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Meet the Press - April 16, 2017

NBC News - Meet The Press

"04.16.17"

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:This Sunday, President Trump, then and now. Then, on NATO.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:It’s obsolete and we’re paying too much money. Okay, that’s my instincts.

CHUCK TODD:And now.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.

CHUCK TODD:

Then, on Syria.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

So if we did nothing, if we did absolutely nothing, we’d be in great shape.

CHUCK TODD:And now.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria.

CHUCK TODD:Then, on China.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I will direct my secretary of the treasury to label China a currency manipulator.

CHUCK TODD:And now, the president says they’re not currency manipulators. Do these shifts represent a change in mood or a change in strategy? I’ll talk to two leaders of the Senate armed services committee, Republican John McCain and Democrat Jack Reed. Plus how the Trump administration plans to get tougher on illegal immigration.

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

It is fair to say that the definition of criminal has not changed, but where on the spectrum of criminality we operate has changed.

CHUCK TODD:

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is with us. And politics and the pulpit.

BISHOP TD JAKES:

You cannot understand faith movements if you don’t understand that the Bible is our constitution.

CHUCK TODD:On this Easter Sunday, we bring together three religious leaders and ask can we really separate religion and politics? Joining me for insight and analysis are Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, Mark Leibovich of the New York Times, former Republican Senator John Sununu, and Heather McGhee of Demos Action. 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.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning and a happy Easter to those of you celebrating. We’ve got a lot of politics to get to. But first, the growing tension between the United States and North Korea. North Korea last night launched a ballistic missile from its submarine base in Sinpo, but the missile exploded just moments after launch. This comes as Vice President Mike Pence landed in South Korea this morning for talks on how to counter the north’s growing nuclear ambitions and he spoke to American troops at a breakfast there this morning.

I’m joined now by NBC News senior national security analyst Juan Zarate, former deputy national security adviser during the Bush years. And Juan, the failure-- the New York Times this morning leans hard into the idea that the failure wasn’t necessarily a North Korean failure but maybe sabotage and possibly sabotage from the United States. What can you say?

JUAN ZARATE:

Well this is a missile program that’s been replete with failures. And the challenge is we don’t know yet. It could be sabotage. It could be poor engineering, just bad luck, the nature of these missile programs. But it’s clear that U.S. policy has always been to try to do everything possible, Chuck, to slow or to even stop the development of both the missile and nuclear programs, whether it’s the use of sanctions, potentially sabotage, and even diplomacy.

CHUCK TODD:

And we know from previous reporting this was successfully done with Iran’s nuclear programs, so it would be easy to assume they would try it.

JUAN ZARATE:

Well I think there’s a playbook here.

CHUCK TODD:Yes.

JUAN ZARATE:

The U.S. has it, they can use asymmetric tools, sanctions, and other things to try to affect their behavior.

CHUCK TODD:Before the test was this show of military force by North Korea, this parade, very elaborate. It seemed to be a concern to those that follow the North Korean regime that he has acquired some new missile technology. How real is it?

JUAN ZARATE:

Well the regime’s clearly trying to demonstrate its capabilities, its intent to build those missile capabilities and what you saw were new models potentially of intercontinental ballistic missiles. This is a regime that has declared its intent to find a way of putting a nuclear capability on a missile that can strike the United States. That was part of the show and the parade through Pyongyang.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Juan Zarate, I’m going to leave it there but it’s a topic we’re actually going to keep discussing in a few minutes. Meanwhile, call them flip-flops, call them policy reversals or simply a recognition of reality, it can be difficult to know what to make of the president and his evolving positions in recent days. While Mr. Trump has certainly held fast to some positions, immigration, business-friendly rules on the environment, and his choice of conservative Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, on a host of other issues, the president has either reversed, altered, or modified his stance from the campaign.

There’s of course nothing implicitly wrong with changing positions. But trying to grasp what’s behind the shifts requires some old style Kremlinology. Is the new president being educated in office? Is he being swayed less by the nationalists in the White House like Steve Bannon and more by the moderates like his son-in-law Jared Kushner and his chief economics advisor Gary Cohn?

Or is President Trump simply not hearing from the adoring campaign crowds that used to swoon over his red-meat rhetoric? Whatever the cause, the president's policy shifts have people across the political spectrum asking: what does it all mean?

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I like to think of myself as a very flexible person. I don't have to have one specific way, and if the world changes, I go the same way.

CHUCK TODD:

Donald Trump is wrapping up a head-spinning week of policy reversals, changing his mind on NATO. Just months ago--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

NATO is obsolete. It is obsolete. Some of the smartest people have said, "What Trump said is genius. It's obsolete."

CHUCK TODD:

But now?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete.

CHUCK TODD:

And on Syria, after a campaign spent promising he would stay out--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

If we did nothing, if we did absolutely nothing, we'd be in great shape.

CHUCK TODD:

Last week, Mr. Trump intervened.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Tonight, I ordered a targeted, military strike.

CHUCK TODD:

On economic policy, he promised to punish China.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I'm going to instruct my treasury secretary to label China a currency manipulator, the greatest in the world.

CHUCK TODD:

Now he tells The Wall Street Journal they're not currency manipulators.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

President Xi wants to do the right thing. We had a very good bonding.

CHUCK TODD:

The White House has struggled to explain the president's flip-flops.

SEAN SPICER:

It's those entities or individuals, in some cases, or issues evolving towards the president's position.

CHUCK TODD:

Others attribute Mr. Trump's evolution to on-the-job training.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

I think President Trump is learning the job. And some of the things that were said during the campaign, I think he now knows they're simply aren't the way things ought to be.

CHUCK TODD:

Shaping these reversals, a growing reliance on son-in-law Jared Kushner, and the director of his National Economic Council, former Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn. And a diminishing role for chief strategist Steve Bannon. In fact, this week, Mr. Trump dressed down Bannon, calling him just “a guy who works for me.” Many Trump voters though are forgiving, at least for now.

DARRELL BASHAM:

I think he does see things differently, and all of us would if we had the responsibility. We just see the tip of the iceberg.

CHUCK TODD:

But facing a unified Democratic opposition with an uncomplicated message, “not Trump,” Republicans on defense ahead of 2018 are struggling to define what it even means to be a Trump Republican when Mr. Trump's views keep changing.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

I'm my own man. I'm not going to be told to do by one president or another how to represent the state of Arizona.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the chairman of the Senate armed services committee, John McCain of Arizona. Senator McCain, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

Thanks, Chuck. Thanks for having me back.

CHUCK TODD:I want to start with North Korea. President Trump just tweeted this this morning. “Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean problem? We will see what happens!” Why does China’s currency policy have anything to do with North Korea? Should it have anything to do with North Korea?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

It may be part of the overall relationship, but China is the key. China is the key. They can stop this if they want to because of their control over the North Korean economy. And by the way I would point out, and I know this will come up later on, but there are artillery on the border between North and South Korea that can reach Seoul and we can’t take them all out before-- I mean this is a very seri-- This may be the first test of this presidency. But China can shut them down and we should be, whether they’re currency manipulators or not, we should expect them to act to prevent what could be a cataclysmic event. And the North Koreans keep making progress. They had a failure yesterday and I’m not sure why, maybe it’s because of--

CHUCK TODD:Do you buy the sabotage thing?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

I don’t--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think our program’s pretty good enough to do things like that?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t rule it out. But at the same time, they have made steady progress while we have made agreement after agreement after agreement. Chuck how many times on this show have they said “oh we have now a comprehensive agreement with North Korea”? And so I’m not blaming Trump for this. I’m blaming Republican and Democrat presidents over the last twenty years while they continue to make progress.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the carrot and stick approach with China worth doing? Is it-- Is using our trade practices or these conversations about currency worth having these debates in order to influence them in North Korea?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

To prevent North Korea from having a missile with a nuclear weapon that could strike the United States and we would have to rely on our ability to intercept it, and by the way I am told that we do have that ability, is still awfully risky business. So this is really very serious. This guy in North Korea is not rational. His father and his grandfather were much more rational than he is.

CHUCK TODD:

When you’re dealing with an irrational actor, American presidents will always say with North Korea the military option is on the table, but when you’re dealing with an irrational actor as you just described, does that make the military option actually something you don’t want to deal with because you don’t know how he’s going to respond?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

I think you never want to do that, again, because of this proximity of North Korean artillery to Seoul, a city of how many million people. But, at the same time, to risk a situation where they have that ability and we rely on our ability to intercept, this could be the first test, real test, of the Trump presidency. And by the way, I believe that he'll get very good advice from Mattis and from McMaster.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move on bigger picture here on what we've learned about President Trump and his foreign policy. In your hometown newspaper, The Arizona Republic, Robert Robb wrote this this week, “It was a completely”-- writing about the Syria decision. "It was a completely ad hoc decision. It felt like the right thing to do. So Trump did it. And most Americans seem to agree that it was the right thing to do.

My guess is that's the way foreign policy is going to be conducted under Trump, a series of ad hoc decisions based on what seems right or doable at the time. At the end of the day, to borrow from Winston Churchill, there will be no theme to the pudding." Do you think he's got it right?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

I think he's got it partially right, but I also believe there's a difference between being a candidate and having the guy behind you with--

CHUCK TODD:

With the codes.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

--with the codes. Second is, I think that he is growing. And he is listening to some very wise intelligence people. And third of all, I think he was deeply moved of those pictures of those children. Who wasn't? Who wasn't deeply moved by that? But I do believe that we do not have-- And I support what he did and I support the bunker buster bomb, but we've got to develop a strategy.

There is still not an overall strategy that he can come to Congress and his advisors and say, "Okay, this is how we're going to handle Syria. Here's how we're going to handle post-Mosul Iraq. Here’s how--" We've got to have a strategy, and I'll give them some more time, but so far, that strategy is not apparent.

CHUCK TODD:

It does seem as if even on the issue of whether Assad should go, President Trump, he sort of stopped short of it, of regime change. He said, "Look, he obviously isn't probably going to be a part of the solution," but he stopped short of that. Why?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

Because I don't think he's absolutely sure what he needs to do. But I would point out of those 400,000 men, women, and children who have been slaughtered, they weren't slaughtered by ISIS. They were slaughtered by Bashar Assad. The Russians are the used, the ones that used precision weapons to hit hospitals in Aleppo. But the war crimes are horrendous here, and to just say, "Well, only after ISIS," in my view, rather than regime change, is something that we have to rethink.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to talk about the overall changes. You said he's growing in office.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

There are some that will say, "No, the Washington establishment sucked him in."

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

I hope so.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

No, on national security, I do believe he has assembled a strong team and I think very appropriately, he's listening to them. And that's the area, of course, where I am deeply concerned.

CHUCK TODD:

But I want to go to though, quickly on the Washington consensus, not everybody thinks the Washington consensus on foreign policy has worked in the Middle East over the last 25 years.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

And it hasn't. And you're right. It hasn't. But it wasn't because of the people that are around him now. In fact, previous president-- For eight years, we basically did nothing in response to some of the most horrendous war crimes in history. At least he did something. Now I hope that there will be a strategy to follow that up.

And look, America is about a moral superiority in our willingness not to fight every fight, but at least respond to horrendous acts of inhumanity and war crimes. And also, by the way, Syria will continue to have a spread of Al Qaeda if we don't take care of Bashar Assad.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator John McCain, unfortunately I have to leave it there. Our pleasure, sir.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

Thanks for having me. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

You've been on here a few times, so I've heard.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

Time flies when you're having fun.

CHUCK TODD:

There you go. Earlier this week, the U.S. military dropped the so-called mother of all bombs against ISIS fighters in Afghanistan.

President Trump, who has turned over more decision making to the Pentagon, was asked if he personally authorized that action. Here's what he said:

(BEGIN TAPE)

REPORTER:

Did you authorize it, sir?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Everybody knows exactly what happened, so. And what I do is I authorize my military. We have the greatest military in the world, and they've done their job as usual. So we have given them total authorization. And that's what they're doing.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, joining me now is Senator Jack Reed, Democrat from Rhode Island, and actually the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He and Senator McCain do a lot of work together sometimes. Senator Reed, welcome back to the show.

SEN. JACK REED:

Thanks, Chuck. Thanks so much.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with North Korea and get to the issue of the unpredictability aspect of President Trump. Is there on this specific issue, when it comes to North Korea, is there an argument that that's an asset and not a liability?

SEN. JACK REED:

I don't think long term it's an asset, I think you have to have a very deliberate plan. I think you have a strategy. I think as Senator McCain indicated, China is key to that strategy. They have the economic leverage, they're the biggest trader with North Korea. In fact their trade's going up last year.

They also, as we found out, have indirectly provided some of the electronics to these missiles. So if China can be brought to the point where they are putting pressure constantly on North Korea, there's an opportunity, I think, to try to freeze their systems and then roll them back.

But that has to be a long-term, deliberate, day-by-day strategy. And one of the things that I think that is harming the president is this, he's getting good military advice from General Mattis and General McMaster, but he needs a much stronger State Department.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to actually ask about this, and you talk about his relationship with General Mattis, who's secretary of defense, somebody you supported his confirmation. In the opening bite there, in your introduction, I noted about how the president didn't sign off, himself personally on the dropping of the so-called "mother of all bombs." He has given more leeway to his military leaders to make these decisions. Are you comfortable with that?

SEN. JACK REED:

Well, these authorities are given over the last several years, they've increased. In fact, when General Nicholson was before the committee a few weeks ago, he indicated he was satisfied with the authority that he had. And in fact, I'd assume that this was not a new authority. This was something that he was authorized, deploying a particular weapon system.

CHUCK TODD:

Right, but there was one comment from an anonymous official that said, "Look, in the previous administration, we wouldn't have dropped this without at least alerting the White House. In this one, we don't have to alert the White House." That that is the, essentially, change. Are you comfortable with that change?

SEN. JACK REED:

I think there has to be communication, obviously, between the White House and their field commanders on a constant basis. That's generally routed through the National Security Council. I think in this case though, that General Nicholson decided that the weapon was appropriate for the tunnel complex.

That they minimized, in fact, there was no reports of civilian casualties. So the operation I think he deemed as something that was appropriate, well within his authority. He might have informed someone, but I don't think he went out of the way to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

Now obviously, anything we do in Afghanistan is covered by a war authorization. That was passed a long time ago. There is still some question whether anything we do in Syria falls under that or not. Do you believe it does or doesn't?

SEN. JACK REED:

I think with the pursuit of ISIS in Syria, that is covered by the A.U.M.F. It's an extension of the A.U.M.F., the route, as we've been extending that for many, many years now. But going after ISIS, I think within the province of the A.U.M.F., other actions have to be much more--

CHUCK TODD:

So going after Assad would not fall under the A.U.M.F.?

SEN. JACK REED:

No. I don't think so. I think going after Assad in terms of a deliberate, concentrated effort to conduct military operations would require the authorization of Congress. I think the attack that the president took place, I agree with the attack, was done under his prerogative as responding to an incident, or a horrible incident. The right or the ability of a nation to protect vulnerable populations. But I think anything further should be considered by the Congress.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a circumstance where you would support sending more troops to Syria?

SEN. JACK REED:

I think one of the things that the president would have to do would lay out a plan, a clear plan. The ad hoc nature of what he does, the kind of flip-flops, which you've seen dramatically this week, suggest an incoherence in policy. And that's a function of many things. I think temperamentally, as well as experientially, he's trying to come to grips with these things. He doesn't seem to be someone that follows through with the deliberate planning process you need. And he has to be able to come not just to Congress, but to the American people and explain in detail what he's doing.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you comforted though by any of the flip-flops? All of them this week were sort of moves from outside the Washington consensus to within the Washington consensus, NATO, how to deal with China, things like that. Does that at all comfort you?

SEN. JACK REED:

Well, I think it's recognizing many cases the obvious, what he has to do. I think with respect to China, you know, their key role in North Korea potentially can't be sort of jeopardized by going after them as currency manipulators. In fact, there's some evidence by economists that they're not doing that recently, at one time they were.

But I think these things would be more comforting if they were not sort of off the cuff, unexplained, or glibly announced, but rather the conscious deliberation and a conscious presentation by the president. And I think also too, one of the things we've got to recognize is these growing sort of disenchantments with Russia. But that disenchantment has to also be reflected in serious concentration on the election in 2016 and what they did here.

Because they are still operating today in Europe using those same disinformation techniques, et cetera, and we have elections coming up. We cannot allow the Russians to be part of our electoral process. So that's something he has to focus on.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, right now, he's got to accept that it happened.

SEN. JACK REED:

Exactly. And that's one of those things where that would be a great improvement in his situation, accept it happened, and then move very aggressively for the good of the country, to see what happened in '16 so that we're prepared and protected for '18 and '20 and beyond.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Jack Reed, I'm going to leave it there.

SEN. JACK REED:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator from Rhode Island, good to have you here. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views.

SEN. JACK REED:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, the Trump administration's get-tough policy on illegal immigration.

JOHN KELLY:

If you're here illegally, you should leave. You should be deported, but through the system.

CHUCK TODD:

But Homeland Security Chief John Kelly goes on to say it's a very complicated problem, with no easy solutions, and Congress needs to step in. Secretary Kelly joins me next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, one area where President Trump has not changed or softened his position is on the issue of immigration. And the man tasked with carrying out the president’s policies is the new head of Homeland Security, John Kelly. I sat down with John Kelly earlier this weekend and I began by asking him if the administration is creating in effect a new large deportation force.

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

There are a huge number, as you know, of illegal aliens or undocumented individuals that you know have to be dealt with in one way or another.

I would argue, Chuck, that we have to straighten this out. And I place that squarely on the United States Congress. It's a hugely complex series of laws, and I engage the Hill quite a bit and get an earful about what I should do and what I shouldn't do. But it all comes down to the law, doesn't it? And we are a nation of laws, and I would hope that the Congress fixes a lot of these problems.

CHUCK TODD:

You say it's on Congress, but there is others that say if you just enforce the law on the books. So what is the issue? Are the laws on the books hard to enforce and they need to be changed? Is that what you're saying here?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Well, the laws on the books are pretty straightforward. If you're here illegally, you should leave or you should be deported, put through the system. But there are 11 million people and it's very complicated. There are people who came here as children. There are people here who came here illegally many years ago and have married local men and women and had children. It's a very complicated problem. But the law is the law. But I don't have an unlimited capacity to execute it.

CHUCK TODD:

Is this best use of money? Is this the resources you need? That you need to hire more people to deal with this issue? Is that your number one problem?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Yea, I think so. You know, there's two aspects. Of course, ICE operate more or less in the interior and do targeted actions against illegal aliens plus. What I mean by that is, just because you're in the United States illegally doesn't necessarily get you targeted. It's gotta be something else. And we're operating more or less at the other end of the spectrum, and that is criminals, multiple convictions.

CHUCK TODD:

But define a criminal here, because that's where there's been-- So, it seemed as if in the Obama administration there was one definition. There seems to be another definition in this administration.

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the fair to say?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

It is fair to say that the definition of criminal has not changed, but where on the spectrum of criminality we operate has changed.

CHUCK TODD:

So can you give me an example of somebody that wasn't deported before that you're deporting now?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Well, someone, as an example, with multiple DUIs. Even a single DUI, depending on other aspects, would get you into the system. And remember, for the most--

CHUCK TODD:

And this wouldn't have been the case under the –

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Unlikely.

CHUCK TODD:

-- previous administration.

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

But you have to remember that there's a system, a legal justice system in place. And the law deports people. Secretary Kelly doesn't. ICE doesn't. It's the United States criminal justice system or justice system that deports people.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to go back to the 11 million. It seems that the bigger problem you're dealing with is not the border. It's visa overstays.

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

That is a big problem. Big problem.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that what you need? You need ICE agents to do that? Is that what you need the extra resources for?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

All of that. I mean it's a big problem. There's a lot of people out there that need to be taken into custody and deported, according to the law. Visa overstays is quite a large number of the illegals that are in the country that are in fact visa overstays.

And we just completed, I think, a targeted op. They just completed, ICE just completed, a targeted operation going after overstays. It's time consuming, but at the end of the day they came here with a promise to leave, and we have to track them down, and if they're still in the country, and put them in the proceedings to deport them.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess I'm going at this, would the money for the border wall be better spent on going after the visa overstays? And would that actually deal with the problem President Trump campaigned on?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Chuck, you really do have to secure the border somehow, first and foremost. The very, very, very good news is, for a lot of different reasons, the number of illegal aliens that are moving up from the south has dropped off precipitously. I mean we're down 65%, 70% in the last two months. These are the months that we should see a steep incline in illegal movement. It's down, as I say, by almost 70%.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think some of that's been the president's rhetoric in the campaign and basically saying, "Well, he won and it's going to be tougher to get across the border?"

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Well, certainly.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think that sort of contributed?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Absolutely. And some of the other things we've done on the border. I mean just my going down to the border on several occasions. You know that Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, was just down there. The attention being paid to the border certainly has injected into those people-- and the vast majority of them are good people from Central America.

But it's injected enough confusion in their minds, I think, and they're just waiting to see what actually does happen.

CHUCK TODD:

You as head of SouthCOM, essentially, the southern military command at your previous job before this, you were testifying on this issues, particularly during the time we had this surge of Central American immigration through Mexico. And I remember at the time you said, "Hey, I stop at the," essentially the Guatemalan border.

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Your purview. But you talked about the difficulty – you were trying to find partners at the time in Central America to help you with this, and the U.S. drug consumption, the U.S. drug consumer, you thought as part of the problem in all of this. Explain.

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Drug consumption in the United States is the problem. Just cocaine alone when you consider the massive amounts of profit that come out of the United States. The trafficker's biggest problem is not getting drugs, till now, into the United States. The biggest problem they had was laundering the money.

So when you have that much profit coming out of the United States, and that profit is managed by cartels that are beyond violent. And so you go to the Latin American countries, Mexico, the United States for that matter. You mentioned corruption already. The kind of money they can offer an attorney general in Guatemala or a police chief in Mexico City, the kind of money they can offer –and if you don't take the money they're happy to send your youngest child's head to your home in a plastic bag.

CHUCK TODD:

You'd said, though, the hypocrisy aspect of it. Meaning –

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

It is–

CHUCK TODD:

--these Central American countries -- is the idea of, for instance, marijuana legalization, does that help your problem or hurt your problem?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

Yeah, marijuana is not a factor in the drug war.

CHUCK TODD:

This really is a cocaine, and in some cases the opioid, sort of, copycats?

SEC. JOHN KELLY:

It's three things. Methamphetamine. Almost all produced in Mexico. Heroin. Virtually all produced in Mexico. And cocaine that comes up from further south. Those three drugs result in the death of i think in '15, I think, of 52,000 people to include opiates. It's a massive problem. 52,000 Americans dead. You can't put a price on human misery. The cost to the United States is over $250 billion a year.

The solution is not arresting a lot of users. The solution is a comprehensive drug demand reduction program in the United States that involves every man and woman of goodwill.

CHUCK TODD:

And he went on to say that Congress needs to be working on this. I also asked Kelly about the fight against ISIS and that ‘mother of all bombs in Afghanistan’ and you can hear his answer on the entire interview which is posted on our website, Meet the Press dot com. When we come back, From China to Nato, to Syria to the fate of Obamacare. What are we to make of President Trump’s evolving positions? Has he been sucked into the establishment? As John McCain gleefully said, he hopes so, and later, politics and the pulpit, three religious leaders join us to discuss whether we really can separate politics from religion, and whether we really should.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panel is here. Former Republican Senator John Sununu.Heather McGhee, president of the liberal group, Demos Action. Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, and Mark Leibovich of the New York Times who does still live in this town. Welcome all, I want to talk about the week of Donald Trump evolving positions. John Sununu, what do you make of it?

JOHN SUNUNU:

Growing into the job, maybe, on issues like NATO, I think everyone knew that we weren’t going to pull out of NATO. Everyone knew and understood that his rhetoric was in one place in the campaign, and it was going to be met with a reality that NATO serves a function, has great value, is important to our strategic alliances around over the world. So, a lot of it is just the campaigner coming to the Oval office, and recognizing what’s real and what’s doable. Some of it on the domestic policy issues like Ex-Im bank or the currency manipulation is probably going to kick back a little bit on the Trump base because they don’t expect that kind of thing to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

Here’s how Andrew Sullivan--here’s his take on New York Magazine. “What on earth is the point of trying to understand him when there is nothing to understand? He has no strategy beyond the next 24 hours, no guiding philosophy, on politics, on consistency at all-- just whatever makes him feel good about himself this second. He therefore believes whatever bizarre nonfact he can instantly cook up in his addled head, or whatever the last person who spoke to him said.” Obviously a harsher response, Andrea?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I disagree. I think that he likes to win, and he has seen over the course of these past weeks that he wins when he listens to Jared Kushner, when he listens importantly to Henry McMaster, to Mattis and to Tillerson to a lesser extent perhaps. When he is listening to these advisors and not Steve Bannon, and now that Mike Flynn is gone that that is the biggest change. There is a reality check here, and he is seeing that some things work. Now, it’s not complete and it doesn’t always work, and he still tweets after Angela Merkel leaves and insults Germany. So it was not just the campaign, Senator, it was also the transition and the early weeks of the presidency. But, I think the health care failure really influenced his decision to turn to some wiser heads.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Well, there has been a lot of talk about how, you know, Bannon is out and Ivanka and Jared are up but you know there hasn’t been a lot of coverage of some things that happened this week behind closed doors like Ivanka who is supposed to be for women didn’t stop him from signing a bill that would put state level women’s health clinics in the crosshairs--

CHUCK TODD:

I’m curious. What do you make of their speculation that that is a compromise. Sign that bill but don’t fight the Planned Parenthood issue and the budget? Is that a quote unquote compromise?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Listen, I talk to folks in Planned Parenthood all the time, and they do not feel any kind of relief. It’s the states where the most vulnerable working class women, that’s their only affordable healthcare. Those are the ones that are going to be in the crosshairs. You know we also saw him sign something that stopped retirement security accounts. Working middle-class people who work for small businesses, who don’t have 401ks on the job, that had been starting to innovate at the state and local level. So it’s this phony populism that I think has actually been this strain that has been the most consistent.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

You’re absolutely right about that. This is a killer decision, this Title X decision, done without a press pool in the Oval, no coverage and Planned Parenthood says it’s really devastating.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

I would say, though, that I mean, the question of yes, he loves to win. How do you define winning in an environment where there’s really no legislative action going on whatsoever? Is winning to Donald Trump a bunch of good news stories - a bunch

HEATHER MCGHEE:Of course it is.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Poll numbers, that kind of thing.

JOHN SUNUNU:

But the contrast we have here is on these national security issues, you’ve got good leadership in place that’ve been given some autonomy. We heard from General Kelly, talked about General Mattis, McMaster, they are obviously the guiding hands between the foreign policy activity that’s been pretty widely accepted and well-received recently. On the domestic side, he doesn’t really have that same kind of quality team in place yet, and that’s part of the reason that healthcare went down.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

McMaster, Mattis, Kelly, to a lesser extent Tillerson, that is a win. I mean they are strong people, he’s obviously listening to them. Domestically, you’re right.

HEATHER McGHEE:

And then domestically there's the cover story in the New York Times this morning about how it's all lobbyists. I mean the number of lobbyists who’ve been getting waivers of conflict of interest rules to go into the agencies they were just representing big industries to try to water down rules, it’s astounding. And the idea that that is draining the swamp is something that there’s going to be accountability for.

ANDREA MITCHELL:And one more thing, this week is going to be the climate change decision on the Paris Accords. If they back out of that, I mean China is watching, he wants China to help on North Korea. And if we embarrass and humiliate China, which we dragged kicking and screaming into this climate change agreement, plus the -

JOHN SUNUNU:

But let’s be clear, lobbyists have nothing to do with this stuff. This is where he was on the campaign trail, pull away from these regulations, pull away from climate change. This is actually a case of campaign rhetoric being followed through. It has nothing to do with any lobbyists visiting the White House this week or last week.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I'm only taking a quick pause. We're going to pick up this conversation. I want to discuss a couple things that General Kelly said about immigration actually when we come back. By the way, there were many protests in many cities yesterday calling on President Trump to release his tax returns. President Trump noticed. He's tweeted about those tax marches already this morning. So just the latest bit of evidence though that the energy right now is on the Democratic side when it comes to campaigns. Will it translate into votes? We may get an answer this Tuesday. Conversations next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

And we are back. President Trump noticed the tax rallies yesterday. He’s tweeted about those this morning. “I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican, easily won the Electoral College. Now tax returns are brought up again?” Second tweet, “Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over.” Heather, you were at one of those small organized rallies. All right.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

What were they about? Who paid for them?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

It was fantastic. So I got to speak right after Senator Wyden at the one here in DC yesterday. Honestly my expectations were very low. There have always been these little sort of earnest tax day you know kind of rallies by progressives saying “we need more revenue.” This was twenty five thousand people in DC alone. Two hundred rallies across the country. And the message was really quite uniform. It was “show us your taxes. What are you hiding? Who are you working for?” And then at the same time, we need economic justice and tax fairness. We’re sick of billionaires bragging about how little they pay in taxes.

CHUCK TODD:

You know John it seems as if you could look at these rallies two different ways. Okay maybe you know the general public isn’t as moved on the tax return issue, but the fact that these rallies can happen fairly easily now on the left tells you the energy’s on the left.

JOHN SUNUNU:

I think there is a little bit of energy on the left if for no other reason because Trump provides a great focal point for them. And it is--

CHUCK TODD:

Sort of the way Obama did for the conservative movement.

JOHN SUNUNU:

Sure, sure. And the coin flips, you know. The big tax rallies used to be conservatives marking you know tax day and how long do you have to work until you can actually pay your taxes and it gets later and later every year.

CHUCK TODD:Do you realize a majority of Republicans now are okay with the amount of taxes they pay? And last year they did not.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

And three out of every four Americans wants him to release his tax returns. So this is not-- He keeps saying that it didn’t matter because he lost the popular vote by three million votes, but it does matter. People think it’s unbelievable that he thinks he’s above the law.

JOHN SUNUNU:

But I think substantively, it doesn’t matter. It’s not going to matter for the policy decisions that we’ve been talking about. It’s not going to matter in his reelection. I mean because it didn’t matter in his reelection in 2016.

CHUCK TODD:

It only matters if we see them and if something’s--

MARK LEIBOVICH:

--a great deal on the Russia investigation too, which is--

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Not only Russia, but also--

JOHN SUNUNU:

Oh I don’t think you’re going to see-- You wouldn’t see anything on Russia in there.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I don’t think you can just say that.

JOHN SUNUNU:

I don't think you'll see anything more dramatic than what you've seen, which is the guy makes hundreds of millions of dollars, he uses the tax code to his advantage, he's declared bankruptcy in the past. I mean, these are things we know and we've talked about and we've seen.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

--to whom does he owe these debts is a question that is very, very important. Also, who's going to benefit from his vision for tax reform, where he gets rid of the estate tax, where he gets rid of lots of the taxes that are basically going to benefit him, some of the people he has business dealings with, and his own family.

JOHN SUNUNU:

But we can answer those questions without seeing his tax return.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Why do you think we shouldn't-- every Democrat and Republican president since Watergate has released their tax returns. Why should Donald Trump be any different?

JOHN SUNUNU:

I'm not saying he shouldn't, I'm saying it doesn't really matter to the substance of a lot of these bigger policy--

CHUCK TODD:

But let's talk about the energy. We're going to get a test of this energy on Tuesday in Georgia.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

In Georgia.

CHUCK TODD:

Here's what's interesting here. Dante Chinni made this note, he noted that of the top ten congressional districts, the highest populations with a college degree, nine of the ten are held by Democrats, you can see them. Number ten is Georgia six, Andrea. So that tells you Democrats, this is a seat that is moving toward them demographically.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And Trump won it by such a small margin. So they really believe they have a chance. Jon Ossoff has raised a lot of money, millions of dollars for this district. The problem I think that he may encounter, there would be a runoff if he doesn't get to the 50%. There are 11 Republican candidates, several Democratic candidates. So he's got a challenge here. And also, I think there could be a blowback in this district, as there would be in many districts, especially in the South, for all of the bussing in people from work.

CHUCK TODD:

Too much money outside.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Too much money, too much outside money. I think that there could be a reaction against that.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

No, I would say the Democratic-- there's almost a counter-complacency going on about all the talk about all the great energy going on on the left. I mean, you know, just like Trump needs wins, I mean, the Democrats don't have any wins yet--

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. A win will be a big deal. Close is not going to necessarily cut it here.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, thanks to all of you. When we come back, politics and the pulpit. It is Easter Sunday, after all, so let's have this conversation. How much should politics and religion mix? Well, we're going to hear from three religious leaders on just how separate church and state should really be.

ANNOUNCER:

Coming up, Meet the Press End Game, brought to you by Boeing, always working to build something better.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. We're going to end the broadcast this Easter Sunday by discussing how religious leaders deal or don't deal with politics at a time when the country is so polarized and congregations are polarized. This week, we brought together three faith leaders, T.D. Jakes, Bishop of the Potter's House of Dallas, Pastor JoAnn Hummel of the Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas, and Rabbi David Saperstein, senior advisor for the Union of Reformed Judaism. And I began by asking them whether we should till abide by that old maxim to not mix religion and politics.

BISHOP TD JAKES:

Well, it's a misnomer because it suggests that religion and politics are individuals when they're ideologies, and ideologies are inherent in people. So wherever there are people, you're going to have the intermixing of religiosity and your values, your cultures and your systems and your concern about politics. So inadvertently they're going to connect, whether you want them to or not.

CHUCK TODD:

Should we actually stop fighting it?

PASTOR JOANN HUMMEL:

I actually think they're connected in the sense that religion is an internal kind of thing, that really gets at the heart and the mind. And politics is the outworking of your values and the things that are inside you, so I see them very connected, actually.

CHUCK TODD:

Sometimes I wonder if we over-fought the phrase a little bit, Rabbi?

RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN:

You can separate two kinds of politics. Partisan politics, electoral politics, one category. But what we normally refer to as politics, as you've just heard, really is interwoven with religion. In other words, when we talk about the poor, when we talk about the vulnerable, we talk about the Biblical command to welcome the stranger in our midst and love the stranger as ourselves, to protect God's creation.

We're talking about global warming and refugee policy and migrant policy. They're woven together. And just as the prophets and Jesus of Nazareth and the Biblical characters all address these issues in their time, so we feel compelled to address it in ours.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, Bishop Jakes, you've not been afraid of politics. Pastor, you haven't been afraid of politics. And Rabbi, obviously. But is there-- talk about some of your fellow pastors and bishops and rabbis--

BISHOP TD JAKES:

I think it is a thin line that you have to walk, because primarily people don't always come to church to hear you espouse political views.

CHUCK TODD:

That's what you hear the most?

BISHOP TD JAKES:

Yes. Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

"Oh, stick to reli-- stick to faith." And you're like going, "Well, faith and politics."

BISHOP TD JAKES:

And I have to say that in the black tradition of our understanding of faith, historically we had pastors long before we ever had a president. So our pastors have a different expectation from the congregation to weigh in on issues that affect the people. And many times you become the voice of people who are voiceless.

And I had to grow into understanding that that platform was also a responsibility amongst my parishioners to represent their issues and concerns without getting nuanced over into the individual behind politics. You do at least have to confront the issues that affect your congregation.

CHUCK TODD:

Pastor, where are you on in this?

PASTOR JOANN HUMMEL:

Yeah, I'm thinking about the people in our church who want to know how to think Biblically. And so when they come to church, they're wrestling with these issues in the world and they're not really sure, because Biblical illiteracy is increasing. So they're looking to the pulpit, to us, to really begin to teach them how to think. Not what to think but how to think. And so it's important that we grapple with these issues from a Biblical perspective.

CHUCK TODD:

I know some synagogues have made the decision to become sanctuary.

RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN:

Indeed. And many churches as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Synagogues and churches. So, and that's a big political statement for a synagogue to make and some congregants view it as, "Oh, you're taking sides." What do you say?

RABBI DAVID SAPERSTEIN:

That’s the paradox, because when we're feeding hungry people in our food programs and we're sheltering homeless people in our homeless shelter programs, and we are welcoming the refugee, the stranger, that the Bible tells us we should treat as ourselves in providing shelter to them, in sanctuary to them, we are living out our religious ideals.

We have pastoral responsibilities to our members. And regardless of their politics or ours, we have to not compromise ourselves in a way that would undercut our ability to do that. But we're also teachers and leaders and the one who exemplifies how to apply our traditional values to the world about us. That's a difficult tightrope to walk, but we have to encompass both responsibilities.

CHUCK TODD:

You think it actually-- you would be punished more if you ignored politics, Bishop?

BISHOP TD JAKES:

I think it has consequences, and I don't think that you can walk out your faith and totally ignore the environment in which your faith is exemplified. And it is not an issue as to whether you're going to take it on. It is how you're going to take it on. And you have to be willing to be misunderstood, or become silent and not be heard at all.

CHUCK TODD:

Pastor Hummel, you've heard some of the criticism of Evangelicals, going, "Wait a minute. How can you set aside the moral outrage over Bill Clinton for Donald Trump?" How do you explain it?

PASTOR JOANN HUMMEL:

Wow. That's a hard one. I think that the moral underpinnings of our country and of our faith are challenged when these things happen. When candidate Trump talks about those things about women. That was personally offensive to me. But I'm not called to go into the pulpit and express my views about myself.

I need to look at that from a wider context of scripture. What does the Bible say about how women are treated and how we should honor one another. That's going to be my message. I'm really not going to delve into the political specifics.

I'm going to bring that back to a wider, and actually even a deeper, human issue. Why are we doing that? And where is our actual ways in which we do the same thing?

CHUCK TODD:

Do any of you see the rise of secularism as a rejection of faith leaders or a rejection of faiths? What do you attribute the rise of secularism to?

BISHOP TD JAKES:

You know, a lot of times I'm not sure that the rise is as high as some media purports that it is. I think that faith has, in many cases, retreated back behind private walls. And I'm seeing a rejection of organized religion. Pew Research suggests that millennials in particular are retreating. Not that they don't have faith, but they don't express it in the way that their parents have done.

The challenge of people of faith is not so much to wrestle against secularism, but to remain relevant in a society that has lost faith in all institutions. And the onus is on us to recreate ourselves without losing sight of our core principles and values.

CHUCK TODD:

And Pastor, that--

PASTOR JOANN HUMMEL:

Yeah, what I'm thinking when you're saying that, Bishop, is how we've made Heaven here, especially in the West. We don't really need to relate to that theology of Heaven and rescue and salvation the same way we always did, because what do we have to be rescued from? We have everything we need here.

You go to Africa, you go to developing countries in the global south and there's no secularism there because there's no development there or there's no personal wealth there. So they're looking to God for everything that they have. And there's such joy in that. It reveals the joy of the human heart.

CHUCK TODD:

So you see the rise of secularism almost as a benefit of our success as a society?

PASTOR JOANN HUMMEL:

Yes, yes. And I think what it does is it layers over the real needs of people's heart. But what I'm seeing in my church, and I'll bow to you guys too on this, but when people come into crisis, they still come to the church. We are there in the crisis moments of people's lives. We're at the sickbed. We're at the wedding altar. We're at the divorce court. We are there in those spaces where people are hurting, when the money can't help it and the secular things we've enveloped ourselves with can't save you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that was, I hope, a full conversation for you, that was Bishop TD Jakes, Pastor JoAnn Hummel, and Rabbi David Saperstein. We had a much longer conversation. You can see the rest of it at MeetthePress.com. That's all we have for today. I want to wish you a happy Easter Sunday, happy Passover to those observing. We'll be back next week. By the way, go Wizards and go Caps. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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