Meet the Press - June 16, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday... Election interference. President Trump says, yes, he'd accept information on an opponent from a foreign country:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break.

CHUCK TODD:

He insists everyone does it:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

They have information, I think I'd take it.

CHUCK TODD:

...then gets slammed by Democrats...

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

That's just dangerous, appalling, unethical, unpatriotic, you name it.

REP. NANCY PELOSI:

He does not know right from wrong.

CHUCK TODD:

… And by some Republicans:

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

I'm going to call the FBI. I think most people would and I think the president would too.

CHUCK TODD:

… Before finally backing off:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Of course you give it to the FBI

CHUCK TODD:

How serious is President Trump about protecting our elections? Plus: The Democrats' debate stage is now set... both of them: Twenty candidates, two nights, and a brewing generational divide:

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

It would serve us well to have a new generation of leadership stepping forward at the highest level

JOE BIDEN:

People have a right to question all of our ages. All I can say is watch me. Just watch me.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest: Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana. And growing tensions with Iran. The U-S blames Iran for attacks on oil tankers... and considers deploying forces to protect oil shipments. I'll talk to House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana and our own Richard Engel reports from the region. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Mark Leibovich, Chief National Correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute, syndicated columnist George Will and Helene Cooper, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

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

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning and happy Father's Day to all the dads out there. We're gonna get to President Trump and election interference and our new poll numbers in a moment. But we're gonna start with the growing tension between the United States and Iran. The U.S. is blaming Iran for attacks this week on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran denies it was responsible. And there are fears that hardliners in both countries will use the incidents to push for a military confrontation. NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel is in Istanbul, Turkey this morning with the latest on this concern. And so Richard, first, is the U.S. allegation against Iran that they did it being taken seriously in the region and with western allies?

RICHARD ENGEL:

I think it is being taken seriously. Sources I've been speaking to are not doubting the Americans' accounting of events. They think that the Iranians did it. They think they did it in such a way to show their displeasure, to show their anger that they've been boxed in by sanctions. They think that the Iranians didn't want to attack U.S. interests in order not to provoke at least at this stage any kind of shooting war. But sources that I’m speaking to -- I'm not hearing other accounts of who was responsible.

CHUCK TODD:

So Richard, there clearly is divides in Iran on how aggressive to get. There's divides in our country between the president and his National Security Advisor. I know there's concern of an accident happening. First, walk us through the Iranian divide.

RICHARD ENGEL:

So the issue is not so much an accident. We talk about this like we're on a slippery slope toward war. We've been put in this position. There have been a series of events that have put us right where we are right now. Let's start with the Iranian side. So there are hardliners in Iran who have said for a long time that they should be taking a much stronger action, a more confrontational approach vis a vis the United States. Particularly after the United States started to ratchet up sanctions, put Iran into a corner, back them into a position where they fear they have no other economic options. They have been -- those voices, those hardline voices, have been losing out to moderates. But as the sanctions get tighter and tighter the hardliners are now in the ascendency. So you have the hardliners there who think it's a good idea, apparently, to attack commercial shipping in order to show their displeasure and to show their strength. You also have hardliners in the United States who put us in this situation, who may have made the sanctions on Iran so impossible that Iran felt backed into a corner. And it is reacting. It is very predictable. I've been watching this for a long time and I could have told you if you ratchet up the sanctions to a point that they are unbearable on Iran that Iran would react and the hardliners would get the upper hand. And I think a lot of people around President Trump, Bolton among them, know exactly that that's how Iran would react if you --

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly.

RICHARD ENGEL:

-- put them in an untenable situation.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly I assume is U.S. military, the U.S. Navy going to be used as an -- essentially a military escort for tankers pretty soon in the Gulf of Oman?

RICHARD ENGEL:

Well, we could get to that stage. President Trump said in that phone call with Fox and Friends that the Strait of Hormuz will remain open almost at any cost. So U.S. military escort would be an escalation. Let's see if it has to come to that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Richard Engel, reporting for us in Istanbul, Turkey this morning. Richard, as always, sir, thanks very much. Turning now to politics, it has become something of a cliche that from the moment Donald Trump came down that escalator four years ago today he has changed the norms of our politics. Whether as a candidate declaring that John McCain was no war hero or as president siding with Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies or declaring there were "some very fine people on both sides" of the neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, there's a familiar pattern: Step One: Say or do somethng startling. Step Two: Public and press react with shock, outrage, approval, or all of the above. Step Three: Say or do something else startling. Step Four: Public and press forget about Step One. Wash -- rinse -- repeat. The latest example: Mr. Trump saying this week... Sure I'd take incriminating information about an opponent from a foreign government. Many heard that as Mr. Trump saying: Russia, if you're listening, come on in. The water's fine. If you can help again, I'll take it. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this four-year cycle of these "this one goes to 11" controversies is how steady -- and mediocre -- the president's approval ratings have remained through it all. In our brand new NBC News - Wall Street Journal poll, 44 percent approve of the president's job performance, 53 percent disapprove. That 44 percent approval rating is right in line with where it's been in the past year... with one exception always holding between 43 and 46 percent. All of which is to say Mr. Trump's style is both a weakness and a strength: A weakness because the controversies have kept his approval rating from ever even reaching 50 percent. But a strength because with each new controversy, it becomes easy to forget what last week's fuss was all about:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP: If they had information, I think I’d take it.

CHUCK TODD: Four years after descending on that escalator in Trump Tower and announcing his candidacy for president - Mr. Trump is preparing to kick off his re-election campaign on Tuesday in battleground Florida. This week he made it clear if a foreign government offers him help to win, he will take it:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This is somebody that said we have information on your opponent. 'Oh, let me call the FBI.' Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:

The FBI director says that's what should happen.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The FBI Director is wrong. His campaign called those Trump comments a "directive":

KAYLEIGH MCENANY:

The president's directive, as he said, it's a case by case basis. He said he would likely do both: Listen to what they have to say, but also report it to the FBI.

CHUCK TODD:

But after some Republicans condemned the idea of accepting foreign help again in 2020 ...

SEN. MITT ROMNEY:

It would strike at the very heart of our democracy

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

Yeah, I think it's a mistake. I think it's a mistake of law.

CHUCK TODD:

... and the chair of the Federal Election Commission pointed out that taking information of value from a foreign national is illegal.

EILEEN WEINTRAUB:

It's actually a matter of black-letter law. It's pretty straightforward.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday - the president tried to backtrack:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Of course you have to look at it because if you don't look at it you're not going to know if it's bad. How are you going to know if it's bad? But of course you should give it to the FBI or report it to the Attorney General.

CHUCK TODD:

Still - Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a bill that would require FBI disclosure of any foreign assistance. While Democrats competing to take on Trump pounced on his comments.

JOE BIDEN:

I believe he's dead wrong.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

He was perfectly willing to break the law

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

It's illegal.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

It is illegal.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO:

What he said was openly treasonous

JOHN HICKENLOOPER:

A form of terrorism.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET

It's like the guy hates America.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump's opponents are struggling with how far to go.

NPR:

Would you want the Department of Justice now that he is no longer a sitting president to go forward with those obstruction of justice charges?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes. There has to be accountability.

CHUCK TODD:

By Friday, she was trying to backtrack:

REPORTER:

You said you would prosecute Donald Trump --

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

No, no I didn't. I said that we need to, that the Department of Justice will need to go and follow the facts wherever they lead.

CHUCK TODD:

And ahead of their first debate - 2020 Democrats are each trying to prove they are best equipped to take Mr. Trump on.

JOE BIDEN:

It's a gigantic mistake if Democrats, 20 or whatever number we have, go after each other

CHUCK TODD:

But former Vice President Biden's rivals are already playing up the contrasts that are likely to appear on stage

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

If we are perceived as replicating a system that let people down, economically and politically, then we could very well lose again.

JOE BIDEN:

The same people say, "We have to have someone totally new, we gotta change the system" -Well guess what? The system has worked pretty damn well--it's called the Constitution.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg. Mayor Buttigieg, welcome back to Meet The Press, sir.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Thank you. Good to be with you.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to start with sort of the news of the moment that we're all dealing with as a country here, what's going on in the Middle East. Do you believe the administration has provided enough proof that Iran was indeed behind these tanker attacks?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, I think what we've seen is compelling. There seems to be more information that we haven't had a chance to see. It's a little distressing to think that because this administration's credibility is so low in general, I think a lot of people are thinking twice at a moment when America's word should be decisive. When the U.S. says this is something that has happened and this is the consensus of our administration, that should be something that goes without question. But of course, that's just not the case in an administration that has been extremely unreliable in so many ways.

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

That being said, this is not inconsistent with Iranian behavior that has been aggressive and often malignant in the region. The real question is what can we do, given the facts on the ground, to ensure a measured response that will deescalate, rather than inflame, tensions in the region?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, what is that measured response that a President Buttigieg would do at this point? I mean let’s -- I know you want to go back into the nuclear agreement, but the nuclear agreement did nothing about the belligerent behavior of Iran. So what would you be doing?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, the first thing is we would be consulting and coordinating with our allies. I think everybody has an interest in the region becoming more stable --

CHUCK TODD:

But let me pause you there --

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

-- and more peaceful, not less.

CHUCK TODD:

Our closest allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel in particular, they seem to be in a different place on Iran than the United States even.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, our allies in the Middle East are going to be concerned, first and foremost, with their own security. We need to make sure that we have tensions deescalate, rather than escalate, when it comes to what's going on there. But what we see out of the White House is something disturbingly reminiscent of the kind of accelerating drumbeat that got us into the war in Iraq. Worse, it's got some of the same cast of characters. I'm still mystified that John Bolton, who was one of the architects of the Iraq conflict, is said to be behind a lot of the administration's policy on Iran as well. And it's not only allies in the region, but allies across the globe who have an interest in stopping any pathway toward the Middle East becoming any more violent, any more unstable than it already is.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you take comfort at all that President Trump appears to be more dove-ish about this than John Bolton?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Well, the president has said that he does not want a conflict. Of course, it's very difficult to take the president at his word any time he says anything. But to the extent that we believe him, the real question is: is the dynamic underway in the administration, just as much as in the Middle East, that could get out from the control of the president himself?

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I'm concerned about that, and it's one more reason why we need stable leadership in the United States and a stable international community where our alliances are steady and our word is taken seriously.

CHUCK TODD:

At a minimum, do you think it’s an appropriate -- would it be appropriate if they ordered, if they had the U.S. military essentially in the Gulf of Oman as a -- another way, essentially as a police escort for these tankers? Do you think that's --

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

It could certainly be appro --

CHUCK TODD:

-- a necessary step? Okay.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Yes, it could certainly be appropriate for the U.S. to use our sea power to make sure that there is safety and freedom of passage in that part of the world that's so vital to the world economy.

CHUCK TODD:

You're obviously making a generational argument during this campaign, being the youngest contender in this race, or sort of the youngest top-tier contender in this race. It's an obvious thing for you to do. Let me ask this question about Joe Biden that you've been sort of ducking all week long. What can Joe Biden do to you to convince you that he's future-oriented?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Look, I think every one of us is running our own playbook, and I think a candidate of any age could speak about the future. But I think not every candidate is doing that. And the future can't just be a kind of bumper sticker word or some vague idea we throw out there. I want us to be forming policies today that are going to make sense in the 2050s that we're going to be able to look back --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think somebody in their 70s --

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

-- when I get to retirement age.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think somebody in their 70s can't, can’t have a good vision of what 2050’s going to look like in America?

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MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Of course they can, but I think I have the best one, and my plan is to go out and compete with it.

CHUCK TODD:

That's a fair point there. Let me ask you this about the president's comments having to do with accepting foreign interference. If somebody offered your campaign dirt on, on either President Trump or a Democratic candidate, what would you do with that dirt?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

You wouldn't do anything with that dirt. You would call the FBI. This isn't even complicated.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you even look at it? Would you ever look at it?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

No, you call, you call the FBI. Look, the moment that you look at it, you have implicated yourself, and I don't think you would want to do that. Look, some things are complicated in politics and ethics. This is not. And this is not theoretical either. A foreign, a hostile foreign power successfully attacked our democracy in the last election, and there's no indication that they're going to back off from trying to do it in the next election. That's why it's shocking to hear the president say what he said. Then again, he specializes in shocking us so that we can't talk about anything else. And I hope that while we are forcefully responding to the outrageous suggestion that he would do something illegal in that situation, it's not making us less able to talk about our own agenda of making Americans' lives better off, of delivering better wages, better living standards, healthcare and all the other issues on which Americans trust the Democratic Party. He needs us talking about him so that we're not talking about voters, because when we talk about voters, we win. We will call out his wrongdoing and then return right to our message, because that's what's going to make for a better America, all the way to the 2050s.

CHUCK TODD:

You were -- you responded to a question about this idea of prosecuting a former President Trump, possibly having a Justice Department look at the obstruction case. And you're basically open to this idea that if that's what the Justice Department says, then they should pursue it. How do you -- if you're elected president, one of the reasons you got elected is you'd have convinced the country it's time to change the channel. How do you change the channel and prosecute the former president at the same time?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

America can do many things at the same time, but it's not the president's job to prosecute a foreign (sic) president. Changing the channel means focusing on how we can make people's lives better, and if in parallel there are investigations going on into criminal behavior by people who were formerly at some of the highest levels in our government, so be it. That's how the justice system works. But the most important principle here is the independence of the judiciary. The independence of the DOJ is obviously not something this president respects. He's treated it like it ought to be his own personal law firm. But the DOJ--

CHUCK TODD:

So this won't be a litmus test for your attorney general? You would tell your attorney general, "Look at it if you want to. I'm not going to tell you which way to come down on whether to prosecute the former president of the United States."

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Prosecution decisions shouldn't be made by politicians in that sense. And what I will say is any attorney general that I would appoint is somebody who will faithfully apply the concept that no one is above the law, that everybody ought to be held accountable, whether they're a former president or whether they're somebody who's never been anywhere near the halls of power. That's the whole point. It's that justice is blind. And I will appoint an attorney general and, for that matter, justices and judges who uphold that principle.

CHUCK TODD:

If there is -- final topic I want to get to is your ability to win this Democratic nomination in general. And if there is one whisper, if you will, that Democrats have about your candidacy, many are excited, but you hear the whisper, "But, oh, I don't know. Can he get African American support?" I want to read you a quote from the Reverend Rodric Reid that the Indianapolis Star interviewed. He's a, he’s a pastor at the Uplift Church in Indianapolis. Here's what he said. "I guarantee it's going to be an obstacle." This is about the fact that you're married to another man. "I guarantee it's going to be an obstacle for the candidate from South Bend. That is really still a touchy subject, specifically and especially in the African American church. Now, I think it could be overcome, because we are gradually getting to a point of, and I don't want to say ‘accept,’ but we are getting to a point of realizing this is the culture that we are going to have to begin to live with and adapt to it." I know you're trying to have these conversations with a lot of African Americans. How are they going?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

They're going well, and we are working very hard to engage people across the party, but especially black voters, who expect you to demonstrate, especially when you're new on the scene, what your values are and how you're going to promote policies that lift them up. I also think we have a moment on our hands when we can do the exact opposite of what the president has done. The president has used identity as a wedge, used race as a wedge to divide people who have common interests. I think we have an opportunity to reach into our own distinctive identities and use them to build bridges, to reach out to people different from us, knowing that anybody who has been on the short end of an equation of exclusion has a way to sympathize with people who've had different experiences with exclusion in this country. And if we build a solidarity around that, then people who have, for whatever reason, felt a lack of belonging or felt exclusion or felt discrimination in this country, even though those patterns of discrimination are very, very different, when all of us come together, we win. And we are all better off.

CHUCK TODD:

But I do want to follow up. I've talked to African American congressmen who really like you and want to support you, where their, their, some of their more conservative, religious-minded constituents, who vote straight ticket Democrat most of the time, would have trouble voting for you. What do you say to those politicians in Washington who want to get behind your candidacy but are nervous about this?

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

I'd invite them to look at what happened in South Bend. I'm from a socially conservative community. When I came out, we didn't know what the effects would be. It was actually during an election year. Mike Pence was the governor of our state. He was popular at the time. And what happened was I won with 80% of the vote. What that tells you, I think, is that people, if you give them the chance, will evaluate you based on what you aim to do, what the results are, what the policies are. And I have every confidence that American voters, especially Democratic voters, will not discriminate when the opportunity comes up to choose the right leader for the future.

CHUCK TODD:

Pete Buttigieg. I really appreciate you coming on, sharing your views with us, and stay safe on the trail.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Thanks for coming on. When we come back, I'll talk to the House Minority Whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Republicans have found themselves in a politically awkward position this week on the subject of election interference. You might think stopping foreigners from meddling would be an easy vote. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a bill that would require campaigns to report any attempt at foreign interference to the F.B.I. And on the House side Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy took pains to avoid criticizing President Trump's, "I'd take it," comment. So joining me now is the House Republican whip. Number two in the House leadership on the Republican side, Steve Scalise of Louisiana whose book, by the way, Back in the Game: One Gunman, Countless Heroes and the Fight for My Life is now out in paperback. Congressman Scalise, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir. Nice to see you.

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Good morning, Chuck. Good to be back with you.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me start with this election interference bill. I know you voted against what the House Democrats billed as HR1, this large voting rights bill that they put together. But if they carved out the parts just on election security, there was an election security portion requiring paper ballots, establishing better cybersecurity standards. Also would include, I think, what Mark Warner wants to see which is immediate reporting the F.B.I. Could you vote for that bill?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, I had a lot of concerns with HR1, not the least of which were the first amendment violations. You had everybody from the ACLU all the way to National Right to Life come together against that bill because of what it did to limit the free speech rights and religious freedom rights of millions of Americans. So that bill is riddled with problems. It puts tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money into political campaigns, something I don't think most Americans want to see their tax dollars used for. So that bill had massive problems. Interesting that it was the very first bill Nancy Pelosi chose to move through the House was a bill that far left. But it's been an example of how she's run the House, not addressing real problems --

CHUCK TODD:

But let's go to --

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

-- of the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

-- election security.

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

We've got a crisis at the border --

CHUCK TODD:

I understand. Let’s talk -- I'm just asking about -- just the election security. This was not a small event. And this seems to be not unreasonable ideas here when it comes to the cybersecurity portion of this bill, what Mark Warner's calling for. Could you support that?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, there's a lot on cybersecurity I think we can come to an agreement on. I'd like to see details on how she'd work with us on some of the things we've tried to get through Congress in the past that are bipartisan, dealing with cyber security. Because there are concerns not only for election security but also on the corporate side. You've seen millions of Americans private data, personal data stolen through attacks primarily from foreign state operators, whether it's Russia, China, North Korea or so many others.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to -- there's a new story in the New York Times today that highlights a more aggressive tact that the fed -- U.S. government is doing now against Russia implanting potential essentially forms of malware into the Russian power grid, taking a more offensive approach rather than just doing this on defense. Do you support that new policy?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Look, you've got to take every step possible, first of all, to make sure what happened in 2016, what the Russians attempted to do to meddle with our elections when Barack Obama was president, doesn't happen again in 2020 or any other election. And so I'm glad that the administration has been taking aggressive actions including, if you saw in the executive order the president issued a few -- over a year ago, allowing DOD to be more aggressive at making sure they can protect not only our grid but go after anybody who's going to try to mess with our election security.

CHUCK TODD:

It was interesting though, I want to point out one little nugget in that story, apparently the president was not fully briefed on this operation. I want to show you one part of this New York Times story about that. It says, "Pentagon and intelligence officials describe broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister." The president obviously was very upset about this story even getting in the public domain as he tweeted about it last night. Do you believe that these officials made a mistake not briefing the president about this operation?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, Chuck, the president and the White House have already pushed back against a number of elements of this story. But the bottom line is the president's taking aggressive action against Russia. I wish that would have happened in 2016 when they were trying to meddle with our elections. But I think the message is being sent right now. If the Russians try to take some action against our elections or any other country we are already ready to go after them. And it should have happened in 2016. I'm glad that the president's being aggressive against any foreign country who's going to try to meddle with our elections.

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, do you think that Republican campaign arm of the House ought to pledge not to use any stolen material, hacked material. I know that there's been some attempts to get both political parties to sign these pledges. There's been some hesitation on the House side.

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, I'm sure they'll look at that too. I think it's real interesting that the entire basis of the Mueller report was information that the Democrat Party got from Russia. They solicited it using foreign spies, of all people, and used that to turn it over to the F.B.I. And then unfortunately you had some people in the F.B.I. with a political agenda against President Trump who used that as the basis for an investigation to spy on, then candidate, President Trump. There are a lot of concerns I think and things that need to be rooted out within the F.B.I. to make sure that doesn't happen again either.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me turn to Iran here a minute. At what point do you think the president needs to go to Congress to approve any sort of escalation with Iran? Where is your comfort level on what you believe he has the ability to do now and what he needs to come to Congress for?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, the White House has been briefing on Congress on what's happening in Iran and how this has been building up. But, of course, this does go back to the Iranian deal that was agreed to in the previous administration. And Donald Trump when he was a candidate expressed his real concerns with that deal, as so many of us in Congress opposed it back then. And even our allies like Israel opposed the Iran deal when it, when it went through Congress. You saw Prime Minister Netanyahu come to Congress and give a very compelling speech against it back before it was agreed to. So what President Trump's been doing to make sure that we're going to stand up to Russia -- our sanctions, by the way, have been very effective. I think that's why you're seeing Iran take action. But this shows you, Chuck, do you really want a nuclear armed Iran? I think this is why the world, not just America, but our allies in the Middle East are concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon. This is what they did without one. Imagine if they had one.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think the president has the authority now due to the AUMF from back in 2002, does he have the authority now to conduct a military operation against Iran?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, we don't want to see it escalate to where it is a military operation. But you're seeing the president take action and make sure that we have protection against American interests in the Middle East and including in the strait there where you saw this explosion where the bomb was detonated. So the president is making sure that he's protecting American interests. I don't want to see it escalate just like I don't think anybody else does. But we have to stand up to Iran. This is one more example of why we need to be concerned about their actions.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I let you, I want to ask you one thing about your book. You wrote about the issue of social media. Talking about the person that shot you. "His post dripping with scorn and hatred toward the Republican Party and the President Trump and the responses to his post fueled him even more. He was living a kind of double existence while quiet and unassuming in person he was angry and confrontational online. A digital flamethrower, a combatant when provided the anonymity of an online avatar." It's practically the same biography of the synagogue shooter on the right hand side of the aisle. Same thing, this same idea, social media sort of taking over this man's life. How do you not violate the first amendment and have these social media companies purge these folks before they commit violence?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, Chuck, what I've always said is we can all have political disagreements. And, you know, that's what makes our country great. But when you cross the line and start inciting violence against other people that's where there's no place for that in politics. And so we saw in the case of the shooting, in my case with the baseball field shooting, as with others, you saw somebody trying to not only disagree with people politically but then take it to that one step further where they took action and tried to take out in our case people because of our political beliefs. Fortunately Capital Police were there on the scene, law enforcement made sure it didn't happen. And thank God they were there. And so many other heroes and miracles that I talked about in the book Back in the Game.

CHUCK TODD:

Social media companies though, can they get rid of these people before they commit violence? Or do you think that's a violation of first amendment rights?

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Well, that's up to each of them. And you're seeing social media companies take action to try to stop people from inciting violence or in cases even like the Florida shooting where they saw the kid say, "I want to be a school shooter," and that gets turned over to law enforcement. And unfortunately they dropped the ball on that case. They should have been able to follow through more.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Steve Scalise, the number two Republican on the House side. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views. And tell you, you look as good as ever two years later. Nice to see you.

REP. STEVE SCALISE:

Feeling great and a happy Father's Day to you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Happy Father's Day to you, sir. Thanks very much. When we come back, election interference plus those Trump versus Biden polls that the president said didn't exist. Well, they do and we've got them. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, panelists here. Syndicated columnist George Will whose latest book is The Conservative Sensibility, Elaine Cooper, Pentagon Correspondent for the New York Times, Danielle Pletka, The American Enterprise Institute and Mark Leibovich, Chief National Correspondent for TheNew York Times magazine. Welcome, everybody. I want to combine two thoughts here, George, we have election interference and what the president said at first and then he backtracks it. But I want to read you something James Hohmann wrote on Friday that also had to do with the Hatch Act decision by the president. "President Trump's announcement this morning that he will not punish White House counselor Kellyanne Conway for repeatedly violating the Hatch Act captures, in miniature, his apparent belief that the rules don't apply to him and his loyalists the way they do everyone else." It seems to me that both of these stories are connected in that if he thinks it's small and petty and has nothing to do with him or it helps him, ignore it.

GEORGE WILL:

Article two is remarkably spare in describing the duties of the president. And basically they come down to taking care that the laws are faithfully executed. There's evidently an asterisk over that says the Hatch Act doesn't apply. But with regard to --

CHUCK TODD:

By the way, didn't the president just repeal it? If he doesn't act, he's repealed it?

GEORGE WILL:

Well, yes. It’s called, presidents do this, they call this enforcement discretion, that their enforcement mechanisms are spread thin, something like that. With regard to the election interference, when Speaker Pelosi says he doesn't know right from wrong she's right to this extent, he's a complete amateur in American public life. And the rules and norms are mysterious to him. Besides, he campaigned on the promise, we knew this promise was going to be kept, that he would continue to do what he did in the campaign, which was violate all existing norms. So no one should be, be appalled, if you wish, but don't be surprised.

CHUCK TODD:

Not surprising at all

DANIELLE PLETKA:

The problem in Washington is that, is that Donald Trump takes what are, I think, norms and runs with them. The Hatch Act is violated every single day in multiple ways. I mean I've spent ten years on the Hill. I can't count the number of times I saw senators, their staff, violating the Hatch Act because its strictures are rather inconvenient. You can't do political business from your Senate office, for example. So if you want to call a donor or anything else you've got to leave, you've got to go elsewhere. And so of course it gets violated. The problem with Trump is that he has taken what is sort of a bandwidth and just tossed it all out and said, and taken it to the logical end, which is violating it.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

The thing is though that norms are things that are essentially respected within a very, very small bubble which is basically Washington.

CHUCK TODD:

Washington.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

The public life. Most people in America don't know what the Hatch Act is. And they would --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And they don't care.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

-- well not only, well I don't know if they care or not. But they would say, "Well, wait, don’t white house -- isn't Kellyanne Conway supposed to defend the president and supposed to attack his --" I mean, there's a level of common sense that I think the president does align with that does win over a lot of his supporters.

CHUCK TODD:

And yet he's chipping away at all these things. And they're the little ones. And the unintended consequence of all this could be come November, that the losing side, no matter who it is, doesn't believe the result.

HELENE COOPER:

I think that's absolutely true. I think that, I mean, it's not just the Hatch Act. It’s, I cover the military so I pay a lot of attention to, you know, Trump as a commander in chief. And he has gone so far on the whole, y’know, violating this whole principle of not politicizing the military, that you know, the whole thing with the USS McCain back in, in Tokyo when he was in Yokosuka when he was visiting last month was another example of this. And when you have this sort of thing repeatedly, I wonder what happens to us you know, once Trump is gone. And what happens when you've taken so many of these accepted norms and ways of conducting ourselves. And who, how does the next person --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, I have no idea --

HELENE COOPER:

What happens then?

CHUCK TODD:

-- how you bring it back. I guess maybe they will introduce more codified laws. Let me turn a little bit to the president's political prospects. He's launching his reelection campaign on Tuesday. Those infamous Trump/Biden polls, well, we got our hands on pretty much all of them. Let me show you them and why the president didn't like that they went public as much. Here is Virginia, Maine, Minnesota, Michigan. As you can see if 40 is the best he does in any of those states with Biden. And these are all just Biden/Trump matchups. They tested everybody but Biden was the strongest. And look at Biden's numbers there. Now look at this, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio. These were all three states that Trump carried. He's down eight in North Carolina, seven in Iowa, Ohio just won. I think that tells you a little bit more about where Ohio's headed there. We also had in Texas, Trump was only up two. In Georgia, our source tells us that Biden is up six. And he had double digit leads in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. By the way, the campaign didn't dispute the numbers. Campaign manager Brad Parscale gave us this quote, "All news about the president's polling is completely false. The president's new polling is extraordinary and his numbers have never been better." My colleague, Kristen Welker, is now reporting right now. We're breaking that apparently the Trump campaign is going to be firing some pollsters, believing they were behind this leak. George, these numbers aren't surprising to me.

GEORGE WILL:

No, no, shooting the messenger isn't surprising either. In fact, there are worse numbers for him in the sense that in a dozen states that he carried in 2016 his disapproval is over 50%. Those are states he carried. So if you have to bet your net worth on the outcome of the next election bet on anybody but Mr. Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

You know --

HELENE COOPER:

But do we believe the polls?

CHUCK TODD:

Oh wow. Well, the president doesn’t --

HELENE COOPER:

Sorry. Well, no, I'm just saying after 2016 I'm just not entirely sure that this soon in the game we should be paying any --

CHUCK TODD:

It's so early.

HELENE COOPER:

-- attention to any of this. This is --

CHUCK TODD:

Except the president pays a lot of attention to this, which -- that is, what is sort of, is he never wants to show weakness.

GEORGE WILL:

But a poll where he's flatlined is that band between 42% and 46%. It's not early to say that now almost two years of this, that represents his floor and his ceiling.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, here's a bigger problem. It's not just that. So the ballot test, the job number and his personal rating are all aligning. Usually, a successful reelected president has one of those as an outlier in a positive way, either a winning personality or they like the agenda but they don't like the person. He doesn't have that.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But right now there's no choice. It's do you like Donald Trump or don't you like Donald Trump? And a generic Democrat and he's going to run against a real person.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, this was against a real Joe Biden.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Well, no. But Joe Biden I think is a stand-in for a generic Democrat.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

In this case. And yeah, he'll be --

CHUCK TODD:

He will represent that remark.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

Well he, no. I mean, look, he's someone people know, right? I mean, he, people know what they're getting with him. So he will be defined. But I mean, look, if he goes against Elizabeth Warren, against Pete Buttigieg it's a whole different dynamic in a race.

CHUCK TODD:

It is. All right. We'll see. The president-- I have a feeling they're going to release new poll numbers that show just him --

MARK LEIBOVICH:

New polls.

CHUCK TODD:

-- winning. Winning, winning, winning. When we come back, Americans have never been more united on abortion and more divided at the same time. Wait until you see these new numbers from our NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, data download time. This week's new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. So the highest percentage ever of Americans who think abortion should be legal all or most of the time. But when you dig into the responses it shows a larger trend that has major implications for both political parties. Overall the number of Americans saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time has climbed at 56%. That is actually up seven points since 2008, eleven years ago. And what's remarkable is the consistency. It's up amongst all groups. The percentage of men saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time has climbed two points since '08, among women it has climbed 11 points. It's also climbed 13 points among Democrats, even four points among Republicans. But, those numbers don't mean the country has made a final decision on this issue. We noticed another trend in these polls, a hardening of views on both sides. This poll showed a record number of people who want abortions to be legal in all cases. But it also shows a big jump in the number of people who want abortion to be illegal without exceptions. Legal in all cases is at 34%, that's up three points from last year. And illegal without exceptions is at 12%, that's five points higher than March of 2018. You could probably guess what's driving this movement, the partisan divide shows up in the hardening of these views among core Republicans. Those that strongly back the party, 27% say abortion should be illegal with no exceptions. That's up nine points from 18% in 2018. And among core Democrats 58% say they want abortion to always be legal. That's up eight points from March of 2018. Yes, overall, the movement is towards legality. Not away from it. But underneath those numbers you see just another sign of the political reality in 2019. The middle ground has eroded and that might be because on the issue of abortion there's not a lot of appetite for a middle ground anyway. When we come back Democrats running for president find a common target and it's not President Trump right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. And we were telling you the Democratic candidates have a new target. And it's not President Trump. Take a listen to how comfortable some of these candidates are getting going after Joe Biden.

[BEGIN TAPE]

WILLIE GEIST:

Is Joe Biden a return to the past?

BETO O'ROURKE:

He is. And that cannot be who we are going forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF:

Does Joe Biden represent the future?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET :

No, I don't think so. I think we it's time for a new generation of leadership.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

Democrats can no more turn the clock back to the 1990s than Republicans can return us to the 1950s, and we should not try.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Leibovich, Joe Biden in the crosshairs now. Obviously the rest of the field has figured out that Joe Biden's ahead.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

They have. I mean, it's natural political gravity, right? You can't talk only about Donald Trump. And frankly, Joe Biden makes a pretty easy foil. He is not Barack Obama. He has run quite unsuccessfully for president twice. I mean, he was beloved but in, you know, kind of a goofy uncle kind of way. And you do sort of wonder, I mean, how he's going to work as a contrast item both generationally and, I mean, as all three of those Democrats just said, as someone who is just the return to yesterday. And these are three Democrats under the age of 55.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me put up the debate matchups here for our big first round of debates. Night one, the big name is Elizabeth Warren, but you also have Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker in particular there, Beto O'Rourke, people that six weeks ago would have said this is the big night of the debate.

Let's look at night two, which is the Joe Biden night. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, your one, two, three, four, let alone -- also your Marianne Williamsons and Andrew Yang there. George Will, you look at those lineups, should Elizabeth Warren be happy that she’s not -- that she gets a night essentially as a frontrunner, the first frontrunner of the debate she's participating in?

GEORGE WILL:

Sure. To not be on the stage with Biden, and she can assume that the other nine people who are on the stage with Biden will do their duty, which is to treat him as a piñata in some way or another. And she stands above it. And there'll be lots of other debates down the road when she'll be next to him. By then, he will be scarred.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it's really interesting, Helene. In our poll we're showing Elizabeth Warren's on the move a little bit. I wanna show, we've been testing all of these candidates. Are you enthusiastic about the idea of this person running for president? This is just among Democratic primary voters. We've been testing this all for the first six months, and as you can see here, Biden and Sanders, their enthusiasm numbers have dropped since March. Elizabeth Warren's enthusiasm number has gone up since March. In fact, more enthusiastic among Democratic primary voters for her than the other two.

HELENE COOPER:

That was really interesting seeing her jump over Bernie Sanders as well. But I think she still has a lot of room to move up. I think on the Biden issue, it’s to me it feels just really obvious. These guys are all going after Biden because he's the guy to beat, is he not, at this point. You know, there's a reason why he has assumed this frontrunner status. So listening to Buttigieg and listening to Beto O'Rourke as they're taking on Joe Biden, there is a lot of concern and they feel that this is who they're going to have to defeat in order to win the nomination.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

This feels like --

CHUCK TODD:

You're very cynical about these debates --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I know. I mean, you know what --

CHUCK TODD:

You are so cynical about them --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Because you know why? Because the Republican Party in the run-up to the last election was just such an awful spectacle, watching one person after another go after each other in this circular firing squad. So, I mean, I actually feel a little bad for poor old Joe Biden. And, of course, Joe Biden is old, but so is Bernie Sanders. And, by the way --

CHUCK TODD:

So is Donald Trump.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

And so is Elizabeth Warren, by the way. Same age as Hillary Clinton, right --

MARK LEIBOVICH:

"Elder statesman" can be a double-edged sword.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

It can be. But you know what? What we're going to watch for the next year and a half is the Democrats going after their number one person in the polls. So Elizabeth Warren, they're coming for you next.

HELENE COOPER:

Yeah.

GEORGE WILL:

Doesn't matter how many of the Democrats attack Biden. As long as Trump keeps attacking Biden, he can be happy. 1966, Nixon's campaigning around the country for leaders. He gets under Lyndon Johnson's skin, and Lyndon Johnson denounces him as a chronic campaigner, making him the focus of all the Republicans. And he went on to be elected.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that is something that is interesting here, Mark Leibovich. The Trump campaign has been trying to get the president to direct his tweets at people other than Biden. "Go after Warren again. Go after Bernie." Do something to make the Democrats have to own the farther left candidates rather than Biden.

MARK LEIBOVICH:

I think that that's right. Well, look. Donald Trump looks at polls. We know that.

CHUCK TODD:

Oh yes --

MARK LEIBOVICH:

He looks at polls now. He's very present focused, right? He sees these polls, and he sees Biden against him. So he's going to focus on Joe Biden. I don't think the president really-- I mean, I think the president is I think frankly struggling on how to define Joe Biden because Joe Biden is such a known entity certainly in America and the Democratic Party. And Donald Trump has an easier time just talking about people who are out in the public sphere as he's been.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I mean, I don't know why his campaign is second guessing him so much. This is the one thing that he actually has shown some --

CHUCK TODD:

He seems to have a little bit of a gut instinct for --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

He has a good feel for, right? So he's gone after Biden now, but he'll be after whoever's next when the time comes.

CHUCK TODD:

It is interesting how he's very dismissive of Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg right now. And I kind of don't understand why he's being that dismissive right now of both of them.

HELENE COOPER:

Because he knows Joe Biden. Because he's used to going after -- he hasn't been able to come up with a good enough name. I mean, the -Alfred E. Neuman one didn't work. Pete Buttigieg sort of embraced it. So that didn't really work for him. "Sleepy Joe" hasn't really necessarily worked that well either, but he's more comfortable going after the people you know, Kamala Harris I think will definitely be problematic for him because that's one where he's going to have to really temper his natural sort of sexist tendencies.

CHUCK TODD:

That's my curiosity, George. I think he doesn't know yet both-- you're right about Kamala Harris. But I think the same thing with Buttigieg. They have not figured out how to go after this guy.

GEORGE WILL:

That's right. I mean, sleepy? I want a sleepy president. But that's -- No, I think that's right. And I think that he's uneasy when he cannot pigeonhole somebody.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But, you know, the other thing about Elizabeth Warren, I mean, just to sort of not talk about this as so much of a horse race, is that one of the reasons she's doing better is people say that she's actually running a very good campaign. I mean, these are serious--

CHUCK TODD:

By the way --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

These are serious efforts that --

CHUCK TODD:

-- By the way, she said yesterday, "I have a plan for that," and people, like, applauded. People are noticing --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

-- she's playing a little tortoise here.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yeah. That helps --

CHUCK TODD:

And it seems to be working. Anyway, guys, thank you very much. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. Happy Father's Day to all you dads out there. Remember, we'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.