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Meet the Press - April 9, 2017

NBC News - Meet The Press

"04.09.17"

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, that Syrian chemical attack prompts outrage around the world and a U.S. military response.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning we have the story covered from all the angles. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

The United States took a very measured step last night. We are prepared to do more.

CHUCK TODD:

Frequent Republican critic of President Trump, Senator Lindsey Graham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

It was a wonderful signal to send. But it's got to be followed up.

CHUCK TODD:

The former Democratic nominee for vice president, Senator Tim Kaine.

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Doing this without consulting Congress, without a vote, I think is a clear violation of law.

CHUCK TODD:

And former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who warns the missile attack could lead to another Middle East quagmire. Haley, Graham, Kaine and Sanders, all here this morning. Plus, power struggle at the White House. If chief strategist Steve Bannon leaves, does President Trump's populist, nationalist agenda leave with him?

Joining me for insight and analysis are David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, Rich Lowry of the National Review, and Helene Cooper, Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times. 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. This breaking news before we get to the Syria story. There were attacks on two Egyptian Christian churches this morning. A bomb exploded in a church packed with Palm Sunday worshippers north of Cairo. It killed more than two dozen people, wounding scores of others, according to Health Ministry officials. Hours later, a suicide bomber killed at least 11 people in front of a church in Alexandria, Egypt. ISIS has claimed responsibility for both of those attacks.

Now, we move to Syria. This week President Trump became the seventh consecutive American president to launch a military action against a country in the Middle East. Of course the first one in that seven consecutive streak was President Carter's failed mission to rescue the hostages in Iran in 1980 right up to Thursday's strike in Syria.

The attack on a Syrian air base involving 60 cruise missiles launched from naval destroyers in the Mediterranean was what the Trump administration called a "proportionate" response to last week's chemical attack that killed more than 80 people and caused horrific suffering that was seen in pictures circulated around the globe. The attack scrambled political alliances, drawing praise from many usual Trump opponents, but criticism from some of his strongest supporters.

The episode has raised all sorts of questions about the Trump administration: What is the president's ultimate goal in Syria? Was this "mission accomplished" or "mission creep?"

What message is the administration sending to the world, to Russia, to China, to North Korea? And can Mr. Trump sell this to his nationalist base, which was deeply skeptical about taking any action in Syria?

We have two Republicans and two Democrats here with us this morning and many different points of view. This isn't cut and dry, typical red versus blue.

Ultimately, there's this question: Was this an impulsive decision by a president moved by human suffering or a fundamental change in his thinking about foreign intervention?

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No child of God should ever suffer such horror.

CHUCK TODD:The strikes on Syria are a startling reversal by a president who spent his campaign arguing that the U.S. should steer clear of the country's protracted civil war.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Now Hillary wants to start a shooting war in Syria in conflict with a nuclear-armed Russia, which could very well lead to World War III.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump's decision to back away from an "America First" isolationist philosophy has supporters confused and even angry. Some blame it on the waning power of chief strategist Steve Bannon, who just days before the Syria strike was ejected from the National Security Council amid tensions with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner.

LAURA INGRAHAM:

Rubio's happy, Hillary's happy. Oh yeah, "The Weekly Standard" people, all the neoconservatives are happy.

CHUCK TODD:

The Syrian president's brutality is nothing new. In 2013, eight days after Assad launched a chemical attack which killed more than 1400 civilians, including hundreds of children, Trump tweeted, "What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval." But now, with the power of the presidency, Mr. Trump appears to have abandoned that point of view, at least for now. But what is his ultimate goal?

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary.

CHUCK TODD:

Just last week, Mr. Trump's secretary of state backed away from the policy of regime change in Syria.

SEC. REX TILLERSON:

I think the status and the longer term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

CHUCK TODD:

But now, a week later--

SEC. REX TILLERSON:

With the acts that he has taken, it would seem that there would be no role for him to govern the Syrian people.

CHUCK TODD:

An American official says Russians on the ground were given notice that the missiles were coming. Flights from the base have already resumed. And Secretary Tillerson's trip to Moscow this week is still on. At home, most of Washington's foreign policy establishment is applauding the strikes.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN:

The strikes were important. I think they were-- the signal is as important as the actual damage that was done.

CHUCK TODD:

While a coalition of liberals and conservatives skeptical of intervention without approval from Congress oppose them.

SEN. RAND PAUL:

My heart breaks seeing those images, say what can we do? But it doesn't mean we just sort of rip up the Constitution and say okay it's fine to bomb anybody if they're committing atrocities.

SEN. TIM KAINE

Doing this without consulting Congress without a vote, I think, is a clear violation of law.

(END TAPE)CHUCK TODD:It's fair to say that no one has been more forceful in responding to Syria's chemical attack than the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Haley has been the face of the administration in this crisis and yesterday, I asked her whether the Trump administration believes it has achieved its objective with the military strike or whether more needs to be done.

(BEGIN TAPE)

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

Well, I don't think that's dependent on the United States. I think that's dependent on the actors that are at play. I mean, this is a very complicated situation. We know there's no easy solution to the crisis that's in Syria. But our focus is to make sure that, you know, we're focused on strengthening the ceasefire.

We want to continue to have the backs of our allies, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, make sure they know that we've got their backs. We want to push towards a political solution. Because at the end of the day, that's really what is needed is to make sure a political solution comes together. And we hope that they'll continue those talks in Geneva. And we hope that we'll continue to see some progress.

CHUCK TODD:

A big part of that political solution would include the Russians. Obviously, they don't accept the conclusion that the United States and others did that this was Assad's regime that ordered this chemical weapons attack. Do you plan to present the evidence publically? And do you plan to do it at the United Nations? Where is this going-- Where is the evidence going to be presented?

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

You know, the interesting thing, Chuck, is when this chemical weapons murder happened to so many people, Russia's reaction was not, "Oh, how horrible," or, "How could they do this to innocent children," or, "How awful is that?" Their initial reaction was, "Assad didn't do it. The Syrian government didn't do it."

Why were they that defensive that quick? The idea of the casualties came after. The first priority for them was to cover for Assad. And so what we knew, from intelligence, that the Syrian regime had done this again, as they had done so many times before. We had the evidence that they had done it.

It's obviously classified. So certainly, I'm not the one that would release that information. But it was enough that the president knew.

CHUCK TODD:

But there's no plans on presenting the evidence publically? I mean, if you look, isn't it important, if to isolate-- in order to isolate Russia, to publically show how wrong they are about this?

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

So I don't doubt that that information won't come out. I think that you're also seeing the investigations of Russia now. That information's going to come out, when they can declassify it. So I fully expect that the, you know, the proper directors will come out with that information.

But for right now, all we needed to know in that room was, is it true? Did it happen? What's the evidence, and go with that. And what you saw was, you know, we watched the president in what I believe was his finest hour since he's taken office. Because he was very thoughtful about it.

He talked about risk. What General Mattis and the military did was just a rock-star performance. Because they were so focused on making sure there were limited civilian casualties, if any at all. They were focused on making sure they hit the airbase, where the Syrian government actually used the planes to carry the chemical weapons. And they were focused on making sure that they understood the United States is not going to allow chemical weapons use ever.

CHUCK TODD:

If Assad doesn't use chemical weapons, but this civil war continues, and he's brutal, but he uses conventional weapons to be brutal, are we going to sit on the sidelines?

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

I think what you're going to see is we're going to keep all of our thoughts and plans close to the chest. This president's not going to go and release any sort of information. But I think what you are going to see is pressure on the political solution. That's really what's going to happen.

I mean, in no way do we look at peace happening in that area with Iranian influence. In no way do we see peace in that area with Russia covering up for Assad. In no way do we see peace in that area with Assad as the head of the Syrian government. And we have to make sure that we're pushing that process. The political solution has to come together for the good of the people of Syria.

CHUCK TODD:

What about the fact that we are not allowing Syrian refugees, unless under the most extreme circumstances, into this country right now?

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

You know, look, this is what I will tell you. I have watched this administration focus so much on the safety of United States citizens. And as a mom and as a wife, I'm very grateful for that.

And so what this president has done is said, "Prove to me that you are vetting these people properly. And if you are vetting them properly, then we will resume where we are. But until then, you have to prove to me that these people are being vetted in a way that we're not putting American citizens at risk."

And so what he did was, I think, that there were those countries that we knew that there were problems, that we couldn't vet. And that's key. You can't vet. You don't know who you're letting in. You don't know if there's any sort of bad intentions there. And so what you're seeing is the president's being very cautious with that. And he's making sure that it's people's safety first.

And I think that the focus we need to have is how we get to a safe Syria. How do we make sure that those that have fled that area can go home and make sure they get back there? But the president's not going to sacrifice the safety of American citizens and let, you know--

CHUCK TODD:

Then who should bear that sacrifice, these Syrians that you have so eloquently noted, these women and children, in particular, that were trying to flee some of-- get out of harm's way, and they end up getting gassed by Assad. Who should have, take that burden, if the United States is not going to help out?

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

Well, I think you saw the United States take that burden this week. The United States fought for the people of Syria and told Assad, "No more."

CHUCK TODD:

And final question, what is now the priority in Syria: Assad's removal or defeating ISIS? Before, the emphasis was on defeating ISIS. Then, we'll deal with Assad. Has that changed?

AMB. NIKKI HALEY:

Well, I think what you have to understand is we can have multiple priorities. So you know, of course, it's to defeat ISIS. I mean, that, we've got to do that for peace and stability in the area. It's also to get out the Iranian influence, which we think is causing so much friction and worse issues in the area. And then we've got to go and make sure that we actually see a leader that will protect his people. And clearly, Assad is not that person.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

That was of course Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. My next guest has been a frequent Republican critic of President Trump on national security issues. But this military action against Syria has his full support. Senator Lindsey Graham joins me now from Clemson, South Carolina. Senator, welcome back to the show sir.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Good morning.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to get to that last question I asked Ambassador Haley, which is, "Does this change America's position here of prioritizing what to prioritize in Syria, ISIS over Assad?" Both Secretary Tillerson and Ambassador Haley have indicated ISIS is still the priority. What say you, Senator?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

I think ISIS should be Germany and Assad should be Japan, like World War II analogies here. Accelerate the demise of ISIL, they're a direct threat to the homeland, Assad's not. But I've never been more encouraged by the Trump administration than I am today.

Ambassador Haley just said on your program, "You'll never end the war with Assad in power." So that means regime change is now the policy of the Trump administration. That's at least what I've heard. So you need more American troops to accelerate the demise of ISIL. We're relying too much on the Kurds. More American forces, five or 6,000, would attract more regional fighters to destroy ISIL.

You need a safe haven quickly so people can regroup inside of Syria. Then you train the opposition to go after Assad. That's how he's taken out by his own people, with our efforts. And you tell the Russians, "If you continue to bomb the people we train, we'll shoot you down.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. Well, okay. Do you think President Trump is ready to take that advice? I mean you're calling for troops to be sent in.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to introduce a resolution in Congress that gives him that authority?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

He already has that authority. You've got some good people on this program. I differ with them in this regard. I think the president has authorization to use force. Assad signed the chemical weapons treaty ban. There's an agreement with him not to use chemical weapons.

What have we learned? That war criminals don't police each other very well. The Putin regime is a bunch of war criminals. And we expected them to police Assad. That didn't work out very well. So all these resolutions are limitations on using force, not authorizations to use force. So I don't intend to vote for anything that limits our ability to win the war against ISIL or replace Assad.

CHUCK TODD:

So you think that Syria, a sovereign country that is not mentioned at all in the current war authorization, somehow you can send troops into that sovereign nation without having to have Congress grant the president more authority there? I think you're in the minority view on that, don't you think, Senator?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

No. We've already got troops on the ground. I don't see anybody saying, "Cut off funding." If you don't like the thousand American troops that are helping to destroy ISIL, cut off funding. Be consistent here. I want more American troops, five or 6,000, like we have in Iraq, to help destroy ISIL. That means it will accelerate the demise of ISIL.

I want to train opposition forces to take Assad down. He's a threat to the United States because he's a proxy of Iran. He used chemical weapons. He violated a treaty that he signed. I think it's up to us to enforce that treaty. We're on sound legal footing here. But our strategy is not yet developed. What comes next? I'm glad Trump did this. He is no longer Obama in the eyes of our enemies. But he needs to do more to close the deal. There's a new sheriff in town.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think there's a moral difference between the use of chemical weapons and barrel bombs?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

No, there's a legal difference, not a moral difference. If you're a mother, your baby is dead. But we do have treaties that we've signed all over the world saying we're not going to let one nation use weapons of mass destruction. That's what the chemical weapons treaty is all about.

But I will say this. If you kill babies with conventional bombs, it's still a moral outrage. Here's what I think Assad's telling Trump by flying from this base: "F you." And I think he's making a serious mistake. Because if you're an adversary of the United States and you don't worry about what Trump may do on any given day--

CHUCK TODD:

Wow.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

--then you're crazy.

CHUCK TODD:

I have to say, you used the initials, but I think that's a first for Meet the Press, Senator Graham.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You even got-- we had a few people watching. It raised a lot of eyebrows.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Good.

CHUCK TODD:

I've got to ask you this about the President's change of heart on this.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Because Jonah Goldberg, in National Review, who is supportive of this strike, but this change of heart still concerns him, he writes, "The strike on Syria is the single best proof that Trump has no overriding commitment to any ideological position. If Trump can abandon his position on this all because of some horrific pictures on T.V., what position is safe?"

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Well, here's my view. He abandoned a position that was not working, which is leaving Assad alone. Obama said he has to go in name only. This President's setting in motion actual strategy to get rid of Assad. To the American people, the war never ends with Assad. He's a recruiting gold mine for ISIL and al-Qaeda. He will not be accepted by the region--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

--nor his people. And so I'm glad the president did this.

CHUCK TODD:

You want him to punish Russia more for his support of Assad.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

What is something concrete that you think he can do in the next couple of months to punish Russia for its support of Assad?

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Sanction Russia for not only interfering in our election but add a paragraph to my bill that says Russia aided and abetted Assad in using chemical weapons, because he did. The Russian soldiers on the base where this attack occurred, the Russians intentionally, in my view, left chemical weapons in the hand of Assad, their proxy. So if I were President Trump, I would go after Russia through sanctions not only for interfering in our elections, but aiding and abetting the use of chemical weapons by a war criminal, Assad.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. A fired up Lindsey Graham this morning from Clemson, South Carolina. Senator, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, even if they were not necessarily PG rated this morning. Thank you.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Good morning.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, two Senate Democrats, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, with two very different views of what the United States should do in Syria and how they should do it. They're next.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. To some extent, the U.S. missile strike on Syria scrambled the usual political alliances you may be familiar with. Senator Tim Kaine was the Democratic vice presidential nominee last year. He's been a full-throated critic of the new president. But he does support the Syria operations, but with reservations. Senator Kaine joins me now from Richmond, Virginia. So Senator, welcome, sir.

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Hey, thanks, Chuck. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with why do you support this action? I know that you have some legal questions about it. And I want to get to that right after that.

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

But why do you support this action?

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Right. Chuck, as you know, I'm a strong supporter that the U.S. should take action to protect humanitarian causes like the ban on use of chemical weapons. And so I voted for a limited strike in August of 2013 to do exactly the same thing. And a limited strike for that purpose, for the humanitarian purpose, is something I would likely support if there's a plan.

But where I differ from this administration, and I took the same position with respect to President Obama, we are a nation where you're not supposed to initiate military action, start war, without a plan that's presented to and approved by Congress. That makes us different than virtually any nation in the world. The idea of the drafters of our constitution was that you had to put a check against an executive gone wild. We don't have a system where the president just gets to launch missiles against anybody they want to. And they haven't presented a plan to Congress and asked for our approval. That's what they've got to do.

CHUCK TODD:

But Senator, in this case, it's very limited, number one. And number two, there were American interests on the ground. We have U.S. soldiers, Special Operation Forces, that are on the ground, very close to chemical weapons. If you're saying this action was illegal, then you must be thinking that the Libya action by President Obama was illegal--

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--Grenada by President Reagan, that was illegal.

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Chuck--

CHUCK TODD:

Are you saying all of those actions were illegal?

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Chuck, I was a Senate candidate in 2011 when President Obama joined military action against Libya for humanitarian purposes. And I said then, I agreed with the Republicans in the House that rebuked President Obama and said he had exceeded his authority because the U.S. was not under imminent threat. That's the only circumstance where a commander-in-chief can use Article Two power without going to Congress, if there's an imminent threat to the United States.

And you just heard Lindsey Graham say that wasn't the case. And President Trump did not say the U.S. was under imminent threat. We had a briefing by the White House on Friday. They still presented us with no plan. We don't know if it's limited or whether there's more. And when we asked about the legal authorization, they said they weren't prepared to discuss that, but they hoped to discuss it in the coming days. Again, our system is we don't want a president, any president, just being able to start a war or launch missiles whenever they want. There's got to be Congressional approval.

CHUCK TODD:

You heard Senator Graham, and he outlined what he would like to see, what actions are taken going forward. And he described sending maybe 5,000 troops.

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

And I asked him, "Okay, do you need Congressional authorization for that?" He says no. Let me ask you this question. If an authorization is on the floor of the Senate that describes what Senator Graham wants to do, sending in a limited number of troops to basically push the momentum back against Assad again, would you support something like that?

SEN. TIM KAINE:

You know, Lindsey and I agree that these atrocities are horrible. But here's where we part company. He stated very plainly, "Great, the Trump administration is for regime change." I don't think the U.S. policy toward any nation should be, "We get to change out your leaders."

If Assad's doing things wrong, violating international treaties with an authorization, we can try to deter him from doing it. We can prosecute him for war crimes. But I don't think the policy of the U.S. should be, "We're going to change the regime of your leadership." That's for Syrians to decide. We should be part of a political process. But I don't think regime change should be official U.S. policy.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think Assad will go under any circumstance that isn't military?

SEN. TIM KAINE:

I agree with Ambassador Haley that I don't think there's any political solution to the civil war in Syria that doesn't mean that Assad moves aside because he's tearing up the country. But instead of regime change, what we should focus on is humanitarian relief. In February of 2014, the U.N. Security Council said, "We should be delivering humanitarian aid to Syrians." If we had started doing that then, many fewer would have left the country. That's what we should do. But neither regime change nor a full-on, unauthorized war against Syria is what we should be doing.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Tim Kaine, I'm going to leave it there. Senator, thanks very much. And I'm going to turn--

SEN. TIM KAINE:

You bet, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

--to yet another point of view on this. Joining me now is Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who has a little bit of a dimmer view on the strike against Syria. Senator Sanders joins me now from Burlington, Vermont. Welcome back, sir.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

So explain why you were against this strike.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well Chuck, for a start, let's all recognize that, in a world full of disgusting dictators, Bashar Assad maybe ranks at the top. This is a guy, in order to hang on to power, has allowed 400,000 people in his own country to be killed and millions to be displaced. Our goal, long term, has got to work with countries around the world. We cannot do it unilaterally. We've got to work with countries around the world for a political solution to get rid of this guy and to finally bring peace and stability to this country, which has been so decimated. I do not believe, to answer your question, that the president simply has the authority to launch missiles. I think he has got to come to the United States Congress.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I think he has got to explain to us what his long term goals are. Chuck, let me just say this. Maybe the most important vote that I have ever cast in my life as a member of Congress was against the war in Iraq. When we get sucked into a war, we do not know the unintended consequences. It is easier to get into a war than it is to get out of a war, as we have learned now over the last 15 years in the Middle East.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a point where humanitarian cause sort of trumps that? You know, where you see the gassing of people. Is there a point where America's moral authority is being challenged here, and you have to send a military message because no one else is going to do that, and nothing else will deter Assad?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you ever believe there's a moment--

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Look, look.

CHUCK TODD:

--like that?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

What we are seeing in Syria is the disintegration and the destruction of an entire country. It is horrible, beyond horrible. Yes, I mean what can we say about somebody who gasses men, women and children in his own country? It is disgusting beyond words. But what we have got to do is be smart and figure out what is the rational solution.

Is putting 50 missiles into Syria going to solve that problem? At the end of the day, in my view, we have got to learn about what the war, the failure of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, not repeat them, understand that it will be diplomacy, demanding that Russia, demanding that Iran, sit down at the table with the rest of world and get--

CHUCK TODD:

What--

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

--help us solve this problem.

CHUCK TODD:

They've been calling for that for three years now. There's has been this-- you know, the talks in Geneva, then-Secretary of State John Kerry kept going back to the table. The Russians and the Iranians don't look like they're interested in a diplomatic political solution here.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Look, Chuck, you're right. Chuck, you are right. Look, this is an extremely complicated and difficult issue. But I can also tell you that we have been in war in Iraq and Afghanistan for 14 years. Thousands of American soldiers have died. The whole Middle East has been thrown into an uproar, massive instability. You know, all that I'm saying here is that we have got to be clear about what our goals are, not do it unilaterally.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

And understand also, may I say, that when we have a collapsing middle class and 28 million people without any health insurance and an infrastructure that needs a trillion dollars of repair, that maybe we don't want to throw trillions of dollars more into unending, perpetual warfare in the Middle East.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, in December of 2015, you called for more diplomacy, working with the Russians-- In fact, you said, "You know, look, I am more than aware of the political differences we have with Russia today. But our job is to bring together a coalition which understands that the primary function right now is to destroy ISIS, to push aside for the moment, at least other differences of opinion." Now, back then, you were a proponent of, hey, we have to prioritize the ISIS situation first in Syria. Has your mind changed on that, watching what Assad's been doing?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Assad has been doing what he has been doing for years. Chuck, 400,000 people in Syria have been killed, men, women and children. Over five million people have been displaced. This is a horror show. Yes, we have got to destroy ISIS. Yes, we eventually have got to get rid of Assad. But we cannot, in my view, do it unilaterally. That will not work.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you do to the Russians, though, if they're not going to be at all interested in a political solution? How do you encourage them--

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I think you--

CHUCK TODD:

--to the table?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I think you may want to make them an offer they can't refuse. And that means tightening the screws on them, dealing with sanctions, telling them that we need their help, they have got to come to the table and not maintain this horrific dictator. None of this stuff is easy, Chuck. And any position that anybody takes can be criticized. But at the end of the day, I think getting the United States involved in perpetual warfare, sending troops into Syria, will just continue the process of money going down a rat hole. I think ultimately the solution has got to be political.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

And by the way.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, sir.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

One other thing that concerns--

CHUCK TODD:

Last comment.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

--many people.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, sir.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

All right, is Trump says one thing and he ends up doing another thing. Let's get some consistency from this president. Let's get the Congress involved in this debate.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent progressive from Vermont. Senator, thanks for being on the show, sir. Appreciate it.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, there you have it. A lot of perspectives on Syria these days. So the political fallout from what happened in Syria this week, that will be next with the panel. And later, there's nothing new about a White House power struggle. But the one we're hearing about in the West Wing involving chief strategist Steve Bannon and the President's son-in-law Jared Kushner, could actually have profound impacts on domestic and foreign policy. Stay with us.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panel is here, we've got a lot to digest. Rich Lowry of the National Review, Helene Cooper the Pentagon correspondent for the New York Times, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, and David Brooks, columnist for the New York Times. Alright, let's just start with the basics here: what did we learn about Donald Trump this week and Syria.

DAVID BROOKS:

Well we're debating him like this is like Winston Churchill the world of war, like he's making some big strategic decision. I'm afraid it's Dory in Finding Nemo that he did one thing and it'll have no consequences that there was no strategic thinking behind it and there's no big strategic shift. I do think the one promising thing is we're never gonna be in the business of regime change anytime soon. But we should be in the business of defending some basic norms of civilization. 100 years ago the U.S. entered World War One thousands were gassed to death, so at least we can be against gassing. And so in that sense, this action was a useful action. And we should just be in the business of trying to make sure, when people fight, they behave some basic level of human decency. And so we at least had a little thing in this. But I'm not sure it was a big shift in any way.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it the doctrine of flexibility?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Flexibility. We were all over President Obama when he told President Putin that he would be flexible. I don't think we know. I think David's absolutely right. We don't know whether this was a tactical strike or this is a strategic shift. And we have the Secretary of State suggesting to us, "No, no, no, there's nothing to see here. This was just a one-off."

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Still ISIS, right.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Right, still about ISIS, not about Assad. And then we've got Nikki Haley suggesting to us that, no, in fact, things seem to have changed. So I think we're going to have to wait and see what develops in the next weeks.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich, I want you to respond to this. Because it's actually fairly similar thought that Jonah Goldberg wrote that I used with Lindsey Graham there. He writes this: "A positive interpretation of these latest developments is that Trump is someone who's willing to adjust to a deeper, fresher understanding of events to pivot in accordance with circumstances to learn and to evolve. But another take is that Trump isn't just uninformed, but unformed. And that's not reassuring at all." Where are you on that?

RICH LOWRY:

Well clearly things he said for years on Twitter and even in the campaign at his rallies, were not well considered, to put it mildly, about Syria. I think it's good that he feels the pressure of the office, as he admitted over the last week, and has adjusted. I'm a skeptic, though, of pin-prick strikes. Usually they're too weak and symbolic to make a big difference. It may be that this one succeeds in the narrow goal of deterring future chemical attacks. But what's gonna happen inevitably, and is already happening, apparently, from this air field--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

RICH LOWRY:

--is that Assad will continue with his more routine war crimes as if nothing had happened, and therefore, implicitly defy us.

CHUCK TODD:

Helene, where were the Pentagon officials on this? Is this the plan they really wanted him to pick? Or were they kind of hoping he'd do something a little more robust?

HELENE COOPER:

I think what you've seen is sort of an assertion right now of the Pentagon when it comes to American national security policy. And we just saw that take place last week.

CHUCK TODD:

This was Mattis-driven?

HELENE COOPER:

It was absolutely Mattis-driven.

CHUCK TODD:

Secretary of Defense, right.

HELENE COOPER:

But beyond that, I found your interview with Nikki Haley to be extraordinary. Because she was very, very, and she has been in the past week, very, very strong in saying, "Assad must go, this is absolutely-- " but if you look at what she said on March 30th, and Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, echoed her on the same day, they both came out and said that getting rid of Assad was not the focus of the Trump administration. And then Rex Tillerson went even further than that in saying it's up to the Syrian people. A lot of people believe that's sent a message that the Trump administration was not going to go after Assad anymore and he could do whatever he wanted. Now, a week later, you have them spinning a completely different line. And this level of mixed messaging in national security, I think, is dangerous. I think it gets back to sort of the, I think, a basic point of American foreign policy is to figure out what you believe and what you stand for and speak with one voice. But we're having people saying everything right now. And nobody knows, at this point, whether we are in favor of regime change or not.

DAVID BROOKS:

I'd say that's because the function of this show has changed. In past administrations, they would come on to give the administration point of view. Now they use this show like it's the Roosevelt Room and they're arguing to try to influence the president.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Come on. I mean we're still overstating this. Okay, Barack Obama said, "Assad must go." Barack Obama said he had a red line. And Assad didn't go, and the red line was not a red line. The truth is that administrations do evolve, they make decisions. And, you know, it's early days for the Trump administration. I'm willing, at this point, to give them the benefit of the doubt that there is an actual evolution in thinking going on as they assess all of their policies. We're not even 100 days in.

RICH LOWRY:

It was a bad week for Obama's legacy. Because one, Trump showed, doing this sort of exemplary strike is not that difficult. So it makes Obama's dithering look a little ridiculous. And two, it exposed the supposed deal to get chemical weapons out of Syria as a total sham, if there was any doubt from the beginning that that's what it was.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's move to this Congressional debate. Because I do think, look, individual members of Congress want this debate about does this belong in the authorization or do you need a new authorization if you're going to do more in Syria? This seems like the rank and file may trump leadership here. I know leadership doesn't want a vote.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I don't think anybody wants a vote on this. Look, the problem for Congress is, okay, they didn't do another AUMF under Obama. They are not going-- an Authorization for the Use of Military Force.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Thank you.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

We're all here in Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

Acronyms, I know.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yes, exactly, I'm sorry.

CHUCK TODD:

Don't speak Washington, right.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Exactly. They didn't do it under Obama. The reality is that, if they choose to do this, and they get into a fight about whether Syria should or should not be included, the next time Hezbollah does something, the next time an American dies at the hands of the Iranians or the Syrians, it's going to be "Because Congress didn't let them do it." There's no percentage for them.

CHUCK TODD:

But if Congress, Rich, I want to go to a point you made off camera. If Congress doesn't exert its authority here--

RICH LOWRY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--then they're ceding it.

RICH LOWRY:

Yes. This is something the founders never counted on, that you'd have one branch of government that didn't want to protect its prerogatives because too much accountability would be involved.

RICH LOWRY:

So I think this strike is within the bounds of what prior presidents have done without Congressional authorization. But if you really have a policy of going after Assad and waging war on his regime, you should get Congressional authorization for that.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah, the difference is between hostilities. I mean we're not using the pony express here anymore. The world just moves a little too fast.

CHUCK TODD:

And fair enough. All right, I'm going to pause here. We will continue this conversation in a minute. But coming up, would you buy a product endorsed by this man? A lot of people were asked that very question. We'll reveal their answers when we return.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:Welcome back, Data Download time. When he won the White House, some critics worried Donald Trump would use his new office to pick winners and loser by endorsing products. So, we asked how would a Trump endorsement play with consumers. Well according to our partners at Simmons Research, 18 percent of Americans would be more likely to use a product that was endorsed by President Trump. 49 percent say they would be less likely, and a full 29 percent, nearly a third of Americans, would actively boycott a product endorsed by the president.

So right now, that says a presidential endorsement of a good or service is more likely to cause a boycott or slump for that product than a bump, and by a big margin. In fact, even among Republicans, the results were surprising. More likely to use, 31 percent, less likely to use, 23 percent. That's really only an eight point difference. And by the way, 11 percent of Republicans say they would boycott.

For Democrats, a meager 10 percent would be more likely to use a product endorsed by Donald Trump, while a whopping 71 percent would be less likely, and 45 percent of those folks would actively boycott that product. And believe it or not, independents break down a lot more like Democrats than you might think on this question. Only eight percent would be more likely to use, 55 percent less likely, that's pretty striking. Nearly a quarter of independents would actively boycott a product if Trump endorsed it.

Now look, while President Trump's hotels and golf clubs are flourishing for the folks in line at the cash register, Trump's brand may be taking a hit, as Americans show their willingness to view consumer choices as political decisions. In fact, don't be surprised to see more and more brands simply run away from politics altogether, forget pro or con on Trump. They may not want to touch any of it. When we come back, the power struggle in the White House. However you look at it, the result could have a profound impact on where Donald Trump's presidency goes from here. Stay with us.

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E BLOCK

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with the panel, there is a lot of palace intrigue this week. Here are the headlines all there, they were all semi-Bannon related. Steve Bannon, the chief strategist there, Rich Lowry what do you make of it? Because, and do you connect Bannon being kicked off the National Security Council. Two days later, something that he argued against, a Syria strike happens. It's clear that if it's Bannon versus the president's son-in-law, Bannon is losing.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah, it's not hard to handicap that one because there is only one person who can't be fired in that equation. And, if the Democrats take over, and this is one bizarre thing about this administration, you have Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who wouldn't be within a hundred miles of any other Republican administration. If they take over, I think you will see probably a less chaotic White House, but on policy I would worry anything that might be embarrassing at a dinner party with Anna Wintour will either be jettisoned or significantly softened.

DAVID BROOKS:

That is to me...I do think son-in-laws do get fired, by the way, some of them. It's like a philosophical difference almost. There is a fancy restaurant in New York called Cipriani, which is sort of the Jared Kushner wing of the Republican party--

RICH LOWRY

David has never been there--

DAVID BROOKS:

I have never been there, but I have walked by it. Then there is a bunch of truck stops in Texas called Buc-ee's which is the Steve Bannon wing and they are very different parts of America and which is this administration going to orient around - that's fundamentally a philosophical question and it is hard to have a single strategic administration where you're trying to be Cipriani's and Buc-ee's at the same time.

CHUCK TODD:

And going back to the President's son-in-law, at the end of the day, you can't have a troika if one of them can't be fired.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

No, I think you-- look, you can't have a troika. The problem with this administration is the palace intrigue, it's like the sublime port. The old Byzantine Empire where, you know, you have the Grand Vizier, and that's Bannon. And then you've got the family and the favorite daughter and the son-in-law.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And for sure Bannon is the one who is expendable in that equation. But he has a lot of sway with the president, otherwise, he wouldn't be there.

CHUCK TODD:

Is Bannon one you want out, outside of the tent?

HELENE COOPER:

Not to mention the fact that Bannon is, you know, in many ways, credited for helping Trump to get elected.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Rightly.

HELENE COOPER:

I mean that's not-- I certainly don't think it was Jared Kushner.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

HELENE COOPER:

But I think it's certain, you know, when you look at this kind of palace intrigue, I thought it was fascinating that General Dunford, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff chose to take Kushner with him on that trip to Iraq this week. It was very much-- and you see that the rest of the administration is sort of reading tea leaves, as well. The Pentagon certainly thinks that Kushner is where their future is.

RICH LOWRY:

This is an amazing thing. You look at Washington, there's no Trumpist wing in Congress. And the core Trumpists are only just a faction within the White House itself. And what I fear is what was best about Trumpism, a focus on working class voters--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

RICH LOWRY:

--a widening out of economic policy beyond marginal tax cuts, that's going to be jettisoned.

CHUCK TODD:

I've got to read this, though, this little alternative-- imagine the alternative here. It was written in something called Civil Hall by a man named Micah Sifry. "President Hillary Clinton quietly sent her son-in-law, investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, to Iraq on Monday, while Clinton's husband has largely stayed out of the White House and remained at home in New York, her daughter, Chelsea, has also taken an unpaid role in the administration while continuing to run the family foundation and earning five and six-figure fees giving speeches to corporations with interests in Washington." Ah!

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Totally credible. Totally credible.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It would happen. And by the way, to be fair, everybody would have said exactly the same thing that they said about Jared Kushner going to Iraq. People would be critical. The problem with Hillary was she had her daughter and a foundation and it looked corrupt. And, you know what?

DAVID BROOKS:

I-- why did we fight this revolution? Because now we just have a monarchy with just family intrigue and things like that. The one thing about the Bannon thing that interests me personally is you don't have to be kind to succeed in Washington, but you do have to be nice. You have to be superficially pleasant to the people you work with. And fundamentally, I think Bannon is failing that test.

CHUCK TODD:

What happens if former Goldman Sachs-er Gary Cohn ends up as chief of staff? I mean to me, it's like he's already flipped-- you know, you could say he's flipped on Syria.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

That'd be another pretty large flip.

HELENE COOPER:

It would be a huge flip. And we would be seeing a return to the Donald Trump that we used to think we had, the same Donald Trump who said to many people, you know, to many liberals, "You're going to like having me as president, don't worry about it," the Donald Trump that we, you know, before he moved further to the right to embrace more of the Republican orthodoxy, I think that's where we would be moving.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yeah, but we've got the midterms next year.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And if Donald Trump abandons the people who elected him, and Bannon does, in many ways, represent that wing of the Republican Party, then he's going to be in trouble. And the Republican Party's going to be in trouble in 2018.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. That's a good place to pause. We'll be back in just 45 seconds with Endgame and what Hillary Clinton just said about President Trump and the people who voted for him.

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F BLOCK

CHUCK TODD:Back now with Endgame Hillary Clinton sort of came out did an interview with Nick Kristof that was in fact, where hours before President Trump addressed the nation saying we're bombing an air field she was recommending, we should be bombing his airfield, but she said something else in the interview that's in his column this morning, talking about the election and she said, she characterized the mindset of Trump voters this way as, 'I don't agree with him, I'm not sure I really approve of him, but he looks like somebody who's been president before.'Helene, she believed misogyny played a much larger role in this than has been analyzed by many of us. What do you say?

HELENE COOPER:

I think many women probably feel that way. And I don't think I would necessarily dismiss that. I've talked to plenty of Trump voters who say they just didn't like Hillary, and including women who said, "No, there's just some-- I just didn't like her." I think there's something to be said for that. I think that, as you-- I'm not going to plug my book, because you're giving me the perfect opportunity to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

But I am.

HELENE COOPER:

About what happens--

CHUCK TODD:

That's about Liberian--

HELENE COOPER:

--about what happened in the Liberian election, when Liberia elected a female president. But I think we can't pretend that misogyny doesn't exist.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Oh, come on.

HELENE COOPER:

I think it would be naive to--

CHUCK TODD:

But Dani, she took it a step further. She said that women in power just get negatively characterized, over time, more so than men. That was her larger argument. What do you say?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Okay, first of all, Hillary Clinton doesn't want to take responsibility for anything. She lost the election because she's Hillary Clinton not because she's a woman. And yes, of course, women in power are more negatively portrayed. A hard-charging man, a woman as a-- can I go out to Lindsey Graham and use a bad word? We know what it is. Look, you know, if you want to be a woman who's influential, then stand up to it, ignore it, and it will change over time. Screaming about misogyny doesn't change things.

DAVID BROOKS:

Yeah, I disagree. I mean gender politics clearly played a role in this election.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Eh.

DAVID BROOKS:

Not so much necessarily misogyny, but certainly-- Donald Trump is a cliché of old-fashioned masculinity.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah.

DAVID BROOKS:

And a lot of people long for that kind of masculinity, which is never coming back, but they long for it. And so to say that his hyper-macho stereotype was not part of why he got elected, I mean it wasn't his knowledge.

CHUCK TODD:

You're nodding.

RICH LOWRY:

You saw this in the primaries, where it didn't matter how sophomoric Donald Trump was being. If you're standing in the middle of a debate stage, he was just a bigger figure than anyone else up there. So he had a certain executive bearing, and that helped. But ultimately, Hillary Clinton is just not good at politics. She's not a good campaigner. And she's probably the one active politician in the country who could have lost to Donald Trump. And she did.

CHUCK TODD:

And you don't think-- you think another woman could have beaten Donald Trump?

RICH LOWRY:

A likable woman could have, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and I guess her--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Let's get to the phrase "likable."

CHUCK TODD:

And that gets to her--

HELENE COOPER:

As soon as we start using words like "Likable," Donald Trump is likable?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

For lots of voters, he was.

RICH LOWRY:

No but there are women politicians who are likable. Hillary is just-- you know, Barack Obama said, "You're likable enough, Hillary." And that was not true. That was just not true in this election.

DAVID BROOKS:

Maybe "associatable" is enough. Where people think, "She gets me." And they didn't think that, they did think that.

CHUCK TODD:

I think 'relatable" is--

CHUCK TODD:

--different--

HELENE COOPER:

Relatable.

DAVID BROOKS:

Relatable.

CHUCK TODD:

--than likeability. All right. Well, this is-- this one is fraught with a lot of peril.

CHUCK TODD:

But you know what?

CHUCK TODD:

We will-- the good news is, guess what? There are a lot of people who are going to be having their own debates about this issue later this morning. That's all we have for today. We'll be back next week because, even on Easter Sunday, it's Meet the Press. So we'll see you next Sunday.

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