Meet the Press - August 11, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, a nation on edge. As two communities mourn...

EL PASO RESIDENT:

We need to heal. We need to love one another again.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump lashes out at his critics ...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP

They're very dishonest people and that's probably why he got I think about zero percent

CHUCK TODD:

And Democrats unify in opposition to the president on guns, race and white supremacy.

JULIAN CASTRO:

He is a big hit with white supremacists.

JOE BIDEN:

This is white nationalism.

CHUCK TODD:

Will the shootings lead to new regulations on guns?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I think we can do meaningful, very meaningful background checks.

ELIZABETH WARREN:

Mitch McConnell's getting just a little bit worried. My view is he ought to be a lot worried.

CHUCK TODD:

And - after the largest targeted attack on Latinos in modern U.S. history - hundreds are arrested in workplace immigration raids.

MAGDALENA GOMEZ GREGORIO:

My dad didn't do nothing - he's not a criminal.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest this morning: acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. Also: after Jeffrey Epstein, accused of sex trafficking, dies in federal custody, there are new questions for Trump's Justice Department. Plus, my on-the-trail interview with Senator Kamala Harris. On the president:

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

People are afraid in our country.

CHUCK TODD:

And on her campaign:

CHUCK TODD:

There is some confusion about where you are on health care.

CHUCK TODD:

And - all eyes on Iowa.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Hello, Iowa!

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

Iowa Democrats!

CHUCK TODD:

22 presidential candidates blitz the first-in-the-nation caucus state. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker, Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network, Maria Teresa Kumar, President of Voto Latino, and Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post.Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. As the country struggles to process the events of last weekend, as we grapple once again with our gun culture, this wound feels deeper, and a bit rawer. It was a week that the country needed a president to do what presidents have done in the past: to provide solace and healing, and to remind us all that the American story travels on that arc of history that bends toward justice. Instead, President Trump delivered a teleprompter message of unity on Monday then spent most of the rest of the week attacking his perceived political foes calling Dayton mayor Nan Whaley's news conference "a fraud" ... saying Texas congressman Joaquin Castro "makes a fool of himself every time he opens his mouth" ... and telling Beto O'Rourke of El Paso to "be quiet!" Even comparing his crowd size to Beto O'Rourke's during his visit to an El Paso hospital. Democrats in turn ramped up their rhetoric, blaming the president - and many calling him a white supremacist. Six-and-a-half years after Newtown and two years after Charlottesville - what does happen now? Will a bill strengthening background checks gain momentum ... Or will we see the predictable wash, rinse, repeat cycle of inaction or gridlock on the issue of guns play out again? Will the Trump administration surprise its critics - and fully engage in addressing domestic terrorism, particularly its links to a white supremacist ideology? Or will that problem continue to fester? Just this week - from Las Vegas to Toledo, Ohio to Winter Park, Florida .... arrests were made after domestic terror threats. As the threat rises - only a president can lead the conversation. The problem: this president, who has wielded the politics of race as a political cudgel, is stoking it.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We need meaningful background checks so that sick people don't get guns.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump - under political pressure after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton - is promising new gun regulations:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We'll see where the NRA will be, but we have to have meaningful background checks.

CHUCK TODD:

It's a message that may sound familiar. After Las Vegas...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.

CHUCK TODD:

After Parkland.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We'll be doing the background checks.

CHUCK TODD:

In the end, the president and Senate Republicans failed to support background check legislation.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Why is now different?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Time goes by, I don't think I am different but I think the Senate is different. I think other people in the House are different.

CHUCK TODD:

But a spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he has not yet endorsed any legislation. That's after pushback for these comments on Thursday:

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

But what we can't do is - is fail to - fail to pass something, you know. By just locking up, and failing to pass, that's, that’s unacceptable.

RUSH LIMBAUGH:

The only thing a new law would do is it would drive a wedge between Trump and his voters and the N.R.A.

CHUCK TODD:

Red flag laws - which identify extreme risk individuals and empower family and law enforcement to intervene to temporarily remove their guns - have broad public support. And 89% of Americans including 84% of Republicans support background checks at gun shows or other private sales.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

President Trump wants to have everything both ways. He wants to say oh, yes, I can support changes on gun safety and then say but, let's all be sure to bow to the NRA.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats are also raising their rhetoric on the president - blaming him for stoking hatred.

JOE BIDEN:

This is white nationalism. This is white supremacy

JULIAN CASTRO:

He is a big hit with white supremacists.

JACOB SOBOROFFl:

Is the president a white supremacist?

BETO O'ROURKE:

He is.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I think it's a disgrace, and I think it shows how desperate the Democrats are.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats point to Mr. Trump's rhetoric in the months before the El Paso shooter targeted Latinos, killing 22 people ...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP: It is an invasion, you know that. I call it invasion. It's an invasion. An invasion. Invasion. Invasion. Invasion

CHUCK TODD:

On Wednesday - the same day President Trump visited El Paso - ICE raided seven food processing plants in Mississippi, arresting about 680 undocumented workers

MAGDALENA GOMEZ GREGORIO:

I need my dad. My dad didn’t do nothing - he's not a criminal.

CHUCK TODD:

But federal authorities have yet to announce charges against the companies themselves.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This serves as a very good deterrent. If people come into our country illegally, they're going out.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the acting Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McAleenan. Secretary McAleenan, welcome to Meet the Press.

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

Good to see you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with those raids in Mississippi. They were followed closely by the violence in El Paso. There are some headlines around the country this week about many Hispanic communities just not feeling safe, including in the Clarion-Ledger there, in Jackson, Mississippi. "Tremendous Fear." Boston Globe, Hispanic congregants saying that they're scared. I understand that the raids were planned for some time. Was there any thought at postponing it? Just simply the timing.

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

Let me start with the community in El Paso. That's our community. That's a Department of Homeland Security community. There's 4,000 families there protecting that border. They're largely Hispanic. They're primarily Hispanic. So this is an attack, in El Paso, on us, on our community. And it's something we responded to operationally and that we need to respond to to be clear about what happened here. It was hate. It was domestic terrorism. And it's our responsibility to do more to address it. In terms of the ICE operations, these are enforcement operations that are part of their daily cycle. Something like this has been planned for over a year. This a criminal investigation with 14 federal warrants issued by a judge. And ICE had to follow through on that. It was already planned and in motion.

CHUCK TODD:

Did you know this raid was going to happen this week, in advance? Were you informed of this? Was the president informed of this?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So the president doesn't run law enforcement operations. I was, of course, informed of it. But this is done --

CHUCK TODD:

There was no thought of postponing it even a week, even two weeks, considering the sensitivity of -- you saw the headlines. You've seen it. And I know you are-- want to be sensitive to this. Was there any thought of postponing it?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So these employers are exploiting undocumented workers. This is a situation where you have 680 arrests just in this one operation. That means those employers are just ignoring the law entirely in what they do. That's why a judge gave us a warrant to go after them. And this is the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation. And we do expect to continue forward with -- toward charges.

CHUCK TODD:

So, it's interesting. You just said -- you were talking about the employers. The only people arrested were the employees. Why?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So as I said, we're in the middle of an ongoing investigation. You get a warrant from a federal judge with probable cause. You then go gather evidence at the sites. And then you look at the appropriate charges in concert with the Department of Justice and U.S. attorney to see how you proceed.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Look, this is what ICE has worked for -- this is what the website says. This is workforce enforcement. This is what it says on ICE's website. What you just -- "ICE will obtain indictments, criminal arrests, or search warrants, or commitment from a U.S. attorney's office to prosecute the targeted employer before arresting employees for civil immigration violations at a work site." This looks like the exact opposite. You arrested the employees, about half of whom have been released, perhaps because they were here legally. None of these employers, in fact, we had law enforcement tell us they couldn't even tell us which companies were targeted. Who committed the crime? Didn't the employer commit the crime?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

Of course. And we do have those employers and names who we're targeting. Look, we just finished an investigation very similar in Tennessee, over 150 arrests, 18 months ago. We now have an individual employer who's got a year-and-a-half sentence in federal prison for this effort. We're in the middle of a criminal investigation. This case will be pursued.

CHUCK TODD:

These, were these, I mean -- 600 agents, it's our understanding they were drawn from all sorts of parts of the country. You have said, the system is stressed. Targeting nonviolent undocumented people, is that the priority? Shouldn't the priority be of the criminals, that supposedly, the gang -- if that’s -- isn't that the priority? What evidence that these people were harming society?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So let me be clear. The priority, right now, is our border security crisis, the humanitarian and security crisis at the border and the threat --

CHUCK TODD:

So this -- Mississippi is not on the border.

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So let me explain. So 75% of those people that ICE is taking into custody are coming from recent border entrants. The remaining 25%, 85% of those are criminals or people that are mandatory detention. This group is the smaller part of this group but you have to have a balanced enforcement strategy. We've got to start with our partners in Central America and Mexico. We've got to secure the border. But we also have to have interior enforcement to stop this incentive, this work opportunity, that we have in the U.S. that employers are exploiting. And we've seen that in this case.

CHUCK TODD:

I understand that. But your rhetoric doesn't match the action. The action targeted the employee, not the employer. The employer has not been targeted here. The five companies, in fact, they claim innocence in all of this. They claim they followed the law. So you targeted -- this, it’s clear they are not. This is one of those things that is an open secret. Food-processing plants in this country are -- don't work without undocumented labor.

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So again, this is a criminal investigation of the employers who are exploiting an undocumented workforce and skirting our laws. Now, when you do an operation at a worksite, you can't ignore people that are there without the proper permission to be in the United States. You don't know who they are. Over 200 of these individuals had a criminal record in the U.S.

CHUCK TODD:

How many had green cards and were here legally?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

I can get you that information. But of the 680 --

CHUCK TODD:

But why were they arrested? They were presumed guilty first.

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

-- of the 680 arrests, I don't have that -- any information that they had green cards. They were all taken and processed. And I think it's important, Chuck. You had a lot of really sympathetic video there. And I want to tell you that ICE took great pains to make sure that there were no child dependent-care issues that were ignored. 32 of the arrestees were released onsite, at the plant, another 270 within the first day of the operation. That's 45% of the people arrested released for humanitarian reasons, including childcare. They took this very seriously. They had a process with 14 different caseworkers and phones available to call and find parents and kids and make arrangements. So this was done with sensitivity.

CHUCK TODD:

You say it's done with sensitivity. And yet, we have kids without parents. And there wasn't a, there wasn’t a warning. There wasn't any warning, because the fear was, "Oh, then people would flee." What, what would have been -- why not try to keep family units -- why not get the schools involved, so that they're not caught by surprise?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So we did have ICE agents at each of the schools, as a liaison.

CHUCK TODD:

But they didn't know in advance. They didn’t -- the schools didn't know anything in advance.

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

You can't tell someone you're going to do a law enforcement operation. Again, the targets of that operation could destroy evidence. There could be lots of different reactions to that. You've got to do it with appropriate operational protection.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to move to the issue of domestic terrorism. There was a report this week that your department, and I don't know whether this is -- of the folks currently at the department or previous Homeland Security administration folks. But there was a headline here, in CNN, that basically, the White House rebuffed attempts by DHS to make combating domestic terrorism, including white supremacy, a higher priority. Can you confirm this story?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

I can't confirm that story. I was not involved in that back-and-forth. But what I can tell you is the National counterterrorism strategy, for the first time, prioritizes domestic terrorism in multiple places and specifically calls out racially motivated violent extremism. And we've taken that direction and moved forward on it. Our intelligence and analysis division has increased, dramatically, the number of reports on domestic terrorism, hundreds last year, 150% increase. Those reports are getting greater fidelity and greater review by our state and local partners. We've been, we’ve been after this problem for several years, at DHS.

CHUCK TODD:

I believe that. But has the White House been as supportive as they could be?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

I'm getting all the support I'm asking for. Obviously, they're directing a plan right now, through the National Security Council, to look at what additional resources and what additional procedures we can take, as an inter-agency. But I want to give you a sense of the scope of this effort at DHS. Our cybersecurity and infrastructure security agency is doing hundreds of trainings, reaching tens of thousands of people. Our U.S. Secret Service, the world-leading capability to understand mass attacks in public spaces, they just released their last report with all the indicators from recent attacks with a whole community effort. We can identify these individuals up front. They always show signs of concern. And we're out there training, working with state and local first responders and mental health providers, to give them that information. We're going to increase that effort.

CHUCK TODD:

Since 9/11, there have been more victims, in America, of domestic terrorism than international terrorism. Is it fair to say -- is DHS -- you were told to be in an -- worry about international terrorism first. Is it fair to say that you want to change the priority, that your priority needs to be domestic terrorism? Is that a greater threat, right now, than international terrorism?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

Absolutely. So DHS has to balance threats. And we have to address multi-missions. Remember, Department of Justice and the FBI are the lead for domestic terrorism investigations and preventions. most of DHS' operational capacity is focused on border and international issues. But our ability to support state and locals, to provide that prevention, awareness, and response capability, that's where we're emphasizing our effort, with not only -- in the U.S. Secret Service, but FEMA, the whole elements of the department that we can make an impact with.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to go back to the Mississippi raid one more time and this. Given the emotions of the country right now, in hindsight, do you wish this raid didn't happen this week?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

The timing was unfortunate.

CHUCK TODD:

Kevin McAleenan, by the way, if you're offered the job permanently, would you accept it?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

I'm focused on solving problems, Chuck. We're working on an entire international strategy. I do want to emphasize the overcrowding situation, the challenging conditions at the border, have been largely addressed, thanks to the emergency supplemental funding we finally secured from Congress and our work with Mexico, Guatemala, and other Central American partners. We're down 75% of people in custody. Kids are not waiting in lines at the border.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you want to go back to your old job? Or do you want this job?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

So U.S. Customs and Border Protection is my home, my agency, my dream job. But I'm honored to serve in this role. I think there's tremendous capability at DHS that we can continue to improve.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you take it permanently?

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

I'm honored to serve right now. And I'm trying to solve problems. That's my goal.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't answer it. Is it fair to say that I can say you didn't answer whether --

ACTING SECY. KEVIN MCALEENAN:c

That's fair.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Secretary McAleenan, thank you for coming on and sharing the department's views.

ACTING SECY. KEVIN McALEENAN:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, I traveled to Sioux City, Iowa, where Senator Kamala Harris was kicking off a five-day bus tour of the state. We sat down on her campaign bus for her first-ever appearance on Meet the Press. And I asked her if labeling the president a white supremacist matters.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I think it overlooks the fact of the truth about the history of our country and where we are, which is, you know, we have to speak truth. Racism is real in this country. It was before he was elected, it will be after. Anti-Semitism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, these issues are real in our country. And we have to speak truth about it. And certainly, we must point out and never condone anyone who uses their power in a way that fans it. But the reality is that these are forms of hate that are not new to our country, which have, in the history of our country, taken lethal proportion. And still today take on lethal proportion. And so I believe that the conversation has to be about how we are going to speak truth about the history, and then address it. And you know, when I look at what's happening now, Chuck, just most recently, with the announcement of the raids from months ago, much less what happened in El Paso, to the most recent raids, where hundreds of people were picked up. Many were released because they probably shouldn't have been picked up in the first place. People are afraid in our country.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think Hispanics feel targeted right now?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I do.

CHUCK TODD:

That between --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I do.

CHUCK TODD:

-- El Paso and this ICE raid that took place in Mississippi --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And this president's rhetoric, which has been --

CHUCK TODD:

Can he say, can he say anything, at this point, to reassure Hispanic Americans?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I don't think it would be authentic if he did. And I think people are smart enough to know that. You know, there's an old saying, "Judge me by my actions, not my words." And his actions have been to divide, to vilify, to, to do what is contrary to who we are as Americans, which is to say it's us versus them. As opposed to a president who uses the power of that microphone in a way that is about unifying and lifting up, as opposed to beating down. That's what this president does. He beats people down. And I will tell you, that’s the sign of a coward.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you -- how do you strike that balance of hitting him but still trying to win over some of his supporters? You know, ultimately, I know in a general election you do want to win over some of his supporters. Why do you think they picked him the first time?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I want to earn, I want to earn every American's vote.

CHUCK TODD:

Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.

Why do you think they picked him the first time? You used a, you used a phrase before the '16 campaign, but it was in October. You're saying, this -- we're going to look at ourselves in the mirror. Well --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Yes, that's right.

CHUCK TODD:

-- we did.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And ask a question.

CHUCK TODD:

And what happened?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And I said then and I say today --

CHUCK TODD:

But what question did we answer in '16?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- this is an inflection moment in the history of our country. This is a moment in time where each of us must look in a mirror and, collectively, we must look in a mirror and ask this question, "Who are we?" And I think part of the answer --

CHUCK TODD:

So what did we say?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- to that question is we are better than this.

CHUCK TODD:

But what did we say in '16 when we did this?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Well, but here's the thing. There are people who voted for him for a variety of reasons. And a lot of it had to do with the promises he made, which he has not delivered on because they were false promises. And he betrayed a lot of people. He came in saying he was going to help working families, everyone from farmers to auto workers.

CHUCK TODD:

You brought up the raids in Mississippi. Believe it or not, law enforcement told our news division, told us that they had to be intentionally vague about the companies that were “raided.” Explain to me, you were a prosecutor, why, why were the workers targeted and not the companies? Why did the five companies get to stay? Is there -- why are their -- why -- do they have a privacy protection here? Is there something in the law that I'm missing?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

No. And I don't know why they did what they did. I don't know why they've decided to do it right after El Paso, when --

CHUCK TODD:

But who’s --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- a whole -- a community of people--

CHUCK TODD:

Who committed the wrong --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- have felt --

CHUCK TODD:

-- here, the companies, correct? If they hired people that weren't citizens, they're the ones in the wrong --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Of course.

CHUCK TODD:

-- not the people, right?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Yes, right.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I mean, yes, of course. Of course, the employers have to be responsible. And they have to do whatever is required by law. But there's another point here, Chuck, which is that this administration has directed DHS to conduct these raids as part of what I believe is this administration's campaign of terror, which is to make whole, whole populations of people afraid to go to work. Children are afraid to go to school for fear that when they come home, their parents won't be there.

CHUCK TODD:

You have spoken about race as a national security issue. You took -- you spent time in the intel committee, you've been involved in the Russia investigation. And you have said that Russia targeting us on race proves that our racial strife is a national security issue. How do you get the public to see it that way?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Okay, so Russia interfered in the election of the president of the United States. Regardless of what Donald Trump says, listen to the intelligence community. They tell you that that is true because it is true. Okay, so that's --

CHUCK TODD:

Would you, by the way --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- a fact.

CHUCK TODD:

Should we label a state sponsor of terrorism?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I think that is a debatable point. But I will say --

CHUCK TODD:

Ukraine, the UK --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

--this, they're an adversary -- there's no--

CHUCK TODD:

-- the United States?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- there’s no question they've committed human rights abuse. There's no question they are an adversary. There's no question that they have attacked America's democracy. But here’s --

CHUCK TODD:

Right, but not just ours. I mean, Ukraine's.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Well, of course. Of course.

CHUCK TODD:

In the UK, I mean, a lot.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Crimea, we can look across the board. Of course. But here's the thing. We also have to, on this election issue, understand that this long-standing adversary decided that they wanted to attack us -- they wanted to attack us where we are strong. And one of the almost intangible strengths of America is that we can hold ourselves out as a democracy, imperfect though we may be, flawed though we may be. And it's an intangible strength. It gives us the authority to walk in rooms and actually talk about human rights. Talk about civil rights, talk about concepts of freedom, right? So they decide, "Let's get at them. Let's attack that." So they decide to attack what is the strongest pillar of a democracy, which is free and open elections. So let's get Americans going at each other. What's going to get heat?

CHUCK TODD:

It's the easiest way to do it.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And they tried out a bunch of different things. And you know what caught heat? The issue of race. So Russia exposed America's Achilles heel. And all of a sudden then, guess what? For those who want to marginalize the conversation about race and racial inequities and say, "Oh, well, that's identity politics or that's this or that's that." Guess what? Now it is also a national security issue. And we need to deal with it.

CHUCK TODD:

Later this hour, more of my interview with Senator Kamala Harris on election security, national security overall, healthcare, and her campaign. And when we come back, the geographic divide over guns used to be a political problem for Democrats. Now, it's Republicans struggling to stay united. Panel's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with the panel: Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network; Maria Teresa Kumar, president of Voto Latino; NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker; and Robert Costa, national political reporter for the Washington Post and moderator of Washington Week on PBS. Before we get to the issue of guns, Kristen Welker, I think we heard interesting news there from Secretary McAleenan, where he admitted that in hindsight the Mississippi raids, the timing was unfortunate. Contrast that to the President of the United States almost cheerleading him and saying, "Hey, this is what we're doing. It's a deterrent." How is that going to go over?

KRISTEN WELKER:

Well, I thought it was a striking discrepancy in tone. After you pressed him a number of times, he finally said the timing was unfortunate. Again, when I asked President Trump about this the other day, he said, "Yes, it's a deterrent." He really leaned into this strategy. The bottom line is there wasn't a plan for dealing with these kids. The Trump administration had promised there weren't going to be any more family separations. There clearly were, even though some of those families have been put back together. I think the focus does become on the companies. That's where the heat has to be now. Because if you're accusing all of these migrants of breaking the law, you have to put the focus, as you so rightfully pointed out, on the companies that were hiring them.

CHUCK TODD:

Maria, obviously I think his response on the timing issue had to do with the impact it's had on Hispanic America.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

Well, the El Paso shooting is something that we have to underscore was something that was a resounding accumulation of what the President was basically saying the moment he went down the escalators. The shooter used these words of "invasion," of "individuals that were coming down," an "infestation." The driver literally drove ten hours to go to the safest city in the country that's 85% Latino to send a message. We now know that he said, "Yes, I went to El Paso because I wanted to cause maximum harm." And in the backdrop, as the President is landing in El Paso, you have one of the largest ICE raids in our nation's history. So it's really hard to get this idea that the President was really there in El Paso to console while at the same time running these operations that separated families. And when you heard the acting secretary talk about how many, he knew exactly the precise number of criminals, but he couldn't tell you how many people were documented that they were caught up in the raid, how people were American citizens. In fact, there's stories that a lot of the folks that were in the plant were actually El Paso natives. It's not just optics. It's the policies that this President keeps perpetrating against the Latino community that makes it feel like, yes, he is really targeting the community disproportionately.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, when the raids happened, I thought, "Boy, this is the typical dysfunctional White House." A functional White House Chief of Staff would have known about this, going, "This is not the week for this, whatever you do." But now the more we learn, this was, no, intentional. This is what you do. But clearly Secretary McAleenan is uncomfortable with how it looks like--

HUGH HEWITT:

He did do a good job explaining the complexity that faces DHS, the FBI, and DOJ. I was at DOJ for a while. I used to be in law enforcement a long time ago. No one knows all of the various threads that are operating at one point. I think he even indicated he didn't know that this was going down. The president certainly didn't know that this was going to happen. And the optics are in fact not just unfortunate but terrible. That said, I thought he did a very good job in pointing out that DHS has 4,000 people living in El Paso, that an attack on El Paso by a racist is an attack on every American, and DHS in El Paso is overwhelmingly Latino. I credit him with explaining as best he could in a short period of time that DHS, like the FBI and the DOJ, is staffed by wonderful professionals, all of whom are trying to do their job. And it's a complicated balancing job.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

The only difference I would say is that he is the one that is the head of that department, of ICE. He is the boss. The fact that a boss did now know that they were going to undertake the largest raid in American history, that is really hard to fathom.

CHUCK TODD:

Robert Costa, we know the President takes a special interest in ICE. And we know he has a relationship with the current acting director, too. So it does feel as if, sometimes you wonder, "Is he micromanaging these operations?" Maybe not the specifics, but the larger tactics.

ROBERT COSTA:

Stephen Miller inside of the White House has always had a heavy hand in immigration policy. The White House is also paying attention to the political cost of these activities. Suburban voters even in red states are paying attention. Some of them are taken aback. I was on the ground in the Atlanta suburbs this week talking to voters in a place like Chamblee, Georgia that has a vibrant Latino community with white voters as well taken aback by what's happening with ICE, with the mass shootings. As you look ahead to 2020, both parties are looking to those kind of voters. Does this stormy confluence of all of these issues-- whether it's the ICE raids or violence in America, does that prompt some voters to rethink President Trump?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's talk about the gun issue specifically. What I found fascinating this week is that what used to be a divide on the Democrats on geography, guys, is now, I think, Hugh Hewitt-- let me show you a divide among Republicans. This on the red flag laws. And it's pretty stark here.

John Barrasso, Steve Daines of Wyoming and Montana, no. "Due process component, knee-jerk reactions. More gun laws are not the solution." Rural states. Contrast that with Rick Scott and Pat Toomey of Florida and Pennsylvania. Lots of suburban voters. Rick Scott: "We must not allow people who threaten to harm themselves or others to have guns." And Pat Toomey: "My focusing is on keeping guns out of the hands of people who should not have guns." It is the Republicans that are divided, mostly on geography.

HUGH HEWITT:

And they are divided by Governors versus Senators. Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona introduced the STOP order, Severe Threat Order of Protection, last year after Parkland, and he is pushing for it again. The NRA supports it. Governor Mike DeWine this week of Ohio stepped forward with a STOP order. Or they're also called (UNINTEL). There are lots of Governors--

CHUCK TODD:

Large state Governors.

(OVERTALK)

HUGH HEWITT:

Swing state Governors.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right.

HUGH HEWITT:

And they understand that-- I think Robert just referenced suburban mothers. It's suburban dads, and grandparents, and everybody in the country wants people who are obviously not right in the head not to have guns.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Bob Costa just said that the Trump reelection team is well aware of their suburban problem. What does the president think? Does he think combating the NRA is going to hurt his base? Or does sitting with the NRA hurt suburban voters? What does he care about more?

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think he thinks he can convince his base. I think he cares about the NRA membership, not so much--

CHUCK TODD:

Why do we believe he'll do this again--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

He didn't do it the last two times.

KRISTEN WELKER:

So I pressed him on this. He made the argument that it's time. Look, Democrats control the House. He's aware of that. He sees that as a potential opportunity. I can tell you that inside Republican circles they feel as though the NRA leadership has been weakened because of some of the controversies that they've been dealing with. And every one brings up the issue of the suburbs, Chuck. So that is a real concern. And I think President Trump-- remember, he doesn't fit into a neat box when it comes to a political party. I think he wants to see this get done. The skepticism: time. Because a whole month is going to go by before Congress comes back. And that loses momentum--

CHUCK TODD:

McConnell made a pledge to vote on something. He doesn't make pledges to vote on anything very often. So something.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

He's reading the tea leaves.

CHUCK TODD:

He is.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

This is one of the few moments where the President can actually bring in and neutralize a lot of his critics, if they were able to do something meaningful on guns. But this idea that--

CHUCK TODD:

We said this before--

(OVERTALK)

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

No, no, no. But this is actually fundamentally different because you see the movement of white suburban women. This is an issue top of mind. When they put a backpack on their kid and take him to school, they want the kid to come back home.

ROBERT COSTA:

Briefly, the legislative reality based on my conversations with top Senators in both parties is that red flag laws because of those comments by Senator Barrasso and other Republicans, probably not going to move forward. Background checks, that's the only game in town. The question now is: Will President Trump lend any political capital to Toomey-Manchin? When you talk to people close to Senator Manchin and Toomey, they say that's the only thing that could move forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. I’m going to get killed here. Very quickly, is anybody at the White House appalled that the President retweeted conspiracy theories involving Jeffrey Epstein?

KRISTEN WELKER:

I reached out to just about everyone at the White House. No response. Bottom line, I don't think they have one, Chuck. Everyone agrees the investigation has to move forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, this is the first big test for the Barr Justice Department. When we come back, more of my sit-down with Senator Kamala Harris on the issue that has tested her campaign and divided 2020 Democrats: health care.

TEASE

CHUCK TODD:

In your plan, employers are no longer going to be the place you get insurance, correct?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

That's right. And you know why--

(OVERTALK)

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But here's why. Why should you have to stay at a job you don't like?

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. No one issue seems to divide the Democratic Party, in the 2020 race right now, more than healthcare. And Senator Harris has struggled to define her position. In the second part of our conversation, I challenged her to explain it. But we did begin with national security.

CHUCK TODD:

Being on the intel committee, what is the hot spot that you have learned about now that we're not paying enough attention to? What is something you're picking up on this intel committee, you realize, "Boy, if I'm President, that's going to be on my front burner"?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

It's everything that you know about. It’s everything from cyber security, which includes -- listen. Previously, Jeh Johnson, the previous head of the Department of Homeland Security, designated our elections infrastructure as critical infrastructure of the United States. As critical as our electrical grids, as critical as our financial, right? And it has been attacked. So that's one of the greatest threats to us. But cyber security broadly speaking. I've been working on this since I was attorney general of California, where I led the second largest Department of Justice in the United States. We have got to do a better job of securing our infrastructure as it relates to our power grids, as it relates to our -- what is going on in terms of our medical systems, what is going on in terms of our financial systems. We're very vulnerable to cyber threats.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's talk about health care.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Okay.

CHUCK TODD:

There is some confusion about where you are on healthcare. Whether it’s -- a lot of it has to do with the sloganeering, right? You have Medicare for All over here, you have enhanced Obamacare over there. But let me ask you this. You want to do a new system and over a ten year period.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

There're a lot of people who've said, "We're in the middle of still trying to build the last system. The last system hasn't been fully implemented. Medicaid is not in all 50 states." Why do a new system before you find out if this one doesn’t -- this one won't work?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

So let me start by saying I was very proud as attorney general of California to be among the leaders who defended the Affordable Care Act. What President Obama accomplished was historic. Many presidents before him attempted to reform America's health care system and failed. He accomplished it with the Affordable Care Act. He has also said -- he has used a term "starter house." That it was a good beginning.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

We need to build on it. Why? Because currently, there are 30 million Americans who are without health care. So --

CHUCK TODD:

Well, there's building on and there's buying a new house. And I say this if we're going to use the house analogy. I guess the question is, is your plan --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

As your family grows, you probably need a bigger house.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and that's the question. And -- but you see you’re doing a -- it's been hard enough to implement Obamacare. --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

And by the way --

CHUCK TODD:

-- Why try to implement a new one?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- some people in the house are out on the porch --

CHUCK TODD:

I know.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

-- and in the rain and in the snow and we've got to bring them in. Like we keep going --

CHUCK TODD:

We could beat this metaphor to death. There's no doubt.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Here's the point. Thirty million Americans without healthcare right now. We've got to get them covered.

CHUCK TODD:

Expanding Medicaid would take care of half of them, wouldn't it?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But Medicare for all means that everyone is covered. Half of 30 million is still 15 million. That's still 15 million too many people without coverage.

CHUCK TODD:

But go to this issue of the debate. In your plan, employers are no longer going to be the place you get insurance, correct?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

That's right. And you know why --

CHUCK TODD:

Ever?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But here's why. Why should you have to stay at a job you don't like because your employer is sponsoring health care? Why --

CHUCK TODD:

Isn't that the Obamacare exchange? Wasn't that part of the idea of the exchange?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But the point is -- the point is, you know, Chuck, there was a time where people would come out of high school or college, they'd go and work at one place until they retired. That is no longer the case in America. With certain, you know, with people who are in their twenties and thirties, they're moving jobs every two years. And people should not have to feel that they can't leave a job because they'll lose their health care.

CHUCK TODD:

Republicans may still control the Senate if you're president of the United States. How do you get that health care plan through? I mean -- or do you have to say, "Okay, we'll keep Obamacare and expand that". I mean, is that -- do you, do you retain that flexibility in your mind or not?

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Here's the thing, Chuck. I arrived in the United States Senate in January of 2017. And there was a full on attack that had been building for years to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. And there was an attempt, sometimes successful, to make it a partisan issue. Democrats want the Affordable Care Act, Republicans want to get rid of it. And then the Republicans named it Obamacare, thinking that would create some controversy. And then when I joined the United States Senate and I watched these debates and I fought against any, any attempt to get rid of it. Why? Because preexisting conditions should not be the barrier to getting access to health care. Because our kids should be able to be on our plan until they turn 27, right? But here's what I witnessed, to your point. I witnessed town halls around the country in so-called red states, in so-called red districts, where people showed up at those town halls and said to their elected representative, "Do not take away my health care." And I will never forget. I was on the Senate floor at that early morning hour when the late, great John McCain, a Republican, said, "No, you don't.” This cannot be a partisan issue. The health and wellbeing of the American people should not be a partisan issue, cause those folks, by the way, when anyone is sitting in the emergency room with their child, could care less about the party with which they're registered to vote.

CHUCK TODD:

I totally get that.--

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Right?

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just talking about the reality of what you can get through.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

But I think -- I think again--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you really think you can get a new healthcare plan through? You just described how difficult it was to keep Obamacare --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

Listen, one of the --

CHUCK TODD:

I’m just being --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

One of the big reasons that we have to --

CHUCK TODD:

You’ve been a -- you've been wanting to be a realist here --

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

I am.

CHUCK TODD:

-- telling people, "Too many plans." Like, don't over, over promise.

SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS:

In addition to the moral aspect of this, which is -- I do strongly believe health care should be a right and not just a privilege of those who can afford it, okay? There is also the issue of cost. It is, right now costing us $3 trillion. And over the next ten years, it's going to cost $6 trillion. We cannot afford to do nothing.

CHUCK TODD:

My entire unedited conversation with Senator Harris, including her comments on taxes, the deficit, the direction of the Democratic Party, is available on our website, MeetThePress.com. And when we come back, rural voters have made up a big portion of President Trump's political base. But could his trade fight change that in battleground Iowa? That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. The Iowa State Fair is about much more than fried food on a stick or political stump speeches. It's also one of the country's oldest and largest agricultural expos. And how that group is feeling about President Trump's tough trade talk in action could backfire for him in 2020. President Trump carried Iowa in 2016, flipping the swing state after President Obama won it in both '08 and '12. Trump also came close in farming stronghold Minnesota. He only lost that traditionally blue state by less than two percentage points. And while farmers have been a big part of his loyal base of support, they are already feeling the impact of this trade war. U.S. exports to China have plummeted by over $10 billion in the last year. Farm bankruptcies are up 13% in the last year, the highest level since 2012. But so far, that is not spelling political trouble for the president, a fact we heard from the farmers we spoke to at the Iowa State Fair this week.

[BEGIN TAPE]

HOWARD COLLINGE:

I'm still supportive, because those Chinese have been screwing us for years and years.

PARKER KRAY:

We're not just going to roll over, you know, like they'd like us to.

GARY ENGLE:

I think, probably, we're in a hole right now. But I think things, if they go as they are, will get evened out.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

And a survey of 700 farmers in Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota, conducted by Iowa State University, backs that up, as well. They found a majority somewhat or strongly supportive of the U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods. That said, only 14% of the farmers surveyed said their farm operation will actually be better off, financially, a year from now, because of this trade dispute. 20% said the same about U.S. agriculture, overall, while more than three-quarters said, American farmers will bear the brunt of the tariffs imposed by the Chinese government. Here's the thing. Many agricultural communities have long believed that China is taking advantage of them. So Democrats are left in a really tricky political spot. If they want to peel off these traditionally Republican voters, they need to make a complicated argument of standing up to a trading partner in a different way. And nuanced policy debates, like that, very hard to pitch in an election season. When we come back, food on a stick, a 600-pound cow made of butter, and nearly two dozen presidential candidates trying to avoid gaffes and pick up votes along the way. All eyes on Iowa. Endgame is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game. It's not just political reporters that have family in Iowa that like to pander to Iowa. Yes, that's me. A lot of the candidates were pandering, too. Here's some of the best of the panders.

[BEGIN TAPE]

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK:

Hello Iowa. You know, I've learned my time in Iowa not just because of my great-great-grandparents, who settled in Henry County.

TOM STEYER:

They've known me for coming to Iowa to visit my aunt and uncle since I was two.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

And this means that I'm going to have to smile and pretend that that butter cow is better than the butter sculpture carvings at the Minnesota state fair.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Bob Costa, 22 candidates, the soapbox. They're all over the state of Iowa here. So it's obviously pander time. But this trip to Iowa for me -- I've been to a lot of Augusts before the caucuses, which is always state fair time. There was a sense of urgency because some of these candidates realize there is no September. Forget the caucuses.

ROBERT COSTA:

And the urgency is why Iowa continues to matter even though politically states like South Carolina, which has a later primary and a more diverse demographic across its electorate, will likely matter more politically long term. If you're at 1% to 5% in this crowded field, if you don't come out of Iowa in the top four or five, hard to see how you stay until New Hampshire.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to talk specifically a little bit about Kamala Harris. The biggest impression I took away from interviewing her, watching her campaign is she is trying to do something that I think is smart when you're trying to win a campaign. She's seeing if there is room in between Biden and the progressives there. And I think the health care tells that story better than any other. The question is: Is there room?

KRISTEN WELKER:

I think that continues to be the question. She's making a very strong play for Iowa right now. She's on that bus tour--

CHUCK TODD:

Which was not clear six months ago--

KRISTEN WELKER:

Correct. She was focused on--

CHUCK TODD:

--that they were going to focus on--

KRISTEN WELKER:

--South Carolina.

CHUCK TODD:

That's right. But now, they realize if you want to win South Carolina, you've got to do well in Iowa.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Have to do well in Iowa. So I think you're absolutely right, Chuck. Nothing lays that there better than the health care debate, the fact that she's still in support of Medicare for all with this plan that goes into effect over the course of ten years. A lot of questions about whether that's feasible, of course. But, look, she was a candidate who came out very early on in this gun discussion. I think she's someone to watch right now. I think she's going to be really hammering that point home. I also think it's notable President Trump doesn't have a nickname for her yet. I don't think he's quite figured out how to go after her, whereas with the other candidates, with Biden, for example, he has his one-liners ready.

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh Hewitt -- I was just about to set you up. You have been a big admirer of hers from the other side of the aisle. But you have been a big admirer of hers. What do you make of it?

HUGH HEWITT:

I believe she's still going to be the nominee. I took two things away from your interview. She is playing a prevent defense in the NFL. That means she's timid. She is one of the big Democrats who did not call Donald Trump a white supremacist. I think that's smart because the vast majority of America does not believe and I do not believe the president is a white supremacist.

However, when you asked her about, "Should Russia be a state sponsor of terrorism?" they have used poison agents, radioactive agents in Great Britain. We have expelled -- that is a very timid response. Of course Russia is a state sponsor of terror. So I do not square her timidity on everything as working out. But I still think it works for her down the map. She's still going to be the nominee.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you make of where Democratic activists are on her?

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

I think that they're still trying to figure out exactly when it comes specifically to her position when it came to criminal justice reform in California. There is a litany of work. But she is very much playing down the middle because I think that a lot of folks right now are saying Biden is definitely not as strong as he was. She wants to make sure that she is the candidate that picks up all of those votes. And the only other person right now in the wings that may pick up a lot of those votes is Mayor Pete if he's able to resurrect himself. But he has actually done quite well in the Iowa fair. I think the challenge though -- and I have to say she did not that the president was a white supremacist because she recognizes it's still sensitive. But when the president does not denounce himself as a white supremacist, it kind of gives you pause.

ROBERT COSTA:

But you can't forget Senator Warren, Sander Sanders. As much as Senator Harris may be positioning to get some of those Biden voters if Vice President Biden ever stumbles in the polls, the energy when you're out there on the campaign trail as a reporter, it's on the left. Senator Sanders holding steady in the polls. And Senator Warren we've seen rise in the polls.

CHUCK TODD:

Funny you bring up Senator Warren. Yesterday Michael Bloomberg went to Iowa to basically focus on guns. And I think most of the candidates were there. Not every one of them. Most of them did. There was a unifying message pretty much on guns. But Michael Bloomberg decided to tell his audience about a comment he made to Elizabeth Warren. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG:

And I just said to Senator Warren on the way out, "Senator, congratulations. It was a nice talk. But just to remind you: If my company hadn't been successful, we wouldn't be here today. So enough with this stuff."

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

It is the only candidate that he decided to single out in a semi-negative way on the Democratic side of the aisle, which I think goes to what Bob was trying to say, is Warren's surging.

KRISTEN WELKER:

She is surging. And I think the question of course -- and it underscores that as well: Is she someone who's competitive in a general election? Or is she too far left? Look, I've been talking to a lot of Democrats who say they've been very impressed not only by her performance on the debate stage but also by her ability to connect with people on the campaign trail. They're looking to see if she starts going after Sanders.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

And what's --

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Maria, while you respond to that, let me put up that most recent Monmouth poll because you see the Warren/Sanders thing here. Warren solidly now in second place. But look at this. She's picked up 12 points. Bernie Sanders dropped seven. There's your direct correlation, Maria.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR:

Exactly right. So when I go on the ground and talk to individuals that are the grassroots voters, they're very excited. Since Elizabeth Warren started talking about one policy after the other, a lot of the donor class are quietly very excited by her. But they're like, "Is she going to be able to make it?" And it's all of a sudden that convergence of these two constituencies saying, "You know, I'm interested." What she's going to have to do though is trying to figure out how to make sure the Bloombergs of the world feel comfortable that she's not going to basically tax them to the extreme. And that is where I believe that she has actually been able to demonstrate that that is not the case.

ROBERT COSTA:

There is a potency to Senator Warren's message and you could say to others', like Senator Sanders'. President Trump ran in 2016 on populism and nationalism, going after immigration as part of the cause for people's woes in the working class across this country. She's saying, "I'm just going after a different target: corporate America." And she's going to take back that issue of trade and others from President Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Go very fast --

HUGH HEWITT:

In 2004 Karl Rove wanted Howard Dean. Donald Trump wants Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. That's the bottom line.

CHUCK TODD:

I always say, "Be careful what you wish for." Hillary Clinton wanted Donald Trump. That's all we have for today. Thanks for watching. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.