Meet the Press - June 2, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday... that mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

NAT SOUND:

Shots Fired, Shots Fired

CHUCK TODD:

Twelve victims killed at a public works building by a single gunman.

MEGAN BANTON:

We just heard people yelling and screaming to get down.

CHUCK TODD:

We'll get the latest this morning. Plus: The growing push for impeachment. Bob Mueller says clearly what Attorney General Bill Barr would not:

ROBERT MUELLER:

If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump pushes back...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I think he is a totally conflicted person. I think Mueller is a “Never-Trumper.”

CHUCK TODD:

More than 50 Democrats now calling for an impeachment inquiry, but not Speaker Pelosi.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

We want to do what is right and what gets results.

CHUCK TODD:

Also, tariff backlash. President Trump's threat to impose new tariffs on Mexico is condemned by Democrats...

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL:

It just makes no sense. I mean, I can’t-- I simply can’t understand it.

CHUCK TODD:

...by business groups and by many Republicans. Are these tariffs really aimed at curbing illegal immigration... or an effort to divert attention from impeachment? My guest this morning: White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. And: running with Beto. His campaign started with great expectations...

BETO O’ROURKE:

This is a campaign for America, for everyone in America.

CHUCK TODD:

...but now his candidacy seems stalled. What happened? My interview this morning with Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News White House Correspondent Kristen Welker...Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network...NBC News Correspondent Carol Lee...And author and historian Jon Meacham. 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. We’re going to get to Robert Mueller's statement and the growing calls for impeachment in a moment, but we're going to start with this weekend's tragedy in Virginia Beach. It's sad to say but there are now almost too many mass shootings in the United States to count. Friday's shooting left 12 victims dead, eleven of them civil servants. Together those civil servants had some 150 years of experience -- operating behind the scenes -- of just simply helping to make Virginia Beach work everyday. This latest mass murder should lead to more debates about what we, as a country, will do about this kind of violence. But what will those conversations produce? If past is prologue, the answer, is sadly, likely to be... nothing. Joining me now is NBC News Justice correspondent Pete Williams. So Pete, it seems the biggest mystery has to do with motive.

PETE WILLIAMS:

Yes. They don't really have one at this point. There are sort of conflicting stories about whether the gunman here, who was an employee, who killed his fellow employees. The majority of the victims were people in the same department of the city government that he worked in, so he undoubtedly knew them. There have been some accounts that he had been in recent arguments with them. But on the other hand, some people who talked to him that very day say he seemed very calm and the usual kind of guy. So that's been a real, real difficulty in the investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

The weapons he used, everything purchased legally, but a little bit different than other mass shootings, a silencer.

PETE WILLIAMS:

Yeah. The weapons are two .45-caliber handguns, one of the most-common weapons in America. Now, he did have extended magazines, or clips, that hold the rounds that go into the body of the gun. And that allows someone to shoot more rounds without having to reload. Those are legal in almost every state. They're certainly legal in Virginia. You mentioned the silencer, and that, I think, is going to be key here for a couple of reasons. First of all, his first victim was sitting in a car in the parking lot, when the police department is right nearby. If he had not had a silencer, that gun would've made a ferocious noise. And you have to ask yourself, would the police have come right then? Then secondly, when he goes into the building, many of the victims have said they didn't realize it was gunshots, because it didn't sound like them, or those who thought they were gunshots thought they were much further away. That's because of the sound-muffling quality of a silencer. Now, they're legal to own, if you get them registered and --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you have to go through the same process to buy a silencer as you do to buy a handgun?

PETE WILLIAMS:

No, no, it's stricter. The gun, it's an instant check at the gun store. Here, you have to fill out a form, submit identification, fingerprints. You mail it into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. They review it. And you get back approval or not --

CHUCK TODD:

And he got this legally?

PETE WILLIAMS:

-- it takes months. We don't know whether he got the silencer, whether he went through what's called the registration process for it. You know, there have been some recent moves to remove these restrictions on silencers by sportsman's groups. Every time there's a mass shooting, those those efforts seem to stall and I would think a mass shooting in which a silencer was a factor will be an even bigger impediment.

CHUCK TODD:

No, I think you're right there. Pete Williams, you've covered way too many of these.

PETE WILLIAMS:

I'll say.

CHUCK TODD:

Thanks for coming on and helping us out this morning. Turning now to the Russia investigation... Robert Mueller never mentioned the word "impeachment" on Wednesday, but it informed much of his nine-minute appearance and much of the reaction that followed. The key moment, of course, was when the Special Counsel said that if his team had felt confident that the president had not committed a crime they would have said so. That Mueller's team did not -- and that Mueller went on national television to say they did not -- had two immediate implications: One, it was a direct rebuke to President Trump's "no collusion, no obstruction" mantra, which is continuing even this morning... and to Attorney General William Barr's decision to clear Mr. Trump of a crime. Two, Mueller's first and perhaps last public statement on the report was seen by many as a broad hint to Congress that it has an option: impeachment. But Mueller's late in the game appearance also led many to wonder: Should he have spoken sooner, when he turned over his report? Could he have prevented Barr from framing the public's understanding of its conclusions, had he done that. And what if Mueller had said clearly then what he seems to be saying coyly now: that he believes President Trump committed a crime, so Congress... it's your move? Still, Mueller's implicit suggestion that Congress can act if it chooses to has led an increasing number of House Democrats and presidential candidates to conclude: If impeachment now is the process, the time is right now:

ROBERT MUELLER:

If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

CHUCK TODD:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller - closing the door on his own investigation - and making it clear the decision on whether to take further action against the president now rests with Congress:

ROBERT MUELLER:

The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing. President Trump responded ... renewing personal attacks on Mueller, including discredited conflict-of-interest charges:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I think he is a totally conflicted person. I think Mueller is a true Never-Trumper.

CHUCK TODD:

And now Attorney General Bill Barr is distancing himself from the Mueller Report entirely:

AG BILL BARR:

We didn't agree with the legal analysis -- a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department.

CHUCK TODD:

Mueller's public statement is accelerating calls by 2020 Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings now:

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

Bob Mueller was essentially referring impeachment to the United States Congress.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG:

The message really is, "Over to you, Congress."

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

I know the politics of this is problematic. But this is a very deeply principled moral moment in America.

CHUCK TODD:

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still making it clear she believes it's not the time:

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

The report lays out 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice --

CROWD:

Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

--by the President of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Trump, pivoting away from the impeachment debate, has returned to a subject that unites his base: immigration.

CHUCK TODD:

First teasing--

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This is a big league statement, but we are going to do something very dramatic on the border

CHUCK TODD:

Then - on Twitter - announcing a 5% tariff on Mexican goods unless "migrants coming through Mexico ... “STOP" ... with the rate increasing each month up to 25% by October, but offering no clear benchmarks for success. The president has issued empty threats on immigration before:

DONALD TRUMP:

We're closing the border. Close it. And we'll keep it closed for a long time. I'm not playing games.

CHUCK TODD:

With an election year approaching, Mr. Trump is frustrated he has not been able to keep promises to his base to decrease illegal immigration. Many Republicans are panning the new move - calling it "a misuse of presidential tariff authority", "misguided" - and saying "this isn't the right path forward."

REPORTER:

Why did the president blindside his own party with this?

SARAH SANDERS:

The president didn't blindside his own party. If Republicans weren't aware, then they haven't been paying attention.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the acting White House Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney. Mr. Mulvaney, welcome back to Meet the Press.

MICK MULVANEY:

Good morning. It is always a pleasure to be here.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start first with Virginia Beach.

MICK MULVANEY:

Okay.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the president believe there's a role for the federal government here to preventing these mass shootings?

MICK MULVANEY:

Let's start with this. And everytime -- And I saw the lead-in you did with Mr. Williams, it seems like -- And you're right. We have too many of these shootings. And every time, the first thing we talk about is politics. And I mean, the mourning process -- period hasn't even stopped yet, let alone the healing process. So let's, let’s, let’s not get too deep into politics too soon. Let's think about the families and the victims --

CHUCK TODD:

This is not about politics. This is a policy question.

MICK MULVANEY:

It is. So let's talk about policy. And the policy is enforcement and what we're already doing. What's been lost, in the last couple of years, is the fact that this administration banned bump stocks. We signed a piece of legislation that fixed the background checks. Now, we don't know what -- if background checks played a role here but --

CHUCK TODD:

Well, we've got to learn more about this silencer situation. You heard --

MICK MULVANEY:

The silencer --

CHUCK TODD:

You heard Pete about the silencer situation. That seems like a legitimate concern.

MICK MULVANEY:

Right, but keep in mind, I'm more familiar with the situation in Charleston, several years ago, where a guy walks into a church and shot my, my desk-mate in the South Carolina Senate. That was where the background check system let us all down. And we fixed that last year, with this administration, on a bipartisan basis. So there are things that the government can do. And there's things this government is doing. But we're never going to protect everybody against everybody who is deranged, insane. I don't know what this shooter's motivation was. We talked about that before. So you're never going to make everything perfectly safe. But we are doing a lot better on enforcement.

CHUCK TODD:

Does the president believe it should be harder to get a gun, though?

MICK MULVANEY:

I think the president believes, very firmly, in the Second Amendment right, in our Second Amendment rights. He also believes that you cannot take these exceptions. And clearly, people like this are exceptions. This is not the rule. 99.9% of people in this, in this country who own a gun are law-abiding gun owners and you cannot allow --

CHUCK TODD:

Most people don't commit murder. But we have laws on the books having to do with that.

MICK MULVANEY:

We do.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, a lot of our laws have to do with a small number of people who break laws, not, not a large number.

MICK MULVANEY:

You have laws on the books that - that make murder illegal. And yet, people still do it. Laws are not going to fix everything.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me move to the tariff decision. Can you explain what Mexico, what you believe the Mexican government can do that it is not doing?

MICK MULVANEY:

Sure. Number one, they can secure their southern border. Keep in mind, what's lost in the discussion about this is that most of the people coming across, I think, on average, about 4,500 people came across last night, that compares to 700 people a day just two years ago, most of those folks are not Mexican. They are Guatemalans. They are Hondurans. And that border, along southern Mex-- southern Mexico, needs to be secured. It's much easier to secure that border than it is our border, because it's so much shorter. It's about a quarter of the length. They could do that. The Mexican government can crack down on their domestic terrorist organizations, their crime organizations. Right now, in Mexico, there's roughly 100,000 people trying to move up to the U.S. border. They don't do that by themselves. They do that with the cooperation of these, of these crime groups. The Mexicans can do more there. And lastly, they can make Mexico a safe third country. Keep in mind, if you -- if you leave a country, say you leave El Salvador, and you say, "I'm seeking asylum," the law says you're supposed to seek asylum in the first safe country in which you arrive. Mexico is safe. The Mexican government can address this so that --

CHUCK TODD:

And they have been taking --

MICK MULVANEY:

They've been taking more --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

MICK MULVANEY:

-- but not enough. And I think that's part of this debate.

CHUCK TODD:

So why use, though, a stick to bash the Mexican government here? Why not offer them, why not offer them help with their southern border? Why not say, you know what, the Mérida Initiative, which was an initiative between the U.S. and the Mexican government to try to deal with the drug cartel situation? I mean, why not try more of those proposals first before just coming down with a hammer?

MICK MULVANEY:

Yeah, and you might ask the next question, why right now? Why did we do it so quickly? And here's why. A couple of days ago, I'll give you one anecdote, a couple days ago, a thousand people crossed in one group. Let's let that sink in for a second. It wasn't 40 people crossing in 25 different places. A group of 1,000 people stormed the border outside of Tijuana, Mexico, I believe, into El Paso, Texas. That's never happened before. The reason that we're doing things that people don't expect is that we're facing things on the border that we've never experienced before. So yes, we are using, using extraordinary tools, because there are extraordinary circumstances that dictate those.

CHUCK TODD:

Again, though, it is just hammer, hammer, hammer. I mean, why do you expect the Mexican government to cooperate, if you want to punish them, economically, even as you're, supposedly negotiating a trade agreement, which I know you're trying to say they're unrelated --

MICK MULVANEY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the Mexicans are going to think it's related.

MICK MULVANEY:

Yeah, well, you assume, in that question, that we haven't been having those conversations with the Mexicans, that of a sudden, this sort of came out of the blue, out of left field. And that's not the case. You know we've been in contact with the Mexicans. One of the reasons that you have seen them slightly increase the number of people they're taking back into Mexico is because we have been working with them for over, I think, almost two years now. So this --

CHUCK TODD:

So the reward --

MICK MULVANEY:

-- is ongoing.

CHUCK TODD:

So the reward for working with them is slap them with these tariffs.

MICK MULVANEY:

When you go from 700 people a day to 4,500 people a day, things are going to be different.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, but --

MICK MULVANEY:

That's a day, by the way.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask the question that, actually, the Wall Street Journal asked. Why are you putting the onus on the Mexican government and not on the American government?

MICK MULVANEY:

Because the American government, right now, the House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats. Since you need 60 votes in the Senate, you need Democratic help. They won't help us. I know that sounds outrageous. Our own government, our own Congress --

CHUCK TODD:

So make an eff --

MICK MULVANEY:

-- will not help --

CHUCK TODD:

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

What kind of effort -- When's the last time you met with Democrats on this issue?

MICK MULVANEY:

Great question.

CHUCK TODD:

It was a month ago, right? It's a month and a half ago.

MICK MULVANEY:

We’ve been meeting -- met with them twice over the course of the last four weeks. What do they do? They're on vacation this week. They’re leav --They left town. Our own government is not helping us fix this circumstance. It's been four weeks now since The New York Times, no friend of this administration, wrote an editorial that said, "It's time for the Democrats in Congress to give HHS more money to deal with the humanitarian crisis." But still, we get no help out of the Democrats.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm going to put up something here, though, that the tactics aren’t working -- it's from the Washington Post this weekend, by David Nakamura. And he writes, "Despite his pressure tactics, unauthorized immigration at the U.S.-Mexican border is at a 12-year peak. The tariff wars have sent jitters through Wall Street. And Pyongyang has resumed testing of short-range missiles, a sign that Kim is growing impatient." The point is, the president -- every initial idea is sort of a stick, stick, stick. And it hasn’t -- what results have come from it?

MICK MULVANEY:

Again, that's just not true. Keep in mind, we have continued a dialogue with the North Koreans. I saw that quote. I just had a chance to see it right there for the first time. Keep in mind, two years ago, the North Koreans were launching long-range, nuclear, nuclear-capable missiles that we think could reach the mainland of the United States. That's not happening right now. So things have gotten much better, because of what the administration has done. So every -- you’ve now said, a couple times, "Why are we doing these things? Why aren't we sort of using a carrot and a stick?" And we have been. We've been doing this now for several years. It's just sometimes, you have to take extraordinary measures.

CHUCK TODD:

This seemed rushed out the door on Thursday. You could've easily announced this on Monday or Tuesday. Was the president demanding this as a, as a response to the Mueller news cycle?

MICK MULVANEY:

No, no absolutely not. In fact, no, nothing could be further from the truth. What I told you before, about that group of 1,000 people crossing the border, was sort of the, the touchstone for this. But this is something the administration has taken up. I've been acting chief of staff now for about six months. I think we've probably discussed it two or three different times. So this is not a new idea. It was not out of left field.

CHUCK TODD:

But it's his idea. He's been wanting to do this. And everybody around him, it sounds like, have been trying to stop him from doing it.

MICK MULVANEY:

No.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that a fair --

MICK MULVANEY:

No, it's not fair.

CHUCK TODD:

No?

MICK MULVANEY:

You know how we work. I mean, the president comes in and says, "Look, here's a problem. Give me some ideas to fix it." And he'll get it from all sorts of different places. Were there other ideas floated? Yes. Were there other ideas considered? Yes. Were there people who spoke out on -- who gave, sort of, the downside of doing this? Yes. But that's what you want the president to hear. You want the president to hear all sides of an argument before he makes a decision.

CHUCK TODD:

The president bluffed on shutting down the southern border about a month ago. The uncertainty that the business community has with all this, they don't know what to make of this. Why is the president continuing to create uncertainty with the business community like this?

MICK MULVANEY:

The purpose of this is not to create uncertainty.

CHUCK TODD:

But It is.

MICK MULVANEY:

Well, it is. That is, that is one of the consequences. The purpose is to fix the situation on the southern border. We've tried all the ordinary things. Again, we -- I reached out, almost a month ago, to Senate Democrats. We had two meeting with them, with the head of DHS, with the head of HHS, to go over these issues. Six months ago, Nancy Pelosi sat in the White House. And we laid out for her why this was an emergency situation on the southern border. And she said, "I don't believe your numbers. I don't believe your facts. I don't believe what you're telling me." Under those circumstances, the ordinary things just don't work.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to move to the president's response to Robert Mueller. He seems to indicate that the whole Russia interference is a hoax. Does the president accept the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, in order to help him win?

MICK MULVANEY:

I think the bottom line, and this got lost again this week, is that it didn't make any difference. You ask a lot of people, "Show me who you voted for, and I'll tell you how you feel about the Russia investigation."

CHUCK TODD:

That's not the question though. That is not the question. That --

MICK MULVANEY:

Okay.

CHUCK TODD:

You guys always try to --

MICK MULVANEY:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

-- change it to, "But no votes were changed." That's not the point.

MICK MULVANEY:

Fine.

CHUCK TODD:

That's not the point. Does he accept the fact that Russia interfered to benefit him --

MICK MULVANEY:

Keep in mind --

CHUCK TODD:

-- which is what Robert Mueller found? What happened?

MICK MULVANEY:

The answer to the short question is, yes. Russia did attempt to interfere in our election. There's no question. Let's not lose sight of the fact that it was the previous administration that let that happen.

CHUCK TODD:

So what are you going to do?

MICK MULVANEY:

We are working now --

CHUCK TODD:

All right, what are you --

MICK MULVANEY:

We are --

CHUCK TODD:

-- going to do now?

MICK MULVANEY:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the president not -- is he going to condemn foreign interference? Is he going to make sure his own campaign doesn't participate in this? Does he want to criminalize foreign interference?

MICK MULVANEY:

Been doing it for two years, already been working with the states to make sure this can't happen again. It's stuff that doesn't percolate up to the level of national attention. But our Department of Justice, our DHS, have been working with states and local governments to make sure that no foreign government, Russia or anybody, has the ability to do, what in 2020, what they did in 2016. I just wish people, you know, tried to lay some of the blame where it belongs, on the previous administration, for letting it happen in the first place.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, are you confident that it was nobody in the White House or a White House advance-person that made the request to the Navy to cover up the U.S.S. John McCain?

MICK MULVANEY:

Oh no, I absolutely believe it was probably somebody on the advance team.

CHUCK TODD:

It was on your team?

MICK MULVANEY:

I - I - I -- the advance --

CHUCK TODD:

Is there any consequences for this?

MICK MULVANEY:

Look, I'll answer your question. An advance team is hundreds of people. You know this better than anyone --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

MICK MULVANEY:

-- you've been overseas with the president of the United States. The fact that some 23 or 24-year-old person on the advance team went to that sight and said "Oh my goodness, there's the John McCain" we all know how the president feels about the former senator, maybe that's not the best backdrop, can somebody look into moving it. That's not an unreasonable thing to ask.

CHUCK TODD:

Seriously?

MICK MULVANEY:

It's not. And it’s certainly –

CHUCK TODD:

It's not an unreasonable thing about a USS Navy --

MICK MULVANEY:

-- and it’s certainly not --

CHUCK TODD:

-- a US Navy Ship that we're worried the president of the United States might get set off because a ship, that was named for John McCain's grandfather first --

MICK MULVANEY:

Yes I know, it's a different --

CHUCK TODD:

And then his father --

MICK MULVANEY:

It’s a different John McCain, we - we get that. But you're the third or fourth journalist who's asked me, "Is someone going to get fired for this?" No. If you’re not getting along --

CHUCK TODD:

The president thought it was well meaning.

MICK MULVANEY:

And again, the president's feeling towards the former senator are well known. They're well known throughout the office. They're well known in the media. But to think that you're going to get fired over this is silly. If you're going to a staff meeting and say, "Look, Chuck is fighting with so-and-so. Let's not sit them together today at the meeting," is that a fireable offence at NBC? Goodness gracious. What kind of place are you folks running over here?

CHUCK TODD:

Well, that’s not -- but you're asking me something that doesn't happen. This happened here.

MICK MULVANEY:

This has, this has now gotten two minutes of time on a Sunday afternoon --

CHUCK TODD:

It is --

MICK MULVANEY:

-- This is just outrageous.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I like asking this at the end. Are you acting still?

MICK MULVANEY:

I act --

CHUCK TODD:

I keep saying, "acting” --

MICK MULVANEY:

-- I act as being chief of staff.

CHUCK TODD:

I mean, so are you not OMB director? Or could you be OMB director without Senate confirmation?

MICK MULVANEY:

My official -- That's two different questions.

CHUCK TODD:

I know.

MICK MULVANEY:

I am the Senate-confirmed director of the Office of Management and Budget.

CHUCK TODD:

Still?

MICK MULVANEY:

Still. And I am in my acting capacity as the chief of staff to the President of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you expect to ever go back to OMB?

MICK MULVANEY:

I like what I'm doing now.

CHUCK TODD:

Mick Mulvaney, as always, sir, thanks for coming on and sharing your views. It's always a pleasure talking to you.

MICK MULVANEY:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, more Democrats are calling for an impeachment inquiry after Robert Mueller's appearance, but none of them are named Nancy Pelosi. The panel is next. And as we go to break now and throughout the morning, we're going to show you moments from some of the more notable commencement addresses we've seen in recent weeks:

[BEGIN TAPE]

ANGELA MERKEL: Tear down walls of ignorance and narrow mindedness for nothing has to stay as it is

STACEY ABRAMS: When people are willing to admit they made a mistake and are willing to right their wrongs, then that should be celebrated and welcomed. It makes us smarter, it makes us better, it makes us stronger.

BILL NYE: Everyone you'll ever meet knows something you don't. Respect that knowledge and learn from others. It will bring out the best in them and it will bring out the best in you.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. The panel is here. Hugh Hewitt, host on the Salem Radio Network. NBC News correspondent Carol Lee. NBC News White House correspondent Kristen Welker. And historian Jon Meacham, author of the new book Songs of America, written with Tim McGraw. Welcome all. Man, you've always got something really cool --

JON MEACHAM: I've got my --

CHUCK TODD: -- that you're up to.

JON MEACHAM: I've got my tambourine.

CHUCK TODD: This is what life is like in Nashville. Anyway, Kristen Welker, let's first talk about what you took away from the Mulvaney interview. Specifically, and we'll get to the McCain stuff a little bit later, but specifically what you learned about impeachment and Russia.

KRISTEN WELKER: Well, I thought it took him a long time to answer your question about whether or not the president actually thinks that Russia meddled in the election and helped him to get elected. And you pressed him, Chuck, on what specific steps are being taken by this administration to prevent it from happening again. And he was able to name some of the steps that they've taken in trying to shore up state and local agencies. But he couldn't point to what the president has done, what the president has said. And time and time again when President Trump has been pressed on this-- I pressed him in the Oval Office, "Did you tell Putin not to meddle again in the election?" The president said, "It didn't come up." What is that going to look like at the G20 summit? That's something we'll be watching.

CHUCK TODD: Carol Lee, I mean, the president is interfering in British politics. So we know that he really doesn't probably care about foreign interference.

CAROL LEE: No. And that was really remarkable, that he has weighed-- look, presidents have weighed in on various issues overseas. We saw President Obama do that with Brexit. He obviously --

CHUCK TODD: At Cameron's invitation.

CAROL LEE: Correct.

CHUCK TODD: It was an invitation of the leader of that country.

CAROL LEE: President Trump sort of takes that to a new level. He did it with the Israeli elections. And he did it here. And the remarkable thing about what he's saying in the U.K. is that it's on the eve of his state visit there. And so it's creating all of this controversy where there was already a ton of controversy.

CHUCK TODD: Hugh, you were struck by the McCain stuff.

HUGH HEWITT: Yeah, I was --

CHUCK TODD: You were shocked.

HUGH HEWITT: I'm surprised --

CHUCK TODD: You said --

HUGH HEWITT: -- that they said, "No, it's 22- or 23-year-old staffer. And he won't be going out." But what really struck me is when you asked him, "Were the tariffs rushed out the door to cover Mueller?" Said, "Absolutely not." And I believe that. The Mueller report was melting like papier-mâché in the rain before Bob Mueller walked out. And I thought the statement like the report was irresponsible, indecipherable, completely inconclusive except the report made a conclusion, as did Mueller, there is no concrete evidence to charge any crime of --

CHUCK TODD: Insufficient evidence.

HUGH HEWITT: Insufficient. That --

CHUCK TODD: That's a different phraseology though. Insufficient evidence --

HUGH HEWITT: But that's the prosecutor's job. And so that's why it was so irresponsible. Bob Mueller knows -- and I've sat here for two years doing this. Leave him alone. Let him finish. Bob Mueller knows there is no crime. So when Attorney General Bill Barr, now fondly known among conservatives as Bill "the honey badger don't care" Barr, comes out and says, "We don't have a crime here, it's over.

CHUCK TODD: You know, Jon Meacham, it's interesting watching Mueller. Mark Mazzetti and Katie Benner wrote this in the New York Times about Mueller. "He said nothing, and the president said everything. He worked in secret, allowing the president to fill the void with reckless accusations of a witch hunt. His damning conclusions were encased in dense legal jargon. And the president distorted into vindication." And in some ways, Mueller I guess tried to have a do-over on Wednesday.

JON MEACHAM: Yeah.

CHUCK TODD: And the do-over lacked clarity.

JON MEACHAM: He took a mulligan and hit it in the lake, which I do a lot. So I know.

CHUCK TODD: I appreciate it.

JON MEACHAM: Still three. Yeah, yeah. No, it's true. And Trump would be a negative two.

CHUCK TODD: Yeah, right.

JON MEACHAM: He would not count it. Yes, we've all talked about it all week. Basically you had a total clash of cultures. This was the easiest scene to write you can imagine. Because you have two scenes. You have a guy from the Dean Acheson school of Washington establishment making a very coherent, seems to me, and responsible, and reasoned statement. And then you cut to across Pennsylvania Avenue Donald Trump was tweeting. And the tweeting, right now, the tweeting is going to win out over the fact and the reason. That's the great issue of the time.

CHUCK TODD: I want to play this quote from an attendee at Justin Amash's town hall. Listen to what she said about the Mueller report.

[BEGIN TAPE]

CATHY GARNAAT: I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn't heard that before. And I mainly listen to conservative news. And I hadn't heard anything negative about that report. And President Trump had been exonerated.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: It's fascinating. You know, somebody at the White House could look at that quote and say, "Huh. It's working."

KRISTEN WELKER: It's working. And I think to some extent the public had made up its mind from the moment that Barr put out the summary, even before the day that the Mueller report came out. And, Chuck, look at what happened on that day. Barr spoke an hour and a half before the report was made public and before those excerpts were released. And so I think it's hard to put the toothpaste back into the tube. The White House knows it. The president's attorneys know it. And they're basically making the case, "Look, the attorney general said it's time to move on. So we can." And, again, to your point, and you raised this, what would this have looked like if Mueller had spoken first --

HUGH HEWITT: But it's not just the president. I want to emphasize that legal writers and scholars who are as esteemed in our circles as Jon is among historians, Jack Goldsmith at Harvard, many others have said the Mueller report is exactly what a special counsel should not do, which is their job, reach a conclusion. And as a result, Judge Luttig, probably the most influential conservative not serving in government, was quoted in the Washington Post, he never allows himself to be quoted, as saying, "You can't prosecute a president, but you can always declare that he's committed a crime." And Mueller did not either in the do-over or the mulligan. It was a fiasco.

CHUCK TODD: Well, here's what it's done, Carol Lee, is that I think it's put Democrats in this uncomfortable spot. They don't know what to do. They don't even know how to stay on the same talking points. Take a listen to this.

[BEGIN TAPE]

REPRESENTATIVE JERRY NADLER: Impeachment is a political act. And you cannot impeach a president if the American people will not support it.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI: We can't impeach him for political reasons, and we can't not impeach him for political reasons.

REPRESENTATIVE DEBBIE DINGELL: I don't want to play into Russia's hand and divide this country more with a partisan impeachment. So I am totally schizophrenic right now about all of the different things that are in there.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: I think Congresswoman Dingell -- I think that is probably the most honest assessment of all congressional Democrats. I think they're frustrated that the president defies Congress. And at the same time, they're aware of how divisive this all is.

CAROL LEE: Yeah. And they're all tied up in knots. And you're going to see in the coming week Speaker Pelosi try to figure out where the next step goes. Because, you know, she'll have a Monday night leadership meeting. She'll then huddle with her caucus. This is the point at which she's under the most pressure than she's been about impeachment. And, you know, yet no one seems to know what her end game is. Right now, it’s just her message-- she doesn't have an exit strategy. She has a sort of counter-offer, which is, "Let these investigations finish. And let's give it time and let this play out." And who knows.

CHUCK TODD: Final word on this, Jon.

JON MEACHAM: One of the things that's -- and I don't face voters. So it's easy for me to say. But basically what's happening now is if you continue to raise the bar on impeachment, you're going to lower the bar on presidential lawlessness. That's the problem.

CHUCK TODD: That's probably a good way of putting it. We're going to pause the conversation here. When we come back, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke joins me. And as we go to break, another moment from this spring's commencement addresses.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: You are going to be ready to serve. You are going to be ready to lead. You are going to be aiming at the absolute highest point. And you are ready to fly, fight, and win.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: Welcome back. Few politicians have made more out of a losing campaign than Beto O'Rourke. The three term Texas congressman came within 2.6 percentage points of defeating Ted Cruz in Cruz’s bid for reelection to the Senate last year. But no Democrat has won statewide office in Texas in a quarter century, and so the excitement that O’Rourke’s near miss campaign generated, made him a winner in the eyes of many political journalists and national Democratic donors and it helped launch his 2020 presidential bid. But since starting with saturation television coverage, a Vanity Fair cover story, you could argue O’Rourke’s candidacy has stalled a little bit and he has decided he needs to do a better job of reaching out to a national audience. Well, Beto O'Rourke joins me now from Oklahoma City. Congressman O'Rourke, good to see you, sir.

BETO O'ROURKE: Thank you for having me on.

CHUCK TODD: Let me start with the basic question that you have to -- your job with the Democratic electorate. What distinguishes you from the other 22 people in this field that makes you the unique best nominee that the Democrats can find?

BETO O'ROURKE: You look at the range of historic challenges that we have in healthcare, the economy, confronting climate before it's too late, and in this very polarized country, continuously divided by this president and already badly damaged democracy, further undermined by him every day, my whole life's work has been about bringing people together and making this democracy work for everyone.Just to point out our campaign in Texas, the largest grassroots effort our state had ever seen. Won more votes than any Democrat in our state's history, but also won Independents for the first time in decades. Half a million Republicans joined our movement. And young-voter turnout was up 500%. And though we didn't win, we helped to flip the House of Representatives, with two new members of Congress from Texas, 17 African American women elected to judicial positions in Harris County, literally changing the face of criminal justice in our most-diverse city, showing that democracy can work when we show up for everyone, write nobody off, and take no one for granted. And we did it all without a single dime from a single political action committee. Making democracy work, that's what it's going to take to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 and bring this country together again in 2021.

CHUCK TODD: So your pitch is you can run a better campaign. But I guess the other question is, how is it that you're uniquely qualified to depolarize the country?

BETO O'ROURKE: Well, I think my service in Congress, every single day, for six years, in the minority, able to work with Republicans and Democrats alike to expand mental healthcare access for veterans, protect public lands, work on the U.S.-Mexico border to address legitimate security issues while facilitating --

CHUCK TODD: Can you really say though --

BETO O'ROURKE: -- trade and travel.

CHUCK TODD: -- In fairness, I mean, your six years in Congress were among the most contentious, until now, between a Republican Congress and President Obama. You served during a very contentious period, between those two. There aren't a lot of things that you can say you got done, in fairness, right?

BETO O'ROURKE: No. I'd argue the point with you, Chuck. Being able to connect veterans returning from service to this country, after they'd put their lives on the line for us, with the mental healthcare that they need to be able to get back on their feet and continue with their lives in their communities is one of the most-important things that I could've been associated with, one of my proudest accomplishments. Being able to do that in the minority, with a Republican-controlled Congress, shows that we will stop at nothing, work with anyone, anytime, anywhere, to serve those who put us into these positions of public trust in the first place. So I'm accountable to the people that I serve.I listen to them. I show up. I think that's part of healing our democracy. Don’t take big money, corporate money, special-interest money, lobbyist money, or PAC money. This is all about people in this country making this democracy work. It's the only way. There's no one person. There's no one political party. It's going to take a movement. It's going other take all of us, not just to defeat Trump, but to bring this country together around these historic challenges that we face.

CHUCK TODD: I want to dive in immigration here in a second, but one last question, sort of, on the state of your campaign. What -- are you disappointed that what started out with a lot of buzz suddenly feels as if you're sputtering a little bit? And what is your explanation for it?

BETO O'ROURKE: I'm not disappointed. I mean, I knew this was going to be tough. This is, perhaps, one of the hardest things that one can do. But there are so many extraordinary people, these volunteers who are showing up, knocking on doors, making phone calls for us. The folks that I meet in town hall meetings all over this country, who meet this moment with the urgency that it demands, whether it is gun violence, whether it is making sure that women's reproductive rights are protected, or guaranteeing that we confront the greatest challenge we have ever faced in climate, and make the generations that follow us proud because we've freed ourselves on our dependence on fossil fuels, embraced renewable energy, and led not just this country but the world to ensure that we don't warm this planet another 2° Celsius. These are the important conversations that we're going to have. And we won't be able to accomplish this in just one media cycle or in a couple of months. It's a long, hard-fought campaign. And I'm looking forward to meeting my fellow Americans, who want to become part of this.

CHUCK TODD: All right, you're one of only two of the candidates that has rolled out a full-pledge immigration plan. Ironically, both of you are Texans. I think that says a lot about that. But one of the things you say in your plan is the first thing you promise to do is to take executive action to undo things like the travel ban, deal with family separations. I am curious. How does this square -- when President Obama added DAPA, right, extended the DACA protections for Dreamers to some of the parents, you said this. "I strongly dislike adding to the precedent of presidents bypassing Congress to achieve something they think is important to national interest. The motive is noble. But the means are really hard to stomach." I know, once people get elected to the presidency, they suddenly love the executive power that they have. Are you worried that you're going to focus on executive power and, essentially, leave the immigration system vulnerable to another president?

BETO O'ROURKE: The critical thing is to make sure that we overturn this president's executive actions. So Muslim ban, when has a country ever banned all people of one religion, as though they're somehow defective or violent? That cannot be us. Or putting kids in cages or deporting their moms back to the countries from which they fled or keeping them separated, even today, with no hope or prospect of being reunited, those things, we must overturn on day one of our administration. But to your point, Chuck, absolutely, we're going to have to work with Congress to rewrite this country's immigration laws in our own image. The 9 million legal, permanent residents, let's make sure that they become U.S. citizens as soon as possible, waive their citizenship fees, mail them already-filled-out citizenship application forms. 11 million undocumented, start with the more than 1 million Dreamers. Free them forever from any fear of deportation by also making them U.S. citizens in this, their true home country. Follow our asylum laws. And then invest in solutions in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador. Reduce violence there, so that no family has to make that 2,000-mile journey to our border.

CHUCK TODD: On the asylum laws, do you have any empathy towards the administration right now that says they're being overwhelmed here? They need some temporary help from Congress to deal with this, whether it's, you know, maybe changing the asylum law. Are you at all sympathetic to that?

BETO O'ROURKE: My empathy and my sympathy is with the families who've had to flee the deadliest countries on the face of the planet, who are met with the greatest cruelty and inhumanity in this country's history. We have the capacity to be able to take care of those families --

CHUCK TODD: Does the city of El Paso --

BETO O'ROURKE -- I'm proposing a family case-management program.

CHUCK TODD: Are you -- can the city of El Paso keep handling more and more migrants coming over the border?

BETO O'ROURKE: This country, the United States of America, absolutely can do this. We had 400,000 apprehensions last year, Chuck. In the second year of the George W. Bush administration, there were 1.6 million apprehensions on the U.S.-Mexico border. If we treat people with the humanity that they deserve, if we release them from detention into a family case-management program to ensure that they follow our laws at a fraction of the cost to improve our security and ensure that the asylum laws that are on the books are followed by this country, we will be safer, more secure. And we will be living our values. But if we follow that up by addressing the root problems in the Northern Triangle of Central America, fewer families are going to have to make that journey in the first place. We cannot meet them with walls or cages. That will do nothing to alleviate the root problem. We must go to the source and show true leadership in this hemisphere.

CHUCK TODD: Beto O'Rourke, unfortunately, I have to leave it there. But that's why I figured we could dive on one issue. You come back, and I hope we can dive in on some more, as this campaign goes along. Thanks for coming on and sharing your views this morning. I appreciate it.

BETO O'ROURKE: Thank you.

CHUCK TODD: When we come back a growing number of Republicans say they want to see President Trump get a primary challenge. Why Democrats shouldn’t be celebrating that, at least not yet.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Learn to make friends with your troubles, make them your teachers instead of your tormentors. Or if you can do this imagine they're your saviors.

JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE: When I was young I felt like a weirdo. I felt like I didn't belong and I look around this room and I feel like I found all the rest of the weirdos. You know what I mean?

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: Welcome back, Data Download time. Ever since President Trump's campaign took off in June 2015, there's been a debate: Is he a symptom of the changing Republican Party or the cause? Either way, it is Trump's party now. In fact, 90 percent of Republicans say they approve of the job President Trump is doing, compared with only 46 percent of voters overall. But that near-unanimity among Republicans on job approval may mask an underlying discontent. Data from the Pew Research Center in May show that more than 4 out of 10 Republicans, 43 percent, would like to see Mr. Trump face a primary challenger in 2020. And that number is up from the same survey question just after the 2018 midterms. To be sure, right after the 2010 midterms, President Obama faced similar headwinds with 38 percent of Democrats at that time wanting him to be challenged in a primary, and so did President Bill Clinton in December of 1994, when 66 percent of Democrats, believe it or not, felt that way. And of course, both went on to win another term. But the Republican numbers aren't noteworthy because President Trump is in danger of a realistic challenge, they're more important because of who these voters are. It's 54 percent of Republican voters under 50 that want this, it’s 52 percent of Republican urbanites and it’s 50 percent of Republicans with bachelor's degrees. These are precisely the types of voters the party has been hemorrhaging in recent years and who cost Republicans control of the House in 2018, all those suburban districts that flipped. Given the small amount of voters who carried President Trump to victory last time, he has almost no margin for error in 2020. So if these voters are so unenthusiastic about this president that they're thinking about a primary challenge and are hoping for a challenger, they could end up not voting Democrat, but staying home on Election Day, and an enthusiasm gap that could be a huge advantage for the Democrats. When we come back, End Game and this question: Are Democratic candidates beginning to find their anti-Biden voice?

CHUCK TODD: Back now with End Game. A few weeks ago, I warned you of what I called ‘Biden pundit whiplash.’ First, he's down. Then he's up. Everybody figures he can't be beat. Now, apparently everybody's figured out how to beat him this weekend. Not just Team Trump, but also, uh, the other rest of the Democratic field. Listen to Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg here, um, with probably the most aggressive first hits, of sorts, on Joe Biden. Take a listen.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN: Some say if we all just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses. But our country is in a time of crisis. The time for small ideas is over.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: In these times, Democrats can no more keep a promise to take us back to the 2000s or the 1990s than conservatives can keep a promise to take us back to the 1950s. We can only look forward.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD: Jon Meacham, you can see the outlines of how they're going to try to go at, um, Biden there. Small ball with Warren, generational with Buttigieg. Effective?

JON MEACHAM: It’s, makes this makes sense. i would, if I were running against Joe Biden, I would say the same thing. One of the things that's so fascinating about what’s, going forward is I've been surprised that Biden has come out of the gate so strongly. And you wonder if the people who don't follow the stump speech, who are not on Twitter, basically believe, "Biden's our guy. He's close enough to Obama. We remember that fondly. And these other folks are just not what we need in a knife fight with Trump."

KRISTEN WELKER: I think the, the Biden campaign right now is struggling to figure out how to respond to these attacks and whether to respond to these attacks. He's been single-focused --

CHUCK TODD: I saw their response this weekend though. I thought it was interesting. He goes, "Well, you guys are all on the coasts. We're in the heartland."

KRISTEN WELKER: Right.

CHUCK TODD: Saw that the campaign said that.

KRISTEN WELKER: Right.

CHUCK TODD: They were in Ohio this weekend.

KRISTEN WELKER: Yeah, and, and, and what he wants to be doing is to be singularly focused on President Trump, to kind of look beyond that. But I think especially as we head into the first debate, he might have to sharpen some of his responses.

CHUCK TODD: Here's what's interesting, Carol. Let me read you what Dan Balz wrote this weekend. “There is a counter view…” This is about Trump’s, Team Trump's view about running against Biden. "There is a counter view that a Biden nomination would create a general election matchup that would give Trump the opportunity to cast himself again as the real change candidate, despite his incumbency. Biden would be cast as the embodiment of what many Trump voters revolted against in 2016, part of a political class of elites and career politicians who many Trump supporters contend do not care for them or their problems."

CAROL LEE: It's, it’s a real issue for the Biden campaign. Because what you see -- there's two things that are happening for him. There's the Democrats who are making this argument that he’s this, you don't need just electability. You can't just go with someone that you think is going to get electe -- elected. And then you have this Republican argument that Trump is relying on, which is basically a Hillary Clinton argument, saying like she tried to say, you know, that she could be the same time the future and the fast, as, as Dan Balz writes. And, and Biden is arguing the same thing. And, you know, the Trump folks have planned to seize on various things that he's said so far, particularly on China. And this gives them another sort of opening to, to go after him.

CHUCK TODD: Do, so, Hugh, do you think this is real? That they think, "Oh, we've got a way to run against Biden?” Or they'll still more nervous about running against Biden than anybody else?

HUGH HEWITT: I think they're going to wait and see what happens in these debates and pick their opponent based upon who would match up best against the president. Right now, I really do believe they're worried about Pete Buttigieg because --

CHUCK TODD: Why is that?

HUGH HEWITT: Because he's the most different. This is the David Axelrod theory, which --

CHUCK TODD: Right.

HUGH HEWITT: You, you always elect the person who is most different from the emotional component in the White House. What has happened to Beto O'Rourke is, is Pete Buttigieg has pancaked him on being the most interesting, and frankly the smartest guy, and a military veteran who's deployed. His best line at the California party was, "We cannot play it safe. We have to be as risky as possible." Well, Pete Buttigieg is the riskiest candidate. And he scares Trump.

JON MEACHAM: In so far as history is a guide here, think about Democrats who've won the presidency, right? John Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson, but an extraordinary moment. Jimmy Carter. Barack Obama. Bill Clinton --

CHUCK TODD: Don't forget Bill Clinton. Yeah.

HUGH HEWITT: Bill Clinton. You have folks who are younger, folks who are promising a change, folks who talk about the future, not the past. There is a risk that Joe Biden becomes the Bob Dole of this period. A no -- a great and noble man, but you can't build bridges to the past. That's that argument. But here you go. Donald Trump is president of the United States. So --

CHUCK TODD: Which has never happened in history.

CAROL LEE: Right.

CHUCK TODD: Right.

KRISTEN WELKER: Right.

HUGH HEWITT: All these facts that would ordinarily guide this conversation have been blown away.

CHUCK TODD: And that's been my contention. Is this such a unique moment that the only one-in-a-hundred chance that Biden has is right now?

KRISTEN WELKER: Right. And I think that Pete Buttigieg is doing something, just to pick up on your point, Jon, that is very Trumpian, which is he's really making use of the media. I mean ---

CHUCK TODD: Yeah, yeah.

KRISTEN WELKER: He's out there. He's out front. That's something that Beto O'Rourke is just starting to do. And I think that's why he's struggled in -- initially.

CHUCK TODD: That's an interesting point. The question is: Can he get back and get close to Buttigieg in that generational change lane? Thank you, guys. What a great set of conversations we had. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. Really appreciate it. And, remember, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.