Meet the Press - May 5. 2018

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, the Democrats' dilemma. Some say it's time to start impeachment hearings.

BETO O’ROURKE:

We must get behind the House of Representatives, as they pursue impeachment of this president.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

It's not a point of politics. It's a point of principle.

CHUCK TODD:

But Speaker Nancy Pelosi is arguing for pragmatism.

NANCY PELOSI:

If you go down that path, you have to have a prospect for success.

CHUCK TODD:

With Democrats divided, I'll talk to the newest entrant into the presidential race, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

I'm not going to say there's a simple solution to a problem, if I don't believe there is one.

CHUCK TODD:

Plus, Barr and grill. After a combative day in the Senate…

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS:

Yes or no?

AG BILL BARR:

Could you repeat that question?

CHUCK TODD:

Attorney General Bill Barr refuses to appear before the Democratic House.

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

The failure to come to the hearing today is simply another step in the administration's growing attack on American democracy.

CHUCK TODD:

Will Barr testify? Will Robert Mueller? My guest this morning, Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana. Also, that curious phone call between President Trump and Vladimir Putin and the subject they did not discuss.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Did you ask him not to meddle?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We didn't discuss that. Really, we didn't discuss it.

CHUCK TODD:

And our new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll on President Trump, impeachment, and the leading Democratic candidates. Joining me for insight and analysis are Eddie Glaude, Jr., of Princeton University; Eliana Johnson, national political reporter for Politico; Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal; and Kristen Soltis Anderson political columnist for the Washington Examiner. 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. When it comes to how Americans view the Mueller investigation, perhaps our long-time NBC News Democratic pollster, Peter Hart, put it best. It's a hung jury. People say President Trump is not guilty. But he's not innocent, either. In our new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 49% of Americans say Congress should either begin impeachment hearings now or keep investigating to see if impeachment is necessary in the future, while an almost equal 48% say no impeachment hearings should be held at all. As you might imagine, Democrats and Republicans describe their impressions of President Trump, based on the Mueller report, in starkly different terms. In interviews, Democrats mostly use words like Russia, guilty, obstruction, impeach, and criminal. Republicans, on the other hand, sound like Mr. Trump. Witch hunt, no collusion, and president are the most commonly used words. For independents, just one word stood out to us, Russia. Still, as you'll see in a moment, even Democrats are split on impeachment. As for President Trump, his approval rating is right where it's been. 46% approve of his performance. That's up three points from last month, 51% disapproving. But look at this. Over the past 11 months, with one small exception, Mr. Trump's approval rating, in our poll, has sat consistently between 43% and 46%. In short, for all of the teasing Mueller headlines, presidential tweets, and congressional hearings, Americans have landed right where they started with this president, clinging to their established point of view about him, all of which has left Democrats and their 18 to 21 presidential candidates, depending on who's doing the counting, asking the same question Robert Redford asked at the end of the great movie, The Candidate. What do we do now?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN:

It is important that the House step up to its constitutional duty and start impeachment proceedings.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

Impeachment is never off the table. But should we start there? I don't agree with that.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats remain divided on whether and when to begin impeachment proceedings.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS:

We must get behind the House of Representatives, as they pursue impeachment of this president.

REP. KAREN BASS:

The idea of us pursuing impeachment, when we know it is a two-step process, makes no sense at all.

CHUCK TODD:

In a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, just 30% of Democrats, 19% of independents, and 3% of Republicans say there is enough evidence to begin impeachment hearings now. A full 50% of Democrats say Congress should continue investigating to see if there is enough evidence to hold hearings down the road. And top Democrats are listening.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

The path of investigation.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

Continue to do the investigation.

REP. RO KHANNA:

Investigations.

REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI:

You've got to investigate.

JOE BIDEN:

There's reason to further investigate it.

CHUCK TODD:

But it's not clear how long House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can hold back her members.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS:

And I sang, to the American people, "Did you? Did you elect a king, or did you elect a president?"

CHUCK TODD:

For now, Democrats have found a common enemy in Attorney General Bill Barr.

SEN, KAMALA HARRIS:

I do think he should resign.

SEN. CORY BOOKER:

He should resign.

REPORTER:

Do you think the attorney general should resign?

JOE BIDEN:

Yes, I do.

CHUCK TODD:

That's after this exchange last month, when Barr was asked about reports that the special counsel's team was frustrated with how he had described their findings.

REP. CHARLIE CRIST:

Do you know what they're referencing with that?

AG BILL BARR:

No, I don’t. I think, I think--I suspect that they probably wanted, you know, more put out.

CHUCK TODD:

In fact, Barr had received a letter from Robert Mueller, days earlier, expressing his concerns.

SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI:

The attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States. That's a crime.

CHUCK TODD:

Now, Democrats are demanding to see Mueller's unredacted report by tomorrow morning.

REP. JERROLD NADLER:

If we don't get that, we will proceed to hold the attorney general in contempt.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM:

All I can say to my Democratic colleagues, you've got the House. The way you run it will determine a lot about what happens in 2020. Knock yourself out.

CHUCK TODD:

Meanwhile, President Trump is threatening to prevent former White House Counsel Don McGahn from appearing.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I don't think I can let him and then tell everybody else you can't, especially him, because he was a counsel.

CATHERINE HERRIDGE:

So is it done?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I would say it's done.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, in a phone call the Russians say lasted 90 minutes, President Trump tweeted that he

discussed the, quote, "Russian hoax" with Vladimir Putin.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain, and it ended up being a mouse.

KRISTEN WELKER:

Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We didn't discuss that.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is the latest Democrat to get into the presidential race. It's Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. He calls himself a pragmatic idealist. And Senator Bennet is joining me now from Council Bluffs, where I believe they’ll be -- they're holding presidential caucuses, so I hear, in just a mere 21 months from now. Senator Bennet, welcome back to Meet the Press. And more importantly, the fact that you're running for president --

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Thanks Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

-- means you're cancer free. I want to get that -- so that is good news, as well.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Well, I really appreciate your having me back. We -- The last time I saw you, I had had the diagnosis but not the operation.

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Now, I know I'm cancer free, and we're moving ahead.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me ask, first, about your candidacy. You're the 18th major candidate into this race. You're the 11th white male. You're the seventh U.S. senator. You're not even the first Coloradoan in the race. You're the second Coloradoan. You look around this field, what was missing? What is missing that you're providing to this race?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

I think that this -- I think we need somebody who's going to level with the American people about why our system doesn't seem to work for them, why it, why it seems to be getting worse and worse and worse. I've had two tough elections in a swing state, out in the middle of the country, where I think we feel pretty ignored by what people on the coasts are saying. And third, I've got a record, in the Senate, of a lot of bipartisan results. But I've been there long enough to know how to get some things done but also long enough to know why things don't get done in Washington and what needs to be able -- what needs to be fixed. My conclusion, Chuck, was that, if we continue down the road we're going down, politically, and that's even before Donald Trump was president --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

-- over the next ten years, we will be the first generation of Americans to leave less opportunity, not more, to the people coming after us. And I feel like it's my responsibility, as it is every American's, not to accept that outcome.

CHUCK TODD:

Pragmatic idealist, okay? It -- Some might say that's an oxymoron. You can't be both. Give me an example of where you think you've got to be a bit more pragmatic in your idealism. One of your opponents in this race, Jay Inslee, he’s the governor of Washington, he's proposing to get rid of, I think, all coal-fired power plants within a ten-year period. Is that too idealistic? Is that not pragmatic? Is that an example of what you're trying to say is pragmatic idealism?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

I think, I think that -- I think that might actually be really possible. And I think there's a lot of merit in his proposals. I think my -- my suggestion on Medicare X that creates a true public option, administered by Medicare, rather than threatening to take away insurance from 180 million people, 80% of whom like it, all the unions in America that have negotiated for their healthcare plans. I mean, I think that the American people have waited long enough for universal healthcare.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

I'd say, on the idealism side of it, it's because I actually genuinely believe that the best, that the best, the best form of government is self-government. And I, and I believe that the freest kind of government is self-government, and that we have an obligation to preserve the democratic institutions that 230 years of Americans have preserved for us, and that our children are going to need to resolve their differences, but we seem to be so cavalier about destroying. And you know, the idea that we're going to run down the rathole that the Freedom Caucus has taken us down over the last ten years, in their tyrannical way, I think would be a huge mistake.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me --

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

I don’t think it’s -- By the way, I think it's a disgrace that we lost to Donald Trump to begin with, you know? And now, it seems to me that we need to approach this work in a way that's not going to give him a second term.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, and let's talk about this institution. It seems as if congressional Democrats, you're one of them, you would be a potential juror, if there were some sort of successful impeachment of the president in the House. But it seems to be that this is the debate in the Democratic Party. There's a pragmatic streak in Speaker Pelosi, who essentially seems to be more focused on 2020 than impeachment. Then there is other congressional Democrats who say, sort of making a similar argument that you're making about the institutions are wearing away, at some point, Congress has to stand up to these things on accountability. Where do you fall on this impeachment question? And where do you think the party should fall on it?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

You know, I think, based on the polling that you just cited, where, where the majority of people say that the House should continue to investigate, and then we should make a decision, down the road, about whether to impeach or not and then, obviously, to convict or not in the Senate, I think that's exactly right. And that's what we should do. You know, Mueller should testify. We should have the full, unredacted report. He obvious -- I mean, to me, it seems fairly clear, from the evidence, that he has committed impeachable offenses. But we need to go through a process here and see if the American people can be convinced that that's actually the right outcome --

CHUCK TODD:

Okay but --

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

-- so that we don't --

CHUCK TODD:

Go ahead.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

-- so we don’t unnecessarily divide the people that we need to fig -- that we -- whose support we ultimately need, Democrats, Republicans, and independents, to change healthcare for the American people, to build infrastructure for the American people, to have an approach to climate --

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

-- that actually builds on the 70% of American people that say climate change is real. Humans are contributing to it. That is what, that is what the broad view is among the American people. Yet, we keep losing to climate deniers. We keep losing to people who are taking healthcare away from the American people, losing to people who are cutting tax cuts for wealthy people and blowing up the deficit. We should ask ourselves, why are we losing to people that are adopting policies that are so antithetical to what the American people want? And a big reason for that is that we're not talking to the middle of America. We’re just -- We've got a bicoastal bias that, that's unconstructive.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let's talk abou -- You talk about something called the Trump trap. And it seems to me, when it comes to congressional oversight, he may be setting a trap, which is, you say, "No," to everything. You stonewall on everything. And it's going to jam congressional Democrats. And it is, perhaps, setting up a no-win situation. It's sort of, if you want to hold him accountable, you have to start impeachment. If you don't, you go down this line. How do you avoid that trap? What do Democrats do tomorrow, if Bill Barr does not agree to testify, if Mueller, if they withhold Mueller? What do you expect the Democrats to do?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Well, I agree, first of all, with the Democrats that you quoted earlier in the program, that Mueller ought to resign. It's disgraceful, what he's done, how he’s behaved --

CHUCK TODD:

You mean Mueller or Barr? You mean Barr, right?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

I'm sorry, Barr, Barr. He's behaved like, you know, Trump's criminal defense lawyer instead of the attorney general of the United States. It’s just -- And by the way, well, just this week, the kinds of things Trump has gotten away with or his attorney general has gotten away with, if Barack Obama had done one of them, you know, they'd be calling for his head. The fact that they're willing to do that doesn't mean we should go down that rathole. I think we should see whether or not-- pressure will build for the Mueller testimony. Pressure will build to get the Mueller report out. And I think that we should do all we can to beat those drums and make sure he does have to come testify to Congress and tell us what he found and explain why Bill Barr's summary of the work that he did, a guy who is admired, at least in the old days, was admired by everybody, you know, no matter what party they were in. The work he did over two years that demonstrates, conclusively, that he could not clear the president of committing the crime of - of conspir -- of, of obstruction. You know, he said, "I can't indict a president. So I'm not going to say that he committed a crime. But based on the evidence that I've seen, I can't clear him for this crime." That means that Congress has to do its oversight.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me move to, if you run against Donald Trump. Because I want to show you these economic numbers: 3.6% unemployment, 263,000 jobs created in April, 3.2% wages, are, 3.2% wage increase. Consumer confidence is fairly high. Look, there are a lot of voters out there who say, "All right, I don't like Donald Trump's character. But the economy is humming. And I vote pocketbook." What do you talk -- How do you convince that voter not to vote their pocketbook, if they like this economy?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

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

So I’d say -- No, people will, people will vote their pocketbook. But Chuck, we're in the tenth year of a recovery that started in 2009, when Barack Obama was president. If you look at the job-creation numbers along that trajectory, over that ten years, it goes just like this. So Donald Trump is elected in the last two years. And I will confess, even he couldn't screw up the momentum that we had been going on for the eight years that he got elected. The difficulty is that, when you're in a state like mine, Colorado, which has one of the most-dynamic economies in the world, not just in America, people still -- most people can't afford housing. They can't afford healthcare. They can't afford higher education. They can't afford early childhood education. They can't afford a middle-class lifestyle. And Donald Trump has done nothing to help with that, nothing to help with that. Second point I would make is, even if you feel like he's done the right thing by cutting taxes, which I don't, because he cut taxes on the wealthiest people in America, mostly, even if you feel like he's done the right thing in a regulatory way or taken on China in a way you like, the fact that he has built his entire political career on dividing Americans, not uniting Americans, on destroying our institutions, on going after the free press, on violating the rule of law and being proud of that, on playing patsy to dictators, like Putin and the North Korea dictator just this week. I mean, here, he's saying, "I'm with him." He says, "I'm with him. I know he wouldn't do anything to hurt his economy." North Koreans are starving, because of what he and his father have done to their economy. So we got to keep our eye -- There are many, many ways that Donald Trump's threadbare record is available to us to beat him in November 2020. It would be a disaster, if we lost to him again.

CHUCK TODD:

One of the knocks, perhaps, that will be used against you in a Democratic primary is that, perhaps, you haven't been a hardcore Democratic activist, as a United States senator. I want to put up a report card from a judicial -- a liberal judicial group called Demand Justice. And it's the seven U.S. senators running for president up here. I know you can't see this screen. They give letter grades, A through F. You and Senator Klobuchar got Fs. And you got Fs --

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

-- because you didn’t vote, essentially, you didn't vote to filibuster Neil Gorsuch, that you went ahead, you voted against Gorsuch in confirmation, but you didn't vote to filibuster him. Is that, that'll be used as saying you're not fighting the system enough. What do you say?

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Here's what I would say. I have clearly said, and it doesn't fill me with any pleasure to say this, I have clearly said that I have not agreed with the Democratic strategy, when it comes to judges. And I think the proof is in the pudding. Donald Trump, as a result of what we have done and as a result of what Mitch McConnell has done, has been able to appoint more circuit court judges than any -- and he's got two Supreme Court justices, than any president in the history of our country, because he's working with a 51-vote threshold and the destruction of the Senate's responsibility to advise and consent. The people behind that Super PAC that are attacking me for an F, they deserve an F, because they helped conceive that strategy. And they continue to conceive it. The reason I said we shouldn't filibuster Gorsuch was very simple. Gorsuch was a trade of Scalia for Gorsuch. And we allowed Mitch McConnell to invoke -- not only allowed him, gave him every opportunity to use the nuclear option on Gorsuch, instead of waiting for it -- forcing him to wait, for Kavanaugh. And my argument was, it’s going -- that's going to be when Roe versus Wade is at stake. That's going to be when the president's going to be even more popular. That's going to be when the Russian investigation's going to have taken up. We didn't have the discipline, unlike Mitch McConnell. We didn't have the discipline to play it strategically. We were non-strategic. And as a result, when Kavanaugh got there, Democrats could do nothing except pretend to our base that we were fighting. I think our base wants -- deserves to have results from us. More important than that, I think that the American people deserve for us -- to have results from us. So you know what? At least I've gone to the floor of the Senate to apologize for my small contribution to those failures. But those who conceived of the strategy, continue to advocate it, and continue to attack other Democrats that disagree with them, I think they deserve an F.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat from Colorado, newest entrant into this field, you are proving that it's going to be a lively debate, as we move forward. Senator, thanks for coming on today.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

It should be.

CHUCK TODD:

Stay safe on the trail.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Thanks Chuck. Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

And keep healthy.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Thank you, Chuck. I will.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back --

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET:

Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

-- the Democrats' next move and that curious Trump-Putin phone call with no mention of Russian interference and mocking of a Russian hoax.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is here. Eddie Glaude, Jr., of Princeton University; Kristen Soltis Anderson, she's a Republican pollster, also a columnist for the Washington Examiner; Eliana Johnson, a national political reporter for Politico; and Gerry Seib of the Wall Street Journal, my partner in crime on the poll. So Gerry I want to start with you, because not only did our poll show a divide, and you sort of wrote about this, it is fascinating. It is a divide in the Democratic Party. In a weird way, Donald Trump wants more impeachment talk. Because it unites his side, and it serves as a wedge - Who would think impeaching Donald Trump would be a wedge in the Democratic Party? But it is.

GERALD SEIB:

Well, you know, I wrote this column a week ago. And the lead was, what if Donald Trump wants Democrats to try to impeach him? And I, I was being facetious. But in the days since, I'm not sure I was being facetious. It may actually be, literally, true. And in our poll, you see the reason why. You have 50% of Democrats saying, "Let's investigate, but not start impeachment hearings." You only have 30% of Democrats and 28% of Democratic primary voters saying, "Yeah, let's move to impeachment." So you understand Nancy Pelosi's point of view when you see those numbers, which is, this is a politically perilous path. Now, do you do it anyway, because you think it's the right thing to do? Maybe. But don't kid yourself that the party is with you in a rush toward impeachment. They're not.

CHUCK TODD:

Eliana, I mean, it's kind of a campaign strategy right now, is it not, on the Trump side?

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Oh, absolutely. Donald Trump is out on the campaign trail, saying Democrats are obsessed with investigating him. And even though he was cleared by the Mueller report, they continue to go down this rabbit hole. And I think it's an effective message for him on the campaign trail.

Trump simply does the best, when he's campaigning directly in opposition to somebody or something. That's why you see him homing (sic) in on the investigation theme and homing (sic) in on Joe Biden, among a host of Democratic candidates. He did this with Little Marco and Lyin’ Ted, and he's now doing this with the investigations. He needs an opponent. That was the whole strategy behind the witch hunt. And now, if Democrats move toward impeachment, I think he'll do it pretty effectively with that.

CHUCK TODD:

Eddie, it does seem as if the Democratic base, it's funny, it’s like and I've said, the presidential candidates talk to voters, which may be why they're in one place. The congressional Democrats probably hear social media voters more. And social media Democrats are in another place. What do they do?

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

They uphold their constitutional responsibility.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay, what is that?

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

That’s -- and that is they have to assert the role and responsibility of the Congress for oversight. They have to. Listen, we are, we have to make a distinction between the bad actor that is Donald Trump and an argument that we have been facing since Nixon about a unitary executive. There are actors in this current drama that are, in some ways, the children of many of those folks who participated in the Nixon era. So, Bill Barr is a protégé of Dick Cheney. We saw the argument in 1992 with regards to Iran-Contra. We know that there's been an argument about unconstrained executive power. Congress, if they let this go, and I made this critique with Barack Obama and all of his executive orders and the like, if they let this go, the basic, the basic structure of our constitutional framework, right, will collapse in some ways. And so I think it's important that they walk and chew gum at the same time. They've got to uphold their oath.

CHUCK TODD:

Kristen, where are the constitutional conservatives anymore? And I say this, who were screaming about executive overreach?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

Well, you heard a couple of them speak out during the national emergency, at the conclusion of the shutdown. But I think, at the moment, there's a desire to just see the country move on. And clearly, voters are not moving in their opinion of the president, based on anything that's going on on Capitol Hill. What you had this week were -- it was Congress sort of pressing Bill Barr on the fact that Robert Mueller gave him a C on his book report. And it's the sort of thing that I think most voters are just not changing their opinion of the president or his administration about.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to move to the president almost mocking the Mueller report with Vladimir Putin. I mean, I don't know how you do that. And what's interesting, Eliana, I want to put up a poll number here, is how effective it's been, about the concern. We asked about concern about future election interference. And overall, as you see, a majority of the country, not that worried about it, 45% worried. But watch the partisan splits here. Among Democrats, two to one, essentially, worried to not worried about election interference. And among Republicans, nearly four to one, not worried to worried. The president has convinced the Republican base that either what Russia did was okay, or that Russia didn't do it.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Well, I think the emphasis has been on collusion, and that was probably a mistake. I think that the emphasis, in the political discussion, should have been on the fact that our election was hacked. Now, some people were, of course, talking about that. But what we've heard, over and over again, was talk about the Trump campaign's collusion. And I think, now, in the president's conversation with Vladimir Putin, it's very clear than he wants to use the Mueller report as cover to pursue what he's long wanted to do. He talked about this on the 26 (SIC) campaign, to reframe our relationship with Russia. And he wants to have a good relationship with Putin. He's doing the same thing with North Korea. But he was stymied in his ability to do this with Russia, because of the Mueller investigation and expressed frustration about that. Now, with Russia, there's a particular problem, because of their interference in Venezuela. And that goes directly against what we're trying to do there and --

CHUCK TODD:

The president is pretending, though, that there's nothing to see there.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Absolutely. And that's a real problem.

GERALD SEIB:

But look, I think what the president has done is define concern about Russian interference in the election with an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of his victory in 2016, and that's what Republicans are essentially buying into. And the problem with that, it seems to me, is that there is a legitimate problem here with Russian and, potentially, Chinese interference with the electoral process in the country. And it's kind of being lost in this debate. It was the, it was the most compelling part of the Mueller report, was the evidence of Russian interference in the election. But it got relatively little attention.

CHUCK TODD:

That's why I was obsessed with putting up the independents today, when I did all of the things. Because the Democrats are worried about obstruction. The Republicans are worried about no collusion. And those in the middle are going, "Uh, Russia! Hello!"

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

Well, I think one big thing that's been so frustrating to watch the debate over Russia unfold is the idea that, we use words like hack the election. But voting machines weren't hacked. The -- what it really comes down to is the idea that voters are being told, "You were brainwashed." And that's why you see those partisan divides. Because you have a lot of Republican voters that are being told, "You didn't really want to vote for Donald Trump. You only voted for Donald Trump because Putin put something on Facebook that brainwashed you." And have you ever tried to win an argument with someone by starting it with, "You were brainwashed"? No wonder there's a party divide over this issue.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

There was something that happened in Florida that might not have been hacking, but something happened in Florida, according to -- and Illinois.

CHUCK TODD:

Both Florida and Illinois had, had -- certainly got penetration, but you're right, not the machines.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

But I think it’s --

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

We absolutely need more security on that front, for sure.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

But I think it’s, I think it's important that, of course, there is a question around the legitimacy of Donald Trump's presidency. But I do think this. There is the case in which we need to ask the question about our, the 2020 elections. Not only are we concerned, at least those of us on the left, concerned about Russia, we're also concerned by this fact. The 1982 Consent Decree, right, that prevented the Republican, the RNC, from orchestrating what particularly happens, say, in Georgia, with Stacey Abrams, or what happened in, in North Carolina. There are these converging factors that are leading some folk to assume that the election itself could be in jeopardy, particularly because we have someone in the office who's prone to cheat.

CHUCK TODD:

The president did -- by the way, the president did get a lot of help from a talking point, thanks to a New York Times story. We put up the headline, "F.B.I. Sent Investigator Posing as Assistant to Meet with Trump Aide in 2016." You know, Gerry, when you go through this, it was amazing that the one F.B.I. informant actually attended White House meetings. I mean, talk about reinforcing a paranoia that the president has been trying to, to, to express for quite some time.

GERALD SEIB:

Well, is it paranoia or not? I mean, that's what we'll, that’s what we’ll figure out. But there is a kind of -- we have moved into a new phase here, which is investigate the investigators, you know? And I think the, the president and his people hit a fork in the road with the Mueller report. They could have just said, "We've been vindicated. We're moving on. And let's talk about the economy, by the way, you know, 263,000 jobs created," or, "Let's go after the people who started this whole thing. We're going to get them." And they've kind of chosen that path.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. That doesn't feel like a smart reelection path. Because that's not where independents are.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

I would add, if you think the controversy about Bill Barr is over, I think he's deadly serious about investigating the origins of the Trump campaign, investigation into the Trump campaign and, as he said, he used the term, spying. And he said, "That may have been okay. But I want to know whether it was adequately predicated." And I, I think he's deadly serious about looking into that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, guys. I'm going to pause the conversation here. When we come back, I'm going to talk to a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who questioned Bill Barr this week, Republican John Kennedy of Louisiana.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Both President Trump and Democrats know that impeachment has no chance at succeeding without the support of some Senate Republicans, who so far, have shown every sign of sticking by the president. One of those Senate Republicans is John Kennedy of Louisiana. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee, who is among many in his party who were a bit more sympathetic to Attorney General Bill Barr when Barr testified before the Judiciary Committee this week. And Senator Kennedy joins me now from a suburb of New Orleans: Kenner, Louisiana. Senator Kennedy, good to see you, sir. Welcome back.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I get to the committee hearing, I want to get to the president's phone call with Vladimir Putin and his explanation of what happened in it and get your reaction on the other side. Let me play it for the viewers.

(BEGIN TAPE)

REPORTER:

Did you address the election-meddling issues that came up in the Mueller report with Mr. Putin today?

DONALD TRUMP:

We discussed it. He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain, and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that, because he knew there was no collusion.

REPORTER:

Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?

DONALD TRUMP:

We didn't discuss that. Really, we didn't discuss it.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

What kind of lost opportunity did the president have there in trying to sort of -- there was a -- there is a part of the Mueller report that everybody agrees with, which is that Russia had a systematic attempt to interfere in our democracy. The president is not taking that seriously with Vladimir Putin. Does that concern you?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Well, I wasn't privy to the conversation. But I hope what the president did was talk to the, to the head of Russia about interference in our elections. I mean, Russia's been doing it, and the former Soviet Union has been doing it, for 60 years. But they've stepped it up, Chuck. And one of the things that's been lost in the Mueller report is how aggressive Russia was in trying to interfere with our democracy. Look, Russia is no longer the Soviet Union. Their economy is smaller than New York state. They've got good spies. They've got nuclear weapons. And they know how to -- they're good at cyberterrorism. And we've got to check them. And we've got to tell them we're not going to tolerate it. And if they keep doing it, we're just going to further add sanctions. And I'm hoping that's what the president did.

CHUCK TODD:

You say, "hope." But if he had said that, wouldn't he have shared that with the American people? Instead, he shared the fact that Vladimir Putin said, "Ah, see? It was not a mountain. It's a molehill." That didn't sound like a president --

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Well, it was a mountain. It was a --

CHUCK TODD:

And it didn’t sound like the president who told him, "Stop interfering in our elections."

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

It was a mountain. And I wasn't privy to the whole conversation. You'll have to ask the president about that one.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Let me move to the hearing itself. After the hearing --

SEN JOHN KENNEDY:

OK.

CHUCK TODD:

-- you and I talked about calling up Bob Mueller to testify. You were open to it. Senator Graham had said, "No." Then he sent this letter to Bob Mueller. Should this be interpreted as an invitation to Bob Mueller to come testify before your committee?

SEN JOHN KENNEDY:

Yes. And let me put this in context. I've been very supportive of the Mueller investigation. Never met the man, but by all accounts, he's a, he’s a good, competent, decent man. We have his report. You can debate the rhetoric or the discussion in it or the spin or whatever you want to call it. But the conclusion is no indictment for collusion, no indictment for conspiracy, no indictment for obstruction of justice. Now, I think many of my Democratic friends have accepted that. Some haven't. Many of my Democratic friends thought that Mueller was going to indict the president. And so the Mueller report was kind of like a hair on their biscuit. And now, they don't know what to do. So they're attacking Bill Barr. And my feeling about it is it's time to move on. I understand that Washington is not the big rock candy mountain, and that politics is everybody's blood. But I think we ought to spend a little bit of our time talking about the next generation, as opposed to the next election. If I could make one other point, this business of the dispute between the White House and the House is dangerous to America's institutions. Because if they all go to court -- they need to work it out. If they all go to court, and it becomes a zero-sum game, one of two things is going to happen. Trump's going to win, and that's going to undermine Congress' oversight ability, or Congress is going to win, the House is going to win. And then all of a sudden, the new standard is that the House or the Senate can ask a president or a presidential nominee anything they want to about their personal life, whether it's relevant to being president or not --

CHUCK TODD:

So what's the compromise?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

-- and I think that's a dangerous precedent.

CHUCK TODD:

So what's the compromise? Should the White House --

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

I don’t know. Well, I think --

CHUCK TODD:

-- cooperate more?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

I think the White House and the House leadership ought to sit down and say, "Okay. You want this? We'll give you that. Why do you want this?" I don't think the House is in completely good faith. Let me give you an example. When the Ways and Means chairman said he wanted Trump's tax returns, he said, "The reason I want his returns is because it'll help me evaluate how good a job the IRS is doing in auditing." Now, give me a break, Chuck. I mean, if you believe that, you'll never own your own home. Nobody believes that. I mean, he's in total bad faith. The president doesn't have to turn over his tax returns. Would I do it, if I were running for president? Yeah, but there's no law that says he has to.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me go onto the issue of foreign interference.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

OK.

CHUCK TODD:

Should it be a crime to use stolen material, if it comes from a foreign adversary of the United States? Should that be a crime? Because it’s not -- basically, if you read the Mueller report, our laws are blurry on this.

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Well, first you --

CHUCK TODD:

So should it be a crime? Should you guys be passing this? Should it be a crime to use stolen material from a foreign adversary in a campaign?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Well, if you do make that a crime, you've still got to show intent. You've got to show mens rea. You know, when the Russians spy on you or the Chinese or the North Koreans, they don't come into your office and say, "Hey, we're from Russia or China or North Korea. And let me talk to you." I mean, they do -- they're very clever. So you -- if you're going to pass a law, you've got to be able to -- you’ve got to require criminal intent.

CHUCK TODD:

But do you -- so you don't think there should be some safeguard in here that way?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

No. No, I didn't say that.

CHUCK TODD:

What does that look like, then?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

If you're telling me, should it be improper or even a crime, presuming you could show mens rea, for me to use in a Senate race material offered by China or North Korea or Argentina, for that matter, or Venezuela, yeah, I'm willing to look at that. But you've got to show intent.

CHUCK TODD:

And do you think -- the Trump campaign has yet -- and the Republican Party as a whole has yet to pledge not to use stolen material. Should they?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Well, I'll pledge I won't use stolen material. But I've got to know it's stolen material. If somebody sends me information, and I don't know it's coming from a foreign adversary --

CHUCK TODD:

So Rudy Giuliani is wrong? Rudy Giuliani is wrong?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

-- then I don't have the mens rea.

CHUCK TODD:

Rudy Giuliani is wrong, when he says there's nothing wrong with using stolen material from the Russians?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

I don't know whether he's wrong or right. I don't know what the law is. You're asking me, should we have a law? Frankly, I haven't researched, Chuck. I'm not trying to dodge your question. I just don't know.

CHUCK TODD:

But should -- you don’t think -- ethically, should that be wrong?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Well, if you're asking me, yeah. I mean, I'm not going to use stolen material from Russia or China. I don’t think -- I don't know anybody who would. But the point is you've got to know it's stolen. And generally, when they send you this stuff in a campaign, if Russia is -- to my knowledge, Russia's never sent me anything in a campaign. But if they did, I know they're, you know, they’re not morons. They're not jelly heads. They're not going not walk in and say, "Hi, I'm from Russia. I've got some information for you."

CHUCK TODD:

And before I go, I want to ask you about North Korea. It does appear as if --

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

OK.

CHUCK TODD:

-- Kim Jong Un launched these rockets as an attempt to restart negotiations with the United States. If President Trump concedes to more negotiations based on that, is that the wrong premise to do? That Kim Jong Un -- should he be punished for this first, instead of rewarded with more talks?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

Well, I want to keep talking with Kim Jong Un. I think -- I don’t have any --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think the President's being played?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY:

-- respect for -- No. Well, I don't know. I mean, he could be. I don't know. The only person who knows that is Kim Jong Un. We can all speculate. But I would much rather have us be talking -- have us talking with Kim Jong Un than firing missiles at each other. Now, at some point, we're going to get down to it. It's going to be, "What are you going to give up?" and, "What are we going to give up?" I assume the president's working on that. But in the meantime, I think those sanctions are biting. And I think they're hurting North Korea very hard. And if we can work out a trade deal with China and get China to be more cooperative, we can, we can bring Kim to his knees. What I hate is having to hurt the people North Korea while we're hurting the knucklehead they've got for their president. But that's the way it is.

CHUCK TODD:

That's the way it is. Anyway, Senator John Kennedy, Republican from Louisiana, always appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your views. Thank you very much, sir.

JOHN KENNEDY:

Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, the one thing that President Trump is counting on for his reelection and how that one thing just got better for him.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data Download time. As you may have heard, the economy is doing great. As President Trump likes to reiterate, there are jobs, jobs, jobs. And he's not wrong. Unemployment is at a 50-year low. At 3.6%, it's the lowest unemployment rate since 1969 and unemployment has been at or under 4% for over a year.

So the president should be happy about these numbers but not just because they show a good economy. They may also be his best hope for reelection. As we showed in our latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, President Trump's approval rating sits at a very mediocre 46%. That's five percentage points underwater actually. And it's smack dab in the middle of the president's normal trading range of 43-46%, as we've seen in ten of the last 11 polls.

And when you look at how they feel about the president as a person, sort of his character test, it's even worse than his job rating. Just 39% of people polled felt positive about the president as a person. 49% felt negatively. Ten percentage points underwater. So what gets the president from 39 to 46? Well, to repeat the president's favorite line, jobs, jobs, jobs. When asked about the president's handling of the economy, a majority, 51%, say they approve of his job performance. Five points higher than his overall job rating. And that means he could be in trouble if the economy were to slump. As always, the president's base is with him.

But without the bump that the strong economy gives him, that base would likely turn into just 39% rather than the 46% he sits at now. And you can just imagine what his job approval rating would be if his personal problems weren't always getting in the way. When we come back, Endgame and what Nancy Pelosi just said about whether President Trump would even accept the results of the 2020 election if he lost.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with Endgame. And I've got to put up this interesting excerpt of an interview with Nancy Pelosi that the New York Times did. And it was Nancy Pelosi talking about her fear of Donald Trump accepting election results. Let me put up this quote that she gave to Glenn Thrush. She was talking about the 2018 elections, and she was talking about how she was worried. "If we win by four seats," she says, "by a thousand votes each, he," referring to the president, "is not going to respect the election. He would poison the public mind. He would challenge each of the races. He would say you can't seat these people.” Eliana Johnson, she's saying this is sort of one of the reasons why she's not for impeachment, that she -- you have to win the middle. And if you beat him in 2020, you have to beat him by a lot. It has to be a mandate so that he accepts the results.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

I think she's right.

CHUCK TODD:

But it's striking that the speaker of the House believes she has to utter this.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Well, I think she's right. There's, there’s evidence in 2016 he was talking about that the system is rigged. And I, I think Nancy Pelosi, somebody who clearly understands her opponent and she's shown that over and over again, not only with how she's approached impeachment but with how she talked about winning the midterm elections.

CHUCK TODD:

Jerry, could we handle 2000? Could we, can you imagine if it's a recount in one state to decide whether Donald Trump wins reelection or not?

GERALD SEIB:

Well, I think we're in dangerous territory. That's for sure. Could we? I don't know. We were talking earlier about whether institutions are holding in this era we're in right now. And so far they have, but will they? I'm not entirely sure. The thing is that I think when you start questioning the legitimacy of elections and whether that's at the local level, the state level or at the national level, then you're in pretty dangerous territory. And it's not hard to imagine people in the streets of Washington, where we are sitting, out protesting the results of the 2020 election. And I don't like to think about that.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

But there's been a lot of questioning of the legitimacy of the 2016 election not coming from Republicans. As soon as the election result came in, sort of the tables turned and suddenly the shoe was on the other foot. And I actually think that our institutions over the last two and a half years have held up very well. Democrats won the midterms. They were seated. They control Congress. They are proceeding to investigate. The friction between the branches is there. People speculated that the president might fire Bob Mueller. He didn't. Maybe the Justice Department would sit on the report. They didn't. Our institutions are holding. It is ugly. It is messy. There is friction. But ultimately, I have faith that America's going to get through all of this.

CHUCK TODD:

You put up a nice low bar, but you're right. We have surpassed that. I'll give you that. The bar is above the ground.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

And, you know, look --

CHUCK TODD:

I think.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

-- Michael Cohen in his congressional testimony said very clearly that he, he did not think Donald Trump would actually give up the presidency if he lost, right? So what Nancy Pelosi echoed has been echoed before by someone who sits right next to him. I don’t think, one of the things that we have to, I think we have to pan back, pan out, and really ask ourselves the question whether or not our institutions are actually holding up. I think there is an erosion, that there are, shall we say, a kind of rot at the bottom that actually suggests that something, something devastating is on the horizon, at least in my view.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

Well, I think something has fundamentally changed in that there's this idea that, well, if Democrats win in 2020, we will go back to normal, that there will be some kind of --

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

There's no new normal.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

-- and I don't think that there is. I think that fundamentally there are things in our society that have changed --

CHUCK TODD:

And I --

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

-- that won't go back.

CHUCK TODD:

And this to me is the fundamental debate between -- Biden and Bernie are having it right now. But essentially Michael Bennet is, is sort of -- he straddles this argument. He's like, "The institutions are eroding. It's bigger than Trump." Biden thinks it's just Trump.

GERALD SEIB:

It's a fascinating strategy. He is saying basically, "This is about Trump. This is about Donald Trump. Full stop. That's what this election's about. And it's about American values, not about Russian collusion. It's mano a mano, me versus him, about upholding American values." And he's acting as if he's the, not only the person who can beat Donald Trump on those terms but that he's already essentially the nominee making that argument. It's a really interesting strategy.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Yeah, I think you can put the Democrats into two camps. There are those who say, "Trump is an aberration, and we simply need to defeat Trump and we'll return to the pre-Trump era where politics were bad but, but, you know, Trump is the real problem here." And then there are those who say, "The whole system is rotten." And it's not just Bernie who is campaigning on that. But it's --

CHUCK TODD:

Eddie over here, too. He just raised his hand.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Yeah, there are several others. I would put Elizabeth Warren in that --

GERALD SEIB:

I would, too.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

-- camp, who have been saying that. I mean, she hit Obama on that, saying that he didn't adequately address the financial crisis and that this entire system needs to be overhauled.

CHUCK TODD:

It's Maureen Dowd's theme today. She hits everybody. She hit, she hit Biden. She hit Obama. Sort of, like, these guys that have always tried to be rational rule followers and it bites them.

EDDIE GLAUDE, JR.:

Right. So, look, income inequality wasn't Donald Trump's invention. The fact that the planet is on, on, on its deathbed, it wasn't Donald Trump's fault. So when we begin to lay out an economic, an economic philosophy that the Democrats have been complicit in, right, since 1980 that has, in some ways, devastated everyday, ordinary workers. When we think about policies of deregulation and privatization that have, in some ways, devastated the planet and devastated the health of everyday, ordinary folk. It's not just Donald Trump. In some ways, what we're living in is the collapse of the age of Reagan. And the question is something is dying and something is being born. So these Democrats who made a living reconciling themselves to the philosophy of Reagan now have to figure out what they're going to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me close the loop here though with, with you, Kristen, which is: the moderate Republican, the Chamber of Commerce Republican who does not like Trump, many of them I think voted for Democratic House members. What do they want?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

I think what they want is the economy to continue growing like it is. I think that they have sort of reconciled themselves to not liking the tweets, not liking the way the president always conducts himself, but liking the results he's getting on policy and in terms of the economy. And when --

CHUCK TODD:

Do they want to kick him out? Or they only will kick him out for somebody like Biden?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON:

I don't think that they generally want to kick him out. And I think it’s, it’s -- Democrats have a very small margin of error about who they nominate to be able to peel some of those GOP-ers away.

CHUCK TODD:

I have to make that the last word. I see your finger there. As soon as I say thank you, we'll talk and let the people know what we talked about. That's all we have for today. Thank you sincerely for watching. And, remember, if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.