Meet the Press - May 19, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Democrats' new reality. As the field of candidates grows, look who's sitting at the top of the polls.

JOE BIDEN:

The single most-important thing we have to accomplish is defeat Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Establishment Joe Biden, who has surged past the early progressive favorites.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

With your help, we're going to win the Democratic primary.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

We need big structural change in 2020.

CHUCK TODD:

Buoyed by the perception that he's best positioned to defeat President Trump. This morning, I'll talk to the candidate whose prospects have been hurt the most so far by the former vice president's entry, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Plus, abortion battle, a growing number of states pass laws sharply restricting access to abortion. Republicans cheer the challenges to Roe v Wade.

GOV. KAY IVEY:

All human life is precious.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats condemn them.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

Women's healthcare is under attack. And we will not stand for it.

CHUCK TODD:

All setting up a 2020 culture fight and a possible Supreme Court battle over abortion rights. Also, rising tensions with Iran.

REPORTER:

Mr. President, are we going to war with Iran?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I hope not.

CHUCK TODD:

Why some say Iran is a growing threat to the United States.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

If they take the first military strike, we will take the last military strike.

CHUCK TODD:

While others fear repeating the mistake of Iraq. My guest, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Joining me for insight and analysis are Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson; NBC News national political correspondent Heidi Przybyla; Rick Lowry, editor of National Review; and former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. 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. Once again, conventional wisdom has proved to be more conventional than wise. Not long ago, the Washington smarty-pants crowd proclaimed that the Democratic Party had moved sharply to the left, that Bernie Sanders was positioned to be the clear presidential frontrunner, and that 20th-century Joe Biden should seriously consider not running for the nomination of the 21st-century version of the Democratic Party. Well, what a difference reality might make. Since he entered the race less than four weeks ago, Joe Biden has dominated the polls. This week's Fox poll is just the latest showing Biden lapping Sanders and crushing the rest of the field. Look no further than the White House for validation. President Trump's near obsession with Biden is much more likely a sign of fear than of confidence, all of which is not to say that the Democratic Party has not moved to the left. It has. And I'll talk to Bernie Sanders in just a moment. But let's also acknowledge that we may experience Biden whiplash yet again. We haven't even had a debate, seen an attack ad, or watched Biden experience the gauntlet of the campaign trail on a daily basis. But what we're learning is that the progressive-activist Twitterverse doesn't necessarily reflect the larger Democratic universe. And for now, at least, Biden is having his moment.

JOE BIDEN:

If you want to know what the first and more-important plank in my climate proposal is, beat Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

At a kickoff rally in Philadelphia yesterday, former Vice President Joe Biden leaned into the idea that he is the Democrat best positioned to beat Donald Trump.

JOE BIDEN:

If American people want a president to add to our division, lead with a clenched fist, a closed hand, a hard heart, to demonize your opponents, to spew hatred, they don't need me. They've got President Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

With a mushroom field of 24 candidates and counting, 2020 Democrats are jockeying to sell the perception of electability.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

We're not waiting for ideas. What's missing is courage.

GOV. JAY INSLEE:

I know how to beat Donald Trump. I beat him 21 times in a row in court.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO:

I know how to challenge this guy. I've been watching him his whole born life, his whole adult life.

CHUCK TODD:

In a new Fox News poll, 73% of Democrats call it extremely important that the Democratic candidate for president can beat President Trump. Just 51% say it's extremely important the nominee shares their views on major issues.

DANIELLE VANDERZANDEN:

If Trump is reelected, and he gets to put more people on the supreme court, it's going to be a nightmare for many generations to come.

CHUCK TODD:

That angst and Biden's ascension in early polling is driving a number of 2020 contenders to distance themselves from some of the more-progressive ideas circulating, like ending private insurance…

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

That's not what I meant. I know it was interpreted that way.

JAKE TAPPER:

But the bill gets rid of insurance.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

No, no, no. It does not get rid of insurance.

CHUCK TODD:

…and breaking up big tech companies.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

That sounds more like a Donald Trump thing to say, like, "I'm going to break up you guys." No, we need to create systems and processes."

CHUCK TODD:

Biden's rise in the polls has his opponents taking cautious aim, attempting to remind voters he's a candidate of the past.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR:

Vice President Biden is a good person and was a great vice president. I believe that I'm the candidate for our time.

REP. SETH MOULTON:

It's time for the generation that fought in Iraq and Afghanistan to step in for the generation that sent us there.

GOV. JAY INSLEE:

It is not the real world to think Mitch McConnell is going to embrace a major effort to mobilize against the climate crisis.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

That 1994 crime bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country.

CHUCK TODD:

While the progressive wing of the party sharpens their attacks.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

Joe Biden was on the side of the credit card companies.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ:

I will be damned, if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say, "We need a middle-of-the-road approach to save our lives."

CHUCK TODD:

Among them, Bernie Sanders, who was the frontrunner in early polling, before Biden entered the race.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I disagree with many of the votes that he cast. I led the effort against those trade agreements. Joe voted for them. The war in Iraq, I voted against it. Joe voted for it.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now for the first time in a year on Meet the Press is Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Senator Sanders, it's good to have you back, sir.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Good to be with you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me start with something the vice president, former vice president, said yesterday. And it was a fascinating way -- he was talking about his climate change proposal. And he said, 'If you want to know what the first and most-important plank in my climate proposal is it was," quote, "beat Trump." You have said, if all the Democrats do is focus on Trump, you lose. Essentially, Biden is saying, no, no, no, no, no. It is all about Trump. Your reaction.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I think Democrats have got to do a couple of things. Number one, it goes without saying that we have got to beat, defeat Donald Trump, who, in my view, is the most-dangerous president in the modern history of this country. He's a pathological liar. He's a sexist and a racist, et cetera, et cetera. But that is not enough. If we're talking, for example, about climate change, what the scientists tell us is that we have 12 years before irreparable damage is done to this planet. Beating Trump is not good enough. You've got to beat the fossil fuel industry. You have to take on all of those forces of the status quo, who do not want to move this country to energy efficiency and sustainable energies. Chuck, what the scientists tell us is that the future of the planet is at stake. And we have a moral responsibility to make sure that our kids live, and our grandchildren live, in a healthy and habitable planet. That means massive investments in wind, solar, and so forth and so on. So taking on Trump, of course you've got to do that. But you need a real plan to transform our energy system.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I think another way of looking at it is you have to win, right? And you have to -- I think one of the cases you need to make to the Democrats is when -- you know, the former head of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania, and I gather that Joe Biden has a lot of support in Pennsylvania. But here's what he said about you. He said this. "I'm supremely confident Bernie Sanders could not win Pennsylvania. When Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren open their mouths, many, many Democrats in Pennsylvania stick their fingers in their ears." Tell us how you win Pennsylvania.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Look, you know, let me just say this to Ed, who I've known for many years, and to the entire Democratic establishment. Let me tell this to Ed, that there are millions of people who are sick and tired of that Democratic establishment. What Ed should know is that a recent poll that came out had me, if I'm not mistaken, eight point ahead of Trump in Pennsylvania. We've had polls which have me way ahead of him in Michigan and Wisconsin and, in fact, all over this country. Now, the reason that we can beat, that my campaign can beat Donald Trump is we're going to create the kind of excitement that we need to bring out the large voter turnout. We're going to bring out young people, who not only are interested and are going to fight for real climate change, they want to raise that minimum wage to $15 an hour, a fight that I have been helping to lead. They want healthcare for all through a Medicare-for-all, single-payer program. They understand that it is absurd that young people should be leaving college 50,000, 60,000, 100,000 dollars in debt. They want public colleges and universities tuition free. They want criminal justice reform. They want immigration reform. And the truth is that our campaign, I think, can generate that excitement. Our generation can talk to some, some of the Trump supporters, who now know that they were lied to, when Trump said he was going to provide healthcare to everybody and then tried to throw 32 million people off their healthcare. I think we are the campaign that can beat Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, I would argue, you made a very similar case against Hillary Clinton four years ago. And you came up short. Why do you think, this time --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Hey, Chuck, Chuck, you know I --

CHUCK TODD:

-- especially when it seems like you have an exhaustive -- I'm just saying, you have, you have a part of the Democratic Party --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Chuck, let me just say --

CHUCK TODD:

-- that seems to be gravitating toward Biden. Go ahead.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

You know, we came up short. Yeah, we took on the entire Democratic establishment. We took on the Democratic National Committee. We took on every Democratic governor. We took on every Democratic mayor. And we ended up winning 22 states and 13 million votes and, in fact, bringing forth an agenda that transformed the Democratic Party. Four years ago, people were not talking about the issues they're talking about now. So I understand that our campaign is unique in the sense that we're going to try to win the Democratic primary. We're going to try to beat the -- Trump. But you know what else we're going to try to do? We're going to try to transform the United States of America, deal with this massive level of income and wealth inequality, deal with Wall Street, deal with the greed of the drug companies and the insurance companies and the fossil fuel industry. So our campaign has a different goal. It's to transform this country. And we're taking on the entire establishment, when we do that, including Ed Rendell.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I want to focus a second on Medicare for all. Michael Bennet, another candidate for president, believed that the lesson of 2018 was not Medicare for all but fix Obamacare. I would like you to take a listen to what he said to me earlier this year about that.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Now, what Democrats are saying is, if you like your insurance, we're going to take it away from you, from 180 million people that get their insurance from their employer and like it, or 20 million Americans who are on Medicare Advantage and love it. That seems like a bad opening offer for me.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

And Senator, I'm well aware that you believe that, look, you were in favor of Obamacare. But it was not your first choice. And I know that. But as you know, there's a lot of voters who voted for Democrats in 2018 to fix Obamacare first then look and see, okay, should it be something different? Are you obligated to fix Obamacare first?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, we're obligated to make sure that Trump and the Republicans do not throw tens of millions of people off the healthcare that they currently are enjoying. But here's the point. The point is the current healthcare system is absolutely dysfunctional. You've got 34 million without any health insurance, even more who are underinsured. Elderly people can't afford dental care, hearing aids, eyeglasses. And for all of that, Chuck, we manage to spend twice as much money per capita on healthcare as do the people of any other country. And we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs. Now, I know that the healthcare industry, the drug companies, the insurance companies, will spend hundreds of millions of dollars, including ads on NBC, attacking Bernie Sanders, attacking Medicare for all. But you know what? You look at the polling. The people support Medicare very, very strongly.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

And all we are saying is you've got a good program in Medicare. Expand it to everybody else. Improve Medicare for senior citizens. And when we do that, we're going to provide comprehensive care to all people. And we're going to do it by saving substantial sums of money --

CHUCK TODD:

Are we in --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

-- in a dysfunctional healthcare system.

CHUCK TODD:

Under your plan, we're eliminating private insurance, correct?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

For -- we are going to provide comprehensive healthcare to all people. And what you're going to have is private insurance, if people want it, for supplementary-type benefits, cosmetics and so forth.

CHUCK TODD:

But everybody has the same baseline government healthcare insurance under your plan.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

It’s a -- well, that government healthcare is what Medicare is right now. And if you look at the polling, Medicare is far more popular than private health insurance. People like Medicare.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

We have to expand it to cover every man, woman, and child over a four-year period.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you say to the people worried about the disruption? As you know, everybody hates their healthcare, until you try to disrupt them of their -- of their current system.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I'm not so sure about that. But what I do know, what I do know is that there's massive disruption. One of the problems with the healthcare system right now is, if your employer, Chuck, decides to get another insurance company, you may be able -- you will be losing the doctor you currently go to or have to pay a lot more to get it. Every time somebody loses their job, every some -- every time some employer changes health insurance policy, there is disruption. That impacts tens of millions of people. When you have Medicare for all, you will finally have stability. Everybody in the country will have comprehensive healthcare, covering all basic healthcare needs. We will save taxpayers, we will save the citizens of this country, on healthcare, substantial sums of money.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to ask you about the big news in the state legislatures this week and, frankly, this year on the issue of abortion. Simply this, will you have a litmus test for judges on Roe? It's pretty clear, in 2020, no matter which side of the abortion issue you're on, it is going to be on the ballot, the issue of Supreme Court justices. Do you believe in that Roe litmus test?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Look, I believe what they did in Alabama is unbelievable. Other states are doing it. The idea that women in this country should not be able to control their own bodies is beyond belief. They have that constitutional right. So if you're asking me, would I ever appoint a Supreme Court justice who does not believe in defending Roe versus Wade, who does not believe that a woman has the right to control her own body, I will never do that.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there any restri --, what are the restri -- ,Do you believe there should be any restrictions on abortion in law?

BERNIE SANDERS:

I think that that is a decision that is being -- that should be made by the woman and her physician. And I think many of, you know, what people are doing, sadly, is creating a political issue out of a medical issue. So the decision about -- women should be able to control their own body. And those decisions are made by a doctor and the woman.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you at all concerned, though, about this idea that people may try to worry about the sex of a child or essentially --

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I mean, that's a concern, yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

Are those type of restrictions on abortion something you're open to?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, that’s not a -- I wouldn't use a restriction on it. That's an issue that society has got to deal with. And it is of concern.

CHUCK TODD:

How would you deal with that in the law?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

I don't know how, at this particular point, I would deal with it. But that is an issue that we really have got to deal with.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, I want to move to some foreign policy. The New York Times spent a lot of time talking about your trips to Central America. I know you got pretty worked up about those things. I think the larger question, and let me just frame the question this way, the larger question's going to be, if you're the nominee, whether you like it or not, the right's going to basically hammer and sickle you to death. How do you prevent it?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I don't mind the right wing doing it. But I understand they will do it. I don't want the media to do it. Look, when I was a young man, I plead guilty. I voted -- I worked hard, as a young man, against the war in Vietnam. I don't apologize for that. As a member of the United States House, I helped lead the effort against the war in Iraq, which turns out to have been the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of the United States. As a United States senator, I led the effort to pass a bipartisan resolution to get America out of the war in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia. And I've got to tell you something, Chuck. I hope you guys pay attention to Yemen. What's going on in Yemen now is the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of people, children, dying. And I'm doing my best to get the U.S. out of that war. And if Trump wants to go to war in Iran, that will make the war in Iraq look like a cakewalk. It will make it -- so we've got to do everything we can to stop that. If people want to attack me, because I think that war should be the last resort, you can attack me. But I've seen too much horror. I was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. I talked to too many veterans whose lives were destroyed by the war in Iraq. I will do everything I can to see problems solved diplomatically, rather than through war.

CHUCK TODD:

A couple of questions. I'm curious. On the issue of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, would you move it back out of Jerusalem, if you thought it was a way to get a peace deal?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Yeah. I think it’s something that we should -- I can't give you a definitive answer, but yeah. The answer is, look, whether it is Iran and Saudi Arabia, whether it is Israel and the Palestinians, the United States needs to bring people together, needs an even handed policy. In Saudi Arabia, for example, for decades, we have supported a murderous regime which fights democracy every single day. So I want an even handed policy which brings people together.

CHUCK TODD:

Would you move the embassy, now, out of Jerusalem? Or would you keep it there for the present?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Look, Chuck, that is -- we'll take that one step at a time. It’s something -- you know, bottom line is, we need to be a -- we are the most-powerful country on Earth. Let's bring people together and try to bring peace.

CHUCK TODD:

And a final question on the foreign policy front, you point out humanitarian problems all the time. How would you deal with China and the Uyghurs, the Muslims that they're, I guess they call it, reeducating? How do you hold China accountable for that without wrecking the economy?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I don't think you have to wreck the economy to tell China that you cannot have, I guess, it's the equivalent of almost concentration camps. Look, the United States -- and very sadly, under Donald Trump, we have moved in exactly the wrong way. He supports authoritarian governments all over the world. I believe we have to support democracy and human rights. So I think China is an important partner. I think we have to deal with trade issues. But I think it should be known that we cannot allow -- we have to stand up and oppose, governments that are doing terrible things to minorities.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a -- is humanitarian reasons a reason to use military, to use military force? You know, that's what we did in Kosovo and Bosnia.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Well, I mean, it depends. Obviously, you have to look at case by case. If you're talking about the need to prevent genocide, yeah, I guess so. Yeah, but obviously, every situation is different.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Bernie Sanders, we got to a lot. I always wish we can get to more. And I hope we see you more often than we have in the last year. Thanks for being on and sharing your views. And stay safe on the trail.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

Much appreciated. When we come back, the Democratic race and the number that should have President Trump concerned. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson; the former Homeland Security Secretary, current president of the University of California system, Janet Napolitano, she's also author of the new book, How Safe are We: Homeland Security since 9/11; NBC News national political correspondent Heidi Przybyla; and Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. Welcome, everybody. Nice to see you on this coast.

JANET NAPOLITANO:

I guess it's good to be back.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me start with a couple of pieces of conventional wisdom that might be exploding before our eyes. First, I want to put up the Fox News poll. Because there's an interesting number here. First of all, it shows Biden with a double-digit lead, 49/38. And then look at all the other matchups and look at the Trump number. Do you see a pattern there? Sanders, 46/41. Warren, 43/42. Harris, 41/41. And Buttigieg, lucky for Trump, doesn't get to 41. So he can lead somebody, but 41. I'm trying to figure out which conventional wisdom is more inaccurate, that Joe Biden can't get the nomination, or that President Trump is underrated as a candidate. Sometimes, I think, Rich, we overrate the president's stance, because of '16.

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah. I mean, but how could you not factor that in? And I would expect him, unless the Democrats have an absolute poisonous nomination process or pick a real perilous candidate to be running behind, from the outset of the general election race, on Biden, look, I confess. I totally underestimated his strength. I overestimated the power of the left. And it's maybe not surprising, I'm a conservative pundit, that I would get that wrong. Maybe expected I would get that wrong. But a lot of the Democratic field got it wrong and may now be mispositioned to fight him for the large center of the Democratic Party.

CHUCK TODD:

Eugene, it does seem as if a lot of Democrats spent too much time on Twitter.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah. Some people, they do. Because Twitter-- the Twitterverse is not the universe. And it's more to the left. I mean, the conventional wisdom, on Twitter and in, sort of, haute political circles, was that Biden was too conservative, that he would have a hard time. I've got to say, I never quite bought that. Because there is a larger Democratic Party. For one thing, you have to get support from African Americans. You have to get support from Latinos. You have to get a lot of voters, who are not, some of whom are fairly socially conservative and who are kind of the salt-of-the-Earth types that you don't associate with, you know, the most-left, progressive policies, necessarily. So my attitude was, let's see what happens, when Biden came in. Now, I have been surprised at the size of his early lead.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, and it's only growing.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

It is impressive. It's impressive.

CHUCK TODD:

Janet Napolitano, you live and breathe the California world. And sometimes, people think, "Oh, in UC Berkeley or in Oakland or in the Bay Area, you guys live in your own bubble." I'm curious. This is Joe Biden's message to all democrats yesterday. I want to play a piece of it and see how it plays in Oakland.

JOE BIDEN (ON VIDEO):

And our president is the divider in chief. Trump inherited an economy from Obama-Biden administration. That was given to him, just like he inherited everything else in his life. You want to know what the first and most-important plank in my climate proposal is beat Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

Is that going to carry? I just think of the Bay Area, the people you interact with. Are they pragmatic right now about Biden? Or are they like, "No, no, no. We like our Kamala Harris," or, "We want to see a more diverse debate"?

JANET NAPOLITANO:

Well, obviously, Senator Harris is very popular in California. But I think Vice President Biden will make a serious play there. And before I was in California and D.C., I was the governor of Arizona. And Democratic politics play a bit differently there than on the coast. And so I'm not surprised that Vice President Biden has come out of the gate so strongly. Because I do believe that, within the Democratic Party, there is a core, a core of what I think of as kind of pragmatic progressives, who want the country to be working in a more-united fashion, that are very conscious and supportive of civil rights, of human rights, of women's rights, but are also kind of skeptical of some of the ideas coming from the far left.

CHUCK TODD:

So Heidi, now we're sitting here. If you're a candidate not named Biden, frankly, or Bernie, what do you do?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA:

I think the conventional wisdom has been that you just attack Biden. But that doesn't seem to be working. And so maybe what needs to happen is that that second-tier field needs to winnow a bit. And that is why, possibly, you're seeing some of these other candidates, like Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, peel off support from Bernie.Because what's happening to Bernie is that his base of support, from 2016, which, by the way, was never really as massive as people thought it was. Because we were talking about caucus states here. We weren't talking about the Democratic primary vote. But that is now spread out. And that is why it's hard for any single one of these candidates to emerge as a viable threat to Joe Biden. If you watched his campaign speech launch, he's running a general-election strategy here. He was only focused on Trump. And he made a specific pledge that, "I am not going to go after any of these Democrats." And he was trying to balance that by saying, "Look, I'm not going to allow anyone to walk all over me. But I think that people are tired of the name calling. They're tired of the divisiveness. And I'm ready for a bare-knuckle fight. But I'm not going to stoop to that level. And I'm not going to alienate some of these more-pragmatic, republican moderates, as well. I want a government that works again." And I think that was a general-election--

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah, but what I think is interesting is, in Biden's announcement video and this speech, he's put, like, lowest common denominator American political rhetoric in a blender, this is what would come out. It's not new. It's very cliché. "We need to work together. We need unity. America's an idea." But it has a new salience, one, because Trump very rarely talks in those terms. And two, a lot of the other democratic candidates are consumed with making a more-fundamental critique of America. But this is a big caveat I still have, is when, ever, have we elected the elder statesman promising a restoration? And maybe conditions are just right for it. But I think fresh and new is still the threat to him, not necessarily the left.

CHUCK TODD:

And Gene, the only thing I say in this, I worry we're all trapped in the past, meaning we always know how things worked before. We've never had Donald Trump as president. So we have no idea how this impacts him.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

We always, you know, fight the last election, right, not the one that's coming up. And so no, we have no idea, right, how, really, to run against Donald Trump. What's going to work or not work against Donald Trump? We don't know. We have some idea of how the president will campaign. But we're in terra incognita.

CHUCK TODD:

Janet Napolitano, should it matter to Democrats whether a guy like Bernie Sanders can carry Arizona? I mean, should Democratic primary voters be thinking about that as much as they think about Medicare for all?

JANET NAPOLITANO:

Absolutely. I think, you know, the Democratic Party needs to think of the whole country. But there are states in the Rocky Mountain west, Arizona, New Mexico, I think Colorado's turning safely blue, but even in Nevada, you know, there are a lot of Electoral College votes in those states. And Trump won Arizona by three, 3 1/2 points. That's a very doable contest in 2020.

CHUCK TODD:

But can Bernie Sanders carry it?

JANET NAPOLITANO:

That's a more-difficult question. I think Arizona Democrats tend to the more-conservative side, if we're using that kind of spectrum.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. We will pause it here. When we come back, Iran, the abortion debate, and a Republican congressman saying President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct. Now, I'm going to talk to a republican senator, Tom Cotton from Arkansas, next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Republicans, this week, found themselves divided on a couple of important issues. First, there was a clear division, within the administration, over how aggressively to respond to intelligence showing a growing military aggressiveness by Iran. And second, Republicans in Washington seem to be deeply reluctant to openly embrace the restrictive anti-abortion measures passed by a number of states, particularly the one in Alabama. Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas joins me now. Senator Cotton, by the way, is also the author of a new book about my favorite place to go here in Washington, A Sacred Duty, a behind-the-scenes look at Arlington National Cemetery. Senator Cotton, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Thanks for having me on, Chuck. Thanks for your interest in Sacred Duty.

CHUCK TODD:

Absolutely. And I want to talk about it a little bit at the end. But let me start with the abortion debate. Because one of it is a -- you’re a constitutional -- you’ve, you took your constitutional law. You went to Harvard law. The question really is, is when do you believe a fetus has constitutional rights?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Chuck, like a lot of folks here in Arkansas, I'm pro-life. And I think a basic responsibility of government, in a civilized society, is to protect innocent life. I know that that's a passionate question on both sides. One of the problems of having unelected judges in Washington make that kind of decision for us, as a nation, is that you can't have space for democratic debate, where you can reach consensus and try to find some common ground. I think that's unfortunate. But I think that what I'm most proud of here, in Arkansas, is that we have recognized that the frontiers of medical science are being pushed back. So doctors are saving the lives of babies born in NICUs in this state at 22 or 20 or even earlier times. I think that's the kind of common ground that we can look for right now, at a time when unelected judges are still setting the basic rules on this very passionate issue.

CHUCK TODD:

But you, you, you yourself must have an opinion on this. When does -- when does a fetus have constitutional rights, in your mind?

T

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Chuck, what I want to try to find, in this debate, is area where we can, where we can agree on what we should do in a civilized society. If a baby can survive outside of its mother's womb, in a NICU, as the amazing doctors that we have in this country are able to do, at 22, 20 weeks, then we should protect that life. I know there's a lot of divisive issues and divisive debates. I mean, look, earlier this year, in the United States Senate. We proposed legislation that merely would've said, "If a baby is born during an attempted abortion, that that baby has the right to live and the right to medical care, just like any other person does." Every Democrat running for Senate voted against that law in one of the most-extreme votes I've seen cast in my four years in the U.S. Senate.

CHUCK TODD:

You had, at one time, sponsored a bill, though, that wanted to declare that life began at conception. You did that in the House. But you do not support a similar bill that Senator Rand Paul introduced. Why the change?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Chuck, I haven't reviewed Senator Paul's bill. I personally believe that life does begin at conception. That's the standard that most Republicans who have held the presidency in modern times have held as well. Now they understand that there are certain tragic cases like rape or incest or when a mother's life is endangered that we ought to make an account for. That was the position that Ronald Reagan has as well. But I personally believe that life begins at conception. As long as we have unelected judges making the basic rules for abortion though, we should try to find ways in which we can protect the most innocent lives that can survive.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it, is it hard to make the -- if you believe that life begins at conception, then how do you justify an exception for rape and incest?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Chuck, because we live in a democratic society. I recognize not everyone shares my views or the views of the vast majority of Americans or of Arkansans. That's why I say that one of the major problems of having unelected judges make these kinds of decisions is we don't have the ability to have those democratic debates. Have an open and frank conversation without playing within the guardrails that unelected judges have put up in this country. Look, states are going to make different decisions. New York State earlier this year enacted a very extreme abortion law that would allow abortion almost up to the point of delivery. Some politicians in Virginia earlier this year, like the disgraced governor, proposed potentially even euthanizing children that are born during an attempted abortion. I think those extremely -- those are extreme positions. But what we ought to have in this country is the ability to debate these in forthright democratic way and to reach some kind of consensus on them.

CHUCK TODD:

Should this be a political decision or should this be a medical decision? I say this, you brought up the science and you talked, that the Arkansas bill was trying to match the science. Should this be a -- should, should you guys be getting a panel of medical doctors to decide, “OK this is when a fetus is viable”, therefore -- should this be decided by medical professionals and not by frankly I don't think you or I went to medical school?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Chuck, medical science, of course, informs these decisions but ultimately these are moral questions. But medical science is advancing. Ten or 15 years ago a child that was born at 22 or 20 weeks might have not been able to survive. As the progress of medical science advances though that informs our debate. Now, it's true from the other perspective, as well. I mean, we have some horrific practices that are now possible by medical science, such as screening for abortion --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

-- for people who may want to select for a male child instead of a female child or who look for various kinds of genetic defects or indicators. And they want to abort a child that may not even have those illnesses or those diseases when they're born. I think those are barbaric practices that any civilized nation should not permit.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you want Roe completely overturned? Or do you want it done in such a way where there is still a basic protection? I mean, you talked about a democratic process. It is something -- nearly two to one, in the exit poll in 2018, of folks favoring keeping Roe as is.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Well, Chuck, technically, it's Planned Parenthood v. Casey from the early 1990s that currently governs abortion laws in this country. I think those decisions were wrongly decided as a constitutional matter. I think these are decisions that the American people ought to make through their elected representatives. Again, people are going to make different decisions. Those decisions will have more democratic legitimacy, as some of the dissenters in Planned Parenthood, like, you know, Scalia said --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

-- if they're available for democratic debate, if people of differing viewpoints, through their elected representatives, can make these decisions, informed by all the relevant facts.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me move to Iran. I want to play something that Senator Angus King said about the intelligence that he has seen, regarding Iran. He said this earlier this week. I want to get you to respond to it.

[BEGIN TAPE]

SEN. ANGUS KING:

I don't think there's faulty intel here, necessarily. I think the intel may be accurate. But the unanswered question, again, is are they reacting to our assertions of action in the Middle East? Or are we reacting to them? And that's, that’s an unanswered question for me.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Do you concede that the intelligence may be -- that folks are interpreting it, maybe the way they want to interpret it?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

So Chuck, I’ve read the intelligence, not just over the last 2 weeks but for the last 4 and a half years, the intensity and the frequency of this intelligence reporting is significantly heightened over the last 2 to 3 weeks. I don't have any doubts that Iran started taking provocative action 2-3 weeks ago. The United States, on the recommendation of our military, made prudent decisions like deploying a new aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers and patriot missile defense systems to the region. We didn't do those to prepare for military action against Iran. We did those things to deter military action by Iran.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think the president should -- he wants to sit down with either the Ayatollah or Rouhani and negotiate this. What do you think?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Well, at this point Chuck, we're focused on trying to deter military action against the United States personnel and our allies in the region. And that's not very fruitful conditions for sitting down with any foreign leader. Iran is an outlaw regime that for 40 years has been waging a low-grade war against the United States. You know, that war has turned hot at times, in the 1980s, they attacked American flag vessels in the Persian Gulf. In the Iraq war, one of the deadliest bombs was smuggled in from Iran. They have the blood of over 500 dead Americans on their hands. Some of those --

CHUCK TODD:

You’ve --

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Americans, as I write about in Sacred Duty, would be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. But right now, we are at a state of heightened tension, because of Iranian aggression.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think an Iran war would somehow be easier -- would be as easy as you seem to describe. I mean, one strike, last strike. That was -- There was a lot of that talk about Iraq and obviously that turned out to be not so easy.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Well Chuck, there's a whole range of military options that our Department of Defense provides to the president. Those range from the kind of military strikes we've taken twice against Syria under President Trump to what you saw in Iraq. No one, to my knowledge, is proposing what you saw in Iraq with 150,000 troops mass to invade a country, overthrow its government, and try to govern 80 million Iranians. We'd like 80 million Iranians to be able to live in a normal country that doesn't try to overthrow –

CHUCK TODD:

So you're not advocating regime change –

SEN. TOM COTTON:

-- other governments in the region and terrorize the world.

CHUCK TODD:

You're not advocating regime change?

SEN. TOM COTTON:

We'd like to see the regime change its behavior. But my point about the first strike and the last strike is the United States is not going to take the first strike here. But if Iran attacks the United States or our allies in the first strike, then it will be up to America in a time and a manner of our choosing to take the last strike because our military will devastate theirs.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I let you go, Sacred Duty: A Soldier's Tour at Arlington National Cemetery. Tell me one place you should tell Washingtonians, if they've not been to one part of Arlington National Cemetery, that they might not have seen, that they should see.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Well, Chuck, every headstone in Arlington tells a story. And as I write about in Sacred Duty, the old guard of Arlington provides the honors to our fallen heroes. It was an honor for me to serve there. But this book is their story, not my story. But if you really want to see a living testament to the heroism of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen, go to Section 60. It's where young men and women who have been killed in the last 17 years, in the war on terror, are buried. It's un -- unusual that it's got so many visitors, so many family members, so many friends, so many mementos. It can be sad. But especially as we approach Memorial Day, even though I know it's called the saddest acre in America, I prefer to think of it as the noblest acre in America. Because it represents the very best among us and what they were willing to do for our freedom and our safety.

CHUCK TODD:

I find walking Arlington National Cemetery inspirational, that's for sure. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican from Arkansas, thanks for coming on and sharing your views, sir. Much appreciated.

SEN. TOM COTTON:

Thanks, Chuck. Thanks for the interest in Sacred Duty.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, why some voters hurt by the trade war with China are still likely to support President Trump. But there's a reason the president is backing off some other tariffs. That's next.

CHUCK TODD:

We are back. Data Download time. If there's one policy President Trump has always believed in, it's tariffs. And Mr. Trump's trade war with China escalated this week when he increased tariffs on goods imported from China. Well, President Xi responded with tariffs of his own. And those Chinese tariffs hit some very specific states politically that could be impacted in 2020.

Of the top ten states that will be hit the hardest from the agricultural tariffs, eight of them voted for President Trump in 2016, which on its surface would be bad news for the president in 2020. And while he could lose support in places like Indiana or Kansas, these states aren't likely to switch from red to blue.

In fact, because these voters support the president, they may be more willing to take some pain if it means pushing back against China. But keep an eye, by the way, on those Senate races especially in places like Iowa and Texas, which could also take a hit from these tariffs. Now, not all red states are created equal, which is why it's a different story when it comes to auto tariffs. This week, the president delayed hikes on auto tariffs by up to six months. Why?

Well, just look at where many of these auto workers live. It's states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. President Trump won each of these formerly Democratic states by very tiny margins. He has little room for error in 2020. Lose just a few of those voters who don't like the president's trade policy, and President Trump will likely lose those states and the election overall.

Look, President Trump seems genuinely to believe that trade wars are winnable and that tariffs are a weapon and an answer. But so far, he's been careful to make sure those tariffs don't fall where they could hurt him the most in the electoral college. And as we go to break, we want to announce our third annual Meet the Press Film Festival in collaboration with AFI, the American Film Institute.

Here's what we're looking for: the best short-form documentaries there are, which will be showcased in October right here in Washington. You can find out more information at AFI.org or at MeetThePress.com, especially if you're a filmmaker ready to submit. When we come back, End Game. Those new restrictive abortion laws and the role they could play in the 2020 campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. And we're going to focus on abortion here at the end. As we were discussing, Democrats don't like when the debate is about late-term abortions and Republicans don't like it when rape and incest becomes up for debate. Here was some interesting Republican reaction to the Alabama law this week. Take a listen.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY:

It goes further than I believe, yes.

PAT ROBERTSON:

There's no exception for rape or incest. It's an extreme law.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY:

Well, it's going to be up to the court, you know, and so forth.

CHUCK TODD:

Ah, yes. Senator Richard Shelby there from Alabama, Heidi. When he was a Democrat, he actually supported an act in the Senate to codify essentially abortion. Now, he is pro-life as a Republican. Alabama, where's this headed?

HEIDI PRZYBYLA:

I think that you see so many Republicans responding this way. It was not just Shelby. It was McCarthy. It was Ronna McDona-- Romney.

CHUCK TODD:

The president.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA:

The president. Because they understand that this could fundamentally change the balance of passions in the culture wars in this country. Chuck, I covered The Women's March, and I also covered moderate Republican women who believed that Trump would never be a threat to abortion rights. Well, these laws that are passing are not just passing in one state. They're passing in multiple states with no exceptions for rape and incest. It is not just Alabama. I think this is a potential for Democrats to reach out to these moderates who, by the way, a number of them actually did vote for Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. But for moderate suburban women, this is going to be an issue for sure, especially if these laws keep pushing the envelope, even if they don't make it to the Supreme Court. Because so many of them are so similar.

CHUCK TODD:

Rich Lowry, Democrats are going to be running using Pat Robertson in their TV ads, saying, "It's an extreme law."

RICH LOWRY:

Yeah, I think any long-fuse movement for social and moral reform has to strike a balance between purity and pragmatism. And I think Alabama gets that balance wrong. I think the heartbeat bills in Georgia and other states though do perform an important educative function in just driving home how early a fetal heartbeat is detectable. So the pro-life movement ultimately since the Supreme Court has basically shut down Democratic deliberation on this issue for the time being has to be about public persuasion. I think those bills help. Alabama doesn't.

CHUCK TODD:

Janet, where are you on this?

JANET NAPOLITANO:

You know, I think, Rich, I agree with you. I think the Alabama bill is obviously extreme. It was designed to get to the Supreme Court and get there rapidly so that if it ultimately gets to that court, the interaction between the court's calendar and the election calendar is going to be very interesting. And I also agree with you. I think this is an issue that for the pro-choice side has never had the kind of urgency--

HEIDI PRZYBYLA:

Passion.

JANET NAPOLITANO:

--as it has, passion as it has on the anti-choice side. But this could flip that. And for the life of me, I do not understand why you wouldn't even have an exception for rape or incest.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Gene, an open Supreme Court seat didn't fire up the left.

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

You know, it is one of these things that the right is so laser focused on and the grass roots in particular that it hasn't-- does this actually--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, look.

CHUCK TODD:

--is the idea of Roe on the ballot--

(OVERTALK)

EUGENE ROBINSON:

This is why politically I think the Alabama law now is such a political misfire. Because, number one, I am not at all convinced that the Supreme Court would even take up this case. I think it's going to be struck down at the district court level, that same result at the appeals court level. I'm not sure the Supreme Court would even grant cert on this extreme case. And, you know, this gives something, a focal point, for, for abortion rights supporters to vote on. I mean, it's an iconic sort of thing. No exceptions, no nothing. It was interesting hearing Senator Cotton say, "Unelected judges shouldn't be making these decisions." In fact, what's the alternative? There is no consensus on abortion in--

CHUCK TODD:

No.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

--this country. And I don't think there's going to be. There's no morally consistent compromise position.

CHUCK TODD:

Heidi, do Democrats-- I get the sense Democratic presidential candidates don't necessarily want abortion to be front and center, but it's going to be.

HEIDI PRZYBYLA:

I don't know that they want it or they planned for it to be, but watch what's happened just within the past 24-48 hours. A number of them are rushing to denounce this. Especially for the women candidates, who frankly haven't had as strong a spotlight on them in this cycle, I think this is an opportunity for them to distinguish themselves a little bit. And, Chuck, I think there's a broader framing here opportunity for Democrats about what is pro-life, what is pro-mama, what is pro-baby. Because these same states that are passing these strict abortion laws also have some of the country's highest infant and maternal mortality rates.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. I have to leave it there. Before we go, I want to take note of our friends at Dateline are launching 13 Alibis. It's a seven-part series about producer Dan Slepian's two-year investigation of a convicted murderer serving 20 years in a prison for a crime he says he did not commit. You can get 13 Alibis wherever you get your podcasts, including the Meet the Press and the Chuck ToddCast. That's all we have today. Thank you for watching. We'll be back next week. Because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.