy, masquerading as a health care bill.
RONNA McDANIEL: That’s a broad statement, to say Republicans don’t give a blank about you.
TOM PEREZ: Well, 200,000
RONNA MCDANIEL: That's a big statement.
TOM PEREZ: People will die if the Affordable Care Act...
RONNA MCDANIEL: And that rhetoric's over the top again.
TOM PEREZ: ...is repealed.
RONNA MCDANIEL: --rhetoric over the top.
TOM PEREZ: But that-- don't take my word for it. These are the assessments of people who have looked at the bill. 22 million people are going to lose their lifeline.
RONNA MCDANIEL: I'm always happy to have a discussion.
TOM PEREZ: You know? The opioid epidemic--
CHUCK TODD: Well, I think we now--
TOM PEREZ: --is very real.
CHUCK TODD: All right. No, no, no. And I--
TOM PEREZ: It's a five-alarm fire. And you don't fight a five-alarm fire--
RONNA MCDANIEL: And we're the only ones fighting it right now.
TOM PEREZ: --with only a gallon of gas.
RONNA MCDANIEL: We love for you to be part of it with us.
TOM PEREZ: And that's what they're trying to do.
RONNA MCDANIEL: We're the only ones manning the station.
TOM PEREZ: That's the problem, Chuck.
CHUCK TODD: Alright. I'm going to end the conversation here. The debate will continue, I know, this week and far beyond. Thank you for both appearing.
RONNA MCDANIEL: Thank you.
CHUCK TODD: And being very spirited--
TOM PEREZ: Been a pleasure to be here.
RONNA MCDANIEL: Appreciate it.
CHUCK TODD: Appreciate it, both. Okay. When we come back, the growing divide in America over trust in the media. We're going to keep talking about divides. We have some new numbers unlike anything we've seen before.
CHUCK TODD: And we are back. Data Download time. So what are the consequences of a president who calls the media the opposition party? Not surprisingly that depends on whom you ask and what their politics are.
The Pew Research Center asks about the watchdog role of the media every year. Does criticism from the news media keep political leaders from doing things that shouldn't be done or does it keep political leaders from doing their jobs. This year overall 70 percent of respondents said the news media prevents politicians from doing things that should not be done. That’s an encouraging sign for those of us in the press. While 28 percent think the media prevents politicians from doing their jobs.
Age, education, and geography all shape how folks answered this question. Those that are 18 to 29 are ten points more likely than those 65 and older to support the media’s watchdog role. Big difference between young and old. And those with a college degree or more are also ten points more likely than those with a high school education or less to feel the same way. Urban residents are eleven points more likely than rural residents to say the media keeps politicians from doing things they should not be doing.
But despite these differences, overall a majority of every single demographic group polled supports the idea of the media as a check on political leaders: older Americans and younger Americans, men and women, all income levels, urban and rural Americans, except one. Only 42 percent of Republicans say the media prevents political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done, while a majority of Republicans, 56 percent, says the media keeps politicians from doing their jobs. Compare that to 89 percent of Democrats who support the news media’s watchdog role.
Now, to be sure, the two parties usually flip on this question depending on which party is in the White House. Not surprising there. But the split between Democrats and Republicans in 2017 is the sharpest divide Pew has ever measured on this question since they started it in 1985.
Look, arguably, President Trump has played a role in this divide citing media reports as fake news. But in the end, this is yet another sign of how increasingly polarized, we’ve become.
When we come back, the real reason the Republican health care bill is in so much trouble.
CHUCK TODD: Back now with the panel. You just heard a lot about health care in that last segment there with the two party chairs. By the way, speaking of health care, here's what Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said this week about why Republicans are having so much trouble agreeing on a health care bill.
SENATOR PAT TOOMEY: You've seen how difficult it is to get a Republican consensus. Until the election last fall, which surprised me, let me just be very clear, I didn't expect Donald Trump to win. I think most of my colleagues didn't. So we didn't expect to be in this situation. And given how difficult it is to get to a consensus, it was hard to force that.
CHUCK TODD: Talking points there from Senator Toomey, huh, Robert Costa?
ROBERT COSTA: The senators I speak to on Capitol Hill privately, many of them really don't want to move forward with this legislation. They know it's unpopular. And they would like to see Democrats shoulder the blame for some of the problems with the Affordable Care Act.
And they know that Democrats would love to run against the Republicans in 2018 on this health care bill. So there's a real reluctance if they can't figure out how to get the moderates together on Medicaid and the conservatives together on the regulation, maybe just shelve it and maybe force the Democrats to come to the table.
CHUCK TODD: Rich, what will the base do if they punt this? My gut is they punt. How will the base react to that?
RICH LOWRY: If they punt and then prop up Obamacare, it will be really ugly. And the structural problem they have on this issue is there's a faction of the Republican Party that really, at the end of the day, doesn't want to repeal Obamacare.
CHUCK TODD: Right.
RICH LOWRY: And there's a faction of the Republican Party, at the end of the day, that doesn't want to replace Obamacare. So therefore, if you try to repeal and replace it, (CHUCKLE) it's gonna be extremely difficult. And that's what Mitch McConnell's dealing with right now.
RUTH MARCUS: It's going to be really ugly for Republicans, almost no matter what happens. Right? Having this unexpected, as Senator Toomey told us, opportunity to actually govern, and they fail to govern, the base would, who has been promised for seven years now, that it's going to be ripped out root and branch, is going to have a beef. And they can't say, "Well, Obamacare is failing," which is not actually accurate. But they're doing their best to make it fail.
CHUCK TODD: We have a real--
RUTH MARCUS: If they don't--
CHUCK TODD: We do have a real problem--
RUTH MARCUS: If they don't--
CHUCK TODD: --that they have to solve.
KRISTEN WELKER: Right.
RUTH MARCUS: --do something, they can't not take steps to prop it up.
KRISTEN WELKER: I think what--
RUTH MARCUS: That becomes a big problem.
KRISTEN WELKER: I think what's been striking, based on my conversations with people at the White House and on Capitol Hill, is that they have two completely different versions of a plan B. You have people at the White House saying, "If this doesn't pass, we do want to just do repeal and then replace several years down the line." That's what the president tweeted several days ago.
Folks on Capitol Hill say that's not realistic. That ship has sailed. We are going to have to work with Democrats to try to stabilize the markets, what Mitch McConnell said. So if, in fact, this fails, I think there's a lot of gray area about how you move forward.
ROBERT COSTA: When we talk about whether the Republican base is really going to care if this bill isn't passed, I'm not so sure. This has become a grievance party, a party that chants "fake news." The idea that the base, this conservative base, really needs to have repeal and replace, I don't see it when I'm out on the road.
KRISTEN WELKER: The White House thinks they do. And I think that's why they are--
CHUCK TODD: Hey, let me--
KRISTEN WELKER: --so focused on making sure there's a repeal.
CHUCK TODD: --shift this discussion slightly. Because I had the two chairs on together. And it was something that Meet the Press has done that's a tradition. And we know the parties are polarized. I think we got an example of it there. (CHUCKLE) I mean they're still talking past each other.
RICH LOWRY: Yeah. What I think is most poisonous in our politics now, it's not necessarily partisan conflict. We've always had a version of that throughout our history. It's the distrust in our governing institutions. It's the word, "Rigged," which now both parties are invested in. I think that is the worst word in American public culture.
RUTH MARCUS: Well, one of the things that I thought was striking from Ronna McDaniel was talking about how Democrats had failed, somehow, to come to the table, as if they had been invited to the table, as if Republican Senators and Republican House members hadn't been crafting all of this behind closed doors with zero interest in bringing on Democrats. And I thought that one of the telling moments this week, in addition to Senator Toomey, was Senator McConnell essentially repeating his threat, which is--
CHUCK TODD: Right.
RUTH MARCUS: --"If you guys don't get in line, you know what you're going to end up with? Bipartisan--
RICH LOWRY: --as a threat. They mean it as a threat.
RUTH MARCUS: It is. That's how--
ROBERT COSTA: --moved into that conversation?
RUTH MARCUS: That tells us everything you need to know.
ROBERT COSTA: --about the party chairman? How relevant, really, are the parties? The president of the United States is a non-ideological former Democrat.
CHUCK TODD: Right.
ROBERT COSTA: And the most popular person on the left is an independent senator named Bernie Sanders.
CHUCK TODD: No, it was-- had I gotten away from-- had I been able to get in a word in edgewise, it was among my (CHUCKLE) questions for them was the relevancy of them. Are they nothing more than just check cashing machines or a credit line when a presidential campaign needs them?
KRISTEN WELKER: They couldn't move off of their talking points. And I think it underscores how complicated it would be if, in fact, they had to try to work together to stabilize the markets. And by the way, Republicans are up against some tough deadlines, including the debt limit, which has to be raised.
CHUCK TODD: And that's the most important thing I got out of here. The base will not tolerate bipartisanship right now in any party.
KRISTEN WELKER: Yeah.
CHUCK TODD: (CLAP) Alright, we're back in a moment with Endgame. And a member of the Oceans 11 team, who is speaking to Justice Kennedy about his future career. And no, it's not George Clooney.
CHUCK TODD: Back now with Endgame. There were a lot of interesting op-eds in all the newspapers this morning. But one sort of caught my eye. And I sort of had to shake my head. Headline: "Carl Reiner, 'Justice Kennedy, don't retire.'" Yes, that Carl Reiner.
He writes this, this morning: "When I turned 81, I had finished Oceans 11 and was gearing up for Oceans 12 while also writing another book, which led me to a cross-country book tour. I know what it means to be your age. I know the problems that come with the journey. But these are not ordinary times, and you, sir, are anything but an ordinary man." By the way, Carl Reiner's now 95. Okay? And Oceans 11 came out in 2001.
RUTH MARCUS: Better put him on the Supreme Court.
CHUCK TODD: How 'bout that?
RUTH MARCUS: I've written two columns beseeching Justice Kennedy not to retire. I cede the field to Carl Reiner. It was a great piece. But he has-- there actually a point that could really resonate with Justice Kennedy which is that justices watched Sandra Day O'Connor retire to help her husband who was sick.
CHUCK TODD: Yeah.
RUTH MARCUS: And it's said that she regretted it, and that she left too soon. So his point, "You've got a lot of good years ahead of you," could really resonate.
CHUCK TODD: Rich, the fact is, if we don't get this retirement soon, it isn't going to happen this year. I mean justices are mindful of the political calendar. You don't do this in election years.
RICH LOWRY: Everyone on the--
RICH LOWRY: Everyone on the right is hoping he retires. There are a lot of great things he can do, cross-country trips, barbecuing.
CHUCK TODD: Carl Reiner says--
RICH LOWRY: Kick back.
CHUCK TODD: Yeah. That's for the birds.
RICH LOWRY: Because if Trump got a second pick, it would really-- almost that would cement his domestic legacy for conservatives.
CHUCK TODD: Alright.
ROBERT COSTA: I mean the biggest mess, I mean the biggest political fight.
CHUCK TODD: Oh, really? It's bigger mess than we've had now?
ROBERT COSTA: I mean you think Gorsich was tough? This would be political war to end political war.
CHUCK TODD: Alright. I have to leave it there. That's all we have for today. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.
ANNOUNCER: You can see more Endgame in Postgame on the MTP Facebook page.
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