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Meet the Press - May 27, 2018

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the North Korea summit. First, it was off.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

I believe that this is a tremendous setback for North Korea and indeed a setback for the world.

CHUCK TODD:

But now, talks are underway, and it looks as if it might be back on again.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

It's moving along very nicely. So, we're looking at June 12th in Singapore. That hasn't changed.

CHUCK TODD:

Why both sides are working so hard to make this summit happen. I'll talk to the former director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council, Victor Cha. Plus, weapons of mass distraction. President Trump accuses Democrats of campaign espionage.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign.

CHUCK TODD:

But offers no proof.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

I hope it's not so. Because if it is, there's never been anything like it in the history of our country.

CHUCK TODD:

While Rudy Giuliani says truth is relative and that Robert Mueller's team may have a different version of the truth than we do. My guest this morning, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, who attacked the president and also Congress for failing to respond to President Trump. And Patriot Games. NFL owners votes to fine teams whose players kneel during the national anthem. Who gets to define how to be patriotic? Joining me for insight and Analysis are NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. Amy Walter, National Editor of the Cook Political Report. And Matthew Continetti, Editor-in-Chief of the Washington Free Beacon. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet The Press.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. And a happy Memorial Day weekend, wherever you are. We have two big stories we're following this morning. First, North Korea. When President Trump released his letter, cancelling the planned summit with Kim Jong Un earlier this week, it was clear he did so with some regret. The president wrote, "I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me. Someday, I look very much forward to meeting you." Well, now it appears they might meet after all. Here was Mr. Trump last night.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

It's moving along very nicely. So, we're looking at June 12th in Singapore. That hasn't changed. And it's moving along pretty well. So, we'll see what happens.

CHUCK TODD:

And after Kim met unexpectedly yesterday with President Moon of South Korea, North Korean media reported that Kim had a "fixed will for an historic summit." We're going to get to the North Korea story in a moment. But we're going to also begin with President Trump, the other big story with him. His weapons of mass distraction. The president and his allies spent much of this week trying to make the case that the F.B.I. planted a spy in the Trump campaign.

While we learned there was no evidence for this charge, here's what we were not focused on while debating that charge. We weren't focused on this story, about another Trump tower meeting in 2016 between Donald Trump, Jr. and an emissary for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who offered to help the Trump campaign.

And then, there was this story that got overshadowed, that Donald Trump, Jr. may have lied to Congress about those new contacts. Then, there was this story that got overshadowed, that a Russian oligarch with Kremlin ties met with President Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, in Trump Tower 11 days before the presidential inauguration.

And then, there was this story, that President Trump's ally, Roger Stone, sought dirt on Hillary Clinton from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the campaign. All of these potential bombshell stories could have dominated the week, but they were overshadowed as President Trump showed once again how skilled he is in shaping a false narrative to his advantage.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

We now call it Spygate. You're calling it Spygate.

CHUCK TODD:

Perhaps fearing that Mueller is closing in, the president is applying a well-worn tactical playbook. Number one, distract with an invented crisis that attacks the investigators without evidence to plant a seed of doubt. Claim, President Obama wiretapped Trump tower.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL:

There's no evidence of that.

SENATOR PAUL RYAN:

I have not seen any evidence of this.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Let's see whether or not I prove it. I just don't choose to do it right now.

CHUCK TODD:

This week's claim, an F.B.I. confidential informant who collected information on Trump campaign aides after suspecting Russian interference in the campaign is bigger than Watergate. Number two, brand the crisis. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Trump wants to brand the F.B.I.'s confidential informant a spy, believing the more nefarious term would resonate more in the media and with the public. The president used some version of the word spy 24 times in 15 tweets over ten days. He wasn't alone.

SEAN HANNITY:

Now you're saying that there could have been an F.B.I. spy?

TUCKER CARLSON:

The F.B.I. may have had a spy.

RUDY GIULIANI:

I'm shocked to hear that they put a spy in the campaign.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

Spygate.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

Spygate.

HOGAN GIDLEY:

If in fact this occurred, could be one of the biggest scandals in history.

CHUCK TODD:

All without evidence.

REPORTER:

Sir, what proof do you have that your campaign was spied on?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

All you have to do is look at the basics, and you'll see.

CHUCK TODD:

Number three. If accused of wrongdoing, use the "I'm rubber, you're glue" defense, pinning anything you're accused of on your opponents.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:

The only collusion is the Democrats colluded with the Russians. And the Democrats colluded with lots of other people. Take a look at the intelligence agencies.

REP. DEVIN NUNES:

Whatever the left accuses you of doing, they're doing themselves.

CHUCK TODD:

Finally, number four. If still caught with irrefutable facts closing in, assert that all facts are relative anyway. The president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Washington Post on Wednesday he's concerned that Mr. Trump will perjure himself if he grants an interview to Robert Mueller because "truth is relative. They may have a different version of the truth than we do." Joining me now from Phoenix is Republican senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. Senator Flake, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Thanks for having me on.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I get to the question of whether truth is relative, and I'm sure you have a strong opinion about that, I do want to start with North Korea. The overnight developments here. The president indicating summit likely back on. Let me ask you this. While we've had this debate about, "Is it gonna happen? Is it not gonna happen?" Are you any clearer in understanding what the summit's about? What are we negotiating? What's on the table, and what isn't?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Well, a lot of us have been skeptical that North Korea will ever agree to total denuclearization. I think they believe they're in the position they're in kind of as a nuclear peer with us because of their nuclear weapons. They obviously see the Libya situation as something they don't want to get into. So, I think many of us question whether they're going to get there. But let me say, a freeze would be better than we've had before. So, there's, there’s nothing wrong with saying, "Hey, they may not denuclearize, but we could have a better situation than we currently have." But I do think that a lot of people are questioning where exactly we are. I hope that along with the summit, and I hope it still happens--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

--that there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on. And that's a real question right now.

CHUCK TODD:

So, you're okay if the president is negotiating phasing out. If denuclearization is more of a long-term goal. If, for instance, North Korea says, "Hey, we'd like to have a deal more like Pakistan."

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

That’s more -- is something like that more comfort -- comfortable. I say more comfortable. Obviously, denuclearization would be the most comfortable. But is that something you could live with?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Well, I think that we're gonna have to live with that. I, I think that the North Koreans realize that total denuclearization on their part is, is not in their national interest. That's how they see it. I don't think the rest of us see it that way, but that's how they see it. So, I do think that a freeze or something short of total denuclearization is certainly better than the situation that we have right now, where we had an escalating situation. North Korea--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

--was continuing to test. And, and that's not good for anyone.

CHUCK TODD:

There's been some speculation that China's involvement suddenly and, and, and their own nego-- their own talks with Kim Jong Un and the trade talks have all sort of gotten thrown into this. Do you believe this whole controversy over the Chinese telecom company Z.T.E. is part of the on-again, off-again aspect of the summit?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

It may well be. We don't know completely. We don't have a window into that. But it sounds as if Z.T.E. is certainly part of a broader conversation. And that's the way the president sees it. And, and I think that that's okay with the president. Some of us in question -- or in Congress are questioning that, however. I think that if China did involve themselves in espionage, commercial espionage, which I think they have, then that ought to be punished. And, and we can't just simply put that aside in order to have China's cooperation on other issues.

CHUCK TODD:

So, you are against this deal. I know Senator Rubio very strongly is against any deal that gives Z.T.E. any new access to the Unit -- to, to American vendors or the United States in any form.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Yes, I am with Senator Rubio on that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me move to the president this week. And that idea that truth is relative. You had quite the commencement address to Harvard Law School. Let me actually play an excerpt from it and ask you exactly what you're calling for on the other side. Take a listen.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

How did we arrive at a moment of such peril - wherein a president of the United States publicly threatens - on Fox & Friends, historians will note -- to interfere in the administration of justice, and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated, and who and what does not? Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Well, do you believe he's abusing his power? And if you do, when does that, when does that get to the point where you think Congress needs to do something about it, including potentially look at impeachment?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Well, let me just compliment the Congress in the last couple of days. The president had this diversion tactic, obviously, with so-called Spygate. I don't think any of us were referring to it in that way. But the Congress -- Republicans in Congress said no. To have a briefing like the president wanted with just one party was not right. And so, it wasn't just some of the Democrats saying that that was not proper--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

--a lot of Republicans were saying that as well. So, I, I saw the kind of pushback that we need to have. But it needs to happen more often. When the president says things that are just totally wrong, it's responsibility of members of Congress, particularly those in the president's party, to stand up and say, "That is not right. Truth is not relative. And there are no alternative facts here." And, and I, I have seen instances where we haven't done that well. And we've got to do it better.

CHUCK TODD:

It seems as it -- you and I have had a lot of discussions in the last year. It seems as if you've gotten more alarmed, while many of your colleagues publicly act less alarmed. And particularly, your colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle. Is that the way it is behind the scenes, too? Or is, or is this just a -- is this public posture also the private posture?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

I can tell you behind the scenes, there is a lot of alarm. There is concern that the president is laying the groundwork to move on, on Bob Mueller or, or Rosenstein. And if that were to happen, obviously, that would cause a constitutional crisis. There is concern behind the scenes. I've been concerned that we haven't spoken up loudly enough. And, and told the president, "You simply can't go there." And he's obviously probing the edges as much as he can--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

--to see how far Congress will go. And, and we've got to push back harder than we have.

CHUCK TODD:

Why do you think they've been hesitant? Is it frankly your experience, watching you? Watching the Republican--

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

I'm sure.

CHUCK TODD:

--response to you?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Sure. This is the president's party. And if you're running in a primary right now, and you stand up to the president, or stand up in some cases for empirical truth, then you have a -- you have trouble in primaries. And that's no doubt. So, I, I, I do think that, you know, as we get through the primary season--

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

--perhaps, then many of my colleagues will find a voice. But, but right now, it's difficult, politically.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you one question about some hometown politics. Vice President Pence had some kind words for somebody that wants to replace you in the senate, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE:

A great friend of this president, a tireless champion of strong borders and the rule of law, who spent a lifetime in law enforcement, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. I'm honored to have you here

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

What'd you make of Vice President Pence's kind words for Joe Arpaio?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Well, Vice President Pence is a kind man. And I think that his words reflected that kindness. Having said that, there aren't many people in Arizona who look to Joe Arpaio as a paragon of, you know, the rule of law or virtue in this sense. So, I think it was unfortunate. Because we, we need the rule of law and that's not what we had under Joe Arpaio. You know, under his time as Sheriff of Maricopa County, the voters turned him out by double digits. And I just don't think that it's proper to, to refer to him in that way.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator Jeff Flake, Republican from Arizona. I'm going to leave it there. Senator, one quick thing. One quick thing. Are you -- have you ruled out running for president?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

It's not in my plans. But I’ve not ruled anything out. I do hope that somebody runs on the Republican side other than the president, if nothing else, simply to remind Republicans what conservatism is. And what Republicans have traditionally stood for.

CHUCK TODD:

And if you ran--

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

I hope that that happens.

CHUCK TODD:

--would you only run as a Republican?

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

I, I think so. I mean, I, I, I can't imagine doing anything else.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough. Senator Flake, now, I will really leave it there. Senator, thanks very much for coming on and sharing your views. Much appreciated.

SENATOR JEFF FLAKE:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. All right, panelists here. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report and now host of WNYC's The Takeaway: Fridays. NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell. And Matthew Continetti, editor-in-chief of the Washington Free Beacon. All right, I’m going to go -- we're going to get to North Korea in the next segment. So, let's focus here on the president this week. Amy Walter. Dan Balz -- look at the headline over his column today, which basically says that the Trump is making progress. That Trump's “war of attrition against Mueller bears fruit among Republicans.”

AMY WALTER:

And that's the key word. Among Republicans. Or key words. He has done a very good job in terms of getting Republicans onto the same page that he's on. But it's very asymmetrical, not just because Democrats are, you know, very much against what the president's saying. But the intensity behind the support for the president has never been as solid as the opposition to the president, right? When the Wall Street Journal/ NBC poll asks strongly approve, strongly disapprove, the strongly disapprove in some cases have been twice as big--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

AMY WALTER:

--as the strongly approve. So, this idea that he has the Republican party behind him? Yes. But he does not have the solid support of the party behind him and this is where it's going to finally get tested, the 2018 elections, obviously 2020 as well. It worked to win a presidential election very narrowly. But now, this intensity opposing him is that much stronger.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you make of this, Matthew?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

Oh, I think for the president, his political position seems pretty secure right now. If you look at the Real Clear Politics averages of polls, his approval rating is rising to the mid-40s. If you look at a generic ballot, the average of the generic ballot is closing, now within a space where Republicans might feel more confident, even about keeping the House. So, from his point of view, the Russia story has been working out. And I think the reason for that is that he's been able to turn it into a tale of two swamps.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

Right? From Mueller, we hear about the swamp of lobbying, of access, of foreign involvement in American politics. But from Trump and the administration and his allies, it's now become a tale about the swamp of permanent Washington, the bureaucracy.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

And Trump, of course, always found a great base of support among conservatives and Republicans by being the agent of disruption against that permanent bureaucracy.

CHUCK TODD:

Eugene, here's what David Brooks writes: “Trump is celebrity subsuming governance. Every day he produces great geysers of fantasy — some of which rip the cultural fabric (Mexican rapists), some of which merely tug it (“Obama had my ‘wires tapped’”)...The dangerous thing about Trump’s fantasy world is not when it dissolves into nothing; it’s when he seduces the rest of us to move into it.”

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah. And, you know, the key phrase in that passage to me is "every day." Because it's constant. It's every single day. So, it's not -- it’s not a matter of seducing everybody into that world. He creates more of that world every day and everyone reacts to it. And they don't react favorably necessarily. But even reacting against it is participating in it. And so, there's this parallel Trump reality that he creates that really does distract us from, you know, reality as we know it.

CHUCK TODD:

Is Jeff like a man on an island, by the way?

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Yes, yes. Very much so. You know, I think to Eugene's point, the president has an enormous megaphone through social media and through the distraction that you so expertly catalogued at the beginning of the program. And the fact is that every single day, every moment of every single day, we in the media and the American people by consuming all of this are not focusing on one thing for an extended period of time. And he does it so expertly and the White House media machine and the president's own instincts here -- we had the wonderful return, negotiated by Bob Corker and Orrin Hatch and others from Utah, of a Mormon missionary who'd been in jail with his wife in Venezuela in a hideous situation for two years. It's a great moment. They came right to the Oval Office for a photo opportunity on Saturday night.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

So, the president was embracing this as I was at Andrews Air Force base when the Korean, you know, detainees arrived at 4:00 in the morning. They don't go to Bethesda Naval or Ramstein on their way back and be debriefed and be treated medically immediately. They are paraded, if you will.

AMY WALTER:

So -- so, what would happen though if we didn't cover all the tweets? I mean, it kind of goes to the point of there is a whole lot going on.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

AMY WALTER:

And he does very well because all of this gets covered. And so, every - it becomes this circular thing. If we were talking about the things--

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

Yeah.

AMY WALTER:

--that other people were talking about, outside of Washington, this panel would look very different.

CHUCK TODD:

No, look if we’re going to end -- and by the way, we're going to have that other conversation.

AMY WALTER:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

We're going to be talking about the NFL later in this show, which we know probably more people are debating this morning.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Gas prices.

CHUCK TODD:Yeah there’s gas prices --

EUGENE ROBINSON:

gas prices averaging over three dollars.

AMY WALTER:

That's right.

CHUCK TODD:

But this is the trap that we in the political press corps are in. There's an existential threat to the presidency. There's an existential threat to the presidency. That's a big story. And yet, Trump's taking advantage of the--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But he has changed the norms.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

And I think one advantage he's had is, you know, for a while now, we’ve had a lot -- we haven't had a big bombshell in the Russia investigation.

CHUCK TODD:

No new indictments.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

We've had a lot of little mini shells, but we're still waiting for that big bombshell that may reset the calculus in a way that disadvantages Trump.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But how long ago was it that Michael Cohen's office was raided? Our expectation of how often

(crosstalk)

EUGENE ROBINSON:

--you know, bombshells happen--

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

An eternity ago in Trump’s Washington.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Exactly.

ANDREA MITCHELL:And the other thing is…

CHUCK TODD:

But guys, that's only two months ago. Like--- we will. Go read The Final Days. Go read, like -- These were, you know, inquiries. There were big moments. And two months later, a big moment. And that seemed fast.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

And he has branded it a witch hunt snd that is what has taken hold, if you look at any kind of polling; not only with the base. And now, Spygate is another branding attempt. And there are a lot of people who are going to believe that there was a spy embedded in the Trump campaign. There was no evidence of that, but even when people refer to it --

CHUCK TODD:

It chips away.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

-- with, you know--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Even to refute it--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

-you are reinforcing it.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly.

AMY WALTER:

But that's the point that we made at the very beginning, about it's Republicans who really are buying into this and not others. Remember when Bill Clinton was fighting against Ken Starr. They were making similar claims about witch hunt, and "this is inappropriate." But the president's approval rating was 60%. This president's approval rating, while it has been going up, it's still in the 40s.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, guys. When we come back, will there be a summit with North Korea after all? Seems like the two leaders want one. But why the U.S., North, and South Korea all want to see this summit happen? We're going to get into that next. But as we go to break, throughout the broadcast, we're going to show you some moments from commencement addresses around the country. Starting with President Trump and Vice President Pence.

TRUMP (NAVAL ACADEMY):

Think big, dream bigger. Push further, sail faster, fly higher and never ever stop reaching for greatness.

PENCE (COAST GUARD ACADEMY):To lead heroes, you must be a hero. To lead them, you must be worthy of them.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. There may indeed be a U.S.-North Korea summit after all. Last night, President Trump said talks are moving along very nicely. And the leaders of North and South Korea met yesterday, sounding hopeful that the summit would happen. Panel is back. And joining us to talk about why the on-again, off-again summit may be on again is Victor Cha. He's the former Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council and was in line to be President Trump's first pick to be Ambassador to South Korea. Mr. Cha, welcome to Meet the Press.

VICTOR CHA:

Thanks.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. Why is there uncertainty around this summit? And are we almost too focused on if it's going to happen and not focused enough on the substance?

VICTOR CHA:

So, the uncertainty, Chuck, I think is largely because we're dealing with North Korea. Andrea and I went to North Korea ten years ago. And we had the same problem. We had no information before we went. We had no itinerary. And so, you can imagine when you're sending the president 10,000 miles to Singapore, there's got to be a lot negotiated in advance.

And none of that was happening. So, I think that's why it's been on-again, off-again. But in terms of the substance, I mean, we're all focused on the rollercoaster. But in terms of the substance, the key issue is are they going to give up their nuclear weapons? And I think unfortunately, the answer is no. Do they want a peace treaty, the North Koreans? Absolutely. And they want a peace treaty because it validates them as a nuclear weapon state. It ensures that Trump won't attack because we were worried about an attack last year. And most importantly, it means money. Not because the United States is going to give money to North Korea, but we are the primary obstacle in places like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, the I.M.F., where the North Koreans want money.

CHUCK TODD:

Who's the obstacle of this summit? Is it China? Is it John Bolton? Or are these not obstacles? These are just people trying to get their -- trying to slow things down a little bit.

VICTOR CHA:

I think, frankly, that's all noise on the side. I mean, in the end, the issue that seems to be holding this up is frankly just logistics. The fact that Joe Hagan is going to Singapore to engage in meetings, he's the key person for organizing the logistics of the summit. But not the policy substance. Those are other people. And they’re -- I don't think that they are engaging right now with the North Koreans in real policy deliverables that we should expect to come out of Singapore.

CHUCK TODD:

Andrea, it does seem the timeline, and both you and Matthew sort of noted this this week, that when Kim Jong Un went to China the second time, it also happened simultaneously with the trade talks.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Exactly.

CHUCK TODD:

All of this seems related.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

I think it is related. I think China wants to slow it down. They're not at the table. Victor and I have talked about this and other experts, Admiral Stavridis and others. But the fact is there is a momentum toward this happening. Kim wants it badly. Moon Jae-In really wants it and needs it, the South Korean president.

And President Trump wants it. He sees this, I think, as a legacy where he is making history. And he certainly would be. I think it is very likely on. And on for June 12th. If you noted that the president tweeted angrily against the New York Times for quoting a senior official who we all know was a national security official--

CHUCK TODD:

But the White House insisted you couldn't quote--

ANDREA MITCHELL:

In the briefing room.

CHUCK TODD:

--by name.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Right.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

Two hundred people were on the call. There were 50 people in the room. And he said -- this was Thursday. He said, "June 12th is ten minutes from now. You know, we can't get it all together by then." And then, the president was tweeting that this was a lie. This was a New York Times lie. Which of course it wasn't.

But the fact is, the president wants it to be, as scheduled, in Singapore, June 12th. And I think that to Victor's point, the dysfunction on the national security side is pretty profound. You've got Bolton, Pompeo, who is heavily invested in this now, despite his hardline positions. Mattis really wants it because he does not want military engagement. And they have to figure out the policy side. But I think it's going to happen. As a photo opportunity, if nothing else.

CHUCK TODD:

Matthew?

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:

I do think we can't overlook China's role in all of this. The second meeting between Kim and Xi Jinping took place right around the time the three hostages were released, which was a sign of progress, I think, in de-escalation. But ever since that meeting, up to this past week, the North Koreans became much more belligerent in their tone.

Much more insistent that they would not be giving up the weapons at all. And then, began attacking Bolton and of course Vice President Pence in addition to being non-responsive. So, Trump has this tendency to want to personalize relationships between states. But at the end of the day, he always kind of runs up against the wall that there are power dynamics between the great powers, such as the United States and China, that may prevent a settlement in North Korea.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Also, I'm not sure that the North Koreans needed Chinese encouragement to be sort of obstreperous in this negotiation. Because fundamentally, you know, are they going to completely denuclearize? And I am extremely skeptical about that and I think most people -- you know a lot more about North Korea than I do. But I can't figure out why they would agree to do that, having, you know, a great cost and effort to purchase what they see as an insurance policy for the regime. And a way to project power and authority in the region. Are they just going to give that up at any price? And I just, I'm very skeptical.

AMY WALTER:

Well, and I guess the other question too is whether the president can claim victory, regardless of whether you have denuclearization. And I think it's the one area where the president thus far has gotten some bi-partisan support. Americans says, "Yeah, he should meet with Kim Jong Un." That alone would be a victory. It would alone be -- it’s a victory to get those three hostages.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

But I think verification is going to be -- let's say the summit takes place. And it’s, there's a lot of pomp and circumstance. And it is a moment of history. How would you ever verify, negotiate first and verify anything approaching denuclearization? There's reporting this week that they have another secret site underground. I'm sure they have--

EUGENE ROBINSON:

But of course they do.

ANDREA MITCHELL:

--many. And this would make the Iran nuclear deal's verification with eyes on, from international inspectors you know, laughably more complicated.

VICTOR CHA:

Can I just go back to, please, to the quick point Eugene made? I mean, 56 years ago, the North Koreans started landscaping the area where they built this nuclear program. And on December 12th of last year, they said, "We've accomplished what we wanted." So, three months later, they're all of a sudden going to give it all up? You know, it’s just not, it just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

CHUCK TODD:

Victor, final question for you. What does China want? Do they want a peaceful Korean peninsula that is two countries? Or are they willing to stand aside for a united Korean peninsula in the long run?

VICTOR CHA:

So, how much time do we have?

CHUCK TODD:

Thirty seconds.

VICTOR CHA:

So, a couple of things. The first is of course they want stability on the Korean peninsula. China has border peace with everybody around them. The only one they negotiated with was North Korea. Because they need that border to be secure. So, they want that. They would not prefer a unified Korean peninsula. Because most likely, that would be someone that is still aligned with the United States.

And they don't want a U.S. military ally on their border. I think Andrea's exactly right. There's been some hesitance on the part of the North Koreans, after the second meeting with Xi, because the Chinese want a seat at the table. They don't want Trump and Kim talking about peace without the Chinese at the table. And so, for all these reasons, we've seen a slowdown.

CHUCK TODD:

And are the Chinese at the table now?

VICTOR CHA:

They're still not at the table yet. But this summit's going forward. Kim says he wants the summit to happen. So, it's going to happen now.

CHUCK TODD:

The event's going to happen. We'll just see if there's any--

ANDREA MITCHELL: I think China will eventually be at the table.

VICTOR CHA:

Yeah, I agree.

CHUCK TODD:

You’re right there. All right, guys. Victor Cha, thank you very much.

VICTOR CHA:

My pleasure.

CHUCK TODD:

Good to see you, thanks for coming on, being our expert here. We're going to get into the NFL in a moment. But when we come back, the midterms. You see, there's a lot going on. And the big wave that may be coming in November. Hint, we're not talking a red or blue wave. It's a different kind of wave. But first, we continue our look at commencement address moments this month. Here's Hillary Clinton and John Lewis.

HILLARY CLINTON:

This is a moment to reach across divides of race, class, and politics. To try to see the world through the eyes of people very different from ourselves.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN LEWIS:

You're never too young or too old to lead. To speak up. To speak out. And get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

CHUCK TODD:

We are back. Data download time. While we’ve talked about the big blue wave that could be coming this fall, there's another wave that may be just as, if not more consequential. And now that voters have already started going to the polls, women aren't just running for office. They're winning primaries. So, it's a big gender wave that may be coming. And they'll be on the ballot in November in big numbers.

AMY MCGRATH:

I couldn't be more honored and more humbled to be standing here tonight as your nominee.

STACEY ABRAMS:

No one is unseen. No one is unheard. And no one is uninspired.

CHUCK TODD:

These are the states so far that have held primaries this election cycle -- not that many yet. And we're already going to see at least one all-female Senate race in Nebraska and another one possible in Arizona. Four women have won nominations for governor's races. But let's focus on the battle for control of the House of Representatives.

So far, 72 women have won major party nominations for Congress in 66 districts. Yes, that means in six cases, it will be two women facing off against each other in November. So, we have 62 Democrats and ten Republicans among those current 72 nominees. Historically, these are huge numbers. In fact, compare this to the last two elections. In these same states, you had 36 women who won primaries in 2014, 41 in 2016. As you see, these 2018 numbers simply blow those two election cycles away. And many of these women are not career politicians. In fact, 45 of the 72 nominees so far have never run for public office before. They've held jobs like nurses, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and several are veterans. And they've won their nominations in all kinds of districts. Urban and rural. High and low income. Diverse and less so. If these candidates win, they really could remake the look of the House. And here's why: in 51 of these districts, the person who currently holds the seat is a man, suggesting the potential for a huge shift in the gender makeup of Congress. But how likely is that? Well, our friends at the Cook Political Report do only rate 15 of these 51 districts currently held by a man as competitive. But even if most of these nominees don't win in November, the fact that so many from so many different backgrounds and places have entered the political arena could mean the following: that things are changing even beyond 2018. After all, quite a few current members of Congress had to lose once in order to learn how to win later. The consequence of all of this is that the House of Representatives, the people's house, might actually look like the people -- at least as far as the gender divide is concerned — that it's supposed to represent. When we come back, the NFL's controversial decision prohibiting players from kneeling during the national anthem. Did the league just solve a problem, or create a brand new one? And once again, we have moments from commencement addresses this month. Here's one from Oprah Winfrey and another one from a very familiar face.

ANDREA MITCHELL

Be curious. Do not presume to know who you might become because you never finish becoming.

OPRAH WINFREY: Vote. Pay attention to what the people who claim to represent you are doing and saying in your name and on your behalf.

CHUCK TODD:Back now with the panel. And I want to talk about the NFL decision this week, that players may not take a knee during the national anthem and that teams will be fined if they do. Here was President Trump's reaction to the move.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it's good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem. Or you shouldn't be playing. You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country.

CHUCK TODD:Okay. DeMaurice Smith of the Players Association had said this. "History has taught us that both patriotism and protests are like water. If the force is strong enough, it cannot be suppressed. Today, the CEOs of the NFL created a rule that people who hate autocracies should reject." Eugene Robinson.

EUGENE ROBINSON:Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

CHUCK TODD:Where's this going?

EUGENE ROBINSON:Well, there's obviously going to be a dispute that could potentially, I guess, reach the courts. I don't know. Between the Players Association and the owners over this. The players were not consulted. I don't believe rank and file players are going to take kindly to this decision. But basically, the owners decided they did not want to be harangued by the president of the United States every week. They were worried about their white working class audience, basically.

CHUCK TODD:Right.

EUGENE ROBINSON:They feared responding to the president's demagoguery, that's the only thing you can call it, on this issue. And so, they sought to do this instead of end the story. I think this intensifies it. And it's going to set the stage for more conflict.

CHUCK TODD:Matthew, address this. There's sort of two competing conservative arguments here. David French represents one part of it. "This isn't a middle ground, as the NFL claims. It's not a compromise. It's corporate censorship, backed up with a promise of corporate punishment. It's every bit as oppressive as the campus or corporate attacks on expression that conservatives rightly decry."But then, in the National Review, where David French works by the way, but he wrote that in the Times, Kyle Smith writes, "Is this corporate censorship? Yes. Does it bother me? No. The NFL would also sanction any player who insulted the fans with a middle finger. That would be corporate censorship too. And it would be entirely proper."

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:Well, you see the range of debates among conservatives on the free speech issue. And it is interesting. Conservatives in recent years have adopted free speech as an issue, particularly on campus. And so, as David French is pointing out, you know, if you are a free speech radical, which I am not, you do have to apply it in almost every sphere of life.I would say, pointing to Gene, the element that's missing in a lot of these discussions is the fans. And there is a bottom line decision here. What the NFL was facing, basically, the flight of its fan base as a fallout from the protests. And the other thing I would just point out is these protests began as a racial justice movement. But once Trump intervened in August, they became an anti-Trump movement.

CHUCK TODD:Except the day--

MATTHEW CONTINETTI:And now everything--CHUCK TODD:--they announce it, you get the body camera footage, Andrea--

ANDREA MITCHELL:Right.

CHUCK TODD:of an NBA player, Sterling Brown, in Milwaukee, showing--

EUGENE ROBINSON:Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:--over a parking dispute, he got tased.

ANDREA MITCHELL:You know, the hypocrisy is so profound. Take a look at any NFL stadium. And people are getting hot dogs. People are getting beers. They're not standing and saluting the anthem for a large part. They're not. They're distracted. They're fans at an event. And the fact that the players do not have this freedom of speech and that no one is even thinking about Colin Kaepernick, who's lost his entire career over this issue.Who has been, you know, basically black balled and can't be hired. It's just outrageous. And let's get back to the original principles, which is the fact that mostly people of color, mostly male, are facing abuse by, you know, many law enforcement agencies around this country in a way that has led to death, that has led to, you know--

CHUCK TODD:Yeah.

ANDREA MITCHELL:--hideous examples.

CHUCK TODD:Amy, so both Gene and Matthew brought up the business decision here. This is where it's sort of awkward. Let me put up a statistic here. This is African-Americans in the NFL. Nearly 70% of all players are African-American.

AMY WALTER:Yep.

CHUCK TODD:Just seven of 32 head coaches are African-American. There's not a single owner who's African-American. At the same time, it's my understanding they did do a poll of their fans. And their white fan base is obviously much larger than their fan base of color.

AMY WALTER:That's right.

CHUCK TODD:But then that creates racial toxic tension here. It seems to be a no win situation.

AMY WALTER:For?

CHUCK TODD:For the NFL.

AMY WALTER:For whom? For the NFL?AMY WALTER:Or for the players?

CHUCK TODD:They're trying to make a business decision here.

AMY WALTER:That's right. It is, though. And I think Matthew got it correctly. I don't think this was an issue until Trump made it an issue. I don't think Americans were sitting around thinking, "This is what's dividing this country so desperately, is the fact that these NFL players are taking a knee or not showing up to salute the anthem"--

CHUCK TODD:It's the president exploiting.

AMY WALTER:The president is taking that as one more opportunity to divide an already divided country. And it has worked in the past. The question is if it is enough to work this time. And right now, he looks at his crowd. And he says, "They're supportive of me." But is that going to be enough when you have as many people on the other side now saying, "I'm against this." Not because of the free speech. Not because of the issues about police and interactions with African-Americans. But, "I'm against it because Trump's for it."

EUGENE ROBINSON:Well, but you know, the NFL owners really did have to pick their poison. This comes at a time when football as an enterprise is in trouble. I mean, it's in trouble because of the concussion--

CHUCK TODD:Yeah.

EUGENE ROBINSON:--issue. Parents are not letting their kids play football. The wind is blowing against football. And so, they're going to lose people over this on the other side. I mean, they just are.

CHUCK TODD:They just are. All right, guys. We didn't solve any problems there. But we certainly pointed a lot out. Thank you very much. When we come back, it's endgame time. And a very prominent baby boomer explains how his generation broke America. Author Steven Brill joins me next. And as we go to break, we are reminded that Memorial Day isn't just a three day weekend. It's a time to honor those who have died defending this country. Here's some recent scenes from around Washington.-------

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. For the last 50 years, the country's most prestigious universities have welcomed in more people of color, people of varying backgrounds, ethnicities, based on the applicant's own merits, rather than who their parents were. The idea was to level the playing field and create more opportunity and economic equality. And it has. But a new book argues that good idea, that one good idea, has created some unintended consequences. It's called Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's 50-Year Fall-- and Those Fighting To Reverse It. By author and journalist Steven Brill. And Mr. Brill joins me now. Welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.

STEVEN BRILL:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

So, you write this as somebody who you say participated in this unwittingly when--

STEVEN BRILL:

Oh, I was a beneficiary. I was--

CHUCK TODD:

--and a beneficiary, absolutely. So, let's go. Explain the meritocracy problem now that has been created.

STEVEN BRILL:

Well, meritocracy was happening at the same time that the baby boomers were creating the so-called knowledge economy. Which sounds like a great thing. The knowledge economy. But what happened was that all these people from Ivy League schools went off to law schools, like I did, like Yale and Harvard. And their knowledge economy was legal engineering and financial engineering. It was stock buybacks and corporate takeover fights. And they created the legal precedent for the arbitration clauses that are keeping the middle class out of the courts when they have a job discrimination claim.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

STEVEN BRILL:

Or, you know, a consumer rights claim. So, the knowledge economy typically ended up with liberal lawyers who were coming out of, you know, liberal law schools, going to liberal law firms and doing the legal engineering that caused all the discontent that we have in, you know, the middle class today. The Paul Weiss law firm, for example, in New York.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

STEVEN BRILL:

A notable bastion of, you know, Democrats. They did the legal engineering for the J.P. Stevens company when they figured out how to fight unions.

CHUCK TODD:

Is this sort of the harshness of Darwinism, is what you're saying? It's like, "Okay, it became survival of the smartest. And survival of the hardest working. And we--"

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--"got this new elite." Right. And so, the door was open for many people.

STEVEN BRILL:

You've got it exactly right.

CHUCK TODD:

And then, what happened? What about these people that were left behind? Are they not capable of doing it?

STEVEN BRILL:

Well, what we usually have had in this country, and what any country needs in order to be balanced and to survive, is a balance where there are guard rails that are put on all of the overachievers. So that they can't do too much in terms of the legal rights they assert, the financial rights they assert. And that got lost in this country because these people were so smart that they ran all over that stuff.

CHUCK TODD:

There's another aspect of this. You talk about sort of the changing definition of the First Amendment.

(STEVEN BRILL: UNINTEL)

CHUCK TODD:

And you actually essentially make the connection of Ralph Nader got us Citizens United. Which right now, I know he's watching, and he's going, "What? You're blaming me, Steve Brill, for--"

STEVEN BRILL:

No, actually here--

(OVERTALK)

CHUCK TODD:

--explain.

STEVEN BRILL:

No, actually, he wouldn't say that. Because he's the one who told me. He said, "You know, that was the biggest boomerang of all time." What Nader and his lawyers did was they fought for the right of discount drug stores--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

STEVEN BRILL:

--to advertise their discount prices. And the Supreme Court said, "Well, you know, now that you mention it, the First Amendment is for listeners as well as it is for speakers. Because we listeners, we benefit from hearing all these arguments. And if we're going to do that, we shouldn't discriminate on the basis of who the speaker is. So if the speaker happens to be a corporation, you know, why should we care?"

CHUCK TODD:

And in a sense--

STEVEN BRILL:

That becomes--

CHUCK TODD:

-that becomes the argument for Citizens United. And corporations--

STEVEN BRILL:

It becomes the argument--

(OVERTALK)

STEVEN BRILL:

--for drug companies to evade regulations with regard to how they label their drugs.

CHUCK TODD:

So, what are the solutions here? I mean, for instance, do we need a new type of affirmative action for socioeconomic that looks out more on a socioeconomic scale? Rather than looking at it from any other way. What's the answer? Is there a solution?

STEVEN BRILL:

Well, the answer's in this book because then it's not a theoretical answer. There are people in all the spheres that I write about that are fighting the tail spin. That are doing things. Whether it's legal analysts who are, you know, fighting the First Amendment definition that has evolved. Other people who are fighting for campaign finance reform, people who are fighting for labor law reform. And you know, they are coming up with real solutions. There's a guy who has taken (UNINTEL) converted zipper factor in Queens and turned it into the kind of job retraining program--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

STEVEN BRILL:

--that we haven't had in this country for all the billions of dollars we've spent on attempting to do that. And we have failed miserably. And frankly, the media has ignored how we have failed doing that.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it fair to say that this is the selfishness of the baby boomers in some ways? That the baby boomers weren't looking out for any other generation other than themselves? They were the leadership class that created a lot of this. Yes. It is fair to say that there has to be a balance between, you know, high achievement and, you know, me achieving everything I can and me worrying about the common good. And we haven't had that kind of leadership. And my theory is that things have now gotten so bad in terms of the common good that there's going to be a reaction, and things are going to snap back.

CHUCK TODD:

It's a very thoughtful book. It's called Tailspin. Steven Brill, congratulations on it. It's tough to read in a negative sense sometimes, but you actually provide some solutions in there too. Congratulations. We appreciate it.

STEVEN BRILL:

Thanks.

CHUCK TODD:

Before we go, a quick programming note. Here in Washington, we're all pretty excited that we actually have a team that win a championship. The Washington Capitals are in the Stanley Cup finals. And you can see game one of the Caps versus the Vegas (SLURS) Golden Knights. Yes, that is a team. Tomorrow on NBC, our network. We're pretty excited. Hey Lord Stanley, we want to see that cup here in Washington. That's at 8:00 Eastern tomorrow night. That's all we have for today. Thanks for watching. Enjoy your long weekend. And keep those soldiers in your hearts and minds. We'll leave you with more scenes from Arlington National Cemetery on this Memorial Day weekend. And of course, we'll be back next week. 'Cause if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.

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