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Meet the Press - October 29, 2017

NBC News - Meet the Press

“10.29.17.”

(BEGIN TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, a momentums week in the history of the Republican Party. Two establishment Republican senators say they've had enough of President Trump. Bob Corker of Tennessee.

SEN. BOB CORKER:

You would think he would aspire to be the president of the United States and act like a president of the United States.

CHUCK TODD:

And Jeff Flake of Arizona.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

We must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

CHUCK TODD:

Both are now leaving the senate and their Republican colleagues make it clear it's President Trump's party now.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

We have actually great unity in the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

My guest this morning, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio on the GOP divide and Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri on running as a Democrat in Trump country. Plus our brand new NBC News Wall Street Journal poll, the latest numbers for the president and a sign of where the vote for Congress might be headed in 2018. Also Robert Mueller is expected to serve up the first indictment in the Russia investigation. We'll have the latest on what to look for there. And the opioid epidemic. This morning I'll talk to a fire chief on the front lines of this crisis.

JAN RADER:

I see this as a countrywide problem that has the potential to bankrupt the country.

CHUCK TODD:

Huntington, West Virginia's on a day in the life fighting the epidemic. Joining me for insight and analysis are Chris Matthews, host of Hardball on MSNBC, Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report, Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American conservative union and Eliana Johnson of Politico. Welcome to Sunday. It's Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history, celebrating its 70th year. This is Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. It's his party and you can cry if you want to. However you view what's happened to the Republican Party over the past year, that President Trump has managed a hostile takeover or that he's being greeted as a liberator, there's no question now that he has recreated the party in his own image. At least the base of his party in his own image. Beyond that, he's struggling. Our brand new NBC News Wall Street Journal poll out this morning shows President Trump's approval rating at a low for his presidency, 38 percent approve, 58 percent disapprove. It's actually down considerably from where Mr. Trump was just a month ago in the first aftermath of those hurricanes. It is also the lowest in modern times for a president in the first year of his presidency. And hanging over the president right now is this, NBC News has confirmed that a federal grand jury has approved the first indictment or indictments in special council Bob Mueller's Russia investigation which could target one or more people.

Anyone charged could be taken into custody as soon as tomorrow which leads to this question, will President Trump's base care or even believe the charges? Because look at this, among Republicans the president is wildly popular, 81/17 approve/disapprove on the job he's doing.

Republican voters seem to be pretty clear. They want President Trump's brand of conservatism, not the brand represented by the Republican Party establishment. That dynamic played out in the past few weeks when two Republican senators, not exactly moderates, mind you, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, openly criticized the president and decided not to run for re-election and the Republican base seemed to say, "Good riddance."

DONALD TRUMP:

We have actually great unity in the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

The Republican Party is quickly becoming the party of Trump. This week there was Republican resistance.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

When we remain silent and fail to act, when we know that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base we dishonor our principles.

SEN. BOB CORKER:

You would think he would aspire to be the president of the United States and act like a president of the United States. But that's just not going to be the case.

CHUCK TODD:

But that resistance was met with silence by Republicans who have determined that it's better politics to accommodate Mr. Trump than to challenge him.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO:

He was elected president. I'm going to work with him for the good of our country.

REP. PAUL RYAN:

I don't think the American people want to see us up here yelling at each other.

SEN. JIM INHOFE:

The president has his own way of communicating. And look, it's worked.

SEN. TED CRUZ:

Would everyone shut up and do your job is my view.

CHUCK TODD:

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake's announcement that he will retire rather than face a tough reelection fight follows the retirement announcements of Tennessee's Bob Corker and a series of House moderates. All members of this so-called Republican establishment. And on the 2017 campaign trail Republican candidates for governor in New Jersey and Virginia are mimicking Mr. Trump's rhetoric on immigration.

ANNOUNCER #2:

When asked about deporting criminals illegally Phil Murphy said--

PHIL MURPHY:

My bias is going to be having their back.

CHUCK TODD:

And on statues honoring the confederacy.

ED GILLESPIE:

I'm for keeping them up. And he's for taking them down.

CHUCK TODD:

And Congressional Republicans have been hesitant to criticize candidates who appeal to the President's base like Alabama's Roy Moore who has argued that homosexuality should be against the law and Muslim-Americans should not be allowed to serve in Congress. These Republicans are worried that they, like Senator Flake, will become targets of a Trump-friendly media.

SEAN HANNITY:

Take your other colleagues with you. Mitch McConnell, goodbye. Ben Sasse, goodbye, John Cornyn, goodbye, Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins.

CHUCK TODD:

Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon has promised to defeat mainstream Republican candidates in 2018.

STEVE BANNON:

And it's an open revolt. And it should be. They think that you're a group of morons.

CHUCK TODD:

And this week allies of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell declared war attempting to discredit Bannon's brand of nationalism.

STEVEN LAW:

This is a person who has a racially charged view of the world that not only do most Americans find problematic but most Republicans would find problematic.

CHUCK TODD:

For now, Mr. Trump is winning battles over what the Republican Party stands for. But he may be creating a smaller party in the process. And the 2017 and 2018 ballot box will decide whether the president wins the war to reshape his party.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now is Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio. Senator Portman, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Thanks for having me on again, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Simple question: how do you explain what’s going inside - going on inside - this party right now?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Well, I don’t think it’s new. You know, you remember the Tea Party. You probably remember the moral majority. I mean, we have a spirited debate within our party again. By the way, the Democrats are not immune from that either.

CHUCK TODD:

No doubt.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

You’ve got the Bernie Sanders wing, uh, pushing back against some stuff the DNC did last week, as an example. So, look, in both parties there are very different points of view and right now you’ve got a substantial majority of Republicans in the governorships, in the state legislatures, both houses of Congress, the president just won. So the party’s in good shape, but, yeah, we’ve got some divisions.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think that basically Washington Republicans are out of touch with the majority of Republican primary voters? Is this something you came to a conclusion of when you were running for re-election last year?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Well, I had a primary and I also had a general election that we won by 21 points in a state that’s considered a swing state because we focused on working together across the aisle and getting stuff done. I mean, I was not shy about talking about it. And I was able to talk about specific accomplishments. Fifty bills being signed into law by President Obama, by the way, and I think that actually is what people are looking for. I was just home this weekend. I don’t hear people talking about the latest in Washington. They’re talking about “are you guys going to get this tax reform done because I’m looking for a middle class tax cut? I’m looking for a way to get my earnings up, my wages up.”

CHUCK TODD:

So you don’t think the leader -- you don’t think the leadership of the Republican Party is out of touch with the grassroots?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Well, look, the Republican primary voters, you know, have spoken in a couple of these primaries. But, uh -- particularly in Alabama recently. No question about it. But by the same token, so-called establishment-type Republicans, you know, won in Montana, won in Georgia, when people thought those races were going to go the other way. I think the party’s in pretty good shape.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to play one excerpt from Jeff Flake’s floor speech earlier this week. Here it is:

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. JEFF FLAKE:

When the next generation asks us, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up? What are we going to say? Mr. president, I rise today to say ‘enough.’

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Do you share Senator Flake’s concern? He almost sees this as an existential crisis that President Trump is bringing upon the country when it comes to sort of political discourse, our democracy. Do you share that concern?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

So President Trump was elected -- duly elected -- including winning by eight points in Ohio, as you know, which is an overwhelming victory in my state. And we've got to be sure that he succeeds because when he succeeds the country succeeds. So I was not someone who at the end was able to vote for him.

But when he was elected I said, "I'm going to work with him on tax reform, on addressing the opioid crisis which you're going to talk about later with the fire chief from West Virginia. And I think that's our job. Our job is to actually get some things done here and help to influence the administration toward accomplishing things that people care about.

CHUCK TODD:

So because he won your state, you overlook things that concern you--

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Well, no.

CHUCK TODD:

--about his presidency?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

He won the presidency.

CHUCK TODD:

No I understand that.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

He's our president. And just as I worked with President Obama and President Clinton before him when I didn't agree with them on a lot of stuff, I think that's my job. I'm just talking about my job. I think it's to set an example of bipartisanship and civility and get things done.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think character still counts in American politics?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Of course. Yeah. Of course character counts. And I don't agree with every tweet. As you know I've spoken up on occasion. And yet if you're focused on the tweets and not focused on actually accomplishing what people are looking to have happen for them and their family I think you are getting out of touch with the American people.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to also get you to respond to something Steve Bannon said about the Bush presidency, since you served in the Bush presidency.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Yes, proudly.

CHUCK TODD:

Here it is.

(BEGIN TAPE)

STEVE BANNON:

He has no earthly idea whether he's coming or going. Just like it was when he was president of the United States. I want to apologize up front to any of the Bush folks outside in this audience. Okay? Because there's not been a more destructive presidency than George Bush's.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Do you understand his criticism?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

I'm glad he apologized to me and others who have a lot of respect for George W. Bush and what he did.

CHUCK TODD:

It's a pretty large charge from a Republican president's former chief strategist.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Yeah. After 9/11 he brought the country together in extraordinary ways and dealt with a true crisis, not just here in this country but globally. And he faced a lot of tough issues. And in my view he woke up every morning focused on what was best for the country. And--

CHUCK TODD:

Do you understand Bannon's beef?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Well, I suppose on a policy basis he thought he should have been tougher on immigration, as an example. And instead George Bush tried to figure out how do you come up with a consensus on immigration. And so he did propose immigration reform. And I think that's needed in this country. I think most Americans do too.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to move to tax reform here a little bit. This is going to be a big part of it. One of the initial votes you made and Republicans made in general was essentially allowing for more deficit spending, if necessary, to grow the debt. You were concerned about the debt when Barack Obama was president. Let me play some clips.

(BEGIN TAPE)

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

The American people are rightly frustrated by the fact that we have the biggest deficit in the history of our country and the biggest debt ever.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Debt and deficit will end up in a fiscal crisis and an economic crisis.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

It's a question as to whether we're going to just sort of turn our heads and allow this to occur or whether we're going to actually deal with this issue in a way that's responsible for current and future generations.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Considering the Senator Portman I heard there, how are you comfortable supporting a tax reform plan that would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

First, I'm really excited about this tax reform because I think it will generate a lot more revenue. I actually think it will over the ten-year period, Chuck, you're talking about result in deficit reduction. Why? Because for the first time in over 30 years we're going to reform the tax code to provide a middle-class tax cut, which is really important.

But also to encourage more investment for more jobs, more earnings and to improve the economy. And what we've said is if we can just improve the economy slightly instead of the 1.9 percent growth that the Congressional budget office says is going to happen let's take it .4 percent more. If we can do just that, then we begin to actually reduce the deficit. And I think that will happen.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you realize it's hard to really believe the idea that somehow cut revenue, cut taxes and somehow that's going to increase taxes into--

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Not if you do tax reform.

CHUCK TODD:

Okay but at what point--

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

It's not just tax cut. It's tax reform.

CHUCK TODD:

--but you're expanding the deficit too. It is hard for people to believe that that somehow paying less into the government's going to increase money into the government.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Yeah I don't know. I think most people believe the tax code is hopelessly broken, which it is.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, I think they do agree with that.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

It's unbelievable. We have a tax code now that actually encourages jobs and investments to go overseas. And this reverses all that. And it's going to result in more investment coming here to this country, more economic activity. Everybody looks at this tax reform proposal will be able to say I think across the spectrum this is going to change behavior and it's going to change behavior in a way that encourages more job creation and economic growth.

The question is how much. And my view is that this is actually pretty conservative because it's saying just a slight increase, again, .4 percent instead of 1.9 percent, let's say 2.3 percent economic growth. We just had two quarters of 3 percent economic growth. And this tax reform will help to encourage that. So I think, Chuck, at the end of the day this is going to actually be reducing the deficit because it's going to finally get this economy moving.

CHUCK TODD:

Before I let you go, the president started talking a lot about Russia. Again, recently after something of a hiatus on the topic this fall. And I think it's because we know there seem to be some developments that are coming tomorrow. Let me play something he has said about the Russia investigation earlier this week.

(BEGIN TAPE)

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

And I have to say the whole Russian thing is what it's turned out to be. This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election. They lost it by a lot. They didn't know what to say. So they made up the whole Russia hoax.

(END TAPE)

CHUCK TODD:

Do you agree with the president?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Too defensive. I mean, look, he won. And I think you would agree he won the election fair and square. He's duly elected. And we ought to instead focus on the outrage that the Russians meddled in our elections, not just this last election. They did it long before Donald Trump. They're going to do it long after Donald Trump, if we don't do something about it. So we need to get to the bottom of it. And we need to go where the facts lead us.

CHUCK TODD:

Are you concerned at all that the president might issue pardons too soon? Is there something Congress plans on doing if they think he's going to pardon people or maybe fire Mueller? Do you--

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Well, I hope Congress will encourage that the Senate Intelligence Committee, which I think is doing a great job, bipartisan with Senator Warner, Senator Burr, complete their work. And that we support this investigation that the Department of Justice has now appointed this special prosecutor. Let's let him get to the bottom of it. As you know, I've been involved in--

CHUCK TODD:

Right.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

--this issue for quite a while in terms of the disinformation that the Russians are doing, in terms of their meddling. And every American, Republican and Democrat alike should be focused on that.

CHUCK TODD:

Senator Portman, I'll leave it there. Republican from Ohio.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah, my word.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Great game yesterday.

CHUCK TODD:

Wow.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Never, never give up. That's the lesson.

CHUCK TODD:

That's for sure. Anyway, thanks for coming in.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN:

Take care. Thanks, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Joining me now from St. Louis is Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Senator McCaskill, welcome back to Meet the Press.

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Thanks. Good morning, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, good morning to you. I'm going to actually start with a topic that I basically was ending with with Senator Portman … And it has to do with taxes. You met with President Trump recently on tax reform. What promises did he make to you that makes you at least think about supporting his tax plan?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Well, he at least acknowledged that it's really hard for somebody like me to negotiate on this tax bill when we don't know what it is. It's hard for me to take seriously that they want Democrats to participate when they won't show us the bill. What they've laid out is not a tax cut for middle-class families. 80 percent of the benefit that's going to go to pass-through companies is going to go to millionaires and above.

They don't even tell us what the tax credit will be for children. Right now the framework would have a one-child policy, a family of four in Missouri that makes $50,000 a year would pay $887 more under the framework they've laid out. So I want to work with them. If we can make this about the middle-class and make this not trickle down but deliver to the middle-class and small businesses, then I think they could get a bipartisan vote on this, and that would be so much better for the country.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, look, you're not going to get everything you want. You're in the minority. Your party's in--

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Right.

CHUCK TODD:

--the minority. So I guess what are you willing to compromise on? Are you willing to support some things you don't necessarily agree with if it has some provisions and it's, say, 40 percent of what you like? So do you support lowering the corporate tax rate, for instance, down to 20 percent?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I certainly support lowering the corporate tax rates so we're globally competitive. I could live with somewhere in the low twenties. And depending on what they would do on a child tax credit or on making sure that kids can afford college, retirement income, the notion that they're going to mess with the retirement accounts in order to give a tax break to millionaires and billionaires, that just doesn't work. So, yeah, I'll compromise. But, Chuck, I've had a front-row seat to what happened in Kansas. They're our neighbor in Missouri. And they said exactly what Senator Portman said, "Well, we're going to have growth. It's not going to be a problem." It's been a huge problem in Kansas. There wasn't growth. Public schools suffered. And the Republican legislature had to reverse the tax cuts they did in Kansas.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you have a line in the sand of where you won't support this? Do you have a deficit line in the sand? If it increases the deficit even temporarily can you support this tax cut plan?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I'm not going to do a line in the sand other than this if they don't put some guardrails on the giant pass through loophole that 95 percent of private businesses are going to enjoy and 80 percent of the benefit will go to millionaires and billionaires that's what I can't do. And I certainly can't do a policy that's going to hurt a family of four that has only a $50,000 income in my state. So they've got to show us. But it feels like they're going to ram this through in a party-line vote and that's probably the most disappointing.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, look, you're running for re-election in a Trump state.

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

The president has already visited your state once to talk about tax reform. Here's what he said about you.

DONALD TRUMP:

We must lower our taxes. And your senator, Claire McCaskill, she must do this for you. And if she doesn't do it for you, you have to vote her out of office.

CHUCK TODD:

If President Trump in the fall of '18 can say you didn't support his tax bill and your opponent is somebody that will work with him, how problematic is that for your reelection?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Well, I think Missourians are going to take a look and see who is actually getting stuff done. And I couldn't agree more with Rob Portman, one of those senators that worked with Rob Portman was me. We did a lot of things together. I just had a Republican Senator call me over the weekend wanting me to work with him on a bill. I've got a large body of work that is bipartisan, that does accomplish things that matter for Missouri families. And I think that's what they want right now. Not people on opposite sides of the room yelling at each other. I'm one of the few senators left that's not afraid to call myself a moderate. And I think that's what we need right now. All this noise is not accomplishing anything for people.

CHUCK TODD:

To the Missouri voter, what do you and President Trump have in common? To the Missouri voter that voted for President Trump that you're going to need if you win reelection, what would you tell them that you and President Trump have in common?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Well, we have enough in common that he signed a number of my bills into law already. He agreed that we needed to get help to mustard gas veterans who had been tested with mustard gas during World War II. He agreed that we needed to put generic drugs on a fast path to approval so that we could bring down the price of prescription drugs.

So there are things...we certainly agree on infrastructure. If we could figure out a way to bring some of that money that's parked overseas back to build roads and bridges and most importantly high-speed rural broadband in my state. So there are specific policy things we agree on.

And I am anxious to work with him on those things. We may not agree always on style and sometimes we don't agree on substance. But my job's not to fight him. My job's to fight for Missourians. And so I get up every day, my feet hit the ground trying to figure out how I can get stuff done for them. Not how I can criticize the president.

CHUCK TODD:

You said something recently that sort of caught my eye, made me chuckle a little bit. You referenced a couple of cable news hosts. And you said 30 percent of Missouri is worrying about one cable news host says, 20 percent is worried about another. And you said and half the state's watching Dancing with the Stars. And your focus on the folks...you say, "I try to focus on the folks watching Dancing with the Stars." Who are the Dancing with the Stars voters?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

They are single moms that don't know if they can afford to send their kids to camp. They are two working parents that are making a combined income of less than $100,000 that are trying to figure out whether or not they can get to their child's soccer practice because they have to work extra hours because they're trying to put money in a retirement account.

They are families living paycheck to paycheck. They are way too busy with their lives to worry about all this political noise. And, frankly, they voted for me and for Mitt Romney. They voted for Donald Trump and Jason Kander. They will vote for a Democrat and a Republican if they believe they're authentic, they're telling the truth and they're working hard.

CHUCK TODD:

You recently bragged about not supported Harry Reid when he was the Senate Democratic leader. And you did that in 2014 because you thought maybe there was a leadership problem in the Democratic Party. I'm curious, do you still think the Democratic Party has a leadership issue?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

Well, I think it's hard when we are the minority party, that we have lots of folks that are leaders and want to be leaders. We have so many people that are trying to position themselves to run for president I think it's hard to say who is the leader. And there's a lot of angst about that. I, frankly, don't worry about any of that. That's not something--

CHUCK TODD:

No I hear you. But you called yourself a moderate. Let me ask you this, do you think the Democratic Party is open to moderates still?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I do.

CHUCK TODD:

What's the proof? Isn't the party moving to the left?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I think there's still a whole lot of people that care about the debt. I think there’s a whole lot of people...There's a lot of issues that unite us as Democrats. And I'm going to focus on those issues. And I'm not going anywhere on those issues. They are principled things I have voted on time and time again that unite the Democratic Party, things like minimum wage, workplace protections, the safety net that Pell grants and Medicaid and Medicare provide and social security. That unites us. And I think that's going to be strong next year especially in our face of what's going on in the Republican Party.

CHUCK TODD:

But let me ask it this way then, why is the Democratic brand in such a bad standing in so many parts of Missouri?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I think there's cultural issues that Donald Trump was I think very smart to emphasize that have made it hard sometimes for us to relate. Sometimes those people watching Dancing with the Stars, they're not getting into the details of what we're doing on Pell grants. They are rather saying, "Hey, I can't afford college, you know, give it to me straight." And they don't think they've gotten it straight. And we get kind of lost in the weeds. And the cultural issues divide cities and the rural areas. I've got to figure out a way to knit all that together. And after doing almost 50 town halls I'll tell you this, they want us to quit fighting with each other. That's what they want.

CHUCK TODD:

All right, Senator McCaskill, I'll leave it there. I'm curious, did you visit more places in Missourah or Missouri?

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I say both because I'm from both places. But definitely more places in rural areas where President Trump won by very large margins.

CHUCK TODD:

And--

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

I've spent time out there trying to listen and make sure I understand their frustrations.

CHUCK TODD:

A lot more Missourah then I think, than Missouri

SENATOR CLAIRE MCCASKILL:

A lot more.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Thanks very much. When we come back NBC News has confirmed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will issue an indictment of some sort tomorrow in his Russia investigation. We'll bring you the latest on that. And later, are more than six in ten Americans still believe Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone when he assassinated President Kennedy.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Panel is here, Chris Matthews, host of Hardball on MSNBC and he's an author of the new book, Bobby Kennedy: A Raging Spirit, Amy Walters, the national editor of the Cook Political Report, Eliana Johnson, political reporter for Politico and Al Cardenas, former chairman of the American Conservative Union. Al, I want you to respond to our friends at the Weekly Standard. The editorial headline was Surrender. And it said this, "The great bulk of elected Republicans have surrendered to the forces of Donald J. Trump and they didn't even put up much a fight. Has a hostile takeover of a historic institution ever been accomplished with less resistance?" You have been accused of being a card-carrying member of the establishment wing of the Republican Party every now and then. What do you say to your friends at the Weekly Standard?

AL CARDENAS:

Well, I think they're mostly right. Look, we've had civil wars for 40 years that I've been involved within the party. But have all been philosophical. Reagan, Ford, Moral Majority, even Pat Buchanan. This is different. This is about the rules of engagement. This is about the expected behavior of people in public office. This is respect for the executive and legislative branch differences. Basically Steve Bannon, whom you showed, wants, wants everyone to take a knee to the White House and the president. People are elected not to take a knee. They're elected to express their views and say what they will.There's no philosophical difference. As a matter of fact, those who've stayed quiet stay quiet ‘cause they don't have a real problem with the political agenda or philosophical agenda coming out of the White House. But I'm not going to take a knee. The Weekly Standard expressed it right. And then for the future America, for our social fabric no one should take a knee.

CHUCK TODD:

Does everybody here agree with Al that this is a philosophical divide, an issue divide or what?

ELIANA JOHNSON:

I think that's overstating it a little bit. And I think the Standard's overstating it a little bit. There are plenty of ways for Republican lawmakers to disagree with President Trump. We just saw Rob Portman do it in his interview with you. We've seen Lindsey Graham do it. We've seen Rand Paul do it. What you can't do and this is what Jeff Flake and Bob Corker have done is you can't kind of have a sustained temper tantrum about the president on the national stage when you're facing reelection. So I do think there's plenty of room for doing that. But you can't define yourself in opposition to the president when you've got a competitive election coming up because the Republican base does by and large support the president.

CHUCK TODD:

It's Trump's party now.

AMY WALTER:

It is in that Republicans say they approve of him. I agree that they approve of the agenda overall. But when you look beyond the numbers of approval and get into the enthusiasm this is where there's a problem for Republicans across the board. The overall approval rating for the president among Republicans, 81 percent. But those people who say they strongly approve of him, in the forties. Go to where Democrats are, overwhelmingly dislike him and feel very strongly about that. So the real question is not so much are we going to see the party break apart? We're not going to see the party break apart.But are voters who say they support the president and they want Congress to support the president going to show up and vote in 2018 if they feel like they don't necessarily like what they're seeing out of Washington and the agenda isn't getting accomplished. And that fundamentally becomes a question for Republicans going forward.

CHUCK TODD:

Chris, I want you to react to Andrew Sullivan. I think he's a never-Trumper that put it this way. Listen to this, this is what he wrote in New YorkMagazine. This is on the president. "He is the total master of an enormous mob that so far has completely overcome the elites. He achieves this mastery through incendiary oratory, hourly provocations and relentless propaganda. His rallies are events of mass hysteria and rage. His propaganda machines, Fox News, Limbaugh, Breitbart, Drudge rarely crack. And there is no one in political life capable of matching this power. Name one, if you can." Can you? How about that? Can you?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

No. I think Trump is constantly, and this is not a knock or a salute, he is like a really successful comedian. He's always in touch with the audience. He tries out a joke. If it works he tells it again. He works a wedge over and over again.He's figured out the knee, taking a knee's an issue for his side. The salute the flag people. He knows that he can make an issue out of any cultural question, sexual, whatever having to do with bathrooms. He knows he can find the issues that rip the scab off this cultural divide and he plays it like a banjo. And he gets 38 percent of the country at his worst. If he gets 38 percent the way he's been performing as president what will happen if he has a good week or two? I think he's in the running still. And, by the way, there's a trend line of resentment. I don't buy this fact that the resentment against the establishment sort of peaked in 2016 and is eroding.

CHUCK TODD:

You think it grow--

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I think it may be growing. And if he can ride that and surf his way to the next time when there's more resentment because look at the Democratic and Republican Parties. Are they popular, the leadership? No.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, let me turn into the hurdle that could be the biggest stumbling block. It's the Russia investigation. All right? As we said earlier this week, I want to run down some things here, we learned that special counsel will present some sort of indictment tomorrow. The past two weeks have seen many high-profile names being questioned by Mueller's team or by Congressional committees.Let me run through them. October 13th it was former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus interviewed by Team Mueller. October 16th, the former Press Secretary Spicer interviewed by Mueller. October 18th it was Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski interviewed by the Senate Intel Committee. Octobers 24th and 25th Michael Cohen, the president's personal lawyer appeared both in front of House and Senate Intel Committees. The 24th Brad Parscale, the head of the Trump digital campaign team. He was interviewed by the House. And October 27th Carter Page, the Forrest Gump of all of this, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign by the Senate Intel Committee. And the president has been all over this--

AMY WALTER:

Of course.

CHUCK TODD:

--trying to turn this into a Clinton investigation. And, in fact, it got so absurd, listen to Corey Lewandowski on the air a couple of days ago.

COREY LEWANDOWSKI:

Give me a break, okay. The speculation is so insane right now. What we should be focusing on are the continued lies of the Clinton administration.

CHUCK TODD:

The Clinton administration.

AMY WALTER:

I didn't remember that. I didn't know that happened.

CHUCK TODD:

Can Trump this into a Clinton?

AMY WALTER:

It already is. It's already so muddled and so clouded and everybody's already taken their side. So that you've got a polarized group here and you've got a polarized group there. There is almost nothing that can come up in the Mueller investigation that's going to move those two poles. It has to be so dramatic and has to be able to break through in a way that will get people out of these bubbles. If not we're going to be where we've been this whole time.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

Totally.

CHUCK TODD:

Russia won?

AL CARDENAS:

Russia won. Look, all of it has to do, in my opinion, with what the indictments look like, where this thing is going. It certainly sounds like it will last through the '18 election cycle and that's the challenging part of it for the White House. And second there are even those who are murmuring does he have the gumption to fire the special counsel. That would be a monumental event.

CHUCK TODD:

Tomorrow is the end of the beginning, as they say, not the beginning of the end. When we come back, a view of the opioid epidemic that I promise you haven't seen before.

JAN RADER:

You know, I see this as a countrywide problem that has the potential to bankrupt the country.

CHUCK TODD:

It's a rare and moving firsthand account of what it's like on the front-lines of the opioid crisis every single day in this country.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. 64,000. That's how many Americans died of drug overdoses last year. 64,000. That's more than the number of Americans killed in the entire Vietnam War. That's more than one 9/11 every three weeks. President Trump this week declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.But he did stop short of declaring it a national emergency. It's a distinction which would have provided new immediate funds to fight the crisis. A new documentary called Heroin(e) follows three women who are fighting the crisis, in effect, at ground zero in Huntington, West Virginia. One of those heroines is Huntington's fire chief Jan Rader.

RADIO:

one responding.

JAN RADER:

I'm not really sure what a plateau is going to look like. I see this as a countrywide problem that has the potential to bankrupt the country. You know, we conservatively estimated that Cabell County, and we're talking 96,000 people, spent probably about $100 million in health care costs associated with IV drug use in 2015. That's one small county in one small state. I don’t-- I can't even fathom what it's going to look like when it plateaus. But I know it will be welcomed.

RADIO:

Yes, ma'am, this was an overdose. We're clear returning.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, Huntington, West Virginia fire chief Jan Rader joins me now right here in studio. Chief Rader, welcome to Meet the Press.

JAN RADER:

Thank you for having me.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to throw the statistics that you just said in that clip from the movie here a minute. 10% of the population of Cabell County is addicted. $100 million in medical costs over the last year and a half. One other statistic I'm throwing in there, 443% increase in overdoses in the last two years. And as you pointed out, one county out of more than 3,000 in this country.

JAN RADER:

Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

Take me through a day in the life.

JAN RADER:

Well, you know, it usually starts out slow which is nice. But 26% of the time that my guys get a call they climb on a firetruck they're going to an overdose. And a lot of times--

CHUCK TODD:

How often do they get on the truck to fight a fire now?

JAN RADER:

Less than 9% of the time right now.

CHUCK TODD:

So most of the time that they get on a truck--

JAN RADER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

--it's to deal with an overdose.

JAN RADER:

Yes. And 10% of that time it's a death. And it's not just a death it's a death of a young person. It's a very negative experience for everybody involved. The first responders, the person who overdoses, the family of the person who overdoses. Probably about 50% of the time we have children involved either watching or in the lives of the people who overdose.

So it's a very negative all day thing. Right now we average 5.3 overdoses a day in Huntington, West Virginia. That's a town of 49,000 people. The county has 96,000 people. And of course the 64,000 that died last year 132 of them died in Cabell County last year.

CHUCK TODD:

Is there a day that goes by that you don't deal with this issue?

JAN RADER:

No. No. I can't remember the last time. It's been years since we had a day where we didn't have an overdose.

CHUCK TODD:

Is it young, old? Is it a mix or is it mostly young?

JAN RADER:

In 2015 the youngest that we had was 12. The oldest was 78. There are no boundaries here. Socioeconomic, color, age, sex, there are no boundaries. We see it all.

CHUCK TODD:

The addiction for all of these folks, right now you call it IV drug use, which basically you're saying some form of heroin.

JAN RADER:

Yes.

CHUCK TODD:

They didn't start addicted to heroin.

JAN RADER:

No they didn't. They started with pills. They started with a legal prescription. 80% of the people that I deal with daily started with a legal prescription to an opiate.

CHUCK TODD:

And this essentially triggered an addiction and they just were searching for something else.

JAN RADER:

Yes. And now once they're addicted they're trying not to be dope sick. And being dope sick is like the flu times ten, excessive vomiting, diarrhea, they spike a fever, and they have severe abdominal cramping. So that's what they're trying to prevent.

CHUCK TODD:

What do you--if you had an audience with President Trump and just say, "This is what I need in the next 30 days," describe what that would be.

JAN RADER:

First off, I need an unlimited supply of NARCAN because I have to keep people alive before I can get them long-term treatment.

CHUCK TODD:

Now NARCAN still sort of feeds the addiction somewhat.

JAN RADER:

Some people say that. I don't see it that way because you have to be alive to get into long-term treatment. So if I have to NARCAN you multiple times that's what we need to do.

CHUCK TODD:

So you're ecstatic that Walgreens is going to start selling it over the counter.

JAN RADER:

Absolutely ecstatic. Absolutely.

CHUCK TODD:

What else would you ask for?

JAN RADER:

I would ask for medically assisted detox. And I would certainly ask for more treatment beds.

CHUCK TODD:

What gives you hope?

JAN RADER:

What gives me hope, we have plenty of people in our town that are in long-term recovery. And they are healthy, happy, tax-paying citizens.

CHUCK TODD:

And it's worked.

JAN RADER:

And it has worked. People do recover. And I feel like we do need to focus on the positives that we are experiencing daily.

CHUCK TODD:

Chief Rader, thank you.

JAN RADER:

Thank you, sir.

CHUCK TODD:

No, no, no, thank you for everything that you're doing fighting on the front-line. That's public service.

JAN RADER:

Appreciate it.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you very much. By the way, the documentary Heroin(e) is just one of the 16 films that will be screened at the first ever Meet the Press film festival. It's in collaboration with the American Film Institute. Happening November 13th right here in Washington D.C. We're pretty excited about it. It's part of our anniversary celebration. Tickets are on sale now at NBCNews.com/MTPFilm. When we come back those Kennedy assassination theories that just won't go away.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

CHUCK TODD:

We're back. Data download time. This week the National Archives released about 3,000 files on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. But the government decided to hold back some of those files which, of course, only fuels the belief among millions of Americans that assassin Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.

In fact, public interest in the Kennedy assassination has remained remarkably strong over time. Looking at Google trends from 2004 to today the JFK assassination is consistently ranked higher than two other more recent political events, Watergate and the Clinton impeachment. In fact, it's a bigger topic of interest in 49 out 50 states.

Maryland, oddly enough, is the outlier on this one. Interest is high because many believe we don't know all there is to know. According to polling by Gallup a majority of Americans have always believed assassin Lee Harvey Oswald did not act alone.

In 1963 it was 52 percent of folks who believed others were involved in the killing. The number peaked at a whopping 81 percent of Americans in 1976. That with shortly after the Zapruder film was released. And it hit that number again in early 2001. At the 50th anniversary of the assassination in 2013 the number was 61 percent of Americans who believed others were involved.

And those numbers hold fairly steady today. According to a new poll by Five Thirty Eight and Survey Monkey that 61 percent is still there of folks who believe that others were involved while 33 percent think Oswald acted alone. In fact, a majority of nearly every demographic group across the country believes others were involved in the killing with the exception of one group, whites with a college degree. It's even something Trump voters and Clinton voters agree on and you know how high a bar that is these days. 61 percent and 59 percent respectively believe in the conspiracy theory involving JFK.

Questioning the lone gunman theory of the JFK assassination has become ingrained in national culture. It's as American as apple pie these days. Beliefs like those are hard to change over time. You need more facts. And the government decided not to release everything. When we come back end game and more from our NBC News Wall Street Journal poll. Could we be seeing signs of a change and perhaps a wave when it comes to the battle for Congress next year?

ANNOUNCER:

Coming up, end game brought to you by Boeing, continuing our mission to connect, protect, explore and inspire.

***COMMERCIAL BREAK***

ANNOUNCER:

End game, brought to you by Boeing. Continuing our mission to connect, protect, explore and inspire.

CHUCK TODD:

Back now with end game. We've got a a few more numbers to share with you from the NBC News Wall Street Journal poll that suggests Republican control of Congress may be in jeopardy among registered voters. 48% want to see Democrats control Congress as opposed to 41 who would prefer Republican control. Similarly, 46%, and this to me is the more important number to focus on, say they want more Democrats to provide a check on President Trump and Congressional Republicans while 28% agree with this statement saying that they want more Republicans to help the president and Republicans in Congress. One of our pollsters said some of the numbers he's seeing should serve as a, quote, flashing yellow light to Republicans. Amy Walter, this is what you get paid

AMY WALTER:

Paid to do

CHUCK TODD:

to do for a living.

AMY WALTER:

Yes this is it.

CHUCK TODD:

And seven points in the NBC Wall Street Journal poll is a little more significant than when you see seven in other polls because we have such a tight screen. What does that tell you?

AMY WALTER:

But it’s still, well, number one, it is still ridiculously early. And I think--

CHUCK TODD:

Of course.

AMY WALTER:

--the Congressional ballot test becomes much more important as we get to the summer of next year. And where Democrats ultimately would like to be is double digits, even in your screen. To be able to hit that magic number --

CHUCK TODD:

That’s right

AMY WALTER:

-- for takeover. That said, I think the flashing number in this dashboard that that uh Bill McInturff was talking about is, again, this enthusiasm gap even in Republican districts where Republican voters and Republican districts were supportive of their members. Now they're less supportive.And the challenge here, this is what the splitting of the party is about --

CHUCK TODD:

Right

AMY WALTER:

-- it's not just frustration with the president. It's that the president is challenging his party every day and blaming them. So if you're a Republican voter you say, "Let's see here, they're not getting anything done. They're not helping the president. Washington's a swamp. Why should I go out and vote for these people?"

CHUCK TODD:

And somebody else answer that question. Why?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Well, I think I agree completely with Amy. You need a double digit because if you look at the concentration of liberal voters --

CHUCK TODD:

Right

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Congressional voters, they are in San Francisco, L.A., New York, Chicago, they're highly concentrated.

CHUCK TODD:

Right and the blue state mayoral populated.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Right. You don’t -- So winning nationally doesn't help you at all. You got to crosswalk it. I agree. Double digits for a victory for the Democrats.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

And two quick tights I was sort of surprised by that number about voters who want this Congress to be checked. I don't really know what they think it's--

CHUCK TODD:

No the president to be checked.

ELIANA JOHNSON:

--no Congress is getting nothing done. But you know I do think that on the enthusiasm question, in the same way that Republicans had a lot of enthusiasm to check President Obama I think you're going to see a lot of Democrats enthused to go out and check President Trump. And in the presidential, Republicans were motivated out of an animus towards Hillary Clinton that they're not going to have in these mid-term elections. So I do think Democrats have the advantage as well as just the historical advantage of being the out party in with the Republican majority.

CHUCK TODD:

You've already seen some evidence in Florida.

AL CARDENAS:

Yeah, we did. In South Florida we had just a great, one of great champions lose a state Senate race to a five-time loser. Uh Mostly driven by the independent voters who were unhappy with the national picture. But look, uh we are going to probably lose some seats in the House. I feel pretty good about the Senate just because of the makeup and how she well-related that Republicans are playing the White House thing well. But in the House on those 50 races, 45 races we're going to look at to see if we lose the House or not, independents will play a key role. The two things we need to do is pass something of significance before the election, get a little more stability going on those districts and learn how to appeal better to the independents.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to do an awkward transition that's not so awkward because I want to give Chris a chance to talk a little Bobby Kennedy here. And the reason I want to talk about it, but I'm going to ask it this way, you heard Claire McCaskill try to downplay differences inside the party, the fractured party. What's interesting is you've been living with Bobby Kennedy for the last year.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Living with him for a year, the last couple of years.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I'm trying to figure it out.

CHUCK TODD:

We'll see how that plays on Twitter here in a second. Um But he was the last Democrat that was attempting to stitch together this coalition of basically--

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Yeah.

CHUCK TODD:

--what is now the Trump base.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

It's the--

CHUCK TODD:

Right? Is that what you've discovered?

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

--I didn't start the book with that idea years ago. But it it it clearly is, if you look at two pictures, think of Bobby Kennedy the night that Martin Luther King was killed. He goes into a tough neighborhood, African-American neighborhood in Indianapolis. The police wouldn't even go with him. And he stood there in front of this crowd and told them that Martin Luther King had been killed. They hadn't gotten the word yet. This is before Twitter and all this stuff. And he had to tell them that with a full heart and say, you know "My brother was killed by a guy, a white guy." And he's trying to talk to them. That sense of moral authority to cross the line from white to black is gone now. When he died the funeral train, look at the pictures of the people along the train ride, the tracks. You see African-Americans, 20,000 people in Baltimore, African-American singing spontaneously The Battle Hymn of the Republic. They learned it at church and they were singing it for him. And then you see the white guys, these poor white guys with dirty faces, the kids with no shirts on, their wives, they're poor people saluting him. That that patriotic unity of the Democratic base of working white people and working black people is gone.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah totally.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Because Bobby, Bobby -- We were talking before the show about what he meant and his ability to inspire that. If anything, this book's going to revive the belief it's doable, that work working white and black people can have the same political goals.

CHUCK TODD:

Those cultural divides are huge.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

I know they are today.

AL CARDENAS:

Both sides are dissatisfied. Lack of inspiration is probably their biggest need.

CHUCK TODD:

That I agree with a lot.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

Well, I hope--

CHUCK TODD:

That's a good final word there.

CHRIS MATTHEWS:

--the book inspires.

CHUCK TODD:

They're going to keep going. I'm going to end it here. That's all we have for today. We'll be back. Next week on our 70th anniversary, 70 years of Meet the Press. And if it's Sunday it'll be always Meet the Press. We’ll be right -- We'll see you then.

ANNOUNCER:

You can see more end game and post-game sponsored by Boeing on the Meet the Press Facebook page.

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