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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Democrats’ debate. Joe Biden responds to criticism he touched women in ways that though not sexual made some uncomfortable.

JOE BIDEN:

I get it. I hear what they're saying. I understand it. And I'll be much more mindful.

CHUCK TODD:

But declined to apologize, saying he never meant to be disrespectful.

JOE BIDEN:

I'm not sorry for any of my intentions. I'm not sorry for anything that I have ever done.

CHUCK TODD:

And jokes about it in a public appearance.

JOE BIDEN:

I just want you to know I had permission to hug Lonnie.

CHUCK TODD:

As the list of candidates grows, Democrats debate whether Biden is the right choice or whether it's time for a new generation of leaders.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

You could argue that it doesn't get more different from this president than a laid-back, intellectual, young gay mayor from the Midwest.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning, I'll talk to the candidate enjoying a surge in polling and media attention, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Plus, President Trump makes a new argument about the border.

DONALD TRUMP:

We're full. Our system's full. Our country's full. Can't come in. Our country is full.

CHUCK TODD:

And Democrats demand to see his taxes and the full Mueller report. I'll talk to Utah Republican Mitt Romney in his first appearance as a U.S. senator. Also, unfriending social media. Why Americans are fed up with Twitter and Facebook, but just can't stay away. Joining me for insight and analysis are Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network; Heather McGhee, Democratic activist and senior fellow at the progressive think tank Demos; and the authors of Politico's daily Washington newsletter Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. There is a truism in American politics that has enormous implications for the 2020 presidential race. When we elect new presidents, they are in many ways the polar opposites of the outgoing president. We followed the Watergate-soaked Richard Nixon with the, "I'll never lie to you," Jimmy Carter. When the job seemed too big for Carter, we replaced him with the breezily confident Ronald Reagan. Later, the button-downed George H.W. Bush served one term before being beaten by the sax-playing, "I feel your pain" Baby Boomer, Bill Clinton. His sexual excesses led to the "restore honor and integrity" candidacy of George W. Bush, whose shoot-from-the-hip style begat the studious and nuanced Barack Obama, who was then succeeded by the blow-place-up Donald Trump. Given this history, which Democrat, if any, seems best positioned to be that polar opposite of President Trump? As of now, there are 14 major candidates who have announced for the Democratic nomination or filed paperwork, all vying to be that anti-Trump candidate. Among them, 37-year-old South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is having the kind of moment that may not have been seen in the Democratic Party since a peanut farmer from Georgia came out of nowhere in 1976. But this week, the Democrats' center of gravity was Joe Biden. The issue not so much if he's going to run but in this new progressive Democratic Party whether he should.

JOE BIDEN:

I just want you to know I had permission to hug Lonnie.

CHUCK TODD:

Former vice president Joe Biden, appearing before a friendly union audience on Friday, joked twice about accusations by women who say he had made them uncomfortable with unwelcome, though not sexual, physical contact.

JOE BIDEN:

By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.

CHUCK TODD:

For some of his accusers, it was proof that despite his video earlier this week--

JOE BIDEN:

And I get it. I get it.

CHUCK TODD:

--that Biden doesn't get it.

D.J. HILL:

It was for me like a slap in the face. Like, "I say I get it. I get it. I believe in women. I advocate for women." That's not what I saw from his speech.

CHUCK TODD:

Afterward, Biden did some damage control but still did not apologize.

JOE BIDEN:

I'm sorry I didn't understand you. I'm not sorry for any of my intentions. I'm not sorry for anything that I have ever done.

CHUCK TODD:

The controversy is giving new oxygen to questions about whether Biden, who came of age politically during the 20th century, can lead an increasingly diverse Democratic Party in the 21st.

REPORTER:

Do you believe that the vice president should enter this race?

KAMALA HARRIS:

He's going to have to make that decision for himself.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, Biden took a shot at the new left.

JOE BIDEN:

The definition of progressive now seems to be changing. That is, "Are you a socialist?" Well, that's a real progressive. Or you believe in, you know, whatever.

CHUCK TODD:

Biden, like Bernie Sanders, would enter the White House as the oldest president in American history. He also out-polls Trump among self-described moderates and independents and is competitive among Rust Belt voters. And President Trump is paying attention.

DONALD TRUMP:

I said, "General, give me a kiss." I felt like Joe Biden.

CHUCK TODD:

For Democrats eager for a nominee who is the antithesis to Donald Trump and sensitive to anything that appears Trump-like, Biden is just the latest candidate forced to explain and apologize. Sanders is facing allegations that staffers on his last campaign engaged in sexual harassment and assault.

ANDERSON COOPER:

And just to be clear, you seem to indicate that you did not know at the time about the allegations. Is that correct?

BERNIE SANDERS:

Yes, I was a little bit busy running around the country trying to make the case.

CHUCK TODD:

Beto O'Rourke is apologizing for comments about his wife and sometimes helping to raise his own kids. Pete Buttigieg is explaining his past use of the phrase "all lives matter." The rise of Buttigieg is a reminder Democrats are looking high and low for an alternative to President Trump.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

It's unusual for it to even be plausible that a 37-year-old Midwestern mayor is giving national interviews about a possible candidacy for president. But there's something happening right now that calls for something completely different.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is technically still exploring a presidential bid, Pete Buttigieg. Mr. Mayor, welcome to Meet the Press.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Thanks for having me on.

CHUCK TODD:

We say "exploring." I know you have an announcement prepared I think a week from today--

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

That's right--

CHUCK TODD:

--if I'm not mistaken.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

--in South Bend. We're looking forward to it.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there any reason to believe that it will be "I'm not running for president?”

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

You know, the kind of thing we're going to announce is the kind of thing you only get to announce once. So I hope a lot of friends and supporters will be there a week from today in South Bend.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. So what does "Something completely different" mean? And I say this in this respect. Donald Trump came in as the most inexperienced president in American history when it came to government service, public service and things like that. While you have more executive experience than he did going into this, you also would be a fairly inexperienced president. Why should something completely different be another inexperienced politician?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I would stack up my experience against anybody. I know it's not as traditional. I haven't been marinating in Washington here for a very long time. And I'm not part of that same establishment. But I would argue that being a mayor of a city of any size means that you have to deal with the kinds of issues that really hit Americans. It's everything from infrastructure, to economic development, to racial sensitivities in policing. Not to mention the fact that I would also have more military experience under my belt than anybody to walk into that office since George H. W. Bush. So I think it's about quality as well as quantity in experience. But, you know, I think you can also see pretty clearly that I'm about as different from this president as it gets.

CHUCK TODD:

Had you been successful in your last campaign, you'd be the chair of the Democratic Party right now. I assume that means you wouldn't be running for president.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

That's probably true. Maybe in a selfish way, that worked out for the best.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I was just going to say then what was your motivation for being DNC chair and then suddenly you didn't get it and you said, "Oh, now I should run for president?”

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I believe any time you're contemplating running for office, the discernment process should work like this: You look at what the office calls for in that moment and then you look at yourself and what you bring to the table, and you look for a match. And I've used that process to decide to run for office several times. I've used that process to decide not to run for office several times. What I see right now is a country going through tectonic, profound change. And an office that has a loss of vision and a loss of decency. And I'm as surprised as anybody. I mean, if you had asked me two years ago what I would be doing in 2019, I don't think I would've said this. But here, you have this moment. Probably the only moment in American history where it just might make sense for somebody my age, coming from experience in the industrial Midwest, non federal, a different background, bringing something that will actually help Americans envision the world as it'll be in 2054, the year that I will reach the current age of the current president, and just change the channel from this mesmerizing horror show that's going on in Washington right now.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to delve into Indiana a little bit, your record in South Bend and your record in Indiana politics. You ran statewide once in Indiana.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

You ran against a guy named Richard Mourdock, who people in Washington may remember that name. He was the person that upset Dick Lugar, who ended up handing a Senate seat to the Democrats, that has since gone Republican. You lost to Mourdock. You got walloped by him.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

That's right. It was two thousand--

CHUCK TODD:

You couldn't win statewide in Indiana.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

It was 2010. It's hard for a Democrat to win statewide in the best of years. I was running in the worst of years. But I'm still proud of our campaign. I was largely doing it to stand up for auto workers. You know, Richard Mourdock intervened to prevent the auto rescue. He took a case all the way to the Supreme Court using his standing as Indiana state treasurer. And it would've devastated our state. I thought somebody needed to stand up to him. I did. I got my head handed to me.

CHUCK TODD:

What did you learn from that, though? You obviously had a whole bunch of voters that didn't-- weren't ready to support you. What do you think your issue was? You think it simply was youth perhaps?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, first of all, again, it was-- I actually can say I led the ticket. Although just about all of us were somewhere in the 40% range that year because it was just a horrible year to be a Democrat in Indiana, or frankly, in most places. But what I really learned was campaigning. It was my first time on the ballot. It was uphill, to say the least. Not a lot of people were even following the treasurer's race. It's hard when people have heard of neither you nor the office you're running for. But I learned fundraising, I learned retail. I learned how to put a message together. And that wound up serving me very well when in South Bend the seat opened up. It was the first open seat in 24 years at exactly the moment when our city was looking for something different and needed a fresh start.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to put up a couple of numbers here having to do with South Bend. The poverty rate is still over 25%. The eviction rate 6.7%, which is fairly high. Not the highest in Indiana, but on the high end of Indiana. Obviously, you've been reelected. So voters believe you've put the city in the right direction in that sense. But these are still tough numbers. What haven't you been able to accomplish that you wish you would?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, there's so much work to do in a community like ours. I think people know that it's the hometown of Notre Dame. They might assume that it's a wealthy, homogenous college town. But we're a city that was devastated by the loss of industry, especially when the auto factories left in the 1960s. When I took office, there were articles about whether South Bend was a dying city. Our poverty rate is too high, but it's down. We cut unemployment by more than half. And we've been able to change the trajectory of the city to where we're growing in population and in investment at a pace we haven't seen in a generation. It's not like all of our problems are solved. But I think one of the reasons that I wound up getting reelected with 80% of the vote is a sense that we had really changed the story for our city. And I think that's something that the country needs to hear because you've got a president who's telling anybody from a community like mine, be it an industrial community or a rural community. Any community where people grow up getting this message that success means you have to get out. He's telling us that greatness is in the past. That we've got to stop the clock and turn it back. And I'm out there making the case that South Bend is living proof that good politics is not one based on the word "Again."

CHUCK TODD:

The issue of income inequality, particularly racial disparities on income inequality are huge in South Bend. This is a crisis around the country. You’ve faced this firsthand. You haven't had much luck closing that gap. What have you tried that has worked and what do you think you tried that didn't work?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, we've got it moving in the right direction. But we're talking about generational poverty, generational dispossession that's a result of a combination of racist policies over the years and the effect that poverty and mass incarceration have. We're a community, we're about 25% African American, about 45% non-white. And a lot of people in their lives, in their neighborhoods, it's almost as though the economic recovery we're experiencing right now never even happened. Here's what we think is working. We're investing in neighborhoods that have been historically disinvested in. In everything from parks and public spaces, to supporting entrepreneurship. We opened a small business resource center in an area that was not getting the kind of attention that it needed because we know that entrepreneurship will empower not just minority business owners, but minority employees. We're taking steps to deal with the eviction rate, as you showed. A lot of times simply having access to legal representation makes all the difference for somebody facing eviction. And we made sure that our neighborhoods were improved because the issue of blight and vacant and abandoned properties was harming neighbors especially in minority neighborhoods. We didn’t -- people didn't think it could be done, but we dealt with 1,000 houses in 1,000 days by marshaling resources, concentrating them and working to fix the problem.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to ask you about something more thematically. You said in 2015, sort of in the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement that there needs to be racial reconciliation. Where does that responsibility lie? And what have you done to try to lead a conversation on this?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, it lies with all of us. Of course, if you're a mayor of a diverse city, one of the flashpoints for this is in the relationship between communities of color and the police department. So we worked hard on civil rights training, on implicit bias training. But also on getting our police officers to have almost the mentality of city council members. To encourage them to do foot patrols, to walk the neighborhoods. To show up not just when there's an emergency, but when there's a fun fair or a church event or a block party. Trying to really thicken those relationships. A lot of it's quantity time. And whenever we've had a moment or an incident that has threatened to divide us racially in our city, we've made sure that we invest in the face time that it takes to reestablish trust. But at the end of the day, people need to see results. That's how trust is built. And it's one of the things I worry about right now nationally, is that you have folks in charge of the government who almost believe as a matter of principle in destroying it. And then when you don't have results, when you don't see people's lives getting better, it further motivates people to want to burn the house down.

CHUCK TODD:

Last month, some ICE agents arrested two of your constituents in South Bend. What do you make of the idea of the abolish ICE movement that some people on the progressive end of the spectrum have called for? And I know it's illegal to be a sanctuary city in Indiana, but Gary has pushed the envelope. Why haven't you?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

So we have worked very hard to be a welcoming city because the current immigration policies are just wrong. People who are really important parts of our community are being torn apart from their families. And this is not making us safer. It is not making us stronger. Now, when it comes to ICE, I don't care what the agency in charge of our immigration and border enforcement is called. I care what it does. And as long as you have an agency, even if you get rid of ICE and called it something else, being ordered to tear families apart from one another or being ordered to make it harder to get on a path to citizenship, you're going to continue to have heartbreaking stories that are not helping anybody. Whether we're talking about the undocumented immigrants concerned or whether you're talking about the communities that they're a part of.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to move a little bit to where you stand in the party. You heard Joe Biden. He said, "Boy, the definition of progressive now seems to be changing." And he says, "Now it's about whether you're a socialist or what's a real progressive." And I know you've been somebody who's trying to push back on this whole labeling issue. But put yourself on the spectrum here. What should Democrats see in you? What do you want Democrats to see in you ideologically?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I think I'm a progressive, but I also think the ideological analysis--

CHUCK TODD:

Are you a capitalist?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

What's that? Sure--

CHUCK TODD:

Are you a capitalist?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Yeah. I think, look, America is a capitalist society. But it's got to be democratic capitalism. And that part's really important. And it's slipping away from us. In other words, when capitalism comes into tension with democracy, which is more important to you? I believe democracy is more important. And when you have capitalism capturing democracy, when you have the kind of regulatory capture, where powerful corporations are able to arrange the rules for their benefit, that's not real capitalism. If you want to see what happens when you have capitalism without democracy, you can see it very clearly in Russia. It turns into crony capitalism. And that turns into oligarchy. So I know the temptation, especially for the commentariat is to kind of align everybody as dots on a spectrum, but that's not how most voters think. I mean, think of the number of voters just mathematically in St. Joe County, Indiana who mostly voted for Obama and Trump and Mike Pence and me. So there's a lot more to this than an ideological analysis, especially with the ideology in our country so scrambled. Having a president who doesn't even have an ideology, just a style, undertaking a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. While the Democratic Party has only been able to explain its ideological commitments by comparing itself to the Republicans for the better part of my lifetime.

CHUCK TODD:

You said something rather strong about the president, that you said, "It's hard to look at his actions and believe that they are the actions of somebody who believes in God." How do you square that assessment with the fact that the Evangelical Christian community is so devoted to his candidacy?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, it's something that really frustrates me because the hypocrisy is unbelievable. Here, you have somebody who not only acts in a way that is not consistent with anything that I hear in scripture or in church, where it's about lifting up the least among us and taking care of strangers, which is another word for immigrants. And making sure that you're focusing your effort on the poor. But also personally, how you're supposed to conduct yourself. Not chest thumping look-at-me-ism, but humbling yourself before others. Foot washing is one of the central images in the New Testament. And we see the diametric opposite of that in this presidency. I think there was perhaps a cynical process where he decided to, for example, begin to pretend to be pro-life and govern accordingly. Which was good enough to bring many Evangelicals over to his side. But even on the version of Christianity that you hear from the religious right, which is about sexual ethics, I can't believe that somebody who was caught writing hush money checks to adult film actresses is somebody they should be lifting up as the kind of person you want to be leading this nation.

CHUCK TODD:

You grew up in arguably the most famous Catholic town in the country. I'm curious on abortion. I know what your position is, but how do you have a conversation about it? You're in a community that is extraordinarily divided on this. On this issue. You have pro-life Democrats that don't necessarily get courted nationally anymore. How do you square that? And what is your definition? When does life begin and is there any role for government in abortion?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

So as someone who's pro-choice but who has many friends and even supporters who view this issue very differently than I do, I think it begins by having some measure of good faith. And understanding that people arrive at their convictions on this often from a deeply felt and sincerely held place. But in my view, this is a question that is almost unknowable. This is a moral question that's not going to be settled by science. And so the best way for it to be settled in practice is by the person who actually faces the choice. And when a woman is facing this decision in her life, I think in terms of somebody besides her who can most be useful in that, the answer to that would be a doctor. Not a male government official imposing his interpretation of his religion.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. And the final question I want to ask you about: the Second Amendment. You come from a Second Amendment state, some might argue, whatever that means to folks. Do you think the Second Amendment, as it's written, prevents gun control the way the Supreme Court says it does?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I don't think it has to because we've already decided within the framework of the Second Amendment that we're going to draw a line somewhere, right? “Shall not be infringed" clearly doesn't mean that you're entitled to a nuclear weapon. I mean, somewhere in between a slingshot and a nuclear weapon, we're going to draw a line about what makes sense. In the same way that my right to free speech doesn't include yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater, in the same way that, as one Supreme Court justice said, "My right to swing my fist ends where somebody else's nose begins." There are common sense limits that a thinking society can live by, while making sure that we honor the lifestyle of sporting, which is where so many family bonds are created. And they're just a deep part of our tradition. And the idea that people should be equipped to defend themselves if they need to.

CHUCK TODD:

Unfortunately, I have to leave it there. But Pete Buttigieg, thanks for being on. Stay safe on the trail and I look forward to asking you more questions. We didn't get much to foreign policy, some other issues, but, hey--

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Sounds good. I'll take that as an invite--

CHUCK TODD:

--it's going to be a long campaign. It is an invite. I'll see you soon, I hope. When we come back, the Joe Biden debate. Could he be the candidate least representative of the modern Democratic Party who also has the best chance of actually defeating President Trump? That's the debate next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panel is here. Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio network. Heather McGhee, a veteran of presidential campaigns past and a senior fellow at the progressive think tank Demos. And we have two reporters from Politico who write our network's second-favorite newsletter in the morning, Playbook. Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent, and senior writer Jake Sherman. And more importantly, Jake and Anna are the authors of the very readable new book The Hill to Die On. The hill of course being Capitol Hill. We're going to get to your book in a -- in a little bit. But just simply, this is the longest interview I've had with Mayor Pete. Heather, this is your side of the spectrum. How'd he do? What did you think?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

I think he did great. You know, he's a very impressive person, right? He's a Rhodes scholar. He went to Harvard. He's a Navy veteran. You know, he's a year younger than me, and he's already run a city.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah --

HEATHER MCGHEE:

All very --

CHUCK TODD:

And don’t you -- I mean he's ten years younger than me, and I'm like going, "What the hell have I done?"

HEATHER MCGHEE:

But I think -- but I think, you know, right now we're in the moment where we're finding out who is Pete. I think next we need to find out what's he going to do for American families, right? Because voters are interested right now in the biography and all of that. What they want to know is, "How will you change the life of my children? How will you help me afford college, retirement?” That kind of thing. We're at a real breaking point in this country. And I think people need to see that there's going to be demonstrable change in their shot at the American dream. And that's why they're asking candidates for platforms. That's something that's not yet part of his story. It's not yet on his website. What are his ideas?

CHUCK TODD:

The path to the presidency goes through the Rust Belt and the Midwest. It has. It will, this time. He's of the Rust Belt.

HUGH HEWITT:

Best profile I've read about him said he has deindustrialization of the Midwest in his bones. And I think that's true. This was another hurdle crossed for Mayor Pete. I've been following it very closely. He worries me from a Republican standpoint. I would like to have 20 Democrats on the stage with 5% each. Right now, it’s going to be Bernie Sanders is, you know, the frontrunner by money. And you've got the vice president. And then you've got this rocket ship coming up. And the ability to give a good interview and to hold the attention of the American people. I always said Donald Trump is very best interview in America because he holds the attention of the audience. And he remains the very best interview in America. But I think Mayor Pete might give him a run.

CHUCK TODD:

So the other end of the age spectrum, guys, is Joe Biden. It is interesting to me -- and Dan Balz tackled that this morning, Anna, about this. And it gets us to Biden, right? He’s -- he literally is a 21st-century Democrat.

ANNA PALMER:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

And we're having this debate about whether Biden's 21st century enough.

ANNA PALMER:

Yeah. I mean, clearly you saw Pete Buttigieg really lean into his age and drawing a very stark contrast subtly in that interview that you just --

CHUCK TODD:

What did he say --

ANNA PALMER:

-- had with him.

CHUCK TODD:

-- 2054 I'll be the same age as the president.

ANNA PALMER:

Exactly. And I think what you see on the Biden front and clearly for the last week plus is just kind of it feels like he needs to put some more oil in the machine there in terms of what the response is, how slow it was. Is he made for the campaign of 2020? Right now, I think there are some big questions there.

JAKE SHERMAN:

I think he hasn't gotten in, which is stunning to me. I mean, if he were in the race, Joe Biden, and were out giving stump speeches every day, he would be able to talk about something else besides these allegations. Or at least he could address it and move on. He's not in the race for reasons that are not clear to me. And it gives a vacuum for someone like Mayor Pete to get in and to shape the dialogue, shape the debate, and say, "We need somebody of this generation."

HEATHER MCGHEE:

So he's still leading. You know, the latest polls average seven points.

CHUCK TODD:

He being Joe Biden?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

He being Joe Biden. And I think the reason is this sense of electability, right? In a USA Today poll, Democratic primary voters said by 20 points, "I'd rather have someone who will win than someone who wants the country that I want, who has the same ideology as me." That's huge. That's about the nightmare of not wanting to wake up to an Electoral College victory from Donald Trump again. But I think we need to change what we think of as electable. We have voted in this country for change, for disrupting the status quo every time we've had the chance basically, you know, since the financial crash. And I don't think that Joe Biden represents the kind of change particularly that younger voters, who are the biggest bloc in 2020, need to see.

HUGH HEWITT:

I want to go back just to one more thing there Pete told you. He would enter the White House with more military experience than any president since George H.W. Bush. That's true unless Seth Moulton gets in, in which case they're tied.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough--

HUGH HEWITT:

But 9/11 veterans. That's impressive. Every American ought to respect that, even if they're not going to vote for him. That sets him apart from everybody else on the Democratic platform. Even Bernie, who is ahead in money, and I think enthusiasm -- it's just worth noting and deserves respect.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. Matthew Continetti at the Washington Free Beacon wrote something interesting, comparing Buttigieg to the rest of the field. And he writes this, "I find Mayor Pete far less interesting than what he reveals about the Democratic field. He's upstaged the Washington senators Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and perhaps Michael Bennet—who have been dreaming of this moment for years. … He's enjoying his 15 minutes because even the most talented of these elected officials has yet to stand out." A fair shot, Jake?

JAKE SHERMAN:

Yes, absolutely. I think voters don't want Washington. I mean, we saw that with Donald Trump --

CHUCK TODD:

Is that the worst name you can have is "senator"?

JAKE SHERMAN:

I would think that it's probably right, right? I mean, this guy has run a city. He has a story to tell that doesn't include going to the floor of the Senate for cloture votes. That's an important thing I think in a campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

I don't think he'd say the word "cloture" either.

JAKE SHERMAN:

I think that's probably right.

ANNA PALMER:

But don't you think also, you know, he -- Americans love the underdog? The media loves the underdog. He comes into the race. I don't think anybody took him very seriously, thinking he was going to be a top contender at all. And so, you know, he's kind of this rocket ship, as you said. And it’s just wondering can he keep that momentum? That's the big question I have.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to switch a little bit, which is the -- in -- Frank Bruni got to this, where apparently even Mayor Pete's being criticized, "Is he gay enough?" or Kamala Harris, "Is she black enough?" This argument that's going on in the party, perhaps here's Barack Obama. Let's play President Obama on this yesterday, believe it or not, and see what he said about this.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

And one of the things I do worry about sometimes among progressives in the United States, maybe it's true here as well, is a certain kind of rigidity where we say, "Oh, I'm sorry. This is how it's going to be." And then we start sometimes creating what's called a circular firing squad.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

You know I thought Stacey Abrams the other day, said -- she's like, "The line that everybody's searching for is forgiveness with accountability." And that seems to be what is the struggle. What does that look like? Forgiveness plus accountability.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Yeah, I think it's very important, right? We are right now evolving what the Democratic Party is. People who do focus groups and public opinion polls say all the time Republicans, very defined. People know what they're voting for with Republicans. With Democrats, you basically have to have everyone else. So what you're seeing right now with this huge primary, with these debates about identity is a recognition that identity shapes your experience in this country for most people. How you look, your identity, who you love shapes how people treat you and the circumstances that you have. And so it does matter.

CHUCK TODD:

Is President Obama right though? Could this get too rigid on the left?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Absolutely. It's extremely rigid on the right. I mean, you have people losing there, you know, not able to talk about being anything other than, you know, pro -- as Mayor Pete said, you know, nuclear weapons in the streets, right? The sort of Second Amendment fundamentalism on the right wing is very strong. At the same time, I do think these are important debates. And I think people want to know what they're going to do for the country.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Thank you. We're going to pause it here. When we come back, former Republican presidential nominee, former Massachusetts governor and now U.S. senator from Utah Mitt Romney is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Most Republican office holders have been reluctant, even a bit scared, to criticize President Trump. Not Mitt Romney. Just two days before he took the oath as a new senator from Utah, Mitt Romney wrote this, "Presidential leadership and qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent's shortfall has been most glaring." However, like President Trump, Mitt Romney has been sharply critical of Obamacare and he says he's even tougher on illegal immigration than the president. And Mitt Romney joins me now from Salt Lake City in his first Meet the Press appearance as Senator Romney. And in fact, we were just debating. Do you prefer Governor or Senator still?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

The term Governor's always better, but I guess I've got to go by my current title, which is Senator. --

CHUCK TODD:

That’s exactly what we --

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

But Mitt-- but Mitt is just fine, Chuck. Mitt is just fine.

CHUCK TODD:

It's exactly what we all predicted because we've never met a senator who was a former governor who didn't miss being governor. Let me start with what the president said both Friday and Saturday about immigration and the asylum seekers. Here it is, sir.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

This is our new statement. The system is full can't take you anymore. Whether it's asylum, whether it's anything you want, it's illegal immigration. Can't take you anymore. We can't take you. Our country is full.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

It's a little jarring to hear an American president say, "Our country is full," given the history of the United States of America. How did you take that comment?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, we've seen a dramatic shift in the nature of immigration and illegal immigration just over the last few weeks. I mean, a number of years ago and up until just a few weeks ago, the great majority of people coming into our country were coming, looking for work. Single men and oftentimes just were turned at the border. Sent back home typically to Mexico. In the last few weeks, there's been a dramatic change and that is we're seeing unaccompanied young people, as well as families with lots of kids, pouring into the border. And they say the magic word, "I'm seeking asylum." And by virtue of our laws and processes here, we bring them into the country. We don't begin to have enough space in our facilities to maintain the kind of care that these people deserve. And so they're being just turned out into our country, 125,000 of them so far this year. It's overwhelming our system. We have got to be able to deal with this in a way. It's going to take some legislation to get it fixed.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and that's what I'm curious about. How would you be handling this? I mean, the president has threatened to impose economic penalties on Mexico, a tariff on cars if they don't help with the border that are shipped to Mex -- Mexico. He's threatened to pull all foreign aid to the three Central American countries where many of these people are fleeing. You know, it's called a carrot and stick approach for a reason. He's only, he’s only providing sticks. He doesn't seem to have a carrot here anywhere.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I think what has to happen is an effort for Republicans and Democrats to come together, generally with presidential leadership. That's what's going to be essential to get us all--

CHUCK TODD:

But you just said--

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

-- together --

CHUCK TODD:

-- Senator I just heard --

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

-- and say, “Okay, we need to fix --

CHUCK TODD:

-- your hesitation there. Does he have the credibility to do this?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, he does. He has the capacity to bring together the top Democrats, top Republicans and to sit down and say, "Okay, what can we do legislatively to make sure that we're not creating this extraordinary asylum magnet that's bringing people into the country?" And let me tell you, in my opinion, the Democrats are making a huge error by making border security an issue and saying it's a partisan issue. Look, this is an American issue. We can't have millions upon millions of people flooding into our country without a border that's secure, without ICE making sure the people that are here illegally are sent back. This is, this is a winning issue I think for Republicans. But more importantly, it's a winning issue for Americans to say, "We have to have the sovereignty of our nation." I think the president has tapped into something which the people feel very deeply.

CHUCK TODD:

One of the things that you had said is you'd be tougher on illegal immigration than President Trump. Your positions. What -- Give me an example where you feel as if you're tougher on this than he is.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I was referring to a time some years ago when I was running for president and, and noted that I was not in favor of the DREAM Act. And the president supported earlier in 2017 giving the DACA individuals legal residency. So I was referring to that point. But at this stage, I think--

CHUCK TODD:

Are you still against--

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

--we're on the same page.

CHUCK TODD:

--the DREAM Act?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, it's been put in place by President Obama and I believe we have a responsibility to fulfill what is a presidential pledge and commitment. So that's in the past. I would provide legal status for those Dreamers in the country. That's something the president's put on the table. I think we should get that job done. And hope we will get that job done. But overall, we need to complete the border fence. We need to have a system that keeps people from getting jobs here if they're here illegally, and that's an e-verify system. And then we've got to deal with this asylum issue that's really overwhelming our system.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to health care because to me, it's an even more trickier situation, given that you won re-election I believe, excuse me, you won election in Utah on the same ballot that a majority of -- of your constituents wanted to see Medicaid expanded. So what would you do now with health care? Would you scrap the system we have and build from scratch? Or do you take the Obamacare infrastructure, which many will note was modeled in some ways off of what you did in Massachusetts, and try to reform from there?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, let's begin by putting it in context, which is Obamacare applies to about 20, maybe 25% of the population because for 75 to 80% of the population we get our insurance through our employer or through Medicare or through traditional Medicaid. So Obamacare is just 20, 25% of the population. And right now with Obamacare, that's a federal program. I think what you're going to see from Republicans is a federal-state partnership, where the federal government sets the parameters and the states are given more flexibility to create ways to care for their own low income individuals. And so I think a federal-state partnership is a much wiser way to go. A number of senators are working on those kind of ideas. I know the White House is as well. And I think you're going to see proposals coming from our side that say, "Look, we can make the current system of private insurance, which 75, 80% of Americans have, we can keep that in place, get costs down, more flexibility. And Obamacare needs to be repealed." And by the way, the Democrats agree with us. They agree with us on getting rid of Obamacare because they're calling for Medicare for all.

CHUCK TODD:

Not all Democrats do--

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Medicare for all wipes out Obamacare.

CHUCK TODD:

No, the irony's not lost. I'm waiting for Republicans to start defending Obamacare as things move on, honestly. I want to ask you though about the Medicaid decision by your constituents. The legislature wants to tighten what your constituents wanted. Is that the right call?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, the legislature in Utah said, "Look, we want to make sure that if we're going to expand our Medicaid population, we're going to only do so, so long as the federal government is picking up 90% of the bill. But if the federal government decides to back off that 90% number, then we, the state legislature, don't want to pick up the bill." I think it's a reasonable position that the legislature has taken.

CHUCK TODD:

You, you have, you were very aggressive in getting, in getting candidate Donald Trump to try to release his tax returns. He now wants to fight this effort by Congress all the way to the Supreme Court. And while I could maybe understand he wants to do it on privacy grounds, he still doesn't want to show the country his tax returns. How problematic is that?

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, I'd like the president to follow through and show his tax returns. He said he would. I think it was on The Today Show. He said he would be happy to release his returns. So I wish he'd do that. But I have to also tell you I think the Democrats are just playing along his handbook, which is going after his tax returns through a legislative action is moronic. That's not going to happen. The courts are not going to say that you can compel a person running for office to release their tax returns. So he's going to win this victory. He wins them time after time. And, you know, the Green New Deal, all these candidates out there talking about getting, getting rid of Obamacare and traditional health care and putting in place Medicare, these things are just, just nonstarters. And I think the Democratic party is finding itself in a real difficult position with those kind of positions.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, it is coming up to an election year. Jeb Bush, who ran for president in 2016, he said recently that he thinks it would be healthy for the Republican party if somebody challenged Donald Trump to have a real debate about what is conservative anymore. I mean, he's for higher deficits, you were for lower deficits. He's for tariffs, you were not a tariff guy. I mean, one could argue Trump and Romney present the contrast of the two different views of conservatism.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Well, there are differences. I have places where I disagree with the president. I was in his office just a couple weeks ago and said I disagreed with the steel and aluminum tariffs. On the other hand, I said, "I'm overwhelmingly in favor with what you're doing on China." In my opinion, you can get as hard as you want to get, pushing back on China. I think you also have to say the president has followed the Republican playbook when it comes to the domestic economy. Lowering taxes, lowering regulation. The economy's doing very, very well. It's hard not to recognize that's a pretty strong record. As to whether or not there's a primary, time will tell. But parties typically do just fine when there's a primary.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. Mitt Romney, now senator from Utah. Though when we see you in the halls of Congress, we'll call you Governor, I promise. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir. Good to see you again.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

Thanks Chuck, thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

And as we go to break, I wanted to note the passing of former Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, who died yesterday. The South Carolina Democrat served longer than all but seven men in the United States Senate. But believe it or not, for 36 of his 38 years in the Senate, he was actually the state's junior senator to Strom Thurmond. Hollings began his political career as a segregationist, but eventually became a social moderate and supported civil rights, even endorsing Jesse Jackson for president in 1988. And he was also known for his quick wit and sharp tongue.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. ERNEST FRITZ HOLLINGS (RECORDED):

We've been playing games, both sides. They read our lips. The country is doing well. We don't have any problems. Just we, politicians, have a problem, reelection.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Fritz Hollings was 97.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Our latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds Americans feel pretty good about technology. But the same cannot be said about social media. Majorities of Americans say they have positive feelings toward Apple (54%), Google (63%), and Amazon (65%). But look at what people think about the two biggest social media companies. Less than a quarter of Americans say they have positive feelings about Twitter, and only 36% of Americans say they have positive feelings about Facebook. A majority believe these platforms spread unfair attacks, rumors, lies, and falsehoods. 57% say the platforms divide us. And a whopping 82% believe social media is a big waste of our time. And there isn't much of a partisan split on this, by the way. A majority of Republicans and Democrats agree on all of those points. But given all of that skepticism and distrust, 69% of all Americans still use social media once a day or more. When we come back, does President Trump need an immigration crisis?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game and just a fantastic book by our friends here, Jake and Anna, The Hill to Die On. You got a lot of those fun little anecdotes. And I even have to do an expletive deleted on this first one, by the way. Shows you that this is rated R, the book, at times.

JAKE SHERMAN:

PG-13.

CHUCK TODD:

When you cover President Trump, you always have to have an extra rating. "The president periodically engaged in all-out arguments with Republican lawmakers, leaving them bitter and perturbed. In one meeting, Rep. Bill Posey, a veteran member from Florida, told the president to 'Quit the tweets and whining about crowd size.' "'Who the F are you?' Trump shot back." He didn't say "F” for what's it worth. "Before once again incorrectly positing that he had had the biggest inauguration ever.” You know, it struck me, this anecdote, when I was talking with Senator Romney, guys, about how does he have credibility to convene on the Hill. What is the president's credibility on Capitol Hill?

JAKE SHERMAN:

I think it's mixed. Listen, what we decided to do is to turn the camera around. We thought there was enough coverage of Trump as this individual person. We wanted to see how Congress as a system and Washington as a political town reacted to the president. And so we have a lot of anecdotes like this about the president getting into huge arguments with members of Congress and his style behind the scenes. We were given extraordinary access by leading members of Congress to capture these incredible moments of a guy who had never been in government in his life, how he would interact with members of Congress, many of whom had been in government their entire life.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. And I'm going to play this one phone conversation that you guys got between Trump and Pelosi. After the infamous first "Chuck and Nancy" moment, right, when they're going to do DACA for the wall, everybody is in love with Trump, Chuck, and Nancy. So apparently Trump calls Pelosi, and you guys note, "'Hey Nance,' Trump said to Pelosi on a private phone call. 'It was great to be with you yesterday. You and Chuck are getting rave reviews. Me, I'm okay. Your two friends,' he said," referring to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, "'not so good.'" The country needed a dose of this.” This is what drives the Republicans on Capitol Hill bonkers.

ANNA PALMER:

Absolutely. I mean, I think what the book really illustrates is how often the president wants to do deals with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, two people he's very familiar with for the past 20 years. And so I think this is just another example of Republicans thinking, "He's going to leave us high and dry on any occasion when he thinks there could be a deal to be done. He's not interested in the substance."

CHUCK TODD:

Heather, I've got to think when you hear that, on the one hand, I agree that Donald Trump the individual I think does want to just cut deals with whoever. But he doesn't ideologically look like a guy that's ready to cut deals.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

No, because he always is looking back at Fox News and, you know, getting that feedback loop--

CHUCK TODD:

Gets roped back in or--

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

--whatever that is.

HEATHER MCGHEE:

And most importantly, he knows that this economy, even though it's doing great in the headlines, is still not working for most Americans. And so he uses the scapegoats of immigrants, poor people, black families. This is what he does time and time again. It is actually a more broad Republican playbook than just Trump, but he has mastered it. It's divide and conquer. And it distracts from what's really happening in American families.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, when you read their book, you sit there and think it is unbelievable how little he's actually gotten through Congress. But then when you read the book, you understand why.

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, he has gotten through 37 circuit court appointees and 52--

CHUCK TODD:

Right, but--

HUGH HEWITT:

They have a lot of judges--

CHUCK TODD:

But I'm talking about stuff--

HUGH HEWITT:

Two Supreme Court justices.

CHUCK TODD:

No --

HUGH HEWITT:

I will say the best--

CHUCK TODD:

That is partisan warfare. He's not gotten a big deal. He's not gotten big legislation. Everything he's had done is at a partisan basis. He can't figure out how to do things.

HUGH HEWITT:

Legal reform. But their best quote in The Hill to Die On, the one I like the most, is when they quote President Trump as saying, "There are ratings for everything." President Trump, and you guys capture this, is very aware that every day is a struggle for attention and ratings approval. That's captured. So he doesn't really need to get anything through the Hill other than those things that generate ratings for him on the primary side and in the general election.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, going back to immigration, it seems to me immigration for him is a 2020 crutch, that he doesn't want a solution yet. He needs the issue. Is that the way Capitol Hill is responding now?

ANNA PALMER:

I don't think anybody thinks there's going to be an immigration deal before the 2020 election. I don't think Democrats are. It's helpful to Democrats though, you know, in terms of turning out the base, in terms of getting people riled up, about actually kind of framing the debate as a contrast to the president.

JAKE SHERMAN:

But back on planet Earth, President Trump has rejected two major immigration deals that he could have had with Democrats and that his party supported. So the president has been all over the map on this issue and we catalog in The Hill to Die On has been very close to a deal with Chuck Schumer and Paul Ryan. So, I mean, he's been all over the place on this issue.

CHUCK TODD:

Heather, what do Democrats need to say on the border? Do you think they can advocate open borders and win?

HEATHER MCGHEE:

Open borders is a framing that's from the right wing. It's from Fox News. That has not ever--

CHUCK TODD:

What do you say--

HEATHER MCGHEE:

--been the Democratic position.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you say the position is--

HEATHER MCGHEE:

The Democratic position has been for almost 20 years now a path to citizenship, a humane and legal way for the people who are waiting, desperate to become American citizens, to do so. Things like the DREAM Act, right? I mean, I was surprised to hear Mitt Romney, you know, sort of capitulate on the DREAM Act. This is enormously popular, even with most Republican voters. And so this country has always been a country that has said, "You are an American if you come here, you work hard." We used to have racial quotas on immigration. We used to have people be able to come in, you know, just get off a boat, and walk into the country. This new paradigm we have of a very criminalized immigration system is contrary to what I think most Americans want.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, should the president's campaign team at all look at the results in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in 2018 and get a little nervous about the border?

HUGH HEWITT:

They should look at Doug Ducey winning by 20 points and ask, "What did Doug Ducey do in Arizona on the border?" which was work to fix every problem. There is a real problem at the border. 125,000 people I believe last month. It's a genuine crisis. I'm the last optimist--

HEATHER MCGHEE:

That Donald Trump created.

HUGH HEWITT:

I don't believe that. I believe that this is coming out of conditions in El Salvador and Venezuela especially. The collapse over Venezuela. And the sooner Maduro is gone and President Trump has pushed him out. But they’ve got to get to a solution because it's a genuine crisis.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, guys. Much appreciated. Before we go, did you ever wonder what we all talk about on the panel after Meet the Press is over? Well, good news. Every Wednesday in our new and improved podcast (and, yes, we are calling it the Chuck ToddCast because dad humor works here) I'll sit down with two smart political reporters and pols and let you in on what we're hearing and thinking about 2020 and more. It's the kind of inside stuff that's, trust me, better left unsaid on television. You can subscribe to the Chuck ToddCast from the Meet the Press website wherever you get your podcasts. That's all for today. Thank you very much for watching. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.