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Meet the Press - September 8, 2019

Mike Pompeo, Amy Klobuchar, Roy Blunt, Jonah Goldberg, Peter Baker, Kimberly Atkins and Amy Walter

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, altered states.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

And in all cases, Alabama was hit.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump's insistence that he was right to say Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

They actually gave that a 95 percent chance probability...

CHUCK TODD:

...leads to Mr. Trump presenting a doctored map...

REPORTER:

It looked like it almost had a sharpie written on it?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I don't know. I don't know.

CHUCK TODD:

...and prompted new questions about whether we can believe what the President of the United States tells the American people. I'll talk to a member of the Republican Senate leadership... Roy Blunt of Missouri. Plus, Manchester United.

JOE BIDEN:

Hello New Hampshire, Democrats!

ELIZABETH WARREN:

Hello New Hampshire, Democrats!

BERNIE SANDERS:

Hello New Hampshire, Democrats!

CHUCK TODD:

Democratic candidates flood New Hampshire...

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

In this presidential race, we don't just want to win, we want to win big.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest this morning, presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. Also, President Trump calls off secret talks in the United States between the Taliban and the Afghanistan government. I'll ask Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about that... and whether he plans to run for the Senate in Kansas. And, we know who candidate Trump said would pay for his border wall.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I will have Mexico pay for the wall, believe me.

CHUCK TODD:

But now the president is shifting billions from the military to help build part of that wall. Will he pay a political price? Joining me for insight and analysis are: Amy Walter, National Editor of the Cook Political Report, Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington news correspondent for WBUR in Boston, and Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. If a president says one thing that's not true it can become a very big deal. Think of President Obama's claim that if you like your health care plan you can keep it. But whether that was a lie or a mistake, it was a scar on Mr.Obama’s presidency. But what if you make more than 12-thousand false or misleading statements, as The Washington Post has catalogued during Donald Trump's presidency? In that case, the very scale of Mr. Trump's feud with the truth seems to have inoculated him from being stained by any one particular falsehood. But there are two moments in the Trump presidency that feel less like a stain and more like a tattoo. The first came when Mr. Trump had his press secretary claim his inaugural crowd was bigger than President Obama's. The second happened this week when Mr. Trump proved unable to concede that he had been wrong or misspoke last Sunday when he said Hurricane Dorian was taking aim at Alabama. In response, Mr. Trump chose to present, alternative maps, including a Sharpie-enhanced one that comically stretched to Alabama and seemed to give new meaning to the term "extended forecast." Is this all absurd and trivial, of course, and no doubt Mr. Trump's supporters will blame the media -- as the president has -- for focusing on it. But it's the president who spent the week insisting he was right all along, and used government agencies to defend his position multiple times. All this as Congress returns with much on its agenda and with renewed questions about whether the president can be trusted to keep his word.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We had many lines going directly -- many models -- each line being a model. And they were going directly through. And, in all cases, Alabama was hit.

CHUCK TODD:

It's the backdrop for the fall fights ahead -- how can Congress negotiate with a president who is unreliable - and often does not tell the truth?

REPORTER:

That map that you showed us today looked like it almost had like a Sharpie written on it?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.

CHUCK TODD:

After falsely warning that Alabama remained threatened by Hurricane Dorian, President Trump spent the week digging in displaying that map doctored with a Sharpie, posting eleven tweets over seven days insisting he was right, even directing his homeland security and counterterrorism advisor to release a 225-word statement. Since the first day of his administration, when President Trump sent out his press secretary to misrepresent his inaugural crowd size ...

SEAN SPICER:

This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.

CHUCK TODD:

... to claiming millions of illegal votes were cast against him in 2016, then creating a commission to "investigate" ...

DAVID MUIR:

3 to 5 million illegal votes?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Well, we're gonna find out. But it could very well be that much.

CHUCK TODD:

... to floating a middle class tax cut on the eve of the 2018 election which never materialized...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We're giving a middle income tax reduction of about 10%. We're doing it now.

CHUCK TODD:

... the president has used the resources of government to support his misleading version of events. Now - with legislative fights ahead ...

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

Background checks

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

Investing in our great military.

REP. NANCY PELOSI:

Improve NAFTA.

SEN. MIKE BRAUN:

Not shutting the government down just to make your point.

CHUCK TODD:

Can either party trust the president to keep his word? On immigration - the president once promised.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Mexico. Will. Pay. For. The. Wall. Believe me. I will have Mexico pay for that wall.

CHUCK TODD:

Now the president is shifting $3.6 billion dollars in military construction funds from projects spread across 23 states, three U.S. territories and 19 countries to pay for 175-miles of fencing.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

I think that his executive order exceeds his discretion.

CHUCK TODD:

On guns, after calling for background checks.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We have tremendous support for really common sense, sensible, important background checks.

CHUCK TODD:

The president took that support back.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We have to be very careful about that. You know they call it, "the slippery slope."

CHUCK TODD:

But even if Mr. Trump were to reverse course, heading into an election year - Democrats may not have the stomach to compromise with this president.

JOE BIDEN

I'll work with Mitch McConnell where we can agree. But on this one, he's not going to agree because he is where the president is and so we just have to beat him. Flat out beat them.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now, about where we are in this Senate agenda, is Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. He's a member of Republican leadership. Senator Blunt, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Good to be with you, Chuck. Congratulations on five years --

CHUCK TODD:

Well.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

-- in this job.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks very much.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Five years filled with news.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

That's for sure.

CHUCK TODD:

That's for sure. I have the social media hits to prove it. Let me begin with the news that broke overnight from the president here. Basically talks are now off. The idea of withdrawing at least half of the troops that are sitting there appears to be something that isn't going to happen in the near term. We don't know how long it's going to be, and I know these things go -- you've been there a couple of times in the last 15 months. You said something interesting to me. It's like you can't figure out how it gets any better but how we can leave because it'll get worse.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, I was there in April. I was there at Easter the year before. So it doesn't seem to get better, but I'm sure it will get worse if we leave. Frankly, I think backing away from where we were, just dealing with the Taliban is the right thing to do. Leaving troops there for right now is the right thing to do. We --

CHUCK TODD:

How do you tell an exhausted public though -- I mean it’s just sort of, there's always a reason to stay. You just said, "Well, it could get worse."

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

No, no. No, I said --

CHUCK TODD:

"It'll probably get worse." I mean --

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

-- it would get worse.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I understand that --

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

I said it would get worse and it would get worse. And I think you've got to remember how this base -- how this became the base for the 9/11 tragedy. There is no reason to believe that wouldn't happen again. The Taliban, as the president pointed out yesterday, even in the middle of a negotiation, has to brag about killing an American soldier. If we leave there, that becomes the same haven it was. I think that's why --

CHUCK TODD:

Was this then a fool's errand --

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

-- many people --

CHUCK TODD:

-- ever to negotiate with the Taliban in the first place?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, I've been concerned we were negotiating with the Taliban and not including the Afghan government in that. And even the idea that you could negotiate with the Taliban, the problems with that have been very evident this week as the Taliban at this critical moment when they were -- I guess they knew they were coming to Camp David. I didn't know they were coming to Camp David --

CHUCK TODD:

Nobody did.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

But at this critical moment, they decided to brag about a car bomb and killing an American soldier. And I think it just shows who they are. And this will get dramatically worse if we decide to leave.

CHUCK TODD:

Were you comfortable with the idea that the Taliban were going to be stepping foot on Camp David?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, by the time I knew they were going to be stepping foot --

CHUCK TODD:

They were not there anymore.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

-- they weren't going to be stepping foot. So I didn't have to deal with that.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. Let me talk about what's on Congress's agenda. But I want to talk first about -- you voted against the president's national emergency declaration. You were one of a few who did. You were concerned about this. But let me ask you this. How many more Republicans would have voted against the president's national emergency declaration had they known the specific projects that would be targeted?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, I don't know, but I think 12 of us in the Senate thought that this was the wrong way to do what the president was doing. Now, I think what the president's doing is the right thing to do. But I think if you take away the congressional ability to decide how money is spent, you really take away the biggest tool that Congress has in the unique balance of power our Constitution creates.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Collins thinks that this way he's doing it, she thinks, is still unconstitutional.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, we'll see. I mean, the courts are going to decide that now, not the Congress. We're going to have to every six months, apparently, once again double down on our view of whether this is a good thing to do or not. Senator Capito, and Congressman Cole, and I were at the border Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. And what's happening at the border is making a difference. I think what the president was able to negotiate with Mexico where people aren't released into the United States but are released back into Mexico to wait for their trial date. Remember, particularly out of those Central American countries no more than 15 out of 100 people actually qualify for the asylum they're asking for. You send them back to Mexico, they're deciding, "You know, if I go to court, there's no way I'm getting into the United States." They go right -- many of them just decide, "Put us on a plane and take us back home."

CHUCK TODD:

I want to go back to these military projects though. They are not going to get -- this idea that this money's going to get replenished, that's not a done deal.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Not a done deal. But even if the money is replenished, the projects get done on a slower schedule than they would have otherwise. I don't --

CHUCK TODD:

So you don't like this plan then, do you --

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

I don't think voting on this based on whether your project is included is the reason to vote. I think there is -- again, let me say I think the president's trying to do the right thing here and it's producing good results. I'm pro-legal immigration. I'm pro-skills-based immigration if we go in that direction. I'm pro-building barriers where barriers work, and they do work. I'm pro-replacing old, dilapidated fences with new barriers that work. But I'm really pleased with what the government of Mexico has been willing to do to help us solve this problem, both at the Guatemalan border and letting people go back there and wait for their trial date. And, remember, people, the whole plan was to get into the United States and never show up for the trial date, knowing you weren't going to qualify for what you were asking for.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you about the gun issue. Manchin-Toomey, some form of expanding background checks, will that get a vote on the Senate floor?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

You know, what the leader said this week, I think maybe it's the second time he's said this, is, "We're not going to vote on bills on the Senate floor that the president's not willing to sign." The president needs to step up here and set some guidelines for what he would do. I'm afraid what's going to happen here is what always happens, is we take the silly, "If we don't get everything, we won't do anything," and fail to do the things we could do with more early mental health help, treating mental health like all other health, something I've worked hard on. And there's a moment here where we could expand what we're already doing --

CHUCK TODD:

But let me --

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

-- on that front.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me play something for you from Senator Mike Braun, a Republican from Indiana. Take a listen to what he said about this issue.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SENATOR MIKE BRAUN:

And I look at it this way. If we're not willing to do the common sense stuff, probably legislation will occur that we'll regret that will actually I think infringe upon Second Amendment rights down the road.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

There's a couple other Republicans that are thinking this, too. The lieutenant governor in Texas, somebody who's been Mr. Pro-Second Amendment, for expanding background checks. This thinking, going, "Look, this incremental regulation, be for it now, or down the road what gets passed will be something you wish you had been for this."

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

But, Chuck, I think I heard Senator Schumer say two weeks ago if we're not going to do everything he's not willing to do anything.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, call his bluff. Call his bluff and see if he really means it.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, and if the president will let us know what he'd sign if it got on his desk, we could -- we'd be much more likely to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I go, should the American public take the president at his word when he speaks?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, the president communicates differently than anybody else who's ever --

CHUCK TODD:

You've said that before.

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

-- done that job.

CHUCK TODD:

But --

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

And as a candidate -- the American public --

CHUCK TODD:

But he's president of the United States. And when he’s issues -- politicizing the weather. I mean, is there anything left?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Well, I actually -- now, I've spent most of this month at home in Missouri. And I think this, this whole Sharpie thing is way being overplayed. I don't think it will matter election day. I don't think it matters to most people right now.

CHUCK TODD:

But are you worried that the credibility of the words of the president of the United States has been eroded?

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Senator Roy Blunt, Republican from Missouri, member of leadership, thanks for coming on --

SENATOR ROY BLUNT:

Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

-- sharing your views. Good to see you. Democratic candidates are in Manchester for the New Hampshire Democratic Party State Convention amid growing signs that the field is narrowing to three: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. One of the lower-tiered candidates, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, made her case against both President Trump and some of her Democratic opponents.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR :

I do believe I may be more moderate in tone than some of the people running for office. But I am betting that people don't want the loudest voice anymore. They've had that right now. That's the guy in the White House. That they want someone who's going to be honest with them and tell them that, "No, we are not going to erase rich kids college debt." We're not going to do that, even though some of my opponents have put that forward as their proposal.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota. Good to see you. Thanks for coming --

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Good to see you Chuck. Thank you --

CHUCK TODD:

-- coming on set. A rare, brief respite here in Washington, huh?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Here we are.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask a follow-up to what you said just there. What does that mean? I mean, do you feel as if there have just been way too many promises made and that there is going to be -- that there's going to be a negative fallout for this eventually for the Democrats?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I don't think there will be a negative fallout eventually because I think we will unify behind a candidate, I think that should be me, and make clear the differences we have with a president who has now told over 10,000 lies and most importantly hasn't had the back of the people, some of the people who voted for him. The drug prices are still going up. College costs are still out of hand. All kinds of problems. But for me, what I meant by that, is that we need to have a candidate that will lead, that will look people in the eye and tell them the truth, and that isn't going to make a bunch of promises that they can't keep. And I truly think they want something different than Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

You have touted yourself as a get it done kind of senator. You have not shied away from --

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Based on my record.

CHUCK TODD:

You have not shied away from saying, "Hey, I've gotten some bills passed that yes, President Trump has signed." It's been a rough summer of credibility with this president. And there's many Democrats out there that say, "You know what? Don't work with him anymore." You're coming back to Congress. You guys got a lot on your plate. Are you still willing to work with him?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Right now, right in front of us, are two major issues. One is protecting our elections. I've led that effort with Senator Lankford. And we want to get this bill passed to make sure that those states that don't have backup paper ballots are pushed to get those backup paper ballots. If the administration is willing to sign off on that bill, that would be good. But it has to be strong enough. Secondly, on gun safety, three bills sitting on Mitch McConnell's desk. I don't think you need to negotiate those bills because they passed. My bill on closing the boyfriend loophole to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence, that passed with 33 Republican votes in the House. So I would think the easiest path forward here is McConnell just takes that background check, two of the bills, puts them up, and we get them done. I think it's obscene that while we have ordinary people showing such extraordinary courage, protecting their babies, running to these scenes of gun shootings, that there is not the courage in the White House to get this done.

CHUCK TODD:

You heard, I think -- you may have heard, Senator Blunt say, "Well, Senator Schumer said, 'If everything's not considered than nothing's going to be considered.” Where are you on that?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I love Senator Blunt. We work together all the time. But I am tired of this game of Whack-a-Mole, that it's really playing with people's lives in whatever the next mass shooting is going to be. And so I think what you do as a leader, what Mitch McConnell should do, is call those bills up. Let's get them done. We've got the majority of Trump voters in a poll that want to see background checks, Chuck. The majority of hunters that want to see background checks. Give me a break. This is just about the N.R.A. and promises that they made to the N.R.A. This is raw politics, and we need to call them out on it.

CHUCK TODD:

Big debate this week. There's been a lot of ways people have written about the candidates not named Biden, Warren, and Sanders. New York Times saying it's a big moment for all of -- all of you candidates not named those three. How do you view it?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I view it that there's a major debate coming up. And there will be another one after that. I am on that debate stage. There's only 10 people on that stage. I'm only one of two candidates from the Midwest. To me, having campaigned through the summer, seeing people focused on Little League games and all kinds of other things, this is the moment where Americans are going to tune in and make some decisions. And I've got the case that, we don't want to just win in this election. We want to win big. We don't want to find out we win at 4:00 in the morning or the next day. We want to win big and also win the U.S. Senate. And the way you do that is with a candidate that has a proven record of bringing in independents and moderate Republicans that deserted our party in 2016 for Donald Trump. You make the case to them. You add to an ignited Democratic base that wants to win big. And you win big. And you win back the U.S. Senate. That is the recipe to getting all of these things done on climate change and immigration reform.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do voters who perhaps share your view of this electability issue right now view Joe Biden as that electable candidate?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

They know him. I mean, Vice President Biden has been in leadership for many, many years. They don't know me as well. That's why this fall --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think --

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

-- is my opportunity --

CHUCK TODD:

-- you're stronger than him? You would be stronger than him?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I think I would be a very strong candidate. I am the only one --

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't say --

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

-- out there pos --

CHUCK TODD:

-- stronger than him though?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Oh. Okay.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I'm just saying that --

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I-- I believe I am stronger than all the other candidates or I wouldn't be running, alright?

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

But I believe that in -- when you look at the Midwest and Wisconsin and Michigan, Iowa -- and Pennsylvania, these states that we want to win, that we have to win, you've got to go with someone that has that track record and can relate to these voters and also can get a high voter turnout.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's just sort of a weird dichotomy we're seeing. The polls are saying one thing about what Democrats want and Joe Biden. Crowds are saying another thing. There's a lot of activism. Obviously, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders always are doing a lot of crowd building, and they get some large crowds. Why do you think the grassroots is so much more excited about that or it seems, perceived, than they are about just winning?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I think it is too early to base campaigns on one event or one tweet or anything like this or these viral moments. To me, these are what they are. They are moments. What you want is someone that can win in the long haul. I have built operations in New Hampshire and in Iowa. I've gotten endorsements coming in every week: former head of the Corn Growers in Iowa, former attorney general in New Hampshire. And I think this is how you build success. You look at successful nominees in the past, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton. They were not chosen to win at this moment in time.

CHUCK TODD:

And here's another thing that all of that usually has happened and it hasn't happened here, which is we don't have a new generation that's in the top tier yet. Why is that?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Again, I think it is early. People want to win so badly, right? So they look at the names that they know, the people that have been around a while. And it is going to take this fall and these next five, six months, that's a long time in politics, for them to get to know the rest of us.

CHUCK TODD:

Afghanistan. It’s -- obviously talks are now off. You have heard this. This is a bipartisan exhaustion, when it comes to Afghanistan. You heard -- Senator Blunt's not the only person who says, "If you stay it feels like nothing's going to get better. But if you leave, it'll get worse." Where are you on Afghanistan?

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

I think we need to bring our troops home. There are kids now that are being deployed there that weren't even born when we went into Afghanistan. But that being said, as I was listening to the lead up in your show about the Sharpie-gate and about of course what he did with Greenland and we all keep focusing on that, with good reason, it's so crazy. But meanwhile, he is hurting our credibility around the world. Yes, you negotiate with the Afghan government and the Taliban. But you don't treat this like some kind of game show when you're dealing with terrorists. He clearly wanted this showman's moment of having them come to Camp David, when he didn't even have a complete ceasefire. He didn't have the deal done. And then he does a tweet, late on Saturday saying, "Oh," blaming them, "Oh, it's over." Give me a break. This is exactly what he did with Kim Jong-un, bringing a hot dish to the dictator next-door, across the DMZ. You deal with your allies. The world is watching. We need to bring some credibility back into our foreign policy.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat from Minnesota. Thanks for coming on, sharing --

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Thank you, Chuck --

CHUCK TODD:

-- your views. And like I said, thanks for making a pit-stop here.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

It was great.

CHUCK TODD:

Nice to see you.

SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, altered states. President Trump's doctored map of Hurricane Dorian's expected path inspired countless amateur comedians to contribute their own re-imagined possibilities. Enjoy them. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is here: Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg; Kimberly Atkins, senior Washington correspondent for WBUR in Boston; Amy Walter, the national editor of the Cook Political Report; and Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for the New York Times. I'm going to start with James Poniewozik, your colleague at the New York Times, Peter. "Try to understand Donald Trump as a person with psychology, and strategy, and motivation, and you will inevitably spiral into confusion and covfefe. The key is to remember that Donald Trump is not a person. He's a TV character." Out of all - and everybody sort of overanalyzed SharpieGate. That was as good of a reminder as any.

PETER BAKER:

Yeah, no. I think it's exactly right. We do in some ways attach so much importance to small events because we're trying to understand this unlikeliest of presidents, right? This is so different than any other president we're used to. Any other president would get into a fluffle about something small like this, and they would make it go away by ‘stop talking about it.’

And we might talk about it. I get it. But the truth is if he didn't talk about it every day for a week, eventually it would wear out. The storm would dissipate. In Trump world that is not allowed to happen. The storm will continue because he will continue until he feels like he has proven himself right.

AMY WALTER:

The exhaustion. It's the exhaustion presidency, right? And I think that's the challenge for this president going into 2020, which is it has served him well in the course of his career to exhaust his opponents in the world of New York real estate and folks in that world, to exhaust his enemies, which he does on the political stage. But he's also exhausting voters. And can he win 2020 if voters are saying not, "Do we want another four years? Are you better off than you were four years ago?" Usually what an incumbent president is measured on, right?

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, I don't know.

AMY WALTER:

This is, "Do you want four more years of this?" The exhaustion, the tweets, the chaos, the constant controversy.

CHUCK TODD:

Jonah --

AMY WALTER:

He's betting you do.

CHUCK TODD:

-- I take Poniewozik's view. There is no strategy behind this. But there was a point where he pivoted and decided, "All right. Let me make the press the issue here. Because if whenever I am flailing, I can at least unite my base by attacking the press."

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Right. So there are a couple things going on here. First of all, he's the first president in American history that we know of who conscientiously or consciously only cares about supporting his base. Normally once you get elected you try to govern for the whole country, you try to expand your coalition. Instead, it's sort of like the salesman who says, "Sure, I lose money on every sale. But I'm going to make it up in volume," right? He turns off more people than he attracts. And I think one of the things that he is suffering from though -- you know, there's a lot of talk and chatter in Washington about how he's mentally losing it and all that. I'm not sure any of that's true. I think this is the same Trump we've always seen. But the loss of the Mueller probe as a foil that galvanizes his own side, it leaves him flailing about, trying to turn Jerome Powell into a James Bond villain or whatever. And it leaves him trying to find new fights to have. The Squad serves some parts of it, but not really. And that's what's leading a lot of people in Washington to think, you know, that he's a couple fries short of a Happy Meal when in reality this is the same Trump we've always had. He just used to have a useful enemy.

CHUCK TODD:

He needs a consistent foil and he's got inconsistent foils.

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

And I think it's important to note though that the difference -- he is the same Trump since the campaign trail. But the difference here is this idea that he is using every level of the federal government to fight his fight, however petty. I mean, who would have thought that we'd be sitting here today talking about politicizing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?

CHUCK TODD:

Kudos to you for saying the entire acronym.

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

You know, I mean, it's just-- it's really unbelievable. But that--

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Those ideologues.

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

-- and that they would go along with it. That the top officials would go along with, you know, coddling the president in the face of actual science. And this is silly in one way, but in a lot of ways it's not. The reason that the National Weather Service in Alabama issued those statements out of Birmingham is because people were afraid. A hurricane affects business. It affects agriculture. It's a big deal.

CHUCK TODD:

And this gets to: Is he testing the limits here on the NIMBY issue? Which is like everything's all well and good until people start to think, "Wait a minute. This is impacting me." The military construction project. There's no doubt in my mind, Amy --

AMY WALTER:

That's --

CHUCK TODD:

-- that had these lawmakers known which projects, all of a sudden there wouldn't have been 12 Republicans. There'd have been 50. Look at the swing states that are impacted by the moving of funds for the wall. Florida, a big one. Mexico Beach, mind you. So, now, Mexico's not paying for the wall. Mexico Beach. Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Wisconsin. This is what could get turned into political impact for him.

AMY WALTER:

Listen. You can see already in Arizona. It's not just a swing state for the presidential. There's a Senate race going on there. And you know that that number is going to be brought up in a lot of campaign ads against the incumbent Republican senator, Martha McSally, right? That, "I thought Mexico was paying for this wall, not the good people of --"

CHUCK TODD:

Arizona.

AMY WALTER:

-- "Arizona having to do this --"

CHUCK TODD:

Or Colorado or Florida.

AMY WALTER:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, you name it.

AMY WALTER:

That's right. That there's actual consequence to your voting record that's more than just you're standing with Trump because you feel like you need to protect your base. It's like when you're doing this, there's consequence. And that as a candidate running against an incumbent, that's what you want to be able to show.

PETER BAKER:

That's a good point. I think you're actually right about that. But it will be interesting to see when we get to that turning point, if we get to that turning point. Because up until now a lot of Trump's voters, a lot of his supporters, have been perfectly willing to give him credit even when some of his policies might not be helping them or might be hurting them. The farmers, the trade war, all this kind of thing. They’re giving him - they have been patient with him so far because they think he's fighting for them. "Yeah, you haven't actually delivered on this or that, but we know the swamp is against you. We know the elites are against you. We know you're out there fighting for us." The question is: When does that turn? When do people begin to say, "Oh, wait a second. My farm products aren't selling anymore," or, "I'm upset about these washing machine prices that the tariffs are increasingly having --"

AMY WALTER:

But I don't know that they need to turn. I think Jonah's right, that that's just appealing to the same people he's always appealed to. Who he's not getting --

PETER BAKER:

That's the strategy though.

AMY WALTER:

-- is the middle. And that's who's more --

CHUCK TODD:

I want to quickly turn to guns. Jonah, Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, said the following: "Look, I'm a solid NRA guy. But not expanding the background check to eliminate the stranger-to-stranger sale makes no sense to me and most folks." We saw it as a stunning shift in his rhetoric. Mike Braun made the implication, sort of the, "Hey, we ought to be for some of this stuff now because down the road we may wish we had been for some of the smaller stuff."

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Yeah, it does --

CHUCK TODD:

Is that going to be an effective argument on the right?

JONAH GOLDBERG:

I kind of doubt it. And part of the problem is that a lot of these things, including the expanded background checks, or the gun show loophole, or the boyfriend loophole, whatever you're supposed to call it now, wouldn't actually address the things that led to these mass shootings that we've seen. And while that sounds like a really persuasive thing to the swing voters that a lot of Republicans care about, that Trump should be caring about, to the base they know these arguments cold and they're going to feel like it's just selling out.

CHUCK TODD:

That's very interesting. Last word?

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

Yeah, I think that's a big part of the problem. And I think the biggest problem, of course, is a president who you can't believe from one moment to the next where he stands on things like gun policy, who changes his mind like the wind blows. And if Mitch McConnell is holding that as the standard to do anything, that'll never be met.

CHUCK TODD:

What I found interesting is he was supposedly shown polling, and I believe this, saying if he supported it, it wouldn't have helped him. And we know probably that's how he's going to view all of these issues. Before we go to break this morning, we are announcing that tickets for the Meet the Press Film Festival, in collaboration with our friends at the American Film Institute, are on sale now. It's our third annual film festival, featuring 21 short documentary films on this year's most pressing issues, including the border, gender equality, criminal justice, and climate change. I'll moderate panel discussions, along with many of my colleagues, including: Andrea Mitchell, Hallie Jackson, Kristen Welker, and Katy Tur. You can get those tickets right now at NBCNews.com/MTPFilm. And when we come back, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. President Trump announced that he has abruptly called off what was supposed to be secret talks at Camp David, apparently, this weekend between the government of Afghanistan, the Taliban, and the United States. In a series of tweets last night, Mr. Trump said he did so after the Taliban admitted to a car bomb attack this week that killed 12 people, including an American soldier. Joining me now on this issue and many others is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mr. Secretary, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, it's great to be with you this morning. Thank you for having me on the show.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you for coming on. Let me start with what this means. So he canceled these talks. Is this -- does this mean talks are off completely?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

So for the time being that's absolutely the case. We've recalled Ambassador Khalilzad back to Washington. We've been working on this problem set for a number of months now and frankly had made real progress with the government of National Unity, President Ghani, as well as with the Taliban. Our twin aims were to reduce violence. I was, I was just a few hours ago out at Dover Air Force Base meeting with the family of the lost soldier, Sergeant 1st Class Barreto. I met his lovely wife, their two boys, 11 and four. It's precisely those moments that make you recognize so clearly we have an obligation to reduce risk. At the same time, we can never permit terror to strike again from Afghanistan here into the United States. Our negotiations have been aimed at achieving each of those objectives while reducing violence and getting the Afghans for the first time in, Chuck, as you well know, over 15 years to actually sit at the table together and talk about the path forward in a more peaceful way.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say it’s -- there's plenty of reporting out there that indicates that the Afghan government had indicated they weren't coming and that they sort of had pulled out first. Is that how the timeline of events went?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

That's false, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. When did you know that this meeting wasn't going to happen?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

I'm not going to talk about specifics, but we had been working on this meeting for a little while. And then after the death of Sergeant 1st Class Barreto and the attack by the Taliban with a simple effort to improve their negotiating posture, that was something President Trump can never stand for. And we informed both President Ghani and our Taliban interlocutors that these meetings were not going to take place today.

CHUCK TODD:

But, Mr. Secretary, the Taliban have been killing Americans throughout these negotiations. And some people had criticized the United States for participating in negotiations with the Taliban during this. Why now? Why wasn't this a problem before?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Well, it's always a problem anytime the Taliban conduct terror attacks, certainly when they injure Americans or kill Americans. So it's always a problem. You should know in the last ten days we've killed over a thousand Taliban. And while this is not a war of attrition, I want the American people to know that President Trump is taking it to the Taliban in an effort to make sure that we protect America's interests. We will never give up General Scotty Miller's capacity to protect Americans, we are doing it now. We were doing it yesterday. We will continue to do it. What we have been working on, we knew the war had continued. You've got to get a deal. You've got to get an arrangement where both sides agree that they're going to stand back, they're going to reduce violence. We were making real progress towards that. We had a commitment from the Taliban to make a formal public announcement that they would break with Al Qaeda, an American demand that had gone back as far as President Bush. We were making progress along the way. President Trump was supportive of those efforts. But make no mistake, Chuck. We're not going to withdraw our forces without making sure we achieve President Trump's twin objectives. Any reduction in our forces will be based on actual conditions. Not commitments, but actual conditions on the ground.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, given that conditions appear to be worsening, are, is --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, that's not true.

CHUCK TODD:

You don't believe? Okay --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

I don't believe that's true. If you're the Taliban, conditions have been worsening. And they're about to get worse.

CHUCK TODD:

What is -- okay, you say "about to get worse." You’re going to -- does this mean we are going to increase the military activity against the Taliban?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

We're going to make sure that everyone in the region understands that America will always protect its national security interest. I'll leave it to the Department of Defense to talk about specifics, but no one should underestimate President Trump's commitment to achieving those goals.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there -- was there -- did anybody bring up whether it was appropriate to have the Taliban set foot on Camp David? There’s some people -- that was a -- that didn't sit well with quite a few folks given the important role Camp David played in planning the response to 9/11.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Well, there were lots of discussions around that. Camp David has a long history, an important history. And it's also had an important role in complex peace negotiations, sometimes with some pretty bad actors, as you well know, Chuck. So, yes, there was discussion about that. And the president ultimately made the decision that if we could get that, if we could get commitments and then put in place a verification regime that would give us confidence that we could observe that those commitments were being honored, that it was a, it was a useful effort to try and get all of those parties in one place so that we could have serious conversations about how to reduce America's risk so that there won't be other secretaries of state that have to travel to Dover to go see these amazing American heroes who have given so much for our country.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, I know you're not a big fan of timetables. Nobody in these positions ever is. But does this mean the likelihood of withdrawing from Afghanistan now has been extended, that isn't it going to happen in the next year or the next two years, that we may be looking at much farther down the road?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, I hope not. I've tried to answer each of your questions. You're right. Timetables are difficult things to know. I hope not. I hope we can begin inter-Afghan negotiations. I hope we can reduce the levels of violence. I hope the Taliban will continue to move towards their commitment to break with Al Qaeda. If we can do that, I hope that we can reduce our cost in blood and treasure there in Afghanistan.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Secretary, you keep saying "hope." Hope is always -- I've noticed when officials hope, that is usually the last, the last word they say because they don't think progress is coming. You sound pessimistic.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

I'm not pessimistic. I've watched these negotiations unfold. I've watched the Taliban do things and say things they've not been permitted to do before. Frankly, I've watched the Afghan government behave in ways that I think indicates that nearly every Afghan understands that this violence, these wars can't continue. No, I use the word "hope" because we're going to continue to try and drive towards this outcome. Because we also want to deliver, most importantly, on behalf of the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

Domestic political note. On Friday you were in your home state of Kansas. How come nobody believes your denials about your interest in that, in that Senate race?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Because it's a pretty darn cynical town, Chuck. I there's no better reason than that.

CHUCK TODD:

So, okay, you could do the Sherman-esque deal. You could say, "If nominated, I will not serve," all of that business. You have not done that. Why?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

I've been pretty clear, Chuck. I think it's unambiguous. Others want to speculate on my future a lot more than I do. As you can see from today, I'm incredibly focused on what I'm doing. It's not just Hong Kong and Afghanistan. We've got opportunities all across the world. That's what I'm focused on. And I intend to continue to do that so long as --

CHUCK TODD:

So you won't --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

-- as long as President Trump asks me to be his secretary of state, this is what I intend to do --

CHUCK TODD:

You will not be on a ballot November of 2020?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

This is what I'm going to do.

CHUCK TODD:

You will not be on a ballot --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

As long as President Trump wants me to be his secretary of state --

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

--you're going to have to have me--

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, but --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

--on your show.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Mr. Secretary, it sounds like -- if you won't say you won't be on a ballot November 2020, the Kansas Senate questions don't go away.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

They're going to go away. The clock continues to run. I think the American people should know their secretary of state thinks about one and one thing only: protecting America's national security interests --

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

--and trying to deliver diplomacy everyplace I go.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, obviously General Sherman, his comments are not something you're ready to quote just yet. Fair to say that?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

My dog's name is Sherman. I quote him all the time.

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, Mr. Secretary, you got me on that one. Secretary Pompeo, thanks for coming on and sharing --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the administration's views. I appreciate that.When we come back, the great disappearing act in American politics and you can be sure it's happening where you live.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. This week, the Democratic Party decided to close its last two offices in South Dakota, effectively giving up on winning in the mostly rural state. And if that sounds like a retreat, it is. And it has a lot to do with the growing urban/rural divide in this country. In 1996, Democratic president Bill Clinton won re-election by eight and a half percentage points, creating lots of Democratic blue, even in rural areas in the middle of this country. Now compare that with 2016's results by county. Hillary Clinton actually won the population vote by two percentage points. But her blue is harder to spot, concentrated in urban and suburban areas. And here's another way to look at it: by comparing the smallest vote-producing counties to the largest. In 1996, Bill Clinton won six of the 10 most populous counties. And in 2016, Hillary Clinton did even better. She won nine out of 10, all but Maricopa County, the home of Phoenix, which she lost by just three points, while Republicans continued to carry the smallest counties. Bob Dole, of Russell, Kansas, won 80 of the 100 smallest vote-producing counties in 1996. And Queens' own Donald Trump upped that to 93 of 100 in 2016. But even though Bill Clinton won by a pretty wide margin nationally, there were a lot of tight races all over the country in places where now we see blowouts. In fact, there were more than 1,100 counties across the country that had margins that were within single digits in 1996, compared to 2016, when the national results were very tight, but there were only 310 counties where the margins between the two candidates were in the single digit range. That is a 72% drop in the number of competitive counties in just 20 years. Of course, this urban/rural divide is a familiar theme for Data Download watchers. But here's the point: in a country as culturally and politically polarized as ours, we are self-segregating where we live, making it even harder and harder to find common ground. When we come back, Endgame, and why one of the country's leading political strategists predicts that the Republican Party is setting itself up for a shattering defeat in 2020.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game. And joining our panel is Democratic pollster and strategist Stan Greenberg. Greenberg has written a new book. It's called RIP GOP: How the New America is Dooming the Republicans. In it he argues that the party's rejection of a changing America is likely to lead to a spectacular crash in next year's election. Greenberg writes, "Trump's Tea Party evangelical GOP can't just be defeated. It must face a repudiating, shattering defeat that frees other brands of the Republican and conservatism to breathe again, find their own Republican candidates, switch loyalty to the Democrats, or perhaps vote for an independent presidential candidate." Stan Greenberg, welcome back to Meet the Press.

STAN GREENBERG:

Thank you for having me --

CHUCK TODD:

And I should remind people, when Democrats were in the wilderness before 1992, you were the message maven that got Bill Clinton to focus on, "It's the economy, stupid." So --

STAN GREENBERG:

I appreciate that shout out. And I appreciate a time when the Democrats were worried about working people. And Bill Clinton got that and probably won a lot of rural America in the process.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. So you thought four years ago this Republican coalition that was going too far to the right was going to defeat itself, but it didn't.

STAN GREENBERG:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

What went wrong?

STAN GREENBERG:

Well, it was saved above all by Donald Trump, who didn't run as a Republican. And the reason I wrote the book was what I think I understood then was you had a Tea Party, evangelical, Trump-dominated party that was at war with a new America that was increasingly diverse, immigrant. And it was reacting against it. And that's the reaction that people failed to notice. It was a reaction amongst Republican voters, secular conservatives, moderate women. Independents, you know, pushed off. So the reaction against it. He's run this war on immigrants. And what we've noticed with that is that the country is becoming more pro-immigration as he wages that war. And then finally, he has waged a war on government. For a decade the country's lived through an attempt to dissolve government and make it not be able to solve any problems. And that has created a reaction, and it plays out in the Democratic primaries, of people wanting to use government to address problems.

CHUCK TODD:

Jonah Goldberg, you have been somebody that's been sort of fighting this shifting in the Republican Party. What do you think of his take?

JONAH GOLDBERG:

Well, historically when we get arguments like this, my first response is to think this is an example of the wish being the author of a thought. This may be different because the GOP really does have some severe structural issues going on. The loss of the suburban vote, which in many ways was the GOP base, is a long-term problem. I do think it's worth thinking about though. In an era of such negative polarization, where a lot of people are Democrats simply because they hate a Republicans and a lot of people are Republicans because they hate Democrats, if one party dies, the other party could lose its reason to live. And so our politics in ten years could look very different because there are a lot of people in the Democratic Party who may leave to find the replacement of whatever comes after the GOP.

CHUCK TODD:

Stan --

STAN GREENBERG:

I agree with that.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just --

STAN GREENBERG:

I agree with you.

CHUCK TODD:

In fact, I want to animate this discussion with a debate. You're sort of arguing that electability may not be what people think it is, that actually Elizabeth Warren putting out more plans is actually more responsive than maybe what Joe Biden's doing.

STAN GREENBERG:

Right. Right. Yeah, because we're dealing with I think this transformative moment, I mean, there's real big dynamics that are shaping the election. One of them is the nature of the Republican Party. The second is this attempt to suppress government. The other is this battle against America being an immigrant country. But it's produced a consolidated Democratic Party that wants to vote for somebody that'll bring change. But the result afterwards, I believe, is not a continuation. Because I think this can't go any further. In other words, I think this polarization has gone to the point where Democrats have gone to be about a ten-point bigger bloc of voters that is very consolidated, very anti-Trump, and determined for him to be defeated. And I think they want to have an activist government that addresses a whole range of problems. The Republican Party, I believe, will come out of this, have to address fundamental things the way Democrats did after their 1984 defeat.

CHUCK TODD:

Amy?

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

But what will they have to address? Right? That's the question. Republicans did address what they thought were two big fundamental defeats in 2008 and 2012, right? They came out of that saying, "We've got to be the diverse party," and the Republican electorate said, "No, we can win by just running essentially the campaign that Donald Trump did. We don't have to expand the coalition." I guess the question that I have is this repudiation idea. I don't know that that's what 2018 theoretically was supposed to be, and yet it really wasn't. That Republicans still did very well in red states and Democrats did really well in blue states and in inner suburbs. But those outer suburbs are still Republican.

STAN GREENBERG:

I don't agree with that.

AMY WALTER:

You don't?

STAN GREENBERG:

Well, because I think there's a failure to recognize how big the 2018 election was. And some of what we're missing is because the seats that are in play in the suburbs were at the edge of 50% being winnable. The biggest shifts against Trump came amongst rural voters, came against white working class voters. And he's continued to lose support with white working class women after the 2018 election. That meant that state elections could be greatly affected. Senate races could be affected coming in 2020.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Kimberly, I think you've seen this. The Democratic base is just reacting with so much more enthusiasm right now to Elizabeth Warren ideas than they are Joe Biden ideas. And I guess the question is: What wins out?

KIMBERLY ATKINS:

Well, I think it's still a little too early to tell exactly what will win out. I think there is a divide within the Democratic Party of some folks who like folks like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who want to change things, who want to not just oust Trump but oust the elements that elected him. And you have other folks who are leaning toward Biden who just want things to go back the way they were right before election day. I think the Democrats are still fighting within that. And those motivators are very different.

CHUCK TODD:

And, Peter, Stan even made the point: It shouldn't surprise people are Democrats are criticizing Obama a little bit --

PETER BAKER:

Well --

CHUCK TODD:

-- because he didn't go big enough.

PETER BAKER:

Yeah. Yeah. So Obama was actually a disappointment to the liberals who supported him in 2008 who thought he was something more than he was, right? That he was going to be something more. Remember, he was an empty vessel and people filled their hopes and dreams into what he -- and he wasn't necessarily what they thought. The identity crisis that Kimberly was talking about inside the Democratic Party is very interesting. And that's the thing that is probably the most important advantage possibly to Trump other than the economy if it stays --

CHUCK TODD:

Well --

PETER BAKER:

-- strong.

CHUCK TODD:

-- we will find out in 14 months. Stan, congrats --

STAN GREENBERG:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

-- on the book. Before we go, all week long, NBC News has been presenting Justice for All, stories that focus on the impact of mass incarceration in America. Well, tonight at 10:00 Eastern on MSNBC Lester Holt will moderate a town hall at Sing Sing Prison. There will be some special guests, including John Legend. 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.