Meet the Press - February 2, 2020

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: Impeachment and Iowa.

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS:

We are adjourned.

CHUCK TODD:

The Senate now poised to acquit President Trump, even as many Republicans concede he's not innocent of the charges:

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO:

That still doesn't rise to the level of impeachment and removal of a president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats call the trial a sham.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

The acquittal will have no value because Americans will know that this trial was not a real trial.

CHUCK TODD:

The key vote to not call witnesses: Tennessee's Lamar Alexander.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

If you start out with a partisan impeachment you're almost destined to have a partisan acquittal.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning, my exclusive interview with Senator Alexander. Plus: The Iowa caucuses. Bernie Sanders, hoping for a big win.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

You can tell how good I feel by how nervous the establishment is getting.

CHUCK TODD:

Joe Biden, trying to prove his electability.

JOE BIDEN:

I'll beat him like a drum.

CHUCK TODD:

Elizabeth Warren, changing tactics.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

I just want to be clear, women win.

CHUCK TODD:

Pete Buttigieg, hoping to regain his momentum.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

It's so important that we're ready to turn the page.

CHUCK TODD:

A wide open race that may tell us where the Democratic nomination is headed. Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is my guest this morning. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher, O. Kay Henderson, News Director of the Radio Iowa Network, Rich Lowry, Editor of the National Review, Anna Palmer, co-author of Politico's Playbook and NBC News Senior Correspondent, Tom Brokaw. Welcome to Sunday, and a special edition of Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Des Moines, for the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses, this is a special edition of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning from Des Moines, Iowa, where tomorrow night -- caucus night -- Democratic voters will finally get their first say on who they want facing off against President Trump in November. We're back again at the West End Architectural Salvage, a coffee shop that also sells all kinds of great custom and vintage furniture. The other big story is in Washington, where Senate Republicans voted to block new witnesses in President Trump's impeachment trial, clearing the way for the president's all-but-certain acquittal on Wednesday. Both parties will plan to leverage impeachment in November, the president insisting he's been exonerated, Democrats arguing the witness-free trial was a sham. The turning point came Friday night with Tennessee's Lamar Alexander's no vote, effectively ending the Democrats' hope of introducing new evidence, or new witnesses like John Bolton. You'll see my exclusive interview with Senator Alexander in a few minutes. Here in Iowa, Democratic candidates have been making their last-minute pitches to Iowans leading up to what is really opening day of the 2020 presidential campaign. Normally, this morning we'd have the results of the highly anticipated Des Moines Register poll, but its scheduled release last night was canceled because of problems with its methodology. Welcome to 2020. Meanwhile, our new NBC News - Wall Street Journal national poll shows the top four Democratic candidates all leading President Trump, with Joe Biden holding the largest advantage at six points. But first, the candidates need to get past each other, starting right here in Iowa.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

All those who think our campaign is the strongest to beat Trump, raise your hand!

CHUCK TODD:

With the caucuses just hours away, the candidates are making their closing arguments --

JOE BIDEN:

We have one job and that is just to go out electorally and defeat Donald Trump

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

The Iowa caucus is where we start this path. Not just to get rid of Donald Trump - that's a big one! Believe me, after this past week - that is a really big one!

CHUCK TODD:

-- and sharpening their attacks:

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I believe that at a time like this the risk we cannot afford to take is to turn to the same Washington mindset.

JOE BIDEN:

I’ve got more than 8,600 votes in my life. You know?

CHUCK TODD:

For months, the opponents of Bernie Sanders have been reluctant to take him on. Now, with his rise in the polls in Iowa, New Hampshire - and now nationally, they are beginning to try:

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

And then there is Senator Sanders, speaking of goals I think that we all share, but putting it together in a politics that feels too often like it's my way or the highway.

CHUCK TODD:

Biden - neck-in-neck with Sanders at the top of national polls - is downplaying expectations. With a sharp ideological divide between the Sanders-Warren wing of the party and Democrats who want smaller-scale change - moderate Democrats are torn about who to support.

LISA CASSADY:

We need somebody that will appeal broadly to the Democratic party.

SCOTT PETERSEN:

I am looking for a moderate, someone in the middle a little bit. I think Pete fits the bill.

THOMAS ICATAR:

I feel Amy is a fresh face.

DAVE PRICE:

This cycle we have a lot more people who are either truly undecided or are at least persuadable in the final hours. They're really struggling with this concept of, "Who is the right person out there to beat President Trump?"

CHUCK TODD:

The angst is palpable.

BARBARA SCHULZ:

It's gonna be hard to choose one that will be electable.

JASON HINSON:

Maybe some of the candidates that appeal to more people with a broad spectrum kind of get shoved to the side, just because they aren't saying things that are more outrageous.

CHUCK TODD:

And, already, resentments are threatening to divide the party.

REPORTER:

If Joe Biden was the nominee?

ALEX BRAIDWOOD:

I would begrudgingly vote for him. I think he has done a lot of things over the years that have been very dishonest.

KARINA MENDOZA: As long as it’s not Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Stuck in Washington, the four senators in the race have largely relied on surrogates in the campaign’s final weeks.

MICHAEL MOORE:

Bernie are you there?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I am here but I’d rather be there to tell you the truth.

CHUCK TODD:

As Democrats worry President Trump's almost certain acquittal this week will embolden him.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

They want to nullify your ballots, poison our democracy, and overthrow the entire system of government. That’s not happening.

HANS TROUSIL:

It’s going to make him worse than what he is now. He thinks he’s going to get by doing everything and anything.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend. Mayor Pete, welcome back to Meet the Press.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Good to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I get to the campaign here, what is the practical fallout from the, from the Democratic Party's failed effort here to get the president through the constitutional process of impeachment?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I think that the critical thing was to take the step of seeking to hold the president accountable. Now, it fell to the Senate. It looks like the Senate GOP has always viewed this as a foregone conclusion. And the most important thing that I'm sharing, especially with voters, with caucus-goers as I travel through Iowa, is I understand the sense of exhaustion that can come from watching this whole process play out. Where actually SNL's mockery of the trial almost seemed like it was a process that had more integrity than the actual trial, having no witnesses at all. And it beats you down. But, if the Senate is the jury right now, we are the jury tomorrow. And however frustrating it is to watch that process, you can't switch it off, you can't walk away, and you can't give up because this is actually the year where there is accountability for the president and for a lot of these senators because it's an election year.

CHUCK TODD:

A lot of Democrats say, "Jeez." They think he -- it was unfair in '16 and he won. And they think this process was unfair and he won again. They’re starting to -- some of them might lose faith that, you know, if you try to fight this guy fair, you lose.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I think that we can fight fair, but we've got to fight tough. We've got to be ready to go up against somebody who's pulling out all of the stops in order to --

CHUCK TODD:

What makes you tough enough to take on --

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

-- stay in power --

CHUCK TODD:

-- Donald Trump?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, for one thing, I'm not afraid of the kind of nonsense he's going to throw around. I've seen worse forms of incoming than a tweet full of typos.

CHUCK TODD:

But you can't ignore it the way -- you have a way of trying to be above things. And i think -- and it's healthy -- there's nothing wrong with that. It's what we all want to teach, we all want to teach kids and we want to teach people to do that. But he doesn't do that. And sometimes you have to be just as pugilistic.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Yeah. I mean, there are times you've got to fight back and hit back. But the thing about Donald Trump, he's kind of like a Chinese finger trap, where the harder you pull, the more you get stuck. He has this way of changing the subject. And so in dealing with him, it's very important if he tells a lie, you correct it. If he does something wrong, you confront it. If he attacks you, you push back. But then, you've got to very quickly return to what this election and every election is actually about, which is the voter asking the question, "How's my life going to be different if you're president instead of you?" And we've got the best answers on all of those questions. We're the ones trying to get everyone a raise. We're the ones trying to protect folks' health care. We're the ones serious about dealing with gun violence, and climate change, and reforming immigration. On issue after issue, a strong American majority, including some independents and Republicans, is with us right now, which is exactly why he needs to change the subject to himself.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a point where the Democratic Party tent is too big and it can't accommodate everybody? You've got Sanders here on the left, Democratic Socialism, which is popular with one part of the party, enormously unpopular with another part of the party. That is a funda -- I mean, how do you bridge that divide where you've got to get Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders' supporters in the middle and just being in the middle sometimes, that doesn't work?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

You know, I think that the primary process by its nature magnifies these differences. These differences are real. It's part of the focus of my campaign --

CHUCK TODD:

A big difference between socialism and capitalism.

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Yeah. And you don't have to choose. The point of my campaign is you don't have to choose between the status quo over here and revolution over there, that we actually have a pretty well-shared sense of values in this party, even from the progressive left through to independents and some forward-thinking Republicans. But we've got to be ready to galvanize that majority and not let it get polarized. And I think it's a strength of our party that we pull in a lot of people, especially at a time like this because we're modeling the kind of healing that our country will need in this divided and polarized moment on the day after Donald Trump leaves office.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, look, there are some angry Democrats out there. I want to play this clip of Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib reacting to a Hillary Clinton criticism of the Sanders campaign. Here it is.

[BEGIN TAPE]

MODERATOR:

You guys remember last week when someone by the name of Hillary Clinton said that nobody -- we're not going to boo. We're not going to boo. We're classy here.

REPRESENTATIVE RASHIDA TLAIB:

No, no.

MODERATOR:

We're classy --

REPRESENTATIVE RASHIDA TLAIB:

I'll boo. Boo. That's all right. The haters, the haters will shut up on Monday when we win.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

The fact is, look, Senator Sanders is talking about party unity. He is pledging to support whoever the nominee is. And obviously all of you have said that as candidates. But there is real anger out there. Hillary Clinton is not happy. There is real bitterness. How do you bridge that divide? How do you fix that?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

When I'm talking about turning the page, this is part of what I'm talking about. Why would we want to relive 2016? I didn't much like living through it the first time --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think Hillary Clinton should continue these criticisms? Or would you like her -- to see her pull them back?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I'm not going to tell her or anybody else what to do, but here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to focus on where we need to head not just as a party but as a country. You know, when I'm talking to Iowans, as we've been doing, especially in these days leading up to the caucus, the focus is not on re-litigating a fight from 2016, let alone who said what when about Social Security in the 1990s. The question is: How are we going to protect Social Security now? How are we going to make sure we're not in a war with Iran by the time the new president takes office? How are we going to make sure that one job is actually enough in this country? These are the things that are actually affecting folks on the ground that I'm getting questions about right and left from folks who are so frustrated and so worried about those they love on everything from climate change to mental health. We have got to focus on what every election is about. And it's the lives of the voters, not the lives of the candidates.

CHUCK TODD:

Tomorrow night, a lot of people may be asked to be more pragmatic, right? You get there, your candidate doesn't have the threshold, and then you've got to pick your second choice. It seems as if between you, the vice president, Senator Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, you're all sort of vying to be the alternative to Sanders, that you’re going to -- at some point you're going to do that. A lot of voters are looking at you and saying, "I like him. He connects with me. I'm worried he can't win African American voters." Are you concerned that that perception might actually cost you second place in the caucuses?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I actually think it's all the more reason why we need to demonstrate strength here in Iowa. Because a lot of the voters, especially black voters in the South that I'm talking to, they appreciate what's in my plans. But they also just want to know that they're supporting a candidate who can win. I mean, nobody is feeling the pain of living under the Trump presidency more than Americans of color right now. And so there is a fierce sense of urgency about making sure we can defeat him. The process of proving that I'm the candidate to do that begins with the organizational show of force that starts right here tomorrow night in Iowa.

CHUCK TODD:

Of the top five candidates, only one has ever proven to win African American voters on a consistent basis. That's Vice President Biden. Not Sanders, not Warren, not Klobuchar, not yourself. Why do you think you're held to this standard more so than the other candidates?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I'd leave that to pundits to figure out. I do think that, you know, I come from a city that's had some tough experiences. But in many ways, that's the point, is that we haven't debated these things or voted on them just from a legislative perspective. On everything from racial justice in policing to economic empowerment, in South Bend we have had to roll up our sleeves and work to deliver for a diverse and largely low-income city. We've got a lot to show for it, especially in the fall in unemployment and poverty for black residents. Also a long way to go. But telling that story is exactly how I can demonstrate that I will arrive in office determined to bring about greater racial equality and justice in this country.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you reconsider your candidacy if you don't finish in the top three?

PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I'll let others set the goal posts. But, look, let's face it. I need to have a good finish here in Iowa. We know it, and we're working very hard to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

And thank you again to Pete Buttigieg, who I spoke to a few moments ago before this show started. Let me bring in our panel: Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher; O. Kay Henderson, news director of the Radio Iowa Network; Anna Palmer, co-author of Politico's Playbook, and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. Kay, you get to start first. This is your territory. We're the visitors here. It's always good to have you as our opener. All right. The thing you take away most here is this indecision over this electability issue. There's Sanders, and then there's that issue. What's happening?

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Well, in part it's fueled by the fact that Trump is so active on Twitter and actually was active in Iowa on Thursday night. And so he sort of stirs up that angst in people because they seem him all over the place, number one. Number two, you didn't have a definitive frontrunner. You had Sanders, who finished essentially in a tie in 2016, who was perceived as sort of a frontrunner, as was Biden. But neither one of them have been able to sort of sprint out because you had some other people, namely Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, who were able to make inroads here by doing the Iowa campaign the traditional way: coming here early, hiring people, talking to Iowans.

CHUCK TODD:

So, Cornell, there's an electorate here that says, "We're looking for the best candidate to beat Donald Trump." There's a candidate whose entire candidacy is, "I'm the best candidate to beat Donald Trump." If Joe Biden can't marry his message with these voters, who desperately want to hear that message, what does that say about the future of Biden's candidacy if he's not at least second out of here?

CORNELL BELCHER:

You know, I don't buy into that. I'm actually reaching for my Obama '08 pin because this guy -- by the way, this is a keeper. This guy was never the most electable. He was never the one when we -- when you put up sort of, "Who's got the best chance of winning for Democrats," it was never this guy. Be he caught fire --

CHUCK TODD:

He wasn't unelectable though. Nobody said he was unelectable.

CORNELL BELCHER:

But him versus Hillary Clinton, he was never going to be the candidate that was more sort of mainstream and electable. He was black, by the way. So he was never going to be the most mainstream guy. But I think when you look at what's happening in Iowa right now, and to your point, look, you've got -- you’ve got 45% of the Monmouth poll say they're still uncertain about what's going to happen. Anyone who says they know what's going to happen here on caucus night, they're out of their minds because so much of the electorate is fluid. I think Bernie will probably do well here. But Biden could be anywhere from fourth to first, depending on the swing of things. So I think it's wide open.

ANNA PALMER:

It's got to be such a disappointing finish for Biden if he is fourth. I mean, particularly given the fact that Warren and Bernie Sanders are going to have the money. If you're Joe Biden, and you come in fourth in Iowa, and you go to New Hampshire, and you don't necessarily do super well there, that is going to be potentially a death nail --

CHUCK TODD:

People are --

ANNA PALMER:

-- for your candidacy.

CHUCK TODD:

People I don't think are aware how little money Biden has in comparison. Bernie has outspent him in the fourth quarter 2:1. Bernie spent $50 million. Biden spent $23 million.

ANNA PALMER:

I mean, that differential --

CHUCK TODD:

Astonishing.

ANNA PALMER:

-- is everything.

CHUCK TODD:

And who's the frontrunner?

RICH LOWRY:

Right. I mean, Biden's always been a very weak frontrunner, except for the national polling. Weak in the early states, weak in the fundraising, weak in the enthusiasm. And nothing's more deadly for an electability argument than losing elections. Now, there's a lot of talk about a "Stop Bernie" movement. If they're going to stop him, that better start really soon. Because there's a good chance he could win here. If he wins here, he's going to win New Hampshire. Then he's loose. And another lesson from 2016: If you get an unconventional candidate like Donald Trump, like Bernie Sanders and the establishment carpet bombs him, that might be validating rather than discrediting --

CORNELL BELCHER:

Here's what you have to prove to me for Bernie. It's the same problem from 2016. You can do well in Iowa. You can do well in New Hampshire. But in March when the electorate becomes a lot more diverse, it's the same reason why Hillary put him away. So tell me how Bernie wins South Carolina. Tell me how -- he may do well in Nevada, but tell me how well he does in that diverse state in March.

CHUCK TODD:

Kay, let's bring this back to Iowa.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Sorry.

CHUCK TODD:

We've got the three examples this century of sort of different ways this went. We had the near-tie essentially in '16. You had the -- where Obama and Clinton broke away from the pack in '08. And then you had '04, where John Kerry --

O. KAY HENDERSON:

And this really is '04.

CHUCK TODD:

I was just going to say. This is --

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Because you have --

CHUCK TODD:

-- '04 to you?

O. KAY HENDERSON:

-- a Republican president that Democrats feel great antipathy towards. And so that's why you have all this angst. What's different this time around is at this point in 2004, the weekend before, you could feel the momentum moving --

CHUCK TODD:

For Kerry.

O. KAY HENDERSON:

-- to the two Johns, as it were.

CHUCK TODD:

No, that's right. People forget about John Edwards --

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

The Dean scream probably stopped Edwards' momentum --

O. KAY HENDERSON:

And Dick Gephardt dropping out. So you had three stories.

CHUCK TODD:

Boom, boom, boom.

O. KAY HENDERSON:

It's hard to write a fourth story about the Iowa caucuses.

CHUCK TODD:

Hard to write a fourth story. Okay. When we come back, the senator whose vote ended any chance of John Bolton or any other witnesses being heard in the impeachment trial. Lamar Alexander next on why he voted no. And as we go to break, some of what we're hearing from Democratic voters here in Iowa about their eagerness to defeat President Trump.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PAUL WARREN:

I think it's an absolute necessity that Trump is defeated.

ANDY CROOKS:

I would support anybody other than Trump right now.

JANET PETERSEN:

Anyone but Trump. We need to go back in a positive direction with integrity.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

We're back at West End Salvage in Des Moines, one day before opening day of the campaign season in the Iowa caucuses. But if there's been any drama in President Trump's impeachment trial -- and there hasn't been much -- it came when Senator Lamar Alexander voted against hearing more witnesses. It dashed the Democrats' hopes of getting four Republicans to introduce more evidence and perhaps witnesses. In the end only two -- Mitt Romney and Susan Collins -- voted yes. I sat down yesterday morning with Senator Alexander for an exclusive interview, and I began by asking him why he voted the way he did.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, I mean, if you have eight witnesses who say someone left the scene of an accident, why do you need nine? I mean, the question for me was: Do I need more evidence to conclude that the president did what he did? And I concluded no. So, I voted we don't --

CHUCK TODD:

What do you believe he did?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

What --

CHUCK TODD:

What do you believe he did?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

What I believe he did, one, was that he called the president of Ukraine and asked him to become involved in investigating Joe Biden, who was --

CHUCK TODD:

You believe his wrongdoing began there, not before --

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Yeah, but he --

CHUCK TODD:

Not before?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

I don't know about that. But he admitted that. The president admitted that. He released a transcript, he said on television. The second thing was, at least in part, he delayed the military and other assistance to Ukraine in order to encourage that investigation. Those are the two things he did. I think he shouldn't have done it. I think it was wrong. Inappropriate was the way I'd say -- improper, crossing the line. And then the only question left is who decides what to do about that.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, who decides what to do about that?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

The people. The people is my conclusion. You know, it struck me, really for the first time, early last week, that we're not just being asked to remove the president from office. We're saying, "Tell him he can't run in the 2020 election which begins Monday in Iowa."

CHUCK TODD:

If this weren't election year, would you have had a different – would you have looked at this differently?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

I would have looked it differently, probably come to the same conclusion because I don’t think what he did – I think what he did is a long way from treason, bribery, high crimes, and misdemeanors. I don't think it's the kind of inappropriate action that the framers would expect the Senate to substitute its judgment for the people in picking a president.

CHUCK TODD:

Does it wear on you, though, that one of the – I mean -- one of the foundational reasons, ways that the framers wrote the Constitution was almost fear of foreign interference?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

That's true.

CHUCK TODD:

So, and here it is.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, if you hooked up with Ukraine to wage war on the United States, as the first senator from Tennessee did, you could be expelled. But this wasn't that. This was the kind -- what the president should have done was, if he was upset about Joe Biden and his son and what they were doing in Ukraine, he should have called the Attorney General and told him that and let the Attorney General handle it the way they always handle cases that involve public figures.

CHUCK TODD:

And why do you think he didn't do that?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Maybe he didn't know to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, this has been a rationale that I've heard from a lot of Republicans. "Well, boy, he's still new to this."

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, a lot of people come to --

CHUCK TODD:

At what point, though, is he no longer new to this?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, the bottom line, it's not an excuse. He shouldn't have done it. And I said he shouldn't have done it. And now I think it's up to the American people to say, "Okay, good economy, lower taxes, conservative judges, behavior that I might not like, call to Ukraine." Weigh that against Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders and pick a president.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you at all concerned, though, when you seek foreign interference, he does not believe he's done anything wrong, that what has happened here might encourage him that he can continue to do this?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

I don't think so. I hope not. I mean, enduring an impeachment is something that nobody should like. Even the president said he didn't want that on his resume. I don't blame him. So, if a call like that gets you an impeachment, I would think he would think twice before he did it again.

CHUCK TODD:

What example in the life of Donald Trump has he been chastened?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

I haven't studied his life that close. But, like most people who survive to make it to the presidency, he's sure of himself. But hopefully, he'll look at this and say, "Okay, that was a mistake. I shouldn't have done that, shouldn't have done it that way." And he'll focus on the strengths of his administration, which are considerable.

CHUCK TODD:

One of your other reasonings was the partisan nature of the impeachment vote itself in the House, except now we are answering a partisan impeachment vote in the House with a partisan -- I guess I don't know what we call this right now --

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, you'd call it acquittal. That's what happens.

CHUCK TODD:

An acquittal, but essentially also in how the trial was run, a partisan way to run the trial. So, if we make partisan -- bipartisanship a standard, if somebody has a stranglehold on a base of a political party, then what you're saying is you can overcome any impeachable offense --

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well --

CHUCK TODD:

-- as long as you have, as long as you have the stranglehold on a group of people.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, as far as, as far as what the Senate did, I thought our -- I thought we gave a good hearing to the case. I mean, I helped make sure that we didn't dismiss it. We heard it. There were some who wanted to dismiss it. I helped make sure that we had a right to ask for more evidence if we needed it, which we thought we didn't. We heard -- we saw videotapes of 192 times that witnesses testified. We sat that for 11- and 12-hour days for nine days. So, I think we heard the case pretty well. But the partisan point's the most important point to me. James Madison, others, thought there never, ever should be a wholly partisan impeachment. And if you look at Nixon, when the vote to authorize that inquiry was 410 to four, and you look at Trump, where not a single Republican voted for it, if you start out with a partisan impeachment, you're almost destined to have a partisan acquittal.

CHUCK TODD:

Bill Clinton offered regret for his behavior. This president has not. Does that bother you?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, there hasn't been a vote yet, either. So we'll see what he says and does. I think, I think that's up to him. I think --

CHUCK TODD:

You're comfortable acquitting him before he says something of regret? Would that not, would that not help make your acquittal vote more comfortable?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

I wasn't asked to decide -- assess his level of regret. I was asked, "Did he, did he make a phone call? And did he, at least in part, hold up aid in order to influence an investigation of Joe Biden?" I concluded yes. So I don't need to assess his level of regret. What I hope he would do is when he makes his State of the Union address, that he puts this completely behind him, never mentions it, and talks about what he thinks he's done for the country and where we're headed. He's got a pretty good story to tell if he'll focus on it.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, in the phone call, there's one thing on the phone call that I'm surprised, frankly, hasn't been brought up more by others. This -- the mere mention of the word "CrowdStrike," is a Russian intelligence sort of piece of propaganda that they've been circulating.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Uh-huh.

CHUCK TODD:

Does it bother you that the President of the United States is reiterating Russian propaganda?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Yes. I think that's a mistake. I mean, if you see what's happening in the Baltic states, where Russians have a big warehouse in Saint Petersburg, in Russia, where they're devoted to destabilizing western democracies. I mean, for example, in one of the Baltic states, they accused a NATO officer of raping a local girl. Of course, didn't happen. But it threw the government into complete disarray for a week. So I think we need to be sensitive to the fact that the Russians are out to do no good, to destabilize western democracies, including us, and be very wary of theories that Russians come up with and peddle.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I was just going to say, this -- is it not alarming the President of the United States, in this phone call, you clearly are judging him on the phone call, more so than --

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

Well, the phone call --

CHUCK TODD:

-- much of his other behavior --

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

-- and the evidence, there was plenty of evidence. I mean, the House managers came to us and said, "We have overwhelming evidence. We have a mountain of evidence."

CHUCK TODD:

And you agree?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

"And we approve it beyond a shadow of a doubt," which made me think, "Well, then, why do you need more evidence?"

CHUCK TODD:

Would you think it's more helpful for the public to hear from John Bolton?

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER:

They'll read his book in two weeks.

CHUCK TODD:

And you can see the entire interview with Senator Alexander on our website, meetthepress.com. When we come back. What lesson will President Trump take from his impeachment and likely acquittal: Never do it again or I can get away with anything? The panel is next. You're watching Meet the Press from West End Architectural Salvage right here in Des Moines, Iowa.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is back. And we're going to turn to impeachment and more from our new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll. A majority of registered voters told us that they believe President Trump did abuse power by asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden by a margin of 52-41 who said he didn't. And by a 53-37 margin folks tell us that Mr. Trump obstructed Congress by not cooperating with the impeachment investigation. So majorities essentially in favor of both articles of impeachment. But look at this. While 46% say the Senate should vote to remove the president from office, 49% said Mr. Trump should not be removed from office. And so this is where we stand. Guys, I want to give Chris Murphy a shout out here, Democratic senator from Connecticut in the New York Times today, Anna Palmer. "We were just speaking different languages, fundamentally different languages when it came to what this trial was about. They," referring to the Republicans, "thought it was about the deep state and the media conspiracy. We thought it was about the president's crimes."

ANNA PALMER:

I mean, I guess. But at the same point, Republicans just were never going to impeach this president. I don't think no matter what happened. Senate Republicans, this is the party of Trump. I think that every single elected official is always looking toward their next election, and they see Trump at the top of that ticket.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's interesting, Rich Lowry. There were some Republicans, call them the institutionalists, who they had to say something. They couldn't bring themselves. Let me put up Rob Portman. "I believe that some of the president's actions in this case were wrong and inappropriate," borrowing the Lamar Alexander line. Jerry Moran, very succinct statement. But at the very end, "Additional evidence or witnesses would not change the material underlying facts that describe the president's actions." Ben Sasse, "Lamar speaks for lots and lots of us."

RICH LOWRY:

It's true. I mean, Lamar finally said what most of them thought all along. And I think even though it's counter-intuitive, the Lamar defense is the correct one. The "he did it" defense is the correct one because it accords with the facts and it's true --

CHUCK TODD:

It's what the public says.

RICH LOWRY:

Right. But then it makes the entirely reasonable and I think correct judgment that this isn't worth removing a president over for the first time in our history on the cusp of an election.

CORNELL BELCHER:

It's in our Constitution, no foreign interference. It's literally in our Constitution. You know, former Republican Governor Todd Whitman tweeted that Republicans have lost their moral compass. Because it's hard to follow morally what Lamar said. If in fact the president is guilty of this, "But I like his policies, so I'm not going to remove him," you're morally corrupt. Guys, it's in the Constitution, right? But how does this play politically? I don't think it hurts Donald Trump politically. I don't. I think when you look at the NBC --

CHUCK TODD:

Does it hurt or help Democrats?

CORNELL BELCHER:

I don't think it matters. Because when you look at our NBC poll, Donald Trump still struggles to get above 45, 46%. The same 46% he got elected with. I think it's a wash.

CHUCK TODD:

Kay, I'm curious. Marco Rubio went a step further than some of his Republican colleagues, even calling the actions impeachable. This is what he wrote. "Just because actions meet a standard of impeachment does not mean it is in the best interests of the country to remove a president from office." It feels like that's almost what you hear if you took all of the Iowa voices into one, which is collectively that, yeah, a majority may think that and a majority may also think, "Don't remove him."

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Well, in the Iowa context, this will be important in the Joni Ernest reelect obviously. But I don't think it really changes the core message that Democrats were going to go after Joni Ernst on, which was she's in Donald Trump's party. On the other side of the aisle, we have two freshman congresswomen in Abby Finkenauer in northeast Iowa and Cindy Axne, who represents the Des Moines area, and Republicans are going to go after them for supporting impeachment. And in a 50-50 country and maybe in a 50-50 state, coin flip.

ANNA PALMER:

I don't know. I just feel like the election is so far away. We are going to have 200-plus news cycles. Is impeachment really going to be the thing that voters are going to vote on? If you look at what a lot of these 2020 candidates are saying, they aren't talking about impeachment every single day.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich, I feel like we're turning into a parliamentary system though, right? Republicans are all in with Trump. Not on an ideology. Just all in. Democrats may be all-in anti-Trump. This feels very European to me.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. I mean, it's clearly Trump's party. But if the reaction of the public hadn't been, "Oh yeah. This is something wrong. He shouldn't have done it," and instead this shocks our consciences, it's 60 or 70% of people support his removal, then you would have lost some Republicans. But I agree with Anna. I went to two events yesterday, and we're still in the midst of this. I must have heard five hours of Democratic oratory between the introducers, and the surrogates, and candidates. I loved every minute of it. But unless I'm mistaken, I did not hear one direct reference to Ukraine or impeachment.

CHUCK TODD:

Cornell, Nancy Pelosi's got I think an interesting balancing act because there's going to be some in the House Democrats that want to continue investigating the president. She's got to pivot to some bread-and-butter issues.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

But she's got to, you know, walk and chew gum without looking like they’re Javert and they can't give it up.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Right. Well, but she's got to also do her job. I mean, I think most people on the right who are saying, "Nancy Pelosi wants to impeach. Nancy Pelosi wants to impeach." Nancy Pelosi didn't want to do impeachment, right? Democrats were doing really well --

CHUCK TODD:

Oh no. Actually, some Republicans keep throwing that quote back at Democrats a lot. "You said it. You said a partisan impeachment's not healthy for the country."

CORNELL BELCHER:

Right. She has winning arguments. I mean, the Republicans keep trying to destroy health care. You know what really Americans don't want? Is for Obamacare to be overturned. Democrats, they have winning messages. 9 million more people voted for Democrats last time around than Republicans. We have winning messages without impeachment. To your point, if you're talking about a process, if you're on the campaign trail and you're talking about a process story as opposed to talking about what you're going to do for the American people, you are losing. So I don't think it's going to be.

RICH LOWRY:

If people really, seriously thought this was one of the worst betrayals in American history, it'd be worth a candidate mentioning it, right? A voter would get up and ask a question about it. There's none of that, which I just think goes to this is mostly a Washington and media phenomenon in terms of the obsession.

CORNELL BELCHER:

But it's also their job. No, but seriously, it's in the Constitution.

CHUCK TODD:

Kay, let me ask it --

CORNELL BELCHER:

It's their job.

CHUCK TODD:

-- this way because I thought what both Lamar Alexander and Marco Rubio kept pointing out is that this is pouring gasoline on the culture wars. And I guess the question I have, and it's going to tell us whether Iowa's in play or not. Is 2020 going to be about which side of the culture war you're on or pocketbook? And how many Iowa voters are thinking in which direction?

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

So then what?

O. KAY HENDERSON:

But to your point, we are a long way away from November 3rd. And a lot can happen. A lot can happen in the presidency. A lot can happen in Congress. And to the point of impeachment, impeachment never comes up in the Democratic context with these candidates because everyone understood that the Republican-led Senate was not going to remove the president --

RICH LOWRY:

But I'd also say if Biden doesn't win the nomination, this is going to feel like an event from a completely different era.

CHUCK TODD:

You're right. Because in some ways, it's about Biden. And if Biden isn't the one on the ticket, then it really will feel like the end of the 2016 campaign, not the beginning of 2020.

ANNA PALMER:

But to your point on Nancy Pelosi, and I'm up at the Capitol a lot, I actually think this is not ending in the Senate. The House Democrats are going to want to hear from John Bolton. They are going to want to continue the investigation. I was talking to an operative just this week, and they were saying, "This is not going to be the last time this president is impeached."

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. Why don't we leave it right there? When we come back, we'll preview the next impeachment. No, how to watch tomorrow night's caucus results.

[BEGIN TAPE]

JOE PENDERGAST:

Personally, I'm going to caucus for Mayor Pete.

AMANDA RUSSELL:

Obviously Bernie would be the best.

TAMMY LOHMAN:

Never changed my mind. I've been with Joe from the beginning.

ALONZO CEREN:

One of my top options would be Elizabeth Warren obviously and probably Bernie Sanders.

KATIE BARRETT:

We're here to support our president because we love America. We love what Trump's doing for America.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. Almost as important as who wins the caucuses tomorrow night will be who wins where. How each candidate does with different voting blocs could be an early preview of how they'll do in similar communities in other states throughout this primary season. Here's how to watch the results tomorrow night. First, the college towns, Johnson County and Story County. These are the respective home counties of Iowa and Iowa State Universities. In 2016, Bernie Sanders won both in his narrow statewide loss to Hillary Clinton. It's a sign of his power with younger college-aged voters. We're watching if he can keep a hold on that core constituency and essentially just flood the zone over there. Then there are the blue collar communities of Black Hawk, Linn, and Scott Counties. Each is above the state average for manufacturing employment. Sanders carried them in '16. But tomorrow, we're going to be watching to see how Joe Biden does here. He needs to prove he has the potential to peel off these blue collar voters from President Trump that Sanders seems to be doing well with. Then there's the urban Iowa, Dallas and Polk Counties, where you have Des Moines and its suburbs, winning counties for Hillary Clinton four years ago. These are the most dense population centers with many of the state's most educated and affluent voters. It's a place where Elizabeth Warren needs to shine, showing her strength carrying educated urbanites in states across the country. It's also key for Pete Buttigieg as well. And finally, we'll be watching what happens along the state's western edge, what we're calling the western ag. counties. Even though they won't turn out a ton of voters, it'll be important to see which candidate wins over these prairie populists. They could go with Sanders, as they did four years ago. Or perhaps Amy Klobuchar's Midwestern roots will help her gain traction out west. She has spent more time out there than most. Despite their differences, the one thing that unites Democrats is their desire to make Donald Trump a one-term president. And that means at the end of the day every Democratic primary voter has electability front and center in their minds. How each of these candidates does tomorrow night could give us a hint at how they'll fare throughout the primary season. Maybe even in November. When we come back, Joe Biden has gone all in here in Iowa. Could he recover from a bad loss tomorrow?

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with End Game. I'm pretty excited. It's Groundhog Day and an amazing palindrome day, 02/02/2020. By the way, Tom, the groundhog saw his shadow. So it's six more weeks of the impeachment trial. Joining the table, Tom Brokaw. Tom, this is your 11th Iowa caucus.

TOM BROKAW:

And I lived in the state three times. So, I mean, I really feel --

CHUCK TODD:

They keep kicking you out though. There's a barstool somewhere in Iowa City --

TOM BROKAW:

And the one truism about all of these is the unexpected will occur. I mean, that's what's been true of every one that I've covered during this time. The most dramatic example, well, there are a couple of them. Bush 41 beat Ronald Reagan, who was practically, you know, a resident of this state. But Howard Dean on the Saturday before, we were doing Meet the Press, taping it. It's a lock Dean's got it. Finished third. So one example. After Bob Dole beat Bush 41 when he was the vice president of the United States. So out there today in Emmetsburg in this hour, Riceville, Charles City, cities across the country, across Iowa, they're getting up, going to church. They're talking to each other. They're having coffee. They're trying to decide what they're going to do. And I always believe that when they go to the caucus and they have to stand up and identify themselves in one form or another, there are a lot of changes that go on then, you know, because their neighbors are watching them. It's not a secret ballot. So this is going to be a volatile one again.

CHUCK TODD:

Tom, Kay was telling me some stuff. Kay, you were saying that because it's not a secret ballot there's going to be some folks who don't turn out. Maybe they're Republicans who don't like Donald Trump --

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Correct.

CHUCK TODD:

-- who maybe with W they would have been willing to show their face, but they can't.

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Right. If you live in a small town of 2,000 or less, are you going to go to a Democratic caucus and stand in a corner for one of the Democrats and tell all of your neighbors that you're no longer a Trump supporter? Not going to happen.

TOM BROKAW:

No, I couldn't agree more. You know, that's a part of Iowa that's always overlooked in my judgment. It is so public. And then the consequences of your decision, you have to live within that small town, or wherever you are, out on the farm for a long, long time. What is striking to me when I come back to Iowa now is that it's prosperous in so many ways. I was in Iowa City the other day, and it's booming over there. And this city, Des Moines, for example, has changed profoundly. But at the same time, Iowans have not changed in terms of their attitude about what their obligations are. You know, they take their citizenship very seriously. And everything that they do, they wait until the end, until they've got all the facts.

CHUCK TODD:

Cornell, you were saying something earlier about if you were Joe Biden right now, you'd take the national poll result right now that shows Sanders actually inching ahead of him, which means he'd say, "Okay, Iowa, it's a two-person race. It's me or him." And when you look at a two-person, there's a two-philosophical race: socialism versus capitalism. We tested this in our poll. What's interesting is Democrats feel positively about both. But check this out. Among Sanders supporters though, 60% have a positive view towards socialism. 12% have a positive view towards capitalism. Among Biden supporters, 31% have a positive view towards socialism. 40% have a positive view towards capitalism. This is a fundamental divide, I think, that this race will organize itself around. Whether that's Biden, or Bloomberg, or somebody else, it is going to be Sanders the socialist versus some Democrat and the capitalists.

CORNELL BELCHER:

And I've got to tell you this. This is the problem, is we talked about electability and sort of in the general election who's the best candidate in a general election. I think the challenge for the Sanders people is: How do you make the case that a socialist is the most electable person nationally? How do you make the case that a socialist makes some of these states in the South more competitive that Democrats are beginning to sort of gain? We talk about Texas, Democrats are going to turn Texas blue, going to make it purple. How does a socialist do that?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, here's what Sanders would say, Rich. And I think some Republicans would agree. He'd ignore the Sun Belt. And he'd go right into the heartland. And that is where some Trump people are nervous that Sanders can beat him in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and maybe here. And then suddenly the math gets different.

RICH LOWRY:

So, look, I think Sanders, you would think he's going to be the candidate that's going to be most easy for Trump to make most radioactive, and it's hard to see a socialist winning in a country of 3.5% unemployment. That said, I think he has to be taken really seriously if he wins the nomination as a general election candidate because Trump showed there's something to be said for scrambling the map, scrambling the coalition, and really energizing your people. And then also, and I bet this is a lot of what Bernie people think, all of us and party establishments 2016 proved know much less about electability than we think we do.

CORNELL BELCHER:

Here --

CHUCK TODD:

I fully agree --

ANNA PALMER:

I mean, I really think the question is: Can Bernie Sanders convince Democrats to hold their nose and vote for him, establishment Democrats like Trump --

CHUCK TODD:

Suburbanite Democrats.

ANNA PALMER:

-- that Trump was able to get in 2016 with Republicans who did not like him but voted for him?

TOM BROKAW:

I think, Chuck, that frankly among younger voters that's a possibility for him. But with a strong economy, it's really hard to see how a lot of people will step up and say, "I'm for socialism. I want to change this." Because there are a lot of changes going on in our economy around the country. It's more innovative than it's been in my lifetime frankly. But very little of it has to do with socialism.

CHUCK TODD:

Kay, explain though why it is taking -- obviously there is something here that even Iowans are into.

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Right. And I think if you looked at the results of 2016, 2020 shouldn't be that big of a surprise. Bernie Sanders did incredibly well here for a reason. He resonated with about half of the people who turned out on caucus night in 2016. Back to the socialism debate, I think it's over. Whoever the Democrats nominate is going to be labeled a socialist by Donald Trump. And he already did that --

CORNELL BELCHER:

They already are.

(OVERTALK)

CORNELL BELCHER:

But really quickly, I'm going to go back to the point I stay on all the time. If you cannot win African American voters, you cannot be the nominee for the Democratic Party moving forward. Period, hard stop. It's just the math.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Michael Bloomberg, he's going to start becoming a factor as soon as Iowa and New Hampshire starts ending here. Is Michael Bloomberg what accelerates Sanders to the nomination? Or is Michael Bloomberg the "Stop Bernie Sanders" candidate? I could picture both scenarios.

ANNA PALMER:

I mean, you can game it out right now. We could say, "Oh, play down that way or the other way." I mean, the big question is: How does he impact the others in the race? Right? He's going to have more money. That's not going to be his problem. He's spending more money on operatives clearly but also on ads. How does he make the case to black voters and to Hispanic voters? And I think that's going to be something to watch in the next couple weeks.

TOM BROKAW:

The other thing that you have to look at, Chuck, with the mayor is that he was mayor of New York City three terms. And he's done very sophisticated polling. I mean, really -- polling. He knows where all the soft spots are out there, and he's got the money to throw at it. And --

CHUCK TODD:

The single most unpopular Democrat among Democrats is Michael Bloomberg, Tom.

TOM BROKAW:

I understand that. But I also think that those rules have changed. I don't think that we're a country in which we're kind of wedded to one party or another. People are looking for answers, and they're looking for solutions. I've been talking to a lot of Iowans who have been asking me, "What about Bloomberg?" I've been surprised by the curiosity about him. And the one thing about him is he's not just a big plutocrat who has money that he throws around. He's been in the arena. And the fact is we'll see --

RICH LOWRY:

It could be an amazing thing. If it became a Bloomberg-Bernie race, you'd have the two likely candidates being basically outside the Democratic Party --

CHUCK TODD:

Neither one of them were Democrats five years ago.

RICH LOWRY:

So it just goes to the disenchantment with party establishments and with institutions that you've seen on both sides.

CHUCK TODD:

We've seen the breakup of both parties. They just still have their names. I'm sorry. I mean, it does feel that way.

TOM BROKAW:

Well, frankly that's the nature of what we're going through in life. And it's not just in politics. It's in social issues. It's in the economy. Everything is changing. We're a very dynamic country in a very dynamic time. You know, and we've got in play young people, middle-aged people, and old folks like me.

CHUCK TODD:

Kay, this is a Chiefs state, isn't it, for tonight?

O. KAY HENDERSON:

It is.

CHUCK TODD:

So if the Chiefs win --

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Go Chiefs.

CHUCK TODD:

-- a good mood electorate --

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

-- tomorrow. If the Chiefs lose, a bad mood electorate, huh?

O. KAY HENDERSON:

Kind of.

CHUCK TODD:

And who would that help? Bad mood helps? Good mood helps? No, I'm just kidding. I'm not going to make you do that. Thank you, Kay. That is all from Iowa today. And thank you for watching. We'll be back next week from where else? Manchester, New Hampshire. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.