Meet the Press - January 5, 2020

Breaking News Emails

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

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday: growing tensions. The US kills a top Iranian military commander, sparking fears of an all-out war.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We took action last night to stop a war. We did not take action to start a war.

CHUCK TODD:

The administration insists Qasem Soleimani was in the late stages of planning attacks on Americans.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Last night was the time that we needed to strike to make sure that this imminent attack that he was working actively was disrupted.

CHUCK TODD:

Tens of thousands across Iran gather to mourn Soleimani as Iran and President Trump exchange new threats. I'll talk to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this morning. Plus -- Iran and 2020. Democrats applaud the killing of an American enemy, but warn of the consequences.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

Donald Trump seems to have no plan. He seems to have no strategy.

CHUCK TODD:

And take on each other. Bernie Sanders hits Joe Biden for his, quote, baggage and Biden responds.

JOE BIDEN:

Bernie's got enough baggage.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning I'll talk to Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren. And impeachment fight. The Senate's two leaders clash over the Senate trial to come.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL:

They've done enough damage. It's the Senate's turn now to render sober judgment as the framers envisioned.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER:

Leader McConnell has been clear and vocal that he has no intention to be impartial in this process.

CHUCK TODD:

Democratic Senator Mark Warner will be my guest. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt, Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Betsy Woodruff Swan of The Daily Beast and the former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory. 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:

Well, a good Sunday morning and a happy New Year to everyone. President Trump begins 2020 facing three challenges: impeachment, an emboldened North Korea, and of course, most urgently, Iran. Where a week of hostilities that included Iranian-backed militants laying siege to the US embassy in Baghdad ended with the US killing Iran's chief security and intelligence commander, General Qasem Soleimani. The immediate result has been the deepest crisis with Iran since the seizure of 52 American hostages in 1979. Iran has promised a "harsh revenge" at a time and place of its choosing. The US is sending even more troops into the region, while urging American citizens to get out of Iraq. And President Trump is warning that the US has targeted 52 Iranian sites in case Iran does retaliate. US officials are warning an attack in the homeland may come with little or no warning. Less immediate is the impact in a number of other areas for President Trump. In 2012, he accused then-President Obama of somehow seeking war with Iran as a way to help his reelection chances. Well, Thursday's strike could be seen as an effort to overshadow impeachment, it has, and help the president in November. We don't know. In the Democratic race, could this now mean Joe Biden's foreign policy experience becomes a bigger asset? Or could Bernie Sanders benefit from his consistent opposition to overseas conflicts? And how will voters themselves react to President Trump escalating tensions again in the Middle East, given that he, as a candidate, promised to pull America out of endless Middle East conflicts? We begin our coverage in Iraq, with our chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, who is in the northern city of Erbil. Richard, you're in Iraq, where the attack took place, but I want to go to the other side of that border to Iran. From our reporting, what you've gathered, the mood in Iran two weeks ago, they had domestic political issues. They were divided in that country. How divided do they seem today?

RICHARD ENGEL:

Well, a lot less divided. A couple of weeks ago there were violent protests on the streets of Tehran and in many other cities, with people saying that the government should change, should even be overthrown. Now, young people in Tehran, old people in Tehran, are uniting behind the government in a way that they haven't been in a very long time. So if the US wanted to isolate the regime, if President Trump wanted to put the regime on the ropes, it seems to have done just the opposite.

CHUCK TODD:

The immediate impact could be in Iraq. We know the parliament there in Iraq is meeting today, and the future of US forces in Iraq could be at stake here. Is it possible that taking out Soleimani, while something that many American leaders have wanted to see happen, is the cost going to be America getting kicked out of Iraq?

RICHARD ENGEL:

It's possible. There are many, particularly Shiite leaders in this country, who plan to ask for just that. They would say that the US presence is no longer constructive, it's no longer helpful, and it's time for the Americans to leave. But that comes with an enormous cost. The last time that Iraq effectively kicked out the United States and made it impossible for US troops to stay here with a Status of Forces Agreement, the country basically collapsed into civil war.

CHUCK TODD:

Based on your reporting and assessments, what does an Iranian retaliation look like? Is it conventional? Is it asymmetrical?

RICHARD ENGEL:

Most likely asymmetrical. What Qasem Soleimani built, and why he's so popular in Iran, is he built an outer layer of armor that protected the Iranian homeland, a network of Shia militia groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite militias here in Iraq, also alliances in Syria. And that outer network is now angry, mobilized, and could be directed to carry out attacks. Could those attacks be in the Persian Gulf against shipping lanes? Already the UK is sending two more warships to protect British shipping interests in the Persian Gulf. So I think you would likely see some sort of asymmetrical attack through these proxies. But the problem is, the US doesn't fight with proxies, the US would likely see this kind of attack and respond with conventional weapons, and then we're in a shooting war.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, you've done --

RICHARD ENGEL:

But we will see. But there is --

CHUCK TODD:

-- you've covered a lot.

RICHARD ENGEL:

-- a lot of risk right now if Iran responds.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, you've covered a lot of risk in the Middle East, how much déjà vu are you having?

RICHARD ENGEL:

Well, when I saw the 82nd Airborne getting those packs and heading back to the region yesterday, and then there was a rocket attack into the green zone, and I'm once again here on a rooftop in Iraq talking about Shiite militias and troops coming to the region, I thought, wow, we are back in 2007 at the peak of the violence here, when the US was fighting on multiple fronts against ISIS. It was Al Qaeda then, now it's ISIS, and against Shia militias, and Iran, and Iraq back in play. Who knew we wanted those days to come back?

CHUCK TODD:

Richard Engel, reporting for us in Erbil, Iraq. Richard, thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. Secretary Pompeo, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, it's good to be with you this morning.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with the shooting, the strike against Soleimani, the killing of him. He's been a threat to the United States, to U.S. interests for years. Why now? Why was it urgent this week?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, you've captured it. We've all known about Qasem Soleimani for a long time. He's been a terrorist. He's a designated terrorist. He's someone who has inflicted many deaths on Americans, over 600 in Iraq and countless other places. He was even connected to what happened in Beirut so many years ago. You would know this, too, Chuck. This was different in the sense of we've seen recent deaths, recent killing on December 27th, the strike, an operation conducted by Qatif Hezbollah, directly orchestrated by Soleimani himself, killed an American. We could see that he was continuing down this path, that there were in fact plots that he was working on that were aimed directly at significant harm to American interests throughout the region, not just in Iraq. President Trump made the decision this was the time to stop this reign of terror from this guy who was the glue, who put this all together, who was the IRGC leader for, goodness, a couple of decades, and who had put so much pain and suffering on the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

Why are you --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

And frankly, the people in the region, too. Hundreds of thousands --

CHUCK TODD:

Why are you confident --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

--of deaths in Syria, millions displaced in Syria. He's a bad guy, and it was time to take him out.

CHUCK TODD:

Why are you confident that -- They've already promoted his deputy. The Ayatollah's already, you know, basically, you know, pumped this guy up, his replacement. Why are you convinced -- If there is an imminent operational attack getting put together against American interests, why are you convinced that taking out Soleimani has done anything to stop it?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

We would have been culpably negligent had we not taken this action. The American people would have said that we weren't doing the right thing to protect and defend American lives. President Trump has been crystal clear --

CHUCK TODD:

Is it that imminent? Is the threat --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

-- Has been crystal clear.

CHUCK TODD:

Is what -- the attacks he was putting together so imminent and so big it would have been seen as that kind of negligence?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

He made the right decision. There was lots of intelligence. You've seen some of it's out in the public, right? The death of the American on December 27. We had intelligence on a go-forward basis of risk as well. The president made the right decision. We will reduce risk. I think General Milley said, "Is there still risk of attack? Of course there is." There's tremendous risk. We're doing everything we can to make sure that we take that down and protect American life. That's the mission set. When the president laid out his national security strategy three years ago, this is all in the context of a larger American strategy to create peace and stability in the Middle East. A key element of that is taking down Qasem Soleimani, who has been such a destabilizing force in the region for so long.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay I just -- So was the justification in that he's been this destabilizing force in the region for so long? Or was the justification this imminent threat?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, it's never one thing. You've been at this a long time. The American people are smart, too. It's never one moment. It's never one instance. It's a collective. It's a full situational awareness of risk and analysis. And I am confident and the intelligence community presented us a set of facts that made clear that the risk from doing nothing exceeded the risk of taking the action that we took. And we made the right decision. We protected and defended the American people. And as President Trump has said repeatedly, as he tweeted again just last night, we will continue to take all actions necessary to preserve, and protect, and defend America.

CHUCK TODD:

Can you confidently say America's safer today?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

How do you, how do you square that statement with the fact we’re bringing -- that you're advising American citizens essentially to leave the region if -- particularly Iraq? We have the Homeland Security Department bracing Americans for cyberattacks, saying that, you know, "We know the Iranians had been through our infrastructure. It is likely to happen, and there won't be a warning from it." It doesn't sound like we're safer today after this.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Yeah, Chuck, we're definitely safer today. 100% certainty that America is safer today.

CHUCK TODD:

Then why did we put out that warning after --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the Soleimani -- I mean, we do expect retaliations against American citizens now, correct?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, you're concentrating on the second and the moment. President Trump is focused deeply on keeping America safe over the long haul. Preserving, protecting, defending America is the mission that we have. It may be that there's a little noise here in the interim, that the Iranians make a choice to respond. I hope that they don't. President Trump has made clear what we will do in response if they do, that our response will be decisive and vigorous, just as it has been so far. But we're going to take all actions necessary, not only in Iraq but throughout the region to protect Americans, American citizens, as well as my diplomats and service members who are serving overseas. We're always going to do the right thing to protect America, and I am confident that the decision we made to take down this terrorist, this designated terrorist who had inflicted so much harm over such an extended period, was the right course of action to reduce risk to America.

CHUCK TODD:

During the State Department briefing on Friday, the aides that were -- not put on name, but there was a lot of confidence being expressed without a lot of evidence that you thought, "No, the Iranians aren’t going to -- they might -- they likely won't retaliate." Why do you think they won't? Why do you have this potential confidence that they may not retaliate?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, we're prepared for everything. I'm not going to get into the game of predictions. We have intelligence. We have lots of reconnaissance. We have good observation of what's taking place. What we're doing is preparing for all possible courses of action that the Iranian regime may take, and we are driving, we are driving a strategy that we have had in place now for three years, diplomatic, economic, now military, to convince the Iranian regime to simply behave like a normal nation and to raise the cost when they inflict harm on America if they don't.

CHUCK TODD:

You guys talk about a maximum pressure campaign. You just outlined it now. You went through what we've been going through the last three years. The fact that you've had to go to military, doesn't that tell you that sanctions haven't worked and the maximum pressure campaign is not working?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Just the opposite, Chuck. We suffered from eight years of Iranian support from America. We gave them billions of dollars. We gave them resources. We allowed countries to trade with them, to build up their economy. What we are now having to correct for is the enormous economic activity that took place during this Iranian nuclear deal that President Trump rightly got out of in May of 2018. It's taken a little bit of time, and it will continue to take time, but we are going to restore deterrence. We just had a big hill to climb up, Chuck. We've seen hundreds of thousands of people killed in Syria. Millions have to depart the region. We've seen Lebanese Hezbollah, Hamas, the PIJ in Gaza Strip, all of these terrorist organizations, the Shi'a militias, the Shi'a militias that we are now challenged to push back against today, all underwritten by American policy in the Obama administration. We've flipped the switch. We're draining those resources. We're going to protect America and keep American people safe.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. How do we get out of a cycle of escalating violence? I want to -- the president tweeted yesterday, saying this, "We have targeted 52 Iranian sites," representing, he said, the 52 American hostages taken back in 1979. And he said to Iran, "Those targets in Iran itself we'll hit very fast, very hard." Even noted there were cultural sites that were being targeted. Is that already being lined up at the Pentagon, that we have our response ready for whatever Iran -- and we have target sites here, these 52 targets sites? Can you confirm that?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Chuck, the American people should know that we have prepared for this, that we are ready --

CHUCK TODD:

We're going to target cultural --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

-- that our responses, that our responses are lawful, and that the president will take every action necessary to respond should Iran decide to escalate. We hope that they don't. We've communicated clearly, crisply to them with respect to what it is we have as an expectation. And we have communicated clearly and crisply what we will do in response if they choose another path. We hope that they will not, but we are prepared in the event that they choose to do so.

CHUCK TODD:

Finally, what do you tell the families that have -- there are some Americans being held hostage by this Iranian regime. What do you tell Americans right now who -- you know, I know they've been working with you at the State Department. Those families who probably look at this and think, "Okay, whatever progress we were making, no more progress." Is that what these families have to prepare for, that maybe their loved ones are going to be there longer, not shorter?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

I love these families. They are suffering greatly. They're suffering from the very Iranian regime we're seeking to counter. Most of these folks were taken during the previous administration. It was a policy that was designed to guarantee that the Iranian regime would have power, authority, capacity to take Americans, but not only Americans. Other Westerners, too.Those families should know that we've built out a coalition. We're patrolling the Straits of Hormuz with that coalition. There's an air defense strategy attached to the coalition. We've gotten multiple countries now to sanction Mahan Air. We have built out a strategy that will ultimately put America in a place where the Iranian regime will no longer threaten American hostages. And they should know this, too. We have worked diligently to get those held in Iran back. We had one return just within the last several weeks. We continue to work on that process, to get every American held anywhere in the world, including by the kleptocrats and theocrats in Iran, to get them to return American hostages. We will never give up on that mission.

CHUCK TODD:

Finally, last question. If targeting Soleimani is not regime change, then what are we advocating, if not regime change?

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

As I said before, Chuck, we clearly stated our strategy for three years. We want the regime to change its behavior. And ultimately, the leadership in Iran will be determined by the Iranian people. We saw the protests. I am confident we will continue to see protests. They weren't protesting against America. They weren't protesting, saying, "Death to America." They were demanding that the Iranian leadership behave in a way that takes care of the Iranian people. I am confident that the American support that we provide to that and support that's provided from countries in the region and around the world will continue to support the Iranian people in their quest for freedom.

CHUCK TODD:

Secretary Pompeo, I'm going to have to leave it there.

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you for coming on and sharing --

SECRETARY MIKE POMPEO:

Yes, sir.

CHUCK TODD:

--your views, sir. Appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia. Senator Warner, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. MARK WARNER:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You're one of the few Democratic lawmakers who's at least been briefed after the fact.

SEN. MARK WARNER:

After the fact, on Friday.

CHUCK TODD:

I know nobody -- apparently nobody other than Lindsey Graham may have gotten a briefing before the fact. I want to focus on this threat that -- and you heard what the Secretary of State said there. How -- you've been briefed about what this threat was. How imminent does it seem? And is it any different than what Soleimani's been doing over the last decade?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

I accept the notion that there was a real threat. The question of how imminent is something that I need more information on. Let's step back for a moment and look at what's happened. America always has to be strong but also smart. Strong in the sense that we always need to protect our people and our interests. And Soleimani was a bad guy. There's no question about that. But we also have to be smart. And there's three things that I didn't hear from the secretary and I have not heard from the administration. First, over the last month, we've seen across the region great pushback against Iran, not only in Iran itself from the people protesting against the regime. In Lebanon, where people were on the street, saying, "Too much Iranian influence." In Iraq even, where people were protesting against the Iranian-backed militias. That anti-Iranian effort now seems to have transformed as we've seen the images and over the last 24 hours into anti- American activity.

CHUCK TODD:

So you're concerned that Soleimani now is being used to --

SEN. MARK WARNER:

Soleimani could be --

CHUCK TODD:

-- rally?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

--a rallying force not only within Iran but, as we may hear later today, even in Iraq, where we may be now asked to leave. Let me just finish two other points --

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, there's breaking news. The prime minister of Iraq is recommending that.

SEN. MARK WARNER:

Which, again, how does that make us stronger? Secondly, there is usually a Congressional consulting process. It's both constitutionally required, but it's also important because one, you potentially get members of Congress to buy in ahead of time, and two they may ask that hard question that's not asked in an insular group. And three you consult your allies, because we don't want to go this alone. And what we've already seen by not consulting particularly with our NATO allies, we've seen that the NATO forces in Iraq have already stopped training the Iraqi troops. That, again, does not make us stronger.

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

CHUCK TODD:

How do we get out of this now? The reason I say this is like -- you know, it's sort of that -- what Colin Powell used to call the Pottery Barn Rule. It's broken. Soleimani's been killed. The Iranians are going to retaliate. Does the American -- can you imagine us not retaliating against that retaliation? And would that be prudent?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

Well, again, Soleimani, taking him out was a big thing. This is one of the top three leaders in Iran. And thinking through all those consequences, if you take this action, that's what I want to hear from the administration that I have not heard so far. I know the secretary of state is trying in his own words to deescalate. I'm not sure the president by his kind of taunting tweets is necessarily trying to escalate. I'm not sure how we will be seen as both stronger and smarter if we have our Iraqi allies asking us to leave, if our NATO allies don't feel like they're going to be informed before we take this kind of action, and frankly if the people in the region that were against the Iranian regime all across the region are now rallying against America.

CHUCK TODD:

Let's say there's a Democratic president coming next. How does the next administration -- Iran's not going to deal with any presidential administration for a while. They're not going to trust anything. So it feels like we're going to get backed into something here, backed into a military conflict whether we like it or not.

SEN. MARK WARNER:

I hope and pray that's not the case. But how we get a path off this in a way where you can bring the American people, you can bring allies, you can bring people in the region, those are the questions that I think we all, Democrats and Republicans, need to ask the administration this week.

CHUCK TODD:

I know diplomacy is never supposed -- there’s never supposed to be -- it's never too late for diplomacy, but with this Iranian regime is it?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

Well, there was a reason why under regime -- under administrations, Democratic and Republican alike in the past, President Obama, both President Bushes, President Clinton, you go through that process of working with your allies, you go through the process of consulting with Congress. You don't always get it right, but you always try to be both strong and smart. Taking out Soleimani, it may have some short-term benefit, but the smartness in terms of in the region with our allies and bringing along the American people, I think the jury is really out on that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me ask you a question I think many viewers are probably wondering for any of these senators -- for any of you senators right now. There's supposed to be an impeachment trial at some point. We've got the situation with Iran. What should be the focus of Congress right now?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

I think Congress has to do both of our constitutional responsibilities. One, protect the American people and be a coequal branch of government with the administration to make sure that we keep Americans safe. Secondly, we also have to take on the responsibility of what's going to come over at some point from the House, and that's to conduct a full and fair trial.

CHUCK TODD:

You said, "At some point." Should Speaker Pelosi send these over tomorrow?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

Listen I think -- I still have hopes that as we all step up and take that oath to be impartial jurors, that there can be agreement amongst the senators, all of our colleagues, that we ought to make sure we get the facts. And part of the facts ought to be let's make sure we hear from people with direct knowledge of what happened, in the case of the situation with Ukraine. We've seen already in the last couple of weeks over the holidays where information has trickled out with additional documents. Why wouldn't we want to have that information before we hear? This could actually exonerate the president, but you've got to be able to have that information and these individuals come forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Right. I guess do you still advise, do you think the Speaker should withhold the articles until she gets some assurances on what the trial looks like?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

I still think when the senators come back, take that oath to be impartial jurors, that the responsibility that that will put upon us, that we'll find a path to get the information we need just to have that full and fair trial. I want to get this behind us, but we've got to have the information.

CHUCK TODD:

You didn't directly answer this question. Do you think this is a good strategy by her or not?

SEN. MARK WARNER:

I'm going to let the Speaker decide that. I am going to also say though that I think the seriousness of this, particularly when we've got these issues involving Iran and, you know, the protection of Americans at stake, I hope we'll all take a deep breath and say, "Let's go through this in a full, orderly, responsible process." And that's going to require frankly access to some of these documents and at least letting the people who were the president's own men have a chance to come in and tell their story.

CHUCK TODD:

Mark Warner, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Happy new year, sir.

SEN. MARK WARNER:

Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back, the rising tensions with Iran have added quite the new wrinkle to the presidential race. Up next, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Perhaps no one has had a more up-and-down run so far for the Democratic nomination than Elizabeth Warren. The senator from Massachusetts started the race in single digits. After some strong debate performances, her candidacy and fundraising boomed, putting her at the top of some national polls.Since then, Warren has slipped a bit, into third place nationally behind Biden and Sanders, though not very far behind, after coming under attack though for how realistic her plans are. And so joining me now from Dubuque, Iowa is the Democratic senator, presidential candidate, Elizabeth Warren. Senator Warren, what are we? Twenty-nine days from caucus day, right?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

That's right. Every one counts.

CHUCK TODD:

Every one counts, and every hour and second counts. Before I get to the campaign, I want to ask you about the situation in Iran, what the Secretary of State claimed. He said not acting, not taking Soleimani out, that the consequences would have been worse than not acting. So far from what you've learned, what do you believe was the right call here?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

Look, we are not safer because Donald Trump had Soleimani killed. We are much closer to the edge of war. The question is: Why now? Why not a month ago? Why not a month from now? And the administration simply can't keep its story straight. It points in all different directions.

The last time we saw this was this past summer over Ukraine. When people started asking questions about what had happened on the phone call between Donald Trump and the president of Ukraine and why aid to Ukraine had been stopped, the administration did the same thing. They pointed in all different directions and gave a whole lot of different answers. And of course what it turned out to be is that Donald Trump was doing what Donald Trump does. And that is he was advancing his own personal political interest. And I think the question people reasonably ask --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think that's happening here?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

I think the question people reasonably ask is, "Next week Donald Trump faces the start potentially of an impeachment trial. And why now?" I think people are starting to ask, "Why now did he do this? Why not delay?" And why this one is so dangerous is that he is truly taking us right to the edge of war. And that is something that puts us at risk. It puts the Middle East at risk. It puts the entire world at risk.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, you brought up the impeachment trial. You're right. I mean there’s -- two weeks ago if you had asked me what would this show have been about, I would have assumed we would be previewing the start of this trial that might have been starting tomorrow or Tuesday. It is not now. It sounds like you believe -- you want to investigate and find out if this is a motivation.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

Well, I think that people are asking, "Why this moment?" You know, as I said, the administration can't keep its story straight. And in the case of Ukraine, it was all about protecting Donald Trump's skin. We know that Donald Trump is very upset about this upcoming impeachment trial, but look what he's doing now. He is taking us to the edge of war. We've been at were for 20 years in the Middle East. And now, he's talking about expanding that war. This has been something that has cost of thousands of American lives. It has cost us enormously in many ways, both at home and around the world. And at the same time, look what it's done to the Middle East. Millions of people who've been killed, who've been injured, who've been displaced. The job of the president is to keep us safer.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me --

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

The job of the president is not to move us to the edge of war.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me turn to the campaign. You surprised some people. You came out in favor, somewhat reluctantly I think in the way you put it out there, for USMCA, NAFTA 2.0. But here's what you said about it a year ago. Let me play that.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

Trump's deal won't stop the serious and ongoing harm NAFTA causes American workers. It won't stop outsourcing. It won't raise wages. And it won't create jobs.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

What changed in your mind?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

The deal. Democrats got in and negotiated a very different deal than we had a year ago. And I really want to give credit to people like Jan Schakowsky, who got the whole giveaway to the drug industry pulled out; and Rosa DeLauro; Sherrod Brown, who made sure that we actually had some enforcement of worker protections in the deal. Look, this is not a great arrangement. It's a better -- It’s an improvement over where NAFTA stands right now. Look at the box the president has put us in with farmers. Farmers have just had their legs taken out from under them in one trade war after another that Donald Trump has initiated on his own. Farmers need help. They're in real trouble.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me --

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

And they get some help from this arrangement. Same thing with workers. Workers are in trouble. They need some help.

CHUCK TODD:

As you know, Senator Sanders still is against this deal, using similar rhetoric that you have. Let me ask it this way. You have backed off a bit on your Medicare-for-all plans, meaning you want to let the public sort of take a -- get traction on it first. You've reversed course a bit here on NAFTA from where you were to where you are now. What should voters take away from this about you?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

I want to be practical on the trade deal. If we can get some improvement for our farmers who are suffering, if we can get some improvement in enforcement for our workers, then I want to see us do that. And then as president, I want to see us negotiate a very different kind of trade deal. And the kind of trade deal that we should be negotiating is one that starts with the fact that everybody wants access to America's market. That means we should be using that leverage to raise environmental standards all around the world, to raise labor standards around the world. We should negotiate for a better deal, not just to back out of this box. But we should also provide relief right now to the farmers who are suffering, to the workers who are suffering. That's how I see it. I see the same kind of thing on health care. We need to make improvement. You know what I'll do on day one as president? I'll defend the Affordable Care Act against the sabotage of the Trump administration, and I'll reduce the cost of prescription drugs that have been jacked up by the pharmaceutical industry. I'll reduce the cost of EpiPens and insulin, and HIV/AIDS drugs. The president has the authority to do that all by herself, doesn't need Congress. And that's what I'm going to do. I want to get --

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN:

-- as much relief to as many people as quickly as we can. I think that ought to be the job of the president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, coming to us from Iowa. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. Stay safe on the trail.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN:

Thank you for having me here.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. When we come back, the growing tensions with Iran, impeachment, the Democratic race. How's that for a 2020 kickoff? Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, the panel is here. Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Betsy Woodruff Swan of The Daily Beast, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent, host of Kasie DC on MSNBC, Kasie Hunt, your first appearance here at NBC since having a child.

KASIE HUNT:

Yeah, thrilled to be here, Chuck. Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Your child is out of this world. And the former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory. I want to start with a little bit of campaign rhetoric from candidate Donald Trump. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

DONALD TRUMP:

The current strategy of toppling regimes with no plan for what to do the day after only produces power vacuums that are filled simply by terrorists. Enough endless war. It's time to have a real plan for victory. They've dragged us into foreign wars that make us less safe.

[END CLIP]

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to get into the substance in a minute, but Pat McCrory, I'm going to start with that political -- does the president have a potential long-term political box he may be in now with Iran, in that he may have, he may end up in a war whether he likes it or not?

PAT MCCRORY:

Well, any president dealing with the Middle East is put into this situation throughout my lifetime. But the fact of the matter is there's a lot of hypocrisy. We had one U.S. Senator just two weeks ago call the president and our country impotent, because of not responding to the attack against our embassy. And yet when the president killed a terrorist who was hiding behind the Iranian flag, but he was really a terrorist who was only 15 miles away from our embassy, he’s then called by Democratic leaders incompetent, unstable, act of war, terrorist. Just verbal attacks by our Democratic leaders, and that's making him more weak. Because I think the Democrats, at this point in time, went too far in their rhetoric in making our country weaker in responding now to the Iranians' possible counterattack.

CHUCK TODD:

Wait, are you implying that the president over-responded here because of this -- these Democratic attacks?

PAT MCCRORY:

No, no, I'm saying --

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, I’m conf --

PAT MCCRORY:

-- No, I'm saying the president, when he did respond --

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

PAT MCCRORY:

-- now the Democrats have made these very personal attacks. In fact, they could almost be speaking points for the Iranian regime. We can't make our president the villain in this. We can disagree with our president. I have no problem with that. But I think the Democrats are playing this wrong --

CHUCK TODD:

Kasie, what's --

PAT MCCRORY:

-- at this point in time.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the appetite on Capitol Hill here, both sides of the aisle?

KASIE HUNT:

Well, I think for the Republicans the challenge here is, you know, they do not want to be seen not defending this president. So even if they have reservations, they are holding back those reservations. The Republicans I've talked to behind the scenes are focused on making the argument that this was legal, that this was a lawful attack, that this man was a terrorist. I mean, I think the distinction that you made at the flag is the important one from the legal perspective. Was this person an actor of the Iranian state?

CHUCK TODD:

The Secretary of State --

KASIE HUNT:

But I think --

CHUCK TODD:

-- kept saying the word, "Terrorist, terrorist, terrorist," over again.

KASIE HUNT:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

And that wasn't an accident.

KASIE HUNT:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

We've got a counselor over here to help.

KASIE HUNT:

It's very telling. I think, you know, for Democrats, this is, and you heard this from Mark Warner, this is a tricky line to walk. You know, they have to see the intelligence. Most of them haven't. I thought the fact that Warner was willing to acknowledge that there was a threat, he said, "Okay, I buy that," is telling. Now, the question, of course, is it imminent or not? But for this president, from a political perspective, I mean, do you want Democrats, a month out from Iowa, to be talking about how we shouldn't be going after Iran, perhaps.

CHUCK TODD:

Betsy, it did seem as if the Secretary of State backed off a little bit on how imminent this threat was.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

That's right. And what he didn't say, but what's important to know in the context of talking about how the administration thinks about Iran is the way the president's advisors who supported this Iran move are making the case for it behind the scenes, is they're saying, "Look, obviously it's not proportional to kill a military commander in response to the killing of a US civilian." They know they're vaulting multiple steps up the escalatory ladder, and that's very much by design, because they want to change how Iran's calculus towards to United States is working. Whether or not that bet pays off is very much up in the air. We don't know. But it's a dramatic change from the prior administration.

CHUCK TODD:

Jeh, before you were Homeland Security Secretary, you were counselor at the Defense Department.

JEH JOHNSON:

Correct.

CHUCK TODD:

So explain for viewers, why does Mike Pompeo keep saying terrorist? There is a legal reason he keeps saying the word terrorist, isn't there?

JEH JOHNSON:

No, not necessarily. If you believe everything that our government is saying about General Soleimani, he was a lawful military objective, and the president, under his constitutional authority as commander in chief, had ample domestic legal authority to take him out without an additional congressional authorization. Whether he was a terrorist or a general in a military force that was engaged in armed attacks against our people, he was a lawful military objective. But that's not the only question here. For a very long time, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, had been engaged in what we refer to now as shadow warfare with the Iranian government. And last Thursday night was what we refer to as a decapitation strike, where we've taken out a very high profile member of the Iranian government. That is a provocative, in your face act, where you kill a senior member of the Iranian government and you say, "Yes, I did it." And I hope that this administration has carefully considered the second and third order of effects of that one very plain second order effect, which any foreign officer could predict is the reaction in Iraq. With the growing Shia political influence in that country --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

JEH JOHNSON:

-- we face the very real prospect that the Iraqi government will want us out of that country.

PAT MCCRORY:

You know, one piece of feedback I got at the Charlotte Airport last night, outside the beltway, from some citizens, and they said, "What took us so long?" Because this guy was only 15 miles, only 15 miles from the embassy that was attacked just days earlier. And I think people are now going, "Wait a minute, this guy was," they keep using the term "proxy." "This guy was running proxy." No, that means he was running terrorist groups, under, again, being protected by the flag of Iran. And I think he, this general was walking a fine line, and I think a rather arrogant line --

KASIE HUNT:

Nobody's arguing that this guy was, you know, nobody's arguing that this man was a good actor on the world stage. I think --

PAT MCCRORY:

No, I'm arguing that he --

KASIE HUNT:

-- the question is --

PAT MCCRORY:

-- wasn't just Iranian.

KASIE HUNT:

-- was the risk of taking him out worth it for Americans?

JEH JOHNSON:

What are the implications?

PAT MCCRORY:

That's a fair question, and we don't know the answer to that, and won't know for maybe a long time.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

We might know pretty fast though, because the response from the Iraqis is currently underway --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

-- in parliament, in Baghdad. And I can tell you, it's front of mind to American intel and defense officials, exactly what's happening in this 24 hour period. When they gave a briefing, it was classified behind doors to Senate staff on Friday, there was an extensive discussion, according to my sources familiar with the briefing --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

-- specifically about how the Iraqi parliament was responding and how to dissuade them from voting other push out US troops.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we know what happened the last time. Jeh Johnson, very quickly, your former department put out a very alarming alert last night.

JEH JOHNSON:

It was very candid.

CHUCK TODD:

Very candid. The Iranians ability to cyber-attack us, could they -- could they temporarily cripple cities?

JEH JOHNSON:

We have to prepare for that very distinct possibility. The National Threat Advisory put out last night said that the Iranian government could strike with little or no notice, on a moment's notice, and that Hezbollah has demonstrated the capability and intent to strike the homeland. That's a very candid statement.

CHUCK TODD:

And again, they put that statement out after the Soleimani attack. All right, when we come back, the 2020 census. It gets to determine which states gain or lose House seats, and therefore electoral votes. Why both parties seek promise and peril, and the new battleground map that is coming. That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, Data Download time. 2020 isn't just a presidential election year, it's also a census year. And this is what is going to determine how many electoral votes each state gets. And we already have a pretty good sense of where things are headed. First: the losers. The firm Election Data Services found that these ten states are likely to lose a House seat, and therefore an electoral college vote after 2020. Five states that went Republican, as you can see, in 2016 and five that went Democratic. All right, tie game so far. There are some clear winners here. All of these states are gaining one electoral vote after the census is done. Three of them are red states in 2016, two of them blue. But the biggest winners? Perennial battleground state Florida, they get two more electoral votes. They are now going to be over 30, sitting at 31. And then there's Texas, gaining the most with three. That means Texas will have a whopping 41 electoral votes in 2024, a huge development in a red state where demographic changes are inching it towards swing state status. By the way, 72 electoral votes just for Florida and Texas. Think about that. Throw in California, now you get the picture. If Texas is in play, it would mean not only a new political map, but a whole new political battlefield. When we come back, Endgame and the number of the day, 29. That's how many days are left until the Iowa caucuses.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. There is a presidential race taking place in 29 days. Betsy, quickly on Elizabeth Warren's interview, I thought it was interesting that she decided to go right there with Iran and impeachment, that she saw them connected.

BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN:

The wag the dog allegations are not a surprise, but it's still significant for her to suggest that the president engaged in this strike for sort of underhanded political motives. One thing that Warren's rivals noticed, and several staffers for rival campaigns flagged this to me, was that she basically put out two different statements on the death of Soleimani. At first she said, "Soleimani, terrible person," and then the next day followed up with a tweet calling it an assassination, a term that in this case actually has significant legal weight. Her rival campaigns are pointing to that and saying it's an example of her struggling to try to keep, you know, both ends of the Democratic Party happy.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to put up an example here. Bernie has gone on the attack a little bit. He went on the attack on Biden, and it was over foreign policy. He said that, "It's just a lot of baggage that Joe takes into a campaign." The baggage he's referring to in this case is the Iraq War vote, Kasie Hunt. And he also yesterday went after Pete Buttigieg in a fundraising email. I do want to focus on Sanders v. Biden here, because I do think the Iran backdrop presents an interesting contrast. We don't know if voters are going to look at this on the Democratic side of the aisle and say, "Steady hand, Joe Biden," or, "How about the guy who was always against the interventions here?" I don't think we know how Democratic voters are going to react.

KASIE HUNT:

And I was talking to some sources about this very question yesterday inside the campaigns. And I think it really depends and who you're trying to talk to. And if you're Joe Biden, you're thinking a lot about swing voters, about voters who like the strong posture. And the arguments they're making are essentially that you go with a guy that's the steady hand. I mean, that is the entire argument behind their whole campaign right now, right? A return to a more normal version of this. You know, I think the question is going to be, how much do the base voters remember and think through Iraq as a motivating factor? I mean, that was what swept Obama into office in 2008. I think the question is, you know, are people kind of past that? You know, or are they seeing that in this kind of a context and are willing to make a bet on Bernie Sanders over it?

CHUCK TODD:

Jeh, the establishment of the Democratic Party in the foreign policy community is not popular with the base of the Democratic Party either. I mean, Biden's positions and Bernie's positions are different for a reason.

JEH JOHNSON:

Yes. And foreign policy, as you know, does not typically loom large in an election, in a primary debate, but it did in '07-'08 because of that Iraq War vote. And Obama was on record opposing the Iraq War at the time. Democratic primary voters, as I think Kasie has said, basically focus on who's going to be stable? Who's going to be thoughtful, versus somebody who is completely dovish? Who's going to be careful about getting us into another armed conflict? And it's not, you know, who's the most bullish and who's the biggest saber rattler.

CHUCK TODD:

Pat, the hit of the wag the dog hit on the president here, how concerned should he be about that perception? I mean, look, you have the country, we're pretty split, half the country doesn't believe what comes out of the president's mouth --

PAT MCCRORY:

I'm more concerned about not the politics of it, but our country. Because at this time I think our country has got to have one voice on foreign policy. I don't mean the criticism, it's the type of criticism and the accusations being incurred so shortly after --

CHUCK TODD:

But isn't this on the president --

PAT MCCRORY:

-- the attack.

CHUCK TODD:

-- I mean, didn't he sort of bring this upon himself, because he doesn't choose to speak with one voice? Or, I mean, look at --

PAT MCCRORY:

No. I think--

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, by the way, there's always a tweet. Let me put up some old tweets here of Donald Trump, citizen Donald Trump in 2012. This is what he said about Iran and Barack Obama. He said, "Watch out, I predict President Obama will at some point attack Iran in order to save face." The point being, there's always a tweet. There's always a way where this candidate Trump behaved in a way that he's now upset that people behave against him.

PAT MCCRORY:

And today we have presidential candidates on the Democratic side citing pledges that they'll never get into a long-term war. I mean, this always happens in every political campaign. Until you get to office, you don't know what you're really going to confront. Interesting, two names in the Democrats that we're not talking about that I saw millions of dollars' worth of ads for during the NFL games last night, Steyer and Bloomberg. Steyer, which is spending millions showing us pictures of him growing up, I don't know where he's going. Bloomberg, it was very interesting seeing his ads. And he didn't bring up --

CHUCK TODD:

I'm glad you --

PAT MCCRORY:

-- outlawing Slurpees, but he's bringing up a whole issue of healthcare in New York City. I found that very interesting to see if that gets any legs --

CHUCK TODD:

I'm glad you brought that up, because I was struck too. You're like, "What? Tom Steyer?" You know, and Bloomberg, I don't know how voters will wonder about this in a month.

KASIE HUNT:

Yeah, I mean, I will say I came back to a presidential field after four months of being away that looks considerably different than the one that we had in September --

CHUCK TODD:

It did

KASIE HUNT:

-- I will say that when you look at the actual process, and Chuck, you know this better than anybody, there've been campaigns in the past that have tried to skip the first four states, gotten in really late. I mean, Rudy Giuliani knows this better than anybody, that you know, that strategy has not worked in the past --

CHUCK TODD:

A former New York City mayor, yeah.

KASIE HUNT:

And people will say, you know, you look at how you accrue delegates to actually win a Democratic nomination. There are not very many Bloomberg-Biden districts out there.

CHUCK TODD:

That's the part of this that I've never understood, is how does he win delegates --

PAT MCCRORY:

He's the second mayor --

CHUCK TODD:

-- that you need anyway.

PAT MCCRORY:

-- that's running this term.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, guys. That's all we have for today. What a way to kick off 2020. Thank you for watching. We'll be back next week. This is going to be an incredibly important month, let alone year in American politics. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.