Meet the Press - December 23, 2018

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Julian Castro, Hugh Hewitt, Yamiche Alcindor, Joshua Johnson and Amy Walter

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
SUBSCRIBE

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, a presidency in crisis. The shutdown, much of the government closes its doors as President Trump insists on a border wall.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Now, it's up to the Senate. And it's really up to the Democrats because we need their votes.

CHUCK TODD:

After getting pressured from his right wing.

LAURA INGRAHAM:

The wall, the wall, the wall. It has to be built.

CHUCK TODD:

But Democrats say “no way.”

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

President Trump, you will not get your wall.

CHUCK TODD:

The resignation. President Trump announces a withdrawal from Syria, denounced by fellow Republicans.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

This is akin to surrendering.

CHUCK TODD:

And praised by Vladimir Putin. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigns in protest.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

If I could do anything to help him reconsider, I would do it.

CHUCK TODD:

The stock market.

LESTER HOLT:

The stocks continuing their slide today.

CHUCK TODD:

The worst year for stocks so far since the Great Recession, the worst December since the Great Depression. With all this happening, have we hit a turning point in the Trump presidency? My guests this morning, Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic Whip. Plus, off and running.

JULIÁN CASTRO:

That's why I'm exploring a candidacy for president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

My interview with former San Antonio mayor, Housing Secretary, and now presidential hopeful Julián Castro. Joining me for insight and analysis are Amy Walter, national editor of The Cook Political Report; Joshua Johnson, host of 1A on NPR; Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network; and Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS Newshour. 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. In a week when much of Washington talked about a shutdown, which came at midnight on Friday, the word many mentioned around this city was actually “meltdown.” There were a lot of other words and phrases that emerged as the week came to an end, amidst serious questions about whether the Trump presidency has so lost its footing that it may not be able to fully recover. Mr. Trump likes to project an image of independence and strength. But the president's growing dependency on his base for political survival was exposed, when he appeared ready to give up funding for his border wall temporarily, at least, in order to keep the government running. Mr. Trump's base revolted, with right-wing provocateur Ann Coulter writing a column entitled, “Gutless President in a Wall-less Country.” "On the basis of his self-interest alone," Coulter wrote, "he must know that if he doesn't build the wall, he has zero chance of being re-elected and a 100% chance of being utterly humiliated." President Trump unfollowed Coulter on Twitter. But he followed her advice, saying, in effect, "No wall, no deal." At the same time, his Defense Secretary and his point man on ISIS quit over the President's abrupt decision to withdraw from Syria based on a phone call with the Turkish president. And all of this happened as stocks suffered their worst December since 1931. Many have noted that, despite Mr. Trump's many self-inflicted wounds, his presidency has benefitted from not having to face a financial or international crisis. Perhaps now, we need to face this uncomfortable question: what if the president is the crisis?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The shutdown, hopefully, will not last long.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump ended a week of chaos, as cracks emerged in his fragile Republican coalition.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

It's really the Democrat shutdown.

CHUCK TODD:

But just days ago, the president claimed credit.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.

CHUCK TODD:

And some Republicans are making it clear they hold him responsible for the third government shutdown this year, after he rejected a deal negotiated earlier this week.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI:

I'll just remind the president, the Republicans are in charge. And so the shutdown is, is on us, if we can't figure this out.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, the president yielded to pressure from conservative supporters.

LAURA INGRAHAM:

The wall, the wall, the wall. It has to be built and this was a scandal that it hasn't been built.

RUSH LIMBAUGH:

The president has gotten word to me that he is either getting funding for the border, or he's shutting the whole thing down.

CHUCK TODD:

Retiring Republican Senator Bob Corker responded, "Do we succumb to tyranny of talk radio show hosts? The reason we're here, we have a couple of talk radio hosts that get the president spun up." And on Capitol Hill, reliable Republican allies were shaken by the abrupt resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who broke with the president on his decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, writing, pointedly, "You have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours."

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

I think he's sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth.

CHUCK TODD:

Senate Republicans responded uneasily. Leader Mitch McConnell, who rarely breaks with the president publicly, called himself, "particularly distressed that he's resigning due to sharp differences with the president.”

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS:

I'm very concerned about Secretary Mattis' decision to leave.

SEN. TIM KAINE:

Ambassadors of our allies have been reaching out to senators to basically say, "What the hell is going on?"

CHUCK TODD:

The president also alienated Republican hawks on the Syria decision itself, which he abruptly announced on Twitter on Wednesday.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We won. And that's the way we want it. And that's the way they want it.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

This is akin to surrendering.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN:

Syria's a total quagmire. But it's possible to make it even worse.

CHUCK TODD:

Russian President Putin hailed the move. Reliable Trump ally, Fox News, denounced it.

BRIAN KILMEADE:

He's giving Russia a big win. Vladimir Putin praised him. He also is doing exactly what he criticized President Obama for doing. He said, "President Obama is the founder of ISIS." He just re-founded ISIS.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is Republican Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. He's a member of the Budget and Finance Committees. Senator Toomey, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

Good morning, Chuck. Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start, first, with the shutdown. The fact that you guys aren't even in town, right, you adjourned, and just said -- and Senator McConnell said, "We'll see you in five days." That tells me you guys don't have a lot of urgency on this. Is this a message, basically, saying, "The president's the only one here in town. So that means the shutdown's on him to figure it out"?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

No. Chuck, really, this ends up getting resolved in a negotiation between Chuck Schumer, who apparently is giving a great deal of weight to Nancy Pelosi's preferences, and the president. And between that group, they're going to decide how to go forward. But I have to say, this is really much ado about very little. Unfortunately, it's a big distraction from the resumption that occurred this year of a pretty much ordinary funding exercise. As you know, Chuck, we resumed the ordinary appropriations process. And as a result, we have a very small sliver of the government that's unresolved and is in this shutdown mode. It's a very, very small amount. Everyone's going to get paid. I think it probably gets resolved quickly. And it's completely taking away focus where it should be, on a very, very strong economy and some really good economic news, generally.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, but -- I've got to ask you. I would tend to agree with what you said, except the president decided not to go down this path. The president decided to upend things. You've had three shutdowns this year. It's full Republican control of government. So there's part of me that sits here and hears what you say. And then you see what the president's doing. And it's two different realities.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

We, we have an impulsive president. We know that. But you also know that we can't pass any spending bill in the Senate without Democrat support. It takes 60 votes --

CHUCK TODD:

Does the president know this?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

-- to get a spending bill across the floor in the Senate. He knows that very well, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, okay. Where are you on lifting the, the filibuster? Would you move it down to 50 votes? Or would that be a mistake?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

You know, I'm not, I’m not there, as an across-the-board matter. I think there are procedural votes that should not be at 60. I think, for instance, it's ridiculous that a minority of 41 senators can prevent us from even beginning the process of considering appropriation bills. But I'm not in favor of a universal move on the legislative filibuster. And we don't have the votes to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move on to the resignation of Secretary Mattis. And I want to, I want to pull up one part of it and get your reaction to it. He writes this, "One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. Because you have the right to have a secretary of defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position." What's alarming about what Secretary Mattis outlined there is that is an across-the-board American foreign policy sort of tenet that Democratic and Republican presidents have lived by since Harry Truman. He's basically saying, this president doesn't share the same worldview as every single American president, going back to World War II. Does that disturb you?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

Yes, it does. And I think you're right. And I think General Mattis has put his finger on where the president has views that are very, very distinct from the vast majority of Republicans and, probably, Democrats, elected and unelected. And I think the president does not share, I would say, my view that the Pax Americana of the post-war era has been enormously good for America. It's been good for the people that I represent. It's been great for all of us. And it had taken a commitment of leadership. It's taken the ability and willingness to project force, at times. But mostly, as General Mattis points out, it's cultivating an alliance. You know, America's rich in many, many ways: financially, militarily. We've got the luxury of two oceans. But the greatest asset we have is that most people around the world want to be allied with us. And so that gives us enormous ability to -- it’s a force multiplier. It's a great ability to achieve our goals. And I don't think the president shares that view nearly to the extent that the rest of us do. And I think senators need to step up and reassert a bigger role for the Senate in defining our foreign policy.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you -- does this extend, though, bigger than that? You know, Dan Balz wrote this week that many Republicans -- he said this, he said, "The question now, more urgent, as a result of what Mattis said, is whether Republicans in positions of responsibility try to continue as if these are normal times, or whether they step forward, assess things smartly, and exert the kind of leadership they feel is in the best interest of the country.” I guess the question is this, Senator. Do you -- do you get more comfortable criticizing the president, knowing, though, that he may unleash a Twitter attack on you or others that express disagreement with him on this, and you end up not doing it, because you fear his base?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

That's not my practice, Chuck. I work with this president, when I think he's right. And I think we've done some terrific things in domestic policy, on taxes, regulation, judicial nominees, the criminal justice reform just last week. But I've always criticized the president, when I disagree. I've disagreed with much of his trade policy. And I strongly disagree with this decision to withdraw prematurely, in my view, from Syria. I think senators should speak out. And look, we were elected separately from the president. We don't report to the president. We should cooperate where we can. And where we need to disagree, we should be willing to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

Yesterday, the treasury secretary felt the need to put out a statement from the president, saying that, while he disagreed with the Federal Reserve policies and the Federal Reserve chairman, that he is aware that he does not have the power to fire the Federal Reserve chair. First of all, does it at all bother you that the president himself couldn’t tweet out that statement, that, for some reason, the secretary treasurer had to do it? It's almost --they feared he wouldn't say it.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

Look, I don't, I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the president's tweets and things that the president says. What I focus more on is, what is he going to actually do? I don't think that Chairman Powell is in any danger of being fired by the president. I think some of the president's comments have been unfortunate. But Chairman Powell is not going to let politics interfere with his decision-making process. I happen to think that we owe him a debt of gratitude, after a very lengthy period of very dangerous experimentation with unconventional monetary policy from his predecessors, he has put us on a path to normalcy. We can quibble about exactly where we should be at the moment. But I'm grateful that he's put us on that path.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you have this much patience for President Trump, if you didn't share the same party label?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

Well, if we didn't share the same party label, we wouldn't have accomplished so many of the -- we wouldn’t have done tax reform. We wouldn't have been able to roll back regulations, like we have. We wouldn't have the record-low unemployment rate that we have, upward pressure on wages. I mean, we've got a good story, in part, because this president was willing to work with this Congress and accomplish these things. So you know, there are things I disagree with the president on. But I'm going to work with him where I can, also.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess the question is, you still have -- you haven't run out of patience yet. Is that a fair way of putting it?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

I am still in the mode of working with the president where I can, and trying to persuade him and move in a different direction where we have to. And I think with respect to foreign policy, in general, and Syria, in particular, we really have to step up.

CHUCK TODD:

If the president nominates somebody for secretary of defense that shares his worldview, that's very different from Secretary Mattis, could you confirm somebody that you didn't share a worldview with as secretary of defense?

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

So let me just say I -- historically, I have been very willing to defer to presidential nominees. I think I supported three-quarters of all of President Obama's nominees and, certainly, the big majority of President Trump's. But on this, I think this is so important. And the president's views are so divergent, certainly, from mine that I think I’ll be much -- this one -- this one’s going to be tough. I'm going to be looking for a defense secretary that shares a more traditional view about America's role in the world.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Secretary, secretary excuse me -- Senator Toomey, unless you would Iike to apply to be secretary with the president.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

No. No, no.

CHUCK TODD:

I will leave it there.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

Happy where I am.

CHUCK TODD:

I figured you might be. Senator Toomey, Republican from Pennsylvania, I hope you and your family have a merry Christmas.

SEN. PAT TOOMEY:

Thank you. You, too.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the number-two Democrat in the Senate, Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois. Senator Durbin, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with the shutdown at this point. Is there any scenario, you think, on December 27th, that reopens the government before January 3rd?

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

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, we've offered the president some very specific opportunities. In fact, we just voted on one, several days ago, a voice vote, unanimous voice vote, to move this government forward to the first or second week of February, which the president rejected, after he heard the right-wing criticism.

CHUCK TODD:

So, what did you make of Senator McConnell, though, recessing? I'm just trying to figure out why you guys decided to leave. And it’s -- everybody decided to leave and, basically, left the president here, are you — is everybody trying to send a message, "Hey, this is his"? Or is this McConnell saying, "I'm out of this.These negotiations are between Schumer and the president," which is what Senator Toomey just said.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I can tell you that the president, just a few days ago, said he was proud to author a shutdown of his own government that he was elected to be the commander in chief and chief executive. It really is in the president's hands to decide. He says it's an issue of border security. I think we know better. It's an issue of his own political insecurity. When the right-wingers start screaming at him, he just backs off and dissembles in front of us. We now have reached a depth of dysfunction that I've never seen in Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you at all open to anything in between $1.6 billion and $5 billion?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, what Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have both told the president is, we are not going to build a wall, period. Secondly, if you want to talk about border security, there are many things we can do. Understand, we're in the depths of a drug epidemic. We see Fentanyl coming across the border, from Mexico, into the United States and killing thousands of people. We currently are only screening one out of five cars and trucks coming across our border. Let us dramatically increase the technology there in something called a Z Portal. That's the kind of investment that Democrats want to see for real border security, not some medieval wall.

CHUCK TODD:

So it sounds like what you're saying is, you'll go up in the price tag. You're open to the price tag, as long as it's not for the wall.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

And if you ask the experts, even in the administration, they will tell you that technology and personnel, those are the things that are needed desperately and quickly. The president ought to be sitting down with us and making this border more secure by making investments. He'll have Democrats onboard.

CHUCK TODD:

So you'd give him twice the money. If none of the money goes to the wall, and it all goes to what you just described, you'd probably double it, and we'd get out of this tomorrow?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

I can tell you that I think there's an appetite, among Democrats, to do something sensible at the wall, for example, to stop the flow of drugs into this country and to stop the flow of weapons and laundered drug money out of this country that build these cartels in Mexico and Central America.

CHUCK TODD:

Is DACA for the wall, the compromise that was alive for a few days, back in the day, is that still — if the president came back and said, would you take that —"I'll take that deal now," would you have the public— support in your party to accept it?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I touched that hot stove back in February. And I can tell you that this president's word, when it comes to these young people who are in desperate situation, because he eliminated DACA, the president's word didn't stand up, when we basically got down to real bargaining. The day will come and soon when the court protection of these young people and their families is going to end. We will have to face the reality of either abandoning them or working together to find a solution.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me turn to Secretary Mattis. You sent a series of tweets, after the news of his resignation broke. And you called him the last adult in the room, I believe, at one point. Do you think Secretary Mattis should've stayed, regardless of his views, because he was, supposedly, the last guardrail or one of the few guardrails that some thought were in the administration?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Chuck, there was something very interesting about this. I was one of many senators who privately sat down with General Mattis and said, "Please, stay. Stay as long as you possibly can. We desperately need your mature voice, your patriotism, in the room, when this president's making life-or-death decisions about national security." But it obviously reached a breaking point. I thank him for his years of service in the Marines and, certainly, at the Department of Defense. It breaks my heart that he's going to step aside. We counted on him to be there and to stop this president from his worst impulse.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. You're somebody who, on policy, I'm guessing, you're pleased that we're going to start seeing troops come home from Afghanistan and start seeing troops come home from Syria. How do you square the president's announcements about those two things? Because you've called, you’ve called for both in some -- in one way or the other.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I can tell you, it was 17 years ago when 23 of us, 22 Democrats, one Republican, voted against the invasion of Iraq for so-called weapons of mass destruction, which never existed. I voted, at the same period of time, with virtually every other senator, to invade Afghanistan and go after the sources of the attack on 9/11. Little did I know that I was voting for the longest war in the history of the United States and that that vote would be used as a rationalization for us to move into Syria, Africa, and places I never could’ve envisioned. I think the Constitution makes it clear. The American people should've been making these decisions along the way. We do this by Congress and it’s declaration of war. We need to reassert our authority and responsibility when it comes to that in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and any other places that have been rationalized by that vote 17 years ago.

CHUCK TODD:

I guess, though -- I want to go back to the decision itself. It looks like the president, is getting -- he’s setting himself -- he's got his national security advisor, who wants to stay longer than even his defense secretary did. But it was the Turkish president who talked him into doing this withdrawal. How does the Senate even hold the president to account over how this decision-making went down?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, ultimately, we've learned, through history, that it takes the power of the purse strings, that Congress has the authority, when it comes to appropriations, to assert itself on foreign policy. We learned the hard way, after decades of debate over the war in Vietnam. But first and foremost, this Congress, House and Senate, have to reach the point where we understand our Constitutional authority and responsibility. I haven't seen that in a long time. And with this president, we need to do it more than ever.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the Turkish phone call make you think the president is compromisable?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Yes, I do. I have to tell you that, whether he's talking to Vladimir Putin or Erdogan, these autocrats have him enthralled. And after a conversation, he'll make snap judgements and avoid the best advice that he could from people like General Mattis. That, to me, is the height of irresponsibility. There are thousands of Kurds who are risking their lives to help us defeat ISIS, who are now in jeopardy, because of this impulsive decision by Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you question his fitness for office?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Well, I can tell you, every day, I question whether or not we can endure another two years. I, I think we can. I think this Constitution's strong. The American people are strong. But I'm hoping that my Republican colleagues will step up and join us in a bipartisan effort to put this government back on track.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, you've brought up two years. Two years from now, are you going to be on a ballot in Illinois in November of 2020? Have you made a final decision?

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Listen, I, I can tell people that I'm raising money and trying to lose some weight. That's usually the first indication that you're up for reelection.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat from Illinois, I hope you enjoy the holidays. And you and your family have a merry Christmas.

SEN. DICK DURBIN:

Looking forward to seeing a lot of grandkids. Thanks.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. Thanks very much. When we return, a look back at what may have been the most perilous week of the Trump presidency and a look ahead to what it could mean for 2019. The panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network: Yamiche Alcindor, White House correspondent for the PBS Newshour; Amy Walter, national editor for The Cook Political Report; and Joshua Johnson, host of 1A on NPR. Well, let's give you the week in Trump by day of the week and headline here. We've shortened the headline. Monday, we learned from the Senate, Russians targeted Mueller. Tuesday, a judge rejects the Michael Flynn plea deal. Wednesday, the president on Twitter announces Syria withdrawal. Thursday, his defense secretary resigns. Saturday, we officially have a government shutdown. Oh, the week that was. Amy Walter?

AMY WALTER:

It just is a, just a normal week here in Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

I felt like, in all honesty, that this is the week that is peak Trump, whatever you want to say.

AMY WALTER

:Yes. That's fair.

CHUCK TODD:

This is the peak Trump era.

AMY WALTER:

That's fair. Well, and to Senator Toomey's point, is this the week when the Senate finally says, "Okay, we've put up with a lot of things that we don't really like. But on foreign policy, this is where we're really going to push back. We're going to push back on whoever the secretary of defense nominee is. We're going to push back on Syria. We have the purse strings. We have power. We don't have to be held hostage to whatever the impulsivity of the president is. And it's our opportunity to show that”? And yet, I don't know. That will be, to me, that will be the turning point, Chuck. That's where we'll have hit a different phase in this relationship between the president and his party.

CHUCK TODD:

There was a great blind quote, Joshua Johnson, from a Trump-supporting Republican senator that talked about, it's sort of like beach erosion. And all of the the Mattis resignation and all of this stuff, it erodes more beach, it erodes more beach, it erodes more beach. And this is before the Mueller tidal wave hits. And when Mueller hits, how much beach is left?

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Well, that’s probably a very apt metaphor. Because these last few issues that we've been discussing kind of hit what are, and the president has said this, his kind of core responsibilities. You know, Mattis, Syria, and the border wall are all matters of national security. And then you deal with what's been going on with the stock market, that has to do with personal prosperity, and those are two of the big issues that the president came into office saying that he was going to be very strong on. I feel like, as we've gotten through this week, the president is getting closer to the edges of his presidential authority, where you reach the point where, and you were right to say, with a Republican House and Senate and White House, where certain things just can't get done, because you want them to get done. And you've got people moving in the administration, out of the administration. I feel like the president is finally getting to the point where he's saying, "Okay, I want all the people around me to get me what I want when I want it." There are certain things he's not going to be able to get the way he wants them. And at a certain point, the strictures on just being president are going to butt up against reality. Now that it's reached matters of national security and personal prosperity, this is where I start to wonder what the president's core base is thinking of what's going on right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, you you basically paraphrased what Susan Glasser, in The New Yorker, was saying, that we’re sort of, we're in this. You know, Hugh Hewitt, there's a great example we found in Bob Woodward's book about the way Jim Mattis worked as defense secretary. "Donald Trump, full of emotion, phoned his secretary of defense, James Mattis, at the Pentagon on the morning of Tuesday, April 4th. 'Let's [expletive] kill him,' the president said. 'Let's go in. Let's kill them, [expletive] lot of them.' 'Yes,' Mattis said. He would get right on it. He hung up the phone. 'We're not going to do any of that,' he told a senior aide. 'We're going to be much more measured.'” This was in response to the first chemical-weapons attack by Bashar al-Assad. That's the role Jim Mattis played. He's gone now, Hugh.

HUGH HEWITT:

Well, Secretary Mattis disagreed with the president a lot, disagreed on the JCPOA. He wanted to stay in.

CHUCK TODD:

The Iran deal.

HUGH HEWITT:

The Iran deal. He disagreed on the Paris Accord. He wanted to stay in. The president took us out. He disagreed on a number of different things, including the Syria options. There are some, I confirmed yesterday, some senators who are not unhappy to see General Mattis go, provided that the executive branch acts like the NFL, next man up. If Carson Wentz goes down, you'd better have a Nick Foles. And I heard the same thing Amy heard, which is, "Do not send us an outlier. You'd better send us Tom Cotton or Jim Talent or Bob Kimmitt, someone who's in the mainstream of national security." Because this is, for President Trump, what the red-line controversy was for President Obama, except when President Obama erased the red line, no one resigned. There wasn't a crisis. Here, there's a crisis because somebody resigned over the policy.

CHUCK TODD:

Red line or, like, ten times bigger than that?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I think the, the, the thing that really struck me was when Senator Toomey said, "We don't report to him." If you start hearing more senators say that and start acting like they're not reporting to President Trump, but really to his base and to his voters, who they share, I think that's when we start seeing President Trump saying, "Wait a minute. These people who are another part of body of elected officials, they're going to push back on me." I think the worst thing for the president right now is that he's sitting in Washington by himself, that his wife and his child had to be flown back from Mar-a-Lago, turned around, to be told, "You have to come here to be with him." And it's this idea that it's because he's sitting in Washington, as everyone else is going home, understanding that he does own this shutdown. And he said that he was going to be proud to shut down the government, and that he wasn't going to blame Democrats. Now, you can go back and forth on whether or not what he shut down the government for was what he said. But there's this idea that the messaging war, which is the thing that the president really loves to do, he's kind of losing on, and the conservative media's reminding him of that.

CHUCK TODD:

You cave now or cave later.

AMY WALTER:

Right. Well, and this was, the 2018 election was a referendum exactly on this. Do you want to fight? Or do you want to fix stuff? Democrats ran on, "We're going to come, and we're going to try to fix stuff. This impulsiveness, this way of governing, is not working.” And Democrats ended up winning the popular vote by, what, almost nine points, picking up 40 seats? If this is the continued strategy that the White House wants to take into 2020, their only, their only hope is that Democrats, in 2019, overreach and do a lot of infighting. And that's what he wants. He wants a fight. He doesn't want to fix.

CHUCK TODD:

The Senate Republicans, as a bulwark, they, to me, Joshua, decide whether the president finishes his term or doesn't, pure and simple.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Oh, for sure, for sure. I mean well, if --

CHUCK TODD:

And that's why this Jim Mattis resignation is so harmful to his future.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

The Jim Mattis resignation is a big deal. The Syria pullout is a big deal. Brett McGurk leaving is a big deal. You know, if the Democrats decide to go for impeachment, of course, the Senate Republicans make a big difference. I think you're right. I think, had it not been for Jim Mattis and Syria, this would be a very different conversation, particularly the shutdown, which I don't think a lot of Americans really will feel, except for maybe this weekend. Because you've got TSA agents and air traffic controllers who are furloughed. So please, be nice to your TSA agent today.

CHUCK TODD:

That's for sure.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Please be nice to the people in line today, please. They're not getting paid today or until we pass another bill to get them paid. But you know, a lot of the folks who commented to me, some of our listeners are like, "Yeah, it's a shutdown. But this is just kind of, like, D.C. today."

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. Well, I'll tell you, we're going to pause on that, but that's the problem. They've made the shutdown too easy. There actually is no political pain with it anymore. And until there is, they might actually act more responsibly. All right, when we come back, one of the very first Democrats to file for 2020, likely presidential candidate Julián Castro joins me next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. We could see as many as 20, oh forget that, perhaps 30 people seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in what is likely to be a very crowded Democratic field, so crowded that the Baskin-Robbins 31-flavors joke is already getting old pretty quickly. One person who has made his intentions clear, though, is Julián Castro. Castro was a three-term mayor of San Antonio, HUD secretary under President Obama. And he was considered and vetted as a possible running mate for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This year, Julián Castro is looking to be at the top of the ticket. And he joins me now from San Antonio. Julián Castro, welcome to Meet the Press. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Great to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just start with something that Senator Durbin said at the end of our interview today. I asked him if, I, if he thought the president was fit for office. And he said he thought that the country could make it through another two years. What is your view on that?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, I can tell you one thing. He's not behaving like he's fit for office. He's behaving extremely erratically. He's not giving the American people or our allies around the world any sense that there's a rationale for the decisions that he's making. And the events of this last week were just another example of that, whether it's a sudden announcement of a withdrawal in Syria or the turmoil with his staff. He's just so erratic. And so I think that, what you're seeing around the country is that people who voted for him have begun to reassess him. And folks understand that we need different leadership. And the sooner we get that, the better.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just curious, on policy, would you have troops in Syria right now, if you were president?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, I, I think that many folks recognize that it was time for us to pull out of Syria. However, here's the thing. Once you're there, you have to make sure that you have a plan for your operations there and, also, for your withdrawal. So I'm not a big fan of the commitments America has made, over these last 15 years, whether it was the Iraq War or this commitment. However, I do believe, and I agree with folks that say, that both for our own sake, for the sake of our troops, for the sake of our allies, once you're there, you have to actually have a solid plan for how you're going to withdraw. And what we saw this week is not the way that it should be done by a president.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, when somebody decides to run for president, it's not just about whether you’re, you think you're ready to be president. But you’re, you have to make a case of, why you and not them. This year, there's a lot of thems that you have to get through, before you have an opportunity to face President Trump. Why you and not the other 30-odd people running for president? What makes you the, the answer for the Democrats in 2020?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, first of all, I have an announcement on January 12th. So if I decide to run, Chuck, the reason that I'm going to decide to run are three things. Number one, that I have a strong vision for our country's future. Secondly, that I've shown, both at the local level and the national level, an ability to actually get things done, especially to create opportunity for people. And third, I've lived a life experience of coming from a neighborhood and a family where we were struggling. And I can identify with those folks that are struggling to reach their dreams. And I’m, I've actually reached my dreams. And I can identify with all of those folks out there who feel like they've had success, and they've reached their American dream. And I know that when you're president, you have to work with Congress. And you have to work with folks in states and local governments and the private sector, as well, to make sure that everybody can prosper in this country.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, in an era before Donald Trump, your resume would've been seen as not, not long enough yet to run for president, maybe not enough foreign-policy experience. That might have been something. Obviously, you already have more, I think, political experience than, than President Trump. But answer that question. You're going to be running against a lot of people with a lot more experience. And some voters may say, "You know what? We went with somebody really inexperienced in Donald Trump. I want somebody with a longer resume." What would you say to that voter?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, first of all, I think you've got to start earlier than that, right? We need somebody, right now, that is president that has some common sense and has some impulse control, right? So it's a lot more basic, with this president right now, than that. But I'd say that, you know, I've had the opportunity, during the last few years, to travel to nearly every state in the country. In my life, I've visited different foreign countries. I've taken the job of, whether it was HUD secretary or mayor of San Antonio, seriously. Tried to make sure that I could work with folks that have different views from me. And what the American people want, right now, I think, they want somebody who, number one, they believe that they can trust, that has integrity, secondly, is trying to unite Americans and not to divide them, and then somebody that, that they think is going to actually take this office seriously and try and work with folks to make sure that everybody can prosper --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

JULIÁN CASTRO:

-- in the United States. And the thing is that, right now, each of those things is missing in this president.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, there's some, a bunch of Texas Democrats that wish you and your fellow Texan that's thinking about running for president, Beto O'Rourke, wouldn't run for president. Here's what Christopher Hooks writes in the Texas Observer. "Dear Beto and Julián, One thing the 2018 election results made clear is that Texans have a real chance to make this a purple state. Good Democratic candidates can win. There's work to be done here. And it's important work. Run for president, and the message is that you're not especially interested in that work. And just maybe Texans shouldn't be that interested in you." Why not run statewide in Texas, John Cornyn's Senate seat. You could've run in 2018 for governor. What do you make of that wish, by some Texas Democrats, that yourself and Beto would stay in state?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Well, I'm sure there are going to be great candidates that will run, not only against John Cornyn, but in 2022, for governor and other statewide offices. And so you know, that, that’s not what I'm focused on. What I'm focused on is that I have a strong vision for our country's future. And on January 12th, I'm going to make an announcement --

CHUCK TODD:

Is there --

JULIÁN CASTRO:

-- about my plans.

CHUCK TODD:

-- room for both you and Beto O'Rourke in this race?

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Oh, I have no doubt. As you said, you know, that there are going to be a whole bunch of folks that are running this time. And so you know, he's a very talented, very impressive guy. My brother, Joaquin, and I were proud to support him, when he ran against Ted Cruz. And I think that, that there are probably going to be 20 people up on that first debate stage.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. Secretary Julián Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, and on January 12th, we'll find out for sure if you're an active candidate for president. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir.

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Thanks a lot, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

And I hope you and your family have a merry Christmas.

JULIÁN CASTRO:

Merry Christmas.

CHUCK TODD:

When we return, a look back at some of the people we lost in 2018.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JENNA BUSH HAGER:

What do you want your legacy to be?

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

Well, I want somebody else to define the legacy. I think history will get, get it right, point out the things I did wrong and, perhaps, some of the things we did right.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. This is a bittersweet moment for us at Meet the Press. As we do every year, we're going to look back at some of the friends in politics, culture, and media whom we lost in 2018.

[BEGIN TAPE]

TIM RUSSERT:

How did 5 1/2 years in a prison sell in North Vietnam, as a prisoner of war, prepare you for the presidency?

SEN. JOHN McCAIN:

I think it helped me define the principles that I already held. I think it gave me a better understanding of the value of, of commitment to a cause.(ARETHA FRANKLIN SINGING AMAZING GRACE)

KOFI ANNAN:

No, I have never considered the United Nations irrelevant. I think it's a unique organization, an organization that can bring the whole world together.

RICHARD GOODWIN:

The opening statement that those who much as give as much as required, a lot has been required of the Kennedys along the way.

LINDA BROWN:

At 12:52 p.m., the announcement came. The court's decision on ending segregation was unanimous.

REV. BILLY GRAHAM:

It's not easy to meet the press. And I have had the privilege of meeting the press in many countries, and I must say that I make it as much a matter of prayer as I do any sermon that I ever preach.

DANIEL AKAKA:

In Hawaii, when we part, we don't say, "Goodbye." Instead, we say, "A hui hou," which means, "Until we meet again."

BARBARA BUSH:

Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps and preside over the White House as the president's spouse. And I wish him well.

PRES. GEORGE H. W. BUSH:

I will keep America moving forward, always forward, for a better America, for an endless, enduring dream, and 1,000 points of light.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame and the shutdown over the concrete wall. Or is it a fence with slats or all of the above? Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I'll tell you what it's going to be made of. It's going to be made of hardened concrete. It's going to have a big, fat, beautiful door right in the middle of the wall. It's going to be made out of rebar. The solar wall. You have to have see-through. You have to know what's on the other side of the wall. And steel, steel slats. Steel slats, whatever you want to call it. It's all the same.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Maybe it's a steel barrier or a wall, as President Trump tweeted yesterday. Hugh Hewitt, what is your level of patience on this stuff? You were a national security conservative. I know you're not happy about this, the sort of -- the upheaval. I asked Pat Toomey, at what point, if this were a democratic president, you'd be all over this person, right? You'd be criticizing the behavior and all this stuff. But there has been this hesitance. Why?

HUGH HEWITT:

I am frustrated. Because so much has gotten done: two Supreme Court justices, 30 appeals court justices, massive tax cut, massive tax reform. We haven't even talked about the bipartisan prison reform on Monday, the Farm Bill on Tuesday, the Jerusalem embassy. President Donald Trump has a long list of accomplishments. But he does always seem to step on his story. And in foreign policy, the massive military rebuild is good, if you keep Secretary Pompeo and Ambassador John Bolton in the room and listen to them. He's got a great national security team, Gina Haspel. He'll get a new good secretary of defense. He's got a great story to tell. And I was just watching Julian Castro. He can't beat Donald Trump. I'll take any bet anyone wants to make. He could not beat Donald Trump. They're not big enough. They're going to have to go after a long list of achievements and a huge personality.

CHUCK TODD:

But I go back to -- can the president keep -- you know, how much patience do, sort of, mainstream conservatives have?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

I think mainstream conservatives, and I would also say far-right conservatives, you can see their patience waning thing this week. Because you had Rush Limbaugh basically saying, "The president's caving." You had Laura Ingraham saying, "Bring on the shutdown." You had these Republicans, who usually sing Donald Trump's praises, basically telling him, "Look, you need to be a little bit stronger on this. And you need to figure out your message." And I think the thing that's really important here is that President Trump said he wanted a wall, and he promised that to people. And even though there are all these Republicans who say, "We could get a lot of border security money out of Chuck Schumer, if you would just kind of give up this idea of a wall," he promised this to so many people. And it was a simple thing that he used as a messaging rhetoric that he can't let go.

CHUCK TODD:

Amy, he can’t seem to -- the reason he doesn't have his wall is because the Republicans won't give it to him. That's who has denied him his wall for two years. And then now, we're at the tail end of this thing.

AMY WALTER:

Right. And there is this inability to get a win, right, if you're the great negotiator, who's going to get the deal or at least make what's not a great deal look better, in a PR way, he's had plenty of opportunities to do that. And on the question of have mainstream Republicans left him, they did in 2018. He lost every suburban county. Orange County, that used to be the most conservative of conservative. But now, it's mainstream conservatives. They're all gone. And they're not coming back. So his path to 2020 now goes through the small-town, rural-America vote, which he believes that the wall is the thing to get them motivated on this. But if there's no wall, at the end of the day, and he's not selling the other parts of his message, because he's so focused on, "I've got to get this done," then what does he have to sell in 2020 to those voters who want to keep voting for him?

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, this is a big-picture reminder here. This is the end of the Republican House. They came in with a near-budget-shutdown in the first 100 days, Joshua. They leave after three shutdowns this year. They ousted a speaker in the middle. In many ways, Donald Trump is, you could argue, the Freedom Caucus president.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

In a way.

CHUCK TODD:

In a way. And this is what it's gotten us.

JOSHUA JOHNSON:

Failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which they said they would do on day one. It's changed a little bit, but it is still in place. I’m beginning to -- and I think the wall is a serious thing. One of the key rules in television, show, don't tell, right? It's nice that you've got all these things that are done on paper. It's nice that you have all these things you can talk to people about. But a wall is a visual reminder. We put this guy in office to do big things. And look at that big thing he did. It's a testament to the person that I believed in, that I voted for, who's going to shake up Washington. I do not see how Donald Trump will let this go. Because it is a signature achievement that he can point to and say, "See what I did?" I think, for a president, who we know was kind of raised on broadcasting, that's how he made it to this point, I don't see, A, how he lets the wall go, or B, how a Democrat who can challenge him can challenge him without saying, "Vote for me, because I can beat the snot out of Donald Trump. And we're going to march him down Pennsylvania Avenue." I feel like the next two years, regardless of who runs the House and the Senate, is going to be very much about the optics of 2020. What are you going to see at the end of 2020 that will make you feel like you spent your vote well, or you wasted your time at the ballot box?

YAMICHE ALCINDOR:

And a senior administration official was telling reporters, yesterday, "The number-one promise that Donald Trump made was to deliver this wall. That's why we're not giving it up." What Joshua's talking about is something that they're literally saying out loud. And I think Democrats are going to have to find somebody, maybe Julian Castro, if he's someone who's going to be, maybe, a little bit more biting. Because I think what the Democratic base is looking for is someone that's going to be an in-your-face kind of candidate, someone who's not going to be at all nice, who's not going to at all be passive, and someone who's going to say, "Look at my ideas. And I'm going to beat the snot out of this guy."

CHUCK TODD:

Hugh, you said something during the Kavanaugh hearings. You said, "If they back off on Kavanaugh, it'll be a disaster for the Republican Party." If he backs off this wall, is his base gone?

HUGH HEWITT:

No. This is where people misread the Republican Party. 5% of the base is gone. It is overstated, overvalued, overheard. But this shutdown, if he defines it as Chuck Schumer is keeping the government shut over of $5 billion out of $4 trillion of outlays, he wins. Whatever he gets in the end, and what Dick Durbin told you, the news out of this show, is that the Democrats will raise the money, if they'll change the wording. President Trump should take that and get the fentanyl stopped. You can go point at that new point of entry. He should take that deal.

CHUCK TODD:

He's afraid of making it look like a cave. Because it's not about the wall. Anyway, merry Christmas, everybody around this table, a happy and merry. And that's all we have today. Merry Christmas to all of you that celebrate it. We hope you have a safe and restful holiday break. As for us, we'll be back next week. Because we're not shutting down. If it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.