Meet the Press - 6/23

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, my sit-down with President Donald Trump. A blunt, frank and far reaching interview.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start right in. What happened last night?

CHUCK TODD:

On why he stopped the planned military strike on Iran--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said, “Go ahead.” and I didn't like it. I didn't think it was, I didn’t think it was proportionate.

CHUCK TODD:

-- on U-S Iranian relations:

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I'm not looking for war and if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before. But you can't have a nuclear weapon.

CHUCK TODD:

-- on children in migrant camps.

CHUCK TODD:

They are in terrible shape down there, Mr. President. Down in Homestead, Florida, that’s where I grew up, these, the conditions are terrible.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I agree. And it's been --

CHUCK TODD:

Do something.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- that way for a long time.

CHUCK TODD:

Do something.

CHUCK TODD:

-- on joining a lawsuit that would kill coverage for pre-existing conditions.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I am in favor, I am in favor of pre-existing conditions. I am fighting --

CHUCK TODD:

So get rid of, so drop the lawsuit.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We will--

CHUCK TODD:

So drop your aspect of the lawsuit.

CHUCK TODD:

And on his biggest regret as president:

CHUCK TODD:

If you could have one do-over as president, what would it be?

CHUCK TODD:

All that, plus what Mr. Trump thinks of how impeachment could impact his re-election prospects, if he'll keep Vice President Mike Pence on the ticket and whether he's prepared to lose the election. This morning, one-on-one with President Trump. Plus, the Democrats. As we head into the first debates, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg confront difficult questions on race. Joining me for insight and analysis are NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan and Lanhee Chen of Stanford University. Welcome to Sunday and a special edition of Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News, the longest running show in television history, this is a special edition of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, good Sunday morning. It's safe to say we're at one of the first pivot points of the 2020 election cycle. President Trump officially kicked off his re-election bid in Florida this week, though you could argue he's been running for re-election since he filed his papers the day he was inaugurated. At the same time, Democrats will unofficially hear the starting gun for their nomination fight, when 20 candidates face off for two nights of debates this coming week in Miami. And even though he won't be there, President Trump will be a dominant presence at those debates. One way or the other, the 2020 election will be a referendum on Donald Trump. The president will argue he's a successful "businessman turned president" who's created a strong economy, appointed conservative judges, ended unnecessary regulations and re-established a sense of a strong and, yes, feared America around the world. In short, he'll argue he's made America great again. Democrats will say he's a bigot who's praised neo-Nazis, caged children, lied shamelessly and embarrassed America before the world. In short, they'll argue he's unfit for the office. I sat down with President Trump Friday morning for an interview that touched on, well, almost everything. From the crisis at the border, to the Mueller Report, to whether he'll accept the results of the election if he loses. But we started with his decision, just hours earlier, to call off a retaliatory strike after Iran shot down an unmanned American drone.

Mr. President, welcome back to Meet the Press.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start right in, what happened last night?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, you had a situation that was very bad because the night before, they shot down an unmanned drone. And the unmanned is a very big factor. The fact that there was not a person on it, a U.S. person on it, or anybody. And that had an impact on me. I said, "Well, you know, we got a little problem." And I think they did that on purpose because they understand that they will be hit very hard if that were a plane with a person in it. And I think they knew that there was nobody there. So we had a very, you know, modest but pretty, pretty heavy attack schedule.

CHUCK TODD:

And this is a pre-plan that you had, something that if they did something, you had something --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, we had it --

CHUCK TODD:

-- these were sort of ready-made plans --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Sure, we have many of them --

CHUCK TODD:

-- to use if necessary, right?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Oh, I have so many targets you wouldn't believe.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We have targets all over.

CHUCK TODD:

So did you green light something? Or had you said --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Nothing’s --

CHUCK TODD:

"If we do it, I'll do this." What was, what was the order you gave?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Nothing is green lighted until the very end because --

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- things change, right?

CHUCK TODD:

So you never gave a final order?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, no, no. But we had something ready to go, subject to my approval. And they came in. And they came in about a half an hour before, they said, "So we're about ready to go." I said, "I want a better definition --"

CHUCK TODD:

Planes in the air? Were planes in the air?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, no. "We're about ready to go." No, but they would have been pretty soon. And things would have happened to a point where you wouldn't turn back or couldn't turn back. So they came and they said, "Sir, we're ready to go. We'd like a decision." I said, "I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed, in this case Iranians?" I said, "How many people are going to be killed?" "Sir, I'd like get back to you on that," great people these generals. They said, came back, said, "Sir, approximately 150." And I thought about it for a second and I said, "You know what? They shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it. And here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead." And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was, I didn’t think it was proportionate. Now that doesn't mean --

CHUCK TODD:

You think they were trying to provoke you?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, I don't think so. And I think it was very important that they, to them, don't forget, their economy --

CHUCK TODD:

They don’t -- they, they --you don't think they intended to get you to respond militarily?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, their economy is shattered. Shattered.

CHUCK TODD:

So what's the message you think they’re sending?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Their inflation is through the roof. They’ve never had, the highest in the world right now. Worse than any place. They're, they’re living not well.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you want to do a separate deal with Iran? Or do you want to get everybody involved in the same deal? Get the Russians, get the Chinese?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I don't care which, what kind of a deal. It can be separate or it could be total.

CHUCK TODD:

But it’s one-on-one talks, you and the Ayatollah?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

All it is -- all it is --

CHUCK TODD:

Is it one-on-one talks, you and the Ayatollah, or you and the President?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It doesn't matter to me. Here's what I want, anything that gets you to the result. They cannot have a nuclear weapon. It's not about the straits. You know, a lot of people covered it incorrectly. They're never mentioned. They cannot have a nuclear weapon. They'd use it. And they're not going to have a nuclear weapon.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you send a message --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

And it's not about the oil.

CHUCK TODD:

-- last night? You know, Reuters is reporting that you sent a message to the Iranians saying, "I don't want war. I want to talk."

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wrong. It’s wrong. I did not send that message. I did not send that message. I don't know who --

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I don’t know who would have said that.

CHUCK TODD:

Send a message right now to the Ayatollah.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I mean it's fake news.

CHUCK TODD:

Then send a message right now to the Ayatollah.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wouldn't be much different than that message.

CHUCK TODD:

Which is?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I'm not looking for war and if there is, it'll be obliteration like you've never seen before. But I'm not looking to do that. But you can't have a nuclear weapon. You want to talk? Good. Otherwise you can have a bad economy for the next --

CHUCK TODD:

No pre-conditions?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- three years. Not as far as I'm concerned. No pre-conditions.

CHUCK TODD:

And you'll talk anywhere?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Here it is. Look, you can't have nuclear weapons. And if you want to talk about it, good. Otherwise you can live in a shattered economy for a long time to come.

CHUCK TODD:

If you, are you, do you feel like you were being pushed into military action against Iran by any of your advisors?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I have two groups of people. I have doves and I have hawks.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, you have some serious hawks.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I have some hawks. Yeah, John Bolton is absolutely a hawk. If it was up to him he'd take on the whole world at one time, okay? But that doesn't matter because I want both sides. You know, some people said, “Why did you put --” You know, I was against going into Iraq for years and years. And before it ever happened I was against going into Iraq. And some people said, "Oh I don't know." I was totally against and I was a private citizen. It never made sense to me. I was against going into the Middle East. Chuck, we've spent $7 trillion in the Middle East right now.

CHUCK TODD:

What would a candidate Trump have said about a president who, on his watch, had Iran shooting down a drone, a Venezuelan dictator thumbing his nose at you, Obamacare still on the books and no results yet on the border? The border getting tough --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, let's, let’s take a look. Let’s take a look --

CHUCK TODD:

I just say -- what would candidate Trump have said about that?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Okay, let's take a look. The border's doing great. Mexico's been fantastic. They've been trying to get a deal with Mexico for 45 years, right? So for 45 years, they couldn't get a deal. I got one in one day. I said, "We're going to put tariffs on and we're going to either have a deal or not. We agreed in one day." Mexico just moved 6,000 people to their southern border. 6,000 troops to their southern border. The border's working out well. And the wall is being built. I mean, a lot of people don't like to talk about it. We're building the wall. We will have 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year and that's hard because the Democrats don't want to approve it. We just beat them in a big lawsuit, as you know, in Washington, in D.C. We just beat them in a very big lawsuit.

CHUCK TODD:

But does it frustrate you that your border numbers are worse than Obama’s?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, because the people are coming up because our economy is so good. They're pouring up because the economy is so good. Obama had a lousy economy. It was a dead economy.

CHUCK TODD:

Can I ask you about that?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Our, our economy is good.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me show you this chart. Do you see that chart?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

It's the unemployment rate from the peak of the recession.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

Your economy is great. I'm not saying it's not great. But this recovery started and in the 28 months that you've been president and the last 28 months of Obama's presidency, he averaged more new jobs than your first 28 --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

That's because he started off with a, with such a bad base. I mean, he hit --

CHUCK TODD:

Ok. But it is -- is it not a continuation?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, but Chuck, you have to understand, nobody was working. The whole place was a disaster. And I don’t-- I'd never take that away.

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

But it's very easy --

CHUCK TODD:

Alright.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- because when that turned around they pumped a tremendous amount of money into the economy. He also had a Federal Reserve person who kept the interest rates low. I don't. I don't have that privilege.

CHUCK TODD:

Sounds like you do now. Do you feel like you have --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

-- do you feel you have sent --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

He raised them far too fast.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the threat --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

He raised them far too fast.

CHUCK TODD:

-- your threat to demote him, do you think that's had an impact?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I didn't ever threaten to demote him.

CHUCK TODD:

There's been some talk that you might demote him to the number two slot.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I, I, I'd be able to do that if I wanted but I haven't suggested that. I mean --

CHUCK TODD:

That’s not a threat --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, it’s not --

CHUCK TODD:

-- that’s just a reminder that you can?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, I have the right to do that. But I haven't said that. What he's done is $50 billion a month in quantitative tightening. That's ridiculous. What he's done is he raised interest rates too fast.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you worry it's going to hurt --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I've been proven right.

CHUCK TODD:

-- your reelection?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think the economy's so strong we're going to bull through it. But I'm not happy with his actions. No, I don't think he's done a good job. I think this, if he didn't raise rates Obama had very low rates. So Obama was playing with funny money. I wasn't. I'm playing with the real stuff.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wait, wait. Obama had somebody that kept the rates very low. I had somebody that raised the rates very rapidly. Too much. He made a mistake. That's been proven. And yet my economy is phenomenal. We have now the best economy, maybe in the history of our country. One -- just to finish off, when I took over, this country, the economy was ready to collapse. You take a look at the numbers. It was ready to collapse. And if I didn't win --

CHUCK TODD:

I just showed you the numbers. It was not ready to collapse.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No no, no, that’s -- You showed me unemployment numbers.

CHUCK TODD:

That was unemployment. It was not ready --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Excuse me.

CHUCK TODD:

-- to collapse.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Excuse me. Take a look at your GDP, take a look at your jobs, take a look at your optimism.

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Take a look at all of the charts. When I took over from election day on, I mean, you show me one chart which, where I did --

CHUCK TODD:

It was the unemployment rate.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- well in that too, but I'm not --

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- talking about that. Take a look at some of the optimism charts and everything else. It went from 57 to 92. Nobody's ever seen anything that --

CHUCK TODD:

You're right. You're right.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- right after I won.

CHUCK TODD:

The optimism, you're right.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, optimism is a big part of success in business. Okay.

CHUCK TODD:

You were always hard on Obama. You thought he wasn't enough of a cheerleader.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

He was not a cheerleader.

CHUCK TODD:

If you could have one do over as president, what would it be?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, it would be personnel.

CHUCK TODD:

Who is it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I would say if I had one do over, it would be, I would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be attorney general. That would be my one --

CHUCK TODD:

That’s your, in your mind, that's your worst mistake?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah, that was the biggest mistake.

CHUCK TODD:

Is Bill Barr your Roy Cohn?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

He should’ve never -- I think he's a very talented, very--

CHUCK TODD:

But do you know what I mean by that? You've always said --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, no, look --

CHUCK TODD:

“Where’s my Roy Cohn?” Is he your Roy Cohn?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You have to understand, Roy Cohn, but I had many, many lawyers. I mean, a lot of lawyers. Roy was one of them. He was a tough guy. Bill Barr is a -- first of all, Bill Barr --

CHUCK TODD:

Is he cut from the same cloth, do you think?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Bill Barr is a very, he’s equally tough. He's a fine man. He's a fine man. The job he's done is incredible. He's brought sanity back. I think he’s real -- I don't think, I know, he's respected. You know, he loves the Department of Justice. He saw what was happening. He has done a spectacular job. Now he's in the process of doing something and I stay away from it. I really, I stay away from it. But I think he feels that what's happened in this country was a very bad thing and very bad for our country.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, that's part one of my interview with President Trump. Since there's a lot to unpack, we want to unpack it in bite-sized chunks for you. So let me bring in the panel. Lanhee Chen of Stanford University; the Wall Street Journal's columnist Peggy Noonan; NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker; Peter Baker, Chief White House Correspondent for the New York Times. First takeaway, Peter.

PETER BAKER:

Well, you know, he’s -- you're jousting with him in a really interesting way. And it's interesting that he's letting you do this. Because most presidents wouldn't allow you to sort of, like, push him that way. But that's the only way you get him to talk.

CHUCK TODD:

I think he likes that.

PETER BAKER:

I think he likes that. I think he does. And I think he's enjoying giving you his case for reelection, as you already outlined, basically. He's running on the economy, despite all the things that Obama had done wrong. He's the one who's going to be tough on Iran, when Obama just gave away the store. The question is whether the results are going to end up being there in November 2020, as you said. The wall is not built. Border crossing are up. Can he make enough of a case on the economy and Obamacare and things like that?

CHUCK TODD:

He had readymade foils. His fed chair could slow down his economy. Democrats are the ones hurting him in the border. Jeff Sessions, worst mistake he made. Those are, those are people to blame, if things aren't going right.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Right, well, and let me start there, Chuck. Because he mentioned Jeff Sessions. But he first said, "personnel." And I thought that was notable. Look at how this week evolved. He's grappling with Iran. But doesn't have a defense secretary in place, hasn't had a permanent defense secretary for six months. He's dealing with what's happening at the border, this decision to pull back on his threat of ICE deportations. And yet, he doesn't have a permanent DHS secretary. And of course, Jerome Powell, taking aim at Jerome Powell and dangling the possibility of demoting him to the number-two slot. This has sort of hovered over his entire administration. And you're starting to see him line up the excuses, yet. But it continues, I think, to plague him, as he makes these really critical choices.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you see there, Peggy?

PEGGY NOONAN:

All correct. I agree with everything you said. But mostly, what I saw was he loves this. He loves talking. He loves interviewing. He's loaded for bear. He's thought out the forays he's going to take in the future. I thought the most-interesting thing he said was, "I have doves, and I have hawks," explaining his, his Iran decision this week. I think the American people will be sympathetic to that decision, sympathetic to the declared reasons for it, and sympathetic or supportive of the idea that he's thinking about this. And he's got a lot of different people. And he listens to them. And then he makes a decision.

CHUCK TODD:

Lanhee, I'll tell you, I don't believe he ever would've ordered the strike. I'll just be honest with you. The person that I've interviewed and known for a long time, and his positions on this, but he was reveling in the fact that he had everybody confused.

LANHEE CHEN:

Well, this was a classic articulation of Trumpian democracy at work, Trumpian diplomacy at work, I mean. So you think about it this way. There's a piece of leverage that, maybe, he's created. And he doesn't allow people to really know what he's thinking. And so he may or may not exercise or use that leverage. And he uses that to bring his adversary to the table. You've seen it with North Korea. You've seen it with China. You've seen it with Mexico. And now, you're seeing it with Iran. And in many ways, it has become entirely predictable. The unpredictable has become entirely predictable. So the interesting question will be, what next? But I think you're right. I think, if you look at Trump from the campaign, you look at the Donald Trump who we know, about not wanting to get entangled in the Middle East, it was very unlikely, I think, that he was ever going to launch that strike.

CHUCK TODD:

Was that a confident president? Or is he trying to show too -- so much confidence, because he's nervous about the economy, he is nervous about Iran, he is nervous about the border, he is nervous about Jeff Sessions, which is code for investigations and Mueller? Yeah.

PETER BAKER:

Exactly. Look, as you say, he just announced his reelection just this last week. He's eager to get out there in the fight. But you're right, there's an insecurity there that fuels this sort of, you know, cocky kind of persona that he likes to project to the public. And there's always been this idea that he hasn't done enough to impress the elites. Even at the same time, he likes to bash the elites. And I think this is sort of part and parcel of his appeal, Peggy's written about this, to a lot of Americans who, out there, feel the same way. Like, "You guys are looking down on me. But I'm doing okay here. Why do you, why do you treat me this way?"

KRISTEN WELKER:

And Chuck, I wrote this phrase down, when you asked him about the economy. He said, "We're going to bull through it." I thought that was striking. It's not, sort of, the word or the term that you would use, if you're feeling really confident about the future prospects of the economy.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a grinder comment, isn't it?

KRISTEN WELKER:

Right, yeah exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

"And I'm going to have to grind my reelection."

KRISTEN WELKER:

Exactly. I also saw a president, I think, this week, at the White House and in your interview, who is internally conflicted how to seem tough and, at the same time, live up to his campaign promise not to get more mired in the Middle East.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, when we come back, more of my interview with the president, including the Mueller investigation, the battle over preexisting conditions, and all of those children in migrant camps.

[BEGIN TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

They're in terrible shape down there, Mr. President. Down in Homestead, Florida, that's where I grew up, it’s, the conditions are terrible.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I agree. And it's been --

CHUCK TODD:

Do something.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- that way for a long time.

CHUCK TODD:

Do something.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Continuing now with my interview with President Trump. As you'll see we hit a lot of topics in this part of our sit-down... starting with the crisis on the border.

[BEGIN TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask what's going down with the, these, the children in these migrant camps. The stories are horrible, Mr. President. You have children without their parents. You have kids taking care of kids.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

You've, you’ve read these reports. I know people are coming to you. I know you think this is the Democrats' problem.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, it --

CHUCK TODD:

Forget it.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It was --

CHUCK TODD:

Why aren't you doing something?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Are you ready?

CHUCK TODD:

They're in terrible shape down there, Mr. President. Down in Homestead, Florida, that's where I grew up, it’s, the conditions are terrible.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I agree. And it's been --

CHUCK TODD:

Do something.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- that way for a long time.

CHUCK TODD:

Do something.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

And President Obama built the cages. Remember when they said that I built them? And then it was 1914 --

CHUCK TODD:

Do two wrongs --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Excuse me.

CHUCK TODD:

-- make a right?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It was 2014. Chuck, just listen for one second.

CHUCK TODD:

Ok. Alright.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Separation, President Obama, I took over separation. I'm the one that put it together. What's happened though are the cartels and all of these bad people, they're using the kids. They’re, they’re, it's almost like slavery.

CHUCK TODD:

But let's not punish the kids more.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No this has been happening --

CHUCK TODD:

Aren’t you -- the kids are getting punished more.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You're right. And this has been happening long before I got there. What we've done is we've created, we’ve, we’ve ended separation. You know, under President Obama you had separation. I was the one that ended it. Now I said one thing, when I ended it I said, "Here's what's going to happen. More families are going to come up." And that's what's happened. But they're really coming up for the economics. But once you ended the separation. But I ended separation. I inherited separation from President Obama. President Obama built, they call them jail cells. They were built --

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about what's happening now.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- by the Obama --

CHUCK TODD:

Your administration, and--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I'm just telling you --

CHUCK TODD:

--you’re not doing the recreation. You're not even schooling these kids anymore. You've gotten rid of all that stuff.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We're doing a fantastic job under the circumstances. The Democrats aren't even approving giving us money. Where is the money? You know what? The Democrats are holding up the humanitarian aid.

CHUCK TODD:

It looks like these kids are being used as, as some sort of -- is it hostages? They're being held --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, they are being used.

CHUCK TODD:

-- hostage.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

They are being used by very bad people on the other side where they actually get --

CHUCK TODD:

But now they’re politically being used.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

--paid, where money is being made using them because our laws are so bad. Because if you have a child, you have an advantage. You know that better than anybody. And what should happen, Chuck --

CHUCK TODD:

But why let the political debate hurt these children?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Chuck, we could --

CHUCK TODD:

They could be impacted for years.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

If the Democrats would change the asylum laws and the loopholes, which they refuse to do because they think it's good politics, everything would be solved immediately. But they refuse to do it. They refuse to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You know what? If they change those, I say, I used to say 45 minutes. It's 15 minutes. If they changed asylum and if they changed loopholes everything on the border would be perfect.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this, why do you think Nancy Pelosi has held off her impeachment caucus?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Because I think she feels that I will win much easier. I mean, I've been told that by many people.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think impeachment's good politics for you?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think I win the election easier. But, you know, I'm not sure that I like having it. Look, I did nothing wrong. I was spied on. What they did to me was illegal. It was illegal on the other side. I did nothing wrong. So impeachment's a very unfair thing because nothing that I did was wrong. And if you look at the Mueller report, there was no collusion. This was all about collusion.

CHUCK TODD:

Nowhere in the Mueller report --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

This was about conspiracy.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, Mr. President, you say no collusion. There is not a single, I've read this Mueller report, both, both parts of it --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Use the word collusion, or use --

CHUCK TODD:

-- there's not one place it says nothing happened.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Use the word collusion. Use the word conspiracy.

CHUCK TODD:

It never says no collusion.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I'll be honest with you, nobody even mentions Russia anymore since the Mueller report. They don't mention it, in all fairness.

CHUCK TODD:

I --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Nobody mentions Russia anymore. And it was about Russia. It was a hoax.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wait a minute.

CHUCK TODD:

-- during the campaign --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wait, wait. We'll give you the time that you need.

CHUCK TODD:

What hoax it was?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It was a hoax. The Russian hoax with me.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't believe it happened?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I had nothing to do --

CHUCK TODD:

You don't believe the Russians interfered --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

What they did with --

CHUCK TODD:

-- in our election?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- respect to the election is different. We're not talking about that. We're talking about --

CHUCK TODD:

The idea that you were conspiring.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- my campaign working is a hoax.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Okay. Good.

CHUCK TODD:

But going back, on WikiLeaks, knowing now that that was stolen foreign material, do you regret using it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I, I wouldn't have. But this was well-known. I think it was in papers. And, again, I'm going back now a long ways. But --

CHUCK TODD:

It was all rumored to be Russian stolen property.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Wait a minute. But --

CHUCK TODD:

So why'd you use it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

--but how would I even know that? I made a speech. It was in there about WikiLeaks. I'm not a --

CHUCK TODD:

Right, but I'm saying knowing now --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- WikiLeaks person.

CHUCK TODD:

Knowing that they are a Russian intelligence --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Hey, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

-- asset --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Ok.

CHUCK TODD:

-- do you regret it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Let me tell you-- WikiLeaks, et cetera, that's not my deal in life. You know, in other words, I don't know about WikiLeaks. It was a strange name. But there were stories about something WikiLeaks that they had information. And I say it in a joking manner at a speech. Joking. Everybody laughing. Everybody having a -- And they made it like it was serious. No, I don't want anything bad to happen to our country. Anything bad happens to this country, I will end it and I'll end it fast. I don't want any of that to happen.

CHUCK TODD:

You're going to see Vladimir Putin in a week.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yes. I'm going to see many people.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to address him directly about interference in 2020?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I may.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to tell him --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I may.

CHUCK TODD:

-- not to do it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I may if you'd like me to do it, I'll do that.

CHUCK TODD:

Because some -- Well, some people think that your answer --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You know what? Here's what you do --

CHUCK TODD:

-- that your answer last week invited him to do it again.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Oh, that's not true. That's not true.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to tell him not to and what are the consequences?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

My answer last week was both. I said both. I'd do both. Except they didn't put it on. And when they did put it on people understood. But they didn't put it on because they put a different segment on. So they ask me a question. But when I said, "Yeah, I'd do both," people saw that in the last version of it because the thing played like all weekend and on Friday. So it's just more fake news. Chuck, there's so much fake news. It would be so good if --

CHUCK TODD:

The Republican Party has changed in your image. Do you think you caused that change or do you think the party was changing and you were the leader they selected?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think common sense caused it. You know, I'm about common sense. People say, "Are you conservative?" I guess I'm conservative, but I'm about common sense. I'm about we need borders. We're going to have borders. And we have strong borders. And by the way, Mexico has done a great job. It's slowed down so much. But we have an amazing economy and people want to come up. But it's slowed down so much. But I'm about borders. I'm about great health care. Obamacare is a disaster. I got rid of the individual mandate.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, why is the economy doing so well if Obamacare is still law of the land? You had said in 2011 --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We are managing --

CHUCK TODD:

-- "Obamacare's going to destroy the economy." Obamacare's still here and --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Because I've managed it great.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the economy's great.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I had a choice. I could have let it implode and killed it or I could have managed it --

CHUCK TODD:

You're still trying to kill it.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, no.

CHUCK TODD:

Why are you still trying to kill it with the getting rid of preexisting -- If you -- This lawsuit that the Department of Justice joined, it could get rid of --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I am in favor --

CHUCK TODD:

-- coverage of preexisting conditions.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I am in favor of preexisting conditions. I am fighting --

CHUCK TODD:

So get rid -- so drop the lawsuit.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We will --

CHUCK TODD:

So drop your aspect of the lawsuit.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It has nothing to do with it. The lawsuit is one thing. We are going to put in a bill, total preexisting conditions. And the Republicans are in favor of preexisting conditions.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. President, you had full Republican control and they couldn't pass anything.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Chuck, are you ready?

CHUCK TODD:

What makes you think you're going to get it done this time?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We had a negative vote from John McCain. It was a surprising vote. But I got rid of the worst part of Obamacare which was the individual mandate.

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We will always protect pre-existing conditions. And the reason Obamacare continues is my decision. Wait, I made a big decision.

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

We have a man named Azar, our secretary, he's fantastic man, Alex. A total pro. I could have managed Obamacare so it would have failed or I could have managed it the way we did so it's as good as it can be. Not great, but it’s as good -- It's too expensive and the premiums are too high. I had a decision to make. I could have politically killed Obamacare. I decided not to do it. But still it's not good. We're going to come up with great health care if we win the House, the Senate and the presidency.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you prepared to lose?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No. Probably not. Probably not.

CHUCK TODD:

Very hon -- I mean, you joke --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It would be much better, it would be much better if I said, “Yeah.”

CHUCK TODD:

You’re, you’re --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It would be much easier for me to say, "Oh yes." No I'm probably not too prepared to lose. I don't like losing. I haven't lost very much in my life.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't like the fact that you lost the popular vote. That bothered you, didn't it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I think it was a -- I mean, I'll say something that, again, is controversial. There were a lot of votes cast that I don't believe. I look at California.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. President.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Excuse me.

CHUCK TODD:

But that's a --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Take a look at Judicial Watch, take a look at their settlement where California admitted to a million votes. They admitted to a million votes.

CHUCK TODD:

A million votes of what?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Take a look at judicial --

CHUCK TODD:

What are you talking about?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Judicial Watch made a settlement. There was, there was much --

CHUCK TODD:

About what?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- there was much illegal voting. But let me tell you about popular vote. Do you have a second?

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, because you were, you were a big fan of it --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

There are two --

CHUCK TODD:

-- until you weren’t

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I like popular vote.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think I do better with a popular vote. But I didn't campaign for the popular vote.

CHUCK TODD:

You're right. I --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You didn't see me campaigning in California or New York. If I -- if it was up to the popular vote, I would have been I think even better. I won 306 to 223, which was a lot in the Electoral College. But it's like you're training for the 100-yard dash versus the mile.

CHUCK TODD:

Yep. You’re, you're totally right.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

It's totally different.

CHUCK TODD:

If it’s the popular vote, you campaign differently.--

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I went to Wisconsin. --

CHUCK TODD:

-- I don't disagree.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- She forgot. I went to Michigan. She didn't go to Michigan enough. I won Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania. I won places that she didn't do a good job. What can I tell you? No, maybe I did a great job. You know, I never get credit for that. They always say she was a lousy candidate. I actually think that Hillary Clinton was a great candidate. She was very smart. She was very tough. She was ruthless and vicious.

CHUCK TODD:

You'd rather run against her again, wouldn't you?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

You only talked about her in your announcement speech.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

You spent a lot of time talking about her.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No. I would actually rather run against Biden.

CHUCK TODD:

Than Hillary.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think that would be my preference.

CHUCK TODD:

Why?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Sleepy Joe. He's sleepy. She was not sleepy. Let me just tell you something, the Electoral College is tougher for a Republican to win than the popular vote. At least me. I feel that I go to three places. I went to 19 or 21 states. I went to Maine four times because I wanted to get one. And I did get it. And that's the beauty of the Electoral College.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

You know, I've been a proponent of the other sometimes and I change. But I will tell you, the Electoral College brings you to many of the states in this country.

CHUCK TODD:

You, you have joked about a third term. You've joked about these things.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I only joke.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I joke. And I say “Watch, I will drive Chuck Todd crazy.”

CHUCK TODD:

You will, you will accept the re -- Ok. You will --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Yes, there won’t be a third term.

CHUCK TODD:

You will accept the results?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

100%. Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

And you will accept whatever happens in 2020.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

You lose, you’ll be like -- you're not going to like it but you walk out.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

In fact, I said at a speech recently, I said, "Watch. We'll drive the media crazy. Let's go for a third time and then a fourth." And some of the media said, "He's going to do it."

CHUCK TODD:

Speaking of driving people crazy, when you were asked about Mike Pence in 2024 and you, and you, and you paused a minute about endorsing him as your successor, that got a lot of people going, "Is Mike Pence 100% on your ticket in 2020?"

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, look, look -- 100%, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

100%?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Oh yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

There is no wiggle room?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

He's been, he’s been a terrific vice president. He's my friend and --

CHUCK TODD:

Ok.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- a lot of things. No. Zero. Zero.

CHUCK TODD:

So why'd you hesitate in endorsing him in being, succeeding you?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Because it was a surprise question.

CHUCK TODD:

You hadn’t thought about it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I mean, you know, I’m not even thinking of it. It's so far out. I mean, It's so far out. That would be the only reason. Now what happens in 2024? I don't know that Mike is going to run. I don't know who's running or anything else.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Yes, There's much more to my interview and you can see it all, unedited, soup to nuts, on our website, Meet the Press dot com. When we return, the panel is back. And later, a few minutes in the Oval Office.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: My people are great. I think somebody said, i read this morning, i have the greatest base ever in politics and i really believe that.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Well, back now with the panel. Peggy.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, there's a lot to digest in that one. Because we went in a lot of places. I first want to start with the child migration issue-- the child migrant issue. Because he just-- there is, he's not personalizing that one. He personalizes almost everything in our interview. He wants to, he sounds a bit almost too dispassionate.

PEGGY NOONAN:

That's interesting. You found him to be a little distanced on the subject. I know he thinks it is a big issue for him, still, in the coming election. I know, also, that there is probably a sense within him that he is perceived by others to be failing there at the border, not only for the issues you mentioned, which are very serious, but because it's been three years now, and nothing is under control down there. So, so maybe that has something to do with his thinking. But I'll tell you, I was listening to your audience here as we were watching this interview. And man, I thought of the-- look, this president, we shouldn't lose sight of it, because we see him every day. This is a compelling character who people are watching closely. This is a character. He reminded me-- He's got a line on every subject. And he reminded me of the old real estate salesman saying, "Always be closing."

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I sense he is always closing. But I heard a lot of laughter from your audience. I'm not sure I could interpret the kind of laughter. But man, it was total engagement.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. Lanhee?

LANHEE CHEN:

Well, you know, I think that the frustrating thing about immigration, I would imagine, probably, to a lot of people is that this president is in a position to do the deal on immigration.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Boy, he has been.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, it’s Nixon China.

LANHEE CHEN:

Yeah, Nixon China. He is in the position. And, and everyone knows the terms of the deal. Everyone understands what the Democrats want of it, want out of it. Everyone understands what the Republicans would like to see in terms of border security and a merit-based system. He's the one that can get this done. And I, I imagine it's frustrating. This politics involved. I get that. It's an election year. It's especially difficult to do immigration in an election year. But I still think the president's the one with the opportunity to do it and to go out there and actually get this deal done.

CHUCK TODD:

Peter, is he bluffing-- is he getting a, is he going to get-- it was interesting. Peggy said, "Always be closing." But is he going to get, going to get a reputation that he bluffs too much?

PETER BAKER:

Yeah, that's a great question, right? In the last two weeks, basically, he's done this three times. He did the Mexico and the tariffs. He says, "I'm going to impose these crippling tariffs, unless you give me what I want." And then he pulled off, saying he got a deal. He did the same thing with Iran, not saying he got a deal, but he pulled back on the strike. And he's just done, this weekend, on these ICE deportations. "Well, Nancy Pelosi called me. So I decided to hold off for two weeks."

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, he wants to give Democrats the credit for that, which I find--

PETER BAKER:

I know. Well--

CHUCK TODD:

--a bit of a head scratcher. On one hand, I get it with the base. But I don't know if that's smart with swing voters. But okay.

PETER BAKER:

Yeah, it’s, it’s-- You know, he's being accommodating. He's saying, "Look, I'm going to be the reasonable guy here," even though it was a crisis he himself set up. This weekend is going to be the weekend of mass deportations. Well, maybe it's not. He likes to create a crisis and then be the solver of this crisis. It is part of the showman aspect, I think, of his presidency, to some extent. I think he looks at it as a way of getting to where he wants to go. You put out a maximalist, almost extreme version of what you want to get in order to push your other side to get 70%, 80% of where you want. Sometimes, that works. But I think a lot of the time, right now, he's just sort of, you know, coming up with a deal that's not much of a deal.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Chuck, in watching your exchange with him about these kids at the border, it made me think of that phrase that he uttered over and over again. "I alone can fix it." And I think he's deeply frustrated that he can't fix this problem. So he did walk right up to the line of these deportations that were supposed to start today and then say, "Look. Now, I'm calling on Democrats and Republicans to get something done on asylum." That's not going to happen. Talk to anyone. That's not going to happen. What could happen? They are considering these bills that would add more funding to DHS, to HHS, at the border. And he'll claim credit and say, "Look. We got this done, ultimately."

CHUCK TODD:

I want to talk about what he said about Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. One of your neighbors on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Daniel Henninger, had an interesting observation about Joe Biden and the Sleepy Joe reference. And he says, it's "Trump's 'Sleepy Joe' Problem. Mr. Biden may be doing so well in the head-to-heads against Mr. Trump because many voters simply want respite from the nonstop Trumpian atmosphere of disruption and volatility. For them, 'Sleepy Joe Biden' may not be an insult. Political belief still matters, but maybe not as much as neurological relief from political and personality overload."

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

I thought that was a-- and in some ways, that interview and this column, you see how that could go together.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Oh, sure. Do you remember, on The Ed Sullivan Show, when we were little children, there was a guy who came and balanced plates? There'd be a stick. He'd put a plate up. He'd get it going.

CHUCK TODD:

Sure.

PEGGY NOONAN:

He'd get another, get another. And then he'd run back and forth, just trying to keep them all up. Balancing plates is part of the tone of this administration and of this president. Look, it's nonstop harum-scarum. Even something that, in the past, might've been as cleanly, logically handled as the Iran thing became nonstop harum-scarum. "It has this meaning. No, it has this meaning. I did it for this reason." He is exhausting. I think a threat for the president is that he tends to exhaust, not into submission, but into ultimate aversion. Many people in the middle, who'd like to, you know, be sympathetic towards him but just think, "Oh, my goodness. This is too much."

CHUCK TODD:

Right. Stop tweeting. Stop talking. Stop taunting, whatever it is, right?

PEGGY NOONAN:

Stop all the drama.

LANHEE CHEN:

But, but that's, that’s how the president gets things done. I mean, that's his style. This is who he is. I mean, it's this notion that you're going to change who he is. I think we should just give up on that, right? All the criticism about there being no process in this White House--

CHUCK TODD:

There won’t be one.

LANHEE CHEN:

Do you really expect there to be process in this White House? I mean, and the president arrives at decisions the way he's going to arrive at decisions. I just, I don't understand all these Democratic candidates out there criticizing on process. And I get it. I love good process more than anyone else. But why do that? That is not a compelling argument. He's going to do what he's going to do.

PEGGY NOONAN:

But it's not process. Nonstop harum-scarum is sort of an approach that can exhaust people.

KRISTEN WELKER:

And I think he's struggling with how to take on Biden. I mean, you saw that, when he was in Florida, launching his campaign. So he went back to his talking points on Hillary Clinton. Because in some ways, he's more comfortable there.

CHUCK TODD:

He's decided she was a great candidate now.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, there was a reason he needs--

PEGGY NOONAN:

That’s interesting.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, because she's a great candidate, because it would make his victory seem more--

PETER BAKER:

That much more impressive.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yes, yes, yes, yes.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, guys, we're going to pause it here. There, there is another big event in a couple of days. Coming up, the Democrats battle for the nomination. As we head into the first Democratic Party debates, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg confront difficult questions on race.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Before we get to the Democrats, we wanted to show you one more moment from my sit-down with President Trump. U-S administrations have long allied themselves with Saudi Arabia, and the Trump administration is no exception. But in view of continued human rights abuses by the Saudis, including the murder and dismemberment of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi. I asked the president why he's overruled Congress to allow more arms sales to Saudi Arabia. His answer, in a word: Money.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

They buy massive amounts, $150 billion worth of military equipment that, by the way, we use. We use that military equipment. And unlike other countries that don't have money and we have to subsidize everything. So Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of America product. That means something to me. It's a big producer of jobs.

CHUCK TODD:

It makes you overlook some of their bad behavior?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I don't like anybody's bad behavior.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you going to -- The United Nations said they'd like the United States to order the FBI to investigate Jamal Khashoggi's death and possibly MBS’ --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well, I think it's, I think it’s --

CHUCK TODD:

-- involvement in it. Will you allow the FBI to do that?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think it's been heavily investigated.

CHUCK TODD:

By who?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

By everybody. I mean --

CHUCK TODD:

By the FBI?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I’ve seen so many different reports.

CHUCK TODD:

What about the FBI?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Here's where I am, you ready?

CHUCK TODD:

Uh-huh.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Iran's killed many, many people a day. Other countries in the Middle East, this is a hostile place. This is a vicious, hostile place. If you're going to look at Saudi Arabia, look at Iran, look at other countries, I won't mention names, and take a look at what's happening. And then you go outside of the Middle East, and you take a look at what's happening with countries. Okay? And I only say they spend $400 to $450 billion over a period of time --

CHUCK TODD:

So --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

-- all money, all jobs, buying equipment --

CHUCK TODD:

That's the price. As long as they keep buying --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

No, no.

CHUCK TODD:

-- you'll overlook some of this behavior.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

But I'm not like a fool that says, "We don't want to do business with them." And by the way, if they don't do business with us, you know what they do? They'll do business with the Russians or with the Chinese. They will buy -- We make the best equipment in the world, but they will buy great equipment from Russia and from China. Chuck --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. Alright.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Take their money. Take their money, Chuck.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game. And I think we have an idea, Peter Baker, of what the first big challenge is for, not just Joe Biden, but for a lot of the Democratic candidates that are in the top tier, and that is confronting the issue of race, appealing to African American voters, and answering for past discretions. Joe Biden and this -- working with segregationists, here's how a bunch of his democratic rivals ripped into him on that.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

The senators that he is speaking of with such adoration are individuals who made and built their reputation on segregation.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO:

That civility gave us today's status quo that is still not working for so many millions of people.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

As a black man in America, I know the legacy of this kind of language. I know how it still hurts and still harms.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Joe Biden went on Al Sharpton's show on MSNBC yesterday to try to re-explain what he meant. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

AL SHARPTON:

It hurts when you talk about, ‘Boy.’

JOE BIDEN:

I agree.

AL SHARPTON:

It means something different to us.

JOE BIDEN:

It does.

AL SHARPTON:

It hurts when you call a racist, like, you normalize. You’re not, that's not the Biden I got to know. Don't you understand me?

JOE BIDEN:

I do fully understand. That's not what I said, though. They didn't print the whole deal. You know what I mean? The context of this was totally different. And by the way, the fact of the matter is, I ran against all those folks.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Peter Baker, what did we learn from this incident?

PETER BAKER:

Well, look, what we learned is, Joe Biden is not pro-segregationist. He's not flirting with segregationist ideas. What he's talking about here, though, is this idea that we're supposed to work across the aisle at a moment where that's not where the energy of either party is. The idea of compromise is, itself, compromised. And he’s talking, I think it's a generational thing. He's talking about the 1970s, when people want to talk about the 2020s, right? He's talking about Jim Eastland. Who the heck remembers Jim Eastland that is going to find that a good reference? He’s not, and I think that, when you're the opposition-party candidate, you ought to be the candidate of change, of freshness. And that's not freshness or change. And he's not where the party energy is right now. It may be enough to get him the nomination. It may not. But that's not where the activist base is.

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think Peter's absolutely right. The other thing that struck me about this whole episode, though, Chuck, is that Biden handled it in a very Trumpian way, in some ways. He's like, "I'm not apologizing." And I think part of the calculation is, look, whoever wins this nomination is going to be going up against a president who does not apologize, typically. Every once in a while. And if the Democrats and, right now, of course, they're sort of tearing each other apart, but if, at the end of the day, they've apologized for various different things, does that, in fact, leave the eventual nominee vulnerable?

CHUCK TODD:

Lanhee, I have to say, I'm starting to buy into the comparison. Is Joe Biden the Mitt Romney of 2012? Meaning, where you have a base of the party that wanted something else, but he was considered, "Well, that's your best shot at getting Obama." The base of Democratic Party wants something else. But then there's this idea, "Well, Joe Biden's your best shot at getting Donald Trump."

LANHEE CHEN:

Well, you know, I think, arguably, Mitt Romney was a little bit closer, in terms of having been in, having governed and having had a record a little closer to when he ran for president. The problem with Biden is the separation between so much of his political record. Because yes, he was vice president. But people don't really account for that, if they're thinking about Joe Biden's political identity. They think about it from the 1970s. That separation is huge. And if you think the Democratic candidates are attacking Biden now, you just wait. In a political primary, where they agree on 90% of policy, it's going to be all about drawing distinctions on a very narrow piece of turf. You're going to see it in the debates on NBC this week. You're going to see the way in which they begin to go after him.

CHUCK TODD:

Good plug. Well done.

LANHEE CHEN:

Thank you. The way they go after him, if you think this is bad now, just wait.

PEGGY NOONAN:

He is the person in the way of the ambitions of a whole bunch of the other candidates, who'll be on the stage on Wednesday and Thursday. I think that Biden probably has to get used to the idea that, maybe, starting out in subtle ways and then tougher ways, a lot of people are going to try to make him a pinata.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

PEGGY NOONAN:

You know? And he's got to be able to handle that. And you don't handle it by bringing up 50-year-old references to senators who made your party look very bad and whose name reminds you of their bad history in that area.

CHUCK TODD:

The question, though, is, who had the worst week in the Democratic primary? Is it Joe Biden, or is it Pete Buttigieg, who is getting tested now with a crisis in South Bend? A white police officer kills a black citizen of South Bend. He has been there most of the weekend, dealing with protesters and really being read the riot act. Here's a quick excerpt.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Did you just ask me if black lives matter?

FEMALE VOICE:

We want to hear you say it.

FEMALE VOICE:

Black lives matter.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Of course black lives matter.

MALE VOICE:

Then fire your cops.

FEMALE VOICE:

Then fire your cops.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome to the NFL, all right? This is a big test. Pete Buttigieg, is he ready for the national stage in his own city? This is, this, to me, is a big test for him.

KRISTEN WELKER:

It's a big test. And unlike Former Vice President Biden, he doesn't have a long-established relationship with the African American community. He didn't work on civil rights. And he's really just starting to introduce himself to American voters right now. That was taking place in South Bend. To what extent will it resonate? Clearly going to be a topic of the debates. But look, I think what he did that was smart was that he went off the campaign trail. He went back home. And he dealt with those people in his own community, face to face. The question is, did he do a good enough job?

CHUCK TODD:

You know, though, we're getting some scrutiny here. It was interesting. Politico magazine, Peter, noted that the South Bend Police Department has not gotten more diverse under Mayor Pete Buttigieg. It's actually gotten whiter. And I'm sorry. When you look at the three big cities that have had problems over the last 50 years, Miami, New York, LA. All of them realized, the one big thing they had to change was diversifying their police force. And you're just sitting there, going, “2012, and this hasn't happened in South Bend?”

PETER BAKER:

Well, Pete Buttigieg has done very well, up until now, off of a really good presentation on television. He presents himself really well. We're going to start looking at his actual record. And he's running a city of about 100,000 people. It's not, you know, been scrutinized, up until now. And this is going to bring that home. Now, I think Kristen's right. He goes there. He confronts the issue head on. I think that, obviously, helps him, in a sense. But you're right. The record's going to come back and haunt him a little bit.

CHUCK TODD:

Bad week to have a bad week.

LANHEE CHEN:

Yeah. Well, beyond the record, there's also just a thin-skinned-ness about his response that I think will not wear well on the campaign trail.

CHUCK TODD:

And he had never shown that before, you know? It is like, there's this one moment that’s, when you read it, it looks terrible. He didn't mean it the way it came across.

LANHEE CHEN:

"I don't want your vote"?

CHUCK TODD:

"I don't want your vote." He was just simply saying, "I'm not playing politics now. But it came across, it's just a horrible exchange for him.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I was in South Bend recently. And I got the impression, talking to a lot of people, that they approved of him, as mayor. But they thought he had some problems. And one thing is this is a sort of cool and technocratic fellow.

CHUCK TODD:

Interesting.

PEGGY NOONAN:

That doesn't always translate higher.

CHUCK TODD:

Fascinating way to describe him. Technocrat, not always a compliment. Before we go, I wanted to show you one final moment from my interview with President Trump. It happened in the Oval Office, where we also got a surprise visit from Vice President Mike Pence, when I asked the president something about his legacy.

[BEGIN TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Have you thought about a Presidential Library?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I am so busy.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I know a lot of people mentioned it to me, the presidential Library.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I'm so busy --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you know where yet you would want it?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I have a lot of locations actually.

CHUCK TODD:

I know you do.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

The nice part, I don't have to worry about buying a location.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you want it at one of your properties?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I've been treated so great in Florida. You know, the win in Florida. I've been treated so great in so many states.

CHUCK TODD:

I take it you want your library where your people would go. So Florida sounds like a --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

Well my people, my people are going to a lot of different places --

CHUCK TODD:

That's true. People will go --

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

My people are great. I think somebody said, I read this morning, I have the greatest base ever in politics and I really believe that.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

I have to say, I didn't see the idea of his library on one of his properties coming with that answer. Quick programming note about those Democratic debates. In case you haven't heard, thank you, Lanhee Chen, they're on NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo. Night one, on Wednesday, includes Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Amy Klobuchar. Night two, on Thursday, we'll hear from Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, among others. I'll be privileged to be moderating alongside my colleagues of Jose Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Rachel Maddow. I hope you'll join us. We're going to have coverage of this all week long. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. We're back next week with all of the debate analysis that's fit to put on the show. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.