Meet the Press - November 17, 2019

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, impeachment showdown.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

Committee will come to order.

CHUCK TODD:

Hearings begin with new revelations tying President Trump closer to events in Ukraine.

AMBASSADOR BILL TAYLOR:

Mr. Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.

CHUCK TODD:

And evidence of intimidation by President Trump of a career diplomat, even during her testimony.

MARIE YOVANOVITCH:

I mean can't speak to what the president is trying to do, but I think the effect is to be intimidating.

CHUCK TODD:

Democrats say their case is clear.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?

CHUCK TODD:

Republicans defend the president.

REP. JOHN RATCLIFFE:

Where is the impeachable offense in that call?

CHUCK TODD:

And despite his denials ...

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

It's a hoax. I'm too busy to watch it.

CHUCK TODD:

… the president seems consumed by the hearings, tweeting well over 100 times last week alone about impeachment. My guests this morning, two senators who traveled together to Ukraine while military aid was withheld, Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Plus, Deval Patrick gets in the race.

DEVAL PATRICK:

I am not trying to climb up by pulling anybody else down.

CHUCK TODD:

This morning I'll talk to the former Massachusetts governor about getting into the 2020 campaign, as Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren are slipping in Iowa. And county-to-county, our first look at five counties that we believe hold the key to the 2020 election. Joining me for insight and analysis are: Eugene Robinson, columnist for The Washington Post; Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute; Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason and Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. 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. If Republicans were hoping for a Robert Mueller-like disappointment, that didn’t happen. If Democrats were looking for that galvanizing Watergate-like moment, that hasn’t happened yet either. Still, the witnesses at last week's impeachment hearings succeeded in portraying a president as less interested in helping Ukraine, than improving his own political fortunes. And one who engaged in intimidation, even committing the unforced error of attacking a witness during her televised testimony. Moreover, the hearings only heightened anticipation for this week's appearance by Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who may feel forced to revise his story a second time in the face of inconvenient new testimony, some of which came to light just yesterday. Perhaps most important, last week revealed just how consumed President Trump is with the hearings, despite his repeated claims to the contrary. How much will it all matter? There's little indication that Republicans or Democrats in Congress were moved to change their minds one way or the other. But it is possible that while the hearings may have little effect on impeachment, they may have done more to damage President Trump's re-election chances next year.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Impeachment to me is a dirty word.

CHUCK TODD:

President Trump appears rattled, as the impeachment inquiry consumes his attention and his presidency.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP: Impeachment. Impeachment. Impeachment. Impeachment. Impeachment.

CHUCK TODD:

The president has tweeted about impeachment more than 140 times just this week, even as he denies he is watching.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I hear it's a joke. I haven't watched. I’ve been watching today - for the first time, I started watching and it’s really sad.

CHUCK TODD:

On Friday, the president attacked the former ambassador to Ukraine on Twitter as she was testifying. “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine ... "

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

And now the president in real time is attacking you. What effect do you think that has on other witnesses' willingness to come forward and expose wrongdoing?

MARIE YOVANOVITCH:

Well, it's very intimidating.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I have the right to speak. I have freedom of speech just as other people do.

CHUCK TODD:

Yovanovitch argued the president’s conduct represents an immediate threat to U.S. interests.

MARIE YOVANOVITCH:

What foreign official, corrupt or not, could be blamed for wondering whether the U.S. ambassador represents the president’s views? And what U.S. ambassador could be blamed for harboring the fear they can't count on our government to support them as they implement stated U.S. policy and protect and defend U.S. interests?

CHUCK TODD:

And witnesses this week have described the president's attempts to use his office for personal political gain, pressing for an investigation into the Bidens while withholding military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine. On Wednesday, the acting ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor broke the news of a phone call, overheard by his aide David Holmes, between E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland and President Trump.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF:

What your staff member could overhear was President Trump asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations’ is that right?

AMBASSADOR BILL TAYLOR:

That’s correct.

CHUCK TODD:

Behind closed doors on Friday, Holmes described the July cell phone call -- one day after the President's call with Ukraine President Zelenskiy, saying Sondland told Trump: "that President Zelenskiy loves your ass." Holmes said: "I then heard President Trump ask, 'So he's going to do the investigation?' Ambassador Sondland replied that "he's gonna do it ..." Holmes testified that Sondland told him the president "did not give an (expletive) about Ukraine." But only cared about "big stuff … like the 'Biden investigation' that Mr. Giuliani was pushing."

REPORTER:

Do you recall having a conversation with Sondland?

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

I don't recall. No. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now, two senators who traveled together to Ukraine in September, spoke to President Zelenskiy about the withheld security assistance. It's Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Senator Johnson, I'm going to begin with you. You're join us from -- I know you’re in your home there in Oshkosh. So, Senator, welcome back to Meet the Press. Let me just start with your reaction to what the president tweeted about Ambassador Yovanovitch on Friday.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Good morning, Chuck. Well, you know, I thought it was kind of interesting when President Trump was leaving the White House, going to Atlanta, and people were talking about his behavior. He said, "You know, my behavior is caused by, by you. You know, the constant torment, I mean, the investigations." So, you know, listen, I would prefer he not, you know, provide that type of tweet, but you know, my concern -- and let me start out with something else here, Chuck, because I don't want to argue every point. Something we agree on. As Americans, we all share the same goal. We want a safe, prosperous, secure America. We're compassionate. We compare about each other. And generally, generally, we solve our political differences at the ballot box, not in the streets or through impeachment. I think that is really -- as we talked the other day, that's the divide that is tearing this country apart and that's what I'm primarily concerned about.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to get into a little bit of the specifics, so I'm going to get you to react to something that the ambassador said about -- particularly about what Rudy Giuliani was doing. Take a listen to her testimony.

(BEGIN TAPE)

AMBASSADOR YOVANOVITCH:

I obviously don't dispute that the president has the right to withdraw an ambassador at any time, for any reason, but what I do wonder is why it was necessary to smear my reputation.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

That's a fair question for her to ask.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Sure it is. And again, I have no problem with the ambassador. She hosted me when I was over -- made one of my trips over there. But you know, one thing I want to point out is the damage that is being done to our country through this entire impeachment process. You know, it's going to be very difficult for future presidents to have a candid conversation with a world leader because now we've set the precedent of leaking transcripts. It’s going -- you know, the weakening of executive privilege is not good. And by the way, those individuals that leaked this, you know, if their interest was a stronger relationship with Ukraine, they didn't accomplish it. Having this all come out into public has weakened that relationship, has exposed things that didn't need to be exposed. You know, when I was in Ukraine with Senator Murphy, one of the points I was trying to make is, as we left that meeting, let's try and minimize this. Let's talk about this is a timing difference in terms of funding. Senator Murphy's on the Appropriations Committee. We will restore the funding. I came back and I talked to Senator Durbin. He offered an amendment. That same day, the funding was released. So, this would have been far better off if we would have just taken care of this behind the scenes. We have two branches of government.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay. All right.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Most people --

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Most people wanted to support Ukraine. We were trying to convince President Trump. And so, the whole -- I mean, again, I listened to the Washington Post article lionizing this whistleblower. Listen, if the whistleblower's goal is to improve our relationship with Ukraine, he utterly --

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you --

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

-- or she utterly failed. And again, if they consider that's part of --

CHUCK TODD:

All right, let me take --

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Go ahead.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me pick up on what you said there about all this going public because you actually raise an interesting question about this. Why was the president so insistent that President Zelenskiy had to be public about announcing an investigation? And I ask that because, you know, one of the foundations of due process in this country is actually not to publicly announce who you're investigating, because you may be investigating somebody who's innocent. And yet the president wanted Ukraine to violate one of our great protections in the rule of law and publicly announce an investigation regardless of whether there's guilt or not. Why did he want to go public?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

I'm not sure that's the case. I certainly understand that President Trump wanted to find out what was happening in 2016 and what -- you know, how did this false narrative about Russian collusion with his campaign occur. That, I know, because that's from my first-hand testimony. What I also know is when I, when I sprung that on President Trump in my August 31st phone call, he completely denied there was any kind of, any kind of arrangement that Ukraine had to do something before he'd release that funding. And this is what has not been reported from that phone call. At the tail end -- It was a pretty long phone call. We talked about a bunch of other things, but at the very end he wrapped it up by saying, "You know, Ron, I've got a hurricane I have to deal with, but I hear what you're saying. We're reviewing this. I think you're going to like my decision." So, he was already leaning toward providing that funding on August 31st. My guess is that this never would have been exposed, that funding would have been restored, and our relationship with Ukraine would be far better off than it is today.

CHUCK TODD:

Again, you seem to say --you seem to blame this on everybody but the president. It was the president's actions --

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

No, I'm not blaming anybody, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, you are. You're blaming everybody else for the reason we're in this situation, other than the president. Isn't the president's own behavior, which raised all of these yellow and red flags, isn't that why we're here?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Again, I'm sympathetic with President Trump, as he's been tormented from the day after he was -- the election. You know, a quick, little quote from the lawyer of the whistleblower. This is ten days after his inauguration, “who has started the first of many steps, rebellion, impeachment will follow ultimately.” Now, if this whistleblower was, you know, to be lionized by the Washington Post, maybe we ought to take a look at, you know, who he hired. You know, he could have hired an unbiased officer of the court. He -- instead, he hired Mark Zaid, who said, "Coup has started, first of many steps, impeachment will follow ultimately." Now --

CHUCK TODD:

Senator, again --

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

And that's not an unbiased officer of the court. So, there's something going on here, Chuck. That's my point.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me ask --

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Something is going on --

CHUCK TODD:

I feel like --

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

It's dividing this country. Go ahead.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this. No, let me ask you this. You brought up -- you're the one that brought up this idea that impeachment was something that the left wanted to do immediately. I'm going to quote from you, sir. November 1st, 2016, you're asked about Hillary Clinton and you said this before the election, "She purposely circumvented the law. This was willful concealment and destruction. I would say, yes, high crime or misdemeanor." You were talking about impeachment before that election with Hillary Clinton. How should I not -- how should viewers not look at what you're doing here and you're just reacting as a partisan, that if Trump were a Democrat you'd be ready to convict him?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

First of all, understand, that's before an election. I'm trying to hammer out the political differences before an election. And by the way, I completely agree with that. I mean, I -- we'd been investigating the whole Hillary Clinton email scandal -- the exoneration of her. You know, that was not an investigation to really dig out the truth. It was --

CHUCK TODD:

So, you think it was legit to advocate impeachment before the election -- you're criticizing Democrats for advocating --

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

I never --

CHUCK TODD:

-- impeachment days after the inauguration.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

You'd have to listen to what the question was. I don't think I said impeachment right there at all, Chuck. So, again, no, I was just pointing out what Hillary Clinton had done and I was hoping that people would not elect her, and they didn't. And that's probably, I think, one of the main reasons that she was not elected is what she did with that private server --

CHUCK TODD:

All right.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

-- which was completely intentional. I mean, it baffles me that she was not indicted, quite honestly. But now that we know, based on the Strzok-Page texts, which I know I'm not supposed to bring up --

CHUCK TODD:

Let me ask you this last question--

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

But I mean that’s -- you know, that's a problem.

CHUCK TODD:

-- about partisanship. Why shouldn't, why shouldn’t viewers assume that you're looking at President Trump through a Republican lens here because you were already much tougher, ready to go to, ready to go to impeachment on Hillary Clinton with no evidence that anything that happened with that server somehow got into foreigners' hands, when we actually had evidence regarding what happened at the DNC?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

So, I guess what I suggest, Chuck, is I got a letter last night from Representatives Jordan and Nunes asking for basically my telling of events. I'll be working on that today. So, I will lay out what I know in terms of this and --

CHUCK TODD:

So, are you going to testify?

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

-- to a certain extent, some of my perspective. Now, you know, they're not going to call me because certainly Adam Schiff wouldn't want to be called by the Senate. There’s going to be a separation there. But I think I will reply to that and I'll supply my telling of events, which is difficult to do in eight or ten minutes on a show like this.

CHUCK TODD:

Fair enough.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

But Chuck, going back to -- we are a divided nation. I am highly concerned about that. I know you are as well.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

We need to start understanding the other person's perspective, and that's what's not happening right now.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Johnson, Republican from Wisconsin, thank you for coming on and sharing your views, sir. I appreciate it.

SENATOR RON JOHNSON:

Have a good day.

CHUCK TODD:

You got it. Joining me now is the Democratic partner of Ron Johnson there when it came to trying to get aid for Ukraine, Chris Murphy of Connecticut. Senator Murphy, welcome back.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Sure.

CHUCK TODD:

First of all, what have we learned so far this week that says, and this to me is the bar the Democrats have to meet, that what the president did was so egregious he should be disqualified from being able to seek a second term? Because that's the bar you guys have to meet here. Is that right?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

It's an extraordinary measure to try to impeach a president. And you can only use it under extraordinary circumstances. But these are extraordinary circumstances. What we know is that the president of the United States was using the massive powers entrusted to him to try to use taxpayer dollars as leverage to get a foreign country to interfere in an election.

You can't do that as an American president. And, if there were no consequences than the message would be clear that this president and any other president can use the power of the Oval Office in order to try to advance themselves politically or financially. And so I think Representative Schiff is right.

If you don't use impeachment for this type of offense, then I'm not sure what you use it for. And if the president was able to get away with this, if Senator Johnson got what he was asking for and no one raised any questions about it, then he would have just continued to try to use the power of his office to rig the 2020 election in his favor.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Johnson just volunteered that he's going to, apparently speaking with at least the Republican side of the House Intelligence impeachment inquiry right now, and he referenced Jordan and Nunes. How should the two of you give your information that -- I mean, I say this, there's a speech and debate clause issue. There is separation of power. This isn't -- this is legally a little complicated and I apologize for the constitutional lesson here, how should you and Senator Johnson give your information about what you knew and saw?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Well, I think what we knew and saw is pretty clear. And we've been public about this from the beginning. I'm not sure that anything is necessary, other than what we've said. President Zelenskiy dispensed with the formalities of the meeting. He started to immediately talk about the fact that this aid had been suspended. It was that important to him because his soldiers were dying on the front without American aid --

CHUCK TODD:

And he knew this aid was suspended at this point in time, right? When is this meeting?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

He knew this aid was suspended. This was on September 5th. And he had clearly been communicated to at that point that he needed to get these investigations started in order for the aid to be turned back on. At the end of the meeting I told him it would be a bad idea for him to accede to Rudy Guiliani's corrupt request and he agreed. But at the time, we didn't know all of these back channels, or at least I didn't know all of these back channels, that were happening regarding this extortion campaign. And so we didn't talk about the details of Sondland and Volker's communications during that meeting.

CHUCK TODD:

At what point -- basically Senator Johnson's basic argument is the following: "Leave this up to the -- this should be a political discussion and a political argument and a political debate." He's not alone in thinking that. And, that's not just a partisan defense. There are some in the middle of watching this show going, "I don't like what he did, but it's too close to the election." What do you say?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

So let me tell you why this is different. The president was trying to use the power of his office to influence the upcoming election, right? He was attempting to get a foreign power to destroy a candidate for office who was running against him in 2020.

And so this is directly relevant to the sanctity of American elections. If you don't stop a president from trying to rig an upcoming election then I don't know how we live in a democracy anymore. That's why you had to use this means right now.

CHUCK TODD:

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

I notice you use the word extortion. The Washington Post reported earlier this week that several Democrats have stopped using the term quid pro quo, instead describing bribery as a more direct summation of Trump's alleged conduct. You said extortion. “The shift came after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee conducted focus groups in key house battlegrounds in recent weeks, testing messages related to impeachment. Among the questions put to participants was whether quid pro quo, extortion, or bribery was a more compelling description of Trump's conduct.” It looks like Democrats are looking for the most politically effective language here. This is campaign stuff. Should you be using campaign tactics to move impeachment?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

I think we need to explain to the American people why this is so serious. And I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to --

CHUCK TODD:

You're in House battlegrounds though. I would get it if you told me it was all of America. But it's clearly about how's this playing politically --

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

You know, I don't read House campaign memos. What I know is that my job is to try to explain to the American people why this is so serious. And listen, I'll admit I think we have a challenge, right? I think a lot of Americans are paying attention to their pocketbooks, are more concerned with the president's sabotage campaign against The Affordable Care Act than they are with this impeachment inquiry. So we have a job to do, to explain why this matters.

CHUCK TODD:

Two things. Ambassador Yovanovitch, what President Trump did, should that be added to the impeachment articles? Is that an article --

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

I mean it's --

CHUCK TODD:

-- witness intimidation?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

-- I think that's an interesting question. And maybe the House should consider it because remember Ambassador Yovanovitch is still working at the State Department. And so what the president is basically telling her, during her testimony, is that there may be consequences to you and your family and your paycheck if you don't shut up.

And the message that's being sent to everybody else who's thinking about testifying is chilling as well. I've thought from the beginning that the impeachment inquiry should be narrow so that we can get it to the Senate as quickly as possible. But this is really serious.

CHUCK TODD:

Gordon Sondland. Is he a credible witness?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

I mean, his story continues to change. And I think he's got to decide this weekend whether he's an American first or a Trump loyalist. I'm not sure that we can trust his testimony given the fact that we know it's already changed.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you uncomfortable that it sounds like you've made up your mind as a juror?

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

I mean, I think it's okay that with the facts on the table --

CHUCK TODD:

You think there's enough to convict.

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

I think that if this isn't impeachable I'm not sure what is. Obviously, I've got to wait for the exact articles of impeachment to be sent to me, but the conduct that I have seen has to be impeachable in a democracy.

CHUCK TODD:

Chris Murphy, Democrat from Connecticut. Thank you for coming on --

SENATOR CHRIS MURPHY:

Thanks --

CHUCK TODD:

-- and sharing your views. Coming up, while you were relaxing yesterday there was more testimony in the impeachment inquiry, some of it very damaging to the president's story. Panel is next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here. Reuters White House correspondent Jeff Mason, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute and Eugene Robinson, columnist for the Washington Post. Jeff, the president is your day-to-day beat.

JEFF MASON:

It is.

CHUCK TODD:

He claims he's not watching this. But we did a little-- Twitter is sort of like you can monitor his feelings, just looking at the number of tweets he sends. Look at this chart. The line of demarcation, the impeachment inquiry begins September 24th. He did an average of over 200 before then. He now does an average under 200 after. You have seen an increase. Is that the best way to monitor the president's temperament these days?

JEFF MASON:

Absolutely. I mean, if you talk to people in the White House, and I did in the last few days, people will say, "Oh, he's fine. He's happy. He's pleased with how things are going in the impeachment trial." But if you watch his stream-of-consciousness Twitter feed, you can tell that he's rattled. And that exposed itself, really, with his tweet about the former ambassador, in the middle of the testimony on Friday.

CHUCK TODD:

Peggy, that is what struck me about all this week. You just sort of realize, it's consumed him. He can't compartmentalize. Bill Clinton compartmentalized in ways that some of us are like, "How do you do that?" Right? Almost overly so. This guy can't at all, to the point he had to force himself--

PEGGY NOONAN:

Into the hearing.

CHUCK TODD:

What he did in the hearing was what authoritarian people do. That was just a rough moment.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I think it was also very embarrassing and discomforting for his Republican defenders in the House and on that panel. Look, of course, this thing is in his head. The president has said, previously, I think we had it on the show, "Impeachment is like a dirty word for presidents."

This is a big drama. I think he sees a House impeachment coming. If he watched part of this week, he knows. He knows TV. The testimony was compelling for anybody watching closely. The people who testified were people of stature and accomplishment. What they said was believable. Brick by brick, they made a case backing the charge that the president muscled an ally to get a political gift that he wanted. So this was not good for him. And to the extent that everybody in politics is fighting over the middle 10% or 20% of voters, those in that group, who were watching, would not come away thinking more of Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

And in fact, Dani, I have been of the sense that, okay, let me play some of the Republican defenses of the president. Because I think they've only been effective at defending against impeachment, not for promoting reelection. Take a listen.

(BEGIN TAPE)

JIM JORDAN:

They've had three hearings, three witnesses with no firsthand knowledge.

ELISE STEFANIK:

The two most-important facts are the following. Number one, Ukraine received the aid. Number two, there was, in fact, no investigation into Biden.

KEVIN MCCARTHY:

We're less than a year away from the election. But these Democrats do not trust the American public.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

They can't defend the actions. I get it. So that's their best defense. But that doesn't help the president's reelect.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

No. I mean, look, you've got two things opposing each other, right? One is, one is, he didn't do it. And he didn't do it. And you can't convict him. And the other is-- And you can't, because, in fact, he's kind of an idiot, you know? He didn't know what he was doing.

CHUCK TODD:

The incompetence defense. How is that helpful? I don't know.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Exactly. And that is absolutely devastating for his defense. Eli Lake wrote a great column on this in Bloomberg this week, just outlining that the one is in opposition to the other. But the biggest thing going for the president is, at the end of the day, is this persuasive? That 10%, they're not watching this. They're not tuned in. I agree, these are very credible people. This was, in some ways, a brick-by-brick, devastating-- But people have already decided.

CHUCK TODD:

Gene, that is-- that's what Democrats have to meet, that high- that much higher bar. I thought, for the first time, the ambassador explained why we should be troubled by this. You know, if ambassadors don't have the backing of their president, this is damaging. Will it penetrate?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, how can we know, at this point? I mean, we have had two days of public testimony. And it seems like it's a lot longer. And there's a temptation to decide. Is this having an impact? Is this not having an impact? I think we don't know yet. We don't know if this is going to move public opinion. But you know, I thought those were two pretty devastating days of testimony, again, for those who were paying attention. They saw two things happening. They saw, you know, these public servants testifying in a very credible way, especially Ambassador Yovanovitch, who had the emotional impact, as well, thanks, in part, to the President's tweet. And they also saw the Republicans moving the goalposts at an incredible pace. I mean, I think the goalposts were last seen crossing the Mississippi. They're somewhere out over the great plains by now.

CHUCK TODD:

You know, Wednesday is going to be a big day, with Gordon Sondland. And I think that you're right, when you say, we're only at two hearings. Like, part of me is like, you know what? They've been revelatory already. You feel like, oh, I want to see what's next, Gordon Sondland. How nervous is the White House?

JEFF MASON:

Well, number one, one of the criticisms, last week, was that the witnesses that did testify were talking hearsay. Sondland is somebody who spoke directly to the president. And one of the sources that I spoke to at the White House said, they have spoken to Republicans. And things that go well in those swing districts are the following three arguments. Number one, the president did nothing wrong. Number two, this process is not fair. And number three, the president is working for the American people, while Democrats are obsessed with impeachment. All of those arguments could be hit by Sondland testimony.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, it does feel like Gordon Sondland is somebody that just feels very pivotal.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

How does he assess his legal situation at this point, is my question. I mean, Sondland, he's supposed to appear on Wednesday. He's already changed his story twice now.

PEGGY NOONAN:

Twice.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

He's going to change it again.

CHUCK TODD:

Well if somebody’s said though, I mean-- and who says which side asked this question first, Dani, "Were you lying then, or are you lying now," right? That he is now in that situation, potentially.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Yeah, but all of this is only interesting because the president has staked his defense on this idea that there was no quid pro quo. Did I say that right?

CHUCK TODD:

Just use bribery or extortion. You know, that's the real reason they changed the language. It's hard to say.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

What's the word of the week? And if he wants to stake his game on that, the answer is, no one believes it. But the bottom line is, he did it. And do people care? I think the answer is no.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I think-- I'm still open to the idea of a particular kind of drama, if it turns out somebody like John Bolton comes forward and has testified. This is a man who is known to American conservatives, who's a Fox News thinker and talker, who has been a serious person in the administration. And all of the Ukraine charges happened around him. And he's a colorful speaker. If he decides, "I'm going to go for it here and give you my full, candid assessment of what I've witnessed," that really could be big. And that, for the 10% or 20% in the middle, that could make them shake a little.

CHUCK TODD:

You're describing John Bolton as John Dean. And I'll just leave it there.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

We'll see. But you know, what kind of look is it for Bolton to make a big-money book deal for, presumably, a tell-all book, and not tell all to the American people first? That's not a good look for him.

CHUCK TODD:

I have a feeling we're going to hear from John Bolton before the end of the year.

PEGGY NOONAN:

I feel so, too.

CHUCK TODD:

When we come back, what Deval Patrick's entry into the presidential race tells us about the current Democratic field. The former Massachusetts governor joins me next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. There's been some big news out of Iowa this morning. A new Des Moines Register/CNN poll shows Mayor Pete Buttigieg surging to the top in Iowa among likely Democratic caucus-goers. Buttigieg is at 25%, nearly a double-digit lead over his nearest competitor. He's gained 16 points since September. Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden have slipped significantly. And they're bunched together with Bernie Sanders. The poll suggests that Democrats, at least in Iowa, may be, at least, searching for an alternative to Warren, Sanders, and Biden, perhaps a more-moderate one, which is exactly the space Deval Patrick would like to occupy, when he entered the race last week. And the former Massachusetts governor joins me now from San Diego. He got up early with the time change. He is learning the rigors of this presidential contest. Governor Patrick, welcome back to Meet the Press.

DEVAL PATRICK:

Indeed, I am, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

I know it's early.

DEVAL PATRICK:

How are you this morning?

CHUCK TODD:

I'm good. Let me just start with that.

DEVAL PATRICK:

Thanks for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

Pete Buttigieg, I would argue, is essentially making similar arguments you have about bringing the country together, that this is a bigger moment than a specific policy issue here, nostalgia over there. I’m not, I mean, when you hear your message, and I hear what I've heard from Pete, Pete Buttigieg, I think, well alright, isn't your message already represented?

DEVAL PATRICK:

Well, first of all, I want to thank you very much, Chuck, for having me on. And I was just listening to your previous segments. And it feels a little jarring to be talking about politics, given the gravity --

CHUCK TODD:

It does.

DEVAL PATRICK:

-- of what you were talking about just now. I have tremendous respect for Mayor Pete, as I do for Senator Warren, for the vice president, and other -- the other candidates, who are friends of mine, and whom I talk with in the course of the race. My, my entry into the race isn't about them. And I'm not trying to climb on top of them, in order to do what I want to do and what I think I can do. I think that I have a, I have a record of being a bridge-builder. And I think that's pretty important at a time when not just the party, in some respects, but the nation is deeply divided and divided, frankly, around issues that -- where we have remarkably, a remarkable amount of overlap, in terms of economic anxiety and social tensions, which we have experienced at different times in our history. I also have a range of life experience and professional experience which enables me to come at problem solving through -- from a bunch of different perspectives. And you've seen that. And I want to tell the American people about that in Massachusetts.

CHUCK TODD:

You come, you come -- you're a preparation guy, though. You strike me as somebody that you want a plan in advance. You didn't get in. It's interesting. You were asked in June. You said you had “no regrets” not getting in. You were asked in August. You said, "My wife looks at it and says, 'I'm so glad you didn't run.'"

DEVAL PATRICK:

She does.

CHUCK TODD:

In October, you suggested an 11th-hour bid was highly unlikely. And Governor, look, I've been aware of efforts to recruit you for years. And it's always been my understanding that you just didn't want to put your family through this. So what changed?

DEVAL PATRICK:

Yeah. Well, first of all, you may know, Chuck, we were really close, I mean, like, you know, a week or two from announcing, a year ago. And just at the eve, literally, my wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer. And, and that had to be first priority. We celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary in June. And I'm delighted to say that she is cancer free, praise God.

CHUCK TODD:

That's great. Excellent news.

DEVAL PATRICK:

She follows every put and take. It is, really. She follows every put and take, every news story, much more closely than I. And you are right. She has said, watching the debates and watching so many of our friends compete and contest and the friction that comes from that, that she was glad I was not involved at that time. But she's also been one of the ones listening closely and responding to folks who have said, "There is a lane for you." More to the point, there’s a -- the nation needs experience, not just a sensibility around bridge-building, but actually some results in that respect. And you know, we are in crisis, in many respects, here, in America. And we used a crisis, in Massachusetts, to come out stronger economically, stronger socially, and more fair. And I'd like to see if those experiences and that aptitude and that skillset can be offered in service of our nation.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, it's not lost on people that, here you are, jumping in, when there's a fellow Massachusetts Democrat in the race. And it certainly seems as if you don't see eye to eye on ideology, necessarily. Why shouldn't your entry be seen as a bit of a vote of no confidence in Elizabeth Warren?

DEVAL PATRICK:

Well, I don't want to go there. Senator Warren is a friend of mine. And you know, she and her husband, Bruce, and Diane and I have spent time together privately and socially. And I am enormously fond of her and incredibly proud of the campaign she's run. It's been enormously disciplined, I think. But I think, you know, we have to -- we have to keep our eye on our shared goals and not get so hardened around our means. And I'll just healthcare as an example. You know, every single Democrat believes and is committed to delivering quality, affordable healthcare to every single American. Republican leadership are not. That's the point. How we get there, there will be and should be robust debate about that. You know, we've delivered, in Massachusetts, healthcare to over 98% of our residents. I still don't think there's another state in America that has gotten that far. And the whole business of trying to get system costs down --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

DEVAL PATRICK:

-- is a national challenge. You can get there a couple of different ways. And certainly, having a public option, which is my preferred approach --

CHUCK TODD:

Okay.

DEVAL PATRICK:

-- maybe Medicare is that public option, that's a way. But the fact is, we can’t -- no one party, no one candidate, has a corner on all the best ideas. And if you want to make a reform that lasts --

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah.

DEVAL PATRICK:

-- then you have to make room for other points of view to accomplish that ambitious goal.

CHUCK TODD:

I don't know if you're as independently wealthy as Michael Bloomberg. I assume you're not. I don't think many people are.

DEVAL PATRICK:

Is anyone?

CHUCK TODD:

But are you going to accept Super PAC money or Super PAC support? There's been a lot of speculation that, perhaps, some of your Bain partners or friends may end up helping put together a Super PAC to help you catch up. Not a lot of Democrats are crazy about Super PAC money. Are you going to swear it off or not?

DEVAL PATRICK:

I'm not, I’m not crazy about Super PAC money, either. I'm not sure that I’m -- if I understand the rules correctly, I can even have a say about that.

CHUCK TODD:

You can publicly discourage it.

DEVAL PATRICK:

But look, I think we need to do some catchup. So I think we've got to follow and find all sorts of above-board strategies to do that.

CHUCK TODD:

So if there is a Super PAC that supports you, you're not going to tell them to stop?

DEVAL PATRICK:

No, I'm not. I will say that I would like to see any contributions to such a PAC fully disclosed. I think dark money -- first of all, I think there's too much money in the system. And I'm going to have something to say about that, from a policy point of view, as we get a little further along. But if there is going to be Super PAC money that supports me, it should all be -- the sources of that should be fully disclosed.

CHUCK TODD:

Alright. Deval Patrick, former Democratic governor of Massachusetts, a crowded field, welcome, welcome to it. Getting up early in California, that, sir, I appreciate, as well. Stay safe on the trail.

DEVAL PATRICK:

That's a part of it, Chuck. Thank you.

CHUCK TODD:

All righty. When we come back, where the presidential race is likely to be decided, a unique look at how we're going to cover 2020, up next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back, Data Download time. And we're introducing a new initiative here at Meet the Press, we're calling County to County. For the next year, we're going to spend time in five counties, in five crucial swing states that are likely to decide this election: Maricopa County, Arizona; Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; Kent County, Michigan; Beaver County, Pennsylvania; and Miami-Dade County, Florida. Follow these counties, and you'll have a better understanding of where the electorate is headed. We're not saying they're all five swing counties. But they're crucial to understanding this election. We traveled to two of them recently, Milwaukee County in Wisconsin and Kent County in Michigan. In Wisconsin, whether or not the state stays red will likely come down to turnout, especially black voter turnout. And the vast majority of African Americans in Wisconsin live in Milwaukee County. Well, turnout in the state, overall, was down by 3% in 2016, compared with 2012. In fact, Mitt Romney earned more votes in Wisconsin when he lost the state to Obama than Mr. Trump got when he beat Clinton there four years later. That's how low the state's turnout was. And the biggest decline, Milwaukee County. It dropped by a whopping 10%. Now, statewide, the African American vote was down 19%. Then there's the story across the lake, in Kent County, Michigan, which Mitt Romney won in 2012, even though Obama carried the state that year. Kent's biggest city is Grand Rapids, hometown of Gerald Ford, avatar of many traditional Republican voters, who associate themselves more with Ford's moderate Republicanism than with Donald Trump. Kent is chamber-of-commerce country, with a higher percentage of college-educated voters than statewide, 35% to 28%. So what happened in 2016? Well, Mr. Trump improved on Romney's 2012 performance by almost three percentage points in Michigan, statewide. But in Kent County, Mr. Trump actually lost ground, compared to Romney, by 5 1/2 percentage points. So will these establishment Republicans return to the fold and support President Trump? Well, I'm joined now by our -- two of our County to County reporters, Vaughn Hillyard in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin; Dasha Burns in Kent County, Michigan. So Vaughn, what are you seeing so far in Milwaukee?

VAUGHN HILLYARD:

Good morning, Chuck. Recall, back in 2016, Donald Trump won the state by just 22,000 votes. And in last year's governor's race, the Democrat, Tony Evers, beat Scott Walker by just 30,000 votes. Here, in Milwaukee County, it's the most-diverse county in the state. And of course, it's not lost on folks' memories around here that Hillary Clinton, as the party's nominee in 2016, didn't visit the state a single time. But more so, I've been repeatedly told it's about what that decision represented, a lack of acknowledgement of the city and its people. Voters here say they want their economic situations to be understood and for the candidates to offer real economic remedies. Chuck?

CHUCK TODD:

Vaughn, thanks very much. If African American turnout is up there, it may mean it's up in other states, as well. Dasha, tell me about Kent County.

DASHA BURNS:

Hey, Chuck. Good morning. Here, in Kent County, we've been talking to a lot of lifelong Republicans who are now deeply conflicted. Some have even described a feeling of political homelessness to me. Many have said that they just don't recognize this Republican Party as the party that they grew up with. And that's, in large part, due to Donald Trump. Now, some are following in the footsteps of Representative Justin Amash. Kent County's actually home to that congressman, who left the Republican Party earlier this year and is now running for reelection here, as an independent. Others say they still identify as Republicans. But they would actually consider voting for a Democrat in 2020, though that will heavily depend on who that nominee actually is. So we'll be staying in very close touch with voters here, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Dasha Burns, Vaughn Hillyard, look, I'm a believer. As Kent County goes, so goes Michigan, and maybe, so goes the election. When we come back, End Game and the result of yesterday's governor's race in Louisiana, more rough news for President Trump.

[BEGIN TAPE]

GOVERNOR JOHN BEL EDWARDS:

And as for the president, God bless his heart.

[END TAPE]

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, all right, a little southern-- a little southern slang there from the now reelected governor of Louisiana. Let’s put up the vote board there, Gene Robinson. John Bel Edwards, really sort of an old school social conservative economic populist liberal that used to be a big chunk of the Democratic party. He still sort of has hung onto it. And the president didn't have coattails. And he begged for them. Listen to this sound bite.

[BEGIN TAPE]

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

And the headlines the next day "Trump took a loss." I lifted him up a lot. So "Trump took a loss." So you've got to give me a big win please, okay? Okay?

[END TAPE]

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well, he made it about him. And so it was about him and he lost again. He lost in Kentucky, he lost in Louisiana. You know he’s, he’s-- you could you make an argument that Donald Trump is not good for the Republican party--

DANIELLE PLETKA:

What?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

-- you know?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

What? What?

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yes. No, I mean, electorally, politically, in any sense for the Republican party.

CHUCK TODD:

In fact, there is not a data point that supports him being an improvement for the Republican party, right? Whether it's the off year elections, the midterm election, not a single data point supports him helping the Republican party.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Exactly, he's helped, you know, a Democrat stay on in Louisiana, a state that went for Trump. It, he is poison to suburban white voters around, across the country. And his numbers there seem to be heading south. And that means the party is going to head south. Look what happened in 2018, what happened in all the sort of off-off year specials and elections. It's bad for Republicans.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But, isn't there a lesson here also for the Democrats? I mean, I know that our job is to see absolutely everything through the prism of Donald Trump.

CHUCK TODD:

He wants you to see everything. I mean, the --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

Well --

CHUCK TODD:

-- person who actually --

DANIELLE PLETKA:

-- I know.

CHUCK TODD:

-- forces it is him.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

I know.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

No, but that's a fair point.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

But this --

EUGENE ROBINSON:

This is a good point.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

-- tells us something. We haven't talked about this, but this speech that was given and these comments from Barack Obama this week about the Democratic party --

CHUCK TODD:

I was about to play them.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

John Bel Edwards, I don't want to --

CHUCK TODD:

No, that's okay. You're a good producer.

DANIELLE PLETKA:

-- jump on your next -- Thank you. But John Bel Edwards is that part of the Democratic party that he was talking about, that we don't see anymore. That's the kind of guy who can win in Louisiana. Those people aren't represented in the Democratic race anymore.

PEGGY NOONAN:

We sometimes forget, I think that we always see the Republican party shattering or bending under various pressures. The fact is, we have been witnessing for about five years the Democratic party dividing and shattering also, debating what it stands for. That's what 2020 is really about, how far left are we going?

CHUCK TODD:

You know, well, it's interesting. So Barack Obama says this on Friday, "This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement. They like seeing things improved, but the average American doesn't think that we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. And I think it's important for us not to lose sight of that." Jeff Mason, felt like an obvious shot a bit at the left. I think you hear him saying that and it's not lost to me that it's the most pragmatic candidate running so far, Pete Buttigieg, that is now surging in Iowa.

JEFF MASON:

Yes. And somebody who's modeling himself in many ways after Obama in terms of strategy. I mean, it's hard not to interpret President Obama's comments there as a hit at Elizabeth Warren, and at Bernie Sanders. It's just hard not to. It wasn't a full-throated endorsement of Joe Biden either. But Joe Biden's been working on that on his own by tying himself to his former boss.

CHUCK TODD:

It did. Yeah. The rise of Pete, I think is basically, it's because Democrats are looking for what Obama is saying, somebody a little more just small “c” conservative about him.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Well you know, look, if you look at Edwards and Beshear and 2018, you see that all these strains are still very much alive in the Democratic Party. In fact, those candidates are winning, right?

DANIELLE PLETKA:

At the state level.

CHUCK TODD:

The pragmatic candidates.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Exactly, at the state level. What you're seeing in the presidential campaign, I think, is the difficulty of sort of amalgamating all of that into one candidate, into one sort of statement of a party philosophy. And that's a process that the party is having some difficulty working through. And thus, finding the right candidate.

CHUCK TODD:

Is the rise of Buttigieg mean that Bloomberg and Patrick were both right and wrong? Meaning they were right about the room that there was between Warren, Sanders and Biden, but they're wrong that there was no candidate campaigning for it?

PEGGY NOONAN:

Yeah. They were right to think at a certain point it was fluid. Anything could happen. Anybody who wants that job should be rolling the dice at this point. I'm very interested in Joe Biden as a figure who does stand for I think a sort of John Bel Edwards kind of moderate Democratic liberal approach. But about whom so many people seem to have doubts. Like, "That's not going to work so I'd better go elsewhere. I'll try Pete." That's how I read it.

JEFF MASON:

But you also can't look at the rise of Pete in Iowa and not forget the importance of African Americans to the Democratic --

EUGENE ROBINSON:

That's right.

JEFF MASON:

-- electorate. And a source in the Biden campaign told me yesterday that, you know, they're very confident they could still win three out of the four early states. If Pete Buttigieg wins Iowa, they don't necessarily see that as a blow that they can't overcome --

CHUCK TODD:

Oh, I think they would prefer Pete over Warren winning Iowa.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

Yeah, I think they would. I think they --

CHUCK TODD:

Strategically that, I buy.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

-- prefer Buttigieg --

CHUCK TODD:

That, I buy.

EUGENE ROBINSON:

-- because they're pretty sure he can take him in South Carolina.

CHUCK TODD:

Whew. All right, before we go, a quick programming note. This Wednesday, MSNBC and The Washington Post will host the fifth Democratic presidential debate. It'll be in Atlanta. Andrea Mitchell, Rachel Maddow, Kristen Walker and The Post's Ashley Parker will be moderating that debate begins at 9:00 Eastern Time. By the way, that's the same day as the Gordon Sondland hearing. So let's just say on Wednesday if work, you know, is kind of slow, just sit yourself in front of the television because you'll have a lot of popcorn to pop and watch. That's all we have for today. Thank you for watching. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.