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Meet the Press - August 27, 2017

NBC News - Meet The Press

"08.27.17"

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD: This Sunday, three storms. The first, Hurricane Harvey.

WITNESS: It sounded like a tornado.

CHUCK TODD: The hurricane force winds are gone. But the big threat now is rain and catastrophic flooding. A flash flood emergency is in effect for Houston. We'll have the latest. Storm number two, President Trump's pardon of former sheriff, Joe Arpaio.

DONALD TRUMP: Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?

CHUCK TODD: The bipartisan criticism, what we now know about what the president wanted to do and what it could mean for the Russia investigation. Storm number three, the president versus his party. President Trump goes after John McCain.

DONALD TRUMP: One vote away. I will not mention any names.

CHUCK TODD: Goes after Jeff Flake.

DONALD TRUMP: Nobody wants me to talk about your other senator who's weak on borders, weak on crime.

CHUCK TODD: Goes after Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and Bob Corker. Why does President Trump think attacking his own party is a winning strategy? I'll ask another Republican, Governor John Kasich of Ohio who has not ruled out taking on President Trump in 2020. Plus the Democrats, do they have a strategy beyond being against all things Trump? Can they avoid a culture war trap? My guest, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

Joining me for insight and analysis are Katy Tur of NBC News, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, Yamiche Alcindor of the New York Times and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

DENNIS HAYSBERT: From NBC News in Washington, the longest running show in television history. Celebrating its 70th year, this is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD: Good Sunday morning. We are covering three storms today. One of them is President Trump's pardon of former sheriff, Joe Arpaio and what we now know about what he wanted to do. The second is the President's fight with his own party. And we're going to get to both of those stories in a few minutes.

But we do begin with Hurricane Harvey. Once a category four hurricane, Harvey has now been downgraded to a tropical storm. But sadly the worst is almost surely yet to come. Devastating record flooding is feared. As the storm is expected to linger over southeast Texas for days.

Already a flash flood emergency has been issued for the city of Houston, America's fourth-largest city. And residents in the area are being urged to stay indoors. Harvey is now essentially a rain event with amounts to be measured in feet, not inches. And our meteorologist, Bill Karins, is calling it one of the worst flood disasters we have ever seen in the Houston area. The worst damage so far is in Rockport, Texas which took a direct hit when Harvey came ashore with winds of 125 miles per hour.

NBC Nightly News anchor, Lester Holt, is standing by for us in Corpus Christi, Texas. So Lester, I know it's hard for people to believe we're in the middle of this even though you're not in winds and rains. How bad is it now? And how much worse do they think it's going to get?

LESTER HOLT: Well, Corpus Christi was pretty quiet night and they are beginning to get power on. And you can see it's rather calm. There are still rain bands coming through and they expect a lot of rain here over the next several days. But about a half hour, 40 minutes in that direction was Rockport.

That's where we spent much of our day yesterday. It received serious damage. Power lines down. There were some buildings that had collapsed. And there was flooding. We drove our way in there with little effort. Coming out was a different story though. There were flooded passages there where you began to move the vehicle and there's no stopping now or you're not sure whether you will get through.

Flooding is amazingly deceptive. There were huge rain bands that would come through and suddenly the street before you would be flooded. I think that's what folks right now in Houston are dealing with is how much more will there be? Can I drive through it?

And that's why they're telling people if you can to shelter into place there. You know, hurricane is one thing. You can feel the wind. You can see the trees whipping around. You can see things flying at you. You recognize the danger. But flooding is amazing. The rain will come and suddenly the street that was uncovered a moment ago is now covered. And your options for getting out may have narrowed. That's what folks around here are going to be facing as the system, you showed, is essentially this lingering over southern Texas. And it is producing a lot of rain. And as the sprinkles begin here again in Corpus Christi.

CHUCK TODD: Are you seeing cleanup efforts stalling a bit because of this both flash flood fear and because of actual flooding?

LESTER HOLT: I saw very little, frankly, in the way of cleanup right now. I think yesterday we saw a lot of Coast Guard and National Guard helicopters doing search and rescues I think in areas that were cut off toward the islands. I've seen very little in terms of recovery. We saw a few power trucks being staged.

But, yeah, the issue is, you know, is it over? And it really isn't. The high winds part of the hurricane part is over. But the flooding is going to make it extraordinarily difficult for them to get their vehicles in and begin stringing lines and all the things you typically see after a hurricane passes.

CHUCK TODD: All right, Lester, appreciate it. Thank you. I know you're going to do more reporting and we'll see you tonight on Nightly News.

LESTER HOLT: All right.

CHUCK TODD: Joining me now is the director of FEMA, Brock Long. Mr. Long, welcome to Meet the Press.

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: Hey, good morning, how are you sir?

CHUCK TODD: I’m pretty good. Let me start with this cleanup effort and the fact - what Lester was just saying - and understandably that some of it is delayed or stalled because more is to come. What kind of extra efforts are you having to - of resources - are you having to marshall to deal with issues of flooding? Are you having more air support? Coast Guard coming in? What are the resources you’re having to start now?

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: So, first of all, I’d like to say that President Trump is extremely concerned about this. He has given me all the authorities to amass the resources from the federal government down through our state and local partners. And right now we have nearly 5,000 staff that we have coordinated across the federal government within the states of Texas and Louisiana, helping Governor Abbott and Chief Nim Kidd as well as the locals, um, respond. Right now, we’re not doing recovery. There’s no such thing as recovery right now. Right now we are deep into the life safety mission of helping people be rescued through swift water rescue, search and rescue and it’s my job to coordinate that, so specifically what I mean is is that, under the national response framework, we mission-assign the Coast Guard. We mission-assign DOD assets in support of our state and local efforts. And you’re seeing that take place right now.

CHUCK TODD: Let’s talk about - look, uh, you have to implement the national flood insurance program. This has been controversial at times, even when there isn’t a major storm and major recovery effort here. This insurance program is in debt. Are you going to have the money to dole out? Are you concerned that Congress may have its own fiscal problems and it hurts your - hampers your efforts - to dole out the money that you need to deal with this right this instant?

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: Yeah, we’re ready to process all claims with the NFIP and we have well over 1,000 people in the field ready to administer that program. That’s part of the workforce laydown that we have in Texas right now. We’re already mobilizing. We’re encouraging people to reach out to their local insurance policyholders and begin, you know, starting the process as soon as they start to experience flood damage. Regarding the NFIP program, yes, Congress has a lot of work to fix that program. We need to fix the business framework and the way it looks going forward. But right now I can’t worry about that. I’ve got to worry about the policies in force, and we’re ready to go.

CHUCK TODD: There’s no doubt. But it is -- so you have the money, the authority to pay out all of this regardless of what’s happening in Congress right now? I mean, that’s sort of the question. I get that there’s a larger, longer term issue here--

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: Yes, we, yeah--

CHUCK TODD: Every policy, everybody that files a claim, there’s not going to be a delay in your sending them their money?

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: No, we have the reserves and the funding to be able to support the policies. Now these things take time to put into effort. You know, there’s obviously an inspection process that goes along with this. So it’s not just an immediate payout. So -- but the bottom line is we will follow the process as designed and we’re ready to go.

CHUCK TODD: Uh, and let me close with this. You talked to people who may be looking for help, may be wondering, in the storm areas, what should they do? I know the authorities have said stay in place. Explain why you want people not venturing out right now in that area.

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: So, first of all, citizens should listen to their local officials. FEMA does not issue warning order or communication directly down to the citizens. That would be stepping on our state and local partners. So it’s very important that, you know, citizens listen to their local officials. Only call 9-1-1 if you are in an emergency and in a dire situation. Do not call 9-1-1 if you are seeking information. That’s very important. Only shelter in place, if it’s a safe place to be. If not, you need to be contacting your local officials on what steps they want you to take. Now, one thing that is important is that the president’s major disaster declaration is constantly expanding. It’s dynamic. Uh, we are turning on assistance to all counties that are being impacted in conjunction with our governor, the governor in Texas, but I want to be sure that we’re not letting paperwork get in the way of pushing down federal resources to support the best way that we can. So we are moving forward, leaning forward.

CHUCK TODD: Alright, Brock Long, the FEMA director, for us. I know this is going to be weeks and months of recovery effort, not just days.

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: Chuck, it’s going to be years, sir. Yep, it’s going to be years.

CHUCK TODD: Fair enough. Alright, sir, thanks very much, appreciate you coming on for a few minutes here.

FEMA ADMINISTRATOR BROCK LONG: Thank you.

CHUCK TODD: Let me turn now to politics. President Trump versus his party. Seeing a president run against Congress is not new. Harry Truman famously ran against the do nothing Congress, so-called do nothing Congress in 1948. But Truman was a Democrat and both Houses were controlled by Republicans that year.

This week President Trump went to war with his own party, calling out either by name or implication, Senators John McCain, Jeff Flake, Mitch McConnell, Bob Corker and Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. So what's President Trump up to? Does he want to take down the Republican Party and remake it in his own image? Or simply blow up everything and govern by motivating his passionate base? Either way, he's going to need those Republicans he's mocking right now if he's going to get any of his agenda passed in the fall.

(BEGIN TAPE)

DONALD TRUMP:

Our friends in the Senate, oh boy.

CHUCK TODD:

Faced with declining poll numbers and few accomplishments, President Trump is intensifying his attack. But on fellow Republicans and starting at the top.

DONALD TRUMP:

We have to speak to Mitch. I'm very disappointed in Mitch.

CHUCK TODD:

Even suggesting that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell could lose his job.

DONALD TRUMP:

If he doesn't get repeal and replace done and if he doesn't get taxes done then you can ask me that question.

CHUCK TODD:

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration. McConnell released a statement not disputing the report but saying, "We are committed to advancing our shared agenda together. And anyone who suggests otherwise is clearly not part of the conversation."

McConnell is hardly alone. Just since he was inaugurated, Mr. Trump has attacked seven Senate Republicans by name, calling members of his own party weak, publicity-seeking and toxic. Much harsher rhetoric than he's used on Senate Democrats. And Trump is making personal loyalty his litmus test for 2018 support, suggesting at a rally in Arizona on Tuesday that he will support a primary challenger to Senator Jeff Flake, who has criticized him."

DONALD TRUMP:

Weak on borders, weak on crime. Nobody wants me to talk about him. Nobody knows who the hell he is.

CHUCK TODD: Mr. Trump also attacked home state Senator John McCain at the Arizona rally. The president made no mention of McCain's battle with cancer. On Friday, Mr. Trump added Tennessee's Bob Corker to the list who questioned Trump's stability and competence in the wake of Charlottesville. Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in '18. Tennessee not happy. Running against Congress is nothing new.

BARACK OBAMA: If you want to break the gridlock in Congress you'll vote.

CHUCK TODD:

But it is unusual for a president to run against members of his own party. And for the divorce to happen so early in an administration. And more Senate Republicans are becoming more comfortable breaking with the president.

DONALD TRUMP: The fake news in the crooked media.

CHUCK GRASSLEY: I don't believe that there's such a thing as fake news.

DONALD TRUMP: We have to close down our government. We're building that wall.

JEFF FLAKE: This notion of a 2,000 mile wall has always been just for anybody who spends time on the border, just, you know, out there.

CHUCK TODD: Still, many elected Republicans are nervous about their own voters. And they remain hesitant to buck a president who four out five Republicans still support.

TRUMP SUPPORTER: He's a street fighter. I think most people who voted for him voted for a street fighter.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD: And joining me now is the Republican governor of Ohio, John Kasich. Governor, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Hey, Chuck, before we get into this, listen, I said to my wife this morning, "We need to send a contribution either to the Salvation Army or the Red Cross." My mother used to say, "If everybody does a little bit it's amazing how much we'll build up in the jar." You know, when that flooding comes in, once that water's gone, your house is never the same. So if everybody across the country just does a little bit it will be appreciated down in Texas. And that's what we gotta do. That's how we--

CHUCK TODD: No, sadly--

GOV. JOHN KASICH: --pull together as Americans.

CHUCK TODD:--not only are those houses never going to be the same, some of them will end up having to be condemned.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Absolutely correct.

CHUCK TODD: And it won't even look at it. All right. Let me jump into what happened on Friday that didn't involve a hurricane. The Vice President, former Vice President Joe Biden wrote this today in The Atlantic reacting both to Arpaio and Charlottesville. And I'm curious of your reaction, governor. This is what Joe Biden writes, "We have an American president who is emboldened white supremacists with messages of comfort and support. A week after Charlottesville and Boston we saw the truth of America, those with the courage to oppose hate far outnumber those who promote it. And then a week after Boston we saw the truth of this president. He won't stop his contempt for the U.S. Constitution and willingness to divide this nation knows no bounds. Now he's pardoned a law enforcement official who terrorized the Latino community." Do you see Charlottesville and Arpaio linked the way the former vice president does?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Well, first of all, Chuck, I severely condemned what the president had to say about Charlottesville ‘cause there is no similarity between hate groups and everybody else. That's number one. And I did it on--actually at your network and people across the country applauded it. Number two, I actually have the power of pardoning in my state. We do clemencies over time. But we make sure that people did proper restitution. I wouldn't have done it this way. And it, it’s not--it is absolutely should be out of bounds for somebody to use that as some sort of a political wedge. It appears as though that's what it, what it was. It's not the way I operate here with the power to be able to give people a second chance. But the president has that power. I don't agree with what he did. It's not the way I operate. I can't be anymore, you know, anymore loud in what I have to say than to tell you what I do because my actions reflect the way I feel.

CHUCK TODD: What, what the former vice president though was saying is that this is sending, you know, first it sent a chilling message to African-Americans and, and Jewish folks on his message on Charlottesville. Pardoning Arpaio looks like it is a thumb in the eye to Hispanic-Americans.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Well, I'll tell you, I am worried and concerned about these ICE folks that go into people's homes and they grab mom and dad and try to ship them out of the country and they leave the kids on the front porch. Look, we talked about this in the campaign. I was one of the few voices that--I said a lot of things that didn't happen, tear up the Iran deal, you know, we're gonna--we’re gonna throw everybody out of the country, we're going to ban all the Muslims. Yeah, sort of funny because I was on the stage and I was saying, "No I don't think that's the way you do public policy." And what you find is most of the things that have, that are being done, a lot of them are being reversed, okay, or they haven't happened. In terms of the targeting of people that are in this country, look, we don’t--when people illegally got in here, we don't condone that. But if they've been in this country and they have not been committing crimes and they've been actually building businesses and being part of their community, going and grabbing them and shipping them out, that doesn't bring our country together. Look, I think at the end, Chuck, we keep talking about the president. You know, maybe starting with the flood business, it is time for us to figure out what institutions we're a part of from the bottom up that can bring some unity in this country. We don't have to keep looking to Washington. Everybody focuses on Washington. What about everything else happening in this country? Whether it's, it’s gauging profits by businesses or whether it's putting sports figures on the field who did improper things or whether it's the clergy that does things that are out of bounds. I mean, nobody's looking for sainthood. But the whole country needs to come together and stop looking at Washington. Figure out what you can do as part of your entity to raise the country and bring some unity.

CHUCK TODD: Look, I get the sentiment. And I think plenty of people on both sides of the aisle are going to applaud that. But the reality we're in is the reality we're in. Let me ask you a specific here.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Congress should assert itself, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD: And I was just going to ask you.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Congress should assert itself.

CHUCK TODD: All right.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Let them get their act together and pass the agenda they want. Their problem is they're fighting--not only are we fighting across the aisle but they're fighting internally. And, and these leaders just, they can't just go and force somebody to cast a vote a certain way. Look, I do believe there is a path towards stabilizing the health--the exchanges on health care. I'm working with John Hickenlooper who's a terrific guy. There is a way to deal with our financial problems. We got to get our act together internally. Then push it out to the other party.

CHUCK TODD: All right, let me ask you a few specifics. If you were still sitting in Congress, Paul Ryan, like you, criticized the president's decision to pardon. When Ford pardoned Nixon he had to appear before Congress. Congress scrutinized that pardon, put it under a committee process. When Bill Clinton pardoned, Marc Rich, a donor with questionable ethics and whether he should have been pardoned, Congress scrutinized. But in both cases the other party was in charge. Will--should Speaker Ryan instruct the House judiciary committee to scrutinize this pardon? Does it deserve more scrutiny because of the impact--

GOV. JOHN KASICH: You know, I don't think--

CHUCK TODD:--it could have?

GOV. JOHN KASICH:--Chuck, we've got enough problems. We have enough problems to start, you know, figuring out why he did this, ok. I don't know. I just think that we just keep grinding this down. And to me what Paul Ryan ought to figure is how he can get his people together to pass a health care law that isn't going to cut 20 million people off the roles. He ought to figure out how we can begin to deal with entitlement reform at the same time we pass the debt limit. He's gotta, he’s gotta figure out how we're going to, to, to do the things that we need to do to make sure that we begin to move the country forward. Can't keep looking backward. We got to look forward. And it has to be a strong agenda. And I, I tell you, Chuck, I'm absolutely convinced that you cannot deal with those who are way out here playing politics all the time. You've got to build your coalitions from the middle out. And that includes involving Democrats. I mean, that is not a dirty word. The Republicans get to call the tune. But you just can't do it alone. How do you think you're going to get tax reform if you don't have both parties involved? It will not happen. Period.

CHUCK TODD: Well, let me ask you about that, with both parties obviously there was some fun speculation about 2020 bubbling up. And the idea, you mentioned John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado, that you two are working together, trying to come up with a bipartisan fix here on the state exchanges and the health care law in general. And somebody floated the idea that it could be a 2020 unity ticket. Are you, could you imagine yourself leaving the Republican Party to do something like this?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Chuck, look, Kasich/Hickenlooper. You couldn’t--first of all, you couldn't pronounce it. And secondly, you couldn't fit it on a bumper sticker. But here's what I do want to say, because Hickenlooper and I--

CHUCK TODD: That's not a denial.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: --are now working--

CHUCK TODD: Just because you can't fit it on--

GOV. JOHN KASICH: --no, the answer is no.

CHUCK TODD: --a bumper sticker.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: The answer is no, ok. But here's what--I do want people to think about this, because Hickenlooper and I work together cynics out there say, "Well, they want something." Because we want to stabilize health care and make sure that poor people have something people assume there's a motive. You know, sometimes people actually do things because they're trying to help somebody. And when we do that everybody ought not to say, "Well, what's in it for them?" This growing cynicism eats at the fabric of the spirit of our country. It’s not--it really aggravates--not much that aggravates me. That does.

CHUCK TODD: Let me ask you this, whose party is this, Donald Trump's or, or the Republican Party you joined 30 odd years ago?

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Well, I have a right to define what the Republican Party is. He has a right to define it. Look, you know, you can respect the president. But so what? You can disagree with him. Look, I'm the governor and I got a legislature that has overridden me the last couple days with some, with some vetoes that I gave. They have a right to say what they want to say. And I've got a right to say what I want to say. But together you hope that you can pull together to have a defining philosophy. The problem with the Democrats, I can't figure out what they're for. I mean, they have a golden opportunity, right, to be able to come in and win elections. But they can't figure out anything other than the fact that they don't like Donald Trump. I mean, they better figure out what they are. What's happened to the Democrat Party? It's almost lost its soul. And it better get its act together if they want to compete. Competition in this country for ideas, positive ideas, that is the essence of politics. But, Chuck, look, I've got to say one more time, if you're in business, you work for a pharmaceutical company and you've got sky-high profits and you're cutting people off or not giving them what they want or not doing R&D and investing in stock buybacks, stop it. Everybody needs to start doing something to raise the bar. And stop waiting on somebody else or blaming somebody else and say, "Well, they didn't do it therefore I don't have any responsibility." Balogna. We see with the dysfunction in our country. We can't wait for it to be fixed out of the White House anymore. We got to do it where we are. And that includes you, Chuck Todd, being responsible in the news.

CHUCK TODD: I, look, and I have to say this, John Kasich, you did a good job of actually previewing our next segment. Because one of the segments is what does the Democratic Party stand for besides being against Trump. Anyway, you previewed it. Obviously you're a veteran of coming on this show, sir. I appreciate it.

GOV. JOHN KASICH: Hey, you know, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

CHUCK TODD: Thank you. Coming up, what we now know about President Trump's decision to pardon former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio and why President Trump may think the move was smart politics.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panelists here. Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, Katy Tur of NBC News, author of the upcoming book, Unbelievable: My Front Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, oh you haven't seen nothing yet, Katy. Yamiche Alcindor, national political reporter for the New York Times and Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute.

Very quickly I want to get to hurricane response fast by the president. I've got to throw up, these were the series of tweets he did after Superstorm Sandy criticizing then-President Trump saying it would be nothing more than essentially saying it would be a photo-op. "Hurricane is good luck for Obama again. He'll get to buy the election by handing out billions. But Obama, you know, to be seen standing in water, rain."

As people have noted, there's a tweet for everything when it comes to President Trump. But he just tweeted this this morning, Michael Gerson, "I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus might be life and safety." This is a case where the president realizes, yeah, his own words, optics may look bad here.

MICHAEL GERSON:

Yeah, no, that's true. People don't remember but President Bush didn't go initially to Louisiana for Katrina because of the same reason. Because when the president comes the police are involved, all the ambulances are involved. He has a big footprint. So the decision makes sense.

CHUCK TODD:

Katy, let's go to this Friday night, you know, what he did. And the fact that the hurricane, you would think all the focus of this White House would be on the hurricane.

KATY TUR:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

And instead he also threw in the Arpaio pardon, did the transgender ban. It was like news explosion on 8:00 on a Friday evening while we're all glued wondering how bad is this storm going to be.

KATY TUR:

Yeah, usually, I mean, bad news comes on Fridays. There's a reason you put it out on Fridays. And you could argue that a lot of bad news should come out on a Friday where everybody's attention is focused on something else.

But there's certainly an argument to be made, and a good one, that this White House was not focused wholly on the millions of people who were directly under threat during the hurricane and that they should have been focused on that completely and not focused on trying to get other things that would get negative attention through.

The Arpaio tweet was coming. I mean, he hinted at it not so subtly the other day when he was in Arizona. Maybe the staff was trying to bury it because they knew they were going to have to do it on one way or the other. Maybe this was a Donald Trump trying to return attention on himself. Both of those arguments are really easy to make.

But again, he criticizes the past president for his response to this hurricane. It's not a hurricane any longer. But the damage and the devastation is still ongoing. And this morning he's tweeting about himself, he's tweeting about he's going to Missouri and he won that state by a lot. He's also tweeting an endorsement for a book by Sheriff-- Sheriff Clarke. So his attention is not wholly focused on the millions of people in this country who were dealing with a massive flood situation.

CHUCK TODD:

And Danielle, it's yet another thing that has Republicans on Capitol Hill uncomfortable at best. And apoplectic at worst.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, what's confusing to me, I see all the Republicans that are responding to the criticism that he has laid out against them in his war against his own party. The problem is they don't have their own narrative. What is it that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are doing? What are they standing for? What are they fighting for? Where are they? This is the question that all conservatives have. What are you doing?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, isn't their answer going to be, "We are waiting for the president," Yamiche?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well--

CHUCK TODD:

Like, they assume the president was going to sort of detail this.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I mean, I think there's that. But the there's this idea that the president and the Congress are in this almost business-like relationship where the president thinks that senators work for him and don't actually see them as a parallel body of government.

So you have senators trying to, in some ways, doing this dance where they're trying to support the president because they know they have to work with him but also trying to hold onto their own legacies. Not I think even when it comes to elections, because obviously in their actual elections they're going to be facing Donald Trump's base. But they're really trying to I think in their own consciousness make this argument to themselves that they're being good people by pushing back on him.

CHUCK TODD:

Michael, where's this going though? I mean, I think Republicans on Capitol Hill have given up on him but they can't say it.

MICHAEL GERSON:

You know, I agree with that. I think it was a turning point week in a certain way because of Phoenix. I mean, this is a president who when he talks about reconciliation from a teleprompter is bored when he says it. When he goes in and, you know, defends Arpaio and defends the guy that tweeted, "Sieg heil," in Phoenix he is fully engaged. And I think Republicans are looking at this and saying, "He's revealing his heart." The question is can they have a shadow government, like, is an argument today--

(OVERTALK)

MICHAEL GERSON:

--argument today.

CHUCK TODD:

Former Bush--

(OVERTALK)

MICHAEL GERSON:

Can you have a separate identity from the president of the United States? But his superpower is dominating the news. That's what his main, you know, role is. And it's very, very difficult.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

But I think that you get that, the President -- People always say that the president doesn't have an ideology, that he's not really a Republican. But I think what he is, in some ways, is someone who really believes that immigrants are terrible people. He really believes that this country, in some ways, was originally a white country and originally is a country that is now kind of pushing away its culture and that southern culture.

Something that struck me when he talked about Phoenix and he had that rally in Phoenix, he said that people are trying to take away our history and our heritage. And I think there, in that window when he says that, what he's talking about is the original idea of America.

And when I think about how the president goes and pardons Sheriff Arpaio and then is kind of saying that Sheriff Clarke's book is something that you should buy, what you're seeing, the strain that you're seeing there is the fact that he endorses racial discrimination. He's someone who looks at a sheriff who almost bankrupt his own county trying to pursue people who were Latino and racially profiling them, who didn’t -- who wasn't investigating sex crimes because he wanted to go after people who were sometimes American citizens and says, "That's what I want to get behind. That's what really excites me."

CHUCK TODD:

Danielle, you--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yeah, I know. I was shaking my head. Because, first of all, I don't think that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are competing with the president. I think they've given up. And I can't understand why. It's not a shadow government. They are an equal branch of government.

They can legislate. And he will sign anything. And if Donald Trump is all the things you said, and I'm actually not persuaded he is, because I don't think Donald Trump has ideas like you described. I think Donald Trump's main ideology is Donald Trump. That's the problem he has with Republicans, that's the problem he has with Democrats. That's what he's excited talking about. It's himself.

KATY TUR:

The Republican Party's really diverse though. And that's part of the problem why they can't get things done. Their caucus is just all over the place from conservatives to moderate. And they don't have the president leading. And they can't go against him because--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And they don't have their--

(OVERTALK)

KATY TUR:

--they're in a really tough position because they don't know who is going to turn out to vote for them in the next reelection, if it's going to be--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

That's what leadership is.

KATY TUR:

--Trump voters or is it going to be Republican voters. This is Donald Trump. This is not the same as it always has been.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm not going to resolve this here. We're going to do a quick pause. When we come back, as John Kasich hopefully said earlier, for all the talk about the dysfunction of the Republican Party, what about the Democrats? Do they have a strategy beyond criticizing the president? I'll talk to Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio right after the break.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Can the Democrats learn to stand for anything beyond being anti-Trump? Will President Trump even let them? From the pardoning of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, to the debate over Confederate statues, to transgender service members in the military, Democrats may be getting lured into a culture war that President Trump is delighted to fight.

Democrats know the cultural left is a welcomed ally to them. But not enough for them to win back a majority, see 2016. So what do they do? Joining me now is Sherrod Brown, the Democratic senator from Ohio where culture may have played a bigger role than anything else in moving the state from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. Senator Brown, welcome back to the show, sir.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Good to be back. Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with you rhetorically answering a question that John Kasich, your governor, put out there. He essentially was saying the Democrats have a golden opportunity and he doesn't know what they stand for beyond being anti-Trump, which he didn't realize that is how we were setting up this segment. Is that a fair criticism that both us, in the media, and Republicans are making right now?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Not entirely but I'll start with this. I applaud my governor -- Republican. I'm a Democrat. I applaud him for standing with us to fight back against a Republican plan to take health insurance away from, in my state, 900,000, around the country 22 million.

What was interesting about that, Chuck, is that a bunch of members of Congress in both houses who get insurance paid for by taxpayers are willing to take it away from millions and millions of Americans. And I thank Governor Kasich for standing on that. That's what Democrats stand for.

But fundamentally, you win elections by contrast. And we've seen a president of the United States who probably won Ohio because fundamentally Ohio, most of Ohioans haven't had a raise in the last 20 years. And they've seen wages go up. They've seen profits go up, they've seen executive compensation go up. They've seen their wages flat. And this president in the White House the last seven months has done nothing for workers. I have. And I've fought for workers. I've done it in the past. I'm doing it now. I'll continue to do it. That's what Democrats stand for. That's how you win Ohio.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, but let me point out something. David Betras, he was the chair of Democratic Party in Mahoning County, Ohio. And he wrote this in a memo right after the election. He said, "Look, I'm as progressive as anybody. Okay? But people in the heartland thought the Democratic Party cared more about where someone else went to the restroom than whether they had a good-paying job." I know what you said about what you've done in Ohio. But speak of the Democratic Party as a whole, do you understand why some people in the heartland saw that?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Well, I understand what the press coverage is of all of this. And I understand the Democrats will always stand up to hate speech whether it's coming from the president or whether it's coming from the Klan or the Nazis, the anti-Semites and the racists in Virginia and the 35 organizations identified in Ohio that are hate groups.

I understand, Democrats always stand up for that because we are the party of justice. Connie and I last night were at a dinner with the Human Rights Campaign talking about the importance of human rights. But I also know that people in my state, they support my position on trade. I oppose NAFTA, one of the first votes I ever cast.

I stood up to presidents of both parties against bad trade agreements. I know about—When President Obama, his last couple years in office, the secretary of labor came out with an overtime rule, 130,000 people in my state got a raise from that, this president, you know, the White House looks like an executive retreat for Goldman Sachs now. And the president surrounds himself with that. They're trying to weaken this overtime rule. I mean, it really is whose side you stand on. I stand David Betras in Mahoning Valley. I understand exactly what he said. And he's right about Democrats fighting for workers. I've always done that. As you know, Chuck, I wrote a book about trade. I understand what we need to do for a different trade policy to raise wages, to help those workers.

CHUCK TODD:

Are--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

And in the end, it's whose side are you on? This president is on the side of Wall Street and big oil and the drug companies.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

My career has not been. You understand that and you know that.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask you, though--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Governor Kasich knows that.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you, though, about trade. This president is—keeps threatening to cancel NAFTA. I assume that might be welcome news to your ears. If that's what he does, are you going to support this president in doing that?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

I first do a shout out to U.S. Trade Rep. Lighthizer from my wife's hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio. He is the best appointee in the Trump administration. I talk to him at least every two weeks. We are talking about NAFTA renegotiation, how we do it.

We start off preconditions for negotiations starting with buy America provisions, with anti-outsourcing provisions. I want workers' voices at the table. I don't want these trade agreements written by corporate interests then using these trade agreements to shut down production in Newark and Toledo, Ohio and Mansfield and move overseas and sell those products back into the United States. That's what a trade policy's about.

The president's problem is he's surrounded in the White House with a bunch of people that like those trade agreements. And so Representative Lighthizer, the Ambassador Lighthizer has to figure out how do you get this White House to support him on wanting to renegotiate NAFTA and put workers first? That's the problem we face. That's what I fight for in the finance--

CHUCK TODD:

But you will work with this president--

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

--committee. That's what I fight for in the Senate.

CHUCK TODD:

--if he sticks by this you will continue to work with him on this?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Two days after the election, as disheartened as I was, and my friends were and so many of us in Ohio were, I called the president's, head of his transition, and offered to help him renegotiate NAFTA. Offered him to help reinforce trade rules, especially for steel. I asked to talk to him about the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

So I've been there all along. I sat with Trade Representative Lighthizer with Senator Portman, my Republican colleague, with Senator Dole who was his boss, sat with him in the finance committee to introduce him to my colleagues. I work with this president when he's right on trade. It's mixed. I don't know if he's going to be right on trade because he's not really done anything on it yet except make speeches.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. And let me ask finally about this idea, is the Democratic Party a big tent party? You ran, for instance, on tougher border security in 2006. You voted for the Secure Fence Act. In these days, can you be a Democrat in good standing and take a tougher line on immigration? Or will the base of the Democratic Party throw you out?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

No. Base of Democratic Party's not throwing me out. I fight for all the things, the values that this country stood for for decades. I think the border wall is ludicrous. I stand for a strong immigration policy because I want to see us bipartisanly do what we tried to do a few years ago even with President Bush and later with President Obama.

I want to work with Senator Rubio in Florida, I want to work with others. I listened to what Governor Kasich said. It's terrible when we take people—when we are taking immigrants who have been here ten or 15 years and working hard, paying their taxes, active in their church, active in the communities, parents, and we throw them out of this country. Governor Kasich's dead right on that. We have no business doing that. That inhumane policy coming from administration is just part and parcel of what he's been for the last seven months.

CHUCK TODD:

But very quickly, what's the difference between you supporting a fence and the president's call for a wall?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

No. There was money for security and they had some language in there as many people in both parties voted for. But not to spend tens of billions of dollars to build a wall. I've never supported that. I've spoken out against that from the day that Candidate Trump proposed it. And you know that, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Brown, I'm going to leave it there. Thanks for coming on this morning. I appreciate it.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN:

Of course. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

And sharing your views. All right. Well, President Trump's pardoning of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has many conservatives cheering and liberals crying foul. Up next, why Arpaio has been such a divisive national figure for two decades.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. In this week's Data Download we're going to use it to take a look at the turbulent career of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was just pardoned by President Trump. Arpaio first came to national prominence in the early '90s for building a, quote, tent city as a way to get tough with prisoners in overcrowded jails.

He forced prisoners to wear pink underwear, work on chain gangs and serve them green bologna sandwiches. Through it all he became the longest-serving sheriff in Maricopa County history which, by the way, includes the city of Phoenix. In office 24 years he first won election in 1992 and was reelected five times after that before being voted out of office in 2016.

For a stretch of time he was the most popular politician in Arizona with approval ratings in the high sixties to mid-eighty. But Sheriff Arpaio wasn't always on the right side of the law, during Arpaio's tenure between 1993 and 2015 cases involving Arpaio and his office totaled $142 million in legal fees, settlements and compliance cost according to the Arizona Republic.

In fact, that includes two lawsuits over the wrongful deaths of prisoners and tens of millions in civil rights and discrimination suits. So how do we get to President Trump's pardon of Arpaio? Well, in 2011 a judge ordered Arpaio's office to stop racially profiling people, Latinos primarily, based on suspicion of their immigration status.

But Arpaio said publicly he would defy the order. And he did which finally led to Arpaio's conviction of criminal contempt of court last month. And he just received President Trump's first pardon. By the way, he's now the first president to issue a pardon the year he was inaugurated since George H.W. Bush in 1989. When we come back, why President Trump believes pardoning Arpaio is smart politics for him and why he might be right.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with the panel. I did the hits, runs and errors of Joe Arpaio because he is somebody that's actually got higher name ID among Hispanic Americans in this country than all Americans. The Spanish Language News has covered him extensively. But Donald Trump and him became kindred spirits over, let me put up this tweet from 2012, "Congratulations to Real Sheriff Joe on his successful cold case posse investigation which claims Barack Obama's birth certificate is fake." That's how they became kindred spirits. Here we are, Danielle.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

You caught me rolling my eyes at that tweet. You know, it is it is absolutely staggering that he chose to make this decision and chose to use the power of the presidency in this way. You know, and the response by some of my kindred spirits which is that Barack Obama pardoned people who were undeserving of a pardon is not an excuse for Donald Trump. This used to be a country that was built on immigration. This used to be a country that loved the infusion that we got, the energy from Hispanics, Italians, Africans, whoever they were. And suddenly the president of the United States says, "No, this kind of a scumbag is really worthy of my attention from the White House and worthy of my constitutional power."

CHUCK TODD:

Michael, there's a lot of precedence this could set that many people are concerned about from law enforcement to the Russia probe.

MICHAEL GERSON:

Yeah, I mean, this guy has a career of dehumanization. That's what he stood for in his position. And it fits though. In a certain way, metaphorically, I think Trump is pardoning his own approach to politics. He's pardoning himself by pardoning Arpaio because this is a politics based on dehumanization. In his case, Muslims, migrants, refugees.

CHUCK TODD:

Don't forget members of the media.

MICHAEL GERSON:

Right. Exactly. Yeah. But so I think that in a weird way this is a self-pardon.

KATY TUR:

Everybody that goes against us XXX. He said that in December of 2015 at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And he means that. Anybody that criticizes him is his enemy. Anybody that supports his ideas and supports him as a as a president is his friend. And Joe Arpaio really embodies that. He was somebody -- Their relationship blossomed after that birtherism. It cemented itself in July, 2015 when the president, or Donald Trump as a candidate, went to Phoenix. And Joe Arpaio stood with him. They campaigned together. They are one in the same when it comes to the immigration issue. Donald Trump's belief are Joe Arpaio's beliefs. And when we talk about him and we talk about all the wild things that Donald Trump does on a daily basis we're not talking about anything else that's going on in this country. Our attention is solely focused on whatever Donald Trump says or does on a given day.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting, Yamiche, I just want to point this out because we've talked about the fight between Donald Trump and the party. There's a fight in the administration between Donald Trump and his own administration. Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, was on another Sunday morning program on Fox. And he's asked by Chris Wallace that the president speaks for American values on race. And Rex Tillerson's quote was simply, "The president speaks for himself."

YAMICHE GERSON:

Rex Tillerson hopes that that is actually true. He hopes that people watching the Republican Party, voters that are looking at this, he hopes that people look at that and thinks that Donald Trump is speaking for himself. But in reality Donald Trump is 1) he's the president of the United States. When he speaks he's 1) speaking for the country and he's 2) speaking for Republicans. When I think about Joe Arpaio and I think about what he signals, it's not only that President Trump, as you said, is pardoning himself. But it's also that he's cementing to progressives and to people who spent years fighting back against that sheriff, who spent years defeating him in election and then who spent years going through the court system to get him actually convicted of a crime, he's telling them, "Look, I won and this is the way that this country is going to be run."

CHUCK TODD:

It was, Roger Stone was like, "Eat it, liberals."

YAMICHE GERSON:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

It's like rule of law, Dani, does anybody care?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well, I think some people care. I think we all care about rule of law. And I think most of the Republican and most of the Democratic Party care about rule of law. Look, we've said this again and again, this is not a presidency in the normal sense of the word. This is -- He is like a sultan. His family is around him and loyalty is everything. And that, you're exactly right. Joe Arpaio is a guy who is deserves to be pardoned because he was good to Donald Trump. That's the only standard that matters.

CHUCK TODD:

And that may be the ideology there. We'll be back in 45 seconds with end game. And a gift that Hillary Clinton may be about to give Donald Trump.

ANNOUNCER:

Coming up, end game, brought to you by Boeing. Continuing our mission to connect, protect, explore and inspire.

***COMMERCIAL NOT TRANSCRIBED***

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with end game. It's possible the president's Twitter feed is going to explode in mid-September. First because of your book, Katy Tur, of course. But also because Hillary Clinton is coming out with a book. And they clearly are wanting to market it. They released this audio excerpt of her feelings about the second debate where they roamed the stage together. Take a listen.

(BEGIN TAPE)

HILLARY CLINTON:

“Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space or do you turn, look him in the eye and say loudly and clearly, ’Back up, you creep. Get away from me. I know you love to intimidate women but you can't intimidate me, so back up.’"

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Wow. Can't wait to hear what Donald-- how is Donald Trump going to handle, Katy Tur--

KATY TUR:

Crooked Hillary Clinton.

CHUCK TODD:

--Hillary Clinton?

KATY TUR:

Is the first thing we're going to hear. Listen, Donald Trump always benefited whenever Hillary Clinton was in the news. When she was criticizing him he could use her as a foil. He doesn't have that good foil right now. Mitch McConnell is not the foil that people want him to be going after.

Hillary Clinton works because it's somebody that animates his base. Not only his base, it animates independents who held their nose and voted for him, animates soft Democrats. And it underscores, once again, that the Democrats don't have a unifying force that is leading them through this. They don't know where to go. So Hillary Clinton--

CHUCK TODD:

It's--

KATY TUR:

--is certainly a gift.

CHUCK TODD:

--sounds like her book's going to be very backward looking. And Democrats, they're going to get split on this. I want to read about it, at the same time, they do feel her pain.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I interviewed the CEO of the DNC today. And the thing that the party wants to do most is focus on a better deal and focus on rise and organize. Of course they're having real issues because when they're having these slogans they're so vague. When I was talking to her I said, you know, "What are your actual goals here?"

And she said, ‘Well, you know, we have to be a party that stands up, as Senator Brown said, to racism, to bigotry. But we also have to be a party that has an economic message.’ But I told her, and I wrote in my story, that Kid Rock is using rise to organize because it's so vague.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I have to leave it there. A week that I needed a lot more time. I apologize, you guys have a lot more to say. We'll talk about it after the show. We'll be back next week though and we'll have this conversation next week as well because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

You can see more end game and post-game on the MTP Facebook page.

* * *END OF TRANSCRIPT* * *